Virtuoso Kids

November 18, 2008 at 06:47 AM ·

Can anyone tell me just how good violinists like Sarah Chang and Hilary Hahn and the rest of the greats were after playing for only one year... two years.... or three years? I wonder how fast they managed to progress through their studies.

Did most of them have lessons every day? Or parents who were musicians? Were any of them pretty mediocre for a while, or were they all pretty much that talented from the get go?

Did they all start their violin studies basically before they could crawl?

I apologize if this question has been asked. I am very interested to know about this, and can't seem to find much information.

Replies (66)

November 18, 2008 at 01:23 PM ·

I would imagine Sarah Chang advanced amazingly fast because she auditioned for Julliard after only two years of playing... And Hilary Hahn was maybe a little slower in the fact that she auditioned for Curtis 6 years after beginning.

Sorry I don't have more info to tell you.

November 18, 2008 at 02:26 PM ·

hello, you may have seen this on youtube and may want to watch all 4 parts on vengerov.  in this part, his mother and teacher  talked about his born "talent" and he himself talked about how much he did not like practicing but practiced anyway under some pressure, out of love for his mother perhaps.

not sure if there are out there tapes of chang and hahn after only 1-2 yrs of learning the violin, or info on how exactly intensely they practiced.   fair to say, it does not sound too cool to be a grind:)  i did read somewhere that mehunin had 5 lessons per week as a child, and the family was very musical, thus exerting influence on him from very early on.   comparing a child that has been grooved intensely very early on to an average child, aka a child without such background/experience,  it is not surprising that mehunin got to perform on stage very early,  and the ball just kept rolling in that direction.  or as paul put it, chang got to audition in juilliard after "2 years of practice", which may be 2 or more:)

what is interesting to me is whether a kid truly has passion for music, if so, when does that passion starts to take shape?   from vengerov's admission, i would venture to say that if he were not born into a family with inclination for music, he would probably end up doing something else.   i question whether he would be able to seek out violin of all things in this world and reach where he is now today.  so, family and environment and parental pressure/nurturing play a very important part where the child goes and possibly how far.   i don't know if chang or hahn were born with that passion, so to speak.  may be, may be not.   i am sure at one point in their lives, they have decided to become very serious musicians and with that, there should be  a difference in how they approach music and practice.  so in tape 1 to tape 13, you see a linear progrssion and on tape 14, you see a quantum jump.

i do believe, however, those who have gone very far have above average born neuromuscular development which to my understanding has not been extensively empirically studied.  we usually settle with,,,wow, a smart kid.

the danger or something to bear in mind is that it is often not that productive comparing regular folks with "superstars", unless the purpose is to get inspired to do better.

i know of many parents, looking at other so called prodigies, force their kids into a me-too regimen hated by the kids.  out of those kids in traps, one or two may break through and make it far, like lang lang the pianist, while the rest are just totally demoralized by the experience, unable to play that well and unable to match a pair of socks.    unprepared to take on life from another angle.  

similar things may apply  to adult beginners.  looking at how very young children perform incredibaly well can also be a burden to  their own study.   it can be as inspiring as it is distracting.  they tend to question their own music self worth in comparison and lose sight of the reason of why they take up violin in the first place.  one does not really have to play that well according to others' standard to enjoy the process.  for most of us, we don't get there anyway, might as well enjoy ourselves in the process:)   and if you can enjoy yourself in the process, you end up going to places!

November 18, 2008 at 02:14 PM ·

I am acquainted with several fiddler  "whiz kids". Some followed the pattern you describe of starting very young, lots of lessons, dedicated parents, etc.  But a few are interesting "old-soul" sorts of people, "I just like to play, I don't think about it" types, who just seem to know stuff, or who pick it up so easily it appears that way. There appears to be a belief among Cajuns that you can be born to the music or the instrument; they do seem to produce an interestingly large group of "prodigies"for that music. Sue

November 18, 2008 at 03:10 PM ·

I think it is very simple.  Some people are born artists and find their 'niche' early in life.  You can't really teach the kind of internal musicality that great performers have.  A good teacher will help channel the artistic child into a technical genius.

James Galway, the flutist, is a perfect example.  He says from an early age he loved to play flute and played all the time, whenever he could, even walking to and from school.  It's an internal drive to get the music out that separates the prodigy from the average child musician.

But like Al says, we should be playing an instrument because we enjoy it.  It's fine to admire great musicians but it's hazardous to our self image if we start to compare ourselves and our playing to the current super stars.   At the end of the day, our talent won't measure up.

The book, Meet The Musicians, From Prodigy (or not) To Pro, is a light easy read on this subject.  Members of the New York Phil are featured and describe their musical journeys.  This book should be in every music teachers library for their students to check out.

November 18, 2008 at 03:10 PM ·

When considering the in-born talent vs. the nurture issue it is instructive to look at the folk musicians.  To my knowledge there is not the industrious production of the prodigy trend in this genre of music.  Folk musicians sometimes come from families of other folk musicians where they learn from a relative, but often they are individuals who are attracted to instruments and exploratory in nature and just sort of drift into it. 

In observing jam sessions with a variety of instruments and ages of players it seems obvious to me that there are those who naturally, fluently and easily learn new tunes and improvise.  This is all done by ear, of course.  They also have an easy way of communicating non-verbally via just a glance to indicate what they are going to play next.  They can often find their way around a number of different instruments from fiddle to banjo.  As a person who lacks this ability, I am amazed when I find it in others.  It seems to me that one is either this type of person from the beginning, or one isn't. 

