Blockers to becoming advanced

April 13, 2017 at 10:22 PM · In the Adult Beginner Progress thread (LINK), an observation was made that many players -- whether they start in childhood, or begin as adults, and regardless of how long they take lessons -- never get past the intermediate level. They get stuck somewhere around de Beriot level, but never advance to, say, the level of being able to play a good Bruch.

What's the theory of why this happens, and what can players and teachers do to get over the hump?


April 14, 2017 at 02:34 AM · Do you think it's at that point that slow, systematic practice becomes essential? Ie, you can't wing it any more? If you're not practicing well up until that point, then a major barrier will be learning how to practice correctly, and the mindset and discipline that entails are not easy to transition to.

April 14, 2017 at 02:36 AM · I guess this is a personal progress thing, related to both teacher and student.

April 14, 2017 at 11:33 AM · It usually comes down to either the teachers method only able to teach to a certain point, poor methodology vs adults or the student real life gets in way of practising, losing interests due to teacher, or even worse trying to progress on their own. There are "walls" that always need to be overcome throughout the different stages of playing and trying to overcome those walls can lead to a great many frustrations when even one instance of what I just mentioned happens. Adults are much less patient than kids and won't hesitate to simple quit when the going gets too tough or not fun.

April 14, 2017 at 08:24 PM · Let me add that an adult beginner has normally met their goals by the point of being intermediate: i.e., they can play the violin with others in a community orchestra or church as well as easy music like pop songs or Christmas carols. It is hard to stay motivated to work even harder at this point as it's been 3-5 years of struggle already.

April 14, 2017 at 08:54 PM · Regarding adult beginners, or restarters...assuming the motivation exists to improve beyond the intermediate level, as well the willingness to put a lot of effort into what might seem like small gains: is there something else that prevents advancement? The fingers don't work right? The brain doesn't make the proper connections? The ears don't hear properly?

April 15, 2017 at 02:56 AM · I stopped at 17 because I was an intermediate player and I have lost interest in the instrument. As a teenager, I never did the kind of hard work that needed to be done to be an advanced player.

I hesitate to blame my teacher since many of his other students have turned out to be advanced players, some have solid but not spectacular professional careers.

I tend to agree that most are intermediate players because they want to be intermediate players and do not want to put in the hard work to get beyond that level.

April 15, 2017 at 03:42 AM · I agree with David. Barring some kind of learning disability, every student I've ever had who was stagnating turned out also not to be practicing very much. Usually they had lost interest, or were never really very interested, and preferred to spend their time in other pursuits. Some such students tend to quit within a year or so of beginning to stagnate. Others continue to take lessons because of chair tests or youth orchestra. And that's fine. If a student of mine discovers a passion for something other than the violin and moves on, I am happy for them.

April 15, 2017 at 05:22 AM · "Adults are much less patient than kids and won't hesitate to simple quit when the going gets too tough or not fun." What a silly generalisation. This may be true for some adults, possibly even many, but certainly not all of them. And I know (of) lots and lots of kids "who wouldn't hesitate to simply quit when the going gets too tough or not fun", if only their parents would let them!

The original question implies a linear progress that may be most appropriate to trying to become a professional violinist. Such an approach may not be applicable to many adults/adult beginners since their goals will often be different, although possibly not restricted to "easy music like pop songs or Christmas carols".

I regret that at times the attitude towards adult beginners on this forum tends to be a little condescending. It seems to stem from a kid-centered or career-centered mindset. Whatever happened to playing music for the love of it? I'm grateful that my teacher does not subscribe to these negative views about adult students and is there to support me in trying to realise my personal violin goals.


April 15, 2017 at 11:06 AM · In an article in the Strad,, Aaron Rosand wrote:

"In my many years of teaching, I have found that students who do not progress rapidly, invariably do not apply logic and intelligence to their practice routine."

