How much can a late comer accomplish?

December 14, 2007 at 06:52 PM · It is a known fact that those who did not start in the early childhood will have to struggle much more. Do you know people who started late and could come to the point of playing the Paganini Capricces? Is there any late comer who become a famous soloist ?

Replies (25)

December 14, 2007 at 07:09 PM · There have been previous threads on this that you should consult because they are fairly exhaustive. The short answer to your second question is extremely unlikely. The latest starting age of any famous soloist that has been pointed out in these threads that I can recall is 9 (Ricci). The answer to your first question I do not know, but I suspect it is possible that with a lot of work, someone might get to the point where you could play the Paganini Caprices, maybe not well, but play them.

December 14, 2007 at 07:19 PM · Start on your vibrato now! And don't apply it like popcorn everywhere. Just kidding.

Many many fine fiddlers start a little later. Paganini? I don't know. A lady named Eve studying in Charleston WV who contacted me, started very late.

Apparently she's an Appalachian scholar as well.

December 15, 2007 at 03:01 AM · The answer to this dilemma is...children have nothing but time on their hands and most importantly, they aren't burdened with stress and anxiety.

There is no reason why an adult could not learn to play the violin as the old masters did...providing they don't need to work to support themselves, they don't have spouses and children making demands on their time, and...they can focus like a child and leave the problems of their world at the door of the practice room...for six-eight hours every day.

The reason you don't see adult beginners become great violinists is because they have lives outside of playing the instrument and that is the downfall to greatness.

December 16, 2007 at 04:25 PM · >There is no reason why an adult could not learn to play the violin as the old masters did...providing they don't need to work to support themselves, they don't have spouses and children making demands on their time, and...they can focus like a child and leave the problems of their world at the door of the practice room...for six-eight hours every day.

Ah yes, that describes SO many of us here. : ) Don't we wish.

To answer your question in a different way - yes, a late-comer can work to the point of being able to play Paganini Caprices. But, if we're talking an adult beginner, maybe your audience will only be your family members and/or your own ears. And if that's your (a hypothetical "you" in the event this doesn't describe "you") goal, go for it and - this is the important part - enjoy the journey. Really, an adult beginner has to accept that they are not learning all this for what's Out There (ie, commercial success, public acclaim), they're doing it for what's burning inside them (ie, "It has been a lifelong dream to play Paganini and I have to at least try"). It can be enormously satisfying to play as an adult beginner, as you meet your personal goals, or it can be tremendously discouraging to realize you'll never be able to play like someone who's dedicated their life to mastering the instrument and the repertoire. (Frankly, I think the experience tends to be a mix of the above, with, hopefully, the former gaining strength over the latter.)

As for answering your question, no, I don't know of any violinists who started late, who became world class soloists, but I do know that there are a few members here who started at age 12 or 13, who did wonderful work and got accepted into prestigious conservatories for college. Maybe one of them will chime in here.

December 16, 2007 at 06:12 PM · Sorry T, I have to disagree with this statement: "children have nothing but time on their hands and most importantly, they aren't burdened with stress and anxiety."

My students (youngest about 7) absolutely DO get stressed and nervous. The things that happen during concerts....

And they're very busy with soccer, gymnastics, ballet, etc.. But even IF they had unlimited time to practice, they can't or won't anyway.

I think what happens between age 7 and the conservatory is not that kids necessarily learn more, but that those who get excessively stressed or have no talent simply get weeded out. The problem with a 20-year-old is that no weeding out has occurred.

Recently, a 26-year-old came to me declaring she wanted to be a professional violinist and was willing to go into deep debt ($100,00) to study and accomplish this. Basically, I refused to become involved in her adventure. Why? She had never proven anything: motor skills, ear, stomach for the stage, sense of pulse, etc. The lack of any one could have sunk her.

So can a 20-year-old play virtuouso material? MAYBE. It depends entirely on the person. They would have to have a very high level of motor skills and motor memory, and ligaments that were naturally loose. I practice daily, and I still have to get the arm stretched out to get comfortable in the highest positions or I lose it quickly. In most of the Paganini, you're going to find high passages that require that kind of flexibility.

