How can I be different?

January 16, 2012 at 05:42 PM · As in a lot of towns, there is a youth orchestra in my town. I am in it along with the other hundreds of violinists'. I wanted to know what makes a violinist stand out. How can I become well known in the community?

Replies (48)

January 16, 2012 at 07:17 PM · Good question.

I would say that if you have to ask this, you'll never know.

January 16, 2012 at 07:23 PM · Attend other violinists performances (such as graduation recitals); take lessons opportunities; help out at orchestras (yes, do the dog-work, it gets you noticed); be nice to other players.... etc...

January 16, 2012 at 07:43 PM · What Elise said, and let me echo the part about being nice to people. As a young person you can set yourself apart by behaving more grown up -- that is, strictly in a professional manner. (For example, in a youth orchestra, you can make sure you're the one who maintains eye contact with the conductor, who doesn't play past when (s)he has lowered his/her baton, who is never late, who does not noodle or chit-chat when the conductor is working with a different section, etc.) Aside from that, playing with skill, artistry, confidence, and poise is definitely going to get you noticed. You're not going to do that, however, without a good teacher and a lot of hard work.

Your profile says that your teacher does not know how much you practice!! That tells me that you are not developing the right relationship with your teacher. You need to be honest and forthright with your teacher in All Things Violin. You should, at your very next lesson, explain that you are practicing 3-4 hours a day because your teacher might well want to counsel you on how to do that without hurting yourself and how to use such a wealth of time the most productively.

January 16, 2012 at 08:25 PM · what Elise and Paul said, plus always showing up with the music prepared to the best of your ability, and with bowings marked, followed, and changed promptly and accurately as necessary.

January 16, 2012 at 08:49 PM ·

January 16, 2012 at 09:41 PM · having my philosophical moment: "Be yourself"

January 16, 2012 at 09:45 PM · Be willing to do stuff that people don't typically want to do(to a point). Read the score of the pieces you're working on, be there on time, be attentive, practice your part. Be pleasant.

Be the sort of person that people want to play with. That's sometimes more important than playing well.

January 16, 2012 at 10:03 PM · Well, a lot of advice, and some of it good.

However, I think what Tobias Seyb said was pretty much on the nose.

Get down to work and don't worry about asking daft questions.

January 16, 2012 at 11:59 PM · "Standing out" isn't the same as being "outstanding." If you want the second, most of the previous posters have given you good advice. Maybe two would represent the 'standing out' side of things as well.

January 17, 2012 at 02:19 AM · Don't be shy.

January 17, 2012 at 02:39 AM · Play in tune, have a good range of tones and volumes and use them appropriately, play in time, show respect for the other players, smile, laugh, and enjoy yourself. Don't get too wound up when you or other players make mistakes.

This shouldn't make you any different, but probably will.

January 17, 2012 at 07:14 AM · Hi friends,

such a lot of good advice! But of what?

Of what should be normal for any musician.

Regarding the OP, on second thought Lessing's Ring Parable (from Nathan the Wise) came to my mind. It says that being special (resp. to stand out) is no matter of doing, but of being.

(And obviously non of the given candidates was being better, let alone true...)

So what? To stand out is nothing we can achieve by doing.

And Yoda The Great would add:

"being special you desire, lost your goal you already have."

PS: To become "well known in the community" you just wear high heels, lipstick and eyeliner. That will work.

January 17, 2012 at 07:45 AM · Hi Parth,

You asked a good question!

From your comments it sounds like you're a teenager and it's good for you to be thinking about how to improve yourself as a musician and find good ways to set yourself apart.

All of the practical advice already given is good. No one expects a teenager to fall into the work habits of an adult musician who has been performing for a number of years.

Unless I missed reading it, one other suggestion is to ask questions; at appropriate times of course. Conductors and teachers notice, and respect, students who are trying to gain a more in-depth understanding of the music and concepts they're working on. A plus side of of this is that these conductors and teachers will see you as a more serious student and they will look for ways to help you advance and become more experienced.

I speak from first hand knowledge of this. I got my first gigs because my conductors recommended me, I also started coaching junior youth symphonies, and began teaching violin under a mentor all while I was in high-school. I attribute all of it to the fact that I did a number of the things that people have recommended to you here.

