Common Quitting Point

May 5, 2019, 10:39 AM · I’m curious to get a better understand as to when people commonly quit violin. At what level repertoire were they working on when they quit, what age were they, and how old were they when they started? Also, what were the main reasons for quitting? Was it due to a busy life, repertoire becoming too demanding, or just the inconvenience of practicing? I am also curious to get a better understand as to how many players are out there that can play advanced solo repertoire?
With me, life just became too demanding. I was finishing high school, preparing for college, and working. There was just no time for practicing and getting to lessons especially since I did not intend to study music in college. I had gotten to the first violin part of Bach’s Double, working from the Suzuki 5 book, but did not have it quite polished out. I had played in a few youth orchestra’s violin as well as viola. By the time I had quit I had a good 7-8 years of learning and had started at nine years old. There was also the looming feeling of more to learn. These days, I find that feeling motivating, but when I was younger, it was frustrating.

Replies (33)

May 5, 2019, 11:13 AM · All of my friends quit before high school because music was never their priority. I was the complete opposite and music is now more important than ever before. I plan to minor in music in university because I’ve heard that it’s easier to get into medical school if you have music to boost your grades and prove that you are capable of being successful in other areas.

Most kids in my area quit after completing RCM level 8 examinations which is the minimum requirement for a high school arts credit

May 5, 2019, 11:49 AM · "Most kids in my area quit after completing RCM level 8 examinations which is the minimum requirement for a high school arts credit"

Are you sure? Which province? BC for example credits grade 6 through grade 10. Ontario grade 7 and 8. Overall the provinces are quite inconsistent.

But I don't see how the high school credit would really be critical - you have to work far harder overall for a high mark in RCM grade 8 (including theory in Ontario) than you would for a high school course.

I'd guess that it's more of a milestone - grade 8 is one. Grade 9 a bit of a stepping stone (it would just get you asked why you didn't do grade 10), and grades 8,9,10 are in a steep incline so one might quit at any point there.

Grade 10 is particularly unfortunate, because the next level, ARCT, is much more difficult, and many people seem to say "done" and completely quit after reaching grade 10 (esp. piano?).

Edited: May 5, 2019, 12:16 PM · I quit when I went to college. I also played the piano and the piano fit into my social life a lot better, and I didn't really have time for both. (Or so I thought.)

At the time I was working on the Franck Sonata. My new teacher (at the time) asked what I had worked on, and I told him Mozart 3. He didn't listen to it, which surprised me. Well of course I couldn't play Mozart 3 to save my soul. My first "teacher" (the man who cheerfully took my parents' money for 11 years) had no studio recitals or group glasses, and I had no means of calibration against other violin students. I went to "solo and ensemble" but you don't go into the room while other kids are performing. My violin teacher kept telling me I was doing great, and until around 15 years of age I believed him, but I started to get a nagging feeling something wasn't right, partly because of some advice I was getting from a terrific grandmotherly type woman named Winifred who sort-of took me under her wing on the community pit-orchestra circuit. Well, the new teacher wasn't any better, even though he played with the Detroit Symphony. I think he realized I only had a year left until I went to college so there wasn't any point taking me down several levels to where I should have been, which was probably around Seitz level at that point. So as you might imagine I was a pretty frustrated violin student.

As a returner, my new (and present) teacher had absolutely no qualms about sending me down several rungs on the ladder. Lessons with him are inspiring and enlightening. Perhaps I am more receptive now as well -- who knows.

Edited: May 5, 2019, 1:06 PM · Most kids around me quit before age 16, no matter if piano (like me) or violin, flute etc. Only one kept playing the piano (but just on a low level boogie-woogie to impress the chicks), and another one started at age 15 because he wished to become the organist in his small community's church (what he achieved at age 26 when the former organist retired). Most stopped at a very low beginner level, no matter how long they had played. Music had never any priority, and they were disappointed by the fact that basically you don't "play" an instrument, but you have to "practice" it. And mostly it was their parent's wish, and not their own intrinsic motivation anyway.

I started to fade out at age 16,right before auditioning for conservatory - when for several reasons I decided not to pursue piano as a career. Two years later I left home and went to medical school, where I completely stopped playing due to a full time lack of an instrument. (And now it's more fun to play badly on a violin or viola but making progress, than playing piano on an intermediate level while being sure not to get back in my former shape while being trapped in a full time plus job...)

