How long does it usually take for a complete novice to go to mid-high level repertoire?

March 25, 2021, 7:27 PM · For music teachers out there:

What's the average amount of time, in your opinion, that it takes for a complete beginner (who might know how to read sheet music already) to go from learning how to hold a violin to playing mid to high level repertoire along the lines of Wieniawski 2/Vieuxtemps 4,5/Saint-Saens 3?

I know it probably seems like an oddly specific question, but I guess I'm trying to have a good idea of how long students playing these pieces have been studying violin.

Replies (50)

March 25, 2021, 7:55 PM · Greetings,
I know why people use expression like ‘mid level repertoire,’ and it can be a good rule of the bow. But , honestly speaking these are just standard works that you can either play or you can’t. Trying to classify works in such a way always seems to me a rocky road to nowhere in particular.
The question is. a good one but it depends on so many factors. If a student is willing to follow directions exactly (this is often not the case) , doesn’t make any errors and has a natural facility for the instrument they may be able to play these works within 3-4 years. However, 5 plus is a more realistic figure in my book.
Cheers,
Buri
Edited: March 26, 2021, 11:28 AM · If you're asking for a population-statistical average for children who start in a Suzuki program sometime during grammar school, 5 years is definitely on the low side from what I have seen. If you're asking what's *possible* for a bright, unusually mature, 6-year-old child who loves the violin and wants to spend every waking moment practicing but is not a blithering prodigy, and who has a great teacher and supportive parents, as well as peers with whom (s)he can compete, then 4-5 years is possible. If you're asking for yourself and you're in your mid-40s, the answer is probably never.
Edited: March 25, 2021, 8:53 PM · The 8 year olds you see playing them have all been practicing for at least 12 years. Don't be fooled by their stature; they're all Buddhists, so they've had at least a couple of reincarnations to get it right.

I've been pretty hard at work for about 9 years and have gone from Viotti 23 to Mendelssohn in that time, but kids can move a lot faster, and there's plenty of individual variability.

But I'm not a teacher - I just like giving my opinions!

Edited: March 25, 2021, 8:59 PM · The vast majority of students never reach there.

In another thread not that long ago, someone posted a breakdown of British ABRSM exams that were taken. 90% of those who take ABRSM exams never go beyond Grade 5, which is roughly lower-intermediate, and only about 2% ever take a Grade 8 exam (highest numbered grade), which is still not quite at the point where one would attempt the concertos mentioned.

I would guess 10-15 years for a reasonably motivated student without unusual talent or an unusually musical environment, assuming that they continue playing that long and practice regularly for the entire time. 3-4 years is certainly possible but rare. Any young children playing those concertos are extreme outliers.

(Caveat: not a teacher, just an experienced amateur player.)

March 25, 2021, 10:24 PM · Note the difference between the assumptions I stated for an "average" student, and the conditions Paul stated for reaching that repertoire in 4-5 years. I think Paul made it sufficiently clear that such conditions are not the norm.
March 26, 2021, 12:17 AM · I deleted my responses due to half-heartedly responding to the prompt.
March 26, 2021, 12:49 AM · Similarly, I deleted some of mine because the posts they were addressing are no longer in the thread.
March 26, 2021, 1:12 AM · I deleted my wife with a cream cake last night.
Edited: March 26, 2021, 3:43 AM · It just maybe the 10,000 hour theory.
That's an average of (I think) 2 hours a day for 15 years, or 3 hours a day for 10 years.

I was asked "does my daughter practice" enough? I replied "No, even I don't practice enough! She learns in 5 minutes what others learn in 30..but she still has to do the 30 to make it stick in all circumstances"

March 26, 2021, 7:19 AM · if you believe progress videos on youtube it takes about a year??
March 26, 2021, 10:11 AM · Those aren't "mid-high". Those pieces are solidly advanced -- i.e. students who are playing the traditional concert-hall repertoire played by professionals. Most students will never play those works. Of the ones who do, most will take 10+ years to reach that point.
Edited: March 26, 2021, 11:05 AM · I'm not sure about those pieces. I think it takes a while to play the Bach E major and Kreisler PnA at a high level (two highlights of the Baroque and pseudo Baroque repertoire).
Edited: March 26, 2021, 11:32 AM · I was going to say define "playing".
And Raymond adds "at a high level".
I was going to reply, it takes 5 years to play them like someone who has been playing for 5 years and it takes 10 years to play them like someone who has been playing for 10 years.
I'm not being helpful, I know.
I'll go with the people who say 10 years, on past experience and instinctually feeling the consensus. Maybe 8 or 9. After going to conservatory I'd have graduated after 10 years of piano.
It took Menuhin 9 years to get his first gig.
Edited: March 26, 2021, 3:53 PM · Only those with the right combination of natural abilities can develop the talent to get that far. It's like asking how many years does it take to play for an NBA team?

