Where can I get a job playin violin? + good popular music?

July 7, 2005 at 06:16 AM · Yo I've played the violin for 5 years, and I still don't know any names of like music composers, (if thats what you call them). I also don't have 1 song memorized (ok twinkle little star but thats it). Can you list famous violin music. Like "The Godfather", or "Titanic". Like tell me Mozart's most famous music, and other music I don't know about.

Reason I'm askin is because I've had a job at Redner's (a local grocery store) for 2 weeks now pushing carts, and its hard work. I mean just yesterday I got screamed at for not keeping the carts even, and that was the best part of my day. I get paid $5.75 an hour. For the last 4 days I've played 2 hours each day and very hard because I want a job playing the violin.

When I start to feel like I need a brake from the violin I do 20 pushups and remind myself what work is like. lol (It works though)

Is there a job I can get with my violin?

- Played for 5 years

- Have a Paseold violin (It sounds really good)

- Can do vabrato (Getting decsent at it)

- Am willing to do anything like memorize 100 songs for a job. (I have no songs memorized)

- Am not the best looking guy but now that its summer (I got a tan).

- Please help

Replies (73)

July 7, 2005 at 08:01 AM · Find a place just outside the grocery store and practice there. Between the door and the Coke machine. People will give you probably $10 an hour. But it has to be in tune, which is a lot like keeping grocery carts even.

July 7, 2005 at 01:54 PM · Don't feed the trolls...

July 7, 2005 at 04:14 PM · "Don't feed the trolls..."

You callin me a troll ERICA. I guess trolls work their ass off all day pushing big carts up a big hill. And until you are forced to work in 90 degree weather with long jeans on and a black shirt, (yes I said black) then you can't call me a troll! I'd say a few other things but since this is like a violin website and its all classy and such I'm going to say just 1 more thing. Have a nice day!

And I can't play my violin in front of the grocery store... Was that a joke?

July 7, 2005 at 04:45 PM · Brian, violin jobs are few and far between. You could try finding a band to play with. What pieces do you play? Are you working with a teacher right now?

July 7, 2005 at 04:51 PM · A lot of people around where I live do "busking" jobs...that is they pick a spot in the sub station or just off a main sidewalk in town and they play tunes with their instrument case open at their feet in which they collect 'tips' from playing. I think this is what was meant when you were suggested to play in front of the grocery store...which actually isn't a bad idea as customers might recoginize you and be more likely to give you money for your playing. Have fun! There are a lot of books with collections of violin music in them with titles such as "100 all time favorite violin tunes' that I am sure you could get and even read the music while you 'busk'.

July 7, 2005 at 04:54 PM · No, I'm seriously saying how to make money with your violin today, instead of in 10 years, and without any hassle from crap like auditions :)

July 7, 2005 at 05:31 PM · Nah, man. Teenagers push carts around in the blistering heat for no pay and no appreciation.

Trolls post things like "Yo I've played for 5 years, can't name a single song, couldn't be bothered with learning the names of composers who write for the instrument I play, I can't spell, and I'm completely adverse to physical labor - tell me how to make easy money."

It's a subtle difference, but there it is.

July 7, 2005 at 06:22 PM · Troll: someone seeking attention with outrageous and/or silly posts. In other words, a sad individual who has no interest in an actual answer to the question being asked but has a pathological need for even ridicule and hostility in lieu of friendship and/or other forms of positive attention. In short, someone needing to yank chains merely to reaffirm that he or she is visible to the rest of society. And Eric is right: the cure for such sad illness is not to reward the annoying activity with attention but to hope that ignoring such a Dostoyevskian character will send them where they really need to be: the psychiatrist's couch.

July 7, 2005 at 06:00 PM · I don't think my post is outragous. And any other speculations you may have are wrong. I simply want good clear advice on where to get a job playing my violin. I want to play for weddings mabye but how do I go about that?

My mom said "Memorize a few good songs and let people here them, then you could get wedding jobs". I'm going to look for that book 100 most common tunes. I'm still open to suggestions for how to get a job

July 7, 2005 at 06:19 PM · Dude, do you want to make $50 today or don't you?

July 7, 2005 at 06:31 PM · "Dude, do you want to make $50 today or don't you?"

Well right now I can't cuz its raining lol. But is that legal to play your violin on the grocery stores property? And have you ever actually tried this?

July 7, 2005 at 06:51 PM · It's legal till they tell you to leave. Then just go to a different place. One time in Mississippi I was traveling with by bud, and I had my guitar and my clothes stolen. We jumped off the freight train we'd hitched on and walked up to this little dirt road that was pretty busy. We got in the middle of it and he started playing his harmonica while I did the soft shoe. The cars would slow down, I'd hold out my hat, and soon my pockets were full. A cop showed up, but he liked us and didn't chase us away. He just directed traffic and helped us. The next day I had a better guitar than I had before and brand new clothes. Then we moved on. You just gotta make lemonade, you know?

