Late starter - where am I heading to?

May 25, 2010 at 06:07 PM ·

For a 40 plus age, started less than 3 years ago in realizing a unfullfilled childhood dream, I love playing violin and have been playing a lot (yes, I have a very supportive husband). I have my weekly lessons with a wonderful young man who can almost be my son; have a weekly small group playing session in the evenings and joined a local orchestra  I think I can pass grade 6 with no problem. Should I take exams at all? I won't enjoy it by seeing how my son going through it.  I wonder how far can I go? Till what age can I play?  I thought of starting learning piano so that I can at least play music until I say good bye to this world one day (still different, because I love violin, not piano).   Like to hear about your thoughts, expecially those late starters like me.  Thank you!

Replies (47)

May 25, 2010 at 06:47 PM ·

I'm 47 and just started playing violin 3-1/2 years ago... like you, a life-long dream. I plan to play until it's no longer physically possible. I believe if I take good care of myself, it's feasible that I could continue to play until I'm very elderly, indeed. My goals are relatively modest (play in a community orchestra and possibly do wedding music for family) - but I am open to other things, if the opportunity presents itself. My advice to you is to enjoy the experience, and don't limit yourself. Don't say, "I'm too old to do thus and such", just continue down the path and keep your eyes and your heart open.

As for testing, I guess it would depend on what your goals are. If you are happy playing in the community orchestra for now, and they do not require testing as a condition of membership, then why put yourself through the stress? Unless you want to satisfy your curiosity about how you rank compared to other musicians... or there's an opportunity for musicians of a certain grade level, and you want to find out if you're eligible...

May 25, 2010 at 07:15 PM ·

Why not take exams? If you find that the challenge of working towards specific goals helps you focus, then there is only good to be had.

You just don't know yet how far you can take your violin playing, so don't imagine limits. Those limits will impose themselves. You will hit walls from time to time, but we all get that. Keep going until you find a wall impassable. And then try again.

Your post made me feel like practising again.



May 25, 2010 at 08:16 PM ·

I believe Stephan Grappelli played well right up until he passed on a few years ago. I can't remember how old he was, but I think "fairly old"

I started at 22, now 57. I plan on playing until I can't hold the thing up.

But come to think of it, I'd rather be hit by a truck than not be able to play fiddle anymore.


May 25, 2010 at 08:45 PM ·

'Returner', starting again at age 55 - and learning faster than I did as a kid (by far0.  So if I am anything of a standard, you've still got at least 10 good years in you.  And I am intent on performing solo.  Yes, call me crazy - but catch me first. :D 

May 25, 2010 at 08:49 PM ·

I am 87 years old and still playing the violin and the viola every day.  Play in a local orchestra every Sat. and a Viola Quintet every Wed.  I also take a violin lesson every Fri.  Sorry I cannot tell you how old is too old to play the violin.

May 25, 2010 at 10:23 PM ·

I dont think there is an age limit, there is a story of a lady around that started in her 50's and played (and peformed) the Mendelssohn after 7 years

May 25, 2010 at 10:47 PM ·

This Japanese lady started at 60 about and played Mendelshon at her 87 or 88 birthday... ; )

(if you refer to the story often tell here).  I really don't think it was 7 years after (correct me if I'm wrong...)

However this was really extraordinairy for sure!


May 26, 2010 at 12:35 AM ·

Testing at various levels has value to young students in: 1. another incentive to prepare well, 2. some feedback and rewards, and 3. experience with auditions.  Adults can get points 1 and 2 several ways, so testing may or may not be helpful in these areas.  Do you need experience with auditions?  It depends on your goals. 

May 26, 2010 at 09:01 AM ·

I am 40 and started at age 37.....I could pass level 6 too I think so we are very 'similar' :)

I want to be like this 'japanese lady' but the concertos I would like to perform are the Bruch in Gminor (my first) and then when I am even more advanced the Tchaikowski :)

I know I WILL, I have a great teacher and the motivation and I am putting in the work, it's just a matter of time now......

you're only 'too old' when you can't hold the violin up anymore ;) (or 'too broken' :(  )

May 26, 2010 at 10:20 AM ·

 Ying, reading the replies you might have started too young,  you are now in the danger of being called a prodigy. 


May 26, 2010 at 10:52 AM ·

 The former concertmaster of the community orchestra I play in is 92 and she still plays with us, pretty much every concert, in the middle of the 1st violin section.  She enlarges the music a little bit to see it better. I want to be her when I grow up.  I'm 40+ too, I like the idea of playing ~50 more years.  

