First of all, thank you so much this resource and for all of the excellent discussions.
I am an adult beginner--47 yo and have begun violin lessons. I taught myself some guitar back when I was in high school and can read a very little bit of music but that's about it.
I get EXTREMELY self-conscious at my lessons to the extent that I am really shaken up afterwards and it takes me a day or two to recover well enough that I can actually pick up my violin and start practicing. Nothing at all to do w/my teacher. She's wonderful.
What do you as violin instructors do to help your adult beginners to feel less self-conscious. Any advice for me??????
Thanks very much!
What you're up against here, I think, is that old devil perfectionism. Striving for perfection is a fine and wonderful goal; without it there are no Heifetzes, no Perlmans, no Hahns, no anybody. However, the problem is that too many of us feel that perfection is not only a goal to strive for, but also the only measure of competence and worth. In other words, only perfection is good enough. You're either perfect, or you're worthless.
The reality is that most of us - even the great violinists - are in between somewhere. Even Heifetz acknowledge that no one is perfect and that there are always higher goals to strive for. So, instead of thinking of perfection as the standard by which you judge yourself as adequate, worthwhile, and acceptable, rather think of perfection as an ideal goal to strive for. Accepting yourself and taking pride in what you can do and can learn is a different piece of business.
Learn from your mistakes and inadequacies, but don't let those mistakes and inadequacies define you. When you play one note in tune and musically and correctly, take pride in that. This is all about music, not about perfection.
That's my two cents worth.
Hope it helps.
I know that you say it's nothing to do with your teacher, but it'd be interested to see how you feel with various other teachers. I'm not doubting that she is really nice, but pupils respond differently to different teachers, depending on your character and the chemistry between you both.
For instance, I had a female teacher for a long time, who was quite strict in many ways, and had a very confident and extrovert personality. I'm the opposite to that, and I remember feeling quite comfortable with her (not when she was telling me off though!).
My next teacher was the nicest man you could hope to meet, and on the surface appeared very relaxed. It wasn't until much later I realized he was quite a nervous person, but kept it very well hidden. I never felt relaxed in my lessons, but couldn't put my finger on it.
I'm sure that different people had different preferences to me with both these teachers. If you find that you don't relax given time, you could always experiment with different teachers to see if there is any difference.
Embrace every opportunity to embarass yourself in public. After a while you'll toughen up.
Try to remember that, for nearly everyone, "it's all about them". Most folks are too self-involved to pay much attention to anyone else. So for the most part, they do not care what you're doing, or what you sound like.
Practice the violin in the nude, in front of a mirror. Going to a lesson fully clothed will be a relief.
I find that it helps to have a limited chat with my teacher before getting down to business--just a couple of minutes of small talk to touch base. I have to be careful not to spend the whole lesson chatting with my teacher, since that's not why we're there, but a little ice-breaking is a good thing.
As an adult you have a whole life of accomplishments outside the violin, and your teacher might be interested in hearing a little bit about it. For example, my teachers have liked hearing about my kids and my job in neuroscience. I've even told my current teacher a little bit about discussions I've had here on this website. While my teacher and I are not, and never will be, musical equals, I think it helps to build a relationship of equals in another context. That makes me feel less self-conscious in the musical teacher/student setting.
Hi I didn't read much the answers to not get influenced. So here is my first draft.... It's a problem but do you know how much of a quality it is too. Beeing nervous before events, beeing shaken up emotionally after a lesson, even cry in the car after the lesson and worst... unfront of your teacher shouldn't be considered as "bad" or weak because it shows HOW MUCH YOU CARE ABOUT THIS ART AND HOW MUCH YOU LOVE IT. IT EXPRESSES YOUR PASSION. When you will learn to control this a little more, you will play so well because you are probably a perfectionnist, no? I believe that all those who have great musicality (that means something as a story) are all very attached to their violin. Many people of any levels play technically very well but their playing is not soulful as if they don't really want to play. You don't feel it's a passion for them... I am maybe wrong but I think it shows in the music when someone really cares about it and love it. If it doean't show now, it will eventually. You just have to be patient ennough to aquire the skills to materialize your thoughs. It is very frustrating to begin an instrument when you love it so much and that you don't have yet the abilities to play as you want. I am too very concerned and conscious about my errors and what my teacher tells me... Not always in the mildest way lol But I have to tell that you do get always a little closer to what you want over the years... so this is the good new! (of course, we always want better and there are highs and lows on any musical journey)
Forget about my speech if you want but if I was a teacher, I would highly prefer to take students that are very self conscious and even complexed about their playing and bet that in a few years, they would be "musicians" not just technicians.
