Do violin skills deteriorate with age?

February 8, 2017 at 07:23 PM · I've heard teachers say that at a certain age your violin playing cannot improve. What age is that? I'm 20 right now, have been playing for 8 years, somewhat advanced but I'm not where I want to be.I want to be able to play the super super advanced stuff. Am I running out of time?

Replies (52)

February 8, 2017 at 08:01 PM · You can improve at any age.

That being said, there are some physical skills that are not as easy to acquire past certain age milestones.

February 8, 2017 at 08:42 PM · I think the answer is yes, but at 20 you don't have to worry about the age factor. Find a good teacher, keep practicing, and enjoy!

February 8, 2017 at 09:35 PM · You have many years left to improve. See recent thread "At what age do we plateau?" Here's the link.

http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=29007

February 8, 2017 at 09:40 PM · To the false assumption that we plateau, decline, or deteriorate with age, I've got a great comeback.....but I just forgot what it is.

.....

Oh, yes - You've got to learn to laugh (especially at yourself).

:)

Sandy

February 8, 2017 at 10:00 PM · I never forget when I got student of 72 and after practice all of her free time, she went up to program 6-8 Gr RCM with playing of all that Vivaldi concertos. With all emails of every day, Gwen became friend of my Family. She were knitting blanket for my first grandson.

Terrible that she passed away in age 77..with tears I played Bach Sarabanda at her reception.

I never forget you Gwen!

February 8, 2017 at 10:10 PM · Around the age of 26, your body becomes less pliant, which means that it's easier to injure yourself, especially doing things like large extensions. Conventional wisdom is thus that if you're going to learn to play tenths and other things that strain your hands, you should probably do so by your early 20s.

Can anyone think of a player who wasn't doing something like, say, Last Rose, by their mid-20s, and became capable of doing so later? I can't.

February 8, 2017 at 10:37 PM · Alena, et al.,

You started playing at 12. I started just before I turned 30 and I've been playing for 40 years.

The real answer to your question has more to do with your musical goals than anything else. If you are looking to become an internationally famous solo violinist - you have your work cut out for you and age may become a factor, more from the stress of a heavy international travel schedule than from actually playing the instrument.

If you want to play with community orchestras or chamber groups you have a long potential career ahead of you.

To be sure, there is a lot of very difficult music that I cannot play, but that was never my ambition so it simply doesn't matter.

At 20 you have a potential for a long life with music as a large part of your life. Where you want to be and what you want to do will determine just how far along you will get.

February 8, 2017 at 10:39 PM · May be you didn't find anyone because, first of all, there are millions of violinists you've not checked. Beside that, when someone is 30 (more or less that limited age you're talking about ~26), one has more or less his/her life solved.

At 30 you don't normally have all the free time a 20 year old boy or girl has, so it seems to be a matter of many factors, not just age or body "limitations", which are extremely personal, different and variable between 2 persons.

One thing is clear, if you don't practice the violin almost everyday kind of seriously, you will need way more time to get to the level of a constant violin player.

But, you know, you're 20, my God, if you're worried at 20 years old about being "too old", you're crazy. You're even still growing up, so if you have a dream, follow it knowing what you're capable of, and thinking about your future.

More than the age itself and the limitations of the body (which I think it's a variable we should not consider at all, at least when we're talking about 20-30 years), I think it's how a 10-30 years old violinist approach his goals. Young people (10-30, sorry 30-ish people hahaha) tend to be way more intense, constant and hard working than a grown up man or woman that already is working and has his life solved. The young people normally are driven by dreams and are working many times in something they feel that will be his/her life and work. Instead, once you're like 30 or more, those things start to vanish.

Motivation, to sum up, that's what makes you progress.

February 9, 2017 at 02:04 AM · Only physical ailments impede faster progress. That and lack of work/concentration/focus, which usually happens to many older adults.

I am betting Ernst is possible! Not likely, perhaps, but sometimes the "impossible" happens, and can be achieved.

The Dounis collection (forgot which Op. #) is a nice way to practice fingered octaves without getting hurt at any age (IMHO, of course), granted that you follow the recommendations. That and the Vamos book-the hand most be super relaxed. I like how Dounis states that said octaves are actually "easier" than thirds, in the sense of the intervals being more straightforward (easier said than played, I suppose.)

February 9, 2017 at 03:50 AM · "I've heard teachers say that at a certain age your violin playing cannot improve. What age is that?"

Whatever age you are when your first child comes along. That'll be pretty much the end of your violin improvement most other things you were hoping to improve.

February 9, 2017 at 04:43 AM · "I've heard teachers say that at a certain age your violin playing cannot improve. What age is that?"

"Whatever age you are when your first child comes along. That'll be pretty much the end of your violin improvement most other things you were hoping to improve."

Truth.

February 9, 2017 at 05:03 AM · Two children is a career changer.

Three children is a career breaker.

;)

February 9, 2017 at 05:21 AM · Three children can be a career encourager...fifteen years ago I never imagined I would be teaching as many students as I currently do on top of my symphony job. Two children in college and the third just a few years away is a wonderful motivator.

February 9, 2017 at 11:22 AM · Remember,

"Old age and treachery will always defeat youth and skill." ;-)

February 9, 2017 at 01:36 PM · "I've heard teachers say that at a certain age your violin playing cannot improve. What age is that?"

"Whatever age you are when your first child comes along. That'll be pretty much the end of your violin improvement most other things you were hoping to improve."

LOL! And then the second and third! However a person can still continue to improve on what ever instrument chosen but other duties take precedence.

February 9, 2017 at 06:07 PM · And fourth!

February 9, 2017 at 07:10 PM · If you're starting with a good technical base, and you're willing to practice, you can always improve! You may have to adjust your goals -- fewer showy pyrotechnics, more depth -- but you can certainly become a better musician. Pablo Casals, one of the greatest 'cellists of all time, when asked in his late 80s why he continued to practice so diligently, famously replied: "I feel I am making daily progress". I'm sure he was right. Check out some of the other things he said about making music in later life: https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/12/03/pablo-casals-work-age/

February 9, 2017 at 07:20 PM · Alena, I haven't seen any good evidence out there supporting the claim that ALL violinists decline or deteriorate with age starting as young as in their 20s. I do believe individuals are all very different and our bodies, if healthy, can adapt in ways often beyond our imagination. Myself, for instance, are playing much better now in my 50s than in my early 20s, including the 3rds and 10th I've been working on now. I started to do yoga in my late 40s and I'm more flexible and balanced than I was in my 20s. There are a lot of string players in our community orchestras and some are retired professionals. One of them is 89 years old violinist/violist and I will be playing with him in a chamber music workshop this May. He'll be playing Violin 1 in the Bruch Octet. I'm so excited for him and us!

As Jeewon pointed out in Smiley's discussion about age and plateau (see above Smiley's post for the link), nothing prevents us from progress further than a negative or closed mindset. It's always the same line: "be realistic", "be practical". They are not wrong but not necessarily right either: The devil is in the detail. Let's say it's about age. If people tell you it's your age that slows you down, before you take this to heart, do yourself a favor by going out and looking for both sides of evidence, especially the counter examples to such claim. Go talk to good players in their 30s, 40s and much older, ask them how they succeed in keeping doing it so well. Then try the best you can to see if this assumption really applies to you. Your future self will thank you for being open, positive and despite whatever others tell you, go your own way.

February 9, 2017 at 08:23 PM · I read about a professional violinist who, because of an injury of the left hand, switched to bowing with the left. Two years later he was back at the same level as before his accident. Which, I think, demonstrates that progress is mostly in the mind.

February 9, 2017 at 09:45 PM · Everything deteriorates with age.....Some things more than others

February 9, 2017 at 10:10 PM · Arnie, that's a very poor general answer, and of course totally wrong.

You can apply that may be to a perfectly set up mountain bike, for example. A bike technician can say:

-This bike is perfectly set up, the lubricant is fresh, all the gears are new and everything is as perfect as it can be. The only thing that can happen is the bike becoming rustier and working worse due to use, weather and vibrations.

But you can't say that about an artist, in this case a violinist or a musician. Sure, IF you don't play the violin from now on, the only thing that can happen is you getting worse IN TECHNIQUE (skills I guess). But a musician (violinist) is more than technique. You can improve in many things such as creativity, ideas, theory, improvisation... even if you don't play the violin. Of course, to apply all of that to the violin, you will have to practice.

You will hurt yourself a lot if you think something like age is your limitation. If you practice constantly, the only thing that can happen is you getting better.

How high will you get in terms of skills?

Well, no one knows, and who cares anyway?

I think anyone that is more or less talented for violin, with work and patience, can achieve whatever he/she wants. The limitation will not be your age (unless you picked up a violin for the first time at 60's or 70's, cause if you want to play Paganini's 24th, well, you will need a lot of energy to practice many hours per day, years and years of practice like everyone, etc...).

I'm pretty sure your limitation will be you, and only you, your mind, your negative thoughts about yourself, you constantly saying to yourself "I will not make it". That's what can really ruin your passion and make you practice just 20 minutes a week or even make you stop playing for good.

February 10, 2017 at 01:07 AM · Most people will agree that technique is also know-how. And there is no limit to that. One can always learn.

February 10, 2017 at 03:13 AM · Absolutely not! If you keep your chops up and stay in good physical shape why not keep playing.I'm 53 and have played professionally for 30 years and intend on another 15 or so.

Of course it's very hard raising children and maintaining your skills .I have two , one of them with Autism.You can't use your children as an excuse why you can't practise.When they were infants I would just have to get up earlier (around 5:30 am) and do my "chops" practising along with learning the repertoire for the week.You just do what you have to do to keep up the playing standard no matter how difficult it is at times.

February 10, 2017 at 04:12 AM · The children bit was humor....

February 10, 2017 at 04:23 AM · Mary Ellen, I thought I could go on improving forever since I am childless. Scratch that dream :(

February 10, 2017 at 05:13 AM · We're debating a third...not quite ready to make that jump yet. :P

February 10, 2017 at 05:42 AM · "Mary Ellen, I thought I could go on improving forever since I am childless. Scratch that dream :("

Yixi, to be fair, "if p, then q" is not the same as "if not p, then not q." So I think you are good to go.

Gene--go for it! Join the club of people who need to reserve two hotel rooms or one large suite on road trips, don't fit easily at most restaurant tables, and eliminate all hope of future retirement with that third college tuition. You'll never regret it. ;-)

February 10, 2017 at 06:20 AM · Touche. Mary Ellen, I was joking too and bad logic makes the best joke, no?

February 10, 2017 at 01:20 PM · I have colleagues in the orchestra who are new parents and are older ,hence the remark about age and playing.Didn't mean to be the heavy...

Great response Tim!

February 13, 2017 at 02:09 PM · Tom,

Certainly violin skills, or any skills can improve with age if you set your mind to it.

However my answer was a bit tongue in cheek (as many were here), however science supports the fact that most if not all parts of the human body degrade with age. The mind, lifestyle can postpone and compensate, but not reverse the aging process.

Additionally, I don't appreciate your inappropriate judgmental response to my comment.

February 13, 2017 at 02:38 PM · I was just reflecting on my teacher's latest studio recital. I've been studying with the same teacher for the last 4 years, and consequently have been watching his younger students grow up into teenagers, who are increasingly surpassing my own technical abilities, and doing so at an accelerating pace. The teens are now playing stuff that's as hard as anything out there (yesterday's recital started with a 14-year-old playing Paganini's Le Streghe, then went to the Sarasate Carmen Fantasy, then the Bruch Scottish Fantasie, to give you an idea of the sort of repertoire).

In the meantime, I've made incremental improvements. I practice a whole lot less, of course, which is a large part of it. But I haven't made a big leap forward, and I might basically be playing about as well as I did at around their age. Some of that might be brain biology of age.

February 13, 2017 at 02:38 PM · I have had colleagues whose careers were ended by degenerative neurological disorders. Other age-related career threats are diminishing hearing or vision, arthritis, dementia, cardiopulmonary disease (if you can't walk onstage without losing your breath, it's a problem), stroke, and so on.

It is the fortunate few who can keep playing with their skills undiminished into their 80s.

Editing to add wrt Lydia's post just above, it is universally acknowledged that there is a "window" to learn additional languages, and that window closes around age 12. Of course an adult can still learn a second language, but the child who acquired that language at eight or nine or ten will speak without an accent, whereas the child's older sibling who was 15 when the family moved will speak with an accent forever.

February 13, 2017 at 06:50 PM · We're talking about 2 entirely different things here:

1. the adult violin student wondering if they can improve

2. the professional trying to keep their chops up.

These are NOT the same things. For the professional, one who has learned to practice efficiently and had good basic skills to begin with, it's mostly a matter of effort and regular practice.

For the student hoping to become a virtuoso, things are different. In the case of Alena, who is not yet a profession (and thus just needs to remain healthy and maintain what she has), whose goal is to play "super super advanced stuff" there are too many unknowns about her level of STARTING ability and her CURRENT efforts. I do believe that one can start at 12 as she did and become reasonably virtuosic sounding.

But in order for that to happen you have to have innate abilities and practice like a fiend.

There is no hard cutoff date. And remember: very, very few musicians even get close to maximum discipline levels.

So Alena, are you practicing 4-6 hours a day, every day? And efficiently? Because your successful 20-year-old competitors are. Otherwise, the age thing doesn't mean so much.

February 13, 2017 at 09:40 PM · I learned the similar study that related to Mary Ellen's example of age limitation in one of my linguistic courses in 1991. I thought I was doomed because I taught myself English in my early 20s in China and then came to Canada when I was 27 to relearn it properly.

What's interesting is that, it turned out I was wrong. I'm not suggesting Mary Ellen or anyone else has made the same mistake, but I did misinterpret such study by over-generalization and taking something minor as individual accent to something much broader such as one's ability in learning and functioning in a second language, or even rigidity of one's brain!

As a matter fact, a lot of these studies are focused on narrowly defined issues and rarely have the meaningful implication or relevancy to our goals. We know in many cases that people speak with heavy accent function extremely well in academic and professional world. I do retain a bit accent and my writing is full of errors that well-educated native speakers won't make. It makes me unique ;) rather than limitations because they are not relevant factors for me to succeed in grad school, law school and subsequent jobs. In fact, because we ESLs learn language via careful examination of diction, punctuation and syntactic rules, I have been regularly asked to edit the works of our native-speaking colleagues.

April 15, 2017 at 12:42 AM · "I've heard teachers say that at a certain age your violin playing cannot improve. What age is that?"

"Whatever age you are when your first child comes along. That'll be pretty much the end of your violin improvement most other things you were hoping to improve."

Why do you think I always say I don't intend on having any kids (besides avoiding procreating), it's because all they'll do is slow me down, and make me go grey at 35. Besides, I'd be a terrible father.

Getting back on track, no, age most certainly does not mean deterioration in skill. How about the virtuosos? Perlman is 71, Zukerman is 68, Ida Haendel is 88, Heifetz was still playing (maybe not performing, though) into his 80's, and passed at 86. How about the younger virtuosos? Joshua bell is 49, Vengerov is 42. Julia Fischer is 33, Hilary Hahn is 37. See, they're all getting up there, and the most widely known virtuosos are well into their old age, yet still at the top of the violin world.

As for me, I'm 17 (18 next month), so judging by your post, I'm not much younger than you, so I would damn well hope I don't plateau in two years. You (like me) have plenty of time to advance skills to professional playing standards.

April 15, 2017 at 12:23 PM · "I don't intend on having any kids (besides avoiding procreating), it's because all they'll do is slow me down, and make me go grey at 35. Besides, I'd be a terrible father"

OK, I know that this isn't entirely serious, and the point about kids stopping your progression was a joke. But I want to say this:

Having a child completely re-awakened the playing of music in my life. I started playing at the same time as my son so that I could help him better, and incidentally enjoy playing myself. Without a child to provide that impetus, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have just decided to play the piano and then violin.

The second, more general point is this: Even though I was a complete beginner in the specific instruments I started with my son, I was able to greatly help him progress and practice better. People tend to be in awe of the particular genius of Wolfgang and Johann Sebastian, but forget that they grew up in a musically rich environment where they were taught by family. The members of this forum, as players, have knowledge, experience, and ability they can share with their own children and others, while many children grow up without that sort of immediate help. The differences can be easily seen in child recitals. With due respect to their teachers, hearing most children who are struggling or just getting by, I tend to think that I could have helped them play better.

You've all worked hard to learn what you have, and were probably significantly helped by others along the way. Don't discount your abilities to pass that on yourself, and the importance of doing so.

April 15, 2017 at 02:11 PM · What you're describing isn't deterioration, but coming to a plateau.

April 15, 2017 at 02:23 PM · The virtuosos absolutely do deteriorate with age. Most of them stop giving concerts when they decide they've deteriorated too much, but that might be at quite an old age. They may also increasingly adapt what they choose to play based on what they can still play very well. Virtuosos don't tend to deteriorate until they're over the age of 60, though.

Perlman, for instance, clearly doesn't play with the chops he did when he was younger. (This may be not just an age effect, but a practice effect, given his self-admittedly tendency to watch baseball while practicing and whatnot.) But he's conducting quite a bit these days, and a Perlman concert these days will often have him conducting and soloing in less-demanding Baroque and Classical repertoire. And he is, of course, Perlman -- he plays with such enormous charm, and conveys so much personal warmth, that everyone flocks to see him anyway.

Listen to Nathan Milstein's "Last Recital" CD, for instance. He's marvelous, but he's not playing with the skill of his younger years.

April 15, 2017 at 03:24 PM · Menuhin's discs of solo Bach when he was 60 are by far his best IMHO. His Vivaldi at 70 is less convincing.

April 16, 2017 at 02:11 AM · I completely concur with what J Ray wrote.

Slowing down ... going grey ... being a bad father... Ach, stop that. My heart bleeds when I hear people saying they don't want children. I don't mean to be harsh, but I couldn't help myself from commenting.

To the original question, I may feel like I'm running out of time (I do wish I had started playing long ago); however, my goal is very basic, so I'm not fretting over 'how good can/will I get'. Sorry I can't encourage more professionally oriented players!

April 16, 2017 at 04:58 AM · This is slightly off-topic, but not everyone wants children, and people who don't want children shouldn't have them. Some people also believe that they won't be good parents, and they may have good reasons for that belief, and it might indeed be accurate.

Lack of desire for children of one's own does not mean that someone can't be a meaningful and positive presence in the lives of one or more children, nevertheless. Or not -- and that's a perfectly reasonable life choice too.

April 16, 2017 at 05:28 AM · I think most people who say they don't want kids would be surprised how much having children changes them for the better, and how learning to be a parent on the job, so to speak, comes naturally.

April 16, 2017 at 05:48 AM · For years, I didn't want children and I respect those who don't. Exactly five years ago, my daughter was born and it was the happiest day of my life.

When she was given a fractional violin by a family friend last august, I picked up my violin that I haven't touched in decades and played with her. She thought of her violin as a toy and has since put it aside. I have been practicing everyday ever since.

April 16, 2017 at 05:52 AM · It's off the topic, but the kids thing really can go both ways -- I've seen great parents and happy children but also family broken down due to children problems all happened in the neighbourhood, my previous workplace and among friends. Thank goodness we are living in the era that we are not forced or pressured to give birth.

I'm also find interesting that all the pro-having kids talking is about how much they enjoy having a child. But I thought it was really about the child's interests that make parenting special.

April 16, 2017 at 11:37 AM · "But I thought it was really about the child's interests that make parenting special"

Oddly enough, it works both ways. If you have an interest, education, and love for music, you can share that with others, including children of your own should you have them. It's a gift and a sacrifice -- you could have to give up some of your own practice and playing time or anything else you might do instead for the time you spend on the behalf of others. In exchange, you get the reward of better understanding for yourself as you go through the process of learning with the other, as well as the rewards which are unique to music as you develop them together.

When the motivation for not having children is expressed in selfish terms, it's also natural to counter with selfish motivation for having children, but in reality, the rewards are of a much more subtle nature than the apparent or practical costs, which I suppose brings us back to the point of the original remarks which triggered this response -- that having children incurs personal cost.

I don't think I have to explain or justify the value of music in this forum. A point here was that musicians or music lovers are uniquely qualified to share that with their children (should they have them), and that circle is long-established and a part of our musical heritage, including composers whose works we work towards and enjoy.

April 17, 2017 at 02:09 PM · This post was a very interesting (and inspiring) read for me. Now I'm a complete begginer to violin but I believe anybody can achieve anything regardless of their age if they have the right "resources". And by "resources" I mean the intangible stuff: Time, passion, perseverance, etc. What hinders a person's progress/improvement is how much of these resources would go towards what you're doing. As people age, there twnds to be more things that you need to think off and use these resources on (family, work, etc.) compared to if you're still young. This is probably why adults would find it harder to learn. I say "harder" not impossible. Basically, as you age there are more challenges involved in learning and you would have to learn how to prioritize what is important to you.

To share, I do yoga and this lady 3x my age can do things I can't even imagine doing myself. And she DIDN'T start when she was 4 years old. I'm not saying yoga is the same as playing the violin. But I guess my point is if you want something bad enough are you really going to stop(get discouraged) just because someone tells you that you're only going to reach a certain level and nothing beyond that? The more challenge you face, the more satisfying it is when you get to your goal.

"The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of them all."

:)

April 17, 2017 at 02:59 PM · One of the major problems with adults is not necessarily talent or dedication or passion. It's confidence.

I've taught many, many adults. Many have been beginners, and many have been trained musicians who have lapsed. Adults rarely have the confidence, and harbor a number of beliefs, strongest among them the conviction that, since they didn't start at 5 and haven't been practicing 5 hours a day or go to a conservatory, they don't "deserve" to be a fine musician. In fact, this is probably true of 99.999% of all conservatory musicians: in spite of all that training, confidence remains the greatest challenge.

Even optimistic Vicky believes that "Basically, as you age there are more challenges involved in learning." There are challenges involved for children as well--they just don't recognize or dwell on it.

April 17, 2017 at 04:35 PM · I've been playing since my first violin lesson 78 years ago - actually I started playing the violin 6 months before that when I received it for my 4th birthday. Since I added cello (and lessons on it) 10 years later and finally viola (with some seriousness when I was 80) can have experienced the arc of rise and fall on these three instruments at different ages.

Without reboring you with the details I am confident that barring physical or mental obstacles, progress is an act of WILL. Without the will you will not fully engage the effort required to improve, but if you do will it you can improve. Now, by a certain age, improvement today does not guarantee you will still be better tomorrow but it might - only by doing the work your will impels might you find out. (I'm still getting to become a better violist every day - just wish I could still say the same for violinist and cellist.)

Age does bring increasing limitations to all living things (even humans) and with it a growing list of things you cannot do - even things you can no longer do. So there is no time to waste! If you think you want to do something just will yourself into the necessary actions and watch it begin to happen.

April 17, 2017 at 08:37 PM · Well said, Andrew! As we are all getting older no matter what age you are right now, talking about age is probably the easiest and universally accessible excuse. I'll say, unless you are in your late 90s, try to find a more creative excuse than age, if you are not progressing the way you like :-)

April 18, 2017 at 09:34 PM · Well, I am lucky (very!) to not have arthritis nor tendonitis at 68 yo. Yet. Some of us are less lucky.

April 19, 2017 at 11:44 AM · Good discussion. I am dealing with this now at 53 and feeling the effects of all day rehearsals.Getting back to the gym along with stretching helps.I signed up for cardio boxing which really helps with the reflexes and makes you move in ways other than violin playing.It's not like the "good ol' days "of ITF TaeKwonDo but better than doing nothing.

You are an amazing man Victor...

April 20, 2017 at 01:38 AM · So true about the kids, since once they are born you have no more time to practice. But if you are in your twenties and have already played for years, no need to worry! You can still improve as long as you have a good teacher and time to practice regularly. I was a better player in my thirties than in my twenties, absolutely. Now I am just hoping that once my kids grow up I have some chance of getting back to something reasonable. I know it's possible. I have a friend who took twenty years out to raise 4 kids, then came back at age 50 and won some auditions.

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