Giving up the violin

September 13, 2006 at 07:20 PM · At age 16, after a particularly demanding year, my son elected to discontinue his advanced violin studies to pursue a "normal life". We supported his decision and agreed with him that he might be more comfortable with a less stressful schedule. However, he is moping and seems unhappy. He understands this is his choice and if he asks for lessons, he may have them.

While I would agree the source of his issues might be different from others making similar choices, I am curious about other musician’s experiences, taking a break from, or permanently giving up studies.

Replies (23)

September 13, 2006 at 07:27 PM · I took a break for eight years and returned. I regret it, but I don't think I could have done it any other way, so I'll make the best of what I've done.

September 13, 2006 at 07:45 PM · Well I took a "sabaticale" for about 6 months. It was very refreshing and it was exactally what I needed. After the break I was playing more than ever...

September 13, 2006 at 08:09 PM · I quit violin twenty years ago, never went back, and never regretted it for a moment. The main driving forces were a broad range of interests and abilities that were nagging at me, not being able to deal with the idea that there were a fair number of kids who were better, and realizing it wasn't my best purpose/highest calling/area where I was able to contribute and be rewarded the most.

I can't speak about your son and I doubt anything you read here is going to help you understand him.

September 13, 2006 at 07:53 PM · There are no very simple answers here. I can only speak of my own experience. I began studying violin when I was 9 and continued through college. I had to stop when I went to medical school because of the grueling schedule of the first two years. I was like a fish out of water for those years. Music for me is one of the ways I have of understanding the world around me, without it I was bereft. I finally regained some equilibrium when I began to study again in my junior year. When I had to stop studying or at very least living a musical life during my internship and residency the same sense of having lost my mooring showed up again. That's just my experience but I'm not certain that others cannot relate to it. Music is a powerful influence on musicians and helps to stabilize our lives, it is not simply a nice diversion--would that it were, life would be a bit less complicated.

September 13, 2006 at 08:05 PM · ...if he's tired more of lessons than of the insturment, he could look for a spot (ie. community orchestra) where he only has to play - that might be more fun right now, and by still playing he won't loose any ground...

September 13, 2006 at 08:40 PM · I stopped playing for 25 years, my last and probably stupidest act of adolescent rebellion. Eventually, at age 45, I took it up again. While I did not really miss it much during the hiatus, I now regret the time I lost and am saddled with the thought that, although I am a better violinist now than when I quit, I could be still better. That said, everyone's situation is different. It is not clear from your post what exactly your son's issue was or whether temporarily channeling his violin interest into something other than classical studies might work.

September 13, 2006 at 09:39 PM · I echo Tom's comments. I studied from age 7-18, quit for about 15 years and started back 2 years ago. I regret ever giving up and now feel I didn't appreciate the experience while it was right in front of me. It bothers me to think where I might be now if I hadn't quite, but nothing I can do about it now.

September 13, 2006 at 10:19 PM · I've never actually quit, but I've come close--a lot of times when I was younger (from when I started at 3 up to about age 10) I would just refuse to practice for about a month or more at a time. As it turned out though, I often found myself getting mopey and gloomy, and finally I realized that as much as I hated practicing (still do sometimes...), I really couldn't give up the violin. If your son is all mopey and gloomy without the violin, he might be trying to tell himself something....

September 14, 2006 at 02:14 AM · Your son is doing what kids that age do, Virginia Sigh. He's finding himself.

If the violin is in his destiny, he'll come back to it on his own accord when he's ready.

September 14, 2006 at 11:00 AM · I quit twice and came back. I started playing when I was 7, in school, and played through college. The first time I quit was in graduate school. I was getting a PhD in a bench science (Neurobiology) and that was my priority. I was actually a little burned out after college anyway, and I'd started experiencing back pain when playing for a long time, like at an orchestra rehearsal. I took 5 and a half years to get the PhD, and it was a tough thing.

