Adult beginners: a statistical approach

March 5, 2008 at 03:50 AM · Many people seem to assume that adults can't become virtuosi because they're adults. I wanted to offer a different way of thinking about it: a statistical model.

If 1000 6-year-olds start the violin, then we can assume that the vast majority, all things the same, will not become good enough to be admitted to a conservatory. Maybe 99/100 will fail. They will not have the manual dexterity, or pitch sensitivity, or be able to develop an attractive vibrato, or a steady rhythmic pulse. Of the 1% left, perhaps only 1% of them will be able to play for decent living in a full-time orchestra.

The problem with adult beginners may not be because they're adults per se, but because the odds are against them to begin with. Even if they had started at the age of 6, most were destined not to become accomplished. Our problem is our sample: relatively few adults begin on the violin. For every 100 children who start, perhaps 1 adult does it as seriously. So the odds are long and our sample size is miniscule. Naturally, adults have other problems, such as declining muscle and tendon elasticity. But what if the most talented of adults started at 30 and practiced 3 hours a day for 20 years? Could he/she make it?

It's difficult to know because, again, so few actually can do that.

Adults certainly are capable of learning difficult tasks: how many neurosurgeons begin training on their specialty before the age of 30? How many fighter pilots are allowed to practice landing $20 million jets on aircraft carriers before the age of 30?

If you saw the recent footage of the Lufthansa pilot trying to land in 100+ MPH crosswinds in Germany, it becomes obvious that adults can and do master terribly difficult hand-eye tasks which are combined with large volumes of other knowledge.

So perhaps adults can't succeed on the violin generally because

A. the sample size of those trying is too small to really know and B. most people don't possess the inherent talents in the first place. It's not simply because they're adults.

Replies (100)

March 5, 2008 at 05:30 AM · I'd have to add that by this stage in life, most of us who have begun as an adult simply have far too many things competing for our time, things such as:

1. Family time, which is vital, especially for those of us who have small children.

2. The demands of making a living, of sustaining a career, which is of course vital as well.

3. The myriad of other day-to-day tasks that demand even more of our time...daily meal preparations (and cleaning up afterward), doing laundry, keeping a house, managing a family budget, caring for our vehicles (routine maintenance, etc.), outside chores (lawncare, gardening, etc.), and so on, and so on, and so on...

The items listed above do not impact your average child as children are not bound by the responsibilities of an adult. So, as an adult our options with respect to "free" time are much more limited. I had SO much more free time when I was young even though I grew up on a farm where there was always plenty that needed to be done. However, we all worked together and even though it was "work", it was a shared experience and this made it something more. In so many ways, life was simpler then. I guess that in some respects the world has changed, and we right along with it because we have become the agents of change. Life does not seem to be as relaxed an event as it once was and we find ourselves hurrying along, doing our best to keep up with the rest as they do their best to keep up with us, and so we go, a machine set in motion by desire, but weighted down by a lack of fulfillment. So, we turn to the violin in the hope of finding something more and come to learn something about ourselves. We learn to appreciate that which we've been given, and thank God for that which we have not. We appreciate the time we're granted to pursue this newfound desire, and as we do so we find the weight of unfulfillment begin to fall away, little by little, until none remains.

Inside the heart of every artist lives the need to be free, to live life on outside looking in. Only then can we see, and only then can we tell others what we have seen from a perspective we ourselves have come to know. Why else do you play Bach as only you can? It truly matters not when we began, but rather that we have, and that we continue to press on. I think the one who posted this thread is 100% correct in their assessment of the situation concerning the adult beginner, but we really need to ask ourselves why we as adults took to the violin in the first place. The answer to this question stands at the vertex, at the point toward which (and from which) all that concerns the matter is directed.

March 5, 2008 at 09:48 AM · Scott, I've wondered the same thing before. Perhaps you can run some numbers and find how many adult starter pros you would expect to find if your theory is true. Perhaps zero. Incidentally, lots of military pilots are younger than you think. In fact once the whole crew on a commuter flight I was on scared me to death by looking about 20. Not military, but we passengers were more valuable than a fighter jet :)

March 5, 2008 at 09:03 AM · I'll bet the numbers are closer to 1 adult beginner for every 1000 kid starter, and that even that "high" of a percentage is a fairly recent phenomenon. You'd have to look long and hard to find a working father from my parents' generation that took up violin after the age of 30 or 40.

March 5, 2008 at 12:21 PM · I would add that there is another (related) force working: I believe an adult beginner has to be very self-motivated to progress, as nearly everybody else believes that adults are not capable of progressing as quickly as a yougster. The adult has to overcome mentally such 'opposition'.

March 5, 2008 at 02:06 PM · With all due respect that is nothing but a myth, repeated over and over and over again until the uninformed crowd finally bought into it, yet there is no evidence whatsoever that it is true. Given the same effort adults can learn just as fast as kids, they might be at a disadvantage in some respects, but they are at an advantage in others. It entirely depends on the individual, not age.

March 5, 2008 at 02:56 PM · Those are very interesting thoughts, and I think you're probably right to some extent. However, adults are at a natural disadvantage because of the neurological phenomenon known as 'pruning,' which can pretty much be summed up by the saying "use it or lose it."

Nevertheless, adults generally have developed more sophisticated logic than a six-year-old. The solution for dedicated adult beginners is to observe closely what's going awry and troubleshoot. Unfortunately, the flip side is that the adults I've worked with tend to be more self-conscious than children and take it quite personally when they don't make fast progress, even in things that no one can realistically expect from a beginner.

March 5, 2008 at 02:49 PM · This is purely anecdotal, but I’d often ask classes of college students if they ever played a musical instrument. Practically every hand would go up. Wow!

Then I'd ask, “How many still play that instrument?” Maybe a hand or two would go up, often not a single one.

That tells me that many children start playing musical instruments but give up somewhere along the way; the reasons are for another post; discipline, I’m sure, not being the least of those reasons.

I play the violin surrounded by college students who have played violin since age 8 and younger. They’ve played for 10+ years. I’ve played for 7+ years, starting long after retirement, when I had few practicing distractions.

I play as well as most of them and even better than some. Admittedly (darn!), a few are better! In terms of average violinists, I don’t see that age plays a significant part in the outcome. Probably as many adults who start give it up as often as kids who start and quit.

Now, if you’re going to talk about virtuosos, then you’re talking about such a small percentage of violinists anyhow. They obviously had the desire and passion and drive. What they did with their practice time and how they managed to automatize the skill is probably more important than when they started.

One disadvantage as an adult beginner that I'm beginning to realize is that I don't think I have enough time left to play as well as Joshua Bell. Time sure does fly when you're havin' fun!

March 5, 2008 at 03:46 PM · scott, i share that same sentiment,,,it makes sense intuitively. yet, the only way to validate/refute the theory is to get a high school kid to do a project on that. (since musicians are too busy and can't seem to think straight anymore:)

on the topic of why adults have seeming difficulty breaking through into the pro scene, i would like to submit 3 syndromes that come to mind:

1. MDS (media darling syndrome)

if you look at network tv and the type of programs they put on in so called prime time slots in the past 5 years or so, you get a sense that each year has a different flavor. we had reality tv, and now bombarded with idol like competitions. these arrangements are not accidental discoveries, but results of calculated market research and promotion. years ago, we had that lady doing "where is the beef?" for wendy's...again, all orchestrated because the age and the profile fed into the mass psychic.

to have an adult violin player, coming out of nowhere (with no competition records, no big name teachers,no sugar daddy and mommy pulling strings for you, etc), breaking into the high register of major music halls, is not to the best interest of the promoters. their market research probably indicates to them that they may make a point, but lose money. in a sense, by not actively promoting good/excellent adult players, those in power are demoting them. on some level it is not fair, but in the business world, the guy with more resources calls the shots. bill gates dictates what goes into windows xp, whether you like it or not.

