Adult Beginner Success Stories?
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).
I've met some successful adult beginners, but "after 25" excludes them all.
I think "above age 18" might be a better metric.
I'll answer the three specific questions as a near-adult beginner.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Some advance faster. I know of more than one started after 20 and were/are able to play at a good level.
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 v.com are necessarily representative of the larger group.)
I began at age 45
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.
@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.
Alright, I have a bit more time now, so I'll respond to the posts in the order they were posted.
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.
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.
Erik asked "Roger, how many hours of practice were you doing daily, on average..."
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.
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.
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.
How much did you practice on average, Katarina, in that time? Also, what age did you start, and what was your prior musical knowledge?
I had music education in school and through singing, mostly (choral works by Bach, Haydn, Mozart ...).
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'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.).
Michael, your efforts are clearly reflected by your progress. That's great work.
This guy started at 19
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?
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.
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.
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: https://soundcloud.com/daniel-linh-nguyen/voice-0021
Might not fit the mold.
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.
Really fun thread to read, and see others' experience.
@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)."
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.
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.)
Lori said: "I'm sorry if you have had bad experiences with adult learning, but I think it does a disservice to generalize"
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:
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.
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.
Got it, Lori. I was just confused, not offended :)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
One thing that hastened my move from the cello to violin in orchestra was Pachelbel's Canon. Cellists will understand ;)
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.
@Erik Williams said,
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.)
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.
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'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 ;).
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thank you for the encouragement Adelberto :)
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.
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.
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"
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?
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?).
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 :)
Allan - I am in awe! Good on you.
Wonderful and inspiring reading these thoughts and stories. Could be part of a book for adult starters and restarters.
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!
Well Alan, terrific as it is, if you started 9 years ago you were a late, but not quite an adult starter ;)
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
When do we begin to stop being a beginner?
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?
Erik, et al.,
To all those that have taken note of my arbitrarily chosen definition of "success":
@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.
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.
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 ;)
Thanks for your thoughts Elise. Point well made.
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.
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."
Thanks Mary Ellen for your thoughts on S*****. I probably didn't deserve such a professional response to such an off the wall comment about such a proven method for children.I sort of think out loud sometimes.
Timothy Smith says: "Honestly I will probably always feel like a beginner."
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
Success story? I wouldn't say that. But it is a story.
I think the high drop-out rate among adult beginners is partly due to unrealistic expectations when many of them started.
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.
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.
Wow Jessica, that’s incentive indeed! Keep us posted, ( I’m nearly twice as old as you, and learning for 18 months )
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:
Thanks Lydia, but it takes time to read the book ;) Does she have an audio version I can listen to in the car?
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!"
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.]
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.
"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."
Perhaps Erik - in which case only the teacher would really know...
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.
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.)
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.
"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."
It seems real to me because I had
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.
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.
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.
"children (encouraged by parents) tend to stay with the instrument longer and thus generate a stable cash flow."
To Brian and others who have shared their experiences, thanks for sharing!
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 v.com, 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.
There are plenty of prudes on maestronet with very negative opinions about adult beginners. I looked there before I found violinist.com 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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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)?
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.
I am a left handed person who is currently learning to play the standard way. I do believe I struggle more with my bow arm than a right handed person does, but I don't feel uncomfortable learning this way and I suppose it's probably not much different than a right handed person who feels challenged fingering with their left hand. I know it's something I can overcome.
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.
I'm assuming you must be young, Jessica?
not as young as i used to be :( i'm 33.
I has just starting to learn violin. I am 58, nearly finishing my son's first book of Suzuki method.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
"But in the absence of specific, consistent evaluation criteria - context - the piece as a shorthand for level loses meaning,"
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.
@Ricardo, your URL doesn't work. I think you meant this:
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?
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.