July 7, 2005 at 07:54 PM · Brian, playing for weddings or busking in streets are not as easy as you think. Most of those musicians you've seen have been playing and practicing for many years. Judging from your posts although I've never heard you, you should just practice and get a teacher (if you still havne't after 5 years) if you are seriously considering making money out of playing music, and then come back and ask the same question in a year or two after you have some competence and proper knowledge of the violin. Oh, by the way, generally we play pieces of music, not songs.

July 7, 2005 at 09:23 PM · I'll tell you what worked for me: go around to area restaurants, hotels, and resorts, and ask if they'd be willing to hire you to play either dinner music or lobby music or whatever. Tell them you charge $25 a night and that in addition you'd like to put out a tip basket. Offer to play one night for free to see if it's something they'd want. That's what I do for my summer job; one night, I got $95 in tips for 3 hours of playing, plus the 25 bucks.

July 7, 2005 at 10:45 PM · hey thanks there Elizabeth, I'm gonna give that a try. But what type of music should I memorize? Can you list a few songs? Thanks

July 8, 2005 at 12:01 AM · For most general audiences, I would suggest going for a mixture of familiar show tunes, older jazzy stuff, familiar classical, and some tasteful pop tunes. I usually do a lot of Broadway stuff, plus songs like Misty, I Left My Heart in San Fransico, Fascination, classic Disney Tunes...basically stuff you'd find in those piano songbooks generarically titled "Old Favorites" or "Best-Loved songs". Non-musical folk, who will comprise most of your audience, will want to hear familiar tunes, especially stuff that "sounds romantic". Keep in mind, you not only have to be a musician, but also an entertainer...something even more difficult when you're playing the melody line solo. So basically, sentimentalize everything and the audience will love you.

Once you get underway, it's good to always carry around a few business cards and perhaps set them next to the tip basket...that way you might acquire more gigs.

Let me know if I can help you out any more.

July 8, 2005 at 12:10 AM · Yo -

Played for 5 years

- Have a Paseold violin (It sounds really good)

- Can do vabrato (Getting decsent at it)

- Am willing to do anything like memorize 100 songs for a job. (I have no songs memorized)

- Am not the best looking guy but now that its summer (I got a tan).

- Please help


Playing violin requires more than having a tan, try learning to spell vibrato correctly before you give up the day job.

This is possibly the most inane post ever to be witnessed in this otherwise safe haven for violinists. Im with Emil on this one, you really hit the nail on the head my friend.

Yo yo ma ho......

July 8, 2005 at 12:43 AM · Thanks Elizabeth, can you reccomend a book that would have like popular show tunes, I have classical music and such but show tunes are hard to find. Like sure I have a star wars book, but not a book of like 100 differ show tunes. Thanks again

July 8, 2005 at 12:43 AM · Hmm.... I don't know where you are in your violin-journey, Brian. But I play in a couple quartets (and have done solo gigs) for weddings and such as fairly regular work. I can tell you, though, it's all about networking! I started doing chamber music through my private violin teacher of many years, and she has a regular clientel for these jobs, and has been offering them to me as they come up. And the best part of it all was that she eased me into the gig-life from early on. So my first jobs were easier, and steadily got more challenging, until I started getting the drift of things. I'm involved in another regular quartet, because the cellist who runs it is the principal cellist of the community orchestra I used to play with.

I say, get a teacher, if you don't already have one, and he or she will train you and guide you. Also, as you start playing more, build up your network of acquaintances who may call on your services later!

PS. I've never busked before, but I so want to someday! It sounds exilharating!

July 8, 2005 at 06:48 PM · Yo Sarah how long have you played the violin? And what is "chamber music"? How long do you practice? Thanks again

July 8, 2005 at 08:47 PM · Brian,

Some here are having a difficult time understanding where you are coming from----5 years playing and not knowing what "chamber music" is sounds odd to many who have played 5 years under the tutelage of aa classically trained teacher. If you have played on your own, or in some non-classical setting then that makes sense--please elaborate.

So, can you fill us in a bit? How old are you, how did you start out, what do you mean by "played 5 years" etc.

In terms of learning what is going on.....you live near Wilkes-Barre, yes? There is a Wilkes-Barre Community Orchestra, and there is a lot of folk music in the area (Endless Mountain Folk festival for instance), as well as some clubs that host groups including folk groups....you should observe what is going on--hear others playing etc--



July 8, 2005 at 08:52 PM · Brian, my advice on finding music would be to either look on e-bay, or at a used book store or even garage sales--that would be a lot cheaper than buying quartet music or new books (although there are quite a few cheaper collections for beginner violin that have a lot of tunes). You could probably read off of piano music--that seems like it'd be the easiest to find. Again, look for titles like "Old Favorites" or "best-loved songs" or any of the show tunes or broadway stuff.

