Return to the violin after 25 year hiatus

May 19, 2018, 8:10 AM · I want to return to violin-playing after more than 25 years during which I did not touch the instrument. I've spent some time looking at discussion threads on and I've noticed that a number of members report having returned after similar hiatuses. I am hoping for advice regarding how to begin again: what to practice, how to practice, what to pay attention to technically and musically, what I might expect in terms of getting back into shape.

The repertoire I was working on when I quit lessons early in college included solo Bach, the Mendelssohn concerto, and Brahms sonata in G major. The last piece I performed (just at a student recital) was Lalo Symphonie Espagnole in high school, and I think that performance was probably the pinnacle of my playing, with deterioration through college because I cut back on practice. I did continue in the university symphony until I graduated, and then stopped completely.

I went out and bought the Hrimaly scale system, book 1 of Wohlfahrt and both books of Schradieck. I lost my Flesch scale system at some point during multiple moves, but, in any case, I don't think I'd be playing scales in double stops for quite a while. However, the technical objectives of the multiple pages of Hrimaly scales do not seem obvious to me, so I am not sure it will be more useful than Flesch. I also got a copy of Fischer's The Violin Lesson--having seen praise for it on this forum--and have begun to read it.

My violin is currently in the shop and I can't wait to get it back. I hope it still sounds as good as it did then! I'm not ready to invest in lessons until I have spent a number of months playing and know I can find time to practice despite a fairly demanding job with about 25 percent travel, and other time-consuming professional commitments.

Suggestions from the collective wisdom of this forum would be greatly appreciated!

Replies (44)

May 19, 2018, 8:39 AM · I think the first thing to do is ensure that you've mastered the basics of playing. It might be worth doing some of the simpler scales, and working on intermediate-level repertoire. I can't say any more, and will wait for the more detailed responses of others.
Edited: May 19, 2018, 9:00 AM · A friend of mine (and the violinist I played piano trios with for 20 years - and we were also orchestral stand partners for a few years too) started up on violin again at age 60 after a 30-year hiatus. He took lessons again (from a retired SFS principal 2nd violinist the concertmaster emeritus of the Marin Symphony) for over 5 years and was auditioned into the Berkeley Symphony and also played in several other local orchestras. He also became quite in demand as a chamber musician. He was definitely at the concerto level of playing when he quit playing and was even offered some music scholarships because of his high school solo - but chose a career as a physician instead.

Because of his experience, I would suggest taking some lessons to get restarted on the right track.

Edited: May 19, 2018, 9:40 AM · I returned ~11.5 years ago after a long hiatus and after not having reached as high a level as you in high school and college. (I messed around with Mendelssohn and Bruch, never got close to performing them, and ultimately decided that big romantic violin concertos just weren't for me).

This approach isn't for everyone, but it worked great for me: when I restarted violin, I also started to play the viola seriously. I had some psychological baggage from my violin days that I wanted to leave behind and it was wonderful to start fresh with a new instrument. I played Bach suite transcriptions, Wohlfahrt, some Flesch scales and arpeggios, short pieces out of Barbara Barber's "Solos for Young Violists" Book 1, a book called "Fiddling for viola," and some other short pieces from a book called "Solos for the Viola Player" by Paul Doktor. There are violin versions of all of these. Barbara Barber's Solos for Young Violinists series is a great source of short pieces you can learn and polish relatively quickly. And you don't have to be young to appreciate them--just young at heart! I also played a couple of movements from the Telemann viola concerto, which is in one of the Suzuki books.

After about a year of messing around on my own and playing for fun at the Farmers' Market, I decided to join a non-audition community orchestra and get a teacher. These two things happened at about the same time, and I found a teacher who taught and played both violin and viola. I stayed with her for 7 years until I moved away.

When I showed up at the community orchestra rehearsals, prepared to play viola, I was intimidated by the alto clef and didn't read it very well in an orchestra situation. It turned out that they needed first violins more than they needed violas and were playing repertoire that I already knew from my high school and Youth Orchestra days. So I joined the first violin section instead of the viola section. I would go on to become concertmaster of that orchestra and play in it for 7 years. I met chamber music partners there, and I became more fluent in both violin and viola, playing one or the other as needed.

Since moving to California 3 years ago I have become an almost (but not quite) full-time violist. In all this time as an adult restarter I have found that what motivates me to practice is orchestra music, chamber music, short "crowd-pleasing" pieces and fiddle pieces such as Ashokan Farewell, which I performed on the violin several times at church talent shows and at the Farmers' Market. I thought I had given up concertos for good. And then I performed my first solo viola concerto ever with orchestra last week. So you never know what might happen--LOL!

I had hit a wall with violin concertos and other advanced solo violin repertoire when I was younger: I didn't make progress on these, I didn't enjoy practicing--so I didn't, I wasn't successful, and all that led me to quit the instrument for a long time. I think that if I had tried to pursue that same path again as an adult, it would have defeated me again. Instead I went a different way.

