I want to take my playing to a professional level, any advice?

May 31, 2019, 10:36 AM · Hey guys! My name is Owen Crews and I've been playing music since I was in 6th grade. I switched from percussion to violin in 9th and ever since I have really only excelled as my teacher would say. My parents seem to notice my talent so we took me out of physical school and online school so I can practice more and now I practice 2 hours 3 times a day everyday. I've played Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi and Corelli. I know I need to get into some competitions but I am not really sure where to move on from here moving forward, your responses are appreciated! Have a great day! :)

Replies (38)

May 31, 2019, 11:09 AM · How old are you now and can you give examples of specific pieces that you play?
May 31, 2019, 11:42 AM · 16 now and my top 3 would be Beethoven's sonata 1 in D major, Concerto No.11 in D minor RV 565 Op.3 by Vivaldi, and mozart concerto number 5. I love fiddle too
May 31, 2019, 11:57 AM · To get to a professional level of classical music you need to work with a "professional teacher," one who has a record of successfully training other violinists to that level.

It is the only way to know you are on the right path.

May 31, 2019, 11:59 AM · Thank you andrew! :)
May 31, 2019, 2:52 PM · Do you have any particular sights as a 'professional violinist'. There are many ways - soloist, orchestra, jazz band, even busker! So much depends on your personal vision.

I am not a pro but I am sure Andrew is right - you really need to get a teacher that understands the challenges and can guide you. Where you get to really depends on you ;)

May 31, 2019, 3:01 PM · thank you and orchestra is my goal and soloist is my dream lol. But thank you so much! ;)
May 31, 2019, 3:50 PM · Owen,

As Andrew pointed out: you need to move to a teacher who prepares violinists to become professionals. Generally that means finding them, arranging for and having an audition that will get the professional teacher to want you as a student. That path isn't easy or inexpensive. Keep in mind that most professional musicians do not lead lives of fame and fortune. They work a lot just to pay their bills.

I would also advise auditioning for "From the Top" and other outlets and competitions that will give you name recognition and maybe, just maybe, that professional teacher will come looking for you.

May 31, 2019, 3:55 PM · thank you :)
May 31, 2019, 5:30 PM · do you have a teacher? has that teacher had other students successfully go to conservatory?

at your level, I wouldn't waste time on competitions - the repertoire you're playing is not going to be competitive in national competitions like From the Top, local competitions are essentially just performance opportunities, and you'd make more progress spending that time and attention on building your technique.

May 31, 2019, 8:54 PM · A lot of call to get a "professional teacher" without anyone knowing anything about the teacher. It's an unknown.

Here's what's known: Owen says that he practices 2-3 hours a day. I would suggest that anyone hoping to be a professional (and no, I don't count being a busker as being a professional), is that he needs to be practicing more in the range of 4-6 hours a day. The first 4-5 are just what is normal for kids that will excel. The other hour is just to play catch-up to his competition.

If 4-6 hours a day, every day, doesn't sound doable, I would suggest an easy route, such as medical or law school.

Edited: May 31, 2019, 9:08 PM · Yeah but he said he practices for 2 hours 3 times a day. I may be interpreting wrong, but I took that as 6 hours, with a break every 2 hours.

To Owen, good luck to you! It is true that it's a tough career to get into and can be really tough financially, but out of all the career options to choose from, it requires the most significant time investment. That's not meant to discourage you, that means that other careers are comparatively easy to get into. You'll probably never regret being able to play the violin, so if it turns out that you do something else to pay the bills, it probably won't be that difficult to get into. I know people who took natural science electives while majoring in music and chose between grad school in music or medical school after graduating from their bachelor's degree program.

Edited: June 1, 2019, 8:13 AM · So, age 16... rising junior in high school? One year left until auditions, or possibly two if he takes a gap year.

You need a game plan, and the best way to get it is to talk to your teacher. Your teacher needs to be someone who routinely gets students into conservatory. You need to figure out where you might realistically be able to go to college and continue your studies with someone able to construct a good technical foundation for you. From there, you'll have four years of very hard work and hopefully a shot at a decent grad school.

If you're lucky and work hard, you'll finish out your years of schooling able to play orchestral gigs, even if you end up primarily teaching for a living.

