Just Starting Out

October 2, 2005 at 01:05 AM · I'm just starting to play violin at the age of 17. Is it to late to amount to anything?

If it isn't to late, what tips, advice, links to helpfull websites, ect. can you give me.

Replies (76)

October 2, 2005 at 03:56 AM · Why should it be too late to amount to anything? Pffff, have you read the late start thread? People start in their 50s plus. ^_^

Even if the chances of your becoming a professional are less if you start later, you can still definately enjoy music.

October 2, 2005 at 06:49 AM · If you mean as your primary source of income, I advise against trying it, unless you're willing to give up just about everything. Don't take that lightly. A year or two from now, probably now, there are college music schools that would gladly take you as a student. The sacrifices have already begun. It isn't a good school with exciting things happening, a beautiful campus, and first rate teachers. Everybody there wishes they were someplace else. Even there, the players will be better than you, and you'll be a social outcast. By the time you're thirty, if you're very lucky and very talented, you'll be good enough to get a job with an orchestra that would at least help pay rent on something small. You probably won't be married at that point. If you are, you won't be able to provide for her decently. You won't be able to buy a house. She won't have health insurance. You will want those things. Don't be doing at forty what you should have been doing at twenty-five. The twenties are for setting out on your career. The thirties are for maximizing and taking advantage. The forties are for enjoying the benefits. In your forties, you realize you've become everything you're going to be. It's hard if you're out of sequence.

On the other hand, if you're independently (or dependently) wealthy, then go for it. You can write your own ticket. Just be careful not to get disinherited. Or some guys luck onto women who'll support them. Good work if you can get it I suppose.

So, I suggest not trying to do it for a living. I suggest finding yourself and your real talent.

October 2, 2005 at 08:58 AM · You can always be the big fish if you pick the right size pond.

Jim's advice makes a lot of sense, though, if you want to be practical about it.

October 2, 2005 at 11:33 AM · nice answer jim i myself a late starter(over 40)and no matterwhat you always dream to succeed and good to put reality if someone wants to be a pro ...and to encourage to encounter music cause in 5 years one can attend a local amature orcastra

i'm still in my 2 year


October 2, 2005 at 11:41 AM · Hi,

Great post Jim! I agree with the advice there. It is both honest and realistic.


October 3, 2005 at 12:14 AM · I can be practical to a fault sometimes. But you'd have to make a sound decision to forego a lot. Impossible to do when you don't even have a grasp on what those things are. If you don't play the game properly you will suffer. But...you can play it much more creatively than most end up doing.

October 2, 2005 at 03:42 PM · I began learning the violin 1 and a half years ago, when I was 20. I started out with humble ambitions, to learn to play some tunes on the violin etc., as a hobby. Haha! Well, gladly I have succeeded in meeting my initial aim but now it means much more to me than what I imagined!!

I too have struggled with the late beginner issue, and I wish I had started earlier, of course, so I had technique behind me by now. But that is history! I do not have unrealistic hopes of a professional career, I am content to continue to ENRICH my life with the violin, for as long as I can.

GO FOR IT, JACOB, but beware :)

October 2, 2005 at 04:15 PM · I felt the urge to respond with that cliche saying we have all been told at one point or another in our lives: The forrest would be a mighty silent place if only the best birds sang. :)

Plus, if you look on the history of music as a whole, it is only a recent attitude to reserve it for the elite professionals. Music has been since the dawn of civilization a communal activity shared by the people....not something one does standing on a loan rock in the sunset to the awe of the rest of the tribe. ;)

October 3, 2005 at 02:01 AM · Just giving him things to consider, Brian, so he can make his own choices.

October 3, 2005 at 12:07 PM · Dr. Shinichi Suzuki didn't play violin until he was 17 may be 18, I think, but look what he left behind. You are still young and it is great you have something that you love to do. I don't know what the future holds for you, but the time you invest in violin won't be wasted. Even if you don't become a violinist, it will definitely be a plus in your life one way or the other.

October 3, 2005 at 01:01 PM · It really depends on what you mean "ammount to anything".

If you mean a professional violinist playing with "X" symphony orchestra or having a solo career, it would be on the insane side of possible to accomplish this considering all of us who started at age 4 are competing along side you for jobs far and few inbetween.

If you mean become a good violin player in community orchestras....just stick with it and in time you can be there. It will be up to your dedication and personal ambitions.

IF you mean a musician and teacher....again, it is up to you, but it would be best to have another source of income on the side until your skills are up to par, but this is possible if you stick with it.

Jim's origional post is the realist approach to what most people in life face, but there are always the exceptions to the rules...the ones who have unusual talent or drive or both. If you are one of those people, than you are capable of what you want and limited by only yourself.

Best of luck. Any way it turns out, I hope you enjoy the violin and where it takes you in life.

