Starting Lessons: Your Decision — or … ?

January 28, 2011 at 07:41 PM ·

Discussion is wide open, not limited to violinists; I know there are violists, cellists, pianists, and others here.  And our circumstances are diverse: Some of us, like me, were kid beginners; while others were teenagers, and still others were adults.

My first instrument was piano -- this was my parents' idea.  I'd been listening to classical music -- orchestral, piano, violin, vocal -- at home since I was very small; and hearing this kind of music seemed as natural to me as walking and breathing.

But violin lessons were my idea.  Soon after beginning piano, I heard and saw a professional orchestra play at my elementary school.  Now I could hear and see in person how string players made the music happen.  I was thrilled -- and hooked.

I told my parents that I'd like to learn violin.  They agreed to this -- but wanted to make sure first that this instrument wasn't just a passing fancy with me.  It wasn't.  My piano teacher was very supportive and wished me well as I got ready to make the switch.

Replies (20)

January 28, 2011 at 07:58 PM ·

 Hey Jim, I like this thread idea! I hope you don't mind if I steal it for the Weekend Vote...:)

January 28, 2011 at 08:19 PM ·

I begged my parents for piano lessons when I was four, and sat down and practiced every day on my own accord.  I begged my parents for a violin in sixth grade when the public school offered an orchestra class.  Then I begged my parents for private violin lessons in high school. 


January 28, 2011 at 08:42 PM ·

Piano was me, from the time I was very young.  I started young and wish I had started younger, but pianos are costly.  At the time, I recall quite clearly saying that I was glad it wasn't a violin, because you have to work too hard to make every note on those!  With the piano, you just hit the lever, and the machine does the work!  Of course, the composers make up for that by just having you make twelve notes at a time, but hey ...  The steep end of the learning curve is located differently for every instrument.  I stuck with it for a long time and got quite good.

Viola was my idea as well.  It took some doing, too -- I knew I wanted a teacher, because I wasn't interested in piffling around.  Instruments demand respect and devotion; you don't pick one up casually.  Finding a teacher was interesting, though.  Over the phone, the first one sounded like she'd had 17 cups of coffee and five bowls of cornflakes on an empty stomach.  The second one almost panicked and fainted when I told her I would be learning lefty; her voice started shaking and she practically hung up on me.  (The first had problems with this as well.)  The third one volunteered for a sample lesson, and then offered "Monday the 22nd" in a month that had no Monday the 22nd in it.  I e-mailed him to ask for clarification -- nothing.  Good violist, flake.  It took four tries before I found one I work well with and like, and I'm glad I stuck with it because he's quite good.

It had to be my idea, or else I'd have given up a year ago.

January 28, 2011 at 08:56 PM ·

I started learning the piano when I was 5 or 6, and when I reached 11 I wanted to play the violin, but for slightly complicated reasons outside my control I instead got diverted along the cello route. It is only about 10 years ago that the opportunity to play the violin came along, and this was Irish and English fiddle music, which I still play. About 3-1/2 years ago I started proper classical violin training under an experienced Suzuki teacher, and a twelve month ago was sufficiently improved by that teaching to be able to move from the cello section of my chamber orchestra to the violins. 

January 28, 2011 at 08:59 PM ·

"Hey Jim, I like this thread idea! I hope you don't mind if I steal it for the Weekend Vote...:)"

No problem, Laurie -- glad you did -- thanks.

P. S.  I voted.

January 28, 2011 at 09:35 PM ·

I almost flaged the post that said " i was learning left" : ) just kidding ofcourse!! im very sorry to hear you had such trouble. being a lefty myself i know your pain. I on the other hand didnt have a choice no one would let me learn left handed. But lessons were my idea. I remember in preschool, some kid brought in his violin for show and tell. i was hooked. the bad news was, we couldnt afford lessons. BUT then when i was 9 we could and my mom was so happy to be able to afford the lessons, and the rental. It was my idea but wth the best support from my mother ever. I think you can tell whos idea it s sometimes with students.

January 28, 2011 at 10:17 PM ·

I was five when I started playing piano. I wanted to play myself and was jealous of my mother, who could play very well. She never gave me formal lessons, just let me sit down with a book, and I picked up what I could as I went along. (However many years later, I still don't play very well.) But I couldn't get the whole playing with two hands at once thing. When I was really young I played Bach's Minuet for everybody in my class but without the left hand. I think the teacher was puzzled by that. ~foreshadowing~

Then in elementary school my mom gave me a book for young musicians, thinking I would enjoy the last part, which was about the piano. But instead I gravitated toward the first part, which was all about the violin. I read and reread that chapter. I was so fascinated by it. I wanted a violin so badly but we could afford only one activity at a time (actually, we couldn't afford even that, to be honest), and mine was dance. But when my health went downhill and dance no longer was an option, I returned to that book. I asked for a piece of cardboard and some string and I copied the shape of the violin out and cut it out and taped on four strings. My family got the message. I started taking lessons at nine. From there, I needed a lot of help to stay motivated. There was a long while where I didn't play much at all, and it was only the knowledge that I'd disappoint my family and my beloved teacher that kept me from stopping.

