The Life of the Adult Amateur Player

May 27, 2012, 5:30 AM · I just performed at another recital specifically for adult students. It's an annual event sponsored by the Rhode Island Philharmonic Music School, where I study viola, and was organized presumably to give adult amateur students--those unloved orphans of the music world--an opportunity to practice their performing skills and also derive some emotional reinforcement from being part of a learning community of peers.

I call adult amateurs unloved orphans because unlike child amateurs, we are not generally very cute, and unlike adult professionals, we are not generally very good. Thus, we often end up apologizing abashedly just before we play publicly. After all, who wants to listen to someone who is neither cute nor good?

My own goal however is to play and perform as professionally as possible, even if the fulfilling of that goal takes the rest of my life to achieve. I have discovered that the very passion for music that first inspired me to have my children to study violin, is actually strong enough to inspire my own musical studies. Becoming a student myself freed me from trying to live through my children, freed me from envying their youth and their music-making. I like to think that it also vastly improved my relationship with them.

But it does take courage and humility to be an adult amateur. I'm constantly amazed by how many adults secretly long to be musicians. Inevitably after I perform, at least one adult will sidle up to me and confide wistfully their wish to do what I do, dare to be a beginner, dare to be less than perfectly proficient, dare to want something that may take 20+ years to accomplish.

What I find as an adult amateur is that having a good relationship with a teacher who loves working with me because of my status as an adult beginner is a critical component of my motivation. Earlier in my adult student life I tried working on my music untutored, but know now that having regular lessons is one of the best ways to make steady progress and stay motivated. The private music lesson is also one of the most therapeutic activities I know, for within that hour I regain the innocence and the excitement of youth, expressing untarnished hope when attempting something new, expressing childlike glee with each new discovery or accomplishment.

Perhaps switching from violin to viola has also helped to strengthen my sense of avocation. In an article of a recent ACMP newsletter a violist wrote (and I paraphrase) that someone somewhere always needs a violist. I've found this to be true, having been invited to join two ensembles on the strength of the fact that they needed a violist. For an adult amateur it is a refreshing and wonderful thing to be wanted. And playing in ensembles is another wonderful aspect of my musical life. Learning to tune in public, learning to be sensitive to group dynamics, and having a social network of other players... these things contribute immeasurably to my musical growth.

I will end this first post by saying simply that I believe the world would be a better place if more people not only listened to and appreciated music, but actually made their own. Society as we know it in 21st century U.S.A. seems to militate against such a thing. Earning power, competition, consumerism... these are the themes of our times. I however am overjoyed to be outside the mainstream, climbing my own private Matterhorn of musical aspiration. I am 55 now and want lots more time for one dominant reason... to be able to play and play and play.


May 27, 2012 at 04:09 PM · Oh, this was just lovely! I, too, am an adult beginner...just turned 40 last fall and earlier this year realized that I simply must learn to play the violin and have been taking weekly lessons since the beginning of April. I love the lessons, I love to practice, and I hear a steady soundtrack of violin in my head all day, every day. I long to make that leap between what I can actually do and what I long to do on my violin! Some day...

Good for keep playing, and don't apologize for not being cute or as good as someone else, play the music that's inside your will touch and move someone, somewhere who has the good fortune to hear you play.

May 27, 2012 at 05:31 PM · Your blog is an inspiration to all adult amateurs. Believe it or not, we "unloved orphans" are probably a big part of the future of classical music in this country, as more and more professional orchestras run into financial difficulty. So, keep up the good work and enjoy the many interesting opportunities available to us.

May 27, 2012 at 05:36 PM · As a professional symphony musician, let me first of all say that my experiences with amateur musicians have been among the most fulfilling and the most formative in my life. While I was a student at the Mannes College of Music and playing professionally with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the American Symphony Orchestra, I used to play with a string quartet every week -- made up of myself plus three older amateur players -- they were experienced chamber musicians and capable instrumentalists. They knew the literature inside and out and they taught it to me week after week for two years. Those quartet sessions were one of the highlights of my musical existence. Later on, while playing in the Pittsburgh Symphony, I conducted a community orchestra -- all amateur players -- again it was one of the most fulfilling things I ever did.

