Compare… and Despair

Comparison is human nature, and the temptation to compare ourselves to others is particularly strong in Musical World. A lot of people play a musical instrument. A lot of people play that instrument really, really well. And learning to cope with this fact is something that every musician has to confront at some point in their career.

There’s an old but true saying: “Compare and despair.” When we compare ourselves to someone else, we will inevitably end up depressed. Because the thing is, we’re not comparing ourselves to the other person. We’re comparing ourselves to our idealized image of that other person. And that’s something that no one can live up to.

We adore all our students, for exactly who they are. Whenever someone says to us, “So-and-So plays SO AMAZINGLY IN TUNE, it seems so easy for them!” I realize that yes, they saw So-and-So play at the concert, and yes, So-and-So had wonderful intonation. What they didn’t see was the previous two years of lessons, where we changed everything about their violin technique, made them play hours and hours of scales, and insisted that they do it over and over again. “Tall violin. Do it again. Check your Magic X. Do it again. No, that’s a 4th finger. Do it again.” Two years of that resulted in So-and-So being able to play their advanced piece really well in tune. Believe me, no one is born with perfect intonation. We ALL work on it. For those for whom intonation is a little more intuitive, they have their own share of challenges (AHEM, bow hold, anyone?)

We’ve seen beginning students look at other students their own age and feel despondent because they didn’t start younger. It’s unfair to compare a violinist who has been playing six months to a violinist who has been playing for four years.

Noone is immune to comparison, as much as we might wish to be.  But one of the things to realise is this: I cannot be anyone but myself. I cannot play like anyone but myself. And any time I spend saying “Why is this person so much better than me?” rather than saying, “How can I make this sound the way I want it to?” is wasted.

You don’t know the full story of whoever it is you are comparing yourself to. And chances are that if you did, you would choose your own, rather than being them. It’s hard enough to be yourself. Don’t waste time lamenting that you’re not someone else.

For all the students reading this: Your teacher is here for you. They are here to walk with you on your musical journey. They want to help you learn to love your sound and to have true confidence in your playing.

To everyone: Be kind to yourself. Seek to be authentic, rather than unique. Focus on what YOU can do, and love yourself as yourself. Because you are worthy of all the love in the world, and we need you exactly as you are.


(In the spirit of healthy self-comparison, here’s a terrific video which sums up what we are all thinking!)