When is it too late to start playing the violin if you want to become a professional violinist?

December 16, 2017, 1:56 AM · I am currently a 13 year old teenager. I have started playing the violin about two years ago, and from then I have always wanted to play the violin for a living. I do pretty well in academics and have won numerous awards from my school. That being said, I haven't dedicated my entire life to only playing the violin. I still manage to practice around 1~2 hours a day, and I play the violin with a strong passion. The two things that make me really happy are playing the violin, and listening to classical music. My teacher has even told me that I am the fastest learner that he has ever taught, which made me regret starting to play the violin at around 11 years old. When I told my parents about my decision of becoming a professional violinist, they laughed and said that it is way too late. They mentioned that if my career was going to be a violinist, I had to start playing the violin at around the age 6 or so. Is it never too late to become a violinist, or should I focus more on academics to achieve a different career?

Replies (260)

Edited: December 16, 2017, 6:12 AM · I'm an amateur but I think the pros on here would probably say that they'd need to know what you're working on and how you sound. Maybe you could put together a video of your latest and greatest.
Edited: December 16, 2017, 5:50 AM · I think it depends on what you mean by "becoming a professional violinist".

Pro violinists exist at many levels and have many different lifestyles, and each requires a different level of preparation. You're not too late, but you have to weigh the opportunity costs. One to two hours of practice a day isn't likely to get you where to go; it's a nice level for hobbyists. Two hours at minimum, and preferably four, every single day, of focused, dedicated, fully-alert, critical practice, is what you should be doing if you want to prep for a career -- and one that probably won't pay well. If that doesn't sound like what you want to be doing with your life, this is not the career path for you.

Some people pursue a music education degree (a BME), which qualifies them to teach music in public schools. Many of them become general music teachers (for example, teaching elementary-school music), rather than strings teachers per se. Pay is like other public-school teachers (i.e., usually not much, but enough to live on modestly). They often don't do any paid performing (other than perhaps the occasional wedding), though they may play in community orchestras and the like for fun. If you work hard throughout high school, you can probably be well prepared to get into a decent music-ed program.

Many people who get either a BME, music as a liberal art degree (BA in Music), or even a performance degree (BM Violin Performance) at a lower-quality school, will go on to privately teach students, mostly children, for a living. They might or might not do any paid performing, just like the public-school teachers. Private teaching can be fairly lucrative for in-demand teachers, but the overall pay may also be quite low if you can't fill your schedule. Some people at this level hold a "day job" that has flexible hours, in order to make enough of an income to support themselves. If you work hard through high school and college, you can likely achieve this.

Some of the people who get a performance degree are freelancers -- they make some income from paid gigs. Many of them play in "freeway philharmonics" -- orchestras that pay per-service (you're paid for each rehearsal or performance), but don't pay enough to live on (and do not provide benefits, like health insurance). Most players of this type teach as well (for many, most of their income will derive from teaching, not performing). Some also hold a day job. It's a difficult way to make a living, but it's doable, though more when you're young, before you start a family. If you work hard through high school and college, you would have a good shot at getting into a better graduate program. That would probably give you a reasonable chance to reach this level.

Some extremely skilled performers are able to get full-time symphony jobs, or tenured university positions; they will usually also teach privately. A few combine a modest number of solo performances with high-level (i.e., expensive and busy) private teaching studios. They usually make a decent middle-class, professional living. People playing at this level are a small percentage of the pros out there. Your odds of making it at this level are low -- they are low even for those who start as small children. If you want to make it to this level, you will want to immediately ramp your practice up to 4 hours a day, and you'll probably practice a minimum of that for the next 15+ years of your life. This can be an expensive route as well -- many will get at least a master's degree in performance, and maybe an artist certificate or DMA or the like also.

13 is not too young to have a career discussion with your teacher, who is hopefully someone who normally prepares students for conservatory auditions. (If they aren't, you'll need a teacher switch.) You need to see what the roadmap to your desired playing level looks like -- and you need to track your progress against those milestones.

Alternatively, if you're smart and good at academics, work hard at them, go to a good college, major in something that is likely to lead to a well-paid career, and choose a job that doesn't eat all your time and energy. Keep practicing 1 to 2 hours a day as you have been, and study with a good teacher. By the time you finish college, you'll be a skilled amateur. You can practice and play in the evenings and weekends after your job, and enjoy music without the pressures of doing it for a living.

I'll note that if you get a music degree, it's just as good (or bad) as any other liberal arts degree for getting a job, or getting into grad school. I meet plenty of people who got a performance degree, maybe spent a few years trying to make a living as a pro, and then career-switched into something else, often by going to grad school in a radically different field. Some of them keep playing; others abandon music entirely. So it's all right to give a music career a shot, and then switch to do something else if that plan fails, as long as your academics are strong throughout.

December 16, 2017, 6:06 AM · Brian - your musical life-history is so similar to my own aged 13 - same starting age, same motivation and enthusiasm, same hours of practice, similar academic ability. Where we may start to differ is that I never actually enjoyed practising technique as distinct from playing the music. Consequently I soon decided that a professional career really wouldn't be a sensible choice. Now half a century later I feel immensely lucky to have discovered such a fantastic hobby.
December 16, 2017, 7:00 AM · It is not impossible.
44 years ago I participated in a violin masterclass under Claire Hodgkins, who was then Heifetz's assistant at the USC Jascha Heifetz Masterclasss course. In addition to "outsiders" like me a number of the participants were also in the Heifetz USC course, studying to become professional violinists- and all playing at an incredible level. I was a relative duffer and the oldest person in the room, except for Hodgkins.

One of these Heifetz-"kids" was an 18 year old girl who said she had started playing violin at age 13. I remember noticing that she had really thin hands, probably 2/3 the width of mine. She "went" first and did a whole range of 3 octave scales, scales in thirds, octaves, fingered octaves, tenths and finished with an exquisite performance of the Bruch concerto.

It is certainly rare, but It is possible!

Edited: December 16, 2017, 7:06 AM · Possible but very very difficult without your parents going "all in" with you on this. They will need to understand why you're setting aside the rest of your high school existence (plays, sports, clubs, dating, part-time job, extra AP courses, etc.) to practice the violin four hours a day. And there are financial considerations too. Violin is an expensive pursuit. If you've got all of that already then, well, maybe you're one of the lucky ones.
December 16, 2017, 7:25 AM · Lydia's advice is spot on. Her comment about the odds of success at the professional orchestra level being low even for those who began as young children is also accurate.

I will add that I do know one high-level symphony player who began violin at age 12, but he is very much an outlier.

A four-year degree in music or even violin performance is no more or less than a BA in philosophy, art history, English, or any other field of study that doesn't have a clear professional path at the undergraduate degree level. You can still go to law school; with the right prereqs (will take some extra time) and a good MCAT, you can go to medical school; you can apply for any job which specifies only that a four-year degree is required.

Teaching private lessons can provide a modest living once your studio has been built up though usually it takes longer to do this the fewer credentials you start out with. If you enjoy teaching it can be a rewarding way to spend all or part of your life. If you don't enjoy teaching, it will start out as drudgery and only go downhill from there.

Edited: December 16, 2017, 8:22 AM · Becoming dedicated to study violin doesn't mean you give up everything else. You will still have time for academics, doing chores, and playing a game of street hockey now and then.

As for what age is it to late to start violin to make it a profession- you're not even close so that doesn't even need be on your mind. You've alreasdy been playing for a couple years, you're not dragging your feet, you're fine.

December 16, 2017, 9:13 AM · Imagine learning to count on your fingers in eighth grade. You might still become a mechanical engineer, but you're competing with others who have already completed a year of algebra.
Edited: December 16, 2017, 10:09 AM · Lydia said it all... it ultimately depends on the style u want to play and gaols you want to reach..

It s still possible to be a decent classical musician. I know a lot of classical musicians for whom the firdt 6-7 years were extremely slow and kinda wasted, so if you already start working hard from the get go , there s a chance to catch up

For other styles of music, u may not have to practice as hard. I know professional sought after violinists who have started at age 16, age 19, etc...

Here s one who started teaching himself at 17 before taking lessons at 19:


He has an international career and gives workshops around the world

Here s another who started i. His mid 30s!!!


December 16, 2017, 10:28 AM · It is not late, I once met an Italian violinist, has recorded for dynamic, soloist of i solisti veneti, Lucio Degani, started at 12, and winner of PremioPaganini 1991, another Italian violinist, Massimo Quarta, started at 11 when he entered inferior course in Conservatorio Tito Schipa in Lecce. And I have found some videos of Daniel Kurganov, he started at 16, but amazing indeed, with flexible bowing and shift, playing BWV1004 like professional one, he maybe have a good teacher or, blessed by soul from other world.
If you want to become highly professional violinist, you need some talent, some fortunes, some good teachers, deep love for this career and the bless of God, you will encounter many problems as you grow up then you shall think and drill in order to perfection, once you overcome it then you move fourth....
In fact, apart from some musical families, average Italians started quite late due to the permitted age for the entrance of public conservatories, because conservatories are quite cheap and systematic, one can get instrumental course, complementary piano course as well as solfeggiò with only hundreds of euros per year, as a result the average family will not pay additional private courses for their children especially in early days (when Italy was not that rich), but the age for entrance is minimum 9 and maximum 14, for this reason kids begin quite late compared with other countries.
I know in some areas kids can start from 3 or 4 e.g. Japan, China, Korea, Russia, a cause of different philosophical views of violin pedagogy.
Edited: December 16, 2017, 10:33 AM · I feel like it is impossible to say anything in general at this point. I would even say it would be tough at this point in time to tell an individual whether they personally have started too late for what they want to achieve. There are just so many confounding variables. Let's say two people wanted to achieve the exact same thing. Then, a complex constellation of genetic factors and their interaction with their environment will be at play, which ,we, at the moment, understand very poorly, and there are likely thousands of tiny variables involved in the difference between "talented" and "untalented".

I am not optimistic that we'll be able to sit a person down and tell them where their individual cutoff is for what they want to achieve, and how much they need to practice, whether that's through a brain scan, DNA test, or questionnaire any time in the next century, thought I am not ruling out the possibility of a surprise breakthrough.

December 16, 2017, 10:46 AM · Sound advice from all posters. They know what they are talking about.

What is your -vision- of a violin pro??

Fact is that you did start later than most serious players.

You might consider this: is it easier to switch from a professional violinist (your version) to a doctor (or someone who succeeded academically) or from doctor to professional violinist?

Edited: December 16, 2017, 11:07 AM · Kan,

I think that with our current culture, it is far easier to switch from being a violinist to a doctor than the other way around. For one, the violin world has so much more ageism entrenched in it, so anyone who is already a doctor starting violin would be considered a no go as far as being a pro is concerned from the get go in most people's books. That is probably the biggest factor. It is probably slightly easier to become a violinist after being a doctor if you had a prior violin background, or kept playing to some degree throughout your medical tenure, but not by much. It is a big decision to walk away from the violin, because returning and building a career seems to be much harder.

Also, there is much more encouragement from society to join the medical profession in the first place, as it is viewed as "more useful", and a "better return on investment", so wanting to give that up for something as "low class" and "risky" as violin would probably earn you a lot of discouragement from a lot of people. Furthermore, there is no predictable path in the way of credentials to becoming a violinist, the way there is for becoming a doctor. Sure, many bios at international competitions look almost identical, but it's not as if you can say, "Look, I have my DMA, now I can perform in Carnegie hall, no questions asked".

I also wonder if the fact that violin is almost always more fine motor based than any medical feat ( except perhaps neurosurgery ), can slow things down. You just can't rush muscle memory, but you can jam tons of facts and formulas in your head in a short period of time, and retain them with constant usage.

Though I think it is an interesting comparison because both involve similar amounts of training if you really think about it. The violin may even take longer for most people. I don't think most people really grasp how much training it takes to (maybe) become a great violinist.

December 16, 2017, 11:42 AM · Here is a sad story about someone who never started playing the violin.Click on the link to get the full story.

Retired post office branch manager Nancy Hollander, 97, died at her home of natural causes Tuesday, after spending her life completely unaware that she was one of the most talented musicians of the past century and possessed the untapped ability to become a world-class violin virtuoso. https://local.theonion.com/97-year-old-dies-unaware-of-being-violin-prodigy-1819571799

December 16, 2017, 1:55 PM · It's definitely easier to go from being a professional musician to being a physician. There are lots of people who have done that.

I'll note that most of the advice is very US-centric. If you live in a country with a different sort of competitive environment, the requirements and possible career paths can be very different.

December 16, 2017, 4:31 PM · Very nice, Bruce!
December 16, 2017, 5:47 PM ·

Anyway, "professional" is a vague word. I know a girl who started cello in her twenties and now plays with a black metal band, is she a professional? Looks like the gigs are enough to makes enough a living, for now... But I'm sure she could never make it to a classical orchestra.

December 16, 2017, 6:15 PM · WOW! And in THE ONION, no less - it must be true!
December 16, 2017, 6:35 PM · hmm, that's good... define "professional" --- rock-N-roll or Opera; oil painter or sketch artist; taxi driver or semi-driver; stage, movie, or tv actor
December 16, 2017, 8:41 PM · Good advice from all. At 13, it's hard to decide what your career path's going to be, especially if you have multiple passions. If you love playing the violin, practice as much as you think you need to in order to be successful and make good progress, even if it's just 1-2 hours a day, whatever path you choose. Everyone studies differently. There may be people who are on a pre-professional track who practice less than average for their level and do just as well. Then there may be other people who practice lots quantity wise but still suck. These people may be rare, though. Don't give up your other passions, as they can turn into career paths too. You might want to search this site for similar threads, as they do exist. Also, I do know of late-starters who are on successful pre-professional tracks. You might also want to get some teaching experience by tutoring financially/location disadvantaged people or kids in public school string programs. That way, you can decide if teaching is a good choice or not, and then you can better decide if music is a good career path for you or not.
December 16, 2017, 9:50 PM · It's not impossible - I know someone who started at 11 & now has a very successful career - however, they were very talented, and absolutely obsessed with music from the get-go and also had access to the best teachers available.

Don't let people discourage you; but at the same time, take heed of what they're saying: it's hard even for those of us who started at a young age, so you are currently at a disadvantage. This means you have to work harder than everyone else.

If your teacher has significant experience in the world of professional musicians, have an honest talk to him/her about what your prospects are & how you can get there.

Also, where do you live? You don't have to answer this, but consider that the competition in NYC is going to be far different from the competition in, say, rural New Zealand.

December 16, 2017, 10:26 PM · Also, because everyone studies differently, keep in mind that the rule "the longer you play (in # of years), the better you are" is not rigid. There are many people in the world who start at a young age and still suck 10 years later, but there are also late starters who reach astonishingly high, and sometimes near-college, levels in their last years of high school. Don't let anything discourage you. Just try your best at everything you love including school, and see what happens a few years later. Plus, you don't have to start college right after high school.
Edited: December 17, 2017, 3:49 AM · Even the OP's parents think it's too late. IMO we should change the discussion into what the OP could do to persuade them to finance his violin studies for another 10 years or so (assuming they are the only source he could depend on).

To the OP: You will be disadvantaged as a late starter. That was what happened to me 20 years ago with my dream of becoming a classical painter - and I was glad I abandoned it. But my philosophy of life is it's never too late to learn something.

December 17, 2017, 7:36 AM · When is it too late to start playing the violin if you want to become a violinist?
Remove "professional" from your question and focus on journey, not the goal. You may be surprised by the number of great people, and the amount of happiness and joy you encounter along the way.
December 17, 2017, 7:37 AM · You have a violin. You're practicing most days. You have a teacher, I suspect school. Tell your teacher you want to up the game. See if she is willing to give you an extra class after school. Then ask your teacher to talk with your parents to let them know you are not too old to seriously head toward a profession with the violin. If that doesn't work, looks like your extra curricular activity will be playing the violin. Just don't let your grades slip, academics are important too.

December 17, 2017, 11:28 AM · I like the suggestion to ask your school teacher to stay after school with you. Better make sure (s)he can give you a ride home, though, because you're going to miss the bus. Make sure that's not a violation of school system policies too (in our school system coaches cannot give athletes rides unless it's an emergency). Oh yes ... and don't forget to offer to PAY the individual the going rate for private violin teachers in your area.

On a more serious note, if you want to prepare for conservatory, then you really need a teacher who has a track record. Ask your teacher how many students (s)he has prepared for conservatory entrance, where his/her students have matriculated, at what age they started studying violin, and how much they practiced.

December 17, 2017, 11:36 AM · In the next five years, listen to your parents, practice, check out your competition (i.e. Kids your age playing as soloists with orchestras on YouTube). By the time you are 18, you should know.
December 17, 2017, 11:38 AM · Since this topic has been covered, I'll just add one thought for those considering a professional career:

There is a difference between enjoying the violin (or even having a profound love for the instrument and its repertoire), and having the NEED to perform in front of others.

These are two very different things.

Many people love music but either feel indifferent to performing, or even dislike it, but convince themselves they'll learn to like it or just get used to it if they have to to be a professional. Or they have some degree of stage fright and hope that somehow (by reading the right books or taking the right drugs) they'll get used to that.

I would suggest that if you really want to be a professional musician (and have the talent and work ethic), then only do it if you have a deep need to play in front of people and possess a profound lack of inhibition. Many people have the former, but lack the exhibitionist desires. I don't think they're all that happy being professional musicians. Even in orchestras.

December 17, 2017, 1:15 PM · Scott peripherally touches another key point, which is that doing something -- anything -- as a hobby, is profoundly different than doing it professionally.

Many of the things that can make a hobby a joy are absent professionally, and many things that are required professionally can impose burdens that limit or dampen the joy that you get from doing the thing. Often you may find that something brings you more joy as an amateur for a few recreational hours, than it does in the day to day grind of doing it as a job.

As someone who has only been playing 2 years, I'm guessing that the OP has actually not been exposed to many of the *hobby* aspects of playing the violin, and has zero exposure to the professional side.

December 17, 2017, 2:10 PM · but anything is possible:

Edited: December 17, 2017, 2:18 PM · Anything is possible. But some things are more likely than others. And some have likelihoods that are vanishing to the point of being impractical. I'd like to play tennis in the US Open. I own a racquet and I've had lessons!!
December 17, 2017, 4:38 PM · I just realized that the originator of this thread is the same as the originator of the I-cleaned-my-violin-with-baby-wipes thread.
Edited: December 17, 2017, 7:17 PM · Scott, having grown up around professional musicians & students, the type of person you're talking about is part of a tiny minority.