I blogged about all of this in sometimes excruciating detail, which you can read here in the archives (click on my name and you can see and read the blog history in my profile, back to 2006). Blogging about my journey since the restart has kept me accountable, interested, and motivated, even through very difficult or trying times with the instrument. I've played now since the restart almost as long as I did the first time, and I'm not going to quit again :-)

Edited: May 19, 2018, 11:51 AM · If I were you, I would spend some time on getting back in shape (before even taking violin), especially if you do not live an active life. One of major obstacles in coming back are injuries. Good posture, optimized movements and timed practice routine are essential to avoid getting injured.
As always, motivation is the key; finding likeminded people to play chamber music will increase your willingness to practice daily. If the number of sticks is greater than the number of carrots, your adventure into violin world may be short-lived.
Welcome back and good luck!
Edited: May 19, 2018, 2:43 PM · Welcome Jocelyn!

I also took more than 20 years hiatus before seriously returning to violin in my late 40s. I tried to play again a few times before that but didn't last long, not for lack of effort or will or material to work on, but rather, looking back, I didn't have good guidance. So this is what I believe as a successful returner:

1) Regarding what material to work on: I spent a lot of time run through different options at beginning. Scales and etudes were obvious choices but eventually they didn't stick long. I believe the most important element for returners is inspiration, or you may call it, the "carrot sticks." :-) Look for something you really, really want to play so it will inspire to you to keep working on it. Once you've established a routine of playing violin again, you'll start to see all the "holes" (e.g., intonation, tone production, cleaness of playing, musicality, etc.) you need to fill to be better at it, then you can pick and choose the technical materials to fill these "holes". Unlike little kids learning the instrument, we adult returners can and, I would argue, should eat dessert before broccoli as we wish. We don't need to please others, we don't have to be "be good", each time we pick up the violin as a returner, we are giving us a treat, yes?

2) Regarding getting back to shape, violin-wise, to achieve that there's no better way than having regular lessons with a good teacher, but you said you are not going to do that due to your current schedule and workload. Some teachers may be willing to give you occasional lessons just to help you to get back to shape more smoothly than you are doing it on your own.

3) For us returners, I believe commitment is the biggest issue because there's is nothing that prevents us to pick up the violin and play again any time we like. Why we didn't? What's changed now and how can we make this discipline our top priority? These issues should be addressed to begin with.

4) Finally, since you were a very advanced player at the time you stopped playing, you obviously have the skills and knowledge on how to practice. It's not what we are working but how we can be inspired to find ways to get the best out of our effort that really matters.

In short, be inspired, pay good attention and listen to yourself, both your playing and your inner voice why and how far you want to play violin again. Be astonished and tell us how it goes.

May 19, 2018, 1:03 PM · I took two ten-year breaks, and have a demanding career with more extensive travel than yours. I was a more advanced player than you as a teenager, but you were advanced enough that this should apply to you too. My advice would be this:

Get a good teacher. Even if you don't see them every week, the assistance is invaluable. The less you remember about how to play, or are vague in your recollection, the more important this is, so you don't inadvertently give yourself bad habits as you try to remember what you used to do.

Build up your endurance slowly. Experienced players talk about how holding a violin and bow is natural and effortless. It really isn't. It uses muscles that you don't tend to use all the time. You may find that you become fatigued after just five or ten minutes of playing. Do not ignore your body. Practice in short segments, stay relaxed, and the comfort will return as your muscles re-acclimate.

Do basic exercises, a lot. I found Schradieck, Sevcik, Casorti (bowing), and Simon Fischer's "Basics" to be extremely helpful. Pay attention to exactly what your motions are, control them with your brain, and consciously try to recall the correct kinesthetic sense. More than anything else, I think a Schradieck/Sevcik routine helped me re-start in a methodical, controlled fashion after my first long hiatus, and I regret not having done it after the second long hiatus, where I didn't re-establish clean technique from the start.

To pick up on Yixi's analogy: I'm an advocate of dessert when you want it, but please have your broccoli first. :-)

May 19, 2018, 3:01 PM · Take Lydia's advice! Eat your broccoli and play Bach. Oh, Bach is dessert. My suggestion of eating dessert first is more of a strategic one in that, given your previous violin education, you'll likely to notice when "broccoli" is needed, but without having fun first and for most, my fear is you'll more likely to give up again. Personally I've been taking the "should pills" for the past 10 years since my returning to violin. I even take an early retirement to pursue violin nearly full-time and am currently enrolled in a music performance program in our local college working side by side with pro-oriented young musicians. One of the most valuable things I've learned in this program is that, yes, we should work hard and be as solid as we can, but the most important thing not to forget is to have fun while doing it. As adults we have all the responsibilities in life and it's easy for us to forget to have fun all the time. Work side by side with young musicians, I realize that I play harder and better when I have fun. I don't get stressed out so much or get injured when I'm having fun. I'm definitely more alive and more creative when I'm having fun.

Of course, there are different ways of having fun. Working on scales and etudes can be very fun if you know exactly what you want to get out of each practice session and you are creative about it.

May 19, 2018, 4:34 PM · I also recommend taking Lydia's advice, including getting a good teacher. Almost five years ago, I picked up my violin after a 30 year absence and spent a year on my own practicing every night. I then found a wonderful teacher and have worked with her ever since. The key to getting back in real playing shape and improving is working diligently and being consistent. Set realistic goals for yourself. And realize that it is going to take a while before the technique comes back to where you were. Once it comes back, you can build on your technique.

