What is considered unattainable for late starters?

March 31, 2018, 7:12 PM · Hi, I am a late starter, and this is my first post.

So there are no late starter world-class violinists. I believe, however, that a late starter, if trained well, can sound as good as a professional if the piece is easy enough. I'm curious to know about the repertoires that are considered inaccessible for a late starter, and what techniques exactly in the repertoire that are inaccessible (e.g., intonation, left hand pizzicato, double stops, etc...)

What's the furthest you have ever seen a late starter go? Can a late starter play Vivaldi's presto well enough, or one of the more advanced pieces like the caprices by Paganini? And by well enough, I mean in a way that's free of mistakes and with the right tempo.

Basically, I am curious to know what my limits will be. Will I ever be able to play pieces that are full of richochet bowing like Paganini's 1st caprice? Or will I ever be able to play Bach's adagio?

I understand that people are different and that there are many factors involved, so I'll never know an exact answer to my question unless I've practiced for perhaps a decade. But I think that observations about late starters can give a rough estimate.

Thanks in advance.

Replies (191)

Edited: March 31, 2018, 9:58 PM · Depends on what you mean by late starter. I've met several teenage starters who play in regional professional orchestras. The extreme example is Terje Moe Hansen, who started at 19 and became a soloist and conservatory professor.

I started in my late teens. I'm now learning the Walton viola concerto at 35.

I personally don't think there are limits for people who start as teenagers or young adults. Later than that, physical limitations may become an issue. (Then again, I've also met someone who started at 50 and is on sub lists for a couple regional professional orchestras in her late 60s.)

March 31, 2018, 10:22 PM · Technically, nothing is impossible....Realistically anything listed as an 8 or above on http://www.violinmasterclass.com/ will most likely not be possible for the vast majority of late starters...I don't think there is a single case of a late starter playing anything from the level 10 repertoire.
March 31, 2018, 11:52 PM · For most late starters, the main limitation is the amount of time that can be devoted to learning the instrument. If you have to support yourself, you can't practice for hours every day, and often scheduling lessons around a full-time work schedule is difficult.
April 1, 2018, 1:28 AM · Not know what is the definition of late, in terms of onset of puberty or other? Compared with common people living before WWII, malnutrition is rare today, which means that kids growing more rapidly than before. I know among Italians, many started relatively late can play Paganini capricci, for example Piero Farulli, from a shoemaker family, not had chance to touch instrument, started violin at 14 and later became violist and violinist, once teaching in Scuola di Fiesole, one of my former teachers was his student.

Because the sample around the world is very limited, I do not know any old people’s routine as violin learner for over ten years with daily practice of at least three hours, in my opinion, any adult with moderate or relatively higher intelligence with at least three hours practice per day will finish six or nine capricci of Paganini within ten years, because the method is applicable and universal, but qualities of playing depend. But you should ask for virtuosi as your teachers, not common ones, while this task is very costing. Most adults consider violin playing as leisure, not a goal, they will not set goals like “I will achieve what works at what time”, etc, thus they are unwilling to devote enough time into it.

April 1, 2018, 3:31 AM · Happpy Easter and welcome M.Hemeda!
April 1, 2018, 5:14 AM · Late starting for me as a violinist was in my early 60s - although I'd already had a lifetime of cello playing before and therefore had some idea of the relationship between bow and strings - so I've never really thought about the solo violin repertoire, certainly as far as the higher reaches are concerned.

I have an enjoyable musical life playing in orchestras and for folk dancers, and English and Irish folk music. The orchestral repertoire is doing a fine job of extending my technique as far as required without having to immerse myself in etudes.

My teacher, a professional performer, didn't believe that immersion in etudes and exam syllabuses was the way to go for a mature adult, but she provided a solid foundation for my technique via the Suzuki books, an underlay of Alexander Technique, the occasional etude, and a lot of other music, in the process showing me by example how to teach myself later on.

As an aside, perhaps because of this background, I would be attracted to an etude only if it had real musical value in itself and as a performance piece.

April 1, 2018, 7:55 AM · You haven't said how old you are, so we can give no answer. However, you can do the math yourself.
Violin researchers have come up with the well-known TLR Index (Trainability Lapse Rate), which gives the exact amount of decline per year. Just plug in your age:

LR=A (IQ+SAT/cos vF+T)

LR=expected amount of decline per year
A=age at start
IQ=IQ
SAT=what you scored
F=finger size
T=spare time


April 1, 2018, 8:51 AM · Scott, can you cite the source? The formula appears to suggest smarter ( higher IQ) folks decline at a greater rate := )
Edited: April 1, 2018, 2:19 PM · A cosine in this sort of equation is strange, I would have expected perhaps an inverse exponential function for the decline. There is also something missing from the equation - a constant for today's date ;)

April 1, 2018, 10:31 AM · Trevor, I am sure it is a joke: )
April 1, 2018, 10:32 AM · Definitely a joke.
April 1, 2018, 10:43 AM · Cosines linked to finger length? Maybe something to do withfinger curvature, or the arc-shpaed finger-fall? Does this part of the formula make longer or shorter fingers lapse their trainability faster?

I imagine it takes the adult, or near adult, longer to achieve that combination of strength, flexibilty, precision and speed in their joints than it does for children. I started at nearly 15 (but with 5 yeazrs of piano behind me) and I have never had reflexes as fast as a few of my best students.

On the other hand, having to find neat solutions to my own and others' shortcomings has made me a better teacher, and I think not too much Trainabilty Lapse as a performer..

April 1, 2018, 10:50 AM · The only way to find out is to go for it.
I suggest you set your limits at the Ysaye Sonatas for Solo Violin and enjoy every step of the journey that shows you how close you get. Don't neglect orchestra and chamber music possibilities along the way.

Of course the equation is a "joke." "v" is undefined and the units are undefined and are the nonsense equivalent of adding "apples and oranges."

Happy April Fools Day!

Edited: April 1, 2018, 1:34 PM · M. Hemeda,

Interesting that you pose your question in the negative voice. What is anyone able to accomplish in the area of playing the violin? The answer is: whatever the individual is willing to do to achieve their goals. Since we don't know what your goals are, it is impossible to say which ones are unobtainable.

As a late-starter, my initial goals were quite modest. I simply wanted to fulfill a childhood desire and learn how to play the instrument and perhaps play the violin in church some Sundays. Later in my development I was invited to join an inter-generational community orchestra where I played for years. I accomplished my goals, learned a lot about the violin and music theory and enjoyed playing.

Through a weird series of events I started teaching a young musician (who could not afford lessons and in a school system that doesn't have a string program) passing him, and others, along when the professionals were willing to give them scholarships and take them further along.

So, I've done more than what I ever expected to accomplish but then again, my goals were quite modest. Most importantly I've been able to and continue to be able to make music on the instrument that captured my interest way back in seventh grade.

Of course, if your goal is to be the next top soloist on the planet... As the saying goes: "Don't quit your day job."

April 1, 2018, 1:59 PM · All-- For those that don't know him, Scott C. can be a very funny guy.
April 1, 2018, 2:17 PM · The question is more whether ones life will be sustainable enough for ones goals.

As a working adult, I know for me three hours practice per day is virtually impossible (re tutti violono's post). One has to come back from work, eat something, sometimes do gym or some exercises, maybe talk to a friend or family
...then I manage 1 to 1.5 hours ...2 if I don't go to gym. An hour wind down then dodo (sleep) as the French say. 3 hours a day means you're doing nothing aside from work and violin (and the other stuff for survival). That isn't healthy (no physical exercise, no reading...etc).

In my opinion one should not look too far ahead. If one looks too far ahead anyway there's only a big black hole. Better to focus on the daily hurdles and challenges just learning violin presents.

What is left out of the discussion, in my opinion, is how efficient the teacher's lessons. You could do five hours a day practicing with a cloudy muddled understanding of what you're doing after a weekly lesson where the teachers best attempt zt teaching was :you must work on your intonation.
You could do an hour or two of clearly broken down practice units that were well explained and supervised by the teacher who had the analytic mindset to.pinpoint why you were out of tune at one point or another. This second scenario ensures quicker progress.

April 2, 2018, 7:20 AM · V is a coefficient=.0821.
Actually, wait, it might be 1235813. You can also substitute 1/LSAT if you took it.

Plug in either and see what you get.


April 2, 2018, 7:55 AM · Mr/Mrs Hemeda you still have not told us what you meant by late starter. That would help greatly to answer your question. If you are 12yrs old, that is a lot different than if you are 50.
April 2, 2018, 8:05 AM · I agree with Trevor about études;: I find it better to do fully aware, analytical, repetitive practice of extracts of repertoire (solo, chamber or orchestral). But I may take Kreutzer's on vacation since these études have a real musical structure.

I have always prefered sharing with students what I have (which ain't bad!) rather than aiming for the more lonely and stressful summits. Question of temperament, no doubt.

April 2, 2018, 8:18 AM · Instead of asking what is unattainable I would ask what is attainable, and do you enjoy the ride?

I believe there are many "variables" in the equation.I started in my 50's.

Due to a two year health setback I haven't made the kind of progress I had hoped I would make. I still managed to practice during that time however not in the way I would have.Even now with my work schedule I don't have lots of time to practice. I'm "back on the horse" though and I hope to improve.3 hours a day is unattainable for me.I might get 11/2-2 hours in on a good day.

Because of these things I have tended to feel as if I'm devolving in my playing at times.I know I have had to re learn a few things.This has all been very frustrating and has led to a love/hate relationship with my violin.I think we older players probably share some of the same kinds of struggles.Add to this I still haven't found an instrument/bow that I feel I can speak my heart into.

Other factors which may contribute to a faster progress are a healthy environment to learn in and grow with other players, a good teacher and learning the right material.
In my area there is a local orchestra but their level of acceptance is quite high.Too high for me right now. The only other classical music venue for me to access is mainly designed with younger musicians in mind. So for me it's either too much or too little. No in between.There's a senior citizen group that meets. They meet during the day while I'm working so I guess I'm too young for that group.I am a good 10-20 years younger than them.

On the plus side, there are a myriad of local sessions that play folk music where I know the people there and you always feel welcome, so I mostly go to those and learn that music.I attend the occasional music workshop when I can.

It seems to me you are mostly referring to music in a classical context or this might be your main interest.Improvement all depends on how well you can nurture that interest.I'll admit most folk music doesn't have nearly the depth that classical music does.

I am realistically planning to be a pretty good player in 8-10 more years if I live that long. I have seen older people do really well later in life.
Maybe a few can relate to this- There have been things I didn't do in my life because I reasoned there wasn't enough of this or that, time included. In all of those cases I wish I had gone with my gut feeling and done it. So this time I'm doing it come what may. If I were 85 and the doc told me I had 6 months to live it might be a different choice. Most of us don't know how long we'll be around.If you realistically have 10-15 more years that you believe you'll be good enough to practice I say stay at it and attain as much as you can.Even 5 years of productive practice can yield acceptable results for some.

Edited: April 3, 2018, 2:46 PM · The thing is, if you're a really late starter, when you're in your dotage you'll want people to remark that that old guy must have been really good at one time. That would make my day.
April 2, 2018, 10:12 AM · To be half-serious and semi-quantitative:
Technical skill level, on a 0--10 scale, would be a complex function, with multiple variables. The factors would be age, starting age, # years of weekly lessons, uninterrupted daily practice, # hours of practice, talent..
The resulting curve would have a strong positive slope ages 3--30? a long plateau, and then an unavoidable decline, negative slope after age ?6_? Then, in any physical science math. model, there is a constant, a.k.a "Flanigans finnageling Factor" -that number, when added, subtracted, multiplied, or divided by the number you got, gives you the number you wanted. :-) ~ jq
April 2, 2018, 11:39 AM · This omits the WF = wife factor. This is the number of wives you'll go through as a result of excessive time in practice ;)>
April 2, 2018, 11:42 AM · Dear all, thanks for your helpful answers and for being welcoming. And sorry for ambiguously using the term late starters. Personally, I am in my mid twenties and I've started about a year ago. And happy Easter everyone

April 2, 2018, 1:34 PM · Everything is possible, just not likely. But put into perspective that also not every early beginning infant ever plays advanced Paganini either. So I would stop worrying about the "attainable" (which is a big unknown, with so many variables depending on the individual, specific training, circumstances, etc.) and work to be the best violinist you can be, day by day-which is itself a huge undertaking.

I don't like putting limits on late starters based firstly on the facts (I do NOT know what a person can or can't achieve, within reason), and more importantly, because the reasoning as follows: "mediocrity is the way to go-you are a late starter, you know!" is not very inspiring, much less conducive towards advanced violin playing.

Edited: April 2, 2018, 3:44 PM · As a late starter (31 years old) I am genuinely curious as to how far I could go with Violin repertoire.

There has been no definitive answer thus far. Or, could someone kindly point out maybe, what repertoire, in your teaching/learning experience, not accessible to a late starter who started at a) late teens and b) 30 plus years old?

As far as I know, all the romantic concertos and anything harder than Bruch concerto (such as Paganini, most Sarasate pieces) are generally not playable by both groups (late teens or 30 plus). Of course there will be exceptions but is this generally the case? Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Also, what is the most difficult classical piece you have observed or taught a late starter (30-ish) playing successfully (passably)?

I hope these are also the questions the OP is interested in.

Do you have any ideas? Thank you very much in advance.

P/S My personal question, is it possible for a 30-ish late starter to learn how to play Praeludium and Allegro and (a bit unlikely) Sarasate's Zapateado in you opinion? I love those two pieces <3

April 2, 2018, 5:44 PM · "Also, what is the most difficult classical piece you have observed or taught a late starter (30-ish) playing successfully (passably)?"

Haven't observed directly, but as I mentioned, I've met someone who started at 50 and has subbed in two regional orchestras. Presumably she would have had to play a major concerto (above Bruch level) just to get on the sub list.

