Motivation Options

August 4, 2014 at 11:25 PM · I am aware of the many posts in the archives about motivation but I think there are possibilities yet to explore.

I am retired and have been playing (at) the violin for 5 years. I think my level of playing is reasonable for my history. I have basically reached the goals I had in mind when I started.

There is a lot of respectable music within my reach.

Many who report that they have stopped practicing do not say if they stopped playing altogether and I think that is an important distinction.

I have decided that I will not make a commitment

about the "next level".

I will replace "practice" with "playing" and fine tuning :) all the good music which I have collected and played during the past years. Now, I have time to hear it and play it as it should have been.

Is that still practicing ? I think, for some, it may be a useful strategy to keep the interest alive. But I'm still curious. Does stopping practice automatically mean stopping playing?

Replies (29)

August 5, 2014 at 12:12 AM · I often go back and play things that I studied a while back. It's very encouraging when these things not only seem easier but sound better, it's a very good way to calibrate -- and celebrate -- one's improvement. The secret is to play your old pieces as well as you can. I sometimes will even take some time and work over a passage that previously was not well polished. Definitely I think that all of the foregoing "counts" as practicing. I think also that if one has reached a point where one has tired of striving for improvement and wants to enjoy the fruits of one's efforts, just picking pieces that are at the right level and reading through them for enjoyment, maybe playing a few studies or scales once in a while to maintain one's basic technique, that's perfectly fine. Frankly I think there are a lot of professional violinists doing just that.

August 5, 2014 at 02:05 AM · I'm glad to read that I am still on the "radar screen".

I had considered just quitting but I'm sure I would regret that later on when this phase dissipates.

I think that the hardest part of the violin is not lack of frets, it's the high level of commitment.

Meanwhile, I deserve some fun (call it "practice" or not :)

August 5, 2014 at 02:24 AM · Darlene, what you have described (playing over pieces you have learned and refining them) certainly sounds like practice to me, and it will advance your technique as well. When people say they have "stopped practicing" I think they usually mean they do not practice on a regular basis or at all. They may still play in an orchestra or in highly informal situations. When people say they have "stopped playing" that usually means they hardly ever take it out of the case. Your plan sounds like a good one, but don't underestimate yourself, you still probably have a lot of technical growth ahead of you if you want to keep on that path. I wonder about this a lot myself,and find it useful to take a step or two back in difficulty once in awhile to catch my breath/assess progress. But then I get attracted by some challenging rep and it starts all over again....

August 5, 2014 at 03:00 AM · I guess "practice" still applies but this is music that I'm supposed to know :)

But I have to confess about one of my hidden agendas. I had innocently fallen into the technique trap without even developing the tools for playing with expression. I hope to emerge from my retreat with more skill at interpretation. That should yield music that I would rather listen to myself or bring me up to speed for a possible future return.

August 5, 2014 at 04:20 PM · But you need a certain amount of technique to play with expression (bow control, among other things). Once you are able to play a piece through consistently without a train wreck, then the real work begins. Maybe it would be simpler to think about "work" rather than making an artifical distinction between playing and practicing. Your decision to work for awhile on interpretation sounds like a good one. But there is no need to think of it as taking a break, far from it.

August 5, 2014 at 05:44 PM · When a teacher has given the student the technical tools necessary for playing the violin, including musicianship, and verified that the student knows how to use them, then the time is surely not far away when the teacher has done their job and it is time for the student to fly the nest and make their own way in the violin world. Which I have recently done.

The student will then become self-teaching. However I would recommend that every now and then (annually, perhaps) they have a check-up lesson to make sure bad habits haven't developed.

August 5, 2014 at 06:58 PM · Darlene, I don't think any except the most experienced soloists (and I am not sure about them)would say they "know" their matter how often/long you play a piece, it has something new to offer--partly, of course, because you, too, change over time.

"practice" means both "repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it"

and "the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about such application or use." When you play violin with attention, with mindfulness, you ARE practicing, whether it's an etude, scale, or a sonata you studied three years ago.

If you play with attention, your work will continue to help you maintain/improve. When you just go through the motions, you'll probably lose a bit of your edge, but it's still worthwhile.

We are not consistent creatures. Keep playing, do what you do with love, and it's good.

August 5, 2014 at 08:48 PM · Casals would start his daily practice session with scales - to remind his fingers where they should be going.

