Too old to go back to College?

December 28, 2011 at 11:24 PM · I have recently looked into the possibility of going back to college to get a degree in music. Is it too little too late? Since finding the violin back in June of 2010, I have re-found my passion for music. I am not expecting to go to Julliard, Curtis, or any of the really big names. Just get a degree so I can possibly join a local orchestra or chamber group and teach violin. I am not looking to get rich, but I REALLY want to make money doing what I love, which is making music!



Replies (47)

December 28, 2011 at 11:36 PM · Too Old? Of course not! People go back to school all the time. Going back for music may be a little more of a touchy subject however. I suppose it depends on what you would focus you're degree on. Speaking as a college student who is studying music, I can attest to how time consuming it is. Music Education, I think, is definitely possible. Music Performance not so much considering you just started playing last year. I spent my first year as a performance major before I switched to composition so I know first hand performance can be pretty competitive.

On the other hand, going back to school as a music major would definitely broaden your horizons as to what you'll be able to do. It'll get you into private lessons as a part of your studies. I'm not sure if you are in lessons now, but I can assure you they are definitely essential. It'll also give you the chance to be in an ensemble to see if you would enjoy it, which I have a feeling you would.


December 29, 2011 at 12:11 AM · I'll be rooting for you. I think a lot of people that want to are afraid for various reasons to do it - Mostly because of what other people tell them they can and cannot do. I hope to go back to school for music, or perhaps do the same kind of high level work on my own. I just enjoy going to school, so that would be my preferred path.

And if you are inclined to writing, I think documenting your journey would not only be a great help to others looking to do the same, but also to yourself.

December 29, 2011 at 12:35 AM · Career changes happen all the time, in many other fields. Why not music?

I left a career as a software developer to spend my days teaching young musicians and playing chamber music. On the flip side, my wife put aside a career as a performer to teach math and manage non-profit organizations. Maybe at some future date we'll change our minds again. ;)

As long as you have the commitment, time, and resources to achieve your goals, it's never too late to pursue something.

December 29, 2011 at 02:16 AM · Perhaps there are colleges that don't require auditions for music majors...

Whatever you do, don't go into debt for a music degree - it's poor return on investment from financial point of view. I have seen people go from one college/major to another, but for whatever reason never finish their degrees. They have nothing to show for but student loans. It can easily ruin one's life.

December 29, 2011 at 02:21 AM · You don't need a music degree to accomplish what you're doing, you just need to play well. So why not figure out a practical way of getting enough practice in and some lessons so you can get good. Unless of course you really want to take distribution classes in music history, english lit, math and foreign language. :)

I see you're taking lessons from Alex DePue so you have the good teacher part down. Tell Alex what you want to do and start practicing!

There's also other fields like music therapy if you want something that makes money and is connected to music.

December 29, 2011 at 01:13 PM · No. It's not too old to get a degree.

But have reasonable job expectations afterwards.

I think playing in local ensembles and teaching beginners is a reasonable go for it!

December 29, 2011 at 02:07 PM · A degree should give you a more-solid background to teach well, and lends credibility. Agree you should not go into debt for this unless you are highly-motivated to teach (in schools). It's a major annoyance to me when folks think they should take private students when they themselves aren't well-taught, haven't explored methodologies & materials, and have very modest playing skills. Especially teaching beginners! The better the teacher, the better the start. There are skilled players of other instruments currently getting jobs teaching strings & orchestras in schools. I'd surely be happier if they had more string background, but at least they have theory, history, education philosophy, conducting.

December 29, 2011 at 02:33 PM · Around here, there is a lack of strings teachers. If a beginner is taught the basics well (and it should be taught well, we're not talking about teachers who can't pass on the basics) and shows promise, they can move on to a 'better' or 'more experienced' teacher when they're ready to.

Realistically, most beginners don't last that long or go on.

And many experienced teachers, with their limited time, don't necessarily want to take on rank beginners either...

December 29, 2011 at 03:08 PM · A music degree is a wonderful thing. But we don't know the OPs financial situation. Can she start a music degree and finish by 35? Will this allow her to have at least one meal a day? :)

It is possible to be successful in music without the music degree. You do have to play well and be a knowledgeable musician however. You might not be able to get a job teaching in schools without it.

But you also might be just fine teaching private lessons and being in a local orchestra.