Also, I fully agree with Irene. George, do you have any notion just how good those kids on From the Top are? They already have top-notch teachers, and generally have had those teachers for many years prior.

June 1, 2019, 1:31 AM · Just to clarify, most 16-18 year old kids aren't getting in 4-5 hours a day if they're attending school and have any sort of family life. I'm not in the US but I do know several people who have been accepted to the top conservatories there & they would back me up.

OP is correct to be doing 6 hours, though, as he has some catching up to do.

Agree with Irene too!

Edited: June 1, 2019, 8:23 AM · Don't forget that even the conservatory-bound kids who are putting in just 2 hours a day of practice may be spending a lot more of the day than that with the violin in hand.

I was thinking back recently about how much I practice and did practice once upon a time. I was a 45-minute-a-day kid if my mother yelled at me enough. But I spent close to an hour in daily orchestra rehearsal at my public school. And two hours at youth symphony once a week. And two to four hours at other ensemble rehearsals each week. (And for my last year of high school, often 30-60 minutes playing chamber music recreationally at lunchtime. And sometimes an hour playing chamber music after school.)

So on a regular basis, I spent at least two to four hours a day with the violin in my hands, even if only a sliver of that was individual practice, starting from the point when I was about nine or ten years old. It does make a difference.

June 1, 2019, 10:13 AM · Good advice so far, and I only want to add that teachers are often chosen for their specialties, to strengthen a student's particular weak areas, so when you have the opportunity to play for important people (pros, teachers, etc.) you would do well to get their criticism of your playing and try to figure out where you're weak and need the most immediate help. It's never a bad strategy to ask someone for just two things they didn't like about your playing. Keeping it to two makes it easier on both of you, and gets the most pertinent issues out front.

Some are good with the mechanics, some the artistry, and some with personal development of traits that get you to the front. Also, look for the teachers with the post-study professional placements of their students that you want to achieve for your self.

Edited: June 1, 2019, 11:14 AM · OP, I was talking to someone your age in a pit orchestra during a local production of the “nutcracker” around Christmas, she was neither going to a conservatory nor aspiring to be a pro, but she has performed (rather convincingly to my untrained ears) the Sibelius concerto with a community orchestra. BTW, we are in what most refer to as the “fly over” region of the USA.

I am neither a pro nor a violin teacher, but my sense is that you are behind.

June 1, 2019, 10:26 AM · "Just to clarify, most 16-18 year old kids aren't getting in 4-5 hours a day if they're attending school and have any sort of family life"

If kids at that age aren't practicing 4-5 hours a day and still getting into top schools, then they're outrageously talented. Good for them. But I wouldn't count on 2-3 hours leading to success for the average non-prodigy.

Yes, if I read the OP correctly, it does seem to say he's getting in 6 hours. I'd suggest looking at competitive summer programs.

June 1, 2019, 12:34 PM · Where in the world are you situated?
The advice is very different for different parts of the world and different parts of the aunited States too, Im sure.

Why not post a short video of your playing?

June 1, 2019, 1:05 PM · I know people do it, but I really wonder how effective it is to practice 6 hours a day. I really think after a certain point you just can't make that much more progress in a day. I think practicing smartly for 3-4 hours max is about as much as the human body and brain can benefit from in a day.

And just for comparison -- the kids in my son's program practice from about 2-5 hours a day (not counting other rehearsals). The ones who homeschool tend to be more in the 4 hour a day range. The ones who don't homeschool tend to max out at about 3 hours a day. Interestingly, the ones who practice more and the ones who homeschool are not necessarily the better players. In fact, they are evenly split with some of the lowest players being those who homeschool and practice the most. The top players are evenly split between those who homeschool and don't (at least this year).

I think the OP has a long way to go to get competitive, and his best option besides getting a really good teacher is to take a gap year.

Edited: June 1, 2019, 1:21 PM · Practicing that much per day may well be an indication of drive, whether or not it's "useful" practice. The people I know who've made good didn't necessarily think that they needed practice as much as that they just couldn't be prevented by anyone or anything from playing as much as possible . . . If you have to work to make yourself play 3 hours a day, you may not be competitively suited to audition against people who didn't want to go to sleep because they would have to stop playing, and made good use of that time because of their personal level of concentration.
June 1, 2019, 2:33 PM · Ok so Pamela frank ( professor of violin at Curtis) has said she never practiced more than 2 hours a day. The most important thing is too Learn efficient practice in my opinion. Also 6 hours of practice plus rehearsals can be incredibly dameging for the body. Please don’t forget that your physical health must come before your musical success of the success with music will be useless as you’ll have to much pain to use it.
Edited: June 1, 2019, 6:49 PM · Leopold Auer famously said that violin students should practice three hours a day; four if they were a little bit stupid. More than that, they should do something else.

