Adult Beginners

October 13, 2017, 9:57 PM · As an adult beginner myself, I am curious how far people in similar situations can go. I am curious to know if anyone knows of an adult beginner who has stuck to the violin long enough and seriously enough to make it to one of the romantic concertos (Bruch/Mendelssohn etc). When I say adult beginner, I mean 18 and up as their starting point. I know several people on here who played extensively when they were younger, then returned (I consider them as well unless their childhood training left them with enough technique to start far ahead of a true beginner).

Replies (71)

October 13, 2017, 10:29 PM · Not common, but they exist. I know of at least 2 outside this forum, BUT I am sure there must be hundreds out there. In this very forum we have a few, I believe.

A common problem with adults is that they are too conscious of the difficulties of the instrument and how "bad" they sound vs recordings or youtube videos, and often take for granted they will "never" be able to play any of the Paganini Concerti. Truthfully, they could eventually play anything, but it will take years of intelligent practice, guided by a good mentor (which unfortunately are often reluctant to teach adults in the first place.)

Adults should focus on their strengths as "grown-ups", and forget about their supposed weaknesses, many of which are myths or difficult to scientifically prove.

October 14, 2017, 12:15 AM · In my experience it is absolutely possible to reach a high level even if one starts as an adult. Of course it requires patience and intelligent practicing as well as good teaching but there is no sense in setting limitations. Adults have the advantage of greater cognitive understanding which is extremly helpful. I have one pupil who started at about 30 and he is playing Beethovens 2nd Romance with ease and could definately play Mendelssohn and Bruch Concertos if he had more time to practice.
Every student of the violin comes with their own advantages and disadvantages. That is what makes teaching so interesting. I have learnt a lot from my adult students!
October 14, 2017, 3:04 AM · As a fellow adult beginner, I find a lot of them start out teaching themselves. I think when completely self taught reaching a very proficient level is extremely difficult, I've been playing for a year and one month now and it's only been since one month my notes are starting to sound clear and more in tune and my bowing is finally straight. It already took this long just for tiny basics and I still often play notes out of tune. it's a long slow and painful process, it just takes quite a bit longer to sound good on the violin I'm giving it another year from now on, when I'll expect my violin playing to sound okay ish.
October 14, 2017, 6:19 AM · I think I've met far more proficient adult-beginner cellists than violinists. People tend to plateau at an intermediate level, though. But that's true of plenty of players who start as children, too.
Edited: October 14, 2017, 9:57 AM · To answer your question, I know of no one personally. But to be honest, I'm not concerned with how far so-and-so went. Not in the slightest. No curiosity what so ever. Great if someone did, that would be cool. Is there a hidden question in that as to the possibilities of how far an adult learner can go? If so, I don't see in the instructions that came with me anything even remotely similar to, "Must apply limitations daily." Bet no one has a tag that says that.

Good luck with your violin journey.

October 14, 2017, 6:37 AM · Started at 24, learned for 5 years and had to stop for 6 years (babies and career). I pick it up 1,5 years ago and just finished learning Vivaldi a min. Definitely not
Bruch yet, but I don't think this is my goal anyway. I really experiment that plateau Lydia describes: I improved quite fast at the beginning and now little improvements require hard work! It is quite motivating though!
October 14, 2017, 9:32 AM · "I am curious to know if anyone knows of an adult beginner who has stuck to the violin long enough and seriously enough to make it to one of the romantic concertos (Bruch/Mendelssohn etc)"

Ok, that's a standard of sorts, but it's not one that I aspire to, and it's not one that makes a lot of sense to me either. There are plenty of sonatas and other chamber pieces which would be more reasonable aspirations and probably a more pleasant listening experience.

Mind you, if someone composed a "Concerto for Adult Beginner and Community Orchestra" in the spirit of "American Garage" by the Pat Metheny Group, I'd probably want to hear it.

Edited: October 14, 2017, 9:50 AM · J Ray wrote, "There are plenty of sonatas and other chamber pieces which would be more reasonable aspirations and probably a more pleasant listening experience."

Good luck with that. My experience is that the sonata and chamber repertoire gets hard fast. Here is a graded list:

You'll see, for example, that only a few of the Haydn Quartets rate higher than 3 (out of 6) in terms of the technical difficulty of the parts (the first of the two numbers is technical/parts -- the second number is ensemble/musicality). One of my hobbies is to try to play along with string quartet recordings, and even the Op. 20 No. 5 (a favorite) which is ranked 2/6 for technical difficulty is not a walk in the park.

So one very solid reason for working your solo repertoire up to the Mozart / Bruch / Mendelssohn level is so that you can actually play that "intermediate" level chamber stuff without having to shed every part for weeks.

Unless you want to play arrangements of Scott Joplin or Christmas carols.

Another vote for the Pat Metheny thing. There aren't many albums out there that are better than American Garage. It's genius.

To answer the original question, there are people who have done this. Not many. As in all human endeavors, there is a bell-shaped curve (more or less). Your position on that curve will depend on:

(1) Whether you have the time and mental energy to devote some of your prime waking hours to practice.
(2) Whether you are motivated to improve day by day.
(3) Whether you have the funds necessary fora decent instrument, accessories, music, and expert tutelage.
(4) Whether those around you are supportive of your efforts.
(5) Your native talent.