December 29, 2011 at 04:28 PM · Other things to consider:

1. Is someone who has only been learning to play the violin for two years ready to study violin in a college music program?

2. Will any music program worth its salt take on such student?

The OP did not say when she plans to start college, but unless she is a musical genius, it will be years before she is technically ready to be admitted to any college music program that is worth anything. I also question whether someone who has studied for such a short time is ready to make such commitment - she is likely still in the honeymoon stage with the violin. One cannot ignore the likelihood of losing interest or burnout in such journey. Most people who major in music certainly have passed the test of time and mental readiness (for the grind of studying music, not the financial reality after graduation).

BTW, if "local orchestra or chamber group" means paid gigs, it would be extremely competitive unless the OP lives in an area where there are few qualified musicians.

December 29, 2011 at 05:19 PM · I daresay that the OP is not likely to find a better teacher than Alex DePue at a music school that would accept her.

Tammy, correct me if I'm wrong, but I assume this is your teacher playing?

Joyce, good points.

December 29, 2011 at 06:32 PM · Joyce, it depends on the piece you audition, not on how many years of you played. You don't need an awesome playing for some universities (especially those with not-good music program) to get into. A prof from one of this level of school asked me to apply to their faculty when I only learned less than 2 years from high school (grade 11) because I was already on par with some first year or even second year students there. But I really have no idea what those students will end up doing in the future though... I mean for sure I'm worse at music theory, sight-reading, and music history or second instrument after they have the 4 years training at school, but as for playing itself they're not much better than me after they graduate. Half of them even change to major in music, not in music performance.

To the OP, I think you should bring your playing ability to be able to technically challenge the pieces required to audition best music school before deciding to get a music degree in smaller-name music school. (ie standard concerto, Bach solo, etc... ) Of course you probably won't be able to perform these pieces yet, but you can spend 3-4 years in a decent music program (not the best school, but decent enough to have good teaching staff) to work on these pieces. Local professional or semi-professional orchestra usually require you to have a good tone in audition with standard concerto or mozart concerto, some bach as well.

It's never too late to change profession, but you should wait until your technique is good enough to do so.

December 30, 2011 at 04:50 AM · Tammy,

It is very unlikely that you will earn a significant income from performing on the violin. Your best hope of making any money is from teaching young children, and I'd suggest getting a Suzuki certificate. You could also pursue an education degree and seek a 4th-5th grade level teaching position.

Since you have so little background, you'll have to stick to teaching younger students. This is not an unimportant job, as beginners need a good setup, and you don't have to play Paganini to do that. When parents look for a private teacher, they look for A. someone who is nice and works well with children B. someone they can afford. They generally have no idea of the difference between good teaching and bad. They will often request a Suzuki teacher simply because it is a brand name they recognize (usually the only brand name they recognize in classical music other than Stradivarius or Steinway).

My orchestra is a regional per-service orchestra that pays very little, perhaps $40/service, and we are in constant need of string players. However, we have no trouble rejecting those players, even ones with years of experience, that do not meet professional standards. The typical two years of masters work is but a drop in the bucket considering the demands of professional orchestra repertoire--you would need a decade more of 5-hour practice days. You will have practiced away

your prime earning years with little to show for it in terms of remuneration.

I would advise staying away from teaching the high school level, as your lack of skills will quickly manifest themselves and you will lose credibility, a position you do not wish to find yourself in. For example, if the students don't understand a complex rhythm and you can't demonstrate it immediately, your goose is cooked.

I would add that for any type of school teaching, you need conducting and score-reading skills, and familiarity with all of the string instruments. The school that you apply for may or may not offer such courses (my university cancelled its string techniques course a few years ago to save money). But of course, you can't afford to be picky if you have only played for two years. A school that accepted you into a masters in string performance would have almost criminally low standards, and a department so utterly desperate for your tuition that your future would not be a concern for them--only your warm body to be racked up to their fine "recruiting" skills in their report to the dean or tenure committee.

We don't know your financial situation--perhaps you are independently wealthy or are married to a plastic surgeon. However, if you are counting on a living from the violin at this age you should be prepared for penury.

There have been many question just like yours on this site recently--please do a search. This question, that of the adult beginner suddenly getting it in their head to be a professional violinist, has been hashed, re-hashed, argued, re-argued, and hashed out again many times over. Every possible argument and counter-argument has been made.

December 30, 2011 at 05:07 AM · Go for it and ignore everyone who tells you otherwise!

