Sending an S.O.S. from a violinist with A.D.D.

December 17, 2013 at 05:01 PM · Can anyone give me some advice about how to keep practice time more productive? I have Attention Deficit Disorder, and it's challenging to keep my focus while practicing. I wonder if having A.D.D. is rare among accomplished violinists, since the disipline involved to succeed tends to be a slippery slope to an ADDer. It would be great to know if anybody else can relate to this. Maybe we can start a support blog! I'm not about to give up on myself. (Read my profile)

Replies (20)

December 18, 2013 at 10:24 AM · I understand your frustration as I have some pretty bad ADD as well.

When I was five, my first violin teacher- amazing Russian guy who escaped Europe during WWII- noticed it as well, and made my mother promise to sit with me for hours and hours just grinding through the practicing with me. He told her to "throw me on the ground and stomp on me" of I kept being troublesome- it was that bad!

So that accountability was invaluable, and I really have my mom to thank for getting me where I am, finally able to practice alone a decade later. I couldn't live without music though, and as lame as it can sound, find someone to hold you to the amounts of time you set for practicing, who will get on you if you're goofing off.

My add was (is) egregious, and in undergrad I was put on medication for it- I'd say do not go that route!!! I never got nervous when performing, but the drug I was on to regulate my add (adderall) would ironically let me focus and practice well, but give me awful tremors and adrenaline rushes onstage. Bad times. You can do it without the medication.

Record your practice time and listen to that recording. You'll be proud if you get stuff done, and embarrassed listening to yourself play on Facebook and realize just how much time is wasted. Plus recording is the best thig for your playing anyways.

Other than that, I'd say go into your practice time (SMALL CHUNKS! Heifetz did 20 mins on ten mins off- very productive) determibed that you will be practicing when you have the instrument out, not doing anything else. Tell yourself that's the only acceptable course of action.

Good luck, email me if you wanna talk more. I struggled with t and best it:)

December 18, 2013 at 01:23 PM · I'd also suggest practicing (hopefully productively) in small chunks.

Ex. Do scales for 10 minutes (or less if that is all you can productively focus)...then go do something else for a few minutes (like vacuum the foyer)...then go back to your violin and do 10 minutes of sight-reading...take a break and do something else...then go back to your violin and work on the next chunk of material...

Or break those areas into different parts of the day...10 minutes before breakfast, 10 min. right after work when you get home...10 minutes after dinner...etc.

Anything that will work for you should do the trick...just try and be consistent with however you approach it...

December 18, 2013 at 02:57 PM · I'd agree with the suggestions to break practice sessions into smaller clearly defined chunks of time with a specific goal-e.g. 1 20 minute chunk of scales, 1 chunk of etudes, 1 chunk of repertoire.

December 18, 2013 at 03:55 PM · I have a small amount of ADD. The suggestions you have received are good ones. If you are seeing a professional to help you deal with the ADD, that person might have other ideas. What I have found myself unable to do at this point (63 years old) is memorizing pieces. So, I have given up on that.

December 18, 2013 at 06:40 PM · I walk around withy headphones listening to what I'm working on almost 24/7. It does wonders, and it's incredibly enjoyable compared to just staring at sheet music and repeating phrases while most likely thinking about clouds and dinosaurs and girls and cars and not Walton

December 18, 2013 at 07:57 PM · "Small chunks" is good advice. And I can tell you, as a psychologist who has worked with hundreds of people with ADD, I've observed something very interesting. If you have ADD, you very likely have always known that your attention span can be fleeting. Therefore, when you do concentrate, you tend to concentrate more intensely than most people. That's what can make the "small chunks" strategy very, very effective.



December 19, 2013 at 03:40 AM · Hi. I also have ADD and find it very hard to *start* practicing. Once I've started, I'm okay for a few minutes and enjoy practicing very much, until I notice some slight discomfort, and then I start to fidget with my setup, posture, bow hold, etc. Or I get frustrated with my technique and wander off to my laptop to look at videos of vibrato or shifting or such, then I get stuck at the laptop answering emails and looking at photos of cute baby animals.