I've been playing with other violinists all my life and the only ones who could play at that level - such that you would bother to listen to them do it - were paid to stand up in front of us and do it.

The one that I knew at her beginning took 6 years from when I first heard her and 9 years after her start at age 3 before she got her solo opportunities with big time orchestras (LA and NY Phil) and came back to solo again with ours as well - she was 12 years old then. She will be 50 this year and I still try to buy all her recordings.

I think more of us (than are willing to admit) PLAY AT some higher level rep. But we know it will never leave home.

March 26, 2021, 12:51 PM · For an average person, at least 10 Years of regular lessons with qualified teachers and dedicated practice. For most, NEVER.

I had about 10 years of lessons as a child. I returned in 2016 as an adult and have had regular lessons in the last 4 years. I probably could try Saint-Saens 3 next, but am less sure about others.

March 26, 2021, 3:51 PM · I would estimate 7--10 years of work, assuming all the factors are in place: talent, good teaching, consistent practice without long interruptions, parental financial support, starting young, and a little bit of luck. A good performance of those concertos puts you into the advanced/professional class, and only about half of those actually become professionals. 9 out of 10 beginners drop out early.
On a common 10-level technical scale only 1 in a 100 make it to the finish line.
March 27, 2021, 7:13 AM · For most adults : never ! Sorry to say it but it is true.
Edited: March 27, 2021, 2:13 PM · And it is not just students. I would say many (most?) of those who hang out their shingles as "violin teachers" are not qualified to teach these concertos for the simple reason that they have not, at any point in their careers, played these works at an acceptable level.
Edited: March 28, 2021, 11:19 AM · I'd be happy if after 15yrs I could play Twinkle Little Stars virtuosically! I agree with those who said define play, and I'd add, starting at what age and what level of natural aptitudes. If one possess the aptitudes that a top soloist must have to succeed, it's one thing, but for the average player, quite another, then add to that the level of dedication and quality of practice/teaching received. I know for one that I will never, nor do I aspire to, achieve this level of playing no matter what efforts I put into it.
March 28, 2021, 11:14 PM · David, the fact that they have not played those concertos doesn't only mean that they're not qualified to teach them. It also means they're not qualified to teach substantially lower-level repertoire. To teach a subject of any sophistication you need to be (or have been, at some point in your life) well above the level that you're teaching.
Edited: March 30, 2021, 12:05 AM · You can find YouTube examples of videos that have passed the Suzuki "comprehensive" audition (Mozart 4 or 5), required to take teacher training for all 10 books. The playing level is somewhat instructive. For instance, here's a passing Mozart 4 from an individual whose SAA profile indicates he's taken training up through book 8:

[EDIT: Direct link removed. Search "Suzuki violin comprehensive audition" on YouTube.]

March 29, 2021, 2:27 AM · Lydia, for the European Suzuki Association, that recording would definitely not lead to certification.
March 29, 2021, 2:37 AM · Of course, I don't think David is saying those teachers even claim to teach advanced students. Most of the teachers I've encountered do not teach beyond lower intermediate level. They're not obstructing anyone as long as they know their limits and can refer their students to someone else at a certain point. I assume David is just citing them as evidence of the rarity of students reaching the repertoire in OP's question.
Edited: March 29, 2021, 3:00 AM · Looking up the individual in the video Lydia linked to: this is also rather instructive on the quality of playing that can get a violin performance degree at some schools. It's certainly not what I expect to hear from someone with a MM in violin performance whose major teachers include an ICSOM orchestra's concertmaster... but at the same time I also realize that those lines on his resume don't necessarily mean what they imply at first glance.
March 29, 2021, 5:42 AM · European Suzuki training demands that teachers can demonstrate improvements at the level for which they will be certified. Describing or demonstrating fragments is useful, but insufficient. We must obtain instant improvements and add instructions for personal practice. But there are five levels of certification.

