Aaargh! Ever had one of those days???

August 4, 2008 at 03:05 AM · ... I have had one today.

I am beginning to practice the first movement of the Bach in E-Major from memory.

It was going fine, I guess. It just didn't sound as good today as it has in the past, and I'm starting to have to go back to passages that never needed my attention before! IT just didn't seem to be getting any better.

Maybe I'm thinking about it too much, and I just need to attack it when I'm refreshed.

Ever had one of those days?

Replies (52)

August 4, 2008 at 03:21 AM · constantly.

August 4, 2008 at 03:49 AM · Ditto.

Also, don't under estimate warm up time each day and listening to a recording. Practice doesn't always make perfect but it does make violin playing easier and more consistent. It's an adventure...enjoy the ride.

August 4, 2008 at 06:12 AM · Such days are the rule with me :)

It may be an optical, or rather auditory, illusion: perhaps your standards rise faster than your playing does? If so, it may help to record the piece you are practicing, once every few weeks.

August 4, 2008 at 08:12 AM · The waxing and waning of the moon has its effects, you know...

The human body goes through cycles of ability. Some days are better than others, and there's not so much you can do about that. What you can do, however, is walk away when you get frustrated. Take five minutes to regroup, and then use logic to figure out what it is that you would like to improve. Pick a small specific issue and go to the root to solve it. For instance, when you go through the first few bars of a piece and you notice that you've slightly missed a shift, stop right there and figure out why you missed it. Practice the shift until you hit it three times correct, then move on.

This way, you can walk away from a practice session feeling like you accomplished something, even if the piece doesn't sound as good to your ears as it did the day before.

You need bad days in your practice routine to help you improve. If you always thought you sounded great, you'd get fat and lazy.

PS To answer your question, yes, all the time.

August 4, 2008 at 12:47 PM · Hi

Michael - I definitely do have those days. Not too often, not regularly but at least one every two weeks.

Bart is surely correct that one has to distinguish between the expectations we have and the amount of our potential we've already brought out in playing, but nevertheless, sometimes everything seems to go wrong.

Fiddler Magazine recently published an interview with an interesting statement: "The only reason to take lessons (and, adds yours truly, to practice) is to increase one's 'lousy level'." The reasoning was that if you're good, you're good and everything falls into place. However, if one is experiencing "one of those days", there's much more to fall back on.

The optimum might be that only we notice how bad we're playing (i.e. how much effort we're having to put into it), while the audience does not (because our efforts are paying off).

Yehudi Menuhin recommends not to butt one's head against this wall but to take a walk or a snooze instead and come back to the violin later.

Bye, Jürgen

August 4, 2008 at 02:03 PM · Thanks for the interesting responses.

I hope to hear more.

August 4, 2008 at 03:17 PM · I like the way Juergen put this--increasing your lousy level.

My experiences of the type you describe tend to be connected to performance in some way. When I perform something, it's always below average. I have yet to rise to the occasion and give a performance in front of other people that is better than it was in the privacy of my own home. But, as my average level of playing improves, I've noticed that my below average level of playing also improves. So what's now an off-day is better than many on-days have been in the past.

The other thing I've noticed for myself is that how I feel after I've played a piece isn't a particularly good indicator of how well I've actually played it. I have wasted practice time playing something through over and over again, trying to get a good feeling about it before I stop. The "it's done when I feel like it's done" method.

But this criterion of a "good feeling" is vague, and I think I've become a more efficient practicer by trying to meet more objective and measurable goals like hitting a shift in tune 5 or 10 times in a row, or playing up to a certain point (or all the way through) from memory, or remembering to do my vibrato exercises in more than one key. Then, like others have said, even if I didn't have a particularly good feeling about how I played, if I at least met those goals, I feel like I accomplished something.

