Recommendations for starting again after 20 years

September 19, 2007 at 07:36 PM · I played violin from ages 7 to 16, mostly Suzuki method (through Book 7). Because we moved a lot, I had 7 or 8 different teachers. I was good enough to play in both Tulsa and Houston Youth Symphonies, but quit when high school got too busy.

I'm 40 now, and I'm interested in getting back into playing the violin as a hobby. My interest was rekindled after my two boys starting playing the violin.

I've been playing through my kids' Wohlfahrt Foundation Series practice books, and I got to say, I enjoy them much more than the Suzuki books I used to play.

I'd like to hear recommendations for good etude type practice books for an "advanced beginner" to regain the skills that have laid dormant, as well as fill in gaps that Suzuki may have missed.

My short term objective (next 6 months) is to regain enough skill to be able to audition and join our community orchestra, which has many good players on it.

Thanks in advance for your help.

Replies (30)

September 19, 2007 at 08:16 PM · Wohlfahrt is good... I think Dont comes after that, and then Kreutzer (Mazas inbetween if needed?). And of course Flesch for scales. Trott is good for doublestops if needed.

It might be worth getting some lessons in with a teacher, to make sure that you're doing everything correctly and to help you brush up on your technique. Maybe contact the community orchestra to see if any of their members also teach and would be willing to take you on as a student?

September 19, 2007 at 08:24 PM · I'm in a somewhat similar situation to you, except a year ahead (I'm 41 ;-). I also play the viola. I'm enjoying a series called "Solos for young violists," in spite of not being all that young anymore. There is a set for violin too. They come with recordings you can play along with, and are nice, manageable graded pieces. You could probably handle Book 1 easily, you might want to go for a higher one.

On viola, I have been finding that the Bach cello suites are at a nice level as well--not quite as hard as the Bach S&P for violin, but they still sound very nice and are musically rewarding. Something like a Handel sonata might be a good thing to work on for violin as a first audition piece.

Also, if you want to join a community orchestra, get some violin orchestral excerpts and practice those. They have them on CD now. Good luck!

September 19, 2007 at 10:40 PM · Greetings,

a fairly standard order for etudes is as follows:

Wohlfart

Kayser

Mazas (Plus Sevcik/Schradieck/Dancla)

Dont op. 37

Kreutzer

Rode

Fiorillo

Dont op.35

Gavinies

Dounis Artists Technique

Wieniawski Etudes

Paganini Caprices

However, I think you would fidn it really helpful to buy a copy of the book `Basics` by Simon Fischer and work systematically though that. It contains just about all the major violin exercises extant. You can then identify your weaknesses very clearly and have well thought out exercises ot work on them.

Another approach you might find helpful is described in Gerle`s book `The Art of Practicing.` This show how a creative person can learn the basic patterns of the elft hand and use that as a springboard to create their ow praciticng system. I also recommend you bet Barber`s Scales for Intermediate (or was it advanced) violnists. This is a simplified version of the Galamian scale system which contains in my opinion more than enough material for most people. Veyr well set out.

I also tend to recommed Schradieck a lot more than sevcik. To me it has a slighly more melodius aspect and is fun for some reaosn I cannot explain....It is easy to get bogged down in sevcik if you are not careful.

Another good way to startpulling your palyign up as quickly a spossible is to play duets or other chamber music with as many peopel as possible who are bette rthan you.

Cheers,

Buri

PS you could also do a seacrh on this site for Buri`s violin studio ;)

Buri

September 20, 2007 at 12:08 AM · I'd point you towards Flor Scales, which gives you scales and arpeggios in different rhythm patterns with various optional bowings and tempo suggestions. This is the sort of stuff second violins, where you might expect to start, have in their parts all the time.

September 20, 2007 at 01:01 AM · Others give you great advice on the books to use. To add to that, I think you should design a program (pieces with scales and studies) that will allow you to have something to perform in 6 months. Simon Fischer is great of daily basic technique improvement. Get a couple of pieces that you really like to play well and work hard on them. It can be tempting to move from piece to piece without really nail anything down in 6 months or longer because with every piece you try, very soon you’ll hit a point that you know all the notes but don’t like the sound. You’d say to yourself, hmm, maybe a different piece works better for me and then move on to something without properly finishing this one. It takes a lot of self-discipline to stick to the pieces that you are working on to the point you are comfortable to perform. And of course, nothing beats having a good teacher.

