The problem with late starters?

February 22, 2008 at 04:57 PM · This old man seems to say the odds are stacked up so high against adult learners that they have no chance to ever become decent players.

On his website (j-krakenberger dot com) he also appears to be saying that Spaniards can't learn the violin well either.

Is he right or is he nuts? Are "late" starters "problem" cases?

To me it seems this guy is a failure as a teacher and he is projecting his frustration onto his students and the world in general.

Anyway, the reason I am posting this is that I hope for some experienced teachers here to write strong rebuttals in order to neutralise the discouragement that this sort of disinformation has on some adult learners (as evidenced by previous adult learner threads).

Replies (100)

February 22, 2008 at 06:23 PM · Most adult learners are doing it for specific reasons. They want to learn to play the strings, either by themselves, at church or with a small amature community orchestra or with some friends.

I don't know of an adult learner that has honest aspirations to become a professional instumentalist. To achieve the caliber of playing of our professional concert strings players and touring soloists, you need to have started as a very small child, with the proper professional support and training. It is just too long or a road to travel if you haven't started early enough.

Can you get a job in an orchestra after having started as an adult? I belive everything is possible. It's not very probable.

I started because I've always enjoyed it. I play with my teacher and I practice alot. I've been having the most fun, and it has given me an appreciation for the music of others more than ever before.

I am not a big fan of teaching without a very, very strong structured background in music theory and everything that stands for. My mother was one of the finest pianists I'd ever heard, but she couldn't read a note of music. I wouldn't want her teaching anyone how to play piano.

I'm rambling. I'll shut up now.

February 22, 2008 at 07:04 PM · You have asked if an adult learner can become a decent player. Depending on what you mean, the answer is certainly yes. You can become a good enough player to play in a community orchestra or a chamber group of just for yourself for the fun of it.

However, as the previous poster has stated, it is highly unlikely that you will go further. You need more time and dedication than most adults have to devote to the instrument. Plus, it is so much easier to learn if you start young.

So, depending on your goal, this response is either encouraging or discouraging. Hopefully, the former.

February 22, 2008 at 07:17 PM · There is no real reason why an adult player cannot become good. If they have great dexterity and enormous patience, it's possible. It isn't likely, just because most people wouldn't have the time, and I don't think most people would have the ability. There isn't any reason though for any dedicated and very interested late beginner to not work hard and try to reach their goals.

February 22, 2008 at 07:24 PM · Just curious, but are there any very skilled or well-known violinists that began after the age of 10?

February 22, 2008 at 08:36 PM · In the top tier, the oldest I have heard of is Ricci, who started at age 9. I have heard that there is a scientist named Mark Ptashne who also plays violin professionally and started at age 15. There is also a Norwegian whose name escapes me who is fairly prominent in that country and started, if I recall, at age 20. Those are the only two I have ever heard of, and neither is in the top tier. There have been previous threads on this issue. You may want to consult them.

February 22, 2008 at 08:25 PM · The Jan 2008 issue of The Strad has a review of the book "Becoming a Musician" by George Norwood Humphrey, who played viola for the Boston Symphony from 1934-77. Apparently Humphrey did not begin serious playing until he was 19. The reviewer did not define "serious playing", but the implication was that he was not a student of the instrument.

February 22, 2008 at 09:12 PM · John used to be a member here, probably still lurks.

Holes in the argument:

1. professional and proficient are not interchangeable terms.

2. nearly all human task completion is bilateral, and specifically requires that we use two hands. People who have suffed a CVA or traumatic amputation will tell you that they didn't realise the contiual demand for using two hands in a coordinated fashion.

3. small surface area in the fingers does not equate to small perceptual or sensory feedback. google homunculus. the hands have the GREATEST sensory feedback, and something as relatively large scale as a bow, with weight (resistance provides increased feedback) will send the neurones into raptures.

4. there are so many sustained human work postures that require unnatural and sustained upper limb activity that it makes your head spin. and the suggestion that you can only do it if you start at 5 to train the muscles - holy crap get me out of here if the anklebiters are practising for F1 motor driving or getting their little chainsaws out.

5. I'm confused - is John making a claim that as we get older we get clumsier?

6. WTF?

His website crashed my system. I can't judge if he's a nice player. I can suggest that he is a poor researcher and a weak analyst.

February 22, 2008 at 09:27 PM · I started at 14 and I'm still crying over my misfortune! Luckily I'm able to earn my living playing and teaching the violin and I consider myself a capable player in the professional realm. Oh but when I think what could've been....

February 22, 2008 at 11:22 PM · No chance for what?....getting a recording contract. Probably true. Enjoying life and making music...probably not true.

February 23, 2008 at 03:37 AM · Edit: my post deleted, thanks Al for the heads up.

February 23, 2008 at 01:25 AM · oh come on jon, she was referring to john, right?

February 23, 2008 at 03:39 AM · I get my name spelled John all the time :-)

February 23, 2008 at 01:21 AM · > You have asked if an adult learner can become a decent player.

Well, strictly speaking ... what I had asked (hoped) for was a rebuttal of that j-krakenberger text along the lines of Sharelle's post. Thank you, Sharelle.

> You need more time and dedication than most adults have

> to devote to the instrument.

Precisely that is about the only significant reason why it is more difficult to start as an adult.

To me personally there can be absolutely no doubt that a healthy adult can learn anything if they put their mind to it, that they can become proficient at it if they can devote sufficient time to it.

I challenge anyone to memorise thousands of Chinese characters and learn to draw them with a pen as well as anybody in China, Japan and Korea who has done this since they went to elementary school. It is possible but the time this takes will most likely take a serious chunk out of your normal day time job and depending on how busy you are, you may not find sufficient time to become proficient. Does this mean you couldn't do it because of your age? No! Because of muscle development in your hands? No! You can't do it because of your *schedule*.

Let's do a mind experiment. Suppose you'd take Heifetz' DNA and clone him into two individuals, H1 and H2. H1 is not given any opportunity to learn the violin until adult age, at which he is given all the time necessary. H2 is taught at young age but not given any opportunity to practise sufficiently.

Do you not believe that H1 would become an outstanding player, given the talent and the time invested? And H2 would probably still do better than other children who don't practise enough, but do you think he would become proficient, given the lack of practise?

I seem to remember to have read an interview with Heifetz in which he said that his virtuosity was 10% talent and 90% hard work. There are similar statements from other outstanding achievers both in the field of music and from other fields.

> Plus, it is so much easier to learn if you start young.

And how would you possibly know that? I'd say this is a generalisation for it entirely depends on the individual. For me it was not easier to learn a musical instrument as a child. I tried it several times with several instruments and I found it too hard. I know many others who found it much too hard to learn a musical instrument as a child but faired rather well when they tried again as adults. There are those for whom it is easy to learn an instrument at young age and there are those for whom it is not.

February 23, 2008 at 03:34 AM · ben, lets look at it from another angle...

assume there are millions of kids playing violin, with a mix of aspirations/potentials/environment, how many really stand out in the end? not many. so, the advantage of being youth apparently is lost in the mass, over time, which pretty much goes along with your heifetz theory, that, it is 90% hard work. if we look at the ratio of kids who really make it vs those who have since given up, we can argue that youth per se does not predetermine higher rate of success.

however, lol, purely based on the numbers of entries by the youth squad, there is a higher chance for someone in the youth squad to hit the lottery---the right combo of potential/environment.

further, as we said here again and again, in this society for performance art, there has always been a fancy for prodigies. lets say ben plays twice as good as a younger kid, it is very likely no one will pay attention to ben. it is crazy but that is how it goes. and, i said it before, some adult players are also subconsciously affected by it or even bought into that weird sense of value.

what can i say (shaking my head)?

February 23, 2008 at 04:52 AM · Great post I thought. The numbers thing is always very important. What size is the adult talent pool? The adult learner standing alone, trying to generate a support base, is very real for some.

Success for an adult learner, the ingredients of which include your teacher, accompanist and music group if you have one, is also reliant on energy and vitality to believe in your abilities and potential, and a determination that lets you see through all the disinterest and apathy toward adult violin learners, and get as good as you can. If you build it, they will come - that's the plan, anyway.

