Changing schools, losing passion for playing

March 12, 2012 at 05:57 PM · I have, on occasion, expressed my hardship with learning violin. Two weeks ago I came down with the flu and all daily activity ceased for 8 days. Even after I got better, I did not jump right back into my daily activities. While I was sick, I was glad that I did not have to pick up the violin and practice. In fact, it was a relief not having to practice for all that time.

I have now gone from practicing 10-12 hours a week to less than 5. I no longer look at my beautiful violin and get excited. When I pick it up to practice, it feels like I'm lifting a weight instead and go through the motions of practicing. The once fiery passion I had to learn and play has now dwindled down to almost nothing.

I have voiced my constant hardships; running into walls, taking months for small progress, hours and hours of practicing and a year's worth of private lessons and still sounding the same day in day out, month after month.

I have no prior experience to compare this to. 15 months into learning and I still cannot play in any other position except first position. I don't know if that is normal or not. My private teacher has not said anything about when we will start learning other positions or he doesn't think I'm ready. I've mentioned my desire to play other things but he continually goes back to simple stuff that I can play. But for some reason, he has me play them repeatedly. I feel that the last 15 months of what I have learned in private lessons could've been learned in 8 months. We're not following any specific lesson guide from a book. We did in the beginning, but now he just prints something and says we're playing this today. And next week its something from a different book. And the following week is something I might bring in that he thinks is good to learn.

It leaves me very confused. Why, after 15 months, am I still playing like this? Why has it taken 15 months to reach this point when I feel it should've taken me 8 months or less? Why am I still playing in first position? Why aren't the lessons following some order?

I don't know. All that mixed with my being on the verge of packing in and giving up, I have decided to try another school and seek a second opinion. Its the only solution I can come up with. Unfortunately, I have already paid for a set of 4 lessons starting next weekend with my current school, so I'm going through with that. But afterwards, I think I should try a new school, new instructor and perhaps reignite my desire for violin. I just don't know what else to do. I'm at my wits end.


Replies (34)

March 12, 2012 at 06:15 PM · Hi Steven,

I believe there are a lot of people who feel the same kinds of frustrations you do. However, you are one step ahead because you are open enough and brave enough to voice your frustrations publicly. Bravo!

The first thing I would suggest is that you help your teacher by voicing your concerns. Ask your teacher in what specific areas you are progressing, and in what areas you are not progressing. Ask what your specific short term goals should be, and how you are doing in regard to each one of them.

There are no rules for when you should start on the higher positions and what you should accomplish in the first 15 months. There is a lot to be accomplished in first position.

Finally, I believe that violin playing should give you satisfaction and joy at every point. That depends partially on your teacher but it depends more on you.

Above all, DON'T QUIT. By all means get a second and a third and a tenth opinion. And perhaps this is the time to start looking for a teacher who is more on your wavelength. Your post shows that you have intensity and passion. Don't quit.

March 12, 2012 at 06:34 PM · It could be that the teacher is try to get you to play and learn basic techniques with fluency and ease before progressing. Best thing is to have open and frank conversation.

The book ' the musicians way is really inspiring and can reignite lost passion with practice

March 12, 2012 at 07:14 PM · I've taken various lessons following various formats over the years...and decided I prefer to follow along with something defined and testable (whether I test or not) because that way I can measure progress.

The RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music) has a comprehensive, graded plan that is very good. It doesn't mean you can't play other pieces, or fiddle, or play whatever, but if you follow the basic outline you'll see where you're going and what you need to do to get there.

I'm not sure what you mean by 'school'. Are you taking lessons from an official music school? If so they should have some kind of graded approach of their own.

Maybe you just need to find a different teacher?

But I agree. Wanting to progress...and feeling very demotivating. Even seeing small improvements keeps the excitement going...

March 12, 2012 at 07:28 PM · Just playing devil's advocate here for a moment...

It's not unusual for players to take years to advance to third position. I took maybe four or five years...? (Granted, I was a sick unmotivated kid, but still!) For the average person, the violin requires an obscene amount of faith and patience.

I do think you need to discuss with your teacher, whoever s/he ends up being, your concerns and your goals, if you haven't already.

As for motivators... Have you tried going to a first-rate orchestra concert or chamber music event? Are you able to play with others? Anything that gets you out of the practice room might be a good idea at this point.

