Please help me choose (warning: long)

December 1, 2007 at 06:26 PM · I’m 54 years old and I’ve been a classical music listener and lover since age 4. (I also like jazz, folk, bluegrass, show and popular music). My wife is an accomplished amateur chamber pianist and very active in the greater Boston amateur chamber music community.

For years I’ve been saying I would eventually learn an instrument. My plan was to wait until my eyes started to go - a common occurrence in my family - since I’m also a painter and photographer ( But if I wait any longer I won’t have time to develop my skills well enough to play with good amateur musicians. So the time is now.

Here’s my problem. Violin or piano? I like them both. They’re each versatile in their own way:

The violin is portable so I can quickly take it to people’s houses to work on a piece. It lends itself well to chamber, orchestral, folk, and bluegrass. My wife likes the idea that eventually we could play pieces together. Also string chamber players seem to have a very tight sense of community and social network, because of all the ensemble playing, I suppose, whereas the piano is less so. There’s no equivalent to that in my other hobbies.

The piano is versatile in different ways – it has a huge range of octaves and can play complex chords with interesting stuff going on in both the left and right hands. If I master the keyboard I can apply the skill to harpsichord, which we own, and electronic keyboard/sampled synthesizer, which we also own. Our regular piano is a Steinway “A”, but we may replace it with a “B”. I think the piano might be more enjoyable if I’m just home alone playing solo or improvising.


1. For an adult beginner starting from scratch with disciplined practice, which instrument am I likely to get best at in the long run? My long-range goal is to be able to play with my wife’s chamber-music crowd, who are very serious amateurs (regular practice, lots of coaching sessions and workshops, ACMP play-ins, etc) – some of them are part-time pro’s.

2. How long would it take me to achieve that (again, assuming disciplined practice)? (I'm guessing 8-10 years)

3. Given my age and what I’ve seen with other musicians, is either instrument more likely than the other to produce repetitive strain injuries?

Thanks in advance for any insights!

Replies (82)

December 1, 2007 at 07:22 PM · Peter,

As an adult amateur, I started out with piano and violin and gravitated towards violin as I got older. You can consider renting a violin and/or piano and find out which one you like better. Both instruments have difficulties in different ways. In piano, you have to play both bass and treble clefs with many different voices/chords. On the violin, you would have to worry about developing mastery of the left hand (e.g. intonation, vibrato, shifting) and right hand(expressiveness of bowing).

In answer to your second question, it takes many years to master the instrument and it will be an ongoing journey. For each individual, the number of years to mastery is different. As an adult, you will learn to progress with determination. You are lucky that you know chamber group musicians. Once you feel ready, you can develop different skills when you play in a group. It is very rewarding.

In answer to your third question, it is important to get a teacher that will prevent you from playing with any tension and/or stress. Any repetitive motion will tend to cause injuries and long practice using the same muscle groups will do it regardless of which instrument you play.

Good luck on your endeavor! It is a worthwhile pursuit. If you find you like both, you can play both as well. I have known adults who have started up different instruments as they got older and continued with them.

December 1, 2007 at 07:41 PM · Hello Peter!

I'm relearning the violin and though am quite inadaquate to advise you with your request I just want to say Welcome to the Music Comunity! The one thing I have learned is half the fun of making a dream come true is Chasing the Dream!

I like what Harriet said. trying both. Having a keyboard near you will help you know if you are hitting the correct note, since the finger board on a violin is smoothe without any markers other than your ears.

Kindest Regards,

Royce Faina

December 1, 2007 at 07:47 PM · I play piano and started violin as an adult.

You could probably get "better" at piano if you're in a hurry, but violin is very challenging and fun if you are a patient person. Pick a teacher who is serious about adults, and does not think you are nuts. Some teachers believe it is too late, a waste of their time, to teach violin to adults. Granted, we do hold tension in our bodies from our past lives. It is no doubt a little late to have ambitions of becoming a professional. What is really fun is how you will listen to music a new way after you work on violin for a few years.

Good luck and enjoy yourself!

December 1, 2007 at 07:44 PM · Have you considered cello? The reason I mention this, is that while I don't know if violin is more or less difficult than cello, it looks like it would be easier on the body if you are relatively strong.

December 1, 2007 at 07:44 PM · Well, let me repeat Mr. Faina's message! Welcome to our community! I am only a 14 year old, but I have been playing nine years, so I can give you a little bit of advice, though I am still a student.

How much free time do you have? If you are retired, playing violin might be a better choice, because you will have lots of time to develop and work on skills such as bowing, posture, and muscular relaxation, just to name a few. I played piano for 6 years before I quit, and it is actually easier to learn piano. In about two years or so, you could play a lot of popular tunes and impress your friends.

If possible, learn both! Music is to be enjoyed and to have fun with; for many of us, it's a vacation from many stresses that seem to govern our lives. I hope you have a great time learning whatever instrument you choose, Mr. Nelson! I hope you will stay and be a part of this community!

December 1, 2007 at 08:22 PM · When making music, it feels at times as if the inner soul is reaching to the world out side to either help it up a notch or slap it's face and wake it up! Making music, you can love the instrument but it's your passion that caresses it's metal.

December 1, 2007 at 08:27 PM · And listen to Mr.Hong!

December 1, 2007 at 08:34 PM · Gosh Brian, I hope your stresses are starting to resolve. Such a long life ahead of you. And you are right - the practising of the instrument really puts a person into their own space, stuff going on outside stops being stuff that matters, you just focus on the goal.

