I don't like how I sound/play

July 24, 2018, 12:28 PM · I have a bit of an ongoing conundrum: I'm an adult returner as many of you know. With the insistence of my teacher and husband (and musician/musical friends) I am told I am making progress and sound "good"/"great" (sometimes even beautiful). But... I hate the way I sound when I hear a recording of myself, and I don't believe that I am any good. I think my playing is awful - everything about it - even when others (see above) comment to the contrary.

I don't know if it is that my violin and I are no longer a good match (my luthier said my violin is "good" and "weird"), but I remember when I was younger that I liked how my violin/I sounded together (I chose my violin/bow). Now, I don't like it.

I am hyper-critical of everything and it's really a beast of a problem because I cannot see the good in my playing.

On the topic of a possible instrument change: I'm not in a position to get a new violin/bow, and I doubt that a violin change will bring me what I am looking for even if I were in a position to change my setup.

My teacher says that it is "normal" for someone to not like hearing recordings of themselves, but is this really true?

What can one do to "get over" themselves and learn to love their sound?

Is this a learning curve thing?
I'm entering the "Bruch level" repertoire, and yes I do my scales and etudes (am working on Kreutzer, Schradieck, Sevick concurrently), and no my teacher does not let me move on from things just to push me along. Maybe I need to step back and play some music for tone/phrasing/musicality vs advancement? I also get really terrible performance anxiety - even in lesson with my teacher, though it is slowly improving.

It would be nice to fully embrace my sound just as it is and work towards making it better vs thinking everything is awful.

Looking to you v.com members for hopefully helpful advice.

Replies (45)

July 24, 2018, 12:44 PM · We are our own worst critics. I hate hearing my self on recordings. If you trust those around you to be honest, then take their assessment as true.

Just yesterday I told my wife my playing during that practice session was awful, and she thought I sounded pretty good! She's a good musician so I trust her judgment.

July 24, 2018, 1:36 PM · We are indeed our worse critique at times, and it’s a good thing. Perhaps you know the answer already when yo say “Maybe I need to step back and play some music for tone/phrasing/musicality”. In your statement following you seem to imply that what you consider advancement is learning new repertoire. For me advancement is improving tone/phrasing/musicality first and foremost. If you feel the need to improvement on those, then indeed step back if that is what you need to do. Playing familiar repertoire should enable you to focus more on tone/phrasing/musicality.
Edited: July 24, 2018, 1:39 PM · Break it down to the most minute detail and start working on it systematically, through pieces that you know very well. I'd also pester your teacher more about this, when I think I have done something well, I'm proud to listen to the recording, despite what small faults it may have

The recording setup and also the playback setup make a huge difference. Record yourself with a phone but listen to the audio through quality headphones. That's a pretty cheap test to get some idea of your sound, but if you have recordings made with a quality setup then of course don't mind this advice.

July 24, 2018, 2:22 PM · Recording is incredibly ruthless and harsh. Don't overdo it and don't get too depressed.

For a lot of the best musicians, the recording studio is the scariest thing in the world because it exposes every flaw ruthlessly and is never supportive and encouraging the way a live audience usually is.

An audience wants you to play well -- a microphone couldn't care less.

However, if you have polished up a piece of music and you're trying to challenge yourself to be more polished, nothing will give you material to work on like recording yourself.

July 24, 2018, 2:28 PM · My other piece of advice would be, simply, be patient. Adult musicians are usually not as patient as they need to be. Playing the violin is hard and most adults are not very far along the 10,000 hours. Even the basic building blocks -- playing in tune, good shifting, good bow control, sound production, rhythm -- take years and years to develop.

You should try to structure your practice routine so that you enjoy it, because if you are going to get better you will need to put in hundreds, thousands of hours.

Instead of worrying too much about what you can't do, try to appreciate what you do well and work from that base. At least some of your practice every day should be passages that are in the heart of what you can do well, so make a beautiful sound and work to appreciate your own sound even as you try to make it better, more perfect.

