Advice for an adult beginner

September 23, 2019, 5:31 PM · Hi everyone,
I'm posting here in the hope of receiving opinions from experienced violinists. I'm 32 and violin has always been one of my favorite instruments, but I never had the chance to learn how to play it. In the last months I've been considering the idea of starting to take violin lessons.

Sadly, my only experience with an instrument was when I was 15 and I convinced my parents to let me attend guitar lessons. I played guitar for about 3 years, until I had to quit because of financial reasons, and because I had to focus on my studies. I went to college, forgot about playing, got into research, but this idea of picking up violin "someday" has always been in the back of my mind.
I finished my PhD last summer, and I've been through a sad period of unemployment since. As I had to go back to my hometown while waiting to find a job, I'm quite dejected at the moment. Aside from going to the gym, running errands, helping my family out, and occasionally teaching at a private school when needed, I rarely leave my house and I have too much free time for my liking. I'd say job-hunting is my main preoccupation for the time being.
I guess this is getting a little too personal, so I'm going to the main point. I could join the local music school and be able to afford for at least a year of lessons, thanks to a few savings. I believe starting to learn music again would help me a lot in this difficult time, give me purpose, and meeting new people would also help me become an active part of the local community.
I know it's not easy to pick up a complicated instrument like the violin at my age, especially for someone like me, with such little experience with music.
I'm not delusional and I certainly don't dream of becoming a 21st century Paganini. I simply want to do something I always dreamed of doing, instead of regretting I never even tried. I haven't talked to this idea of mine to anyone yet, except my boyfriend who is very supportive, and I can't deny I'm afraid I'll be met with derisive comments because of my age.
I'd like to receive some advice from experienced people, and also from people who were in a similar situation. Practical advice is welcome as well!
Thank you in advance for reading my boring story and I apologize if there's mistakes, but English is not my first language.

Replies (75)

Edited: September 24, 2019, 3:49 AM · I started the violin at 12 although I felt that no-one, including me took that seriously as I was so old. ( I was already learning piano) . For various reasons , I gave up after a year, but like you, have had the idea to get back to it some day in the back of my head.
2 years ago a chance encounter with a derelict violin at a trash and treasure brought it to the forefront...
Although I’m never going to be a great player, I have progressed further and faster than I expected, and I’m having a ball. Playing with a beginners orchestra has stretched me, and given me purpose in my playing.
At 32, you have years left to learn. I am twice your age, and have ditched that mental barrier.
If you poke through this forum you will find lots of discussions from people who started , some for the first time, at my age, and are very happy with their progress, and lots of discussion on the different ways adults learn vs children.
Reading posts, you will get a sense of their passion for this instrument.
It is one of the most difficult instruments to learn, and do NOT be discouraged by the fact you will sound awful for ages . Don’t buy a super cheap instrument ( read about VSO’s on this forum ) or hire if you can till you get a feel for what you want , or your budget goes up once you start working.
So go for it!
My philosophy is that you regret more the things you don’t do, than the things you did, so if you find it’s not for you, I think you will be less bothered by that , than by always wondering...
Edited: September 23, 2019, 6:23 PM · hi ro!

wow i can so relate to you, i had a brief sting with violin when much younger and a semester or two during college(easy music credit haha) but most of my time i played on the electric guitar . i too recently attended grad school and mostly work from home so i also have alot of free time, so in a sense i can see your situation cause i used to be there, picking up the violin again has definitely helped me through difficult time and gave me a purpose, i have met many like minded folks through this lovely instrument and discovered old friends who turned out to be violinists!

i strongly believe you going out there and attending local courses will let you be more social and less isolated, if finance isn't too restrained, i would hire a cheap tutor on the side, my friend only charges me 50 bucks an hour and i meet him once a week.

as for age, its never too late! i'm currently tutoring someone whos 35 and she is able to do the G major 2 otave scale in a week. it will be a bit challenging if you never pick up a violin before, but if you are experienced enough on the guitar the left hand movement should be familiar enough, at least thats what i found, the biggest transition you will face will be the right hand movement on the bow, i was fortunate enough to have the muscle memory i obtained when i was younger, but if you are determined and find passion in the craft, you will eventually overcome this difficulty.

lastly don't worry about your age, there are many adult beginners and i think i almost qualify as one, i didn't get into the technical stuffs like caprice 24 paginini and taik op 35 til a year ago. before that i was barely doing anything intermediate.

what i found was the biggest confidence boost was learn couple scales and pieces you like(even modern ones) before starting the courses, and have a good budget for a decent violin once you determine you want to commit.

if finance is a really big restrain, i would seek out a local violin shop, talk to them and see what they have on rental. renting a decent violin for 20 bucks a month instead of buying a cheap 200 violin shaped object is the most practical way. on a cheap VSO you will face much more struggle than you should and could discourage you from progressing.

September 23, 2019, 6:26 PM · @Ro, Don't let anyone tell you that you're too old to learn how to play the violin - that is just absolute rubbish. I've heard folks who learned playing the violin as an adult, play decently. More importantly, they play for the pure enjoyment of playing!

I don't know which part of the world you are, but my suggestion is for you to find a good teacher who has experience teaching adults.

The second, and probably just as important suggestion, is for you to get a violin with a good setup. There are a lot of good beginner violins nowadays with good setups.

Suffice to say, a violin with a good setup will aid you in your learning and enjoyment of playing the violin. And no, it should not cost you an arm and a leg to buy a decent beginner violin.

If you can, ask the help of someone knowledgeable in your area to help you choose a violin, or maybe rent one first if this is an option for you.