Edited: October 14, 2017, 9:54 AM · J Ray, it is a repertoire standard to judge sufficient mastery over an ensemble of techniques, musicality, stamina. No one claims that one has to live up to this standard or that all good music employs these. The OP is clearly interested in asking if there are adult beginners who managed to reach this high level of playing (ie who put more time and effort than others in mastering the instrument). Why wouldn't that make sense to you?
Edited: October 14, 2017, 11:55 AM · I would describe myself as an adult player at the intermediate level. I definitely suggest that you should * aim * to get to the "Bruch level" and beyond. Otherwise, you may never get there.
October 14, 2017, 11:10 AM · Paul, that might be true for the first violin parts, but the second violin parts tend to be more readily doable. It's one of the reasons that I think that adults are often best served by working on having a lovely, expressive tone along with good intonation and the ability to count and sight-read. It ends up being more useful than virtuosity.
October 14, 2017, 1:56 PM · So I guess the general consensus is that there are people who have gotten that far?
October 14, 2017, 2:49 PM · Yes Christopher
October 14, 2017, 4:28 PM · Very true about cellists, Lydia. I really think it has a lot to do with the inherently more comfortable nature of the cello, and the fact that it's harder to screw up the tone, whereas a very minor error on the violin will punish you with screechy/scratchy next to your ear.
October 14, 2017, 4:53 PM · It is however helpful to "reach for the stars" technique and repertoire-wise, as when you do relatively well at that high level, you will come to appreciate and better perform the "intermediate" level works, and have zero problems with them. The principle being that it's better to have technique beyond the works you intend to play (exception being the top technical tier; once there, you can really play "anything.")

That is also one of the purposes of having an absurd control of all sorts of scale material-you may not need to play tenths, fingered octaves, or high positions often, but having a relative mastery of those elements will help you feel more confident with the "easier" technical requirements of the majority of works out there.

(I consider third and octave scale (1-4) "mastery" quasi-mandatory, be it for adults or 4 year olds, and even if you "only" want to play Baroque, etc. (Solo Bach is Baroque, after all). Too essential to ignore-as soon as the student is ready, of course.)

I'd recommend an adult "first learner" to basically enjoy the journey, while "secretly" bringing up his technique up every day. No adult should feel as if they cannot achieve mastery DUE to age alone.

I actually agree with most of you, so apologies if I came up as a contrarian for its own sake.

October 14, 2017, 5:27 PM · Well, if I live a normal lifetime, I should have about 440,000 hours left before I kick the bucket. I think I can spare 10,000 of those for the violin.
October 14, 2017, 5:53 PM · Fingered octaves, especially 1-3 fingered octaves, are incredibly useful for extension fingerings.

I'm trying to think of what folks are true (age 18+) adult beginners who've reached major concerto level. Someone help. :-)

October 14, 2017, 6:58 PM · Lydia, when you returned to the violin, where was your starting point? How far along were you after the "refreshment" period.
Edited: October 14, 2017, 7:19 PM · Lydia, I know what you mean about first vs. second violin parts in string quartets but someone has to play first! Nobody wants to be the duffer constantly looking for a better player to fill that role. You want to be there yourself, well, half the time anyway. Also following up on Chris's question above, what level were you when your teachers started you on fingered octaves? I never considered myself ready for those ... yet.
October 14, 2017, 7:40 PM · To be honest, it's pretty unlikely for a "true" adult beginner to reach that level, but it has nothing to do with their ability, and everything to do with their willpower.

I teach a LOT of adult beginners, and I swear that every time I get a talented, driven adult, they find a reason to quit within 6 months. It's always something so stupid, like having to leave town for a month, or switching jobs, or whatever. And they genuinely plan on returning, but something about that month without the pressure of improving makes them relax, and then they just realize it's easier to not return.

And this is where I've realized the ONE thing that makes adults successful: they have to love music. That's it. Because it's the consistency that makes the player good in the long run, and the consistency won't happen if the love isn't there. Talent is actually pretty common in my experience, but without the consistency backing it up, it doesn't do much good.

To be completely honest, the fact that you're already trying to compare yourself to others is a pretty big red flag. I've noticed that the most successful adults just focus on improving each week and enjoying what they're accomplished, rather than wasting time and energy trying to see if someone else is doing better or worse than they are.

Edited: October 14, 2017, 8:10 PM · I 100% agree that most adults don't reach high levels of playing because they quit, but I wasn't comparing myself to anyone, I just wanted to know if such a thing existed.
October 14, 2017, 8:09 PM · Christopher, the first time I quit for about a decade, when I came back I couldn't even play a scale. I got back to a Mendelssohn concerto level in a couple of months, but I actually had to relearn most of my bowing technique. The second time I came back, I could still superficially manage a major concerto, but it took more than two years to really get my technique to be reasonably reliable again.

Paul, that might be dependent upon the local chamber-music scene. I think in the places I've lived, a lot more people want to play 1st than 2nd.

Paul, on fingered octaves, I was an intermediate-level player. When I did Kreutzer, I generally did the octave etudes in regular octaves, and then did them in fingered octaves. I've never really had reliable 2-4 fingered octaves, but I use 1-3 ones all the time.

