Picking it back up after 30 years

May 24, 2008 at 10:09 PM · My wife played violin for 10 years when she was younger. Then life intruded, marriages, kids and other priorities. She hasn't played in 30 years.

A couple weeks ago, the band leader at church noticed her reading music for choir and asked her if she played an instrument. She confessed that she had played violin years ago. So she broke out her violin and took it in for new strings, new hair for the bow and other maintenance that comes with spending years in its case.

Once she got it back, she realized that things that were once second nature are not so any more. She's committed to practicing every day, but I wonder what would be the best practice for her.

I admit that I know NOTHING about playing an instrument of any kind. But I would like to help her in any way that I can.

Can anyone recommend any regimen and/or pieces of music that would be best to regain her old form?

Replies (31)

May 24, 2008 at 11:34 PM · Help to find a best teacher you can afford in town for her would be one of the sweetest things you can do for her.

May 25, 2008 at 03:03 AM · In addition to the traditional answer of "getting a teacher" - I have one other bit of advice from an adult that re-started again.

Take either an Alexander Technique (AT) course - or Yoga. When you are young or have been playing consistently, you "violin muscles" are well developed and flexible. Starting back up again after a long break can lead to strain and tension. An AT course or Yoga can help in re-training the body to play violin.

May 25, 2008 at 02:00 PM ·

May 25, 2008 at 02:04 PM · I certainly agree with the above advice regarding finding a fine teacher.

Additionally, I believe that much will be gained by including in one's daily practice, some basic to the extreme, but highly concentrated study......For example, play many medium-slow whole bows on an open string, while focusing intense concentration on holding the violin lightly and loosely, "caging the bow" as Erick Friedman used to say, rather than gripping it, standing tall and loosely, getting a lovely quality of tone from the open string, feeling for a graceful and comfortable gesture of the bow stroke etc.

I think that violinists of every level of advancement benefit from this sort of study, so that they may, as Yehudi Menuhin said (paraphrase): "Quickly learn the violin from the beginning every day."

It seems to me particularly interesting to note that, at the very highest levels of accomplishment, what separates the *technical skills* of the monumentally great ones from the merely execellent ones has more to do with taking the skills learned in earliest lessons to an exhaltedly high level than it does with skills learned at advanced levels.

May 25, 2008 at 02:09 PM · One of my friends, after a 30 year hietus from violin playing, restarted at age 60. in preparation for retirement from his medical career at age 62. He had played for more than 20 years in his younger years, CM of his HS orchestra, and regular chamber music during hs early years as an MD.

He was advised to start lessons at age 60, if he hoped to find others willing to play with him when he reached age 62 and retired. I think he took those lessons for more than 5 years from a retired SFO principal player.

The lessons served him well. He now plays weekly in at least two chamber ensembles and the local community orchestra, and from time to time he does a set in one of the Bay Area "Freeway Philharmonics."

Taking lessons was key to proper renovation of his violin playing.

From my own playing experience, I can tell you that you may have to change some of the things you learned when you were young, as different muscles and nerves stop working the way they once did.

Andy

May 25, 2008 at 02:36 PM · I have had several adult students that picked up violin after a long hiatus. They all claimed "I don't remember a thing", but the muscle memory was intact. The note reading came back quickly too.

I like Andrew's word: "Renovation". Perfect.

May 25, 2008 at 03:46 PM · I was in a similar situation 1 1/2 years ago. I had played for 10 years and picked it up again after 30 years. I knew practice alone wasn't going to do it so I jumped right in to lessons. Good thing I did since I had lost some control over basic technique. After a short time, everything came back very quickly and muscle memory kicked in. Amazing that there is good memory of pieces I worked on so long ago! The best thing is although it may be a little frustrating at first, progress is very fast and it really feels like I'm playing better now than I ever was as a teenager and I'm continuing to progress. The comments about muscle and joint strain are true though. I started having some joint and tendon issues which were largely corrected by lots of attention to relaxation of tension of the left hand and bow grip.