I also discovered that there are plenty of other individuals like us. For example, there is a violinist (who I will refer to as "R") who also studies with my teacher who had not touched the violin for 17 years. R works as a full-time attorney, but returned to playing and today plays on a semi-professional level. R is a terrific player. I have heard R in recitals and chamber ensembles. R plays in a top amateur orchestra too.

There are many other success stories of people returning to play after many years. To be honest, it is not easy especially if you have a full-time career and family. But I think for those of us who have resumed playing again, we appreciate playing even more than we did when we were young. As someone said to me when I returned, welcome back.

Very best to you.

Edited: May 19, 2018, 6:27 PM · I think patience is the greatest virtue.

I quit playing for about 3 years when I was young, and when I decided to return to the violin it took at least a full year before I felt like I sounded anywhere close to how I did before I quit.

My first semester back was awful. I tried to rush back into things and attempted the 1st movement of Bruch on my December jury. I completely fell apart. It was due to a combination of psychological and physical reasons. I thought I had lost it for good and spent that Christmas break contemplating moving on from music permanently.

I can still recall with great clarity the first time the violin felt comfortable in my hands again. It was on a chamber recital at the end of that school year and I played the first movement of Beethoven's op.1 #2 with two others students. It was my first public playing since my breakdown and I was all nerves walking out on the stage but my ensemble mates were great and made me feel at ease. It felt like a small miracle.

It probably also helped that I had been practicing 5-6 hours a day from Jan to May. My violin muscles were in incomparably better shape than in early Dec.

Edited: May 19, 2018, 6:46 PM · I'm a late returnee too. I was a serious player as a youth, then came college and career and children. About four years ago I took up the violin in earnest again after playing sporadically for 25 years. I have a few things I would like to share.

1) If you have time to practice, you may be surprised at how much you can learn. I assumed I'd never again play as well as I played when I was 18, but that turned out not to be the case. I have climbed so many technical walls that once seemed impossible to scale. This notion that we are limited by what we learned as children -- that has just not been my experience. Maybe we lose some things physically when we get older, but we gain so much more in maturity, focus and problem-solving ability.

2) Assuming you have a solid technical foundation, you may do better now without a teacher. In my experience a teacher sets a linear agenda and narrows your focus too much, and you end up brute-forcing problems instead of working on many things simultaneously. You are focused on pleasing your teacher and you can lose your sense of what you want to learn.

Also, at least for me, learning is not linear, it's more like a helix, so when you hit a perceived barrier, you put it aside and return -- maybe the next day, maybe a month from now -- and many times your brain has magically found a solution. Not that hard work doesn't pay off, but when your learning curve flattens out, sometimes that means it's time to work on something else and come back next week. I definitely didn't know this when I was a kid.

It IS possible to hire a teacher for a one-off lesson on a specific problem or issue. It's a great way to get ideas and feedback.

3) Agree with what others have said, daily unaccompanied Bach is just amazingly valuable. You have to gradually develop the left hand technique to play the chords, the right hand technique to play the chords and string crossings, and the musical sense to figure out how to make Bach sound like dances or stories or whatever you want.

And then here's what's beautiful -- all the skills that seem specific to playing unaccompanied Bach turn out to be incredibly useful in all the rest of the repertoire.

4) Never lose touch with Kreutzer, Sevcik, and scales, but don't be afraid to take on Dont, DiBeriot, Wieniawski and Paganini. Just because someone told you you would never play the Beethoven concerto doesn't mean you can't have fun and learn a lot from it. Advanced etudes won't hurt you (as long as you don't abuse your left hand trying to rush 10ths).

Be patient, work a measure at a time, ENJOY the most challenging passages of a beautiful etude. A lot of Paganini is not that useful, it's parlor tricks, but a lot of it is really nice for left hand development and building confidence on the fingerboard, and bow technique, just like Bach. (And Paganini caprices are gorgeous, to boot) I have heard that kids are introduced to Dont and Paganini earlier now, and it is probably a good thing.

5) Don't underestimate the power of Youtube as a violin teacher. The resources are just incredible. Sassmannshaus, Heifetz master classes, Galamian, Perlman are all there along with a new generation of masters like Nathan Cole who have a personal mission to teach the world.

It has never been so easy to collect a bunch of ideas about how to solve a problem (often by google searching and ending up on this site!) And sometimes the trick is no trick -- I'll always be grateful to Cole for an offhand remark about the intricate three-string passage in the Bach E Major prelude -- suggesting to not overthink it, just play it and in time it would just happen -- and it did.

May 19, 2018, 9:19 PM · I think you might find Barbara Barber's Scales for Advanced Violinists to be far more useful than Hrimaly.
May 19, 2018, 9:33 PM · I disagree that teachers set a linear agenda. I have never found that to be the case with the better teachers I've studied with, either as a student or as an adult. (I have found that it was more common with my teachers as a beginner and early-intermediate student.)

My current teacher does a great job of attacking problems from many angles (and knowing when to move on from something and come back to it later), and on working on multiple aspects of my playing at once. And we juggle my fluctuating amount of time to practice, and the constraints of my performance schedule, including having needed to put together programs for recitals / auditions / etc. which necessitates some thoughtful attention to repertoire choice.

