More Than One Right Way

Music tends to be one of those areas of study where people can be incredibly jaded and opinionated about the “right” way to do something. Yes, there are better ways of doing things, but I don’t think there is a “right” way to become a musician. This can be applied to many aspects of life as well.

The main point I’m trying to get at is people tend to be very pushy about how many hours a day you should practice at all stages of playing. For example, I saw the following chart posted on Violin Masterclass.

If you play for fun

  • Age five: 30 minutes
  • Age eight: 45 – 60 minutes
  • Age ten: 60 – 75 minutes
  • Age twelve to adult: 90 – 120 minutes

If you want to be a professional

  • Age five: 30 – 45 minutes
  • Age eight: 90 – 120 minutes
  • Age ten: 2 hours
  • Age twelve: 3 hours
  • Age fourteen to eighteen: 3 – 4 hours
  • Violin major in college: 5 hours

Let me be the first to tell you that there’s no way in hell I practiced nearly that much and I’m here in university doing just fine. I honestly seldom practice 5 hours a day as a music major. I know, shame on me. The chart also kind of implies that one would know they want to be a professional by age 8. I hated taking violin lessons at age 8 and I don’t think I practiced anywhere near 30 minutes, let alone the suggestion on the chart! When I first read this chart, I think I was about 10 years old and it immediately made me feel like a failure because I didn’t practice anywhere near the amount suggested on the playing for fun chart.

My take on it is, are these kids who follow the practice times on this chart like it’s the universal truth really passionate about what they do? For me, I believe that passion and sincerity are the most important aspects of a musician, artist, actor, or any fine arts performer. I would much rather see a person who plays with emotion, passion, and musicality even if their technique is not perfect than a technique robot whose parents made them practice 5 hours a day. In order to practice that many hours as a child, you would have to make a ton of sacrifices and miss out on being a kid. I know when I was a child, I went to public school so I would be in school for 6 hours a day. That’s already 6 hours of my day spoken for. When I was younger, I could easily practice for 30-45 minutes after school and be done with it. But as I got older, I got busier and sometimes I’d have rehearsals after school and after supper and I’d be squeezing in homework with any little time I got, even if it was 15 minutes. By the time I got home, it was bed time. Days would go by without even practicing. I’d be playing my instrument, but I just didn’t have that individual time each day. I still made it into music school though. Once I got there, I practiced my butt off because I had so much “free time”.

Of course, these kids who follow the practice times on the chart did not have a normal or well-rounded childhood as I did. Don’t get me wrong, if you have read any of my rant posts on this blog, you know I made significant sacrifices to pursue my music, but these kids are at a higher level of sacrifice than I was. For the most part, they were home-schooled which makes a huge difference in the amount of practice time available to you. However, their “free time” was practicing strictly enforced by the parents. I know people in university now who were home-schooled under this mentality and they said that they didn’t even have any friends their own age. They didn’t get to play sports, play other instruments, go to clubs, or even play with kids at the park; things that most of us took for granted in our childhood. Instead, they were to practice violin or piano (it’s usually those instruments with these types of people) for X hours a day and then study math for X hours a day. These are the kids that grow up to be technical robots and win every competition, but have no genuine passion for the art.

I’ll be honest, I do get home-school envy from time to time. When the superstar violin kid came to my school, I felt like such a failure. I thought I was behind for my age and that I should have been home-schooled. He accomplished more before coming to university than I did my whole life. He was used to practicing 4-5+ hours a day already and I could barely wrap my head around practicing that much even as a music major. He tended to be braggy about how it was so nice to practice so much. However, the trade-off is that he is a technique robot and barely has any interests outside music. By going to public school, I got the opportunity to play in band, jazz band, flute choir and sing in choir, vocal jazz, and musical theatre. These experiences contributed to my musicality. Although I didn’t really practice enough to develop solid technique, I had the musicality that can’t always be taught. To clarify, I’m by no means suggesting that home-schooled students do so specifically to practice their instruments more or be the “best” at everything. I’ve met home-schooled students in university who had a very well-rounded childhood (arguably more so than a public school student) and their intentions for being home-schooled were either because it was a family tradition or they have a self-starter personality and wanted to take control of their education.