Then, when I was a postdoc, the stage after the PhD, I was making a few other changes in my life, and I decided as part of that I wanted to go back to the violin. It had been about 7 years since I stopped. I started taking lessons and practicing again and I auditioned for the orchestra at the university where I was a postdoc. It took me about 6 months, but at that time I achieved a higher level of skill than I ever had in the past. I worked hard, practiced pretty much every day, but it wasn't onerous. I enjoyed it. My teacher was really wonderful, maybe the best I'd ever had. I discovered the Alexander Technique and that helped me with my back pain. I sat there and played scales for the Alexander teacher and she made small adjustments to my posture while I played. Three-hour orchestra rehearsals and two-hour practice sessions were no longer excruciating.

Overall I had a feeling of "nothing to lose." I was about 29, and I was finally able to get over the nearly paralyzing fear I'd had of performing solo when I was younger. I was concertmaster of an orchestra for one concert, for the first time in my life. I also played a Brahms piano trio in a chamber group. During that performance, in the fourth movement, the piano literally fell apart. I heard our pianist struggling (which he normally did not do), and then a big BANG. The pedals had fallen off the piano. We recovered from it, they fixed the piano during intermission, and we came back afterwards and played the movement again. I didn't have it nearly as bad as the pianist, but still, when I was younger, before the hiatus, that incident would have made me into a complete basket case and I wouldn't have been able to come back and perform again (letting down the cellist and pianist). But with my "what have I got to lose" attitude, I was able to keep a sense of humor about it and go on with the performance. I don't regret that hiatus from violin at all. It freed me from stress and pain, improved my attitude, and made me a better violinist.

However, I'm coming back from another gap now, and at 40, with 2 kids (the reason for the second gap), it's harder. I stopped playing when I was about 8 months pregnant with my daughter, fat and exhausted. Then I had another baby a few years later. They are now 7 and 3. I'm thinking, I did it before and I can do it again. But I have a lot less time now than I used to, even when I was in graduate school. This time, my 7-yo is also interested in playing the violin, and we're playing together. We play the Suzuki Book 1 duets. I've got a new book of Irish Fiddle music that I love. Yes, I should get a teacher again for myself. But I've decided to save that for next year, when my younger son is in preschool. Then I will have more child care and time for myself. I think a realistic goal for me is to try to get back into a local community orchestra. The Boston area where I live has one called the Longwood Symphony for medical professionals, where I've discovered that some of my professional colleagues play. There are other adult retreads who play there as well, and yet the quality of the orchestra is extremely high. We'll see how that goes. It may take more than one audition and more than one year of practicing and lessons for me to get in, but I still have nothing to lose. I feel like I have time. I have a job, I have a career, I have a family. Who cares if I am 42 or 43 when I start in the orchestra?

So, I'm thinking here at midlife, that it's helpful to take the long view, even in violin study. You can come back, even multiple times, if that's what you want. You do have to give up what may be cherished notions of your own prodigy-ness, but for most people those notions are pretty silly anyway . . . and you may find that older and/or amateur and/or non-traditional performers and performance venues are more interesting to you as you age, as well.

My daughter asked me the other day if we could play together in the T station. Neither of us is ready for that at this point--around here, the performers in the T station have permission to play there, and are pretty darn good. But I thought, someday, why not?

Karen Allendoerfer

September 14, 2006 at 01:35 PM · Virginia, I understand how you feel about this situation. I have a 16 year old daughter and we have been through that turbulent stage about 2 years ago.

When she got into the high school, she was overwhelemed by her schedule. Also the emotional stage of her age worked a lot. Now she is telling me that she didn't know what is music meant to be in her life at that time. She was just practice and perfor, practice and perform....without knowing what is going on.

Frankly say I am a very pushing mom but when it happend, I couldn't even say a single word. Instead I went to her violin teacher and discussed about it. He fully acknowleged the situation and helped her a lot. First of all, he cut down all the performances, minimized her repertoir to work on and arrange the lesson every other week. In every lesson, they had a lengthy discussion what I still don't know about. Also he persuaded her continue to attend the precollege where she was belonging. Actually she really likes her friends in the precollege than her high school, it wasn't that hard to her to stay in the musical enviroment.

