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Choosing the Violin as an Adult Beginner; a Revelation?

Life in general: To adult beginners, who have not played violin in the past; what made you decide to start the violin? Why?

From Philip Novak
Posted April 2, 2012 at 08:50 PM

To adult beginners, who have not played violin in the past; what made you decide to start the violin? Why? Had you been musical before and played other instruments? Mostly, I'm curious if others have had an epiphany similar to mine?

I wasn’t terribly musical before; I played some rock guitar, but I never did anything with it past a couple garage bands in college, since then the axe has collected dust for the last 15 years. Later, I went back to school for engineering, graduated, got married but ounce we settled in, I got bored.

I needed a pursuit, something to dig into that had a lot of breadth and depth that I would not tire of easily. Shoemaker? No, wifey didn’t want me as an apprentice in Hungary. Watchmaker? Too many tools; no. Calligraphy? Only my deceased great aunt would appreciate, no. So what to do? Enter my heroes, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, who are the two main characters in Patrick O’Brian’s sea-faring novels which span 21 volumes (and at least a half dozen compendiums to my knowledge). After reading about half of the books, I finally watched “Master and Commander” which is based on the books, and in it is a scene where Jack and Stephen play a duet in the Great Cabin as they do in the books on countless evenings (there are even compendium CD’s of the music referenced in the books).

And that’s how it struck me; how romantic (appropriate as my wife loves to call these my bromance books); two friends sharing toasted cheese, coffee and music. Now the violin somehow appeared to be accessible, something to consider. Before, I had never even thought of the violin however much classical music or opera I listened to, it just never occurred to me. I even dated a professional violinist before I met my wife, but I never thought, “Hey can I try that thing?” This was a revelation and I was bent on getting my hands on a violin. That was a year ago and this little box of wood with strings and a stick has not ceased to amaze and delight me.

From Kristian Rereth
Posted on April 2, 2012 at 09:15 PM
>To adult beginners, who have not played violin in the past; what made you decide to start the violin?
Well, I was talking about music with a friend and out of nowhere she told me about her violin and simply asked if I wanted to try it. Fortunately (very much so) I simply said yes. Within a single minute I found out how to hold the bow (well, it was not accurate but it worked) and after a few more minutes I could kind-of-play a scale. Surprisingly I could make a sound with the bow from the very beginning on.

Well that evening she just told me to take her violin with me and after two years, I have not returned it (she does not play anymore, I will return it when I buy a much better one). I play the piano but it's much harder for me to learn and I am not willing to put effort into it - simply put, that is not my 'thing'.

By the way: I did not think about the violin either before starting to play. Those classical musicians were a mystery for me...

How far are you now after one year? I am interested about your progress so far.

From Philip Novak
Posted on April 2, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Haha! I had the same thing happen with the "sort-of-scale" thing; I got in touch with the violinist I dated and asked if she knew of a violin for sale. She replied, "Yes, I have one right here!" I went over right away to pick it up and within a few minutes she had me going.

Right now, I'm on Suzuki book 2 "Bouree," Sevcik bowing studies, and Flesch Scale studies. It's difficult to gauge my progress though; for instance I spent about five minutes this morning just playing the first measure of the "Long Long Ago" variation, trying to play that D without accenting it. I have a really good teacher who is really effective in helping me draw the music out, rather than just playing the notes.

From David Knutson
Posted on April 3, 2012 at 12:09 AM
Interesting you mentioned the O'Brian books. I've also read the entire series. Three events pushed me over the line. The movies "Free Range" and "Master and Commander" kinda put the image of violin playing into my subconcience. Then one day I was doing a google search for something that went off on a tangent and led me to this young girl (ViolinTay) playing "May it be". Immediately I knew I wanted to be able to play like that! My prior music experience was 3 yrs on the trombone (40 yrs ago) and sporatic attempts over the years to play guitar - think I got as far as 3 chords ;). Well, I've been taking violin lessons now since July and can play a passable Ashokan Farewell and am working on Blue River Waltz. I still have eyes on "May it be", but it will have to wait till I get into shifting. Loving it! Just be sure to stretch and warm up before practise - the old joints and tendons will appreciate it!
From Julie Wilson
Posted on April 4, 2012 at 05:14 AM
My epiphany came at age 7 when I saw the school orchestra play at the beginning of the school year. I was mesmerized by the sound - I had heard violin on TV but in person you can feel the vibrations in a way that cannot (or at least couldn't in the 80's) be translated through the radio and TV. However, I never had an opportunity to play until I was an adult.

