Do Adult Beginner Violin Virtuosos Exist?

April 12, 2009 at 06:39 PM ·

Does anyone know of any adult beginner violin virtuosos (and when I say adult I mean 21 and over)? Do they exist? If so, what age did they start?

Replies (74)

April 12, 2009 at 07:22 PM ·

Wow, hope you find one!!!  I also wish it could exist!  The most exciting story I've heard on here was about a woman in Japan that started at 60 and succeded in playing Mendelshon concerto at 88. (youtube it if you don't know this concerto!) Now, I don't know every detail, was it only 1st mvt, the old thing???  But some said it sounded nice and this is extraordinairy in itself.  Does this qualify for what you call virtuoso or do you mean a virtuoso like Chang, Bell, Hahn, Midori, Heifetz etc?   Well I never heard of a world wide soloist who started this late but wouldn't be cool!!!  I would run to his/her concerts!  This woman's story is nevertheless quite impressing...


April 13, 2009 at 12:41 AM ·

There is a scientist named Charles Ptashne who started as an adult and is probably as close as adult beginners get to virtuouso status.  Google his name.

April 13, 2009 at 03:43 AM ·

Mark Ptashne.  Charles Ptashne (as a phrase) returns no results.

April 13, 2009 at 05:13 AM ·

I know adults have lives, kids, careers, and countless other adult things to occupy their time, but you'd think more of us (especially younger adults) would be up to the challenge. If any adult could accomplish this, they would surely be a trail blazer...

And yes, Anne-Marie, when I say virtuoso I mean the likes of Hahn, Mae, Bell, Chang etc. as well as the example of the lady you gave.

April 13, 2009 at 07:26 AM ·

From Tom Holzman
Posted on April 13, 2009 at 12:41 AM

There is a scientist named Charles Ptashne who started as an adult and is probably as close as adult beginners get to virtuouso status.  Google his name.


Very interesting! Have you seen this guys collection of instruments?

Two Strads and 2 del Gesus 

April 13, 2009 at 01:04 PM ·

Bill - thanks for the correction.  Anyhow, he is the one I know of.

April 13, 2009 at 01:36 PM ·

There is an up and coming star by the name of "Ami Ward."  C'mon Amy, we know you are up for the challenge.  Make us proud :-)

April 13, 2009 at 02:01 PM ·

I had teachers tell me it was impossible for a person to really develop "virtouso" technique after the age of 22 or so.  Supposedly this has to do with the capacity of development of the human body.  Muscle systems, etc.  None of these teachers had a degree in biology or human anatomy or Kinesiology of course so I don't know if this was just heresay or simple observation on their part. 

I don't really know about "beginner" adult virtuouso's out there but certainly there are innumerable adult virtuoso's out there who were not prodigies.  I mean, just go through the line up of any major symphony orchestra and I would bet any one of the section violinists could play you the concerto of your choice, especially with a minimal amount of prep time.  It is pretty staggering really. 

April 13, 2009 at 02:59 PM ·

Not every violinist in the world subscribes here to  I have met several people that have non musical careers but are just as devoted to the violin or viola as any who release CDs.  Great people!  Being a star is just not their gig!  But they can play Bach sonatas & partitas as well as Pagannini's caprices, and more.  Everyday next door people at that!


April 13, 2009 at 03:07 PM ·

If by virtuosos, you mean someone soloing with orchestras and getting paid to record, then I don't know.  But if by virtuoso, you mean someone who has progressed to the point of playing major repertoire, then sure..... 

April 13, 2009 at 03:20 PM ·

My dad started playing the instrument when he was 18.  He is now a professional orchestra-musician. I do not think any soloist have started that late- most of them were child-prodigies. But I know several professional violinists in orchestras as well as teachers who have started at a late age.

April 13, 2009 at 04:24 PM ·

If you look at the profiles of the musicians in major US orchs, the violinists started before age 10.  While I have not looked closely enough to be sure there are no exceptions, this seems to be practically universal here.  The latest starting age for an international soloist I have ever found is Ricci, who started at 9.

April 13, 2009 at 05:26 PM ·

Carter Brey started cello at age 12.  He did pretty well.  :-)  (He did start violin at nine, though.)

(He is principal cello of the NY Philharmonic.)

April 13, 2009 at 10:25 PM ·


personally I don`t think the cello examples are thta immuinating.  There are probably quite a few around who started what would be considered very late compared to violnists. David Soyer of the Guarner was another case.   I honetsly think the cello is a much more natural and accesible isntrument in many ways although I do recognioze ther eare othe rproblems that have to be overcome;)

There are certinaly a lot of adult players and late starters who achive ian incredibly high stadard inculding playing a fair bit of standar rep including what may be regarded as some of the most difficult works around. However,  with all due respect none of these really qualify as virtuosos by my defintion.  It is not enough to be able to play a small part of the repertoire well.  Just for my defintion,  a virtuoso has a huge repertoire and is constantly expanding it which they are capable of doing in literally hours with major works like the Schoenberg. That is why the Queen Elizabeth copetition has a major new work to be learnt in a weke or so to really turn the screws.