One of the nice aspects about being an adult is that you can have thoughtful conversations with your teacher about what you want to learn and what your goals are.

May 20, 2018, 9:08 AM · OP welcome. I returned about two years ago after decades of not playing at all. I will not bore you with more advices. Good luck and enjoy your unfinished journey!
May 20, 2018, 9:57 AM · "so when you hit a perceived barrier, you put it aside and return -- maybe the next day, maybe a month from now -- and many times your brain has magically found a solution."

Speaking only personally, I've never found this to be the case. I've always had to find a solution, or strategy by myself, thinking hard about it and experimenting with possible solutions.

May 20, 2018, 10:25 AM · I've found this to be the case personally, especially when rebuilding old skills. Some days, there's a little magical "click" and I retrieve a locked-away memory of how it feels to do something.

For new skills, sometimes other building-blocks make it easier to acquire a new skill, or something simply sinks in, and a solution appears.

For new pieces, sometimes an intransigent passage becomes easier when the work is left alone for a while. I think what happens in this case is that early on, it gets learned badly, and then the problems become nearly impossible to undo. Left to decay back to an "unlearned" state, it can then be re-learned properly.

May 20, 2018, 11:10 AM · Thanks for all the advice, welcome, and good wishes!

Karen, I've had similar thoughts about learning the sequence of "standard" concerto repertoire, since it's highly unlikely I will ever play a concerto with an orchestra, and I think I may be missing out on playing other types of music because I am spending so much time learning concertos. (Congratulations on your recent Telemann solo performance, though!) However, I do love some of the romantic concertos I have not played yet: Beethoven, Prokofiev no. 2, Brahms, among others. And I need to put more time and effort into that Mendelssohn!

Rocky, I think I am in good cardiovascular shape, however, I tend to have recurring tendonitis in my right thumb and some rotator cuff issues especially in the right shoulder. The thumb issue is due to mousing at work and the rotator cuff problem began as a teenager learning spiccato, and has reoccurred over the past ten years because I swim several hours each week. I've sought professional help with both issues (consultation with HR about ergonomics and physical therapy), but I do worry that they may impact my playing.

Yixi, I was thinking I'd stick to easy scales and etudes for a while because I think it would be too frustrating to try to play anything musically daunting (Mozart comes to mind) while my technique is still at a rudimentary level. I'm actually looking forward to practicing etudes mindfully. As a kid and teenager, I think I frequently didn't understand the point of the etude I was working on. In college and graduate school, I finally learned how to study and I hope I can apply that understanding to my practice.

Lydia, you provide some good advice regarding endurance and re-setting the foundations of violin-playing. I look forward to learning to hear my playing better than I ever did as a kid. (I see you are in the D.C. area, and I may ask your advice regarding teachers, since I moved to the D.C. area from the Bay area less than five years ago and do not have other contacts out here who could recommend a good teacher.)

Charles, Ryan, and Thomas, it is great to hear these returnee success stories! Unfortunately, I will not have 5-6 hours per day to practice...let's see what I can do on 1? I was working on some Dont Op. 35 etudes when I quit and I think they were very challenging when I quit, so I might leave Paganini aside for a bit.

Another question regarding teachers: how do good, experienced teachers feel about teaching adult amateurs? Is there any stigma associated with it? 30 years ago, it would have seemed really strange to my little musical circle for an adult who was not an advanced conservatory student to take lessons.

Edited: May 20, 2018, 6:38 PM · Jocelyn, given that you had a good foundation, an hour a day should be plenty for restoring your technique and learning new repertoire. When you're comfortable playing again, there's plenty of chamber music opportunities as well as community orchestras. Feel free to contact me via email (my email is linked to the Contact button for my profile) or message me on Facebook to discuss teachers and places to play around here.

I get a balanced diet of concertos, showpieces, sonatas, solo Bach, and etudes from my teacher. I did mostly concerto repertoire as a kid, so I've been particularly keen to learn other repertoire that I could actually perform in a recital setting.

You'll find that the high-quality teachers around here have widely differing opinions on teaching adult amateurs. Some of them will adamantly not teach adults. Others welcome adult students, especially advanced adult students. At your level, you want to study with someone who teaches at the college level and/or teaches advanced high school students (especially those with ambitions to go on to conservatory). Message me privately and I'll share my experiences.

May 20, 2018, 7:59 PM · I dropped out of violin for 25 years. I wasn't as advanced as you, but not too far behind.
After a year--not before--I took lessons again. By then I had regained most of my technique. I was an adult when I began violin, so my entire tutelage was with a teacher younger than myself. We talked about goals, practice, learning, technique, skills. When I returned to the instrument, the mechanisms weren't there but the conscious learning, how to practice and what to listen for, those were present.
With that and a mirror most of what I'd lost I relearned in about a year. perhaps it would have been less, but I was working 40-50 hours a week and had a 12-year-old son. When I returned to lessons the teacher was surprised but shouldn't have been. At this point I'm playing repertoire that I wouldn't have been able to play before I stopped in the late '80s.
Work not on what's next in Wohlfahrt, but what you know you need. Octave scales on one string or shifting studies? Go for it. Don't waste time. You want to do Ten Have's "Allegro" for a specific problem, and Viotti or Rode for something else? Fine. You have a brain, use it to achieve your goals. When you think you've achieved them, *then* there's the teacher (to tell you otherwise). Before you've come close to maxing out by yourself the teacher's going to be a waste of money and is likely to just tell you to do what you know you need to do, or to point out incidental lapses.
In my paltry experience, most teachers don't want to teach adults because they don't think they're committed and don't think they can progress. I've been through that with violin and guitar. My first few attempts at tracking down a violin teacher, in fact, ended with "I don't teach adults," and the teacher I ended up with, an Eastman grad, said she'd only teach me because she needed the money. In both cases the teacher admitted s/he was wrong: adults *can* learn and it's not a waste of time and, in fact, can be enjoyable to have an adult to talk to. It's just not the usual case, however. We may not always be as flexible, but we're mature and can be dedicated; most young students never go to conservatory, so so what if adults are unlikely to? If there's a teacher that you want based on reputation and referrals, ask if you can pay for a single lesson to show what you can do. Demonstrate commitment to goals and say where you want to get to. If your goal is Reger and not Bach, perhaps that's not the right teacher after all.
Good luck.
May 20, 2018, 9:18 PM · I think that good teachers represent a massive ongoing boost in efficiency. That's why even young virtuosi who land solo careers in their teens nevertheless continue to study with teachers. It's not that they aren't able to improve themselves. It's that they are getting so much better, so much quicker, as a result of teachers.

By the way, you'll also find that attending masterclasses as a participant, or otherwise getting the opportunity to play for other teachers or coaches (like chamber-music coaches), or to get written comments from a jury (like a competition jury), will get you more tidbits along the way, which will accelerate the improvement of your playing.

Sure, I could struggle to figure something out on my own, even though I'm a very advanced player. But why would I want to spend my limited practice time doing that, when my teacher could give me a shortcut that instantly makes it better and that I just need to practice for a few minutes to solidify?

That doesn't mean I turn my brain off when practicing, of course. I can -- and should -- solve routine problems on my own. But I don't waste time banging my head against intractable problems (or even problems that aren't yielding to a few minutes of experimentation with solutions). I bring them to my teacher, thereby allowing me to more effectively use the time and energy I have available to practice.

Also, the more advanced you become, the more you find that incremental improvement requires noticing more and more fine-grained details. Recording myself, I can hear some things, but my teachers have been much better at distilling the essence of what needs to improve, as well as correcting the smaller physical things that are so much ingrained habit that I've long ceased noticing them.

May 21, 2018, 12:18 AM · wow, I don't know how y'all get away with taking so much time off. I've taken about 8 months off in 42 years.
May 21, 2018, 10:12 AM · About teachers, I feel like I have been blessed with wonderful teachers as an adult--overall much better than the ones I had as a child, although there were some standouts there too.

I found my teacher in the Boston area through the Longy School of Music when that institution still valued adult education. (Longy has since become yet another pro conservatory in what I regard as a stunningly tone-deaf business decision.) In the Bay Area I found my current teacher by recommendation of my son's cello teacher (they are colleagues).

I agree with Lydia, to a point. Teachers can solve your problems quickly, leaving you your limited practice time for improving and polishing. I, however, have also needed some help with how to practice, and my teachers have been really good with that as well. Sometimes I will show my teacher how I've been practicing something and she will suggest a tweak that will make my practice more efficient.

I have not experienced the attitude that some have reported of teachers not wanting to teach adults. My biggest problem is probably talking too much in my lessons. The teachers that I have worked with, and loved, have been orchestral players themselves, with a local opera or ballet for example. They don't have huge studios, or egos, and they teach kids as well as adults.

Edited: May 21, 2018, 4:26 PM · I too agree with Lydia and Karen regarding what and how quickly a good teacher can help us to achieve that we wouldn't otherwise. In addition to the benefit of efficiency and problem solving for having a good teacher, I love what Henning Kraggerud said during one of his Masterclasses:

"What has made you so good now is the same thing that prevents you from being better. To be better, you have to think of something new, then choose which way to play it afterwards. "

My teacher constantly challenges me to look at what I'm doing in new ways that are simply outside of my familiar framework. As an advanced player who loves practicing and recording myself often, I have pretty good ideas to spot where the obvious issues are and ways to fix them, but the best things I've got from my teacher are things that I didn't even know could be considered. Often she makes me do something completely differently than what I've been doing. Not that what I've been doing was wrong, but she shows me better alternatives only a very experienced fine violinist can see. It can be a bit annoying initially or for a few days, but I trust her and work with her suggestions so the end results are usually so much better, not just improving specific spots but my overall understandings of the music and violin playing.

I have to say also that finding a good teacher takes work. I had not so great teachers in the past and I also worked with similar ones from time to time during masterclasses, workshops and music camps. It's not that a teacher's particular attitude towards me that might bother me; that's not ideal but no one is perfect. I am here to learn music so I can take quite a bit if the teacher has the chops and is willing to share with me. What I find most frustrating and wasteful is when a teacher doesn't give you much or they just say things to make feel good.

May 22, 2018, 1:00 AM · Jocelyn, do you have Kreutzer? From what you write it may be exactly what you want. Moreover the Internet contains a lot of good background material on the Kreutzer etudes.
Edited: May 28, 2018, 8:21 AM · Geting a *good* teacher and going through a set of etudes (I did Kayser back to back) were what got me back to my previous level.

Since then, I believed I have made steady progress working my way through the so called “Bruch level” which is not possible without a good teacher.

May 22, 2018, 7:09 AM · Jocelyn,
I returned to the violin after a 40 year hiatus and found that all my faults and weaknesses were in good condition, and my playing strengths were in flabby, poor conditions. Lydia's advice is right on. It may surprise you, but you have to think of yourself as a beginner on violin. You need a good teacher. Find a teacher who teaches body mechanics and violin muscle movement. Your body is not as pliable as it was as a teenager, and when injured, it will now take forever to heal. From experience, I can say that is a real bummer.
May 22, 2018, 8:30 AM · I agree with pretty much everything said above (including the contradictory things, heh), but particularly with Thomas Boyer's post, which has been very similar to my experience. I never completely stopped, but I didn't process very much forward between about 23 and 36, then started suddenly being able to make progress due to some combination of being in the right place, and stumbling onto an equiptment change (new, lighter and more balanced bow) that fixed my bow hold in a way that totally changed where the apparent technical barriers were.

One might of course suggest that a sufficiently good teacher would have spotted the same technical limitations before I was 36 - though actually I wonder, as some of these things can be tricky to spot from the outside. While I suspect my teachers told me things about my bow hold tension and right hand balance, etc, many times, the intuitive discovery from picking up a different bow and instrument and simply finding problems vanishing in an hour that I never knew were there, is something that may not be easy to teach.

If (and only if) you are at least close to being able to play them, Solo Bach and Paganini Concerto in D Major mvmt 1 (even just the first page) are amazing pieces that will teach you things that apply widely elsewhere. I tend to play the first two pages of that Paganini as a warmup, and a way to make sure my hand is moving - probably this is because I lack sufficient patience to play enough scales by themselves. (This section has fingered thirds, arpegios, and scales in significant number, stitched together by enough melody to make them palatable to my limited patience, and something about the opening bit jump to sixth position really straightens out my hand position, and taught me an entirely new approach to vibrato that I successfully passed on to my daughter with just those six notes.)

That said, I'd love to find a good teacher for advanced (but inconsistent and amateur) one-off lessons for adults - anyone know any such person in the Pittsburgh PA area?

Edited: May 22, 2018, 12:14 PM · People return to an instrument with varying degrees of skill. In my experience, people playing at the advanced level (Bruch concerto and beyond) end up recovering to at least a solid intermediate level within a year, and perhaps even within a couple of weeks. Most previously-advanced players get back to being able to play the same general level of repertoire (even if perhaps not as fluently as in childhood, if they used to practice more).

The same is largely true for intermediate-level players who had solid teaching and skills. Folks who were less well-taught often have to go back to building a foundation almost from scratch, though.

However, rebuilding takes time. I think it's more pleasant to rebuild in the context of doing repertoire, in conjunction with exercises and etudes. Plus, skills need to be applied in context. On my first return, it turned out to be a good opportunity to fill in the intermediate repertoire I hadn't learned before.

May 22, 2018, 1:10 PM · When I stopped playing regularly around 20yo, and then completely a year or so later, I was around the Bruch level (meaning: I could play the entire first and second movement, and was learning the third). I returned 1.5yrs ago, and was asked to restart the Bruch a few months ago. I started to relearn it, but have since declined because big romantic concertos (while amazing to listen to) are not as satisfying as learning shorter pieces for me at this moment in time. There are still some I'd love to play one day, but the Bruch is no longer one of them.

I was one of those who badly needed to rebuild my foundation from scratch, so I suppose it's a miracle that I'm at the playing level that I'm at now. I still feel like I'm a terrible player, there is always something to fix!!!

It's also interesting to be working with a teacher who is particular about how things are done (vs my childhood teacher) - what was acceptable bowing "back then" is completely wrong now. Undoing those bad habits is frustratingly time consuming.

I like that I have my pick of repertoire (I have an ok-sized collection that we choose works from), and work in conjunction with etudes/exercises.

Starting with a teacher made a huge difference for me - I restarted on my own for a few weeks and was so frustrated that I hired a teacher.

Frustration is the cornerstone of my violin practice apparently.

May 28, 2018, 8:12 AM · I've been practicing daily for a few days now, having gotten my violin back from the luthier. First day: tried to play a two octave G major scale and kept having to slide my fingers around to find the correct pitches. Third finger hopelessly flat and fourth finger, while closer to the mark than the third finger, collapsed. Played long, slow bows watching my form in the mirror. Amazingly, my bow hold seems correct. Bad bounce in the middle of the bow even when everything seems to look right. Second day: discovered that Schradeick first etude is much too advanced. Practiced finding first, second, and third finger pitches in first position. Bow bounce still there, but not quite as bad. Third day: discovered that Wohlfahrt first etude is easier than the Schradeick first etude. Played through Wohlfahrt etude 1 and etude 2 twice, and half of Schraideick 1 twice. Pitch accuracy was much better the second time through. No improvement with bow bounce.

I bought some intermediate repertoire while I was at the violin store, but I think I over-shot. I also got the Barbara Barber scale system recommended by Mary Ellen, which looks great. But for now, I'm dumb-ing it down.

I'm more confident I'll continue to improve pitch accuracy than improving smoothing out the bowing. I watched some videos online about correcting shaky bow, but I have a feeling my problem is more primitive than those address by Nathan Cole, the Online Violin Tutor, and others. I know I had bow problems when I quit (some sloppy bow changes and l/r hand coordination problems in difficult passages), but I don't remember shakiness ever being an issue. My cheap $125 bow is somewhat easier to control than the 1.7K one, probably because the better one is livelier than the cheap, dead one.

It is sobering to recognize that pitch accuracy is much easier to fix on a good-sounding violin with resonance than on those cheap student violins kids get at their public school programs....

Any suggestions on the bow bounce problem? And repertoire suggestions that are easy, but still musically interesting?

Edited: May 28, 2018, 8:43 AM · At your level playing through all of Schradieck No. 1 with the repeats could put you in the hospital. That's a LOT of repetitive motion. Take it easy and for heaven's sake don't try to play the whole line in one slur like it's marked. If you're having trouble with basic stuff like bow shaking and the like, by all means go for Suzuki Books 1 and 2 and give yourself a chance to settle back in. There is nothing wrong with that! Two octave scales are just fine for now, really they are.

I'm in the category of player who studied violin throughout my entire childhood but I was not well-taught and I needed to build most of my technique from scratch upon returning after 25 years off. One thing my childhood teacher did teach me was how to add schmalz.

May 28, 2018, 10:35 AM · Jocelyn in the search box on this site (top or bottom of each page), search for [bouncing bow] (omit the square brackets). It is a classical topic and you'll find a lot of helpful past discussion/tips about bowing in general.
May 28, 2018, 11:07 AM · Jocelyn, I feel your pain. I think I've realized that a major hurdle for me is fixing my left hand position so that the base joint of the 4th finger is closer to the neck. Not having a strong and reliable 4th finger makes the 3rd partita pretty much impossible to play in tune or at tempo. I'm trying to do the Simon Fisher hand widening exercises and failing, miserably. But this feels so fundamental that it's hard to work on other stuff before i sort it out. If you're near Lydia, maybe you could try to work with her teacher. Apparently he's pretty ace at getting fundamental technical issues resolved. I haven't been able to find anyone comparable in the Stanford area (at least not someone interested in working with an adult amateur. *Sigh*)
Edited: May 28, 2018, 1:54 PM · As for the bouncing bow problem, it is interesting how many of the top violinists, when already at professional level, were put back on open string practice for several months. This is a luxury I have as another returning adult student, though it is hard on the neighbours.

It is usual to get the upper half and lower half working separately first of course, using a mirror, before putting them together. Taking a whole bow is relatively advanced.

There are several masterclasses on Youtube where Zuckerman encourages conservatory-level students who are already ahead of me to work on being able to manage the bow on open strings, e.g. in

May 28, 2018, 4:27 PM · The bouncing bow problem can be caused by... the bouncing bow!
If the bow is not balanced properly and does not have good physical properties, it will bounce more than a great quality bow.
May 28, 2018, 4:35 PM · My suspicion is that the bow tremor is the result of too much tension in the right arm / hand. You may be gripping the bow a bit more tightly than you did when you played as a child. Also, your bow arm might be at the wrong level. The kinesthetic sensation of playing will be somewhat different than you remember it because your muscles don't have the strength and endurance that they used to.

As for intonation: Don't slide any fingers. Always repeat the previous note and then re-place the finger that was incorrect. You have to re-teach yourself the feel of a correct placement, and sliding to correct will result in training the bad habit of an after-the-fact correction.

Schradieck's first exercise is a great exercise. Set a metronome to 60. Slur four notes to the bow, one note per click. Be precise in the way your finger drops and pulls off the string. Hold down fingers going up, and pop them off going down. If you need it slower than 60, turn down the metronome even further. From my perspective, this is by far the very best exercise for restoring your left hand to decent shape. Keep it to five minutes at a time to avoid fatiguing yourself quickly (and to maintain full mental concentration).

May 28, 2018, 9:33 PM · Regarding bouncing bow, try play very slow bow (30seco bow) very close to the bridge wth sufficient pressure, as evenly as you can. See how well you can control your bow. When there is good bow hair and string contact, the bow is less likely to bounce. Yes, bow arm tension can cause bow bouncing. I am taught to think more about fingers and hand feel when bow your violin. Think your bow as an extension of your fingers. In other words, your bow arm is basically lead by your hand unless it comes to string cross.
May 29, 2018, 2:39 AM · I remember that I was obsessed with my bouncy bow. Tried any advice and trick, until I read somewhere (maybe here in "it's like hiccups. When you ignore it, it goes away". And one day I realized it was not bouncing. Funny. When I think about it, sometimes it happens :-P
Edited: May 29, 2018, 5:03 AM · Rocky...I also read that there are great bows in the hands of people who aren't on the level of playing them would bounce (unintentionally).

Ones teacher will tell if it's a workable bow.

I see Carlos' point in that if you carry on, you and your teacher will work a lot on your bowing and that these will all get you to control the bow better in different ways. I suspect that a bouncing bow is at the cross roads of more than one or two issues (ok, crossroad already implies more than one).