May 26, 2010 at 11:21 AM ·

 I taught a 67 year old woman how to play the violin.  She's old enough to be my grandmother and she started with me as a complete beginner.  She was afraid that it would be hard for her to learn but she wanted very badly to give it a try.  I told her we'd go at a gentle pace and make sure she learned to play relaxed and clean.  That was 6 years ago and now she is a member of a very nice community chamber orchestra and I recently attended a recital that she played for her 52nd wedding anniversary.  She performed in her home for friends and family and she played Beethoven's Spring Sonata, the Romanian Folk Dances by Bartok, Obertass Mazurka by Wieniawski and Kreisler's Schon Rosmarin.  She really pulled it off and I couldn't have been happier for her.  She's over 30 years older than you and she's going strong, she feels good, she sounds good and she swears that her violin playing is keeping her arthritis away.  The age at which you start only means what you think it should mean.  If you dismiss your doubts and practice well you will accomplish more than you even know.

May 26, 2010 at 01:08 PM ·

Dion: LOL!

Well, I regard myself as a returning late starter childhood prodigy!


May 26, 2010 at 10:57 PM ·

 I also would like to be a prodigy like you, if only I can remember where I put my violin.

May 27, 2010 at 01:19 AM ·


in such cases it is generally to be found in the fridge,  next to the prune can.



May 27, 2010 at 01:22 AM ·

Buri: that would be the poridgy not the prodigy...

Maybe get the bifocals first?


May 27, 2010 at 03:19 AM ·

I've met quite a few 80plus string players through the years in various amateur orchestras and they've all been very sprightly and active individuals.   Why should there be age limits for anything?  There was recently an article in a paper over here about a chap who made his first parachute jump, a life-long dream - he was 90-something! 

I remember reading recently that playing a musical instrument is one of the best therapies for elderly people wishing to remain both physically and mentally active in their old age. 


May 27, 2010 at 10:10 AM ·

Thats my plan - dance till I can dance no more, then play the violin till I can play no more and then its time to be no more.

May 27, 2010 at 10:40 AM ·

 Elise why stop with the violin, I've heard the double bass is a good instrument to snooze on.

May 27, 2010 at 11:18 AM ·

Maybe I should work up the viols - end up with teh double bass which could also double as a coffin...

not meaning to be morbid or anything - perhaps thinking of the movie I just watched - 'Departures'...

May 27, 2010 at 12:59 PM ·

I started at age 62 and still learning and thoroughly enjoying it...I'll never be concert  quality, but I never aspired  to be...My violin teacher's oldest pupil was 92 when he started and he's 96 now and still having lessons....It'll keep the arthritis at bay so keep playing and enjoy it  till you have to end in the pine box

May 27, 2010 at 01:29 PM ·

Starting at 40 leaves one wide open for a life rich in musical experience. One of the cellists in our community orchestra, who started at 40 is now in her late 70s.

There is an article* in the June 2010 issue of STRINGS magazine (pg. 55) that focuses on a 37 year old man who is playing in the first violin section of the orchestra after 18 months of lessons. Actually, that is "my" orchestra and he sat next to me for our last concert almost 2 weeks ago. He does amazingly well for only 18 months of lessons. He told me he started when his daughter was born and his goal is to be able to play professionally (whatever that means) when she enters kindergarten. I wouldn't be surprised if he does.


* the article will probably appear in the on-line edition in the next few weeks. It is called "Community of Strings" in the Table of Contents, and "Providing a Place to Play for All" on the heading of the article. But the orchestra is definitely not a "place to play for all," we hold auditions and the wind sections have been pretty stable and full for years - but we can always use violinists and violists!

June 1, 2010 at 09:59 PM ·

I don't think you're ever too old...and I think you should go as far as you want to, as long as you enjoy it.

Personally, I don't want to take any more tests...I've had enough tests and exams to last me indefinately...but I do work through the Graded material when I practice...just to give me a sense of where I am and what to improve on.  But if you want to test, go ahead!  One of my cohorts in our community orchestra is 64 and was taking the RCM exams...

