Adult beginners, playing longevity and practice regime

Edited: September 28, 2019, 1:53 AM · Hi all,

I had recently suffered from health issues (not directly related to violin playing) and had to stop the violin for nearly a year. Prior to that, I had been practicing assiduously every day for a couple of hours and was making good progress.

Now, hopefully on the way to feeling better, of course, I have to, yet again in my life, retrace the path to get back to the same level. I am lucky in that I had recorded my lessons with my last teacher, who was really good and methodical. So, having my notes, my recordings and the practice material on hand, I can go through these until I get to a point where I feel it would be worthwhile going back to having weekly lessons.

These recordings got me to thinking of whether people here have worked out a system or other tactics that help them ensure that they continue, in one way or the other, practicing the violin and what sort of practice regime worked best in the long term: i,for instance, spent most of my free time practicing the short term that was good...but in the long term, that meant I had less time to incorporate other healthy habits which would have smoothened over the rough bumps life throws in our way.


Replies (17)

September 28, 2019, 5:44 AM · I stick to short(ish) 30 minutes just once or twice a day. In truth, I haven't got time to do much more than this anyway. But short sessions are enjoyable and easy to get motivated for. It's also less demanding physically. I'm hoping this strategy means I can continue to practice everyday, without my ageing body giving up on me. :D
September 28, 2019, 6:08 AM · I concur with Stewie's comment about 30 minute bursts. I do mine between 2-6 times per day (recent hours change at work has made more time available for practise)
September 28, 2019, 6:21 AM · I returned to the violin 10 months ago, and I do have various neck and shoulder problems that require me to pay close attention to posture and other things so I can continue to play the violin for, hopefully, the rest of my life. I pay attention to my body and will change the following when needed.

Part of our practice schedule is driven by our overall schedule of course, for me it works to practice 1 hour on weeknights. On weekends, depending on my schedule, I will either practice several 45-minute sessions, or my usual hour - depending on what else is going on. For example I don't practice on choir practice night...

September 28, 2019, 7:03 AM · My advice is to do as I did (see below), go back to where you can sort of replicate your ability at some past stage and repeat the path you followed from there. It should not take nearly as long as it did previously to progress to the level you finally achieved before your troubles.

30 years ago I suffered an injury that made violin playing completely impossible for one year. When I recovered enough to get back to it I had to go "back in time" technique-wise to a much earlier place in difficulty in that musical activity that I had already done for 50 years. When playing those older pieces and etudes began to stabilize I moved onward (and upward). I never got back to my old level but I continued to improve toward it for the next 15 years - after that, at age 72 I was too old for further improvement - so I never did or will get back (probably beyond where I was at age 14). But there is still a place for me in musical activities away from home!

September 28, 2019, 9:27 AM · I am somewhere on Andrew's path but with one important difference. He took a year off because of an injury, whereas I took 25 years off out of sheer stupidity.

My strategy is threefold.

(1) I'm in my mid 50s and improvement is glacial. I've decided to get to a certain level by the time I'm 60. I would like to be able to play Mozart and Bruch decently. I think this chosen level is realistic. At 60 I will just enjoy the skill I have and channel all of my practicing time into whatever orchestra and chamber music I happen to be working on with friends and ensembles.

(2) I am "doing it all" which means violin practicing and playing in three orchestras (always on viola). My practice regimen includes equal measures of scales/studies (mostly studies, which I find are good for improving skill, presently doing Rode No. 8 and Dont Op. 35 No. 2), challenge repertoire (presently Bach B Minor Sarabande and Viotti 22), and polishing already-learned repertoire for performance (presently Beethoven Romance Op. 50 for a performance in December). Right now my day job is a total killer and I just cannot practice every day (insert sad emoji).

(3) A commitment to concentrating while I am practicing. For me it is vital to have this commitment because I am sufficiently stressed out from work that my mind will wander unless I purposely restrain it.

Edited: September 28, 2019, 9:52 AM · When I retired seven years ago, I was a stressed-out physical disaster with no exercise program, I was (and remain) pre-diabetic, and I weighed 65 more pounds than I do at the moment. I looked around at my peers, many of whom, like me, were making assumptions that things would just keep on rolling. However, that has proven to be a fools presumption. To be blunt - people were and are dying far too young. Last month two people I know died within a week at 67 and 68 years old. A friend is going through chemotherapy, and my ex-wife's husband is dealing with cancer in his bones at 74 years old. It doesn't look promising. It's a different world at this end of the spectrum, but it's never too late to create time to do the best you can so you can go as long as possible in the best condition. So I took it upon myself to lose the weight, exercise, and keep my mind active. A big part of that includes learning violin. Like others, I practice in 30 minute sessions. I'm lucky enough to be retired, so I can take charge of my time. On a typical day I will practice exercises for 30 minutes, take a break and do laundry, make the bed, do dishes, and so forth. Then I'll do a second 30 minutes concentrating on pieces for my weekly lesson. This is followed by another break where I'll take a short walk, do more chores, make some lunch, an so forth. Then I will do a third 30 minutes focusing on selections I have had for a while. At least once or twice a week, I will go on and play just about everything I've been taught. So, I practice roughly 90 minutes a day. All of this is integrated into an exercise schedule of yoga two or three times a week, Pilates, bicycle riding, walking, and weights at a local gym. I'd like to say my diet is always healthy, but I do enjoy a glass or two of wine with dinner. None of this is taken for granted. At the moment - as my blog on the title page shows - my right wrist is recovering from a bicycle accident, but I'm going to keep on doing whatever I can to stay healthy. I know at some point all of this may/will come crashing down, but I want to delay that moment for as long as possible. Without your health - physical and mental - well, let's just leave it at that.
Edited: September 28, 2019, 10:25 AM · I'm an adult returnee, not an adult beginner. I quit twice for a decade -- once mid-college, and once when we moved cross-country, totally disrupting my musical life.

In order to motivate myself to practice, I have to take weekly lessons so I'm accountable to a third party. Furthermore, I have to perform, and at close enough intervals that only very limited procrastinating is possible. Thus I subject myself to a fairly relentless schedule of having to learn orchestral, chamber, and solo repertoire.

When I've got the time and energy, I generally practice about 40 minutes a day, possibly more on the weekends. When I don't, I'm lucky to get in an average of 20 minutes a day.

September 28, 2019, 11:06 AM · @Lydia, I feel you. I have the time to do just no energy/motivation. If I worked during the day like normal people, I'm 100% sure thst wouldn't be a problem
September 28, 2019, 2:37 PM · Tammuz,

Your question is interesting, but you do not mention what your goals are. Without some understanding of where you are headed/want to go, it is difficult to make a meaningful recommendation.

I began playing at around 30 and had regular lessons and practice. I was fulfilling my goals by playing in a community orchestra as well as playing the occasional melody/descant line in Church.

Job change, turned into a life-change. It was a high travel job where I was, for a time, able to access instruments for practice at my business destinations but my teacher died during this period and I could no longer play with the orchestra because I could never make rehearsals with any consistency. I played, basically for my own enjoyment on weekends and those rare days when I was home during the week.

It was only after retirement and the serendipitous acquisition of a student that I got all-serious again, as students passed through my "studio" to other teachers (I only teach beginners and get them into third position then move them along).

For myself, I play about 30 minutes a day. As I no longer perform that 30 minutes is about maintaining skills as well a personal enjoyment.

To me measuring success by the clock (trying to log the infamous 10K hours) is inefficient. In pursuit of your goal, you have to both enjoy making music but focus concentrated time on resolving vexing problems that get in the way of achieving your goals. How much time does this take? How fast can you resolve a problem so that it is no longer a problem?

If you are going to perform the only issue regarding time is that of developing the requisite stamina for both rehearsal and performances. Again, there is no set amount of time can be prescribed for everyone.

September 28, 2019, 4:39 PM · Senior here too - but you kinda have to keep me out of the practice studio. I love it and usually do 2+hrs a day. On retirement we bought a property that is partially off-grid and the work helps to keep me fit without exercising, at least when we're not snowed in!
Edited: September 29, 2019, 5:35 AM · George,

I do not have a clear aim as such, although I would love to be able to play with other amateurs in a duo or chamber setting in the long term. Learning to play the instrument in itself as well as learning about music are for me a source of satisfaction. I enjoyed having weekly lessons and working on the homework and found that the lessons, as Lydia said, a source of motivation in themselves.
That does put the spotlight on the gap periods where one cannot secure or continue with these lessons, especially for someone below an advanced level of playing: it becomes much more challenging finding a structure of practice that propels one forward and self teaching is fraught with problems. (edited to add) But even when one is taking lessons, I would be interested in what works to ensure longevity.

These suggestions about what works to ensure sustainable playing and constructive practice are all much appreciated.

September 30, 2019, 9:39 AM · Enjoyment ensure longevity
September 30, 2019, 1:29 PM · Last Friday morning 5 or our "Serenade Group" of "seniors" met as a quintet and played through the GREAT Schubert C Major 2-Cello Quintet. It was our first violinist's first time playing that quintet and he did a fabulous job (thanks to IMSLP and a chance to practice the part much of September) and the rest of us had played it before, I have actually played all the parts at least once over the years, starting with preparing a performance of the first movement on the 2nd cello part 55 years ago, shortly before our youngest child was born - I usually play viola in this current group.

After finishing that session last Friday, the hostess, one of the two cellists, Chris, invited us to her dining area to enjoy the cake with a "Fibonacci" scroll design (of chocolate in the middle of the top) and 9 candles to celebrate her 90th birthday. After the birthday snack we returned to our stands and played a movement of Ethel Smyth's 2-cello quintet - until our 2nd violinist had to leave - (and that was all a good use of over 2 hours).

While eating our slices of cake the "birthday girl" remarked that it must be harder to play a violin or viola when you get old than the cello. As a player of all 3 instruments I agreed and added that with a cello you also had something to lean on and push yourself up when the orchestra has to stand to take bows - or just to leave the stage! She has just recovered from a bout of left-hand carpal tunnel syndrome, and previously had a broken ankle and another bout of carpal tunnel. She had played for decades as a professional cellist in the Marin Symphony, our local regional orchestra.

I call us our "Serenade Group" because we started out 3 years ago with 6 violinists, 1 bassist and 3 each violists and cellists - a perfect accumulation of musicians to play some of the great serenades of classical music, but by the middle of the 2nd year attrition started and we are now reduced to whoever can make it and and whenever we can following 2 years of bi-weekly Friday mornings. Some days we are just reduced to 3 violins or 2 violins and one cello (because I'm flexible I just play whatever part is not covered by someone else - but if they are going to want my cello there someone better call me in advance, I refuse to carry that sucker unless I'm sure to use it; I don't mind carrying a double violin/viola case).

You can tell we all aspire to be able to follow Chris's example up to our 10th decade of life and have music (and still be able to walk and drive) all the days of our lives.

This is my contribution to "playing longevity."

September 30, 2019, 4:09 PM · Tammuz,

I completely understand. I have learned it is easier to find a musical outlet in a community orchestra than to find one,two or three two partners for chamber music (duets, trios, quartets) that will provide any consistent playing. There is a book titled: "The Ill-Tempered String Quartet" which accurately describes the trials and tribulations of forming and keeping a chamber group going.

Another benefit of joining an open community orchestra is that you may well find others willing to assist in your musical development. If the orchestra is solid, it will be an opening for musical expression for the rest of your life. I have very fond memories of playing in community orchestras and recommend it to anyone.

I don't know if there are any such orchestras where you live but if there is one - join it.

September 30, 2019, 5:14 PM ·
September 30, 2019, 5:18 PM · Michel Kennedy:

I think that you are on the right track. Keep both mind and body active, unless something is starting to fail. Playing a string instrument is about as good as brain exercise gets; yet it is very gratifying. Also cultivate some young friends; under age 50.

I retired 14 years ago. For ten years, Joan and I had 20 acres which kept us busy developing. We had two tractors, a pack of greyhounds, flock of chickens and Joan’s garden. And we started into a church where there were three string player who encouraged me to pick up the violin again [I had taken lessons when I was in school but only occasionally picked it up after].

The acreage became more difficult as health declined in. our late 70's therefore we sold and moved into an apartment nearer our hospitals and doctors. In May, I had a valve job; my second heart operation. I celebrated my 81st birthday in ICU. Now it is self inflected cardiac rehab in the gym next to the office next door.

In our new church we had Dennis a professional level piano player and I would have only gotten in his way. Now there is a new pianist and at some time I shall try playing with him.


October 6, 2019, 1:33 PM · I agree with having a musical outlet. And I need lessons but can only manage every other week. That's way better than none. As for practicing motivation, I have two: one is to say to myself "just 15 minutes". That doesn't seem like much and when I start practicing it turns into 30-40 minutes. The other is to say "my favorite radio program cames on in 20 minutes. I'll practice until then. What I've found is that I keep increasing the time between practice start and radio start. So even if I'm not motivated to practice, once I get going I end up with a good practice session.

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