am i late to be a professional violinist?

November 25, 2014 at 09:01 PM · I ve been studying violin since 18 yo, now im 24 n the hardest concerto i can play fluently is a minor by vivaldi, am i late to start studying violin, do i still hv a chance to be a virtuoso or violin teacher? Thank you

Replies (34)

November 25, 2014 at 10:54 PM · Cripes, we seem to get this question several times a week - why don't you try searching the site for answers in the box above?

[Hint: yes, you are too late to be Itzak Perlman or Hillary Hahn. The positions are taken. ]

November 25, 2014 at 11:20 PM · Depends how much practice you've been doing per day to get you there. If it's 10 minutes, you need to practise more before you even ask the question.

November 25, 2014 at 11:51 PM · Yes, you are too old for anything. Start working on your next project.

November 26, 2014 at 12:25 AM · Timotius, I think it is fair to predict that the answer to your question is "No!" You will not become a virtuoso violinist. I have had adult students, your age, who were whipping thorough the Vivaldi A Minor within 6 months. But they will not become virtuosi.

But I have known beginner people older than you who have every expectation of enjoying a lifetime of violin playing - and possibly even a professional career (but not playing classical violin). One such man in his early 30s was playing in the 1st violin section of one of our community orchestras 18 months after he started lessons, he had hopes of honing his skill to play not classical music for money.

There is a lot of mental coordination that adults are capable of that go along with the physical coordination required to play the violin. Kids often seem more adept at picking up the physical aspects. Adults can be helped or hindered by their more developed intellects when it comes to the early phases of learning string instruments. I've seen it go both ways. Adults tend to be better suited to being "cello beginners" because of the more natural posture used to play that instrument.

There is a lifetime of playing music that one can enjoy without rising to the virtuoso level. I was a child beginner, so I understand adult beginner problems only as a part-time violin (and cello) teacher for about 40 years. And now at 80 I am less adept at making music (at least on the violin) than I was years ago, but still I manage daily practice, one orchestra rehearsal a week and 6 annual concerts, and a weekly piano quartets and one monthly string quartet as a cellist. It has been 30 years since my violin playing was at its best, but my cello chops are about as good as ever. I rose to my desired musical heights on neither instrument and found my professional career in other directions. But still I have managed to play every day of my life since I was 4 years old, except for a year off when I was discouraged at age 12, and another year off due to partial paralysis when I was 50.

The best thing you can do to further your playing ability is to find an encouraging professional teacher who understands your goals, your instrument, and is a competent musician. Once you get past the technical details of playing your instrument at levels you (and others) find satisfactory, the coaching a fine musician can give you is still important.


November 26, 2014 at 03:22 PM · Welcome to the forum! Looking forward to hearing more about you!

In the meantime, Andrew provided an excellent answer!

December 13, 2014 at 05:55 AM · Keep playing and find out.

The first great concert pianist of the 21st century was a 24 year old (he later became the president of Poland).

Alban Gerdhardt was no child prodigy (though he started earlier than 18).

Just keep playing. Who knows, you could break the trend!

So just keep playing.

December 15, 2014 at 04:18 PM · You might want to see what your chances are statistically. Look at the top 100 "virtuoso" violinists in the world (assuming you can get that information) and see how many of them started playing the violin at an age over 6 years. If the answer is very close to zero you have an idea of the relative difficulty of becoming a virtuoso. But that does not preclude you from becoming a professional musician.

December 15, 2014 at 04:49 PM · Now for the second part of your question regarding becoming a violin teacher. Why not?

We have many school music teachers who lead string programs based not so much on their performance as much as their abilities to get young children started on the violin, viola, cello, and string bass. There are courses in many colleges in string pedagogy that prepares teachers with the basics on all the string instruments. I would venture to say that many young violists and cellists who start in a school program were taught by musicians who were trained as violinists.

We also have many fine violin virtuosi who are the first to admit that they would not make good teachers. Teaching is, indeed, a gift.

So, I would say it's great that you gave yourself the option of teaching as well. Indeed, if there are a few hundred thousand violinists in the world, only a very very small handful grace the halls and stages of our concert halls as world class soloists. As a teacher, you might recognize one of these gems in the rough and set them on the path to stardom.