December 30, 2011 at 01:12 PM · She's not aiming to be 'professional' musician like Lara St. John.

She's aiming to get a music degree and maybe teach. Who knows where that will end up? I know people who have jobs in the music field and who play for local ensembles who don't even have a degree...

The question is: is it too late? And's not.

December 30, 2011 at 03:33 PM · N.A. Mohr

She said and I quote "but I REALLY want to make money doing what I love".

It's true that she may not want to be another Lara because she said she isn't planning to get rich, but she indeed wants to be professional, making money doing what she loves. That's why I said "professional or semi-professional orchestra", not community orchestra. Usually you have to pay some fee to be able to play in community orchestra unless you were in higher tier professional orchestra before and you're just helping out, so it's really not "making money". Ensemble is the same thing. A recital or performance will usually means losing a bit of money either on renting the place to rehearse and perform or hiring some musicians to accompany you. So you need to gather a lot of friends to pay to visit your playing. If it's wedding/events then how many can you get in a month? To teach... if her playing is not good enough (or don't have connection, but I think her teacher may solve this problem) to be in professional orchestra/semi-professional, then how much is she gonna charge for students? How many students can she get by her advertisement on her graduation from some music degree nobody knows or know it's not really good?

Those are the reasons why I think it's too early for her to get her music degree now. As I said above, she should be able to play at the level which will get her into decent music school. Not best, but decent. It's never too late to go back to college, but if technique isn't there then it's too early. Look around your area and tell me if there's any violinist from not-good music faculty that make a living (can live without support from family ie. spouse) by playing violin/teach violin. It's very ironic to see even there are a few more non-music degree students achieve this. All those people I know from not-good music faculty usually ends up doing management or some other stuff in music industry, if they're still in the music industry. But they're not making money by playing violin/teach violin alone. It's just simply not enough.

December 30, 2011 at 05:31 PM · "go for it"

Yes, there is always someone daring you to lick the metal pole in the depth of's not theire tongue, after all, is it?

Someone who starts at the age of 30 will not have a professional technique until well into their 50s.

December 30, 2011 at 07:11 PM · "Someone who starts at the age of 30 will not have a professional technique until well into their 50s."

Scott, I don't think that's true. Or at the very least you need to define what you mean by professional technique.

If by "professional technique" you mean soloist of the calibre of Heifitz than I think you're probably right. :)

December 30, 2011 at 07:14 PM · Tammy I say no prob! 31 is still late childhood - I plan to do it at age 65.

OTOH I also plan to have a full pension as a backup plan :)


December 30, 2011 at 07:16 PM · I mean someone who can play well enough to support themselves as a classical performer. The discussion always tends towards world-famous as a standard, but you still have to have a fully developed technique to play. Ask an adult beginner to play all the shades of spicatto necessary to get through even a low-ranking but still paying orchestra? Expect them to be able to sit down and sight-read a stack of gig music at a wedding without constantly getting lost? That takes too long.

December 30, 2011 at 08:26 PM · Scott,

I'd say with dedication and with good training, someone could get to the professional level you describe in 7-10 years.

But to get good enough to teach beginners properly, possibly 5.

But this would require true conviction and passion for the violin that would require them to think about it all the time (like some of the obsessed amongst us on this site). And probably about 2-3 hours of good practice a day.

I'm practicing about 1/2 an hour a day so I hope no one has any big expectations for me!

December 30, 2011 at 09:16 PM · Terry, I suspect the time needed would be longer for adult beginners unless they have extraordinary dexterity.

One thing many adult beginners don't realize is that it's easy for adults to progress faster at the initial stage than young children because of their mental capacity, but sooner or later, they will hit a wall due to physical limitation... They would have to work very hard, have very good teachers, be very tenacious and lucky (i.e. don't get injured) to overcome their physical issues to have a chance to achieve a high level of playing.

December 30, 2011 at 09:23 PM · Terry

To be able to play is different than to be able to teach. Yes, 7-10 years may achieve professional level even with adult beginner, but for sure it's not enough for them to teach properly.

Are you willing to let Sarah Chang to teach your kids when she was 10 years old? Even though she is a very good player and she probably can teach, but it just somehow seems unfit for her to be a teacher with only 7 years of playing.