2. YIS (youth infatuation syndrome)

it is human nature that we have a softer spot for cute babies, puppies and negative connotations on aging and death. youth simply has an (unfair if you will) advantage, associated with the above MDS. if a 4 yo and a 40 yo can do the same, the 4 yo will get all the attention. sure youth is associated with lack of experience and knoweledge, but if a kid demonstrates otherwise, the society falls for it. with violin, there are just way too many examples to cite. we throw every young thing onto the wall as prodigies to see which one sticks. when they don't stick and fall, hey, not my problem! as we look through the livelihood of those prodigies, it is not difficult to appreciate that the experiences can easily drive kids insane. between an insane kid who produces beautiful music and a regular kid who behaves like a kid, as a parent, the choice is easy. however, the societal forces are powerful enough to keep the prodigy engine churning, running over enthusiastic adult players.

3. YCWSS (you can't win, stupid syndrome)

classical music is as subjective as you can imagine or scheme. beyond basic grasp of technical and musical issues, whatever you do is your signature and you can't demand audience's warm reaction to your brand, which has nothing to do with the number of hours you have practiced on your paganinis (when was the last time andre reus did a double stop?:). you hope people like the way you play, to the point that you can make a living with it, but you can't count on it, at least not in this day and age. with many other fields, more or less you can count on it. get that piece of paper, you be the doctor, the lawyer, the cpa, the plumber, the engineer, etc. or even a golfer:)

if i ask you how well person A played in that concert? you may say: awesome, just beautiful. ok, i will take your word for it.

after a golf game i will ask: how did player A play? you may say: awesome, just beautiful.

then i follow up with another: what did he shoot? the score tells the tale in that game.

yet, violin playing to me is a game that you really can't keep a score. it is an experience to be enjoyed. if you can't respect that, it will be hard on you unfortunately. misery will find you regardless of age if you are available. for adult players who have the energy, time and interest to compare and complain, try practice harder and enjoy the fruit of your hard labor more. stop eyeing the youth camp, pay attention to your own playing.

March 5, 2008 at 03:47 PM · Everyone has made good points here, and I have no disagreements with any of them. My question is how many adults beginners actually start out with a stated goal of becoming a pro? The number of reasons late starters have for taking up the violin are many, but I suspect a serious desire to become a pro, change vocations and and earn one's living playing the violin, isn't one of them. Maybe the question isn't is it possible to begin as an adult and make pro, but how many late starters really have this as life goal.

March 5, 2008 at 03:57 PM · then there is a need to make a distinction between a later starter and an adult beginner.

later starter: lol, what? after 5, after 10, after 15 , LOL?

adult beginner: after 18, or after 40? :)

i don't think people on this site will feel comfortable making a public statement that i am aiming for pro in years to come despite issues to be confronted with, but deep inside, there is always a desire to be better or be the best one can be. and it is human nature to aspire and compare.

i am not against that at all. i am just not a big fan of telling the whole world that i will be somewhere until i get there, or somewhere close.

it is not a matter of confidence or faith or being humble, just a stylistic difference.

March 5, 2008 at 04:08 PM · The statistical argument would be compelling if the 1000 children you mentioned "failed" for the same reasons as adults do. But what if, for example, many of those 1000 kids "fail" because they chose to do something else- a failure which by definition wouldn't happen as often in an adult because the adult himself or herself, and not a parent, has chosen to play? I think that it's very difficult to make the sort of comparison the OP intends because of the large differences in lifestyle between adults and children. Put another way, much of the failure rate differences you'd expect from a difference in starting numbers is already taken into account by the fact that the adults are self-selecting, whereas the children are not, for the most part. So the almost 100 percent failure rate of adults must be due to some other reason or reasons.

So adult beginners aren't auditioning in droves for professional ochestras because it really is much harder to learn violin as an adult. Obvious reasons include those listed above such as family obligations and work. But I think there are other reasons having to do with the the fact that adults' personalities are already formed- adults are not as inclined to change major aspects of themselves to fit in, whereas children do this on a regular basis. I see this firsthand when I teach adults. They have a very hard time listening and copying because they stand in a very different relationship to the teacher, adult to adult.

Adults also have much less ability to get access to the best teachers, and the best teaching from the best teachers. Teachers know that an adult may or may not practice, probably won't take it seriously and doens't have the same emotional investment that a child does, so it's hard to teach them. I think teachers want to change, mold and influence the student, not just impart knowledge (even if it were possible to do this apart from changing someone)so they tend not to want to deal with adults.

There is also the fact that anybody who decides at, say, 30 to take up violin and become a professional violinist from scratch is more than likely a bit weird, probably a misfit or otherwise maladjusted. Such people do not make good students and tend to bring these problems to the lessons. Even if they bring a childlike innocence and ability to the lesson, that in and of itself is weird and out of place in adulthood and probably signals other problems. I say this, by the way, as perhaps the patron saint of weirdos myself...

Final thought about this is that there ARE some abilities which are known to fade after early childhood. The ability to learn an accent flawlessly (though NOT the ability to learn a language fluently) fades somewhere before adolescence. Argue against that if you will, but you'll be wrong! Could be that if you learn the violin too late, you'll have a permanent "accent" that marks you as a late beginner.

March 5, 2008 at 05:11 PM · My reaction to this discussion is: so what? Since the likelihood of an adult beginner becoming any sort of professional violinist, much less top tier is vanishingly small, how you define the question or what the reasons are seem largely irrelevant. Let's make this more anecdotal. How many of you actually know a violinist who was an adult beginner who is now playing for a living as either an internationally recognized soloist or as a member of a top tier or significant regional orchestra?

March 5, 2008 at 04:43 PM · So the way to settle this is to do the following experiment which would try to replicate the emotional as well as the pedagogical aspects of learning the violin as a kid:

Take some adults (I defer to a statistician as to how many it should be) who are willing to spend ten years learning the violin, viola, cello and bass. Put them in a special school and give them a salary starting out high enough so they will not have to think about adult problems like making enough money. You don't want weirdos in the experiment if you can avoid it, so people who already have families are ok. However, to minimize distractions, participants aren't allowed to see their families for ten years.

If they are men, give them access to a nice car and several pretty and pliant women. If they are women, give them a constant supply of flowers, intense gossip, and well written love notes from the hot men of their choice so that nobody has to worry about these other adult needs. Then make sure everybody gets to study with the very best teachers in the world as often as they like.

After a year, make the salary/cars/women/flowers etc. contingent on what chair you get in the orchestra and, of course, the last chair in each section gets waterboarded weekly. Re-auditions would be held once every two weeks. After a few years, we could really say whether or not you can learn violin to an arbitrarily high level as an adult.

March 5, 2008 at 04:45 PM · Certainly I have no intention of earning a living playing violin and I haven't heard any other adult beginners say that they do either. For most of us that would be a fantasy. For me it's not even a regret. I love what I do (Science) and it wouldn't be tempting to switch to an artistic career.

But I have every intention of becoming good, whatever that means. I want to audition for the local orchestra next fall and over time become skilled enough to play live in smaller groups. I'd like to become skilled enough that it's a pleasure to listen to me. And skilled enough that I'm confident in my playing and knowledge, and informed in my listening to all music.

I think all of these things are doable without becoming a major symphony orchestra caliber player. I doubt that many of us adult starters have much higher aspirations than this.

I think the OP and the response concerning time limits are also right on target.

I don't think we learn more slowly than children though. The lesson slots before and after mine are taken by children so I get to listen to them and if anything I hear them advancing more slowly. These are regular kids though, taking lessons at the local shop. I'm sure with prodigies or kids who practice many hours per day the situation would be reversed. But that's not an adult vs child comparison, it's people in different categories of talent and commitment.