Almost everyone has experienced stage fright, including those who go on to have professional careers. For instance my teacher, who has been in the same orchestra for 25 years, says she still sometimes gets nervous *in the orchestra* (never mind playing solo).

As for 'exhibitionist desires', most orchestral players say it's more about playing with the group rather than showing off to the audience. In fact people who think this much about themselves are rarely good ensemble players. At the end of the day your job is to follow instructions for the greater good of the ensemble.

To clarify, I'm referring to orchestral jobs here because apart from teaching it's where most of us will end up (if we're lucky).

December 17, 2017, 8:48 PM · Paul, at this point I think you would even have more chance of winning a Nobel Prize than becoming another Martina Navratilova :-))

Reminds me of one great quote from Ratatouille: 'Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.'

But who knows, *anything is possible*, pigs may fly, Pau may play, and I may sing.

December 17, 2017, 10:00 PM · yeah, well I'll never give-in because of a few talented pessimists. Oh and I did work on 37 of those flying hogs by the way. Yes you may...
December 17, 2017, 11:49 PM · The great thing here is that the extra work you'll need do to explore this path will not be wasted. Even if you decide at age 18 (or 14, or 21, etc.) to forego a career as a violinist, you'll still have laid the groundwork for a lifetime of personally fulfilling amateur music-making.

Just think carefully about the tradeoffs that you're willing to make in order to practice more/better. Shorting your academic potential should not be one of them. Keep winning those awards at school.

December 18, 2017, 1:52 AM · I think the chance of wining Nobel prize and the chance of becoming virtuosi vary from country to country, I have long noticed that some countries are better at science and technology, as a result there are more Nobel laureates especially in the field of physics, physiology and chemistry, if their population can be taken into consideration for example Sweden, Switzerland, Netherlands, Denmark, UK and Germany... on the contrary, some countries are not so consequently there are fewer Nobel laureates. Some countries have more Nobel laureates than well-known violinists, while some countries, on the other hand, have more violinists but have nearly none Nobel laureates.
December 18, 2017, 2:11 AM · I agree with Katie, and would even go further - there are so many benefits to growing up as a musician: work ethic, creativity, problem solving skills, you get used to performing in front of others, etc. etc.
December 18, 2017, 3:00 AM · @tutti In my opinion winning a Nobel Prize is certainly a thousand miles more difficult than being a virtuoso. This opinion, of course, is open to debate, and depends on the definition of what a virtuoso is. (Am I risking a prolonged side-thread?:-))

In case you didn't know, my comparison for Paul was between winning a Nobel prize and becoming another Martina Navratilova, a tennis legend (who can't play the violin btw :-)). Not to say that becoming a sports legend is more difficult than winning a Nobel prize, but given our ability, age, and physical condition, there could be thousands of activities that each of us has no capability to do. I could even say, for me, winning a Nobel Prize is *easier* than becoming a operatic singer - simply because I don't have the voice, and each time I sang, my sister would think someone was torturing a dog. Needless to say, my chance of winning a Nobel prize would still be practically zero though.

Gemma, I understand your want to encourage the OP. My opinion is to advise the OP to get as much of a happy life as possible, no matter what pursuits he has in life. We simply can't dismiss the probability that his life as a doctor or scientist would be happier than that of a pro violinist.

At least the former would be more likely to guarantee a decent life financially. So it is important that we pointed out the potential downsides for the OP to decide, especially in light of his parents' discouraging opinion. Even if we ignored the fact that his parents would provide for him financially, we still have to acknowledge that they are in immensely better positions to assess the OP's chance of success than us strangers on the web. That's why I was a bit hesitant in giving him the best optimism.

There are of course benefits of becoming a musician, and the same is true for any other professions, as long as you love what you do.

Edited: December 18, 2017, 3:42 AM · There is absolutely nothing wrong with striving for a musical career, unless you neglect your academics to the point where no other options are available. I'm not encouraging the OP, rather I'm recognising that he's unlikely to change his life goals (even at 13) based on the views of internet strangers, regardless of who they claim to be. Knowing this, the best advice is to walk into this fully aware of the sacrifices he's going to have to make, and the reality of his chances at succeeding. This is why I asked him to speak to his teacher, assuming they know what they're talking about.

December 18, 2017, 3:48 AM · *There is absolutely nothing wrong with striving for a musical career*

That I absolutely agree.

December 18, 2017, 4:58 AM · I totally agree with Katie that you can still work your tail-piece off and become a very fine violinist which you will enjoy for the rest of your life even if you end up in medicine or engineering or (gasp!) politics. And I agree with whoever said that you don't have to go to college straight out of high school. Just so you understand the risks of putting aside *everything* else for the sake of the violin. Not only will the violin demand your time, but it will demand your *best* time and your mental energy. Having enough of that left over to maintain your academics is a challenge, but building up your mental stamina is not such a bad thing either. That's the one thing that I sometimes see lacking in the college freshmen that I teach. They're capable of a great deal, and they're fine people too (yes, really!), but some haven't yet learned how to organize their work and concentrate. Violin will teach you that.
Edited: December 18, 2017, 6:30 AM · The question being asked is about playing professionally, but pursuing a different career while maintaining violin playing as a hobby (or part-time employment) is certainly an option. I think this is what the OP is roughly doing at present.
December 18, 2017, 5:26 AM · The OP said he started two years ago. In a new thread, he said he's been playing about a year.


Which is true? Are we being spammed with "fake news" discussion posts?

December 18, 2017, 5:34 AM · I think some of our teenage posters distinguish between when they started and when they "really" started, where the latter is "when they started to take it seriously" or "when they started taking private lessons", or the like. I suspect they do it to make their accomplishments / rate of advancement, seem more meaningful.
December 18, 2017, 5:55 AM · Well I did start at 13 and I am working professionally. I can say it's possible but first have to really want it and be prepared to work. Auditioning for college after 5 years playing when you are up against lots of people who have been playing 12 years with the finest of opportunities is pretty daunting and not for the feint of heart. There are certainly disadvantages of starting late but there are some advantages in that you think more about what you are doing at that age rather than just following.
What you will find is that people embroiled in the classical world tend to see the situation as a narrow tunnel where there is a race to become the top classical soloist. 2nd place in the race is playing in an orchestra or chamber music and 3rd place is teaching. Music is a much bigger career than that and violin features in good quality music of all kinds. You need a high level of technique for whatever you do but overall you need a high level of artistry.
Having said that, music is a tough career - don't do it unless you have to.
Some years ago I had a violin student that was starting about the same age as us. He had a great attitude and was working hard. He was doing pretty well but he would have had a lot of catching up to do if he wanted to be a violinist. Then, he got a guitar and in about a month was amazing on it - went on to become a professional guitarist and is now exceptional. I'm sure if he had stayed on violin he would have done nice things with it but clearly he has more opportunities haven taken the guitar path. I slightly envy him for his choice! Many top guitarists started late but few violinists, I hate to tell you!
December 18, 2017, 5:58 AM · I wouldn't care much about the truthfulness of a post or a personality in an online setting.
December 18, 2017, 6:51 AM · Everything has been said, I’ll still throw in my two cents.

I say it depends what you mean by becoming a ‘professional violinist’.
I define professional as that from which you derive all, most, or at least a healthy chunk of your income.

There are various ways to make money as a ‘professional violinist’.

You could become a teacher. As you may have read on an infamous thread here, the barrier of entry to teaching is quite low. Now of course it depends on what level you teach at, but I’m sure that in 5 to 10 years (or less), with sufficient practice and learning, you could reach a very profefficient level which could allow you to teach students of various levels. If you live in an area where there is good demand, if you reach out for customers, and do a good job at keeping them, you can make a living. Stay in the profession a few decades, and strive to consistently improve your skills in the domain, and you might very well become one of those super-teachers who charges 800$ the hour, or end up in a well-known and well-paying institution.
The real question is, as Mary pointed out, do you have a passion for teaching, and are you willing to spend the next decades doing that?

You could obtain a position in a full-time orchestra. There are a lot of professional orchestras all around the world, and the demand for violin players is always very high. And the level of proefficiency needed to get into a professional orchestra is not nearly as high as some v.commies claim it to be. You only need to play the audition program in tune, in rythm, with a good sound, while doing everything that’s written in the score to win an orchestral audition. Sure, if you want to be concertmaster, the demands will be a bit higher than that. Also, the level will certainly be a bit higher in auditions for the Boston Symphony than they would be for an orchestra like the Spokane Symphony, but then again, nothing is stopping you from progressively upgrading from lower to higher tier orchestras, while growing your experience and skill levels. I know a lot of people that get lazy when they enter an orchestra. Boom, they see it as ‘the end’. They can just sit there, play some of the notes written in front of them, and that’s it, paycheck. Especially since most of the conductors out there are egoistical and unqualified narcissists that certainly don’t inspire players to reach for new heights.
But if you love playing in an orchestra, and have the drive to go from your local orchestra to the Boston Symphony, go ahead, you will have an edge over the competition.
In any case, in 10 years, with 4-5 hours of daily deliberate practice, with some talent and a good teacher, you could very well land a job at a well-paying orchestra. The question is, is that your dream job? :p

Lastly, there’s the soloist path. Notice that in all of the above replies, not one person mentioned this path. It’s a taboo subject, and for a reason. There are 2 main ways of becoming a professional soloist. The first is to play well, better than most violinists, and have connections, opportunities, a charisma, luck, money, looks or whatnot.
The second is to have such an obsession and drive to improve to the edge of your capacities and become the best at your craft, that you play so well people can’t ignore you.
Now of course there’s talent involved, there’s environment and all that stuff, but a lot of people, more than you think, have favorable conditions in those areas nowadays.
There’s a lot of very talented folks out there, who have great teachers, supportive parents and who could become legendary violinists. But they don’t. Why? Because it’s hard, and it takes an adamantium-hard will.

So there you go. You have a passion for teaching? Teach.
You have a love of playing in orchestras? Do that.
You have the immense discipline and crazy obsession of becoming a wonderful violinist? Or maybe you get to a good enough level, and then have factors like charisma, connections or other things that help you? You could become a soloist.

That’s if you want to be a ‘professional violinist’.

In any case, you’re still young, so explore the world and try out new things. One day (or already now), you may find something that you not only love doing, but something you are willing to go through a lot of pain and effort to get good at. And if that thing makes you a good living, that’s a bonus! :)

Edited: December 18, 2017, 8:47 AM · "But if you love playing in an orchestra, and have the drive to go from your local orchestra to the Boston Symphony, go ahead, you will have an edge over the competition."

What edge? Besides the fact that members of the BSO are tenured and are unlikely to leave unless there are better positions, 5 years-olds around the world are starting on the violin every day some of whom will eventually graduate from top schools such as Julliard and Curtis almost all of whom will compete for a rare opening in the BSO. Does one actually think ageing violinists from a Freeway Phharmonic will have a chance in a *fair* audition ?

December 18, 2017, 8:10 AM · I had to chuckle at, "And the level of proefficiency needed to get into a professional orchestra is not nearly as high as some v.commies claim it to be. You only need to play the audition program in tune, in rythm, with a good sound, while doing everything that’s written in the score to win an orchestral audition." [I left the typos in the quote.]

Sure. Under intense pressure, you need to be able to play your audition repertoire effectively flawlessly (degrees of slight imperfection permissible depends on the level of the orchestra), and you need to do those things better than the N number of candidates who compete for the post.

Easier said than done.

December 18, 2017, 8:45 AM · No one thinks one has an edge in getting into the NBA/NFL just because one has played basketball/football for a long time. Violin playing is as much a physical activity as anything else and age has a huge impact on one's learning/playing.
December 18, 2017, 9:26 AM · ‘You need to play your audition repertoire flawlessly [...] and do those things better than the N number of candidates who compete for the post’

Well if you play flawlessly under pressure, (which one can learn to do by the way) there’s no playing better.

David, the ‘edge’ I’m talking about, is one of experience.
Let’s say the OP practices really hard for the next 5 years. However good he gets, he probably won’t be able to get right away into the BSO, so he might go work at a lower-tier orchestra first, not necessarily a freeway one. What I’m saying, is a lot of people, when they get good enough to enter a full-time orchestra, stop actively working to further improve.
So let’s say the OP gets into some orchestra. While there, he keeps growing his skill-set, and getting better at his craft, all the while getting live experience from working in an orchestra. As his level gets better, he starts doing auditions for bigger orchestras, and eventually, and hopefully, with enough work, gets into a top-tier orchestra.
The edge is over those who stop working on themselves when they win some audition.

Edited: December 18, 2017, 10:06 AM · Roman, I might probably agree with you if members of the BSO have to reaudition every year to keep their job!

But in reality, tenured members of the BSO ( and other big 5 orchestras ) are protected as long as they don't mess up very badly playing their orchestral parts (CMs and principals are under greater pressure, yes). And then there are those 20 years olds fresh out of top schools, hungry and have been spending their entire lives working for that audition. As many professionals have mentioned here, one simply cannot be in audition mode all the time, not with other things happening in ones life as one gets into middle age.

In the end, people who are less motivated than you and over whom you might have some advantage (highly unlikely since tenured members of the BSO are very very good to begin with) are protected from competition and you still have to compete with people who are more motivated than you and are likely better players ( at least better prepared) for a diminishing number of openings.

December 18, 2017, 10:23 AM · Hi Will Willy, I think Nobel laureates are equal to the chance of being top virtuosi in a given decade, and average virtuosi demand less than Nobel laureates, maybe equal to general intellectual or scholars in a given field, though they are different occupations, but chance and demanding are still similar if can be compared.
In my opinion, violin playing demands more in motor system, while pure science and technology requires less in motor system of body but more in the brain, in order to reach top, practices are indispensable for both occupations. Different from science and technology, instrumental playing is like a skill thus requires more in terms of age and flexibility, but ordinary skills can be required by average person by means of hours of practices and advance deliberately without doubt, regardless of adulthood or not, if OP’s professional standard sets in some concerti for example Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruch even Paganini I think it is achievable though ten or even fifteen years are required, some works OP can finish but the performance of OP will be identical to those of top virtuosi? That’s a big problem.
Nobel prize, on the other hand, have no age limit, while many violin competitions still have age limit, I think it is because this circle can only provide limit position for rising stars, thus younger candidates with equal skills are preferred, while Nobel prize are awarded to those with higher contributions regardless of age, as many Nobel laureates age from 50 to 60, by that age, violin virtuosi will experience unavoidable declines in techniques, thus their career is set from 15-17 to 45-50, for most Nobel laureates, they choose their task when enrolled into university (>18) and work for twenty or thirty years, in fact the demand for time (about 20-30 years) is similar but the interval is different.
In aspect of competition, I think violinist circle is not the same as science and technology, there are many kids learning maths, physics, chemistry as they enter primary or secondary school, nearly all citizens have been trained by knowledge and by examination, and the majority of them enrolled by universities choosing these subjects as their profession, while there are only small percentage of kids are trained by violin playing, especially professionally, therefore in a normal society there are more people with fine knowledge of science and technology but only small number of people know music, let along violin performance at some considerable level, if all kids were trained by violin performance in western countries just like the Chinese and Korean preparing for college entrance examination since age 6, the field of violin virtuosi would have be altered, but a normal society cannot provide so many positions for those trained, professional virtuosi. With the enlargement of aging population, maybe competition for violin virtuosi will alleviate...
December 18, 2017, 11:11 AM · I feel bad about this "laughing" the op was subject to. At this point, I have all but rejected age-old notions claiming age matters-being "pro" is a tough quest for infant-leaners and teenagers alike. It only matters as far as music-world expectations, but these have been proved wrong more than just once or twice. Of course, and as aforementioned, the commitment (and perhaps a great deal of fortune) must be there.

As I see it from an ideal point of view, being a violinist overshadows pro vs amateur. There are differences for sure, but I feel the amateur can become a more than good violinist, and the professional's work routine should not become drudgery. There should be no shame in either option.

(Nothing wrong in not being a big orchestra violinist while still being a professional, either. Some people make it to be as if only being a soloist or big orchestra violinist means "making it"-anything else is "failure", and not worth "pursuing music". I profoundly disagree-it is important that many high-level violinists that are not either of these two categories abound.)

Enjoy the Journey-don't leave this beautiful musical world, Dear OP, whatever you ultimately choose to do. Also, don't let others' "laughter" get in the way of whatever you may want to achieve.

Best Wishes

December 18, 2017, 12:17 PM · Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention another thing, chamber music!
December 18, 2017, 2:52 PM · I suspect it's difficult to understand what it's like to do pro orchestra auditions in a globally-competitive market (like the US) without having had the experience of what it's like. This forum's got enough pros at various levels who, as far as I can tell, have nothing but respect for the difficulty of the process. Nathan Cole (first associate CM of the LA Philharmonic) has devoted quite a bit of blog time and videos to the subject.

Moving up in orchestras is not uncommon, especially in the first decade or so of a pro's career. Such players tend to have the ambition to continue to move up, and therefore stay in audition shape during that period, though, often actively taking coaching as well. But after a decade or so, people don't generally put themselves through it. Audition preparation takes a huge amount of time, and taking auditions is not cheap (flights, hotel, days off work, etc.).

December 18, 2017, 3:27 PM · "And the level of proefficiency needed to get into a professional orchestra is not nearly as high as some v.commies claim it to be. You only need to play the audition program in tune, in rythm, with a good sound, while doing everything that’s written in the score to win an orchestral audition. "

Other than that, how did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

Seriously I do not even know where to start with this comment.

Edited: December 18, 2017, 4:36 PM · Oh come on now Mary Ellen. Everyone knows playing in an orchestra or doing chamber music is a cake walk. It's like the pianists who have dedicated the better part of their careers to performing with Yo-Yo Ma, Anne-Sophie Mutter, etc. Heck, anyone can do that, right? You just need to push the buttons in the right order for heaven's sake. How hard can Brahms or Debussy Sonatas be? And that Vladimir Ashkenazy ... what a lightweight...

I do kind of like the word "proefficiency" though. Sort of like misunderestimated.

December 18, 2017, 4:56 PM · My daughter was 5 when she learned that a particular concert pianist also studied violin until college. Her response was “I guess violin was too hard for him. At least piano worked out for him, well, sort of.”

We are still trying to reign in her attitude.

Edited: December 18, 2017, 5:23 PM · Tenure doesn't exist everywhere - my city's symphony orchestra has recently been "encouraging" some people to "step down" because they've let their playing go & there are younger people who would do a better job.

