Mid 20s - School options? Or... What's next?

Edited: December 19, 2018, 2:52 AM · Hey Violinist members,

I’m 25 years old. I played violin from age 6-12, and then again for a year and a half while studying in university, during which time the instrument served as a side interest to my studies in Philosophy.

Now, six months post graduation, I’m playing again with a new teacher and I am finding that I love violin more than ever. It has become a major part of my day-to-day life, and I am fortunate enough that my job leaves me time to play ~2-3 hours a day. When I’m not playing violin, I’m thinking about it or listening to other violinists.
I will likely keep my current job for the remainder of this school year and the next (I teach English abroad). After that, though, I don’t know what’s next for me.

So, being a bit out of the loop in the violin world, I would love to know what opportunities are available for someone at my level/age. In particular, I am curious to know if there are university programs that would suit me despite my age (25, a bit older than a typical university enrollee) and despite that I have been playing only on-and-off since childhood.

Other information: I have an undergraduate degree in Philosophy from Seattle University. When I move back to the States, I will be in Portland.

And, to give an idea of my level: In the year and a half when I re-picked up violin during university, I went from re-learning how to hold the instrument/bow to playing the first movement of Vivaldi’s A minor (not perfectly, of course).
More recently I have found myself more interested in genre’s such as swing and jazz. I have also been devoting myself more to the instrument than when I studied violin previously.

Any information or ideas for me would be greatly appreciated. It’s only just recently that I’ve realized that I want music to occupy a large space in my life. And while I’m kicking myself for having dropped violin as a kid, I’m thankful to be playing again and hoping it’s not too late to make something of it.

EDIT: My next post in the thread:
Thanks you very much for all the responses, I appreciate it.

And also, sorry, it seems I need to clarify a few things.

When I picked up violin again in university, I was certainly NOT playing 2-3 hours a day. I wasn't even playing 1 hour a day. Many days I didn't play at all. I should have been more explicit about this. This is what I meant when I said that, at the time, my interest in violin really took a backseat to my studies.

It is only this most recent time around, picking up the violin again this month, that I have the time to play 2-3 hours a day, and as a result I am seeing much faster improvement.


"To make something of it" was indeed very vague. I guess, I want to become a competent violinist, one is regularly performing with others (such as in jazz bands), improvising, writing my own music, even touring.
I know it might be a long shot, but that is what I had in mind.

As far as the schooling goes, I wasn't considering it for the sake of the degree, but rather because it would place me in a situation where playing violin and progressing on the instrument became a focal point.

Just one last note, it is maybe worth reiterating that I wouldn't be applying this second to programs. Which is to say that my level wouldn't be the Vivaldi concerto.
Vivaldi was where I was at after a year and a half of minimal practice time to devote to violin. However, now I have a year and a half ahead of me with much more time to play and more mental energy to devote as well!
All that said, I am not dead set on getting a degree. Open to other forms of continuing.

I'm happy to answer any other questions too.

Again, thank you all for the responses. I would love to hear more as well.

Replies (22)

December 18, 2018, 5:37 PM · I started playing professionally after a 20 year hiatus. At the age of 40.
Not in an orchestra, but in a band - as the soloist in a quartet. I have about 100 to 120 gigs a year and i am as happy as a pig.

In other words - it can be done. Connect to accoustic bands, other musicians etc... go, play in the public. Do not shy away from playing in the street. Solo if necessary. I used to play in the streets and subway a lot to get rid of my stage fright. I made 50 bucks in 45 minutes in NY subway (Joshua Bell made 37).

Just play. Good things will happen.

Edited: December 18, 2018, 8:37 PM · My suggestion is to stay with private lessons and take university courses in theory, harmony, musicology, digital technology, etc., as they interest you. You're not getting a violin degree any time soon if your level is Vivaldi A Minor.

Classical violin music is *hard*. If you're willing to play other genres (pop, jazz, old time), then the better you play the easier those things will be too, and some of them (like jazz improv) have their own special challenges. But you don't need conservatory-level chops. I play maybe half a dozen gigs a year as a jazz violinist but that is because my jazz chops, while well developed on the piano, are still quite limited on the violin. I have never learned old-time or bluegrass fiddle because, despite the fact that I live in a place where that kind of music is very popular, it just doesn't interest me. It's hard to learn genres that you never listen to.

A reasonable strategy might be to save about a third of the time you presently spend on technical improvement and use it to learn fiddle tunes, jazz standards, and such.

If we had better knowledge of your interests (outside the classical realm) then we could better advise on specifics.

