Staying motivated

July 16, 2021, 1:00 PM · Hi all,
I'm currently in the process of picking myself a violin teacher so have little to no input on pieces I practise on the violin. My question is how do you keep yourself motivated if for whatever reason it doesn't sound good? I am struggling with that right now.

Thanks.

Replies (17)

July 16, 2021, 2:07 PM · When my teacher had me working on Vieuxtemps 2, it helped me get through it to know that she had very specific reasons for having me work on the piece, and that it was going to help with certain aspects of my playing. When it doesn't sound good when I play, I try and break my practice down and focus on sections that need the most work, and really work on them, and I make sure to focus on my assigned pieces and not fritter away my time on other stuff. From there, I just try and have patience with myself and trust the process.
July 17, 2021, 11:36 AM · It seems to me that this is a recurring problem. Sometimes one is happy with one's sound and sometimes not so much. And it is unclear how much of this is happening in our mind and how much (if anything) is actual physical reality.

Ask your house mates if they have noticed a difference. Chances are they have not and chances are they are right.

For myself I dial down the technical difficulty in this situation, work on easier stuff. One real reason for "not sounding good" is intonation. So I pay more attention to that.

BTW intonation is also one of those problems that come in waves. All of a sudden I notice that I am off pitch everywhere. Once I notice this It gets worse because now I am insecure. I end up checking every note for a while until my confidence returns.

Edited: July 17, 2021, 12:01 PM · I know this sounds childish, but part of me still stays motivated just so I don't make a total fool of myself in my lesson. But I also agree with Albrecht. Some days I just don't like how I sound, and other days I feel like I'm playing quite okay, and I don't have any tangible triggers for either response.

By the way I thought you were studying viola.

July 17, 2021, 12:53 PM · Believe in yourself.
Edited: July 17, 2021, 1:20 PM · It’s important to remember that you’re improving your technique for the purposes of pursuing more repertoire, and that without practice, you obviously won’t improve. If you have parents around, maybe they can yell at you (joke).
July 17, 2021, 1:04 PM · I am, Paul. But want a teacher for both. Viola is on the back burner at the moment while I practise for my several violin trial lessons
July 17, 2021, 1:44 PM · Paul, What you say isn't childish at all, an audience does make us do better. Or try harder anyway. I'm permanently low ability and my teacher's style isn't to give positive feedback, he points out things to change on the next round so I get the overall impression that I'm in stasis. Though I really know better. My neighbor tells me she puts the TV on mute to listen to me practice. She is very sweet and kind. Though sheetrock has great filtering capability.
July 17, 2021, 8:03 PM · "how do you keep yourself motivated if for whatever reason it doesn't sound good?"

This concern strikes me as odd - you seem to be saying that you're not motivated to practice because it doesn't sound good. So how does one ever improve if they would need to sound good in order to be motivated? Perhaps surround yourself with players who sound worse in comparison to boost your ego? Start a teaching studio?

"... is on the back burner at the moment while I practise for my several violin trial lessons"

That sounds a bit like waiting until you feel better before going to the doctor. Understandable, but not quite right.

So what's the problem?

Try to recognize that motivation might not be the problem, but rather the manner of learning, and that you're doing the right thing in looking for a good teacher. You might even approach that as a child would - to not overthink it, but leave yourself in the hands of the teachers and do as they instruct you to.

Alternatively, if you want to continue learn by yourself, I suggest looking for resources on deliberate practice and perhaps specific instruction on specific problems that you might try to address; not just repeating the same thing hoping that it'll get better.

Edited: July 18, 2021, 12:19 AM · 1. Variety - I try to play one fast piece and one slow piece.
One of them will be baroque, the other will be more modern, alternating.
I have books of folk music and ethnic music, "Gypsy Jazz" (I hate fake genres) and I have simple melodic etudes like Dancla for a/any change of routine. If I get bored with Vivaldi, I play Klezmer. If I get bored with Ives I play Yip Harburg or the simplest Corelli Sarabande.

Nothing is too simple unless you can play it as well as Perlman. Play Somewhere Over the Rainbow in all 12 keys to see which you prefer. Use every inch of your bow. Schlock it up for fun.

2. Have realistic aims so that you can plan your future realistically for a year or 18 months ahead.

Some people just vaguely want one day to play Pag 1 in the Carnegie Hall, so they feel they have to practise everything 16 hours a day. They won't last.

