Why Would My Playing Be Better After Not Practicing?

May 2, 2004 at 12:38 AM · I am a beginner currently taking lessons. I just wanted to ask a question and need an answer from you old pros. I had to miss a couple a classes because we are moving and I have not been able to play. I just picked up the violin a few hours ago and I played those simple pieces great. In the past, I would always mess up on these but my coordination and my sound got better after a few days of absence. Hey, tell me what is that?

Replies (40)

May 2, 2004 at 02:48 AM · that's weird...perhaps it's because you have spent some time away from it so now you feel really fresh and you are more enthused in your music.

May 2, 2004 at 02:56 AM · well as a violinist who has played for a long time...

i've had quite a long break from structured lesson/practise ect. as i've finished my univeristy degree in performance ect. it's the first major break i've had like this since i started playing when i was three and all of a sudden everything has kinda come together for me too....

i think a break lets your subconcious thoughts about the violin and violin things your working on, to become part of the concious and physical processes you use when you play.

well thats what i reckon...

also time out means that your not stressing and beating yourself up about not being able to do something ...this calmness in approaching the violin also does wonders.

May 2, 2004 at 04:27 AM · If playing the violin was anything like running, it would be because you let your muscles rest up. They come back with new strength and freshness after a short layoff.

May 2, 2004 at 04:30 AM · Plus, I agree with the idea that your brain continues to work out problems even when you are not aware.

May 2, 2004 at 05:19 AM · I know exactly what you mean. I haven't picked up my violin in 13 years and my playing is better than ever. No, wait...that's not what I meant. When I'm practicing I'm usually thinking a lot, with a preponderance of left brain activity and a highly critical ear. After picking up my violin a day or two later I am often surprised at the improvement in the specific area/s I was applying myself to. As my practice session continues and I try to generate on the fiddle the sound I hear in my head, my critical thinking and problem-solving kicks in, and that results in another distancing myself from the ease and beauty of my playing. Does this make sense? If it doesn't I don't want to hear about it. I'm in a bad mood and scratched my glasses on a popped E string.

May 2, 2004 at 06:21 AM · Is that really your subconscious just putting things together for you? I usually have long practice sessions (5-8 hours) for about 2 weeks straight then rest for about 4 or 5. But when I start playing again its like I know how to do things I never even practiced :s. What's going on here?

May 2, 2004 at 03:19 PM · I think it's different for everyone on whether the rest thing works for them or not. Hilary Hahn, I belive, has mentioned on her website, that her practicing philosopy is that you must practice everyday, otherwise you lose what you've done. For some that is the case, for others it is very different. For me it depends on the context and timing in which I take a day or two off, as to whether it affects me in a good or a bad way. When you are getting frustrated with something, saying you're going to take a couple days off won't solve that problem, but if it's a matter of that you've worked out the problem and you are still trying to absorb it, and you've practiced it and it seems to not be totally clicking in, a day off might actually work to your advantage, as you know how to go about the problem and you are more willing and open minded when you come back to it after a break.

May 2, 2004 at 08:29 PM · i've found this is true as well, weird but true. Sometimes i've noticed you can practice a fast passage slowly all day and get nowhere, but the next morning it works great, so i guess it takes some time to setle in your mind. I've had odd epiphanys before where suddenly i take a massive jump in a two hour practicing period, who knows how these things work.

May 3, 2004 at 04:56 AM · Emily is right; it is like running. Some things get better because of resting up and recovering. Some things get better because your brain has had time to really process it all. But...you do get out of shape...so some of the physical aspects deteriorate. But I have experienced the freshness and the "rightness" oof coming back after a period of not playing. Who knows...

May 3, 2004 at 02:02 PM · According to my last violin teacher, it takes about 7-10 days for what you have practised to take effect on your playing. The more I thought about that, the more I realized how true it is.

Sometimes I'll practise really hard for a couple of days, then leave the violin for a day or two and come back and it's even better....but that is probably just the practising from 7-10 days earlier kicking in....similarly when you playing suddenly dips after consistent practise, it could be due to a break you had 7-10 days earlier...it works with me it seems, anyway. If I'm working on a passage that is really hard, it does take some time for it to really work. Even easy passages take a week or two to really sink in to my sub-conscious....that's my two prune's worth anyway....

