Adult beginner -- how do I get REALLY good at violin?

September 28, 2014 at 05:36 PM · I've been musical all my life -- I was a very serious piano player from age 4-18, and almost went to conservatory but instead decided to study for a "practical" job. Then a year ago, at age 20, my friend played her violin for me and I was mesmerized. I immediately started with an amazing teacher, and I think I've found my passion!

So I've been taking weekly lessons for one year now and have finished Suzuki Books 1 and 2. I realize this is pretty good progress, and my teacher says I play with very good intonation ... but I find it hard to be happy with anything I play because I still have a "beginner sound." I realize that I probably sound like a beginner because I AM a beginner, but I have this deep, sad fear that because I started as an adult, I will never play as good as an advanced player, no matter how hard I work.

I'm 21 years old now. I'm a realistic person and have no dreams of going pro. I'd be very happy to one day play in my community symphony. But I'm also very ambitious -- my biggest goal is to one day be advanced enough to play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (my all-time favorite piece). And not just play it, but play it well, even if it is just a recital for my family. I just love violin so much that I can't bear to work at it for the rest of my life and only reach a mediocre standard of playing.

So my question is ... is this even possible? Are there any adult beginners out there who reached a truly advanced level of playing?

Replies (88)

September 28, 2014 at 06:18 PM · I read your post but felt like I wasn't qualified to respond, being too young to have personal experience. :/ Sorry if I'm wasting your time...

But honestly, I'm sure if you continue your (really, really great) progress with your teacher that seems to click (which is super important), I'm sure you'll be able to work on Tchaikovsky in seven or eight years. It may seem like a long time, but one thing you have that young beginners don't is mature self control, haha. Not to repeat what you've probably heard over and over, especially in your musical childhood, but it really just comes down to dedication and practice to a certain extent, but passion, also. That really matters. How much of yourself you're willing to put into the music--that's the big hitter. I've known a really great young violinist who was, to put it simply, made to play by her parents. She stopped the instrument as soon as she was given the chance, after a lot of thought. (She's currently a very accomplished young pianist however. c;) Though I'm sure you already know most of what I'm parroting, being such a musician yourself.

With your love for the instrument, at least at the moment, I really honestly don't see any foreseeable fatal 'hurdles' that an older student may have, vs a young one. (Perhaps one is finding time to practice, lol.) If you find yourself in a rut, try joining an ensemble or orchestra, or just play music with your friends. Always a morale booster, and can really motivate you to improve. Violin is great in that aspect, of being able to make long friendships through music. Absolutely priceless, in my opinion.

September 28, 2014 at 06:19 PM · [Oh, and we also share a wishful common goal. The Tchaikovsky is amazing!]

September 28, 2014 at 06:27 PM ·

September 28, 2014 at 08:11 PM · I'm in a similar position. I started violin earlier than you, but at 25 years old I realized that I wanted to put my time into mastering it.

I'm convinced that it's a myth that you need to start as a child to become any good, and believing in this myth is only going to make you limit yourself. Put me up against a child and I'll learn anything faster and more thoroughly than them.

I don't think there's anything preventing you from overcoming any technical challenge or developing your musicality further.

I'm curious to know what "practical" job you've studied for, and how you feel about it.

September 28, 2014 at 09:44 PM · A point that needs to be made is the quality of your equipment. My experience is that the violin and bow must have more potential than you are capable of playing in order to see "rapid" improvement.

That does not mean dropping $10k on a whim. Luckily, we live in an age where there are many producers of fine violins in the $300 to $2500 cost range.

It sounds like you have a teacher you trust. Ask if they think you might benefit from an upgrade.

September 28, 2014 at 10:27 PM · I'm in a similar boat. I played off and on throughout my childhood, and thought that the really good people got there by magic. I got a great teacher in the last few years, and I have been improving in ways I never thought would be possible. I just changed my focus to look at violin as a lifelong project, and I started playing scales and really working on technique. Becoming okay with being as good as I am, instead of feeling like I should be much better freed me up a lot to be able to put in the work. I don't know where I will end up as a violinist, but I wish I had had someone to explain it to me from the beginning.

September 28, 2014 at 10:49 PM · Of course you have a beginner sound after one year! But an ear that can distinguish good pitch like yours can also distinguish good sound, and that will come in time. Especially when your'e working with a good teacher, your improvements will build on each other and you'll go far.

There's a point in any endeavor, I think, where you have to make a decision about whether you're going to increase your commitment or not. That's what you'll face eventually, if your goal is to play something like Tchaikovsky. No reason you can't do it! But playing that is different from playing the Suzuki songs. So there will come a time where you're playing well but you're running up against some technical challenges that you have to get past. Doing it will take more time than you've put in so far. Taking that step will be exciting, and it may change your life. But that's what it will take if you really want to play a piece like that. I say keep going!

September 29, 2014 at 12:08 AM · Practice



21 is just a baby


Another concept:

"The slower I go the faster I progress"

Blazing through Suzuki books to be able to check them off your list may not be optimizing the techniques each successive song is designed to impart. A book a year is an average competent timeline for most people. Two books in a year may be pushing the ability of your technique to keep up.

Some teachers are fine with simply having you play through a song and then move on to the next. But are you concentrating on what that piece is teaching you? Does it REALLY sound good, or just adequate? Do you practice the sings you've already completed to "polish" them? Or are you always busy working on a new piece?

September 29, 2014 at 12:40 AM · Yes you can be good. But I suggest that instead of setting yourself lofty goals that are currently unreachable (and who knows maybe never reachable - the same is true of people who start at age 5) that you set real attainable goals.

