April 30, 2009 at 08:16 PM ·

I'm fairly new to violin, and I don't know anyone else to plays other than my instructor, so nothing to really compare against.

I was wondering what you think is reasonable progress for whatever periods of times?

For taking one lesson a week, what would you expect of someone who's been playing:

1 month?

2 months

3 months

1 year


I've been playing for about 4-5 months now, and I think I'm moving along fairly quickly (for an adult beginner, anyway!), but I'd like to have something to compare with.
I'd like to know what teachers are expecting from the majority of their students, as well as individuals experiences while learning. What techniques/songs should I have a handle on by this time?

(and yes, I know 'everyone's different blah blah blah', I'm just asking in general ;) )


Replies (42)

April 30, 2009 at 08:40 PM ·


this question is often posed by adult beginners and in many ways it`s quite sensible.  It is perhaps part of adults skills in management,  evaluaiton and feedback that children are not so good at.  IE keeping tabs on things and adapting as needed.  Or it may be helpful in self motivation.

Nonetheless,  I woudl personally prefer to see it adresed basically he context of the teacher studnet relationship where it doesn`t een need to be direct.  Presumably your teacher will communicatie with you about how things are going?  This is just a personal quirk of mine but once one starts comparing with some kind of standard within a given time frame then one is moving out of the experience of the violin in the now and things creep in which don`t need to be there.  Only your are learning the violin for you and how you are doign is a very personal thing.  And particlalry with adults there are so many other factors such as work,  learning to release tension (possibly job related) and so on that it is impossible to make more than the wildest generalizations. Unfortuantley these are taken far too much to heart on many an occasion. 

I can give you an example which is an ideal situation.  It may be irrlevant to you.  A gifted adult female just turned thirt.  Yaers of listenign to her mother sing as a professional but no formal musical training aside form the rather good basics you get in a regualr Jaopanese school.  Practices three hours a day for three years.  Has a clear goalto play in a fairly high level community orchestra. She achieved the goal of playing in the orchestra (in fact she is embarasisng them;)) and can play Saint Seans 3rd concerto.

That is an extrme. but after three years with a good teacher and consistent daily pracitce (even just a few minute sis more importnat than nothing)you shoudl be able to do very well in a community orchestra of a decent level,  take part in satisfying chamber music and play soem solos if you wish although many adults find this a litlt etoo stressful.

If you want to look at a progresison of technique then check out the ASTA levels which you can down load.  But I just keep thinking the same thing. How long you take to get anywhere is not importnat as lomg as you are doing it right and it is making you happy.



April 30, 2009 at 08:53 PM ·


I just answer the question of where you should be in 4-5 months, based on students of mine that maintain their interest, practice daily, and have supportive parents. 

In general, by then a student who's on the right track will have solidified their bow grip (well, maybe "solidified" isn't the operative term...), and will be able to draw a nice sound on each string with no scratching. He/she will have good posture. They'll be able to read/name notes on all 4 strings, and understand half, quarter, and whole notes. They'll start to have a basic concept of intonation. Beyond that, it's really difficult to say--ability levels are so variable. I would also add that he/she would be able to give a complete harmonic analysis of the first act of Lohengrin, and write a fugue using the octatonic scale.


April 30, 2009 at 09:07 PM ·

I'm also an adult beginner and asking myself the same question.  I'm also asking what I can do to get better more quickly and reduce the learning curve.

I've noticed that I'm getting better at some things than others, so not all skills are improving at the same rate.  This may also be caused by spending more time practicing the things I'm better at because I enjoy them more. 

April 30, 2009 at 09:50 PM ·

This may also be caused by spending more time practicing the things I'm better at because I enjoy them more.

Hi Nick,

That is a natural tendency that most people have, but unfortunately, it is not the path of greatest (fastest) improvement.  If you want to improve (I think this applies to anything, not just violin), you have to push yourself in ways that are difficult.  It takes discipline and a strong desire to improve. 