Just my two cents,
Hi, I also started playing as an adult so I can relate to what you're talking about. It can be very frustrating to start with because it seems to take a long time before you can even produce a half-decent sound, let alone play a tune. But I think the important thing is to bear in mind why you are doing it and be realistic about your expectations. After all, however seriously you take your playing, it is something (I presume) you are doing for fun, because you enjoy it.
There have been many threads on here about goal-setting and motivation, and I think the most important goals at the start are the short term, day to day ones. It might even just be that you aim to improve upon yesterday's practice of a certain piece or exercise. If you can do this most days, then you know that you're improving even it's it not noticeable immediately. Another suggestion I would make is to play in a small ensemble as soon as possible. If you can find an all-comers chamber group or form a quartet with some other beginners, this helps immensely with sight reading and musicality, not to mention being a great motivation to focus on specific areas. This might sound daunting if you really have only just picked up a fiddle but I would say as soon as you can play first postion in tune then go for it (others on here might disagree). Hope this helps.
I too am an adult beginner, and when I first started, I got really really nervous every time I had a lesson. My bow arm would shake horribly and I was really self-concious.
What really helped me the most was how my teacher handeled it. First of all, she wouldn't ever let me make any negative remarks about myself or comments on when I had a horrible squeak or other thing. She would just say something like "it doesn't matter" and keep going with the lesson. She also made sure to give me lots of time to warm up, during which she would leave the room to use the restroom, make a phone call etc. This let me get used to the instrument again without having someone there and relax enough to stop my bow from shaking. Also, while she didn't give a lot of praise (which I liked as I only believe in complementing someone when it is really deserved and also verbal praise seemed to make me even more self-conscious), I could tell from her body language when I had done something well or improved over the last week.
While it seems horrible to go to a lesson and be nervous about playing in front of your teacher, I think it is also very natural. As adults, we are used to doing things well because we have spent a lifetime perfecting them. Children on the other hand, learn new things on a daily basis. Also, as adults, we have a very developed concept of the way things should be - in this case, what music should sound like. And we are very aware that that is NOT how we sound. I think this is complicated by the fact that violin is something that is usually learned at a young age - beginner and the production associated with a beginner is linked to a child. Advanced player and the degree of musical achievement associated with such is linked to an adult. You don't see many adult players standing on a concert stage playing "twinkle twinkle" When you see an adult with a violin, you expect an advanced level of achievement. You also know that others probably have that same expectation of you, just becuase of what we are used ot seeing. And to some extent, you have this same expectation of yourself. So how can you overcome this expectation? One thing is to get used to making bad sounds - go somewhere by yourself where only you can hear you, and experiment. How many different sounds can you make? What's the worst sounding one? The coolest sounding one? Make sirens, sreetch, scratch your bow across the strings. Have fun doing it!! What's the worst that you can play, the absolute worst that you can make something sound?? Was it really so bad? Did the world collapse around your ears because of it? Most likely not. Then, when you go to your lesson, try thinking: Today I am going to torture my teacher with my playing. :) (sorry teachers who are reading this :)) At your lesson, don't specifically try to play bad - play normal. But as your goal is not: I am going to sound like a profi, OR I need to play really really well because that is what I expect of me (and what my teacher expects of me)- but rather as your expectation of yourself during the lesson is to purposefully make these sounds, your goal is much more realistic and easier to meet, which takes off the pressure of meeting an unrealistic expectation. Hopefully then you will be much more relaxed, and when you are more relaxed, your playing will improve.
