My experience after completing three years of violin playing

October 29, 2021, 9:50 AM · Some years ago, another member wrote a post under exactly the same title. At that time I just started on the violin not long ago. I thought that if one day I made it pass my third year of violin playing, I will write similar post here.

The last three years has been quite eventful, especially because of some interruption caused by Covid. I am not sure if my experience will be interesting to anyone, but I will share some observations in my journey.

Major findings:
1. Time is always limited as a working adult with many obligations. However, with careful scheduling, I can find time every week to practice. The problem is I often felt burn out after work and can’t focus on the violin even if I have allocated the time for practice. Being able to work form home during the lockdown was the best thing happened to my violin playing because I can save the commute time and practise a bit in the morning and lunch hour when I am more sane. Sadly, we returned to the office most days in the week, so these days are limited. Also, I almost always have to play with a mute, and this is a downside for living in a crowded city. At the moment, I do whatever I can. However, I doubt this issue will be truly resolved until I retire, or I win a lottery.

2. Given that practice time is very limited, not having lesson cost me more in time and energy. Personally I do not like the term “violin teacher”. My “teacher” works more like a fitness trainer than a teacher to me. In a more traditional academic subject, your teacher tell you something you don’t know, then you know/learn. In violin, the issue I have is even when I know what I should be doing, I can’t execute the action correctly. It helps when there is someone there to provide some structure and encouragement to help me to build fitness (?) on the violin.

3. Everybody makes vibrato sound so mysterious, but it came to me naturally without much trying. In fact, I feel very comfortable with actions involving my left hand. However, my right hand is a mess. After three years of violin playing, I was told that my bow isn’t straight, the angle sometimes turn too far that the stick almost touch the string. My staccato doesn’t sound exactly staccato, because there is really no enough gaps between notes, etc. I think this will be the major focus for the next whatever month/year. I am trying to increase the exercise I do on string crossing, straight bow with mirror and sometimes with bow-rite. Sometimes these exercises are a bit dry. And even if I do it right in the exercise, I forget about them when I play repertoire and return to do the wrong/old ways.

4. I started playing the viola because that section is always short of people. Alto clef is not that hard. However, when I got panic, my mind always default back to the treble clef. Worse, sometimes I forget that I was holding a viola! I ran into situation that say the score has a note on the third line. On the alto clef, it should be the middle C. I got panic and read that as a B (which would be correct if it is treble), and play the first finger note on the third string. And that comes out the be a E on viola. Very embarrassing! However, my biggest problem with the viola is when I have time to practise, I always choose the violin over the viola. I am not sure what to do about this. I like the viola and really like to help out, but when it comes to the violin, there is not much of a competition.

5. The string orchestra I joined is good, but it is too easy to hide behind someone. Also, the section is big and the rehearsal is very chaotic and easy to get lost. I think it will be beneficial if I play in a smaller group, with more supervision from the teacher and feedback from other players. I think eventually I should look for a quartet, but I am not sure how to get to that step. Finding like-minded people with no drama and organization from space to teacher sound like a lot of work.

There is also a general sense of frustration that I am not learning/progressing fast enough. I am not sure why I feel this way. I am not that starry-eye late starter who dream of a music career one day. In fact, I am not interested in exam, formal level or that sort. I shouldn’t be in a rush to get to some level. Yet, it always feels that I progress really slowly?

Future Goal:
1. I would like to practise more efficiently. I won’t be able to find more time and I don’t think I will ever win a lottery. I need to avoid wasting time or procrastinate during practice.

2. In this country there is a good scene on folk music, people playing in Ceilidh band, early music, etc. They all sound quite interesting. I would like to explore the music options outside classical music.

3. When I feel more comfortable with my playing, I would like to find a small group to work on duet/trio/quartet work.

Hopefully some of you will post a 5-year, 10-year, x-year update. It was very motivating to read and see what other people are up to.

Replies (9)

October 29, 2021, 10:49 AM · thanks for sharing! keep up the good works!
October 29, 2021, 10:51 AM · "After three years of violin playing, I was told that my bow isn’t straight, the angle sometimes turn too far..."

Don't worry, that's what Simon Fischer says about some conservatoire students! Play in front of a mirror.

October 29, 2021, 10:56 AM · I agree with Paul about the mirror. I had this problem for way too long, and it wasn't until I really started doing a lot of practice with the mirror that it started to get corrected.
October 29, 2021, 11:16 AM · About your feeling your slow progress. You don't mention any repertoire you play now. So there is no way to say how your progress compares to other people's. However, yes, slow progress is an experience most of us have had. At any rate you are playing in an orchestra after three years of study. Not bad IMHO!
Edited: October 29, 2021, 1:48 PM · Overall, your experience sounds like mine in the first 5 years or so of learning (mostly) as an adult. (I'm almost 22 years in now after starting in my last year of high school.) I've had the opposite problem with staccato -- because I was self-teaching and learning mainly by playing in community orchestras, and cutting off early is not as bad as holding a note too long, I've had a tendency to play notes too short. I think most string students tend to think too much about fingering at the expense of the bow hand.

Over the years, I know I've gone back and forth between being amazed at how fast I'm progressing and frustrated at how slowly I'm progressing. A lot of this is the result of ears and technique being trained at different rates. At various times one overtakes the other. Some of it is also a result of moving up the tiers of community orchestras and encountering better players.

