Have you ever hit the wall?

July 15, 2008 at 05:07 PM · I would like to hear about your violin learning experience, especially adult beginners. Hmm.... our last adult beginners thread has been buried for awhile... maybe it's time..

Have your violin study been smooth sailing all along? Steady progress?

Or do you have a rough start, then it smooth out?

Or you have a smooth start, and then all of a sudden hit a wall?

What was the turning point?

What was the wall that you hit? And how did you get over the wall?

I considered myself very lucky that I had quite a smooth start, with a little bit of music background, I was able to jump start quickly and progress very quickly. But I really do feel like I'm starting to encounter some rocky road, or perhaps, hitting a wall. (But that's okay, I fully understand that it would not be a smooth ride all the way).

Teachers- is there a spot where beginners tends to get stuck and give up easily?

Keep in mind that I'm still an early beginner, some of these areas may be laughable..

1. I thought my scales/appregios were getting there but now I have to slur 8 of them.

2. I can't play fast without making a royal mess.

3. I still cannot do decent dynamic control

4. Barring finger or rolling finger to play perfect 5th is still very difficult for me, but it's getting better.

5. Double stops- it seem so easy to others, but whether or not I can hit two strings at once is like the act of god.

6. Shifting down is more difficult than shifting up, it is like, well, act of god.

7. 4th finger intonation- it's weak, and i'm often flat. :(

8. Slurred string crossings- another holy mess

Replies (22)

July 15, 2008 at 05:22 PM · Ehh, don't worry about it too much. Learning the violin is an exercise in hitting walls and plateaus. You just have to keep at it--even though it feels like you're a hamster on a wheel you probably ARE going forward.

July 15, 2008 at 05:57 PM · Gee, I thought the whole process was one of scaling a vertical wall!

Just kidding, actually I go through fits and starts, rises and plateaus. I don’t mind the vertical sections; it is the plateaus that get under my skin. Plateaus make it feel as though I am making little to no progress, whereas when scaling a wall, even though I struggle, I feel as though I am getting somewhere and when I finally break through it is an awesome experience.

I have been playing for a little over a year now, and as an adult beginner the greatest frustration has been lack of time. As a husband, father of two young children, and with a full-time career and part-time occupation “free” time is in very, very short supply. My teacher often gives me a lot to work on over the week, so I struggle to keep pace. This can at times be very frustrating, not because of what I’ve been given, but rather that I lack the time required. But, I am a serious student and am in it for the long haul, wherever the road leads.

July 15, 2008 at 06:21 PM · Speaking of materials teachers gives... i find that my violin teacher gives me ALOT more than my piano teacher gave me when I was a kid... I'm not sure if this is the norm.

I usually work on 2 etudes (sometimes 3 if one of them just need some minor polishing up but she's still not happy with it) scales/appregios, and 3 suzuki pieces (book 3-4), basically finishing/polishing up the book 3 last pieces, and I can barely play each of these more than a few times throughout the week.

Is this

July 15, 2008 at 06:19 PM · Playing the violin is a continual cycle of taking challenges....being thoroughly at a loss as to solve said challenges and problems....*ping*! lightbulb comes on....practice, now knowing what the problem is and how to solve it....striving for mastery....then next task.

Vets go through it most of the time. It is just a question of how long that cycle takes.

July 16, 2008 at 11:18 AM · Relearning violin over the past year after a gap of 30 odd years is an interesting and very enjoyable experience. I still get the feeling sometimes when starting a practice session that it's the first time I've ever held a violin! I definitely agree with Don's comment about trying too much, sometimes it helps to give yourself a breather. I've also found I've good days and bad days, maybe this is just down to fatigue although some of the days I feel tired it doesn't seem to affect my playing. I read on a "psychology of learning" web site that it's the first 3 to 5 mins of concentrated practice that brings the most reward and in fact you can make as much progress doing this every day rather than an hour every other day. The hardest part for me at the moment is fourth finger control, I'm green with envy when I see violinists using all 4 fingers with equal dexterity. I can understand how people might believe they are making very little progress when in fact the progress is there but slow and hard to detect. To convince myself I'm progressing I record myself playing a particular piece at regular intervals (say every month) and compare recordings, it's quite revealing!



July 16, 2008 at 02:08 PM · In the first martial art that I did (HapKiDo, which I started in 1981), we used to practice hitting the wall with a triple front kick, the three kicks executed rapidly while jumping at the wall.....oops, sorry, I think I might be on the wrong thread, I should be over at "Violin and Martial Art"....

July 16, 2008 at 02:49 PM · Yes Nigel.We could use your input over "there".

July 16, 2008 at 03:37 PM · I started playing violin 2 years ago, at the age of 43. Even though I'm an adult beginner at the violin, I had prior musical experience (15 years on french horn, and a bit here and there on guitar), didn't have to learn to read music and wasn't a complete novice at music theory.

