Stop Practicing.

Edited: May 15, 2021, 2:34 PM · I love playing violin as a hobby, but I noticed that my musicality is easily disturbed to the point I would stop playing totally for years. There were times that I wanted to play but didn't want to at the same time, because I didn't feel like 'singing'.

For example, I've just lost my 3 rescue cats. Although I felt lost terribly and emotionally draining, it doesn't affect my emotion and how I function in life. Everything is stable and checked, it's just my mood to play music was just gone. My musicality died.

I noticed that my progress was faster when I was in the mood and felt like singing when practicing a violin, but I felt awful and had a doubt on the progress I made when I forced myself to practice when my mood was gone, because I played like a robot without phrasing and feeling. When I had this emotional swing, I tried to focus on techniques which didn't require me to sing (ex : Wohlfahrt etudes), but even Etudes require you to phrase.

Is the practice still worth it when your 'singing mood' is gone? Any suggestion to keep it alive?

Thank you.

Replies (36)

May 15, 2021, 3:11 PM · Sounds like you're how I was and have a super tight cap on your emotionality. In your shoes I would think about ways to overcome that because it's no fun to live that way.

May 15, 2021, 3:35 PM · Greetings,
violin playing needs to be like a habit. Atomic Habits by James Cleary is well worth reading. In the meantime, when you don’t have the muse, set your time for 3 minutes. Then do 3 minutes. Taht’s all. The moment it goes off stop.
May 15, 2021, 3:42 PM · What Buri says. Plus, listen to music. Bach almost always helps.

If Bach doesn't help, you might consider getting professional help. And always take my words with a grain of salt.

May 15, 2021, 4:17 PM · Just try to make attractives notes, often; like the colours of a rainbow: they dont mean anything, but are still beautiful.
And when you have new things to "sing", they will be ready and waiting.
May 15, 2021, 5:59 PM · I think Cotton is onto something; it may be that factors that have nothing to do with violin are interfering with you wanting play, and we all have to figure out how to arrange the rest of our lives in a way that not only supports our playing, but where our playing fits in with the rest of our life. We're in a particularly difficult time, and in my case, therapy, meditation, exercise and socializing have been key to me being able to integrate my playing into my life in a balanced way.

Aside from that more existential question, practicing effectively is about placing ourselves in a certain mindstate of openness, curiosity and diligence, among other things. We might not always come to our practice with all these elements present, but I often find that starting to practice allows these things to arise in me, so practice itself is a soothing activity for me, and that as we get better at practicing over the years, we get better at automatically associating these positive mindstates with practice itself, creating a virtuous cycle.

In short, sometimes we gotta just start practicing when we don't feel like it, and sometimes we have other more important things to attend to.

May 15, 2021, 7:54 PM · Christian,
I love this
‘ Aside from that more existential question, practicing effectively is about placing ourselves in a certain mindstate of openness, curiosity and diligence, among other things.’
Not sure what the other things are yet but I’m working on it:)
Incidentally, one of the major obstacles to succcess is not lack of diligence or talent. Research has shown that the primary factor in being successful is avoiding environments where something is difficult. That is, the practicing itself may be a joyful challenge, but you might need to tale a careful look at environmental factors, both physical and in terms of other people.
Edited: May 16, 2021, 5:20 AM · Thank you everyone for your input.

I'm quite a sensitive person but tend to use logic as my approach in life to balance it. I refused breakdown/grief taking over me, but there were times when actually it hit me inside. Nothing was affected but my musicality. During those times, when I was alone with my violin, I realized my "dancing" inside died off. I felt numb. When I forced myself to play, it just added dissappointment as my performance would be really bad. Therefore I ask question here whether practice in those condition would still be effective. I even had asked my teacher to stop teaching, it's been a year now, but now I want to start playing again.

