Is it possible to become a professional violinist if i started

November 27, 2011 at 11:26 PM · Dear violinists and friends here,

i played violin on my own for fun without coaching from teacher when i was 16. i enrolled for violin lesson only when i was 18(which is last year, i enter as a grade 3). after 1.5 years of learning(formally), i am now using Suzuki book 4 and i will be sitting for my ABRSM grade 5 and theory grade 5 next year.

I am now facing a dilemma for my future: Engineering or Music.

Throughout my school life, i was shaped to converge into science and i performed pretty well in that too.If i choose engineering, i will have a guarantee and steady path for my future. But i really hope that i can have music as my life career. I love music. I can practice for more than 4 hours a day and i can keep repeating playing studies and scales without feeling bored.However, I do have a similar concern like many other violinist who started late.

My dream is to become an professional musician and to join a professional orchestra. Honestly, my family economy is unable to send me to a music college. So if i decided to choose music, my current plan is i will complete violin diploma using the shortest time, at the same time, i will work as a violin teacher to gain experience and save money for me to further study in music college( hopefully before i am 25 years old). Is my plan workable?

Can violinists here give me some opinions and perhaps share some of your experiences? How far I can go base on the age i started and the rate of my growth in skill? Is it possible for me to become an advance violin teacher? A performer? An member of orchestra?

Thank you in advance

( Please forgive my grammar errors)

Replies (100)

November 28, 2011 at 05:35 AM · Ji Yan,

The ugly duckling is not about a 19-year-old that wants to become a professional violinist--it's about a swan that hatches into a duck's nest and has to find his real family. There is some rather sad a pretty violin playing in the background--I wonder if it's Toscha Seidel.

But I digress. The answer is: no one knows, but statistically your chances are remote to none. If you are skilled in science and math and may become an engineer, then you are familiar with statistics and probabilities. Would you design a bridge that "just may work" or one that will definitely work? Would you write software that may run smoothly, or software that has a good chance of crashing? What about an airplane that has a small chance of flying?

So why then do you wish to aim your life in a direction that has a very small chance of success? Will you be able to teach lessons to someone? Probably. Will you be able to play in some kind of orchestra? Maybe, but not one in which you can support yourself or your family. If you wish to live in a safe neighborhood, drive a decent car, be able to afford a decent violin, and save for your retirement, or raise a family, than you should not try to rely on your violin playing.

There will be many on this site that will say things like "if you love it you should just go for it.." or "follow your dream!" but of course you, and not them, will be experiencing the financial hardship.

November 28, 2011 at 06:31 AM · Hi,

I have to agree with Scott. Your chance is very slim especially now you still have very limited access to music education. Thing is if you tried hard enough, you will probably become a professional but you won't be like the tops even in the orchestra. I don't think you will have much chance against the soloists out there. and there was this thing my teacher told me. Your techniques or muscles can't improve much after a certain age. It is more obvious in sports but yea.

I guess just ask yourself, can you spend all day practicing to be just a professional and do you have the money to support your dream?

It's cruel but it's the reality :(

November 28, 2011 at 09:46 AM · If I had the choice I'd head into engineering, and then practise my arse off and get into the university orchestra and/or a good amateur/community orchestra. If you google camerata notturna, you will see an amazing bunch of musicians who don't do it as their main job, even though some were julliard or curtis trained. Enjoy your music, don't make it your life's work.

November 28, 2011 at 01:22 PM · I started playing the violin when I was 17, and am supporting myself financially with music. Not as a performer but as a teacher. I was able to successfully complete a Music Education Degree with many performance requirements. Although I do make some extra money on the side playing weddings and rock gigs, my skills as a performer are probably not enough to make it in a world class orchestra. However, I have been told a few times I should get on the sub list for my local, world renown, orchestra.

If you try to become a professional classical violinist, you will be competing for jobs with child prodigies who began their training at birth. Your chances are slim to none. But if you feel strongly, go for it. Often jobs are given on musicality and interpretation. I have never heard you play, you may be a musical genius. But chances are you will not cut it as a classical performer.

However, that does not mean you cannot study the violin and make it your profession. There are other (and better paying) employment options in music other than classical performance. I direct three student orchestras in a public arts magnet school, but public school teaching is not your only option. Music business, sound recording, composing... the list goes on. The jobs are few but they are out there.

I started late and I am supporting myself with music. I am a better teacher for starting late. Maybe I am even a better performer for starting late. Don't be discouraged. If violin is your calling, follow it.

November 28, 2011 at 03:11 PM · Scott's answer isn't very romantic, but I have to agree with him 100%. If you have a bright future as an engineer, I strongly recommend you follow that path. Continue to study the violin and you will have something that you can enjoy on your own terms. You will be financially secure instead of grubbing for wedding gigs and desperately hoping that they will let you take home a Tupperware container of buffet leftovers. Don't forget that self-employment in music teaching and in freelance music performance will not have any retirement or health insurance or disability benefits the way a good job in engineering will. In some countries this does not matter but in the US it is a critical factor in the choice of one's career.

November 28, 2011 at 03:12 PM · Being that I'm only 17, I feel a little under qualified commenting here, but I'll give it a go.

I've been playing for almost three years. I play in my local youth orchestra, made regional orchestra, and now I'm working on polishing up the 1st mvt of the Vivaldi A minor. I'm happy with where I am and where I'm going.

I had to really accept that because of when I started, I'm not going to be on the level of a lot of people who are my age. When you accept where you are and what your limitations for the time being are, you will truly be able to enjoy the music and improve a lot!

I would definitely say go to school for engineering because you obviously have talent in that field. You will be able to make a good living with that, and that will lead to having the money to spend on a good instrument and good teachers! (both of which, especially the latter, are priceless in your musical journey). Nobody knows how they will sound in 10 or 15 years. Who knows, maybe you'll be proudly sitting in the 1st violin section of an orchestra, playing the Mendelssohn VC in your spare time ;)

Just don't stress over certain improvements in a certain time... just love what you do and let the music lead you on your journey :)

November 28, 2011 at 04:06 PM · I think it's important to follow your long as they're realistic.

I know several professional musicians and almost all have other jobs just to make ends meet.

Become an engineer and play music on the can still go on to perform down the road...there are community orchestras, even some smaller professional orchestras. There are quartets, chamber ensembles and events...

November 28, 2011 at 05:09 PM · I also started violin, on my own, at 17, after reaching a high level on the piano, my main instrument, which I worked at hard from 8 years old. I worked three jobs and took overloads to complete a Bachelor of Music in three years because I couldn't afford four, and some much finer teachers than I deserved took me on because of the goodness of their hearts, and I suppose maybe partly because they saw I was working so hard at it. Now I am making a living from music, mainly with teaching (I turn people away almost every week, my studio is so full, and students travel from far away to come, so that I could be teaching pretty much all hours even into the night if I wanted to; but I don't). I also perform at least every couple of weeks, and some of that is paid. I am associate concertmaster of the local Northern Orchestra, and my vision is to try to bring excellence into the rural north where I live and be a blessing to people. I love my job and my students so much I often feel I really ought to pay them, actually!

But I don't have a family to support and live in a part of Canada that isn't too expensive; so for me this lifestyle is a dream come true because I love music and I love teaching and playing and I wish to help people. But I don't personally think making a living as a musician, either performing or teaching, would normally be a responsible choice for raising a family, and I would drop this as a profession if I had a family. (I'd still want to teach the children music, which was why I got the degree in the first place - and because I loved it!)

I don't think people need nearly as much money to lead a happy, responsible life as they usually think they do - I think lifestyle is much more important than loads of money, as long as you can responsibly meet your obligations and not cost others. So I am doing amply well at about $20,000/year, and charging lower rates for lessons than I could, at $30/hour, which is comparable to other teachers in the area, even though my training is more than others here. But if I were a man and hoped to raise a family, I would not pursue music as a profession, more because of the lifestyle than the finances, but a bit of both. To me your engineering option sounds more secure and responsible, and that it would still allow you to pursue music to a high level, maybe moreso because you could pay for good lessons.

That said, I play in a string quartet with three fine musicians (finer than I am) who all have non-music jobs: teaching school, nursing, and as a construction laborer. All three say they wish they had gone the way I did, in pursuing what they loved and getting their degree in music and following that route; I still don't see how they could have been good to their families that way.

