Farewell and thank you to the community

December 29, 2021, 11:38 AM · It's been more than 4 years since I first picked up the violin. I hit a brick wall in just a year then couldn't find myself enjoying playing the instrument anymore. My brain has been programmed to press a very specific part of the violin when I see a note at a certain location. Change in scale moves things around and throws me off so much that I start making too much errors. My tiny brain can't handle scales, sadly. I told myself that if I played again it won't have anything to do with reading music sheets, but that also hasn't really happened after all these years.

I decided that instead of having hope of possibly playing it again, I'll just set myself free of feeling like a failure and this guilt of having spent a decent fortune for my instruments and lessons. I'll just consider the whole experience as "completed". I knew coming in that this instrument will be very difficult and will require dedication and commitment. I tried but my best is not good enough. That is fine.

I always tell myself it's better to have tried and failed than not try at all. I learned a lot and I'll always carry those positive lessons. I suppose instruments are just not for me, but overall the experience really made me appreciate musicians a lot now that I know how much effort and skills it takes to be good at them.

I'm super appreciative of this community. Many thanks! Please continue to help and support beginners like me many years ago.

P.S. I've grown attached to my violin and bow. Will be hard to sell and let them go haha. Doesn't seem like I will ever have a kid to pass them on to but they are also too expensive (~$2500USD total for everything) for me to just pass on to someone.

Replies (30)

December 29, 2021, 11:40 AM · Best wishes to you. You are right about the lessons learned and I hope many people take those to heart. I’m so impressed with your positive take on the entire experience.
December 29, 2021, 1:07 PM · Dont give up, you dont have to read music to play the violin, try fiddle music, some of the best fiddlers cant read a note of music? play for fun, you dont have to be at any kind of level, just enjoy playing for playings sake, dont listen to other peoples opinions they dont mean anything. 4 years is nothing, fiddlers are mostly self taught, lessons are not for everyone, regardless of what anyone tells you. go on Your own and enjoy yourself.
Edited: December 29, 2021, 2:25 PM · John, also, whatever you have decided, continue to watch and listen to music, but especially, to violinists. It matters not the genre...jazz, baroque, kletzmer, classical or romantic, you are now an insider and listen with specially tuned ears and eyes.

Best wishes!

Edited: December 29, 2021, 3:32 PM · Hi John,

While I agree with the other comments thus far in this thread (your life really is much richer now for the experience), I also want to add something (please forgive me if you've heard all this before, but if you have, there's a reason!):

We all go through it. Even Heifetz went through it (he must have, or he would never have been such a good teacher). There's a few other technical options you might be willing to consider if you haven't already:

1) if it's just scales specifically, remember that it's all just patterns -- finger patterns. I'm sure you already know this, but sometimes people don't think of it this way: for example, 2 octave G major (not counting the open string G for clarity):
1 23 4
1 23 4
12 3 4
12 (3 4)

The numbers that are close to each other are the semitones. If you're doing 3-octaves or anything with shifts, just note the place where the shift is with an 'S'.

Go ahead and write down the finger patterns for several (or all) 2- or 3-octave scales, which ever you prefer, on a blank piece of paper and you'll see how it all fits together.

The point of this exercise is so you can free your brain from having to focus on a written note when playing scales. You already KNOW what a major scale SOUNDS like, right? Melodic or harmonic minor? So that means you know where the whole- and semi-tones fall intuitively. The finger patterns are just a way to get there. So choosing from a small number of common finger patterns, you can play any scale in any key without having to refer to written music.

2) If the problem isn't just getting scales under your fingers, but passages, there's a myriad ways to put those together too. What are passages made up from? Scales, arpeggios.

The tried-and-true metronome at a slow speed, then gradually pick up the pace is one. Another is to take the troublesome passage, maybe break it down to one measure, or even just a few notes from that measure, at a time and "play around with it": different tempo, different rhythm. Maybe if you're so-inclined (and I love doing this), improvise a little riff using that phrase that's giving you trouble. It puts it into a different musical context, which can sometimes open doors.

Make jazz with it! Or bluegrass! Have fun with it. Do the same thing with ordinary scales. Then go back and try again with the passage/scale as written and see if anything's changed. I wonder how J. S. Bach. would feel knowing I've turned some of his music into bluegrass riffs when practicing? I like to think he'd have thoroughly enjoyed it (I know I did). Improvise frequently -- it's liberating and you learn a lot from it.

3) Just walk away for a week. Don't touch the instrument for a week. If you're overthinking things, get it out of your head for a "vacation".

Sorry for the long-winded post, and again sorry if this isn't anything new to you (I cannot assume what someone knows or has already tried). But, after 4 years of time invested, don't let some stumbling blocks stop you if you really want to learn. Maybe a different teacher could help.

Whether you choose to continue or stop, as others have said, you've gained a lot. You're one of us now :)

December 29, 2021, 4:20 PM · Erin, thats a great post, I am probably one of the worst players you ever heard, but I just couldnt live without the fiddle now, and am saddened when I think someone is going to give up when I know the pleasure this little maddening instrument has given to me.

Thats some good advice you have given there.

December 29, 2021, 5:01 PM · John C you're in good company. Paul McCartney can't read music either. He said he just couldn't grasp music as "dots on a page." In fact none of the Beatles read or wrote music in conventional notation. I can't see that it held them back any!

If conventional learning methods don't work for you, then toss them out the door and find your own way.

You're probably more of an audial or kinesthetic learner. Have you tried closing your eyes and playing by ear?

