What do you do when you get really frustrated while practicing?

May 21, 2006 at 05:59 AM · I usually practice in front of the piano, so when I get really mad I will slam on the keys (sorry to take it out on the piano, but you can't exactly do that to a violin)...I hate it when I'm just not getting anything done...

Replies (80)

May 21, 2006 at 08:51 AM · I have students who like to hit themselves when they make mistakes. You could try that. I used to do that myself, when I wasn't breaking stuff. :)

And then I would tell you what I tell my students: Nothing positive comes out of tantrums and self-abuse, be it physical or mental. Instead of becoming enraged, look at mistakes and obstacles as problems to be solved, and nothing more. Set your energy to finding solutions. If you can't do this and you're at the end of your temper, you may as well leave for a while, because you can't get anything good done when you're fuming. Practicing has to be done with a clear, level, focused head.

Patience must be practiced, too. It doesn't come naturally, but grows the more you work at it.

May 21, 2006 at 09:21 AM · This was the scenario when I was just a beginner and didn't have a very efficient method of practicing yet:

1)I make a mistake

2)I try again and repeat the mistake

3)I repeat the mistake again. My face is getting red, I start to grumble

4)I repeat the mistake AGAIN, burst out, stamp on the floor like mad, go to my violin case to put my violin away, change my mind and go back to my music stand.

5)I THINK, I play again, and mostly IT WORKS!(hopefully)

If you recognise yourself, I give you the advice to think first about a solution and NEVER make the same mistake twice, as it gets stuck in your mind like that and you never get rid of it.

Secondly, you could mark the place where you keep playing a mistake and try to integrate that place in the whole piece.

May 21, 2006 at 11:53 AM · Playing the violin is one of the most difficult and challenging activities that any human being can undertake. I truly believe that one of the things that makes it difficult is that it requires the utmost extreme mental, physical, and emotional awareness, concentration, control, and attention to detail. And all of this needs to be applied fully, 100%, every millisecond.

If you get angry or frustrated, pare down the task. Instead of trying to play a passage that you're having trouble with, play just one note or two notes. Concentrate on playing it slowly and "perfectly" (depending on what you're trying to accomplish). When you've got that mastered, go on to the next note. Do it one note at a time until your (I assume) usual good control and attitude comes back.

Emotional spontaneity and musical expression is, I think, a different order of business from frustration and impulsive anger.

Hope that helps.

Cordially, Sandy

May 21, 2006 at 12:37 PM · Good advice you're getting here. One more idea - let yourself be frustrated. Not for very long, mind you, but acknowledge that you're annoyed or that things aren't going well. Make a time limit - 'I'm frustrated right now, so I'm going to be that way for two/ten/twenty minutes, and then I'll let it go and go back to practicing'. Sometimes it helps to clarify exactly what it is that's annoying you - I do this with stress. When I'm distracted during my practice time, I stop, make a list, dwell on it, and then let it go. The time limit's really the key - you acknowledge the emotion, deal with it, and then having given it its time, you get back to what you should be concentrating on.

May 21, 2006 at 12:44 PM · Hi,

Control yourself. Getting mad, and tense serves nothing - only makes it worst. One should learn patience. To work and play well, one needs to remain mentally and physically calm no matter what one feels inside. Learn to do that. May sound a little harsh in the way this is written, but it really is the answer.

Cheers!

May 21, 2006 at 01:09 PM · I always ask myself "Is it me or is it the music?"

Right now, I'm practicing Balanchine/Stravinsky's 1957 ballet "Agon" on the mandolin for a date with the Phoenix Symphony. It has the 12 tone thing going, has crazy meters like 7/4 and 9/8 (all in the same movement), and one is supposed to emphasize the dance beats that are written in the score. The "Galliard" is where I am basically a featured soloist with the orchestra, so I cannot screw that up at next Tuesday's rehearsal.

I've been banging away at "Agon" since last Tuesday. Time is running out for me since I have been trying to figure out where the beat is on the recording I was given but can't. However, I just keep worming away at it since that's traditionally been how I've gotten through problems. There is a definite limit to how much work I can do given the incredibly difficult atonal nature of "Agon" itself.

I don't worry about "This is impossible" or "I'll never get this", though I used to as a youngster when I didn't know the extent of what I could and couldn't do. One has to push his ability to the ultimate extremes in order to know when to forge ahead and when to quit.

