How long until you weren't bad?

February 9, 2007 at 06:38 AM · How many years of practice?

Replies (42)

February 9, 2007 at 07:46 AM · Oh I don't know--a couple days maybe. Surely, no more than a week.... Violin is easy.... (ducks).

February 9, 2007 at 10:25 AM · I studied for five or less years total on viola without starting on violin.

I sucked hard at the beginning. No control, but familiarized myself by playing through the Bach's 6 Sonatas and Partitas and sightreading a lot at first, then just memorizing and playing for fun. It helped to get my mind off sucking. But I guess now I see that that in itself indicated how much raw talent I had even at the beginning.

So, I started with Kreutzer Etudes with John Hayhurst. U know, detache, marcato, upbow/downbow staccato, finger positions, Teleman concerto. That's it, took 1 year.

Then I went on to Jerry Epstein. We didn't finish all of Kreutzer, maybe half, then we went to Campagnoli cause he knew them well. I did 1/3rd of those, which were more like character pieces with random in and out techniques. That was ongoing. But repertoire was where it was at; we did Brahms f minor then later E flat, Bruch Romanze, Bach Suites 2, 3, 5, Hindemith Op. 14, Op.25,1, Shostakovich Sonata, Walton Concerto, Vitali Chaconne,some shorter pieces, easier sonatas. That took 3 years.

I say 5 because I also went to Summer festivals and notably studied with Evan Wilson who corrected some technical problems - it was more like a boot camp; scales class, lessons where I was put under a lot of pressure - criticism and learning how to play by observing other players and going to masterclasses.

I think what were really really important, were these Breakthroughs... I had two. One was from playing Brahms at Camp... there was a level of vibrato and expression that was needed - and somehow it just "clicked". The next was with Jerry with the Walton and Vitali Chaccone - he was very critical of even slight intonation problems. Also, he taught me 5 or so different varieties of vibrato including arm, wrist, finger, whatever, continuous, Heifetzian. He taught me a lot of technique through music, which was more interesting. And I went home and figured out exercises and finger patterns and prep. stuff.

If I had to narrow it down to what really made me better rather than how many years it took, it has to be the following, in order:

1) good teachers (especially one you hold very dear and completely respect)

2) other good students so you can compare your progress, what you're not doing and are doing.

3) a lot of emersing yourself in all music, community orchestra, chamber, whatever you can do, professional concerts, recordings.

4) discipline. 1 hr, of scales. 1 hr. of technical work (pick a part of the piece you're working on that's entirely technical, and work through the fingerings, positions, placement, bowings, strokes - as if you're doing kreutzer). 1 hr. of playing through music and figuring out what you want to do musically.


February 9, 2007 at 12:16 PM · I never thought I sounded bad. Not even when I was 7, just starting, and playing Twinkle in a very average way like all the other kids in the school

I honestly don't mind listening to beginning violin playing at all, I even enjoy it, and I've always been a little, well, puzzled, by how negative most people's reactions are to it. Maybe I should have been an elementary school string teacher since it's apparently such a rare gift.

February 9, 2007 at 01:01 PM · Well I started back at the violin in April after not having played for 25 years. it was pretty rocky for a while--I couldn't bear the sound I was making. Now I've just about finished the Wagner Albumblatt and I'm getting pleased with my own sound. I'm also working on Beethoven 8 and of course, the obligatory Sevcik. I think Gavinie #3 is next up but I'm not really looking forward to all of that woodshedding. I'm also thinking of looking at the Zarzycki Mazourka once I finish the Wagner. It demands technique and it's more fun to try to acquire it through music than through Sevcik alone.

February 9, 2007 at 03:45 PM · ...when other people stopped leaving the room as soon as i reached for my case.

February 9, 2007 at 04:46 PM · I had a similar experience to Karen's. As a kid I don't think I sounded bad. It's only as I've gotten older and improved that I think "ick!" The better I play and the more I develop and improve my ears, the more I realize I have a LOOOOOOOONG way to go. Now everything sounds out of tune, and requires tediously meticulous intonation work especially if it's unaccompanied Bach, or some Mozart. That's the problem (and the good thing?) about violin. You'll never be satisfied because as you get better, you'll become more and more picky and discerning too.