Teaching came from experiences. These includes experiences working with a lot of different teachers, experiences to play with a lot of people so you know what you have to listen to, experiences to play recital and concert... etc. You also need to know how to motivate them and actually make them improve! You really need more than 20 years of violin training before you can actually train other people. It's totally different from performing.

December 30, 2011 at 09:40 PM · Joyce,

It just seems that the way to improve is so much better paved for kids than adults. There are competitions, orchestras, music centers, willing teachers, etc. etc. I wonder if that's the main thing holding adults back. I'm finding I'm making as much progress now as I ever have, even with my 1/2 hour a day. But I'm fortunate to play in 2 string quartets and have people I can play for. As you know, I get to go to this 4 day intensive chamber music reading summer camp that's organized by someone here in Portland.


As far as a ten year old Sarah Chang teaching my child, I'd be open to it! But certainly a question would be is Sarah Chang mature enough to handle all the antics my 5 year old is capable of pulling off. Sarah Chang at 10 had already had plenty of musical experiences - probably more than you, me and Dr. Cole combined.

I think an adult beginner who made lots of rapid progress would be fine as a teacher depending upon who she was.

December 30, 2011 at 09:57 PM · Terry,

I'd be willing to place a bet that I can teach any given technique better than any 10-year old. I don't care how much of a genius they are.


December 30, 2011 at 10:02 PM · Scott

One of my friend started at 15, 3 years earlier than "adult", but he won a local competition and got a chance to solo Beethoven violin concerto with orchestra within 5 years of learning and able to play paganini caprice without breaking a sweat for less than 10 years of playing. Does it sound professional level to you? He's working in his father's company now and call himself amateur violinist. But he sounds better than a lot of low-rate orchestra players! It's ironic that once in a joint performance he only wrote "I'm an amateur violinist" in the description while the other violinist wrote "over 20 years of playing in XXXXXX and YYYY orchestra, ensembles, and as a teacher", and a few audiences mistaken them because audiences believe professional should sound better than amateur.

It's funny that after I told them it's the other way around... Half of them don't believe me, and another half begin to say "Oh~ yeah, the one with 20 years of playing actually sounds with more musicality... " Yeah right... ...

December 30, 2011 at 10:14 PM · Shen-Han: I didn't say it would be easy or a lucrative proposition...but I have friends who make a living 'doing' music (without degrees).

Your situation would also affect the decision to some degree. Are you the principal wage earner, or the secondary wage earner, etc.

As far as having a 10-year old prodigy teach? No, of course not. They're not mature enough to teach. Nor do those that are the 'best' in their field necessarily have the ability to teach. Sometimes those who struggled in their field are excellent teachers because they can relate to where their students have issues precisely because it didn't come quickly or easily to them.

Many professionals also don't have the patience to teach music from scratch. They might be better paired off with higher level students.

Beginning students are mostly young and need a teacher that has patience with the young. Not everyone is willing to spend years repetitively going over the basics.

There is a growing demand for teachers of adult beginners as well - and again, many 'pros' don't want to take them on, often because they don't really have the potential to go pro themselves.

Fiddle players are a good example. Last summer I talked with one professional fiddle player at a workshop. There is a clear lack of teachers for those beginner adults.

So I still think a living can be made.

December 30, 2011 at 10:46 PM · Terry

I guess it ends up to be a personal preferences then... For me for sure I'll let teacher like Scott to teach my kids rather than Heifetz at 10-year-old.

For what hold back the adult beginner... ... It's interesting. As an adult beginner myself, I learn Bruch, Wienaiwski 2, Mozart 3 and a few Bach solo within 3 years of learning, just like a lot of kids. I spend another few years working on tones and intonations to the level that I think I dare to play alone with piano accompaniment rather than hiding in the community orchestra. With my experiences what I find the hardest for adult beginner is actually relationship problem and financial problem. Kids at 5 or 6 years old won't be threaten with "If you keep playing we'll break up!" from girlfriend, or the need to earn a living by his/her own. It's very likely that you want to play violin after work, but it's totally unlikely that your brain will "learn" something after 8 hours of bombardment. That being said my violin skill improved the most during economic downtime when I have no work lol

December 30, 2011 at 10:51 PM · I have no problem saying that Scott will probably teach better than any 10 year old violin genius wunderkind.

But I would also have no problem having my daughter learn a few things from a 10 year old violin genius wunderkind.

Shen-Han, I think you're a perfect example of what an adult is capable of if sufficiently driven and with time. Congratulations on your progess, you sound like you're making a lot of it!

