How old is too old to become a professional

January 26, 2007 at 07:46 AM · I've been taking violin lessons now for almost 4 months and up until recently have only thought of playing the violin on a purley recreational basis. However, the more I play the more I realise that I would like to take it to the next level. I'm not completely unrealistic, being 27 I know that I probably, more than likely, don't even have a chance at getting into any of the top orchestras. Therefore I've decided to stick to something more local, with maybe some private tutoring on the site, however given my age I'm not sure how possible this dream is. If anyone has any thought it would be really helpful.

Replies (100)

January 26, 2007 at 01:50 PM · There have been previous threads on this. Not to be too discouraging, but the general rule, set forth by Couperin several centuries ago and still true today, is that to be truly top tier, you really have to start playing by age 7. Rugierro Ricci, who started at 9, is the only exception I have ever noted. This may have something to do with brain development in violinists. So the likelihood of starting at age 27 and making it into a top orchestra is very remote. It is possible that you could become a professional at some lower level, but probably not too likely, other than as a teacher. Good luck whatever you decide to try.

January 26, 2007 at 02:07 PM · Therefore I've decided to stick to something more local, with maybe some private tutoring on the site, however given my age I'm not sure how possible this dream is. If anyone has any thought it would be really helpful.

As long as your goals are clear and realistic, as they seem to be, above, I don't see why you should not try to follow your dream. If the question is whether you could make enough of a career to support yourself, the answer, at least hypothetically is yes, with hard work. If you have an inclination for private teaching, you can build a studio. You could also consider doing a music ed degree and being hired in a school system, which would provide a decent salary and benefits, although you might not have the taste for that kind of teaching. If you form a professional quartet or ensemble and work at self-promotion, you can build a decent business doing weddings, parties, and other gigs, and also put on "real" concerts, which will be artistically satisfying, if not lucrative. Factor in that self-employed persons pay higher taxes. I can think of several string players in our area who became professional later in their careers and have managed to build an engaging, rewarding life for themselves. They key is to be a self-starter and to make a career, and a need for yourself where none might have existed previously. It all depends on how badly you want it.

January 26, 2007 at 02:41 PM · Juanita - I think it's great that after only four months, you love the violin so much that you'd like to make it your profession. But I have to agree with my colleagues here. Keep making progress, and keep loving it.

Tom - Elmar Oliveira also started at 9. I also heard that Carter Brey, 1st cellist of the NY Phil., sarted at 16! But that's obviously an exception. And still, we'd all agree, even 16 is a far cry from 27.

January 26, 2007 at 03:29 PM · Raphael - I know about Carter Brey but did not know about Oliveira. The rule of thumb stated above applies uniquely to violinists (and probably violists) for reasons that are unknown to me. Cellists, pianists and other instrumentalists can start later and still become superstars. A neuroscientist could probably explain it.

January 26, 2007 at 03:51 PM · I know of several "late beginners" who make money from their music. Yes, chances are that that money-making will be done locally in community orchestras, regional quartets, and/or weddings and other events, as opposed to world premieres or orchestra tours in Paris and Rome. But it certainly is possible, given time and patience, for you to find a performance (and possibly, a teaching) niche. Your goals seem reasonable to me. Good luck!

(PS - Make sure that you have a good teacher if you go any further. Nothing is more frustrating than thinking you've gotten to the next level when really you've just built up a lot of bad habits that good teachers should be able to nip in the bud.)

January 26, 2007 at 04:22 PM · Shoot for the moon. Who knows? Only you know your determination, your focus, your drive, your talent.

So, maybe "professional" for you won't include playing with the NY Phil--that much I agree with--but there are Orchestras all across the country with players in them that come from all sorts of backgrounds. The one I'm thinking of in particular doesn't pay enough to support a living though . . .

Good luck. If that's what you really want, you've got one heck of a ride in front of you. I salute you and give you my best wishes for the journey.

I agree wholeheartedly with Emily. You don't have any time to waste, so you'd better get the best teacher you can find. Oh, and one other tip--determine NOW that you will play everything absolutely in tune. Give it your utmost attention.

January 26, 2007 at 05:32 PM · Though it's ok to ask:

1-your dreams are yours.

2-don't set limits or expectations.

3-practice like a ninja

4-the world is always evolving, in technologies, methods and new understanding-listen to the past but don't be defined by it.

5-break down barriers

6-open new doors

7-practice some more

8-let your own history define where you went.

January 26, 2007 at 05:38 PM · like a ninja,,,by scale-ing the waltz?

January 26, 2007 at 09:11 PM · ...clever little sausage... :D

January 26, 2007 at 10:51 PM · you have to define professional first. If you mean soloist that plays around the world...then even starting at age four doesn't guarantee anything. Professional=being able to earn money. Right? So does that mean teaching? If so, on what level? OR is it orchestra playing? At any rate. I wouldn't discourage you. Most important is to have an excellent teacher and really to work hard and properly at what you're trying to accomplish.

January 27, 2007 at 12:32 AM · Tom... I think that "rule" is ridiculous. First off, it's just someone's opinion being presented as a "fact". It also has so scientific backing whatsoever, and is negative and discouraging to several of the people who post here. Naysayers like you just encourage me to work even harder to prove you wrong.

January 27, 2007 at 01:57 AM · Amanda - the "rule" is the opinion of someone centuries ago who was in a good position to know and has been confirmed during the period since. Two exceptions (and they are barely exceptions) are the only ones anyone has pointed out. I did not say that it was absolute, but it is almost so for violinists. I do not mean to discourage people but they should know what they face. The "rule" also does not mean they cannot make a living as a professional, teaching, gigging or whatever. For a discussion of some of the science surrounding the issue, I suggest you read "Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy" by Robert Jourdain, pp. 223-28.

January 27, 2007 at 02:10 AM · Centuries ago, women rarely played, vibrato was trendy, cat gut was the rule of thumb, and symphony halls were dull and not resonant. I bet some more things have changed as well.

Centuries ago, the world was still flat, the Canterbury Monks actually saw a major asteroid (1300+) hit the moon, and Kepler's mother was arrested for witchcraft. And people didn't live past 50--no wonder the youth-cult today.

There are many many symphonies around the world--I dare say not more than 10 percent of the string players started at four, probably more like 14.

Learning methods as well in the past were rote, and reflections of monks copying manuscripts in moss covered monasteries. Indeed, centuries ago the violin was just taking it's final form we know today.

As I said, break barriers and open doors if you can.

January 27, 2007 at 02:37 AM · Tom, she never said she wanted to be what you are describing. She just wants to know if she could play in a decent orchestra someday, which is not only possible, but well within reach, given she practices and finds good guidance.

The myth that needs dispelled is that you need to be some kind of virtuoso in order to be a professional violinist. No, you don't. No, you don't. No you don't.

I can prove it. :)

January 27, 2007 at 03:33 AM · I "started" playing when I was 6. The reason "started" is in quotation marks is because I was never serious about violin until I was 16. Before that, I never practiced for more than 1 hour per day, if even.

When I was 18, at my first lesson at the New England Conservatory, my teacher told me that because I effectively "chose" to play the violin, I would not regret my parents pushing me into something. My point is that a virtuoso teacher chose me as her student despite my horrible technique at age 18. Every year required very hard work but I don't regret any bit of it. I also can analyze technical matters that many adults have trouble teaching because they didn't have to logically think about basics the way I did. This helps me greatly in teaching children.