As to timelines, for violin/strings yes its individual, but there are a lot of recent beginners who attend our ensemble - many of us had only been learning for 6 months or so & without previous music skills when we started. And while I wouldn't claim that we were good, we were passable on the pieces we worked on. And we just keep getting better. One member who has returned after a year away said that he was seriously impressed at how musical and together we now sound as a group, and how much everyone has improved over the past 12 months. So 8-10 years is probably a good anticipation of being really capable, but a much shorter time frame is viable for you to be enjoyably competent.

December 1, 2007 at 08:47 PM · "Have you considered cello? The reason I mention this, is that while I don't know if violin is more or less difficult than cello, it looks like it would be easier on the body if you are relatively strong."

I like the sound of the cello but I don't want to play it because:

1. The amateur chamber music community in greater Boston is awash in excellent cellists, so there would be more limited opportunities to play. Many of the major sign-up play-ins and summer workshop programs here are oversubscribed with cellists. My wife has run many of the AMC Music Committee weekends in New Hampshire and she often has to turn-away cellists because they have too many.

2. The cello has more limited uses. I'm interested in small ensemble playing - chamber, especially, but I also like bluegrass, celtic, and jazz, and there's very little cello there, whereas at least bluegress and celtic have lots of fiddle, and jazz has lots of piano.

3. My cellist friends always complain about traveling, especially flying, with a cello, where that's not as big a problem with a violin. Of course I can't travel with a piano but I can go to places where they have one already.

December 1, 2007 at 09:11 PM · I was watching the Beaux Art Trio and when I read your question, thought about my impression that even though I'm sure it's(cello) complicated, just how tough getting that tuck and fine points of violin can feel sometimes. One is sitting down, has a more commanding approach to the instrument, the action is further from the eyes(mine are tired)... and etc...

December 1, 2007 at 09:41 PM · "2. The cello has more limited uses. I'm interested in small ensemble playing - chamber, especially, but I also like bluegrass, celtic, and jazz, and there's very little cello there, whereas at least bluegress and celtic have lots of fiddle, and jazz has lots of piano.

3. My cellist friends always complain about traveling, especially flying, with a cello, where that's not as big a problem with a violin. Of course I can't travel with a piano but I can go to places where they have one already.'

first of all, cello can be equally versatile.

secondly, travelling with a cello isn't sooooo bad, you just have to buy an extra seat for the cello.

third: you realise you are asking vln vs. piano on a violin site? so naturally I say VIOLIN!!!

good luck with whatever you do though! :)

December 1, 2007 at 10:29 PM · "first of all, cello can be equally versatile."

I go to bluegrass, jazz, and celtic music concerts all the time and I've seen a cello maybe 2 or 3 times in the last few years (they might have all been Natalie Haas).

"Secondly, travelling with a cello isn't sooooo bad, you just have to buy an extra seat for the cello."

That's bad enough for me. You don't have to do that with a violin.

I know this is a violin forum - I also posted the same question in

FWIW, I tried to find an active online forum for chamber musicians in general but I couldn't. ACMP's site, for instance, doesn't even have a discussion forum. Can you suggest some "neutral ground" where I should post a question like this?

December 1, 2007 at 10:34 PM · In general piano technique is pretty basic and you would instantly be able to play in tune and with a good tone. Violin technique is pretty much endless and less obvious to pick up as an observer and you probably would be more likely to have stress injuries with violin, but it does depend on you and how you're instructed. With piano you might be able to get away with not taking very many lessons or just learning from friends but this probably wouldn't work very well for violin. If you decide to play cello the positions might be more natural but you really are just as likely to get hurt if you have bad technique (tendonitis). If you want to play in a chamber group or orchestra violin would be a better option because there would be more spots available. If you're just interested in playing music for fun there are still plenty of piano duets at many levels that you could do.

December 1, 2007 at 10:51 PM · I would suggest the piano. It will take a long time to play the violin at a standard where you would be comfortable with the amateur chamber music community. You will be able to make music much more quickly on the piano and there is abundant literature for all levels of technique. I cannot really speak to what it is like to be an adult student of the violin since I have played it since I was five. But I suspect that there are some technical hurdles that can only be surmounted in youth. Perfect intonation is fundamental to violin technique and it is not something that is trivial to develop. I have read some studies that suggest that early musical playing actually changes the way our brains function. I certainly can point out the physical effects of a lifetime of practice on my physiology. I admire those who attempt to learn the violin as adults, but I would never advise it.

December 1, 2007 at 11:02 PM · Let me comment on this from another angle. In many chamber music works, the piano parts are quite demanding - solistically written, and often requiring practice (or at least a look through) by even accomplished professionals before any reading session. Many second violin parts are readable, though not necessarily easy.

When you say disciplined practice, how much time do you mean?

December 2, 2007 at 05:24 AM · To answer the question about repetitive strain injuries I would suggest...

If you play piano, learn Taubman technique. My brother, who is a pianist, swears by it. It's like Alexander Technique in that it focuses in on correcting habitual patterns that you have developed since youth. It is specifically designed to help you play the piano more efficiently. It was developed by Dorothy Taubman, and is taught all over the world now.

If you play the violin, learn some Alexander Technique or Feldenkrais. If you search for it in our archives, there is a lot of information supporting it.

In the case of both of the above, there is no replacement for actually doing it.

BTW, I checked out your post on All the responses are really interesting. I get the sense that more or less both the pianists and the violinist are saying very similar things.

I've always thought that pianists tend to be better musicians, because they have a better sense of the structure by virtue of being able to play all the parts at once. However, the violin sound is pretty special. Follow your heart!