I'm pretty sure I will be able to play the Walton viola concerto more than passably by the end of 2018, and that's far above Bruch violin concerto in difficulty, but then I was in the age 15-29 category of late starter rather than 30+.

April 2, 2018, 5:47 PM · Thank you @Andrew!
April 2, 2018, 7:21 PM · Will, the necessary (but not sufficient) conditions for kids to advance are (1) a good teacher (2) effective, focused practice of at least 3 hours a day. That should also apply to adult beginners (who may face additional challenges).
April 3, 2018, 2:29 AM · 3 hours? I don't think it's necessary for adults. I did that for about 8 months in 2007-08 (age 24-25) and about a month at the end of 2015 (age 32), but other than those times I've rarely averaged more than an hour and a half a day. Shorter practice times will still add up over years, if the practice is focused and effective. If you've already missed the boat on getting into a conservatory, there's no need to rush to be at a certain level within a certain number of years. I estimate that, by the time I'm 40, I'll have accumulated as much focused, effective practice time as a 20-year-old conservatory student.

I also think a plateau above age 30 is not the end of improvement, or even the end of rapid improvement. I plateaued at "Bruch level" between ages 26 and 32 (it just happens the Bruch Romance is somewhat of a gateway to the Romantic and post-Romantic repertoire for violists), and then started to advance quickly again over the last three years.

Edited: April 3, 2018, 6:39 AM · Tutti, the Italian system sounds great. 300 euros or less a year and zero to Paganini in 10 years! Were it in the US, it would drive a lot of unregulated private studios, none of which can do zero to paganni for ALL of its students, out of business.

Andrew, the idea that adult beginners actually have more time than conservatory-bound kids is interesting and true for someone like the OP who is in his 20’s; it is less true for folks in their 50’s.

The most important element, I hope we can agree, is a *good* teacher! Often, that is missing for many (most?) adults.

Edited: April 3, 2018, 7:05 AM · Scott wrote, "V is a coefficient, 0.0821". That's the gas constant, so it suggests the origins of his equation are in classical statistical thermodynamics...

To M. Hemeda:

Welcome to violinist.com. Learning the violin at any age is a journey. It is a much faster and easier journey for small children because they do not have other things occupying their mental bandwidth and because learning the violin can be integrated well into their general mental development -- like learning a language (the "mother tongue" concept is central to the Suzuki Method). But if you are only focused on how good you're going to get at the end of that journey (which you do not know and nobody can predict), then you will not enjoy yourself and you are better off with another hobby like brewing your own beer.

There are plenty of adult beginners ("plenty" here still means less than 5%) who have got to the point where they can play one of the Mozart concertos and possibly also the first movement of the Bruch, as well as some of the less ambitious chamber repertoire. What these folks have in common is a steadfast, daily commitment to improvement and the time, mental energy, and funds to devote to that objective.

A reasonable first goal for an adult beginner would be to play all of the songs in the first volume of a standard method such as Suzuki with pleasing tone, reasonably accurate intonation, and reasonable facility with two or three basic bow strokes (legato and isolated staccato). 6 months might be a typical amount of time to reach this point for an adult beginner taking a weekly lesson and spending 45-60 minutes a day practicing.

One of the things adult beginners need to think about very carefully is that you do not have a lot of opportunity to unlearn mistakes and fix bad habits. Therefore it is absolutely critical to learn to play the violin properly from the outset under the guidance of an experienced and well-trained violin teacher. Reaching your goal with proper posture, hand positions, etc., is much more important than reaching it a month or two sooner.

April 3, 2018, 7:00 AM ·
April 3, 2018, 9:49 AM · The real question is not, "What level can a student who starts at X age get to?"

The real question is, "What level can a student get to, if they practice X hours a day for Y years, and during that time, get a 1-hour lesson each week with a competent teacher?"

You don't often get adult starters devoting serious time to the violin -- say, every day for two hours, without fail -- and so they don't make the kind of progress that, say, a teenaged student practicing that much, makes. And a lot of teenagers eventually run into roadblocks for various reasons, when they largely stop improving technically.

Enjoy the hobby, just keep in mind that if you want to be really good, you have to put in the hours.

April 3, 2018, 9:56 AM · Tutti violini, I think we may have some confusion over the terms we're using. I use "conservatory" to refer to a place for advanced training like Juilliard or Curtis, where the average age of students entering is around 18.
April 3, 2018, 10:06 AM · David: a good teacher is USUALLY required. There are exceptions. Albert Sammons, one of the leading British violinists in the first half of the 20th century, was taught by his father to intermediate level and almost completely self-taught beyond that. But obviously no one can really count on being one of those exceptions.
April 3, 2018, 10:24 AM · YOU set your limits. Don't let anyone else tell you what you can and cannot achieve. Just because it hasn't been done, doesn't mean it can't be done. Pour your heart into it and practice like crazy. You got this!
April 3, 2018, 1:35 PM · "'The real question is not, "What level can a student who starts at X age get to?"'

It's not a question. It'a a koan.

Whenever these questions come up, I picture an unfortunate novitiate in a hair shirt and sandals having to mull such a question 20 hours a day (while he's not sweeping the rock garden or something). He gives some quantitative-sounding answer like "a late starter can achieve Tchaikovsky but not Ernst" and the Master smiles and says "keep thinking Grasshopper..."

April 3, 2018, 1:39 PM · I had to LOL at Scott.
Edited: April 3, 2018, 2:40 PM · A vital factor seems to have been omitted from the Scott Cole Equation - the ratio between time spent in productive practice and the time spent on violinist.com, which time may (or may not in some rare instances) result in more efficient use of productive practice time.
April 3, 2018, 9:56 PM · "Grasshopper ... when you can play fingered tenths in left-hand pizzicato then you will be ready to leave."
Edited: April 4, 2018, 12:54 AM · I have these kind of conversations a lot with my teacher... I dedicate 2-3 hours daily to practice, in the weekends maybe more and it shows. According to my teacher, if I keep practicing like this, I will be able to become a very good violinist... But not a professional.
"Why?" I would ask.
And he would say that playing well is not enough. That because I am comfortably settled I will never have the fear, the panic that either crushes you or makes you able to do things otherwise impossible for you. He means the fear of that incoming audition that if you fail, the past 15 years were for nothing. The panic of not being able to get that prize or that grant. The pression of either nailing that audition or being unable to pay the rent and the pressure of having 2 weeks to learn what would normally take you 3 months.
He says that the wolves in the back are necessary to be in the top, and the musicians world is so competitive that only the top get a chance of living well out of it.
And I think he is right. Even if I dedicate hours and hours, I don't have that insect of doubt of "maybe that wasn't good enough" that brings you back to the stand.

In exchange, I am able to enjoy it without fear or stress.

April 4, 2018, 5:55 AM · I'd actually say the opposite. There are some nontrivial number of people at the top of the profession who have inherited significant money, and whose ability to play and perform at the highest levels are bolstered by the security that it gives. (Connections don't hurt either.)
Edited: April 4, 2018, 6:14 AM · I guess sometimes our teachers think we aren’t good enough but avoid saying that directly. They have more than one reason to be careful.
April 4, 2018, 6:20 AM · @ Will Willy Ouch!
Edited: April 4, 2018, 6:30 AM · I agree with Lydia and disagree with Carols.

Perhaps, 100 years ago, for certain ethnic groups, in certain parts of the world, what Carlos’ teacher says was true. These days people play and play well because they WANT to.

There is no economic reason to study the violin. If one just wants to pay the rent, study computer science. It is a lot easier, and the ROI is way better!

April 4, 2018, 7:04 AM · "Maybe that wasn't good enough" is what is required to play at an advanced level, professional or otherwise, regardless age and/or economics.

Agree it's easier with money if you are self-motivated. Maybe unfair, of course, and I would argue that it's not the money or social status itself that makes "better" (no one richer is more skilled than you due to that) but the convenient long hours you can spend practicing, and being able to buy your way into the best tools and teachers. Money talks-often too much, and I wish it would just shut up.

Best of luck to all.

April 4, 2018, 7:40 AM · "That because I am comfortably settled I will never have the fear, the panic that either crushes you or makes you..."

I've seen and know many successful musicians. I don't think that fear is what got them to where they are. Maybe that kind of emotion will work for certain activities--cage fighting or something, swimming the river from North Korea in the dead of winter--but it doesn't quite work for activities requiring finesse. Auditioning on violin, triple axle on skates, landing a plane, crawling a ladder over the Kumbu ice fall--don't think crushing fear or panic will help much.

April 4, 2018, 7:52 AM · Quote: "fear, the panic that either crushes you or makes you able to do things otherwise impossible for you"

If you can learn something in a compressed timeframe, you could always have learned it in that compressed timeframe. You might not have mustered the willpower not to procrastinate, or dropped everything else in your life to do it, if you didn't have a shortened timeframe to accomplish it, but nothing about that compressed timeframe is helping you play better -- and arguably you would be better off taking the time to learn it properly over a longer period of time.

Similarly, as Scott implies, nobody plays their best under pressure. That's one of the reasons that we practice intensively -- to ensure that when we are under pressure, that the autopilot in our brain kicks in and delivers a baseline performance that is still reliably good.

The people I know who've become professionals at a later age (either through a late start or via a career switch) all had the advantage of money -- an inheritance, a great deal of money made from another job, an early retirement with a pension, and the like.

April 4, 2018, 8:24 AM · All this talk about fear reminded me of this song from Zack Williams Called "Fear Is A Liar"
1st verse and chorus-

When he told you you're not good enough
When he told you you're not right
When he told you you're not strong enough
To put up a good fight
When he told you you're not worthy
When he told you you're not loved
When he told you you're not beautiful
That you'll never be enough
Fear, he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
'Cause fear he is a liar


April 4, 2018, 8:41 AM · Not really adding anything to this conversation, but I find these sorts of conversations interesting. I'm an adult returner, and I'm now "at the Bruch level" and am finding that it is not as important a goal-post as I thought it was a year ago. And, I'm not as interested in learning the Bruch concerto as I am in learning the other music that I've amassed over the years. May still have to learn this concerto if I am to play the other music on my list, though. I'll likely never be able to play the concerto with an orchestra, and would prefer to learn pieces that I may likely one day play with a pianist.

I would not presume to ever be able to get to a level where I could be a professional musician, but it's nice to dream while I practice my measly 60 minutes a day. Efficient practice is super important for progressing, and I'm a terribly inefficient practicer so my progress is much slower than I assume it could be if efficiency were the norm.

April 4, 2018, 11:51 AM · Emily( if this is your real name) April fools has long gone .

Why anyone would choose to spam this thread is beyond me.But then why does anyone choose to spam?

April 4, 2018, 12:11 PM · Late-starting spammer, clearly.
April 4, 2018, 1:24 PM · Regarding the sub-topic about fear leading to professional playing:

I think this is a big misconception, not just pertaining to people becoming professional musicians, but about everything. In SO many different avenues of life, I hear the advice of throwing students in the deep end in order to teach them to swim. The result I've seen with this attitude is that yes, there are a few swimmers who appear to do astoundingly well after being thrown in. But that ignores the dozens of swimmers that drowned, whom otherwise may have done very well if they were just titrated into the pool.

More relevant example: parents have gotten upset at me in the past for not forcing their children to do recitals, because they hoped the fear of the kids embarrassing themselves would drive them to practice more. What I told them is that if your kid needs fear to practice, then the lack of recitals is certainly not the problem. I encourage kids to perform, and the students who want to perform end up doing it on their own, usually at school in front of class or a multitude of other places. The ones that don't want to perform, don't. I coach them on handling nervousness, doing their best, etc... and I've never ONCE had a kid who informed me that their performance went bad, or that they were nervous at all. Every performance that a student has done has gone well.

Meanwhile, I remember my own experience as a child and being forced to do recitals (which I hated), and those early experiences instilled a deep sense of fear in public playing that remains in me to this day.

The moral here: throwing people in the deep end to teach them to swim is not effective whatsoever, with the exception of filtering out those who need a little bit more time to adjust.

Likewise, there's no way that fear is a reliable way to produce professionals. "clawing your way out of the hole" is just something certain professionals like to tout because it makes them feel like they won the battle against all the others who weren't dedicated enough.

Fear is about as effective in making professionals as religion is in making good people.

Edited: April 4, 2018, 6:00 PM · I guess there are two schools of pedagogy here: Accommodation or Challenge, meaning you either help students step by step with care, or you throw them into challenging situations where they would either prevail or fail. Of course these two methods can combine.

IMO whichever method used depends a lot on the situation. Western modern teaching obviously tend towards the first school, but the draconian way of teaching is still popular in third-word countries. One possible reason for this is the need to select the best students quickly when the authority has very limited resources and they have too many students to choose from (impractical to properly invest in every student, given that 90% of them would not stay in the end). Particularly true for Olympic sports.

Go to YouTube to see how they train the kids to become gymnasts in China (warning: some videos are very, very disturbing).

April 7, 2018, 2:00 PM · M. Hemeda, I don't know your age, and I don't know what you define as a late start, but I'm 46 and picking the violin back up after 30 years. I started at age 7 or 8 and played for 7 or 8 years before putting it down. Early on in those 7 or 8 years I was good enough to earn a seat in my city's youth symphony. That gives you some idea of my previous knowledge/experience, which is oh-so-modest compared to a lot of the mega-professional talent on this site.

Two weeks ago I enrolled in lessons at a reputable local music school (one lesson per week). I told my instructor what I just stated above, and that my goal was to become good enough to pass a university audition and secure a seat in a professional orchestra. She guestimated it would take me 8 months to a year and advised me to practice at least 1 hour everyday (I work a full-time job M-F). It may be a ludicrous estimate, but my heart is in it and I'm practicing for more than an hour almost every weeknight and longer on weekends.

In my humble opinion, asking for advice on limitations is like asking other people to create doubts in your mind for you. That's why I haven't asked anyone for opinions or advice about my aspiration, with the exception of my instructor. Set your goal, put your blinders on, believe, and plow ahead. You already sound like you know more than I remember!

