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I'm currently 15 years old, and I play violin on the church. I started playing there when I was 9 years old, and always loved doing what I do, specially for the reason I do it.

I sometimes play with people who just started like my 9 year old self. Sometimes, with someone of my level, other times with someone a bit better, until we get to the professionals, the ones who play not only on the church, but somewhere else as a career.

I learned how to play the instrument in about 8 months. I did not have many difficulties during the process, everything felt easy, since the first day of theory on P. Bona's book, to my final test.

Recently, though, I have been punishing myself for not being as good as I wanted to be. I'm not terribly bad, and I know that I shouldn't do what I'm doing. But when on hearing a small flaw in my vibrato, or an error of 2dB, I feel like I'm a disaster, and start to play more quiet and feel unsafe.

I don't normally have problems with self-esteem. Some people think I have it set too high (lol). But sometimes I think I don't evolve, that I'm still the same 9 year old boy who couldn't play an octave up. In counterpart, when I listen to old audios of my practice times, or see recordings, I do feel an evolution on my play style and sound.

Sentiments apart, I'd like to know how can I be more safe about my violinist self, and how can I actually improve.

I'll just tell you to please keep in mind I'm not intending to play professionally, and can't afford to pay any sort of teacher, specially in my country. My time is also limited.

  • I think everyone goes through that; the best way to re-assure yourself of progress it to play something you played 6 months ago and realize how much easier it has become. – Thomas Apr 30 '18 at 12:58
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    Never underestimate the awful power of Imposter Syndrome. – Richard Apr 30 '18 at 12:59
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    I'm in my 50's and whenever I play at church with the professionals, I fell that way. I have a career and kids and just can't practice as much as they can (or have in their life already). I decided that, as long as they keep asking me to play, I'm apparently good enough, so I just go out there and do my best. – Guy Schalnat May 1 '18 at 12:30
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I find any learning process goes in cycles:

  1. At first, you're pretty bad. And you know it.
  2. Then, you start getting better. You're playing pretty well. Everything is great.
  3. And then you realise that you're not as good as you thought you were. Back to step one.

You sound like you've reached step three. It happens to all of us. I work with a lot of younger musicians, around your age. It is infinitely easier to work with someone who has reached step three, than someone who still thinks they are awesome and have nothing else to learn. So this is a good thing.

A few thoughts:

  • There is always someone who is better than you. Don't measure your self-worth based on how well you do something in comparison to others.
  • Think about why you want to play in the first place. As a fellow church musician, I can guess at a few reasons. Good motivation gives you a reason to keep going, even when it's hard.
  • Outward high self esteem can sometimes be a cover for inward lack of confidence. Nobody is perfectly confident at 15. In fact, many musicians struggle with this their entire lives. Don't be too hard on yourself.
  • As you've noticed, it can be hard to see progress when you look from a short distance. It's like noticing when someone is growing taller. If you see them every day, you hardly pay any attention. If you don't seem them for a year, they're suddenly 6 feet tall. You can see progress from your past recordings.

How can I actually improve?

How did you improve in the first place? Practice. Do more. Learn more about your instrument. You get to play with musicians who are better than you. Awesome! Ask questions. Learn.

Playing an instrument is not easy. You needed to work hard to get where you are now. Keep doing that! This is why motivation is important. Many kids never keep playing their instrument into adulthood because it takes hard work, and their only reason for playing was that their parents made them. I don't think you are that person, though.


There's a number of questions here on performance confidence already. They might help you further:

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    Thank you so much for your answer. Reading it really helped me think about my "problem" in another way. And no, I'm not doing this because my parents wanted, it's my thing. I'm not gonna accept the answer yet just to see if this can get more development, not only for me, but any future readers. Again, thank you so much. – MucaP Apr 29 '18 at 23:44
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    Hitting step 3 actually means you ARE getting better. You can't get better until you start to hear mistakes that you previously ignored or did not recognize. – Paul Apr 30 '18 at 18:57
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@endorph's answer is probably the best for this, but I have some input as well:

It's awesome that you have the opportunity to play with those who might be better than you and even play at a professional level. These people can be very helpful to you- they'd be great to ask for tips and advice! If possible, you can arrange to play with them outside of church, as well.

I'm with you about the performance anxiety- it's so easy to let small mishaps mess up an entire piece, have it nag at you for what seems like forever. But if you laser focus on small technical things like intonation and vibrato, you might lose out on musicality- the heart, the soul, the sentiment, whatever.

Moreover, the audience as a whole won't notice nor care for these mistakes as much as the performer does. What the audience hears is more of a big picture: the overall tone, the feeling that you communicate. It's kind of like a painting: the casual observer won't notice the occasional discoloration or smudge, but rather the whole effect of the painting.

These are just some thoughts that were too long to fit in a comment, haha.

One more thing: I find it pretty admirable that you've gotten comfortable with vibrato by yourself. You're definitely not a disaster!

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You say you only sometimes play with other people. I think that's a problem here.

