Ripping Through the Study of Violin

April 5, 2011 at 03:15 AM ·


Right now, I am a freshman in high school playing Mozart 5 and Kreutzer's Etudes. Considering that I have been labeled as 'very talented' by professionals and teachers (I have a very high IQ and intelligence in many different fields), about how hard would I have to work in order to have played Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, and the Paganini Caprices by the time of my high school graduation? By the way, I started playing when I was ten (four years ago) and have had private instruction for two months now. I am currently practicing two hours a night and I was able to learn all of Mozart 3 in two months.

Having said all of this, am I on track to achieve the aforementioned goals?


Replies (31)

April 5, 2011 at 04:31 AM ·

What's your rush - you have a plane to catch? You're worried about the whole Mayan Calendar 2012 world-coming-to-an-end thing? It's about learning more and deepening your musicianship as well as honing your fiddling. Stop and smell the roses. Heifetz used to say "it's not how qucikly you get to the top, but how long you stay there." And Oscar Shumsky said: "don't show me what you can do at 15; show me what you can do at 50."

April 5, 2011 at 10:38 AM · Raphael is totally correct. After asking such a dumb question perhaps you should have your IQ re-checked!! (wink)

April 5, 2011 at 12:43 PM ·

Anyone with some talent can "rip" through the repertoire.  The question for you is whether you can bring something more to each piece than sheer technical competence.  The really good violinists are able to do that, bringing interpretive depth to each piece, but that does not come from trying to get acquire as many pieces as you can in a short time.

April 5, 2011 at 01:11 PM ·

Hi John,

I gather by your modest introductory paragraph that you are the studious type? ;)  As mentioned in previous comments you do seem to be in a major hurry to reach a certain goal regarding your violin studies, and I hope that you achieve that, if that is what you really want.  But no-one can tell you how long a piece of 'string' is, because the violin is a complicated creature for many reasons.  As most esteemed violin teachers and students on this forum will testify, you may find that you do well in some areas and not so well in others as you go along.  It is common to reach stumbling blocks that aren't related to IQ or even musical ability.  Sometimes physical issues arise that stop you in your tracks for a while, and in your case this is an area for concern because of the speed at which you insist on learning, you may be doing too much too soon, and injury could be looming.  But I hope not.

What I also really wanted to say, John, is - do you remember the reason you started learning violin?  Was it because you loved the sound, or knew someone who played well that you wanted to emulate, or was it just another challenge in your school 'list of challenges"?  The thing is, that for most people here, the violin, and indeed music, is an enduring and deep passion, not to be steamed through at speeds beyond light, but to be savoured and experienced and shared and remembered.  Just check out any of the discussion articles, from pinky problems all the way to complicated passages.  These are people who are in love with music, cherish their instruments and care about the way they play, and so the time spent in the learning process is valuable and not to be hurried through.  When you play, do you 'feel' the music in a way that means something to you?  Can you put your own expression into it?  Have you gone back to a pre-learned piece time and again simply because you love it?  Or are you just learning for the sake of it and when over and done with will you just toss the violin aside to begin something new?  Once again, I hope not, because the point I am trying to make is that much of what is required to learn an instrument, has little or no bearing on IQ. Patience, care, feeling, motivation, musicality and attention to detail are the masters here and make no mistake, we of perhaps 'otherworldly intelligence' already know that!


April 5, 2011 at 01:25 PM ·

Very well said and apt, Millie.

April 5, 2011 at 02:18 PM ·

Depends on two things:


1. Your fine-motor athletic learning ability.

2. Your brain.

Nothing more.

Except smart practice rather than dumb mindless practicing of mistakes. See item 2 above.

But this is meaningless:

"playing Mozart 5 and Kreutzer's Etudes"

"learned all of Mozart in 3 months".

Music is not a "bucket list."

Goody goody for "learning" the notes on the page. We cannot know how you sound. Maybe you would blow us away. Maybe you would make the coyotes run in fear.

