Reasonable Expectations

August 3, 2007 at 05:56 PM · At 38 years of age with but a few months of lessons prior. Having found a good teacher and being (as was mentioned by my previous teacher) a fairly fast learner. What can one reasonably expect to accomplish in a few years with practicing faithfully 1 hour a day.

Would a few years be enough to say,play some slow but beautiful classical songs,that at least family and friends would enjoy and not simply be "kind" by letting me play for them?

What are the typical phases of learning and accomplishment for students my age?

Replies (25)

August 3, 2007 at 07:52 PM · Hey Paul,

I'm 35, and started playing violin in April of this year. I'm a pro guitarist that left a touring band in March, came off the road, and wanted a change/chance to pursue something completely different than what I was doing musically. It has been a humbling experience for me to be a "beginner" at something again, and alot of fun. I intend to stick with the instrument for the long haul.

I also practice for about an hour per day on weeknights, and 4-6 hours Sat and Sun. If all you can devote is an hour per day (and that is nothing to snuff at, seeing as how in adulthood, "life" tends to "happen" a bit more with work, etc) I think you can certainly expect to play some nice classical peices of music for family/friends within a years time....maybe sooner if you learn quickly. As an example,many of the pieces in the Suzuki method books 1 and 2 are not all that difficult. I'm just finishing up book 3, and hope to start working on a something new soon, in addition to all the other chops building exercises (Schradiack, Hirmaly, Wolfhart,Introducing the Positions, Melodious Double Stops book, etc) that I pour over every week. As the saying goes: "You get out what you put in"

I'm sure that others with more knowledge will chime in, and offer up a better perspective. I've moved along quickly, coming off of another stringed instrument, but I still have a looooog way to go.

August 3, 2007 at 09:01 PM · Paul, I guess it would really come down to how you use your one hour of faithful practice each day. Are you just punching a time card or are you really focusing on the task at hand for an hour?

At the age of 21 I picked up the violin. I think as an adult I have really grown to understand the instrument because I have put a lot of thought into the mechanics of the left and right hands, overall posture....lets just say pedagogy of the instrument. With better technique comes a better tone and greater musicality.

Personally, I do not remember "phases" that I went through...besides dealing with my set-up.

Yes! I think that in a few years you would be able to play some really nice pieces for your family...without them just being nice to you about your playing. Just remember to practice slowly and correct the problem when it first occurs. Build your tempo up gradually until you have worked past your performance tempo.

Good Luck!


August 4, 2007 at 09:39 PM · It might be an idea to set some goals for short and longer spans of time than worrying about where you can get on an hour a day. There's that famous Casals saying about spending his first hour finding E on the D string. (Anybody know if it is apochryphal, BTW?) Along the lines of "this week I hope to...", "this month", etc. Worth keeping a running tally on yourself by recording this week's best-sounding scale, exercise or piece. Sue

August 4, 2007 at 10:25 PM · Hey Paul,

I'm no expert, but I have made healthy progress in the past four years or so after picking up the violin properly this time (I'm now 24) - I also did it for six months or so when I was about ten.

You must be having lessons, as you mention teacher, so that's a good start. In order to make these count, I suggest setting even short term objectives, things to address between lessons.

Depending on what you want to achieve, this obviously affects how you practice. But getting "practiced in practicing" would certainly be a good start. If you practice and hour a day, and just play the same piece through then you won't make much progress! This is an exaggeration, but what I mean is you need to be focussed in structuring your practice time. I have found Sassmannshaus's "virtous moments" very helpful (check out, there's also a great deal of technical advice on this site, but down be put off by the child prodigies!). The basic idea is that you devote a few minutes to each element you wish to practice. It really makes you concentrate, and this way one can develop all the necessary skills in parallel.

I agree with Sue about objectives. Sit down and think about your long term objectives, then medium, then short. The more you break it down the better. Each time you pick up the fiddle you should have a clear plan of what you are going to cover, which adapts depending on how much time you have to give.

