Being Stuck in a Piece
I'm currently on my fourth (ugh) month of working on the Vivaldi Concerto in A Minor 3rd Movement, and was searching here on Violinist to see if others have encountered the same "maxed out" feeling that I have about this piece. So, I'm reviving Laurie's blog post: http://www.violinist.com/blog/laurie/20105/11276/ to say that I'm thrilled that she puts the "typical performance level" prep work in the 2-6 month arena. I can play most of the piece by memory, but I am on the brink of hating it. I look at the sheet music and am filled with dread, so have decided to put it down for a rest, and see what happens in a few days when I return to it. (I practice every day for an hour, so this piece has already been played a lot! And my recordings of it from one month into the piece to now do show a marked improvement.)
As some background: I am a restarter after a 10+ year break, and have been playing again for a little over 8 months. I am frustrated over the memories of playing advanced (beginner-advanced, i.e. Bruch concerto first 2 movements) with relative ease and not being "at that level" now that I'm playing again. I had played the 1st movement as a kid, so my teacher and I have decided to not work on that for now.
All this said: My fabulous teacher is correcting things that should have been corrected when I was a kid, so there is that, and she has impressively high standards and doesn't let things pass that shouldn't. And, I was never able to play much from memory in the past, simply because I did not have to. In other words, this piece really has been part of a huge learning curve for me.
What are people's advice for getting past this stage (frustration, brink of hatred, maxed out) of the development/work?
My teacher is a believer in allowing a piece that is to be prepared for performance to be dropped for a while, allowed to decay, and then worked on again. Each time it gets rebuilt stronger. I find this works well for me.
Just an idea from a non expert...
Thank you Tim and Lydia. Good to know that my instinct to shelve the piece for the time being (I have a lesson next week) was on point.
I experienced the same thing with Bach Corrente from partita 2--I listened to multiple interpretations, marked everything I wanted to do, and practiced in different ways (starting from the end and working backwards, slower tempos, rhythms, breaking the music into phrases, etc.) but I felt like I hit a cement wall. When I told my teacher, she laughed and gave me a different Bach piece to work on and told me she had a student just like me who played the instrument well but couldn't understand the Corrente at all. The Adagio Prelude from Sonata No. 1 made a lot more sense to me and now I'm steadily progressing through Bach.
How about playing
The ideal of practicing is to accomplish as much as possible in your alotted time Without Frustration.
I agree with Timothy: "My advice- Lay off of it for awhile. Do something you enjoy and come back to it later.
One to two weeks off to "reset" your work on a piece is about right. In my case the piece was the Mozart "Haffner" Rondo (Kreisler). It really helped.
Paul - Indeed, I do set aside time to play for enjoyment vs solely focusing on the work portion. And no, I do not spend my entire practice time on the one piece, it's divided up between scales, etudes/exercises/technique and rep work (slow and fast pieces, refinement of current works and workshopping the more recent piece). I usually warm up with something I enjoy, and close with something I enjoy, and if the mood strikes and time permits I continue to play for enjoyment. This said, I quite enjoy working on etudes and technical stuff, so it's not all about enjoyment for me. (But I suppose, based on the previous experience of youth, that I did not have to work on/in a piece as much because of... youth and it is marring my current expectations for progression within a particular piece of music? Or, I had less exacting teachers!)
@Timothy I guess it also matters why they hate the piece. Many times, in my case, I can't get past the technical difficulties. But after going through those, I learn to love it. Maybe in needs a little more TLC before someone completely hates the piece. Maybe there's something we're overlooking.
Pamela, each time I took time off, I didn't play for about a decade, but the effects were different.
Great discussion. Many good and interesting points raised. If I may add one idea from a life-long amateur, it is this: It seems to me that every great composer (and many, many less-than-great ones) has a unique, transcendent "voice." We recognize many composers not just because we know the piece, but there is a unique approach to melody, rhythm, technique, organization of the piece, and emotional "voice." Maybe if one is bored with practicing a piece for the thousandth time, re-visit the composer's "voice." Put yourself in the place of someone who has never heard this piece before. What do you want them to hear, to experience?
Many great advices above. I too often struggle with a piece that I really love to begin with and really want to do justice to it, but after months of intensive working on it almost exclusively, I do get tired of it. Even Bach solos! Yes, I can watch and listen to other great performances of this piece to gain inspiration and insight, but the dimple fact is that, we may make a huge progress with a lot of practice, but at each stage of our learning,
This hits the nail on the head: "but at each stage of our learning, we cannot be more/further than where we are as a player" and it "takes years to make such change and this is largely where frustration comes from". Most definitely. Where I am at now is where I am at now, and asking myself to be more than that is indeed frustrating.
Vivaldi after only 8 months is a lot. You can cut yourself some slack as there is a limit to how well you can play after that short amount of time.
I made the mistake (in my know-it-all relative youth) of proposing the Vivaldi A minor much too soon, in the hope of stimulating the student. Some just gave up, I am embarrassed to say.