And I love that we are in the same book! I am also in Suzuki book 2, trying to get the last two runs even on Bach's Minuet in G.

From Philip Novak
Posted on April 4, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Julie; so what got you started as an adult? Did you have a flashback to when you were 7, or was the violin something you yearned to do all the while? did you play any other instruments during that time?

All the gavottes and minuets are tricky for me to keep straight in the Suzuki books; are you working the Beethoven Minuet in G, you refer to it as a Bach. Just curious.

From Julie Wilson
Posted on April 4, 2012 at 09:33 PM
I always longed to play. I was made to play piano for a few years (hated it), and picked up some guitar on my own, and I sang. By high school I asked again if I could play violin and was told no by the band teacher due to I had not been playing since grade school. My parents were divorced and my dad HATED violin so he's the one who said no when I was seven, but when I lived with my mom in my later years she said I could but by then it was too late.

I have cousins who are professional musicians, and I met them as an adult. When I expressed my longing to play violin, my cousin put one in my hand and gave me my first lesson and encouraged me to continue.I was ecstatic after all those years of being told no, it sounds bad and no, you're too old. Clearly there are other adult beginners :) I was so thankful my cousin gave me the chance to learn that because I thought it was something I would never be able to do. She started me on bluegrass and old time fiddle, and I am currently pursuing classical and continuing to fiddle on the side.

And you're correct, I misstated the piece in Suzuki 2. You're not the only one who has trouble keeping it straight...lol! It is Beethoven's Minuet in G I am currently working on. One more piece and I will be starting book 3.


From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on April 11, 2012 at 06:00 PM
The house into which a friend moved had a stove that was shot. We were converting from electric to gas at the time, so we gave him our used but good stove. In return he gave me a violin.

I puttered with it a bit, and started doing a bit of fiddling at the local bluegrass jams. But then another friend, who already played, came over and got me playing with him. Between him, Brahms, and Corelli, my fate was sealed. Then he got my wife started on cello...

From John Stromnes
Posted on April 12, 2012 at 10:02 PM
My parents started me on violin when I was in grade school and I played for about 3 years. I quit playing when I was 15 years old and thought I would never touch it again. Fast forward 46 years to last Christmas. I’m now 61 and decided it would be nice to be able to play some Christmas Carols with my wife who plays the flute. I dragged out the old violin, had the bridge replaced, put on new strings and had my bow rehaired. I barely managed to scratch out a few carols with my wife but I caught the bug. I have been practicing every day since, sometimes 2-3 hours a day but never less than 1 hour. I’m loving it! My wife says I’m a happier and more focused person. Previously I had worried about what I would do with my time in retirement. Now I know. I’m looking for a teacher but have been working on things on my own. I just finished the last etude in Wohlfahrt book 1 and will be starting on book 2. I’ve also been working on the first book of Whistlers position playing for 1st and 3rd positions. My wife and I have also been playing duets of Telemanns Canonic Sonatas and some Pleyel Duets that seem to work well for flute and violin.

Overall it seems to be coming back and I feel that I am playing at a much higher level than I ever was as a child after only 3 months. I look forward to my practice sessions every day and my wife and I are both happier and closer.

From N.A. Mohr
Posted on April 12, 2012 at 10:22 PM
That's wonderful! :D I agree that it's so nice to have that musical creative connection with others.

I'm an adult returner (for 10+ years now)- but am currently making a push to actually improve instead of just stagnating at the same level of playing year after year...and I'm really enjoying it.

A good teacher is a wonderful thing.

I decided to work through the RCM material as a measure of progress (no plans on testing, just working up the grade levels)...and see how far I can go with it. The bonus will be that my orchestral playing will improve as well...(it already has)...

I enjoy all the equiment-related stuff too...as well the historical aspects,teaching philosophies, composers and repetoire, VIPs...so I'm endlessly and happily entertained...

From Steve Ravagni
Posted on April 13, 2012 at 04:15 AM
Phillip you’ve chosen a “dear to my heart” topic. My web site receives two to five emails per week from adults of all ages who have either re-started or are starting anew. Every one of them comments on how much joy music brings to their lives and that they didn’t know it was so easy to get started. @John makes the comment about his spouse being much happier, and that he is progressing swiftly. These are comments I hear regularly from the “older” players.

The goal for my site was to provide very basic “newbie” info that would help folks get going. I think that more mature humans have more patience when things aren’t going well and they are more willing to work through the rough spots. My experience would say that the gift of music can be special for players of any age or skill level.