October 14, 2017, 8:12 PM · Lydia, in that case it sounds like quite a bit of your childhood training stuck around.
Edited: October 14, 2017, 8:35 PM · Paul, sometimes the repertoire just simply presents an opportunity for fingered octaves. For example, in the first movement of Bruch, one lands on g with the third finger in measure 27, it just makes sense to use fingered octave (1,3) to start the octave run in measure 28, even though I have not systematically practiced scales in fingered octaves.

Chris Sinkule, I agree with Erik, it is unlikely that a true adult beginner could ever reach the level of major romantic concertos. I am not aware of anyone myself. But that should not be the reason why it could not be a goal to work toward.

October 14, 2017, 9:05 PM · Christopher, yes, more or less. I don't really have full recovery of childhood skills but I've also been able to build new ones. I probably produce a better sound now than I did as a child (it helps to have a much better instrument as well), but don't have the same left-hand facility.
October 14, 2017, 9:07 PM · Unlikely isn't off-putting at all. After all, it's unlikely that anyone who plays the violin reaches that proficiency. The degree of unlikeliness is just a detail in my mind.
October 15, 2017, 8:55 PM · There is actually no limits on how far can one go, there are hindrances specially when you are working that lengthens the supposedly duration of learning techniques and pieces. I for myself, because of work there is less time for practicing and figuring things out in learning to play. Needing more days just to memorize an etude or a method that supposedly can take a week or two and the left hand speed and flexibility is still awkward. But gladly I can say I progressed a lot.
October 21, 2017, 6:37 AM · I started on viola a few months ago at age 60. I already play several instruments: trumpet, piano, guitar (classical and steel string), and ukulele. I have always wanted to play a bowed instrument and have found an excellent instructor. Really I have two goals. In terms of performance, if after 3 years or so I am able to competently execute a melody or harmony and play along with my sisters on keyboard (as I used to do with trumpet) then I am OK. The other thing is that getting older and eventually heading to retirement I want the intellectual and motor skill challenge of a new instrument--new clef, learing a bow, all that. I am a physician and aware of evidence that mental and physical challenges may have some effect in staving off dementia later in life. I am competing only with myself week to week and really enjoying it.
October 21, 2017, 6:52 AM · There is no standard for this. I know people who have played for decades and who will never play at the Mendelssohn/Bruch level.

However, a dozen years ago a "young" man (early 30s) joined our community orchestra in the first violin section after 18 months of lessons. Considering the repertoire we played there is no reason to think he could not have started to work on those concertos. His playing looked kind of awkward at the time but partly because he was a "giant" around 6'4" with long arms and that can make getting around on a fiddle kind of awkward, especially when you start late.

October 21, 2017, 10:47 AM · It is highly unlikely for a true adult beginner to reach the level of Bruch. Money and time are the primary concerns, naturally. Assuming it takes about 10 years for a diligent kid to attempt Bruch, the goal has the price tag of at least $40,000 plus 10 years of consistent practice. It is no wonder there are so few of adults who achieve the goal starting out from scratch.
October 21, 2017, 10:58 AM · 40 k$? 5k for an instrument and 3.5k per year in lessons? Lessons seem to be expensive over there.

And even if that price is correct: adults may have plenty of other expensive hobbies. At work (engineers...), plenty of 40+-aged people spend their spare time with stuff like sailboats, motorcycles, glider planes, oldtimer cars, or far-away holidays. For someone with disposable income, 4k per year for a hobby is not going to break the bank.

Edited: October 21, 2017, 11:07 AM · Han N.,

Where I live, $100 per one hour lesson is the norm, if not higher. Also, among the hobbies you listed, which one requires continuous learning time and effort for upkeep? I did not include the opportunity cost, which is extra.

October 21, 2017, 11:23 AM · It's possible, commitment makes up for the usual obstacles. I would admit it is not as common as it "should" be.

Will likely be "easier" with previous musical experience on another instrument.

Kids face similar problems, as lessons aren't any cheaper. The adult must soon realize that this "hobby" will cost a bit more than usual, and require much of the "spare time" they have if they are married and/or have a full-time day job (or similar).

It's possible, has been done, but it most certainly isn't common.

October 21, 2017, 11:39 AM · Sung Han, indeed, 100 $/h is expensive compared to over here (40 €/h or 25 €/30 minutes). I can see where the 40 k is coming from.

About those other hobbies: some of them take a lot of time. People with oldtimers tend to start from a wreck that is not roadworthy; those other things require mainenance as well. And "continous learning time" is not so different from other ways of spending a lot of time on something that you enjoy. I personally get bored from doing things that don't involve mental activity.

October 21, 2017, 12:11 PM · Han N.,

It is true that some other hobbies are a giant black hole time and money-wise. One distinction between these hobbies and what OP asked, however, is that the former is open-ended while the latter is not.

OP specifically asked whether Bruch/Mendelssohn is in the adult beginner's horizon. This specific requirement sets the goal high enough so that it becomes rather unrealistic for most people with average talent in music. In my initial response I did not clearly mention it, but in addition to money and time, the talent in music counts quite heavily; certainly it sets the individual learning trajectories quite differently.