April 7, 2018, 4:01 PM · I met a late teenage near-beginner who was already quietly studying (not with a teacher) Bach unaccompanied. By far the worst thing about his playing was the VSO he was using.
Edited: April 7, 2018, 6:18 PM · Chelsea, I'm super-interested in your ability to resume playing at a high level after a 30-year break.

What were the last things you were studying as a teenager? And what are you working on now? Did you stop completely for 30 years, or just play casually?

What do you think you're likely to play for your audition? You're intending to enter a university's bachelor's of music in violin performance? Full-time?

You're hoping to career-switch into becoming a professional orchestral violinist? As a full-time musician, or will you eventually resume your current profession as a "day job"?

April 7, 2018, 7:17 PM · He is not a classical musician, but this fellow started as a self-taught violinist for two years starting at age 17, then moved to Budapest to study classical violin and Hungarian music at the age of 19 where he practiced 5-8 hours a day for a while.

He does work on classical music but doesn't perform it; it's something he does for fun. I've heard him play Wienawski's scherzo and the caprice

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UurfitQlTYU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WfWDV9LvW8

April 7, 2018, 8:39 PM · Lydia Leong, I'm not exactly what you consider a "high ability!" I looked at your profile and with your credentials, if you consider yourself an amateur, then I'm Poindexter from "Revenge of the Nerds!" (Joke-sort of) I guess I should say I consider myself at a higher place than where I thought I would be after just 1 lesson and 2 solid weeks of practicing.

Frankly, I don't remember the last things I studied as a teenager. I've been straining my brain but unsuccessfully. It's a bummer because there were a few pieces I really fancied and it would probably help me if I could play them again.

Currently, I'm bouncing back and forth between Book 1 of "Essential Elements for Strings" for a quick refresh of reading music, and already starting to play pieces like Ferdinand Kuchler's Concertino, Op.15; Water Music, Suite #2; and Brandenburg's Concerto #3 in G Major.

Yes, I stopped completely for 30 years.

Right now, as I'm just getting my feet wet again, I have no idea what I'll play for an audition.

I would like to complete my bachelors in music performance (I only have my Associates right now). I'd give my right arm to play violin full-time and be able to support myself doing it, but I'd settle for part-time if I knew I could eventually advance to full-time.

For now, I'm just a humble girl fiddling on my grandfather's 120-year-old German copy of a Strad.

By the way, I quickly looked you up on Facebook and noticed you're originally from Wheaton, Illinois! I'm originally from Elgin!

Edited: April 7, 2018, 10:39 PM · To be honest, achieving it on hour a day for 8 months to a year seems wildly optimistic...

BUT if you don't put a deadline on reaching that level, I don't think it's out of the question. I've met a few late starters and adult restarters who have at least been substitutes in professional orchestras, and also a professional violist who went back to school for viola performance at 45 (though never stopped playing at amateur level before that).

My own long term goal is to win a regular seat in a regional orchestra, but without giving up my career as a lawyer. I think it's doable, but I'm estimating it's still minimum of 5-10 years away, averaging 60-90 minutes of practice per day, when I'm already working on 20th century virtuoso repertoire. I've seen plenty of video of college and even high school students playing the most difficult stuff in the viola repertoire (probably true of all string instruments) which means the only way you can distinguish yourself is to play it better than others do.

April 8, 2018, 1:23 AM · I think it just becomes harder as you get older. It's easiest to learn music (or a language) before the age of 10, then there are the physical limitations as you get older as well as financial and time constraints, and maybe lack of energy from other responsibilities in life.

Assuming you're as talented as the children who reach those pieces, have just as good a teacher, and practise just as well, there's been no concrete evidence to justify placing limits on yourself.

Not everyone can play Paganini, but you can't predict that based on age.

Edited: April 8, 2018, 1:58 AM · I also think age matters, but more so at very advanced soloist level. If it didn’t that much, I would expect to see soloists of Hahn or Perlman caliber who started at 11, 12 years old where they were basically still free of financial and other responsibilities. I think in no other instruments than the violin (even other string instruments) is the learner expected to start at such an early age to have a significantly higher chance to become really, really superb. Age is not everything but maybe a necessary condition.

Besides soloists, I recall more than one professional in v.com saying the majority of their orchestra members started at 7 or less. There will be exceptions of course, but I think if orchestra is what a late starter aims for, he or she is against the odds.

IMHO if you just want to be good with playing the violin, and you wish to bring joy to not only you but other people, or even do part-time paid gigs with it, then perhaps no age is too late.

April 8, 2018, 6:03 AM · tutti, the thing is, no one in the top 10 or top 20 started later than 11-12 years of age, for violin.

Of course, the absence of evidence doesn't necessarily mean the evidence of absence, but the overwhelming data is there, and so the probability is there.

I don't know who Massimo Quarta is. But even if he could be at Hahn level, he still belongs to the invisible minority.

If starting at 11 or 12 offers you an equal chance to become a global soloist, we would expect 4-6 such violinists in the first 10 global names we could think of. As far as I know, no.

April 8, 2018, 6:50 AM · Tutti, the number of learners starting at 3-5, in my expectation, would be even lower than the number starting at 11-12, making the ratio of those 3-5 among global soloists even disproportionately higher.

There are of course lots of other factors involved and their interaction is largely unknown. (such as, among those starting at 11-12, are they, on average, really as committed and heavily invested as those 3-5?).

So far the overwhelming majority of evidence points in one direction I’m afraid.

Edited: April 8, 2018, 7:28 AM · Chelsea, welcome to v.com. I too returned to the violin after more than two decades.

Upon returning to the violin, what impressed me most is that the level of playing has been raised significantly across the board. Very high level of technical execution is expected even in freeway Philharmonics.

It is good to have a goal and work toward it.

I didn’t have one and now it is still evolving. At this point, I would just like to go through, with a teacher, as much as I can the Bach S&P and the so called “standard” concertos in the repertoire.

Best of luck and enjoy the process.

April 8, 2018, 7:30 AM · Chelsea, my brother went to Elgin Academy. :-)

I'm also a returnee, from two decade-long hiatuses, and each time my playing level deteriorated enormously. (With the first return, I was unable to even play a scale, initially.)

I wonder if your teacher routinely prepares students for university auditions. Prescreening recordings are normally due in the fall, and then in-person auditions in winter. Typically, by this time in the year, a student would be polishing the repertoire they intend to use for the upcoming audition. So you're looking at auditions in a minimum of 18 months, right now, and "ready" in 8-12 months is unlikely to be a realistic goal unless you were resurrecting teenage repertoire that had already been well-polished.

You may want to ask your teacher to lay out a timeline for you for what you'd need to achieve, and when, to prep for auditions, and then work to those goals.

Most high schoolers hoping to audition practice a minimum of 2 hours a day, and many do more. Someone doing a performance BM generally practices a minimum of 4 hours a day, with additional playing (rehearsals, etc.) on top of that.

I'd suggest you work on ramping your practice to 2 hours a day (you'll probably have to split it into multiple sessions in order to get it in), and see if you can carve out 4 hours a day on the weekends. 2 hours is vastly more productive than 1 hour, I've found.

April 8, 2018, 9:32 AM · Lydia, from birth until age 6 I lived just 3 blocks from Elgin Academy. Now, I only live an hour and half from D.C. Up until 4 years ago I'd been living in Baltimore City for a few years and didn't care for the city life there, so now I'm up just over the border of PA/MD for some peace and tranquility. During the week I still commute to the same job though down in Baltimore County. I work for the State of MD, which gives me a bigger push to pursue my musical dream because my State job is a slave job. The benefits are the only thing keeping me there, LOL.

Well, I thank you for offering me some constructive guidance here. I'll make sure to bring the points you've mentioned to my lesson this week and talk with my teacher about them.

One way or another, I believe I can get to where I want to be. I have youthful enthusiasm and fierce determination :)

April 8, 2018, 10:03 AM · David Zhang, thank you for the welcome and for sharing your observation. You said your goal is still evolving. I wasn't clear: Have you played professionally then?

It seems everybody on here is well beyond my level right now. So I'm here to gather information and learn what I can from the expertise of everyone else.

I don't expect the journey to my dream to be easy. I think I'm at a greater disadvantage than other people at my level who are getting back into it. What I do have going for me is musical genes, a good ear, a love for music, stubborn determination, and A CHALLENGE! All of that has to get me somewhere, LOL. Even if it is in baby steps.

Kudos to you for picking the instrument back up! Keep going and I'm sure your goal will start taking shape!

Edited: April 8, 2018, 10:34 AM · "I have youthful enthusiasm and fierce determination", Chelsea, you just took the words out of my mouth :)

Also a returner over more than 20 years of hiatus. Returned in my 40s, on and off with a great teacher. Now in my late 50s, I am fortunate enough to take an early retirement so that I can pursue my music dream. I'm currently in a community conservatory in Victoria, BC, Canada, and I've also enrolled in a college music performance diploma program majoring in violin performance with voice as my secondary instrument.

I'm testing the water to see if pursuing a performance diploma adds much value to me. I am not interested in starting another career but just want to be a better musician. Credited college programs tend to impose a lot of required courses that take a lot of practice time away and most of them are not necessary (such as music profession course, music technology, etc). In such program also limits my overseas travel (usually take 2-3 weeks), which I like to do. So I might not continue with this program.

Now back to OP's question, here is briefly my story to give you a sense how far one can go as a late starter. I started around 13 in China but I didn't have good teacher for most of the time. I learned a lot on my own and built tons of bad habits that took a lot longer later to correct. I stopped playing when I was working on Handel sonata and a little bit of Mozart concerto #3. After a long hiatus, now in my late 50 I've just finished the entire Mendelssohn VC, performed the 1st movement a few times in community conservatory. I also did Bruch VC 1st and 2nd mvts, Dvorak VC 1st mvt, Barber VC 1st mvt(performed) and a few Bach solo works. Currently I'm working on Bruch's Scottish Fantasy and am prepared to play it in the entire two-week Summer String Academy this summer here in the Victoria Conservatory of Music.

I can say with confidence that if you have youthful enthusiasm and fierce determination, with the help of a good teacher, you can go at least as far as you want. My own experience is that I have gone a lot farther than I ever thought of possible, but then I don't like to waste time worrying about what's unattainable. Life is not a script. Keep your mind open and work hard, then you will be surprised how rewarding the journey can be.

April 8, 2018, 10:29 AM · It's not impossible, it's just a giant time management problem, along with all the responsibilities of being an adult.

I had one student who received a nice violin and bow as a graduation present from high school a age eighteen, after many years of asking to play but never having the opportunity. With an average of 2-3 hours of daily price over four years, more in the summer and less during the school year, she started with Twinkle, and ended up at the Bach D minor Partita, Lalo Symphonie Espagnole, played in a big chamber music festival, and earned a spot in her large public university's symphony orchestra, where most people just assumed she had been playing since her early years because of her technical facility and attention to detail.

Edited: April 8, 2018, 11:35 AM · Yixi, I hope you'll post about your performance-diploma experience and how that's different from just studying privately. Sounds fascinating. :-)

Chelsea, you don't live that far from me. I'm down in the DC 'burbs. But my community orchestra is in Gaithersburg, and some of our members commute from the MD/PA border area. (I performed a Brandenburg 5 with one of the music profs at Penn State Mont Alto, a few years back.) I'm just very slightly younger than you, but I've been playing again for about the last five years.

As far as I know, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's Academy still has violinist spots open for the summer. If you can handle orchestral parts by the summer, it might be a worthwhile intensive -- if not this year, then next year. You can, as part of that, take a private lesson from multiple BSO violinists. Since you live in that area, it might be a useful way to teacher-shop, too. (Some of them are excellent teachers; PM me on Facebook if you're interested in recommendations.)

And if not BSO Academy, the Artscape festival also has great opportunities. Both target adult amateurs.

Edited: April 9, 2018, 10:49 AM · Lydia, the chief difference for me between studying for a performance diploma and private studies with tutors is the former provides more structured and well-rounded education than the latter. The former requires much much more work:-).

With the diploma studies, I get to work side by side with more young pro-oriented students more as peers rather than an outsider/guest on a daily basis. I can participate regularly in masterclasses and recitals, but I also have to attend classes (music theory, history, etc.), which means extra commitment in preparing for frequent tests, in addition to other mandatory required works in orchestra, chamber music, solo performance, weekly private lessons for both principal and secondary instruments, etc. Busy, busy, busy... even though I'm doing it part-time right now. I find that while I'm playing more, I don't practice as much I wanted in order to get all the other required worked done. Also, I have to make up a lot of work this term due to travel and a very bad flu.

In short, the program is designed in a way makes obvious sense for students who need academic credits and skills to build their music career. I just want to participate performance related activities and I feel academic credit/diploma adds no value to me at this point of my life. After the final exams are done later this month, I'll talk with the program director(who is extremely supportive and a dream to work with,btw) to see if and how I can keep participating without pursuing any credit. Will keep you all updated.

April 9, 2018, 1:26 PM · Very interesting. Is their performance diploma a post-bacc credential, or in lieu of a BM? That much academic coursework is surprising given that I'd figure that would be more undergrad.
Edited: April 9, 2018, 9:40 PM · It's an university transferable undergrad program in a college. The diploma basically takes care of the first two years of works towards a BMus.
April 9, 2018, 7:09 PM · I think it would come as a surprise to many to know just how well one must play to get a job in a regional orchestra.

I encourage anyone who wants to play better to go for it...but mid-career changes from non-musician to fulltime professional musician are pretty much non-existent for a very good reason. The kind of practicing it takes to be competitive in a pro audition is pretty much a fulltime job in itself.

April 9, 2018, 7:13 PM · What is considered unattainable for late starters is child prodigy status!!
April 10, 2018, 1:21 AM · Oh, I'm under no illusions about how good regional orchestra players are. That's why I'm estimating it's at least 5-10 years away.