Daniel

January 27, 2007 at 03:25 PM · Emily - I agree with you that if she works hard, she can probably be in a decent local orchestra someday. What I was responding to initially was the implication of her original post (from her suggestion that she wanted to do something more than just recreational playing) that she was seeking to basically make a living as a member of a local orchestra. I do not know what local orchestras pay in other parts of the country, but it is certainly true that in DC, unless you are a member of the NSO, you cannot make a living as an orchestra member. Therefore, if she wants to make a living with the violin, she needs to think about the various ways of doing that on the assumption that it is unlikely that she will be able to make a living (or anything close to one) as the member of a local orchestra. I know you have faced these issues and done well, so she probably needs to hear from you about your experiences.

January 27, 2007 at 03:56 PM · Gee Tom, I didn't think you knew EVERYTHING there was to know about the violin industry!

Your statement is just as ridiculous now as it was when you made it.

January 27, 2007 at 04:14 PM · Juanita, there is as much myth, inflexibility, and status quo maintenance in the music world as in any endeavor that you might discover. While it may be true that some of those discovered as having natural ability at a young age flow through the ranks to some level of high achievement, it is more true that even among those, many who persist become music teachers even if they stick with music at all. It's no different than in sports, where one has about a 1 in a million chance in playing for a major league team.

But unlike the world of sports, the music world is broad and deep. And especially adults who persist are a true breed of excellence because often their efforts are grounded in inspiration and love for a craft. There is sand lot football and there is the Colts and Bears.

Unlike sand lot football though, music is something one can reasonably follow through their advancing years successfully, limited only by one's time, patience and ability. I know someone who started piano around 60, and plays really well. Chopin? Not--but very competent, and not shallowly either.

At 27, if you take violin seriously you not only can "take it to the next level", but if you work really hard, get a good techer and persist you should be able to do quite well. You are young and inspired--beyond ability that is the only requirements.

Unfortunately for adult learners in many many fields, there is a sifting going on that is focused on young people--and as you have seen, often very young people. This is not only myth, but terrible discrimination.

The truth is that adult learning is poorly understood, and supposed wiring for music though complementing the development of language (it's a sound thing), is as poorly understood from an adult student as it is used to justify the myth of youth.

You will find for example nicely sensibly done lists of strengths that adults bring to the learning environment, but though inspiring, they fall short of indepth research that is focused on child development for example. Just like the middle of the bell-curve kid, the middle age plus doctoral candidates are equally not celebrated fully in society.

Basically, don't even give countenance to this discussion, and forget that it started. Lifetime learning should not be gimics to get adults into University doors where real support mechanisms focused on adults are pencil-whipped, for full time equivalent (FTE) numbers.

The same vagueness and half-formed thoughts, you will find on your violin journey. Especially at your age you are much better equipped though, than many who start musical instruments even later in life, to challenge the status-quo. But do so single mindedly and with 'only' your development in mind. The rhetoric is not worth your time.

Read about Calvin Sieb's life for example, and the fact that even in his 'truly' later years, he was still giving back to the music world he was os much a part of--and not from and aministrator's chair.

And consider that Eintstein is a good example of this mythical myopia related to being really good at something. He, after hammering out relativity, was pretty much in a creative abyss though he tried for the remainder of life in search of what would become string theory, in a modified spirit.

Those who would limit you, are prejudiced by the weight of tradition, rather than true knowledge, and have only the examples of further mythycally value added greats, who were really only humans. While it may true that greatness is often reflected in epiphany like moments, as in the case of Einstein, consider the saying more realistically that greatness is ten percent inspirtation and ninety percent perspiration.

I personally believe that if one deconstructs the myths of youth related to music or any other endeavor, that odious agendas might be exposed. These neither are worth your time, but are interesting to those who have broader interests in creating 'real' opportunities for lifetime learners.

I truly believe, that if you will stay focused on 'I can' and follow through methodically, that you will. And open a few doors along the ways, not because, but that you did.

"William, follow your heart".

January 27, 2007 at 09:05 PM · Amanda - I have learned a certain amount by reading and paying attention to what people on this site and others have to say. You may disagree with some of the things I say, and you are certainly entitled to, but I don't think the sarcasm or the term "ridiculous" are appropriate in this context.

January 27, 2007 at 10:57 PM · Tom,

I have posted info for another person who needed encouragement, and therefore I will say what I have stated before again for your eyes:

Isaac Stern started when he was nine

Gareth Johnson started when he was 11

I am not sure of her name, but a woman in the La Phil started at 35.

Juan Miguel started at 12 years old and plays regularly with and as soloist for Major Orchestras.

There is a man in another accredited orchestra who started at 60 and plays for an orchestra at the ripe young age of 80.

And I know tons of people who are not famous but make money off music that started above the age of 14.

That said, those people you talk about are only stating theories. That's exactly what they are: Just Theories. Because you can start late and if you work hard enough you can make it big.

My friend who is 20 just got accepted to Julliard and she started when she was 15. She had to make sacrifices but the point is she wanted to go to Julliard bad enough so that she did.

Bye

January 27, 2007 at 11:04 PM · Piano is, of course, a whole 'nuther animal, but I think some consideration should be given to the *possibility* that the reason that a relatively high percentage of adult beginners are able to learn to play well enough to be considered "good amateur musicians" is that, some years ago, piano pedagogy embraced the adult learner. There are many piano methods for adult beginners and returning adult students.

Yes, the strings are much, much more difficult, but, if the world of violin pedagogy were to embrace them, what might be the result? An increase in "acceptably good amateur musician" string players, no doubt! I'm talking about methods that understand the specific challenges (and benefits) of adult beginners and deal with them appropriately. What works for a 5 year old is not necessarily the best approach to take with an adult.

Surely we have more, and better, string players of *any* age these days due in great part to advances in teaching skills (and in how to teach teachers). Why would the same not be true for adults?

It wasn't too many years ago that the "wee ones" were considered "too young" to take lessons (unless they were obvious prodigies). Now it's commonplace!

My suspicion is that, due to the increased contact that adult music students (of all types) have with each other and with other musicians via the internet, that more adults with gather up the courage to start and fewer of them will become discouraged and give up completely because they think they're the only ones in the world.

What are the chances an adult beginner will be able to play professionally? Almost none...but only a bit worse than the chances a child beginner will play professionally, surely. ;o) How many people who have ever taken a lesson become pros? If an increase in people who play for their own enjoyment occurs, surely the world will be a better place.

Here we have a person who has taken up the instrument, is apparently doing quite well, and loving it. I was in her shoes at one point. My guess is, she may be feeling the the need to *justify* serious study by the potential to play professionally. This type of justification (to spend a lot of time and effort on something one should have the hope of making money from it) is not necessary, but is sadly common in our society (especially when we're in our 20's, if memory serves ;) ).

January 27, 2007 at 11:34 PM · Jasmine - thanks for your post. I do not recognize the names of some of the musicians you have cited. I do not think you can read my posts as saying you cannot make decent money if you start at a later age. I think you can and probably many v.comers do. However, the top tier all started quite early (9 is the latest I have heard for anyone I know of in that tier). Without being in that tier or very close, it seems quite difficult to get into a major orchestra. If you want to make money and do not start early, you have to think very carefully about how you are going to be able to do it, because you are not likely to be able to do it as a member of the NY Phil or the LA Phil. That's the point I have been trying to make. There is no reason not to chase your dream and try your best, but it is useful to have some sense of how you will do this.