Ultimately it depends on your priorities. To me, family would come first, and doing what is best for them, which I think wouldn't be music, especially if I were the man; since I don't have a family, I am at this point free to follow something else I love, so I have, and have really enjoyed it. But I think you could go the engineering route and still get quite good (maybe even as good?) with your violin.

I admire you thinking through the ramifications before your decide.

November 28, 2011 at 05:16 PM · About 20 years ago, there were two principal players in the Boston Symphony that also had PhDs in science (or engineering). It's not impossible to train for two things at once.

More realistically, you'll likely be happier being a scientist whose violin playing is constantly improving than a mediocre professional performer who gave up academic pursuits. Not to say that those are your only options, but as many have said here, they are the most probable.

If you do want to drop everything to study music, make sure that it's because you'll die if you don't-- and because someone you trust says you're talented enough to give it a shot.

November 28, 2011 at 05:17 PM · Remember that even if you don't actually get a degree in education or performance, you can always have an extremely fulfilling life within music. I once wanted a degree in performance, but for a variety of reasons, I haven't gotten it, and now I never will get it. I'm actually glad, because I think my love of music would have been sorely tested by the stress of the constant competition...competition that intensifies when you started late and didn't have good training. The insecurity can drive you mad. I still have music in my life, though, and I love it! Every year I improve as a player and find new opportunities of expressing my musicality, and it makes me very happy. Regardless of what you become in your life, you can always be a listener, an amateur chamber music partner, an orchestra patron...etc. These are beautiful, beautiful things to be. I've talked to people in the music world who have "made it", the professionals of the world who bring us music of the highest caliber, and they all say they need devoted music-lovers like us to inspire them; otherwise, they're just playing to emotionally empty halls.

Only you can make that final decision, but I just wanted to remind you that if you want it, you can always have music in your life in some capacity, no matter what you choose to do. It will be there for as long as you want it, even if you do need to occasionally take a break from it as you train and study. It will never leave you.

And who knows. You're very young. Maybe someday you'll find a niche career that combines all the things you're interested in...stranger things have happened.

November 28, 2011 at 06:40 PM · I agree with all those who say that your chances of becoming a professional violinist, as opposed to a violin teacher, are essentially non-existent. Other than one American named Ptashne (sp?), and a Norwegian violinist, who started at age 19 or 20, and of whom I have not heard in a long time, it is really impossible to find a major professional violinist who started after age 9. If you look at biographies of violinists in major orchestras, they all started quite early. So enjoy the music but concentrate your efforts on what will likely be your day job, engineering, unless you decide to go into teaching.

November 28, 2011 at 11:33 PM · To answer the original poster: no you will probably not become a world-class professional player.

There are certain things you have to start at a young age in order to be at the top of the field. Playing the violin is certainly one of those things - much like becoming a great hockey player, figure skater, or gymnast.

Our minds process material differently at a young age. For instance, I have a few friends from Eastern Europe who came over to this country at varying ages. A few came over here to the US before the age of 10 and speak perfect colloquial American-English. But those that came over here later in their teens have strong accents.

You can still certainly learn, teach, and perform music on the violin. It's wonderful you have this interest in music and violin playing. I encourage you to pursue it! Some of the most renowned pedagogues weren't developed professional level players by any means but still they made a difference as educators.

November 29, 2011 at 01:25 AM · Greetings,

Nate, agree with your post but one small quibble I think. Galamian@s background is not well known but there are a few books that record he wa sindeed a performer of note (albeit not in the Heifetz Milstein) class. I seme to recall it was back trouble that ended his solo career in Europe.



November 29, 2011 at 03:08 AM · a hs student of a teacher i know got serious about majoring in music in college. parents were alarmed--they wanted the kid to play violin but not to major in it. the parents begged the teacher to talk the kid out of it.

the teacher complied, tried and failed. the kid told him that music was what she wanted to do because it made her the happiest.

later, to compound the parents' heartache, in college, she met and fell in love with a guy who also majored in music...and actually got married.

the teacher himself generally deterred his students from turning pro eventually, but in this case, he shrugged his shoulders and said,,what can you do,,,if music is really what they want?

the other issue is money, of course. when you have more of it, you spend more. when you have less of it, you spend less. people learn to adapt. instead of finding meaning of life going on cruises, one can enjoy life riding the bicycle. not lesser, just simpler.

having said the above, i am more impressed by good engineering than by good violin playing of the average variety...

November 29, 2011 at 03:49 AM · 'the other issue is money, of course. when you have more of it, you spend more. when you have less of it, you spend less.'

You're absolutely right. You should tell this to some of our heads of state who seem to think otherwise..

November 29, 2011 at 12:17 PM · nate, now, having other people's money at one's disposal is a topic we have not touched on:)

it is not pretty!

November 29, 2011 at 07:29 PM · Ji Yan,

My situation is quite similar, if not nearly the same. My mother and father came here with nothing, so I was not given musical opportunities as a child. On top of that, they were set on me becoming an Engineer as well.

I cannot say what you can and cannot do, and neither can anyone else here. The reason is that we do not know what potential you may have and so we do not know how far you can go. Many will start young, and many will not go far. Some will of course, and that is the case for a majority of professional musicians. For late starters, many give up and so little or non far, but it doesn't help that there is little or no faith in this demographic. I cannot say your chances are high, and neither are mine, but if you believe in yourself, put in the hours, you can reach a very high standard with these alone.

However, the ingredients to becoming a GREAT violinist takes more than just natural talent and determination. You must also find a highly reputable teacher and as many other additional connections you can. There is a business side of the violin world and it is not enough to be simply proficient at the instrument. You must be able to promote yourself in the music industry and have others do the same for you. You must have the ability to create beneficial relationships with others and make as many as possible. Being a professional violinist can be related to any job as you may be qualified, but there are plenty of others that are just as qualified(if not more) as you. Therefore it is necessary you know the right people, and to know how to talk to people because only then will you have a good chance of getting what you want. The other way is that you are extremely lucky and something extraordinary and improbable occurs. Please do NOT rely on this. Note that a teacher like this will teach you things you could not learn from someone of a lesser expertise. This is somewhat self explanatory though.

What I am concerned about is that you must have the ability to meet such a teacher and impress them enough to believe in you. Such privileges are hard to find and afford. In addition to this, violin is one of the most expensive instruments to study and so while a teacher of this caliber may be able to get you some kind of loan or scholarship if you're truly talented, but do not count on this either.

Unless you believe you have the talent, determination, the connections, and the money to pursue a professional career in violin, I do not advise dropping academics to pursue it. Supporting a future family and your family now, should be a top priority, instead of a personal dream that will compromise and put a burden on those responsibilities. Even if you have all of this laid in front of you, your chances are becoming a soloist are slim to never.

To any member angered by my thoughts, I apologize, as I am probably stepping outside of my area of knowledge and do not mean to offend anyone. This is simply my own ideas as how one could become a professional under these circumstances and there are surely biases in my remarks.


November 29, 2011 at 09:01 PM · The principal cellist of the Houston Symphony apparently has a Masters in mathematics. But he was a prodigy at everything he did and started fairly early as a musician. I have known some cellists who made late starts and had decent orchestral careers but no violinists. My own teacher had one year of violin in HS but he was already a piano prodigy. He does not perform on the violin for a living but discerning violinists seek him out for coaching including helping them resolve technical issues.

November 29, 2011 at 09:09 PM · i tend to agree with joseph and corwin that as a late starter with a loftier goal than usual, it is rather important to possess or demonstrate a higher degree of quick learning ability which will help a lot.

joseph touched on some other important factors of a support system. i doubt we need to look that far yet. to simply play very very well is already a huge undertaking.

i honestly cannot think of a job or profession that is as tough as a high level performing violinist who on the job, on the stage under the spotlight, is totally self reliant for survival. almost every other job in the world is supported one way or another.

November 29, 2011 at 11:41 PM · Maybe the best advice is that if you absolutely cannot imagine yourself doing anything else, then yes, go to music school or art school. If there's any other possible path, follow it.