In my opinion this is the essence of the "inborn talent" or as Sue put it the "old soul".  Sometimes someone with this affinity for figuring out the puzzle of music is born to a family with the means and energy to foster the talent from an early age in a formal way.  I think that highly skilled classical players can be created rather than born.  Not to be a wet blanket, so to speak, but I think that some of the "stars" of classical music are not these "old souls" but rather were precocious, coachable, smart kids with good coordination, plenty of opportunity and especially industrious parents and disciplined homes.  Teachers and parents are both excited by progress and this in turn inspires a child to progress further.  It becomes a cycle that leads to considerable ability in a short amount of time.

When I was in Europe last summer a violin professor from a conservatory in Vienna said that the good American players all play with big sound, fast fingers, accurate intonation, but  no heart.  When I asked him if he believed this was due to the particular way American musicians are taught, perhaps the teachers do not pay attention to artistic depth, he answered that he thought a person was either born with the artistic heart or not.  He seemed to imply that we have a method that works to develop technical whiz kids, but that only a few individuals are really born artists, and furthermore that he could tell the difference.

November 18, 2008 at 03:41 PM ·

interesting, jennifer.

on that prof's saying, i wonder when he could tell if a person has a heart for music as he put it.  does it manifest itself after some years of practice or the kid just cries out music in the new born nursery? 

also, i got a sense, in other circles as well, that europeans tend to look down at americans, being from a land of walmarts and mcds.  a little voice inside me wants to stage a protest! :)

couple of you have drawn some comparisons between classical musicians and old souls in other genres.   i think there is a distinction between the 2 approaches... 

classical musicians are trained to go after precision, playing what is written on the score from day one, from page one to page 50.  sure there is room for personality and self input, but you cannot suddenly add a measure here and there to express yourself.  also, serious violinists need to amass a huge repertoir at their fingertips as early as they can, allowing him/her the opportunity to step in at a moment's notice...

the old souls, with no disparaging intention from me at all, do not have to follow that strict of a regimen to start with.   understanding  the chords is perhaps all it takes to build the musicality and individuality because they write their own performance, so to speak.    this degree of  freedom of self expression, at least so far, does not seem to jive with classical classical music establishment.

here is link, listen to it. then look at the performance:


November 18, 2008 at 03:55 PM ·

Child prodigy flutist:


This video is her best yet:

Emma II


Edit: Holy cow can that kid pick a gee-tar!


November 18, 2008 at 04:17 PM ·

What a beatuiful video!  Thank you for posting the link!  I would say that he difinitely has a musical heart!

What for me sets apart the true artist from the technician is the level of conviction with which they communicate their ideas.  They seem to shout with their playing, "This is what Bach (or Vivaldi or Beethoven...) meant!  This is how it goes!"  There is a captivating energy and a freedom and a stubborn insistence to a true artist's playing that speaks to the audience.  It is more than accuracy, although the accuracy must also be there.  In a child I think you can see that they get the feel of a work, that they can understand the context of a phrase in the larger work, that they get the important musical details and the general pulse and momentum.  The little guitarist in the video definitely does all these things.

Now, back to the original question.  How fast do the prodigies progress?  I had this conversation with a violin teacher friend last week.  He had just found a Henryk Szeryng website and remarked that he essentially learned everything he needed on the violin (technique-wise) from the age of 10 to 14.    As long as the child has the basics by the time they are 9 or ten it takes four years to learn the technique to tackle anything.   They start early and by the age of 9 or ten they have the fundamentals of position, play in all the positions, play in tune, can move the bow evenly etc... This is not so unusual.  This is probably Suzuki book 6 level at age 9.  It is what happens between the age of 9 and 18 that makes all the difference.  It is also why it is cruicial to have a beginning teacher who can assure that the basics are in place.  The 3 year old who can play Vivaldi may not end up as a 14 year old who can play an awesome Bruch concerto.  There is considerable variability in the rate at which young children  develop fine motor skills, but it does seem to even out by the late gradeschool years.

November 18, 2008 at 05:04 PM ·

It is the cultural background that is the most important aspect to produce a great musician. Prodigies, it is possible to "produce them " when in some country thousand of children are sent to special schools with special teachers. They all play alike and no Menuhin, no Kreisler or no Heifetz emerges of the lot. The difference between the young Menuhin and the very young Sarah Chang is obvious. While a young child of 11 in 1928 was performing Bach, Brahms and Beethoveen concerti with an unprecedent musical maturity, and impressed the world, the other did so with Carmen Fantaisie or Paganini concerto. One moved  and trans figured the world with music ,the other impressed with her digital skills.

Kreisler: born in Vienna1875, first toured U.S.A. when aged 13, knew Johannes Brahms, studied medecine, knew Sigmund Freud  and many other celebrities who lived close to his parents house , was in the army and did serve during the first world war, knew seven langages, knew about history ect. ect..


 Flesh heard Kreisler when he was a prodigy of 11 playing Wieniawski Faust Fantaisy and was deeply impressed.

The same for Menuhin, Milstein, Heifetz, Oistrach, Neveu, Francescatti, Enesco: great cultural background.



November 18, 2008 at 05:16 PM ·

I once asked a cellist friend of mine, who is Jewish, why he thought so many of our great violinists have been Jewish (or of that lineage). He simply said that the instrument, and work ethic, are highly valued in their culture. It is not likely that Zukerman. Mintz, Perlman, and others are inherently good at the violin. They start young, work hard, and have good teachers. Sometimes it is good for children to be "strongly encouraged" by their parents and peers to excel.

