January 14, 2011 at 04:16 AM ·

 Okay, so, I have questions about confidence. Personally, I began playing violin on a mere whim when I was 11, at that point, it was strictly a hobby, I didn't put any time into it, and nearly forgot how to play over the summers between schools. And then something borderline miraculous happened. I was at my school's summer arts intensive, and the most passing, perhaps not even serious remark: "You could totally be a concert violinist" This argument has already dragged out here, and I' rather not continue it, it's not the issue. I became obssessed. I fell painfully in love with the violin, to a degree strange for a person who before wanted to be a quantum physicist, and had never been exposed to classical beyond commercials. The director of the orchestra at my school said that in a year and a half (the time between my obsession and now) I've become as good has her students at the Chicago Conservatory when they were my age. Yet.... all I feel is paranoia. I feel the insidious, awful fear that no matter how hard I try, no matter how much I practice, I'll never be good enough to be a serious violinist. At 15 I can play the Viotti concerto no. 23 and the first two movements of the Bruch and the Wieniawski Polonaise no. 1 without too much difficulty, with the onset of this year I started waking up at 5:30 to get an extra hour and a half of practice before going to school each day, but each day I'm afraid. Various times, just thinking about it, I've gone through depressive slumps and approached nervous breakdown. When I try to play for an audience, my compulsion to prove myself plus my lack of the experience that simply comes with time makes it so that my playing is sloppy, and I botch easy parts. Basically I want to know is, how is it for other people? How can I derive confidence from looking at my past? Because personally, if I had one wish, it'd be to go back and start playing when I was 5.

Replies (35)

January 14, 2011 at 09:58 AM ·

I'm 15 years old as well, and I'm definitely not on your advanced level, but I'll tell you now, this is normal. First of all, remember that you're just 15 and you're in that awkward place between the childhood and adulthood. Confidence issues are a part of growing up, and in my opinion, if you take them as you go and let your friends and family(more so friends because they're going through these awkward stages with you) be a big part of your life, you'll get through it. I'll tell you now, I had similar issues with the violin when I was younger. I just started to stop loving the instrument and ended up quitting before I turned 9, and I explored other things. I tried out dancing, piano, guitar, flute, and a lot of other hobbies. Now, I'm back with the violin and I love it again, probably even more than I did when I was an innocent little kid.

If I had a penny for all the times that I thought "what if I had never quit?", I would be able to buy out Oprah. And then I think of all the problems I would have on my shoulders If I didn't. I might have lost my childhood if I had focused too much on the violin. I wouldn't have been able to explore all these amazing forms of art, more specifically music. During the time that I quit, I even made it into the top choir in my school. Maybe 10 years of work in less than 2 years is just too much. My advice to you is to put down the violin and breath. Breath like you do when finals have just ended. Do something really stupid without your violin. Sing the new hit pop song just because you can.  Blow into a flute and get the feeling of newness like you would if you had to start from Suzuki 1 again(or at least I did). We're only human. It's healthy to just let loose and take a break and be stupid and crazy and daring and adventurous. Have fun. Fall in love with something or even someone, and when you come back to the violin, it will be like greeting an old friend.

January 14, 2011 at 11:26 AM ·

January 14, 2011 at 01:31 PM ·

Cyril - you are way wiser than 15.  I think we could all learn from your post... thanks.


January 14, 2011 at 02:32 PM ·

Oh don't worry, confidence issues are completely normal. I'm sixteen and have been playing for.. Well, today is the end of my 11th month. I started half a month after my birthday. You build the confidence up. Perform to your parents, friends. I think it's all about practice and knowing what would help you play perfectly well even when under pressure.


January 14, 2011 at 05:03 PM ·

What about those of us who take 10 years to make 2 years progress? – that was a rhetorical question, btw, not to be taken seriously :-)

However, I've noticed in the past that when I've attended Irish music summer schools there has been an immediate improvement in my playing. More recently, in 2009, my (classical) teacher gave me a piece to learn and to perform before her and her sound recorder as if I were playing a solo on stage to a large audience. That was a step up in my confidence. A year ago, making the transfer from the cello section in my chamber orchestra to playing violin where every violinist without exception is vastly more experienced than me (some are pros) has also worked wonders. The one thing common to all these experiences is that each time I was being pushed to a higher level, without realizing it.

