Escaping from bad start in a performance

June 9, 2008 at 10:14 PM · I have just given a disappointing first recital. A piece I first started working on over three months ago, and only 57 seconds long. But the first note I played was flat and the entire piece stayed just about exactly as flat throughout (not the open strings, of course). Unfortunately, there was a piano, so the relative consistency of pitch was not a benefit. As I consider what I need to work on to avoid a repeat of this experience, I am stumped by the part where I was off, and I knew I was off, but I just couldn't manage to come back up to where I needed to be. It was like I was trapped in the Land of Bad Intonation. I had done this once before with this piece - six weeks ago. Silly me! - I thought it was an aberration.

So, what I need to know is a strategy - or a series of strategies - for regrouping on the fly. What can I do to return to the correct pitch if I have started badly and I cannot just stop and start over? And how do I practice it?

Many thanks for any ideas!

Replies (57)

June 9, 2008 at 11:32 PM · Try practicing slowly! And make sure you check your intonation.

June 9, 2008 at 11:35 PM · Hi Marianne,

The first thing is to remember that ear is more important than finger in intonation. If you hear a note out of tune, simply fix it (the vibrato can be a great help in this regard). Practicing slowly is of course helpful, but keeping one's mind clear on focusing on active listening during performances is of the utmost importance for intonation.

Best of luck, and remember that though something happened once, it doesn't have to happen again. You already took the important step in seeing how to deal with it.


June 9, 2008 at 11:54 PM · Thanks for your comments so far. Maybe I did not make myself perfectly clear. The piece was one I had practiced for months, and which I have often played at or near the peak of my ability. I started off pitch and, although I knew it, I could not free myself of the pitch I had set in error. I would be grateful for hints on how to make that correction when I get stuck as I did yesterday. Many thanks!

June 10, 2008 at 12:45 AM · If I'm understanding you correctly, the cause of the problem might be that your intonation study thus far has focused, perhaps exclusively, on melodic, or note to next note listening. If this is the case, you will benefit from also cultivating harmonic listening.. If one plays a C Major scale listening only melodically, he selects the D on the basis of finding a beautiful interval from C to D; then the E is selected on the basis of a satisfying interval from D to E, etc. (C-D, D-E, E-F, F-G etc.) However, in harmonic listening the means of finding each pitch is on the basis of the key note: (C-D, C-E, C-F, C-G etc). You'll benefit most from perfecting both skills. A third means of pitch reference is in cultivating the hearing of changes in vowel sound (timbre) that result from the tiniest changes of pitch. For the problem you are describing, it seems that strengthening your harmonic listening is the most relevant point. One way of doing this is to find 8-16 measures in a piece, all of which remain in one key. Then, while practicing this excerpt, frequently insert the key note after every few notes. See if hearing the key note (rather than the previous note in the piece) causes you to play the next note with a slightly higher or lower pitch than you would have played without this reference.

June 10, 2008 at 12:41 AM · Greetings,

to add a litlte to what Oliver said, it soudns like you are not pracitcing scales enough or , as noted , not praciticng them correctly.

You might find it helpful to practice as folows.

Take a scale (c will do). Play cfgcfgcfgc depenidng onw hetehr oyu are doing two or three octaves. You have practice the toic, subdomand dominat. These are constants and should always be perfectly in tune and invariant. Check them with open stirngs wherever posisble. Now do the sclae again but add the 3rd and 7th degree. Try and make these very close to the tonics. This is open to some intepretation on the part of the player. Some like an extremly high 3rd and 7th, others a litlt eless so.The oint is to work on them in relation to the consisten 145145. Finally add the 2nd and 6th degree of the scles. Thes emust be tunes halfwya between the two adjacnet notes . Can you see why the choice you make about the 3rd and 7th degree will have some effetc on thes enotes. Another point to bear in mind is that you cannot vary the picth betwene octaves. If you use one pitch for d in th elower octave thye d in the next octave should be the same,



June 10, 2008 at 12:52 AM · You indicate that this happened at or near the beginning of a piece that lasts about a minute. If this was at your teacher's studio recital I say stop and start again. Relax take a deep breath.

Work on adjusting for this situation as you practice.

June 10, 2008 at 03:27 AM · I agree with Lisa - I find that when I'm playing through things wven with my teacher accompanying, I can hear that I'm off, but it's like my fingers REFUSE to stop and let me regroup. Sometimes I'll say out loud that I'm planning to get back to the pitch at some music marking....