Scientists and engineers tend to make great musicians. If that's what you do, you will be surrounded by people involved in music. In ways, serious amateurs have the best of all worlds, as they can say yes and no to musical opportunities that come their way without having to worry about it affecting their livelihood.

November 29, 2011 at 11:55 PM · Greetings,

the issue of cellists and age uis interesting. for some reaosn it is a bit of a red herring. there does seme to be a slight differnec ebetwene starting =somewhat= late as a cellist and becoming a well known pro and the vilin . maybe it is something to do with the sheer unnaturalness of the fiddle....

Joseph raised some veyr valuable and importnat points. I do respectfully take issue with one comment:

`I cannot say what you can and cannot do, and neither can anyone else here.`

That is the `weak verison` for want of a better expresison of the over used, over hyped notion that `anything is possible` which elsewhere Joseph has quite precisely and expertly discussed. However, ther eis not much point in splitting hairs over the 00000.1 percent mircale factor, if the profesisonals write on this site thta it is not possible and provide compelling evidence that this is the case then it is a snear fatc as one gets in this world. Sometimes we do have to accept reality as fact even when it is not technically the case in scientific terms.

The beauty of this site is that people who know give the brutal truth and also provide alternatives.

However, to wind up my rambling, yes, actually , a lot of us -can= answer the question of what the questionner asked within the very narrow confiens of the requested answer.



November 30, 2011 at 12:29 AM · The violin/cello difference may be less relevant today. The former cellist of the Talich Quartet told me that he was put on his instrument because his parents moved back to Prague after being advised to scoot out of Budapest before the 1956 events. By that time, he was around 9 and so was too old to enter the violin class at the conservatory. But there weren't many decent cellists of any age, and so they took him into that department. In his opinion, it didn't take a lot to then graduate near the top of his class.

Of course, he IS a remarkably self-effacing man for a string player, so you have to take this story with a grain of salt.

November 30, 2011 at 12:51 AM · Dear seniors and violinist and friends here,

I just want to say thank you all for your advises and opinions. I feel grateful for being in where i can meet such great people like you all. You have point out many things that i have never notice before this.

My performance in math and science is above average, but my passion in engineering is not strong, somehow i even find its job scope(documents, reports, device, robots) doesn't suits my characteristic base on what i learned from many engineers' testimony and i just cant imagine myself doing that in the future 10 years .Thats why i want to seek for some other pathway where my passion,career and interest can move simultaneously.

The issue of chances and financial is actually in my consideration all the while. my teacher who own three music center is actually offering me a job in her centers to teach violin (violin teacher in my hometown is still in shortage) next year once i finish my pre-u. She is very kind and loving. My monthly fees for violin is 80%for 0.5hours of practical and 20%for 0.5 hours of theory. But she always spend 1 hour(sometime more than that) to teach me practical because she know i can study theory at home. She is willing to give me some advise and help on piano when i face problem in learning piano by myself. This really helps a lot financially. I feel so blessed to know her. She has already help me to set up a nice road for my career. What i worry is that, i still don't know how far my ability can travel although there is a beautiful road in front of me, i don't want my teacher to be disappointed with the outcome if i make any decision without enough insight.

Just an addition, i actually started to learn Chinese instrument, pipa, when i was 12 and i reach grade 5 before i stop it at 15 years old by time and chance. I am not sure whether this helps in developing my violin skills.

I did think of becoming an engineer by taking a 4 years degree program next year. But at the same time, i have to stop my music lesson. For me who started late, I scare this will even make my progress in violin even slower.

I really appreciate everyone of you for sharing your opinion and experience. I can now look at this issue with a better insight and a more mature mind. Although I still not able to make my final decision for the moment, but i that believe i will not regret with the choice which i am going to make( at least for the next 10 years, haha).

Thank you again. I hope you can continue to give me guides in this.

November 30, 2011 at 01:00 AM · hello ji yan, often i see on a person will ask a question with some info and people flock to the thread with opinions. then the op feels more comfortable and releases more info and the prior posters feel like fools:) they go: oh, now i see what you mean:)

i think knowing what we know about your unique situation and specifically your music plan, we may have to take back most of what we have said because the music culture/environment where you are is very different from what many posters are thinking of. some of us are thinking that you have to compete with 9 yo juilliard standouts when you essentially have already networked yourself into a job which you are not qualified for yet. that is an achievement by itself and our hats off to you! :)

so, i say listen to your heart and follow your dream,,,cannot imagine an engineer who thinks of violin while designing a bridge :)

ps. knowing pipa definitely helps your left hand.

November 30, 2011 at 02:16 AM · Hi Buri,

The point I was trying to make is that we do not know his playing personally, and so we have no real authority to say if he can or cannot make it as a professional violinist. It is also just not right to tell anyone what they are uncapable of as it is hurtful, discouraging, and no one is ever in the right to do that. I didn't mean to make it sound like I believed in the, "Your dreams will come true if you try hard enough" idea. I understand your thinking though, and I agree that it is fine to give evidence that the odds are greatly against him. It is just not right to say he could never become a professional violinist, because we do not know that as an absolute truth.

Were you the one that liked prunes?


November 30, 2011 at 02:26 AM · To put a different spin on this, why does engineering and music have to be distinctly separate pursuits? There is a whole realm of engineering & physics having to do with acoustics where having a musical background would be a benefit.

Rather than choosing one over the other, maybe there is another option on how to integrate both music and engineering. What comes to mind are those people who do sound engineering on concert halls & related equipment, the recording industry, designers of our MP3 players and home recording equipment, to engineers of strings and musical instruments.

Something to think about....

November 30, 2011 at 02:58 AM · responding to al ku's comment

'often i see on a person will ask a question with some info and people flock to the thread with opinions. then the op feels more comfortable and releases more info and the prior posters feel like fools:) they go: oh, now i see what you mean:)'

I hereby want to apologies to everyone here for not making my explanation clearer.

But in overall, the heart of my problem is almost the same as the main post. i think consider in the worst way is more practical

Sorry, sorry and sorry..... :)

November 30, 2011 at 03:43 AM · not need for that at all. partly it is our own warped perception,,,

when people ask about becoming a pro, flashes of a solo career based in carnegie hall invariably come to my mind:), probably others' as well.

but really, good luck and rarely do people get to do what they really want to do so from that point of view, i wish you can buckle the trend and live out your dreams...

by working your butts off:)

kids much younger may flip and turn with career decisions, but at your age, you are probably mature enough or intuitive enough to know what you like and more importantly, what you don't like.

November 30, 2011 at 04:18 AM · Greetings,

actually your question was totally clear, precise and reasonable. You specifically asked about joining a profesisonal orchestra. That was answered. Fortunately lots of other good stuff to do.



November 30, 2011 at 05:10 AM · but the second post indicated the barrier to entry to the music world is different: job offered in music center in a region with shortage of music teachers.

had this info be known in the first post which inquired about orchestra job (whatever that means), the sentiments may be quite different.

December 1, 2011 at 01:13 PM · If you study engineering at a good unit then they will have a good Orch. You can continue your Violin studies and play and solo with Orch. Charlie Sim went Cambridge not Music College and he has a pretty good record contract now. Plus if it all goes wrong you'll have an engineering degree as a back up which will be the best of both worlds

December 1, 2011 at 01:20 PM · i think before we place bets, we need to assess the odds. and the circumstances.

December 1, 2011 at 01:37 PM · I am in a similar situation as you are. Here is what I did/do:

1.) engineering, will be finished when I am 22.

2.) At the same time, improve my violin skills, singing skills (I have none...) and playing the piano.

3.) Apply for (pedagogical) music arts* (I do not know if this is the correct expression in english but you know what I mean).

4.) Decide what to do when I finish this (will be 26/27 by then).

*This will teach me music sciences as well as piano and singing and violin (OR viola, if I decide to switch to the viola).

Of course my engineering degree is only a basic education and I will have to work and do my master degree at the same time if I decide to go back to engineering after finishing music studies.

But as far as I know, this is FOR ME AT MY UNIVERSITY the only way to get into music studies at all - with great possibilities, nevertheless. The problem you have is the lack of money. Therefore you might need to study engineering and work at the same time.

Why engineering? It gives me three more years to practice on the violin which is very much necessary if you want to have a chance at all!

