Getting over a poor performance

August 22, 2007 at 06:11 PM · I just had an orchestra audition yesterday, and I lost my head completely for some reason. i.e., I'm pretty sure I totally blew it. Now, I keep dwelling on the worst aspects of the performance, and I'm feeling a bit depressed and worthless with respect to violin. How do you get over a poor performance? I don't want to dwell on this performance, and I feel there must be some way to make some good out of this bad experience.

Replies (33)

August 22, 2007 at 06:26 PM · drink

August 22, 2007 at 06:28 PM · So sorry, Elena! What a rotten feeling. You're right to look for ways not to dwell on it. Try this:

1. Schedule another audition or performance in the near future

2. Identify what it is that gave you trouble---was it playing all the way through without tiring, a particularly difficult part, etc.?

3. Practice like mad for the next few weeks focusing on the troublesome part---building up endurance, polishing the rough spots, etc.

4. Prevail upon your teacher to help you---explain the whole experience, in detail, and ask for guidance

5. Go to the next audition/performance and see how much you've improved---best of luck!

August 22, 2007 at 06:42 PM · I second Pieter... Aren't auditions fun?

August 22, 2007 at 06:48 PM · lol, I definetally can't help in this, I dwell on a bad performance for a lifetime.

August 22, 2007 at 06:42 PM · As far as attitude, there are few things in life at which all of us don't fail at some point. There is not one violinist who ever lived who has never given a bad performance. It goes with the territory. You play a fickle instrument, and the demands upon you are at the level of a Heifetz, whether you're auditioning with Twinkle Twinkle for a Suzuki class or playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto at Lincoln Center. You do the best you can on any given day. If you goof up, yes, learn what you can from it. But don't beat yourself up over it. Look at it this way, how much punishment do you deserve for making all those mistakes? You've punished yourself enough already. You have served your time being relegated to sit on the bench; now it's time to step back up to the plate.


August 22, 2007 at 07:21 PM · Put away the excerpts for a while and learn something you've always wanted to play, just for fun.

August 22, 2007 at 07:34 PM · I trashed an audition once and my teacher told me to arrange a re-audition. I got the job. I didn't improve in the meantime, but the first audition was entirely sightreading. For the second, I played prepared stuff instead and I guess they assumed I could learn what they wanted me to play.

August 22, 2007 at 08:04 PM · Time is a great healer,in a few weeks you'll be laughing about it with friends.Remember your impression is probably far worse than what your audience heard.I would leave the repetoire alone for a few days and let your brain reorganise itself and then come back with a fresh view.Try to maintain a sense of humour.Everyone has a black day after the event but hey you're still alive with blood coursing through your veins,you have enough to eat and just maybe you put a smile on someones face if even for the wrong reason.

August 22, 2007 at 08:59 PM · You answered your own question. Just move on.

August 22, 2007 at 10:35 PM · Auditions are the most unnatural form of music-making. You are back in reality now, where beautiful music is waiting to be played and enjoyed. Go play some. Reconnect with why you love violin. Then in a few weeks when you have regained a little equilibrium, it will be time to think through acquiring and to begin acquiring the specialized abilities required for high-stress, on-demand, high-stakes playing, if you choose. Not yet. :-)

The reason I suggest this as a first step is that in observing college players, the ones who focus on the music as a gift to the listener in auditions seem to not have the same extent of problems as the ones who see their career potentially ending in front of their eyes. Getting back closer to this perspective and then practicing maintaining it under various measured stresses is one way to work on this.

There are lots of other approaches but this one seemed like the most fun to me. :-)

August 22, 2007 at 10:53 PM · Try to focus on - and maybe write down - what you learned from the experience. Think about how you might improve playing something similar under similar circumstances. - what you might do diffrerntly in your practice, in travelling, at the warmup, at the actual audition (or any other performance). Then, indeed, put it behind you for a while, and focus on the most enjoyable kind of playing you like to do.

August 22, 2007 at 11:07 PM · Such great posts !!

You people are the best !!

August 23, 2007 at 12:19 AM · Thanks so much for all the responses! I'm only a student, so it's not like my career depended on this audition. If I do get in anyway (only one part of the audition was truly horrific), I'll simply have to deal with my injured pride if I am seated worse than my friends (our seats can generally be interpreted as best-worst from front to back; we don't mix up strong and weak players very much or do rotations). LOL Pieter, thanks for the advice, but I'm underage.