October 29, 2021, 7:20 PM · You seem to be making pretty good progress, so well done!

I'm just starting my fourth year of lessons on the violin. Before that, I mucked about for years on my own, and accomplished little except building some bad habits that have taken most of the last three years to correct. I'm just now getting to a point where I'm able to play in a relaxed way, with a good tone. On a recent post here, someone said that many students focus entirely on their left hand and don't see that the bow hand is probably more important. This was me exactly, and shifting my attention to tone, ease of movement, relaxation, etc made everything easier for my left hand, including intonation, which was a surprise.

I had about a year of lessons in 2006 or so, but I learned absolutely nothing, so I don't count that as part of my education. My teacher, I think, had no idea what to do with an adult beginner, and probably I was not as cooperative a student as I pretend I was. But the last three years of lessons, including a year via Zoom, have been amazing and I've actually begun thinking of myself as a violinist, not as someone who'd like someday to learn how to play. The last couple of lessons have been miraculous, really. I'm very happy.

I have no idea about what "level" I'm at. I'm not doing the Suzuki method. I've done most of Wolfahrt's 60 studies and have been working on some easier Kreutzer. I've played some Seitz concertos and the Vivaldi Am that seems to be de rigueur for everyone. Currently working on Borowski's "Adoration," the Beethoven G minor Romance, the Schubert sonatina in D, that sort of intermediate stuff. I practice about an hour a day, most days. I will never feel like I'm where I'd like to be in terms of technique, I'm sure. It's endless for most of us mortals. The mountain is so very high.

Anyway, three years of lessons under your belt is a good place to be. There are community orchestras where I live, but to be honest I don't so much like orchestral music, so I'm looking for chamber music opportunities. I work full time, so scheduling with a group is a problem. Last weekend I realized that I've spent over $9,000 on violin lessons with my current teacher so far. Worth every penny. I am rambling, sorry.

October 29, 2021, 7:37 PM · Greetings,
what a marvelous trip you are on. I really enjoyed reading this.
As I am sure you know, over the years, Simon Fischer has written a number of books that really do help the majority of people analyse their own playing and rapidly improve their technique, even in the absence of a teacher.
The best one of these is often said to be ‘The Violin Lesson’ I suspect in part because Simon grew so much as a writer it is a sheer pleasure to read aside from the mind boggling amount of information it contains. Nonetheless, I have a gut feeling that in your case his first book ‘Basics’ (which I personally used to reconstruct my technique from scratch after graduating from a ‘top’ British music institute might suit you. You come across to me as a thoughtful problem solver and the information in that book is priceless.
By the way, practicing with the mirror for a straight bow is invaluable but I wa salsa taught (and teach) another exercise which is equally, if not more powerful. That is, rest the screw of the bow on your music stand and the tip on a violin strin. Probably the a or d to begin with. Put your hand on this supported bow in the usual bow hold and then slide the hand up and down the stick. This will automatically make your body perform the necessary actions to draw a straight bow.
In real life we let our body adapt to the took rather than focusing on how to use our body in relation to it. (Do you think about your arm and hand when using a screwdriver?;))
Look forward to hearing more from you,
November 2, 2021, 11:45 AM · All, thank you very much for the replies and suggestion. I would like to reply to some of you, but I was away on a trip, so I am a bit slow.

@Buri, Thanks for suggesting that exercise. I had couple tries. It is interesting. I am more aware of that right shoulder tends to lean forward. My teacher mentioned about this before. I tried to correct it, but as soon as my violin is making a sound, I went back to the old way. I need to do this exercise in front of a mirror to check if the initial placement of the bow is straight, and hold the tip of the bow with my left hand, or else there is stretchy noise. I will work on this and see what else I notice. I have seen the "Basics" book in the library. I will take a look.

@Scott, Thanks for sharing your violin journey. I also started taking violin lesson with a teacher who is not experienced in teaching adult. I can't elaborate why I didn't feel motivated. I showed up in my lesson playing through the repertoire, then being told what is not good and what to do. I think it is what a typical lesson is like, but I wasn't motivated. I was only with him for a few months before Covid lockdown.

With my current teacher, I make sure I show up with questions. We have more discussion on how I practise, and what I find problematic and how I attempt to solve it. I wonder if it has to do with I am more involved in "problem discovery" than just being told what is good or not good.

I suppose there is no alternative to a good teacher. It all worths it in the end.

November 3, 2021, 7:19 PM · Showing up with questions is an excellent tactic for lessons, I think. I try to remember the biggest technical challenge I've had during the week and ask to address that. We move on to studies and repertoire after that, but there's a huge value, for me anyway, in discussing these problems in isolation. When I get to the study/rep I usually can feel how the technical work we started with has improved my playing on the pieces. After my lessons I try to write down what I learned (not necessarily what I was told, but what I actually am now able to apply to my playing). My first teacher just moved me through material, and we never talked about posture, bow hold, left hand shape, or any of that.

Regarding Buri's suggestion of Simon Fischer's books, I will say that I have three of them and aside from the discussion of structured intonation in "Scales," I don't think I've gotten much good out of them. Possibly they're above my head, and certainly most of the excerpts used to illustrate concepts are beyond my abilities. I know that I religiously worked on a couple of the tone/bowing exercises for a couple of years but I apparently misunderstood the instructions, because a lot of that is stuff I've had to relearn and correct with my current teacher. I'm sure the books are valuable to players with more experience than me.

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