Edited: March 29, 2021, 8:51 AM · One of the fundamental principles of any "certification" process is that the organization certifying the individual receives payment.
Edited: March 30, 2021, 4:07 AM · Far worse than I expected, even with my knowledge of the state of guitar pedagogy in the USA.

Let's just say that the only teachers I have ever had have had performer's diplomas from the RAM or the RCM, and it's going to stay that way.

March 29, 2021, 10:14 AM · Huh. I find the playing in the Mozart 4 audition link somewhat puzzling. It seems that simply practicing with a metronome would vastly improve this performance.
March 29, 2021, 11:26 AM · I would prefer to perform publicly than post a video!
March 29, 2021, 11:47 AM · Lydia - I wish I could unsee that one. I feel most sorry for the poor student who has been led to believe that he has completed a solid base in violin. Can you imagine if he now went to audition for a good community orchestra or, worse, to get into college based on this? Should be grounds to sue to get his tuition back.
Edited: March 29, 2021, 12:55 PM · Based on my own experience and that of other musicians I know, with Suzuki teacher training auditions, I am surprised that the video passed the audition. Unfortunately I think it can be variable based on who hears each audition video. (And also, to those criticizing his performance, it is possible that he had never played this concerto before and threw it together in a couple weeks for the audition, he may have played a polished Saint-Saens 3/Bruch, etc. after a semester or two of practice, this is clearly not his master’s degree recital).

However, there is a lot of discussion on here about teachers needing to be extremely strong conservatory graduated performers who can play Paganini and Tchaikovsky Concertos at the drop of a hat, which in my personal experience is just not true. Yes, a certain level of playing is necessary to teach (especially if you want to teach beyond intermediate level), however, I have seen damage done to students by players who can play circles around me, but have no clue how to teach and students from teachers who are mediocre players who play decently. It is definitely important to know when to send students on (and I would argue that has as much to do with the student’s goals as their actual level) -I am primarily a violist who also teaches violin, and when I had a high school student who was approaching my limit for violin (but not yet there) express an interest in majoring in music, I helped her find a new teacher by the end of the semester.

Edited: March 29, 2021, 1:03 PM · The concern for Lydia's link above is, IMO, less so that the player cannot execute Mozart 4 at a high level.

The problem is that some of the fundamental basics of playing and tone production seem to be lacking. It's one thing to struggle with intonation when executing Mozart 4 in a recital (wouldn't we all?), it's another to not be able to play 16th notes in rhythm, or vary your bow stroke to express different colors in music, on top of the intonation things (seriously, bro, if you're having a bad day, just do a second take).

With the level of playing, I'm not even convinced they could execute Bach A minor at a level where I would want a (potential) child learning from. I'm no crack player, but I can fairly confidently say I could probably pull off a better Mozart 4 (having not even looked at the sheet music in almost 2 decades) sight reading, and I would never consider myself at a level to honestly teach it.

After all, there are thousands of teachers out there who mostly get students started, and since most students mostly don't progress to Mozart 4 and 5, as long as the teacher knows their own personal limitations and when to recommend a more advanced instructor, I personally wouldn't worry too much that they can't execute a passable Mozart as long as the teacher was upfront about their limitations and their willingness to refer to colleagues. My first "real" private teacher back when I was a kid I can almost certainly wouldn't be able to execute a Mendelssohn or Bruch in a performance setting, but was able to realistically get me through about half of Suzuki before moving me on to someone else.

@Ingrid

I agree. My current teacher studied Pag 1 in conservatory, but never performed it, and there is no way she could play it now for a recital in any context. At some level, barring a professor or music, we have to accept that many teachers simply cannot play some of the repertoire at performance level, but can still give very valuable advice and be a resource for improvement. My teacher played Ysaye 3 for a Masters recital, and no way would she play it these days, but the hours of lessons and sheet music notes from her teacher [XXX], who I'm fairly sure may have gotten those notes from one of Ysaye's students, are worth their weight in...uh...tonewood.

In ideal scenarios, given unlimited search time and financial resources, the best bet for an advanced student would be a teacher who has successfully taught a Tchaikovky or Pag 1 at a high level to students who advanced to good conservatories/competitions, but there is always fit with the student to consider.