December 16, 2007 at 07:54 PM · Scott, no need to disagree, it was a generalized statement, not meant to blanket every child who plays the violin. But, you also bring a new facet to the discussion, kids who are playing violin and in soccer and dance and basket weaving and every other activity that parents feel the need to put their kids in...will those kids excel at the instrument? Probably not. It seems, again a general statement, true virtuoso's have a distinct fondness for their instrument/music and focus on it, not several other activities besides. That's not to say that a gifted violinist can't also grow up to be a professional football player, just that it's unlikely. There are only so many hours in a day. ;)

December 16, 2007 at 07:56 PM · depends on the individual. i dont think you can make a heifetz out of a late starter, but there is definitely a possibility to cultivate someone to play very cleanly with a beautiful sound...good enough to get into a great orchestra. And I think late starters can sometimes be more musical, because if they are extremely intelligent (something 6-10 year olds generally are not) they can think their way through every process and understand music MUCH faster.

This, of course, varies...could be completely untrue for some people.

December 16, 2007 at 09:35 PM · I started playing at age 14 and that's the saddest story of my life. Sure I'm a professional violinist and that's how I make my living. But most of my colleagues started when they were very young and I'm at their same level... who knows what I could've become if I had come to the violin even 4 yrs sooner.

I believe playing the violin requires you to start at an early age so that you can get accustomed to the (let's face it) awkward position. The sooner you begin training your ear and body the better. Same as athletes. Have you ever heard of an athlete starting in their 30's if they've never been athletic to begin with?

December 17, 2007 at 06:55 AM · I started when I was 12 in public school. Fortunately I very quickly got a good private teacher who challenged me. I made it to Manhattan School of Music as an undergrad (although sometimes I wonder how, just barely playing the Bruch g minor at the time). After 2 years there (and lots of practicing!) I was playing pretty well, though, and although I wasn't anywhere near the star soloists at the top of my class I wasn't at the bottom either. I left after 2 years to pursue other interests.

I'm not a professional musician now, so I'll never really know how far I could have gone had I kept at it earnestly all these years. I like to think I would have been a decent orchestral player in a middle-of-the-road professional orchestra.

I did always wish that I had benefited from the head start that many of my friends seemed to have had. I think there is a natural facility that comes with starting, say, below age 10 that is difficult to compensate when one starts later. (Of course, the fact that I hated practicing scales probably didn't help either!)

December 17, 2007 at 08:41 AM · But also remember that many of the advantages young beginners may have, really are about years of waiting for their musicality to mature, with some exceptions.

And especially today I know for a fact that there is thinking on getting the awkwardness to go away a lot more effectively than in the past. I'm in the middle of that process now.

Is it easy? No.

December 17, 2007 at 01:36 PM · I believe that it is possible for an adult to learn to play the violin well, especially if they already are skilled at another instrument (piano, banjo, guitar, woodwind). I have attended fiddle jam sessions where nearly all of the fiddlers started as adults, some (not all) are very nice players. This is of course not Paganini, but occasionally these individuals go on to form bands and to perform locally.

The main advantage young players have is in ear training. As in language aquisition, there is a sensitive period where the brain is very actively forming connections involved in recognition of tone and pattern. This period begins at birth and ends at puberty, although a persistent adult might be able to become proficient at another language or at music, it is definitely much easier for a child. This would not be a limitation to an adult with previous experience with another instrument, although given that the violin is fret-less and not fixed tone, an especially sensitive ear is needed.

I remember watching a class of first year violin students ranging in age from four to 12 where the teacher played a sequence in first position and then asked the students if they could copy it. The four-year-olds could do it perfectly even if the sequence was rather complicated. The older the students were, the more difficult a time they had with this task. The oldest students were only able to copy the sequence after hearing it repeated many times.

An adult has the advantage of attention span and organizational ability as well as self-motivation.

December 17, 2007 at 02:28 PM · You can't go back and start at any earlier age, so you might as well not worry about. Spend that mental energy analyzing your playing & practicing. :) Sue

December 17, 2007 at 07:45 PM · Watch what you wish for,you just might get it....

December 18, 2007 at 03:48 AM · Well Rick.

at 82 I'm probably older than your father. I am self taught; went as far as I could and laid it down. Last year I started lessons and had to un-learn 3 finger intonation. Interesting but takes practise.

I do not aspire to Paganini and from what I read neither should anyone else. Wikipedia calls him virtuoso; untochable. I take much joy and pleasure in doing what I can. Best of luck. Hang in; you can do it.