Good luck...

March 12, 2012 at 07:49 PM · Steve: Many years ago I had my sick husband at the doctor's. He told us that for every day you spend down it takes two days of being up and around until you're back to normal. Makes me think that part of this is still the flu talking. Also, it's March, a month where I usually feel like my skin doesn't fit- you too?

Beyond that, having a lesson with another teacher or two might clarify some things for you. If you had a teacher with a more methodical approach it would be easier to see how far you have come by how many pages in a book you have slogged through. No teacher is perfect for every student. A couple of lessons with someone else might also show you that the teacher you have is pretty great. You won't know until you try.

Don't let the periods of what feels like a plateau get you down.

March 12, 2012 at 07:51 PM · There are SO many variables...and one might be that you are becoming pickier as you improve, so you are less satisfied.

that's just to add to all the rest of the suggestions.

Go back to play something you love. just play for a while.

March 12, 2012 at 09:49 PM · I'll add my vote to the suggestion of finding others to play with. Look into whether or not there are any community orchestras, string ensembles, fiddle groups, etc nearby that you could join. Playing with others is a great way to stay motivated, and it provides good goals to work towards, like concerts. But even just going out and attending some concerts might rekindle your love for music and inspire you to start practicing again!

March 12, 2012 at 10:23 PM ·

March 13, 2012 at 12:54 PM · The school I attend is a music school for people of all ages, not a college or something like that.  Its a privately owned school.  

I have had the same teacher all this time except for when he was out on a family emergency.  They assigned me another teacher in his absence.  I had a negative experience with the fill in teacher.  She is a remarkable violinist, but often times the lessons felt like violin detention and she and I had no teacher/student relationship of any kind.  I felt like I was showing up for detention all the time.  I was glad to have my old teacher back.  He and I have a great teacher/student relationship.  But its ridiculous that 15 months have gone by and I'm still stuck.  I have heard conflicting things that are very confusing from other people's experiences.  Other students (from out of town) have told me that by 6 months they were learning new positions and learning vibrato in the first year.  I know everyone learns at different speeds, but the gap between between what I've learned vs where I should be by now is too wide a gap compared to other people's experienced.  I'm sick and tired of people telling me 'oh it takes years, just keep going!'  Its very unnerving to keep hearing that excuse!  I have the time to devote to practice.  I have 3 times the amount of time.  I'm dedicated and committed.  I don't care what others say, but it shouldn't have taken me this long to reach this point!  For goodness sake, I mastered skydiving in a shorter time than this!  You know in my last lesson we JUSTstarted to play F natural and B flat!  Should it really have taken 15 months to learn to play them?  Up till now, the only other notes, besides the regular naturals, have been C sharp and F sharp.  I still haven't been taught vibrato.  I still can't slur correctly.  I still can't play anything other than the 3 scales he has me play.  

I have zero experience with other violin teachers.  But tell me if I'm wrong and I'll shut up.  But do violin teachers teach slurring, vibrato or scales with flats and sharps in the first year....or towards the end of the first year?  Or at the very least start these things immediately in year two?  

There aren't any other violin students I can meet up with to practice together.  Yes, there are other violin students at the school.  But they are mostly young teenage girls and I'm 36 years old.  I'm the only male adult aside from a 13 year old boy.  There aren't adult violinists in my area, except for a few mariachi violinists who have nothing in common with me and I don't play nor am I interested in mariachi music.

I've rambled enough.  Sorry.

March 13, 2012 at 02:35 PM · Don't worry about rambling on!

You are definitely in need of firing up again, and this should be the teacher's job. Maybe he should give over 10 minutes of the lesson to playing duets with you. (Playel or something like that).

I would have thought that you could be playing more interesting things than you appear to be doing. And I would say that your interest in position work should make it something to be embarking on. Vibrato will come with time but the essentials could be tried by now I am sure.

I certainly think slurs and more than 3 scales should have been undertaken by now.

It's a pity you don't have another adult at a similar stage that you can compare notes with and maybe also play duets with. I dare say the young ladies you mention might be a possibility, but as teenagers they will probably have strange attitudes towards a mature adult, and may be more bother than they are worth. I've stopped playing with a teenage cellist who is extremely accomplished because of her attitude and reliability, even though her pianist mother was keen that we did the Archduke trio. It was just not worth the hassle.