I see no reason other late starters can't reach Yixi's level. The ceiling can still be very high for someone who starts in the 15-29 age range, or for an adult restarter who reached a certain level before stopping.

I know I'm nowhere near my ceiling, based on fast technical advancement over the past year, and knowing of a few areas where my technique is still a bit shaky. Also because I'm pretty sure a good teacher could get me a lot farther than I am now, if I can find one who has evening or weekend openings -- I'm almost completely self-taught on viola, having only had a few months of lessons in 2016, after starting in my late teens. (I had other music background to draw from: I had about 12 years of piano lessons before starting viola and earned a British DipABRSM in piano performance later that year.) I currently play in a semi-professional orchestra that straddles the line between freeway philharmonic and top-tier community orchestra and auditions competitively for all seats, and I'm also principal violist in a reasonably strong community orchestra that plays major symphonic repertoire. I performed the Bruch Romance as soloist with a community orchestra in 2014, and am currently studying the Walton Viola Concerto, the Clarke Viola Sonata, and the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata.

Note that I am not calling this the limit for a late-teens starter. This is far below the limit for a late-teens starter who has a good teacher and can devote a substantial amount of time to practice.

April 10, 2018, 6:50 AM · I think there's a big difference between starting in your teens and starting in your twenties (or later). Andrew, your steady 1.5 hours (plus the not-quite-year of 3 hours/day) is very much in your favor in terms of making good progress, although it's surprising that you haven't needed a teacher to learn advanced repertoire.
Edited: April 10, 2018, 11:20 AM · I should mention that the principal second violinist in my community orchestra is completely self-taught (no lessons whatsoever), started in her early 20s, and has reached Bruch or Mozart concerto level in her mid-30s. According to our concertmaster, who has known her much longer than I have (I only joined the orchestra two months ago after filling in as acting principal violist for one concert last year), the only noticeable sign that she's self-taught is a rather limited vibrato.

I don't think self-teaching is ideal. I corrected several bad habits in just a few months of lessons. (I stopped purely for schedule reasons.) But I also don't think it's impossible.

Edited: April 11, 2018, 10:32 AM · Hey Andrew, I don't know if you saw my response to you in the other discussion, the Summer String Academy here in Victoria now has removed the age limit for applicants. I'll be there and hope to see you too.

Back to the topic, to tell people what reps I'm doing now can be a bit misleading because it says nothing how well I am doing them. When I first returned to violin after a long hiatus, my teacher spent most of time during the first a few years to address all the issues I had due to years of self-teaching. She focused on building my techniques as well as training my ear to better listen to myself. While I was assigned Bruch 7 years ago and I played all the notes, and I could hear in my head how beautiful the music should sound, I couldn't produce the sound I wanted.

To be a good violinist, it's not enough to play all the notes in tune and in tempo. I think a truly mature player needs to be able to pay attention to so many little details that she has to be solid technically and musically to effectively address these issues so that the entire piece of music can be presented coherently and beautifully. 7 years ago, I definitely was not at an advanced level even though I played all the correct notes of the first two movements of Bruch VC.

Of course there are always exceptions, but over the years, among the self-taught players whom I've heard and played with (mostly in community orchestras and chamber groups), they all have major issues that probably can't be eliminated without the help of a good teacher, mostly the right hand thus their tone production and bow control usually not at the level you would expect from an advanced player. Such issues can significantly limit one's progress to another level, and the longer they have, the harder to correct.

BTW, vibrato is a relatively easy issue to address. If an advanced player has obvious vibrato issue, I wonder what it takes for her to deal with it.

April 10, 2018, 7:46 PM · To be fair, some really otherwise great-playing professionals can have a very "ho-hum" vibrato, more utilitarian than artistic. It's rare, but happens. With a few older professionals, it can get very wobbly if they don't "take care" of it.

Good luck to all late-starters and "returners". Anyone well-trained that puts in the intense and intelligent effort required can get to play really, really well.

April 10, 2018, 8:41 PM · “To be a good violinist, it's not enough to play all the notes in tune and in tempo. I think a truly mature player needs to be able to pay attention to so many little details that she has to be solid technically and musically to effectively address these issues so that the entire piece of music can be presented coherently and beautifully.”

I totally agree. Which is why I regard myself, at best, an intermediate player even though I am working on what may be considered advanced repertoire.

April 11, 2018, 10:15 AM · I agree with Yixi.

I think folks who are self-taught, or minimally taught, tend to do things in somewhat quirky ways that may be workable but ultimately limit what they can do. My community orchestra has lots of people who learned in public schools. They may have had some one-on-one time with their orchestra director, or other coaching, but never steady lessons. That works okay at the intermediate level, and can even be enough to play principal in some community orchestras. But the difference in fluency versus, say, a regional pro orchestra player, is staggering.

I suspect that pro orchestra candidates who do not have the assistance of a coach that is really adept at preparing students for an audition, are at a significant disadvantage.

Also, candidates in the final round of a pro audition can sometimes be asked to play a passage in certain ways, which tests control and flexibility and on-the-spot skill -- i.e., to play quite differently than the way it has been extensively prepared and practice (which also means that the candidate has to overcome force of habit, regardless of their skill). It's not enough to be able to perfect a passage via extensive practice.

April 11, 2018, 10:57 AM · Another moderately late starter would be Leonard Bernstein. He started formal piano lessons at 13. Five years later he was a music major at Yale, composition classes with Walter Piston followed by conducting lessons with Fritz Reiner. At 25 he was appointed assistant conductor of NY Phil. Talent matters.
Edited: April 11, 2018, 12:36 PM · I think one has to ask why virtually every great musician in history has been a child prodigy. One can argue that a few of the greatest violinists have done some of their best playing in their 40s through 70s. But you have to have a good early foundation to build on. I know lots of the people who start later like to encourage one another on here, but the reality is, by the time you’re of college age, you should have probably covered most of the standard literature on the violin with a steady progression of development in order to be a professional level player. Starting later on is possible, but much like learning a language, at an older age, there will be accents and colloquialisms that an older person (even in their teens) won’t pick up as naturally. Music (much like athletics) as Mary-Ellen correctly pointed out, is not really a field you can make a mid career switch into.
April 11, 2018, 2:26 PM · It's worth noting that mid-career switchers often still fulfill Nate's criteria -- people who had already reached a very high level of playing by the end of high school, who just chose not to go to conservatory but instead enter another profession.

You also get people who earn a performance degree at the undergrad level, go on to some other profession (medical school, for instance), but maintain (or return to) pro-level chops afterwards.

Returning to the instrument later in life is not the same as starting from scratch later in life. And we have to make a distinction between "later" starters (i.e., teenage) and "truly late" starters (post-college and older).

April 11, 2018, 2:38 PM · I do believe being a "Professional" is hard for even little children, prodigies or not, so it will be even moreso for late starters. That being said, playing the violin transcends just having a "big" career, and I feel that a violinist with even the most humble aspirations should give it his/her all. When we say "adults can't make it", this is usually true regarding a career the way this world works, but playing the violin well itself is attainable by some, even it being a very difficult and unlikely proposition. Thus I prefer to have my mind open regarding what is "possible" or not (with no disrespect towards those who will inevitably disagree.)

April 11, 2018, 3:28 PM · Starting early would give you an advantage in virtually every aspect of life, be it music or non-music, business or non-business, professional or recreational. But in some aspects it has consistently proved to to be relatively more important than others. Violins are one of those.

The discussion has extended to include other musicians, but I think learning pianos or conducting would be more tolerant of starting late than violins.

@tutti, I don't know if the 3-5 yr kids learning violins would outnumber those 11-12 years old, but if true this would even support the proposition that one has to start very early to have a significantly higher chance of becoming a professional. 3-5 years old is a young age when the child should mostly engage in non-vocational, informal, stress-free activities. Yet to become a professional violinists they have to engage in discipline and lessons for nearly everyday with the instrument that would undoubtedly affect other aspect of their lives and their ability to enjoy them. The sacrifice surely says something to me as well.

IMHO if you just want to play the violin very well without resorting to it as a main source of income, then perhaps no age is too late.

April 11, 2018, 5:06 PM · Being a **performing** professional is very, very hard even for graduates of respectable music schools. What percentage of conservatory graduates can say that they earn all or even most of their living by performing.

Teaching is really a different profession.

April 11, 2018, 5:53 PM · To Adalberto's point, there is a difference between striving to play one's best, and striving to be professional.

Professional performing is a skillset that goes beyond just playing well, and is arguably at least three skillsets for classical players -- solo/recital, chamber music, and orchestra. (Nonclassical performing is an additional skillset per style.) Acquiring the professional skillset isn't unattainable for late starters, but it involves doing things that aren't necessarily fun.

Someone -- Scott Cole? -- once said that you shouldn't ruin a perfectly good hobby by making it a job.

Edited: April 11, 2018, 9:07 PM · That's right. Working and keeping a job are not the same thing. We might have fun working (such as learning something we are passionate about), but having a job is usually not about fun.
Edited: April 11, 2018, 9:35 PM · tutti, I believe reliable data on kids' age when they start learning the violin is non-existent.
April 11, 2018, 9:56 PM · I find it interesting that the Suzuki method has created that mindset, seeing as Shinichi Suzuki himself started learning violin at 18.

It seems to have been a common mindset among American violin teachers at one point, and not just Asian-American teachers. According to some of my friends, it seems to have been worst in the 80s and 90s. The main reason I ended up self-teaching is that I gave up trying to find a teacher after being told repeatedly that I was already too old to ever get beyond beginner level, when I was as young as 12.

Edited: April 11, 2018, 10:04 PM · I suspect that what many countries call a "conservatory" for children, is what the US would probably call a "community music school". In the US the word "conservatory" is reserved for a college-equivalent (i.e., post-secondary education).

Institutions that have residential musical training for children would have a US equivalent in a "residential school for the arts", i.e., an arts-focused boarding school like Interlochen or Idyllwild.

April 11, 2018, 10:09 PM · Even before Suzuki, I believe most famous soloists would start very young. I don't think Suzuki himself invented that young age for violin out of nowhere.

@tutti, you seemed to imply that kids started violin much later in life before the prevalence of Suzuki method. Do you know any world famous pre-Suzuki era violinists who started after 11-12 years of age?

Edited: April 12, 2018, 12:43 AM · So it was Suzuki that has greatly catalyzed the belief and practice of kids having to start very early then? This, if true, would be interesting.
April 12, 2018, 12:00 AM · I think that Tutti violino is making a good point: There must be small violins in order to teach violin to pre-schoolers and before they were not so available. I mean... a 1/16 violin? Rarely.
Itzhak Perlman was denied entry when he applied at the age of three because he was too small to hold a violin. It is famous that he practiced with a toy one.
But apart from them (and he could not do it at that age), Paganini started at 7 (after mandolin at 5). Heifetz at 5. Vengerov, at 5 too.

And I also believe that the current availability of them comes from the general belief of many parents that kids can learn music as pre-schoolers, even if the family is not one of musicians. And that belief comes from the popularity of the Suzuki Method.

There is a video that we discuss often in the family Re: if this is good parenting or not: https://youtu.be/PUgLb6THC9U
But the point is, to do it, she needed a 1/16!
And now that she is 5 and she is "struggling" with a 1/8. https://youtu.be/fGGxsYPGuWs

Edited: April 12, 2018, 7:02 AM · out of a 109 posts, I could only see one reply from the OP...hmmm

and the Oscar goes to Lydia Leong > Scott cole (possibly) for 'you shouldn't ruin a perfectly good hobby by making it a job'

Edited: April 12, 2018, 12:54 PM · When the question is vague, the answers will be rich:-) What does "late starters" mean? Who has the crystal ball to look into anyone's future of violin progress, especially those who we've never heard?

My final comment to the OP:

Don't ask what is unattainable, ask instead: "Is violin in my path?" When we look deep within this way, we can tell what road we should be taking. Go for it. Work hard and be astonished by what you'll experience and accomplish. The rest is only noise :-)

April 12, 2018, 2:26 PM · I agree with Yixi, although I would say that for many people, it's useful to have a long-term goal (or set of goals) in mind, and then to work with your teacher to develop a plan to reach those goals. Some violin-related skills can be taught in a variety of orders, and the emphasis of what you do can be changed to help you reach goals sooner rather than later. And your other activities will vary.

If, for instance, you want to get into playing chamber-music, a focus on really good basics, especially making a nice sound, being in tune, and playing with precise rhythm are very important. Regular sight-reading exercises are important, too. A teacher might focus on teaching a series of stylistic bow-strokes for Haydn and Mozart, for instance, in lieu of teaching positions above 3rd, so you acquire the technical skills you need to play 2nd violin in easier quartets, earlier on.

As another example, someone who is interested in playing in a pro orchestra needs to gain solid orchestral skills in addition to regular technical skills. That should be built with things like sight-reading exercises, assignments to listen to the common orchestral repertoire (preferably with a score), and playing in a community orchestra, starting as early as possible. Maybe more of the things you learn are focused on common orchestral excerpts, in lieu of doing as much traditional etude work. And so on.

April 13, 2018, 6:52 AM · I agree with Lydia. When I returned I had amassed a pretty long list of repertoire that I wanted to learn, then added to it as we are wont to do, and over a year after working with this teacher I finished one piece on the list, and am starting another on the list. I've asked to forgo the orchestral solos (like Bruch) for now because I have so much other rep on my list that my teacher is fine with not doing the Bruch right now. (It's not because the Bruch is too hard for me, I have the skills for it, but I'm working on rep that is more of the solo violin, or violin/piano, type instead.)
April 13, 2018, 7:21 AM · I have a 1/1000 violin. It's called a Christmas-tree ornament.

