Sometimes I just don't feel like praciticing...

December 22, 2007 at 06:58 AM · I have a question.

I'm a musician, a violist actually. I've been playing viola for ten years and I'm in my second year at a music school. I'm doing well in my studio and I work hard. In another ten years, I'd like to be playing in a orchestra somewhere and I'd also like to teach either privately in a college setting.

But here's the thing... I have a life...outside of music. Some days, I just don't feel like praciticing. So some days I don't. and I dont REALLY feel like the world will end because I didnt practice.

And sometimes, I think about things that don't involve music. Like's Christmas break and after a stressful quarter of school I finally got to come home to spend time with my family. But as a result, I haven't been practicing like I would during school.

It sure does seem like every other musician everywhere in the world lives, breathes, and eats their instrument 24/7 plus some, but that's just not me. So does this mean that somewhere in my subconscious I dont REALLY want to be a musician? Or am I the normal one?

Maybe this is a silly question... but i seriously wonder sometimes... Is it okay to be a musician and a regular person too?

Replies (25)

December 22, 2007 at 03:07 PM · Nope. I'd say there's plenty of us who, up to some point, need to be in the proper mood to practice. I've heard of at least one of the 20th century masters who claimed to practice about 45 mins. a day, forget which, up to guys like Casals, who said he spent the first hour finding E on the D, and practiced all day. If you NEVER want to practice, or if you push NEEDFUL practicing off repeatedly, like not planning your preparation to be ready for recitals or concerts, & then trying to cram? maybe you are not cut out for a playing career. Otherwise you sound like a fairly normal college student to me. Sue

December 22, 2007 at 04:25 PM · "I've heard of at least one of the 20th century masters who claimed to practice about 45 mins."

Who said that?

December 22, 2007 at 05:15 PM · I always took a bit of a break after the quarter was over. I was tired. I bet you are too! You should feel better after some down time.

Also, good for you, for studying with Mr. Kawasaki and Dr. Carroll. You have very fine teachers!

-Anne Horvath, CCM Class of '93.

December 22, 2007 at 06:04 PM · Hi, Johnnia: You wrote, "Is it okay to be a musician and a regular person too?" ... Yes.

Of course, you have to define what a "regular person" is. A professor of mine in graduate school (psychology) decades ago said that the best definition of "normal" is that "Normal is a quality that every person has that disappears when you get to know them better."

If you're going to be a musician, it means that you somehow have to find the time to do the daily "chores" that being a professional musician requires.

I'm not sure it really matters how much time that is. If you have a concert to play and you are prepared, nobody cares how long it took you to prepare or what you had to do to get there.

I read somewhere that Isaac Stern hated to practice and that he often did so while watching baseball on TV. And sometimes he paid the price for it. But I heard him several times, and sometimes he was great (I think that's when he practiced).

Anyway, don't set an arbitrary time to practice or an arbitrary practice routine. The only question is, "What do I have to do to be fully prepared?" The answer to that question will tell you how much you have to practice.

And where does it say that you have to like every minute of it? If you had to leave it up to your daily likes and dislikes (which can be fickle) to determine whether you (or anyone else) will practice or not, no one would ever learn the violin. "Interest" is a great motivator for an overall goal, but an undependable motivator for daily work.

Hope that helps.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Cordially, Sandy

December 22, 2007 at 07:44 PM · I am also a college student, and let me tell you, there are TONS of days I don't feel like practicing. I thought for a while exactly what you are, does this mean there is something wrong with me??

After a lot of observation of my peers who live and breath music, I realized that I wasn't the abnormal one, THEY were. I am just as successful as them, I just achieve my success in an alternative way. If you major in anything else in school, even something that is as difficult and time consuming as music, it is perfectly acceptable to have other interests and take breaks from your work. Why is music any different?

I love to work out every evening, shop, take ballet classes, and go out to party every weekend, like EVERY other college student on my campus. And you know what? I find that by including balance in my life I've only become a better, more focused violinist, and a much happier person. Don't let the way the people around you behave influence the decisions you make in your everyday life. Figure out what is best for YOU and use your other interests and time away from music to your advantage.

December 22, 2007 at 08:04 PM · I call it practice-lag, and try and cut myself a break after an extended run for 1 day, maybe 2--every three months or so.

Especially for a college student I can relate. I would have been lucky to practice at all. But I've been around, done that, mellowed some, and for me it's just more of a focused at home, can do kind of thing to just stay consistent.

December 22, 2007 at 08:27 PM · I have to agree with the person above Albert.