November 18, 2008 at 06:29 PM ·

I saw some future soloists and I can say that they all ready play things like Mendelshon (in difficulty) at age 10.  Sarah Chang, played tcaikovsky concerto and many more in her teens and played Bruch concerto or mvt at ... six!  I even saw a girl on the net who played the 24 caprice of paganini at 6 or 7 but it missed a little maturity but it was so impressing.  Basically as I said, to play like them, you have to start young, have MONEY or full of scholarships and much luck to happen to be in the right context and time...  It doesn't mean that it is not impressing but, it is not every one who starts with this great "context" unfourtunately :(


November 18, 2008 at 08:28 PM ·

marc, it almost sounds like you are talking about cultural background in the past  tense, as if the glorious past is never to be had again.  it is important to set the perspective right through historical assessment, but can you expand on that in terms what people can do now  to raise kids in the appropriate cultural background?   are we beyond hopeless classical music wise? :)    btw, i thought you hate heifetz,,,just kidding:)

anne-marie, not directed at you but in a general sense, i don't think money is that important if you are that good.  i will go further by saying that if you are that good, in anything, people will throw money at you.   what i think is very very important, assuming the kid is reasonably bright and highly motivated, is the quality of the teacher.  sure, some may argue that good teachers cost more.  true, to some extent.  imo,  there are more good teachers out there who do not charge an arm and leg than good students out there who are willing to work hard enough to make the teachers' teaching skill shine, or, to look at it another way, to make the teacher earn their fee:).   it takes a good student for a good teacher to kick up couple notches.  it is a 2 way street,,,the teacher inspires the student and the student also inspires the teacher,,,that is how i look at it:)



November 18, 2008 at 09:00 PM ·

Al, I though I said money "or scholarships", meaning that if the student has that talent he or she would certainly recieve scholarships!  So we are saying the same thing!  But in general to even be able to have a violin in your hands and a good teacher you can be middle class but rare are the very very poor kids that can have acess to that even if they may discover the instrument in some special music school programs for the very poor kids in certain schools. The parents can not afford to push it futher and if they don't have a futur Maxim Vengerov as a kid, it is sad for them.


November 18, 2008 at 10:09 PM ·

> I would like to know how fast these Wiz kids take to learning the violin <

I think it is probably safe to say, most (perhaps all) great artists learned very quickly -- that is, within 3-4 years, they were doing amazing things.  But another way to look at it (if you want to compare yourself to them) is the total amount of practice time they put in compared to the rest of us.

Let me elaborate.  Let's say someone takes up an instrument and practices 1 hour a day for 10 years.  Most people with a modest amount of musical talent and decent finger dexterity will probably be pretty good at that instrument.  Many of these young prodigies practice 6-7 hours a day.  Within a year and a half they will have put in as much time on the instrument as the person that played 10 years, so it is not surprising they get so good so quickly.

Itzhak Perlman had polio as a child and because he could not go outside and play with all the other kids, he spent all his time playing the violin.  My point is, these young prodigies are quite gifted, but not in the way most people might think.  The real gift is, they have the desire and the patience to play their instrument for hours and hours.  Some might even say they are obsessed.  I think that is the main difference when it comes to developing one's technical proficiency on an instrument.

As for musical interpretation, I agree with others, that to a large extent, it is innate.  I think there are things we can do to improve our expressiveness, but in that department, you either got it or you don't.  Just my 2 cents.


November 18, 2008 at 10:17 PM ·


>It is not likely that Zukerman. Mintz, Perlman, and others are inherently good at the violin. They start young, work hard, and have good teachers.

With all due respect,  this doesn`t really hold up too well. A lot of violnists here in Japan and China (just as an example) meet these criteria.    The number who have the same spark of genius,  gift from God,  inner flame or whatever remains as constanly miniscule as ever.



November 18, 2008 at 10:42 PM ·

Ok. I misspoke when I said they weren't inherently good. I should have said that many people with great talent are probably born around the world, but that certain factors don't allow them to fully develop their potential. Like everything, it's nature and nurture. I wasn't trying to say everyone starts out on the same level, though it looks that way.

Yes, you're right in that true genius in any field is extremely rare. We tend to forget that. We all like to say "If only I'd started younger..." or something else along those lines to make excuses for our lack of talent and work ethic. Yeah I'd damn well better be a good deal more proficient if I'd started earlier, but I'd probably still not be all that good in the absolute sense. Some people have it, the great majority of us don't.

November 18, 2008 at 11:00 PM ·

smiley  mentioned the cumulative amt of time spent on the violin, i would go further by stating that it is both quantity and quality time, or a "perfect" mixture of the 2 for those super gifted, spent on the violin, if we look back. 

for instance, lets just use the simple concept of intonation.  a good teacher explains and demonstrates.  a very bright kid, just imagine, can almost intuitively understand the concept and takes a short time to get the physical part through only a short period of practice; because of good ears, the student can self corrects mistakes at home and say, only spend 10 mins per day on that, and spends the rest of the time watching tv:)

then we have another kid who has difficulty understanding the concept,  not very sharp hearing,  fingers and arms not as developed...when this kid goes home to practice, without help,   you can lock this kid in the room for 3 hours per day, the final outcome can still drive the teacher up the wall. 

unfortunately, situations like this happen often in life, with violin or without, that often, teachers tend to favor those that pick up things faster.  in prof music schools, teachers probably tend to pick those that they think have a future.  looking from a distance, some can argue that that is a good, efficient  utilization of resources, where musically rich get richer.  but if your own kids need more attention than is given,  chances are that you will look at it from a personal perspective and that unless help is provided to bring the below average to above average,  feelings will be hurt.


