When can a beginer join a community orchestra?

April 7, 2008 at 01:50 AM · I love playing music with others, just hearing the harmonies makes me smile!

I really would love to join a community orchestra in the near future, but I have no idea when it is appropriate to do so? I don't know how to shift yet,and I can't do vibrato. I can read music very well, and my sight reading is pretty good.

What level does a beginner start looking into community orchestras? I'm at the end of Suzuki book 2.

Replies (78)

April 7, 2008 at 05:30 AM · I guess it depends on the skill level of the community orchestra, but if you can play in tune through first position, and can muddle through sight reading you'd have to be as good as many people in the back rows. If you're lucky, you'll find a forgiving ensemble where you can feel overwhelmed for a bit and then just start getting better (see my profile). In our adult learning ensemble, there is a chap who has VERY limited skills on strings, but experienced in brass band stuff. He's been playing in a fairly notable community orchestra since for at least a year, he definitely has no vibrato, and he has trouble getting to all the notes even in our repertoire. He survives and improves a bit each time he goes there I guess. Not having vibrato certainly wouldn't stop you, and if you're in the 2nds or 3rd violins, much of the music will probably be absolutely ridiculously awful fingerings in 1st and maybe 3 rd pos, and you'll find that no-one is very much better. If you're serious about practising as I think you are, you'll find your playing improve, maybe faster than those who have been playing a while but don't bother trying to teach themselves new stuff any more.

April 7, 2008 at 06:10 AM · Sharelle, thanks for your reply. I've never really read any orchestra music, so I'm not sure what they look like. But I would imagine no matter how easy the repertoire is, there gotta be notes higher than the high C (highest note I can play right now without shifting). What do I do when those high notes appear in the music?? There are many community orchestra in my area, but I feel kinda stupid asking them this question since I have only just been playing for a few months.

April 7, 2008 at 07:15 AM · PM, there's nothing wrong with approaching them and asking. You can be quite open about it and tell them that you don't think you are already advanced enough to join but that you would like to find out just how far you have to progress before you can join simply because it is helpful to be able to work towards a goal you can actually see rather than a goal you have no idea about where it is.

April 7, 2008 at 09:46 AM · Yeah, I'm sure if you're the front seat of the 2nd v's in the Berlin Philharmonic, then you might need to go further than that C. I suspect that the main difference between what orchestras is the tempo they can take pieces at, and of course the finesse of how they work together. But just getting around the notes, which you have to do if you are ever going to get dynamics and tempo, is a lot of fun work and quite achievable.

1sts do tend to get the melody lines and so are often in position. 2nd violins not so. I enjoy working out positions and will often make myself play in 2nd position for 2nd violin parts because it makes me read the notes. But its rarely NECESSARY, if you know what I mean. I know that we have worked on scores that are the standard scores that a regular orchestra would play, and there isn't a lot of position work in it.

If you can read music and you understand how to count, I think you'd be great. Better still if you have a sense of the dynamics. and if your piece asks you to play outside of the position you are familiar with, ask your teacehr the best way of getting to those notes and practise them - you'll find its very quick to achieve once you know how to do it. And when worst comes to worst, you bluff. Or you make a mistake, like everyone else in the orchestra.

I hope you find a fun group.

April 7, 2008 at 11:15 AM · Is there a music school in your area that has an orchestra for their students? Sometimes those orchestras will have parts that are more playable by real beginners. Also, a church might be able to use you; I bet you are getting close to being able to play hymns.

I agree that it doesn't hurt to ask a community orchestra. You could go to one of their rehearsals and ask one of the players to see the music. Maybe there is an extra 2nd violin part you could borrow, take home and look at.

This is just me, but if I were at your level, I'd feel overwhelmed and discouraged by trying to play in a good community orchestra right now and it might do more harm than good to your attitude. I tried to play viola last fall in the community orchestra where I am now playing violin. I've played violin for a long time but had only played viola for less than a year last fall. At the one rehearsal I went to on viola, I was barely hanging on and I felt like the music was just rushing by way too fast. It was like the train had left the station without me. Since then I've been working more on viola in lessons, my alto clef reading has improved, and I'm hoping to try the viola part again maybe in the next concert (the POPS, where the music might be a little easier), but the first time was a very uncomfortable and not-very-good feeling.

April 7, 2008 at 12:50 PM · As someone who has been playing in a beginner orchestra for less than a year, I agree with what everyone else has said. The guidelines for our orchestra are that you've been playing for at least one year and can read music. For people at that most basic skill level, it can feel overwhelming when you quickly lose your place in the music. But it does get easier over time and there's no better way to learn signtreading than to force yourself to do it in a group. Another suggestion that helped me was that you don't have to play every note - if you can even just play the first note of each measure, or the last note. Just keep counting! Whatever you can do will help your playing. Admittedly our orchestra is very forgiving and we're all beginners (the better players probably don't stick with us for very long!). Good luck.

