How much progress can I expect as a late starter?

November 16, 2018, 4:06 PM · I am a high school student who started about a year ago. I’m 14 now. I wish I could have started earlier but it was not possible due to certain circumstances. I think I’ve been making fairly decent progress. I like my teacher and she is very good. She makes sure I master everything before moving on, which was annoying at first but I really appreciate it now.

I joined my high school orchestra and I can now play with them and not feel like I am inferior. Most of them started when they were 3rd grade or earlier (like 5 years is pretty common) but some in 4th or 5th. My orchestra teacher says I am doing very well and my private teacher says I play with good intonation and tone.

I do have areas I’m not so good at but I’ve been working on that and it has improved a lot- sometimes I do get a bit tense and that affects my playing. I can shift and play reliably in 1st to 5th position in tune. I’ve explored 7th position a bit but I don’t want to go too fast and develop bad habits. I recently got 2nd chair in our orchestra and I’ve been working on some of the simpler Mazas etudes which I found have been really helpful for solidifying shifting and rhythms.

I’ve had to learn a lot in a short span of time but I don’t think it’s been too terrible. It’s been a lot of work definitely. In some ways, I (and my teachers) feel like I could do better if I was more confident and willing to take risks. I’ve been trying that out the past few days. It’s been good so far.

Anyways, I wondering if I have a chance to get into our city youth orchestra next year which is a bit more advanced than our high school orchestra. I know some people in that orchestra and one of them, she says she’s been working on stuff like Sevcik and some Kreutzer. She’s a violinist.

I was also wondering what future progress can I expect?

I hope I gave enough info, but if not I can always add more.

Thanks in advance!

Replies (21)

Edited: November 16, 2018, 5:30 PM · Among the string musicians I have known were a man in his 30's who was playing in the 1st violin section of the community orchestra 1-1/2 tears after starting violin lessons.

An 18 year old young woman in the USC Heifetz Master Class in the early 1970s had started violin at age 13 and played like professional soloist. I met her in a masterclass I participated in; in addition to her mastery of all three-octave scales, fingered octaves, and everything else in the "Heiftz warmup" she played a complete Bruch violin concerto "performance" that was recording worthy. All this after 5 years of violin.

I can't predict your future progression on violin, but if you have sufficient motivation, and guidance, and work on it you can go far.

November 16, 2018, 4:39 PM · I believe Chabrier started COMPOSING quite late in life, also Havergal Brian.
November 16, 2018, 4:42 PM · One of the biggest impediments to late starters is this gem of seemingly inescapable logic:

"All the good musicians started early. Because I started late, I cannot be as good."

So in addition to questions like raw talent (motivation, ear, finger dexterity, concentration, memory, trainability, etc), there is the question of whether you can defeat this mentality.

November 16, 2018, 8:27 PM · Starting in the early teens isn't really a major problem, assuming that you are not trying to prepare for conservatory auditions. You just need to stick with it patiently, and probably take lessons through college (and beyond if you can), rather than stopping at the end of high school like many people do. People can and do become professionals with an early-teen start, but it requires a lot of extra dedication to catch up.
Edited: November 16, 2018, 9:28 PM · Probably as high as you want. I don't really think the problem is when you started. The problem is how much time you dedicate to the violin and how constant. I think the advantage with kids (3-10 years old) is that they have so many free time.

If you start in your late teens or twenties, I don't think that you're bewitched and won't be able to play like a master. Not at all. What normally happens is not age's fault, but college or work. That's what happens. If you take it very seriously you will be able to practice "a lot" during high school, but then in college people normally drop it sooner or later. So you had 4-6 years of serious practice, while a kid that started at 7 years old can play for almost 11 years straight very intensively and regularly. If you want to compare to these kids, you "must" do the same from 14 to 25, which is totally possible but normally external factors (college or work) kill it.

Also, for an unknown reason to me, conservatoires and important music schools value the age of the player a lot, specially in violin, piano... So you won't have the same opportunities. If a kid starts at 4, you at 16, and then 5 years later you both apply for the same conservatoire, the kid will enter almost for sure, doesn't matter if you're noticeable better. I think it's sad because music is an art where age doesn't matter at all. If you're 20 and decide to become a violinist, you won't be able to do it because it's planned for kids.

November 16, 2018, 11:21 PM · I had a friend with no prior musical experience who was able to play the Walton Viola Concerto to an acceptable standard (not concert soloist level, but all notes and rhythms well-learned with phrasing) after a mere three years of playing.

Anything's possible if you have the work ethic and that tiny spark of raw talent.

November 17, 2018, 1:32 AM · "I believe Chabrier started COMPOSING quite late in life, also Havergal Brian."

Later however, they started DEcomposing.

Sorry, couldn't resist.

November 17, 2018, 1:34 AM · Seriously, however, Ida, it sounds like you are priviliged with good fingers and have the right study attitude, thanks to your teacher, too.

So there's no reason why you couldn't get into a better orchestra, as long as you don't expect a professional caree, 'cause there the stakes are much higher.