Without any pressure from outside, she has gradually came back to the spot where she was and few months ago, told me that she wants to be a musician.

I don't know how much your son is serious about violin and what level he is in but it is worth to have a discussion with his violin teacher. And I think providing him a casual musical enviroment is better than abandoning violin study completely at once. He will come up with his own decesion whether it takes 3 months or 3 years.

I will pray for your son.


September 15, 2006 at 02:59 PM · I appreciate other posters' comments about destiny and getting back with violin if it's the right thing. I don't feel like I chose violin, definitely it chose me. There was a time-- I look back and I'm surprised I survived it-- four years long that I quit music cold turkey. Finished biochemistry degree, worked at bench in laboratory. Hated life. I regret it, but there were benefits. One benefit I credit to the break is better, wider listening. Better musicianship, period. I think violinists in particular often can get blindered vision and tunneled hearing that makes them nearly oblivious to what lacks violin-- be it simply bass frequency range, other instruments sharing the stage, or even complete genres or cultures of music. Time off from violin opened my ears. Returning to violin after time away is demoralizing, because listening and standards remain intact longer than muscle memory and technique. But regaining and surpassing past playing came for me in only a few months after four years completely away... I think practice is smarter and more efficient after time away. More fun, actually! But as far as really achieving potential, I don't think I can ever replace those important four years off.... Or maybe it's those five I should have played before my actual late start?? Who can ever know "what if"?? No question, though: I need music-- actually to make music-- to handle it every day. I'm not human without it. Too bad, in a way. Life has been really hard for me. Good luck with choices.

September 15, 2006 at 04:00 PM · I have been keenly interested in the remarks and reflections of all who responded. I want to thank you for your helpfulness to me, and your helpfulness to the parents of many teenagers, who, I am certain were also interested. It is nice to know there are so many who are willing to assist others.

Jay Azneer: Thank you. It is nice to have some insight. My son is not feeling especially verbal and hearing from you (and others) helps to confirm or expand my understanding of his present situation. His problem has also been about "time", although, seems to be more about having time available for "belonging" and "having friends". At the time he discontinued his lessons, his schedule varied, but he averaged 15 hours weekly participation in violin activities. Frequent weekend obligations resulted in a tendency on the part of his friends to assume he was busy, even when he wasn't. He is more social now and I think he is happy about that. Your reflection about music's influence rings true, and I do think he is unhappy about the present lack of it.

N. A. Mohr: Your suggestion about orchestra is a good one. Several years ago, his enthusiasm for his orchestra experience kept him involved when he became frustrated with more difficult pieces requiring advanced skills. Presently, he has indicated he doesn't want to participate in orchestra, and his other ensembles as well.

Tom Holzman: You are correct about channeling his interest. He has expressed an interest in jazz violin. I checked with several classical teachers to see if they would be comfortable teaching jazz, and searched our area for jazz string teachers without results. He loves Venuti, Grappelli, and Ponty. Finding qualified teachers who have an interest is a problem. We have tried to work with a jazz pianist who was able to address the areas of theory and improvisation, but he wasn't even required to take his violin to those sessions. However, we may have to look at that approach once again. Any suggestions would be welcome.

Rick Floress: I think, on an intellectual level, my son understands this, as you probably did when you were 18. At some point, your regret is something he may share. That being said, there is a lot of emotional distance between understanding with your head and understanding with your heart. I wonder if you could go back and "redo" your past, if the level of discomfort you are feeling about what you chose to do, would cause you to make different choices? I suspect my son has issues he has to sort through now, and doing it later could prove to be more costly to him. He may not have all the answers, but I believe he is wise to do this.

Maura Gerety: Did your teacher allow you to continue lessons without practicing? I've heard some teachers are like that. I think my son's teacher would not feel respected and my son would be acutely aware of that. His teacher would frequently remind him that he was not living up to expectations.