April 5, 2011 at 06:18 PM ·

You can probably learn to hack through them with some accuracy pretty fast.  To learn to play them with understanding, intelligence, musicality, a lifetime.

April 5, 2011 at 07:56 PM ·

Judging by the tone of the opening post, perhaps more than a lifetime..

Sorry to be cynical but it seems to me that treating the acquisition of an art as a scorable horse race is to totally miss the boat.  I would rather listen to one gorgeous sustained violin note than all of the violin repetoire played as if for 'Ripley's Believe It Or Not'...

So how about it?  Can you play a gorgeous note on your violin that would enrapture me?

April 5, 2011 at 08:03 PM ·

 Look. How good you are at violin has nothing to do with what you play. It has EVERYTHING to do with how you play it. Why would you want to "rip through" the violin repertoire? You're talking about people's life's work here and there is no reason to rush through so many standard concerti. You don't need them all in your hands by the end of high school to get to a conservatory.  You only need one standard concerto to audition for a pro orchestra so what's the big hurry? I am 10 years older than you are and I have spent the last year learning to play the Sibelius violin concerto. I could play the notes after a couple months but playing the music and getting the details in the phrasing isn't something I just ripped through. I'm still learning it and I probably still will be even after I perform it.

Also, IQ does not translate to violin ability. I've known many fantastic professional players who probably wouldn't score very high on an artificially tabulated record of mental prowess. It means nothing.

April 5, 2011 at 08:16 PM ·

 60 bpm

April 5, 2011 at 08:21 PM ·

Hi there, John Caner,

I wish you all the luck in the world with your violin playing, but like others who responded above, I really don't know anything about your real ability. Learned "Mozart 3 in two months"? Did you memorize it or just learn to play it with the printed music?

Only 2 months with a private teacher? That's the person to ask and to work with on these things. And for the things you want to learn in the next 3-1/2 years, you need a teacher who has high-level performance training and experience.

When I was a HS sophomore I used to read through Mozart 3, 4, and 5, but I never "learned them." I had a wonderful book of a 10 violin concertos (other than Mozart) and I would play through about half of them (Bach -A minor, Bruch, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Wieniawski,etc) had trouble with Paganini-1 and never bothered with Saint-Saens or Lalo.  I would not attempt Sibelius, and I've only done a couple of the Paganini Caprices. Unfortunately I did not build the real disciplined structure needed to play most of those things, and I had stopped lessons (after 8 years) when I was 12.

I certainly was in better shape to have the "chops" to play those things in those early years (over 60 years ago), but I know a lot more about that now.

You could do some of these things you want to do on your own, but without a teacher/coach at a high enough level, you will likely have a lot of trouble achieving what you believe is your full potential as a violinist. And a poor or insufficient teacher may be worse than none at all - especially with your aspirations.

Again, I wish you lots of luck. And, I'd suggest you take a look at Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," it is wonderfully rewarding for the effort. And the Bach E Major will give you some great bowing exercise.



April 5, 2011 at 11:38 PM ·

I guess that my message came off a bit in the wrong way :) I agree with all of your comments, and my goal is not just to actually learn all of the repertoire quickly in a meaningless manner. I think my problem is, being a late starter, that I aspire too much to reach a level of high proficiency quickly. Watching videos of masters (Heifetz, my idol) and seeing those around me who have started as toddlers and have now developed into technical virtuosos has triggered my sense of perfectionism, compelling me to compete. I also want to advance quickly in order to just slap something onto my application for college. However, thanks to your comments, I now realize that music, especially at a high level, is something of a completely different nature. I thank you all for stopping me on this race of life to open my eyes (and ears) to something that I now know is elusively yet indispensibly valuable: the joy of, and in, making real music :)

P.S. I was stating detailed statistics, some that were stretching the truth, in hope of getting a response like "Oh, you are a prodigy! You will have Paganini down in no time!" in order to reach a feeling of satisfaction with myself. I am a conceded fool -_-

April 5, 2011 at 11:53 PM ·

I wouldn't concede foolsdom; nay, rather concede enthusiasm :-)

April 6, 2011 at 01:40 AM ·

John: nicely put, you are forgiven.

