Why can't I hear myself play ?

September 27, 2005 at 05:17 AM · Hi everybody. I'm excited to post my first post up here after a long time of just being a guest.

I'm 30 yo, and started playing 7 years ago, so I guess I would fall into the adult beginner category. Although its been 7 years since I first held a violin, it is only been 3 years since I started studying seriously with a teacher and learning the right technic and approach to playing violin, and practically I started from scratch at that time. My level now is playing up

to 6th pos, bach double, seitz etc..

I need an advice on a very known and common

problem but seems to be more extreme in

my case and just refuse to dissapear or get any better no matter what - I can't hear my self play !! And I mean that no matter how focused

I am, or how slow I'm practicing I don't seem

to hear and point out all the mistakes I'm making

and very easily overlook them just because I

don't notice it. But strangely enough, If I record myself and listen to it then suddenly

every little detail is apparent and obvious, and that goes to also if I listen to someone else play or if even I take the violin out of my chin

and play like a cello or something ! But once

it is under my chin it seems like I'm going deaf.

Of course I'm exaggerating a little here. I do here some problems as I play but it is very inconsistent and confusing. It comes to a point

that I play a piece or a scale or even just a single interval and I can't say for sure weather it was in tune, or how my sound

was or if it was musically pretty. My teacher

(who is great) and I isolated this problem today

,which affects me in any matter of playing and currently prevents me from making any

progress, and makes all my practice useless. Ironically enough, the slower I practice and more focused I try to be.. it seems to get worse. It's a vicious fact that I can't seem to be able to overcome no matter what. Even right after I heard a certain mistake on my recording, I still may think I solved it the next time I play the certain bar just to realize it's still there on the next recording. Needless to say: I'm very frustrated. It seems like a mental

block or something, reminding me of working in a coffee shop and not be able to smell the coffee while it is apparent to anyone who comes from outside. How do you overcome this problem ? Does anybody knows of any technincs or exercises that may help ? Is it common to any beginner/intermediate or am I just not cut out for playing ?

Replies (15)

September 27, 2005 at 11:14 AM · My previous teacher told me that while he was studying violin in German, the professor would stop him even if there was one note that is slightly out of the quality he expected. He would fix that one note, play the entire phrase again before moving on.

I've heard and observed my previous teacher play a few times, he is very merticulous in everything. His recording on a TV commercial was so beautiful (playing 4 violin parts separately and put together).

As for me, it's very tempting to just move on when I notice there were mistakes here and there. I guess you have to insist on getting everything right, and train yourself to be picky. I record my playing too and hear mistakes I wouldn't when I am too engaged with the notes and fingers, shoulders, arm etc during practice. Why not you just keep doing what you are doing, and as you become more aware of your problems, you will be able to fix it without recording?

September 27, 2005 at 11:44 AM · I can totally sympathize with your problem because... I have it too!

What I've been doing lately is just trying to train my ear to hear things that I might miss, and then compare what I heard to recording I make to see what I normally miss and such and have myself listen harder in that aspect next time.

September 27, 2005 at 07:30 PM · Hmmm, the plight of each and every musician is to develop a completely objective ear.

It's a matter of practice and it sounds like you are on the right track by recording yourself and listening to it.


September 27, 2005 at 07:47 PM · My dad's motto is "you play as badly as you tolerate"

What I used to do is I would hear my mistakes but they didn't sound that bad to me. Later, after watching the video or whatever I would think this sounds horrible. The trick is basically to be very intent and aware and really listen to every note and phrase you're playing. It's hard to get used to and quite tiring but that's what one has to do. You should also try to listen in two ways: in the way of every note and in the way of the big picture so the playing isn't too vertical or too horizontal.

September 28, 2005 at 01:58 AM · Thanks all ! Yes, I guess there's no other way

than keep on trying, recording, listening and

become more and more pickey I hope. It feels good to get sympathy and acknowledgment for

the problem. It gets kinda lonely dealing

with all of it by yourdelf, until the next lesson,

which cause more frustration which defenetly doesn't help. So thanks again.

September 28, 2005 at 02:06 AM · The advent of recordings over a hundred years ago, and then tape recordings and all of the other technological innovations, are an incredible aid in learning and listening to oneself. But one wonders how the great violinists of the past listened to themselves. Wouldn't you love know how the young Paganini, Heifetz, Wieniewski, Sarasate, Kreisler, and all the rest listened to themselves without the benefit of recordings? If one of them had only told us how to listen.....

September 28, 2005 at 02:28 PM · What you might find helpful is something that was suggested by Flesch some time ago -- pick an etude (perhaps something you're already familiar with so you can focus on intonation) and play it very slowly, listening for each note's pitch. Check notes against open strings and correct any mistakes in intonation. Gradually, increase the tempo, but not until you're hitting the notes properly at the speed you chose initially.