What everyone said is correct; it's incredibly hard to get a job in an orchestra. There are people with masters degrees from top conservatories who spend 10 years auditioning & eventually give up out of frustration. And as for concertmasters/chamber musicians, if they're not actually soloists already (which many are) they're required to be at that level, so it's a bit more than "a little bit better".

Edited: December 18, 2017, 7:41 PM · After reading all of these comments, I am considering going for a different career other than a violinist, but I will still play the violin as a hobby. However, I am still willing to join an orchestra, even if it will cost much of my time for my other career. I hope that I will be able to achieve both without much difficulty.
December 18, 2017, 9:11 PM · You should join a youth symphony as soon as you become advanced enough to do so. When you get to college, play in your college orchestra if you can find the time. Then join a community orchestra post-college.

Big cities will have numerous community orchestras, each at different playing levels and with different styles of time commitments, typically. Most have a single two or three-hour rehearsal, once a week. A few do multiple rehearsals a week, but might only rehearse for a week or two before each concert.

December 18, 2017, 10:53 PM · Joining a youth symphony is a great idea. Depending on what is available in your area, there may be one that is a good fit for you now.

In my city, we have an excellent youth orchestra program with seven orchestras ranging from very young beginners all the way up to the top orchestra which plays at a very high level. The top two orchestras are full orchestras; the others are all string orchestras. Based on your self-description, if you were in my city you would likely be placed in either the fourth or fifth orchestra. Everyone re-auditions every year and students who work hard and advance quickly can "jump" orchestras from one year to the next--this past year one of my students jumped from the second violins in the fifth orchestra to the first violins in the third.

Edited: December 18, 2017, 11:03 PM · My point is that if you work long enough, well enough, deliberately, with great coaching, and if you have some talent, eventually at some point you will reach a level where you could take and potentially win competitive orchestral auditions.

I don’t see why you are all so obstinated to disagree with this basic point.

Edited: December 18, 2017, 11:22 PM · I just deleted a long comment that was an effort to explain the realities of the professional orchestra audition circuit (at least in the U.S.) and will simply suggest that opinions on professional auditions should be taken seriously in direct proportion to the poster's personal experience with said auditions.

"I don’t see why you are all so obstinated to disagree with this basic point."

How many professional auditions have you taken?

My opinions are based on maybe a couple of dozen more or less (I lost count) auditions I took during the first seven or eight years of my career, and nearly thirty years of serving on my orchestra's string audition committee.

December 18, 2017, 11:24 PM · "Moving up in orchestras is not uncommon, especially in the first decade or so of a pro's career. Such players tend to have the ambition to continue to move up, and therefore stay in audition shape during that period, though, often actively taking coaching as well."

This is true, but generally people do not move up from the bottom to the top. It's much more common to move from mid-level up to top, or from smaller orchestra to mid-level. The very best players coming out of school are extremely unlikely to start out anywhere near the freeway philharmonic level.

Edited: December 19, 2017, 12:44 PM · LOL! I've never seen someone claim that the difficulty of getting an orchestra job is exaggerated. I actually don't think it's possible to *overstate* how hard it is to win an audition for a salaried orchestra.

Edited because I initially said "full-time" orchestra, but what I meant was an orchestra with sufficient financial standing to offer musicians a salary. That is not necessarily a full-time orchestra.

Edited: December 19, 2017, 12:37 PM · Just as one example: how many other industries routinely "interview" hundreds of candidates (incredibly qualified candidates at that) from all across the country and possibly world, with all travel expenses 100% the candidate's responsibility, for a position that might pay somewhere between $30,000 and $70,000, only to turn them all away?
December 19, 2017, 1:28 PM · Recipe for drama on V.com: insert word "professional" anywhere.
Edited: December 19, 2017, 1:43 PM · I'm going to throw my two cents in for the OP.

This is going to be a little long...

First I want to say this: I started playing at 9, around the age of 15 my private teacher told me I could prepare to go pro if I wanted. I seriously considered it for a few months but then I realized - with all of the extra practice time, which would take away from my plethora of after-school activities - playing violin would be my life and I wanted to be able to do a lot of different things. So I declined to prepare for conservatory - and, knowing what I know at present, I am not sure that I would have been able to land at a mid to top tier conservatory 20 years ago. I knew then that if one could not do that, the chances of doing something more than what's described are dramatically reduced, as even then the chances are very very slim, and I didn't think I was talented enough (or loved the violin enough) to devote my life to this pursuit.

I'm now working in a field (corporate) that allows me enough time (and money) to play the violin again after a much too long break.

Here's my two cents, finally:
keep playing, join the youth orchestra/symphony, experience what you can for the duration of your k-12 schooling, go to a good school where you can participate in the college orchestra, graduate, get a job, keep playing and being involved with some type of community or small orchestra and live your life happily. I know a lot of folks here are offering career suggestions like finance and the like, but it is what you are willing to live and work with on a regular basis that matters. If you pave your own way, and don't follow those familiar/traditional routes, the path with be much rockier.

Edited: December 19, 2017, 1:44 PM · One quick note on Mary Ellen's comment: "Generally people do not move up from the bottom to the top. It's much more common to move from mid-level up to top, or from smaller orchestra to mid-level. The very best players coming out of school are extremely unlikely to start out anywhere near the freeway philharmonic level."

You'll see musician resumes that go from the bottom to the top, not because they've worked their way up that ladder out of school but because they started while in school. Grad students, and sometimes undergraduates, will play with freeway philharmonics that are local to their school. That may bear little relationship to the tier of orchestra they eventually win a permanent job at.

You'll also see people who move from title chairs in freeway philharmonics or other regional orchestras, to section-player positions in higher-tier orchestras.

December 19, 2017, 1:54 PM · I would actually advice against quitting the Dream (talking about reachable goals that will nonetheless take "inhuman" amounts of Labor of Love.)

Auditions are hard-but they are hard for everybody. And you don't need to go after those jobs regardless. Violin playing is much more than being a soloist or "real orchestra" membership.

I do agree that you may need to make the violin your virtual wife/husband, and that IS a commitment, but for those in Real Love, they will do anything for their Beloved. Great music making via advanced violin playing is a life path, more than a career choice. Sure, you can enjoy life while being an accomplished performer, but loving the instrument-it being a life priority-will make a difference, for better or worse.

No offense meant to those more career-minded. We all love the violin one way or the other. Best of Luck whatever your Dreams and Joys may be.

Edited: December 19, 2017, 2:01 PM · "You'll see musician resumes that go from the bottom to the top, not because they've worked their way up that ladder out of school but because they started while in school. Grad students, and sometimes undergraduates, will play with freeway philharmonics that are local to their school. That may bear little relationship to the tier of orchestra they eventually win a permanent job at."

That is also true, but I wasn't thinking of jobs while in school. I did some of that too but never even bothered to put those on my resume.

I was thinking of the trajectory from a musician's first fulltime job out of school.

Edited: December 19, 2017, 2:16 PM · Moving up would be so easy if other people weren't trying to do the same exact thing. I remember a college president who said he wanted to move his institution into the "Top 30." Then one of his vice presidents calculated how much that would cost and it was on the order of an additional annual investment, from the state, of $75 million. And that was 15 years ago. It would be twice that now. Needless to say, it didn't happen.
December 19, 2017, 2:12 PM · Adalberto - I am not advising against quitting The Dream. On the contrary, I think that if one has the love and dedication required to manifest as much of The Dream as possible, by all means! I was simply sharing that I realized at a young age that (much as I would have loved playing in a pro-orchestra) I was not willing to devote my life to it in the way I feel is required. It takes all kinds - and I'm not a career minded person! (I went to art school - hahaha.)
December 19, 2017, 2:57 PM · Remember also that you can do anything you want in life as long as either your parents -- or better yet, your spouse -- has enough money.
December 19, 2017, 3:13 PM · Ms. Pamela,

Not disagreeing with you-indeed a "career" in violin takes immense amounts of sacrifice. My thoughts were more aimed at thr common "big career or bust" mentality. Even then, it's their right to believe whatever. Very glad you are doing well economically, and able to afford usually expensive violin lessons-as I mentioned, I am sure you love your Dear Instrument as well, and that it's "loving you back" in return.

Edited: December 19, 2017, 3:47 PM · @Skrenko
"Just as one example: how many other industries routinely "interview" hundreds of candidates (incredibly qualified candidates at that) from all across the country and possibly world, with all travel expenses 100% the candidate's responsibility, for a position that might pay somewhere between $30,000 and $70,000, only to turn them all away?"

That's the norm for academics jobs, in pretty much evvery field of research.
The last time there were open positions in philosophy at the Sao Paulo University over 1000 people with PhDs applied.

I don't think it is all that different in engineering, although I wouldn't say all of the applicants are highly qualified, there is a substantial amount of them anyway

Edited: December 19, 2017, 5:23 PM · "Just as one example: how many other industries routinely "interview" hundreds of candidates (incredibly qualified candidates at that) from all across the country and possibly world, with all travel expenses 100% the candidate's responsibility, for a position that might pay somewhere between $30,000 and $70,000, only to turn them all away?"

For tenured/tenure track positions in American universities, the search process is also globally competitive. One normally has to win the job over a few hundred terminally qualified candidates. The average expected salary in humanities and sciences is in the similar range. The big difference is that finalists short listed are invited to campus interviews at the institution's expense ( but all candidates are expected to make their own way to academic conferences where preliminary interviews are conducted).

December 19, 2017, 5:58 PM · Just another infinitely extended side-thread...

... can I add one more? :-)

In my field, if you have had a good portfolio of research papers, and you can show them some other interesting projects underway, sometimes you don’t even need to compete. The universities would even compete to have you! But that way of saying is as lame as getting an edge as a Nobel laureate ...

December 19, 2017, 6:26 PM · What's your field, Will? Maybe the OP could join that.
December 19, 2017, 7:12 PM · "The big difference is that finalists short listed are invited to campus interviews at the institution's expense."

That is a big difference. :)

Also, how often does a university go through the hiring process and then ultimately hire no one? Genuinely asking. It is certainly not uncommon for orchestras to do that, which is something I've always found irritating. Not on my own behalf, since I'm not a great auditioner and hope to never take another audition, but in general. It just seems difficult to believe that with so many excellent conservatory graduates and experienced players in the audition pool, there is no one good enough. I know that panelists such as Mary Ellen will tell me that is the case, but I have never really understood it.

But even if there are parallels between jobs in academia and orchestral jobs--which I agree there are-- I don't think many would say that it's easy to get a job in academia.

Edited: December 19, 2017, 8:01 PM · "Also, how often does a university go through the hiring process and then ultimately hire no one? Genuinely asking. "

A failed search is not uncommon. An academic department, once it receives a "faculty line", would like to have someone who can in a meaningful way enhance the research profile of the department by bringing synergy to the faculty.

We are talking about tenured/tenure track positions. Lecturers and adjuncts are different and they are the ones hired to staff classes for a semester or two when there's a failed search

December 19, 2017, 8:12 PM · "It just seems difficult to believe that with so many excellent conservatory graduates and experienced players in the audition pool, there is no one good enough. I know that panelists such as Mary Ellen will tell me that is the case, but I have never really understood it."

It isn't necessarily that there was no one good enough; it's that no candidate on the given day demonstrated everything we were looking for.

Edited: December 19, 2017, 11:42 PM · "Also, how often does a university go through the hiring process and then ultimately hire no one? Genuinely asking. "

The most common way this happens, in my experience (in chemistry), is if you wait for your first choice to accept the offer, and then after an extended period of negotiations (lab space, office location, startup funds, something for the SO, etc.) they end up turning you down. And by that time, your second choice, if even you had one, might have taken a job somewhere else. This might happen as much as a third of the time, and it's very frustrating, because the process is very expensive and time-consuming. The very very best prospects do have options, and every university likes to think they can compete against a much higher-ranked institution because of some special mojo, be it location, unique facilities, atmosphere among the faculty, well-matched collaborative opportunities, or whatever. Nobody ever says, "Let's not make an offer to her, she's too good, she'd never come here." Ideally such a candidate would not string you along though.

December 20, 2017, 12:26 AM · *What's your field, Will? Maybe the OP could join that.*

Dear future Martina, my field *was* education. Training of secondary school teachers.

Differences do exist by country, but employment is a lot easier for the very top academics who possess stellar research portfolios, and those who can do quant stuff.

Among those who do compete, fresh PHD graduates are likely to be the most disadvantaged.

Stating the obvious, it's the equation of how good you are compared to your peers, and how selective the institution is compared to its peers. In the end, birds of the same feather do flock together, although there can be a few slight mismatches.

Sorry to the OP for talking about something else.

Edited: December 20, 2017, 6:21 AM · This may be broadly true for a lot of fields. The cream floating at the top of the job market is highly sought after, and likely to entertain multiple offers. And then there are a lot of people who have trouble meeting the minimum expected standards of the field. (In software engineering, this is the FizzBuzz problem, for instance.)
Edited: December 20, 2017, 7:00 AM · It is true with all fields. Try any sports, advertising, fine arts, acting, law, education... even janitors have a hierarchy. The number of people entering all fields or wanting to enter all fields, there just isn't enough room for everyone in the "cream floating at the top". Good thing there are many ways to still 'make it' in all of them, even if it isn't at the very top.

Heck, I remember applying for a janitor's job once that took me through a four-interview hiring process in competition with untold number of others. A janitor's job!

Edited: December 20, 2017, 8:29 AM · Yeah, it is good enough that you spend your whole life working for it, others want it too.

It is not that bad if you are willing to compromise. For violinists, there are regional/freeway orchestras plus studio teaching, if the big 5 have no place for you. For academics, one can go to xxx state university if Ivey leagues are out; can be lecturers/adjuncts/visiting
scientists if tenured/tenure track positions are not in the picture.

Janitors? I don't know. That is a hard one: )

December 20, 2017, 8:30 AM · Well, right, I get that there's not enough room for everyone at the top of any industry, but...oh, why am I even arguing this? Haha. We tell people every day on violinist.com that they are highly unlikely to get an orchestra job, including bright, talented, accomplished kids that no one would ever say have poor odds of getting jobs as teachers, engineers, lawyers, etc. It's not that I think jobs are just handed out like candy to dullards in other fields, but if this industry weren't much tougher than others, we wouldn't give people the advice that we do all the time. Some industries even have shortages of qualified people to do the job.

Also, I'm not even talking about the truly *top* orchestra jobs, which would be orchestras like Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, etc. People really don't understand just how well musicians have to play to get a job even in a second or third tier orchestra, and how many auditions they probably had to take at their own expense to get that job.

That said, I do think academia is a good comparison in many respects.

Edited: December 20, 2017, 8:46 AM · Edited because the example I gave may have been too much information about someone else.
December 20, 2017, 9:11 AM · >but if this industry weren't much tougher than others

Did you bother to read the posts before?

Nobody denies that getting into an orchestra is not easy-peasy, but it is far from being much tougher than others. Academia was just one example of many.

>(In software engineering, this is the FizzBuzz problem, for instance.)

This is interesting. I think universities in the US are massively crowded, making testing for basic skills harder. I have seen that many people in the business have not so much an encyclopedic knowledge but is inclined to look for what they need when they needed (to be highly capable at googling). I see the problems is about basic skills, rather than a more demanding encyclopedic knowledge, but due to the age we live in and being able to find what we need without much effort might explain why some people lack these basic skills, since more complex works could be very well written using other people code fixing things here and there. Hence the joke "My code doesn't work, I have no idea why. My code works, I have no idea why."

December 20, 2017, 9:18 AM · Yes, Damien, I did read the posts before. I was responding to Jim's post that every industry is the same, and I don't agree.
December 20, 2017, 9:25 AM · Sara and Demian,
I'll just briefly outline the process for getting a job in academia as a MUSICIAN (the posts seem to be more concerned with scientific jobs): You look at either the Chronicle or the Music Vacancy List, and send in a recording if asked to. You have a phone interview, then if they want an on-campus interview they generally fly you there at their expense. The exception to this is community colleges, who may either not pay at all, or will pay half, or only pay if you were offered, then accepted the job. So if you were offered the job and turned it down, you'd have to cover all your expenses. The on-campus interview will include a short recital, usually with the resident piano prof. Most smaller colleges will ask for a classroom presentation and conducting.

I'd have to say that at this point there are far, far fewer jobs in academia than in orchestras, even as the universities crank out DMAs like there's no tomorrow.

December 20, 2017, 9:36 AM · The the key to becoming a professional violinist, especially if starting at a late age is to get the correct SHOULDER REST.

Or maybe to not use one.....

We should probably bring that subject into this discussion as well,as it is sure to clarify the entire issue.

December 20, 2017, 9:53 AM · Actually, Craig, I think it's probably the type of rosin you use.
December 20, 2017, 9:54 AM · And, to declarify the issue, not to use a chin rest . . .
December 20, 2017, 10:42 AM · Look up Carter Brey, principal cellist of New York Philharmonic: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carter_Brey

"He began playing the violin at age 9 and the cello at age 12 in school, although he did not seriously consider becoming a professional musician until he was 16."

It is hard but not impossible.

December 20, 2017, 10:51 AM · I've been the concert master of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra for 20 years, and one thing I know for sure is that it doesn't matter what kind of shoulder rest you use, neither the kind of rosin or its price, neither if you play restless at all. What matters at the end is the bow material, the hair's country and the whistle-free E string. None can prove me wrong, vast experience guys, can't beat that.
Edited: December 20, 2017, 10:58 AM · You guys have it all wrong.

It’s the violin. It has to be old and Italian.

December 20, 2017, 11:23 AM · Why does someone always predictably trot out Carter Brey in discussions like these?
It means nothing to the average musician.
Edited: December 20, 2017, 11:57 AM · It's possible for a late starter to become a pro. musician. But good enough is not good enough, because you are competing against all those others who started earlier. I have 3 definitions of Professional musician: 1) If you make any money at all the IRS wants you to use schedule C and pay taxes. 2) Attitude and behavior; show up prepared, on time, don't double-book events, honor all your contracts, written and verbal, paid and volunteer, and you might be working more often than some who play better than you. 3) full-time self-supporting performer- that is a rare privilege. I started at age 11, did not have a decent teacher until 13. I was full-time, doing well for several years, in non -classical genres before getting cold feet, dropping out of the business and doing a non-music job. Music teaching is more a teaching job than a music job.
December 20, 2017, 1:02 PM · IMO, teaching the violin is as "pro" as Heifetz was a professional. To teach well is an art to itself-plus you can still perform at a high level if you take care of yourself, being able to play recitals, and/or play in orchestras of all sorts. For every "Master Teacher" of the World, there are thousands of good teachers paving the way for many promising "careers", or as I rather put it, violinists.
Edited: December 20, 2017, 9:01 PM · Scott, violinists recently hired to tenure track positions are astonishingly good.