January 14, 2011 at 06:15 PM ·

Malik, I had a somewhat similar experience, starting at 12.  I was pushed to learn quickly, as the school orchestra needed violinists, fell in love with it, and spent hours getting myself as far down the path as I could.

The one potential pitfall is that you learn lots of repertoire, but don't always learn the solid technique needed to back it up, especially in the right hand.  Make sure your teachers, and I hope you have experienced more than one, keep you on the straight and narrow technically.  Find someone to work with you on Kreutzer, Flesch, Sevcik, all the basic technical stuff.  It isn't as fun as whipping off some Bruch, but will give a confidence and foundation you'll use for the rest of your life.

January 14, 2011 at 07:23 PM ·

I can definitely relate to what you say.  In fact, I feel as if I'm reading the story of me at 15 -- with a few different twists.

"… if I had one wish, it'd be to go back and start playing when I was 5."

I didn't start that young myself, although I did start playing younger than you did.  And violin was my idea -- not someone else's.  From what you say, it had to be your idea, too.  You have a big advantage right there already.  My guess is that, even if you could roll back time to age 5 and start with the instrument then, it might still have taken you till the same age of _____ to get really serious about it.

"… my compulsion to prove myself plus my lack of the experience ….  How can I derive confidence from looking at my past?"

When I quit trying so hard to prove myself and could see that this wasn't ultimately about Jim but about the music, that helped a lot.  Looking at the past keeps showing me what to do better, what not to do at all.  It never ends.

So keep performing -- and don't be afraid to ham it up a little now and then.  That's good therapy, too.

January 14, 2011 at 08:45 PM ·

My own main experience is from dancing, not violin.  It seems you are putting way too much pressure on yourself.  You may aspire to be paganini but you are you.  Believe it or not, noone wants to see paganini when you play, they actually want to see you.  It is so important to everynow and then stop and try to assess now where you are going but where you are and take pride in your achievements.

That said, when you play for an audience is the pressure you feel a) internal (I have to be much better than I am); b) I am not as good as everyone else or c) (and I think this is the most common) I am not playing as well as everyone expects me to? 

January 16, 2011 at 12:54 AM ·

" How can I derive confidence from looking at my past? "  

by looking at your future:)

i think you may want to consider going to a music camp this summer.  i saw one advertised on this site with fellow poster maestro david russell as a teacher there.  

if you are truly interested in and committed to violin as a potential future,  and if you want to assess how good you are, you probably need to play alongside some better players and learn directly from the best teachers.   with experiences like that, you can more accurately evaluate your own potential instead of wondering about where you are without reliable basis on a grand scale.  

confidence comes from experiences.  go get some:) 

i think with broader exposure, your playing anxiety will dissipate.

advancing so fast is both good and bad:)  good because it is good.  bad because as you put it, you develop a feeling that you have to prove yourself even more.   that is a tricky thing to handle without proper guidance and a reasonable inner sense of direction and expectation.  

January 16, 2011 at 03:52 AM ·

Pierre and everybody, I strongly recommend against using beta-blockers.  Google "inderal side effects."  Unless a drug is medically necessary, steer clear of it.

The root cause of nervousness in performing is mental or psychological.  Using a drug simply dodges the real issue instead of dealing with it head on.  The cure is worse than the disease.

As a kid in school, I was able to get on top of the problem of nerves and out-bully them without drugging.  If an introvert like me could do it, most other folks should be able to do so, too.

Malik, if you haven't already read this, check out Katisha L's 12-30-2010 thread titled How to control a shaking bow hand.  I've already given in detail there what worked for me -- I have three posts in the thread; but be sure to read the whole thread.

January 16, 2011 at 04:00 AM ·

 Oh, I'd say I've already decided the violin is my future. And I went to the intermediate division of Interlochen this past summer, and I intend to go again but in the high school division this coming summer, and Meadowmount the summer after that. But uh, I think I'll just try the relaxation techniques. The main reason I became so concerned is that a friend of mine composed a violin concerto dedicated to yours truly, and I'll be premiering it on one of the most prestigious concert series' in New Orleans. So uh, y'know. A little bit of pressure.

January 16, 2011 at 04:04 AM ·

 excellent malik,,,sound like you are already on the right track, and good luck with the debut,,,sounds exciting.  if there is no pressure, it is probably not worth your effort and time!

wish you all the success!