Whether you are working on a solo piece or an etude, you should spent at least 70-80% of your time working on the difficult parts.  In some cases, it might be just a single measure, or just 2-3 notes.  The natural tendency is to gloss over those "tough" spots and rejoice in the beauty of the easy parts, but if you want to improve, you have to do the exact opposite. 

April 30, 2009 at 10:55 PM ·


>They'll start to have a basic concept of intonation. Beyond that, it's really difficult to say--ability levels are so variable. I would also add that he/she would be able to give a complete harmonic analysis of the first act of Lohengrin, and write a fugue using the octatonic scale.

As you can see, an experienced teacher like Scott can give a good general indicator .  I don`t diagree . Its just that with adults,  as Scott has pointed oput,  the variables are so diverse.  teh stduent I mentioned in my first post had no problems at all with intonation from the word go.  I have no idea why and I`m not going to look the weorlds largest gift horse in the mouth!

I usually have my six month students completing the score of Schubert`s Unfinished which then then play in the style of unaccompanied Bach while banging a triangle with their feet. As you can see I have a far greater classical orientation than Scott.  He live s in Chicago.  What did you expect?



April 30, 2009 at 11:40 PM ·

I use the Suzuki books in my teaching, so progress in those books is the "benchmark" I use. Because that progress is so variable, I have chosen to not have recitals, especially since some of my younger students could embarass the older ones - and I din't want that to happen.

There is no place you "should be." I've been playing all my life and although I may play better than many people, there are also many people who play better than I do. It is like that for almost all of us, and it will continue to be. We practice to improve or just to not get worse (still do - every day).

I have seen adult students take as long as the 6 or 7 year olds to get through Book 1 (that is about a year or more). But I have also had an adult (who was on vacation and taking a lesson a day make it through book 1 in a week.

With weekly lessons the best I have seen was an 20-something woman (with a musical background on sax, clarinet, and singing) get into Suzuki book 6 in 10 months. That's the best I've seen. I would say that with much less musical bacground equally good adult progress would be to get to the Vivaldi in Book 4 in the same amount of time.  I think we are looking at about 2 hours of daily practice to make this kind of progress. I also had a teenage cello student who made similar progress at the beginning.

But in my experience everyone eventually hits a "bump in the road" that slows them down and that they have to work around (or over, or under, or through). They just hit them at different places - and some hit more than others. The bumps are often the result of bad habits (including wrong thinking), some so subtle that even the teacher can't  hear them or even see them in muscle definition until the student encounters a "bump in musical requirements."

I also teach cello - and at the level of Suzuki books 1 - 8, the progress on the two instruments is about the same. Differences occur with the music in books 9 and 10, where the cello becomes more difficult - mainly for physical reasons of reading additional clefs and having to learn to play using the left hand very differently (in thumb positions).

My experience teaching piano players to play a bowed string instrument has been that there is often a kind of disconnect between what they do on the piano and what they need to learn to do on a violin (cello, or viola). They have some piano habits that must be overcome when they play violin.

If a person really learns to read music (on violin) while playing in Book 1, I think it should be possible to work through book 2 in a short time (even a day) and book 3 pretty fast, too. Then things start to slow down as "higher position playing" is required. Of course, this is kind of wishful thinking, things don't usually go together that well on all required fronts (technique (especially bowing), intonation, reading) at the same rate - but sometimes.


May 1, 2009 at 02:50 AM ·

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell states that 10,000 hours is required to achieve a professional level in any endeavor.  To put that in perspective, it is like doing something 3 hours a day for 10 years.  He makes the claim that 10,000 hours is almost a universal constant that cannot be overcome -- even for very gifted people.  When looking at very successful people, Bill Gates in computers, the Beatles in music, Bobby Fischer in chess, they all had put in their 10,000 hours before they reached world class stature.  Actually Bobby Fischer is the only known exception to the rule, he became a Grand Master after about 9000 hours of playing chess, but hey, he was a prodigy.  And even for people that are not so gifted, if they put in 10,000 hours, they still reach a very high level of achievement -- that is, there are not many cases where someone put in 10,000 hours and did NOT achieve a very high level.