December 2, 2007 at 05:32 AM · You already have keyboards in your abode.Go with the violin.

December 2, 2007 at 06:22 AM · My two cents worth...

The piano is a wonderful instrument, really... but the violin is more organic and expressive in my opinion. I think you would sound better in the beginning on the piano, but there's really nothing like playing the violin.

If you study with a good teacher and take baby steps until your body gets used to it, you should be fine unless you alread have some sort of physical problem like arthritis or something.

Good luck!

December 2, 2007 at 10:27 AM · It depends: If your number one goal is to play classical chamber music, I have a third suggestion: learn the viola instead of the violin OR the piano.

The parts are easier, and you would be able to join in earlier in your career on viola than on first violin, and avoid the typical amateur scramble for the second violin part. If you're a tallish man with large hands, this would be a better physical fit, as well.

If you mostly want to entertain yourself and noodle around in a variety of styles, piano is probably your best bet; although the bluegrass repertoire is limited, there's quite a bit of ragtime! Piano repertoire is vast - there's a world of fine music available for all skill levels.

But, if you just won't be happy unless there's a fiddle in the band, take up violin and make a serious commitment to practice. As many have said, it will mostly depend on what sound speaks to your soul. You and your wife can have a lot of fun playing pieces together if you take up a stringed instrument.

Here's wishing you many happy years of music-making!

December 2, 2007 at 12:33 PM · Based on my experience, I'd recommend violin or, as someone else suggested, maybe viola. I started the violin when I was 7, played that in school and college, and have started the viola as an adult.

I always loved piano though, too, and taught myself a little piano over the years. It's true that the piano can sound better than a stringed instrument with a lot less skill. I'm not "good" at all on the piano, never took piano lessons, but I can play Christmas Carols, church hymns, the Pachelbel Canon, and the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata. I can accompany my daughter on Suzuki book one violin pieces. Other rank amateurs have told me that they can't believe I never took piano lessons (real pianists would never say this, of course). I'm not saying this to brag, but to point out that: 1. many basic musicianship skills are transferrable between violin and piano, what you learn with one helps the other, and 2. it's possible to teach yourself to play the piano at a level that is enjoyable and meaningful. I do *not* think that #2 is possible with the violin. (At least not for someone with my level of talent--maybe you're different).

The reason I'm sticking with violin, and now viola, as the instrument on which I take lessons and the instrument that I want to play with others, is that I really enjoy orchestral music. I want to play in community orchestras and ensembles. I'm not really aware of that many opportunities to play piano with others except as an accompanist. And for those limited opportunities that there are, there are many pianists around who are much better than I am.

December 2, 2007 at 06:51 PM · When you listen to your favorite music, do you wish you were singing the melody with the best possible nuances and inflection, or do you wish you were the whole orchestra, controlling voicing and the color of harmonies and the expression of the whole?

Is your favorite music easy to hum or do you often find yourself trying to recreate multiple layers?

The answers to these questions won't necessarily dictate which instrument to choose, but it may help. Some of my favorite music is Rachmaninov's solo piano, dense layered stuff, but I have gone from being a piano fanatic in early life to being entranced by the singing quality of the violin.

December 2, 2007 at 08:29 PM · Peter,

I'm only an amateur myself, an adult beginner who's been learning violin for just over a year now. I hope you won't mind my two cents.

Firstly, you say you've been interested in music for years. How good do you think your intonation is? Can you sing in tune? This is quite important in violin. The better your pitch, the better you are likely to progress on violin or rather conversely, if you struggle in this area, you will struggle with intonation on violin. (Perhaps more experienced folk here will correct me if I'm wrong!)

I would say that progress on violin is likely to be slower as regards 'sounding good' - as others have said.

Just to add another 'veg' to the cooking pot - what about the clarinet as another option? Would you have any openings for that were you to learn it?

Having said that, if you see yourself in a particular setting, then perhaps just getting your head to the grindstone and working hard is the only option. Violin is a heck of a beast to tame, but once you get some way it is addictive/rewarding. If you do start, I would suggest pursuing it for at least 3-5 years, as (or both instruments if you have time to invest) the early 'days' of violin may not reveal your true potential. And that is the most tempting time to quit.

As a busy mum with three young children, I have sometimes found it disheartening at how little progress I make for the time I put in. (Often 2 hours a day or at least 1). A friend's teenage son puts in 2 hours per week (!) learning guitar and sounds pretty good. I did have a crisis moment thinking if I'd invested this amount of time in another instrument how would my playing be....

But then my progress has not been all that bad. I've passed the '3rd year' here in Poland (don't know if that corresponds to grade 3 in UK) but my teacher reckoned that with work I could take the 3rd year exam (I have a little limited background in piano). I too am curious to see how I do after 8-10 years' playing.

I wish you the very best - most importantly, that you enjoy your musical journey - and - should you decided to join 'this camp' let us know!

Patience is key to violin. You will need bucketfuls of it. Though folk on will forever be reminding you lest you forget along the way!


December 2, 2007 at 10:49 PM · Greetings,

Hi Sharelle. Gonna argue with this one;)

>So 8-10 years is probably a good anticipation of being really capable, but a much shorter time frame is viable for you to be enjoyably competent.

I expect my adult studnets of any age to be damn good player s after three years. After one ywear most adults can begin Kayser and Dancla, have played the Rieding concerto well, including haivng a decent vibrato. Its because they usually have the patiernce and intelligence to work at what I ask them to do corretcly. If they don`t I send them to another teahcer.