During July and August my orchestras have closed down for a few weeks so I go back to playing mostly Irish and English folk music for that period. The more I play it the more I realize for all its apparent technical simplicity it is, like the music of Mozart, far more difficult than one would think, and gives me ideal opportunities to concentrate on the basics of tone, intonation and rhythm, and the skills of playing in informal ensembles, without being side-tracked by the complexities of the orchestral repertoire, which will reappear soon enough in September.

August 5, 2014 at 11:10 PM · Trevor

This last post describes to me just the sort of circumstances that I would regard as ideal.

Marjory & Alice

I'm at fault in that I have not defined my terms. Most people define "practice" as something one does. I reserve the term for content. Like what? A church violin/piano piece which changes key a few times and uses just enough 3rd position to be dangerous. For that, I practice.

Everything else drops down to "recreational" violin. That can be remedial or simply just plain fun.

My predicament is to make up my mind.

August 6, 2014 at 12:56 AM · "Does stopping practice always mean stopping playing?"

Not immediately but after a while - yes.

Perfectionism aside, one important aspect of effective practicing and aging is to avoid injuries.

At the end of the day, it is your call; it all depends how much will you be playing, at what level of difficulty and for how long.

It is one thing to play for yourself, a simple tune 10-15 minutes and occasionally, but completely different game if you play in a string quartet or a community orchestra.

August 6, 2014 at 01:28 AM · Talking about being involved, I once knew a family of three who participated in three community orchestras at the same time which seemed very healthy for their attitude !

August 6, 2014 at 06:37 PM · Just play for your own enjoyment and benefit and do not have high expectations. This is my attitude now, and it's far more enjoyable since I'm past my sell by date and I don't have to play professionally in some rotten orchestra anymore. I can even be musical and ignore those awful stick wavers sometimes known as conductors.

August 6, 2014 at 08:25 PM · I think I am finally seeing the violin as more than just task related. That is a major adjustment to my mind set!

August 7, 2014 at 04:10 PM · Darlene, re "those circumstances" (i.e. playing folk music in pub sessions in July and August), "stick wavers" are never to be seen, neither is any sheet music (it's all done from memory, listening and eye contact). Peter will surely be delighted.

August 7, 2014 at 04:30 PM · Trevor, the atmosphere depends on the pub. Where I live, in southwestern Virginia, there are venues where the fiddle jam sessions are no-music affairs, and they don't adjust tempos either, and it's hard for a newbie to join unless they're very skilled and have a strong memorized repertoire. There are a lot of good fiddle, guitar, and mandolin players around here. But there are also other venues that are more relaxed, and open to the use of music. You just have to find them.

August 7, 2014 at 06:33 PM · To steal my own thread for a minute ..............

I am always suspicious about those reported "good ole boys" free-wheelin' jams.

I watch a weekly show of different country/blue grass groups and that's great. But, one time the announcer remarked that the group had performed 1000's of times over the years and no one on these shows is a beginner!

That takes the edge off of "special" even if I'm enjoying a group. If I get to play familiar music for that long, I won't need the music either :)

August 8, 2014 at 05:09 PM · Peter, what about the odd fly swat waver? Even if you only play violin you must still have a soft spot for him!

August 8, 2014 at 11:36 PM · I think you must mean fly swat conductors? I'm unable to think too much about them as I'm trying to forget the nightmares ... (wink)

August 11, 2014 at 09:06 PM · Darlene, I soooo appreciate reading this post, because I'm doing something similar, stopping my weekly violin lesson after 9 years to readjust my brain, my preferences, my personal practice. Reading this couldn't have come at a better time! (Freakishly, I just blogged about my own decision over at The Classical Girl today - we say some of the same things. Here's the link if you're interested: Thank you so much for elaborating on your own experience; I'm going to add the link to this discussion to my blog, if that's okay.

It was helpful, too, to read everyone else's comments. Kind of like getting the advice without having to stick my neck out with the original post. ; ) Thanks, everyone!

August 11, 2014 at 11:41 PM · OK on Classic Girl.

My new direction has been very exciting. For some reason I am attracted to Eastern European folk music and history and my violin playing is re-energized. No serious pressure to perform, just me doing what I like to do and hear.

I can almost predict that you will find your niche.

