Studying more than one instrument

May 25, 2019, 2:16 AM · I am just curious for those of you who are playing/learning more than one instruments, especially those who play different instruments in different ensembles, how do you manage your practice time? Do you take lessons on both instruments regularly? Is it a problem for you financially, or you find ways to get around it?

By the way, I do consider the viola a separate instrument. Even if there are similarities between viola and violin, I don't think it is practical to practise only on violin and expect to perform on the viola.

Personally, I play both the flute and the violin. I would say if God said that I can only play one instrument, I will always choose the violin over the flute. However, God has to actually show up in front of my eyes before I quit the flute. My current schedule is very messy, I am trying to find time to practise on both instruments, take classes, have string orchestra rehearsals, going to work and doing housework. I am not sure if it is related, but I keep feeling stress during orchestra session and keep waking up in the middle of the night. Then when my sleep is disturbed, I struggle to get up early to practise a little bit before going to work. Also, I always get physically sick before a recital, and I am seeing two of them next month. I am not sure how long I will last.

Replies (26)

Edited: May 25, 2019, 7:12 AM · I play both violin and piano and took lessons on both throughout my childhood. But I only have time to practice one instrument, and the violin is totally hopeless without daily practice. So I only take violin lessons, and I pretty much only practice the violin unless there is something on the piano that I have to prepare. I am surviving on gradually weakening vestigial piano skills from my childhood. Fortunately my piano playing is limited to (a) jazz piano, which is less technically demanding (you can be a decent jazz pianist without having a professional classical technique), and (b) occasional accompanying, usually of Suzuki students. I supposed I could "afford" to take lessons on piano as well, but if one isn't going to practice, then those lessons would be just a waste of time and money.

For me viola is not a separate instrument. The only thing I practice on the viola is orchestra parts.

For children, my recommendation is pick ONE non-piano instrument but then also learn to play the piano at least to the level of, say, Haydn and Mozart sonatas. The skill and knowledge gained will serve you very very well.

About your stress, for goodness sake, see a doctor. Get a thorough checkup if you haven't in a long time. Ask about beta blockers, and try to remember that in orchestra people are mostly listening to themselves.

May 25, 2019, 8:02 AM · It is possible, but it depends how deep in your study of each do you want to go... In your case 2 instruments are quite different, so there is less common ground and fewer transferable skills. I would say that your violin playing can greatly benefit from the flute, since breathing (many violinist do not do properly) is an integral part of sound production on wind instruments.

I juggle between violin and viola by having a dedicated day for each, although I have recently neglected the later. Have started to think that staying on 1 instrument only can significantly improve my contact with the instrument and sound production. Tough.

Talk to your doctor about beta-blockers.

May 25, 2019, 12:56 PM · I do, violin and piano. I don't have any professional or "serious" aspirations so I can take the time I want with them. I have some favourite composers for each instrument which I do not wish to stop playing any time soon.

"By the way, I do consider the viola a separate instrument."

It's not even an instrument.

May 25, 2019, 1:15 PM · I thought we had agreed to drop the viola jokes.
May 25, 2019, 2:59 PM · I do both violin and viola. The teacher who has been my violin teacher for many years occasionally helps me with viola issues. I bring to my lesson whichever instrument/music I need help with. I try to practice both some each day since normally I play violin in community orch and viola in chamber music. At the moment, for various reasons, I am playing viola in the orch for the next concert, so I am practicing/playing it exclusively until June 9. Then back to playing both.
Edited: May 26, 2019, 9:13 AM · Hi Tom. Good luck with your June 9 concert! My chamber orchestra also has a concert on June 9th and I am also playing viola in it. I find switching from violin to viola sometimes gets confusing to me. Especially when sight-reading my mind seems to want to switch from viola mode to violin mode when the fingering patterns get unusual.

We are a small ensemble of about 30 musicians who play without a conductor. Our big number in this next concert is Mendelssohn's "Italian Symphony," his number 4. It is the toughest most finger-numbing, un-intuitive viola part I have played since I switched from violin 4 years ago - certainly tougher than the viola concertos I have read.