I agree with @N.A. about the teacher. Self taught is good; having someone that’s experienced checking to make sure you are not developing bad habits is better. Also having a trained ear review your tonal progress can be very valuable.

Again, good topic Phillip. Even though the path is narrow, it is traverseable. Good playing to all.

From Katherine K
Posted on April 13, 2012 at 11:34 AM
I've been lurking here for awhile and joined just to contribute to this topic but it hit close to home.

I'm an adult beginner of violin. Started last fall after saying for 3 years that I was going to start it. I wasn't going to let it lapse into another year so I made the phone call and started lessons. I'm lucky to have a teacher that understands that this is a hobby for me and as an adult with a job and other obligations I maybe can't practice as much as I want to.

Anyhow, I wanted to do violin for many years before I started the thinking the last few years that I needed to sign up and give it a try. I took piano lessons as youngen. I played clarinet through elementary and high school (almost in college but bowed out of that). Played guitar (left handed) through high school and a chunk of my adult life too. So I finally got the job I have now and thought I can do it (but worried that I may have forever damaged myself with my left handed guitar playing).

I needed a hobby. After years of piercings clarinet wasn't an option anymore. I wasn't going to buy a piano to play and playing guitar had lost its fun to me. I wanted a new instrument and a hard instrument that had a good range from low to high. I wanted to play the music I played for years before but rediscover it on a new instrument. All those favorite songs.

It has not been the smoothest going lots of moving forward and then some backwards and it has been frustrating to me at times. Though I'm always thankful I came knowing how to read music because it has been easier. I rented a violin for awhile but found it difficult to play. I looked at my teacher skeptically when she said to use my pinky to play a note because it literally would not work on that instrument. and the low notes on it never sounded like I imagined they should. So I finally (this winter) decided I'm sticking with it and don't want to throw anymore money at that violin. I went to the violin shop and tried out a LOT of violins as best I could in my price range and found one that probably is not up to the standards of a lot of people here but which makes me happy to play. All the notes are pleasing to me and honest to goodness it's easier to play making lessons less frustrating. And now with some lessons in me I can pick up some of those songs I was playing before and try them out which is bringing me much joy in my life to just explore music again and play things that make me happy.

From Ellie Withnall
Posted on April 15, 2012 at 10:50 PM
I was 42 when I decided I better start doing some things on my bucket list-just in case ya know!
Number one on the list was learn to play piano, but my rented apartment was on the third floor and very small. No problems, I thought, I'll just mess around with violin for a while to learn to read music and stuff and then I'll get on with learning my "real" instrument later when I move to somewhere bigger.
Thank goodness my apartment was too small, fiddle and I fell in love-at-first-open-D-string. I probably will learn piano one day, but only if it's guaranteed not to get in the way of violin :-)
From Philip Novak
Posted on April 25, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Ellie and Katherine; how did violin make it on your list? Katherine, did you play with violins when you played clarinet? I'm interested in learning how people got to that moment where they say; "Hmm, violin? Yes! I want to play the violin!" In other words, what's the thought process that leads up to the point in time when you first touch a violin?
From Yola Claasen
Posted on April 25, 2012 at 08:57 PM
This is an interesting question, and I don't really have a good answer. I listened to my kid play the violin for nine years without ever considering taking lessons myself. Then, six months ago, I woke up one morning having time on my hands and a burning desire to play the violin. You go figure. I suspect that until a couple of years ago I was convinced you could be too old to learn certain things. But when I started training in martial arts at 46, I found out that it just isn't true. So maybe that cleared the path to this new challenge. And in a way, it doesn't really matter, because I just love this adventure anyway.
From di allen
Posted on April 25, 2012 at 10:08 PM
my mother told me the violin was very difficult as she had played it as a child. so i started piano when i was 7 and played for 10 years, thru freshman year in college. as a music major, we had a string class, i played viola, all music students hated this class because it sounded awful. this reinforced my fear and dislike. but when i was 68 years old, i heard some fiddlers play and thought, 'i could do that' - so i took fiddle lessons about a year then my teacher retired and i ended up with a suzuki classical violin teacher. that was 2 years ago. and yes, it is hard and challenging but also amazingly rewarding. much better instrument than piano!
From elise stanley
Posted on April 25, 2012 at 10:18 PM
I'm a returner, but the mystery is just as acute. I mean I picked it up about 20 yrs ago to try to encourage my son not to quit - but found the instrument infuriating and couldn't make any progress. Now not only do I have a burning passion to play, I'm far better than I ever was and having no difficulty improving. Least I think so ;) I can even memorize pieces now, something I could never do as a child.

