What is the usual progress after learning for five years?

September 11, 2020, 2:11 PM · I am an adult beginner and I have been learning for about five years. But I am nowhere near where I imagined I would be. I always had college/job along with it, so I think on an average I have been practicing 4-5 days in a week, not everyday. I can see that I have been improving, and I usually avoid comparing my progress to others, because it takes the fun out of playing. But sometimes it bothers me that I still don't have a good tone, or that I still can't do a proper vibrato. I have been getting better at other things, like intonation or shifting. I can now play three octaves in G and A major with, I think, a passable intonation. I have also recently started paying attention to phrasing and not just playing the notes. I am currently working on Vivaldi's A minor concerto.
But I still can't express through my playing. And I struggle a lot with vibrato. I can only do a feeble vibrato and can't sustain it for long. Sometimes it demotivates me and I feel that I might never sound good.
What would you say is the usual progress after five years? I know it's very subjective, but still, what have you normally seen? Also, what has your experience been like in terms of managing your expectations and staying motivated?

Replies (92)

September 11, 2020, 3:47 PM · Well, the good news is that you don't need tons of vibrato to play the first movement of the Vivaldi A Minor Concerto. A little shimmer on the longer notes is fine.

The progress that I would expect after five years of daily practice depends in an almost binary fashion on the answer to one question: How often do you have lessons with a qualified violin teacher?

September 11, 2020, 4:02 PM · Meghna,

The answer to your question depends on your reason for starting the violin and your goals in playing the violin.

Like you, I started the violin as an adult but that was long before the Suzuki method attained ubiquity. My teacher asked me about my goals. They were simple - to play the melody/descant line on Episcopal Hymns. Yes, that was all and I actually achieved that in the first year. Then my teacher invited me to join the community orchestra run by music teachers in the area and... over 40 years later I'm still playing, learning, and even teaching the Doflein method (the one I studied). FWIW: As an adult I had all the same time conflicts that you do. Only now, in my retirement years, do I have all the time I could want to play the violin.

Do you want to perform? If so, where? Are their some special pieces or genre of music that you want to play? If so, are you able to play them?

I have learned that Suzuki has a long series of "benchmarks" and the student is encouraged to achieve them at particular intervals. Understand the the Suzuki method is not aimed at adult musicians (it is aimed at parents with benchmarks equating with bragging rights).

You are doing this out of some desire to play music. My motivation is the same. While I love the classical Rep. I still love Episcopal Hymnody, Broadway Show Tunes, Movie Themes, Jazz classics, generally music that makes me happy. I also love the technical challenges of pitch perfect intonation.

Bottom line: if you are achieving your goals then you are fine, If you are not, that is something that you need to discuss with your teacher and possibly a music store where you get the music for the pieces you want to play.

Edited: September 11, 2020, 4:25 PM · I’ve been playing for 5 years: 1hour of class each week, and most of weeks less than 1 hour of total practice, some of them, any practice at all outside class. I’m an adult starter with a job that takes time. I’m more or less where you are. Vivaldi A minor + Scales. I still struggle a lot with vibrato. I’ve also 2nd and 3rd position and I’m currently starting 4th and 5th positions. I’m also studying a book of double stops.

Disclaimer: I started with the violin as an adult. But I’ve been playing the piano since I was a child, so music was not new for me, and I started with some advantage over people who didn’t know any music at all.

My goals on the violin are enjoying it, and getting to a level that lets me play solo Bach. I don’t mind spending a decade getting there. It’s a lifetime hobby.

September 11, 2020, 6:52 PM · George wrote, "I have learned that Suzuki has a long series of "benchmarks" and the student is encouraged to achieve them at particular intervals. Understand the the Suzuki method is not aimed at adult musicians (it is aimed at parents with benchmarks equating with bragging rights)."

Exactly nothing in these statements in correct, other than the tiny subclause "the Suzuki method is not aimed at adult musicians".

September 11, 2020, 7:47 PM · ......I am nowhere near where I imagined I would be.....

This would be a statement echoed by all beginners. Probably due to high expectations and the 'end gainer's syndrome'. But that is exactly what motivated us to begin playing in the first place, but now it's time to reassess your goals. You have identified specific areas of skill that you would like to improve, then give them more focus and don't set 'benchmarks' but give it plenty of time. Perhaps include some shorter/easier pieces in your repertoire. 5 years is not a very long time for studying violin as a working adult.

Edited: September 11, 2020, 8:17 PM · My teacher does fine bringing his adult students (including myself, for a time) with the Suzuki Books, but he knows that the "not for adults" stigma is attached to them, so he fills in with repertoire that will maintain the interest of the adult beginning-to-intermediate player like Ashokan Farewell, or maybe Schubert Sonatinas, or very often just the community-orchestra section parts that the individual wants to play more skillfully. Anything can be teaching material as long as there are appropriate technical and musical challenges, but the strengths of the Suzuki series are the very gradual progression in the first few books, and the emphasis on clean passage-work (hence the heavy emphasis on baroque rep), which is the basis of all violin playing.
September 11, 2020, 8:51 PM · You are coming to the point where you will need to start bumping up your practice time if you want to progress, and you have to learn to practice, hear yourself, sense tension in your playing, and a lot of other skills that will get built up with consistent daily practice (you also don't want to ramp up to 2 hours per day all of the sudden, or else you are likely to hurt yourself).
September 11, 2020, 9:14 PM · 5-years ? That depends on a lot of factors. Progress is not constant. There are road-blocks, break-throughs and periods of consolidation. It takes about 7-10 years for the young, longer for adults. For specific topics, like vibrato or shifting, the teacher can make the biggest difference.
There are several versions of a 10-step technical grades list. One level per year is the norm until the highest grades. Most (like me) will never reach grades 9-10, no matter how hard or long they work. I am thinking of those hardest modern concertos and Richard Strauss 1st violin orchestra parts.
September 12, 2020, 9:37 AM · How much do you practice every day? Your progress seem commensurate to an average practice time of 45-60min a day for an adult learner. I find that any less than an hour every day does not lead to much progress after a while. It is OK at the beginning, but the practice time requirement to improve seems to increase exponentially as one progresses, otherwise you plateau to a given level for very long periods of time.
September 12, 2020, 11:07 AM · I have been taking one hour class every week since I started learning. I practice for about one hour, on an average. But not everyday, about 4-5 days a week
September 12, 2020, 11:11 AM · Re: Miguel Pitti
I also wish to play to Bach's Sonatas and Partitas one day, even if it takes a lifetime. It seems almost impossible to achieve right now, but I have hope that one day 20,30, 40 years later, some day it will happen
September 12, 2020, 12:56 PM · Meghna consider it in the following way. I started at 6 years old, but at 11 years old I don't think I already had a lush continuous vibrato!
September 12, 2020, 1:12 PM · Elise said it well. The one thing I haven't seen here is mention of a teacher. It's really not possible without a good teacher, so if you don't have a teacher, or if your teacher is not someone capable of producing a high-level player, I advise you to do whatever it takes to get the best teacher (for you) possible.
September 12, 2020, 11:24 PM · Uhhhh.... For me, I've seen a lot of different progress levels. Some people get it right off the bat, and can start playing more advanced pieces right away. Then some people slack and don't really practice and so they have almost no progress. And I've been playing for about 6 years, and I'm playing Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and Carmen Fantasy by Sarasate. But then I practice 6 days a week, and I imagine I probably have more time than you, so I guess that makes a difference.

When I first learned vibrato, it was really hard to get a good sound, and it was weak and I could only do it for a short time. You can practice scales with vibrato. My teacher used to say to vibrate as much as you can, and shake as much as you can, because you can develop the right muscles that way, and then you can lighten it to a good vibrato.

