When to throw in the towel?

December 21, 2007 at 04:41 PM · I'm an adult beginner violinist and I have been playing for 9 months. I'm currently on Suzuki book one and practicing Minuet I and Minuet II. IMO they sound pretty horrid, my bow shakes and sounds TERRIBLE down by the frog, on long bows I at times get a wobbly uneven sound. Overall I would say when I play it isn't pleasant to the ear. I have a death grip with my left hand, I still don't really understand bowing at all.

Now I am seriously not looking for blanket encouragement to continue, or looking for pity because I'm down that's annoying when people do that. I'm looking for brutal honesty (which I can't get from my wife, all I get from her is "it sounds great honey" although I do give her credit for keeping a straight face), is it worth it to continue? Or is the violin just not my instrument?

I've been renting and I don't want to anymore, so it's either hang it up, or I'm going to dump a bunch into a violin since the resale always screws you, and I don't see a point in buying a $400 violin, then a $700 violin, then a $1,200 violin all the way up and losing money on each one, may as well buy the $1,800 one you want right off the bat. So before I blow the money is it worth it to continue?

Thanks for any brutally honest replies, don't worry about wearing kid gloves or hurting my feelings, I can take it.

Replies (78)

December 21, 2007 at 04:49 PM · I think you're concentrating on the wrong thing.

If you started as an adult, you must know that you're playing for YOU, not NYT music critics at Carnegie Hall.

If you enjoy the challenge of learning the violin, stick with it.

If you went into violin thinking you'd sound like Perlman in a couple of months, you were deluded.

December 21, 2007 at 04:59 PM · i would also like to say that adult students are much more critical. When you are a kid playing, there is a sense of just the joy of making a sound. The first book is not really meant to sound great. You get through it and get to the next thing and continue working on sound etc.

Perhaps a different teacher, and honestly, perhaps not the suzuki book one.

December 21, 2007 at 04:54 PM · The first thing you need to ask yourself is, what are you looking to acheive? That is where you need to base your decision. If it is just a hobby, then set the proper goals accordingly. If it is a career endeavor, then you really need to start setting the proper goals accordingly, more practice and determination. No time for negativity.

I think a lot of the violinists on this site have reached the point that you are at. Even really super advanced people continuously question their goals and level.

The main thing you want to do is not set yourself up for failure by setting extremely high expectations, i.e. playing the Mendelssohn a week from now, like do all the time. Set small goals, especially since you are a husband, family man? with little time, and you will surely succeed and gain much encouragement from seeing your progress. Most importantly, love the violin for yourself, not others. Enjoy playing for yourself. Enjoy the positive aspects of your playing!

December 21, 2007 at 05:03 PM · Oh, and if you can afford the $1800 violin, then go-for-it, man...

December 21, 2007 at 05:11 PM · To bow a decent sound on an open string, that means not using your left hand fingers, start in the middle of the bow and go back and forth about an inch or so. While doing this try tio keep the bow parallel to the bridge. After a bit, increase the didtance from an inch to maybe two inches, and so forth. A lot of the sound quality is derived from bowing so that's a great place to work on sounding better so you can stand to hear yourself play.

Go to violinmasterclass.com and watch some of their beginning violin videos.

Good luck and just enjoy playing for now no matter how it sounds, it WILL get better.

December 21, 2007 at 04:57 PM · Hello Michael! Everyone really does have different learning curves; you sound like me :-) (my bow used to shake on downbows, and one day things just 'clicked') Anyways, set a standard for yourself and try your best to stick to it, and try to find a certain artist who has a 'sound' that you want to sound like. when you practice, focus on what you want to get done, and remember, overdoing something isn't necessarily the way. If you can't nail one thing now, do another to take your frustration off of the other [previous task]. There were times when I felt like quitting; as a former wind player however, nothing compares to strings, and the sheer amount of effort needed to tackle one is extraordinary. I'd keep at it if I were you, they're great instruments, and they teach you alot about yourself. Do you have a teacher, or are you teaching yourself? I noticed you were on the Suzuki method ... There's such a great amount of discipline geared towards learning a stringed - instrument ... oh how I love strings ...

December 21, 2007 at 05:25 PM · Hi Michael

I think the others gave you some good advice, and from my experience teaching adults I would offer the following:

to play well IMO you need a good sense of musicianship (easily enough developed for most people), a strong sense of awareness and the ability to be flexible with the use of your thoughts and muscles. And as an adult learner you are probably not used to asking or requiring your mind and body to perform these things. So instead of asking yourself if you should continue the question becomes do you want to learn how to develop/change these areas in your life?

I hope that didn`t add to your worries, but the fact is clutching the violin with your left hand will prevent you from playing in tune and being able to change positions, and a stiff bow hold will only ever produce a bad sound. (Not to say that they are your problems).

Anyway, I`m sure I could speak for most people here in saying that choosing to spend your time learning the violin as opposed to any of the other things you could do says something really special about yourself. I wish you the best.


December 21, 2007 at 05:25 PM · Well Michael, all I can say, is I'm sure you've married my ex-girlfriend! ;) Be encouraged.

December 21, 2007 at 05:36 PM · I wouldn't worry that much about whether it sounds good until later in the process. Much later. And especially, I wouldn't worry at all about whether other people think it sounds "good" or not.

Instead, if I were you, I'd ask myself if I enjoy (at any number of levels) the process of learning and playing. I am also an adult amateur who makes a living doing something else, and honestly one of the reasons I play a stringed instrument in my "spare" time is that it's *not* my job, and I enjoy that aspect. I like the way the instrument feels and looks as well as how it sounds. I enjoy the process of reading music and of listening to recordings of pieces that I know intimately from having played them. I like fine motor activities. I read the Shar catalog and Strings magazine for fun. I get more out of going to concerts because I play an instrument. And I think that any and all of that stuff would still be true regardless of whether I sounded "good" to other people or not--and conversely, if you don't enjoy the whole learning and playing process (or most of it, anyway), sounding good to other people isn't going to be enough anyway.

