Getting too discouraged

October 26, 2007 at 06:07 AM · For a while now I've been having a hard time practicing because I get easily discouraged. It's really affecting my practice time, and how often I practice. I pick up my violin, start playing, then after about 3 minutes I can't stand it any longer because I sound horrible so I usually end up quitting for the day. I'm trying to up my practice time to 2 hours a day, but it's difficult when I can't even manage 30 minutes. How to others cope with this? Is there anything I can do? Thanks!

Replies (23)

October 26, 2007 at 06:59 AM · When I need inspiration, I listen to the final movement of Brahm's violin concerto in D or the Tchaik VC.

And think of it this way: you probably are being way too hard on yourself. Plus, if you don't practice, how are you going to get better? Assail your ears with the seeming 'noise' for a few days, maybe you will start feeling differently.

Also, going into a practice session thinking "I'm going to play 2 hours no matter what," does not sound ideal. It may be that because you cannot reach this goal, you feel even worse about practicing. That's definitely how I would feel.

October 26, 2007 at 10:12 AM · Hi Sara,

let me suggest to look at practice from this angle: If what you practice already sounds perfect, why would you still need to work on it? Somewhere I read that if what you play sounds beautiful, you're not really practising.

In violin playing, there are many, many balls to juggle: intonation, rhythm, tempo, dynamics, tone quality, vibrato, playing by heart, ...

Hopefully, there are at least some things you can do well with a violin - get back to them to proof to yourself that you can. Then think how it got to be so: by your effort to learn and practice. There was a time when all of us were so new to violin playing that it was a real effort to just hold the darn thing under the chin. Now, we don't even think about our violin hold (sometimes to our detriment).

As musicians, we have to confront difficulty and chip away at it's hard surface until it's no longer a difficulty. We all experience days when everything falls into place on the fingerboard, the bow bounces just so and we're singing like angels. On other days, nothing seems to work. Even then, we can be proud of the fact that we recognize that something doesn't work - we're not tone deaf or conceited, after all.

If all else fails, relax, listen to your favorite music, take a walk and over a (pretty short) time, you'll be itching to play again.

Good luck, Jürgen

October 26, 2007 at 10:39 AM · You didn't mention what you are actually playing and why it sounds so bad to your ears. When I've had that experience it has usually come from playing music that was either too difficult for me technically or music that I just didn't understand in some way--either why I was playing it or what the composer was getting at or both.

Try to think through these issues--if it's an etude you hate the sound of, why are you doing this etude? What are you supposed to be learning from it? If you can figure that out, you can focus on those technical problems, intellectualize a bit and maybe distract yourself from feeling so negative until your sound improves. If it's a concerto or some other piece of music that you're supposed to be enjoying, and you just hate the sound of it, maybe it's time to put that piece away for a while. Or at least discuss with your teacher what your goals are for the piece. Sometimes it just takes a really good recording, or a book about the piece/composer to put the piece in a whole new light.

There's also the issue of instrument and set-up. Are your ears telling you it's time for a new type of strings? Or even a new instrument? I played the same (mediocre) violin on and off for 25 years, bought a new viola about 6 months ago, and am still amazed at the difference that having an instrument I love makes in my attitude towards practicing. Am I saving up for a new violin? You bet!

October 26, 2007 at 12:43 PM · A few thoughts.

I find that when I'm practicing and improving that practicing is a very enjoyable process. So maybe it's a matter of figuring out how to practice in a way that's really helpful.

It might be helpful to think in terms of what you want to accomplish while practicing rather than how long. If you have a goal of what you want to accomplish in a practice session, and it takes only an hour instead of the 2 hours you estimated, that's not neccessarily a bad thing!