April 7, 2008 at 01:20 PM · If there are several community orchestras close by, they very likely are like the ones around here; there's an unspoken but very real hierarchy in terms of advancement of players and music being prepared. If you talk to folks at music stores/music schools or attend some rehearsals or concerts, you can get some sense of which are out of your current advancement. Many orchestras are always looking for string players, so you are a valuable commodity, not a liability, if you are ready to work. Don't sweat playing above 1st position. Second violin parts often have little of that, and what they have is often manageable, with rests or open strings before and after a shift, only scale pitches, not loaded with accidentals. You can probably learn enough fairly quickly to play most of what is needed, and then just sit out a few bars here and there. If you have a teacher, ask for help working out fingerings. Bowings need to be done by someone in the orchestra for uniformity, so don't make up your own. Sue

April 7, 2008 at 03:17 PM · Thank you everyone for your advices!! I am not going to ask them to let me join now, since I know it will just stress me out, but I am just curious about their requirement. And Benj K is right, it doesn't hurt to ask!!

Sue- yes, i agree. I'm in the SF bay area, so chances are there are different levels of community orchestras around. I wanted to try to play in a church one, but I've never been in a church that has orchestras? How does one find one??

April 7, 2008 at 11:21 PM · I studied in my youth to the late intermediate stages, approaching advanced playing. That was 30 years ago, but I stopped by age 18. When my son was born I decided to start again, first on my own, but then I took lessons with the concert master of a major city's 'main' orchestra (not a Chicago or St. Louis class, something at or above the St. Petersburg, FL level). I regained some of my younger self's skills after 4 months (a lot came back quickly). My teacher made it clear that as long as I could play in tune and in time, I'd be accepted, but they were serious about at LEAST 3rd position (with some skill at 5th), which really isn't that difficult with dedication. This isn't a community orchestra; they are the ensemble for the local professional opera, have their own season, accompany (occasionally) some of the major visiting soloists on tours.

If you can make it through most of Kreutzer, you're going to find some place, somewhere.

An old high school friend from orchestra class was in a similar position. The directory of our class happened to form a community orchestra in our old home town (I've been gone for years). He picked up his violin study again, after some 20 years or so, and joined. For a few years the orchestra wasn't particular at all, but his dedication to practice was minimal, and eventually the standards of the orchestra were raised as local talent began to join in, creating a kind of competition for places. The orchestra improved this way, but eventually my friend was asked to surrender his seat - they simply couldn't keep a string section in control if it were too large (and find chairs, stands, etc).

As for church oriented orchestras, they are rare. It is more common in the headquarters of a religious college or 'management' center. They can be an extension of a particular music directory with string/orchestral experience while in tenure. If that person retires, the orchestra can easily end up without support, and fade.

It can be nearly as rewarding to join or start a quartet or piano trio.

April 8, 2008 at 12:33 AM · Hi PM!

I am finishing Suzuki book 3, and can sight read grade one or two...I play in the youth orchestra...and it is PERFECT... (intermediate group...not the advanced groups...)

Is there a youth orchestra you can join?

I,too, want to join the community orchestra, but I am not ready. The YO is a great stepping stone, and a whole lot of fun!

Erica : )

April 8, 2008 at 04:10 AM · Youth orchestras?? I've been to my martial art classmates' performances but they are all kids... I've never seen adults in the youth orchestras around me.... are there in yours?

April 8, 2008 at 04:14 AM · PM, there is this organisation called the Amateur Chamber Music Players (http://www.acmp.net) and they have local chapters all over the world. They also have a self assessment system to match members according to their level. It's more of an adhoc thing, though. Not about grand orchestras, I know, but might be of interest anyway.

April 8, 2008 at 05:23 PM · I would suggest (as others have) contacting the orchestras. Or just go to some performances and see what type of music they're playing. I played in a local orchestra for one concert a year ago, and the music was at the high school level. (Suzuki book 3-4 or thereabouts I think would be the equivalent). The orchestra I play in now is far more advanced (pro level music, I won't say how *good* we are at it ;) ), so there's a huge range even here in my area. Where you are I'd be surprised if you couldn't find something that will fit you before long.

Sue: Sorry, I had to laugh at your post. I have yet to run into a 2nd violin part (in my current orchestra) as "easy" as you mentioned, yet so many say the same thing about 2nd violin parts! ;-) ;-) I've learned the fine art of faking it from the back row of the 2nd violins. :-)

April 8, 2008 at 09:49 PM · Hi PM: there are 2 or 3 adults in the youth orchestra...even if you did not play in the concerts you might be able to sit in rehearsal. None of the kids really care, or at least they don't say so. Again, this is a mid-level group, but I have seen parents in all the ensembles at one time or another. Ususally they are parents, but not always. If you are not shy, it's worth an ask. Truly, it's a GREAT learning experience and you'll even FEEL like a kid again. : )

Also: I am in the back of the 2nds (just beginning to shift and don't need it yet in orchestra) and there is a REAL skill to be learned by playing the HARMONY, not the melody, especially for us Suzuki types whose fingers want to play what we hear unless we tell them otherwise! : )

April 9, 2008 at 12:35 AM · Erica, thanks for your response!! I'm usually not that shy, i take martial art classes with kids/teenagers too! But I'm not so sure of our youth orchestras here, they are very strict. I hear you about the harmony part! Every week, I practice sight reading with my teacher, and it's always a duet, and sometimes I get to play the 2nd violin harmony part and i love it!

