Questions from an okay high school violinist looking to improve

April 5, 2018, 2:11 PM · I don't really know what this would be classified as- I just chose repertoire

High school seems like a "make it or break it" time for violinists- many either drop it or further dedicate themselves to the violin.

Say I'm a violinist looking to go to music school- where should I be as a high school freshman (like what level/pieces)?

If I want to go to a summer program to really improve my skills in a short period of time, but don't have the skills for a meadowmount type program, what options are there for me?


Right now, I'm not really competitive, and realistically, I don't have the skills to be a pro, but I would like to do all-state and youth orchestras, and the like

Replies (16)

April 5, 2018, 2:48 PM · Ideally, I think a high school freshman who intends to play at at a high level, as a hobby, should be at Bruch concerto level -- assuming a solid technical base in order to play it well. (It doesn't have to be artistically brilliant, but it should be at tempo, in tune, and stylistic.) A student at that level is likely to have studied most of the Kreutzer etudes.

I think someone who hopes to play well as an adult amateur -- call it well enough to manage first violin parts in a community orchestra or quartet -- should attain that level by the time they finish high school.

April 5, 2018, 2:49 PM · Caitlin,

Your question is interesting but has some inconsistencies. Wanting to go to "music school" is a goal but to purse what goal? You seem to have already ruled out a professional violinist career. Do you see yourself as a music teacher?

The thing you did not mention is your abilities in basic academic subjects. The professional music business is one of those one-percent careers where only about one-percent get the professional careers.

Being a skilled violinist with solid academic credentials can get you a partial scholarship by playing in the college orchestra while you pursue a non-music major.

I also note a bit of panic. Yes you feel a lot of pressure but the reality is that you are still young and much of what you think you want to do for the rest of your life is going to change. Study and practice hard, go for the All-State Orchestra, but don't make that your definition of success or failure. The future belong to those that are self-motivated, self-starting, life-long learners who can adapt to a constantly changing world.

When I was your age, I never imagined that I would be where I am today at over 70. I've had to change and adapt many times and each excursion was an adventure and opportunity to learn, and I'm still learning.

April 5, 2018, 4:50 PM · Well, I’ve pretty much ruled out music school (don’t have the skills), I was just curious if there was even a possibility. Due to a combination of ignoring practicing for a long time and not great instruction, I’m not nearly where I should be- I’ll probably hit Bruch in sophomore or junior year and am just trying to get the maximum possible enjoyment out of being a good, but not great high school violinist.

George, thank you for your wise words- truth be told, I do feel like I’m fighting time- because for a long time, I didn’t really feel an enthusiasm for the violin and therefore didn’t practice, so now I feel like I’m just trying to make up for the past.

April 5, 2018, 5:40 PM · Caitlin, I understand your concerns, but I'm more than twice your age and cannot play Bruch. You're behind some and well ahead of many others. If you really want a life in music you could certainly focus on teaching primarily and playing more on your own terms than someone who plays in a pro orchestra for example. Bottom line you have many years ahead of you and you should decide what you want most and pursue it from now on, without focusing on lost time.
April 5, 2018, 6:05 PM · What it takes to make All-State is heavily dependent on where you live. Texas All-State is crazy competitive. Colorado, or so I am told, not so much; New Mexico, less than Colorado, I think. I knew a student who made the New Mexico All-State and then did not even make our Region orchestra (covers about half my city plus several additional more rural school districts) the next year after moving with his family to my city. California and New York are probably up there with Texas.

If you're not already in youth orchestra and there's one where you live, I think you should audition for that. Lots of fun and your skills will improve.

April 5, 2018, 6:35 PM · First of all, I'm in NY, so I'm not thinking of All-State as a guaranteed or anything- I would be really happy If I make it but won't be too let down if it doesn't happen.

Secondly, seriously thank you so much to those who have answered my questions- all of you are so mature and have really great outlooks.

April 5, 2018, 8:30 PM · I think you should focus less upon being a good high school violinist, and work on being a good lifetime violinist.

The best violin experiences you can have as a high schooler will not necessarily be the ones that are the most competitive. In fact, in many cases, they won't be. The most satisfying youth symphonies are the ones with great conductors and coaches, kids who really enjoy being there (as opposed to being forced to be there by their parents, or just sulkily collecting another extracurricular activity for their college applications), and well-thought-out repertoire. Some of the most fun and most enjoyable musical experiences you can ever have will be chamber music; put together a quartet of people at a similar skill level to yourself, and magic might happen.

Similarly, the best violin experiences you can have as an adult amateur will almost certainly not be the ones that are most competitive. Community orchestras and chamber music, and maybe non-classical playing as well, are a great hobby for an adult.

You want to raise your playing level to one where you have a comfortable command of the instrument, and you have a great tone, excellent intonation, good sense of rhythm, and good musical intelligence. It doesn't require virtuosity per se.

Edited: April 5, 2018, 10:30 PM · I take a different attitude on time. If you're not trying to get into a music school or go for a music scholarship, then you have all the time in the world to develop your skills and enjoy playing as an adult amateur musician. There really isn't any limit to how good you can get if you don't have a deadline.