October 3, 2005 at 04:06 PM · I think you need to be realistic about this. It is possible to become a great performer, but in a years time, you will have one years experience, while most excellent performers of your age will have 10-14 years, ya know? I don't mean to be mean, but i'm a couple of years younger than you and I have 10 years behind me, so it would be almost impossible for you to make that amount of time up.

However, you can still enjoy performing for family and friends, or in local orchestras, depnding on where you live of course! No matter what, enjoy the music!

October 3, 2005 at 11:09 PM · Jacob, what do you mean by "amount to anything?" If you mean, "Will I ever play well enough to enjoy music making with others?" then the answer is "Of course."

October 4, 2005 at 02:48 PM · Jacob, go for it! This site will help you along the way: http://www.violinmasterclass.com/

November 27, 2005 at 10:12 AM · I started violin at 4 but having a distinctly unmusical family I never practiced (at most once a week for about 10 mins) or was told to until about a month ago, never having a reason to do more. Im 16 now and I just finished my first concerto (Saint Saens 3) and have now finally found the world of violin music(yey!). At last I have a reason to practice and choose it as a career, as I've realised what it truly is to play the violin. Is there really as you all portray it, no hope if I start in earnest now? Please be v. honest as due to my personality, if i chose this as a career and not a past time I would be unhappy unless I achieved fairly substancial suceess

Thank you for your time and adivce


November 27, 2005 at 10:25 AM · Hi there Jacob,

17 is young! :-) At the moment i am teaching two very capable adults violin and they have picked it up so well. 17 is fine. Infact, at that age, you'll most likely be able to pick up details a whole lot better than others. The only tip i can give you is stick with it. It will be hard for a while, as with anything new that you could try. Everything will work out with perseverence and at the end of it you will come out playing the most beautiful instrument that you ever met and played!

Good on you by the way :-)

ta, lucy

November 27, 2005 at 10:32 AM · You're never too old to pick up the violin! :)

I started violin a few months before I turned 12 (I'm 18 now) and I thought that was too old but it's not, and neither is 17. So never ever feel discouraged when you learn violin that you started violin later than the ones who have been playing since they were 3 or 4.

I started when I was 12 and now look at me, I'm at university with other violinists who started when they were 4.

November 28, 2005 at 12:30 AM · It's gonna stink for a while- but that goes with anything you just start. I'll tell you something that helped me when I started at age 10 (I'm 18 now): At first when you're learning all the positions and the fingering and all the hard, monotonous stuff, you feel like quitting. DON'T YOU DARE! Because there's no other feeling in the world than when you've mastered everything necessary to play a song and you can finally pick up your instrument and play a piece that makes everyone's eyes pop.

Good Luck and Don't be discouraged!

November 28, 2005 at 01:08 AM · Jessica's right! I felt like quitting a few times as well whilst I was learning, espiecally being told to do things the right way after playing the wrong way for 6 yrs. It really feels good though after you have learnt and mastered those techniques, you feel like you're in control of just about everything!

Don't give up, the road might be tough but it's all worth it.

May 11, 2006 at 03:22 PM · Wow! I was about to quit playing violin (my teacher moved away and I was progressing slowly on my own). I was searching for my name in Google and stumbled upon this. I had totally forgotten about it. Because of all the encouraging (and realist) posts I've decided to keep playing and work toward getting into a community orchestra. Thank you everyone!

May 11, 2006 at 03:45 PM · Good for you! Great choice. Best wishes!

May 11, 2006 at 04:27 PM · Good for you!! You picked the right instrument haha! No seriously it's s great instrument to learn how to play, and you'll grow to love it.

May 11, 2006 at 05:00 PM · Hi Jacob,

Let me try to bring you some optimism by sharing my personal story. While we're not sharing exactly the same background, I can relate to you.

I started the violin when I was 6. Unfortunately, I didn't really take it seriously until I was 16. From the age of 6 to 18, I mostly never practiced the violin for more than one hour per day, except for my last year of high school where I mostly did two hours/day.

Nonetheless, I managed to get into New England Conservatory - Yes, I was wayyyy below the technique level I was supposed to have but my teacher saw potential. I spent at least three horrible years of trying to play catch up, knowing that there was still lots more to go. By my fourth year, I was told that I was around two years below the level of my classmates - that's actually an improvement, considering the fact that I was probably much worse, before. Nonetheless, I was still accepted into Royal College of Music for a masters degree program. Now, I"m on full scholarship at Boston University for a doctorate.

I'm not going to deny that this didn't take a minimum of five hours of consistant practice, almost daily, including a very strong focus on scales and etudes for 1 or 1/1/2 hours. Also, you really have to want to do what you do so much.

My point is that if you want something enough, you will get it - nonetheless, you need the time and luxury of not having to have a side job to support yourself in those crucial 8-10 years of education. Also, as we get older, there are more possibilities that something can go wrong (we decide this isn't for us, we realize there are no more options left, etc.)....It's a very long road (which I'm still on), but you'll get there if you want it and if you can.