I don't know if the above is entirely true, but Malcolm Gladwell certainly makes a compelling case in his book.  So, on days when I don't feel like practicing, I think about the 10,000 hour rule.  That is a heck of a long time, but as Confucius put it, every long journey begins with a single step.  I'll usually get my violin out and play it for a while.




May 1, 2009 at 03:01 AM ·

 In Japan, common wisdom says that the Noh puppet master will take 10 years to learn the basics, 10 to become advanced, and another 10 to master the craft. And that's just for a freakin' puppet. Violin will take about 4 times longer.

Hey Stephen, I don't live in Chicago. I live in a pink house on a fault line between the Cascade and Klamath systems.

May 1, 2009 at 04:08 AM ·

Where was I before today's practice session and where am I at its conclusion...I figure I'll master the violin if I live long enough. So, too, winning the lottery

nopity.gif No Pity image by TGrosjean

May 1, 2009 at 04:56 AM ·


>In Japan, common wisdom says that the Noh puppet master will take 10 years to learn the basics, 10 to become advanced, and another 10 to master the craft.

Of course they do.  How long can you keep raking int he cash?  DOn`t take NOh for an answer.



May 1, 2009 at 06:04 AM ·


I knew you'd have a yen to answer. 


May 1, 2009 at 02:23 PM ·

It's not just that everyone is different blah blah.  It is also that there are a lot of skill sets involved, and your progress in them is based on native ability, background, comprehension, instruction, attitude/personality, and time spent practicing productively.  And, as someone has just noted, you do not progress in all of them at the same speed.

I had three months of lessons with my first teacher, so that is a convenient point for me to talk about benchmarks at.  When I finished with her, I had just completed the first book by Applebaum, which is not as far as the end of Suzuki Book I technically, I believe.  As a "graduation" exercise in my last class, I learned a fiddling tune (using two strings and playing with a drone for the first time) by rote.  I could play one or two octave scales, with accurate fingerings (correct patterns), but not very good intonation, in G, A, C, D, and F major.  I could hear when my intonation was off from the very beginning, within average levels of accuracy, but could not control it. I was struggling with bow direction, and used a device to control it for part of every practice.  I played accurate-enough strings levels (bow did not touch any string except the one I wanted) about 95% of the time.  I believe I was on my third major change of bowhold.  I was on my first understanding of the mechanics of holding the instrument and fingering - and that understanding led six months later to tendonitis.  I found pretty much nothing I played "musical."  I was frequently discouraged.

I had spent virtually no time learning to read music or doing theory, because I played the flute for six or seven years when I was a kid and I am a fluent and accurate reader.  I only had to add three notes and a couple of violin-specific marks.  I have sung all my life and have a "good ear" (although not the ear I would need to be a pro).  I am reasonably dextrous, but not well coordinated in terms of limb movement. My instructor was OK, but I would choose someone else if I had it to do again (like my current teacher, for example, who I think is quite good).  I practiced about half an hour a day for those three months, a little longer as I progressed, because standing with my arms up frankly made me tired. I have learned a lot about practicing over the last couple of years, which I had not learned as a kid, and I think I could have used my half hours more productively. 

Is that vague enough?  I think it's a pretty good example of the blah blah blah.  There's really a lot of related - and unrelated - stuff going on with playing the fiddle.  "Everybody's different" doesn't even begin to cover it.

May 6, 2009 at 02:30 AM ·

I assume the poster would like a few comparisons.

I started learning the violin last year. I've had seven months worth of weekly lessons. I've now covered 3/4 of Suzuki Book 1, three ABRSM Grade 1 exam pieces, and the Grade 1 scales and arpeggios. I can play none of these thing without occasional errors or variable intonation. I practice for an hour to an hour and a half each day. 

I have just reached the point where notes on the paper translate automatically into fingers on the strings, as long as they're not too far above the staff.

i am 68, and I had no musical experience at all prior to starting on the violin.