September 13, 2020, 3:52 AM · How old are you Yufei?
September 13, 2020, 6:42 AM · One sentence in your post has not been addressed at all as yet: "But I still can't express through my playing."

For this you need a teacher willing to work on expression. Which means automatically that you put your technical progress on a slower course. You need a teacher willing (and capable) to focus on this important aspect of musicianship. And that means you'll slow down your progression up the ladder of technical difficulty; there are only 60 minutes in a violin lesson.

If you don't have such a teacher I recommend you listen to Benjamin Zander's "interpretation classes" on youtube. He focusses almost exclusively on expression in those videos and you can certainly pick up some lessons from there. Another option is to work with chamber music coaches; they tend to be very good at this sort of thing. So if you can find a violin teacher who also works as a chamber music coach and let him know that you would like to work on expression you ought to be able to get taught in this area. You may also have a chance to get connected to chamber music players and do some ensemble playing--the ultimate joy that is to be had from playing the violin (or many other instruments for that matter).

September 13, 2020, 8:52 AM · Violinist Roy Sonne (retired first violinist formerly with the Pittsburgh Symphony for decades) issued a DVD some years ago that provided great insights on playing the ACCOLAY Violin Concerto with expressive interpretation. It is now available on YOUTUBE:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Z-uNgVn7eI (Part 1)

I recommend it as a fine way to get a start on playing with "expression." I think it helps one to select a "scenario" or story as Sonne does on his video. While it is possible to play with impromptu emotional input to your playing it is really all technique and finding and honing those "technical devices" that express your feelings musically is what it is all about - in my opinion.

How to play "Meditation" for a wedding (i.e., love song) and how to play it for a memorial service. Can you play "Ave Maria" as a love song - and make the old ladies sitting in church weep? What scenario guides your playing expression when performing Beethoven's Op. 50 Romance? What images drive your performance of the Largo in Vivaldi's Winter Concerto?

Edited: September 13, 2020, 10:18 AM · I second the recommendation for anything presented by Roy Sonne. Mr. Sonne is a soulful violin player and a warm-hearted gentleman. I was very inspired by his "master class" on the Beethoven Op. 50 Romance, to the point where I performed this piece as a solo with our local community orchestra.

Musical expression is a complex subject that has been discussed many times on this site before. My own view is that "expression" boils down to applying a toolbox of technical devices that audiences have been conditioned to expect. I know that sounds very cold, but when you hear a young child playing "with unexpected maturity and expression" you should understand that their skill in conveying feeling did not arise from "life experience" but rather by plagiarizing "artistic devices" from recordings and performances, and by having been demonstrated many such "devices" by his or her teacher. And of course the young person needs to have the technical skill to execute those tricks. That's why technique is always your foremost goal as a violin student. If "having a story" in your head helps you organize your concentration and concatenate the devices into a convincing presentation, that's perfectly fine, and I certainly won't second-guess Mr. Sonne's teachings, but you should understand that the "scenario" only a mnemonic tool. The listener will almost certainly infer an entirely different story line based on what you're playing. And that's if you're successful.

Edited: September 13, 2020, 3:09 PM · The great pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch gave this advice back in 1950:

"In the days of Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninoff and Paderewski, it was impossible to learn musical meaning through recordings. Learning music meant digging deep into the score itself, training the inward hearing to grasp what is there and also what is not there. By concentrated and devoted thinking about music, the artist built himself a solid foundation. Any artist worth his salt thinks music far more than he practices. Practice divides the mind between music and the mechanics of managing hands and feet. Inward hearing has its roots in musical thought.
In my student days, when [my teacher] Leschetizky was dissatisfied with the way we turned a phrase, he would bid us leave the piano and walk about the room with our eyes shut until a new phrasing suggested itself. Then we were allowed to play for him. I still follow this procedure, leaving the piano to think about a phrase which needs better shaping." *

That advice was of course given to pianists, but is equally applicable to players of other instruments. My cello and piano teachers, both of whom knew Moiseiwitsch, told me when I was learning a piece never to listen to a recording of it more than once, so that I wouldn't be over-influenced by a particular rendering. My cello teacher in particular said a propos of the Bach cello suites he didn't want to hear me as a not very good and junior version of Casals; it was for me to work out for myself what the music should be saying to an audience.

* Source: https://arbiterrecords.org/music-resource-center/benno-moiseiwitsch/

September 13, 2020, 3:19 PM · My first teacher almost always started lessons with scales. One day he asked me to play a 3-octave scale in G, and when I finished he asked how long I've been taking lessons, then he calculated it at 5 years, and said I was right on schedule. He said I had played the entire scale in good rhythm, with every single note in tune on the way up and down, and that usually took students right around 5 years to do. I was a little dumbfounded, and told him that if he had told me that in the beginning, I probably wouldn't have signed up for it!
September 13, 2020, 3:34 PM · Interesting, what you wrote, TREVOR. The other day I watched, for the first time, the 2004 DVD "Ivry Gitlis and the Great Tradition." One of the things Gitlis said was that He felt students should not study recordings of music they are working on. They should develop their own approach and only after that should they listen to others to expand their vision.

I hardly ever heard performances of the music I worked on in my younger days until 40 or 50 years later and was pleased to realize that at least I had gotten the tempos about right. It was then easy to realize how other performances differed and what I might do if I wanted to do similar things. For some reason I almost always prefer to hear artists whose interpretation is similar to mine (maybe I just resist expanding my mind!).

September 13, 2020, 4:50 PM · One has to remember that expressive playing is very much rooted in the *technical* tools of expression. You need to be taught the bow control to produce different articulations, and a range of dynamics, and especially, a range of colors. Some of it as also in the left hand, especially in vibrato.

For instance, do you know what to do technically to get a beautiful phrase ending? Now do you know five ways technically to get that effect? If not, that's where to start. Expand your library of tricks.

September 14, 2020, 7:23 AM · I have had two teachers since I started learning. With my first teacher (I learnt for about 3 and a half years from him), the progress was really fast. I was on the suzuki book 4 by then end of three years. But then I moved to another city and had to change my teacher. then I realised that my foundation wasn't good and I was probably rushed through pieces before I was ready for them. Now from the last one year, I have been paying more attention to my intonation, bow arm, expression and other nuanced things that I did not do before. I'm playing 'easier' and fewer pieces now but learning them in more detail than I did before. In a way, I am re-learning a lot of things. Though my progress seems to be much slower now, I am far more satisfied with the results. Now when I play the scales, I can hear my violin resonate because of better intonation. My playing doesn't sound as cacophonous as it did before.
September 14, 2020, 8:17 AM · Regarding expression, my teacher encourages me try playing the same pieces in different emotions and to experiment with the bow and how it changes the sound. But I feel that maybe my technique is not yet developed to make the piece sound the way I want. Like I can't do a proper vibrato, or I can't bring out the piano after a forte, or make the dolce sweet enough. I am working on building my 'library of techniques' as Lydia said.
I have seen a couple of videos of the interpretation class by Benjamin Zander and fell in love with them. Will definitely check out the other suggestions made on this thread.
September 14, 2020, 11:57 AM · "the progress was really fast. I was on the suzuki book 4 by then end of three years"
Herein lies one of the traps of Suzuki - very easy for students, teachers, and passers-by to view progress as pieces whereas it matters how the pieces are being played, what skills are being developed (or not), etc., as you discovered. While there are teachers who will resist students' tendencies to chase pieces (I am one now, even though earlier in my teaching career, I was not), it can also be "easy" to acquiesce to the student's wishes or what are perceived to be the student's wishes.

