My Story as an Amateurish Self-Taught (I)

August 26, 2013, 1:27 AM · Hello everyone!
I'd like to re-introduce myself,
I’m Riz, from Indonesia.
("re-introduce".. because my last post was way back in 2009!)

First of all, sorry that this is gonna be a super-long post. It's something that I have kept to myself for few years, and I just want to share this story, about my life as an amateurish violin enthusiast

I live in Makassar. it’s a big city, the capital of South Sulawesi, one of the province in Indonesia. It’s actually a quite big city, big enough that everything can get lost in it, such as awareness of music

I was not raised in a musical family. The only ‘musical’ thing in my family would probably be like singing (in the bathroom, karaoke, or in our relative’s wedding. lol)

One day, around nine years ago, my parents was shocked because I asked them to buy me a violin for my birthday. After a very long discussion, they finally bought me a violin. It was my very first real musical instrument but it's only a cheap student-violin, costed around US$70. Yes, it’s 70, not 700, a Violin-Shaped Object, probably.... but I was extremely happy. I didn’t know how or why could I fall in love with music. I had never known what a symphony, a concerto, or an overture is; or who people called Bach, Brahms or Bartok are. No one around me ever spoke about them, obviously....

I began my first violin lesson couple of weeks after I got the violin. I took the private class but the lessons only lasted for a month (four lessons in total, once a week, each meeting was 30 minutes) because my parents could not afford more lessons. I know we had hard times, but we’re still doing fine, without additional ‘unimportant’ thing like music lessons.

In those short four lessons, what I learned were simply how to hold violin and how to play straight bow on every strings. That’s all. How could I expect more?

Anyway I’ve heard so many violin students gave up the lesson because they said the lessons were boring, or super hard, etc. My teacher phoned me at home and asked why did I stop so early. I simply answered "sorry I just can’t do it anymore" then hung up the phone.

I didn’t really stop there of course. I began to teach myself, I had no choice... I had two violin books. Those were the only favorite things that I’d carry everywhere everytime. However, as a new learner, I never realized how terrible my bow-hand was, or how awful my left-hand’s placement on fingerboard was. I once recorded myself playing and about 5 years later I was so disgusted seeing it. Luckily the recording has long gone now..

So, my lonely journey continued. Everytime I saw any TV shows, televised celebrity concerts or anything that featured solo violinist or an orchestra, I would keep staring on them, paying attention to their gesture, or their hand movements, and listening to the beautiful sounds they played. I really wanted to play like that. I started to move my hands (with or without my violin) in front of the TV during those shows, imitating the violinist’s gesture.

I did those lunatic stuffs for about 4 years….

I was also getting used to ear-copying only. I never read music. Even until today I sight-read like a stutter.

One day I finally met another teacher. He was a traditional fiddler, but he can read music. That was the first time I learned to read music properly. And I was very very excited that the teacher offered me very affordable lessons and gave me private lessons at my home. Unfortunately, he only gave me 2 meetings of lessons (once in a week). In the 3rd week and next days he never came again. We tried to contact his home telephone but no one answered. We never really asked his home address so we couldn’t track him. Sadly, we finally found out that he passed away in an accident. I was totally shocked…

He gave me a book. A basic book about shifting to the third and fifth positions. But he had not taught me those yet, because we only had two lessons so far. If he didn’t give me that book, I would never know anything about shifting techniques. If he was still alive, I would never stop thanking him so much.

So I keep on learning music, but alone, again..

When I was in high school, I used to get detention everytime I came late in the morning. I usually came late because I stayed up late practicing, watching some classical music videos and reading some materials that I got from the Internet.. I think I lost my sanity. Only music ruled my mind. I also have enjoyed doing some other art making like drawing and painting since I was a little kid, but music defeated them all. It simply became my only priority.

Anyway, the school detention was done in the library. All the late students were “prisoned” there for few hours. All of us was asked to find books to read & study to spend the hours wisely. Well, good for me, I love reading. One day I went to the art section of the library and I was surprised to find a series of a very old music theory books. Those books looked like trash, never been taken care of. Many of the pages were almost fully torn off. They were dusty, and smelled bad. I noticed that there were three copies of all series. when I checked the library-note of each book, it was written that the last time the books were borrowed was 11 years ago, even the actual library ID numbers had gone. I brought them home and I kind of forget to return them but no one had ever looked for those books anyway, even after a year later... All I know is If those books stayed there, I’m sure they’d be thrown away someday or just decayed in time.