For we are all fools who would try to play this damn instrument, we just show it in different ways.  Nice to see you in the club. 

April 6, 2011 at 02:24 AM ·

John is taking his dear sweet time compared to Ryan Vaughn :-)  I commend them both for their ambition and enthusiasm.

April 6, 2011 at 03:21 AM ·

 I was able to completely rid my neighborhood of alley cats, after only 3 months of violin study!

How long should it take before I can keep my mother-in-law from visiting?


(FWIW,  I don't know what my current IQ is, but I am a member of "Densa" in good standing.)

April 6, 2011 at 04:31 AM ·

I commend John on his ability to completely reverse other people's impressions of him.  Well done, John.  Best of luck!

April 6, 2011 at 11:56 AM ·

John - that turn-around shows maturity and a lot more potential - bravo! Someone once said "we're all ignorant - only about different things." BTW, maybe you meant "conceited"?

Allan - I'm reminded that when I used to practice Sevcic shifting excersises as a young man, my father used to say "that could break a lease"!


April 6, 2011 at 01:06 PM ·

Well John, I'm very relieved to read your reply.  Here I was feeling sorry for your teacher. Hopefully if he or she is anything like mine, they will have a steel core silver wound spine tensioned just well enough to snap you back into your place.  And an IQ to match!

Take care with your introductions in future, and good luck :)

@ Allan, "Densa", I loved it. What a pearler!

April 6, 2011 at 01:51 PM ·

 hello maestro caner, i don't get the impression from your first post that you are way over your head with your ambition.  i think it is healthy and commendable.  i think it is wonderful at the stage of being a hs freshman that you are making big plans for yourself.  you are 50% there already imo.  further, i don't get the sense that you just want to compete with others at the expense of making good music.  the competition is unavoidable.  at auditions, you may not have a forum for others to get to know you besides letting your playing do the talking.  if it sounds like you have an ax to grind against those who started earlier, that mentality is precious and can be a valuable driving force.  

i am not a musician, my kid will not be a pro but if she aspires to be one, i would do the following:

1.  privately consult with v.comers whose children are studying in high level music schools, or who have studied at high level schools.  (they may not feel comfortable saying too much here and never never quote them later anywhere)  everyone wants to help and no one wants to get burnt.  get a sense from them how to get into those good music schools, backwards, meaning, the steps to take going back to where you are, considering your level and your age.  etc, etc, etc.  you need all the info as early as you can.  find those who can believe you; rid those who do not.

2.  consult with your teacher or someone who can help you about your dream in specifics.  where do you want to end up in 4 years and who can help you to get there, etc, etc, etc.  is your daily routine fitting into that plan, for instance?

3.  feel free to make some tapes of your playing, and send to people/v.comers you trust and admire for some simple feedback.  you can upload to youtube and limit to private viewing if you are shy about it.  learn to feel comfortable with playing in public and receiving criticism as early as you can.  if you are doing the right thing at a moment, that moment can literally change your life.  imagine in 2 hours how many "moments" you have!  it is as scary to use the 2 hours correctly as incorrectly.

good luck and keep the faith.  if you feel like bragging a bit because you really think you are doing great, darn it, do it!

ps, after you rip through this stage, write another one about blasting through the next, please.:)

April 6, 2011 at 04:45 PM ·

John, you are young.  The beauty of that is that you're easily forgiven for certain things!

You say you started at 10.  You've definitely missed the boat on the child prodigy thing- wasn't Sarah Chang a regular soloist with the NY Phil at 10?  You are not consigned to village idiot status though, not by a long shot.  Plenty of highly competent professional musicians started at that age or even later.  Work hard, take all the opportunities to learn more about music, keep a bit of humility and a good sense of humor about it all, and you'll be fine.  The competitive aspect of music, in my eyes, is the ugliest aspect of it, something to be endured rather than sought out.