Edited: November 17, 2018, 3:35 AM · You can expect plenty.
I'm 58. That's late starting.
13 is when I started the oboe.
In the case of the fiddle, it seems that 2 is the new 13, lol!
Edited: November 17, 2018, 4:18 AM · Jonathan Vinocour, principal violist of San Francisco Symphony: started in a school music program in 5th grade (age 10 or 11) with no prior musical training, did not decide to pursue a professional music career until he was 20 or 21.

Steve Doman, violist in London Symphony Orchestra: started playing violin at 14 and viola at 16 with no prior musical training.

Benedetto Pollani, violist in London Philharmonic Orchestra: started playing violin at 14 and viola at 17, having played only rock guitar before.

Terje Moe Hansen, violin professor at Norwegian Academy of Music and regional-level soloist: started learning violin at 19, having previously only played keyboard in a rock band without formal piano lessons.

Admittedly it's not common for teenage starters to become professional string players, but a few have reached the world's major orchestras or equivalent status.

I started at 16. I'm 35 now, working on the Walton concerto, and playing in an elite/semi-pro community orchestra. I'm also principal violist in a mid-level community orchestra, and last month played as a last-minute ringer in a community orchestra (sight-reading the dress rehearsal) for the first time. I'm not aiming to become a pro, but even doing it strictly as a hobby for the entire time, rarely having time to practice for more than an hour a day, and progressing more slowly than most, I'm playing at the highest amateur levels now.

If you're second chair in your high school orchestra, you're already not only "not inferior" but better than average in that ensemble. Playing 1st through 5th position in tune after 1 year is extraordinarily good, especially on viola where the higher positions are physically harder to play than on violin.

Edited: November 17, 2018, 7:31 AM · If you enjoy it, stick with it! Pay attention to your teacher. It's the grand experiment and you're the guinea pig. How good can you get? Find out for yourself!
November 17, 2018, 11:03 AM · I started at 18. I’ve worked through all of Kreutzer, Rode, Dont, most of Gavinies, most of Wieniawski l’ecole moderne, 20 of the Paganini caprices, Ysaye sonatas 1,2,4,5, and a bunchbof other stuff. My biggest problem is intonation. If I could conquer that, I would be too bad of a violinist. Unfortunately, it’s a big hill to climb for many violinists.
Edited: November 17, 2018, 1:18 PM · One challenge ( which may be applicable to a later starter ) I found as a returning adult is insufficient ear training at early age. This translates into intonation problems particularly in chromatic double stops passages—you cannot get it if you cannot hear it.

Admittedly that is not a huge issue for orchestra players. However, one still has to play solo literature at a very high level to win auditions.

November 17, 2018, 2:29 PM · I started at your age and I'm a full-time musician. The only real problem I had to overcome was that I was almost dyslexic when it came to reading music. I overcame that a lot with work and found that I had strength where other people didn't seem to have them - playing by ear and improv. I think if I started younger I would have been so weened on reading music that those other skills would not have developed. Just remember that there is a whole world of music out there and you can find a place of your own.
November 17, 2018, 2:45 PM · I started viola at 14 yo, but with a background of piano (an "awakened" left hand) and choral singing (intonation). I found it easy to begin with, but had to analyse aspects which the young child absorbs more easily. This seems to have made me a thoughtful teacher..

I have not tried for the Highest Virtuosity, as I fear my reflexes are not of the fastest, but folks seem to ask me back, as a semi-pro (usually on violin!), or in retirement as an Ardent Amateur.

Yes, the biggest problem is the lack of those hundreds of hours of Constructive Practice.

Edited: November 18, 2018, 7:49 AM · I started at 11 but didn't get a real teacher until I was 14. I'm nothing to write home about, but my friend Janet started when I did in school and started private lessons a year before I did. She had a successful professional career. She wasn't a soloist, but she played with good orchestras, and in a quartet that travelled internationally. She said it was an uphill battle trying to play catchup to the kids at Meadowmount and Cleveland Institute who started at 4, but she got to have a career doing what she loved. So a lot depends on natural talent. Your teacher is the one to ask for an honest opinion of that.
November 18, 2018, 7:51 AM · Just realized you're a violist. That may help--they aren't a dime a dozen like violinists. :-)
November 18, 2018, 8:13 AM · I can't remember when I began the piano. The only piano I remember buying (£100) was after my first teacher died in 1974ish (when I was 14). But I had been playing for a couple of years before that. Either we had a cheaper piano I've chosen to forget about, or I practised in my nextdoor neighbour's house. It's a mystery.

As you were!

Edited: November 18, 2018, 9:17 AM · @Elizabeth "they aren't a dime a dozen like violinists"
Many a true word spoken in jest. Twosetviolin comment about how many billions of Asians there are and how much talent that results in there being there, and the Chinese violin industry's output is easily affordable by many.
November 18, 2018, 9:21 AM · @Marty, I feel your pain. Intonation is hard. My approach is different. I'm not eager to play Paganini caprices out of tune. Maybe just maybe I'll eventually be able to play reasonable Mozart. I'll be fine with that. Embrace mediocrity!
November 18, 2018, 10:24 AM · Reasonable Mozart? That's the hardest thing in music. If you can do that, you're already a leading international soloist. =P

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