Good luck!


May 11, 2006 at 06:22 PM · Wow--I just read this thread, and Jim's "practical" response really pissed me off. Where in the initial post did he say anything about any of those ambitions??? Maybe he has them, but maybe not. In almost all ways of looking at things, 17 is YOUNG. Man, if I had started when I was 17, I can't even think about how good I'd be now. But I didn't. If I had started ten years ago even.... But no, I had to start at 41. I guess Jim would say I shouldn't have, but in ten years I'll have been playing for ten years. I'm having lots of fun with it now, and I really look forward it. There are other musical avenues than a big-name orchestra career.

May 11, 2006 at 06:51 PM · If ithis site weren't so public, I'd give you the name of a certain teacher of mine who made it to being a pedagogy professor at a major University, starting to take lessons on the cello at the age of 18. She literatlly pulled herself up by her boot straps musically AND financially.

May 11, 2006 at 08:02 PM · One has to understand though that playing the violin is HARD technically and musically, and many people have trouble improving as they get older. I was so fortunate to have started piano at age 5(I quit when I was 10) and then violin at 8, because I didn't have as much stress and obligations to deal with in my life as I do now with school, work , etc. Imo for people starting older I would reccomend playing for fun, and wouldn't consider a career in music. I think being a professional in this field is a matter of LUCK, talent, and how well driven you are. I realize there are people better than me and I'm not intimidated by that. Hope I made my point clear...

May 11, 2006 at 08:58 PM · One really important thing you should keep in mind at all times is your pitch and intonation. Be very picky and critical of yourself, because unless you developed an ear for music and pitch before you were 13 or so on an instrument, it's supposed to be pretty hard. In general, don't get ahead of yourself, and stress the basics , because it's a lot easier to learn the basics right at first than to have to correct bad habits later on.

Another piece of advice I have for you is to really enjoy it. I'm sure that you wouldn't be starting this late if you didn't really want to, but try to enjoy it on a day-to-day basis, and watch your progress instead of your mistakes. I've recently rediscovered my love of violin, and I'm really looking forward to practicing a lot this summer. I hope you learn to not only love playing, but also working hard at the practice side of violin. As I see it, playing difficult pieces is a lot more rewarding if there's a lot of effort put into it.

May 11, 2006 at 08:59 PM · I happened to start at 17 as well, although I had played guitar for 2 years previously. I am now a teacher and have a performing diploma, afetr 6 years of playing. I still consider myself to be a pretty crappy player though, but I have plenty of time to practice and improve. Starting late is HARD. It completey depends on how much talent you have. After all, Sarah Chang and Maxim Vengerov were playing better than most other people in the world before they were 10 years old. Do it for fun, and if anything comes from it, so be it. Im sure the players of today who picked up an instrument at 4 didnt think oh, I must make a career out of this. I didnt. So basically what im saying is go for it, but dont EXPECT a career from it. Thats way too much pressure. But do find the best teacher you can and listen to what they say or you'll be stuffed!

May 11, 2006 at 10:49 PM · Greetings,

Matt said:

>Be very picky and critical of yourself, because unless you developed an ear for music and pitch before you were 13 or so on an instrument, it's supposed to be pretty hard.

That`s interesting. You don`t include the voice.

I have an adult beginner (33) who has never palyed an instrument although her motehr is a professioanl Japanese traditional song performer. The student has a flawless ear and can translate the solfeggio I make her do into left hand results brilliantly. In some ways it makes her more difficult to terahc because she already knows if a not is slighly sharp or flat and strats moving the finger in that correct direction before I can stop her and ask her to lift the finger. Most beginners at this stage just freeze and have to think carefully about whetehr the note is sharp or flat. To what extent she got her `ear` from her motehr`s singing I don`t know. Japanese `enka@ does not use the same harmonic acuity as western tonailty IE irt sounds er, bloody awful;)



May 11, 2006 at 11:19 PM · Matt:

"One really important thing you should keep in mind at all times is your pitch and intonation"

So true, so true!

May 11, 2006 at 11:18 PM · Go for it! Defy the odds. I started taking lessons in November and I'm 44. Of course I'll never do much with it beyond amuse myself and friends. But so what.

You on the other hand, may have a future. Best of luck.

May 12, 2006 at 02:29 AM · you're only too late to be an 8 year old child prodigy. you'll never start too late to enjoy playing the violin.

May 12, 2006 at 01:06 PM · There is something I do not understand. why no one get upset if someone goes back to university at 40 and does a bac and then a master say in physics (which I did) but everyone say it is impossible to start playing violin at 40. My brain can work, but not my music brain, neither my fingers?! I do not expect to be a soloist but with the work and determination can't it be possible to do something? nothing great, but at least to play ok in 10 years time. With 5 to hrs of practice per day? Kids do not put that much at 4!