Unless she's actually a musician with something intelligent to say that she's holding back, I think you're lucky that your wife just tells you that it sounds good honey and doesn't delve any deeper. There are fewer things more de-motivating than ignorant, negative comments from family members who don't know what they're talking about.

December 21, 2007 at 05:52 PM · Karen said, "long time" yes.

And family: yes.

You'll know when you start to sound good if you persist... Heck, I thought I sounded good day 1 I fell fer this girl so badly. Let your violin encourage. Build it--they will come.

December 21, 2007 at 05:48 PM · Maybe you can have a chat with your teacher, and share your concerns. After all, even if you believe down to the bottom of your heart that you don't need encouragement, we all actually do need it, if only once in awhile...

If you really like violin, then stick with it. Practice as much as your schedule allows, listen to your teacher, and at least you won't get any worse (insert smiley face here). The technical problems you are facing aren't unique, and a little patience with yourself can go a long way. If violin is not for you, then don't play it. And that is OK. Not playing violin doesn't make you a failure. It just means you aren't a violinist.

As for re-sale on student level violins, you aren't necessarily getting "screwed". It is true that student level violins don't appreciate in value, but at least you have had an instrument in your hands, and using it. No different from most workaday cars. A decent shop/dealer is just as valuable to have as a decent teacher! Good luck!

December 21, 2007 at 06:29 PM · michael, first of, i suspect you are a complete clutz or worse, just like me and many others. there is no future, but there is hope.

second, stop the rental immediately. i have a spare violin (clear pitch that will do a beginner good) that i can lend it to you so email me your postal address. if you decide to get angry one day and smashes into pieces againt the tree trunk, ok by me. keep it until you really decide to buy an expensive violin, which i think is totally unnecessary. you don't need financial drains to make you feel like a bigger loser. $1800 for a decent sounding violin from retail? tough.

third, forget about musicality, intonation or other carps that folks on this site are anal about. play to feel good. or, STOP. you don't owe anyone including yourself to be a good violinist. you didn't get into this to get aggrevated (although you should have known better violin playing can be very aggrevating).

IF you do decide to get serious, you MUST do the right things and so far it sounds like you have not. you cannot beat yourself up on one hand and not do the right things on the other. playing 9 months is meaningless if you did it all wrong!!

i am not going to even ask you if you have a teacher. if you do, may be the teacher is not teaching you the way you need it. may be even i can do better, duh:)

email me and lets get this thing going. bottom line, it is perfectly fine to be very bad in something but totally enjoy it.

December 21, 2007 at 05:28 PM · "If you went into violin thinking you'd sound like Perlman in a couple of months, you were deluded."

I love that. ;)

Michael, the violin is a difficult instrument to learn to play. It take years. I am an adult beginner as well. The scratchy sounds, the missed fingerings, the wobbly bow, I do all those things, and so does my seven year old who is learning to play. We all go through the ugliness, you must think of the process in baby steps.

Oh and...buy that $1800 violin. With your wife's consent, of course. ;)

December 21, 2007 at 06:27 PM · I've been playing the violin for 4 years now,and I still s**k.I can play several instruments pretty well,have toured with national acts,etc.,but I still s**k on the violin.So what? At least my house is pest-free.Buy the $1800 violin.I'll inspire you.Maybe you'll get better,maybe you won't.Throw out the books, that's probably what's holding you back.....go buy a cheap $20 tuner and make sure the thing is in tune,that's more important than anything.Learn some melodies by ear,get your fingers used to the retarded tuning and scale length(note spacing)of the stupid thing,play for a while, then MAYBE find a teacher.(teachers are evil.think wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz movie).

December 21, 2007 at 06:21 PM · Oh shoot--fire the wife, hire another teacher, and press on. Quit whining. ;) You can hook up with my sister--she's brutally honest.

December 21, 2007 at 07:58 PM · "I have been playing for 9 months"

Is that all? Your worries would be a matter of concern if you had been at it for three or four years, but only nine months? The learning curve for the violin is a VERY slow one at the beginning stages. You still are very much in the diaper stage time-wise.

I would concentrate on getting the bowing down on open strings before playing so much as "Mary Had A Little Lamb". This could very well take many more months of 20 minutes of practice a day (kids would get too bored, but an adult should be able to muster the discipline; it would be well worth the effort). Practice watching yourself bow in a mirror. You will need a teacher who can teach you what to look for. If you don't have one who can, find one who will. This is what first rate teaching is like. -


I second the recommendation that you watch the beginning level videos on this site. Good luck!

December 21, 2007 at 07:55 PM · Patience is one of the hardest things to learn about the violin! You don’t say whether or not you have a teacher. If you don’t, you need one. If you do, then you need to know whether the teacher is helping you or not. You’re still in your first year, which is BY FAR the most frustrating time because it takes so long (longer than a year!) to develop enough skill to get a good sound out of a violin. You’re the only one who can say whether it’s worth it to continue, but for me, as long as I can see improvements every week, however small, then it’s worth it because the improvements add up and eventually will make me into a good player. Some examples…being able to play a piece you couldn’t play a month ago, having the fourth finger strong enough to land on a note and not collapse, cleaner string crossings, being able to play faster…there are all sorts of things you will notice from week to week, and you should be able to take pride in them because you’ve worked hard to achieve them. The end goal, the beautiful sound you want, might still be far away, but you’ll get there if you keep going. Winston Churchill said “never, never, never give up” and it’s one of my favorite quotes.

December 21, 2007 at 08:20 PM · Amen to that, Ms. Shailee Kennedy.