I also started taking dance lessons for the first time in my life (I'm 48) - just for exercise.  I'm so NOT a giryl-girl - it meant stepping clearly outside of my comfort  zone.  And you know what?  I'm very glad I did.  I'm really enjoying the dancing I'm doing, and notice the improved fitness.  Good thing I didn't think I was too old for that!  The women in my classes range in age from 17 to 70...


September 23, 2010 at 02:03 PM ·

Wow, I'm so overwhelmed to read all the encouraging responses almost 4 months I posted my message " ..where I am heading to ...". Thank you all so much!  Why haven't I read the responses earlier? I guess I felt better right after posting the thougths and went straight to practice for 4 months. :)  I have pretty much decided not to take exams but keep enjoy playing, because I 've got enough internal drive, no need for any push.  As a late starter, I find my weaknesses are obviously in: sight reading and rthyme/counting. While I 'm so much enjoying playing classis music, I got started with an small expats band playing mainly folk and pop songs (Irish, scottish ...). Not mentioning I grew up in China therefore totally lacking of that type of music cells, I also don't drink beer.  'The difficulty is that there are hardly scores, and if I manage to find scores, they (guitar and mandelin)  play in different keys.   I like the challenge of playing by listening and having to adjust keys, but it is not easy.  It's so far fun to see other aspects/forms of music.  I admire also those violins played in the country music of the US.  Violinsts are fiddlers, right?  In the meantime,  I'm also considering upgrade my violin (made in MI, US, White Brothers, 1994).  My bow is also falling apart by the finger holding place.  Cheers, late starters!


September 23, 2010 at 03:42 PM ·

sure if you'd like to, why not do some piano for general musical understanding; you can just start it and see where it goes if you have the time. its wonderful that nothing has stopped you learning so far...just take it on as an additional step. yours is a success story :o)

September 23, 2010 at 03:51 PM ·

 @ Michael Pijoan – great story about your student.

@ ying jiang – you hang in there.  You can do it.

September 23, 2010 at 04:38 PM ·

Just a bit more reinforcement for the very positive stories coming through in this discussion - I started playing folk fiddle 9 years ago at the age of 63, more or less self-taught on the back of my experience as an orchestral cellist. Real classical violin lessons with an inspirational teacher started 3 years ago  this Fall, and now I've been playing violin in my local chamber orchestra since the beginning of 2010  - I'm currently playing to the 90/10 rule, btw :-).

At my age I don't feel any particular urge to work (or should it be "play"?) towards exams - I've had quite enough exams of one sort or another in my time; in any case my teacher doesn't teach specifically for exams, but as a professional violinist herself tries to instill in her pupils a professional approach to playing and practice, one useful notional aim being "would you like to hear your playing being broadcast live in a concert on the radio?".  This approach, I think, is at least equivalent to working through an exam syllabus, but is possibly more pragmatic for some.

September 25, 2010 at 12:18 AM ·


September 25, 2010 at 12:43 AM ·

Honestly, I think going to a bluegrass festival is the best thing to do.  :-)  Go listen to people doing a bang-up job on the instrument and having a blast with it.  Remind yourself of why you love it again.

September 25, 2010 at 01:26 AM ·

Veronica wrote:  It'll keep the arthritis at bay so keep playing and enjoy it  till you have to end in the pine box

That would be the spruce topped box with the maple ribs and back I think.

Oh, and you know the shape of the ventilation holes....

October 15, 2010 at 02:17 PM ·

What a great discussion!  I started learning violin last year..I'm 47 although I rarely admit that out loud!  I absoulutely love it!  It is great fun and a great challenge.  My time of wondering "how long do I have to play" and "how good can I be"  and "this is useless because I'm too old" only slowed me down.  I finally had to just completely (or at least try) to erase those thoughts and enjoy the ride.  I wanted to get advanced to quickly and that frustration slowed me down.  Once I allowed myself to take it one step at a time I progressed more quickly and I plan on playing just as long as I want to and keep learning!

I have been so encouraged by finding this site and realizing I wasn' t the only late beginner.  In the beginning I was very discouraged because so many people told me I was too old and that adults couldn't learn violin.  Boy does this site prove otherwise!  Thank you for being a great and encouraging community. 

This is my first post so let me also say Hello everyone!!  Thanks for all the tips and encouragement!