A virtuos not only has this incredible repertoire flexibilty,  but they ca produce consistently high results year in year out flying fromn country to country on a daily basis.   Finally I also recall Heifetz talking about having a real technique meant.  His defintion was essentially that they could pick up any unfamiliar work in the -virtuouso - repertoire and rea dit through to a level that is a good facsimile of a cocnert performance for the average listener. 



April 13, 2009 at 11:45 PM ·

I think there aren't enough adult beginners to be able to know for sure.  Out of a huge pool of kid starters only a small percentage become ultra hot players.  The pool of adult starters is so small that if it was the same percentage for them, you might never see one.  I don't' mean that to be encouraging.  The best way to read it is if you're an adult (or a kid) don't' count on becoming a virtuoso, if by virtuoso you mean one of the best players there is.  Exactly the same goes for players in the NBA, say.  You can deal with it if you manage to figure out where the value really is, though.  For real I mean, not giving yourself a consolation prize.

April 14, 2009 at 12:21 AM ·

A virtuoso is not simply someone who can play a few big concertos with an orchestra and get paid. A virtuous on an instrument is one who has MASTERED every aspect of the instrument, can easily perform the most difficult passages (and do them musically) and is totally without inhibition in front of an audience. A virtuoso would have NO technical weaknesses of any kind. I doubt there are any such musicians who began as an adult, at least on the violin. 


You can't lower the bar just because someone started late, and you can't judge someone by the Bach double concerto.

April 14, 2009 at 12:47 AM ·


>A virtuous on an instrument

As I get older I fnd myself getting more virtuous with my instruemnt.  Your comment pretty much gets to the essence of what I was trying to express a couple of posts back.

BTW I think the boring butler movie ws an adaptation of Ishiguro`s `Remains of the Day.`  The book was boring too.  You`d have thought that in the movie they could have had Indie Jones swinging through a window and setting fire to a few cravats.



April 14, 2009 at 01:16 AM ·

I agree with those definitions of virtuose.  However, in order to address the question posed by the original poster, it is helpful to understand his/her definition, and what was really being asked.

April 14, 2009 at 06:05 AM ·


>when I say virtuoso I mean the likes of Hahn, Mae, Bell, Chang etc. as well as the example of the lady you gave.

Your right Dottie.  However I think the first part of this is very clear and corresponds exactly with what Scott offered.  The second fudges the issue because the 83 year old lady is a completely differnet kettle of fish irrespetive of how wonderfully impressibe her achivement is.



April 14, 2009 at 08:45 PM ·

If I understand something from all the comments here, I could say that even in professionnal musicians, the % of real virtuosos is very low so, like someone told here, imagine how low the chances are to find one amonsts adult that are busy with adults things....  They are really low!  But does this stops an adult from hoping to do some nice repertoire, no absoluntly not become some have done this even if they were not virtuosos. But this is a different story...


April 14, 2009 at 11:17 PM ·

An adult should strive for originality.  So many child prodigies are being produced that it seems the classical music world is uniform.  To make it now, you need to be virtuosic, great in your own way--in a sense completely new to the world.   Who thought the "chop" would become a must know amongst Jazz and rock violinist.  Maybe it started out with someone making what was then a horrendous sound by playing too close tot he bridge, and the decided, "Hey, I am going to turn this into a technique." 

As I always say, only those with an open mind will succeed nowadays.




April 15, 2009 at 12:03 AM ·

I'm not sure I'd agree that (number of prodigies)=(lack of originality).

I'm also not sure that originality above all else is desirable in classical music. When I really like the way a certain artist plays, it's not because he/she is original, it's because their interpretation sounds inevitable; that the piece just couldn't be played any other way. A natural turn of phrase, and a great sense of timing--these things trump originality any day. Players that strive for originality tend not to appeal to me. Some people may like Kremer's individualistic interpretation of Bach--I don't. I sounds neither natural nor inevitable to me. I don't want to hear Kremer, or any other artist. I want to hear Bach.

April 15, 2009 at 12:10 AM ·

I think Anne Sophie Mutter's vibrato is original!  It is what sets her apart from other violinists.  I think her interpretations are controversially original.  I think Peter Schikele (PDQ Bach) is quite orginal!!!  I think the group, Igudesman & Joo, are amazingly original, mixing comedy and classical music together. 

Once again an open minded person will be able to see many ways to be individual and original within the "boundaries" of traditional classical interpretation and techniques.



April 15, 2009 at 12:16 AM ·

And, yes, I think there are a lot of people out there who sound quite uniform when compared to trying to search out those who do not.  Only a few out of those many prodigies will make it and that is because they either had connections and money or they had an "interesting factor."