March 5, 2008 at 05:00 PM · Actually Tom, I do know at least one guy who started when he was 17 and is now a professor of violin in, I believe, Colorado. He faced years of ridicule, though, at the hands of other students and even the teachers, even as he was working on his DMA in violin performance! So it's a tough road.

The reason to ask the question to begin with is that a lot of people want to know what is possible just out of plain old curiousity and also because, if the answer to the extreme case is known, it says something about the path somebody with lesser ambitions should take vis-a-vis the violin.

March 5, 2008 at 05:05 PM · Tim,

Right, the "professional level" thing is a red herring... what adults really want to know is how far they can go given this or that set of cicumstances, in other words, what should they expect. I think that adults have many challenges that kids don't obviously, but we have some advantages too that teachers should use as if they were preparing somebody for a professional career.

March 5, 2008 at 05:12 PM · Al Ku,

I liked your last statement. I am a confident person, but I do not claim to be psychic. I do not know where my skills will take me. I do not know where I will be. I can play around and tell people where I think I will be or where I want to be, but in the end it's a question of what roads will lead where. Time will tell!

March 5, 2008 at 05:12 PM · I have no problem with those adult beginners who believe that they can become good players and have fun. They should be encouraged to take that view. I just have problems with encouraging adult beginners to think that they can do more than that, particularly ones that start after college.

March 5, 2008 at 05:18 PM · Holzman is right: So What.

March 5, 2008 at 05:22 PM · Tom and Anne, does that mean you think it will be hard to get funding for my experiment?

March 5, 2008 at 05:25 PM · Howard, how many rubles did you need?

March 5, 2008 at 05:26 PM · I only ask how many rubles because, as a professional musician, I am filthy rich of course. (Insert smiley face here).

March 5, 2008 at 05:29 PM · Anne, with the dollar declining, rubles may not be such a bad idea. Besides, certain um... controversial aspects of my experiment might better be executed in Russia...

March 5, 2008 at 05:58 PM · jasmine, my bias is that you are not really much of a later beginner. you have an unfair advantage: your drive will allow you to advance at a much faster pace that most adults or kids won't be able to keep up. simply not fair!!!

but, you'd better know where you are going:) or enjoying the process along the way! :)

howard, that is a brilliant research idea:) count me in, as a male player preferrably. keep your salary and nice car as long as my adult needs are met. heck, even in russia! to avoid waterboard, you will see how i practice!

March 5, 2008 at 05:44 PM · Good point about adult starters least likely to want to go pro. Of course becoming an amateur is actually above and beyond becoming a professional [tongue in cheek].

I can't find any references now, but I read somewhere in a history of the violin, that one observer in the 15th century described how the violin was played by professionals while the viol was played by amateurs. While the observer had written in favourable terms of the amateur players, he didn't seem to have anything nice to say about the professional ones.

Obviously, things have changed quite a bit since then, but it can't hurt to revive the original meaning of the word amateur.

March 5, 2008 at 05:56 PM · Howard,

I'd like to volunteer as a pliant male for the female half of your sample. Fair is fair.

March 5, 2008 at 06:00 PM · Tim,

Sure! But do read the proposal carefully- the "pliant males" are only sending love notes and flowers.

March 5, 2008 at 06:12 PM · Al, I expected no less from you. Consider it done, and thanks for your selfless support of fine research.

March 5, 2008 at 06:36 PM · @Tom

>I have no problem with those adult beginners who believe that they can become good players

> and have fun. They should be encouraged to take that view. I just have problems

> with encouraging adult beginners to think that they can do more than that,

> particularly ones that start after college.

Just because you have a problem with that view doesn't mean you are right. Anyway, here's the deal for you ...

We leave the field of the solo and show piece repertoire to the professionals without a fight and reclaim chamber music, in particular quartet music for the amateurs. This has traditionally been the music for amateurs and I don't think I am leaning myself too far out of the window when I say that far more professional string players aspire to either a solo career or to a career in a symphony orchestra than those who aspire to play chamber music as their number one thing.

I have been to string quartet performances by world class professional quartets devoted to quartet playing and nothing else, by amateur quartets and by professionals assembled into quartets where the quartet playing wasn't their main line of work as musicians. The amateurs usually deliver better performances than those pros for whom quartet playing is a side show and not the main thing. As for world class quartets versus amateur quartets, I have been to quite a number of performances where you could justifiably say the difference in quality of performance was negligible. From this experience, I would say an amateur can do as well as a professional or even better.

Perhaps you want to search Youtube for the MD who plays the cello in his spare time which includes time being idle in the emergency station of the hospital. One video actually shows him playing in the ER where he works. I leave it up to you to judge how well he does. Of course his main job is medicine, not music.

But let's not forget that many who are so outspoken against amateurs being able to play on par with a professional are heavily biased for they have spent half their lives doing nothing but become a professional musician and quite obviously it can hurt one's self esteem to have to admit that some non-professional player could do as well or even better although that non-professional has a busy job already and didn't devote half a lifetime to playing the instrument.

The only thing I am willing to concede here is that the professional musician is most likely always the one with the bigger repertoire whilst the amateur focuses on select pieces which he or she particularly cherishes.

March 5, 2008 at 08:52 PM · "weirdos"...

lol, Howard, I somehow had a hunch that it might be the case. I also have a hunch about why, in spite of this, teachers don't just turn me down...

But starting the violin at 30 may not be as weird as this:

although there is basically nothing wrong with earning a living.

March 6, 2008 at 12:06 AM · I have really enjoyed reading the responses to this post. There are so many fabulous insights from so many people! I’ll weigh in as a statistical entity, as an adult beginner.

I began the violin a little less than a year ago. Things went well from the start and I never felt the least bit handicapped as a then 37 year-old adult, with one glaring exception, that being the fact that I soon found myself injured. Due to some changes made (as well as some realizations that have come along the way), I now play absent of any tension and thankfully my injury has gotten much, much better. My hope is that it will eventually fade into non-existence, but I am not sure if this will be the case. Anyway, moving on… From the beginning my teacher commented on my progress, and soon put more challenging material before me than her standard-issue beginner’s fare. The process went well despite the fact that my injury severely limited my ability to practice. After a couple or months or so my teacher asked me what my goals were, what I hoped for with respect to the violin. I told her that I would like to, some day, find myself able to play Bach’s S&P, and perhaps some day later still the 24 Caprices of Paganini. She told me that she saw no reason why this would not be possible, given time. I had further hopes, which I kept to myself for a moment, but then I thought “what the heck” and mentioned that I also thought it would be nice to one day be able to play as a professional. Then, without hesitation, she told me the same thing, that it was entirely possible given time. She then set out a plan of action, one that included a private recital in a year, along with entrance into a community orchestra in a similar time frame. Then, as my children grew into a more independent age, from pre-school and kindergarten age into young adulthood, basically over the next several years, I would continue to refine my ability until such time that I (our family, actually) would be in a better position for such a change, that of entering the world of a professional musician. My wife was very supportive of the idea as well. However, all of this hinged upon one VERY important thing, my willingness to make the sacrifices that would be required should I choose this path. And, injury aside, this has been my main stumbling block, one that has at times stood in the way, and at other times been entirely absent my field of view. However, it is a lot to consider as an adult. It is one thing to, as a child, envision a future for which your entire past has been a preparation. When you are a child you grow up to one day become something! By the time you are a middle-aged adult this process, while never truly complete, has by and large met its fulfillment. You have grown, and you have grown into what you have become, for better or for worse. The problem I have had to face is living as an adult not particularly satisfied with my “chosen” career. I say “chosen” because my professional life has, out of necessity and a basic series of events, evolved into what it has become today, but it does not reflect who I am in my core, rather it has become a veneer, a covering obscuring a vital core. However, the truth is I have no idea how far I really want to go with the violin. I want to learn to play well for the pure enjoyment of it, that is without question, but beyond this I really am uncertain.

