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 What do you do when you are in a rut/plateau and can’t seem to progress?
Author: McDonalds Eater 
Date:   2022-06-17 21:40

I have been dealing with a plateau for the past 6 months and I just can’t seem to progress at all.

No matter what long tones, slow fundamentals, listening to different clarinetists, or approaching the clarinet from different angles, I just cannot improve. This is driving me insane.

I’m in this state of like the more I hold the clarinet the harder it gets. The more the days go on the further behind I get. It just seems that no matter what I do I am not content with my playing. I also cannot have a practice session without overthinking everything and trying to play “correctly.”

As a result of this my mental health has also declined. I started getting intrusive thoughts that I had never ever had. This is the first time I have wanted to quit for good. This is the first I have started questioning if this was indeed my path. This is the first time I have started questioning whether or not I’m good enough for this. This is the first time I have started comparing myself to others (this is a big one). I’m still stuck at home doing nothing while all my friends and colleagues are having the time of their lives playing in prestigious festivals, playing masterclasses with big names, subbing with professional orchestras, or progressing with their careers. And here I am, still an unknown with nothing done for his resume.

The drive, passion, and confidence that I used to have are at an all time low for me. Picking up the clarinet to practice is starting to feel more like a chore (I had also never felt this). Picking up a score to study is starting to feel like schoolwork that we don’t like. I’m approaching my final year of undergrad at a very reputable institution, and I still honestly don’t hear much difference from my 1st year of playing.

I live for the music. It’s what I like doing. And I don’t want to quit. But I’m also tired and frustrated of having 10-minute “practice” sessions where nothing gets done.

I don’t know what to do.

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 Re: What do you do when you are in a rut/plateau and can’t seem to progress?
Author: MrDanny 
Date:   2022-06-17 23:17

This sounds so painful, and I'm sorry you're feeling this way.

You didn't say whether other people share your sense that the playing isn't going well. Many of us tend to be our worst critics -- in general, not just musically. Very often we judge ourselves harshly where others who know (or listen to) us do not. If you're isolating yourself from others because you think you're failing, one comparison that *is* worth making is between how we see (or hear) ourselves, and how people we respect see us. I hope you keep playing and talking with other musicians, and your friends too. This can shift our perspective in good ways.

I've found that plateaus in playing are transcended at unexpected points. It's similar to the way feeling really down passes as unpredictably as it arrives. The point is that it does pass -- more quickly if you stay engaged with good colleagues and friends, and keep having fun wherever you can. The fact that you're going to get past this is easier to see, and the downs lose their power to feel open-ended, if you've felt this way before and then felt better. But I hope this is a one-time experience for you!

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 Re: What do you do when you are in a rut/plateau and can’t seem to progress?
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2022-06-18 00:13

One thing that seems to spark greater interest and greater progress for me is to work out different fingerings. There is ALWAYS a combination of fingerings you have not tried (vent fingerings are a great intro to this). We seem to have a tendency to follow the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to fingerings whether to maintain what our favorite teacher suggested or something that worked best for pitch (at one time). Mixing things up on fingerings and going through basic scales and exercises "anew," SLOWLY, usually "wakes me up."





................Paul Aviles



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 Re: What do you do when you are in a rut/plateau and can’t seem to progress?
Author: nellsonic 
Date:   2022-06-18 01:22

Are you playing any music just for fun with other people? Here's an idea: Reach out to some local folks outside your regular orbit and schedule a chamber music reading session just for fun. Try your local music teachers association. Worst case you'll suffer some mediocre players for an hour, but more likely than not you'll meet some folks who play well, are fun, and have a completely different perspective on their day to day music making.

Are you recording yourself on a regular basis? Record an excerpt of something you are working on today, keep practicing it, and then record it again in a week and see if you really are making no progress - or if that is just a story you are telling yourself.

Burnout from time to time is a fact of life in any professional pursuit. Learn to expect it and welcome it as an opportunity to do try something different, either in your approach or in your life. Maybe you just need to take a solid few days away from the clarinet. 3 or 4 days at least, maybe a week or two. What have you been missing out on?

You may want to check out the Digital Clarinet Academy if you can. It's kind of tailored to people more or less in your position.