I understand you are saying that this wasn't a chronic issue, more a performance issue. I say that you did well to have the bow on the strings, even if the intonation was flat. Tension / nerves may have siezed up your left hand, so that you didn't feel comfrotable to stretch out. Also, the sense thatyou're performing somehow seem sto forbid staopping and starting again. But if it happens next time: stop and restart, you'll feel happier about it. There's been a lot written about preformance anxiety as well on this board, you could check it out - look under 'shakes" as well as anxiety :)

Playing in a warm up situation might help to unseize the fingers as well - do it when you've got the adrenalin pumping, when you're a bit nervous and visualise soft and relaxed, or clench first then play - you feel the difference in tension vs relaxed.

Know where in the piece you can land your geographical markers on the fingerboard, and practise getting to them from all over the place, so that your playing in performance isn;'t so reliant on the kinaesthetic memory of the intervals you've been practising - if you've been the same amount out all the way through, then you probalbly have good forward planning for the muscle memory, all you need to learn is how to set it up right under different circumstances.

June 10, 2008 at 04:18 AM · I too have experienced this exact problem before. Not just in performance, but in lessons and practice as well. Warming up does not help. I'm curious to the suggestion of practicing scales and intonation in an entirely different manner (base note vs. previous note). This is probably what my teacher was suggesting when he wants me to practice scales with a drone note.

June 10, 2008 at 11:29 AM · Hi,

Actually Mendy, practicing scales with a drone note, usually an open string teaches you to hear and adjust to resonance making the correcting process that I mentioned easier and faster. To have more in this regard, you can read the passages on intonation in Flesch's Art of Violin Playing, volume 1.

Freeing ourselves from a mistake is a psychological thing rather than physical thing. In the case of intonation, unless there is a hearing weakness, which was not the case it seems in Marianne's case, then accepting the mistake and making the instant correction of intonation and continuing on is simply a choice that one makes.


June 10, 2008 at 02:30 PM · this occurrence is not unique, seen everywhere in life, when we are put under the microscope and told to show what we've got, except with violin it is more challenging for the flow is non-stop. there is no room to sit down to catch one's breath, sip something cold, refresh one's melting mind... if one makes one mistake in the very beginning, it may ripple through the rest of the piece. at least it can because one's mind is open to suggestions of impending doom. that, to me, is precisely the problem: psychological, as suggested by christian.

in addition to the excellent suggestions on developing better tech fundamentals with earlier postings, i think it is about how to prime for a performance, to channel anxiety into something that is not interruptive, to maintain a sense of well being in the midth of chaos, to chuckle inside that the entire audience look goofy and naked...and let me show you how it is done!

christian further suggested that "then accepting the mistake and making the instant correction of intonation and continuing on is simply a choice that one makes." that is easier said than done for most folks with no or superficial training, that is, it is not a matter of awareness or even know how, but a matter of proper conditioning, AFTER we have made the choice of the correct path.

i have had the opportunities closely observing some of the top junior golfers in the world in action. a violin recital piece for a beginner lasts minutes, a round of competitive golf lasts hours, so it affords the opportunities to observe and study how a young person reacts and acts under continued ups and downs. my conclusion? you see one, you see all. everyone goes through the same stress cycle and it is those who have anticipated, conditioned and prepared better develop better poise and perform better. the stress is still there, the mind still goes blank, one min ago one can write a book on it and right now one freezes and can barely breath let alone think calmly. here is a list of things i would suggest.

1. preview and review honestly and critically the good and the not good. with the not good, "escaping" from it is not the right frame of mind. CONFRONT IT. welcome it, invite it into one's heart and study it, analyze it, break it down into little neutral parts, treat it like a friend with a little funny temper instead of a monster or an enemy. learn to work with it, work along it, coax it to perform at its best. find something comical or funny about it. a little humor and humility goes a long way dealing with fear.

2. solid tech foundation is the key before we even talk about psychology. one can't build anything out of thin air. yet, before a performance, a piece should be played in front of similar conditions to condition the nerves, thus with music we have dress rehersals, with soccer we have warm up matches, with golf we have practice rounds. one skips it at higher risk of not knowing what to do when confronted with unknowns. so the question is not have you practiced enough, rather, it is have you practiced enough under the right condition?

ps..looking over my own post, i see the absurdity in that when someone has issues with the first recital, i suggest she needs to have more recital experience before the first recital. hmm, very helpful!

June 10, 2008 at 02:57 PM · I had the same problem during a recent recital. I was okay with intonation but my performance lacked the energy that I usually had in the practice room. It was like, "blah, blah, blah when's this thing over?" type of playing. I guess I spent all that extra energy in the practice room and didn't leave enough for the performance.