For example, St. Olaf College (a coeducational, residential, four-year, private liberal arts college in rural Minnesota) has on it's faculty Francesca Anderegg (BA, Harvard; MM and DMA, Juilliard) whose playing has been praised by the New York Times for its “dark, mournful tone” and “virtuosic panache." She regularly performs as concerto soloist with the college orchestra.

December 20, 2017, 2:36 PM · David, is Harvard good at music/violin training? I'm just curious.

I assumed Francesca studied music at Harvard.

December 20, 2017, 2:40 PM · Will, many good musicians studied in Harvard, though not necessarily music. Yo-yo Ma also studied as an undergraduate in Harvard, as I recall.
December 20, 2017, 4:11 PM · Geesh, I guess I'll refrain from making comments because what I say and how you interpret it sure is not the same thing... I'll leave it at that. Happy Holidays folks.
Edited: December 20, 2017, 6:43 PM · @Jim, I understand your points. P/S as a student I did a plethora of jobs similar to a janitor. Some of them were quite selective too.
Also in where I live, it’s quite normal for a musician to struggle financially at certain points in their careers. Those refusing to totally switch to another profession (therefore leaving behind their passion) usually end up doing casual jobs as their only options.
December 20, 2017, 8:22 PM · "The Outlier, Carter Brey." Isn't that a Clint Eastwood movie?

It's easy to get a Nobel Prize. Just look at the four people who have won two of them!

December 20, 2017, 8:26 PM · Jim -- this is a blog. The whole idea is to twist someone else's words into a pretzel knot and feed it back to him with a dollop of mustard.
December 20, 2017, 8:42 PM · Harvard offers a BA in Music, but no BM, as far as I know. It's not a performance degree, but rather music as part of a liberal arts education.

In some ways, Carter Brey epitomizes the kind of dedication necessary for later starters. In interviews, he's said that he was practicing 6 hours a day during high school.

December 20, 2017, 9:54 PM · It's about the hours & the talent, not the age. Not that it hurts to start early in this market.
December 20, 2017, 10:30 PM · I wonder if some of the gatekeepers in the Western classical violin world will ever be willing to take enough chances to find out the true biological influence that a later starting age plays. I have a hunch that it is ultimately non-zero, yet highly exaggerated and way overblown due to the larger cultural entrenchment of ageism. I suppose that neuroscience may get around to something that somewhat passes for a definitive answer eventually, but I suspect that it would be hard to collect data on adults who had all of the right supports and still didn't go pro if there are an incredibly small number to begin with.
Edited: December 21, 2017, 4:13 AM · *It's about the hours & the talent, not the age.*

*biological influence that a later starting age plays ... is ultimately non-zero, yet highly exaggerated and way overblown due to the larger cultural entrenchment of ageism.*

This is what I sincerely and honestly hope to be true. But whether age itself was actually important, I observe that the overwhelming majority of experts, in and out of this forum, would strongly encourage one to start at a very young age for string instruments.

Well, not to say the majority is always right, but they must be most of the time (otherwise the world would come to an end, right?). Personally I feel the obligation to acknowledge the importance of *starting early* in violin learning, until there is some research/evidence to the contrary.

December 21, 2017, 6:05 AM · I have a feeling that adult starters very rarely continue to pursue repertoire in the classical realm given the dedication and difficulty of attaining even a level where you could be considered "just ok" by those who have spent their entire childhood in that pursuit and by those entrenched within that particular narrow paradigm.
Those that continue to pursue classical repertoire and try to get to that level make it less rarely to that "just ok" level because of jobs, family, kids etc. So if x-number of adult starters begin with the ambition of getting to the level of say playing major concerto what percentage make it? I know that it is vanishingly tiny. There simply isn't a sample size big enough of dedicated adults with time, energy and resources to follow to see if they could accomplish the same thing as children given equal playing fields. I also suspect that the difference between children and adults is vastly over rated because of this.
December 21, 2017, 6:38 AM · Why does this type of post attract such emotional (& so many) responses? Genuinely wondering.

Will, I think a lot of the reason it's ideal to start early is because a) we have our parents' financial support & lots of free time for as long as possible, & b) the workforce is ultimately still ageist & younger people are more likely to be employed.

I've never read a study that conclusively proved younger people have a better chance of becoming virtuosos than older people. Barring obvious health issues like arthritis which can stop people playing to a high standard.

December 21, 2017, 6:42 AM · There are many rich adults with plenty of time, but they are not interested in violin playing, nor their parents, maybe they are not interested in classical music, they love cat, dog, shopping, camera, car, travel, etc, as a result, though these rich adults can get enough support from their parents, they have not thought about learning violin or any other instrument at all.
There are some adults who are talent, with good ear even absolute pitch (I have meet a Chinese who has it), who are interested in violin, but have no chance nor time nor money to support their idea, as a result they give up in the end, their trail cannot be carried in a long run.
To sum up, the group of adults who are rich who are talented and who have plenty of time and get support from their families is tooooo small, can be easily ignored, statistics like this have no overall significance, because in modern world, learning instruments mainly dominated by kids, who are urged by their parents, started from a very early age. Unlike world before WWII, for example, Khachaturian, initially decided to learn cello when he was 19 in Moscow.
December 21, 2017, 7:29 AM · I would recommend for small children to start ASAP, not believing age is a scientific factor in violin playing, but more based on the aforementioned practical considerations of time availability and simpler concerns of life at that age. I do believe there's certain "malleability" with young children, but that factor cannot help build a "career" in music on its own. Many infant starters never develop any interest in further developing their violin-playing skills, seeing it merely as a pastime. So yes, parents see to it that your kids learn as young as it's feasible, but do not fall into the trap of the self-fulfilling, negative prophecy that adults just can't be "as good", under similar circumstances (which are admittedly hard to reproduce for many, if not most adults.)

Scientifically speaking, if it was "impossible" for adult starters to be high level violinists, there would be zero. Since that's not true, and thus can't be proven, I believe the main inhibitors are social factors, rather than actual physical impediments ("stiffer" muscles and whathaveyou.)

Edited: December 21, 2017, 7:59 AM · Without entering into the debate, I would just point out that Carter Brey started at 9 and is a cellist. To bring him up as some kind of inspiration for adult beginners on the violin is to me unconvincing.

It would be more convincing if someone can point to an example of someone who started at 19 on the violin and became a CM of the New York Philharmonic (a position roughly equivalent to that of Mr Brey) or other equivalent ensembles after a respectable solo career. Such example will go a long way to overcome what some refer to as ageism.

December 21, 2017, 8:01 AM · And that, David, brings us back to liechens point. Even if an adult starter of any age dedicated themselves tirelessly to the violin and had the support system in place would any major orchestra or even a major school take a risk on accepting or hiring that adult assuming that adult had the ability to compete or out compete with the kids that have been playing since they were three? Probably not is the answer.
December 21, 2017, 8:05 AM · Denying that age is a huge factor doesn't change anything.

Over a certain age (I'd put it at twelve) it gets harder to absorb as it were a foreign language and things in the same intellectual realm, such as playing an instrument.

As one poster said, not everybody is vastly occupied at age twenty, and yet they don't learn to play the violin as easily as an eight-years old.

December 21, 2017, 8:10 AM · Let's be fair, and go back to the "physical" argument. Massimi Quarta started at 11. That's "too late" (for the "must start as a child" argument), and only slightly different than starting at 19.

I repeat, it's hard to achieve in our modern music world, but not due to the physical impediments of the more "advanced" age of 19. Also, I admit, the "pro" career is less realistic the later you start (and again, mostly due to social conditions), but commitment can surprise and achieve "miracles."

As far as technical equipment is concerned, I believe almost anything is possible. There's people out there with untapped potential and relentless commitment to be the best they could be.

Do not mean to be contrarian, but I do disagree with the age old myth (in my view) that late starters must, by necessity, be lesser violinists. It also provides an artificial excuse for adult learners for not doing their very best ("well, I will never play like this or that player, or be able to play Paganini, so I will conform myself with mediocrity", etc.)

Do agree is unlikely we'll see too many late starters in "high profile' orchestras, but everyone has a hard time to get to those positions anyway. The percentage of committed adult learners that want to go "all the way" is not high.

Edited: December 21, 2017, 8:34 AM · Jessy, American orchestras such as the NY Phil have a double-blind audition process at least initially ( based on second hand information). For an adult beginner who has achieved the same level of mastery on the instrument as, say, that of Frank Huang (current CM of the NY Phil.) it is likely she will pass the initial screening process. For CM position, the candidate is often asked to guest lead the orchestra for a few concerts ( as it was the case for Mr Huang) during which the identity and age of the candidate will of course be known. How that will play out? I don't know.
Edited: December 21, 2017, 8:41 AM · Herman, as someone who has been struggling with a second language (English) after the age of 12, I agree with you on the link between learning a second language and violin playing.

" ..... started at 11. That's "too late" (for the "must start as a child" argument), and only slightly different than starting at 19."

Talk to someone who started to speak English at 11 and someone who started at 19, you will know the difference right away.

December 21, 2017, 9:28 AM · There are many reasons why starting as a child is important. For example, synaptic pruning starts to take off around the age the OP began playing, putting them at a disadvantage. It's true, beginning as a child ups your chances.

However, this isn't universal. Some people can catch up. I started at twelve, after less than a year of playing, I beat my school's concentrated for his chair, he had been playing for eight years. I have it up right before auditions for conservatories, for personal reasons, but it's just an illustration of how people can indeed catch up.

And we should all kindly remember the OP is a young person, who doesn't need full blown adult pessimism yet. Let's let them enjoy the magic of falling in love with the instrument, I can remember how that felt at 12, and how it felt like I could do anything.

Just something to keep in mind. There is a difference between preparing someone and discouraging them.

December 21, 2017, 9:40 AM · There are individual differences when it comes to languages acquisition though. Some children struggle with their first language. A small percentage of the population seems to retain the ability to learn a new language without a noticeable accent well into the adulthood. I have only met 3 of them in my entire life but they do exist...at least they are not as rare as unicorns.

December 21, 2017, 9:59 AM · Hi,everyone, is language acquisition similar to instrument learning? Everyone, except for those who were adopted by wolf, can master one or two mother tongue(s) fluently as growing up without deliberate practice, but can every kid start from tender age master an instrument well naturally even with amount of deliberate practice? Truly the chance increases but not definitely, as many earlier starters in the end cannot master violin well. I've seen so many kids started from 4-5 and until 13-16 playing poorly, accounting for a proportion of more than 3/5, still, there are some playing quite well but it is not the age but the talent. Of my experience, after 12 years' playing, average kids do not perform better than Daniel Kurganov (pupil of Ilya Kaler and Rudolf Koelman), that's to say, in order to master it well, adult should try to find a virtuosic violinist willing to teach, ordinary teacher has little experience at teaching adults because they mainly deal with young players.

Secondly, the master of foreign languages also influenced by one's mother tongue, Danish and Dutch can easily master English better than average Armenian and Japanese, there are so many early development classes in Japan which concentrate on the development of early intelligence of children, for example foreign languages, drawing, mathematics etc, but the effect no better than average European who can pick up English randomly and unconsciously, because Indo-European languages share the grammar, syntax and etymology to a large extent.

December 21, 2017, 10:16 AM · There is one instrument where you can start late and achieve a high level--the voice. Perhaps because because you started using, learning it at year 0. jq
December 21, 2017, 10:19 AM · And I think the term age is considered in terms of onset of puberty, compared with 18-19th centuries the onset of puberty in Westerners or Caucasus has been shifted to an incredibly earlier age, which means that the period of childhood has shrunken a lot, this is a disadvantage, therefore to start earlier is reasonable. But there is individual difference in terms of puberty, also race, I find Easterners have appearances incompatible with their authentic age, it is incredible to see an adult with physical appearance like 13 years old child, it is said the Easterners originated from Africa, but had been staying in cooler area (Siberia) in the earth for a long time, and moved south finally, results in a later onset of puberty.
Edited: December 21, 2017, 10:38 AM · "A small percentage of the population seems to retain the ability to learn a new language without a noticeable accent well into the adulthood."

The level of "noticeable accent" is contingent on many factors. Some are effort-based. My accent is hardly noticeable in formal settings but is quite obvious after a evening of partying and drinking. Some are cultural (that is putting it politely). I have seen Asian American colleagues who are American born (and whose families have been living in California for generations ) and have received teaching evaluation with something to the effect that "they can't speak English!" My colleagues fromEuropean countries rarely receive any complaint about their accents from students.

December 21, 2017, 10:48 AM · "Scott, violinists recently hired to tenure track positions are astonishingly good.
For example, St. Olaf College (a coeducational, residential, four-year, private liberal arts college in rural Minnesota) has on it's faculty Francesca Anderegg (BA, Harvard; MM and DMA, Juilliard) whose playing has been praised by the New York Times for its “dark, mournful tone” and “virtuosic panache." She regularly performs as concerto soloist with the college orchestra."

Yes, you've pointed out something important to those wishing to "get a DMA and teach," thinking it will be an easier path than getting a good orchestra job. Your example shows that extremely qualified--and even soloist-level candidates--are competing like never before for college jobs. And even for pretty low-level jobs where you'd never expect Curtis or Juilliard or IU grads. Yes, for these candidates it may be a temp job on the way up, but it has set the standards and patterns of hiring for colleges. It's no longer about simple teaching ability but resume and solo ability as well. Especially as the number of tenure-track and full-time positions declines.

December 21, 2017, 12:13 PM · Accent is not related to violin playing. It's been discussed in this forum before. Too much is made of age, without evidence other than "that's how the status-quo is, so it must be so." You can learn to be extremely good at the violin at a later age without any "musical accents" in the playing.

I also do not see any point in arguing against adult learners. It is obviously "easier" to start as a kid, but adults can learn to play just as well, or even better than many who started as infants. Not easy. But is violin easy (I am not even talking about a so-called "big" career)? "Show me evidence" argument-yes show ME evidence that adults must be lesser violinists-the statement "no adult has a major concertmaster job in the World" holds no water... as if those jobs were easy to secure for people who started as 3-4 year olds.

December 21, 2017, 12:17 PM · "Why does this type of post attract such emotional (& so many) responses? Genuinely wondering."

Because it's a subject in which the stakes are potentially high for those who really need to know the answers, and there are a lot of interdependent parameters, but rather little aggregate data to work with.

What we do know is that if you survey "pro" orchestras (probably including most freeway philharmonics) what you will find is that almost all of the violinists started before they were 10.

PS. I agree that academic positions may be even more difficult to get than orchestral gigs. Tenure is indeed very attractive, and tenure at a state university is stronger then tenure in an orchestra because state universities don't fold. And by the way, St. Olaf College may be a small school but it is a very high quality institution in a beautiful location 30 miles south of the Twin Cities.

December 21, 2017, 12:32 PM · I think the conflict (such as it is) is usually between the follow-your-dreams anything-is-possible types, and the pragmatists.

Thirteen is definitely not too young to have a serious discussion with one's teacher about one's future as a violinist. A good teacher who is used to preparing students for conservatory auditions ought to be able to make a realistic assessment and identify the progress milestones that need to be hit in order for the student to have a shot at achieving their goals.

13 is also not too early for a child's parents to begin the necessary financial planning. Immediate plans may need to be made for, say, twice-a-week lessons, or summer music camps, or the like. Money needs to be saved for what may very well be an undergrad and graduate education whose financial blows are not softened by scholarships. Money needs to be saved for a high-quality professional violin and bow.

Dreamers who hope to actually achieve their goals plan for them. Good planning entails starting with a realistic assessment of the situation, identifying the obstacles and risks, and methodically addressing them. It also includes figuring out reasonable alternatives and contingencies.

The OP has already opted for pragmatism, I'll note, earlier in this thread.

Edited: December 21, 2017, 12:37 PM · I think it elicits emotional responses because there are many people, even otherwise educated and worldly people, who think that you can have a day job and just moonlight in a full-time orchestra on the side. They see the weekend performances and don't understand that the orchestra rehearsed all week during business hours. They also have absolutely no idea how hard it is to get an orchestra position.

It's frustrating for people in the industry for several reasons: first, it diminishes the work put in by those who have won auditions (and those who have made many attempts to do so). It diminishes the work that goes into the performances themselves. And finally, it gives false hope to music students who attend performances and think "hey, that looks fun, I could do that!" Yes, of course, there are a handful who can. But all music students of middle school age or older should have their eyes opened about the reality of the industry, and their honest chances at a place in it, as soon as possible.

December 21, 2017, 12:49 PM · Teenagers can really put themselves under a lot of pressure. There are plenty of good reasons to play the violin. Being able to say you are a professional violinist seems a little besides the point. There are a number of jobs that you can find inside and outside of music that will allow you the time to work on playing better.

If your attitude is, "I want to be a pro violinist", there is a really good chance you will be miserable. If your attitude is, "I want to get to the point on violin where I can express x or y", then that is a goal that is really much more dependent on you and your work, and much less dependent on luck and connections, and I bet that you will get farther by just focusing on the process and not worrying about some hazy far-away outcome.

December 21, 2017, 1:12 PM · You can be a Dreamer without being delusional. Society generally makes it sound as if Dreaming of the "Impossible" is inherently stupid/"foolish", and that being a Pragmatist is "the way." But that's another societal construct-both Pragmatists and Dreamers can be succesful, they just have different personalities. Let them both flourish, would be my opinion.

(Additionally, many Dreamers are not concerned with "success" as commonly defined. This is why even sensible advice can be ignored and still be the "right" choice for them and them alone.)

My statement on this thread, however, deals with adults vs infant learners, not careers. I would be the first to advice anyone (or any parent) to start training as soon as possible (career or not). I would have recommended the OP to practice well, and to enjoy the journey, seeing where it takes him. I respect his choice, of course, but wasn't ready to pass a negative verdict just based on his age and what's supposed to be the norm.

No question, it's very competitive out there, even for the "lesser" jobs. I still wouldn't laugh at people for going after immensely difficult goals, even (or specially) if they were my own children, though.