April 9, 2008 at 01:51 PM · I am in a smaller town, so we are probably not as strict...but then again, you probably have more community ensembles to choose from! Nice to see another adult beginner out there! Erica

April 10, 2008 at 12:19 AM · Hey PM, if you're willing to drive over the bridge once a week, you might consider the Ohlone Chamber Orchestra in Fremont. I used to belong to it but quit when my schedule got too crazy. They're a friendly and very informal group and are probably one of the most casual community orchestras in the area. At the level of Suzuki book 2, the music would be somewhat challenging for you, but if you're willing to work hard and have a teacher you help you, you could probably do all right in the second violin section.

Feel free to contact me directly if you want more details.

April 10, 2008 at 12:47 AM · I think a violinist entering the 2nd violin section of a community orchestra would be more comfortable having completed Suzuki Book 4 - at least getting through 3rd position and understand 2nd. Still there are 2nd fiddle parts that go higher, but you can always skip those notes (or those sets).

It would also help to have sight read lots of additional music at that level. For example, second violin parts from classical string quartets. And play lots of supplementary study/etude books - such as those available from CD-Sheet Music.

In my experience, many of the orchestral 2nd violin parts are more difficult than 1st violin parts except that the 1st violin parts are usually higher in pitch. The 2nd often have more challenges in fingering, lower-position shiifting, and especially counting - and counting rests.

If you can find an orchestra doing Handel's Messiah this coming Christmas, that is a pretty good time to start ---just be careful of the Overture 2nd violin part, it has a deceptive start.


April 10, 2008 at 02:29 AM · Karin, thanks for your offer!! I'm looking at the one in De Anza College and Half moon bay, but I'll keep my options open. I am thinking more of joining maybe in the fall! When that time comes, I'll definately ask you for more info! Thank again!

Andrew, a fellow v.comer just emailed me let me know that there is a Messiah sing/play along at stanford tht anyone can join! I'll definately consider that!!

How difficult is the Messiah music??

April 10, 2008 at 03:19 AM · PM,

That's why I suggest it. Most of it is not too hard, especially if you are not alone in the section - and have a good stand partner. At a sing-along you can fairly comfortably "air bow" those movements that you find too difficult.

But be aware that it is likely that the sing-along will be sight reading for the orchestra - so if you can get the music in advance it will help.

My introduction to community orchestra, almost 60 years ago was as a cellist, age 14, for a Messiah concert (which did have rehearsals -- not a sing-along, Hood College and Naval Academy Choruses)- about one month after I first touched that instrument. I've also read 1st and 2nd violin parts in more recent years, which is why I suggested it.

t has some wonderful music.


April 10, 2008 at 03:27 AM · Thanks Andy!! I think if I have more than 6 months to learn them now!! Thanks for the suggestion!

April 11, 2008 at 05:52 AM · Guys, I just went to a community college orchestra to check it out, the director told me to just try to play the 2nd violin part, boy was I lost!

They were playing the Haydn No. Symphony 100, is that really difficult? I was very lost, but I was able to play a little bit. I dont' understand how you guys can sight read thru that much stuff!?

Nonetheless, that was a fun experience. I dont know if i have the guts to go back there again!!

April 11, 2008 at 06:18 AM · Greetings,

yes, Haydn is extremely difficult even though it is supposed to be easy and very often the 2nd violin parts contain akward passages that are more taxing than the firts for brief moments. When Zubin Mehta wa sbuilding up the unique sound of the Israel Philharmonic he had them work repeatedly on many Haydn symphonies. I remian convinced this is a tried and tested way of building up a superb string sound with unanimity of bowing and musical feeling.

Can`t tell you if you are quite ready or not but certainly give it your best shot.Yoiu might surprise yourself.



April 11, 2008 at 06:23 AM · Buri, i gave it my best try, I may go back to try out a few more times. Granted, this is the first rehearsal, so everyone is sight reading, but I know that others has played alot longer than I have, without a doubt, when they take the music home, they'll learn it in no time.

What threw me off was those weird rhythms in orchestra works, lots of dotted 8th, 16th, then some weird rest. My goal today was not to play a note when it's during a rest!!I have ALOT of trouble follow the music, i kept counting and try to get in but it was too hard!

April 11, 2008 at 09:07 AM · Greeetings,

fair enough but don`t let it put you off. If you can`t find an orchstra palying easier works then you can at leats get together with adults in similar position and do chamber music or even frm your own small ensemble. Recently I read about an organization of people with an interest in chamber music who register and describe their level so they can meet with like minded peopel when they are travelling. maybe thta would be some use to you? perhaps if that is the case some good soul could jsut mention the name?



April 11, 2008 at 09:21 AM · Steven, I believe that organisation was probably the one I mentioned earlier, the Amateur Chamber Music Players (http://www.acmp.net)

April 11, 2008 at 06:18 PM · Thanks Benjamin, I'll look into that site!

Karin, I PMed ya!

