Advice for a mediocre junior?

February 9, 2008 at 02:26 AM ·

Replies (43)

February 9, 2008 at 03:10 AM · Hah, I'm in the same position as you Alex (I'm also a junior too)

I was thinking about making a thread

February 9, 2008 at 03:18 AM · Well, what pieces have you learned so far? Give us the specifics-we can give you more info if you give us more info.

February 9, 2008 at 04:26 AM · I'm impressed with your thinking skills. You are smart to think about these things; some people do not. It sounds like you are a fairly good player and can maybe play in a college orchestra. If you set your goals high and work hard, you could make greater things happen. Other people here could probably judge your level if you explain where you are at and if you are properly on track for advanced study.

However, there is something you should know about majoring in music. Unless you have an edge, music can be an unemployable major -- other than cab driver or bartender. If you want to be a performer, the competition is tough, and you really need graduate-level work or the equivalent training at a music conservatory. If you work hard you can make it and achieve this goal, but realize that this is a very competitive road to take. You can do it, but there are others major in music but are never able to use it for anything other than retail clerk.

So work hard to build your violin playing skills at a high level, but if you simply cannot achieve that, then another option in music is to major in music education, rather than just general music, so you can find a job as a teacher -- or a career path that is similar. There are also a few other majors, such as music management, that could pan out, but be very careful. There are not many jobs for general music majors.

Another career path is to minor in music, playing in orchestra, and then majoring in something employable. Many top liberal arts schools like applicants to be well rounded, including experience playing music, because those type of students learn well, graduate, go on to graduate school, and become successful.

By the way, Alan Greenspan, the economist and former chairman of the Federal Reserve, was once a professional concert musician -- I believe a violinist. When he career stalled, he went back to school and studied economics and business and made a career in high finance and government.

So there you have it. Reach for your dreams but let good judgement help you on your way. You could go to a college with great teachers and really excel in violin. Or you could do something else for money and enjoy music on the side as a hobby.

February 9, 2008 at 03:53 AM · Hi Alex,

5 years ago, I was in just about the exact situation you were in. I was a junior in high school and had never worked hard at the violin. I didn't really like it all that much to be honest. I had practiced probably a half hour to an hour a day etc. for almost my whole life so obviously I wasn't very advanced in anything. I had an eye-opening(heart-opening, soul-opening?) experience playing with my youth orchestra in Panama and Guatemala which made me decide that I wanted to be a violinist. So, realizing that I was about 10-40 years behind everyone else my age, I started working my butt off. I bumped my practicing quantity AND quality way up and things started working faster and faster. I was lucky enough to get into New England Conservatory and I'm in my third year, loving (almost) every minute.

I absolutely think anyone who's had a good basic training can become a proficient violinist or musician with the right help and motivation. Just go for it! I never would have though I could be where I am now 5 years ago. It still shocks me. Try and surprise yourself and good luck!

February 9, 2008 at 04:14 AM · I was that kind of violinist in high school. I didn't major in music in college, I majored in Biology and became a scientist, while playing in university and community orchestras, and I'm glad I did that. Music is still a big part of my life, but I don't regret not doing it for a living. I only have to play to the point that I enjoy it and I don't feel pressure to make money with it.

February 9, 2008 at 04:25 AM · Well, I've made it to all-states 2 years and am in the same orchestra Josh W was in when he was in high school, and there's no way I could ever get into a conservatory and become a musician. I have not had a great foundation, and my technique is kind of sloppy, and I don't practice scales a lot (only during some auditions). Although I can practice a piece really hard the 1-2 months before an audition, I have to spend a lot of time on stuff like intonation, etc...

February 9, 2008 at 04:32 AM · One thing to consider is this ... Imagine you don't follow your dream and when you're 40 or 50 you will regret it a lot.

When I was a teen I studied the piano and trying to cope with a trash piano which could only be tuned as high as one half step too low finally led to me giving up altogether.

What I really wanted to learn was the violin but I was told I had no sense of pitch and could not hope to learn to play the violin well.

My dream to become a musician evaporated and I went into the science and technology field instead, interesting, challenging and even satisfying but still I didn't realise my dream. And the older I got, the more I regretted it.