So don't give up, new inspiration will come, even if it requires a new teacher.

March 13, 2012 at 04:00 PM · Ask your regular teacher why you're not progressing. There might be a valid reason that you need to work out first.

Privately owned music schools do come with there own issues...and this may well be one of definate game plan for students.

As far as playing with others at your level and could always ask around to see if there are any other adult beginners that would like to get together for some fun practice time.

Maybe place an ad in the local 'free' ads?

There is 'easy' music available to start out with...and you can take it from there.

Sometimes all it needs is someone to organize it...

March 13, 2012 at 06:13 PM · Thinking a bit about the third position situation, I often wonder about starting people out from the beginning using third position.

In some ways first position is harder. Ricci says that there is only one position, and that is the whole of the fingerboard.

If you put the palm of your left hand against the body of the fiddle where it joins the kneck that is roughly third position. (IN fact its nearer 4th position as first finger can easily be on E natural on A string without moving the hand). It's easy to hold the fiddle up and you don't need your chin on the rest, you can have your head right off.

So you are now in a perfect position to hold and play the violin and look just like David Oistrakh. (Who's he?)

I bet with such ease of playing you could draw out a beautiful sound playing E natural first finger on A string. Just let the bow enjoy the string - in the middle between the bridge and the fingerboard end. It's so easy, you can do it drunk or sober! Who said the fiddle was difficult?

March 13, 2012 at 06:54 PM · I think you should talk to your teacher about your aspirations and goals. There is no reason that I can think of that he can't be more flexible and provide you with more interesting, fun, and challenging experiences. I don't think your aim is to be a professional and it is necessary he be so rigid and demanding with you. Nothing disastrous will happen if you venture into another position or try to vibrate. He should just try to make sure you do it the proper way and are inspired to go on and learn. Good luck.

March 14, 2012 at 02:17 PM · I don't know about that. I need help learning positions. While it may come naturally to some, that is one thing I really can't self teach.

I understand the principals...but then just physically can't seem to 'get it' on my own.

March 14, 2012 at 03:25 PM · "15 months into learning and I still cannot play in any other position except first position. I don't know if that is normal or not."

From what I've read, many players are still in 1st at this point in their study; but definitely press your teacher on the matter -- especially with your eagerness to go higher. I began 3rd position when I was only a few months into lessons with my first teacher. Soon 5th followed; then came 2nd, 4th, 6th, 7th, and above. After less than 3 years of study, I was working with Sevcik's Shifting the Position, Op. 8.

But that was my case. Most students, it seems, aren't playing a full range of positions so soon.

I got my foundation in position-playing by studying Harvey Whistler's Introducing the Positions -- under the guidance of my teacher. III and V come in Book 1; II, IV, VI, VII, and above in Book 2. There are other methods, of course; but I can say truly that, for me, this stuff really worked. Again, definitely discuss the matter with your teacher in light of your goals.

BTW, to me, 3rd is the default position -- or home position. See discussion here from last year on this subject.

March 14, 2012 at 04:50 PM · Jim - thanks for that link back to the old discussion last year, I remembered that we had it, but couldn't remember when.

Regarding 3rd position as home position, I think that's OK too. But 4th position allows the hand to be placed at the kneck/body position which is a very relaxed position, and means that the wrist is flat, and the fingers are hopefully in the right position on the string. With chin off you can move the fiddle left and right quite a bit, and on either an open or stopped note, with bow still, it will play a shortish note on it's own. I'm all for getting the fiddle to play on it's own! (I'm not suggesting you do this in a recital though!)

March 14, 2012 at 04:57 PM · @Jim I did "introducing the positions" too. I did all the Whistler books when I was a kid. The one I did not like was "Developing Double Stops."

March 14, 2012 at 08:34 PM · I had a few lessons in the begining and I remember saying to my teacher..'what? No finger excersises?'. (I knew something about playing musical instruments through Classical Guitar studies). I soon realised That I could find out more about playing violin for my self rather than rely on a teacher. However, the disatisfaction you have expressed here seems to indicate a lack of sensitivity from the teacher. Yes, a solid technical foundation is important but there can and be, should be an 'introduction' to all techniques.