May 21, 2006 at 03:07 PM · there most definately is a 'slam on the keys' version on the violin- i scratch away at the fiddle violently and scream and stomp my feet- if i'm really upset, i'll kick the stand. just throw a tantrum, go for a brisk walk, get something to drink (powerade usually calms me down a bit), and then realize that you can't blame the violin for things that it cannot do, and you can't be angry at yourself for things that you cannot do yet- and THEN practice slowly. REALLY slowly.

May 21, 2006 at 03:05 PM · Poor piano!! I wouldn't "take out" your anger but rather accept it and use that energy to find a constructive way to make your playing effortless and efficient - I know it's easier said than done but it pays off in the future.

May 21, 2006 at 03:38 PM · Good advice here. Calm down and admit that you're upset for a bit. Practice very slowly or just put it down and take a break. All that was said above and should be taken to heart.

A baseball player who only gets it right 33% of the time at the plate commands millions of dollars. Everyone struggles off and on. If the great concert players don't get it perfect all the time then how can we complain?

May 21, 2006 at 03:47 PM · On a good day, I take a deep breath, put the fiddle down and read a book or listen to something relaxing for a few minutes to calm down, then try the passage again. On a bad day, I either shout obscenities in several languages at my violin, or I end up whacking at the thing and making a really dreadful noise.

MG

May 21, 2006 at 05:09 PM · Smash the thing up, put it on the floor, stamp on it, and put it in the fireplace to save the heating bill. Works a treat, I havent played a wrong note since :D

May 21, 2006 at 06:30 PM · I drink.

May 21, 2006 at 06:43 PM · What I do is just set my violin down and relax a bit. It really helps! ^^ And sometimes I eat something like a banana to help me calm down.

May 21, 2006 at 06:40 PM · Why get frustrated? What does it gain you?Violin is supposed to be a challenge! Losing your temper doesn't help anything.

Frustration happens when reality doesn't meet our expectations. If you alter your expectations to a more likely outcome, the frustration goes away.

You simply have to accept that you may not get the results you want as quickly as you want them.

I find that slowing down to a speed where I can play a passage perfectly, then gradually speeding up only as long as I can continue to play it perfectly has done wonders for my progress.

Learning just takes however long it takes. We try to do it as efficiently as we can, but it's still gonna take a lot of time. If you enjoy practicng instead of getting angry, it goes a lot faster.

May 21, 2006 at 06:53 PM · Cheers, Pieter! I'm with you on that!

May 21, 2006 at 08:10 PM · I spent a whole year screaming at the C Major fugue. It's put me off playing it on violin for good.

May 21, 2006 at 08:19 PM · I calmly walk over to my case, put the viola down, then go sit on the couch. Holding my hands before me, I have a nice long discussion with my fingers reminding them what their job is and tell them that they MUST play well together or go to time out.

That normally works for me! :)

May 21, 2006 at 09:07 PM · Look weirdly at the violin, wondering "wtf is wrong with me? why can't i use this thing properly?"

hehehe =)

May 21, 2006 at 09:35 PM · Pieter, they asked what you do when practicing gets frustrating, not what you do every day. I used to launch my slippers upwards - there are still marks on the ceiling in the old St.Pete apartment. Then I proceeded to kicking my stand. Now I don't practice, so it's hard to say.

IG

May 21, 2006 at 10:04 PM · I come check out violinist.com

May 21, 2006 at 10:27 PM · LOL Ilya!!

May 21, 2006 at 10:30 PM · "What do I do when I get frustrated in practicing?"

You mean that happens to people????? ;)

I can remember preparing for an audition when I was about 12 and I got so fed up with the piece I was working on that I actually destroyed the photocopy of it that I was practicing off of..... I don't think I've been that frustrated since. hehe

If I find myself getting frustrated with the process I generally take a break and do something different for a bit and then go back to practicing.

May 21, 2006 at 10:33 PM · Wait a minute Ilyusha....you don't practice?!

May 21, 2006 at 10:35 PM · I say BE frustrated. Use that energy to play something that you can completely shred on. Play loud. Play awful. Stop caring so much about the passage and let go of the fear that you aren't playing it perfectly. The worst thing that happens when you're practicing is that you might have to play it again.

So after you've worked up a good sweat playing something completely liberating (and you've properly ticked off your roomies and the neighborhood dogs) go back and play it again and appreciate the experience and the luxury you have at being able to play this amazing instrument in the first place.