That being said, it hasn't been smooth sailing all the way through. I will have a burst of improvement, followed by a plateau (and sometimes even a bit of regression!). When I feel frustrated and think perhaps I'm not really improving, I go back and play some pieces out of Suzuki book 1 or 2. I am always amazed at how easy they seem compared with what I'm working on now, and it helps me to realize how much progress I really have made.

July 17, 2008 at 03:34 PM · PM,

I started violin years ago with my kids. I played piano for many years prior to that. I had "smooth sailing" at first but it really becomes an issue of awareness or else you get stuck. Ignorance was bliss for me at first. Hitting the wall is usually because you can't tell if you are getting better or not. For minor blocks, a day off with some listening to music you aspire to play can really help. Longer term, video/recording yourself on the same song once and a while will help also. You can see how much better you're getting. For example, what you think you play well today will be so much better in a year. Same song, better ears/vibrato/dynamics/everything than a year ago. Tell your teacher about our frustraton. Also, think about having something they call a "master class". Teachers here may know how to pick a master class. A new perspective can help. So the point is every teacher has pet peeves that are a bit of a specialty. At the beginning you don't see patterns you will start to see later on. Scales systems, intervals, etc. That is when it gets much more interesting. There is a whole system you will work to understand. In a few years, or months, instead of worrying about the details so much, you start to see the forest not the single tree. That's the ticket! Also I found the following books very helpful:

Playing the violin: An illustrated guide, by Mark Roth. Lots of pictures for your set up. Not a dumbed down book like some.

Self-Theories: Their role in Motivation, personality, and Development, by C. S. Dweck

This book is about fixed and maliable intellegence and puts to rest the notion that you need to be born with a fixed "talent". It is not about violin, but it gives me great hope and motivation to continue in violin. It explains how talent/intellegence is not a fixed entity inside of you, but it is a process of mastery you can control. A fixed theory of intellegence/talent is often the reason people feel helpless as when everything they do sounds lousey sometimes no matter what they try.

Lastly: Find a a buddy if you can. I notice that beginning beginers avoid this and don't think they are good enough. Even those first Suzuki songs have duet parts.

July 17, 2008 at 03:17 PM · In my experience, learning the violin means that about 90% of the time you feel like you're not improving even a little bit, and then about 10% of the time (if you're lucky), you make great progress extremely quickly. Then you're back against the wall until you can break through again.

I figure if I can play a few measures today better than I did yesterday, in addition to keeping what I worked on yesterday at an acceptable level, it's probably a good day.

July 17, 2008 at 06:11 PM · I am an adult learner (40 next week) and have been learning for nearly 4 years. With little prior instrumental experience, my progress has been steady, mainly pleasing, but recently a little bit frustrating, as I feel like I am on a long plateau, despite more or less daily practice. I am currently going back over book 3 suzuki pieces so that I can really say I can play them (preferably by heart) rather than just getting through them.

My teacher is encouraging, but I think perhaps I will try recording myself periodically too.

July 17, 2008 at 11:40 PM · My teacher always ask me to let her know if she's giving me too much stuff to work on, but I don't know what is considered too much! I have shifting exercises, scales/appregios, 2 etude books, schradeick, and suzuki. To me it's alot, but I'm not sure if she's pushing me because she thinks i'm capable or she just want to throw everythign at me and see when i throw the towel?

July 18, 2008 at 12:14 AM · Rolf,

That sounds like a good set.

We all need to work on our scales and arpeggios-once simpler forms are mastered--then there are more and more complex forms. Etudes or caprices of some sort are also standard fair--there are lots for different skills. Schradieck is good....and of course your rep.

July 18, 2008 at 03:55 AM · It's good to hear that it's the norm. I don't have any friends that take violin lesson, so I have no one to ask!!

July 18, 2008 at 06:29 AM · That's pretty much the same routine I have as well, 2 etudes, some exercise or another, Schradiek, Flesch, a concerto and a salon piece. It can seem daunting at times, but my teacher can sense when to push and when to consolidate.

July 18, 2008 at 05:50 PM · My wall probably came when I was 12 (and had been taking lessons for 8 years). I didn't know it was a wall, but I did know I wanted to progress faster, so I quit lessons and played only once the entire next year. Then I started playing again (but never had another (real) violin lesson - and never stopped (that was 60 years ago. I did start cello at 14 and never hit a wall - but that was because I "climbed" them all no matter how hard it was and how slowly I had to do it. But, to be honest, now when I see a real "Mt. Everest" looming ahead, I go back to the foothills.

I teach both instruments now (actually started teaching violin about 45 years ago). I find students always hit walls, but the walls occur at different places, and I assign different etudes or other pieces to help them get over the walls or at least to gather strength while moving around in front of the wall.

There are ways to get over these walls but they all take lots of conscious practice (lots and lots - and for some people (and some walls), even more).


July 18, 2008 at 02:25 PM · PM, I'm glad you brought up the subject of "how much is too much"... In addition to my current Suzuki piece, I'm working on stuff in a double stop book, two different shifting exercise books (2nd-4th positions), and scales. Plus polishing one or two previous Suzuki pieces I'd learned. Usually I'm able to devote enough time to the various exercises to make weekly progress, but was curious whether I was doing more or less than the average student.