May 12, 2006 at 02:08 PM · As for starting at 40 and being good enough to play Paganini caprices in ten years and entertain your friends and neighbors, sure, people do it all the time...I think. You can start studying physics at 40, but are you ever going to win the Nobel Prize in physics? No, because you have better things to do with your time :) But I do think if competitions were open to all ages, you might see some winners who started very "late." I think if people were freed from all their practical constraints you might see winners who started very, very late.

May 12, 2006 at 02:01 PM · Hey i started sorta late ....not as late as you but... I started when i was 10... and sometimes i felt i didnt have a chance b/c everyone around me that was good started at 4 or 5. After awhile though i saw that that didn't matter b/c as long as i practiced and enjoyed what i was doing then life was good! So go for it if you love it!!!

May 12, 2006 at 02:01 PM · Yes, you are right, I will not get a Nobel prize for physics, but some people got their Nobel prize later then that. My point is I just want to understand what is so different, how can we study math, physics, even medecine as an adult but not music, it seems only young people can get it, why?, I do understand that starting early is a big +, a major +, but I can not understand why as an adult we are tooo old to learn music but not science? Do not get me wrong, I do not expect to get very good, but I think I can teach almost anyone math, why can't I learn music? what am I missing that I had as a child?

Many thanks!

May 12, 2006 at 02:15 PM · Pascale...you can learn to play an instrument at any age, in the same amount of time as a kid or less.

May 12, 2006 at 05:45 PM · I took on an adult student in January who has advanced more quickly than any student I've had the pleasure of teaching, so far.

May 12, 2006 at 05:49 PM · I started at 30 ... without any musical training at all.

My advice ... the instructor makes all the difference. Then, when you are more comfortable, the BOW makes the difference.

Also, try to join up with others that are also like "us".

I live near Minneapolis so, for me, http://www.macphail.org/ was perfect. I am now playing with about 10 other people and I have seen my abilities increase dramatically.

I doubt if I will be sharing the stage with http://www.hilaryhahn.com/ anytime soon. But, realistically, I have a life!

You should play an instrument because you WANT to play ... not necessarily because you want to amount to anything. Just my humble opinion.

Good Luck!

May 12, 2006 at 06:14 PM · Speaking as someone who was devoted to physics at an early age the same way a lot of people here have been devoted to violin at an early age...it is NOT the same. I'd compare violin prodigies much more to athletic prodigies than math or science prodigies. There's something about having the physical movements become completely natural, a part of you, that I think is far more difficult the older you are. Add to that the fact that most adults don't have the time or focus necessary to practice violin the way children do, and you're looking at some major disadvantages. I don't think Jim was overly harsh at all, just realistic. As to whether or not one can "amount to anything", that depends on the specific goals of the player, as others here have emphasized.

And as for winning the Nobel Prize---it should be noted that many, if not most, Nobel Prizes are awarded for work that was done when the scientist was in his or her 20's. The award is often given much later because it takes that long for the scientific community to realize the importance of the work. But younger scientists tend to be the ones with the creativity to think outside the old methods and make new discoveries. There's an accurate, if somewhat morbid saying: "Science proceeds one death at a time." :-/

May 12, 2006 at 06:37 PM · Great discussion from everyone. I believe that the violin is so, so difficult to play well, that no matter who you are, if you reach a point of playing credibly enough to move a listener emotionally, you are a success. Achieving recognition for greatness, as many of you (especially Jim) have pointed out, is another matter entirely.


May 13, 2006 at 03:42 PM · Just a note: the man who teaches me and my family the violin switched from the classical guitar to the violin at 17 years of age and is now, in middle-age, a reasonably well-known and established professional in a regional orchestra in Japan with a good level of income, married and successful - and he plays beautifully - so it is possible. The competition here in terms of technical ability is, I believe, fairly high.

My impression is that the key thing is that he is dedicated and also an unusually bright and talented individual.

May 13, 2006 at 04:54 PM · Not to mention, you need to have an excellent ear so that you can be your best teacher. Your professor can only guide you but you, as an individual, have to constantly respond to what your body does in relation to the instrument.

May 14, 2006 at 02:02 AM · Quote from Noel Pinnington:

"Just a note: the man who teaches me and my family the violin switched from the classical guitar to the violin at 17 years of age and is now, in middle-age, a reasonably well-known and established professional in a regional orchestra in Japan with a good level of income, married and successful - and he plays beautifully - so it is possible. The competition here in terms of technical ability is, I believe, fairly high.

My impression is that the key thing is that he is dedicated and also an unusually bright and talented individual."

This is incredibly encouraging. I have been playing classical guitar for the past 7 years and switched to violin last year.

Sander Marcus, you have summed up what I want to do: To be able to affect someone on an emotional level through my violin playing. That is my primary goal.