June 10, 2008 at 04:00 PM · Two other things you could do: have "whatever happens, go on playing" sessions with your piece, and record them. You can then use the recordings for analysis of strong points and points that need attention.

For me, playing with piano accompaniment is a challenge, intonation-wise. If you can, practice that too.

Hope this helps!

June 10, 2008 at 06:14 PM · who says you can't start over ?

just start over--its only a minute piece.

musicians often start over.

just play--repeat or start over as needed....

June 10, 2008 at 06:55 PM · I watch these shows infrequently, but one of the American Idol contestants started on the wrong pitch and simply began again with no apologies or visible frustration. The judges thought (at least publicly) that what she did was brave and classy. I would say that as long as you make it absolutely rare and never start over more than once, it would not have a negative effect on your reputation.

June 10, 2008 at 06:59 PM · Al stated: "...treat it like a friend with a little funny temper instead of a monster or an enemy. learn to work with it, work along it, coax it to perform at its best."

Al, what a fantastic way to describe fear. I fight fear and stage fright myself and although I've always tried to just "work with it" that doesn't always help. But thinking about it as something with a quirky personality of it's own sheds a whole new light on the subject.

June 10, 2008 at 07:33 PM · Marianne,

Before your recital, did you do any dry runs? Few seasoned professionals will just get up on stage with a new piece. At music schools, there's a well-trodden path to the recital: lesson-lesson with accompanist's teacher-play for friends or anyone outside the practice room-performance class-masterclass with guest artist-performance at retirement homes or schools-dress rehearsal ( often more than one) and finally: recital.

By the time of the recital, the program should be old hat. For most of us mortals, it's just unrealistic to go out on stage and nail the piece to our satisfaction the first time without testing the piece first in a variety of circumstances.


June 10, 2008 at 07:51 PM · I don’t think there’s a violinist here who hasn’t had something like that happen at least once.

The advice already given here is excellent, but I would add just one thing. Many of the quick corrections that musicians make when performing and practicing can only come with time and exposure. Over time, as you practice correctly at home and in lessons, you'll most likely begin making corrections as you hear them more quickly. Eventually, you'll find that you’ll often correct intonation, tempo, etc. without even consciously realizing it.

As for a strategy for performing, I agree that starting over is an option if absolutely necessary, But as has already been stated, the practice of stopping and starting again should be used very sparingly, otherwise it can easily turn into an unwanted habit (one I’ve been working to break for years).

I think it would be hard to strategize in advance for performing – that’s the excitement of it. But as your foundation becomes more solid, I think this will become less and less of an issue for you.

Welcome and Good Luck!

June 10, 2008 at 08:21 PM · joe's suggestion of starting over is interesting. even though i would not put a poster on the wall of the recital wall demanding it, i think for some people, knowing that there is an option of doing it over, the suggestion may actually alleviate pressure, allowing some of the some to go through with the first take with less pressure and more success. and if those can build confidence and routines on that positive experience, it may be a great option among others.

by and large, i think classical music has a very very high standard, a standard so high that nothing else compares. no one wants to spook others with the word "perfection" but deep inside, most aspire or wet-dream to have that perfect solo recital where every note flows out nicely and every musical thoughts expressed just right. imagine that, because it does not happen often:):):)

thus the problem of dealing with the reality where positive thoughts of perfection is met with negative energy of dealing with slipped fingers, rushed tempo, etc etc etc. question: how come that violinist is not smiling? answer: because he is worrying about the next performance.

be perfectly happy to be yourself after you have prepared your best. whatever happens you don't care, i mean you don't give sheet, because the moment you care you will be distracted by negative thoughts or plagued by flat notes.

perfection and heifetz are both stupid; your very best under the circumstances is smart! :)

June 10, 2008 at 10:31 PM · Greetings,

al, as the resident golf pro, isn`t their a starting over concept applie din in that noble sport called somethign like `taking a Mulligan?`



June 11, 2008 at 02:44 AM · to have the courage

to renew again is noble.

granted, but sometimes

you may be in a situation

where you deserve another chance.

its worth a chance to do better

if you realize you've failed

on your first attempt.

sometimes,if you do not give

yourself another try,then no one else will.

its worth the attempt.

only yourself is on the line

if you fail,which you will,then

who can redeem your mistake

or mistakes with the piece ?

only you--you are on the stage

and no one can help you.

we all start off wrong-from time to time.

when you start off wrong,then you know it.

its up to you to remedy the situation

in the best fashion available to you.

normally,an off key start should be rectified

within just a very few seconds..

adjust to whatever you are faced with,

its all a part of any piece.

sometimes you win,often you fail.

just try your very best,thats the best

you can do .

we are not perfection,no one is.......

