Did I start violin too late?

March 27, 2013 at 10:21 PM · I started playing when I was 13, I'm 14 now,and I've been playing for about eight months. I would like to play in an orchestra or play professionally but I'm not sure if that's possible since I started pretty late. So my question is, do I have a chance at all, or did I start too late?

Replies (28)

March 28, 2013 at 01:10 AM · Lol I didn't start till I was 33. I am 50 now and I have been playing in an orchestra for years. Child you have just begun. You have many happy years of playing ahead of you.

March 28, 2013 at 01:32 AM · [Another amateur here] I think a lot depends on what you mean by 'professional'. If you poke around a bit on the forum (there is a search box on the right of this post) you will find many similar queeries, but each with their individual questions and answers. They generally vary from - if you have a passion and can't think of anything else then maybe (but your chance of being an international soloist is close to zero), to plan on another career and play the violin as your hobby. But you really have to figure out the answer yourself - maybe you have a professional career track that is uniquely you that works....

March 28, 2013 at 01:35 AM · There's absolutely no way any of us can make that kind of judgement, especially if you are just beginning.

You should know, however, what your competition is. I have couple of students in your age range that are performing works like Symphony Espagnole, Bach solo sonatas, and Wieniawski concerto.

So if you want to do it, you need to fit about 12 years of progress into just 5 if you are to gain entry to a music school at 18. You also need performance experience just to see if you can handle stage pressure.

March 28, 2013 at 09:42 AM · You do have a chance. Make sure that you are well-rounded academically and work hard on violin playing. That way you will have everything you need to take the right opportunity no matter what happens. Having an ambition is healthy and good. The truth is that none of us know what our lives will really become, so enjoy the process and put your best energy into everything you do as you prepare for your adult life.

March 28, 2013 at 12:12 PM · You won't know if you don't try. The concentrated work and focus of studying and practicing thoroughly will provide you with life skills, mindset, work ethic in your life in any field. Scientists even think that music study helps your brain growth differently than other subjects. Do get the best lessons you can. (That may not mean the top teacher at a conservatory or university, btw, or the principal of an orchestra.) Be sure you have a very workable violin & bow.

March 28, 2013 at 01:00 PM · 40 years ago I met an 18 year old young woman who was studying in the Heifetz Master Class at USC. She had started to play when she was 13. She was an amazing violinist. She performed the Bruch concerto in the master class setting in which we met and it was as good as it gets.

I have also met some people who started violin well into their 30s with semi-professional aspirations. One 35 year old man had been playing/studying for only 18 months when he was auditioned into the first violin section of the community orchestra I was laying with at the time.

I am assuming you have a good, professional private teacher, are taking weekly lessons and practice at least 2 hours daily.

So - "keep the faith."


March 28, 2013 at 02:22 PM · For this question, I like to point out that there are many, many kinds of music you can make with a violin that don't require the exotic technical expertise of a classical soloist. If you are into Celtic, Jazz, Rock, Tango, Blues, Klezmer etc etc the answer is certainly yes - if you have a bit of ability and application you can get to a semi-pro or pro level within 5 - 10 years, with a decent teacher. If you want to play the Sibelius with the Berlin Phil, you'd have to be a 1 in a billion genius.

March 28, 2013 at 02:28 PM · Kids who start later tend to progress faster than younger kids, so, yes, you could still be in the running.

You might want to share your ambition with your teacher. A good teacher will work you harder if they know what you're aiming for.

If you want a career as a famous professional soloist who only plays classical, it's true that the chances are slim -- but they'd be about the same whether you start now or 10 years ago.

March 28, 2013 at 03:13 PM · I recommend that you should not consider a musical career as a fallback if you find yourself slipping or losing interest academically. You are at the age where doubling down on schoolwork gives the best potential chance for access to the broadest variety of career opportunities. You are also at the age where social activities and physical activity are important to your mental and physical well-being, and you should not neglect those things either.

March 29, 2013 at 03:23 AM · Thanks everyone, for your responses! I'm going to try my hardest, and yes I do have a backup plan career wise, since my chances aren't exactly that high. I'm just hoping my violin teacher doesn't laugh at me when I tell her that I want to get to a professional level :P. Lol.

March 29, 2013 at 11:08 AM · Ellie wrote: [about becoming a soloist] " but they'd be about the same whether you start now or 10 years ago"

is that really so? Somehow I doubt it very much...