Edited: September 23, 2019, 6:33 PM · If you earned a PhD, you can learn the violin. Similar to you, I finished my doctorate and then found I had a lot of time on my hands. Kids are grown so my life was work, gym, tv, bed, then do it over. After a few years, I bought a cheap fiddle (don't do that) and a couple of books. Figured I've got a PhD, surely I can read the books and learn how to play. Nope. Some people can, but not me. So I started lessons just over 3 years ago and haven't looked back. As for age, I'm 60 and wish I had started earlier, like your age.
Get a decent instrument and bow, take lessons, practice (a lot), and know it will be quite a while before you sound halfway decent. But it's worth the challenge. You'll rarely find anyone that will deride you for your age. If you do, walk away from them; they have issues and are toxic.
Do it and enjoy.
September 23, 2019, 7:20 PM · @Rosemary, thank you for your reply. I've been reading stories of adults who started learning the violin on the internet for quite some time. I have to say the majority of them are happy about it and although it takes a lot of practice and patience, none of them seems to regret anything. So I agree with you 100% and I believe we can do anything at any age if we don't set absurd expectations.
I have already talked to a representative from the music school in my hometown and she told me about all the adults who attend courses regularly; most of them are so enthusiastic that they stick through various years of lessons and then start learning a 2nd instrument.
I'm so happy to hear you started playing violin again after so many years and that it gave you a new purpose in life. I believe music is a thing some people just can't do without, and this is why learning to play an instrument can change our life for the better.
Also, thank you so much for your practical advice, I really appreciate it!
September 23, 2019, 7:41 PM · @kai lu Hi! Yes I can see we dealt with a similar situation; I actually played classical guitar for about a year and half, then switched to acoustic guitar. What I didn't mention in my original post - I already wrote so much lol - is that I'm left-handed and my guitar teacher wanted me to play as left-handed. His choice actually gave me some disadvantages, e.g. whenever I had to learn new chords, or couldn't try other guitars other than my own, etc. So now I'm a bit scared to learn to play another instrument the "right" way, but then, last time I played was so many years ago, that I completely lost my muscle memory. I'll have to learn to play a different instrument and start all over again, which is scary but I think I can do it with the right mindset. At least I already know what it's like to go through the stress of messing up and practicing to get all the movements right, so I'm mentally prepared.

I agree with you that attending music school will help me through this hard time, and socializing with new people is definitely a plus. The violin course at this school includes 1hr/week of violin practice, 1hr/week of theory and solfege (which I really need because I barely remember how to read music) plus 20mins of complementary piano. It's a quite cheap monthly fee that I can totally afford for the time being and obviously I hope I can find a stable job in the upcoming months, so I can continue.

I still have to meet the violin teacher and I plan to ask him some advice on which violin to buy. I really know nothing about violins but I've already read the same recommendation you gave me about not purchasing super-cheap violins. I'll see what I can find in the upcoming weeks. Thank you so much for replying to my post and for giving me precious advice! :)

September 23, 2019, 7:54 PM · @ben david Playing for the pure enjoyment of playing is key here, indeed! I certainly don't plan to become a professional violinist and I'm not pressured by anyone into doing it but myself. I simply want to learn something new and have fun with it, and hopefully see some good results with time and dedication.
I live in Italy, and I have to say that the general view on playing instruments that are usually more related to classical music and orchestra, is that you're supposed to start playing at a very young age, otherwise it's "useless" because you're never going to be a professional. This is just a superficial opinion, because as soon as you enter music schools you find people of all ages playing all kinds of instruments. I have yet to meet the violin teachers, but I've been told they teach to people of all ages.

I'm trying to collect as much info as I can on good beginner violins: I don't plan to spend a fortune for now, but I don't want to get a super cheap one either, as I've read that the bad sound quality often demoralizes students.
Thank you so much for your advice, it's going to be very helpful in the future!

September 23, 2019, 8:12 PM · @Pat I admire you so much. 60 is as good as an age to start playing an instrument as 30 or 40, in my opinion: the only thing that matters is that we go out there and start doing it when we feel like we /need/ to. This is how I feel right now, like this thought has been dormant in the back of my head for so long, and now it's woken up and it won't leave me alone.

I don't think I could start playing on my own. Hell, I couldn't even do it with guitar. And violin is so much harder to play, so I don't think you're the only one who can't do that! Let's be proud of our PhD all the same :D
I grew up in a family where playing an instrument wasn't valued much; even when I played guitar as a teen, my parents were afraid it was too distracting. Luckily I'm past the age where I have to ask my parents for permission, so I just hope for some understanding.
Thank you so much for your message, it was really inspiring and I wish you the best with your violin studies!

September 23, 2019, 8:20 PM · Re being left handed: you can get a left handed violin made, but that is strongly not recommended.
I read a quote somewhere (from presumably a right handed person) that the violin feels left handed whichever way you play it!
September 23, 2019, 8:54 PM · "Advice for an adult beginner"

To be honest, my first impulse on reading such a title is to say "forget it" - you probably have no idea about how difficult it is, and are probably not prepared for the effort, duration and frustration.

And if you're thinking of using achievement on violin as a substitute ego boost, it's fair to say that it probably won't work and might work in the opposite direction, given the very high level of achievement by professionals in the field, typically starting from a very young age, which one in general would tend to judge achievement against simply because that's the standard of playing we're used to hearing now.

"I simply want to do something I always dreamed of doing, instead of regretting I never even tried."


"I can't deny I'm afraid I'll be met with derisive comments because of my age."