August 23, 2007 at 12:51 AM · Chocolate also works...

August 23, 2007 at 02:04 AM · You may have felt like you did bad, but you may not have. I just recently made it into the first violin section of the best youth orchestra in Va, the AYP orchestra, after I thought i did a terrible audition. Don't wry. U probably did fine.

August 23, 2007 at 08:04 AM · I have no idea. I usually wallow in the pit of despair. Then my husband tells me to stop it and we go get coffee and talk with people until I forget for a while. Sometimes, I stay at the coffee shop for a long, long time. People have a way of helping you remember what's more important.

If I could run a long ways and physically get far away from it, I would. Running helps. Sometimes, I'm afraid to go to bed, that it will all catch up to me in my sleep.

August 23, 2007 at 11:53 AM · One of the things I love about my wife (our 39th anniversary is next week) is that for years I'd come home and complain about this, and worry about that, and obsess about something else that happened at work. She would always listen silently to my worries and regrets and mistakes, and then with a wave of a hand, she'd say matter-of-factly, "f__k 'em." It always cleared the air for me.

:) Sandy

August 23, 2007 at 12:34 PM · i like laurie's suggestion of doing something for fun, something you know you like to do or can do well, to balance the negative feelings. when feeling down, everything is gloomy, even though they are not. just have to entertain that aspect because hey, you only live once and why beat up yourself yourself.

the other thing to be aware is that the so called bad performance is already over. look and think forward. when you gather enough strength, you may want analyze the " bad" parts of your performance and make specific and often courageous changes in your playing. is it inability to fully get into the music because of nerves? is it certain technical parts that are not solid? often this is not easy to do because you may need a third party to look at it more objectively.

the better you get in violin, the more self critical you will be or must be. in other words, not many people are really happy with their performance:) so hey, you are part of the elite!

but, if the mentality is that i sucked bad on something, but now i know what to work on, then that is a step in the positive direction and you may even welcome it.

August 23, 2007 at 04:08 PM · Sandy, happy anniversary. It sounds like you got a winner.

August 23, 2007 at 05:54 PM · Jim, thank you so much. I do indeed have a winner (but I'm not so sure she does). Anyway, at this point in a marriage, every time we have an anniversary, we both agree that the secret to our success is that it is a triumph of habit over judgment.

Cheers, Sandy


August 23, 2007 at 06:27 PM · Sander, send my your wife's sister. ;)

Though peak performance has a (pseudo) science surrounding it, much of the info. now has pretty objective foundations now.

Ever get a cold before a performance? Ever start misplacing things at a critical time? Performance coaches beyond technique, look at these things to make sure that whatever happens is not just random chance. It's like a psychological Alexander thing.

Knowing many of these things, I take the Atilla the Hun approach and literally just throw myself out there, with the authority to tell myself: 'now, learn!!!'.

Of course for a trained violinist that is stupid, but not totally. Whomever said jump back out there is right on I think.

And think about not any insecurities you might have about playing/performing, but all the good and right reasons you feel about wanting to play. These will allow you to surround whatever happened at the pass.

Then nurture yourself through whatever happened. If it was really bad, you may have to do as Laurie said and find a totally different change of positive context; but, make sure you use that to let your mind instruct you in what went wrong in a nurturing way. This takes a little practice but works.

Accept the fact that it may have just been random, and be willing to 'simply move on', if that was the case. Getting caught up in self-assessment can be as bad as not knowing unless you benefit from it somehow. So listen to your heart, but don't write epoch poems.

If this is a pattern, consider getting performance coaching (not technique), to allow you to play your best. My rote method works for those with steel nerves and a rough kind of courage, but there are gentler step-wise ways to do this as well. (uh, I learned to swim by being thrown in the middle of a deep lake: now, swim!--oh yes, I swam) ;)...

August 23, 2007 at 06:55 PM · Elena,

As you said yourself, only one part of your audition was 'truly horrific' (in your opinion). However, you had to be pretty good and well advanced in your playing to even audition in the first place!!! How about focusing on that instead - you've come a long way - so by virtue of that you cannot be useless! Brush up on certain weak points as others have suggested and go for it again! Don't give up!