May 25, 2008 at 03:42 PM · I had a 14 year hiatus. I stopped after 22 years of playing when I was 40, and now I am almost 54 years old. I have been back at it for two months now. Likewise, I had my violin set up again with new bridge, strings, sound post, and fingerboard dressing. I found a reputable teacher, and I have begun a practice regime on one-two hours a day. Here's my observed difference:

I can still read music, but my rhythmic sense was gone. My ear was basically intact- I could still tune the instrument from an open A, but I had 'gaps'-- some notes were gone- I just can't hear some notes accurately, but they are coming back slowly. My left hand does not recover from the practice strain like it used to. I don't mean 'tension stress', but rather that the pure motion activity on the fingerboard is more tiring than I remember it. My bow arm was gone: no grip, no fluidity-- like a dry twig. The worst part is that I am frustrated to not be able to play the music that I left off with 14 years ago.

Getting back to my former level is my immediate goal, with the longer range goal of vastly improving-- maybe one or two years worth of work. My remedy has been to start at the beginning again: just like day one. Slow scales and rudimentary exercises-- square one. The good thing now is that I seem to have better concentration, and my wonderful teacher is patient and kind--I told her to be strict and don't assume anything just because I used to play a long time ago. I use a metronome and an electronic tuner as aids--much better technology than 'back then'.

My advice is 'patience', 'intelligent practice', and the best advice: 'DON'T QUIT AGAIN'.

May 25, 2008 at 04:09 PM · What I didn't mention is despite the initial difficulties in getting started again, I am so incredibly happy to be playing again. There's nothing like being able to learn and progress with something (even at an age where common wisdom says progress is over!) you can continue with for the rest of your life.

May 25, 2008 at 07:05 PM · I played for four years as a kid, then picked it up as an adult in my early 40s. I've been back at it for almost four years. Others on this thread have given this advice: Your wife needs to find a good teacher. While I remembered a lot when I picked up the violin again, there was a huge amount of work I had to do in order to make a good sound (still working on that!). I continue to practice daily and have an hour-long lesson a week. Progress is incredibly slow, but I'm committed to staying wtih this for the long haul. About a year ago, I joined a community string ensemble, and that has helped a lot. Patience and practice have been key to my making progress. Another thing: I really had to work out the kinks in my body once I started playing. I had done Alexander Technique in the past (for about a year), and that helped. The tips of my fingers hurt a lot for the first few months of playing again, but that got better once I developed calluses. After the first year, I started to feel better physically. Now, I have no problems playing for up to two hours at a time. I never overdid it in my zeal to get back into playing, and I think that was important in terms of not hurting myself or getting burned out.

Good luck to your wife! I think it's great that she'd getting back into the violin swing of things.

Julie

May 25, 2008 at 08:17 PM · This topic was discussed before so you may find more good advices at:

http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=12176

May 25, 2008 at 08:28 PM · Tell her to join Violinist.com as well! Seriously, she'll find an amazing support network here, lots of people to answer questions she might have, as well as a lot of others who are in the same boat.

I think it's very cool that you came on board to post this question, by the way. : )

May 25, 2008 at 10:43 PM · Greetings,

gte a copy of Drew Lecher`s book. (from website). That provides all the necessray material including the kind of things Oliver is talkin about,

Cheers,

Buri

May 26, 2008 at 01:32 AM · This is an amazing website. I have learned sooo much! I too am a violinist who played as a young person, but then went off to college, got married, had children, and then got to thinking about my violin and wanted so badly to get back into it. I had travelled from Kansas to Canada and my violin was back in Kansas. Now I really wonder why I had left it! I got my folks to bring it up, and it was rusty, as was I!!!! But I started playing again and had the wonderful gift of a block of violin lessons from our symphony's first violinist. This was the most wonderful thing I had ever experienced! That block jumpstarted me back again, and I just love violin more than ever. I have played in our church in string groups every few weeks, and also play duets with my husband, who plays the tin whistle! This is fun. I am giving lessons to young ones who want to, and they just love the violin too now. The one thing I cannot "get" though, is vibrato, so I will continue searching this site for help others might have on this issue. If I could master this, it would be a dream come true!!! Thank you to all who have contributed to this blog and blogs and thank you Laurie for having the site!!