April 12, 2008 at 03:53 AM · PM, stick with it. Playing with an orchestra is TOTALLY different than playing solo. It takes a month or so to "play well with others". It is more difficult to hear yourself, you are distracted by the bowings, and the tempo will seem to fast. This will pass with time and experience.

April 12, 2008 at 04:27 AM · I assume Mendy's comment ("stick with it") is in response to PM's blog where she described her experience having participated in a rehearsal of a community orchestra where she felt totally lost.

If so, I'd also like to encourage you to hang in there. You will probably get used to it and overcome the sense of being lost after a while. For as long as the director of the orchestra doesn't have a problem with you being there, which it seems he doesn't, I would try to hang in. It should be worth the struggle ;-)

Anyway, kudos to you for your bravery.

April 12, 2008 at 05:04 AM · I have a very dumb question for you guys. The conductor told me on email that he will be arranging chamber groups and he will be assigning pieces and groups to ppl of similar level. I dont' understand this. I went to the rehearsal, he did mention this. But the rehearsal is 3 hrs, does that mean the chamber group usually rehearse outside of the orchestral rehearsal time? I know this maybe specific to different orchestras, but I just don't want to misunderstand this...

April 13, 2008 at 01:44 AM · I would wait until you know more technical things. The music school I attend has several beginners' orchestras but they're all for younger kids. Most of the students in my orchestra, the youth orchestra at the school are between the ages of 12-17 and have all passed the Suzuki beginner books.

April 17, 2008 at 06:45 AM · Greetings,

I would like to se emore adults playing in kids orchestras. Then one is sharing the experience of straitng thew violin from totally differnet perspectives and all parties can learn form each other. Its a vvery interesting and worthwhile dynamic.



April 17, 2008 at 08:46 AM · Buri -

"I would like to se emore adults playing in kids orchestras. "

When I was living in Malaysia I was asked to play at the local music school concert. There were only 3 violist in the state. One teacher, one student, and myself. All the students in the music school were under the age of 18. It was so much fun as well as a great experience to play with the talented youngsters in the region - many of who had never played in an orchestra before.

April 17, 2008 at 10:30 AM · I'm playing in a youth orchestra with my daughter. Since I started doing it four other parents have joined in. I started learning violin at the same time my daughter did (yes, adult learner here...).

April 17, 2008 at 12:19 PM · "I would like to se emore adults playing in kids orchestras."

Buri, believe me, if there were any chance of it out here, I'd be first in line! But I think it's just not culturally acceptable. I can't even 'join' the music school. It's for kids only.

Still, I'm extremely grateful that I can join their 'music camp' programme and sit in on theory lessons with my two kids along with a bunch of youngsters (some teens some ten or below. I'm the only adult learner there, but the teacher treats me like any other student and I feel so privileged being able to be a part of it.

If there were another wish going begging ... it would be to be able to be part of the school's orchestra (but you have to be part of the school's main teaching programme for that, and I'm not eligible to join. Sigh.)

April 17, 2008 at 03:52 PM · Greetings,

"I would like to se emore adults playing in kids orchestras. Then one is sharing the experience of straitng thew violin from totally differnet perspectives and all parties can learn form each other. Its a vvery interesting and worthwhile dynamic."

Surely has been a great experience for me! I think it shows the kids that you are never too old to learn a new trick, and adults can learn a lot from the kids also, who are usually willing to offer their help when needed. (adult whispers from back of 2nds: "where are we?...is that a "high 3" on the D string, etc.)

: )


April 17, 2008 at 04:09 PM · I am going to the 2nd rehearsal today (granted if the conductor does not kick me out), and tape this next to my music:

Golden Rules for Orchestra Playing:

1. Everyone should play the same piece.

2. Stop at every repeat sign, and discuss in detail whether to take the repeat. The audience will love this a lot!

3. If you play a wrong note, give a nasty look to one of your partners.

4. Keep your fingering chart handy. You can always catch up with the others.

5. Carefully tune your instrument before playing. That way you can play out of tune all night with a clear conscience.

6. Take your time turning pages.

7. The right note at the wrong time is a wrong note (and vice versa).

8. If everyone gets lost except you, follow those who get lost.

9. Strive to get the maximum NPS (notes per second). That way you gain the admiration of the incompetent.

10. Markings for slurs, dynamics and ornaments should not be observed. They are only there to embellish the score.

11. If a passage is difficult, slow down. If it's easy, speed it up. Everything will work itself out in the end.

12. If you are completely lost, stop everyone and say, "I think we should tune."

13. Happy are those who have not perfect pitch, for the kingdom of music is theirs.

14. If the ensemble has to stop because of you, explain in detail why you got lost. Everyone will be very interested.

15. A true interpretation is realized when there remains not one note of the original.

16. When everyone else has finished playing, you should not play any notes you have left. If you have notes left over, please play them on the way home.

17. A wrong note played timidly is a wrong note. A wrong note played with authority is an interpretation.

April 18, 2008 at 06:35 AM · Love it, PM Rolf. Our guest conductor has similar rules - "if you still have notes to play at the end, don't." Hope you feel less lost 2nd time round.

