Should I quit violin?

January 6, 2007 at 05:04 AM · Should I quit violin? If you are not up to standard after studying an undergrad degree in violin performance, what can you do? Quit?

I am so frustrated right now, cause I think I may need to face this problem. Although I am sort of not very bad, at least I can play the Tchaikovsky concerto, Ysaye Ballade.. etc (not very good) but I know that many people are way better than me, and I do not think I can get in to grad sch or orchestras after I graduate this April. Thats means the only career for me is being a full time violin teacher, which I really hate to be. I do not know composing and conducting cause I focus in violin during the four years. By the way, the instrument I am using now is not good, and this affected my improvement a lot this four years.

Many people may consider me as a good violinist, but I kind of feel that I am not good enough to survive in the violin industry.

Replies (24)

January 6, 2007 at 05:55 AM · You're talking about quitting in regard to doing it for a living. You don't have to make that decision - it will be made for you when you can or can't earn a living. Since you're so close though you should finish up school. In the U.S. anyway it doesn't matter what your degree is in, so it wasn't exactly time wasted career-wise. I had a friend who would make fun of liberal arts degrees, like so-and-so's majoring in history of basket weaving, what's he gonna do? But what it does is stratify you socially. Any degree means basically you won't drive a fork lift. Not all that many people are working in the field they majored in. Good luck.

January 6, 2007 at 07:23 AM · If you really suck? Give it up -- but don't stop playing. Music is not that dispensible. You can't just give it all up. But if you know you have a good ear, and that you have good fingers and good technique, keep on going.

That's all.

January 6, 2007 at 12:18 PM · If your goal is to get into grad school and orchestras, don't give up before you try. It is important not to give up too easily on your goals, as you will likley regret it later. In your case, it sounds to me like your goals are still achievable. Identify what you need to do now to achieve your goals and go for it.

If you need a better violin, then find a way to get one.

If you don't want to teach, please don't.

Good luck!

January 6, 2007 at 01:52 PM · John:

You can't get better advice than you're getting from the people on this website.

However, I have one advantage with this topic. As a psychologist who specializes in career and job search counseling, I have seen literally thousands of people at all stages of their careers. Most have made changes, either because they want to or they have to.

I have learned several things about careers from working with all of these people:

1. No career or job is perfect. In the demanding world of music and violin, it certainly isn't perfect. But there are a lot of people you've never heard of who are making a go of it and having rewarding and satisfying careers.

2. No matter what you do in life, there is always someone who does it better. This is especially true with violin playing.

3. Nothing you ever do in any job or career is ever wasted, even if you hated the experience or found it frustrating. Somewhere along the line, what you have accomplished and learned will turn out to be an incredibly big advantage.

4. A career change is always something you can do at any point in your career life (although it's not always easy). There is no deadline. I routinely work with people who are making career changes in their 30's, 40's, 50's, and even 60's.

5. Therefore, don't give up yet. Give it everything you've got. If you quit before you've given yourself a full opportunity to pursue it, you will always wonder whether you could have or should have done it. Then if it works out OK, that's great. If it turns out to have been a mistake, then you can make a change knowing that you did everything you could.

Best wishes.


January 6, 2007 at 01:12 PM · great advice above...

so clearly the immediate issue to face (should be on your mind in the past couple years as well) is that besides full time performer which you like, full time teacher which you dont, what other realistic options are there, music wise or not, and what are you doing about them to hedge the bet? if you like music but is not good enough according to you, are there things you do not particularly like right now but is good at from which you can explore further? to be fully retrained in another discipline may take couple years,something you may not be particularly thrilled about. however, you only live once and deserve a change for the better since it is called for in the long run. it takes conviction and resolve to walk away from something you like or even love, but you owe your future a good chance.

because music performance training takes a lot of time and energy for preparation, it is easy to see people like you getting into a tight spot, but it is never too late to change direction as sandy said. you may need to discuss this dilemma candidly and honestly with experienced people you trust around you, namely, your parents as a start who tend to know you better than you think.

further, take a closer look at yourself, are you where you are because of lack of so called talent, or are there other issues that hinder your progress? are you the perfection type and think too low of yourself? to make that distinction is important in making the decision for your future direction at this transition point so that you can wholehearted accept it or even welcome it.

wish you a clear head in 2007.

good luck.

January 6, 2007 at 01:37 PM · What does your teacher say about your future?

January 6, 2007 at 01:36 PM · Wow, great advice here. Nothing new to add except good luck to you, and listen carefully to your instincts - the answers are there inside you, it's just that you may have to dig (and be patient).