March 15, 2012 at 02:27 AM · Paul, I thought the Whistler Double Stops course was very demanding -- considerably more challenging than the positions training. But, oh, thank goodness I had it before attempting Sevcik Op. 9.

March 24, 2012 at 03:06 AM · I agree with the comments that one can find rekindled inspiration by watching a very charismatic performance by a very charismatic violinist. Watch for local shows that may have potential. Don't forget that violin is appearing outside the classical genre these days (bluegrass, jazz, folk and heaven forbid, rock) so you might expand your scope of view for inspiration.

Echoing several others, the important thing is to find a centered perspective for your quest that allows you to go forward with little or no pressure. After all, the idea is to have some fun playing the instrument.

You knew when you picked up the instrument that it had it's own special quirks and nuances. You are at a point of reckoning and finding a way to go forward may not be easily seen. Now is the time to dig deep and find a path through the dysfunction. You will come out the other side a much better player, and person, for the journey. I know, I've been there once or five times myself.

I also agree that you must have, at the very least, a good working relationship with your instructor. It is ultimately important that you can voice your excitement at accomplishing a difficult passage, your disappointment that it's just not going like you'd like it to, or that you would like to go in a different direction and try something else. That kind of feedback can help your teacher tailor the instruction to your EQ as well as your IQ and proficiency.

Look for an instructor that will give you challenging tasks that are achievable and rewarding upon completion. Look for someone that is willing to take you where you want to go musically. The right human/teacher can help you over the hurdles in a pragmatic and systematic manner and not stress you out doing so.

Only you can take the first steps to restructuring your musical education. Only you can take control, by exploring your options, of your musical future.

We've all been there in one way or another. You are among friends when it comes to this malady. Take a step back, a deep breath and commit to gaining a new perspective. You will never regret giving yourself the gift of playing/making music.

The path is narrow yet traverseable.

March 24, 2012 at 09:51 PM · look... learn third position by yourself... no ones holding you back... and get some good books about technique and musicianship such as The Way They Play.... and youre set... stop complaining about how you havent reached third position yet... just move your fingers up the fingerboard LOL

March 31, 2012 at 01:42 AM · Steven Garza:

"You know in my last lesson we JUST started to play F natural and B flat! Should it really have taken 15 months to learn to play them? Up till now, the only other notes, besides the regular naturals, have been C sharp and F sharp. I still haven't been taught vibrato. I still can't slur correctly. I still can't play anything other than the 3 scales he has me play."

Seriously?!? CHANGE TEACHER, QUICK! LOL only joking. But really, in 15 months you're just learning F natural and B flat?!? Come on....really?

"But do violin teachers teach slurring, vibrato or scales with flats and sharps in the first year....or towards the end of the first year? Or at the very least start these things immediately in year two?"

Well, different student, different ability, but in my case in my second meeting with my violin teacher he asked me to play Waltz - Brahms (suzuki 2), humoresque (suzuki 3), and then he gave my Concerto in B minor op. 35 by Oscar Rieding. Now all the 1st - 3rd movements have been approved and I am now learning schuler concert no. 1 opus 13 by Friedrich Seitz. This piece contains double stops, legato/slur with 16 notes each, staccato, flats, sharps, 3rd position. I got this piece after I asked him whether or not I am ready for 3rd position and he said,"yes, you are!" FYI I've been actively playing violin for only 6 months. And I'm practising for 6 hours a day. No absence. Okay, 5 days absence because I was in Paris. You know, girls and shopping. Before I had this teacher I've been learning suzuki 1 - 3. With another teacher. About the etudes I'm learning etudes from Wohlfahrt, Sevcik, and Robert Pracht.

Ok don't look at me, I am an alien. But take a look at suzuki book. You'll get legato and staccato already in suzuki book 1. So in 15 months don't you think it's a long time to learn other notes than natural ones? Or maybe I'm just an alien coming from venus.

PS: I dont say that I can play that schuler concert yet. difficult piece for me.

but from what I've written above is that you indeed need a good talk with your teacher about your purpose, ask why you're still in the same fase. Do you know another student who is being taught by the same teacher? maybe ask him/her about how your teacher teaches, etc. You probably need a new teacher.

March 31, 2012 at 05:03 AM · Ok, dude, MAN UP!