January 28, 2007 at 12:44 AM · Greetings,

just to chuck in my one and half cents at the simplest level of response. You start the violin at 27. You can be a damn good player after four years. Play in locla orchestras of an exceptionally high standard? No problem at all. play chamber music to a high level? No problem at all.

Be a teacher? Yes and no. There are all differnet kinds of teachers and there is a point where experience of what a child goes through in elarning the instrument and professional experience are importnat factors. But there are plenmty of teahcing situations in which this kind of stuff is irrelevent. You develop your skill to the highest posisble level and constantly strive to acquire knwledge about teaching and the isnturment through seminars, Suzuki courses, whatever. Then you can be a damn good teacher on your terms.

money? No idea. Its just a tool for paying the phone bill and for prunes.

cheers,

Buri

January 28, 2007 at 12:52 AM · Don't forget my old buddy Lionel Tertis. He started violin at 14 (if I read things right; I'm sure I did). Then he went on to be the world's biggest bigtime violist. He was a very creative man and he changed things forever. Top level viola soloist technique is, to all intents and purposes, right up there with top level violin playing.

Albert's post above is inspirational and wonderful. Thank you for writing it.

January 28, 2007 at 02:26 AM · True story:

I began piano at age four and violin in sixth grade. I played violin solely with the public school orchestra in Tulsa until the last couple of years of high school, when I began private lessons.

I majored in music at the University of Oklahoma for three semesters before I quit because I didn't think it possible to make it as a violinist. My college teacher told me that I'd had a late start and there was no way I could learn all I needed to learn in four years. So I got a degree in education, moved to North Carolina, and taught kindergarten for a year, which I didn't enjoy (kids great, public school--no). I waited tables at a Tex-Mex restaurant to save up some money and bought myself a ticket to Alaska for a random change of pace. I had previous experience teaching horsemanship, so I applied to a camp up there and spent the summer teaching kids on horseback, trying to sort out what I wanted to do with my life.

The next five years were novel. During this time, I met my husband, a snowboard instructor/iron worker. Over the next several years, we worked at camp and also moved around a lot, trying out different stuff, none of which involved the violin. I lived in the vacant nurse's quarters one winter, then the next two years were spent with my husband in a three-room cabin with no running water. But the price was right (free). During that time, I worked in the kitchen, got a job as a sales clerk in a variety shop, and substituted at a local private school. Sometimes, I sold my color pencil artwork. (There's no money in art. But that's another story)

We moved to Oklahoma for a winter and I lived in a house my parents owned and worked at a quilt shop for $6 an hour. The following summer, we moved back to Alaska and found that real housing (complete with running water) had become available at the camp, so we moved in and took over the camp's kitchen responsibilities. At that point, my husband joined the full-time staff, and I said what the heck, why not try music again? I opened a piano/violin studio in my home. I began with ten students the first year, then 17, then 24. I currently teach 30 students and have a wait list. I charge $16 per half hour. I like teaching.

Over the past three years, I've worked less and less as a cook and more as a musician. I began practicing again, three hours a day, and through word of mouth and a few good friends, I began picking up paid gigs around town. This past fall, I joined the Anchorage symphony. The symphony job definitely wouldn't support me if that was my source of income, but we only have concerts once a month. This leaves plenty of time to find other business. All told, I'm probably making about $600 - $700 a week on my music jobs, before taxes. Being self-employed, I pay a lot less tax because of all the deductions for expenses that I would probably be paying even if I didn't run a business (like sheet music, travel, repairs, piano tuning, string purchases, instrument depreciation, etc.).

Okay, that's the facts of a real-life person in a real-life scenario. As you can see, there are many unique factors that contribute to the overall success of my story:

--free housing. A big plus.

--no debts (college scholarship)

--husband's job--it helps

--willingness to live creatively (i.e. doing without things like water at times)

--willingness to find multiple ways of making money.

--no expensive habits (like cocaine, gambling, etc.)

--living in Alaska. No joke, there are so many more opportunities when violinists are in such high demand, like they are here.

...But you gotta be tough to make the winters in Alaska. I wouldn't advise moving here. No one should move to Alaska. It's just too extreme, and there are lots of bears and stuff. ;)

January 28, 2007 at 01:11 AM · Juanita,

Everyone who says that you have to start by "X" age and follow "X" path could very well be right about most people. However the human race periodically produces certain individuals for whom such conventional wisdom is completely inadequate. In the end, you can decide where you want to go. The classical world is incredibly standardized in its thinking, especially in its education, so it's no wonder that this idea of prodigies persist. We've seen people do insanely incredible things in sport and other areas, things which defied science and logic, and they were always due to a great deal of talent, and at least a hundred times more work.

Unfortunately you're at an age when one is confronted by the realities of our worlds norms and expectations. You're supposed to be financially independant, and be able to tell people comprehensively what you do for a living. You're also supposed to stop having such romantic dreams of becoming an astounding talent on the violin at age 27.

I'd listen to everyone who tells you it's not possible, and decide whether or not you agree. I think it's possible to do pretty much anything, which sounds nice. However, what it can take to get to a certain point can often be far more remarkable than the achievement of that goal. So, if you're prepared to prepare and work incredibly, it logically follows that it is possible to become something quite remarkable.

January 28, 2007 at 03:23 AM · Hats off to Tom for taking the abuse--I love taking up for adult learners...

Alright, and someone throw Buri a couple prunes...

January 28, 2007 at 03:56 AM · I am interested in what is meant my a "local" orchestra. The local orchestra here is an ICSOM band that pays OK, if you are careful with your money. One of the newest additions to the 1st violins was a sixth-place finisher in the Paganini competition a few years back. That is a very high standard. There are many international string players here, mostly Chinese and Ex-Soviet. The extra competition improves the quality of the band, but makes winning an audition much tougher.

On another note, I have a pal in the San Fran Symphony who started at the ripe-old age of twelve, and got his first job right out of school. He is an exceptional violinist and musician (OK, I am biased!).

January 28, 2007 at 01:00 PM · Juanita - aren't you glad you posed your your "simple" question to us polemical v.commies? ;-)

It sounds like some buttons have been pushed by this subject. Possibillities and exceptions are one thing; likelihoods, another. I would advise anyone at any age that if you love it, work hard and carefully without putting undue pressure that this or that must happen. The vagaries of the performing arts business are such that it is not a forgone conclusion for anyone to 'make it'. Many is the child prodigy who has burnt out. That said, there is no doubt that, all things being equal, an early start is better.

I'm flabergasted to hear of the LA Phil member who started at 35. How old was she when she got in? I'd be interested in some documentation there. But who knows? A while back there was a thread re somone who was determined to teach himself. I was with the majority opinion that to become a professional level classical player, that's just not possible. Then I recently met someone who did just that (unless he was lying). I'm going away for about a week. If this thread isn't maxed out, maybe I'll return with my own story - which also somewhat flies in the face of conventional wisdom.

January 28, 2007 at 06:34 AM · Haha... I'm only 17 (played since I was 11) and I think it's too late for me... I guess, I think if you didn't start at like, 5 or younger it's not worth beginning at all. I'm amazed at how good some players are, who are wwaayy younger than me, just because their parents got them started with Suzuki when they were 2 years old.

So, I'd say... start when you're young or not at all. It's the only way to get ahead. I'm not pessimistic, just realistic.