December 18, 2018, 8:31 PM · When you say "'make something of it", what do you mean? Do you hope to play professionally, or just improve steadily as a hobbyist? If you want to play professionally, do you expect to have a "day job" as well?

A year and a half for a returnee to get back to Vivaldi A minor level, on 2 to 3 hours a day of practice, is not quick progress. It may be worth investigating the reasons for that relatively slow progression given the hours you're putting into it.

It's also still beginner level. To do college-level music even at a third-tier school, you'd need to be playing at the intermediate level. Or you'd nee to be highly adept at a non-classical style to get into Berklee or the like, where a lower technical level would be offset by improvisational abilities or originality.

December 18, 2018, 9:25 PM · The previous posters are right in that Vivaldi simply isn't enough to get you into a decent program.

To do college-level music even at a third-tier school, you'd need to be playing at the intermediate level."

Lydia didn't define "intermediate," but I'd say you'd have to perform 2 movements of solo Bach and a movement of a Romantic concerto to get into someplace worth going. Remember, you're behind already, and someone in their mid-20s actually needs to show that they're either caught up or even ahead

I went to a conservatory at 22, masters at 29, and finished my doctorate at 36. So age really has no bearing if your playing is competitive.

My advice: don't ruin a perfectly good hobby.

December 18, 2018, 10:01 PM · The New School in New York City uses Mannes as its music school. My grandson at age 25 went back to school this past autumn to finish his last year of college at The New School, combining classes at at least 3 of the connected colleges/universities.

It might be worthwhile to contact The New School. But consider the valid remarks of the previous posters.

December 18, 2018, 10:19 PM · I'm a returner as well, I was at the Vivaldi A Minor within 5 months of returning - on about an hour's worth of practice a day, with a teacher who I saw twice a month.

Lydia and others post valid questions and very useful comments.

And I'm with Scott: don't ruin a perfectly good hobby. (That feels slightly cynical to me, but I understand what he means!)

As an aside - good to know what "intermediate level" is considered to be. WOW. Call me an intermediate, still.

Edited: December 19, 2018, 12:36 AM · I was specifically thinking of the very lowest tier of schools (I suppose you might even call them fourth-rate) that offer a BA in Music with a concentration in violin performance, in a general liberal arts college or university setting. In other words, not a BM. (And likely in many people's opinion, a school that may not be worth going to, though some of those schools can actually have very capable teachers.)

Those schools will accept students playing at what I meant by "intermediate" level -- say, a Bach A minor concerto, or Czardas, or Meditation from Thais type level. At some of those schools, you might even see something like the Meditation on a graduation recital.

Those students go on to third-rate master's degree programs, or even third-rate DMA programs, where hopefully they graduate with the ability to play, per Scott's aforementioned minimum standard, a pair of contrasting movements of solo Bach and a Romantic concerto (i.e. an "advanced" but not necessarily truly pre-professional level). Or possibly they divert into getting a public-school teaching certificate. Maybe they supplement by taking Suzuki teacher training.

You can see the playing level if you watch enough graduation recitals on YouTube. (When I learn a piece, I like to watch YouTube videos of people performing that work, at all levels of accomplishment, and that leads down a fascinating and sometimes appalling rabbit hole. It's taught me just how badly you can play and still earn a performance degree -- and yes, you can readily tell what is underpreparation for the recital, versus fundamental weaknesses in technique.)

What happens to those people? They teach beginners, or in schools, or in your local kid gym-music-art place. They play weddings. They play in community orchestras and quartets for the joy of music-making. (They may not be good enough to play in a freeway philharmonic for money.) They play in a band (and the band might sometimes get paid gigs). Sometimes they divert or supplement into a field like music therapy. And some of them get a day job.

Some people can find tremendous joy in a life like that -- especially if the day job pays well and leaves them plenty of free time, and they had enough family wealth that they aren't carrying any debt from the schooling.

Other people shouldn't ruin a perfectly good hobby. Because if you're going to get your joy from playing in a community orchestra and quartets and non-classical bands for fun, you can do that perfectly well as an amateur. You just keep taking lessons and practicing a lot, and you will get better, without pouring money into a giant educational hole.

The closest thing to an exception that you might get with that is a student who is auditioning at the intermediate level with just two years of violin-playing under their belt, and who is progressing exceptionally quickly -- someone who can reasonably be expected to rapidly reach an advanced standard before the end of their undergraduate years, and will successfully audition into a higher-tier master's program.

OP's lack of rapid advancement despite a lot of practice time suggests that he is not an exception, and may in fact actually be a slower learner than typical, which leads to: Don't ruin a perfectly good hobby.

December 19, 2018, 1:39 AM · Playing in a mid-level community orchestra (especially being a section leader with the responsibility to decide seating for a section) is also rather illuminating as to the varying standards of music degrees.

