Anyone else with ADD/ADHD have problems practicing for more than a couple of minutes at a time?

Edited: April 4, 2019, 5:28 PM · I get so frustrated. It's like my brain glucose gets sucked dry after a couple of minutes and I start getting very irritated and have to go do something else. I do keep cycling back to the practicing, but it's very chaotic and not efficient at all.

Any coping strategies?

I would add that the concentrating on intonation is the main culprit. It just saps me dry.

Replies (38)

April 4, 2019, 5:58 PM · The fact that it saps you dry may mean that you're doing it well? Two minutes of total focused concentration seems fair enough.
April 4, 2019, 6:36 PM · Practise practising.

April 4, 2019, 6:45 PM · Work with what you have. 2 minutes on, 2 minutes off.

Also, caring less about intonation as a brand new beginner is pretty important. We don't expects kids to have perfect intonation at first, so we shouldn't expect it of adults either. You need to balance your efforts equally between rhythm, bow control, tone, note-reading, intonation, etc...

Since we can't do all of these things at once (as beginners), sometimes we need to purposefully temporarily forget about intonation to work on one of the other components of playing.

April 5, 2019, 1:31 AM · Do interleaved practice with task-switching. It will help keep you focused. Explanation: LINK
Edited: April 5, 2019, 8:47 AM · Thanks Lydia for the useful response. I was already thinking along these lines, so good to get confirmation. I already built a 4' wide music stand last night, so I can have several things out and in front of me at the same time.

I noticed the other day when practicing, I was getting worse on a certain task the longer I repeated it.

April 5, 2019, 11:06 AM · I definitely have experience doing this. Personally, I have found the only thing that works is to structure your chaos so that it works with you and not against you. Instead of hunkering down trying to shred your way through a concerto until you get it right, I suggest planning 5-minute sprints of passage work with the different things you are working on. At the same time avoid chasing perfection. What you are looking for is improvement. At the time when your mind starts to wander and it becomes unproductive, you need to stop and switch to something else, or take a break.

For me, it helps having something (non-musical) on in the background to provide some easy distraction. Sometimes it is a podcast or maybe a youtube video. I'm not actually paying attention to it, but it's providing some background so I'm not just whacking a passage over and over again 100%, which can easily drain your mental energy.

April 6, 2019, 4:22 AM · For the repetitions that are so vital for progress, how about closing the eyes hard after each repetition, then opening wide to make the next one a "brand new" task. Kind of using the short attention span to good effect?
April 6, 2019, 10:30 AM · This is a very common thing, and I like all the suggestions so far! Make the attention span work in your favor through interleaving practice and by varying what you work on and how you work on it constantly (the "brand new task" idea of Adrian's reply) When we bore ourselves is when attention nose-dives, so repetition can be the real enemy. In my youtube channel for my students, I try to have many different ways to work on the same old proplems

Also, I find it really handy to use a egg timer or cell stop watch to force me to move on to a different spot, different idea, different rep. This way the challenge becomes how quickly can I get something done in a short amount of time, rather than how long can I keep doing the same thing.

April 6, 2019, 10:36 AM · Have the TV/talk radio on.
Edited: April 6, 2019, 11:20 AM · @Susanna, the egg timer thing is a good idea for me, but flip-flopped in its use for now. I could use it to make me play a little longer, so I could gradually up my time on something, or try to. Then switch. Right now I'm getting 30 seconds on trying to practice one passage. Will rush off to get one today.

It's not boredom with me. It is something else. I was just paying attention to how it felt. It's like an uncomfortable inflamed feeling in my prefrontal cortex. Boredom would come into play if I were playing longer. I think anyway.

April 6, 2019, 11:32 AM · Your problem is ontological. If you knew the world would still be there after your practice you'd be fine. However you don't. I'm sure there's a cure but that's a long story.
April 6, 2019, 5:44 PM · Bud, you seem to know a lot for someone who doesn't know anything about the subject.
Edited: April 6, 2019, 6:48 PM · (I reread my comment, and I know it sounds a little callous or judgmental, but that's not my intention. I think it's really a personal thing what you do to stay on task. The big thing that allowed me to start practicing more effectively was having a teacher I believed in, and making the connection where I started to believe that my practice would lead to results. The main thing that I see as an obstacle to getting better is the magical thinking that the thing we need to get better is a new violin/bow/rehair/rosin/set of strings/method book/etc...)

David, you gotta just buckle down and make an effort to put in the work with the understanding that you will get distracted, and that when you realize you are distracted, you can get right back to practicing, and with the understanding that you will get better at playing and better at practicing over time.