August 4, 2008 at 03:49 PM · Another thought. When one practices, one is tinkering with motor patterns, reflexes, and such. Going down into the machine room, as it were. And those new patterns need time to settle. So your experience -- sounds worse than yesterday, what was easy is now difficult -- is exactly to be expected. Reculer pour mieux sauter. It will improve tomorrow, or the day after, and after a while the new patterns will be in place.

August 4, 2008 at 04:36 PM · If you feel like you are hitting a wall, and you're frustrating yourself--take an afternoon or a day off.

Kick back, listen to some music or score study in place of physically practicing.

That extra 24 hours lets your brain settle down-and thing sink in. I find sometimes-that I can practiuce something into oblivion (what it feels like)-and still not get it....I take a day off, get back into the game a day later-and it fall nice and easily. Lest you're concertizing, there is no need for a "nose to the grindstone" mentality.

In any case, there is always more work to be done, and room to improve-for all of us; if it was easy, everyone would do it and do it well.

August 4, 2008 at 05:37 PM · Yes, I have those days! I take it as a sign that I need more slow practice on that section.

Also, about the refreshing thing, I find that no practice on a day, for me, is better than over practice...there seems to be an exact amount of practicing I'm allowed to do.

August 5, 2008 at 01:01 PM · Yeah, it's a real problem. Sex is like that, too; some days are...well, never mind. Like anything else in life, there are good days and bad days. It's like the old saying in baseball, "You can't win 'em all." Remember, a baseball player who hits 300 is failing 70% of the time, but with a 300 batting average, that player goes into the Hall of Fame.

Cheers, Sandy

August 5, 2008 at 03:45 PM · When you are having a bad day like this - go to the supermarket, buy your favourite "comfort food" - whatever it may be: rice pudding, pizza, white chocolate, chillis... Go home, put on your favourite violin related CD or DVD, eat your favourite food, chill out and you are sure to feel much more positive afterwards and ready to tackle your practice session again. Always works for me!

August 5, 2008 at 11:27 PM · Rosalind, I love your advice.

August 6, 2008 at 12:30 AM · Yeah, I am feeling a bad day/week myself.

I was really upset about it last night to! But, I try motivate myself by giving myself motivation words and images - If you pull through those bad moments without giving up, you can feel the gratification in the future!

Like think about it - if your struggling at something now, if only you mastered it in the (not-so) distant past - how would you feel now? Gratified! Glad the ordeal is over.

Without these ordeals, how can you find it to appreciate your hard work!

Its like if you were granted powers beyond belief, but without having to work super hard for them you won't hold any value towards it and would most likely dispose of it carelessly then regret it later.

Of course I would like the ability to do anything..........................seems a bit tempting.

August 6, 2008 at 01:01 AM · If you get frustrated do something different, maybe something you never did before; learn your diminished arpeggios...

"I am beginning to practice the first movement of the Bach in E-Major from memory."

Try to practice with your left hand movements being rhythmic, and with a quick beginning to the movement, like an impulse. That will get the piece really deep into muscle memory. When it's memorized as well as that will get it, it helps relax you and free you up. It didn't hurt if you practiced it some other way; you just didn't get that benefit yet.

August 6, 2008 at 07:17 AM · Fortunately, this only happens to me on days ending in the letter "y".

Hey, wait a minute...

August 6, 2008 at 07:40 AM · I have what I have come to think of as 'integration days'. It used to happen to me in tennis as well - I'd learn something, be okay next session, then it would be ot the window next session, along with things that I thought were good. then the next time, all would be back inplace, and the new skill would have found its place. Now with violin it ends to be in the practise cycle between two lessons, a few days after one lesson, and may last for a couple of days, and everything sounds bad.

I do what Jim suggests and start something I haven't done before, and that I don't really plan to do much of again for a while, then I don't get all fizzy about it being crap.

August 6, 2008 at 02:36 PM · Burton Kaplan's "Practicing for Artistic Success" discusses this very problem and tells

what to do about it. Ye haaa, it works.

