Adult Beginner Success Stories?

April 7, 2019, 4:47 PM · I know there are plenty of adult restarters here that played as kids and then picked it up again later. It seems like some of these individuals have become relatively advanced and are pleased with their progress. I also know there are adult beginners here that just got started recently.

However, I was wondering if there are any long-term successful adult beginners who could post their experiences? By "adult beginner," I mean someone who started the violin/viola/cello after the age of 25, and had never played a string instrument before that. By "successful", let's just say that it means you got into intermediate or later repertoire (Vivaldi A minor level or later) with an acceptable level of quality/intonation. Or, perhaps you know of someone else that was able to achieve this? If you are a teacher, perhaps you've achieved this in select students?

Some specific questions also, if you find yourself in this category:

1) Did your have prior musical experience, even if it was just basic singing or a music class?

2) Had you accomplished something else to a high level in your life before the violin? (E.g. dancing, sports, etc...)

3) How long did it take you to reach an intermediate level? (Number of years as well as average weekly hours practiced and amount of lessons taken).

Replies (169)

Edited: April 7, 2019, 5:45 PM · I've met some successful adult beginners, but "after 25" excludes them all.

The principal second violinist in my mid-level community orchestra is a completely self-taught adult beginner and a Mozart concerto level player, but she started at 21. (IIRC, she is currently 35 or 36.)

The concertmaster of the same orchestra restarted at 45, but quit before reaching intermediate level the first time around, having originally started at 15 and stopped at 18.

The principal cellist of the same orchestra started at 23 or 24, if I remember correctly.

This weekend I met an adult beginner who plays in the Los Angeles Lawyers Philharmonic, which is an auditioned community orchestra (and based on member bios it looks like the minimum standard is likely somewhere above Bach A minor), but he started at 19.

I am not an adult beginner, but very close to one (started just before my 17th birthday and no lessons until age 33).

April 7, 2019, 5:35 PM · I think "above age 18" might be a better metric.

I taught one such adult beginner who had achieved Bach a minor level with credible intonation and sound. But she was a nearly professional-level pianist when she started taking violin lessons. I have no idea how much she practiced; I was not the teacher who started her.

Edited: April 7, 2019, 6:33 PM · I'll answer the three specific questions as a near-adult beginner.

1) Lots of prior music experience. Almost 12 years of piano lessons before I started violin. A couple months after I started violin, I earned my ABRSM Diploma in piano performance. I also played low brass (euphonium, tuba, trombone) in school bands for a while and had studied composition for about a year.

2) I was a good enough soccer player to go on to play college soccer. (But I was a walk-on, not a recruited athlete, and was never a star at college level.)

3) 5-6 years to reach intermediate level (Telemann viola concerto with credible intonation/sound), averaging about 5 hours a week outside of orchestra rehearsals. This was without formal lessons, but with a lot of informal pointers from other musicians as I played in orchestras from age 18 onward. Later on, there was a rapid jump to advanced level between ages 25 and 27, mostly because of crippling depression making it hard to do anything but practice viola; at one point during that period I practiced 20-25 hours a week for about six months.

April 7, 2019, 6:36 PM · I don't know if this meets your criteria for "success", but I started at 50, now 58 and are now playing with a community orchestra my 3rd season with repertoire such as Beethoven 2nd, Mozart Jupiter and Fidelio overture, working on the Accaulay violin concerto. I think this puts me around Level 5-6 conservatory program. Not unremarkable progress by any stretch of imagination but I am still sticking with it. Only prior experience was classical guitar beginner level as a young teenger and some penny whistle. I am hopeful that in another 10 years I'll be on par with a 7yrs old chinese student!
April 7, 2019, 6:40 PM · Adults simply don't have enough time to practise, hence why you don't see any super late starter success stories. I mean, they learn a lot slower, too, but that's only one factor of many.

Teachers don't take adult beginners seriously.

Edited: April 7, 2019, 6:47 PM · To Cotton's point: the reason I started out self-teaching was that I gave up on finding a teacher after being rejected by several who said it was too late to learn a string instrument, even just to hobby level. I then didn't realize until I was almost 30 that there were teachers willing to accept adult students who weren't already advanced players.
April 7, 2019, 7:03 PM · Cotton, my teacher, whose pupils are all adults at various levels from beginner up, does indeed take them seriously. It would be unprofessional to do otherwise.
April 7, 2019, 7:40 PM · I'm limited on time at the moment but just wanted to thank everyone for the responses so far. I have a lot of points to make in response to some of of the posts but that will have to wait until later.

One quick question though: Roger, how many hours of practice were you doing daily, on average, to achieve the accolay level in your time frame? Also, had you achieved a high level of skill in any other activity besides music in the past?

Edited: April 7, 2019, 8:36 PM · "I taught one such adult beginner who had achieved Bach a minor level with credible intonation and sound"

I'm disappointed to hear that that number is so small, as I've imagined that had I had Mary Ellen as a teacher (shoulder rest issues aside for now :), I would have progressed farther, and I also imagine that others here would have had similar notions.

Erik, why this question and definition of success? I'm not sure that the definition is clear for students, as "acceptable quality intonation" is something that apparently we can't even agree upon for professionals based on another recent thread here, and as a Suzuki Book 4 piece, the Vivaldi A minor might be hit in 4 years or less, and even moved on from without actually being able to play that at what a professional teacher might understand as "credible". And moreover, there are in my view valid definitions of success both before and after that level - certainly I wouldn't be satisfied with being able to play that Vivaldi, and what brought me to even try the violin is an experience I had much earlier with a wind instrument in high school, which gave me a greater appreciation and love of classical music, which as I see it is success in itself.

I'd like to share with you though a couple of observations on what I find as successes in myself. (1) That as I have put in more effort into intonation and playing well, that I've found that I can hear and appreciate performances and recordings better - much better than what I had formerly sought to achieve with improved playback equipment. (2) That I hear a delight in parts of Handel's F major sonata - which I have yet to hear in recordings.

Just for reference, RCM places the Vivaldi A minor at grade 6, and two of the preceding Suzuki Book 4 concertos at grade 5. So at about a grade of achievement per year, with scales, studies, and other pieces, a normal RCM pace for students with decent teaching and support, and practicing for say around 1 hour per day, it would take around 6 years to reach that level. For an adult beginner to have one hour of free time/energy per workday for 6 years would be fairly extraordinary, I think, so a longer period, perhaps much longer, might be normal. Being Suzuki book 4, I suppose one might hope to reach that in 4 years, which might be frustrating.

April 7, 2019, 8:32 PM · Some advance faster. I know of more than one started after 20 and were/are able to play at a good level.

They do not all learn slow.

It's hard to find serious teachers for all ages, but especially so for adults, and the teaching is crucial. With perfect circumstances of unlimited practice time, great training, and intelligent practice work, I have no doubts the playing level of an adult can het extremely high (though the fortune of these three positive factors put together is rare.)

Adults learn differently, but must not necessarily be a worse student than the kid/early teenager. Few teachers believe in their potential-which can be problematic because in general, they could use more encouragement.

Edited: April 7, 2019, 8:50 PM · I have never turned away an adult student, beginner or returner. But I can tell you why many teachers do. It is because the vast majority of adult students in my experience start out with the best of intentions, and then life gets in the way and they start canceling lessons either because they didn't have time to practice enough or because they have scheduling conflicts with the lessons themselves. It is the rare adult student indeed who sticks to a regular lesson schedule longer than three or four months. (I do not think the adult beginners who take the time to read and post on are necessarily representative of the larger group.)

For similar reasons, I only schedule adult lessons at times of day that the typical middle/high school students aren't available. I will not give a prime late afternoon or evening lesson time to a student who is likely to flake out on me when I could fill that time with a student who will show up every week, very likely for the next several years.

It's unprofessional to agree to take on any student and not take them seriously. I approach every student, no matter their age or level, with the idea that they and I share the goal of them learning to play better. But thirty plus years of experience has taught me not to be surprised when I start getting apology texts and cancellations.

(thanks to J Ray for the kind words!)

April 7, 2019, 9:23 PM · I began at age 45

Started on violin, switched to viola mid Suzuki book 2

"Accomplished" Vivaldi to the satisfaction of my teacher to move me on and into book 5 (Age 51 now).

Other accomplishments along the way:

I took my lessons on Tuesday's lunchtime, at a place 5 minutes from my work. I lucked out in getting a fabulous teacher, as that was the only time/place that would allow me to take lessons (two kids at home, also studying violin, so no time for my own practice at home).

I practiced every day at lunch either out in the parking lot, or parking garage (fun acoustics!), or in a vacant room in the building during the winter months.

Concurrently, I also developed, patented and brought to market an aid for the left hand for my fellow violin/viola students to hopefully help them in their journeys as well (available at Shar and Johnson's).

I had zero music exposure prior to starting 5-6 years ago. I was simply inspired by my kids when they began. I wouldn't call myself "musical", but I enjoy the challenge of learning, and the satisfaction of pulling a nice sound out of my instrument to the best of my ability.

Edited: April 7, 2019, 10:09 PM · Oh, as an example of a wildly successful adult beginner, consider Jaybird Choi, who has been interviewed a number of times by various blogs. 5 years from no musical training whatsoever to advanced amateur violist. But he's probably an extreme case. I understand thst, because of the flexibility his job allows (he's a fencing coach), he has practiced 3+ hours a day from day one, and he mentioned in a Facebook group that he has had stretches where he was literally taking daily private lessons.
Edited: April 7, 2019, 10:34 PM · @Mary Ellen, I'm one of those adult students whose life gets in the way of regular practicing -- at the moment. My teacher allows me to take lessons every few weeks, and we arrange so that I take either the first or last lesson of the day, or to fill in a hole that appeared due to a cancellation. It's not perfect but it works well ... and he takes me seriously and gives me solid violin lessons.

Coming back to the OP's question, all of the adult violinists I know who can play Vivaldi A Minor decently are returners. None of them started as adults. All of the adult "success stories" that I know are cellists.

April 7, 2019, 11:05 PM · Alright, I have a bit more time now, so I'll respond to the posts in the order they were posted.

Andrew Said: "I've met some successful adult beginners, but "after 25" excludes them all."

I don't find this surprising whatsoever. The reason "after 25" is my metric for adult beginners despite 18 technically being the age that one becomes a legal adult (although behaviorally, I think we can all agree that most people don't act like adults until they're closer to 25) is that this seems to be where "real life" begins for most people. At age 18, most kids are just getting out of high school and going directly into college, so I can't really consider this adulthood yet.

The progress one makes from 18-25 seems to be significantly higher than they make after 25. Obviously, this is mainly due to life circumstances rather than some biological switch, although I'm sure neuroplasticity has its role as well.


Mary said: "I think "above age 18" might be a better metric."


For the reasons stated above, I believe that 25 is a more realistic metric of where "real" adulthood begins for the average person. I get students all the time between 18-25 and their progress is tremendous per time spent compared to the group that is 25 or older. This initial burst of momentum really helps them to succeed long term as compared to the older group, since after 25 life starts to seriously get in the way of fast progress. With that said, this group also tends to be the fastest to quit, in my experience, since as soon as real life responsibilities hit, violin is the first thing to go.


J Ray said: "Erik, why this question and definition of success?"


I ask the question because I have taught a LOT of adult beginners, and although I have my own strongly formed opinions resulting from this experience, I was curious if there were others out there whose experiences I could draw from to help encourage my own students and compare their progress to. Something about being the 1st link on Google for some years now has made me *the* source for adult beginners. When adults with no prior musical experience want to learn violin, they don't search out teachers with the nearest orchestra or use other networking-type strategies. Instead, they go on google and contact the first link. That link is me.

My idea of "intermediate" as a measure of success comes from the fact that I feel it is the minimum necessary level of skill to enjoy a decent range of adult orchestras and other music groups. It's also the point where many students seem to finally be able to start enjoying their own sound. Since vibrato is happening, some shifting is happening, and there is a general comfort in some of the easier keys, I think it's just the point where someone can finally say "ok, I can kind of play the violin now."

Yes, you can theoretically join some community orchestras while at a lower level than Intermediate, but it will be very difficult and probably not all that enjoyable. It will also mean stalling any progress you were making just so you can make ends meet by practicing orchestra music 100% of the time.


Adalberto said: "They do not all learn slow." etc........


Hopefully I didn't imply that they learn slowly. I'm just trying to gather information from other sources besides my own experience. And as you noted, the reason successful adult beginners tend to be rare isn't due to a lack of learning ability, but rather the rare circumstance where they have the necessary combination of time, motivation, and general musical ability.

Just 30 minutes of practice a day can do a lot for a kid, because if they do that for 10 years they'll get pretty far. And of course, if an adult is willing to keep trying for 10 years without quitting along the way, they would make similar progress. The difference is that adults don't want to wait that long, but they also don't have the extra practice time to compensate for that impatience. This makes successful adult beginners rare, mainly because they're more likely to quit early on than kids. An encouraging teacher is crucial, of course, and it also seems that this is quite rare for adults to have access to.