January 16, 2011 at 04:23 AM ·


 You have come along quite quickly in technique on violin in a remarkable period of time.  What you may be needing is to make it truly "yours".  That takes time and as Al said, experience.  When I say making it "yours", I refer to all of the technique, style, interpretation, etc... becoming as comfortable as putting on socks and shoes in the morning.  5,000 people watching would not bother you in the slightest if all you were doing was putting on a pair of shoes.

Of course, making music is much more than putting on a pair of shoes.  ;)

January 16, 2011 at 05:42 AM ·

To answer your larger question, confidence will come with hours put into careful study. Right now it's popular to quote Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule with regard to how long it takes to truly master a skill. In reality, of course, the amount of time will vary from individual to individual. And as a 15-year-old you can focus better and have faster reflexes and a better understanding of abstract concepts than a 5-year-old. So you're not really 10 years behind. But slow, careful practice when not under pressure is what will build confidence ultimately.

Meanwhile you are in a short-term pressure cooker getting ready for your concert, and a medium-term pressure cooker getting ready for college auditions in 3 years. How to handle that without a meltdown? 

For your short-term project with orchestra, remember, first of all, that if you are going to premiere this piece, that means no one has ever heard it before. It's possible that the composer has not even heard performed by a real violinist. It's not as if you are going to play a well-known warhorse concerto before a knowledgeable audience. New music is often pretty difficult to learn, especially if the composer is not a violinist. But on the other hand, you get a lot of built-in latitude with an unknown piece. (I want to state parenthetically that learning a new concerto outside of the standard rep at this stage is a major distraction, especially if you are trying to make up for a late start.) But you're committed and it will be good experience to play for a large audience, so try to relax and enjoy it. The audience is there to love you; they want you to succeed. It will be fine. Afterward the party, go back to the nitty-gritty of scales, etudes, and progressive rep.

In the longer run, a more solid foundation will help keep away the jitters and be much better for you than beta-blockers. Systematically desensitize yourself to performance jitters by performing more. Play your rep for other people every chance you get-- school, nursing homes, family parties, etc. The more you perform, the less strange it will seem to be in a performance situation. Also: practice playing for "juries", even if it's just a make-believe panel of your teacher and some colleagues. That will help you get used to the odd feeling of an audition, which is different from a regular audience.

Anecdotes aren't worth much but they are comforting. I do know a violist who started at 14 and got into Peabody at 17, then went onto a successful career. I know a cellist who started at 12 and got into Curtis at 18 (still there) and a violinist who started at 11 and is now at San Francisco Conservatory with a merit scholarship. And this is just off the top of my head. You might also want to check out the website of Jasmine Reese, who is a member. 


January 16, 2011 at 08:25 AM ·

I am a fiddler, and I only play for myself and my grandkids; I don't have any of those pressures. I have, however, had a varied life, and have gained some experience.

If you are thinking of using a crutch such as beta blockers, stop and think for a bit. Any process you develop now will only become more entrenched as you mature. It is natural and unavoidable. We are successful as a creature because we are wired to find what works, and reuse those things to our advantage.

That said, think of yourself 20 or 30 years from now. Think of yourself having used such a crutch. You have never developed any other method of coping with the same pressures, so you  are dependent.

What are the long-term ramifications to your ability, and your life in general? What are the ramifications to your self-image, when you are alone in the evening, still unsure if you have the capability to perform without help?

Although such a crutch is not as destructive as alcohol or other drugs, it still will be something that will be with you for life. I would suggest finding an alternate means unless you are willing to accept that.

Many people start such a process by being untruthful to themselves, saying it is only for now; later I'll come up with a different solution. In the real world, that doesn't happen. If you decide on that as the solution while this young, it will always be the solution.

January 17, 2011 at 12:26 AM ·

Pierre, your three other suggestions are excellent -- and these techniques have definitely proved their worth with pro and non-pro performers.

But the analogy between vision problems and nerves -- this breaks down, because vision problems are physiological; whereas the nerves problem has a mental or psychological cause.

"I've seen great musicians break down and cry after being criticized by the conductor."

Would their being on beta-blockers have warded off the conductor's criticism?  And if they had been on the medication and still received criticism, would the medication have prevented the tears?

January 17, 2011 at 03:39 AM ·

Cyril, I agree with Elise!  How wise is your comment...