July 8, 2005 at 09:15 PM · Yo bill, I have a teacher that teaches classical to me mostly. I normally just do what she says to without looking at the names of the composer or even the name of the music. I started violin when I was 11 years old. So that makes me 16 now. I started because I heard violin music on the radio and kept asking if I could get that instrument. Call me odd if you want, but please that def. of a troll is a little nasty. :(

July 8, 2005 at 09:59 PM · Hi Brian,

I understand...I played in the school orchestra from 4th grade through H.S. and I always loved music--including classical. But I really do not have the ability to name who wrote a piece of classical music, with a few exceptions. IT is not the same as remembering a pop song....I know what you mean--you "keep your head down" as it were, doing what the teacher says etc.

I wish I had poked my head up sooner---after 20 years without playing, I wonder what would have happened if I had looked out into the world of the violin more when I was your age. I lost interest because there were so many other good things going on, and the orchestra was just another Pachabel recital......

If only I had known or thought of all the other cool stuff I could have done.....

I also did not realize that I really could be spontaneous with the violin--I had been so accustomed to having to play someone else's music, that I really did not think I had the ability to make my own. Now I realize that this was a mistake: improvisation--direct musical expression--is the soul of playing for me now--and I think if I had discovered it back then I would have kept up with it.

So go out into the world, learn what is there (there is a lot!) and by all means experiment--make up tunes--start on a g major or an e minor or whatever and just improvise...

Also listen to others---lots of good samples out there on the NET for free---to listen to some cool non-standard stuff, see Terry King, Graham Clark, Yurodivy Quintet.....lots of others but these have been on top of my mind lately...

Good luck,


July 9, 2005 at 12:03 AM · Alright thanks there Bill, I went through my Suzuki books and I think my favorite composer so far is J. S. Bach. Once again thanks

July 9, 2005 at 05:32 AM · Hi, Brian! So sorry I'm a little slow when it comes to responding...

Bill gave you some great advice. There's a whole lot you can experience on the violin (I love playing all kinds of music, including and not only Classical). And defintely get involved, if you can, with what you're playing. I mean, my teacher used to make me look up information on the composer I was currently working on and give her a mini report. (I used to hate those assignments!) But I am soooo glad I did it now. There's so much fascinating information out there about composers and their works and lives (they were people just like us, you know, with life experiences, etc.).

In answer to your questions, I've been playing for fifteen years; some might call me a late starter (I was 10, and I started in the public school "orchestra" for the first two years, then went under the instruction of private teachers for the remaining years.) I started out 'cuz my parents made me! =) But I eventually straightened out and taking it seriously...

Anyway, chamber music is music written for any small ensemble. Typical of this music can be string quartets (2 violins, viola, and cello), and string trios (1 violin, viola, cello OR 2 violins and cello). But, really, chamber music can be for just about any set-up of instruments as long as the parts are generally equal in importance, and as long as the group is relatively small.

I really enjoy chamber music because everyone's part is as important as the others', and there's real team work involved.

Good luck!


July 9, 2005 at 03:08 PM · Hi Brian,

does your high school have an orchestra you can join? That would be a great place to learn more about the music sworld, and meet some other musicians to create a chamber orchestra.


July 9, 2005 at 03:41 PM · Brian, first try to stay out of the sun - there's no evidence that exposure to harmful UV rays has ever improved one's ability to memorize large volumes of music or land cool gigs. Push ups are good though, keep doing those.

July 9, 2005 at 06:10 PM · Push ups help with that? Ach, to think of all those hours I wasted practicing...

July 9, 2005 at 06:26 PM · You shouldn't have false hopes of making money with the violin without proper and long musical education and hard work. Most people choose experienced professional players for weddings.

I think you should focus on learning and improving your skills as much as you can. Thinking of the violin as a way to get money is not a good motivation. You should do it because you want to play well.

July 10, 2005 at 12:06 AM · "You should do it because you want to play well."

Well there is no doubt I like the violin. When I'm alone I kind of move with the music I'm playing or tap my foot. But I have a friend who started piano lessons same time as I started violin, and he makes like 20 grand a year playing the organ for like 3 differ churches. Thats what got me all hyper on this. lol

July 10, 2005 at 02:58 AM · 20 grand a year?! Whoa...

July 10, 2005 at 05:23 AM · Piano is very different from violin in terms of the time and effort it takes till you can sound good.

July 10, 2005 at 04:20 PM · Hey, I wouldn't scoff at an additional $20k annually on top of my regular salary - would you?

July 11, 2005 at 03:03 PM · Don't forget Candace is 14. I think she was being sincere.

July 11, 2005 at 04:02 PM · Hey, the average income here in Vermont is something like $24k/year.