If you're out playing with other people, don't just focus on the difficult passages, pay close attention to the simple passages and try to play them beautifully, perfectly. Those habits are important and they carry on when you start being able to handle more difficult passages.

July 24, 2018, 3:00 PM · For the record, violin is one of the most difficult instruments to record well.

What you use can make a huge difference in the outcome of the sound. I don't like recordings of myself either.

Is it the tone you don't like? Are you making small noises that aren't a part of the music? What is it exactly that isn't sitting well? If you can narrow that down maybe you can find out what's at the bottom of it.

July 24, 2018, 4:01 PM · JI is correct about the importance of a quality playback setup. The cheapest way to achieve that is with decent headphones.

With today's digital electronics decent enough recordings are possible on almost everything. I remember my sad attempts at self-recording when I first started to try it on real-to-real tape in the 1960/'70s time frame - the wow was awful. Good playback amps and speakers didn't help a bit. Nowadays they make all the difference.

July 24, 2018, 4:52 PM · I'm probably at a similar level, and I know exactly what you are talking about. You have to keep a few things in mind:

-You have your ideal sound, or the sound of pro soloists in your head, so you won't stack up
-The recording is not going to be kind to your sound, or the sound of anyone playing. It will show mistakes, but won't fully capture the 3dness of your sound. Don't worry about it too much
-It seems like around the end of Kreutzer, I started to notice an improvement in my sound and in being able to create what I hear in my head (I'm a few into Rode now). It's not perfect, but I think this is around when these elements start to come together, and this was after a lot of frustration about my sound too.
-Hearing something live is an irrepeatable experience, and there are so many factors, from the acoustics of the room to bad equipment, to a just sort of spiritual "liveness" factor that means that a really meaningful performance may not seem very special when played back.
-Keep going and I bet in 6 months, you will note a difference
-Be judicious in your use of recordings; there are things they can be helpful with and there are things that they can give you an unnecessary complex about.

July 24, 2018, 5:13 PM · In my experience the biggest problem with tone is lack of resonance.

It's possible that your bow technique needs to be slightly adjusted to allow more resonance to escape the violin. Proper resonance is like a soft pillow that gently fills the room and carries the notes to the audience.

As far as recordings go? Everyone seems to hate listening to themselves, so that's not uncommon. I read a story a long time ago that even David Oistrakh needed to be convinced to allow the release of one of his recordings that everyone thought was great but he didn't like. It can be very personal.

July 24, 2018, 5:53 PM · I agree with Timothy. It is entirely possible that you are not happy with the actual recording. On a side note, we do sound deferent to ourselves when we listen to our speech from recording. Why? There is no "bone" (or internal) hearing, mostly air.... the same with violin. Lastly, perhaps you could quiet down an excessive critic and re-aproach the way you assess your abilities? Easier said than done, but you need a good feedback, including self-feedback in order to progress.
July 24, 2018, 9:21 PM · Post an audio clip and I'll tell you if everyone is lying to you about your sound being decent.
July 24, 2018, 9:46 PM · It's just like how everyone absolutely hates their own voice. I think I sound nasaly and small on recordings and video, but other people tell me I actually have quite a deep voice. Likewise for the violin.
Recording quality may also play in, but I'm willing to bet it's more psychological than anything.
I knew an excellent singer (more of a rock and jazz guy) who couldn't stand to merely be in the same room as someone listening to a recording of any of his performances. He was phenomenal, though. On some level, I think he knew it, too. But I digress.
July 24, 2018, 9:49 PM · No thanks Erik, I've seen what happens here with "feedback".

Yes - I am not happy with the actual recording. I'm using an iPhone (and a little voice recorder - which is better than the iPhone, slightly). My space is acoustically dead, which does not help matters. My bathroom is too small to play in, but I managed it once and wow - big difference in a good way.

Christian - thank you! I'll bear all of this in mind (my teacher insists that this is a phase that I will move past). It'll be a while before I wrap up Kreutzer. Have you upgraded your instrument since your growth period?