Above all else be honest, sincere and work hard. You will get where you want to be...

Good luck!


January 17, 2012 at 08:51 AM · Tobias - "PS: To become "well known in the community" you just wear high heels, lipstick and eyeliner. That will work."

I think she is probably a bit young to go down that road, and it never works anyway, although at auditions wearing a very short skirt and low top can make you stand out, but it never worked for me, owing to my hairy legs and flat chest ...

I think she just needs to be herself and enjoy playing and to be enthusiastic about it. Don't moan about things and keep bouncing back. In the end you can only achieve what you are capable of or willing to work for. Fame is only skin deep and you are only as good as your last concert. Even if you are Perlman or Ehnes.

January 17, 2012 at 08:59 AM · Since Parth is a guy, the whole lipstick, eye-liner, and high-heels may not be the best suggestion but it does present an interesting image...

January 17, 2012 at 09:27 AM · Oh dear, we really messed up on that one. For some reason probably due to other posters comments, I was certain he was a she. Well, I have to blame someone ...

Sorry about that, but my comment about not wearing short skirts still counts!!

January 17, 2012 at 11:51 AM · Btw, it was non *my* idea.

See here:

January 17, 2012 at 12:26 PM · Make distinction between, being a good soloist and a good orchestral player.

When your soloing stand out, play as loud as you can, as fast as you like etc

Orchestra: p usually means pp. Never up stage section leader. Do not play faster or louder than others, blend in. But do take responsibility for your own counting, as occasionally the leader will have a laspe.

Top tips for impressing conductor

1 always nod and write on music whenever they talk, even if its already stated on the music ( notepad gets bonus marks)

2 at pause sections, if at all possible make eye contact with conductor, it will mean you come in perfectly on time, and he'll also feel important

January 17, 2012 at 12:41 PM · I'm sorry Hannah but I can't take your post about being a good orchestral player seriously.

When you are called on to play fff you belt the hell out of the fiddle and don't even think about "blending in." The people that blend in are the ones that hide behind everyone else.

People have been called out for not giving it all they've got. You often see in orchestras all over the world the front four desks putting their backs in to it and the next 3 nor 4 desks taking it easy and tickling the instruments. That's why they are at the back.

P.S. I heard a little bit of the recording on your website of the Lark. (By VW) I won't comment on it, but I can see that you have a thing about blending. (wink).

January 17, 2012 at 07:27 PM · When the orchestra are asked to give it their all with fff, absolutely you must but you are still working as a team, are still moving and creating a sound as a collective group, not as individual egos.

P.s. glad you could hear my recording

January 17, 2012 at 08:03 PM · Play songs backwards!

To be different you must do something that nobody else is doing, or do the same thing everyone else does with a major twist.

January 17, 2012 at 08:30 PM · So far, the comments have been related to your participation in the orchestra and the classical music world. If you are interested in other forms of violin music, e.g., jazz violin, celtic fiddle, bluegrass fiddle, pursuing those interests can also distinguish you. If your only interest is in classical, you might want to start/join a chamber group. The thrust of your question is not completely clear to me. For whom do you want to "stand out"? Folks in your community, potential music schools for college, or just your orch?

January 18, 2012 at 08:04 AM · Always take a pencil.

January 19, 2012 at 01:53 PM · If you are in a hole you can always work it out with a pencil.

Or to be different you could perform in the nude. There was a cellist here once who was photographed playing in the nude, and I thought it was a real cover up. AND it was a fake because she had the bow in the wrong hand.

January 20, 2012 at 09:55 AM · The nasty remarks about "blending" are stupid: you can't have several front desks, unless you have been playing together for the last fifty years! I change my tone and attack according to my precise role: leader, sub-leader, filler-in, last-minute support etc.

On being noticed (and we all need this, no hypocrisy, please!): if someone says I play well, I'm pleased but then it's my job; if someone says it was beautiful, I'm over the moon!