November 18, 2008 at 11:09 PM ·

Great discussion - and we've not really touched on the debate that one can be "brilliant" technically, but that doesn't mean to say one is "brilliant" musically...

November 18, 2008 at 11:12 PM ·

be happy when  others consider you brilliant technically.  in fact, be very happy:)

brilliant technically means a lotto of 10 mil.  musically, 100 mil.

whatever, just take it!

November 19, 2008 at 04:15 AM ·

Wow!! What a lot of responses!!

"learned everything he needed on the violin (technique-wise) from the age of 10 to 14. As long as the child has the basics by the time they are 9 or ten it takes four years to learn the technique to tackle anything. They start early and by the age of 9 or ten they have the fundamentals of position, play in all the positions, play in tune, can move the bow evenly etc..."

so do you think that an adult beginner could do the same thing, if given the exact same potential as Sarah Chang?

Al, I have seen that video on youtube - I was glued to the computer screen!! I loved what you said about a good teacher paired with a good student inspiring each other! what a wonderful thing!

I wonder if people can really really tell a difference in the playing of perhaps 2 prodigies - one plays with that kind of heart of a musician, and the other playing because mom and dad won't give them supper if they don't. ... if music is really about connecting to emotions and all that - can we really tell the difference? I would like to think that I can...but ya never know...

Smiley, you mentioned that the real gift was desire and patience to play violin for hours and hours  true!



November 19, 2008 at 07:00 AM ·

The secret: you just need an older sibling who is also a prodigy:

November 19, 2008 at 08:15 AM ·

There is a difference in athletics and ballet, somewhere along the line someone forgot that making music is an art and turned it into a sport - great pity.

November 19, 2008 at 01:26 PM ·

I do not think there is any such thing as natural born talent! If you want something, and work for it, you can achieve it.

I think it is possible to learn something at a faster rate and become proficcient in it. I want to give an example... When I was in junior high, there was a girl who had played since age 5 and had a private lesson every week, practiced thirty minutes a day etc... And she was 13 so she'd been playing much longer than me. At the beginning of that year, she was obviously much better than me, because I didn't know what shifting was, I could barely play a scale in tune... Well, after a term, I was her stand partner and she was Concert Master. Then for the rest of the year the teacher had me on principal 2nd violins. I do consider that a big accomplishment because I was the only person playing in that orchestra for just over a year, the other ninth graders had been playing for at least 4 etc.

That is why I believe if you do work for it, amazing things can happen. I hope that when I get my new teacher (i'm working on it!) that I'll be able to work with he/she good and I'll advance rapidly again.

It is about work and time, not "super human" abilities.

Oh, and btw, Al, I have to submit a recording to the camp I was accepted to, But it's not til spring, but I'll still upload the audio of it since you wanted to hear... It will probably be the 2nd movement of the Tchaikovsky Concerto, Canzonetta; Allegro Risoluto from a Dvorak Sonata; and Presto from Sonata No.1

November 19, 2008 at 10:35 PM ·


Paul,  I@m afraid thta just isn`t true.  With hard work one can achive a very high level .  but if it only took hard work then the world would be abolsutley flooded with players of utter brilliance and this just hasn`t happened.  This argument is just not sustainable.  Hard work is just one of the factors albeit a vital one.  Checvk out the quote in Galaminas book about what it take sto be a soloist.   Can`t remeber it verbatim but after talen comes hard work and and slew of otehr factors including good luck.



November 20, 2008 at 12:48 PM ·

paul, i think it is great that you take such a strong interest in violin at your age, allowing you to devote your energy and time productively toward your goal.  if it is truly what you want to pursue, then your starting point becomes rather irrelevent.  for one, you would not have any interest doing something else anyway.  and, as you said, since if you case it is more of a passion than just interest, you can make up "lost"  time by focusing more.  i have seen it again and again, not often enough i guess, in other fields, with kids or people doing amazing things without easily discerned born talent, but come up very strong under good guidance, hard work and never-quit attitude.    good to hear that you are trying to hook up with a better teacher, something you definitely need for the long run.  in front of a better teacher, you will see that there is so much more to learn and know...

also, love to see videos:)   you can put a brown paper bag over your head if it is too embarassing :)   to me, there is so much to learn watching others play.  as i said a while back when youtube first bursted into the scene that our lives will be changed from then on, just like email, cell phones, etc.   if used wisely, it can be a great medium for students to receive feedbacks from all angles with that virtual recital,,,to be able to learn beyond your own teacher,,,to be able to take constructive criticism, to be able to take destructive criticism.... 

imo, artists in general have very thin facial skins:),,,tend to take things personally quite easily,,,which is good and bad.  putting clips on youtube may help deal with the bad part:)

good luck!

November 20, 2008 at 01:43 PM ·

How interesting!  I agree with Paul and Buri!  Hard work is a must for all but only a handful has really a special sound (Perlman, Sarah Chang, Oistrakh, Repin are really more than just hard workers!) even if everyones tries to have a special sound or should try to have one...  I couldn't say if such talent is inborn or not, I just think they are some of the vary rare ones who can materialize as well their thoughts.  (with twechnique and musical understanding)

November 20, 2008 at 02:12 PM ·

anne- marie, do you have that special sound yourself?  

i think one of the most self deceiving things is to set a limit, that some things are simply not achievable.   to think that someone else has that special sound and i may or may not have one is rather pointless and it defeats the purpose of  getting up in the morning to give it a good try.  it is like spending  all the time to put up a safety net of predetermination first instead of making bold steps after bold steps after bold steps toward one's goals...  

