Can I become a professional?

October 9, 2016 at 12:30 AM · Beginning of Musical Career:

Starting violin at age 5, I started out with the Suzuki method. I stopped Suzuki at book 6, and by that time, I was 11.

I am 14 now, just turned 14 yesterday.

List of my violin teachers till now. I'm pretty sure all of these people you can find online:

-Yasha Tulchinsky

-Teresa Hankel (Treesa Gold took over towards the end)

-Alan...dont know last name

-Esther Nahm

And now I am taking lessons from Sonya Chung. I'm pretty sure she is part of the Baltimore Symphony.

After stopping at Suzuki book 6 like two years ago, here is the list of concertos/pieces I've played:

- Accolay Concerto in A

- Meditation by Thais

- Bach A minor

- Zigeunerweisen

I am learning the Saint-Saens violin concerto no.3

I have participated or am participating in the following orchestras.

- CRO (Central Regional Orchestra of VA)

Principle 2nd, 5th highest score

- Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra (highest youth orchestra in Richmond)

- All county orchestra (Henrico county, VA)

- School Orchestra, first chair

I am hopefully going to be part of the All-State VA orchestra in high school.

I have not participated in any big or small violin competitions. Hoping to do many in high school.

I want to learn the Sibelius violin concerto and Tchaikovsky violin concerto before I graduate high school.

I want to go to an IVY league school or one of these following music conservatories or universities: (acceptance rate)

Juilliard School - 7.2%

Manhattan School of Music - 45%

Cleveland Institute of Music - 43.9%

Curtis Institute of Music - 4.8%

Colburn School - 5%

Indiana University Jacobs School of Music - 25%

At this rate, do you think I will be able to get into any of these? I practice 1-2 hours of violin every day.

Also, is it possible for me to become a pro violinist? A professional orchestra, anything?

What should I work on in order to become a pro?

Thanks for the help:

David

BTW, my favorite violinist is Joshua Bell

Replies (52)

October 9, 2016 at 01:28 AM · There are already a few threads on this site about what it takes to become a professional violinist. After reading them you may wonder why anybody would want to ! Orchestral auditions seem very stressful to say the least.

IMHO I do not think one or two hours of practise per day will get you there but others may have a different opinion.

October 9, 2016 at 01:48 AM · According to a quick web search, Sonya Chung plays with the Richmond Symphony. Maybe she subs in Baltimore? At least you know her last name though! I read her bio and it looks like she has decent credentials. Age of 14 would be a good time to sit down with her and have a frank talk about your prospects.

Start by asking her what she was playing (and had already polished and performed) at your age. That will give you a "calibration point" as to your chances of landing a gig as a section player the Richmond Symphony if you practice three or four hours a day for the next ten years.

Those acceptance rates are meaningless.

October 9, 2016 at 01:58 AM · I think anyone looking for an assessment of their odds ought to post a video. What you've played is a whole less important than how well you're playing it.

October 9, 2016 at 02:02 AM · If you intention is to be a member of a full-time paid orchestra, it is highly unlikely. If you want to be a private violin teacher, yes it is possible. Your school list consists of only top schools. To gauge yourself to others of your age, find and listen to those kids on YouTube who are in the Juilliard pre-college program. The harsh reality is that the majority of them won't be able to hold an orchestra job. If I were you, I would put more effort in studying school subjects.

October 9, 2016 at 02:24 AM · Acceptance rates are irrelevant. Schools have quotas that they need to fill of students, and so acceptance rates will vary each year. Likewise schools have limits and can get a lot of strong applicants and not be able to accept them all. You need to look at both admissions statistics, and, since this is for a music conservatoire, what accepted students auditions were.

Why are those at the top of your list? It almost seems like you googled top music conservatoires in the north/midwest. Some of those schools you listed appears quite ambitious, especially since you are only a freshman in High School. Having goals is great, but you do need to be true to yourself on your skill level. Life is not fair, and there is no such thing as being "meant" to go somewhere. Results and progress is directly related to practice and effort.