I must say that neither I nor my professional colleagues think of amateur players as unloved orphans. In fact this is the first time I have seen that POV expressed. We honor amateur players as a vibrant and important part of the musical community and we seek out ways to interact and collaborate with them.

May 27, 2012 at 05:48 PM · Congratulations on this blog. I, too, started late and enjoying all this journey. I have both played the violin and viola, and as you stated from the article, violist are very much in demand. I take pride, of what I learned so far, and that also gave me such flexibilities that I can be in group to play music with.

Your blog are an inspirations to us all.

This is the link to our little group of adult learners on facebook, I hope you can join us.!/groups/119127121451810/

More power to you!


May 27, 2012 at 05:59 PM · Hi, I agree so much with you Rosita!

You are so right! Why is it that no one is interested in adults involved in any kind of learning process? Why should learning something new and be proud of it be exclusivly for kids?

What you did takes much courage and is very noble Rosita! Best of luck!!!

I am somewhere between the kid learner and the adult learner since I'm a late teen learner (now an adult and busy student who misses time to do my number one passion...)

As you, I want to dedicate the rest of my life to this passion. I just hope my job will allow me this and that it won't be as crazy as my crazy studies!

Tom, I hope you are right : ) Also, I think adult beginners can bring less known repertoire and beautiful music to the audiences(how many beautiful music isn't played by pros because it's too "easy"...) Amateurs bring a friendly and light approach to classical music!

May 27, 2012 at 08:51 PM · You are young enough to chase a dream and with a ballanced view you will be enriched and will experience growth in ways you could never imagine! There are allot of people who cannot do what you can and will be able to do so that means you have something others cannot offer. Best part of all... it's your dream & story and you get to write it!

May 28, 2012 at 04:08 AM · I feel less alone just having read this post. I am following my life long dream of playing the violin. I started just after my 40th birthday last year. Now, after just a year playing, I'm in Suzuki book 4 working on mastering 3rd position and the Vivaldi concerto in A minor.

I feel like a void has been filled. This is something I always dreamed about doing and kept intending to do. I ran out of excuses and just jumped in. I never intend to quit.

While I wish I had started years ago, I am making it my new goal to play the Bach Chaconne by age 45.

I have confidence in my ability to do absolutely anything I set my heart on.

Kudos to all adult violin beginners. Follow your dream!

May 28, 2012 at 07:35 PM · Hear! Hear!

I too was once one of those folks who wished they'd tried (or had the opp when a child).

Now, I still wish I had tried much *sooner* -- and yes, would still wish I had the opp as a child -- but we can't just hold on tightly to what cannot change now and be paralyzed by that.

Well, actually, I do still wish I have more time (and resources) to put into learning, practicing and actually making music, even if it's only good enough for my own (and my Maker's ;-)) enjoyment and edification, but we all must make do w/ what we can actually do...

And yeah, so true about being an amateur violist too although I've only played in my kids' youth orchestra now-and-then so far. They were happy as long as I didn't stick out like a sore thumb while giving them something of use -- I think the conductor (even though she's a rather stern one) and coaches probably also liked having my presence (and efforts, despite my lowly skill level) to be an encouragement for the kids on multiple levels as well.

And yes, I agree that my own kids certainly liked it a whole lot more when I'm also learning, practicing and making music alongside (or rather, fumbling behind) them. ;-) There's a sort of camaraderie there that would not exist w/out my own active participation -- and that's also one of the great things about the Suzuki approach (if one does more than just the nominal thing), which is what we've been doing as well.



May 28, 2012 at 08:03 PM · Hear-Hear! and thank you. As an adult intermediate the challenges still do not go away. I participate in a local community college orchestra, with financial challenges just like a professional one, which gives an opportunity for playing in a group.