April 15, 2009 at 01:37 AM ·


Jasmine,  that`s very interesting.  I find ASM quite mainstream and uncontraversial. That doesn`t mean her sound and artistry isn`t unique.  Just that it doesn`t step outside the bounds of what the instrument and music can take,  which is basically the point that Stern makes on I think the firts pahe of his autobiography.    I would be interested to see you point to a very specific example of what you consider originality in her playing.   Perhaps for me an example of `originality` might be saomehting like Joshua Bell writing his own cadenza for the mendelssohn.   Admittedly it only owes its originality to the fact thta I doubt if mant player shad actually considered deviating from thta sicne it always seemed so integral to the work itslef.  I doubt if it will catch on but suppose players then felt this wa scarte blance for always composing a cadenza fro the Mendelssohn.  To a boring fart like me that would probblay be a licence to mediocritize rather than art.

PS OH, I`m veyr sorry. You did give an example. I misse th firts @post.  No I don`t agree her vibrato is original .  I think she makes creative us eof it which sets it apart from the mainstream.  But I don`t thinkk that`s originality per se.  Incidentally,  in some ways I consider her vibrato one of the weakest links in her excellent technique.  It is on ocassion too slow and thus becomes an audible intrusion.  If you criteria for vibrato is an integral part of the overall sound then she does lose this on ocassion.  Incidentally this does tend to be inherited rather than somethign that can easily be altered.



April 15, 2009 at 04:44 AM ·


Don't put yourself down--you're a fascinating fart.


ps agreed about ASM's vibrato, which I don't find terribly original. Now N.Salerno-Sonnenberg's vibrato is another matter....

April 15, 2009 at 04:51 AM ·


>Don't put yourself down--you're a fascinating fart.

Scott,  thanks for the compliment.  Is it possible you are confusing `being` and `doing` though?



April 15, 2009 at 12:03 PM ·

 I just learned on the Net that the Jazz virtuoso Karen Briggs (the black violinist dressed in red in Yanni 'live at the acropolis' show,  This is a MUST SEE) has started at 12 in school with only 15 min per week of lesson...  Ok, 12 is not 21 but it is very old for playing violin at her level... truly amazing!!!


April 15, 2009 at 01:09 PM ·

There are any number of fine fiddle-players who started in their teens or early twenties who record, play gigs, make all or part of their living as musicians, and live a lifestyle focussed around music & dance. Sue

April 15, 2009 at 07:52 PM ·

From Tom Holzman
Posted on April 13, 2009 at 04:24 PM
The latest starting age for an international soloist I have ever found is Ricci, who started at 9. 
Just for the record Ricci started learning age six NOT ten.
If anyone examines this subject in detail neuro science has proven the brain makes most of it's important neural connections by age seven. 


April 15, 2009 at 11:47 PM ·

Not violin, but it is known that Carter Brey - Principal Cellist of the New York Philharmonic (and previously an established soloist) did not start playing the cello til he was 12 and only decided he wanted to concentrate on a career in professional music at age 16.   That's pretty impressive in my book!

April 16, 2009 at 12:58 PM ·

Rosalind - his accomplishments on cello are quite impressive, but you should realize that he started violin much earlier, at 8 or 9, if I recall correctly.  So, he is not someone who simply started playing his first string instrument at 12.

July 21, 2009 at 05:15 AM ·

Rosalind, earlier in the thread it was mentioned that although Mr. Brey didn't start cello until 12, he had started violin at 9. And 12, although it's on the old side to begin an instrument, hardly qualifies him as an adult beginner.

My own answer to the original question is a simple--no. I have never heard of a violinist who had no childhood training, who began from scratch after the age of 20, ever achieving "virtuoso" ability. In the interest of covering my backside I should define "virtuoso" as carefully as possible: not someone who has managed to learn a few concerti rather well, but someone who has attained complete mastery of the instrument, can learn basically anything in the repertoire quickly and fluently, can perform anything in his or her repertoire under high-stress concert-hall conditions (don't get me started on my recent 100-degree-Fahrenheit Paganini debacle), etc. As far as I know, that level of mastery simply cannot be achieved unless one has spent almost one's entire life training for it. The development pattern of the human brain is one main contributing factor, the sheer amount of time required to build the necessary skills is another.

July 21, 2009 at 08:20 AM ·

I agree with your definition Mara, and I thought the answer was obvious especially since most adult begginers are self-taught, that is....have not recieved any formal instruction.

How could it be possible for them to learn the Bach sonatas and partitas?   

July 21, 2009 at 11:49 AM ·

Henry, where did you get the idea that most adult beginners are self taught?  I'm one, and I have an excellent teacher.  All of the of the adult beginners I know or have communicated with are studying with teachers.  I don't think your statement is entirely accurate.