Some teachers advocate one technique, while others advocate the opposite. Neither group knows exactly what's right for you, because they aren't you. So in this view, the means for overcoming barriers are within us -- instead of relying too much on teachers or external factors, we should think and feel for ourselves, and apply that to our playing.

April 15, 2017 at 11:25 AM · Well, a lots of this is anecdotal evidence, but for the sake of discussion, let us 1st try to define progress, in particular what does it mean for adults vs. youngsters.

For example, I met a lady who works physical therapy with seniors. For them, progress is measured in ability to walk to the grocery store and back.

Likewise, progress for adult violinist may mean the ability to read music, play baroque trio sonatas or join a folk band or a community orchestra.

Progress can also be measured by playing in tune, keeping the rhythm or improving sound quality.... one step at a time!

I know this is contrary to "you can be all you want" belief, but let us be realistic and humble. Every day with a violin is a gift.

April 15, 2017 at 11:31 AM · I'm interested in seeing what others have to say about this. Similar to David, I quit when I was 19-20yo and was working through Bruch at that time as well. I had every intention of playing advanced material but my life brought me in a direction where I simply didn't have (or did not think I had) the time to practice regularly with a teacher (I also did not have the money to pay for a teacher/lessons for a long time). So, at this point I'm working on intermediate material, with the intention of playing advanced material. (To be stuck at intermediate material for the rest of my life seems like it would be akin to purgatory.) My teacher knows my intentions, and has given me material to prepare for the eventuality that I'll be able to play advanced material with greater ease. She has been very clear that the road will not be short. If I wanted quick returns on my work, I'd be baking.

April 15, 2017 at 11:45 AM · If you belong to a couple of community orchestras that have a sprinkling of retired (or even semi-retired) pros, other players who have gone through music college but went into other professions, and conductors who are themselves professionals and treat their orchestras accordingly, then it does have an ongoing effect (a good one!) if you are of intermediate standard or just above and are prepared to do the work.

April 15, 2017 at 11:58 AM · I'd say it's likely just another manifestation of the normal distribution that exists in nature. Most people are mediocre at any given endeavor.

April 15, 2017 at 12:15 PM · As I read through these responses, I wonder if this not a function of practice/diligence, but not enough practice time. In other words, people hit a plateau (or a place where improvement is made in very small steps) when their amount of practice time isn't sufficient to overcome the problems they're facing -- or at least, when what they are being asked to practice pushes too big of a rock up too steep of a hill.

This can happen to conservatory students practicing four hours a day, too. In particular, I'm thinking of those who don't have great technical fundamentals, or have a couple of problems in their playing that need to be corrected before they can take the next step. Some of these students may need to do a lot of tedious work resetting their technique, and it's possible that a plateau at a workable-pro level is preferable to doing so.

April 15, 2017 at 12:35 PM · Thinking about Lydia's comment: I often think that nothing would make me happier than to have a teacher who would tell me "look, you're doing it all wrong - you need to start over again from scratch" and then help me do just that. Over the years I've had some teachers who let me do whatever I wanted (ready or not), some who could not stomach the sight of an adult learning beginners' (childrens') repertoire, some who assumed I knew how to practice effectively (I don't). I have reached the point where I can play some intermediate-level pieces, but the sound is bad; the foundation isn't there. I am at a point in my life where I have almost unlimited time to devote to things that interest me. Regarding music, I'd love to tear the whole thing up and start again.

April 15, 2017 at 12:44 PM · Yes, I can see that re: technical fundamentals or other problems that need to be corrected before moving on. I'm getting a greater education in fundamentals now than I did when I was a kid playing - and my playing has improved dramatically in a very short period of time as a result. I never used to "like" or "enjoy" the technical work, but now that I can see the value of it is is much more enjoyable and fun. It's great to want to play the advanced rep, but if you don't have the technical proficiency to do it then there's no point, only lots of frustration. And really, not everyone wants to be able to play advanced rep - which is totally okay too!