May 6, 2009 at 06:36 AM ·

I feel like I live on a different planet than everyone else.  My average student won't even practice 100 minutes a week.  One time, I found a student who was progressing incredibly fast, obtaining impressive skills and possessing such problem-solving acuity during his lessons that I began to wonder if maybe I'd finally found myself the prodigy I'd always dreamed of having.  I talked to his mother, who then explained to me that he practices, uncoddled, an hour every day, all year round.

That's it. 

You give me your best effort and leave the excuses at home when you come to your lesson, and I will show you how to cut your work in half and use the other half of the time you saved to push yourself further in one year than you could have believed.  The violin is a really hard instrument to learn, but I've not seen one student who went home and put 100% into the instructions I've given them without improving by leaps and bounds.

The answer to your question?  I think that if you went home with specific instructions and followed them to the tiniest detail and did this every single day, perhaps even more than once a day, and didn't cut any corners or offer yourself any excuses, you would sail past any average student, regardless of your natural ability or lack thereof.  99% of my students (whom I love dearly, mind you) simply don't try hard enough to achieve their dreams.  I'll be the first to inform anyone who tries too hard.  Haven't seen it yet. 

May 6, 2009 at 06:35 AM ·


I would try for you. Perhaps they are just too cold or something.



May 6, 2009 at 06:40 AM ·

Your'e right, actually.  I have a theory.  I honestly think that due to three cold, rainy summers in a row, everyone's simply failing to thrive.  It's completely affected the community.  I'm not kidding.  We need to start a summer string camp in Hawaii.

May 8, 2009 at 05:26 AM ·

A few months ago I started asking my instructor for a defined practice structure each week and it's reduced my frustration quite a bit.  No idea if I'm getting any better, but I suppose the reduced aggravation is worth it.  

May 8, 2009 at 06:02 AM ·





May 8, 2009 at 07:46 AM ·

love the caps, buri, and now i will switch the gears and write only in lower case. 

you know all that money you give your violin teacher?  it is not simply so that they can tell you how bad or how good you are when you play for them.  a good teacher is paid to continually assess your strengths and weaknesses as a violinist, analyze your learning style, consider your time allotment for practicing, and know your general rate of "digestion", so to speak.  from that, they should help you figure out reasonable goals, both short-term and long-term, and give specific steps toward meeting those goals. 

if you've got a teacher who writes down specific objectives for your week of practice and you choose to ignore those specific instructions and do your own thing (or not practice at all), you are shooting yourself in the foot.  makes me want to pull my hair out when i've go a student like that.  i feel like they don't trust me to lead them where they want to go, and then they come week after week and complain that they can't get any better.  it's one thing if you don't understand.  if you don't understand, speak up, and keep asking questions until you do.  don't leave your lesson without a clear idea of what you need to do for the week.  but if you ignore your teacher's wonderfully thought out objectives, just know that you are now paying for a babysitter who also happens to play the violin.

i apologize, do i sound like i'm repeating myself?  oh, that's because i'm a violin teacher.  i've said these things a hundred times already this semester.


May 8, 2009 at 08:57 AM ·

Oh, by the way Dawn, I promise I didn't hijack your thread.  I hear your question, and these thoughts I've written are just what come to mind.  You wish to compare your progress, and this is a very difficult thing to pin down, since there are as many wretched ways to play Vivaldi A minor as there are virtuosic.  My students fall into two categories: those who follow instructions and  practice and those who don't.  This is the defining characteristic that determines the long-term success of a student.

That, and love for the violin.  Love covers a multitude of sins.

May 8, 2009 at 01:32 PM ·


Emily is having a touch of the grumpy poos at the moment...



May 8, 2009 at 02:33 PM ·

Sorry to continue to hijack...

Emily raised an interesting point about goals and meeting students who really do their part of the bargain, and what the job of the teacher is..

