V.com weekend vote: How did you start playing violin?

February 15, 2019, 1:17 PM · How did you start playing violin? Was it through some kind of school program? A separate music academy or school? Private lessons? Or maybe you just started on your own?

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I feel fortunate that my public school had a strong instrumental music program when I was a child. I can thank an energetic music teacher, who went around to classes recruiting fourth-grade students to start learning stringed instruments. She had several orchestras and bands, and that very first year we all participated in the creation of something that back then was a huge deal, we made a vinyl record! Every single child participating in the music program, even beginners, were on that record, with our names listed! Thinking back on this, I can hardly fathom the energy this woman had, to do so much!

The important thing was that this program sparked my curiosity and desire to play, and it provided a way to actually do it. I was also fortunate to follow up my introduction to the instrument with private lessons, which made all the difference. But that initial introduction was an essential step. (Sadly my old elementary school no longer offers instrumental music. Considering the major benefits that instrumental music offers for education and community, I hope this trend of cutting music programs can be reversed.)

How did it happen for you? Was it through a program at your school? A private music program, such as a local Suzuki program? A music academy in your community? Or did you start straight in with private lessons? Maybe you started on your own! Please pick the answer that most closely resembles what kind of program you started in, and then tell us about it! What do you think is the best way to get new students playing the violin?

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February 15, 2019 at 07:45 PM · Hmmm, not sure how to vote here. I started at age five in Alice Joy Lewis's very first Suzuki class ever, 1966 in Ottawa, Kansas, but it was a small class setting and actual private lessons did not start until later. She began giving me private lessons when it was clear that I was progressing very quickly, but do I vote that I started with private lessons when in fact it was group lessons? (Editing to add that I voted "private lessons." Ottawa Suzuki Strings was not yet a thing; this was one small class of little girls plus my younger brother.)

February 15, 2019 at 08:17 PM · I started in 9th grade (14) at a public school, but not in the regular string class as that conflicted with other classes I had. I wanted to play because my dad had. I didn't want to play trumpet or percussion like all the other boys did just to be different.

I was instead in a 'music study hall' with a music ed teacher who gave us all individual attention (but not continuous focus by any means). I remember little of this but I was mostly on my own with him giving me advice now and then. A school year later I was in public high school in an orchestra with the concert master there already playing professionally as he was basically a prodigy. I was in way over my head as the teacher knew, but the teacher was very accommodating.

My family moved to another state and I was in a brand new and expensive public high school. But no strings there! Band but no orchestra. So I began private lessons for one term at a local college with the principle 2nd of the professional symphony and I was off to the races! Originally this was to be one term, but I liked it so much my parents found the money for me to continue. Later in another high school for my senior year there was a program with a professional trombonist as teacher. He seemed to know enough at the time, but what he didn't know about violin, he knew about music.

I feel like I was lucky (enough) each step of the way. Unfortunately as Laurie says above, none of this exists any more in any of the schools that I attended.

February 15, 2019 at 08:37 PM · I voted "private lessons" -- although, strictly speaking, I did start on my own, fingering and bowing familiar tunes by ear on a half-sized fiddle before the first lessons.

I had originally planned to start in the public elementary school string program but ended up going with a private teacher instead. Thanks to elementary piano training, before the violin muse grabbed me, I could already read music. I had also watched a couple of kids in the school program read and play from what would become my first instruction book.

Can't give a definite answer on the best way to get new students to play. In learning violin, I was self-motivated, as opposed to parent-motivated. Having 1:1 sessions once a week with a private teacher worked well for me. In a group setting, I might not have progressed as fast as I did. A lot of these kids lacked self-motivation and sooner or later dropped out.

February 15, 2019 at 09:17 PM · Started in group lessons in my primary school, excelled more quickly than the rest of the group, and moved into ten minute individual lessons with a peripatetic teacher for almost 7 years, before receiving assistance to be able to afford private lessons, which I was very lucky to have.

I was motivated to practise from the beginning, parents really didn’t want me to learn violin, and started me on cornet and flute instead. I could read music by the time I started the violin. Can’t imagine it sound very nice in the early stages though...

February 15, 2019 at 09:35 PM · I started playing violin my sophomore year of college. I was a music composition major and talked my way in to the "Introduction to Playing Strings" class, which was a group class for music education majors. I initially took the class to get a better idea of how to write music for stringed instruments (my high school only had band and chorus) and ended up liking violin much more than my primary instrument. After that class one of the violin faculty helped get me registered to take lessons with a violin grad student and sit in on his studio masterclasses. I later sold the trombone to help purchase a violin.