Mary's 2nd post, regarding realistic expectations for adult beginners due to life circumstances, is very similar to my own experiences.

However, I will note that my students that begin at age 40 and above tend to stay quite a bit longer, usually at least a year. It is students between 18-40 that tend to leave quickly. I've found this is just because tons of things are changing between 18-40 (career, kids, mortgage, etc...), whereas life stabilizes more after that point. And of course, when things get shaky, people remember that violin is just a luxury for them. They always leave thinking they'll come back (and occasionally they actually do), but most of the time it gets forgotten for at least another 10 years and then at the end of those 10 years they think "Where did all that time go??"


Craig, thanks for sharing. I'm also in the process and developing a product for the violin market and have been doing so for a while. I've been obsessed with inventing things since I was just a little kid, but this will hopefully be the first one I actually complete and bring to market.


OH!, and this thread made me remember something else I have noticed. Adult beginners tend to do a LOT better if they start on viola. This has definitely, 100% been my experience with the ones I've taught (and it's not because I'm better at teaching viola). I think it's just the fact that the viola isn't so fickle when it comes to using too much pressure or choosing the right sounding point. It just punishes the student less.

April 7, 2019, 11:17 PM · For me, my fastest progress was ages 25-27. But as I noted, that was probably because of life circumstances causing my practice time to increase dramatically.
Edited: April 7, 2019, 11:32 PM · Also, regarding orchestras, I disagree completely. I'd say 95% of my progress was driven by playing music far above my level in orchestras, even as a beginner. But that may be because I had no teacher and very little idea where to go in terms of solo repertoire and etudes, so relied almost 100% on advice from other people in my community orchestras. It may also be because I didn't try to learn absolutely everything in my orchestra parts until I actually could do it in a reasonably short time; for more than 10 years I simply tried to fake a little less in each set than in the previous one.
April 8, 2019, 12:04 AM · Erik asked "Roger, how many hours of practice were you doing daily, on average..."

My aim was never less than one hr/day, now that I am retired I like to do 2hrs and more if I can, rarely exceeding 3hrs. I am generally well coordinated with good proprioception, but never developed any particular skill to any high degree.

April 8, 2019, 12:45 AM · I started at 24 about a month after making this account, just started working on Mozart 3 yesterday. I had music class throughout elementary and middle school. I haven’t mastered any other “skill” per se, but I would say I have an aptitude for mathematics since that is what my degree is in. Practice time varies wildly, never less than 2 hours.
April 8, 2019, 12:50 AM · Roger, being well coordinated and having good proprioception is surprisingly rare, in my experience. Many people have never really used their bodies before, well into adulthood. That's incredibly helpful in learning, no doubt.
Edited: April 8, 2019, 1:23 AM · I started violin from scratch after receiving my PhD, although I had prior musical knowledge. Vivaldi g major and a minor about three years in, Telemann Sonatinas, Handel Sonata 3 ... . Accolay about 5 years, then some Kreisler, Haydn G major and Bach E major (concerto). Always the whole work with all movements. My teacher makes no difference in demands between kids and adults and certainly cannot be accused of not taking his adult students seriously - just as I am serious about my lessons and the violin. I am prepared, come on time, pay on time and in all this years I only once had to cancel.
April 8, 2019, 1:36 AM · How much did you practice on average, Katarina, in that time? Also, what age did you start, and what was your prior musical knowledge?
April 8, 2019, 1:47 AM · I had music education in school and through singing, mostly (choral works by Bach, Haydn, Mozart ...).
Practice time on average is about 1.5 hours a day, more on weekends.
Edited: April 8, 2019, 2:04 AM · I am usually not a big fan of talking about myself, but this discussion seems interesting to me because the questions you have were also part of my "pre-assessment" if it would make sense to start the violin or not.


I started at the age of 32 and next month I am playing 3 years. Played first movements of Bach d-minor and a-minor concertos, g-minor presto, h-minor double, Accolay close to being done and currently working on Haydn C-major concerto.

1) Yes, started piano at 5. Switched to mainly church organ around 10. Thought about making it a professions, which probably would have worked, but it did no look financially promising enough ;-)

2) PhD in physics (only for the sake of the matter of this discussion I add it was summa cum laude), management position with around 30 engineers in my team. Half marathon close to 90min ... working on that. And I think playing table tennis in early years was important to trust into precision movements which you cannot think about upfront.

I am practicing around 3 hours on average per day. No children, not much sleep needed, and a house I can practice around the clock in (as long as my wife does not mind). I have 2-3 lessons per month with what I consider the best teacher world wide ;) I would do more, but she is travelling a lot.

I also went quite crazy about the violin itself as a piece of art and collected a bit already ...

April 8, 2019, 2:20 AM · I'm well past 40 and I started on the violin two years ago. I did Vivaldi Am a few months ago. (Intonation ok, tempo a bit slow. Will probably revisit for the student recital this summer.).

1. Yes, trumpet, piano, and singing. (I never got very good with the instruments, though and I doubt whether I can still produce sound on a trumpet.)

2. Do academic achievements count? :) I have decent fine motoric skills, but my coordination of larger body movements is horrible, as evidenced by the difficulties in driving lessons (stick shift), dance classes, and high-school PE lessons.

3. Weekly 1-hour lessons (36 per year, rarely canceled). Around 7 hours practice per week, but it fluctuates.

April 8, 2019, 2:25 AM · Michael, your efforts are clearly reflected by your progress. That's great work.

Han, your progress is very good too! And yes, I do believe academic achievements count; the ability to study effectively and manage time well adds significant speed to learning violin.

April 8, 2019, 5:27 AM · This guy started at 19

April 8, 2019, 6:01 AM · I look at the question in a different direction: Assume if I practise 30 min daily will take me 10 years to get to an intermediate level. No mom will force/bribe/encourage me to practise. And say if I am not exactly a driven person, what are the elements that will keep me going in these 10 years?

If you are a driven person, you can just keep going without much external motivation. However, I think it is not for everybody. Somehow I get the feeling is for most adult late starters, we are just doomed to fail. Of course, some people will make it very far, but for most, we will know our answer quite soon. The positive spin is, at least we try.

A lot of motivation elements that work for kids does not work for adult. I am not motivated to get a gold star sticker from a teachers. My mom won't bribe me to practise, and no one will do that. I don't have a larger than life goal of being a professional violinist and perform at the Carnegie Hall (already know what it takes to be a professional musician to say this is just pipe dream for most people, let alone one who start so late and not really driven).

I won't say music teachers don't take adult seriously in general. They just can't supply the motivation elements that is not there. There is also some truth that not all the teachers communicate well with adult students who just don't take orders like a kid. But given that the technology today allows teacher online, I think an adult who wants to get ahead quickly will just look for a different teacher that works.

April 8, 2019, 11:06 AM · Hi!
I started at 25 and was really focused until 29 with lessons every 2 weeks and around 5-6 hours of practice per week. Stoped for roughly 5 years (career and 3 kids) and started back 3 years ago. Reached Vivaldi Am summer 2017 (had to rebuild technique). I’m no prodigy, but intonation and tempo are ok. Trying to develop interpretation a bit better (that is fun but oh so though!!!) Try to be devoted with my practice time (which is still 5-6 h/week.. doesn’t seem like much but I feel really focused when I practice.

1) no prior music lessons. Although I knew how to read music a little bit.

2) did a lot of dancing before, wouldn’t qualify it as high level but I was decent. Also did a lot of sport and martial arts (develops coordination I guess)

3) I guess it took me 6-7 years? I would put myself I the lower intermediate category though..

Edited: April 8, 2019, 11:13 AM · I know someone who started approximately 6 (or was it 8?) years ago, practices in large 2+hr chunks whenever they can (sometimes only 2-3x/week, other times daily), and is working on the Kreisler P&A. They also play the piano, which they learned as a kid.
April 8, 2019, 11:36 AM · I think the reason adult beginners are more likely to "succeed" on the cello is because the cello is more ergonomic. You don't have to twist your arms and wrists into pretzel knots to reach the notes. You do have to learn thumb position to be able to play anything past Book 2. But on the other hand double-stops in chamber music are rare at the intermediate (say, Haydn) level, and even more rare in orchestral music where 95% of them will be played "divisi" anyway.
Edited: April 8, 2019, 1:36 PM · I started last year April at age 25 and learning the Vivaldi A minor now. From my previous thread, I said it was a bit overwhelming for me, but I think I made some decent progress. I don't think it'd call myself intermediate though, probably still at beginner stage. Here's a recording I did few weeks ago to practice a difficult passage:

1)Did your have prior musical experience, even if it was just basic singing or a music class?

No I hadn't had any music education until I started with my teacher a year ago

2) Had you accomplished something else to a high level in your life before the violin? (E.g. dancing, sports, etc...)

I am a pretty good barista... won some medals on Latte art but it is probably not relevant to music making

3) How long did it take you to reach an intermediate level? (Number of years as well as average weekly hours practiced and amount of lessons taken).

I'd call myself still a beginner at this stage, so probably take me another 1-2 years (so 3 years total) to reach intermediate level. I practice 2 hours everyday. Weekly lesson runs from 1.5 hour - 2 hours

Edited: April 8, 2019, 2:52 PM · Might not fit the mold.
Started when I was a kid but did not practice and made it only to Rieding b minor. So not really that much to speak of.
Restarted in my forties. Playing now for a bit more than 4,5 years.
A year ago I did Haydn G major, now I started Bach Giga in d minor and Schubert violin sonata 1.
Having a family and a demanding job I try to practice 5-6 days a week 50 min. Does not always work out but pretty often. On prolonged business trips I take my electric violin with me.
I have private lessons once a week in the evening. Business trips I know in advance and can coordinate with my teacher. I never „flaked out on her“ :-)
Most of my life I did something with music. Singing in a choir when I was a kid or doing a lot of dancing later in life.
I have a PhD in engineering.
Edited: April 8, 2019, 3:29 PM · I had to register just to respond to this haha. I've been reading these boards for a while now just trying to soak up as much information as I could.

Myself, I am a late starter - 49 (so very late) when I started and just completed my first year last week. I played flute for a few years in high school but other than that I have no musical experience unless you count singing in the car.

I have weekly lessons with my teacher and have NEVER cancelled a lesson in the year I have been going and I practice for an hour EVERY day (I'm not exaggerating, I very rarely skip) It irks me to no end when people make generalizations about adult learners. I have no aspirations to ever be an "advanced" player however it does not mean I am not serious about learning, I want to be as good a player as I possibly can. I have a long way to go (obviously) but am very serious. My teacher says I have "very high standards" and it didn't seem to mean in a good way LOL. I guess because I am never satisfied with my general playing.

I'm sorry if you have had bad experiences with adult learning, but I think it does a disservice to generalize (which not all of you do, but I've seen a LOT of it).

April 8, 2019, 2:44 PM · Really fun thread to read, and see others' experience.

I started learning the violin 7 months ago, at age 55, and just started working on the Vivaldi a-minor concerto last week. We'll see if I'll be able to play it with good intonation at a reasonable tempo, but I did play the three Seitz concerto movements from Suzuki book 4 (just prior to the Vivaldi) pretty well, so that's encouraging.

1. Though I started the violin from zero as an adult, I do have extensive musical experience. Played the piano for 12+ years, and have a degree in music education and choir conducting from the Franz Liszt Music Academy in Budapest, Hungary. This background helps a lot in my violin studies.

2. Have been playing tennis competitively in USTA leagues for a couple of decades.

3. Been taking weekly 1 hour violin lessons from a private teacher. Over the last 7 months
I have gradually increased my daily practice time from a half hour to 2-3 hours. I do have a full-time job, but violin has become such a passion of mine that I find time for daily practice before/after work and of course on weekends. I can count on one hand the days I did not practice over the last 7 months. I know, it’s sick… but I am hooked, and can’t tell how excited I am to continue this journey for many years to come.

Edited: April 8, 2019, 2:50 PM · @Lori Johnson said: "I'm sorry if you have had bad experiences with adult learning, but I think it does a disservice to generalize (which not all of you do, but I've seen a LOT of it even in this thread)."


As an adult beginner, I find the teachers' comments in this thread regarding adult beginner understandable. Teaching is their livelihood. Student cancelling and being flakey can affect their income. We can't blame them for wanting to ensure a stable income.

I agree with Mary Ellen that "the adult beginners who take the time to read and post on are not necessarily representative of the larger group". With one dedicated adult beginner, there are probably 5 who started passionately but somehow quit along the way. Many of my friends bought guitars, keyboard, ukelele then realized they don't have time to practice. Now those instruments are in the basement gathering dust. It might be the same for some violin beginners, maybe worse considering it's harder to learn violin than those instruments.

