Yet Another Returning Adult

October 19, 2017, 7:47 PM · I am another returning adult that has been lurking on this site for some time. This site has been a invaluable resource in my return to playing the violin.

My story is pretty typical. I played throughout childhood, stopped when I went to college, played again for a year and a half in grad school about ten years after quitting, and then stopped again for a long stretch. The last pieces I played in grad school were the Mendelssohn and Mozart 4 concertos.

Ten months ago, I picked it up again when my daughter started taking lessons. Since have found myself enjoying it greatly, much more than i expected. After a greater than fifteen year gap in playing regularly, I found it surprisingly easy to get back into it (although the first four months were still pretty hard).

Unless I am completely deluding myself, I feel as though I am in many ways better than I have ever been, which is possibly the most surprising thing of all. I attribute this partly to better practicing habits, tips from this and other sites, a new violin, and a lot of inspiration from listening to music and reading about the experiences of others.

Still, I have been debating whether I should get a teacher or not. One the one hand, I feel as though a commitment to having lessons would put more pressure on me and possibly lessen my enjoyment. On the other hand, there is always the chance I could improve faster with a teacher, or that I have developed bad habits.

Generally, I feel most motivated to play repertoire that I love. I feel as though a teacher with a flexible schedule might suit me, someone without a hard commitment to lessons every week.

Anyone have any thoughts or suggestions? I am in the Maryland DC area, so hopefully there would be some number of possibilities.

Replies (18)

October 19, 2017, 8:28 PM · I am also a returning adult, starting in childhood and stopping after a year of college. I returned to violin about three years ago and have very much enjoyed it as a part of my daily life. I was fortunate to find an outstanding teacher right away, and would strongly suggest that if you want to learn as quickly as possible, and restore or develop your best technical proficiency. As for the commitment to lessons, it has not diminished my enjoyment at all, and in fact increases it by collaborating with someone who knows what I need, and when. My work and travel life is busy, so we schedule lessons as frequently as weekly, and as far apart as a month, but probably average every 2-3 weeks. I feel that is about right, since sometimes a week goes by too quickly. I too feel far more committed than I was as a youth, and I definitely have a better instrument. Other thoughts: Practice at least a little every single day - never miss. After spending a practice session in the weeds technically, play at least a little of your favorite repertoire, and maybe share what you are working on with your teacher. I am finding working through Wohlfahrt a very useful framework, and Kreutzer II for bowing variations. Best wishes and congratulations for getting back into it. Give us a progress report in a while.
Edited: October 19, 2017, 8:53 PM · Hi Justin, welcome! I'm a returner too and have been returned for more than 10 years after a 20+ years of hiatus. I love it so much that I took an early retirement to be a fulltime violin student.

Regarding whether or not to have a teacher, it might be most helpful to have some clear idea what kind of short-term and long-term goals you have. You may change your goals later down the road, but at least if you are clear what you want to get out of this "project/program" in near future, it'll be easier for you and your potential teacher to figure out how to work productively.

Many amateur violinists I know at your level don't take lesson but playing in community orchestra or chamber groups. They seem to have very interesting and enriched experiences.

For me, my main goal is to be as good a violinist I can be (an intentionally vague goal), but I've created a system that has pretty much locked me in for a long run. My focus is on building solo reps. I'm taking regular lessons. But my teacher is very busy with her teaching and performance schedules so I could go on for weeks without a lesson. With mutual understanding and trust, this has worked out really well. When my teacher is available, I take weekly lessons. When she is busy, I'd just keep working on polishing the old rep and learning new ones on my own. I practice daily for 3hr+, go to summer camps like pro-oriented kids do. I also play chamber music as often as I can, and I'm playing in an orchestra in community conservatory with weekly rehearsal.

So whichever route you choose to take, as long as you get yourself into a practice routine, you'll have a life of a violinist. After all, being a violinist is a way of life which is a privilege to have.

October 19, 2017, 9:08 PM · "On[e] the one hand, I feel as though a commitment to having lessons would... possibly lessen my enjoyment."

I don't think that would necessarily be the case. I enjoy having a teacher tremendously. Maybe I just got lucky, but the whole interaction is much more, lack of a better term, personable than 'teacher to child student' kind of lesson (based on the harsh teachers from my youth).