January 28, 2007 at 06:21 AM · Raphael pointed out how Carter Brey started at 16 - I also heard that as well. From what I know about him, Mr. Brey did already at that point in time (when he started the cello), have a musical background, he had played the violin and piano from what I understand, for a few years prior to starting the cello. What is remarkable about Brey is that he attended Peabody as a cellist two years after he started the cello. I think he is really an exceptional case. I do tend to agree that most top tier players (orchestral/chamber/solo) start young. I don‘t really think there‘s a set age limit for best results in beginning as suggested earlier. I think one has to take into account varying talent levels, competence of training, surroundings etc. Learning an instrument, especially the violin is much like learning a language; it is easier to pick up the necessary colloquialisms and accents at an earlier age, after a certain window of time, it becomes harder but not impossible to grasp some things.

January 28, 2007 at 01:39 PM · I think the age 35/ L.A. Phil person is an urban legend started right here in another thread. Someone supposedly met her, and when I called the person on it, the response was "I don't know why it's so hard to believe", instead of details ;)

January 28, 2007 at 03:36 PM · There are rules and there are exceptions to them. So make yourself an exception! Okay, I know, it's not that easy, but there are plenty of musicians I know (yes, violinists included) that didn't start when they others were playing in sanboxes and learning their ABC's. I started when I was 9 years old in my elementary school program. I worked hard to get to the top of the school programs but I kind of hit a wall eventually and started taking lessons in high school. I didn't really take them seriously until my junior year. Now, I am not yet a self-sustaining professional musician, but I do get work and I'm currently auditioning for grad schools. I wouldn't say that my path has been particularly extraordinary. I was lucky, hard working, and got the breaks I needed.

Now, I will admit, as wonderful as this story sounds, I was not a true "late beginner". I was 9 when I started, so I sitll fit in the single-digits realm. But I know many violinists at CIM who started when they were 8 or 9 and some of them have won our concerto competitions and other competitions as well and are magnificent musicians. It's an exponential curve- the later you start, the less likely it is to make a professional career out of it. However, it's not a definite. Those who start around age 10 can sometimes catch up and pass those who started at age 3. It's harder to learn when you are older but it's not impossible.

If you start in your 20's, I wouldn't quite your day job... yet. Making it into a top-tier orchestra, starting at any age, is a long shot. Think about it this way- each orchestra has maybe 40 violins in it. If you're looking at a top-tier or second-tier orchestra then there are maybe only 20 in that list. That's only 800 violinists currently employed in the top orchestras. Then think about the numbers of students at music schools- we have a small school and I think we still have nearly 100 aspiring violinists. But, then you have to think about all of the third-tier, local, and community orchestras, particularly if you live in the midwest. It's often far and few between for the big orchestras out there and most towns that have more than 20,000 people in them have an orchestra or music ensemble. Many of them pay, especially if they are within about 100 miles of a larger city where they can find more musicians. I know people who live in the Cleveland or DC areas and make a living through teaching, playing in local ensembles, forming quartets, and taking random gigs. Some of them actually do those as their sole source of money, others are married or also work part-time somewhere so they can have health insurance.

The point of this long post is- don't give up just because of a number. Practice hard and give it a go but don't halt your whole life to suddenly become a violinist. Talk to your teacher- they most likely know of local orchestras that you'll be able to join when you are far enough along to play in them. In a few years you may be able to start teaching. You won't know anything for at least a couple of years- unless you're Sarah Chang or some other unbelievable virtuoso, it takes years and years to become even competent violinists. But don't give up just because everyone else says to.

January 28, 2007 at 06:11 PM · I have become curious and am going to start another thread. There are v.comers who belong to major orchestras, and it would be interesting to see the extent to which their orchestras have violinists who got a relatively late start.

Emily - thanks for sharing your story. I know it will be an inspiration to aspiring v.com violinists.

January 28, 2007 at 03:52 PM · Tom,

I am a neuroscientist; I used to do lab work in the field of brain plasticity. Now I'm a project manager and don't work at the lab bench anymore, but I still have some familiarity with the basic science. I think that much of the neuroscience that has captured the popular imagination in this area is somewhat outdated.

One of the old neuroscience saws that people still believe, and repeat, is that people "only use 10% of their brains." It's a very attractive notion that we all have vast untapped potential that can be unlocked by the having right attitude and by making better choices, so I suppose that's why people still believe this nonsense. But it's not true. I'm not even sure where the idea came from: maybe 20-30 years ago when the brain was first being mapped, only the primary sensory areas were easily defined and measured. And those might be about 10% of the total. But improvements in brain imaging have shown that normal people going about their daily lives use their entire brains, not 10%.

Back in the 1960's and 1970's, David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel did what are probably still the most groundbreaking and famous experiments on brain plasticity to date. Their work was on ocular dominance in the visual cortex. Among other things, they showed that during a critical period of development, eyes compete for space in the brain, and if one eye is closed, doesn't receive visual input and isn't active, it loses. The animal becomes permanently blind in that eye, not because the eye itself doesn't work anymore, but because its inputs to the brain are pruned away and don't grow back in adulthood. Some kids with a single weak eye will wear a patch over the good eye for some time during the critical period in order to give the weak eye a chance to compete, and to preserve the vision in that eye. This work is also the rationale for early diagnosis and removal of childhood cataracts: cataracts that impair vision during the critical developmental period will permanently harm a person's vision for the rest of his or her life. Hubel and Wiesel won the Nobel Prize in 1981 for this work.

I don't think it's a coincidence that Hubel and Wiesel's work on critical periods was percolating around in popular culture at the same time as the Suzuki method was gaining popularity in the United States. Today it seems to be pretty mainstream to talk about critical periods for music learning, e.g.

http://www.psychology.mcmaster.ca/ljt/critical_periods.pdf

http://mechnerfoundation.org/pdf_downloads/skilled_performance.pdf

However, I think that it's important to remember a few things in this context: first, that Hubel and Wiesel worked on the visual system of cats and monkeys. There's a lot more involved in playing the violin, or any instrument, than visual processing. The beauty of the visual system is to some degree found in its simplicity. The questions were well-defined and answerable. The system made the experiments possible.

The second is that these experiments were about *abnormal* visual experience. The damage done to the visual system happens when it doesn't get what it needs: when an eye is artificially closed by an experimenter or impaired by a disease. These experiments say nothing about whether there are benefits to giving kittens a super-duper enriched visual environment, whether that be with strobe lights, ever-changing colors, or Picasso on the walls.

The field of adult neuroplasticity is relatively new. For an accessible treatment of the state of the field, there is a good article in last week's "Time" magazine ("The Brain, a User's Guide"). Especially this article, by Sharon Begley:

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1580438-1,00.html

From the article:

"FOR DECADES, THE PREVAILING DOGMA IN neuroscience was that the adult human brain is essentially immutable, hardwired, fixed in form and function, so that by the time we reach adulthood we are pretty much stuck with what we have. . . .

. . . The doctrine of the unchanging human brain has had profound ramifications. For one thing, it lowered expectations about the value of rehabilitation for adults who had suffered brain damage from a stroke or about the possibility of fixing the pathological wiring that underlies psychiatric diseases. And it implied that other brain-based fixities, such as the happiness set point that, according to a growing body of research, a person returns to after the deepest tragedy or the greatest joy, are nearly unalterable."

The article goes on to focus on the happiness set point, but I would add, for this audience, musical achievement to that set of previously considered "brain-based fixities" that's worth a second look, or however many looks it takes.