When I was 16 and was being "self-taught" on violin and had about a year of cello lessons I was working on the Beethoven violin Concerto and the Haydn D-major Cello Concerto (his 2nd concerto, his 1st in C-major had not yet been re-discoveed). I never, in the 70 years I have played both instruments had the same kinds of mind and finger confusions between them that I have with viola vs. violin.

Edited: May 25, 2019, 6:56 PM · I play almost exclusively viola and only play violin when I absolutely have to. I find that it takes a few days of practice to really get used to the violin. If I pick up a violin and try to start playing without at least half an hour of practice on it, I choke every note with excessive pressure, and often forget that I have an E string at all and instinctively shift far up the A string instead.
May 25, 2019, 11:33 PM · In addition to violin, I play classical guitar, ukulele, Irish penny whystle, Irish flute and Native american flute but violin practice takes 99% of my available time. The only time I find for the flute is in the car when I wait for my wife!
May 26, 2019, 1:08 AM · My main instrument right now is violin, but I have played other instruments before and am a classical trained vocalist. Currently, however, I'm taking just cello lessons as I'm looking to incorporate cello in some of my musical projects.

I see instruments in much the same way I see languages. It's possible to speak multiple languages fluently, but really only one or two are going to be your "mother tongue" and the rest just fluent, but never truly native-like. I like watching language acquisition videos and polyglot conferences because it's so interesting and there are so many deep-seeded parallels with the two. In one video, a key speaker said the only way to speak 10 languages is to speak 9 and add 1. So to speak 2 you'd need 1 and then add 1.

Same with language learning, things can get confusing. Sometimes the similarities are too much and you get confused with where one word belongs and it becomes a jumbled mess. Sometimes I start speaking the wrong language to people on accident because I was thinking in another. Switching between languages can hurt my brain. It depends. I speak English natively, studied Japanese for many years, speak Spanish fluently, and am studying French. But I love music in Portuguese, so I hear a lot of that as well. I don't study Portuguese at all, but the cool part is that it's so similar to Spanish and French that I can enjoy and understand a majority of what's being sung in the songs I listen to. I can't speak it, except maybe certain phrases, or I'l;l say things in Spanish but with an accent and hope it comes out right the other end. Haha.

I had a similar experience when I tried viola. It was incredible similar. So intuitive. Yet largely different. Haha. Also, going back to instruments, in working on my cello, I'm tackling issues I've had all along in my violin playing and I'm seeing things in a new light and feel like I have new tools to experiment with. No matter how different the instruments are, the fundamental ideas are transferable and applicable: posture concepts, tension/relaxation, etc.

Other instruments I've had the pleasure of playing are basically the whole family of woodwinds. I started off with sax, then went to bassoon. I played oboe for a bit, and eventually stuck with flute. In college I tested out of my woodwinds class because I had experience on all of them, minus clarinet. Luckily, clarinet is like a cross between bassoon, for the lower register, and saxophone for the upper register. Which is exactly what I said during my test for the instructor when I messed up in my chromatic scale. Be he let is slide because I was able to make the connection between the three. According to him.

Singing just helps everything. It helps my intonation, perceiving my tone, fundamentals of posture, breath support, I even feel like it's helped me with learning languages. I can hear more easily the nuances in articulations of the shapes of vowels. For those of you who don't know about singing, vowel choice is super important. It truly shapes the tone color and resonance of a singer. Also, it helps in choosing phrasing and hearing it better in my head. I'm not perfect, but having sung all my life, I feel like shaping a phrase has always been intuitive. Sometimes is doesn't always translate over to the other instruments quite as easily. But having the concept and listening back in recordings has been very helpful.

I also know basic piano, which helps everything as well.

With all of this being said, I will mention that I wish I had learned just violin and just classical voice from the start. As much as I cherish and appreciate the experience I've had with all the instruments I've tried,I wish I would have been more focused from the start. I imagine what level I might have today if, but at the same time, I really wouldn't change a thing.