October 26, 2007 at 05:00 PM · Sara,

I've been through phases where I felt just like you describe. Apart from leaning heavily on for inspiration to keep going, some things (learned here along the way!) that helped are:

1. Limiting practice time to just 5 minutes, but doing at least that every day (I upped that a bit) but tried to maintain, and sometimes it went on for longer

2. Perhaps you could talk to your teacher as to how to practice, or working on one thing at a time, ie trying to learn a piece off by heart, working on bowing, intonation etc all at the same time can be overwhelming and there are days when nothing seems to go right

3. I did once ask my teacher if I could go back to another piece I had been learning and pick that for the exam as the new one she'd chosen (though beautiful) was somewhat beyond me technically and I was stressing that I would have it in no way ready in the time available. Similarly I did find I couldn't learn an etude off by heart (it was the first time I'd been asked to do so). Leaving it alone for a time and then coming back to it after learning a couple of pieces and I cracked it! So maybe something needs 'a rest'.

4. Finally, it may help to have a few but shorter times of practising during the day when you only work on one thing, a shift, intonation in two bars of music, bowing in two bars you find particularly difficult etc

Please hang in there, I know you love violin - it is hard work learning the proper way - not to mention undoing bad habits as I had too - the bow STILL slips from my fingers (!!) but with perseverance things do start to come together and then you're back in 7th heaven again!

October 26, 2007 at 05:32 PM · Motivation -

you already know what to practice and how often, and exactly what you have to do to get better, now forget it.

Think back to the bigger picture:

Why did you start to play in the first place?

What are your greatest goals?

What do you enjoy most about being a violinist?

Look at it from many different angles, and the excitement returns!

October 26, 2007 at 06:13 PM · I know that I have felt the same way as you sara..I became burned out from practicing and dealing with a busy life.

I think dealing with pressures of high school and taking up an intrument and other extras can leave you overwhelmed.

There is some great advice here. One advice I would give is to set goals for yourself. Do you want to take up the flute, but just for fun and have violin your main instrument? Is there something at school that you can put aside for now so you can get better concentration for the violin? Do you need to take a break from practicing (any instrument)?

I know for a while for myself, I really didn't want anything to do with music; singing,playing listening... the feeling assiociated with practing etc. I did take a break for about a year. I don't think you need that, perhaps just retraining the mind on how it feels to practice.

I hope this helps

I wish you the best...


October 26, 2007 at 07:00 PM · Yuck, I'm having the same problems lately. I think it was Emil who put it rather well recently: "When I don't practice, I sound godawful, which makes me want to practice even less, which in turn leads to even more godawfulness." SOOO true, it's a vicious circle. One thing I've found is to NEVER under-estimate the importance of a good technical warm-up. I myself have been finding the Dounis Daily Dozen to be extremely helpful in ironing out all manner of technical kinks and godawfulness, and then it's much less frustrating to work on my etudes and repertoire. I don't know what level you're at but there is probably some comparable warm-up system for basically any level of skill...

October 26, 2007 at 07:49 PM · Build up your practice time slowly.As someone already mentioned even five minutes a day.Set goals that you know that you can achieve and 2 hours maybe a bit beyond you at the moment.Time your practice so if your goal is five minutes then put your violin away.You may find yourself panting for more but be strict.The next week up to ten minutes.What is crucial is the daily contact.When you pick up your violin find the sound you like on open strings.If that takes all the five minutes fine tomorrow it will probably take three.Work up from the open string sound even if you only manage two notes that sound good to you-Tomorrow it will be three.Its always worth going slowly at the beginning once good habits are established they are with you forever.

October 26, 2007 at 08:50 PM · Advice from a novice:

Slow is smooth, smoot is fast. Slow down the tempo and build technique and intonation, it also makes it easier for you to feel successful.

Concentrate on one passage at a time, so you can have small achievable goals.

These are mostly generalizations, but that's would helps get through...

For more creative apporaches... I take a 2 hour TV break and practice during the commercials.

October 26, 2007 at 08:44 PM · After warming up, or use this as a warm up, break an etude, concerto, whatever, down into tiny parts and practice them. Start by playing the first two notes, were they crisp and in tune? Then the next two, then the next two, etc. Go back and play the first note, then notes 2&3, then 45, 67, etc. Stopping to analyze each two. Then start again with 12..34..56, etc. Then 123...456...789. Then start all over again at two notes, but speed it up. This can take a technical phrase and break it down so you can play it slowly a few notes at a time, then speed it up.

