Serious non-professional violinist

March 12, 2012 at 03:37 AM · I have been playing the violin since 7 and I am now 17, I did not practice much when I was young but did so when I was older. I am now working on Kreutzer, The Lark Ascending, Bach G minor sonata and E major partita and Mozart G major. I am studying in college in Australia now and have limited practice time(2-3 hours a day in the hostel) and next I will be studying literature in university, hopefully still able to practice 2-3 hours a day. How many more years would it take for me to play the top end of the repertoire musically? I play in tune.

Replies (28)

March 12, 2012 at 03:57 AM · The questions you're asking (essentially, "when will I be really awsome?") has no answer. Perhaps you are asking the wrong question.

March 12, 2012 at 06:43 AM · Lily: I'm about at the same level as you - and I'm totally awesome already! :D

What I hear is that you love to play for the sake of it but you are also seeking a goal. Perhaps whats missing is performance? Learning without performance is like cooking without eating. Its fun to do but a bit pointless. Is this guess right?

March 12, 2012 at 09:00 AM · It depends on what you define as "top". If you mean being able to play Ernst without difficulty, you've got a loooooong way to go... (that thing is killing my tendons).

But Tchaikovsky and the likes? A few years (technique-wise), I think. I played Partita E 6, 7 years before I tackled Tchaikovsky, and I wasn't crazy about practising (read: I hated practising, and avoided it if I could).

March 12, 2012 at 09:43 AM · Just continue to learn, and practice. You'll know it when you reach the target - by the time you'll probably set another target to hit.

March 12, 2012 at 01:20 PM · What Casey said. I am not sure what your question means. Some people think the Bach S&Ps are the top of the repertoire. Anyhow, you might want to ask your teacher. S/he will be in the best position to figure out what you view as the top and how to best get there. You clearly are quite far along now.

March 12, 2012 at 09:58 PM ·

March 13, 2012 at 04:53 AM · Greetings,

given the circumstancers and repertoire listed I would guess that you are doing somehting Alexander teachers call `endgaining.` That is you are so concerned about/wishing for a future state that you are not exactly living in the present. That is not an insult. It is true of most people most of the time. Nonethless if one was to consider the optimum `being present` criteria then you shoudl have:

1) A good teacher.

2) A balanced diet of technique/music and perfomance practice.

3) Orchestral and chamber music playing.

4) Listening to recordings of great player severyday.

5) Going to all concerts that circimsytnces allow.

Basically half of your pracitce time should be technique. This will included fundamental exercises, scales, etudes and perhaps techncially difficult passages from some works you plan to play in the future. Repertoire needs to be cycled very carefully , perhaps alloting half an hour each to two movements of a cocnerto and the ubiquitous unacompanied Bach perhaps another hald hour.

When will you play major works. You already are.

When will you play the Brahms?

Depends on your talent, diligence and destiny.



March 13, 2012 at 05:28 AM · Buri, what you said is applicable to every student so I want to ask, is playing in orchestra as important as the other activities you listed? Given that one has only 1-3 hr/day to practice, I feel orchestra is not the best way to spend my precious limited time for reasons:

1)Ochestra time can lead to sloppy playing, as given the limited amount of time you can spend on the quantity of the orchestra stuff you often get assigned to, you have to rush through a lot of notes without playing them as cleanly as you would when you work on solo or chamber works.

2) It can hurt your intonation and tone production, as we players in amateur orchestras are shaky in these areas and playing next to a shaky player makes one shakier.

3) Given 1) & 2) above, each 60 seconds I spend on orchestra work is one minute I have lost on my more effective technique-music learning through solo and chamber (pretty much solo in my book) works and performance.

If people can prove me wrong, I'll be happy to reconsider my position.


March 13, 2012 at 05:47 AM ·

March 13, 2012 at 06:56 AM · Ah! Scott, wouldn't you say to satisfy all these conditions (good orchestra, good section, good stand partner and good conductor)in an amateur orchestra requires quite a bit luck and patience?