June 12, 2008 at 12:07 AM · I appreciate all your comments, ideas, and friendly commiseration. It doesn't make the slightest difference, but I sort of want to say that I had practiced the piece extensively, with piano (both my teacher - who accompanied me - and with a recording) and twice, a week apart, in the performance venue. I don't know - I guess it's OK with me if anyone who reads this sees that I am inexperienced and cannot necessarily summon up my best every time, but I'd hate to have it thought that I didn't prepare.

Anyhow, I am interested to read what Oliver and Buri are saying about harmonic listening and different ways to practice scales. Can you suggest a book (or method) or two that address this sort of practice? Many thanks!

June 12, 2008 at 05:06 AM · I've played violin for years, and have practiced pieces extensively to the point of what I feel is perfect, only to perform and find that--well, for me it's not intonation, but a rigid bow hand due to nerves.

My experience is that the intonation part becomes second nature after years of practice. For me, it has almost never suffered noticeably under pressure, but again, maybe some people have more difficulties with intonation, others like me with the right hand.

I really admire adult beginners who are so diligent about the violin.

June 12, 2008 at 08:20 AM · To complete Oliver and Buri's advices I would recommand an exercice described by wolfram Koening in "Moderne Violintechnik". Place gently your finger on the supposed right spot of the desired note ;let say D which remains muted,draw back your finger to be sure the note will be too low say C# then extend it up to Eb then back to the supposed right note (D) press your finger onto the finger- bord then compare the note to open string. During the to and fro motion the finger must remain on then string.. You can compare unisson,octave minor third and minor sixth. This "a la Dounis" exercice should give you confidence in your intonation ,develop your adpation ability and improve you vibrato. best luck

By way who decided you messed up you concert? you or the audience? That makes a great difference.

June 12, 2008 at 02:06 PM · I recall hearing something where Heifetz was asked how it was he played so much better in tune than everyone else - his response was that he didn't play any better in tune than others, he just fixed his mistakes quicker! Don't get sucked into pressing your fingers down too hard, especially when something is loud or difficult - you need to stay lighter if you want to be able to fix things fast. I might add that along with careful and thoughtful prep, I think it helps overall to learn the music well enough so you can imagine what you want to hear when you play - singing helps, I find. Then just relax and play the tune.

Chances are the mistake happened because of tension, so get rid of it. Take a deep breath, make sure to breathe out all the way so your shoulders really relax (chiropractor showed me that trick, very neat) and continue. The mistake is done, so let it go.

June 13, 2008 at 04:25 PM · I've told this story several times on this website, but it bears repeating with this discussion. In the mid or late 1960's, I heard David Oistrakh in Chicago play the Prokofiev 1st Concerto.

First movement was out of this world. But at the second movement, that exciting and difficult scherzo, he got off to a lousy start and never caught up. He did exactly what you're talking about here. He messed up. He missed notes, the bowing was sloppy, and (as I recall) it sounded like he faked a couple of passages. It's as if he started off one beat behind and never made it up. He went through the whole movement like that. It was - by anyone's definition - a disaster; playing unworthy of the most untalented violinist.

The third movement, however, like the first, was a dream. Wonderful playing in the classic Oistrakh manner, technically and musically.

In spite of the second movement flub, the audience gave Oistrakh a standing ovation. He bowed, walked offstage with the conductor, and then - as the applause continued - he and the conductor returned to the stage. He picked up his violin and tuned it briefly, and the audience quieted down quickly, awaiting the inevitable encore.

And, lo and behold, as an encore, he replayed that troublesome 2nd movement. This time, however, it was the most exciting, technically brilliant, energetic, musical playing you could ever hear. And (if memory serves) it was note-perfect.

Needless to say, the audience went wild at the conclusion.

Soooooo, if this approach is good enough for David Oistrakh.......


June 13, 2008 at 02:03 PM · IMHO, Oistrakh was perhaps the greatest class act among the greats. It is hard for me to imagine any other great violinist doing that.

June 13, 2008 at 04:23 PM · Indeed he was.

There's another story from, I think, the biography of Yehudi Menuhin done years ago (I forgot the author). Apparently, the 12-year-old (already world famous) was playing the Brahms in Carnegie Hall, and in the middle of the first movement, simply stopped playing. He apparently just "forgot." The conductor (and I don't remember who that was) turned to the audience and said something to the effect of, "Give him a break; he's only a kid." Menuhin and the orchestra picked up from there and went on. But afterwards, Menuhin stormed backstage, furious (at himself) that he had had that memory lapse.