April 8, 2019, 2:56 PM · Daniel - I totally agree with you and don't blame them at all, which is why I take my teacher's time very seriously. I understand it is how he make his living (aside from the two community orchestras he conducts). My only comment was about generalization before you know what the person's actual mindset is. I think you can tell a lot in the first little while how things will go, but I ran into a lot of this when initially searching for a teacher. I personally would not have been able to take lessons if I was limited to daytime hours as I am working then, and there were a few who wouldn't even consider offering me lessons at all without ever meeting me.

Fading back to lurking now...

Edited: April 8, 2019, 3:15 PM · Oh, here's three of the late beginner success stories I mentioned, in one chamber ensemble. This is from a rehearsal from a summer chamber music workshop, where all three of us principal upper string players from the same community orchestra were coincidentally assigned to the same group playing the first movement of the Dvorak Terzetto. (Note that this is still not far beyond the sight-reading stage, and the balance is off because the video is taken with my phone on my music stand.)


1st violin: Started at 15, quit while still in Suzuki Book 3. Restarted at 45. Not sure about current age, but I think in her late 50s. Has been working full-time since restarting. Even though she's a restarter, I think she counts as an adult beginner success story because she never got past beginner level the first time around, then had 27 years to forget the little she knew, and is now far above the level she played at as a teenager.

2nd violin: Started at 21 with piano background, completely self-taught on violin, started playing in orchestras around age 30, currently in mid-30s.

Viola (me): Started at 16 with piano and low brass background, self-taught (with tips from other string players) except for 3 months of lessons at age 33. Currently 36.

Two thoughts on Erik's cutoff:

First, I think self-teaching should count as a further-delayed start because of the amount of trial and error involved.

Second, to the point about people's progress slowing after 25: even assuming that's true for most people, a lot of adult beginners who start before age 25 are still at beginner level when they reach 25 and get much busier. That would be true of the 2nd violinist in this clip.

April 8, 2019, 3:15 PM · Lori said: "I'm sorry if you have had bad experiences with adult learning, but I think it does a disservice to generalize"

Can you quote the specific post this is in response to? I haven't seen anyone generalize at all, or indicate that they were biased against adult learners.

April 8, 2019, 3:17 PM · I 100% believe it doesn't matter how old you are (within reason). I believe you get out of it what you put in. When I first started I had those thoughts in my head that I will never be as good as the little kids and I will just be stuck in a big plateau forever. I think a lot of the information on the web and biases that teachers have scare a lot of people away. I recall clearly wanting to quit (and I did for about 6 months) because I felt like I was in an insurmountable plateau and I attributed it to my age because of everything I read about "adult beginners". I had convinced myself that this was the brick wall of age I kept reading about. Thankfully, I could not stand being without the violin so I picked it back up and worked harder than ever and I finally feel like that "beginner" feeling is behind me. I finally started working on one of my goal pieces the other day, Mozart 3, and could not be happier. It will be an uphill battle, for sure, but I don't think it would be any easier for a child. Here is the first few bars that I've practiced:
Edited: April 8, 2019, 3:28 PM · As for the points Mary Ellen and Lori have made about scheduling: I can understand why teachers would be reluctant to take an adult beginner during prime teaching hours. But Lori's experience is also mine. Teachers' reluctance to schedule during certain hours is exactly one of the things that make good instruction inaccessible to working adults.

The reason I stopped lessons after 3 months, even though I was still practicing regularly, was that I couldn't keep taking time off work for viola lessons and my teacher had no evening or weekend availability. Since then I've been looking for a teacher who 1) is within a half-hour drive of me, 2) can teach advanced viola repertoire, and 3) has evening or weekend openings. I've found teachers who meet all combinations of 2 of the 3 criteria, but none who meet all three.

I want to note, also, that the teachers who turned me away when I was first looking to start violin lessons were not turning away an adult beginner. I was being turned away by teachers as "too old" to even make a hobby out of a string instrument when I was between 13 and 16.

Edited: April 8, 2019, 3:28 PM · Erik I wasn't referring to a specific post on this thread (posted quickly without reviewing for inference as I am at work) so apologies if you think it was directed to anyone in particular.

It just happens to be something I researched in great detail when I wanted to start lessons BEFORE I even found a teacher. I wanted to learn properly as I know how important it is to get the basics right and it was something I have come across a lot in the time since (again, not on this thread).

I'm very lucky to have found the teacher that I did so it all worked out in the end.

April 8, 2019, 3:31 PM · Got it, Lori. I was just confused, not offended :)

Another one of the reasons I posted this thread was because there's just not enough public information I could find on adult beginners who have had long term success. Especially when searching for videos, there's almost nothing (except a few high profile examples). I wish people would post their videos on YouTube along with how long it took them to get there, as it would really help encourage other adults to give it a try.

April 8, 2019, 3:32 PM · I was speaking with a family member who was learning guitar (not classical or jazz) and they quit because they found the payoff to be too little for the amount of work.

I feel for the beginners here, as a restarter it was pretty simple for me to find teachers willing to teach me - it's been less simple finding the "right fit" teacher though.

Edited: April 8, 2019, 4:27 PM · Well, let's see. I played violin when I was 9 but my mother had more interest in it than I did. Also, being 9 and playing a 4/4 violin was a bit too awkward for a kid who just wanted to play baseball. Next, I played coronet in seventh grade but although I loved it and had first chair, my sadistic orthodontist said I had to quit because it would mess up my already messed up teeth. So I moved on to guitar. I figured The Beatles or The Rolling Stones would want me to join but it didn't pan out that way. Went to college and somehow I became an actor and then a director, did a lot of freelance work, ran a theater in Minneapolis, and had some success. Marriage and babies brought me to teaching English and Theater for around 37 years. During that time I got a Masters. For her part, my wife found a boyfriend and the marriage went to pieces. So, to target my grief in a positive direction, I worked on a Ph.D.and wrote and published short stories, commentaries, a book of poetry, and a book on education. None of that made me rich but I did end up with a great woman as my wife. (23 years and going strong.) Then, one day while driving through Tennessee I heard great old time tunes on the radio. I loved it and decided to take up Bluegrass guitar and mandolin. I played for years in jams, sang in all kinds of places, wrote songs, and made a CD. I also traveled through Europe with a camera and became a photographer - sold work in art shows, restaurants, art fairs, and so forth. Then I gave all that up and drifted back to the violin. My teacher is thrilled with my progress, I practice for around 90 minutes a day, and I'll hit 70 next month.
Edited: April 8, 2019, 4:41 PM · I got my teacher by going to my local violin dealer/luthier/repairer and asking him if there was anyone he'd recommend, bearing in mind my experience as an orchestral cellist and the fact that I had recently retired from work. He has a vast knowledge of the music and music teaching scenes in the city, so was the ideal choice as an adviser.

He went into his office and returned a couple of minutes later with three sheets of A4 that had details of the private violin teachers in the city, their qualifications, experience, and what sort of music they taught – classical, jazz, folk, or a mixture. He had highlighted three names he reckoned would be suitable for my situation. I chose the one nearest to my home (10 minutes walk away) for a sample lesson, and the rest is history. After four years into lessons I was able to swap over from cello to violin in my orchestras.

Edited: April 8, 2019, 5:35 PM · Piano from 7-16 to advanced level until deciding against music as a career, then totally stopped playing at age 19 due to environmental piano shortage. Somehow successful "career" in track&field (nominations to continental championships). Medical school, satisfying career in a public hospital (never aimed for scientific work). Started with violin at age 39, adding the viola at age 41. Started playing second violin in a community orchestra, then switched to a viola due to shortage of violists and the love for the deeper voice, and viola in a small amateur ensemble dedicated to baroque music. Autumn 2018, age 42 first time soloing with this group in public on Telemann Viola concerto at a beneficial gala, and although usually being not very satisfied with myself and tend to suffer from stage fright, it went surprisingly well with noticeable but acceptable flaws in intonation. Nothing at all to be ashamed of. During the summer before (also age 42) I studied this very Vivaldi A minor and performed it at a music summer camp for adults. (Yes, there are such in Europe!) Another not mind blowing experience for anyone who listened, but pretty okayish even on recording... And then - as Mary Ellen named it - life got in the way and I started canceling lessons etc... I hope I'll be able to fix this within the next year, but in fact, a suboptimal career decision forces ne to pause from lessons and orchestra. I'm glad if I can find the time to practice on my own 2 or 3 hours in the weekends, during the week the instruments sit in their cases. Only occasionally I step by at the baroque ensemble and hope that they will not replace me completely... Our project for monthly recitals in the cathedral has to be postponed.

There are teachers who take adult learners seriously. But this will only happen if the adult learner will take this process seriously himself. I was lucky to find a teacher with whom I can work that well and who doesn't follow a nihilistic approach but insists on proper technique and emphasizes the basics. Yet, 90% of his students are on eternal beginner level. And still he tries to help them along, even if the path is slow.
I think that in learning an instrument (as in anything), it does help a lot if one knows already how to achieve something, how to be efficient and focused. I don't have to measure myself to professional standards, but I'm positively surprised to meet Erik's definition of "intermediate or later" repertoire. I don't regard it as a success story yet, since although I achieved far more than I had initially expected, I'm by far not playing what I'd like to, and don't sound as I wished to. But there are still several decades ahead!

Edited: April 8, 2019, 7:07 PM · My comments about adult beginners are based on 34 years of experience in private teaching, including quite a few adults, both beginners and returnees. My reluctance to schedule adult students during late afternoon/early evening prime student teaching times is based on those decades of experience, and on the fact that private teaching is a significant part of my family's support. This isn't my hobby nor is it a small part-time job, and with our third child about to start college, maximizing the household income is a serious consideration.

That I am still willing to take on new adult students despite witnessing so many with good intentions drift away due to understandably busy lives is the triumph of hope over experience.

Daytime lesson times actually haven't been a barrier to any of the adults with whom I've worked, either because they were retired or because they worked jobs with non-office hours (e.g. RNs or similar). I would be willing to offer an 8 PM or later time to a working adult but nobody has ever asked for that.

I am absolutely positively definitely sure that people who post on are not representative of the general population.

Editing to add that for adult returnees, there is a wonderful resource, a new book of exercises and repertoire called "I Used to Play Violin," by my dear childhood violin teacher Doris Gazda.

April 8, 2019, 11:12 PM · " Adult beginners tend to do a LOT better if they start on viola."

In "Technique is Memory", Primrose wrote:

"I quote the most perceptive of all music critics, Irving Kolodin, who states in his distinguished book: 'As a fledgling viola-player I naturally regard all other violists as studious chaps who don't have the finger facility of the NOTENFRESSERS who make agile first violinists, but are better read, have heard more music, and are, altogether men of superior taste.' I find myself in full agreement.."

It's also written in French and German for any interested violists.

April 9, 2019, 12:40 AM · My community orchestra has adult-beginner violinists who started when their kids did Suzuki and have kept playing since then, and are now at a kind of Bach-A-minor-to-Accolay sort of level. (We have violists and cellists of that ilk, too.)

I've seen many more successful adult beginner cellists, who can manage a reasonable chunk of the chamber-music repertoire to the level necessary for many casual reading sessions.

April 9, 2019, 3:27 AM · Lydia, I have definitely noticed that adults who learn with their kids do better on average than those who are on their own. I think it's because they have a reason to continue besides just their own interest, and perhaps their kid getting better than them scares them into practicing more.

Also, cello is just ergonomically better, and is more forgiving overall of stiff, heavy movements and lack of flexibility. One can be pretty stiff and still manage a decent sound on the cello, but not so on the violin.

Edited: April 9, 2019, 7:26 AM · This 59 year old returnee would likely have gone with the cello if I hadn't the violin experience all those decades ago. I am still interested in the cello and may well add it once I've a few years with the violin but we will see, at this stage in my life I think I prefer to go as deeply in one instrument as I can rather than a more broad approach with two. Arthritis may eventually make me change that but time will tell.

Very thankful to have found a teacher with the breadth of experience (after 35 years of teaching), a preference for adult students, and the ability to meet with me at a time that works for someone who rises at 4:30am for work.

Edited: April 12, 2019, 12:02 PM · One thing that hastened my move from the cello to violin in orchestra was Pachelbel's Canon. Cellists will understand ;)
Edited: April 9, 2019, 9:20 AM · Erik - on youtube there's a lady by the name of MsPolkaDotz who is nearly exclusively self-taught on the violin, and has been playing for 3-4 years (going off my iffy timeframe memory). Last video I recall seeing is her working on the Bach E Major Partita - Prelude.

Mary Ellen - wow, I wish I had known about that book when I returned a few years ago! Would have saved a lot of grief (and time) getting back to it I bet.

Edited: April 9, 2019, 10:21 AM · I have been teaching for more than 30 years and have had quite a few adult students. I do not find that the average adult learns any slower than the average child. As with children, there is a real range of natural ability, willingness to practice, physical coordination, and devotion to the endeavor. The willingness to practice and the devotion are the two factors that always win out, in a student of any age. Of course, you have to be willing to practice what your teacher wants you to practice!
Edited: April 9, 2019, 11:39 AM · I started playing the violin 7 years ago at age 43. While I played piano as a child (ages 6-14), I never reached any meaningful milestones and had forgotten everything in the nearly 30 year interim.