Kevin Huang: You sound like you have a philosophy that would be contagiously fun. If I had two wishes it would be that you lived closer and that you taught at least a few students!

From Karen Allendoerfer

Karen Allendoerfer: I've always enjoyed reading your well considered and articulate posts, and am happy you responded. I imagine many parents of young violinists are finding your posts very educational. I wish I had been able to look at this site 9 years ago. It would have saved me time, energy, and mental anguish.

My son has yet to develop the feeling of "nothing to lose", you so humorously described. I think if a piano fell apart in a recital, my son would have fallen apart right along with it. Well, that's an exaggeration, but he would have been very, very tense!

I have given some thought to his "cherished notions of .. prodigy-ness"! We live in a small town. He played with some world class violinists this summer and, definitely, he had his eyes opened while working with them. His thoughts about a career path shifted. As adolescents are apt to do, he saw things in black and white. Clearly, there is a lot of middle ground he left unexplored. The shift was very necessary. Before, he practiced and performed without any question about whether he wanted to do it. If his teacher asked him, he did it. His father and I are hopeful, his present discomfort will help to motivate him to find the middle ground, and best of all, the "nothing to lose" attitude. Or, perhaps, he will find something new that will engage his passion. We're really not sure.

Melissa K: I was touched by your comments and also liked hearing about your daughter's teacher's response to her situation.. A few older students who attended my son's small school graduated in the spring. He really enjoyed his interaction with these students, Now my son is the oldest. The younger children look up to him, however, there are no students his own age. Perhaps this is another reason why he is stepping back.

If I thought his teacher would be able to give him some space, that would be my first choice. She is an excellent teacher, but she wears two hats. She is a teacher and she is the director of the school. This school struggles to maintain high standards in a market that is very blue collar. Sometimes she needs her best students to take on more responsibilities. It isn't fair, but life rarely is. She tends to dismiss student concerns to promote school objectives. If it is good for the school, it is good for the student. To be fair, I understand, resources are limited. However, it isn't realistic to believe the issue of meeting expectations would not continually arise.

And thank you for your prayers. I think all parents need them!

Thanks again, to all for responding.

Virginia Sigh

September 15, 2006 at 07:39 PM · Virginia - any jazz musician who can teach jazz, regardless of the instrument they play, should be able to give him what he needs to become a jazz violinist. I have a high school classmate who is an excellent jazz trumpeter at University of VA and teaches violinists. If your son's classical technique is good, then his only issues will be to learn about how to be a jazz musician in general terms of theory and practice. You should see if your local conservatory has someone.

September 15, 2006 at 08:10 PM · Do not let him do it! I quit playing violin around the same age. It wasn't "cool" and I was embarrassed to be carrying it around at school. I am now 30, just starting to play again, and regretting every minute I was away from it.

September 15, 2006 at 08:29 PM · Tom Holzman: Thank you. I will look into this. The jazz pianist was very enthusiastic, but seemed most comfortable with the piano. It seemed like even a little bit of violin playing would have been a good thing. My son was quite comfortable and his piano skills were returning quickly, but it didn't appear to be proceeding as planned. We are continuing to look at all options.

Katie P: Hmmm..Thank you, but the days are over when I "let" my son do anything...LOL. I think he gets to make his own choices within limits. This issue is an area he decides.


September 15, 2006 at 09:02 PM · Virginia,

I just did a quick search for other styles of playing violin in the state of michigan. Several options are listed... including:

I have to admit.. that I am heavily into fiddle playing. However :) I think that perhaps a young person might be "re-ignited" into the music world by looking at alternative options to have fun with the violin. Perhaps a visit to some fiddle events... and/or try to find Natalie MacMasters in concert in your part of the country... or other fiddlers.

Best wishes to you. You sound like a caring and smart Mom!