I'm aware that this may happen again, as it had happened several times before. Some advices I got from your reply in this forum :
- practice is more of a habit, so just develop it
- listen to music : it certainly helps, but strangely, doesnt bring my "dancing/singing" back inside in a way that I want to pick up my violin.
- try to put ourselves in openness, curiosity & dilligence as approach for paractice
- pick some notes (I found it the hardest since my muse died off in those condition).

I still think focusing in technique development is the most suitable for me in those condition. Phrasing is just no, since it will require me singing inside. Would you happen to recommend open materials which focus more on technique & scales instead of developing feeling?

May 15, 2021, 10:18 PM · Scales, arpeggios, and more technical practice can be very meditative, and are part of developing our singing quality too. Try to bring singing to whatever you do, and to scales too, and by practicing scales with a singing attitude whenever possible, you will find that you develop the singing more and more in every aspect of your playing.

Just try, and don't worry if the singing isn't there at the moment - We don't need to be perfect.

May 15, 2021, 11:33 PM · When I don't feel like playing but know I should I go back to the music I think I "conquered" many decades ago and start my day with that. It is always a positive experience and gives me hope for whatever I try next. It also brings back some good memories of those days.
May 16, 2021, 5:15 AM · @Christian Lesniak :
Yes I agree. Technical practice is more suitable when people in low, probably because it is more meditative than pieces/songs. Therefore I choose etudes instead of Suzuki when I am down. However, all etudes need phrasing (singing), so that I sometimes just play scales. I think it is impossible to find materials which focus in technique only.

@andrew victor : you mean, in those days you started the day after you finished "conquering" a.k.a forced yourself to play despite your low mood at that time? How did you keep producing good piceces/songs when u didn't feel like singing?

May 16, 2021, 10:45 AM · After the pandemic I had a hard time getting my motivation back so I have decided to prepare a recital for the fall. Now its practice or die. :)
May 16, 2021, 10:57 AM · Kuntarini (I actually could still sing when I was 11 years old, but once my voice started to change - I no longer could, at least not so I or anyone else could stand it.)

Playing things I can still turn into music disburses my low mood - so it works for me. When I was younger (in my 40s and 50s - half a lifetime ago) a 30-minute warmup that included my scales and etudes preceded my daily practice. That was after my work day was finished. Now I practice mornings so I will have the energy to do it at all. No way I can sing while I play (or even when I don't).

May 16, 2021, 11:53 AM · This is one of the dividing lines between amateur and professional, however you define it. You practice because it is part of your job, not wait until you feel like it.
Possibly apocryphal story:- A professional violinist's routine was; wake up early to the alarm clock, breakfast etc., get in the car, drive around the block, enter the back door of his studio and practice for hours, without the distraction of a telephone.
I like the idea of Hemingway's work ethic; write for several hours every morning, avoiding writers' block by stopping when he knew what comes next. People wondered why he produced so much while appearing to spend most of time socializing, fishing, etc.
Edited: May 16, 2021, 1:44 PM · My sweet Tonkinese cat of 14 died after a very long illness; after losing her, I did not feel like doing anything. I had to force myself to shop for groceries. After a month or so, the only music I was interested in was resuming duets; once I found a duet I wanted to learn, I started wanting to practice again. You will get yourself back in time, once you find some music that piques your interest. Duets bring you back into friendship, which can soften grief. I am very sorry for your loss. Best wishes!
Edited: May 16, 2021, 3:05 PM · Things orchestral post-Covid are now starting to look up in my area in Bristol (UK). Next Sunday a rehearsal of Beethoven's "Egmont" Overture and Haydn's Symphony 104, followed on Tuesday 25th by a rehearsal with another orchestra - but I don't know yet what is on the menu.

I'll be meeting up with friends I haven't seen for well over a year.

May 16, 2021, 3:12 PM · Kuntarini, It sounds like you are in a bit of a slump. It's okay to feel low and numb when facing loss. It's not easy and it's only human.

