I thought this would be something interesting to talk about on here. If you’ve read any of my recent posts on this blog, you will know that I recently did some grad school auditions. I’m not sure if I mentioned this, but I completed my fourth year recital before I left for auditions as well! I know it sounds absolutely crazy, but for the low amount of stress and anxiety that I’ve experienced in the past month, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I read back on some of my posts from September-January and I couldn’t believe how much anxiety and stress I was under! It’s definitely interesting for me to look back on that and appreciate where I am now even more.
You’re probably thinking, “If I were you, I’d just put my instrument away and never practice ever again”. Well, it’s not that simple. I still have orchestra and chamber music obligations. I can’t just waltz into rehearsal and be like “Sorry guys, I haven’t practiced in a week”. When I go to the practice rooms, I feel like there’s this silent judgement. Why I am I less entitled to practice just because I’m done all of my auditions and my recital? I have to keep playing or else I will lose all that muscle memory. I took a week break one time and I swear it took almost a month to get back to the level I was at before.
This has been a great opportunity to work on repertoire that I either didn’t get a chance to play in my fourth year recital or just pieces I’ve always wanted to learn. I am also using this opportunity to work on orchestral excerpts, which is not something I always get a chance to do unless I am preparing for an audition. I was concerned that my practicing wouldn’t be very focused because I wasn’t preparing for anything and there’s no pressure, but actually I’ve been getting a lot done. I guess I’m practicing because it’s genuinely what I love doing. I can really take the time to focus on refining my technique too. I feel like my practicing is almost more efficient than it was before, ironically enough. I guess under the pressure of my recital and auditions, I felt rushed to get through everything and I didn’t always take the time to stop and smell the roses. Perhaps this can be something I can apply to my practice in future years. Although I am taking things at a much slower pace and practicing in smaller chunks, I’m still getting a lot done.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not practicing 4+ hours a day. I’m also using this opportunity to get away from my instrument as well, which I think is super important. I’m finally using that hot yoga pass I bought back in September. Ironically, it would have benefited me more when I was going through more stress, but better late than never. I’ve gone once a week the past month and already I feel a lot stronger and my flexibility has improved. I’ve also made an effort to walk places that are within 3 kilometres of where I am. Round trip, that’s about 6km of walking most days. When school ends, I hope to explore some more non-music hobbies over the summer. I’d really like to get back into reading books for one thing. I used to love reading, but I’ve just never had the patience to read an entire book in the past few years.
That’s basically all I’ve been up to as of late. Currently, I’m typing out this entry as a means to procrastinate for a paper due in a history class. It’s my last paper of my undergrad, it only gets harder from here…
Whoa, I’m getting fancy and inserting pictures in my entries! I can barely contain myself too!
Well, there is a deeper meaning behind the picture. The title of this post states “I just wanted to be different”. So I figured a snowflake would be an appropriate graphic as no two snowflakes are alike. No two humans are alike.
Sometimes we forget just how unique we are. There are so many humans in the world, it can feel like you are insignificant and don’t matter. If you have read any other things I have posted in this blog, you will know that it is something I talk about a lot.
When my violin teacher suggested to me at the end of grade 7 that I switch to viola, I will admit I was quite skeptical, as I’m sure you can relate if you are a violist as well. I thought it was a passive-aggressive nudge suggesting that things on violin weren’t going so well and that maybe I should just give up. I didn’t want to play an instrument that had such horrible jokes written about it, I couldn’t be that person! I rented a cheap one just to try it out and give it a chance. I did like the deeper, rich tone quality of the viola. Overall, I thought it was a much nicer and satisfying instrument to play. The next week when I went to my violin lesson, it was my first viola lesson. That summer, I went to the summer string workshop as a violist. I was still a bit shaky on alto clef, but by the beginning of grade 8, I was almost fluent in alto clef. By the time I started youth orchestra, it was like I had been playing viola for years.
I’ll admit I still wasn’t completely sold on viola. Part of me was still a violinist and missed soaring in those high positions on the E string. I’d watch the violinists have these crazy hard parts all up in 8th position while I was playing tremolo. I would almost wish that I could play something like that, I felt like I wasn’t challenging myself enough. I thought people would think that I was being lazy for switching to the viola. Yes, at one point in my life, I thought viola was “too easy”. Such a violinist thing to say. I did like being in a smaller section though. There aren’t many violists, especially where I was from. I felt I always got lost in the sea of violinists and was constantly compared to other people, making me always feel like the “underdog” or behind others. When I started on viola, I felt like I was my own category and I didn’t care if I was behind others or didn’t play as well as I “should have”.