Finally, whatever your standard, I would thoroughly recommend joining some kind of music group. Even when I felt I wasn't nearly ready to play in a group, I found that playing, in my case chamber music, helped immensely to develop my sight-reading and musicianship. It's also a great deal of fun, and makes you understand what playing an instrument is really about.

Hope this helps. Stick at it!


August 14, 2007 at 02:18 AM · Hi Again All:

Thanks for the encouragement and tips on practicing and setting goals. I do have a few questions however.

Again with work and family,time is short but fortunately Im able to set aside 30-40-or60 min a day to practice,occasionaly more on a weekend. What I dont have a clear understanding of is how I should break down my practice sessions.

Lets say my teacher gives me a page or two of exersises to work on,do I keep working on each one until Im cofortable with it? Or do I concentrate on playing all of them through perhaps concentrating on my bow hand and than playing them again perhaps concentrating on my left hand ,and than once again making sure Im in time with my metronome.

At this begginers stage where we are starting with Saumuel Applbaums String builder series, how should I break up 30-60 min so its REAL practice?

Thanks again for the help! :)

Just as a side note, I cant help myself but from time to time I like playing around and trying to figure out parts of songs I hear on my own. Im able to produce a vibrato except sometimes I find it difficult to do with my pinky but this also I mess around with on my own from time to time. Is this recommended or is this a bad use of time?

When I took lessons 8 years ago after about 3 months,my teacher showed my how he produced a vibrato and I kinda just did what he did and he was supprised, its not perfect obviously but it makes the notes sound so much better. I just dont want to put any time into things I have no buisiness messing around with right now since Im starting from square 1 all over again.

August 14, 2007 at 01:34 AM · Paul:

Samuel Applebaum's string builder series is also an excellent method. I have friends who use that method and get good results. I'll see if I can have them post some practice advice to you. I'm afraid that I'm not familiar enough to make extensive recommendations using that textbook.

August 14, 2007 at 03:39 AM · Yes, I think a few years would get you there. Some get there quickly, and the poster who suggested one year is an exception I think.

I'm into it 2.5 years now, finishing Suzuki 3 as well, and things are coming along pretty well. You didn't say anything about your background in music. Even quick learners are humbled by the requirements to play 'really' well. Violin for many, is the most difficult of all instruments.

So, just be patient and go for the long-haul.

August 14, 2007 at 05:36 AM · If I were to start all over again, the first thing I'd really want to get a clear idea from my teacher is to really understand how to practice. I'd play in front of my teacher as though as I'm practicing at home, and I’d want my teacher to just focus on if I’m practicing in a most effective way. I want to get a review from my teacher after every five minutes of such practice: have I just wasted last 5-minutes' practice? Was I doing pretty much right but could be better? etc. Just to get a clear sense what a good practice entails.

Great practice is taught. A really concentrated and analytical 1-hour practice should be as intense as a 1-hour lesson with a demanding teacher. If you can achieve this, you'll be able to play something beautiful much much faster than you imagine you could.

August 14, 2007 at 01:43 PM · Paul - I've been at it 2 years and the best I can guarantee is 45 minutes 5 days a week and 15 mn on the other two days. Unlike others, I feel strongly that locking in those minutes is more important than setting a goal-oriented limit, because it would be easy to say "Okay, I finished with the pieces for my lesson, so I'll stop at 30 minutes" (which is theoretical, because I would never, never be "finished" with a piece). I wish I could take more time - I make much more progress when I have 90 minutes, but that is simply not going to happen during this time in my life, with work, parenting, outside activities, house stuff, etc. Sometimes, particularly now, when I'm learning to play in more and more key signatures, I feel like my time is largely spent on scales and etudes and that worries me, in a way, that I'm not tackling new pieces I can 'perform' for friends/family, or duets that I perform with my teacher in class. But her comment to me is that at this point, it is still an extremely worthy practice to spend at least half the time on intonation exercises, and take those scales ever so slowly, really listening for the proper tone. The result - very slow progress in repertoire, but infinitely better intonation than if I were to focus on racing through the books (which, interestingly, I wanted to do a lot more between 6 and 18 months into the experience).

