I Just Can’t Make It Sound Good Today!

Do you ever feel that way? Have you ever thought, “It sounded so much better yesterday! Why is it so much worse today?”

I think this happens to everyone. And it is especially apparent for beginners. I’ve been playing for almost forty years, but there are still times when I play better or worse.

So what can you do?

Change something

If you notice that you’re struggling with something that you could easily do before, don’t just keep pounding away at it. Make a change a slight adjustment of some kind.

  • Take a one-minute break to breathe and stretch or stick your head out the window.
  • Try to notice where the problem lies, and then work on a much smaller, simpler piece.
  • Slow it down.
  • Speed it up.
  • Tinker with the piece, trying different ways to physically do it.
    • Try to do this without even making a sound. For example, if working on a difficult piece, finger it with your left hand but don’t bow the strings.
  • Alternate between two ways to do something, see which is better.
    • This is also a way to test variations.
  • Alternate between easy and hard.
  • Change your position
    • Move to a different part of your room, or even go outside and play.

Check in

Check in with your posture. Are you holding the bow right? Are you tense somewhere? Can you relax that somehow? Are you breathing? Don’t forget to breathe (a lot of students do; even me). Are you thinking of other things? Can you acknowledge those thoughts and let them go so you can return to practicing?


Just learn to accept that some days it’s not going to sound as good. Just keep practicing and pay attention to the process. Have faith that if you do this, you’ll get out of the rut before you know it.


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12 responses to “I Just Can’t Make It Sound Good Today!

  1. Thanks.
    I have this annoying thing where one day a slow song sounds lousy but a faster tune sounds good, then, maybe next day it flips on me the other way.

    I’m going back through these early lessons because i picked up basics on YouTube and taught myself several tunes by ear. It’s good to remember that when hubby brought Lily (fiddle) home last fall, she only had 3 strings, one strung wrong, the bridge turned wrong with no notched, and, I’d never picked up a bow in my life (am 59)…..now about 6 months later we can belt out Down By the Riverside, mostly, and wail a decent Danny Boy, sort of…..and others, mostly hymns, all by ear, but, some days just don’t sound as well as others, and, yes, i know, I’m breaking the rule of learning too much too fast…..but in my defense, I’m making up for lost time. 👵 ANYway….thanks!

  2. All useful food for thought because I certainly get these off days. I find changing something is the way to go, usually just playing really slowly for a bit seems to help. One thing that I also find useful is to swap fiddles. I have one quite old, battered and worn and a second more modern one. The older one sounds more woody and mellow but is harder to get the intonation as I’d like it while the newer one is rather crisper and precise but lacks the magical musical tone of the old one. I find that when I get frustrated, a swap of instrument can be positive. This also works when I begin to get tired and ready to stop. Swap fiddle and I’m ready to go again.
    Curiously, it doesn’t seem to work with bows.

  3. Just at the end of a ‘practice that does not sound good today’ came an incredibly beautiful sound from the E cord that suddenly appeared when I bowed it. It was a loosy session but something incredible happened at the end. It seems the good sounding of the E chord hasn’t disappeared until that day. Do not despair !

  4. Did you write this advice just for me? LOL When I have a day like this, and it’s not getting better, I usually do one of those things you mentioned. If I still sounds awful, I will walk away, but not put my fiddle away. After a while, I will come back and just do a few scales, so I can end the day on a high note. Another thing I do is play a song I already know, and even if it doesn’t sound good, I’ll go back and listen to the recording I made when I first learned it or when I last recorded it. Invariably, I notice that even though I sound terrible on that given day, I can hear the improvement from when I last recorded it. That’s progress! And, I don’t end the day feeling bad.

  5. Great post. When I hit a rut, I like to set a small goal that focuses on one aspect: 3 times through on that measure, tune, scale, whatever, with good bowing (but not being picky about intonation) or the other way around. Very important to read that this happens to everyone; so easy to get discouraged if working on your own.

  6. I find this happens to me.
    To help, I have found that I should forget about the piece for a few mins and slowly play a couple of scales in the key that the piece is in, concentrating on bowing and the sound of each note.
    Then go back to the piece and play the wretched bit that was tripping me up – slowly once or twice.

    Then I can have a go at the whole piece again and it is back to sounding at least as good as it was the day before.

    Another problem I have is that I can’t just pick up the violin and play a tune at someone’s behest. It is really frustrating, as I really do need to warm up before I get going and it isn’t always convenient to warm up – eg if you are playing a tune at an open mic in the pub and you have to wait your turn. Maybe I’ll make a new post to ask for tips on this…

  7. It’s frustrating to have a bad practice but I always, always find that if it’s bad one day, it’s invariably good the next. Somehow stuff is sinking in, even if it doesn’t feel or sound like it. So I think your best advice – although these are all good ideas – is “accept.” Have faith that practicing works and muscle memory is real. I’m just an intermediate beginner, not an expert, and it’s reassuring to know that someone who has been playing for 40 years experiences this, too.