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I have become stagnant


B.Ceruti
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I have been playing the violin for about nine years, since I was in

Kindergarten. I am not an exceptional player, by any standard. Up

until a few months ago, I always had a sense of pride in the way

that I was always progressing. I would always be learning a new

skill or song, and was constantly improving. In grade seven

Kiwanis, I got all firsts, and felt confident in the music I

played. Now, I am preparing for my RCM Grade 8 exams. I no longer

feel confident in the music I play, it feels as if I am always

struggling to complete a piece such as Allegro Brilliant or

Concerto in A minor. I no longer feel that I have polished any of

my songs off, as they constantly present a struggle. I have learnt

something like three new pieces per year (not counting studies) and

this is quite a change from the entire books I used to be able to

polish off in the same amount of time. In short, I have flatlined,

and I am not getting any better. I take weekly lessons, and,

although my teacher adamantly disagrees, I almost feel like I am

regressing.

Any advice on how to get out of this rut, and back into the groove?

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You're a young person, right? And probably a wonderful musician. But my sense is that you probably need to grow in other ways. We keep growing and learning, and in doing that, we become better musicians. So manybe in some other area of life, you will grow and then it will reflect on better violin playing. We're not computers; we're beings that develop on a lot of different levels. For one thing, quit calling concertos "songs." They're not songs; they're pieces or works or something. But calling them "songs" is baby talk.

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If your playing is anywhere near as articulate as your prose, I'd say you should persevere.

My inexpert sense of learning the violin is that is is NOT a linear progression. It is a series of plateaus. When I complained to a friend/mentor that I felt I had hit a wall his response was: "Great. That means you're about to make a leap." For what it's worth, he was right.

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Yeah that's been my experience too FWIW, plateaus are fabulous, just keep working at it.

If there's a specific problem you think you really truly have, consider finding a new approach to solving it, i.e. memory/technique etc. Read a book on muscle memory, read a book on instrumental technique on another instrument, etc.

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Plateaus absolutely suck while you're in one and feeling the way you do, but it's an incredible feeling to make that leap falstaff refers to. Andres makes some good suggestions. I have to wonder though if there really is an answer to your question better put than seabirds.

My personal plateau breaker was usually theory, although I'm not a violinist. In one of my longest plateaus, I began writing music - as I recall, just around your age. Writing not so much for the sake of creating anything great, but more for the understanding of how things worked together and why. I hate digital music, but it was still interesting to experiement and made a nice tool. Theory drove me very hard until I was in my late 20's ( I think).

As frustrated as you probably are right now, at least take comfort in the fact that this too shall pass, and when it does it sometimes feels like your mind will explode with your new understanding.

It's been many years since I've found myself at a plateau (only because I no longer have enough time to invest to get far beyond my current abilities) and you've brought back some good memories by bringing this subject up

good memories, not from being in the plateau, but from getting beyond it.

Seabird, I still play a lot of songs!

(Andres, what is FWIW?... sorry for my ignorance)

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Hi all,

Three hours of practice in a week, I was at one level; two hours a day I was in a different level with

ergonomic problems. To get the idea of what I am talking about, I used my example. Your

practice time and your expectation are related.

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Sometimes when you have progressed, it feels like you have regressed, because your ear and standards have refined. It's a bit like when you drive on the highway and suddenly you are in the city on a major road which usually feels fast, but you feel like you are crawling along. If you achieved what you are achieving now a few years ago, you would be pleased with yourself, but now your standards are higher and you can hear small flaws that would have escaped your notice in the past. So it takes longer to reach what you accept an acceptable standard to your mind, and it takes longer to prepare pieces. Since you are your own traveling companion in this journey, you will have the impression that you are not going anywhere and are stagnat. Others who hear you, however, may hear a higher calibre in anything you play. You write that your teacher adamently disagrees with your self-assessment, so this is what might actually be happening.

Knowing someone who is light years ahead of me and preparing to be a professional, I have an additional perspective. It seems that the students at that level are reviewing studies at a much lower level, studies that I might be approaching now, and doing them very slowly and carefully. An intermediate student might work on a piece for a few months and has "learned" to play it to his and his teacher's satisfaction. An advanced student might spend an entire year on the same piece with a teacher, but work on it in depth, building layer upon layer in technique and musicality, and there is a whale of a difference in how either plays it. Which is going at a snail's pace? Neither, because one is sketching out his progress, and the other is filling in the details.

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These are all good suggestions.

I don't like to suggest the following - but it turned out to work for me - although that's not why I did it.

You might consider just quitting for a while.

I quit violin when I was 12 years old, after 8 years of lessons. I did not think I was that good - not for the years I had put in - usiong the modern vernacular, "I was burned out." Besides I had never known any other students of portable instruments my own age - except at music school.