December 2, 2007 at 11:59 PM · "I expect my adult studnets of any age to be damn good player s after three years."

Well, as long as we're arguing! ;)....

Seriously though, I'm no Bell or Hahn, but in March I'll have three years, and have reasons to expect just really nice things in my playing. But, 'you've GOT to put in the time and work' to expect to advance consistently...

December 3, 2007 at 01:18 AM · "The amateur chamber music community in greater Boston is awash in excellent cellists, so there would be more limited opportunities to play. Many of the major sign-up play-ins and summer workshop programs here are oversubscribed with cellists. "

I'll be the third to suggest taking up the viola. There is not a whole lot of us out there, so you opportunities are much greater in a chamber orchestra and summer work-shops. You need not be a small giant to play - I'm 5'2" and play comfortably on a 16" viola. There is alot of great repetoire out there for viola and piano.

Also, as you get older, if you end up with hearing aides, they won't squeal on you (my grandfather's complaint when he listens to violins). Also the lower tones are easier to distinguish than the upper registers of the violin.

December 3, 2007 at 01:29 AM · Greetings,

>but in March I'll have three years, and have reasons to expect just really nice things in my playing.

But Albert, I rember you from the beginning. Not only have you overcome difficult injury, you have your own unique style of learning and don`t like to be hemmed in by prescreiptive teachers. Its a real plus but it also causes some wasted time. That`s my point - I try to teach sytematically and econimically and therfore have reasonably clear expectations of what any one of my adult studnets can do within athre eyera time frame. Its not eeryones cup of tea and if you don`t wnat to work that way then I simply reocmmed a differnet teacher. Perhpas you would have got faster results working witha teacher on a weekly basis- Would you have ha d as much fun? Probably not...;)



December 3, 2007 at 02:32 AM · "When you say disciplined practice, how much time do you mean?"

Whatever the instructor requires. My point is that, regardless of which instrument I choose I won't be taking it casually - whatever practices the instructor assigns me, when I return the following week I want to have it down as cold as I can.

December 3, 2007 at 02:43 AM · I'm aged 45. I played the piano when younger. I took up the violin 3 years ago and I am having a ball. The piano can be quite a "lonely" instruement but I have found that the violin seems to be more social. I am participating in a local orchestra.

December 3, 2007 at 04:17 AM · Peter, since your goal is to play chamber music with your wife's crowd, consider viola. They're usually in shorter supply and I think it's easier. At least you play fewer notes, and having longer strings, finger position would be less critical. It would also be easier to produce a useful sound. Viola would work fine in Bluegrass. They would play your songs in C instead of G :) I'd probably learn the songs on violin so I wouldn't have to transpose the sound in my head as I learned tunes from recordings. At that point though, why not play the songs on a regular fiddle... Personally I wouldn't want to try viola without large hands. Regarding cello in Bluegrass, there's a lot of cello in old-time music. It's usually the bass instrument when there's a bass instrument. Bluegrass people like old-time, but usually play it with modern instrumentation only because that's what's available. Bluegrass is popular where I live and it's not unheard of to see a cello kid at a parking lot jam. He'd be a classical cello student somewhere though. School or private. I don't think your age is anything but beneficial actually, but as you see, time is your enemy, so enjoy the process of learning too, and jump into playing with friends as soon as you have a little bit going.

December 3, 2007 at 03:45 AM · "and don`t like to be hemmed in by prescreiptive teachers. Its a real plus but it also causes some wasted time. "

Some wasted time for sure!!!!. But I'm not all that hard-headed. And having read the experiences of at least a few earlier people who didn't have weekly lessons and became quiet notable-I'd have to agree that learning styles are very unique. I have no desire to be notable though--only competent.

I think most of my wasted time, was waiting on injuries to heal--a long long time it feels; and, I still sense the mental trauma at times getting my articulation, but that is on it's way to the forgotten past the best I can as well.

But I agree that your systematic approach would be very desirable in 'most' cases--at least for four or five years very focused work--if I had my druthers.

Fun! Oh my God yes. And over the past few months, 'ALL' this work is coming together. It feels a little eery to tell you the truth. I'll be like, 'I hear ya', and grinnin when something finally clicks--like your click exercise! ;)>

December 3, 2007 at 04:02 AM · Greetings,

actually I loathe the click exercise ;)



December 3, 2007 at 04:15 AM · Jeeeezzzussss

December 3, 2007 at 04:34 AM · whta doesn@t kill us make sus stronger. Good medicine.

December 3, 2007 at 09:06 AM · I'm bringing Sharon to Japan--we'll see what you are all about big boy!

December 3, 2007 at 09:12 AM · Peter,

You said, answering my question about putting in practice time:

"Whatever the instructor requires. My point is that, regardless of which instrument I choose I won't be taking it casually - whatever practices the instructor assigns me, when I return the following week I want to have it down as cold as I can."

I'd to make a couple of comments which may help you understand learning an instrument even better from the start. The most important of these is that learning the violin is not a linear process. The tasks you are given in a lesson can be tasks to be achieved in a week, such as 'place your second finger higher when you play C sharp', or they can be tasks which you'll be working on for your entire life. It's not necessarily a matter of 'complete A and move on to B'. You are constantly improving your ear, which in turn leads you to revisit things you'd 'perfected' before, as you realize that there are whole new levels to be mastered. Don't expect it to be like preparing a presentation each week, or you'll either end up frustrated or unsure how to improve.