Perhaps a meditation practice outside of violin would be useful to you.

I've noticed that you seem to be posting a lot of threads, which are all interesting, but leads me to believe that you are maybe spreading yourself a bit thin in your practice. I understand that it seems like it's easy for me to say, but ain't nothing to it but to do it!

Edited: April 6, 2019, 7:47 PM · Christian, I was hoping to hear from folks with experience with the condition. It's not simply boredom or distractedness. For me it is an uncomfortable feeling in the front of the head. ANd people with ADD/ADHD, as I just read, have poor working memory. So, it is stressful, and feels like trying to run uphill all the time.

I am putting together something to help me keep on track, but it is an unusual situation that I believe many folks are responding out of common, and mistaken, lore about the conditions. Or in one case, were just being self-aggrandizing and wanted to take a pot-shot at someone just because they could.

Though in general the comments have been well meaning, I believe I'll have to look elsewhere for more knowledgeable input.

April 6, 2019, 8:32 PM · No Timothy, only one person was offensive. It wasn't you. I think I called them out on it.

The prefrontal cortex is the "executive" area of the brain. I also can't try to straighten up my house for more than a few minutes without wanting to scream (of course, this might be something a lot of people can relate to).

It is an uncomfortable feeling. I'm not talking about annoying. It feels like inflammation, and seems to intrude on things, in that I want to get away from it.

It's like I'm overloading that area or something. And I don't see this talked about anywhere.

Suzanna's suggestion with the timer was great. I went and bought one.

Anyway, thank you for wanting to help. I'll go back and reread some of your stuff (some of it was too long for me to get through at that point in time).

Edited: April 7, 2019, 1:50 AM · I would like to reiterate that Lydia gave me good info too. And James T too. Somehow I missed that along the way.
April 7, 2019, 1:56 AM · I've written an MS Access Database where I have a list of tasks, and a related table of start and stop times for when I practice the task, and I'll be adding a table for notes for each task.

I can select or deselect tasks to work on, and the the selected tasks sort to the top of the list.

I think this will help me somewhat, at least get organized, and track how much time I'm spending without a whole lot of effort.

April 7, 2019, 4:10 AM · Sorry a teacher of over 30 years with ADHD has no contribution to make. I obviously can do better!
April 7, 2019, 9:42 AM · If I overreacted or got it wrong, my apologies, but your comment sounded to me quite snarky. And you gave no indication that you had it too.
April 7, 2019, 9:56 AM · Reminds me of those old American Sci-Fi movies where the first thing they do if they don't understand a creature is shoot at it!
April 7, 2019, 3:52 PM · Stand still.
April 7, 2019, 6:22 PM · Lydia thanks for that very interesting linked article.
Edited: April 9, 2019, 8:41 PM · I have some of that, and this may or may not be helpful.
The multitude of details of practicing, and real life, can be overwhelming if you try to do it all in one session. Perhaps do Not try to multi-task, but give yourself permission to be inefficient, Not perfect, not prioritize. Why? Because it is better to get something done instead of being paralysed. You can see that I didn't even try to correct my spelling.
For practicing, I do better when I have my practice check-list in front of me, and mentally or physically check
off the boxes, like a pilot doing the pre-flight checklist. It's a common list; excersises, scales, arpeggios, an etude, a sevcik bowing variation, orchestra parts for the next concert, etc.
April 8, 2019, 1:47 PM · Thanks Joel. I now have something similar, and need to start doing it. On another board for folks with ADHD, someone suggested I was tackling too many levels at once, and to save the intonation for separate effort, after I get all the rest down.
Edited: April 9, 2019, 3:56 PM · To all, I considered deleting this thread, due to slight embarrassment over my prickliness and defensiveness, but some good responses were made, and those responses might help someone else in the future if they do a search.

So, just know, I've got an eye on me, but it's just not very timely in avoiding cranky responses.

My apologies if I misinterpreted a well-intentioned reply. Part or all of my defensiveness is the sometimes lack of understanding or dismissiveness I get from others in my personal life who do not understand the ramifications of this invisible malady. Hell, I don't always understand the ramifications myself.

Edited: April 10, 2019, 4:48 AM · Here's an idea of how you experience the world through ADHD:

cracked mirror

Edited: April 10, 2019, 10:23 AM · This was posted on a group in Facebook, and I think it ties in to my experience with ADHD. It is not ABOUT ADHD, but I think my fear of failure due to ADHD falls into this, and along with everything else, makes my brain shut down sometimes when trying to practice.