November 20, 2008 at 02:14 PM ·

Over the past two years I have met with a violin teacher twice a week for discussions on various topics of violin pedagogy.  I am editing a book he is writing on violin technique.  The book was inspired by his experience teaching some truly talented young players, prodigies really.  As he puts it, it has been five years since, and he is still vibrating from the experience.  Periodically we vear off into the question of talent.  What can you see in a child that identifies him/her as a true talent?  Last Tuesday he said, "OK I think I have the definition of talent." He then described the experience of working with this type of child. 

First of all, he thinks true talent  has nothing to do with fast fingers or the ability to learn pieces quickly.  There are plenty of kids with fast fingers who play out of tune or without any care for tone color or phrasing.  There are also lots of kids who read music well and memorize easily who mow through the literature with absolutely no sense of quality.  The truly talented child is patient and scientific in their approach and attentive to the details.

He thinks that the very musically talented are gifted with extraordinary intelligence, the type of intelligence that would allow them to be great physicists, or mathematicians, or engineers.  They come from smart parents and homes that nurture inquiry.  They apply the habit of scientific inquiry to the learning of the violin.  When they practice, it is not rote memorization, but rather organized exploration.  They apply their creative resources to perfecting strokes, passage work, tone production, the shaping of phrases.  The violin becomes a focus for their intellectual energies.  It is the perfect laboratory for them.  As one child put it, "The violin is never boring". 

He said the prodigies he has worked with are not like children at all.  They are like little adults, little colleagues.  They speak like little professors.  They are patient and think carefully about everything you bring to them in a lesson.  He said that music is a special language that few people really speak.  The feeling you get with this type of child is that they speak your language, that you share the same vocabulary, that you have someone with whom you can have a true dialogue.  The student is as excited by the dialogue as is the teacher.  This is absolutely thrilling for the teacher.  It provides the motivation for the teacher to pour himself/herself into the development of the child's talent. 

He said that this type of child is so far different from their peers as to be unmistakable.  Furthermore, in his experience, children develop at different rates, but in a prodigy this capacity and energy for learning music in an organized and independent  way is almost always in place by the age of nine, ten or eleven. This then allows the child to acquire the technical facility with which to voice their artistic intentions in a short amount of time.  

The key is "dialogue".  It takes a gifted teacher as well, one who can enter into the dialogue with the student who craves this.


November 20, 2008 at 02:51 PM ·

wow, jennifer great writing.  glad to see some are looking at prodigies beyond a simple demonstration of dazzling playing at a young age, but into their behavior and thinking process. 

a friend of mine, an eastern indian immigrant with great work ethics and high achievement, ala, a top neurosurgeon, has a very "smart" boy who underwent an iq test in order to qualify for some sort of summer camp couple years ago.  in the iq test write-up,   the psychologist made note of this:   apparently there was a discussion after the test to go over some questions and in reaction to one question,  the kid seemed not very clear or sure about the answer, but at age 5 then, he suggested to the psychologist that when he went  home later,  he would look up several books to double check  the answer.   

the psychologist was quite impressed by this behavior of not knowing something but interested in or knowing where to search.  i think this goes along with your "scientific" approach with kids of that calibre.  that the brain is wired or being wired at that age to think logically in certain ways, applicable to musical interest or any other interest for that matter. 

November 20, 2008 at 03:48 PM ·

Jennifer - that's a fascinating post.  Please keep us informed when this book is going to be published, it definitely sounds like a "must read" for anyone interested in the violin and its teaching.

November 20, 2008 at 10:19 PM ·

Talented  children do not always have smart parents and come from enquiring homes although if they do they are more likely to succeed  because they have the parental backup neccassary to nurture their talent. Talent is everywhere and some of the most talented can be the most difficult to teach if they come from an undernourished enviroment.I have seen some of the most talented children throw themselves at walls probably out of frustration becaue they live in an enviroment that doesn't understand them and that they don't understand the world as it presents itself to them..

November 21, 2008 at 03:22 AM ·


I certainly do not mean to imply that talent only arises in children from wealthier families.  Although, it sounds like we all agree that for it to come to fruition, requires lots of support, financial and otherwise.   

I would be interested in your definition of talent.  Could you describe the characteristics that you recognize as really setting particular young players from their peers and which you believe predict their future success as artists?  I am speaking of the exceptional. 

I believe there are many different sets of skills one can apply to music and that there are lots of ways to be musically talented.  The crux of the issue seems to be that there are certain traits teachers recognize as talent and which drive  teachers to go to great lengths to develop the talent. 

November 21, 2008 at 03:27 AM ·

Jennifer, your posting is such interesting!

Al, please don't take bad, my posting :) I never said it was impossible??? I only wanted to tell that one should always try to find this special sound and I didn't mean that it was impossible. I actually saw it like a goal that every student should have and said that if it  wasn't one's goal, one wasn't a true musician (trying to also make art) We are saying exactly the same thing!

as for myself, I don't know if it was a joke or a real question but I would say that ,as I always say on my potings and bio, I am a passionnate amateur and student and prefer letting the others juge of my playing because I consider the comments about my playing by people (ok, not my mom because moms always tell you you are good!!!!!!!!!) the only indication of my playing skills.  By the comments I have, I think people like my sound and that the main things that I want to push out of my head into my music or remained even if it is not perfect but I always want to have it better and yes, sound or expressivity  is my "little" obsession if I can call it like that.  I said in another posting that I am a strong advocate in thinking that even students have a personnality and trademarks. Of course, I try (the best I can) to apply these principles to myself too and yes, I often have good comments on things that could maybe be call trademarks.  A funny thing is that since day one, these "trademarks" were there and I did the best I could with my little beginner knowledge to make them alive.  I think your real personnality as a human is there and since you can not hide it in your violin, the technical skills you will aquire since then will always define more these trademarks who are in reality, those of your personality as a human!  Violent people must be violent violinists, passionate people must be passionate violinist, scientific people must be scientific violinists, a mixed person must be a mix violinist! The real problem is in materializing these thoughts and it will always be a ultimate enigma with many possible answers!