P.S. I usually like to grab a donut or a cheeseburger somewhere in between paragraphs one and two.

J

May 21, 2006 at 10:50 PM · Greetings,

Ilya, I didn`t know St Petersburg apartments had ceilings.

Cheers,

Buri

May 22, 2006 at 12:05 AM · Ceilings, yes. Heating, no. :)

May 22, 2006 at 12:52 AM · Stephen, most apartments in St. Petersburg don't have ceilings. This is one of Ilya's sabliminal boastings.

Filthy capitalist.

May 22, 2006 at 01:02 AM · Greetings,

I had always thought there was no ceiling on capitalism...

Cheers,

buri

May 22, 2006 at 03:04 AM · Comrades,

The ceiling fell in on Russian capitalism some time in the 90s, but that's a pretty long story.

MG

May 22, 2006 at 04:10 AM · i have taken up krav maga. my violin should be happy i haven't gotten my black belt YET.

May 22, 2006 at 04:24 AM · Some of them have ceilings, but they failed to put the seal in, and are reduced to fixing their leaks with sealing wax.

Uh oh, I feel a limerick coming on...

(I apologize in advance to everyone except Sander, as he's the only one who appreciates this art form =)

The violinist, he had no ceiling,

And although he did play with great feeling,

on his violin he sat,

it wailed like a cat,

and now it's in need of some healing.

May 22, 2006 at 04:28 AM · I play the passage slowly and repeatedly and then if I can't get it back up to a tempo I had it at the day before, I work on something else. No sense in working backwards, and everybody has bad days. There is always something else to work on, whether it's scales or tone or memorization or any technique issues. Maybe sit down and listen to the piece and analyze the score.

If this is happening for more than a day or two (or a week) then I would take a break for a couple of days or even weeks. After that I find I come back with a new approach and enthusiasm, and often bad habits that are worked in day after day are lost or are present to a lesser extent. In a few days after my break I am better technically and mentally than in the few days before it.

I also enjoy the drinking approach because then I come back with a nasty hangover the next day and don't notice or care how poorly I'm playing.

May 22, 2006 at 04:44 AM · Seriously, though. If I can't play something I leave it for a few days to a week, then somehow magically I can do it.

A long time ago I was practicing Wienawski A+ polonaise, and couldn't do some of it... I just abandoned it for a week, and I managed to play it well after that.

Brian, if you still get hangovers, that means that you aren't doing it right. The trick is to always be in an altered state so that there is no "back to normal".

May 22, 2006 at 07:49 AM · you got it all mixed up people. It's the roof that caved in, but the ceilings are very much still there.

IG

May 22, 2006 at 10:40 AM · Was it an old building perhaps? They hadn't reckoned on the stresses caused by steel Es in those days.

May 22, 2006 at 11:33 AM · i'm so happy to hear that i'm not the only one who kicks the stand! my practicing has destroyed two folding stands.. and i was starting to think i should go to an anger management course or something~

May 22, 2006 at 10:53 PM · now those things really piss me off.

May 23, 2006 at 05:27 PM · As a rank beginner, I often find myself getting frustrated practicing. Whether it concerns crummy tone, keeping the left wrist straight, bowing, fatigue, if I find it getting to me, I get up, walk away from the instrument and the music for a few minutes, raid the fridge, or whatever. I come back after I've sufficiently cleared my mind. It keeps me from throwing the fidle out the window, lol (which I would never do anyway!)

The point is, if you find yourself getting overly tense (and thus not enjoying yourslef) do something to break the tension; don't let it break you!

Rob

May 23, 2006 at 09:51 PM · When I was young my mom used to practice with me which was very frustrating for us both at times. One time when we were having a particularly frustrating practice, she quietly took the violin and bow from me, put them back in the case and put the case in the trash can without a word. Although she's embarassed by that story, I think it's hilarious.

-Laura

May 23, 2006 at 10:05 PM · Hello!!!

When i make mistakes that I should not be making, I make a weird noise with my teeth and say bad words in german(habbit from a german proffesor).But reacting like that is really stupid because I loose my consetration and make even bigger mistakes!At the first years that I started the violin, I broke my bow on the thing that holds the books(sorry,I don't know the word),I felt really bad when my parents found out what I had done..since then my bows are safe but good for me my parents don't speak German....

Cheers!