Edited: October 21, 2017, 2:47 PM · About the influence of talent: I don't know. There is the work of K. Anders Ericsson that showed that the success of conservatory students (piano) was mainly dependent on the accumulated hours of practice (10,000 hours of practice to get really good). Of course, that was for a population of people who could pass the entrance exam.

I'm a bit skeptical. In my own field (physics and engineering) I have seen differences in skills between people that really can't be attributed to hours of practice.

Edit: I mean people who did meet the entrance requirements for physics or engineering Masters.

October 21, 2017, 2:22 PM · I don’t believe there is someone with inherent talent for playing violin. They probably have a talent for quick learning. Since making this post I’ve spoken with a very distinguished violinist and pedagogue and he knows several people who started late who are playing advanced repertoire.
Edited: October 21, 2017, 3:00 PM · Han N.,

I don't know about Ericsson's work, but based on your short description his study population seems quite different from the general population. Using the entrance exam as conditioning, the impact factors for the particular subpopulation certainly will change. I think music (and art in general), math, and athletics are the areas where natural talents make a big difference in terms of achievement potential.

Edited: October 21, 2017, 2:51 PM · Christopher,

Although there is no single "gene" for violin, several facilitators that help one suitable for violin can be identified. Some factors are purely physical, other factors are neurological, and still other factors are environmental. I don't think they can be put in the general category of "quick learning".

Also, "unlikely" does not mean "impossibility". Every week someone hits a jackpot, but is it relevant to me? I doubt it. What I pointed out earlier is that the specific goal you stated is not likely within reach of an average adult beginner. It may or may not be relevant to your case. As they say, "your mileage may vary."

Edited: October 21, 2017, 7:06 PM · The neurological dimension is important.

In the case of learning a second language, most can achieve native fluency if it is attempted before the age of 15. After that, one can still achieve great functional fluency ( e. g. Henry Kissinger), but with a detectable accent.

For some reason, some muscle memory needs to be developed before certain age.

October 21, 2017, 7:14 PM · Doesn't Ericsson's entrance-exam requirement just cut off a large portion of the bell curve? Population distribution rules should still apply but would obviously be very skewed. No?
Edited: October 22, 2017, 8:41 AM · Here's an interesting and easy-to-digest article about Ericsson's 10,000-hour theory, including some criticism. I couldn't find a free version of the piano paper, so I can't form my own opinion on whether the science was done right and whether the conclusions have been overstated by others. Some points from the above article:

* The 10,000 hour rule does apply to many skills, not just music
* It refers to a different paper by Ericsson, including data on violinists: The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance (1993) (I'm reading it);
* Starting young is still important (too bad for adult starters like the OP and me), although there examples of impressive skills learned by adults;
* Practice hours need to be used effectively or it won't work (this sounds like a True Scotsman argument)
* There is plenty of criticism about his dismissal of "innate talent".

Edit: The 1993 paper is a 44-page review of literature on the topic; I didn't want to read it all in detail. The actual part about violin students is in PDF pages 11-18. It covers conservatory students (performance major as well as teachers) and professional violinists. On page 26, it discusses the effect of starting age. It seems that the author believes that the 10k-hour rule for reaching an expert skill level also applies to adult starters, but there is no hard data.

Edited: October 22, 2017, 5:23 AM · Too much absurdity-it cannot be proven that an adult starter will have an "adult starter" accent. If a virtuoso kid stops practicing, he will "develop" an "accent" too, even if he started at age 3 and played the Tchaikovsky at age 6.

Of course this is not an attack on Mr. Zhang or anyone who believes in the 10,000 hour theory. It is fine to believe whatever you wish, but hopefully no one's inspiration to work harder is being diminished because of the supposed "limitations" of age alone.

I do believe talent is generally overstated, *perhaps* due to natural human ego, liking to brag about how they or their favored players/family members are "better". Great training, and intelligent and persistent work will eventually match the easiest of learners, the latter quickly corrupting his/her skills if violin work gets neglected (Kreisler's lack of practice "talent" is too rare to rely on.)

The "proof" that: "where are the great adult students"? is easily dismantled; there are way less adult students with ample practice time as there are for kids. The social dynamics are just not the same. This has nothing to do with them being physically and mentally inferior, or having a specific "old age" hindrance that makes them play slower, with "accents", etc.-at least, it's currently scientifically non-verified.

I don't even have to have blind faith in adult starters playing Mendelssohn, as it has happened, but do have trouble believing in the "adult starter musical accent" theory, which can't be proven-music is a "language", but not a language, and not the same.

To adult learners-avoid focusing in what you supposedly "can't do", and just put the Labor of Love in learning your beloved instrument. After some time-maybe even way less than 10,000 hours (which can't be reasonably quantified anyway)-you will indeed surprise yourself and marvel at how far your work has gotten you.

October 22, 2017, 6:07 AM · @Adalberto Valle-Rivera- Hear, hear!
Edited: October 22, 2017, 6:58 AM · Adalberto, you seem to be attacking at the same time those who believe that talent is important (although it's not clear who those people are, among the last couple of posts here), and the 10,000-hour theory (which dismisses the influence of talent and young-age advantage). Then you proceed to attack a strawman argument. I'm referring to 'the "proof"'; did anyone mention such a proof in the last couple of posts?