January 28, 2007 at 04:50 PM · karen, excellent post, esp with the mention of that TIME article which i glanced thru recently. i think any serious students who are spending many hours working on something may want to give that a read. apparently a harvard research team did a a very simple experiment comparing learning to play piano by really practicing versus just mentally practicing. astounding result as inferred from transcranial magnetic stimulation: in both cases corresponding cortex activities are noted and with more practice, the brain activites tend to spread over to neighboring regions.

imo, despite our human capacity for brain plasticity, the most fundamental issue facing an adult beginner is still more about desire and fear than with organic limitations.

January 28, 2007 at 06:28 PM · Tom - I started when I was 15. I'm working every day of my life to prove people like you wrong. I'm going to do a lot more than just play in some amateur local orchestra... just because people like you don't think I can do it, I'm not going to just give up my dreams or settle for something second-rate. I know I have just as much potential as every single person in my university orchestra. I may have to work harder to catch up, but I'm not going to let naysayers like you try and tell me that it's not even possible.

January 28, 2007 at 06:59 PM · Karen and Al,

Here's what should be investigated. It's not uncommon for a kid to win a major competition about ten years after he started playing. But no one starts at 20 and does that at 30. The question is why not? The "cutoff age" idea comes out of observation of that.

January 28, 2007 at 06:51 PM · jim, a good question!:)

may be at 3-15 you can still command undivided attention from everyone around you, so it is sleep, eat, play violin, eat, sleep, play violin...

at 35, you are on your own man. it is no sleep, work, changing diapers, mowing lawns, shuffling snow, pressure, self doubt, hopelessness, helplessness,,,:(

IF winning a violin competition means hundreds of thousands of dollars, i can see a few making drastic ajustments to bid for it. however, if winning a competition means 20-30k, with couple years of serious preparation on top of being already very good, most will be held back by reality.

another point, those at 30s who feel they cannot make it probably are not born to make it even if they start at 2.

January 28, 2007 at 07:13 PM · Amanda,

I am 18 years old now and I started when I was 14 years old. AT that point in my life, I was very depressed over what the people and the world were telling me I could and couldn't do. Well, one day in our youth orchestra a lady from the LA Phil came in to talk to the youth orchestra. She played a couple of pieces and talked about Beethoven and what not. Then she talked about her life. She told us she had started at 35. Whether that is true or not, from that day forward I promised myself I would aspire to be like her and that I would try to prove everyone wrong that thought late-starters could not be professionals. So whether this woman was telling the truth or not, I see no reason why she would lie, that moment of my life changed for the better. But I will call up my old youth orchestra conductor to try and find out her name and info for your benefit. We all need encouragement.

Jim,

My theory as to why many adults do not make it is because they do not have the time or courage to sacrifice certain things in order to go after their dream. As an adult who is trying to become professional, he or she would have to put practice before other adult responsibilities. For example, my friend who just got accepted to Julliard sacrificed a lot of extracirricular activities and with the support of her parents she did not have to work when she turned 16, even though they were poor. She also was homeschooled. At 20 or 30 years of age those kinds of sacrifices are hard to make, especially when you don't have parents to kindly take care of you at that point. But I am guessing if they did make those sacrifices that they most definitely could become professional musicians. Also, most people who start at 20 or 30 probably have already decided what they will do with their lives and what they love as a career so taking up the violin is just a hobby or passion on the side.

I will try to find out more info about the lady that changed my life and then I will let you guys know. But the point I am trying to make is that there have been some adults who have made huge sacrifices and have been successful, maybe not to the point of being world class soloist but most definitely successful.

January 28, 2007 at 07:18 PM · Amanda - good luck to you. I hope you go far. My posts were not intended to discourage you, only to point out the issues facing late starters. I think it is important for someone in your position to try as hard as possible but to think about different scenarios for how your life as a musician can play out.

January 28, 2007 at 09:53 PM · It could be a numbers game; as in what are the most common ages for a person to begin. That could create a "cutoff age" illusion. If 5,000x people start young, then in 5,000 winners you'd have one that started at 20. And is there even room for 5,000 winners?

But - an older beginner might attrition out too, so it doesn't say anything about his individual chances unfortunately. You have to realize you can't outwork your competition. No matter how hard you work, they work as hard as you.

The answer to the dilemma is to play for enjoyment. Work your butt off for enjoyment if that does it for you, and if you happen to make money doing it great, but no one should count on it going into it. Actually, Menuhin said that in one of his books.

January 28, 2007 at 08:11 PM · Jim,

I think we have a cultural narrative favoring youth that feeds the obsession with prodigies and with the newest and coolest. I don't personally like it, and I generally ignore it or actively fight it. I've always felt a little irrationally annoyed with Sarah Chang ever since I received an ad for a CD hers from a Classical Music club. The ad copy played up a comparison between her and Midori, something like "Midori debuted at Carnegie Hall when she was 12 and a half, but Chang was a full 6 months younger!" (and so therefore you will of course want to buy this CD of hers at full club price for $19.95!) I may have the exact dates and places wrong--all I remember was the gist of it: the implication was that Chang was the new, improved Midori, better because she'd achieved some milestone even younger. I don't blame Chang for this, but I do blame her handlers. Yeccch. And it's not going away any time soon.

I think a lot of it just grows out of how our lives are structured: you go to school at certain times of your life, you have kids, you establish your career, etc. In that context, our lives aren't that long, and historically they were even shorter. "When Mozart was my age, he'd been dead for 10 years" and all that.

I write Science Fiction as a hobby, and recently, for a story, I was speculating about what violin playing would look like in 300-400 years. Will it still exist? Would we even recognize it? Will it become a niche specialty like the viola da gamba or what we refer to today as "early music"? Will advances in neurosciences and longevity make it possible for truly "anyone" to do "anything" they can dream up? That is, if people routinely live to age 200 with cyber- and stem cell-based wetware enhancements, and they change careers several times over the course of their lives because, well, they've got the time and they maxed out and got bored with the first career they had when they were ages 25-90 so they went back to school from ages 91-96 and did something else from then until they were 120, and then changed again--won't the whole issue of whether you made your Carnegie Hall debut on violin at age 12 or age 12 and a half start to seem a bit silly?

January 28, 2007 at 08:31 PM · I read somewhere that as some people get dementia their artistic side shine through and people develop a creativity they never had before. I think it is a case that their creative side is still functioning. I feel it was a talent they never let grow. I suggest learning to play and develop that creative side. Even if you don't become a professional violinist you have the joy of playing. As far as I know the violin never killed anyone or ever said a bad thing about anyone. So have some fun finding out.

January 28, 2007 at 09:32 PM · being interested in music is very different from deciding or qualifying as a music prof. to say one should play music because one is interested is rather obvious. but some prof musicians are not necessarily thrilled by the work anymore. they are good at it, they get paid for it, but it is a job and being a prof they aspire to keep up with the job requirement. would a symphony player give up his job just because he is bored when he has kids in college?

the same can be said about cops, doctors, IT workers, lawyers or sales clerks, anyone and everyone...

only some very lucky ones get up in the morning and say to themselves, i cannot believe i get paid to do this...

January 28, 2007 at 10:00 PM · Christopher, we have to be careful not to confuse creativity with brain damage. At least until 2750 when creativity = brain damage. How's that for a SF premise Karen?

January 29, 2007 at 01:19 AM · Tom - thanks for the encouragement. I'm sorry I got so riled up; I think that people who start late are extra touchy in that area. I'm always so afraid that other string players view me as second rate, but most people are actually surprised when I tell them I've only been playing five years.

Jasmine, your story about the LA Phil player is inspiring. It's extra difficult for people like us, but I don't think it's impossible to make it, and she proved it. By the way - do you plan on being a music major (that is, if you haven't begun college already)?