Anders

Post Edited (2022-06-18 01:23)

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 Re: What do you do when you are in a rut/plateau and can’t seem to progress?
Author: Tony F 
Date:   2022-06-18 20:44

Try taking a meaningful break from playing. Do something else that you've always wanted to do but never had the time. Go on vacation, go to the beacc, go hiking or take a class in something new. Don't worry about falling behind, the muscle memory will still be there when you come back and you'll be up to speed again very quickly.This is what works for me, your mileage may vary.

Tony F.

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 Re: What do you do when you are in a rut/plateau and can’t seem to progress?
Author: Tony Pay 2017
Date:   2022-06-18 21:17

You could follow a more sensible diet

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 Re: What do you do when you are in a rut/plateau and can’t seem to progress?
Author: Mark Charette 2017
Date:   2022-06-19 06:13

Been 6 months, you're an undergrad, in a rut, can't progress.

See your university health center. There are a number of things that could be wrong. But we're not able to diagnose, even if we were qualified, using one of your posts.

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 Re: What do you do when you are in a rut/plateau and can’t seem to progress?
Author: SunnyDaze 
Date:   2022-06-19 15:27

Hi Mark,

I would totally agree about that. Definitely a situation that needs attention in real life and not on a discussion forum.

Jen

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 Re: What do you do when you are in a rut/plateau and can’t seem to progress?
Author: MrDanny 
Date:   2022-06-19 18:10

Yet distressing crises of professional identity, sometimes in early career and sometimes after many years, have been raised here before, and responded to with empathy and supportive suggestions. Rather than precluding anything in real life, the responses almost always pointed toward real life actions that could help. People on this wonderful bulletin board — thank you, Mark Charette — have performed so many acts of online kindness, sharing their knowledge and (sometimes quite personal) experience, that it didn’t seem as though the original poster had come to the wrong place. Even though it’s not the only place or the best one.



Post Edited (2022-06-19 19:09)

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 Re: What do you do when you are in a rut/plateau and can’t seem to progress?
Author: Ed 
Date:   2022-06-19 19:05

There are some good suggestions above. Music can be tough because it is like a weird Twilight Zone episode. We often continue to move along, yet the destination may seem as if it only gets more distant. As you may be realizing, you are likely over thinking. Most of us have had that happen at one time or another. I know players who have played for years successfully who have told me that the longer they play the harder it gets, which seems again like classic overthinking. Try to remember why you love music and try not to think too hard about the mechanics of the music, but about what you are trying to express.

Sometimes we have to learn to enjoy the journey and where we are at the moment and not think too hard about the long term destination. It is like traveling. Remember to stop and enjoy where you are at the moment. Look at where you have been and what you have accomplished.

Remember that each one of us is individual and travels our own path through life. You can only live your life. Comparing yourself to others is a waste of time. Like in a garden, each flower blooms when it is ready. Often we hit plateaus in our lives and our studies where progress is slow or very small.

Some random suggestions-
Maybe take some lessons with someone different over the summer.
Play though some things that seem easy just for fun.
If you are playing and feeling really frustrated with something, don't be afraid to put it down and go do something else.
Perhaps take a week or two off to mentally and physically recharge. Think about other things, enjoy other activities. Try to come back with a fresh mind.

When I was in college I recall a horn player who I never thought was a good player. He often struggled hitting pitches accurately, his tone was often a little choked. I was a little frustrated when I was assigned to play in a quintet with him. after a number of weeks he came in to one rehearsal and sounded really good- much more accurate and with a robust rich tone. I asked him what he changed. He replied that his teacher told him he was practicing too much and had suggested he take time off and scale back his practicing. It was a wonderful insightful suggestion.

Good luck! Please let us know how things go.

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 Re: What do you do when you are in a rut/plateau and can’t seem to progress?
Author: EaubeauHorn 
Date:   2022-06-20 02:03

This happened to me as a violin major many years ago.
I was practicing WAY too much. My very high level university demanded three hours of practice a day, and my body simply did not do well with that much. It liked TWO hours of practice a day, and started balking when I forced more. I developed focal dystonia and had to quit altogether, because I was asking more of my body than it was able to do. Your mind can require you to progress at a rate your body can't keep up with, and trying to make it can put you in the situation you're in.
Did you start playing at a later age than your colleagues? I did; I came into that high level university with only half the years on my instrument than they had. My teacher, who was very famous, expected me to make that up in a matter of a semester, and of course I was not able to and therefore was accused of not practicing enough.
So you can see where that ended up; If I had had a caring teacher who told me I was overdoing it, instead of the opposite, I might not have dropped out. But I ended up with a wonderful career as an engineer and also have had a wonderful time playing as a very high level amateur on a variety of instruments, showing me that I really wasn't suited, in terms of personality, to life as a professional instrumentalist. At the time it felt like a horrible, horrible failure, but as I matured I realized I was simply trying to do the wrong thing and would have been miserable had I continued on that path.