Many years later my mother told me about the problem with the piano and I realised that it was not for lack of sense of pitch that I had been sliding up and down by half a note while reciting at music school but quite to the contrary, it was due to a good sense of pitch. Still it took me 30 years to get my act together and start to learn the violin, as a hobby only of course, but anyway, I am enjoying it.

Yes, of course there would have been the danger to become an unemployed musician and I am sure I would have had to work much harder than I did in science and technology. Still unfulfilled dreams often come back to haunt you.

You may want to think of a risk management strategy though. A friend of mine wanted to pursue a career as an orchestra conductor much to the dismay of his parents who made him earn a degree in economics before they agreed to support him. Many people end up in a profession different from the one they initially studied for, so having a backup education in another field would seem to be a good insurance policy.

Anyway, good luck.

February 9, 2008 at 05:17 AM · if you're a junior right now, you have about a year before any college entrance auditions. if you're smart enough to realize your own limitations (which it seems you are) and are realistic about your playing abilities (which it seems you are), you DEFINITELY can be a music major in college. you have a whole year to work up audition materials and identify and fix the deficiencies in your playing, especially if you have a good teacher who is willing to push you (a request which most teachers are more than happy to oblige!)

i didn't even decide that i wanted to be a violin performance major until February of my senior year of college -i thought i wanted to be a math/science double major until the spring of my junior year, and applied and got in as music ed, then changed that the spring before i entered college.

so start working hard now, and remember that ANYTHING is possible if you're willing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears to it. we all believe in you, so you should too. the sky is the limit!

February 9, 2008 at 05:23 AM · I think a lot of people can relate to having that "high school slump" when it comes to violin. Two years ago... I was a junior in high school and learning Kreisler Preludium and Allegro. Now I'm a college frosh working for a double major in chem/pre-med and music. Last semester I learned the whole Bach Chaconne, and this semester I'm learning the Sibelius 1st movement... Then again, I practiced maybe a solid 5 hours total (outside of lessons) on the preludium and allegro... and now I put in at least twice that a week.

February 9, 2008 at 02:19 PM · Actually, you have about 9 months to prepare for college auditions. Going to as rigorous a summer program as you can find and afford could do you a lot of good; more lessons, variety of feedback, intensive practice, and a nice credential to have. Also a good way to determine if you are up to the workload at music college, and really interested enough. 40 years ago this fall(!)I was a senior headed for engineering school, came home one day and said I needed an audition piece, got into a couple of programs. Times have changed a lot, though; I really wonder if that would happen now. Sue

February 9, 2008 at 11:16 PM · For the love of all that is good and pure DON'T go into music performance. Unless you want to live in a basement for the rest of your life...or if you're going to marry someone who's rich. Get a business degree or something that pays and take violin lessons at the university.

Whatever you choose, I wish you the best of luck.

February 9, 2008 at 11:34 PM · alex, you really cannot say you are mediocre, at least not yet:)

so many people (regarless of age) with potential never get developed,,,and then many who have gone very far having been written off long time ago.

i remember a guy when he first started learning violin, quite late, his teacher said something to the effect that, you are not only not suited for violin, you are not suited for learning music! (gee, makes discussions sound so lame:)

and i am referring to David Oistrakh

February 10, 2008 at 03:08 AM · 5 is "quite late"?

February 10, 2008 at 03:04 AM ·

February 10, 2008 at 03:46 AM · marty, you are absolutely right...what was i thinking! definitely not David O!

this is nuts,,,give me some time to retrace my steps,,,how did i get that impression from reading what???

what is worse is that alex is now going to stop playing violin altogether! :)

February 10, 2008 at 06:34 AM · If you really want to go to school for music, make a practice plan for yourself and go for it. The worst that can happen is you don't get into music school and can minor in music.

Don't let people discourage your from pursuing a music degree because it's not profitable monetarily. If you love music, you will have an amazing 4 years. Remember that a Bachelor's in anything can get you into graduate school for a number of academic fields. High ranking jobs today generally require a Master's in todays market anyways, so you can feel free to do something you can enjoy with your undergrad! I am glad that I decided to get my degree in music after having to choose from a number of subjects. I have learned more seriously pursuing music than I possibly could have in any other school.

Good luck!!!

February 10, 2008 at 02:12 PM · If you can play the Tchaikovsky Concerto very well by the time you graduate, you will get into a conservatory. IF not, then no you won't.

February 10, 2008 at 02:59 PM · That's not true, Chris.