I took the instrument out once 6 months later (I really missed playing) and was pleased to see that I could play and read music as well as before. Half a year after that, when I was 13, I played it again - and decided that i was going to get better. I bought music I wanted to play - albums of solos and the great violin concertos. I decided I wanted to be the concertmaster of the high school I would go to. I never stopped playing the violin after that (58 years ago). I never took another violin lesson either - although I have been to master classes and had lots of direction from professional conductors and professional coaches associated with the orchestras and with chamber music workshops. At 14 I started cello (and 30 months of lessons) and progressed very fast and well on that. I still play both instruments daily.

I reached my ensemble goals and have played in college and community orchestras almost continually since I joined the one in high school. I have had a rich musical life in chamber music. I served as community orchestra concertmaster for about 20 years. Added the interestting (unpaid jobs) of orchestra manager and president of the corporate board later.

Now in retirement from my non-musical career, I teach violin and cello and have been giving music lessons for more than 40 years.

Taking a little late childhood break from lessons did not hurt my musical life one bit.

Andy

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Perhaps thinking of it as a sabbatical rather than quitting.

I've found that even when I've taken an enforced break from lessons and/or practice (vacations, too little time etc) I've had a slightly different perspective when lessons resumed.

It might be as simple as changing from once a week to twice a month for a while. Or skipping a couple of weeks to just goof around and read.

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Great advice so far!....I am not a player but as a maker I am absolutely dedicated to my craft. I hate taking a break but taking a holiday or time out to do something else works realy well. It is good to forget your passion sometimes! My experience is that the brain is amazing & still works on the problems and one returns with the solutions!. Feeling stagnant is a great sign! If you were happy or complacent I would worry!

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I'm so with you on this one, B.Ceruti!! I'm staring some seriously difficult pieces in the face at my lessons and because I'm frustrated with the level of difficulty, I'm taking the passive approach and not putting in the usual practice time, so I STINK at my lessons. That's only a small part of my apathy right now, however. I've been playing close to 12 years (started at age 39). The past 7 of those years have been fraught with physical ailment after physical ailment including two separate hand surgeries. I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel, severe, in the left hand the first of this year. This was on the heels (pun fully intended) of feet problems last year that were so bad I could only sit on the sofa with my feet elevated and an ice pack within reach. Try playing a violin like that. Doesn't work! Then there have been recurrent neck problems and back problems. Tough to play anything when your body turns traitor. An aside: none of what's going on has to do with playing the violin so changing setups or technique won't help.

Sorry for the whining about my ailments, but there's a point to it: I'm always waiting for the proverbial "other shoe" to drop. I went to Mark O'Connor's fiddle camp last month and it was wonderful. I had a great time, no "physical issues" that kept me from getting a lot out of it. I came back from camp fully recharged to get back into it. It didn't last long. The demon voices in the back of my head (and my feet and my wrists and my fingers) started talking again and I'm back to forced practices, if I practice at all.

To add insult to all this, I was in the midst of a HUGE plateau before the feet/hands went out and was already frustrated with that. Sigh...

My background is counseling and psychology, but I'm the classic case of physician heal thyself, but I can't seem to do just that. So, do any of you lovely people, old starts or otherwise, have any words of encouragement for me as well?

Sorry B. Didn't mean to hijack your thread!!

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Gray Violiner, this is a stab in the dark. You went to camp and you were fine. You came home and your hand and foot problems recurred, but possibly (your post hints at it but not sure) thoughts of some kind as well. What attributes at camp, however insignificant they may seem, might have contributed to the absence of problems, and once home again, ditto in reverse sense? Can you play with this and find some kind of antidote? (Really a stab in the dark)

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Hey Stillnew. The recurrence of the hand issues was just coincidence. The cortisone shots I've gotten for the numbness in my fingers only seem to last around 3 months and I'm at the three month mark since the last one. The feet really are a minor aside, just some swelling that I can deal with by sitting to practice (I normally stand).

No, it's the mental demons that are back in full force. It could be as much to do with being back at my BORING, UNSTIMULATING JOB that's spilling into my music life as much as anything. And while it sounds like I'm making excuses right and left, this horrible heatwave we've been having has sucked the life out of me as well.

It could just be a combination of the above. I definitely need to have a heart to heart with my teacher this week, outside my lesson time that is. She know's I'm not up to my usual standards, but I haven't gone too much into details as to why.

Thanks for taking a stab at this mess though. I really do appreciate it!