October 15, 2010 at 04:09 PM ·

to all of you 'old folks' out there, remember age is just a number.  there are many advantages, anyway, to be experienced and knowledgeable about many things.  I wil be 70 next month and have had 6 mo. of violin lessons.  I am both amazed at what I can play, and frustrated at what I cant play.  An understanding teacher helps.  You have to teach the young teachers, though, because they dont always get it.  My teacher could be my grandson, but is a wonderful violinist and is willing to learn.  It's a mini-journey for teacher and student and it has to be mutually satisfying and there must be mutual respect.  Read the book by Kenny Werner EASY MASTERY and learn to be Zen-like, focus on the moment. 

October 15, 2010 at 07:23 PM ·

Interesting that there are far fewer "violinists" who begin the instrument later in life than there are "fiddlers" who do the same.  Most fiddle sites in which I've taken part over the past 5 years or so boast a great many "late bloomers".

Myself, I'm 60 (and a half, I guess), a retired music teacher who never had the inclination to learn violin/fiddle until nearing my retirement (which was back in 2007). I started with Irish tunes (jigs, reels, that sort of thing),but quickly branched out to include some light classical themes, Broadway themes, jazz, and ultimately Scottish and Cape Breton fiddling. I'm able to read standard notation in all keys pretty much at speed (admittedly, a rarity among fiddlers). I play in two local pub seisuns every week, as well as backing up singers on occasion.  Earlier this year, I took up valve trombone to play in a local showband that gigs around the area, as well.

Musical knowledge is very much (as we teachers say) a "transferrable skill", applicable to virtually any instrument (including voice).  Musicians are quite used to "hearing it in their heads", the fundamental prerequisite to being able to play accurately and in tune.  I might add that taking up new instruments later in life is reportedly an excellent way to keep one's brain functioning at near-peak performance!  And my brain can use all the help it can get! :)

October 15, 2010 at 07:30 PM ·

I wonder if there isn't a cultural aspect to fiddling that makes it appeal to people at that stage -- whether people who get into fiddling have a cultural motivation as part of their attraction, getting "back in touch" with who they are, that sort of thing.  Being Italian, classical string playing may be filling that same need in me as an adult starter ... ?

October 15, 2010 at 08:08 PM ·

I think you should just enjoy playing and not worry about exams which are just worthless pieces of paper anyway.

If you are having lessons and playing with other people and in orchestras, what more do you need? Enjoy the music.

October 15, 2010 at 08:41 PM ·

 I have to agree with Peter Charles on this one as far as taking lessons and playing in orchestras. 

October 15, 2010 at 09:10 PM ·

Peter - people like me who had an unfortunate experience in early life and carry a deep festering grudge, need the exams and subsequent certs to prove something to those who put us down.

October 15, 2010 at 09:59 PM ·

"people like me who had an unfortunate experience in early life and carry a deep festering grudge, need the exams and subsequent certs to prove something to those who put us down."

That's a bit sad - and I sympathise. But the people who put you down are the cancers, and we should try and remember that, hard though it is.

Unfortunately life does have this habit of kicking us when we are down, and that is also why these so called superior people needed to invent exams. Life itself is a sort of exam, we don't need bits of paper. I know (because my wife teaches piano) that most of her student's parents want these bits of paper to stick on their walls.

You have to do something worthwhile like music for one reason, and ONLY for one reason, and that is, to experience the music.

A very close friend of mine played some wonderful solo piano music yesterday in the opera house - and his exam successes were meaningless, because at his age we are supposed to be dead, and yet he breathes magic into every note.

So play every note for yourself, and hope that sometimes others might also be moved.

October 16, 2010 at 06:12 AM ·

Some players (myself and obviously several above included) see playing as a goal in itself and have no need for exams and grades.  However, I think it is narrow to dismiss these - for other violinists exams and grades provide two excellent benefits: one is a tangiable goal to strive for and to demonstrate progress and the other, even more important I think, is to ensure that they are learning broadly, not just one aspect of the art.  So if exams work for you I say go for them.

October 16, 2010 at 02:04 PM ·

64 and counting ... been playing about half a year.  finally broke down and hired a teacher (half hour a week - i'd rather go long, slow distance than try to cram it all in, all at once.)  can't say as i'll ever take a test or enter a competition but might join the local orchestra if i feel i'm good enough and would enjoy stepping out after dinner for practice or performance.  all depends on whether i can improve my bowing technique, improve tone and finally learn how to read music. i think the fiddle/violin distinction is correct.  i aspire to "fiddledom" - if i get there i'll be happy.