April 18, 2008 at 06:44 AM · Sharelle, I feel much better this time around! Yeah,I'm still kinda lost, but at least I have an idea of where we were. And we also played the Carnival of the animals, and this piece is much more playable than the Haydn. And the conductor came up to me afterwards to tell me try to curve my pinky on my bow hold, I was so embarassed.

Quick question for you, there is this part (LARGE) part of music that repeats low G , D, G, D, G,D, quite fast, how the hell am I suppose to play that? I can play one note, either the G or D and pretend I'm playing the other note!!

April 18, 2008 at 09:21 AM · Playing the D on the G string (probably 4th finger, but use third position if thats comfy for you and easy enough to negotiate out of to where ever you go next) might be good - saves string crossing. And try not to use too much bow. And every one else is bound to have a more secure suggestions. I have bluffed my way through many a piece until I can actually play it. Unfotunately that often happens weeks after we've wrapped up a piece :o

June 14, 2008 at 07:28 AM · I want to report back that I survived my first concert!! It was alot of fun!!

In this short 2 months, I learned ALOT. I learned how to listen to others and play as an ensemble. I learned that I must count (especially playing 2nd violin).

I don't know what the level of this orchestra is since this is my first experience playing, but the 2nd violin parts is no joke. We often have to play in 3rd position, sometimes 2nd. One of the pieces has a gazillion accidentals, (why the hell would someone write A# in one bar and Bb the next to confuse me), all in various positions. There are also harmonics in one piece.

Thank you for everyone who encouraged me to stick with it!! I'm ready for next season!

June 15, 2008 at 02:48 PM · Actually, in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Civic Symphony has a summer string workshop for players who have never played in an orchestra before, or haven't in a long time.

you can contact them at:


June 15, 2008 at 03:14 PM · Wow!!!! I didn't know about that!! I just finished my last concert and it was a blast, i should blog about it. :)

June 25, 2008 at 08:33 PM · Well, I am staring at the violin 2 part of Tschaikowsky "Sleeping Beauty: Waltz No. 6" and it actually doesn't look too bad. I have until February, and will be totally done with Suzuki book 3 by then, and into more Barbara Barber and maybe book 4. I am going to talk to my teacher tomorrow, but I am thinking about taking the plunge into the community orchestra!

February 18, 2009 at 01:26 AM ·

Erica,  are you still around? Just wondering if you ever joined your local community orchestra? I've played with mine for 3 seasons now!! I'm so glad I didn't give up! :)

February 18, 2009 at 01:53 PM ·

Search in conservatories. In general,there are adult amateur orchestras of many levels.  Talk with the conductor, maybe he or she would be happy to take someone even if one can not play all the notes (for ex, just play what is in first position etc).  Many people look badly at positions like 3rd violin but they souldn't because they are as useful as the first.  What would be an orchestra without 2 or 3rd violins?  You can maybe enter as a 3rd somewhere and move to the next positions in much less time than you think! Hold on, you could certainly bring something good in an orchestra.  Remember that often in very young children's beginners orchestras, the children taken alone don't sound that great but once all mixed together, you could swear that they look much better than they actually are.  There is like something magic when you mix violins, the ordinairy sound of each one blends in a general sound that is no longer ordinairy! It's an amazing thing to observe!

Anne-Marie    Good luck!

February 18, 2009 at 02:07 PM ·

By the way, vibratos are not important when playing with an orchestra!  Many here will want to kill me for saying this but except for professional orchestras where it brings a slight difference, it is really not important in an amateur orchestra + that many will do some and cover you up!  What is important for the general sound is playing in tune and in tempo only.  Think about it, do you notice more vibratos when listening to an orchestra or soloist?  You should try but if you can't, no one will notice it except your stand partner! 

Keep this advice a secret because otherwise I will have a hole gang of angry v.commers at my door tomorrow morning to kill me for saying this to you! lol


February 18, 2009 at 04:21 PM ·


heed the words of Benjamin K...does not hurt to ask

don't be afraid...actually shows great interest on your part. See what response you get, maybe even just go to a rehearsal and sit and watch and ask for a second fiddle part to follow along with. Remember we ALL were beginners once, and nobody, nobody will ever "master" the fiddle. As a wise old teacher of mine once said...It's like the horizon, the closer you get, the horizon moves further away.

February 18, 2009 at 05:26 PM ·

Hi PM! 

Yes, I'm still around!  I am still playing in the string orchestra that is part of our youth symphony program with my daughter.  It is plenty hard enough for me, and I have learned a lot!   It's a very good ensemble and we have an excellent conductor, so there is a lot of teaching involved which is excellent.  I have played 2 concerts so far, and have a 3rd in March.  For the final concert of the season, we combine with the full youth symphony, so that should be a ton of fun.  When my daughter moves up to the full group, I will probably think about the community orchestra.  Still working on etudes (Wolfardt) and solo recital piece (Bach Bouree) and some pieces from Barbara Barber book.    I also play in the fiddling ensemble, currently working on Latin American music...fun!  I am lucky that they let me sit in!  (The kids don't seem to mind, and whenever anyone forgets a stand, music, or pencil they seem to want to be my stand partner....hmmmm....imagine that!)