I have no idea how great of a player/student you are, nor am I a competent judge by any means if I heard you play, but I think you are getting way ahead of yourself here. You are only 14 years old, and you won't be applying to any colleges/conservatoires for another 3 years. There is no sense in wasting time looking at schools that you don't even know if you'll have a chance of getting into in the future. Focus on your practice, and keep up your schoolwork. Like someone above had mentioned, don't blow off your schoolwork because you think you'll be a professional musician. Both your music and your grades need to be spectacular for the schools you listed.

October 9, 2016 at 02:34 AM · I don't at all agree that 14 is too soon to start thinking about a goal of conservatory attendance. In fact, if you aren't thinking about it by then, you aren't likely to be competitive.

As for the rest of the post, what does your teacher have to say about your ambitions?

October 9, 2016 at 02:56 AM · Hi David, There are many threads on this topic. In the search field, type "become a professional." You will see quite a few threads on this subject. I would recommend reading through them as the advice applies to you and anyone else considering a career in music.

As for Juilliard, Curtis, Colburn, or any well known music school, your chances are slim to none. I am currently studying with a teacher with some very high level students. Several of her 3rd and 4th grade students have played Zigeunerweisen, Mendelssohn and other challenging works at a very high level. If they keep playing, they might have a shot at one of the top schools.

October 9, 2016 at 03:28 AM · @Sarah What I meant by my post is that he probably won't be thinking about the same colleges in 3 years and it is a waste of time to be looking into and comparing them at the moment. It is much more important to focus on improvement.

October 9, 2016 at 04:40 AM · I just realized you said "I want to go to an IVY League school or [list of conservatories]" (it's just "Ivy", by the way, it's not an abbreviation).

The Ivies and music are almost contradictory goals. Yale only has a graduate-level School of Music (you can get a BA/MM in 5 years from Yale, though), Harvard has a 5-year joint BA/MM program with NEC, and Columbia students can take private lessons at Juilliard via the exchange program. That's it, I believe, as far as a rigorous study of music goes. (My own alma mater, Penn, has a superb composition program, but no performance degree.)

Importantly, to get into those programs, you need to be fully competitive academically as well as musically. To do Harvard/NEC, for instance, I believe you have to independently gain admission to both schools and then apply to do the joint program.

If you are looking at Ivy League admissions, you need to be both academically outstanding (As in the hardest classes your high school offers, maximally challenging classes, top scores on multiple AP exams, top SAT scores, etc.), as well as have a broad record of extracurricular accomplishment, leadership, and usually community service. All of that takes time. That's time you're not spending practicing -- music is just one of the extracurriculars you're expected to have, and for an Ivy, they'd almost certainly prefer to see you be the concertmaster because it's a leadership role, regardless of whether or not there may be players in the orchestra that are technically better than you are.

So I disagree with Bailey, pretty strongly. If you want to prepare for Ivy admissions, now is the time to start seriously working towards that. And your seriousness about that is going to affect your musical path.

October 9, 2016 at 04:52 AM · Just looked up your teacher's bio (here), which is very interesting. She has an undergrad BA in philosophy from Harvard, and a graduate performance diploma (not an MM) from Peabody (see story). The story mentions that she "moved away" from the violin as a teenager, and then became interested again in college.

The Richmond Symphony is a ROPA orchestra. It has a full-time core, and a previous v.com post notes that the core players make $30k-ish. But your teacher is not listed as a core member, suggesting that she's getting per-service pay, which would total less than that. If she subs for Baltimore, that would also be per-service pay (and a really, really long commute).

Would you be happy with a career like hers? Living in a smaller city, playing for an orchestra part-time, teaching full-time, forever making about half of the $60k average salary of a newly-minted Harvard graduate? Driving 3 hours each way to substitute in an orchestra?

October 9, 2016 at 05:09 AM · Just as a point of reference, my oldest son had 1600 math/verbal SATs plus a very high writing score, GPA 111 on a 100 point scale, loads of AP exams passed with 5s, three-year Texas All-Stater on double bass, other extra-curriculars and service hours, and he was *waitlisted* at Harvard.