My solution, which I haven't actually tried yet for practicing violin but have used successfully to get bills paid and sort papers and write newsletter articles, is to get out of the house and go somewhere else. Either somewhere public where people will look at you funny if you keep putting down your violin to re-tie your shoes or pick flowers or do cartwheels or order a third chocolate milkshake, or some type of rehearsal space that you've paid for by the hour, so your frugal side forces you to make the most of it. Or to the home of another person with ADD, where you've made a deal that you'll practice violin while she's doing her laundry. "Task buddies," so to speak.

December 19, 2013 at 09:49 PM · Tara:

Go to my webpage at:

and click on the "music practice tips" link.

There's a 3-minute technique I've been recommending (and using myself) for decades. It's a psychological approach, and the idea is to take the pressure off expecting yourself to practice for umpteen hours at a time.

Try it. If it doesn't work, you've only wasted 3 minutes. But if it does work, you might find it very, very helpful.



December 20, 2013 at 02:48 AM ·

December 20, 2013 at 02:48 AM ·

I had 2 students with ADD and I wasn't able to work with them. It took me 15min. just to get them to place A finger on the fingerboard.

If some others here can give some teaching tips for this I would like to hear them.

Does a diet change work? I often hear doctors say that eating well has a major effect on ADD, but I've never heard of anyone I know making an effort in this area and having a positive outcome. Most people will just take the pills or give the pills to their kids.

I really enjoyed this video.

ADHD and Nutrition

Does meditation work? even if it's just a minute or two.

December 20, 2013 at 11:23 AM · Wow, great discussion, everyone! Especially Tara. :-)

December 21, 2013 at 09:43 AM · Fascinating discussion. Sander, your comment on intense concentration is very perceptive, and one I've not encountered before. But it describes my son exactly (he exhibits some signs of ADD sometimes). He gave up playing violin 2 or 3 years ago, but nothing to do with ADD so I can't comment directly on its relationship to music practice. But here are a couple of suggestions.

1. Mindfulness meditation. The Brain Lady [] claims that mindfulness meditation helps (OK, she sells the CD's.....). But it does require persistence which is a big challenge with ADD, and defeated my son when I bought the CD for him ('It doesnt work!' after 2 days).

2. Maybe you've explored this already, but hundreds, if not thousands of independent scientific studies, as well as anecdotal reports, have shown that wireless radiation affects brain function, particularly concentration and learning. So you could try switching off all wireless gadgets (if you have any) during practice sessions. These include cordless phones (usually the worst offenders), wifi routers and wifi-enabled computers, and mobile phones (or move the mobiles into the next room). It costs nothing to try and might help. However it sometimes takes time for the effects to be felt, so switching off a couple of hours before practice, or longer if possible, would be better.

I hope you find some of the suggestions in this thread helpful.

December 21, 2013 at 05:57 PM · I may or may not have some ADD (I prefer to think that I am rightfully bored in boring situations), but as far as concentration goes, meditation does seem to help with focus. I mean, essentially, you are training yourself to not follow that tangent when you lose focus. Peter, as far as your Wifi claim, I would be interested in seeing the evidence. I know that there are some people that live in the no-signal zone in West Virginia, but I can't begin to imagine what it really is for them.

I find that diet, regular exercise and regular sleep are HUGE for me. I also get really distracted by the internet and TV, specifically having so much different information coming at me at once. I don't have much that is specific to violin, because I can actually focus very well on things that interest me. But definitely keep your practice space away from any distractions.

Oh, and having just had an Alexander Technique lesson, I would recommend that as well.

December 22, 2013 at 11:20 PM · Thanks so much for all your responses! After I composed and posted my topic, I then recalled my recent experience with attending an Alexander Technique class! I believe my tenacious efforts have led to tension in my playing. The A.T. class has taught me how to 'undo' tension not only in my approach to the violin, but all aspects of movement. Does A.D.D. cause one to try too hard? My teacher often tells me I 'do too much!' But that's how I learn something new, then developing refinement over time.

I will follow the advice I learned from putting my post out there. It's encouraging and a great comfort to know that I can beat this ADD like other players have done!