The sheer amount of practicing is less important, once one is doing at least two hours a day, than the quality of that practice.

June 1, 2019, 10:19 PM · George Wells wrote, "You need to move to a teacher who prepares violinists to become professionals. Generally that means finding them, arranging for and having an audition that will get the professional teacher to want you as a student. That path isn't easy or inexpensive."

That's not the way this works. You (or one of your parents) call the teacher(s) you are interested in. You have a phone conversation, and you usually inquire if they have openings in their studio. They will ask you some things about yourself. They will either say they're not interested (in which case you ask for a recommendation as to who else you should contact) or they will say something like, "Let me hear you play".

In some cases, this is an actual trial lesson. In other cases, they listen to you play and decide whether or not a handful of comments extends into a real trial lesson. In the vast majority of cases, you will pay nothing for the trial lesson. (But bring a checkbook anyway.) So all it's really costing you is the time and effort.

June 2, 2019, 1:53 AM · Yeah, I was talking 3 hours, maybe sometimes 4 - not 1 or 2. But one would hope someone trying to make a career as a musician was very talented, as that's part of the the standard too.

I personally wouldn't count orchestra/chamber rehearsals as a full hour but suppose it does make some amount of difference, and it's certainly good for becoming a well-rounded musician.

June 2, 2019, 3:30 AM · Now the ones who go to school and practise 2-3 hours do a lot more work daily than those that do not go to school and only practise 6 hours. So one might think that the most enthusiastic players are in the group that go to school also, because they really have to work hard.

I would be very concerned if my daughter would want to drop out of school at the age of 16 to only practise violin 6 hours a day. At the age of 16-19 humans are very productive and handling school work plus 2-3 hours violin playing is possible if you really want it. Also one needs a back up plan and dropping out of school at 16 does not give any back up plans.

I would certainly hope that she would be able to get the degree at 18 years that half the people here do. Also in my country to get to the highest and best musical university you have to have the finishing degree form school at 18-19 years. And I do think it is important. To be a professional violinist you really have to know some maths and a lot of other things too, it just isnt enough to stop education at the age of 16. Also you can only get to the best teaching jobs if you have the uni degree.

What is your back up plan, op?

June 3, 2019, 12:04 PM · Gemma, I agree that personal practice is a very different beast than group rehearsals. My point was that even the 2-hour-a-day-personal-practice kids may very well be spending 4 hours a day with violin in hand.

Maria makes a good point. As far as I know, in the US, you must have a high school diploma and acceptable SAT/ACT scores to be able to attend a conservatory. Even if you are getting a BM in performance, there are some general college classes to take as well, and you need the appropriate preparation to do college-level work.

June 3, 2019, 3:25 PM · "personal practice is a very different beast than group rehearsals". I'd agree 'different', but would also argue 'not necessarily less valuable'. You don't learn ensembling and when to yield strict tempo by yourself and since others hear you play orchestra and chamber can serve as a form of supervised practice. I happen to love practicing alone but I realize that playing in an orchestra has forced me to conquer a lot of technical challenges that I may not come across in the comparatively limited repertoire of the violin studio.
Edited: June 3, 2019, 10:31 PM · I acknowledge they might have the violin in their hand for 4 hours, but was pointing out that that is nowhere near the equivalent of 4 hours focused practice. In some cases orchestra can actually deteriorate the technique if one isn't careful.

On the dropping out topic, I know a few people who did "distance education" (online school/by correspondence) so they still got their diplomas but had more time to practice and didn't have to do all the other extra activities associated with regular school.

June 3, 2019, 11:20 PM · Indeed. But OP noted that they dropped their online school too.
Edited: June 4, 2019, 5:09 AM · "In some cases orchestra can actually deteriorate the technique if one isn't careful."

And that is not true of private practice? Surely a positive approach was assumed in our discussion....