About the "ample practice time": for myself (adult starter), I think I put in way more practice hours than the child students of my teacher. Judging from the performance of the 12-year-olds at my teacher's most recent student recital, I progress quite a bit faster as well. Although I'm not aiming for Bruch, I do hope that I won't hit a brick wall long before that. [I'm on my way: I can already sort of play the first line of the Bruch concerto ;-) ]

"10,000 hours (which can't be reasonably quantified anyway)" - what does that mean? Read the 1993 Ericsson paper. They put quite a bit of effort in making a reliable estimate of those hours.

Edited: October 22, 2017, 7:37 AM · I am not arguing anything. Hate strawmen, "fallacies", etc. Please don't include me with the horde of online "debate pros", as my sole "agenda" is that adult learners realize there's nothing naturally impeding them to master their instrument. It's not about winning arguments, or proving others wrong, which has zero value to me and adds nothing to most discussions.

It's definitely impossible to quantify 10,000 of intelligent violin practice. Have you done it? Violin is it's own "10,000 hours" challenge, so the study is not an ideal fit. I don't want adults to just deduct this 10,000 hours person *must* be right, and therefore adults are at a clear disadvantage, so why even try working towards higher goals? It makes them settle for "good enough" rather than excellence. Focusing on saying it's unlikely (which I myself agree with) does nothing to help the student, and adds fictional obstacles to them being able to play Paganini well one day.

In short, I am convinced that believing adults are "limited" due to age ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy in many cases, making already overly conscious adult-learners aware of the supposed "difficulty" of the task, and subsequently not working as hard to be the best violinists they could be-the real cause for their lack of "advanced" play. This applies to 10,000 hours and many others ideas I don't find particularly factual, much less helpful to most degrees.

(No offense meant to you, Han-it's the idea that adults are somehow "less fit" to be adept that I find contrary to reasonable scrutiny. I wish you well on your studies.)

Edited: October 22, 2017, 7:57 AM · Maybe I am confused, and may have misinterpreted what was posted a few posts above about the study.

I still believe what I do about talent and age, whether the paper agrees or not with it. You put the work, you succeed.

(There are other challenges to overcome besides age for most adult learners, of course. Regardless, even though I don't like the subject of "violinistically unfit adults", I am sure I won't convince those who believe as much, so I agree to disagree with all of you who do, whoever you may be. My apologies for my otherwise understandable passion on this issue.)

Edited: October 22, 2017, 8:38 AM · I see that my own post (6 up from here) was self-contradicting, as the popular article seemed to state a young-starter's advantage, whereas Ericsson himself did not - other than stating that starting young gives you an advantage in accumulating a lot of practice hours.

I think that one cannot rule out early-starter advantages related to early brain development. For example, it has been known for a while that 8-year old children will invariably develop absolute pitch if they get music lessons that include a bit of exercise in tone recognition. This doesn't happen with older children or adults. This is just an example of a very clear age-related effect related to music; I don't want to start an argument about whether absolute pitch is useful or not for a musician.

My interest in the topic is academic. I will proceed with my violin lessons as long as I make progress and enjoy the journey, regardless of whether I am at a disadvantage or not.

Maybe you could clarify this: "There are other challenges to overcome besides age for most adult learners, of course."

Edited: October 22, 2017, 9:10 AM · Han N.,

Thanks for the link. I'll read it later and see if it adds meaningful stuff to our discussion.

Nowadays the importance of natural talent seems to be heavily discounted in public education or discourse in general. Instead, learning disability seems to receive far more attention. However, if the latter is relevant to human development, wouldn't the former at least deserve the due attention?

For one thing, just as learning disability has a varying degree of severity with many facets, natural talent is not a binary factor that divides people into have-talents and have-not-talents. It has a wide spectrum.

To use an analogy, unlike someone is completely broke, we all have money, but to a varying degree. And we all understand (1) the amount of money you currently have, and (2) money-making potential, have a fundamental role for future potential. Incidentally, the implication of (1) is well demonstrated in the Bible regarding the fable of three servants, which I view not as a moral tale but from an economic decision point.

The advantages of starting at a young age have plenty of empirical evidence, and recent developments in brain science seem to support the idea. I don't remember an exact source, but I read somewhere that at some point in time that the teenager's brain performs some serious house-keeping, i.e., pruning and reorganizing its vast neural network. Along the process, it cuts out unnecessary neurons and re-purposes them to shore up where they are necessary.

Since the plasticity of brain allows the rebuilding of neural network well into an advanced age, all hope is not lost. However, it is not difficult to imagine it would take considerably more effort and time to do it than having some sort of a general-purpose, reserved neural structure that could be easily put into a new kind of work, aka. playing violin.


p.s. My guess is that the age barrier for a new language acquisition has something to do with the house keeping job, but I am not a neuroscientist so someone knowledgeable may chip in their wisdom.

Edited: October 22, 2017, 10:01 AM · "There are other challenges to overcome besides age for most adult learners, of course."

-Overt self-consciousness
-Resolve/commitment (more than just a hobby)
-Supportive environment

Some or all of that all too often do adults lack on their way to master their beloved instrument. Innate "talent" and/or "age deficiencies" compared to an infant are the least of their worries.