August 6, 2008 at 07:14 PM · Nobody is always perfect.

When this happens to me, I go back to the basics and be happy to play anything at all 'better'.

August 6, 2008 at 07:38 PM · What do you mean, "nobody is always perfect"??? I'll have you know that I have never, ever made a mistake (I thought I did once, but I was wrong).

Cheers, Sandy

August 6, 2008 at 07:49 PM · Good one, Sandy =P

August 6, 2008 at 07:54 PM · Thanks for your answers!

It's going much better now.

October 16, 2009 at 06:15 PM ·

I'm having another one today :(  


This time, it's in Mozart's Third Concerto, first movement.  Every time something isn't right, I question how I'll ever get into music school because I know Mozart pretty much has to be perfect to be done well and it just sounds inelegant.  (Some parts).  And plus, my e string just snapped.

October 16, 2009 at 06:31 PM ·

I'll tell you what really stinks....when you practice something all week and it sounds fine....then you go to your lesson and you can't play it for crap. Yep, that happened this week.

Edit: And I broke my E string last night.


October 16, 2009 at 07:45 PM ·

Joan, exactly!  I just guess at this as putting pressure (unknowingly) on myself?  I hate that.  How is a teacher supposed to effectively teach you if you always present them with a mixed-up version of what you've been doing consistently at home?  (ie. good things are bad, bad things are sometimes good)  The 'settling in' thought mentioned way back is interesting though...'it goes in...good for a bit, then goes away almost completely, then (I hope) comes back?

I tend to be one lesson on, one lesson off, regardless of how it's going in between during practice at home.  I wish I could figure that out.

October 16, 2009 at 08:15 PM ·

Heather, I think self-imposed pressure is probably the culprit in my case. The week before he told me I was doing fine.... I showed him. LOL

October 16, 2009 at 09:57 PM ·

Funny - gives me a thought...I will plan to show her my suckiest playing, then you never know, might just play brilliantly:).

October 16, 2009 at 10:07 PM ·

I'm glad I resurrected this thread.  It's nice to see people joking about their off days!

October 16, 2009 at 10:10 PM ·

I might try that myself. Actually, I think half the problem at my lesson was my E was rubbing against the peg box...that's how I broke it, I moved it over, then tightened it just a tiny bit too much. But the E string sounded bad and it threw me off and I couldn't get it together. Oh well. The new E sounds much better so hopefully next week I won't sound like dog doo.

Edit: Michael, I'm glad you did, too. You aren't alone in bad days.

October 16, 2009 at 10:27 PM ·

My problem was putting a ball end string on a loop end fine tuner thingy. I guess!

October 16, 2009 at 10:34 PM ·

Michael...shouldn't either work with a fine tuner?

October 16, 2009 at 10:37 PM ·

oh, you mean like this last few days as in Everyday in my case here with me?

Oh, yeah, those days, seems to appreciate the good old ones that everthing seems to be right!


It'll past, I sure hope so in my case..


October 17, 2009 at 12:51 AM ·

I'm overthinking a passage, as in, my mind gets in the way of my fingers, and I'm still obsessing over it.


I'm not too sure about the string, but whenever I would tighten it with a ball end, it would do strange things to the tailpiece, which I guess was a tell-tale sign of things to come!

October 17, 2009 at 01:13 AM ·

ooh. i hate these days. it's like when your fingers decide that they want to imitate a violist.

i jest.


October 17, 2009 at 02:12 AM ·

Having a since of humor, and a can/bag of prunes, is a survival must for days like this... for me ;)  I put the violin away and do my musical reading.  Give the muscles in my hands and arms time to recouporate.  And my mind to digest it all!

October 17, 2009 at 02:51 AM ·

OMG y'all!