December 21, 2007 at 08:31 PM · HONESTLY: I think that you're intering a begining stage of depression(my aunt is a Johns Hopkins Graduate of Physchology). You're expressing small amounts of anger towards your wife for not telling you that you sound bad when you play. Ofcourse, I know that honest is the best policy, but have you ever talked with your wife and told her that you will feel better if you were told the truth about what she thinks of your playing. I really don't think that anybody should ever "Throw in the towel" when it comes to something you love(that is if you do love playing the violin) I completely agree with Julie Slama when she said " If you started as an adult, you must know that you're playing for YOU, not NYT music critics at Carnegie Hall" chance are you won't play the Mendelsohn, Beethoven, or Bramhs violin concerto in the next 3 months but you're most likely to get into Suzuki book 2. If you feel the need to talk to somebody I'm open and so is my aunt(email me and ill give you her email adress). I know this may be slightly intrusive, but has anything happend that could possible affect your mood? Most likely you're in your 40's(or 50's im not sure) but during that age period most men hit their "mid-life crisis". Did you play the violin when you were a child? Most men at this particular time in their life try to fill empty places with things like a new car, a new hobby(playing the violin), or in a few cases some men make a very large change and decide that the want a new career. Now back to the subject of begining depression, In the ages of 35 to 50 many men enter slight stages of depression, and they feel that every thing or most every thing they do is wrong or "bad". Ofcourse, something of the things that are interpreted as "bad" are actually something that was jsut taught like woodworking, or in you case playing the violin. If you feel that you might be depressed visit a therapist or a physchologist.


December 21, 2007 at 09:00 PM · Blake, you seem to know a lot about depression. I think your offer to Michael was very generous. Don't you think most people go through a range of moods throughout not only a day; but, new research also shows that even men have cycles of mood.

And interfamily dynamics are one of the most complex things that exists, so, let's not put him in midlife crisis quite yet. I say this because everyone learning anything new is also hoping for positive reinforcement as a natural part of that process.

I personally have had a teacher put me through pure hades, then one day, when she heard me and said, "now, that, is what I was looking for", it was all the sweeter.

I think you are still, generous in your offer.

December 21, 2007 at 09:08 PM · Blake, I’m sorry, but I definitely disagree. I’ve been playing a year and a half now and I remember feeling exactly the way Michael does when I had been playing 9 months. It’s intense frustration, mixed with despair at ever being able to do something you want to do more than anything, mixed with disgust at having tried very hard at something for 9 months without anything nice to show for it. It’s a terrible feeling, and the only way I got through it was thanks to my incredibly understanding teacher, who reassured me constantly and had more faith in me than I did, and who kept showing me how to play until I started to sound better and could hear and feel the improvements for myself. There are two ways out of the way Michael is feeling right now: quit (which I suspect will feel awful as well), or learn to deal with the frustration and keep patiently working. I chose the latter. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to do! But the key is looking for small successes, or at least that’s how I’ve learned to see it.

December 21, 2007 at 09:26 PM · Well you're not the only one with the same problems as I do then. I am too tense and my bowing is horrid. My violin is el cheapo (100$ package, includes violin, case, bow, shoulder rest, and rosin) but I can still manage it and Im playing music above Minuet 3 and such. The reason why you shouldn't get an expensive violin liek that now because something in the future might pop up, and you might have to sell it, and selling violins are hard. I have been playing for almost a year now. My problem was that I was not taught right in foundation studies in basic violin. get a teacher, and ask for a refresher course on complete basics on violin. Im doing that right now and its helping a lot, my only problem is that I don't have enough time to practice. If you do have enough time to pratice (At least one hour)take it because maybe in the future you won't have that time.

December 21, 2007 at 10:24 PM · Hi Michael,we all get that feeling of 'What's the point....'.I've been playing the violin for 55 years and I'm always getting frustrated with my playing because we all aspire to play like angels!And don't forget you have chosen the most difficult instrument on this earth to master. Having said all this, its not impossible to make an acceptable sound if you stick in there. Concentrate on bowing on open strings to develop a nice even and gutsy tone; and Michael, spend some money on a decent BOW and VIOLIN otherwise you will be flogging a dead horse for a long time to come!!All the best and go for it.

December 21, 2007 at 11:02 PM · Don't give up. You will regret it if you do.

Buy the violin you want. Though, don't do what I did and think you can just go get one without telling your wife first.

Apparently, "what's mine is hers, and what's hers is hers". So, the little bit of money that I was using out of "my" account, well, let's just say that it wasn't a pretty site around my house for awhile! :)

I don't regret it, and I have found, that my wife doesn't either. Hey, it could have been a bass boat, or a porsche. Think about it, our passion is a violin! It's not drinking or girls or something!

Look, your going to be around for a long time, at least we hope. I figure I can play my violin for the next 30 years! I have been playing for a year, with a great teacher. I am slowly improving, but more importantly, I'm having fun!

I'm not being too hard on myself. I read and learn. I try to apply the wealth of knowledge that is freely shared on this board. Think about all the coaching that you have at your disposal, that the greats didn't have access to!

Keep at it, at least I hope you do. I got frustrated at the back of Suzuki 1 as well. It s**ked with a capital S. But I did get better!

December 21, 2007 at 11:06 PM · Why do people say that "the violin is the most difficult instrument to master" ?

It came fairly easily to me.

I have NO idea to play any other instrument !

I started playing the violin when i was 50 !

Now,I'm 60 !

I'll say,if it was'nt for the violin--a MAJOR part of my life would be missing.

Playing the violin is soo great,yet I cannot understand when others say it's soo difficult.

I'm happy with what I do:playing in jamm sessions,alone and an occasional gig at a bar or a club,but mainly in my kitchen for neighbours and relatives !


December 21, 2007 at 11:23 PM · I think it's those among us who want to play it on a very high level someday Joe, and often play other instruments approaching that level...

December 21, 2007 at 11:32 PM · You're upset because you don't sound good with beginner things. We have a teacher in our midst who says, acknowledges I should say, that it isn't necessary that a beginner sound bad.

Being a beginner, there isn't much you're supposed to be able to do. Logically then, this can't take more than a few minutes to fix :) Just read a magazine until he gets here.

December 21, 2007 at 11:30 PM · Lots of people on this site are professionals and have gone to school for years of instruction playing the violin.

Yet,we all play in our own manner and we love doing so !

Violin playing is a huge challenge but overcoming the challenge is beneficial to yourself and others involved in your persona.

I am not ashamed to admit that I cannot read even 1 note of music and sometimes I sympathize and even pity those who cannot play without the notation in front of them________AND I'm NOT trying to be disrespectfull of others by these remarks.

Violin playing is a great form of personal expression that takes years to develop.

I consider it to be a sport,in a way----its better than watching TV and much more entertaining !