Organ and Piano are very different beasts than violin, viola or cello when it comes to making a living, though. Most churches need an organist, or at least someone who can make passable noise on one. Since many also have choirs but can only afford one person, it's more likely that a pianist will be directing the choir rather than having a singer play the organ. As a non-piano-playing singer, I've definitely run into that road block before.

Many people that make their living with music end up teaching -- it provides a regular income, which is essential to those basic needs like food, clothing and housing. They are possibly in two or three different professional orchestras, or have professional chamber groups that concertize and/or play for private events like parties and weddings. During the summer, you can get pretty regular wedding/party gigs, but it'll take at least three years to become well enough known for that to happen.

Around here, if you want to make your living by performing, you'd better be willing to travel. There are ample opportunities, but they're all from 1 to 4 hours distant, by car. The better musicians up here typically go to New York City or Boston several days per week (a 4-hour car trip each way), or teach at schools that are anywhere from an hour to three hours away.

I have, for now, decided *not* to make my entire living as a professional violinist -- it's too much work! It may be that when I've saved up some more money and am in a position to spend it, I'll give it a try, but for now I'm just working on doing enough teaching and performing to pay off my new violin! :)

July 11, 2005 at 05:36 PM · Um, yes I was being sincere. (!?) I thought Brian meant that his friend is a teenager, and that's a lot for someone that age to make.

July 11, 2005 at 08:10 PM · Ya my friends a teenger also, and I'm only like 1-2 hours away from New York City. I'm in northeastern PA

July 13, 2005 at 10:20 PM · Hey I found a place I could play my violin at, the flee market. I have a question though how do I go about getting tips? If I put out a basket do I write the word tips on it? (If I don't someone might try and buy it) Also don't you get more tips if its less abvous that you are begging for them?

And do you like take a bow at the end of each peice or what?

July 13, 2005 at 10:45 PM · You don't want to be carrying a basket around everywhere you go do you? If you have a case you can use that. Sometimes people think having a case is kind of uppity. Back when I was traveling the Delta I'd use my hat. It was sort of a cross between Stevie Ray's and the one Leon Russell wore in Mad Dogs and Englishmen. It was my blues master hat. You need to find one of those. As for taking a bow, it's ok if they're clappin. It's gotta be a response to clappin. Also, you got to work every angle. If they won't pay you, make them pay you to leave. If you ain't breaking any laws they can't just make you leave, so make them pay you. If you can get a partner who plays he can set up on one side and you set up on the other. That way you get them coming and going. See what I'm saying? Coming and going. Both ways. Coming and going. And son, it ain't beggin'. It's performin'.

July 14, 2005 at 02:25 AM · Hey Jim, I'm not going across the country now, I'm around locals (friends, neighbors, co-workers, family) So I don't want to MAKE them pay me lol.

"As for taking a bow, it's ok if they're clappin. It's gotta be a response to clappin."

What kind of music is responsive to clapping?

And as far as bringing a hat, I'd rather just use my case as you suggested. So what I just leave it open and play next to my case, (and mabye put like a few dollars in there so people know what to do lol.

Ya, Flee market is a good idea I think, people are carrying lots of spare change and dollars. Though most people at flee markets are not exactly wealthy enough to give money. I go there every week and I never saw a rich lady walking her prized poodle there lol.

July 14, 2005 at 02:41 AM · the new job I go to is at the cote des neiges subway stop in Montreal... there's an old man who plays cello there. He's quite awful, literally plays half a bar, and as people walk by, gets very angry that no one drops money in. The thing is, he'd actually get people putting money in if he played the damn thing... he plays the same 3 notes then waves angrily at the people who don't drop money.

November 2, 2006 at 09:31 AM · Brian, at 5 years progress on the violin, you are probably less proficient than an above-average highschool (Secondary) violinist. I'm sorry to put this so bluntly, but I think the others who are posting on this subject are trying to sugar coat the truth. Violin playing takes incredible dedication.

Now, I could be wrong about you, of course. On average, most violinists spend about 10 years developing their abilities before they reach a level of playing that is pasable in all respects. Not every passage requires vibrato. For Baroque music, this is especially becoming a trend that I like. Musical taste can only be learned over time.

Best of luck!

Music Suggestions: Learn Bach's Solo Partitas; Pagannini Caprices; Mozart Violin Concerto Passages ; Vivaldi Violin concertos ; The overture to the Nutcracker suite is a great little piece to work on high notes... The list never ends =D. All violinists have played so much music that sometimes their fingers know more about the music than their brains do!

If you don't know where to start still, get yourself a copy of Bach's Violin Concerto in A minor and start practicing that. The music almost never stops, so you can perform it solo quite nicely.

November 2, 2006 at 01:09 PM · brian, not sure if you are serious about getting a gig with violin as a profession, but your first post, troll or not, definitely gave me chuckles, my bad but thank you.

somehow i see hopping from pushing carts in grocery store to becoming a performing artist with 5 years of no prior experience a bit of a leap, do you? there got to be some jobs in between, right?

in fact the way you write reminds me of Hemingway, especially with the mention of the tan. ever thought about becoming a writer?

