This past week I was playing a gig and had two adults approach me at the end. One was a former student, and the other a man looking to sell his violin because he had decided he would never learn how to fiddle. The three of us got talking, and the two of them had one thing in common. This is something common to many adult learners… They had been trying too hard!
I think most adults who try to learn the fiddle run into this problem at some time where they are trying so hard that they seem to be getting worse instead of better… I had one student whose bow would bounce for the first 10 minutes of her lesson, and then more she tried to stop it from bouncing, the more it would bounce!
So, why is trying too hard a bad thing? It is good to put effort into learning, right? The problem is that adults understand so much more than they are capable of doing right away. Kids don’t worry about why they are doing something, they just try it. Often with my younger students I have trouble getting the whole explanation in before they are playing, whereas with some of my adult students they want all the theory before they play their first note! Adults are constantly analyzing what is going on, and usually trying to figure out what is going wrong instead of just trying it again, which sometimes is all that you need to do! The other problem is that adults are used to succeeding. You have a job that you do well, you have other skills, so why can’t you master this one right away?
The big issue with trying too hard is that it creates tension in your body, and the more tension there is, the more your bow is going to bounce, the more your violin is going to squeak, the more out of tune you will play… I think you can see where this is leading… Instead of getting better, you are going to sound worse!
Everything we do takes time to learn. You need to not put pressure on yourself to get to the end point (which in music really doesn’t exist as you can always improve) and enjoy the journey along the way. Here are a couple of pointers for how you can continue to improve without trying too hard:
- Adjust your goals. Maybe for this practice session instead of saying that you are going to learn a certain fiddle tune, just plan on working on it for 10 minutes.
- Accept the fact that you are not going to improve every day! This is kind of like trying to lose weight… You need to look at your playing over the long term to see the improvements. If you expect to get better every day, or even every week, you will get frustrated, tense, and will start trying really hard to improve!
- Make sure that you are breathing. It sounds silly, but a lot of us stop breathing when we are doing something hard. I still do this when I get to performing a piece I am not totally secure with… I make sure that I am breathing a slow, long breath out, and it helps to calm my nerves.
- Know that sometimes your violin is going to squeak. Just try it again. If the squeaking persists, then you definitely need to figure out what is going wrong, but try not to over-analyze right away. My violin squeaks every now and then in shows, but I just move on!
- Try not to practice when you are already tense. If you have had a long hard day, try to decompress a bit before picking up your violin!
- If you enjoy a glass of wine, have a glass of wine before you practice, or maybe while you practice. Be warned though, one glass will help to relax you and make you sound better, too much and you will only think you sound better!
So how about my student whose bow bounced for the first 10 minutes of lesson? We tried to fix it, and only made it worse. In the end, she and I agreed that we would ignore it. I wouldn’t mention it, she wouldn’t worry about it, and after 10 minutes, it would go away. The lessons we tried to fix it, her bow would bounce for the entire lesson. She was not doing anything wrong, she just wanted to play really well, so was trying really hard!
Have fun, enjoy the ride, and don’t try too hard!