How is your playing coming along?  Erica

February 18, 2009 at 05:29 PM ·

I would like to se emore adults playing in kids orchestras. Then one is sharing the experience of straitng thew violin from totally differnet perspectives and all parties can learn form each other. Its a vvery interesting and worthwhile dynamic.

Thanks Buri for this post...it's GREAT fun, and I enjoy it so much.   It's great to play with my daughter (although we don't sit together...I prefer that she continues her climb up the food chain and into 1sts...she is WAY more advanced than I am and a good sight-reader too...)

February 19, 2009 at 04:00 AM ·

Hi Erica,
I'm so glad your'e still around!! And I'm glad you're still with the youth orchestra!! I"m still playing with the same group and performed in a few concerts already.  I enjoy every second of it!!  We are playing the Vivaldi 4 seasons and it's alot of fun. :) I look back and I have no idea how I managed it the first season, but I somehow just didnt give up and made it thru!!

I think you'll have alot of fun joining a community orchestra, I made alot of friends there :)

April 29, 2009 at 02:08 PM ·

PM Rolf -

You are an inspiration to me.  I had secretly wanted to join a small orchestra, but was too afraid to do so.  After reading your post, I asked a local orchestra if they could use a beginner violin/violist and they replied the same day!  Apparently, the violin positions are all filled, so I will be trying for viola.  Thank you so much for posting, as I would never have had the nerve to do this if you hadn't brought this topic up.

---Ann Marie

April 29, 2009 at 02:38 PM ·

I am in a similar predicament now. I am entering collage next year at Rochester Institute of Technology and would like to join the orchestra there. I can virbrato, shift in to 3rd position with about a 70% correct placement rate, play the D, G, A and B flat major keys (those are all I have run into thus far so I can't say for the others) and have a desire to join an orchestra. Would I be qualified and if so what would I be doing if accepted?

Also great PM Rolf I hope your able to get in under viola. I know until very recently I had been too scared to play in an orchestra.

April 30, 2009 at 12:12 AM ·

I am in a similar predicament now. I am entering collage next year at Rochester Institute of Technology and would like to join the orchestra there. I can virbrato, shift in to 3rd position with about a 70% correct placement rate, play the D, G, A and B flat major keys (those are all I have run into thus far so I can't say for the others) and have a desire to join an orchestra. Would I be qualified and if so what would I be doing if accepted?

Also great PM Rolf I hope your able to get in under viola. I know until very recently I had been too scared to play in an orchestra.


I'm glad thisold  thread encouraged others to join the orchestra.  Playing in the orchestra or with others is very enjoyable.  Adam, I think you're a bit confused, Ann Marie is picking up viola, I still play the violin.

As for college orchestra, it depends on the quality of the orchestra, I would imagine you'll have to audition for that.  If you play in 2nd position, majority of the time, I'm in first and 3rd position, oscassionaly I go to 5th, but that does not make the  music any easier.  We often have more difficult counting and playing the inner voice can be more difficult at times!  As for keys, I don't think you would have any problem playing other keys...Although I'm playing the Adagio for Strings this season and I nearly fainted looking at 6 flats.

April 30, 2009 at 12:58 PM ·

If I may offer a little advice...

Make sure you remain confident in your solo playing development, and don't let orchestra playing truncate it.

What I mean is that, sometimes conductors will ask you to do bowstrokes that are really unnatural and antiviolinistic and don't make sense. While you are in orchestra you have to obligue, but don't pick those things up as habits. Also, sometimes you can feel like in orchestra you need to play extremely soft in some places. This can also be very detrimental to your sound production.

April 30, 2009 at 02:07 PM ·

Manuel -

That is awesome advice. 

Also, I love the viola and violin equally, but I don't want to give up my violin lessons just because I would (hopefully) make the orchestra in the viola section. To the 'experienced' players here, what would you advise?  I love and admire my private instructor greatly and can't ever think of giving him up.  Is is possible to continue in private lessons as well?

---Ann Marie

April 30, 2009 at 08:21 PM ·

Orchestra doesn't replace private instruction... it's an avenue for applying what you've learned. There's no reason not to continue music lessons, in fact I should think you'll have tons of new material that you'll want your teacher's help with!

April 30, 2009 at 09:11 PM ·

Manuel, that is good advice.  I have been discussing the same thing with my teacher: she feels that I could manage well in the community orchestra now, playing in middle seconds, but I won';t do it yet because I know that I will be obliged to practise that music and as a full time worker I will therefore have to sacrifice learning the solo/developmental/technique stuff I've been working on.  I am not ready to do that yet, just to feel that I am keeping up with the orchestra.  I am however in the fortunate position of being in a great adult learners ensemble which my teacher directs, and a group of us also meet for chamber work wihich we can now manage without direction, soi I have the enjoyment of playing with a group. 