I agree with the relationship/financial problems. My wife complains about me practicing too much and good training is not cheap.

January 1, 2012 at 06:53 AM · Your too old when your lack of will prevents you from doing the things you want to do.

January 1, 2012 at 12:01 PM · You nailed it David!

January 1, 2012 at 10:29 PM · Terry, I agree that the factors you listed are important, but I believe that physiological limitations in adult beginners becomes a more significant obstacle as one progress. I know from personal experience, having started violin for a short time as a preteen (already considered too late) then restarted nearly three decades later - the difference is enormous! Your progress is not a good example as there is a huge difference between polishing a sculpture and trying to carve one out of a hard rock from scratch. Granted, the OP is younger than me, and she might just have extraordinary physical gift, which is rare at any age, but I suspect that for OP to succeed, she will need several times the gift as the kids who become professionals. It's well documented that one starts losing flexibility after the age of 10, and the later one starts a precision athletic endeavor such as playing the violin, the more disadvantaged one is.

There are dreamers and there are those who take calculated risks. The former may succeed or fail spectacularly (Of course the odds is obvious). The question is how willing one is to gamble with one's future...

As long as the OP understands that the odds are stacked against her, and even if she did succeed in having a career in music, the material reward will most likely not be enough to live on. If she is okay with that, then there is no reason to try to dissuade her from pursuing her dream.

January 2, 2012 at 03:09 AM · Joyce,

I prefer to take the optimist's route, but will admit that it's possible you're right to an extent. But I never want to discourage anyone from playing our wonderful instrument.

That said, while flexibility is valuable, it seems that it doesn't require a huge amount of it to play the violin. So, it would be possible for someone to be an adult beginner and develop a professional level technique.

I knew a violist in the Seattle area who became a pretty proficient musician in 6 years with some good training. She called herself "a geriatric prodigy." :)


January 2, 2012 at 05:45 AM · As far as teaching goes, I agree with the fact that it depends on age. I'm 20 years old and started giving private lessons when I was 16. Are the kids I taught prodigies? No, and they didn't want to be. But are they decent musicians? Yes. More so that was able to start them off on the knowledge I have.

Now once a student gets to a certain level where I need my teacher to help me instruct them per se, I turn them loose. By then, they would have already been well acquainted if not mastered all of the basic techniques. I'm not a professional, I'm a college music student myself, but I definitely thinking teaching little kids or even some older kids that are beginners is possible!


January 2, 2012 at 06:46 AM · Joyce

Except for finger octave, double harmonic, 10th, and probably left hand pizz, where else do you find problem with flexibility? Physical problem should not be a problem for adult beginner except for the stuff I said earlier, especially one's hand is already grown. If size is really a problem because hands are small and don't want to do a bit of stretch in some places, you should go get a 7/8 violin. As for the progress, You can progress at a reasonable speed if you really try it, practice RIGHT, and problem solving for whatever problem you have and discuss with a GOOD teacher. It is same with any age. I also must say adult beginner have different learning curve than kids, so the teacher may not experience the same problem before when she was a kids as you did. So if the teacher teach only from what he/she been taught before, he/she is not the right teacher for adult learner. There are all the method/theory about violin playing written by all people from Leopard Mozart to Simon Fischer! There is no secret already. From what I see violin playing is kind of like downhill ski. If you have a good instructor that can teach you fundamental stuff and theory about it to trigger your problem solving in the future to improve your skill further, then you don't need much time to go to triple diamond to enjoy yourself and probably teach others. But it doesn't mean you'll be on the national Olympic team. Same as violin, it doesn't take that much time (I'd say 10 years) to progress to a semi-professional level (the level that we discussed above, not soloist level or top tier orchestra level), but it doesn't mean you will be a soloist or top tier orchestra player.

