People telling me I should go to school for the violin, but I've only been playing for about 3 years...

February 9, 2012 at 02:33 AM · I'm wondering if I should even bother going to school for the violin? I love the violin a lot, and I play for like 3-5 hours a day ... probably more. I can't really keep track because I'll just pick it up and play when I feel like it.

I've been playing for almost 3 years now. I'm 20 (As of 5 months ago), and I started about 5 months before I turned 18. My first violin teacher was impressed with my sight reading and my progress. Same with my second violin teacher. My third teacher - with whom I'm studying now - is also impressed by my sight reading, as well as my posture and stuff like that. My current teacher is part of the Suzuki association. Here's a link so that you guys can get an idea of what her teaching style is like:

Would it be possible to go to university for the violin? There's a few universities I could apply to. My teacher said I'm a grade 6 according to the Suzuki method. My teacher thinks that in a year, I can work my way up to a grade 8, maybe even 9, but I'd have to work really hard to get to either of them. I really wish I had started when I was like 10 - I did piano for about 3 years (7 to 10) then I did the Alto sax for about 5 years (12-17), so I am no stranger to music.

Is this plan even realistic? I feel like my teacher and everyone around me is deluded. I'm OK at the violin, but I feel so amateur. I can do Suzuki book 4, but I haven't even done Suzuki book 5 yet. Could I actually achieve a grade 8 in a year if I work hard? I know that you haven't heard me play or anything, but for arguments sake, assume that my sound/tone/pitch and all that is adequate. I doubt I'd be able to be a concert/professional violinist, but I really really really love the violin. I'm in a community orchestra as well as the pit crew for a private boy highschool. I'm also in my violin teachers student ensemble. My teacher thinks I can do it, and she says that my visual learning capability is what puts me at that level. My parents say they've heard my progress over these past couple years, and they think that I have a natural "talent". I tried to tell my dad that sometimes natural talent isn't good enough, and that I need the years of experience to even come close to that level, but it doesn't matter since I'll always be behind. Even though I say things like that, there is still something inside me that tells me that I can do it.

Oh, and as an aside, my parents/violin teacher are all Christian. No offense to religions/christianity, but I feel like they only tell me that I can succeed because they think that God will bless me or something. That sounds so ridiculous, but I'm so confused; I want reassurance that they actually believe in me without anything clouding their judgement...

Realistic feedback, please.


February 9, 2012 at 02:34 AM · Why have you had three teachers in three years?

February 9, 2012 at 03:24 AM ·

February 9, 2012 at 01:01 PM · Im in the same boat as you. Started last year before I turned 20. But I really love it and know I wouldn't be happy at another job. The main thing is how much you love it and whether you could live with never knowing what might have happened. If you can, then perhaps pursue something else. If not, go for it. Its your life and you only get one. Those who started at five may have a natural advantage but I think you could be happy knowing you fought for it and succeeded. Best of luck to you!

February 9, 2012 at 01:10 PM · At 20, it's more what YOU want for yourself. If a degree in music is it...go for it.

While it's wonderful to have your parents' support...unless they're musicians themselves, their opinion is less useful.

Your teacher's opinion carries more weight - but getting another opinion, from someone who doesn't know you - might be useful.

Don't confuse the Suzuki books with the RCM books. They don't 'match' as far as book numbers and RCM grade numbers go. But you can play pieces from the Suzuki books to get accreditation for the RCM grades - they'll be listed in the RCM syllabus.

February 9, 2012 at 02:03 PM · "But I really love it and know I wouldn't be happy at another job."

Then I hope you're awfully (read: singularly) good at it. I'm in my 40s and what I've learned it that the violin is definitely fun, but having a nice warm home where I can watch my kids learn to play their instruments, when I can cook nice meals and have dinner with my family, and knowing that I can pay for extras like my kids' music lessons and summer Suzuki camp (and, when the time comes, their college tuition), that's real fun too. Believe me, it is. It's the kind of fun that comes from having a steady paycheck at a living wage AND fringe benefits AND job security AND some leisure time.

"The main thing is how much you love it and whether you could live with never knowing what might have happened."

That's only half of it. In fact it's less than half of it. The rest of it is how good you are. I'm with Scott on this one, Suzuki Book 6 at the age of 20 sounds very much like why I decided to do something else with my career.

February 9, 2012 at 02:21 PM · You don't have to be hilary hahn to have a good career in music. You can still teach private music lessons or even teach music classes at a community college or university. I've dealt with many people (namely my parents) who have tried to push me down the "lucrative" career path and its done nothing but discourage me. I've changed my major five times and it has not been a happy experience for me. Not everyone is the same and not everyone is happy with a job that simply "makes money" why should I settle for that?