February 23, 2008 at 04:04 AM · I started leraning the violin at age 15 (I'm 18 now). I have always considered myself a late-starer -- and that's really problematic. It's because of this globally accepted idea that if you don't start early in life (age 3-10) you have less chances to become good, professional or whatever, that many late starters are discouraged even before starting or while they are in the path.

While it is true that ANYTHING a person does will have better results in time if they start young, the nay-sayers of late-starting fail to see something very important: a person can be fierce enough to accomodate to what learning the violin demands. It IS a matter of fierceness. It's not easy, specially for adults, who have responsabilities, i.e. earning money for a living, to dispose of the necesary time to practice. Not to mention staying away from the family to which they are devoted. Let's say that the biggest obstacle for adults is time and responsability.

If you know what your limits will be if you take the path of learning the violin, then it's a good start. I agree with Heifetz: hard work plays a major role. Your brain must know that most of the things it will learn in the future are related to it. It is just perfect if you can forget about everything else.

Ben: in his site, Krakenberger effectively makes the assumption that it's difficult for Spaniards to learn the violin "by almost half a century of isolation from the civilised world", as oppossed to countries of the rest of Europe that have a great high-string culture because they represent the civilised world... right... If such handicap were real, I think it would be because Spain doesn't have a tradition in "classical" music as maybe Germany or Italy do. The relation of famous composers between those countries and Spain is clear.

February 23, 2008 at 04:28 AM · Greetings,

just picked this out as I skimmed through things. It may not contribute much to the debate.

>I challenge anyone to memorise thousands of Chinese characters and learn to draw them with a pen as well as anybody in China, Japan and Korea who has done this since they went to elementary school. It is possible but the time this takes will most likely take a serious chunk out of your normal day time job and depending on how busy you are, you may not find sufficient time to become proficient. Does this mean you couldn't do it because of your age? No! Because of muscle development in your hands? No! You can't do it because of your *schedule*.

The firts problem is taht it is not at all true taht all the Japanese have a high level of ability in Kanji. Edfucation is subject to ecomic/class/gender variables and there are people who have never gone beyond th ecrudest rudeimntary writing. Anothe rinteresitng thing is that Japanese who spend even a relatiovely short time abroad use and forget many kanji becuas ethey are not surrioude dby them daily. The letters coming hone gradually become written in hiragana. Clealry the kanji are not as well learned as one would like to belive.

The next point is that any adult who tries to learn kanji by bute reptition of writing is actually quite foolish. There are in fact books that specifically target different learnign faculties, especially imaginative memory so that adults can and do learn to read and writrebthousands of characters in a few years. The system by James Heisig springs to mind. I ve done it and although I got side tracked by my career in lingustics, in the space of about one and a half years I could read and write 2000 kanji.

Finally an post war experiment which eduxationalist have swept under the carpet here involved a comparison betwene some schools whose stduents learnt the kanji and began their elementary studie sin kanji simulatneously as opposed to some in which kanji wa skept as a cultural study while other subjects were done in the alphabet. The latter schools advanced far more quickly scholastically and surprisngly, were also much better at kanji in the end.



February 23, 2008 at 05:48 AM · “I challenge anyone to memorise thousands of Chinese characters and learn to draw them with a pen as well as anybody in China, Japan and Korea who has done this since they went to elementary school. It is possible but the time this takes will most likely take a serious chunk out of your normal day time job and depending on how busy you are, you may not find sufficient time to become proficient. Does this mean you couldn't do it because of your age? No! Because of muscle development in your hands? No! You can't do it because of your *schedule*.”

I worked closely with a number of non-Chinese graduate students came from US, UK, and Scandinavia countries. Many of them know and write Chinese calligraphy much more beautifully than most Chinese people I’ve known. My husband, a non-Chinese sinologist who learned Chinese in his mid-20s in Canada has publications not just in Chinese, but classical Chinese and they are now required readings for the Chinese graduate students in China. So, this is my take on it: if people are passionate and committed , in a reasonablly supportive environment and with reasonable intelligence, it is not just possible or probable, it should be no surprise that they should succeed in doing what others think impossible or unthinkable. This is true in learning an instrument such as the violin as well as almost anything else.

Am I too old for this? Can I be proficient as a late starter? Do I have the time or money? ... Well, most highly motivated and committed people I know don’t even bother asking such questions—the type of questions suggests self-doubt and lack of complete commitment or passion. A more useful question to ask is something like, can I live happily without it? Or, can my time or resource be better spent other than doing this? –‘nuff said.

[edit: just notice Buri went ahead of me. I completely agree what he said.]

February 23, 2008 at 05:05 AM · I didn't say it was impossible to learn to a) memorise and b) to draw (which is two entirely different skills) kanji/hanzi. I mentioned this as a skillset which to become proficient in takes significant time and dedication yet many adult learners do become proficient because the invest the effort.

Also, note that memorising/recognising and drawing are two entirely different skills. To draw them properly -- that is to say such it isn't obvious to a "native" -- takes motor skills that require a lot more effort than to learn to recognise them.

You may forget characters if you don't regularly read/write but once you have become proficient drawing them, then you will continue to be able to draw them well.

In any event, my point was that there are other difficult to obtain skills besides playing a musical instrument which many people learn at an adult age and become proficient in, despite their adult age.

The main difference is that if you do learn to read and write Chinese or Japanese, the chance is that you do it because you need it either in your job, or in your daily life or both. This means you can more easily justify the effort and time to invest, whereas most adult learners of a musical instrument probably do so purely as a hobby and it is thus more difficult to justify the effort and time to invest.

February 23, 2008 at 05:51 AM · Benjamin, you probably haven’t met people with true passion over what they committed to do. No, they don’t do things for money or to cope with daily basic needs. That’s not what passion is about. They do it because they have to. A lot of academic and artists are like that. You don’t spend dozens of years learning a language just so that you’ll get a job teaching Chinese or working in a field requires this language proficiency. This is precisely what many Chinese professors here would warn their students who want to go beyond an undergraduate level. You have to love it so much that you keep doing it no matter what future leads. Some ended up being poor and unhappy, some poor but happy. A few lucky ones are being paid to do what they would do for free. Life is not a script.

I take your point to be that people can get profincient as late starters if the effort is justifiable. But what more justification one needs to keep doing what one has great passion over?

February 23, 2008 at 05:55 AM · Sleep well tonight Jon O'B. I was referring to John K.

February 23, 2008 at 06:00 AM · :-) Thanks!

February 23, 2008 at 05:38 AM · I am sorry if I haven't made my point clear enough, which is that people shouldn't buy into the hype that learning the violin is the most difficult thing in the universe and that there isn't anything that comes close in terms of difficulty. Further, that there are other such skillsets which require an equal amount of determination and since adult learners can become proficient at those skills, given the determination, they can become proficient at playing the violin as well. In other words, I believe the difficulty of the violin is overrated relative to other skills.

The example of memorising and drawing kanji/hanzi was entirely arbitrary. I picked it simply because it, too, is often considered a maverick skill and I happen to have learned it an adult thus being able to talk from experience rather than hearsay.

I stand by my opinion that there are many more practical motivating factors for learning a foreign language than for learning the violin and that this will have an impact on the number of individuals making their choice.

I myself am one of those individuals you described and I have been studying with many other such individuals. Everyone was passionate about studying Japanese language and culture but everyone was also aware that it would make their CV more valuable and since there is never one single reason for making such a commitment as to study a foreign language, this is definitely a contributing factor.

On an aside and off-topic, it may amuse you to learn that for quite a few adult male students of Japanese a very strong contributing factor is having a faible for oriental women. You would be surprised to find out how many guys over here will tell you over a beer in the pub that amongst other factors, this was their single most important motivator.

February 23, 2008 at 04:17 PM · An interesting phenomena I've seen with adult students, even advanced ones: they've been pummeled with the idea that they can't be great because they didn't start earlier. It's very difficult for them to shake this idea, no matter how much talent or encouragement they have.

February 23, 2008 at 09:00 PM · I don't believe there is a problem with late starters. My philosophy is, whatever an early starter did, they just have to do twice as more. If they can pick it up faster, perhaps they should try two lessons in one week.

