How Much Should I Be Practicing?

October 17, 2015 at 08:36 PM · It is my goal in life to become a professional solo violinist.

By many accounts, I started late - at age seven and a half. I am now fourteen and I have progressed relatively quickly. I have worked on the Mozart 4, Mendelssohn, and Bruch concertos, and I have covered around half of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas. I have recently been doing Kreisler show pieces, in addition to all my scales and etudes. I have done some work in composition and music theory, and I have just started writing my own cadenzas for the Mozart 4. I play with the local high school orchestra (first violin - first stand, inside), youth symphony (first violin - first stand, inside), and professional symphony (second violin - fourth or fifth stand, inside). I have given two full length solo recitals for family and friends. I also play in an amateur trio with some of my fellow youth symphony musicians.

What I'm curious is, based on the above, how much do you think I should be practicing in a day? I know it's about the work that gets done and not the hours on the clock, but having concrete goals really helps me. Currently I am practicing about three hours per day. I was hoping to increase my practice to four hours, but right now that's proving difficult. Should I be aiming for even more than that? Am I practicing a good amount for the career I have chosen?

I am aware that opinions on this matter will probably differ from person to person, but I'd like all the advice I can get.

Replies

October 17, 2015 at 09:30 PM · There’s no one best answer, since a lot depends on the individual; but you’ve said you’d like all the advice you can get, so I’ll offer mine -- maybe not as advice but just sharing my own experience for comparison.

I majored in performance and was up to about 5 hours a day of playing while I was in the program. Probably only 3/5 of this was individual practice. At 21, I decided not to go into the music business, but I can still fit in about 3 hours a day. Roughly half of this is hard-core practice, while the rest is recreational playing.

I was about your age when I tried practicing 6 hours -- just once. It zapped my energy enough to make my parents concerned that I was overdoing the practice -- which I was. I bounced back within a day.

I agree with you that having concrete goals does help. You and your teacher can best decide how much you should do. If you’re getting to your goals with the practice time you have now, then why add to the time? You can get to a point of diminishing returns. I like knowing that I’ve made concrete progress for the day, but then I like to set a definite time limit on practice and stick to it. Better to wrap up a practice session with plenty of musical appetite left for the next one.

October 17, 2015 at 09:30 PM · Leopold Auer on practicing:

"How long should the advanced pupil practice?" Professor Auer was asked.

"The right kind of practice is not a matter of hours," he replied. "Practice should represent the utmost concentration of brain. It is better to play with concentration for two hours than to practice eight without. I should say that four hours would be a good maximum practicetime--I never ask more of my pupils--and that during each minute of the time the brain be as active as the fingers.

October 17, 2015 at 09:34 PM · That being said, you should be aware that your goal of being a professional soloist is not likely to be realistic. If this were a realistic aspiration for you, you would already be entering and placing in the junior level of international competitions. You may very well be on a trajectory to gain conservatory admittance and be competitive in orchestral auditions--I can't say for sure, not having heard you--and you should be aware that even to win a job in the violin section of a mid-level professional orchestra is extremely competitive.

October 18, 2015 at 02:27 AM · I had a teacher (a former student of Raphael Bronstein, who was a pupil of Auer) who felt strongly about Auer's prohibition against lengthy practice. (Auer also said, "Practice three hours a day if you are any good, four if you are a little stupid. If you need more than that, stop. You should find another profession.")

I'd never been a heavy practicer until I met him (up until then, I might have done 45 minutes a day if nagged enough by my mother), but he loaded me up with so much material that I felt I *needed* four hours a day. I was super-startled when he reprimanded me for playing that much -- he felt that I should be getting good results from no more than two hours a day, and if I needed more than that, I was being inefficient.

Now note: This included a set of exercises to be done daily that took a minimum of 20 minutes to go through, a pair of Paganini Caprices, a movement of solo Bach, and a nearly-20-minute-long concerto movement, so even playing straight through everything would take an hour. So he very firmly believed in intensely focused, highly targeted practice with no time wasted running things through unless in performance-preparation mode. The effort of trying to figure out how to fit learning a lot of material into a compressed timeframe was incredibly useful.

This is a long-winded way of saying that it's not how much you practice as much as how well you use the time. Longer practicing is not a badge of honor. You should be practicing enough to accomplish your goals, with every minute of that practice as mindful and fully focused. You are better off with *less* practice that is more focused, than more practice time in which you are not fully productive.

Starting at 7 and a half is not a "late start". It's on the later side, but it's not actually late (which would 10+ when the brain does not develop the same extensive hand-mapping as it does earlier on). By your age, you should be fully on par with the kids who started at 3. You should be playing a level worth paying money to hear, or rapidly approach that point. You should be winning serious competitions.