This also begs the question ... how many child students will become virtuosi?  There's a handful a generation that achieve that level of mastery (as defined by Mara).  There are hundreds of thousands of children across the world studying the violin.  There are maybe less than 10% of that who are picking it up as adults, may even be less than 1% ... I have no stats on this.  In any event, the odds of ANYONE achieving virtuosity are not great to begin with.  So naturally, for those studying from childhood, the odds are far more in their favor of achieving it than those picking it up as adults, merely because of the sheer numbers of them if nothing else.  That does not mean that a beginning adult CAN NOT achieve it. 

But seriously ... how many really want to ... child or adult.  And by want to I also include willing to do the work to achieve it, not just some vague idea that it would be cool.  And how many, child or adult, would have the innate ability.  Not very many.  If all it took was starting as a child and practicing every day, the word "virtuoso" would be meaningless. 

IMHO of course ...


July 21, 2009 at 12:08 PM ·

I agree.........not most. But a very small number of adult begginers are self-taught......:)

July 21, 2009 at 12:08 PM ·

One adult starter is of course Terje Moe Hansen, professor in Oslo and in Malmö. A splendid virtuoso and a great teacher.

He started playing when he was 20.

July 21, 2009 at 09:21 PM ·

I personally think wether be able to become a virtuoso has nothing to do with physical age as a biological problem.

The problems I see are first of all, when you're 20, you have friends, schools, and relationships. There are so many things to disturb you from comparing when you're 4. Secondly, you are probably studying in college or university pursuing your non-violin career. Third, you don't have connection what-so-ever. People won't like you, and think you should be playing the same level as those 20-year-old prodigy. They don't care if you're adult beginner or late beginner.

A friend of mine started violin when he is 16, he won the high school competition 3 years later by performing Beethoven Violin Concerto first movement. He pursuit violin for a couple years and able to play anything. However, without much connection, there is no way he can parachute in the mid-way. There are TONS of prodigy who can play the same level as him. He then quit the playing and has career in another field. He still teaches violin occasionally though.

July 22, 2009 at 01:18 PM ·

Mattias - do you know if the violin was the first instrument Hansen played?  I wonder if there is something about his background that we do not know.  I am also not sure he would fit the definition of virtuoso that has been offered, and, although he may be very good, like Ptashne, I suspect no one would mistake him for Shaham or Hahn.

July 22, 2009 at 03:08 PM ·

Henry, I don't know any adult violin learner that are self taught!! But I must admit, I honestly don't know a whole lot of adult beginners...

July 22, 2009 at 03:27 PM ·

However, the definition of virtuoso is not Shaham or Hilary.

There are many virtuosos out there with a different sound and way of playing.  Leila Josefowicz is a virtuoso, but I would never mistake her playing for Shaham's or Hahn's.  That doesn't disqualify her as a virtuoso. 

There are many extremely virtuosic players out there who are not recognized or famous, but they are virtuosos.

Terje Moe Hansen is a virtuoso with a great reputation and teaching method.  He does not sound like Hahn or Shaham, but he is still a virtuoso. 

And even if he had learned an instrument in the past, to progress on the violin in 3 months time to a point that allowed him to be accepted into a music school is extraordinary--musical past or not!

I hope that Prof. Terje is a "true" late starter.  You go boi!!!

July 22, 2009 at 03:25 PM ·

A lot of college age music beginners are either self-taught or using the internet as a learning tool.   That has increased in recent years because, well, some college students are broke so they don't want to have to pay the extra expense of a music teacher.  Secondly, this is the online generation.  Many college students, in particular, are using the internet for everything except breathing!!

Almost all of the non-music major, amateur musicians I met in college were teaching themselves to avoid the expense of getting a teacher.  Busier students enjoyed the convenience of internet learning.  Self-teaching is not that prevalent right now, but it will be especially with the internet around.




July 23, 2009 at 12:50 AM ·

Absolutely!......And *some* adult beginners are earning a living, that doesn't leave much time for practise. Unless of course they have a solid support system in place then it might be possible for them to reach virtuoso status, and in that case they don't fit the criteria. I noticed that Mr Hansen was born on the same day as N.Paganini...........well my birthdate is on *..........................* and it is the same birthdate as*............................*, strange that didn't help me become a *virtuoso*? What a sham, there is nothing new on the that web page, everything has been said before.


PM Rolf:........well here's one more that you know now.............:))

July 23, 2009 at 06:12 AM ·

Tom - he is a virtuoso in the sense that this thread mentions virtuoso. He did indeed start the violin at 20, and he can play just about anything written for the violin, in tune and with a good tone.

Are you asking about his musicality? That is subjective, and OT for this tread.

July 23, 2009 at 02:59 PM ·

"I find ASM quite mainstream and uncontraversial. That doesn`t mean her sound and artistry isn`t unique.  Just that it doesn`t step outside the bounds of what the instrument and music can take."