May 26, 2008 at 12:53 PM · I have been regular playing and practicing for 8 months after a 23 year hiatus, what Anne Horvath said is true in my case, listen to Buri and get the Lecher book(s), and a teacher. Check out any College music departments, offten teachers there will be more than happy to help and you don't have to be a music major either.

And I think there are sugestions here at v.com about where to find teachers.

May 26, 2008 at 04:38 PM · I restarted after a 25-year hiatus. A lot of what I had was still there, but, as everyone else has said, getting a good teacher is crucial to the renovation project. In addition to v.com, I also found joining a community orchestra quite helpful. However, a good teacher will help you decide how to proceed once you have restarted.

May 26, 2008 at 09:25 PM · I picked up mine after about 25 years also. They were pretty dead on about muscle memory.....I was amazed that my fingers still knew my 5th grade solo, it came back within minutes. It was like my brain didn't remember, but something deep inside me knew exactly what to do. This was enough to fire me up again about playing....and I have been working hard ever since. It's the best adventure I've taken on in my adult life, and I can't imagine putting my violin down again.

May 27, 2008 at 03:33 PM · I have Drew Lecher's book-- my teacher insisted on using it. Drew was a student of Galamian, as was one of my former teachers. The Galaminan approach worked for me before, so I understand the approach to the 'basics' ala Galamian, so I am trying to use it all again. The BASICS are there in Drew' book, but you really need to have an imagination to take full advantage of the ideas. If we are 'getting back to it', then you all know what I mean about interpolating exercises to broaden the range of an etude to various keys and positions.

Since I have been back at it, I have the possiblilty now of video taping myself. I used to use a mirror, but video in now an option. Quiter frankly, I haven't had the nerve to actually do it yet!

May 27, 2008 at 03:41 PM · "I used to use a mirror, but video in now an option. Quiter frankly, I haven't had the nerve to actually do it yet!"

Mirrors are an amazing technology. They work with any light source, they are fully automatic, always operational, real-time, don't need any tapes to rewind nor any files to download, no cables, never incompatible. ;-)

May 27, 2008 at 04:15 PM · Over 30 years ago, I got a one-page article published in The Instrumentalist. It may help.

1. Go to http://www.iit.edu/~marcus/

2. Click on "music practice tips"

3. Read.

4. Enjoy.

Sandy

May 27, 2008 at 10:46 PM · Greetings,

Benjamin, the problem with mirrors is when you have a system crash you are buggered for the next seven years. I suppose thta s somewhat similar to Windows?

Cheers,

Buri

May 30, 2008 at 12:22 PM · Having resumed lessons and passed Grade 7 about 37 years after Grade 6, I would offer:

- find a teacher if possible

- set some goals - in my case passing exams and trying to survive in the local orchestra

- enjoy - play the music you like best - listen and appreciate the sound

- annoy friends and family by going on about it all the time

June 1, 2008 at 05:40 AM · I hadn't been off quite as long as your wife, but I picked it up again after quite a while off. I started by practicing with my daughter. I managed to get the other violin part from whatever she was playing in orchestra at school, e.g. if she was playing 1st violin, I played 2nd, and vice-versa. Then once she got into high school, I joined the local chamber orchestra. Then, you have something concrete to work on and prepare, and a concert (deadline) for the preparation. For me, this is a great motivator to practice!

June 17, 2008 at 05:17 PM · I,too had a hiatus of 50 years before returning to the violin. I found a good teacher who understands the needs of the adult student and began. I was amazed at how much I remembered after 50 years, and I was playing at the level I was playing before I quit in less than a year. I recommend good excerise books like Wohlfahrt Sixty Studies for the Violin; Kreutzer 42 Studies or Caprices for the Violin; Mazas Etudes speciales opus 36, Book 1 and Introducing the Positions for the violin in several volumnes. I am now in my second year of study and I am playing Seitz Pupil's Concerto No. 2 for my recital. I am 65 years old and practice 2 to 3 hours a day. I am retired so I can devote the time now to my violin playing. I just love it and have met so many great folks through playing. Good luck to your wife and she, like me, is fortunate to have a supportive husband.