January 29, 2007 at 02:52 AM · Amanda - you are welcome and do not be afraid of what other musicians think. You will not be second rate as long as you think of yourself as first rate.

One thing to realize about me is that as a parent with children your age and older, I look at things a bit differently. But I have always encouraged my kids to pursue the things they really wanted to do even when I had/have trepidations.

January 29, 2007 at 05:19 AM · Who is this person in the LA Phil that started at 35?

January 29, 2007 at 11:20 AM · That's the question.

January 29, 2007 at 05:21 PM · Then hardly anyone from our Conservatory would make it, as obligatorily they don't start any instrument until they are 8.

A few every year make it into Conservatorios Superiores around Europe, and eventually become professionals in the sense that Tom means (well paid professional orchestras or similar).

On the other hand, it is not an easy way for anyone, whatever the age.

January 29, 2007 at 05:37 PM · Re the supposed LA Phil woman violinist who started at age 35. This must be an urban legend. I looked at the bios of all of the woman violinists on the LA Phil website and found none that could even plausibly be the person. Most of them who give an age for starting violin started at age 8 or earlier (as was true of Isaac Stern, BTW). For those who did not give a starting age, there was no one who could arguably have started much later.

January 29, 2007 at 07:37 PM · There's no doubt the LA Phil violinist is currently reading this and laughing as she watches us all ponder her identity. ;)

January 29, 2007 at 07:57 PM · Lol 35?? she has got to be kidding or she must be a prodigy imo. Seriously that just can't be true... Good luck on everything Juanita. The professional music world is extremely tough/fierce, but I support you either way.

January 29, 2007 at 08:22 PM · Your never to aold to become a professional, if you want to be professional that means that you will have to work harder than anyone else.

January 29, 2007 at 09:17 PM · Christopher Warren-Green, who now leads the Philharmonia, didn't start till 14 IIRC. If you think about the time it takes to develop a serious technique it's a lot less than a decade, it's just whether you think the trade off of energy and time with no guaranteed results is worth it.

January 29, 2007 at 09:39 PM · Which Philharmonia? Pardon the parochialism of a DC person.

January 29, 2007 at 10:54 PM · Greetings,

London.

Fantastic player.

Cheers,

Buri

January 29, 2007 at 11:09 PM · Thanks Buri.

January 29, 2007 at 11:39 PM · Ooo, that makes me happy. Wish I could meet him and give him a high five.

January 30, 2007 at 06:59 AM · I think talent, hard work, and training are the three components. If you start later and have talent, a great teacher, and work hard, you can do it. I don't really believe in statistics when it comes to music and seeing what age is best to start, if we all truly liked statistics that much we would be on forums discussing stocks instead of music :)

January 30, 2007 at 02:09 AM · And then there's those of us who immerse in these issues forgetting, that 'I just want to play the thing decently'! ;0)

January 30, 2007 at 02:31 AM · Albert - you can file this discussion under "Worries I Wish I Had."

January 30, 2007 at 03:17 AM · -or-I could carry Hilary's bags.

January 30, 2007 at 03:28 AM · Then again Tom ya never know--I just might be teaching some of your grandkids some day. ;).

January 30, 2007 at 04:58 AM · This probably sound stupid...but what was Couperin, a virtuoso HARPSICHORD PLAYER, doing commenting on the cut-off age of violinists?

January 30, 2007 at 06:23 AM · Greetings,

perhaps the idea was somewhat without an investement in the issue could be more objective?

I`m gonna go and ask the bartender down the road. That will sort it all out for you;)

Cheers,

Buri

January 30, 2007 at 08:41 PM · Most of these people started late in their lives on the violin and other instruments just as hard as the violin if not harder and are doing great. I personally like the guy who started at 75. I sent my old conductor the email the other day and he hasn't responded yet. But I will find out who that lady in the Phil was. My heart is set on it now.

http://www.mantovani-orchestra.com/mantovani_early.html

http://www.danielsmithbassoon.com/fanfare.htm

http://www.mesto.org/guestArtists/index.shtml

[Kourosh Zolfagharkhani (Zolani)]

http://www.classical-composers.org/comp/eggert

http://www.classical-composers.org/comp/roussel [Albert Roussel]

http://www.btinternet.com/~jeanmhaig/index/page2.html [MARSICK, MARTIN PIERRE JOSEPH]

Leonard Hemming Started at age 75, who is now 83 and plays with an accredited late-starters orchestra in London. You will probably be able to look it up and find easily.

http://www.enumclaw.wednet.edu/news/benefit_concert.shtml (Most of these people started after 9.) Read all the Biographies.

http://musiced.about.com/od/teachersandinstructors/a/martylaster.htm [Marty Laster began at age ten.]

http://www.osfl.org/Images/Youth/YOHandbook2006-2007.pdf [Augusto Diemecke started at age 11. I recently went to see him play the Dvorak Concerto in A minor and he sounded extraordinary. I liked his rendition better than Sarah Chang’s.]

http://www.kpo.org.au/people/henryk.html [Henryk, the artisitic director looks up to Sir georg Solti because “It is never too late to start and achieve success.]

http://www.markhelias.com/rlcodapg.html [All I know is that this guy started at 21 on the Bass which is also a very hard instrument to play.]

http://www.juilliard.edu/alumni/aspot_0411.html [This guy started Viola in late teens. Blah Blah Blah Went to julliard.]

I will try to find some others that I know about and put them on the site for encouragement

January 30, 2007 at 08:45 PM · Oh Amanda to answer your question. I am now living in New York (a long way from my home of Los Angeles). I graduated High School early (at 16). Decided to take the year off to work on my violin chops. I did an internship with a local newspaper, played with a premier youth orchestra in Los Angeles (worked my butt off to get into it, and the pieces we had to play were insanely hard, but I did it.), and then I auditioned for a summer music program and got accepted. I studied with a teacher who teaches the pre-college division at Julliard. He was impressed by the rate at which I learned the pieces at the camp. So he invited me to continue taking lessons with him in Julliard when I went off to College. But I am in a small town next to Canada in NEw York, so I can not get out very often to have lessons with him. But trust me, I am keeping that door open. Currently, I am attending school. I am in an applied program in which I hope to transfer to a music school soon. I am studying with a former student of Nathan Milestein, she is extraordinary. I am teaching underprivileged children the violin for free. And I am currently the principal 2nd violin of the university orchestra. I got a couple of paid gigs with some orchestras while I was out here, so I like to think of my self as a professional, although I am not :) This summer, I am going on tour to China with a orchestra in Los Angeles.

So things are going good. And as long as I never give up, keep working hard, manage my time wisely, and do not listen to discouraging comments, unless it is constructive criticism, then I think I will some day be able to say that I am a professional violinist. But I will not pretend that all this has been easy. It is very hard, for anyone.

January 30, 2007 at 09:12 PM · Jasmine, I simply put it this way. 'all of Michael Jordan's team mates should just sit out'.

Those are good.

January 30, 2007 at 09:17 PM · Why, thank you. :))

January 30, 2007 at 09:21 PM · I didn't know Jean Sibelius (Yes the composer) started the violin at age 16. I wonder what would have happened if he kept it up or had not gotten into an accident. But you can also look at this story as inspirational. Even though he didn't become a great violinist, he became a great composer, which is still in music. He was a genius, if not for injury I am sure he would have done great.

http://www.yle.fi/teema/sibelius/index_eng.php?audition

January 30, 2007 at 09:28 PM · Pierre Fournier, the great cellist, was 12 when he started cello after a leg injury stinted his piano playing. I guess 13/14 is the maximum if you want to take up violin professionally.