Well, I guess my point is that it is not so simple a process nor decision as some would make it seem, and we as people are infinitely more complex than our simple schemes would have us realize. Anything real, anything alive, the natural order of things in all its variety, life in general, that which has been placed and ordered by a Creator of infinite ability, is so much more than we can imagine and so we dumb it down in our vain attempts at understanding the world which surrounds us, and we pass by so much along the way without so much as a casual glance out to the side. How many of you have heard the expression “The more you learn, the less you know”? There is a lot of very profound truth to be had in such a brief statement. The truth is, reality defies description, or at least one the 3 pounds of wet noodles between our ears is able to process. I guess I’ve gotten off track (again), but the moral of this story is simple…play on and let life come along as it will. Doubtless, opportunities will spring forth, around which you will have no plan and of which you will have had no idea. Take advantage of them when they do, as these are always the best ones because they’re sent from above!

March 6, 2008 at 03:08 AM · The following is a link to the musical website of Dr. Eric Roter MD who is an emergency physician and an amateur of the cello.

If you are an amateur or aspiring amateur, check him out, it should be encouraging to you.

Be warned though that if you are not an amateur but one of those whose belief system says that amateurs will always be second rate and can't match your elite class of ivory tower resident pro musicians, then this may disturb you for it will tell you to shut up and keep your prejudiced opinions henceforth to yourself.

March 6, 2008 at 03:21 AM · Nah, if they do exist, I figure they'd just ignore it.

Some of those jobs on the cnn site are a little misrepresented. Anyway, the strangest job I know of are the Mexico City sewer divers. Seems MC has an old overwhelmed sewer system that has special

March 6, 2008 at 03:38 AM · Jim, tell me you are joking about the sewer divers.

Benjamin, I enjoyed the link but I would say that Dr. Roter is more than just your average amateur musician. He did go to a music conservatory so he doesn't quite fit the sphere of this beginners.

March 6, 2008 at 03:41 AM · what he does, highlighting both of his interests, is impressive. he went to julliard first, then med school.

i think some posters on this board are even more impressive. their careers may not be as prominent; their playing elementary, but they have the courage to start from scratch, confronting stares and obstacles. dr roter should be in awe of these people's endeavors.

March 6, 2008 at 03:54 AM · Just like in your 401k, time is the most important variable.

I've read that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to make a professional violinist. Putting in two hours a day from the time you're around 10 yrs old will get you there. Talent is nice, but determination and spending the time is the bottom line.

Regarding Jim's airline pilots, it takes a minimum of 2000 hrs in various aircraft to be hireable by an airline. Most of those guys have been flying since they were teenagers, and most of them have earned the bulk of the hours by serving as flight instructors. By the time you've put in that kind of time, it's likely that you've seen most of the possible mistakes at least once, and have survived them.

March 6, 2008 at 04:00 AM · Bob, I realize that. I think I was just subconsciously hoping they weren't up there giving each other knuckies and wedgies :)

March 6, 2008 at 04:01 AM · Ben,

ah yes, all those snotty professionals and their silly belief systems... You should read the part of my post about weirdos and try to see how that may apply. I'm telling you, there is a positive correlation...

March 6, 2008 at 03:48 AM · Dr. Rotor seems a prodigy of sorts in his own right and has simply chosen to apply himself to more than one area of interest. Truthfully, I hate to use the term "prodigy" as it carries such a heavy connotation, and not an entirely good one in my opinion.

Actually, being what is commonly termed an over-achiever is often a manifestation of a basic personality type, which can play itself out in a healthy or an unhealthy way. So, some of us simply find that we're wired to go the distance, whereas others of us (myself included) find that we are not, however we may still go the distance even though it may at first feel a bit like swimming against the current. The true irony of it is that when those of us who are not wired for the need to achieve latch on to something of great importance, when we have made a definite decision regarding our path in life, we turn from one who rides the current into an unstoppable force that boldly resists the current. The decision, the change, cannot be forced. It must come naturally, and this why the wheel, once it has been set in motion, is so darn hard to stop. It can become an intensely satisfying and gratifying experience.

March 6, 2008 at 07:06 AM · “My question is how many adults beginners actually start out with a stated goal of becoming a pro?”

Gary, no offence intended, but I’d say this is a silly question. It’s unrealistic this day of age for adults of any age to have a definitive career goal that’ll take somewhere 10 years to get there. Yes, you’ve got to have some target to keep you going, but you’d better to keep your target moving to adjust the ever changing directions of the wind. Only a kid can dream to be a firefighter all his childhood and grows up a doctor or a lawyer.

Adults can be unbelievably successful as a later starter when driven by passion + commitment + perseverance + luck. We’ll get where we want to get, but this ‘where’ better be loosely defined. One can set a fixed target so specific as to be making a living as violinist/artist/philosopher, or even a doctor or lawyer 10 years down the road, but reality will soon force us to finetune the target. In fact, to ask ‘am I good enough to become such and such,’ I've already overestimated my power in determining future events, without taking into consideration all the unforeseeable factors that are beyond my control.

I agree with Benjamin’s point on certain skills aren’t equally acquirable/accessible for adults as it is for children. My imperfect English writing is a good example. I believe this is well-established in studies of language acquisition that no adult can learn a language as fast as a 2 yr old. The kind of English I didn’t learn when at 2, 10 or even 20 has lost for good. This doesn’t mean I can’t learn English well enough to function at a language-laden profession in an English-speaking world. Same argument can be made to learning a violin at a later age.

March 6, 2008 at 07:12 AM · "The kind of English I didn’t learn when at 2, 10 or even 20 has lost for good."

is lost for good. See? You can learn.

March 6, 2008 at 07:12 AM · It is and it has. Telll me what's wrong with using 'has' here please.

March 6, 2008 at 07:24 AM · I dunno, it's just is. A better teacher could give you the technical details :)

Probably something to do with non-matrimonial conjugation. Is, was, will be, and has been. Forever and ever, amen. The present future perfect passive past tense sort of vibe.

March 6, 2008 at 07:33 AM · This will work better...."has been lost for good". Is indicates present tense, has indicates past tense. :)

I have to constantly correct my children's poor grammar. I loathe the use of, 'it's got' or 'I've got'. I blame television commercials for the decline of the English language in America.

March 6, 2008 at 07:42 AM · lol! thanks for the attempt anyway Jim!

T, 'has been ' doesn't indicate past; it's a present perfect tense. It indicate something from past to the present. See, a later starter can at least argue this much in an un-Mother tongue;-)

March 6, 2008 at 07:45 AM · "I blame television commercials for the decline

I blame yankees for the decline. But her English is pertnear good usually.

March 6, 2008 at 07:46 AM · "It indicate something "

Indicates. With an s. Don't ask me why.

March 6, 2008 at 07:49 AM · pertnear ain't English. just checked.

hey, time for bed. Got to work tomorrow. no more funny sayings Jim!

March 6, 2008 at 07:56 AM · Nice... Just roll over and go to sleep.

March 6, 2008 at 10:00 AM · Yes, sure, Dr. Roter did not start to play as an adult and he went to Julliard, fair enough. But my point was that despite what must be a very busy job as a physician, he is able to find the time to be an amateur and maintain his playing.

If he can do that despite his professional obligations outside of music, then others can achieve similar feats. He went to conservatory first and then he started medicine (as an adult beginner so to speak). Well, others should be able to do the opposite, do medicine or science or whatever else first and then go to conservatory, as long as they are committed enough.

Even late in your career you can take a sabbatical for a few years to do something totally different provided you really want it.