I didn't really get into practicng much until about a year ago, and even then it was maybe an hour a day. But now I practice normally like most college violinists. You only need to do 4-5 hours a day. If you have a lot of rep because of a competition (some of which you sometimes have to learn a lot of stuff for), then I can see why some do more.

The friends I have who are really good at violin, winning and placing in big competitions and getting concert engagements, do practice a lot but they do a lot of other things and they like to go out and be with people. I know there are people who accomplish as much by practicing all day, laughing at nerdy music jokes and getting together to read music scores, but I am not like that and neither are my friends.

I recently took 2 weeks off after a lot of practicing because I just didn't want to play. It was bad and now I've realized something which makes life easier. Do you practicing in the morning, at least 2 hours before lunch. If you totally can't practice, then just put on a metronome and do your difficult rep really slowly. You'll get a ton accomplished and you can still zone out quite a bit. Just do your practice early in the day, and then you have so much time to do things you actually like. Sometimes, it's just ok not to practice. It's just violin. You have to take time off for things to settle in, and so that you can remember why you play in the first place comes back.

It's important to go out several times a week. People who stay in all the time scare me and frankly I don't get along with shut ins and hermits. So, I guess there are several ways of doing things, but living and breathing music is pretty creepy at times and in fact, some of the very best violinists simply don't live like that so I see no reason for the normal ones to do that either. Get a life, have a life. Practice is just PART of what you do.

So to answer your question, you're normal.

December 23, 2007 at 02:52 AM · There's a quote (attributed to King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, I believe) which goes:

When you're too tired to practice, don't do anything. And, as long as you're not doing anything, practice!

December 23, 2007 at 03:45 AM · sorry i didnt read most of the other posts...I'm in a rush. I feel are what you are. That's it. Everything else just adds and subtracts other things, whether it be skill, pride, love for it, etc.


December 23, 2007 at 07:45 PM · I think occasional practice breaks are good for you, when you're normally keeping up a rigorous conservatory schedule. It gives your muscles time to relax and refreshes your mind.

The real question you seem to be asking is, "Am I really a musician?"

Only you can answer that. I don't think it's a question of WANTING to be a either ARE one, or you aren't.

There are people who are 'real' musicians doing other stuff, and there are also people who aren't really musicians, but for whatever reason they learned to play an instrument competently - some of them even get jobs doing it.

Musicians are born, not made. How much discipline you practice in honing your skills is another question.

I'm gonna duck now...^o^

December 24, 2007 at 10:02 PM · There's way more to learning to play then there is in just handling the instrument hours every day or not. You are channeling emotions when you play, you are getting in touch with the beauty that was left over from a whole period in history when playing the classical repertoire and the transcendent beauty from this time itself when playing modern repertoire. To get in touch with those emotions requires much more than just playng the instrument every day a certain amount of hours. In fact, many people seem to spend much time conquering the notes in order to avoid getting in touch with the emotions (which would allow things to come together more my itself ). There certainly is no lack of people who can play all the notes, who practice untold hours a day but ones who can actually communicate the reason the music exists, that's very very rare indeed.

Whether you are allowing your mind to get in touch with that transcendent part of the music, art or life when you aren't playing might make a big difference....

December 24, 2007 at 10:36 PM · Greetings,

nice post Roelof. A couple of years ago I attended a sort of semi private rcital by a young man being hailed as the new god of Japanese violinists (after his sister). The comperes made a really big issue of how he always pracitced 14 hours a day and all the string player sin the audience were gaspng and genuflecting. Musiclly it was a dazzlingly dead recital. A month or so later I was chatting about this player to the cocnertmaster of the Osaka Phil who is a superb musician and even his firts comment about the guy was an awed `what a technique.` This seems to be the obession in Jaapn but o me tehcnique is only really part of theart of the violin when it is a) unnoticeable and b) nobody mentions it in either a positive or negatve sense.



December 24, 2007 at 10:56 PM · I see your new keyboard hasn't arrived yet--and to think, I told Santa he could spend as much as 14.99 on it just for you Buri.

December 25, 2007 at 05:15 AM · If I do not feel like practicing, I usually force myself to practice for at least 3 minutes, which inevitably leads to hours upon hours. Although, one time when I was really discouraged and someone had gave me a bad review or critique, I went 1 month without practicing, vowing to never play again. But it was like going into withdrawals, and I went back to practicing like an overdose of it. I think the month break did me some good, though.