Playing violin is an expression of your heart and your heart cannot lie or deceive others or yourself .

December 21, 2007 at 11:40 PM · You didn't say whether you had a teacher. If not, find one. A teacher can give you exercises to develop bowing and intonation, and if he or she can't, then find another.

I taught myself to play, having played other instruments for most of my life. Worked at it off and on, never got past beginner level because I couldn't or wouldn't make the time to practice systematically. Decided to focus, and have been working pretty hard the past 2 1/2 years (I'm 62). Got to a point where the spinning plates were starting to drop. I'd work on one aspect, and others would fall off. Overall , I wasn't improving. Finally found a teacher that could coach me, point out the things I couldn't see from my perspective, and I really started to improve.

I'm just a fiddler, but I work a lot on classical technique because I want to have the chops to do anything I want with my music, and I also love jazz and swing. Gotta build up the chops.

What I'm saying is, take a systematic approach, preferably with the guidance of a teacher. If your bow shakes, work specifically on that. Do intonation exercises. I do long slow bows, contact point / tone exercises, scales and arpeggios every day. If time is short, I practice bowing and scales rather than tunes. If you don't focus on the fundamentals, the rest just won't develop, IMO.

December 22, 2007 at 12:58 AM · As far as buying a violin goes I think you may have some misconceptions. Since tone is so subjective you really can't make so many discrete qualitative levels of violins. There are of course student and intermediate instruments but a $1,500 violin is not necissarily better than a $400 one. The same goes for bows. Sometimes shops just dress the instruments with decorative accessories to jack the prices and increase appeal. If you're just beginning you could probably find something that will last for at least several years, assuming you like the sound now (I would strongly recommend getting second opinions).

December 22, 2007 at 01:08 AM · Oh, and I agree with everyone about wanting to have fun. If you want something to get fixed and you have the time and energy to do it, it'll happen.

December 22, 2007 at 01:30 AM · Forget to tell you that a lot of dealers have a 100% trade-in policy, where, when it comes time to trade up, they will give you 100% of what you paid them for the instrument in trade, so you don't lose any cash. Many also apply rental payments toward a purchase. We do, but we're a little far away. So do lots of others, at least in the Midwest.

December 22, 2007 at 05:23 AM · Younger students may have it easier when beginning this instrument because often times they don't notice the bow shakes and scratchy sounds. I try from the beginning to train the ear to notice these things, so you should feel glad that you already do! It's the first step toward fixing your problems. If you thought you were doing just fine, then you wouldn't be motivated to change.

Together with your teacher take a look at specific individual problems and find specific ways to improve them. If your bow shakes, then spend some time for a while working on your bow stroke.

Don't expect perfection, Professionals are still working on their bow stroke. Just keep the big goals in sight and set smaller ones that will get you there. Be happy with little improvements.

Best of luck to you!

December 22, 2007 at 12:35 PM · Hi Michael, The first thing I would like to know, is do you have a time frame in mind in learning to play the violin, are you in a big hurry to sound good? The second thing is, if so then your putting yourself in to an expectation mode. What I am try to say is, when we have expectation, we are basing it on the likely hood that it might happen. An expectation, which is a belief that is center on the future. And expectation is a less advantageous results given rise to the emotion of disappointment. If something happens and it's not expected, can sometime result in a surprise. Sometimes if you expect something and it's not what you thought, it can be a disappointment and surprise together.

I would not really say your depress, but if you stay there long enough you could be come that way to a certain extent. So, expectations are really about emotion or emotions and what we think

we are entitle to. I am an adult student also of the violin. The way I try to approach the violin or life or anything else is, I try not to have an expectations of what I want, but rather set golds or standers for myself, that are attainable. Also, I don't set a time frame on them to get them done by. That way, it take the pressure off. Also, I set quality time to practice. I know when I started, I might have only set a side 30 minutes four times a week to practice. I didn't really sound that great either! But I also knew over time this would build up and I would sound better. So time is a factor, also how much time you set a side to practice. Also, instead of just say practice makes perfect, say perfect practice make perfect. Here's another one, slow and right, beats fast and wrong.

Another, thing I would not do is ask someone how I sounded when I was just fist learning. How can they really be objected about it, when they don't play. You can't look to someone else to validate you playing or how you sound. I mean you can do that, but there that exception thing again. I would listen to the one true thing that gong to validate how you sound, and that is your violin. No one starts off doing everything right off the bat, no one. Yes, some do it better than others. But, are you comparing yourself to others or should you be comparing you to you? Look to your violin for the answers in how it's sounds when your playing it, it will tell you. Playing the violin should be looked at from the perspective of having a relationship, you to the violin and what you have to do to get it to sound better. All good thing come with time, responsibility, and the value of what we put into what were are doing, or what we want, as to what we will be getting out of it. That's with anything!

We put to much thought and enfaces on expectations, of the likely hood that it might happen, instead of putting our thought and enfaces on our responsibilities, setting, golds and standers, and hard work, in to getting what we want. Things are better valued with hard work, then with just by the chance of luck or being lucky . Some people spell lucky, L u c k (y) why not me. So, is that the kick in the pants that you were looking for!!! Because, that what it sounded like, what you were wanting!!! Everything is attainable buddy, hang in there. Recorder yourself and use that for basing how you sound also, until you get it right. Then go from there. Above all, have fun doing it!!!!!!! From someone, who will always be a student of the violin, no matter how good I get!

December 22, 2007 at 02:41 AM · Michael,

I feel your pain. I am 50 and have been taking lessons for 6 months. But, I love it. Some days I sound really bad, and other days I sound great. I guess my question to you is Do you love it. If you can say yes, I love the process of getting there, then don' quit. I am super hard on myself as well, and my teacher always gets on me about it. He always asks if I beat myself up this week. Some weeks I leave my lesson thinking why am I doing this. My teacher can be tough sometimes. But then gosh, my fouth finger will cooperate or I will do a run that I couldn't do last week and I will just sit a laugh and think what was I thinking. I love this. Now, go to you tube and type Ben Chan in the search box. He has a video on there about bow shaking. Try his tips. I gotta say my shakes are nearly gone. I also find that I shake if my right hand is tense. The minute my bow hand tightens up, I will get that shake. But now I know what to do and I correct it. Good luck and I hope this helps.