To me that is playing at a level where people want to listen to you. That in itself is a major goal - and has no virtuosic component. My journey is different - I played from 6-13 and then quit for many decades, picking the violin up again in 2008. At that time my goals were not clear, I just had to satisfy my unexpected new passion. However, since then I have attained substantial goals including playing in an orchestra, playing first violin in Mozart quartets, going to amazing music camps and courses (S france this year) taking lessons with unbelievable violin teachers and performers, and even playing a solo with an orchestra.

But I would say the most satisfying were to play violin at my son's and then my nephews wedding - and my favorite, playing in airport terminals while waiting for the plane! Its playing to people who want to hear and having those people appreciate your music that is for me the highest level of achievement. Sure, it would be great to do that at Carnegie hall - but that's a pipe dream for virtually everyone and is really irrelevant.

Set the right goals and the achievement is possible and has as much satisfaction as you can possibly need.

September 29, 2014 at 02:45 AM · Find a good teacher experienced in teaching adults.

This is of utmost importance, because children and adults do not learn the same way.

Practice scales daily. Pick a system of scales, such as Flesch or Galamian, and go through the cycle of fifths within a month. If unable to play every single element, for example double stops, practice what you can and push your boundaries as you go. When practiced correctly (with full awareness, different bow strokes, rhythmical patterns and attention to sound), time spent on scales has the biggest potential of return.

Practice son file (open strings) daily.

Play chamber music; it is amazing how much we learn by sharing music and listening to other musicians.

Listen to recordings.

Study Baroque era and slowly progress toward Classicism and Romantic era.

Rememberer that Rome was not built in a day.

September 29, 2014 at 06:20 AM ·

September 29, 2014 at 08:13 AM · Aaron - love it! Here's the link as a clickable:

To Carnegie hall

September 29, 2014 at 09:42 AM ·

September 29, 2014 at 01:49 PM · To play the Tchaikovsky at professional level you will probably need the famous 10,000 hrs practice (not too spread-out!) To play it as a good amateur (i.e. well, but with off-days), the tarif is only 5,000 hrs..

Go for it!

September 29, 2014 at 03:59 PM · I say that with the right combination of teacher, practice, and motivation: the skies the limit! Don't be discouraged that you still have a "beginner sound". I always remind my students that when they're hearing an advanced violinist, they're also hearing a range of colours caused by various techniques in both arms I.E. vibrato. Don't get overwhelmed by this! You'll get there too. Just remember slow and careful practice. Really master each and every technique. FYI: The Tchaikovsky is also my goal. I still have yet to tackle it.

September 29, 2014 at 05:58 PM ·

September 29, 2014 at 09:31 PM · I don't think Bach started on all his instruments at the same time, and he probably didn't have a teacher for most of them.

September 29, 2014 at 10:59 PM · I am an adult beginner. Started in my 40s about 8 years ago.

Am not good enough to play the Tchaik. Life gets in the way of practice.

How to get good- practice, good teacher.

Set smaller goals.

I wanted to play the Bach double, Bach E maj prelude, Suzuki book 8 - have done all these. Have joined an orchestra.

Still aiming for the Bach Chaconne. Have had to stop lessons this year due to life and work commitments.

September 29, 2014 at 11:13 PM · Well I really don't think 'practice, practice, practice' is the key to playing well. I would say knowledge, self-discipline, creativity and resilience are the keys factors.

Signs of a good teacher:

-Points out poor intonation and technique.

-Assertive personality.

-Has simple exercises to correct poor technique and intonation problems so they don't end up over correcting you.

- A lot of their beginner and advance students play well for their levels.

- Repetitive when it comes to technique and knowledge.

- Fixes problems before they start.

- acknowledges progress

Signs of poor teaching:

- Over correcting. Teachers that overcorrect do not have the knowledge or knowhow to fix basic problems; they will also tend to get frustrated over time.

- Beginner students play poorly and talented students have poor technique.

- Show and tell lessons. You will have one lesson on how to do something, like how to hold the bow, and that will be it. They will never correct anything or repeat anything; you are better of watching YouTube videos.

- Unable to teach control, but over produces your music.

- rewards you when you play poorly or only rewards you when you play perfectly.

September 30, 2014 at 02:21 AM · There isn't really a shortcut. The shortcut is to learn everything your teacher presents to you, make sure you have a strong technical foundation, and to practice regularly.

September 30, 2014 at 02:56 AM · I may never know first hand, but I've heard the Tchaik is really hard. But the 2nd movement is certainly doable.

September 30, 2014 at 04:53 AM · The 2nd movement of the Tchaikovsky is pretty straightforward -- it's probably even doable as an intermediate-level work. The outer movements are much more difficult. Many players -- even professional players -- never reach the level necessary to play the entire concerto.

It's a worthy goal, but set smaller goals along the way.

October 1, 2014 at 11:53 AM · It will help if you have a blank check from your parents, that way you wont have to waste time holding a job or going to college and studying something practical, at least for the next 15 years while you practice the violin 6 hours a day.

October 1, 2014 at 10:29 PM · When I retired I had 7 years of tuition (from scratch) from a good teacher which enabled me to reach the standard I was looking for, namely playing well in advanced community orchestras. It is worth pointing out that a lot of the standard symphonic repertoire contains passages for the violin that would not be out of place in a concerto.

That seven years of tuition reminds me of the seven years traditional craft apprenticeship, on completion of which the apprentice was considered to be a fully-fledged master of his craft - hence the term "master work" which was something he had to make at the end of his apprenticeship of a standard to show that he was now worthy to make his own way in the world as a craftsman.

October 2, 2014 at 08:51 AM · hi Annie, try to make your first goal of joining a decent amateur orchestra. it is the fastest track to experiencing the joy of playing actual good music for a real audience. plus, during rehearsals you are surrounded by other violinists which stimulates you. you make great new friends as an added bonus.