Hang in there!

December 15, 2014 at 04:53 PM · "Only You can answer and determine that."

No, he can't. Which is why he's asking for experienced answers. And in my experience, there are certain physical professions for which 18 is too late. These include:

-ski racer


-baseball player

-tennis player

-just about every other professional athlete

-violinist, (which is more difficult than all of the above combined).

Take Andre Agassi's lesson: don't ruin a perfectly good hobby.

December 15, 2014 at 05:18 PM · Thank you, Scott. You don't see people telling 40-year-olds who've never picked up a football before that they'll be drafted into the NFL, whereas for some reason people think "follow your dream" is enough for music. It isn't. Yes, I realize that the poster is 24 instead of 40, but anyone who knows what he's talking about understands this basic reality of the industry.

December 15, 2014 at 05:27 PM · This weekend at a local church I was busy playing in three carol concerts/services, two of them back to back, making about 10 hours in total, including rehearsals. The orchestra was ad hoc, and the conductor got some very good players together in all the sections.

In the second desk of the 1st violins I had sitting next me a quiet 15-year old lad who immediately came across to me and every one else as having a stellar technique when he was warming up. For instance he had an absolute control of arm vibrato that you don't commonly see outside the professional ranks, and a tone and accuracy that really carried.

During the first coffee break I asked him what school he went to. "Wells Cathedral School" was the reply – which explained all. (That school, for those outside the UK, is one of the five top music schools in Britain, ranking alongside Chethams, for example.) He then asked me what concertos I played (!). I immediately came clean and explained that as a very late starter - post-retirement, with only 7 years of lessons behind me - playing concertos in public was not really much of an option at my age, but I was very happy to have an enjoyable time playing in orchestras, chamber groups, and in bands for ceili dancing. The boy understood, and we chatted with others at the table in the few minutes left before we were due back on stage. Later, I was told that he was currently working on the Tchaikovsky. What I don't think he realized was that I myself was learning one or two things from his playing alongside me.

So there you have it - the two ends of the scale.

December 15, 2014 at 06:09 PM · Eric Won is right -- it's possible that the OP could eventually teach the violin. I think that like any career transition, though, it has to be carefully thought out. Training for a new career while working in another one isn't easy, and it's made far more difficult by the fact that it's quite possible that his violin-teaching career would pay less than whatever it is that he's currently doing.

There's nothing wrong with being an enthusiastic amateur.

December 15, 2014 at 07:34 PM · If only you had started at 17...well then the world would have been your oyster!

But, 18 is the absolute cutoff deadline.

It says so on page 36 of the violinist owner's manual.

Not too late to start a burgeoning career as a violist though! If you can read alto clef there will always be room in the quartet for you!

December 15, 2014 at 07:44 PM · For Scott:

"I'm 50 and I can skate the length of the rink without falling down. Stopping is another matter, I pretty much just run into the boards. I have a teacher but we haven't really talked about stick-handling yet. Do I have a chance to be the next PK Subban?"

December 15, 2014 at 08:50 PM · Timotius: Thanks for communicating with us about your hopes and aspirations. Opening one's personal hopes and aspirations up for others to offer advice is brave. Your confidence already speaks well of your commitment to achieving great things.

Without knowing the current situation in Indonesia, where you live, with violin practice, you could indeed be considered a virtuoso in the right marketplace. You might not even need to play "Western" music, like concertos. You might be able to integrate your violin playing into some of the local musical groups playing native Indonesian instruments. This is a common practice in India, where a violin is played with a sitar; or in Russia, where a violin is played with a balalaika. These are all considered virtuosos by their audiences as well.

You could also be the great teacher that introduces the violin in your part of the country. This is all possible. And in all of your efforts, you would be promoting the beauty of the violin and the joy that comes from engaging in this charming instrument.

Hang in there. Not everyone needs to be frustrated from not making it to Carnegie Hall or the Proms, or being loaned a Strad or del Gesu. There are many other modest accomplishments that can bring great fulfillment with the violin.