Psychologically, the brain can create new neurons until death. The more we practice, the more we improve. The neurons we need are kept and ones that we don't use die for efficiency. (Explains why many professional soloist are only great at music and are terrible at many different subjects) One day of not practicing and we fall backwards a bit.

And it isn't enough to just practice, but to do a lot of performing to improve at that age. Practicing and performing should have somewhat of a same mindset, but it takes a while to get used to.

However, people do have a certain amount of years to live and learning starts to slow down as we age. So starting around the high school years would be good. I would say it's too late if they don't start by their freshman year of college.

And being professional only means you get paid for doing what you do. Could always start your own group or find some way to expand music.

For example, a demand for electric violin teachers are needed, epspecially for six string to seven stringed electric violinists. There could also be more composed music for that instrument as most of them do improv anyway. Playing electric violin could give you an upper edge in a rock or punk band. (Yellowcard)

So my last advice for all musicians is to see music for music and to keep your options open. If you're doing it to seek fame or fortune, then this isn't the right field.

February 24, 2008 at 01:35 AM · Scott, that is my dilemma. The catch 22.

I need to get ahead with the violin. I believe I have a special talent for violin and performance. I have the passion as well, and the ability.

The only problem is that I need the lessons, to get exposure to excellent tuition and to have a top player demonstrate for me and encourage me.

But here's the catch:

I get pummeled with the "you can't be a TRUE proficient/professional violinist. You'll only ever be locked into being an amateur - your playing will never have that true pro violinist authenticity, because you are a late starter".

This is not a fair judgement on my talent, or on my continual improvement right now, or on my potential to keep improving even faster, all of which are real. This is prejudice.

If I was a kid, or a teenager, who sounded EXACTLY like I sound - I've listened to recordings and videos of me. I know how good I am - then the story would be very different.

I'm caught. It's almost as if I have to suffer in order to get ahead. I have to totally provide my own belief system, and fend off attacks to my faith from the much-needed high priests I am compelled to go to in order to get anywhere. I pray that I can find a teacher who really believes that in five, ten or fifteen years I could be professional level, at least in theory. At least in theory. That is what I ask for. It isn't easy, but I'm resigned to it.

If I don't have the talent or ability to make it, well, I accept that. But I'd like to try my best. It is worth it.

February 24, 2008 at 02:20 AM · Jon, this is very touching what you’ve said. There is so much to comment on. I can, not as a pro, but as a dedicated and talented amateur as yourself, say this much to you: Comrade Jon, ten years is a very long time. Anything, yes, just about anything can happen to you in ten years! Will you really believe if someone tells you that you’ll be such and such in ten years? Wouldn’t it be either a lie or an irresponsible statement or both if someone says that you’ll be a professional violinist in 10 years? The only person can convince you that you’ll be successful in 10 years in any sense of the term is yourself, but the conviction is not something based on facts but on sheer will and faith, which can serve as great motivation to create miracles that others don’t think possible.

Why some of us aren’t bothered by the talk "you can't be a TRUE proficient/professional violinist...”? For one thing, such talk is purely vague generalization without much ground. Even if it is true generally speaking, it is completely premature to believe that it would be properly applicable to your case unless you’ve tried yourself long and hard enough to think this generalization does apply. Now, what if we’ve tried and don’t succeed as we hoped? This is the real issue, isn’t it?

Facing with unknown future, you can’t reach a true or false answer now. But what you can honestly and solidly look at now is whether the journey is good so far? If it is not so good, why keep going against the huge unknown? If the journey is so good, then why worry about the destination? Is the journey itself not worth 100% of your effort and complete faith in yourself?

“If I was a kid, or a teenager, who sounded EXACTLY like I sound - I've listened to recordings and videos of me. I know how good I am - then the story would be very different.”

Oh, the ‘if only’ talk! Human beings are so good at torturing ourselves with this type of counter-factual thinking. Well, we are always here and never in a world of ‘could have been’, so such thinking is again unhelpful at its best and simply harmful when the reality gets tough on us.

“I have to totally provide my own belief system, and fend off attacks to my faith from the much-needed high priests I am compelled to go to in order to get anywhere.” Of course!

February 24, 2008 at 02:11 AM · Thanks Yixi!

I go forth into the world, in faith. We adult learners have each other. Power to us!

February 24, 2008 at 02:37 AM · I teach violin to adult beginners, and I respect them and have fun with them. It's a real treat for me when an adult tells me that he called his parents to play Twinkle on the phone. They are proud of themselves, and I am proud of them, with every step forward, My website has a page on adult beginners. Check it out.

February 24, 2008 at 03:29 AM · IMO, if you devote time in practicing and have proper teaching you will become a decent player with time. All the best..

February 24, 2008 at 03:57 AM · Thanks Rafe. I agree.

One thing I thought worthwhile to add to what I wrote earlier.

OK, I think I might be a bit oversensitive about this pummeling concept (creative people being sensitive in some ways, maybe). I accept that, and go forward from here with a determination to get over it. But one observation: why can't many teachers - the old-fashioned and hard hitting ones - keep a sock in it about this "you can't ever...." stuff?

You know, you've had a good lesson, and you're bending down, putting the violin back in its case, and they come over and sit down near you and relax. They've just finished an hour long lesson and they want to sit down. Then they ask what exactly you want to achieve from learning violin. You tell them you'd like to get as good as you can get. You make no mention of being a professional one day. They could say something like, "well, good on you. You're doing fairly well. You've reached AMEB grade so and so...and you're dedicated". But no, they say something like "You know, you're not bad. You started too late. It's unfortunate. If you had been younger....sigh". You leave, thinking, wow, thanks for that.

February 24, 2008 at 03:40 AM · Jon, I sometimes find that a change of environment can make a difference. My learning the violin is entirely for fun and recreation, so I don't have any intent to become a professional musician. However, if I did want to change my career and I would be facing the obstacles you describe, I would move to a more favourable environment, close to where the action is, then work hard on getting into a conservatory or something like that.

You probably know the saying that a prophet is not without honour safe in his own country ;-)

February 24, 2008 at 04:05 AM · Benjamin, thou art wise and well travelled. Well done, for you have seen things as they are.

February 24, 2008 at 04:05 AM · > But no, they say something like "You know, you're not bad.

> You started too late. It's unfortunate. If you had been

> younger....sigh". You leave, thinking, wow, thanks for that.

Why don't you get this out of the way upfront? You could look for a teacher along the lines of "I am looking for a teacher with the ability and the self confidence to teach a talented and very determined late starter to get into conservatory, nothing less, I will not be wasting my time with any teacher who has doubts that late starters can achieve this goal."

February 24, 2008 at 09:31 AM · I did have a few ideas along these lines. I'll think some more on this. Aust has a slightly different culture to the USA, as no doubt you would be aware. Sometimes such a move, seen as perfectly reasonable in the States, can appear aggressive or at least unusual to an Australian. But I could be wrong on that one. Certainly I possibly lack some assertiveness when it comes to picking, and putting up with the personal BS of (if there is any), teachers.

February 24, 2008 at 09:49 AM · I like to think that playing the violin is the hardest thing on earth to do. I feel much better then that I can play it at any level at all.

There's a trick of the mind I would like to share with you; take it or leave it. When I'm in the creative process, I like to imagine that every small detail that I accomplish is absolutely amazing, and I'm the one who can do this amazing thing (like tying a shoelace or tuning my strings). I've done this since I was small, and it sure beats beating myself up for not being able to do such-and-such.

Tell you what, if you find amazement in every small accomplishment as a musician, you will not only be happier, but you will trick yourself into doing many things you wouldn't have believed you could do otherwise.

Be amazed at your abilities as a human being, and find wonder all along the path of your studies. This by itself has been the highest motivating factor in my life and continues to keep me moving forward. There's another voice in my head that tries to tell me how much of a failure I am for not being able to do something, but the only use I have for him is in proving him wrong.

February 24, 2008 at 10:01 AM · I like your style, Benjamin.

I feel so lucky to have had three teachers who didn't once suggest that my barrier would be my age.