October 2, 2014 at 06:44 PM · It is *very* common for adult beginners to have a really hard time with the first few years because they know how they want to sound and their 'beginner sound' does not measure up. Plenty of people who started as adults manage to persevere through those years and get quite advanced in their playing.

How about setting some realistic & attainable goals that can be achieved in the more immediate future? This can really help with motivation. Other than getting up in front of an orchestra & playing a concerto, what do you hope to be doing with the violin in the future? For many adult beginners the answer would have something to do with playing with others, so I would agree with the suggestions to find a community orchestra or even just anyone you can jam with from time to time.

October 2, 2014 at 09:39 PM · I do not know about your ultimate potential and neither do you. That is not a criticism. Some things about playing the violin are simply intangible.

This is not to discourage ambition but be ready for setbacks and surprises. Starting the journey is half the battle (someone once said!)

October 3, 2014 at 08:34 PM · Annie,

One thing that you have greatly in your favor is that you have already studied an instrument and reached a good level of advancement. That should have given you good practice habits and also you have probably experienced the plateaus and pitfalls that besiege (and often discourage/derail) any serious instrumental student. And also, you will have some knowledge of musical styles. So you have a lot going for you--don't worry about your age.

At some point in your progress--this is usually somewhere at the point where you transition from upper intermediate to advanced--you will probably need to put in a lot of concentrated work. If that point coincides with a time in your life when you have a lot of other responsibilities, it could take you awhile to advance to the point where you would be ready for something like the Tschaikovsky. A lot of very good violinists decide not to venture into those waters because of other life commitments--they enjoy playing chamber music, in orchestras, and learning all of the other great music that is available to them. So enjoy the journey--you have a lot of time ahead of you!

October 4, 2014 at 04:32 AM · Short term goals. Learn em, live em, love em. Assuming you have a teacher, it should be easy to go over where you would like to be one month, 3 months, 6 months from now.

The biggest thing is having realistic expectations, especially if you are just starting out. And don't skimp out and try taking short cuts. It's all a learning process. Persevere, even when you hit a brick wall and keep your eyes on the prize.

October 4, 2014 at 08:58 AM · It's simple! Just play, think about, study the violin 24/7 for 10 years and you will have easily made it. Don't worry too much about talent. After 10 years you will know!

October 4, 2014 at 04:04 PM · Have an ultimate goal in mind. That goal may change over time, but it gives you something to aim for. Then set a series of nearer and smaller goals. For example, your ultimate goal might be to solo with a pre-professional orchestra. If you're still playing simple tunes, your near goal might be memorizing the piece you are working on now with a concentration on nailing the triplets with a metronome. Most importantly, don't set inflexible time frames on your goals, and don't compare your progress to any one else's. Your life is different from any other person's so you won't be working in the same set of parameters. You might be quicker at catching on to vibrato, but might struggle with second position, while they can't get vibrato to save their life, but can nail any note on the fingerboard. Your journey is yours, and theirs belongs to them. Love where you are now, and then do the next thing. Don't worry about anything past that. As long as you are still working towards the ultimate goal, you are doing great!

October 4, 2014 at 08:56 PM · Alice Trimmer wrote: "At some point in your progress--this is usually somewhere at the point where you transition from upper intermediate to advanced--you will probably need to put in a lot of concentrated work."

I wonder if this is really true, or it's simply that many students never find the teachers that they need to make this transition, and that earlier poor teaching and/or sloppy practicing has left students at that stage with flaws that they *must* correct before they can usefully progress, which in turn forces a period of technical retrenching and concentrated work to break bad habits.

October 4, 2014 at 09:15 PM · I think that there is one element of transitioning that a teacher can, at best, only coach from the sidelines. That is speed. I can play some difficult music but at painfully slow tempos.

I can't imagine that someone can simply improve as in a single leap without some scars of past history.

October 4, 2014 at 09:33 PM · Yes, the big leaps are usually made up of a bunch of seemingly failed little steps!

October 5, 2014 at 12:38 AM · I can agree with that idea.

I have made every mistake predicted for the teacherless student and then I improvised additional ways to mess up.

But look at me now!

October 20, 2014 at 03:01 PM · Hello,

Sorry if this is the wrong forum to post, I am new to the community and still learning my way around.

I am an adult beginner (I recently turned 30 and took up the violin about 4 months now) and I am done with the Suzuki Book Grade 1. I was lucky to participate in an online chat with Joshua Bell and asked him for some advice for adult beginners. His reply was: The violin is a difficult instrument, especially starting as an adult! But if you love it, I think it's fantastic that you have given yourself this challenge.

I really appreciate such honest advice coming from one of the greats but I also wanted to turn to all of you and ask you for your thoughts. As an adult, what can I expect? Can I play say a Sibelius piece in 8 years? (Symphony 2, movement 4 is my goal, I absolutely love it. Mahler's Symphony 5, movement 4 is a close second)

Thank you very much!

October 20, 2014 at 03:20 PM · It really depends! It depends on your aptitude (musical and physical). Some of us just find certain 'tasks' easier than others. It depends on how much your practice...and on how you practice, etc.

However...nothing ventured, nothing gained. Set achievable goals for keep moving forward...and you'll soon see if you can reach your goal of playing any given work by any given date.

October 21, 2014 at 03:17 AM · I don't see why you can't reach those goals! So much of what we do when we practice is to go from 90% reliability to 100% or something close to it. That's tremendously important for a professional, but doesn't need to be important for everyone.

It's like me taking on a big fancy menu to cook for dinner. I can spend all day and risk getting it wrong, and it's still fun and delicious. Would it fly in a commercial kitchen? No way! But by cooking just a few days a week I can make whatever meals I want to.

