Which of these goals are doable for a adult beginner?

March 5, 2016 at 03:12 PM · Hey guys,

I've been wondering which of my aspirations are realistic for an adult beginner. I'm 28.5 btw.

International Orchestra: From what I read this seems to be 0.

International Soloist: Also seems to be 0.

Local Orchestra: ???

Local payed gigs, like weddings and churches: ???

Violin Teacher (would be pretty cool to teach the violin when I'm a grandpa): ???

Chamber music ( I don't get it, is this just playing with friends or a thing that I have to have a certain level of proficiency in?): ???


Replies (25)

March 5, 2016 at 03:48 PM · Why don't people start with some already challenging goals as an adult (or any other age) beginner?

-Playing without creaks and squeaks

-Having your fingers in the right places to get the correct notes

-Flexible, smooth bow hold.

-Beautiful vibrato

-A commitment to conscious practice every day.

Tackle those goals, and once mastered, then you can see where your next set of goals will be.

March 5, 2016 at 04:06 PM · Also, the goals Seraphim mentioned are things that even professionals continue to perfect their entire lives, so get to work!

March 5, 2016 at 04:20 PM · What Seraphim brings up reminds me of the idea that systems and processes are more important than goals and results. Seems to be trending lately.

March 5, 2016 at 04:22 PM ·

March 5, 2016 at 04:26 PM · It depends on the level of the program you might choose. You might be able to play in a lower-level community orchestra or play some simple chamber music with friends if you're ready for it. A local gig, maybe, but a violin teacher? Probably not.

March 5, 2016 at 05:39 PM · @Seraphim

I'm trying to achieve those goals as it is; I understand that the outcome/process-of-learning is the thing I should/can focus on and the end result is just by product of discipline/dedication.

I ask this question since I'm wondering what's the ceiling/limitation of an older beginner.





These are videos that I stumbled upon awhile ago and inspired me to play. Could I reach such level of proficiency? I don't know how difficult the songs are or how skilled the musicians are but, I would be pretty damn happy if I could mimic that.

Regardless of the answers, I'm gonna the violin %100 anyway and see what happens. Thanks for the input.

March 5, 2016 at 06:24 PM · One advantage of an adult learner eventually turning to teaching - assuming of course that the requisite level of technical ability has been acquired - is that this new teacher will still have vivid memories of the problem faced as an adult pupil, how the problems were solved, and will be in a position to discuss these things intelligently with a new pupil from the early 'teens onwards. On the other hand, someone who learnt an instrument as a child may not necessarily have much (if any) recollection of problems faced and in particular the detail of how they were solved by the teacher.

Any adult going down the teaching road would be well advised to go on a teaching course first. I believe Suzuki is one institution that provides such.

March 5, 2016 at 06:41 PM · For sure you could play in a local orchestra, some only require Grade 3 upwards anyway!

March 5, 2016 at 06:46 PM · As I said in this thread it really depends on finding the teacher you need to accomplish your goals, which depends a lot on luck, building connections, self awareness, and finding out what's what. If you've got the resources, time and determination you can accomplish a lot.

If you're fairly comfortable in all positions of the fingerboard and able to play at all parts of the bow with some facility, and if you can match pitch easily (I.E. are able to tune unisons and octaves) you should be able to build a solid basic technique in about 2 years, from which you can build a more advanced technique and learn more advanced repertoire. This is not easy, especially for those who just want to play, but is doable for most people.

March 5, 2016 at 11:42 PM · A great deal of chamber music was written to be played by amateurs for their own entertainment, back in the days when if you wanted music, you pretty much had to make it yourself.

Chamber music exists at a wide range of difficulty levels, for varying instrumentations. You'll want to get to know other violinists, violists, cellists, and pianists for this purpose. The string trio and quartet, and piano trio, quartet, and quintet, are your most likely instrumentations.

You can start playing chamber music once you hit the early-intermediate level. There should be lots of opportunities, and there are adult amateur camps and weekends devoted to recreational and coached chamber music. It's pretty common to see adult beginners at such camps.

