How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

Is it like riding a bike where you only have to grease the wheels and you are good to go or do you lose a considerable amount and have to relearn again?

I am thinking I may shelf the fiddle for a while now and let the whistle take the forefront for the foreseeable since I want to get it up to speed somewhat and there are only so many hours in the day so thinking I want to focus on it to get some tunes up to a certain level quicker.

Thoughts? espectially from those who have dropped an instrument for extended periods and picked it back up down the road.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

I’ve always thought you could leave the guitar lying in the corner for a year or two, then pick it up and play as though it had never been left there. The fiddle, on the other hand , needs to be played regularly. I find that I need to revisit the basics every now and again to keep my fiddling up to scratch. Not that I’m any sort of expert fiddler mind!
Alex.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

This is a topic near and dear to my heart! I keep taking tenor banjo/mando breaks to have major life events (college, marriage, kid1, kid2). I find that once I get out of the baby fog it takes a month or so to feel back up to scratch.

I would definitely make more progress on technique without all the extended breaks - sometimes I feel like I’m stuck on a beginner-intermediate level because I can’t find the time to practice and progress as much as I’d like.

It would also help if my 2 year old didn’t say ‘no no no mommy’ when I try to practice banjo! He may be a born fiddler.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

After 20 years of just playing now-and-then, I’m pretty much back to where I was on the violin after 1 year of almost daily attention. Plus I think I grew in musical understanding in those 20. I had 10 years of formal violin training though.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

I had a 5 year break from tenor banjo/mandolin due to focusing more on drums and my band. Back now playing again for a year and a half and while I didn’t lose too much, it was still enough that I bitterly regret that 5 year gap!

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

On the flute you lose LOTS. Your embouchure deteriorates, because you no longer use those muscles. Takes time to get that back.
For tin whistle, I would say you don’t lose too much.
For banjo and mandolin, you lose quite a lot, but I find I get back into it very quickly.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

After about a year away from it, someone loaned me a guitar for a couple of sets a few months ago, and I completely botched it up, couldn’t even find my way through tunes that were familiar to me—which was sad because the guitar was absolutely gorgeous and played like a dream. Then, about a month later, I had a better time of it. I have a tendon problem that prevents me from playing guitar, and can’t get out as much as I used to. I retire soon, and hopefully the health issues will subside, and I can get back to it. I have a feeling it will take a good bit before I am back in the saddle.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

It is nice to see that there are many multi instrtumentalists who have juggled this path before me.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

It depends on the instrument, I think. If I’m away from my harp for three weeks, I lose a lot (I’ve only been playing it a couple of years, though). If I’m away from my whistle for three months, I pick it up as if no time has passed. But, I’ve been playing it a lot longer, and it’s a much simpler instrument. I have a fiddler friend who, regardless of what’s going on, always finds time to play at least a few minutes each day. He feels like leaving it even a day costs him some his speed and intonation, I think.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

I used to be like your friend with my fiddle practice in that I would force myself to play every single day but it became like a chore.

Once I allowed myself not to play when I didn’t feel like it I didn’t notice my playing to be any worse however I enjoyed the practice more cos I had built up an appetite for it.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

I lose very little from spending time away from guitar, which I’ve played for over 30 years. Or mandolin, which I’ve played for almost 10 years now.

The flute that I’ve been playing for just a few years is a different story. A week or two away and I start backsliding, probably from not maintaining a decent/developing embouchure. There are some related things about maintaining good breath control but embouchure is the big one. It doesn’t like to be ignored for long. Maybe once I’ve been playing it for 10 or 20 years I’ll be able to pick it up after a long hiatus and dive right in, like I can with a guitar (if I live that long).

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

I lost my virginity when I stopped playing with my instrument.Shortly after I lost my marbles

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

Don’t do as I did, and give the fiddle up for 45 years. Having said that, I surprised myself - I think my fingers had kept supple with all the typing I’d done - but obviously time is short now & I’ve missed the chance to get really really good.

I think giving an instrument up for a month or two can sometimes pay a dividend in that you give things time to seep into your brain & gain a sort of freshness - but it’s a dangerous game with the fiddle, firstly because you lose flexibility and your finger-knowledge of tunes will rust, and secondly because once you give something up, it can be hard to motivate yourself to go back, because you start thinking about the effort involved.

It’s probably safer to keep the fiddle on at a minimal level - play once a week, say - until you’re ready once again to give it the attention it deserves and requires.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

I notice a big drop off in my fiddling if I don’t play for a week, and even when I’m playing regularly I play noticeably better during periods when I’m practicing every day than when I’m only playing every second or third day. On the other hand I don’t play guitar particularly well, and with that I find I can leave it for a month and I’m no better or worse when I come back to it.