Something that could help is mindful practicing:

This type of practicing emphasizes the present, what is immediately in front of you, and keeps your mind from wandering. This might not directly help with getting that "singing mood", but it is a good way of dropping things that are holding it back.

All the best.

May 17, 2021, 1:24 AM · Greetings,
I recently read ‘The Inner Game of Work’ by Timothy Gallwey. If you are not so familiar with hi his book’The Inner Game of Tennis’ was mandatory (?) for DeLay students. I never liked the Inner Game of Music Books that followed but the ‘Work’ tome is quite a big step forward from the original ‘Tennis’ book, containing many thought provoking sections violinists can explore what they are doing, how and also ‘why,’ which I suspect is somewhat at the level you may be struggling with right now. Sometimes we do need to sort out the ‘whys’ of things that we love doing because love itself can get very confusing if we are not careful. To this end I am quoting an interesting list of questions pose din one of the final parts of the book which I have greatly enjoyed reflecting on. Perhaps you will too...
‘It led to the simplest and most important lesson of the Inner Game: It all begins with desire. Reflect on these questions about desire as it relates to working:
• How clear are you about what you want?
• What do you really want?
• How connected do you feel to your passion, to the wellspring of your desire?
• Have you ever felt more connected? When, and to what?
• As you look at your different desires, do they seem to be aligned or to be pulling in separate directions?
• Where do your desires come from—thought or feeling?
• How clearly can you distinguish your desires from the expectations of other people?
• To what extent do you feel you are “steering” your desires versus being driven by them?
• Do you feel free while working?
• What does being free mean to you?
• Do you desire to be free?
• How do you know? “What Do I Want?”—This is one of the most basic and important human questions. “What do I really want?” is an even more important question. If the answers to these questions are not clear to you right now, where can you go to find them? Can they be found in a book, through a friend, or by thinking about them? For most difficult questions, we can find an expert who has studied the subject. But who has studied the subject of what you want? Are you not the only expert on that? We each have to answer the question of what we want individually and independently. And we have to do our own research.
May 17, 2021, 4:34 AM · A very meaningful thread. I am sure that many, maybe most, of us share some or all of Kuntarini's experiences and emotions at the moment. The encouraging suggestions in the answers above form a compendium of advice for self-help and action. itself has been a friend during this strange year - now 14 strange months: after the sad and bad daily news each morning, it is comforting to open for a dose of positive and beautiful advice and new music.

I'd like to add two small suggestions for medicinal listening. First, seek out music that is strongly diatonic, with plenty of cadences. The clarity and certainty provide an aural refuge. Try some of Albert Ketèlbey's light orchestral works, for example. Secondly, go through your CDs in search of movements that are particularly ravishing and melodic. These are a balm that will help you to recover the inner singing and dancing that are mentioned above, and which become damaged by hurtful life experiences. Everybody will have a different set of finds, but the suggestions that come to mind are: the second movement of the Ravel quartet, the second of Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, and the final scene of Rossini's 'Guglielmo Tell'.

Stay well all!

Edited: May 17, 2021, 8:20 AM · I encourage you to play music with other people as much as possible. Making music is a social activity similar to playing tennis or backgammon. You can learn a lot by playing with other people and just talking with them. And it may just encourage you to practice more.

I think some answers may lie within but some others outside. You can practice tennis by yourself but that has the tendency to get stale after awhile. But often you learn just as much or more by rallying with a partner across the net; it's a completely different dynamic.

Interesting that Buri mentions the Inner Game of Tennis. I haven't read it in a while but I should revisit it. The question "What do you really want?" is an important one. I played in a advanced singles ladder this past season and lost every single match (and won one set the entire season). But none of that was of any importance to me; my goal was simply to get exercise and improve my game. And I succeeded in doing in that. So in a sense "I won".

May 18, 2021, 7:38 PM · "Is the practice still worth it when your 'singing mood' is gone?"