June 14, 2008 at 04:33 AM · I mostly play fiddle music & don't know if this would necessarily apply to classical music but...

If I botch something at the beginning of a piece I try to subtly comment on my goof up in the next musical phrase. Maybe I'll stress a note that I wouldn't normally stress-- I try to somehow make an honest comment ("Oh rats, that ----ed"), even if no one is aware of it but me. This reconnects me with my violin emotionally so there isn't a huge gap between what I'm feeling and what I'm playing. I used to feel like if I goofed the first measure, I went out of contact with my instrument and faked it for the rest of the piece.

April 24, 2009 at 08:46 PM ·

I have just had a repeat of this particular technical problem with playing - although not in recital, thank all the powers that be.  Started off sharp this time, while playing with a piano, and could not escape the error, through many many many measures.  For what it's worth, the immediate problem seems to have been that my left elbow was bent a little too sharply and my hand simply was not in the correct place.  I panicked and began struggling, but the more panicked I was,  the tighter I gripped the neck of the instrument.  So you can imagine that I did not solve the problem on the fly, since the solution was to loosen my grip and adjust my hand.

Next task: practice more with the piano.  If my teacher and I can stand the sound, maybe try to purposely play sharp, then flat with it.  What the heck - maybe I'll even try playing in tune.

April 24, 2009 at 10:16 PM ·


In my long life of playing I have been in two memorable bad-start orchestra performances that were restarted by the conductor.


The first, 1n 1951, was the All-Maryland High School Orchestra in Baltimore under the baton of Leroy Anderson.  He didn't like the start of the symphony (I want to remember Brahms, but I'm probably wrong) and started us all over again.

The second event, at leat 30 years later, a Mendelssohn piano concerto performance: the soloist got off and the conductor restarted everything. Reall yfooled the reviewer who blamed the orchestra for getting off.

Best one I ever saw was our Swarthmore College orchestra performance of a Beethoven piano concerto.  The conductor fainted just as the solo part was to begint and instead of starting to play the soloist rose from his bench to catch him before he fell off his podium and hit the floor - a very dramatic slow motion thing.  After the conductor came to we resumed from the beginning of the concerto.

Point being that if you do it with grace you can get away with it..

Start with a bad note? Try retuning - it will fool almost everyone!



April 24, 2009 at 11:49 PM ·

restart and take a deep breath to shake off the cobwebs

April 25, 2009 at 09:24 AM ·

I wouldn't be too disheartened if I were you. There are great players who get off to a bad start. Take Gill Shaham in this clip.

It's only a rehearsal, but he accidentally plays the 1st 4 notes too flat, but then adjusts it and it is spot on after that. If one of the best violinists in the world can start a piece flat then don't be too hard on yourself!

April 25, 2009 at 10:12 AM ·


     "He plays the first four notes too flat"..... Just say it's your interpretation and go on with it. ;)


April 25, 2009 at 11:08 AM ·

i think the first word in the title of the thread may be the issue where "escaping" may be a figure of speech but it suggests to me a mentality that may need to be channelled into something more,,mmm, whatever:)

on the stage, you can't run, you can't hide.   really have to drill that into our heads ahead of time so the moment we walk on stage, it is like, oh, been here and going to do just fine.

get stressed during practice, rehearse with tension and anxiety, challenge yourself during practice that you can play certain sections with no mistakes couple times in a row.  reward yourself  lavishly:) if you can achieve that.  walk away from the mentality of hate to fail to the faith of  love to perform well.   on the stage, it is not about tech anymore, it is about enjoying to be in a tight spot.   in fact, 2 people can make the same mistake on stage, one enjoys the process and the other does not,,,each sends out different vibes to the listeners, probably to themselves as well.

in other words, every time you practice, find ways to make the session more "stressful" to the point that you get used to it or even start to enjoy it.  most pros in other professions also get butterflies in their stomachs,,,it is a human reaction, but with training, they learn to quickly bring the anxiety under control.   this is learn-able.