February 15, 2019 at 10:14 PM · I love these stories!

February 15, 2019 at 11:26 PM · I received a violin from my paternal grandfather for my 4th birthday. I started to "play" on my own immediately. My father was a serious amateur violinist, who had started taking lessons again. I guess after 6 months of my sawing away my parents thought something pleasant to listen to would be nice and when they asked me if I wanted to take lessons (like my Daddy did) I said "Yes!" right away. So at 4-1/5 I started lesson right away and continued with a progression of 3 private teachers until shortly before my 10th birthday I was enrolled in "kids' program" at the Manhattan School of Music for a violin lesson and theory class every Saturday. But after 2 years of that I finally got up the courage to quit. And I stayed quit for over a year during which time my family had moved from New York City to central Maryland. When I found that a girl I liked in my Maryland Jr. High classes played the violin - I started up again on my own - with my father's advice when I asked for it That was over 70 years ago and (except for one year following a spinal injury) I have not stopped since. Two years later as a sophomore I became CM of our high school orchestra and started cello lessons at the same time. Twenty five years later I bought my first viola and added that to my quiver.

It's being a great life!

February 16, 2019 at 12:07 AM · I voted "at a private academy or school" because I started lessons at a private music school. My musical life started on the piano as a preschooler. I was given piano lessons by a relatively close friend. I took up the violin at the friend's suggestion a few years later (I think), but I honestly don't remember clearly. A few years after taking up the violin, I added viola. I was initially forced into the viola because I was suddenly and unexpectedly assigned the viola part in chamber music. I really didn't want to do it at first for a reason I can't explain, but I ended up falling in love with the viola after I started playing it. I now play all 3 instruments almost equally in terms of both time and proficiency.

February 16, 2019 at 12:09 AM · Forgot to mention that in the city I currently live in, there is no strings program but a band program for grade 6/7 students and beyond. In my city, everyone is required to take band. In the bigger cities around where I live, there are some strings programs for grade 4 and beyond. I have no idea how good the strings programs are, but I think the quality varies depending on who teaches it.

February 16, 2019 at 12:23 AM · I started with private lessons and then joined my the program in my public Jr. High School (grades 7-9). I think that having the school program was very good to do since I learned early to play in a group.

February 16, 2019 at 12:36 AM · Mary Ellen, how lovely you started with Alice Joy Lewis!

February 16, 2019 at 12:40 AM · 3rd grade public education music class. By the time they got to my name, all the violins were taken, so I was left with the viola which they told me was “just like” the violin. I fell for it. It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized that I was had, but by then I was hooked.

That was 40 years ago.


February 16, 2019 at 12:54 AM · I unfortunately missed out on the beginning instruments day as I changed schools where band/orch started in grade 4 in the school I left and grade 3 in the school I went to. Luckily we had music instruction anyway. In my late 20's I had a hankering to learn to play traditional fiddle music and worked at a university where I could get a 2 credit violin lesson for $10 a semester. A year and a half latter I changed jobs and quit playing for the next 30 yrs. I couldn't sell the violin like I wanted when I turned 60, so I figured I might as well play it. I've played for six years now and am sorry I never picked it up in my earlier school years. One of life's "wish I would of" issues. I have enjoyed the classical pursuit completely and never have followed the traditional fiddle path to any extent.

February 16, 2019 at 01:22 AM · I'm also not sure how to reply. Church had a bunch of kids playing various instruments, but no viola. So I got a viola and figured, "Meh, how hard could it be?" Learned some bare rudiments, and only then started with lessons--first position for a couple of weeks, then third position. Switched to violin for when I duetted with the youngsters but more often than not played viola. Helped support the kids' playing in church for years. When I left the congregation I stopped playing until years later, and came back to it because I still want to learn to play better.

February 16, 2019 at 02:11 AM · I started piano in private lessons at about age 7. One day my teacher, who also taught violin, looked at me and said "I think you'll make a violinist". Those words have stayed with me for over 40 years. I think I've spent the rest of my life wanting to be "discovered" in the way that I was that day. I'll never know what she saw in me in that moment, but I assume it was some awareness of pitch, which is certainly one of my strengths.