Most cities have at least one volunteer unpaid community orchestra. The level of such orchestras varies, but most of the time, they will accept people who play at the intermediate level or above. (I wrote a pretty thorough list of what's expected out of a violinist at that level, on another thread, earlier this week.) Figure that once you reach that level, you can go join that kind of orchestra.

It is relatively unlikely that you would get good enough to be able to play in a per-service professional orchestra, although some such orchestras do take amateurs (really at that point, they are semi-pros). Depending on the region and their professional/amateur mix, the skill level here can really vary, but figure that this is only a realistic goal if you spend many years in serious study with a good teacher. (Expect to put in at least two hours a day of dedicated, careful practice, for a decade or more.)

Wedding gigs tend to be more a matter of who you know and how well you market yourself than your pure playing ability. If you're at the intermediate level with a beautiful sound, you probably have everything you need to play a wedding, technique-wise.

Playing in church is almost purely unpaid. If you want to play in your church, I'm guessing that you probably just ask whoever the music minister is. Depending on the church, the standards for how good they want, say, offertory music to be, varies a lot.

Being a violin teacher... Here I am of mixed opinion. When I was a child, one of the teachers in my Suzuki program was an adult beginner -- she'd started playing when her daughter started playing, and about five years later she started to do Suzuki teacher training. Ten years into teaching (so about 15 years after starting), she was still a barely-competent violinist -- playing at about the intermediate level herself. But to take Suzuki teacher training you only need to demonstrate competence through Book 4, and she only taught beginning and early-intermediate students. Her students were almost invariably poorly set-up and needed massive technical correction when they switched to other teachers in the program later on (or switched out of Suzuki), but they often liked her anyway. So I think it is absolutely *possible* to teach without being a highly accomplished violinist, but I'm on mixed feelings on what it does for the students of such teachers.

March 6, 2016 at 01:29 AM · Thanks for the input, especially Lydia; that throughout and really gives me some perceptive.

March 6, 2016 at 05:20 PM · I am currently (re)reading "Indivisible by Four". Steinhart's description of the skills needed to play SQ's is quite discouraging. Lydia, thanks for adding a bit of reality.

The first group playing I did was with a Scottish fiddle group. When 50 people play in unison, a beginner can "hide" but get the benefits of the experience. I ended up playing a gig with a group of 15 or so of them after a couple of years.

March 6, 2016 at 07:53 PM · I think there's an enormous difference between performing as a quartet in front of playing audience, and reading chamber-music at home with some friends or acquaintances.

There are certainly levels of artistry involved that even a group of enthused amateurs can reach, and I've had rewarding experiences preparing chamber-music for performance and even competitions, but frankly, the great pleasure of chamber-music tends to be just reading it for fun. And for that, imperfection is expected, although you're usually best off playing with a group where the level of technical ability and preparation is roughly equal, so people have approximately the same expectations and nobody is getting frustrated or fearful.

I encourage you to read Wayne Booth's "For the Love of It", which is about playing chamber music as an amateur. It's a lovely book about the joys of playing for fun.

March 7, 2016 at 06:46 AM · Thanks for the rec, Lydia. I had never heard of this book but my library has it and I just requested it.

March 7, 2016 at 05:26 PM · Here is a thought that might pertain to this...

Is it possible that as an adult learner gets to a good technical level and want to begin finding (in this case) paid gigs/orchestra/solo/conservatories they, just like young students who have been playing their whole lives, run into that repeated rejection and instead of understanding that that is the norm use the "I'm an adult and have not the advantage of playing since I was 7 or 8 or whenever and give up right away rather than accept and continue the process.

I mean young students get rejected all the time for reasons far more arbitrary than age, perhaps adult learners just have it so ingrained that they can't do those same things young people do that they either don't try or give up quickly.


March 7, 2016 at 06:43 PM · My guess is no.

I've run into plenty adult-beginner cellists who have gotten to be decent late-intermediate-quality players, which affords them a ton of chamber-music opportunities and welcome in community orchestras.

I've run into far fewer adult-beginner violinists that have reached a comparable level of accomplishment. An intermediate-level violinist seems to have a lower probability of playing well compared to an intermediate-level cellist, in terms of producing a nice sound and having good intonation. Something about the cello makes it easier to pick up the instrument later in life, which seems to indicate to me that there are physical aspects to this.

People who start playing in their teens -- a late start, but not an adult start -- can become accomplished professional violinists with hard work. I've never encountered a true adult beginner (someone who started playing post-college-age, with no previous string-instrument experience) who was playing at a professional level, or even at an advanced level (call it the Bruch concerto level).

An adult with the money, time, and ability to pass the entrance audition could go to whatever conservatory they wanted to, I imagine; I don't think there'd be a reason to arbitrarily reject them simply for being older, and there are plenty of programs out there that can probably use more warm bodies paying tuition.

Similarly, given the breadth of community orchestras out there, any adult living within a major metropolitan area can almost certainly find a suitable orchestra that will take them once they reach a fairly basic level. (My own community orchestra welcomes adult beginners at intermediate level and above, and we have quite a few of them.)

Getting into a paid professional orchestra is a huge hurdle, even for people with conservatory degrees and great pedigrees. Some regional per-service orchestras (especially those with just a handful of concerts a year, or that are non-union and don't pay union-equivalent wages) aren't all that competitive, but you still need to win an audition against locals and maybe even people who are willing to drive some distance for the job. Anything that qualifies as a steady job may well be mobbed by international candidates.

Don't underestimate how much of an effort it is to audition for a professional orchestra. While some paid semi-pro groups don't have fully professional auditions, they tend to also pay a pittance ("gas money", basically), and even then you may be expected to prepare a concerto and excerpts. For union-wage work, expect that you need the exposition of a major romantic or 20th-century concerto, sometimes the exposition of Mozart 4 or 5, and a giant pile of excerpts, played essentially flawlessly. This requires huge amounts of prep time. It's possible to do while holding down some other job, but not if you have other commitments in your life.

And by the way, that's if there are openings at all. Many professional orchestras don't have much in the way of openings. Some regional ones don't fill openings with auditions, either; they simply take in people who have been subbing with them regularly.

Getting paid freelance work is also nontrivial. Freelancing isn't what it used to be. In many places, there are far more capable hungry players than there are actual gigs. Getting gigs that pay more than gas money, or more broadly, pay a union wage or equivalent, requires some degree of willingness to hustle, and some willingness to drive all over the place for work, on an unpredictable schedule. Amateurs can sometimes get freelance work (especially non-union-wage work), and get to tell themselves they're getting paid to pay the violin. You get gigs by knowing people -- someone who knows how you play will recommend you for something, and then that will turn into more opportunities. Or if your teacher is plugged in, they can sometimes help you find opportunities. It's not something where you apply and get accepted or rejected.

If you want solo opportunities, especially paid ones, you are going to be knife-fighting every local professional who's looking for more solo performance opportunities. You can go create them for yourself -- go play in retirement homes, for instance -- but expect that they're far and few between. And for the most part, these are also opportunities created by hustle and who you know, not things where you apply and get accepted or rejected. (There are rare exceptions. Locally, I belong to a performance club with an entrance audition, and it's probably notable that although the club is ostensibly for amateurs, I think I'm the only violinist who's passed the solo-performance audition in many years who isn't a professional with a violin performance degree.)

All of which is to say that adult learners who have pro or semi-pro ambitions face the same hurdles as players who have spent years training, got conservatory degrees, and are now desperately trying to make a living in music somehow. A lot of those people won't end up making it; that's why V.com posters tend to be doubtful about the odds of many of the high-school-age posters wondering if they can be successful.

All that is hypothetical, though. I've never seen an adult beginner come anywhere close to the level where they could be playing professionally or even semi-professionally. I don't think I've even seen one in the first-violin section of a community orchestra.

March 7, 2016 at 07:17 PM · (...I think I'm the only violinist who's passed the solo-performance audition in many years who isn't a professional with a violin performance degree.)

Well done you!


March 7, 2016 at 08:29 PM · I also second jon. That is amazing!

Also, another great response. I have no such ambitions I just wonder how much of A)lack of opportunity and B)adult learner reception is not socially/historically constructed.

Also, it is odd that there are so few amateur groups around given the amount of competition you indicate is out there. You would think some of those people wouldstart their own groups or orchestras.

Or perhaps I just don't know where to look being so new to the game as it were.


March 7, 2016 at 09:20 PM · Thanks, but I'm sure it's not because I'm all that fantastic of a player. It's that the bar to audition at all it set very high -- a recital program consisting of three works in contrasting periods and styles, including a full sonata plus two other works. It's a lot of music to prepare if you're an amateur, and I suspect most people just don't have the time to do it. (This applies broadly to a lot of opportunities that amateurs can potentially take: How much time do you have?)

There are a LOT of community orchestras, actually. Major cities can have a dozen or more of them. In most cases they can use more good string players. When you start getting more rural, population density means that there's less likely to be enough people for an orchestra unless you draw them from a pretty broad region, though.

Major cities also often have people who have organized performance opportunities for amateurs, mostly people playing for each other -- adult student recitals and whatnot.

March 7, 2016 at 10:35 PM · That is a LOT of music. Haha. Did you have to memorize it all or play it really well from sheet music?

March 7, 2016 at 10:53 PM · With music. Memorization was encouraged but not required (and most violinists play sonatas with music anyway).

Adult learners shouldn't underestimate other adult amateurs are, by the way. You'll run into plenty of people who could have gone on to conservatory and instead decided to become doctors or lawyers or engineers (or went to conservatory and then changed careers). An adult learner trying to push upwards into the professional ranks also has to contend with lots of other skilled amateurs who have played forever and may sometimes also tilt into being semi-pro.

March 7, 2016 at 11:12 PM · It's not all about violinistic skill either. People who have been playing since childhood also can have a great deal of performance experience which gives them a significant edge in presenting and marketing themselves at the professional or semi-professional level. Kids have those opportunities built into their Suzuki programs, summer camps, and studios of their teachers. It's much harder for an adult learner to get useful (critical) performing experience.

March 8, 2016 at 01:43 AM · I am sure the high level adult starters exist, actually. They are likely not really common, of course, and then we gotta agree with starting age (18, 20, 22, more?) and that some may have "cheated" with previous music experience. From there to a "strong music career", though, it's a different thing. I don't know all the details but I know of at least one person who reportedly started at 18 and was a professional in due time (it was a different era, but it did happen.)

Quite honestly the focus should be the instrument and its repertoire. We are "lucky" in the "globalization" aspect of "modern" violin training-while most of us will be denied the most expensive violin schooling commodities, we DO have access to an immense array of teaching tools and technical know-how. Most of the "mysteries" of violin technique have been demistified over time, to the point I'd say any properly trained individual that is careful and works reasonably hard and intelligently will be able to surprise himself/herself over the years. Focus on today's learning process, and let things shape themselves up as you keep progressing.

March 8, 2016 at 12:14 PM · I agree adalberto. I am having tons of fun with the violin. Even with hypothetical like this. It is fascinating, I have not been in the violin world for long and had no idea it was so competitive or so complex. I always imagined that a solo violinists were a dime a dozen. I had quite literally no idea. I always just assumed that it was more difficult to become famous as a pop musician but it actually seems like it is, in many and varied ways, much more difficult.


March 8, 2016 at 04:35 PM · I'm an adult learner and I have absolutely no intentions of ever trying to make money from it. I do it purely for the love of the violin. I do wish my parents would have started me learning the violin as a child, but such is life. :)

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