Jon - come back and check out the central coast NSW, and connect with a great bunch of adults who are very seriously learning and with very determined and inspiring teachers.

and this time round, there won't be any odd aunts to kiss when you say goodbye.

February 24, 2008 at 11:54 AM · Just as long as there's some nice lady for me to kiss when I say goodbye. Actually, I would love to see Gosford again. I was driving north from Katoomba to Newcastle in '04 and I remember looking to the east toward Gosford, remembering it. All the best to you lot down there!

February 24, 2008 at 11:35 AM · Jon, I used to live in Australia for a couple of years, and yes I found the culture a little laid back, which can be both good and bad. A friend of mine pretty much hit the nail on the head when he said "They win the cricket all the time, what else is there to worry about?!". So, yes, maybe people will be taken aback if you are ambitious and its not in sports, but hey, it's your career. Shouldn't that be worth while taking a few risks not to be perfectly politically correct?

Besides, I am sure you are smart enough to find the right words so as to express yourself a little more diplomatically than my adhoc example without stepping to heavily on people's toes.

PS: I am not American and my system of reference is not American either ;-)

February 24, 2008 at 12:02 PM · I just watched Australia win the cricket against India, again, literally not 5 minutes ago! This time the game was a little bit more interesting because India was in with a chance up until the closing minutes of the game. I know exactly what you mean. I jumped to conclusions about the American thing....I don't know apologies.

The gist of all this discussion is that I've got to ramp up my assertiveness. It's becoming obvious to me.

Emily, yes I do what you do sometimes, too, not all that much but I do do it (that makes almost a catchy little ditty - 1930's style. Anyone want to write a tune to it?).

February 24, 2008 at 11:43 AM · No worries, mate ;-)

Disclaimer: I am not an Aussie either ;-)

February 24, 2008 at 02:49 PM · Jon- Alot can be done with a simple change of attitude and viewpoint.

There is something to be said about the human spirit within the heart of those that say, "Can't be done? Heck I'm Going To Find Out!" And they Do It!

I began playing the violin at age 10. Abandoned it at 22. Reclaimed it at 42. Now being coached by a wonderful teacher and have learned more about the violin NOW than any other time in my life in knowledge/wisdom/practical application. So an old dog can learn new tricks.

As for playing professionaly? Honestly? I really don't know. But boy oh boy I'm going to keep it up with 100% and find out!!! I have a ligitamate love & passion for the violin and in the end...regardless, I'll say, "Dang! What a Rush! Let's do it again!"

February 24, 2008 at 05:43 PM · Royce, you took the words right out of my mouth. I’ve got similar experience/history with violin as yours. Maybe our view and attitude are somewhat shaped by our experience?

Emily, good trick! I’ll share mine, but it only works to those who like to be challenged: I get really motivated when someone I know says that I can’t. My attitude has always been, just watch me! Just about everything I’ve proudly accomplished in my life, there’s a person or two predicted that I would fail, be it starting the violin at 13, teaching myself English in my 20, studying philosophy and law in a foreign language and universities, etc. To the sceptics, I’m very grateful.

Another trick works for me is to set a goal for myself so high that if I don’t accomplish 100% of it, I won’t kick myself because all along I knew it’s a long shot. But sometimes when I do accomplish such goals, then the feeling is like, you feel you can do just about anything, man! This applies to big goals as well as daily smaller ones, such as, in dealing with tight deadline and heavy workload at a busy law firm or a government office. I set a reasonable target deadline for each task and then I’ll actually try to get them done within ½ of the anticipated time. This way, I’ll not only meet the target but also give myself frequent opportunities to test my potentials. If I don’t get done within the shorter time period, that’s no big deal. If I do get done, oh boy! As a result, I can confidently claim that I’ve never missed a single work-related deadline wherever I am for the last a couple of decades, and I’m not even all that well-organized.

One more:When the ‘I’m not good enough for this’ type of moment comes to me, I usually look for causes of this line of thinking other than my own ability or potential. Am I tired? Am I taking up too much? Am I eating properly? Do I have some issue with coworker I should attend to? Is something at home? This approach always give me way more to work with other than beating myself up and get depressed.

It constantly amazes me that how much more potentials we can discover in ourselves, and sky is the limit, if only we gently push ourselves in that direction.

February 24, 2008 at 07:04 PM · Ricci started at age 6!

February 24, 2008 at 08:32 PM · You can find people doing what others tell them is impossible everywhere. After watching a seventy-three year old japanese gentleman climb Mount Everest on cable TV he gave me new perspective on what to believe is possible.

February 24, 2008 at 10:32 PM · lets not get carried away here, imo.

sure, there are many amazing things out there done by unique individuals. on one hand, it does not mean we ALL can do it. on the other hand, it does not mean we ALL cannot do it.

we need to exercise proper judgement, yes, i said, judgement when evaluating what is what...for YOU. as adults (as compared to children), to be able to make sound judgement should be our advantage. how can i possiblly relate my own experience with someone else that i do not even know. yes you can,,,am i being inspirational or flat out lying?

to be paranoid, pessimistic is not appropriate. yet, to build dreams out of thin air is also not advisable.

back to adult violin players,,,why do we bother to listen to non-believers? we care because we think they have got a point, right? like guilty conscience?

also, for those who believe adult players have their own place, as good as anyone else,,,,do we really pay our dues by practicing as hard and as smart as we can? really, do we? if not, imo, the best we can do is to vent!

i don't mean to pour a bucket of cold water here, but i think too much sugar is not good for your body:)

February 24, 2008 at 10:54 PM · al said:

"too much sugar is not good for your body:)"

But we are talking about attitude and mind-set here, aren't we? The reality is, those who settle for less don't go very far. I just came back from a short trip to my hometown (Shanghai), despite all the crazily remarkable changes took place in the city and the country, it's shocking to see how little people can do in terms of their personal development when they don't dream. Maybe it's a good thing for them, who knows? Still, we are as limited as we allow us to be.

February 24, 2008 at 11:27 PM · hello yixi, i think there is no place for personal attack/age discrimination for adult players. but i also believe that adults appreciate neither condescending nor patronizing comments, unless they have issues with their own identity. most simply want facts.

for instance, lets say i come to you for some discussion in an area of law that you are very familiar with. i make my point out of thin air which you find to be incorrect. knowing you, i can imagine you will nicely tell me i am wrong and share with me your points. but guess what? i don't want to hear any of that. all i want is encouragement and i do not want to acknowledge my wrong thinking,,,and my claim is that i am just a beginner, why can't you be more considerate and encouraging... :)

February 24, 2008 at 11:52 PM · Good points, Al.

Yes, at the moment I'm not doing much practice. I am venting as you say. But I see this as a practical, necessary thing for me to be doing at the moment.

I'm like a soldier, holed up in a shell-hole, bandaging my wounds, checking my provisions, taking a nap, taking time to eat some rations and build up strength....looking gingerly over the crumpled, earthy rim of the shell hole out to where the bodies of the fallen lay stretched out in no man's land. Some are still alive, whimpering, crawling along. Whisps of smoke billow across the battlefield. There is a smell of cordite and old varnish in the air.

Soon, I will formulate my next plan; my next move. I grasp the trusty stock of my violin, thoughtfully fingering the scratches in the wood and the surface polished from long use and familiarity.

Having rested, having thought long and carefully, having communicated with other sentient survivors and comrades in neighboring shell holes, and signalled that we are on the move, I check my bow one last time, and rosin it.

There is a confidence in my face, because now I know what next to do, and now I know where I have to get to. I pull my helmet down over my eyes slightly, and wriggle out of the shell hole. Onward, soldiers and friends. We have seen a way through up ahead.

I am on the move again.

February 24, 2008 at 11:52 PM · hey jon, actually i am not talking about anyone in particular, and as a whole, i hope adult players do not be too hard on themselves,,,or ourselves:)

February 24, 2008 at 11:53 PM · That's Ok, I understood you on that, I was just putting my personal view on the benefit of good planning and careful thought given to what we do - within reason, that is, time being a limited commodity to us mortal beings. I think is brilliant, especially for us adult learners. We can bounce ideas off one another.