I highly recommend that anyone applying to an Ivy, no matter how brilliant, have a backup plan.

October 9, 2016 at 05:15 AM · And to answer the OP's question, I second Lydia's request for a video. What you're playing is meaningless without knowing how you are playing it. And my standard advice to anyone expressing an interest in a professional music career: if you can imagine yourself being happy doing something else, you should do that other thing.

October 9, 2016 at 04:04 PM · https://youtu.be/aLJu_nM3Vk8

The player in the video is Gonçal Comellas, an excellent Spanish violinist now retired. He was laureated in Queen Elisabeth competition and first prize in Carl Flesh competition, among others. You can see him live in almost every major piece of the repertoire including the Paganini 24 caprices.

He made his debut at 14 years old playing the Bach A minor concerto.

My point is that becoming a professional violinist and attending certain schools or winning jobs in certain orchestras are two different things. Age and level within certain limits aren't always so determinant. Work hard, very hard, and time will answer all your questions.

October 9, 2016 at 05:53 PM · I've mentioned opportunity cost on earlier threads of this sort. There's only so much time in someone's day. Time spent practicing and on musical activities is time that is not being spent on something else useful. David Kang's parents, I suspect, are not the sort to allow him to spend his days lounging and playing video games and hanging out with his buddies, so if he wasn't practicing, they'd be having him do something else overtly productive.

One to two hours a day is a fine amount of time for a future accomplished amateur and someone who wants to do well enough that music can be listed as a meaningful extracurricular on his Ivy League applications. It's not enough for a future pre-professional.

Importantly, if that's how much you're playing, you have to ask yourself if you want to be practicing 4+ hours a day. If that doesn't punch all of your buttons, find another profession.

October 9, 2016 at 09:09 PM · I've always wondered how the top soloists could tolerate practicing 7, 8, or even 9 hours year after year during their childhood. I remember Lang Lang had said in an interview "When I was 8 I was practicing 8 hours a day... 5 of those I enjoyed, 3 of them were forced" I struggle to imagine what all one could practice in such a length of time, but for some people I guess it works.

October 9, 2016 at 09:28 PM · David,

Can you become a "Professional Musician?" That depends on how you define "Professional." If you mean: Like Joshua Bell that means you need to have some serious "chops." If you mean: making a living playing the violin (and other instruments?) there are more possibilities but no guarantees.

I'm pushing 70 and cannot remember what I thought I wanted to do at age 14. However, it is doubtful that it was to be an Operations and Supply Chain Management expert. That is the profession I retired from.

Right now it looks like you can be a great addition to some orchestras in your future. Actually you might be able to trade your musical skills for at least a partial scholarship at many fine universities. If you do go to a conservatory make sure they have excellent academics as well - music is not a guarantee to a great career.

Because of my activity in the musical community as a volunteer I've come to know a lot of professional musicians and some up-and-coming musicians in conservatories. Lately I've been talking to a young musician who recently graduated from Curtis with both performance and teaching credentials. However, she hit the teaching market just when schools are shifting money from the Arts & Music budget to the STEM budget. So, she has private students, plays with a few small professional orchestras for union scale and works as a barista at Starbucks because of their flexible schedules. Not exactly what she had in mind but she is a professional musician. Yes, she is auditioning with bigger orchestras but those auditions are rare and highly competitive.

Get a solid education that isn't all music. There are fewer-and-fewer orchestras with smaller-and-smaller audiences. Yet there are lots of second tier orchestras, chamber groups, et cetera where the musicians all have significant day-jobs.

You may not be able to make music your entire live but you can assure that it will be a big part of a full life.

October 9, 2016 at 09:39 PM · The amount of academics you do at a conservatory will be trivial, and it's basically not worth thinking about. You will be just as qualified to work at Starbucks with a BM in performance as you would be with, say, a BA in philosophy.

The Ivy League schools do not give out music-related scholarships. In fact, they don't give out athletic or academic scholarships, period.