As far as repertoire goes, I have recently worked on Mozart 3, Elgar's Salut de Amour, some Sevcik, Kreutzer & unaccompanied Bach, and am getting ready to start Kreisler's Liebeslied. Groups played with include beginner chamber groups, the Mid Atlantic Scottish Fiddlers, and the University of Richmond Symphony Orchestra where I have played in the viola section for the last two years. Outside of orchestra, I mostly play (and prefer) violin, but switch back and forth as needed.

With the exception of 3 months over a year ago when I left my first teacher and was trying to find a new teacher, lessons have been weekly. I work full time, with an out-of-state travel component, and have two kids who are in middle and high school so my practice is limited to 7-10 hours a week. I reached Vivaldi Am in 3.5 years but got stuck for two years at that point. Should have changed teachers before then, but didn't want the drama (yes, there was some). My new teacher has spent the last year helping me rebuild my technique and my confidence.

Prior to playing violin, I received an international award for excellence in the arts with my glasswork. I have a degree in Theatre which I actually used in my first career (stage costumer); and I have run several half marathons.

It is disheartening to hear that there are teachers who won't teach adults during prime-time hours. I get it from a professional standpoint, and I have experienced it from a personal perspective. It is certainly a decision each teacher has to make to ensure their cashflow position, but it limits those of us who are serious primarily to teachers who may not offer what we need to succeed. It's a case where the many ruin it for the few. Too bad there isn't a simple litmus test to separate the serious adult students from the rest.

If you are looking for ways to keep your adult students motivated, get them playing with others as soon as possible. Only playing to your cat or uninterested spouse is a sure way to lose motivation. My teachers frequently play duets with me and encouraged me to find opportunities to play and perform. Until recently there was a local chamber group for adult string players which was a wonderful resource. Not only did we have a group to play with, we had peers. A lot of amateur trios and quartets came out of it. Having a peer group is key to remaining involved.

April 9, 2019, 12:13 PM · I should probably add to the discussion that adults are and always have been at least half of my income, so there was never a point where I gave them different time slots than kids.

With that said, I teach mostly beginners, whereas Mary Ellen teaches very advanced students. It's very likely that even the most fast-improving adult students here would not achieve the playing ability that her younger students will achieve, so even if she had a litmus test for the more serious adults, it would still make sense for her to prioritize the younger ones. Many of them are pursuing careers in music. I don't personally think her policy is unfair, given her particular teaching circumstances. Doesn't it also make sense for colleges to prioritize students who are pursuing careers, rather than those just returning to education for personal fulfillment?

Being a teacher is hard, so people should be careful not to judge the choices teachers make unless they have walked in the same shoes!

Edited: April 9, 2019, 1:38 PM · My comment wasn't directed at Mary Ellen specifically, but at the field in general. I certainly respect her choice. It's one that has to be made due to economics. Even if she wanted to indulge in teaching my peer group, it's not a good bet based on her experience. It's something I have heard from many teachers, and why I had to approach over 20 to get the one I have now. If I had been asking for one of my sons, all but 4 would have made a time slot available. I know this because I asked.

But Erik, what I heard in your latest comment is that if I (an adult amateur) can't maneuver my playing into some kind of career, then I'm not worth a good education. I strongly doubt that's what you meant since you champion adult students, but that's the message your second paragraph conveys. Hearing, in effect, 'adults aren't worth the effort' so much more frequently than 'let's see how far you can take this' is a factor in the perception that adults can't learn. Maybe it's not so much that we can't learn, but that the opportunities to do so are so limited.

April 9, 2019, 2:02 PM · Oh, speaking of YouTube: there's another mostly self-taught adult starter on YouTube named Mariko Barra (self-taught due to remote location, but has gotten feedback from Nathan Cole via video exchange) who has been playing for four years starting at age 30 and was working on the Bach Double as of a few months ago.
Edited: April 9, 2019, 2:22 PM · I'm dismayed to see Krista had to approach 20 teachers to find one willing to teach her... The drop-out rate among my cohort of violin students in the age range of 9-11 was pretty high (this was many years ago), so it is surprising me that kid students are seen as more of a sure thing than adult students.

I wonder if adult student are annoying in ways that are difficult to describe or fault... For example, in a few of my graduate seminars, there was a non-degree, older woman who knitted through each discussion-based class. She was prepared for class, smart, and quite insightful, but the knitting advertised her lack of commitment in a way that I, as a degree student, found off-putting. Unlikely adult violin students bring their knitting, but there may be some equivalent...

Edited: April 9, 2019, 3:21 PM · With competent aduld students, you do not only have to tell them what to do, but also why to do so. Your concept has to be clearer. They tend to bring their own thoughts and questions with them and are not simply "following the leader". They check alternative sources of information and do not just imitate what you tell them. I'm sure this can be interesting for a teacher if the student was already a pretty advanced player, but I'm sure this can be heavily annoying if you have to deal on beginner or lower intermediate level. We grown ups need to discuss things, although we know that the teacher is right. We don't like just "doing", we want to "understand".
On the other hand, this explains why there are individuals among us who have the ability to be successful by "mainly self teaching".
Most probably it also depends on the character of the teacher if he can deal with that or not. You need different approaches if teaching, especially in communication. With kids you can teach a mainly traditional, hierarchical approach, while an adult will expect to be it more "cooperative".

For me it's okay if a teacher invests his prime time lessons preferably to the kids, even if the chance that any of them will make it a "career" should be relatively low. It's why I took a private teacher and leave the (cheaper and highly professional) local music school to the young ones. They only have a short time slot between school and dinner. As an adult I could take lessons at 8 pm if my teacher agreed. A kid will need more sleep. And they have their whole life ahead and do need some kind of musical education, while I already had my own chances when I was young.

April 9, 2019, 3:38 PM · Like Krista, I'm not directing my comments at Mary Ellen but at the field in general. (I'm also not criticizing the teacher I had, who definitely had every evening time slot booked; she squeezed me in one evening when someone else canceled but couldn't do that regularly.)

I notice Krista had to approach 20 teachers to find her current one, a bit more than a year ago. (Is this correct, Krista?) She had been playing for 5-6 years, was playing regularly in an orchestra, and was at Vivaldi A minor in 3.5 years. Is that not sufficient evidence of commitment? At least to me, it seems like that would require more commitment than many children have.

Similarly, I've been having a hard time finding a teacher when I've been playing for literally half of my life, and have been playing regularly in two orchestras and occasionally subbing in others for almost the entire time I've been looking.

Or do some teachers doubt an adult learner's commitment even when the adult learner in question is no longer a beginner and clearly makes time to practice and play in ensembles on a regular basis?

Edited: April 9, 2019, 3:57 PM · It all depends on how you define: Success. For me, I'm successful beyond my wildest dreams. My goal was to learn how to play the melody lines of Episcopal hymns while starting as a novice at the age of 30. I achieved that pretty fast, then joined a multi-generational community orchestra and played with them for decades, learned a lot more about music and theory than I thought possible. I also learned a lot about the mechanics of the instrument and explored more and more advanced orchestral music. In retirement from my "day-job" I started teaching others how to play - most of whom would never get private lessons.

I still play those hymn tunes, show tunes, movie themes, and yes the traditional music over 40 years later and am part of the process of getting the next generation started. Yeah, I'd call that a smashing success although I never performed a concerto, earned a penny playing, or had an audience applaud just me.

As far as non-musical success, I was one of the leading experts in the field of Supply Chain Management and was successful in turning around a number of corporations that were out-of-control with their inventories. It was a good life but I really enjoy music a lot more.

April 9, 2019, 3:50 PM · Andrew, yes you are correct on the numbers. At least I am fortunate to be in a metropolitan area that has a large pool of teachers. If you are going to be an outlier, it's the best position to be in.

I would like to point out that the people I play with have been very open about playing with a student like me. The college students, dedicated amateurs, and professionals have been welcoming and encouraging. We all know I'm not going to be competition for anyone, but it's nice to know there's a spot at the table. I encourage all adult students to find their musical tribe. Play with and for others as much as you can. That's as much of an education as the lessons and personal practice time.

Edited: April 9, 2019, 4:12 PM · I'm also not sure why there is a question regarding level of commitment re: child or adult learner. I think it's safe to say that every adult is there because they WANT to be while that's not necessarily the case for every child. My son has committed to and discontinued months later many different pursuits and Ive always encouraged him to search for his passion. He was initially very enthusiastic about taking music lessons which I of course encouraged, but is no where near as committed now and I've been considering discontinuing them because it's not something HE wants its something *I* want for him. I haven't done so yet because I want to stress the idea of commitment but I'm not sure if it's just an exercise in frustration at this point ;).

He never practices and probably couldn't care less if he ever had another lesson. This is just over a year in (for guitar not violin). Even with children, the teacher is dependent on the adult (parent in these cases) in this situation forcing them to practice, attend lessons, pay the bill, etc. Not everyone will stay with a teacher for years of guaranteed income just because they are young, and I imagine there are many parents who get tired of nagging their children and discontinue lessons.

I'm also sure there are many who will not (and do not) allow their children to stop and will make them go for many years.

Maybe an alternative to this is if you are unsure when you meet the prospective student have an honest and forthright conversation about the amount of time it will take to even sound decent and have the student in question sign a contract (similar to a gym or to other types of lessons and tutoring). If you don't come, then fine, but you're still on the hook. I would have been happy to sign it, those that are less committed would probably not. My teacher and I joke about my "10 year plan" and I say I hope to sound decent by then lol.

Edited to add: again, this is not directed at ANYONE, just the general conversation.

April 9, 2019, 4:07 PM · Krista's experience with ensembles has been mine as well. It's why I think it's somewhat inaccurate to say I'm self-taught. People in most of the orchestras I've played in have been nothing but welcoming, and you could say I crowdsourced my instruction. (Especially valuable because YouTube didn't exist for the first several years!)

It's why I disagree with Erik's assertion that orchestras stall progress. For me it was the exact opposite.

April 9, 2019, 4:47 PM · Erik's assertion that orchestras can stall progress isn't completely inaccurate. If you are a poor sight reader or someone who does not have the technical skillset to play orchestral music, practicing to get your playing up to par does cut into time to work on your lesson material. It was true for me at first.
Edited: April 10, 2019, 12:39 AM · One of my local area's community music schools actually actively targets older adults, especially retirees, who are either returnees (who often must essentially start from scratch) or beginners. So they have daytime lessons, daytime string orchestra, daytime chamber music, juries and recitals for adults, etc. I think the notion is that retirees can actually have quite a bit of time on their hands, and the desire to stay mentally and physically active through music-making. So they'll practice diligently and show up reliably, since they have the leisure to do so.
April 10, 2019, 3:28 AM · I also want to add to this discussion: the disparity between the average adult students and the average young students that contact me for lessons isn't very big, in terms of commitment. That's probably why I tend to view them similarly.

However, I imagine that a higher level teacher has a greater disparity between their average young and older students that contact them. When youth approach them, it's very possible they're looking to seek a professional path, or at the very least pursue it quite seriously. A young student who isn't very serious will tend to seek out "fun" teachers who won't push them too hard. So if they're going after a teacher with a serious reputation, chances are that they are serious learners. On the other hand, less serious adult students that seek out a teacher will often bypass the "fun" teachers and go straight to the serious teachers, despite not being serious learners, because it fulfills the fantasy they've built around the whole romantic notion of learning the violin. They also think having a high level teacher means they'll get more progress from less effort.

Basically, my theory is that the difference between my experiences with adult students and someone like Mary's, is that our reputations filter out potential students differently. Her reputation only filters out uncommitted young students but still allows uncommitted adults through. Thus, her view of how committed the average adult student is is colored by this experience. My reputation doesn't really filter anyone out, so I get an equal amount of both committed and uncommitted adults and young students.

Just a hypothesis!

Also, Andrew Hsieh, your experience is a very unusual one. For you, going to orchestra was like going to lessons, in lieu of the real deal. So of course it helped you improve! But for a student already taking private lessons that only has 30 minutes a day to practice, adding orchestra in will often suck up all of their practice time at home to prepare for rehearsals, since the fear of screwing up in front of a group tends to be a stronger motivational factor than just disappointing their teacher. Sure, they'll still improve by practicing orchestra music, but it won't be on a carefully planned, linear progression like their teacher's repertoire would allow, and thus will be much slower progress.

However, there are many exceptions to this, so it's by no means a hard-and-fast rule. Orchestra is often the "spark" that lights a fire, in terms of a student's motivation. And since motivation is one of the strongest components of success, any time-sucking that orchestra causes can be cancelled out by this positive effect.