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 Re: What do you do when you are in a rut/plateau and can’t seem to progress?
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2022-06-20 02:49

EaubeauHorn makes valid points about what is most important to us.


Two quick stories: There was a clarinetist who wanted nothing more than to be in a symphony orchestra but always found himself coming up short. Finally he took up the viola and in fairly short order got a coveted position in a fine orchestra. Then there was a really good clarinet player who wanted nothing more than to have a career as a soloist. He ended up as a utility player in a major symphony, but remained because it was "good enough" to have a steady, well paying career.


You must ultimately find what works for you. Compromise and "thinking out of the box" can be your best tools.




..............Paul Aviles



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 Re: What do you do when you are in a rut/plateau and can’t seem to progress?
Author: Tom H 
Date:   2022-06-20 05:38

I agree with those saying seek help at the university as far as your mental situation. I did that once and it was very helpful (though it had nothing to do with my clarinet playing--- who knows, that may be part of your problem?).
As far as plateaus go, I basically only practiced 15 minutes daily when teaching Band for 19 years. After retiring, I got it up to an hour and my playing really improved-- though I was no slouch in undergrad & grad school, etc. But, even with those 15 minute practices I did notice at specific points when I thought I broke through some sort of little barrier that let me see things more clear.
There is also the fact that we all know that there are a gazillion great-- and I mean great -- clarinetists in the world. Of course there are when we start like 20 gazillion each year in school bands. At times over the years I've heard someone else playing (just warming up at a rehearsal maybe) and thought "crap that guy/woman can play rings around me. But, I've been told I'm pretty darn good by others. I listen to tapes of my soloing from years ago and am usually impressed.
Guess what I'm saying is it depends what you want to do with your playing. I'm satisfied as principal clar. with a prof. concert band and that's it-- big fish, small pond. If you seek higher than that there may be many disappointments, no matter how good you get.

The Most Advanced Clarinet Book--Austin Macauley Publishers
tomheimer.ampbk.com/ Amazon, Sheet Music Plus
austinmacauley.com/author/heimer-tom
Boreal Ballad for unaccompanied clarinet--Sheet Music Plus
(902)-225-3276

Post Edited (2022-06-20 05:39)

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 Re: What do you do when you are in a rut/plateau and can’t seem to progress?
Author: Matt74 
Date:   2022-06-20 06:14

I'm sure you are at least 100% better than three years ago.

You sound burnt out. It's no wonder with everything going on. While you are feeling that way you probably won't make a lot of progress. Try to make some changes in your routine.

Also, plan fun and relaxing things to do. You really need to prioritize this because you are frustrated and overwhelmed. It's super important. Your frustration and other negative thoughts and feelings overwhelm the rest of your nervous system and mind. When that happens things don't work very well. So, make it a very high priority to give yourself some breathing room. You may have a variety of activities available through school. Ex. I find swimming relaxing. Get away from screens. Go for coffee. See "Top Gun" (highly recommended).

Don't worry too much about your career right now. No matter what happens, if you graduate from a good school you can find a job in music. I know teaching locally or in school may not sound super awesome to you right now, but trust me - you will not regret having the option. You may have lots of other options. Things may change. Use the summer to regroup and then figure things out next year.

Best wishes!

- Matthew Simington


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 Re: What do you do when you are in a rut/plateau and can’t seem to progress?
Author: Tom H 
Date:   2022-06-20 07:06

I agree with Matt. But if you do at some point consider public school teaching I'm sure you know you need certification for that, and you didn't mention anything about that in your OP. Teaching Band of course is a different ballgame than playing clarinet and one you need to be interested in. But I hear many schools employ "private lesson" type experts to come in and tutor, which may be something to look into as a change of pace.