March 29, 2013 at 11:38 AM · Tanya - good luck. I think, as you can see from the posts, that you can become a professional if you take a really inclusive view of what that term includes for a musician.

March 29, 2013 at 11:42 AM · I started at 16 and got into a conservatoire when i was 19 :) Now i'm in my 2nd year doing well, whether or not I'll end up getting into a professional orchestra I don't know but i'll aim for it!

My advice would be don't spend time worrying about if it's too late or if you can do it, or listen to people telling you it's impossible, just blank all that out and work full speed ahead as hard as you can and see if you get there!

March 30, 2013 at 02:41 AM ·

March 30, 2013 at 07:47 AM · Good heavens Daniel, I had no idea you'd only played this short amount of time. I really enjoy listening to you.

March 30, 2013 at 10:09 AM · When there's a will, there is way. Heck, when I started (Also 8-9 months ago) I was feeling the same way, but then I got over it. And to believe I'm close to 17 now :). My point is, don't give up, at the beginning everyone's like this, I mean... You're not born and being able to walk right away, but playing music?

March 30, 2013 at 12:00 PM · Really enjoyed your playing Daniel :)

On average how much do you practice a day and did you study at music college?

We started at the same age and i'd like to think I could be at your level after 9 years so just curious :)

I definitely agree about the 'shortcuts', when kids start violin the progress is slow often because they do nothing but plough through 3 grade pieces over and over and over for months, with a bit of scales before exams. You can either learn new techniques etc. through bashing at pieces for years, or you can get straight to the point and isolate these problems/techniques/new things to learn, and do them! But this doesn't usually start happening till about grade 6 (UK music grades...)

March 30, 2013 at 12:52 PM · Daniel,

first congrats. secondly, what are those short cuts? :o)

March 30, 2013 at 12:59 PM · Daniel

Becuase I only have limited time to practice, I've just started trying to work out a "condensed" approach to technique building. I've found methods by Kievman and Lecher which have some interesting ideas, but do please share any tips - your progress is impressive!

March 30, 2013 at 05:52 PM · i think the most important thing is to love music everyday. i was studying piano since i was 6, and listened to all kinds of classical music, often. my advice is to become obsessed and alienate yourself :) Obsession is important for fast progress, because when you are inspired you can do a week's work in a few hours. having a great teacher is helpful of course...often essesntial

i was lucky to have teachers who were "top tier" artists, so it was inspiration for me, but I have to say i learned the most from just watching them, some of my colleagues, great violinists on youtube ;) ... copying their technique, and experimenting for myself. i found what worked for me. sometimes at the expense of politely disagreeing disregarding what such giants advised me to do.

another important concept is identifying the difference between a problem in a passage, and a problem in your technique. ask yourself - is this happening because my technique/ability is just limited? if so, you can't fix it with 3 hours of diligent practicing. you will need to drop whatever piece it is once you hit that wall, and go do very specific work with etudes, scales, etc.

On the flip side, it can be a problem that simply requires time. it is fixed with a few hours of real concentrated and efficient practice. in this case, it becomes vital to invent ways to fix problems. developing a mastery of rhythms, finger dexterity, and other tools give you more freedom to create exercises and efficient practice methods. this is why great violinists can learn new and challenging pieces very quickly. imagination is key. milstein was a big fan of this type of approach.

Sadly, unless you're very far on your way, it will rarely be just a matter of short concentrated time. that's why time must be devoted every day to specific foundational work attacking your weaknesses. sorry, it is difficult to get any more specific here, as it's a very long topic. This is a daily type of struggle with constant new surprises twists and turns. my goal was to make some kind of progress everyday though. confidentially, i am in the beginning stages of writing a humble little book on these topics in detail and about music education in general as well :)

also my advice is also to read the great books on violin playing by auer, flesch and galamian (and others). use that to feed your experimentation. be resourceful. create an excellent daily routines, warm ups. dont be stuck to exercises already out there. you have invent your own often, otherwise you run the risk of doing brainless or inefficient work. again, sorry it's difficult to get more specific here...

music theory is also very important. what they teach in conservatories is mostly not useful. they rarely get to the core of why music works, why it affects the listener/performer, and how rules are manifestations of something beautiful (and not the other way around). there were many important personal discoveries related to music theory that changed my way expression and playing violin. what was really eye opening, was to listen to how great artists show elements of music theory in their expression. likewise, it was eye opening to see people doing what i saw to be a caricature of music (to much success, but not of value to me). It's just important to know exactly what you don't want. I would start with serious study of baroque harmony and counterpoint. i think it is an essential foundation.