If you can answer "why" adequately, and are prepared for the long, difficult journey, you don't really have to concerned or affected by "derisive comments". As an adult not all that far from beginner level myself (and perhaps getting closer every day I don't find time to practice), the most common reaction I see is disinterest. If someone seems to take an interest and asks if I play professionally, I answer that it's for my own interest, and turn the question around to if they've played any musical instruments, out of genuine interest, but that generally turns the conversation around to admission of not much success themselves, though often with a mention of long-abandoned childhood playing of some sort, which in turn probably indicates a glimmer of unfulfilled ambition on their part, and awareness of the difficulty.

We needn't be concerned about the opinions of those who have no notion of the difficulty.

I have found, long ago, and somewhat recently again, that my learning to play increases my own involvement with music, and increases my ability to enjoy listening to music, and the degree to which I can engage in that listening. That alone is sufficient, and probably necessary, justification for the effort, duration, and even frustration. And that experience again turns the question of "why bother?" around to why didn't I do it earlier, and hence "why hesitate?".

But you'd still need to be prepared for the difficulty, effort, and duration, and of course can't use amateur music as a substitute for a job - it's something to be done despite having a job.

September 23, 2019, 8:58 PM · You should read this article: LINK

And get this book, "Making Time for Making Music", a book for adult amateurs: LINK

Edited: September 23, 2019, 9:30 PM · not a problem! there are many successful violinists who are left hand dominant. the one advantage here for lefty playing the right way, is that you are using a bow here where on classical guitar you have to finger pick each string, now that would be challenging. the bow on a violin cannot physically hit more than 2 strings. so right off the bat your less dominant hand has less work to do! it will all come together once you can bow properly and straight.

as for purchasing or renting a violin, your teacher is your best guide, there are two route to go

rental: 20 bucks a month and if you like the instrument the rental money you put down can go towards the purchase. so even if you are renting, bring your teacher along or a friend who knows a thing or two and have them test it out.

purchasing, never purchase a violin online that you haven't play.also support your local business haha. most shops and luthiers i know off with few exceptions here allow 100% trade in. meaning the $1k you put down can get you 1K off the next upgrade you want to get down the road. again go with a teacher or a friend who knows a thing or two. cause chances are you won't know what you like or dont yet, at least for a year or so.

also are you located in the U.S?

September 23, 2019, 9:14 PM · Ro, good on you for giving it a try anyway! We have a fair bit in common. I also grew up in a non-musical family -- neither of my parents even listened to any genre of music at all. And I started out without a teacher after several teachers rejected me for being too old (in my teens).

The nice thing about starting late is that there isn't pressure to reach certain milestones at certain times. Progress at your own pace, and you might be surprised at how far you get. 32 isn't especially old, you most likely have more than 50 years of playing violin ahead of you. I've met several string players who started as adults and are highly competent players fully capable of playing standard orchestral repertoire.

Edited: September 23, 2019, 9:19 PM · When I restarted three years ago after putting away the violin for 25 years, I never considered anything other than the violin. I play only one instrument and it takes a lifetime to master.

I am not sure why so many adult beginners who played guitars, trombones (and others) abandon their instruments for the violin. It isn’t better and more fruitful to restart on the instruments you knew how to play?

September 23, 2019, 9:25 PM · As a late starter who previously played trombone: in my case it was because I never had the opportunity to learn a string instrument earlier. At least in the US, because of school band programs, it's a lot easier to find opportunities to learn a wind or brass instrument than a string instrument. In my case, it was similar growing up in the Middle East because I went to an American school that had a band but no orchestra.
Edited: September 23, 2019, 9:58 PM · Nice thread. :-)

I am a beginner too, started about 6 weeks ago, bought a nice (I guess, I'm too new to really know for sure) student violin and bow.

My take is simple, get a teacher, and as nice an instrument (and bow) as is reasonable for you.

If you live with anyone, get a mute, I like the rubber ones. Save a little cash for shoulder and chin rests, strad pad can be your friend too. :-)

Then hang out here, and dream of one day getting past suzuki book 1. :-)

Or... dedicate yourself to the job search, my son at your age took 8 months to find a job. Dozens and dozens of resumes later, ended up moving half way across the country, and now has a nice career and a house. :-)

September 23, 2019, 10:13 PM · What is your PhD in? Did I miss that detail?
September 24, 2019, 3:23 AM · I am an adult violin beginner, who happen to lose my job recently. One thing I find very helpful is to play with other people, from group class to orchestra. Without these framework and the interaction, I feel frustrated during practice very often.

When I first had a lot of free time, I was prone to over-practising and lead to arm and shoulder stain. Now I sandwiched my time between violin, look for job, music theory, household chore. My practice session is short, and I put the violin down when there is pain, but I rest and come back to it often during the day.

As for age, I have met people who start playing in their 50 and 60's, some can't read music when they started. They all have a good time and are making good progress.

September 24, 2019, 3:32 AM · You can absolutely learn the violin to an intermediate or even advanced level that gives you plenty of enjoyment. I also started playing it as an adult, although I had some previous musical experience with the piano. I'm still learning basic things, but I'm progressing at a reasonable pace taking into account that I don't spend much time practising.

Playing the violin is like acquiring any other ability. Just a matter of practise and time.

You've received great advice above. I just can add or stress from my own and limited experience:

1. Take lessons if you can. A good teacher is essential, at least at the beginning stages.

2. Be patient. The violin will squeak, and will sound terrible for a while, until you start getting some ability. You must be prepared to "suffer" a bit at the beginning stages. As some other user said, it's a difficult instrument. You must have huge perseverance to somehow succeed at it.

3. ENJOY IT! Take it as a lifetime hobby/challenge that will bring you enjoyment. It's hard, but completely worth it.

September 24, 2019, 4:22 AM · J Ray. Why learn something difficult as a pastime? You might as well ask "mother, why do we live?"
September 24, 2019, 4:43 AM · I didn't think my post would receive all these answers, thank you all for your replies! I'll try to answer to everyone.