I looked at my Barenreiter edition of fingerings for the 1st mvmt @ the spot that made me want to cry.  And guess what, it was all my fault.  I ignored the original fingering, making more work for myself.  So I plucked the new one on my three-stringed (not for long I'm trying Goldbrokat w/ Dominant G/D/A.  What y'all think?  anyway,) and voila!  It is so much easier staying in second position for a little bit longer and then going up further.


Yay! feeling accomplished. 


Here at about 7:08 is that spot of which I speak.  I can't tell cause her fingers are moving too fast, but oh well.  Still love her.  and, this vid inspired me to write my own cadenza for this concerto,.

October 17, 2009 at 02:52 AM ·

 I definitely know where you're coming from on this!  Interesting, I'm playing Mozart also, albeit Mozart 4, but it has the same character.  

I have those weeks where I do good work and my lessons suck.  Or those days where I accomplish so much only to feel like I suck the next day.  As musicians, we are our toughest critic.  

I had a revelation during/after my lesson yesterday:  my biggest challenge is patience.  I like to think of myself as a patient person, but I've realized that while I'm patient with other people, I'm not with myself.  This impatience, then, undermines my discipline.  I become frustrated when results are not happening right now.  I can hear that I need to do more work, but I don't have the patience with myself to be disciplined.  That sucks.  

Learning how to overcome that is one of the greatest challenges a musician will face.  I won't be easy...  and I'm going to have to rethink how I practice and how to encourage myself.  

Moral of my story?  Keep plugging away.  That, of course, is the general statement.  As far as Mozart goes, read up on him.  Learning his age when he wrote his violin concerti and his occupation at that time helped me get into the spirit of his music.  He was an 18-year-old going on 19 when he wrote this music we play...  basically, he was my age.  That discovery gave me insight into his mind.  You see, no performer knows the mind of a late teen better than a late teen.  Use those insights.  

October 17, 2009 at 01:19 PM ·

I totally understand what you mean by patience.  I usually begin with a quite a bit of patience, but by the end, like yesterday, am so frustrated with myself that I just don't know what to do!


But then, also like yesterday, you  have epiphanies and duh moments.

October 17, 2009 at 03:04 PM ·


"But then, also like yesterday, you  have epiphanies and duh moments."

So true. Had one of those this morning while feeding my horses...please don't ask how feeding horses led to a violin duh moment, cuz I'm not sure how I got from point A to point B but I did. LOL

October 17, 2009 at 04:30 PM ·

The first few lessons I took, I always played horribly for my teacher and didn't understand why, even taking "stage fright" into consideration.  Turned out that her studio is aurally "dead".  Once I learned that, I started really listening to my tone at home and heard that I was really off but couldn't hear it.

My big boogey these days is my bow: sometimes too sticky, sometimes too raspy.   When the bow is off, nothing else matters.

November 3, 2009 at 02:35 AM ·

 I have those days sometimes. Just this weekend I was practicing Bailes Para Orquestra for a concert I am having, and i sounded not good. I dont know if it was because my bow needed more rosin or i needed to tune my violin. But whatever it was, I couldnt fix it. Then on sunday when i practiced again, i sounded just fine!!! I was suprised, but happy that I wasn't sounding that bad!!!

November 3, 2009 at 03:37 PM ·

I often noticed that just before concerts or any public performing, everything starts to mess up (because of nerves probably and often strings unroll and become scrap because they are played intensivly a few days before the concert... )  I have read some similar stories with good violinists as well. It's always no fun and very frightening but, often, everything settles down just before and you play from ok to good but no where near as terrible as in the practices and rehearsals before. Some musicians even tell that if it goes to well on rehershals just before an event, it's bad sign (because you'll be too confident?) and that it is a good sign if the rehearsal goes not that well.  But this saying is superstition and I don't buy this!     


November 3, 2009 at 04:00 PM ·

It seems like everyday is like that for me.  What's even worse is thinking I sound great in the practice room and then I walk into a lesson or on stage and my technique has turned to mush.

