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Prejudice towards adult beginners

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Published: September 21, 2013 at 12:38 PM [UTC]

Most difficult thing as adult beginner I have faced is prejudice. Everyone has prejudices towards adult beginner in violin. Even some teachers..

"How can you start playing violin?" "Isn't it already too late" "You should have started as child" etc, etc, etc..

I learn violin because it is what I want! Do not tell me I cannot learn something! I am already progressing really fast because I am putting time to my practice and I am highly motivated. Making violin playing as my career is highly improbable. But did someone say I would want to be a professional violinist? I play for myself. For my own pleasure. And my goal is to be as good as I can.

Finding a violin teacher at adult age seems to be very hard. At least in Finland. There isn't really a good supply of teachers at private sector. Every teacher wants steady income and teaches for some kind of conservatory. And as a adult in Finland you cannot really make it into a conservatory. "You should have called 10 years ago"...

Also, some teachers seem to have a certain mindset towards adult beginners. They seem to think that teaching them is waste of time as they will never make it into and orchestra.
However I think now I have found a teacher who has both the time and skills to help me into what I want to be. My teacher seemed to understand my goals and motivation and is willing to help me towards my goals. I hope to make the best of her ability to teach me!

Continuing my journey on ripping obstacles and crushing prejudice!

From Elizabeth Kilpatrick
Posted on September 21, 2013 at 6:13 PM
Just want to say I am a huge supporter of adult beginners. I have taught two adult beginners so far and have to say they have been so fun to teach and were dedicated and learned fast! It's never to late to start!! I really hope you can find a good teacher!
From Albert Wrigglesworth
Posted on September 21, 2013 at 6:09 PM
Congratulations on finding a teacher.
Violin/Fiddle is the hardest instrument to find a teacher for when one is an adult. Never could figure that out.

As one who teaches adults ranging from 45 to 85, I have found it to be a much more relaxing teaching atmosphere. Why? Because their expectations are realistic: "I just want to learn how to play and have fun." Not one of them expects to play in an orchestra. Not to say that children's' expectations are unrealistic, just different. Most children I teach don't have an expectation of playing in an orchestra. Most of them are learning because their parents want them to learn.

In Thunder Bay ON Canada the amount of "fiddler" outnumbers the amount of "violinists". It's more of a grass roots type of movement.

It is sad that there are those teachers who will not take on adult violin students. I have a lady of 85 who is relearning the mandolin after not playing since she was 12 yrs. of age. She is learning both melody playing and rhythm, and five ladies who have been with me 3 plus years ranging from 56 to 80 yrs. of age: Their reasoning? "It keeps my mind busy and I enjoy music.

From sarah salmi
Posted on September 21, 2013 at 9:30 PM
Hello! I'm from Finland as well :)
How old are you?
The first time i picked up a violin i was 21, and i thought that i would never have a chanse on getting a teacher so i taught myself for two years.
Then one day i saw a poster saying "do you want to learn an instrument young or old?" From the music conservatory, so i took the chance and applied. In the Audition i sang a song and played on my violin, and the jury said that i would never be able to play classical violin, maybe folk music, and asked me why i didn't want to become a singer.
When i got the letter from the conservatory saying congratulations! My hopes where smashed within the next sentence " we are sorry to inform you that there was no place for you on your main instrument." They put me on singing lessons.
I went to my first lesson and my teacher could see how much i wanted to play the violin and she felt very sorry for me, and she told me that the jury had said about me that i was super musically talented, but that you can't teach an old dog how to sit.
After hearing that, i called the principal of the school and said to him "i wanna play the violin"
And he said, "Ok, I'll have a teacher call you" Not long after,a violin teacher called me and we booked my first violin lesson. I was 23 years old.

That's how it began. I was 3 years in the institute, taking the 3 basic music exams, and on the third year i got to play in a symphony orchestra for the first time, i remember we played Mendelssohn's the hebrides, and Beethoven's fifth symphony, and boy was that a challenge! :)

After getting my basic music exam i went on to secondary education, and decided to study 4 years instead of 3 because i had just started the violin.
Now i'm on my fourth year and preparing for my final exam... And for auditioning to higher education :)
On my repertoar i have Mozart's 5th violin concerto, Tchaikovsky's melodi from souvenir dun lieu cher, Bartok's Romanian folk dances and Englund's Arioso Interrotto.. And they said i would never be able to play classical violin. :)
Don't listen to them! Follow your heart and your dreams and work hard to achieve your goals! Nothing is impossible :)

Best wishes
Sarah Salmi

From Karen Collins
Posted on September 21, 2013 at 10:44 PM
Bravo! I am with you 100%. Although I have played music my entire life, I'm an adult beginner on viola - started learning 5 years ago. Even though I am in the US and not Finland, it seems difficult to find a teacher who will consent to teach adults with the same rigor and focus on fundamentals as they teach kids. If you want to progress beyond fiddle tunes or Happy Birthday, you really need to spend some time on the basics. Also, I think there's an assumption that adult learners have no goals, so why bother?

