How to become a professional violinist ?

August 25, 2016 at 09:37 AM · Hello . I have been playing violin for about ten years . I had starting to have violin lesson with Suzuki method up to book 5 when I was 23 until 27 and after that I stopped taking violin lesson . Now I am 34 year old and decide to get my professional degree in violin performing . Is it possible ? I have no clue , which schools should I attend ? , where to take an audition?,is there any scholarship avail for adult returning school ?, do I really need to travel oversea or move to Europe for a private violin lesson?......etc . Thank you so much for any of you guys recommendation .



Replies (23)

August 25, 2016 at 12:20 PM · At the age of 34, unless you are already playing the romantic concertos, Paganini caprices, and such, with good fluency, you are unlikely to transform yourself into a professional violinist. There are a few *very rare* cases of "late starters" but that term usually refers to someone who started at the age of 12. Your odds are better in the Powerball.

August 25, 2016 at 12:42 PM · I am sorry to say that Paul is correct. You can probably find an amateur orchestra to join or find some friends to form a string quartet to enrich your life but there is zero likelihood you could become a professional violinist. Music makes a great avocation, though, and I encourage you to find ways to pursue that.

August 25, 2016 at 03:04 PM · I would say the same thing as Paul and Mary Ellen, with one caveat: What country do you live in? What is the level of professional violinists in your country? What do they do to make a living? What is unrealistic for someone in the US or Western Europe might be feasible for someone who lives in a country where the expected standard of a professional player is fairly low.

What level are you currently playing it? (Most recent repertoire and etudes?)

August 25, 2016 at 06:06 PM · Thank you so much for you guys replies. I found it very helpful ;).i live in OC, California . My level of playing right now is the Bach double concerto and the A minor concerto . I am currently serve as an amateur violinist at some local churches and sometimes I play for a wedding when I get refer from friends . I find it's hard to pursue music degree in classical while I live here in California . My opinion is people don't really appreciate much classical music . I work hard and support for my violin playing myself . When my financial is much stable I am planning to study in Europe cause I have been there couple times and see , classical still can survive and they still need more musicians . What do you think? I heard that if you want to become a pro violinist you actually need a coach , someone has been through those stuffs , otherwise you are not going anywhere cause you have no ideas what to do ? I wish I can do some auditions so can get feedback from others. One time I was contacting a conductor for an orchestra here in OC , but I was working full time so he refused to take me . You are right , when becoming an adult chances are very less , even you are very talented but to me , luck is very important . I heard from one of my fav luthier down in Laguna beach was saying , you can do audition for some orchestra but usually they will pick the person they know , I was upset when I heard that but well that's life . I would love sharing all my thoughts here . Much apreciated all your opinions ;) and feedbacks .


August 25, 2016 at 06:24 PM · However well you play your current repertoire, and however easily you learn new music, you are still many years away from a full-time professional level. Play music because it is beautiful to hear, play, and share!

August 25, 2016 at 10:25 PM · Time for some tough love, here.

You're playing, at best, at an intermediate level. You have a very long way to go before you even reach the level where you could pass an audition for a university-level music program in the US, Canada, or Europe, and even farther to reach a professional level of playing.

Yes, if you want to be a pro violinist -- if you even want to be a reasonably accomplished amateur violinist -- you absolutely need an excellent teacher. It is not just a matter of having someone help you break into the professional ranks. Violin-playing is an incredibly complex skill. (I am sure that there will be defenders of autodidacticism who will say that the greatest violinists in the early days of the violin had to teach themselves to some degree, but I will point out that this was after they received a solid foundation, and they weren't competing in a modern environment where thousands of newly-minted conservatory grads have near-perfect technique.)

The goal of a professional audition is to win the job, period. If you are doing it for anything less, you are wasting everyone's time. It's common not to receive any feedback either. If you want feedback, go take lessons at a community music school that has end-of-semester juries that provide written critiques.

All things considered, I bet the conductor that you talked to was actually being extremely polite. I assume this was a pro orchestra, since in an amateur community orchestra, people generally all have full-time jobs (unless they're stay-at-home parents or retired, of course). You were violating the audition etiquette for the orchestra by asking the conductor directly -- essentially displaying ignorance of professional norms -- so I imagine his polite way of ending the conversation was to point out that you already had a job. Pro orchestras are work; some are full-time jobs, and even the per-service ones count as a part-time job that may not be compatible with another non-flexible full-time job. (In some per-service pro orchestras, it's not uncommon for the players to have "day jobs" for more income.)