By the way, your "works to learn" list in your bio is a bit strange. Your teacher is giving you the Beethoven concerto after the Mendelssohn? That's a deeply odd choice, especially given the other repertoire in your list. (I mean, strictly speaking, you could manage the notes for the Beethoven, but as a pedagogical choice it's weird, as the Beethoven is usually taught as a capstone of the repertoire.)

October 18, 2015 at 02:36 AM · Lily, is this your YouTube page? - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-0Kgi8sFKJ_5woWYPFLeQw

Looks like the Bruch 2nd and 3rd movements, and the Rode Caprice #2 are recent videos. Fair representation of your playing level?

October 18, 2015 at 12:08 PM · I would suggest...at this point...that you might get a lot of good feedback...if you take a couple of private lessons, or workshops (or something along those lines) with some top teachers.

I'd get more than one opinion - and then go from there.

Probably well worth the time and expense.

October 18, 2015 at 02:51 PM · This might give you some idea of what lies ahead - and this is for a tutti symphony player:

http://slippedisc.com/2015/10/a-chicago-cellist-explains-why-we-work-only-20-hours-a-week/

I know I had big dreams when I was young but I went into science instead (for me it was much more realistic) - but have continued playing music - it's been 67 years since I was 14, still, I have practiced two separate times already today (on cello, viola, and violin) and I'll have a string quartet session tomorrow (Tuesday) and a piano trio on Thursday. 3 times a month it's orchestra practice on Tuesdays instead.

It would also be instructive for you to read biographies (and especially autobiographies) of virtuoso string soloists to get a better idea of how their minds work, the inside story of their playing; of what they can do and how they do it. I have read some bios of the greats recently and It is clear to me that as a musician, I never had a chance. I made the right choice. Big advantage of my choice - I never had to fly carrying an instrument, just a briefcase and clothes.

Andy

October 18, 2015 at 07:11 PM · I watched a couple of the videos from the Youtube channel that Lydia linked. (by the way, I agree with her that starting at 7 is not late)

I don't really want to get into specifics with a fourteen-year-old who perhaps did not intend to open the full internet can of worms with what probably seemed like a simple question, but I will say that Lily is a good student with some playing issues very typical of her age. But I think she would benefit from attending a national arts camp in the summer (Interlochen or similar) to get a better idea of what the competition is like.

Here are some videos of interest (I limited myself to American violinists). Please note that my intent is not to make Lily feel bad--I did not play nearly as well as these young people at the same age, and I have had a reasonably successful orchestral career. But at no point was becoming a soloist ever in my future, and I wish I had learned sooner than I did just how high the standards were in the larger world of music.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jP1TXFg_EDs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEnRBhpsx2w

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7h4uNTP_Mw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axtE0dRpfDU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uxCHJkpHMM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BP65MiYNh50

And just for fun, the top Texas All-State high school orchestra from February 2015--these kids are without exception extremely strong players, and not all of them will even gain admission to a top conservatory--one of my best students, an excellent violinist (better in some ways than I had been at the same age) had a very good chair in this orchestra and didn't even pass the Rice pre-screen.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6UrYM8fKhk

Editing to add that the concertmaster in the TMEA video was just a sophomore.

October 18, 2015 at 09:58 PM · To the aspiring teen-aged violinist reading this thread, including Lily, I'd like to offer yet another alternative. Get good -- really good -- at the violin while you are in high school. (Sounds like you are well on your way toward that!) High school is pretty easy academically, so unless you're playing a varsity sport, you've got time to practice and really improve while your intelligence is at its peak. My impression is that young people who are good at the violin are generally very smart and can take up many different fields of study in college and graduate/professional school such as medicine, engineering, basic sciences, business administration, teaching, law, etc. Depending on what you want to accomplish in these fields, and how long you can tolerate staying in school, you can arrange it so that you have time to enjoy your violin skill while making a solid living doing something else. I'm definitely not saying that's what you *should* do, I'm just suggesting that you keep your mind and your options open, that you do well in all your classes, and that you set aside some time to prepare for the exams (SAT, etc.). You will learn a lot about yourself over the next few years and will likely be an entirely different person by the time you graduate high school -- and again by the time you graduate college.

October 18, 2015 at 11:26 PM · Yes, that is my YouTube Channel. I have not updated it recently and I am disappointed with what is on there. I do not see it as an accurate representation of my skill level, and I am always appalled to hear what my mom's cheap digital camera does to my tone. It is on my list to get a better camera and start making more professional videos.

As a note about the concertos - they have not been assigned to me in any specific order, these are concertos I have worked on and want to work on.

As far as getting lots of opinions and going to camps, I am working on that. I was lucky enough to participate in a masterclass with James Ehnes and I got to play for the Dover Quartet and receive a little coaching from them. I do as many of the local summer music camps as I can. I am planning to go to one of the big camps like Meadowmount summer 2017 - right now I'm saving up my symphony earnings to try to make that happen.