And as for soloist/top tier orchestra player, you may wonder why nobody is adult learner. Of course there won't be! Aside from the relationship/financial reason... Who wants to pay to see a nobody at the age of 50 to play Bruch even though he only learns 6 years of time and can play it as good as a 10-year-old kids started from age of 4? Nobody. Even if there was comparison everybody will be more impressed with a 10 year old's playing. For sure there is no way an adult learning can be a soloist by any mean and I don't care how good he/she plays. If there's no market he/she is as good as a dead man. Top tier orchestra is similar, and yet usually they want good player to stay for a long period of time. Berliner doesn't hire anybody older than 35. If a kids starts from 4, by the age of 35 he will have 31 years of experiences which some might includes very good youth orchestra or top conservatory orchestra. If you want to have similar resume and you started from age of 30, you are no longer needed because you're just 4 years away from retirement. You won't be able to join any good youth orchestra, you're blocked away from many top summer camp so you don't have a connection even for second tier orchestra, etc... All the reason I said are non-related to violin technique! Violin technique is in fact the easiest to conquerer because you simply are not allow to fake your age to join a lot of venue (competition for example). So a lot of people on this site stated:"No adult beginner can be good because no soloist/top tier orchestra professional is adult beginner" is really a false. They can't be top professional is much more due to the reason of something unrelated to violin technique. If there's no future for adult beginner in professional world, why would us want to practice 3~6 hours a day? I'll just focus on my current profession and play violin for fun! As long as technique is good enough for local quartet/ensemble/community orchestra, then it is good enough.

January 2, 2012 at 08:53 AM · Shan-han - you write the case very well. The only thing missing that I can think of is that we tend to think very narrowly in terms of professional goals. I think what you say is correct for the classical violin route - however there has been a significant growth in the use of the violin in other music. If you go on Craig's list here (toronto) most of the ads for violinists are for jazz or other forms of contemporary music. Thus, if you are an adult with not only the technical skills but also complementary contemporary musical skills, you might yet make a career as a professional violinist - without teaching!

January 2, 2012 at 07:02 PM · (just a little)...

Am I the only one who has no interest in seeing child prodigies performing?

If they survive to perform as adults, then I'm quite interested. However, while I find the technical ability some kids have amazing, I really can't work up the enthusiasm to watch them for more than a few seconds.

When we watch a child, are we listening to their musical interpretation of a work, or does the music take a step back to their cuteness? I find performing children akin to a circus act.

In that regard, I'd rather watch an amateur adult who actually feels the music...

January 2, 2012 at 07:05 PM · Shen-Han, since this thread is not about me, I'm not going into what physical issues I have with playing the violin (It's well documented on this site, and BTW I do play on a 7/8, and have good teachers). The issues with flexibility are not just limited to hands, but the entire body. The violin posture is such a unnatural thing for most adult beginners, it's easy to injure oneself if one is not careful or doesn't have good guidance. Combined with the rigor of practicing long hours (up to 5-6 hrs/day) to achieve what OP has in mind seems like a recipe for disaster to me. Most professionals don't practice that much anymore because they have put in the hours in their youth, but many still get injured... If the OP is determined to take this path, she should work with someone who understands how the body works and how to prevent injuries, i.e. someone who is an expert in Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, or a physical/massage therapist, etc.

Also, most professional orchestras in the U.S. use blind auditions (for regular positions anyway), so it's about how well one plays, unless one is approaching retirement age. If you look at all the young talented musicians out there who cannot get a stable orchestra job, it should not be a surprise that it's no exception for adult beginners.

BTW, I'm wondering whether Tammy has talked to her teacher about her aspiration, and what does he say?

January 2, 2012 at 07:52 PM · Consider a music degree to be a luxury rather than a necessity for future career. Given your age, which is young enough to have plenty room to shape your future but old enough to face other responsibilities imposed on you and the society, given that there are many ways to make money to do things related to your passion, and given that life is never a script so you don’t know what future will bring, so the question to ask is “Can I afford this luxury now?” or “Do I dare to reach for my dream?” Who can answer such questions except yourself? But what a great way to start a new year in figuring this out?

January 2, 2012 at 08:19 PM · Joyce

They'll look at your resume first. There is hardly any professional orchestra in anywhere in the world where you don't need to send a resume before audition. Orchestra audition requirement is nothing too virtuosi that only a handful of people can perform (some of them don't even need standard concerto, just one of the Mozart and excerpt). So they need to filter out the players they don't see fit to their profile.

But what are you gonna write on your resume? "Education: No music degree but with a few private teachers... Solo experiences: You got to be kidding me! I don't get a chance to solo with any orchestra. Orchestra: Only in community orchestra... Chamber music: Yeah~ Wedding gig is fun, I did play at retirement home a couple times too! Those are the places where I actually receive a bit of income due to performance! Competition: Sorry, I am not allowed to participate by the time I start picked up the instrument and only know how to play open string... Honours: I got a lot of engineering awards... " I mean... Who in the world will even want to hear his audition tape with this kind of resume? Won't you suspicious of digital remastering if the music is good?