February 10, 2008 at 03:05 PM · Well, you can't play Accolay or Viotti Concerto and try to get into a conservatory, eh? It's a competitive world out there...

February 10, 2008 at 03:35 PM · Chris, your comment perpetuates the notion that one needs to drive a ferrari concerto into a conservatory. Too many students play Sibelius, Tchaik, Brahms, etc. and simply don't play them well. I know a great many teachers that, when considering a student for conservatory entrance, would rather hear Saint-Saens, Wieniawski 2, Lalo, Barber etc. played WELL, even at brand-name schools like Juilliard. Granted, I'm sure Juilliard and Curtis receive applicants that do perform the warhorse concerti well, but they still tend to reject poor performances of those concerti, and accept fine performances of advanced student concerti.

February 10, 2008 at 03:54 PM · Well, if one is applying to Juilliard and Curtis, you must be able to play a "Ferrari" concerto and play it well! Nothing less!

February 10, 2008 at 06:06 PM · An important thing to understand is that music is a business. Making a plan of action (such as practice every day for 3 hours and get a good teacher who will prepare you for an audition) and becoming a reasonably good violinist are only the halfway point.

The other part that people overlook is the plan of attack. Violinists come a dime a dozen and then ones who are able to make a career out of it pursue more than just a heaping practice record. You must seek opportunities to perform, attend music festivals with like-minded individuals, and surround yourself in musical arenas. WHO you meet as as important as how you play. Most importantly you must surround yourself with players that are better. Kind of like "dress for the job you want, not the job you have"

February 10, 2008 at 06:15 PM · Not making all-state doesn't mean anything, because each state's all-state is different. Many of them are not difficult to get into, but some of them are very competitive.

February 11, 2008 at 11:46 PM · Greetings,

Chris, I think to some extent you are perpetuating a miscocneptioon abbout the nature of auditions and what is being looke dfor, be it Julliard or anywhere else. The judging panel consists of very experienced musicians who , in my opinion don`t look at the piece being palyed as the deciding criteria. I think the main purpose of setting hard works is to remind people that they are havign the gall to apply with the assumaption they are potential viruouso soploists. It keeps out the riff raff. However, before anytign else the panel will be repsonding to innate msucianship, communicative skills, musical udnerstanding technical potential interms of how the body is being used and how far this use could goa swell as currnet level of technique. If one played a Handel sonata with such (appropriate) feeling and naturalness that one became lostt in the music then such a player would get into Juloard if the rules allowed it. This presuppose the tehcnique is perfect becaus ethe slightest deviation in bowing or pitch in these pieces 8just as an example) and one is immediatley in a tortured state. One ex member soloist of this board tells of how he was already on the way to stradom when a teacher brought him down to earth and relaly taught him to listen by giving him a Handel sonata and showing up how lazy his ears really were.

Come to think of it, everything that a panel might be lookign for is perhaps encapsulated in the idea `can this studnet really and honestly listen to themself.` there is no greater truth in violin playing and only those that really can go on to greatness. Demonstrate that on any @piece and an honest panellist will really be rooting for you.

Incidentally, if you can play Viotti 22 with grace charm and utter precision you are one hell of a violinist. and demonstrating a lot more than a loud , flashy performanc eof tchiakovsky.



February 12, 2008 at 01:28 AM · I wanna go to Juloard!

February 12, 2008 at 01:54 AM · Josh W, You're going to have to prove to me that you were that bad.

My teacher studied piano with the late Cecile Genhardt at Eastman. She made it perfectly clear that success in music was a matter of hard work and mostly hard work; however, she also believed that only talented people could be trained and that only the hard work of talented people paid off.

So I think it behooves anyone who likes music and wants to know one's potential to first assess one's talent. How quickly do you learn things? How good is your intonation (natively)? When a teacher makes a suggestion can you grasp it quickly? Do you play complicated rhythms well at sight or with minor practice?

It doesn't mean you can't learn if you are not super adept but you may not be able to learn fast enough to realize a dream of a career in music.

If you assess yourself to be adept then get excellent instruction and work like crazy.

February 12, 2008 at 02:15 AM · Alex, I think you should take some or the pressure off yourself. You might not be able to get into one of the ten best music schools, but there are plenty of schools with respectable departments and more than respectable teachers in which you could successfully apply to. There are many students that hone their skills at second or third tier schools and are then able to go to a top rated school for grad. school. You might be as talented as violinists at Julliard or NEC but just not as advanced as they are. Use your undergraduate years to catch up.

