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'Too-Daring' Late Starters

January 21, 2013 at 11:35 PM

I've read blogs and messages here and elsewhere. Long story short - teenage violin beginner, wishes to pursue the violin seriously.

The violin, seemingly more than any other instrument, is one that it appears must be learnt from a young age if an outstounding level of proficiency is to be attained; and, as importantly, maintained.

Many famous guitarists - Jimi Hendrix, Paul Simon, and Eric Clapton to name a few - started when they were in their teens, or just a little while before. Hendrix is considered the greatest guitarist in history, and didn't play a real one until he was 15.

Some people debate whether it was a natural-born talent or hard work. Of course he put an incredibly amount of effort in, and it paid off.

However, sometimes I get the impression that when a teenage violin beginner states that they are willing to practice (and already practice) for so many hours a day, and accomplish the goals they set themselves to progress as well as they can, the underlying opinion is "You'll still never be able to compete with people who started when they were three."

Perhaps not. But there is a whole world of music out there that is not restricted to being a famous soloist.

Sometimes I feel that it can be disheartening, to think of people who started when they were younger. I could surely never be that good! I heard someone who started at 9 state that "they still started too late" they have a 5 year head-start on me already!

At the moment, I cannot comprehend how much immense time and effort these people have put into their work. They deserve every achievement thy get; they made it happen.

And yes, some people have somewhat unrealistic dreams. I talked to anotherbeginner online,and she was determined to get into one of the top conservatoires in the world, despite the fact that she was about 19 and practiced for an hour a day.

I don't think all teenager starters who want to be serious should be shunned, though. We KNOW we started late; I don't need someone else to remind me.

However, sometimes there are different examples - like Professor Terje Hansen, who started at 19, I believe, and now teaches advanced students.

He himself said that it was through gruelling hours of study that he became good, not especially an innate talent. This would seem, at least in his case, to blow the "Over 4 hours of practice can be pointless" theory away. Of course, his concentration levels must be incredibly high, not to mention his drive and endurance.

Was he discouraged in the beginning? Perhaps he would have stopped playing. "Well, I started at 19. It was fun, but it never would have gone anywhere useful."

People should never be discouraged at the very beginning. Then again, we have the dilemma of - are they 'talentless'? Then the follow-up dilemma of "Nobody plays like Heifetz after a week, month, year...or probably even lifetime."

Erik Satie was deemed untalented, and we know how that ended. He didn't do bad for 'the least gifted person in his school'.

There are lots of factors. There might be a teen starter who wants to pursue the violin, and realises with a broken heart that they'll never be able to get to audition standard (and let's face it, standards are incredibly high.)

Then again, they may be one of the Hansen's of the world. Rostropovich was considered the greatest cellist ever, and I believe he started it at around 9 or 10, although he had been taught piano from a young age. Still - 9 or 10 could be considered late by many standards.

I suppose we'll never know. I sit here, fervently wishing that I'll get somewhere with this. I also know that I'll put in as many hours as I need.

Who knows what will happen?

In any case, good luck to anyone out there. Keep trying, and keep believing you'll get somewhere. To quote Simon Fischer;

"Anyone who sounds very good has worked very hard."

From Corwin Slack
Posted on January 22, 2013 at 12:36 AM
Some thoughts.
1. You for sure will not accomplish anything if you don't try.
2. Most people who start very young don't amount to much.
3. (My hypothesis) The larger the (string) instrument the later the start. Meaning that young children often have serious physical challenges playing big instruments. Bigger beginners spend less time confronting the size challenge and have much less handicap. This all means that you may want to consider the cello. Lots of us violinists get older and wish that we played it.
From Lileaven Askar
Posted on January 22, 2013 at 1:00 AM
I'm one of those late starters you speak of. I wonder if I was one of the one's you mentioned above.
From Jaimie Wisnia
Posted on January 22, 2013 at 1:43 AM
I am 25 and I just started in December. All you need is absolute love and passion, don't expect anything (i.e., "I need to learn this by today!"), and practice everything your teacher shows you. It's such a rewarding experience. If anyone tells you it's difficult, just remind yourself that it's simply a challenge that you can and will master! :)


From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on January 22, 2013 at 3:38 AM
Hi, I was one ot these teens and succeded quite quickly at the begining when I started at the conservatory at 16.

But a few things made me realize that I would not make it or abort my dream...