One of my early adult students was always playing ahead and the way I'd handle that now is different from how I did at the time (could have not used Suzuki seeing as the blatant sequential numbering was getting in the way of learning properly). I had one transfer student (child) who came in at the beginning of book 3 but I told the parents, if you study with me, we will be working on [foundations] and [no new pieces in Suzuki] (although we did have some new pieces outside of Suzuki). They had accepted but I kept wondering how long they would stick with "no progress" meaning pieces. It turned out to be one year, but during that time, substantial improvements were made in intonation, "vocabulary" of bowing skills, age/level-appropriate palette of expressive options - made possible by bowing skills, increased awareness and ability to evaluate and adjust one's own playing, etc. These are the results that are satisfying to me as a teacher although it can be tricky if students (or parents) have something else in mind.

September 14, 2020, 1:16 PM · Mengwei, I couldn't agree more!
September 14, 2020, 7:05 PM · "it can also be 'easy' to acquiesce to the student's wishes or what are perceived to be the student's wishes"

Yeah ... especially when the parent is tag-teaming with the student.

September 15, 2020, 8:32 AM · I disagree with Lydia about expressive playing being "very much rooted in the technical tools of expression". It is rooted in imagination. You have to have an idea in your head about how to present the music. Then you can apply those tools. They are not the root but the fertilizer if we want to stay with the gardening metaphors.

Plus: many decisions about interpretation are not technical in a strictly violinistic sense: How long to hold a fermata for example; how much ritardando to play before it; or how much of a breather to take between the minuet and the trio; or whether to play uneven meters in hemiolas or not (where there is ambiguity--which is very often the case). All this does not depend on your bowing or vibrato at all.

Obviously you need those technical tools in order to fully carry out your vision. But the vision comes first. Without it your tools stay idle. The size of your toolbox though sets the limits of your ability.

Edited: September 15, 2020, 8:40 AM · What Albrecht said. But to be fair, I think what Lydia meant was that without the technical skills in your fingers, as it were, you can not enact the creative expression. That would be like writing poetry in a foreign language without first learning that language! What you said would certainly not be perceived as you intended...
Edited: September 15, 2020, 9:16 AM · To some extent it depends on whether you are talking about a young artist on the cusp of entering conservatoire for a performing career or a beginning-to-intermediate students just figuring out how the instrument really works. In the latter case, you are learning "expression" as a series of largely binary decisions -- when rubato should be applied or not. After that comes learning a few different styles of rubato -- one style for a line that arches suddenly, another style for the measure before the main theme reappears in a classical Allegro, etc. And as you develop, you build more variety and subtlety into your toolbox, and you inform this process deeply by listening to recordings and accepting the advice of your teachers, and also by learning about the lives and historical contexts of the composers. But I'll bet that as one of our top soloists is performing a concerto, they don't have some elaborate Greek tragedy in their head, draping over the entire work and informing every subtle decision. They've broken it down to the measure level in their practice studio, and they're drawing on an incredibly advanced and finely-incremented toolbox. And the best among them can string the parlor tricks together in such a way that the listener is convinced that the artist must have had some kind of overarching vision. So yes, I think the emperor has no clothes. It's just about learning an increasingly sophisticated set of devices for expression, having the technical skill to execute them, and learning to concatenate them into a convincing overall presentation -- this process is part and parcel of what we call violin artistry. And like everything else, some are better at it than others.
Edited: September 15, 2020, 9:23 AM · Hi Meghna,
Is your progress "usual" for students of your teacher? I know you don't want to "compare yourself to others," but your question necessitates comparison. If you're much above the average, or excellent, range of your teacher's 5th-6th year students, and you think your progress is slow, you might consider changing teachers. This is a good time to do it, because the pandemic has leveled geographical barriers. If you are below your teacher's average 5th year student, you might ask them what might help you move ahead faster.

Without contextualizing this question (here, I place your progress in comparison to your teacher's studio), the question is meaningless. You'll be able to find kids who can play Mendelssohn flawlessly at the age of 8, or Paganini at the age of 6. By comparison, most of us have had slow progress. Then you'll find people who never learn anything beyond first position after ten years. Presumably, neither trajectory is desirable nor realistic for you.

September 15, 2020, 4:03 PM · I am a beginner myself, I have been playing one and a half years, don’t have a teacher, had help off people on another forum. I practice everyday for an hour at least, scales arpeggios, very slow practice pieces to improve intonation which I find extremely difficult, but it’s slowly getting better. For what it’s worth I now think progress can only be judged by yourself, if you enjoy playing why worry, here’s were I am after one and a half years self taught, remember violin is arguably the hardest instrument on the planet to get to grips with


September 15, 2020, 5:34 PM · Hi Ron, that's how I started when I retired from work - Irish fiddle in pub sessions and no formal teacher, but possibly helped a little by many years as an orchestral cellist. After about 3 years I realised I was coming up against the proverbial brick wall as far as technique was concerned, with no way through, over or under, so I looked round for a teacher and was recommended one by my local violin shop (in Bristol, England). My teacher had been classically trained to a professional level and is the lead fiddle in a professional folk band. I was taken right back to square one, with great emphasis on posture and violin/bow hold. I'm pretty sure there was a foundation of Alexander Technique in all of this, although it wasn't specifically mentioned. The Suzuki books were used as a general guide but never exclusively - after the first year I was introduced to pieces not in Suzuki. Eventually I was able to swap from orchestral cello to orchestral violin, which I thoroughly enjoy (Covid permitting!). Unfortunately, Irish sessions in my home town have now all but disappeared (pubs closing or being turned into restaurants, you get the picture), but I'll always be grateful for the start on the violin that Irish folk music gave me.
September 15, 2020, 9:36 PM · Ron that's pretty good playing for a year and a half of work! Your intonation sounds good to me. If you can soften up the joints below your right elbow (wrist/hands/fingers could be more supple), that would help your bow draw a little straighter, which would be the first step in improving your tone because right now your bow is skittering a little on the strings. Keep at it! I'd be honored to jam with you some day.
Edited: September 16, 2020, 3:31 AM · I hate these questions... it makes ALL the difference in the world how you practiced, how much and with who. A good teacher and a willing student can achieve in 1 year what other student will in 6 years or more.

There's no "standard" five year progress, it all depends on how many hours you played each week, how you practiced, what, and most importantly, who your teacher was. So, to answer the question: it heavily greatly depends on your attitude and your teacher. If you have 2 or 3 violin lessons each week, get a really good teacher that is dedicated to you and analyzes all your playing and you practice 2-3h each day (except first weeks may be), in five years you would be incredibly good.

Problem is, very few people are that passionate about violin, you start with 1 lesson each week, you even skip some, your practice once or twice a week, you practice inefficiently, doodling around, your teacher loses interest in you (sees that you are not willing to put the several hours per week), etc... you end up playing Vivaldi A minor badly after 6-7 years. Then somehow you feel the need to compare your progress to other students that from the first day were very passionate, and conclude this stupid lie: oh, I must be really bad at violin and these must be some kind of born-to-be-violinist kids.

Edited: September 16, 2020, 4:08 AM · Paul thanks for your advice, on the flexibility, I am going to try to work on being more supple, I find myself tense when I play and have done from the start, but I am working on it, thanks for the support;)
Edited: September 18, 2020, 2:43 AM · I hate to compare as well.

I understand why everyone gets frustrated and tries to explain the pointlessness of comparison when newbies like us ask about progress but I can't help but wonder how am I doing against some kind of benchmarks.