I am also dismayed at the lack of extra-curricular opportunities for adults. Kids who play at my level have a vast array of activities to choose from: orchestras at the local/school, community, and regional levels; chamber ensembles; vast numbers of summer camps and festivals and workshops. Even though I may play at the level of a 12 or 13-year old kid, I am barred from these activities not because of ability (or lack thereof) but because of my age.

At the risk of sounding childish (grin), I think this is terribly unfair. I wish I knew why this was the case, but most of all I wish it were *not* the case.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on September 21, 2013 at 11:39 PM
Funny, all the teacher's I've had said that they prefer us "senior" students over their "serious" high school/college students. We practice diligently and with mindfulness, readily ask questions, and there is no pressure to prepare us for auditions or exams. My teacher last week asked me "do you really want to do scales today?". I replied: "Naw, not this week, I'd rather work this section of the Sonata and some bowing issues". She got a huge smile on her face and said "FINALLY! I get to work with someone on MUSIC!"
From Eileen Geriak
Posted on September 22, 2013 at 12:45 AM
I started at the age of 39 with "no" musical background whatever. I had never even been in the same room with a violin until my friend pulled out her old uncle's violin and asked me if I wanted to buy it. That was 11 years ago and today I play in one of the praise teams at my church and also in a local string ensemble which includes about 6 cellos, 3 violas, and maybe 10 violins...1st and 2nds....I play 1st....and I have to say that we're pretty good ! Here's a piece we played last spring (I'm the lady behind the fluffy red haired fella )Never say never ! I did not have a professional teacher until now and I only just started with him a couple months ago. If you want to bad enough you find a way I love to encourage folks to step out and try something they really want to do...I'm so glad I did !! :-)
From Andre Peggion
Posted on September 22, 2013 at 3:11 AM
I started studying violin 10 years ago. The first 5 five years were dedicated to violin, which brought me a lot of pain in my neck. When I received a viola as a gift from my wife a new horizon raised. Larger, more confortable and with a sweet tone, it ended my short violin study.
Today my viola has a high central chinrest and no shoulder rest, with perlon strings. The best formula for confort and fun.
During these 10 years my teacher never changed. He is a violinist and play in an orchestra. We learned together to play viola.
At a age of 53, my goal is to have fun and learn the next music. And I intend to do this for my next years. No orchestra, no stress, just a lot of good time.
If you have an opportunity try a viola. It's fantastic !
From Gene Wie
Posted on September 22, 2013 at 6:29 AM
I've taught about twenty adult students to date, and nearly every one has told me horror stories about how difficult it was to find a teacher willing to teach them, or the backlash from "friends" who thought it was impossible/stupid/etc.

To me, the only difference that the age of a student makes is that they learn differently, and the teaching has to be differentiated so that the student makes the most efficient progress. People talk about this a lot in terms of really young children at different cognitive stages, but it's equally applicable upwards.

From Rebecca Bond
Posted on September 22, 2013 at 11:19 AM
I was a child violinist, but have recently taken it up again after a 15 year break! I was lucky to find a wonderfully enthusiastic, innovative and engaging teacher in Melbourne after several contacts with different teachers who all said some version of "I don't really *do* adult students".

My teacher is not only happy to go back to basics where needed, correct (decades old) bad technique, but also to push me further than I expect, engage me to have more fun that anticipated, and garner a wide variety of performance experiences (we've just returned from playing at a vineyard farmer's market in the country!).

I think learning a musical instrument as an adult takes a leap of faith from both student and teacher, to move away from the old ideal of "start 'em early" and "can't teach a dog new tricks", and towards collaborative, creative and warm engagement.