April 25, 2009 at 03:56 PM ·

Sander, what a courage example for all!  For all Oistrakh's fans, he is a genius and I agree 100% with this but it doesn't mean that he wasn't a human being at the same time!  I have heard only one recording when he really rushed through something and I don't know why, it didn't seem intentional...  but who never did this... I noticed than even him and other greats could do at a much much better level of control, the same classical types of mistakes as everyone makes. On recordings, when his E string whistles really obviously, when a chord "cracks" or buzz etc it is not rare that he made a few other little "mistakes" afterwards like if he was distracted and stressed because of the first one he did but then always inevitably and this is what I admire so much of his playing/willing personality, tries even harder to give a good performance and produce an even more wonderful sound than when he begun the piece/concerto. I am sure this "little mistakes-incredible playing just after making them" pattern is not a coincidence. I'm sure all artists have a way to cope with their little mistakes and Oistrakh took the bull by the horns after each of them trying even harder (from the pattern I hear on recordings.) Not everyone can come back after a few things went slightly wrong like he did! 

 Just to say that I realized that professionals do have a kind of performance anxiety and that even if they can do 99/100  of the time incredible things, they still are 1% exposed to be tired, stressed, start too fast, buzz, whistle, arrive to low/high etc.  They have huge talent and much better control to get themselves out of tricky situations but still no human has totally dominated this evil instrument (I think IMHO) But some like Oistrakh and others came really close and are geniuses because of this!

Marianne, I know what you mean!  It happens to me so often but I really think that the more experience one has, the more one is able to get out of these bad starts.  A really good violinist told to practice the starts like mad because everything can go wrong or well depending on the start.  He suggested to walk, place you instrument and play the first few bars as an exercise.  I think we never do this ennough!

Good luck,


April 25, 2009 at 05:58 PM ·

I don't know what level you are at, but sometimes for amatuers, they just start really fast and are not really ready. While this won't fix your intonation overall, it will help you start out better in the clutch. When I started doing recitals it helped me to tune to the piano and then lightly tap the first note I was going to play. Then I could hear a little ring and know it would work out. This becomes less critical the more experience you get at the whole process. If you are inexperienced as a performer or public speaker time tends to speed up for you but no one really cares in the audience. You have to breath and take what time you need to collect yourself. No one will fault an amatuer for 4 seconds of preparation before starting. Also if it is too late, play a double stop and figure out if you are flat or sharp and then do a small shift of your whole had. Practice this on scales and it will surprise you sometimes.

April 25, 2009 at 11:48 PM ·

That is a good post, J Kingston.  Time both seems to stand still and race by once you know you are about to perform. And the audience is very forgiving.  

April 26, 2009 at 04:02 AM ·

I had quite an insight when I realised that under stress my fingers bend more than usual, putting off my intonation and sometimes missing strings.  Perhaps you could experiment and see whether some stress-caused physical changes are putting you off?  Once I recognised the problem, I could work on consciously relaxing the fingers.

April 26, 2009 at 11:52 AM ·

I was reading The Practice Revolution after Buri recommended it in his blog.  I haven't finished it, but I've already gotten a number of insights from it.  One suggestion the author makes is to practice starting a piece.  Yes, of course, practice intonation, listening, etc., but also practice starting as a task in and of itself.  Give yourself a makeshift stage, walk out, put your violin up, and play the first few measures.  Have in mind what you want to do when you start:  play the first note in tune, get a certain tempo, etc.  First practice just getting the right note.  Do that until you get it right several times.  Then practice getting the tempo you want.  Do that until you get it right several times.  Then combine the two (or three or however many you have). 

He pointed out that if you don't actually practice starting as a task itself, and just rely on starting performaces as they come up, it could take you years to get as much practice starting as you would get if you isolate and focus on it and devote specific time to it.

So when this (or something else) happens to you the first time in practice, you're forewarned.  Put it on your list of things to practice when practicing starting. 

April 26, 2009 at 12:35 PM ·

Karen, I agree so much! Put some totoos on chairs, ligh a spotlight and play the game... Looks stupid but it is true!


April 26, 2009 at 09:25 PM ·


I have a little bit different train of thought here than most of the posters seem to have. :-)  I believe you that you practiced it perfectly and played it perfectly in tune reliably before the event.  It seems that when you began playing for the recital and you heard that it was out of tune, you felt paralyzed and unable to correct yourself. 

Someone did point out that during performances, we tend to tense up.  My observation is that not only do people play with tension during performances, but the vast majority of student violinists deal with almost an inhibiting amount of tension as a part of their technique.   If you take a look at your violin's neck, you will see that it's wider near the bout, and gets narrower as you get closer to the scroll.   Imagine that you put a carpenter's clamp near the scroll and tightened it down.  Would you be able to move it toward's the violin bout?  Not easily at all. :-)  Now imagine that you have the usual amount of unfortunate tension in your hand and you add to that tension that you might have because of performance anxiety, and your hand is an exact replica of this situation.  No wonder you felt paralyzed!  If you can work out the tension in your left hand that you have trained into your technique, then you will be much more free to do instant corrections during performances.