December 1, 2011 at 02:38 PM · Are you totally focused on playing western classical music, and playing it on the violin? Because that is, arguably, the most technically challenging instrument in the most technical challenging type of music that you could have chosen. Perhaps there are other options you might consider in music with a higher chance of success?

I do have a friend who started about your age and worked in major orchestras. And while she was a fine musician she was certainly no prodigy. But she took up the bass, not the violin. If you really want to play in a classical orchestra, this may be a more realistic if less glamorous route. By the very nature of the instrument, most people don't start it till they are older, so you have less ground to make up.

Though it's worth noting that once she had achieved her dream, my friend found she didn't really enjoy orchestral work and eventually changed careers. So do be sure you understand what you are wishing for, and get a realistic picture of the life from current orchestral players. From what I can gather, it's not something that would suit everyone.

Secondly, I've banged on about this in other threads, but do remember that there are many forms of music beyond western classical, and that for most of them the technical demands are less challenging, and more attainable for a late starter.

Very likely you've already considered and rejected these options, but just in case, I thought I'd bring it up...

December 1, 2011 at 02:45 PM · not trying to go off topic, but i enjoy the sound coming off a triangle (who doesn't) and i find violin too difficult to study beyond double stops.

now, with good skills in triangle, do i have a shot at an orchestra job? i am sensible enough to know there is really no work as a triangle soloist, but often i see in an orchestra someone standing back there doing the triangle so there must be a need! pieces requiring a triangle tend to be happy music which i like a lot. there is something magical about ding, ding, ding.

ps. i am fairly good at rhythm and taking cues from others if i am not under a lot of stress.

December 1, 2011 at 03:01 PM · al: I'm sure there's a triangle job out there for you, but you might just want to bone up on all the other percussion instruments too...just in case you have to fill in for someone else one day... ;)

December 1, 2011 at 03:07 PM · A friend of mine played triangle in WCSO. She said it was actually really hard!

December 1, 2011 at 03:14 PM · If you have a lot of money, you can do whatever you want. You can still form quartets and join non-paying orchestras. You will get the joy of playing with others without the financial downside.

I agree it's true that we can adjust our spending to match our income. However, below certain income threshold, your life might be very difficult when you are struggling to afford basic necessities.

December 2, 2011 at 10:13 AM · @al ku 'Lark Ascending' is waiting for you!!!

December 2, 2011 at 03:11 PM · I faced a similar dilemma as you and chose the engineering route. I'm glad I did.

Engineering is not entirely a geeky profession where you hang out at your desk and produce gadgets. The communication element is big if not bigger than the analytical element. So if you find the right job, you might not find it as bad as you might think.

I've been busy looking at access roads, bridges, culverts and streams for the past weeks out in the woods. It's been pleasant, although it's meant long days.

I got my first really good violin instruction when I was 17. Before then, I had rather poor instruction from a very very nice old lady. I started practicing about 3 hours a day once I received some good instruction. Lots of Flesch, Kreutzer, Yost, Bach, pieces at my level, lots of good stuff.

I studied with a great teacher my freshman year, Camilla Wicks. I studied with her for just one quarter, I didn't know how good she was until she left the University of Washington.

One summer I went to summer courses at the International Menuhin Music Academy in Gstaad. I played for and met Yehudi Menuhin. I saw what people did who were aspiring professionals and professionals. It wasn't really what I wanted.

Fast forward to today. Most evenings I practice about 1/2 hour. I get together with my quartet once a week, and I have a quartet that does sightreading that meets about every other week. We're fortunate in Portland, OR to have a pretty vibrant classical music community so there's lots of opportunities for amateurs to perform.

I get to choose the music I want to play, when I want to play it, and with whom I want to play with (although one is generally restricted to playing with people within one's ability level). It may not be for everyone but I'm content with how it is.

December 2, 2011 at 03:13 PM · That was post jumped to the wrong thread...


December 3, 2011 at 02:38 PM · This player-Miriam Ross (viola, perhaps the exception that proves the rule, but, she still made it into the Berlin Phil after having started on violin when she was 13. She too, was told by her teachers that she had started too late. Were they wrong?

December 4, 2011 at 05:06 AM · I will say that your chance of becoming a profession violinist is very low, and if you do not go into engineering your might majorly screw up your life. It is important to have a secure future, so major in engineering, and practice violin using all of your free time.

There probably are amazing music majors at your college so ask them to tutor you to get maximum help. Also, if your school has a decent music program, ask the professors for help.

The most crucial thing for any player to develop is to have the best teacher you can find. Tell them that you might not be good techically right now but you will work you butt off because you are so passionate about music and your goal is to become a professional. There cant be any teacher that wouldnt want to help someone like that.

One more thing that can help tremendously is Listen to music. Whenever you find the time, listen to all of the top performers/orchestras and feel the music/phrase they are making.

Just do whatever you can to make up for the 16 years x 5 hours x 365 days you are behind of some people.

Some technical advices I can make are: raise your wrist so you can release(not press with) your bow. Keep the bow moving and never stop it dead by raising the wrist and creative space between the notes. Don't let the bow slide over the finger board by angling the bow slightly towards you and raising the wrist. Never press with the bow without the necessary bow speed or it will be scratchy. Try to make the phrases as one big phraise. You should also make sure that you have a comfortable posture because it can restrict somE freedom in the movements of your hand/arm.

Don't give up What you really like the most. Nothing is impossible.

Good luck!

December 4, 2011 at 01:44 PM · A very important question to as yourself is, if you successfully get into a professional orchestra, is your life better than if you became an engineer? Now, if you get into London Symphony or Royal Philharmonic that's one thing. But what if you worked really really hard, got really really good, and got into the Tulsa Philharmonic? The other thing is, are you really sure you want to be an engineer? There are many other professions too. There are few other professions as challenging and nonlucrative as music.

While the above is all true, I see after reading some of the above posts, that your goals are not quite so lofty but are much more reasonable and doable. If you find the above useful information, great. If you want to go the music route, there are considerable challenges but go for it and enjoy it!

December 4, 2011 at 01:49 PM · it is pretty clear to me by now that op loves music and does not hold engineering in the same regard, therefore, the common sense approach, the rule vs exception consideration, the what if you end up poor but happy inquiry does not apply.

if a person with op's aspiration does not give a good try to make music work, i suspect there will be another unhappy camper in the world.

December 4, 2011 at 01:58 PM · Agreed. Engineering can wait. It's taken me quite a few years to come to peace with my decision not to pursue music. I actually wish I had given it a try, before pursuing something else. I imagine I probably would have ended up in something like engineering, but through a different route.

December 4, 2011 at 02:10 PM · Awww, you two are lovely.

How about this: at 1.5 years, unless you're MORE MACHINE THAN MAN you won't be good enough to get in to Music College. Why not get your engineering degree and use the time to practise like hell? In the UK, which is all I know, sorry, Engineering is 4 years. You have a lot of time at your disposal when you're at Uni, you just don't realise it at the time- until you have to go and get a full-time job and you REALLY have no time any more!

So. You could spend all your time working on Becoming Amazing At Violin, then go to music college for a performance postgrad. Again, I only know UK, but all the top colleges offer them. I was at (normal, non-music studying) Uni with lots of people who did just that. My ex did it, actually: he studied Environmental Science, then did a postgrad and now has a professional orchestra job.

I really hope you can find a way. Good luck.

December 4, 2011 at 02:18 PM · i am neither a musician nor an engineer but my bias is that given similar level of passion for each, it is easier to be labelled good in engineering than in violin.

violin is just so darn hard even if you have your heart in it! :)

December 4, 2011 at 02:36 PM · Lila,

about the 1st situation you mentioned,thats what i worry,some people told me to go for engineering 1st then only use some time to practice violin. but i got a friend, an engineer, he work from 10am-9pm. sunday is his only free time. If this happen on me, it is same like passing the point of no return.

December 4, 2011 at 03:06 PM · Hmmm... don't know if it will help, but something like ?

Highly regarded over here. I'm not sure what the entrance rules are though.

December 4, 2011 at 03:11 PM ·

December 4, 2011 at 04:00 PM · I'm a civil engineer who specializes in water resources. No matter where you are there are needs for water resources engineers. You can't really appropriately practice civil engineering unless you are local to the area. If you're interested in software engineering that could be a different story. So basically I don't think that all engineering is getting entirely exported overseas.