Malik, personally I stoped wishing to be a pro musician since a long time (anyway no longer possible at..22.  For much people anyway) 

But, I also started violin with quite a passion (that I still have though!) from 0 as a teen and made much progress (not ennough to have any hopes of good prosperous music careers as I wanted but ennough to catch up with the other kids who have started much younger than me at the conservatory I attend)  I remember the feeling of instability (one day playing well and the other day, crack up with nerves and inexperience).

My teacher once told me that:

"as much progress as one can do, experience won't come immidiately." 

If you have done much progress in a short time, it's a good thing but you will sometimes have some little technical or nerve problems that you'll only learn how to deal with with experience.  But one day, you'll do!  (no matter the path you'll take: amateur or professional musician)

An accompagnist for who I have much respect once told me this too:

Remember than baking a cake on a very high tempeture to cook it faster will actually burn it!!!  You want your cake to cook well and be delicious, not to burn...

Unfourtunately, I know that schools don't consider that one has started older or not and that you feel time limit pressure to be the best you can fastly... but if you feel you have to "proove yourself" each time you put the your bow on the strings, it's maybe the best way to actually crash yourself down! In a way, One always have to proove onself in everything, but to actively think about this just before playing is maybe not at all a good idea!!!  I would just think about this to remember to practice hard if I was you but no more...

Maybe I'm wrong, but I think that pros are trained to play their hearts out (while still activly thinking to what they're doing)  The best violinists (you have surely noticed) are often a perfect balanced between focus and abandon...  If a violinist thinks too much, he'll get nervous; if a violinist doesn't think ennough, he'll do stupid mistakes and mess up. 

I say: It's not an afternoon on the beach, but it's not having a gun on the head either! : ) (and this at every level of playing)

Good luck!


January 17, 2011 at 05:57 AM ·

"The conductor starts to ask for something different and begins criticizing the soloists interpretation. Works intensively with the player. The soloist gets nervous and begins to break down and mess up. Sometimes it can get so uncomfortable that we feel bad listening to it and want to help our colleague any way we can. Also, other musicians get fearful for the same treatment and become insecure and self-aware of their flaws."


As the years pass, I am increasingly thankful that I ditched the music business at 21 -- before I actually got myself into it.  What I could see of it from a safe arm's length distance -- well, I came to see that I wasn't going to like it.  But what I saw was only a hazy sliver of what you just described.

Although I had found orchestra playing very enjoyable in high school -- and for a couple of years beyond it -- I then I grew to detest it.  I became stir-crazy.  I considered it a total waste of my time.  Even if you appointed me to the CM chair at top dollar, I would turn it down.  I would still hate the job.

- Sigh. - But I still love the music and have a lot more enjoyment in making music now than I did then.

January 19, 2011 at 07:25 PM ·

I've got to come clean on this.  I take more beta blockers than any musician ever has for stage nerves.  100mg a day.  It's for a genetic heart issue that runs in my family.

It does ZILCH for performance and ZILCH for nerves.  It will neither make you a god, nor destroy your technique and render you incapable of playing so much as Twinkle.

People see them as a shortcut, and are at risk of using them instead of simply buckling down and doing the hard footwork of developing technique and confidence.  Other people see them as an instant destroyer of technique that will blow your bow arm clean off your shoulder.  They are neither.  There is a huge population of people who take these things daily in doses that would make classical musicians blanche, and we are neither possessed of a glorious sangfroid nor rendered into indolent jelly.  Jeez.

January 20, 2011 at 11:11 PM ·

Janis, me too.  3x per day, every day.  Lemme tell you, folks, propranolol has absolutely no sedative or tranquilizing effects at all.   A conductor screaming at you will be every bit as unpleasant.  The only difference is that if your heart rate goes way up or you develop a tremor in your hands due to excess adrenaline, beta blockers will prevent this.  That feeling of being about to lose your lunch on your shoes, still there.

January 20, 2011 at 11:36 PM ·

I tried beta blockers once, >15 years ago, for public speaking nerves.  They really didn't help.  What helped instead was being extremely prepared, memorizing as much as I could of my talk, and not trying to "wing it."  It really made a difference to me if I wasn't surprised during the talk, for example, if I knew what the next slide was going to be before it showed on the screen.  So if it was a long talk that I couldn't memorize, at least I could memorize the order of my slides and know what was coming next.  A couple years ago I read an interview with Olympic swimmer Dara Torres about how she knew every inch of the pool she'd be swimming in, knew exactly how many strokes she would take, and where and when she would take them, etc.  She was mentally prepared as well as physically.  This was the same idea only not as intense.

