Written by The Weekend Vote
Published: November 1, 2013 at 4:50 PM [UTC]
Well, we can go around and around about this, and I enjoyed V.com member Zlata Brouwer's blog about the topic this week.
A few things to consider: whether you start as a child or an adult, most normal students require a good 5 years before they start sounding "good," and then another five before they begin to be able to play advanced repertoire. Of course, there are exceptions! But as a rule, there are no shortcuts to simply practicing a lot and doing the physical training that is required.
I would argue that your practice means more than your age, when it comes to your success with the violin or viola (or for that matter, the piano, clarinet, etc.) Violinists who are old and young, amateur and professional, get frustrated when the music in their heads does not match what is coming out on the fiddle. After more than 35 years with this instrument, I can say this: don't stop attending to the physical training required by this instrument. You need a lot of patient and correct repetitions to make violin playing work! Frustration usually results from expecting great results from too little practice, or from sloppy or incorrect practice. Slow down, break it down, have patience and do it right. Celebrate the small successes, and they will start adding up, whatever your age!
There seems to be a group of (especially perhaps older adults?) who are content with remaining very intermediate - by this I mean they learn to read music, shift into say third position comfortably, perhaps use vibrato, use a higher position very rarely as an extreme and anxiety producing occasion, probably not independently think about where in the bow they would place a note for the phrase or effect etc, have pretty decent intonation most of the time. But they have no drive or aspiration to, say, be able to figure out how to get that bloody accompanied Bach sonata to be phrased convincingly :) or get sautille bowing. Dogged determination is not part of their mindset, but nor is giving up. It's a bewildering sort of stasis (to someone who isn't like that).
And I think there needs to be a third category of old adult. I am not the creature I was as a post 18 year old. I think I changed significantly as a learner sometime after 40, for the better.
As a teen starter, you had a wonderful childhood really chasing butterflies lol, playing outside and with no performance pressure. But you're still a big kid at heart and your body has not quite finished to change/grow so you still have, I beleive, some of the children's physical flexibility and brain plasticity to learn new things more naturally. Usually as a teen too, we are really passionated about what we love, full of hope and not "turned off" by life's obligations and schedule/school limitations. Also, many nice concert opportunities or activities for kids still allows you as a teen but not as an adult.
As a pre-adult, a teen has already some degree of maturity, discipline and attention spam. This makes him/her able to absorb more infromation than a kid in one lesson and is an asset to practice right.
It's like sitting between two chairs but in a very good way :)
The only thing that is hard as a teen starter is the self esteem hit (at a time of your life where self-esteem is pretty low to start with...) of having to climb the same stages as your young co-students... and sometimes they play better than you! But you can progress faster and should catch up with the vast majority of them soon... usually. It does take a certain degree of humility but it's well rewarded very soon.
One factor I believe helps some kids take hold faster than others and start sounding good sooner is motivation. If the kid really wants to play violin, as I did, and has a keen ear, this can help things move along faster. About 3 months after I started, my teacher felt I was ready to begin position-playing and vibrato. She proved right on both counts.
That summer, after I'd been studying and practicing only a matter of months, Mom told me: "Just got off the phone with Mrs. _____ [a professional violinist]. She said she could hear someone playing a violin in the background, and it sounded very good." Granted, I wasn't playing Kreutzer yet, but evidently Mrs. _____ liked what she heard.
One advantage for kids, I'm sure, is that they have fewer mental blocks and inhibitions -- plus fewer mental and physical demands to keep track of. I've heard it said: The one who gets the job done is the one who hasn't yet heard that it can't be done. So he just does it.
On the other hand, one advantage for adult beginners is that they are -- well, almost certainly -- learning violin or viola by choice. Now, I'm not against enrolling kids in activities that were never the kids' own ideas to begin with -- far from it. My parents enrolled me in piano lessons before the violin muse stole me. They had me try tennis lessons; I ended up preferring baseball. I'm all for giving kids a little nudge this way -- if it helps them find what their true talents and passions are. Experimentation, trial and error -- these are worthwhile steps.
I played alto sax through middle school so I was already able to read music but remembering being able to play by ear with that instrument and expericencing the challenges with this one has had it's ups and downs.
It's fustrating being able to hear the notes in my head but not always getting my music to sound just right. I'm getting better though.
I wonder if part of the problem is how we are so instantly gratified these days. Hearing that it could take 10 years to be considered good is a bit daunting. But it just pushes me to try harder and shave that number down bit by bit. My new violin is also very quick to let me know when I've made a mistake but I know it'll make me even better in the long run!
Laurie, thanks for the kind words of encouragement regarding your statement that it takes 5 years for anyone to sound good! And those were good comments about patience. A year ago I injured my shoulder by playing too long in a tense situation. I spent weeks doing nothing but ear training to let it rest, and have also "stepped back" a bit to learn to do things right. Rather than putting myself back, I really think I moved forward because my technique is so much better as a result. One thing many adults might have going against them is impatience to get better fast, and they may try to cut corners as a result.
Jim H, this may be nit picking to say this, but I don't think children have the corner on progress by motivation. Those traits you listed are just as applicable to adults. Most of what hinders adult beginners is physical: overly tense muscles, muscles that developed for years to do non-violin things, decline in physical ability.
"One factor I believe helps some kids take hold faster than others [i.e., faster than other kids take hold] and start sounding good sooner [than these other kids do] is motivation."
When I was growing up, I knew some kids whose parents had enrolled them in violin lessons. These kids didn't want to take lessons, didn't like playing, had little or no motivation to practice, didn't sound at all good on the instrument, and soon enough dropped out of the study.
I was determined from the start not to sound the way they did. Again, starting violin was my idea. I was motivated. These kids weren't. Two of my strong points, even in the first year, were tone and intonation. In light of Laurie's intro, I'm definitely in the minority. Thanks for raising the point -- hope this helps clear up the matter.
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