February 24, 2008 at 11:57 PM · "An interesting phenomena I've seen with adult students, even advanced ones: they've been pummeled with the idea that they can't be great because they didn't start earlier. It's very difficult for them to shake this idea, no matter how much talent or encouragement they have."

I agree that the idea of being a late starter can inhibit one from excelling just like most negative thoughts inhibit one from excelling in any aspect of life.

I am not the best player in the world, no where close, but I am happy with my playing today because I never let what people said or did or label me as stop me from accomplishing what I wanted on the violin. I treat myself as if I started at 5, accepting no excuses not to practice and be the best I can be. I never let the idea of, "oh well that was good for a person who started 5 years ago" enter my head. I want it to be good despite age or years of experience. I expect excellence no matter what I do or what age I started.

Now as far as schedule goes, I do not let anyone tell me schedule will get in the way. I believe an unmarried, kidless person can organize and make the proper sacrifices to become professional if they wanted, but the question is, do many adults who are just starting want that?

Anyways, starting late and all that jazz is highly debated. I would not get too worked up about articles such as the one above. People are critics. Ignore them and do what you believe you can do, despite what some jerks might say.

February 25, 2008 at 12:23 AM · al, now I'm really confused. If I said anything sounds discouraging to you or any beginners on playing the violin, I apologise for that as that was never the intent. If I consider certain way of thinking is negative and non-productive, then yes, like you expressed it yourself, let’s call a spade a spade. I know a thing or two about the difference between attacking a way of thinking vs. the thinker. I say to the people I have respect, whether I’ve met them in person or not, what I expected to be told under the similar situation. This may not be the American way but hey, this is who I am and there are worse things in the world to be worried about than trying to fit in. If you don’t want people to say what they believe, then ignore it. We all do this all the time, as people say all sorts of things we may or may not fully understand therefore may or may not rub us the right way, but that’s a given, especially among the people we don’t know personally. I have a lot of faith in people who will give a lot of benefit of doubts when such situation comes up. In this case, I was mainly talking to Jon and I believe he understood my intent. Patronizing or condescending? You are the first one call me this so please enlighten me on this. I talked about my positive experience of being a wild dreamer and benefited from that approach. Yeah, it's bragging and it can annoy someone especially she is not feeling secure. We've seen this happening all the time. Well, I wish more people will bring their good stories rather than the sad one to this site. But oh, I forgot, we love bad news in the west, don’t we?

Anyway, al, I always enjoy reading your writing and always thought highly of your opinion, but this time, buddy, I think you got it wrong.

[edit: al, I read your comment again and I think what underneath you've said maybe something like telling truth is suicidal, as all people want to hear is positive lies. in that case, I agree with 100%.]

February 25, 2008 at 02:02 AM · All this is very true, Al. I agree with you (and with Yixi). I don't want pretty lies. But what I do want is just a positive tone in a lesson, even if that means putting a sock in one's cake hole (I'm talking about a hypothetical teacher here - take note I am not engaging in ad hominum attack) whenever one wants to pipe up with a totally out-of-the-blue and uncalled for comment about starting violin late.

I only ask that a teacher try to be relentlessly positive with whatever particular type or brand or age of student they have. That is all. I don't want to pay for some kind of negative pay out session that seems to do something for the teacher's confidence but not for mine.

I also have a feeling that some teachers out there have grown bored and grumpy with the violin/the world/their career and take a dim view of someone, possibly close to them in age, who comes hopping along up the garden path like a red red robin with their violin, full of beans and wanting to learn some serious stuff on this instrument. I think it irks some teachers to see late beginners who are really making excellent progress. I've seen it.

Sorry everyone, I seem to be rehashing the same point. I will now get back into practising again.

February 25, 2008 at 12:43 AM · yixi!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

lol, you've got me all wrong,,,,i was not talking about you at all!!!! (sorry for the liberal use of the exclamation marks,,,but it is urgent!:)

i repeat, i was not talking about you at all. when i used the condescending,,,patronizing,,i was referring to the adults. i think most of them do not appreciate being talked up or down. i believe most of us want simple facts.

we are all professionals. even though we need to be tactful, we try to be true and get to the point. otherwise, it is really tiring...i hope you know what i mean.

if someone plays violin and asks me for an opinion, if i bother to open my mouth, my tone will be positive but i will definitely point out things to work on (not to say i know what i am talking about, hahaha)

yixi, are we cool now!!!!!!!!!!:)

February 25, 2008 at 01:05 AM · :-) One last entry before taking an extended practice session.

I just wanted to add also that imo a good violin teacher is one who is tough, hard, tells it like it is, and all of that. Oh yes indeed. We can't advance without that. I didn't want to give the impression I was advocating a yes-man or yes-woman teacher. But just to be a positive and supportive teacher while being tough as well - like excellent parenting really. I WILL find that teacher.

February 25, 2008 at 01:09 AM · Sorry al. it's my after-the-recent-Shanghai-trip thing got me all feisty and jumpy. You are a cool guy and we professionals can take a few shots:)

February 25, 2008 at 01:09 AM · I think what an aspiring adult learner can and should expect from a teacher is the same as a young learner can expect and that's where I think folks like Krakenberger have got it totally and utterly wrong.

Would you tell a young student somehting like ... "You know, you are quite good, but given that you are just entering puberty, you will soon get interested in girls/boys and partying, so the odds are that you will no longer devote every thought, every fee minute to the violin and hence, your chances of getting anywhere are so low, you may as well not bother any further from here. You'd have to be one stubborn weirdo teenager, disliked and bullied by all his/her classmates to overcome this." ? I don't think any teacher, not even Krakenberger would use such kind of "encouragement".

Yet, it seems there are quite a few who do just that when it comes to adult learners. Certainly Krakenberger is doing it.

For the avoidance of doubt, I don't advocate telling students sweet lies as a form of encouragement. Quite to the contrary. In the case of Jon, I'd expect a teacher to be both encouraging and tough, such as "I like how you do A, B and C, very well done, keep going at that. However, if you want to get into conservatory, then we will have to work on X, Y and Z, let's first tackle A and then work on Y and Z afterwards, shall we?!"

February 25, 2008 at 02:37 AM · Well, I started lessons 8 months ago. I am 50. I really like my teacher, but it took awhile. He was very hard on me at first and I left my lessons in tears. I almost switched teachers, but some gut instinct told me to hang in there. Now, I wouldn't trade him for the world. We have sorta warped into a mutual friendship. At this point, I am relaxed enough to actually hear what he is saying and thus am improving by leaps and bounds. He has never told me that I can't do this because of my age.

February 25, 2008 at 05:40 AM · Nothing is impossible. All you need is practice, motivation, perseverance, talent and a bit of luck.

February 25, 2008 at 06:01 AM · And don't forget patience. :)

February 25, 2008 at 06:04 AM · I think it always works better when people set small, specific goals and seek to attain them. Just set serial goals of playing pieces (and scales, and etudes) well, and let your teacher help you set those goals. The problem comes when an adult student wants to skip over this to get to that, when their goals don't actually advance their playing. Then that larger goal of "playing decently" seems all the more elusive. But play each little thing that you do well, and you ought to feel great about it. My best students are not my most advanced students. My best students are the ones who pay attention and care to what they are doing NOW. That's true devotion.

February 25, 2008 at 06:21 AM · Oh yes, patience and loads of it. :)

And lest we not forget: scales, etudes, bowing exercises, AT, etc...

February 25, 2008 at 06:31 AM · Yes, Laurie!

Those small goals and the like. You get an idea from the size of the canvas that you will fill, you sketch out a composition, and then you try not to be too urgently pushing forward while neglecting to be tidy about all the detail hours that need to be logged to make it happen.

February 25, 2008 at 12:47 PM · ralph nadar's got one thing right, lol,,,he said recently: age is when your ideals erode. haha!

February 25, 2008 at 03:07 PM · There's two different things at issue here, as an adult beginner I'm looking to play decent on an amateur level only. I'm not looking for a career as a musician the same way that I'm not planning on going on the PGA Tour since I picked up Golf two years ago. I'm looking to break 90... So same for the violin, I'm looking to break 90 (sound good among friends and family, maybe play with an amateur orchestra some day).