September 15, 2006 at 09:15 PM · Maybe he just needs a new teacher... I wish someone gave me that suggestion when I was in high school. I have always loved violin a lot, but I got very unmotivated during highschool and I could not figure out why. I thought it was just because I was busy. Looking back it was because I no longer really respected my violin teacher and we were rapidly growing apart. However, I had had my violin teacher so long that I never even thought about looking for a differnt teacher. Now, I am in college with an amazing violin teacher and am playing more than ever.

September 15, 2006 at 10:48 PM · Greetings,

actually that`s a very good point. The biggst mistake of my youth, among the many, was not changing teacher when it was absolutely crucial to go elsewhere.

As usual, hindsight is 20/20 vision.



September 15, 2006 at 10:54 PM · Thanks for the kudo, Virginia Sigh, but trust me - you don't want ME for your son's teacher! I'm pretty lousy for all sorts of reasons.

One should never forget that the whole point of playing music is to HAVE FUN. If music playing becomes so tedious that the fun is stamped out, the whole purpose of playing music is defeated.

So when it comes to your son's music training, Virginia, I'd suggest giving him space and allowing him to find himself. It's easy for parents to unknowingly exert subconscious pressure on children to do certain things that the children themselves may not necessarily want to do. Music is too optional a life path to warrant continual familial pressure.

Besides, your son may have some other ability that his inner voice is screaming at him to pursue. He'll need time and energy to invest in that endeavor, whatever it is.

September 15, 2006 at 11:44 PM · What a great discussion! Thanks to all who are taking part in it.

I too am starting back up later in life. I put playing violin on the back burner for the better part of twenty years to focus on developing my skills as a writer, keyboardist, pianist and composer/songwriter. After completing my MFA in writing last year, I decided to pick it back up again, and I'm very pleased with my decision. I'm joyfuly pushing my way through Doflein (midway through book three), and looking forward to going on past the series to...something, probably playing jazz and contemporary, as well as playing in my recordings. Ultimately, I'd love to be a session player, as my improvising chops are one of the things I did manage to keep up in the interim -- but bottom line, the main reason I'm playing again is because I missed it to the point of aching.

Why did I stop? To be honest, I had a great deal of difficulty finding a teacher that I clicked with. By classical pedagogic standards, I started playing late (13 or 14), and as I'm sure many of you know, that's viewed as bordering on antiquarian in the eyes of some teachers. Further, I used to be more defeatist in my outlook than I am now (teenage angst), and eventually, the not-so-subtle hints that I may be better off pursuing other musical pastures caught up with me. I don't give up on things easily, but after the fourth teacher, I decided to move on.

Do I have regrets? Well...not really. If I had it to do again, I would signed up with a more sympathetic teacher, but so it goes. I do wish I would have kept up a bit more over the years -- but I managed to keep at least somewhat fresh, so after a couple of months of rather sonically painful reorientation to drills and repertoire, I'm back on track. (I'm also glad that I used the time away from playing violin to develop other creative skills; it doesn't feel so much like a loss as much as a life choice.) The negativity that was thrust in my general direction when I was studying in my teens still gets under my skin, but that's life -- some people just love to hate on others, especially if they're getting paid to do so. :shrugs:

That all being said, I'm really glad I kept playing during my long hiatus, even if it was intermittent at best -- and the development of my other skills as a musician have definitely helped, both in terms of confidence and in transferable skills.

Current daily drill: major scales and arpeggios, two octaves; Doflein book three; improvising some afterwards.

Goals: completing Doflein, then finding another series to continue with; better bow control; playing with others; eventually, session work and incorporation into songs and compositions.



September 16, 2006 at 08:09 PM · Virginia - one further thought. Jazz violinists are a rare breed, so that is why you have to look for a jazz musician who plays another instrument.

September 17, 2006 at 04:22 PM · It is my opinion that all violinists regardless of style should learn how to play some sort of harmonic instrument.

This is because learning harmony changes the way one approaches the violin. Even when playing by oneself, knowing the harmony changes one's tempered pitch and phrasing. I can always tell when a violinist understands his harmony because I can hear it in his phrasing and intonation.

Jazz is one of those things where one needs to be thrown into the fire. "Learning by burning".

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