What other steps should I be taking?

October 19, 2015 at 01:01 AM · Camera mics do not lie about intonation.

Master classes are great. Coachings are great. But right now you are a big fish in a small pond. You need to get into the biggest pond with the biggest fish around. That's why I suggested Interlochen. Meadowmount would be even better, if you can get in.

October 19, 2015 at 01:46 AM · I believe I typed tone, not intonation. I am aware that recordings will show exactly what is happening with my pitch and intonation, my complaint was that the low quality mic did not capture the tone of my violin as it truly sounds.

October 19, 2015 at 02:28 AM · You misunderstood me. My point was that your videos showed intonation issues. This is what I was referring to when I said that your playing had problems typical of your age. I was not considering tone at all.

One way to make your practicing more efficient is to record yourself on a regular basis and listen to the playback with a photocopy of your music and a pencil in hand. (The photocopy is so that you don't risk marking up your actual playing copy beyond recognition.) You will hear things on the playback that you were not aware of while playing. Mark every note that is even slightly out of tune; mark every rhythm that is not accurate. The next time you practice, focus on those problems.

If your teacher permits it, recording your lessons can also be extremely helpful.

October 19, 2015 at 02:30 AM · Sound is not your issue in those videos. (It's always nice to have better sound in a video, but the sound capture is more than sufficient to form a good assessment of your playing.)

Take Mary Ellen Goree's commentary for what it is -- you're a good student with some playing issues typical of your age (or I would say more broadly, of someone at a particular stage of learning to play the violin). You haven't asked for a critique, and consequently I suspect we will all be politely circumspect in not offering one. But compared to the kids I hear locally, you sound like someone who has violin as a diligently-attended hobby for burnishing a college application, not like one of the kids with pre-professional aspirations (and not at all like one of the kids who is hoping for a solo career).

Experienced observers of the violin can often form a solid impression of your playing from watching you only for a few moments. The bits of your playing that I watched seemed consistent even though they were recorded months apart, so I'm curious in what way you feel your YouTube videos aren't representative of your playing.

I echo Mary Ellen's advice about getting out into a bigger pond. You frankly also need a bigger-pond teacher if you really want to become a soloist. You need someone who is experienced at preparing students to play at the very highest levels. It's clear from watching the videos that your teacher is either not the person to do that, or you're not working sufficiently diligently.

Kids your age with professional aspirations routinely commute long distances (including by plane) to study with top-notch teachers at pre-conservatory programs. Parents make serious sacrifices to try to help their children succeed in what is an extremely rarified world.

On a completely practical note: Your practice routine could probably use 30 minutes a day devoted to left-hand velocity, agility, and precision -- Schradieck, Sevcik, and the like, done with intense attention to detail, a metronome, and "perfect" as the standard.

October 19, 2015 at 02:46 AM · I generally agree with Lydia on most points but I could not in good conscience suggest that the OP spend the money required to fly across the country to study with a top-level teacher, assuming one would accept her. It might be worth investigating opportunities in Portland, however.

I am very thankful that videos of my playing at age 14 do not exist. Nobody would have pegged me as pre-professional at that time; my learning curve took a steep turn upward once I got to Oberlin. Significantly, that was also when I realized that being concertmaster of my youth orchestra and concertmaster of my high school orchestra meant absolutely nothing, that I was not nearly as good as I thought I was, and that people my age or only slightly older were playing much better than I was.

These days the 17-year-old me would never get into Oberlin in the first place. It is crazy competitive.

October 19, 2015 at 03:05 AM · The OP appears to be in rural Oregon, where either Portland or San Francisco is 5+ hours by car, I think. The flying across the country was a general comment not a specific suggestion in this case, but given where the OP lives, I imagine that a kid flying Chicago-NYC is actually inconvenienced less than the OP would be driving to the closest major city.

October 19, 2015 at 10:08 AM · I generally agree. Not to take away from Lily's significant accomplishments, but a solo career (at least one that pays the bills) is next to impossible. It is actually a little depressing if you ask me. Not just in violin, but everything we do including sports, arts, pick any hobby, the level of perfection required to "succeed" is astonishing.

As Mary Ellen correctly points out, once you open your eyes to the highest levels of anything, it requires completely dedicating your life to that endeavor if you want to be one of them. A friend of mine is the parent of a talented golfer. They have now split up the family. Mom and one son still live in the area. Dad and the golfer son lives in Florida, where he can now practice golf 5-6 hours a day. I truly wish him well, but the sacrifice is just not worth it IMO. There are other things in life that are worthwhile, but to be one of the best in the world at anything requires too much sacrifice.

