June 25, 2010 at 5:57 PM
I thought Beth Blackerby's blog this week -- about adult violinists being better practicers than young students -- was interesting.
So interesting, I think I'll go on a little tangent and make it into a vote!
Who learns faster, adult learners, young students, or do they learn at the same pace? Okay, vote first, then I'll tell you what I think:
I think they learn at the same pace.
Adults often bemoan that it takes them longer than it takes children to learn something like the violin. Children have that plasticity of mind that adults do not, so the argument goes. But often, as Beth notes in her blog and as personal experience shows for me, it takes a child just as long to reach certain milestones as it takes an adult.
Certainly children and adults draw on different strengths, but so also do people in general. I've taught some very open-minded adults, and I've taught children who were tied to narrow thinking and patterns and unwilling to try new things. On the other hand, I've taught children who were excellent practicers and intuitive learners of physical skill, and adults who neglected practice and had a hard time understanding how to work their bodies. These strengths and problems seemed to be peppered among both adults and children!
Whether one is an adult or child, the willingness to practice and the willingness to experiment have a larger effect on whether you learn quickly and whether you ever reach fluency on the violin.
What do you think? Please feel free to discuss this topic below!
Perhaps it's usually the same speed for the average kid and average adult learner. Prodigies who learn faster than everyone are often (to not say always...) encounter in kids. But even if we just see the prodigies, everyone who attended a music school knows that their is many many other kids who just learn normally and don't sound very good for a long time (just as the reputation of adult learners when we think about it, no?)
So perhaps one might be careful to not think that all kids are prodigies and all adult learners are bad. There alot of them just "in the middle" in the two categories.
I voted for the first choice, children, because this is the way it often seems to work out in practice -- even though I know that adults who are motivated to learn this instrument can and will learn just as fast.
The reason it often takes adults longer is that they have so many other things occupying their minds and hands and schedules. But the ability to learn is just as much present in a grown-up as it is in a kid. The success stories on this site from adult beginners who have come a long distance from the first lessons bear out this point.
I was a child beginner in violin. One side issue I would like to touch on here -- something I feel very strongly about -- is that an instrument like violin or viola or cello should never be forced on a child. My parents started me on piano lessons when I was quite small, and I am grateful that I learned the basics of how to put two hands together, read treble and bass, and build a good basic foundation of music theory at the same time.
But then the violin caught my attention, and I knew that was the instrument for me. I was motivated to learn it, and I'm sure this is a major reason that I was able to achieve good intonation and tone production right from the beginning.
"Whether one is an adult or child, the willingness to practice and the willingness to experiment have a larger effect on whether you learn quickly and whether you ever reach fluency on the violin."
In light of all that's been discussed over the last few months regarding "adult learners" I am glad this point was finally set down in text. It is very much my opinion that the great point is not whether or not adults are fast/slow learners in comparison to children, but whether or not the individual (child OR adult) has the drive, stamina, and great love of music necessary to see it through. Learning the violin takes a lot of qualities that I think we'd all place on the upper tier of the scale when it comes to the plethora of stuff-that-creates-sucess, but I don't think these qualities apply excusively to the violin, or excusively to anything, for that matter, outside of one's own character. In tackling any endeavor, be it music, foreign language, neuroscience... you have to sacrifice a little. Unfortunately the majority of an adult's day is spent working, after which we come home tired, and as such tend to use that as an excuse for practicing less, or skipping days. But as adults, we should be capable of evaluating our own ability (i.e. degree of willingness) in the time we spend at practice. If you are only willing to put in an hour a day, of course your progress is going to be slower than if you put in three hours. If you put in five, of course your progress will be more rapid. I think, and this is only my humble opinion, that there are many adults under the impression that an hour a day is enough. If you want to attain the degree of fluency in violin that we all hope for, it's not. The same way that a parent might "force" a child to give up their after-dinner cartoons to practice, we adults have to force ourselves to give up our "after-dinner cartoons" (i.e. social functions, parties, chatting on the telephone, watching television, etc.) in order to achieve what we want. I am NOT by any means saying it is "wrong" to do these things, but if you only put in an hour's worth of practice time each day... then you will only learn as much as someone who puts in an hour's worth of practice a day. Bottom line: any adult or any child can become a proficient musician... but you have to want it bad enough.