April 10, 2019, 4:19 AM · Success is a very subjective concept, but I am pleased on where I am after three years starting at 44 with no prior musical knowledge. Although I don't play in an orchestra (there's only one for the whole country and its admission system is opaque), I am able to join my violin voice in classical musical projects from some amateur and semiprofessional productions, and I also play in a band at bars some weekends.

I relate to the teacher adult-student struggle. It took me a very long time to be accepted by a teacher, and I had to work hard to prove that I was serious. Now that he is going to go for 3 months, he has not been able to find a substitute.

Edited: April 10, 2019, 8:26 AM · Interesting topic - and poignant for me too. However, I am strictly a returner. I started at age 6 and stopped by age 13 (it petered out). Save a couple of months playing just to encourage my own son to keep learning at age 12 (he quit, and I did too) I didn't play the instrument until age 56 - that's a 43 year gap when I picked it up on a whim and then could not put it down.

Although this goes both ways: "Teachers don't take adult beginners seriously." is very often true. My first phone interview with a RCM recommended teacher went like this:

Me: "I've returned to the violin and am seeking lessons."
Teacher 1: "good - but the first thing you must do is to lower expectations."
Me: "Why? Because you are not a very good teacher?".
Teacher 1: 'click'.

The cure for me (there is a large music community) is to fire the teachers quickly once they show signs of flagging (I've had about 10 regular teachers and umpteen more at festivals etc). The tell tale sign is when you go to the lesson and they say 'So what have you been working on this week'. Or translated: 'I have no idea what you are doing and even less interest'. With this strategy you gradually get through the teachers that are just trying to fill slots until you find ones that actually care - and they are out there. Wit my current teacher we discussed goals at the beginning - with me declaring the intent of playing at an entry professional level - and she has never relented. She drives me hard and I work correspondingly hard (2-4 hrs a day now, sometimes more).

Outcome? I may never play Paganini caprices (though I will sure as heck try) but I am learning how to express the composers intent while also being free to add my own emotions. My goal is to play classical music at a level where ordinary people love to hear it. And, perhaps in the process, demonstrate how wrong Teacher 1 was . By examples, I have performed at summer festivals: Beethoven Sonata VIII, Schumann's first sonata and will play Brahm's #1 this year. Oh, and I play second desk, First violin, in an 'intermediate' (whatever that is!) community orchestra.

April 10, 2019, 3:19 PM · Ms. Stanley,

If you have a good teacher and work daily as hard and intelligently as you stated above, I do not see how the Paganini Caprices are an "impossible" achievement. Keep working patiently at the violin art you love.

April 10, 2019, 4:34 PM · Thank you for the encouragement Adelberto :)
April 11, 2019, 12:19 AM · I find the question, "So what have you been working on this week?" to be an entirely reasonable one, especially if you've got a lot of material. My teacher sometimes has specific requests for an area of focus (made either at the end of a lesson, or at the beginning of one), but often leaves it up to me what I want to work on during a lesson.

An advanced student should have some notion of when it's a good time to have a teacher take a look at something, versus where something just needs more practice time and quick enough progress is being made without assistance (and the student isn't concerned about needing a check-in to make sure it really is going fine without assistance). Advanced students carry so much stuff in-progress that even with extended or twice-a-week lessons, there's simply no time to get through it all.

The kids in my teacher's studio keep a notebook, where my teacher specifies what to work on. I normally keep that list in my head (supplemented by notes in the music itself), and I have since the latter half of high school.

Some people need to feel a push from their teacher, I think, and a teacher with a structured approach and unrelenting expectations can be very beneficial for them. When I was a super reluctant practicer as a kid, that approach was quite useful for me. As an adult, I don't feel the need for a push. I can self-flagellate sufficiently. :-)

April 11, 2019, 1:02 AM · I agree with Lydia. You can't make hard and fast rules about which method works best. It really depends on the student, and the circumstances surrounding that student. The best teachers can detect which students need which teaching style fairly quickly. An interesting part of this, though, is that not all students actually know how they learn best, so when they meet a teacher that is showing them the most efficient path, sometimes they'll disregard those teachings, simply because it doesn't match their preconceived notion of how they should be learning.
Edited: April 11, 2019, 4:28 AM · Lydia wrote: " I find the question, "So what have you been working on this week?" to be an entirely reasonable one, especially if you've got a lot of material"

I think you misunderstood the intent of the statement (indeed, I'm a bit surprised) - perhaps I should have explained it better. Its not about the detail of the lessons its about completely forgetting what you are working on. I believe its a duty of a teacher to be involved in your training and if you have to remind them every lesson what you worked on last time and what repertoire you are currently on they are obviously not interested in your progress.

Contrast that to a great teacher - as my current one is - who is anxious and interested to see how you have improved on your specific tasks since the last lesson and has new ideas for you when you walk in the door.

April 11, 2019, 4:58 AM · Elise I remember you telling us some time back that you went to Italy to study with a local virtuoso, only to be put on a diet of Schradieck, some kind of reality check. What has come of that? Is your technique now up there?
April 11, 2019, 5:13 AM · Thanks for the memories :P. LOL! Funnily enough I'm working on Schradieck again now (on my own; does one ever grow out of it?).

Things have steadily improved and I'm surviving in the first violin section of a community orchestra. Perhaps more important I can play well enough that people seem to want to listen. Maybe that should be the first fundamental achievement point!

April 11, 2019, 7:39 AM · I've been playing for 9 years but only became serious about three years ago. My instagram handle is @fiddlefugue if you want to check out my playing :)

Anything is possible with proper goal setting, alot of hard work, and the right teacher!

A little bit about me I suppose

I am very blessed to have a great teacher who took my request seriously. I was only a fiddler before, played maybe an hour a week just out of boredom.I did sing in a choir as a child and mess around on several instruments but never did anything seriously. Reasonable intonation, poor music reading skills, terrible counting. Only played in 1st and 3rd position.

I said to my teacher in the first lesson "In 5 years I would like to play ysaye and sibelius" to which he laughed but said we could see and he gave me a shot.

For the first year kreutzer no.2 was a bitter nemesis. It was so frustrating Getting through the bulk of the bowing variations. Getting old self taught sloppy habits out and being clean and precise was tough. Even after leaving kreutzer no.2 every now and then he would say "perhaps you should brush up on your kreutzer". Nothing would ruin my day more than that.

3 years later and 3-4 hours of practice a day and now we are here. Ive worked through the lots of the Bach S&P as well as the Bruch, Mendelssohn and Barber concerti and several other small pieces.

I'm presenting the whole Sibelius in April, Ysaye sonata no.2 in June, and entering university to start a music degree in the fall. I also play 1st violin in an orchestra, am a department head at the music school I teach at with over 35 students in my roster. My teacher has generously mentored me and guided me through the pedagogy. I am indeed very lucky to have him.

There is still alot to learn and it is a long road ahead. While I am happy with my progress,I know I need to keep pushing myself every day and will continue to do so :)

Edited: April 11, 2019, 7:53 AM · Allan - I am in awe! Good on you.
But please - how old are you?
April 11, 2019, 8:58 AM · Thanks! 26
April 11, 2019, 8:58 AM · Wonderful and inspiring reading these thoughts and stories. Could be part of a book for adult starters and restarters.
April 11, 2019, 9:18 AM · Allan - I made a similar request a couple of months ago (except my goal pieces are different) and my teacher's jaw dropped on the floor. Unfortunately, I'm unable to practice the amount that you do, so it may take twice as long for me to get there - if I ever get there!
April 11, 2019, 9:46 AM · Well Alan, terrific as it is, if you started 9 years ago you were a late, but not quite an adult starter ;)

Hey you've got time to be a concertmaster ...

April 11, 2019, 9:51 AM · Haha, you'll get there I'm sure! Honestly my big turning point was when I started daily scales with slurs and all the double stops. My most recent breakthrough was realizing when I start to "attack" passages as opposed to analyze. I also started waking up two hours earlier every day. Currently I'm up to my neck in renos and work 11-9 most days, so I have to really organize my practice to make it effective #thestruggleisreal
Edited: April 11, 2019, 12:58 PM · In response to Timothy Smith's question about when you're no longer a beginner: Maybe around the level of your first concerto (Suzuki Book 4), or when you've begun working on 3rd position?
April 11, 2019, 3:37 PM · Erik, et al.,

When dealing with an adult (over 25 as you set the criteria) is it fair for the teacher to set the bar that determines "success"? That doesn't prevent a good teacher from bringing an adult farther than she thought possible. That being said, if the adult's goal is rather modest and attained that is a success in my book.

I see a lot of references to particular Suzuki books and I have to wonder how many potential adults get put-off by this arbitrary measure of success/failure.

There is more than enough stress in an adult life without setting up arbitrary measures designed for children using a particular system. What if their goal is simply to play with their church choir, play show tunes, sit in the second section of their community orchestra?

Of course, if the adult in question is thinking about pursuing some kind of career in music, that is a whole different question.

April 11, 2019, 4:12 PM · To all those that have taken note of my arbitrarily chosen definition of "success":

I had to put up some parameter, or it would just be a super fluffy question of "are you happy with your progress?". And I already know that most violinists are never fully happy with their progress, regardless of the level achieved. They're always striving for more. So although I still personally view anyone as successful who simply managed to meet some of their goals, I chose intermediate level as a measure of success because it's the point at which I think a lot of chamber music or group music becomes accessible, and it's also the point where I've noticed players start actually sounding like violinists, due to the combination of bow control, vibrato, shifting, etc...

Obviously there are multiple levels of success, but I didn't want to set the bar too low because I can't really call it "success" if literally everyone was capable of it. I'm genuinely impressed when I hear of an adult beginner that manages a decent quality book-4 song, so it's my personal measure of success. With that said, though, it is rare for adult beginners to achieve this level.

Edited: April 11, 2019, 5:58 PM · @George Wells "There is more than enough stress in an adult life without setting up arbitrary measures designed for children using a particular system." I think that may be why my teacher didn't follow the examination/grade route with her adult pupils. Her teaching was based largely on the Suzuki books (she trained at the Suzuki School in Japan) but certainly not exclusively. For instance, we departed from Suzuki for a while to work on Dvorak's Sonata Op 100, and sight-reading Hungarian and other Eastern European dance tunes were a regular feature - 7/8, 11/8 etc don't worry me at all now. When I said I wanted to move from orchestral cello to violin little changes were made to the syllabus and the approach to playing. Four or five months later I made the move.
April 11, 2019, 4:51 PM · I just realized I do know an adult beginner violist who easily satisfies Erik's criteria (contrary to what my first post said) -- I didn't think of him because I don't see him routinely, but I have heard him play. He's in his 40s and has been playing for 5 years. He's right at the level where he plays the Telemann viola concerto cleanly, in tune, and with decent tone. No prior musical training himself, though his wife is a professional clarinetist and I believe he started learning as a Suzuki parent.
April 11, 2019, 7:29 PM · "I have definitely noticed that adults who learn with their kids do better on average than those who are on their own. I think it's because they have a reason to continue besides just their own interest, and perhaps their kid getting better than them scares them into practicing more."

Interesting observation. Yes, it's a really good reason to continue - if the parent quits early, that could be a very bad example, and clearly they're invested in the child's learning.

It was a huge boost for my son when he heard that I thought he was playing better than me - he was surprised. And I'd sacrifice my own practicing for his supervision when needed. So the child playing better is not a bad thing, and doesn't necessarily lead to the adult quitting - it depends on their own motivation again after a while.

April 12, 2019, 6:16 AM · Timothy wrote: " When do we begin to stop being a beginner? ". Of course there is no real answer as it all depends on where you are standing. Thus, while everyone that is currently learning how to pull the bow on one string at a time and put their fingers in approximately the right place might admit they are a beginner, from there on its a shifting marker. Thus, a Suzuki book 4 student sees a book 2 as a beginner, a college student sees anyone doing Suzuki as a beginner and, yes, Dorothy Delay regarded a student playing the Bach Aminor concerto as a beginner! Goodness knows where Hillary Hahn might put the marker ;)
April 12, 2019, 8:51 AM · Nothing wrong with Suzuki for adults, though I must add you do not need it to keep improving. There are more ways to learn than the Suzuki approach, especially for adults.

I do see it as good for children-carried out as intended, however.

(Unfortunately, the Pelosi name is mentioned "often" because of that other name which shan't be mentioned in this thread, who's mentioned even more-much to the chagrin of millions in the US and elsewhere in the world, and sadly, to that undeserving person's "pleasure".)

April 12, 2019, 8:56 AM · Far too often the Suzuki approach to teaching (Talent Education) is conflated with the books. The books are a graded progression of repertoire that many teachers find useful, myself among them. But simply learning the material in the books does not at all mean one is "learning Suzuki" or doing the "Suzuki method."

The actual Suzuki teaching approach is superbly suited to young children but not at all appropriate for adults. But the books themselves are simply teaching material that can be used in many ways.

April 12, 2019, 10:37 AM · Timothy Smith says: "Honestly I will probably always feel like a beginner."