October 9, 2016 at 10:45 PM · David, based on your self-reported trajectory, you are not a prodigy. I would forget conservatory. Has your teacher trained even a single student into conservatory? If you do go that route, trying to be her first one is very very risky. If you want a second opinion, my advice is to go and talk to some other pros in the Richmond area. Mrs. Kapeller can introduce you to them -- she knows them all.

There are great public and private schools in Virginia where you can get a whale of an education. The average salary of a VT graduate is not the same as that of a Harvard graduate, but remember this: Your education and your career are what YOU make them. State universities provide a bonanza of opportunity for someone who is outgoing, organized, efficient, and self-motivated. My advice is to cultivate those qualities, keep studying the violin with a plan to become a well-skilled amateur, and pay close attention to your academics so that you can rise to the top at VT, UVa, W&M, etc. I teach chemistry at VT (currently the first-year lab course for CHEM majors) and if you visit Blacksburg I would love to meet you. Look at U of R too ... yes its very expensive, but a very high quality place. The high tuition at those places is just a Robin Hood scheme. Rich families can pay it easily, and they use that to fund scholarships for the less affluent. Public schools do it too, but only to the extent that the legislature will let them. I know a young man who got a full-ride piano scholarship at U of R, and they let him keep it when he changed his major (to classics) midway through! Bet they don't do that a Juilliard. That young man wound up doing *extremely* well, getting a very prestigious graduate fellowship, etc.

October 9, 2016 at 11:09 PM · I don't think that it's necessary to be a prodigy to go to conservatory. It is necessary to be playing at a competitive level by the time college auditions roll around, but there are plenty of very fine players who can play, say, a good Tchaikovsky at 17 who couldn't manage it at 11, but by 17 are sounding just as good as that other kid is. By the time they are auditioning for pro jobs, you almost certainly can't tell who was better at the age of 14. A great teacher during the high school years can make an immense difference in someone's trajectory, as well.

I disagree with you on the value of an Ivy education, although as an Ivy graduate myself, I am of course somewhat biased (but I am married to a guy who got a state-school degree with top grades on a full scholarship through his master's, and while it's the only way he could have afforded to get an education, the ripple effects on his career have been clear). I think you can get a great education at a state school, but there are real differences.

The first is your peer group. At an Ivy, almost all of your classmates will be extremely smart, extremely accomplished, and have a broad set of interests and a lot of ambition to make their mark in the world. (There will also be legacies and possibly some athletes who are not quite up to that level, but they are a small percentage of the student body.) At a state school, the top students will be just as good as the students at the Ivies, but you will also be surrounded by lots of people for whom that is not the case, and it changes the culture of the school.

The second is the career opportunities. Companies recruit at different schools, and they recruit differently depending on what the school is. The very best entry-level roles tend to be recruited out of the Ivies and schools of similar caliber (Stanford, MIT, CalTech, etc.), though there is some recruitment done out of top-notch state schools as well (like UC Berkeley). Ditto for summer internships. You can go on to make a great career without an Ivy degree, but it primes you for a better job pipeline.

The third is the alumni network and the brand cachet of the Ivies. Venture capitalists, for instance, have an extremely strong preference for students who graduated from elite schools. This is something that will follow you for the whole of your career. You'll even find it formally built into career ladders -- some companies will express an explicit preference for executives to hold degrees from certain elite universities (not just the Ivies or even American universities, i.e., Cambridge or Oxford are fine too).

So Paul is right that you can get a great education at a non-elite school, but don't overlook the benefits of an elite education, either.

October 9, 2016 at 11:41 PM · Opportunities are earned not given. You can be successful wherever you go if you put forth enough effort. One may argue that being the top of your class at a good school will present yourself with more opportunities than being at or below average at a spectacular school with students leagues ahead of yourself potential wise. For example, what looks better on a resume. I was an average student at Harvard, or I led numerous research projects at the University of Michigan? I think it is all relative to the capabilities of the person.