Practice can be an endless process, some of it productive, some a waste of time. Practicing will be more about what you require than what the instructor requires - the more productive work you do, the quicker you'll improve, and the more your teacher will expect. Again, the key word is productive, and part of your journey will be finding that out.

You're certainly on the right track with finding something you enjoy. Good luck with it, and most importantly have fun!

December 3, 2007 at 09:27 AM · "Practice can be an endless process, some of it productive, some a waste of time."

I agree with a hundred percent of what you said Megan, but I believe no time on the instrument is wasted.

Been around.

December 3, 2007 at 09:35 AM · Point taken, Albert, but you can't deny that there are some times when you're doing more harm than good - mostly realised in retrospect.

December 3, 2007 at 12:51 PM · I'm not really sure you'e ever doing more harm than good. You probably mean practicing something wrong or wrongly. The measure of how much harm happened would be how much effort it took to get back to the line of scrimmage, or something, but I think you can turn on a dime, when a light comes on, no harm done. can really waste your time with an instrument. More and more I realize that if you don't have a tangible reason to play an instrument, you're wasting your time. It doesn't matter how good you are or become. You earn your living at it, I think, a tangible reason to play. Peter wants to do things with his wife, another tangible purpose. If Peter just wanted to learn to play for fun, with no purpose in mind, my advice would be to take up golf instead, for the purpose of meeting people and getting out in the sunshine.

December 3, 2007 at 01:07 PM · Why not start out learning both instruments and see which one you take to? If you can't decide between them you might end up getting proficient at both instruments.

December 3, 2007 at 11:17 PM · Greetings,


>I'm bringing Sharon to Japan--we'll see what you are all about big boy!

Junko may get a tad pissed.



December 4, 2007 at 12:37 AM · If playing in a group is your goal don't play the piano. Chamber music for piano is the equivalent of piano concerto for piano. Even really good pianists are challenged by it.

The only instrument that I have heard an adult beginner learn to play well is the cello. I suppose the string bass is a possibility.

I have never heard an adult (who started as an adult) learn the violin more than scrape and saw.

The late Paul Balshaw an excellent singer and pianist (on the music faculty of Marshall University) picked up the viola as an adult and became fairly decent at in in a community chamber orchestra setting. He had a huge head start musically.

December 4, 2007 at 01:17 AM · Greetings,

>I have never heard an adult (who started as an adult) learn the violin more than scrape and saw.

That`s kind of sad for you and it probably is the most common experience. But ther eis no reason for it to be that way. I think the primary problem is that the teacher is willing to accept `scrapiong and sawing` as one step on the way to being good. This is nonsense. One has ot present the most advanced possible exercise where beauty is paramount for adult beginners. This may be as utterly simple but the beauty of the instrument is always first and foremost.

Anotehr major cause of the problem you identify is the teacher failing to recognoize that most adults are misusing their bodies terribly and stiff as can be from work. I have to spend as much time talking about thyis and working out exercise programs as I do on the instrument in the early stages. There is very little point in foricng the violin into the corretc position for an adult who , for all intents and purpose sis practically parralyzed.



December 4, 2007 at 01:31 AM · But can we spell correctly? Of course we can, and learn violin too. The truth is that many fiddle players start a little later in life, after learning other instruments.

I've found adults have equal trouble finding competent techers.

December 4, 2007 at 01:40 AM · Greetings,

>I've found adults have equal trouble finding competent techers


Part of the problem is teachers are too habitually involved with the way they were taught as a kid. So they only way they can teahc is as though the adult is a child which is ridiculuous. I have often seen adult beginner staught by non playing Alexander teacher sand achive fantastic results because they can use relevant -concepts- in such a way thta the adut does not feel they are being talke ddown to. One of my favorite examples was the celist William Conable teaching a veyr messe dup adult. By simply asking that person to draw a straight line on a white board with a marker pen he wa sable to get across the concpet of how the hand uses the data it recieves to `draw a slight line by feeling as well as seeing.` By her immediate understainf and application of this the studnet wa simmediatley able to draw a beautiful sound form the instrument.



December 4, 2007 at 02:22 AM · Yes that Buri, and 'really' good teachers are not as common as hanging out the shingle. I knew of a really messed up teacher who really messed up a few students.

December 4, 2007 at 05:02 AM · you have shingles? Does Sharon know?

December 4, 2007 at 05:07 AM · No, she can't spell either.

December 4, 2007 at 06:34 AM · she doesn`t have to....

December 4, 2007 at 07:10 AM · true

December 4, 2007 at 03:46 PM · Why not take lessons for both instruments? Having knowledge of the piano will help you to learn other instruments. I too suggest the viola because there aren't many players out there and it is a portable instrument.

December 4, 2007 at 06:38 PM · "Peter just wanted to learn to play for fun, with no purpose in mind, my advice would be to take up golf instead, for the purpose of meeting people and getting out in the sunshine."

One of the things that I think many musicians may not fully appreciate about music (and I say this as someone who is friends with many musicians, thanks to my wife) is that music, especially small-ensemble music like chamber, bluegrass and jazz, is FUNDAMENTALLY different from most other hobbies such as golf, painting, photography, working-on-your-car, etc.

Often I get together with other artists and we hire a life model to practice from. I can paint WITH a group of other painters, but we're each making our own painting. Ditto with golf or photography or wrting poetry. We can offer comments or suggestions or talk shop, but ultimately we're not truly collaborating.

I watch my wife practicing with 2 or 3 or 4 other musicians and the result is an intense collaboration where everyone is deeply connected with everyone else; they watch each other's facial expressions and body language and, obviously, listen very closely. The result, when it all goes well is almost spiritual.