I've seen string players come in who are full-time music teachers (teaching only beginners) with the aforementioned fourth-rate performance degrees, and heard them play no better than lifelong amateurs who last took lessons in high school. Sometimes they've even been the weak link in their section.

The concertmaster of the same orchestra is a late (mid-teens) starter who did not study music as an undergrad but instead became a lawyer. She plays at the Romantic concerto level, works only 25-30 hours a week as an estate planning attorney, and teaches private violin lessons for the rest of the week, with about 10 students from beginner through upper intermediate level at any given time. The concertmaster who simply took lessons and practiced without spending time and money on a music degree is both a better player and a more accomplished music teacher. The thing is: she's not doing anything that requires a music degree, and neither are the people with fourth-rate performance degrees.

That's a pretty good argument for not ruining a good hobby.

On the other hand, if your ambitions are higher, and your playing ability can get you into a decent performance degree program, age isn't going to stop you... I'm aware of one freelance violist in Northern California who went back to school for a degree in viola performance at 45 after more than 20 years of playing in community orchestras as an amateur.

Edited: December 19, 2018, 2:52 AM · Thanks you very much for all the responses, I appreciate it.

And also, sorry, it seems I need to clarify a few things.

When I picked up violin again in university, I was certainly NOT playing 2-3 hours a day. I wasn't even playing 1 hour a day. Many days I didn't play at all. I should have been more explicit about this. This is what I meant when I said that, at the time, my interest in violin really took a backseat to my studies.

It is only this time around, picking up the violin again this month, that I have the time to play 2-3 hours a day, and as a result I am seeing much faster improvement.


"To make something of it" was indeed very vague. I guess, I want to become a competent violinist, one is regularly performing with others (such as in jazz bands), improvising, writing my own music, even touring.
I know it might be a long shot, but that is what I had in mind.

As far as the schooling goes, I wasn't considering it for the sake of the degree, but rather because it would place me in a situation where playing violin and progressing on the instrument became a focal point.

Just one last note, it is maybe worth reiterating that I wouldn't be applying this second to programs. Which is to say that my level wouldn't be the Vivaldi concerto.
Vivaldi was where I was at after a year and a half of minimal practice time to devote to violin. However, now I have a year and a half ahead of me with much more time to play and more mental energy to devote as well!
That said, I am not deadset on getting a degree. Open to other options as well!

I'm happy to answer any other questions too.

Again, thank you all for the responses. I would love to hear more as well.

December 19, 2018, 8:53 AM · For jazz, I would suggest that you could get what you need from a community music school that offers adult jazz and improvisation lessons, theory, and composition.

Jazz is also a different degree -- a BM in Jazz Studies, I believe. I think the auditions for those are very different than for classical performance degrees, plus you need a jazz composition portfolio.

But it still sounds like your situation is "Don't ruin a perfectly good hobby".

December 19, 2018, 9:27 AM · I agree with Lydia.

I don't think that going back to school will get you any closer than what you really want - and if anything, it will set back any financial stability that you may glean from keeping this a very enjoyable activity/hobby. (All of this is assuming that you are paying for school yourself and will incur debt to do so - digging yourself out of debt from a degree you don't need is, um, not so great when you could be saving for a house, retirement, vacations, or any number of other things for living life to the fullest. My two cents - as someone who has been there.)

OP - what are you currently working on, being a month "back at it"?

Lydia re: tiers of schools - WOW. Meditation as a graduation recital, I had no idea!!! This is rocking my perception of what is the norm/acceptable - and puts a lot into perspective. I'm going to go down the YouTube rabbit hole and see what I can dig up. I'm working on the E Major Partita (Preludio) at the moment, I'm sure that will lead me down some interesting paths.

Edited: December 19, 2018, 11:14 AM · "I want to become a competent violinist, one is regularly performing with others (such as in jazz bands), improvising, writing my own music, even touring. "

Aidan, thanks for the clarity. Making a decent level as a classical musician, with its (relatively) objective requirements of intonation, bow control, sound, and rhythm is tricky.

A career path for what you're describing--performing your own music, touring with a jazz or alternative group--is probably based on many other factors besides passing a series of objective classical-style hurdles. For example, you can fail to win an orchestral job simply because you rushed a triplet in Don Juan and the other person didn't. Game over, cry in your hotel room, get on the plane and avoid everyone for a week.

But for what you're describing, there are too many other factors, including who you meet (including an agent), "getting discovered," your personality, your stage presence, and even your looks. There are zillions of people who see themselves in this lifestyle. A few will make it, most won't. Even if they deserve to.