November 2, 2006 at 01:07 PM · If I didn't have a 16 year old son, I might have been tempted to believe you were spoofing or a "troll". Brian, have fun and don't worry about a lot more than that. If you try to make some money, you will learn some important lessons from that experience, maybe more than you have learned from violin studies. I really like your attitude and your willingness to try. A flea market is a creative start and you have had some good advice from your fellow musicians. Enjoy your instrument and your songs! It sounds like you are doing fine.

Musicians who are serious about a career may wish to Google "The Facts About Orchestras" by The International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM). Brian may be more grounded than others who practice long hours are willing to believe.

November 2, 2006 at 01:42 PM · I'm the only one here so far who makes a full time living playing nonclassical violin for a living, so I'm utterly appalled at the lack of respect shown here to Brian. People who don't play nonclassical violin for a living shouldn't talk nonsense about how NOT to make it in a field that they wouldn't last two seconds in.

Brian, go contact your local musician's union, your AFM. Do a search on the Internet or talk to your musician's union. If you don't have one in your town, go to the next biggest city in your region and make an appointment. Not all towns rely on musical union labor, but there always is good advice and good people floating around at such places. Also join your local community orchestra to gain experience as a reader and to meet the local professionals in your area.

The hardest thing for a starting violinist to do is learn the trade. Mind you, Brian, there are plenty of experienced classical violinists who fall flat on their faces in the nonclassical arena - I see it all the time. The way I got around it was to find mentors who functioned in those field and learn from them. If you can follow guys on the job, you'll learn more that way than you ever will from here or any classical teacher. Once again, try your AFM for contacts that may lead to more contacts.

If you really want to succeed as a nonclassical violinist, Brian, then you have to educate yourself in ALL styles of music. You'll have to learn how to improvise over chords, and you'll have to know what songs people like. Hint: listen to the oldies and pop radio stations regularly (I'm deficient on the latter because I'm not into today's music as much, but I get by). Start to learn JAZZ. Without the fluency in chords and chord charts, you will be shut off to more than 50% of your earning potential.

The #1 thing needed to survive in the nonclassical world is the humility to learn anything from anybody. You'll be learning new tricks every day on the job, no matter how experienced you are. Start now, stay humble, but don't let people who don't work the field like the ones here discourage you or give you utterly useless advice that's meant to break you down. And #2 is the ability to read and improvise on lead sheets in fake books. WAAAAYYYY down on the list is one's presumed ability in classical violin. This is because the skills acquired in classical violin don't cross over into the popular music world on more than a superficial level.

Your goal is very attainable, Brian. E-mail me if you want more real world advice playing the things you're working on (audiences LOVE Godfather and Titanic, far more than they do Sarasate or Paganini or orchestral excerpts).

November 2, 2006 at 01:53 PM · kevin, i like your helpful attitude, but i am utterly appalled if anyone thinks he or she can just walk across the shopping mall plaza into your gig. having a dream is one thing; putting down the foundation is another. you know how much you have to put in your profession and how much you have to prepare and deliver each and every time or else.

how many years do you think brian need to remember all the pieces he has played in the past 5 years?

November 2, 2006 at 01:58 PM · Al, I appreciate your kudo - but you don't work the field. Thus you don't understand what it takes to get to where one can even function competently as a nonclassical violinist or even what we do in the field for real. I've done lots of things and I've NEVER played at a mall - yet.

First of all, Brian is NOT going to rehash all the songs from his 1st 5 years. Other than Twinkle and a few other pop classical standards, audiences would rather hear Brian play pop songs in gigs. Thus he's going to have to learn completely new skills and repertoire anyway, even if he had played classical violin for 30 years.

Second, asking me about a set number of years to build up a nonclassical repertoire is just as unrealistic as asking any classical violin teacher how many years it takes to learn classical repertoire. How much Brian learns depends on the needs of the job and how much he intends to work. If he's doing 2 hours daily, that's pretty good. I perform regularly with plenty of professional classical and nonclassical violinists who do far less than that daily and play quite well in gigs.

Brian will be learning a new field, which is akin to learning a completely new language. The only way to successfully learn this field is to throw oneself into the fire and do it. Apprenticeship is the way to go, and Brian needs to look in the right places. The learning process will be challenging, but no more difficult than learning any other trade if Brian keeps applying himself the way he is.