And of course, no offense intended-with a few of you, I'll just peacefully agree to disagree. No harm done.

December 21, 2017, 1:56 PM · "Accent is not related to violin playing. It's been discussed in this forum before"

That is a personal opinion that has been stated before.

The most common method of violin instruction in America, the Suzuki method, is based on the so called "native tongue " approach and its link to language instruction is strong and obvious.

Edited: December 21, 2017, 2:01 PM · "What we do know is that if you survey "pro" orchestras (probably including most freeway philharmonics) what you will find is that almost all of the violinists started before they were 10."

Actually you will find that the overwhelming majority of violinists started at age 7 or younger.

Edited: December 21, 2017, 2:16 PM · Mary Ellen, yes probably so, although I was aiming to include freeway phils -- and at a high confidence level. I hypothesize that 10 years old will return validation at 95%.

"13 is also not too early for a child's parents to begin the necessary financial planning."

I would have started that sentence with "The second trimester." Conservatoire may be expensive, but so is medical school. And with the new tax law, it turns out that 529s might cover private music lessons and the like. All the more reason to start earlier.

December 21, 2017, 2:22 PM · The question of dreamers is an interesting one. We tend to advise our young people to be pragmatic, but what we really need is for some of them, if not most of them, to aim high, to have big dreams, to reach for the stars. Why? Because we have benefited time and again from those who did just that! Were they outliers? Perhaps so. One thing that we don't often know about the "dreamers" of the past, though, is whether those who failed to reach their big dream did just fine with their Plan B.
Edited: December 21, 2017, 2:23 PM · I think you will find that the violinists in freeway phils do not have significantly different training from the violinists in fulltime orchestras, except that perhaps fewer will have attended Juilliard and more will have attended flagship state schools.

The reason this topic elicits emotion on my part is that I feel it is a moral obligation for those of us already in this world to make sure younger people have all the information necessary before they start making very costly (in terms of both time and money) high-risk decisions about their futures.

December 21, 2017, 2:54 PM · Mr. Zhang,

That is your opinion as well, not provenfact. Any early starter that stops practicing will have MANY "accents" in his/her playing, despite the early childhood training.

I actually favor the Suzuki approach and mother tongue reasoning. I just don't believe this applies to "violin playing accents", or gives adults an excuse for not working harder at their chosen craft. He/she just needs to approach the instrument differently. Children should start early-on that we agree.

December 21, 2017, 3:08 PM · Christian wrote: "If your attitude is, "I want to be a pro violinist", there is a really good chance you will be miserable. If your attitude is, "I want to get to the point on violin where I can express x or y", then [...] I bet that you will get farther by just focusing on the process and not worrying about some hazy far-away outcome."

I think that's kinda sorta true. What is "expression"? (One of my teachers, who spent decades in the Philadelphia Orchestra, would probably have argued it was good-for-nothing sentiment, and most players striving for self-expression were using it to indulge in poor taste and sloppiness, both of which are unacceptable at auditions.) And the type and detail level of training that best suits a player is different depending on the player's goals. The exacting levels of detail required to win an audition aren't everyone's cup of tea, for instance.

I mean, in music in general, sure, focusing on the joy of learning is nice, but it's not as effective as working efficiently towards a goal, I'd bet.

December 21, 2017, 3:44 PM · I used "expression" a little tentatively. I essentially mean being able to achieve some quality in your playing that is personally important, whether that is developing a certain sound, or working up to a certain repertoire to a certain personal standard of satisfaction, or just to keep getting better. My point is that having personal standards is I think pretty key to treating the violin as a long-term project. Of course, these standards change and usually get refined throughout the learning process, but at least there is a path, and at least that path is maybe more flexible than "I need to win x job".

For some, it can be expressing what's in the music, or the composer's intention or whatever, but I wasn't talking about philosophies of interpretation so much as the primacy of working on intrinsic motivation for such a long term project.

December 21, 2017, 4:32 PM · I think most people in this thread agree that winning an orchestral position is hard. The main debate is on age -learning malleabity and the like-, telling it like it is and allowing a young person to follow their dreams.

In my earlier comment I was showing my bias but was misinterpreted. I wanted the OP himself to realize it is easier to switch from violinist to doctor than the other way around ergo follow and do what you want to now if violin is your passion.

I think it kind of got lost in this thread about the many levels of a professional violinist that are available to the OP and the debate veered directly to winning full time orchestral jobs and the skill needed to win one and to acquire said skill.

Maybe the next question (and I might argue more pertinent from a child's point of view) is: are full time or similar professional violinists happy at their jobs since this seems to be the focus at hand.

Is this an urban legend as I seem to recall reading a past survey done on all careers and the level of job satisfaction rated by professionals in their profession. String quartet players had one of the highest level of satisfaction whereas ironically orchestral musicians rated themselves below average next to janitors. Air traffic controllers having very high stress jobs along with prison guards rated some of the lowest in job satisfaction.

Can someone elucidate more on this or is this entirely untrue?

December 21, 2017, 4:39 PM · Kan I agree with you. But only because my observation is that young people who have the discipline and intellectual capacity to become very good violinists -- even if that falls short of the pro-orchestra level -- can make that transition simply because they're smart enough. I know of a woman in her late 20s who was originally planning to become a pro violinist who redirected successfully to medical school. Obviously it helps if your parents are loaded.
Edited: December 21, 2017, 5:14 PM · Mary Ellen is it not true that Freeway Phils are generally populated either by amateur-outliers (folks who play the violin well enough despite never having an interest in a full-blown performing or teaching career, i.e., day-jobbers) and by career hopefuls who applied/auditioned for salaried orchestras but were not accepted? If so (but I am genuinely asking, not presuming), then that would suggests to me that even though the freeway-phil folks might have graduated from top places they weren't in the top of their cohorts. (Perhaps that's circular logic because I'm defining their standing within their cohorts by the jobs they end up with.) But there's a difference between top of your class at Harvard Law and middling. I would argue further that the difference between top-drawer and middling is larger at Curtis than it is at, say, Michigan. But ... well ... not sure.
December 21, 2017, 6:56 PM · Orchestras, at least where I live, don't have to provide any real reason for ending someone's trial without awarding them the job. It's a real possibility that they could decide "she's only got another 5 years before she gets too old", then make up some excuse and get away with it.

On the subject of job satisfaction, could someone explain what could possibly be making them miserable enough to think they've got it as bad as janitors? I'm genuinely confused. From what I've seen first-hand, their routine seems to consist of waking up, teaching a couple of students, going to a rehearsal then maybe a concert in the evening. They're also paid decently, or really quite well in some cities, although this might be different overseas.

Christian I don't think many people do this because they "want to be able to say they're a professional violinist" - a lot of us genuinely love playing in orchestras from a young age, and we fantasise about our full-time jobs consisting of playing the violin every day (as opposed to wasting 8 hours doing something we feel indifferent towards).

Edited: December 21, 2017, 7:19 PM · "Mary Ellen is it not true that Freeway Phils are generally populated either by amateur-outliers (folks who play the violin well enough despite never having an interest in a full-blown performing or teaching career, i.e., day-jobbers) and by career hopefuls who applied/auditioned for salaried orchestras but were not accepted? ....that would suggest to me that even though the freeway-phil folks might have graduated from top places they weren't in the top of their cohorts. ... But there's a difference between top of your class at Harvard Law and middling. I would argue further that the difference between top-drawer and middling is larger at Curtis than it is at, say, Michigan."

I never played in a freeway phil once I was out of school (and that was a very long time ago) but the freeway phils I am familiar with locally are mostly a combination of people with performance degrees who don't have a fulltime job, and orchestra directors--more of the latter than the former. I would agree that people graduating at the top of their cohort are much more likely to start out with better jobs. But actually I think the difference between top-drawer and middling would be much larger at a place like Michigan than at Curtis. Nobody gets into Curtis who isn't already very very very good.

Editing to add that a few of my colleagues do play in one of the local freeway phils as outside income and a chance to play principal.

December 21, 2017, 9:03 PM · In my experience, freeway phils are a complete mixed bag. Some musicians are veteran players grandfathered in from when the orchestra was an unpaid community orchestra; some are amazing players with conservatory degrees who are bad auditioners; some are college students or new grads who go on to win jobs; some are retired from the ISO; some are just mediocre players in general, etc. Around here, you really see everything in the freeway phil, but then again I do live in Indiana--in other words, right next to IU. It may be different elsewhere.
December 21, 2017, 9:53 PM · What are freeway phils? I'm sure we have them here but not sure exactly what this term refers to.
Edited: December 21, 2017, 10:24 PM · Part-time orchestras that perform only occasionally (maybe once a month) and do not pay enough to live on. Freelance musicians sometimes put together a living by driving to play in several different such orchestras (hence the name "freeway philharmonic").

There is a documentary about musicians in such orchestras: http://www.freewayphil.com/ and a nice article about the documentary at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wskg/.artsmain/article/2/1083/1331161/Classical/Classical.Gas.Guzzlers./

December 22, 2017, 12:21 AM · "It is obviously "easier" to start as a kid, but adults can learn to play just as well, or even better than many who started as infants. Not easy. But is violin easy (I am not even talking about a so-called "big" career)? "Show me evidence" argument-yes show ME evidence that adults must be lesser violinists-the statement "no adult has a major concertmaster job in the World" holds no water... "

I would say the the responsibility for providing "evidence" the adults learners can end up "just as good" is yours. My 30 years of teaching suggest otherwise.

December 22, 2017, 12:55 AM · The burden of proof is on those saying one group of people cannot learn as well as another group of people.
December 22, 2017, 1:49 AM · There has got to be at least one adult starter out there uploading videos of their “accent-free” performance on YouTube. By that, I don’t mean an awe-inspiring solo recital but something that makes you believe that starting late is not an insurmountable obstacle.

A good performance of Bruch will convince me. I am not being facetious or combative. I really want to watch!

December 22, 2017, 2:36 AM · The problem is most people who play violin never get to Bruch level, adults included, and then there are other factors like talent (a big one), finance, free time, teacher. A good Bruch not existing on the internet doesn't mean adults are less able to learn. You'd really need a scientific study with a large sample size for this kind of thing.
December 22, 2017, 3:19 AM · Bruch g minor is not that difficult, in Eastern countries especially Asian and Eastern European countries after five or six years' practice kids can play that piece, but I refer to the first movement, for the 3rd movement,tempo will be a problem for non professional player. I have found a video on Youtube, even a 10 year-old girl can perform this first movement.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VDKjgx2rzw

It sounds reasonable that, an adult can not surpass Massimo Quarta, Lucio Degani or Fabrizio Falasca (a Napoletano violinist who started at 10, pupil of S. Accardo, too), but sounds very ridiculous that an adult with some musical talent, dedicating more than ten or twenty years with three hours per day, can not surpass 10 year-old kid.

By the way, there are differences between learn concerti and learn etudes, if you want to perform as soon as possible, you can ask your teacher to teach you some plausible and moderate concerti, for example Mendelssohn E minor the first movement I find many kids of merely 6-10 years old can do that, but if you want to learn skill at first, try to overcome piles of etudes at first in the long run, you'll pass Sevcik, Kayser, Mazas, Kreutzer, Dont, Rode, Gavinies, Wieniawski, Paganini, not all of them but most of, it will take 10 years to accomplish, then you try to play concerti you like, you'll progress faster.

Edited: December 22, 2017, 4:00 AM · I personally know very few serious, professional violinists whose dream/goal was to get a full-time job in an orchestra when they started playing the violin.

My chamber music coach actually said something pretty funny about that the other day: ‘It’s what they say, if you are not good enough to be a soloist, you’ll be a chamber musician. If you are not good enough to do chamber music, you’ll play in an orchestra, etc...’.

How hard it is to win an audition is directly proportional to the level of the player taking the audition.

If you play like Kavakos or Hillary Hahn, it probably won’t be very hard.

Edited: December 22, 2017, 4:39 AM · Going back to why this topic may be emotional for some....

I think that part of why people find this to be an emotional topic aside from the other reasons mentioned is that it seems like such a simple thing that wouldn't hinder one's chances at other career paths can significantly hinder one's chances at an enjoyable violin career at the present moment. It seems as if one really needs a perfect storm of luck in order to have all the right things lined up to become even a low-ranked professional violinist, and that so much can go wrong so easily from when one first opens the case until one lands their first paid gig.

The reality is that most well-meaning families, even ones with financial resources aren't thinking, "Better get a violin ( of all things )in my child's hands by age 5". And most kids aren't thinking, "Oh, I better get started on violin before I head to school, otherwise I may not ever have a job doing this." Western society generally expects its members to take their sweet time deciding what to do with their lives, and the idea of deciding so early and working so continuously on one pursuit is counterintuitive.

You just can't even remotely say the same thing about most other careers, such as being a doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc. "Oh, too bad that you weren't cutting people open at the age of 7, tough luck.", would sound ridiculous to say to a 20 year old aspiring surgeon.

It all is probably hard and frustrating to try to wrap one's head around coming from outside of the classical world. It can invoke strong feelings of regret, "If only I had known...", and feelings of helplessness, "Now there is nothing I can do because I am considered too old, and I have no control over when I was born."

Edited: December 22, 2017, 6:10 AM · *The burden of proof is on those saying one group of people cannot learn as well as another group of people.*

If real-life observations can serve as proof, you already have too much of it.

To put in in plain language, age can't be underestimated in activities which require more involvement of body reflexes, joint flexibility, joint malleability, motor skills, and muscle memory by repetition. High-performance acrobatics, for example, is particularly unforgiving of late starters, for obvious reasons.

Late-starter idealists have mostly relied on the argument that 'adults don't have that much time and concentration and therefore they aren't that good' which seems a bit tenuous to me, especially when applying to a wealth of other mental/physical/artistic activities. To me it's more activity-specific; for example adults are better at painting and drawing than children, and children can be better at learning a foreign language, given the same amount of practice time.

Why on earth in the world of musical instruments, only violin and viola have such entrenched ageism you may ask? Why late starters are much less discriminated, and much more welcomed when it comes to learning the cello, the piano, the guitar, the flute? Does learning those two particular string instruments really require more muscle reflexes, flexibility, and bone malleability? Personally I find it obvious that violin and viola performing do require a more difficult posture, more body twist, and hence more flexibility than other instruments on the part of performers. It is necessary to note that piano learning does require some finger flexibility, but to a lesser degree, and no restriction on body and posture. Therefore, while learning piano from a young age (not younger than 5) is encouraged, ageism is much less of an issue. Indeed, AFAIK we have had great pianists and guitarists who are quite late starters.

On the other hand, I believe age isn't a big factor for academic activities that requires only the brain - from mathematics, rocket sciences, medicines to literature and history - so long as one's brain hasn't aged terribly. Almost everyone can ultimately become successful at any academic subject, though some natural talent may be required for the learner to achieve truly exceptional levels in STEM-related fields, regardless of starting age and amount of practice.

Having spent some time to try to find the answer, I have found one thing very noticeable that an early starter may have over a late starter:
1. the optimal flat shape of their left hand fingers (the flatter the fingers, the easier and the better the vibrato IMO), especially for the index and little fingers which are naturally more pointed,
2. the degree of the little finger’s detachment from the rest of the palm.
3. The degree that little finger is straight rather than crooked.

Correct me if I’m wrong, playing at a younger age when your left hands’ finger bones are not yet fully developed may help a bit more in shaping finger tips, detaching the fingers, and promoting independence between them. Of course, a flat/pointed index finger could be purely genetic, but playing the violin as a child, pressing those fingers for two hours a day on the fingerboard may help shaping those fingers for better playing, even if their shapes and curvatures are not optimal. The degree to which earlier playing can better correct the bones/tendon of the hand is open to discussion, but it is not a myth that, for example, wearing braces in your teeth earlier in life bring along faster results.

Let’s look at the shape and curvature of the left hand finger tips of some famous violinists:

Midori Goto, playing since 3 years old, having optimal shaped fingers, especially little and ring fingers
Midori 3

midori 2

Now compare this to the fingers in her RIGHT hand. I cannot find a clearer picture, but at least her little finger does not look that much flat, compared to her left hand.
midori 1

For more of Midori's fingers in action, see more of her videos on YouTube.

I will post some more pictures below. For the purpose of making the post short, I will just post links to some of them.
Ray Chen’s flat index finger

Anne Sophie Mutter’s flat index and middle fingers

Another picture of Midori's right hand little finger

My own hands have very pointed index, middle and little fingers.

I haven’t seen lots of people’s hands, so please correct me if I am wrong on any of these hypotheses.

I'm not sure if starting when young can have any effect on the bones and flexibility of the right arm and hand, and other body parts.

Edit: after some time, I will remove all the embedded pictures and just post only links, so as to save spaces and to make it easy for everyone to load the thread.

December 22, 2017, 6:06 AM · Hi Will Willy, I started quite late and find both my left and right hands have flat fingertips, also I have quite long pinky but it is innate, I also see some virtuosi who started very early have rather shorter or fat fingers for example I. Perlman and D. Oistrakh, compared with men, women have more beautiful fingershape: long and thin.

I think the flexibilty of left finger can be enhanced by everyone through practice, except construction workers who have to burden heavy objects everyday, in return the ability of finger will be abrased, for ordinary people, physical ability is normal, it is enough. Violin playing is not gymnastics, the latter requires malleability of waist, back, leg, arm and abdominal muscle, but not the finger, compared with gym, violin requires less. Other instruments like piano and accordion also require flexibility of fingers, not only left hand but also the right one, piano is polyphonic instrument, has higher requirement in coordination between two hemispheres, as two lines of different melodies carried simultaneously.

But good fingershape and flat fingertip and flexibility of left hand contribute to virtuoso? The skills of violin performance lie in right hand, e.g. bowing (arco) mainly, I admire Heifetz, Grumiaux, Oistrakh and Kogan because these masters can handle difficult bowing techniques that cannot be realized by ordinary violinists, bowing techniques, strangely enough, can be observed directly but cannot imitate, I once tried to imitate staccato of Heifetz, I can do it in some degree, but not precisely enough, because the sounds I made is not my ideal sounds, that's a big problem, which is the difference between maestri and others.

December 22, 2017, 6:17 AM · @Tutti, just to clarify, I don't think the pinky can be lengthened with early playing :-)

As I said, flat fingertips can be genetic. My idea is that it could be possible for the left hand to adapt more in terms of bone/tendon structure and finger independence when playing as a child than an adult, just like having braces in your teeth.