August 12, 2014 at 02:05 AM · Darlene - ooh, I love the sound of your new angle. Weirdly, just two weeks before I made my decision to end lessons, I got two duet books - one being Bartok 44 Duets, and another, can't recall the name, was published in Eastern Europe (or maybe Hungary?), and had the most intriguing looking duets. Both books cater to beginner through advanced beginner, and although I'm technically beyond that level, I loved the simplicity of the tunes and the way they challenge me in a different way. (Unfamiliar tunes.) My violin teacher was quite surprised by the latter duet book - she'd never seen it before, and wasn't familiar with the book's set-up, although there are plenty of classical composer familiar names in there (which I really like). So I, too, am feeling a sense of renewed excitement over exploring this (and as I joked in my blog - no, going on a solo journey with a duet book isn't impossible - I just learn and record the second voice). And, like I said, reading your post really made me feel like I, too, was doing the right thing. Thanks so much!

August 12, 2014 at 06:35 PM · I have always wanted to see a survey of reasons why people play the violin excluding the obvious professional.

Is the average amateur happy? (Will they ever be happy?).

And how about the influence of teachers?

I wonder what is the mortality rate for new students.?

I think that 'jumping ship" helped answer many questions and I've never been more anxious to find out what happens. So far, so good.

August 12, 2014 at 06:50 PM · Terez

Just listened to some Bartok duets. Very nice.

I take exception to any notion of "easy music". Any music can be played poorly but it takes a master to do it just right (Yo Yo Ma "Songs My Mother Taught Me") :):)

Good luck with your new challenges!

August 14, 2014 at 03:58 AM · >I take exception to any notion of "easy music".

Agreed! Loved all your comments, Darlene! I played an "easy" duet with my teacher yesterday at my lesson, and sooooo enjoyed it. It was one of the first duets in the "Bartok 44 Duets" books, and I feel like I'm onto a real gem there. It required nuance, more than technical skill. A sense of the musicality, and an appreciation of it. This was the 1st of 44 duets, from hard to easy, and there's me, 9 years into learning, just loving the experience.

I think I'm going to enjoy this new route to "learning." : )

August 14, 2014 at 10:02 AM · "I have always wanted to see a survey of reasons why people play the violin excluding the obvious professional."

I know professionals who make me wonder why they play music at all! And after all, the professional gives pleasure for a pre-arranged price: like those of the "oldest profession"....

I play to try and share what music does for me..

I have always enjoyed teaching as much as performing, but like Peter, I can now enjoy playing what I like with whom I like, (other teachers, able amateurs, etc.) and nurse the tendons in my "viola elbow".

French school-children have very little time to practice, and I can offer them my short "basics" practice routines, as well as the enquiring mind of a "late" starter.

And playing music you already know, with renewed attention, is very good for one's technique.

August 14, 2014 at 04:03 PM · Terez, you leave me little choice but to follow up on the Bartok duets :)

And I really appreciate your word "nuance"..... so important but much too rare.

And I am delighted to know that at least one other person is not overwhelmed by the usual expectations.


My decision to change my approach has had a major impact on my playing ... mostly good .... some very good. I'm really surprised that an

attitude might also emerge as technical progress!

You sound like you have struck a good balance with many opportunities!

August 14, 2014 at 05:56 PM · playing music with others. That's all the motivation & inspiration I need.

August 14, 2014 at 06:15 PM · Adrian

Oh how I wish I'd taken up the opportunity to join the oldest profession - beats music any day.

(Actually most orchestral players are prostitutes and are controlled and abused by the pimp (conductor). (wink)

August 14, 2014 at 06:38 PM · I am a little amused at reports that all may not be well in orchestra land.

At one time I had 3 invitations from community orchestras to join second chair. I think they all just needed to boost the roster.

I knew some of the members already and I came to know about some of the various conflicts that I might encounter.

In addition, I got some of the second chair music which was easy enough but not very inspiring.

I never joined anything but I still think that the experience is very important for amateurs on the way up.

I think that I saw the future in a different way as an uneducated and untrained amateur. I decided early on that my efforts had to be fun or I was wasting my time. So far, so good!

(My present "career" is as a general purpose church musician playing sometimes with 2-3 others who are much better than I am and I love the challenge.)( i.e. flute, clarinet, piano, organ.)

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