April 15, 2017 at 12:48 PM · Karen - I feel you! I was working with a teacher for a few months who was not correcting me, and so I switched. My current teacher is a "you need to fix this, you're doing x, y, z incorrectly. I want you to do..." which is so wonderful. (It is equally wonderful then when she says that I played something well!)

April 15, 2017 at 02:25 PM · Certain mindset and lack of support are two major killers.

Certain mindset(such as lack of commitment and openness)is one of the chief blockers to becoming advanced, young and adult players alike. When I heard players say things like “I won’t ever play like a pro…”, “I don’t need to be virtuosic player because…”, “I’m good enough …”, “I’m better than so-and-so...” or “I’ll never play like so and so…”, I couldn’t help wondering how far they’ll progress from there on.

As the only one of the two adult violinists playing in an advanced youth orchestra at conservatory, I have noticed certain differences between kids and adult learners. Kids don’t feel shy about making mistakes and sounding bad from time to time the way we tend to do. They just play and play, whenever there’s a chance. Whereas among the adults, you’d hear a lot of apologies and excuses, and comparison with other players, which tend to create most unhelpful inner chatters/blockers.

Noted that the kids who progress the quickest are not doing it alone. Sure, they have the talent and set specific short term, midterm and long term goals like many others, but more importantly they have the steady supports from their parents, teacher(s) and music community (prizes and scholarship, music camps, solo and chamber performance opportunities). As someone said, if you want to find talent, look for the conditions.

April 15, 2017 at 04:33 PM · An issue related to practice is motivation. Some of the returnees who post here, like Lydia and Gene Huang, approach a piece with the eventuality of soloing with the orchestras they lead. That raises the motivation to a different level.

Reading through (not performing) the first movement of Mozart third with a youth ensemble as a teenanger was closest I ever came to being a soloist. At this point, I just want to play the piece I am working on in tune, with correct rhythm, and with good sound.

April 15, 2017 at 05:27 PM · You have a great point about external motivators. Even kids who aren't really good enough to be competition winners still have less-competitive camps, orchestra seating auditions, juried festivals / all-state / MTA / etc., non-optional recitals, and so forth to keep them moving forward. Adults don't. (But I'll point out that many kids plateau anyway -- moving up a few seats each year, but never cracking the barrier to get to the major concertos, or at least not to the point of really having something like the Bruch solidly under their technical command versus just kinda getting the notes.)

One of the local community music schools near me has great programs for adults, which include adult-only recitals, juries-with-comments for adults, ensembles for beginning-to-intermediate adults, coached chamber music for intermediate and advanced adults, theory / musicianship / ear-training for adults, etc. And there are several local competitions for adults. But I think this might be uncommon -- I never found anything similar in my time living in the Bay Area, for instance. (And I don't study with one of the community music school's teachers, and thus its resources are denied to me.)

I'm really trying to make a commitment to performing on a regular cadence. The deadlines are good for me.

April 15, 2017 at 06:12 PM · Lydia, I agree that adults don't have the external motivators that kids do, and I wish that weren't the case. Last summer I studied one of the etudes that's a requirement for All-State, and I joked to my teacher that maybe I could audition :-)

That local community music school you mention sounds fantastic. Our local community music school has a chamber program; it's advertised for "grades 7 - college" but I begged my way in (there's no age limit for college, after all) and they were kind enough to accept me. I don't mind playing with high school and college students and they don't seem to mind me. But I wish we had some of the things you mention - juries, theory classes, competitions, etc.

April 15, 2017 at 08:19 PM · Lydia, et al.,

What makes Bruch a benchmark for an adult who takes up the violin? I understand that this is a benchmark for a young musician but does the adult actually want to play the concerto literature? Does the adult perhaps have different goals and has the teacher discussed these goals with the student?

I've noted many times that I am one of those very-late starters and 40 years into the instrument I still don't have a desire to play the concertos. I'm happy simply playing for myself (along with the wife and cats). I am looking at a local community orchestra with a rehearsal and performance schedule that fits my lifestyle.

Learning to play the violin has made my life more interesting, more complete, and introduced me to a whole bunch of people that I would never have met if it were not for the first lesson.

From a pedagogical standpoint it may seem important to conquer the concertos but if that isn't what the adult (or even young) musician wants what is the driver? Pursuing something that you aren't interested in is demotivating and demoralizing.

I know some people who went to law and medical school because it was the path to "success" only to find that they actually hate the work and were only pursuing the potential cash.

I play because I love to and would find a day without tucking the violin under my chin a bit empty.

April 15, 2017 at 08:32 PM · I use the Bruch as a proxy for a certain level of advancement because it's the work most commonly taught as the gateway into that level of difficulty. A teacher could certainly choose something else as the gateway (I did the Mendelssohn concerto, for instance). A showpiece like Zigeunerweisen would be at a comparable level. If staying with the sonata repertoire, I suppose a reasonable proxy for that difficulty would be the Strauss sonata.

It's certainly true that not every player wants to play challenging literature. Some adult beginners might be happy just playing hymns in church, even. But many players (whether children or adults) are interesting in further up-leveling their playing and seem to never quite seem to find a breakthrough into the next level.

A technical goal can be expressed in many ways, too. Perhaps a student has no desire to play the Bruch or other Romantic-era concertos, for instance, but does want to be able to tackle most orchestral 1st violin parts with ease (and artistry). Perhaps they'd like for virtually all chamber-music 1st violin parts to be comfortably within their technical command. Maybe they'd enjoy playing flashy showpieces -- Sarasate, Wieniawski, and so on.

I'd venture to say that for many adults, the goal is to be able to play beautifully and with artistry, without having to spend a ton of time woodshedding something or otherwise engaging in a technical struggle. The more literature is comfortably within your technical command, the greater the possibilities. Technique is a spiral, too -- we spend our lifetime working on really mastering (and maintaining mastery of) the technical basics. It's nice not only to be able to play difficult stuff, but to play less-difficult stuff more artistically.

April 15, 2017 at 08:49 PM · Frieda, I find de Beriot #9 to be far more pleasant to teach and to play than either Accolay or Viotti (though I teach those too). YMMV

April 15, 2017 at 09:47 PM · In addition to the external motivation, there's also just the fact that a lot of kids are playing in a group setting every single day and learn a lot by osmosis from their peers. Virtually no adult amateurs play in orchestra daily.

April 15, 2017 at 10:04 PM · George, I’m learning concerti because each concerto that I’ve learned and am learning is teaching me so much about playing and music and myself that I can’t seem to stop. Why do people climb mountains and ran marathon and others don’t? To some of us, pushing our own limits mean something, no matter how old we get. That said, learning concerti is not the only way to achieve excellence in violin. I’ve met some excellent chamber musicians in chamber music workshops and they usually haven’t learned any major concerto. I also know most of the community orchestra players where I live just want to play with others and have fun. Their various technical deficiencies are usually obvious, and their tone production tend to be poor, as one can often get away with it in an orchestra setting, not so when working on solo pieces.

“… if that isn't what the adult (or even young) musician wants what is the driver?” I took it to be the case that reaching a truly advanced level is an implied in this thread. If one doesn't have great desire to reach at such a level, these discussions may not be so relevant.

It’s funny that you use the example of people going to law and medicine to illustrate your point about doing things for love. I also went to law, not for money but out of idealistic notions. I didn’t like it and didn’t practice much, but throughout the whole process I did learn tons of things that never thought I’d have learned.

In short, we are all different. Violin is a versatile instrument that can satisfy many needs.

Edit: just saw Sarah's point. Yes, this is very important factor playing with others regularly, especially those who are more advanced than we are help a lot. Moreover, even watching good players helps. To me, these are all part of practice.

April 16, 2017 at 11:44 PM · I agree EVERY day being able to play even an open string IS a huge boon, but I honestly believe the adult should progress as far as his/her commitment takes him/her. They can potentially (and eventually) play "anything", even when the road will get hard along the way. I would encourage every violin student regardless of age to keep working on the instrument they love, and to continue to be surprised with their gradual advancement.

Don't stagnate-find new ways to work, practice, and thus improve.

Indeed, however, the teacher can be instrumental or detrimental to further improvement, though of course it's also not always the instructor's fault when it's the latter.

An adult's bigger obstacle may be real life... make sure to make the violin a sort of partner/companion in your life, so you spend daily time with it (people do this all the time with pets and hobbies... why not the violin?)

Can't be convinced it's just "stiffer muscles", etc. A kid could also develop stiffness by accident. Too many excuses are made about age and violin, IMHO. Adults may have other strengths that can make up for other temporary weaknesses.

Do not give up your quest to play the instrument you love at the highest level you possibly could-be it that you are a 6 year old, or a 60 year old.

Very much hope I didn't offend anyone. As always, feel free to have your own opinion.

April 17, 2017 at 01:24 AM · George Wells, I do get that there is a significant part of the repertoire some people don't care for. I, for one, do not care for show pieces of Zigeunerweisen variety. For me, it is Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and so on. However, one, if she is serious, should always try to improve her technical command. There is a reason why conservatory audition requirements normally involves concertos of the romantic era, solo Bach, and Paganini. These repertoire demands a technical mastery of the instrument that is necessary, but perhaps not sufficient, to fully utilize "voice" of the violin .

April 17, 2017 at 03:19 PM · If all else is equal: same teacher, same level of talent, same motivation etc, a young person will advance over an middle aged person simply because they could commit more time to practice.

In order to breakthrough to advanced rep you need to have practiced X hours a day. Most adults just dont have that type of time to spend practicing.

April 17, 2017 at 08:14 PM · Kimberly, how many hours a day to break into advanced? 2, 3, or even 4?

April 17, 2017 at 11:58 PM · It depends on the individual. We all have different speeds at which we learn. And for that matter, better or worse practice habits, that can really impact efficiency.

Also, this may depend on how well the fundamentals have been set. Someone with really solid fundamentals will have less difficulty going up to the next level. Otherwise it starts to be like a house of cards.

April 18, 2017 at 01:09 AM · In addition to what Lydia said, I must stress that the most important thing is knowing how to practice rather than how many hours per day one needs to put in. I didn't know how to practice when I first returned about 10 years ago, so my progress was slow even I put in on average 2hr/day weekdays and 4+hr/weekends. In fact, when I practiced poorly, the more I practiced the more bad habits I built. Eventually, I learned to practice more effectively, and I found with 1 hr/day really focused/mindful practice, I could make a steady progress over time. Fortunately now there are a lot of materials on practice out there, such as Nathan Cole’s practice guide called “Eight Practice Mistakes You’re Making Eight Now”. Also check out "How to practice like a pro":

April 18, 2017 at 09:54 PM · Hm... Just speaking for myself, compared to when I was a kid beginner to now as an adult restarter, the differences are:


Way back then I practiced after finishing my homework and made extra time for private lessons, festivals and auditions to special orchestras. Nowadays, I study because I want to play lovely music in a community group and want to be challenged while doing so. So as an adult restarter, staying at the intermediate level is good enough for what I want.


I had all the time in the world as a student to allot to practicing. As an adult with a hectic job, dedicating so much time to practice isn't always possible.

Structured Environment

Our orchestra was small, so we received one-on-one attention everyday that forced us to keep good habits. We were able to practice with a special orchestra and were offered private lessons all for free in that district. Having hand-ons training and a structured way of learning helps a lot when learning any instrument and frankly, this is missing from my current practice even though I have a nice enough instructor.

I think someone took offense to the notion that adult beginners are more likely to up and quit when the going gets tough. I tend to agree with that, especially if the adult student has a lot going on, like a career or multiple jobs, children if they have any, familial obligations, etc. For us, learning to play is a luxury that can be indulged or neglected in accordance to the flux of the weight of our obligations. That's not to say that adult beginners are lazy or don't take their lessons seriously, just that we aren't children whose parents are there to take care of 'real life' for us, and sometimes this gets in the way.

As for the reason why I didn't advance beyond the intermediate stage when I was a child learning, the brutal answer is that I wasn't talented enough and, at the end of the day, becoming a professional violinist just wasn't a passion of mine. Now it's just a joy to play.

April 20, 2017 at 11:08 AM · I'm not sure what "advanced" is intended to mean, and to me it also conveys a problematic notion -- the idea of being able to play more and more "difficult" material; material that may be showy and require technical wizardry and "lightning fingers", invoking that adage of fingers which never hit the same place twice.

I liked Scott Cole's usage of "fine musician" in the "Do violin skills deteriorate with age?" thread, as it doesn't have all the problems with the notion of "advanced" per se, and also raises the bar in terms of quality of performance over technical difficulty.

If the question is changed to why aren't there more "fine players" instead of "advanced players", doesn't the answer also change towards the technical foundations and tonal and musical hygiene necessary rather than speed and difficulty for its own sake and self-perceived loftiness? Isn't the net result a better one?

April 20, 2017 at 02:06 PM · I eventually figured out that a certain speed limit I was hitting (spicatto sixtheenths at quarter note about 140) was being influenced heavily by the response speed of my bow, and aspects of my bow hold. I discovered this by accident upon acquiring a new bow that was lighter, faster, and differently balanced, and within an hour of playing, technical limits I had struggled with for 20 years (since age 15) and thought were inherent melted away. This, of course, motivated me hugely and generated a lot more practicing (but no more than I tried at age 15) and forward progress in areas I never thought possible.

Some of it is that the new bow taught me different ways to hold it. Some of it is simple response speed of the wood (if I apply the same hold to a similar bow I had before, the speed limit mostly remains, especially at the edges of the notes). Some is the balance of the bow. I find a much more frog-biased and lighter bow than normal helps me a lot...I have not yet found a newer bow with this type of characteristics, so old wood may be a requirement, but expensive wood is definitely not, as I have found several cheap old bows that allow the same speed and technical ability of playing. But the net result is that at age 36, I suddenly found myself able to productively work on things I had been unable to progress on for decades despite trying (on my own).

Violin setup can be a speed limit too - particularly string height and neck angle - but bow limits are the really subtle thing in my experience. There is also an instrument-specific response speed limit, and differences in how instruments respond to certain techniques - I have one instrument that loves fingered thirds, and one that doesn't want to ring on them, despite in most other ways being the equal of the first (and having perhaps better overall tone).

This is not to suggest that _most_ limits folks hit are related to equipment - but where such limits do occur, they can be very subtle, and appear to be inherent in the individual. (A poorly-balanced bow will create a mediocre bow hold, while a superb bow will teach you how to play it if you know how to listen. A middle-grade bow with the same characteristics as a high end one will work right if you already know how to handle it, but may not teach you.)

None of this is to suggest that you need expensive equipment, but it can be very beneficial to try a lot of different stuff, and keep your eyes open for bargains and instruments and bows that fit well for you. Also, switching instruments and bows (even temporarily) when you get stuck on a piece can be helpful - often after trying a different instrument or bow and suddenly learning a passage, I find I can then take it back to the original equipment without issue - but I may have been stuck for an arbitrary time before. (It can help to have more than one violin and more than one bow for instance, with different string heights and balance points.)

April 20, 2017 at 02:30 PM · I would suggest being a technically "advanced player" is positively related to be a" fine player". It should be obvious to everyone that someone who can play both "Twinkle, twinkle" and "Last Rose" is always a finer musician than someone who can only play the former on any objective measure.

April 20, 2017 at 04:03 PM · J Ray and Timothy have good point. However, realistically, as an amateur violinist, the level of one's playing is asked/measured everywhere you go, say, finding a proper teacher, joining an orchestra, a community conservatory, or a certain chamber music workshop. For instance, being considered as an advanced player, it means you have a better chance to play in the 1st violin session in an orchestra if that's what you want. Or you get to play with other advanced (hopefully better players than you are) in chamber groups.

It goes without saying we want to be a "fine musician" or "the best we can be", but what does this mean? How is this idea measurable? Of course, having the chops is necessary but not sufficient condition to be a good musician. I've seen quite a few proficient players who are not musical, but can anyone show me a good musician who plays without technical ease?

Some of us believe that setting measurable goals (such as reaching certain level of advancement at certain time) is a best way to achieve the necessary conditions to become a fine musician. We can't dismiss the notion that there are various levels of development stages of learning the violin. The measures are relatively objective and can be found in various pedagogues, graded tests, conservatories, etc. At the same time, it's wise to realize that being an advanced player is just the beginning of the journey to become a fine musician.

April 20, 2017 at 09:37 PM · My belief is that anyone who can get to the intermediate level of playing can also become advanced if they keep pushing.

But: the time to get to an intermediate level - for the average violinist - is about the same amount of time that it takes for the novelty of playing to wear off.

I've noticed that with many students of mine who make nice, steady progress for 2-3 years and get to a book 4ish Suzuki level, they always manage to find a way to stop pushing at that point. Maybe they get a bit bored and go join a community orchestra which takes away all of their free time. Suddenly, they find themselves practicing orchestra music instead of assigned lesson repertoire, and then their technical skills roll backwards, so when they finally "find" time to practice their lesson material, it's more difficult because they've lost their training momentum, and then they spend the next year or more just sort of dying a slow, musical death where they always want to regain their momentum but simply can't muster the will to "regain" their skills, even if it would take just a few weeks of dedicated work to get back to their previous point.

I could blame that lost momentum on the orchestra, but it was really just a means for the student to "excuse" themselves from improving any further. A self-fulfilling prophecy on their part.

Basically, I think that the convergence of "less novelty" with "harder work to achieve smaller perceived improvements" reaches a critical point in the exponential curve where most don't have the drive to continue, and this critical point is in the intermediate repertoire most of the time.

Even really talented people seem to reach this point quite often. Maybe they get a bit farther in the repertoire by the time the novelty wears off, but the same effect takes over. Almost as if by magic, a different priority in their life will take over as soon as the lack of novelty converges with the increased difficulty in the music.

April 21, 2017 at 12:56 AM · I really believe limits are mostly self imposed. When we get frustrated we conclude we'll never be able to do something, that we're just not "talented enough."

But it's really not true. Learning technique is just a matter of time and effort and love. Most problems will yield to persistent, patient, creative effort. It's just that the number of hours required is more than most people can (or want to) commit.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a fantastic book on this subject called "Outliers." He spent a lot of time around professional musicians, and found one thing they all had in common: 10,000 hours. Every single one of them had spent 10,000 hours with their instrument.

In the last few years, as my career wound down and I had more time to practice, I have had the thrilling experience of being able to break through a whole series of technical limitations, to play difficult music that I never even dreamed I would ever be able to play.

It's just time and persistence. Work on something, set it aside, come back a few weeks later and try again. Think about it, try different practice techniques, experiment. Sleep on it and try in the morning. Your brain has to figure out how to do something, and then your brain has to learn how to communicate it to your hands and fingers. And the path of progress is almost never linear. It is more like a helix, sometimes a very windy irregular helix.

Malcolm Gladwell's book forced me to reconsider the whole idea of talent. I no longer think talent is God-given ability. No one is born able to play the violin. What talent really is is desire and love. Talented people are the people who love playing music so much that they spend 10,000 hours and their brains are fully engaged every minute of every hour, because they love it so much and they are driven to learn. That is what makes a musician. And I believe that process can begin at any age, just like love can happen at any age.

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