I think I got almost everything I need to learn about basic music theory in those books. In one chapter, for the first time in my life, I saw the thing called the “orchestra score”. I was very amazed, seeing different staffs of various orchestral instruments. (Yeah I had never seen orchestra score before, even from the internet, and anyway I was one of that kind of person, who didn’t know the proper way to Google things. I even didn’t know that there were bunches of free violin instructions in internet! but back in that time. they were not as many and as accessible as nowadays). The score was few bars of the 1st movement of Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony. Luckily I already had the audio recording of it (it was a pirated copy sold in the market, I had no idea where to get original orchestra CDs back then, even if it existed in my city, I knew that they'd be super expensivel).
Then I played the recording while reading the score. I think my eyes were glowing. I was like a person from the prehistoric stone age, ‘seeing’ the fire for the first time..

I started to understand more about musical signs, terms, etc, that I’ve never seen and I tried to learn how they're supposed to sound like. Then when I (finally) could search some more scores and recordings from the internet, I focused on this “sight-hearing” study..

A year later I continued the internet journey, I signed up to several social network sites. I ‘met’ so many kind hearted people, musicians around the world. They helped me a lot. One day, I made friend with a professional violinist & teacher from New York, and she would scan and e-mail me books and musics that were not available in internet.. I’m so grateful to know them all.

The only reason why I still ‘enjoy’ being a self-taught is that I still can’t pay for lessons.

One day I met a violinist from another city. I asked him to teach me, but he said I would have to rebuild everything again from zero but it's almost impossible IF I wanted to play properly because I lacked of good good basic techniques from the start anyway.
“You'd already been ‘cooked’, and I can not re-cook you”, he said….

My heart's crushed but it’s probably the truth that I’ll never be good enough…

Actually I don’t have any idea what i'm gonna do with my violin next. I understand that if I really wanted to be a professional player, I should at least get a teacher or study in a music school. However, my parents would rather want me to become a doctor so I am currently in the faculty of medicine..yeah, the typical Asian parent, I know…

I'm still practicing & trying to enjoy music until now, I dreamed to be a professional musician, even though it’s already too late or perhaps just impossible...


Sorry for such a superlong story..

If you reached the end of this page, I'd love to thank you so much for reading everything :)


August 26, 2013 at 11:59 AM · All I can add is to tell you that there are several doctors in our community orchestra. You might not be able to realise your dream of becoming a professional musician, but you may still be able to incorporate 'serious' music into your life. Good luck.

August 26, 2013 at 02:33 PM · You know you have my admiration and respect!

August 26, 2013 at 03:06 PM · dear N.A. Mohr and Terez, thanks a lot for your kind comments :)

August 26, 2013 at 03:55 PM · Hello Riz, I've read your two blogs and they are very interesting.

I only wanted to say that these things that professional musicians often say to late starters who lack some good technique or learned by themselves (ie: that it's impossible or very difficult to relearn the basics again) is ABSOLUNTLY not true with SOME type of people.

I beleive you are in these exceptions who would be able to learn a complex task as violin playing very well and even better than many kids at a late age. And who knows, maybe become a professional for weddings, teaching, chamber music etc.

First of all you are very musical, have a good ear and are clever. I saw all this in your playing and the way you search activly for info etc. Really your playing sounds very decent and so surprizingly excellent (for someone with only 4 lessons) despite what that teacher said.

Second of all, you seem flexible minded and easilly adaptable to new situations with a lot of will.

Thirdly, you are an adult and adults can focus and work way harder than the averga kid who follow lessons.

It's true that when one has learned things (especially bad motor skills and patterns) previously, it can take a little time to undo. But not that much if you are bright and practice much. You only have to accept to do baby things for a while with your teacher and in 2-3 years, you could be about at a pre-universitary level. (maybe more if you are extremely talented.)

If I can only take myself as an example (I'm no pro but I started at 16 at the conservatory with a very good teacher there. She undid all of my previous technique and bad habits that she didn't like. At first, she said I could never play like her students who started young with her... But she kept me because I was kind, a good worker and musically clever (good ear). I surprised everyone, including myslef, by reaching my peers who started younger at the conservatory in only two years. None of my peers are prodigies but they still are very good amateurs that could play in weddings or teach kids etc. I would not teach kids because I think they deserve better than me (lol)but some would do at my level.

Pls, keep hope that when you'll find a very good teacher that will accept to teach you, you should be able to progress very much in a few years and eventually become good ennough for some sort of musical career. But I suggest to keep music as a sideline sinde it's not very paying and with no money = no good violin, no lessons, no money to raise kids etc.

Anyway, good luck!


August 26, 2013 at 11:11 PM · Anne-Marie, I love your comments!