Again, thank you everyone for your comments!

May 19, 2006 at 01:20 PM · Hi,

Sarah thanks for the positive though. It is very uplifting.

Just by curiosity, if there is some late starter, where did you get, in how much time? I'm still trying to get a good sound out of my violin LO!

May 19, 2006 at 03:00 PM · By John Lanceley:

"Im sure the players of today who picked up an instrument at 4 didnt think oh, I must make a career out of this. I didnt. So basically what im saying is go for it, but dont EXPECT a career from it. Thats way too much pressure. "

What excellent advice for any student at any level, even a child prodigy who seemingly has endless concerts in front of him. I'm not sure if anybody of any ability can "expect" to have a career lined up, given our constantly changing modern world!

My best friend of all time started the violin when she was 50! She had poor health at the time, and the violin was what helped keep her spirits up. All that matters is that she enjoys it, and on that she's every bit as deserving of violin happiness as anybody else.

May 19, 2006 at 03:41 PM · If you can swallow the fact that you will have to work harder to achieve the same amount as the 8 year old prodigies, you'll be able to achieve quite a lot. Sviatoslav Richter started playing when he was 15, and in my humble opinion was one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. Granted, he also had a work ethic that would make Heifetz smile and say, "not too shabby!". A good friend of mine at Eastman has only been playing piano for three or four years, but is currently munching his way through Scriabin etudes and various sonatas. He also has a work ethic that I envy quite a lot. But, his achievements reflect the work he has put in. Anything is possible.

May 19, 2006 at 07:54 PM · It really just depends on how talented you are, and what your definition of "amount to something" is. I've known a couple of people who started at age 17 and 18 that just seemed to be "wired" right for the violin and one of them has won a position in the Colorado Symphony and the other is currently finishing her master's degree at Oberlin and is well on her way. If you make a ton of progress and turn out to be gifted for it, then you may find that in your mid twenties you are only a couple of years off from most of your peers.

If you are not one of the lucky ones, don't get down on yourself and don't give up just because you can't earn your full keep on the violin. You can still play it in local orchestras and give recitals and teach beginners. At your age it isn't safe to give up all of your options to just play the violin but you are still young and you should learn to do whatever it is that makes you happy. Learn the violin while you pursue other disciplines and make time for what you enjoy.

May 20, 2006 at 02:07 AM · Hi Jacob, my english is no so good but i want to say some experience of mine. I begin at 13 in a small town with suzuki method and a Chilean teacher that come to Venezuela after Allende`s die, in a experimental youth orchestra program. Only 5 years after i bring in the formal Conservatory at 18, when i grade make a chair in one of the best Venezuelan Orchestra (Lara Symphony Orchestra). Whith this i want to say you that the age is a myth in the world of violin player. May be you will not a gringolds or hahn in the future, but if you put your heart in this, with the correct teachers, without a problem you can be a great violin player and why not, you can live with the music. Good luck.

May 21, 2006 at 12:38 AM · Hello, this is a late reply to Will. I was in the same situation as you, I started early but never practised until late teens. I think it's a common situation among professional musicians, actually!

Well, it really stressed me out at the time, worrying htat perhaps I was too late..and the worrying is actully the one thing that really held me back.

Of course it's not too late.. you just need to get yourself a very good teacher that's an expert on correct violin technique, and then be very disciplined and practise 3-4 hours /day. I would advise that you don't do more than this; keep it focused. And have courage, get out there and perform a lot, in small festivals etc.

And also do exercise; it prevents you from stressing, which makes you learn faster on the violin.

Good luck with your music-making!

May 21, 2006 at 05:10 AM · hi jacob, i don't know how much of the discussion archives you've read on this, but i'll offer up my li'l story again- it's copy/pasted from http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=7696

'buddy' started violin at 19. as soon as he started, he realized that every other 19-yr-old had already won boatloads of competitions and whatnot. after playing violin for 3 years, he decided he enjoyed viola much more. 2 years after having switched, he won a job in a pretty big european orchestra. a year later he won the principal position in that orchestra. the next year he was appointed professor of viola at the university of that same city. this is all what, after 7 years of starting a stringed instrument?

it just goes to show you- 17 doesn't have to be too old to start out in this business.

May 21, 2006 at 06:25 AM · I definitely envy those musicians who can do such things. It's really incredible.

Realistically, it's very difficult, if not near impossible, to make a full-time career out of violin performance starting out later. I'm considered a late-starter because I started violin at 9 and started lessons at 14, which is relatively later than a lot of people but is still fairly young. It's definitely an uphill battle for me and starting any later can make it a hill the size of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

However, I would not try to persuade anybody to not go for their dreams, though sometimes those dreams need to be tweaked a bit. Getting into Cleveland Orchestra when starting later in life- probably not going to happen. Doing gigs with local orchestras, teaching private lessons, teaching in schools, coaching, working at music stores, becoming a luthier.... all possible ways to make a living as a string player. That's not even to begin talking about the business side of music. There's a lot out there- so to anyone who may read this posting or be on this site: there are ways to become a professional musician if you work hard enough. It may not be your full-time job and it may not be soloing with NY Phil or getting into Philadelphia Orchestra, but there are certainly jobs in our field!

