When I posted my video blog “How to Learn the Violin Fast” last week I received among many incredibly kind comments (thank you so much), one comment from a gentleman called Rick. The comment was the following:
I am forever amazed at your dedication to helping others learn to play the violin. At the present time I am one of those senior learners who has just given up on the hope to be a violin player. For sure you have dealt with such beginners and you still do I would suppose, but I have lost interest because it just looks too difficult for me. You are still a motivator and at times your enthusiasm is simply mind boggling! And, I will watch your videos just to see your excitement, but my violin will sit in the corner. – Rick Lauder (#comment-3833, How to Learn the Violin Fast)
His words moved me to write this blog post.
Many people think the hardest part about learning the violin is all the practice. Learning all the scales, holding the bow, finding where the notes are. And although all these things are certainly very difficult, I feel there is a challenge far greater.
The struggle of feeling incompetent, feeling hopeless, feeling unconfident. This is the true challenge of learning the violin.
This post is for everyone who feels like Rick.
It is for every violin player who has lost hope at one point or another. Those who have realized how incredibly difficult it is to learn the violin.
I know there are a lot of you out there. I know, because I have lost all my hope myself. Not only once, but many times in my violin-playing journey.
In this post, I want to share my journey of losing hope. And give my personal answer to the question of why I decided to keep going.
My Journey Learning the Violin
I did a number of things in my life that many people who have grown up in a Western country would consider “challenging”. I learned both English and German in addition to my mother tongue. I moved abroad and started a private school from scratch in another country. I got a University degree in Biology. I quit eating sugar for a year and completely changed my diet from meat eater to plant-based. I lived on 500$/month for a few years in an expensive country (tip: rice, beans, and oatmeal are cheap and healthy).
The funny thing is, that music is actually something I had a “talent” for. Most of the things that I mentioned above did not come to me naturally. While my classmates already watched English movies without subtitles, I was still struggling with “How are you”. But music teachers told me that I learned the violin quicker than most students. That was probably the case because I had a head start in learning music at a young age. Both my parents are musicians, so I grew up listening to classical music all day. I probably already learned a lot about music subconsciously. Plus, my mom helped me practice, so I basically had a music teacher to guide me 24/7 in my first year of playing.
But still, despite all my advantages, I struggled so much learning the violin.
I still remember how my mother had to force me to get off the toilet when I had locked myself in the bathroom to cry after being rejected for an audition. How I always felt guilty for not practicing enough. How I constantly compared myself with other violinists I saw, and always felt like I was so many miles away from playing that beautifully.
Playing the violin basically made me feel incompetent 24/7.
Despite my dreams of becoming a violin teacher one day, by the time I was 15 I found 0 joy in playing the violin. I decided to give up playing the violin altogether.
Basically, I felt that if I wanted to have a fun childhood, I had better not become a violin player. I decided to let go of the dream to pursue violin professionally and do something more fun with my life.
As you might have expected, in the end I did change my mind about that again. Through certain experiences, I came to see violin playing in a completely different light. That is probably a topic for another blog post. Most importantly: I came back to playing the violin again eventually. But one thing did not change. I am still struggling to learn the violin.
Just today I was working on Mozart Concerto No. 3. It is one of the easier Mozart concertos. I played it for the first time when I was 12 years old. But today, I still feel like I cannot play the piece the way I feel it should be played. My spiccato sounds irregular. The start of my strokes feel “bumpy” instead of smooth. My shifting sounds like little “jumps” instead of a smooth motion.
Each time I practice I am reminded of all the things I am not yet able to do. Now, 16 years later, I still have not mastered the piece.
One would wonder, why do I keep practicing?
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of players that are way better than I ever will be. Why do I not leave the job of “being a good violin player” to them? I don’t even need it for work. As the founder of a violin school I could easily hire someone who plays the violin way better than me to teach my students if they ever become close to my level. My job is creating the best school, not necessarily being the best player myself.
Plus, honestly, as I teach adult beginner-intermediate students most of them are still miles from playing at the same level as I do, so even that is probably not needed.
Thirdly, I do not even have to be a violin teacher. I can also pursue a different career. Another career is possibly even a “smarter” option financially.
Still, for some reason, I keep returning to my violin practice.
These days I practice even more than I ever have before. To be honest, a part of me is still practicing because I hope it will help me to feel good enough. Even though I rationally know I will never feel good enough at violin playing.
But there is also another, deeper reason for continuing my practice. It is a reason that I can not totally rationally comprehend myself. It does not make any logical sense.
For some reason, I simply can not let go of the violin. I feel a certain mesmerization with violin and music that I cannot easily explain in words.
When I quit violin playing, it was a similar feeling to loving someone, and choosing to go separate paths. You do go on with your life, but there is a small void that cannot be filled with other activities or people. It is because you loved that person. This is what the violin feels like to me: if I do practice, I end up frustrated. Not only frustrated, but also insecure and feeling incompetent. Honestly it can be the worst feeling, and it often makes me want to do other things that are easier. Such as writing a blog post 🙂
But if I don’t practice, the feeling is worse. There is this nagging feeling that something is missing from my life. So, I have only one choice: I will give in and accept that violin practice is a part of my life.
I absolutely feel with you if you want to give up. Learning to play the violin can feel like an endless struggle. But I wonder if you (yes, you!) might feel the same way. That despite all the struggles, frustration, you can’t “let go” of the violin. If you also fell in love with the violin once, just like me… You will understand what I mean.
If you quit playing, you will never truly let violin go. It will be in the back of your mind until the day you die. If you feel that way, it does not matter how crappy you play compared to some other “great” violinists. Remember, if you compare yourself to Hilary Hahn, almost every professional violin player should quit.
It also doesn’t matter that other people tell you that you are wasting your time practicing, and you could be doing more useful or productive things instead. Your soul decided to become a violin player.
For some reason, you are meant to go through the struggles. To feel incompetent and frustrated, but to still continue practicing. This road might not be the easiest. But in the end, it is the road that is true for you. You are allowed to distract yourself by quitting. But if you fell in love with violin, you know deep down, that you won’t be able to stop thinking about your violin. A voice in the back of your head will remind you of your violin sitting abandoned in the corner. That is your intuition speaking.
I believe that the road to fulfillment is not always choosing the easiest path.
On the day I die, I can’t imagine that I would think “oh, how nice that my life was “easy”. I imagine that when I’ll almost die, I realize more than ever, how amazing it is to simply be alive. To feel, to breathe, to experience new things. And that it doesn’t matter if you always feel good. It is mainly just this feeling of being alive.
Following my intuition to learn the violin brought me unexpected gifts.
Violin did certainly not always make my life easier. But it did bring people in my life that I love… Friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime… Remarkable life experiences that I could never have had without… An true appreciation for classical music, arts and history… A love for learning something new every day… All in all, it made my life a lot more interesting.
Maybe that is the reason that my intuition told me to embark on this journey? In the end, following my intuition is what makes me feel alive.
Even if my intuition tells me to do things that seem very difficult, I have no other choice than to trust that voice. I decided to follow my intuition. And so I decided to learn the violin.
So I have no other choice than to keep practicing. 🙂