May 27, 2006 at 12:17 PM · quite a fuuny thread..

personally I take the pains to remove my slippers and kick the bed following which when my foot hurts I put those slippers on and go back to practice...with say atleast 2 annoyed pet cats..

AN

May 27, 2006 at 03:24 PM · at school, I go play ping-pong :D works quite well, except that I can't concentrate as well when I'm pissed, so I lose and that makes me even more pissed!

May 27, 2006 at 05:00 PM · And lots of foosball at Encore. :)

May 27, 2006 at 05:08 PM · haha! I had forgotten about that...works quite well too, because I get so damn mad while I'm playing I'm to exhausted to be frustrated or angry afterwards ;)

May 27, 2006 at 05:35 PM · Yeah, I remember you playing against Joel Link, the two of you were bloody madmen!! :)

May 27, 2006 at 09:21 PM · My friend has an old couch in her garage and whenever her students get frustrated, she gives them an axe and lets them destroy the couch for 5 minutes.

May 27, 2006 at 09:56 PM · Wow.

May 27, 2006 at 10:17 PM · The old couch could work for me too..Really good idea, I'll look for one!!!!!

May 28, 2006 at 06:54 AM · Or you could try weeding.

May 28, 2006 at 07:36 PM · only after you've tried wedding. and weed

IG

May 28, 2006 at 08:27 PM · sorry what weeding means?(Greek girl with no dictionary............) :)

May 28, 2006 at 08:32 PM · That's what Emily calls it when she does her eyebrows.

May 28, 2006 at 11:13 PM · Wedding: marriage ceremony. Weeding: pulling nasty, gross wild plants out of your garden. Weed: marijuana.

May 29, 2006 at 05:10 AM · Greetings,

weeding: what a person with a lisp does at a boring wedding,

Cheers,

Buri

May 29, 2006 at 10:16 AM · Thanks!

It's much better when you understand what peolpe tell you!

: )

May 29, 2006 at 03:42 PM · hello to you all,

i wish i get frustrated more often... cos each time it happens i solve better the problem. The frustration means you are almost there... is hot. I hate being just warm. This about the frustration when you practice...

The other frustration... the one that you have when you don`t practice... this is the bad one !!!

thanks (from the roof..)

May 29, 2006 at 04:39 PM · I take it out on my wife....LOL

May 29, 2006 at 09:25 PM ·

May 30, 2006 at 06:52 PM · I go sit on the steps of the music building and smoke cigarette after cigarette after cigarette....

May 31, 2006 at 04:16 AM · LOL Rick, My husband is a guitarist so I get the cold shoulder when he fumbles! At least I know I'm not the only wife who suffers from marrying a musician! :)

Honestly when I get frustrated to that point of either A) Throwing the bloody thing out the window into oncoming traffic or B) putting it down and walking away slowly. Then I know it's time for a shot of Jack Daniels and for violin to go to bed... for a few weeks... :)

June 1, 2006 at 03:32 AM · Laugh.

June 1, 2006 at 06:01 AM · I slip into my Power Ranger pajamas, get a tub of ice cream and watch Sex In the City.

June 21, 2006 at 02:05 AM · Go back to the basics. Practice some scales, shifting, bowing patterns, intonation etc. slowly. Get comfortable and relax then take a break and resume to whatever you were practising. I find things get easier once you are more comfortable and confident with the basics.

If I need to throw away the violin like what I also do (slamming the piano keys), I'd toss (not throw) it on the bed and make myself a cup of coffee.

June 21, 2006 at 05:16 PM · I never take it out on the instrument. After all, I'm not one of those "bad carpenters" who blames his tools... Im a bad violinist who blames himself for not devoting more time to improving! I try never to let myself get totally flustered when things are going awry, but when they do, I put down the fiddle, get up and walk around for a moment until the dust settles, so to speak. Then I return to practicing usually with better results. Don't get me wrong! I've been sorely tempted to wield my fiddle like a tomahawk in moments of abject disgust, but I guess with age comes at least some modicum of self-control, lol!

Be patient with yourself!! Things will be better!!

Play on,

Rob

June 21, 2006 at 05:32 PM · I don't take it out on the violin, I take it out on my lungs. RJ Reynolds, baby. ; )

June 21, 2006 at 05:33 PM · I blame my strings... i need better ones..

June 21, 2006 at 05:58 PM · I dont make mistakes ever since the last time I got mad while practicing...This was about 20 years ago...What a relief!!! Now I enjoy listening to others...