May 21, 2006 at 01:01 PM · Lorenzo said: "...and then be very disciplined and practise 3-4 hours /day. I would advise that you don't do more than this"

I completely disagree. You have to do more if you're going to play catch-up. At least 4-5.

May 23, 2006 at 04:37 PM · Hi,

I was wondering if anyone achieved something being a late starter, I mean really late starter, not 17 or 18, that for me is sooooooooo young! I mean someone around 30. I do not mean anything big, but small orchestra, quartet, a bit of teaching. And how much time did it take you? how much did you practice?

May 23, 2006 at 08:57 PM · I started at age 3 (I'm 17 now) and I can tell you that the first seven or eight years were a bit of a waste of time--I didn't pay any attention to technique (or my teachers...whoops) and just played stuff the way I thought it should sound, I had fun but at about age 13 I found myself up a creek without a paddle--I was finally getting serious about the instrument (though I still hated practicing) but I had never developed the discipline and good practice habits I needed. I'm still struggling with it sometimes, but that's another post. I guess all I'm trying to say is don't believe people who say you MUST start VERY young. The most important thing that starting young did for me was, I got very used to the awkward position of holding the violin and I can improvise, play by ear etc. fairly well because I've grown up with the instrument, it is like a native language. But there's nothing written in stone that says people can't write excellent poetry in their second language! :)

Good luck!


May 23, 2006 at 10:34 PM · Hello!

IT'S NEVER TOO LATE!!I started 9 years ago,with really bad teachers and only the 2 last years I found someone who could really help me...So,in those two years I had to catch up with those who played more years than me and had good teachers...So,I studied really hard and carefully,I did everything my teacher was saying and now I am as good as the athers in my university.Ok, I have more weaknesses but in time I will overcome them.If you really like it and take my word in time you will love it,make your best and don't worry,you are17,not 107..It's not possible to be a soloist but that doesn't mean that you can't be a good musician!So have fun and listen a lot violin music,it helps!

Good luck!


May 30, 2006 at 07:31 PM · I started at 15 and I seem to be doing ok. I'm a music major now, about to be in my third year, and while I'm still behind, I'm catching up pretty fast.

May 30, 2006 at 08:27 PM · Pascale, I started playing violin last year at age 27, though I have an extensive music background. Right now, I'm learning the Vivaldi A minor from Suzuki 4, and I play second violin in a community chamber ensemble. I have loftier goals, and we'll see what happens.

May 31, 2006 at 10:15 AM · Just go ahead and do your best. No worries.

As compared to the violinist in this situation :

May 31, 2006 at 07:48 PM · Take heart! Here are more people who made a go of it - examples of real people and what they are now doing.

1) Violinist - started age 18; now 2nd violinist in Chicago Lyric Opera

2) Violinist - started age 14; active freelancer in the Toronto area

3) Violist - started age 14; active freelancer in the Toronto area

4) Violist - started age 16; Dean of music performance at a major university; formerly principal of a major orchestra; performs regularly with Soloists and principal players from North America and Europe

5) Cellist - started age 16 (started piano quite young); formerly principal of several regional orchestras; received Masters from USC; teaches at major Canadian School; has already raised many students - amongst the finest young musicians in the city

6) Violinist - started in here teens; studied and practiced as a nurse; in her twenties, decided she wanted to play in the symphony; retiring this year after 30+ years

Some key ingredients in no particular order (for us all, whether we started young or old):

1) Lots of luck - being at the right place at the right time

2) People who believe in you

3) A teacher who believes in you, who knows how to build a violinist

4) Commitment, patience, discipline, confidence

5) Some raw skills: pitch recognition and memory; coordination and body awareness

6) Some smarts: analytical skills; social skills

7) Love of the instrument and the art

8) Lastly, probably most importantly, self-knowledge and belief in self

And if we figure out how to bake it... our very own slice of pie in the sky

Take heart!


May 31, 2006 at 07:55 PM · That's very reassuring. A lot of times I feel depressed because I started so late (15) and I'm at the back of the orchestra. Then I feel a little better when I remind myself that the other people in the orchestra probably weren't as advanced as me after they'd been playing for 4 years. It's still hard to feel cheerful, though. Knowing that other people like me made it makes me feel a lot better about myself.

June 1, 2006 at 04:14 AM · Dear Pascale,

I know of many who started late in life and who play in fine community orchestras (One student of a friend started in his fifties and now plays in the Cathedral Bluffs Orchestra in Toronto).