February 9, 2012 at 05:48 PM · @Laura Niles: My first teacher, who was taught traditionally, taught me for a year and then got a job with a bank. My second teacher got married, and he stopped teaching to pursue another career track I guess. My third is probably going to be more long term.

@Scott Coles: I stayed for an extra year when I turned 18 because I didn't know what I wanted to do. When I turned 19, I went to school for about a year and a half and got my diploma (I got no breaks for summer or winter, and I did extra courses) in Digital Media Arts. At 20, now, I do freelancing and I practice the violin.

I'm definitely not looking to be a professional violinist, but it would be awesome if there was some way to achieve that. I'm perfectly content with doing jobs that are related to music but don't necessarily mean I have to be excellent at the violin. But I'd aim for that professional level just because I'm the type of person that aims for coveted titles for my own personal satisfaction. I don't mind public performances. I've already done concerts, and I've performed in groups and I've also done solos. I'm in my teachers student ensemble, and she seems to really like me so she always gives me good opportunities to play.

Wow! That seems like a lot. I've done a few Paganini Caprices, but I'm not sure which ones. I looked at the sheet music for some of the concerti, and I can read them all without a hitch. I just need to work up my stamina. I would be fine with ditching Suzuki book 5. Do you think I should ask my teacher to focus more on other pieces that aren't in Suzuki? The only concerto I really like from both those books is Bach's concerto in D minor.

Thanks for your input. It's greatly appreciated. Even if my violin teacher refuses to stray from Suzuki, I'll print off those concerti and the other pieces you've suggested. I have a few young violinist friends that have been practicing since they were like 5 that would probably be more than willing to help me practice.

@Sarah Starrette: Thanks for the feedback. Good luck to you too. I'll fight my way as far as I am able to.

@N.A Mohr: Yes. A degree in music is what I want. I'm just unsure if my skill would get me anywhere. My dad's also a musician. He plays the guitar and a bunch of other random instruments. My mom plays the drums, but she's not very good haha. I'm definitely going to try and get an opinion from someone else that doesn't know me and isn't afraid to tell the truth.

I've played from the RCM, and I have a couple of RCM books. I've taken a look at the syllabus and I've played the pieces in them that are in Suzuki. My teacher said that the RCM exam is not a requisite, but I want to do an exam anyways.

@Paul Deck: Well, I'm not looking to start a family. I don't think I'd ever want children unless my partner really wanted one. I'd pursue this because I want to support myself and myself only. I've always been a loner, and I'm also somewhat of a recluse.

I suppose doing it just because I love it is kind of brash, but there are other career options for me that I can fall back on if this one fails. Family business, and I have my diploma for digital arts already.

@Frieda Francis: I would be happy to go to school for the violin since money is definitely not a concern. I already play music I don't necesarily like. However, with the violin, I like anything I play to a certain extent. Even scales. I guess for me, it's about hearing it on the violin. I haven't played anything that I've absolutely hated and can't stand. Just things that I find boring.

In the end, either decision is really hard. I'm somewhat disappointed that we've been born into a world where society structures itself like this. It's like, you have such a small window of opportunity, and if you don't make the right choice, it'll be very hard to come back. Then people shun you because you haven't met a certain standard. It's just very daunting.

Thanks for all of your input. It's really hard for me because I don't know how I'd feel in 20 years. People DO change all the time. Will I still have this passion, this drive? This pedantic need for excellence? The questions and routes to take are endless; it almost seems useless to worry, because it's impossible to tell how things will go...

February 9, 2012 at 07:30 PM · Very interesting post - you are a fascinating individual.

But this paragraph caught my eye: "In the end, either decision is really hard. I'm somewhat disappointed that we've been born into a world where society structures itself like this. It's like, you have such a small window of opportunity, and if you don't make the right choice, it'll be very hard to come back. Then people shun you because you haven't met a certain standard. It's just very daunting."

I thought back to my youth (in England) where if you did not get your education at and immediately after school that was IT. There were virtually no adults in college or university (perhaps you could do teacher training) and you could not even get into a trade school - you were stuck with what you had or you somehow made it on your own. Compared with that the opportunities to change careers now are unbelievably good. I am at the other end of my career and seriously considering going back to school to study music. This may not be the best of (education) times anymore (expense) but its sure way better than it was.

February 9, 2012 at 07:55 PM · "Do you think I should ask my teacher to focus more on other pieces that aren't in Suzuki?"

Yes, when you were 12.

February 9, 2012 at 10:09 PM · Nasty. What's the point of that answer?

February 9, 2012 at 10:18 PM · There may be a lesson in why your first and second teachers are no longer teaching.