@Lydia Leong thank you for the recs! I've already read the article and it was really interesting.

@kai lu I agree with you, although I'll still need a lot more practice to coordinate my bow with the right hand, as I'm not a kid anymore. Tbh I could've learned to play guitar right-handed just as well if only my teacher didn't insist on doing the opposite: I had to train my dumb right hand to move on the fingerboard, I could've trained it to finger pick/strum if I wanted to.
Btw I'm not in the US (sadly), I'm Italian but I think you can rent an instrument here as well!

@Andrew Hsieh I'm sorry to hear you were rejected by teachers because you were a teen "already", that sounds ridiculous and that's exactly the kind of stigma people have on adult beginners I was talking about.
The lack of pressure is what makes it so interesting for an adult to start playing an instrument. It's just your inner motivation and if anything, the only "pressure" you have is the need to practice every day so you won't disappoint your teacher, and yourself in the long run.

@Paul Deck I didn't mention what was my PhD in - environmental sciences - because it wasn't relevant to my message :D

September 24, 2019, 4:50 AM · I played from 7-12, then for various reasons came a 45 year break in playing. I picked the violin back up at 59, 10 months ago. For me having a teacher was/is vital and I make the choices I need to make in order to continue those lessons. I am very glad that you've an affordable option through the music school. Yes, learning the violin is hard, but being able to tap into something you love is a deeply enriching & wonderful thing!
September 24, 2019, 5:10 AM · @Rosemary I know left-handed violins exist but I'd rather not make that choice again. Pretty much everyone advised me against buying a left-handed violin. I've also talked to some violinists who are lefties but learned to play it as right-handed because it eventually feels more natural to do so, so the comment you've read makes sense :)

@J Ray Thank you for your sincere point of view. I only have an idea of how difficult it is to learn playing the violin, as I haven't started yet. Whether I'm prepared for the effort I'll find it out only if and when I start. I know the frustration of a beginner though, as I've already been there with another instrument, and I certainly do know it's never as easy as it looks, and if you don't practice you'll never see any results.
Maybe my original post wasn't very clear about some points, like I really don't see starting to play the violin as a substitute ego boost at all. I don't plan to compare myself to violinists who started playing at the age of 5 either, as it wouldn't make sense. As an adult, I don't expect to become a professional or reach the levels of a young violin prodigy, I just want to learn how to play for the joy of learning itself, it that makes sense. Just like I enjoy learning foreign languages even if I will probably never be able to speak them in their original country (it's not the same get it).

My answer to "why" I want to learn is actually very similar to what you've elaborated. I miss enjoying music to the fullest by being able to understand it, analyze it, and play it as well. It creates a positive feedback. I also want to enjoy learning music in a stimulating environment where people are just as excited about it as me.
Lastly, I don't see this as a substitute for a job at all. I simply see my current abundance of free time as something I can take advantage of and use for something positive and mind-stimulating. When I'll find a job I'll still want to keep learning violin and find time to practice.

September 24, 2019, 6:08 AM · @David Zhang, @Andrew Hsieh My answer is very simple: as people grow up, their interests change, as does their taste in music. Also, when I was a teenager, finding a guitar teacher was the most accessible and cheapest option. I already had a classical guitar that my great-uncle gave to my father. The violin was out of the question as it meant investing more time and money, and I wasn't allowed to do that.
I loved playing guitar, especially finger picking style on the acoustic one, but my idea of playing the violin remained an unspoken dream for many years. I always believed violin repertoire is the most beautiful and interesting compared to other instruments, and its sound is one of the most expressive in music.

@kai lu I can totally feel where you come from as I'm going through the same difficult time right now and I really need to keep my mind occupied instead of worrying about job hunting 24/7. I'm not used to living without doing something that stimulates my brain for too long. I'm happy to hear that playing the violin was positive for your mental health, it really pushes you to keep learning!

@Kurt Hi! Glad to read from another adult beginner! Thanks for the heads up, I'll definitely need a mute to practice so I don't annoy all my neighbours :/ also don't worry, starting violin lessons won't stop me from searching for a job. Moving out again for work is still a possibility and if that happens, I'm motivated to find a new violin teacher wherever I am, so I can keep learning :)

September 24, 2019, 7:17 AM · @Sivrit Hang in there! Unemployment can take a really bad toll on our minds, so I'm glad to hear you managed to find a good balance between violin practice and other duties. Thank you so much for your message, I really wish the best for you in the future!

@Miguel Hi! I'm receiving so much advice from all of you and it's encouraging me to start asap. I don't plan to learn on my own, I think it'd be a disaster and that's why I already asked info at the local music school. I'll be meeting the violin teachers in a couple of weeks and ask for advice.
Did you find it easier to learn violin basics thanks to your piano background? I consider myself a patient but stubborn person, and I don't quit easily. I know violin is really hard but I'm willing to endure the suffering of hearing squeaking noises as long as it takes for me to get better. I also know I'll be needing to delve into theory basics before getting my hands on a violin at all. As you said it's going to be a challenge but it's also worth it if you persevere enough.

@jean I'm 100% with you on that and I think we should all take up a few challenges in life to make it worth living.

@Catherine I'm so glad to hear you picked your violin again, and thank you for your encouragement. As a beginner who has never even taken a violin in hand before, it's going to be harder for me but I'm willing to try. And having a music school that offers a good program with an affordable monthly fee is definitely an incentive. Hopefully money won't be a problem in the future so I'll be able to keep attending lessons, whether through the school or privately.

September 24, 2019, 7:25 AM · "I'll be needing to delve into theory basics before getting my hands on a violin at all."

You should start making cat noises from the get go. :) your teacher will explain what you need to know at each step of the way and youll be applying what she says to the violin and bow.

September 24, 2019, 7:25 AM · "I'll be needing to delve into theory basics before getting my hands on a violin at all."

You should start making cat noises from the get go. :) your teacher will explain what you need to know at each step of the way and youll be applying what she says to the violin and bow.

September 24, 2019, 7:26 AM · " I also know I'll be needing to delve into theory basics before getting my hands on a violin at all"

Nope, there's no need for theory before starting - think for example of kids who start at age 3 or 4 - how much theory could they take? It sounds like you're well set to start playing the violin, and there's no substitute for hands-on experience.

Edited: September 24, 2019, 7:31 AM · I also would talk with your teacher about a real need for a rubber mute. As beginners we don't play very loud anyway and rubber/metal mutes affect the overall tone of your instrument.

I speak with my neighbors and they are fine with it, that it wasn't any louder than thier TV or sterio. One has complemented me on my progress. I went into this 10 months ago assuming I would need one, trusted my teacher that I did not want to use one in my apartment and it has been fine.

I just dont play before 11am (weekend) or after 8pm. I will, on occasion, practice a little later than that but not after 8:30. I do play louder than I once did, but what I've described works well. If you are in an apartment check your lease to see what the official quiet hours are, I stop long before that...

September 24, 2019, 9:24 AM · I am another adult who played violin as a child (8-12 yrs old), dropped it, then picked it up as an adult at 71 a couple months ago. I'm also left handed, but play right-handed. I don't think it's a problem. At least at the beginning, fingering is the terribly difficult part, and you'll be learning that with your dominant hand. It'll make findings a reasonably priced violin that much easier.
Given that you're job hunting, renting a violin might be better than buying. Low month cost, after all. A decent beginner violin is several hundred $.
If you haven't considered it, check out city and state jobs in your area. I worked in IT in University and state govt settings. State govt needs scientists, doesn't have as many as they need, and pays relatively well. Job hunting in govt settings is a long process, generally takes 3 months or more to get hired.
BTW, getting out and making connections by taking classes may also help you make connections to help find a job.
Edited: September 24, 2019, 9:35 AM · Did I find it easier to learn the violin thanks to my piano background? Yes for some things. Not for other things: on the positive side, playing the piano beforehand has given me a little “kickstart”. I knew how to read sheet music and violin music is extremely easy to read in comparison to a piano sheet. I was no stranger to classical music and that helped me knowing what I was searching for on each piece. On the negative side, knowing the “ideal” final result has decreased my patience a little bit. And I always end up playing and practising more piano than violin.

There are also different skills on the violin. The technical skills are completely different. And the intonation is something I’ve had to learn and improve. Another funny thing is that since I started playing the violin my piano playing has changed, and I now play it in a more delicate way.

I think you made a wise decision by deciding to take lessons. I also think that you can combine learning music theory and the instrument itself. That’s what my teachers did with me when I was a little kid. They made me study a bit of theory and they let me play the instrument on the second half of each class. It’s necessary to learn at least how to read music.

And if you’re convinced and perseverant, all I can say is go ahead. You will never regret it, and it will probably be funnier than some parts of a PhD (congrats on that!)

September 24, 2019, 9:45 AM · If you have the time, the money, the motivation, the humility, and the overall inclination to learn the violin then do it.

Rent an instrument to start, in case things don't work out for you. And, if you decide the violin is not for you, then you can always return to the guitar, or try the piano. :)

No need to learn any theory or basics, if you are taking lessons: just start. Researching will not help you play the instrument, thoughtfully practicing will.

I think every musician thinks their instrument of choice is the "hardest" to play.

Good luck, and good luck with your job search!

September 24, 2019, 2:55 PM · I'm 42. Just started a few months ago. I suck, but its great fun... :D
September 24, 2019, 3:21 PM · @tammuz @J Ray "You should start making cat noises from the get go", "Nope, there's no need for theory before starting-"
Ok, dying cat noises right away then, I guess! :) you're both right, I should get to practice playing immediately. Actually, the music school I plan to go to provides 1hr/week of violin practice AND 1hr/week of theory with 20 mins of complementary piano, which I believe is a good compromise for me.

@Catherine I will! I've read using a mute should be done only if strictly necessary. I'll make sure I play at decent hours; when I played guitar I used to practice in the afternoon, between 3 and 8 pm. I live in a flat so I'll need to check again when it's ok for me to produce shrieking noises, but I think it's something similar to what you've mentioned.

@Beverly It's amazing that you decided to pick up the violin again, I hope you're enjoying it more now! Yes, I think I can train my left hand for the fingerboard just fine. I'm a little worried about bow control, but we'll see.
Also thank you so much for your advice on job hunting, I actually don't live in the US and the financial crisis in my country is affecting the lives of many people. I'm also looking for something similar to what you've mentioned, with the exception that in my country these jobs are assigned through exams.
Meeting new people and making connections is another reason I can't wait to sign up to music school; I need to leave the house more often if I want to find a job sooner, so I agree!

September 24, 2019, 3:52 PM · @Miguel I was told violin students at my local music school are expected to attend short complementary piano lessons (in addition to 1hr of violin practice and 1hr of theory every week, as I've already mentioned). I'm literally scared of piano sheets so I'm in a state of fear and I haven't even started yet. Jokes aside, I love how playing the violin has given you extra skills that you can now transpose on the piano. What I like about violin is that you have to work a lot to find the right note, which feels like torture but I guess you're supposed to establish a form of symbiosis with the instrument.
Don't worry, anything can be funnier than my experience with the PhD (and thank you!)... thanks for your detailed answer, it was very interesting to read!

@Pamela Thank you so much for your encouragement! I cannot start before November, but I'm already gathering info on lessons, where to buy or rent a violin, and so on. I'm not sure when you're supposed to decide the instrument is not fit for you, unless you despise it immediately or dread attending lessons. Hopefully none of that happens...fingers crossed!

@Stewie I'm pretty sure everyone "sucks" on their first months of playing a violin! Don't worry about it and keep practicing :)

September 24, 2019, 6:58 PM · Kai Lu, I'm curious how you jumped from intermediate level to Tchaikovsky and Paganini in just a single year, especially since it sounds like you've only played for a few years, total. That's an enormous leap which if undertaken successfully, suggests that your teacher has a particularly interesting and efficient way of teaching technique in a hyper-accelerated fashion.
Edited: September 25, 2019, 3:13 AM · At most schools here (Southern Europe) students are also expected to take up a second instrument starting from their 4th year with the main instrument. If their main instrument is the piano, they're expected to choose a string or wind instrument. If their main instrument is one of the latter or the guitar, they're expected to choose the piano. But some schools offer private lessons in which students are exempt of choosing a second instrument. I always took private lessons and funnily enough I've ended up taking the violin because I also like it.

Had I took official lessons I wouldn't probably be playing any instrument at all at this stage in my life. I know lots of frustrated music students that couldn't stand the pressure their teachers put on them, even when they didn't want to (and weren't expected to) become professional musicians. Enjoyment is really important.

It's also important to have a good teacher. In my case, regarding piano, my parents made me take piano lessons as a kid. After two years I was assigned to a teacher who made the classes fun and interesting for a 10 year old. She made me enjoy the instrument. I switched schools and continued taking very relaxed lessons with a different teacher. But at 14, surprisingly, my old good teacher arrived to the same school, and I continued with her until I was 17. On those 3 years I learnt a lot. I finally quit the piano for almost 6 years. But I went back to it, and today I'm still taking lessons with the same teacher and enjoying the instrument and progressing at it.

As for my violin teacher, he has perfectly understood that I have a long term compromise with the instrument and that my job doesn't let me practice much time. That means he doesn't add any pressure. It's me who adds the pressure and he ends up using it.

And on the violin you'll have to work a bit to find the right note... at the very beginning stages. Once you get some ability it's a logical and intuitive thing. I started playing the violin in part to satisfy this curiosity: "how do they know where's the note they're supposed to play?"

Don't think too much: if you can, and you will (and I think both things are right), go ahead. You'll enjoy it for the rest of your life.

September 25, 2019, 3:17 AM · @Miguel I also live in Southern Europe and I think the setting of music school programs here is quite similar, i.e. you have to take up a 2nd instrument in most cases, if you want to take it seriously. Actually the rules to enter academic-style, official music schools (conservatories) are quite strict, you can't be older than 19 iirc, you should already be able to master at least one instrument to enter, and so on. Local music schools are more chill as they allow people of any age to attend for amateur purposes and they'll find what you need to achieve your goals. The funny thing is, sometimes the same teachers work part-time both in academic and non-academic schools.
I'm actually a bit nervous about meeting the violin teachers next month because the only experience with music lessons I has was of the private type, and my guitar teacher was super chill and patient and he never put pressure on me - but we'll see how it goes.
It's great that you're taking lessons with your old teacher and they're guiding you without putting too much pressure on you.
By the way, may I ask you what kind of violin did you use when you began playing?
Once again, I appreciate all your tips a lot!
September 25, 2019, 5:50 AM · I'm only 4 years into violin playing as an amateur, so take my advice with some caution. There are lots of people here who know way better than me and can give you better founded advice.

The violin I started with is a Yamaha V5 violin pack, which costs around €400. It's the one I currently keep, and I'd consider it the bare minimum you should get if you decide to purchase a violin. You can get something better, or you can rent a violin until you know what are you looking for on a violin or until you save enough to get a €1500-2000 violin. Just don't go on Amazon or Ebay and get a <€100 violin. Those will hinder your progress.

The violin I mentioned is loud enough, easy to play and easy to tune. It should completely fulfill the necessities of any beginner. I find it has a pretty rough sound, but I'm way more sensitive than the average person to shrill and bright sounds, so that's no surprise for me. In case you get it and find it somehow harsh, the sound can be mellowed a little bit by trying different sets of strings. Also, at some point you may want to get a slightly better bow, but the one that comes with the violin is enough to learn, and to "mistreat" until you learn how to use it and take good care of it.

You shouldn't be nervous at all. You're taking lessons and you're paying for them. Keep in mind you're the client and they're the ones that are selling you a service. So the teachers have more reasons to be nervous than you have, since they need to fulfill your reasonable expectations as a client. Of course, your teacher will teach you at each class, but the one who will dictate your progress at the end is you, since you must study at least a little bit to acquire the necessary abilities for violin playing.

In my case, the key is taking it with enjoyment and lack of pressure. My lesson is a prize and a moment in which I forget about my work or any other problem I may have. I see myself playing the violin (and the piano) and learning new things and works on them for the rest of my life, until it's no longer possible. That brings me enough peace not to feel pressure at my lessons and enough pressure not to constantly avoid practise ("what if I can't do it/die tomorrow/in a month/in a year...? Why would I lose this good moment by doing a less enjoyable thing...?")

Edited: September 25, 2019, 9:15 AM · "Kai Lu, I'm curious how you jumped from intermediate level to Tchaikovsky and Paganini in just a single year, especially since it sounds like you've only played for a few years, total. That's an enormous leap which if undertaken successfully, suggests that your teacher has a particularly interesting and efficient way of teaching technique in a hyper-accelerated fashion."

hi lydia, sorry i didn't reply sooner, since this isn't my thread i don't really check that often.
i'm not quite sure how to precisely answer that but i can share you my experience.

i started off on the suzuki when i was young, think i got to vol 3. then we moved to another state and i had my teenage rebellious period, picked up the electric guitar to play rock, which later transitioned into technical metal. basically throughout high school i got used to memorizing long fast solo passages from metallica , panthera, and a7x. i was doing arpeggio sweep and advance shredding techniques by the time i finished college. i also have a pretty good foundation on harmonics since its often used in van halen. with alot of fast sweeping hammer on/off notes. basically i was able to transition alot of knowledge i have on metal guitar, i also made a return on the violin for 2 semesters in college.

when i picked up the violin again last year i had a friend who used to play professionally to be my tutor, we decided since we're not aiming for conservatory here, the most important is having fun. he would give me homework and allow me 2 passion pieces that i get to pick and he taught me techniques to play them, these pieces, Tchaikovsky op 35 1st mvmt. and bach chaconne. although nowhere near the graded repertoire i'm "suppose" to be on. by allowing me to play pieces that i'm interested in, i was able to get past elementary vibrato, double stops with two fingers, different bow strokes, shifting. etc.

im still working on tcha op 35 1st mvmt, still struggling with some of these short vibrato perlman throws in here and there.. end game chaconne i absolutely can nail all the notes correctly. the only thing i'm struggling with is the phrasing, although i'm more drawn to heifetz's version rather than hilary hahn due to my preference for fast pace.

not sure how relevant this is but, he also noted that b/c i'm very tall, my long fingers allowed me to reach some position that normally require shifting. something he told me i shouldn't be lazy and shift properly haha. i work at home so i often pick up the violin 5-6 times a day to practice.

September 25, 2019, 8:57 AM · So prior experience with guitars could get one from Suzuki 3 to Paganini in a year? I need to pick up a guitar right away!
Edited: September 25, 2019, 9:13 AM · haha david, i can only offer my experience thus far, i developed fast fingering pattern from playing fast metal solos, and i do not have a good grip on caprice 24 at all, only couple scores here and there

something like this.

i know i'm approaching violin from the most unorthodox method, and will get alot of flak for even saying something like this.

September 25, 2019, 10:08 AM · My advice as a fellow adult beginner...most obviously have a good teacher whatever the setup is, school or private.and if you are able to record your lessons, just sound at least, youll have a great reference to come back home to
September 25, 2019, 10:49 AM · @Miguel I was already eyeing Yamaha violins within that price range, so I'll keep your review in mind!
I know I shouldn't be nervous; the truth is, I'm quite excited to start this new experience and I tend to overthink in these situations. As you said, learning an instrument can become an enjoyable lifelong experience and this is the aspect that attracts me the most.
Thank you for giving me more practical advice, and sorry for the dumb question, but how long is a decent bow supposed to last on average? I'm referring to the one that comes with the violin pack you have, but a general answer will do as I really don't know much about this

@kai lu sorry to jump in but I just read your latest message to Lydia, and as I grew up listening to metal your story just put a smile on my face. It's great that shredding on metal guitar allowed you to advance faster on the violin. From what you wrote it's clear you're having a lot of fun while playing both instruments and you practice a lot, so I can see your recipe for improvement. Whether on guitar or violin, keep shredding! \m/

@tammuz That's a great idea! Recording would definitely help me in case I forget something my teacher said during a lesson (I'm sure it's going to happen plenty of times)

September 25, 2019, 11:17 AM · No problem! If you understand “lasting” as purely material/physical lasting, it can last pretty much forever if you take care of it. But if you understand “lasting” as being useful... think that in 3 years you’ll need a better bow and take this to the reserve. You’ll probably notice the moment yourself with the help of your teacher.
September 25, 2019, 12:14 PM · Kai, it's good that you're having fun. There's an enormous depth to advanced technique that goes far beyond the ability to play notes quickly, though, so I'm still not really seeing the connection. (I'd be curious to see a video of your Tchaik and/or Paganini.)
September 25, 2019, 3:06 PM · @Miguel yes, despite my abysmal ignorance on the matter, that makes sense! And I suppose after a while that you play an instrument you start caring about it more, so you naturally feel the need to invest a little in finding better equipment for the sake of your own improvement :)
September 25, 2019, 3:25 PM · the only technique i transfered over was harmonics.

everything else i learned is through my tutor, self exploration, and online videos.

having metal guitar background, i believe to a large extend, enable me to keep tempo with fast pace pieces, since my fingers are already used to that. that was the point i was trying to make but seems to be overlooked here.

i can most definitely send you a audio clip, my hair is a mess lately so i'm a bit shy for a video atm.

September 25, 2019, 7:17 PM · I'm also curious about video. Wear a beanie!
September 25, 2019, 8:32 PM · haha ok, but i would like to apologize in advance that i don't sound anything like these competition videos.
September 25, 2019, 11:29 PM · Kai, please post a video :) I have a similar background, played metal guitar for 13 years before starting violin.

I've played for two years now and I have used exactly the same style for learning as you regarding the "out of reach" repertoire. I'll see if I could record something difficult myself.

Guitar has definitely helped my left hand technique. The only things I really struggle with are double stop trills with and without harmonics and fingered octaves take some time to get used to.

September 26, 2019, 7:12 AM · Geez--based on the experience of Kai Lu and J I, I'm going all about learning advanced violin technique all wrong. I need to take up guitar, apparently.
September 26, 2019, 8:48 AM · thanks for sharing J I, i'll free up some gap in my schedule for the recording. would love to see yours as well, actually is there a way to contact you, i would love to bounce some idea off you.

@jocelyn, pretty sure me and J I ways are the wrong way, but we are making due with what we know, if i could go back and start with the proper graded repertoire i would. however with work and paying off student loans for grad, along with everything else in life, i do not think i have the availability to commit like that.

as i stated before, playing fast pace "metal" guitar, definitely helped with my left hand speed.

September 26, 2019, 9:15 AM · I too am curious about your videos J I and Kai...
September 26, 2019, 2:01 PM · Kai,

You can email me at, that's my youtube as well and where I'm going to upload. I have some guitar videos on there but no violin yet! Funnily enough no metal guitar but growing up I played through Sylosis/Children of Bodom, Ensiferum, Wintersun etc etc.

Jocelyn: Kai already said it best, it is not optimal, but I find it fun and I hear myself improve everyday.

Only major drawback is that I can't/don't dare to play at proper volume at home so my weekly practice time is abysmal due to having to book and travel to a practice space.

If I could practice solid 2-3 hours a day, I would be so happy. Motivation to grind more at the office so I could afford a better place to live!

I'll do my best for the video but don't expect any Menuhin comp level playing, please :D

September 27, 2019, 1:35 AM · Still waiting on a video!
September 27, 2019, 2:05 AM · I have to say I'm a little skeptical because exceptional left hand agility and large hands don't translate to the bow control necessary to play a major concerto. Tchaikovsky and Suzuki Book 3 are worlds apart in bowing technique.

But I'm open to the possibility that it's doable.

September 27, 2019, 6:50 AM · I'd love to see videos of y'all BOTH guitar shredding and playing the violin. It'd probably be especially fascinating to see what you do and don't modify in the left hand when you go from violin to guitar.
September 27, 2019, 8:43 AM · Still waiting. Getting from Suzuki 3 to Paganini by playing guitar! That is revolutionary.
Edited: September 27, 2019, 2:18 PM · We all play the pieces we work on at different levels.

The idea that one can accelerate one’s progress from beginning to advanced in a year with guitar playing is so novel that it may appear, absent any evidence, misleading.

September 27, 2019, 6:29 PM · My understanding that the transition from violin to classical guitar is easier than the other way around. One of my youth symphony violinist stand partners made the switch in his mid-teens and become a classical guitar performance major (he ultimately changed careers, though).

Going from frets to no frets requires learning a different level of left-hand precision.

September 27, 2019, 10:09 PM · Honestly some of my favourite and best students started as adults. Most of them decided one day "let's do it" and they are all intensely passionate about it.
September 28, 2019, 1:07 AM · I should add: I'm not here to judge. I just like seeing videos of the people who post here playing.
Edited: September 28, 2019, 8:19 AM · @allan nelson that's very nice to hear and also quite encouraging! I have yet to meet my future violin teacher and I'm not sure how much experience he has with teaching adults. Is there anything that puts you off as a teacher, when you meet a new adult beginner? I hope he won't think I have crazy expectations or that I won't be committed by default since I don't have my parents forcing me to do it like it happens (usually) with kids.
September 28, 2019, 5:45 PM · I agree with Erik. In general, the actual playing level and their technical approach helps put someone's comments in context, too. (I have a lot of videos posted of my own playing, so I am trying not to be hypocritical!)
September 28, 2019, 8:20 PM · I hope David K never finds this thread......
September 28, 2019, 9:20 PM · shhhhhhh Rosemary :-)
September 30, 2019, 11:18 AM ·

I saw Paganini a lot in the comments here so that's what I tried to play. It is too hard honestly. I practiced the first two phrases for 4 hours total and didn't even make a dent in it. Quite stressful experience to say the least.

Good reality check and recording helped me a lot to improve! Can't wait to practice easier repertoire and really work slowly first and nail it.

September 30, 2019, 12:01 PM · haha J I.

heres my update, i finished chaconne but i want to redo them after a string change, my dominant is almost 2 years old,

recording tchaik op 35 is proving harder than i expected, dunno why but everytime a camera is recording i mess up on parts i usually get it right.

as for caprice 24, my right hand is having a hard time keeping up with my left.

October 1, 2019, 12:27 AM · Just turn a camera on during a practice session and leave it running. You can extract from it later.
October 1, 2019, 6:56 AM · Here is the blog of an adult beginner with no musical background who tried to play Paganini 24 in one year under the guidance of a high-level teacher. It's pretty entertaining:

Edited: October 1, 2019, 8:09 AM · Frieda, that blog is marvelous! (Spoiler alert: He manages to "play" Paganini 24, in only the vaguest sense of the word, but he does get out a reasonably decent Bach Double at the end. And his sheer willpower is pretty impressive.)
October 1, 2019, 3:02 PM · I'm looking forward to seeing the chaconne video.
October 7, 2019, 6:05 PM · Before this thread is archived, I wanted to leave an update.
I met the violin teacher from the music school today: he already has experience with adult beginners, and was actually pleased to meet another student who's past the age of 30 and just makes the individual decision to pick up the violin.
He also offered to help me choose my first violin - a huge relief for me, as I don't have the ability to tell apart the good from the bad ones.
I'm so glad I took this step, it was uplifting to finally talk to an experienced teacher, and I really can't wait to start.
Thank you all for the useful tips, warnings and encouraging words, I really appreciated each message! I found a lot of useful information here and I'll certainly come back and read more posts with a new point of view after I start practicing.
October 8, 2019, 1:51 PM · I'm looking forward to that Chaconne video too..

That blog is fantastic - thanks Frieda!

Ro - so glad you are off to a rocking good start!

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