My excerpt sounded good, now it sounds bad...

August 16, 2020, 7:15 PM · I have an audition in 2 weeks so I started video recording ahead of time. My excerpts sounded good in the beginning but now I'm fumbling over passages, rushing, and in general they don't sound as good as they were about a week ago. How can I fix this and should I still keep recording them?

Replies (12)

Edited: August 16, 2020, 8:15 PM · Had you recorded yourself at all before this week? That’s a very useful part of audition preparation— record yourself, listen to the playback with the music in front of you and a pencil in your hand to mark where the problems are, practice the problems. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I caution my students that if they think they played something well, they will most likely be disappointed when they listen to the recording. Conversely, if they think something was terrible, they will probably be pleasantly surprised. We are all compromised when it comes to judging our own playing.

My guess is that if this is the first time you’ve recorded yourself, it isn’t that your excerpts are getting worse. It’s that you’re hearing them for the first time. Mark the problem areas that you hear in the recording and work specifically on those. Do a lot of metronome work.

If you’ve been recording yourself all along and they’re sounding worse now, that may be true or it may be that you are getting more critical of yourself as the audition gets closer. My advice is the same though, mark the problem passages. Work on them with a metronome. Record yourself again. Good luck!

August 16, 2020, 8:18 PM · I have had the same problem with a number of pieces. My teacher suggested exactly what Mary Ellen said above, and its made a massive difference to my playing
August 16, 2020, 10:19 PM · @Mary Ellen,

I've been recording and playing back for weeks now as I always do before an audition. When I compare my recordings from a few weeks ago to now, I notice a select few spots I'm fumbling in that I didn't before, and it's significant fumbles. I'll try your advice!

August 16, 2020, 10:27 PM · I bet "work on them with a metronome" also means to take the tempo down very far and make sure that you're really organizing the details of your hand positions, etc., very assiduously.
Edited: August 17, 2020, 1:17 PM · I'm just some dog on the internet, but maybe you are overpracticing? I would be cautious to tell you to take a day or two off and let it marinate, given your upcoming schedule, but maybe you are coming at practice with a certain kind of inflexible mindset.

I'm sure that this is a thing, because it seems to happen to me at a certain point with almost every piece. I don't know if it's some kind of Freudian fear of success, or if I just stop listening after playing a piece for a while, or if I get so fixated on polishing something up or getting something perfect that my brain blows up.

Pro weightlifters and other athletes have a concept called Periodization, where they ramp their training up in a way so that their strength peaks at a certain time (for competition), and right before, they train in a such a way where such sustained training past their competition would cause them to overtrain and burn out, and they would actually lose strength, so they try to walk that razor's edge of training as hard as possible until just the right moment.

Of course, thoughtful alternatives to that probably exist in the weightlifting world, and a violin and bow don't weigh very much at all, but it's very possible for psychological tension to start impinging on different parts of your playing. So keep in mind whether you are sleeping well, eating well, and taking care of social needs and all that other stuff that supports your best functioning.

August 17, 2020, 10:23 AM · I suspect that you have begun to worry about the audition, and your hand/s and body are tensing up and tension is interfering with your technique. This happens to me also. I am not sure how to solve this problem.
Edited: August 17, 2020, 11:54 AM · What I have found with students who have gotten passages up to tempo and think that all is ok, I have them play the passage in tempo with a metronome. Then I have them play at a bit slower tempo with the metronome, then a little slower, and slower, and slower. They will find that there are "little mistakes" that start showing up. We search for a tempo when everything is perfect (meaning in their perception.) Sometimes, this will be really slow.

Then the next step is to speed the passage up, usually in bigger increments of beats until back to full tempo.

In almost every case the student will have developed more acute listening skills.

August 17, 2020, 1:08 PM · I am with Cristian. Practicing is like medicine. Take too little and it has an insufficient effect. But if you overdose you get a problem as well.

Observing myself I have long found that I need fairly long periods to learn a piece satisfactorily. I have to practice it regularly in small to medium doses. I have to spend only a certain fraction of practice time on it and I also have to work on some other stuff notwithstanding any pressure I might feel to work on the "main thing".

There is a second, more scary observation I made: I can only push a piece to a certain level in one effort. Then I peak, like Christian's weight lifter, and I have to take a break from the piece before picking it up again. At that point I will be able to get to a higher level before stalling again. I suppose if I repeated this pattern a few dozen times I could eventually play something perfectly....

I am sorry, this is not very helpful. Still, I would recommend to "take it easy" if only for a day or two. The harder you work now the less you will achieve I am afraid.

August 17, 2020, 1:10 PM · And,-- it is natural to be dissatisfied upon hearing your play-back.
For me, I suspect that I am comparing it to a major league soloist recording in my head. For recording sessions I don't like to hear my play-back. I would rather let the engineer or music director let me know if it is good enough.
It is even worse with singers. I have a close relative who does voice-overs, impressiions and audio books. He tells me that Everyone dislikes and doesn't recognize the sound of their own voice. We just need to get over it.
August 17, 2020, 1:20 PM · Thank you everyone for your help! I'm going to take a break for a few days and then come back and practice slowly.
August 17, 2020, 2:55 PM · If your recorded excerpts are really getting worse, I would guess that you're becoming anxious when you record. Keep putting that pressure on yourself. It is showing you where the excerpts are actually fragile.

The places where you're messing up on recording need focus. If they are "easy" places that have gotten less practice, make sure they get enough work that they're fully solidly stable, and not places that will fall apart if you get distracted.

(Whoops. Typed this then forgot to click the Reply button.)

September 12, 2020, 11:27 PM · I've had this problem!!! I always found that when I practiced a piece too much, after a few months I get sloppy. Just slow it down, and pretend like you're learning the piece over again. That's what I did on the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, and it worked!!!

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