I'm certainly not saying to set the bar low. When it comes time to play those pieces you're dreaming of, you may decide at that point that you want to try working at a new level. If so you'll make the commitment then. But you needn't limit yourself now when you have no idea how fast you'll progress!

October 21, 2014 at 11:54 AM · Hello Annie,

Ofcourse you can! Im 15 years old, and ive been learning the violin for 6 months. I just finished Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake introduction last month . And believe me, nothing is impossible, once you set your heart on it :)

October 21, 2014 at 04:33 PM · Hi Annie, I can't help but reply, because Tchaikovsky Concerto is my final goal as well. My aim is to play it OK before I die... but I would imagine myself being able to play it after ten years, just to give me some motivation.

I started learning flute when I was 10 and after more then 10 years I then realized I wasn't in love with flute, but something else. I started violin when I was 28, and it's been nearly six years now.

I didn't have regular lessons for the first two years, and had changed three teachers since. Looking back these six years in total, I have around 18 lessons per year on average, and I try to practice 2 hours per day.

My first teacher didn't see the necessity of teaching scales or studies (he said it'd bored adult students), and I somehow ended up performing canon by pachelbel, after half a year, with just ten lessons.

The second teacher had me started with the end of wohlfahrt, quicky raced through Kayser and into Mazas, and some three octives scales, and raced through every pieces, I was playing Spring sonata by Beethoven a bit more then a year after I started learning violin.

Then I started with the third teacher and had been with him for four years now, his teaching is pretty normal comparing to the previous two, he had me started with Sevcik op8, and with him, I realized how much I lack in some fundamental techniques. He's rather strict, because he teaches music students for a living, and even though he's not treating me like one, I still don't think I'm up to his loosened standards, hah.

I started Bruch concerto a year ago, and spend the whole year going over the first movement... I'm finally onto the second movement now, and he said I won't be able to play third movement well, so I'll jump into Mendelssohn when I finish second movement.

NOW, being able to play Mendelssohn, no matter how good or bad, I see myself one step closer to Tchaikovsky, although there'll always be this "ten year gap" in between, but whenever I finish a piece, I feel I'm closer to my goal. In truth, I probably won't be able to play Tchaikovsky WELL in three decades, but I know if I keep on playing, I will reach it some day hopefully before I die.

I'm not an advanced adult player, so I can't say much, but this is something can't be rushed, even though I raced through the first two years of learning violin, but in the end it all goes back to the basics, rushing through the first few years won't get you anywhere. I still struggle with few simple techniques now and then because my previous teachers didn't spend time on it.

And the more I learn, the more I think I'm doing so bad....

October 23, 2014 at 04:29 AM · If you're doing the Bruch concerto, you certainly qualify as an advanced student (assuming that you actually have the technique to play the Bruch well and your teacher is not having you butcher it for giggles). Major romantic concertos like the Bruch and Mendelssohn are a fairly commonly-accepted boundary for what constitutes truly advanced, professional-level repertoire.

The jump from those to the Tchaikovsky isn't as big as you might think. Certainly the second movement of the Tchaikovsky is easier than the second movement of either the Bruch or the Mendelssohn, so if you want a taste of the dream, you could have it now.

October 25, 2014 at 03:33 AM · Jennifer I agree with the last post in saying that you are an advanced player. To be able to play any of the Romantic concertos means you have an advanced technical ability.

I myself started in my twenties and studied hard for about six years but then everything got moved to the back burner so I could develop my career which in fact was very bad for my playing.Then my life turned soar due to marital problems leading to divorce and still no playing.

Since rebuilding my life I have renewed passion in playing my violin but sadly I know I will never aspire to playing any Romantic concertos. Instead I please myself by playing salon pieces by Fritz Kreisler and the easier Bach Sonatas and Partitas.

Getting back to the point of the question as to whether or not you or any adult learner will ever play Tchaikovsky, well aim high and keep working hard, because you never know.

October 29, 2014 at 08:23 PM · If someone says, "no you won't be able to play it" would that make you quit? That's not a very good reason. If you want to play, then play. If you get there. awsome. If you don't, it was fun trying. You probably will do thngs you didn't think you could. Maybe something you'll find better.

November 2, 2014 at 01:54 AM · I've got to say something here. I started playing violin at 49, I'm now 54. I play because I love to pick up my violin and play. You can't worry about what you'll be able to play in 10 years. If that's the only reason you are learning, just to be able to play the Tchaikovsky or Sibelius, or whatever, what's going to motivate you in between? I would dearly love to play the Mendelssohn one day. Will I ... . Dunno. But, in the meantime, I just can't NOT play. That's my motivation.

As a side note, I've point blank told my teacher, you don't have to keep moving ahead with new pieces to keep me interested and motivated. I'm a grown adult. I want to learn technique, great bowing, superb intonation. Let's focus on that stuff and let me worry about my motivation. I'll play the same little etude for however much time it takes to wring out everything I need to learn from it. I'm not interested in seeing how fast I can zoom through XXXX book No. X. I'm interested in how well I can play the material in XXXX book by the end of it. As adults we need to communicate with our teachers. I go into my lessons and the first thing I tell her is what I'm having trouble with during the previous week. I leave it to her knowledge and experience to determine what is an issue, if it's something that needs addressing at this point, and if it is, what I might do to fix it. We adult learners are not little kids and need to be participatory in our learning.

I love playing the violin, and if I play the "big" pieces, great! However, my immediate goal is to play beautiful music that I can enjoy and feel that others can enjoy listening to me play them. I think that's a worthy goal. I'm not saying don't have big aspirations, but I am saying that have some smaller ones along the way and enjoy them for what they are.