I recently participated in my first recital after a 20 year layoff of violin and 8 years back. It was both exhilarating and scary and I would have liked to have done better.

We play for the love of the instrument and that is good.

May 28, 2012 at 08:22 PM · I "really" don't want to upset people (&, therefore, I "really" [probably] shouldn't even write a comment, however ...)as an amateur hobbyist, specializing in 'extreme mediocrity', I think all of us, who are 'really' honest with ourselves, are simply suffering from ADQS (or, Acute Don Quixote Syndrome). In our early childhood our parents wanted "something else" [or, nothing 'in particular'] from us, but surely not a career as a string musician. As teenagers, "we, ourselves", didn't want 'anything particular' from oursleves {except a "good time"} and so, Tinker Bell, Peter Pan, the Fairy Godmother or E.T., tapped us on the head with a 2x4 and we woke up to the "glorious music" of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms,, and said: Never too late! Yeah, we can practice-&-practice-&-practice until we see smoke coming off our strings like a Boy Scout making fire by rubbing two sticks together; but we all know that the difference between us, "unloved orphans of the string world", & the professional who is our same age is the he, or she, is not "self-conscious" of what they are doing, while we, those [barely] survivors of the teenage puberty years, are so frightfully insecure that we question even whether we can unzip our violin cases "like the professional". I'm all of this & more; why? Because, besides all the professionals out there, not to mention the conservatory graduates being massed produced at top-levels year after year, we only have the pity of our trapped-audience who are all day-dreaming about the re-mixed and perfectly note-polished editing of their favorite CD's back home while we're playing along. Let's face it: We missed the boat. Let's lower our expectations - not our efforts, not 0.1% of our passion & NONE of our love for string playing - but, by lowering our (wanna-be) expectations, we also lower our constantly self-depreciating comments "before" we even unzip our cases(!). Yeah, we missed the boat, but don't worry, we hopped on a much better boat: one that doesn't require 10,000 repetitive strokes on open-strings

just to "warm-up". Sure, I play, and even everyday, at home & at the office [between patients]; but as a psychologist, I try to follow the advice I give my patients: Know Thyself & Live within 'realistic' expectations. (I got tired of Sancho Panza laughing [too many times] up his sleeve at me!) Play, Play & Play some more, but never make it 'work' nor, God forbid, self-flagellation. "Unloved orphan", never! Embrace thyself and adopt a loving spirit.

May 28, 2012 at 10:18 PM · I think adult amateurs are the best! Learning violin not because someone else thinks you should, or it's good for you, but because you fell in love with the instrument and with music and are willing to put in the precious free time drawn from all the other adult demands of life? That is daring to really LIVE instead of standing on the sidelines and going "Oh, well, if only I had learned as a kid BUT (insert a thousand excuses)". My young students are a lot of fun, but give me adult learners any day - I love you guys! :)

May 29, 2012 at 01:01 AM · I'll be playing later this week in just the sort of recital you described. I'm going to play the Sarabande and the Gigue from the D-Minor Partita. These are challenging pieces for me, a little beyond my present level of ability, so they are not polished to the degree that the "wanna-be" in me would like. At the last such recital I played the 3rd movement of the Franck Sonata with a pianist friend who is 70 years old. We had a blast, and we played it pretty well, even though I broke a string in the first ten seconds and had to replace it and start over. Now we are working on the first movement.

Previously I played the Bach D-Minor Allemande in a recital. What I experienced afterward was a kind of "release" from the pressure of preparing it for recital. That's when the real improvement started to happen! From that point forward, practicing was organized around the simple ambition of playing it better than I did the day or week or month before, rather than stressing out about what anyone else might think. I play this piece a couple of times per week, it's kind of a "touchstone" (credit Hilary Hahn).