It's a choice. My teacher is commenting that some of her students of 2 years are happily performing, particularly fiddle music. But she feels as if some of them are happy to settle for a less than perfect intonation. In the end, the best thing is what the student is nourished by, and that both teacher and student agree on the pace and the goals.

To answer your question more specifically - when I only have my set 45 minutes, I will spend 20 mn on scales and exercises, 15 mn playing tunes I've already learned, short bits, both classical and folk, that I can "perform" for friends, then 15 mn on new stuff. Yes, that does not equal 45 minutes. Thus my conundrum, and I do that in every aspect of my life, and thus I'm 5 minutes late for everything and crowd up my "down" time and that's how it goes. And when my 45 mn turns into an hour, b/c I'm so intrigued (or frustrated) by a new piece, well, that's a good problem to have. (Not for the laundry/family/burning dinner, but that's another issue.)

But I'm here to tell you: humble goals like 45 minutes, 5 days a week, and even just 10 mn on off days - yes, this will produce significant results after a year. It's just up to you how you want to define "good" results. (I'm a slow learner.)

Hope you're enjoying it as much as I am!

PS - when I played for my family during an annual visit home this year, there was a significant change in how I played. Last year they were kind. This year they were surprised. My husband tells me he wouldn't have thought I could produce what I do. (Not sure whether this is a compliment or an insult...)

August 14, 2007 at 01:46 PM · One last thing, in rereading your first post. You talk about stages, so I'll mention that there were a few phases, maybe at 6 months and then at around 15 months, where I reached a plateau and it felt very frustrating that I couldn't play better than I did. Nor improve much, to my ears. Very frustrating. Someone had given me the advice to "stick it out for two years" and I would give any adult beginner that advice. Because I'm willing to bet that lots of people (particularly adults, b/c most of us are goal-oriented and focused on getting results at this point in the game) give up around those times and say "it was too slow." But that two-year mark has been a good thing for me. So, if they come to you, work your way through the dry spells, putting in exactly the same amount of time. (I think that's how the 'quitting' starts - an unmotivated person cutting down their practice time by 10 mn increments every month...) That's one advantage of telling myself "45 minutes." It's sustainable for life.

August 14, 2007 at 03:40 PM · Terez made some good points about being realistic I think. And she illuminated some of the performance/cognitive type things we go through--I related with a couple of her points personally, though I have my own experiences as well.

I personally cleared out the clutter from my life and made a lot of room for violin. I was bored with television in that it's a waste of time. I started de-emphasizing my technology latest greatest gluttony for a good instrument, plenty of strings and a little left over for materials--I was and remain cynical about what computers are 'really' doing for people even with engineering Computer Science as my degree. I do my work outs at home raising gardens instead of going to a gym. Those kinds of things.

I use to practice up to four hours a day, and have cut back because of overuse was making me worse rather than better in some ways; and, I had to go on a posture festival awhile back(many months ago) that will now let me get back to more intense routines. But I've made progress in my core material anyway with less(actually an hour many days). And the posture festival has been an immeasurable investment.

So rather than say an hour a day, or four hours a day, try and see it from the perspective of, 'what can I really do well, within what period of time, without going backwards'.

I'm personally still in cebreal/posture mode, and moving back to my more intense mode using scales, arpeggios and many many etudes. And this time of self-assessment and thinking through rather than repeating weaknesses is beyond description quality wise. So again, give yourself room to adjust as you go.

There's another way of looking at it.

August 14, 2007 at 05:34 PM · Congratulations Paul, on learning the violin as an adult. I started the violin at 39 and am now 55. I have discovered over the years that as I have become better, my capacity for practice has risen. I started out practicing about an hour a day. These days I may practice 2, 3 or 4 hours depending on what's ahead. I have also become much better at working the details. I play at 2 nursing homes each week. I mostly play familar tunes that aren't hard. I do throw in more difficult pieces I am working on to get experience playing them before an audience.