August 24, 2007 at 02:51 AM · Don't worry! Everyone has had one from time to time... do you think that a concert artist giving 100+ concerts a year doesn't have problems now and then? Don't be so hard on yourself... besides its not about you... you know you messed up... so what? there are people being killed all over the world... there is hunger, inflation... so you played out of tune... just practice more, and remember to take what you do seriously but do not take yourself seriously... best of luck...


August 25, 2007 at 03:14 PM · You did not say if you were very nervous, was the audition a very big step for you (i.e. first major etc.) The part where you said you went off, if it was a troublesome area which always required strong concentration a wildly beating heart could distract you. I have heard that gymnastic coaches would have their athletes run until their heartbeat was extremely rapid and THEN the gymnast would mount her apparatus. Learning how to work through a simulation of physical nerves made the actual meet more like just another day at the gym. I don't know if this technique would work with playing music but a good run is never a bad idea, healthy and invigorating and it will work off all that chocolate:)

August 27, 2007 at 08:21 PM · I just remember that players in the NBA can't make three-point shots each and every time they try, yet they still make millions, and people still love them. If they can't even accomplish a simple thing like throwing a ball through a hoop every time they try, how on Earth can musicians expect to turn out a perfect (or even great) performance every time they try?

You're human--not a robot. Just accept that fact, and move on. ;)

August 28, 2007 at 02:36 PM · In the same vein, if you are a baseball player and you hit 300, it means you fail 7 out of 10 times, and you go into the Hall of Fame.

August 28, 2007 at 06:38 PM · Larry, Sander: I think for the first ten years of a violinist's experience those are darn near perfect examples: perfect. Unless they aren't pushing themselves to play at some minimum standard repertoire wise anyway, they are perfect.

August 28, 2007 at 07:26 PM · unfortunately, violin playing and performing cannot be compared with basketball and baseball,,,in the same vein. may be close to neurosurgery where a wrong move of 1 mm can spell big time career threatening trouble.

August 28, 2007 at 08:11 PM · True, but anyone can have an off-day. I've written this elsewhere in, but I once saw David Oistrakh play the Prokofiev First Violin Concerto. The first and third movements were fantastic. However, in the the second movement, that horrendous scherzo, Oistrakh botched it from the first note. He missed notes, was out of tune, sloppy, and sounded just terrible. The audience gave him a great ovation at the end of the concerto, however. He then came back out onstage and as an encore replayed the scherzo movement, this time with incredible technique, musicianship, energy, and excitement, and (as I recall) it was note perfect.

It happens. But it had better not happen if you're a brain surgeon.

August 28, 2007 at 10:35 PM · i have read that story previously but always good to read it again because it lends some reality to this violin business. unfortunately, most people in this field do not have the luxury to do it over. more often than not, people are remembered more vividly because of what they lack, not what they possess.

the distinction between what Oistrakh did vs what joe/jane does for orchestra audition is that Oistrakh did not have issues with under-preparation or experience but most young musicians do. with lack of experience, confidence and possibly skills, it is indeed a daunting task to try to ace a do or die situation.

i think competition or audition can be a great stimulus to work harder and smarter, but too much of it or taking it the wrong way can be traumatic. one cannot be mentally prepared too well...

November 3, 2007 at 09:03 AM · I usually analyse what went wrong, and find that I have in the past totally sabotaged my own playing. Really stupid things like not being 100% sure of my bow tension, starting finger and bow placement, safe speed to play at, relaxed shoulders and straight spine etc etc. Even things like forgetting the talcum powder I need to stop my left hand getting sticky.

It only really upsets me if I can't analyse and solve the problem - i.e. unpredictable mistakes that are due to lack of talent/technique and I'm not able to overcome yet.

November 3, 2007 at 09:10 AM · Elena, in view of your other post about inhibition, I'd emphasise again my point that I have, upon analysis, really sabotaged my own playing in some previous situations. For instance, I 'auditioned' to try and get into a university, but 'forgot' to take my music, duh! Upon analysis, I realised that a very large part of me didn't really want to study violin at university anyway, I was very conflicted about it and so I wasn't preparing with the proper commitment.

Maybe this is too psychologial for your situation, but have you really thought about what you want, why you play violin?

November 4, 2007 at 11:47 AM · Get used to auditions by incorporating auditions in your practicing. Every time you practice, play what you practiced before, without any interruption,imagining a group of uninterested people listening to you and whom you must convince that you are the one.

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