November 2, 2006 at 02:34 PM · true that i don't work in your field. how do i prepare myself for a job playing violin if asked by brian will be more realistic than where...:)

just because you did it and doing it well does not at all mean anyone interested can do it. i think leno is funny and will miss him when he retires, should i make a go for his job? not trying to kill brian's dream, but you must have solid fundamentals first and foremost. i wasn't really asking him to recap his prior 5 years...if you do not remember what you have played, yo, we've got a problem. this is violin playing for money that we are talking about, not valet parking, man.

don't get me wrong at all that i am downplaying your style of profession,,,in fact i am upplaying it because opportunities like what you have is very very rare. in similar circumstances, it is much more common to see a pianist instead, or a pianist/singer or even a guitar player. you have to be an exceptional entertainer to have or be a part of a violin themed show.

when brian listed his vibrato as a virtue, i quivered.

November 2, 2006 at 04:23 PM · I quivered too - in excitement! I get excited about players who are just starting out - they are blank slates.

Most of the professional classical violinists that I work with, symphonic and otherwise, CAN'T play a lot of things from memory. In fact, quite a few of them I know can't play ANYTHING from memory. That's because they read extremely well, at least from classical scores and not chord charts. There isn't a call for them to play stuff without memorization, so they don't bother with memorizing things. The select few who do remember a lot of things get hired more and for more challenging jobs.

Brian needs to learn a whole new set of fundamentals for his career as a nonclassical violinist. What people don't realize is that no amount of classical training can give that to you. Nonclassical violin has its own skills, and those are acquired by going into the field and figuring out what your deficiencies are. For example, if you train Irish fiddle you probably will NOT be able to cross over into cajun or bluegrass without re-learning the fundamentals of the idiom. Let the needs of the field dictate your immediate direction.

Since every nonclassical career is different, what one learns in one career doesn't work for others. For all I know, my advice to seek the AFM out would fail. One 90 year old veteran violinist of phenomenal ability I knew had tremendous problems with the Local 202 in NY - he found out years after he left from a Union player in a Florida retirement orchestra who told him that he was kept out of work in NYC because he was better than everybody.

One has to be exceptional at violin to succeed in any field as a professional, yes. But that doesn't mean that one starts out as a prodigy. I'm actually the exception to the rule, having trained in conservatory. Most of my colleagues who are quite successful started out just like Brian did - at the bottom. I started out at the bottom too and climbed my way up by being flexible and adapting myself to the needs of my field. That involves a lot of falling on one's face - it's unavoidable and even NECESSARY.

The thing I like about the nonclassical violin world is that it doesn't matter what your background is or what you look like. If you can play, you'll work. Even if people block you, they can't block you from having a job at all if you don't allow them to.

November 2, 2006 at 05:02 PM · For a while I was thinking that it couldn't hurt for my son to get "classical" training but the more I watch him, think about it etc I see more harm than good in it. His heart is in fiddling. There are only so many hours in a day. He plays his own tunes and can mimic the beatles off the radio. Why is he struggling through 67 varieties of Gavotte Twinkle?

But Classical teachers don't seem to have any contacts in fiddling and so we just tread water. Besides, he likes his teacher a lot and she has supported his interests even though they are outside her training. I guess he has the best classical teacher in the world when you get down to it. One who recognizes and supports him even though he doesn't fit the pattern.


November 2, 2006 at 05:28 PM · i reread brian's first post and marvelled at the sweet innocence, natural or made, and the urge to leap without necessarily realizing that a leap is made of many incremental steps.

this is not a case of conflict in style, but readiness to razzle and dazzle. you have to be good to play good popular music.

keep the shopping cart shift. start playing for free. contact your local salvation army and stand next to the bell guy. find receptive audience in your local nursing home. get the feeling.

November 2, 2006 at 06:42 PM · The best classical teachers I've seen - and I've had and trained with some of the best - can't play the BLUES. Not a single one of them could get through a single fiddle or rock gig, particularly when there's no sheet music and one must improvise.

In the case of freelance music, bravado and desire are all one needs to get started. Without both, one is immediately destined for failure in the nonclassical violin world. It takes a strong but humble ego to get out there day after day and admit that one can never stop learning. Brian has those traits, so he'll do fine if he stays positive and adopts a go-getter attitude. Nobody is going to hand anyone anything in the nonclassical violin world. How far one goes depends entirely on how much bravado (often faked) one has.

One thing I learned right away: If you want to be a pro in the freelance world, NEVER give it away for free. Even if you work for only $25 (been there done that), one should always command value for his efforts. Besides, playing for free when one should be paid undercuts one's own career and those of colleagues in terms of perception. If people feel that they can get you without paying you, then they won't pay you. The only time I play for free nowadays is for and with close friends.

November 2, 2006 at 06:55 PM · The tip thing is weird. Most of the time I don't get tipped. But people will let you know if they appreciate it.

Then again, I shouldn't complain. I was playing a gig for the City of Glendale that was literally on the street despite the good money for 2 hours of work. Cars were driving by, pedestrians were strolling through the streets, and I was out there in all black with my violins practicing my repertoire for $$$. I played in a local restaurant there, and a lovely old lady gave me a ring of cubic zirconium as a thank-you for reminding her of her deceased cousin who died at the hand of the Nazis! That single item probably is worth more than the entire sum of ALL the tip money I've accumulated over the last 4 years I've lived in Phoenix!