December 22, 2007 at 03:04 AM · There have been many discussions on this topic on this site. Here's one that may be of interest:


You can also serach the site with "how hard is it to play violin".

There are many beginning adults on this site that have shared the pain and joy of learning to play violin.

December 22, 2007 at 04:42 AM · So far the concenes for personal progress and improvement is to get a teacher/instructor. Check with a local Jr. College and speak with the Music Department you just may find a class/group of adult beginers learning like you are.

And depending on any physical limitations, using 1-3 pound hand weights and arm excersises really seems to help bowing by building up the arm muscles.

December 22, 2007 at 05:35 AM · Interesting stuff. I don't know...I kinda think: If you don't have to play--don't. If you persist it won't make you a better person, you'll just learn how to play the violin. Only you can decide if the game is worth the candle.

December 22, 2007 at 02:23 PM · Hello Micheal,

Ive been playing, like you, for a very short time (since June/July)....I have good days (for me) and VERY VERY bad days where I develop a fair amount of anger toward myself, my bow, and even my girlfriend sometimes because i get the "mmhm" response from her...Especially in the beginning this really affected and demoralized me a lot. OK here it goes...Poor a drink (or nine) and have fun! I'm not saying you should do this all the time but without it I realized I was too stiff and taking myself too seriously. Of course when "hardcore practicing" it would probably be better to be a little more serious, but even my teacher notices a difference when I loosened up. Obviously a drink doesn't Need to be involved, but fun should be. I don't know if you play golf or tennis, but if you do, you know what it means to get your mind off of the long term victory and play piece by piece and have fun!

Also, this doesn't seem like unipolar depression at all. Learned helplessness yes...and that thing we do, its displacement. You know, "Its not me! Its my D**M girlfriend and the humidity!" lol

Hope this helps and best of luck.

December 22, 2007 at 03:31 PM · Mike, whether you decide to play or not to play is your decision.

Whether you can learn to play, I would bet the answer is yes -- if you have good instruction.

Your left hand (death grip) and right hand (bouncing bow) are fundamental issues, and they need to be addressed specifically by a teacher who knows how to do so. They are common issues, and they can be stubborn, but there's no reason a determined and knowledgeable effort won't yield positive results.

December 22, 2007 at 09:38 PM · From one Dowling to another.

Hello, distant cousin. I am 43, and I feel your pain. All I can do is tell you why I play. Playing the violin is so completely different from anything else that I do, it causes me to completely refocus my mind. It is a form of relaxation that I don't get almost anywhere else. Virtually nothing else that I do manages to force work completely out of my head for a period of time.

As I explained to someone once some time ago, I don't play violin to be a good violinist. That isn't happening. I play the violin, because it makes me a better lawyer.

Elaine Dowling

Norman, Oklahoma

December 22, 2007 at 10:13 PM · What would one do if they did'nt play violin---remain in a state of fugue ?

December 23, 2007 at 01:35 AM · Here is my perspective as a teacher of adult beginners: The biggest problem with adult beginners is that they tend to be impatient. They think they should play better in a shorter period of time. However, there is another side of the story -- the teacher. I strongly suggest that you discuss your perceived shortcomings with your teacher as a reality check. Your teacher may give you guidance or another book or exercises to help you on the specific areas that give you the most trouble. If you don't feel comfortable talking to your teacher about this, or if you are uncomfortable with your teacher's response, then look for another violin teacher. I have a number of adult beginners who previously took lessons from another teacher who did not fit their personal style well. They quit for a while and then found me.

December 23, 2007 at 02:37 AM · Wow so many responses, I read them all and I do appreciate them.

I would first like to state that I'm not depressed, I was just discouraged at the time. And my comment of my wife was tongue in cheek, she won't say a bad thing about me, and I love her for it. That was meant to be humurous and light hearted, sometimes over a message board it doesn't come off right.

I did have a teacher, but it was group classes and pretty herky jerky. Never really concentrating on one thing but all over the place.

I'm going to stick with it, if I suck I suck and I really don't care. Eventually I should become decent. And the hour I spend playing everyday helps me unwind and beats staring at the television. I'll probably self practice with the videos some good folks recommended here. Then maybe in a couple months look for a one/one teacher that should help.

Instead of the $1,800 violin I'll go with a $1,200 Gliga for me, and a German Shepherd puppy for the wife and kids...

Thanks for the replies I enjoyed reading them and they gave me a good perspective.

December 23, 2007 at 03:02 AM · I'd rethink the Shepard...and go with a Schnauzer. Non shedding, excellent watchdogs, and just the best pet a family could have.

Glad you're feeling better about the violin. Now, go practice your scales and string crossings.

December 23, 2007 at 03:15 AM · Well I'm relieved. My sister just got married.

December 23, 2007 at 03:15 AM · You mentioned several technical problems you are having, i.e. tight left hand, shakey bow, etc. How about working on fixing what you already know is broken. Do you enjoy learning to play the violin? If so, continue. If not, drop it. What are your goals?

December 23, 2007 at 03:43 AM · Michael,

I have not read all the posts, above, so this may have been said, but here's some encouraging physiological info for you:

Learning to play an instrument involves training the mind, training the mind-body connection (muscle memory) and actually changing the muscles themselves.

It is a well accepted fact that to fully change any muscle group (what you would simply call a "muscle") takes three years. There are no shortcuts.

To fully integrate a new muscle memory takes around 7 years. This depends somewhat on the particular skill in question, but that number is surprisingly ubiquitous throughout arts, sports, and physiology in general.

SO: Give yourself at least another two years before you make any judgements at all. Be patient. Practice correctly, and EXPECT it to be frustrating in many ways. There can be great joy in patiently working on one small task, knowing that you will have the pleasure of improving for 3 years. (see, it's a plus, not a negative.)

When I started, at a much older age than you, I could not get a nice vibrato to save my life. However, I expected it to be hard. I worked at it everyday without frustration, and it took about 15 months before it really started to happen for me. Then the fine-tuning began...