I wish more musicians fully appreciated what a wonderful thing they have and how different it is from most other pastimes.

December 4, 2007 at 06:34 PM · "I have never heard an adult (who started as an adult) learn the violin more than scrape and saw. "

Even though this opinion is a bit depressing, fundamentally I need to know whether it's true.

I don't do anything halfway. For example, I'm an amateur photographer. To some people that means a guy with a single-lens reflex camera and a few lenses and he always takes his camera to family events and has to get a picture of everything he sees on vacation. But, for _ME_ it means I have 6 camera bodies, 15 lenses, an entire studio setup at home, with all the lights, softboxes, backgrounds, etc, and I work with professional models and dancers, and I regularly attend weeklong workshops in things like studio and dance photography from the best pro's in the field. Some of my comet photography is on the NASA/JPL website. So, obviously "hobby" means different things to different people.

I expect to take the same fanaticism and commitment to violin playing. I certainly don't mind putting in 8-10 years of intensive (and expensive) study before I get half-decent. But what I don't want to do is make that big a commitment of time and money only to find out after 8-10 years that I should never have started because starting this late there's no chance of getting good.

So how do I assess how feasible what I'm trying to do is?

PS - some people wonder how I find time for all this. The average American watches 5 hours of TV a day - we don't watch any, so right there I have a 35 hr/week advantage over most people. Also we have no kids which frees up more time and money.

December 4, 2007 at 06:44 PM · Peter, please don't be discouraged from pursuing your dream. There is always someone out there who wants to squash you.

To give you further encouragement, I started playing violin as a...ummmm...middle aged adult. I will give no further details! I did have a difficult time finding a teacher who would work with me, because I am an older adult beginner. I am not as advanced as Buri's adult students, but I am very happy with the success I have had so far. I practice every day, that is the key. You won't learn to play via osmosis. It takes dedicated study to learn to play any instrument well.

Buri...would you consider tutoring online?!?!

December 4, 2007 at 08:12 PM · "Peter, please don't be discouraged from pursuing your dream. There is always someone out there who wants to squash you."

Thanks. But I didn't think he wanted to squash me - I think he was trying to offer his honest opinion. I need to be realistic about whether it's possible to do what I'm trying to do. I'd be interested in others' opinions about whether this is totally nuts.

BTW, some people here and also on the PianoWorld forum suggested I consider the viola because it's much in demand. I agree about that but there's less repertoire featuring it. Also there are lots of great piano trios that I would not be able to play with my wife (I suppose I could play the violin part a fifth lower on some...)

Bu the biggest reason is that the viola is little-used outside of classical. There's not a whole lot of viola music in bluegrass and celtic, which, as I mentioned above, I also like.

December 4, 2007 at 08:34 PM · Hi Mr. Nelson,

First welcome to the world of violin. I started only a year ago. (done piano before) and I love it! What I found the most difficult, is to find a teacher that can understand our passion and our desire to achieve a goal at our age , well, maybe because I'm too introverted to say out loud my goals. In fact any goal at our age looks weird to everyone. Just like the fact that I want to do my MED school, and do violin.

So good luck, and welcome aboard it is a great world!

December 4, 2007 at 09:00 PM · Peter,

"I didn't think he wanted to squash me - I think he was trying to offer his honest opinion."

I was being sarcastic there...sorry for the misunderstanding.

"I need to be realistic about whether it's possible to do what I'm trying to do. I'd be interested in others' opinions about whether this is totally nuts."

The only way you will know if learning an instrument is possible, is to start taking lessons. Nothing ventured...nothing gained, as the saying goes. And no, it's not totally nuts. Just because we get older doesn't mean we have to stop living and learning.

December 4, 2007 at 09:06 PM · "Just like the fact that I want to do my MED school, and do violin"

Congratulations! I've never understood why some people think that just because we reach a certain age we're supposed to just drift along whatever trajectory life had been taking us until we float into the nursing home.

And BTW, if you take up chamber music you'll be in good company when you get that MD! One thing that's really impressed me about the New England chamber music community is how many DOCTORS we have. Recently my wife formed an on-the-spot quartet during a chamber music workshop in Rockport Maine and all the string players turned out to be doctors. There are lots of MD's in our circle of music friends. ALSO, Boston is one of the few cities to feature a symphony orchestra comprised mainly of MD's - the Longwood Symphony - if someone shouts out, "is there a doctor in the house?" the entire orchestra stands up!

Good Luck!!

December 4, 2007 at 09:14 PM · Whatever instrument you decide to play, you already know that it will take patience to learn it. Don't give up on the violin if that is your dream. Try it and see what it is like before deciding. As the others have pointed out, it is extremely important to have a teacher who is comfortable teaching adults who demand more from themselves.

As Megan pointed out, learning is not linear. In some practice sessions, you will see little/no progress and some with huge gains. As long as you keep at it, you will eventually make progress even though it may be slow.

An observation I have made is that learning accelerates when you play with others. Joining the community orchestra, chamber music groups, and even summer music camps, like Applehill in New Hampshire which welcomes adult amateur players, will greatly enhance your skills. When you see others play well, then you want to play well too. This is why music can be so rewarding.

Good luck on your decision. Live life with no regrets.

December 4, 2007 at 09:17 PM · There is a general litmus test of research into adult learning, and little more--or at least research as I've been able to find. Everything else is anecdotal. While experience, is valid, there is also a lack of a critical mass of adult learners, and even less effort preparing those who hang out shingles to teach adult music students.