When I first started, I brought in a piece that I love and ask(demand) that my teacher teach and guide me through that piece until I can play it with my eyes close. 1 and a half month later, I've accomplished just that. And it wasn't until then that my teacher told me that I've been shifting from 3rd-5th position on that piece.

Vibrato? Mêhh, hear of YouTube? There's plenty of those on there that can give you some tips. I mastered both arm and wrist vibrato in less than 3 weeks(ahem, that's 45 min per night vibrating only, so not that great)

Bring in some beef and demand, unless you have a particularly scary teach which in case Ill stay far away from your matter.

You're 36, I'm 13 going to 14 and been playing for less than a total of 4 month; while you've been playing for FIFTEEN!

So come on, you can do it.


Not all teen are rotten, ya just gonna have to swallow some dignity and ask for (help) from a younger person. I'm being tutored by a NINE years old kid. So yeah, gang up some; ya look like ya got some muscle

April 2, 2012 at 01:38 PM · Your teacher should have a 'master plan' somewhere in his mind. It will probably include this: Play with perfect intonation in the first position. Unless you can play an easy piece pretty fast by sight-reading without any major troubles or bad intonation, you won't be able to play well in second or third position. Of course you are supposed to train shifting up and down if that is what you want, just try out some things and show them to your teacher.

You need to talk about this with your teacher and if you are not absolutely satisfied with the lessons you have to change something, even if it means switching to a different teacher. I cannot stress this enough, a great part of my motivation comes from the lessons and if you are not looking forward to those, something is not right.

You seem to be bored: Play duos with your teacher, look for an easy violin-piano-duo (Oskar Rieding OP 36 comes to my mind, try it!), that will certainly motivate you.

On the other hand: A one-week break from playing cannot hurt, sometimes it is necessary. Please play at least for a few minutes every second day, that will keep you 'fit' until you are motivated again. Trust me, as soon as you and your teacher approach this matter in the right way (for you), you will be having fun again.

April 2, 2012 at 02:59 PM · @Kristin Rereth:

I second your opinion about making a good intonation, sight reading, in 1st position.

Steven Garza mentioned in his earlier comment that he couldn't do legato yet, or couldn't do it properly. And there were just a few sharp and flat notes he's starting to learn. that in 15 months of time, in my opinion is way too long, seeing that suzuki 1 and 2 have legatos, sharp and flat notes, etc, he could have learned these earlier.

op. 36 of Oscar Rieding? didn't know it exists. I only know concerto in B minor op. 35 and concerto in G mayor op. 34.

April 2, 2012 at 03:19 PM · I'm going to disagree I'm afraid. Yes, good intonation is important and you get that from experience and ear training.

But first position is a hard one - 4th and 5th are much easier as the hand is in the best position regarding the body of the instrument.

The important thing is to play scales in tune and learn them properly. Also, try one finger scales (any finger) for one octave starting on each open string and moving up the fingerboard. This is excellent ear training.

All you need is a scale book with simple scales at the beginning, and some easy studies. Learn the fingering and the pitch, and draw a good tone from the bow. Forget Suzuki.

April 2, 2012 at 10:05 PM · @Peter Charles:

without being able to play in tune in the first position I could imagine I'd have difficulty finding the right spots in third position, and if this problem occurs too often without awareness I might have problem remembering how each note has to sound because then my ears would be trained false (this is one of the reasons why I find learning violin autodidact so high risk, besides developing a bad habit that's difficult to be cured). Maybe steven's teacher made him repeat the piece he could play all over again because he wasn't playing in tune and his teacher didn't correct it directly. Maybe. Maybe. Hence, a good relation between teacher and student is so important. But don't you think that 15 months is pretty long time for someone to not yet learn how to do legato properly, staccato, etc? that in 15 months he only learned natural notes? It really takes a long time. I think for this reason he lost passion.

About suzuki book it was only my comparison (I didn't like the fingers pattern in suzuki books and I still don't. It only disturbs sight reading. I still remember how difficult it was when I only exercised using suzuki and then I tried etudes that have no fingers pattern).

April 2, 2012 at 11:00 PM · I'd have to disagree with Peter on the 1st position too. This is the only position where you have 5 fingers on each string - for that is what the nut is, an invisible finger that is always in tune. With the nut as a base, you can much more easily play a scale without missing any notes - because you only need three fingers -the fourth (pinky) is difficult when you first start playing.