March 29, 2021, 1:11 PM · I would also say that most teachers are not necessarily playing concertos at a high level too many years after school. Most freelancing just doesn’t require that level of playing, but you still have to do some practice to learn the notes. Add in a few hours of teaching a day, a family, etc.. and it’s just not realistic to constantly hold yourself to those standards. Unless you are a university professor who teaches students at that level constantly you aren’t likely to have more than a handful of students past maybe Suzuki book 6 at any given time.
Also, some players are better than others at teaching closer to (or in a few cases even beyond their own level of playing), you can understand how to execute and explain a technique without necessarily being able (or needing to) to execute the entire concerto movement at tempo without significant practice.
Edited: March 29, 2021, 3:38 PM · I was a Suzuki student and I still concentrate on tone production. The famous "singing tone." A singing tone can cover many sins in my experience. I'll never be at a high level but I can at least not cause people to wince with my tone.
March 29, 2021, 4:34 PM · This has really digressed but I feel a need to point out it would be better to remove personally identifying references. I know that individual in passing from a Suzuki institute and have some knowledge of that school, having played in their affiliated orchestras both as a community member and a hired contractor. Those of you who are aware of my non-performing background might find that incongruent. Something that their music department is particularly known for is the multiple woodwinds program.

If people want to ruminate further, I'll think about unearthing my violin intermediate and cello basic auditions because it would be fair to post my own stuff. They are on YT but they are UNLISTED!

March 29, 2021, 5:17 PM · Greetings,
as an aside, we are talking about whether competent teachers/professionals -playing- or -performing- the Tchaikovsky concerto. Let’s not forget that soloists play these works day in day out (or they used to). A hard working University graduate may not be performing the Tchaikovsky but they will be (if smart enough:)) using small excerpts from the repertoire to keep their playing as solid as possible given life style constraints.
Cheers,
Buri
Edited: March 29, 2021, 6:03 PM · “ It is definitely important to know when to send students on (and I would argue that has as much to do with the student’s goals as their actual level) .”

I hope I am not misreading this: It appears to imply that as long as the the goal of the student is not going to a conservatory and not trying to be a pro, it is ok to string him/ her along even though the student should clearly go to another teacher.

To me, it is clearly not ok.

Edited: March 29, 2021, 8:16 PM · David- I actually meant that as the opposite to how you interpreted it. At least for me, I have a point where I generally send my violin students on regardless of their goals. However, if a student decides before they reach that point that they want to get very serious about violin, I would consider sending them on earlier.

I know I have my limits as a violin teacher because I don’t know a lot of advanced-level repertoire (I do have a master’s in viola performance). However, sending a student to a high-level teacher who expects a minimum commitment of a couple hours practice a day isn’t going to serve a student who wants to keep playing at an intermediate level on 30 minutes of practice and devoting the majority of time to sports and schoolwork (they would likely end up quitting the violin all together).
Another student at the same level with the goal to study music in college and willing to put in the time should absolutely go to the high-level teacher as soon as possible.

Edited: March 30, 2021, 12:10 AM · I would have blinded the identity of that video if I could have, but I think it's instructive to see the video rather than just hear the audio. It's a fully-public video posted under the gentleman's full name, and it's the first thing that comes up on a YouTube search for "Suzuki violin comprehensive audition". I also deliberately did not criticize it in my post; it's intended as a reference level, not as an indictment.

(That said, I'll edit my post to remove the direct link. The other audition videos are interesting also, especially if you look at the standard and intermediate auditions, with Bach A minors of wildly varying quality, and more worrisomely, Seitz concertos of wildly varying quality.)

The SAA, at least, is clear that the expectation for a comprehensive audition (Mozart 4 or 5) is that the work be played at the level of someone who possesses an MM. The gentleman, looking up his bio, does indeed possess an MM.

I previously posted my own Suzuki audition video (Mozart 5, passed), done hastily (9 hours to learn over the period of a month). It's not great playing, but it's at tempo, in tune, and stable: LINK. (I posted it publicly in full knowledge that it could have rocks thrown at it, which it has, with one-third of the votes thumbs-down. Back when I was looking for audition videos to get an idea of a passing playing level, it would have been useful to have had more examples. I still have no idea where my own video falls in the spectrum of playing the SAA receives for the comprehensive.)