Still, I believe in the latent potential of someone who dares to dream and achieve the most daunting goals in Life. And frankly, I believe most of you adult learner readers can achieve great things on your instrument, granted persistence and patient, intelligent work. You can train yourself to be an advanced violinist-just that no one said the road there will be easy, especially relative to other instruments ("pro tip": the violin is also difficult for the little kids, and obviously not all of them get to eventually play Bruch either.)

"Work Hard, Play (the) Harder (repertoire)"

Edited: October 22, 2017, 11:25 AM · Sung Han, very interesting! Since learning to speak a language and playing the violin both involve commanding muscles to produce sound, they are of course closely related. This after all is the basis of Suzuki's "mother tongue " approach. Accents essentially is the magnitude of deviation from the correct pitch/sound, i.e. an intonation issue.

Adalberto, I don't disagree with you (except that calling someone else's point of view "absurd" does amount to an attack). It seems almost every another day, we see posts from adults who are starting on the violin. Perhaps, they can share with us their "post Bruch" experience.

October 22, 2017, 12:00 PM · Adalberto, from that list, only "Overt self-consciousness" is adult-specific in my opinion. The rest applies just as well to child violinists and their parents.
Edited: October 22, 2017, 12:47 PM · Here are two videos of adult beginners. I know them both personally.

first one is Tcha Limberger who picked up the violin at age 17 and was self-taught for about 2 years, then he spent a year in Budapest to learn Hungarian music and take classical lessons. During this time, he practiced 6-8 hours a day:

The second one is Bireli Lagrene, who if I'm not mistaken picked it up sometime in his mid to late 20s:

Note that neither of them are classical musicians. Although I have seen Tcha play some solo accompanied Bach and I have seen Bireli play excerpts from Paganini 's D major concerto

October 22, 2017, 1:01 PM · I want to point out that the *average* World of Warcraft player spends almost 23 hours a week on the game. (Even players who define themselves as "casual" play 11 hours a week.) By that measure, putting in an hour or two of violin practice a day isn't all that much hobby time.
October 22, 2017, 1:12 PM · It's not just 10,000 hours of practice. How that practice is spread out also matters for string players, in part due to the athletic aspects of playing. You need about 30 minutes a day just to maintain your current level. 1 hour a day lets you improve steadily. Up to 2 hours a day, the practice-to-improvement ratio is optimal. It declines somewhat from 2 to 4 hours a day of practice. Beyond 4 hours a day, practice has sharply diminishing returns. To maximize advancement, serious violinists should be practicing 2 to 4 hours a day.

Adult returnees to the instrument are pretty common, actually. In talking to other adult players it's not unusual to hear about 10 to 20 years off the instrument. Most recover a significant portion of their childhood skills, and can continue to improve.

Edited: October 22, 2017, 1:47 PM · Lydia, the practice hours that you mention are a bit different from what Ericsson states. He states that 1 h/day gives the biggest improvement per hour of practice and that above 4 h doesn't give any benefits.

The 30 min/day to maintain level was not mentioned, I think. I would expect it to apply only to high-level violinists. Beginners can make plenty of progress at 30 minutes per day.

Denis, those two players on youtube sound good to me. It's hard for me to judge the difficulty level, though.

Edited: October 22, 2017, 1:57 PM · Han, all conditions of adult life are adult-specific. Adalberto is right about that list. Stating that only self consciousness is adult specific (incidentally i was a very awkward self conscious child -less so as an adult now-and now i know quite a few adult who are not so self conscious and are quite happy go lucky) shows me that Adelbrrto is not the one pursuing strawman arguments :)

About practice time, agree that quality of practice time matters a lot. And that is a result of the effort and brainwork of both the student and the teacher. Therefor a quantitative simplification of practice time leaves out too much from the formula.

October 22, 2017, 5:07 PM · -Money
-Overt self-consciousness
-Resolve/commitment (more than just a hobby)
-Supportive environment

I would suggest the list above applies to adults and children.

Edited: October 22, 2017, 5:30 PM · Children dont have to work and make money.
Children's time is allocated to them by their parents, not dictated by responsibilities of their own survival and social commitments.
The commitment of an adult and that of a child are completely distinct (owing to the other factors enlisted here).
Parents provide the supportive environment (financially, psychologically and emotionally). There us absolutely no comparison to the degree (or lack thereof) of support that an adult gets.

This is all too obvious; I think collapsing the difference between the nature of the adult life and that of a (healthy) child's life for the sake of merely reaching an end to say: the development of an adult's development on an instrument is exactly tbe same of that as that of a child's (whether this is true or not according to other arguments, Im not desputing that) is a self serving and, more importantly, false argument...and really quite needless. No, the nature of a cild's life and everything dictated by it is subservient to other conditions than those that dictate an adult's lige...including the instrument learning aspect.
The only item I could probably dispute is the commitment part. I think its actually the reverse. Children are by nature (or lack of it) not committed; theyre learning all this. Its more lije the projection of the parents committment. Whereas adult students are inherently committed (as long as theyre learning and playing). But its not so much a dispute of tbe item as a further clarification of it.

