Famous Violinists Who Started Late?

March 4, 2017 at 05:20 AM · Does anyone know of violin players who started at or above say age 10 and became really exceptional musicians? It seems like all the greats were child proteges or at least very obviously talented at a young age. Like Heifetz, Perlman, Kyung Wha Chung, Menuhin, Oistrakh, all hade a strong and an early start.

Replies (23)

March 3, 2017 at 09:27 PM · Even the younger generation of violinists seems to be mostly made up of child proteges

March 4, 2017 at 06:02 AM · A former colleague of mine started at age 12 and is a fine violinist. He practiced like a demon once he started.

March 4, 2017 at 08:52 AM · If you will it so, the mind never stops growing. I started in my 20's and was pretty obviously talented at an older age haha just kidding.

I've seen interviews with Perlman where he said he wasn't a prodigy. Talented, but not otherworldly, and that actually was a benefit because he had to dig in and obsess over it, whereas (if I'm remembering the interview right) he saw a few people more talented than he was lose interest in their teen years because they were either forced into it or otherwise never felt that obsession.

Children learn faster, not better, because that obsession is innate. Every piece of information is vital and severe because there's no working operating system yet so it's shoving in everything it can find. Adult brains don't stop absorbing information because they're engineered to stop at a certain age, they just obtain enough information to get by in the world and so easily become complacent.

Further, a four-year-old can play a dirge, but likely doesn't understand mortality or loss. How does that lack of personal understanding of a piece's intent affect the development of basic mechanics? Even a thirteen-year-old who started at three probably can't do a piece as much justice as a twenty-three-year-old who started at thirteen. Now, a twenty-three-year-old who started at three? Don't know.

If the instrument means a good deal to the player, they'll absorb it just as quickly as they would as a young child.

March 4, 2017 at 11:46 AM · Pierre Colombet of Quatuor Ébène started at 9. Not quite 10, but still considered late these days when kids as young as 3 do Suzuki.


By the way, it's a great quartet, worth seeking out. http://www.warnerclassics.com/quatuor-ebene/tourdates

March 4, 2017 at 10:25 PM · Yes, there are prodigies in music and other human pursuits and many of them are held in awe by society. Does that mean that the rest of us are inferior? Does every musician have to become an international star or be considered a nobody?

I'm a bit testy on the "Late Starter" issue since I only began the study of the violin just before I turned 30 (that was 40 years ago). No, I'm not a professional or even a soloist. I've played with a dynamic multi-generational community orchestra for decades and now I have some students.

Some of the professionals who started young enjoy the playing and others have problems. In the end we are all human and not all of us move on exactly the same time scale or share the same aspirations.

To be sure, I've heard tales about some teachers telling parents that their five-year-old is too old to start lessons. But music is about expression and fun not simply a path to a solo career.

March 5, 2017 at 01:37 AM · George, you are right on the ball. I believe Pinchas Zukerman and Ani Kavafian started late-ish,but they began on other instruments first.

March 5, 2017 at 01:21 PM · There are one or two excellent violinists who started after the age of 10 and whose names escape me at the moment, but it is almost unheard of.

March 5, 2017 at 02:20 PM · Check out this guy:


Not super famous, but probably got further than people expected him to.

Then there's this pianist: http://www.lucas-debargue.com/#bio

March 5, 2017 at 06:36 PM · And think how good those few ones would have become had thay started at 3-6...

March 5, 2017 at 07:25 PM · Elmar Oliviera started at 10, and Irvine Arditti at 9... :)

March 5, 2017 at 09:15 PM · You can be a late starter and still become a soloist. You just have to be as naturally talented as Zuckerman or Oliviera. If you start at age 10, you'll know by age 12 whether you are.

March 6, 2017 at 12:39 AM · Not famous, but one of my violin teachers didn't start until she was 12. She studied at conservatories and specialized in chamber music. I don't think she ever aspired to be a soloist but I do know she worked her tail off to get to conservatory. She was lucky to study with a regionally famous pedagogue and was part of an unusually strong adolescent music community. I think making the leap that late requires a combo of talent and work ethic but also really solid teaching and peers. She always knew what she needed to do to achieve her goal.

March 6, 2017 at 12:39 AM · (deleted accidental double post)

March 6, 2017 at 06:10 PM · http://assets.ngin.com/attachments/document/0098/1005/Hockey_For_Life_Poster_2016.pdf


I wanted to put in a another view on the whole idea of late starters.

The links above link to information from USA Hockey about the American Development Model, and I think there is information in there that is useful to violin students and educators.

One of the main long term concerns in sports development is building the fundamental/foundational skills for sports. This is to say if you cannot run, throw and catch, you will not have a lot of success in baseball. If you cannot swim, you will not have success in playing water polo.

In violin, I think there are at least 4 (there may be more) fundamental skills that you have. They are rhythm, pitch, dexterity, and memory. I think if you do not have these basic skills, then learning to play the violin will be a struggle. At the same time, if you have these basic skills, you will probably pick up the basics of playing the violin pretty rapidly.

If you put this in terms of later starts in the violin, a lot of it will depend on how developed your underlying skills of rhythm, pitch, dexterity and memory are. Now there are lots of ways other than playing the violin to develop those skills so if a person has developed those skills in something else, they will pick up the playing of the instrument faster than someone without those skills.

If you look at the American Development Model paper on page 5, there are some charts that are very relevant to progress on the violin. The main one being the period of 8-11 years of age in girls and 9-12 in boys. This is basically a golden period of motor skill development. In a person's lifetime, this period is the time when motor skills are most quickly and easily required. This is why a lot of the more experienced violin educators are not particularly concerned if someone cannot play major violin concertos at age 7,. but if you are not starting to work at them by the age of 13, then you may have a very difficult road in acquiring the motor skills necessary to play the violin at a high level.

That said, I think any skill can be improved at any age, but there are certainly times in life, when it is easier and faster to acquire skills.

The opinion I want to venture is this. Playing the violin is not always the best way to address deficiencies in violin playing. Let me give you and example from sport. Being a long hitter is a huge advantage in the game of golf, but hitting golf balls is not always the best way to develop length in a golfer. It really depends on the cause for the lack of length. If the problem is strength, then other training might be better. If it is lack of coordination, the right way to train might be something else.

This is the reason that an accurate diagnosis of the problem in the violin is so important. Take something that is as common as intonation. Everyone practices it, but causes for faulty intonation are so numerous. Poor posture is a common cause especially for poor intonation in shifting. Now there are some students that can just fix their posture by paying attention, but maybe something like yoga might really fix their posture in a different way. I am not saying that yoga is the fix to intonation, but it might really help in certain situations, but it would take an exceptional teacher to say that instead of practicing 4 hours, you should cut off an hour three times a week and spend that hour doing yoga instead.

Playing the violin at a high level is so taxing and demanding that it is hard to think that should should spend time doing something else, but I am convinced that the better the overall development mentally and physically that you have, the greater your potential to play the instrument.

March 7, 2017 at 03:10 AM · Albert those were very interesting comments.

March 14, 2017 at 02:19 AM · Yes, Katie B, my current violin teacher started at 13, and he did travel to perform in many states and European countries both as a performer and a teacher. Anyway I know it is possible to be a good player if you start late, but I feel like very few people who start so late end up being the best of the best.

I also wonder about people who start taking the violin seriously late. I was a mess of totally raw talent up until a semester and a half ago when I first started really practicing more, at 13. I had been working on pieces like the 4 seasons and Accolay. Now, at 14, I made tons of progress and am studying intermediate level pieces like Bruch 1, Franck sonata, and Mozart 4. But I wonder how far I can go with this since I started actually working hard so late?

March 14, 2017 at 03:56 AM · Those aren't intermediate-level works. Bruch is pretty much the marker for advanced repertoire.

Assuming you're an 8th grader right now, you have four years ahead of you before college. Practice conscientiously and for sufficient time (2+ hours a day), ensure that your technical fundamentals are solid, and you should do quite well.

Keep in mind that almost no one who starts early ends up being the best of the best either!

March 14, 2017 at 04:20 AM · I believe viola soloist Matthew Lipman didn't start until age 10 through a meager grade school orchestra. He's only 24 and I would say he's had quite a successful career thus far.

March 14, 2017 at 05:45 PM · Hi Lydia, that's good advice and I do practice 2-4 hours a day.

March 14, 2017 at 06:09 PM · In theory, starting at 9 or earlier makes a difference in brain development, but any other timeline is mostly a matter of age limits for various training opportunities -- i.e., are you ready for college auditions, for instance.

Bruch at 14 is perfectly ordinary for students who take private lessons and practice regularly but not devotedly, although how good that Bruch is may vary pretty widely. (A sampling of the recent Bruchs posted here will demonstrate that quite clearly.)

March 14, 2017 at 10:25 PM · Bruch is going well... But right now my teacher and I are working on getting as far as I can with this so that I will be able to go to a good music conservatory. Not sure what regularly but not devotedly means?

March 15, 2017 at 01:51 AM · Practicing regularly = generally doing 1 to 2 hours a day, every day or pretty close to it.

Practicing devotedly = probably t2 to 4 hours every day, pretty much without fail

March 15, 2017 at 09:52 PM · Mark O'Conner was 11.

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