Play more with other people. Join other groups. Even better, join a folk or jazz group where improvisation is important, and where sometimes the flights of fancy inevitably won't always work. Of course you'll still fluff the occasional thing, but with a group it's larger than the sum of its parts. What matters is a full evening's gig, not one single piece from you, so you get practise in keeping on going.

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There's a cognitive aspect and a practical aspect here.

Cognitively, if your perceptions, thoughts and evaluations are distorted, then your feelings will also be distorted.

Notice what you do right, as well as your mistakes - or your self-evaluation will be biased. Be aware of the overall musicality of your playing, and its effect on listeners, as well as technical errors.

A small error is an imperfection, but it doesn't make the performance a "disaster".
Since you are not the same thing as your small error, it (even less!) doesn't make you a disaster.

punishing myself for not being as good as I wanted to be

If someone else had the same talent you showed, and the same limited time and energy you have for practice, and also lacked a teacher - and also was not aiming professionally, would you expect them to be much better than you, or much worse, or more-or-less similar? You are probably about where you "should" be.

Hopefully, all the above helps clear some of the feelings that not only are unpleasant, but also interfere with getting on with getting better.

Practically: Try to really listen to the musicality of your performance as you play. Be present. Be mindful. Be there in the moment, as if a listener. With this feedback, you will be attending to what a musician aims at. There's a tendency to automatically improve at whatever we pay attention to.

With the beginners, take a perspective of a teacher or coach: what are they doing right, what are they doing wrong. What would help them to improve. This outside perspective on someone else will help you see your own playing more objectively. It will also remind you of what you've been taught, and what you've learnt yourself. Most importantly, it will help you see yourself more dispassionately, more kindly, and with an eye to what would be helpful (rather than what could be punished). Note: you can take this teaching attitude without actually teaching, if that's not appropriate, but of course it works even better if you do actually help someone.

As others have said, maybe you can also learn from the better players: listen to their playing, ask them for feedback, to recommend a practice exercise (you'll have to evaluate whether you have time, and maybe do a reduced version). You might learn something interesting!

You could practice the specific technical errors you've noticed: vibrato, precise volume control. Make it very focussed on just that very specific error, and a few minutes a day will make a difference over time.

However, for evolution and improvement in your playing, technical skill is only a means to an end - so approach it lightly.

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TL; TR: Sometimes at somepoint you can let aside the good basic practicing. Try to focus at specific points that you have more dificulties until you feel an improvement

Interesting question, I would like to put my two cents on this. I was never a professional musician, but I play guitar for almost 20 years. I'm not the most technical player, I had a phase where I practice that, but I turned into more simple stuff years ago, but I know that there is no song I can't play if I wanna to. I play heavy metal and many derivated styles - like melodic, one of the hardest styles - and if I'm too rusty or too below the level of the song, I will need practicing time, but I know I can reach it, even if I coasts me a month or two of daily practice.

I also like to adventure myself - as self-taught - into other instruments, like keyboards, drumming, harmonica and recently, sax. So in every instrument, I start all over. I try to find my flaws and dificulties and focus on practicing it. I can't master all those instruments, they are all like secundary hobbies, but I use the same tactics on the learning process and I feel like it works for me. For not to feel disapointed with myself, I try to look to my good points in that instruments and I feel satisfied in some way. I hope you can identify yourself with something I said and help you in some way.

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I think it is great that you are a church musician! I am as well, and have been since I was six years old, in one way or another.

It can be hard to see where we want to be in comparison to where we are. Many good things have already been said, but I have a couple of practical thoughts.

The first is to specifically identify what you want to improve upon. Are you trying to play certain songs better, play more in tune, play more musically? Whatever your answer is, that will determine how you go about trying to achieve that goal.

The second is very simple: go back and play some pieces you have already learned that you particularly enjoy. They do not have to be difficult. Any song of any kind that brings you joy to play, play it. This does two things. 1) It will rekindle your love of music when you are frustrated by it. 2) It will help you to see how far you have come. I guarantee that you will find many of the songs much easier now than the last time you played them. When you have that "wow" moment of realizing that you now find easy what you once found difficult, you will see that your present moments of feeling not good enough are just part of learning and growing.

I have found this strategy to be essential for helping me get through the more discouraging times. I have counseled a few of my students, when they've been frustrated, to spend a week just having fun and going back and doing songs they like instead of trying to beat their heads against a wall on the new stuff. It usually helps them get over the hurdle.

The only thing we can do is do our best. Try to have the same patience with yourself that you give to less advanced players. A humble spirit goes a long way. When you are humble and working with people who play less well, you don't hold it against them or show off, but encourage and assist. When you are humble and working with people more advanced, you are in a position to ask questions, observe, and learn. When you are humble before an audience, you don't expect applause for a job well done, but you bow in thanks to them for giving you their time and attention. In a church setting, a humble spirit knows that the musicians are there in service to God and to the church.

protected by Dom Apr 30 '18 at 13:47

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