The Most Advanced Clarinet Book--Austin Macauley Publishers
tomheimer.ampbk.com/ Amazon, Sheet Music Plus
austinmacauley.com/author/heimer-tom
Boreal Ballad for unaccompanied clarinet--Sheet Music Plus
(902)-225-3276

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 Re: What do you do when you are in a rut/plateau and can’t seem to progress?
Author: Matt74 
Date:   2022-06-20 07:08

FWIW I know EXACTLY how you feel. I have neurological issues so our situations are/were different, but I can absolutely relate to what you describe.

That said, I found that banging my head against the wall was never good. "Just Do It" is a load of baloney. People are all different, and what is being expected of you may not be the best or most useful thing for you. It may not even be the best thing for most people. It might be good, but not what works best right now. Come up with some creative things that might work better for you. You can start with, "Well, THAT isn't working, so I'll...."


https://youtu.be/-M30g3In8ao

- Matthew Simington


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 Re: What do you do when you are in a rut/plateau and can’t seem to progress?
Author: Jack Kissinger 
Date:   2022-07-04 18:34

Sometimes a plateau period like the one you're describing actually signals an upcoming quantum leap in ability. This phenomenon, which you may be experiencing, has been discussed before on this board. (Of course, in your case, it may be something entirely different. Six months seems a bit long to me. I think the longest plateau I've had to endure was about three months.) Still, you might find some useful comments if you use the search function at the top of this thread for "plateau jnk" (without the quotes). A suggestion someone made in one of these threads was taking a few lessons from a different teacher, if that's possible. I might expand that suggestion to include simply discussing your situation with some instructors in the music department whom you respect. (And you have discussed this with your teacher, right?)

Best regards,
jnk

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 Re: What do you do when you are in a rut/plateau and can’t seem to progress?
Author: SunnyDaze 
Date:   2022-07-04 19:08

Hi jnk,

I definitely get that kind of plateau just before a quantum leap. I find it incredibly frustrating when I'm in the middle of it and frequently actually get ill with a virus because I am rundown from the stress. The odd thing is that after I have put my feet up for a while to recover from the illness, I usually come back to the clarinet with a new perspective, and that is when the penny drops about what my clarinet problem was.

I think my tendency to catch viruses is like a fusebox that gives me a bit of downtime to let me get perspective on my problems.

At the moment I have just had about a doxen Eureka moments and I'm revelling in it. Almost every day I manage something amazing that I never could have imagined doing before, and it's great. <touches wood>

Jen

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 Re: What do you do when you are in a rut/plateau and can’t seem to progress?
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2022-07-04 19:43

McDonalds Eater wrote:

> I have been dealing with a plateau for the past 6 months and I
> just can’t seem to progress at all.
>
> No matter what long tones, slow fundamentals, listening to
> different clarinetists, or approaching the clarinet from
> different angles, I just cannot improve. This is driving me
> insane.

One of the elements of your "plateau" is your definition of progress. What is it in your playing that you want to improve? Doing long tones and slow fundamentals may have nothing to do with your needs. The first step in correcting or improving any defect - whether it's a general problem or a specific musical passage - is to figure out (diagnose) what the problem is. Then you need to figure out specific ways to remedy that problem. Practice without a reasonably specific goal isn't likely to help with anything much except. maybe, endurance, and that has limits.


> I’m in this state of like the more I hold the clarinet the
> harder it gets. The more the days go on the further behind I
> get.

Behind what? Whom?

> It just seems that no matter what I do I am not content
> with my playing. I also cannot have a practice session without
> overthinking everything and trying to play “correctly.”

That isn't a developmental plateau, it's an attitude hurdle. Practicing won't help that, and overthinking is part of it. Enjoy what you have accomplished and focus on what specifically you're not content with.

>
> As a result of this my mental health has also declined.

You're definitely overthinking and over-reacting.

> I live for the music. It’s what I like doing. And I don’t
> want to quit. But I’m also tired and frustrated of having
> 10-minute “practice” sessions where nothing gets done.

Again, "nothing gets done" if you don't know what you're trying to do. Focus on specifics, if possible one at a time, and think about (and discuss with your teacher) what you need to do to improve in that specific area.

I don't know any good musician, professional or not, who is ever completely satisfied (content) with his or her playing. Any musician who cares about the music he or she produces is in a constant state of improvement. It goes with the art.

Karl

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