So as an adult beginner if you're expecting to play at a professional or near professional level and nothing short of that will satisfy you I would say you're setting yourself up for dissapointment. The same way you wouldn't expect to take up baseball at 30 and be playing for the Yankees at 35. It's not realistic to become a professional or near professional starting anything as an adult. You have to start earlier, much earlier and have a natural tendancy towards the field.

February 25, 2008 at 04:15 PM · @Michael

I disagree with that. It's ivory tower mentality.

First, I don't think you can compare the path of a musician with that of an athlete. You'd have to either suffer from an illness or be at a very advanced age to have developed a bodily ailment that will prevent you from learning an instrument. People start Yoga classes in their 50s and 60s with bodies stiff like a piece of rock and become extremely flexible within a few years of regular yoga practise. The human body is very good at regaining flexibility and dexterity given regular practise.

The only real issue is time. As an adult you have to earn a living, look after your family. For this same reason, you couldn't possibly become a math teacher if you are an unemployable musician. Not because you are too darn stupid to learn to become a math teacher, not because being a math teacher is such a sacred thing, but because you are driving a taxi (or whatever else) all day and night to pay the bills.

If there was somebody to pay for your retraining and living costs and you are willing to make the effort, then you can retrain and become a professional math teacher, no problem. European governments run such retraining programs for unemployable academics all the time with good success rates.

If there was a situation where nobody wanted to study classical instruments and this was seen as a thread to cultural identity and national heritage to the point where public funding would be made available for unemployable math teachers (or whatever field in which supply is higher than demand) to retrain to become professional musicians, then you'd see quite a few of them. The reason why there are few adults going this route is that most of them don't aspire to it and the few who do won't have the necessary time/money to invest, not because they have a mental or physical impairment due to their age.

February 25, 2008 at 04:17 PM · Benjamin K, I disagree you're comparing becoming a math teacher with becoming a professional violinist, I don't think that's a fair analogy. I think my analogy of becoming a professional athlete and professional violinist is more appropriate. Some things you just can't accomplish if you start too late in life. Myself... professional violinist and professional golfer are not possible, but I'm O.K. with that.

Even if you took an adult (30+ for the sake of discussion) and trained him 6 hours a day and removed all other responsibilities, it's highly unlikely he/she would ever develop the necessary skillset to become a professional violinist, golfer, or baseball player. Math teacher? Sure, but math teachers like my own profession (Technology Analyst) are basically a dime a dozen (no offense to math teachers).

February 25, 2008 at 04:49 PM · actually i think michael's points are reasonable. i don't think he necessarily treats golf as an grinding athletic is a game that utilizes body and mind and to go along with his analogy, in many ways it is very similar to his violin interest,,,,to play to his heart's content, to the best of his ability or interest. i don't think there is any problem with him acknowledging the extent of his aspirations. to sleep tight at night, we have to draw the line somewhere:) i am sure he has considered the time factor, his "natural tendency toward the field" as well as his interests. it doesn't sound to me he has low self esteem simply because he started late. why should he?

on the other hand, to play violin at a rather high level, believe me, it is a big time athletic endeavor.

in terms of whether it is too late to reach some goals, i think we may need to look at many facets of the equation. for instance, if someone starts late, but has a strong natural tendency and a strong burning desire, then i truly believe you cannot write someone off. i may not bet my house on it he will make it, but i will not dare to bet my house on it that he won't. you just don't know.

in golf, loren robert started late, in his 20s, and he is a force on the champions tour. annika started when she was 13 and she will go down history as the best female golfer and no one will care when she started, really.

on the other hand, if you have natural tendency, start at age 2, but no interest, you go nowhere!

further, there are many players showing great promise early in life and then, when mid age hits, not much is happening. how do we explain the rush to get to somewhere? where is this somewhere??? are we prepared if somewhere is not there???

February 25, 2008 at 04:47 PM · "how do we explain the rush to get to somewhere? where is this somewhere??? are we prepared if somewhere is not there??? "

You were a philosophy major weren't you? :)

February 25, 2008 at 04:51 PM · nah, just read too many slips inside fortune cookies to formulate my own BS:)

February 25, 2008 at 05:28 PM · I personally think majoring in any given natural science field today is far more complex and "difficult" than learning even several instruments to professional level. Not every professional musician is a Heifetz. The vast majority of musicians are playing in an orchestra, not any soloist or virtuoso pieces anyway.

You may disagree with that, but its opinion, not fact. A particle physicist believes his field is the most demanding one. A surgeon believes his field is the most demanding one. A chess master believes so too ... and so the list goes on and on and on, and professional string players are just one lot of the many who overrate themselves when they claim that nothing matches their skill.

February 25, 2008 at 05:18 PM · I will give you that though: A musician has to do his auditions by himself whilst it is possible to graduate in science by submitting somebody else's thesis. I do however talk about those who do their own work.

February 25, 2008 at 05:51 PM · Benjamin,

Number of violinists who reached a professional level after starting past 30 = 0.

Number of people who have become teachers or professors of mathematics after switching careers in their 30's is probably in the thousands or tens of thousands. I'm just playing the odds here...

February 25, 2008 at 09:29 PM · If you're looking for a reason to give up, you can find one. If you need a reason to keep working, you can find that too. But, I'm guessing the best answer is going to come from within yourself. I'd much rather hear music, in whatever form, coming from someone who's centered and is playing for those reasons. It becomes a gift of self, and that gift is discernable, and frankly, needed.

February 25, 2008 at 07:20 PM · Michael, search this forum and you will find posts that will prove you wrong. I seem to remember one particular post where an 80 something year old orchestra player had started at the age of 75. This was probably the "oldest example" but there were other "middle age" examples as well.

As for the math teacher analogy, it doesn't really matter which profession you pick. You can pick any profession that takes more than a few weeks or months of apprenticeship.

Math teacher is my way of saying they trained as a mathematician and became foot soldiers but not Einsteins.

In any profession, there are high flyers and average folks. The vast majority of practitioners of any given profession are average, musicians included. There is nothing wrong with that, BTW.

You are making the mistake to assume that every professional violinist has the caliber of a Heifetz whilst you do not assume the same for any other profession. This makes your comparison and conclusion flawed.

You have to compare the Heifetzes to the Einsteins and the average Joe violinist to the average Joe mathematician (who is probably a math teacher). Once you do that, you will find that the comparison will no longer result in such an exalted view of musicians relative to other professions.

This holds true even with your sports analogy. How many top athletes are there in any given discipline? And how many foot soldiers are there for each of the top athletes?

I know a guy who is a professional racing car driver. He's been racing since he was a kid. For many years he's been racing in the Paris-Dakar rallye and this is his full time job. Yet, he's no Michael Schumacher. He never won any race, his sponsors pay him to have their brands displayed on his truck. He's one of those foot soldiers. I am quite confident that both you and I could do what he does if we were so inclined and put the effort in. I am not saying we'd make it into the F1.

No matter which field, mathematics, music or otherwise, it is correct to say that if you are a late starter you are unlikely to become one of the elite. However, it is also unlikely if you are an early starter. Simply because in every field there are only very few top spots and a large crowd of foot soldiers.

So what I am saying is, you have a reasonably good chance to become a foot soldier, even if you start late, provided of course you put in the effort.

February 25, 2008 at 07:32 PM · If you take enjoyment from just simply playing the instrument, getting payed to do it, is just the gravy.

February 25, 2008 at 07:32 PM · But the average Joe violinist is not a professional, that is my point. The skill and talent level of a professional violinist is just as rare as major league baseball player. I don't think one can reach this level (playing for a community orchestra is not a professional) if they start past 30. IF you want to become an "average Joe" violinist sure no problem but that isn't a professional violinist at all, that's an average Joe violinist.

February 25, 2008 at 08:13 PM · The main problem with late starters is the same as the main problem with early starters. Many children and adults are more enamored with the idea of playing the violin that they are with playing the violin. When they see how much work is involved other priorities arise. A few children have the advantage of authoritarian parents who keep them engaged. Few adults have such a motivator.

The fact of the matter is if someone can make the time and will exert the energy they can do a lot. But their success is somewhat dependant on talent. It isn't PC to talk about talent because we're all supposed to be equal but we can't ignore the fact that some people (adults and children) have more talent than others.