I have no idea what that would be, so can't really answer, but practice and making music are not always essentially the same activity, and much progress can be and is made by focusing on mechanical aspects with the temporary suspension of attempt towards musicality as an analytical approach. When your attitude is amusical, it could also be seen as an opportunity to work on technique and contemporary or other such compositions which are otherwise less palatable.

I'd also give thought to the notion that your feelings are not outside your control - they are in fact feelings you create, although we might not have awareness of the means by which they arise. This perspective is simply one of not considering oneself to be a victim of circumstances forcing reaction, and looking for external stimuli to change those reactions, to the realization that, however difficult it might seem, the author is actually yourself, therefore changes can be initiated by yourself without recourse to external stimuli. Moreover the most important agent is yourself and it could be that regardless of stimuli that agency is dominant.

"There were times that I wanted to play but didn't want to at the same time, because I didn't feel like 'singing'."

It seems to me, because I don't understand the notion of 'singing mood' being gone, that you might be overvaluing that 'singing mood' and demanding more of yourself than entirely necessary, or perhaps regarding 'singing' too narrowly such that it wouldn't entirely be applicable, and another form of music the better fit in a given instance. I'm fairly sure that a lot of music is performed, even professionally and apparently successfully, without much in the way of 'singing mood', or at least what I might imagine the appropriate 'singing mood' to be from my perspective, which is what, after all, allows us to appreciate numerous and evolving and cycling interpretations of music.

And listen to Yoda.

May 19, 2021, 9:58 AM · OP, if your musicality is easily disturbed, that could be a good phenomenon to use to keep your life more on track. When you can figure out what's disturbing your musicality, you can try to avoid it or move away from it. This might keep you truer to your own inner nature. If your 'singing' is coming from someplace deep inside you, keep that wellspring open and flowing and you can practice/play almost all the time.
May 19, 2021, 10:43 AM · When you lost your "3 cats" that was time to play the Blues.
The three main reasons to play the Blues are: 1.The wife left you 2. Your dog has gone 3. You missed the train.
With all 3 or similar reasons Blues musicality should naturally fall into place.
To add Bourbon into the mix or not - is up to you. The fathers of the style did but... you know.
May 19, 2021, 1:50 PM · So.. for me as other said, make it an habit to spend at least 10-30 minutes per day. If I follow this, many times I end up playing for 2 hours and I forget all the other problems.

Start with scales, arpeggios and some technical stuff to warm up, then try a bit of a piece you like.

On the other side, when we are stuck in something bad is time to try something different. Go for a walk, shopping, do something out of your normal routine and I find this helps as well to come back refreshed.

Ups and downs are normal, don't dwell too much on them.

May 19, 2021, 3:31 PM · I would seriously suggest finding another cat, if possible. People who have a good rapport with cats can derive a lot of benefit from having a cat companion. Many cats are very intelligent, and can definitely affect your mood. If you find the right cat for you, of course it also benefits the cat as well. I hope your musicality will revive soon!
May 19, 2021, 6:28 PM · Damian’s comment above is excellent but I would tweak it a bit. Why not start with playing a little music just to make the emotional connection between you and the violin before doing technique. We are sometimes too locke din to the technical must precede fun stuff premise in my opinion.
May 20, 2021, 1:08 AM ·

There are many ways to play scales and arpeggi, include some basic theory and get creative with finger perumtations, one will be improvising in no time.

May 20, 2021, 1:45 AM · The only two things I can think of are: -

1. Does the OP tend to practise 30 minutes on 10 minutes off, or does he play for 3 hours without a break?

2. Get another cat.

May 20, 2021, 9:43 PM · Dear violinists which I can't mention one by one in this thread, I really appreciate your contribution and willingness to discuss this.

What I brought up is actually common phenomenon in human life, sometimes we lose our interests in some hobby/activities as we swift our priorities in life, sometimes we just lose motivation to do it but it doesnt mean we lose our passion on it.