May 26, 2019, 8:34 AM · Andrew - good luck with your concert. Although there are some technique differences between violin and viola, I still find the biggest problem playing viola for someone who has always been primarily a violinist to be the one you pointed to and that Karen Allendoerfer helpfully calls "having a violin moment." You see the music and forget you are playing viola and want to play an open D instead of B because that is what you would play an open A looking at the same music as a violinist playing treble clef.
Edited: May 26, 2019, 10:16 AM · I started on trumpet, got braces, couldn't play so well anymore and switched to viola at 13. Got braces off and was asked to play trombone one year and French horn two years in high school since viola taught me good pitch. Picked up a bit of piano as well. Having said that, I only ever really practiced and had lessons on one instrument (viola) with a smidge of piano. The others were just casual and fun.

My 8th grader started on violin and picked up piano (with lessons) about four years ago. He practices most on violin, with only 15 minutes a day on piano (which has fallen off the past year due to him being really busy). He's still managed to achieve a sonatina level or higher on piano, but really doesn't put much effort into it. This year he picked up viola. He only practices viola for the things he needs to play, chamber music or orchestra pieces when he is assigned them.

My 4th grader started on violin and that is more than enough for her at this point. I would love to get her going on piano at some point, but she has no professional aspirations for music at this point so I won't be pushing it unless she asks.

I think it is really hard to pick up two similar instruments simultaneously (like violin and viola) and give them equal effort. I also think it might be confusing for many people. It's best to at least get a decent foundation on one before moving on to another.

Edited: May 26, 2019, 1:35 PM · Like Susan's son, I got a viola because I thought it would provide me with more opportunities. And of course it has. But the problem is that if people know you have a viola and can play it (including reading the clef) then they sometimes ask you to switch from violin to viola where they have a personnel or talent shortage even though you'd much rather play violin. So my advice to Susan's son, which I am sure she has already given him, is to learn how to decide when to say "No, I'd rather play violin here."

The advantage of getting a little beyond the Clementi Sonatina level on the piano is that you can be exposed to more harmony if you can play a little Chopin, Debussy, easier Scriabin, etc. But busy is busy. Hard to argue with that.

May 26, 2019, 2:44 PM · Very good advice, Paul, and something he is already running into. His teacher is helping him negotiate it, especially since it's already turned into people giving him extra scholarship if he agrees to play viola. His heart is with the violin, though, so that should keep him steady.
May 26, 2019, 4:46 PM · Then there are us rabble of ITM/Scots Trad/OT/Folk players...... "What exactly does it mean ""Study more than one"" " ?
Fiddle/Mandolin/ Octave Mandolin/ Guitar....... and, god forgive me, there's even a banjo hanging on the wall.
[OOPS, forgot the Harmonium]....

But then, of course, we aren't really serious musicians ;)

May 27, 2019, 2:44 AM · Thank you very much for all your comments. We just have a long weekend here, so I got time to practice and feel less stressed. I think somehow I need to manage my expectation.

I mentioned about viola because some people (not in this forum) give me the idea that viola is trivial once you learn the violin. I think this type of thinking originate from if you know how to play flute, you can play bass flute and piccolo. They have the same fingering, with embouchure differ a little. However, it is not entire true that you don't practise on those instruments and just show up for ensemble. So I think playing both viola and violin implies extra practice, lesson, etc.

One thing Rocky mentioned, " It is possible, but it depends how deep in your study of each do you want to go".

I thought about it, but I have a feeling that I won't be able to be very honest about it. I remember when I first started my violin teacher asked me what my goal was when I put my ensemble music on the stand. I told him, "play the right note at the right time". My teacher was annoyed that my goal is so low-ball. However, when I said "play the right note", I have in mind playing in tune, which is a real struggle.

A lot of my goal sounds very innocent, but they are actually not so. Things like, play a simple tune beautifully. Well, how do you define "simple"? I only start listening to music actively in the past few years, and a lot of them is on youtube. Certain music sounds "simple" but they are anything but. Then, what "playing beautifully" do you have in mind? Which professional comes to your mind? And you want to play like them? As an adult beginner, I have this feeling that I measure success differently from children, and a lot of it is not exactly realistic.