July 18, 2008 at 05:26 PM · I think everyone will go through rocky times. I know all the professionals have (well, most of them). If they didn't go through rocky times, and weren't able to get past those times, then they wouldn't be where they are today.

I started violin about 4 and a half years ago (when I was a freshman in high school, so sort of like an adult beginner), and within 6 months I was in a community youth orchestra. After 2 and a half years, I was in the best youth orchestra in cincinnati. At 3 years, I was accepted at a very good undergraduate conservatory in cleveland to begin my bachelor's degree in violin performance. And a week ago, I was sobbing my eyes out because I was just so frustrated with a particular part in my music (dealing with a long string of octaves and large shifts in between them.. tchaikovsky serenade melancolique), and I was so upset because I still wasn't getting it to sound perfect and it felt like no matter how much work I did on the passage, it would still not sound better, and I felt too tired to continue thinking about ways to make it better if it was just going to sound crappy the next time I played it. <--- struggles like this will pop up along the way with way more than just a passage of music. I'm still keeping at it, and as long as I look at the big picture and see the progress I have made so far, I try (even though it's hard) to have the confidence that I will get past these barriers. And you will too! remember that everyone has their struggles and the successful ones never would let those struggles get in the way of their ultimate goal.

Keep at it and give it time! You will get past these problems and face new ones, I promise, but it will feel more and more wonderful as you triumph over each one.

July 18, 2008 at 07:46 PM · PM, I too am an adult beginner. My weekly lessons are very similar material to what you are doing. I have a family, a home and a business that all need my attention before I can practice. If I have a particular practice piece that I feel I am still struggling with I will ask my teacher to keep working on it but she usually knows if I'm ready to move on to the next thing.

I do at times envy my children who have been playing instruments for years. By the time they are teens they will be quite good and will have no recollection of the learning process really.

I wonder this is why some string teachers won't work with beginners because they simply cannot relate to the struggles and problems that beginners have.

J Kingston spoke of seeing the patterns. My teacher says the same thing. I am not there yet.

July 18, 2008 at 09:00 PM · Tess et al. Great posts!

I also have many responsibilities and my violin "work out" is similar to the ones mentioned here. As I have limited time many days, I rotate through all of it with a primary focus and then secondary focus. I do scales and etudes everyday then alternate a day of double stops with a day of shifting. That way I can cover it and not spend only 10 minutes on each which seems to get me nowhere in a hurry. I also play the scale of any piece or etude I am working on, and some broken thirds, and arpegios before I work on an etude or piece. This is a sort of warm up I guess. Interval training helps in the early Suzuki books but really helps later on so much. Mozart for example is very challenging for me as are some of the romantic pieces. Also contemporary pieces use more dissonant sounding intervals that you seldom see in early Suzuki books. Knowing about intervals was a turning point for me and I have so much more to learn about them. I find if I pick etudes carefully some of them use interval patterns or bowing patterns I will need for the current pieces. I Jokingly call that scenario a 2fer! because I immediately apply a skill to the next thing. 2 for one! You always need scales and etudes anyway so they are never a waste if that is all you do.

July 18, 2008 at 09:50 PM · Tess,

As far as teachers choice of age groups, it is more complicated than a lack of understanding of an adult learners stiuation.

IMHO, it is more often a matter of children and younger students are more likely to have the time to put in the hours of work needed to move forward; they don't have to work a full-time job for a living, and spouse/family to care for and feed and make understand, and other such time consuming obligations to keep them from an instrument. Also, young ones tend to pick up new skills more easily, and be more malleable than older students (I am saying this as a generalization of course). The additional factor being that, the younger students that go far in the craft are great advertising, for the teacher and their studio from a business perspective.


Scales and arpeggios are immensely helpful. If one knows their scales and arpeggios--and by "know", I mean the fingerings, the interval spacings, and can recognize them automatically-then one can sight-read a majority of the repertoire. Things like Schradiek and Sevcik are great for building complete independence of hands....and etudes are a nice way to integrate these skills ina more melodic manner. All these provide a nice workout for the brain and help to make these skills autmatic for your repertoire (when practiced well).

When 1 and 2 octave scales are learned, then 3 octave scales and arpeggios a la Flesch, then Galamian 4 octave scales, and scales and arpeggios in parallel octaves and fingered octaves....scales in parallel 6ths and 3rds (and also alternating 3rds)scales in 10ths, and artificial harmonics.....always a bigger fish (<;

July 18, 2008 at 09:42 PM · Hello;

I started violin as an adult, but I don’t consider myself a beginner.

IMHO, the trick is to recognize the wall and then take appropriate measures to scale it. (pun intended)

I keep a musical diary of my lessons and impressions. Included in my diary, rather than etude book, is my current wish list of four goals. I also write out gains and trouble areas. Over the years these have changed and it’s fun to go back and read them. I’m filling my fourth blank journal and do updates to my list very infrequently.

This thread provides a lot of good suggestions, no need to repeat.

Stick with it,


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