I completely agree that virtuosity comes more from bowing hand, but I wouldn't completely rule out that early playing in the violin can somehow help the bowing hand as well.

December 22, 2017, 6:22 AM · @Fridea, I was talking about Albert Frantz. I have put in AFAIK (as far as I know) and yes, I could be wrong on this.

I'm willing to acknowledge any misinformation that I could have in my posts, and would be thankful if someone can help correct them.

December 22, 2017, 6:33 AM · Hi Will Willy, I think body shape and flexibility do have impact but it is not fatal, Perlman, sitting in his wheelchair, which is a severe handicap for body flexibility, but he still plays amazingly.

The issue of bowing techniques is a mystery, crucial to tone, sound effect and tempo, many bowing techniques can only be improved and perfected through lifetime, in childhood one can acquire some basic skills but not the highly professional ones. Bowing techniques, unlike fingerings, though in masterclass a master can perform to you, but it indicates nuance of changes, involving the strength of wrist, forearm and arm, therefore cannot be easily figured out within several classes and years, I think it is adjustment of heart, this problem can be solved only by oneself, or the God.

December 22, 2017, 6:50 AM · Perlman did start very young though, at the age of 3.

As a late starter myself I do hope that age doesn’t matter much (after all, I would like to have the option of becoming another Perlman at retirement :-)) but the more I find out about the importance of early learning, the more I find that it does in fact matter.

Correct me if I’m wrong , I do believe an adult can reach a passable level of romantic concertos with determination and practice. But to compete with young starters for orchestral jobs and virtuosity is entirely another story though. No matter what, I think everyone should have the strongest faith in their pursuits.

December 22, 2017, 7:11 AM · Perlman started very young, but he is disabled, and restricted to wheelchair, which poses a big problem of body flexibility, in terms of body flexibility, a disabled cannot be compared to even normal, healthy individual.

I think it is quite easy for adult to reach level of romantic concerti because in my opinion, some concerti require equal or fewer skill than etudes like Kreutzer, Dont, Rode and Paganini, maybe Paganini capricci more difficult, but the former three are not indeed, can be reached through pedagogy and practice. If an adult can not learn even etudes (not all, but partial) of Kreutzer, Dont, Rode, there is no need to play any instrument, as instrument was invented and the designment of syllabus also by human. The realization of concerti can be done, but not as fine as that of virtuosic masters, this is keypoint, for example, I can expect any adult to surpass the level of 10-year-old playing Bruch, but don't expect them being like Grumiaux or Perlman, maybe they can try to do it from early twenties to seventy if they are ambitious and willing to do that, but in the planet who will?

Orchestral jobs as well as circle of virtuosi have solid limitation on age, though it is not transparent, even if a violinist is very talented, his or her career can still be impeded by age if started later (I have illustrated in another post why some Italian violinists are not so well-known). And violinists who can get a job in orchestra can be considered as one in ten, because many kids drop out in the end and convert to other career as they grow up, even average graduates from top conservatories cannot find job in orchestra, in the US not every Juilliard graduate ends in finding a position in orchestra, in Italy I've seen many young people graduated from Conservatorio Milano, Torino, Siena, Firenze and Santa Cecilia struggling in finding a satisfying position in orchestra or chamber group, many of them become private teacher, and one who becomes virtuoso can be counted as 1/50 at least.

Edited: December 22, 2017, 8:27 AM · Career-wise, for "big" jobs it matters a ton. Whether it's fair or not, it's another discussion, but adult starters are indeed at a disadvantage (I just oppose the idea that the problem is physical.)

Playing wise, you can eventually get to play whatever at a high level, granted the best of conditions, in this day and age of almost no "violin secrets". Still it will take lots of patient, careful practice, along with great guidance and internal motivation/perseverance.

The reason I usually oppose this idea of the "inferior" adult learner is exemplified in this very thread-it does NOTHING positive (while not being truly scientifical), and it adds lots of pessimism to those who started "late," who may feel they are doomed to be "lesser violinists" by virtue of age alone. I won't be part of the all-too-common music society group that kicks others on their way to violin mastery.

December 22, 2017, 9:06 AM · Lieschen - I hear you! It is also very American to want to monetize (make a career out of) something that one loves doing. The whole "if you do what you love and are passionate about, the money will come" statement...
Edited: December 22, 2017, 10:10 AM · What can be observed is that professional violinists, from soloists (Hahn, Chang, Bell) to members of freeway Philharmonics, all started as children. Those who claim that adults learners can end up "just as good" and fail to provide a single example are essentially preaching a religion.

As a adult amateur, I, as much, as anyone WANT to believe that adult beginners can be "just as good." But so far there is zero evidence.

December 22, 2017, 10:20 AM · There are many "outlier" examples-you won't hear about them because they usually won't be a "big name." Big name career violinists are not the only ones who play at an advanced level. That's the flaw in your argument (no offense intended.)

If you want to keep doubting your own potential, suit yourself. There's ZERO evidence that adults cannot learn to play the violin at a high level.

Glad Mr. Fischer addressed this issue in one of his books. Modern violin teaching has gone a long way, so in theory, anyone healthy enough can learn to play quite well.

I assume that if I presented you an advanced violinist that started late, you would argue "but he/she is no Frank Huang/Hillary Hahn"!, which I find a flawed premise. We are talking violin playing, not music business.

Happy Holidays, and Merry Violin Playing, whatever your ages may be.

Edited: December 22, 2017, 11:03 AM · "There's ZERO evidence that adults cannot learn to play the violin at a high level."

No one can prove an negative! In other words, one cannot provide any evidence that something does not exist. If you claim adult beginners can end up "just as good", the burden of proof is on you.

December 22, 2017, 11:04 AM · Hi Adalberto, I think there are huge differences between violin pedagogy in 21st century and that of 19th or early 20th centuries, today methods are more advanced than before and violins of extremely smaller sizes are available, but in the past these were not very common, for example, today kids debut at very early age playing Mendelssohn concerto E minor, but in the past if kid debut at 10 would be considered as prodigy, even Grumiaux done this at 19 because he held a violin of inappropriate size when he was six or eight (you can see fotos in Grumiaux site), which was a huge obstacle, in the past, even talented kid could only play some pieces or sonate which are thought to be very easy in contemporary violin pedagogy. As for Paganini capricci, once regarded as insurmountable for violinists in that century, today even kids younger than 10 can play some capricci of it, people upside down cause and reason, they find child prodigies not rare, and progress fast, if back to 18 or 19th century you would have found even famous violinists playing poorly in your viewpoint, as a result you will not think it is not children-privileged. If we go back to when Newton had lived, we could surprisingly find citizens were nearly all illiterate, professors in colleges did not know more than contemporary college students, everything will have chance to be mystified if is not dealt with appropriately.

Turn back to the possibility of kids and adults, I think the possibility is nearly the same, there are more than 50 millions kids or who started as kids playing violin in the world, especially in China, which is estimated to surpass 10 millions, a newly developed market of classical music, but what percentage of kids players go to conservatory? And among professional players, what is the rate of highly professional virtuosi? Maybe less than 1/100,000. As for adult learners, the denominator is much smaller than that of kids, I do not expect there are more than 2 millions adults who started to learn violin in the planet, because after WWII, in many countries violin has been considered to be children-privileged, an adult says s/he wants to do for PhD will not be rejected, but if says to learn violin, usually rejected firstly by parents and by colleagues around this individual, this is the cause of different denominator. Around the world we can find about 500 professional violinists with considerable skills, and I don’t know, maybe to find about 20 adult starters who can play concerti, or close to the level of Daniel Kurganov on YouTube is not unimaginable, to go to a considerable level the rate is nearly the same, though difference exists but not as huge as that of rate of Nobel laureates among population cross different countries. As for attitudes, I think most adults are not serious enough, in order to master it better it is not appropriate to treat oneself as amateur, contrarily, to practise semi-professionally at least three hours per day, but I suggest many of adults do not have leisure time like this, and those who are free and rich usually have no interest in learning violin, but car and jewelry. I guess if an institution is likely to carry an experiment, establish a fund of one million dollars, says if any adult with no music experience can learn violin as well as that of average conservatory students, this fund will be rewarded to the one, later more than 100,00 adults itch for a try.

December 22, 2017, 11:07 AM · There's no possible discussion with you so far, so just disagree with me. Win "logical" arguments, if that's what you are interested in (though I fail to see this "evidence" that adult learners are necessarily "flawed"). I hate internet debates, especially those who aren't any constructive.

I believe in you more than you do yourself. This is the irony. I am "helping you out". Believing that you just can't play as well as kids because of "accented" playing is the easy way out of technical problems as an adult, IMHO. Figure out solutions, and enjoy music.

Happy Holidays

December 22, 2017, 11:59 AM · Gemma, I hear you on the reason people want to be pros being so that they can focus exclusively on music. I just think that a lot of young people on here tend to get a little ahead of themselves, and that they can do largely the same work if their goal is to get an orchestra job or to just improve their playing (until the point where you are doing excerpt-specific work and more specialized training), but that one way of framing the goal is more likely to lead to burnout and disillusionment then the other.

But we all have limited time and resources, so it's a smart thing to go, "hmm, maybe I don't want to put in 4 hours every day for the next 10 years", and I would rather use my talents more productively. What if some crazy person lops off your hand on year 9?????

December 22, 2017, 12:22 PM · Ms. Francis,

Yes, but is there evidence that these "highest level" has not been achieved already, but not publicized (never will achieve this "career", etc.) (Well aware that it's impossible to prove one way or another-for you logic-fans.)

I do not define "highest level" by "big" career. If that's the standard, then early starters are also "disadvantaged" in today's highly competitive market.

Nothing wrong in playing advanced repertoire for fun... hopefully it's "fun" for the "highest level" performers as well. Fair salary and "fun" is a good combo.

I have already stated that a big career, unlikely for all humans on Earth, is more realistic for early starters-never have I stated that if you started at 25, you will likely be the next "big violin thing" in the music business world. I favor early training, but adults need not feel as if they can't "overachieve" just because they didn't start at a supposed "right age".

In short "reknown" =/= being a great musician/violinist. Making that the goal is an unfair mark to ask of anyone of ANY starting age. Be the best you can be, and you'll likely surprise yourself- even if you don't get to be Heifetz.

Edited: December 22, 2017, 1:45 PM · As a late starter myself (13) the biggest obstacle was fluency in the degree of sight reading needed for orchestral playing compared to early starters. I found that I could play by ear and improvise better than most early starter though so I went that way as a career - also it was my passion. I've often wondered if starting early and being pushed down the narrow path of classical violin training does in fact wire your brain in such a way that it makes improvisation and playing by ear more difficult. I've known a lot of classical violinists and find this phenomenon baffling. I'm guessing that if somebody starts early and has good ear training (very neglected in violin teaching) and is encouraged to be creative, noodle around and play tunes they know without music then that part of the brain would not atrophy but I don't know. I do think that if this aspect of music making is downplayed or just plain overlooked (the teacher probably never did it) then your brain is going to be conditioned to look through the eye to learn music.
I also notice that a lot of the discussion here is about technical ability and nothing about expressivity or creativity. I don't think such things are dependent upon what age you start.
December 22, 2017, 2:02 PM · Another interesting thing I'd like to add is that audiences don't seem to go gaga over terrible violinists (or most instruments ) the way they might over terrible, untrained pop singers, or guitarists. I wonder why that is. If we had the same mentality with a violinist who plays equivalent to the level Madonna or Rebecca Black sings at, maybe a career would be slightly more accessible
Edited: December 22, 2017, 2:45 PM · That's interesting. My wife is not a musician and likes some Madonna . I just asked her why and she said she likes the lyrics, the vibe of the production and it's somewhat nostalgic to her! She didn't say anything about Madonna's technique! I asked if she thought she was a really good singer and she said "no, but that's not important".
I guess many of us musicians never get what actually means something to an audience. I'm always surprised when somebody says "I like it for the lyrics", also they never mentioned nostalgia in music college! We can scoff at "vibe" but it's real enough for a lot of people - even classical audiences. A performer has to capture people's imaginations and at least attention. If people were as enthralled by virtuosity as we are then we would see more of it in the mainstream. As far as I know none of the Beatles could play Paganini Caprices but they did move a lot of people.
So, just tying that back to the OP. - 13 is not too late to have a career as a violinist but you might have to be more open about what music is and what moves people.
Edited: December 22, 2017, 3:01 PM · No, I still think the burden of proof is on those making the claim that one group is less capable than another. Will raises some good points about things that work against adults' favour, showing that it is in fact possible to prove a negative claim.

University is always available & it doesn't hurt to start at 30 rather than 18 (after giving music a shot). In the US there seems to be this attitude that you go to college the day you turn 18 - possibly because unskilled workers get paid so badly over there & it seems to be the only option - but if you can make a living, maybe through teaching, there's no harm doing so for a few years while you pursue music.

Bruch is definitely on the more difficult side of repertoire if we look at the big picture, especially if you want it "played well", and most people quit before that stage, as tutti points out.

Roman, no one has a clear idea of their career goals when they start violin, especially if they were 6 years old, but I can tell you from the moment I first played in an orchestra I preferred it to solo performances, and lots of others will say the same. Anyone who doesn't love playing in an orchestra will make that very obvious & have trouble passing a job trial.

It's also not just a matter of "soloists play better" - they play completely differently. If Hillary Hahn sat in an orchestra and played in her normal style she would be kicked out, not to mention someone like Vengerov or Perlman.

Edited: December 22, 2017, 7:30 PM · "I still think the burden of proof is on those making the claim that one group is less capable than another."

If the two groups are (1) adult starters and (2) those who started before 10, the evidence is overwhelming!

December 22, 2017, 3:24 PM ·

Yes I know she is an outlier but...

Why can't there be adult starters who are outliers? I would love them to be out there. If you are one of them, don't be shy and post videos. :)

December 22, 2017, 3:44 PM · David,

You can't just go off of anecdotal evidence, and have to be careful in discerning correlation and causation. There are too many confounding variables. We need more research addressing age in further isolation.

This line of thinking is what got us in to trouble in the vaccination hoax because parents were thinking something along the lines of, "Well my kid got vaccinated at a year old and then I soon found out that my kid has autism. Must have been the vaccine. There is no other possible cause." They were unable to consider every variable, and it cost us.

Luckily dashed dreams don't have such dire consequences for the population at large.

December 22, 2017, 4:29 PM · My idea is that the burden of proof falls more on those who challenge the status quo (i.e. that starting early is deemed important).

However I do see the validity in Gemma's opinion that burden of proof is on those making the claim that one group is less capable than another. Though I should add that these 'claims' are what have been generally observed in reality, and it's a difficult task to challenge the reality itself.

Reality forced me into the pragmatist camp against my will, BUT as a late starter I do hope one day there would be a late-starting outstanding soloist who managed to get international attention (at Bell's or Mutter's levels) who will give a fresh source of motivation to those of us who didn't learn the violin before being fluent in our own mother tongues.

Ironically following the pragmatist camp, those famous soloists, having learnt the violin at their kindergarten age, would in no way be able to decide to learn violin for themselves. Personally I detest the idea of someone's success being dependent on the actions of others (in this case their parents) in such a drastic way.

At least for now, I am inclined to believe an adult starter can manage to achieve a *passable* level of the romantic concertos. Maybe in less competitive places other than North America, that could be enough to lead you to a successful orchestral career? I don't know, but I hope so.

Edited: December 22, 2017, 4:44 PM · Will,

Though many early starters are forced by their parents, some do have the idea themselves to play. They might hear the instrument on the radio, tv, or at a concert, and say, "That sounds so cool! Can I play that?" Many people I have played with who started very young said that this is what got them started. I am not sure why so many think it is unthinkable for a young child to request to play an instrument, especially one so widespread in popular culture as violin. Perhaps we have Itzhak Perlman's Sesame Street appearance to thank partly for young children being inspired.

December 22, 2017, 7:38 PM · Albert Frantz is an interesting example because he actually began to learn the piano as a younger child -- and then quit, because, he has said in interviews, his teacher told his mother that she was wasting her money. He started playing again in earnest at the age of 17.

Daniel Kurganov started playing at the age of 16, but he'd already been playing piano for 10 years by that point.

A high-school-age start is a late start, but it's not a truly adult start. The difference there is one of time and opportunity, although there are probably mental plasticity and physical flexibility aspects as well.

Edited: December 22, 2017, 9:10 PM · Thanks for your input, Lieschen.

My mistake was to make an absolute statement out of a general situation. Yes, sometimes interest is first incited by the child.

Edited: December 22, 2017, 9:16 PM · "On the subject of job satisfaction, could someone explain what could possibly be making them miserable enough to think they've got it as bad as janitors? I'm genuinely confused..."

This is my theory: the experience of playing in an orchestra is, from middle school, youth orchestra, college orchestra, and on up to the highest levels. basically the same. You sit there while some (usually) tells you what to do. Sure, you get better, and the orchestra gets better. Often the conducting gets better. The repertoire gets better. Bu the fact remains: the essential experience is the same from early youth to career professional. There are few other analogs to this excerpt perhaps sports. So I think people get tired of doing the exact same thing.

"No, I still think the burden of proof is on those making the claim that one group is less capable than another. Will raises some good points about things that work against adults' favour, showing that it is in fact possible to prove a negative claim."

Ok, how about this? It doesn't happen. Sure you can theorize about some gifted adult practicing 6 hours a day. But they don't. And even if they do they are likely to be very inhibited. I'm not talking Bruch, a piece I'm sick of and hope to never have to teach or hear again, by the way. Put it in a grill with the Grieg A minor piano concerto, light them both on fire, and cook a ribeye. On second thought, you can add the Bach double concerto for good measure.

Someone show me someone who started after the age of 21 and can perform a Bach solo sonata from memory at a high level and I'll change my mind. It ain't gonna happen. In fact, show me someone who can play the exposition of Mozart A major concerto at a high level and I'll concede.

Adults beginners don't become ski racers, or gymnasts either. For good reason.

Edited: December 22, 2017, 9:32 PM · "Someone show me someone who started after the age of 21 and can perform a Bach solo sonata from memory at a high level and I'll change my mind. It ain't gonna happen. In fact, show me someone who can play the exposition of Mozart A major concerto at a high level and I'll concede."