Developing bad habits - not a huge stumbling block. Perhaps it is a good thing you do get a teacher for at least a little while to help iron-out what ever you may have picked up. It will make your progress better later.

October 19, 2017, 9:33 PM · I'm also an adult returnee -- twice, after two decade-long breaks. I've been playing again for four years.

When I've been playing, I've always had a teacher. I find it structuring and motivating to take a weekly lesson, as long as my teacher understands that my practice time varies and sometimes so does my schedule (I travel for business, etc.). My teacher still is able to make good use of lesson time even when I haven't been able to properly prepare.

I live in Maryland near DC (in Bethesda) and am fairly plugged into the local music scene, so feel free to message me privately via the site, or via Facebook, if you want to chat about teachers, orchestras, chamber music, performance opportunities, etc.

October 20, 2017, 3:42 PM · Thanks, all. I think I just need to find the right teacher that can adjust for my needs. Many of the well-known teachers in this area seem to be targeting children.

I've had some strange experiences with teachers over the years. Most have been able to help me in some way, but also they didn't really identify or address my weak points. None of them really taught me how to practice or to attack technical problems other than just playing things over and over until I got better

After my return, I've become more analytical about how I practice, which has helped a lot. Also, there are a lot more resources online for going it alone than there was seventeen years ago (when I did take lessons for about a year).

My objective in playing now is to inspire my daughter in her playing and enjoy myself by playing repertoire that I love. I am also curious about how good I can get at this point and like to challenge myself to "realize my potential" (which seems pretty much impossible on one hour of practice a day!). Currently, I am working on the Sibelius concerto, which is more challenging than anything I've played so far.

October 20, 2017, 5:23 PM · With the exception of Lya Stern, most of the local DC/MD/VA teachers of pre-conservatory teens here will take advanced adult students. Sibelius certainly counts. (Feel free to message me privately.)
October 20, 2017, 5:36 PM · I envy you, Justin, for living so close to Lydia. She has wealth of expertise and knowledge, not just in violin. I wish I could be a bit closer to her geographically speaking.
Edited: October 20, 2017, 7:30 PM · Justin, I'm an adult returner with a story very similar to yours. I was fortunate to find a good teacher early on (he's in the local symphony), and taking lessons has been helpful. I took lessons every 1-2 weeks for much of the past year. More recently, I've been making progress on my own, and when I do start lessons again, I anticipate that it will be every 3 weeks or so. As an adult amateur, I can set my own pace.

I would echo what Yixi said about defining your musical goals. Mine is to be able to perform the complete Sonatas and Partitas from memory. I anticipate this will take a couple more years, but I'm okay even if it takes much longer.

Yixi, which summer camps have you found? I've looked at some, but many seem to have age ceilings.

Edited: October 20, 2017, 8:26 PM · Jason, you have lofty goals! Playing the Bach Chaconne is on my list too. I think playing from memory wouldn't be an issue for me as by the time I've learned a piece, I'd have been practiced long enough to play without looking at the music.

Regarding summer camps, I'm in Victoria, British Columbia. I went to the local conservatory's summer string academy and bootcamp last summer (http://vcm.bc.ca/music-programs/vcm-summer-academy/). I did it in all three weeks but some only took one or two weeks. The attendees were mostly kids, but adults are welcome and no age ceiling. I absolutely love it. I have also been to other summer camp such as West Coast Amateur Musician Society's Summer camps (http://wcams.com/camp/) a few times in the past and once at the Midsummer Musical Retreat (http://www.musicalretreat.org/) in Walla Walla, WA. Last year my husband and I went to Tuscany, Italy for a chamber music retreat. We love it so much that we'll likely to do it again next fall.

October 20, 2017, 8:56 PM · Another one for the dream of Sonatas and Partitas. I am not a returning adult. I am an adult beginner starting from zero, but the reason I decided to take violin is to reach the dream of being able to play and enjoy those Bach pieces. It will take as many years as necessary. No problem. I run ultramarathons and I know that each step takes you one step closer to the goal and 100 miles are just a multitude of steps.
October 20, 2017, 9:21 PM · I'm a little bit less of a goal-setter than the other folks here, I think. I want to get steadily better, but what "better" means at any given time has varied tremendously.