Alas, my physical situation with short pinkie and thumb and tight ligaments, prevented me progressing to a professional level, but I've had years of sharing music making in orchestras and chamber groups, and now a second career teaching violin :-)

February 16, 2019 at 02:34 AM · Thanks, Laurie, it was a fortunate privilege to have Alice Joy Lewis as my first teacher (and conversely, to be a member of her very first Suzuki class ever). She was already teaching traditional lessons to my older sister, and her husband and my father were science professor colleagues at Ottawa University, so for my parents to sign me up for her brand new class was a no-brainer. I have a May 5, 1967 article from the Ottawa Herald about her new venture ("Tots Take Lessons on Pint-Size Violins") framed on my studio wall, and can email you the pdf of that article if you're interested.

February 16, 2019 at 04:46 AM · I was recruited to begin cello lessons in the 5th grDe in my public school in Portland, OR. Because l had already progressed well with piano lessons, the strings teacher made sure l not only played in the small school ensemble but also Elementary All City Orchestra. The public High School director gave me opportunities to shine and l played as principal cellist in All City, All State and All Northwest orchestras. In my senior year l was our state's deligate to MENC's 50th Year Conference in St. Louis and played in that orchestra. My professional career would not have been possible without the encouragement of my public school directors and private teacher in those beginning years.

Even now as a teacher of upper strings, l continue to learn much from

Laurie Niles posts.

February 16, 2019 at 05:18 AM · I started in 4th grade in public school. I wanted to play the violin because I had recently read the "Little House" books and I was fascinated by Pa and his fiddle. I wanted to play the fiddle for my dolls (and I eventually did so!)

I also distinctly remember trying to talk a friend of mine out of starting the viola (because the violin was so much better than the viola!) I didn't succeed. And it's pretty funny that now not only do I play the viola, but the viola has become my main instrument!

February 16, 2019 at 07:08 AM · As a college freshman I was able to take weekly lessons with a former principal violinist for the LA Philharmonic. And that was when California State Colleges were tuition-free. My violin study was the best deal I ever got in all my education.

February 16, 2019 at 07:23 AM · 5th grade, public school, I noticed that some of the students were escaping regular class to go to music lessons. I wanted to do that too. My dad took me to the very small local music store. They had three instruments on the wall. I blew in the clarinet, nothing happened. Blew in the trumpet, nothing happened. Drew the bow across the strings of a violin, got a sound. My thought at the time was something like, " this one works , I'll do this." One year later I got a real violin teacher. In the middle of the college years, I bought a very cheap Viola. My conductor, Mehli Mehta, moved me to principal Viola of his orchestra. Several decades later, I took voice lessons, and discovered that, maybe (?), I should have been a singer. Moral: Is there a reliable test for talent in the various specialties in music performance?

February 16, 2019 at 09:10 AM · Started on my own as a teenager. I had piano lessons starting when I was 5. But because I lived in Dubai ages 3-12 when there were no Western classical ensembles there, I didn't actually see a violin-family instrument in person until I moved back to the US at 12. When I started asking for lessons and my parents tried to find me a violin teacher, multiple teachers rejected me saying I was too old to start a stringed instrument. I remember hearing at one point that it was too late to even make the violin a worthwhile hobby unless I didn't mind being stuck at beginner level for life. (It turned out my parents were asking the wrong people; all the teachers they asked were recommended by their friends, whose string-playing children all started at 3 or 4.) Learning at school was not an option either. My high school's orchestra program did well in competitions but offered nothing for beginners; even the lowest-level orchestra didn't accept anyone below intermediate level. Eventually I gave up on finding a teacher and started on my own, hoping to at least reach the point where I could play in an amateur orchestra. Wanting to prove people wrong was a big source of motivation.

I'm still mostly self-taught; I've had some lessons but most of the time I learned by playing in orchestras above my level and getting pointers from other musicians.

Looking back, I wish I'd known there were teachers willing to accept late starters and less-than-advanced adult students. For a very long time I had the mistaken impression that I'd have to be near conservatory level to be accepted by any teacher as an adult. Now that I've played violin or viola (I switched almost completely to viola early on) for more than half of my life, and have been playing in top-tier community orchestras and learning advanced solo repertoire for several years, I often wonder what my progress would have looked like if I'd been taking lessons the whole time.

Oh, re: Joel's comment about singing, I joined my college glee club during my senior year just because I had free time to spare, and there I discovered that I was one of the relatively few basses whose range extends to the B below the bass clef. Unfortunately, I don't have the vocal technique to do more than amateur choral singing. Maybe I should have trained as a singer instead.

February 16, 2019 at 10:13 AM · I voted "Private Lessons", because the alternatives were even more inaccurate descriptions of what actually happened. The earliest age at which I remember handling a violin was 3 (the year of my life when my father was appointed by the London Borough of Tottenham to start their Schools' Stringed Instrument Scheme, probably the first time in my life anyone in our family would see a violin that was any less than full size). However, I only started learning at 5, and I don't know when the rather indefinable interactions with Dad and the violin developed into lessons.

