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Arashi Lilith

Violin Is Hard But Life Is Harder (or, reminding myself why I went down this crazy path with a Kennedy quote)

April 17, 2013 at 10:24 AM

People always ask me if playing the violin is hard. Personally, I feel like it's the wrong question, since the hard parts have always been playing catch-up to other musicians who were lucky enough to have non-procrastinating parents that got them in lessons at 6 years old (Mine promised me lessons on our upright piano all my childhood. I don't think it has ever been seriously played or tuned in all my 21 years). Also, finding time and inclination to practice after you just turned 21 and oh look! It's that shiny happy hour coaxing away not just my time, but money that could be spent on a re-hair.

But I digress. Violin is hard, no matter how much I point out that I was very strangely naturally talented, and that picking up my first violin was a Harry-Potter-Finds-His-Wand moment, and that I never had the coordination for piano or guitar or any other instrument requiring independent finger dexterity in both hands and/or lots of chords; I can't imagine any instrument being easier for me.

When I first decided to take up my violin, I expected criticism or discouragement, especially from other musicians, because I was 19 and very quickly decided that I could not live without it being the main part of my life. I had been so depressed before I found my instrument, not playing sounded like death. Still, without the encouragement I get on a daily basis, from friends, family, teachers, and total strangers who talk to me as I wait for the bus case on back, I could not keep this up.

Violin is hard because it demands you to listen. You cannot just play on auto pilot.. I mean, you could I suppose, but I'm sure you'd be horrified if someone recorded you doing so, and may pick up some horrible habits that will impede your playing until you learn to practice with mindfulness. The fingerboard, with it's lack of frets and moveable pitches, simply does not make such allowances, especially early on. Notes truly are hit or miss.

The bow may seem easy compared to what your right hand does on a piano, but one must slowly build subtle muscle memory in order to not sound like a dying cat, in a hand position most people cannot hold for more than a minute, while replicating the finest nuances of the human voice, and, oh yeah, balancing the thing on your collarbone (I play restless so it goes double for me).

Heck, even care is difficult, with it's finicky pegs and specialized luthiers and rosin dust and soft, soft varnish that forced me to get a very flat engagement ring so I could break my own rule about metal not being let within 10 feet of my precious instruments.

Playing as I do, realizing that I am in fact making progress even after depression and work and setbacks, has made my life worthwhile, by giving me something difficult to do, something to achieve that I both love and am good at. Violin is hard, but life has been much, much harder to me than music ever will be, and with that in mind it's worth any hardship it imposes. It may not be practical, but I know if I work hard enough I can go to the metaphorical musical moon.

"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too." John F Kennedy, September 12 1962

From Sal Peralta
Posted on April 18, 2013 at 1:22 AM
Wonderful post. I came to the violin far later than you, but feel much the same way that you do. I liken my experience to one of those romantic movies where the protagonists spend a lifetime lost and looking for something without really knowing what they are missing before they find each other. I will never play in a concert hall, but for me, playing the violin makes the good times better and the bad times more bearable. I am glad to be a part of a community where others feel the same way.
From mircea negraia
Posted on April 18, 2013 at 12:51 PM
great post. got me motivated for today's practice!
From Nick G
Posted on April 18, 2013 at 3:12 PM
I too started late in life - 23 and have been playing for over 1/2 a year and couldnt be happier. In high school i played an electric bass for all four years. It was fun and all but never really fell in love with it. I have been a fan of orchestral music just never really listen to it a lot. then one day, a youtube clip of an (i think) quartet or strings orchestra cover of a old video game song really made me fall in love with the violin. The original song was played with an acoustic guitar but this quartet/strings orchestra just added a whole new dynamic to the song and made me fall in love with the violin. It made me crave the ability to play a wonderful and highly dynamic and picky instrument.

Even now, as a semi-beginner, what i play is limited in both complexity and difficulty, but its my music coming from me and interpreted by me. Im glad i played bass since it taught me theory and the basics to playing a stringed instrument but violin is just what im in love with.

Good luck to you, all beginners and everyone else.

From Ellie Withnall
Posted on April 18, 2013 at 4:13 PM
I started 23 yrs later than you (at 42) and had never even looked at a sheet of music until then, let alone picked up an instrument with intent to play.
It IS hard, and for a while I blamed my parents for not sending me to music lessons of some sort as a child. {How DARE they let me be footloose and fancy free, what kind of a childhood is that :-)} but then I realized that until I was that exact age I wasn't ready for how hard it is. And once I did realize it was way too late- I was totally 100% smitten, in love for life.If only I could have fallen in love with something easier but then, what would be the point?
From Laurie Niles
Posted on April 18, 2013 at 4:51 PM
I love this idea and the way you said it, "It may not be practical, but I know if I work hard enough I can go to the metaphorical musical moon. "


Posted on April 19, 2013 at 3:21 AM
Thanks for sharing your experience. It inspires me to continue. I studied violin between the ages of 11 and 16. For very good reasons I could not continue but I kept my violin all these years.In retirement,
I decided to retake the violin. I am taking lessons and have made good progress above what my level was when I was 16. I play the piano and that has kept me in good shape in reading and intonation. has been a great source of inspiration and practical advise.
From Arashi Lilith
Posted on April 20, 2013 at 7:17 AM
Nothing will keep you in better reading shape than a piano, all those notes make me dizzy! Keep at it, it makes me all happy inside to hear or someone coming back to violin :-)
From Thomas Taylor
Posted on April 22, 2013 at 2:40 AM
This was a cool post! I picked up violin as an adult just before graduating college (I had just turned 22). I have been mostly self taught and have continued playing for over 6 years and I still love it (although it can be frustrating sometimes, especially being self taught). I play several instruments, but the violin has enabled me to play with bands and compose my own music, which are two things I have always wanted to do. Without violin I most likely would not have found my way this far into being a semi-professional musician, but now I know it is the only thing I want to do.

Anyway, it was encouraging to get on this site and see how many adults picked up and started like I did, I thought I was one of the few.

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