My goal right now is not to have everything go to hell when I'm nervous. :-)

I find that more short-term goals are better for me than long-term goals -- the short-term goals are what will drive me to pick up the violin and practice on any given day. As a chronic procrastinator, I find deadlines -- even the simple deadline of a weekly lesson -- to be really useful.

One hour is a solid amount of practice time if it's used effectively. You can make good progress on that, although the dedicated teenagers will likely make progress much more quickly.

I find that I tend to juggle too many violin-related projects, many of which don't make me a better player but are part of enjoying the hobby, like chamber music. (After all, part of the point of becoming a better player is to be able to do those other projects with less effort.) I think that playing with other people is a great motivator, too.

By the way, you'll find that many of the teachers who teach at the advanced levels do indeed teach students how to analyze and practice.

October 20, 2017, 9:57 PM · I am an older (returning/relearning) amateur violinist. A good teacher is great if you have access to one, however, I would recommend some of Simon Fischer's materials either way. I have found his "The Violin Lesson," "The Secrets of Tone Production" DVD and "Warming Up" book and DVD to be particularly helpful to me, and by what you said you are looking for, I think would also be very helpful to you. I certainly am not ruling out other Simon Fischer materials, but those are ones I have personal experience with.
Edited: October 20, 2017, 10:18 PM · It's great to hear about everyone's goals and ambitions, to know there are others out there on a similar personal journey!

My long term goals are to be able to perform at a high level my favorite pieces including the Beethoven, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, and Elgar concertos, as well as some of the solo Bach pieces like the Chaconne.

I enjoy the day to day practicing enormously, and when I am on vacation I will play two to three hours a day if I can. I wonder if I add more externally imposed structure whether I will feel it more of a burden. I seldom miss a day of practice, but then I also mix things up, in terms of tackling a new section or piece, addressing a problem, or polishing and memorizing an old section. I find this keeps me more motivated than simply tackling one thing after another in a sequential way.

On the other hand, achieving the level I want is certainly a very long term project, one that I hope can be accelerated by going to a teacher.

Edited: October 20, 2017, 10:35 PM · Yixi, thanks for the links!

Lydia: "My goal right now is not to have everything go to hell when I'm nervous. :-)" Ditto! I've read some books to try to help with this, including "Effortless Mastery" and "The Inner Game of Music". I've also been trying to find the time to do Noa Kageyama's "Bulletproof Musician" course.

Gary: Simon Fisher's materials are great. I've used "Scales" and "Basics", and I particularly like "Warming Up" because of its small size yet quasi-comprehensive scope.

Carlos: The Sonatas and Partitas have called (or recalled) many an adult amateur to the violin. The only one I performed as a kid was the Preludio from Partita 3, and I wasn't really into Bach that much. But now, the more I listen, the more inspiration I find.

Edited: October 20, 2017, 11:06 PM · I share some similar thoughts and concerns with Lydia.

Lessons are a great motivator for me to practice with better focus -- not only it keeps me to practice more regularly and more deliberately, but it also makes me I pay special attention to certain issues that come up during the week(s) before lesson so that I can ask my teacher to address in addition to other stuff come up during the lesson.

I also find that I've been spreading too thin -- chamber works, orchestra and solo recital pull me to different directions and eat up a lot of my time. As a recent retiree, jobless, but I'm working harder than ever. lol. What I enjoy the most is working on solo repertoires, but like Lydia said, it's part of music learning to know how to juggle and work with others.

Chamber works help me to listen to others better. I don't like just sight-reading through a whole bunch of stuff with others. I prefer learning my part (usually 1st violin) like I would with a concerto or sonata, and make sure I know my part pretty well by the time I play with others. It can be a bit annoying when members don't do their homework before coming to rehearsal, but at least I've learned my part so I don't consider time wasted.

Orchestra work is my least favorite. Often I wish I could just play my solo stuff that I really enjoy and wonder why I keep putting myself through long orchestra rehearsal hours playing stuff I was too excited about. When such moment came, I remind myself that orchestra playing is another set of skills I need to learn, and that I'm doing this because it builds character. As an adult returner, I have a lot of freedom in allocating my resources and in making various choices, including taking the "should pill" from time to time like a kid has to.