If it's a question of learning FASTER, then, in my experience, adults can pick up the basics of playing the violin much more quickly. This is simply because most adults are able to communicate in a very nuanced, in depth way about both concrete and abstract ideas.
In addition, adults have a lifetime of listening to music to draw on, whether they realize it or not. A teacher can refer to any number of well known songs to demonstrate, for example, what a particular interval SHOULD sound like. We can refer to The Sound of Music to demonstrate scale tones and they know what we're talking about. We can describe physical behavior, such as the idea of pronation, by describing it and then expect the adult student to respond appropriately when we remind them to pronate their fore arm etc.
But that only works for the basics of playing. Things are more complicated when it comes to tone production, relaxed playing technique and the more intangible aspects of playing such as phrasing.
Children tend to attack a piece with reckless abandon in a way that is impossible for most adults. However, it can be very difficult to explain and demonstrate the most basic aspects of playing for a lot of young children and good technique seems to be a long term, accumulative process for a lot of kids with constant, mind numbing reminders to remember to do the most basic things correctly.
It's also nice that kids' parents force them to practice.
While I voted for the kids (plasticity of mind and body) the adults do have one big advantage. No adult is studying violin because someone else thinks they ought. It's too hard and too much work for anyone who doesn't truly want to learn. Lots of kids are doing it for unclear or downright bad reasons. If you factor out these kids, the ones left would run circles around the similarly motivated adults, I'm afraid.
I think adults generally can learn much faster those things that they can apply learned and experienced rational thinking to. But they generally slow down when it comes to those things in violin playing that resemble language learning, etc. And then they often do not practice as well because they think they know how to do it more efficiently.
I run a violinschool for adults,all late starters and it continues to amaze me how fast they learn in a group. I feel that if they want to learn, they give it their all. They practise much more and regular than any kids ever do.When I explain things they understand and hardly ever have to repeat it. There seems to be a selfdicipline that is not often found in younger players.
The mental capacity and expressiveness is greater in adults, but the PHYSICAL lack of flexibility and ease in learning new physical skills greatly retards the adults compared to children.
There is a difference between learning and having the capacity to produce what is needed on the violin. Absolutly, children have it hands down on th adults in physical learning, but there are many adults who understand the intricacies of pitch, rhythm and know what needs to be done. Their bodies limit their mental ability to do it. I have taught youth students for years, and had some come back and tell me they never understood why I was so picky about posititioning, getting the rhythm just so, etc "until". That understanding takes a mental maturity. I think the question of who has the better chance to make it as a performer is-the child. Most adult beginning players get to a place where they have personal satisfaction from what they do, but fewer get to the performer stage, ie major symphony.
Realizing that there is no fair ground to compare who is faster other than the fact that there are fewer adult starter who make violin as their career (because adults already have their own careers), I have to say I think I learn faster than average children and probably faster than when I was a child if I had started as a child. The not fair thing is because I had learn piano before, so pretty much I can skip all the music theory, my teacher never had to work on teaching the notes, and just focus on violin technique and musicality.
For adult with no musical background, I'd say they have other advantage that could offset the physical advantage children have. I don't see any reason that make adults look like retards in comparison to children in term of physical ability. Especially when we're talking of adults as anyone above 18, or in violin world they are anyone above 12 years old! :)
True but even in children (I though we talked about average children...) How many will really play in symphonies on the thousands of children who suscribe in music schools each year???
This takes a greater ability than just having start young... (IMHO)
Just something to consider, about children being having the edge physically: Sometimes, when I teach a child, it takes that child several weeks or months to connect numbers to fingers (which one is the first finger? the second? etc.) Every adult I've taught was able to do that right away. Also, very often a child has great difficulty coordinating physical acts, and often they don't have patience for correct placement. In general, I don't think they have the edge, physically!
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