For the record, I was a professional reed player for several years, so I was musical too. I am losing my beginner sound. If I can do it at 54, you sure can do it at ... Jeez ... 21!

November 2, 2014 at 04:22 AM · I gotta say, I do love reading this thread just to read how adult students go about things and what goes on in their minds about what they're trying to achieve, goals and views on various aspects. Mr. Albert is a great example of the kind of student we all would want in our studio. Focusing more on learning HOW to play rather than how to get from Point A to Point B asap.

Personally, I'm big on small goals. I've had a few adults come to me and inform me how they want to be able to play X major concerto within Y time period, which sets off this invisible bomb in my head when they'll be quitting. So usually I tell them to put that goal aside and think smaller i.e.; how they want to sound in three/six/nine months, what kind of work can they realistically put into learning, etc... They may not know, which is fine. It's our job to get them in the know.

I am curious though, about when people began playing during adulthood and where they're at in their playing level. I've seen some zip right through everything with very solid techniques and only took a few years to get into the repertoire they wanted, while others seem to struggle after the same amount of time to get past basics. How long did it take people to start from scratch to playing say, Bruch and do you feel like you have a grasp on the required technical aspects as well as getting the most out of your instrument?

November 2, 2014 at 09:49 AM · Hi Annie. Don't be discouraged. John A. is correct. Don't plan to be at a point by a certain time. Do the basics... daily. Find small pieces that you love to play and learn them and practice your intonation. And so what if you are not perfect this week. You just keep working at it. The beauty of a small piece is that you can make it your own. Add some vibrato where YOu want it, or change the intonation, extend a note, add a trill bypass a rest with a longer note or add one. Treat your instrument as your friend, after all it will be your companion for many years to come as will be it's music. I'm 54. I played for 12 months when I was 14 and stopped (Not my choice). I took it up again 2 years ago and I am my greatest critic! But there are times where I feel grand. That is when you feel the music you are playing and not just following the sheet. Play with other people. You'll enjoy it better. Even if that's backing for a few guitarists. I'll take away nothing from the technically perfect members and players. I admire them all and am aways in awe of them. But do it to enjoy it and keep up the practice and the learning. AND remember ... we are playing the most beautiful instrument on earth. Play it with feeling and emotion and play it to bring the joy of music to yourself and to others. :-)

November 2, 2014 at 11:33 AM · If you're frustrated with your "beginner sound" can I strongly recommend the Simon Fisher DVD on tone production. Deceptively simple - there's a lot of depth in his approach. A few weeks of focus on this and you might be surprised how your sound improves, especially as it seems you have decent intonation and a good ear.

I picked up the fiddle late in life and don't have much time to practice right now. I'm quite limited in what I can play, but what I do play I play with pretty decent tone. The Fisher exercises really help.

November 2, 2014 at 02:04 PM · Hi Albert, just to share with you, I used to think like you do when learning violin. I've discussed with my teacher on practice an etude to perfection (or near perfection) before moving on (because I just want to get the bloody technique right no matter the cost).

And he replied me that there are so many etudes in this world you can't possibly finish practice them, so don't worry about it. There's no point wasting too much time on one etude because at my level, I'll never play as well as him.

As long as I get the idea of that technique right, then he moves on to the next etude, perhaps with the same technique, but different etude.

I'm not saying we need to skim through etudes, but we don't need to spend months and months on one etude either.

November 3, 2014 at 03:09 PM · Jennifer, I believe that you might have misunderstood my point. It wasn't so much as to practice a particular etude or study to perfection, although that may be my tendency, but rather that one should use the skills of the teacher to learn to play correctly, rather than be entertained. Having said that, I have found that it is better for ME to get to the point in a particular study wherein I don't have to worry about reading the notes and can focus on bowing, left hand technique and tone production. Unless, of course the notes are the point of the study.

My essential focus of my comments were to not worry so much about the distant future, but find satisfaction in the smaller steps, which will lead and determine the future. How does one stay motivated to wade through the learning process to get to Tchaikovsky? My advice is to not worry so much about how fast you get to that point, and worry about how to get there, and the when will become evident in its own time.

November 5, 2014 at 05:02 AM · @Steven Albert

You, sir, are preaching to my choir. As a mature-age student (I started a month after I turned 46) I totally understand whay you are saying in this discussion.

I have some lofty goals in the back of my mind - Paganini Caprice #24, and Monti's Czardas - but they are not my primary motivation. All I ask of my teacher is to help me be the best violin player I can be. I know how to read music and I can play some songs by ear, so I am confident I will be able to learn whatever music I want to learn. So really, what I want from my teacher, is to learn technique and good habits that will allow me to play whatever I choose to play well.

To Annie I will just repeat what Steven said in his second last paragraph of an earlier post:

"I love playing the violin, and if I play the "big" pieces, great! However, my immediate goal is to play beautiful music that I can enjoy and feel that others can enjoy listening to me play them. I think that's a worthy goal. I'm not saying don't have big aspirations, but I am saying that have some smaller ones along the way and enjoy them for what they are."

All the best with your playing



November 5, 2014 at 01:28 PM · I picked up my viola at 50. I'm now in my 6th year. My instructor focused on technique, bowing, and lovely sound before moving me into pieces I wanted to play.

I still do 30 minutes of scales and arpeggios every day as well as etudes and other exercises. It's a lot of work (I practice 2 hours a day), but I am seeing the sound now that I always wanted. I think no matter how old you are, if you are willing to put in the time and effort you will be able to do what you want.

April 14, 2016 at 02:22 PM · I just found this thread and am curious as t how the OP has progressed a year and a half later. Are you still progressing through the suzuki studies? How is that going? What pieces have you moved on to?