There's probably a whole separate digression on how long it should take a professional to learn a concerto to a casually listenable level -- i.e. at tempo, stable enough that the whole thing can be played in a clean take on a video, even if more than one take might be necessary.

March 30, 2021, 12:41 AM · AndrewH made an important point - Google the man! This has nothing to do with Suzuki and everything to do with his claim that he has a masters in violin performance!
Edited: March 30, 2021, 2:18 AM · Gordon, I'm not exactly sure what point you are attributing to me.
Edited: March 30, 2021, 3:23 AM · My first reaction to the video was not to denigrate the player, it was surprise at the level of SAA accreditation, compared to the obstacle-race elaborated by the ESA, who want to avoid any notion of amateurism amongst our teachers.

We often teach above our accreditation. But if we give a lesson on fragments of a work we have never studied, our limited demonstrations will still be both precise and attractive.

Edited: March 30, 2021, 3:29 AM · @Andrew

Above you say "Looking up the individual in the video Lydia linked to: this is also rather instructive on the quality of playing that can get a violin performance degree at some schools. It's certainly not what I expect to hear from someone with a MM in violin performance"

I assumed from the continuation of the Suzuki and teaching theme that people hadn't looked him up and hadn't absorbed the implications of what you say.

March 30, 2021, 3:43 AM · P.S. @Lydia, I agree with anonymising it, and I suspect the best way might be to download the video, convert the mp4 to an mp3 (I used to have free conversion software, but it's been some years, and I don't know what it's called any more), then upload the mp3.
March 30, 2021, 4:02 AM · I don't doubt that he has a MM. I am not in any way accusing him of dishonesty. I have no interest in embarrassing the violinist; note that I do not mention him, his alma mater, or his teacher by name.

But I was surprised that the Suzuki Association considered that a good enough performance to certify him to teach Mozart, and it leaves me wondering how many other people are out there teaching with violin performance degrees of dubious value.

Edited: March 30, 2021, 4:18 AM · In support of the man and Suzuki and so on, lots of music can be prescribed both for ABRSM grade 8 and also for a performer's diploma, e.g. the Mozart oboe concerto (I also noticed some Villa Lobos in the guitar syllabus). The playing will be at two different levels, and many teachers can teach it at the grade 8 level. Presumably, that's the level at which Suzuki teaches this kind of thing, albeit exhaustively, whereas for grade 8 you'd only do a single movement of a concerto. But I guess Suzuki's exhaustiveness is intended to take you beyond grade 8 and some way towards a basic diploma.

The fact that there are many people who duck out of Suzuki before the end is a separate discussion, and we've had it before, but is it so unrelated?

March 30, 2021, 4:22 AM · Yes, I'm aware of that -- keep in mind that I do have a DipABRSM in piano performance. But the difference between Grade 8 and Diploma examination standards seems like a moot point here.
Edited: March 30, 2021, 5:01 AM · Not moot, because when I say "performer's diploma", I'm referring to the old name for FRAM and FRCM diplomas. (LRAM used to be known as a "teacher's diploma". I don't know what ARAM was called). My point was that a Suzuki teacher is probably more qualified to teach at grade 8 or ARAM level than at FRAM level. If I have the details wrong, I don't think that's the point.

P.S. You'll notice that I have removed referencing and offensive material from my posts.

March 30, 2021, 9:42 AM · The gentleman apparently posted a Tchaikovsky performance video on v.com in the past; the commentary he received focused heavily on his unstable intonation. That suggests that these are probably persistent technical challenges for him, but it also suggests that one can get to a certain level without having truly mastered fundamental technique. As we keep telling students on v.com, the measure of skill is not so much what you play as how well you play it.

As far as I know the key difference between the SAA and ESA is that SAA merely registers the existence of training. To get training registered you do need to pass the audition to take the training for credit, but the bar for that is demonstrably not high. By contrast, ESA actually certifies the teachers -- a much higher bar and investment in time.

March 30, 2021, 12:12 PM · Thanks, all, for the increased discretion.

Extracting audio from video is doable in VLC (done - timely as I needed to find this out for another project).

The string program at that school has been seriously gutted. I'm not familiar with the full history but as of a few years ago, there was exactly one performance major among the student string players in the orchestra.

Perhaps if I ever submit Mozart, I'll report back.


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