October 22, 2017, 6:02 PM · "Talent" for the violin may have some inherent (genetic) elements, but some of it might also be strongly shaped by early experience. Perfect pitch, a strong sense of pulse, a strong sense of musical line, quick fingers, and excellent kinesthetic awareness all help. So does general intellectual ability to learn and memorize quickly, which can greatly reduce the number of repetitions needed to "get" something.

My guess is that for many adults, their biggest challenge is finding a good teacher, and that's going to have a far greater impact than practically anything else.

October 22, 2017, 8:24 PM · I agree, the teacher is possibly the toughest "obstacle" to overcone, as even though a problem shared with kids (and their parents, of course), it's harder to find that good to great teacher who will patiently lead an adult learner towards an advanced level of play.

The other items in my non-exhaustive list are indeed shared with many children, but it's so much tougher for the busy adult to put in 3-4 daily hours of violin work, unimpeded by other "adult" responsibilities, as duly aforementioned above.

I also agree... sometimes online gaming (or similar hobbies) are not bad at all per se, but we can always make time for those things we love, and an adult learner MUST prioritize the violin if he/she hopes to improve towards an advanced level.

True, child commitment is usually tied heavily to that of their parents, but many adults (perhaps not those in this thread!) lack the insight of how much effort is required of them to truly "master" the instrument. Tougher than the piano in some ways, the more you advance, the more you realize it takes more than a casual approach. It is however a wonderful musical journey, and I hope I am not discouraging any of you-keep your focus on the here and now, and enjoy the process.

Don't feel offended, and feel free to disagree. I honestly wish you all much success, whatever your goals with the violin may be.

October 23, 2017, 3:27 AM · Iam a violin beginner, started about a year ago with a realy good violin teacher. but i want to evaluate my level and know if i am doing well or what. So, after one lesson per week continuously what level is supposed to be reached and the techniques that must be learned during this period knowing that i practice alone about two to three times a week!!
October 23, 2017, 3:57 AM · You aren't "supposed to"; it's not like school where you're supposed to do an exam to pass. As long as you enjoy it and the teacher doesn't threaten to kick you out, there is no problem. If you practice daily rather than 2-3x per week, you'll make more progress.

You could look at the ABRSM exam material for the grades 1 to 8 and the exam syllabus (google it). There's a guy (alan chan I think) on Youtube who has recorded all exam pieces along with pictures of the sheet music. (I think it's performed at "passing" level, not "with merits".) There is no set timeline for those grades, but I think the idea is that a teenager can do one grade per year if they are committed.

Edited: October 23, 2017, 8:18 AM · Lydia I know what you mean about finding a good teacher, but I think for adults the bigger challenges are the time commitment and the tension between wanting to practice the violin -- disciplined work for improvement -- and wanting to just play. Especially since if we have jobs (including the job of parent/homemaker), we cannot generally give the violin the best hours of our day. I mean, it is kind of depressing if you never just pick up your violin and play through some songs for fun. My approach is to that when I'm so tired or mentally distracted that I know I'm not going to be productive with my practicing.
October 23, 2017, 8:16 AM ·
October 23, 2017, 8:30 AM · I'm not a true adult beginner, I'm a returner after a 10+ year hiatus. When I stopped I was working on Bruch, and had a lot of technical issues that needed sorting in order to truly play it well. I simply did not have the time to dedicate to practicing/improving, being in college with a demanding major, so I stopped. That said...

I returned to playing 11 months ago, started with a not-great, but good enough, teacher and switched to a fantastic one almost 7 months ago. In the past 7 months, my technique has been overhauled and my overall sound and playing is better than what I recall it being. I'm still not at the "Bruch level" (I mean, I can play it, but now that I know what I didn't know then I know that it isn't up to snuff), so I'm working on more advanced intermediate material for now. I have every intention of playing beyond the Bruch/Mendhelsson level - I really want to play Enescu's Impressions d'Enfance, Ravel's Tzigane and Saint-Saens Intro & Rondo Cappricioso. After my first lesson with my current teacher I asked if these pieces were possible for me, she said that they were and that it would take some time but it would be possible for me. Bearing that in mind, every time I begin to get frustrated I focus on the fact that those pieces are goal-posts and that I'm working my way to there and that from there many other pieces are possible.

I can practice at most one hour per day, and 3-4 hours over the course of a 2-day weekend, and I take lessons twice a month vs every week, so my progress will be markedly slower than those who can dedicate more time/money to this activity. (As a kid I practiced 1-2 hours per day, depending on whether there was an upcoming performance or not, and I took weekly 1/2hr lessons.)

So I agree with Lydia with regards to how the teacher is a huge factor in whether or not a student "gets there". Based on what I've read here on the forum, I should be playing at my previous level by now - but my first teacher wasn't teaching me so I'm already running about four months "behind schedule" ;)

Maybe the question shouldn't be pigeonholed into why adults don't make it to the Bruch/Mendelssohn level but expanded into why adults don't run the marathons they say they want to run, start the businesses they say they want to start and so on. It's much easier to talk about doing things, and start something, than it is to commit to doing those things day in day out regardless of "feeling like it" or not and seeing things through both the fun and hard times. That's the thing that kids have that adults do not: outside pressure (from parents, teachers, school, etc.) keeping one accountable. The adult has no one to be accountable to except themselves. (As a kid, my teacher told me they would not work with me if I did not practice a minimum of one hour a day -and they would scold me if I missed even a half hour-, my parents kept tabs on my practice schedule, and I also was fairly competitive with a couple of people in my orchestra - all of those kept me on track. Whereas now? It's just me and my violin, and the feelings of guilt if I miss a day of practice, and frustration for not taking full advantage of my lesson if I haven't been able to prepare enough for it.)

