Everything Is Unfinished

A lot of you have written to me saying that you are frustrated. You can’t get a good sound, you struggle to play in tune or you can’t figure out how to play a certain song. You want your dog to not leave the room when you start practicing…
As a musician, I’ve come to a healthy point in which I can accept my limitations even as I learn new things. Sure, there are still days when I’m unkind to myself. Days when I think, “I’ve been playing for almost forty years but that 10-year old fiddler on Youtube is better than me!”
But I’ve gotten to know that critical voice and managed to make friends with it. I realize that I have a particular style of playing. And that I have a unique combination of skills and talents which allow me to create things for others.

When it comes to running FiddleHed, I’m much harder on myself. It’s in this realm that I can relate to anyone who’s struggling to learn the fiddle (or any challenging new skill).
There are so many basic things that I need to stay on top of.
  • Fixing sheet music, play-along tracks and broken links
  • Bookkeeping
  • Managing people who are working for FiddleHed
Then there are things that I think I should be doing. I should be building more community within FiddleHed. I should be collaborating with other Youtubers.
Finally, there are cool things I want to do but don’t have time to do them now.
  • Making a practice app
  • Designing an improv course
  • Writing a book on music practice
On top of all that, I’d like to establish a better work/life balance. See my friends more. Maybe even, dare I say it, take a vacation?
I could just work really, really hard for six months and then relax, take some time off. The problem with that is that there will always be more to do. Or, I could just give up. Not bother to do the work.

Between effort and acceptance

The middle path is to realize a few things:
  • Whatever problems I have now will probably not be problems in a year.
  • Things are actually going pretty well. I could make a few minor adjustments, but I don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. (I wonder if that cliché is based on an actual event? If it is, I wonder what happened to that baby.)
  • I don’t have to do this. I get to do this.
    • This is an opportunity, not a chore.
    • I learned this from a blogger named James Clear who learned it from his gym teacher.
  • Whatever problem I’m dealing with is exactly what I need to learn right now.
    • As a music student, this might be playing the low second finger in tune.
  • Always pay attention to the process. Some questions that can bring you back to what you’re doing in this moment:
    • Are you rushing?
    • Are you breathing evenly?
    • Are you doing one thing at a time?

Try to be kind to yourself during this great journey of learning an instrument. As much as possible, focus on what you’re doing right now. Practicing fiddle, washing dishes or talking to a friend.
Things will never be perfect! But we all want to get to that place in which things are finally figured out. Then we can relax, right? The trick is to somehow accept things as they are, but continue working. Keep on fiddling. Make one simple thing sound good.
As you might have guessed, I’ve written this for myself as much as for you!

Update August 21, 2020

I don’t know about you, but during this pandemic I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. I thought I would have more free time, but there seems to be more to do. Not too mention a lot more to worry about. I think this stems from a desire we all have for everything to be complete and perfect.

But learning to accept that things are never complete or perfect brings peace of mind. It’s a way to reframe this feeling of overwhelm into a sense of wonder. “I’ll never learn out of things to learn!”

How can you re-frame your attitude from, “I don’t think I can do this,” to “It’s pretty fun to be learning the fiddle in this strange time!”

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13 responses to “Everything Is Unfinished

  1. Amazing little 10 fiddle player! Thanks for sharing the video and your thoughts regarding frustrations and accepting limitations with regard to our playing progress. Your classes include so so many resources, touching on every element of learning to play this tricky instrument. I appreciate them so much, and they have helped me out immensely. When I find myself getting overly frustrated, I check right back into the very welcoming Fiddlehed!

  2. This was a touching read, that applies to my writing as it no doubt will about fiddling (for which my bar is low, I have always been judged as not having a musical ear and I guess I’m at a stage in my life where I think, to hell with that).
    I feel creative time is never totally linear. I can write more on some half hours than I do on other entire evenings and I think when it comes to picking up violin skills the same will apply. The thing is: when you don’t spend time trying, you never get better. And being inventive in making trying fun is important too.

    The pandemic has stolen lots of fun out of this year and replaced it with worry for my family, so finding this site that allows me to practice something new has been important. Something to remember 2020 by.

    Thanks for all the effort that you and your team put into it. It’s a truly inspirational discovery, FiddleHed.

  3. An excellent post Jason. As a beginning player (very) I experience the frustrations of getting things right, (clean string crossing…gah!) but also I know from experiences learning other instruments over the years, that eventually things improve and your various suggestions on how to practice are invaluable.
    If only I had known them way back….yes, my cat runs outside whenever the E string is ‘featured’….her loss, lol.

  4. You are an excellent teacher and motivator. My daily struggle lately is playing D1 without my finger muting A0 or D anything and AO or ……… Sometimes I want to do the fiddle like golfers do their putter—but I worked too hard to get it so I keep trying. You’ve worked too hard for fiddlehed to quit now

  5. Ah, yes. My favorite is “I don’t have to do this, I get to do this!” I can apply that sentiment to all of my most meaningful work (wife, mother, farm worker, teacher, and amateur fiddle player. Lately, the ‘this’ wrt fiddling is immersing myself in the D maj scale and developing my ear, and playing the same few songs over and over. Sometimes, I hear my family humming Kerry Polka, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, or Kerfunken Jig, and I realize that however dissatisfied I am with my playing, I sound good enough to please the people around me. Even if my timing is way off and my e string rattles and my b natural is somehow always slightly flat (except for sometimes when it’s sharp enough to approach c natural…)