Recently, a student email me that she was feeling burned out on viola. She asked for advice, and I sent her (more or less) the following response:
Sometimes I simply don't want to practice. Today was actually just like that. I’ve had a really long week, and won't be able to practice tomorrow, so I KNEW I had to practice when I got home from work today because I have a recital on Tuesday (7:30 in Sursa Hall! Free and open to the public!). Nothing felt good. I started with open strings, and I just felt stiff and yucky. I had just changed my strings too, so my viola was sounding metallic and twangy as the strings settled in. So I didn’t like what I was hearing under my ear, and I didn’t feel good, and ALL I wanted to do was go have dinner and veg out for the rest of the night. But I knew I HAD to, so I kept going. I worked through my scale warmup, and then sight read an etude that works my bow arm. By then I was feeling pretty good, so I started working on my repertoire. I’m performing two pieces with one of my trios (Trio Harmonia— flute, viola, and piano) on Tuesday, so first I went through the less-technically demanding piece, and then on to the other, super gorgeous French impressionist piece that I really love. Everything sounded a bit hollow without the other two voices, but I know them well enough to be able to imagine my colleagues playing with me. So I worked on those pieces and focused on the trouble spots, and then finally got to the meat of the program— the 1937 Hindemith Solo Sonata. I ended up practicing for nearly two hours straight (which I almost never do anymore— I usually practice in 45 minute blocks). By the time I got to the Hindemith, I had completely lost track of time and was just doing what I love to do. And now I am really glad!
I think for people like us, who really really love to play viola, there is always going to be a love-hate relationship. Most of the time it’s love, but sometimes you JUST don’t want to. Sometimes you want to take a break, and that is TOTALLY okay. I’ve taken month-long trips and left my viola at home, and when I get home, all I want to do is play!
I suggest that you take a week off from practicing. Go to rehearsals and do what you need to do, but spend some time reading a book or working on a puzzle or watching Netflix, or whatever you do to relax. But take some time off from viola. Cancel your next viola lesson— really commit to NOT playing. You will likely find after a few days that you miss it, and then when your week is up, you’ll come back with renewed vigor.
Kind of crazy advice, but I promise it works. :)