So anyway, I've always wanted to do it myself, but I needed others' expectations to push me along until I got to a certain point. And now of course the violin is my life.

January 28, 2011 at 10:37 PM ·

"Over the phone, the first one sounded like she'd had 17 cups of coffee and five bowls of cornflakes on an empty stomach."

Janis, I hate when people catch me on the phone after 17 cups!  So I let the answering machine get it and call back when I'm prepared enough to fool them into thinking I'm sane.

January 28, 2011 at 11:00 PM ·

January 29, 2011 at 12:18 AM ·

I should have said frosted flakes.  Just a wee bit hyper ...

Or Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs ...

January 29, 2011 at 03:30 AM ·

I have no idea whose idea it was for me to play the violin in 4th grade but it was a disaster.  The teacher made each of us kids cry during every session and soon all of us quit.  But for the next two years I bugged my mom to let me learn the cello.  I had actually enjoyed playing, it was just the wrong teacher and the wrong instrument.  My mom said no to the cello.  Waste of time and waste of money.  I started hanging around the music room at school and soon the teacher took up my cause (different teacher).  He loaned me a cello and gave me lessons. This lasted 3-4 months and then the school year ended, he was transfered and I was back to square one.  I wasn't about to ask my mom to shell out money which I knew she didn't have.  So I just gave up.

I met my husband was I was 19.  His son played the guitar and was talented.  Don and I often talked about how nice it would be to be able to play an instrument.  We both felt it was something you did as a kid.  He wanted to play the guitar, me the cello (of course).  Fast forward 22 years.  My husband and I remodeled a bathroom for clients last year.  They are both members of a bluegrass / folk music band.  Dick has played guitar most of his life but his wife, who is in her 50's has been learning the fiddle for only 4 years.  In fact, most of the band members are in the over 50 crowd and have been playing their chosen instruments for less than 5 years.   I also have two friends who recently started taking violin lessons in their 40's.  Dick convinced my husband to buy a guitar and learn to play.  Afterall, how many lives do you have to do this?  We are now good friends and Don and Dick meet often for lessons and jam sessions.  About the same time my husband decided to get a guitar, he turned to me and said "you are going to learn the violin".  BUT I WANT TO PLAY THE CELLO!  "but cellos and guitars don't accompany each other well".  So I pulled up many YouTube clips of Yo Yo Ma and James Taylor.  He still wasn't sold.  He argued that the violin is more sociable, easier to take places and fits in with many more types of music.  I decided that since I have a budget, a violin is cheaper to buy than a cello.  So for now, I am learning and enjoying the violin.  Someday, I will get a cello!

January 29, 2011 at 06:33 AM ·

 It's a bit of a funny story, actually. Um, I was starting 6th grade, and in the second to last class of the day, I happened to be in music class. I'd played violin for a period too short to really be considered in the 3rd grade, but I had no interest in serious violin playing. A messenger from the orchestra director, Dr. Jurjevich, came in to tell anyone who played violin or viola or cello to go to her room, and from there was one of the smallest, most important decisions I've ever made. I decided, "Hey, why not?" And I went along. There's not much to speak of from there until about 7th grade. I started taking lessons with the 3rd chair first violin of the Louisiana Philarmonic, but wasn't a very good student. I procrastinated and never practiced. Then, in 8th grade something interesting happened. I listened to Introduction et Rondo Capriccioso, and that was the spark that lit what what is now an inferno. I couldn't stop listening to this piece- I thought it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard, and decided that I HAD to- not wanted to - get good enough to play it. Well, one thing led to another, and now I've decided that I'm going to go to college for music, and be a professional violinist. And as a testament to the progress I've made, at the beginning of 9th grade, I was playing Seitz concertos, and now, in the middle of 10th grade, I'm playing stuff like the Viotti concerto no. 23, Preludium and Allegro, the Bruch concerto in G minor, and soon the Rode concerto no. 7 in A minor, and every teacher I've ever had is very optimistic about my future potential.


Oh, and just to be clear, my parents are lawyers, and I was originally planning to be a physicist.

January 29, 2011 at 12:21 PM ·

Susan, get yourself a cello! You deserve it. Nobody should have to wait that long to get their heart's desire. Don't let anyone else decide for you. Even if traditionally Bluegrass is not played on a cello that is no justification to not get one. You can play Bluegrass on an Accordion or an Urhu if you want. I'd do it!