February 12, 2008 at 03:43 AM · viva vibrato

February 12, 2008 at 03:48 AM · Todd, Greenspan played the saxophone, not the violin

February 12, 2008 at 03:53 AM · Thanks for the correction. I checked and you are right that he played the sax (and a little clarinet.)

No wonder he got along so well with Bill Clinton. : }

February 12, 2008 at 04:07 AM · F'in' brass players!

Greenie should short a bunch of stock and then say "I smell a recession." Hmmm.

February 12, 2008 at 04:23 AM · Corwin,

Are you sure you were referring to me? I don't think I said anything about being "that bad" but if that's how it came out then I was being unclear. I did have natural talent for the violin, but I honestly didn't care at all about it. The experience I had in Latin America made me care about the instrument and I began working in earnest at it. I still feel that I'm t behind many of my peers in terms of technical ability, but the work I did between the end of my sophomore year and my NEC audition was quite intense, and it sure as heck payed off. I'm still doing the same sort of work and I'm catching up more every day. Does that make some sort of sense?

February 12, 2008 at 04:28 AM · Can you share the experience in Latin American in more detail? That might be interesting.

February 12, 2008 at 06:33 AM · If you want to get serious about the violin, get the best teacher you can find! I know from experience that practicing your butt off without proper direction won't get you very far. Unlike a couple of these stories, I was actually very serious and willing to practice 5+ hrs. a day when I was in junior high and high school. Unfortunately, being the only one in my entire extended family with any musical inclinations at all, none of us knew the difference between a not so great teacher and a great one. The result was that despite my hard work, I made very slow progress. I went ahead and majored in performance my freshman year at a liberal arts univ., but I was told that I wasn't talented enough, and had to change my major after my freshman year. I wound up minoring in music, but again my teachers were not very helpful, especially with technique. After graduation, moves and my job kept me so busy that I pretty much didn't hardly touch it for 4 years.

I missed it so much however that I just had to get back to it and started taking lessons again, this time from an excellent teacher. I changed jobs so that I could have time to practice again, and see if I could do anything with it. What a difference a great teacher makes! I found out that I'm actually a very quick learner, and have a great ear, things that my other teachers had told me that I didn't have. My new teacher started my first lesson by pointing out that my shoulder rest was not the correct height for me and was the cause of a lot of tension in my playing. As soon as I got one better suited to me, there was a night and day difference. Something I could have changed years ago if a teacher had just pointed it out!

Another thing to keep in mind is that even if you don't make it as a classical/ orchestral musician, a solid classical background will give you the technical basis to be an excellent player in other genres, i.e. jazz. I realize that almost everybody on here is a classical player, so saying this may be taboo, but while I still love and study classical violin, I'm actually beginning a performing career in the jazz, country, and western swing genres, and am in the process of transitioning into performing full time. These styles require every bit as much attention to details like intonation and timing as classical. So even if a classical career doesn't work out, don't totally rule out the possibilty of learning another style. It may mean the difference between making a good living as a musician, or playing only as a hobby. And for those that say that pursuing a performing career is too hard and not enough money, if it's the only thing that makes you truly happy, then go for it. You'll have to work hard at it, but every job I've had I've had to work hard. It might as well be at something I love. Just be a little open minded, and you might actually make a decent living. My ideal musically would be to perform with an orchestra or string quartet one night, a western swing band the next, night, a straight up jazz band the next, and an acoustic or rock band the next.

February 12, 2008 at 01:16 PM · Josh W

I may have overread your first statement. Perhaps you were an underachiever at age 14 or 15 but on genetic grounds alone the probability of your talent is very high. Wasn't it fun to catch fire and see the progress?

But it is to my point that a career in music (which requires an enormous amount of work) must start with the yeast of talent.

February 12, 2008 at 04:21 PM · Yea I don't think he's saying that he was a total wreck. At the end of the day, he has just about every nurtured (and natural) advantage you could possibly want. I can totally understand how at that age you like the violin, but you don't like it enough to practice. That was me until this year.

February 12, 2008 at 05:13 PM · "marty, you are absolutely right...what was i thinking! definitely not David O!

this is nuts,,,give me some time to retrace my steps,,,how did i get that impression from reading what???"