For most adult amateurs, Haydn and Mozart and early Beethoven quartets already are pretty challenging stuff. An adult amateur who is able to play Mozart 3/4/5 and at least some of the sonatas of Mozart and Beethoven is doing pretty darned well. She or he should be able to play much of the classical-period chamber literature. And there's a lot of it, so you won't run out of stuff to play very quickly.

April 13, 2018, 8:13 AM · Paul is right. And there's a whole pile of encore repertoire at the level (including most Kreisler pieces), the Baroque-period chamber literature, and some of the less-difficult Romantic-period sonatinas / sonatas, too.

To Pamela's point, there are lots of reasons not to play the most difficult thing that you're capable of playing. Kids learning tend to be very progression-oriented -- play harder and harder things. I think that one of the advantages of not having to chase that rat race, as an adult, is the ability to focus on refining your playing in small ways, or to improve non-technical skills -- musicianship, improvisation, collaborating with a pianist (i.e., not treating your pianist as an accompanist), etc.

I have projects, myself. For instance, I really want to learn the "usual" sonatas, and to learn to work well with a pianist. Like a lot of kids who progressed relatively quickly, technically, I did the classic pedagogical repertoire when I was learning the violin, followed by multiple "major" concertos each year in rapid-fire fashion. I never learned any sonatas beyond the F-major Handel that's often used pedagogically. So I have a huge amount of repertoire that I can work my way through, and the bonus with sonatas is that it's relatively straightforward to find performance opportunities for them.

April 13, 2018, 8:43 AM · Lydia - your last sentence is precisely why at this moment I'm choosing to forgo the major concertos. And working with a pianist is important!

I love a lot of those encore pieces too - they're short, fun to play, and are not as daunting as the big concertos. I'm (VERY slowly) working my way through the Telemann Fantasies and some of them are quite hard, but they are short so it's less exhausting. I'd love to learn all of those and then start on the Bach S&Ps (especially since I don't understand them) - that'll be many years from now at the rate that I'm going - ha.

I want to work on some modern stuff too. There are so many choices and to limit oneself to the standard repertoire "proven" as it may be is silly for an amateur who is doing this for fun. I don't have anything to prove, this isn't about my ego or showing off, and the only thing that matters to me is that I enjoy what I am learning. It takes the pressure off, that's for sure!

Edited: April 13, 2018, 9:54 AM · Lydia, Paul and Pamela, all very well said. Unlike kids, we don't have to have all the chops to be a good player and musician. We have to prioritize what to learn to make the most sense to each of us without following the "standard program" that kids are expected to go through. For me, my teacher and I have decided to forgo Paganini, even though part of me still feel that learning those caprices would likely to make many technical parts of a concerto easier.

I love working on sonatas, which I consider as chamber music rather than solo works. The biggest challenge for me is to find a good pianist to work with on a regular basis because often the piano part (especially sonatas by Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, etc.) is just as important if not more than the violin part.

Learning major concerti has been for me the single most challenging and rewarding way to build technique as well as musicality. I don't know if it's psychological or not, my playing improved significantly in all aspects after I've done first movement of Bruch. Violin playing became a lot more fun since then. It's not about ego, but milestones like these in one's learning process are important.

April 13, 2018, 11:19 AM · My teacher assigns Paganini caprices, and we did a bit of Paganini No. 1 (which he teaches by assigning all the sections of thirds and tenths first). The latter, by itself, forced me to improve my thirds significantly, but the reward-to-practice ratio was still low. On the one hand, the caprices are difficult enough that they always drive technical improvement (some of the skills turn out to be unexpectedly useful in ordinary repertoire), but they require more patience than I usually have at the end of a long day.

I actually really want to do the super-virtuosic repertoire, but it's of lesser priority than the things that I can find opportunities to perform.

April 13, 2018, 12:30 PM · Thank you, Lydia! What you said make perfect sense. I will raise the Paganini issue with my teacher again. She is usually open to suggestions if I really want to try something.
Edited: April 13, 2018, 3:06 PM · There've been so many great comments, and I'd like to also join in with an anecdote. I know of a guy who started when he was 35 (and is totally blind by the way). The beginning was slightly rocky for him but only because it was difficult to get a good sense of how to hold everything since he couldn't see. However, he was determined to give it his best try and never worried much about whether he could get far. He didn't feel he had anything to lose. He learned everything by ear from recordings and had lessons twice a week. After 4 years he performed the Mendelssohn violin concerto with a local community orchestra. Now, he might not be a professional player, but he is an excellent advanced amateur player and has a polished technique, capable of great sound and excellent expression. He's been playing for about 16 years now and I'd rank his level of playing somewhere around a senior music major or first year master's student. I realize that he is not typical for everyone because he did almost nothing but practice, but I'd consider him to be a good idea of what can be accomplished if the desire and the commitment are really strong.
Edited: April 13, 2018, 4:55 PM · I would respectfully disagree with Paul and Pamela. I believe a careful study of the “standard” concertos, solo Bach, and some Paganini is necessary to be technically solid enough to explore orchestral and chamber music.

It will take sometime — 5 to 10 years from “the Bruch level”. But as amateurs we have nowhere to go! I would enjoy the process and smell the roses.

Edited: April 13, 2018, 5:13 PM · I noted that Paul mentioned Beethoven sonatas. To play the easiest one (#5) really well is impressive. To play the other ones really well, I don't know how many pros would be happy to demonstrate that :-) Same goes for Mozart concerti. They are part of audition and violin competition reps for very good reason.

In terms of quartets, that's a different story. Haydn quartets for instance are required for Banff international quartet competitions. To play them well is exceedingly difficult. Sadly, I've heard too many amateur players just butcher them through, probably they thougt them to be easy.

That said, I understand that to have big "holes" in our rep can be unsettling to say the least, especially for some adult learners who have been successful in other areas that requires rigorous systematic learning. I'm certainly guilty of that. Recently I've been rethinking about this. For one thing, professional classical trained musicians are expected to be extremely flexible in the ways of thinking, learning and deliver results. Often these "holes" and weak spots are given and we are expected to deal with them graciously and focus on our strengths to produce the best result in each occasion. This discussion probably deserves another thread.

Edited: April 13, 2018, 6:15 PM · I disagree with David.

Children often advanced to youth symphonies that do standard orchestral repertoire before they ever reach the major concerto level. If you can play the Accolay concerto, i.e., you're at the intermediate level, you can probably handle many 2nd violin orchestral parts adequately. That's a pretty typical level for 2nd violinists in adult community orchestras, for that matter.

Similarly, you can start to play simple chamber music at that level. Children enrolled in community music schools, or who attend summer music camps and the like, will often start to play chamber music around that Accolay level. There's no reason why adults can't do that either.

By the time I started playing gigs in my teens, I hadn't yet started Paganini caprices (though I was playing major concertos), and I had no problem handling standard-literature first-violin parts (though I never played the hardest things in the orchestral repertoire, and most freeway philharmonics are smart enough not to put those on the program), and I was sight-reading classical quartets and doing quartet gigs.

You will find plenty of freeway philharmonic players who have never played a Paganini caprice. If you explore MM or DMA graduation recitals on YouTube, you will find that some not-inconsiderable number of those players can't competently execute solo Bach or a major concerto. I have an acquaintance who is doing just fine as a freeway philharmonic player having never played a major Romantic concerto, even after having gotten a BM and MM from well-respected conservatories (though undoubtedly the connections made at those schools have been important for them getting jobs).

April 13, 2018, 6:54 PM · Lydia, one of course can play orchestral/chamber music and advance through solo rep concurrently. We all did.

My point is one should have a complete technical training through Paganini to competently explore orchestral/chamber repertoire, if possible.

Edited: April 13, 2018, 7:18 PM · I agree with Lydia. I don't know why David asserts that "Paganini is necessary to be technically solid enough to explore orchestral and chamber music." Did your teacher suggested this to you, David? I also happen to know a few quite good amateur orchestra and chamber players who haven't even done any romantic concerto, let alone Paganini caprices, but they've learned all the necessary chops required for playing chamber music and orchestra repertories through years of working on these materials. You'd see them playing as the principal second or even concertmaster and a lot are strong 1st violinists in chamber workshops and community orchestras. While their tone production can be improved, they don't seem to have much difficulty handling the notes of some the most difficulty works. Most of all, they seem to really enjoy reading through a bunch of music and performing.

In the end, it's not what materials you use but how you use them to improve yourself that make the difference.

Edited: April 13, 2018, 7:36 PM · Yixi, some Paganini is part of required audition rep. for entry to many respectable music schools along with standard concertos and solo Bach. It is also the “capstone rep” in all Italian conservatories ( which are equivalent to community music schools in the US according Lydia) based on information provided by a frequent v.com contributor. It not that big of a deal.
Edited: April 13, 2018, 7:53 PM · There's no question that someone who has studied four or five romantic concertos (say Bruch, Lalo, Mendelssohn, Saint-Saens) will be able to cover more of the chamber literature than someone who has only done Haydn and Mozart. There is freakishly hard stuff in the quartet literature, and that takes preparation. And sure there's hard Haydn too. But what one really doesn't need, if one is hoping to play classical-era chamber music of average difficulty, is to spend months learning cadenzas full of parlor tricks. If you're going to do that hoping to prepare to play quartet literature, why not just work on harder quartet parts?
Edited: April 13, 2018, 7:55 PM · Actually, only the top tier of conservatories require Paganini for undergrad auditions. And you don't even need Paganini to audition for many MM and DMA programs. You'll note that no one will ever ask you to play Paganini on a professional orchestra audition. (For that matter, I think Paganini concertos are pretty much never played in pro auditions.)

You're generally better off learning appropriate-level orchestral and chamber-music repertoire concurrently with your solo repertoire, as part of a well-rounded training experience. Every serious pre-conservatory program is structured that way, for that matter, and most kids will be encouraged by their teachers to do it (chamber music tends to be the hardest to organize for kids). Adult starters should ideally do that too, although they are somewhat hampered by the fact that only a few community music schools have programs that cater to adults that have that well-rounded tripartite training.

Yixi, I think that the generally-useful Paganini bits can be learned via other means. You could do work on fingered octaves in a lot of other mediums, for instance. Pivot shifts (centering the hand in one position and then throwing it backwards or forwards to do a quick "shift" without actually moving the arm) are also pretty useful. The density of the etude (caprice) is useful, though.

David, can you cite *anything* specific in Paganini that one needs for orchestral and chamber-music literature? At all?

Edited: April 13, 2018, 8:41 PM · Lydia, I could not answer your question since I haven’t played much Paganini ( or enough orchestral/chambers music for that matter).

I would just go with what good music schools (excluding places that engage in tuition scams) required. According to a frequent contributor to v.com, all Italian conversatories ( that take in kids from 9 to 15 with no audition and no prior music training) take ALL their students from zero to Paganini in 10 years. Most, if not all, of these kids will be orchestral musicians.

I agree that if one is happy with just being able to play second violin in orchestral repertoire typically played in a community orchestra, one does not need to play beyond
the immediate level. Should one work to get beyond “the Bruch level”? If the answer is yes, then it should apply to Paganini as well.

Edited: April 13, 2018, 9:38 PM · Lydia, my teacher would completely agree with you regarding Paganini. She frequently juried youth competitions and some of her students went into top tier conservatories so I think she knows what she is doing as a teacher. For some reason I don't entirely know, violin teachers I've met here in Canada all seem to put much more emphasis on the basics, such as daily scale practice, than on virtuosic stuff such as Don't op35, Gaviniès or Paganini. They all did these works when they grew up, but they don't think they are necessary and usually don't assign to their students except a few very promising young students, such as those ones I know who gone to Julliard or Curtis.

Paul asks why spend months learning cadenzas, if all you want to do is playing classical-era chamber music? Why, because it’ll make you a better musician! :-) It certainly enables one to play more freely and beautifully like a soloist, as professional chamber musicians usually considered themselves as soloists.

I'm not suggesting that amateur players have to copy the pros. But I go to chamber workshops often enough that I don't feel comfortable sounding less than optimum. I therefore approach chamber works the as solo pieces and work just as hard, and the result is it's just a lot more fun. I must say also that the technical, mental and physical demands are significantly different between the two. Incidentally, cadenzas may sound flashy but I don't find them to be the hardest part of a concerto to learn because often musically they aren't as complex as the movements, especially the first movement of each concerto in many cases.

April 13, 2018, 9:33 PM · Neither Dont op. 35 nor Gavinies are virtuosic. You don't really get into virtuosic until you hit, say, Wieniawski Ecole Moderne, and Paganini Caprices.

Dont op. 35 is mainstream technique, and the stuff in there is used in the major concertos, and it'll show up in orchestral works and in the more difficult chamber-music parts, too. It is super useful. (Gavinies is similar in difficulty but, I think, less useful, although I haven't done as much of the set as I have Dont, where my Dont-loving former teacher taught me op 37, 38, and 35.)

April 13, 2018, 9:38 PM · On the subject of zero to Paganini in ten years, our Italian poster wrote: "Not all students can reach Paganini capricci within ten years, but the schools provide every one with equal chance to access, those who cannot finish the demand of teacher will choose to quit course or to be expelled by schools, because they cannot even get a diploma, just like if one cannot graduate from university." He also noted that the students were expected to practice three hours a day. And he noted many of these students play quite poorly.

I've heard American students slop their way through advanced repertoire, including Paganini, that they weren't actually ready to play. Sounds like it might be the case in Italy too.

Edited: April 13, 2018, 9:46 PM · Well, it's a very small sample but I happened to heard one Italian conservatory student from Milan playing in one of the music camps I went a few years ago. She said she studied more than 5 years but her playing was below average among the community conservatory students here. She wasn't happy about the violin education she got in Italy, but then that's just her view, I don't know what was really going on there. Check it out before you send your kids to Italy to study violin :-)
Edited: April 13, 2018, 9:54 PM · “If you're going to do that hoping to prepare to play quartet literature, why not just work on harder quartet parts?”