November 21, 2008 at 04:15 AM ·


Anne marie, many thank you for your ongoing interesitng posts. You said one cannot hide the perosna when playing. Actually,  I have found that to be untrue on ocassion.  I have atten4ed inummerbale Alexander Technique training sessions which have actually revealed the real persona rather than the facade that we all construct and which is very often all people can express on the violin.  It is -unmistakeable - when you you hear it



November 21, 2008 at 06:02 AM ·


Great post. A few extraordinary teachers I have spoken to confirm your thesis. (Violin teachers and academic teachers). They describe it a little differently than your teacher, but it goes something like this. They all say the child is "conscious" and causal in the outcome. They are not reacting as a child might, but in their area of focus such as music, they have a conscious maturity in that particular area. So they are childlike, and then switch into almost an adult awareness. The teacher all told me they forget they are speaking to a child. Truely facinating.

November 21, 2008 at 07:52 AM ·

Jennifer, for me talent is when a child or student bares his soul when he draws the bow across the string.Strangely this has nothing to do with technique or even perfect intonation ,although often talented children have very good motor control and have little difficulty grappling with the mechanics of the instrument.If one were to give a piece to practice to two students, one who was a serious hardworking student, and one maybe less commited to hours of technical practice but with an inate understanding of the music the results at the end of the week would be a technical and well polished but rather sterile product from the hardworker and an exciting but possibily messy and incorrect version from the talented student.Often a talented student takes his own interpretaion out of the realms of the printed page.Its then the teachers job to mesh technique, art and historical correctness together.A child with a supportive family will also be encouraged to put all these to task ,where would Menuhin and Vengerov have arrived if left entirely to their own devices?Then of course to actually arrive at sparkling hights requires a whole other set of marketing and networking skills which again require both the financial and moral support of the family.

November 21, 2008 at 02:06 PM ·

Janet, I think what you describe can be seen in some children from the very start.  I have noticed the same.  Some children seem to have an innate understanding of the context of the phrases within the larger piece, choose tempos that allow a piece to dance, and tend to apply all their skills to task of conveying their musical ideas.  They also tend to appreciate subtlety and rarely exaggerate gestures in an awful or tasteless way.  It is the desire for more clarity and a wider array of artistic tools that drives their learning of technique and the development of the fine motor skills required by the technique.  In watching my own son learn the violin I saw this and felt he had a special musical sensibility and a drive to express himself.  He started at three before he could even write his name, but somehow he figured out a way to handle the bow.  Now 13 years and a lot of practice and lessons later, I would say that those early indications were predictive of his later development as a violinist. 

There is so much to absorb technique-wise before it is possible to tackle the tougher repertoire without making an absolute mess of it, that the care that goes into the early training is really important.  This is where the patient, organized, curious, serious child has a tremendous advantage.




November 21, 2008 at 02:14 PM ·

"I only wanted to tell that one should always try to find this special sound and I didn't mean that it was impossible. I actually saw it like a goal that every student should have and said that if it  wasn't one's goal, one wasn't a true musician (trying to also make art) We are saying exactly the same thing!"   concur! :)  i just want to make sure little people like me do not get sold too cheap, too early. :)

November 21, 2008 at 09:38 PM ·

Al, don't call yourself a "little people" your postings are so interesting! Jeniffer I want to know more about your book when it will come out and Buri, you said that often people can have a facade when they play, but do you believe that the more the person play, the less shy he or she becomes and the real personnality comes out so to speak? Because they become more relaxed and the more someone is relax, the better the sound is (the Alexander technique is all about muscular tension I think...) Or is it that some people force themselves to play like something they have been told to do and don't try to put their two cents in it in a correct way? How ever, I am going off topic...

A nice day to all!


November 22, 2008 at 04:27 AM ·


Anne I belive that progresisng on the violin means growth as a pesron and a dissolving of the masks. Sadly it does not always happen.

AT is about conscious control of the universe from the smallest to broadest sense; making choices in every sphere of your existetnce for the greate rgood of all and the palnet. And yes,  you remember how to use your body well along the way;)



November 22, 2008 at 06:15 AM ·

I find it interesting that someone used the "little professor" dcescription of his gifted students. I was reading up on Asperger's syndrome (a high-functioning autism) a while back, and exactly the same verbage was used to describe those children. Not that great musicians are autistic, but they do seem to share certain personality traits.

November 22, 2008 at 01:09 PM ·

Yes, the above descriptions - little professor, speak like a grown up, etc.. does has similar traits with Aspergers.

November 22, 2008 at 01:43 PM ·

Hi Julianna,

I read your post and was interested because you mentioned Sarah Chang. I was living with the Chungs (Kyung Wha's family) in Seoul when Sarah burst onto the stage. Both being Korean (Sarah and Kyung Wha) it was an experience to see how the parents of these two violinists interacted together. I hope the book Kyung Wha's mother wrote "The World Is Your Stage " will be translated into english,my wife helped with the japanese translation and it was a best seller here in japan. You'll be able to find many answers to the questions your wondering about.