Enjoy the journey.

December 23, 2007 at 04:14 AM · Hey,

I will not advise which dog to get, but I must say, since you have children, be very thorough in research when getting a rottweiler, pitbull, or German Sheperd. They are great dogs, but unfortunately bad people have done some bad things to these dogs in particular causing a bad disposition which can be passed down to cute little puppies. So be careful!

right now, I am recuperating from a bad practice session in which I thought my sound horrible. So, I am down stairs sulking and being all snappish at my family. Pretty bad...but I thought you should know once again that we all go through it.

December 23, 2007 at 04:24 AM · I had a Pekinese, lovable, loyal and as a puppy she looked like a baby Ewok from Star Wars!

Last week I tried to play for an hour or so...wasn't happenin' however, four hours later I warmed up for about thirty or fourty minuets and played things straight through that I had struggled with. I learned from the wisest teacher I've known and he would have me vissualize singing (this was my choir years) one or two trouble spots better than I did previously. And tought me to have patience and make small achievable goals I got through things so much quiker. He called choir and orchestra the "Other Martial Arts". It does take mental preperations, visualizing what you want to do. It takes practice and a little time.

December 23, 2007 at 05:31 AM · Well, my family would definitely love for me to stop playing the violin; my 2 yr old screams when I practice, my 5 yr old tells me to 'play quieter' and my husband keeps hinting at how nice the guitar sounds.

But... I will keep on playing if it kills me, because it's my true passion, and because it pisses everyone else off.

December 23, 2007 at 09:17 AM · Hi Michael, good fun with the puppy! Keep it away from your violin and the bow though. I had a GS a few years ago she turned my apple trees into little sticks. She was such a well-trained sweetie.

My $0.02: there’s absolutely nothing beats a good teacher! Do some research in your area and get the best you can. Take up al ku's offer and invest the money to the valuable violin lessons.

We all went to through the stage of hating/blaming our violin(s). But don’t get into the trap in finding a more expensive fiddle in the hope of having better sound, imaging how much worse you’ll feel if an expensive violin doesn’t sound good after you played it for a while. That’ll happen very quickly for a beginner. I’m not a beginner. Early this year, in a middle of doing a difficult passage I was working on, I complained about my violin to my teacher. She immediately let me try her very sweet-sounding (when she played it) violin. To my dismay, it sounded even worse than my own violin. That was very convincing to me what the problem really was me and I stopped blaming my violin ever since. Last week I had my violin in shop for a tune-up and brought home a much more expensive violin on free loan. It sounded great and I was encouraged to trade mine in. It’s holiday seasons and I was afraid that I’d be tempted, but I wasn’t. I really believe that I haven’t done justice to my violin yet – it’ll sound better when I’m a better violinist.

This is not necessarily your case, but there seem to be a lot going on when a student wants to get a more expensive violin, especially when the progress is not going well. I hope someone will do some research on this one day and tell us what’s it all about.

December 23, 2007 at 03:06 PM · Watch out for hip dysplasia in German Shepherds. No fun to have a dog you love in constant pain until you have to euthanise.

December 23, 2007 at 03:19 PM · Aw, c,mon Yixi, violin dealers depend in part on players who think a new instrument will make them Paganini! What do you do, say "You're not ready for this instrument" when a parent comes looking to spend $10K on their twelve year old who can't even play in tune, or a duffer wants to buy a concert instrument?

Seriously, though, your advice is very good. I have my choice of hundreds of instruments to play, including soloist quality, but I stick with the two that I have, because I know how to play them. I don't have anything like soloist skills, so top level instruments don't sound much better in my hands than my current mid-level instruments.

As for Shepherds, the breed quality was seriously damaged during the Rin-Tin-Tin era. Good dogs, but buy from a good breeder who specializes in working dogs, not show dogs. And, yes hip dysplasia is worry.

I like Labs myself. Great with kids, good guard dogs, and really sweet natured unless you are a stranger doing something you shouldn't.

December 23, 2007 at 04:40 PM · Yep, Bob and Michael. That is what I was hinting at. You need to get the above mentioned dog from a good breeder. Also, they have kidney problems. We just put my rotty down in October for Kidney failure. But we know next time to do better research. We paid so much attention to disposition that we forgot to inquire about all possible health problems!

December 23, 2007 at 05:34 PM · Three cheers for deciding to stick with violin - you will never regret that decision!

But on the puppy question - why not go to your local pound and adopt an older neglected canine who is longing for a proper home with people to love them (and even violin music to snooze and howl to...!) Additionally mongrels can make the very best of pets - especially with kids and I'd prefer one to a pure-breed.

Good luck with the violin and dog!

December 23, 2007 at 06:38 PM · "It is a well accepted fact that to fully change any muscle group (what you would simply call a "muscle") takes three years. There are no shortcuts.

To fully integrate a new muscle memory takes around 7 years. This depends somewhat on the particular skill in question, but that number is surprisingly ubiquitous throughout arts, sports, and physiology in general."

I so appreciate you writing that Allan. I too, have gone through these lows and frustrations and wondered if I should continue. Sometimes, this site and my dogged determination to keep going for 5 years before quitting kept me going. However, I do see improvements albeit slow. I have children, part-time work, other responsibilities and I do not have 4 hours a day to devote just to violin much as I'd like to.

Reading this, gives me hope: that it is worth persevering to see where you get to. It also makes me more determined to do more slow practice to get it as right as possible.

Michael, I started aged 45, and I was so nervous with my first teacher (and second one too) that my bow leapfrogged all over the place. If I get very nervous it still does. Forcing myself to get more exposure to playing for others is helping me to overcome this somewhat now. The more relaxed my bow arm the better the sound.

As to the vice grip of my left hand, I think my first teacher despaired!!! He was constantly reminding me to relax the thumb especially, and pointed out that often tension/vice like grip in the thumb of one hand caused the exact same thing to happen with the other hand. Strongly concentrating on relaxing one helps to relax the other.

December 23, 2007 at 06:57 PM · Just wanted to add, getting a nicer violin may not drastically improve your playing initially, but it sure will make it more pleasurable to get it out for practising on every day!