June 2, 2016 at 09:00 PM · I'm very interested to hear, also.

June 2, 2016 at 10:36 PM · Just wanted to "bump" the thread, but only to reinforce the idea that playing the violin is for all who commit to it, and are physically able. This includes any age, as long as the individual is able to play.

I feel sorry for late starters that feel bad about themselves, or that find it maybe "impossible" to play at a high level as an adult. It's not common, and perhaps not likely in many cases, but certainly possible. Age-ism is annoying-and serious Classical Violin Studies are not alone in these biases.

Hope the OP is doing great-but so can you!

Thanks for the positive and often wise thoughts as stated above by many of you. Often the most beautiful things in life are only obtained through many years, tears, and heartfelt commitment/hard work-but what a joy when we finally reach the apex of what once seemed an "impossible" dream. Hopefully most of you keep enjoying the amazing journey that is a commitment to life-long violin playing.

June 2, 2016 at 10:46 PM · fGreetings,

I may have already posted this elsewhere , or even on this thread so pleas eforgive the effects of doddering old age.

For many years Simon Fischer has been pubishing books that have changed the face of modern teaching and performance practice for poeple all over the world. When he published 'The Violin Lesson' a few years back he transcended all his previoius books of near biblical status with a way of approaching the learning of the violin which spelled out very clearly how any sentient being of any age ould systematically improve their violin playing. A careful study of this work and oughful application of what is one of the most fundamental concepts ever spelled out to instrumentalists (everything is proportionate to something else- change it it see what happens: my crude paraphrase) has taught me so much about the incredibly high level learners adults should be able to achieve . (Im soneone who always belueved that anyway Nd taught any age without any reluctance whatsover)

Best wishes,


June 3, 2016 at 06:44 PM · Great thread... glad it was recently revived. I started fiddle 4 years ago, and I'm pushing 60, so I may be a good test case. I'm a longtime amateur musician, conservatory piano Gr 8 as a kid, longtime guitar-player (jazz-blues-folk), choral singer. Wanted a new challenge for my dotage, so here I am.

I'd avoid the hero-worship myth that the pinnacle of musical performance is Carnegie Hall, Paganini, or Menuhin. Music is many things. I've attended many classical concerts, but some of my most memorable moments of all have been small-venue celtic and roots concerts... fiddle-mando duets (Bruce Molsky - John Reischmann), fiddle-banjo (Bela Fleck), etc. Darol Anger's version of Canyon Moonrise. Alasdair Fraser - Natalie Haas fiddle-cello duo.

I love classical, Bach in particular. I don't aspire to play the Chaconne, but when I do click on a 2-part invention with a musical buddy, it's all I need.

BTW, trying to make a living in music can kill much of the magic and beauty... check out Mozart In the Jungle (Blair Tindall's memoir of her experience as a young oboe prodigy making her way into the professional musician's world in NYC.)

June 3, 2016 at 06:45 PM · BTW I love Fischer's books, mentioned by SB. Particularly The Violin Lesson.

June 5, 2016 at 07:34 PM · Well, I'm an adult ex-professional player, and I ask myself the same question - will I ever get good at playing the violin.

June 5, 2016 at 09:13 PM · Basically, the answer to the OP's question is the same as the one traditionally given to the person who asked "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?"

June 11, 2016 at 07:30 AM · As a part time teacher and full time performer for 40 years it has been my experience that the most talented and skilled musicians

(violinist included) did not start out looking for a teacher. Most of the great musicians I have performed with have never had a lesson. They are all self taught. (Including myself on violin). It is that type of "drive" of learning on your own that creates great musicians. In my opinion, if you think you NEED a teacher then you are already starting off with limitations and the wrong mindset. A violin teacher should be like a fine instrument. Nice to have around but not necessary to become skilled and definitely NOT the only path to becoming a World class musician.

Learning late in life is not an issue. I earned a masters degree on classical guitar when I was in my 40's just because I was looking for a challenge.

June 11, 2016 at 08:34 AM · Greetings,

I absolutely and totally disagree with the above statement. The teachers and performers on this site, many of whom are world class, are almost totally in agreement that a teacher is necessary for what is often said to be one of the hardest skills ever created: effective mastery of the violin.

Over confident, or indeed simply unluckily situated adults who apply all their intelligence, will and discipline to mastering the instrument solo do, in our experience end up with problems of one sort or another they could have avoided with the help of a competent teacher. As such they have been denied a great deal of the satisfaction from their art.

The suggestion that great players have never needed /had a teacher is actually false which is why I have no hesitation in stating the content of the above posting is fundamentally untrue and expressing the hope that those who are serious about the violin do not take it to heart.

With regret and apology for my bluntness.

Stephen Brivati

June 11, 2016 at 09:02 AM · Vinny that's some real nonsense you are spouting there.

June 11, 2016 at 10:38 AM · I note that Vinny says he is a teacher. Need I say more?

June 11, 2016 at 10:58 AM · Vinny : you could not be more wrong. If there is any instrument that absolutely demands a teacher then it is the violin. You might get by with guitar or the piano to an advanced level without a teacher but not on the violin....that is laughable !

June 11, 2016 at 11:08 AM · "In my opinion, if you think you NEED a teacher then you are already starting off with limitations and the wrong mindset."

I for one am so glad the awareness of my limitations led me to seek a teacher from the very beginning. My longtime goal is to learn to master classical violin, an art with a century-long tradition, and I (and countless people before me) would have been foolish to dismiss the knowledge of teachers trained and skilled in this art. And I am ever so glad that people not fortunate enough to have lessons can still come to this forum and get great advice from seasoned performers and teachers.