My interpretation of Yixi's response was that I cannot expect myself at 8-9 months of returned playing to sound the way I did when I played for 8+ years, nor to sound the way my teacher plays who's been playing every day for 35+ years with a top-notch conservatory education, or to think that I can play this piece with the same aplomb as any of the "greats" at this point in time. There's a gap between where I am right now and where I want to go, and crossing that gap is going to take time and hard work. To be frustrated that I'm not across that gap yet is counterproductive; because there's always another gap to bridge.
Timonthy, thanks for your comment and I understand your concern. If you read my post carefully, you'd notice that I was talking about acknowledging where we are
Pamela, where exactly do you "want to go" with your playing? You talk about crossing a gap, and I think that's perhaps part of the issue. It's not a gap that needs a bridge as much as it is a staircase that requires strong legs to climb. But it's an endless staircase, and the question is: how far up do you have to climb before you imagine you would be satisfied?
I was just re-reading this thread from the beginning and I finally belated realized that the OP (Pamela) was an advanced player when she quit -- someone whose foundation presumably used to be good. This makes me wonder why, 8 months later, the Vivaldi A minor is still a major challenge.
No worries, Timothy.
Pamela you said you don't exactly relish the 3rd movement of the Vivaldi A minor. I agree with Sander about finding Vivaldi's voice. But I have to say that there is a very special moment in that particular piece, something that really grabs me. It's the suspended arpeggio toward the end of the "difficult" section on the second page (C-G-D-G-D-C-D-C etc.). When I heard the first movement of the Mozart G Major Violin Concerto played by Joshua Bell -- he's got a suspended arpeggio in his cadenza, and it's incredible. I swear he's channeling that Vivaldi passage.
Pamela, i had the same question as Lydia, but didn't know how to ask politely. It seems eight months is a long time to spend on the Vivaldi a minor.
David, everyone is different. To state that it "shouldn't be different" for her is clearly coming from a place of inexperience.
From talking to a lot of adult returnees over the years, if you were playing at the Bruch level, getting back into reasonable playing shape usually just takes a couple of weeks, and maybe somewhere from a few months to a year at most to get fully back to where you were, even if you are not taking lessons and aren't doing a whole lot of practicing. That suggests that there may be some reason that the OP is having what seems to be unusual difficulty recovering.
Lydia, what do you mean "level" exactly? To me, it's not so much just what repertoire I am able to play, but how clean, in tune, in time, beautiful tone and phrasing that I can make, and what overall understanding as a musician I am,etc. What we perceive of our own playing is very much depending on our growth as a violinist too. Without good recodings to compare, I think it can be quite hard to judge one's "level" as a child and as a returner 10-20 years later.
I think most adult returnees I've talked to haven't taken lessons again, or at least not taken lessons immediately upon return. So they go back to playing more or less like they had been.
Yes, that's clear. Thanks for further explanation, Lydia!
David, I'm curious. How do you quantify the preparedness of your work? Note perfect? Performance-ready? Performed? Performed a few times? My sense is that, each player, especially at an advanced level, may have different sense when the work is done. Each person will have their own standard and the standard might change over time too. I wouldn't be surprised that Pamela and/or her teacher might have set a very high standard and try to solve a whole bunch of issues all in one piece. Also, if one falls into perfectionism, then working on one piece for extended period might be expected.
I have been working on the Vivaldi A minor since April (approximately 3-4 months in "active working time").
Yixi - yes, that is pretty much how that went. Solve a bunch of issues in one piece mixed with perfectionism.
Pamela, that makes perfect sense. I was in the similar situation as yours about 10 years ago when I finally had a teacher who keeps giving rather than providing affirmation and emotional support. I think we are both very lucky to have found such teachers. And thank you for starting this discussion!
Indeed Yixi! Very lucky!
I'm so glad to hear things worked out! (: I hear Suzuki 4 is where people start to really feel like putting the instrument down. I remember Suzuki 5 and 6 being such a treat! Best of luck to you!!
Ah, that makes more sense, Pamela. Because you're having to reconstruct the foundation, it can be harder to feel a sense of progress, especially when a piece seems easy compared to previous repertoire.
Yixi, I would move on from a piece once it becomes clear I have hit a wall and can not improve in any meaningful way.
David, your approach to stop working on a piece sounded wise. I might try it. The way you perform with during your daughter and her friends' recitals sound like a lot of fun.
I am a 40 year professional violinist, not world class, but a good solo and orchestral violinist and teacher... I relate much to your frustrations re: burnout on an opus you have yet to master to the degree one wants. My advice is to leave this opus for a while... work on another piece for a time. You probably have made much progress, but we often get fixated on the challenging aspects of any particular opus... for example, I just after 3-4 months of working on the Bottesini Grand Duo Concertante, performed it and other solo rep in Italy last weel... while I still wanted it better, and will be next time, I had found that by taking breaks from it during that period helped me not burn out on the opus. Make sure you practice the challenging sections SLOWLY... often times students work against themselves by just practicing mistakes over and over at tempos too fast... anyway, that's my 2 cents...
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