- I saw people way better than me striving to get just a decent musical job
- I saw professionals who did no longer love music after they entered the challenging and difficult profession
- My physical limit came up quite drastically in the more difficult rep. putting me back to my place (natural selection... grossly put)
- I chose to pursue a non musical study path at college and university and it cut down a LOT the hours I could invest in music

But in just a few years of hard work in my teens, (with a very ordinairy talent but good learning context) I still was able to reach the final level of the conservatory for amateurs. I won't ever play the Tchaikovsky or maybe even the Mendelshon but my exam rep is be Praeludium and Allegro, Mozart 3 1st mvt with Cadenza, Rhode and Kreutzer studies and all that scale type stuff. I also do "simpler" things to amuse myself as Leclair Sonata. No... not a virtuosic rep. but I would never have beleived when I have started that I could one day be able to play somehow decently these and catch up with many of my fellow amateur students who started way younger than me (for someone who is not even able to throw a ball in straight line lol)

As I have more maturity, I am just starting to at least praise myself for what I've did even if I wanted in my heart to do better when I started. I know that I will be able to increase that level when I'll have more time to invest in music when I'll graduate. So I dream of these days and say to myself that maybe it was a good thing that I wasn't accepted in music... (I would be one of the worst and would maybe no longer like it!)

To everyone his situation!

Sibelius started at 15 BTW... some are really talented!!!

From Gene Wie
Posted on January 22, 2013 at 7:55 AM
I taught a student who started at age eighteen with Suzuki Book 1 and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. The expectations of my teaching peers were not very high, and they felt she would not be able to stick with it or ever accomplish very much.

In four years time with about two hours of daily practice, she achieved a level of technical proficiency that allowed her to study the Unaccompanied Bach along with concertos by Mozart and Lalo, play in the second violin section of her university symphony (and it was a big school with an excellent music department), and earn entry into two summer chamber music festivals where she performed works including Mozart's string quintets and Mendelssohn's Octet.

It's not impossible, it's just very difficult. You'll need to find a teacher that believes in you, and can get a lot of work done in a shorter amount of time than usual.

> the underlying opinion is "You'll still
> never be able to compete with people who
> started when they were three."

Is it your goal to compete with these people in the first place?

From Nairobi Young
Posted on January 22, 2013 at 11:48 AM
This is exactly what I needed. I must say thank you.

I am one of those people who "started late." I started at my public school when I was 10 and I chose the violin. I just started getting serious my freshman year in high school and sophomore I got serious enough to go out and get a teacher. Now as a junior, I am in one of the best youth orchestras in cook county and and my high school orchestra is amazing too. I learn everywhere I go and it's exciting. I got a new teacher just recently and she is a huge step up from my last teacher because my new teacher teaches at a university as well as at my youth orchestra for chamber music.

I want to be a professional violist now. I switched instruments in August. It's a lot of work but I'm dedicated. Just in the last week or two, I lost my drive and I have been looking for ways to get it back, and this blog really helped. It's hard work doing so much and it's highly draining, but I'm willing to do it.

To Gene, you ask if the goal is to compete against others and the answer is yes, of course!! In order to get into college, you have to compete against people you have never met or heard. In order to get into an orchestra or make it into a quartet etc, you must compete against others. In order to make it into a teachig position ANYWHERE you must compete. It's always a competition, even if you get into where want to be (which mainly applies to orchestras). The competition in music is high and intimidating, but something one must learn in order to be ready for the hard life of a professional musician.

From Eileen Geriak
Posted on January 22, 2013 at 12:23 PM
I didn't start till I was 39, with zero musical background...and no professional instruction. I had a player start me out for the first year where I learned the basics and how to start reading music, I then had a friend who is a player guide me for the next 5 or so years. I didn't get a lot of "technical" direction during that time, most I had to sort of figure out on my own...but she helped me with the music and was my only source of encouragement, which means a LOT. My greatest discovery was Beth Blackerby at to turn this into an add for her site or anything, but she is a gifted teacher and her passion is teaching folks like me..late learners. That's where I picked up a LOT of the technical aspects of playing...along with a whole lot of encouragement from others on the site.