Also, one thing that someone once said to me had a big effect on how I viewed myself and my playing:
If you can already do something, you don't need to learn it.
Point in point - learning is a process. If you could already play the violin, you wouldn't be in your teacher's studio having her teach you to do it. She doesn't expect you to play like Heifetz when you pick up the violin. She is there to teach you how to do it - if you could already do it, why would you even be there?
I find if I acknowledge the self consciousness and nerves out loud, we both laugh at it, my teacher commiserates and gives me a similar example of her own, and within a few minutes it has settled down. This is after 3 years of lessons with her, mind you.
I switched to 1 hour lessons every fortnight instead of 30 minute every week, because I was basically wasting 20 minutes of the session with shaky bow and tight muscles. Nowadays if I have had a regular fortnightly lesson, (which may go for 2 hours or more), I don't have any tension - what I am suggesting, is that with time, the self consciousness will pass.
Also, my teacher and I were speaking once about another (adult) student who had progressed quickly - my teacher commented that the student was committed to making a sound. That had a profound affect on me, because I realised that I had been more wrapped up in how bad I sounded, rather than focussing on how good I wanted to get. Its a subtle and important shift in perspective, and I started getting over myself from that day.
Just know that you are not alone in this.
One thing that may help is to remember that you are still just a young punk. I started about 1 1/2 years ago, and I'm 55. I have never played another instrument very well, although I did a bit of self-teaching on the piano and I did play trumpet and trombone way back in high school. You still have the chance to be so much better than I could, because you started a decade earlier, relatively speaking.
However, one thing I hold to is that since I came late to the instrument, the definition of what I am as a person is not very tied up in how well I play. I am pretty good at what I do in my day job, and I get a lot of people that appreciate that I get some functional things completed when I say I will.
Short version, your violin playing says nothing about what you are as a person. How you approach it may, but your current lack of capability should not be taken with any depth.
Second, recognize that older adults learn differently than younger adults, who learn differently than children. At your stage of the game, you integrate much more, and have more problems when trying to pick up piecemeal skills. It is a psychological fact that learning is different, so when you struggle through 3 weeks of learning something, it is not that you are slow, but a statement about the mature mental state you have.
Short version, it's not you, it's how people your age learn. You get the big picture a lot faster, but the individual items are harder.
Third, remember this: If it was easy, anybody could do it. Picking up a violin would be as common as a kazoo! When you struggle, remember the hurdles in your way are just to keep the wimps out!
(no short version; it was pretty concise to start with).
Elizabeth - lots of great advice in your post. My teacher isn't big on verbal praise either, which I like. If he says "good", I know he means it, and I also know when he isn't pleased because he makes me do the offending part again...and again if necessary. One week he told me some things that I was doing really well...my next lesson was the worst I'd ever had, lol.
"Third, remember this: If it was easy, anybody could do it. Picking up a violin would be as common as a kazoo! When you struggle, remember the hurdles in your way are just to keep the wimps out!"
Roland, this is SO funny, I'll remember it all my life!!!
I can sympathise with the problems you are having with nerves Philanthi. And yet it’s hard to believe that anyone who plays the violin to any reasonable standard hasn’t had such a crisis. In my case it was only when I reached a level of playing that sounded musical that I became very self-conscious and starting suffering badly with nerves. Before that I had been ‘unconsciously incompetent’ for several years; although I was a young adult when I started learning, my approach to music was that of a child.
For a short while I refused to play in public until I hit upon a compromise; borrowing other people’s children to make it look as if I was helping them to play on the stage. Because the audiences for our student concerts were mainly parents I was safe in the knowledge that no matter how well or badly I played, their little darlings were the complete focus of attention. Another winning situation is busking for charity. You will quickly get used to the idea that no one has actually come to hear you play. (On the other hand if you go early in the Christmas season you might make more money than the professionals do when they busk.)
There is a useful little book, Keeping Your Nerve, which has lots of strategies for compating stage fright. One of my favourites is the recommendation of running up and down the stairs several times before practising. In that way you get used to playing with the feeling that your heart is about to burst.
