Advice for an adult beginner
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.
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.
@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!
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.
@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.
@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.
@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.
@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.
Re being left handed: you can get a left handed violin made, but that is strongly not recommended.
You should read this article:
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.
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).
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.
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.
Nice thread. :-)
What is your PhD in? Did I miss that detail?
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.
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.
J Ray. Why learn something difficult as a pastime? You might as well ask "mother, why do we live?"
I didn't think my post would receive all these answers, thank you all for your replies! I'll try to answer to everyone.
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!
@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 :)
@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.
@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!
"I'll be needing to delve into theory basics before getting my hands on a violin at all."
"I'll be needing to delve into theory basics before getting my hands on a violin at all."
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 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.
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.
If you have the time, the money, the motivation, the humility, and the overall inclination to learn the violin then do it.
I'm 42. Just started a few months ago. I suck, but its great fun... :D
@tammuz @J Ray "You should start making cat noises from the get go", "Nope, there's no need for theory before starting-"
@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.
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.
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.
@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 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.
"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."
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!
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
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
@Miguel I was already eyeing Yamaha violins within that price range, so I'll keep your review in mind!
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.
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.)
@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 :)
the only technique i transfered over was harmonics.
I'm also curious about video. Wear a beanie!
haha ok, but i would like to apologize in advance that i don't sound anything like these competition videos.
Kai, please post a video :) I have a similar background, played metal guitar for 13 years before starting violin.
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.
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.
I too am curious about your videos J I and Kai...
Still waiting on a video!
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.
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.
Still waiting. Getting from Suzuki 3 to Paganini by playing guitar! That is revolutionary.
I think people's definitions of "playing Paganini" differ. One might "play" Paganini but not sound good. What it means when someone says they can "play" a piece can evolve over time as the student learns more about their instrument and what to listen for.
We all play the pieces we work on at different levels.
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).
It probably depends on the person and their circumstances. I know someone who was a classical guitarist who started the violin at age 15 and got from beginner level to the Bruch level in 3 years. However, he wasn't at the Paganini level on the violin.
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.
I should add: I'm not here to judge. I just like seeing videos of the people who post here playing.
@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.
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!)
I hope David K never finds this thread......
shhhhhhh Rosemary :-)
haha J I.
Just turn a camera on during a practice session and leave it running. You can extract from it later.
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:
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.)
I'm looking forward to seeing the chaconne video.
Before this thread is archived, I wanted to leave an update.
I'm looking forward to that Chaconne video too..