We have all experienced it: the day when you get your violin out of its case and everything feels right, things come easily, and you sound pretty good!

Unfortunately, we have all experienced (and probably remember more vividly) the days when from the moment the violin touches our jaw, everything is wrong. Bow feels awkward, tone is awful, nothing feels settled or comfortable, and it seems we have forgotten every tune we ever learned.

This balancing act is especially true for violin adult learners because they are hyper-vigilant and hyper-aware of how they’re doing. That’s one of the reasons I like to work with adult violin students.

Much of this phenomenon can be accredited to many little factors. A single factor can make a huge difference! So, next time you have a really good or really bad day, take some notes, and, better yet, take PICTURES of some of the items below:

  • What are you wearing? (long/short sleeves, collar or no collar, slick or grippy fabric?)
  • What shoes are you wearing? (this affects your balance and groundedness)
  • Are you wearing jewelry? Necklaces can cause problems
  • Is your long hair tied back? Long hair really gets in the way and causes the violin to slip.
  • What did you eat? (some food allergies affect concentration)
  • When did you eat? (blood sugar could be high or low making you shaky or weak)
  • How recently did you rosin your bow?
  • How long are your fingernails?
  • What mood are you in? Feeling optimistic or pessimistic? (I believe in the power of affirmations and positive self-talk)
  • Look at your bow tension (take a picture)
  • Are you holding the bow the same way every day? (take pictures of good days)
  • Are you setting up your shoulder rest the same way every day? (take pictures of good days!)
  • Are you standing in a different position or sitting in a different chair?
  • How is the weather? (humidity plays a big role in bow tension and moist sticky fingers)

Pay close attention to the shoulder rest

On a GOOD day, take a picture of the position your shoulder rest is in. A big cause of bad days is not being able to find the magic spot for the shoulder rest. This particular item probably makes the biggest difference.

Look in a mirror: has your bow decided to go crooked or go to a weak sounding point? If so, it’s probably due to one of the factors above, (such as shoulder rest placement) and it will make your violin tone sound bad.

All of these factors can cause our playing to swing wildly from pretty darn good to pretty darn bad, and that inconsistency is hard to cope with, so if something simple like never wearing a turtleneck shirt or keeping your fingernails short can give you an edge, then it is well worth noting!

There are other things that can affect our playing, so pay attention to EVERYTHING. As you learn to deal with the known factors, you can use more of your attention to deal with the trickier elements of good days and bad such as focus and concentration, practice habits, nerves, technique, and the hundreds of things we must learn as adult violin students to nail in order to sound good.

Finally, keep a practice diary where you record these observations for several months until the variables are under control. As you do, you will notice that you’re consistently having good days and very few rogue bad days.

We will all still have bad days, but for God’s sake don’t let it be due to the shirt you chose!