For me, I always have to have some goal to use in structuring my practice. It could be any number of things such as memorization, improving intonation, working out a difficult fingering passage or whatever. I also usually have an upcoming performance (church or other) for which I am preparing as well. If my performance is to happen soon I really pour on the practice. Otherwise I'll just do a couple hours a day. When I am having trouble with motivation I might take a rest day or even a couple of days. I also ask myself "Would I rather watch TV or be a better violinist" or "At the end of my life would I rather say a I watched a lot of TV or practiced the violin". The violin always wins.

It helps tremendously to have a good teacher that motivates you to new challenges. One of my early teachers was a great player but didn't think I could ever go very far as a violinist. I'm not interested in developing a concert career; I just want to be as good as I am capable of being. He didn't seem to understand that. I have been extremely fortunate to have had some wonderful teachers since then. Keep working and know that you almost always have somewhere to go in improving your violinistic abilities.

August 14, 2007 at 06:16 PM · "The violin always wins." Good on you. That is a powerful image I think--maybe more so than you meant.

Our world is very busy and noisy. One cannot be all they can be on any instrument without real commitment--or any avocation really.

My violin not only always wins, but takes the liberty to slap me around when she wants to. And I like it. Seriously though, simplifying one's life to make room for some 'real' excellence may be the new low tech is high tech for many. It is for me anyway.

Your overall perspective is wonderful I think.

August 15, 2007 at 02:51 AM · Wow! Thank you all for some very encouraging and helpfully enlightening responses. These are the kind of responses I think are good to read again and again from time to time when a little nudge is required to get past sticking points or just to remember how to practice. I had another lesson today and my teacher had a few interesting things to say to me.

One thing was that quality is always of the upmost importance,if you can play one song beautifully,he said, you can play 150 songs beautifully.So whether something takes 6 months or 6 years is of no consequence.

The other thing he said is that the violin must now become like another member of the family,he said you have your wife,your daughter,AND the violin. ;)

Finally he said even if you study until your 95 you are still a student and will realize that no matter how much you learn you know next to nothing.

He kinda sounds like the old kung fu master which guess in a way he kinda is like that.

Anyway what he said to me seems to chime in well with what all of you are saying as well.

August 15, 2007 at 03:14 AM · Sounds like you've got a very wise teacher, Paul. Congratulations!

Does he show you how to practice?

August 15, 2007 at 03:56 AM · For now he told me to work on playing each exercise with a good clean tone,no pauses between string changes, and also with the minor physical adjustments that hes trying to get me aware of.

He seems very concerned that nothing is done tense every time my elbow starts to rise he gives it a tap reminding me to relax it same with the wrist of my bowhand as well as my left hand which is just hanging out at first position,every time that moves or tenses up that gets a tap. So Im kind of working on all those little tweaks simultaneously .

One thing Im noticing is that if I dont think about things too much I do much better than when Im mentally trying to concentrate on being relaxed and in proper form. I guess I have to learn how to let it go,and be free with the instrument even if Im only bowing open strings at this point.

August 15, 2007 at 04:22 AM · Paul,

Buri inspired me to blog just for you. And the text is:"let it go,and be free." It will take a few.

August 15, 2007 at 04:58 AM · "I guess I have to learn how to let it go,and be free with the instrument even if Im only bowing open strings at this point."

There is a lot to be said about letting it go. What's best said is in the philosophy and practice of Alexander Technique and yes, Buri is the one who taught me so much including AT. Let the tension go but keep your thoughts focused.

August 15, 2007 at 05:03 AM · "Let the tension go but keep your thoughts focused"

Violin is a lot like Tai Chi! ! :)

August 15, 2007 at 04:25 PM · Besides Buri being a great proponent of tension free playing, is Mimi Zweig. Her comment about being free all the way down to the toes for vibrato is telling.