February 9, 2007 at 05:42 PM · >The better I play and the more I develop and improve my ears, the more I realize I have a LOOOOOOOONG way to go. Now everything sounds out of tune, and requires tediously meticulous intonation work especially if it's unaccompanied Bach, or some Mozart. That's the problem (and the good thing?) about violin. You'll never be satisfied because as you get better, you'll become more and more picky and discerning too.

Well-put, Laura.

February 9, 2007 at 07:55 PM · still hasn't happened.

February 9, 2007 at 08:05 PM · I think you can come to like the sound you make while at the same time being aware of the other shortcomings. As for example nothing is never really in tune just less out of tune.

February 10, 2007 at 08:59 AM · Pleasure wise--I agree with Karen.... I've always had moments of sounding good--just not in the mature sense of the word, and only on pop or something. The first time I got two half-resonant notes, I never looked back...

February 9, 2007 at 09:58 PM · After a year I thought, as you say, "not bad!"

A few weeks later I thought, "wow, really bad!"

this cycle continued for about 10 years, at which point I arrived at a more or less stable perspective, which persists to the present: "better, but still bad!"

February 10, 2007 at 12:11 AM · Yeah, I totally agree with Karen... Bad is so relative, and when you're beginning, r u suppose know what good is?


February 10, 2007 at 12:51 AM · Five years of playing, three years as a music major, and I'm only just now sounding "not bad".

February 10, 2007 at 12:48 AM · Heifetz died thinking he was a bad violinist. Many people don't know that about him because they think he was arrogant but he was just like the rest; Always your own worst critic.

I was bad, am bad, and always will be bad.

February 10, 2007 at 01:27 AM · Seriously though, as a lifetime musician, it really is about connecting with music that makes the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up. If one is driven to play this and that thinking that is the road to the mountain, I think they never get there. But if one 'really' loves music, good will be expressed at a hundred little curves along the way I think. It can be a love song, or something formally accomplished, but it has to be something that one connects with for one reason or another. I remember the first time I played Shenandoah slowly and softly.... Or certain hymns, even things from Suzuki I've played all my life because I like them...

I think given that, the question could be put in terms of, how long did you play before the little hairs on the back of your necks stood up while playing something you really love?

February 10, 2007 at 01:57 AM · Personally, I've NEVER been bad.

-but I am very squeaky.

February 10, 2007 at 02:38 AM · As always, a discussion PAST one another. First, define your terms. "No longer bad" means....what, exactly?

February 10, 2007 at 06:24 AM · Day one - "Not bad"

Day two - "Geez, day one was bad!"

Day three - "Not Bad"

Day four - "Day three was bad"

etc ....

Day 10219 - "Geeze, ([current day] - 1) Bad"

Day 10220 - "Not Bad"

Today is day 10220 :)

You never stop learning and perfecting.

February 10, 2007 at 06:31 AM · Amen Mendy!. Technically that has sure been my experience. But, it's those 10 minutes out of 500 sounding decent that drives us forward--actually it makes me feel like the guy during all those in between times.

February 10, 2007 at 07:02 AM · Greetings,

very old anecdote. Not sure who. Famous violinist and King George something or


King: How am I doing?

Violinist: Your majesty. Tehre are thre e classes of violinist. Those who cannot play at all. Those who play very badly. Those who play very well. Your majesty has already made it to the second class.



February 10, 2007 at 07:18 AM · Albert - I had my annual allocation of 10 minutes of "good" tonight accoring to my father. He drove out to come visit me this weekend and almost fell asleep during his personal monthly solo concert. I *think* that is a good thing :)

February 10, 2007 at 09:00 AM · I hear ya.... That reminded me of the young lady sleeping at Janine Janson's Romanian Dances performance. Ah, the power of music. And I have to think, that's the way it's suppose to be.

