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Overcoming Defeat: My Process for Musical Success

Last Friday marked another rehearsal day with my baroque ensemble. A few weeks earlier, we’d had our first rehearsal, and I’d dedicated myself to daily practice in between. I’d taken it slow, worked with my metronome, and invested countless hours trying to get each piece of music sounding perfect.

The initial part of the rehearsal in which we played two pieces went smoothly, but then came the dreaded final piece. As we concluded, the director turned to me and said, “Well… the tuning really wasn’t good.”

In that moment, I felt defeated. I had spent a lot of time and effort trying to master this piece. I’d meticulously focused on every detail. I’d done everything by the book, and yet, it wasn’t enough.

On the drive home, I couldn’t help but have a little cry. It was a painful blow.

However, I knew I couldn’t stay in that defeated state for long. I gave myself two days without opening my violin case. I needed that time to regroup and gather my thoughts.

Then, on Monday, I summoned the courage to try it all again. Clearly, I needed to change something. Repeating the same approach would yield the same results two weeks down the road.

This specific piece is quite hard, and uses a lot of double stops, so I went back to the drawing board, and back to practicing the way that I tell my students to. After all, even experienced musicians can sometimes fall into the trap of seeking shortcuts.

I worked on the top notes, worked on the bottom notes, and then also worked on playing the melody and on knowing which notes in each pair were the important ones that really needed to be heard. Gradually, I pieced everything together.

Was it perfect after just one day? Well, no. However, I had two weeks during which I can practice using these different techniques, and also adjusting my mindset about the piece.

Speaking of adjusting my mindset, I experienced a serious shift. My previous focus had been on hitting all the right notes, but now, I am really thinking about the melody and where it exists, and which notes need to be heard.

This experience has left me with several important lessons:

  1. Frustration is Part of the Process: It’s okay to feel defeated at times. Every musician, beginner or experienced, has dealt with it.
  2. Take Breaks, Then Return: When the going gets tough, stepping away for a few days can be refreshing. Just remember to come back when you’re ready.
  3. Experiment and Adapt: If your usual practice routine isn’t yielding results, be open to trying different approaches. It might be the key to your breakthrough.
  4. Mindful Playing: Pay attention to your thoughts as you play. Sometimes, shifting your focus can transform your performance.

In the end, this experience wasn’t solely about enhancing my musical proficiency; it was a profound lesson in navigating the failures and setbacks that accompany any performance rehearsal. So, the next time you find yourself grappling with defeat, remember: it’s an integral part of the journey toward honing your craft and achieving mastery on the violin.

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