December 15, 2014 at 11:22 PM · Teaching is possible, but only at a fairly low level. What happens when a talented youngster needs fingerings for the Glazunov concerto, or advice how to phrase a movement of Bach or prepare a Brahms symphony for an audition (even a youth orchestra audition)?

In this case, the teacher can either A. keep the student on even though they've maxed out or B. send them on, which will make it difficult to make a living.

Don't ruin a good hobby.

December 15, 2014 at 11:30 PM · I agree that there is a ceiling to the OP's possible future as a violin teacher, but there are many students at the Suzuki books 1 - 3 level, and very few asking for fingerings for the Glazunov.

As far as the possibility of becoming a virtuoso, I like the sports analogies. You won't find an elite gymnast who started at 18.

December 16, 2014 at 01:01 AM · Not to mention the fact that there are legions of violin-teachers out there who have been playing since childhood, were professionally educated, may even have gotten a Ph.D. -- but can neither play the Glazunov themselves nor will ever teach a student who will need the fingerings. Parents are frequently going to choose teachers based on how happy Junior is learning Twinkle, not the teacher's ability to play.

December 16, 2014 at 02:20 AM · Timotius, when you consider the advice given in this discussion, you may decide that it would be wise to set your sights on teaching and possibly performing in amateur groups.

And teaching/ amateur performance has different levels. A football coach at Happy Valley High School is not at the same level as the coach of the Baltimore Ravens. A music teacher at Happy Valley is at a different level than a professor at the Peabody Conservatory.

I have a niece who went to conservatory in piano and realized that the total dedication and work needed to become a first-rate soloist was too difficult. But she has become a very good amateur player with various local groups and records CD's of religious music as well. So she found her niche. I myself am a senior new violin student (with previous music background) so of course I am just doing it for pleasure - and my interest is in dance tune fiddling.

December 16, 2014 at 04:11 AM · Well I admit it. Glazunov is rather mediocre...

December 16, 2014 at 03:49 PM · Growing up I had about 10 different piano teachers. The best teachers were also themselves the best pianists. The just knew more about the mechanics of playing -- and practicing -- the piano then the place-holder teachers that I had in between my real-deal teachers. The real-deal-pianist teachers were the ones who insisted on scales, who showed me how to get the most out of Hanon, who taught me practice techniques that accelerated learning, who constantly made small adjustments to my posture and hand positions, and who assigned the most interesting pieces. The place-holder teachers just didn't know or notice as much.

December 16, 2014 at 04:17 PM · I don't disagree with any of that, but the reality is that (a) there are far more beginner violin students than there are places in the really excellent teachers' studios, at least where I am; (b) a mediocre teacher is generally still better than no teacher or only class instruction, and (c) there are also many students for whom the fees of the best teachers are prohibitive but whose parents can manage the lower fees of the less experienced teachers (see b).

December 17, 2014 at 04:28 AM · Mary Ellen, I agree with you. The costs of truly professional instruction, especially, can be quite prohibitive for some families. But if the OP is planning for a career with a living wage teaching the violin, then he probably needs a professional level of skill and playing experience. Most of the cut-rate folks are doing it for fun or to supplement other wages.

December 17, 2014 at 03:07 PM · Some schools may be able to provide bursaries or scholarships for those who are unable to afford the full fees, but probably at the price of a searching audition - in other words getting a clear idea of the student's potential.

December 17, 2014 at 04:15 PM · Mary Ellen's point remains, though. Violin students, as a market, are basically a giant funnel shape. A zillion students begin the instrument. Significantly fewer reach the intermediate level. Only a relatively tiny number reach the advanced level. My guess (based on my own childhood) is that for every 100 kids that start the violin, maybe 20 will still be playing in high school at the intermediate level, and just one or two will reach the advanced level.

Many of those who begin the instrument will have parents who cannot afford the very best teacher(s) in town, or simply don't think it's worthwhile to hire the very best teacher(s) given that their kid is a beginner, or have no notion of what teacher is better than the other and will just pick someone who is "good with kids". (And the very best teachers often don't teach beginners anyway.)

Consequently, there is a gigantic market for people who teach beginners, and many teachers will be just fine with only very basic skills.