April 10, 2012 at 05:13 AM · I left the violin for several years; what brought me back and made me really love it was joining an experimental band. I know directed practicing pays off, but so does kicking loose :)

April 10, 2012 at 11:31 AM · I don't understand why people are expecting the OP to learn these things by himself or through youtube. there is a lrge possibility of developing bad habits, bad posture, bad breath...etc...without an expert moulding your playing....tehre is a reason why the teacher is there, to teach these things.

honestly Steven (Garza), I think that after 15 months, you should have been itnroduced to all the finger posibilities of the first position and venturing up the third position. i'm not talking as a teacher; i'm an adult student- like you- and i've had different teachers.

you need to make your mind up about the teacher. is s/he competent as a s/he being complacent...does s/he really know what s/he's doing? perhaps you should look around for other teachers in your area.

i suspect that the reason you feel so discouraged towards practicing is not your ability to progress but rather owing to your feeling that you have been cheated out of the prospect of making use of your enthusiasm and your efforts in practicing. this is why you compare yourself to others' - you sense injustice. the question is why are you still wit your teacher? only because you feel comfortable towards her or him as a person?

April 10, 2012 at 06:44 PM · well, no reply from Steven since March 13th, perhaps he's given up already. If not here's my 2 cents. Do you want to play classical exclusively? if not there's a lot of of styles you can play violin to besides getting into Scottish & Irish Fiddling etc. folk, rock, blues, swing, contemporary, jazz, fusion, anything. Put up some background music that you like, find the key and start playing. I presume no one has a gun to your head saying you can't shift up the fingerboard? Just do it! ... just a suggestion.

I think bluesviolinists may have more Luck with the Ladies, although you may not be able to prove that by me. If you're married, ignore that comment.

April 10, 2012 at 07:49 PM · Vanessa Johan and Elise

Because of the narrow way the violin is taught and the narrow way new violinists think, encouraged by the narrow minded teachers and others, it is always put about that first position must be learnt first and that other positions are hard. It's a bit like the Karma Sutra.

If you tune your fiddle correctly, and then play say an open E, you can then place your hand against the body of the fiddle, and then put the first finger down on the A string (that's the second string on the right Elise!!)

You then adjust it up or down until you have the same note on the A string as the open E. You are then playing in fourth position. Put the second finger a little distance from the first and tune it up exactly one tone, and you have F#. Third finger about the same distance (using you ears) and you have G#. Fouth (little, pinky) finger about next to the third - using lugholes, and you have A natural. Check A against open A one octave lower. That's the first four notes of the E major scale. If you do this all the same on the E sring (furthest string on right Elise - wink) you will have played the scale of E major - all in fourth position. Dead easy.

The first finger E on A string is a perfect fifth up from open A. In the scale just mentioned you have played E major one octave - but the top octave (well sort of, as you can get another octave high up in the rosin).

You can do this on each string. On G string it will be D major. Starting on D string it will be A major. All this without changing position once the first finger is in the right place.

Dead simple. If a simpleton like me can do it anyone can. Even Elise!! (wink) (Sorry to use you as an example - but it's all in the cause of good fiddle playing Elise ...)

April 10, 2012 at 08:42 PM · you are assuming, of course Peter that a beginner can tell when the finger on one string is playing the same note as the next string. This is actually much harder than you might think on account of the very different tone of the two. Least that is what I recall (and reexperienced on returning).

With the nut you know where you are because your teacher tuned the violin for you...

But what do I know, I'm but a mere simpleton and you are the aged sage...

April 11, 2012 at 02:30 PM · As the perpetual 'beginner'...going on 40 years of playing (started with group lessons when I was 10)'s just now, that I'm focusing a lot of time on energy on the instrument...that I can actually truly 'hear' what I'm supposed to hear - and should have been hearing all along.

I also am currently playing my viola with a total beginner group of keen adults and can see they have the same issues that I I am assuredly not alone.

My main mistake was in staying in first position too long (and not learning the others)...but I would have been lost otherwise. I'm very glad I didn't start where the 'map' of the notes is even harder to find. Blame my parents for that though! :D I wanted lessons...they didn't provide them. I had to wait to grow up and pay for my own...

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