One good analogy for playing the violin, or any activity that requires patience, is to compare it with gardening. An instant garden is unlikely to last more than a season. Years of gentle yet persistent attention are needed to build up real depth, variety and sustainability.
Finally it's worth remembering that there is much less potential for embarrassing yourself on the violin than there is with other instruments. One funny story I've heard is of a nervous trombonist who was sitting an exam. When asked to play a scale he belched into his trombone. At least that's one thing we don't have to worry about.
This is a great thread, and Elizabeth, I especially liked your post.
I began playing 4 years ago, and I used to get so nervous that the sweat would run down the back of my legs and my glasses would slide down my nose. When my teacher would open the door after a lesson, it felt like a blast of cold air entering a sauna room! It's so true that we adult beginners have a sense of what it COULD sound like, and we DON"T sound that way!
But, it gets better.
For the most part, I can play in my lessons without breaking into a nervous sweat! I play in the group classes, and can play a solo in front of the class without passing out, however, I still get the bow shakes. But, it's better every time.
Keep puting yourself out there. Yesterday I played in the youth orchestra concert here (my kids play in it also...and are much better than I am...) and our last ensemble was a fidding group. We played a beautiful waltz that I was able to memorize, and for the first time in front of a group, I just played, and did not think. Just played and loved it.
Learning the violin is a journey, and cannot be rushed. There is much to learn along the way however. Just reading about other adult beginners makes me more confident!
YAY US! : )
I returned to lessons as an adult after many years away from the violin. Here I was, a violin teacher myself, who had been practicing three hours a day, playing with my students, even performing publicly, yet playing for a teacher came as an insurmountable hurdle. Every week, I agonized over trying my best to be relaxed. It all came to a head one lesson, toward the end of the semester, I was asked to play for about twenty minutes while he sat there, staring and thinking. During that time, the thoughts that ran through my own head about drove me crazy. His review of my playing included the words, "frustrated", "angry" and "nightmare". I spent the following week enduring the mental torture of self-depreciation. The following lesson, I didn't play a single note while he explained that basically all the issues I had with playing involved my damaged psyche, and I needed to deal with that first.
I did not attend my last lesson.
I did, however, learn a couple of valuable things from this experience. I learned that teachers have an incredible power to build you up or break you down. Some students (like myself) are more sensetive to this than others. For this reason, I bend over backward to make my students feel encouraged, and I clarify that my instruction is not meant to be taken personally. I address technical issues, explain effective practice methods, and when it comes to more personal issues--such as freedom of musical expression, which involves a great amount of vulnerability and trust--I back off and let the student do what they feel most comfortable doing. I'm always working to create a safe environment; that's my number one priority. If you can get to where you know your teacher is on your side and they think you are amazing, you will gradually ease up and forget what you were nervous about. It may take time, but I've seen it myself. One particular adult student who began lessons with me last spring has made extensive progress in this area, so I know this is something you can work through!
I can understand where you're coming from. I am a senior in high school and I am in an advanced class now. Back in beginners class, my teacher would tell us to stand up in front of the class to recite the piece. It was a test. Before the test even started, I would start shaking, badly. While I was playing, the song sounded a little bit weird because my hands were shaking alot. But afterward, I started practicing more and played in front of my family so that when it was time for me to recite the piece in front of my class, i wouldnt be so nervous. I recommend playing in front of someone so that next time you wont get nervous or shaky. Hope I helped you!!!
My basic approach is to get the student concentrating so intensely, on things that *are* part of performing on the violin, that he no room in his brain for distracting and irrelevant thinking, such as what we generally refer to as being "self-concious".
This kind of concentration is a necessary part of performing, so if a student experiences nervousness and distraction during a lesson, it presents a fortunate opportunity to learn something important and to demonstrate its beneficial effect on the spot.
Here's the thing: the last person you need to be nervous around is someone who plays better than you do. Really. These are the only people who really know what you are going through and why - and they are there to help you; ESPECIALLY violin teachers. After all, you are paying this gal to judge you.