What Paul states "it makes ALL the difference in the world how you practiced, how much and with who" is precisely why I want some comparison.

It's reasonably easy to estimate how much I practised and, to a lesser extent, how well I practised. However, it's very difficult for us to judge how good are our teachers.

Both the internet and real life are filled with horror stories about learning with violin teachers who can't teach (or can even play properly) for years and not knowing about it until years later.

I enjoy my lessons and it seems I have made progress. However, am I really building up a correct foundation and practising the correct skills? Am I really on the right track? These questions are ultimately linked to the teachers' competencies which is something impossible to guage as a novice learner without some external yardstick.

Based on my experience in the past few years, I didn't feel to urge to compare with a "usual progress" until quite recently. I started with the viola by total accident with no goal in mind at all. I continued my lessons because I had fun learning it even I didn't have time to practise.

It's not until this year that I can afford regular practice. I noticed that despite I still only learning the viola as a fun hobby with no real goal or target, I started having this desire to compare my progress with a "typical" trajectory.

Now I invest my time in practice, I want to be sure I am doing it right.

Edited: September 16, 2020, 8:23 AM · Catherine Ty makes several points that resonate with me. I returned to the violin 22 months ago at age 59 after a 45 year hiatus, so I'm a returning beginner. My (Greek Orthodox) choir director was also a violin teacher so I went with him as I knew and trusted him, and just as importantly he knew me and how I learn.

I returned for the sheer love of the instrument and classical music, and while I do have several significant long-term goals for what I would like to play but that's just for me (Biber Passagalia is my ultimate goal...someday). My teacher has a small ensemble of some of his students which I've joined. Then the pandemic hit so I still don't have a chance to really re-learn how to play with others yet until we can meet again.

I do sometimes wonder about my foundation but not only is my teacher happy with my progress but when I record myself I'm happy with my intonation and overall tone/sound - we've started working on the first Seitz Concerto (S. 4) and it's easier than I expected. So far - I fully expect that to change and I do trust my teacher's methods.

I don't have goals of becoming a professional of any kind at 61 - but I've invested in a good instrument/bow, private teacher, and have practiced 6-7 days a week for 45-90 minutes a day since this started as I want to learn to play as well as I am capable. There is a desire to know how I compare with others - just as Catherine Ty - even though I know it really isn't comparable. But there it is.

Edited: September 16, 2020, 8:28 PM · However, it's will very difficult for us to judge how good are our teachers....

I began learning the violin as an adult, admittedly I had no aspirations of becoming a classical violinist, but I wanted to play the violin well/properly. I found a violin teacher and he played very well, but I became concerned about the content of his lessons which prompted me to do some research. I read the pedagogy of many authors which I found enlightening.

Edited: September 16, 2020, 8:59 PM · "What would you say is the usual progress after five years? I know it's very subjective, but still, what have you normally seen?"

You can use resources like the RCM violin syllabus, which is available online, and quite detailed in terms of repertoire and technical expectations, at each grade level. It is a program that certain teachers and their students use on a yearly basis - i.e. at 5 years, if you're following the program, it'd be reasonable for you to be working on completing grade 5.

That's assuming that you have a teacher who's guiding you through such a program, and that you're spending as much time and working as hard as a typical or better than average kid at least.

The Suzuki books might also be used as similar guidelines, assuming a book a year for the early levels.

"Also, what has your experience been like in terms of managing your expectations and staying motivated?"

Painful, literally and figuratively, and disheartening, but who says that as amateurs we should look at x number of years of learning as a measure and not as a lifelong experience, however it goes? With that view I haven't had a problem with motivation as such. Different levels of engagement at times according to both the needs of the program / teaching cadence and other activities, but generally slow improvement, sometimes only after significant effort towards a hurdle, which is interesting, as it's striving for reaching something new.

But not yet enough to give up on violin and return to piano, though I'd like to, because there's more there too. Maybe there are such alternatives for you or others too. The goal in my view is music, however it comes, and sometimes the instrument is just wood.

Edited: September 16, 2020, 10:47 PM · "One of the things Gitlis said was that He felt students should not study recordings of music they are working on. They should develop their own approach and only after that should they listen to others to expand their vision."

Well and good, but it's largely a negative statement, and doesn't tell you how to develop your own approach, and the negative only leaves you without the benefit and experience of others.

In particular, if we enjoy or envy another's playing, and don't understand it or how it's so, what's wrong with listening to a recording of that person while reading the score, and thereby noticing the differences between that person's playing and what's on the page, which is all you otherwise have for your playing? That can be a good learning exercise, especially for the "old fashioned" players, or any others, who might in some cases play at a greater departure from the score and with greater "distinctiveness" you might not otherwise consider.

But you might also find that some players play very musically without great departures from the score, in some such cases because they don't depart from the score.

And in the end, I'd agree that it's about playing music how you feel is best, because if you're not doing that, why bother?

September 17, 2020, 7:32 AM · No, not even the "grade 5 for 5 years playing players" apply. Again, people don't really get this:
It's all about your teacher and how much time you are willing to put into the violin.

A good teacher will absolutely not follow any kind of pieces guide and go one by one, as in Suzuki. These guides exist because they are used to compare students that want to enter here and there, they are standards. Everyone learns the Vivaldi A minor, everyone learns this, that... If progress is your goal, a good teacher will analyze your playing and select the pieces that really attack those points you are failing. Sure, from time to time you will learn this or that classic piece, but your repertoire will heavily depend on where you have flaws. Some students will gain finger dexterity really easily, but will fail to have a good right hand technique. Many others will be the opposite, and the teacher in question will follow 2 completely different paths. When I say a good teacher will make all the difference in the world, I really mean it.

It does not matter that you played for 5 years about 2-3h each day, which is a huge amount of hours, if you didn't have a nice teacher monitoring you. Basically, the point of a teacher is to make you practice efficiently, not wasting your time, to make you focus on what matter. That can translate that your 5 years 3h each day routine with 6 different teachers over the years that were OK equals 1 year of 3h each day with a professional that was there to monitor you each week, more than once per week probably.

You think about science... if you are 18 years old and you've chosen the STEM path, maths, before college you know more or less integrals, derivation, limits, some 3D problems with planes and straight lines, matrix problems... think what would have happened if your father was Einstein or Gauss and you were home-schooled. You would totally destroy in maths and physics any 18 years old student, by the age of 12 you would probably be finishing college level maths and physics, ready to join any lab or department. You were under the tutelage of a professional, that's what you get.

Edited: September 17, 2020, 9:40 AM · There are plenty of teachers who go piece-by-piece through the Suzuki books, but usually only for the first few books. Then often they pick up Barbara Barber and maybe Wohlfahrt or Hrimaly scales. And eventually there has to be an off-ramp.

Some students go through the books fast (with or without learning to play properly) and everywhere in between. Parents are entirely conditioned to want benchmarks, and students compare themselves to others during group classes and the like.

What you describe about being mentored by Einstein or Gauss can backfire too. The student might not respond well to the obvious pressure and reject the physical sciences altogether.

September 17, 2020, 7:46 PM · https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_van_Beethoven

He was guided by Beethoven, and also had lessons from Czerny. It didn't take. Might he have been better off with a gentler Suzuki teacher?

September 18, 2020, 3:12 AM · Paul, you are assuming in your last sentence that the student is not motivated or even is being forced to play, presumably under a tough teaching. J Ray, better off for what?

I don't know how good of a teacher Czerny was, but may be Karl would have gone further with a Suzuki teacher, yes. Further as playing quite bad the A minor after 7 years, and then dropping the violin.

No, my point is that you have to got a very good teacher and the student must be motivated and willing to put the hours it takes to take advantage of such precious tutelage. If you have Einstein as a professor but attend his classes without study a lot, guess what? You are gonna hate it very soon when you don't understand anything, he sees you are not studying the 4-5h daily, etc...

Step 1: willing to put so many hours per week. Step 2: find a teacher, professional player or someone that's really good, both playing and teaching, and take lessons twice a week, even 3 a week if you are really putting all those 3-4h daily. That's how you progress like a pro.

A good teacher will analyze how well is the student performing and also if the lessons and pieces are being enjoyed. A good teacher will avoid a path that makes the student want to quit.

September 18, 2020, 3:48 AM · ""One of the things Gitlis said was that He felt students should not study recordings of music they are working on. They should develop their own approach and only after that should they listen to others to expand their vision."
Well and good, but it's largely a negative statement, and doesn't tell you how to develop your own approach, and the negative only leaves you without the benefit and experience of others."

Otoh, when I was a kid, it was more trouble than it was worth to acquire recordings of what I was studying.

September 18, 2020, 4:31 AM · What no-one's mentioned yet is *attentiveness* of practice.

You don't need to practice an hour a day as an adult learner. What you do need to do is make sure that when you *are* practicing, you are actively aware of what you are doing and how you are doing it, and that every practice session you are finding something to improve and improving it.

Practicing for half an hour but spending 10 minutes of that working on the junction between two notes in a scale or on the shift between first and third position - that's more useful than spending 60 minutes playing through a list of scales repetitively, a running through a study, and then going through a couple of pieces of repertoire.

If you can find a teacher who can teach you how to practice, you're onto a winner...

September 18, 2020, 8:14 AM · "Again, people don't really get this:
It's all about your teacher and how much time you are willing to put into the violin."

No, actually nobody doesn't "get this". There are as usual several different things being discussed at the same time. The OP asked for a rule of thumb, a general guideline, not for us to tell him how well one can play if they work really hard and have a great teacher, and get everything else right.

September 18, 2020, 8:43 AM · I never tell people "little and often", because all they will ever hear is "little".
Edited: September 18, 2020, 8:58 AM · What I found, generally, when I taught years ago, was that using the Suzuki books as a pathway adult students progressed at the rate of about one book per year. But that was a general observation. Those who progressed more slowly than that soon dropped out. Those who progressed more rapidly had a tendency to add a broader scope of music.

I had one couple in their mid-20s who took their lessons "together." The man wanted to play violin, the woman, cello. They started these instruments with me, never having touched them previously. They had both played clarinet in high school and the woman was also a (sight) singer and had continued playing in college. They only took lessons with me for 10 months before they moved to other jobs across the country. By that time, the man was in Suzuki book 4 and the woman had just started Suzuki book 7. It was clear that she was setting the "pace" and he was competing. They had separate lessons of about 45-60 minutes each, but were both in the room during the whole 90-120 minute session.

Some people have a natural talent for playing certain instruments and they quickly rise to the level of their incompetence ("Peter Principle") at which point even they have to "buckle down" and really work at it. Most of us have to struggle all the way.

What I found in my own progress was the value of having concrete and achievable goals and paths to achieve them; in other words, realistically achievable goals. This worked for me in much of my musical life as well as in my work (i.e., professional) life.

September 18, 2020, 9:45 AM · @ J Ray "The goal in my view is music, however it comes ...."
The ultimate goal in music must therefore be that of composition.

@ Gordon Shumway "when I was a kid, it was more trouble than it was worth to acquire recordings of what I was studying".
Couldn't agree more. When I was studying the Bach cello suites in my teens there were only about 4 or 5 recordings available, headed up of course by Casals - and expensive. All of my exposure to classical performances were therefore otherwise either live or on the BBC's "Third Programme" (now named Radio 3).

September 18, 2020, 11:12 AM · @Andrew "Some people have a natural talent for playing certain instruments and they quickly rise to the level of their incompetence "

Best quote I've seen in this thread.

Edited: September 18, 2020, 11:27 AM · "No, actually nobody doesn't "get this". There are as usual several different things being discussed at the same time. The OP asked for a rule of thumb..."

And the answer for that rule of thumb is:
It makes absolutely no sense to ask for an "estimated progress over X years". Your progress depends entirely on your teacher (how many lessons per week, how close the teacher was monitoring you, his/her level and broad knowledge about etudes and pieces) and how many hours you put into practice.

September 18, 2020, 3:10 PM · Paul N, that's just not true. Everyone wants to benchmark their progress, especially parents who are paying for the lessons! Sure, progress depends on a lot of factors, including some beyond the student's control. And the distribution of "progress" is maybe quite wide. But there is a distribution nevertheless, with a mean, a standard deviation, and so on. If your son or daughter was still in Suzuki Book 2 after ten years of lessons and practicing an hour a day, please don't tell me you'd be just fine with that, because you'd be lying.
September 18, 2020, 8:10 PM · "The ultimate goal in music must therefore be that of composition."

A howl for Ginsburg.

September 19, 2020, 2:38 AM · Paul, what's not true?
I don't care that anyone wants benchmarks, I am simply saying that the 5 years playing benchmark heavily greatly hugely depends on the hours per week you put and your teacher monitoring and level. Hence, there's absolutely no answer to that question. Do you want to say "well, for five years it's the A minor first movement"?
I'll tell you that some students get there after 7-8 years, and others before 2 years are playing it fantastically. No benchmark for time, your progress depends on practice hours and teacher, not abstract time.
September 19, 2020, 2:59 AM · Paul N, you said "It makes absolutely no sense to ask for an 'estimated progress over X years'." Sure it does. What you get back is an average value that sits in the middle of a wide distribution. It's not super useful without knowing what the parameters are, but the OP knows what those parameters are -- that's obvious from the first few sentences of her post. My point is that it's not entirely useless either. Every parent wants their baby to be a normal weight, normal length, etc., right? What's normal? The distribution is huge, but somehow there is comfort in knowing the average value. Maybe not a lot of comfort, and maybe some of that is false comfort, but people find it comforting nevertheless.
Edited: September 19, 2020, 3:02 AM · PS -- an adult beginner who has no physical disability, who practices an hour a day, and who takes a violin lesson once a week from a teacher who is not a total waste of carbon should be able to manage the first movement of the Bach A Minor.

Plus or minus a Suzuki Book or two.

Edited: September 19, 2020, 4:29 AM · I do not agree. You can totally measure weight and say that a 5.6 feet male adult is going to be between 130-170 lbs, unless something really wrong is going on: huge amount of fat eaten over the years, a desease, anorexic, etc... Weight comes natural, no matter what exactly your diet was, if you eat "normally" and kind of healthy, 99% of the people is going to be between those numbers.

The problem here is that we are trying to digitalize a competition, a skill, something that does not come natural as weight. Something that you honey.

You can't just throw numbers at skills, competition or sports over a variable that in reality means nothing (5 years, what is 5 years? how, how much, when, where?), where the ACTUAL CORE of the improvement is how much time you put into it every week and who your master was.
How good should I be at playing violin after 5 years of practice?
How good should I run 100m after 5 years of practicing?
How good should I be at playing this videogame after 5 years?
How good should I be at bowling after 5 years?

It depends so, so much on the time you put those 5 years and how you put it, that I repeat, it makes absolutely no sense to throw a number or a piece. It's a big no, sorry. It's not that the number is broad and wide, it's that it is so arbitrary due to its zero influence in the results that it makes no sense.

Even if we measure the exact time of practice, about 3500h in 5 years, it still means nothing because the "how" is as important as the time spent. Now you are trying to get a consistent "average" result over a variable that doesn't count the actual hours and the how. You get nada.

Edited: September 19, 2020, 8:28 AM · How good should I be at playing violin after 5 years of practice?

An adult beginner should be able to reach the Bach A Minor plus or minus one or two Suzuki Books providing you practice an hour a day and you have weekly lessons from a teacher that is not a waste of carbon, and you don't have any kind of physical ailment like arthritis (I think I said that already)

How good should I run 100m after 5 years of practicing?

Let's say 14 plus or minus 3 seconds if you are 20(2) years old and your BMI never exceeds 20 during your training and you practice an hour a day with monthly coaching from someone with experience doing that.

How good should I be at playing this videogame after 5 years?

You should be able to roll the score counter up to exactly 999999 on the standard arcade version of Atari Centipede. (I learned how to do it in one year -- many video games are not hard enough that they cannot be totally conquered in much less than 5 years.

How good should I be at bowling after 5 years?

With a bespoke ball and shoes, daily practice of one hour, and weekly coaching from a touring pro I think you should be able to roll almost pro-level games, so let's say 190-210 pretty consistently, providing you start with at least a reasonably athletic build.

See how easy it is?

Edited: September 19, 2020, 9:08 AM · Paul, stop it, you know your affirmations are totally made up. Anyways, see what you did?
You had to set 2 variables, since the 5 year thing is useless: providing you practice 1h each day and have a good enough teacher, you will do this or that. Anyways, that's not true, almost all adult beginners practice less than 7h weekly, they are very inconsistent. Well, not adult beginners, but students in general, unless you are forced to practice because you are at a music school and have exams, pieces to perform, etc...

About videogames, it's not much of a points thing, but a competition thing. There are no points in modern games, there are kills, good plays, good matches. You are talking about solo games like Pac-Man. I have no idea about running or bowling, these were examples, you totally get what I mean.

My point, and I maintain it, is that "I've been playing for 5 years" means nothing to your progress, it simply means you first pick up a violin 5 years ago. It tells nothing about your millage, how good you are or how much you have practiced. End of the story.

Applied to something I know: how good should I be at maths after 18 years of studying, right before college?

Same thing, absurd question if asked broadly, and violin playing is a broad term, highly abstract.

First, maths are followed by a guide, all schools have the same math topics/subjects, and by the last year of high school you must know integrals, matrixes, derivatives, plane and straight line problems, etc...

You can study maths way, way more efficiently, as I said, and probably by the age of 12 totally destroy any high school student, being able to match a math college student in the last years. Of course, you must want to be a math student.

You can apply the same to violin playing in music schools with the same program/plan: by the end of the year 5th you have to play this piece.

OK, but when you ask this question in abstract, as in "how good should I be after 5 years playing", then there's no plan or topics or subjects you followed, it was only you and your teacher. Hence, in 5 years you are as good as the hours you practiced + how your teacher monitored you.

In the end, I do believe that a student will progress way faster if the classes are private/personal and there's no "official" path to follow. No set of pieces by the end of the year.

Edited: September 19, 2020, 2:12 PM · Paul, you wrote, "Anyways, that's not true, almost all adult beginners practice less than 7h weekly, they are very inconsistent."

Then according to my definition of average progress, they should have attained less. Maybe finished Book 3 (plus or minus one book).

As for the video games, you didn't specify which game, so I responded with the only one I ever totally mastered. (You don't want me to just make stuff up, do you?) To line up 999999 on the score requires some subtle skills and planning within the game toward the end. Actually I also watched my kids totally conquer MarioKart, that took them about a year also.

And I think I nailed it on the bowling example too.

"You can study maths way, way more efficiently, as I said, and probably by the age of 12 totally destroy any high school student."

Yes that's possible. I did that as a child. Not "destroy" level, but I got a year ahead and with much better depth of skills in problem-solving and proofs, because my mother nudged my brothers and me forward on math(s). But I also know other "competitive" parents who have tried to do this with their kids and it largely backfired. I inherited my intrinsic competitiveness, and indeed it was useful to me in the early part of my career. Now I'm finding that I've lost my taste for it.

By the way, I've been reading Churchill's history of the second world war for about five years. What volume and page should I be on? (Or should I be done with it by now?)

Edited: September 19, 2020, 12:01 PM · The OP is making the usual progress given her situation. Let’s think of the average student who practices 4 days a week for less than an hour, takes one 1-hour lesson a week, takes summer vacations, and sticks with it for 5 years. The quality of the teacher varies, and the innate ability of the student varies. But let’s think about averages, and:

Working on Vivaldi A minor is normal.
You won’t have a good vibrato.
Many children who are assigned Vivaldi A minor will not have learned 3-octave scales yet.
You won’t sound very expressive to anyone other than your own family members, who are being polite.

I think if you want to make more progress, be patient and keep playing. Recognize that improvement is incremental and requires persistence and mindful practicing. It’s a long-term project. Make sure you’re studying with a good teacher. Talk to your teacher about your goals. Ask for strategies on how to practice.

At your level and given your work schedule, practicing more frequently rather than doubling up on hours during a single session can be more helpful. Even if you can work on vibrato for 10 minutes on your “off” days, that can make more of a difference than adding 10 minutes to your other practice sessions.

September 19, 2020, 1:31 PM · OP, I am an adult beginner and had the same questions. Really, what I was asking, I think, was “Am I doing what I need to be doing, with the right teacher for me, given whatever talents and limitations I might have?” A few things helped me answer this. I attended a masterclass whenever possible- we live near a music school and some sessions are open to the public. When I was on vacation in a different state, I took a couple private lessons with a different teacher, and quickly realized that I had neglected some classical technique fundamentals, and that was hampering my progress. I started playing duets with friends (way before I thought I was ready to do that) and we learned from each other, and I could notice things that others were doing, and try to emulate those. And I sat in on some fiddle jam sessions, and started to understand what it means to play as part of an ensemble. I think the chance to play with other people is very helpful, both for learning and assessing progress and what’s possible— it’s harder when you’re a grown up, not in school with fellow students around. And I had to experience other teachers’ approaches before I could decide whether the teacher I had was a good fit. I looked for ways to try other approaches once in a while, without abandoning the teacher that I already had, who seemed ok to me, but really, how was I to know? (It’s the same difficulty in hiring any professional I guess, how do you know if your car mechanic, or doctor, or financial planner is any good? )
Edited: September 19, 2020, 3:17 PM · Paul, thank you, you gave me an idea of the perfect example.

After 5 years reading, in which page of this gigantic 1M pages book should I be?

There you go, that's more like the question asked here. Answer is: well, it heavily depends on how many pages you read each week.

You can come at me with statistics and everything you want, like "average Joe spends 3h per week reading, and average Jack reads 35 pages per hour, so there you have it, do the math and you get your magic number. WRONG, average Joe means nothing when we talk about individuals, means nothing to reading, which is quite a mechanical task, imagine applied to an art. Zero, nada.

Now lets add the teacher variable, which was missing. Instead of this 1M gigantic book, let it be a physics book, and the question that is similar to the original here would be:

After 5 years of reading this gigantic 1M pages physics book, in which page should I be, knowing that I can only go to the next chapter if I correctly understood the previous one and passed a test?

Answer: well, it hugely depends on how many hours per week you spent reading and studying, and who your teacher was. You could be stuck with a certain complex subject for weeks or months, while a teacher would solve all your questions and clear your mind in days.

After 5 years, students would be all over the place, why?
Becase the concept "5 years" is broad and means nothing, hence zero correlation between the subjects.

That's as clear as I can explain my point.

September 19, 2020, 3:59 PM · To get back to the OP's question, as a general rule of thumb, a student (whether child or adult) with halfway-decent teaching and at least 30 minutes of focused daily practice, can progress at the rate of roughly one ABRSM / ACM / AMEB grade per year, or one Suzuki book per year (through roughly book 7).

That progression estimation is with the expectation that the student is playing well given their level. i.e. by the end of their first year, they are playing with generally good intonation and a clean, listenable sound, and can produce crude dynamics -- but they don't necessarily have much beauty, color, and variety in their sound, their sound is imperfectly controlled, and they probably can only play music in the keys of G, D, and A.

Students can slop through a lot more notes if they're not developing a good technical foundation. :-)

September 19, 2020, 5:57 PM · See ... I'm not the only one who thinks Bach A minor is reasonable progress.
Edited: September 19, 2020, 10:32 PM · This is a useful chart, regardless of the age of the student:

Edited: September 19, 2020, 10:44 PM · Also, expression might be rooted in imagination, as Albrecht said, but imagination must be fed. Expression also is rooted, as Lydia said, in the technical tools of expression. I think you are both right. Imagination and the tools of expressing it are so intertwined, and they are definitely "teachable." That is to say that a teacher can teach the "tools of expression" and then also explore with a student how to use them, setting that student on the path to greater levels of self-expression. If you wish to increase your vocabulary, language-wise you need to read good books, then read better ones. You need to write, first badly, then better. You need to speak with people who speak well and imaginatively - and you need to speak back with them. It's a process. What drives me crazy is a teacher whose attitude is "My job is to give you technique to play, it's up to you to figure out how to express yourself." A teacher can and should do much more than that.
Edited: September 20, 2020, 4:43 PM · Is that real data Laurie? Or just someones imagined numbers. Real data should have error bars on the points. It just looks too good to be true...
Perhaps you could point me to the source?
[Background: I'm a scientist with more than an interest in statistics].
Edited: September 20, 2020, 6:19 PM · Businesses displaying statistics almost never put error bars on the data. (I say this as someone who works for a commercial market research firm and I can't think of the last time I saw error bars on research graphics except possibly things prepared for a strictly internal audience. I don't think most such graphics list a standard deviation, either, even if we use it internally.)

But I imagine anything with those nice neat linear plots comes out of a general estimate based on experience, not a rigorously analyzed data set. That chart lines up with my observations, as well.

Edited: September 21, 2020, 9:58 AM · The chart that Laurie shows is probably just someone's conjecture. Paul N would probably call it BS, and he wouldn't be far off.

That's the kind of graph that people should not make. It's misleading and harmful. The appearance of "data points" implies some kind of underpinning data, of which I doubt there is any, and the appearance of smooth curves (in this case lines) suggests that there is an underpinning theoretical model (in this case a linear relationship between book completion and time), which I bet is not the common experience of most Suzuki teachers.

Lydia wrote, "Businesses displaying statistics almost never put error bars on the data." I'm sure she's right, but I would also surmise that businesses have made grave mistakes because they failed to take error margins into account.

As election season looms, we hear polling data -- good news sources will give you the error margins, so that you can make a rough determination of whether the differences are likely significant.

All this stuff -- error margins, significant differences -- is bread and butter for Elise. I do not know it nearly as well as she does. However, I am currently teaching my first-year college chemistry lab course (for chemistry majors). Their first in-person lab exercise is to take all of the volume-measuring devices in their lab drawer (representative examples -- one beaker, one volumetric pipette, etc., a total of six devices) and weigh the water that the device contains (or delivers). Then in the second week (their "virtual" week this year), they learn how to use MS Excel to do *rudimentary* error analyses to assess the precision and accuracy of the devices. Of course in later courses they learn more sophisticated methods. All I'm trying to do is convey to them a general concept of how error analysis affects scientific conclusions. I wonder how this stuff is taught in the business college. I'm sure all the sophisticated analyses are presented -- but I wonder if the most basic concepts really come across. (Of course, I wonder the same about my students too.)


September 21, 2020, 2:13 PM · Well put Paul.
Edited: September 21, 2020, 2:20 PM · Is it even possible for a 4-year-old to practice for two hours per day, seven day per week for a whole year on the material in Suzuki Books 1 and 2? Is it advisable if their parent is not a musician and cannot easily identify bad habits and poor intonation?

Further it's highly improbable that every child's violin study proceeds with exactly the same level of commitment over a period of ten years. Some kids/parents are going to lose interest or burn out; other kids are going to take off once the repertoire gets more interesting. I would think most kids are going to have interest levels/commitment that vary over a ten year period.

As a social scientist who collects this type of squishy data, it would be very labor intensive (thus, expensive) to get an accurate account of how long a child practices each day for 10 years. Based on the cost alone, the chart is improbably an accurate representation of an actual research study. As a comparison, the tool we use to get data on eating habits is the 24 Dietary Recall. A test administrator elicits a research subject's food consumption over the previous 24 hours with verbal prompts. It's notoriously inaccurate due to social desirability bias and faulty recall, yet it's the best instrument we have to collect data on eating habits(food diaries are even more inaccurate). Short of calling a violin student each day for ten years and asking them how long they've practiced, you're not going to get accurate recall, and then, reporting will still be subject to social desirability bias.

September 21, 2020, 8:49 PM · When I was a Suzuki kid, my piano teacher (now a Suzuki teacher-trainer) had a big chart on her wall. Every week, a student had to come in and fill in how much they'd practiced every single day, in order to win prizes. This was a common thing in the program.

That had the effect of being able to see exactly how much the other students were claiming to practice. There were indeed young students doing two hours a day (and moving very fast as a result). And there was a dedicated kid doing three hours a day, seven days a week -- or more, from age five on. (Unfortunately, that kid failed to successfully make a professional career).

Edited: September 21, 2020, 9:10 PM · Perhaps the student failed to make a professional career, but did (s)he succeed to make music an enjoyable and productive part of his or her life? Or were they so burned out and bitter that they gave it all up?
September 21, 2020, 11:59 PM · I actually don't know. I lost track of them as a young adult. I haven't really kept in touch with my piano cohort in the same way as the violin / youth symphony cohort, where in addition to the FB connections there are nice alumni newsletters.
September 22, 2020, 2:34 AM · Maybe the kid is a astrophysicist now who is about to get a Nobel prize and not an absolute total failure?
Edited: September 22, 2020, 7:36 PM · Oh, I'd guess the kid is successful at something. You don't practice piano for three or four hours at a young age without being a certain type of personality, or without parents highly invested in your success.

(I would add that while many of my youth symphony mates actually went on to successful music careers, for the most part the ones that didn't go into music have become highly successful in some other profession. For instance, the last of my youth symphony stand partners has had a wildly successful career as a media executive for top Tv shows.)

September 23, 2020, 8:07 AM · Surely two minutes searching Facebook and LinkedIn would reveal this important information ...
Edited: September 23, 2020, 8:32 AM · BS/conjecture: Laurie's chart tells me that the Suzuki books are basically intended to be covered at a rate of about one a year - by an average hour-a-day student (half an hour a day if the student is talented). Hence the neatness of 10 books, 10 years. Maybe they have been actively designed using experience for that to be the usual outcome.
The rest is then their guess that double the practice will give double the progress, and so on. Unless they have found that by actual experience too.
September 23, 2020, 9:16 AM · Personally, I think there should be more than 10 books (like 12-13) in the Suzuki method if the student should be playing Mozart #4 in the end. There is a big gap between books 8 and 9. Maybe it's assumed that all kinds of supplemtal work has been done before reaching books 9&10.
September 23, 2020, 9:39 AM · The chart could not have been constructed from sampling of actual data (which would be self-reported, meaning bias and errors). And what does "completed" mean - slopped through the notes? mastered actual skills? played "perfectly" (whatever that means) and "with feeling"? what else besides "Suzuki pieces" is being worked on that is musically valuable and occupies practice time that would not be represented on the chart?

"30-60 min" is a big range...is it 30, or 60 (double!), or an average 45? 3 hours vs. 6 hours might not mean double the "progress" (diminishing returns) but at lower numbers, if it's close enough to double, you would not expect 30 and 60 to share the same y = x line.

However, generally speaking, the chart is close enough to my observations. At the top end of the practice spectrum, I have students that are: 7.5 years and at the end of book 7, 4.5 years and middle of 4, 3 years and end of 3. 2-2.5 years for book 1 is "fast" in my studio for book 1, typically age 4-5 and not even doing 30 min a day much less 60. And I did have the "4-5 years and still in book 1" types who pretty much practiced only in their lessons.

The story told in teacher training is: the Japanese kids in the mid 1900's were starting at age 2 and playing Vivaldi A minor by 6. By extrapolation, Mozart concertos can be reached by 10 and of course no one simply plays Mozart concertos for two years without doing other repertoire.

Edited: September 23, 2020, 10:16 AM · The chart is suspiciously linear, but this may be a deliberate simplification in order to give just a rough guide. And perfectly designed books might indeed iron out any non-linearity. But if that had been done, I'd expect the books to have gone through 10 or more editions!

@Rebecca. I doubt any method should aim for the stars - above a certain level everything needs to be designed according to the individual student's needs and not based on a one-size-fits-all sausage-machine approach.

Edited: September 23, 2020, 10:20 AM · Rebecca - yes, there is even an Association-provided list of supplemental repertoire recommended for books 6-8. I start "supplementing" in book 1 with additional by ear tunes (common strategy, I think) and easy ensemble parts that they can play and perform with studio orchestra, string orchestra in book 2, additional solo pieces in 3-4, 4-5 students are often also in outside youth orchestras or chamber groups, etc. Unlike in early days in Japan, American Suzuki teachers basically have to cover music reading, unless you wait for the piano teacher to do it or wait for school orchestra (5th grade, perhaps) to do it.

At some point, I had browsed Adventures in Violinland and bought a few to use as early reading supplements. As I understand it (someone who knows better can correct me), it's a 4-year series that gets to Vivaldi A minor level (middle of Suzuki 4). The younger you are or the less effort you put in, presumably you take longer to do the curriculum of each "year", which consists of 6 books, for a total of 24. It's going through books "quickly" because there are more of them vs. going through fewer books less quickly.

September 23, 2020, 10:46 AM · That makes sense...come to think of it, I don't know anyone who has only used Suzuki books and nothing else all the way through. I just thought it was interesting that there was a big gap after book 8.

As a side note, I remember as a kid my Suzuki teacher telling stories of students in Japan that would have tape recorders attached to them so they could listen to their pieces all day. Now that's taking it serously! I wonder how effective it was long term though.

Edited: September 23, 2020, 11:51 AM · Gordon, I'm afraid I can't let you get away with that; its positively Trumpian.
"The chart is suspiciously linear, but this may be a deliberate simplification in order to give just a rough guide." In science we call that fraud. A data plot only has one function: to communicate measured data. Making something up that looks like data is lying to the viewer, nothing else. Imagine if I made a chart that showed a perfect correlation between mask use and covid infection. It would imply that masks are an absolute preventative against covid. I don't think anyone would accept that as 'simplifying to give a rough guide' unless it was explicitly stated - on the graph so that the two could not be separated.

Edited: September 23, 2020, 1:03 PM · A graph does tend to imply a data-set in a way that a narrative necessarily doesn't. Very "truthy".

There's really nothing controversial about the idea that more practice yields faster results per pupil, but what the graph is attempting to communicate is a streeeetch.

September 23, 2020, 1:23 PM · It's not about where you should be for the amount of time you have been playing, it's about where you are and what you need to do to get where you want to be. If you are feeling like you want to progress faster, then something needs to change.

There are 3 major factors when it comes to progress. Instruction, practice effectiveness and the amount of time you practice. As an adult, time is often the less flexible option, so we have the effectiveness of that practice time and the effectiveness of your teacher. Those two are tied together as a good teacher will consistently evaluate your practice methods in order to put together the optimum curriculum for how much time you have.

Coming back to time, if you are practicing for an hour each session, progress may be slow. Roughly 15min of warming up, 15min of rehashing the sections of the piece you already know, 15min of working on new sections and improving technique and 15min of keeping up with previous pieces. I've always felt like an hour is a good amount of time for a beginner or to keep up with your chops, but not enough to progress quickly once you've been playing for a year or two. Adding 15-30min can make a huge difference in your rate of progress since you would spend that all on refining technique on the piece you are working on.

September 23, 2020, 3:45 PM · Perhaps the data scientists would be mollified if the graph didn't use the data point icons and had a more qualitative type presentation instead of quantitative, such as how Shar has the string chart that "plots" different brands on a continuum of "subtle to direct" and "warm to brilliant" with absolutely no numbers other than price ranges. Otherwise, how do you quantify subtle/direct or warm/brilliant? How do you quantify "completed" and "practice" (looking at minutes of practice, without substance of practice, is not the whole story)?

The chart serves the purpose for a Suzuki teacher who needs to have a dialogue with a student/parent about practice and "progress" "expectations" and the parent will accept a visual aid more readily than being told "you need to practice more" or "your current level is suitable/expected for what you are currently putting in".

As for "creative" uses of graphs, how about those "flatten the curve" depictions representing numbers of cases with and without interventions, healthcare system capacity, etc.? Those were not scientifically rigorous but they sure told a story. The projections were shown as bell curves, which is obviously not accurate either but another example of "deliberate simplification" to convey an overall concept and get people to change their behavior. On the joke front, there have been graphs made showing lower incidence/spread in countries where bubble tea is more popular. Not to be taken seriously!

My apologies to the OP for derailing the thread further so my final point: Yes, there are scientific standards but there are also contexts where it's unnecessary or unrealistic to expect them. How about "significant difference" - there is a statistical definition for that whereas it becomes a qualitative description in common use. "Average" not being used to mean an arithmetic mean or median, "depression" or "antisocial" not being used in the clinical sense, people being called naturally "talented" when really they've put in the work of an hour a day for 5 years, etc.

Edited: September 23, 2020, 4:22 PM · Some of the concerns with the graphic could be addressed if the title were more descriptive. The title is so vague that there is no way to tell if the graphic is anecdotal, empirical, or aspirational, or if it's trying to make a causal statement. A better title or subheading can help.

“Actual completion rates for 4 students in Teacher A’s studio”
“Suggested trajectories for typical students, based on a survey of teachers”

September 23, 2020, 4:26 PM · Paul: "Surely two minutes searching Facebook and LinkedIn would reveal this important information ..."

Actually, no. My former fellow student moved out of my home town and her parents are thus not part of my mother's extensive gossip network. :-) Tracking down women is often tough because they may change their name when they marry, and women may be less likely to work in professions that result in a LinkedIn profile. (I'm guessing my mom's network could probably tell me more, but an Internet search turns up nothing.)

(This person has an unusual last name and so I am reasonably confident that if they are to be found under that last name, they wouldn't be hard to find.)

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