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I can't hear myself play!


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Do they make a personal listening device to attach to my instrument with an ear plug? I have My first performance with the local community orchestra Saturday. We have a small string section, 1 or 2 first violins MAYBE 1 second and 2 thirds of which I am one, and 2 cellos. I decided to switch to a viola, as that is the part that I was playing anyway, but was just written in the Treble clef. The viola was easier for me to reach the lower notes and they sound MUCH better.I have my parts down when I play alone. I also play with a recording of the whole piece on tape to make sure I am correct. I practice with my stand partner just before rehearsal and again during the week. She plays a thin sounding violin and tries hard, but works and doesn't have the time to practice that I do(nor the drive I fear)anyway after about a month we are usually playing the same notes and occasionally we are together in rythmn.(she confesses that she is rythmically challenged) It has been a struggle at best to make a reasonable sound together. I even took a chair behind her to get away from the sound of her violin but to no avail. Fortunately when the going gets tough she stops playing altogether. My problem is when we rehearse even if it is just the string players, I can't hear myself play and can't tell if my intonation is correct. I just can't hear myself play! Any suggestions?

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It's a tough problem. Cellists have it a lot - what with the source of their sound being 2 or 3 feet from ther ears. But it also happens with violins and violas.

I think it really is a sign that your instrument is not up to the task - at least not with the strings on it, the way you play it, and the ears you have to hear it.

What kind of strings are you using? Different brands of strings can change the amount of sound your insturment produces in your range of best hearing discrimination.

Also - sometimes a bow may de-emphasize certain frequencies an instrument produces and make it harder for the player to hear - try varying the tightness of your bow hair - even try borrowing some other bows to try.

A loosely fitted ear plug might help reduce the amount of sound you hear from your neighbor - of course it also decreases what you hear of your own sound (but not what you can feel of the vibrations through your skin).

The main part of the problem is that you have to make sound at frequencies you can hear uniquely in the midst of all that is going on around you - and if you are either not making those frequencies or cannot hear them well enough - you have the kind of problem you describe.

I have found some wonderful sounding violins will seem to vanish (to the player) in the midst of the competition of orchestra (or even smaller ensembles), while others are perfectly audible to me and also blend well with the other players. Tested alone these instruments all have good, powerful sound, but definitely different balance of the partials (overtones) from each other.

First try to analyze the differences in sound being made by the "competing" players and also what kinds of sound you do and don't hear well. Once you have that worked out you can try to improve the situation.

I hope you will be able to borrow and try a few other instruments to see if that improves the balance for you.

Finally, these days most hearing aid dealers are so anxious to sell that they give free hearing tests. You could take such a test - see how your two ears hear - and whether the audiologist says you have decreased hearing in any frequency band. Just don't get talked into a hearing aid purchase on the spot.


[This message has been edited by Andrew Victor (edited 05-09-2001).]

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Hi Janice,

In addition to Victor's valuable advice,wear a hat with a brim while playing. The sound from your instrument will reflect off the brim and be channelled back to your ear, seeming louder than any other instruments being played around you.

I realize that this would not be accepted in an orchestra setting, but you can use it while practicing with your stand partner.

Try it, it works!


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to my opinion, I feel this is because you didnt practice enough or memorized the melody you ar playing. I've been like that before too when I was in Highschool Orchestra, cant hear what I'm playing,, totally lost during practice.But however I found out and overcome this by practice more, make the melody as if a part of your flowing blood stream, then you'll feel that

"I cannot Hear myself , but I hear the orchestra in a whole"

that you blend with the orchestra, feel and able to catch the melody flowing as if you're a 3nd person listening off the stage.

Guys. I no this might be a little bit philosophical, but . I can't think of a better way to describe what I want to say..

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