Consider the following ... Hans Snook, creator of Orange, the well known mobile phone company and brand used to be just another white collar employee when sometime in his early 30s he decided to get away from it all and tour the world as a perpetual tourist with his wife, doing adhoc jobs of any kind here and there to support himself. Several years later when he happened to hang out in Hong Kong, one of those adhoc jobs was to write a business plan for an upcoming paging business. The folks who had commissioned this liked it well enough to ask him if he couldn't stick around for a while and help them build that business. The rest is history and the two companies resulting from this are Orange in Europe and Hutchison Telecom in Asia. When the Orange brand and network in Europe was finally sold to France Telecom, Mr.Orange took off again for another sabbatical.

If you know anybody in your circle of friend who is a passionate sailor, you may have heard about circumnavigation sabbaticals where folk sell their house to buy a yacht. go sailing around the globe for 2-3 years, sell the yacht again and buy a new house, go back to work. There are other long term activities for which people take long term sabbaticals.

There is absolutely no reason why somebody who has been learning to play the violin in their spare time for a number of years couldn't take a sabatical from work for a few years to initially prepare for going to conservatory full time and then eventually go to conservatory and afterwards return back to their old jobs. If you did this, you'd be an amateur musician with the kind of training Dr. Roter enjoyed. In fact, many conservatories have non-degree programs which afaik run for only 2 years or so. Add 1 year of full time preparation to get into the program and you have a total of 3 years, which is definitely within the realm of doability. Circumnavigators usually take 1 year of preparation and 2 years of sailing, thus 3 years off work. Entirely doable. Get off your ivory towers. There is nothing that can't be done given sufficient willpower and preparation. Dr. Roter is indeed living proof of that, even though his timing was the reverse.

March 6, 2008 at 01:17 PM · "There is absolutely no reason why somebody who has been learning to play the violin in their spare time for a number of years couldn't take a sabatical from work for a few years to initially prepare for going to conservatory full time and then eventually go to conservatory and afterwards return back to their old jobs."

Sorry Benjamin, but this is definitely not an option in my camp. I've got a family to support, and my career does not pay well enough to allow me to hoard away the kind of money it would require for me to take any sort of extended leave. I get 4 weeks a year PTO, baby, and that is it!

No doubt others of you may have seen it before, but check out this video:

That should give any of us all of the inspiration we could possibly require, if we so desire. So, if this applies to one of you push away from the computer and get to work! But seriously, if the desire has been placed in your heart, not just the thought of it but an absolute burning desire, I firmly believe you will find that you will have been given the balance as well.

One last thing...Xixi, your English is actually very good. It is definitely much better than about 95% of the adults with whom I converse, all of whom, save for a few, have known this language alone from their very first breath.

March 6, 2008 at 11:59 AM · so it is turning into: adult beginners, a philosophical approach:)

i have no aspirations at all to get better in playing,,, i simply don't,,, lazy like a bone. i never had a teacher per se but have been to basically all my kid's violin classes. i would like to think i have bearable intonation, below par musicality but adamently no interest to tackle demanding technical stuff. double stop? bahhhh, hell no!

i enjoy listening to violin one million times more than playing it. i don't need sympathy, encouragement, what have you. i understand my interest well enough to be very comfortable with it. i enjoy the sound made by others more than the one made by me. if the neighbor's flowers bloom, i marvel at the sight and drive on, minding my own business.

if people like dr roter find me inspirational, so be it!

March 6, 2008 at 02:34 PM · I thought this was quite interesting:,8599,1717927-2,00.html

I hope Simon doesn't set up a violinist idol before I get to be a better player, 'cause it's my only chance! The Time article points me into the right direction, practice, practice, practice without ever "coasting" :-)

March 6, 2008 at 02:04 PM · Xixi,

No offence taken, but I'm not sure I understand your objection. 'It's unrealistic . . . for adults of any age to have a definitive career goal that'll take somewhere 10 years to get here.' You'd have some difficulty convincing the more than half of my dental school class to agree with you. They all gave up established careers to become dentists, an endeavor that required they leave a paying occupation so they could spend between four to eight years (depending on speciality) at school before reaching their goal. Definition of 'adult in this instance ranged from 25 to 42. Some already had doctorates and none been working previously in the field of dentistry. For us (I was one of this adult group) this wasn't a vertical, or even lateral move, it was a complete shift of direction, as the move to professional violinist would be for hypothetical adult we've been discussing. All but three in the class were married, and most had small children. The first day of classes we were told that there had been something like 3,500 applications for each of the 73 positions in our class, so the competition was rather stiff, but probably not as hard as trying to get a seat in a major symphony, It was no cake walk getting accepted to dental school, but I doubt any of my classmates would say it was an 'unrealistic goal' to shoot for. It was also a very specific target. Either you make or you don't, and if you don't there's no other way to obtain a dental degree.

From personal experience I know that there are adults, even some far into adulthood, who will set out to achieve a goal from a late starting point, and that the goal might even seem to be unrealistic. Whether the example of late starters for dental school works as fair comparison to late starting for a career as a professional violinist is another matter.

So, as a preface to a rephrasing of my question, I personally know of at least 35 adults who set everything aside to become dentists, and all succeeded. How many adults, say 25 or older, have set everything else aside in serious attempt to become professional violinists. And then, of those how many made it?

March 6, 2008 at 01:56 PM · And now we have come full circle. I daresay that most adult beginners decide to learn to play because they enjoy music. I certainly didn't wake up one day and decide to become a solo performer.

I will also venture to say that probably most professional players have a true passion for their instrument. You don't need to be a child for that to happen. An adult could be unknowingly harboring a God given talent but until it is exposed, it lays dormant. An adult beginner could become a professional player IF they have the passion, the desire, and the talent to make their chosen instrument the center of their world. For the rest of us, playing an instrument is a hobby, an extension of our love of music. Doesn't mean we are any less capable, just less driven to reach the pinnacle of success. :)

March 6, 2008 at 02:34 PM · "Whether the example of late starters for dental school works as fair comparison to late starting for a career as a professional violinist is another matter."

but this "another matter" is precisely the issue at hand. we simply cannot compare adult violinist beginners vs first year dental student.

a better comparison will be to compare an adult juilliard first year student and an adult first year dental student, because in both cases, they have made the cut. even there, the comparison is skewed in favor of the dentist because job availability/income potential is quite different.

back to yixi's (not xixi as far as i know) point that it is unrealistic to make definitive career switch plans 10 years out as an adult with no prior specialized training, that point was validated by gary's revelation that in his year of application to the dental school, only 73 got in, over 3400 rejected. (as far as i know, that ratio is even tougher than harvard med school)

now, go ask those 3400 about their dreams of becoming a dentist and reality,,, i think yixi's point is that it is unlikely, as supported by the stat with dental school here, but not impossible.

if you have a low GPA, lukewarm recom letters, no prior experience/exposure to dental industry but dead serious about getting into dental school this year,,,you need simon from american idol to lay out the odds for you. it is called,,,unrealistic.

March 6, 2008 at 02:33 PM · Maria,

Thanks for sharing the article. It speaks directly to what even the likes of Jascha Heifetz have said all along...10% talent, 90% hard work and hard work requires pure, adulterated desire. Nothing else is going to get you there, and if you have this level of desire you have all you need. Which is what I was trying to say in my last post.

Yixi, sorry that I butchered your name.


March 6, 2008 at 02:34 PM · Gary, the answer to your question is already contained in your post: "no other way to obtain a dental degree", hence if you want to be a dentist you absolutely have to go this route. Now, compare this with the goal of an adult learner of the violin, more likely than not, they aspire to be amateurs. And to do that, you don't necessarily have to attend conservatory. Consequently, most will go a less risky route and not bet the farm. It does not mean that becoming a dentist is easier as an adult starter than becoming a pro-level violinist.