June 17, 2008 at 07:48 PM · I had a hiatus of 25 years after having played 25 years. What I discovered is that over the years my conceptualization of violin playing had improved and with that my understanding. I still had to find my fingers all over again. I found a teacher who was only intermittently helpful since she did not really take me very seriously at the time. So I went back to the methods that my teacher had used when I started. I worked my way through Laoureux and then Kayser and finally restarted working on Kreutzer and Gavinies and Sevcik. A teacher will help you identify the problems but nothing shortcuts the note by note working it out. From there I tried to choose literature that I wanted to play that I had already worked on before and then started to choose other literature as well. But despite the literature there is still a lot of Sevcik in what I do, because he isolates problems and then works them...HARD!

June 19, 2008 at 07:28 PM · First, thank you all for your responses! It is good to know that I am not alone on this quest! I had a hiatus of 20 years after playing 11 years. I re-started almost 2 years ago and do not intend to stop. It all depends on many factors (the level one played when stopped, the age when one stopped and started again, the ability to rely on self-study, motivation etc.) For me, the biggest challenge has been not to injure myself; my muscles and tendons are not young anymore and it takes a slow and gradual warm-up before and a gentle massage after to prevent serious injuries. Apart from that, listen to your heart, go where your joy is and you won't make a mistake. Scales, studies, Bach partitas for solo violin and a group you can play with, to keep you motivated to practice daily. Good teacher is always a bonus.

August 19, 2008 at 08:42 AM · I had a hiatus of about 12 years after playing for 13 years. I restarted 1.5 years ago but haven't had as much time as I'd like. It's much harder to find time with a wife, and two growing kids who need their own practice supervision!

However, I can thoroughly agree with Mungo's response above:

* Goals and motivation - figure out exactly why you want to go back to the violin - it will help you focus and help you make decisions on how much time and what type of practice you want to do. eg. It's hard to find motivation to do 1 hour of technical work at 10.00PM after a long day at work and after the kids are asleep!

* Get a teacher for some casual lessons - some external guidance is good. If possible, getting a fixed lesson forces you to practice, but then you have to decide - is this what you really want?

* Try to play regularly - if you can't find motivation or time at home, then join a local community orchestra.

* Enjoy it! I'm definitely approaching violin playing differently now - as I'm doing it because "I" want to, not because I have to (read - my parents want me to :) )

But yeah it's wierd being able to play pieces or remember pieces and what I was working on 18 years ago. The brain is amazing :) However, I do concede that I don't have the time now to get pieces up to as high a standard as before, and that I probably will be performing for no-one except family (and the odd recordings I'll put up on my blog).

September 9, 2008 at 03:02 AM · I resumed playing the violin after a hiatus of 50 years! The first thing I did after getting my violin reconditioned was find a good teacher. I was fortunate that I did find a teacher who is great with older adults and have been taking lessons from her for almost three years. I plan to continue lessons as long as I am playing because she challenges me to be more than I ever thought I could be playing the violin. I also am playing in a string ensemble as well as a string quartet. Now that I am retired, I can really have the time to enjoy my new found joy of playing the violin. Good luck to your wife and I hope she enjoys playing as much as I do.

September 9, 2008 at 07:18 AM · I just started a group for violinist who are older and used to play. I advertised in one paper and got 16 responses. We are all starting together and will play Christmascarols at old agehomes in december. That is our first challenge. After that we will still play and learn together and some of us will move to a private teacher but intend to stay with the group as it is lovely to belong. Two of us teach! Most older players don't give up!!!

September 9, 2008 at 07:23 AM · Sorry I forgot! The ages are between 38 and 70 ,most are in their 60's though.

September 9, 2008 at 09:33 PM · I played for four years, from 4th to 7th grade, then stopped, and finally (36 years later) started again. I have been working at it on my own since February of this year. (I am finally going to be able to start lessons next week, yay!) But this summer I joined a little community orchestra that played for 10 weeks and then performed. I was amazed at how much better I played after that experience, and how much easier the pieces I had been working on before became. It was out of my comfort zone and pushed me to try more difficult stuff. It really helped to bring back my skills, helped me remember theory and sight-reading, positions, all that. So that's what I recommend. Jump right into a group you can practice and perform with.

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