June 21, 2006 at 06:23 PM · Marc--

I can appreciate your comment but for me not playing festered for 25 years and now I'm back at it again. Maybe this time I'll win some satisfaction from my efforts.

June 21, 2006 at 06:28 PM · Jay, I am sure you will succeed! Now, I compose music and I enjoy it very much...And I can still play the piano.So, dont give up and dont get mad...

Marc

June 21, 2006 at 06:35 PM · It's never a good idea to lose patience when practicing, although it does (always) happen. The first thing to do is to identify your mistake, which is often harder than it seems. However, the easy part of identifying your mistake is that it actually requires more thinking than playing. So that after you've finally identified your mistake, fixing it will be somewhat easier! :D Don't just play something over and over in hopes of getting it right, because that never works. You have to identify, focus, then think of ways to correct it, and if that doesn't work, consult a teacher.

June 21, 2006 at 07:18 PM · Julie - thanks for some really sound and wise advice. Wish more students (and some teachers too) could heed that.

Cheers!

June 21, 2006 at 07:44 PM · As one conductor told me, the key to success in music is often three words:

THINK, play, LISTEN.

In that order of importance. : )

June 22, 2006 at 01:20 AM · Greetings,

Marcus mad e a point earlier on in this thread which is central to this problem. It concerns what frustration is. Quite simply, you have set your goal too high. The moment you experience it creeping in you need to stop and reset your goals.

That then begs the question why is your goal too high?

The most common answer to that is that one is trying to do too many things at once. This is particlarly true in the cas e of l\istening (observaqtion) in which the brain becomes totally muddled because no decision has been made as to what to listen for. hence, hacking and rehacking in the hope that things improve.

A simple way of improving this that really changed my approahc to the instrument is the Pie system advocated by Burton Kaplan. He argues that one listens to a complete musicla staement and tries to evaluate intonation, rythm, expresison and tone in terms of relative strengths. After one play through immediately write down the weakest and the strongest of these elemenst. then do it again. Do it five times until a clea rpictuire emerges of what you are doing -worst- in the pharse. The fidn a pracitc etechnique that correpsonds to the probelm if nmecessray, although the awarness this approahc stimulates is often enough to resolve the problem.

I think this tends to highlight the weak points of even greta works like Fischers `Practice@ That is, until we have clearly recognized that we habitualyy practice =The wrong aspect of our playing; the one we are most comfortable focusing on- then progres sis inevitably going to be slow and frustrating.

Oh, and its calle dthe Pie strategy because if you imagine a circle divided into quarter slices corresponding to each of the factors one shoudl listen to then the weakest factor will have its circumference much closer to the center of the circle than the strongets (perhaps intonation) which may be veyr close to the circumference of the pie. If one decided to focus on intonation then that slice will stretch out to closer to the edge but the weak tone will remain a small nibble near the center. The pasasge will actually sound worse because of the increased constrat between its best aspect and its er, crumbiest

Cheers,

Buri

June 21, 2006 at 11:03 PM · punch something, like a punch bag. We all get frustrated and keeping a lid on it is just plain stupid and dangerous. do it in private and don't hurt anyone else, or yourself for that matter. Get your aggression out and start again. To hell with self-control. As long as no-one else sees your flip, it's okay.

June 22, 2006 at 02:44 AM · Give the word "F**K" (with variations) a good yell or two.

June 22, 2006 at 08:06 AM · Run a game like doom or quake, and splat some blood & brains all over the walls!!!

... and then when i get pissed from getting killed in the game, pick up an instrument and relax with some more practice =)

June 24, 2006 at 12:50 AM · The wine thing never really worked for me...I end up sleeping instead of practicing lol

I usually bang my head against the wall and when I stop I am not frustrated...I just have a headache.

Sheila

June 24, 2006 at 05:08 AM · Go and make a cup of tea. Sometimes only by giving up can one move forward.

July 6, 2006 at 10:46 PM · WHen I get really frustrated and i know its not getting any better, I lie on my bed and listen to one song that really relaxes me (try damien rice's 'Amie' or 'Cannonball', then I get up refreshed ready to work again.

Or sometimes, I take a break for a while and do something different, like waste hours on the internet! :-)

July 6, 2006 at 11:04 PM · Usually I just stop practicing until the frustration goes away and I'm ready to give it another shot. There's no use practicing mad, usually it just makes things worse.

I'll wait until the next day.

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