April 6, 2011 at 04:51 PM ·

 Lisa, if memory serves me right Sarah Chang auditioned (and got in) for Juilliard at age 6 playing the Bruch violin concerto! (don't know what else but that was one piece she played! I remember her saying in a couple of interviews!)

April 6, 2011 at 05:45 PM ·

I'm reminded that when I used to practice Sevcic shifting excersises as a young man, my father used to say "that could break a lease"!

Wow that reminds me of myself.  Once I started Sevcik, my husband built me my own practice room.  And for a long time I thought it was a labor of love......

---Ann Marie

April 6, 2011 at 06:54 PM ·


April 6, 2011 at 07:17 PM ·

"Lisa, if memory serves me right Sarah Chang auditioned (and got in) for Juilliard at age 6 playing the Bruch violin concerto!"

I also heard that Sarah Chang learned Tchaikovsky VC in one week at the ripe old age of 8. 

April 6, 2011 at 09:57 PM ·

OK so am I going to be the only one to admit I hate her.

Admire, applaud, adore, appreciate sure,

But I still hate her.  I mean how does one get prodigy status once you are over 50?

April 6, 2011 at 11:47 PM ·

"After asking such a dumb question…."

Peter, as we often hear, there are no dumb questions.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
John, reading your original post was like reading a partial replay of my own experience as a high school freshman.  So I can definitely relate to this.  One of my teachers told me, "You're a perfectionist."  Another said, "Don't try to get it all at once."

I started playing in elementary school -- definitely not a toddler, already able to read and write, able to walk myself to and from school.  I'm not sure I would have been ready to start at the toddler stage.  This is like the petals of a flower.  You can't force them open.  Well, you can; but just look at the result.  Each flower opens best when it's ready.

You say that you've had private lessons for two months; but if you started playing at 10, what kind of instruction did you get during the last four years?

I'm going to guess that your start on violin four years ago was your idea -- it sounds that way from what you've written in the thread so far; but tell me if I'm wrong.  I don't know if you saw The Weekend Vote for 1-28-2011.  If not, be sure to check it out -- 77% of us who voted, including me, said it was our idea to start violin.

April 7, 2011 at 07:20 PM ·

I was one of those high school whiz kids too.  I even put in about 8 years on cornet, although I drifted away from it at about that time.  I've mellowed somewhat since.  But something I developed over a 40-year computer programming career is the concept of "demand learning".  If I needed a new programming technique, I could look up material on it and learn what I needed to know at the time.  After a while I had built up quite a bag of tricks, and figured I had a good method for fast-tracking my education.

And then (big sigh) I took up violin a year and a half ago.  And I discovered that, unlike so many other things I was used to, there were no short cuts.  My playing is steadily improving - but it's a slow, mysterious process that requires, among other things, lots of time.  My ear is good, my knowledge of theory is solid, I have experience on several other instruments - but learning violin is a process which, it seems, just has to grow.

As the saying goes, life is a journey, not a destination.  Thanks to the violin, I've (re-)learned the difference between the journey and the destination - while having lots of fun along the way.

April 8, 2011 at 05:30 PM ·

 My advice: Make sure you have a great teacher, then put yourself in that teachers hands completely. If the teacher advises you to play open A strings all week long, then do that, and do it with deep concentration. A good teacher will focus you on what you need most; if you choose instead to focus on a search for shortcuts, that will only slow you down in the long run.


April 8, 2011 at 06:07 PM ·

Here's a thought; as you identify that you are a quick study, how about adding a bit more to your workload?

Start with some piece that you mastered two years ago or more.
Approach it with what you know now.
Find some new nuance or enhancement you can add, with your current level of skill.

This can be a pursuit of a lifetime. If you are really good, each time you will find something new to bring to the piece.

April 8, 2011 at 06:55 PM ·

 This is an amusing thread with some refreshing humility demonstrated by in the second post by John Caner. Apropos to the discussion of intelligence, if there were a direct correlation between IQ and violin prowess, we'd all be lining up to hear Bill Platt instead of Josh Bell. 

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