More broadly, you can be a much-beloved teacher without actually being a very good player, or for that matter, without actually being a very good instructor. If Junior loves playing the violin and loves his teacher Bob, Mommy and Daddy may not care very much that Junior has terrible technique, especially if he's getting to butcher more and more difficult pieces.

December 17, 2014 at 04:29 PM · "The real-deal-pianist teachers were the ones who insisted on scales, who showed me how to get the most out of Hanon, who taught me practice techniques that accelerated learning, who constantly made small adjustments to my posture and hand positions, and who assigned the most interesting pieces. The place-holder teachers just didn't know or notice as much."

I'll change my answer to agree with Paul. There is indeed a need for people to teach younger kids, and that might be a very different skill set. But hopefully the teacher at that level has set up the youngsters really well. Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen. I don't want to paint all school or lower-level teachers the same because some are very good. However, it is common to get students who've been sent on that need much remedial work and who haven't been taught really good posture or bow hold or good shifting, etc.

So if you want to teach beginners (an important job, by the way), then please do it well...

December 17, 2014 at 07:58 PM · How come violin genius can not lie undiscovered until a later age?

I was not musically encouraged as a child but look at me now and I started very late.

Besides, I don't want to encourage someone else to take shortcuts that I missed.

Guess who began serious opera at age 34? Bocelli.

December 17, 2014 at 09:47 PM · It's not just about age, either. He asked if he could be a virtuoso. No matter how old you are, if you've been playing for six years and you are working on Vivaldi a minor, you are not a virtuoso. That's okay since virtually no one is. While the word originally just meant a highly skilled musician, it has evolved to mean not a talented person, or even an exceptionally talented person, but a truly gifted, one-in-a-million type player. Even amongst professionals, almost no one is a "virtuoso."

Could he be a violin teacher? Theoretically, yes. I would not advise it for many reasons, but it is possible.

December 17, 2014 at 10:08 PM · Glazunov, my lifetime aspiration, mediocre? You are a hard-hearted lot!

December 17, 2014 at 10:36 PM · Agreed, Bart. It's a great work. Especially in the hands of Oistrakh.

December 17, 2014 at 10:56 PM · "How come violin genius can not lie undiscovered until a later age?"

Because A. there's more to it than genius and B. genius or not, time is still a requirement.

It's like baking a cake--even if you have all the right ingredients, you still need X amount of time in the oven. and no, you can't hurry up the baking time by cranking it up to 500 degrees...

December 17, 2014 at 11:39 PM · Your argument is in the context of violin playing. Could the same argument be made for other instruments? Come to think of it, I do not remember a "too late" complaint for a cello :)

Might an aspiring student do well to choose carefully?

What if I started "late" with a less demanding instrument?

December 18, 2014 at 12:50 AM · Scott's point about time being a requirement is true for all instruments. The only string instrument that I know of anyone starting lste (by which I mean 14 or 15) and succeeding is the bass, and the one person I know who did that worked exceptionally hard and is exceptionally talented.

You're never too old to start learning any instrument for pleasure, but you will not find any successful professional performer on any musical instrument who started in adulthood, at least not in the orchestral world. There are plenty of happy amateurs, however, and there is nothing wrong with that.

December 20, 2014 at 12:34 PM · You might find this interesting though it is for learning the cello as an adult.

To be a professional violinist means making a living (or most of your income) by playing the violin. It's just that. Nothing more and nothing less. Whether or not you can play the Paganini 24 Caprices in your sleep is irrelevant. However, you do need to have chops.

A lot of the things that you can play at weddings, funerals, cocktail parties aren't all that virtuosic (unless you get requests for some crazy quartets). And if you manage to get some session work for pop music or film and TV, all you need is good tone, good intonation, and the ability to play against a click track. The notes are usually a walk in the park though there are of course many exceptions (like Hollywood movies that hire professional orchestras.)

The reality is that it's extremely competitive. There are way more competent violin players than there is work. That probably is the main reason why so many end up doing teaching, full-time or part-time.

One other possibility is being a school teacher specializing in strings/music. For that you need teacher's certification and need to know as many instruments as you can learn.

So is it possible for someone starting at 18 to become a professional violinist? Yes, it is. Is it realistic? Not likely.

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