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Ceruti,

It is decision time. You have reached a point where you need to decide what you want. If you want to achieve that next level, you will need to dedicate yourself and up the ante in what you give to the pursuit. Not just more practice time, but learning HOW to practice better, to listen better, to hear better. The great life lesson is that in anything you pursue, there comes a point where you have to decide if you are going to just be another participant, or an achiever. I do not know what talent level you posess or how dedicated you are to the instrument. I suggest, if you don't already, that if you chose to move forward, you immerse yourself in listening to classical music and violin music especially (instead of TV or video games). Become meticulous in your practice habits, set goals. You may need a new teacher, not that your current one is bad, but for the stimulation of change, and new ideas, especially if you have been with the current one for a long time. You are still young, but if you want to achieve a high level of playing, you need to move now. Even if you don't achieve you goals or later decide to pursue another course in life, the skills you will develop in learning to learn, to patiently strive, to accell, will serve you well. Also, being a good amateur violinist is it's own magnificent lifetime reward!

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Gray:

This might be completely unrelated, but I'll mention it anyways on the chance it might not be so.

From time to time, I get frustrated with my lack of progress on a piece, feeling I should be making far faster progress than I am. I then get demoralized, which only adds to the problem and my wanting to avoid practising. I'm beginning to realize that in my particular case, I sometimes get into too much of a hurry to work through a piece, thinking I should be finished it.

What helps me get out of my slumps is that, at the level of difficulty and sizes of pieces I'm working on now, I have to "conquer" the piece bar by bar and phrase by phrase rather than thinking I can learn the work from beginning to end. Once I have all the smaller pieces learned, I can then put it all together. So, for me, it's having to slow down, be patient and be willing to work at a more micro level.

Looking at it another way, by first mastering smaller sections every day -- maybe very small -- I give myself more opportunity for some (small) success every day. I have to keep reminding myself to define small and attainable goals.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Victor_Zak

Gray:

From time to time, I get frustrated with my lack of progress on a piece, feeling I should be making far faster progress than I am. I then get demoralized, which only adds to the problem and my wanting to avoid practising. I'm beginning to realize that in my particular case, I sometimes get into too much of a hurry to work through a piece, thinking I should be finished it.

Victor, are you and I related? You've nailed me down cold!!

quote:


What helps me get out of my slumps is that, at the level of difficulty and sizes of pieces I'm working on now, I have to "conquer" the piece bar by bar and phrase by phrase rather than thinking I can learn the work from beginning to end.

During the summer of 1997, my teacher decided to take the summer off. I knew I'd go into withdrawal without lessons all summer, so I found a violist from the Charlotte Symphony that also took violin students. Peter used to drive me INSANE because that was how he taught me: one or two bars per lesson, dissecting everything I did. I was NOT used to that style of teaching. My teacher is more the gestalt type, though she'll only assign a small section of a piece, and once that's under your fingers she'll add on more. It was interesting that by the end of that summer with Peter, we'd barely done one page of one piece but I learned things from him that I still use.

Don't get me wrong about my teacher she's wonderful, but she seems to be in such a hurry to make "music" that sometimes I feel left behind. I really hadn't registered that until just now! I definitely will be having a chat with her at my lesson on Wednesday.

Thanks, Victor!

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Hope it helps. When providing opinions or suggestions to people I haven't met, I tend to hold my breath in fear of doing more damage than good...

This is going to go far off topic. I'm apologies.

I think players who began as adults are suseptable to a unique set of pressures. One is that its easy to fall into the mindset of a race to get as good as possible "before things start falling apart". This can make them rush beyond the point of where technically they are ready.

A strength of many adults is that on average they probably "understand" music and its sources of emotion better than young players. So sometimes it's better to take a "simple" piece that's technically in range and infuse it what you understand it to say.

Most adults I suspect start the violin with the original goal being to be able to play it nicely, whatever that means. Then, because they encounter ten year olds playing advanced concertos, the adult's initial goal gets morphed into playing quite technically challenging pieces, poorly.

There's can be tremendous beauty in a Bach Bouree played well. Isn't that a success too and close to the initial goal? Occasionaly, go back and play some early pieces, this time with beauty, to remind yourself of what you can do, have accomplished and just to enjoy the music. Don't get stuck with having always to stretch for something that's slightly beyond reach.

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Hi all,

To get to a higher level of playing, in my opinion, the same same old

method, same amount of time of practice, would not work. One may need

better equip of everything.

Better concentration, better violins and bows, better instructions, better practice room,..

(better schooling)......etc.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Hank Schutz

Here's a variation on Andrew Victor's suggestion to take some time off: study the viola for a year.

HS

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! SAVE ME! NOT THE VIOLA!!!!

Kidding of course, Hank. Actually I did try the viola one summer four years ago. After going nuts switching between alto/treble clefs and the different sizes of the instruments it made me appreciate my violin so much more!

Now the husband plays the viola.

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