One interesting thing about the way I was taught violin as a child is that the curriculum, if you could call it that, was pretty traditional, but I was never required to memorize my pieces, even those played at solo-and-ensemble festival, and in general I was not pushed to improve on a steep learning curve. Maybe my teacher (or my parents) thought that would be too stressful and lead me to give it up, and they could have been right. The result, however, is that now memorization is very slow and painful, and it is dreadfully stressful to attempt a recital performance from memory. The fear of a serious memory lapse is more than I can bear. So, when I play Bach later this week, even though it is memorized, I will have the music in front of me.

I am a returner who studied from ages 5-17 and then for the past two years (mid forties). I am amazed that some adult beginners and returners can improve rapidly. I read the post of the person who is in Suzuki Book 4 and wants to play the Chacconne in five years time. I hope you meet your goal. As for me, I think I have improved but despite faithful practice the improvement has been incremental. It's true that my teacher had to fix a number of serious problems before I could really make progress again, so maybe there is still some hope. I do find that I am able to conquer fast passage-work more quickly now than I could a year ago.

The great thing about being an amateur is that one can enjoy the violin on one's own terms. If ever I am able to play any of the well-known concertos, fine. If not, as I have said before, "just because you can play Tzigane does not mean I would trade my life for yours."

May 29, 2012 at 01:37 AM · Kudos to you, Rosita! As I understand from reading about it, the Suzuki method breaks down learning and doing into very small steps. That's great advice for us "big kids" too.

Taking joy and pride in such small steps is harder for adults. We're impatient, we're embarrassed at our beginner status, we're discouraged if we can't meet our own expectations, and we wonder if it's too late, a waste of time.

Thanks, everyone, for putting up w/ us older folks who haven't given up yet. After all, what's easier, getting cuter, younger, or better at playing? Okay, on some days, it's a tough choice, but I'd rather be a better player.

May 29, 2012 at 03:09 AM · Thank you for writing this blog.

You have just articulated the voices in us.

May 29, 2012 at 04:18 AM · Wonderful blog. It's the sort of thing many contributors on this site--teachers, professionals, etc.--should read because many are too ready to say that if you can't make it as a professional, or in a university professorship, you shouldn't bother to play.

I love your writing, your honesty, and your attitude. Whether one is an adult beginner, a life-long adult amateur, or a former professional--you are right: we should make our own music as well as listening to the music of others.


May 29, 2012 at 05:06 AM · I'm in the same boat as a violin student. But last year I got up the nerve to join the San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers and found a big group of people who love to play the violin. You can hardly hear yourself playing, so you don't need to apologize to anyone. It's not all lower level adults--there are some teens who have been playing for years and the adults' experience is all over the map, but most of the music can be sight-read without too much problem and it's a great feeling to be part of such a group.

May 29, 2012 at 09:41 AM · Very beautifully written. I am 46 and as a child I always wanted to learn the violin, but for some reason didnt get to it. For me listening to violin or watching a violinist was more than candy for a kid. I got older got married and when I turned 37 started taking lessons with a proffessional violinist and the rewards were instant. After 2 years I had to drop it due to my work which involved alot of traveling. 2 years ago I picked it up again and I am proud to say the hard work (at least 2 hours a day of diligent practice) paid off. I recently played for a small community gathering Haydns concerto in G major and Bach;s in A minor.... I am soon taking a an EXAM with ABRSM level 5 violin, so all of you adults out there... IT CAN BE DONE

May 29, 2012 at 12:35 PM · "Music is too important to be left to the professionals."-Singer-songwriter Michele Shocked

May 29, 2012 at 04:40 PM · I am completely with you. Are you aware of Violin Lab at It is a platform for adult students of the violin, with extremely valuable instructional videos by Beth Blackerby from Austin, Texas. There is a lively community forum, too. I posted a link to your posting there, and there is a general feeling that you would fit right in. Why not give it a try?

May 29, 2012 at 06:19 PM · Well put! I like that term "unloved orphan", even though - as others have pointed out - it might be a bit extreme. I do feel strange, though, showing up at my teacher's house or at a recital and being surrounded by 8-year-olds.