Edited: May 5, 2019, 2:14 PM · I started violin late and never quit unless you count switching almost completely to viola as "quitting", but I might be able to provide some information anyway. My parents started actively pressuring me to quit all my musical instruments -- piano, violin, and viola -- around the end of my first year of college, because it was clear I was not pursuing a career in music. (If this is any indicator of their philosophy, they also pressured me to quit my college soccer team because it was clear by then that I had no realistic chance of playing professional soccer.) It's possible there are other parents who do the same.

I eventually did quit piano after college, mostly because I no longer had regular access to a piano after graduating. I had earned a DipABRSM in piano performance while in high school, and although I stopped taking lessons, I continued to play piano regularly in chamber ensembles throughout college and entered (but did not win) my university's concerto competition as a pianist (playing Chopin No. 2) in my last year. I bought a piano last summer, but haven't practiced it seriously at all -- I'm an intermediate-level pianist at best now, and the viola takes up too much of my free time.

Edited: May 5, 2019, 8:11 PM · I started piano at 8 (my mother was an Conservatorium trained organist and my first teacher - learning the piano was a given in my family . ) . I stopped that at 16 , as had a discouraging teacher , pressures of academic subjects , and I could see I was never going to be nearly as good as my mother . I was at AMEB grade 6 and struggling.
I started violin at 12, as that was the first time I had access to a teacher, after badgering my parents. There was a general feeling that it was “too late” and not much point, so after about a year and a very stressful exam experience , when I gave up, no-one said a word, which in hindsight surprises me. I started again 18 m ago, ( verging on being a senior citizen now), and have progressed further than I feared I might, and am loving it. My childhood experience acts as a barrier whenever I hit a bad patch and feel my resolve weakening. The lack of exam pressure is liberating.
Interestingly, after reading about Lydia’s early experience, I find I am the same. I have less trouble doing different things with each hand, than I did doing the same thing with each hand, but I’d never been able to analyse that before reading her post.
Edited: May 5, 2019, 11:19 PM · I suspect that, for students who don't just quit in the early years, that the most common point is at the end of high school. Before then, there's a lot of scaffolding available for music, and many students play solely in school ensembles and may actually rent their instrument through the school. So without music in school, that's simply part of the school day, they stop playing.

College brings with it plenty of changes, too. Without solid support at my university for ongoing violin involvement, I stopped playing, despite the fact that I was playing at a high level. And as an adult, moving meant that I stopped playing when I couldn't find either a teacher or an orchestra to become involved with -- moving cross country basically destroyed my network of contacts.

One of the reasons that I keep myself pretty relentlessly busy with music activities is to discourage the lull that leads to not playing at all. I'm a creature of habit, and drifting out of the good habits is too easy. I don't practice nearly enough, even so.

May 6, 2019, 1:17 AM · I'll add one more data point. My girlfriend is an adult returner violinist. She started at 9 and quit at 20 after transferring from a small-town community college to a major university. When she stopped playing she was working on the Mendelssohn concerto. She was concertmaster of her high school orchestra and kept playing as assistant concertmaster of her town's community orchestra while in community college, and then stopped because she didn't feel up to auditioning for a large university's orchestra as a non-music-major, and wasn't sure where to look for a teacher. It came down to a combination of loss of confidence after having been a big fish in a small pond until that point, and needing quite a bit of time to adjust to city life at the same time. (This may be similar to Lydia's experience too, in that moving meant not having a network of contacts.)
May 6, 2019, 9:04 AM · I quit in my early 20's. With a career, and then soon after family, life got in the way, and I ended up selling my violin (Huge mistake!).
May 6, 2019, 10:39 AM · I've technically "quit" twice: I started at age 8/9 (third grade), quit the first time in the 7th/8th grade due to academic conflicts with the school's orchestra program and an uncompromising orchestra teacher (my family could not afford private lessons in those two years, so I did my best to keep up with the violin by myself - oh was that a disaster). The second time started around spring semester of my sophomore year of college and when I finally got so frustrated with my deskilling, I think the actual "I quit" time was several years later - around 2003. My quitting trajectory, reader's digest version: graduated high school as concertmaster (I worked my butt off to get there, and had been working on the Bruch concerto), then went to very small niche college, got too busy to work with a private teacher, then played in an ensemble in a different college for a semester (rude awakening as to an entire school year without regular lessons and orchestra sessions), then tried to go it alone with sporadic lessons with my original private teacher back home since I had no extra money for regular/expensive private lessons in new cities between being at college then post-undergrad life (I moved to different parts of the country five times in five years).
May 6, 2019, 12:39 PM · Never-there's no such possibility. One just doesn't quit, as there are always ways to improve and learn-a neverending, musical journey.