Go figure...

Perhaps the desire to play is always there but other things dominate life at other times. Certainly, my career ambitions have died down and there are no real family committments either....

From Esther Rogers
Posted on April 26, 2012 at 02:54 PM
I've shared your question with our Scor! friends on facebook. Your story sounds like so many of the ones we hear from participants at Scor! String Camps for Adults. Check out our website:
www.StringCamp.com
From Ann Miller
Posted on April 26, 2012 at 05:48 PM
I never intended to play the violin. But my daughter wanted to play and we signed up for Suzuki violin, in which a parent starts with the child, at least long enough to understand somewhat hoow to help their child. I got hooked and never stopped,. That was seven years ago.
From Chris Harper
Posted on April 27, 2012 at 07:12 PM
I had just finished reorganizing my shop and building new work surfaces. Then I needed a challenge so I decided to do what I had always talked about and build a violin so that I could learn to play it. I always have loved the sound of the violin. The build started last November and was finished in February of this year. After I put the strings on it and tuned it for the first time I was playing a scale and picking out tunes like amazing grace within an hour. After 5 lessons I am loving every moment I spend playing it. Can't wait to really get good at it!
From Katherine K
Posted on April 28, 2012 at 02:14 AM
Philip, sorry I didn't respond sooner. Work got in the way visiting here.

Anyhow my decision of violin was the result of a variety of things.

1. I wanted at least the range I had on the clarinet low to high. Preferably more, but I wanted at least that range to play the sorts of music I want to play. Piano was an option but I was never good at piano when I was learning to play it. I have squaty hands as I like to call them and reading bass cleff music was never ever something I was destined to be able to do. Plus pianos are not fun to move and take up incredible space in a house and we don't have a local tuner anymore I believe. I worked for the local tuner for awhile refinishing pianos.

3. I didn't want another instrument that involved my mouth. Piercings aside I just never loved dealing with the maintenance that spit caused. Plus, been there and did that. Realistically I could have probably picked that clarinet back up and had the range and such that I wanted but the spit...

4. I already played guitar and I found I just couldn't do the music I wanted to with it. So that was out.

5. Finally I always loved the sounds that a violin could make. Also love the versatility of it. I can play the classical music I always liked to play but when I want to have fun I can play some fun music too and it will still sound good. It is also a very portable instrument. Also you don't need a "new" instrument to be able to make a nice sound. I always have had a soft spot for antiques in general. I use a lot of antique furniture in my house for example. So the idea that I could have a functional antique instrument intrigued me. I can bring this to my mom and show her what I've learned. I can store it easily in my house and it makes pleasing sounds (usually). It is difficult and I like a challenge. I wanted something hard, something for me to chew on and something that fit my life and this was it. It's a hobby. It will never be my life but I love it.

From tom utsch
Posted on April 28, 2012 at 04:55 AM
I decided around age 32 that I would like to play a musical instrument. So I bought a trumpet since I liked the expressiveness of trumpet music and started to take private lessons. So here is what it is like at a trumpet lesson. You sit side by side with the teacher, a music stand in the middle. The floor is covered in newspaper....not by accident...every 10 min you each need to drain your instrument. I suppose that we would lack for certain feelings in music (Guillaume Tell! Wyndon Marsalis) without the trumpet but in any case I returned it for a portable instrument that one does not need to spit into....the only qualifying item was a violin. After many years of hacking away at it, I am still hacking unfortunately. I later discovered that the violin is the king of musical instruments...first among equals.... I am not one to give up on anything and eventually will get it to sound like I want it to but in any case young or not young, it is not something for the faint of heart....
From tammuz kolenyo
Posted on April 28, 2012 at 05:26 AM
spittle...newpaper on the floor? drainage? with all due respect to trumpet players...but thats a bit ....unappealing
From elise stanley
Posted on April 28, 2012 at 07:42 AM
nothing like noble rosin dust eh?
From Stephen Lumsden
Posted on May 18, 2012 at 12:35 PM
When I lived in Melbourne, I was a bit drunk once passing the violin shop the Violineri on Bridge Road. I talked to my wife about how nice it would be to play. The next day I googled violin related stuff and decided to have a go as it was quite portable (we lived in a small apartment and I had intended on doing piano but violin rental seemed easier if it did not work out). I rented a violin for a year (there are plenty of violin shops in the eastern suburbs) and then bought one. I started at 42 and am 45 now, the practice is theraputic once I an heading in the right direction, want to get to grade 8 by 50, or there abouts.
From Arnie Cohen
Posted on May 18, 2012 at 01:58 PM
Stephan, looks like we are related... I also started when I was 42. I played piano/ keyboards in earlier years, and wanted to go back to music. Likeing classical music, and the sound of the violin, got me going. I was quite sober though. For what its worth.....i saw Hilary Hahn at orchestra hall in chicago, and had her sign her latest cd. I told her I started violin at age 42... her response was a "WOW".......so I can now say that I impressed Hilary Hahn.........
From Ellie Withnall
Posted on May 19, 2012 at 12:47 AM
42 must be the magic age, all the best adult beginners are starting then :-)
Phillip, sorry for the long delay, didn't notice you'd asked a specific question. Violin made it onto my list when I realised I couldn't manage a piano and thought "what's my next favourite instrument?". It was a (thankfully brief) toss up between flute and violin but I had just been living in Philadelphia where I absolutely adored the design of the Kimmel Center, (which makes you feel as if you are inside a violin). So those left over good feelings plus my love of the sound of violin won over. Funnily enough I have ended up falling in love with playing celtic and old time fiddle not classical violin. I guess you never know where the path will lead you.
From Julianne Heinen
Posted on May 28, 2012 at 04:03 AM
For me, it was a life long dream. When I was a kid I loved violin music and would listen to tapes and wish I could play. We never could afford lessons for me. When I was a teenager, I bought my first violin for $100 (A Violin shaped object) and took lessons for about a year. Then I went off to college and kept meaning to resume lessons but never did. No excuses.

