Printer-friendly version weekend vote: Did you begin your violin or viola studies as a child, or as an adult?

The Weekend Vote

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Published: November 1, 2013 at 4:50 PM [UTC]

Is it better, easier, faster -- to learn to play the violin or viola as a child, or as an adult?

Well, we can go around and around about this, and I enjoyed member Zlata Brouwer's blog about the topic this week.

A few things to consider: whether you start as a child or an adult, most normal students require a good 5 years before they start sounding "good," and then another five before they begin to be able to play advanced repertoire. Of course, there are exceptions! But as a rule, there are no shortcuts to simply practicing a lot and doing the physical training that is required.

I would argue that your practice means more than your age, when it comes to your success with the violin or viola (or for that matter, the piano, clarinet, etc.) Violinists who are old and young, amateur and professional, get frustrated when the music in their heads does not match what is coming out on the fiddle. After more than 35 years with this instrument, I can say this: don't stop attending to the physical training required by this instrument. You need a lot of patient and correct repetitions to make violin playing work! Frustration usually results from expecting great results from too little practice, or from sloppy or incorrect practice. Slow down, break it down, have patience and do it right. Celebrate the small successes, and they will start adding up, whatever your age!

From sharelle taylor
Posted on November 1, 2013 at 8:43 PM
Frustration arises from a conflict between expectations versus output / reality. I know people who have calmly but certainly not doggedly stayed with the instrument as adult learners for over a decade.

There seems to be a group of (especially perhaps older adults?) who are content with remaining very intermediate - by this I mean they learn to read music, shift into say third position comfortably, perhaps use vibrato, use a higher position very rarely as an extreme and anxiety producing occasion, probably not independently think about where in the bow they would place a note for the phrase or effect etc, have pretty decent intonation most of the time. But they have no drive or aspiration to, say, be able to figure out how to get that bloody accompanied Bach sonata to be phrased convincingly :) or get sautille bowing. Dogged determination is not part of their mindset, but nor is giving up. It's a bewildering sort of stasis (to someone who isn't like that).

And I think there needs to be a third category of old adult. I am not the creature I was as a post 18 year old. I think I changed significantly as a learner sometime after 40, for the better.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on November 1, 2013 at 7:04 PM
Teen! Which is a very nice thing for an amateur (maybe not for a professional though) since you get good things in both worlds.

As a teen starter, you had a wonderful childhood really chasing butterflies lol, playing outside and with no performance pressure. But you're still a big kid at heart and your body has not quite finished to change/grow so you still have, I beleive, some of the children's physical flexibility and brain plasticity to learn new things more naturally. Usually as a teen too, we are really passionated about what we love, full of hope and not "turned off" by life's obligations and schedule/school limitations. Also, many nice concert opportunities or activities for kids still allows you as a teen but not as an adult.

As a pre-adult, a teen has already some degree of maturity, discipline and attention spam. This makes him/her able to absorb more infromation than a kid in one lesson and is an asset to practice right.

It's like sitting between two chairs but in a very good way :)

The only thing that is hard as a teen starter is the self esteem hit (at a time of your life where self-esteem is pretty low to start with...) of having to climb the same stages as your young co-students... and sometimes they play better than you! But you can progress faster and should catch up with the vast majority of them soon... usually. It does take a certain degree of humility but it's well rewarded very soon.

Nice thread!

From Jim Hastings
Posted on November 1, 2013 at 9:09 PM
Child here.

One factor I believe helps some kids take hold faster than others and start sounding good sooner is motivation. If the kid really wants to play violin, as I did, and has a keen ear, this can help things move along faster. About 3 months after I started, my teacher felt I was ready to begin position-playing and vibrato. She proved right on both counts.

That summer, after I'd been studying and practicing only a matter of months, Mom told me: "Just got off the phone with Mrs. _____ [a professional violinist]. She said she could hear someone playing a violin in the background, and it sounded very good." Granted, I wasn't playing Kreutzer yet, but evidently Mrs. _____ liked what she heard.

One advantage for kids, I'm sure, is that they have fewer mental blocks and inhibitions -- plus fewer mental and physical demands to keep track of. I've heard it said: The one who gets the job done is the one who hasn't yet heard that it can't be done. So he just does it.

On the other hand, one advantage for adult beginners is that they are -- well, almost certainly -- learning violin or viola by choice. Now, I'm not against enrolling kids in activities that were never the kids' own ideas to begin with -- far from it. My parents enrolled me in piano lessons before the violin muse stole me. They had me try tennis lessons; I ended up preferring baseball. I'm all for giving kids a little nudge this way -- if it helps them find what their true talents and passions are. Experimentation, trial and error -- these are worthwhile steps.