Procrastinating vs Anxiety

April 10, 2019, 12:39 PM · It would be edifying to see the people from that article talk about when procrastination is NOT anxiety.

One nice thing about recent mindfulness-based treatment strategies for anxiety is that mindfulness is a powerful strategy for introspection in general, which increases the sophistication with which one can choose to apply or discard psychology's current mode of dividing personality and difficulties into categories.

April 10, 2019, 12:50 PM · continued,-- A relevant article just popped up on my computer screen, -"Productivity tips for people that hate productivity tips," Harvard Business Review. Thoughts: "Go with the flow"- if your mind switches from one task to another,just let it happen. Avoid deadlines on your appointment calendar. Instead enter project start dates, because the hard part is starting.
Edited: April 10, 2019, 3:21 PM · Joel's right - Go with the flow. David Mamet has a beef with Stanislavsky. Stan had plenty of techniques and practices for improving concentration. For Mamet an all consuming interest is the only generator of concentration. (David Mamet True and False)
April 11, 2019, 10:59 AM · I have so much to say about this. Don’t have time at the moment but I will reply in like an hour. I have ADHD also! Your descriptions of the “inflamed” feeling and the sensation of running uphill just to maintain normal attention - I feel the same. Except some key differences - violin is one of the rare respites where I’d had some success retraining myself to hyper focus productively... But this has taken ages to rewire. Meds have helped more than anything. Ok gotta get to class.
April 11, 2019, 9:13 PM · Lends a whole new meaning to "flamed maple".
Edited: April 13, 2019, 10:36 PM · As someone with this problem I learned to beat it by simply remaining single-mindedly focused on what I'm doing (if it requires serious concentration, not everything!)

So, I make my list of tasks and do them until I feel noticeable improvement.

Basically, you need to teach your brain to focus via lots of repetition

Because the truth is a million tiny practice sessions will not end up being very productive (you tend to just go "oh look something shiny I'll do that instead"!) :DDD

Worked well, personally :)

Plus, you get very good at figuring out problems.

Practice smart, NOT hard!

Which is why I pay utmost attention during practice and don't believe in more than 4 hours a day (as did Auer-he said 3 is good, 4 if your a little stupid/maybe busy-my addition).

8 hours a day... pssshhh yeah okay, good waste of energy long after your brain dies halfway through and repeats mistakes unnecessarily (which then turns them into habits!!!) :O

Ex: I was working on Kayser 5...

The length (first one I did that was over a page) and slurs looked daunting.

Once I realized through a bit of slow repetition that the issue was slow fingers not being synced with a twitchy bow my left hand easily calmed down and sped up correctly (via metronome clicks upward) while the bow then copied and followed suit. :)

The length of it I got accustomed to by just practicing it at first in sections... A third 1st and write down issues, then 2 more days.

Once you get through it once in bits and identify problems practice is suddenly much shorter because you only repeat the problem spots multiple times before speeding the tempo up (vs the whole 2 pages!)... if new spots pop up (more likely the old ones fumble again) you just repeat them at new tempo.

Hope this helped (and wall of text... wall of sound?) ;D

April 14, 2019, 5:38 AM · I find often that the intense effort required for playing/practicing helps me to sustain focus better for violin than for most other tasks. I think a few others mentioned this too. It is often a relief to practice and feel my mind calming and focusing, other cares drifting away, rather than my usual flitting around/fractured attention, much like people describe with doing activities 'mindfully' although I don't do this on purpose, it more happens to me if that makes sense. My mind seems to become less scattered with the effort of honing in on only one priority, the bowing in one phrase, or intonation for one specific shift and so on. Maybe this is what people call the hyperfocus that many with attention problems can do. It is very pleasurable and I think it is alot of what brings me back to practicing. Someone on the current adult starter thread wrote how s/he was able to practice for hours when too depressed to do other activities, which I found interesting and maybe along the same lines.
Edited: April 30, 2019, 9:02 PM · Many people don't know this but I actually have ADHD so I can totally relate to your struggle. I believe this makes it hard to focus, and I do get into practice ruts at times.

One thing to keep in mind is that it can be easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated with past results of how much you haven't practiced. I know I deal with that a lot.

The key is if you are having trouble practice a certain amount of time per week (let's say 2 hours a week), make a goal of practicing one hour per week.

This might not seem like a lot, but your brain could interpret the easy goal positively and allow you to build momentum towards continuing to improve your practice times.

Keep at it and I'm sure you'll start to see progress over time! From one ADHD brother to another. :)

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