That is an interesting point! If one is not going to be a soloist, why bother with solo rep? Why not just work on the hardest part of orchestral/ chamber rep?This is a position I can appreciate, although I personally prefer to go with the traditional method (adopted by good schools) of developing techniques through solo rep and etudes.

What I can’t follow is the position that stipulates that one should develop technique through solo rep but only according to standards of institutions that engage in “giant tuition scams” and whose DMA graduates cannot even convincingly play a movement of a major concerto!

April 13, 2018, 10:00 PM · David, one of the challenges of this discussion is it seems that you may have some theoretical notion of Paganini that's not related to the reality of what's actually in the Caprices, and for that matter, a theoretical notion of the orchestral and chamber-music literature that's not necessarily related to the reality there either.

You apparently have this notion that because top-notch conservatories require a Paganini Caprice for admission, everyone should do them before embarking on the concert literature (of whatever form). That logic just doesn't follow. The top-notch schools need a filter for find the most technically adept students and to weed out applicants they know they won't cut it. Setting tough audition demands, including a Caprice, is an excellent filter. If it were important for orchestral playing, you can bet that pro orchestras would be setting a Caprice requirement. They don't.

Will studying Paganini expand your technical range? Probably. Will you use the tricks you learn for ordinary playing? No, and the ones that you will use are the ones that you can learn through non-Paganini means.

I will bet that most orchestra players never touch Paganini Caprices after their student years (if they've done them at all), unless they routinely teach them to advanced students.

April 13, 2018, 10:05 PM · I imagine that one of the reasons some people pursue a DMA is that they need more time to develop as violinists, and have dedicated time to do nothing other than practice and study. This would be especially true of people who get a later start, in their teens (or only start taking private lessons in their teens).

But lots of people who go into graduate study don't actually get enough money for them to not work. So they may end up teaching privately and such for money, which takes away from practice time, which then takes away from progress. End result: They finish the program with a marginal level of competence.

April 13, 2018, 10:15 PM · Lydia is correct about most orchestra players and Paganini caprices.

You will never see a Paganini caprice on a pro orchestra audition list. Why? Because we don't use that kind of technique. What you will see, however, is Mozart. A violinist who cannot play Mozart well--stylistically correctly and in tune, with a well-controlled bow--is a violinist we do not want in our orchestra even if that violinist can toss off an impeccable Paganini caprice.

Edited: April 13, 2018, 11:23 PM · Violino, when you have an open door policy, some atrition is of course expected. I bet even in Julliard the graduation rate is not 100%.

This discussion very much reminds me of one that took place recently in the Faculty Senate in my own institution ( a very minor one) regarding whether calculus should continue to be part of the required undergraduate curriculum. The arguments against (i.e. no employer would ever ask a calculus question during a job interview; no one will ever need to do a calculus problem again ) are almost identical to some of the positions taken here regarding Paganini. In the end, calculus stays, the debate continues.

April 14, 2018, 8:06 AM · The Italian system takes all that “mystique” out of Paganini!

If one studies with a *good* teacher and practices, one can go from zero to Paganini within a reasonable amount of time. It is NOT out of reach for the REST of us. (Of course, the end result will vary, but one could say the same about graduates of any system.)

For this amateur, that is good to know.

Edited: April 14, 2018, 9:35 AM · Seeing as a lot of these questions are to do with "Can I become a professional as a late starter", I think we have to look at what making a living as a professional entails. I see this a lot with young players (I think I was the same) - they ask, what is the hardest violin music anyone can play and they are told Paganini Caprices. So that becomes the top of the mountain that they aspire to and feel that they can call themselves consummate violinists. The problem is that chops becomes emphasized over playing with feeling and all other aspects of musicality. So, somebody plays the notes of Paganini but can't play a simple tune in a moving way. As for the real world, the majority of people don't want to hear Paganini Caprices - they want to hear beautiful music, simple tunes, things that move them. To illustrate, look at Itzhak Perlman on Spotify. Guess what has the most hits? I'll give you a clue - not Paganini! It's actually Schindlers list, by a long way. A very simple tune that many late starters could play in a musical and meaningful way. I know as artists we are not looking to appease the common denominator but being a professional means being hired doesn't it? We have to walk that line or play as an amateur. So, to answer the OP's question - what's out of reach for a late starter? Maybe music that the majority does not want to hear. :) I was a college rebel once that didn't want to do anything remotely commercial but now I'm doing it for a living I know we have to be a bit flexible! I remember playing avant garde music and seeing an audience really not into it and then one day I was on a gig playing White Christmas and noticed this look of wonder (probably nostalgia too) and realized that I was actually bringing some joy to these people and wasn't that really it? Isn't that what brings us to music in the first place before we have all these pressures of what we should play to make us worth our salt? It's the audience member with the look of wonder in their eye that qualifies us ultimately. Also the reality is that we get paid if we play something that will move people. I'm lucky that I had a teacher that early on told me that technique only ultimately serves the music and allows you to express what you want without barriers. That seems to be lost from what I read and people I talk to.
By the way, I'm a late starter (13 going on 14) that ended up playing professionally. I did go through a classical training all the way to college but went on to do a jazz post-grad and then as a professional found that there were areas of violin work that classically trained people couldn't do. Sometimes skills trained out of them or neglected- improvisation, playing by ear, composing. There was a gap in the market where I could get work.
Back in my student day I met an amazing veteran jazz violinist - Johnny Van Derrick, somebody you have may not have heard of but have heard on Mancini movie tracks, Beatles, lots of prominent stuff... I was talking to him about something like such and such substitute scale over such and such chords... He went silent, then he uttered the wise words, "Well........ seems to me the people that get the gigs are the ones that know tunes"!
April 14, 2018, 9:21 AM · David, I am afraid you have missed the point Lydia and Mary Ellen have made about Paganini caprices, which is consistent with my teacher's view as well as some of her colleagues. It's not weather Paganini is doable for an advanced adult student, but whether it is useful to spend tons of time working on them if a solo career is not something one is aiming for. My teacher told me that while I can certainly tackle Paganini like some of her young students are doing, she doesn't think it's worthwhile for me because most stuff in paganini isn't useful. I have a lot to learn and there are so many more useful great works available for me to work and enjoy. It's a practical rather than theoretical decision made by a experienced concertizing violinist and teacher. Your Italian example suggests one can do Paganini in 10 years. So what?
Edited: April 14, 2018, 12:10 PM · Yixi, I did not.

Does one need to learn romantic concertos to play in a community orchestra? Why does one need to learn to play double stopsto be an orchestral player (when in the rare occasions where double stops are needed, upper and lower voices are divided)?

I am suggesting that one may consider the alternative that by going through the entire curriculum, one not only has more confidence ( like the Bruch concerto did for you) but also a solid technical foundation upon which learning to play Mozart correctly may be easier.

The elitist tone of some of the posts is unhelpful. Most people would not be able to cite specific examples in wholefarrt, kayser, Kruezer that are directly beneficial to orchestral playing! So what?

April 14, 2018, 10:06 AM · David, on the Italian system, if every kid practices 3 hours a day, every day, for 10 years, and you drop all the kids who fail to make enough progress by the prescribed timeline (and non-serious students never start to begin with), if you didn't produce students at the end who can play Paganini Caprices, your system would be a massive, abject failure.

I would bet that if you looked at all the kids in the US who practice 3 hours a day for 10 years, in that age range, with good teachers, I would bet that all of them are at that Paganini level too, and most of them playing very well indeed.

It's just that in the US, we also allow probably a hundred times that many kids to start the violin, who never get private lessons and/or don't have good teachers, or who don't practice very much.

April 14, 2018, 10:12 AM · I believe a truce can be called for here, as no side is "wrong"-there are many ways towards mastery besides Paganini, BUT the Caprices and other Paganini repertoire can be useful (relative to the student needs) in that they can help make feel everything else technically "easier" in comparison. Of course you can achieve this through scales, etc. but I still do not believe investing time in the Caprices will be an "utter waste" if you are not going to be a soloist-just "not needed".

I think the Caprices, et. al. are interesting by themselves, but I wouldn't criticize anyone for avoiding them altogether. However, the more common attitude I unfortunately see in some people is the opposite-"why study that which you won't ever have much practical use for"? Which simple answer is "because that person may have different aims and ideals about the violin that may differ from yours, but must not be less valid."

Mozart Concerti are difficult to play well. They can be more difficult for many players than mastering some caprices. But we have to be fair and not make it a false dichotomy, an either or situation, by necessity.

I still would urge most players to not be too conformist about their technique and repertoire (even if one won't ever need the more "ridiculous" works), and to keep striving for perfection and deeper artistry.

Peace to all. Do your best every day.

Edited: April 14, 2018, 12:27 PM · Calculus is different. Calculus is used in fundamental ways across a wide range of disciplines. We can be specific about the ways it's used in economics, decision sciences, all social sciences that use statistics, and all STEM disciplines.

Is it elitist to ask that posters argue from some kind of fact base? :-)

You do not need to be able to play a Romantic concerto to manage second-violin parts in a community orchestra, though you do to be able to manage first-violin parts in that setting; I would put reasonable dividing points as "able to play Accolay" as adequate for most 2nd violin and "able to play Bruch" as adequate for most 1st violin, in a typical community orchestra setting.

However, you do need to be able to play double-stops for orchestra. Long sequences of double-stops are implicitly divisi. But three-note chords will often be divided two-and-two, and incidental doublestops (a single double-stop or two) will often be played unison. It's almost more important to be able to play a double-stop with a nice ring, than sequences of them. (The ability to get a nice sound for a chord gets tested with the Don Juan excerpt, among other things.)

The reason we all play double-stops on a technical journey, though, is that double-stops force the position of the hand to be correct, for good intonation. Octaves set the frame of the hand. Thirds ensure that your hand is properly placed and centered, since you can't play rapid sequences of them when that's not the case. And fingered octaves are useful for learning the position of the hand in extensions.

Also, what double-stops really force you to do is to hear, in a precise way, your intonation from note to note. You'll use octaves (fingered and non-fingered) in orchestra music all the time, albeit usually as broken octaves rather than as double-stops, but they've got to be in tune like a double-stop. And sequences of broken thirds are all over the place in all music.

Wolfhart and Kayser are beginning etudes; they teach very basic skills used by everything. Kreutzer, though, is basically the bible of intermediate violin technique. Every single etude in Kreutzer teaches some useful skill that you will routinely encounter in orchestral playing (and in solo and chamber playing). You'll find that many professional orchestra players still routinely practice Kreutzer for this reason; a significant number of them, in my experience, can play good chunks of the book from memory.

April 14, 2018, 12:38 PM · I happen to think the Italian system, as it is described here, has a lot of merit.

First, it is state sponsored and is thus relatively free of market forces. Teacher do not have to compromise anything for a continuous stream of cash flows.

Second, students in the system are the ones who want to learn and not the ones pushed to lessons by tigher parents (of all ethnic groups).

Third, its open door policy and subsidized tuition make it accessible to all.

As such, its curriculum could be designed ( by more than one concert violinist and experienced teacher, I bet) in a way that is in the best interests of its graduates.

April 14, 2018, 12:43 PM · As much as I would like to see state-sponsored arts in the United States (and I believe strongly that public schools should continue to teach orchestral instruments to all children), there's also a large benefit in allowing all children to learn who want the violin to merely be a hobby.

I absolutely would not have wanted to spend three hours a day practicing as a child! I managed 45 minutes a day, sorta kinda sometimes.

Edited: April 14, 2018, 10:23 PM · Italy is a beautiful country with wonderful people and rich culture. I visit Italy every 2nd year for chamber music workshop organized by a Canadian. Does Italian conservatory system produce violinists competitive enough internationally? I don't know. Young Italian violinists who are rarely seen in world's leading international violin or chamber music competitions. I'm amazed to see how many Curtis students/graduates have been wining top International violin and string quartet competitions prizes. I've also seen students from South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, U.S. and various European countries other than Italy went to finals and semifinals if not wining the top prizes. I'd like to be proven wrong, but if my observation is not too far off from the reality that Italian system has not been producing the finest players in the world these days, then one wonders why.

David, you are right that by going through the entire curriculum designed for kids, one might gain more confidence, but I believe one can also gain confidence by going on their own well-chosen path as long as one gets the desired result, don't you agree? You know these days what gives me confidence? I get it by working side by side with young players (including the ones already have or have been doing Paganini) at community conservatory and taking notes what I should and should not do.

April 17, 2018, 2:03 AM · So this is viola rather than violin, but I learned today that Jonathan Vinocour, principal violist of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, started playing viola at 10 with no prior experience on any other string instrument, didn't decide to focus on music until he was 21 (his undergrad major was chemistry rather than music), and was SFSO's principal violist at 30. Given the rarity of career viola soloists, a principal violist in a major orchestra is basically at the pinnacle of the profession.
April 17, 2018, 7:00 AM · I think Vinocour is probably more characterized as a serious music student who simply chose to initially enter a different career path, rather than someone who didn't seriously study the instrument until late in life.

If you read his interviews, you'll note that he was already studying seriously prior to college -- just that his parents felt that he should enter a career with a more secure financial future. So he went off to Princeton and majored in chemistry. But he notes that he also continued to play seriously during his undergrad, attended festivals in the summer, and by halfway through his undergrad he was already thinking that he'd pursue a career in music.

He went from that to an MM at NEC, so he clearly was already playing at an extremely high level, or he would not have been able to direct-audition into an MM program at a top conservatory.

Note that it's not all that unusual for people to do a bachelor's in some other subject, change their mind about a music career, and go into an MM at a top conservatory. The key thing is that these folks were, by the end of high school, already playing at a level that would have gotten them into a top conservatory.

April 17, 2018, 7:24 AM · "Does Italian conservatory system produce violinists competitive enough internationally? I don't know. Young Italian violinists who are rarely seen in world's leading international violin or chamber music competitions."

I was thinking of pointing this out...