December 23, 2013 at 08:14 AM · Christian, I've not been able to find a good 'primer' which focuses mainly on these issues - they tend to be lumped in with lots of other microwave-related problems. More in-depth discussion is probably not appropriate on this forum as it is a complex subject, but if you would like more info I suggest you message me privately and I can provide some references (if forum rules permit this). The bio-initiative report ('Summary for the public'- lists thousands of studies, some of which include effects on the brain. Difficulty with concentration is one of the main problems reported in most of these studies. Also various presentations on Youtube - try a search on 'Magda Havas wifi'. The focus at present seems to be on wifi in schools but some of the content can easily be related to ADD symptoms.

The no-signal zone you refer to provides a refuge for people who find exposure to this radiation intolerable (an increasing number). There is a similar zone in Italy, and the French government is creating one in the French alps. Electro-sensitivity is a recognised disability in some countries, notably Sweden.

December 23, 2013 at 08:58 AM · Charles, when you mentioned the kids who take 15 minutes just to capture and put in front of the music stand with violin and bow in hand, it reminded me of something. It's not really related to the OP's problem, but it may help some teachers who feel your pain.

So basically there are 2 stereotypes about ADHD, and my type (predominantly inattentive, slow, sedentary, daydreamy) is the less well-known. But I have a lot of experience with the hyperactive, scatterbrained kind, because I was a gymnastics coach for many years. I was sometimes given the "bad" kids that other coaches refused to work with.

One girl, we'll call her Mary, was bouncing on the trampoline. The kids had been taking turns, and her time was up. I said "okay, Mary, time's up, get down," and then when she continued to bounce, I escalated my command to "get off the trampoline right now!" She continued to bounce. She was staring right at me, and I was getting mad at her, but then it occurred to me that it wasn't a look of defiance, but of blank confusion. Sensory overload, maybe, like having too many radio stations playing at once with a bunch of static mixed in. Especially since one radio station, "bouncing," was fun and pleasurable, while another, "mad teacher," was not.

So I said, "Mary, look at me... make your brain tell your knees to tell your feet to stop bouncing." And she did it immediately! I had to break it down like that, so she could figure out what was making it hard for her to stop.

So to corral a hyper, distractable kid at the beginning of a violin lesson, I'd suggest talking straight to their brain. "Michael, find your violin case... now open the's easier to open if you sit down first", etc. It's mentally exhausting for the teacher to be that focused on the student's thought process every moment of the lesson, but it may work, and it may even help the student learn how to direct himself better in the long run. I know that I sometimes have to talk myself through easy tasks by actually speaking to myself aloud in third person! You know, "Socks, THEN shoes!" (Okay, that may have been TMI...)

P.S. Thank you, Sander, for that link. I will visit it the very next time I have an attention span!

December 23, 2013 at 01:49 PM · Tara - your story was interesting. Once you have done this once with Mary, did you have to do it every time you wanted her to get off, or did you have some system of retraining her brain circuits so that it was unnecessary to do this every time?

December 23, 2013 at 02:56 PM · Fascinating discussion!

December 23, 2013 at 03:06 PM · Tom, I didn't have her as a student long enough to see if it worked long-term. But I did use the "speak directly to the brain" trick ever after, with good success.

My guess is that it would take a lot of dedication and time for a teacher or parent to re-train an ADD child's brain circuits (which is a really good way of putting it, by the way).

People with ADD who are straight-A honor students, scientists, doctors, lawyers, etc., have spent their lives developing their own coping strategies to study, learn, organize, start tasks, schedule, clean their rooms and so forth. Maybe it started with a parent or teacher helping them learn to focus, or maybe they managed to do it themselves in the face of disapproval and criticism. I did it because I was a people-pleaser. The threat of punishment or the promise of reward did not motivate me to do my homework, but the thought of the teacher's disappointment the next day usually did. I was always attuned to the teacher's mood, and I hated when other students underperformed or gave the teacher a hard time.

Whoa, I'm veering off topic again! A symptom of ADD! Anyhow, it wouldn't hurt to try it on a student and see how long it takes for them to learn to do it on their own. It might be doing them a huge favor in the long run. Then they'll credit you as the teacher who turned their life around!

December 24, 2013 at 03:57 AM · Brain scan of a person with ADHD and other problems.

Before and after

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