It wasn’t until the end of grade 9 when my parents very kindly bought me a new professional quality viola (the one in the banner of this blog). As soon as I played it, I fell in love with the instrument all over again. It was so much nicer than that cheap rental one I had been using the past 2 years. It was from that moment that I knew that viola was my true calling. I was never meant to be a violinist, I was a violist. I didn’t switch to viola because I wasn’t good at violin, I switched because I genuinely enjoyed the instrument more and it suited me better.
As I began to identify more with being a violist, I began to be legitimately bothered by all these viola jokes. I knew they were just jokes, but I couldn’t help but wonder if there actually was a prejudice in the musical world against violists. Where I was from, a lot of the viola players didn’t play very well or work very hard. I got the impression they were violinists, like me, told to play viola and took it the wrong way. Once they switched, they never really got any better. I guess they thought since they’re inferior to everyone else and never going to get any better, why bother? These people are the reason that viola jokes still exist.
I wanted to be different. I wanted to work hard and achieve things just like any violinist or cellist. Just because I’m a violist doesn’t mean I can’t work hard. I wanted to be that violist. I wanted to stand out. I wanted to win all the competitions.
As you can tell, this mentality didn’t work out for me. I ended up being way too cocky in certain situations and made myself look even more like a fool. I felt like I had done all this hard work for “nothing”. Now as a fourth year university student, I still haven’t won any major competitions and feel like I’ve let violists down. I wanted to be different and show that we’re not the out-of-tune, stupid, unmusical losers that those stupid jokes say we are!
But then, I take a step back and think. Am I practicing and working hard to impress other people? Am I wanting to win competitions just to prove that violists are competent individuals? Sounds ridiculous when you put it in those terms. Who cares if people don’t think you’re good or think you’re a loser? All that matters is that you put in the hard work and know you’re accomplishing things for yourself. People can think whatever the hell they want, they’re not your future employers.
I guess through all these years of being unsuccessful, I felt like people just thought I was just like every other violist in my city. When I moved here, I felt the same way. I tried so hard to be different but just couldn’t. But you don’t have to try hard to be different. You are different. Not everyone was meant to win all the competitions and be the person that everyone’s “in love” with. Winning competitions does not equate success. I’ve accomplished things that don’t get nearly as much praise or attention as a competition, but are unique to me and other people haven’t necessarily done. Not saying that I have an advantage, but I’m just as successful as those people who win every competition even though I don’t get nearly the praise and attention they do.
Bottom line is everyone is different. We all have our own set of achievements and stories to tell. Why do we waste so much energy trying to be like “everyone else” or prove that we are just as good as another person? I honestly think, not just myself, but all musicians put too much energy into trying to be different and stand out from other people. People will think what they think, but at the end of the day, we know what we have done and one day someone will appreciate that.
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.
I have decided to come here and discuss a pet peeve of mine that has bothered me since middle school and high school. Unfortunately, this still occurs in university and I don’t understand sometimes.
I remember being in elementary/middle/high school bands, choirs, or orchestras. In those kinds of groups, you get a wide variety of skill levels. There are students who are very dedicated and likely to go into music, students who have no intention of pursuing music but still are just as dedicated, and the students who just don’t care and are there because “My parents said I had to”. I always found in those groups the people who needed to practice the most were the ones who didn’t. The more dedicated students, or students that took music lessons outside school tended to practice regularly and could play their parts very well, even on the first reading. Despite the teacher’s best intentions to teach the kids that rehearsals are not substitute for individual practice, many students treat it that way all the way from elementary school to the end of grade 12. Honestly, if you’re not planning to pursue music in university or you don’t take private lessons, it really only takes maximum of 20 minutes a day to just run over all those difficult passages in band/choir music (perhaps more like 30-45 minutes for orchestra music). It won’t be better right away, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and improvement will happen over time. Improvement will not happen by showing up to rehearsal every week playing the passages over and over again in a sloppy manner, it only reinforces bad habits.
I’m definitely not suggesting that all high school band kids are like this by any means. When I was that age, there were plenty of students who were very dedicated to the band and really wanted to be there. I could tell they took the time to practice things that they couldn’t play and even if it wasn’t perfect right away, there was improvement each week. It’s unfortunate that even one person who doesn’t have this simple, fundamental skill of being in a music ensemble will bring the whole group down. What ends up happening is the band/choir/orchestra director will panic when the concert is coming up and the pieces still aren’t ready and schedule an extra rehearsal or sectional. Nobody in the group wants this. I remember being in a group in high school where we rehearsed only once a week. The teacher thought that would be fair as we’re all busy and it would give us more time to practice. Unfortunately, people weren’t able to take that initiative and we had to go back to rehearsing twice a week. High school kids aren’t adults, but they still have things to do; homework, other music groups, sports teams, clubs, jobs, etc. and don’t need to worry about extra rehearsals on short notice. These rehearsals are added solely for the benefit of the people who do not practice, the people in the group who took the initiative to learn their music are being unfairly punished. Essentially, these rehearsals are put in place as a substitute for practice, which is just unacceptable in my mind. It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy; if you treat students like they don’t practice, they won’t. I remember in high school choir, our song wasn’t sounding so great and people hadn’t learned the words yet and just as we were leaving rehearsal, the teacher said “We’re rehearsing tomorrow at 7:30am” and expected everyone to be there. I remember that same teacher expecting us to come into school on days off or holidays if we needed that time. That would never happen in a professional orchestra. Yes, it is for the benefit of the group. It would be much better to schedule extra rehearsals than have a half-baked performance, but wouldn’t it be better if the people in question did their job? Who is to blame; the teacher for not getting after these students to practice or the student for not practicing? I don’t have an answer as it really does depend on the context and the people involved.
