Playing a Piece You’re Burnt Out On

October 27, 2020, 8:03 PM · I searched the archives for an answer, but they didn’t have exactly what I was looking for.

I just had my junior recital as a senior due to covid a little over a week ago, and I played the entire wieniawski concerto no 2 in d minor. Now I’m preparing for my master’s auditions. The logical thing to do would be to use wieniawski for the concerto portion of the repertoire. The problem is I put my all into my performance and now I feel that I have nothing left to give for the piece. I tried playing the first movement a couple days after my recital and I could feel in my playing that I didn’t really care as well as my heart wasn’t in it. My professor said to not play the piece for a couple weeks so I haven’t touched the piece in a week as a sort of detox from the piece.

In the meantime I’ve been working on the Adagio and Presto from Bach’s g minor sonata as well as the 1st movement of Sibelius. I feel really motivated to learn these new pieces, but every time I think about Wieniawski I just have no desire to play it. I’m hoping in another week or two I’ll be able to play it since I only need to play one movement for my recording.

It’s one of those I know what I need to do, but I don’t know if I have the will/strength to do it scenarios.

Does anyone have any ideas whether it’s just experience or another way to go about this?

Replies (22)

Edited: October 27, 2020, 11:25 PM · Think of the D minor as beautiful music vs a repetitive chore. Imagine it as worthy to be worked on, for it is. What different phrasing I can do? Vibrato, slides, fingerings? Even as you master a work, it always remains a musical laboratory of near endless exploratory work, unless you have endeavoured to play everything in one inflexible, "perfect" way (I would argue such a thing is idealistic and does not exist, however.)

Also, your practice session won't be all Wieniawski, so you can and should practice your new Bach and Sibelius while you keep the D minor fresh in your head and fingers. Your brain is capable, but avoid over confidence-keep working on your audition piece.

Find inspiring performances of the Wieniawski to listen to-though not necessarily every day-to hear how skilled artists express themselves and the composer throughout the performance.

Always forget "levels" in music making. There's not a high enough level for anything. It is an immature way to approach music works-not saying you have this mentality, but it is very common among musicians, young and old.

And remember to never take it for granted that you were able to play such a beautiful work that many won't even get to even listen to in a lifetime.

October 28, 2020, 5:07 AM · I like Adalberto's closing sentence -- I feel that we in music should never take our ability and our gift to share music with others for granted.

Regarding Christian's being burned out on the Wieniawski, I think you may be feeling that way because of how you thought about it as you learned it. It was to be a major piece in a recital, and once done it no longer serves an immediate and clear purpose in your repertoire. It's a wonderful piece of music and I think if you change how you have thought about it you might start enjoying playing it again. Stop thinking about it as a stepping stone on your path to your next musical milestone, and think of it rather as a major work on which you have reached a certain level of mastery but still have much to discover about it.

Another way to look at it is "If someone were to offer to pay you a lot of money to play that concerto with an orchestra, how would you feel about it?" If the answer is that you would immediately start working on it again, then consider a variant on that question. Consider this "If someone were to offer you a full scholarship to work on your Masters degree in violin performance if you played it well enough how would you feel about it?"

For an audition to get into grad school you need at least one movement from a major concerto -- you've already done the majority of work on that piece, so don't waste all that time and effort.

Now that you've played it successfully in public you can start to consider aspects of the piece other than simply the technical issues necessary to perform it well -- consider the soaring arcs of the phrases, consider the balance of the structure, all while playing it. It's easy enough to listen to others play it and consider all that, and following Adalberto's advice to listen to inspiring performances is a wise thing. But think of such things while playing it also.

Think about how touring artists feel about the works they are hired to play year after year, the small handful of concertos that orchestras and audiences want, over and over and over again. How do they keep those pieces fresh so that each new group of people paying to hear those soloists get to hear great performances?

Work on other works, definitely, but never discard a major work you have attained a decent level of mastery on. As a Masters student I imagine you are hoping for a performing career of some sort. Now is the time to learn how to keep the music fresh for you. Every time you play an old piece think how you would want to inspire some young person in the audience hearing it for the first time. Even if you're only in the practice room, keep that young audience member in mind -- what can you do to make them open their mouth in wonder at how beautiful the music is and get them to say to their parents "I want to learn to play the violin just like him!"

And if you're going to work towards a Masters of Education instead of performance, you will need to able to inspire your students to want to achieve more than they can currently accomplish, you will need to be able to show them what it's like to play a piece for the hundredth time and still make it sound fresh.

Good luck with it all!