November 22, 2008 at 01:44 PM ·

well,  in a sense, young virtuosos are not  normal, right? :)

aspergers tend to have narrow, deep focus into something, with concurrent odd social behaviors.  even up to these days, it is not well defined or understood, at least no consensus.  probably fair to say that  a few or some asperger patients may present as little profs,,,but little profs do not necessarily suggest asperger.    not normal, but not necessarily pathological.

here is gould:

November 22, 2008 at 02:13 PM ·

Craig writes,

 I hope the book Kyung Wha's mother wrote "The World Is Your Stage " will be translated into english,my wife helped with the japanese translation and it was a best seller here in japan. You'll be able to find many answers to the questions your wondering about. 

I'd very  much like to read this book. Is their any chance a translation will be forthcoming? (Maybe we can talk Buri into translating it for us in exchange for a lifetime supply of prunes.)

November 22, 2008 at 02:55 PM ·

 Meeting of two moms sounds interesting. Just wonder how one can compare them and draw a general conclusion. After all Kyung Wha Chung is about 30 years older than Sarah Chang. Sarah Chang was born in the US of parents from the Korea that was far more prosperous than Kyung Wha Chung was born into. Kyung Wha Chung's parents, from rumors I heard, struggled with business ventures to provide enough for their kids. The country was pretty backwartds back then. Korean government prevented Kyung Wha Chung from participating in the Tchaikovsky competition which people think she would have won. The competition was held in the COMMUNIST country! Kyung Hwa Chung came to the US when she was 12 or 13, I believe. Chang on the other hand was in the US, had musician parents, a violinist father and mother who studied composition. I would think Kyung Wha Chung's parents had incomparable struggle.

November 22, 2008 at 03:11 PM ·

Hi Insouk,

Yes your correct. We can thank Kyung Wha's mother for what she did bringing the whole family out of Kaesong,North Korea under orders from Kim Il Sung that everyone trying to leave should be killed . Otherwise we would not have had Kyung Wha. I think that's the difference.


November 22, 2008 at 03:29 PM ·

so craig, forgive me for being straight forward which is perhaps a  no-no in japanese culture,,, how did those parents interact, short of reading a yet to be translated book?  :)

November 22, 2008 at 11:49 PM ·

Let's don't get dramatic here. The Chungs may have had struggles but they were well to do by the Korean standard at that time with extensive connections in the small Korean society. Their struggle I refer to is more in establishing themselves in the west, reading the right nuances and such. It could partially be why Chung ended up on the wrong side of Stern Or Not?

November 22, 2008 at 03:50 PM ·

Hi Al and Insouk,

Mr. Musafia and his discussion about Egregore a few weeks ago was very enlightening,please refer back to that thread.


November 22, 2008 at 04:16 PM ·

in that case, i appreciate the heads up.

November 22, 2008 at 11:36 PM ·

Hi Craig, that books sounds fascinating! i would love to get a hold of a copy if it were ever translated. this makes me wonder why I never learned another language - it would come in handy :)

being relatively new to the `violin world`, i hadn`t heard of kyung wah chung until your post. so i found her on youtube (God bless youtube lol) and she definitely is amazing! thanks for informing me of her.

according to wikipedia, she started learning violin at age 7, and by age 9 was playing the Mendelssohn concerto with the Seoul philharmonic orchestra!!  if thats not impressive, I don`t know what is (lol)

i wonder what grade level you must be to play that concerto...



November 23, 2008 at 04:11 AM ·

The whole phenomenon of what produces child prodigies is facinating in itself. One could say that they are "naturally talented" and have it done with. I believe it is a Divine gift that should be handled very carefully. The aspects of enviroment just as equally important as is natural interest and the child's natural ability, which all young children possess, of being able to understand complex problem solving, without over anaylizing the problem. Their minds are uncluttered with the idea of "impossible", which could account for the ideas of imaginary friends and the lack of bias and judgemental attitudes of the real world itself.  The young child is unable to know what is impossible and what is real. When one sees a prodigy in action, it is naturally amazing to us as adults, when in reality it is a very natural thing.

With all of our wonderment we can often overlook the more difficult side of genius. Mozart is considered a prime example of the prodigy model. He was carted all over Europe by his father, Leopold, who saw a great opportunity to further his (Leopold's) career and make some money in the process( Leopold was considered no more than a village musician, but he was ambitious). I do not mean to criticize Leopold for his efforts or his motives, as this would be a normal reaction of any proud father of such a child.  The times in which Mozart lived, rather like today, possessed a public that enjoys sensationalism.  Later on, all but a few who saw the child Mozart perform, all soon forgot that he was of such talent and considered him as "just another composer". Niccolo Paganini suffered the same situation, only he was not necessarily considered as a genuine prodigy. His father forced him to practice by very cruel methods that we would consider as child abuse today. These events, with or without the forced actions of the parents, happens very much today, as it did then. When the "glory days" are over, around the age of puberty, the prodigy violinist, or any child genius, are no longer considered anything usefully marketable (which is the ultimate goal of the music business) and will often give up the instrument and music entirely due to the overwhelming competition, which they had formerly not known. They are not presenting anything new to a public which demands the "new" all the time.

Some older prodigies experience what I term as "The Mozart Complex". This is a severe psychological disorder that robs them of ever being able to experience a real satisfaction in accomplishments (nusical and otherwise) later in life. Many will become depressed and turn to alcohol and drugs as an escape. Many have committed suicide. The lucky few that do survive may have a great career, and the early start and publicity is a good thing for them. This is where they will begin to experience the realities of the music business, which cares little for the person, but considers that they are only a tool for selling tickets. Sometimes the reality of the business for a formerly doted upon prodigy can be a shocking wake up call.