May 27, 2019, 3:36 AM · "Talk to your doctor about beta-blockers. "

IMO beta blockers may help you deal with the physical (body) manifestations of performance. To the extent that that is a part of your anxiety it may help - but most anxiety is not physically based, its psychological and needs help for your mind, not your body. Thus, I would stop at 'talk to your doctor.'

Edited: May 27, 2019, 10:13 AM · ... And talk to your psychotherapist...
May 27, 2019, 11:49 PM · Really quick, I just wanted to share a little anecdote about playing different flutes since Sivrit brought it up briefly.

When I was going to college, the San Diego Flute Guild would set up a day long convention sort of thing in the music building at SDSU. There were vendors and competitions, masterclasses and all of that stuff.

One thing in particular I remember one year is that they had a sight reading flute ensemble workshop. And they had alto and bass flutes to try out, as well as piccolos. I had played with bass flutes before for a couple seconds at a time in the room with all the vendors, but even though I played regular flute proficiently, sight reading was incredibly hard. I wasn't even sure if I was hitting the note in the right octave for most of the time. They didn't exactly give us time to "explore" these new instruments. Despite the difficulty, it was a very fun and unique experience.

I can't imagine trying to sight read in an ensemble on piccolo without having practiced it ever, however. I've played around with those, too, and it's not as easy as going from viola to violin or vice versa. There's no way you're going to hit the third octave notes without sufficient practice/warming up. Not to mention how much practice you need keeping it in tune. Haha.

Edited: May 28, 2019, 4:25 AM · Wesley, I have also tried the alto and bass flute once in a workshop before. I can't quite manage to play the high(er) notes on the bass flute (but I wasn't exact proficient on the flute either). It would be nice if those instruments are more available for people to try-out/play around.

Elise, It is likely to be mental issue for me. It is just strange that I don't have the thought or feeling of being scare before recital but my body seems to act weird.

So far I have done two recitals on the flute and two on the violin. The first recital on the flute, I got a flu like symptom on the day, feeling very dizzy and almost fainted on stage. The second flute recital, I got a very bad stomach ache on the day, and went to the toilet to throw up after the recital. My body behaves better with violin recitals, but I do get those flu like symptoms but less severe. Last week, I had to present my piece in front of my class for the next flute recital. My hands were shaking so violently I started the piece with a very strange vibrato (No, in flute you don't do vibrato by shaking your hand nor your instrument).

Edited: May 28, 2019, 4:49 AM · Some skills transfer, some don't. But it gets easier after the second or third one, especially if you know how to practice efficiently and ask the right questions when taking private instruction. Through graduate school and for several years afterwards, I spent an average of 2-3 hours per day on my two primary instruments.

I routinely coach chamber ensembles who are absolutely floored when I can sit in and demonstrate their parts--for example, the Mozart, Weber, or Brahms quintets on violin, viola, or clarinet. I used accompany my private clarinet students in recitals featuring these works, and it's always amusing at the end ("why didn't your private teacher attend your recital? Uhhh...he's right there--no! That's the violinist/violist/chamber coach, where's your clarinet teacher??").

May 28, 2019, 4:50 AM · The only real cure that I have found to anxiety-based performance issues is to do LOTS of performances. I found a teacher with a studio that has four recitals a year - and where you play whether or not you are ready. Since everyone is in the same boat you can expect errors - and now I've got to the point where I smile each time I make a mistake. Its just a pothole, not a sinkhole, in the road and I just carry on.
May 28, 2019, 4:17 PM · There have been lots of threads on the virtues and vices of medicating for anxiety. My point is just that there is no harm asking your doctor about it. If your doctor doesn't know to think about various reasons for your anxiety then they've got [manure] between their ears and you need a different doctor.
Edited: May 29, 2019, 3:46 AM · I'm an amateur who has been playing the piano since childhood and is now playing the violin. My only goal is pure enjoyment. I gave up the piano for a few years and took it up again almost at the same time I decided to start with the violin. I'm now taking a weekly hour of lesson on each instrument, and I almost don't have time to practice!