And no, your luthier isn't really correct about who gets picked for pro jobs. Someone they know -- for instance, a regular substitute for the orchestra -- certainly has a leg up, and may get to bypass the first round of the audition. But orchestras do not go through the expense and time and effort of holding auditions without having a real interest in hearing the candidates and choosing the best ones. (The first round, at least, is almost always blind, these days, too.)

At your stage in playing, though, there's no way you would get past the resume screen for a pro orchestra audition. And my guess is that you wouldn't get past playing a handful of notes. I advise getting to the point where you could be credibly considered a pro-level player before you start denigrating the audition system. (And be careful, too. Critiques can sound extremely unprofessional, another black mark against you, if you don't know what you're talking about.)

At your level, you could consider joining a community orchestra, where you might pick up some humility, along with a better understanding of how you stack up against other amateurs, and orchestra-playing skills. Your background doesn't suggest that you know anything about being an orchestra player, much less the skillset you need to play in a pro orchestra. You might find, in fact, that you are actually below the minimum skill level for many adult amateur community orchestras. (And by the way, you should not expect feedback from the audition for such orchestras, either.)

As for musical life in OC -- from context I assume that this is Orange County, i.e., the Los Angeles area. You're in a location with a still-vibrant tradition of classical music, from the magnificent LA Philharmonic, to the Colburn School (one of the best conservatories in the world), plus other good programs (for instance, USC where Heifetz used to teach, and where Midori now teaches), to countless other professional and community orchestras. Plus, there's a legion of good violin-teachers in the area, as a result of this rich musical community. (And there are plenty of amateur classical players, too, which means lots of opportunities to play chamber-music.)


Step 1. Find a teacher. We've got various members who can probably recommend a good teacher in LA. Nathan Cole, the associate concertmaster of the LA Phil, posts here regularly, and if you reach out, he might be able to suggest a good match for an adult intermediate student like yourself.

Step 2. Get to the point where you can manage the audition repertoire for a community orchestra that accepts people at your level. (Typically two contrasting pieces plus scales.) You will be a 2nd violinist, if you get in.

Step 3. Read up on orchestral etiquette and approach. Ask your stand partner for help when necessary. Ask your section leader if your stand partner can't help you.

Step 4. Keep improving with your private teacher. Spend a couple of years getting to the point where your technique is reasonably solid and you have repertoire that might be college audition-worthy.

Step 5. Probably decide to continue on playing as an amateur, because by that time you're likely to be 40+ and investing 4 years in another bachelor's degree is probably going to look unattractive, especially since your playing level afterwards might still not be at pro-orchestra level.

Step 6. Keep practicing diligently, get better, and enjoy music.

August 25, 2016 at 10:29 PM · "I heard from one of my fav luthier down in Laguna beach was saying, you can do audition for some orchestra but usually they will pick the person they know."

First of all that's totally rubbish, and second, the good-old-boy system isn't what's keeping you from playing with a pro orchestra. Your problem is that there are thousands of ten-year-olds who can play the Bach A Minor just fine.

August 25, 2016 at 10:36 PM · Also, as for feedback: Post a video. (You can post it on YouTube and then post the link here.)

August 25, 2016 at 10:42 PM · That is an excellent and interesting post Lydia.

August 26, 2016 at 12:36 AM · Thank you so much Lydia ;)I'll keep everything you said in mind . You are such amazing mentor .

August 26, 2016 at 02:18 AM · If you have had little if any orchestral-playing experience a chair in the second violins is probably the best way to acquire that experience. In the seconds, especially towards the back of the section you'll get a balanced appreciation of how an orchestra works and of the orchestral sound, both as a whole and sectionally, on a par with what your conductor hears.

Remember, musically, the first and second violin sections are the two sides of the same gold coin. One is as important as the other, so never permit anyone to equate second violin with second class!

August 26, 2016 at 02:28 AM · Consider switching to viola. There is more demand for viola players, especially if you also dive into Baroque instrument studies.

August 26, 2016 at 02:47 AM · The days of a weak violinist being able to switch to viola and have a career are over. Weak violinists become weak violists. Violists who succeed after switching over from violin were already good violinists. Nothing in the OP's post suggests that he is remotely close to professional level; he is, as Lydia said, at best intermediate and he would be an intermediate (at best) violist should he decide to go down the fifth.

I agree with Lydia's long and thoughtful post 100%.

August 26, 2016 at 03:39 AM · My comment on playing 2nd violin in a community orchestra was not intended to imply anything about the relative importance of the sections. It's simply a statement of reality. Pro orchestras can simply have "section violinists" with no difference in skill between 1st and 2nd violinists. That's rarely the case in community orchestras, where players in 1st violin are usually more skilled than players in 2nd violin.