I was Mary Ellen's stand partner back in the youth orchestra days. I am no where near the violinist that Mary Ellen is, but back then, we were two of the "better" violinists in the area. Now, there are 9 year olds that can play circles around me. While I admire what these young musicians have accomplished, it is not healthy IMO. There is too much pressure and too much competition.

October 19, 2015 at 10:26 AM · Smiley wrote, "once you open your eyes to the highest levels of anything, it requires completely dedicating your life to that endeavor if you want to be one of them."

Some fields are more competitive than others. If you're in the top 10% of your high school class with respect to math skills, you can very likely become a middle-school or high-school math teacher basically coasting through a state university degree program on your existing intelligence and work ethic. Then you can have your summers to play the violin or teach violin to students whose regular teachers take the summers off for performing or vacationing.

Smiley might still be right that "reaching the highest levels" of high school math teaching may require a lot of effort, but I'm not sure what that goal would even mean. From what I can see, the award winning teachers work maybe 30-40% harder than the average, not 3-4 times as hard. Becoming the next Hilary Hahn is rather like becoming the next Maria Sharapova. Fun to think about, but not very realistic as a goal.

October 19, 2015 at 10:54 AM · There are two ways to rise to the top: 1. Be among the very best in an established field. 2. Be the best in a field that you establish.

2. is how some violin players get to earn much more than Hilary Hahn with half the chops.

October 19, 2015 at 02:15 PM · I would agree with the suggestions to focus on quality & not quantity.

Here are some wise words from Pamela Frank .

October 19, 2015 at 03:02 PM · Lots of 13-year-olds along with one of their parents left their homelands to study at Curtis. Among those top talents, who are already amazing at that age, very few will have a soloist career...

October 19, 2015 at 03:43 PM ·

October 19, 2015 at 07:00 PM · I agree that if you want to do something at the pinnacle of a profession, you need to have a nearly fanatical devotion to it. Everything else gets pushed aside, including potentially the hopes and dreams and personal goals of the rest of your family.

It does not sound like the OP is prepared to make those kinds of sacrifices -- and at the OP's current playing level it doesn't make sense to make those sacrifices.

At the same time, the OP needs to realistically rethink their future, because her present trajectory is not going to coincide with her goal of wanting to become a soloist. It might, with major steady improvement over the next few years, lead to a professional career, but the OP has to decide whether or not the level of effort is going to be worth the results, especially since the OP seems bright and well-spoken and could probably find another more lucrative career.

October 19, 2015 at 07:01 PM · Kevin's post also made me think of Lindsey Stirling, but I might point out that she's got a lot more going for her than just the violin -- she also dances, composes, and has a combination of talents that takes her up to a unique pinnacle.

October 19, 2015 at 07:24 PM · Lindsay Stirling is a mediocre (at best) violinist, a pretty good dancer, and a marketing genius.

It is that last quality that has enabled her to monetize the first two. She is absolutely brilliant in what she does, which is not primarily about playing the violin.

Most mediocre violinists are not so brilliant in other fields--I would say that most people in general are not so brilliant.

October 19, 2015 at 07:27 PM · https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfy_i0fi2gU

Jack Benny!

October 19, 2015 at 09:41 PM · Obviously, if violin skill alone cannot save you from falling into poverty, you must have something else to make up the shortfall. Even technically brilliant soloists need some sort of non-music related skills to make it big.

October 19, 2015 at 10:02 PM · Hi Paul,

Lily did not indicate that she wants to be a teacher. But using your math analogy, being a successful soloist would be like winning a nobel prize in math or science. It can be done, but it ain't easy.

October 19, 2015 at 11:17 PM · In some ways reaching a high level in science is easier because it's not usually a solo act. It's partly about achieving a unique insight at some critical career stage, but also about transforming that insight by managing/mentoring graduate students, fostering collaborations, etc. The great thing about science (and many such professional fields) is that there are many ways to become genuinely successful and to feel rewarded even if you're not bound for Stockholm.

October 19, 2015 at 11:41 PM · My son is a huge fan of Lindsey Stirling. His morning alarm is a Lindsey Stirling CD and it is loud enough to wake me up too. No, she doesn't have a flawless Sibelius, and the purists might object, but I think she is good for violin.

October 20, 2015 at 03:38 PM · Of course she is good for the violin. She is playing stuff that is within her technical grasp, and enjoying herself doing it. Regardless of genre, that's what most children will aspire to -- if we're lucky. Her videos are not interesting to me, but they are not vulgar or crude either.

October 21, 2015 at 08:43 AM · Lily - I say this to all the young people here who ask about a career with violin.

As others have pointed out, your chances of becoming a national or international classical soloist are vanishingly small, as the focus is on virtuosity and the technical gifts required are extremely rare. The few who are going to make it are usually recognised very young and whisked off to the top teachers. Even an orchestral career is highly competitive and probably a long shot. So most classical violin students end up teaching, with a bit of performing on the side for weddings, local music societies and the like.

