Thoughts on adult self-taught violinist (video)

Edited: June 3, 2018, 7:36 AM · I'm curious what some people think of this practically self-taught* violinist. He started maybe 15-20 years ago as an adult (maybe late 20s, early 30s), practiced pretty hard , but then unfortunately, pretty much stopped around 2015.

https://www.facebook.com/arnold.axler/videos/567485889967573/

*I write self-taught because he never really went to teachers, but he had a lot of famous violinist friends who gave him pointers

I'll have to ask him next time I see him his exact violin biography, but it seems pretty impressive to achieve all this on his own starting at a very late age!

EDIT: I posted this because lots of adult beginners are asking what's possible someone who starts late. Of course, this guy practiced A LOT and was surrounded by some of the best violinists out there. He's most definitely an exception but still, it's great to see that there is some sort of possibility to achieve a high level

Replies (18)

June 3, 2018, 7:30 AM · Good for him! I am sure he worked hard to make such progress.
June 3, 2018, 8:17 AM · His talent is good, but why self-taught? The sound could be more smooth and more time would have been saved if trained in another way. Maybe he can call a professor to teach him to play Nel cor più non mi sento.
June 3, 2018, 9:20 AM · Many people say that teaching yourself violin is a bad idea. While I agree, many people cannot take lessons due to a teacher shortage in their area, finances, etc. There are alternatives to in-person lessons like Skype lessons, low-cost group lessons (or discounted or occasional in-person lessons) and video exchanges. If you want to learn violin, go ahead, even if your life situation doesn't allow regular in-person lessons. To sum up, unless taking lessons is a real problem for you, please do try your best to find a teacher.
Self-taught players have limits, but they must set their own limits, rather than having someone else set these limits for them. I think motivation is the true key to success.
Edited: June 3, 2018, 1:07 PM · Let me explain one possible mindset -- I self-taught for the first 16 years I played.

When I was between ages 12 and 16, I was rejected by multiple teachers, some saying I was already too old to even make playing violin/viola a hobby or that I wouldn't advance beyond beginner level. As a result, for many years I thought I would have to reach the level of an undergraduate performance major on my own before I could have any chance of being accepted by any teacher at my age. It wasn't until I was around 30 that I learned there were teachers who accepted adult beginners, and by that time I had a busy career and had a hard time scheduling lessons.

That said... if he was surrounded by famous violinists, he probably wouldn't have been totally unaware that there were teachers willing to accept adult beginners.

June 3, 2018, 1:46 PM · His reasons for being self-taught are multiple. He lives in a tiny village where the only musicians are Gypsy musicians (he is part of this community). In this western Gypsy community, musicians are all self-taught. Not necessarily because it's better, but it's just how it's always been.

Second of all, he has had pointers from the best violinists in the world. He is considered like the Jascha Heifetz of guitar and has collaborated with lots of world class violinists (Didier Lockwood, Roby Lakatos, etc..). He's gotten pointers from all sorts of violinists.

Finally, violin is really just a hobby for him.

Actually I'd be curious to hear violinists.com people's opinions on 100% self-taught violinists (no videos, no books, etc...) . This is very common in western European Gypsy communities. I work a lot with them, and it's very interesting to see what they come up with on their own.

From a classical point of view, it's obviously "wrong" technique, "wrong" vibrato, etc... but they manage to play actual music.

Here's an example of a 19 yr old who picked up the violin 3 years ago, and is 100% self-taught. With no video instruction, no books, nothing at all, only his intuition:

https://www.facebook.com/joseph.luxembourger/videos/1721586517878380/

Again, not saying that self-taught is the way or anything, but for all the people asking if it's too late to do this or that, well i think there are people out there proving that you can still make enjoyable music without having "correct" technique

June 3, 2018, 2:33 PM · If the person has a lot of famous violinist friends who give him pointers, and is surrounded by the best violinist out there, then he definitely isn’t self-taught, just in my opinion.

He even has a much better learning environment than 99% other learners, with or without a teacher!

June 3, 2018, 4:18 PM · “He is considered like the Jascha Heifetz of guitar”

Doesn’t that explain a lot about his progress?

Edited: June 4, 2018, 12:00 AM · "https://www.facebook.com/joseph.luxembourger/videos/1721586517878380/"

Nice. Left-handed playing, with left-handed string and bridge setup (not sure whether bass bar and soundpost are reversed?). Shoulder rest, no chin rest: perhaps left-handed chinrests are not easy to find.

I am not sure I fully believe the "...only his intuition..." because if you grow up in a community with several fine fiddlers around you, you are going to imitate, possibly absorbing ideas from an early age. It would be surprising if they did not give some pointers, too, to a beginner. He clearly has a sound in his mind which he aims for.

June 4, 2018, 4:26 AM · Or it could just be a mirror image video...
June 4, 2018, 6:53 AM · I don't think it's mirror image; the man next to him is wearing a T-shirt and the printing is not reversed.
June 4, 2018, 6:57 AM · It's not a mirror image, he's left handed :-) . He started on the guitar when he was very young

John, you make a good point. In that sense, actually practically no one is 100% self-taught. What I meant was that he had no formal instruction or really any kind of serious instruction. You are correct that he comes from an extremely musical community in the east of France, by the German border. There is a huge concentration of Gypsy families living in a huge chunk of that area. I work with them on and off , so I know them very well. The first violinist I posted is also from that region but in a remote village.