But I think your approach may be a bit cerebral. (didn't Sherlock Holmes also wonder why *he* couldn't just pickup the damn thing and play it?) You can learn the violin like you do math, abstractly, but you wouldn't hear what you learn - well, you could learn to hear it in your head, just as you could learn to see math in your head. But to make a sound, you have to think (become aware of your movement - our language is very limited when describing how we experience ourselves) like a golfer, practice like a golfer, and learn to sink hole-in-1's thousands of times a day. But a golfer knows immediately that the ball went in the hole. As a violinist you must also learn to relate what you see on the page to the sound you make, and recognize whether it's correct. You must learn your strokes like a golfer, moving the bow by reaching in and out diagonly to your side in a way that's not normally done in day to day life (not to mention the twisted left arm shaking wildly about like some kind of Italian hand gesture). You gotta swing like a golfer but develop the hands of a neural surgeon, learning to feel, ultimately hear, the strings with your fingertips through the bow, as a blindman sees with his walking stick (but notice the blindman has a learning advantage in his disadvantage - he's forced to focus on the sensations in his hands). When you start to get a handle on all this, you're ready to start painting with your sound, bringing out colors, textures, motion, and emotion, all the while phrasing and articulating in a style appropriate to the piece you interpret (differentiating Mozart's elegant antics from Schubert's sweet, lyrical simplicity from Beethoven's sometimes schizoid, sometimes brooding, sometimes noble, always changing mannerisms, just to name a few). But man, you gotta be rhythmic like a drummer, coordinated like a juggler, and you gotta be in step with your section like a Tango dancer. On top of all that, above all, you must become your own teacher and coach, analysing, critiquing, disciplining, encouraging, motivating yourself all the way to the concert - 'cause really 1 hour a week isn't a lot of time to get much done (try to get 2x45 min lessons per week).

I don't mean to discourage by trying to answer your question. Each thing in and of itself is, as you pointed out, an activity that's done by many people, all the time, everywhere. It's when you try to do it all at once that the average human brain (and the control does lie in the brain, or the attention, or the spirit - whatever you want to call it) blows a fuse, or short circuits, or starts asking why. Patience. Tease out all the individual things you need to do in a given activity (such as playing a scale) and do one thing at a time, with all you're focus and attention on that one thing for a few minutes everyday (twice a day if you can manage it), whether it's nameing notes, feeling finger patterns, placing your thumb with your second finger, dropping the shoulder blades down and back, and on and on. You'll be surprised at how quickly it comes. Then make lists of reminders and cycle your attention through each item on each list while, for example, playing an arppeggio. Then do two things at a time, three, etc. No matter what else you do in your practice, this attending to each thing is the only way we can develop new habits. Now here's the good news. Unless you're Michael Rabin, most kids who start at 4 learn in 5 years what the adult could learn in 1. Whereas most children learn by rote and mimicking, the grown up can learn consciously. So, on average, it takes much less time for the grown up to learn to play the violin. Galamian used to say that it takes 6 years to build a violinist, no matter when you start - and we know what kind of violinist he was used to building. So, it ain't a walk in the park, but in answer to your question, a resounding yes!

Happy fiddling,


June 1, 2006 at 04:20 AM · I started when I was 10 but never played out of first position and never learned vibrato because I left my violin in school for 5 years and never brought it home(orchestra met every other day during the school year). Then I picked it up again when I was 17 after not playing at all for 2 years. I got private lessons and practiced a little for the first year after that. Then I was inspired by a performance and began to practice between 4 and 7 hours a day. In 6 months after I first picked it up again I scratched through the Bach Double. In a year I could play it well. In a year and a half I performed Tzigane. After two years I played Paganini caprices 13 and 23 at my jury (13 perfectly in tune and 23 nearly perfectly). Now, 3 years later and 20 years old, I just finished the first movement of Paganini concerto #1 and am working on the cadenza, have studied the bruch, mendellsohn, prokofiev #1 and wieniawski #2 concerti, and just started working on the Bach chaconne.

I don't think it's ever too late to start. I did play piano from the age of six so that gave me some advantage, but if you are musically inclined and you are inspired you can take it as far as you want to. As with most things in life, you get out of it what you put into it. So if you practiced in a disciplined manner for 5 hours a day, you will be astonished at what you can do two or three years down the road.

June 1, 2006 at 04:47 AM · I started playing violin with jazz and folk music at 14, and started classical at 16. Just remember that even if you play something 100 times and it still sucks, chances are you'll come back to it the next day and it will be perfect. If you dont give up or accept being behind, you wont fail.

June 1, 2006 at 04:43 AM · This is not a violin issue, but it's quite similar.

At age 19, I wanted to be a professional jazz guitarist. Even though I had never played the guitar before and couldn't even name the strings, the desire consumed me maybe even more than becoming a professional classical violinist did.