100% agree with Scott on this. The very best adult (as opposed to teenage) starter I ever encountered was at roughly the Bach a minor level. And she was an outlier; nobody else I have ever met has come close. All of this hypothesizing and theorizing about something that nobody has ever seen in the flesh is getting redundant. I'd be curious to hear other experienced teachers describe the level of the best adult beginner they ever taught, met, or even heard of.

"I've often wondered if starting early and being pushed down the narrow path of classical violin training does in fact wire your brain in such a way that it makes improvisation and playing by ear more difficult."

Those of us who started in Suzuki tend to be very good at playing by ear. Improvising is something else, and I will be the first to say I am not very good at it, not that I have ever aspired to be. But several times a year I give a "concert" at my mother's assisted living facility that is basically 45 minutes of me playing by ear--patriotic songs, musical tunes, hymns--all sorts of things.

"Roman's statements are a bit too simplistic and naive. But unfortunately, soloist chops do matter in getting a job in the US. As Scott and others noted above, people basically have to play at the soloist level to land a section violin position in a salaried orchestra."

It's clear to me that Roman holds orchestral playing in contempt. I believe he is still a student; it will be interesting to see if his point of view changes over time. For myself, I fell in love with orchestral playing in my youth orchestra and from then on, that's what I wanted to do. I will say that it is a bit of an overstatement to say that one must play at the soloist level to win a section position in a salaried orchestra. One must play exceedingly accurately, yes, but there is a difference in style between soloist and orchestral player. But it is true that the level required to win even a mediocre U.S. orchestra job is very high.

Edited: December 22, 2017, 9:45 PM · I don't know of any country with a full-time-salaried orchestra that would accept violinists playing Bruch at a "passable" level. More like Sibelius at a near-flawless level. Although it's important to note they only hear about a minute of each piece, so it's not like you have to chop through an entire concerto without making a mistake.

Scott, I agree that orchestral playing essentially stays the same, but one would hope people realise this before entering a professional orchestral career? Surely nobody who hated their college orchestra thinks it will be completely different in the 'real world'? More likely IMO is your last point about people eventually getting tired of it. Especially with some of the... interesting modern repertoire they have to do these days.

December 22, 2017, 9:42 PM · Three minutes of a concerto, typically. :-)
December 22, 2017, 10:39 PM · I've sat in auditions where they heard anything from 1-5 minutes, maybe those 1-minute ones were the worst players.
December 22, 2017, 10:52 PM · "Surely nobody who hated their college orchestra thinks it will be completely different in the 'real world'?"

Musicians, like everyone else, think the grass is greener: "If only I could play (fill in here, but don't put in Bruch...) then I'll be a good musician...if only I can get that better gig...if only I win tenure...if only I can make a little more money...If only I can be in a prestigious orchestra in a big city...If only I could be in the first violins...if only I could be concertmaster...THEN I'll be happy.

But we all know human nature, don't we?

People in youth orchestras, or college orchestras, seldom look ahead to their 30s, 40s, or beyond. We all believe that making money will somehow change the way we look at what we do, or that things will be better as a professional. People in college make all manner of choices without really looking ahead to the realities of their career choices.

And it's probably the same in any other profession: "If only I could get into law school...or get a job in a firm...or make partner...and so it goes.

Edited: December 22, 2017, 11:05 PM · Amazing how people dedicate their lives & make sacrifices for something without doing any significant research into the reality of what it'll be like for them.

Edit: Obviously this is different to getting sick of it after 30 years & changing careers - I am referring to people who go into this blindly, thinking orchestra is "for if you aren't good enough to be a soloist".

Edited: December 22, 2017, 11:38 PM · http://www.violinist.com/blog/JazzyWazzy/20099/10460/

Found my unicorn!

ETA: full bio in English:


December 22, 2017, 11:08 PM · "The issue of bowing techniques is a mystery, ...herefore cannot be easily figured out within several classes and years, I think it is adjustment of heart, this problem can be solved only by oneself, or the God."

There's no mystery to good bow technique. A friend of mine said it best: a bow arm is a gift given from teacher to student.

December 22, 2017, 11:09 PM · No offense intended, but these outlier adult learners that "don't exist" do actually exist. "Show me"; yes, I can't show you but know of them-surely I am "lying", for some sinister reason or hidden agenda. I know I won't convince any of you experienced teachers and professionals, so I will leave it at that.

Gymnasts and ski racers don't exactly corelate with violin playing, which is its own "animal", so to speak. If the "truth" is that adults can't ever play really well, they are wasting their time trying to do their best. I know maybe "zero" I know will become "great", but I prefer them to be in charge of their advancement, rather than some doubtful universal rule that they won't ever be "any good" because of their late starting age. What this ideology does is perpetuate the myth (or "fact", depending on who you ask) forever, not helping them late starters one bit.

Bless the few teachers that are open to be surprised by the few exceptions to the rule. Improbable is not the same as impossible.

Happy Holidays. Enjoy your beloved instrument, and be happy along your loved ones.

December 22, 2017, 11:10 PM · Wow he must be very intelligent/talented to progress so much in a few months!
December 22, 2017, 11:21 PM · Hi Scott Cole,
Yes, bow arm is taught by teacher, but how about highly proficient teacher has so many ordinary students? Grumiaux had taught many students, and I know some of them, none of them can reach the arco of Grumiaux, neither majority of them became virtuosi. I think it goes same for other virtuosi for example Heifetz . Sometimes, a virtuoso is willing to teach pupil, but this virtuoso may be not good at pedagogy or express ideas, or the student will be not talented enough or not proficient either, thus cannot grasp keypoint.
December 23, 2017, 2:41 AM · Mary, I have no contempt for orchestral playing whatsoever, each person does what’s best and most inspiring for them. My own enjoyment is highly dependent on the general level of the orchestra and who is conducting.
What triggers me is that some people claim winning orchestral auditions is this impossible feat that’s unachievable, and then profess it as a universal truth, and discourage other people from training for and taking auditions. But this ‘truth’ that they are proclaiming is based solely off their own personal experience.
It’s not because they didn’t win any orchestral auditions that others can’t.
And I’m of the opinion, however polemical, that if you can’t win, or at least come very close to, winning an orchestral audition, then your level is lacking.

I will repeat my earlier statement again. For me, the difficulty of an orchestral audition is directly proportional to your playing level.
I think you could agree on that with me.

December 23, 2017, 4:04 AM · Playing level is by far the largest factor, but there are others, so I don't think "directly proportional" would be accurate. Here are a few examples:

- *other* people's playing level - there's only one job, it only takes one person who's a slightly better player, and this person is always hanging around somewhere ready to take the jobs

- how the audition goes on the day

- connections, reputation, & past work with the orchestra

- the stylistic preferences of the orchestra at that moment

- financial situation (you need access to a decent instrument to get past the blind audition round and 1 year trial, unless you can borrow one for that long)

But yes I agree, some people here take it slightly too far in advising teenagers to give up their dreams at the ripe old age of 13. That is premature.

Edited: December 23, 2017, 6:18 AM · "What triggers me is that some people claim winning orchestral auditions is this impossible feat that’s unachievable, and then profess it as a universal truth, and discourage other people from training for and taking auditions. But this ‘truth’ that they are proclaiming is based solely off their own personal experience.
It’s not because they didn’t win any orchestral auditions that others can’t."

I won several auditions in my younger days and have been on my orchestra's audition committee for over 25 years.

I look forward to hearing the details of your direct personal experience with professional orchestra auditions, preferably in the US since that's where nearly all the young hopefuls (including the OP, I believe) are located.

December 23, 2017, 6:21 AM · I was not talking about you.
Edited: December 23, 2017, 6:43 AM · It doesn't really matter who you were referring to. I have stated the basis for my opinions about professional orchestra auditions. I'm very interested to know what experiences you have had that have led to your opinions.
December 23, 2017, 8:10 AM · http://www.violinist.com/blog/JazzyWazzy/20099/10460/

Thank you: nice gentleman, seems very humble about it all.

I am sure "he's no Hilary Hahn" (a supposed "problem" for late starters), but anyone healthy and perseverant can be really good at the art of the violin.

There are plenty of animals in this world I have never seen, some of which are rare even in zoos. That doesn't mean they do not exist.

Long-live violin-playing passion, regardless career aspirations.

December 23, 2017, 8:59 AM · Terje Moe Hansen was still a teenaged starter -- age 19 when he got his first "real" lesson. Again, a late start but not an adult start. He says he practiced 10 hours a day. Also importantly, in that interview, discussing his acceptance into conservatory, he states, "I have to say that the level for acceptance is much higher today."

He's also an interesting outlier in that he plays "left handed" (i.e., with violin and bow hands reversed).

December 23, 2017, 9:10 AM · It's certainly not that orchestra auditions can't be won, but I think many students underestimate the expected playing level. Interestingly, I think that this may come from looking at the playing levels of their teachers, especially the ones who may have won a freeway philharmonic job 30 years ago, and have since let their playing level deteriorate significantly from their technical peak.

I'm struck by the delta from 25 years ago or so, between the freeway philharmonics that I subbed with as a teenager, and those same orchestras' audition requirements today, and the vastly improved playing level and qualifications of the people who now play in those orchestras. Around where I live now, it can also be seen, especially in the orchestras that professionalized from community orchestras -- there's a spectrum of skill levels that are effectively correlated with age.

The overall playing level of students has gone up steadily and aggressively over the last century, and especially in the last few decades. Teaching has simply gotten vastly better and more optimal,.

December 23, 2017, 9:13 AM · Terje Moe Hansen it seems also composes for violin. Now why is it that all these early starters hardly ever compose?

Mary Ellen, yes, when it comes to playing by ear Suzuki students that started that way are the exception. Those that had no effort or training in that direction early on often find they cannot play by ear later in life no matter their level of advancement. As you have found, it's very useful in certain situations like the one you mentioned in the old folks home playing requests and the like. This skill can lead to more employment for string players and teachers should at least suggest their students try it. For those that can only read, transcription is a fantastic starting point. For me, I found that I was stronger on ear playing than reading and transcription really helped my reading, so it works for everyone. I just feel this is relevant to the conversation as we are talking about late learners - often highly trained players are late learners to ear playing, composition and improvisation mainly because teachers have not deemed it important, they don't do it themselves or they consider there is not enough time in the lesson.

Edited: December 23, 2017, 9:40 AM · Hansen does not play classical repertoire, at least not in videos in the public domain. As suggested by Scott, it would be nice to hear him play some solo Bach or Mozart, if not Bruch.

Kurganov is an inspiration for late starters! His solo Bach is very convincing.

We have two cases of teen starters who matured into adult players. We can compare them with all those child starters from time immemorial who are now matured players and arrive at our own conclusion.

Edit to add: could they have gone further had they started as children?

December 23, 2017, 9:24 AM · "If the "truth" is that adults can't ever play really well, they are wasting their time trying to do their best."

We're talking about two different things here: adult beginners trying to master advanced material to a professional level, and adult beginners doing something for enjoyment. I don't think the latter is a waste of time (not only for adults but for the majority of young students who will never achieve it anyway).
We all do things that won't get us to the highest levels, but we still enjoy doing them.

I enjoy trying to learn the piano even though I know I'll never be great. I ride my bike and jog not caring that I'll never win a triathlon. Being an amateur is liberating: one is liberated from the tyranny of having to be "great."

I'll throw this out there though: one can imagine that an adult learner has a far better chance of achieving virtuosity if he or she has ALREADY achieved it on another instrument.

Those of us who are trained musicians forget how very difficult it is to achieve fluency in music reading--that is something that takes a very long time. I can also imagine a hypothetical adult-beginner-turned-virtuoso who can play one Bach or Paganini, but only after a long struggle and by rote. Maybe like that guy Gilbert Kaplan, the amateur who specialized in Mahler 2. Could he quickly learn all the other Mahler Symphonies if required to?

Even my very best students, the ones that went off to conservatory, needed years to understand the intricacies of fingerings and how to make musical choices. There are processes that are not dependent on simply "trying hard" or putting in hours of practice. Becoming an accomplished musician requires something that the adult has little of: time. Every aspect of their learning is slowed.

It's like cooking a turkey. If you're late putting it in, you can't cook it properly by cranking up the oven to 900 degrees. It needs time in the oven...

December 23, 2017, 9:31 AM · Hi Adalberto, how do you think of the definition of adult? The age of majority is a cultural and religious factor. In ancient Judaism, the age of adult is 13 for male and 12 for female, for that age both genders can get married and have ability for reproduction, which is a key point, yet many Islamic countries also follow this discipline, today some of these countries have changed a little: to alter the age of majority to 15 or 16, especially in Middle East. The majority of world, still use the defition of 18, and some countries 19 to 21. However, as I have said, this is a cultural and religious factor, not strictly physiological at all, if measured by physiological standard, only the onset of puberty can be measured more precisely, I think if considered scientifically, the obstacle of violin pedagogy towards adult should be more like physiological one rather than cultural one, because we emphasize flexibility of kids, and flexibility is related to maturity, once kids matured, theoretically, the rate of action lowers, if violin playing is treated the same as competitive sports. In terms of sexual maturity, there is few difference between 13 (if early), 15 and 21 (if malnutrition), in some places (I must point out Sicilia) kids mature fast, can't believe some kids of secondary school looks even elder than college students.
December 23, 2017, 9:53 AM · Hi Scott Cole, what do you think of "enjoyment" ? In fact, though "enjoyment" is not "professional", but an advanced skill is integral requirement of "enjoyment", if a violin learner would like to enjoy his or her own music made by per se, how an inferior skill sustain its musicality ? I have met some adult starters who asked me questions, I suggest them that they should at least finish etudes of Kayser and Mazas (not all but partial), to make themselves equiped with necessary techniques, then consider the next step, or, how they enjoy the sounds they've made? They'll feel unsatisfied. I must add that these two etudes (Kayser and Mazas) must be finished in the course of inferior period (5 years, from zero: open string and scale, to Mazas) in more than 60 conservatories in Italy (open to all kids aged 9 to 14 without previous knowledge of any instrument), etudes of Kreutzer, Dont and Rode are used in next period (medium period, 3 years). The biggest problem of adults is not highly motivated enough, they do not have strong motivation nor destination, and the time arrangement is not enough, either, I suggest them to put at least 3 hours per day.
December 23, 2017, 11:47 AM · Quite a few classical players improvise and/or compose. They just don't necessarily make their compositions available commercially, or play improvisations in public.

Pianists seem more likely to improve and compose, probably because the nature of their instrument makes it easier to do so.

Perhaps this is why the most likely self-composed thing you'll see a violinist play publicly, is their own cadenza to a major concerto.

Edited: December 23, 2017, 12:42 PM · Well, quite a few might but I'm asking a question (I don't know the answer): are early learners less likely to compose or even improvise if these skills are not included in their learning? I suspect it's the case because creativity is not really encouraged and exploration is discouraged. By that I mean (really generally speaking) that the student is told early on not to deviate from what the teacher tells them, what is on the page and what takes place in the lesson for fear of bad habits. The kid plays Jingle Bells and uses the rhythm they know but the page has straight quarters as dotted notes haven't been introduced yet. "Wrong", says the teacher. "That's not what it says on the page and you must only play what's on the page"! Later when they are playing studies they are told to play all notes evenly but not told that actual music works differently and it would make very boring music to play it that way. Young kids are not going to think these things over and are more likely to just follow without knowing the whys of what they are doing.
Lydia, if they are not making their compositions available commercially then they can't have much confidence in them! Yes, pianists have the advantage as they have the harmony available to them and they also are open to many genres that include such skills. It used to be encouraged to have strong piano skills for a violinist but doesn't seem so much today. Sax players often improvise but don't play a harmony instrument but many take it up because they like jazz. I honestly think that a lot of the problem is that we have to spend so much time working on intonation that we spend less time on music.
As for the cadenzas, it's really a rare thing to see somebody playing their own isn't it?
Please excuse my generalizations but I feel that in all the emphasis of soloist/orchestra, violinists are missing out on a lot of job opportunities.
Edited: December 23, 2017, 1:11 PM · Those who aspire to be classical violinists may just want to focus on acquiring the skills needed to win competitions/auditions. Improvisation is not, as far as I know, required for competitions/auditions.

Is improvisation a nice skill to have in case a career as a classical violinist doesn't pen out? Sure! The same can be said about a lot of other skills (stock picking, code writing) and there are only 24 hours in a day.

If you are playing with a hundred people either as a soloist or a orchestra member, I am not sure how much room is there to improvise.

Edited: December 23, 2017, 1:29 PM · Let us not underestimate the powers of the human (adult) mind.

I agree that it is much harder for an adult to master an entirely new field once alien to him but I have confidence if the will (and time and money) is there that he/she can achieve it to a respectable level. Keeping perspective, of all children that took violin lessons how many have never achieved a passable Mendelssohn? A Bach concerto, 'easier'.

Lacking other data I apply a similar scenario to myself, this might be if I wanted to be able to speak fluent Swahili or masterfully paint watercolors. Two skills that I know little about (not another musical instrument which I know something) and might be comparable to learning the violin as a complete neophyte to music. If I really want these two things badly enough and had the time and financial backing (to take private lessons).... honestly I believe I would fail in the first but achieve respectability in the second because I like painting more than Swahili and my innate talents. I never had any private lessons in either.

Think of your own talents and desires and make your own analogies.

Similarly, Zimbalist had supposedly said that Galamian can make even a table to play very well. In jest of course, but if one had the money and time to spend years with a master teacher.... When you think about it, how many Bach and Mendelssohn concerto players had years of study with good, very good teachers? Give that same base to a new adult player.

So I picked these two disciplines because they are somewhat similar to violin playing in that they are all a specialized skill, I have never had any lessons in them, and just as a violin prodigy exist, so do they exist in painting and language fluency.

This is all in theory of course, but I think it is believable. I think if you find an adult with a hidden talent for music, the desire and give him ten years with no restriction in time and resources, even decent conservatory levels can be achieved. Virtuosity ? no.

But that's the irony of it isn't it? People like that has already started as a child. I currently know no one who play the violin that has never played an instrument before and is starting out with a blank slate. I know plenty of adult returners like me though. There's the crux of it: finding a truly 'virgin' adult player is already hard enough. Is the lack of good 'virgin' adult players due to the tremendous -and some might claim- insurmountable road ahead of them or is it due to a paucity of someone who actually even fit the bill? Correlation does not imply causation.

Fun aside: Grandma Moses had a talent for painting, but it was never truly exploited until she hit an age of 78, when the rigors of farm life finally subsided. She achieved world fame - a virtuoso- when many are worrying about climbing the stairs without breaking something.