Do you have "dreams" for your students? Dreams, meaning long term goals, not just  week by week, but longer term. Like when you meet a student who has potential and works hard, do you have a goal, like if you continue this rate of hard work, I would like you to progress to XXX level of competency by XXX years ? Or is it impossible because by doing such long term goals, you have to have a personal interest in the student, and most teachers don't do that?

Am I making sense?


May 8, 2009 at 07:27 PM ·

Dreams for my students?  Of course.  In order to be a good teacher, you really need to care about their well being and future.  Although I'venever had kids, I imagine that it's a wee bit like parenting.  You want to see them grow up and make good decisions and learn to teach themselves.  I invest a lot of thought into my students, and when they finally get something or reach a landmark, I'm very proud of them--not even in a selfish way.  Being a generally self-centered person, this is actually one of the few instances where I am genuinely happy for that person's sake and not my own ego.

Does it hurt when they don't practice?  You bet!  It's like leading a sick horse to water and watching it refuse to drink even though you know if it doesn't, it's going to die.  If you don't practice, you will eventually give up.  If you do, you will eventually thrive.   Simple as that.  And I can't stand quitters.

Perhaps I need to insert a little competition into my teaching methods.  It seems that a lot of violinists--including myself--find motivation through being better than other violinists, but I haven't set my studio up like that.  I could say, "Oh so-and-so played this piece last year." or "So-and-so practices an hour a day," or "So-and-so learned this piece in three weeks." 

What do you think?

May 8, 2009 at 07:50 PM ·

start a group

May 8, 2009 at 08:00 PM ·

I think - and I truly am not trying to be snarky, but I keep hearing it that way no matter how I write this, so please excuse me - I think you sound like you teach kids, and not adults.  And the OP is an adult.  Without discounting your very reasonable irritation with students who always say "It sounded better at home!" or "Why oh why can't I play this yet?" I really think a different approach is more appropriate for an adult student.  That approach takes them on as a partner.  You are still teaching them, and no one disputes that you know more about the violin than they do.  But they have a lot of experiences that they bring to your relationship that makes the "do it my way and thrive" approach less appropriate.  You can tell them that advancement is directly related to practice - and that there are better ways to practice.  If it was me, I would ask if they would like to hear some of those ways.  I might even suggest that they try them to see which were valuable and appropriate.  But that is it.  It is their problem, and you cannot solve it for them.

I currently trust my teacher to know how I am progressing with technique, what my most pressing problems are, and how I might address them.  And she makes suggestions to me about how to practice problem passages.  But I also come in and tell her how I've been practicing and what problems are bothering me and where I think I need help.  Because I'm there with myself while I'm practicing, and I know what my goals are, and what I struggled with, even if it is currently in respectable shape, and I know how much energy I can give this pursuit any given week - none of which she knows.  And I do not think I'm in a timeless relationship; in a few years I'm going to have a different teacher - or no teacher at all.  And by that time I better know for myself how to come at my technical issues.

May 8, 2009 at 08:32 PM ·

Oh, no, I teach adults, too.  One in particular gives me the impression that I'm expecting to pass through an oak tree as though it was a field of grass.  She has lots of questions, so we spend most of the lesson discussing.  I respect a person who needs to know why we do something the way we do it, and I admire those who like to experiment.  But, for instance, when I tell them the bridge is on backward and fix it for them, and they come back the next week with it flipped around again, saying it's "easier to play this way", but they haven't worked on changing the way they are holding the violin, I do get a little anxious.

The problem happens when they pick a song that is too difficult and want help with a certain tricky bowing or fingering, and they ask a question that requires knowledge of about three other skills we haven't gotten to yet, I want to explain that we're wasting time unless we work on this in a logical order.  So I give them three steps that will get them working on the source of the problem about the question that they had, they go home, dink around on that song that's too hard, come back, and ask the same question the next week. 

Of course, teaching an adult beginner is going to be different than teaching an intermediate or advanced adult.  Your opinions and suggestions as a student become more valuable the more you've been learning your instrument.  I love it when students begin thinking for themselves and solving their own problems using the problem-solving skills I've helped them cultivate.  But I think adults will do themselves a favor to "become like a child" when learning a new skill from scratch. 