Flesch said that one of the first signs of success is that you start hearing your mistakes which pupils first interpreted as failure -- that is they first think they're playing worse that before. However, it's really a sign of success since now you're hearing the notes properly, the first step in correcting them.

As players of non-fixed pitch instruments, one of our principle objectives is to _always_ listen to and "police" the pitch. Through carelessness, one can spoil one's hearing and start playing out of tune even after perfecting the above exercise.

As you play, you might want to anticipate the pitch in your head before you play it.

September 29, 2005 at 04:44 AM · I had a discussion before that started a technical thread on tuning methods.... anyway...

For intonation/ear training - I *still* use an electronic tuner from time to time (tuning theorists have fun with this one). I'd also try getting a *good* recording - maybe your teacher playing - something you can take home with you, and play along with it. I have a VERY hard time hearing differences in tone at higher frequencies to the point where I feel deaf myself. Lower frequencies are easier for me to differentiate subtle differences. Playing along with someone else (who is in tune) - slowly - for long periods of time will help train your ear.

September 29, 2005 at 05:26 AM · Thanks, mendy. I don't know about about the

electric tuner. It's more confusing to me,

I think, and I won't be using my ear at all. Also,

my teacher always insists on flatter flats and

sharper sharps, so it won't work really. But

the recording is a good idea. I actually have a keyboard where I can record the notes, and also

fine tune each one it as I wish. That a good idea, I'll try it.

September 29, 2005 at 05:39 AM · Mendy, do you mean tone or pitch? There actually is less difference in tone higher in frequencies.

September 29, 2005 at 10:58 AM · I could have written about your problem 1 month ago... to the letter... including the frustration. I am a returning adult student. I could not tell if my notes were in tune, I could tell if someones elses notes were in tune, but not mine. There is a chain on this website where a professional violinist tells how he had trouble playing in tune, but when he used headphones in the recording studio his intonation was fine, he solution was to use an earplug in his left ear. After reading that I did some research. I found many articles dealing with hearing problems in violinist's left ear, seems we subject our left ear to decibels that would not be permitted in Factory environments (up to 115 decibels). I also talked to my daughter's vocal professor who had data that our right ear reacts faster to musical tones than our left. To make a long story short I began using one foam ear plug in my left ear....what an difference in my intonation, no more scratching noises in my ear from the bow, you would not believe how loud and distracting that is until you don't hear it anymore. Since using the earplug I can hear my Intonation. I may not be hitting all notes correct initially yet, but now I know when they are incorrect and can make the correction needed, right away. My first lesson with the ear plug, blew my instructor away (well known and respected on this website), we had been fighting intonation problems for 3 months to that point, he'd told me he didn't know what else to do that maybe I had a physiological problem... well I did. Now I am making progress and I like to hear myself play. Periodically I don't use the plug as an honesty check... the result convinces me all over again that the plug works. It may not be your solution, try one earplug in your left ear, see if that helps.

September 29, 2005 at 08:59 PM · It's also true that we hear differently from ear to ear. Some folks actually hear different pitches in different ears -- for instance, they play an A and in their right ear, it sounds like an A, but in the left it sounds like an A-flat. Myself, I hear the same pitch but different timbres. So Scott's idea of earplugs could be the perfect answer.

Another suggestion I have is to do some eartraining. Either have someone play pitches, intervals, chords, melodic and harmonic dictation for you while you identify them, or get some eartraining software. Auralia (www.risingsoftware.com) seems to be a good one, though I've only tried the demo version. Even that could be a great help for you if you've never done it before, though.

September 30, 2005 at 03:14 AM · well..I just spent the last four hours with a plug in my ear..and so far it seems to work ! Amazing how different it all sounds. Much worse,

unfortunately, but one thing I can say - there

were no surprises on the recording, and whenever

I thought I was in tune - I actually was. I don't

want to talk too highly about it yet, and be too happy to soon, after only one practice session, but I have a good feeling about it. This just

might be it, Scott. Thank you.

November 19, 2005 at 11:04 PM · I also use a foam plug in my left ear. I did it almost from the beginning of my training based upon what I know about acoustics. We overload our left ear because of its proximity to the violin. This is like overloading an amplifier into the red zone when you're recording. It causes all kinds of harmonic distortion to be set up in your ear that is not actually present in the music. It also causes your brain to lose focus on what's coming into the right ear.

November 20, 2005 at 01:16 AM · You should try practicing intervals that ring. Not only notes that ring against open strings, but perfect intervals that have no "wobbles": unisons, octaves, perfect 4ths, perfect 5ths. I practice consecutive perfect 4th double stop scales every day and that helped my intonation a lot.

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