What about pursuing music for awhile, and only afterwards pursuing engineering? Is it possible to start one's engineering profession at age 23 or somewhat later in Malaysia?

And I don't think all engineering jobs require working 11 hours a day 6 days a week. I had a tough week last week, and that was still only 53 hours. My typical workweek is about 40, maybe 45 at most.

Documents and reports are also not that bad, depending on who you are. I find that they can be a nice diversion from the number crunching. As a person who was not simply a numbers guy, I found that writing reports was another way of utilizing skills that were actually underutilized and underemphasized in my undergraduate engineering education.

December 5, 2011 at 03:51 AM · I think that people who over-romanticize a career in violin are like that wave of people who went to law school because they watched LA Law in the 80s. The violin, like law, engineering, or any other profession career, is a REAL grind, and one that takes a physical toll as well. You have to keep up your skills to the end--there's nothing to be feared more as a professional than the day other people recognize you aren't playing well before you do.

December 5, 2011 at 04:57 AM · I was thinking about that Scott as i sat and watched a matinee of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. This was a fun event with four young promising soloists and had an air of the proms about it. But when I looked at the violinists there was a total spectrum of interest. The young asian woman sitting in the concertmaster's seat (not her usual place) wasthe picture of excitement and musical investment - she gyrated to the tunes and was playing as if it were she, and not the young nervous violinst that was the soloist. Next to her sat a more stoic but obviously proud and able stand mate. then as you went back along the desks each musician seemed more withdrawn and listless, each seemed less and less connected with the event or the purpose. There was one or two young exceptions but the worst was an older man who was slumped to the point of looking contorted and shrivelled. He was obviously an excellent player else he would not have occupied that seat but it certainly looked as if all he wanted to do was get the darn thing over and done with so that he could go home and work on his hobby - possibly drinking beer - or maybe water supply engineering ... :-\

December 5, 2011 at 07:12 AM · Symphony players in general have polled among the most dissatisfied with their profession. My theory is that the basic act of playing in an orchestra is, for most musicians, is an experience that began in middle school and continued almost unchanged into adulthood. The only change is that the orchestra plays a little better at each stage, and the conductors sometimes are better.

The essence of the experience, however, remains the same--you sit there while someone stops you and barks instructions, and you do it again. Repeat ad infinitum. I cannot think of any other profession where the essence of the act remains the same from early childhood. Doctors, lawyers and others don't begin their professional travails until their late 20s, and they have had little time to burn out (they do burn out, of course, just later in life).

December 5, 2011 at 07:27 AM · I'm supposed I can clarify some of the music scene in Malaysia since it's where I lived for near 3 decades.

There're plenty amount of job opportunity as a musicians in Malaysia, even in the place where most top musicians gathered - Kuala Lumpur. We still don't have enough good musicians to meet the demand of being good enough standard, good players are still very much in demand. As for the teaching side, there're also large amount of students wanting to learn violin, tightly followed after the usual piano students which is always top of the chart. And compared to the piano teachers, violin teachers are lacking in supply all time.

However, the problem with our fellow musicians is that majority of us still don't meet the world class standard. So if a musician is able to meet world class standard, he/she'll be like the super star and will be hugely in demand. Part of the reason is also many musicians stop improving when they reach certain level, because it's "good enough" to make a living. Can't blame them in most cases, because musicians don't get better pay if they play better than average musicians. It has something to do with our average spending power too. Most of us can't even afford a fine modern instrument in order to further develop our skill, some students have to play on ebay special until they further study in university. We're still a "developing country" in terms of the music scene. I appreciate musicians who're able to meet the world class standard continue to stay in Malaysia to develop the overall standard.

So to me, if I'm Ji Yan, I'd continue to study the violin and at the same time, taking up engineering as major. Not that it can't be done to make a living with "enough" skill, but I'd feel irresponsible to input substandard music into the music scene, or produce substandard future musicians. I would not even teach until I feel that I'm ready to at least teach a student from scratch to the level where they're ready to meet the university requirement when they need to.

These are just my stubborn opinion as a musician myself.

December 5, 2011 at 08:57 AM · Please forgive my ignorance. May I ask a question: How can someone be considered as wa orld class musician?

I know it doesnt have an exact definition or criteria, but i hope someone can roughly tell me the idea and example of it.

December 5, 2011 at 10:13 AM · World class musicians are those who have the technique and skill to play top level music decently at the very least (you don't need to play like heifetz to be considered as world class), who have mature taste in musicality, who have mature experiences as a performer to handle different concert setting including able to work with other professional musicians/conductors, and who have deep knowledges on how to make their instrument works.

Soloists can be often impressive but it's common to find that those who played behind the soloists can play just as good, perhaps not everyone in the orchestra but you'll at least find a few who're ready to become touring soloist anytime but don't have the opportunity to do so.

December 5, 2011 at 11:16 AM · Casey wrote: "Soloists can be often impressive but it's common to find that those who played behind the soloists can play just as good, perhaps not everyone in the orchestra but you'll at least find a few who're ready to become touring soloist anytime but don't have the opportunity to do so."

Thats something I was thinking about recently - glad you raised it. Orchestra members may have played in orchestras all their lives but to get into a top orchestra they had to train as performers - soloists - least as I understand it. So what you have is one soloist playing with ~50 soloists accompanying. Just written like that it seems like a recipe for disaster! Or maybe I am misunderstanding - that most of the orchestra members really did not want solo careers, they were planning on the artistic (and relative financial) security of the group?

December 5, 2011 at 02:47 PM · Or, quite often, the player wishes to become a soloist but can't bear to break away from the financial security of the orchestra. That's a recipe for dissatisfaction.

Contrast that with string quartet players, who have the highest amount of job satisfaction-- if a quartet is less than perfect, it blows up. The surviving groups are the ones that are productive and happy.

December 5, 2011 at 03:02 PM · the other aspect is really op's own definition of world class status.

perlman to me is undeniable. then we have some from europe, some from the usa, such as hahn, bell, chang, etc. arguable but undeniable. be able to fill halls globally with solo acts as a starter. how about the other continents? doesn't jump out to me at least.

to some mae and rieu may be world class but in a different class. they actually fill stadiums.

i wonder what op think of m mae and andre rieu...

people on this board tend to think of those 2 very differently from those off this board:) although both mae and rieu had solid classical training, they are not world class pure classical skills wise imo. perhaps by design. how much would you change/adapt to get more people to come to see you?

oh, how about david garret?

December 5, 2011 at 04:19 PM · Hi-One of my chamber music coaches in college started playing the cello around your age and he became a professional performer and college professor.


December 5, 2011 at 04:39 PM · I don't like about Mae and Rieu faking by "lip (bow) syncing" a lot in many concerts. It's particularly difficult to fake violin playing, it's going to be unnatural in the eyes of violinists with decent training.

Compared to Mae which I don't doubt she actually played pretty well, every time I search Rieu's concerts are mostly tutti playing, some he doesn't even play at all. I was particularly put off by one of his video of a live concert, boy, it wasn't even a good track to sync!

I have lots of respect for David Garrett in contrast, he did play everything real in live concerts, at least I haven't come across a video demonstrating he's faking. And those are some pretty fine playing.

By the way, my definition of world class violinists isn't limited to just soloist. Some of the musicians are fine players although they might not have the charm or technique to play like Perlman, they're not too far behind the standard either. Those successful soloist still possess special elements that make them standout (but then, at the same time, some so called soloists are just being hyped up). After all, tutti players are different from soloists, it's basically a very different job overall, being a soloist isn't just about skills.

December 5, 2011 at 04:41 PM · This term "World Class" is a bit vague to me. I once auditioned for a grad program and was accepted (I ended up not attending this particular university) the violin prof said "You have the kind of sound where you can go anywhere in the world and get hired" now I didn't take that to mean that he thought I was the next so and so or that I could waltz into the Berlin Philharmonic but that my tone and technique were at least generically good enough to be recognized as professional quality and not too stylized.


December 5, 2011 at 06:19 PM · "Contrast that with string quartet players, who have the highest amount of job satisfaction-- if a quartet is less than perfect, it blows up. The surviving groups are the ones that are productive and happy."