March 6, 2008 at 03:16 PM · chris, from that interesting article by maria, my take is not as much about desire as the 2 items listed, namely, deliberate practice and getting accurate feedback. desire is already a given,,,why the elite skaters outperform the second tier? because of deliberate practice. in other words, better management of time, practicing what matters more or the most. simply working hard with strong desire won't cut it (telling people you work hard with a strong desire is even more lame). we need smart, focal practice. this goes along with buri's recent blog, that practicing scales is good, but its efficacy should not be measured by the one hour mark.

the second point about getting good, honest feedback is also of paramount importance and that is where good teachers come in. from my reading here, it seems that some adult players have not maxed out in that department. either there is an understanding gap between the student and the teacher, or adult players may be too stubborn with their own ways (howard's point, not about weidos though:) the result? more time wasted.

if adult players lament that they need better teachers, at the same time, they should ask themselves to be a better student.

March 6, 2008 at 03:19 PM · Chris, you're welcome. It does say it the way it is, doesn't it? I don't doubt that most people here can do the kind of practice "we hate". But in my case what is not so easy to get is the "accurate feedback" - and perhaps there are many in this situation - even though, as an adult, I could probably put it to better use than most kids can! Unless, of course, Jim is willing to listen to me someday :-)

Another thing that hasn't been touched upon here, IMHO, is that, if at the age of 60 or so the previously "adult beginner" finally gets in front of an audience and shocks them from ear to ear (as Mr. Haslop would say :), it would most probably make a difference whether said 60 year old is a male or a female! Who'd want to listen to a granny who made it? But I'd be happy to be that granny when I get there though...

p.s. al we think al-ike :)

March 6, 2008 at 03:46 PM · You can work hard, or you can work smart, however when you learn to work hard AND smart, then you really begin making progress. An intelligent, thoughtful approach is always better than a blind rush.

March 6, 2008 at 03:57 PM · Maria, perhaps the trick is to not tell anybody upfront that you started as an adult until *after* they heard you play and specifically ask, probably expecting an answer like "since I was 5 years old" only to be told "actually I started when I was 50" ... "er, did you say 5?" ... "no, I said *50*" :-)

March 6, 2008 at 03:18 PM · Yixi,

Sorry about mangling your name. 'Y' and 'X' aren't even close on the keyboard, so no excuse.

Al, the number we were told was 3500 per available place in the class, so the number competing was considerably higher than 3500. Except that most of us applied to more that one school so the actual number of aspirants would be less than the 3500 x 73 implied. Probably a third of that. Competition for entry into dental, medical and veterinary school varies from year to year, with veterinary school often being the most difficult. For the particular year I entered the competition was greatest for dental school, veterinary school second and medical school (including Harvard) third.

As for it being unrealistic to make a career switch 10 years out with no specialized training, one of the adults in my class was police officer with no prior specialized training toward dentistry at all. At 40 he had to first go back to college and get a degree with the necessary predental courses before he could even apply to dental school. It probably was unrealistic for him to do what he did, but he made it, and made it during one of the most difficult times to get entry to dental school. Of course it was unlikely for him to succeed, but I thought that's was what we were discussing, that's it's unlikely for someone to make these sorts of changes. The next step is does this apply in other areas, or more specially, what are the odds of an adult becoming a professional musician. I chose dental school as a point of comparison because that's what I have personal experience with, and because there a few true points of comparison such as need for good dexterity and a high degree of spacial visualization. Both are necessary for playing nearly any musical instrument, with the possible exception of the stereo. (Sorry, I had to throw that in because when my wife is asked what instrument she plays, she always says 'I play the stereo.') I knew of some who had the grades, had the references, but couldn't pass the spacial and visualization tests and were never accepted as result.

What are the odds of a 40 year-old policeman with no college degree getting into dental school? The numbers say he'll never make it. The reality is he did, but few would try to copy him. What are the odds of an adult making a complete shift in life and becoming a professional musician? The odds say forget it. Given human nature and drive, there probably is someone who could do it, but how many would actually try?

March 6, 2008 at 04:32 PM · gary, points well taken. i think we are mixing philosophical ideation with statistical implication.

by being realistic, i think both yixi and i have been referring the probability of making it, which is a stat figure. i don't think people here disagree on the odds of hitting lottery.

on the other hand, knowing the stat, some still go upstream to pursue a lifetime goal, however unconventional. that is a personal philosophy which we all should respect.

i am not saying if the odds is against an average person, you should not bother. i am saying i can safely bet that most policemen won't get into dental school for one reason or another. i am also saying, if one particular policeman has paid his dues (aced his pre-med courses, burning desire, etc) then he is exceptional and should pursue his dream with abandon. i am thrilled for him! at the same time, if one is not cut out to be a dentist, he may need to look at other options. is that too much to ask,,too hurtful to state?

on this site, i suspect, adult players tend to take offense more easily because of the mix-up of these 2 different entities.

it is like a patient getting upset with you for telling him he has a gaping hole in his molar, instead of working with you on a treatment plan or a payment plan or both:)


that is all, really.

March 6, 2008 at 04:57 PM · Al,

Complete agreement.

March 6, 2008 at 04:42 PM · ..."if adult players lament that they need better teachers, at the same time, they should ask themselves to be a better student."

Another aspect of the equation is does the student understand what the teacher is trying to teach? I often don't internalize what my teacher is suggesting until days/weeks later. I have many of those 'aha' moments in learning the violin.

The figure skating example brings to mind Tanya Harding and her infamous loose skate lace during her Olympic performance. Those who can, do. Those who can't, make excuses.

March 6, 2008 at 10:51 PM · T Netz,

Don't blame commercials for your children's grammar. Blame language itself, which changes over time whether we like it or not.

Your example of "it's got" made me smile. I wonder if a few generations of parents of early French speakers bemoaned their children's use of je t'aime instead of "je te aime"?

March 6, 2008 at 11:06 PM · while a ballerina who consistently falls off stage is probably having trouble with

jete aim



March 6, 2008 at 11:30 PM · I guess it _is_ possible to become an accomplished violin player starting at the age, let's say, 30. It's just the matter of individual - one posessing talent, skills and significant bits of a good violinist material, simply can do it.

I think posting an analogy to the piano may be the good point here. Arcadi Volodos started playing piano really seriously (after playing mostly for fun before) at the age of 16, and we all know how good he is right now.


Mateusz (who wishes to become able to play some higher end pieces in the future :))

March 7, 2008 at 12:25 AM · Sometimes it just takes a while for us to come to terms with the realization that we have been made for more. When the door finally opens and a dim inner room gives way to a sunlit landscape, beautiful and boundless for as far as the eye can see, we pause a moment to gaze, before taking that first step into the unknown.

March 7, 2008 at 12:59 AM · Chris,

Nicely stated. That says it all.

March 7, 2008 at 03:13 AM · Mateusz - actually, I think the piano is not a great analogy. It is much easier to learn to play piano than violin at any age. I do not think there is a violinist anywhere who started at 16 and is comparable to Volodos or anywhere near him.

March 7, 2008 at 06:31 AM · My teacher thinks I'll be able to play in an orchestra in 5 years time. But I don't believe her.

March 7, 2008 at 06:36 AM · Believe her! It's easy! I'd say two years.

March 7, 2008 at 07:35 AM · Miller, maybe you should be my teacher. I'm quite dilligent and very respectful.

March 7, 2008 at 08:17 AM · Back to the original post...

"So perhaps adults can't succeed on the violin..."

I'd like to put into question the definition of "success". Is it being a soloist touring the world like Joshua Bell? Then probably this is true. Is it being accepted into a major orchestra? Again, probably true.

But I would like to put a different spin on what "success" means, at least to this adult re-learner:

- Making first bench in a community orchestra

- Getting your first "paycheck" (playing for a high-school musical with other musicians for hire)

- Playing chamber music for a grand opening event

- Getting offers to play (and get paid for it)after playing in the grand opening

I still would like to do more, like playing a concerto in my community orchestra, actually taking up these offers to play for other events, etc.