I probably will too. I'm 19 years in now, I've been known to read Shostakovich quartets for fun, and the last solo piece I worked on (before a shoulder injury forced me to set aside everything but orchestra rep for now) was the Walton viola concerto -- which was my "in my wildest dreams" goal when I started. And I still feel like a beginner. Somehow part of my mind defines the end of "beginner" as being one step ahead of wherever I am at any given time. I'll probably still feel like a beginner as long as I'm not William Primrose.

But the more rational part of my mind tends to agree with what seems to be the more generally accepted definition (a Baroque concerto that requires third position, in tempo with reasonable intonation and tone quality).

April 12, 2019, 2:48 PM · Erik, your question was a fine one, well phrased, and your defenses of it, speak to it clearly. I understand what you are getting at, and think it a worthy subject.
April 12, 2019, 3:25 PM · As someone who started the violin at age 50, maybe my idea of "success" doesn't match the OP's. I had years of piano study when I was younger but no exposure to stringed instruments. I achieved intermediate level with the violin slowly--my teacher didn't take me seriously for quite awhile. After her death, I switched to viola, started a string quartet, and eventually started viola lessons. I have progressed much more quickly since starting viola lessons--a lot of it was a type of maturity and self confidence gleaned from my years of violin study; the rest was my viola teacher's willingness to listen to things I've found in books and on the web that have been helpful and given me insight into my playing, and her never giving up on trying to figure out (along with me) what it takes to break my bad habits. For my recital in June, I'll be playing the second movement of Telemann's Viola Concerto with my string quartet accompanying me. To be able to perform in public without embarrassing myself is my idea of success!

As for practice, about 45 minutes a day of thoughtful practice seems to be sufficient. Simply warming up can take 20 minutes when you're older.

April 12, 2019, 3:44 PM · One thought on the apparent rarity of adult beginners reaching the Vivaldi A minor level: perhaps it's just a numbers thing? What percentage of children who start violin lessons ever get there? Given the vastly larger number of students who start as children, is the percentage really much higher?
April 12, 2019, 7:34 PM · Could be, Andrew, except that I've had a significantly higher proportion of young students reach that level than adults. And my sample size is pretty good for both groups.
April 12, 2019, 8:44 PM · I've seen plenty of adult beginners reach the Vivaldi A minor level -- the late-beginner stage, transitioning towards intermediate. It seems like many of them really struggle to reach a Bach A minor level, though, which a significant milestone in the early intermediate stage, and about the point where a violinist can realistically start handling 2nd violin parts in a community orchestra or in easier quartets.
Edited: April 12, 2019, 11:12 PM · Success story? I wouldn't say that. But it is a story.

I starting playing piano by ear at age 4 or 5. Took piano lessons long enough to learn to read music, then quit lessons but continued playing, mostly pop songs. Played viola for three academic years (age 9-11) and was only too happy to leave it behind for guitar. Switched to electric bass around age 21, started playing in bands and had miniscule success playing "college" music in the early-mid 90s.

Meanwhile, I finished my engineering degree and eventually started a career in IT. At some point the band thing petered out, and I began to think about picking up viola. It's hard to say "again" because I barely remembered anything about it from the first time, including how to read alto clef. For my 45th birthday, my husband gave me a craigslist viola whose previous owner had etched her name on it with a soft pencil. A few months with a method book convinced me that I needed to find a teacher, otherwise I'd pick up a bunch of bad habits and really come to hate the instrument. I've studied with private teachers pretty much continuously since then (I'm now 55). I have played in all-comers community orchestras, chamber music groups, and recently joined a local audition-only community orchestra that really challenges me. I discovered I love chamber music, and have attended an all-ages camp (Apple Hill) for the past 4 summers.

After I retired a from my career a couple of years ago, this gave me a lot more time to practice. Recently I got a wild hair and decided to try to get into a (BA, not BM) music degree program offered by my local university. I auditioned and (to my huge surprise) was accepted into the viola studio there. I will start this coming fall.

So that is the story.

Regarding generalizations about adult students and teachers thereof...well, that's a discussion for another day.

Edited: April 13, 2019, 10:08 AM · I think the high drop-out rate among adult beginners is partly due to unrealistic expectations when many of them started.

Many people quit after takings some lessons because they get frustrated when they realise that it takes more effort to sound good than they are preparing to work for.

April 13, 2019, 9:13 AM · I am with Karen Collins. If you read a good novel, the story is not beautiful only at the end. It's beautiful throughout. Either you enjoy the journey or you don't.

Last night I saw the Turtle Island Quartet with special guest pianist Cyrus Chestnut. I am an amateur violinist and an amateur jazz pianist, so this recital was a special treat. The emotional, romantic part of me said, "Boy do I wish I had practiced a lot harder when I was a kid." The other, more rational side of me says, "The chance that I could EVER have played like that is essentially zero."

Edited: April 16, 2019, 4:30 AM · I started at age 32 and have been playing for 15 months. I'm currently working in Grade 2 of the RCM curriculum. I am probably ready to move onto grade 3 since I can play through the majority of etudes and repertoire to a pretty decent degree, however I plan to stay in Grade 2 for another 3-4 months because honestly I am concerned I am moving way too fast and I don't want it to bite me in the ass down the road.

I have no plans to join any orchestras ever really, its just not my thing and I can't see myself enjoying it, I don't like the sound of orchestras. But I still fully intend to be the best I can be. I want to prove my violin teacher wrong, he was pretty disgusted when I walked through the door and wasn't a child. He just sneered at me and let me know I'd never be any good. I can't let his words come true!

April 16, 2019, 7:20 AM · Wow Jessica, that’s incentive indeed! Keep us posted, ( I’m nearly twice as old as you, and learning for 18 months )
How do you stand the lessons with that attitude?
The best reward will be telling him you need to move on to a better teacher ( or have you buried the hatchet?)
April 16, 2019, 8:30 AM · For those looking for stories of adult amateurs, and effective use of adult time, try Amy Nathan's book "Making Time for Making Music", directed at adult beginners and returnees: LINK (or via Amazon: LINK).

(She's a local author whose stories seem to involve a lot of local folks at one of my city's large community music schools, with branches in multiple suburbs.)

April 16, 2019, 9:26 AM · Jessica wrote: "I want to prove my violin teacher wrong, he was pretty disgusted when I walked through the door and wasn't a child. He just sneered at me and let me know I'd never be any good. I can't let his words come true!"
Wha... why not get another teacher? Who needs that negativity. Your teacher should be your champion.

Also, what are your violin goals? If not orchestra what do you see yourself doing - surely more than just practicing (though there is nothing really wrong with that, it seems rather uncomsumated... ;) ).

I found a teacher that has periodic (every 3 months or so) recitals for the students. This is truly marvelous because you get performance experience in a most supportive environment. The way she teaches you perform whether you are really ready or not - and while I might have questioned that in the past, I have found that it develops a skill that must be essential: how to get through errors and crises without falling apart. As far as I can see, every performance is an adventure, there are going to be difficulties that have to be coped with.

Love to hear more...

April 16, 2019, 9:30 AM · I should add that I also was averse to orchestra - for a different reason: I had 'orchestra trauma' as a child due to the horrible competitive nature of the violin section (seemingly judgement by every person around you in order for them to be up-graded). However, I have found a very supportive orchestra and it has become my weekly high-point. I still do solo and chamber when the chance offers but the orchestra is my staple [ironically, like you I really don't like listening to them very much, but I think even that is changing.]
April 16, 2019, 10:35 AM · Elise,

I attend this group lesson that also has a recital and ensemble playing at the end of the course two times a year. This Spring ( I started at 23 yo. and have been playing a year and a half) I performed my first solo, Jeanie with the light brown hair by S. Foster. I started learning it two weeks before the performance, didn't get to the point where I could play the double stops in the Heifetz arrangement but it was a joy to play regardless. You cope with the uncertainty in technique, ready or not!

I couldn't agree more about the supportive and positive atmosphere being vital to building the right approach to performing. My friend challenged me to play Czardas at the end of the year -recital but honestly I think I'll go for Schön Rosmarin or something else by Kreisler who is definitely one of my violin heroes.

April 16, 2019, 11:29 AM · I don't think there is anything wrong with not being interested in performing on a regular basis - either solo or in an orchestra. We all have different reasons for picking up the instrument, taking lessons, and so on.
April 16, 2019, 2:06 PM · "I want to prove my violin teacher wrong, he was pretty disgusted when I walked through the door and wasn't a child. He just sneered at me and let me know I'd never be any good."


Plot Twist: what is this teacher knew that acting disgusted was the only way to get Jessica to truly thrive? That she was one of those students that needed to be told they "couldn't" to order to assure that she could?? Perhaps he is the ultimate teacher for her since he was able to recognize, in a mere moment, the strong effect that reverse psychology would have on her!

Powerful stuff.

April 16, 2019, 2:53 PM · Perhaps Erik - in which case only the teacher would really know...
April 16, 2019, 6:39 PM · I think Eric's statement is very relevant in my case. I didn't have an instrument teacher but there was someone else I needed to prove that I was capable of something, just like they did as a child. After I succeeded at teaching myself classical guitar and mandolin I gained the confidence to teach myself violin, which I have played continuously for 46 years. In the beginning I didn't believe I would be a classical player but I knew it was important to pursue the classical technique which I desired to use improvising in other genre. Today I have a few light classical pieces in my repertoire and some gypsy pieces I have transcribed, and I continue to practice some of the Bach S&P's.
Edited: April 16, 2019, 7:05 PM · Interestingly: even though my progress was slowed by self-teaching, I don't know if I would have progressed as far in the long run with lessons. One of the reasons I never lost motivation when I hit plateaus was that, having been turned away by multiple teachers for being allegedly too old to learn a string instrument, I wanted to prove people wrong. If I'd started with lessons, I would have had faster progress and fewer bad habits to fix, but I might not have kept working on the viola with the same level of commitment. (I think the ideal situation for me would likely have been finding a teacher after a short period of self-teaching. Unfortunately, by that time I was under the mistaken impression that getting lessons wasn't an option.)
April 16, 2019, 7:31 PM · Of course self teaching is slower but there is a benefit, technical aspects are learnt more thoroughly...? Anyway, I was in no hurry and I had no other option. I am very content with the level I have reached, bad habits and all. I am sure I would not have progressed as far with lessons, in fact I may have been discouraged under the pressure.
Edited: April 17, 2019, 2:31 PM · It seems real to me because I had multiple teachers turn me away outright, saying exactly the same kind of thing just as rudely, when I was between 12 and 16. None of them asked me or my parents what my goals were. One of them, when I was 13, told me that I was too old to learn a string instrument beyond beginner level and would never be able to get into even a low-level community orchestra -- which seems to be preemptively saying that it was too late to reach even the most modest goals.
April 17, 2019, 4:55 PM · I've been a lurker on this site for a while now, but this thread finally convinced me to share my experience. I started violin just over three years ago at age 31. To be fair, I had played viola for 3 years in elementary school orchestra from grade 3-5, but not well. Outside of music I have an advanced science degree.

I was lucky to find a good teacher right away, and I've been taking 1 hour lessons every other week, which seems to be about the right frequency for me. Weekly can become overwhelming with scheduling, and longer than 2 weeks doesn't seem frequent enough for consistent progress.

Up until recently we'd been using the Suzuki books almost exclusively, with a few supplemental pieces. I actually really like them, and my teacher has been very good about explaining the new technical challenges for each piece. At this point I'm at the very beginning of book 4. Third position was introduced in the middle of book 3 and I'm just now starting to incorporate vibrato into my playing. We've also just now introduced Hrimaly scales and Wohlfahrt first position etudes. As far as amount of practice per week, I'm not the most consistent, but I try to find at least 30min to an hour a day, although it can be rather unfocused some days. I can play most of the book 3 pieces with decent intonation, to my ear, but usually at something slower than actual tempo.

I also recently joined a community orchestra, which has been entirely overwhelming, but a positive experience overall. Rehearsals and learning the repertoire is an ongoing struggle, but I try to remind myself that learning to play in that setting also will take practice.

So in terms of my personal goals, I feel successful, or at least like a success in progress.

April 17, 2019, 10:30 PM · Yeah Timothy, you are underestimating the level of elitism and traditionalism (dogmatism) that permeates the violin world. Although it's probably the exception more than the rule, some professionals absolutely hate the idea of adults learning to play.

They also hate anything else unorthodox, like a left-handed person learning left handed. Remember how schools used to tie left handers' hands behind their backs to force them to learn to write with their right hands? And then their right handed hand writing would suck, but it still took them however many years to change the policy on everyone having to learn to write with the right hand. Faulty traditionalism at work.

April 17, 2019, 10:42 PM · To be fair, most teachers don’t “hate” the idea of adult learning to play the violin. As Mary Ellen mentioned, it is a business decision—children (encouraged by parents) tend to stay with the instrument longer and thus generate a stable cash flow. Empirical data also suggest that the probability of later success is much much greater with children.