January 6, 2007 at 02:01 PM · Grad school is the perfect place to help you sort this out. You may want to attend some summer orchestral workshops to improve your orchestral skills. While in school, you can freelance in whatever part-time orchestras are in your area. Are you a good sight-reader? Make sure you join the union and find out who contracts musicians for touring shows. Do you have a quartet? You can increase your income by also doubling on viola. Do have abilities in styles other than classical? Some companies need people to travel and demonstrate their products (electric violins, student instruments) at conventions, etc. There are many options for your skills. Regarding equipment--Many times schools will have instruments you can borrow (I had a cheap violin with painted on purfling and plastic tailpiece when I first went off to school). You may be able to use your student loan to help you get a better instrument. When I was in grad school, we had a few students from China who had been through the cultural revolution. They had terrible equipment, but were so determined that they could do amazing things in spite of their equipment. Teaching is definitely not a "back-up" endeavor, so it's really good you've already identified that it's not for you. I have worked with many people who were not spectacular players, but they worked hard and found a niche for their particular skills. There is always someone who plays better or someone with better equipment, so don't give up just yet!

January 6, 2007 at 11:30 PM · What seems missing from your analysis is any sense of passion or love for music or the instrument. I don't think pursuing violin as a career would be worth it without that, even if you were however "good" you think you have to be. Wanting to better than other people is only going to get you so far; eventually you'll figure out there's more to life (as it sounds like you have).

January 7, 2007 at 01:26 AM · There are a lot of ways to benefit from your education, without being a violinist. There's always room for sharp people in the sales end of violin shops, or as makers and restorers (I know several with college performance degrees), and in other allied fields where your education will be a definite plus. As a serial job-hopper, I'd advise you not to get who you think you are get inextricably tangled with what you are doing to make a living this year. :-)

January 7, 2007 at 03:33 AM · "I had a friend who would make fun of liberal arts degrees, like so-and-so's majoring in history of basket weaving, what's he gonna do?"

It depends how quick that person can learn at a "professional" quality.

I know first hand that there are Ph. D's (in Physics and Chemistry) turned medical equipment salesmen and business brokers. JD's turned real estate agents. So it really is not what major one's in, but how good the brain one's got for the demands on hand.

Having a degree is like having an insurance policy. It doesn't really do much for you, but when you need it, you'll be so glad that you've got one.

January 7, 2007 at 03:46 AM · Hi John,

I think there are many opinions which have become standard in this industry. "Too old" for example.

I think if you work harder than everyone around you, you can reach a very high level and have a happy life.

January 7, 2007 at 07:56 AM · Said another way, I've only played less than two years, and feel I don't have a choice now--and I like it--no, I love it.

I fell in love with violin--completely. While I don't picture myself cutting off an ear, it is a very passionate instrument, that does require a good deal of absract, unspeakable love for it.

I like to use the example of gardens. Every year, I excel with something, just not everything. Last year it was awesome strawberries and learning new canning techniques. The year before my garlic collection came online. Then, I turned around and neglected the celery, and it showed.

Violin is like that. It's chapters and sections of one's life rather than some linear point a, b, then c; though, that does hold true a little. But over time, one makes the instrument their own, and all the details obscure themselves in the music.

I noticed this recently on piano. I had taken a triplet pattern from Schubert, and applied it to Rachmaninov forgetting where it came from until that little light came on.. That's sort of how it works. Never give up.

January 7, 2007 at 08:13 AM · I think this is a question that you can only truly answer. Unfortunately, telling us that you don't feel like you are competitive at your age isn't going to help us much. I think just about every violinist has that feeling along the way and even if we were to hear you once or twice we wouldn't know much about your potential or anything like that. I, like you, am auditioning for grad schools and I am playing the same general pieces as you. I want to hit my head against the wall in about half the passages because I feel as if every other student at school can play them better than me. But trust me, you can and will be your harshest critic.

It comes down to two things- work and passion. You have to be passionate about what you are doing because if you practice for 4 hours a day and feel no passion for it, you'll be going nowhere fast. You have to really want it.

So, you've said that you don't really want to be a strings/school teacher. There are lots of opportunities in music. Most musicians have to make their livings, at least in part, through teaching, and I know several violinists who teach in schools and also play in local orchestras to keep their playing up. But what do you want? Do you really want to play in orchestra? In quartet? Do you want to look into becoming a luthier or dealer? Do you want to look into music therapy, theory, or history? There's a lot you can do with an undergrad degree.

I do think it's a wise idea to have a good idea of your eventual goal before you go off to graduate school. Graduate school is where you can really concentrate and focus on the specifics of what you want to do- aka, learning excerpts if you want to take orchestral auditions. If you really don't want to be in music at all, then maybe it's time to lay down the violin and look at a different major for graduate school.

It does seem, since you are pointing out that you feel inferior in your playing skills, even if that is untrue, that you are trying to give yourself an excuse out. But if you want it, go for it. The easiest way to fail is to never start. Maybe you're afraid of failing or maybe your afraid of change and success. Either way, just listen to your heart and your "inner voice". Nobody can give you a better opinion than that.