November 3, 2009 at 06:14 PM ·

Marina, I know what you mean. Also what is a killer (hope it can help others to avoid getting caught in this) is to hear some people totally miss their performance just before me... At a conservatory student gig I played in, a performer missed his shot terribly at the beginning and spread a nervous mood on everyone. We all fell like dominos...  We all seemed to find that we had played awful bad that evening. The teachers were discuraged with all their students of all instruments. It couldn't be just a coincidence.   It was a BIG lesson for me.  If I had foccused more on my things and relaxation techniques unstead of getting all nervous for those who missed their shot, I would probably have better memories of this gig...   The influence of others on you can be tricky.    


November 3, 2009 at 09:20 PM ·

Anne-Marie, I know what you're talking about.  When a friend of mine plays a familiar piece, I get nervous for them when they reach some difficult spots and hope for my sake that they dont' mess up.  Does that make any sense? 

November 4, 2009 at 03:10 PM ·

Michael, I totally agree and it makes perfect sense.   It would be selfish to not want the other musician's good (especially frineds)!   But I've noticed that ONLY on gig days, I have far better results when I spent the day as an hermit, not talking or seeing anybody to put all my energy on my playing, listening to recordings etc. I just learned that if you don't focus on your things, no one will do it for you.   But after the gig, I'm no longer an hermit as it is not my personnality!!!  But I also do this (isolate myself) before exams at school and any stressful situation.   I would have an awful hard time to focus if it was all some friends playing before : )    I guess this would be a sort of an ultimate test to see if one is really "mentally" solid???   I often read things about famous violinists in competitions where they all know know one another... ouch


November 4, 2009 at 10:06 PM ·

Yes - I've had those days. And it's a vicious circle. Had a few occasions in orchestra - you miss something. Whoops! Must concentrate! And so you concentrate and start thinking about what normally comes naturally. And you get a bit tense. Then you start missing shifts because you're a bit tight. And so you try harder (go back to step 2 and repeat ).

Eventually the only thing to do is accept that today is a write-off and hope you don't get heard (too much) . Tomorrow, it'll all be back to normal.

November 7, 2009 at 09:01 PM ·

Malcolm - I think I've experienced just what you've described the last two chamber rehearsals. It's like a slippery downward spiral. I'm an intermediate player at best so I get off track so easily and it's very difficult to concentrate once I've had a trip up. It's very frustrating! So yes, I actually had 'one of those days' yesterday.

November 11, 2009 at 12:31 AM ·

Hi all,

My teacher Oleg always tells me before comps, that no matter what even if I'm having one of those days I should just run through all my hard spots and then all the repertoire just to keep it all in my fingers.. So basically no matter how you feel and how much you suck on a particular day you still have to keep the violin in your hand.

Just out of curiousity, does anyone else find that with a good dress rehearsal comes an average performance and vice versa?


November 11, 2009 at 12:45 AM ·

Yes - it's almost bound to happen because you lose that "nervous tension" that can be productive. I used to play for a lot of the local amateur operatic companies doing G&S or shows, and you normally only saw the music for the first time at the dress rehearsal on the Sunday, then you'd start a week of performances. Monday night felt almost like sight-reading, and often went fine. Whew! Made it! Tuesday, you're more relaxed and EVERYTHING goes wrong. And even though you're ready for it, and try and keep yourself psyched up for it, it doesn't seem to help.

November 11, 2009 at 02:39 AM ·

I agree with both of you!!!!!!!!!!!!!

November 11, 2009 at 09:09 PM ·

Anna, yes, there are so much "myths" and sayings related with the famous dress rehearshals.   I always found that a good one you could boost you but put you big stress of doing the same thing again (If you give it all, might not stay much later lol) and a bad one can destroy you and make you loose your confidence. An in between one is maybe the best because it will not make your head too big (I mean to confident) but will not kill you either and it can boost you to give something even more "special" after.   But I prefer to not think of all this when it' my turn : ) 


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