May 8, 2009 at 08:33 PM ·

Who's paying for their lessons?   (And I ask in the hopes that there is some value in imagining a rational consumer).

May 8, 2009 at 08:57 PM ·

I'll answer that with another question: what are they paying for?

At our last lesson, I asked my student if she trusted me.  She said, "Of course; I wouldn't be paying you for lessons if I didn't!"  This made me feel better, so I thanked her, and then with a smile, I urged her to try the exercises I'd written out for her this week.  I hope she does.

I don't think there's really a way for you to understand how I teach without  getting into a lot more specific scenarios.  For the sake of the privacy of my students, I have to refrain from offering more details.  I wish you could actually take a couple of lessons with me, and maybe you'd get a better idea of my philosophy of teaching and learning.    

May 8, 2009 at 09:04 PM ·

I can understand children not wanting to practice, but if an adult is paying for their own lessons and failing to practice... that's silly.  Might as well just play some Guitar Hero a few times a week.  (No disrespect to the Guitar Hero players.  I'm quite horrible at that as well.) 

I practice about 45-60 minutes per day, but not consecutively.  I also record my playing occasionally and revisit it from time to time to see if I'm getting any better. 

May 8, 2009 at 10:34 PM ·

What get's me......... Is that they pay for lessons and put out no effort???? I have seen music majors like this and wonder why in the heck are they there?

Only the shaddow knoooooooooows!

(Insert cartoon)

May 8, 2009 at 11:07 PM ·

Dawn, it's difficult to gauge each students progress. The most important thing you can do for yourself is to practice consistently, every day.   Listen to what your teacher tells you, don't be in a hurry to learn new things before you have mastered the basics.    If you have trouble remembering things during your lesson then either write them down during your lesson or record your lesson so you can listen to it while you are practicing at home.


Emily, I think the mind set of an adult is the main barricade to success.  Some adults can become the child-like student very easily and do as they are told by their teacher and progress.  But I wonder if those adults are the minority vs majority.   I could see the very frustrating challenges of trying to teach someone who thinks they can do better without your advice.  Which then begs the question, why are they paying for lessons?  Few adults can take criticism well. 

I try to be a good student based on the experiences the teachers on this forum share.  To learn you have to be open to being taught.   :-)

May 8, 2009 at 10:45 PM ·

 Emily, I don't think it's such a good idea to compare your students. I have a friend whose teacher (a very fine and famous fiddler) does that---talks about his best students, tells her what his other students do---and all it does is make her feel intimidated, like she'll never be as good as the other students are. Maybe it would work differently with children, but I think children feel that way too---they always try to measure themselves against others, and because there will always be someone who is better than they are, they will find themselves lacking. The instrument is intimidating enough without the competition aspect!

I wish I had some constructive suggestions for you. I have another friend who has the same teacher I have, and this friend sometimes doesn't get to practice much for weeks, but she goes to lessons anyway and she says they always find something new to work on and that it's always fun. If I find out any specifics about that, I will surely post and tell you!

May 8, 2009 at 11:21 PM ·

No, I don't think it's a good idea, either; I was just being a little facetious.  :) 

Dawn, I have an older beginner who started lessons in January and practices a decent amount, perhaps 100 minutes a week.  She reads songs in open string keys without slurs fairly decently, can play Twinkle by sight or by ear, has a consistently good bow hold, and pulls a nice, clean sound out of her violin with a very straight bow stroke.  This is about what I would expect of a student of her age and effort level.  But she had a pretty good sense of musicality to start with, such as a sense of pitch and rhythm.  Don't know if that helps you any. 

I would expect this same student to be able to do various slurs, open string scales in thirds, and begin to solidify low second-finger patterns by the end of next year.  We would also begin vibrato and speed drills.  It may not sound like much, but she will also understand all the theory behind her finger patterns and key signatures, be able to sight read at the same level that she plays, and play/compose by ear.  We will be playing simple Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, and Schubert duets as well.  And everything she plays will sound very nice and in tune, which is the rewarding part.