October 10, 2016 at 12:26 AM · Of course it depends on what you do with your education, but an average student at Harvard is someone who is already outstanding in multiple aspects of their life, and for the most part, continues onward in that trajectory in college. That means that a student interested in research is likely to have multiple great opportunities to pursue those opportunities -- and the average Harvard student with those interests will be. At Michigan, you might indeed only see the top students go for such. I can tell you that if you're intellectually inclined, it's a lot more fun to go to college somewhere that everyone is super-excited about learning, than to go somewhere where most people want to party and eventually get through with a degree.

Being at the top of your class at Michigan means that for the rest of your life, you'll be telling people you graduated from Michigan. Being at the bottom of your class at Harvard means that for the rest of your life, you'll be telling people you graduated from Harvard. I can tell you that the latter will open a lot more doors.

The right match for an individual student varies, and your life is not ruined if you don't make it into an elite school, but there are undeniable advantages to elite schools.

October 10, 2016 at 01:48 AM · David:

Your list of schools makes me think you are thinking of prestige for the sake of prestige only. I get that you're only in middle school and this is new to you. What exactly are you aiming for? Ivy League schools do not give out undergraduate performance degrees, so you'd be doing violin as an extracurricular, a minor, or a dual degree with a conservatory (which is unlikely for you - those are more selective than applying independently to a conservatory).

Play the violin because you like it, and not for the sake of padding your extracurricular list. Try to do well in school and explore or pursue your sincere interests. By the way, for admissions, you are not going to stand out as a violinist when applying to a place like Harvard or Yale unless you are playing at a level to get into a good conservatory at age 17. Being able to play the Tchaikovsky or Mendelssohn is a plus for showing that you are well-rounded, but there are a lot of good violinists at those schools and you won't be unique. The number of advanced violinists outnumber the seats open in their main orchestras.

I am giving David's teacher the benefit of the doubt. We don't know what is said in David's lessons.

October 10, 2016 at 01:59 AM · @Lydia I think you have the wrong idea about the ranking of the University of Michigan relative to other colleges. It's the 3rd/4th highest ranked public research university in the nation; not exactly a party school.

Harvard is undoubtedly a more prestigious school for many reasons, which are probably already listed in this thread. At the University of Michigan everyone will be really smart, and there will be a decent number of people that are just brilliant. At Harvard everyone will be brilliant, and a decent number of people there will be just untouchable untouchable intellectually. I honestly think that if you are both intelligent and determined enough, there will be a lot more opportunities at the University of Michigan to take part in incredible research and development. I say this simply because there's less competition for the higher priority issues, than if you were trying to take part in something similar at Harvard. I don't know that going to Harvard would really beat out candidates (assuming it's a top caliber job at a major corporation with highly competitive applicants) if you don't have much of a resume to show for it other than your degree and a few "participation awards" so to speak.

However, that isn't to say that just having a degree from Harvard is anything to scoff at. Most who graduate from their will have great careers from the start, and I don't want it to seem like I believe otherwise.

October 10, 2016 at 02:25 AM · For music, in general the school you go to does not matter as much as who you study with - and in general you can increase your chances of getting admitted to a specific studio by working with that professor at a summer festival before applying to college (as well as get a sense of what you'd get out of studying with them).

Also, as a musician, you will likely (initially, if not always) be making much less money than a graduate of either a state school or an Ivy.

October 10, 2016 at 02:49 AM · I don't want to go any further off-topic, but Bailey, I'd suggest that when it gets time to apply to college, that you get some good advice about the consequences of your choices. Of course, it's entirely possible that you're not on a Harvard-bound sort of track, in which case it's irrelevant to you; you'll go wherever you're able to go and you'll do the best you can with what you can manage. If that's a highly-rated state school like Michigan, good for you.