Edited: October 28, 2020, 6:32 AM · The musician risks being burnt out in every popular piece, so a mindset has to be developed (although admittedly my teacher has played so much Strauss and Tchaikovsky it almost makes her puke, lol).
My suggestion, fwiw, would be to play it, but deliberately - perversely, if you like - alter your interpretation of as much of it as possible, a) because a change is as good as a rest, and b) to see if there are any ideas you've missed.
October 28, 2020, 7:52 AM · Depending on how far off the audition is, you may be able to put it down for a few months rather than a few weeks. If the audition is in the spring, five months away, and the work is already polished to a high gleam, you can probably afford to discard it entirely for at least six weeks -- put it away, don't think about it. For the next several weeks thereafter, play it briefly each week -- keep it in your fingers, don't work on it per se. A few weeks before the audition, you can return to high intensity work on it, when pressure and focus should provide motivation and you might have some fresh ideas.
October 28, 2020, 8:15 AM · Lydia's advice is good. Its what I would do in your position
Edited: October 28, 2020, 9:18 AM · Yes you just need detox time. Your professor is right. Are you preparing for a professional career as a violinist? If so then it is time to accept the grim truth: Being a professional anything means that you will, with startling frequency, need to perform various tasks that seem tedious or unpleasant, but you have to do them with quality and without grimacing or grumbling too much about it. Those of us who have academic scientific jobs will recall having given the same 45-minute seminar too many times to count. And a 45-minute scientific seminar is, generally speaking, far less nuanced than a 25-minute violin concerto.
October 28, 2020, 9:03 AM · Wonderful advice and wisdom in all of the above comments and advice. I can't improve on it. But (as a psychologist and life-long amateur violinist and music lover), how about considering the following:

Look at the piece from an entirely different perspective. For example, consider accompaniment as the main voice, and the violin solo as a kind of accompaniment. Or, consider the violin part as actually a vocal solo, rather than instrumental. Or, listen to the solo violin part as the voice of Wieniewski, trying to say something to the audience.

Try to find a different point of view, a different underlying meaning, the way an actor may try in a role that he or she has played a thousand times.

Hope that helps.

October 28, 2020, 9:51 AM · I’m not sure it’s helpful to point this out, but there was a recent episode of “This American Life” that told the story of the musicians in the pit orchestra for “The Phantom of The Opera” who have been playing the same thing eight times a week, quite a few of them for the entire 30 year run time of the show. They all agreed that it was never what they had in mind when they were studying to be musicians, but the consensus was that it’s a well paying, dependable job in a world that has few of those for people in their field. (At least it was dependable until COVID-19.)
October 28, 2020, 3:15 PM · To Paul's and Sander's remarks, might I add playing it with a different technical focus: pretend you are learning it anew, or teaching it; re-evaluate every sensation, and indulge in "over-thinking"!; play with tone colours; forget the piece and enjoy each note....
October 28, 2020, 3:31 PM · Christian,

At this moment you may not be "feeling" the piece. It's time to check out the last season for the top soloists who were on tour. You will find a lot of redundant performances. This is partly because we humans can only keep so many pieces "fresh" at the same time, more importantly, it is what the music directors know will sell tickets.

When you achieve professional status, you will be asked/required to perform what the customer/audience wants. It is up to you to rekindle the fire inside you.

While I am not a professional musician I was a professional speaker/consultant/educator in Supply-Chain-Management. More than a few times I got booked to speak on a topic that no longer had my attention focused but - that is what my client wanted. I reached down inside, found the spark, and did the job (and got paid well to boot)

Professionals get requests to do things that they don't find most interesting all the time. Yet, that is what the audience wants and is willing to pay for. Fire up you intrinsic motivation by whatever means you have (study the composer, the music, listen to other performances,...)

Digging deep is a life-lesson. Doing something that you don't want to do is going to be required again, and again, and again,... May as well start figuring out how to do that now.

Edited: October 28, 2020, 6:48 PM · I think the advice to let this rest for a few weeks and really focus on other stuff is sound. When you come back, some parts may need relearning, depending on how your brain works with memorization, but you will probably look at much of it with very new eyes, and may find that your understanding of the piece has deepened.
October 28, 2020, 5:56 PM · The hardest thing to do is something you really don't want to do. There's no trick that you can use on yourself to make yourself really forget that you don't want to do it, but you can, as Adalberto so warmly writes, find good reason to want to do something.

I had no idea that the Wieniawski could be so appreciated. If you don't find that in your own playing, it'd be a worthwhile goal and achievement. Even so-called 'warhorses', when played by famous artists at different points in their adult lives can be very different, indicating continuing scope for expression and discovery in the music, over decades.

October 28, 2020, 7:59 PM · All good advice so far, thanks everyone.

I have to turn in the recording by December 1, so that’s why it’s a couple weeks and not a couple months like Lydia and others suggested. Otherwise that is definitely what I would do.

Perhaps looking at it in a different light would help so I will try that.

I’m really itching to record it now so I can put the piece behind me, so maybe this time I’ll have more luck now that I’ve had some time away from it. I think I’ll record the 3rd movement since it’s a little more new than the 1st movement in terms of how long I’ve been playing it.

I’ll likely give it another week before I try just in case unless I just can’t take it anymore

October 28, 2020, 9:51 PM · I think the practical advice above is good as well for handling the problem in the moment. As far as the big picture, there are a couple things to keep in mind.