By the end of her third year, she would be shifting confidently, reading in key signatures that require low first, high third, etc., and be working on simple student concertos.

By the end of the fourth year, she would graduate into her first real concertos such as Vivaldi A  Minor, be able to play three octave major scales, be working on double stops, and the later Wohlfhart etudes.  Kreutzer maybe after that.   I would recommend she join the community orchestra and feel confident that she could hold her own on some of the easier violin parts by major classical composers.  She would need to be practicing an hour a day to keep up with this work load.  More would be nice...

I don't know, I just kinda made all that up out of my head.  I'm going on a run now, because it's beautiful outside.  I do hope I've been a help to this thread and not a hindrance! 

May 8, 2009 at 11:31 PM ·

You are not a hinderance.  A great asset!

May 9, 2009 at 12:46 AM ·

May 9, 2009 at 01:31 AM ·

Is there something wrong if a ... adult pay for lessons and don't want to put efforts but accepts the consequences of his or her choice?  Some want to progress very slowly and only do violin because it looks kind of zen... However, I find it stupid and teachers should priorize every serious student but if they have a few places left, would it be that bad?  If they want to put money in your pocket and don't care about doing it for nothing, well it's great for you! 


May 9, 2009 at 03:07 AM ·

Here's my story:

I was a (total) adult beginner in violin, but used to play piano (up to a pretty high level) when I was a kid. I've been playing violin for 1 yr, 4 months in total. For the first 5 months, I was in a group class, followed by private lessons ever since.

I followed a series of method books, followed by the Bach double concerto, then started Suzuki book 6 about 2 months ago. Also started something from a Bach Partita. In the middle of book 6, I got a little bored, and started the Paganini Catabile and the Mendelssohn Concerto a few weeks ago.

Granted, I do practice, on average, 2 hrs a day, 7 days a week (at least in the last year or so). This is definitely because I pay for the lessons myself. It was pretty easy to not practice as a kid when my parents were paying!

May 9, 2009 at 06:55 AM ·

Well, good for you, Mandy--you're definitely an exception, not the rule.  Please feel free to join my studio any time.

May 11, 2009 at 08:08 PM ·

I rested on this question over the weekend, but I still want to speak up for the adult "adult learner".  I'm a new violinist, but really a quite respectable teacher of adults.  And I should say that much of this is based on what I have seen in various discussion on this site and on personal experience, not just on Emily's contributions to this particular thread - this is not a criticism of your teaching which, as you point out, I have not experienced in person.

There are things about "being like a child" that are absolutely appropriate for any learner, regardless of their age: being fearless, having no preconceptions about how to do something, taking errors in stride as simple information about something that just didn't work as you expected it would (rather than as a personal affront), being open to instruction and willing to accept that another person knows (much) more about something than you do, being anxious to try things different ways, practicing an activity intently because it is innately satisfying to improve.  There are other childlike (childish?) qualities that are utterly inappropriate for an adult learner: letting another person take responsibility for your progress, accepting more than the occasional "just because" as an answer to your questions, doing anything you do not understand, pursuing a complex recreational activity like playing the fiddle to please any person other than yourself, failing to speak up if you know that a proposed activity is in some way not suitable for the way you learn, practicing to satisfy your teacher rather than yourself.  It is a waste of experience and knowledge to fail to engage the grown-up part of an adult learner.

I realize that not all adult students are really grown-up.  Some of them have never taken responsibility for their own learning, even if they have multiple degrees.  And some of them are "yes-butts" - they tell you their problem, you give them a possible solution, and they say, "Yes, but...." and tell you why your idea won't work, no matter how many ideas you come up with.  They prefer to have their problem than to implement a solution.  But it seems to me that your first approach to any adult student must be that they are a grown up learner - and then you fall back if that is not true.

