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It's Not You. It's Me.

Krista Moyer

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Published: October 17, 2015 at 1:43 AM [UTC]

I have been increasingly frustrated about my playing lately. My left hand has fallen into some bad habits, vibrato is only a sometimes thing (like my memorization skills), and my bow hold and bow arm are desperately behind the rest of my playing.

With all of these things going wrong, it gets hard to actually play anything because I know that I look awful when I do. I know this because people are constantly trying to correct my form. I'm sure it's with the best of intentions, but it still bothers me. Trying to concentrate on learning a piece, fixing my bow hold, and everything else seems next to impossible. After this much time, I should have fixed these issues by now, right? Right? Bueller?

My teacher continues to patiently repeat his corrections, but I feel I must be a huge disappointment to him. After all, I'm pretty disappointed in myself. I've missed every goal that has been set for me this year, and I feel my anger with my inability to improve grow with each practice session.

I read Laurie's blog Student, Have Patience With Yourself and vowed to follow that instruction, but I can't seem to. As a result, I'm less and less inclined to practice. Why bother, if it doesn't get me anywhere? This, of course, is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

After tonight's lesson my son pointed out that I was combative at the beginning. "Why do you keep saying you can't and refusing to follow directions?" he asked. "If I had done that, you would be lecturing me right now instead of the other way around. You owe our teacher an apology."

Of course, I had to admit he was right. When I got home, I sent the teacher an email apologizing for my behavior. It's tough when your teenager points out how childish you can be.

I need to learn to be patient with the process and not try to fix everything at one time. I also need to be grateful for even tiny improvements and trust that they will add up to something good eventually.

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on October 17, 2015 at 8:17 PM
There are so many things that go into playing the violin well. When I was taking lessons, my bow hold (or something else) would be fine for awhile, then I'd forget about it while concentrating on something else. My teacher would periodically give me severe lectures, and the last time, she suggested that I see another teacher (simultaneously, I presumed) to see if she had a different way of suggesting how to correct it. I was aghast that she thought that I could pay for two teachers simultaneously and just went home and concentrated only on my bow hold. The point is, that not all of us can keep every single "do" or "don't" in mind at the same time but if we forget for weeks on end, it may be better to put aside all the techniques you're learning at the time and spend your week on that basic thing. Would your teacher allow that? After all, if you're not a young person aspiring to a professional violin career, my feeling is that it's better to play simpler things with solid technique. These are the foundation of violin playing--you need a solid foundation or things fall apart as you move upward.

Please don't think I'm lecturing--I also am a working mother who took up violin as an adult. I'm just trying to convey my perspective having come from the same place as you. I'm having a blast (a friend just made a music video of me for a class!) and will never be able to play certain pieces, but still feel fulfilled learning what I can. I know I don't have all the time in the world but I feel better when I practice as if I did.

Something related that I discovered: people's opinion of how good a player you are depends not so much on how advanced your piece is but how well you play the piece.

My apologies if I'm missing your point but what you wrote really resonates with me.

I should have thought of doing what Karen did before she did it! I agree, it was quite clear you weren't denegrating your teacher.

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on October 17, 2015 at 11:54 PM
Something else, I read a book that's about trying to break bad habits. ("Wired") It said that repeating bad habits just ingrains them further. You have to replace the bad habits with good habits. Another reason to step back and make corrections to your technique one facet at a time, to ingrain the good habit. I just realized something--the book also said that you're not actually REPLACING the bad habit, you're just creating a different groove, so to speak. The old, bad groove is still there. That's why I've slipped back into bad habits occasionally. Unlike slipping back into old eating or drinking habits, it's not that obvious until someone else points it out.
From Lydia Leong
Posted on October 18, 2015 at 3:54 AM
I was just reading through your previous blog entries, and I'm inclined to agree with Francesca. I don't think your teacher is really helping you.

Keeping you stuck on one piece for a year (the aforementioned Vivaldi A minor) isn't helping you. What will help you is attacking your problems from multiple different angles; this is pure scientific fact. Doing this with new material will also help you avoid falling back into bad old habits.

Your teacher should also be helping you isolate your problems so that you can work on them in highly focused ways, rather than struggling with trying to do multiple problematic things at once.

I think better teaching, especially teaching that includes very specific "how to practice these things in ways that don't overwhelm you" would help you a lot.

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on October 18, 2015 at 5:25 PM
Krista, one more general thing I thought of: When you practice, make sure it's at a time when your mind is fresh and you don't have distractions. Then, you'll be able to focus on what you're doing and maybe catch mistakes made then. It's the nature of practice that you're repeating and repeating the things you're learning. That's the time when bad or good habits are formed.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on October 19, 2015 at 6:10 PM
Forgive me if I sound lecture-y or like I'm piling on. I've been there and have lots of sympathy. What would help me in that situation is to let go of goals and focus more on process. I think there's a real danger to letting your enjoyment of the instrument be predicated on making progress or meeting goals. That's all external motivation. Is there anything you like about practicing and playing, other than making progress and meeting goals? Particular pieces you might want to play, or techniques you'd like to learn how to do? A new venue or playing partner(s)?

I decided to delete my speculation about whether your current teaching situation is a good fit for you. I don't think you came across as denigrating your teacher. If I came across that way, I apologize, and I was wrong. I was only thinking of situations I've been in myself. I'm glad you have a good working relationship with him.

Aside from that, I still wonder whether a shifted focus in your own mind, away from so much emphasis on external motivators like goals and progress, and towards reclaiming what you intrinsically love or loved about playing the violin, would help.

From Krista Moyer
Posted on October 20, 2015 at 12:28 AM
I feel conflicted by the responses here. What I was trying to convey was frustration with my own failure to practice efficiently enough to progress. Not that I wasn't being given the tools to do so. It was never intended to express dissatisfaction with my teacher, with whom I have a decent working relationship. He does read my blog, and I would be disappointed if he truly thought I was trying to denigrate him in any fashion.

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