Motivational Cues

September 25, 2006 at 11:14 PM · What do you use as a tool to motivate and inspire yourself to practice on those days when you just don't feel like it? opening the case, looking at the violin/viola, let alone try to make anything worthwhile out of it? I know we all must have little tricks or comforts or vices used to crank up that desire to practice. Since most of us have to maintain the ritual on a daily basis....our whole lives!

Replies (18)

September 26, 2006 at 12:06 AM · Hi,

For me it's routine and discipline. I don't have as much time as I wish, with teaching, travelling and performing, and lots of music to learn/play, so I guess it happens. But for me, I find that motivation comes from work, not the other way around (work does not come from motivation). So the best for, is to set a time, start no matter what then, and do my 50 minutes set. Usually, motivation comes as I go.


September 26, 2006 at 01:01 AM · There are many times when I am convinced that I couldn't possibly sustain even a half hour of practice. Once I get through the first minute, the cobwebs part and I realise an hour later that I was not so unmotivated after all.

Now that I am finally taking lessons after a 30 year lapse, it is easier to find the motivation, because there is so much work to do!

September 26, 2006 at 10:43 AM · On such occasions, I have found opening the case to be the biggest challenge. Once that is accomplished, shuffling the repertoire around sometimes helps keep it fresh and help you regain a good frame of mind. Also, fear of upcoming performance dates is REALLY helpful! haha Nothing like looking at the calendar to find your motivation!

September 26, 2006 at 02:10 PM · I agree that most times the worst part is just getting the violin out of the case. On those days, I start with something really easy that I like to do and then later work on harder stuff. Also, like going to the gym, it's often much easier to get started if you see other people working too! Obviously, this doesn't work so well if you are not at a conservatory or something, but in that case, take a few minutes and look at a favorite violin video or check out a short video online to get yourself motivated.

September 26, 2006 at 03:10 PM · I find listening to a recording of a violinist who's playing I really admire can spur me on and make me want to practice. Sometimes just giving myself a break from a rigid routine and digging out a piece to work on for awhile or just to play through that isn't part of my current rep is enough to make me once again motivated. If I'm really really not into practicing and feel stressed about it and completely unproductive, I usually am in need of a day (or two!) off so I take a day off and then the next day I feel better and energized to get back at it again.

September 26, 2006 at 04:28 PM · My problem isn't motivating myself to practice - it's motivating myself NOT to practice.

In fact, the ongoing violin practicing in my head that goes on even when I'm away from the violin is so overwhelming that I'm beginning to do things to silence that voice. As far as I'm concerned, this is a form of OCD and is not a positive thing. It is starting to interfere with my daily life and I'm going to put a stop to it very soon. Nor does this incessant practice help my ability - if anything, it hurts it.

I guess that my motivational cue to get away from obsessing over the violin is remembering that there's more to life than just violin playing.

September 26, 2006 at 04:27 PM · Kevin,

That's very interesting. I have noticed that during times that I'm practicing a lot, some part of my mind is working out patterns etc. even while I'm doing other things. Normally, I'm not very aware of it, but it definitely goes on. I have also noticed a similar phenomenon after playing video games for too long (hours). It seems to me like your mind develops a backlog of processing to do.

How much are you practicing (with the violin, that is!) when you notice this? Does it happen even if you're not practicing a lot? Just curious...

September 26, 2006 at 05:14 PM · Thank you for the responses! I have been monitoring this issue for the past few weeks. Part of it is personal, and a medication issue. But part of it is that I have no goals at the moment outside of what I set for myself. So, you are right, that is where the discipline comes in. Some things that have worked, though may seem totally irrelevant...

Getting everything ready to practice...writing in my practice book exactly what I am going to do, how, why, etc. etc. If I'm still unable to start, I get on the internet and read the news. Don't ask me why? But reading the New York Times, The Tennessee newspaper, CNN, and, of course, the just gets my brain and body in some sort of gear. Then I practice and all is fine.

The regualr practice of listening to the piece helps, and I"ve been watching YouTube videos. Another thing that spurs me to action is to get out the camcorder myself. Or my minidisc recorder, and practice until I can get the best run-through of a piece that day where the piece is...and then analyze it. Watching yourself play is so interesting. But is that step of putting violin to chin and saying "I am going to do this now no matter what". It isn't like I'm distracted by other things. I just sit there feeling like a dunce because I want to be practicing, I know I need to and want to, but I can't start.

This is usually brought on by some major disappointment. It just doesn't usually last this long. Sometimes I imagine that there is a fire or something and what I would run back in the house to get. My cats and my instruments. What if they were taken from me? THEN I'd really want to practice.

My motivational obsessive plunge comes in the middle of the night when I have no option of practicing. So not fair.

As for taking a break. Yes, that helps tremenedously, but when does taking a break go from needing a day or two off, to being lazy and letting the work ethic over all slip. What if I need to take a break once a week? What if that turns into a two day break? That is dangerous for me.

THe weird thing is that I LOVE to practice and always have. I'm just in a spot with my career and confidence where I look at the case and get discouraged and apathetic (result of being afraid I will never go anywhere with my playing and what is the point). All of these thoughts could just go have dinner together and then I practice just fine. So it is an issue of concentration in life in general. And I think I am the only one who can really fix that.

Some crutches I use...sometimes I take Gingko Baloba or ginseng....or Ritalin (prescribed, don't worry). That helps me focus once I start. Or I get excited about drinking a coffee and lighting candles and creating an atmosphere for myself that feels nice to practice in.

Sometimes I go running first.