They could only possibly be considered a real artist if they have had life experiences that mold the interpretative ability required to perform convincingly. Young children, prodigies or not, have not aquired this until at least until they reach the age of around 30 or older. Prodigies could only be considered, due to their inexperience in life realities, as novel and unusual, and often I find myself in more concern with the question of the future of the child than the talent they possess at that given moment. Parents of such children are given a great responsibility and not all of them are prepared to handle it in a delicate and constructive manner.    

November 23, 2008 at 07:10 PM ·

IMO: Mozart while a prodigy received extensive musical training at a very early age and THEN was carted all over Europe. He could read and write music as young as children learn to read and write language. So although he was clearly prodigious, he was groomed to be. He was not a savante from birth but was born into an environment that allowed him to capitalize on his precocious temperment. So I don't see how you can say Mozart was a prodigy and Paganini was not however the point is probably not all that important. In the end, they both achieved an amazing amount due to parental intervention at a very young age, no matter if we agree with the methods.

November 24, 2008 at 02:34 PM ·

here is rex on 60 mins...interesting how he is thought to have difficulty linking emotion to his music making,,,

November 25, 2008 at 12:27 AM ·

Al, this is CAPTIVATING! A blind prodigy really!


November 25, 2008 at 03:11 AM ·

"deliberate practice" discussed here,,,

November 25, 2008 at 03:53 AM ·


its a well written article with food for thought.  Unfortunately it contains an error which cast a certain amount of doubt on the basic premise.  It claims that in the beginning a superstar in a given filed actually wasn`t able to do anything special (except focusd practice).  There are numerous exmaples in music/violnistic hisotry that prve this false.  One of the simplest is where an extremely young person displays perfect pitch and he facility to play a tune back that they have just heard. Or it might be a natural and automatic eas ewith an instrument.  Nor is it always true that a young prodigy starts at the sdame place and picks up a skill by immediatley applying focused practice.  They may acquire things very rapidly or automatically without that kind of focuse dproblem solving approach.  Things just come together for them without effort.  The focuse dpractice may cme a litlte bit later in soem isntances.  The article cannot explain phenomna such as Ida Haendal who somehow absorbed very advanced vilin skilss  before she had even picke dup the isntrument.

I often find that poeple with an idea (even one with a lot of truth in it) are cnvinced they can cram every situation and eventuality into it.  genius,  unfortunately,  is much harder to quantify or understand.



November 25, 2008 at 04:25 AM ·

perhaps there is a difference between  "superior ability" and  "highest level of performance"

fair to say we are all born with different levels of "ability",,,with a few with "superior ability".  to me, perfect pitch, ability to memorize better, imitate better, etc  are "superior abilities", aka, building blocks,,,better building blocks.   there is really no stage for someone with just a perfect pitch, well, except may be youtube:)

to reach the "highest level of performance", alluded in the article (i did not read the book myself), with numerous examples from different fields, may require certain approaches, as advocated.  

without interest, desire to be best,  environment,  time/experience, luck:),  "deliberate practice", etc,   inborn "superior abilities" such as  perfect pitch, great affinity to musical stimuli may lie unexplored.

November 25, 2008 at 04:57 AM ·


I accept the `weak version` of the theory you are postulating.;)  

Its also worth remebering that Czech guy with the really long name that even I can`t spell who argues that optimum learning is dependent on being in the flow which requires amng otehr things ,  having fun.  I don`t knw exactly what all those poor schlubs in the dingy old practice rooms at music college were doign,  but it never looked like fun to me....




November 25, 2008 at 11:23 AM ·

Hi Julianna,

Thanks for your response. You will be able to learn the Korean alphabet in a day, I did. It is one of the most logical and scientific alphabets in the world and we can thank King Sejong for that.The Japanese alphabet is more based on the chinese characters and there are two alphabets, katakana and hiragana, it's fun and worth exploring someday if you have the time.


November 25, 2008 at 12:11 PM ·

Having watched the cbs report on Rex one can only admire and applaud the teachers who take the time and have the patience and the ability to work with these sort of children. Here there are no methods or books to follow the teachers must constantly be creative and ingenius and above all be on top of their subject.

November 25, 2008 at 10:35 PM ·


Craig,  I learnt the hiragana and Katakana alphabets in under one hour using the Heisig system,  including being able to write them.  Alas,  the kanji take somewhat longer ;)



November 26, 2008 at 12:39 AM ·

Hi Buri,

With the Kanji's I don't think I will ever catch up. Even my wife can't remember them and the different pronunuciations and she's a native.


November 26, 2008 at 01:50 AM ·


I think some foriegners have a kind of fetishist talent and can do it even into the most arcane realms.  I can`t,  never will and aren`t too worried.;)



November 26, 2008 at 02:25 AM ·

"I think some foriegners have a kind of fetishist talent and can do it even into the most arcane realms."

Haha, that reminds me of an English guy a friend once introduced me to. His "fetish" was to collect the most unusual kanji to memorise them. When he'd socialise with Japanese folks in pubs and bars, he'd challenge them to a bet, something like "I bet 10.000 yen that if I give you 10 kanji to write down, you will not even be able to write down 5 of them and I will show you how they are written". He claimed never to have lost the bet once.

I seem to remember the kanji for garlic was part of the collection, I don't remember any others, though.

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