My violin level is that of an 'advanced beginner' or a 'pre intermediate' level. I'm developing my vibrato and my 3rd position. I'm learning 2nd position and double stops. I can play some of the easier Corelli works.

My piano level lets me enjoy the instrument better. I can play a wider scope of works. I'm now studying the sinfonia movement from Bach #2 partita. But I can also play some Liszt, Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, Rachmaninoff... more than enough for my own enjoyment. I've been told by my teacher I could become a professional player if I planned a serious study for a couple of years, but I can't practice 8 daily hours to give it a shot at the expense of my main job. Now my practice time consists just on 30-45 weekly minutes!

If you're curious, playing the violin has made my piano playing more lyrical and delicate. I'm also acknowledging that pianos are not usually as tuned as I used to think before!

May 29, 2019, 9:23 AM · Miguel, can I ask in what aspect you find the private lesson the most useful? I think it depends on person but I am curious on your take, since you are an adult late starter (at least on the violin) and also have limited practice time.

I am scared to show up on my lesson sometimes. I feel that I didn't practise enough to digest what I have learnt last lesson. I do try to show up in lesson with question, or feedback from practising what my teacher suggested. However, I suspect I ended up in playing almost the same level, if not struggling to do the technique right week after week. There is always a thought in me that wonder if I am wasting her time and my time in all of these.

Edited: May 29, 2019, 11:49 AM · I can tell you that my approach is slightly special. I stated very clearly with my teacher that I may not practice at all between classes because of my heavy schedule and my tendency to get migraine headaches. I also told him that I wanted to learn the violin up to a medium technical level, and that I didn't mean if I reached it 3 or 15 years after starting.

Turns out he accepted it and we got along pretty well. So at the end of each lesson he gives me a note in which he writes concrete instructions of what should I practice each week (e.g.: B major scale in spicatto and quavers, a vibrato exercise, positions, double stops exercises, pieces 1,3 and 6 from the book X) and I may or may not practice everything (sometimes even anything). We just start the lesson following the paper instructions, and he focuses in any point that I may struggle with. If I happen to get through it, then we continue with new things.

With my piano teacher the approach is just complete liberty on my side, since I don't need continuous technical guidance as I do in the violin. We say, "piece Y this week". And during the class we focus on expressive things for the part of the piece I've studied and I get some 'guided' study if I happen to be 'blank'.

So, what is the most useful aspect of my weekly violin lesson? Probably the mere long-term continuity that I get from playing at least once a week with real-time and objective technical feedback.

And all of that being said, I think the key is enjoyment. I never took a piano exam in my childhood, and never had the pressure of practicing to the point I disliked it. I just enjoyed sitting at a random time and even 'toying' with the instrument by pressing random keys. I continued with it taking private 'unofficial' lessons and finally abandoned it when I started the university, and years later, since it's something I've always enjoyed, I came back to it. And a year later, I took the violin up. Had I felt pressured in my childhood/teens today I wouldn't be playing the piano nor the violin. I can assure you that.

I hope I answered your question and didn't deviate too much from the point. Feel free to ask me anything else. And forgive my long and tiresome response.

Edit: Grammar.

Edited: May 29, 2019, 1:26 PM · I also play violin and viola, and I consider them separate instruments. But it is nice in that I've had teachers that play/teach both and it is relatively easy to find that combination and only have one teacher. I think it would be harder to find a teacher who teaches both flute and violin, so you'd probably have to have two separate teachers. I let my teacher know in advance which instrument I'll be playing in the lesson. Lately it has been mostly viola. I think my approach is a lot like Tom's, above. If I am playing the viola part in orchestra, I will practice mostly or exclusively viola. I had a rehearsal cycle recently in which I played violin, and I practiced that exclusively for those weeks. I have had weeks and months during which I practiced violin in the morning and viola at night, or vice-versa, but I found that that stressed me out so I've cut down on the switching I have to do on a daily basis, and I tend to switch more on a monthly, or by-project basis. So for example, I have an orchestra concert this weekend for which I'm playing viola, and then a violin chamber music project coming up later in the summer, so it's viola until the concert on Sunday and then it will be violin until mid-July when the chamber music camp starts.

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