I've told this story a hundred times, but the week I bought my first violin I crushed my left hand in a fall. Then, I played in my greenhouse alot, and, I'd literally play four and five hours music from piano and guitar.

I kept a list a couple pages of long of things I had played through, and still have it (partially) today on/in the back of Suzuki 1... Then it got to the point where I'd played so many, the list left reasonable maintenance--while the entire time my hand was throbbing, my teacher was telling me I was practicing bad habits; and, of course, I still did this every night--night after night after night. Still do to some extent--with at least improving habits.

Then I realized that keeping my instrument in tune meant I could play along with commericals, uh--whatever was on the radio, and then I started finding web-sites I could jam along with. (Guitars aren't so much like this because informal folk-whatever guitarists often just use relative tuning because of several things). Anyway, the image bad becomes relative at some point, because something so compelling has no room in the world of words--it's already complete.

Now after two years, this thing has pretty much addled me in I think good ways, irregardless and in spite of the bad habits. I've tried to stay loyal to the reality that that's the way I learned piano, and it was, minus the intensity. That part within one that remains a kid at heart should always be respected because, it is in this spirit that playing remains playing, and is at the heart of the greater meaning that music is about the playing.

So on piano, I badded my way through some pretty intense Schubert, light classical, definitely 'a bunch' of 70's hard rock, a libary of romantic music.

And on guitar, I badded my way through Bouree, Sarabande, more rock, lots of folk, double-pickin.

And on banjo... Well, I guess the points clear. And this all started innocently enough when a blind girl taught me Georgie Porgy and Boogy Woogie on piano when I was five.

So even for those who are not prodigies, maybe even more so, as long as the music continues to lead the way, there's really, no such thing as bad.

That's the reason I sometimes use the signature: Play on!.

February 10, 2007 at 10:27 AM · Being a lifelong learner, I am always playing at the limit of my ability, so I always sound bad. For encouragement, I regularly dig out something from a couple of years ago (or maybe ten), play that, and say to myself, 'See - progress'.

Very rarely though I get really engrossed in a piece, then have this feeling of waking up from a good dream - wow, was that really me playing? Then I struggle to play something that should be easy, so the dream is over.

It's hard isn't it? You have to listen to yourself carefully in order to maintain good intonation, but at the same time it doesn't help to be too self critical.

What really bugs me is that what I like and what I can play well are two different things. The pieces I play best are really slushy over the top romantic stuff. These are so out of character, it is difficult not to laugh at myself playing them.

February 10, 2007 at 11:55 AM · Rather than continuosly be on the growth cycle, I like to hit plateaus, where I do things like this or that genre festival for some reason. Anyway, yes it is mechanically and physically difficult--perhaps more so than it should be. But inspirationally and motivationally, I just can't imagine anything so compelling.

Those good and bad days are true of any instrument, so I try and 'demand' some good time consistently on violin... It's a good promethean approach to such an intense endeavor.

February 10, 2007 at 08:44 PM · haha, jude i really connected with that response. i have played a little over a year now so i'm at the wow, really bad point right now... but practice makes... better.

February 10, 2007 at 09:30 PM · I read in the International Musician an article stating that it takes 10,000 hours to become proficient in your respective instrument. Chew on that...

February 10, 2007 at 09:43 PM · Greetings,

yeah, but they were factoring coffee breaks...



February 10, 2007 at 09:46 PM · So at hour #9,999 one is still terrible? Counting hours is one of the most misleading approaches to self-improvement. Scratch that. It is THE most misleading. But setting up some criteria - goal-posts, if you will - and then matching one's ability to accomplish those criteria consistently with the effort expended might be a good start. That would apply to the three violinistic basics: good intonation, solid rhythm, good sound (i.e. under one's control, not just "soft" or "loud").