April 18, 2019, 6:48 AM · "children (encouraged by parents) tend to stay with the instrument longer and thus generate a stable cash flow."

David, I disagree with this. Kids graduate high school and move away to college, or they get so busy they drop lessons (or drop music entirely). In the six+ years I've studied with my current teacher, I've seen quite a turnover in his studio. Adults may drop music study for some reason or other, but they generally don't have the built-in time limit that high school kids have.

Edited: April 18, 2019, 9:00 AM · I don't know anyone who "hates" the idea of adults learning to play the violin. But I think many teachers have had similar experiences to mine, where an enthusiastic adult signs up for lessons, goes strong for a couple of months (or three or four), starts to realize just what a long-term process learning to play the violin is, and gradually peters out due to other commitments or just losing steam. But these are not the adult beginners who post on, so reading comments and personal stories here can leave one with an entirely different impression of the usual course of an adult beginner. It isn't traditionalism for many teachers who resist taking on adult students; it's personal experience.

Erik, I wish you would not conflate resistance to teaching violin left-handed with resistance to teaching adult beginners. As has been explained again and again and again, there is no real advantage to flipping the violin for left-handed students since both hands have extremely complex tasks to learn, and there are compelling reasons NOT to do so, such as keeping the possibility open for ensemble playing down the road, not to mention the expense and/or difficulty of finding properly set up left-handed instruments. I would only support left-handed playing/teaching in the case of a student with a physical disability such as missing fingers on the left hand. A disproportionate number of my string colleagues in the SAS--all of whom play right-handed--are left-handed. It is not a disadvantage, and there is no hide-bound traditionalism at play.

April 18, 2019, 10:01 AM · There are plenty of prudes on maestronet with very negative opinions about adult beginners. I looked there before I found and it almost made me never start because they were so rude for absolutely no reason. It was as if they were offended a peasant like me had the nerve to even say the word “violin” in their presence.
Edited: April 18, 2019, 2:12 PM · Mary, I have taught a ton of left handed kids the traditional way and had good success without any need to switch, but in teaching left handed adult beginners, the situation is totally different. I have now tested this with at least 5 adult students whose spatial awareness with the bow simply wasn't happening no matter the amount of time, effort, and creativity spent on developing the most basic motions. The results have been very good, compared to how they were doing before.

Yes, the left and right hands both have complex tasks, but in a brand new beginner, the motor skills and dynamic spatial awareness required for the bow to function correctly are at a far greater level than what is required for the fingering hand. Once the fingering hand is affixed to the violin, it "knows" where it is, and so we can forgot about it for a couple of seconds at a time without major consequences. The bow arm, however, must be calibrated constantly, and must know its place in the 3 dimensions at all times. Thus, this needs to be the primary arm in order for an adult beginner to succeed (in my experience).

I'll repeat that with kids, I think their brains can rewire easily enough to do either way without issue. But adults have been doing complex motor tasks with their dominant hand for *years,* and so asking them to change this will be far less fruitful than being willing to switch sides.

And before people start yelling at me about this opinion of mine, please remember that my views are backed by experience. I have actually taught people left handed (mostly adults, the only child was by request). If you have personally seen anyone get taught left handed and were displeased with the results, then I can understand having an opinion against it. But anything else is just theory-crafting, and can only be backed by confirmation bias or survivor bias.

We don't notice the people that failed, because they become invisible once they quit. So we tend to say that right handed works for everyone because the ones it didn't work for "just weren't serious about learning".

Anyhow, if any adult beginners here are left handed, I would be really interested in hearing your experiences. Perhaps there is evidence of successful adult left handers, and my opinion could be countered by that.

April 18, 2019, 3:24 PM · It is not theory-crafting to point out that left-handed players are either going to be excluded from any possible orchestra playing or will be relegated to the very back. And it is not theory-crafting to point out that obtaining a properly set up left-handed instrument is extremely difficult and expensive.
April 18, 2019, 5:04 PM · Mary, I totally agree with your last comment, but my guess is that some people simply learn better left-handed so they have to play that way.
April 18, 2019, 5:29 PM · (1) Prior music expereince, I write original compositions for piano. I have never had formal lessons on piano or theory. I love to sing and dance.
(2) I am an advanced tennis player and professional tennis coach.
(3) I have always had a passion for violin. My mother put me into violin lessons when I was 8 years old, I had three lessons and unfortunately my violin teacher passed away. I remember distinctly that my last lesson with her, was about bow grip.

When I was 43 years old, I bought a beautiful Eastman Violin and started to learn myself up until I found a violin teacher. I am currently at intermediate level which took approx four years with a violin teacher.

I have taken exams from prelim level through to Grade 4 Violin and achieved honours and credits. I am now studying Grade 5 Violin. I have also sat for Grade 1 and Grade 2 Theory of Music exams with honours and credit, also with AMEB.

I spend approx 2 to 3 hours practice everyday. This includes mental practice when I am away from my violin such as visualising finger placement of scales and finger exercises as well.

One important factor I find is relaxation so taking note where I am in mind and body before practice session begins and then focus comes into play

April 18, 2019, 5:58 PM · You are absolutely right about the current state of affairs regarding left-handed playing, Mary. But perhaps it's better to become good enough to be relegated to the back of the section than to have never become good enough to even consider playing in an orchestra in the first place (community or otherwise)?

The best options overall are 1) for good players like yourself to publicly accept that it might be at least be a feasible option for *some* players and 2) for brand-new students to have a simple test of large-ROM motor skills in the right/left arms and small-ROM motor skills in the right/left hands to determine the best path to take with that particular student.

If it's obvious, from the test, that the left side would be far better suited to bowing and the right side acceptably suited to fingering, then I think it would merit further consideration to try left-handed playing for that particular student. However, if the test was 50/50 either way, then obviously we would pick right-handed playing because it's best to pursue the safest overall path in that instance.

Oh, by the way, for anyone who isn't aware: Gliga violins makes all of their models in true left-handed versions (true meaning everything is a mirror image, including the bass bar, soundpost, pegs, etc...). This covers violins from $300-$3000 range, and above that I think most luthiers would be able to custom make a left-handed violin without too much trouble.

Edited: April 18, 2019, 8:33 PM · I am not saying that learning "left-handed violin" is wrong, but that the instrument is initially so alien to players, be it infants or adults, that I rather have them learn the "standard" way so as to help them advance without the hassles of trying to find rare violins and equipment. I doubt the bow arm will be any easier for a righty. Violin is initially too hard for these hand preferences to matter.

Even for the "easier" instruments (where left handed versions are more common), I could argue in favor of learning with the "regular" instruments vs the lefty versions, because for beginners, every hand starts from zero.

Virtuoso pianists must learn hand independence, whether they are righties or lefties.

My point is not saying having an open mind about left-handed instruments is "bad", but more than it is (IMHO) better to try to convince the student that it is not as advantageous as he/she may think, especially in the long run.

There have been successful lefty violinists for sure, but I am certain they could have been as good with "righty" instruments.

Edited: April 18, 2019, 9:47 PM · The violin evolved from an instrument that served as a drone to accompany the voice. It made sense for the bow to go in the right hand because there was very little left hand action. I’ll bet that if the virtuosic music we have now dropped out of the sky on those who were deciding to play those early instruments, they would have switched hands so the right hand does the fingering. I think those southpaws who think they can’t play violin the usual way have psyched themselves out. I’m also left handed.
April 18, 2019, 11:24 PM · @Rosemary Cox
"How do you stand the lessons with that attitude?
The best reward will be telling him you need to move on to a better teacher ( or have you buried the hatchet?)"

small town problems! i can't be picky unfortunately, or i'd have no teacher at all. i take my lessons through the music store. my first teacher was extremely positive and loved having an adult student. but he retired after four months and i was bumped to my new teacher. to be honest for the first month or two i was on the verge of just cancelling lessons and self-learning, he was so sullen and uninterested every lesson, but he lost his negativity over time and now i think he considers me one of his better students.

@Elise Stanley

"Also, what are your violin goals? If not orchestra what do you see yourself doing - surely more than just practicing"

just to play music i like :) i lean more towards playing movie and video game soundtrack music, which i find a lot more beautiful than classical music (nobody hate me for saying that please!). i would enjoy playing in a group with one or two people, i love duets especially.

"I found a teacher that has periodic (every 3 months or so) recitals for the students."

actually the music store i take me lessons through hosts recitals twice a year, i am doing one next month and i also played in the last one last December. it was awkward being the only adult lol. but it was a really nice experience. i played a duet with my teacher. i was really proud of it, my timing was a bit of off but i didn't make any note mistakes or screeches or touching the wrong strings. i recorded it though!

@ Erik Williams

"Plot Twist: what is this teacher knew that acting disgusted was the only way to get Jessica to truly thrive? "

haha, nope, he definitely just did not think adults can learn instruments and i was just wasting both our time. he is extremely old school and traditional. strictly by the books.

April 18, 2019, 11:49 PM · I'm assuming you must be young, Jessica?
April 19, 2019, 1:29 AM · not as young as i used to be :( i'm 33.
April 19, 2019, 9:00 AM · I has just starting to learn violin. I am 58, nearly finishing my son's first book of Suzuki method.

But I am not only playing, probably due to my background and experience as engineer, Iam very interested in obtain a clean and pure sound. So I notice that is not commonly taught the importance of playing with the bow perpendicular to the strings.

I have done my own research about that and have invented a gadget to help violinists in their parctice (students or professionals) in order to be sure the bow is playing in this direction and not diagonal to the strings. It is a matter of physics and acoustic, the bow attacking the strings diagonaly produce a poorer sound and with more undesired harmonics.

I will answer later to your questions, I have to go now.

April 19, 2019, 9:03 AM · "he lost his negativity over time and now i think he considers me one of his better students"


April 19, 2019, 9:32 AM · "what are your violin goals? If not orchestra what do you see yourself doing - surely more than just practicing (though there is nothing really wrong with that, it seems rather uncomsumated... ;) )."

There's no danger of annulment of the learning and personal and music development, and joining a community group after years of work is neither necessary nor sufficient justification.

Most people don't want to hear professional orchestras, let alone amateur ones (despite many amateur orchestras being populated with semi-professionals and blurring the distinction). So in this view, a performance in a community group is hardly more 'consummated', and the ability to join such as group as a standard of achievement, success, a dubious one.

And there is a lot of music, at all levels, for violin and piano.

April 19, 2019, 10:28 AM · I think you missed my question JR. I did not argue that orchestras are the B_ALL and END-ALL of playing the violin. Far from it; I simply asked what your goals were. If you like playing violin and piano (which is my favorite 'end goal' too), will you do that just for the two of you or with the plan to perform.

And I think you are very un-generous to amateur orchestras. Recently we had a three-performance sell-out with over 500 seats in the auditorium. Yes, a 'semi-professional' orchestra (but note, apart from the occasional ringer, the paid professionals are only in the section leader seats). Obviously, you do not feel the same but laying in an orchestra gives many of us an incredible feeling of achievement and has benefits of camaraderie - and as a great way to meet other musicians for spin-off chamber music.

You do sound like a bit of a misery...

Edited: April 19, 2019, 12:06 PM · I'm glad that you (and many others) are enjoying playing in a group, and I'm glad that some in the audience are actually enjoying it, surprising though that concept might be to me intellectually without having been there. But my point isn't really about all that - it's that that's not necessary, nor sufficient for the enjoyment of learning of music; that the music in and of itself, regardless of the setting and how many happen to be there is the necessary and sufficient achievement.
April 19, 2019, 1:03 PM · I actually feel sorry for you JR. At our Proms concert we had standing ovations, people waving flags, everyone singing along [Elgar: God save the King, Pomp and Circumstance... Land of hope and glory etc. For 99% of people, playing music is not about perfecting classical masterpieces but about emotional connection - moving minds often by connection to past times. Community orchestras are often better at this because the whole event is less imposing - and the tickets are cheap (pay what you can at ours). An old patriot waving a flag with tears in his eyes and singing to the bottom of his soul makes it all worthwhile to me, whatever my other aspirations may be.

Does that mental image really challenge your intellect? Maybe you need a reboot...

Happy playing :)

April 19, 2019, 2:40 PM · How about this, then... adult amateurs, those of us who can't reasonably compete with degreed professionals when it comes to attracting (young) students, could specifically *aim at* teaching adult beginners.

I am interested in that. I don't actually want to teach kids. I live in a major city though, so maybe the same shortage doesn't exist here.

Edited: April 19, 2019, 3:08 PM · "I've seen plenty of adult beginners reach the Vivaldi A minor level -- the late-beginner stage, transitioning towards intermediate. It seems like many of them really struggle to reach a Bach A minor level, though, which a significant milestone"

To put the level of achievement in (one) context and to tie it to teaching credentials:

The Vivaldi A Minor is RCM grade 6, which nominally corresponds to 6 years of successful learning by a student. The Bach A Minor is RCM grade 8, which is not only two more years, but also at a point where the expectations are rising. RCM grade 8 is sufficient for (some of) the qualifications for RCM teaching - it enables teaching students to grade 4. RCM grade 9, as an illustration of rising expectations, enables teaching to grade 8. RCM learning and teaching have other requirements including theory.