September 20, 2007 at 04:23 AM · I have a student in a position similar to yours. He studied violin years ago, stopped, and now wants to go back to it. He decided that he wanted to start with Suzuki Book 1 and go forward, and he wanted a teacher to listen and correct his mistakes. C'est moi. We do scales and bowing exercises, too. He is strongly motivated and practices a lot. This method is working out well for him. I suggest that you get a teacher to give you some feedback and help you relearn. Don't be disappointed if, after 6 months of practicing, you're not back to where you were when you quit. Just hang in there and keep practicing.

September 20, 2007 at 04:42 AM · Hi David

I'm a late-restarter too. I followed Buri's advice re the books by Simon Fisher - worth more than their weight in gold. These helped me more with technique than anything else, and if I'd had them 20 years ago I probably wouldn't have given up viola in despair because I was so 'untalented'.

Following the 'Basics' advice I learned to play much more in tune and with better tone very quickly, hugely increasing my enjoyment of playing.

They will save you a lot of time and tuition fees (not that lessons aren't good as well).

Good luck

September 20, 2007 at 06:13 AM · Susan, I am a late restarter too. I've been following Buri and many other V.commer’s great advice religiously. Fischer's two books are my bible, in addition to other bibles such as Flesch scale system, Kreutzer, and Bach S&P. So I’m fully aware all the bennefets they can bring to my playing. However, I think I would have done myself more harm than good if I didn't have regular lessons. I don’t think I’m an odd case here. Unless you are very advanced already or a violin genius, I don't believe, as a restarter, you can correctly judge your own playing very well and get back to shape. This will become ever so clear once you have experienced what a good teacher can fix your problems: how quickly she/he can diagnose your problems before you even notice they exist, and how effectively they can fix them for you so that all of a sudden, you play like someone else and sound so much better! Even with average teacher, you’ll progress much faster than DIY. Also, my guess is that most restarters do not know how to practice smartly and practice a lot without a teacher can be the best way to reinforce bad habits to a point that they are so hard if not impossible to be corrected in future.

Books and DVDs are all great. I've got a lot of them and use them often, but when I hear people saying that they can save your tuition, my alarm bell goes on really loud:)

September 20, 2007 at 05:35 AM · I've had a number of adult re-starter students. One did extremely, extremely well, after a 25-year hiatus. He was the one who came to me and just said, "I'll do whatever you think I need to do!" It was most efficient. He told me his goals, and in about three years, he was there.

What holds the adult re-starter back is mis-directed ambition. Start where you are at, not where you were, and be honest. Don't try to tackle the Sibelius concerto first thing; tackle technique. Like, playing in tune. Moving your fingers. Holding your fiddle right. Having a fluid bow arm. Galamian scales are great, and so are Simon's books.

Yes, play pieces, but play pieces you can play well, that you can perform in less than two months. If it takes longer, the piece is too hard. Work up to the more technical pieces.

September 20, 2007 at 11:46 AM · Thank you all for your wonderful advice! I am greatly encouraged that there's so many people who have learned or relearned violin in their 40's.

I would really like to have a teacher, but because of job, commute, family obligations, I find that the times I'm available to play tend to vary weekly and occur at less convenient times for teachers, like late at night or early Sunday mornings.

By next January, work should be less crazy, and I'll probably look into getting a teacher then.

I'm going to get the Fischer and start from there.

I'm pretty realistic about where I am, and I'm really going back to basics here. At 40, my eyesight and finger strength aren't where they were when I as 16 ... plus, I haven't practiced for a mere 24 years ;)

Thanks for all your wonderful advice again and wish me luck.

September 20, 2007 at 03:59 PM · David,

It's surprising how many violinists in our position there are on this site. I believe you have been given excellent advice already!

My starting again, three years ago, was prompted by hearing Sarah Chang play a Hungarian Dance, by Brahms, on a record. I wrote it down and started to practice ;) . After a week, it was as if the music told me: "No, you can't play this yet, no matter how much you practice in this state", so back to Mazas, Ševčík, and Flesch. Somewhat later, the first thirteen Kreutzer studies were very useful.

I just bought Simon Fischer's Basics, and it's great stuff.

You write that 40-year old muscles are weaker than 16-year old ones. While I did experience a lack of strength and suppleness at first, I now believe it was caused by lack of training, and not by age. You can get your facility back!

After three years I'm not exactly where I was thirty years ago -- one cannot step twice into the same river -- but playing is rewarding again.

Good luck!

Bart

PS I use special glasses for music. For some reason I call them "meine Musikbrille" in German. They are one-and-a-quarter dioptry less strong than my regular glasses, which correct my nearsightedness.