finally, i think late starters can have a very unique relationship with nerves and stage fright. i struggled with it for a long time (still do, but to lesser extent) and tried many approaches. long story short, i found that for myself, the only real medicine was more performing, and concentrating on raising my level and therefore confidence. true confidence gained from results - it's very important. to really know and believe what path you're on in technique, music, etc. you must be ready to disagree with your teacher, heifetz, paganini and god at the same time because you believe beyond a doubt in something that you think is right for you at that moment. essentially you must strive to become your own teacher...

and if it comes to it, look around - notice in what area of violin playing you're better than everyone around you. take pride in it, and nourish it. also notice in what areas you are weak. attack those areas, those fears. all of this helped me on stage... so no tricks there ...yet :)

these are some of the things that helped me get to a point where i can confidently play alongside practically anyone. your mileage may vary. you need a good teacher to introduce you to good habits and some 'basic' but profound truths of violin playing. what i write here is just my thought process now and some of the things that i noticed helped me that most others were not doing. i believe in reassessing everything you think you know, everyday, if possible. so, everything i just wrote might be wrong ;) but i am very happy if it can help someone. and i am very happy to hear what you think of this approach, and your own experiences!


March 30, 2013 at 06:35 PM · Tanya - no you aren't too late.

There's cellist called Alexander Baillie who started playing when he was 12 - his career is one that many musicians would be happy with;


My advice would be, practice at least 2 hours a day, get the best teacher you possibly can, and keep your options open in case you change your mind or it doesn't work out (i.e. keep up your homework as well as your playing!)

March 30, 2013 at 08:28 PM · tammuz - the most effective 'short cuts' all start with an attitude and habit. what i wrote above is part of my own approach that helped me. the right attitude and approach to problem solving guarantees that you have many tools and good habits to quickly fix new problems, overcome new challenges. to be specific, one would have to point to a particular piece or passage.

another 'short cut' is in the art of fingering. you feel much freer and more in power/control when you understand how fingerings work, different schools of fingering, easy ones hard ones, certain patterns and tendencies, etc. i would feel so weak now if all i had to work with was just what's printed and what my teacher suggests. i can ramble on and on :) hope this is of some help. best wishes,


March 30, 2013 at 09:44 PM · "another 'short cut' is in the art of fingering. you feel much freer and more in power/control when you understand how fingerings work, different schools of fingering, easy ones hard ones, certain patterns and tendencies, etc. i would feel so weak now if all i had to work with was just what's printed and what my teacher suggests."

Nice to see someone else sees value in this. It's why I started with my "fingering thesaurus" based on the 351 interval patterns.

March 30, 2013 at 10:38 PM · I started at 13 and I've made a career of being a musician. I, like too many, had aspirations of being an orchestral soloist when I first started but discovered that the world of music is huge with much beautiful music outside of the classical field.

Traditional violin teaching tends to point you in the direction of orchestral playing, chamber playing but above all holds being a soloist as being the pinnacle of violin playing. To my mind this is very narrow minded if this is seen as the only options. Listen to all kinds of music, listen to where else the violin is used and try to imagine the violin where it's not usually used. Find niches that other violinists can't do, won't do or don't even know exist! Learn to compose, play by ear and improvise as well as read. More skills = more open doors.

It's a tough career but if you are open minded and diverse enough you will find a way. Good luck.

March 31, 2013 at 12:11 AM · Daniel - many thanks for your input - you are clearly a thoughful musician and it's easy to see why you have made such impressive progress!

March 31, 2013 at 01:57 AM · I started when I was 13 and I've now been awarded a music scholarship to study Instrumental performance at a state college. I am also majoring in Biology but that is only because I am just as passionate about it as I am about music.

Yes, starting late can be a disadvantage but as long as you work hard (and smart-no mindless practice allowed), you will be able to do great things.

March 31, 2013 at 05:33 AM · Daniel;

thank you for sharing this and for taking time off from your practice. it is admirable what you've done in so short a time.

perhaps you can entertain another question. you mention that to some extent, how did you know which etude to pick when you reached an impasse? did you come across these etudes previously with your teacher or did you flip through etude books with little prior knowledge to identify the self medication so to speak?

April 2, 2013 at 04:05 AM · I have a college student who started at 15. He's 22 or 23 now and recently won his school's concerto competition with the first movement of the Brahms concerto. I would never have believed it possible until I worked with him.

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