Timothy and Rocky - no small noises or anything like that, I think it is more that I believe I know how I want to sound but I cannot do it yet. It's a "why can't I do this? I know I hear it in my head, I see it on the page, and my body is not cooperating" more than making strange noises. I'm also in this weird period where my intonation/hearing is shifting and I think everything I am playing is not in tune, and am thus second guessing myself at other times because when I check it against, say a tuner, I am playing more in tune. So I'm working on ear training a bit more, and intonation refinement. It's a strange place to be.

I think I need more "what is good about this?" incorporated into my practice, to balance out the "what needs work" element. And, re-focusing on tone/phrasing/musicality will help with that for sure. Thanks Roger. And maybe less intensity with the material...

Edited: July 24, 2018, 10:07 PM · There have been times I became quite frustrated with my playing, then for some reason something would click and things would improve. I understand this is a common phenomenon. I believe it is just a matter of working as you have been and keeping up the process. It will pay off.
July 24, 2018, 10:59 PM · I think requests for feedback here have generally been responded to with fairness -- i.e., people are generally honest and not deliberately mean, even if they are critical. (Anyone asking for feedback should want, and be prepared for, criticism, though.)

Can you trust your teacher to offer feedback in a way that is honest, including feedback that might not spare your feelings? If so, and your teacher says you sound great, I would take that on face value.

Most Bruch-level players sound good -- i.e., if they are actually playing at that level (as opposed to being given repertoire that's too difficult for them), they have a nice sound, play in tune and accurately, and have good control over the instrument and its nuances. So if you're playing at that level, you can probably take it on faith that you sound good to others.

However, that still doesn't make a player sound like a touring virtuoso soloist. I think that's a nice ideal to strive for, but if that's the standard we're judging ourselves against, we are invariably going to be frustrated.

You will hear things when you record yourself that you might not notice in the heat of the moment. Probably many of those things are fixable, which is why it's a good idea to periodically record yourself when practicing. An iPhone should give you an adequate idea of how you sound, and the acoustics of the room don't really matter for practice purposes. (We all sound awesome in the bathroom, for the same reason that everyone thinks they sound great singing in the shower, which is why it's a bad idea to practice and record in the bathroom.)

July 24, 2018, 11:12 PM · "No thanks Erik, I've seen what happens here with "feedback"."

Yes, what happens is the poster gets feedback. Isn't that the whole point? Or are you implying that the feedback is unfair/inaccurate? This hasn't been my observation, but of course feedback must be taken with a grain of salt depending on the experience of the person giving it.

Still, at the very least it gives you an impression of what a wider range of violinists would think about your playing, rather than the fairly small world you're currently being judged by (you, your teacher, and maybe a few friends and family).

What's the worst that could happen? I suppose the worst scenario would be that we generally agree with your own perception.

July 24, 2018, 11:36 PM · Whenever I ask my students to record themselves, I warn them that chances are that if they think they played well, they'll probably be disappointed with the recording, but if they think they played badly, they'll probably be pleasantly surprised. Why? Because it's very hard to be an accurate judge of your own playing while you are playing--and that is true for pros as well as amateurs.

(Add me to the list of those who think that feedback here is generally fair. Perhaps you're thinking of the comment sections on youtube videos?)

July 25, 2018, 2:21 AM · The violin is the hardest of instruments to make a really good sound on. Previous generations of amateurs had no convenient means of recording themselves and played on in blissful ignorance. To be brutal, I really wouldn't want to listen to most of my friends and colleagues playing solo, and although I think I make a pretty decent noise I'm hardly ever "happy" with what I hear. Today's social media have also made many of us us much more self-conscious and inclined to worry about the face we present to the world.

Having said all that, I think self-recording is an excellent discipline and a great way of improving one's tone and avoiding unsoundly mannerisms - just don't expect to be able to effect an improvement overnight. If you want to feel good (or at least better) about your playing, add some artificial reverb! Surely there must be an iPhone app for that? If not it's worth getting acquainted with PC software like Audacity.