Stephen, do you mean compared to all professions, or just within classical music? Actually, it seems that most quartets DO blow up sooner or later--we just never hear about the other 999 that don't make it. The dynamics are treacherous because there is always a weakest player, always a more passive player, and always a really dominant one. I remember at least one story about a famous quartet that hated each other so much that when they dined on the road, if there was just one restaurant in the town, they would each sit in the farthest corner, facing away from the others.

December 5, 2011 at 08:36 PM · Yes, that's exactly what I mean. Only the top 1% of quartet players survive. And more than in most professions, they like what they've chosen to do. If not-- poof!

In orchestra playing, on the other hand, the money and status are often so attractive that only the most discontented leave after getting tenure. I exaggerate a little, but there's not a lot of room to jump from one orchestra to another, or leave, say, the NYPO and come back in after 4 years of freelancing or giving recitals. So the tendency is for people to stay whether or not they like it.

December 5, 2011 at 10:33 PM · so that he could go home and work on his hobby - possibly drinking beer - or maybe water supply engineering ...

Here I go, romanticizing water resources engineering again.

Everyone knows that water resources engineering is much much more exciting than the violin, right!?

December 5, 2011 at 10:53 PM · hello terry, during what stage of your life did you become convinced that is what you will pursue?

last summer i bumped into a bunch of guys who held an engineering firm together and did mainly civil projects in update NY. they would do anything and everything and because of their connections to many local towns, they apparently did well enough to sponsor a high level national golf tournament.

December 5, 2011 at 11:12 PM · I've held a number of engineering jobs but it's only become clear to me that this is a good profession for me probably within the past 5 years. Before then I had some doubts.

I quit playing the violin from about age 23 to 28 when I got frustrated that when I started working I could find no time to practice. But when I became more disciplined in my late 20's I started to make some progress again on the instrument.

I'm 46 now, so it's fair to say it's taken me awhile to appreciate what I have: A steady job that allows me to be married with children and some time to pursue my love for the violin.

December 5, 2011 at 11:16 PM · "A steady job that allows me to be married with children and some time to pursue my love for the violin."

wonderful. even a violin needs a roof:)

December 6, 2011 at 03:36 AM · I went to conservatory with a woman who started playing violin when she was 21. 1 year later, she was studying violin at Indiana University. Now she is a violin professor in Europe.

December 6, 2011 at 03:53 AM · Adding one more voice to the thread. I agree with all the above comments that state that for now, for your undergraduate degree (or whatever is the equivalent in your country) you should go the engineering route, but by all means keep studying the violin.

I have several good friends who did their bachelor's degree in something non-music-related (a couple of scientists and a literature dude) who then went on and auditioned for a graduate program at a conservatory. One of them now has an excellent job in a professional orchestra in Germany, others though still in school are doing excellently well.

I guess my point is do engineering--for now. See where it goes. Life is surprisingly long and when you get right down to it, four years of college doesn't end up being all that ragingly important. It doesn't determine the entire future course of your life anyway. ;-P

December 6, 2011 at 04:07 AM · Greetings,

one of the advantages of studying engineering I suppose is that one is able to analyse problems and devise solutions on the violin in a very flexible way. perhaps we should all do that first...



December 6, 2011 at 04:51 AM · It looks like the minimum requirement to get into most music colleges in Malaysia is ABRSM Grade 5, so the OP is not that far behind.

I would advise against studying engineering and pursuing violin seriously at the same time - if studying engineering is as rigorous in Malaysia as elsewhere, you will most likely not do well enough to be competitive in either. I'd suggest pursuing music first, if that doesn't pan out, then engineering, as age is less of an issue in the latter.

Even if you find yourself in the wrong career down the road, it's still possible to switch - I have a childhood friend who was a very good piano player, picked up violin at 13/14, and within a year placed 2nd in a competition. As an obedient son though, he studied engineering but hated it, abandoned it upon graduation and went on to become a top pop-music producer and arranger, and owns a successful digital music school... Two of my colleagues have music degrees, and one still plays in a community orchestra. I also know music majors who become film maker, psychologist, writer, executives, etc.

I think OP's biggest problem is that she has very narrow (and incorrect) views about what these two fields are about and what they have to offer. She needs to do some serious research and self-evaluation before making such important decision for her future.

December 6, 2011 at 05:37 AM · Some posts above believe that there're something that you cannot learn when you're adult.

I disagree.

Adult learners can still be a very good player. I know guys who start late (16~20) but play as good as a professional orchestra violinist now (not top tier orchestra though, but it is professional orchestra nevertheless, and one of them is in Asia). Problem being most of them become that good at age of 30~35. At that age, orchestra will not be interested in you because of your lack of experiences. Audiences will not be interested in you because they rather watch a famed player or a 9 year old playing the same piece. You have no way to participate in any competition, also because of the age.

So why don't you go for your engineering degree, but keep learning the violin just like it's your second career. Join community orchestra to get the experiences, try out semi-professional orchestra after you get better. You'll realized that some young players (compare with your age) play probably worse than you, but able to play there due to his/her long time music education. Only if you become top players from the semi-professional orchestra, you may earn chances to occasionally sub the violin position in a professional orchestra. But you have to be as good as the top violinist in the professional orchestra to let them forget you didn't go to music school in the past when they sub you. You probably still won't be able to get into the full time position in the professional orchestra unless you play better than the concertmaster. But you have to know that when I said I know late-starters who are as good as a professional orchestra violinist, I didn't mean they are better than the concertmaster in that orchestra. In professional orchestra, regardless of the tier, the concertmasters are still very very good. They have tons of experiences, and have the skill and ability to become a soloist but miss the chances or connections or both. They have your talent if you are really that good as a late starter. They even have your skill and your experience 20 years ago which got them into one of the best music school in the world. There is really no way you will be better than them.

Get engineer as your primary job, and musician as your secondary job. You still can enjoy a lot playing the violin, and you don't have to worry about not able to make a living. If you only sub the position occasionally, even in a top tier orchestra, you still won't make over 15k per year by performing alone. You will have a hard time earning enough money for your mortgage and violin insurance. AND that's after you are VERY GOOD.

Unless you have a rich parents and willing to support you anything, including building up the connection. Otherwise I don't think choosing musician as a primary is a wise idea. You don't want to put all the eggs into one basket, especially not when that basket has a hole as big as a baseball! It's not really about "skill" or how good you play 20 years from now. It's about how many good players are there out there. You have to compete with them while you are not able to show a competitive resume at a younger age.

December 6, 2011 at 04:42 PM · I know someone who got his master's in cello performance at Peabody Conservatory, played in the Phoenix Symphony for 10 years, developed tinnitus in his ears, quit the Phoenix Symphony, got a computer engineering degree, and is now an engineer at Boeing.

I know someone else who got an engineering degree and a music degree. He got a job at Boeing. He also got a job in the Seattle Symphony. I'm not sure what he's doing now but for a long time he had jobs in both engineering and music simultaneously.

December 6, 2011 at 06:21 PM · One thing that never gets much attention when people consider careers in a professional orchestra is the sheer difficulty of the repertoire.

The first issue is the audition material, which can be much more difficult than the solos required. People considering an orchestral career should look at works such as the Brahms symphonies, Mahler 5, Shostakovich 5, La Mer, Prokofiev Classical Symphony, or Don Juan. These were all written by violin-hating sadists. And that's just the tip of the iceberg lettuce.

The other issue is that, even besides the audition material, the rest of the orchestral repertoire is extremely challenging (and in many cases heart-breakingly or soul-crushingly difficult). Because there's simply no way to sit down and learn it all, the orchestral player must rely on sight-reading skills. And the opposite can also be true: under poor conditions, such as a sitting with a stand-hog, or stage lights that suddenly cause all of your bowing and fingerings to disappear, you'll have to play many of the difficult passages from memory.

So don't assume that even mid-level orchestras have it any easier, or require a lesser level of skill, than a soloist. At this point, in the US at least, just getting into a mid-level orchestra means sounding like a soloist. And you have 2 minutes to do it or you go home.

December 6, 2011 at 06:40 PM ·

December 6, 2011 at 06:45 PM · > These were all written by violin-hating sadists.