I'll list here the common tension locations I see in my students.  1) Your left shoulder.  Are you lifting your left shoulder even a microscopic amount?  A good fitting shoulder-rest/chinrest combo can really help you with this.  2) neck.  Are you clamping with your head, or does your chinrest "hook" under your jaw, allowing the violin to rest without being clamped onto?  3) Left thumb.  If you are holding the instrument properly between your shoulder and chin/jaw, you should not even need your thumb to play the violin.  Beware that there is no opposition pressure between your left fingers and your left thumb.  4) Base joint of 1st finger.  Often a beginner's base of index finger is clamped against the neck.  I find that teaching arm vibrato in even the early beginning stages can free up this part of a student's technique.  Make sure you don't have contrary pressure between the fingertips and the base of the 1st finger.  5) The left hand's fingers.  The action of the finger traveling to and hitting the string should have an almost instantaneous release.  If your finger is putting pressure from holding the string down then your technique can be hindered.

My students practice an exercise with their left-hands to solidify this type of very relaxed playing with soft thumb and fingertips.  They play: 0 1 2 3 4 3 4 3 4 3 4 3 4 3 2 1 0 first with quarternotes, then eights, then sixteenths, then 32nds.  First, do the exercise with no bow so you can concentrate entirely on the proper finger action.

And, btw, I learned this technique and exercise from Valerie Bobbett Gardner  I highly recommend her teaching hints. :-)

April 26, 2009 at 11:01 PM ·

Also, sometimes it is a good I think to be confident you can start from anywhere in a piece not just from the beginning or at the section breaks. That way you don't have to start overif there is trouble. This of course means you really know it. On a 50 second piece it might not work so well, but it is good to have someone call out a measure and you start from there while looking at the sheet. That way you don't keep going if there are problems but you mentally restart where you are at. The other posts are really good too. Of course playing it many times before the recital helps too. Force your family and friends to be the audience. Invite people over for coffee, dinner, and play it...before dinner, again after, breakfast, lunch...cocktails, name it. Then the recital is not as shocking if it is the 5th time you have played it before a crowd however small the crowd.

April 27, 2009 at 12:06 AM ·

I can't relate to this discussion because I've never made a mistake....(I thought I did once, but I was wrong).
:) Sandy

April 27, 2009 at 04:21 PM ·

You know what I think is really interesting about this?  The fact that you are playing in tune to yourself.  If only you could get a pianist who was capable of transposing down or up a half a step immediately, then BOTH of you could be transposing at the same time and there would be no problem.  So, what you've done is essentially transpose the piece based upon the note you started on.  Kudos.  At least you've trained your fingers to know their relative distances for intervals.  Are you a kinesthetic learner?  That would seem appropriate.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time, nor will it be the last time you will start on the wrong note.  I think it was Heifetz who once said something like--I don't play perfectly in tune all the time, I just fix it faster than anyone else.  Whoever said it, there certainly is truth to it.  If you want to rid yourself of intonation woes forever, play the guitar or the piano.

When a violinist hits a wrong note, in order to fix it, she must very quickly ascertain what she needs to adjust for the next note in order to make it right.  In your panic, you're relying on your muscles to help you make that decision when really it's the BRAIN that needs to work for you.  It sounds to me like your fingers aren't quite sure what to do once they've hit that first wrong note--and, that's right!  THEY DON'T.  Your brain does.  The muscles are only trained to do what we teach them.  What happens in performance is everything else--that's the creative part.  The part where you have to think on your feet.

Actually, it's not as easy as it looks.  My suggestions aren't too different from what's been said, but some ideas for Training Your Brain to Rule Your Fingers includes:  practicing scales and chromatic scales, practicing etudes, singing your piece, practicing memorized starting from random spots in the piece,  transposing easy pieces, loosening up your death grip on the violin, embracing your beautiful out-of-tune self who is so amazing she can simultaneously transpose a piece a half step up or down while playing next to a pianist playing in an entirely different key signature (hey, just call it a twelve tone experiment).  Eventually, your brain will learn to do this quick process:  Am I sharp or flat?  Which direction does my next finger need to go to hit the note right on.  Or, even better, your fingers will know your fingerboard so well, they know where the sounds are--just like singing.  Lots of experience, lots of training, lots of scales.  All of us play out of tune from time to time.  Anyone who doesn't is playing a synthesizer, and that's yucky.  Ewwwww . . .