Others' expectations might be higher - as I recall Mary Ellen expressed the equivalent of grade 9 as her minimum for teaching beginners.


April 19, 2019, 4:07 PM · Keep in mind that lower level players can still effectively act as "practice teachers", whose role it is to simply supervise the practice sessions of students who have a primary teacher already.

Typically, the parent at home acts as the practice teacher, but with more and more dual-work households nowadays, this has become less realistic to expect. So for a *much* lower fee (or preferably free), a Vivaldi A Minor player could supervise the practice sessions of someone playing twinkle, for example.

This is also a nice way of getting experience teaching without the ethical complications of potentially ruining a young player's technique. That way when you achieve a higher level of playing eventually and can become a primary teacher, you will already be accustomed to it and won't be starting from scratch.

April 19, 2019, 4:15 PM · I think 'practice teacher' is a wonderful idea, although I hadn't heard of that being offered formally. It would be a great idea for adult students as well, as those having no previous musical experience are challenged in several dimensions on violin - reading, intonation, mechanics, self-doubt, lack of understanding of how to practice, shoulder rests, etc., and having a more experienced person to help with that can make a big difference (assuming they know what they're doing).
April 19, 2019, 8:02 PM · Yes J Ray, unfortunately it's not a widely recognized concept, but it's very effective when implemented (in my opinion). The single greatest challenge most teachers have is actually getting their students to practice enough, in an effective manner, at home. A practice teacher ensures this will happen. I think it's a good first job for younger violinists, too, as it lets them use their skills, gain teaching experience, and gain perspective. And possibly make some extra cash, too, depending on how good they are at it.
April 20, 2019, 1:06 AM · I think the supervised practice "teacher" is a good idea -- and I've had several teachers who did indeed do this with their teenaged or college-aged students.

I'm often surprised at how much the average classical concert-goer enjoys amateur performances. All of the things that we as musicians hear and groan at tends to just fly over the heads of listeners.

April 20, 2019, 1:57 AM · Also, don't discount rehearsal time! The best community orchestras sound every bit as good as regional orchestras because they have much more rehearsal time, which makes up for the difference in the level of musician.
Edited: April 20, 2019, 9:26 AM · "All of the things that we as musicians hear and groan at tends to just fly over the heads of listeners"

It's a blessing and a curse - working on improving your own playing makes you listen more carefully, and raises your expectations for quality in yourself first, but incidentally also in others because you can't un-hear something once you've heard it. The blessing is that one can hear and enjoy music much better. A curse is that that enjoyment won't be there if the musical elements are compromised - in expression or significant technique.

I've been harsher than I intended to with respect to amateur playing here, first because that wasn't the intention but rather a point about community group membership as a measure of general success, and also probably as a consequence of raised musical awareness and expectations.

I've heard an amateur, a young adult, play some solo Bach with near-perfect intonation which would put some professional recordings to shame. There's a recent professional recording of accompanied Bach sonatas - music which I love and would like to hear more recordings of, but can't listen to because it sounds too out of tune to me in parts and doesn't have some of the musical expression the Mullova/Dantone recordings have made me expect to hear.

Edited: April 20, 2019, 12:18 PM · My community supports little leagues and high school/college football teams and would never expect playing levels of Major Leagues or the NFL. They are there to support their friends and families and have a good time.

Their attitude towards community orchestra is very much the same.

April 21, 2019, 8:46 AM · Regarding the difficulty level of Vivaldi Am, it's not just in the RCM grade 6, but it was also an ABRSM grade 7 piece (I think in the 2012-2015 syllabus). According to the table on Red Desert Violin (link below), RCM 6 and ABRSM 7 and Suzuki book 7 are roughly comparable, which is puzzling to me if the piece is in Suzuki book 4. The Bristol repertoire list ranks it as "after passing grade 5". How long would a Suzuki student work on it and how long would a grade-7 candidate?

(Disclaimer: I'm definitely not at ABRSM grade 7 level even if I worked on the Vivaldi A minor.)


April 21, 2019, 9:41 AM · The levels are very hard to compare, as they're not always consistent and clear. Suzuki "levels" are IMO the most problematic, because the piece difficulty can vary significantly in each book. E.g. the final Book 1 piece, the Gossec Gavotte is RCM level 3, whereas the chorus from Judas Maccabaeus in Suzuki Book 2 is RCM level 1. Given that RCM pieces are used for examinations and grading, and Suzuki ones aren't, and seem to flip between challenging pieces for the next level and taking a "break" and working on tone or something else, it's probably best not to think of Suzuki piece location in their books as being conclusive about their difficulty. The same also applies to RCM and any other standards - sometimes the pieces are much more or less difficult for the student than the formal levels would indicate.

But besides all that, I think that looking at pieces and considering them to be definitive in terms of the "level" of the student is very flawed, for two reasons:

1. Without a specific, consistent method of evaluation, being able to "play" a piece tells us very little about how well it is played, and therefore about the calibre or capability of the player. This gets worse when we're talking about different teachers, countries and different schools entirely, as every one will have different expectations and make certain accommodations. E.g. the average Suzuki teacher should not expect the Gossec Gavotte to be played as an RCM teacher would, when one's done after one year and the other after three.

2. The entire idea of correlating performance capability to certain books or pieces implies or encourages a process of getting through the books and pieces to get to the next one, so that one is "at a higher level". This is problematic, because the major differentiation between "beginner" and "intermediate", etc., is not actually about this or that piece played however badly but about building facility, security in the basics, so that the pieces are played better, and with less difficulty. So a student is better off focusing on the quality of performance and security in the basics than rushing through to the next book/milestone piece to say "done".

Edited: April 21, 2019, 10:51 AM · " Vivaldi Am, it's not just in the RCM grade 6, but it was also an ABRSM grade 7 piece (I think in the 2012-2015 syllabus)."

This is odd, because ABRSM level 7 is closer to RCM level 8 - the Kreisler and Massanet are both in ABRSM 7 and RCM 8, and ABRSM 8 is generally considered to be comparable to RCM 10.

So we would have the same piece, Vivaldi A Minor, 1st movement, appearing anywhere from nominal 4 years of Suzuki experience to 6 years of RCM, to 7 or 8 years of ABRSM, and maybe also played by the Youtube-educated self-taught online poster after a couple of months.

April 21, 2019, 11:03 AM · While quality of playing matters, I don't think anyone here is talking about playing a piece "however badly" when we use pieces as shorthand to refer to levels.
April 21, 2019, 11:08 AM · "I don't think anyone here is talking about playing a piece "however badly" when we use pieces as shorthand to refer to levels"

Granted. But in the absence of specific, consistent evaluation criteria - context - the piece as a shorthand for level loses meaning, and my joke about a couple of months is to illustrate that - for the self-evaluation which just doesn't know about other criteria.

April 21, 2019, 1:37 PM ·
As I said before my goals are still low in level, just book 1 of Suzuki's method nearly finished with a good tuning and sound, started to play few months ago at the age of 58.

1) In fact I had some previous musical experience. I studied music and four years of classic guitar (I quit playing more than 30 years ago) and also I have act for five/six years (twelve years ago) as supervised practice "teacher" for my son, attending with him many violin classes and supervising his practice on Suzuki's method up to book 5.

2) Not to a high level but at a professional level my own career as an engineer. And not to a high level, but for some years I played roller hockey and now I am doing some running.

3) Not taking lessons, just learning on my own and practicing around 3 times a week, but paying special attention to the clarity of sound,its cleanliness and the accuracy of the tuning.

To achive this latter question I have being trying to solve some problems that arised during my practice, as the wolf tone for instance, and I have discovered, through the (youtube) master's classes of some greatest violinists (Izhatk Perlman, Pinchas Zuckherman, Aaron Rosand, Yehudi Menuhin and others), reading a lot and studying some technical papers on researches about how the sound is produced in a violin an other bow instruments, in particular all the related to Hemlotz motion of resonanting strings and Pythagora's experiments in notes and frequencies of musical sounds, that to play violin there are some few main principles to be followed in order to obtain a good sound and, surprisingly for me, I have also discovered that many renowned violinist don't follow some of them what affects the quality of their sound.

I have found that what makes difficult the violin learning is something very physical: the perspective. The position of the eyes do not allow to see clearly what is happening on the strings, what is happening with the left hand fingers and, most important of all, what is happening with the bow movement. This is the reason I have developed a gadget to help violin practice at all performance levels and I heve dare to start writting a blog about all it even I am just a very beginner violin player. I have discovered later that others have preceed my thoughts and that there exists some bow guide gadgets, but I have analyzed them and none of them are addressed to help the violinist instead they are designed to force the player to move the bow inside a track like a train on a railway.

I am explaining with more detail all that in my personal just started blog:

I'd be very grateful to all of you if you visit it and give me your feedback. I am very open to any kind of opinion!

April 21, 2019, 3:01 PM · "But in the absence of specific, consistent evaluation criteria - context - the piece as a shorthand for level loses meaning,"

That's why I wondered how much practice it takes for people at various levels to learn a piece of "intermediate difficulty". For example, I can sight-read ABRSM grade-3 pieces and "almost sight-read" most grade-4 pieces. Grade-5 pieces look like I can do them with substantial practice and teacher guidance. Hypothetically, I might pass grade 5 in two months from now, with three pieces to study. (I don't do exams, but I still like to have some frame of reference for my progress.)

With Vivaldi Am I struggled for two months before it started sounding acceptable. It seems that my teacher likes to give me "stretch pieces". :)

April 21, 2019, 3:05 PM · Side note: Your perpendicular-vs-diagonal theory is both right and wrong. Yes, perpendicular to the string maximizes some of the physical vibration of the string. But an accomplished violinist is not just maintaining string-bow contact. There's a constant adjustment to account for where the string is stopped (higher up on the fingerboard requires the bow closer to the bridge) ,to dynamics, to color, to the weight-speed-contact point combination, etc. So a player is going to pull the bow "crookedly" for those adjustments.

The "train on a track" approach is good for beginners who are just learning the basic motion of bowing, in order to develop control. That's not the way advanced players do it, though.

April 22, 2019, 5:30 AM · @Ricardo, your URL doesn't work. I think you meant this:
April 22, 2019, 9:35 AM · Lydia, where do players ordinarily cross over from "lane" bowing to this more fluid and dynamic approach? That is, what kind of material would a student need to be working on to no longer expect his or her professor to be asking them to practice in the mirror because they're not bowing straight? My guess is that it's at the point where the student has proven control over most aspects of tone, volume, and articulation. I am guessing that's beyond the Bruch level, which tells me that students up through the Bruch level should not be trying to fuss with the subtleties of angled bowing in their playing because probably that's over their heads. Do I have that about right?
April 22, 2019, 9:55 AM · That's a very interesting question. I remember that as a kid, I had the "pencil" method -- you basically use rubber bands and a pencil to define what Suzuki parlance calls the "Kreisler highway", which is your basic middle-of-the-road sounding point. As a kid this can be hard to deal with when you're growing, which can radically change your arm geometry relative to the size of your violin and bow.

If I recall correctly, I was taught to drift the sounding point somewhere around Suzuki book 6 level -- the La Folia level. And then the emphasis on doing it became much more significant when I started doing repertoire in upper positions, where a near-bridge placement is often necessary. I think I might have learned that by consciously drifting the bow when playing scales.

Now it's basically an automatic skill that I don't even think about at all, except that on my current violin, my instincts are wrong. I can get a clear upper-position sound basically anywhere, or at least in a fairly wide range of sounding points, and the number of valid placement/weight/speed combinations is immense.

Also, as someone with short arms, I curve the bow at the tip. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to reach the tip.

May 6, 2019, 10:31 PM · I don't know how much of a success I am, but I've stuck with it and I think I am doing okay. I just passed 4 years of playing a couple of months ago and finally participated in my first recital 2 weeks ago where I played the Bach e major gigue (this piece was way out of my comfort zone as I am just wrapping up Suzuki Book 5).

I started when I was 29 and the turning point was switching teachers after 1.5 years. The first teacher really had no idea how to handle an adult beginner. In conjunction with that teacher change, I started practicing every day without fail which really helped.

1) I did not have any musical experience when I started, nor did I know how to read music.

2) Nothing at a high level, no. I have a normal career in software engineering.

3) 2.5 years at 30-45 minutes of practice and weekly lessons @ 30 mins. I currently practice an hour every day and have hourly lessons each week.

May 8, 2019, 1:08 AM · Augustus, that's great progress for being an adult beginner. Good work!

Do you feel the quality of your playing is at an acceptable level, given the level of music you're playing?

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Violin Finder
Yamaha Violin Finder

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Warchal Metronome

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Potter Violins

Pro-Am Strings

Violin Lab

Wangbow Violin Bow Workshop