July 18, 2021, 12:18 AM · @J Ray: I believe you misunderstand the concern of the OP. When one doesn't like "how it sounds" it feels like moving backwards. One made efforts and one thought one was on a good trajectory. And then this happened. "Back to square one" is I think always a demotivating project when you are forced to embark on it.
Edited: July 18, 2021, 1:06 AM · ""Back to square one" is I think always a demotivating project when you are forced to embark on it."

It has worked for me, but it depends how you combine square one with where you are now.

I just realised, Albrecht, you are the only person here to use the expression "Back to square one". I've skimmed JRay's post and can't see where he has even paraphrased it.

Nobody knows what Jake sounds like or what his learning style is.
I know from guitar forums that the more naive think you practise a piece until it is "perfect", however long that takes. This, I'm sure, is demotivating, but also it brings diminishing returns. My approach has been to practise a piece for 8 weeks then literally switch to another when the calendar says so.
This is because I tried to work out what my teachers' strategy was in the 70s, and I suppose we did each piece for maybe 6 weeks until it was adequate, then we moved on.
I try to play six (3 fast, 3 slow) equally difficult pieces for 24 weeks, then go up a grade and hope that this will benefit the easier pieces. So I'm continually bad at what I'm doing, which is demotivating, but I regularly go back and work on old pieces in ways I wasn't able to first time around.

July 18, 2021, 12:38 AM · I have motivation to pick up and practise. Motivation leaves me when I start and record myself or listen closely, and it seems like no matter what I do, it doesn't seem to sound better in terms of scratchiness, clean string crossings etc. Intonation is not something I am particularly worried about as I am working on that quite intensively and making somewhat good progress
July 18, 2021, 12:49 AM · Don't record yourself.
July 18, 2021, 2:04 AM · „ BTW intonation is also one of those problems that come in waves. All of a sudden I notice that I am off pitch everywhere. Once I notice this It gets worse because now I am insecure. I end up checking every note for a while until my confidence returns.“

Albrecht, thanks for those lines. They reflect so accurately what I experience.

July 18, 2021, 3:22 AM · "Motivation leaves me when I start and record myself or listen closely, and it seems like no matter what I do, it doesn't seem to sound better in terms of scratchiness, clean string crossings etc."

Is that really true? Does it sound that way when you play very slowly?

Edited: July 18, 2021, 4:04 PM · When I was taking lessons either as a (single-digit age) kid violin student or as a teen-age cellist I never had a teacher who held student recitals, so motivation had to come from the music itself and wanting to play it better - or at least to satisfy the teacher. As a teen this included wanting to be able to play the violin concertos I chose (no violin teacher any longer) or the cello concertos my teacher assigned as well as I possible could.

Also, by my teen years I had performance opportunities and they were great motivators for getting good enough by the time I needed to. Also, since I was in the high school orchestra by then I always had a concert to prepare for - and PERFORMANCE PREPARATION IS A GREAT MOTIVATOR. The music that I was not going to perform I practiced for "IMAGINARY PERFORMANCES." The good thing about imaginary performances is you can do those every day!

Throughout my adult life (after grad school) from my mid-20s and for the next 60 years I have always had 2 or 3 weekly rehearsals to prepare for (orchestra and chamber music groups) as well as the performances that resulted. They provided motivation to keep in shape and improve.

I approached the lack of such social-music opportunities during the COVID-19 times with similar enthusiasm and did sustain my regular practice routine for a few months, but I found the duration of my daily practice times grew shorter and less frequent as time passed.

Beyond a certain age one's performance skills do atrophy and instead of improvement, what one seeks only to slow the inevitable decline. Only regular practice can do this. Of course I can only really speak for myself, but since I play in a chamber orchestra with mostly other "seniors" I observe I am not the only one. But what we lose in skill and energy as we age we seem to retain in enthusiasm. Those youngsters in their 60s and 70s seem to buoy those of us who will never see those years again.

July 18, 2021, 12:58 PM · I am an absolutely awful procrastinator with a busy and tiring life. If I don't surround myself with deadlines, I will simply fail to pick up the violin. I will think wistfully about practicing but not manage to arse myself to actually go do it (even though I usually enjoy it when I do get into the groove of it).

Regular lessons set a weekly deadline and performance preparation forces me to truly do the work.


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