January 20, 2012 at 04:34 PM · Show up on time, be prepared, be consistent. Work hard -- work smart -- and try to put yourself into the top three or four players in your area for your age group. Be friendly and have a positive attitude. Set a good example by demonstrating the good behavior described in other posts, but don't be the one to preach or lecture unless it is really egregious. Be flexible, to a point, as someone mentioned. Don't be afraid to promote yourself or insert yourself into an opportunity. Be able to articulate what your strengths are at a moment's notice. When somebody helps you, help them in return. Get yourself some cards and don't forget to check your messages (I could stand to take my own advice a little more, but still!). Try to give a recital once a year.

It's possible to stand out in a bad way -- for instance, you don't want to be showing off an innovative interpretation in your orchestra excerpts at an audition, or your bodacious vibrato in the section. You may have eccentricities that could make you stand out in a good way or a bad way.

Amazingly, if you do half that, you are probably ahead of half the world. The best way to stand out, of course, is by being really freaking good at what you do. Like I said, work hard, work smart. Give yourself a barely-possible goal once in a while.

January 20, 2012 at 04:47 PM · *"On time" in the music world, of course, means early! :)

January 20, 2012 at 06:12 PM · "The nasty remarks about "blending" are stupid: you can't have several front desks, unless you have been playing together for the last fifty years! I change my tone and attack according to my precise role: leader, sub-leader, filler-in, last-minute support etc.

On being noticed (and we all need this, no hypocrisy, please!): if someone says I play well, I'm pleased but then it's my job; if someone says it was beautiful, I'm over the moon!"

Thank heavens for a bit of good sense Adrian. All this "blending" rubbish is being promoted by certain people who couldn't get a position in the local alcoholics anonymous orchestra. Especially in the over-rated city of Cambridge UK.

January 21, 2012 at 10:09 AM · Can we stop the wisecracks and continue some of the excellent advice already offered to our young friend!

Parth, of course you should want to share the best of yourself. Yes, arrive early, be helpful but not condescending, jovial but not irritating.

If your abilities (not just your talent..) exceed those of your peers, the conductor will notice for sure. When warming-up before the rehearsal starts, DON'T play long bits of concertos; just a few scales with perfect intonation and good tone will attract attention without exasperating.

"Blending"? This has nothing whatsoever to do with laziness! We have to contribute our tones to the ensemble - to be heard but not noticed! I remember returning in fine form from a stimulating workshop and being asked to play less loudly and with less vibrato! "Blending" means "adjusting", and requires considerable concentration. A new arrival will play more discretely until he or she has the measure of the orchestra's style and temperament.

Most orchestras are rife with hidden jealosies and intrigues, so be very careful with comments on your fellow musicians, however justified: know when to keep quiet, and people will listen to you!

Rather than just say "be yourself", I would say "offer the best of yourself". (I play music because it is beautiful, not to prove something - but then i'm just an old softy!)


January 21, 2012 at 01:42 PM · Hmmmm - warming up before rehearsal. A lot of people show off their latest concerto. They're called "band-room soloists" and it's NOT a compliment. Try it in a professional orchestra and you probably won't be back. If I do anything before rehearsal (and normally I don't - maybe if my hands are cold) I might do some finger exercises - Schradieck 1 or Kreuzer 9 but with hardly any bow - and in a quiet corner. Hopefully so quietly that someone standing next to me couldn't hear it.

January 21, 2012 at 07:56 PM · 'Band-room soloists'. Haven't come across that term before...

I don't mind hearing bits and pieces while warming up myself...and in our community orchestra it likely doesn't matter...but it's always good to know what the unspoken rules are...

January 21, 2012 at 08:40 PM · Wisecracks often come from accomplished players ...

January 22, 2012 at 09:30 PM · "Wisecracks often come from accomplished players"

No doubt, but then so does thoughtful and useful advice. Some of yours, for example!!

January 23, 2012 at 06:31 AM · That is a very insightful question coming from someone your age-congratulations! The last 'generation' of violinists are so good, but everyone sounds like everyone else. (Okay, folks, hear me out, I'm talking many soloists, not you folks in general). I have been working with my students, encouraging them to be themselves. I haven't heard you play, so it is a bit difficult to pin point things, so how about general ideas? What does the piece say to you, why do you like it? When you play it, what do you feel/see? How would you take that across to your audience? What 'story' are you telling? Are you using full range of 'colors'? Exaggerate what you are doing in dynamics and tones. Can you come up with new 'tones' or 'colors'? YOU have something important to say. Be the best YOU instead of a second rate 'someone else'.