December 18, 2007 at 03:57 AM · Good is never good enough James Dew! Now get back to practice! ;)

December 19, 2007 at 03:51 AM · Albert, Ole Chop

I do practice; I do improve; I do aim higher;

I do succeed. However, playing three octaves across four strings in a hand span??? Excuse me while I go practice some double stops and parallel octaves.....James

December 19, 2007 at 06:40 PM · There is one phenomena I've seen with older students: they often believe that because they started later, they can't possibly be as good as everyone else. It's a very basic underlying attitude, and difficult to shake. It's very repressing for them. One student, even though she's quite a natural, simply refuses to believe she has anything to offer; that whatever she does is "wrong." It's like skiing: very difficult to do without fear unless you start early.

December 19, 2007 at 06:48 PM · That Scott is where barriers have to be broken, not only in violin but adult learning in general. I find, and have found, if that 'can't' attitude is tough to extinguish, it has nothing to do with being an adult.

Pop psychology will give one a lot of tools to use to remedy this; but, for adult students on something as hard as violin, it takes commitment, 'real connecting', and just a world of building that can-do.

There is a very human, deep and abiding book waiting to be written on this. We speak of mentoring as ways adults can give back to society. The aspect unwritten thus far, is that an adult fulfilling their touchy-feely personality aspect in doing so, is quite different from the adult who can approach teaching adults in this spirit wisely. Real teachers--are made. Great teachers, are truly inspired.

December 19, 2007 at 06:56 PM · Go for it!! Always!! Success derives from mistakes. Then comes logic and reality; youth is afforded comparative time for mistakes. No matter. Go for it. Relish success and be happy.

December 19, 2007 at 08:43 PM · Marina: maybe not an athlete, but quite fit? Some people start yoga when they are not so young and, it depends on the person, but some can get very far with it. There is nothing that can stand in your way if you love what you do:) As you go along you will have the answer to the question "how far can I go" and when the frustration is greater than the joy or whatever progress you (can) make, you stop, or most people do. So I guess it's rather simple... I think Rick should start by telling himself "I'm ONLY 20"...

December 20, 2007 at 08:15 AM · In terms of "how much one can achieve", the main advantage young students have over late starters is sample size. How much individuals can acheive, regardless of age, is entirely in their own hands (and heads).

December 20, 2007 at 08:16 PM · Just in regard to the initial question, no-one has come up with an adult starter that got to the point of playing pag (I'm assuming you meant play it well, and the level of playing that a pag caprice implies).

Surely one of us has.

If a kid who has been learning for 10-12 years can do it, surely there's someone out here who started even at 30, and giving them twice as long to develop their stuff, that should still get them playing at a truly advanced level, truly well, by the time they're 50.

I recall one member here (was it absolutely insane or a similar pseudonym) who was taking on some pretty tough stuff after only a couple of years (Lalo, IIRC).

Come on guys, where are for our inspiration?

I for one have no intention of doddling about as a mediocre player. I'm improving still, and intend doing so for many years.

December 20, 2007 at 09:36 PM · Another aspect of that Sharelle, is that many adults have pretty mature senses of musicality, as well as direction; and, really not because of ability but desire do not wish to play Paganini.

An Example: I watched several of the violinists in tandem in the Art of Violin DVD on youtube, and one thing I really brought away from it, was the experience completely validated my choices and directions I wish to go with violin--and in few cases just really nicely so with a firm: hear! hear!.

I have to agree with Perlman on Stern--'I don't want to sound like any of them old guys'! ;) No disrespect a'tall intended.

And finally, if I felt like it, which I don't, I think I could show clearly that there is a tracked culture related to many aspect of the classical world, that is somewhat intent on maintaining it's path from 6 year old to 75, in a get'm in and keep'm spirit. That's the way that works.

I don't think there are any barriers though, that cannot be broken down in the future based on this intuition though--it's just the force of modernity.

December 20, 2007 at 09:46 PM · If a kid who has been learning for 10-12 years can do it, surely there's someone out here who started even at 30, and giving them twice as long to develop their stuff, that should still get them playing at a truly advanced level, truly well, by the time they're 50.

That's my thinking exactly. I don't aspire to play the most advanced works, actually, but I do intend to just keep improving and doing as much as I can. :-)

December 20, 2007 at 10:38 PM · Greetings,

I would expect a seriosu adult learner beginning from age thirty to be able to handle two or three of the Paginini caprices well eventually.



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