I wanted to play the violin since I can remember. There was never a question of me not playing the violin. My twin brother and I both wanted to play but since there was only one violin in the house (my Dad's full size) they had to choose. My parents knew that I had blinders on and all I saw were horses and violins. So, they chose me. They made the right decision. But, I had to learn on a 4/4. It wasn't easy but I did it and today play in a symphony orchestra. I, of course, have a different violin now. But, I kept my old whiney violin anyway for nostalgia's sake. One of my earliest memories is running into my Dad's arms and crying every tear I had almost hysterically because my violin teacher told me I was too young to learn how to read notes. I even have a letter I wrote to my Dad in purple crayon after I broke my first string. Nobody bothered telling me that could happen so I thought I was in big trouble!

January 29, 2011 at 01:01 PM ·

wonderful stories - as much about why you started as about first lesson (which is really even more interesting).

I can't remember when I started - playing the violin was just something I did as a child, like riding a bicycle you start with a tricycle back in time immemorial and evolve into it.  I was encouraged by both my father (who played it as a child) and mother who went through a jewish classical music childhood - but played the piano.  I was fortunate to have a school with a strong focus on classical music and equally good teachers although that meant I did not get private lessons.  My first lessons were actually on the piano - I enjoyed plonking on the parlor piano and when my mother heard that she whisked me off to a private teacher.  Unfortunately she chose one that would hit your fingers with a ruler if you played the wrong note.  Which rapidly cured me of playing the piano.

Fast forward umpteen yrs... My best friend reached a birthday milesone and realized she had let the most important thing in her life, music, be replaced with all that other time waste and bought a new flute.  Well, that got me thinking and I dug out my old violin.  I've told the tale elsewhere so no details here but after a while of playing literally dozens of pieces I realized I needed help.  I went to a summer camp and met a wonderful violinist and teacher who played first violin in the resident quartet.  I begged her for lessons and started with one very 2-3 months or so.  One thing led to another and now I take weekly lessons with a young violinist on her way to a performance career.

February 1, 2011 at 12:41 AM ·

Thanks, everybody -- enjoyed your input a lot.  In case you haven't seen it, there is more feedback at Laurie's 1-28-2011 Weekend Vote feature, where 77% of voters, at this writing -- nearly four of every five -- report that starting lessons was their idea.

February 1, 2011 at 03:27 AM ·

Like you, piano (my first instrument) was required in our home, so my parents' idea; but violin (my second instrument) was my idea - started at age 17!

February 1, 2011 at 06:53 PM ·

I started Piano at age 8, pretty much at the direction of my parents since they bought a piano for my sister. The logic was " we payed 600.00 (in 1968) for that piano, you're going to learn how to play." To this day, I can't fault that argument, and appreciate the "push" I received.

Decided on my own to start violin, at age 42. Took about a year to find the best shoulder and chinrest combination to minimize back/neck pain. Teacher sometimes has to give me a break if a piece has alot of G string playing......I think she gave up on telling me to bring my hand "up and over" the violin neck more.........

Anyone know of any "Stretch exercises" for the left arm? 9 years later isn't making things easier.....

February 1, 2011 at 08:24 PM ·

Arnie, just get that elbow as far under the bridge as you can!  There's your G-string stretch: with you arm in playing position, move your elbow as far to the right as you can.  Hold, release.

Lessons were my idea, although not a novel concept in our family.  First flute in grade school, added violin in middle school, took up oboe, and added English horn in high school.  My parents just smiled, said "OK" and figured out a way to beg, buy, or borrow instruments and find affordable teachers.

I was so lucky to grow up in a time and place where the local public schools had incredible music programs.  I've often said that the man who taught orchestra in my high school is the single best teacher I ever had, any subject, kindergarten through college.

By the way, even at eight when I started flute, I did all my own practicing, without supervision, nagging, etc.  How about the rest of you?

February 1, 2011 at 08:50 PM ·

I started when I was 9 years old. I asked my parents if I could take violin lessons - not because I wanted to perform in front of people, but because I couldn't imagine anything more beautiful than the Beethoven Violin Concerto, and I just had to play the instrument. I still feel the same way.

February 2, 2011 at 01:02 AM ·

With the exception of taking up trombone in Grade 6 (what I really wanted at the time was clarinet, which I eventually learned, to some extent, in adulthood), pretty much everything I've learned musically throughout my life was the result of my own decision, motivation, etc.   I'm an only child, and neither of my parents played instruments at all.  Piano was out of the question: my dad worked two jobs just to make ends meet. Eventually started out with a ukelele (age 10), quickly followed by an old WWII-issue guitar from the attic (age 11).  It was pretty much guitar and trombone throughout my teen years and young adulthood.  Around age 43, I elected (for a variety of reasons) to learn a number of band instruments such as trumpet, flute, clarinet, and sax.  Penny whistle and recorder came around the same time.  Then came a bit of mandolin, just enough for a recording session.  Finally, fiddle became a possibility around 2005 after I'd played guitar in a weekly celtic jam at a local pub.  I've never looked back,

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