I suspect quite a number of us have similar experiences!

February 16, 2019 at 08:59 PM · A friend loaned me an old family heirloom fiddle that she said needed someone to play it. I told her..."what am I going to do with a violin, I don't know how to play that thing." Within a week of the offer I saw a note come home with one of my kids that one of the teachers was giving violin lessons after school I called my friend back and got myself a fiddle. That was 16 years ago...the fiddle turned out to be about 250 years old and a joy to play. I've since given it back to the family and have my own now. I play in a local string orchestra and on one of the worship teams at my church. I took lessons from that teacher for about a year, then another lady for about 5 years....worked on it on my own for a few years then took lessons from the concert mistress of a symphony orchestra. It's been fun...think I'll keep it up for a while longer.

February 16, 2019 at 10:20 PM · I first held, and attempted to make a musical sound with a violin in 7th grade. Our music class had us try all the instruments over the two years of Jr. High. I told my parents I wanted to learn the violin - the answer was NO! Fast forward through High School, jobs, military, college, into marriage when I was asked to retrieve some yarn from Mother-in-Law's attic. Up there, sweating bullets, I discovered a violin. I brought that down as well.

Found a teacher using the phone book and lots of referrals to somebody else. Started lessons, got the family fiddle fixed and had private lessons for almost 30 years. Recruited by Bell Labs to a high travel job I had to stop lessons and community orchestra and only played a bit for myself on occasional weekends.

Buyout from Bell Labs and I had more time, now and autodidact (my teacher had died) worked on restoring my skills and finally fully retired playing a lot more - still on the same instrument.

It's been a long and interesting road. Age and injuries limit me to fourth position and below. Have a taught more than a few young people who, like I was a long time ago, unable to get lessons.

Sometimes I'm glad that I did not get lessons at the young age, I didn't have the discipline and drive that I had at 30 not to forget the time and resources.

February 17, 2019 at 01:39 AM · I started in public school at about 7 and played until about 12. I fell in love with it then and really enjoyed it until we moved away and that was the end of the violin for the next 45ish years - it just wasn't an option when we moved and other things in life took over. I did learn to play the acoustic guitar as a teenager as a replacement string instrument but I never really considered it "my" instrument.

I started up again this last December with private lessons. Part of me wishes that I hadn't waited so long, but things come in their own time. Part of me wonders what I may have been able to do 45 years ago, but that's pointless. What matters is now, and I've a deep desire to do this for the love of the violin and the music I want to play - and it's just for the joy of it all. I do want to eventually play with others, and my teacher has me on a path headed that way.

February 17, 2019 at 12:10 PM · I started taking violin lessons when i was a fourth grade student in homeschooling because it is required for all students to have a music subject. I personally chose the violin because i am inspired how to learn it when i saw a violinist played " Nearer My God to Thee " on the famous movie " Titanic ".

I thought it will be easy however my first violin lesson is how to hold the violin and during that lesson the violin almost fell on the floor! That was the reason why my Mom just bought me a second hand violin because she was not sure if I can able to learn it. Fortunately I did get to learn how learn it and I now play the violin for 6 years and I will continue to play for years to come.

February 17, 2019 at 03:37 PM · I started violin when I started school - grade 1 - 6 years old. I did 6 years Conservatory

then Bill Haley & the Comets came along & all my buddies could play r&r - drums, sax, etc. I stopped playing as I could not play with them.

50 years later I took up the violin again and have been playing ever since in a community orchestra.

J Mulhern

February 17, 2019 at 07:53 PM · I saw Fantasia when I was 4. Then I hassled my mom for months until she gave in and got me lessons. Only the Suzuki institute took students my age so I ended up there, pretty much by chance. We hadnt heard of it prior to the lessons.

February 18, 2019 at 10:14 AM · To play the violin was a dream of my childhood when I was learning to play the piano at music school. It was a school where they prepared professional musicians for entering the Conservatory, that is why nobody payed attention to what was considered to be a whim of a ten year-old girl. I didn't become a musician and chose another way in life. But as appeared my dream continued to live in me and when quite recently I discovered that it's possible to take private lessons of violin I immediately found a teacher - a wonderful one (it was a second attempt)- and now I feel so happy with my lessons.I am discovering the art of playing the violin, being able to produce this wonderful sound I love so much...