Yes! And not just the symphonies either, just look at the accompaniments to some concertos as well. The first violin part to Copland's Clarinet Concerto is a beast...

December 6, 2011 at 07:00 PM · Shostakovich hated French Horns as well. I frequently have nightmares about being asked to do 5, along these lines:

Fortunately, I should never be in that position- I'm even worse on horn than I am on violin!

December 6, 2011 at 07:33 PM · Scott,

What do you tell your students about pursuing music as a career? Do you tell them not to do it? Or is there a rare one that you actually thought should go ahead and proceed with caution?

And the ones that don't pursue music, how should they then approach music?

I know, a lot of questions...I'm not making it easy on you. :)


December 6, 2011 at 11:21 PM · Hi Terry,

Each student is a little different, so it's difficult to present one-size-fits-all advice.

Most of my student by far have not faced that question. I do have an 11- and 13-year-old, both of whom could actually do it. It's a few years away from any big decisions, though. However, just a few years ago, I did have one odd person, a rank beginner at the age of 26, who suddenly declared she wanted to be a professional violinist, and was willing to going into deep debt to do so. This was a person who had "issues," and we got into a big argument about her plan as I attempted to reason with her. I have no doubts that she has latched onto, and lost interest in, many other careers since then.

I'd never dissuade someone from getting a music degree in a liberal arts college, even if they weren't of professional talent. I think the liberal arts are for exploring anything--I majored in East Asian Studies, learned Japanese, and spent time in Japan. I'm glad I didn't go right to a conservatory. From experience, I've seen that one's undergraduate degree is generally of little consequence. What matters are good grades, good recommendations, and whatever courses are necessary for graduate school. For instance, if you want to go to med school, just take the 4 or so courses you need, do well, and still be a music major. You'll still be a doctor. Same with law.

But either conservatory or grad school in music are different, so I would tell someone that they should only go if they get a full ride, and to NOT borrow money.

December 7, 2011 at 12:47 AM · Scott,

That all sounds very sensible. Can't really argue with a word of it.

But everyone doesn't have the same makeup. If someone wants to try it, as long as they know the long odds, even just for the fun, I wouldn't stop them. Sometimes you have to go against the grain. But having plan B ready would be prudent.


December 7, 2011 at 02:24 AM · Terry,

If someone really wants to go for it, that's fine too. After all, I did, and so did all the other professionals reading this. I think the most important thing is not to borrow money. Music, like acting, is a "lottery profession." Most people will NOT make it. It's simply math.

Carrying a large loan can really ruin your life.


December 7, 2011 at 04:14 AM · or your country....

December 7, 2011 at 10:28 AM · Ha.

December 7, 2011 at 06:13 PM · Go for it Ji Yan Ong and do not let anybody discourage you. You always have a plan B in anything you do.

December 7, 2011 at 10:36 PM · At 16, I decided to study electronic engineering after a failed attempt to become a classical singer. At that time I had no idea what electronic engineering was about - I picked it based on ridiculous reasons, like: electrical/mechanical/civil/materials engineering all seemed too heavy for a girl (I thought I would have to lift equipment), and I was not interested in chemistry, so chemical engineering was out... It was against my parents' wishes - they wanted me to become a lawyer/teacher/government employee... They accepted my decision, but warned that they would not support me if I changed my mind. It did not take long before I realized that I didn't care for circuitry, analog signals, electromagnetics, etc., but I couldn't tell my parents that and still had to maintain good grades - I was miserable! Luckily my little brain was able to handle the simple 0's and 1's, so I chose computer engineering as my concentration, which led me to software development - something I'd happily do even if I didn't get paid...

Some of my friends aren't so lucky - some are not satisfied with their careers but don't have the courage or opportunities to change; others keep wandering from one field to another, collecting credentials along the way, but are never happy with what they do... That's why I felt compelled to warn the OP about knowing what you are getting yourself into, and finding your niche before making the decision.

December 8, 2011 at 08:36 AM · Right, I totally agree with Lila. And the time is now -- while you're doing whatever it is that you're doing -- practice, practice, practice. Don't waste a lot of time wondering what you ought to be doing. While you're learning engineering or not -- practice anyway. There's lots of those little five- or ten-minute slivers of time that are extremely useful that we never think about. Even while the oven is pre-heating, all those sorts of little moments. In fact, you can't study all the time. Take a little break from studying, and practice for a little bit, as a relief. I don't mean as a recreation, but as real practice, taking things apart, and so on. Leave the instrument out and available and close to you at all times. It's amazing all the little bits of extra time that are out there that we don't usually notice, let alone use. And you could even try what Buckminster Fuller did, too. Instead of the usual sixteen hours up, eight hours in bed, he decided to nap and wake and nap and wake, and he got a huge amount of work done that way, needing much less sleep overall with refreshing little interludes. Of course, your family might object, but you could use a practice mute if you had to. There is more time in this world than we think there is.

December 8, 2011 at 11:49 AM · I haven't posted on this topic yet and its nearly run out! I think its so engaging because it forces all of us to think about our own choices - whether they are forward (as in the OP's case) or retrospective (as in mine). I played from the required age (~6) but quit as a teenager - and now wonder what life would have been like if I had not. As for many here, I was good (and I never had private lessons) but definitely no prodigy. Instead of violin I did not become an engineer but fell in love with biology and became a basic scientist - a career that I have loved and in which I have managed to achieve some international recognition.

Now the violin struck and I find myself in a rather fortunate position - with a deep passion (its been 3 yrs now and only intensifying) a continuing capacity to learn (that was the astonishing thing) - and the resources and time to invest. I want to be very good at this (no delusions about brilliant) and I think I can - but, save a collapse in world economies (I wish I didn't have to think of that) I should not ever have to worry about also making my living from the fiddle.

But what if this urge had struck at age 20 - when I was in college? I would have done exactly what the OP is proposing - gone for it and damn the torpedoes.

For if you are given passions, you have to follow them. To not do so is to run the real danger of becoming bitter. This was a large factor in my parents generation - where war limited choice and careers were determined solely by opportunity, not personal choice. So many people were bitter at never having had the chance to pursue thier dreams. The fact is, if you follow a true dream and make it - you will very very likely be happy. If you do not you will take up a job related to that dream and still remain connected. In my experience, people who pursue a dream and do not make it are generally not filled with bitterness - it truly is better to try and fail than not try at all.

December 8, 2011 at 10:08 PM · Greetings,

I agree about following one`s dreams, but unfortunately it is only half the story. The other half is the procerss.

Music is a very romantioc profesison (especially for the young) so it tends to encourage dreams which do not fit with what is possible in the world. It is not a question of somebody arrogantly trying to define someone elses world (all though this happens a lot) but rather that the dreamer has not yet learned -how- to dream. There is more thna one kind of dream. I dream about intelligent , beautiful women with large fforunes suddenly wanting to marry me or being a profesisonal IGO player but these are -just - dreams. Then there are the dreams that we should have have to guide and lighten our way in the real world and it is perhaps better to call them aspirations. these are necessary for a happy and productive life as indeed, research has shown: people with goals tend to be happier and better off late rin life. The problem is that the dreamer /aspirer has not mad ethis distinction which is actually a fucntion of framing the question or aspiration as precisely as one can. Part of the problem with this thread is that the original question was not framed that well. Until the framer presnets what being a `proessional` actually means and the context within which he aspires to it then any answer is only a generalization. If one assumes that being a profesisonal in the sense of ewnjoying a reasonably well paid life in a good orchestra is the goal then the experienced players can tell you its a no-no and no amount of `don`t be cruel` type protestations hold water. A careful look at articles featuring interviews with people in the know like the Head of Julliard, (springs to mind) or a mathematical look at numbers answers the question quite rationally and it is not remotely cruel. It makes the point that one may need others to help rationlize and fully utilize our aspirations . If this thread has helped the framer see that `being a professional` is not necessarily the best way to utilize his love an dpasison for music (it often isnT) or that within a specific context he can indeed call himself a profesisonal and spend his life doing what he loves wityh others that too is great.