But there are endless opportunities in other genres, such as Celtic, Old Time, Bluegrass, Blues, Jazz, Pop, Klezmer and on and on. In these fields, musical imagination is more important than sheer virtuosity, and there is open-ended potential for creativity and fun.

So all I'm really saying is don't box yourself in - if you are in love with the violin and looking to make a career in performance rather than teaching, the world beyond classical may be a more realistic goal. And these days, many of the best schools are offering courses in other genres, so there are many opportunities for study too.

Good luck with your studies, whichever way you decide to go...

October 21, 2015 at 09:27 AM · Geoff,

Really balanced and good advice.

October 21, 2015 at 09:42 AM · From what Lily has written on this forum over the past few months it is clear that she is very intelligent. I'd like to ask her to ponder the option to choose a more mainstream field of study, say engineering (just an example), make a nice and safe career in that field, and enjoy yourself until the end of your life with the most beautiful hobby---making music with like-minded people. There are mixed professional-amateur ensembles that make really nice music. There are amateur chamber music groups. There is playing in church. There is so much. Compared to that, the professional music scene is really a tough survival where a large part of the joy in music making is probably lost. My apologies for offering the other perspective.

October 21, 2015 at 11:52 AM · Jean gives good advice but I take exception to the frequently and erroneously stated assumption that we professionals have lost all joy in musicmaking. The people who lose their joy often move on to another career due to the correctly stated assumption that anybody bright enough to succeed in professional music is going to be bright enough to succeed in many other fields as well.

That being said, I do not regret my BA in math (double degree at Oberlin) which was my backup plan even though I have never used it other than being a graduate assistant at Indiana. I appreciated having my BA help to pay for my MM.

If the OP continues on her present evident trajectory, especially if she gets out into the larger world and gains a better understanding of how she ranks, I think it is very possible that she will be competitive for conservatory admissions pursuant to an orchestral career. Competitive does not mean guaranteed success, and the process of getting even a mid level orchestral job is brutal. There are a lot of metaphorical bodies along the way.

October 21, 2015 at 12:45 PM · Even if you look outside the classical sphere, the opportunity to be a solo superstar is still very tiny. Just like classical players, a lot of non-classical players end up playing a miscellaneous assortment of gigs (many of which might be in bars and similar settings) and mostly teaching for their actual day-to-day income. My guess is that the average income of a professional non-classical violinist who is playing solo or with a small band, is beneath the income of a classical freelancer.

Furthermore, I think the path to success is much less clear outside of the classical genre. I think fiddlers get some publicity from winning fiddle competitions and playing at festivals, for instance, but there's a lot more hustling for gigs for non-classical players, whereas classical at least has very structured paths towards solo and orchestral careers with the gig-hustling mostly on the side (unless you go pure freelance).

October 21, 2015 at 02:22 PM · Hi Lydia

Superstar? Yes, we can surely agree that that's just as much of a long shot in other genres, though I'm not sure it's what the OP is shooting for.

But I do know a number of people who make a living from non-classical genres, and have a lot of fun doing it. Though they do work very hard. And on the whole, they also do some composing, reviewing, producing, teaching, promoting, film-making, workshops and the like. Or they have a part-time job. They do have to be entrepreneurial and flexible.

Though mostly the more ambitious ones have agents, so hassling for gigs doesn't seem to take up much of their time.

The main point is that they can make a living having fun with music without having to dedicate a huge slice of their lives achieving Paganini-like levels of technique.

For example, I know some very fine folk fiddlers who wouldn't even make the starting gate as classical pros. Obviously their basics are sound, but it's their musical creativity that helps them stand out rather than their technical chops.

October 21, 2015 at 02:51 PM · Hey Lily,

I know you are only 14 or 15, so so reading a lot of these posts from adults sounds like a lot of pressure. Before you start adding a bunch of time to your practice sessions, you may want to take a look at how effectively and efficiently you practice.

Are you practicing too long at a time without breaks? Anyone's ability to concentrate has its limits, and practicing after your concentration has gone can result in you making a bunch of mistakes or not getting much out of that time. Are you doing other activities you enjoy, like sports, hanging out with friends and all that good stuff? You need to have some space to enjoy your life outside of music, or else it can be easy to burn out and start resenting the time you put into violin. Sleep is also incredibly important for anyone trying to learn anything. Are you relaxed while playing and practicing, or do your hands and fingers ache after practice sessions?

After you're sure those things are in order, then you can slowly SLOWLY bump up your practice time each day a little bit at a time, to make sure that you don't overdo it and hurt yourself, and monitor how you feel about it. How much YOU need to practice is going to depend on YOU, and by paying attention to how YOU feel, you will get a better sense of what gets results and what doesn't. We may be adults, and others here may be very accomplished, but only you know yourself.

October 21, 2015 at 03:42 PM · I don't think anybody has been telling her she needs to devote her life to practicing. Most of us have been suggesting that she consider how to practice more efficiently, and the consensus is also that she needs to get out into the world and get a more objective idea of where she stands.

In response to the other poster who suggested that she doesn't necessarily want to be a superstar, in fact that is exactly what she said in her OP--that she wants a solo career. That is the very definition of a superstar in classical music. Anyone and everyone with knowledge of the professional violin world has been trying to suggest, gently or otherwise, that this is not in her future. I don't really think this is pressure from adults, I think this is a dose of reality from people with a much better perspective than the limited one she has right now.

October 21, 2015 at 04:03 PM · I agree Mary. I just think that Lily has gotten a little ahead of herself, and that when the question of "what it takes" comes up on this forum, we often start spinning in circles of prescriptions of this or that and who did what and the like, which I think is beside the point. I don't think this sort of advice is the strength of this forum, seeing as how every poster is sort of a black box until you hear them play. Let the people physically in her life give the advice about trajectory - Hopefully a teacher can do it the best.

October 21, 2015 at 04:37 PM ·

October 21, 2015 at 04:42 PM · Christian, if one is old enough to be posting on a forum and one is asking if it's possible to become a classical soloist (meaning someone who gives solo recitals or performs concertos with orchestras for a full-time living), the answer is already no. If you aren't already on the international circuit by thirteen or so, or at the very least well aware of what you have to do get on it, you aren't going to be. I don't have to hear you play to know that and neither does anyone else who knows the field. This reality is often surprising, even unbelievable, to a lot of people--partially because there are so very few industries that operate that way, and partially because a lot of people are used to the pop music model of artists being "discovered." Violin soloists aren't discovered. They're made from a very early age through an incredibly fortuitous combination of talent, money, drive, hard work, family connections and extremely efficient world-class training.

Most kids who are any good at violin are talented, intelligent kids who are used to hearing that they can do anything they want to do. So they often don't understand that they really cannot expect to be soloists, even if they are the best player in their area. I remember asking my teacher when I was fourteen if I could be a soloist. Luckily he had the good sense to tell me no!

October 21, 2015 at 04:56 PM · Lydia posted links above to the OP's Youtube channel, so it is possible to hear what she sounded like about six months ago. She is not a black box.

You will have to take the OP's word for it that those videos do not fairly reflect her current playing--myself, I think they're likely pretty close but I have not actually heard her in person.

That being said, Sarah is completely correct that a 14-year-old who is not already on the international competition circuit or at least taking serious aim with a knowledgeable teacher is someone who is not a future soloist, and it isn't necessary to hear the student in question to be 100% sure of that.

October 21, 2015 at 06:07 PM · These days it's not all that hard for a young person to calibrate himself/herself against others. The best way is at a competition or a high-level music camp like Interlochen, where you see other performers in person and everyone is doing their best. But you can ballpark it with YouTube. Just search for your piece -- one that you feel is ready for performance. If you find a few other kids of the same age (or younger) playing it as well as you do (or better) then that tells you you're not truly special (as a violinist). And you have to be truly special to become a soloist.

One of the problems with trying to piece together a career by teaching Suzuki, playing weddings and freeway-philharmonic gigs, and finding a club that will host your Irish-fusion violin band on a continuing basis, is that many of those opportunities only really exist in urban localities that have very high costs of living. Just getting around in some localities can consume an unbelievable amount of time and money, to the point where those hybrid career strategies become impracticable over the long term, especially for someone with a family.

One of the things every person has to figure out is what kind of lifestyle you really feel will be adequate to you. If you feel you can be happy with basically a lower-middle-class lifestyle, then your range of opportunity is much wider than it would be if you expect to pull in a six-figure salary. There are many pathways to happiness.

October 21, 2015 at 07:32 PM · Of course, the corollary to that point is that there are plenty of people in six-figure jobs who hate their work and wish they'd had the courage to do something less lucrative but with greater opportunity for personal satisfaction. And it's probably easier to sell out after a decade or two of living the artist life than it is to quit your high-paying job mid-career to be an artist. Research has shown that people are terrible at predicting what will make them happy, so sometimes the only way to learn is by doing. But if stability is the primary concern for an individual, that individual just shouldn't work in the arts at all, since even the most renowned arts institutions have lockouts, file for bankruptcy, struggle to meet funding goals and so on.

None of that applies to being a soloist, though. What I said stands on that front. You're either on the path to do it or you aren't, and if you're wondering, that means you aren't.

October 21, 2015 at 10:20 PM · There are cities (**cough Texas cough**) where the cost of living is quite reasonable. And someone with decent playing chops, excellent organizational skills, a high tolerance for stress, and an engaging personality can make bank if they get into a serious wedding business.

A successful teaching career is much more likely in an area where the schools have a strong strings program and there are a lot of (at least) middle-class people with disposable income.

And getting back to the OP from what is now quite far afield, it's possible to have occasional opportunities to play as a soloist with orchestra even without that being your primary career. I have soloed with orchestra in the following pieces: Mozart Sinfonia Concertante, Tchaikovsky concerto (1st mvt only), Vivaldi Winter, Sibelius, Mozart #4, Bach E major, Vivaldi 3 violin concerto (2nd violin), Bach Double (1st violin), Chausson Poeme.

October 22, 2015 at 12:20 AM · Geoff Caplan wrote: "The main point is that they can make a living having fun with music without having to dedicate a huge slice of their lives achieving Paganini-like levels of technique."

You can make a living "having fun" as a classical player with only mediocre chops, too, if you are willing to, as Geoff put it, "work very hard... also do some composing, reviewing, producing, teaching, promoting, film-making, workshops and the like. Or they have a part-time job... be entrepreneurial and flexible."

October 22, 2015 at 12:31 AM · It's not impossible to do significant solo performance as an amateur, either. Within my on-and-off play of about six years total as an adult, I've done two concertos with orchestra (Prokofiev No. 1, Glazunov) and a multi-rehearsal stint as a rehearsal soloist (all the joy of playing with orchestra, none of the pressure). And I've gotten good opportunities to share solo recitals in well-attended venues as well (wish I had more time to take advantage of this).

There's probably an interesting and important irony there. As an amateur, I'm free to perform in whatever venue, without worrying about being paid (although I did get paid a soloist fee for one of the concerto performances). Professional violinists are unlikely to want to play "for the exposure" or "for the sake of the music", because, well, they're making a living that way.

October 26, 2015 at 04:25 PM · "Lilly, after reading your post, you've proved my point that at your age many, many violin students such as your self are advanced enough to acquire a position within a professional orchestra."

With all due respect, this is not even remotely close to true.

There is a lot more I could say but I will simply add that when 100% of actual professional violinists responding to a thread are in agreement, perhaps their opinions should be taken seriously.

October 26, 2015 at 08:09 PM · When 100% of the violinists also manage to write with demonstrated understanding of grammar, I find myself more convinced by their arguments.

Why does Linda's post remind me of a Nigerian email scam?

October 26, 2015 at 11:23 PM · I have nothing to add to the foregoing.

October 26, 2015 at 11:35 PM · Oh dear, Linda Goulder is back. She's the one that was spouting all kinds of stuff about the Russian method and whatnot a couple of months back, and then deleted her account when it was discovered that she was a brand-new adult beginning violinist.

October 27, 2015 at 01:47 AM · I wish I could spout Linda's resume though. I bet you can't claim to be both a civil war re-enactor AND a dance model in modern interpretive dance.

Oh, the mirth!

October 27, 2015 at 04:15 AM · Moral of the story is... that the ones who accept defeat will never win. I found that even among the top scientists, the most stubborn ones make it to the top, in fact, one just won the Nobel prize in physics. It sometimes makes me happy to know how stubborn I am. Do think of backup careers, but don't give up on the main one too easily.

On topic, my soloist neighbour told me what kind of routine practice he does. An hour to two on scales from long notes to staccatos. He also picks random pieces and plays for an hour or two. It's also scary listening to how fast he sight reads music.

October 27, 2015 at 05:40 AM · Well, this went downhill in a hurry.

October 27, 2015 at 07:25 AM · "Furthermore, please don't nash your teeth in your posts about how the world has beat you up and crushed your dreams, because I don't really care."

Linda, most of us here do indeed care..

October 27, 2015 at 07:32 AM · "Moral of the story is... that the ones who accept defeat will never win."

I like that, Steven. But neither talent without work, nor work without talent will "make it".

And the work has to be done with total awareness, and, as Suzuki put it, "only on the days when you eat"..

October 27, 2015 at 09:45 AM · Another moral of the story is that thousands have tried or are trying to be the next Lang Lang and have failed or are failing.

October 27, 2015 at 10:42 AM · "Another moral of the story is that thousands have tried or are trying to be the next Lang Lang and have failed or are failing."

Exactly. And when a qualified professional recognizes that a student's dream does not match up with that student's level of achievement, it is completely unethical to encourage the student in a very expensive (both in money and in time) delusion.

I really hate the advice frequently handed out by well-meaning but ignorant people to never give up on one's dream or passion no matter the cost. The first thing is to have a realistic dream. There's a very sad HONY photo of a cellist preparing to go to LA for his 200th audition in 20 years. It did not require hearing him on Youtube to know that he would not be successful, that he would never win a professional audition--although YT did confirm that assessment. And yet the comments consisted mostly of people cheering him on and encouraging him never to give up. If he never had a teacher look him in the eye and tell him, "Playing in a professional orchestra is not in your future," then he was badly failed by his teachers. This is the kind of wasted life that causes me to gnash my teeth, or would if I were inclined to melodrama.