March 13, 2012 at 08:38 AM · Up to a point I would have to disagree with you Scott, on the value of chamber music. Playing in a quartet say will provide an even better training ground as you can concentrate on intonation, on your part, on the other players parts, on critical listening, and all of this without the distraction of a conductor and endless instructions to other parts of the orchestra, and without the difficulties of playing against very loud brass, percussion and woodwind, as well as dodgy intonation from other players and fixed pitch instruments.

It was for these reasons that I tried to avoid playing in orchestras when at college. (Successfully avoided, mostly!) The only gain from orchestral playing is learning the repertoir a bit so that you have some preparation when the need for a job arises.

March 13, 2012 at 06:35 PM · Yixi, wouldn't it depend on what your goals are? For me, the whole point of playing the violin is being able to play with others in an orchestra and in chamber music. My favorite classical musical forms are those written for large groups of instruments and/or voices: symphonies, oratorios, overtures. Those are what I listen to when I have a choice. It's not about me, or about how good my technique is, it's about what the music sounds like and being part of something larger than myself.

It may be more challenging to maintain that technique playing in an orchestra than it would be playing solo, but that seems a little bit beside the point, since the major reason I want to improve my technique is so I can be a better orchestral player. I can't really imagine being motivated to put in the time and effort necessary to be able to play any violin repertoire if it was just about improving my technique and my personal achievement as ends in and of themselves.

Of course people are different and there are as many motivations as there are violinists, but I wonder if the OP stepping back and assessing why she is playing the instrument in the first place might shed some light. The social and interpersonal aspects of music can be very meaningful, especially if you aren't a professional.

March 13, 2012 at 06:36 PM · To the above two posts, I'd answer that it depends on the orchestra and it depends on the chamber group.

March 13, 2012 at 07:49 PM · Serious non-professional violinist -- how much of a contradiction in terms is that? When I have a week off work, playing level jumps up, to creep down again when I resume working. That means that some works remain out of reach. We have had a thread about Sysiphus; this is more like Tantalus.

March 13, 2012 at 08:34 PM · Playing in orchestra is important, but I never got to it until my late teens, and only because my teacher yapped "you'll never know as a soloist what's going on in the orchestra until you are in one". Turns out, she was right. I had a tendency to blaze through without a concern for the accompanist/others in chamber/orchestra, but now I listen to others a lot more.

March 13, 2012 at 10:38 PM · Karen, I agree with you that it depends on one’s goals. There are short-term and long-term goals, and no matter whether we play solo or in a group, our long-term goal will probably include becoming a more accomplished player. If so, then next question is, given my available resources (time, group to work with and performance opportunity, etc), how to achieve this long-term goal most efficiently. If you can achieve this by playing in an orchestra, you are very lucky and I envy you.

As for making music and be part of something larger than ourselves, I feel this is achievable not just in orchestras as well as in chamber and solo works. I’ve experienced in solo and chamber pieces that I’ve worked on, at a certain point, the music plays you. Playing violin should never be about one's ego but it IS about being honest about one's ability to achieve what there can and cannot be achieved. It’s also about being practical, if an appropriate orchestra is not available to me, I'm just happy with my solo work for as long as it takes.

Bart, no contradiction. I suspect what you’ve described happens to serous professional violinists and not-so-serious provisional/non-professional violinists alike. The problem is in the “violinist” part. That’s why Buri says prunes are good for us.

March 14, 2012 at 01:36 AM · "no matter whether we play solo or in a group, our long-term goal will probably include becoming a more accomplished player."

I suppose you're right, it will probably include that at some level, but maybe I'm weird, because I rarely think about it that way. Sure, there are challenges that I've wanted to take on, such as playing a totally different style (like when I attempted the Rockin Fiddle Challenge last year) or trying to do justice to those little orchestra solos I had last year, or playing quartets and quintets, or coaching my kids. Those activities were all new and out of my comfort zone and taught me a lot, but I didn't primarily think of those things as making me a more accomplished player. In fact, I'm not sure they did make me one, nor do I know (or really care) how I would even know if they did or not.