January 30, 2007 at 09:38 PM · keep up with this thread i may break a world record as the oldest person to start,,,,,and get nowhere:)

January 30, 2007 at 09:57 PM · Al KU

Remember the guy who started at 75 and also the guy who started at 21.

Here is another link which is very encouraging.

http://www.mjt.org/exhibits/hagop/hagop1.html

I will try to find some more past age 21. I have heard of them, so i know they are out there. MAybe you guys could help. What is the name of that guy who started violin at 21. After 3 months he entered a conservatory and after a year became a teacher at the same conservatory. I do not know if this is true but if anyone knows about this please speak up. I think his name was Terhe Mohansen or something.

Anyways

January 31, 2007 at 04:50 AM · I'd like to believe that anything is possible. I don't think that late starters are inherently less able to learn. While it helps to start early, I have heard some of the stories about successful late starters (in the area of jazz as well as classical music). I think the main problem is that most adults who are starting an instrument for the first time do not have the kind of resources available to become professional. It's hard enough meeting your obligations to then add extra time and financial burdens. Many adult students quit playing after a time because it just is too hard to fit yet another thing in the busy schedule. But I think if you want it enough and can make the necessary time (several hours of practice a day) as well as the financial commitment (1, preferably 2 hour lessons per week) it may be possible.

Best of luck

-Laura

January 31, 2007 at 07:06 AM · Thanks for all of your support guys, even the somewhat negative ones. At least now I have some perspective, I know of course that I have a ways to go but my instructor tells me that I have great potential. I don't really care about any of the negative comments given because that's just an expression of one's opinion and in any case, should I ever reach my goal, therein would be their answer. Lol Al scale-ing the waltz.

So Albert would I get nija stars too, because I've always wanted some of those, that and an outfit like Bruce Lee in "Enter The Dragon". Those stars would come in pretty handy should I ever make it on an orchestra and need to defend myself from some crazed instrutor, plus I'd look FANTASTIC in that outfit.

January 31, 2007 at 07:26 AM · If you have time to so creatively interpret Ninja's, then you have time to practice. Why are you not practicing? ;).

January 31, 2007 at 07:38 AM · Lol Albert, because it's 11:38pm here and yes I should be in bed, althoug I am talking to you so....

Thanks though for you concern (daddy), I will promise to do much better in the future.

January 31, 2007 at 07:59 AM · ;-). I hear ya..... My 2nd wind started at 2am--unfortunately predictable, and I was shakin the walls--that's a good and bad thing--mostly good. What a night.

January 31, 2007 at 08:10 AM · I'm not practicing because I pulled a back muscle doing ninja cartwheels.

February 1, 2007 at 02:10 AM · Hmmm, Emily Grossman black belt ninja and master violinist. It has an intersting ring to it.

February 3, 2007 at 06:26 PM · As an adult beginner, I really fell in love with playing my violin. I study with a member of the Cleveland Orchestra and on day asked him if I pra;cticed for 7-8 hours every day if I might be able to get a job as the last chair in the second violins of some third rate orchestra. he thought for awhile and then said, "yes!". I ran home and excitedly told my husband the news, adding that I would plan to quit my "day job" in order to have the 8 hrs to practice. My husband replied, "before you quit your job, go back and ask your teacher how many years yuou'd have to practice 7-8 hrs on a dail basis before you could land that job in that third rate orchestra".

so now I play in the community orchestra and happy with my playing, such as it is!

February 3, 2007 at 07:19 PM · Still June, other adult students have achieved pretty remarkably--especially with the kind of committment you described. Maybe your husband just likes the extra income ;)....

February 4, 2007 at 10:13 AM · June, did you get a degree in music, or did you just audition for the orchestra, after completing your lessons?

February 4, 2007 at 06:48 PM · According to proven examples of people who did what you are talking about June: If you stopped all of the other activities of life and just practiced 8 hours a day for about 3 years, you would be professional technically speaking. Of course, no one cn stop their lives completely for this dream unless they are just truly ambitious and have complete and total faith in their abilities: so if you manage your time wisely, practice right when you are practicing for about 3 hours a day (you can split that up), and also mentally practice you could be a professional musician in 8 years tops. I think some talent is also involved but for the most part it is hard work that pays off. Juan Miguel is a good example of smart practing that will get you to professionalism in a short period of time. And the other part about getting a good job and stuff and playing in orchestra: it's sad, but nowadays the music world is one big business. And no matter how talented you are you won't get very far without connections and help from bigwigs that can help carry you to the top. Almost all famous soloist have had that one connection that took them to the top. This is a unfortunate truth because there are many gifted artist out there who are struggling.

February 4, 2007 at 07:55 PM · Jasmine - pardon my ignorance, but who is Juan Miguel? Also, what do you mean when you say become a professional? In your view, what would someone who practiced 8 hours/day for 3 years or 3 hours/day for 8 years be able to do?

February 4, 2007 at 09:57 PM · Juan Miguel is a wonderful violinist/violist that I studied with at a camp during the summer. He told me that he started at 12 and had to sacrifice a lot in order to get to where he is at today. He is a professional violist now, and plays around the country frequently. He started at 12 which is not so bad but I am sure he was a genius for practicing smart and finding different times to practice.

I am a firm believer that it is not about practicing for long hours but practicing with the right mind set. So if someone practiced for 8 hours daily with right goals and concentration in mind for 3 years, not including the weekends, I believe they could make into a good orchestra. Once you start making money, you are considered a professional, because it is your profession. If I wanted to quit school right now and just start playing at weddings and other events for a living, I'd be considered a professional. Juan Miguel took only six years for him to become a professional and he did not practice 8 hours a day for six years. He only practiced 2 hours or less a day. He just practiced smart. Same thing with Gareth Johnson who started at age 10. At 16 he won a accredited competition and soloed with great orchestras (he was likened to Joshua Bell and Maxim Vengerov) and now at 20 he is playing as a soloist with major orchestras in U.S. He praticed a lot and smartly. But not 8 hours a day. So if these guys could practice for only 2 hours to 4 hours a day for 6 years and be as successful as they are, how much more so will a person be able to be really good if they practiced for 8 hours a day for 3 years. But as I said in my last post, I do not know anyone who could do that straight for three years, but it could happen.

February 4, 2007 at 10:44 PM · Jasmine - I assume you mean Juan-Miguel Hernandez. He started violin at 7 and switched to viola at 12, so it is not all that surprising that he could be a professional violist at this time.

February 4, 2007 at 10:50 PM · He didn't tell me that. Well there is still Gareth Johnson :) Me and Juan are going to have to talk :()()

February 4, 2007 at 11:39 PM · I've been holding off responding because I thought someone else might make this point, but my daughter's new teacher, Joey Corpus started violin at the relatively late age of 14, and with a raft of impediments, including a physical disability. For his first six months he was self-taught (soon after, he was offered a scholarship to come to study at Juilliard.) Most interesting: although he came from a musical family, early on he was told that he had no musical talent, after a lackluster start on piano. He is an amazing violinist and teacher-- you can read about him in this archived Strad article, which I remembered vaguely reading a few years back when he was recommended to us as a teacher this summer. Anyway, it is an inspirational story for anyone who has been handed a list of what they "can't" do.