May 3, 2004 at 05:01 PM · i'm not sure it takes that long, if you practice shifting for instance, the next day your shifting is better, thats my experience anyway.

May 4, 2004 at 12:46 AM · maybe you got rid of bad habbits...plus as a beginner your consistancy on the instrument fluxuates constantly

May 4, 2004 at 03:31 PM · Another way to put this question would be: "What are the signs I should watch out for that I am overpractising?" When you are beginning, maybe your brain needs more time for the movement patterns to sink in. If this is the case, it would seem better to wait so that the brain/mind can catch up. In general, it is safe to say that a gradual increase in any activity (above all physical) brings less risk of injury. However, at a higher level, some people prefer/need to alternate between very intense practising sessions and rest/recovery periods. But the bottom line to me (as a non-pro) is to get the most out of whatever time I have left to practise.

May 4, 2004 at 08:58 PM · I agree that things just tend to "gel" at some point even if there has been a long absence from it..I had a teacher who was a proponent of doing "mental practice" as well. Going thru a piece in your mind, visualizing yourself playing it, right through the trickiest parts. Sometimes I was allowed to have the violin in hand without actually playing, but the focus really was on the meditative aspect of practice. So, it probably happens whether we're conscious of it or not I would think.

May 5, 2004 at 08:56 PM · I dont know what you fools are talking about...but your playing, although you mabye think it is, is not better at all after not playing for a lapse of time. I thought you guys were violinsts? You should...if you think it is, your dreaming and it isnt. It is practicing in which youll ever think you got better...

May 5, 2004 at 08:56 PM · I dont know what you are talking about...but your playing, although you mabye think it is, is not better at all after not playing for a lapse of time. I thought you guys were violinsts? You should...if you think it is, your dreaming and it isnt. It is practicing in which youll ever think you got better...trust me..ive been playing for some time...

May 5, 2004 at 09:36 PM · Very nice.

May 5, 2004 at 09:56 PM · Aren't you a pleasant fellow!

May 5, 2004 at 10:25 PM · Your playing seems better because your brain is not pressured. Practicing to much can be just as damaging as practicing to little. You have to know your limit as a human being. I totally agree with Kreisler when he said.....I lament the fact that too much emphasis is being placed on physical repetition in practice, and not enough on mental control. Muscular technic is not a matter of muscular development alone, but of mental control.

May 5, 2004 at 10:35 PM · Buddy, your not supposed to comment on me...your supposed to help the person who asked the original question. At least I did my role...do yours!!

May 5, 2004 at 10:36 PM · Hey Alex, just because you disagree with the majority doesn't mean you have to be nasty about it. Geez people these days.

And if you care to retaliate about my comment about your behavior, you can go ahead and do so, but I'm going to tell you now that I don't give a sh*t about what you're going to say! Unless you apologize!

May 5, 2004 at 10:55 PM · (I'm having a deja vu, anyone else?) Alex, I'm sure those of us who are responding to your comments are doing so a.) because we don't care to be referred to as "fools" and b.) because your response to the person who posted the question was more sarcastic than helpful. Perhaps you weren't aware of your tone when you typed it.

May 5, 2004 at 10:53 PM · Addressing people as "fools" is patronizing and inappropriate even if you're trying to help them. At least you excluded "fools" from your repost, but the fact it was on your mind to begin with is rather disturbing.

May 5, 2004 at 10:56 PM · And something else - this wonderfully genial tone of yours, Alex, is not limited to this thread...

May 6, 2004 at 03:28 AM · i've noticed.

May 6, 2004 at 05:42 AM · I suppose everybody just learns differently. Maybe this is more a question to be answered by a psychologist than a violinist.

Pipe down Alex :s

May 6, 2004 at 01:12 PM · lol!

May 7, 2004 at 08:28 PM · Daisy, your right..I wasnt aware of my tone at the time. SORRY EVERYONE!!! not seriously, im sorry. ;))

May 7, 2004 at 08:35 PM · Apology accepted, Alex.

May 7, 2004 at 10:21 PM · yaaay! :D

May 8, 2004 at 01:42 AM · Downside of the typewritten word- things do get lost in translation. It's an understanding group on this board, Alex- you should be fine. :)

May 8, 2004 at 02:30 AM · The answer to your question is quite simple. When you play everyday, you cannot hear a difference in your playing. After not playing for a week or two, you will realize all the things you have been doing correctly and it would sound much better. I hope this answers your question.

