Beginning at 50. Am I crazy or okay? Need some realistic advice and support!

October 2, 2019, 8:12 PM · Hi there one of my turning 50 bucket lists is to learn the violin. I've rented one and started with an almost 70 lovely teacher. I know I'm in for a steep learning curve, but need to advice, other's good and bad experiences and some virtual support! I've had two lessons, made some lovely sounds and a lot of screeching, but it's a start.....Anything from how long you practice every day, use of books vs teachers, learning scales vs going straight for tunes..

Replies (25)

October 2, 2019, 8:16 PM · Good luck! Be patient; it is a steep learning curve. And make sure your teacher works with you on learning music (or preparing to learn music) that will bring you joy. :-)
October 2, 2019, 8:51 PM · I'd say that if you can hold the violin properly without pain you are in a good place. If the teacher is using the Suzuki approach it will be a while before you play on the lower strings. Playing on the G string, the lowest string (of violin or viola), might be a problem for a middle age beginner without prior experience so perhaps you can convince your teacher to help you try that out. If there is no problem, GREAT!

If there is a problem, I'd say try it "gently" for a while with help from your teacher in adjusting your "hold.". If you have physical difficulties with it, have no fear - try cello - I had beginning cello students your age, and 10 and 20 years older who did not have any problems. But I also had a couple of beginning adult violin students your age, one of whom got to the Mozart violin concertos.

I wish you the best of luck and good music!

October 2, 2019, 9:06 PM · Thanks so much! Great tips and encouragement. I'm looking forward to the challenge
October 3, 2019, 1:45 AM · I started at age 61. My practice time has varied from 20-25 minutes per day to 75-90 minutes per day, depending on health. I would suggest doing some basics immediately. Scales (Flesch is good), Wolhfart, Sitt. Don't be in too much of a hurry - push yourself, but only a little at a time. After a while, you'll know how to regulate yourself.
October 3, 2019, 6:47 AM · I started at 52, with a leg or two up from having been involved with music since age 4 and having played multiple other instruments since age 11. It took almost six months of self-instruction to reach the point where cats didn't hiss and hide when they saw me reach for the violin case. That is literal, not metaphorical. So yes, there's a learning curve, and it's steep. Progress can seem (and in fact be) hard earned, but oh, when you do make progress it proves to have been worth the effort.

You are most emphatically not crazy for starting at 50. Having a teacher, as you do, can really help, especially if they're as good and positive as yours seems to be. I'd encourage you to enjoy the journey.

As far as concrete suggestions go, Christopher Walker right up there beat me to it.

October 3, 2019, 8:08 AM · I started at 59, so you're ahead of me. Have you played any musical instruments before?

My biggest challenge starting out was finding the right teacher. I achieved a rather high level of proficiency on another instrument in my youth, so my progression was quite different than the typical beginner. I already had a well-developed ear, could sight read well, etc. but needed remedial attention with things like just holding the instrument correctly and bowing in a straight line. I wasted about 9 months with the wrong teacher for me before I found The One.

I find that learning an instrument as an adult is much different than learning as a child, though. Things that seemed to come to me automatically when I was young now require a conscious effort. When I was young, I just did things; now, I need to actually think about what I'm doing. Having a teacher who can communicate the right way to do things (now that you're mature enough to pay attention) helps you avoid some of the bad habits younger players pick up.

October 3, 2019, 10:27 AM · Donna, I began guitar at 50. That was crazy. I should have begun the violin instead. You are doing the right thing.
October 3, 2019, 11:42 AM · I picked up the violin at 71, so you're way ahead of me! To be honest, though, I studied violin for several years and a child, so I have a (very small) advantage. Since you mention virtual support, you may want to check out Adult Starters - Violin/Fiddle Facebook page. You'll certainly learning your screaches and off pitch playing is common, but there's also lots of support offered. Because there are so many beginners, advice is often iffy, though we'll meaning.
October 3, 2019, 11:46 AM · After getting your posture and setup correct, the next thing you want to watch out for is preventing injuries. Playing violin is not a workout, but can be of repetitive motions. Perlman recommended practice no more than 50 min straight, but for me personally (I am in my 50s as well) I’ll feel funny next day if I practice the same thing more than 20 minutes straight. Take regular breaks.
Edited: October 3, 2019, 12:28 PM · I'm in my 50s too. I'm a returner, but still, I want to improve.

To answer your question directly, you should play and practice some combination of (a) what your teacher prescribes, and (b) what you enjoy, and (c) what you feel is helping you advance. Hopefully these areas overlap a lot.

Initially it's common to just learn simple tunes because you've likely already got them in your head so you know how they should sound. That alone will help your intonation more than trying to drill scales at this point. But if you enjoy playing scales, then do it.

The main thing, I feel, is that you've got to enjoy the journey as much as the outcome, or violin isn't the right hobby. I pay very close attention to my teacher when he is showing me technique such as posture, hand positions, and so forth, because at our age, if you get those wrong, you're going to be not only frustrated but possibly injured. I decided that I can probably improve until I'm about 60 and then I'll just enjoy whatever skill I have. Your mileage may vary.

October 3, 2019, 12:29 PM · Nothing wrong with starting at 50; I did, and 5 yrs later joined a community orchestra. If you'd ask me when I took on the instrument if I would play Mendelsohn, Mozart or Beethoven symphonies ever, I would have said not in my wildest dreams, so everything is possible. Stay motivated enjoy the ride, limit your expectations it won't happen overnight, practice diligently and watch for pains and ackes, and very importantly don't push it to the point of injuries; it takes a while for the body to adapt as you are facing an uphill battle in developing the necessary flexibility, especially in the wrists and fingers; remember less is more when it comes to playing the violin. Less pressure, less tension, less movement using your wrist and fingers rather than arm will get you there faster. Focus early-on on proper posture, proper setup and the mecanics of bowing, it will go a long way in avoiding repetitive stress injuries. This is where youth have a clear advantage. One last tip, in retrospect I would have developed proper bow arm a lot faster and saved a lot of time would my teacher had simply told me that the motion is similar to, and as simple as, raising your hand/forearm up and down off a table while your elbow remains rested on the table for the first 1/2 of the bow (bringing the arm to a 90 degree position), and then lifting your elbow off the table for the second 1/2 to bring your hand up to your forehead; at least it would have worked for me as an exercise in developing the proper mechanic.
October 3, 2019, 12:45 PM · I always thought that violin would be the last instrument I would ever choose to start learning as an adult, but if you are diligent and take a long view, then you can get far.
October 3, 2019, 7:37 PM · I returned to the violin at age 59 after stopping it at ~12. That was 10 months ago and is both hard and very rewarding at the same time. The best thing, if possible, is to find a good teacher who understands/likes teaching adults. Having a teacher will help you avoid many pitfalls and help you progress faster. Some things will come more slowly as none of us are as flexible as we once were. Good for you for doing this!

October 3, 2019, 11:08 PM · I am just starting at the age of 76, prompted by my grandaughter's violin teacher who likes to have an adult relative learn along with the student. I think it is so that the student can feel good at beating the grandad in making progress.
Wish me luck. I am determined to make this happen.
Edited: October 4, 2019, 8:02 AM · It's not too late! I'm your age now - I started 18 months ago and just got "promoted" by my teacher last night to RCM Grade 3. As long as you love it and have realistic expectations of what you might be able to achieve then in my opinion it's never a bad idea. I have no expectations that I will ever be a professional, that's just not realistic, but other than that I have placed no limits on myself - this will be a lifelong pursuit and I'm excited to see how far I can take it. As far as practicing for me it varies, I generally practice 6 days a week, and the time varies according to schedule/enthusiasm, anywhere from 30 - 90 minutes. Enjoy!!
Edited: October 12, 2019, 8:09 AM · I started playing folk fiddle at the age of 63 - a family heirloom violin had been passed on to me and I was told I'd better be learning to play it, or else! About 3 years later I decided I needed proper lessons from a real violin teacher, and was recommended one by my local violin shop. Three or four years later I started playing violin in a community orchestra (now three orchestras) and have been for the last 10 years.

Two relevant points: I had a fine teacher, for the choice of whom I'm very grateful to the proprietor of Bristol Violin Shop; and previous life-long experience of the piano and cello which doubtless helped me along the road a little quicker but are not of themselves essential, provided the violin teacher knows their job.

October 4, 2019, 6:13 PM · I'm 70. I started just before I turned 68. You're 50? My friend, you're a kid. Forget age. You want to learn something? Then go for it. I practice 60 - 90 minutes a day, I have weekly lessons (I'll hit 100 lessons next week) and I play in recitals with people who are two to three feet shorter than I am, and decades younger, but so what? It's fun! Frankly, I think it has helped improve my memory, I focus on my health so I can do this as long as possible, and I now play in open mic shows with people who are around 40 to 50 years younger than I am. Believe me, there is nothing quite like standing up during some narcissistic, hipster infused evening and saying, "Time for all of us to enjoy some ancient Celtic music," and then going into what I have. It completely messes them up. Take a look at my blogs on this website. Perhaps they can encourage you to dive in with no hesitation.
Edited: October 5, 2019, 2:54 AM · I was being monitored as a diabetes risk. Eventually I got my hba1c down from 44 to 40. I told the medical person the violin was better than any upper body exercise. Who knows, maybe it was indeed a contributing factor! (I weigh 160LB, btw)
Edited: October 5, 2019, 11:33 AM · Hi Donna,
Exactly what difference does it make if you ARE crazy? Wouldn't you still want to do it, and make the same mistakes/progress as if you weren't crazy? Anyway, you are not going to get any younger waiting for an answer you feel is correct, or supportive, or whatever else you may be wanting... I am writing to ask you to drop your "Am I crazy?" question altogether and just DO IT. Two weeks ago I bought a viola. I am 78. I love the viola! I really don't care if I am crazy or not; insanity is not a disqualifying condition for either of us. It's going to be work, but you can make it more fun along the way by finding a friend to play with. My non-teacher string buddy suggests music, compares teaching notes, and gives me something more enjoyable than lessons to look forward to. I like Michael's advice to "dive in with no hesitation."
October 5, 2019, 4:57 PM · I'm not that old, but I'm a late starter and I think having high ambitions (because you shouldn't sell yourself short) and minimal expectations (because all the artificial age limits on things are long past and there's no need to be in a hurry) has served me quite well. Just take it one day at a time, seek continuous improvement, and you might be surprised at how far you go.
October 5, 2019, 7:48 PM · Oh my! I've just relogged in and YOU MADE MY DAY. It's amazing how good it feels to know that I am not alone in the 'afternoon' of my life embarking on this thing. Thank you so much for your honesty and encouragement. Had lesson three. I will now go through each of your posts again to take it onboard. So encouraging. I look forward to sharing my progress and hurdles as I go.
Edited: October 5, 2019, 9:04 PM · Donna - I am 61, and a restarter x 5 years. Being "just a little crazy" (in a good way) helps in staying on task as you pursue continuous improvement on violin. Friends may call it "passionate", others, possibly "single-minded".

In addition to the above very sound advice, I would add the following: 1)Consider keeping a journal, in which you episodically date and record brief notes on lesson content, challenges, breakthroughs, recital triumphs or fails, etc. If I see progress, it occurs over 6 month intervals, not daily or weekly. 2) Commit to practice every day - even if the time spent can only be brief, and the session goals focused and modest. Listen A LOT to both recorded and live professional violinists. 3) When listen to favorite recorded music, obtain and follow along on the printed score, even if way beyond your current level - it helps a lot with reading.

Good luck, and I hope these suggestions help!

October 5, 2019, 10:20 PM · The violin is ridiculously hard. Anyone would have to be nuts to try to learn it. But then, maybe that's why we do. There's a certain allure to "bottomless" challenges. Violin, chess, go, literature, etc.
October 7, 2019, 3:52 PM · I started at 62, and now at 72 I’m having physical issues, so it’s good that you’re starting earlier. I only wish I had begun as young as 50. My advice: don’t try to play too long or too fast too soon. My teacher reminds me that we are athletes of the small muscles, and these are the most susceptible to injury. Take time to enjoy the journey!
October 9, 2019, 11:51 PM · i started the violin as an adult beginner a few years ago, and could never play without tension - and I don't think I would ever be able to. I posted my problem to this forum, and Andrew Victor gave me the same advice he gave you! I switched to the cello 3 years ago and never looked back - I play without any pain and can practice as long as I like. It is great fun. Thanks Andrew!

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