February 5, 2007 at 12:06 AM · Greetings,

yeah, but he`s a magician ;)

Cheers,

Buri

February 5, 2007 at 01:25 AM · Funny Buri :))

Yes, I remember him. Actually I emailed him when I was younger because I saw that he had started when he was 14, the same age as me and I wanted him to be my teacher. But I stopped emailing him because my family started going through some hardtimes. Yes, he is truly an inspiration.

February 5, 2007 at 02:14 PM · There is one aspect that I don't remember being mentioned. If it has been and I missed it, I apologize. This is a physical aspect. Let's face it, compared with many other instruments as diverse as the cello, piano, or clarinet (each with its own challenges, to be sure,) the violin and viola, whatever method is used, is not the most natural instrument to play, in its very basic playing position. We need to grow into it, as well as, in a sense, grow around it. In most cases this is accomplished most easily, naturally, and reliably with a fairly young child, whose muscles are soft and pliant. If we want to influence the way a tree grows, it's more easily done while the tree is still a sapling. Then there's the very messy business called "Life", including trying to earn a living, maybe taking care of a family, etc. All this and more is factored into the conventional wisdom that says 'earlier is better, and later is harder'. This conventional wisdom is not some societal evil, and it's no plot cooked up by whichever political party we might be against. It's just common sense, based on observation and experience. That said, of course there are always exceptions. To a certain extent I've been one, myself.

Some time back there was a thread asking if we had any regrets. In it I said that while I've gotten a number of compliments that have pleased me, there is one comment not especially intended as a compliment that has particularly pleased me in a different way. Several knowledgeable people over the years, when it came to talking, have made the identical educated guess that I must have started when I was 4 or 5. I suppose that something about the way I hold the instrument and approach it, my apparent organic connection with it, as well as hopefully, what at least sometimes comes out of it, has given a number of people this impression. The fact is that I started string class instruction in 5th grade, and a little before my 11th birthday, began private lessons. Until my sophomore year in high school, I never practiced more than one hour a day. Yet in my senior year I succesfully auditioned for The Manhattan School of Music. I eventually switched to, and graduated from Mannes, and have been playing professionally ever since - including well-received solo performances. I was even selected as a winner of a small, European based competition. Now in my (dare I say it?) mid-50's, I'm still at it, still in love with it, and play better now than ever. I was a tortoise (perhaps a turbo-charged tortoise!) who eventually overtook many a hare.

Sounds great, right? Well, in a way it IS great. But there has been a down side as well. I've had many struggles, many uphill battles, many bitter disappointments and discouragements, and many early bad habits to overcome. I so wish that I started earlier. In my case, had I begun private lessons at 8, with a teacher who would not let me get away with a single bad habit, and had I practiced more from the get go, I do think that by 22-28 I'd have had a shot at some major competitions - not everyone's goal, of course, but it would have been among mine. As it is, to a significant extent, I did make up for lost time. The various improvements, and accomplishments have all been real and tangible. But some of these have had a 'nouveau riche' aspect. There is nothing like having many layers of accomplishment to draw upon, to have been playing at a certain level for many years, for it being, at a mature age, the 20th time one gets to play the Mendelssohn, etc., with orchestra, rather than the first.

So, as the song says, I'm in a position to have looked at life - or this issue - from both sides now. A determined and talented tortoise can go far. But make no mistake - it isn't easy. And the later one starts, the harder it usually is. I return to what I said in an earlier post: if you love it, stick with it. There are no guarantees in this business, in any case. My own love affair with the violin and music is amply requited.

With this posting, I need to take another leave of absence. Good luck to all, and happy fiddling!

February 5, 2007 at 02:36 PM · Are there really any physical hurdles in playing the violin that cannot be overcome with a little yoga and alexander technique? The only physical hurdles I have seen are not relaxing, but that can happen with little ones as well, because as you said the violin isn't natural. So we naturally tense up and maybe it is easier to make a young child relax. But besides that, the physical hurdles in violin aren't as extreme as let us say ballet and gymnastics. There is a woman in my old orchestra who is 65 (she started when she was 60), has carpel tunnel and still manages to overcome her ailments and play the violin. She has a vibrato to die for and can do almost all the really strenuous bowing techniques. I am not saying she can play a 45 minute concerto straight without some exhaustion and pain, but if she can have carpel tunnel and still play the violin quite well, then obviously those physical hurdles aren't and will not be too big of a deal for someone who doesn't have physical ailments. I don't think those physical hurdles are really that big of a issue when playing the violin. I could see it with ballet but not the violin.

February 5, 2007 at 05:43 PM · Juanita,

A couple of things to think about that no one else has mentioned:

Does "taking it to the next level" have to mean collecting a paycheck? Would making it into a major orchestra validate your musical talent? Can you be happy with your progress without the totems of success that are foisted upon us by the rest of society?

Many people who make it into major orchestras aren't necessarily happier than anyone else. There's enormous pressure. There's tedium. It's a job.

If you really feel you have to achieve this, do you have ALL of the requisites to be a performer? Some of the previous posters have

mentioned the necessity of long hours of practice, but discipline is only one aspect. Can you perform under pressure in front of 2000 people who you know have paid $30 for tickets? I'm a concertmaster of a regional orchestra, and if we have a soloist come in to play a concerto, I have to sound almost as good--last week I had some solos in Strauss just before the concerto, and I know darned well that even if I don't surpass the soloist, I have to at least come close. Night after night, whether I'm tired or have a cold or had a bad day.

In addition to discipline and a stomach for the stage, do you have intuitive musical ability? Can you shape phrases without a teacher telling you exactly how to do it? Do you have an accurate internal clock? As you read this, can you hear a beat of 100/minute without a metronome? Do you have theoretical knowledge and a trained ear? As you read this, can you sing a minor 7th?

If, after you've mastered all the above, is the quality of your vibrato something that people want to hear?

My point in all this is not to discourage you but simply to point out that music is a multi-faceted discipline and that successful musicians possess a wide variety of skills and aptitudes. We're not just practice machines. And the truth is that the vast majority of violinists probably don't simply collect a big fat paycheck from one gig--most of us wear many hats. We teach at colleges and middle schools, we do weddings, we conduct youth orchestras, we teach in our living rooms. We play with Aerosmith if called to. The key to being making it as a musician in today's world is to be versatile.

And by the way, Couperin was an ass.

Scott

February 5, 2007 at 07:51 PM · But as a four month student Juanita, always always always always always stay focused on what you CAN do. And you can.

February 5, 2007 at 08:19 PM · Wow, haven't had time to finish reading. But here is my experience as to brain plasticity. I started violin when I was 6 but dropped out in college. When I was in my thirties I decided I wanted to learn the piano. My kids were taking piano lessons and I tried to follow along. My problem is that I cannot think in two tracks (left and right hand). My daughter can naturally play more than one melody, and talk/sing at the same time. My mind is tuned to one track, and maybe two when doing double stops like in Bach S&P, but barely. So I gave up on the piano idea and went back to violin. Now after 3 years of lessons I've surpassed my level when I was in college, past Mendelssohn and working on Beethoven. The learning curve has been easier for me in violin because of my early exposure. That said, this is only me, and maybe others can pick up piano at an advanced age. I just can't work my hands independently.

February 5, 2007 at 09:36 PM · Clare--that's partly myth '''''too''''. The same tedious 1 and 2 and 3 coordinating l/r are no different, and maybe easier than clean 3rd octave double stops.

I agree with the early exposure--my teeth mark are still on the piano legs. So, call me a dawg! .;)

February 5, 2007 at 10:54 PM · Greetings,

I`m off to check Sharon`s legs.Cheers,

Buri

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