In my book, I'm succeeding.

March 7, 2008 at 08:56 AM ·

Just happened upon this article just now. I think this summs it up quite well.

March 7, 2008 at 10:16 AM · Finally somebody mentions chamber music. Unfortunately though, the article presents chamber music as if it was something less valuable than a solo or orchestra career. I wonder why that is.

I personally have no interest in becoming a professional musician, but if I did, I would not want to be a soloist nor would I want to sit in an orchestra, I would want to start or join a string quartet. There seems to be a sentiment that chamber music is some kind of can-do-while-trying-to-find-something-better or can-do-if-anything-else-fails thing.

I hope that fellow amateurs here where I live value making chamber music higher than that, because otherwise I will find myself unable to find three other folks to play quartet music, when I am ready for it. Now that would be my personal definition of failure: not being able to play quartet music only because there aren't any others to join up with.

March 7, 2008 at 12:14 PM · ben, you said..Now that would be my personal definition of failure: not being able to play quartet music only because there aren't any others to join up with.

may be it is just a way of speaking, but the tone is quite negative. i think you will be able to build the bridge when you are ready to cross the river whenever that will be. there is really no place to put things like failure in your vocabulary.

some of you are so determined and positive and resourceful, you simply can't fail,,ok?!

March 7, 2008 at 12:38 PM · double post again

March 7, 2008 at 12:30 PM · Al, I haven't read this entire thread, but I was struck by your message that said the word failure shouldn't be used at all. I don't mean to pick on Al particularly because at least he was gentle about it.

But I've noticed sentiments like these a number of times on this site: that particular words, or even thoughts, should be forbidden. Sentiments like there "ought to be a law" against self-pity. Or that one shouldn't even say, or even think, that one is a bad musician.

I agree with most of the sentiments behind those statements: that self-pity isn't helpful, that running oneself down is as cruel as running other people down. And I understand that language is powerful and the words we use matter.

Because words matter, I think it's worth reconsidering and questioning the use of the language of censorship--that certain words or feelings should be forbidden or there ought to be a law against them--on this site. If people are feeling like failures but afraid to say it because they're afraid someone will slap them down with "failure should be forbidden from your vocabulary," it won't stop them from feeling like failures. The feeling will just go underground and fester and get even worse.

Free speech really means free speech.

March 7, 2008 at 01:43 PM · al, I used this phrasing because somebody just before my post asked the question what you would define as personal success. in other words, for me success is a) to be able to play in a quartet and b) to find 3 others to do so.

Please also note my deliberate use of the conditional "If I wouldn't ... then foobar", which means foobar is presumed to be hypothetical.

But the point of my post was that I am somewhat surprised to see that quartet playing doesn't seem to be valued as much as I would have assumed and as I would have liked.

And I certainly do hope to find 3 others to play quartet music with when I feel my skillset is sufficient enough to bother other people to put up with me ;-)

@karen, I don't think al meant his post along the lines of censorship, I certainly don't understand it that way.

March 7, 2008 at 02:03 PM · karen, you've got a good point on free speech, something i respect. on this site, i go to the extreme with free speech to the point of abusing it, don't i? :)

in fact, to go along with your sentiment, didn't i get stares for telling adult beginners to get real, short of saying, if you don't believe yourself, don't bother? :)

if we pick on words to argue or defend, this site will be even busier, so take my line as a figurative speech.

in my experiences, even though we are free to think and express our feelings (otherwise we may explode or inplode, right?), we may also need to entertain the different outcomes associated with different mentalities. my bias toward the objective of this site is to provide and receive advice on becoming a better violin player, not necessarily to "feel" better or to find opinions that make us feel toasty on a cold day. i have come to believe that in general negative outlook is not as advisable as positive outlook. of course, i need to qualify those terms.

by negative, i don't mean to look at one's weakness critically, set on a course of mercilessly hard training, etc, but to predict with much uncertainty a negative outcome. like, i will say, darn, if i don't win the lottery that will mean i will lose a dollar. no kidding, but why bother in the first place? another truism: from the moment you are born, you are dying,,, and then someone chimes in,,,so why bother.

by positive, i don't mean to brainwash everything into pink and rosey. yes you can, yes you can, yes you can, when there is no regimen, dedication to even get close. here, i advoate doing your real real best and don't even be concerned at all about outcome. don't even hope for the best, just totally enjoy the process of getting a little better than yesterday.

words indeed matter a lot. if you will, try not to think about a big, pink airplane,,,you can't. any time one associates failure in a possible outcome, it puts negative energy into the effort and the justification for failure is set in place. when you do fail later, you can feel better by saying, see, how smart i am, by thinking ahead that i will fail! and i did it, yeah!

and, to associate failure before even starting for some adult players? oh i would hate to add more fuel to the fire:)

ps, ben, just saw your response. i thought our champion harbinger just got ambushed by the enemy,,,whew, turns out to be a false alarm:)

March 7, 2008 at 02:08 PM · Maybe one of us should start a "mea culpa" thread where we can post apologies when apologies are due!

Recently Jim Miller tried to irk me :-) Unsurprisingly, he managed to, but I still feel bad about the way it went thereupon. Sorry, Jim, you did keep my thread breathing and most of the time I do enjoy reading what you write!

Also, Buri, sorry for stealing your granny (from your blog!)

March 7, 2008 at 02:53 PM · Al, I know you didn't mean it that way. I've read enough of your posts to realize what a valuable contributor you are to this site. You're an insightful observer of human nature and I've learned a great deal from interacting with you.

In fact one of the reasons that I felt I could use your post as a jumping off point for my own comments is that I didn't think you would be offended (or at least not too offended ;-).

I just think that in general people absorb these points better if they come to them on their own or are led there by a gentle Socratic dialog rather than being categorically forbidden to think or express particular concepts. It's better for these unhelpful ideas to be brought to the marketplace, and win or lose on their own merits or lack thereof.

I think it can be helpful to look at language through different lenses--to think outside the box that one is used to. I brought up censorship because it is a different context, but the same language. There are contexts in which being forbidden by someone else to think or say what one feels is a pretty powerful and scary thing.

March 7, 2008 at 02:55 PM · While there is power in positive thinking, reality bites.

March 7, 2008 at 02:58 PM · good point karen. i have noticed that you often quite frankly bring your feelings to the forum for share which i think is admirable and helpful for others with similar circumstances to identify with. agree that in many instances, the simple act to share, without any feedback, tends to be reflective enough to be of merit/value/benefit. and i appreciate that you speak your mind clearly so knuckleheads like me learn to be more sensitive and considerate.

lisa,,,we bite back:)

March 7, 2008 at 07:20 PM · Tom, I think piano and violin are much more comparable than you say they are. I play both (or maybe - I'm learning to play), and I definitaly agree with you that piano is easier. BUT, the piano is much easier to get started with - because you can just hit the key and get a decent sound. After getting to some point of skill and technique, AND musicality, both instruments get extremely tough, piano being not really miles away from the violin.


March 7, 2008 at 08:29 PM · Mateusz - your point is a good one, but I am still not really convinced. While there are plenty of subtleties to piano playing, the only effect you can actually get with the keys is varying the loudness or softness of the notes. With the violin, both the right and left hand can produce almost endless variations of different kinds. I think ultimately that is why you will not find a violinist who started at age 16 or older who is anywhere near as good on the violin as Volodos is on the piano.

March 7, 2008 at 08:43 PM · Much earlier in this thread Benjamin K posted this:

I have been to string quartet performances by world class professional quartets devoted to quartet playing and nothing else, by amateur quartets and by professionals assembled into quartets where the quartet playing wasn't their main line of work as musicians. The amateurs usually deliver better performances than those pros for whom quartet playing is a side show and not the main thing. As for world class quartets versus amateur quartets, I have been to quite a number of performances where you could justifiably say the difference in quality of performance was negligible. From this experience, I would say an amateur can do as well as a professional or even better.