December 25, 2007 at 05:53 AM · Buri, the most disturbing is when I hear someone who has a real heart for the music, but instead of this coming out, instead of the flowing of art that lays inside, one hears him or her trying to imitate this bravura techno-mania type of playing and one hears instead a performance which comes out like one trying to fight their way out of a self imposed restriction for trying to make the technique out to be something other than what takes care of itself. When the heart of the music is adhered to, when a person is encouraged to get in touch with the essence of the music, then the notes fall into place because they have meaning. It's very sad to see someone who would have this ability disabled from finding his or her flow with the music because of this techno-mania.

December 26, 2007 at 04:13 PM · Johnnia:

If you don't feel like practicing, don't: it's your life to do with as you please. But if you want that orchestral job, make sure you practice enough to get it. Not all of us have to be Heifitz (Yuri Bashmet? Elvis?)

Of course, some of us are compulsive about practicing. If I don't practice at least once a day - and twice on days I don't work - the wrath of Jehovah and jewish guilt would assault me, a pit would open up at my feet, and I'd be dragged kicking and screaming down into the depths of hell for eternal damnation.)

December 26, 2007 at 06:59 PM · Vengerov was almost forced to practice the violin as a kid. Without his mother he would have practised max. 20 minutes a day

Same with Gidon Kremer, he didn´t like to practice either. He wanted to become a fireman but his parents wanted him to become a violin soloist.

December 26, 2007 at 11:07 PM · I've had this same thought many times--if I don't want to practice every minute of every day, does that mean I don't REALLY want to be a musician?

Nah. Baloney. Practicing is to a musician like weight-lifting for an athlete, or number-crunching for a physicist: it can often be satisfying, rewarding and enjoyable, but it can also be tedious grunt work that just has to get done. The idea that a "Real Musician" just lives to practice, would practice 24/7 if not for the need to eat and sleep, and always loves every single minute spent with their instrument is just an idealized caricature of a musician drawn by people who don't know any better. :) Practicing is our work, dammit, and even someone who really loves their job doesn't want to be at work all the time!

December 26, 2007 at 11:35 PM · Well said, Mara.

December 26, 2007 at 11:31 PM · I found reading the Chapter on Discipline in Barry Green's book The Mastery of Music to be very helpful in this topic. It revealed to me that discipline is not something that everyone has, but it is something that everyone can choose to have. If music is something that you really love (which it is for me), then You need to choose to have discipline, to practice every day. Inspiration is good, but you need to keep going even when there is none, even when you don't feel like it.

Some tips:

Try practicing for 5 minutes. Just tell yourself that you're going to pick it up for 5 minutes, and if it isn't working after 5 mins, then you can put it down. If you're not sure, then 5 minutes more, and then 5 minutes more

Try working on a 10-2 system. Practice hard for 10 minutes, and then take a 2 minute break, and then work on something else for 10 minutes. Do this 5 times and you've got an hours practice. Focussing on different things keeps the mind engaged, and will make it more likely that you'll want to keep working.

December 27, 2007 at 12:14 AM · Mara:

Yes!! THat's EXACTLY what I was getting at!!!

December 27, 2007 at 12:44 AM · Cheers! ;-)

December 27, 2007 at 05:15 PM · This was very helpful because I know many students are feeling the same way! Thanks for starting this discussion

December 28, 2007 at 05:25 PM · Musicians aren't normal people.When I was still working as a guitar player,I would get home at 4 a.m. in town, or 1-2 a.m. on the road, and play(practice) for about 3 hours,sleep,get up and play until I had to go back to work.On days off, I would put in 12-18 hours.I couldn't get enough of it.I think it's the horrifying nature of the violin that makes me stare at the thing sometimes,instead of the psychotic things I would do to myself back then(12 fret stretches,the entire neck in chromatic scales in 64th notes for 20 minutes nonstop,etc.).I don't have a clue as to what "normal" is.............

December 28, 2007 at 08:59 PM · Johnnia,

Below is the address to a web page for classical guitarists, but it is so well written that it should be required reading for all who aspire to become a professional musician.

That aside, and in regard to your post, music is much more than much more. Roelof put this quite well, which reflects my philosophy from the start. But, as Mara mentions regular practice is a part of the life of a musician, or at least should be for the one who wants to be in a position to compete with those who duly put in their time! As for myself, I've the luxury of having come into this game at far too late a stage in life to seriously contemplate such things. So, I find I am able to pace myself in the learning process, never quite able to make progress as rapidly as I would like, but all the while comforted with the knowledge that what is of greater importance remains intact. And so it must be with all of us, aspirations aside.

Enjoy life with your instrument, and let this joy lead you where it will. Follow your heart. The head may contemplate music, but it is scarcely able to understand. The heart, however, has known of it all along, of the wonder that is true music, something quite apart from a mechanized delivery of notes written upon a page.


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