I have an idea that it might be worth taking a little time to try to encourage adult students to be more adult learners, rather than trying to make them more like children, given how many of the qualities of children are not very desireable.  What you want - and what they need - is for the student to be committed, engaged, informed, responsive, and reflective.  If they already are, there should be no problem as long as you respond to their strengths and let them use them.  If not: One good way to encourage these attitudes is to let the students see them modelled by others.  If I had a violin student who did not seem engaged or self-motivated, the first thing I would do is ask them if they ever read this site.  There are enough beginners here intent on improving that the persona and the concomitant activities should be clear to even a rather casual reader.  The second thing I'd do is recommend in the strongest terms Stephanie Judy's "Making Music for the Joy of It", which is full of inspirational material for the amateur.  (And by "recommend in the strongest terms" I mean I would own a couple of copies I loaned out.) 

The third thing I would do is get my adult students together with each other - not comparing them, but giving them an opportunity to join a community (and that is another use for this site also).  It is a lonely pursuit to study an instrument by yourself, rather than in a band/orchestra. You can end up in a situation where there's no one but you and the teacher, and that is neither a good model for learning, nor a good model for why you learn an instrument.  It's not your job to create friendships, but it can't hurt to open the way to let people meet - not just in the stress of a recital, but as an ongoing activity.  Coffee klatch, special workshops, booksharing club, whatever.  If they play together, any benefit that comes from comparing them to one another will occur naturally, whether it is realizing that you are falling behind or realizing that you are ahead and you want to stay there.  In addition, most people will devote more effort to learning complex tasks if they participate in a communitiy of shared interest (video games being a prime example).

My thoughts.

May 11, 2009 at 11:18 PM ·

Yes Marianne, there are many things that have to be similar but also different with adult learners.  Of course, we all have to start with things like "Twinkle" but an adult will probably interact different. More "consciously" than an average under 10 student.  It doesn't mean contredict your teacher as many seem to think in various thread.  But it is more a very respectful sharing info session than a I'm Ms the teacher and you are the going to do everything I tell you and don't dare suggest anything.  (this is a caricature, of course!)


May 12, 2009 at 01:03 AM ·

This is an interesting discussion!  I teach both children and adults.  I enjoy teaching both--I find children don't think enough when they play and adults often think too much.  I try to get my adult students to relax and focus on only one or two things at once instead of tensing up and worrying about every little problem at the same time.  It's important for most of my adult students to know WHY I want them to focus on certain things, and generally they ask a lot of questions.  When a child asks a question about something advance, more often than not I'll say, oh, that's something you will learn when you get older.  For an adult, I'll quickly cover the general information behind it (vibrato for instance) but say, please don't worry about this now, we will get to it when you are ready, and perhaps list the skills they will need to master first.   Usually they are satisfied by my answers, and if not I'm always happy to go further into it, while making it clear they aren't ready to physically do it yet, but I'm more than willing to give them as much information about it as they want. 

I'm probably just going on and on now, but I just wanted to chime in :) 

To the OP--you shouldn't compare your progress to anyone else's, what's most important is that your teacher and yourself are pleased with your progress.  It's not a matter of what pieces you play or how quickly you are progressing through method books, but how much you are enjoying playing, and how well you feel you can play the pieces you do know.  The first few months/years of violin are so important in that you can set up wonderful habits for the future or you can shoot yourself in the foot by setting up bad habits that will take so much longer to first.  I wish you the best in your studies, and congratulate you on making it this far!  Playing violin is often much harder than people think it will be, but also so rewarding.

May 12, 2009 at 04:10 AM ·

@Emily, you sound like a fantastic teacher, where can I get a turn?


I always try compare myself, I am a very competitive person. But I do not take it to heart if I am not the better of the two, in fact I find myself in awe - pretty much if I see somebody better than myself - I imagine myself practicing to get to that level.

Now I don't know if thats being disillusioned or not - personally I don't think it is. I see it as a better option then being upset.

I've been playing violin for over 1 year and 4~5 months now, though I have only been taught by a private teacher for 7~8 months now. And I'm happy to say I'm going for my Grade 4 exam in 4 months.

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