September 20, 2007 at 04:15 PM · I agree strongly with Laurie. Start with where you are, not where you want to be. Be honest and very patient with yourself. I've found that the biggest issue with adult beginners or restarters is impatience. Make real progress slowly.

September 20, 2007 at 04:22 PM · David, I recommend a book called "The Inner Game of Tennis" by W. Timothy Gallwey. It is not just for tennis players...

September 20, 2007 at 05:35 PM · David - you have received a lot of good advice. As one who took up again after a 25-year hiatus, I have only one piece of advice: Get a Teacher. If you feel you are now too busy to get a teacher, you are probably too busy to really give your violin playing what it needs. So, figure out how you can fit a teacher into the equation.

September 20, 2007 at 06:01 PM · While I have nothing but good things to say about teachers, and wish I had one, I have also been working without a teacher for almost a year now. Lack of time and lack of money are real issues faced by adults--and it's very frustrating to have regularly scheduled lessons but not have the time to practice that you need for a couple of weeks.

What I'm seeing happen to me during this non-teacher period is that I am learning my limits and where a teacher might help me best. I am learning what I want, and what I need, from a teacher. In theory, I'd love to just have a teacher tell me what to do and then do it (and then voila--or viola, as the case may be), but it never seems to work that way. You'll probably end up having to be self-directed to some degree to get all you can out of your precious lesson time. One thing you can get, even if you can't afford a teacher time- or money-wise, is a Practice Planner.

If you can follow Tom's suggestion right away, great. But in my opinion, it's better to not have a teacher and play, than to not play at all and use the lack of a teacher as an excuse.

September 21, 2007 at 12:37 AM · Come to think of it, Karen, many years ago before I stopped playing violin, I had been playing teacherless for a couple of years and believed the exact same thing as you suggested -- "keep playing without a teacher is better than not playing at all." Guess what, now I have a teacher of my dream and wish I didn’t play for those teacherless years because I wouldn’t have to unlearn all the bad habits.

Incidentally, I would be the last person just sheepishly follow what teacher says without any self-direction, if you know me at all. My teacher and I actually just discussed this yesterday and explained the differences in ways she teachers young children and analytical adults such as me. An important part of teaching I've got is the sorts of skills I need to teach myself to recognize and fix the type of problems in violin playing so that one day, I will not need a teacher.

September 21, 2007 at 12:39 AM · I agree Karen. And teacher shopping is not always fun either for adults unless you land in the lap of someone like Pauline or Laurie etc.... I use the same example in taking exercise--it's not where you can't go, it's important to just go.

Many greats self-studied as well. And with all the online resources as well as think-tanks like this, choosing a 'good' teacher would be even more an efficiency thing as well.

A lot really really depends, especially in your case I think, on where you were when you ceased. Was your bowing clean and strong? If your posture was that flexible reality young people have, can you work on getting that back as mentioned as you proceed.

Basically, I think, with a strong background you could do at least a couple years basic work with things like "Basics" before worrying about a teacher. But keep it basic.

Of course at some point, if you excel, a teacher or coach becomes a lot more important.

September 21, 2007 at 12:52 AM · :)

September 21, 2007 at 09:59 AM · Yixi, I think this "bad habit" bugaboo is a bit overdone--not that I don't believe it exists--of course I believe bad habits creep in and I'm sure I have some myself. But I think too much in the way of fear of bad habits can paralyze people, make them feel bad, and get them caught in vicious cycles of confidence-sapping perfectionism. I can't imagine wishing I hadn't played at all, no matter how many bad habits I might get.

And congratulations on having the teacher of your dreams. I actually still look over old notes that I took when I took lessons, and still find them helpful. And the AT lessons I took 10-12 years ago still seem to be working ;-)

September 21, 2007 at 12:28 PM · David, I recommend a book called "The Inner Game of Tennis" by W. Timothy Gallwey. It is not just for tennis players...

Gallwey also wrote a book called "The Inner Game of Music" in response to all the musicians that loved his "The Inner Game of Tennis" book.

September 21, 2007 at 02:53 PM · Karen, by bad habit I mean the way that one plays habitually/repeatedly that aren’t inductive to good technique and sound, and that the player is often either aware of its existence or doesn't know how to fix it.

Recognizing my bad habits doesn’t make me feel bad; quite to the contrary, it gives me hope – the feeling is “Ahh, that’s why it didn’t work!” It opens me to new ways of thinking and playing, in addition to telling me how much I’ve got to and can grow.