For many, however, it's the time where the commitment to advance conflicts with the time needed (or wanted) for things such as "real life", "real pursuits", etc.

For the younger students, whenever the above takes place. For older starters, whatever level they were at when they were not able to or would not put the required effort to continue to advance.

Anyone healthy can achieve great things if they are well trained and never stop commiting to the task.

May 6, 2019, 1:15 PM · Is the question when or why?
May 6, 2019, 2:20 PM · Rocky - the OP is asking for both when and why to be answered.
May 6, 2019, 2:31 PM · My guess would be that you see a lot of players quit around the Bruch level, or at least that seems to be what I have gathered from reading this site for a while. I bet that when a lot of kids with multiple irons in the fire are asked to really commit to their practice, they decide that they have other hobbies that are more fun and less demanding.
Edited: May 6, 2019, 3:28 PM · I suspect that the Bruch is also a reckoning point of sorts. It's possible to get to the point where you can manage the notes of the Bruch, but your foundational technique is too shaky for you to really play it well. So at that point, rather than sounding like someone who is pre-professional, you sound like an early-intermediate player who is playing a really difficult work. Going forward isn't possible because the foundation is too shaky, and rebuilding the foundation can feel like going backwards because of how many fundamental pieces have to be relearned.

And so you've got lots of people at that stasis point. They hang out comfortably at that point, but further lessons don't necessarily do them a lot of good unless they are willing to go back and rebuild (or alternatively, they're happy just learning more repertoire). And if they haven't really picked up real ease with the violin, it may be something they just let go as their lives move into new phases.

May 6, 2019, 4:35 PM · Since the difficulty of violin is a logarithmic curve, I do believe there tends to be a "Wall" of sorts where normal humans just can't see the benefit in spending the necessary time/energy to push past that point. They start to ask themselves "is this really going to *do* anything for me" as they are practicing each note of a piece very very slowly and feeling the grind.

And, since human nature and our society in general is driven by the feeling of "forwardness" or improvement, it's hard for most people to want to keep playing with such slow perceived progress, when they could simply take up another activity and feel the rush of the "beginner gains" again until that, too, becomes a chore beyond a certain level of skill.

The only people that never really hit a "Wall" are extremely obsessive and not of a normal mental state.

I will add that some walls are hit after the professional level, though. I've seen plenty of people in pro orchestras who felt they had achieved enough "forwardness" in their playing and were happy to simply maintain what they had.

May 6, 2019, 9:13 PM · Interestingly, Eric, I don't agree with your assessment of a logarithmic curve. I think the steepest difficulties are in building the excellent foundation. And then of course at the very top, the investments in tiny amounts of incremental refinement are immense, in terms of what anyone is able to consciously perceive as a difference.

But there's steady progression until you reach a high enough level -- the ability to play the professional repertoire -- and then there's plenty of lateral space to spread out, learn more repertoire, and improve as a musician, without pursuing a lot of additional incremental technical improvement.

If a piece is being practiced note by note, very very slowly, there's a good chance that it's way too difficult for the player.

May 6, 2019, 9:51 PM · I would argue that pursuing violin to a very high level requires a degree of committed "obsessiveness" if one is to avoid or just ignore perceived "walls", but that said thing may be at most "rare", not just "not normal" (which suggests there is something "wrong" with the persistent violinist-though I personally do not mind whether others find me "normal" or not.)

If you can keep advancing further and refine your playing, why not? The journey is its own reward, in my "weird" view.

Edited: May 7, 2019, 2:46 AM · I quit piano at the age of 17, just before the last term of school, because after the last terms are the big exams and I knew then I was not going to be a professional pianist allthough I did do the so called lowest but professional exam at 17. There just wasnt time. And I had developed a really bad case of stage fright so I knew that allthough I was good I woudl never be a professional even had I wanted to.

Most of those who didnt drop out of violin or piano studies before the age of 12, did so before the age of 15. In my country schooling goes age of 7-12 and 13-15 and 16-18. At the age of 18 are the big exams you need to perform well in for uni. And school at the age of 16-18 is really demanding so only few have time for hobbies and those few are usually quite talented in what they do, because all the courses and lessons are compulsory so you cant just skip lessons and show up at the exam. Its a time issue. I practised only 1-2 hours per day, practising 3 hours would have been impossible with all the school work.