April 17, 2018, 11:28 AM · Re: Vinocour... true, he was a serious student, but I also wanted to note that he didn't start when he was very young. I wouldn't call 10 a late start at all, but when I started I was rejected by teachers who categorically refused to accept beginners in double-digit ages, more than one saying I was too old to ever progress beyond beginner level.
April 17, 2018, 12:48 PM · Mr. Hsieh,

Sorry for the arrogance of a few who claimed to know what your "limits" were based on age-old, non-scientific biases. You deserved better.

Best Wishes on your violin studies.

April 17, 2018, 1:03 PM · I haven't really been following this thread much...

Augustin Hadelich studied at the Livorno Conservatory. You may say that the work was done beforehand, but who isn't that true for?

Even Juilliard or Curtis or whatever - How many of the superstars coming out of these places were really formed there, and how many came with just about all the skills. Those spots probably have the advantage of being able to surround talented students with other talented students. Everyone wants to study with Zakhar Bron, but who among his students wouldn't be just fine in their ability to play if they didn't study with him? I'm sure he's a great teacher, but he's DEFINITELY a big name.

April 18, 2018, 1:45 AM · An outlier maybe, but Steve Doman started violin at 14, switched to viola a couple of years later and has just got a full-time job with the LSO. He's clearly very talented and I have no idea whether violin was his very first instrument, but it's interesting none the less.
April 18, 2018, 8:13 AM · Yes, I disagree with the tonality of the discussion "some places of the world naturally train the best violinists". It is a very one-sided point of view, akin to the US's current tribalistic and warped, nationalistic "ideals" (though, maybe not nearly as bad.)

There are more than one "school" and way to train great violinists, even in our nearly homogeneous teaching era.

There are many great violinists from Italy (and other nations for that matter); you may just not know about them. Also, some of the well-known performers mentioned here would likely hesitate to describe themselves as "best in the world", putting down the "lesser names". Often they realize they are lucky to be where they are, and admire talent wherever it may be found.

Sayaka Shoji studied many years in Italy, despite her studies with Mr. Bron. I am sure she is a "lesser violinist" to some of you, but she clearly isn't to others, including myself.

April 20, 2018, 7:06 AM · Well I've learned my lesson. A person can be 14 and be a late starter.

In order to start a child at 4 or 5 years old you would need extremely keen insight to know if they are cut out for it. How would you know this at such a young age? Some of the discussion almost sounds like we're discussing racing horses instead of human beings.

Why not take it a step further and begin genetic engineering in the womb to make world class violinists?

I'm only being slightly facetious. Genetic engineering is probably much further along than we know.

April 20, 2018, 10:16 AM · I'm not sure what your point is. Most parents starting their children out at age 4 or 5 are doing so as one of many educational experiences they are giving their children. It's more like signing them up for youth soccer, which many of the same parents do for the same children at the same age. Nobody is really worrying about whether their children are cut out for it in the long run or not.

Over several years, it usually becomes quite apparent which children are NOT cut out for it, and those children move on to something else.

Of the seven or eight children in my initial Suzuki class which I began at age five, I am the only professional. One other child played seriously through high school and continues to play at her church as an adult. The other children all dropped out at various points along the way. No harm done, and they could only have benefited from the early exposure--in fact, study after study has demonstrated that early music lessons do have a positive effect on brain development.

I started all three of my own children on violin, quite young. One by one they got to fifth grade and switched to other instruments more to their liking. The early musical experience on violin was a help to them even though I would not say they were "cut out" for the violin.

And fourteen *is* a late starter on a string instrument...this is nothing new.

Edited: April 20, 2018, 10:43 AM · "In order to start a child at 4 or 5 years old you would need extremely keen insight to know if they are cut out for it. How would you know this at such a young age?"

You wouldn't. But -- especially if the child shows an interest -- why not try and see? You can theorize about things endlessly, but some things are just better determined empirically. I wouldn't have devoted my career to synthetic chemistry if I didn't believe that very thoroughly!

If the child does not turn out to be the next Bell or Jansen, that's okay. Violin or piano can still be a wholesome part of a complete education for a child, and it can be an enjoyable hobby for an adult starter. If an adult starter decides to set unreasonable expectations for himself/herself, that's okay too. We all do that from time to time. Around the age of 35 I took up tennis and I imagined that I might get good at it. (cue laughter)

Lydia said that she thought orchestra instruments should still be taught in the public schools. That would be nice -- and I agree with her, as usual -- but I think we'll all agree that violins, oboes, and French horns are expensive. But chess sets are cheap. Like the violin, chess is a bottomless unsolved problem and one in which luck plays no role whatsoever. Chess teaches patience, analysis, concentration, and accountability. It's also much more ADA compliant, at least as far as physical disability is concerned. So, if your school system doesn't have orchestra, maybe they could teach chess.

Edited: April 20, 2018, 12:45 PM · I want to believe that all parents are as described.Simply introducing new experiences to their children. I don't believe this can be said of all parents and situations.

If junior doesn't want to play any more, sometimes Junior is told he can't quit. There is also the possibility that the child's performance can be tied to acceptance or approval.

The motives must be free and pure. I don't believe all parents make these decisions with no competitive spirit. Sometimes the parent is attempting to achieve one of their goals through their children.
@Paul Deck- try and see? Certainly. I don't disagree.

April 20, 2018, 2:49 PM · Sometimes Junior is told he can't quit because parents need to teach Junior that he should persevere at something even if it's hard.

Sometimes there are practical reasons to insist that Junior not quit something, because, say, he's a sophomore in high school and is very accomplished at X (whether violin playing or soccer or whatever), and X is a vital factor in his upcoming college applications.

Edited: April 20, 2018, 4:26 PM · The idea that certain ethnicity or demographic groups excel more at certain activities seems to be too politically incorrect nowadays. But please allow me to discuss further as I'm only interested in understanding it better.

I find Tutti's hypothesis (that we see many East Asians in violin competitions just because there are many more of them are playing it) inconclusive. Because if this was true, East Asians would be better at a lot of other artistic / sport / scientific activities based on the sheer participating number alone.

April 20, 2018, 5:40 PM · Maybe that should be a separate topic? Though it is a bit of a hot potato....
April 20, 2018, 6:53 PM · Again, I'm with Lydia. And I agree with Elise that the question of Asians is one that deserves its own thread, wherein the hot potato might be liberally buttered and salted.
April 20, 2018, 9:28 PM · In my defense, I didn’t bring up this hot potato, and we probably had gone 1000 miles away from the original question (to which direct answers still have been quite limited) so I thought it was fine to ask. But I’ll stop it here.
Edited: April 20, 2018, 10:22 PM · East Asians, like Europeans, are not all alike!

Many excellent violinists are Koreans from South Korea the population of which is comparable to that of Italy.

Edit to add: in fact, South Korea has ten million LESS people than Italy. I just looked it up.

April 20, 2018, 10:30 PM · Firstly, we honestly don't have any reliable data on the number of students learning the instrument by country, at each level, and among those the number who climbed higher to proficiency. Secondly we are not comparing classes of 10 vs 200 students who are identical. For example, while it is true that China has a big population, at the same time its GDP is lower, making people less likely to bring their kids to lessons. Another example is the availability and accessibility of good teachers.

Tutti, I'm not trying to disagree but I find the argument that one group of people performing better than the other just because of sheer population is overly simplistic (though it itself explains part of the phenomenon too - and I suspect it could be a significant part).

As with many other phenomena, what is observed could be result of several factors, with population being one of them, but not all of them.

Among populous countries like India, the Philippines, and Thailand, only China seems to do so well at violins, and yes, China has more students learning the instrument, but what had driven a big number to learn it in the first place? This implies that so many Chinese learning the violin could be just an endogenous variable being catalysed by other (social, cultural, historical, etc) factors. And among them I haven't been able to rule out some innate ability to learn violin well as one potential factor.

Edited: April 20, 2018, 10:40 PM · East Asia might have a higher volume of early starters, and the same may be true of the East Asian diaspora.

Most professional string players of any ethnicity start very young, but based on people I've met, I estimate that a substantial percentage of the regional orchestra and semi-pro string players in Northern California started in the 8-14 age range, perhaps as many as 25%.

Although there are many professional string players in the US who are of East Asian descent, I don't know of a single one who started after age 7. Even among amateur string players in my area, I only know of one Asian-American other than myself who first started after age 7; others may be adult restarters, but they generally first started in the 3-5 age range.

I would surmise that parents of East Asian descent are especially likely to buy into the Suzuki method and start their kids early. Some of my friends are parents; those who are not Asian have asked me if I think their kids are "old enough" to start learning violin at 7-8. Compare to the teachers my parents asked when I was 12-16, all of whom rejected me and several of whom said 12 was too late to ever get beyond beginner level.

Edited: April 20, 2018, 10:54 PM · It's a culture, rather than merely ethnicity-related. "Human biodiversity" is a non-scientific travesty designed to promote fear and hatred among humans, and while made to sound "plausible", basically a modern variation on eugenics (equally bad). The difference is not just the numbers, but it has nothing to do with inborn superiority/inferiority, which is silly and inherently racist (yes, it is.) Moreover, it's very unfair on those Asians that don't fit the "super Asian" role academically (be it music or whatever endeavor "they" are usually successful at.)

An Italian that got raised "as an Asian" will have a similar background. Ditto for an Asian adopted by Italians since infancy and raised in Italy. Has nothing to do with superior/inferior genes.

I do not meam to offend. I have many favorite violinists from all sort of countries and backgrounds. A violinist's potential isn't based on ethnicity, but on other factors, fair or otherwise.

Along with all the strengths, there are also possible drawbacks to each ethnicity's general culture emphasis.

Note that I do respect so-called "Asian" values, even while disagreeing with its more extreme manifestations. I do not mean to belittle Italians, Koreans, or the Chinese. All the same blood-no real difference to me.

Of course some individuals are "smarter", more talented, and learn faster, but it's not about "race". Under these false premise, one may as well avoid studying and/or working hard, since it's "racially impossible" for some people to achieve this or that. It's just ignorance, no matter what big-name teacher may have told you, or did state in the past.

(One of my biggest pet peeves is people having a particular bias against a violinist they have not even heard, based on unfair, age-old biases.)

April 20, 2018, 10:53 PM · By the way, I find the ethnic stereotypes offensive, precisely because I'm a late starter and everyone thinks I've been playing since I was 3.

That said: I'm not sure how much of the Asian-American tendency to start kids on musical instruments early is culture and how much is the effect of social networks. In the Asian-American community, advice tends to spread rapidly, without much regard for its source. I didn't only get the "too old to start" comments from teachers, they also came from my parents' friends, who all said they had heard it would be near-impossible to learn a string instrument if you didn't start by kindergarten.

Many of them started their kids on violin early not because they were pushy parents, but because they had all heard that it was "now or never" and they didn't want their kids to miss the boat on ever having a chance to learn.

April 20, 2018, 11:10 PM · Further: at least in the US, I don't think most non-string-playing parents, outside of Asian-Americans, are aware of how early most string players start. Most Americans who learn a musical instrument learn a wind instrument at school, and many wind instruments are unhealthy to start playing when younger than about 10. So maybe it shouldn't be surprising that, among my non-Asian, non-musician friends, the majority seem to believe 12-14 is the time to start on string instruments, because what they know is how school wind bands work. And they are surprised when I tell them that their 8-year-olds are not only old enough to start, but already regarded by some teachers as too old.
April 20, 2018, 11:12 PM · @tutti, now you're talking - performance in competitions is not explained by population alone. And we can't actually rule out anything.
Edited: April 21, 2018, 10:37 AM · Andrew - what was the background or training of those teachers who rejected you for being too old? And was it for the violin or viola? I noticed that people who teach viola seemed to be more open to so-called "late starters." But that's just my observation. I'm sorry that happened to you.
April 21, 2018, 3:45 PM · @tutti, sorry, what I meant was GDP per capita which makes a lot more sense at individual decisions. Yes China's GDP is very high, and the same is true for other populous countries like India and Brazil (which aren't that much well-known for virtuosi as we have observed).

Yes population does play a role in explaining the success of Chinese violinists (no one would question that AFAIK) but there must be other important forces at work here - be it historical, cultural, social, parental, physical or whatever, and it is impossible to rule out anything outright. The simple reason is that we all present our views under own sets of underlying assumptions in serious lack of controlled experiments and even empirical data - which could make the discussion last forever. No offense to anyone out there, but personally I think some innate ability may play a role too, and there isn't any conclusive evidence to dismiss this. This 'ability' of course may not be (just) genetics but could (also) be the result of cultural and social interactions.

By the way, I was pleasantly surprised that the violin was possibly invented in Italy.

April 21, 2018, 6:42 PM · It was for violin. Even though I intended to switch to viola, I was looking for violin lessons at first because there was an old violin in my uncle's possession that hadn't been played since my great-uncle died more than 20 years earlier.

I'm pretty sure my parents asked only the teachers their friends recommended to them -- all of whom had students winning competitions and going to major conservatories. Most of those teachers were also Asian-American.

April 23, 2018, 5:54 AM · Limitations? Huh?!

If you put a limit - in the manner of, say, a motoring speed limit - on what you think you can achieve then you are responsible for limiting yourself and you have done that by 'thinking' there is a limit.

Please check out the following and then talk to yourself about 'limits.'

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Herman_Unthan

https://www.thehumanmarvels.com/carl-unthan-the-armless-fiddler/


Best

Will

April 23, 2018, 6:01 AM · Scott Cole: V is a coefficient=.0821.
Actually, wait, it might be 1235813. You can also substitute 1/LSAT if you took it.

Plug in either and see what you get.

I plugged in all of the data you provided and it produced a response: "Hillary Clinton." Therefore it is definitely a very flawed 'formula'.

Edited: April 23, 2018, 11:43 AM · It is difficult to fault parents who want their children to be the best they can be. The way in which that takes place can have different answers.