October 10, 2016 at 03:36 AM · Lydia makes completely valid points about the value of a brand-name education. The statement "at the University of Michigan everyone will be really smart" is just fine if one is comparing the students at Michigan to a high school peer level. But not if you're comparing them to the students at Harvard. This year I think *one* kid from Blacksburg High School got accepted to Harvard. I read about him in the paper ... he's completely off the charts in every way. To some extent the effect of the brand name does depend on the discipline that you study. Especially, the imprint of the undergraduate institution matters a lot more if your field is one where people typically enter the workforce with just the BA/BS degree (that is often the case in engineering, for example). Even a masters degree is not much of a buffer (unless it's an MBA or MPH because those are considered terminal degrees). PhD or MD is a different story.

My point, though, is that if you are not accepted into an Ivy-league school, you don't have to be despondent. Your life is not ruined if you go to Michigan or Carnegie Mellon or Northwestern ... or Virginia Tech. On the other hand, if Ivy is what you want, then it's a bit like preparing for conservatory. You need to start NOW preparing for that, and it's not untoward to consider paid academic coaching or tutoring to help you prepare the exams and develop the right portfolio of extracurriculars. It's a competitive world.

October 10, 2016 at 03:43 AM · Curtis offers a teaching credential, what? I don't think so!

October 10, 2016 at 12:30 PM · I'm interested to see David's reply to these overwhelmingly thoughtful answers :). I must say, even I'm learning numerous pieces of advice regarding the college application from this thread.

October 10, 2016 at 01:06 PM · I think preparation for college has to be part of the discussion for a 14-year-old because it's too soon to put all of one's eggs in one basket, especially when you're still listing the Bach A Minor among your recent violinistic accomplishments.

There's something else that college does, and I know this from my own experience and from teaching college for over 20 years. It helps young people become *better people*. Choosing the right institution that will help you do that is as important as the job training you get in your engineering or business (or whatever) major.

October 10, 2016 at 01:34 PM · I don't think I could live in the US. The worries about which university to go, student loans, applications, etc. are things that for a foreigner like me, living in a country with free college and no entry conditions (except for music school) are hard to fully assimilate. There's also a cultural difference; after finishing my PhD I worked in the U.S and I was told it was a "great honor" to get that job, something that very much offended me, but it seems a common thought there in the sense that being accepted by some universities is supposed to be a honor. Needless to say, I can tolerate other people, but I'm still unable to adapt to a different culture.

In regards to the purpose of the thread, I have nothing to say since I don't live in the US, but I have to say that I always find discussions about universities interesting.

I also don't understand the thread. OP is taking lessons from Sonya Chung. Then go ask Sonya Chung. For some people it may be awkward show their expectations to a teacher, maybe because it may be unlikely and want to avoid face-to-face "humilliation" (I'm afraid I couldn't find another word for it), or some people feel ashamed because they are able to recognize the unlikeliness of their expectations prefer to keep themselves that kind of persistence. At the age of 14 you're just a kid, and too young to bring over you worries that can very much mess you up. Build some courage and ask your teacher, if she says no, you may want to keep in mind that there is more in music that being a full-time soloist or part of a world-class orchestra.

October 10, 2016 at 01:51 PM · Hi Demian,

Really great points, but aren't you forgetting about the great leaders we have here, e.g., Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. We are all so proud of them both and proud to be Americans. Where else in the world can you find such amazing leadership ;-)

October 10, 2016 at 01:57 PM · I think it can also be useful to ask a broader community because a given person's teacher only has so much personal experience to draw from. This may be particularly true in the OP's case, since his teacher has taken a non-traditional path -- non-music undergrad (and music not taken seriously previously) followed by a graduate diploma in music -- into a freeway-philharmonic-and-teaching lifestyle. My guess is also that since his teacher is quite young, she probably hasn't prepped very many students for conservatory auditions.

October 10, 2016 at 02:21 PM · I think Demian makes an interesting point about reasons for not asking one's teacher. Ie. About not wanting to face the unlikeliness of success. For those who reach the upper echelons I would imagine there is no embarrassment about asking, that the drive to succeed far outweighs anything else.

It's like musing about whether you love your boy/girlfiend. If you have to ask, the answer's probably no. If you *know* the answer without having to ponder it, the answer is most likely "yes." That's not to say things can't change but it is less likely.