Maybe it was Albert Einstein. Or possibly Mussolini.

February 12, 2008 at 06:14 PM · Responding to the original thread:

To be honest it is pretty late, but you have to decide how you want to proceed. I am one who pursued it very hard but then changed to another path after 4 years of college level studies. The silver lining is that I got pretty good, and I can still play at a pretty high level, and enjoy it now probably more than if I were doing it for a living.

I was a standout as a high schooler. I made All-State all 4 years and was principle violist my senior year. However, I did not have a good teacher, and truly did not learn any technique until the summer after graduating from high school - everything before that was mostly on talent and hard work. I knew I had problems and in 8 weeks totally absorbed all the technique that I know today from a wonderful teacher at a summer camp. So my first advice is to find the best teacher you can as soon as you can, make sure your fundamentals are 100%. I didn't know how to hold or draw a bow correctly, or how to place the fingers on the fingerboard properly and I played out of tune. I worked very, very hard the next two years at a local University and got accepted to Juilliard. I went there for the next two years, but they wouldn't graduate me becuase "I hadn't been there long enough" (I made an A on my last jury with Paul Doctor, Lillian Fuchs and William Lincer - so whatever). In the meantime I met a lot of professional musicians and hung out with many of the kids at Juilliard and realized that as much as I loved music and playing my instrument, it just wasn't the life for me. So now I am an engineer, but I'll tell you, having Juilliard on my resume' and being able to play has gotten me attention everywhere I've gone. Not one minute of my life as a musician/student was wasted. Nothing keeps the mind as sharp as playing music and properly practicing a musical instrument.

Today, however, the stakes have been raised. I don't know if that kid I was 30 years ago would have any chance of getting accepted to Juilliard, the level of playing seems much higher today, but if you don't at least give it a shot, you may regret it forever.

At the very least, put as much energy and effort as you can to become as good as you can these next two years. If you don't major in violin, once you leave for college, it will be very difficult to find the time and energy to improve much after that. But you can play for the rest of your life and its worth everybit you put into it.

February 12, 2008 at 08:28 PM · Alex, I think it is up to you at this point. You started off describing yourself as "mediocre", then went on to list some impressive attributes. I teach strings in public schools I see this often. If you are sure that you want to take it the next level, then go for it! Discuss your goals with both your school orchestra director and your private teacher and have them help you form a plan of action. I wish you the best.

March 8, 2008 at 06:54 PM · Hi Alex,

I am in the very same position as you are and find it reassuring that their is someone else in my shoes! I have been playing the violin for 10 years and have finally found a fantastic and amazing teacher. I discussed my dreams and ambitions with her and she basically said go for it! It will take an awful lot of hard work and perservence but hopefully all that work will come together in the end. All i can say to you is good luck and i hope it works out for you!!!

March 9, 2008 at 12:39 AM · With all due respect to Todd, I think it's a terrible idea to go into music education as a fallback when what you really want to do is perform; it's a difficult, time-intensive major and you will resent it.

I suggest finding the biggest, best quality program in your area and ask to shadow the teacher for as many hours a week as possible so you can get a little taste of what it is like and see if it could be right for you. Of course, nothing would stop you from having a private studio either way.

March 9, 2008 at 06:27 AM · My very wise orchestra director (reminds me of Yoda) once told me "Don't go into music unless you absolutely cannot imagine yourself doing anything else." I recently told him I'm going into violin performance and composition. (I really can't imagine myself doing anything else). He said, "Well, it'll be hard, but good for you."

He has a son who plays cello in New York, so he knows how hard it can be.

Just thought I'd pass on that little bit of wisdom with you.

And yes, education is VERY time intensive. I'd suggest taking a few ed classes. If you like it, go into it. If you don't, don't go into it. That's what I did. I decided I didn't like my ed classes that much, so I dropped them and now I have time to practice 4 hours a day and compose a bit on the side.

Good luck!

March 9, 2008 at 01:54 PM · I got my masters in education and I concur that it is very time consuming and intensive. I am glad that I have it and that I became certified, and taught in the public school system for a while. But when I think back on getting that degree I regret how much it pulled me away from playing. There's virtually almost NO playing during that time! I had to drop all my freelancing. So do it if you think you can handle that and THEN get back into playing again like I did.

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