October 3, 2009 at 04:54 PM ·


I been reading these posts and thought I might add my experience.  I'm a retiree and took up the violin for the first time a few years ago.  My teacher suggested that I might want to try in the local community orchestra in the second violin section.  She thought I should be able to handle the repertoire.  I was through Suzuki book 4 but my sight reading left something to be desired.  Anyway, I was welcomed with open arms by the local orchestra and I went to my first rehearsal in a church basement.  I felt totally out of my depth - everyone else seemed to know exactly what they were doing and I had almost no idea.  We were all handed the parts and started off with Polovetsian Dances.  It starts off presto with lots of rests and fast eighth notes.  Having had no previous orchestral experiences, I struggled.  Half way through, the conductor stopped and asked the second violins to play a little softer - because someone might hear you!  He followed with "now we're no longer going to play at this arthritis tempo".  I was totally out of it then.  At the interval, I packed up my violin and left with my tail between my legs and haven't been back since. 

I would very much like to be able to play in an orchestra but that baptism of fire has left me sadly disillusioned.  I think it would be good for local orchestras to invest a little time by their more competent members to ease potential new talent into the requirements.  From reading other posts, I don't think I'm alone with my experience.  It leaves me feeling that orchestral playing is a talent you either have or you don't have, or at least, starting young is essential for success.

I would welcome any suggestions (short of sell the violin and try yodeling). 


October 3, 2009 at 06:03 PM ·

Vic, I know they boost the levels so much in orchestras (after all community orchestras should not be as difficult if it's for everyone but today, everything has to be "performant"  : (  and for those you are starting in them, it's terribly difficult but one thing is good to know though. I noticed that 2 types of players are to be found in orchestras (groups). The little quicks who can read anything at first try; they are noticed amongst all and make the others feel "stupid" and the others that take more time at home to practice and learn their things.  But in the end, the two are as good and do an as good job at the concert or whatever. 

(I already said this I think so skip it if you already know about it!!!) I had an experience similar to you. When I started violin a few years ago, a string group  was formed at the conservatory.  Sight reading as never be my strengh because I like to polish every note and am a sound maniac so  sight reading was not my no 1 "priority" when I started.  I know it's important but for me, the step one in any instrument is to learn the technique to sound good.    However, I felt terrible, as a beginner, with all the other "little quicks" that always looked to know what they were doing even in sight reading. I was so clumsy and I though everyone noticed it.  I practiced like a maniac at home feeling stupid. Of course, I did progress through the year. When the concert came, many members of the group also played solo pieces with an accompagnist (so did I) in the first part of the concert.  I was more than astonished to hear each one alone... not at all as good as when they played in the orchestra. Some had pretty mediocre sound altough they could sight read so fast anything and were in the first violins... Some were far less advanced that what I though.   Orchestra is a fantastic way to cover every mistake up and make you feel as if you are the most terrible because you don't see or hear the mistakes of others.   I was very surprised to see that I had become one of the best players of the group.   Still, it never never showed when we read a piece for the first times where I always felt so clumbsy compared to the others for a few weeks.   Of course, it was not a professionnal group or anything the like but I find it a very instructive experience.  

Maybe the group you went in is really really advanced but it could also be the "Orchestra effect". Did you heard some average members playing alone to have an idea of how strong is each one and if you think you can make it???  

Good luck!  Hope you'll have less terrorizing experience soon!


October 3, 2009 at 06:54 PM ·


I'm sorry to hear about your experience.  We had some new people come to our community orchestra first rehearsal this year--2 stayed and 2 didn't.  One of them sat in the audience and listened, rather than playing, and he said afterwards that he just wasn't ready for the repertoire and maybe he'd come back in a couple of years when he'd had more lessons. 

I try to talk to the new people personally and to tell them that it's okay, we're all amateurs and all in the same boat.  I've also told a couple of them my story of being away from violin for 8 years and then just coming back a few years ago, which also seems to put people at ease somewhat. 

But there have been a few who just haven't stuck with it for whatever reason and left, and who claimed to feel overwhelmed and like they "couldn't do it," when from my perspective they seemed to be doing fine and just needed to practice the part a little more at home and maybe listen to a recording (like everybody else--me included).  I'm not sure what to say to them.  If you felt that way, what would be encouraging for you to hear?

October 3, 2009 at 07:55 PM ·

Thanks for that.  I think that what I would like to hear is that there is a something available between playing alone at home and playing with eighty others, most of whom know what to do.  My wife and I have moved since that experience and there is a local community orchestra in this area.  Rather than jumping into the same situation again, it makes sense to me to find a few players at about my level, together with a teacher, and practice the upcoming repertoire together (even if its just the second violin part).  I would consider this valuable experience and would be be willing to pay for it,  just like any other lesson.  So I might just approach these people and say the same thing.  What do you think?

October 4, 2009 at 12:42 AM ·

 At our Arts School, we have a chamber group made up of adult beginner....  most all are in their 40 and older.  They met to do simple level music and have the experience of playing together.  I would ask some local teachers if they know of others at your level who might like to play together.

There is an organization called "New Horizons" that is made up of adult beginners making music together.  I'd check the website and see if there is a group close to you.  Good luck....there's nothing better than playing with others.  

October 4, 2009 at 09:57 PM ·

Is there a community music school in your area?  We are fortunate in the Boston/Cambridge area that we have several (e.g. Longy, the New School of music).  You can do exactly what you suggest:  sign up with a teacher/coach and other adult beginners and intermediates.  They should even be able to match you with other players appropriate to your level.  You do have to pay for this as if it were a course taken at the school.  I admit I have not done this myself, but one of my viola stand partners had, and she got a lot out of it.

