Figuring out if you're on the right track
There are a lot of posts on this forum (and others) from students at various stages of their development, trying to figure out if they're on a reasonable pre-professional trajectory, what that trajectory looks like, and where that trajectory leads to. (For instance, endpoints as a soloist, full-time tenured player in a world-class orchestra, full-time tenured player in a regional orchestra, freeway philharmonic gigging and teaching, or public-school music educator.) There's probably a parallel set of trajectories for adult beginners looking to accomplish various things (dream-of-being-a-pro path, path to community orchestra, path to chamber music, etc.)
I think it'd be useful to see a range of opinions on good goal-points by certain ages for each trajectory, what practice time and work looks like at each major inflection point, what sort of teachers to look for at a given stage, etc.
Might be interesting to see how opinions differ by country/system, too, i.e. US vs Canada vs UK vs other places.
Not feeling qualified to list specific works to have learned by any specific age, I won't attempt that.
If I am interpreting your question correctly, Lydia, what you're after is something like this for "salaried orchestral player":
Why am I so bemused by threads like this one?
The problem with any such rubric is that progress isn’t linear.
That's true, so perhaps this might be better simplified to a professional vs nonprofessional track -- i.e. are you on a trajectory that, given typical progression, leads to being competitive come college audition time, or not.
But my point is, I was not on a track to be competitive for college auditions. I got very very lucky in that Oberlin had just lost their longtime senior violin professor, the department was a bit chaotic with a last-minute part-time interim appointment, and violin applications that year were at a historic low. Any other year, I don't think I would have gotten in. But the last-minute interim turned out to be Stephen Clapp on his way up, by sophomore year I belonged there, and by senior year I was competitive enough to get into Indiana for grad school without needing a miracle.
I agree that tracks are by no means linear. For example, my son always showed great promise, but due to life circumstances (his older sister being very sick, then on hospice, then passing away over a period of 8 years) he was unable to study with a high level teacher or enter a program until he was 12. His progress since then has been tremendous.
I just want to mention that even today, there are young violinists getting into music school and eventually making some sort of professional life in music who would not be competitive in her son's program or at least are not covering that much repertoire before high school graduation. That is high-level stuff.
I'm pretty sure I hadn't covered absolutely everything on that list by the end of my time at conservatory when I started my professional career.
@Mary Ellen, it gives me palpitations as well. Hence the caveat that this is a high-level program. There are only a few pre-college programs at this level, so these are the kids not only getting into top conservatories but also getting scholarships. It's not necessarily the ONLY path to being a professional, though. I don't think you need to be at that level to necessarily succeed later on. It just may take you a little bit more of catch-up time.
Interesting and difficult question. So many pathways and goals that it might be impossible to derive anything close to a common path. Of course there are the various methodologies (Suzuki, RCM...) that set forth some form of a path to various interpreted degree. By that I mean some will claim I played this concerto by this time, got into a community orchestra by this time etc. with no reference to the level of play. Anyone can claim to play Twinkle, can they play it virtuously? Even a basic scale, sure I can play a 3 octave Bb scale, but how well? This makes it very difficult to interpret any responses you might get.
It seems to me perfectly possible that a student could emerge from high school having totally nailed Susan's list, and yet, after four years at conservatoire, somehow, it doesn't translate into either a soloist career or successful orchestral auditions. It's still a subjective process, which is subject to factors like the proclivities of the judges and dumb luck (please don't tell me there's no luck involved). Also, during orchestral auditions they ask you to play one or two concertos, right? So it's not clear to me why anyone would need to learn all 120 of them, or even just the 30 or so "major" ones.
Susan's list strikes me as reasonably consonant with what I see locally, though there are a lot of teachers who do the one-concerto-a-year-polished-to-death local competition circuit.
@Paul you are 100% right. Some of them don't do great. Many do. It doesn't always translate. Especially in the middle/early high school years, technique is often prized over interpretation and musicality. But if you end up being a boring player with amazing technique, you won't ever get anywhere.
I suspect that part of the argument for learning things young is that they stick with you better. Repertoire I learned as a little kid is with me forever; I can play you a good chunk of the Suzuki repertoire from memory, still.
The counterpoint is that if you learn something before you're ready for it and learn it badly, it is very very hard to relearn it well. I've seen some people suggest learning excerpts like don juan as early as possible - from my personal experience playing works I learned in high school as an adult, I think that's terrible advice since it's very hard to get early unmusical impressions out of your head.
Yes, that's absolutely true. I can instant regress into old habits if I pull out repertoire from certain points in time in my life. At the same time, a teenager who is capable of readily handling four big concertos a year probably isn't going to play them substantially less musically than a conservatory student. Indeed, Susan's cadre of brillliant young wizards could probably manage those concertos better than quite a few professionals that I've seen who have managed to get a performance MM with marginal technique; even if those mature pros may theoretically have better musical ideas, they lack the expressive tools to bring those ideas out.
I think it's fine if you're being guided by a good teacher who knows what they're doing, but if you're one of those people, you're not getting your advice and repertoire from this site. For the people who are looking here in hopes of getting an extra tip or trick to push them over the curve, suggesting they plow through as much as possible is irresponsible.
"The best laid plans,..." As I'm over 70 (not alone on this forum) I can look back on both my professional and musical life and realize that the most formative factor was "serendipity."
Irene, I agree, though it's probably not erroneous to suggest that if they're working on Accolay and their peers are doing three or four major concertos a year, they should probably think hard about their path forward.
Daughter’s teachers determine rep, but I had felt from
@Matthew, you can always join the club that flies in weekly. I have no idea how they afford it, though.
I have thought about this over the last couple of days, from a UK perspective. There are multiple teaching systems at play in the UK, predominantly ABRSM and Suzuki (in my opinion anyway). I am a mish-mash of both. But I will use a friend of mine as an example.
Age 7 is typically second or first grade in the U.S., depending on when the child's birthday falls. Most children start kindergarten at 5, some at 6, and first grade follows.
Somewhere online, Simon Fischer has a very interesting rant on UK training vs. US training and how the UK training is significantly deficient in its expected technical standard pre-conservatory compared to the US. I can't seem to find it at the moment.
That would be an interesting read Lydia, I would almost agree about the deficiency in some UK training. There are musical boarding schools like Purcell and Chethams, which thoroughly prepare students.
I think this is what Lydia is referring to:
Thank you for sharing Susan.
Susan, yes, that's the one I was referring to. Thanks for tracking it down.
Sadly, Susan, commmuting to Chicago, even previous to a pandemic,, is not an option.:(
"Age 7 is typically second or first grade in the U.S., depending on when the child's birthday falls. Most children start kindergarten at 5, some at 6, and first grade follows."
Where are all those teen-aged aspiring orchestral violinists when you want to hear from them?!? It'd be interesting to know what they think are reasonable trajectories.
Jocelyn, they don't have time for frivolities like posting replies on violinist.com. No sleepovers, either.
In the U.S., the staggering is incidental to having a birthday cutoff at the start of kindergarten with the idea that children need to be a certain age before starting school. There has been quite a fad in recent years to "redshirt" (hold back a year) students, especially boys, whose birthday falls near the cutoff, so that they are the oldest in the year instead of the youngest. In some cases this is helpful though not, in my opinion, for as many children as have actually been held back.
My best friend is a week older than me, and we were on either side of that divide, and they held me back (psychologically unready after some kind of testing). Two years later they skipped me ahead so that I was back with my friends. I'd be curious to know if that is a current practice.
Skipping has always been case-by-case with the decision either left to the school or the district. I haven't heard of anyone else being skipped forward to rejoin their age group. My guess is you had very proactive parents.
Paul, do you think they're busy polishing Sibelius or Accolay?
Ahh, Simon Fischer, that everyone loves, but for me is so pedantic, so boring a personality. And not a great teacher.
@M Zilpah, you mention Abrsm grade 8, but I'm not convinced it's a useful metric. Anybody who successfully auditions for one of the major coleeges is playing beyond grade 8 standard but grade 8 distinction is not in itself sufficient to gain entry.
I would argue that the UK system is too focused on exams and not enough on technique or repertoire. The concerto progression I read about on this site plus a healthy diet of studies and scales sounds so much better than the graded exam repertoire lists.
Agreed Jack. When I reached my final teacher, there was so much technique I had to develop, it was a proper back to basics experience for a few months.
ASTACAP is ASTA (the US strings teacher's association) attempt to do graded exams, but they are available in only a handful of places in the US, I think, starting at their point of origin in the Washington DC area.
I remember being aware that ASTACAP existed in the Houston area in the late 1990s, but no one I knew took the exams. I knew one violinist at my high school who was taking Canadian exams, but I think he was Canadian and just continuing.
Re ABRSM grades:
My US piano teacher had never heard of the ABRSM before I asked to continue taking ABRSM exams. I think her perspective on it is similar to the American violinist's perspective. She greatly appreciated the sight-reading and aural testing, saying that it was common for American piano students to reach conservatories without being adequately taught those musicianship skills. But the list of pieces for DipABRSM piano performance, in her opinion, consisted mostly of the kind of pieces that someone aiming for conservatory should be mastering before reaching high school age.
There are teachers in the UK, my previous included, who feel that the ABRSM exams are too constricted in terms of what repertoire they offer, until ones gets to the diplomas. But even then, its not as big as you'd want it to be
In the ABRSM exam, you need to play 3 not-very-long pieces of music plus some scales, sight-reading and aural test. Assume you take one grade a year, there are plenty of time left to work on other repertoire. Then, what else do a UK teacher assign outside ABRSM material? And why this is not involving those big or small concertos the American students are playing? Because there is no interest? Not enough fundamentals/techniques built up to support learning those repertoire?
Fischer's article in the link above gives a clue to the British School of Violin Playing (!): the school timetables just don't allow for the necessary hours of practice. In France, the school days are even longer:
A lot of teachers here go up to Grade 8 level, but can't play/teach to any level above that (this is in my experience)
Jake, that is my case. But apparently I play and teach well enough that subsequent teachers don't have to "start all over again" !
Jake, you are right there. Some will go above to DipABRSM, my last teacher did. Additionally, my viola teacher is happy to teach up to DipABRSM for me.
Afaicr, my piano teachers both had multiple diplomas from both colleges (RAM and RCM), probably not fellowships, but certainly A and L, what were known in the old days as teachers' and performers' diplomas. They could easily have taught to Associate diploma level.
American schooldays aren't meaningfully shorter than British schooldays. By the time my son is in elementary school, he'll start school at 8:30 am and get home at 6 pm (this does include time for mandatory sports and optional extracurriculars like chorus, art, etc.) High schoolers start earlier and end later, and teenagers aiming for high academic standards will also have several hours of homework after that, on top of several hours of (sometimes mandatory) sports practice. High schoolers get in two to four hours of violin practice a day largely by sacrificing sleep, as far as I can tell.
German schooldays tend to start very early and end very early, as far as I can recall from a 1975 exchange visit.
I think that even slightly motivated kids can figure out how to make the system work in their favor. It's one thing if you are an over-scheduled child of striver parents and you are already heading towards burnout in high school, but I have a hunch that some really advanced playing kids have all kinds of things worked out to shorten their school day so they can practice more.
Gordon, I think that there is a bit of alphabet soup with these diplomas. UK conservatoires have only being awarding degrees since the mid-late 90s. Prior to that, it was things like ARCM, LRAM, GRSM. The current Lrsm as a standalone diploma is not equivalent to the (very) old fashioned LRAM earned after 3 or 4 years at the academy.
It makes me wonder how are the children in places like South Korea cope if they are on track of advanced music instrument training. I can see British school curriculum can take up a lot of time, but it is way worse in Asia. I wonder if those kids just skip school or they just have no friends no childhood apart from school and violin.
Wow. I didn't even know there was some sort of track I was supposed to be on to enjoy learning how to play a violin. That's news to me! As it is, I'm quite happy with how things are going. I work weekly with a private teacher, take a class in old time fiddle, I take a chamber music class to learn how to play with others, and I'm just having a great time.
Michael, there's a name for the track that we're on: Third rail.
Most adults are not trying to follow a pre-professional trajectory. Although every violin forum gets its share of twenty-somethings that have just discovered the violin and have the ambition to go pro.
I hate to use the word "talent," but there is a certain fraction of children for whom instrumental proficiency just seems to fall into their hands. I'll also reiterate my definition of an "upper middle class" upbringing: You can pursue whatever career you want to, knowing you'll probably never starve.
I lost the only copy of this music and cannot remember the title. Can someone help me to get the title of this music?
What is the "right track" for adult learners, given that everyone wants to "play well"? Are there multiple "right tracks?" I would suggest there are "wrong tracks"--spending time and money not improving your playing.
Based on my observations, I would guess that soft skills, e.g. tenacity, mental toughness, patience, self-confidence, etc., matter just as much, if not more, than hard skills when it comes to career success. And desire.