July 25, 2018, 2:59 AM · Pamela, I think the sensible thing to do is to pinpoint some concrete aspects of what you hate in your sound and work focused in these issues. Drop the Bruch for the moment and work on your sound for a few months.
Edited: July 25, 2018, 9:46 AM · The original post could have been written by just about every adult student I've ever had. I've always felt that half of my role with them has been as a therapist. I've seen many adult returners become frustrated because for them, learning was easy when they were young.

Is there a way to convince Pamela to suddenly "get over" herself, "learn to love her sound," and cure her terrible anxiety?

I wish I had the answer.

I wonder if her hyper-criticality is limited to just violin or everything she does. Obviously it's useful and necessary to becoming a professional in any field, but it can turn against us in other aspects of life. As we know, you can't become a professional violinist without this trait.

However, here is one observation: She says that, in addition to working on Scales, Kreutzer, Schradieck, Sevick and Bruch, she's also working on the Teleman Fantasies, and Bartok Roumanian Dances. And having lessons every other week (read her bio) may not be enough.

No wonder Pamela is frustrated. She's bitten off more than she can chew. Consider: she has 7 things to work on. Even if she were to spend just 30 minutes on each, that's now 3.5 hours per day. To make progress, that's assuming diligent, highly focused, and efficient practice. Let's say instead of 30 minutes, she's putting in an hour on Bruch. Now she's up to 4 hours. If I had to learn Bruch to a high level for an audition or something, I'd be putting in 2-3 hours a day. And I don't mean the entire concerto. Or even a movement. Or likely not a page. Probably just a short section or two, at least in the beginning.

So my suggestions are:
1. Work more efficiently on less material. Sure, in a perfect world, we'd all be playing Sevcik, Schradieck, Scales, Bach, Double stops, Etudes.......but it may not be realistic for those outside of a conservatory.

2. When you record yourself, start to pick out very specific things to listen to. Don't listen as a whole and say "wow, I really stink." Start with intonation, and only on one phrase. Then sound quality and then rhythmic integrity.

Lastly, I see so many people who want to play Bruch that are simply not at the level required. Sure, the first line or two is easy. Probably the easiest opening in the professional concerto repertoire. Then the technical sh!t hits the fan. People constantly underestimate the difficulty of this work.

July 25, 2018, 10:55 AM · Hi Pamela,

I actually bought my violin like 4 years ago, and it's a pretty nice violin - I paid a fair bit for it, but I think it was still a good deal, and I probably could reasonably use it for just about any context (unless I was trying to have a soloist career or something). I made a big bow upgrade a year(?) ago, which I think was helpful, although I really think that putting in the work and just being patient and working the etudes has been the biggest.

My teacher had me playing Wieniawski 2 as a sort of technical push, and it stretched me a lot (I would still like to come back and polish it up in a bit), but I agree with my teacher that it seems like the etudes really seem to make my playing better in a more noticeable sense, and I feel like they really connect the work done in scales with more practical playing and music-making.

I think it's also great that you are starting to notice the out-of-tuneness. I think that it's hard to play in tune until you get to that point where you are really building up a sensitivity to ANY out of tune playing. Flesch talks about how this can be painful but very necessary in his book.

I go through phases where I just feel like I'm playing like crap, and like the violin is just fighting me all the time - I take those moments in stride, because I see them as more symptomatic of a growing awareness of the flaws in my playing than that something in my brain is falling apart.

July 25, 2018, 12:05 PM · One thing that helps when watching and listening, be analytical about it. I find that I can watch myself or listen to myself on recordings when I have the score and a set of colored pencils. When my bow stops being parallel, I mark it on the score in colored pencil. Then I watch/listen again for intonation, and mark in a different color. I might go through multiple passes of the piece listening and watching for different things. Posture goes bad on measure X, mark it! Then I sit back and look at that color-annotate score and see what notes/passages are causing me trouble. I find I always lose parallel bowing when I am going fast on the g string, so I work on that specific problem. It takes the edge off of recordings.