February 18, 2019 at 05:31 PM · The local junior high (that is, middle school) orchestra held a concert at our grade school. Among other arrangements, they played Superman. The conductor had each principal chair play a few measures of a solo so we could hear each instrument. V.M., the concertmistress (yes, that was what she was called) played a few bars of the Vivaldi A minor, which was among the showier solos heard that day. I told my parents I wanted to take violin at school.

About five fourth and fifth graders started violin that year. We had weekly half-hour lessons in a little room with very low ceilings off to the side of the gym. I'll always remember the sound of open strings accompanied by dodge ball. We used the String Builder series by Samuel Applebaum. I came to like Mr. B., our teacher, very much over subsequent years, but he was not the most charismatic or encouraging instructor. By the end of the year, I was the sole student remaining. I couldn't be as easily cowed as the others--after all--I was a really good student, I'd get this right too! Ha! I started taking private lessons about a year and a half later.

In eighth grade (maybe also seventh grade, I can't remember) I was the concertmistress playing Superman in the junior high orchestra. I performed a solo for the grade school students. I wish I could remember what I played--I know it was not Vivaldi A minor...

February 19, 2019 at 08:59 PM · I started learning violin through a free group class at my public school. More than two thirds of my school learned how to play a string instrument (over 250 kids) and everyone received a lesson once a week. Our teacher was very dedicated and when the program was threatened to be cut, she rallied at the school district headquarters along with a group of 15 odd students. The program was sadly cut and she didn’t even make it through all of the next year before retiring. These lessons not being offered has shrunk the middle school orchestra (where I am now) down to just 8 kids from more than 30 several years ago, and I’m sure it will soon have a bigger impact on the high school as well. Both her and the program will be missed!

February 19, 2019 at 10:34 PM · I started on my own. I had always wanted to play violin but never did, played piano instead for 6 years and then quit when I started University, because of the workload and the fact that during my free time, I was much more interested in horse-riding than practicing.

When I decided to start music again it was mostly for the pure pleasure of it, and also to help me with the anxiety from which I was suffering at the time. I already knew how to read music so I just decided to learn on my own with Youtube and to have a viola-playing friend of mine give me lessons from time to time. Except that the lessons were few and far between (I had 4 over three months, I think), and as I was already spending a *lot* of time on violinist.com, I quickly realised I was likely to take up bad habits that would then take a lot of time and effort to fix.

I started taking private lessons 1 year and 1 month after I started playing, and boy am I glad I did!

February 19, 2019 at 11:23 PM · Mine is a convoluted path, starting with private lessons on the cornet when I was 8 years old. I played in the school band up through high school, after which for various reason I began my Great Musical Hiatus - I didn't touch an instrument for 25 years. But the music was still in my head, and finally I picked up a guitar and learned some chords so I could play the songs I had been hearing on the radio all that time.

One night while over at a friend's place jamming on guitar, I saw a mandolin hanging on a rack. I picked it up and found a few chords, and wound up borrowing it and taking some lessons. Another friend was taking up banjo, and the two of us got into the local bluegrass scene, where I'm still active.

Some time later, my banjo-playing friend moved into another house. Their stove was shot, and we were switching from electric to gas, so we gave him our old stove. In return, he gave me a cheap old violin. I puttered with it a bit and took it to the bluegrass jams - thanks to my mandolin playing my left hand already knew where the notes were.

Around this time another friend, who had once played violin, dug it out and started playing again. We started sitting down together and playing Corelli, Brahms, etc. At this point I figured it was time to get serious and signed up for lessons.

This last friend then got involved in a local orchestra, and one day he pressed a viola into my hands and said, "Learn to play this. We need violists."

So that's where I am now - playing bluegrass fiddle (or mandolin if the group needs one), 2nd violin in a quartet, and viola in a community orchestra. Quoting the Grateful Dead: "What a long strange trip it's been." But I'm having a ball.

February 21, 2019 at 04:36 AM · Charlie that is one interesting story!

February 21, 2019 at 07:03 PM · I started with flute in a public school program. Lessons were available in fourth grade, but I was so anxious to start that I talked my way into summer school class following third grade.

When I started junior high, they had scads of flutists but were short on strings. They asked a few of us if we would consider learning stringed instruments. I agreed to give violin a whirl, and ended up loving it. The following year I switched from flute to oboe, and played violin, oboe, and later English horn all the way through school. Played many school and youth symphony concerts alternating pieces, or even movements, between string and wind duties!

Back in the day—1960s and '70s—the public school music programs were fantastic, with inspiring teachers. Except for that one guy . . .

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