October 5, 2009 at 02:24 AM ·

 The glib answer to this question is "when you can play the music". The real question may be is "is there a community orchestra at my level in the area?"

October 5, 2009 at 09:04 AM ·

This topic is quite old =)

October 8, 2009 at 02:09 AM ·

...but still useful.

October 8, 2009 at 03:41 AM ·

like me....

October 9, 2009 at 06:25 AM ·

LOL,  I started this topic when I join the orchestra, I've already played with them for more than a year! 

October 10, 2009 at 04:15 PM ·

 So how is it going?

October 11, 2009 at 05:51 AM ·

It's been great!! The toughest was the first month, and it takes me awhile every time we start something new, but the experience is well worth it, I love it so much.  I wish all adult beginners have the courage and opportunity to play with a local community orchestra, the experience is priceless.


November 8, 2009 at 11:18 PM ·


I'm in the same predicament here.  I'm a college student who had started in January and am in the middle of Suzuki book 2 and 3rd position stuff right now.  I'm decent at piano so sight reading on violin comes pretty easy .

The community orchestra in my city is actually an enrichment class offered by the community college (so the cost is $80).  I looked up their repertoire and last concert they played "Dance of the Comedians", "Overture to 'The Wasps' and  "Polovtsian Dances". I haven't seen the score so I have no idea how hard these pieces are?  Could someone tell me wwhat level these pieces are?  SHould I sign up this spring or wait until the fall?


April 20, 2010 at 01:20 AM ·

I joined a community orchestra this year having started the violin 5 years ago in my 40s.

It has been challenging but fun. I would encourage people thinking of joining a community orchestra to do so. We are currently doing Tchaikovsky - Marche Slave, Smetana -The Moldau , these I am finding particulary challenging.

April 22, 2010 at 09:20 AM ·

Start up your own little group/orchestra. 

Do you have a couple of friends who would like to join you in playing your music....If you don't, advertise in your local rag for anyone interested in doing so.  You might be surprised how soon your little group might become a large group...Your music teacher might have some pupils who are interested...your music teacher might even help get you started....

Keep up with your lessons and playing in a group will make it fun and make you better faster...

If I lived nearby, I'd join you

April 22, 2010 at 05:54 PM · I've played in a community orchestra for 5 yrs, and my first rehearsal was almost the same as Vic's. Big difference was my teacher had told me that I wasn't ready, but that I would never be ready to play ensemble purely from more solo practice. He advised to sit in the back of the seconds, play softly when I knew where we were, and try to "airbow" the rest of the time. It takes time to learn to follow a score, pay attention to a conductor, read music, read bowings, and do it for extended periods (like over 2 mins!). If you start all this as an adult, take the luxury of gradual development and don't rush it. Just don't play any unintentional solos in the meantime, and the orchestra can benefit from the extra piece on all those long, whole note open G's and D's at the end of many symphonies that composers put in just for you!

April 23, 2010 at 02:29 AM ·

Rather than "faking it," I advise first joining an orchestra at a community college, or other college without a big music department. Many of these groups don't even require auditions. They generally play music only *slightly* above high school level, and so it's not completely overwhelming. I played with the local community college orchestra for two years before joining a "regular" community orchestra, and overall it was a good experience. I knew we weren't particularly good, but at least it was fun, and I was *playing*... which is really the point, right?

Also, people do notice the fakers... Last concert I went to I took my completely non-musical sister  with me, and *she* pointed out a gentleman in the back of the first violins who "wasn't really playing" :)

April 23, 2010 at 04:45 AM ·

This thread has really cheered me up. When I picked up my violin again (after an 8 year break) and told people I was having lessons I got some really funny looks and comments. The concept of an 'adult intermediate wanting to improve' really confused people. It was as if they felt that I should either be an absolute beginner or an expert. One teacher at my school just sniffed and told me that HIS daughter had played for the Japanese Emperor. Helpful! Fortunately I ignored them all and now I absolutely love practicing and going to my lessons.  :-)

April 30, 2010 at 07:06 PM ·

For newer players trying to get their "feet wet", I strongly recommend the orchestras sponsored by the New Horizons Music Foundation. I play in a NH Band at DePaul University in Chicago, part of DePaul's Community Music Division. The CMD also sponsors the DePaul NH String Orchestra, currently about 15 strong. This group is led by gifted violinist Mina Zikri, a Daniel Barenboim protege and member of the East-West Divan Orchestra. This group has existed for about three years and I have expereinced its growth in size and quality, largely thanks to Mina's nurturing leadership and the committment of the players. Like most other NH ensemble members, these are adults who have eithere never played an instrument or have not played once since ?? I've sat in on several rehearsals and have been impressed in the way Mina works with the group to halp each member develop the best sound and technique that person is capable of. Of course, each NH group is different but if you are looking to begin or grow your ensemble playing skills, and a NH string group is in your area, check it out.

More info:www.newhorizons.org

Chicago area: music.depaul/edu/cmd




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