Coming back to this post title, there is not one right way to do something. The beauty of the music world is seeing the variety of musical backgrounds that people come from. You don’t need to be a child prodigy to make it in the music world, in fact I’d almost argue that it’s better not to be. People can be very pushy like “Oh you should practice more” but it ultimately depends on what you want to achieve and how much you’re willing to sacrifice for it. If you don’t want to kill yourself practicing 5 hours a day, no one said you had to. It depends more on the person and their work ethic. There is no step-by-step process to becoming a musician and some people need to stop making one. There are people who pursue music degrees and make it in the music business who only picked up an instrument in their late teens or early twenties. I have so much respect for these people as they enter the music faculty as an older student with less technical ability than the younger students and yet they don’t let that bother them and hence they work incredibly hard. Yet, these people get criticized for “not being good enough” because they didn’t start at age 3.

My point is, there is not one right way to do something. Don’t let people tell you that what you’re doing is wrong or that you should have done this and that. You know what’s best for your life for what you want to achieve. If you don’t accomplish what you were hoping for, that’s not a “I told you so” moment for other people, you just don’t give up and try again next time.

Introduction

Welcome to my blog! I’m not sure how you found it but welcome regardless!

The reason why I created this blog is basically because I needed a safe place to rant about my feelings and emotional struggles as a musician, but more specifically a violist. Perhaps no one will read this. But perhaps someone will find me on a wild google search and feel the exact same way. Who knows, I’m not in it to become popular.

The biggest thing that I struggle with is the gap between my technical ability and my musicality. I consider myself to be a very musical. Whenever I perform that is the first thing that people will comment on. However, my technique is no where near the level of my musicality and that holds me back. My biggest technical issue is intonation. I work unbelievably hard on my technique and I have improved so much but it’s not something that will be immediately improved. It’s a very frustrating, vicious cycle; every time I play for someone who has never heard me they will notice my musicality but point out my technical flaws like I don’t realize I play out of tune or something. It’s unbelievably frustrating. I want to improve and people to notice but it’s so hard and I constantly feel like I’m getting no where when I’m constantly reminded of my poor intonation. Intonation is also probably the most obvious technical flaw of a person as well. If you can’t play in tune, everyone will notice instantly, even people with no musical training.

What I’ve noticed over the years is that technical ability is often rewarded much more than musicality. It is hard to win a competition with musicality alone. Of course, if one can be proficient in both technique and musicality then the things they can accomplish will be amazing, but it is hard to have both. I’ve watched so many people who play with absolutely impeccable intonation and overall technique beat me in competitions despite the fact they played with minimal emotion or passion. The people who are considered to be the most advanced players at my school are impeccable with respect to technique but lack emotion and passion. This is NOT meant to be cocky, but if my technique was as good as theirs, I would beat them in any competition with my musicality. I understand why having good technique is often more rewarded; it takes a lot more hours of practice and discipline to achieve that. Musicality and playing with emotion is often considered to be a natural talent and can’t really be taught or practiced. Hard work and discipline is what gets you places, not natural talent. It’s fine to be naturally talented at something but it will only get you so far and then you need the work ethic to reach the next level.

Part of my, for lack of a better term, incompetence in technique is due to not having a teacher who was really disciplined about technique. I believe I studied for about 12 years prior to attending university. I did not do scales and studies nearly as much as I should have and part of it was perhaps my lack of discipline, but also due to not having a teacher who enforced it strictly. I’ve studied in university for 3 years now and I am much more disciplined about practicing technique plus my teacher is better about enforcing it. However, 3 years isn’t going to make up for 12 years of undisciplined practicing. I will have to work unbelievably hard if I want to “catch up” to these people who have been practicing scales for 5 hours a day since age 4. However, the musical background that I have is not “invalid” or “wrong” so to speak. I believe that because I was not forced to practice technique so diligently from a young age allowed me to explore music and find my own passion for it at a younger age; I was never one of those “prodigy kids”. I played several instruments/genres while growing up for my own enjoyment and I seldom felt the pressure to be the best or impress my parents. Because of this, I was able to play with maturity, passion, and emotion from a younger age than these technical robots. Of course, the challenge now is going back and working on my technique that these robots had nailed down when they were younger.

Anyway, I’ll stop there as this is only intended to be an introductory post and I have an entire blog to rant about whatever I want. I’m not sure which direction this blog will take, but I do predict that ranting about my technique vs. musicality will be a common theme in possibly all my posts.