Oh, speaking of performance anxiety! I've got all the classical symptoms but I refuse to take beta blockers. I try to perform as much as I can, but it doesn't seem to get easier. So I treat every performance as a form of public practice or "mock performance". So I can laugh at my failures easily and move on. Really, the stake is so low, what's to be worried about?

October 21, 2017, 8:31 AM · Justin, I'm curious what about, quote, "I also mix things up, in terms of tackling a new section or piece, addressing a problem, or polishing and memorizing an old section. I find this keeps me more motivated than simply tackling one thing after another in a sequential way," seems incompatible with having a teacher.

Normally, for an advanced student (whether a teen or adult), a teacher will make broad requests: "Bring me the exposition of this concerto movement next week", for instance. That's a general directive, and it's expected that the advanced student will use their judgment as to how thin to spread the peanut butter of practice, so to speak, in terms of polishing some sections at the expense of others, or having to take the whole thing significantly down-tempo at the next lesson because while the notes are learned they're not yet smooth at a faster tempo, etc.

Sometimes the directive might be more specific, like "fix this set of runs". As an advanced student, you are expected to exercise the judgment to figure out how to allocate your practice time, and you can choose to ignore the directive and say, "Didn't have time to work on that this week", for instance. You might sometimes do so at your peril -- for instance, your teacher, knowing that you have a performance of this in X weeks, might tell you that you need more time to solidify this passage so you should really get cracking on it now.

As an advanced student, you'll likely be assigned a variety of things to work on. A concerto, showpiece, solo Bach, and one or two etudes would be pretty standard. I don't always get to everything that I'm assigned in a given week, but I practice less than you do, plus I have orchestra repertoire that I need to get note-perfect.

For example, at the moment, I have assigned: The Tchaikovsky concerto (I learned it earlier as a kid, save for the 3rd movement, which I'm doing now, and trying to bring the rest of it back up to performance level), two short works for an upcoming performance (Tchaikovsky's Meditation, Bolcom's Graceful Ghost), the entirety of the Bach B minor partita (the no. 1), and Paganini #17. At the moment, I am mostly ignoring everything other than the short works, and my orchestra rep, because the concerts are imminent.

October 21, 2017, 11:45 AM · Lydia, my current approach is to do a variety of things rather than fixate on mastering a piece sequentially. When I was young, my teachers would simply give me sections to work on, and when I was done with them, i would move on to the next section. But after I returned, I got bored with this approach.

Now, I mix things up, even on the same piece. After reading all the way through and getting a feel for things, I identify sections with different challenges. Then go back and tackle the piece by breaking things down. At times, I am reading a section, in which I am still getting the notes down, practicing, in which I am getting everything fluent, memorizing, and finally polishing, in which I am trying to get the tone, interpretation and phrasing right. The last two phases can take a long time, so I don't try to master everything at once; I return to sections after a while to work on them some more from a different perspective.

Right now, I am reading and learning the Tchaikovsky for "fun" while at the same time memorizing and polishing different sections of the Sibelius 1at and 3rd movements. While I don't have a fixed schedule, I do have the ultimate objective of perfecting everything. I eventually get around to all the parts to play them as an integrated whole.

What I am doing doesn't seem that different from you having multiple pieces at the same time, so maybe my habits aren't that different from what a teacher might assign. But I wonder if most teachers would assign the Sibelius and Tchaik simultaneously, though.

I have no deadlines, because I am not performing anytime soon. But if I transition back to really being able to being a "real" student, I would feel more pressure to structure my time and prioritize.

BTW, what is the best way to PM you? Your email on the site?

Edited: October 21, 2017, 5:55 PM · The way you practice is normal for an advanced student. The "assign specific little chunks" is a tactic for younger kids.

I don't think you'd likely find a teacher that would assign two concertos at once unless you were practicing an awful lot, or you had a specific set of deadlines where that would be necessary, or where there's a specific pedagogical reason for doing so. (My teacher does simultaneously assign two concertos at once, sometimes.)

Yes, you can reach me via my site email, or via Facebook Messenger.

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