June 4, 2019, 1:09 PM · Even professional orchestral musicians will make this comment about orchestral playing. You can't hear yourself as well as you can in personal practice. And you cannot immediately correct errors, which we know from research on learning is vital.
June 4, 2019, 1:17 PM · I had to quit playing in an orchestra to really make technical progress, but my level was pretty low at that time, so I bet someone with a really polished technique takes less of a hit, but I'd still bet there's a hit to be taken.

I don't know what to make of the original post - It seems beyond bizarre. Kid, if you are a for real human, as long as your teacher is legit, then you should expect to make good progress if you are really putting in that kind of time. Still, there are good reasons why kids go to school until they are adults...

June 4, 2019, 1:40 PM · Lydia said "Even professional orchestral musicians will make this comment about orchestral playing. You can't hear yourself as well as you can in personal practice. And you cannot immediately correct errors, which we know from research on learning is vital."

Perhaps you did not read exactly what I wrote above. Let me flesh it out. Yes, you have to study in private to learn technical aspects of playing. Yes, learning these in orchestras is not a good idea because of the factor above and also the comment that you can become lazy.

But do you mean to dismiss my suggestion that you learn things in orchestra/chamber playing that you can not easily (if at all) learn in that private studio? Such things as ensembling, following a conductor, dynamics, subtleties of rhythm. Also, do you not think it a benefit that when you play in such groups you also get performance experience: even when you are rehearsing your playing can be heard by at least those nearest to you? Lastly, lesson material, as studied in private practice is typically of limited variety and worked on to a fine degree of mastery. By way of the much broader repertoire, playing in orchestra exposes you to many technical and musical challenges that greatly expand your palette of abilities.

IMO such experiences have been invaluable for my learning program and complement the work that I do by myself.

June 4, 2019, 3:59 PM · Oh, I certainly agree that every classical violinist needs to learn ensemble skills, and that the technical problem set that is found in orchestral literature and in chamber music is different than what's found in solo literature. Tone production is also different in those three settings, and the technique for that also needs to be learned.

I don't think that the experience of rehearsing with others really resembles a performance experience in any way, though.

Edited: June 4, 2019, 4:12 PM · Rehearsing with an orchestra usually doesn't have nearly the same technical intensity level or duty cycle that individual practice does. For this reason very often private teachers will limit the amount of orchestra that their students can do because it just siphons off individual practice time. I do think the amount that you get out of orchestra rehearsals does depend greatly on one's general maturity though. If you're socializing during the downtime (however quietly) rather than listening and learning, then you get less out of it. I play in an orchestra that is 90+% teenagers (I have been brought in as a "ringer" because there are no other violists, and also because I'm actually an adult student in the music school that runs the orchestra). What I see is kids goofing around when the professor is instructing one of the other section on some fine point of bowing or intonation or whatever, whereas I'm wanting to learn that because it's like getting a mini violin lesson for free.
June 4, 2019, 9:17 PM · I don't think any of us would dispute that being part of an orchestra is an irreplaceable learning experience. That's part of why conservatories make it a mandatory degree requirement.

But not only do you not hear yourself or have a chance to correct technical flaws, you're also less likely to be thinking about this stuff a lot of the time - as you're more focused on watching the conductor, getting the right notes, being in time with your section, etc.

June 4, 2019, 10:12 PM · Hi all, interesting thread. I think the most important ingredients are keen listening (record yourself everyday audio and video) and a good teacher. As Brian Lewis recently said at the Delay Violin Symposium "the best musicians have the fastest ears". I think 2-3 hours a day is totally appropriate, and I think practicing more than 4 hours is actually quite dangerous in the long term - and this is coming from someone who has had several full-time orchestra positions, I'm now teaching University full time. It's all about deliberate, quality practice as others have pointed out. What I think is more important that extra practice is getting better at stress-resilience (playing for others etc) and making contacts (music camps) and finding additional learning and inspiration opportunities (concerts, camps, chamber music, books etc). Above all enjoy the journey.
June 5, 2019, 2:55 AM · "But not only do you not hear yourself or have a chance to correct technical flaws, you're also less likely to be thinking about this stuff a lot of the time - as you're more focused on watching the conductor, getting the right notes, being in time with your section, etc. "

Exactly! All things you can not do in a private studio! Imagine becoming a violinist without any orchestra experience.

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