I will say, that for the first year and a half minimum, expect to sound bad as much as good--but ya gotta get through that. It's not like piano where learn a few chords and melody lines and you're off.

Make a choice-stick with it, work hard, and you will find that you can do it. Since you are surrounded by art, you have an advantage as well.

One last thing--don't jump around too many ships trying to find your direction as you begin. Get a basic program and finish it.

December 4, 2007 at 08:43 PM · peter, we have already lots of good advice (as usual) and i suspect you have a much better handle on this dilemma than you think. it is really not a matter of choosing A over B because the consequence of focusing on a "wrong" instrument will be still,,,,,great!:) as you said about your photography hobby, you were serious about it; however, i doubt you had envisioned that your shots would be picked by NASA when you first started shooting. because you have enjoyed the process and its intensity and therefore you excelled.

the same will apply to violn/piano. you may not want to look too far down the line. just enjoy what each day brings and in your case, each note, each bow...

besides, having a pianist at home to accompany you is just such a treat. many readers here wish they have that luxury. it sounds so much better and much more fun. you see, i am being fair and not picking sides:)

ps. if you have not learned golf by now, don't bother. it may bring out the worst in you:)

pps. what was that logic of yours of not wanting to rush into learning violin before your eyes go bad? you need decent vision to read scores, so better hurry!

December 4, 2007 at 10:54 PM · Greetings,

"I have never heard an adult (who started as an adult) learn the violin more than scrape and saw. "

Even though this opinion is a bit depressing, fundamentally I need to know whether it's true.

Peter, Corwin is a very honest and forthright writer who is veyr knowledgeable about the violin. However, take a moment to look at what he said. He is talking about `his` experiences and makes no demand on you to generalize what he says. It is very much a take it or leave it statement about his sphere of experience.

If it is to be interpreted as a statement of fact then it is falsifiable by counter examples.

Last night I went home from a miserable days work with a fever and fluids running out of every imaginable orrifice. I just had to do a catch up lesosn with a very talente d but busy 35 year old who has been playing for a year. She works diligently at scaes and bowing everyday and has a couple of rather nice beginner concertos under her belt but she is very much intuition/visulaoriented and much of my teaching inolves tyring to get her to harness thatwith analytical skills which she doe snot like to use so much. She suffers from severe depression and lack of self esteem. Lesosn with her are a dangerous juglging act in preventing her crashin mentally.

WE worked on an 8 bar etude/duet of Wolfart and I spent some time on the nitty gritty of praciticng getitng triplets even by varying the palcing of accents. The n we worked on switching from fast bow speed triplets to slow bow speed quartetr notes and back. Then we worked on the next few bars hands separate to get the stirng corsisngs smooth and the left hand finger sprepared as a chord. Wolfart really knew what he was doing when he compose dthese simple lookign little buggers.

We were very intensly involved in this work but I know she felt depressed which was feeding off my unwellness and vice versa. But we got through it and perfomance time came.

She played it through with absolute charm and precision. She finally looke dup for the first time and smiled . I looked at her, poker faced and siad `no comment.` Then I broke into a big grin and dance d around the room with her. `Okay. Do it again.` She playe dit again beautifully. I mean it was just joyful to listen to her.

She gave me a big hug and went home.

My fever was gone.

It has come back this morning.

Yes you can be a very fine soudning violinist. Go for it.



PS You should be half decent in three years. Period. If not your teache ris no good...;)

December 5, 2007 at 06:18 AM · Furthermore,

the house next to me is now unoccupied so you could move to Japan and have lessons with me twice a week if you so wish. No charge. except you have to feed my cat when I am getting back late from a gig...



December 5, 2007 at 07:10 AM · I disagree with those who say you wont sound good for about a year or you will just scrape and saw.Thats only if you want to play like that.Spend a lot of time in the beginning on right hand technique , by all means go ahead and develop the left hand, but look for repetoire that uses either open strings or builds up the left hand slowly.Dont try to jump ahead too quickly.Having a pianist in the house is a great advantage and right from the beginning you should be able to produce duets with dignity.Look into works by Szeleni,Martinu and Bartok who have all written great music from a pedagagic standpoint.Even little pieces from childrens books such as Stepping Stones by K & H Colledge and Tunes for my Violin by Murray and Tate provide lots of little gems.If you start slowly always being careful to produce a good sound you will arrive at the easy concertinos very quickly.I usually aim for the Kuchler op11 and then the Rondo op22 by Rieding before the op35 concerto by Rieding but an industrious adult can have them all under the belt quite quickly.

December 5, 2007 at 07:26 AM · Janet, I apologize and agree with you completely. I have a pretty high level of interpretation and treatment on other instruments, so 'good' to me means--real good.

Also, good for means 5th position, vibrato, double stops; and, the steps for getting there can feel quite messy at first.

Because I've approached things with a consummate love, sometimes I fail to stop and 'understand' the context, of the question.

December 5, 2007 at 10:06 AM · Go for the gold! Choose violin and never look back. Throw yourself into it completely, and become obsessed with all things violin. Fervently devour all discussions about string choices, shifting, Strad vs. Modern and, heaven help you, shoulder rests. Carry your violin case through airports with pride, and rightfully feel part of a wonderfully exclusive club. Be advised, the beginning stages will be frustrating, but that only makes future successes all the sweeter. Which, by the way, I can tell by the attitude expressed in your posts you will have no problem acheiving.