Passion is not enough. Hard work alone is not enough. Talent along with an excellent teacher and years of hard work beginning in childhood *might* bring someone to the point of being competitive in auditions but even then there is an oversupply of candidates relative to jobs.

October 27, 2015 at 12:36 PM · There will not be high schoolers in a full-time orchestra. Full stop. Regional orchestras are always a mixed bag with a little bit of everything. You get amazing players from top-level conservatories who have taken audition after audition and no one understands why they haven't won anything yet. You get pretty solid players who either aren't quite strong enough to win an audition or just don't audition well. You get some random stragglers. You get founding members of the orchestra who wouldn't make the cut today (although in fairness, that happens in full-time orchestras too...) You get a few people from the community with full time jobs in other areas. Every once in awhile you might get an exceptionally strong high schooler, but there aren't "many, many" of them, and they don't come out of nowhere. They usually have a parent or teacher in the orchestra to vouch for them.

As far as being a soloist, well...I have difficulty believing that anybody at Interlochen would tell kids that "anything is possible." It is not about being the underdog, daring to dream, reaching for the stars or anything else you might find on a motivational poster. I'm sure that to many, it looks like sheer stinginess of spirit for us to keep reiterating this over and over to poster after poster. Actually, though, it's just frustration at the misguided messages that young people receive from those who intend to be encouraging but don't understand what they're up against. I've come to think it takes many years of extensive exposure to the industry to truly know what's out there. A passing familiarity won't be sufficient to really plumb the depths of the crazy.

October 27, 2015 at 02:19 PM · Linda, I'm sorry if you feel "bashed"!

But the genuine advice given to Lily is certainly not "bashing". There is simply a huge difference between aiming for the moon, and giving oneself the means to get there.

Personally, I don't always read posts that need scrolling on my not-very-recent screen. I am very talkative when in company, but when I write I try to be succinct and to the point before pressing the "submit" button. Several PM's have remarked on this.

In my 30's, I knew everything; in my 60's, I am still learning, so I know even more! And with the more abrasive posts, I try to see past the style to the content.

October 27, 2015 at 02:50 PM · "Lilly, after reading your post, you've proved my point that at your age many, many violin students such as your self are advanced enough to acquire a position within a professional orchestra."

Anyone who writes that simply has ZERO credibility. "Zero credibility" means that everything else you write is either trivial or presumed to be wrong. Failing to retract such a statement when confronted with incontrovertible evidence to the contrary only supports that conclusion.

October 30, 2015 at 04:41 AM · Lily,

As Mary Ellen has pointed out in the most gentle way possible, the biggest challenge you have right now is that you don't play in tune. Your pitch in your Bruch 3rd movement is highly questionable, especially on the intervals. I would also add that I find your rhythm somewhat irregular as well...

That being said, these are not impossible to change. Obviously you have the motivation and guts to put yourself before an admittedly critical Internet audience, so assuming that you will at least consider the advice given by the experienced folks on here (a large number of whom do actually care what will happen to you should you plunge headlong into pursuing a playing career), I would strongly recommend that you write out a list of the things you have heard about that are important, and talk to your teacher about setting goals to improve them.

I can't tell you how happy so many of us would be to hear you again at a future date, when you have blazed a path to a new level of playing, and have had time to ponder the goals that you have in your music-making.

November 3, 2015 at 12:41 AM · If you practice super focused everyday for like 5-8 hours, and quit school, family and friends and jobs and everything just to work on technique and study music, in 10 years, you might (maybe) be able to become the next Lucas Debargue.

But the chances of that, even with the massive sacrifices are small. Is it worth it to give everything up? I mean everything; no friends, no career, and you won't finish high school and it's highly likely that you'll end up like that homeless dude in "The Soloist;" in return, a small chance (but significantly better than .000001% chance; now more like 1%) that you may make it.

It's your life, your choice, as far as I'm concerned. That is, after you turn 18.

November 3, 2015 at 06:51 AM · Lily, at present, I teach young ladies from 11 to 14 years old. With the eager and talented ones, I notice three things which hamper progress:

- they just won't do proper slow practice (of the preparatory kind);

- to progress, they may have to modify parts of their playing which are already quite good; then teenage pride intervenes!

- changes in bone, ligament, tendon & muscle seem to me to be often out of step; we have to re-learn all the time.

BTW, you can play solo recitals and chamber music at any level (in tune, of course) and maybe get paid.

BTW-2, Don't let up on your "all-round musician" outlook: I have had "gigs" because I can respond to what's going on around me, as much as for my actual playing..

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