The reality of the effort and talent required to achieve some level of proficiency cause many people to quit. Most adults just don't have the time to achieve success (based on a market standard) even where they have adequate talent.

February 25, 2008 at 08:27 PM · Isn't this all just academic? Forgive me for being flippant, but I thought it was fairly obvious, that unless you started early enough, you were never going to be world class.

February 25, 2008 at 09:05 PM · "A few children have the advantage of authoritarian parents who keep them engaged. Few adults have such a motivator."

i agree with corwin more or less on this line,,,

many children simply do not have a choice. they do what they are told, whether it makes sense or not, whether they like it or not. from my understanding, vengerov's youth might not be as "happy" as he wanted because he played for his mother's looooove. quite similar to the experience in an earlier post by ben? that in the intensive japanese language class, you just bury your head and march forward. with such a regimen, some give up, many learn some and a few benefit a great deal. in other words, a few go insane and a few make history. it is academic until you put your kids into the equation.

with adults, we do things that make sense and the moment it stops making sense, be it a headache, or the room too hot, we stop. more often than not, we stop short of the required amt of due diligence,,,with time, the deficit builds.

for instance, some children are forced to practice 3 hours per day. take it or leave it. actually, it is,,take it and take it more.

for adults, if after half an hour we don't feel right, who is there to stop us from getting up to get a cup of tea and flip on the tube for some news because hey, i am not going to kill myself over this and there is always tomorrow...

isn't that the case with some of us?:):):) am i the only one raising my hand?

honestly, is it really that bad??? i don't feel guilty for one!

February 25, 2008 at 09:02 PM · wowow where did the double post come from?:)

February 25, 2008 at 09:07 PM · for adults, if after half an hour we don't feel right, who is there to stop us from getting up to get a cup of tea and flip on the tube for some news because hey, i am not going to kill myself over this.

isn't that the case with some of us?:):):) am i the only one raising my hand?

No that's a good point, I know some days I'm just not there and after the requisite forced 30 minutes I'll grab a beer and tune to the Yankees or Islanders game. I know I have the rest of my life to learn the instrument and I know I'll never make a living off of it, so I feel what's the fun of rushing trying to get great? At my age and level if I'm not enjoying it there's no sense in torturing myself. Luckily I tend to enjoy at least an hour a night sometime two or three hours if the wife and kids don't mind.

February 25, 2008 at 09:11 PM · i would say that adults,more so than children,require intermittent reenforcement during their practices.

you know whatever degree your playing is during your practice times ie sometimes great etc etc

then there are other times where you feel like throwing it all out the window..

lets face it,some days everything you do is completely wrong from start to finish.its just a part of being human.children rebound easier than adults and are naturally more eager to learn,in spite of their errors.

adults are generally jaded and they must create notes,once and a while,that are worthy of their expectations;the less this occours,then the more likely the fiddle will be lain in its case--to slowly,but surely, lose its tone and sink into the depths of yet another unpleasant attempt at actualization...

February 25, 2008 at 09:49 PM · Just a thought, but if you think of child prodigies that start at say, age 5, and are playing exquisitely with top-notch orchestras at age 15, their skills were gained in ten years.

Why would an adult, who starts at 30 not be able to gain those same skills, or near that same level, within ten years if they had the same level of teaching and talent the child prodigy did? Plus, the adult has the advantage of increased motivation, discipline, and attention.

Even if it'd be hard to do within 10 years, why not 20? I honestly can not notice much difference in skill level from when a prodigy is say in their 20s, to when they're in their 30s, so I believe it's fairly obvious that technique plateaus at a certain level, or at least the advancements are so subtle as not to be scarcely noticed.

February 25, 2008 at 10:11 PM · In the end, it is life's journey that counts.

Each accomplishment improves our ability to see more deeply into life and take more joy from it. We all have regrets, what we do with the rest of or lives is what matters most. I would not discourage anyone no matter how old.

February 25, 2008 at 10:46 PM · If starting young is what makes Heifetzes, Hahns, Bells do any of you wonder why out of 3.5 million children in the U.S. taking up the violin NOT become the latter? Hm? And so much is out there for "Pedagogy to Adult" just how much is out there for teaching the "Adult beginner and onward"? To use Pedagogy to adult for adults is like what happened in medicine by treating children as miniature adults. It didn't work until someone began to study children as they are in their developmental stages (i.e. womb, post-part, neo natal, terrible twos, preschool, etc.) that we have pediatrics as we do. An Adult is NOT a candidate for Pedagogy to Adult and beyond violin education unless he or she is developly delayed!!! Our thought processes, our physical attributes and challenges are completely different!

Al- Thank You... for showing us the downfalls of pipe-dreams.

Yixi & Emily- Thank You for upholding one of humanities greatest virtues...The Sky is the limit and let's go beyond! Both of you think like the greatest humanbeings... I WILL break the sound barrier, I WILL Go to the Moon!, I WILL run a mile in 2 minuets or under. I Will be the best that "I" (Al Ku et others take note! You need lessons on the word CONTEXT!!!! and stop posting on emotional impulses like most men and think before you speak.) can BE!

Jon, Ben""K.- If you cannot enjoy the small victories to the greater you'll never be satisfied and nothing will EVER be good enough! And if you say that you do then either you were lying before, or are lying to yourself (et us) NOW!

February 25, 2008 at 11:44 PM · royce, feel free to express yourself and at the same time, allow others to do the same.

February 26, 2008 at 01:17 AM ·

February 26, 2008 at 01:41 AM · I would be curious to find anyone who does what you (meaning someone) wants to do violinistically, who started at the age the questioner is. Just one single example in the whole world, if your aspirations are that rarified. I think it would be hard to find them, especially since they often lie about their backgrounds, according to Perlman I think it was, to try to appear more normal and typical in violin terms.

February 26, 2008 at 01:27 AM · If John K had only been saying that it was not likely that an adult starter would develop into a Heifetz or something equivalent, I ddoubt there would be much conflict.

But in fact his argument was that....actually its a bit vague WHAT his specific argument was, but he raised issues that: our joints are too stiff to hold the bow, we are too weak to stand up to play for 30 minutes or so, we have lost sensation so can't tell if we are doing it right, and we are clumsy, and so therefore we should recognise our impotence in following our desire to learn the violin to make music, so that we are not disappointed when we don't after a year of lessons.

He is a spurious analyst. Raising the issue of famous violinists is like saying that the only people who should bother to drive a car are those who will at the same level Jack Brabham or Michael Schumacher. It's just a totally crud argument.

Choosing to do music as a career is fool headed and insufferable and saps the joy out of something that should be vibrant and spontaneous and fun. Adult starters know this, and they are too smart to stuff up their refuge of cognitive, emotional and sensory stimulation by aiming for 'professional' status.

Other late starters, those who are 15 or something, maybe don't become professionals for other valid reasons - maybe they'd rather do something else.

I guess what I'm saying - I'm getting roudn to it now - is that the placement of a player as professional or amateur is not a valid criterion for determing their proficiency.

February 26, 2008 at 02:27 AM · Michael, I wasn't talking about amateur violinists in community orchestras. I was talking about professional violinists who are employed in a lesser well known professional orchestra, ensemble, studio, music school, etc etc etc. Not everybody who comes out of conservatory goes to the Berlin Philharmonic. Most of them become foot soldiers.

In fact, the math teacher analogy I used was very fitting, because just like many professionally trained mathematicians become math teachers, many professionally trained musicians become music teachers.

When I was looking for a teacher, I checked out the profiles of about 20 to 25 violin teachers in my area. All had graduated from conservatory and for all but a handful, their only job was teaching the violin. None of them was famous. None of them was a soloist. None of them played in any ensemble. None of them had a recording contract. Yet they were all professional violinists, average professional violinists, foot soldiers, just like the vast majority of all professional violinists.

Who are you to declare they are not?!

February 26, 2008 at 03:07 AM · Royce, do settle down there old sport!

Good heavens! If I gave the impression I was unhappy, well, I'm not, so there.

