High Level Pre-college Kids

Edited: January 9, 2021, 11:19 PM · Hey everyone, I know this has probably been discussed ten million times, but I know there are many really talented young children who play at a high level e.g playing a beautiful Tchaik Concerto at age 12. Were these children just naturally gifted from the get go at age 4 or 5, or did they just practice really hard starting at age 7-9? Were these children pushed hard by their parents or did they just want to practice by themselves? I'm sure it's a combination of factors but just curious.

Replies (12)

January 10, 2021, 9:58 AM · While there are exceptions, the vast majority have some of the following characteristics. 1) One or both parents are musicians. 2) Family is wealthy. 3) Child was started in a high quality program with a high quality teacher before age 5. 4) Practice was required and extensive.

Beyond that, despite what Suzuki said, there are kids who are just naturally gifted in a variety of ways. You can nurture these skills but some are just better than others with them. The ways that help with violin include high-level fine motor skills, ability to memorize, high pitch sense (ie perfect pitch +), and high level of focus or determination.

There have been some interesting studies on child violin prodigies that show a large percentage were pushed really hard and peaked in early adolescence, and then burned out.

January 10, 2021, 9:59 AM · By the way, there is a book called Producing Excellence that explains all this better than I did above.
Edited: January 10, 2021, 6:00 PM · Well, I started violin not that long ago, 4-5 years ago. I think I'm a form of "talented" for my age, 13. For the first two years I think, I did practice some, but it was never a priority to practice every day until last year, when I began to have my orchestra class every day. My parents never forced me to practice, and they still don't because I choose to do it by myself, working hard on what I play.

I had been able to play Méditation from Thaïs last year, but recently I have been focused more on Bach Chaconne and Czardas and forgot about it. I don't believe I'm necessarily "talented" from when I started, but that may be a factor. For me, though, I have gotten much better through sheer hard work and practice.

That could be different for other high level kids, though, they could have just been naturally talented and didn't need to work hard. They could also have been an average player but worked really hard to get to where they want. Everyone's different.

January 10, 2021, 6:02 PM · Greetings,
well, I hope he doesn’t mind, but reading his blog, Nathan Cole seems to he a been one of the laziest practicers on the planet until his late teens. I guess he became a master violinist through sheer talent and good teaching. Never underestimate the importance of -not being taught badly.-
Edited: January 10, 2021, 9:03 PM · I can't really speak for Nathan Cole but I did take his course last summer and I enjoyed it. If he offers it again this summer, I recommend it as well worth the fee. My "sense" of his description of his own trajectory as a young violinist was that he somehow managed to be admitted to an excellent conservatory and quickly discovered how far behind he was. He also realized that practicing 6 hours a day wouldn't catch him up because everyone else was doing that already. As I recall, he claims to have, by sheer necessity, discovered and developed his own practice techniques that yielded equivalent results in less time. My suspicion is that he simply had very high levels of native talent and intellect that his childhood teachers (and his parents) did not fully excavate. (I further suspect that as a kid from nowhere special, he didn't feel as entitled or boastful as his more pedigreed peers but went about the business of improving -- quietly but with great determination.) I believe some of Nathan's self-discoveries are now the basis of his own proprietary teaching methods. From participating in his course I can attest that some of his approaches are unconventional by common standards. For example he does not advocate swinging one's elbow back and forth under the violin to reach notes on different strings, which was an elementary feature of what I was taught, and I actually scold myself for getting lazy about it. Nathan says that he basically figured out that he doesn't need to do that, so it's a waste of motion, and you can't do it fast anyway. To a point, it works. (For me, it does not work for the Bach E Major Praeludio, as a frustrating counterexample.) Nathan also advocates a lot of self-experimentation regarding what he calls "Minimum Violin Pressure" which is a simple idea on the surface, and not original to him, but what he is really advocating (I infer) is a deep dive into developing finger sensitivity -- and your listening skills (Fischer would agree entirely there) -- so that you can control your left-hand finger pressure very finely to meet instantaneous needs. I further submit that the two skills I have just mentioned seem closely correlated. I hope I have not misrepresented anything Cole stands for as I have nothing but respect and admiration for him and his methods.
January 10, 2021, 11:13 PM · Even Suzuki acknowledges in his books that some kids got stuff right away, and other kids were a labor of months or years to be able to get to some basic playing competence.

One might phrase it as, "All children are talented, but some children are more talented than others"...

January 11, 2021, 2:12 AM · Hi Paul,
yes Nathan is awesome. When I listen/watch him I am always awed by his practical economy of movement which translates into the most wonderful playing. I think from what you describe he basically arrived at the same place as Simon in that mastering the violin is basically self-adjustment and experimentation with proportions in relation to the basic essentials of music. The reason so much practice appears to be necessary for so many people a lot of the time is because a lot of repetition and no actual adjustment is taking place. . Doing just what is needed is a rare talent.
January 11, 2021, 10:43 AM · Nathan Cole claims to be one of the laziest practicers on the planet, but my sense is that that sentence is relative to the myriad of talent he was up against.

He was well on his way to working on the major Romantic rep by the ripe old age of 12. There's definitely value in evaluating the most effective practice techniques, especially given limited time and mental focus that is more endemic in adults than young prodigies, but Nathan Cole was already a very good violinist by the time he hit conservatory.

January 11, 2021, 1:52 PM · Thanks guys, this all makes sense :)
January 11, 2021, 2:43 PM · Buri wrote, "mastering the violin is basically self-adjustment and experimentation with proportions in relation to the basic essentials of music."

Yes! And I believe the successful student is the one who will do this with a combination of sensitivity and a thoroughly scientific (or at least systematic) approach to exploration of the myriad parameters and their mutual relationships.

Just two days ago I was re-reading a passage in Fischer's book "The Violin Lesson" and I was somehow very struck by the section on listening. For the curious, it's at the top of p. 57. I just thought to myself, "Sure, I have weaknesses in physical skill that will take time to overcome, but listening better is something I should be able to do right now." So at my next practice I took a step back to two of my all-time favorite studies (K8 and K10) to work on listening better. I think it's going to bear fruit for me.

January 11, 2021, 3:13 PM · I think a few basic principles help for learning violin:

-Practicing "beginner's mind" helps us to hear new things to practice in the things we've been doing for years, like scales and arpeggios.
-Letting relaxation underlie everything we do encourages not only economy, but the attitude and lack of tension that allows us to have confidence in our learned movements, and above all, an emerging relaxed sound (because I think you can hear tension in someone's playing). Keeping relaxation in mind also helps to get through the times when new movements feel ungainly, until they become more and more relaxed with mindful repetition.
-Letting the sound you want guide your hands means seeing technical considerations as merely a means to an end, and allows us to develop our imagination for what we want to express.

All of these factors encourage us to drop the technical solutions that are not universal, and not get tied into knots trying to imitate the idiosyncrasies of great players, and instead develop our own particular idiosyncrasies.

January 12, 2021, 7:13 PM · As an extraordinarily lazy practicer as a kid, but with exacting teachers that gave long lessons, a significant percentage of my time spent with a violin in a given week would be in circumstances of active instruction. That had the efficiency of having relatively little opportunity to do something incorrectly.

Those who can meet with a teacher twice or more a week have huge advantages.

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