October 16, 2010 at 07:03 PM ·

  @ bill kilpatrick

Bill you will get there sooner than you think. Learn the finger board.  I have a chart I can email you if you want it.  Learn single string scales. 

October 16, 2010 at 09:53 PM ·

"people like me who had an unfortunate experience in early life and carry a deep festering grudge, need the exams and subsequent certs to prove something to those who put us down"

This is an interesting sentence...  Today, in the "become a doctor my kid and if possible at 2 years old"...era, people tend to forget that there's plenty other things and intelligence forms than school or profession...  School is just one way that only sticks for a certain % of the population to show off their brilliance.  It is told that brilliant scientists and musicians were often rejected or not good at school.  I don't know if the poster's experiences were school related or not (and may he keeps them personnal)  but anyway one should be proud to try to reach for such a difficult hobby as violin and be convinced that playing well that instrument is definitivly something as valuable as solving equally difficult maths problems or manually perform equally difficult surgeries.  Coping with stage stress is also an art.  I totally understand one wants to get a paper in recognition of this although some can play as well and never have that assest on paper for various reasons...  I think there is mothing bad on one side or the other.  It depends on what makes you happy!

There are no ages and no time in life to do amazing things and I think society is wrong to unconsciously put us in the head that one must succeed young and in some predefined field or activities! 

Good luck to all!


October 16, 2010 at 11:16 PM ·

@Peter Charles "... not worry about exams which are just worthless pieces of paper anyway" 

I think that's a little too much of a generalization, because exam success on occasion can really smooth the path to higher things, but I do indeed get your point about lessons and playing in orchestras for the enjoyment. 

October 17, 2010 at 04:48 PM ·

@Peter & Ann:

people like me who had an unfortunate experience

I may have been guilty of using a little poetic licence in stating the scale of the issue. In essence what I am saying is my musical confidence was flattened - by passing an exam I can prove to myself a modicum of measurable ability. Or not :-)

Having got the certificate, the challenge of seeing how far one can go may well lead to more exams.

The process of exam preparation has already opened out the possibility of being able to play a lot more music.

October 17, 2010 at 05:30 PM ·

i think it can be looked on this way as well:  following a graded cirriculum has advantages; a broader musical horizon is set, there is the periodic inertia of having to learn a minumum repertoire of music, a structure is in place that is understandable and forseeable for both student and teacher, there is easier transferability if the student wishes to change teachers, the student is less likely to overlook some aspects of her/his playing if s/he knows theres going to be an objective review.   but of course, it should be tailored to the student's particularities.

but...on the other hand, my teacher and i are not following a specific structure; she addresses my shortcomings with different etudes, scales and work on musicality through some op. i take everything quite seriously without the need to sit for an exam and i'm the only person i wish to please (through also satisfying my teacher of course). i think for people who do not have to have music as a salaried profession, there is very little to prove to anyone including oneself.for myself,  its a pleasure to work on a nice lyrical legato...not a point-in-the-making.

so it depends what works for you.

October 18, 2010 at 10:20 PM ·

 I have just taken up the violin in the past few weeks and so have not really had the chance to join the to do or not to do exam debate. For what it is worth the only comparison that i can make is that for almost forty years i have played the guitar, over the years on the occasions that I have played, I have been able to bring tears to the occassional eye (unfortunately this has been the last stages of desperation after the booing and throwing of objects and not because i'm any good) however the times that others have enjoyed my playing have made any studies worthwhile. Having said that when playing for my own enjoyment, the execution of one exquisite note or passage can be worth a thousand qualifying accolades. If I in the future am able to produce even infrequent excellence on the violin i will be happy. Backed by exams or not. I guess it comes down to what as individuals do we want from our ability to play.

October 21, 2010 at 06:07 PM ·

Here I thought I was a late start, starting at 21.  I've just picked up a violin a couple of weeks ago, and absolutely love it.  I've NEVER been a music person -- I listen to music, I like the way it sounds, but up until a week ago I couldn't tell you the difference between an E and an A.  

I'm a very logical, realistic person which is probably why my love for music on a more appreciative level never really formed until after hearing David Garrett play.  I absolutely love playing my violin now, and my goals currently are to successfully go through Palladio and Smooth Criminal without any screeches or mess-ups.  So that's what I've aimed myself to do!

Anyways, now looking back through these posts, they give me a bit more inspiration on looking towards the future and my violin playing and less looking at the past and regretting to pick one up sooner. 


Christopher Loyd

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