But I would say that mostly stopping has not so much to do with talent or the level of playing (before the age of 16) as it has to do with other interests, not liking to practise, not liking the teacher etc. I do think violinist stick longer with tuition as they get the orchestra experience.

May 7, 2019, 5:29 AM · I am not sure if I can say "I quitted" when I have barely started, and probably not officially quitted. It wasn't on violin either.

I don't have much music training growing up. I do remember playing the recorder for a year or so, but I wasn't into it and didn't think much about stop going to class. Fast forward to many years later, I thought maybe I should learn a musical instrument before I die. I chose the flute, found a private teacher six months after I started. Not to make it sound too horrible, she was just not good at teaching adult beginner. She really can't break things down for me or explain how to work on certain techniques. So it was either you can mimic what she does or you are screwed. She wanted me to work on repertoire so she can talk about phasing, while I spent most of my practice time on technical exercise. For many months, it was just frustrating and very often I wish I can just skip or cancel my lessons. Then one day a local violin school offered discounted lessons for new students. They even lend you a violin during the lesson if you don't have one. I took the bite. Now I am a happy violin student, joined a string orchestra. Not entirely sure what to do with the flute yet.

May 7, 2019, 10:27 AM · My suspicion is that many who quit intend at first just to take a break during a particularly stressful period in their lives (transition between schools, exam preparation, having a baby etc.). The more time elapses after they stopped playing temporarily the harder it will be to get back into the routine. And so eventually they end up realizing that in fact they quit.
May 7, 2019, 10:35 AM · What I have observed is supported by the previous answers. A lot of students acquire intermediate to advanced playing skills in the grade school years. The majority, correctly, and wisely, choose a major other than music, the lessons and practicing stops.
Edited: May 7, 2019, 2:41 PM · I've quit twice and come back twice. The first time was after a discouraging experience in college--bad audition, rejected from the orchestra, and then couldn't afford lessons because they were only discounted for people who were in the orchestra. I ended up playing a little bit in college later, and even making the orchestra under a different conductor, but it wasn't the same after that initial unwelcome. I went to graduate school and put it away for the time it took to get my PhD. I started again almost on a whim, after I broke up with a serious boyfriend and moved out into my own apartment. I felt like I needed something new and creative in my life so first I got a cat, then I started playing violin again.

I quit the second time when I was 8 months pregnant with my first child. I was exhausted and very busy because I was also working full-time. I started again when that baby turned 7 and wanted her own violin lessons.

So, the first time it was a combination of being busy (with school) and being discouraged/rejected by people whose opinion I thought mattered. The second time it was just being busy (with a new baby and a job).

In both cases, starting again was nurtured and supported by meeting some wonderful, encouraging people. That made all the difference.

Thinking about it more, I may have also quit violin because of the repertoire. I am uninterested in playing advanced solo violin repertoire. I don't listen to violin concertos for enjoyment; I don't seek them out in concerts. My horrible college audition was on advanced solo repertoire (Saint-Saens Introduction and Rondo Capricioso), and it was probably horrible largely because I wasn't really into that sort of playing in the first place. I don't like the E-string; I find that its sound is kind of grating, especially under my ear, which isn't good for being motivated to practice.

I switched to viola as my main instrument, and I've even recently played a solo viola concerto with orchestra. I still play violin occasionally in orchestra and chamber groups, but I remain uninterested in learning violin concertos. I now play both instruments because I enjoy orchestra and chamber music, and I think fiddling is fun although I haven't done a lot of it.

I personally think that violin pedagogy is too focused on concertos; it's fine if that's what floats your boat, but if not you can flounder and feel lost, and that feeling often leads to quitting.

May 7, 2019, 3:54 PM · From my perspective "quitting" comes when you no longer get any pleasure from playing and you sell your instrument and move on.

Many of us have stops, interruptions, breaks, problems, issues, that cause us to not play any longer but usually that is temporary because you kept the instrument knowing that someday you would return to playing.

Even the prodigy who now goes by the name Chandler hasn't given up the instrument and all indications are that, despite denials, he still plays the instrument for his own entertainment. Probably in the boat yard in the depths of night when nobody by he is there. That is my guess.