From Brent Hudson
Posted on September 22, 2013 at 2:35 PM
Those skeptical teachers -- pay them a little extra, then work hard and impress them; they will come around.
From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on September 22, 2013 at 2:31 PM
Hi, I agree with Sarah, if you have a good ear, memory, musical instinct and time, you can learn any instrument or language (often it's similar) at any age... up to a good amateur level with some peices of the professional repertoire. So as playing in an orchestra, chamber music and solo student recitals etc.

I too as an amateur who started in my late teens was told all kind of things and I inscribed myself to a conservatory since I wanted to be more serious about my music. My teacher said, you look musically bright and interested so we'll try but physically it's unlikely that you'll pick up things as fast though... It's true that I have a lot of physical shortcommings such as small/cold hands and bad coordination but even so, with a lot of work, in 2-3 years, I surprised everyone to reach the level of the other good kids there (not the prodigies since they have none of them at my conservatory) but still very good kids that I though I would never catch up with. My "older begining" brough me the maturity to practice better and auto-correct my mistakes better than most kids.

What counts is that, in the end, a late starter can, in a few years of somehow serious work, become just as good as kids who have started young.

I like to say to all teachers who think kids will end up better that only a very small % of kids will have ennough talent to be a prodigy or even very good. People tend to forget that the average violin playing kid does often not sound too good for a long time and often forever if they lack a good ear and "auto-critical" thinking when they practice.

So, there is hope... I find it odd that teacher's attitude in Finland. I think I was very lucky to not have teachers turn me away in my beginings. We did not have auditions either, just a first lesson where my teacher gave me her first honnest impressions on what we could do...

Best of luck with your current teacher!!!

From N.A. Mohr
Posted on September 22, 2013 at 4:27 PM
I haven't had any problems finding a teacher that will take me on...or other adults (beginners or 'returners') in our neck of the woods. However what I do find odd is a prevalent attitude that if you don't start early enough to have the possibility of a concert shouldn't bother at all.

The other thing I find odd is that 'everyone' agrees it's very important that a child be exposed to music at an early age and given the opportunity to learn an instrument (regardless of how far they take it). But once those kids become adults (if they're not prodigies with a music career in the works already)...should they wish to take up the instrument's not very important. It's even considered amusing that they would wish to play (because they're not very 'good').

What is wrong with being an amateur musician? Nothing as far as I can tell.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on September 22, 2013 at 9:00 PM
"everyone' agrees it's very important that a child be exposed to music at an early age and given the opportunity to learn an instrument (regardless of how far they take it). But once those kids become adults (if they're not prodigies with a music career in the works already)...should they wish to take up the instrument's not very important. It's even considered amusing that they would wish to play (because they're not very 'good')."

N.A. you nailed something very very interesting and so ironic, I'll agree with you...

Children need stimulation, old folks too to fight dementia and those in between, we can sit on our laurels???

This is like the sticker "Baby aboard" on cars... And if it's my husband/wife aboard, it's more acceptable that you bump in my car??? :)

Good point!

From John Lewis
Posted on September 23, 2013 at 2:30 AM
As an adult beginner, I think this is really sad. Sure, I will never make it into a professional orchestra. But then most of the kids in my daughter's school orchestra won't either. Does this mean that they should stop playing? Of course not! The point of playing is to become better educated, to take music appreciation to a far deeper level than just listening ever could.

From Jorge Armenteros
Posted on September 25, 2013 at 1:44 AM
When I asked a prospective teacher if he was up to the task of teaching a complete adult beginner, he said "I have never done that but I am willing to try. " Mind you, he is a professor of music at the university with an endowed chair who graduated from the Moscow Conservatory. So I was thrilled that he would take me on. And yes, he had many doubts. When I return for my second lesson he said, "You haven't quit yet." I told him he was not getting rid of me.

We are having a great time. I think he is learning from me as much as I am learning from him. He treats me with the same rigor with which he teaches younger students. And I am grateful for that.

I think a lot of the issues with adult beginners is in the minds of both teachers and students. Practice, learn, and love the music. Those are ageless pursuits.

From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on September 26, 2013 at 6:25 PM
We have to ask ourselves why we play music. If the purpose is to build a career at the highest level, maybe then you have to start at age 3. But many of us (myself included) play music purely for enjoyment.

I started violin at age 59, although I've played other instruments for quite a while before that. Now, four years later, I'm playing viola in a local orchestra, and playing fiddle at the bluegrass jams where I used to play mandolin (and still do occasionally). I realize that I'll never find myself playing the Mendelssohn with the Berlin Philharmonic - but I'm going to have a lot of fun for the rest of my life playing with my friends. That's good enough.

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