If, by your words, teachers are unnecessary, I wonder how you can bear to be a part time teacher. Also, if you weren't referring to classical violin at all but an entirely different style, I feel you shouldn't have made sweeping generalisations like you did. Sorry, but I feel insulted by your post which implies that there is something wrong with my mindset, and that people need the "drive of learning on [their] own" to become great musicians.

June 11, 2016 at 11:23 AM · There are so many things wrong with Vinny's post that's it's not even worth addressing or acknowledging. Johanna, feeling insulted is giving it way too much value. Mildly irritating is all it deserves.

June 11, 2016 at 11:37 AM · kd, very true, thank you. As a non-native speaker I often lack the art of laid-back understatement. My limitiations seem to be everywhere ;)

June 11, 2016 at 11:53 AM · Well, you must always be willing to learn, either from a teacher, or later with more experience and wisdom, from colleagues and from your own resources. Most young people need a teacher, even if they are brilliant, to act as a guide and musical chaperone so the student does not take a wrong road, or learn the wrong piece at the wrong time.

A lot of good ideas and observations come from others, including teachers and colleagues and even fellow students.

June 11, 2016 at 06:59 PM · Well ,

now we know why Galamian hD to chain smoke and Miss Delay had a nervous eating habit. Clearly both were struggling daily with the fact that none of their studnets needed them.



June 12, 2016 at 12:58 AM · You may think its nonsense because you are used to taking advice from people who play worse than you do. I was performing in front of a thousand people 5 nights a week when I was 11 years old.

If you think there are world class players here then you need to redefine "world class". some people are easily impressed

to start with, a musician that can only master one genre of music is like a painter that can ONLY paint pictures of sunsets.

June 12, 2016 at 01:15 AM · Hi Vinny. I've just spent a bit of time listening to your music. I enjoyed them, and my baby really loved them. :-)

(These sample tracks, and more tracks elsewhere.)

I see from your bio that you're a Berklee graduate. That doesn't seem to fit your narrative of being untrained.

I don't think there's any call for you to be disrespectful and indeed, downright rude, to the other players here, especially since most players here are talking about classical violin, rather than other styles. No disrespect to the other styles, but it's essentially impossible to reach the high technical level demanded for professional classical playing without lessons.

June 12, 2016 at 01:26 AM · I performed professionally for 40 years before I earned my masters degree. So in reality, yes I was never trained until recently. It seemed to be foolish to be at my level with no degree to show for it.

As far as classical goes, I am well aware of the challenges. (I am a classical guitarist). None of the challenges however are as tough as learning to improvise spontaneously very well. Its much easier for me when the music is already written for you. Half the challenge is already done.

June 12, 2016 at 02:14 AM · Actually it is quite obvious that you know nothing Bout the challenges of learning the violin. It seems once again necessary to point out your are making a mistatement about learning the vioin which actually border on a breach of this sites rules.

Since I am directly accusing you of proselyttizing with untruths I would like to invite you to put forward a list of professional or indeed advanced amateur violinist who have achieve dthat status without a teacher.

As has been pointed out repeatedly in the responses to your essentially irresponsible posts we are talking about the violin here. You seme so determined to prove that you are right even through your irrelvency that the analogy I can think of is the recuit shouting 'look mummy, Everyone is mRching out of step except me.'

Im afarid I see no reason to be polite to someon who through thwir peculiar brand of semi eductaed ignorance may potentially confuse people who actually have a genuine interest in the violin as something to enjoy rather than as a soap box to stand on.

June 12, 2016 at 06:19 AM · "invite you to put forward a list of professional or indeed advanced amateur violinist who have achieve dthat status without a teacher."

Forget a list, how about one world class player, past or present.

Vinny you provoke irrational anger. The mature approach is to ignore you and your ignorant drivel so that's what I'll do.

June 12, 2016 at 08:07 AM · While this discussion is starting to veer away from the OP's question ... (and being someone who through necessity has had to become a self-teaching violinist) this side-thread is of great interest to me.

Recently I came across the article below. Perhaps it has more fiction than fact but doesn't the student essentially do all the work of playing the violin and developing skills 7 days a week while the teacher tries to guide and correct this development once a week?

June 12, 2016 at 08:45 AM · All the people mentioned in your article had formal training to varying degrees, most of them for many years - they just happened to finish young but they also started very young. And they may have reached an even higher level of excellence had they continued with further instruction. I know it's not the same but look at something such as tennis, even the best in the world still have coaches. And if you watch most violin masterclasses, you will see that even exceptional players benefit greatly from another (more experienced/wise) perspective.

With technology such as youtube it will be much easier for people to 'self-learn', but then the instructors on the videos become teachers by proxy. Vinny's original suggestion was that no teacher is required. Utter bs.

June 12, 2016 at 09:38 AM · I think that we can respect what players of different genres can accomplish without being exclusionary.

Vinny, I enjoy your YouTube videos, and wish that rather than dismissing formal violin instruction outright, you can recognize that what you play requires an entirely different skill set than being part of a section for a Shostakovich Symphony, in a string quartet interpreting late Beethoven, or playing the solo repertoire of Paganini, Ernst, or Ysaye.

A good friend and colleague of mine has spent nearly forty years as well playing violin and viola in string quartets, improvising in a bluegrass band at Disney and Knott's year-in year-out, and playing all sort of guitar styles in major concert cycles with our local professional symphony. Each discipline is not superior to another, but rather requires unique approaches to musicianship and technique.

June 12, 2016 at 10:50 PM · It's also worth noting that the technical level of professional classical violinists has increased immensely over the years. Recordings of earlier era violinists seem to indicate that their technical command would be considered relatively subpar by today's standards. We've learned so much about how to train violinists that it's now quite common to achieve a very high technical level, with superb accuracy and precision, at a relatively young age.