December 23, 2017, 1:39 PM · "if I wanted to be able to speak fluent Swahili or masterfully paint watercolors."

Kan, without reading further, I knew the results by casual observation. For adults, learning to speak a second language fluently is much harder than painting watercolor.

December 23, 2017, 1:48 PM · Christopher, publishing involves complications that simply composing for oneself does not.

Going back a generation, Milstein didn't publish his compositions, arrangements, and cadenzas for years, as far as I know, despite playing them on his own programs. Heifetz published some transcriptions et.al., but as far as I know, much of his work was only published late in his life or after his death, and there are still some popular ones that have never been published ("White Christmas", I think, remains as just a manuscript, for instance).

In the current generation, Rachel Barton Pine has only relatively recently began to publish her own work. Christian Tetzlaff's Beethoven concerto cadenza was published, but I think that was years after he started playing it, and talking about it quite a lot (it's an arrangement of the original piano cadenza). I suspect there was specifically publisher interest in both of those projects, giving impetus -- and money -- to the players to go through the effort of publication.

Especially for younger players, their own compositions are also somewhat proprietary -- part of their personal magic. They might very well decide they don't want to share the sheet music until later in their lives.

And that's not counting the tons of young players who improvise in non-classical styles.

December 23, 2017, 1:56 PM · David, Menuhin competition in 2012 required improvisation (probably still does), and Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition next year also requires improvised cadenza.
December 23, 2017, 4:33 PM · I wonder how one proves one's cadenza was improvised,
Edited: December 23, 2017, 8:16 PM · I was also wondering whether they actually have to *improvise" or just learn a new cadenza that no one has played before.
Edited: December 23, 2017, 8:55 PM · Lydia, I would say 19 is an adult start, at least if one wants a career in music. About a month ago you were telling me the average career-bound 14-year-old has already played a "solid Mendelssohn", and with that in mind 19 seems practically geriatric to just be learning how to hold a violin.
Edited: December 23, 2017, 9:41 PM · Let’s not forget that by the time YouTube became a thing, Prof Hansen was not exactly a spring chicken. :D We don’t know how and what he played when he was touring the world as a soloist. At least we know he has had some success as a teacher. Being a professor is not too shabby. His students seem to be doing very well.

Norway is not a classical violin study Mecca and time sure has changed but nonetheless, I don’t think those factors should take anything away from his accompaniments.

December 23, 2017, 11:34 PM · Paul's question is interesting. Does it mean by this logic, the audience would never be sure whether someone was improvising, from auditions to performances?

I think one way to increase the auditioner's chance to really have to improvise is to give him an unknown piece (perhaps freshly composed), ask him to sightread and then to improvise. But that alone may not give 100% guarantee.

December 24, 2017, 12:18 AM · Yixi, I might be wrong, but actually think the cadenza is written in advance by the player, not improvised.
Edited: December 24, 2017, 12:50 AM · Apparently they do have to compose their own cadenza beforehand and submit the printed sheet music in. Then they'll play "mprovised cadenza", according to the SISI competition rules:

Will, during the Menuhin Competition in 2012, they did do just that for the juniors. SISI is a little different and I guess we can debate what is improvisation. For me, improvisation is not so mysterious. I am just improvising this (new) paragraph on the spot even though every word and every sentence I wrote many times before in different context. Same idea with violin improvisation.

December 24, 2017, 12:48 AM · Yixi, isn't improvisation in music created spontaneously or without preparation?
December 24, 2017, 12:55 AM · Yes and no. You have to have prepared all the elements for years to spontaneously express yourself. As I said above, like talking or writing. Spontaneity is not something comes from nowhere. It's a natural product of fluency.
December 24, 2017, 1:01 AM · *I am just improvising this (new) paragraph on the spot even though every word and every sentence I wrote many times before in different context. Same idea with violin improvisation.*

Yixi, I'm confused. Does that mean I can play something I have prepared before and still call it improvisation?

December 24, 2017, 10:32 AM · Gemma, the distinction that I'm drawing between a "late start" and an "adult start" is basically the question of, "Is this person still within their student years?" In other words, are they still at a life stage where they could reasonably spend the next ten years of their life in an academic institution, studying music full-time, without being significantly out of sync with their peers?

Age 19 or perhaps even 20 still counts as non-adult in that context, I think, especially in places where there's a National Service (mandatory military service) or the like that sometimes results in later starts for university students. A regular student might very well be 19 at the start of their undergrad education if they take a gap year post-secondary schooling, too.

People who begin that late also tend to have different expectations of what a career in music constitutes, I think -- likely more of a life of private teaching, coupled with a bit of gigging.

December 24, 2017, 10:47 AM · Will, what I try to explain is that we have been preparing ourselves for improvising from day one, and as we've learned to play every note, scale and arpeggios, various bowing techniques, playing passages or entire concerto by memory, all of which I call "elements of improvisation". With these elements in our pocket, improvisation is very much like we talk and write in new sentences and paragraphs spontaneously without having to prepare each time beforehand.

That said, I don't know how exactly the improvisation in SISI competition works. I only read the requirements and they do ask for original composition and improvised cadenza. However it was and will be done in SISI, I don't think composing one's own cadenza necessarily excludes the chance for improvisation in a commonly understood way during one's performance. We see and even do this all the time during public speaking.

Edited: December 24, 2017, 11:52 AM · Yixi, I agree that there is an element of improvisation in everything we do.

The larger point I made was that classical violinists don't need to improvis in real time and in a spontaneous manner as jazz musicians or musicians of other genres. If by "improvisation" you mean one learns a piece of music that is already composed, printed on sheet music days or weeks before performance, then my original point was not contradicted.

Edited: December 24, 2017, 12:47 PM · Sorry to harp on about improvisation. I brought it up as a point because I feel that young learners that never did it are often less capable and late starters may at least understand the fact that they may have an advantage in this regard. Of course an early starter that is dabbling in improvisation early on may do fine.
Yixi, of course the more technique and the like we have the better off we will be for expressing ourselves but I think it's a wrong assumption to believe that once you have consummate skills of the kind learnt by a classical violinist that you can suddenly turn your hand to improvisation and it will just all come out as a result of good technique. Certainly, jazz musicians work with scales and arpeggios (usually less straight up and down but in patterns) but they are also making efforts to improvise from the beginning.
I understand that a classical violinist thinks, "when would I improvise other than candenzas" but it's an invaluable skill outside of classical music. As a working violinist I have played lots of different styles and usually I find a job will come up with no rehearsal and I may not know some or any of the tunes. Mainly my improvisation skills are useful for back up, harmonization, accompaniment, fills and the like. Even to make good if you go wrong - I don't know how I would manage without those skills! Solos too but taking an improvised solo is just one use for improvisation. As teachers that are preparing violinists for work in the real world, we have to give them as many tools as they need as modern violinists and not just churn out orchestra fodder.
For composing - don't forget we have recording and also Youtube these days and not just getting sheet music published. I personally compose music but don't get sheet music published - instead I compose (and record) for music libraries. I don't need to audition for an orchestra. With multi-track, I am one!
Edited: December 24, 2017, 1:58 PM · To All Contributor's, 233!!

I'd written an involved Reply & just lost it ... To be quite Real: as an original pupil of 7 in Jascha Heifetz's 1st Violin Master Class, USC, at the Institute for Special Music Studies, & being a class -mate of the eldest member of our Master Class, Claire Hodgkin's, I must address what I know and have lived ~

The only route to "Pro-dom" is very focused & overseen practise of No Less than 4 hours pr day, better 5 or 6 all week including Sunday's; a complete traversal of all scales & configurations; all Kreutzer Etudes; all Dont; all previously drilled Schradieck; selected Carl Flesch for varying fingerings; Unaccompanied Bach Sonatas & Partitas; Ysaye Solo Sonatas; Ernst Der Erlkonig & Last Rose of Summer; all Violin Concert pieces with Orchestra; All Core Solo Violin Concerti from Before Bach, J.S. Bach to Alban Berg, Korngold, Schoenberg Violin Concerto & latest "accepted" concerto concert repertoire; all Violin/Piano Chamber Sonata literature; all Piano Trios (& configurations), String Quartet, Quintet; Piano Quartet, Quintet literature; All Concertmaster Solo's in Every Major Orchestral Symphonic work; 1st & 2nd Violin Tutti parts to every core major symphonic orchestral symphony & piece-literature; Opera repertoire; Ballet's in entirety, i.e., Khachaturian's Gayneh Suite, Sparticus, etc.; all major Piano Concerti w/ Orch., preferably having coordinatingly bowed All Inner Circle String Parts in sync w/ Wind and Brass phrasing, and most probably about 45 to 55 years to truly know All in one's hands, head and heart. Oh! All major Symphonies since Haydn to Now & on the cusp works of sincere composition ... This is "Pro-dom" in my view. To become a Great Violinist, one must truly know the Symphonic works of the Composer's of every core major Violin Concerto since Vivaldi, Bach - Now for full panoramic views of musical style/ symphonic Structure. ('There are no Shortcuts!' JH )

If many haven't started the Violin at teething age, although it's a challenge to 'catch up' at the 'late' age of 10 years, (in the case of my legendary violin mentor, Nathan Milstein!), all violin aficionados can begin learning the King of Instruments at varying age's according to varying aspirations ... It is in this vein, I will officially quote the Master, Heifetz, who uttered the words on our 1st day of Class ~

"Pupils, There are No Shortcuts!" (Quote, Jascha Heifetz)

Music made from the heart and a most discerning one, stylistically, can be made by millions of loving Violinist's, who play happily quite easily & Love the Music yet have sufficient control of Bow Arms (forget all this 'straight bow' stuff - I studied with the Master of Bowing, Nathan Milstein, who Not
once over nearly 4 years-at least twice a week for 3 & 1/2 to 4 & 2/3 hours each time) at private 'sessions', uttered such bowing suggestions as a 'flat wrist' or using 'the forearm' & many phrases most here have heard ...

Mastery is Always Simplicity!! (Watch Milstein's Last Recital in Stockholm, when he plays an Encore - 4th Mov't Allegro from Bach's Unaccompanied Sonata #3 in C Major, with the circular Bowing alla Milstein élan!) and at aged 84!!!

Going on too long, there is a place for every student of the Violin and all Violinist's who have travelled "The Road Less Travelled" meaning doing the basic's everyday & being fortunate enough to find the 'right' teacher or teacher's at various 'Right Times' in One's Violinistic Journey. Aim for the Next Universe,& with healthy bowing/left hand muscular palm development, & single file scales rhythmically drilled Always, each can Land somewhere further than aspired to or even ever imagined! Remember: The more good practise one puts in, the less likely one is to criticize those 'Up There' on recordings, and the like. My great principle teacher-father, Ralph, always said, "You cannot teach that which you can't know nor do ..."

A very Merry, Peaceful Christmas to all 233 of you in the 'Violin Nation'!!!!!

Elisabeth Matesky /Chicago (Christmas Eve, December 24, 2017)

December 24, 2017, 2:13 PM · Ms Matesky
Thank you for your wise comment.
It answers both the question of what is required to become a professional while not insulting those of us adult starters who have no interest in violin as a profession but do have a great interest in striving to play at as high a level as possible in the limited time we have on the instrument.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours.

Edited: December 24, 2017, 5:16 PM · Ms Matesky, very interesting post. Could you explain a bit or recommend some literature on Milsteins bowing (or at least an approach that conforms to his). I know its a sidestep from the current topic but its a very interesting point. Many thanks and happy.holidays to you as well.
December 24, 2017, 3:49 PM · Of course we can't assume one “can suddenly turn” one’s hand to improvisation without practicing improvisation. My point is simply that it’s not safe to assume improvisation is only a jazz musician thing because international competitions seem to require in Menuhin competitions since 2010 and now SISI. Moreover, classically trained musicians are well-prepared to improvise if we direct our attention to that because we have the elements for improvisation. I will let Henning Kraggerud, a long term Menuhin competition juror, explain improvisation for classical violinsts in this video:

December 24, 2017, 4:00 PM · Ms. Matesky,

Many thanks for your thoughts and beautiful Holiday Wishes.

"Aim for the Next Universe,& with healthy bowing/left hand muscular palm development, & single file scales rhythmically drilled Always, each can Land somewhere further than aspired to or even ever imagined!"

Very much appreciated and needed to brighten up the thread a little.

Merry Christmas to You and all your Loved ones and Friends as well.

What a Privilege, to be able to play and appreciate our Dear Instrument.

December 24, 2017, 4:07 PM · Thank you for your words of wisdom and >inspiration<. And showing all that's out there for me to yet experience and to appreciate.

There are no shortcuts and no substitute for good practice whatever your age!

December 24, 2017, 5:12 PM · "a complete traversal of all scales & configurations; all Kreutzer Etudes; all Dont; all previously drilled Schradieck; selected Carl Flesch for varying fingerings; Unaccompanied Bach Sonatas & Partitas; Ysaye Solo Sonatas; Ernst Der Erlkonig & Last Rose of Summer; all Violin Concert pieces with Orchestra; All Core Solo Violin Concerti from Before Bach, J.S. Bach to Alban Berg, Korngold, Schoenberg Violin Concerto & latest "accepted" concerto concert repertoire;"

Thank you, Ms. Matesky! Happy holidays.

Edited: December 24, 2017, 7:48 PM · That was inspiring, thank you. It's rather interesting and encouraging to hear the most experienced and highly connected violinist here has by far one of the most positive mindsets. It is often implied here that more experience inevitably leads to "pragmatism" (i.e. negativity and closed-mindedness) but this is obviously not the case.

I am not sure if Ms Matesky will be checking this thread again - if not, can someone please enlighten me as to why those Ernst pieces are on the list of essential repertoire? I am trying to figure out why they are included. Thank you in advance

December 24, 2017, 8:01 PM · Loved Ms Matesky's post -- the "complete violinist" across the entirety of the repertoire.

I think the two Ernst works named represent the pinnacle of mainstream virtuosic technique in repertoire for solo violin, at least in anything that's commonly played. (That ignores the weird stuff that's in contemporary writing.)

Edited: December 24, 2017, 8:51 PM · The reason the Ernst pieces are on the repertoire is because if you cannot play them, even with difficulty, then you don't have the technique necessary to master 200 violin concertos, at least as many sonatas, studies, and "every configuration" of scale, all to production quality (musical as well as technically flawless) in the space of the several years between conservatory matriculation and professional solo debut. Any few of those you could surely play, but only if you are a blithering virtuoso can you expect to learn each new concerto in, say, a week and a half.
December 24, 2017, 9:00 PM · "There are no short cuts"
Truly, but there are many, many different paths.
December 24, 2017, 9:19 PM · In my humble layman experience that's a huge amount of repertoire even for a 'pro' :-)
December 24, 2017, 9:27 PM · She did say "great violinist", not just garden-variety pro
December 25, 2017, 12:15 PM · I'd sure like to play as well as a garden-variety pro. I think 95% of students would be happy with that too.
December 25, 2017, 3:35 PM · Ms. Matesky managed to be the most pragmatic among us without sounding discouraging ... :)
Edited: December 25, 2017, 3:54 PM · Exactly! She does go against what some people say, though, in leaning towards "follow your dreams and see what you're capable of" rather than "give up the dream because it's unlikely you'll be capable of it".

Paul Deck, of course I wasn't implying the contrary - I was just trying to communicate that it seems Ms Matesky was describing a true *master* of the violin. Obviously most professionals don't know that much music.

December 25, 2017, 3:59 PM · I think everyone has good intention basically (no, certainly) :-)

If the OP was a parent of a three/five year old, I would imagine they would be incredibly supportive.

December 25, 2017, 6:35 PM · I started self teaching violin at the age of 21. Within 3 years I could play excerpts of Paganini.

When I was 9 I wanted to play violin but my parents were too cheap to buy me even a junky instrument.

If I was your age and knew what I know now I could a achieve any level of mastery I wanted physical and mental on violin.

December 25, 2017, 6:35 PM · I started self teaching violin at the age of 21. Within 3 years I could play excerpts of Paganini.

When I was 9 I wanted to play violin but my parents were too cheap to buy me even a junky instrument.

If I was your age and knew what I know now I could a achieve any level of mastery I wanted physical and mental on violin.

Edited: December 25, 2017, 8:06 PM · I started self teaching violin at the age of 21. Within 3 years I could play excerpts of Paganini capricci and the first mvt to Bach sonata in g minor.

When I was 9 I wanted to play violin but my parents were too cheap to buy me even a junky instrument.

If I was your age and knew what I know now, I could a achieve any level of mastery I wanted, physical and mental on violin.

December 25, 2017, 8:04 PM · While that is impressive for 3 years, being able to play 'excerpts of Paganini' is a far cry from professional standard - where are you now?
December 31, 2017, 6:27 AM · It's never too late. You will never be a good violinist if you don't love your violin and if practicing is a chore. Play what you like and enjoy. As a teenager (I started at 15) I lived on a farm and practiced about 6 hours a day. I still did my chores but luckily for me TV was in Black and White and not much on in the evenings.
December 31, 2017, 6:27 AM · It's never too late. You will never be a good violinist if you don't love your violin and if practicing is a chore. Play what you like and enjoy. As a teenager (I started at 15) I lived on a farm and practiced about 6 hours a day. I still did my chores but luckily for me TV was in Black and White and not much on in the evenings.
December 31, 2017, 6:27 AM · It's never too late. You will never be a good violinist if you don't love your violin and if practicing is a chore. Play what you like and enjoy. As a teenager (I started at 15) I lived on a farm and practiced about 6 hours a day. I still did my chores but luckily for me TV was in Black and White and not much on in the evenings.
December 31, 2017, 6:30 AM · I had the choice of eating or playing my violin for a living. I chose eating. But if you were born with a silver spoon go for it. Actually the draft board made the decision for me. No room in a barracks, with 99 roommates, for a violin.
Edited: January 3, 2018, 2:39 PM · Thank you for your Service to our country!! The violin might not have been do-able with 99 barracks roommates, but it probably stayed tucked right in your Soul and may even have saved your life and that of some of your military buddies ~

Again, Thank you for serving our Nation!!

Yours musically in America ~

Elisabeth Matesky *

*Heartfelt Thanks to all who responded to my more involved Reply above on Christmas Eve, 2017! Ernst's 2 specific concert pieces are included as several Great Violinists now include them regularly, thusly setting the technical-musical Bar Higher!! You bet it's Tough to be a 'Pro' or a Great Violinist!!!

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