I found that sort of thing applied to music also, and have started trying to memorize pieces.  Even if I don't perform them from memory, knowing the piece that well keeps me from freaking out if I have a brain glitch due to nerves.  The unconscious mind and fingers seem to be able to take over and carry me through.  Knowing I can trust my unconscious mind and fingers to do the right thing seems to quiet the nerves.

I have also recently found that directly addressing the physical symptoms of lack of confidence--in my case, cold, stiff hands--provides a kind of positive biofeedback.  So I put on wristies, and then my hands are not cold, and even though my brain thinks that I'm nervous, my hands are telling it, "no, you're not."

If I had found beta-blockers helpful, I might have kept on with them, or tried them for music--I always prefer to do the experiment, rather than listen to what someone else tells me is true for them--but I really didn't for myself, echoing what Lisa and Janis said.

January 21, 2011 at 03:06 AM ·

There are some people, and some music teachers, who really understand the underpinnings of performance anxiety.  I am not one of those, but I have spoken briefly with two who are.   Malik, I  would suggest you seek out a mentor that impresses you with their understanding of performance anxiety-  when you talk with them you say "wow- s/he knows EXACTLY what I am talking about.

 Some people are more susceptible to performance anxiety than others, and those "others" can never truly understand the anxiety issues.  Others of us will -- I'll bet you have a perfectionist side.  That issue needs to be addressed.  I'll bet you are fairly self-conscious-- that too can be addressed.  Degrading performance is totally explainable by the right person- why i am attempting it, i can't say:   You might play a piece very well alone- you may be concerned about your bow technique, and your shifting, but you can handle your concerns and still play the piece well. However, if you throw in the audience/judges, it is a third worry and it can literally be the straw that breaks the camels back.  A piece that was doable, unravels.  So, if the audience is a concern, you might want to play a piece in which you don't have to worry about those shifts or that bow technique-- one that is SOOOOOO VERY  EASY for you- which means you have so over prepared it, that it almost plays itself.

Performance anxiety, unaddressed by my teacher,  is probably a big reason I gave up violin, 30 years ago.  I hoped it would be gone, now that I have returned with a more insightful outlook on things, but it remains a significant challenge for me. 

My understanding of beta blockers is that in most people, they will not do anything for the mental self-talk/thinking  aspects of performance anxiety.   However, in many people they will prevent SOME of the physical effects (elevated heart rate, tremors in hands, sweating...) associated with performance anxiety.  I can deal with the mental stuff, but when my left hand sweats, I can't shift correctly.  When my right arm shakes, I can not longer draw a decent quarter note, much less anything longer.  I am not alone with these issues.   I understand a HUGE number of professional musicians use them.

You need to deal with both the mental and physical aspects, and a good mentor may literally be a career saver for you.  At the very least, it will help you keep the performance option alive.

GOOD LUCK!!!  You can deal with this!  you've accomplished the most important step-- admitting you have a problem and you're working on the second one-- seeking help.

January 21, 2011 at 12:29 PM ·

Helen - wow, you describe me perfectly!  I've struggled with performance anxiety (PA) for exactly the reasons you describe - of late more with dancing than violin (I do competetive ballroom).  But I have found a way to manage it.  Basically what it comes down to is that it really should be called 'non-performance' anxiety.  Let me explain.

The key for me is to remove the 'competition' or 'evaluation' from the performance.  When we present something infront of others there are, of course, multiple sensations going on.  We worry about being judged, about making a mistake, about letting our teachers/colleagues/parents etc down.  These are the negative factors that those of us with PA struggle with.  Any sane person might wonder why we do it at all - its a good question, what drives you to put yourself in a situation that can be torture?  The answer is (at least for me) that I love to perform and thats why I am up there - the drive to perform overcomes the collective negtatives that might stop me.  OK so I'm a bit nuts too.