But I expect we may be arguing about semantics and may not really disagree at all, except in what type of music we prefer to play and listen to. I just know that when I think too much about whether I'm a "good" or "accomplished" player or not, I start to lose sight of what made me want to play the violin in the first place.

March 14, 2012 at 04:50 AM · Oh I’m in no way suggesting we should constantly rate ourselves. By becoming "a more accomplished player" I mean to become a player who is more and more effective or at ease in expressing what she wants to express. It's about having the freedom of expression in the fullest sense. Don't we all want that?

This is my problem: I listen to my playing like crazy and if a passage doesn't sound musical or a technical tricky part is unclear, it bothers my ears very much and it bothers me even more. I don’t want to use the word of excellence because I’m not excellent, but it is something in this sense I turn down orchestra activity. I get frustrated too quickly I guess.

March 14, 2012 at 05:14 PM · Yixi, thank you. You are a reliable source of humorous wisdom.

March 14, 2012 at 07:45 PM · "I mean to become a player who is more and more effective or at ease in expressing what she wants to express."

Sure. And what I want to express seems to be mostly frequently and naturally expressed in orchestral music.

I'd be uncomfortable with the idea of requiring anyone to play orchestral music if they didn't want to. But my natural inclination would be the mirror image of yours. I would ask, "with the limited practice time that I have, and all the challenging orchestral repertoire I have to learn, do I really have to spend any of that time working on a concerto? I hardly ever listen to concertos and the last one I performed was a movement on the viola two years ago at a church talent show. I don't even like concertos!"

And I suspect the answer would still be "yes, you do."

March 14, 2012 at 09:11 PM · “I'd be uncomfortable with the idea of requiring anyone to play orchestral music if they didn't want to.”

I’d feel uncomfortable to REQUIRE anyone (other than my husband) to do things even if they wanted to, let alone they didn’t want to.

"And I suspect the answer would still be "yes, you do.""

Not really. My answer is it all depends what your teacher says. I know it's useless to tell people what's good when people have already decided not to go there. But I know you, Karen, you are not one of those "people". So at the risk of looking stubborn and terrier-like, I want to share this with you. A very experienced violinist told me a few years ago that each concerto will teach you tons of stuff, and that you'll be a better orchestra violinist if you've learned Mendelssohn VC. Well, I'm not in a hurry to be an orchestra player but will likely try once I've got more time in hand. Nevertheless I've worked on a few concertos since then and now am working on Mendelssohn. I’m ever so thankful for this advice of hers.

Again, everyone is different and no one should “feel” obligated to listen to anyone or any group. And it is easy just to ignore what other says if it doesn’t sit well with us. But the fact that we are engaging in this conversation makes me suspect that you may not be entirely convinced by your own argument against learning concertos, just as I’m not so convinced by my argument against orchestra work. Is it not so?

March 14, 2012 at 10:19 PM · Well, my teacher keeps nudging me towards more solo work, and I respect her opinion as my teacher. I think this is where it's coming from on my side. So what I've been doing is something of a compromise at the moment: shorter solo works. I keep hoping that's enough because I look at something like the Mendelssohn concerto and it's clear I'd never finish. I'd get bored and discouraged. Because of my limited practice time, it takes me an incredibly long time to get through something. It took me over a year to learn one movement of the Franck sonata.

So I am now learning the Bloch Simchas Torah and it's really pushing the envelope for me technically (octaves in 7th position and all kinds of stuff like that). But I'm persevering because I want to perform it some day. And, I will have an opportunity to do so in church, around the actual time of Simchas Torah, which is in the fall. This is a UU church, and we do play and study music of other religions--there isn't that much UU music. I already asked the music director and she thought it was an interesting idea.