December 23, 2007 at 08:02 PM · Michael,

I am 43 and I started playing about 3 years ago. It has been really slow going. I am also doing Suzuki. Some of the songs I get within a few weeks. A couple have taken close to 6 months for just the one song. Those have tried my patience, but I also think that I have learned the most, and become better at music in general with the pieces that have taken longer.

If you are getting frustrated with one particular tune, see if your teacher, if you have one, can start you on a totally different, non-Suzuki tune that you can work on when you are too frustrated with the Suzuki. My teacher also teaches Traditional Irish fiddle music, and it is nice to have something so different to work on when I am hitting a rough spot.

I am in it for the learning. If the learning curve for the violin weren't so steep, I would probably not love it so much.

Best of luck in figuring out what is best for you.


December 24, 2007 at 12:02 AM · Michael:

I'm glad to hear that you're back on track and content to accept your progress, as they say, "a step at a time."

One thing that you might want to consider when budgeting for your new equipment is upgrading to a decent bow. Received wisdom suggests that a better bow is worth 3 years worth of violin lessons! :)

John Greenwood


December 24, 2007 at 01:29 AM · nothing better than a pug michael

December 24, 2007 at 03:20 AM · One quick enhancement for your progress: Take your favorite Suzuki tune, memorize it, then go into the bathroom with the big mirror, close the door, pretend you're Itzhak or Pinchas or your favorite, and watch yourself as you play this favorite....ever conscious of bow contact point, elbow/wrist position, bow grip, perpendicular stroke, and listen to your sound...the acoustics of the rest room usually make things sound better and seeing the problems yourself will help imbed the corrections necessary for more musical performance characteristics...good luck.

One of my favorite quotes to students is: "Miracles happen during the 2nd hour of practice"

December 24, 2007 at 06:53 AM · Get a teacher. Now. You are probably creating and enhancing bad habits. The longer you go on like this, the harder it will be to make corrections.

December 24, 2007 at 04:02 PM · >One of my favorite quotes to students is: "Miracles happen during the 2nd hour of practice."

What a fabulous line! And for the record, this applies to creative writing, as well. Probably any artistic endeavor. Think I'll go jot it down and post it to my refrigerator.

December 24, 2007 at 04:18 PM · >Playing the violin is so completely different from anything else that I do, it causes me to completely refocus my mind. It is a form of relaxation that I don't get almost anywhere else. Virtually nothing else that I do manages to force work completely out of my head for a period of time.

Wow, Elaine, I could have written that! Every word of this rings true for me.

Good luck, Michael, from another adult beginner who continues to ride the roller coaster and agree that it is well worth it.

We really need to start up another "Adult Beginners' Thread." I'm just thrilled to hear all these people chiming in who have the same issues as I.

Oh, and Michael, echoing Pauline - get a teacher. One you connect with. That has been a MAJOR contribution to my journey. You have the lesson with its undivided attention, the focused preparation at home, a compassionate shoulder to lean/gripe/cry on about these issues - it's a much bigger deal than just having "a teacher."

December 24, 2007 at 05:47 PM · Michael, seriously, before spending a pile of money on a new violin why don't you treat yourself to an upgrade bow. Bows vary just as much as the instruments themselves. I am still playing on my student level instrument but I have upgraded to a better bow and I like the way it handles much better.

One of the teachers on this forum (sorry, can't remember who) recently wrote that an inexpensive violin can play all the notes that a professional level violin can. That is so true! If your violin will stay in tune then I'm sure it's suitable. I figure I'll upgrade my instrument when my playing can justify it. ;)

December 25, 2007 at 03:11 PM · Just to follow up, I do have a decent (IMO) bow it's a Coda Bow Conservatory and I like it a lot. My violin is just a rental, I upgraded the bow first before the violin.

I've tried a few new violins haven't bought one yet, I've tried a Kallo Bartok from Stringworks, a Karl Joseph Schneider Premier Artist, and a Gliga Maestro. And don't get me wrong while the violin may not immediately improve my play, it sounds considerably better than my rental and much more enjoyable to play on. So before I took the dive for one of these I wanted to verify it's something I really want to do. IMO the KJS sounds by far the best, but it's too much money, I'll probably go with the Gliga for best bang for your buck.

I videotaped myself playing and listened back and I don't think it sounds nearly as bad as I once thought, maybe because the violin is right at my ear that it sounds harsher than it really is. I just started Minuet III which after 9 months probably isn't terrible especially since I was with group classes and only went as far as the group. I can play decent from the balance point to the tip, I do have issues down by the frog but to be honest I can play everything without even going there, so for now I practice with long strokes on the open strings until I can play down by the frog. I'm going to get a teacher after the new year too.

As for the dogs I didn't want to get a grown dog from the pound because I have young children and I want to raise a puppy to grow knowing the kids. Introducing an adult dog to children increases the chances of aggression towards the children. I picked the German Shepherd because of his intelligence, and I'm away from home a lot because of business and a long commute so I like the idea of having him in the house with my wife and kids when I'm not home.

Thanks again for all your advice I appreciate it.

December 27, 2007 at 07:16 PM · I began learning to play the violin when I was 39. I'm 56 now. My first teacher was the perfect teacher to start with. She complimented absolutely every thing I did. I left every lesson feeling on top of the world and knowing that I would be able to continue. I stayed with her for 2 years. At that point she recommended that I switch to a more advanced teacher. With my second teacher I began to learn 3 octave scales. I spent 6 months learning the G major 3 octave scale. This included various bowing patterns and tempos but the idea was to transfer the knowledge to all of the other keys. My scales are now great. I love doing scales every day but the learning process was tedious at times and took a long time to perfect.

In the years since then I have changed teachers 3 more times (Mostly due to moving) and learned new and different techniques with each of them. For a long time I had a bouncing bow at the wrong times. I finally discovered that it was due to tension in my right hand fingers and shoulder. Now I only bounce when I want to.