June 13, 2016 at 02:06 AM · OP,

Do you love playing violin? If you do, then being able to play Tchaikovsky well in the distant future won't matter much, if at all. Enjoy the moment.

June 13, 2016 at 04:46 AM · @Vinny Ray: every thing else aside, I really enjoyed Rock Fish.(Thank you Lydia) Some great playing there imo. but I'm a fusion fan.

Have you ever hear Jerry Goodman (violin) do his thing with John McLaughlin in the old Mahavishnu Orchestra?

May 5, 2017 at 10:47 PM · Hi.

I got my first violin for my 22nd birthday, and didn't get a teacher until I was 26. I'm now 35. I was accepted into Graduate school for violin performance when I was 29, and I got my master's degree in Violin Performance when I was 31. I finished the Tchaikovsky concerto a couple years ago, and am currently attempting the Beethoven.

I'm not saying all this to brag or boast, I'm just saying that it is possible with hard work and yes, a good teacher, to get fairly good if you start later in life.

The most important thing though is that you enjoy it. If you really enjoy it, and you REALLY listen to yourself, you will improve the most.

I hope I helped a little :)

May 6, 2017 at 12:58 AM · That's a really interesting story.

Your bio says, "Clark Drinkall began his musical studies at the age of four, and formal lessons began at the age of seven. He graduated from Millard South High School in 2000 and began college at Wayne State, studying violin and composition with Dr. Christopher Bonds, Concertmaster of the Sioux City Symphony. [...] He holds a Masters in Violin Performance from the University of Nebraska at Omaha."

I'm guessing that the "musical studies" were on some instrument other than the violin? What did you originally play? And what was your undergrad degree in? What did you have to do in order to enter a master's program in violin performance without an undergrad degree in performance?

Also very curious what you played when you auditioned for the master's program, what you played for your master's recital, and what your progression was between starting and those milestones.

May 6, 2017 at 09:44 PM · I started on the piano (very casually) as a child. "Lessons" were meant as in the public school system. Never had one-on-one lessons until the age of 26. I played many various instruments (badly) throughout school - mostly winds and brass. My undergrad is in composition - knowing the 'basics' of multiple instruments helped with that. My MM audition pieces were what I had been working on towards the end of my undergrad - Kreutzer Sonata, Por Una Cabeza, Bach D minor Allemande and Gigue, and a couple of simple-ish show pieces. My first MM recital was Bach D minor Sarabande, Mozart D major concerto, and Beethoven Spring Sonata. My second MM recital was Beethoven Sonata 7, Bach Chaconne, and Mendelssohn Concerto.

The (badly) played video on my website was recorded right before my first MM recital. A good friend who designed my website wanted a video of me playing something I could "smile while I played and not look too contemplative". He also worded the text - not 100% my words ;)

He probably wanted to make me sound and appear better than I am.

Sorry to be too verbose in my response.

May 6, 2017 at 10:58 PM · Thanks for sharing your story! What did you do during your first four years of self-teaching, or were you in group lessons rather than private lessons? Did you also start your undergrad late (at the age of 26?) or did you have a gap between finishing your undergrad and starting your master's? How much did you have to practice to get to that stage, and how did you find a teacher who could help you get to the point where you could audition for the master's?

May 7, 2017 at 02:38 AM · The OP's thoughts and questions reflect so similarly to my own, it's rather fascinating and compelling... I wonder where she is up to now, though an update is highly unlikely, given her last-visit-date of over a year ago,

I enjoyed reading through (most of) this thread. Thank you.

May 7, 2017 at 09:20 AM · I taught myself the first few years of violin. I then figured out the Bach double and Beethoven F major romance to work on shifts. I fell so much in love with the violin I decided to go back to school for it. I was told all the time I'd never get good. I'm still told that.

I started undergrad at 20, but it took me eight years to get my bachelor's. Long story. The short version is I got screwed out of a bunch of credits at Wayne.

When I first started violin (before private lessons) I would say I didn't really "practice" much at all. It was more just playing things completely out of tune with horrible tone - but I didn't care. I was a violinist! Lol! Later, when I got a bit more serious about it, I practiced probably about a half hour a day, four days a week. Not nearly as much as I should have. And not nearly as much as I wish I would have.

My first year of private lessons were not very productive for me. I started with a teacher who told me I was wasting my time - I'd never get very good. She said I should switch to viola. At least then I might have a chance - because there aren't as many violists in the small town I live in. I'm still told that all the time - I'll never get good enough on violin, I should play viola instead. Part of that whole thing might be because I'm 6'10" and about 350 pounds.

I then started with Bill, who I'm proud to call a friend nowadays. He was the first person who said I could do it. Funny what a little bit of genuine (and aggressive) support will get you :)

May 7, 2017 at 06:26 PM · Wow, 4 days a week times 30 minutes a day is just 2 hours a week. When did you start practicing more? When you got your private teacher? How much were you practicing after that?

Also, have you continued to study privately post-masters, and how much practice time do you still devote now?

You've got a bunch of Soundcloud clips on your website. When were those taken, and if those aren't current, do you have any playing samples from after you finished your master's, and how you play currently? I suspect a lot of people would be intrigued by your progression. Request: Tchaikovsky cadenza! :-)

May 7, 2017 at 10:54 PM · Yes, when I started with Bill I did about two hours a day every day. Then about three hours a day every day not long after that.

I kept on after MM pretty seriously until about a year ago. I still practice about one hour five days a week, but I've been back to composing much more than I did for a long time.

Having a hard time deciding what to focus on.

The clips are from the same time as the video. I haven't recorded anything in a long time. Like i said, been busy. Kinda almost forgot I had a website for the most part.

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