For me, who first got stage fright at age 17 with a very non-threatening audience (and never lost it after that) it has always surprised me that I can play for teachers or workshop leaders without the problem. Still, I can completely understand how you feel, and I find my adult students seem to feel the same way, and I appreciate it when they let me know. Sometimes I will play along with them for a while to ease the tension. I think it all goes away after the first or second lesson.
If you are going to get nervous - save it for the great mass audience of ignorati who will always compare you to the best they have ever heard, not for your teachers. Those are the people you "have to play perfectly" for.
If we could play perfectly for our teachers, why would we need them? Frankly, no matter how well we play for our teachers, they will always find something more for us to work on, so why worry about it?
Knowing all the things we know as adults does not help a lot for developing the basic music-making skills necessary for the more difficult string instruments, so we can't expect to progress as fast as we have with those other activities that only required rational mental abilities. Teachers of adult beginners know this very well.
I don’t know if it’s necessarily a teacher’s job to help you with your selfconsiousness specifically, but I think it’s wonderful if they can and do, and can see it only as a help to playing the violin well. These posts have been great to read.
I've been playing for almost 3 years and foolishly let something said by my teacher really affect me regarding self-consciousness, mostly because it was something I was already being very hard on myself about and working to overcome. When I learn something I want to work at getting it the best I can get it at the time before diving into the next challenge, make sure I understand and so on. And I have learned things well this way, but who knows if it's helpful for violin? I’ve noticed some of the kids that are advancing particularly fast have a much more 'attack and work on the details later' approach (I say this as my daughter is one of these kids, many of us know each other, small town and our lessons are close in that one is ending while the next is setting up). That fearless kid approach I would absolutely love to have and I think it’s great. So as I’m struggling with not making comparisons internally with how I learn things and focusing on what I have accomplished and am learning, one day after a not so great lesson for me, my teacher said to me quite seriously that I really should be more like this…more like a kid etc.. That completely reinforced what I had already done to myself and was trying to get rid of because it was interfering with my learning. She is really great and I know she didn’t intend to do anything counter productive, and maybe if it had been after a great lesson it wouldn't have bothered me. But it did set me back - it seemed more of a personal criticism and there was no advice/teaching that I could work on with that. Plus I didn’t think it was all that abnormal for adults to learn differently from kids. Thankfully, it’s largely gone away, and I guess I did learn something about focus and mental discipline, but I wonder if anyone else has had a similar experience?
Heather Meisner wrote: "I don’t know if it’s necessarily a teacher’s job to help you with your selfconsiousness specifically..."
I believe that it absolutely *is* the teacher's responsibility to help with this, as playing under pressure is the normal circumstance of playing. If violin lessons means learning to play it, rather than learning to talk about playing it, than learning how to play under pressure is a very real part of that which is to be learned and taught. Even if there is nobody except the violinist himself in the room, there may be self imposed pressure because the violinist wants very much to play well. If there is one or more additional people present, there is surely the possibility of more pressure. That's perfectly normal and ok, as long as the violinist's training prepares him for dealing with it.
Happy to hear you say that Oliver.
Sorry it's taken me a bit to respond.
You guys are terrific!!!!! I was a little hesitant to post this question, but now I'm glad I did.
Thanks so much for all of your great responses. A few of you in particular, but in all, every single one of you have given me awesome advice I can use to help me calm down a bit. Also, it makes me feel a lot better that some of you experienced and/or are experiencing similar anxiety. This past week, I was using all of your suggestions to calm myself during the day of my lesson when I got a call from the music school that my teacher had to cancel b/c of illness. As soon as I hung up, I was hysterical!!
As some of you suggested, I think I'm going to have a chat w/my teacher--although since she is very gentle w/me and has actually stopped me a few times to suggest that I "breathe,":-) I'm pretty sure she knows how I'm feeling. I'm also seriously thinking of surprising the hell out of her and going into my next lesson, setting up, and just starting to warm up before we even start--"letting it rip" as they say :-)) even though at this point, it's just the D Major scale. If I can get myself to do THAT, she (or I) would probably faint!!!