The way  I have dealt with this in dance is to separate the negatives from the positive.  Amazingly this can be done.  First, no discussion or consideration of competition (in dance I make that my partner's responsibility, not quite sure how to do that in playing yet).  No comparison with other players.  OK all well and good but doing a lot of 'no's is like creating an elephant in the room!  You have to have positives to work on.  What I do next is walk round the dance floor before we compete and look at the audience.  I make a mental note of every person that smiles at me or that I know and smile back - I create a connection with as many people as I can that I believe are looking to see how WELL I dance.  That is the absolute crucial factor.  You have to think about how people are going to love your performance.

Next, when I am waiting to go onto the floor I isolate myself from any other dancer.  I start listening to the music and moving my body to its rhythms.  I get into the music using the previous competition.  No thoughts of judges and none of other competitors - anyone that approaches me I sometimes rudely dismiss them (they always back off - other comeptitors do understand).  I walk onto the floor holding myself proudly and mentally think of all the people who appreciate me and are admiring my presentation.  When dancing I am thinking of how my friends are enjoying the performance.

Hokey?  Perhaps - but it works for me.  I don't have much experience with performing on the violin but I hope I can make the same thing work there.

Sorry this is a bit long but its been a long struggle for me and I have had some positive outcome....

January 22, 2011 at 10:11 PM ·

 On a related note 

Some teachers have students who are more mistake-proof than other teachers.  I think that some teachers take great care not to let their students play in important master classes or recitals without being absolutely prepared.  Other teachers are more casual about it, allowing students to play new pieces or even unfinished pieces in master classes using the experience more as a lesson than an exhibition. I think this approach runs the risk of  undermining a student's confidence, possibly planting the unfortunate seed that they are prone to mistakes under pressure.

There is also a trade-off between training artistic exploration, flexibility and artistic depth with training in security.   For some students, having the teacher change bowings and fingerings up until the day before a competition can cause confusion under pressure.  For other students, I suppose, it may help them think on their feet, and play more spontaneously.

There also are some  teachers who employ really tough methods for distraction proofing their students.  

Some teachers cultivate a reassuring manner which, when combined with preparation can diffuse anxiety  ahead of a big event.

In selecting a teacher, it is probably worth finding out how prepared students are for big events and how they do under pressure.


January 23, 2011 at 12:37 AM ·

Jennifer that is so true... How often do we see students not ready to play x peice but according to the teacher "it's just a friendly concert so it's no big deal if it's not perfect..." 

I hate this way of thinking.  Perfectionnists are terribly affected by the slightest accident in a concert... (things as not ennough rehearshals with the pianist, playing cold, not beeing 100% ready with a peice etc are killers and demolish you)  I've been in the two "schools" and I was very affected by beeing put on a stage not ready...   

January 23, 2011 at 03:33 AM ·

But maybe we need to learn how to play when NOT ready - I mean often are circumstances perfect anyway?  That is, I think, the biggest cause of performance anxiety.

Granted there are better ways than making you play when you are not prepared - one way is to have sight-reading performances where everyone is going to make mistakes.  Performance is an art, it can't be a predicted science and as such it is crucial to learn that 'mistakes' are normal and sometimes can even make the music more interesting.  Its how you deal with them thats key.

January 23, 2011 at 04:50 AM ·

I agree Elise... I was not meaning perfect as in no mistakes... Perhaps I should have said solid vs non solid...

If one is very solid in a peice, the few mistakes can almost be charming.  But if one is not solid, the few mistakes will affect the player very much (well, I think). 

It's surely not a predictable science but my teacher and accompagnists have learn me that it's predictable that you can't fail terribly "awfully" if you played well in many previous reheashals. But you will almost 100% fail terribly if the many previous rehearshals were bad...   

It's just the "how can you do in public what you can't do at home rule..."  That's quite scientific or predictable no? 

January 23, 2011 at 07:22 AM ·

Hey, I'm also an 'adult' beginer and I have caught myself wishing that I had started playing the violin at a really young age too. 1) It's no use wishing that because it can't hapen :) 2) It's likely that if you had started at age 5 you would be sick and tired of playing the violin by now. I'm not saying that all people who do start that early give up - that is not true! But if your passion started only a few years ago then what good would it have done starting that early, you probobly would have given up before reaching that point of realy enjoying it and excelling at it. Live in the momant, enjoy the skill you have worked so hard to gain. You are privalged to be able to play the violin. And just remember, most people you play for can't play a note on the violin themselves and they will think you are amazing. Enjoy yourself, otherwise playing the violin is a waste of time :) Good Luck!