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I have no idea why, but on the odd occasion that I’ve not touched my fiddle for a couple of weeks (due to being away) I always feel I improve when I get back to it. Perhaps it’s because I never stop methodically diddling the tunes out in my mind, and sometimes I even slow down my mental diddles and imagine my fingering.

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Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

[
It’s probably safer to keep the fiddle on at a minimal level - play once a week, say - until you’re ready once again to give it the attention it deserves and requires.]

Yes I think this is what I will do rather than stop completely.

Like the fiddle and whistle can either one be in focus at the time and for now whistle will be on the center stage but fiddle I will keep at maintainence. Maybe once or twice a week and whistle daily.

Re: How much do I lose if…

Arthur, are you not asking (in many of your posts) for answers which can best be answered by professional music teachers? I know you don’t respect teachers but I still consider my question relevant.

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Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

I quit playing guitar for eight years back in the early ‘90’s. Returning to playing required mostly re-conditioning my finger muscles. You don’t really forget how to play, you just get rusty. Sometimes very rusty. Play for 5 minutes a day and you’ll retain the muscle memory and keep your hand strength at least somewhat close to what’s necessary to return to full-time playing later on. My eight years off were due to severe nerve entrapment and carpal tunnel. Once repaired (I loathe to say "fixed"), I returned to playing. I’ve had two major surgeries on my left hand in the last 17 months and two major surgeries to my right arm in the last 24 months. Playing the bouzouki and guitar have been my major approaches to therapy. Twenty hours after having three bones removed from my left hand, I sawed off part of my cast and started playing mandolin (with my surgeon’s approval). Music is good therapy, both listening and practicing.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

I am really, REALLY glad that I don’t think like you do Arthur!

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Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

I didn’t play the piano accordion for a month, maybe even 5 weeks (not out of choice!), and when I finally got it back I’d surprisingly retained most of the tunes. Of course it took about 3 days solid practice to really get back up to scratch, but it was definitely much more manageable than I thought it was going to be.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

I quit for over a year and wish I hadn’t. Technique is like riding a bike, which is a blessing, but my repertoire has atrophied and my ability to learn tunes has deteriorated.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

@DrSilverSpear, glad you’re getting back into it! I’m sure the repertoire will come back before too long (well, the good tunes at least!).

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

My experience combines two of the posts above.

With flute, if I’ve not played for a while and pick it up I’m amazed at how little tone I’ve lost.

But it’s an illusion. Because the more I play the more it exposes just how much I’ve really lost.

Flute embouchure is about very fine muscle memory, and you really only get your best tone if you practice regularly.

It’s pretty much the same with the finger muscle memory on the pipes. I’ll pick up the pipes after a hiatus and think everything is fine. Well, it’s not fine, and the more I play the more I realize all the little things I usually can do that I can’t do any more. It takes many hours, days, weeks to bring it all back.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

Richard D Cook, really thoughtful comment and exactly my experience. At the moment I’m getting our new house up and running, which has taken me away from playing the harp. I’m dreading once I truly discover what’s going on - but it "seems" fine when I just do a quick drive-by play.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

I cannot see the problem with learning two instruments simultaneously (three, four or five instuments and most of us would start to experience the law of diminishing returns). I started playing whistle and mandolin at roughly the same time and continued to improve on both of them for 10 years or so. Perhaps I could have been a bit better at one or the other, had I just concentrated on one of them, but I have no regrets. Admittedly, when I took up the fiddle, other instruments took a bit of a back seat.

Practising an instrument makes improves your playing. Just playing an instrument regularly maintains your playing standard - and, depending on how much and how often you play, can effect gradual improvment.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

I think it really depends on where you are in mastery of your instrument. Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, here I mean absolute certainty of finger position, solid embouchure if that’s required, stable tone production or bowing, etc. then you can take time off and lose mainly the fine tuning that makes music crisp or smooth (control)and the stamina. How long you take off determines how much you lose. I’ve heard the theory that it takes twice as long to build what you lost as you’ve taken off. I think this is true to a point.
I’ve played flutes, recorders and whistles off and on for 25 years and I can reliably pick one up and play a tune or some sheets but it takes me about a month on flute to start to feel comfortable again and just a week or so on whistle.
I agree with Gobby, the tunes are sometimes better for a bit of time off and I don’t feel bad about taking some time out for a holiday as long as there’s nothing pressing at the end of the break. A gig at the end of a holiday will see me playing my flute in odd places, state parks and in the dunes around Lake Superior this year. If I’m off on a trip for a meeting and will be in a hotel, I’ve started looking for sessions nearby and often take my flute, of course not just for the practice, also for the fun. If I’m out in the field I tuck a sturdy whistle in my cooler and may play on the boat in some down time.
There’s nothing wrong with taking up another instrument but if it cuts into your time on your primary instrument and you don’t have mastery of the basics you may not want to make that sacrifice. On the other hand, learning a new instrument gives you a different insight into the tunes you already know and is tremendously fun.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