December 5, 2007 at 08:38 PM · Peter:

What a brave undertaking! I just returned to the clarinet at 58 after a twenty-year hiatus and am struggling to regain my skills. But it is a joyful struggle. To begin afresh at your age is something I don't think I'd have the guts to attempt. If I were you, I'd chose one instrument and stick with it. Two means you'll probably be half as good on each. And your remark about traveling with the cello on airplanes reminds me of a story from a wonderful book, Cellist, by Gregor Piatagorsky.

When he traveled on airplanes he would always buy tickets for two seats: one for himself and a second for Cello Piatagorsky.

December 5, 2007 at 09:35 PM · "To begin afresh at your age is something I don't think I'd have the guts to attempt"

Comments like that scare me because I'm really NOT trying to set a Guiness record or climb Mount Everest or be the first man to paddle from Boston to Dublin in a Kohler bathtub. I hope a beginner is his very late 40's (54) is not THAT much of a rarity!

I'm happy to announce that I have settled on violin as my target instrument and I've begun the process of finding a teacher. Greater Boston is rich in music schools so I should have lots of choices.

Thank you, everybody, for all your help and encouragement!

December 5, 2007 at 10:14 PM · I'm jealous Peter!; and, shall refrain from my rural America sermon. And the 60's/70's arts efforts failed why?


December 5, 2007 at 10:38 PM · Yaaaay! Welcome aboard Peter! Good to have you here!

All the best with finding a teacher!



December 7, 2007 at 05:08 AM · Peter,

Why did you choose the violin over piano? I'm sure there are others here who are curious to know.

I'm thrilled that you decided to join us. :)


December 7, 2007 at 12:09 PM · Great!

I'm sure you will be happy with your choice. And yes Boston is a great city. You will find that the people here (in are really helpfull, they really help me, directly and indirectly.

Good luck and enjoy!

December 7, 2007 at 12:52 PM ·

December 9, 2007 at 05:35 AM · Peter,

Congratulations. You made the right choice. I started lessons this year at the age of 50. I am so glad that I did. You will no doubt experience frustration, tears etc. But, oh the joy when your fouth finger finally hits the sweet spot. I will never look back. I am in love with my violin. His name is Jonathan.


December 9, 2007 at 05:44 AM · Excellent name choice!


Hopefully one day will fulfill my request to remove the dead links from my profile so I may post new sound files for everyone.

December 9, 2007 at 05:50 AM · "I am in love with my violin. His name is Jonathan."

Well said. Mine is named 'all the girls I've ever loved before!'. ;)


Fee Fee, in memoriam of my beloved hound dog.

December 9, 2007 at 06:49 PM · laughing, but my name choice is not so romantic. Actually, I named him Jonathan because he was my dad's violin. He gave it to me when I decided to take lessons. So, I just thought it appropriate. You know, I will have to ask him what he called his violin. No doubt this violin has had a gender change. lol


December 9, 2007 at 07:36 PM · I'm glad you laughed--I was a little afraid I'd stepped on the sacred there after going back and reading your post better! ;).

But if you knew me, you'd still laugh I believe. And, I did have an honary honary untrainable hound named Fee Fee, whom I loved a lot too... Come to think about it, she sang better than I play. On that note, I guess I should get back to practice?

July 8, 2011 at 11:24 AM ·

I was searching the Taubman technique on (for the other topic) and came accross this topic.

Now I have to wonder which instrument Nelson chose and how it worked out?  There's no info in his profile.  I did notice in his profile though that his wife plays the piano.  Now why learn the same instrument when the violin and piano are so logical together?

Nelson, are you still reading this?  There are unanswered questions.....

July 8, 2011 at 05:12 PM ·

Elise, you're right.  It would be nice to know.

I like both as well.  In fact I started by wanting to play the piano...but my parents couldn't manage it...the violin was my default instrument (free loaner, free instruction at school).  I love the violin, so it wasn't a huge bummer or anything. :D



July 8, 2011 at 07:03 PM ·

i read through and there was one part i didn't like, with reference to adult students not having a good tone as if the person who stated it is trying to infer a sort of generalizing principle regarding adult students..i know this is an old post but nonetheless.... well, an adult student wont have a good tone  only if the teacher doesn't insist on her/him not having a good tone.

i can say that , thanks to my teachers and practice, my tone has improved a looooot, my teacher has been working on my detache bowing, wrist and finger movements, upper arm movement without involving shoulders....etc. so its basically a strong healthy sound and when i do falter, oten enough,  it is mostly when encountering difficulties in areas other than basic acceptable "tone production" ...position shifting, a new coordination of up and bow strokes..etc. all these difficultes would be done away with with coming to grips through practice. to sum up, since i see i've improved, i infer i will improve and i infer that every other adult student would with a good teacher and good practice.

piano vs violin. for an intimate and physical relationship with the instrument and music production, i would value the violin over piano. for a specifically more intellectual relationship with music, i think  the piano takes far less time than the violin to achieve. if i werent studying violin, i'd study piano. i'm interested in music theory but dont get to do it during violin lessons, theres just so many issues to deal with in playing the violin. but ...once you get to grips with the fundamentals of violin playing and of a piece, its immediately expressive.  


July 8, 2011 at 08:21 PM ·

I don't know. I was observing at the local Suzuki Institute, and it was reassuring to see that I'm not any worse than the kids who are playing the same repertoire.  Perhaps Corwin's standard is extremely high. Corwin, could you give an example of what you would consider "more than scrape and saw"?

July 9, 2011 at 09:38 AM ·

[Joyce - this topic was dug up from 2007  - Corwin may no longer be with us :D ] 

But no answer from beyond.... I suppose Peter (the OP) went over to the piano dark side....

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