Then I turned 40 and decided to jump in and pursue what had been a lifelong dream. I no longer had excuses. I've been playing for just over a year now and am in Suzuki book 4 and am working on the Vivaldi concerto in A minor.

I know I'll never be a professional, but I get so much joy out of playing even the simplest of scales. I love the violin and have always felt it was part of my destiny somehow. I'm living my childhood dream.

From Christian Lesniak
Posted on May 28, 2012 at 05:47 AM
Just a little inspiration for all the adult beginners.

It's always nice to see how hard people work for what they love

From james holmes
Posted on May 28, 2012 at 09:17 AM
Since age 10 I think I wanted to play violin and remember tugging and pleading with my parents to let me take lessons. Unfortunately it never materialized. But instead one Christmas morning I got a Flute for an instrument. Reluctantly I would play the flute up until HS with much harassment from peers. I never got good at it.
20 years in the future my youngest son asked if he can play the violin. Without hesitation we set him up with his instrument and lessons.
My son took it for only 3 years and went to pursue other activities. (he now plays keyboards)
So this was my invitation to start playing. I had always enjoyed classical and the violin sound. From here I never stopped trying to play. I took lessons in the begining but with a full time job and taking care of a family left me little time for myself. So for the past 8 years I have been at it trying to catapult from what I had learned.
When I stopped taking lessons I was on Vivaldi's Conceto in A minor. And that is the piece I am still working on. ;(
I try to play different types of music to keep my interests.
The violin has brought much joy and helped me go through my job layoff a few years back and other stresses of daily life. Now if I could only play it for people to share my passion.
From Tom Quinn
Posted on May 28, 2012 at 04:02 PM
I picked up the guitar in college and mostly played fiddle tunes so I decided to learn mandolin which made playing the fiddle tunes more "authentic". Moving on to fiddle was only natural. I guess it was the music that drove me to fiddle.

What I didn't realize was the huge increase in difficulty, but the rewards have been worth it.

From Joyce Lin
Posted on May 29, 2012 at 02:39 AM
Here is an old thread that has many interesting stories about how/why adult beginners started.

BTW, there is an adult starter support group on facebook that was created as a result of a discussion here at v.com. We are a friendly and supportive bunch who like to give thumbs up and don't argue about shoulder rests. ;) If you are on facebook, please come join us: Adult Starters - Violin/Fiddle

From Richard Tracy
Posted on May 29, 2012 at 03:32 PM
As a child, I always had a love for music and a desire to play any instrument but was never given the opportunity. By the time I was in college, that desire centered on one instrument - the violin, but thought I was too old to start. At age 39, I decided to give in to my desire and took my first lesson - I loved it! A year later, I lost the index finger of my left hand in a woodworking accident and thought my violin playing days were over. However, determination took over and I learned to play - with 3 fingers. I have been playing for about 20 years now and loving every minute of it. For the full story, please see my blog - The 3-Fingered Violinist
Ilya Gringolts

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