Can’t generalise, some instruments require far more precision than others. Fiddle and pipes come to mind as both requiring a great deal more than most others( that I have experience on ) I’m not a flute player. And of course it depends on the genre of music and the level of ability attained in the first place.
In a way it’s like riding a bike, once you can do it , that’s it. But to ride a bike with no hands, or while standing on the saddle doing fancy tricks etc …. different subject.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

What you say above about playing the flute in ‘all weathers’ is pretty much exactly why I am taking it up over fiddle for now, cos it is just so much more versatile (in practical terms not in terms of what it can play as we know 🙂)

I love the economy of it in that such a little and simple thing can produce such moving music.

I mean a bigger instument it is more expected to have a punch but I think part of the magic of small instuments is that economy of effect.

And back to the practicality thing, regarding practice, the flute will give you more opportunities to practice where it would not be convenient to take a fiddle or worse something even bigger. So I guess you can sneak in alot of stealth practice sessions with flute which you wouldnt be able to with other things.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

I started playing mandolin when I was nine. That’s 54 years ago. I’ve hardly played for about 10 years now but if I pick it up I can still play just as badly as I could ten years ago. I keep hoping I’ll have forgotten my bad habits but no such luck. I started playing fiddle just over three years ago when I was 60. If I leave it without playing it for THREE DAYS my bowing is totally to pot and the instrument gives a very good impression of sulking. It sounds terrible and it takes more than three days to make it up.

I don’t know how much of this is a difference between the two instruments and how much is a result of the age at which I learnt. I suspect both are relevant. I am told that foreign languages learnt when you are young stay with you even if you don’t use them but languages learnt later do not - and I learnt to ride a bike at 36 and haven’t ridden for 13 years now except once a year or two ago when I found I couldn’t do it at all.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

I can’t say for sure but for me I think it depends on how much you developed as a player in the first place. I have been playing guitar and bass for a long time , over 30 years . Yet I can go a few years of not playing and after a short time ( maybe a week or so ) I’m back where I was . The fiddle I started playing 10 years ago and while I haven’t gotten that good , if I don’t play for a while, I’m rusty for a month or so .
My advice, don’t sweat it , life happens and for what ever reason some of us put down an instrument for a period of time , when you want to play it again, play it . If you don’t play like you want to , keep playing and practicing . sometimes this gives you the opportunity to brake bad habits and look at the instrument from a different perspective.
For me , I have tried to play the banjo for a long time and it never worked , but the fiddle, there is something about it that comes easy to me , not that I’m great or even good , but I feel like I can do what it wants me to do to make it sound good and play music . I think finding your instrument can be the most important step , when you find it learning to play it falls in place.

I don’t know! Maybe I’m just blowing smoke , just stick with it . It will get better .
Get a cat ! They are great at letting you know if you sound good !!! Lol !!

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

You forget a lot of things when you take extended breaks(6 months - years). First off, on most instruments, your coordination will dwindle, especially an instrument like the fiddle that requires so much of you. Secondly, you forget the things you could play. If you don’t keep setlists of your repertoire, you’ll find it never growing past a certain number as you begin to forget things. If you take a break from your instrument, you’ll lose whole chuncks of your repertoire if you’re not at LEAST passively listening to the tunes you know, to keep them in memory. Thirdly, you begin to forget the bits and pieces to the tunes you do remember. Because you either haven’t listened to them, or practiced them at all, your forget more and more of them by the passing days. All of this largely depends on how large your repertoire is, and how much time you’ve given each individual tune. But you will lose something as time passes.

Playing instruments are obviously a very mentally and physically engaging experience. Our mind has systems to make us forget things that we don’t give attention to. If we stop practicing something, our mind frees up that mental space for something else.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

Well said, Jerone. I guess I got good enough and played for long enough, so the technique is what it is, but I can’t remember sh ** t. The tunes I learned a year or two before I quit are completely gone. Maybe like a blocking thing as they all became associated with why I stopped in the first place. Ones I’ve known for a lot longer are still there.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

Actually the most valid point so far is forgetting the tunes in my experience.

Even just playing the fiddle I will forget some tunes I havent played for months, or rather I know generally how it goes but can’t play it fluently any more ( or as fluently as I could before ).