Thank Goodness for that!

Anne-Sophie Mutter's:playing is very recognisable, which suggests there might be some originality there. I wish I could play like her.

July 24, 2009 at 01:59 PM ·

Ilya Grubert says "If a pupil has not mastered Kreutzer, Fiorillo, and Rode by the time he is 20, it is too late."  (The Way They Play Book 9)


"...a great number of violinists should stop tormenting themselves in the hope of becoming soloists."

Love these books! J


July 24, 2009 at 02:32 PM ·

Jonathan,t he question was not are there any soloists who began as adults.  The question was in reference to there being any virtuosos who started as adults.  I know many virtuosos who are not soloists!!!

Becoming a soloist is hard for an early starter, so in the career sense, I will agree that it will be much harder for adults since the system is catered to the success of younger persons.  For example, there are no pre-college divisions for ages 21 or over!!

I have been reading up a lot on Britain's Got Talent sensations, Susan Boyle and Paul Potts.  They both let a lack of self-confidence and extremely low self-esteem hold them back from pursuing careers.  Before BGT, they thought, "Well, I love to sing, but I'm too old and unattractive."  BGT gave these two people with hidden talent the chance to shine despite their age and "roughness around the edges." And of course, there is no doubt that Susan Boyle and Paul Potts are not the best singers in the world, but they are working harder than most, learning and being given the chance to improve!

Now, I know that's a totally different ball game than violin and the classical world.  But I only bring Susan and Paul up because I wonder how many adult violinists are extremely good, but are afraid to show their talent because of a lack of self-confidence, a fear of competing against ones much younger than them and more attractive than them.  Because, of course, in the entertainment world, youth = attractive!  Also, the system is so focused on youth (as it should be) that any "dreaming" adult would feel quite inferior, confining themselves to their bedrooms or offices.  In plus, teens and adults are implored to take their heads "out of the clouds" so often, that soon there is no room left in the "maturing" mind for "unrealistic" and "silly" dreams.

Of couse all I said is hypothetical, (opinion, in theory) as is the notion that an adult could NOT become a virtuoso--or soloist!! The impossible happens everyday people.  So think before you speak or you might be swallowing your words someday, saying "Oh, he (or she) showed me." 

You go boy (or girl)!


July 24, 2009 at 02:55 PM ·


Don't shoot the messenger :-p I am simply giving Gruberts opinion (when the book was written...might have changed by now). But in order to be a "virtuoso" (master of the instrument) it sounds like someone must master those caprices by the time they are 20 (original post suggests 21). So my researched answer, as suggested by the virtuoso Gruberts, offers the opinion that it is "too late" for any violinist to become a master of the instrument (virtuoso) if they have not mastered those particular caprices by the time they are 20.

I also agree with what Grubert said about the soloist dream in some cases. Many violinists become disheartened when they cannot achieve that level of perfection (or simply have that freedom on stage) while others are more motivated shooting for the stars! So I suggest that be taken with a grain of salt...and maybe a shot of prune juice (what do you think Buri?). J

July 24, 2009 at 03:24 PM ·

Don't worry, I am not shooting you.  I can't even hurt a fly!!  And my mom forces me to drink prune juice everyday, so we have that covered.

I know a man who started violin at 17, and yes, it took a long time, but today that the age of 33 he finally is playing the Paganini Caprices.  He is mastering the instrument, and if he has many more healthy years, he will continue on his quest to master the instrument.  And I am sure he will!!

And I reiterate that Grubert's theory has already been disproven by Terje Moe Hansen! And I am sure countless others who hide behind the walls of their rooms and cubicles!

July 24, 2009 at 10:36 PM ·

Wow!!! Back to practices...  : )


July 25, 2009 at 01:50 AM ·


I looked very carefully through a slew of defintions of `virtuoso` and frankly it didn`t help much. At the end of the day I think it depends on wat your agenda is in pursuing the question. Jasmine has a very clear agenda (an excellent one by the way- stick to your guns) and is interpretng and selecting data according to that agenda.  

I don`t have much to offer this debate except that my defintion of virtuouso while being vague and ill defined would include factors outside the standard dictionary defintion which is basically just `consummate mastery of the instrument.`   It includes things like the abilty to go out on stage and dazzle in all the repertoire (the standard defintion suggests virtuouso works for demonstrating skill), the abilty to do this consistently day in day out around the world in the worst posisble conditions and to continue to grow as an artist.   By this defintion ,  which is bets understood by examples such as Hahn,   then those players who can play very difficult workks but do not perfrom as soloists for much of their career are not virtuosi although they are no less worthy of respect.  There is a greta dela more to being a genuine soloist than mastering the tehcniqueof the instrument.  I would also respectfully note that the late starters who strive consistently , use their heads and achive the most marvellous results (such a slearnign the caprices)are not according to my personal defintion, virtuousi.  A genuine virtuouso has such a mastery of the instrument they can sight read thiese kinds of pieces.  That is also a position that Heifetz took on the issue.   I also belive the differnece is actually rather noticeable.