I would strongly caution against viewing the pieces you play as rungs on a ladder. If you think of pieces as “finished” or “behind you,” you’ll miss out on a wealth of opportunity. You might not need to return to the foundational etudes once your technique is solid, but great music is great because it endures. Just like great books, great pieces are to be enjoyed throughout your life—each time you play them your experience is a little different; as Heraclitus tells us,

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.”

Another thing to consider: for whom do you play? If it’s for yourself, you may find that you lose interest quickly because the novelty of the music is lost. Yet if you play for the audience, each performance will have an element of freshness in it because the listeners will be different. Unlike you, they will be hearing your interpretation for the first time, so you’ll have more incentive to do the work to communicate effectively. Playing in an academic setting is not quite the same as playing for a typical audience, but the need to connect remains nonetheless.

October 29, 2020, 3:22 AM · I like all the suggestions, especially Rich Maxham.

For me, When you know the date and time of the audition, calculate back from the date approximately 4 weeks. Then you start playing the piece again. I find this way refreshing. Listen to others performed the piece. I find when I listen to other (different people), it helps for me to listen (interpret) to the piece differently. Look at the piece in a different ways, bring out the lines.
Perform the piece for the sake of music itself.

Edited: October 29, 2020, 1:57 PM · I agree with the others, and your teacher. Put the piece on the shelf and let it marinate in the back of the brain. Since you did get it up to performance level it won't take long to retrieve it.
I can't imagine doing the same show every night for years, but I do enjoy the repeat performances that are usually done for operas and music theater. After 3 or 4 performances the quality, both for me and the rest of the orchestra, goes from about 95% right to 99%.
I did do one straight year in a non-classical band, 6 nights per week, every week. But it was kept interesting because I didn't know which part I was playing until I arrived each night, and the keys would change depending on which solo singer was there.
October 29, 2020, 7:14 PM · It is very normal to run out of ways to practice on a piece you know very well. A solution is to create new challenges for yourself. For instance:
1. practice with the bowings reversed and attempting to get the best musical expression.
2. Play all separate bows attempting to get the best musical expression.
3. practice without the bow and only the left hand fingering the notes.
4. practice limiting yourself to using only one finger.
October 31, 2020, 2:40 AM · If that concerto fails to move you I'm not sure what to say.

I played that thing over a twenty year period and it never failed to stir emotions within me. The second movement is one of the most beautiful experiences a violinist can hope for.

Edited: October 31, 2020, 8:09 AM · On Rich's comment about performing for the audience: I would argue that there is a vast difference between performing in front of an audience, with other musicians, than trying to be interested in the work when isolated in the practice room.

Adrenaline and the presence of an audience changes the entire experience of playing a piece of music -- especially because it will highlight any weaknesses and it may lead to spontaneous better/worse elements. The collaboration with others, too, alters the experience and may give us new ideas. Even the experience with rehearing with others can do that. That gives us fresh things to go back to the practice room with, providing new inspiration.

Practicing otherwise grows wearisome. Think about your favorite food. Now think about having it for every meal. How long before you're sick of it?

(There's an element of personality involved here, too. Some people love the old and familiar, while other people are driven by the new.)

October 31, 2020, 10:41 AM · Christian, since you don't have that long, you might just power through and try and record it and get it off your plate.

You might find it helpful to write out a plan and figure out how long it will take you to get this recorded, so you can list out any trouble spots, any memory flaws that need patching, how much overall intonation work you will need, and whether the sort of connective tissue of the piece is still in place (moving between sections and spots that don't get as much attention in practice, since they aren't so tricky).

That way you can have a sense of the time you will need to put this together. You might find that you have some time to take a rest, but you might decide that it's actually going to be easier to just do it now while it's well-memorized and in your fingers. Having that plan and a real end-date might motivate you when it seems like a big hassle. There are pros and cons to doing it now and waiting, and you certainly don't want to burn yourself out.

In the meantime, try and make sure you are getting your sleep, exercise, eating well, and having some fun outside of violin.

November 4, 2020, 12:35 AM · You all make very good points, and I thank you for that.

Lydia and others couldn't be more right about the difference between performing for an audience and just practicing. I had way more fun playing the concerto when I knew I had a performance coming up.

Christian, I think you and others have a good point in that I don't have much time. So I think what I will end up doing is continue to learn my new repertoire, and in the meantime, I will play the 3rd movement of Wieniawski (I only need one movement and this one is the most recent one I've learned and therefore the freshest in my mind) and record it once a week to keep it in my fingers and to also get as many recordings as I possibly can despite being burnt out and will use the best one I have by the time I have to submit the recording.

November 9, 2020, 11:26 AM · I just put this up on the Violin Limericks thread. I think it applies here.
So, for what it's worth:

Overplaying a piece? Don't do the same.
Just a little difference; make it a game.
Change tempo, bowing, key.
Improvise, add words, be free.
A different perspective; relight the flame.

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