I went out, found the best teachers I could, learned the basics, and then went on my own for over 10 years. I never stopped practicing, and I never set a goal of "I must be X by Y date". I just kept trying to play the guitar as I heard it in my head, which was difficult because what I was hearing in my head kept changing as I kept learning new tricks!

Finally after a lot of struggle, things did start to stabilize. When I was ready, I started offering myself around town to the contractors as a jazz guitar lounge lizard. I don't play jazz guitar around town much nowadays only because I'm gigging all the time on violin, but I am ready to go at a moment's notice because I'm always staying ready.

Learning jazz guitar was tough because it wasn't just a totally new instrument, it was a totally new idiom. I had grown up reading scores and doing classical theory, but jazz harmony and style was a whole different universe. It was just as hard as learning the violin, maybe more so because the jazz idiom as a whole is less "teachable" than the classical idiom. But I persevered because I wanted to do the same kinds of things George Van Eps and Joe Pass and Johnny Smith and Chet Atkins were doing.

If you want it bad enough, you'll be willing to pay the price.

June 1, 2006 at 04:53 AM · I think, before the inevitable flame wars begin, that Jacob needs to define "amount to anything". How about it? Before any more beside-the-point posts go up?

June 1, 2006 at 07:04 PM · Dera Jeewon Kim,

Thanks for all the advices. I had 2 students as teachers but that did not work so I have now a violinist from the OSM as tacher(Montreal symphony Orchestra), he is great. I will try to follow all your advices because they are very wise.

I love violin, and I will be very patient, I even change of job, so I could practice more (I do not know if this is wise, I do believe that beeing happy is more important than being rich!)

Thanks for the encouragement, and say congratulation to he person in the orchestra that ou mention this is fabulous!

Many, many thanks!! (sorry for my english)

June 3, 2006 at 10:50 AM · You're most welcome Pascale!

Best wishes,


June 3, 2006 at 12:03 PM · I suggest a violin face-off, live, between Kevin and Emil. Kevin can display his fabulous playing in Paganinis 24 Caprices. How about it guys. Im currently taking bets. Theres gonna be blood....

June 3, 2006 at 01:36 PM · Yeah, probably MINE.

Emil is unquestionably a great classical violinist. Just look at his pedigree - he's done it all. He plays a lot more professional classical music than I do, and he does it in a way that really appeals to what people expect out of violinists today. All I do is get through the Caprices by memory as musically as I can without stopping in concert, and I don't currently harbor any illusions about playing them "better than anybody" since music isn't a competition anyway. I don't know about you john, but my money's on Emil! :)

I noticed that you're a guitar player too, john. Great!!!I have a soft spot for violinists who also play the guitar. What kind of music were you playing on the guitar?

Just as playing the violin first dramatically helped my guitar learning curve, I'm sure that playing the guitar first helped you gain professional skill much more quickly. Since I went from violin to guitar and you went from guitar to violin, I'd be interesting in hearing from you how that worked to your advantage.

Speaking of Paganini Caprices, I've heard a few people play them on guitar. I once sat down and tried to get through #5 and made it almost completely through. I'm pretty sure that if I wanted it badly enough, I could play all of them on the guitar though probably not at the level of an Eliot Fisk. I've always thought of Paganini as a guitarist who happened to write for the violin, and that relates directly to this particular thread given Paganini's "prodigy" status.

June 3, 2006 at 01:57 PM · For Kevin -


June 3, 2006 at 03:24 PM · I've seen that clip, and it's incredible. Thanks Aoeliann Harkin (what a COOL first name)!

I am not a classical guitarist by training, so I couldn't play the guitar like that. There's another girl playing Paganini on the violin from China on youtube, and I can't play Paganini like she can either. That's because I'm not the same style as either of these two players even though I technically play violin and guitar.

June 3, 2006 at 04:13 PM · Can we really do this face off right? Weapons of choice if the playoff comes out a tie. You could have the media cover the fight and medics standing by if there's blood.

There was Ali's "Thrilla in Manilla," This could by "Violence with Violins."

June 3, 2006 at 05:11 PM · Oh my goodness do I!...PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE, all of us (most of) decided to practice scales, felsch, sevcik and etudes an hour before the lesson when we were in elementary school ^_^. Since you're mature, dont make the same mistakes we made!

June 4, 2006 at 05:44 AM · When i was in high school (15 or 16 years old) i wanted to start playing violin but i was advised against it by the other music students because i would be "starting out a bit late" ... worst advice i ever followed.

Pascale Brabant: Do you by any chance know someone in your family who is named Marc-Antoine? He was a childhood friend of mine, his older sister played the piano. We have the exact same age (10 sep. 1976) so he sould be 29 by now.

June 3, 2006 at 07:58 PM · hi Eric,

Sorry no one (that I know)of that name in my family, sorry, but I will ask.

Take care

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