May 10, 2004 at 11:08 PM · Actually that reminds me of a study that was done a number of years ago researching if you can actually get better by not practicing and just thinking about it. In the study, they had 3 groups of people do free throws or 3-point shots (I can't remember which) They measured how well they did in however many shots. Then, they took one group and had them practice every day for an hour. Next they had one group that did nothing, didn't think about it or practice. The last group just sat and thought about shooting the shot for an hour every day. After a month or so they came back and found that the people that had just *thought* about the shooting had improved almost as much as the people that were doing the shooting.

What I think has happened is that in not playing, you instead had time to sit and thinkn about the passages that were giving you trouble, or even let your brain do the thinking while you were involved in other things (Kind of like how the name of that band just popped in your head that you couldn't remember an hour ago) Quite possibly that's exactly what happened...your brain figured it out while you were looking the other way ;)

May 10, 2004 at 11:56 PM · Greetings,

Brian, you raise a veyr interesting point but it is perhaps bets approached with caution. I think you are talking about mental practice which I am a great advocate of. In fact, all practice should be mental....

But, there are various levels, and although running through stuff in your head is a usrful way of reinforcing and developing one`s playing an actual improvement in muscular response presupposes two things:

1) You have a very precise mental picture of whta you are trying to do. This occurs mostly at high levels of skill in an activity

2) The degree of mnental ebergy expended is siuffcient to cause a significant response in the nerves and muscles of the affected area.

The latter is much more demanding than just a slight twitching feeling or redirection of blood flow,



October 18, 2004 at 05:27 PM · I am just beginning taking up the violin. So I can't respond from a violinsts perspective. I am however an ABD in clinical and neuropsychology (all but dissertation). The process you are at least partly observing is called consoladation. This happens with learning in general and has to do with how information is organized and stored into long term memory. I am only speculating, here, but with playing the violin, there may be an interesting interplay between how information is taken in and processed, since you hear the information, you read it in the notes and there is the kinesthetic component as well.


October 18, 2004 at 09:33 PM · It's like physical training for a sport. Immediately after you've done a workout, your whole body is strained and tired. But when you get back into the game two weeks later you're in much better performative shape.

Violin playing has much to do with memorized finger-coordinations. Letting yourself rest gives your brain time to digest the material you've taken in.

I've experienced a similar phenomenon when practicing, but oftentimes it's better to routinely practice (you digest even more).

October 18, 2004 at 11:34 PM · Of course it wont always work (stopping in the middle of learning vibrato wont make you suddenly know how to do it a week later.)

It is only when you're going over things you already know, and if you already know it, practice is sometimes unnecessary, and just becomes playing instead of regimented training.

October 19, 2004 at 01:47 AM · Hi, Teresa!

My experience with the violin is pretty much the same as yours. I had noticed that I tend to play better after a few days rest rather than going at it day after day.

I used to try so hard to get in a full hour's worth of practice every day, but quickly found that the experience drained me physically and emotionally.

Not to sound like a love advice columnist, but --just be yourself!

Love your body and understand its limitations. Of course you should try to practice as much and as hard as you can, but if you don't feel like playing then just don't.

The bottom line is, you should enjoy yourself and not feel that playing is such a chore.

BTW, there have been several related discussion threads here about practicing that you might want to look into for more insight. Just do a good ol' Google search :-)

October 19, 2004 at 04:40 AM · There is a psycho-motor construct called "release from reactive inhibition" that supposedly occurs following a lay-off period from a frequent skilled motor task. This involves a relaxation from the pressure of the frequent task skill demand, but without a loss it essential skill memory.

My guess is if you can stay appropriately relaxed in playing you can achieve these benifits.

October 19, 2004 at 06:27 AM · First of all when you practice seriously usually your hearing gets better and you can hear a lot more things you need to correct even though you probably play a lot better so I wouldn't get too excited about sounding good after a long break.

Beside the violin is so damn hard to play exactly in tune that if you are not on a really excellent level you should practice every day a lot just to train you brain to know the intervals.

Short breaks are necesssary for digesting what you did and resting but such a difficult instrument requires that you practice every day...

And there's that Heifetz quote that goes something like:

"If I don't practice one day, I hear it; If I don't practice two days the critics hear it; If I don't practice three days the audience hear it."

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