But at the end of the day this statement `follow your dreams` tgaken without refinement is a load of bunk. It is not a question of being bitter because one hasn`T. There are probably considerably more bitter people who only followed dreams, gambled too much or didn`t develop in other ways as a result who are equally or even more bitter and lost.

The answer is always to obsereve the situation, relentlessly seels knowledge, ask questions, refine the dream, take some steps and then see where one is and what one needs to know next.

Its sort of close rto science than dreaming.

In the meantime I`m still hoping Natsushima Nanako is getting a divorce and bumps into me in the supermarket.


You know you are a dreamer.

Can you put your violin up correctly,

Oh no...



December 8, 2011 at 11:34 PM · So you have the choice: follow your dream or follow your common sense. Is there a right answer? Obviously not, it depends on your personality - in particular how much your dreams are a possible reality and also how much you dare dream. Its personal. To say follow your dreams is bunk is dramatic but, frankly, just stupid because thats what most people in a free society do anyway - and not just for jobs but also for marriage, location, even dress! Besides, you missed the other part of the post and that relates to passion. If you have a dream without passion its just whisp of air - but with it you really make a difference.

On the other hand, I suppose we should take notice that some of the people who are most respected and vocal on - and most successful are the ones with the strongest reservations about this as a future. However, you can not predict what the future may hold - just as live classical became a fringe music form it may yet reemerge as the dominant cultural expression - stranger things have happened - in which case even the mediocre might yet find a niche in solo performance. And that (and the opposite, a crash) is true of just about any other career choice. Remember the dot com bubble?

December 9, 2011 at 12:58 AM · As far as I know, to become a professional violonist isn't only a question of working hard and having talent, but practicing in the appropriate age, along when the nerve-system/the brain is developing mostly. The latest starters whom I know have become professionals on the violin, have started at age of 12, but usually they have at least sung or played some other instrument before.

December 9, 2011 at 02:29 AM · The OP started the pipa at age 12. He is content being a teacher for at least awhile if not for good. He'd love to play in a professional orchestra. Apparently all of this is doable in Malaysia and the violin level is not that high.

Camilla Wicks told me that one should go into music only if that's the only thing you can see doing. But Camilla Wicks is just one person. One must decide for themselves.

As Scott puts it, it is not an easy road. But it is a beautiful instrument.

In my opinion there is only one violin job that I can think of that would be better than being an amateur. That is being part of a resident string quartet at a University. Then one doesn't travel too much, doesn't have to teach too much. You have the security of the university, and you have performance opportunities too. You have some choice of repertoire, and unlike in an orchestra, you have a lot of artistic say in what you do.

If you're a famous soloist, you're traveling 200 days out of every year. If you're not traveling that much, you're wondering how to make ends meet. When you're traveling that much, it's hard to fit in time to practice. I don't want to travel that much - I don't want to eat restaurant food that much - I'm picky about what I eat.

I think otherwise, the best place to be is as an amateur with time to work on one's craft, not a professional. But that's just me.

December 9, 2011 at 03:22 AM · >To say follow your dreams is bunk is dramatic but, frankly, just stupid because thats what most people in a free society do anyway -

I@m afraid you have no idera what you are talking about.

You complete misrepresent me anyway by removing the rational and experienced expplanation of when and why it isn`t. That`s not onoy intellectually lazy but extremely rude. On this issue I can honestly say it isd not worth my time discussing it with you.

December 9, 2011 at 07:28 AM · I personally wouldn't have interpreted it like that, so maybe that is not what was meant?...

Peace, people :-)

December 9, 2011 at 01:47 PM · Don't have the time to write much now, but here's what I said on a similar thread several years ago:

From Raphael Klayman

Posted on February 5, 2007 at 02:14 PM

There is one aspect that I don't remember being mentioned. If it has been and I missed it, I apologize. This is a physical aspect. Let's face it, compared with many other instruments as diverse as the cello, piano, or clarinet (each with its own challenges, to be sure,) the violin and viola, whatever method is used, is not the most natural instrument to play, in its very basic playing position. We need to grow into it, as well as, in a sense, grow around it. In most cases this is accomplished most easily, naturally, and reliably with a fairly young child, whose muscles are soft and pliant. If we want to influence the way a tree grows, it's more easily done while the tree is still a sapling. Then there's the very messy business called "Life", including trying to earn a living, maybe taking care of a family, etc. All this and more is factored into the conventional wisdom that says 'earlier is better, and later is harder'. This conventional wisdom is not some societal evil, and it's no plot cooked up by whichever political party we might be against. It's just common sense, based on observation and experience. That said, of course there are always exceptions. To a certain extent I've been one, myself.

Some time back there was a thread asking if we had any regrets. In it I said that while I've gotten a number of compliments that have pleased me, there is one comment not especially intended as a compliment that has particularly pleased me in a different way. Several knowledgeable people over the years, when it came to talking, have made the identical educated guess that I must have started when I was 4 or 5. I suppose that something about the way I hold the instrument and approach it, my apparent organic connection with it, as well as hopefully, what at least sometimes comes out of it, has given a number of people this impression. The fact is that I started string class instruction in 5th grade, and a little before my 11th birthday, began private lessons. Until my sophomore year in high school, I never practiced more than one hour a day. Yet in my senior year I succesfully auditioned for The Manhattan School of Music. I eventually switched to, and graduated from Mannes, and have been playing professionally ever since - including well-received solo performances. I was even selected as a winner of a small, European based competition. Now in my (dare I say it?) mid-50's, I'm still at it, still in love with it, and play better now than ever. I was a tortoise (perhaps a turbo-charged tortoise!) who eventually overtook many a hare.

Sounds great, right? Well, in a way it IS great. But there has been a down side as well. I've had many struggles, many uphill battles, many bitter disappointments and discouragements, and many early bad habits to overcome. I so wish that I started earlier. In my case, had I begun private lessons at 8, with a teacher who would not let me get away with a single bad habit, and had I practiced more from the get go, I do think that by 22-28 I'd have had a shot at some major competitions - not everyone's goal, of course, but it would have been among mine. As it is, to a significant extent, I did make up for lost time. The various improvements, and accomplishments have all been real and tangible. But some of these have had a 'nouveau riche' aspect. There is nothing like having many layers of accomplishment to draw upon, to have been playing at a certain level for many years, for it being, at a mature age, the 20th time one gets to play the Mendelssohn, etc., with orchestra, rather than the first.

So, as the song says, I'm in a position to have looked at life - or this issue - from both sides now. A determined and talented tortoise can go far. But make no mistake - it isn't easy. And the later one starts, the harder it usually is. I return to what I said in an earlier post: if you love it, stick with it. There are no guarantees in this business, in any case. My own love affair with the violin and music is amply requited.

With this posting, I need to take another leave of absence. Good luck to all, and happy fiddling!


December 9, 2011 at 01:55 PM · Oh, forgot just one thing, although others have touched on it. A distinction may be made between getting to a professional level in one's playing, and actually doing it for a living - something extremely hard for most to do, no matter what one's accomplishmnents and talent, and laden with lots of frustrations and uncertainty, and all excacerbated usually in proportion to how late one started.

With the exception of near-genius, I would advise anyone aspiring to a career as a profesional violinist to have a backup Plan B. Then work hard and enjoy, with a little less pressure. But unless, difficult as it is, you feel you'd be miserable doing anything else, and you really seem to have the potential, you might consider the Plan B as Plan A.

Good luck, and Happy Holidays!

December 9, 2011 at 04:13 PM · Good luck with your decision Ji Yan - I hope you let us know how it turns out...

[And hugs Buri ;) ]

June 30, 2014 at 08:41 AM · I'm also thinking of going to music college, I've finished HRM as my 1st course but If i were to study again which chances are slim to none, I would have to spend another 4 years and it has to be free or with scholarship. Where would i get that? I'm now 24 with 5 years of playing on the 6th book of suzuki with little traditional training and little teacher sessions and almost all self-taught.

I think to have a stable music career that can sustain a family you have to at least open up a store where you sell violins and accessories then teach and play.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Coltman Competition

Metzler Violin Shop

Bein & Company

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Los Angeles Violin Shop

String Masters

Bobelock Cases

Things 4 Strings LLC



Sleepy Puppy Press

Jargar Strings

J.R. Judd Violins, LLC

Southwest Strings

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine