Return to the violin after 25 year hiatus
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 violinist.com 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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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:
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.
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 think patience is the greatest virtue.
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.
I think you might find Barbara Barber's Scales for Advanced Violinists to be far more useful than Hrimaly.
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.)
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!
"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."
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.
Thanks for all the advice, welcome, and good wishes!
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 v.com profile) or message me on Facebook to discuss teachers and places to play around here.
I dropped out of violin for 25 years. I wasn't as advanced as you, but not too far behind.
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.
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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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).
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'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.
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.
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.
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*)
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.
The bouncing bow problem can be caused by... the bouncing bow!
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.
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.
I remember that I was obsessed with my bouncy bow. Tried any advice and trick, until I read somewhere (maybe here in v.com) "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
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).
Hiatus. I love the term. Such a very flexible word.
Life priorities get shuffled around, especially for those of us that aren't great at work-life balance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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