I have a lot of experience on other instruments, but I only started studying violin 2 1/2 years ago at the age of 59. My previous teacher got me into things like the Bach double and the Vivaldi A minor concerto, but I was playing sloppily. My current teacher took me back to Suzuki books 3 and 4 and the Wohlfahrt etudes, pushing me to play them cleanly before moving on.

When I see people my age and older becoming bored with their lives, I think that they need something like the violin to keep them going. I can't see myself becoming bored as long as I'm trying to improve my violin playing. And it's so much fun playing with others. Thanks to the influence of a violin-playing friend, my wife has taken up cello. Now all we need is a violist - too bad you don't live close to Vancouver, B.C.

May 29, 2012 at 07:01 PM · This is such an intriguing blog! I’m saying this because I have a pretty opposite view of the whole situation of being amateur adult violinist. I think we have all the advantages in the violin world that a professional would probably envy, and here I’ll list a few:

• We don’t have the pressure of a professional that have to perform such and such pieces under time pressure, and we don’t have to be on top condition all the time;

• We don’t have to try to be both a musician and businessperson and juggle the gigs to make ends meet;

• we don’t have to deal with headaches of neurotic parents and difficult teenage students;

• we don’t to fight unethical student-stealing issues from other teachers;

• we are less likely to get occupational injuries; and most of all

• I firmly believe that we can achieve the level almost as good as that of the professionals in terms of music-making and appreciation, if we really want to and put our effort into.

I’m not nearly close to a professional level after more than 10 year playing and with a long hiatus in between, but a professional violinist did tell me after one of my performances that she had heard professional played worse than I did. I don’t really believe what she said but hey, that just made my day! I’m sure you’ll feel that after a few years of hard work with proper guidance from a good teacher.

May 30, 2012 at 04:18 PM · Lovely blog!

May 30, 2012 at 07:08 PM · I'm not a beginner but I stopped playing violin in my early 20's and started again in my mid 50's I'm now 62 and I'm on the point of stopping. Why? Because after 3 years of weekly lessons and practising every day on my own, I've (almost) lost my motivation and interest. I live in France - in my experience (and I can only speak personally) the emphasis is on young players (children and students for conservatoires). Of course, this is very important but there's very little emphasis on adult amateurs. My teacher (who is an international performer)cannot even find an amateur pianist of sufficient standard to accompany me and there are not enough adult amateurs to form even a quartet. I really feel a 'amateur orphan'. I love my violin but I'm now saying to myself "what's the point?"

May 30, 2012 at 08:04 PM · Peter...before you quit....try that website that Anne mentioned up there !'s a community of mostly adult learners with a gifted fantastic teacher who absolutely loves teaching adult learners. You'll find a lot of encouragement well as great teaching.

Maybe you can try playing in a park somewhere, just for might meet some other frustrated intermediate musicians who'd like to join you...and you can start your own group !

May 31, 2012 at 03:19 AM · Peter you need to be more flexible about the groups you play with too. String quartet? Why this only? There are lots of different ensembles for which lovely things have been written. Put an ad in the paper for a student accompanist and stop expecting your teacher to provide such frills. If he is an "international performer" then he does not have time to play matchmaker for you. And if you are not getting the attention you deserve because you are not a "young student" then find another teacher who would be more sympathetic.

May 31, 2012 at 03:58 PM · I´m really inspired by this blog... I´m not an adult amateur and i´ve been playing violin since 6 years old, but i´m still an amateur. before reading this blog i thought that it was impossible for me to achieve anything, since i´d wasted all my childhood playing just one or two hours each week. but now, i´m full of hope and i really appreciate you! thanks!

May 31, 2012 at 11:05 PM · Wonderful blog and great comments!

Thank you to all of you who contributed.

June 1, 2012 at 01:32 AM · Yeah! Another adult amateur violist!!! The C-string is our secret OK?

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