Things I specifically mark in the score based on audio/visual recording:
Intonation Issues
Rushing Tempi
more/better vibrato
Parallel bowing
Core sound
Better phrasing/dynamics

It can get a little over-analytical, but worth it.

July 25, 2018, 1:21 PM · Amen, Scott.
July 25, 2018, 2:16 PM · I would recommend that you keep recording yourself. You need to determine if your rhythm is absolutely precise. Rhythm should be the foundation of everything else.
Edited: July 25, 2018, 2:47 PM · I disagree slightly with Scott. Pamela has said she plays at least an hour a day, and much more on the weekends (LINK), which is a respectably steady amount of practice time even for a teenager not headed to conservatory (i.e., enough for an adult to cover similar material).

I imagine that the scales and exercises get rotated through rather than done every day. Call it a reasonable use of ten minutes. Then etudes -- say another 20 minutes. That leaves her 30 minutes for repertoire on each weekday, and up to two hours on each weekend day. That's enough to both work on learning a concerto each day, as well as review already-learned repertoire on the weekends. That's especially true if it's purely pedagogical and isn't being prepared for performance.

July 25, 2018, 6:22 PM · Well, that might be enough for superficial familiarity, but it's not really enough to make good progress on a Romantic concerto. Unless you have a well-honed and efficient practice routine.

And 99% of all amateurs out there don't.

July 25, 2018, 6:40 PM · I suspect that depends on what you mean by "good progress". It probably means a concerto a year, rather than a concerto every 3 months or so, the way that a conservatory student would progress.
July 25, 2018, 9:46 PM · Lydia, I think part of your belief about how much progress should be able to occur as a result of "x" amount of practice is partially based on your personal experience with the violin. I would just like to mention that you made extraordinary progress in the past (based on what you've mentioned before in other threads) considering you were only practicing one hour per day throughout your childhood/teens. That level of improvement is SO far from average, even with efficient practice habits.
Edited: July 26, 2018, 7:42 AM · It is very difficult to separate emotion from logic. If a student is not critical enough, they will not improve. There is no problem being too objectively critical. The problem arises when one brings emotions into the mix...

That scale was out of tune.


In that scale, the C# was out of tune.


In that scale, the C# was slightly low.

Even better.

That scale was awful. I am a terrible player.

Not good.

So you can see that it is important to be your own worst critic in the sense that you are being critical of every detail of your playing. This way you will continue to improve. What you want to be careful of is attaching emotion or judgement to those critiques.

July 26, 2018, 8:02 AM · I agree, Erik, but there are plenty of kids who make decent progress on an hour a day, and similarly there are plenty of adult amateurs who can progress well also.

My observation is that on less practice a day, improvement is going to be heavily driven by a focus on skills, which pervades the whole slate of things you're working on. The notion here is that no matter what stuff on that slate you're practicing, you are essentially working on the same set of technical skills, so that you learn fewer notes (i.e., less of your etude and repertoire) each day, but still make good progress on a skill.

Also implicitly, less practice time generally means that you don't get to everything every day. However, the broader set of selections also gives you more opportunity to do interleaved practice of segments of stuff.

July 26, 2018, 8:41 AM · Hi Pamela,

I am an adult learner too, Recording shows so much more than just the sound we make. It's interesting to mute the playback, without distractions of listening, what do you see? This technique showed me that I had some strange left wrist angles at times, and that I was going 'off track' on the middle to tip of bow. Sometimes I think the sound we make is so much more than the sound of hair on string, it’s everything about how we approach our instrument.

On another note, a fun thing to do, to find all your sounds, is to play one note. Today during practice, I saw what I could do with the note E on the D string. How many sounds, how many kinds of vibrato, different ways of bowing, long short notes and dynamics, crunchy attacks, or flautando singing, it’s demanding and enlightening. Practice = experimenting (according to Simon Fischer)
When you go back to playing many notes, you begin to see the potential for each of them.