Like Yixi, and others, I aim high. That's the way to get far, you know, whether you aim for professional or high level amateur or call it what you will.

February 26, 2008 at 03:07 AM · I think there are some points which have been left behind in tis debate.

I think that when people start at a very low age, they have more chance of being ready to play in an orchestra when they are not ''tainted'' by the world. I mean the more I aged.. the less I will bend to someone else will. I will never be under the control of a conductor because I would never be able to stand it. I also tend to demand more and more from a work environment and other.

Also they get more exposure and since they are young they can help sell more disc as ''prodigy''. Become known younger. For a disc producer, being young when you start is a point they are able to capitalize in more disc sales. When you start later, you have a shorter career and less to show to the producer.

Also, there a few ''late starter'' which will want to live a life as a musician. Very demanding, concert are nights, pay isn't that good unless you are at the top. So many late starter start to play for themselves.

I started at 24 and it's now been a little over three years. I just practice for the fun and advance at my pace. According to my teacher it is faster then children because we are more critical of our own playing. So there are some advantages to being a late starter.

So people like me actually dilute people who start late and want to become the next

February 26, 2008 at 06:03 AM · I think some people are also motivated when someone, or a lot of people say, you can't be done. Don't try. You can't do it. Yixi was saying that this motivates her. Me too. I've always been like it, and like Yixi, I need these people in a lot of ways. I also need the other kind who believes in what I'm doing, just as everyone does.

I'd like to thank Benjamin K for coming up with his well reasoned posts. Excellent points I think and well worth serious thought and re-reading.

Regarding what Laurie wrote, I agree completely. It is the small steps and details that mean a lot. Just be grateful and happy that you have learned how to play a particular arpeggio passage, etc, or a new way of bowing, or whatever, and have added a new string to your bow. Every journey is composed of steps.

Let us be on a positive journey. Not one that says, for some classes of students, "You will only go so far. So don't try too hard, will you!".

Pipe up about age only if you are concerned for the student's well-being. Like maybe they're 112 and their right arm might fall off. People are tough. They can handle just about everything else that might come along. Blessings to all learners.

February 26, 2008 at 06:39 AM · Jon, you're right, to a really motivated and committed person, naysaying will increase the desire to proof the critics wrong. However, not everybody has sufficient self confidence and someone with less than healthy self esteem who never aspires to become a professional may be discouraged by naysaying that wasn't actually aimed at them. In fact this is a far more likely scenario than the naysaying discouraging those it is aimed at.

On the other hand, even the most talented, most committed and hardest working person on a long and difficult journey will from time to time have doubts about themselves and what they are doing. It is at those times that they need somebody who they look up to, to have confidence in them, reassure them that it is worth continuing. So, I say, the person you need to believe in you second most (after yourself) is your teacher. If you have a teacher that doesn't believe in you, that'll significantly increase your chances of failing to achieve your goal, whatever that goal might be.

So, I say, naysaying is more harmful than it does good. If you receive "too much" encouragement and as a result underestimate the task you are to accomplish, you'll soon find out anyway and in doing so you will likely have learned a valuable lesson. On the other hand, listening to a naysayer doesn't teach you anything at all.

February 26, 2008 at 02:01 PM · 1. There is a prejudice amongst some, but not all, violin teachers, that in lessons manifests itself in the following ways: age needs to be brought into the consciousness of the adult learner at regular intervals, lest the adult learner get too upset if they find they are not going to one day be a pro, or a high level amateur, or whatever their goal is. Or it at least needs to be firmly pointed out to the adult learner at the start of the association between student and teacher, for the same reasons (when I say adult learner I mean adult beginners and those who started as kids and who stopped for a fairly long time and re-started as adults).

2. In some areas, or age groups of teachers, this feeling amongst teachers is more prevalent.

3. This has a bad effect on most if not all adult learners. It does not achieve anything positive. It does more for the teacher, if the teacher feels it is their duty to impart this opinion or advice.

4. This nay-saying permeates the culture of music in many other ways, mostly negative.

5. It doesn't seem to have a practical use.

6. It isn't necessary. Adult learners can see where the road runs, and they can read the writing on the wall.

7. Adults can be easily discouraged, no matter how good or talented or hardworking they are. The great mass of public opinion leans heavily against them on this issue, especially in less enlightened areas. All people, adult, kid, nationality, pay scale, etc etc don't like being given poor service.

8. Adults are tough, in other ways. If they can't achieve their cherished goals, they can get over it all by themselves. They don't need the teacher telling them not to have big plans. They want total support, tough and tell it like it is in matters of violin technique, but not that they can't do it no matter what they do. Because adults know that the truth is that one day someone will manage to play Paganini quite well who started at ......whatever age :-) Perhaps someone, or several, already has, and like Jim says, they're maybe not letting on because the prejudice against them in the toff-ridden world of classical music would be too the Egyptian Pharo who was actually a woman...

9. Teachers, who maybe have said to adult learners or beginners that they can't do it, please don't say it (because you don't really know it to be true. You are guessing. Your knowledge on such things is limited). Everyone else, well done!

10. Good violin playing is a commodity that is valued very highly in our society, at least traditionally or subliminally if you want to put it that way.

Where the gold is, there the greedy misers stand around with a gleam in their eye. Beware the greedy gleam, and back away from it, for there you will not find truth and enlightenment.

The best teachers are the generous ones. Truth and charity are closely bound.

February 26, 2008 at 10:09 AM · A nice post, Jon.

I'll look out for nice ladies for you.

February 26, 2008 at 02:14 PM · Thanks Sharelle.

I just finished watching 'The Island', on TV, just then. What an interesting movie!! Here is one quote from it, that jumped out at me, I don't know why (from Chapter 17 on the DVD):

"We're not asking for your permission...We're asking for your help".

It made me think.

P.S. this might be a very upsetting movie for some people...I don't know. I thought it was great. But if you haven't seen it, and are thinking about seeing it, just bear this in mind. I thought I should say this.

February 26, 2008 at 01:41 PM · "Jon, you're right, to a really motivated and committed person, naysaying will increase the desire to proof the critics wrong. However, not everybody has sufficient self confidence and someone with less than healthy self esteem who never aspires to become a professional may be discouraged by naysaying that wasn't actually aimed at them. In fact this is a far more likely scenario than the naysaying discouraging those it is aimed at."

--i agree for the most part. there are lots of "actions" directed at adult players and for that matter, adults facing any challenges. yet, what matters is the "reaction" coming out of the individuals.

"On the other hand, even the most talented, most committed and hardest working person on a long and difficult journey will from time to time have doubts about themselves and what they are doing. It is at those times that they need somebody who they look up to, to have confidence in them, reassure them that it is worth continuing. So, I say, the person you need to believe in you second most (after yourself) is your teacher. If you have a teacher that doesn't believe in you, that'll significantly increase your chances of failing to achieve your goal, whatever that goal might be."

--so the take home message is to believe yourself, your teacher and not to pay attention to naysayers (yet, not paying attention does not mean refusing to wisely acknowledging, analysing, attempting to resolve real, unique issues confronting you the adult player). IF you do pay attention to naysayers, do not like their message and go on to demand the naysayers what they should do instead, i am not sure that is the most efficient and effective way to achieve your original goal. you set out to be the best you can in violin,,,,not to convert all the naysayers in the world. in a weird way, your best contribution in changing the mind of those naysayers is not through your lament, but through your playing.

"So, I say, naysaying is more harmful than it does good. If you receive "too much" encouragement and as a result underestimate the task you are to accomplish, you'll soon find out anyway and in doing so you will likely have learned a valuable lesson. On the other hand, listening to a naysayer doesn't teach you anything at all."

--i can't buy conclusion like that based on the above 2 paragraphs. we cannot arrange every part of the society to our liking, but we can pick and choose what comes into us and what comes out of us. you are your own filter, navigator, engine and fuel. the final decider of whether you are happy or not is you, not your environment, regardless of its influence. if it is a tough world out there, one option is to get tougher, the other one is to proclaim: i want love and respect. no kidding, that is on everyone's list but we have to earn it! if we agree that naysayers indeed serve the function of inpiring you to try even harder, don't just say it, live by it, cherish it as if you mean it.


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