Part of the problem could be the long period of time between performances that elementary/middle/high school music groups have. The group will start rehearsing in September and there may not be a concert until November or December. Most students would probably think, why spend hours practicing the music in September when we don’t need to perform it until December? It’s not that simple. If you were running a marathon on September 1, would you start training on August 31? If you were trying out for a sports team, would you start practicing the night before? It’s the same thing with playing a musical instrument. Just because you don’t have a performance coming up in a week doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be practicing. The kids who take piano, violin, or cello lessons from a young age tend to be more successful if they take up band or choir later in school as they are used to the idea of practicing every day to not only learn the music, but to refine their technique and overall musicianship. This can be a hard message to convey to someone who just picked up an instrument for the first time in grade 6 band, but it is still important if they want to be a valuable member of any musical ensemble. It is irrelevant if these students intend to pursue music beyond high school or not, they are still playing in a musical ensemble and need to work as a team. If they aren’t willing to practice or learn their music, then they should not play with the group at all. Unfortunately, the “my parents made me be in band/choir” people are still around until the end of grade 12.
In a university music program, you’d think that we’ve matured a little bit from this. Well, I guess it would depend on the school, but not always the case. Obviously, the “my parents made me be here” people would never get into a university music program anywhere. If they do by some miracle, they are weeded out by first year. Because in university, we are now adults, the profs cannot schedule extra rehearsals on short notice. I believe there’s some policy the prof cannot add any extra class meetings, assessments, etc. that are not listed on the class syllabus distributed at the beginning of the term. However, there have been many times where I felt we had more rehearsals than necessary. We used to have a conductor who would give us no break between concerts. For example, if we had a concert in late November, we would be expected to rehearse the music in December for our concert which wasn’t until February. Of course I never really said anything but it didn’t make sense. Any work we did in December would be forgotten when we resumed after the break in January. It would have also been nice to have a break to study for finals and stuff.
Our current conductor gives us breaks between concerts only sometimes. We just had a concert last night and I was actually really hoping that there wouldn’t be rehearsal tomorrow. We haven’t received the music for the next concert and it would be better if we had fewer rehearsals that were more productive. I get an email today that we are having a rehearsal but it’ll be more or less a sight reading session. I couldn’t believe what I had read. I could do that in my own practice room on my own time. I honestly think sight reading as a group at the university level is a complete waste of time. Yes, sight reading is a valuable skill to practice, but you shouldn’t waste 50 people’s time to practice this skill (*cough* chamber music reading parties *cough*) If you haven’t looked at your music, don’t even go to rehearsal. But here is that self-fulfilling prophecy again. The conductor is basically having this rehearsal as a substitute for individual practice. He basically thinks that the people in the orchestra will not look at the music unless we have a “group reading session”. Pardon me for having a bad attitude, but this is absolute bull$h!t. People in the university orchestra are preparing for a professional career (for the most part). There is no luxury of a low-pressure group reading session in a professional orchestra, so why would we have that in university? If people don’t look at their music, they need to learn that lesson themselves. This is not doing any favours for students planning to have an orchestral career. I was almost thinking of skipping this rehearsal just to make a statement, but literally my only motivation to go is that I will get in trouble if I don’t. It’s just so frustrating that I am in university, almost done my undergrad, and I am being treated like a child and I am kind of forced into acting like one too. I should be going to rehearsals because I want to, not because I’m afraid of getting in trouble with the profs.
Teachers from elementary school to university really need to stop running on the self-fulfilling prophecy. How are students going to learn to take responsibility if they are constantly spoon fed with extra, unnecessary rehearsals? This doesn’t just apply to music students either, the self-fulfilling prophecy is evident in pretty much any classroom for any subject. For example, I remember having random “homework checks” in math. The only reason I would do homework would be so I would get the arbitrary marks on the homework check, not so I would learn and reinforce the math concept into my mind. If a student fails the math test because they didn’t do any of the assignments, that’s their fault, not the fault of the teacher for not doing homework checks. I actually found that the class average was higher in classes where the teacher didn’t do any homework checks. Not treating high school students and adults like children actually causes them to smarten up and do their work.