Edited: July 27, 2018, 2:13 PM · I'm going to explore a different path, different from the ones already uncharted above by fellow colleagues.

A person's voice, or a person's sound if that person plays an instrument, often shows the colors of that person's soul.

Could it be that you don't like yourself? And that therefore you don't like your sound, which is a reflection of your self?

I certainly know it used to be the case for me. There was a time when I hated my playing. It coincided with a period of my life when I hated myself. I changed that, and my sound did too, without much effort on my part.

Now I like who I'm becoming more and more everyday, and the same goes for the sound I produce.

What do you think? Just some for food thought.

Otherwise, I'd seek to relax the bow hand and violin hold as much as possible, listen more to myself while playing so as to adapt in real time, and practice without vibrato or even left hand, to really focus fully on sound and seek to produce a beautiful one.

Remember that sound starts in your mind, and that your fingers merely reproduce what you hear within.

July 27, 2018, 4:45 PM · "Could it be that you don't like yourself? And that therefore you don't like your sound, which is a reflection of your self?"

Sounds like Baloney. You might as well suggest she doesn't like her sound because other people don't like her.

And I don't know what "colors of the soul" are or how you can change them.

Ideas that are uncharted by other people for a good reason. Maybe they should stay uncharted.

July 27, 2018, 4:49 PM · Scott, clearly your chakras are closed up. I find that raising my vibration had a beneficial effect on my vibrato.
July 28, 2018, 12:05 AM · One observation that has not yet been made in this thread: I recommend you go back to recordings of yours that you made some time ago. Listen and you'll probably find them not as awful as you remember finding them right after recording them. This has happened to me anyway.

Another thing: A lot of the posts stress attention to detail as important. However, if you are already a detail-minded person you may want to step back once in a while and pay attention to the larger context. Listening to your recordings you may find notes that are out of tune or rhythms that are sightly off. Don't let those details make you lose sight of the totality of your work.

If you want to work on phrasing and musicality I highly recommend Mazas rather than Kreutzer. Many of Mazas's studies are explicitly written for this. And anyway they are much better music than Kreutzer who bores me to death.

July 28, 2018, 8:31 AM · Laugh however much you want, but this is a very true phenomenon.

Why do you think it is almost impossible to find two violin players who sound alike? Because sound is a highly personal and subjective element.
Replace ‘colors of the soul’ with ‘worldview’ or ‘life experience’, it’s basically the same thing.

I personally have never met a person who was deeply depressed, or ‘broken’ in some other mental way, who also had a beautiful sound.
Traumas affect the mind, which affects the body, and both affect your sound.

Call it baloney and be close-minded, it’s your life.
I still want to hear what the OP has to say about this.

July 28, 2018, 9:01 AM · "Why do you think it is almost impossible to find two violin players who sound alike?"

People vary in their sound for many reasons, and you must include their physical talents. Yes, sounds are made by preferences and concepts, but they are realized by muscles. And we all vary tremendously in our ability to make our muscles do these tasks. Producing a beautiful vibrato, for example, is a very difficult task and few really acquire it (regardless of their soul color).

I don't think you can offer the slightest proof that mental issues like depression can prevent a beautiful sound. In fact, I witnessed the contrary in my experience.

Just because someone is skeptical about your new-agey "colors of the soul" theories does not make them "close minded." I'm very open to rational explanation.

Edited: July 28, 2018, 9:30 AM · "I personally have never met a person who was deeply depressed, or ‘broken’ in some other mental way, who also had a beautiful sound."

Christian Ferras was a great violinist (with a beautiful sound and vibrato). He suffered from depression and eventually committed suicide. Very sad story.

I don't believe in the romantic idea that from a place of great suffering, great beauty is born. Nor do I believe in the reverse being true, that suffering and depression necessarily eliminate the possibility of artistic achievement.
I think it is impossible to generalize here.