November 3, 2006 at 06:37 AM · Busking in full public view is ILLEGAL in most states unless one has a permit from the city and pays taxes on the proceeds.

The only time busking is legal is when the city and businesses agree to allow a musician to perform under a specific written contract. Otherwise such impromptu performances can have the violinist asked to move away for reasons of impeding business traffic or causing a noise disturbance.

Thus DON'T play in front of the grocery store, Brian - not unless you secure written permission from the store manager.

November 3, 2006 at 06:58 AM · I got $1 for playing scales in thirds in the entry way to the fine arts building at Northern Kentucky University.

November 3, 2006 at 07:26 AM · Thus Kevin ran off the busker and kept the afternoon safe for boredom.

November 3, 2006 at 07:16 AM · Every summer groups of my students take to the streets in duos,trios or quartets and busk.They usually manage to earn quite a lot of money in a very short time which when divided ampng them is sufficient to meet their needs.They should of course have a license but so far have been allowed to continue with their activities as it is obvious that they are a group of school children.Some of them have been invited as a result to play in other venues,one group has now been offered a one day a week job in a restaurant.They have been played for payment an entire recital in a church and played at a christening in the Duomo in Florence.However this all goes under what I would regard as 'summer fun'to earn a bit of pocket money. Busking is becoming increasingly competetive with groups now selling their cds.I have heard that these days,in order to busk in the London unde34rground you have to do an audition.

November 3, 2006 at 11:09 AM · Tips:

1. Reality Check: It is NORMAL for a teenager to have a low paying job. Lots of people work in the heat and do physical labor (just come to middle Georgia and find out about the heat). Musicians often play in less than ideal conditions. Use your grocery store job to learn about work ethic.

2. Your writing style suggests you need to focus more on your basic education. If you are serious about being a musician, you need to know how to communicate well, read contracts, etc. Adults do not take teenage myspace style writing very seriously.

3. You need experience first, and that most often comes in a non-paid form. Volunteer to play at retirement homes or church.

4. You need adequate training in your type of music, whatever that may be. Attend a camp with Mark O'Connor or Mark Wood. Jam with local fiddlers. Pick up a fake book and start learning a few pieces a day. If you learn best by ear, listen to anything and try to reproduce what you hear. The teenage artists we hear about work very hard at what they do.

None of this is meant to be harsh-just realistic. Perhaps we should start a thread about members' first work experiences (music and non-music) to help further enlighten you about about how you get from where you are now to where you want to be.

November 3, 2006 at 12:53 PM · Had Brian followed your advice, Jim, he'd be looking at legal trouble in certain parts of the US. You may think it's funny to busk without a license, but the law does not.

This is why people like Brian shouldn't listen to people who don't play nonclassical violin at all, let alone for a living.

November 3, 2006 at 01:26 PM · Kevin,

You are both correct and incorrect.

Yes, some places have laws that prohibit public music or restrict it or create a cartel.

Many other places have no such rules.

A kid playing on the sidewalk is not going to get thrown in jail.

My son has played on the sidewalks in quite a few towns and never once been told to leave, cease and desist, etc.

November 3, 2006 at 01:31 PM · That's why I said "certain parts", Mr. Pratt. Of course I know that not all places restrict busking - but it's better to be safe than sorry.

November 3, 2006 at 03:40 PM · I disagree. "Safe"? What--just don't dare open your case in case the paddywagon comes?

Better to play out and apologize. Remember, it is always easier to get forgiveness than permission.

November 3, 2006 at 04:56 PM · True - though security will usually immediately make it clear when you're not welcome as a busker in certain locations.

November 3, 2006 at 10:27 PM · Kevin, in 99% of the places you could play, there's nobody in town who ever heard of a busking license. If you said "busk" to them they'd look at you like an alien. Out of curiosity, why can't classical players give good advice on busking?

You know, probably the thing that affected me most as a little kid was seeing Soldotna, AK resident "Hobo Jim" playing on street corners in my little town three or four times, first when I was maybe 10 years old. He's my lifelong spiritual underpinning and guiding light. If he'd waited for Frankfort to get back to him about his "busking license" I would have gotten shortchanged. He didn't have a hitchhiking license either.


November 3, 2006 at 10:37 PM · Brian, I knew a lot of people in high school like you (people who had played for a while but weren't very serious and wanted to make money) who managed to be pretty successful at it by getting in groups, getting music, and advertising themselves as players for weddings.

It's not really all that hard. Find a couple of people in your school orchestra who are also interested in making money and form a quartet or a trio with them. Get a set of wedding music parts from a music store or from sharmusic.com. Find a way to get your name out.. make fliers, business cards, advertise. If you pool together your money it won't be all that hard. Learn the heck out of Pachelbel's Canon (you might not know what I'm talking about but you'd recognize it if you heard it) because everybody and their brother will ask you to play that piece.

I guess the most important thing is that you have to find other people and work together with them towards your goal. If you're not a serious player, chacnes are you probably aren't experienced enough to do it on your own. Busking for tips with your friends will help you learn to play better as a group, and to perform in front of people without getting nervous. Sometimes in high school we busked at the local airport... try a place like that.

And Patricia's right - don't complain about the heat! I spent a few summers in Pennsylvania when I was a kid, and I KNOW it isn't hot. Come to the Deep South, and you'll find out what hot is. ;)

November 3, 2006 at 11:29 PM · Well, here's how I did it with six months on the instrument (seriously). I was raising money for an adopted hurricane Katrina victim. I put on a house-coat (an ugly one at that) a large straw hat, and got a day-glow flourescent sign and taped to my housecoat that said:

for 50 cents, I'll play you a song:

for a dollar I won't.

I did 'very' well--lots of dollars.


November 4, 2006 at 12:25 AM · Hi,

I was a'scannin through this forum and was surprised to see this old thread brought up. I have changed a lot since I wrote, what I wrote over 1 year ago in the main heading. I no longer want to "busk". I learned that I should not focus on making money; anyone can be rich. I am working on becoming a better violinist/fiddler.

I do appreciate but don't particulary like the assertive reccomendations/comments.

"A person is not as good as they treat their colleagues but only as they treat the least among us" -Judge Marylin Millan


November 4, 2006 at 08:52 AM · Well, glad you are doing well Brian, but you have to admit that some of the comments were in tone with your own original post.

Its not a question of treating people who are "least" but the fact that it is right to demand some respect for anything you are doing. A lot of the work ethics seems to have been lost and I am talking across a range of fields; I see it in students here all the time. People who want to do things at little or no cost; and who shrug off their own ignorance as the teacher's or the world's problems...

Anyway good that you are enjoying the violin now.

November 4, 2006 at 02:11 PM · Thanks I am enjoying the violin more.... Comments were in tone with my original post? I don't remember calling people names...

November 4, 2006 at 04:15 PM · Hi, I didn't read the whole thread (otherwise when would I find practice time?), but really...... Any time I sense people putting down nonclassical players I see red (or at least dark pink.) The expert fiddle/jazz/avantegarde/whatever players struggle just as hard to make a living and deal with as much competition for work/attention/kudos/ paychecks. Brian, the 100 tunes won't even get you started unless you're playing d...well. Grocery packer is steadier income. A guy near me, who in fact has earned a living for 20 years as a mostly-Irish music performer, has a neat tune that includes words to the effect that a principal part of his resume is "played a thousand gigs for free." ;) Sue

November 4, 2006 at 05:42 PM · Permit me to inject a note of levity into these procedings. Speaking of 'qualifications', I once e-mailed a conductor that I'd been working with for some time, the following "updated resume" in the best tradition of Al Bundy ("Married With Children")

I once was a mighty fiddler

I was concertmaster of my high school orchestra

Played four solos at one concert!

That should count for SOMETHING, dammit!

But then...

the redhead...

the shoe store...

the end.

Oh God!

References available upon request

November 5, 2006 at 02:46 AM · Great discussion! I've read all the posts with great interest. Bravo Kevin. I'm glad somebody is talking from real world experience.

Well, I'm a symphony violinist with a little bit of experience in the non-classical world and a lot of respect for the folks who do it well. I got into jazz violin a couple of years and organized a summer camp for other classical players who want to expand their horizons. (you can check out the camp website at pittsburghjazzandfiddle.org )

Anyway, I'm thinking of a couple of friends of mine. One was a guy named Richard who earned a very good living over a 15 year period playing on street corners in NYC back in the 60's and 70's. He just started doing it one day when he was short of cash. The first day he did so well that the next day he set up (with his violin case open for donations) in front of the Daily News building. Pretty soon a crowd gathered, a reporter came out to see what was happening and the next day there was a big article in the paper. And he didn't stop for 15 years. Well, Brian, I know what he would tell you. "Go for it" Play whatever music you know. If you want to correspond with him contact me privately for his e-mail address.

Another friend of mine, Steve, has made his full time living for 30 years playing strolling violin and other non-classical gigs -- weddings, parties, etc. He too got started with just a couple of tunes in his repertoire plus lots of personality and chutzpah. I can give you his e-mail address too.

Anyway, Kevin is right on -- you will learn as you go, you will carve your own path, and for the most part, the skills of a classical violinist are not necessary, (although, in any case, you should keep building your violinistic skills. Also your musical skills in both the classical and non-classical areas.)

Best of luck.


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