Practice Diary: The solution to over-thinking is even more thinking!

So now I’ve been told by both my violin and my cello teachers that I think or analyze too much.

To have the ability to analyze everything you do is a good way to practice your instrument more efficiently, and for adult learners, it’s one of our most valuable advantages over younger students. We can think more critically and problem solve our way toward perfection.


Apparently I’ve been over-doing it. My cello teacher tells me almost every lesson that I “think too much”. It took me a while to actually figure out what he meant, because, how can you not think about everything you do when you are trying to play something as complicated as the cello? If I sound the way I do with all my brain cells fired up, imagine how much worse it would sound if half of them are asleep! Eventually I realized he meant that I spend too much time lingering on the notes I’ve already played, analyzing whether they were the right notes or whether they were good notes, and not focusing on the things to come. Apparently it’s very easy to tell when I’m doing it because my eyes shift whenever it happens.

The day my violin teacher brought it up was when I was having a particularly hard time playing my scales up to tempo. I had the metronome on but I kept ignoring it, wandering in my own speed. We figured out that the note after each shift was too slow, because I always hesitate after a shift. And I hesitate because I was trying to analyze if my shift was good. So basically, the same problem: spending too much energy obsessing on the past and not focusing on what’s next.

They both also brought up another point about my over-analyzing: it’s affecting the way I “perform”. Because I think too much about the details I neglect the big picture, which is to play a piece (scale, etude, concerto) all the way through in a musical manner. And it’s something I have to work on.

So in a way my inability to “perform” for my teachers is a result of not enough practice. I over-analyze on lesson day because I’m not confident with my playing, therefore I can’t actually perform the things. And now, realizing that there is an extra piece of thing I have to practice for, it means that I have to work harder to fit that in before a lesson as well.

And how do you do that? I can’t just add another hour to my practice session everyday; I simply just cannot devote more time into it.

Being an over-thinker that I am, my solution was to… analyze everything even harder, but trying to do that upfront so I get all the pieces ready earlier to leave myself time in the end to do run-throughs (as if I’m performing).

I’m still experimenting with the specifics. I’m trying to focus more on looking ahead in the music to prepare for the notes to come; working in smaller chunks to get specific notes and measures correct so I don’t have to think back as much; practicing running through something smoothly (without stopping), but only after I fix all the smaller things.

And slow practice is your friend. We see that everywhere. Everyone says to practice slowly, but I don’t think people (myself included) always know what that actually means (or are too impatient to do it). I feel that this topic merits its own post(s), and I’m still trying to figure out all of its magic to describe it coherently, so more on that later.

I’m not sure how well my over-over-thinking is working. Maybe I’m just unwilling to change; maybe it takes some time to take effect. I think it’s kind of working a little, so I’m going to keep over-over-think until my brain explodes :/

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