Anyway, all the musicians in that community learned on their own, with very little guidance from family members. Again , it's not that they think it's the best way, it's just a cultural thing. It's been that way forever. They rarely push their children to play music. It's something they choose on their own. The child has to rely on his/her sense of observation/intuition to figure out things on their own. So that happens by watching their family members at family gatherings (and there are many).

When a more experienced adult sees that the child has a good sense of observation , they may receive little tips. Often they'll teach them melodies or songs. And it goes on like that

So that young 19 yr old kid is playing in the tradition of his family. The rest of his family sounds roughly like that too.

Anyway, I just decided to post this because for the entire history of this site, every month someone is always asking "what can i hope to achieve if I start late, etc..."

I think there's one lesson that I learned from this community, is that they're not thinking about any kind of goals when they play music. They play music for the pure joy of it, and whatever happens happens. If you think about it, that's how it is with children too, even child prodigies. A four year old is not thinking "by the time I 'm 10 I need to play the Mendelssohn Concerto" ! That mentality usually comes later, and it's not always the healthiest one.

Edited: June 4, 2018, 7:10 AM · I cannot access the link. But this is so cool. It's inspiring for me that he's gotten so far because I'm teaching myself, too. It's amazing where patience and dedication can get you.
Edited: June 4, 2018, 7:08 AM · I do have one more story:

Like I said, for cultural reasons, they all learn on their own. Actually, my theory is that it became this way because generations ago, they were heavily persecuted (kinda still are), and they were often living below the line of poverty so they could not afford lessons. Therefore, they had to learn on their own, with whatever means they had. This tradition continues today.

I also mentioned that this is how it is in western European Gypsy communities. In countries like Hungary, Romania, etc, where Gypsies go by the term Roma, many receive actual formal training (Roby Lakatos for example). There's a reason behind that and some of it is actually tied to communism! So it's a different tradition.

Anyway, coming back to my story. One parent of a child told me that she tried to bring her son to the local conservatory one time, and upon seeing him play the teacher told her that it was best that her son didn't take formal lessons as he could see a natural creativity in him that he thought would be best left "raw". Well the child has a successful career today, and played Carnegie Hall a few weeks ago ;-). Of course, he's not playing classical music. The teacher saw that it was best for the child not to pursue the traditional path.

Nonetheless, some members of that community do take on the actual formal classical path such as this young fellow:

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


Anyway, like I said, I posted this to show a lot of adult beginners/hobbyists that it can be possible to play good sounding music, and not to worry about goals, but to worry more about enjoying the process and the joy that comes from playing music. Of course, you gotta work hard but you gotta enjoy the work

Actually, one more story. Again, in that community, I once asked a young and talented musician how often he practiced. He told me he almost never practiced. I was very skeptical. One day I spent the entire day with his family ,and I saw him practicing the entire day. I told him "hey , you're practicing!", he replied "no, i'm playing"! In his mind, "practicing" had some sort of rigid meaning, he was just having fun playing the entire day. Again, the lesson is to just enjoy the process :-) . It's like a diet. Diets don't work , lifestyles do !

June 4, 2018, 7:38 AM · Sorry, but Yngwie Malmsteen was the Heifetz of the guitar!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aS_IYe5JTZ4

Sounds suspiciously like Wieniawski...

June 4, 2018, 7:05 PM · I don't want to get into that kind of conversation, Scott. ;-)
June 5, 2018, 12:37 AM · "...upon seeing him play the teacher told her that it was best that her son didn't take formal lessons as he could see a natural creativity in him that he thought would be best left "raw"."

One of the fiddlers I heard at Quecumbar (Gipsy jazz bar) in London was formally trained, I think in Budapest, and although the training was obvious in his playing he appeared not to have lost any freedom by it. Maybe the less technically directed teaching traditions (through Auer, or Enescu) suit such students better than the structured ideas from Capet, Galamian, and many important teachers now working in the parts of Europe to the West of Vienna, where west and east still seem to meet? Not sure as I am not really in touch with the world of the conservatories, so this is just from my observations as an enthusiast.

June 5, 2018, 7:20 AM · Who was it that you saw at the Q? I played there a long time ago! I tihnk I know who it is ;-)

Regarding what the teacher had said; that was just what he felt, I don't know necessarily agree with it. I think everyone is different. Some people benefit from formal instruction, others are creative and will find something very unorthodox but very much their own and still pleasant.

At any rate, like I said, I just hope that beginners and/or adult beginners learn to just find the joy in playing music without worrrying about number of hours to practice or being able to play X piece within Y time.

Edited: June 5, 2018, 1:44 PM · I cannot remember the name of the young Hungarian (?) guy at Quecumbar, with an obviously trained bow arm. It is years since I went there, as I am not so much in London as in the past, and when I am I live further from centre than I did, so Battersea is quite a trek. It was not Tcha Limberger, whom I do remember--was sitting right by his elbow. Must go again...

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