Intermediate-level players don't play 1st violin in community orchestras, for the simple reason that they are unlikely to be able to manage the difficulty of the 1st violin parts. And while there are community orchestras where both the 1st and 2nd violin sections are outstanding and perhaps of relatively equal skill levels, most community orchestras have a difficult enough time recruiting advanced-level players who can adeptly handle 1st violin parts that anyone who can is placed in the 1st violin section, usually with the exception of the principal stand of the 2nds.

Rocky's comment about switching to viola is apt if you're talking about playing viola at the amateur level, as opposed to the pro level (as Mary Ellen is discussing). Orchestral viola parts are almost always less technically demanding than 1st violin parts, and sometimes less technically demanding than 2nd violin parts. Most community orchestras could use more violists. Many chamber-music groups are also in need of more violists. An intermediate-level violist is likely to be in greater demand than an intermediate-level violinist.

August 26, 2016 at 03:59 AM · I was realizing, also, that the OP doesn't seem to have much respect for professional violinists, or an understanding of the skill level of pros. Adult beginner, four years of Suzuki lessons, book 5... and then thinks he's ready to play with a pro orchestra.

It seems disrespectful to the entire LA music community, too... as if it doesn't have teachers or conservatories that are good enough for him.

August 26, 2016 at 04:47 AM ·

August 26, 2016 at 04:57 AM · I am so sorry Lydia if all my writing is very offended to you in any ways . English is my second language , sometimes the way I talk and explaining things I couldn't express by words in a right way . I wish it s easier to talk and express my feelings instead of writing here . I didn't mention about I contact directly to the HB community orchestra because I was looking for a community orchestra to have an audition and so on but I found only woodwinds and brass orchestra on the web , so I email that orchestra director and he introduced me to the HB symphony orchestra , that's why I did email the conductor about auditioning ...... Anyway, I would love any of your suggestions , I feel like I was blind , I'll watch out things before I say or write it next time .

August 27, 2016 at 09:33 PM · Step 1. Find a teacher. The roster of violinists for your local symphony is a decent place to start for finding teachers. Take some trial lessons and pick a teacher. I'd probably express what you want as "I've had 4 years of Suzuki lessons, got to book 5, and want to improve my playing." Leave the future professional ambitions for a much later discussion.

Step 2. Don't leave your day or abandon your family, but practice as much as you can. Start with a solid 1 hour a day and go to 2 hours a day, split up into at least two sessions, with one of those hours preferably in the morning before you go to work. If you can fit in more time, do so.

Step 3. If you are practicing more than 2 hours a day, and you can afford to do so, take lessons twice a week.

Step 4. If you are playing a low-quality violin and bow, upgrade to a decent student-grade instrument, or better, if you can afford it (but whatever you pick now is unlikely to be your "forever" violin and bow)

Step 5. Assess your progress after a year of hard work.

August 28, 2016 at 12:17 PM · Step 6. Don't ruin a perfectly good hobby.

August 28, 2016 at 03:37 PM · Scott, that is so true. I had a piano teacher during my childhood, a wonderful guy who could play anything from Bach to Bartok. He's the guy who actually taught me how to practice -- not my violin teacher. He also lived like a pauper, making ends meet by playing various keyboards in top-40-cover and country-and-western bands. Sometimes I had to pick him up from his apartment and drive him back to my parents' house for my lesson because his car wouldn't start. That's when I knew I would never try to go pro (not that I was ever fixated on that, but for a while I did harbor the baseless illusion that I was musically "talented").

But now? Now I play the piano in a great jazz quintet, we play gigs in various configurations, and we've made an album and are working on a second, and I play viola, in a chamber orchestra, and I accompany my daughter's violin group and I play the violin in a Brazilian jazz trio, more gigs, just so many musical opportunities. I could join the local symphony if I wanted, I could probably audition into the back of the second violins with Bach A Minor or Haydn G Major. It's too much of a time commitment, so I'm saving that for later. But if a gig falls through I don't have to worry about how I'm going to feed my family. The result is that I enjoy music a lot more than I believe many so-called pros do. Would I enjoy it more if I could play better? Sure I would. But we make choices in life, and we can't turn back the clock.

August 28, 2016 at 08:39 PM · "Most community orchestras could use more violists. " Lydia - I am in the NIH Community Orchestra in DC and will be glad to send any of our approximately 8-10 alto- clef life forms (lol) to any community orch that needs them.

August 28, 2016 at 08:54 PM · Hah. :-)

Ironically, what my orchestra needs is 1st violins. I think we're full up in the other string sections, or at least we can't expand the other sections until we have enough 1sts to balance.

August 28, 2016 at 11:05 PM · Our local community orchestra needs more violists too. When you need 4 of something, plus-or-minus 2 is a large margin of error.

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