My son expressed an interest early on in playing drums.In my part of the US they start beginners off on snare drum. After he played it for several years he told me he didn't want to do it any more and didn't like it. I told him he didn't have to continue. As he has grown older I have seen what his true abilities are.He is very intelligent but uses it in other ways. In his case I am glad I didn't force him to do it.

My wife played french horn all the way up until college.She tells stories of her dad driving long distances every week and waiting in the car during her lessons. She hasn't touched the french horn in decades and has no desire to do so, though they went to Europe in the finals. Her sister OTOH played French horn and ended up being a music teacher, band director who taught until retirement and still teaches part time.The lesson here is you never know and it depends on the individual.

I can't imagine trying to persuade a 4 year old to hold a violin, much less play one:) I guess you keep giving it to them until they no longer give it back or use it to hit things. Maybe by 6 they begin to grok it.
This must take some very huge teaching skills, and much patience.

I admire parents who want the best for their children. I would say just don't get too carried away with it. Around here we have an affluent school district with one large ethnic population who I won't mention.

Concerning children 6 years old many of them are saying "My son be doctor". Many parents get upset with the teachers if their child isn't in the top of the class when in fact the child isn't doing well. Expectations are high they will all be rich geniuses one day. I picture them like bulldozers with money. The only problem is I think they sometimes loose what's the best for the child.

Admittedly the music programs in many schools here are lacking, although not in my area.
What is cool right now among younger children are beats and rap music or similar. I hear lots of these online "making music" with software. Who needs an instrument? Things are bad for the average child caught in this devolving of music as I see it.We seem to have two extremes here and not much in between.

April 23, 2018, 5:17 PM · "Asians have more nomadic components in heredity and genealogy, their personalities might be a little bit different from Europeans"

Asia is a huge continent and Europe cannot be separated from it, neither it's history nor ethnic makeup. What "Asians" are we discussing...and what "Europeans". Nomads featured everywhere and the oldest sedentary cultures were not in what is now known as Europe but probably in the Levantine periphery of Asia.

I'm sorry go say but the ethno-centeric myth making twist this thread is ending up with here is not in good taste. Especially the implicit sinophobia and the racial-cultural-generalization. If we were to judge people exclusively based on what we dwell on within their history and perceived cultural, then I wonder how one may then conceive Europe and Europeans with its history of bloody wars,genocidal colonialism and intra-European ethnocide.
What sort of "character" can we then conclude about the "European". This is the path of simplistic generalizations.

April 24, 2018, 11:26 AM · “I picture them like bulldozers with money. The only problem is I think they sometimes loose what's the best for the child.”

As if Mr Smith would know what is the best for my child.

Edited: April 24, 2018, 11:43 AM · My comment was not specific David. I think I actually allowed a lot of room in what I said.
My main point being that money, status and beginnings are not assurances,though possibly a good start. I have seen some parents royally muck it up. No child comes with an instruction manual. From my experiences it's more about the child and less about everything else. Once we know the child we can make a plan. JMO.
April 24, 2018, 12:52 PM · Quite honestly, it seems depressing how stuck in the mud everyone here is. Why can't someone in their 20s, who practices 3 hours a day for 10 years, become as accomplished as someone who did the same thing starting in their early teens?

Is there some science that says we can't learn later in life?

Will someone become a world famous soloist? No. Why? Because no matter how good one becomes, the established musical world hates a good story about a late learner.

Which, in my opinion, is why classical music is dying. Why should anyone be invested in something you are constantly told you are not wanted.

Edited: April 24, 2018, 12:52 PM · Again, I suspect the reason so many parents start their kids at such a young age is that, for many years, parents were being told that anyone who didn't start by age 5 or 6 had already missed the bus on ever being able to play violin at a decent level and shouldn't bother starting. I still occasionally hear people claiming it's impossible to develop the fine motor skills if you don't start at that age.

Most of those parents are non-musicians and don't know any different, so the way they see it, if they don't put their kids in violin lessons at age 4, their kid will never have the opportunity again.

This idea seems to come mostly from a misunderstanding of the Suzuki Method, which ENABLES kids to learn at younger ages than with other methods -- but doesn't require it. Note that Suzuki himself started learning the violin at 18.

April 24, 2018, 1:36 PM · "Why can't someone in their 20s, who practices 3 hours a day for 10 years, become as accomplished as someone who did the same thing starting in their early teens?"

I started at 8, and was practicing 5-6 hours a day(including Orchestra) by the time I was 14. Then once I got into college, I got even better exponentially faster because I was completely immersed in music. That being said, even with all my hard work and innate talent, I never got anywhere near the level of a professional soloist. And it has nothing to do with the 'musical establishment' keeping me down. Musicianship doesn't develop in a vacuum, and adults don't generally have access to the high quality instruction and musical environment that a conservatory student has.

Also, adults have habits of misuse and tension with their bodies that can interfere with their ability to play. And they can *sometimes* be stubborn about what they want to learn or what they think they ought to be working on. I'll tell them to work on left hand frame and they are doing vibrato exercises they saw on YouTube.

In my experience, positive parental involvement is the most important predictor of student success. My students whose parents make sure ***without force*** that their kids practice are the most successful and most likely to continue. It's hard for adult students to motivate themselves as if they were their own supportive parents.

It's not that adults can't learn, or become proficient, it's just that there are more obstacles. By the time the 20 year old beginner turns 30 and has been playing for 1/3 of his life, he's competing with 30 year old violinists who started at age 5 and have been playing for over 80% of their lives!

April 24, 2018, 2:10 PM · But, wait, why would a late starter have to catch up to people who are the same age? Wouldn't a 40-year-old late starter just reaching a sufficiently high level to consider professional auditions be competing mainly with recent conservatory graduates in their early 20s, simply because those are the people auditioning for the same jobs?
Edited: April 24, 2018, 5:10 PM · No, a 40 who started at age 20 will not likely reach the level of proficiency of a recent conservatory graduate. Or even the level of proficiency to get into a top tier program. In the same way a person who has read books for years will not reach the level of proficiency of a PhD in literature from Harvard. Or someone who can do their personal taxes cannot compete for jobs with a CPA who has a master's from Wharton. For the record, I've been playing for 30+ years, have went to an solid music school and can't match a 25 year old coming out of Julliard :)

April 24, 2018, 3:46 PM · More broadly, there are an awful lot of 40-something tenured orchestral players who are not competitive with 20-something recent grads from top conservatories. The standard of playing has increased significantly over the course of a generation. Getting the job and keeping the job are different; it is very hard for anyone to maintain the peak level of technique that people tend to reach during their student years.

In a professional audition, nobody really cares about your age, by the way, and in the US, nearly all such auditions will be behind a curtain, at least for the first round.

There are plenty of 20-something recent violin performance grads -- even MM grads -- who can't win an orchestra position, even a freeway philharmonic position, by the way.

April 24, 2018, 4:50 PM · Julie: I'm not talking about a 40-year-old beginner. I'm talking about a 20-year-old starter potentially reaching a level of playing ability by age 40 that is comparable to a 22-year-old conservatory grad.
April 24, 2018, 5:17 PM · I suspect that the late starters who are going to be that good actually reach that point well before age 40. There are some 19-year-old late starters who've managed to be competitive players by the time they're 30, for instance (see Daniel Kurganov's YouTube channel for an example, and his old v.com posts). As I noted previously, though, there seems to be a real delta for the people who start post-college, suggesting the issue is not primarily age-related per se but life circumstances.
April 24, 2018, 5:25 PM · Sorry, I edited my earlier response to be clearer. I was talking about a 40 year old who had been playing for 20 years, but my response didn't say that.

I don't think that an adult beginner will be able to reach the level of a 20 something conservatory grad ever. (don't feel bad, most violinists won't either!) As Lydia pointed out, they play at a high level. They are extremely talented, driven individuals who have been practicing 5+ hours a day and had the best instruction in the country from very early on. They also don't have adult responsibilities to compete with.

Adults don't have access to the teachers, parental support, orchestral opportunities, etc. Further, I think there are some physical limitations for adult beginners that children who play before they finish growing don't have with regards to flexibility.

I think adult beginners can become competent violinists with study and practice. Playing in a amateur chamber group or community orchestra is an attainable goal. I have seen adult beginners who now play professionally as folk musicians. But competing for a spot in an orchestra with a conservatory graduate who's got a master's? Nope.

Edited: April 24, 2018, 7:13 PM · "I don't think that an adult beginner will be able to reach the level of a 20 something conservatory grad ever."

Depends on which tier of conservatories and whether you're talking about their full-scholarship students versus the ones who have to pay full tuition to subsidize the real stars. Curtis, no. The statistics are already heavily stacked against kids who start at age 4 with all the resources.

Viola might also be different from the violin when you're talking about what's possible for a "late starter." They're similar but not the same, in that some technical issues can be less obvious on the viola (though not great in the long term), but are instant, dead giveaways on the violin. I know someone who started viola in high school with no prior background and got into a very competitive conservatory. I don't know of that happening for a violinist, though it's all anecdotal. And in my experience, some viola teachers tend to be more open-minded than violin teachers, so it could be about who's willing to give you a chance.



April 24, 2018, 7:32 PM · True... that said, things that are considered bad technique on the violin may be considered necessary adjustments on the viola. I do things on viola that I myself would never do when I play violin. (I own a violin, but viola became my primary instrument about a year after I started.) For example, I lift my first finger completely away from the fingerboard in order to get the hand mobility I need for vibrato, and I've seen some of the world's leading violists do the same.
Edited: April 24, 2018, 7:57 PM · "More broadly, there are an awful lot of 40-something tenured orchestral players who are not competitive with 20-something recent grads from top conservatories. The standard of playing has increased significantly over the course of a generation. Getting the job and keeping the job are different; it is very hard for anyone to maintain the peak level of technique that people tend to reach during their student years."

It's true that the standard of playing continues to increase but I really don't think there's been *that* much of a change in what has been required to win a job over the past generation. The biggest reason that the typical 40-something tenured orchestral player might not be competitive with 20-something recent grads at current auditions is that life happens and priorities change. Most likely, twenty years ago that 40-something musician was pretty similar to the current 20-somethings.

When I was in my 20s, auditions were my top priority and I practiced a LOT, specifically on what was on audition lists. (I can still play a mean Don Juan and Schumann Scherzo, by the way, thanks to all those hours invested during my early years.) And then my husband and I bought a house and started having children.

When my orchestra went dark during the 2003-2004 season, I didn't even consider auditioning for other orchestras. Not because I didn't think I could be competitive against the younger players with enough work, but because I was not willing to do what it would have taken to become competitive. I would have had to stop doing nearly everything I was doing that brought in money--teaching lessons, contracting and playing gigs--in order to devote those hours to singleminded practice, with no guaranteed outcome at the end. And that would have been massively unfair to my family.

April 25, 2018, 7:27 AM · The whole competitive thing seems very stressful to me. I never started with the intention to compete. Thank goodness. Although maybe those who are/were good competitors didn't think that way either. They simply set out to be their best.

Maybe my perceptions are limited. Probably are to some extent. However this is how it looks to me:
Violinist- Stress, competition, closed doors, painfully high standards,no flex no give, stagnant, static, the need to maintain or constantly improve.
Fiddler- Open doors, flexibility, artistic freedom, no limits, non judgmental.Art for enjoyment.Subjectivity.Late starters welcome.

April 25, 2018, 11:31 AM · Aren't there a lot of fiddle competitions?
April 26, 2018, 6:07 AM · Those are violinists in disguise ;)
April 26, 2018, 7:12 AM · Seriously, though: Aren't fiddle competitions far more prevalent than classical violin competitions, particularly at the adult level?

More specifically, it seems like competitions are used in classical violin primarily as a way to motivate young students and then to scout talent at the international level.

But fiddle competitions seem like more of routine thing for fiddlers, both pro and amateur, at an older age.

April 26, 2018, 12:12 PM · I'm going to make a grand attempt at being serious.

I can only comment on what I know which isn't a lot about this subject.In my area I'm not aware of any such thing. About a mile away from my house in the country there is a group who meets weekly in the summer at a camp ground to play bluegrass music. It isn't competitive in the least. I went to hear them a few times, but I'm rather specific in that I'm not particularly keen on bluegrass music. Though it could be a good place to simply learn some of what they do.I could show up and get through some tunes maybe. Not competitive though unless it's a small unspoken rivalry happening.

Once a year there's a huge fiddlers picnic where thousands show up in attendance. Even then the only competition might be a vote for who the best player or players was. It all has a very informal fun vibe to it.People simply show up, sit around and play. Vendors sell hot dogs and barbecue. A few stands sell violins. Something for lots of people to do on the weekend.I attended more out of curiosity than real interest in that music.

There are probably competitions here and there I'm not aware of.

April 28, 2018, 1:26 AM · To answer the "unattainable" question you would be hard pressed to find an adult beginner who could attain the standard reached if he/she had started playing age 5 with regular daily practice.
I was stunned last week by an adult beginner who started with me 3 months ago. I was explaining up bow staccato on Kreutzer etude 4 and mentioned that some violinists could attain the fast speed as in Hora Staccato, but many excellent players could just not do it. He then played a string of very fast staccatos, albeit on an open D, and explained that he was a percussionist and the "flam" or side drum roll required a muscle twitch which he had mastered and just applied it then and there on the violin.
Now I would have said that technique was unattainable for an adult beginner so you live and learn!
April 29, 2018, 7:06 AM · Timothy where's this bluegrass picnic held, where there are thousands who attend?
April 29, 2018, 2:32 PM · Dumb thought, if the picnic attracts 100 fiddlers and each brings 2-3 reluctant friends/family, plus the local people who come to protest ... easily thousands in audience (giggle)
April 29, 2018, 4:25 PM · My impression is that fiddle competitions tend to be open to all ages, whereas there are few violin competitions open to violinists over 20, and virtually none (I haven't heard of a single one) open to violinists over 35. I know of a lot more regularly held fiddle competitions than violin competitions.

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