This makes practicing a whole new challenge than before and spices things up a bit plus makes your playing a lot better in a hurry.

I can't take credit for this, the idea came from Robert Gerle.

October 27, 2007 at 01:27 AM · Thank goodness for!

I feel the same way. Sometimes, I want to quit all together but curiosity keepsme going. I ask myself, "What if I miss out on something profound and amazing if I stop?" "What would I have sounded like when I am 20, 30, 40, or 50 and so on?" So, I guess it that curiosity killed the cat sort of analogy except this curiosity keeps me dead 'cause I sure do not get any satisfaction which is not good!


I am trying hard to get pass my moments of violin depression.

Thanks for all the wonderful advice on how to possibly do this.


October 27, 2007 at 04:26 AM · Greetings,

so you are in a rut? It`s part and parcel of what we do.

Many of the above posts pose the same or similar question to this: what do you mean by `bad?`

To get through this kind of brief low it is important to be able to look at what you are doing with greater precision. As I write this I am reminded me of how my good friend who studied with Delay would ask her somethign and then pick up on the language she used all the time. `What do you mean by ....? What exactly is ....? Be more precise in what you are feeling and trying to say...One has ot have precisely articulated idea sabout what one is doing...`

Basically if someone is making this kind of generalization (good/bad) then the practice one is doing is inefficient. There are only four central elemnts to focus on: rythm, intonation, expression (dynamics /articulation) and tone. (And in my case , spelling). You cannot focus on them all at the same time. So you need some kind of system whereby yiou pay attention to these factors and then isolate which one is weakest and find out on precisely which notes the problem occurs and then find exactly the right strategy for correcting that small problem and then go back to the whole and see how this has assimilated by repeatuing the procedure. If you don`t ahve the necessary technique or strategy to resolve this small problem area then that is where the teacher comes in....It is not the job of the taecher to say good or bad in the same generalizable way that you are using.

Its really this simply and it is almost never done. Just out of interest, do you tend to play through quite long segments when you peractice rather than working ion what actually need simproving? (Practicing performing is essential of course)

One book that has a very clear and helpful appraoch is Lewis Kaplans `Artistic Development.` (Or soemthing like that) You can proably get it from Shar.

ONce one gets into effective practicing then the ruts become less frequent because one has goals (as advised in the preceding psots) and is clealry moving towards them.



October 27, 2007 at 02:15 PM · Buri-I think the book was written by Burton Kaplan (his name seems to be synonymous with "practicing".)

Sara-hang in there! Try practicing slowly or something--if you play your repertoire slow enough to make a big, beautiful sound on every note...speeding it back will be a piece of cake AND your practice time will be much more effective. But trust doesn't matter how good you are, you will always have to fight your own frustrations with your playing. I've seen kids in my studio class play absolutely beautifully and then beat themselves up for it afterwards! Something to make you think...maybe it's not that you don't sound good--but quite the opposite, maybe your ears have begun to develop better because you've been more demanding? That's a good step, right? :)

October 27, 2007 at 03:58 PM · Normally when something does not sound good on the violin, there is a very simple solution to fix what seems like an unsolvable problem. Maybe one out of tune note will temper the rest of the pitches so that they are equally out of tune. Once the problematic note is found, all of the other notes will be equally adjusted. So, when practicing, it is important to ask yourself these fundamental questions to pinpoint a very simple solution:

Is the note you are playing too high or too low?

Are your muscles relaxed? Too much pressure?(especially your hands)

Is your bow moving too fast or two slow?

Is your bow on the correct sounding point?

Is the width of your vibrato appropriate?

October 27, 2007 at 04:55 PM · Thank you so much for all the responses! They've definitely changed my perspective while practicing. I've also discovered the problems that are affecting my practicing from the replies:

Technique- my bow arm is way too stiff and I have problems playing towards the frog, so I don't get the desired tone

Speed- I speed up too quickly, once I think I have most of the notes down I'm too impatient to know for sure so I just play the tempo I feel is best and it all goes down from there

My instrument in general- my bow needs a rehair (I had no idea it needed to be rehaired 1-2 times a year) and I bought some better rosin (I had the cheapest rosin that was about 4 years old).