Grubert@s position on this is typical of the Russian school of thought on ow to systematically build a technique.  There are plenty of examples of super soloists who have not used all these etudes so I don`t think it is a hard and fast rule.



July 25, 2009 at 02:29 AM ·

Thank you, Buri.  However, are you sure your not mixing the definition of virtuoso with the definitions of genius and prodigy? I have always, myself, defined virtuoso as technical veracity (which is physical).  In that simple definition, one can have technical veracity as a professional or not, right?  (I think virtuosity is just one part of the soloist package.  A soloist is virtuoso, musically genius, technically fearless, and business-minded--the whole package.  But those of us who are not blessed with the whole package can have parts of it such as only obtaining the technical accuracy [virtuoso] side of it, right?)

And we can get even more technical on this definition.  As the dictionary states, virtuoso is a musician with masterly ability, technique, or personal style. My personal style is making the violin sound horrible. I've mastered that.  I am a virtuoso.  HEHEHE


July 25, 2009 at 03:00 AM ·

Virtuoso, definition of= What yours truly currently is not! ;^p  I could hire myself out to scare away mice, rats, and nonpaying tenants.  Then again I could enlist and be used for Psychological warfare? hehehehehe.......

July 25, 2009 at 06:48 AM ·


Jasmine,  you are correct if you use the standard defintion-  a virtuoso is someone with a consummate technicall command of the instrument.  I have no argument with that.   I am not at all confused in my defintion though;)   

To clarify that in the only way possible for me-   if you play with the ease,  muscianship and public ccharisma of Heifetz,  Milstein,  Hahn,  Oistrakh,  Gringolts,  Vengerov ,  perlman etc then you are a viruouso.   It is ,  in my opinion , established that such players generally begin before the age of ten.  Then there are players up until around twenty who are just awesome but not really in te same league.  These ages are somewhat arbitrary but I do not belive it is the number of hours which is solely responsible  for creating a virtuoso.   Nor do I think the skills n adult brings to the table are adequate.   Just in my opinion,  according to my defintion (I am not to worried about ayone elses becuase I think it is a bad choice of label) a virtuouos of te kind I mean acquired all the tehcncial skills at a young age and later integrated them with the maturity and intelect of an adult.

The problem with thiswhole debate is the term originally used.  irtuouso is quite clealry focuse don technique and the piece stypically associated with it.  On the whole we wouldn`t say the Mendelssohn is a virtoso work or the Beethoven or Mozart cocnertos.  Therefore by my suggesting that a true virtuoso by example starts at a young age -almost- always I am sort ofbacked into a corner of saying adults can`t learn to play brillaintly from scratch. This is nonsense.

However,  I respectfully suggets that ther er really not   goingto be player sstrating after the age of 10 or whatever suddely emergin with a technique comparable with te superstars.  I am not confusing this with genius  Genius is part of being a virtuoso and is best nurture dfrom a young age.



July 25, 2009 at 03:05 PM ·


I wholeheartedly hope someone, someday proves you wrong. The world has only ever advanced (or digressed, but that's another issue) when an individual accomplishes what someone else says can not be done.

But for a lighter turn of subject, I had my prune juice today and am off to walk my beautiful rottweiler, Xheus. 


August 4, 2009 at 02:15 PM ·

In my opinion, i think that learning violin at a precocious age doesn't mean that you will succeed to become  a virtuoso violinist, a world-wide recognised violinist, famous violinist. Well, I do believe that some people still can become a virtuoso violinist even though they started violin or any instruments like at the age of (9-12)?It's really a fallacy that people think that genius (for violinist)are so called 'genius' because they started violin at a young age and thus, becoming a fully-matured violinist with advanced fingerings ,etc.I've got a friend who started violin about the age of 10 , now he's playing Sibelius Concerto Op.47 in D minor with full confidence at the age of 15. Thus I do not consider learning violin or any other instruments at a precocious age could '100%" make you to become a world-wide violinist, a violinist that is well-recognised by the public.

August 4, 2009 at 02:15 PM ·

In my opinion, i think that learning violin at a precocious age doesn't mean that you will succeed to become  a virtuoso violinist, a world-wide recognized violinist, famous violinist. Well, I do believe that some people still can become a virtuoso violinist even though they started violin or any instruments like at the age of (9-12)?It's really a fallacy that people think that genius (for violinist)are so called 'genius' because they started violin at a young age and thus, becoming a fully-matured violinist with advanced fingerings ,etc.I've got a friend who started violin about the age of 10 , now he's playing Sibelius Concerto Op.47 in D minor with full confidence at the age of 15. Thus I do not consider learning violin or any other instruments at a precocious age could '100%" make you to become a world-wide violinist, a violinist that is well-recognized by the public.