The biggest challenge for me has been to learn how to play in a relaxed state (free shoulders, relaxed fingers, movable neck and wrist, etc) I am still working on this concept but it is getting better day by day. I am working on repertoire that I used to dream of being able to play (Brahms sonatas, Bach partitas, Bruch and Mozart concertos, etc). I set both small and large goals for myself and change them when necessary.

Everything I have done for 17 years has been a step-wise process to get me to where I am today. I believe that in 5 years I will be better than I am today but the change will be gradual. However, in the early days, I was often discouraged and sometimes wanted to quit because I sounded so awful. I just tried to remember that I was more critical even than my teachers and practicing might not make perfect but it would make better.

For me, learning to play the violin has been a wonderful exercise in patience, perseverance, and musicality. Has it been worth it? Absolutely. My best times are in the practice room entertaining myself, and I don't mean this in a frivolous way. I genuinely like to practice and look forward to learning ever more challenging literature and techniques. Playing the violin is part of my life just like my family, my dogs, my job, and so on. I love it.

If you stay with it, someday you will look back and know how much you have learned and how different your playing is from the early days and you'll enjoy a tremendous sense of accomplishment. For now, set small goals. Don't think about how you "should" sound. Think about steps to improve sound and work on 1 or 2 of them. It is slow, it is gradual but the changes you want will happen.

December 27, 2007 at 07:56 PM · That was really well said Ardene...

And another example might be found in my blog, "The courage to Remedial: Twinkles" or something like that.

Therein you get to listen me whine about going back and layering something left out over a long period of time, and much technical work.

So, violin can be very frustrating. But as Ardene said very well implicitly anyway, it takes a long time to get good. But, once you start getting your vibrato and accents, and even bowing and so forth, and that big sound starts emanating from the box a little elegantly here and there, it is just another chapter of a never ending journey.

So, print out what you wrote, put it on a wall or in a book somewhere, and don't look at it again for another year, then another...

I laid out extensive gardens and landscaping for my folks like that, put it away, and pulled it out about ten years later to very nice suprises.

June 9, 2010 at 06:42 PM ·

Just stumbled onto this thread and can only say THANK YOU!!!!. After 9 months, I'm feeling the same frustration and discouragement and was "this close" to throwing in the towel.

Instead, I've printed out this thread and am going to make copies--one for my briefcase, one for my desk, one for my nightstand, and one for my car--so that I can read it any time I need to and even when I don't.

Thanks again!! (:-)))))))

June 10, 2010 at 01:42 PM ·

I've struggled with the same problem, but I think I stumbled onto something -- it's getting better.

I have two bows.  One is slightly heavier than the other.  I find that the heavier bow helps to partly eliminate the "bow-stutter".  Another thing that has helped is to make my bow strokes slightly faster.  I've also noticed that when my concentration slips and I'm not as careful about playing mid-way between the bridge and the fingerboard the tone gets a little shaky.  If you can apply a bit more weight, speed and concentration on where your bow makes contact with the strings, it might make a difference for you.

Would the place from whom you've been renting your violin let you try other bows before you make your decision on whether or not to continue?

June 10, 2010 at 03:41 PM ·

It's been almost 3 years.

Now I wonder how Michael is doing, what violin he ended up getting...and how long it took to housebreak the puppy...;)



June 10, 2010 at 04:38 PM ·


I have a bow that is light, but fairly well balanced; it stutters less than some other bows. The weight may be one way to solve it, but a light bow can also work, if it is the right bow.

June 10, 2010 at 05:19 PM ·

As long as there is no nurological problems.... nothing beats strength training the arms with etudes and free weights!  Your chest muscles (pectoral) and back muscle (trapezis), deltoid & neck muscle running from your shoulder up to your ear all play a part in supporting and lifting the bow arm to stay up and do what it needs to do.  It takes time building the muscles up to bow a violin!  The same for the other arm.  You'll get them developed it just takes time.  Hang in there you'll do great!

Oh, BTW, I have heard folks here talk about Alexandrian techniques being really helpfull!

June 10, 2010 at 05:53 PM ·

Roland --

I was glad to see what you wrote about your light bow.  I'm going to play around with mine a little more and see if I can find a technique that will help it to "stutter" less.  When it's working right, I really do like the smoothness it pulls from my violin (I just haven't been able to consistently make it sound that good).  The heavier bow is a little more "edgy".

June 11, 2010 at 02:08 AM ·

I hope he got the Gliga. :) (I'm terribly biased because I love mine to pieces) 

June 11, 2010 at 03:35 AM ·

I understand you so well!!!  I have but_ myslef for 5 years now and although I did do much progress when I had more time you can just guess what comes next:  not beeing happy to not do better and going crazy when I see it all disseapears when I go through school rushes (I no longer can practice as much because of a "rational" decision I did although I did not regret to make this rationnal decision.  It might be paying in the long run for my violin! 

Even the pros are not always satisfy.

BUT  as for throwing the towell... 

It depends if it brings you more joy or more problems in your life.  Sometimes it does brings you more problems but you're psychologically dependant (violin junckie...). There are many of these here (lol)  but this should not be the case for you after only 9 months ; ) 

Only you can take this decision!  Only you knows what you want? And why do you do violin??? Is it for fun, to perform, to keep you grey cells active, to train your coordination skills, to make friends, to have glory on you and be famous (this one is almost impossible so I hope it's not that lol) 

I think these questions are a good starting point to think of!

All the best,


June 12, 2010 at 03:14 PM ·


You finally answered the most important question: the issue of whether you have a teacher.

The biomechanics of playing the violin are so utterly counter-intuitive that, for classical study, one simply MUST have the weekly guidance of someone who knows exactly what they're doing. Left to themselves, 99.999% of all beginning violinists will adopt faulty bow grips and left-hand position. And even with supervision, most adults have a terrible time obtaining a good working bow grip. Without that, a nice sound is almost impossible.

You need to find someone who can teach you these things, and you might have to audition a few teachers, because I've seen so many teachers who don't teach proper setup from the beginning.

The safest bet is to take a few lessons from a university violin teacher, at least for proper setup. They are almost always properly trained due to the competition out there.

There is little possibility of success without investment in time and money. Don't expect to teach yourself on a $400 violin and still be playing in the future.


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