February 9, 2012 at 11:42 PM · Michael,

The point of the answer is that for advanced students or those with college/career aspirations, students in their late teens or 20s should be using either more modern editions or editions which leave more room for interpretation and decision-making on the part of the student. I would suggest, for example, that a serious student NOT learn a Handel sonata or Mozart concerto from the Suzuki books as these versions are simply out of date. My answer would not necessarily apply to older beginners.

February 10, 2012 at 12:37 AM · Greetings,

I have no doubt you are very talented and all the rets of it. Nonetheless, there is a key issue that is fundamental and becoming more and more serious by the day.

If you do some kind of degree it is not just a question of graduating and getting by -doing what you love.= The fact is you will be saddled with a huge financvial burden that may simply ruin your life.

This issue alone is killing further education not only in music but across the range of academic/artistic disciplines.



February 10, 2012 at 05:20 AM · Go for your dream. You will have to pay bills some day. It is a delicate balance, and some types of people prefer stability, others adventure and just following their heart's whims. Do work hard with your beloved instrument, as the journey ahead is hard and filled with obstacles, but it's nothing that a passionate, driven dreamer's hard cannot overcome.

What Mr. Brivati says is true. Education is expensive, and you'll probably won't be getting rich anytime soon with just the violin, even at a very advanced, professional level. And as he said, it's similar with other fine arts. But it's fine. ;)You can still make a living, but be careful about those student loans, if you do get some in the future (let's hope for the best, though!)

Know that the more "practical" people will try to steer you away, and the more "dreamy types" will tell you to keep on with your goal. I belong to the latter group. No group is better than the other; just different, and there's no right or wrong answer. It's your decision, in the end. Other professions MAY offer more stability, but will you be happy in those? It's up to you to choose what you deem will make you the happiest(and who knows, you MAY actually end up doing very well financially with the violin-but always work hard towards that dream of yours.)

All the best wishes! Concentrate on the task at hand for now. :)

(You can study violin, and also study something else at the same time, or later-at the same time is a challenge, but some people do fine (violin on its own is difficult enough, though). This does represent even more tuition costs, but it's your life. I hope you make the decisions that will make you the most happy.)

February 10, 2012 at 02:54 PM · Did you guys read the OPs posts? You seem to have missed that first, he already HAS a qualification, and second, money does not seem to be an issue (family business).

He seems to be in the fortunate position of the landed gentry in the pre-industrialization era with plenty of resources and also plenty of time. Rather than for a life of indiscretion (one option) he wants to play the violin. Under those circumstances I would put all my energies in that direction for the fact is that even though my technical development may never match that of my competitors (read will never) my opportunities - springing from playing without payment and even perhaps sponsoring music opportunities would allow me a very nice life in music. Thank you very much. :D

February 13, 2012 at 06:05 PM · Sarah,

Yes it is possible to make a living teaching private lessons. Teaching classes at a community college cannot be considered a reliable backup plan. The faculty are mostly adjuncts (with advanced degrees and years of experience), hired to teach each semester based on enrollment. If too few enroll in your class, it is cancelled leaving you to try and replace the lost income with no warning. Full time? Someone passed this letter along to me. It's funny but absolutely true. Just something to keep in mind as we tell people we've never met or heard play to "go for it".

Rejection Letter to Search Committee

February 13, 2012 at 06:40 PM · Tim - that is so cute...

I'd love to hear how the first day at work turned out...

February 13, 2012 at 06:40 PM · Tim - that is so cute...

I'd love to hear how the first day at work turned out...

February 13, 2012 at 09:58 PM · Chris L. Jensen,

Dear Dr. Jensen,

Having read your latest missive delivered by overland post, I immediately tweeted along your refusal of our rejection to the rest of the search committee. After careful reconsideration, I must inform you that the committee has rejected your rejection of our rejection. With “qualifications” such as yours, and according to the “thoughtful answers” you provided in our phone interview, we have no doubt that you will be very successful in acquiring a variety of other rejections (and re-rejections) in whatever endeavor you chose.


Herbert A. Millington

February 14, 2012 at 08:52 PM · Regardless of how you play, a college degree in music is a college degree. It is not significantly less practical than one in philosophy or journalism or even biology. Depending on how you use your electives, it can prepare you for graduate school or medical school, or law school. If you take advantage of the related coursework in music business or recording engineering, it could prepare you for immediate work. In this economy, a college degree music or otherwise could be really important.

Life takes flexibility regardless of what you choose to study in college. So, my advice is to follow your heart, dedicate yourself with no reservations, be open to opportunities as they come your way, and be prepared to be flexible.

I know someone who just graduated with a bachelors degree in violin performance, having begun the violin at 15. She has already been accepted into a masters program in music. It is as if nobody told her it was impossible. It seems not to have occurred to her that the odds are long. She works like a virtuoso and has become very professional in teaching, chamber music and orchestra.

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