I agree Paul...

August 18, 2007 at 03:47 AM · The hour a day idea is good- after all, a child in his/her first year or so might not do any more than that, and you have some advantages as an adult such as the ability to structure your own experiences, not try to get out of practicing or fight with your mom over violin vs. Frisbee, or whatever. With that in mind though, the real chore for the teacher of an adult student is convincing him/her just how big the "small steps" really are. Also, adults seem to have the problem of needing to equate this or that technique to something they already know, and they do this in a relatively rigid way. This is a great strategy for adult life in which most problems fall into categories the adult probably already knows something about, but it's a terrible way to learn completely new stuff because it makes it harder to really appreciate the truly unfamiliar nature of what the teacher is showing you. As an adult, in other words, you lose your powers of observation and your mental flexibility in favor of easily accessed and implemented, pre-learned solution sets. (Teachers, before you skewer me, I know that children also in some way relate new learning to old learning, but I think everybody would agree that it's in a qualitatively different way than adults do this...)

So, my advice is to go ahead and practice an hour a day, if you want, but to learn anything useful at all about the violin, you have to spend as much time as possible around good violin playing so that you train your ear and your powers of observation, as much as your fingers.

August 21, 2007 at 06:12 AM · "So, my advice is to go ahead and practice an hour a day, if you want, but to learn anything useful at all about the violin, you have to spend as much time as possible around good violin playing so that you train your ear and your powers of observation, as much as your fingers."

Hmmm, funny my teacher mentioned something along these lines last week, he said, "listen at work, listen in your car, watch concert videos,every time you do your studying."

And so I have on my MP3 player some mucic that mostly highlights the violin, although I have a few symphonies as well I find it difficult to concentrate on the instruments voice, but I listen constantly and even now when bowing just open strings Im trying as best as I can to get a clean sound, with smooth changes from string to string,I even try to get some color (for lack of a better description) out of simply bowing open strings,perhaps by at first playing softly and increasing volume and intensity,than perhaps getting soft again before going to another string. In essence trying in a very crude primitive way to copy the feel of what I hear.

Man I cant wait till I can play a song! :)

August 21, 2007 at 11:14 AM · Hello! What a great thing to be learning the violin as an adult!

I ´d like to share a few things that helps me when I practise.I am a semi-selftaught fiddleplayer,I play professionally and learnt most of my playing as an adult,finding things out for myself(yes alright,re-inventing the wheel;-))

When practising and you find something difficult,break it down,really stick to it,pinpoint the difficulty,then try to find out for yourself how it can be solved.If you can´t solve it on your own, take your problem to your teacher. That is when a teacher can really help you,when you are clear about what your problem is.

There are a few things that keep on coming back, so spending your practise hour on trying to master one difficult move is not time wasted,it will help your whole playing forever to solve that one problem...

I would start with finding the sound,bowing open strings,then to work with intonation extremely carefully and slowly,not leaving it until perfect,looking for the difficult bits and really going into them,finding out exactly WHY they are difficult.

Many times the mistake is that you do not have a clear idea in your head how you want the sound to be,or where you want your fingers to go. It is not harder to play in tune than out of tune,it is just a matter of placing your finger in the right place,and that becomes a habit if you practise.

Your posture and breathing will affect your sound. Your body creates a resonance box for the violin. If you are able to sit in the lotus position,try it once playing the violin and see what it does to your sound!

I recommend Yehudi Menuhin´s The violin and the viola for some good excercises.

If you do not have the mental energy to focus that hard one day,then play away and have fun instead,that can be just as rewarding and develloping.

August 23, 2007 at 04:43 AM · "Your posture and breathing will affect your sound. Your body creates a resonance box for the violin."

Thats pretty amazing, I tried positioning the violin in slightly different ways and whata ya know, it did sound noticably different.

August 23, 2007 at 06:35 AM · "then play away and have fun instead,that can be just as rewarding and develloping."


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