Anyway, I'm not sure what my point is exactly, but what I like about the Bloch most, and why I'm not giving up on it even though it's wickedly difficult and will probably take me a year to learn (all 4 pages of it), has to do with what it's about, and with how the music sounds, and with how it fits into my own spiritual observance. The goal is to perform this piece on Simchas Torah, and to understand more about that (Jewish) holiday, spiritually, through music. Because of those goals, I'm not bored or discouraged, even though my pace of progress is slow. It doesn't really have much to do with improving my technique, or with making me a more accomplished player. If that was all I had to keep me going I would lose interest and give up.

March 14, 2012 at 10:58 PM · “It doesn't really have much to do with improving my technique, or with making me a more accomplished player.”

If it takes a year to learn a piece (which by the way I don’t’ think is too long to learn a piece from scratch to performance ready), it must have something to do with improving technique, only that it may not be the only or primary reason to work so hard on a piece. Don’t you agree?

I’m curious why you are so up against improving technique, which to me is really a means to an end. A long-term goal of becoming a more accomplished player is also a means to an end for me; i.e., to be freer in music-making. All the reasons you stated for learning the Bloch piece are wonderful. Maybe I've missed some bigger picture. Maybe you’ve read too much into what I mean by more accomplished player. I can see the danger of “me me me” sort of thinking, but I think it is equally problematic to deny the simple fact that we practice to improve,ourselves.

March 15, 2012 at 11:03 AM · Yixi, I'm sorry, I don't think I'm being clear and should probably let this go after one more try.

I just don't know what you mean by "up against improving technique."

I do have the goal of playing pieces better, as in making them sound better and/or more like the composer intended. This morning after I'm done here I will probably go and do a scale and arpeggio in octaves because I need to improve the way the octaves in the Bloch sound. The way I play the octaves in the Bloch now isn't terrible, sometimes it sounds nice, but the intonation is not reliable. Yesterday when I was doing this I discovered that I overcompensate for the decreased distance between notes high up on the fingerboard a little bit, so my 4 tends to be too low on certain notes, and the octave is out of tune, even if the 1st finger is right. On other notes the main problem is that my 1st finger is shaky and doesn't know where to go, and once the 1st finger is correct, the 4th falls into place. It's painstaking work, and it's kind of boring. It also does not sound so good--screeching away way up there on the E-string, slowly tuning the octaves when they are out and figuring out why they are out. Which is why I am doing it behind closed doors away from my family. It is satisfying when the whole thing finally works and sounds musical--and when I can stop thinking consciously about those kinds of issues because the correct finger position has become habit.

But I'd be lying if I said I was looking forward to doing these octaves. I will probably do it for about 5 minutes because that is all the time I have and what I really want to do is practice Beethoven symphony #1, which is what I am playing in orchestra. We had rehearsal last night, and my stand partner and I were both talking, as we left, about how we loved Beethoven so much and could just play it forever.

March 15, 2012 at 11:50 AM · "Serious non-professional violinist"

Can one have a "non-serious profesional violinist?"

March 15, 2012 at 05:47 PM · Karen, now I see what you mean. I agree practice can be dry, like workout. I must be in the minority for loving practice and not at all keen on playing through something for fun.

Peter, if a professional violinist plays violin ONLY for money, is he still a serious professional violinist? If he plays in a professional orchestra but his real passion is in some other business he is pursuing concurrently, is he a serious violinist? If he plays or teaches violin full time but hates it and does the minimum, is he a serious professional violinist?

I think there's a difference of being professional (being paid to do the job) and acting professionally (acting according to the highest professional standards).

March 15, 2012 at 07:48 PM · Yixi - now you are taking me seriously - which is a mistake!! But, yes, I only played in orchestras for the money! Chamber musak for the musak.

March 15, 2012 at 11:29 PM · "Yixi - now you are taking me seriously - which is a mistake!! "

But Peter, you have just posed a paradox for me: should I take this advice of yours seriously? If I don’t, I can go on taking you seriously. But if I do, then why should I follow your advice and not taking your seriously?

Now it's your turn to decide whether to take me seriously.

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