Anyway, if it's okay, I'm going to take the liberty of letting you all know how I make out.
I was going to chime in to say that I laugh at my students & ask if they're retarded... but it looks like others have posted comments that are probably even more helpful, so never mind.
Bruce lol, Really, without saying "retarded" my teacher regularly has students with 0 reaction to any stimuli. May it be her advice, her suggestions, a question she asks them. She says they look at her with no expression as if they were not interested and didn't understand a thing. They don't even ask questions if they don't understand. Don't seem to care about their playing a bit. Well, real vegetables... She hates it and flushes them at the first occasion. How can you interact with someone who never gives you any feedback, doesn't even care about anything, doesn't react at all. Again, just to say that any reaction (even beeing nervous despite the fact that many of us have to work on this) is normal and shows that you're alive to your teacher. Well, a veggie is alive but you know what I mean... : )
Good luck to the poster!
I'd absolutely love it if my teacher said something like this..I'd be laughing too hard for self-consciousness.
Phil, please do post how it goes. By the way, my daughter is always in the room during my lesson too as her lesson is just before me - so, as Oliver says 'additional people/addition pressure' as she is much better than I am and as a 13 year old has habits like calling from somewhere in the house 'that's flat mom' or some such thing while I'm practicing! Nonetheless it is the teacher you really want to play freely and well for. May be a thought to bring someone with you to change the dynamic, or at the least toughen up the self-consiousness?
As for 'letting it rip' I wholeheartedly agree doing this right off the bat before any chance of interfering thought sneaks in is the best way to go. Let 'er rip!
I don't have kids so was thinking of asking my husband, but I think I'd like to stay married for now!
Phil, my hubby is a musician...no way would I practice were he could hear me...I know he'd laugh his rearend off. I'd much rather my teacher hear me instead of him. Actually, my last couple of lessons have been much better as far as being nervous. I've brainwashed myself with my chats till I'm starting to believe it, LOL.
OK, I guess maybe husbands aren't the best idea. Thankful for mutes and a downstairs practice space (daughter can still hear when I'm flat though!). Anyway, it's great that you posted this discussion.
Joan, I must get me some of those chats!
Heather: both of my kids play too, and are much better than I am, and I get the same thing!
"Mom, that's sharp, flat, wrong bowing...etc."
Gee, happy to not have a family then : ) There are positive aspects in all situations thus If I were the one who has a professionnal musician husband, I would profit of the occasion to have many private master classes each week where he would give me all his secrets (hahaha). This is not mean, they love to play to Mr virtuoso no? Oh can always make cup-cakes to have more masterclasses... ; )
The place where I practice is almost a buncker: the basement of my grand-parents house and they are half death up stairs... I do hope they will live 150 years old each!!!
Actually, my husband is a musician--plays guitar and mandolin and "fiddles" w/lots of other instruments. And he's SUPER supportive of my efforts. My biggest, i.e., only fan. However, I'm still too self conscious to let him hear me practice to any extent.
He goes down to his basement music room when I practice. Not soundproof but far enough away so that the sound doesn't travel. Any he knows better than to EVER come upstairs until I'm finished. He does sneak a listen though b/c he tells me I'm already sounding better than when I started but that I'm okay with.
I do need to stop watching you tube so much though b/c I start to compare myself to all of those hugely accomplished violinists. I know, I know, apples and oranges, but I never said I was a logical person :-).
Phil, same with my hubby, I totally get where you are coming from.
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October 31, 2009 at 12:20 PM ·
I'm an adult student and I have a little chat with myself before every lesson. It goes something like this: There is nothing to be nervous about. He knows you stink.... it isn't like you can fool the guy. He said you are doing fine and are better than a good number of his students who have been doing it the same length of time. There are only a couple of things to fear...and someone trying to help you isn't one of them.
At first this didn't help much....but after enough self chats I am able to go in his studio and not be a nervous pile of jelly. I know I make mistakes...duh....it isn't like he doesn't expect it. But I get better every week and he expects that, too.