August 5, 2009 at 12:49 AM ·

I don't know if there are critical periods in brain development that would make it impossible for an adult beginner to progress to the point of being a true virtuoso like Heifetz. But as a practical matter, I think most adults simply don't have the time. If you have to earn a living outside of music and want to spend time with your family, it's going to be tough to practice 4 hours a day for years on end.

Adult students also generally don't have the same opportunities as younger students. Many summer camps for advanced students are limited to high school or college age students.  A lot of competitions and training orchestras have an age limit of 30.  And I wonder how seriously an older student would be taken if they wanted to study with the top teachers, who could guide a student to the highest levels and have the connections to help them along in their careers.

Assume for the sake of argument that a 25-year-old could study for 15 years and at age 40, play as well as an 18-year old who started at age three. Suppose they both play well enough to be considered for admission to a  school like Juilliard or Curtis. What are the odds that a top conservatory would accept a 40 year old freshman?

I do think an adult beginner can learn advanced repertoire. I'd love to think they could reach virtuoso levels.  But realistically, I think it would be almost impossible.

February 25, 2010 at 04:16 AM ·

Hi there

I've been thinking about this myself and I'm going to give it a go.  I"m 45 and have just started violin lessons.  I'm in Australia and will be doing the AMEB gradings ... I can read music and have played another instrument in the past but violin is a new thing.  I've found a teacher that I hope will be on my side and not tell me that it can't be done.  I've started a website plotting my progress ... can I tell you about it?  Maybe I can inspire others to do the same.  I mean, why not even TRY  - if it's in your heart to do something fantastic just give it a go.

xxx Roxie

February 25, 2010 at 07:13 AM ·

Good on you Roxie! Yes, good idea to whiteout those fingerings in the Suzuki books. And have a look at the AMEB syllabus for graded pieces and mark the grade for each etude in the books. And it's important to have a good teacher, you'll learn much quicker than reading it in books. Check out Pofessor V on utube for some introductory lessons.

I began the same journey about 35 years ago, had several lessons, and I remember telling one chappy specificaly that I did'nt want to be a 'concert performer', I think mainly because I was afraid of the amount of work he might give me, but secretly...... I DID!  Another chap I meet told me to continue teaching myself how to play the violin. So I did and I'm happy with what I have achieved.


February 25, 2010 at 10:28 PM ·

Hi Henry, that's pretty cool :)  so are you now doing what you wanted to do back then? 

And thanks for the AMEB tip.  I'll work with my teacher on this ... I'll have to get a copy of the current syllabus and see what things lurk in the lists.  This is sooo exciting you know !  I hope others will do the same and follow their secret dreams.

... Imagine Humanity if we were all doing what we love !!!

xxx Roxie

February 26, 2010 at 03:46 PM ·

... Imagine Humanity if we were all doing what we love !!!

If world was like this, we wouldn't have many services...  including cloths we wear, food we eat, minerals, oil, garbagge collecting etc  There is still a lot of unfairness.  For one person who succed, there are many who don't, for one rich country there are many that are poor or I could say for the music, to have a good one, there must be less good ones.  Society is really good to direct people in the necessary jobs by all kind of ways (sometimes nasty and disgusting).  If artists struggle, it's because our society doen't find them usefull and doesn't prone of give decent salaries to such jobs.  Oups sorry for this philosophical moment ; )

I agree so much with you though! Wouldn't it be cool if we could all do what we like! Sure it's a beautiful ideal!


February 26, 2010 at 11:43 PM ·

Interesting discussion. Another way to think about this question is, if say Hilary Hahn or Perlman started learning violin at 18, and have the same opportunity to develop their talent as when they were younger, would they be as good as they are now within comparable time period? 


February 26, 2010 at 11:52 PM ·

I don't know but my bet would be that they would be discriminate because of their age...  Many super good late starters are discriminate because of this.


February 27, 2010 at 12:03 AM ·

I started at 9 but didn't seriously start to play until I was 11... I was one of those children who thought they wanted to play outdoors with normal kids. Then I decided that wasn't for me and I took off like crazy. I think it would be fun to play with an orchestra once in a while but not all the time for a living, I think that would take the fun out of it for me. That's probably why I prefer to call myself an amateur virtuoso. Doing anything too seriously always leads me to quit.

February 27, 2010 at 03:47 AM ·

It is reassuring to know that when 'setting goals'  that they are never set in stone, especially the 'long term goals', they can always be changed at any moment. This maybe dictated by life style and other priority commitments, so no, I have'nt reached 'concert performer' status, I'm just a 'busker'. But I 'think' I have reached my ultimate goal to play the violin like a.... 'violinist'. 