I've just contacted my two old friends in student orchestra tens of years ago, telling them that since last year I've played violin again. I had stopped playing after a while (due to losing cats) but now (this month) I start to play again. They said they hadn't touched a violin for a very long time (more than 15 years), but they still listen to classical musics. One of them seemed to be triggered that I touch violin again, and he said he would probably play again after he finishes his project.

I am sure many of us experience the same, hiatus for years, some restart and some never.

I have just watched a beautiful story of Giorgio Lo Porto who played piano duets with mysterious neighbour behind the wall. Maybe you know it? Giorgio had also lost the mood/interest to play music but the universe found him.

For those restarter in violin, would you share why you restart and how to keep you motivated after restart? And what you do when you are down again?

Edited: May 22, 2021, 8:45 AM · Yes I am a restarter, after 30 years! I went back to violin after finding there were 6 cellos in my community orchestra, and only one violin; I was happy to return to violin. My cello was a pain to lug around, and I was needed more as a violin than as a cello. I really enjoy playing duets and trios MUCH more than playing by myself. When I am down? After my sweet cat died, I suddenly re-discovered all my music books about jazz and blues, music that is happier for me to play than the usual classical. By the way, Kuntarini, I am curious about whether you like to write, short stories or ?? I feel you are a potential author...I have a book recommendation: Musicophilia, Tales of Music and the Brain, by Oliver Sacks.
Edited: May 22, 2021, 12:57 PM · Hello @Erin Sabrini, how do you think I am a potential author? haha... Well, actually I used to be a contributor in some national media. Yes, there are a lot of stories in my brain willing to spill out, I did also wrote fiction/stories at that time, but my ultimate goal is actually writing an Environmental Chemistry book which I am working on now.

I am a restarter after 25 years. I start again because of TwoSet Violin youtube channel, I feel like I belong to a cool community which I had dreamed of before I joined in a student orchestra years ago (which in reality it was not so welcoming since there was hierarchy among musicians - a typical orchestra life, I guess?).

How I keep motivated? Nothing. I am not a performer, I mute my violin when practice all the time. I just love playing for myself, to reach perfection in subtlety. That is enough to keep myself motivated I guess.

May 22, 2021, 4:04 PM · Kuntarini, I second the advice to get another car (or cats!) But I'd also say that quitting for years is not the end of the world. Perhaps I am just a dilettante at heart, but I have given up violin for 10 years at a time, then come back to it. The same has happened with other hobbies (knitting, bicycling.) I've always come back because at my core, I think of myself as a knitter, bicyclist, and violinist. This probably isn't really what you want to hear, but go easy on yourself.
Edited: May 23, 2021, 8:36 AM · KR, see your Facebook page for message.
Edited: May 22, 2021, 10:46 PM · Pablo Casals was reportedly asked why he continued to practice at a late age, to which he replied something like "because I think I'm making progress".

Why practice? Why stop? Why return? These are all essentially the same question. But by stopping and returning, as such, notwithstanding exceptions such as when in the meantime you do something else progressive, you're not doing yourself and your playing any favours, because in the stopped period you're regressing, thereby countering whatever motivation in terms of progress you might have had.

And of course if you're practicing but not progressing, you're not serving that motivation.

The violin is not a forgiving instrument, so we shouldn't forgive it or ourselves for not playing it well. The best revenge of course is playing it well or at least progressively better. Alternatively to abandon it and play a better instrument, whatever that might be; perhaps piano to solve the intonation problems and add other possibilities.

The motivation to play I've found has been linked to progress - the hope that I will get better at the next practice, and the experience of being able to do that by exploration and intelligent action is energizing. Conversely lack of progress and simple repetition is demotivating.

Standard advice for progress is to find a good teacher. A minimal definition of a good teacher is one who helps you progress every lesson. If your experience with the last teacher was not successful, perhaps a different one will be better. Standard advice for continuity is to stick with lessons and practicing. And standard advice on how to pull all that together towards progress is to practice deliberately.