October 10, 2016 at 02:25 PM · As an aside (because I am curious) is it usual in the US (or elsewhere) to have that many teachers? It seems the OP changed teachers, on average, every couple of years.

October 10, 2016 at 03:51 PM · WOW, although I can understand 60% all of the things said, I am overwhelmed by all the advice and constructive criticism I have received. Actually, I'm kind of confused now. A lot of you guys said that 1-2 hours won't cut it... So does it already ruin my chances? Anyway I got the point, I'll just enjoy the violin and work hard in school so that more possibilities come up later in my life.

Thanks to everyone,

David

October 10, 2016 at 03:58 PM · It's not uncommon, especially if you're not finding a teacher to be a good fit.

I changed teachers every couple of years as a kid, plus I had different teachers during the summer (because my main teacher would be off on summer institutes and whatnot, and would recommend one or more others for me to study with).

So even though I list just a handful of teachers when I write a bio, in reality the list is long. In ten years of childhood study I had six main teachers, plus at least four summer teachers (I might be forgetting a few). And one of those teachers I had for five years, so effectively I had a few teachers only for a year.

October 10, 2016 at 04:06 PM · I think it's possible to be competitive for conservatory auditions on 1 to 2 hours a day if you're a really fast learner. I was playing for about 45 minutes a day when I was a kid, and would have been competitive for top conservatory auditions. My teacher has students practicing for that kind of time that are winning significant competitions, as well as students of that sort who have made it into first-tier conservatories (but then chose to attend an Ivy to major in non-music). Some kids are just high achievers in everything they do. The only way to tell how well you're playing now, though, is to see a video.

The question in front of you is whether you want to be devoting that much time to music. If 4+ hours of practicing a day isn't the greatest joy in your life, and you don't want to rearrange your whole life to do it, chances are you don't really want to be a pro musician.

October 10, 2016 at 04:29 PM · The question about number of teachers is one that touches on so many different factors. What if your parents move? What if your teacher moves? What if it's just a bad fit? I had one violin teacher from the age of 5 to the age of 16. During the same time I probably had 6-7 piano teachers. I wish I had kept a couple of piano teachers longer, and I wish I had not stayed with the same violin teacher for so long.

October 10, 2016 at 05:44 PM · Paul, Lydia, thanks for the replies.

I realise there are various factors that affect the number of teachers, what I was meaning I suppose, was, given a stable situation, neither teacher nor pupil moving, is frequently changing teachers the norm?

It was just one of those questions that popped into my head, as having had the same teacher for some while, I wondered if that was unusual.

October 10, 2016 at 06:50 PM · It's common for serious students to change teachers at least twice during their childhood -- once when moving from beginner to intermediate level, and again when moving from intermediate to advanced level. And possibly once more when moving from advanced level to serious pre-professional preparation.

October 11, 2016 at 01:35 AM · The topic is thoroughly covered here and similar posts. To review, that's an impressive list, but how you play is always more important that what you play. Leopold Auer recommended 3-4 hours a day. One can preserve and improve their technique with one hour. It's repertoire that really consumes the time. You may become good enough to enter a major music school, win a concerto competition, win a pro. symphony audition; but will you be better than all those others that are good enough? Our local college theater dept. has a good policy; they know that only a small fraction will become full-time actors, so they are required to also learn an affiliated craft; costume, carpentry, sound, lighting, etc. Music departments should do the same. The ratio of players to jobs is ridiculous. One thing not mentioned by the others in this column; there is actually more opportunity for musicians outside of the main-stream classical track. For me, I switched from violin performance major to the ethnomusicology option for my BA. Most of my playing and music income is from the non-classical genres. I had better teachers and courses at the community college than I had at UC.~jq

October 11, 2016 at 03:43 AM · Just about every professional's "story" will have some features that are unconventional. Both my wife and I are in the LA Phil, for example, and she went to Harvard because at age 18 she was tired of the endless practicing. Halfway through her time there, she decided she missed it too much and went to grad school for violin (she did finish her English degree though!) But this worked out largely because of a tremendous amount of practice (and high-level teachers) prior to college.