July 28, 2018, 9:55 AM · Tammuz,

I instantly thought of Ferras as well, his Sibelius with von Karajan is my one of my all time favorite recordings.

And I, too, think it's better not to make any generalisations regarding personality, appearance, technique, you are going to end up finding contradicting "evidence" eventually.

Some play very visually, move about. And for some, the body is cool but the sound is absolute fire!

July 29, 2018, 10:53 PM · Two words regarding depression, mental trauma, and a beautiful sound:

Michael Rabin

Edited: July 31, 2018, 3:43 PM · Yes - I am still practicing an hour a day, more if I can fit it in, and I spend about a half hour on scales/etudes/exercises then the remaining time on the repertoire. I switched from the Bruch to the Lalo (which is likely going to raise many a skeptical eyebrow here).

Lydia is spot on: I'm not learning this material for performance purposes, I don't have a deadline, and there was a period when I said "no Romantic concertos, they take too long to learn and I'll never perform them". (It may help to note that before I quit I was learning the Bruch concerto, so re-learning it with a different teacher years later did not have the same shine or interest.) So, I'm not trying to learn this in 3 months, heck, I'd be happy if in 3 months I was "done for now" with the first movement.

I agree with Lydia - the focus is not on how many notes per day (or lesson cycle) when one only has an hour or so. For my etudes, I select a few lines to practice (or a line, depending), for the rep, I will select a phrase or two, and for exercises I'll pick one. Same goes for scales.

I wish I could take a lesson once a week, vs every other week, but funds won't allow it. When I have been able to swing a lesson once a week for a few weeks in a row - it's been great, and I've been really pleased with my playing. That feedback is super important.

Scott - yes, learning was easy when I was young. It's hard to go from that to having to work at it.

Christian - painful, yes.

Thanks to all for responding and the discussion.

Edited: August 3, 2018, 11:15 PM · I just saw this thread and I'm going to add my quirky 2-cents. I restarted playing the violin about 12 years ago, as an adult, after a long gap while I was in graduate school and my kids were babies and toddlers.

I always hated listening to recordings of myself too, but I think I can trace the beginning of an ongoing change in attitude to a recording I heard about 8-10 years ago of myself playing the 1st violin part of the 2nd movement of the Bach double. While listening I had an epiphany that the nasal whiny tone I often heard and hated had its roots in intonation. I was actually playing a hair sharp, a lot, and when I was playing I didn't notice it in the moment, only later on the recording. What I had thought was a tone problem was primarily a pitch problem. That was a revelation.

Once I realized how much pitch affected the way I perceived tone, I started obsessing a lot more about intonation, listening for ring tones and using drones, and using the electronic tuner to check intonation during the week when my teacher wasn't there to tell me when I was sharp, even when I thought my intonation was "fine". My intonation gradually improved and my tone along with it. I still don't always hear sharp notes as sharp in the moment, but I've gotten better about recognizing a particular kind of nasal whininess and fixing it.

I also started playing the viola when I restarted, and I found I preferred its sound to that of the violin. Then I compared my playing the same piece on both instruments and realized that the instrument made a big difference. My viola just sounded better than my violin, it was a better instrument, and a new violin would help a lot. I got one--just a Carlo Lamberti from Shar--but it too made a big difference in my feelings about my sound. Most people who have heard it, including professionals, are surprised to learn it is a Carlo Lamberti from Shar, so I think it was a good deal.

I also recently got a new mic for my iphone: a zoom iq7. That too sounds quite a bit better than the built-in internal mic.

The last thing I have done technically that has helped me enjoy listening to myself practice is to either wear a foam earplug in my left ear or to put a little bit of mounting putty on the corner of the bridge on the side of the A or E string (depending on violin or viola). This has the effect, for me, of eliminating scratchy, whiny, buzzing sounds that I find distracting and irritating under my ear, and enables me to hear, and concentrate on, pitch and tone while I'm practicing. My teacher was skeptical until she heard me practice a tricky passage that I was working on with and without the earplug. My intonation was much better with it. I don't wear it in orchestra or for performance; it just lets me practice for a relatively prolonged period without hating what I hear. And it lets me concentrate on the important issues.