So if I just learn the same tunes on both instruments that could avoid that issue 🙂 but I did want to make a point to learn new tune types on the whistle for a change. We’ll see.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

Forgetting your repertoire? Am I the only who have tunes in my head all day? I’ve sometimes taken half year-long breaks on instruments and the only major drawback is that it (sometimes) have felt like a physical exercise for a short while (say, adapting your reach on the banjo, or moving the bellows on the accordion). If I’ve learned something properly (which means not having to think twice about what I’m doing with the tune) and have built up a certain level of "session stamina" - no problem. If these factors don’t apply, I can see that some people have problems maintaining their repertoire and skill without an instrument.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

Sure you’re not the only one who has tunes in their head all day. But this is in context of someone who doesn’t have music in their head all day. If I’m not actively playing music, music is forgotten.

An example, I began street performing on piano about 20-30 hours a week, several months ago. Note that this is after being out of practice for well over a year. At first, I only remembered a few select pieces, and of course easy pop songs and what not to get me through the night. Most of my playing would be improv and taking requests of songs I could pull off by ear and memory. But now, after doing that for a few months, an entire load of my repertoire has returned to me. Apparently, on piano I know over 6 hours worth of music. And can play two 3 hour sets without repeating a single piece of music. I would’ve never realized this while I was out of practice, because of all the music I forgot. You just forget it and that’s it.

Now, forgetting it, and forgetting how to play it are different. Forgetting how to play it, comes from not committing it well to memory in the first place. But forgetting it is "forgetting about it" as something that exists. If it’s brought back to your attention, you’ll remember it, and be able to deliver. It’s hard to remember that much music on your own. That’s why I keep setlists now

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

"…but I can’t remember sh ** t. The tunes I learned a year or two before I quit are completely gone. Maybe like a blocking thing as they all became associated with why I stopped in the first place. Ones I’ve known for a lot longer are still there." (DSS)

If you work at it, the pieces may likely begin to re-emerge bit by bit. As has been my experience: after having invested decades into classical guitar and Bach, when I began getting into other (folk) music I gradually let go of the guitar altogether. But this wasn’t without great consternation and regret with many attempts to quit and then recover. When I started playing more other instruments/styles, I would periodically reflect on all that I’d lost, then desperately set out to begin to recover it - bit by bit, measure by measure, a slow process but with diligence it comes back…I could probably do it again now, after maybe about 6 years, although the longer and more remote the ignored repertoire - the longer and more laborious the process of recovery.

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Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

This is interesting for those who are forced to take a break for medical reasons. For example, a banjo/mando/bouzouki/guitar player needing shoulder surgery that requires 6 months recovery.

Anyone with such experience?

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

Bit like riding a horse, get back on and away you go. Sometimes a break is hugely beneficial.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

Gallopede, how I agree with you that when unplayed for a while my fiddle ‘sulks’! I definitely have a moody instrument and it needs reviving and coaxing to get that good sound. Or maybe it is my loss of technique. This worries me since I don’t want to take it with me on a trip of a couple of months camping because it is too precious but I know it will be difficult to revive it. So I am going to buy a ‘2nd fiddle’, a lesser model that won’t make me cry too much if it doesn’t come back undamaged, so I can at least keep up some daily playing in a quiet corner of a field.
I used to play classical guitar for several years but put it aside on and off for about 20 years and can now hardly play at all. This is not going to happen with my fiddle.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

When you own a musical instrument you have a duty of care, just like with a living pet. It’s cruel if you don’t play with them as often as you can. If you cant, then give them to somebody that can.

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Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

"Bit like riding a horse, get back on and away you go. Sometimes a break is hugely beneficial."

I disagree with this metaphor, having taught adults who quit riding years before and were trying to get back into it, to find they can barely steer or keep it moving forward.

"When you own a musical instrument you have a duty of care, just like with a living pet. It’s cruel if you don’t play with them as often as you can. If you cant, then give them to somebody that can."

I tried. I was told by my parents I wasn’t to sell the pipes, and I wanted to for a while. Even when you are in your 30s, they can still tell you what to do.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

Nah.. you never forget how.. It’s like an elephant riding a bike!

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Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

This is bad…

I have been playing maybe once or twice a week for 5-10 minutes, instead playing the whistle every day, and I am fumbling around alot on fiddle already!

It is starting to feel a little alien when placing my fingers for the notes.

Losing what little I had at an alarming rate!

It feels like a chore to commit to two but at the same time whistle doesnt feel as much of a ‘real’ instrument as fiddle. I do prefer though that the whistle isnt as loud as fiddle because I have some tinnitus and after just a few minutes without a mute and my ears are ringing quite loud. However with the mute it doesnt sound so good.

The whistle is more quiet until it gets to the shrill high F and above 🙂 but still nowhere near the cacophony of the unmuted fiddle.

And so I continue to stand at the crossroads.

Re: How much do you lose if you stop playing your instrument for an extended period of time?

Well, you’ve got more volume control on the fiddle - less bow pressure, bow speed, bowing nearer the fingerboard. Also consider real musician’s ear plugs if the perceived volume level is too high for you.