I couldn't disagree more. The level of playing exhibited by the Julliard, Emerson, Takacs, Miro, and Guarneri Quartets (I use these examples because they are groups I've heard in the last 5 or so years) is so far beyond a typical amateur or even college student group that I am taken aback by Benjamin K's statement.

I've heard some very good young touring quartets who were easily a level or two (or more) away from the top-flight touring quartets, so I have to ask:

Who and where are these amateur string quartets who play at a world-class level?

March 7, 2008 at 09:11 PM · @Mike, not talking about student quartet groups, they are too inexperienced. I am talking about folks who have been playing nothing but quartet music as amateurs for 20, 30, 40 , even 50 years.

March 7, 2008 at 09:58 PM · This is in response to a much earlier post...

Dental school isn't a comparison to becoming a professional musician.

Let's take a look at the cost:

Dental school: take out $100,000+ in student loans (a conservative estimate), plus lost work opportunity for several years. No prior experience required, other than a high school degree (I'm including pre-dental work in this)

Music school: same thing...let's assume 5 years of serious study before college and a 4 year conservatory degree. And that tuition is similar.

The payoff:

Dental school: almost guaranteed a six-figre salary after graduation.

Music school: let's not even go there.

This is why tons of adults go back to school to do dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, etc - the investment will pay off in the long run. Dropping everything to go to music school, while a wonderful pursuit, is risky business and not a whole lot of people are willing to do it with hundreds of people applying for a single symphony position.

You also have to consider than training to be a musician requires several hours a day of practicing and ensembles on top of the required coursework, while medical students often have time to get part time jobs to support their training. And although med students might have to study more, those music classes can be time consuming too.

However, if you have someone paying the bills/rich significant other who doesn't mind the possibility that the investment might not pay off, I DO see how it could be possible...

March 7, 2008 at 10:44 PM · What credentials are required in order to secure an audition with a credible orchestra, one that will result in a position with a salary capable of supporting a family? I guess the reason I ask is that, to follow the example cited, should one wish to become a dentist they will eventually require licensure, which will require formal, accredited training (please correct me if I am wrong here, but this is my assumption). How does this parallel with the task of earning a chair on an orchestra, or some other well-paying professional position? My simple understanding is that in order to follow this path to its destination you will basically require two things, experience and a high level of proficiency. Am I wrong in this assumption? Is a conservatory degree a prerequisite? Will nobody grant you a look without one?

March 8, 2008 at 12:27 AM · Tom, I see your point. Playing piano is much more than just varying the velocity of hitting a key, resulting in softer or louder tone - if that was the case, we couldn't talk about people having beautiful and round pianissimo, or just a pianissimo - they are both playing the same soft phrase, with the same soft key striking, but can sound completely different due to the technique.

But yes, violin is much more complicated - it is more complicated in terms of hearing a good pitch in various intonations, it is much more complicated in terms of playing double/tripe stops, harmonics, passages in higher positions, very fast passages, and it all connected with different bowing styles and perfect synchronisation.

I agree it is fairly, or even completely uncommon (but I wouldn't dare say impossible - I have thought things were impossible too many times) to became as proficient on violin as Volodos is on piano in 16 - 30 y.o. timespan. But I seriously think one starting at later age can reach concert level eventually. Not as quick, not as high, but concert.

There are many concert soloists who are not as proficient in playing as top stars such as Bell, Hahn, Szeryng, Vengerov and others are, and still can be solosits in their respective regions. Many soloists are not recognizable outside their country - because of many factors - still they can be at concert level, and can be called concert soloists by the definition.

Another thing is whether anyone at later age is determined enough to pursue music as badly - seriously, it would mean not having a life at all. With quite a small percentage of success possibility such step forward into the music world might be one's own future sacrifice, bombing current work and career to pursue violin in order to gain enough recognition to support and feed the family.

Best regards!


March 8, 2008 at 05:15 AM · The issue of censorship always intrigues me as someone escaped from a homeland that is famous for that. Strictly speaking, censorship means (to me) a suppression or deletion of certain information so that it won’t be shown openly. We do this all the time and often for good reasons, as free speech is never a absolute right and has to be balanced with other competing interests and concerns (such as confidentiality or human dignity in some cases).

The key question for me is who has such power to suppress information in a community that is free as at Can I, a v.commie without any special status or power than the next one, single-handedly sensor or forbid someone else’s speech or the way to thinking just by saying ‘don’t say this because it’s unproductive’ or ‘don’t think like that because it’ll because…”? If so, when is open and frank discussion of ideas ends and censorship begins?

Frankly, one of the worst censorship-like situations I experienced in a free society is in a PC environment where well-meaning outspoken people working hard to ‘protect’ the poor vulnerable minority women like myself. Ironically, it made feel that I must keep quiet or censor myself or I won’t fit in. As we all know, the most effective censorship is self-censorship due to fear: the fear of offending someone sensitive, the fear of not being fully articulate or tactful, etc. Speech rights are, imho, like any other rights, not enjoyed equally by everyone even in a most free community. Being a cultural-linguistically deprived late comer to the English-speaking world, I’m boneheaded enough to fight against this fear. It hasn’t been easy.

If you are censored by a country or a community, maybe you can manage to leave. If are censored by a particular newspaper or publisher, you can find a different place to publish your work. Where can you go if you are surrounded by loosed organized people who don’t like the way you express yourself?

March 8, 2008 at 09:21 AM · Chris,

Your question about credentials and orchestras is a good one. A well-respected degree opens a lot of doors. In order to win an orchestra job, you first have to be invited to the audition. That means submitting a CV and sometimes a tape. For full-time positions, there are hundreds of applications, and not everybody gets invited. A degree helps, because people know what hoops you've had to jump through, and what you've been exposed to. It's by no means a guarantee of your playing capability, but it certainly gives people a better idea.

Maybe slightly off-topic, but there's been a lot of talk about 'experience' and auditions on lately. What do you guys see as useful experience for building a career in music? Just curious.

March 8, 2008 at 01:24 PM · I really don't want to carry on the comparison of getting into dental school versus making it professionally as a musician. Just a small correction, however. "Dental school: almost guaranteed a six-figure salary after graduation.' Hardly. I know this will come as a shock to most of you, but 'Dentist' is not spelled ' rich.' And 'Salary?' What 'salary?' Most dentists, unlike physicians, work for themselves. You didn't go to the office for a day, week, whatever? If a dentist doesn't have a daily gig, if you will, there's no pay. As for 'tons of adults go[ing] back to do dentistry,' and so on - that isn't happening either. My example was from my time getting into school, thirty+ years ago (uh,oh, just gave the age thing away), and the situation is much different now. Now, there often aren't even enough applicants to cover spaces available at schools. There are not enough dentists graduating to fill the posts being vacated by retiring dentists, and meanwhile the population is growing. I understand the same sort of thing is happening at medical schools. So If anyone out there wants to set the violin aside for a bit, and apply to dental school, now's you're best chance.

March 8, 2008 at 01:27 PM · This is a privately owned website, so "free speech" is only as "free" as is allowed.

In other words, this is Laurie's World. We only live in it...

Also, I don't know any dentists that give up a practice in order to enroll in conservatory, with the goal of getting a music job.

I do know plenty of talented, gifted professional musicians that hang it up to go to business/law/medical school, with the goal of getting a normal job that pays a living wage.

March 8, 2008 at 02:09 PM · True. I went to college with quite a few who graduated with a degree in music, but immediately went on to medical/dental school.

March 8, 2008 at 02:35 PM · I cant believe this thread went 100 posts.

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