Not sure if this adds to the conversation or not, but I wanted to toss my two pennies into the coffer.

October 23, 2017, 12:04 PM · Pamela, interesting thoughts. I wonder: how do you recognize a good teacher? I'm with the first teacher that answered the phone and would take in new students at a time slot that suited me. She is patient and can communicate in a way that works for me, and I make good progress. But I maybe a different teacher would have worked out even better, who knows?
October 23, 2017, 1:39 PM · I'm one of those adult learners who started at age 49 almost 30 months ago, who works full time in physically strenuous work (installing solar on roofs) who often lately will miss a day of practice due to exhaustion and demands of single parenthood, who has 2 injuries on his right hand, another on the right wrist and another on the right forearm, who took 3 lessons a year ago and otherwise is completely self-taught, who still doesn't sound musical but attempts very hard (for me) pieces that are great exercises in learning to play chords and higher positions. Someday I'll move off the back porch and play on the front porch, and maybe in some senior centers and hospitals and rehabs and jails and taverns and family parties --I intend to get pretty good....
Edited: October 24, 2017, 8:18 AM · Will, it's good to see you can still find the time to do something you enjoy. A long physical day is tough on a 50 year old body.I'm glad you can find the time to practice:0)

Here is a glimpse into my world- I'm up at 5:30 every morning and not back home until 5 or 6pm usually after a combined commute time of two hours a day. The weekends can sometimes be more agreeable to practice, but more often I have other things that need to happen. I also play piano every Sunday making any violin practice an afternoon pursuit. Add in the time it take to do the small things at home and it's nothing for it to be 8 or 9pm before I even get inside my studio.

Once in there I have multiple projects to work on. Still I manage at least an hour a day practice, although I'll admit occasionally I'll hit the recliner and don't get back up right away.Like Paul mentioned, he knows when he won't be up to it. I'm the same way.I occasionally let myself have a day off. That's ok so long as it's only occasional.

Will power is a LOT of it. Last year I had a fairly serious medical event in my life. I missed a month from work because of it, even then I was practicing the violin two weeks post surgical.This year I need 39 daily radiation treatments starting in Nov. as "salvage radiation to my pelvic bed. My long term outlook seems pretty good. I don't intend to let it stop me. Slow me down temporarily, yes.I won't stop practice unless I'm physically incapable to do it.

And herein lies another consideration, your health.Thankfully none of this affects my nervous system or coordination. If it did, I would be only using the Joshua Bell VSTi for my violin work (regrettably).

The important thing is, these things don't need to stop a person.

As adults there are things working against us and things in our favor.
We may not learn with the speed and precision of someone who started at 6yrs old, but we can still grok it if we are persistent.

Many variables play into the final outcome. I have had some advantages. Being a multi instrumentalist helps in learning any new instrument.I have worked in precision things with my hands. This doesn't improve specific violin skills,however it does make learning some of the skills much easier since I still have great dexterity into my older years. So far no arthritis.

I was fortunate to find a very good reasonably priced teacher who I see almost every week.

I'm taking one step at a time and enjoying the journey. My goal isn't to be a "knock your socks off" classical violinist.I honestly think this would probably be unrealistic. I'll be happy to have good tone and play maybe 500 or so jigs, reels and polkas all by memory. I'm up to over 50 and learning more!

I'm writing a novel here I know, but bear with me on this last thought-
The beginning adult can feel overwhelmed. I think we need to look beyond the facade. In most cases the teacher will have a violin light years ahead of a beginner. Even if you both play equal you won't sound as good an they will. You'll never play as well as someone who has played for 10-20 years. Give it 2-5 years minimum. This is true even for many younger players.It just takes time, there are no magic short cuts.You must hang with it.

October 24, 2017, 10:42 AM · I like what Jonathan Harnum wrote in his book: The Practice of Practice
" Ass Power is the ability to sit your butt down in the chair and get to work, and the willpower and commitment to keep your butt in the chair to get things done."
October 31, 2017, 5:53 AM · Sorry for being rather late to this thread (I've been trying to spend more of my limited time practicing my instruments and other things, which limits my keeping up with various sites such as but wanted to share something I saw relatively recently that I liked :

"Every day from roughly 10 until 1, Pullman sits at his desk in a monkish study at the top of the house and produces three pages, longhand. He has written three pages a day ever since he started writing. Habit, he is fond of saying, has written far more books than talent."
- from a profile of author Philip Pullman, in The New York Times Magazine .®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Metzler Violin Shop
Metzler Violin Shop


Yamaha YEV Series Violin
Yamaha YEV Series Violin

Dimitri Musafia
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Corilon Violins

American Viola Society Festival and Primrose International Viola Competition

Aria International Summer Academy

Ciaccone: The Bass of Time

Borromeo Music Festival

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Pro-Am Strings Ltd

Violin Lab

Wangbow Violin Bow Workshop