August 26, 2013 at 11:48 PM · I haven't logged into the website for over a year, but I felt compelled to do so just to say: Well done! :D

August 27, 2013 at 12:15 AM · I agree with Anne-Marie. It's important that you find a teacher who believes in you. A teacher who does not believe in you is admitting that that teacher does not know how to teach you. It's important that you find a teacher that you like and who believes in you.

That teacher is right about one thing - you are going to have to go back to the beginning and let go of anything that holds you back. I found a teacher that I really connect with about a year ago, and in that time, I've made progress that puts to shame the other 18 years, but I have had to work very hard on many very basic things.

Keep fighting the good fight!

August 27, 2013 at 03:26 AM · dear Christian, Timothy, and Terez, thanks so much for your comments!

especially Anne-Marie, yours is so much so uplifting me :)

yes, restarting physical behaviour is extremely hard. I have been through bunches of the restarting thing (although until now I'm STILL not even good enough). The teacher who came here, often tells me "this arm supposed to be like this, this gesture supposed to be like that, etc" but he said that with a little "distrust", I can really feel it. But I'm not giving up. I am trying harder (even though I realize that I won't reach 100% doing the undo). I practice at least 2-3 hours a day. I wish I could do it until 7 or 8 hours but I'm in a college and so MANY obligations to do.

"find a teacher who believes in you"

I've been dreaming this for over 9 years, like for my entire life. I truly realize I NEED teacher. I'm CRAVING to have one.. But.. When will I find them, When will they find me?

I am NEVER PROUD or even glad to be a self-taught.. never ever..

August 27, 2013 at 01:11 PM · V.commers are very pro-teacher, and I'll bet if you posted a discussion thread over at the main forum about "Can you help me find a teacher?" you might get a lot of really helpful replies, and creative options you might not have considered. Further, there's every chance that someone closer to you (geographically), a violin teacher and/or professional, might contact you upon reading the post. You never know. gets lots and lots of readers and with your request forever archived, they might read it a month from now, a year from now, or whatever. Or know someone who might know someone who could help you.

As they say "ask and you shall receive." And members love to help others. It really is a generous, sharing community. And the more people who know your situation, your desire to grow as a violinist, the better.

Wishing you good luck!

August 28, 2013 at 04:12 AM · dear Terez, thanks for your suggestion & advice

I already have known some great teachers in my country but as I told above, they are in another city. If I wanted to be taught by them, of course I would have had to go there at least twice a month for scheduled lessons, and that would cost A LOT.. (especially the plane tickets.....) I can not move to other city, I can not leave the college now...

But again, thank you so much, I really appreciate your kind attention :-)

August 29, 2013 at 11:55 AM · Hello Riz,

I found your blog post so awesome that I had to register to 48h to make this post :) ).

Your story inspired me greatly. I found your dedication and passion towards music really motivating. I also watched your Beau Soir video and it was awesome. Your music is full of feeling.

I am myself a late starter to violin. I am now 23 years old and I have been practicing violin now for 8 months. My dream is to hone my skills to a level which allows me to participate in even a small local orchestra. I want to be able to play music with other people to enjoyment of mine and theirs.

Thanks for inspiring me on my own violin journey!

August 29, 2013 at 12:01 PM · Hi, hadn't return here for a while. Thanks :) but I'm only saying what has been told to me by others and has proven to be successful not only with me but with many other students as well...

And Riz, btw, I think you have way more playing potential than me because I did this progress with like the worst violinist shortcommings one couldn't have (small cold hands, long neck, poor general body coordination in sports etc.) I always look somehow silly saying this but at a good intermediate or advanced level, it shows and it's real hard work to overcome.

I think you won't have these problems as much. Maybe you'll have some opposite difficulties (tucking these fingers closely to each other on the fingerboard) but once you'll figure out, there are plenty of things you will be able to do naturally such as blocking two strings with 1 finger or make big stretches etc. which is so present in the advanced repertoire.

Just to tell that this in addition to all the other points posters here have told about you would surely make you an interesting student for a teacher. Here, teachers are so sick of having non motivated and non talented (not even just a minimum) students. Not all students are like this, but what I'm saying is that they are delighted when they can have willing, hardworking and talented students (even if they are amateurs) with whom they really have the impression of discussing the art of violin. So I can return you the comment and say that you'll surely be a very uplifting student for the teacher who will accept you in his(her) studio/class!

Good luck again,


ps: musical progress is slower during college/university non musical studies but these studies is investing more musical "fun" later on when you'll be able to pay yourself good instruments and teachers and the violin progress you make during these years (even if not as big as if you had 3-5 hours a day...) will always be kept if you do a minimum. It's better to do a bit each day (even if 30 minutes) than 5 hours on sunday... Just saying...

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