I had less famous teachers growing up (only two teachers before college) and less practice time. But I benefited from two professional musician parents and from growing up in Kentucky (rather than New York), where I wasn't constantly compared to everyone else. That wouldn't have fit my personality growing up.

You've heard the long odds; if it's going to happen, you will be putting really serious time into it at some point, either now or later. If you're needing to ask these questions, then you need to put in the time now and see how you do with it!

October 11, 2016 at 11:50 PM · I can always appreciate the diversity in skill of the members of this forum. It's always interesting to see the professional's takes on different topics.

October 12, 2016 at 12:04 AM · I wonder how important practice time is when it comes to pursuing a musical career, as I think it's really personal. Is it even a plausible idea to force yourself to practice more than your norm? I think your playing level and abilities seem most important. How much work it takes really depends on you. Yes, practice time does contribute, but would 1-2 hours of quality practice be better than 3-4 hours of mindless practice in this case?

October 12, 2016 at 03:31 AM · I'm embarrassed by how (relatively) little I practiced in high school; I was on the one-to-two hours a day (on a very good week) team. It amazes me to this day that I got into Oberlin, where as a double degree student (mathematics) I was never putting in quite as much time as many others were, though I was certainly putting in much more time than I had in high school.

You can't say that playing level and abilities are more important than practice time. Playing level is a function of practice time. It is true that some people can achieve more than others given a certain amount of practice time, due to individual differences in intellectual quickness, physical coordination, or, if you want to call it so, "talent." But whether one is a quick or slow learner, or somewhere in between, more quality practice time = higher playing level.

October 12, 2016 at 03:31 AM · double post, sorry

October 12, 2016 at 03:48 AM · @M e was performing your goal at the time in high school, or was it just something you enjoyed doing? Alternatively, did you actually have time to practice longer than 2 hours a day?

October 12, 2016 at 05:14 AM · There's also the amount of repertoire covered vs. technical skill learned. Some people may be quick at picking up skills but not necessarily quick at picking up repertoire. Some people can learn a lot of repertoire to a good-enough level while being terrible at perfecting, too. That will affect the amount of ground apparently being covered within a given amount of practice time.

October 12, 2016 at 12:24 PM · "@M e was performing your goal at the time in high school, or was it just something you enjoyed doing? Alternatively, did you actually have time to practice longer than 2 hours a day?"

1. Being a musician was something that was always in the back of my mind, but I was also extremely academically inclined. I think my youth orchestra experiences tipped the balance; that's where I fell in love with orchestra playing.

2. I always had a full and heavy academic load, was involved in church, and participated in school athletics. But in all honesty I could have spent a little less time reading science fiction novels and a little more time with the violin.

October 12, 2016 at 01:31 PM · It's also probably worth noting that the competition for both jobs and for conservatory admission has gotten a lot stiffer in the past 20-30 years.

I probably practiced 3? 4? hours a day in high school (on top of a competitive academic load, but no other extracurriculars unless you count video games). The main difference I noticed in college between the kids who had been practicing 5-6 hours a day for years and everyone else was that the kids who practiced more pre-college could get away with practicing much less than the rest of us. It was like they'd already made a lot of violin playing instinctual.

October 12, 2016 at 02:12 PM · I am not actually sure that competition for jobs is much stiffer now than it was 30 years ago--I remember my audition circuit days as being crowded with good players. But competition for conservatory admission now is definitely stiffer.

October 13, 2016 at 02:06 PM · David,

There's already been enough advice posted about the level and amount of practice you need. But there's another aspect of your personality that needs to be in place that can make all that other stuff happen for you (if you have the fingers), and you need to be honest about it with yourself:

How much do you love performing? Do you absolutely LOVE being on stage and playing?

Do you get nervous? Your emotional response to the stage will likely change over time, especially as the stakes get higher (like you have to perform to a paying audience).

If you don't really love to play in front of people, or suffer from nerves already, think twice about the career.


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