January 23, 2012 at 07:56 AM · Being different is usually just being who we are, which can be both a blessing and a curse.

One can always be different and stand out just by behaving surprisingly badly, especially when everything else fails.

It’s always good to ask oneself, when this impulse comes, why do I want to stand out and to be well-known? No need to judge or tell anyone the answer, but good to be aware for one's own sake.

Personally I prefer what Adrian said: play music because it is beautiful, not to prove something. This approach helps to avoid a lot of pain.

January 23, 2012 at 10:20 PM · First, be yourself, but perhaps you are asking here for advice because something's not working for you.

1. Be dutiful to your orchestral duties - the pencil, the note-taking, the punctuality, the responsiveness, and the attention to detail.

2. Be respectful of other members and don't only be nice... I think it's important to be fascinated by others; everyone has stories about how you two ended up in the same place, about how they started playing, what they think of classical music...

3. Perhaps one of the most important: ditch the ego. It's incredible how much someone can be disliked even by subtle snobbiness, especially in orchestra. The best players are those who play well and love playing music with other people regardless of skill simply because they enjoy it.

4. Do you love what you do? Improve on yourself and focus on your ability to play better. People will follow suit if they see the passion.

Of course, if this conflicts with your innate character, this may be harder to answer than I had thought. In the end... it's not always important to shine! You are, after all, in an orchestra, where you all must function as one unit.

January 24, 2012 at 12:17 AM · I agree with everything that's been said. The things I would add or reiterate are:

1. Keep your head up, watch your conductor to the point of being creepy and follow (within reason). They loooooove it and you'll be noticed very quickly.

2. Watch your section leaders and other section leaders, I think the best orchestral performances are given by groups that treat orchestral music more like chamber music and less like, 'I play this now' and tromp all over other sections regardless of ensemble.

3. Know your repertoire, know your excerpts, always have music performance ready before the first rehearsal. ALWAYS.

If you can't get your hands on the parts in time, is a good resource. Listen to several recordings of your concert rep. if you don't already know the piece.

4. Count. Be a rhythm wiz. Don't let 'modern' music scare you, be able to hold your own when you're doing 2 against 3 against 5, etc. Count long rest passages for yourself, don't rely on a cue from the conductor or the section leader.

5. Always be gracious, kind, and professional. It's often the case that young players like to rip on other players. Keep your mouth shut. It's a small world and it only gets smaller as you climb up the ranks. The only person I ever vent to is my husband (an engineer, not a musician!) and even then, only in a moving car where no one else will ever hear me.

6. Know your styles. Not just the bread and butter baroque, classical, romantic, etc. Know how to swing, know your tango rhythms, know your ornamentation in country and western, in jazz, in irish music, in cajun music, pop, etc.

7. Play with nuance. Things like close half steps with leading tones to tonic, etc. Variations in vibrato speed and style (wrist, arm, hand) etc. A Brahms style vibrato is a world away from a Mozart vibrato, etc.

8. Lastly, be FEARLESS and FOCUSED. In your musicianship, in your technique, in your volume, projection and tone. At this stage in your growth the worst thing that's going to happen is that you'll make a very loud, fearless, brilliantly executed mistake. Big deal, you'll make fewer as you gain experience. Don't worry about what other people say or think, they'll be behind you and you'll be leading them in a few years time. Accept that every note (and rest) requires nothing other than your complete focus, love, passion, and musical ability. Auto pilot is unacceptable.

January 24, 2012 at 09:33 AM · Amber - how do you know your car is not bugged ...?

I would agree about the counting. Some people rely on others too much.

I sat next to someone once for a very short while, who never counted. So I would put my instrument up a few bars early and move the bow as if I was going the make an entry. Of course he copied me and got fooled every time. It took him a long time to learn - but he still never counted. (This action of mine was mainly only in rehearsals).