February 12, 2007 at 06:42 AM · Although I've only been playing for a few months, and the only things I know how to play are basic exercises and little ditties; I began to notice improvement pretty much when I was able to play something the full way through and not feel the need to repeat it for the hundreth time. When I first began to play I would sometimes find that I had spent a full two or more hours practicing, simply because I couldn't get it to sound "perfect". Which is what's so hilarious, because I absolutely hate repetition and yet I tend to find myself repeating the same thing hundreds of times over. That's not to say of course that when beginning something new, I don't sometimes lose any and all abilities and simply sit and stare at the violin as if I've never even seen one before. However, I can definetly say that what started out as simply a passing intrest has become something that I could be perfectly happy doing for the rest of my life, eventhough the other day I did feel like beating the thing into the floor. Which what makes me so amazed that small children take up the violin, I certainly feel sorry for the parents who definetly have their work cut out for them, at least for the first few years in any case.

February 12, 2007 at 06:58 AM · Juanita, do you play other instruments?

February 12, 2007 at 03:30 PM · I didn't say I agreed, just stating the "facts" in the article...

February 12, 2007 at 03:41 PM · Does that include my practicing last night? Bleahhh!

February 12, 2007 at 07:18 PM · In response to the question... how long before I thought 'not bad'?? I guess it came in the first week I started playing (which was last month!!!) It's all relative. When I make a little progress and Twinkle sounds better or I can run a scale with good intonation then I say to myself...'not bad' and try something a little more difficult.

If you're not pleased with little bits of progress it can be really difficult to enjoy this journey.

February 12, 2007 at 07:40 PM · I like to hear myself play (otherwise I'd stop!) but I know I'm not very good. As others have noted, just when you think you're doing all right, you realize you suck. Pride goeth before a fall, and all that. I've been playing five years now as an adult; maybe after ten I'll be tolerable.

February 12, 2007 at 11:22 PM · I played piano for a very brief moment in my early teens Albert, but whatever I thought I knew back then was completely forgetten even before I took up the violin.

February 13, 2007 at 05:56 AM · I don't know if anyone else has this but I always tend to think to myslef:

"The day I can play that piece well I KNOW im good"

and when I finally get to that piece i think.....this wasn't as hard as I thought it would be but if I can play THAT song then im good. I never seem to reach good!! Technically that is musically I think I sound ok and it just recently happned ^_^

February 13, 2007 at 06:51 PM · Hi,

I think that you have to do your best on a daily basis and seek constant improvement. Superlatives like good or bad are pretty much useless. Thinking in objective terms is better. Find what you need to improve, figure out how it works and incorporate that into your practice. One improves for life...


February 17, 2007 at 02:55 AM · When I first started, I used to think I was the best violinist in the world.

7 years later (now), I always find some flaws in my playing. I once listened to my own recording of Bach concerto. I thought it was "not bad" while I was playing it, but it was actually so bad that I was scared out of my wits. There are always bad moments... but there are always some good moments, too.

February 20, 2007 at 10:01 PM · I was playing with confidence and good intonation by the age of 10, so 6 years.

February 20, 2007 at 10:51 PM · "I think given that, the question could be put in terms of, how long did you play before the little hairs on the back of your necks stood up while playing something you really love?"- I cannot recall who it was that said this, but whoever it was these are words well said.

February 21, 2007 at 06:53 AM · Uh,

I just started today. I can play "Hot Cross Buns". It's kinda scratchy though. I just rented my violin yesterday and I think I'm going to hook up with this teacher tomorrow.

February 21, 2007 at 10:05 AM · I like to go by degrees.

You can sound okay, and play really tough stuff, but then when you go back to rep you've played, you should sound better.

A way I try to make sure I sound better is by listening to recordings and comparing. Then I record myself and see if I have progressed -- surely enough... I do.

It takes time; eventually your scales will get better, your basic shifts, your thirds, octaves... and then you start playing everything and practicing and preparing things more "constructively".

Like Susan Jang says, what really matters is how well you play something, not how much... but while you're with a teacher, "learn" as many concertos as you can -- then go back and fix them or play them when you feel you can do more justice to them or can execute them well/better.


P.S. And I like to think, "Nothing is really out of reach or difficult -- rather, the patience and time used is of major concern -- do you have time and can you practice efficiently; do you have the patience to progress and wait it out? If you do, then play the piece."

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