February 5, 2011 at 11:37 PM ·

 I have been taking violin lessons for exactly two years now.  I believe learning anything has more to do with a good attitude and less to do with age.  However, I do feel that I have certain advantages as an adult:

 First of all, I have a high quality instrument that I inherited from my father who was an orchestra violinist and am not practicing on a student violin.  As a result, i really love the instrument as it has sentimental value and makes me feel close to my father when I play it.

Secondly, as an engineer I have a deep appreciation for the design and  am learning how to repair/make them in addition to playing..

Thirdly, I have a great teacher.  However, she was a bit biased toward child learning vs adult learning.  However, the children have spent half their childhood learning the violin and are not at the level I am after taking lessons for two years.   Sounds weird comparing my progress to the progress of children, but that is the issue is it not.

Finally, children generally quite the violin after achieving an intermediate level.  They graduate high school and focus on their prospective careers.  Few adopt it as a profession.  As an adult, I plan on learning as much as I can about this instrument for the rest of my life.  It is what I want to do during my retirement.  Really, do not know how far I will go with this, but I feel I am on the right track.

February 5, 2011 at 11:42 PM ·

 hello, stephen, i like your attitude.  i think this child vs adult is a scary monster only living in the mind of those who welcome it:)

after 2 years, how well do you play what you play?

February 6, 2011 at 02:11 AM ·

Like you Im an old child prodigy!  :D

I think there is little doubt an adult can learn violin at a similar (in some ways faster) rate than a child.  The real question is whether we can reach anything like as high a level.  Thats what remains to be proven.  We marvel when a person that started in their teens 'makes it' but I've yet to hear of a 40 yr old (for example) that becomes a concert violinist.  Perhaps its just that there is not enough time in the day (and life)....

February 6, 2011 at 03:39 AM ·


@ Thomas: Is a degree-granting program the final arbiter of knowledge? I think we both know better. :) My pleasure reading, when I do it, includes the oevre of neuroscientists Levitin and Sacks.

Scientists have speculated that there is a crucial window for learning language, which is on its last legs around the age of 13. There was one stunning example of a girl who had been basically imprisoned by her controlling father with barely any social contact until that age, at which her mother escaped with her. She was able to pick up some words and phrases but reportedly never got the hang of coherent grammar. This has to do with the phenomenon of pruning -- nothing to do with prunes, but rather with the fact that the brain is efficient and so if we don't form and use neural connections, we lose them.

I'm not going to say that virtuosity from an adult beginner is impossible, since I've defied some expectations in my own day. How much a person cares is also a factor in how quickly they learn (that's sort of a "duh"). However there is obviously a much bigger obstacle that may prove insurmountable for some; or, as some of the anecdotes in this very thread suggest, what might take a child four or five years takes ten or twenty years. Only part of it is having other serious commitments. Now here's my disclaimer: this should not be construed as discouraging anybody from taking up something which gives them challenge and enjoyment.

Comparisons to older children who nevertheless still fall within the proposed window or somebody who switched to another instrument are unfair and beside the point. My pedagogy class guinea pig classmates all made quick progress, and I myself have picked up the cello a bit (good vibrato eludes me for now) -- but we had all reached an advanced level on our own instruments, and of course it's easier to transfer similar information than it is to truly learn, as we say, "from scratch."  And also, it might be inferred from what I mentioned above, that comparing an adult who cares to a child who is only marginally invested is not entirely fair. This all is know...comparing apples to apples.

@ Anne-Marie: while most people do probably look at those types of jobs as just a paycheck, I bet there are a few who actually are passionate about not only providing necessary services, but excelling at it too.


February 6, 2011 at 10:24 AM ·

Although maybe he didn´t start   too old - at 18 or 19-  Gonçal Comellas could be almost  considered  as an adult beginner. He was one of the best spanish players ever, won the Carl Flesch Competition among others and did several recordings. Unfortunately his career had to stop due to some injury ( I think it was distony) about twenty years ago or more. Here is an example of his great playing (of a nice piece by another Spanish composer, Jordi Cervelló): 

February 6, 2011 at 10:04 PM ·

jose: wonderful music and playing, (and love the moving music line).  Thanks for the pointer.


February 7, 2011 at 12:50 AM ·

Depends what you call virtuoso.  I knew a guy who claimed to have started playing in his mid '60s who played a pretty incredible Lone Star Rag and OBS when I knew him when he was 87.  It was easily as good as any Bob Wills or Chubby Wise recording.   Believe me it would please any crowd too.   Also said he was a fighter pilot in WWII and that both of his parents died young....

February 7, 2011 at 03:17 AM ·

A strong definition of virtuoso was given earlier in this thread by Buri, and I think most of us would be happy with that as a means of clearly identifying the world's A-category players.

There is also a weak definition, in rather more common use, which is something along the lines of  "a virtuoso is someone who plays the violin (or other instrument) faster and louder than anyone else present can" – and that is the extent of their virtuosity. I think we've all come across such "virtuosi".

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