I'm sorry to hear about your flexibility problem. I hope you will find a way to solve the problem and enjoy playing. For me I don't seems to have such problem when I practiced 5 hours a day during the economic downtime. But then it didn't last me over 1 month though because after that I spent more time practicing baseball pitching and golfing...

January 3, 2012 at 01:04 AM · "but sooner or later, they will hit a wall due to physical limitation."

One of the major limitations to adult beginners is that most of the ones that I have taught or work with are absolutely terrified to perform in front of anyone. Forget about hitting the notes. Even those who just started a late seem not to be able to ignore that voice in their heads that says "you didn't start at 6, you can't do it.."

Even when they can do it.

Also, I disagree that flexibility is not a major factor. If one does not have flexibility at the finger tips, they will not be able to vibrate, especially in the higher positions. A string player who lacks a beautiful vibrato, whatever the starting age, is essentially dead in the water.

January 3, 2012 at 03:29 AM · This may not be completely relevant to the OP's situation, but nonetheless she brings up some good points about issues faced by all professional musicians, and it's hilarious:

January 3, 2012 at 03:31 AM · Scott,

Sorry to be picky - I can't help it - I'm an engineer. :)

Do you think that adult beginning violin students lack the necessary flexibility in their fingertips to create vibrato?

I'd say that adult violin students would have sufficient fingertip flexibility to create vibrato.

Your point about stage fright might have some credence. But given the large number of people in orchestras who take beta blockers or other antianxiety medication to perform, it may be adults in general, not just adults that start violin late that have anxiety issues.

January 3, 2012 at 03:49 AM · "I'd say that adult violin students would have sufficient fingertip flexibility to create vibrato."


Having taught and worked with adult beginners and amateurs, I'd say that, for whatever reason, they are almost never able to create the kind of compelling, throbbing vibrato that grabs you and makes you want to hear more. The acquisition of that sound quality seems to take place in the early to mid-teens if it does happen at all. If you watch top soloists you do see a "how the h*ll can they do that?" aspect to the very tip of the finger.

While it's true that nerves affect many (if not most) professionals, they are usually able to deal them and do what needs to be done. If they didn't, they wouldn't be able to make it past an audition to begin with, let alone the several rounds leading to a job offer. Adult beginners just have it worse--much, much worse.

January 3, 2012 at 05:16 AM · Scott

Well, I like my vibrato lol Of course in compare with a professional, mine is still far from good enough. Indeed I do envy some soloist's vibrato but not all. However, I'm still not convinced it's about lack of flexibility... I just don't practice vibrato at all as I can already do it naturally the first month I learn the violin... I just watch my teacher carefully of how he did it and then I did it. As an amateur with about 7 years of playing I'm happy up to today...

Of course your teaching experiences are far more than mine, so maybe it is indeed a flexibility issue but I just don't realize it...

As for the nerves... I guess I got bless by "Leo" so I feel excited to go on stage. Maybe I was too excited that cost me a big mistake on a fast movement the first time I was alone with the accompanist but we got back together the 5th bar...

January 3, 2012 at 05:42 AM · One of my teachers once exclaimed: With that vibrato, you can trade jobs with me! (She is a professional orchestra violinist, and of course she was joking as I've only recently started Suzuki book 5.) I would call it an accident, but it indicates the potential is there, so perhaps it's not so hopeless for adult beginners. :)

I do find learning vibrato difficult with my stiff fingers, even though I got the idea and the movements right away. My main teacher had me started on vibrato exercises 2.5 months into my study to help loosen up my finger joints, and it took 6 months before I was ready to apply it in pieces. I still continue to practice arm and hand vibratos every day, although I use hand vibrato mainly - the arm vibrato is mostly for loosening up the joints, and playing in higher positions.

January 3, 2012 at 08:38 AM · Joyce - thats a very good video, in particular because she deals with the issue seriously while adding some humour. Great talk! I'd love to hear if professional orchestra members have a similar point of view.

On vibrato; my teacher identified that as my strongest asset (she's very qualified). On the other hand, (excuse pun) I'm a returner. But thats also interesting because if flexibility was an age thing I should still have lost it (I had several decades of down time). Thus, maybe its often not a flexibility issue at all but a learning challenge?

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