If you're the age of a typical high school freshman, then you're still two years younger than I was when I started. It took me 18 years to get to 20th century virtuoso repertoire, which is a lot longer than most pre-professional students take, but there wasn't ever any pressure to get there quickly.

April 5, 2018, 9:37 PM · Honestly, thanks to you all for wise words- I’m trying to take violin more seriously now, and all of you have helped me create a more balanced and overall healthy mindset about now and the future.
April 5, 2018, 11:02 PM · Caitlin, I was probably somewhat similar to you in high school. A lot of students who don't intend to study music stagnate once they get to college. Why? because maybe they're no longer taking lessons, or entering competitions. Because orchestra music is easy enough to hack through, and finding time and space to practice is hard. So I think there's this built-in assumption that you need to make as much progress in high school as possible.

Do that. But also know that if you really love the violin, college can be a time of continued growth in that area. A lot of universities have fabulous teachers, strong chamber music programs, subsidized lessons, and the tools to continue improving. If you hang with music nerds, practicing won't be so abnormal. And you can still get an engineering or public policy or physics degree and obtain a respectable day job (or head to grad school and continue on the path).

I think it doesn't really get tough to keep improving until you're done with school, when learning is no longer your job, and then (later), when you have kids that you're trying to put through their paces and get to bed on time and all you really want to do when you've finally gotten them in bed and cleaned up after dinner is sit down and watch TV or catch up on that stack of New Yorkers. Not speaking from personal experience or anything. ;-)

So anyway, my point is this: work with a good teacher, take advantage of all the opportunities to improve throughout the next decade or so. Go to good summer camps if possible. And congratulate yourself on letting yourself off the I-must-do-this-for-a-career hook. That should relieve a considerable amount of pressure. And then, when you're older, you can afford to practice a little less and coast on your skills for social music-making, which is enormously rewarding.

April 5, 2018, 11:02 PM · Caitlin, I was probably somewhat similar to you in high school. A lot of students who don't intend to study music stagnate once they get to college. Why? because maybe they're no longer taking lessons, or entering competitions. Because orchestra music is easy enough to hack through, and finding time and space to practice is hard. So I think there's this built-in assumption that you need to make as much progress in high school as possible.

Do that. But also know that if you really love the violin, college can be a time of continued growth in that area. A lot of universities have fabulous teachers, strong chamber music programs, subsidized lessons, and the tools to continue improving. If you hang with music nerds, practicing won't be so abnormal. And you can still get an engineering or public policy or physics degree and obtain a respectable day job (or head to grad school and continue on the path).

I think it doesn't really get tough to keep improving until you're done with school, when learning is no longer your job, and then (later), when you have kids that you're trying to put through their paces and get to bed on time and all you really want to do when you've finally gotten them in bed and cleaned up after dinner is sit down and watch TV or catch up on that stack of New Yorkers. Not speaking from personal experience or anything. ;-)

So anyway, my point is this: work with a good teacher, take advantage of all the opportunities to improve throughout the next decade or so. Go to good summer camps if possible. And congratulate yourself on letting yourself off the I-must-do-this-for-a-career hook. That should relieve a considerable amount of pressure. And then, when you're older, you can afford to practice a little less and coast on your skills for social music-making, which is enormously rewarding.

April 6, 2018, 5:07 AM · Katie posted twice by accident, but I think it's a post worth reading twice.
April 6, 2018, 7:17 AM · Try a chamber music camp. There might be some string quartets that run a three or four week summer session where you can work on challenging repertoire and perhaps more importantly gain experience playing with other people. When I was in high school, I went to festival run by professional string quartet. It was a great experience. I learned a lot especially from the college quartets that were in residency.

Back then, the district audition piece was the first movement of the Haydn G Major and the state audition piece was the Brahms Sonatensatz. Those are good pieces to learn before working on the Bruch or the Lalo.

April 6, 2018, 10:11 AM · The Haydn G Major usually comes about 3 years before Bruch.
April 6, 2018, 11:09 AM · Great advice above. Try to balance your energy, commitment, dedication and time between the important things and your passions. Try your best at violin (enjoy yourself and have fun with it), do well in school, and try your best at anything else you're passionate about. If you study at a community music school, do you take advantage of the ensemble opportunities available? How about non-classical violin, improvisation, chamber music with friends, orchestra, local music camp, low-stake performances, etc, are all great opportunities to enjoy and learn music.
April 8, 2018, 2:05 PM · Caitlin,

You are welcome. Making music a part of your life but not your whole life is an excellent idea. During my working career I was in Bell Laboratories (lots of brilliant people) and a lot of them played instruments. Clearly music was only a part of their lives but it made them more complete people. You mentioned that you live in NY. In NYC there is The Doctor's Orchestra made up of amateur musicians all of whom are MD's and they are very good musicians.

Other than the violin, what captures your interest? You can pursue both interests. As others have noted there are lots of opportunities to play in non-competitive groups. I played with one for a few decades until the leadership changed to make it more competitive.

One thing that the violin brings as a transferable skill is learning how to learn and how to study most effectively.


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