January 7, 2007 at 08:38 PM · "I fell in love with violin--completely. While I don't picture myself cutting off an ear, it is a very passionate instrument, that does require a good deal of absract, unspeakable love for it."


I think cutting off an ear is OK as long as you spare both of your hands.

Just kidding. :-)

January 7, 2007 at 08:48 PM · John,

I have found this attitude among many who play well. Assuming that this includes you, as Winston Churchill said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself". You are obviously passionate enough to put in the hours to play these difficult pieces, so what's most important is that you develop a sense of purpose.

I, for one, have gone through these emotions many times, but I also know that I want to succeed enough to get me through all the best and the worst of times. I think what's most important is that you find your niche. If you can't get a "conventional" job like orchestral playing, maybe it's time to create your own. I, for one, have investigated the possibility of one day opening up a school, although I really want to have a performing career of some sort as well.

Good luck!


January 8, 2007 at 10:04 AM · Whoops! I mean FDR said that..

January 8, 2007 at 02:57 PM · Hi,Jon, There are a lot of good responses here. But when I re-read your note, two things jumped out at me. You are one semester away from finishing college, and feel the pressure of the cold, cruel world breathing down your neck? This feeling is not unusual, but we all have to grow up sometime. From what you don't say, I'm guessing you've done your work, but not worked your fingers off? I also see you to some extent looking for excuses for not being as good as you maybe thought you'd be? Like playing on a less than gorgeous violin, or being a biggish fish in a not so big pond at the school you attend, therefore not likely to get into a grad school. So here's my advice. Decide if you're passionate about doing this. Then, even if you've worked very, very hard, work harder (and better-read posts here for practice advice) and audition for some schools. If you don't get in, go to some camps, take some more lessons and audition again mid-year next year. Talk to the folks at some decent violin shops and get a solid violin and a great bow. You can pay on time. If it doesn't work, you won't have mortgaged your future,(like people going to med school etc., often do, even with the prospective rate of pay), since you can give the violin back. Give yourself a timeframe to get better and get "in", but start thinking of what your money-making alternative will be. Thank goodness, you don't write as though you feel entitled by virtue of finishing a degree, something which does seem to be creeping in with a certain number of 20-somethings. (I mentor student-teachers). Please don't consider a teaching career unless you have a passion for that, but do look into volunteering/observing in some public schools and music academies to see if you really hate it. Stop whining and get going. :) Sue

January 11, 2007 at 12:22 AM · John,

So far everyone is right. There are SOOOO many types of music jobs out there. You don't just have to be in an orchestra, a soloist, or teach. There's music business - working with orchestras,arts organizations, etc., as well as areas like retail, violin repairs and violin making, freelancing, and so on. Plus you don't have to stick with classical style playing. There are other styles of music that are gaining more popularity these days like Celtic music, bluegrass, appalachian fiddle, gypsy fiddle, jazz/pop, and so on. Many of these are growing areas where you can make your own opportunities, and probably just as much or more money. And certainly, if you can play Tchaikovsky, you've got the technical chops for those styles. It's just a matter of putting the time in to learn the nuances of the style. You can't sound too "classical" when you fiddle.

That said, you have to sit down and think what would really make you happy and then pursue whatever that is. At this point you haven't tried for anything yet. Give yourself a chance at least. It's no good giving up on yourself before you've tried. If you work hard enough, you may just get your dream job. If not, at least you have the satisfaction of having done your best.


January 13, 2007 at 05:48 PM · Up to who's standard? You don't know untill you try. Even then....

And yes something new is always an option

January 14, 2007 at 03:12 AM · What did the music major say to the businessman?

"... do you want fries with that?"


Just kidding. My degree is in music (not specifically performance) from a liberal arts college, and I'm a web programmer by career. I've found, over the years that 1) just having a degree from a reputable school means a lot and 2) my music background and the skills I've learned from performance are indispensable in everything. They even helped in childbirth! Go figure that.

Good luck kick-starting your music career -- I'll be looking for your name in lights!

January 14, 2007 at 03:32 AM · Breathing in rhythm, you mean?:)

January 14, 2007 at 04:16 AM · John,

We are not objective observers when it comes to our own performance, violin playing or otherwise. How many times you felt you had done poorly in an exam and later turned out you aced it? Have you tried videotaping your performance followed up with careful analysis/critique? Sometimes a bit of device helps us to focus on specific issues, rather than sitting there worrying about being ‘good’ or ‘not very good’ -- the type vague terms although can’t be avoided, shouldn’t be the ground for action, IMHO.

Stop worry, work harder!

January 27, 2007 at 07:16 AM · if you feel that this is not your instrument, then you know what to do in your heart.

if you want to continue, CONTINUE.

thanks, Eliee

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