December 20, 2018, 10:52 AM · For jazz, you need some classical training, but much of the technique, etc., that you need to become a professional classical musician is not necessarily all that helpful in jazz. For jazz, for example, you need a significant background in music theory, so that you can learn to improvise, and that may ultimately be more important than having the kind of technique that would make you able to play solo Bach professionally. For other non-classical genres, there may be some technical things you need to play them properly, but I am not familiar with those genres. Good luck!
December 20, 2018, 1:03 PM · Isnt Vivaldi a minor in Suzuki book 4? I mean its played by many kids aged 7-8 right? How could it be possible with that level of playing to get a career out of violin at 25? It shouldnt take 1,5 year to learn Vivaldi as a returnee with good playing time? Ive thought that you need to get to past Suzuki books to make a career out of violin playing before college?

Dont you need to make money or pay for your university? In any case, dont take a big loan, because you have to use your current job to pay for it.

December 20, 2018, 1:30 PM · I bet you can find some pretty good instruction in Portland, though I don't know what the jazz scene is like. I would keep up with that. If you check out various music scenes, you may find that a lot of bands would be happy to have a violinist, and the indie rock route could be your fastest route to performing for people, although community orchestras are a possibility. You may also find that working in an admin capacity, or fundraising, or something like that for a performing arts organization brings you closer to the world of more glamorous professional music, although my guess is that the pay is pretty low, and it may be competitive to get in.

I think your best bet is to find the best teacher (or teachers if a jazz teacher plays a different instrument) you can find and just work privately and keep working hard and see how you progress. Music school is a lot of money to spend on something that's either not a sure thing, or that you don't have a solid backup for if it doesn't work out, and it's never a sure thing.

December 21, 2018, 1:14 AM · Just adding that do you really need solid theory to improvise? The people me included ( Im not a pro) who can improvise with their instrument have done it since kids without any spesific teaching. I cannot imagine that that could be a skill to be learned at 25 if it hasnt come naturally at least to a certain amount. Not saying that teaching improvising doesnt help, just saying that if one is 25 and hasnt improvized a lot, im very doubtfull any teaching can make anyone pro at improvising.

Many of us get bored with our current jobs and have dreams, just calculate carefully what is doable and what is not so you dont end up in a lot of money trouble. There are probably a lot of people that are willing to support ones ideas if they get money out of it for example some unis at least in the States Ive heard.

December 21, 2018, 6:49 AM · The Jazz School Institute in Berkeley, CA is now accredited to grant degrees.
December 21, 2018, 8:01 AM · Maria, yes, Vivaldi A minor is Suzuki book 4, and yes, it's essentially the tail end of the beginner level of violin. As I noted in my earlier post, there's a career trajectory that's possible, but it's got to be one that's pursued with both passion and likely a certain indifference to money. (That said, I've also seen people make a solid living from teaching young students, if they do it at high enough volume and with enough skill. Not all of them are good players themselves.) It's worth noting that plenty of people who start at age 3 will essentially end up on the same path.

I don't see any reason why people need to begin improvising at a young age to be good at it, though. Indeed, many classically-trained violinists come to non-classical styles in their adulthood and become skilled improvisers in those styles. It is arguably the norm and not the exception to learn to improvise in adulthood.

December 21, 2018, 8:38 AM · If you are interested in jazz i suggest you get some Aebersold materials and go to one of camps once you have learned the basics.
December 21, 2018, 2:44 PM · Paul's suggestions re jazz are good. You still should know some theory, however. Circle of fifths and fourths and some other stuff about chords and harmony.
December 21, 2018, 2:59 PM · "Don't ruin a perfectly good hobby" -ditto. You are fortunate to be old enough to not have illusions about becoming a pro.-level classical player, and young enough to make substantial technical progress with a teacher. I made my most technical progress when I dropped out of my college BA music degree program and just did private lessons, practicing, and playing. There are more playing opportunities outside of classical. For jazz, you don't need the college theory sequence, but you do need to have a firm instinctive working knowledge of theory on your instrument. Be able to play all the scales and arpeggios fluently, from memory. Part of my story is; I did not win the Viola audition for L.A. Phil. (of course not !) but shortly after that got a full-time job with a "band" - at the same salary.
December 21, 2018, 8:18 PM · I teach abroad and I've known some folk who are from the US/Canada/UK and combine English teaching and a semi-pro music career--this might include a mix of the pub/live music scene, teaching, and amateur playing. They often seem like they're having a blast. I don't know what the adult equivalent of continuing ed on music is, but you might get more bang for your buck doing music camps, seminars, master classes, etc.

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