May 7, 2019, 4:48 PM · I quit at age 20. It was my last and probably stupidest act of adolescent rebellion. I restarted 25 years later when my children did not need as much attention, and I began to think about what I would do with myself as an empty nester and ultimately, as a retiree. That was more than 20 years ago, and I have had a total of four teachers over the years who have helped me get my technique back. When I retired in early 2014 from the world of work, I took up viola in addition to continuing violin. It has all worked out pretty well, although I regret the hiatus in some ways. I might be a much better player if I had not taken it.
May 7, 2019, 9:29 PM · Fun to read the stories above - almost seems as if everyone has a quitting time! I started at age 6. Since we could not afford private lessons (5th of 7 kids) I learned at school mostly in group lessons. Nonetheless, I was leader (concertmaster) of our quite serious orchestra in middle school (age 12) and even played a concerto that our music teacher had written [even at that age I recognized a rather large influence of Copeland! ;) ]. Age 13 I quit because my brother (then age 14) wanted me to play guitar and sing harmony with him so that we could spend summer hitch-hiking round first England but then Sweden and Germany supporting ourselves by playing in bars, restaurants and busking on the street.

Just for completeness, it was 40 years later that I returned to the violin...

May 8, 2019, 12:57 AM · I think Albrecht is dead-on when he says that most people just drift off -- they didn't mean to quit.

When I quit the first time, I'd meant to call my teacher to schedule lessons, but I kept putting it off, because the new school year was so busy, and I wasn't picking up the violin, despite having been putting in serious practice time before school started. And because I didn't have lessons, I didn't feel the pressure to practice, and... then I wasn't playing. And a decade passed. I came back to it because I really felt I needed a life reset after years of killing myself working at startups, and really missed music. I found Maestronet and a community of locals from there, and dialed every violin teacher on the MTA list alphabetically until I found one that would agree to teach me.

When I quit the second time, I'd moved cross country, and I tried to look for a teacher and an orchestra to join and failed. It was an awkward time of year, orchestras claimed they didn't have openings, teachers didn't want to teach an adult, I didn't know anyone in the area I could play chamber music with... and so I simply stopped picking up the violin. And a decade passed. Then I had a nightmare about my violin, and it was around the New Year, and playing again became my New Year's resolution. But this time I had a local friend (from a non-music social circle) who was in a community orchestra that wanted string players, and who put me in touch with the orchestra manager. And I found, as well as called my high school teacher (who could reach out to his contact network to help me find a teacher).

I cut back my playing pretty significantly for one year, after injuring my left rotator cuff when we were moving house. I dropped out of my community orchestra for that year. But I kept taking lessons, knowing that if I stopped, I'd possibly drift off again.

May 8, 2019, 7:24 AM · "I kept taking lessons, knowing that if I stopped, I'd possibly drift off again"

I stopped piano lessons, because I thought they weren't doing much more than keeping me going, which I would be able to do by myself, and also to focus more on violin (for the time being at least, because violin was giving me much much more trouble). Lessons aren't cheap - the total of my son's and my lessons for two instruments is significant, continually; even cutting one is a significant cumulative saving, but I might have continued to bear it if violin hadn't been such a problem and I could manage the practice time.

My teacher warned me that all my progress would be lost by stopping lessons, which I didn't really believe. Forward a few years, and it's more true than not - though I can still play simpler material and recover progress, I've lost most of the repertoire / ability I'd gained, and am not playing as I have no lessons to keep me regularly engaged.

So it seems that I have to take piano lessons again sometime. Thanks a lot.

Edited: May 8, 2019, 8:14 AM · Interesting question. My gf is angry that I've taken up another hobby. A few months ago she barked "how long are you going to have violin lessons for?" I hadn't thought about it, so I replied "until I die?" She didn't like that answer. If she asks again, I'll reply, "until I find a wife." Lol!

But, yes. How long will I? I'm not going to a conservatory. I think once I've joined an orchestra or two, then just keeping on top of the repertoire will be a substitute for lessons, unless it's lessons specifically about repertoire with which I need help. In the case of the piano, a more solitary instrument, there may be less motivation than in an orchestra, but either you play it for pleasure or you don't. If you don't, you'll lose it, but then, what do you want lessons for? If you do play it for pleasure, you might not need lessons, or maybe you can take monthly lessons or even less often.

May 8, 2019, 9:04 AM · Oh George, I am going to say I drifted from the violin from now on!

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