Lydia, Schradiek ex 1 is great but my teacher used it for left hand really. I cant see why it couldnt be used for bowing. However wouldn't you say that detaché on different parts of the bow (lower, middle, upper) to get the different mechanics involved then working up to whole bows (slurred or detaché) would be more a way to focus ones knowledge of the bow?

May 29, 2018, 8:33 AM · Hiatus. I love the term. Such a very flexible word.

It could be 6 months or 25 years and it's still a hiatus.25 years seems to me like it deserves another description. If a hiatus is pretty much the entirety of something there isn't much left. If I leave my house and come back 25 years later and tell my wife. Sorry dear, I went for a loaf of bread and went on a hiatus...I dunno. It's a little word with BIG implications. You now live in a body that's 25 years older than it was then. Things might have flopped and dropped a little bit by now. 25 year olds might be holding the door for you and calling you sir.

I guess the only difference between a hiatus and going permanently awol is you eventually decide to come back.

I think it's amazing that people rekindle an interest after years of time away. I wonder if there were there people who wanted to play for the entire hiatus and couldn't? Wouldn't you make a way? 25 years is a long distraction.I'm not cutting on anyone here. I have difficulty understanding the mentality. I can't claim a hiatus, only ignorance in not knowing how wonderful the violin was until much later.

May 29, 2018, 9:22 AM · Life priorities get shuffled around, especially for those of us that aren't great at work-life balance.

In some ways, the more serious a hobby one has, the more difficult it is to maintain that hobby on a casual level. For me, violin-playing has always involved trying to climb ever higher mountains, so to speak; it demands significant involvement and thus a lot of time and energy. Taking regular lessons and playing with a group are critically important for me.

I quit playing in college because I was already so busy that I wasn't getting enough sleep. After college, I went to work at a start-up, where I generally worked a minimum of 80 hours a week, and as much as 120 hours a week -- while also trying to get a master's. It wasn't until I quit working at start-ups that I returned to the violin.

Then we moved cross-country and I never managed to get properly hooked into the local classical music scene. I returned to working really long hours. It wasn't until I was given the opportunity to cut back that I started playing the violin again, and even that involved herculean effort to make the time.

You don't love it any less. It's just that you can't fit it in. Yes, of course, if you Really Really Love It, you can choose to ensure that it takes priority no matter what else is going on, but most of us don't have the luxury of doing that with our hobbies.

Edited: May 29, 2018, 6:41 PM · If anything Lydia it shows you are driven to play. I can relate to a lot of what you say about time or the lack of it.

I'm guessing many people play when they are younger and have every intention to go back into it again in say a year or two, then something comes up. Before they know it lots of time has gone by. Much more than they had anticipated..

I am forced to put violin at the end of my days which begin at 5:30 am. On my summer 4 day schedule I'll need to be up by 4:30. The good news is I have another day off. Sarcasm says I'll need half of it to recoup.

I think it's a good thing to take the occasional mental health day. I have taken V-days midweek just to make music. Find someone to watch the one is home. Turn off the cell. I haven't done it in a while. For awhile I did this at least once or twice a month. My wife has seen how frustrated I get at the lack of time and suggested I quit my job and go part time. I won't do that.

The most frustrating thing about lack of time is the little creativity I have drops way off when I'm tired. Can't do most of this in 15 minute snippets when tired. If I don't bring an idea into rough form it gets put on a back burner only to be forgotten. There needs to be a start to finish in place to work on. I was never one of those "come hell or high water I'm going to follow my art" at the expense of everything else. Art is very important but concessions need to be made.

I think some of us need a daily dose of art to feel normal.Most other things are mundane in comparison. Life always wants to bridle the horse.

May 29, 2018, 7:27 PM · It isn't a "mentality" for me; rather a change in life circumstances. Learning the violin takes mental effort, self-awareness, and a high tolerance for frustration. I was intensely focused on academic and career-related tasks for about two decades to the exclusion of most anything else. I didn't have the psychological space for assuming challenging work in an unrelated domain. Now my footing is more secure on the scramble upwards than it had been earlier, and I have the energy available.
Edited: May 29, 2018, 11:06 PM · Jocelyn, I was more like you when I picked up violin again after huge life changing events such as immigration to Canada and basically started everything from scratch to finish three degrees and secured a job that could give me the stability and mental space to play again. There are many reasons to keep me playing now that I'm retired, yet none motivates me more than the ability to debunk the myth that you cannot reach certain level if you didn't start very young or if you are too old,etc.
June 16, 2018, 2:17 PM · This is a great thread! I recently returned to my violin after a 38 year absence, and it's been a wild ride. Some things came back quickly--others (esp speed) are taking longer. And all my old faults are still there, but I'm older and wiser, as well more patient with myself than I was at 17. I'm prepared for it to take about a year to play as well as I did then, but I hope I will actually play better, because I'm attacking the problems differently this time around.

I recently blundered into the opportunity to play in a community orchestra, which is a little bit beyond me right now, but I'm doing it anyway. :-) I'm hoping it will keep me interested and challenge me enough without frustrating me. I will look forward to your updates, Jocelyn!

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