January 23, 2011 at 09:33 AM ·

I'm 52 yrs old and I've been playing the violin for 45 yrs. I don't have stage fright. But, then again, I'm not a solist nor did I ever want to be one. I fell in love with orchestral music the minute they took me home from the hospital, because that's all you heard in my house! So, I've always wanted to be a part of a symphony orchestra, which I am. I did have the same problem as you with confidence. It lasted a very long time. I would have 100% confidence playing in a large group, but zero playing alone. I felt like I didn't sound the way I intended to sound inspite of the painstakingly intense effort I was making to sound good. I did two things that "cured" me. Playing in an orchestra was one. I saw that I was pretty good in comparison to others, it was a sanity check. But, I didn't like my sound. So, the other was to get rid of my old violin and bow and get new ones. My violin was simply not the right size for me, nor did it sound good. I started exchanging violins with other violinists during rehearsals and the comment I often got was "Wow, if you can sound that good on that horrible instrument, you are a good violinist!". So, I bought the perfect violin and bow for me. Now, I invite people over to play duets. Before, I wouldn't play in front of anyone nor if anyone could hear me. Now, I fling open the windows and I don't care who can hear me!

I would suggest that you try a little experiment and start by changing your bow. I tried bows of all prices and did a blind test each time. I'd play with a smattering of bows from the cheapest to wildly expensive ones. Believe it or not, the bow I chose that just sounded AWESOME was the cheapest one, so I was very happy indeed! You wouldn't believe the difference it can make. Then the violin. The violin and bow you had are the ones you started off with, and you are someone different now.  My new violin isn't the one I planned on getting. I wanted an old Mirecourt. I played maybe one hundred just to disover that I don't like them. I ended up buying a newer violin (1949) by a well known French Luthier that I ADORE. It has completely changed my view and given me confidence. I know I sound much better. :o)

January 24, 2011 at 01:32 AM ·

 Thanks a lot for the feed back. I have lots of new interesting information...

But I actually got a rather even more interesting answer from my teacher. She told me that when I practice my pieces, imagine I'm playing for a panel of all the great violinists ever: Ysaÿe, Heifetz, Paganini and the like, and that when I perform, it should be easy compared to the anxiety I put myself through in practice.

But uh yeah... I'm in an interesting place. I was thinking about it today, and I've decided that starting late may even be an advantage to me. I have the benefit of having metamorphosed into a violinist, and so I think once I develop the tools at my disposal, I will possibly have a unique voice and expression to set myself apart.  Then again, I could also be that guy at the back of a crappy orchestra that can play all 24 Paganini capricci without skipping a beat that according to my teacher every orchestra has. I think now I'm willing to take the risk and accept the consequences. 

January 24, 2011 at 03:42 AM ·

Malik, yes that's a good trick... Can also imagine you're in Carnagie Hall ; )

A recorder does the trick too since that is very stressful...

January 24, 2011 at 05:10 AM ·

 Actually, I'm doing both.

January 24, 2011 at 06:15 AM ·

Even if I don't perform them from memory, knowing the piece that well keeps me from freaking out if I have a brain glitch due to nerves.  The unconscious mind and fingers seem to be able to take over and carry me through.

Karen -- yes, yes, yes.  The piece has to reside in both places, the hands and the brain.  If you panic, you can't access your brain and think, and you have to rely on your hands to know the thing on their own.  If you choke, you can't get to your instinct and have to rely on the brain to think its way through the piece.

This has been my bugaboo in the past terribly.  I can play a piece without thinking ... but can't play it with thinking.  If I can't turn off my brain and I find myself overthinking, I would freeze because I was relying on my hands to know what to do instinctively, and my instinct was offline.

Any piece you play has to be in both places -- if you panic, you can't think.  If you choke, you can't STOP thinking and just go with the flow.  If it's not stored in head and hands both, it's a lead-pipe cinch that something will happen to cut you off from your stored knowledge on stage.

January 24, 2011 at 07:53 AM ·

I don't have anything to really add at this time, but I wanted to share what a great read this has been for me, and everyone has had such good insight on this topic.  Malik, you should feel less alone on the topic with all the different people here who relate to you.

January 24, 2011 at 10:08 AM ·

Emily I agree! It's great coming in here and reading everyone's comments? It always gets me thinking about things because the insight other people have can be so helpful! I agree it's great to know we are not alone. I used to think I was the only one that had this problem.

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