April 27, 2009 at 05:12 PM ·

I had a teacher drill into us to never give your mistake away!  We got to the point that we wouldn't even flinch or twitch an eyebrow.  The result?  We were no more in tune than any other kids in school, but we always received complaments like, "Your group has the best intonation than any other school group.  you must be the ones that really practice."  This is no lie! Yes we did work on intonation, but no sooner did we stop making wry faces, or stomp a foot when we made a mistake people seem to either not notice it, or we had adult musicians come up to us complamenting us for not giving our mistakes away.


April 27, 2009 at 10:20 PM ·

Royce this is true!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


April 27, 2009 at 11:37 PM ·

Don't thank me. Thank Maestro Craig Jones!

April 28, 2009 at 01:46 AM ·

never restart.  bad idea all around.  you compensate...add some slides and your own "takes" to fake an interpretation...also, end like dynamite.  if they leave remembering the last 10 seconds, you're good - so make it count!

-Ross Christopher

April 29, 2009 at 12:15 AM ·

Ross, my teacher always jokes telling that in concerts for amateurs two thing are important. The beginning (first impression) and the end (last impression).  Between this it can sound like sh... but the people will be happy. Poor one who has the middle part beautiful and will never be acknoledge for it beause his begining/ending is ordinairy!!! However, I am not saying to neglect the middle part! 


April 29, 2009 at 09:03 AM ·


absolutely. Who wants tight buns,  slabs for pecs and a beer gut?



April 29, 2009 at 11:51 AM ·

Anne-Marie: Your teacher might have been quoting Sir Thomas Beecham, who once said that an orchestra should always start together and end together - "The public doesn't give a damn what goes on in between."
:) Sandy

April 29, 2009 at 01:38 PM ·

yes very true, of course, one has to work the middle too :) But it's true that the public is much more reactive to the start and end.  Could this come from the fact that many pieces have nice melodic parts at the too ends but are boring in the middle?  It seems to me that when the composer composed a piece that is beautiful all way long (ex Mendelshon concerto), one listens all the way through...


April 29, 2009 at 08:50 PM ·


Anne-Marie,  what you are suggesting is that i standard classical works listeners are not interested in development. This seems to mirror society quite precisely.



April 29, 2009 at 11:58 PM ·

lol this is a complete different thread but although it is far from being the norm, some pieces get long and boring in the middle... (even if you try to get interested)  I can not say that all symphonies/concertos are super entertaining from the start to the end!  But many are interesting and are so much that this is why I love and play (hum try...) to play violin!  Again all this is a matter of taste only!

A nice day to all!


April 30, 2009 at 02:27 PM ·

Andrew -

If I was EVER giving a performance and the conductor fainted at the podium, they would hear my body hitting the floor in a faint a few seconds later.  Seeing something like that would do me in on the spot.

---Ann Marie

April 30, 2009 at 02:49 PM ·

You might also wish to investigate a book full of very sound advice called The Performer Prepares by Robert Caldwell.  Assuming you have worked on the technical improvements and exercises suggested by Buri, Oliver, and others, you may find the exercises and insights in this book very helpful. Of special note are some exercises used in handling stage fright which help change the focus of one's concentration.

  As for the comments about  audiences not listening in the middle or being less interested  in the "development" section compared with the beginning and endings of pieces, I take note that some performers like Menachem Pressler and the Guarneri Quartet had a sense of flow and inevitability about their interpretations that one was drawn to following the discourse of every note. Mr. Pressler would frequently look at his colleagues and scarcely at the music giving the impression he was actively engaged in a fascinating conversation  or discussion that he did not want to miss out on. It drew the audience in as well. In listening to a performance of the Guarneri doing the Grieg Quartet you could feel the inexorability of their phrasing and the momentum with which they invested each phrase in an indisputable ebb and flow that brought you along from one note to the next, one phrase to the next, one section to the next, one movement to the next. Great musicians can indeed make you forget that you are listening to a collection of pieces of notes and instead listening to a whole organism that is a complete indivisible entity.

April 30, 2009 at 04:01 PM ·

Play scales to a drone. I have a CD of alal the scales and it supplies several versions of drone for each scale.

Kaplan's Practicing for Artistic Success."  One of the best dang books I have ever read, along with Drew Lecher's books. This book is so good I take it on trips to keep up with the superb suggestions. Drew's books are more about the actual physical task of playing well, this book is the mental side of how to practice for success. Both books together are dynomite.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Business Directory Business Directory Guide to Online Learning Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine