Tips for motivation needed

January 24, 2012 at 11:34 PM · I am in my third year at music college, and therefore an important time! I feel tired and unmotivated a lot of the time, and I'm not sure why. I do have some family issues at the moment (close relative with ongoing illness)which may have something to do with it but I really wish I could separate these parts of my life. Because of my lack of motivation I have not practised for a while, however when I went to practise earlier I realised I was not even sure of how to practise. I have a few pieces on the go, some that I am just starting, but I could not find a way to practise other than playing through. Can anybody recommend any tips for motivation...and some advice on reminding me how to practise? Thanks in advance.

Replies (23)

January 25, 2012 at 03:43 AM · For starters, write a reasonable practice plan, including not just your working pieces, but also technique.

For example, you might plan to do x minutes on scales, x minutes on bow strokes, x minutes on vibrato, x minutes on shifting studies, x minutes on speed drills, x minutes on thirds, adds up! On your working pieces, plan for x minutes on identified tricky bits, x minutes for phrase by phrase practice, x minutes for run-throughs, etc. Also plan to listen to artist recordings of your repertoire. Once you have your work plan laid out, check items off as you go!

January 25, 2012 at 04:43 AM · You might wish to explain your situation to the teacher and ask them for some advice.

January 25, 2012 at 06:29 AM · Yes, here's some motivation:

"would you like fries with that burger?"

"Size 8 EE? Let me see if we have that in stock"

"For a large pepperoni and mushroom, that will be $13.99. We'll be there in about 20 minutes."

you: "do I REALLY have to wear the pirate hat on a delivery?"

manager: "yes."

Voice behind curtain after 13 seconds of Mozart concerto:

"thank you #5. That will be all."

January 25, 2012 at 01:47 PM · So many ways to answer a question like this one.

But there's one thing that always seems to work for me in a situation like the one you're describing.

Next time you practice, practice slow. Slow enough so that you can confidently play with good intonation and very efficiently. Also, practice playing really quietly. And also practice for really good tone quality.

I've always had a good practice session when I do that. And I usually find that the source of much of my frustration is when I'm not doing one of the above enough.

Another thought: find a spot you can't play. Think really hard about why you're having difficulty with it. Is it the bow, is it the way you're holding the fiddle, do you need to move a hand, a finger, an arm this or that way to make it work better. Tell yourself that you can figure it out, because most likely you can. Everything has been played before on the violin, if someone else has figured it out, you can too. (but you're one leg up on many people on this forum, you're in music school. Ask a friend or play for a friend) If you think about it, it's not rocket science, it's really not that complicated. It's just the violin.

January 25, 2012 at 01:54 PM · My teacher recommends concentrating on quality of tone (it is the main thing an audience notices) and the fine details of the piece, which implies identifying the tricky bits and looping them slow. Get the details right (including intonation), a good tone, and the big picture generally looks after itself.

January 25, 2012 at 02:22 PM · Allison,

I'm almost sorry to raise this, but is it possible you have lost enthusiasm for playing the instrument as a primary interest? There are many ways to motivate yourself - one of the best would be to set up a recital in the not too distant future (offer to play at someone's wedding, retirment home or just a family gathering). However, motivation only works by either force (that is circumstances outside your own wishes) or by comittment (that is your internal drive to achieve).

I'm assuming you strated this mission because of the latter :) the question then has to be addressed are you still committed to becoming a violinist? Its actually something we should all ask our selves (for our primary occupations) at frequent intervals in case its just time for change. If the answer is yes, and you feel that with your spirit, then that in itself may help to get you motivated. If its not then you have to be honest with yourself and think what do you really want to spend your future on?

January 25, 2012 at 02:26 PM · Diet and exercise plan.

January 25, 2012 at 02:27 PM · Hi Alison. As far as specifics for effective and efficient practicing are concerned, for now I'll leave those to others - and indeed, talk to your teacher. But I sense that you are experiencing what some mystics have called "the long dark night of the soul" - a period where their faith and practice leaves them dry, unsatisfied and unmotivated.

Though I'm not experiencing this, I'm open to new ideas (at least now and then!) and I just started reading a book that I would highly recommend to you and anyone. It's called "The Art of Practicing - a Guide to Making Music from the Heart" by Madeline Bruser. She's a pianist, but that doesn't matter; you don't need her to tell you how to tune your fiddle. It has been endorsed by such divergent musicians as flutist, Paula Robinson and clarinetist, Rchard Stolzman.

I'd also recommend that you read or re-read any interesting books by or about musicians - their lives, struggles, etc. and listen to favorite or new recordings, DVD's etc. Also spend a little time just playing through relatively easy music for fun.

Scott - points wel-made and taken. The sad reality though, is that no matter how much we pracitice and how good we get, we can end up hearing or saying some of those things - all the more reason to love it for its own sake. But I'm now considering wearing a pirate hat at my own next recital!

January 25, 2012 at 02:43 PM · Can you commit to 3 minutes every day, rain or shine? If so, check out an old article of mine:

and click on the link to the practicing a musical instrument article. It got me through graduate school decades ago, and it's been a lifesaver ever since. It's a purely psychological approach to motivating yourself to practice regularly.

Hope it helps.



January 25, 2012 at 04:15 PM · Have you been checked for depression, thyroid issues, adrenal fatigue, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, etc? What's your diet like? What's your sleeping schedule? Are you addicted to caffeine or sugar? There's some excellent advice above but if you're under constant stress your body may not be functioning at a hundred percent, and you might want to think about possible physical causes to your malaise. Really hope it all works out for you.

January 25, 2012 at 09:16 PM · I agree with Trevor (and his teacher). Focus on perfecting your tone. Learn to love your sound and you'll gain some confidence. Worked for me.

January 25, 2012 at 09:51 PM · I would try not to worry about whether you're motivated. I agree with Raphael that right now you may just be in a dry or dark spot. I'd plod ahead and listen to yourself..what you need right now, what is going on in your life. All the things that matter to you can come back in to your playing in their own good time and give you new energy. If you give up, it won't have the chance. Maybe if violin has become an onerous chore you could balance that out with some other things you could give yourself so you are not all on " must do". I think achieving a good balance while in music school could be difficult. I imagine it's just a tough time, full of pressure, but you have already accomplished a lot and once you graduate you will be glad you did I bet.

January 25, 2012 at 10:02 PM · I actually think all of the posts here have some good suggestions. It'd be useful to hear back from the OP to see what makes sense. They can all be exactly the right advice depending on where one is at.

January 26, 2012 at 01:31 AM · not with God. She`s not worried.

January 26, 2012 at 02:45 AM · You're right Buri, I'm not.... :)

January 26, 2012 at 09:49 AM · Thank you for so many messages! I have so many new ideas and I'm looking forward to trying out all of your suggestions! I definitely do want to keep playing the violin, I do love it! I now feel very inspired. Thank you again!

January 26, 2012 at 09:59 AM · I see the initials SAD and I want to punch a wall. It's so pathetic and wimpy and self-excusing. I want to object against all possibility that an absence of a large fiery orb responsible for all existence of life on this planet would somehow affect my mental status. Certainly, I can be rational without the sun!


January 26, 2012 at 11:17 AM · Alison - great to hear you still want to play. The key thing is to figure out what it is that you most like about it and focus on that for your motivation.

Emily: hang on, in a few short months you can stock up on 22 hr (or so) continuous daylight!

January 26, 2012 at 02:06 PM · Emily and anyone else needing some sun, come and stay at my place. At the moment the big golden orb is blindingly bright and the temp here each day is hitting 35°C or thereabouts. Where I live on the Vic/NSW border in Australia we seem to get around 7 months of Summer, two of Winter(no snow) and three of balmy Spring and Autumn days. Most of the time it is sunny, we barely get cloud, not very much rain either. More than our lions share of sun, and if I could, I'd send you some.

Alison,hang in there. I had bouts of similar lacklustre feelings during high school, which were probably mild depression but not recognised in those days. Keep trying till you find the reason, and I'm glad you want to keep playing too. If you find a piece or two you really like you can use them to play especially for yourself on some of those days where practice just isn't happening. Good luck.

January 26, 2012 at 03:00 PM · Alison - OR you could try several large tins of baked beans for breakfast and a boyfriend with a big personality ... OR just working out why you aren't motivated OR looking at the problems with violin playing in minute detail... OR just getting on with it and putting the work in.

January 26, 2012 at 03:33 PM · SAD? try vitamin D3...from the bottle, not the sun

January 26, 2012 at 08:15 PM · Alison, I felt the same way you did as a music major, and I ended up quitting. I didn't see the point in pushing on because I kept being told that there were no jobs for musicians and that I had more than my fair share of work cut out for me if I wanted to succeed at all. At the time, I didn't have much fight in me because I often felt lonely and I craved relationships over locking myself in a studio to fix my technical probems. I couldn't find a worthwhile reason. Sometimes, the scale just weighs like that.

Looking back, I really wish someone had thrown me a musical life vest, because I could've benefited greatly from finishing that performance degree--if nothing else, to prove to myself that I could succeed.

So, for what it's worth, keep believing that you'll be glad you practiced when you look back. It's like going to the gym or anything else that's good for you but takes a bit of discipline. The days when you feel the least like doing it are the same that you need to do it most. On the days I feel the most depressed and have absolutely no desire to go on a run, if I can just take that first step and keep going, I always feel a little better afterward. Keep fighting!

As far as practice habits go, sometimes I have difficulty when I feel overwhelmed by too many things. You should pick up your violin with only one small task in mind, and pat yourself on the back when you finish it. If it's a shifting exercise, do your ten reps, your one line, your whatever-it-is, and then give yourself a mental pat on the back. Keep your attitude as positive as possible, and take a break before you begin to feel negative about it. Find ways to make your practice time something that revives you so that you gain momentum in your motivation. I like to fix my favorite tea or brew some coffee. But the true satisfaction for me is just getting something to sound beautiful. If I can't make it sound beautiful, I simplify it until I can.

Anyway, I feel for you. I hope you feel better soon, and don't give up.

January 28, 2012 at 09:49 AM · 100% agree with Tom. And forgive me, as I am about to evangelise about this. We're all built differently, and some people just don't get enough vitamin D in the winter months at their latitude. Here's how I found out- two or three years ago, I went on an outdoor activity weekend. Sailing, climbing, kayaking, all the things I love to do. I was in a very stressful job at the time, and spent pretty much the whole weekend in tears about how I should really be working not playing, how much I had to do and when it was ever going to get done. It should have been the best weekend ever, but it sucked.

Whilst there, a friend and I randomly got chatting to some physiotherapists about joints. Do any supplements really work? Apparently yes: anyone who doesn't take glucosamine and cod liver oil is nuts. Well, when I got home I balked at the price of glucosamine but thought I'd give the cod oil a go.

Mere days later, I was in such a different place. Same stressful job, same workload but to be honest it was water off a duck's back. I did what was possible and stopped beating myself up about the rest. Then, THEN, I went to stay with a friend for a weekend. I accidentally left the cod oil there and didn't get back to buying more. Within a few days I had sunk back into a decline.

Thought... hmmm. And on a random whim Googled to see if it could be the cod oil. Apparently yes. Vitamin D and mood go hand in hand. I take it regularly now, and I'm still in the should-be-stressful job but I haven't had a bad day for... well, feels like ever. Although it does help that listening to intense music is to me like a crack hit, so I do find I walk round in a bit of a state of inane delirium.

But yeah, cod oil. Vitamin D. Give it a while to kick in, but trust me. I'm a huge believer in the placebo effect, but that can't have been the explanation here as I genuinely had no clue that was meant to be one of the benefits.

Hope you get your mojo back soon.

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