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An Adult Starter's Response

Krista Moyer

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Published: June 7, 2014 at 11:12 PM [UTC]

I started to write this as a comment to another blog post, but it got long so I'm putting it here.

* * *

No, not everyone will learn to play well. How many children begin and then quit before they reach their potential? I'll bet there is a greater rate of attrition with children who start, than with adults based on sheer numbers.

Some children learn faster than others. It will be the same with adults. Not everyone can or will have the same facility with the instrument. But to assume that it is a hopeless or more difficult task for adults is to do them (us) a grave disservice.

I think that sometimes our detractors are assuming that adult learners are all seeking to become professional musicians. Perhaps they have dealt with the occasional individual who thinks that a couple of lessons here and there will be the magic pill that transforms them into a violin star. While that may be the case sometimes, it is not always.

How does my (or anyone's) desire to play chamber music or in a community orchestra, or fiddle the night away in a bar detract from a teacher's goal of knowledge-sharing? Sure, I'm not going to win any competitions (because there aren't any for middle-aged violin beginners), or bring glory to his name by winning a coveted seat, but my teacher will always have my respect, gratitude, and hard work. If that's not enough to expect from a student, then don't take him/her on; but don't insult their intelligence while you're at it. We all come into this knowing that it is a challenging endeavor.

For those of you to whom this advice does not apply, thank you for your guidance, openness, and mutual respect. We are grateful for the time you sink into our education and for the willingness to take a chance on us. Thanks for helping us grow as musicians. It means so much.

From Laura Lyon
Posted on June 8, 2014 at 7:53 PM
Well said. Not everything has to be about fame and glory - for the student or the teacher.
From Colman Reilly
Posted on June 8, 2014 at 8:20 PM
Well, after two years, I'm beating my six year old son, who started the same day as I, with the same teacher, easily. Turns out having coordination and some idea how to study is an advantage. Who knew?

Are either of us likely to attain mastery? Probably not, though ask me again in twenty years and we'll see. But that's not the point. The process is the point. Learning something new, something different, learning to appreciate music from the inside. If one of us is in the tiny minority that gets really good at it, all the better. Not everything needs to be about being the best.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on June 8, 2014 at 11:30 PM
There is only one relevant question as far as I can see: is it fun and rewarding? Everything else is irrelevant. Your post says all of this very nicely.
From Anitra Whittle
Posted on June 8, 2014 at 11:34 PM
I really enjoyed your writing about adult beginners. I'm ~70 and I've been taking violin lessons from a wonderful teacher for 2 1/2 years. I am having so much fun. My teacher is very good to me. She doesn't talk down to me and she started me in the Old Masters. I am so grateful she is so accepting of me and my desire to do my best. Practicing and playing is very relaxing and comforting. I love it all.
From Trevor Jennings
Posted on June 9, 2014 at 12:44 AM
A good blog. I agree with every word. I came to the violin in late middle age after a lifetime as a reasonably good cellist in community orchestras. I started taking violin lessons from a teacher who had trained under Suzuki, and my progress under her tuition was such that a couple of years later I was able to transfer from the cello to the violin in the chamber orchestra I was then in. Since then I have joined other community orchestras as a violinist in either firsts or seconds and am loving every minute of it.

Although I am still having lessons I can foresee the time, not too far away I think, where I shall be able progress under my own steam, as it were. My teacher will have achieved what must be the aim of all teachers. I think it would then be the time to stop having regular lessons so as to give someone else the chance to benefit from my teacher's magic. I nevertheless think the very occasional one-off lesson (once a year, perhaps) would be beneficial to check that I haven't fallen into bad habits!

From Ellis Jackson
Posted on June 9, 2014 at 12:58 AM
I feel that sometimes both students and teachers forget that what it's all about (hopefully!) at the end of the day: making music. Of course it is unrealistic to expect to be a violin star as an adult starter--at least in record time.

Yet I can't help noticing that some almost equate playing in a local community orchestra, chamber group, folk/jazz/ethnic music ensemble, teaching etc. with lower playing standards.

Just as having fame, fortune, and playing in reputable concert halls does not necessarily and automatically translate to being the greatest violinist (though considerable skill is required), not doing so doesn't make one a mediocre violinist. In other words, I think priorities should be less "career-oriented." Hey, look at Franco Gulli, he was up there with the best of the best (with practically unrivaled intonation), but dedicated himself almost exclusively to teaching. His daughter, Donatella, has commented on his humility and how he was adored by virtually all he encountered.

I don't think it's a problem to desire greatness. Depending on the person, I think it can actually be helpful to say something like, "I'd like to play Tchaikovsky in 3 years"--for some that is frustrating, but for others it is motivating because the timeline isn't what's important and is just a reminder to work steadily towards this goal every day.

Great blogs from Laurie, Kate, and Krista this week.


From Gary Hicken
Posted on June 9, 2014 at 11:38 AM
Thank you Krista. I started the fiddle last year at the age of 54. I'll never have the advantage of having learned as a kid but as a kid I will never have been as devoted to learn. :)
From N.A. Mohr
Posted on June 9, 2014 at 1:38 PM
Thank you for taking the time to post!

I am becoming increasingly disheartened by this concept of 'student worthiness'. All students are worthy.

And even if the goal of the student is to only have fun at lessons with the teacher? Why is that also not a worthy goal? No one's time or money is wasted if the student is happy and the teacher can meet the student's goals (patience is virtue).

And by the way... what happens to all those music students who don't 'make it'? Who fail to become accomplished instrumentalists? Do they then, maybe, perhaps, some time down the road, become appreciative, educated, audience members? Oh the horror! (Sarcasm intended).

Posted on June 9, 2014 at 6:47 PM
Hear, hear!

I myself am (sort of) a late starter. I played in public school and took private lessons until I started on my EE degree in college. After a 36 year hiatus, I returned.

I was pretty bad at first. But work and perseverance do pay off. I'm playing stuff that I never dreamed that I could. I'm not good enough to make a living at it, but then I don't have to.

Our orchestra conductor said recently, "When it stops being fun,it's time to quit."

From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on June 10, 2014 at 9:44 PM
Well said, all of you. I get the feeling that many people think the only reason to study music is to go into it professionally, and that if you haven't started by age 3 you might as well forget it. But there are others like myself who play simply for the joy of it; we know we'll never be professionals, and we don't care.

I've played other instruments in the past, and took up violin at age 59. Now, five years later, I'm playing viola in a community orchestra - and yes, last night I did fiddle the night away in a bar.

Music will keep me happy for the rest of my life. That's good enough for me.

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