It's been a little over 10 years now and I've gotten to a decent level of playing considering all the deficits in my journey...(zero family support beyond "tolerance", a somewhat loose, less than focused and directionless practice routine but gazzillions of hours logged...etc)...what's gotten me this far is passion, dedication and a grit determination to "DO" this thing and do it decently...along with a lot of encouragement from the Lord, during those oh so frustrating times when I almost would give it up....some word or event or something would come that would lift me up and spur me to continue.
I don't have a huge repertoire of classical pieces though I do have Thais Meditation down to memory and at a decent enough playing level...considering.....I play in a praise team at my church and have just for the first time last Christmas had the pleasure of playing first violin in a local string ensemble with a conductor ! That was fabulous and I want more ! Will I ever stand in a grande concert hall as a soloist....PPFFTHTHTHT !!..only in my dreams ! x-D But...I'll never regret picking this up and discovering what a joy it is to bring out such lovely sounds from an old piece of wood !
If anyone is interested in seeing what a Hack can accomplish on's a vid I made for critique on the Vlab site...Sure...there's plenty here to "fix"..but not half bad for someone who never touched one of these things till she was almost 40!
I still hope to one day find a professional 'hands on' instructor and often wonder where I would be today if I had that benefit from the beginning...but...such as it is....

From Gene Wie
Posted on January 22, 2013 at 6:12 PM
> you ask if the goal is to compete against others

No, that's not what I wrote.

I asked if the goal was to have to compete against people who started at age three. The answer to that is "no" because it's a false metric. There's no guarantee that starting that early is a prerequisite for success in the field. It's the same way with athletes.

I know dozens of professional players who didn't start at age 3...or 5, or 7 for that matter. Some started at the comparatively "late" age of 10 or 11, and a few didn't start taking lessons until they were in high school.

More important is developing the cognitive and physical skills to be able to process and execute the demanding range of motions necessary to express abstract concepts in the physical medium of sound.

From Tyler Makinen
Posted on January 22, 2013 at 7:30 PM
"In 1825, after nearly 30 years of intensive practice and self-scrutiny, Paganini felt he had developed his skills sufficiently to put them on display for all of Europe, and he left Italy for an extensive European tour (Vienna debut 1828, Paris 1831, London 1831)." - Taken from

Another famous figure was Franz Liszt, who vaulted to the heights of his abilities after a period of 5-6 years (following a concert of Paganini), during which he supposedly practised ten to twelve hours per day.

A more modern case is Jan Stigmer, who withdrew from public performance for 3 years not so long ago to study and practise. If you haven't heard him yet, stop what you are doing and make this a priority. He has a few recordings on youtube, as well as some samples on his website from a yet-to-be-released recording of Paganini's Capices. He is, without a doubt, the most perfect violinist I have ever heard.

It may be well pointed out that these three musicians (the first two in any case, I don't know about Stigmer) all started at a very young age, but I think that we would all do well to remember that they did not get where they did without PLENTY of hard work.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on January 22, 2013 at 11:32 PM
From what I saw, back in the old days, many great violinists were consider mature ennough artists in their 30s-40s

Nowadays they have to be at 15 (about!), win their major competitions under 25 yo and already have many recorded CDs under 30 :)

I do not have the exact numbers but you know what I mean...

Knowing that, the starting at 3 is even more important today... (even if I beleive their will always be exceptions)

From Nairobi Young
Posted on January 23, 2013 at 1:00 AM
Sorry Gene was the misunderstanding. It was early and I was reading fast. I see what you mean. There are a good chunk of professionals that did "start late," and I think if those with a lack of confidence knew that that it would help greatly.
From james holmes
Posted on January 23, 2013 at 1:49 AM
Adult starter here also. Personally I think if someone puts their mind into something they want to achieve, most likely that person will get there. Determination sometimes is under rated. Yes some may take longer than others, but as long as you keep a good attitude and learn to take criticism-you are on your way. Though I do wish I had started younger.
From Lydia Leong
Posted on January 23, 2013 at 6:58 AM
I have a friend who started playing the violin in his mid-teens (although he had studied piano previously). By the time college auditions rolled around, he was only good enough to get into a local college's music program, but certainly that's respectable enough. College was followed by five more years of study, while working a full-time job, before he was able to make a living solely from music (a combination of gigs and teaching privately). He says that he doesn't have the facility that people who started younger do -- velocity is a big challenge for him -- but it's good enough for a regional professional orchestra. (And he continued to take lessons even after he became a full-time musician.)

So it's certainly doable; you just have to expect that you may need more than just your undergraduate years to study the instrument.

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