I also made a decision about what I will and won't practice. For a while my violin teacher tried to interest me in studying Mozart #3 (again). I had learned it before, in high school, and I just had zero interest in re-visiting it, ur-text or no. In that light, I can totally understand why you switched from Bruch to Lalo.

And, I relate to your "no romantic concertos" decision, even if you somewhat changed your mind later, because I made that same decision early on after the restart, and have never regretted it or changed my mind. I don't listen to violin concertos when I'm listening to music for fun and personal enjoyment--so why would I want to listen to myself playing those pieces when I'm not even interested in listening to pro recordings of them?

One of the best things about being an adult amateur student, I think, is that you get to choose what you want to learn and play. So pick something that you really love and don't worry about the level. For me, one such piece was Adam DeGraff's arrangement of Sweet Child O' Mine. In 2011 he had a contest for amateurs learning that piece, which was/is crazy difficult. The contest was called the Rockin' Fiddle Challenge and a lot of people entered it but almost everyone dropped out except for a handful of clearly conservatory-bound young students--and me, a middle-aged soccer mom.

I made it all the way through the piece, significantly under tempo, never got it to performance level. It was way too difficult for me technically, especially back then. But, because I loved it, I really enjoyed practicing it, enjoyed listening to myself practice it, didn't hate my sound, learned a lot, and had a blast. Find pieces that do that for you. If Lalo or Bruch is one of them, great! But if not, find something else.

These days, what is floating my boat is more viola than violin, and more chamber and orchestral works than solos (except for the Telemann viola concerto, which I recently played solo with orchestra). But I still find that when I truly love the music, I also find my way to loving, or at least not disliking, the way I sound when I play that music.

August 7, 2018, 10:07 AM · Karen, this is great. Thank you!

I do wear a earplug in my left ear, and it does improve my ability to hear myself. I have a very loud violin (under the ear, and in a room), and it's often very difficult to hear exactly what is going on unless I'm playing very softly/quietly. And, my ear will ring if I do not use the plug even with said quiet practice session. This is also making me wonder if my issue re: tone is color, or lack thereof, that I have to work hard to get with my violin. I had a different violin on loan for a week, a much better one than mine, and it was SO MUCH EASIER to hear in/out of tune notes, and to bring out tone, color, dynamics. When I asked about the price of the violin, it was more than I pay in rent for a year - and I pay a lot in rent! Ah well... it's nice to blame our instruments when the fault lies within ourselves!

It's good food for thought, as I have other pieces that I play without intonation issues where I hate the recordings a smidge less than other recordings. I do know that venue changes to a slightly bigger room impact my impressions of my own playing A LOT.

The tuner and drone, yes - I know them well and have been using them a lot the past year.

Hahaha - I played Mozart 3 in high school too. I hear you on not revisiting. I do love the Lalo. We are very lucky that we can choose what we want to do as adult amateurs, and I get to play/learn the music that I want - it's a gift.

August 7, 2018, 2:11 PM · I have made a few recordings of myself including a few embarrassing ones on YouTube. I haven't taken them down because I wanted to track my progress.

I have found one of the most difficult things for me to do was to be as relaxed as I am when I'm not self recording. Recently I've began to loosen up some. I can honestly say I was playing better when I didn't self record because I wasn't under the stress to be perfect.

I am working on another recording now that includes flute and Bouzouki. It's meh. Not bad. Not good either. I keep doing it. I'm a glutton for punishment.My recordings are gradually getting better.Not something I would brag about just yet.I am encouraged by the slow progress I see.

One rule that many recording engineers follow is never commit to a take on one listen or one mix session. Get away from it for awhile and come back for a refreshed listen with rested ears. I can say I have found this to be true. Whenever I commit to a mix and master all in one rushed evening I'm always sorry I did.

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