Edited: May 23, 2021, 12:44 AM · Hi Kuntarini,
A lots of good advices above. I noticed three things in your original post:
-Your are suffering from recent sad loss,
- you aren’t singing inside and
- you are wondering how to practice.

I have been through all the above in recent years and I can tell you that you must keep practicing to start sing again as soon as possible to make your loss not in vain.
First, practice is mental thing as well as physical but more mental, and listening is a huge part of violin practice: listen to your own playing AND to others’ playing. So when you are not playing, listen to as much music as you can! Watch performances online, every day. You’ll soon sing inside again because you can’t help it.
Next thing is you may want to pick up your violin. Don’t think about progress but treat violin as your best friend and start “conversations” with her. You’ll find your voice and your song, even in scales.
In other words, we can’t push ourselves when deal with loss, but music can help healing if we let it happen to us without pushing.

Be gentle to yourself and listen well.

Hope this is helpful.

May 23, 2021, 1:09 AM · Dear all,

Losing cats is just an example. In my case, I've never intended to have cats in the first place. Animals in crisis (hurts/sick) came by themselves to my house, some others I met in the street in a very bad condition and was brouht to the vet immediately. Mostly cats and birds. Some stay after recovery, some others just go when other sick animals came. After losing cats last month, there have been 2 other sick cats coming by themselves, so my house is never empty from pets. I don't understand why specifically sick animals that came to my house, probably it's already gossip among them that they can be treated here without insurance.

The cause to stop playing can be anything : busy days, shifting priorities, bad environment (such as office politics, death or abusive spouse), etc. Those somehow affect mood in playing but it doesn't mean we lose our interest in musics completely. In that period, we still enjoy to listen to songs and pieces, but we just didn't feel like playing. That's what I bring up in this thread, especially for non pro musicians and teacher whose students declared to quit from playing, with questions that @Stephen Brivati brought up, and other questions such as :
1. Is actually playing music not our passion? Maybe enjoying to listen to the musics is enough?
2. Is playing music relevant to our goal? -- Those questions that @stephen Brivati brought up
3. If we reaklize that we lost our passion in playing, is it temporary or for a long time?
4. If our losing passion to play is temporary, do we need to stop practice for a while, or push ourselves to keep practicing, since violin is non forgiving instrument?
5. If we decide to keep practicing but not in the mood, what to do keep motivated? And what tips to make playing enjoyable?

I got interesting tips from this thread :
1. Just practice, even for 10 minutes
2. Play songs/pieces you love
3. Focus on technical development when not in the mood of 'singing' : scales, arpeggio, bowing techniques, etc.
4. Smart practice (I got from ItsAMoney youtube channel) - to be better as fast & as efficient as possible : marking your music w/ pencil whenever u make mistake, so that the next time we get there, we know what to fix. And to make practice more enjoyable, choose pieces/songs you love to play

I agree to J. Ray : Enjoyable practice is linked to progress - lack of progress is demotivating.

Edited: May 23, 2021, 10:35 AM · "1. Is actually playing music not our passion? Maybe enjoying to listen to [music] is enough?
2. Is playing music relevant to our goal?"

What's the goal? Even if you're just listening, don't you wish to appreciate and enjoy that? As you know, playing music changes you. You and your old friends are listening to and continuing to appreciate music you might not have had you not learned to play in school. I learned this myself through playing in school, and thought that I was done with it. Years later, when I wished to share that learning and love of music with my child, I took it up again with new instruments and Suzuki, for his benefit. I found however that it was transformative again for myself, and that I could continue to grow in my appreciation of music, and from that perspective that I had wasted a lot of time trying to grow my appreciation of music through other means - record collecting, concert attendance, audio optimization, etc., whereas learning to play better is a better means for increasing that appreciation by increasing your own capacity.

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