Having bad habits isn’t a good or bad thing about one as a person, but it does interfere with one’s progress in playing so it’s obvious something I wish I didn’t have them, particularly knowing the cause of them that is avoidable; namely, practicing a lot without proper guidance from a teacher.

Of course we all continuously benefit from past lessons and education -- that's a given; but to say that’s sufficient for one’s future development seems to me a weak argument.

September 21, 2007 at 03:16 PM · Good luck, David, and welcome back. I am glad you've decided to play again, and I'm sure you'll be able to meet your goals as you work and get good training.

September 21, 2007 at 03:12 PM · Habits: a fascinating topic.

Violin playing is based on habits. Just about everything we do on the violin involves many habits. All progress involves changing, modifying, or adding to our habit structure. This is an ongoing process during our entire violinistic life. I have modified my bow hold twice or three times a year for the last thirty years. Ditto, my left hand position, my shifting mechanism, my vibrato mechanism, etc. etc. It is simplistic to categorize habits as "bad" or "good" We could more usefully categorize them as better or worse. Also our habits evolve and change according to circumstances. When I am preparing to do a lot of solo playing my playing habits adapt accordingly. Ditto when I am doing a lot of chamber music playing. Or a lot of jazz playing.

September 21, 2007 at 03:36 PM · I recommend Wohlfahrt Etudes Book 2 and Sevcik School of Bowing Technique Book 1. Work slowly all the way through these and you will see yourself improve. In the Wohlfahrt set your metronome at about quarter note equals 120 as your goal. Start each one at half tempo and slowly speed up until they are polished at each tempo. The first one can be worked up to the half note equals 120. Some of them can go a little faster. You can gauge the tempo to what you can do. I do the bowing technique book at quarter note equals 92. Some of the more difficult bowings later on in the book I have to take slower and work up to 92. Play for someone often. Get a teacher or coach to hear you play. I have found when I slow things down and gradually work them up faster with the metronome it makes a world of difference in my playing. I wish teachers had told me this when I was young.

September 21, 2007 at 03:15 PM · "Of course we all continuously benefit from past lessons and education -- that's a given; but to say that’s sufficient for one’s future development seems to me a weak argument."

Sure, it is a weak argument, and no one is making that argument--not I, anyway.

My daughter's school is starting its string program for third graders this fall. As a parent, I've had the opportunity to interact with a number of other parents (many of whom are 40-ish). Most of my interactions have been good, but I've noticed some intimidation on the part of some of the other parents, especially if they have played an instrument in the past (in their youth) but don't anymore. They're kind of scared of the whole process. "What do I know?" and "Oh, I'm so amazed you keep up with playing, I could never do that," and that kind of thing.

What I do is not that amazing. And it's not perfect, by a long shot. But I still maintain that it's better than nothing and that most of these parents could, in fact, do it too. I don't really understand how or why so many adults get to this place about playing music where it becomes something that has to be done perfectly, or in relentless pursuit of the highest degree of excellence, or not at all. I think it's kind of sad, really, and in the end not all that good for kids or school music programs, either.

I'm not trying to discourage anyone from getting a teacher. By all means, get one when you can. But I am trying to counter the perfectly-or-not-at-all mentality, which I think is toxic. If the original poster needs to wait to get a teacher until his work situation settles down, that's not unreasonable.

September 21, 2007 at 04:13 PM · Toxic mentality? Interesting comment...:)

I participate here to show support to those who I believe are looking for and I can only give my own perspective of things in a heartfelt way I can express in my 2nd language. I understand people from different perspectives have their own and we should hear them all without imposing judgments I hope. Nothing personal and I prefer to keep it this way.

September 25, 2007 at 02:44 AM · I liked a book called "Melodious Double Stops" along with the other things people have mentioned above. Bartok also published 44 duets that become increasingly complex. They are short and really satisfying to play and may help you ease back into it and get some songs!

Do a search on Buri posts here and read them.

Good Luck

September 25, 2007 at 03:29 AM · Greetings,

`Do a search on Buri posts here and read them`

avoid the ones dogs have used....

Cheers,

Buri

September 26, 2007 at 05:21 PM · Most definitely avoid them and then wash your hands. Cheers!

September 28, 2007 at 12:03 PM · Check out my little violin practice article that was published over 30 years ago in the Instrumentalist. I have been able to reprint it with their permission.

Cordially, Sandy

http://www.iit.edu/~marcus/violinpractice.html

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