Thanks a lot for the replies, I have been more motivated to practice now (as painful as it gets to try to improve the sound).

Also, this is a bit off subject but my vibrato is quick, not very wide and isn't stable. Any suggestions to make it wider and more natural?


October 27, 2007 at 05:11 PM · Sara, it sounds like you're on the right track with your realizations. As far as vibrato goes, check that your entire left arm/shoulder is relaxed - remember that the muscles begin well down in your back - so that you have freedom of movement. I've been noticing a slight nervous tightening of my vibrato recently, and all I have to do is release my shoulder for it to get wider and slower again.

October 27, 2007 at 07:48 PM · I don't think that "Wider vibrato" and "more natural" should be used in the same sentence. Actually, a narrow vibrato is not unnatural. It is just one of the several types that you need to have. To produce various colors on the violin, we need narrow vibrato, wide vibrato, fast vibrato, slow vibrato, and sometimes no vibrato, depending on the musical circumstance. Just try experimenting to get different types. The exact motions will be different for everyone.

October 30, 2007 at 03:23 PM · Some days when I have little motivation, I bring my mp3 player with me to the practice room and take out my violin and improvise with rock music. It's a fun way to get myself to take my fiddle out of the case and it's a great way to warm up muscles before doing strenuous work on the Bruch Violin Concerto #1 or my Tchaikovsky symphony exerpts. Change it up a bit! Do some jazz or rock improv. It's great ear training and really fun!

Also, some days when I have more time on my hands, I start out doing some yoga exercises. That helps me relax and focus and quiet my mind.

October 30, 2007 at 03:52 PM · Another technique I discovered is to mold the situation so that practice is a motivator rather than a demotivator.

For example:

This weekend was a cleaning weekend for me (The wife's parents are coming for a visit this week). So I used the violin to break up the cleaning regime. I would play a scale twice, throw some clothes in the laundry. Work on my technical piece 3 times and clean up the living room. Play a fun piece 3 times and wash the dishes....

I got in about 2 hours of practice in a 5 hours period and was actually looking forward to picking up the violin for a "break".

November 1, 2007 at 01:07 PM · Without seeing or hearing you it's hard to say, but in general, I would suggest the following.

#1 motivator: FEAR ^O^ Conductors, colleagues, and teachers are well-equipped to provide this. lol

#2. Check out - Prof. S. has his students on a wonderful regime of "3 minute virtuous moments'. Sounds like just the ticket for you.

#3. Get your mind off the clock entirely, and just try to accomplish ONE thing when you start. Start off with something like "I'm going to play this B natural in tune 5 times in a row."

Have in mind what it is, and tell yourself that once you've accomplished it, you quit.

November 3, 2007 at 07:31 AM · My tricks in this situation

1. If I'm feeling slow and lazy, start a 'slow and lazy' way of practising. Just a few easy scales in jazz rhythms for instance. Then I often get 'pulled in' and do a full session.

2. Recognise that the weather really influences how my instrument sounds: not so great in warm weather and it's not all my fault. But a professional violinist taught me a great way of making the violin sound better - it really works: 'massage' the violin by playing long, slow perfectly in tune 3rds and 6ths. Even on a bad day, this sounds good and somehow makes the violin sound better afterwards.

3. If I really can't face a full session, absolutely force myself to do basic maintenance work such as scales, even just for 20 mins, even if it doesn't sound great. Just like doing my weights or Pilates or brushing my teeth. Then, when the motivation comes back (and it's always cyclical), I'll not have dropped back too far.

This can even go so far that I have be my own 'inner parent' and TELL myself to play something. She's quite tough with me sometimes, but gets the job done. Only lets me off when I'm really sick. (Do I sound crazy?)

November 3, 2007 at 12:36 PM · No, just sounds like you have a well-developed superego ^o^

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