Anyway. Some days, matters not waht I do, I just have to buck up and start. You are all right. ONce I start, there is no problem, (unless I've got the flu or something).

Thanks for the input guys!


September 26, 2006 at 08:13 PM · For me the motivator is accomplishment. AT 60 I don't have to do this except that I'm driven from within. And I need to accomplish.

September 27, 2006 at 01:03 AM · Good question, howard.

Honestly, my mind is running violin related patterns practically all day long. It doesn't matter whether I'm practicing or not, it just goes and goes even when I'm talking to people or playing other music. Sometimes I dream about it, even. Right now, I've got Sarasate's Habanera's rolling scales in 7s rippling through my mind and I can't really stop it.

I also catch myself involuntarily doing finger patterns, mainly with the left hand. These tic-like behaviors I do all day, but I've learned to cover them up with politeness and etiquette. The weird thing is that sometimes I'll be doing one pattern in my hand while singing a completely different one in my head.

My situation is bizarre because I'm bizarre.

September 27, 2006 at 01:27 AM · Kevin, there is an inherently obsessive aspect to music, as with any other discipline that involves doing the impossible on cue. Clearing the mind is very difficult. The practice of perfect Zen detachment is one way to achieve the control that allows one to 'turn it on' and 'turn it off' by choice. Easier said than done, of course.

Usually, the best way to stop one thing is to start another. So, painting a picture, even if you are not good at it, will get you into a different space. Cook a souffle, run a couple of miles, whatever. But it should be something that is very different from violin playing.

For the opposite problem, of not starting, I find it interesting that so many people refer to opening the case. It was when I decided to take the violin case out of the closet, and to leave it open in the living room, so I could play for five minutes if I had only five minutes, that was when I started back on the path of being a violinist. I had given up on it for some fifteen years. Now, another fifteen years after that, I am making a commitment to become the best violinist I can be.

So, if opening the case stops you from starting, then leave the case open.

September 27, 2006 at 12:54 PM · Jennifer: Great suggestions. Let me just add one thing. Watch out for negative "self talk" - the talk we do to ourselves all the time. Like, "I'll never get all this done," or "What's the use of even starting; I've only got 15 minutes." You end up talking yourself out of doing the practicing you need to do.

Listen to me carefully: Look at yourself in the mirror (with nobody else around, so you won't be locked up), and say to yourself in a strong, confident voice the following words: "I do everything necessary to solve my problems and achieve my goal of mastering the violin." Every time you catch yourself with negative self-talk, say that.

Cordially, Sandy

September 27, 2006 at 08:04 PM · Thank you, Sandy! I hadn't considered the aspect of negative "self-talk". I had more thought of it that if I kept on in my head that it had to be done, that I would do it. The opposite approach might just be the answer. I'll try it. My cats stare in the mirror and talk to themselves, so why can't I? he he.

As for the obsessiveness of music controlling the head and body...when you are actually practicing, do you enjoy it, or are you unable to focus past a certain point of repetitive playing, more inward? Yes, a certain amount of obsessiveness is needed to be sucessful in the arts, especially our art...but too much obsessing can be the downfall of the person, therefore rendering a career impossible.

Speaking from a smidgeon of experience....of course not exactly the same thing. The idea to do something not related to violin is a really good one, I think. And involve people in your music, so it isn't so much just you and your head.

Hope that wasn't too much, there. Anyway.



September 27, 2006 at 08:09 PM · I'd leave my violin case open, if the cats would stay out of it! I seriously have to vacuum out my case sometimes, I don't know how they do it (I've got a double case, so there is always at least one instrument in it, therefore, it is closed. When do the cats sleep in my case???


September 27, 2006 at 08:56 PM · i bought a program called anima agronomics two years ago.

without giving too much detail away, the first part is to watch the slide show (it's available on the anima agronomics website).

the second part is to do NLP's 'well formed outcome' questionnaire.

in the third part, you write a reminder card to remind yourself why you want to get over the lack of motivation, and you read that card whenever you find yourself falling backwards into demotivated states.

this only works if you're willing to do the work to get past your demotivation.

google anima agronomics and see if that's something you'd be interested in. if nothing else, the slide show (which is free) will explain to you why you sometimes can't seem to get yourself motivated to start/continue/finish a job you really want to do.

September 27, 2006 at 10:21 PM · I buy myself beautiful violins (with good sound) and recently I bought myself a beautiful bow. The desire for beautiful things will drive me to pick them up and play--even just play open strings.

September 28, 2006 at 08:58 AM · Sometimes, when I feel like that, I don't do any practice. I go for a walk in the hills with my partner, or read, or talk... ...anything that is a pleasant pastime, sometimes musically connected, but not always

When I go back to practising (and for me, that could be some days) I usually find working with the violin a fresher and more satisfying experience, and most times, my playing is better (as an improviser more inventive, and free-er). I discover what is really mine, and what has just been laid on top.

I believe that every now and again our systems need time to consolidate what we have been learning.


September 28, 2006 at 04:29 PM · Graham, from what I observe with a lot of young musicians, there are pressures that keep them from employing that strategy. It is similar to what I saw working as an engineer in high-tech firms. Everybody is working in 'firefighting' mode all the time. In reality, there were no emergencies, it was just the consequences of poor planning and understaffing. Everyone wound up getting burned out and ill from stress. Musicians have the same problem, with the physical injuries of overpracticing on top of it. The response of the teachers and coaches is often unsympathetic, and the musicians wind up playing hurt, and sometimes destroying their careers because of stress and injury.

So, I can only hope that some of them hear what you are saying. A drop dead date can become just that. Is any rehearsal, lesson, concert, audition, really worth risking your entire career on?

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