From Dale Forguson
Posted on November 1, 2013 at 9:16 PM
There are also those who started or re-started after a long hiatus as adults in their 30's, 40's, 50's 60's or even 70's. They realize that they'll never be soloists. that isn't the goal. The goal is to challenge themselves without the stress of those with more lofty aspirations. Making music can be enjoyable for amateurs. Playing with friends or alone can be and should be a satisfying pursuit even at an intermediate level of performance.
From Meli Guillen
Posted on November 1, 2013 at 9:52 PM
I took a non music major violin class in college when I was 19 but it wasn't until my late twenties that I was able to really afford weekly lessons and put in the time necessary to really work at the violin.

I played alto sax through middle school so I was already able to read music but remembering being able to play by ear with that instrument and expericencing the challenges with this one has had it's ups and downs.

It's fustrating being able to hear the notes in my head but not always getting my music to sound just right. I'm getting better though.

I wonder if part of the problem is how we are so instantly gratified these days. Hearing that it could take 10 years to be considered good is a bit daunting. But it just pushes me to try harder and shave that number down bit by bit. My new violin is also very quick to let me know when I've made a mistake but I know it'll make me even better in the long run!

From Paul Deck
Posted on November 2, 2013 at 3:43 AM
I would love to improve faster but I still really enjoy playing and practicing. I started at the age of five but my effort was diluted at least 50% by the piano. Then at the age of 18 I took 25 years off.
From Mendy Smith
Posted on November 2, 2013 at 4:30 AM
I started young with a decades long break in between. Zalta's point of not over-analyzing/judging and to just experiment is key. After 30+ years, I'm finally learning this particular lesson. It makes a big difference.
From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on November 2, 2013 at 4:34 AM
I missed Zlata's blog, but I'll go back and read it.

Laurie, thanks for the kind words of encouragement regarding your statement that it takes 5 years for anyone to sound good! And those were good comments about patience. A year ago I injured my shoulder by playing too long in a tense situation. I spent weeks doing nothing but ear training to let it rest, and have also "stepped back" a bit to learn to do things right. Rather than putting myself back, I really think I moved forward because my technique is so much better as a result. One thing many adults might have going against them is impatience to get better fast, and they may try to cut corners as a result.

Jim H, this may be nit picking to say this, but I don't think children have the corner on progress by motivation. Those traits you listed are just as applicable to adults. Most of what hinders adult beginners is physical: overly tense muscles, muscles that developed for years to do non-violin things, decline in physical ability.

From Jim Hastings
Posted on November 2, 2013 at 12:19 PM
Francesca: Yes, I see now how my statement could sound as if I thought children had the corner on progress by motivation. No -- you're right -- they definitely don't have the corner. But in my earlier statement, I'm comparing kids to kids, not kids to adults. To clarify:

"One factor I believe helps some kids take hold faster than others [i.e., faster than other kids take hold] and start sounding good sooner [than these other kids do] is motivation."

When I was growing up, I knew some kids whose parents had enrolled them in violin lessons. These kids didn't want to take lessons, didn't like playing, had little or no motivation to practice, didn't sound at all good on the instrument, and soon enough dropped out of the study.

I was determined from the start not to sound the way they did. Again, starting violin was my idea. I was motivated. These kids weren't. Two of my strong points, even in the first year, were tone and intonation. In light of Laurie's intro, I'm definitely in the minority. Thanks for raising the point -- hope this helps clear up the matter.

From Erik Bystedt
Posted on November 3, 2013 at 2:21 PM
Started learning as an adult, and it is easily one of the most rewarding and fun things I have ever done. Only have about 6 months playing but it's been fantastic beginning to learn music.
From Royce Faina
Posted on November 3, 2013 at 2:42 PM
At age 10, my teacher to be played the various string instruments and was taking enrollments so I did! The rest is history. :o)
From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on November 3, 2013 at 9:20 PM
Thanks for clarifying, Jim. I went back and reread what you wrote. I just got through watching Zlata's video and the one thing new I got from it, as an adult learner, and you also touched on, is that adults are too into their heads. They should forget their heads and pay attention to their bodies. (Her words.) Of course after she said it, it went right out of my head. But I'll have to keep that thought in the forefront.
From Ray Nichol
Posted on November 5, 2013 at 1:41 AM
Adult-56 years old with no musical background. Not having a chance to play the violin in high school, it was something that never left me. Having worked in remote wilderness camps I never had the opportunity to pursue the violin. It was not until much later that I heard Hilary Hahn playing Bach Concerto in E Major that I knew had to pick up the bow, not with any lofty goal in mind, just to be able to play the violin. Something keeps drawing me to the violin. It has now been two years and practicing the violin is now a part of each and every day for me.

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