The other amusing but very naughty thing is to count the bars but then say six in a whisper when its really bar 5 - and see if people try and enter a bar early. It does catch them out. But one should only do these things to help remain sane in the most boring of rehearsals with the most boring of conductors ...

January 24, 2012 at 03:48 PM · Many years ago the cellist Charlotte Moorman stood out by playing topless....(may not work out too well for you, though:)

January 24, 2012 at 04:32 PM · It's not clear to me what you level of playing is, but that does have some relevance to what you can do beyond what has already been suggested.

When I was a high-school freshman and played in our school orchestra, I observed the way the concertmaster (a senior) played. When he was the soloist at his graduation, I resolved to learn the piece he played and to become concertmaster the next semester. I had a summer to work on those skills and since I was only 14, I had no job and plenty of time to practice. This involved vibrato improvement and playing higher than I had before and some other improvements in my playing - but not too much - I mean what I had to do to get "there" was clearly within my view. (I ought to mention that I had no violin teacher at the time but I had had 8 years of lessons starting 10 years earlier.)

You don't have to look that far forward (if you are truly in an orchestra with "hundreds of violinists") just use as an example what other violinists that you admire are doing and try to add some of that to skill set. It's like the two men being chased by a bear. One said, "How can we possibly outrun that bear." The other replied, "I don't have to run faster than the bear, I only have to run faster than you."

By the way, that's not a bad way to set some of your goals throughout life, including on the job - at least early on. In any organization, there are things one can learn by observing those who are getting ahead.


January 25, 2012 at 12:53 AM · Peter - you're wicked

"I sat next to someone once for a very short while, who never counted. So I would put my instrument up a few bars early and move the bow as if I was going the make an entry. Of course he copied me and got fooled every time."

At one stage of my career, I was sitting up as sub-leader to a guy who was sitting up as leader (I don't think they liked giving jobs). He used to do just that to see who reacted - he could bring up the violin but then go past his shoulder and scratch his nose or whatever in one fluid motion. It was funny to see the panic behind. I was probably busy doing the bowings (that was delegated to me - I enjoyed it, he didn't) so I had to learn to "read" him so I didn't actually miss the next entry.

January 25, 2012 at 09:35 PM · Charles,

Very good, sir.

I sit front desk 2nd violin. I usually count long passages with the 4 fingers of the left hand (very subtly) on the fingerboard, with the instrument in the rest position.

In one rehearsal, during a long rest section, I felt like somebody was looking at me. I glanced at the concertmaster, who was watching me, smiling -- having noticed I was doing exactly the same thing she was.

January 26, 2012 at 08:16 AM · John, that's probably a dodgy way to count.

What happens when you run out of fingers? Toes?

Most just think in 4/4 say, 1 (2) (3) (4) then 2 (2)(3)(4) then 3 (2)(3)(4) etc etc.

When you get past about 30 bars it always gets tricky or one falls asleep ...

The most frustrating thing is to count say 29 bars in a rehearsal and then the carver (conductor) stops, and you have to start counting all over again. (You can never rely on a conductor to bring you in ...)

Oh for the joys of orchestral playing. Long live chamber musak ...

January 26, 2012 at 03:19 PM · Practice, Practice, Practice.

If you are in an orchestra, the goal is not to stand out.

The best way to get yourself well known is to just get your name out there. Try doing some gigs, maybe even for free/charity to start.

January 26, 2012 at 05:34 PM · That's when the fingers come in handy, Peter. 45 bars of 12/8: one-two-three, two-two-three, three-two-three, four-two-three, and which bar comes next? Oh, crap. Then the guy with the stick restarts at bar 267, which is somewhere in the middle of the 45 measures of rest, but addition skills fail . . . is it the 31st or the 32nd bar?

January 27, 2012 at 12:27 AM · Lisa, That's not a problem. Peter and I are in the firsts - and we never get a rest that long!

I've always been in favour of "piece-work" - in our case that would be pay per note. The firsts would be rich!

January 27, 2012 at 02:45 AM · Hmmm Malcome - but have you thought it through to the conductor? He would claim equivalent payment for every note from every instrument.... and if he used both hands twice that!

January 27, 2012 at 05:04 AM · But Elise, a choreographer doesn't produce notes:)

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