Edited: December 29, 2021, 11:00 PM · As much as singing without reading music is a completely acceptable thing, so is "fiddling" on the violin - in fact it is a great and admirable thing that I wish I could do!

My granddaughter who took violin lessons from me for 10 years (reading music) took an elective college course on violin improve and learning music "by ear" in which reading music was forbidden - it is a whole other thing and not easy for music readers to adjust to. Right now she is living on the Greek island of Crete and studying the Cretan Lyra with a teacher and learning by reading music is something they just do not do - otherwise it is essentially playing by ear (and copying the teacher) a 3-string fiddle held upright on your thigh (while sitting).

Select a tune you like and try to work out playing it "by ear," or perhaps make up a tune and just "fiddle it." Or just fiddle and see if a tune comes out of it -- and lo and behold - you will be on your way.

December 29, 2021, 6:50 PM · The violin can be different things to different people. Perhaps conventional classical violin playing and learning is not for you. Why not take break and explore it from a different perspective? If you really love it you will find a place for it. Good luck!
Edited: December 29, 2021, 9:19 PM · One nice thing about fiddle music is that about 90% of the tunes are in the same three keys. So you really don't end up having to micro-adjust your finger positions all that much.

Playing the violin is not for everyone. If John would rather try something else, I commend him for having tried, but also knowing when to "fold 'em." I read in his bio that he enjoys tennis, which I do too. Or, more accurately, I did. Since I have lost some of my peripheral vision to glaucoma, probably I will have to give up tennis too. That's okay. There are so many things to try -- why not continue those that seem to agree with us and set aside those that don't? Makes sense to me.

December 29, 2021, 10:25 PM · Feel good about your decision. Violin is just for crazy people anyway!
December 29, 2021, 11:05 PM · I have three children that all studied stringed instruments for a time but eventually gave them up. I was disappointed of course. But I respect their decisions and would never try to force the matter. I think it’s something you have to love doing.
Edited: December 30, 2021, 4:16 AM · The only thing that prevents me from taking to fiddling more is that my memory is terrible.
December 30, 2021, 7:05 AM · John - it's hard sometimes to know whether to move on entirely or to take on a different musical direction on the same instrument. You might find fiddling to be more suited to you - or not. These decisions are hard to make and kudos to you for focusing on what is good for you.
Edited: January 5, 2022, 1:35 PM · John and Paul, you enjoy tennis? It seems Heifetz was in good company.
Edited: December 30, 2021, 10:40 AM · My decision to take up tennis was simple -- many of the other professors in my department played. So my wife and I took some lessons and we started playing a little. It's a nice game for a college professor because the university has tons of courts, including six courts indoors (reasonable fee for those), and with a flexible schedule you can knock off for a couple of hours during the day and play a set or two -- the definition of "salaried employment" if you will. And it's a good game for a violinist because it loosens up your neck and shoulders pretty well. It's unfortunate about my eyesight -- I'll try to play again this summer, but the thing is that missing balls on my right side is pretty much what sent me to the eye doctor in the first place. I realized I could not be fanning on those balls without something going on with my peripheral vision. My left eye has lost vision in the right corner which affects depth perception on my right side, that's why. It will matter less if I'm playing doubles.
December 30, 2021, 10:49 AM · I also can sympathize. A lot of us go through fallow seasons with this instrument. It sounds like perhaps a very specific type of music notation dyslexia? We all need to remember that that printed score is not music; it is a notation system that began as an aid to memory and has evolved over several centuries. A possible different approach is to not think in terms of note names or dots on the page, but intervals, the sound of the melodic distance between the notes.
Everyone is different. We cannot discover our talents, what we are best wired to do, without also encountering what we should not do.
For oil exploration, they say that 9 out of 10 test holes are "dry".
Have you tried serious vocal lessons?
Edited: January 1, 2022, 4:42 AM · Hats off to you for a mature and philosophical decision. I can see that you might want to press ahead with that, to draw a line under it and feel more settled and perhaps take up something else.

If you can bear to, though, maybe giving yourself some time without trying to play (as has been suggested above) and then taking it up again in, say, a couple of months, to see if you feel confirmed in your decision might be a good idea.

I am not sure that you need to give up on the idea of musical instruments in any case. Maybe your brain could adapt to a keyboard, where you can see the note lying in front of you and relate to it spatially? It could be that you could then get used to scales and even return to the violin.

Folk fiddle has been suggested but it isn't an easy alternative. You'd have to have a feel for that music and it has its own difficulties, as I know since I play 'fiddle' rather than violin. Can you play 'by ear'? My husband can't, and has some hearing problems too so he'd never be able to take up the fiddle and 'find the note'. He learned the piano as a child and still plays and enjoys it; he also loves folk music so he now plays the English concertina using sheet music.

It might be possible for you to find a way back in to playing music - however, if it would just prolong the agony, I wish you luck with your decision.

Live long and prosper.

Edited: January 1, 2022, 11:50 AM · I started violin as a very young child and learned the note names in treble clef as well as where they are on violin and piano. When reading violin music, even for the first time, the note names sort of float along in the background of my mind as I am playing.

When I started cello lessons 10 years later, as a teenager, I never really learned the bass clef note names - only their various locations on the cello (same for tenor clef) - and I already knew treble clef (which is also used by cellists reading high notes). By that I mean, when trying to relate a note position in those cello "mystery clefs" to a letter name I would have to relate it back to one of the open string note names (or its octaves), which I did know. I actually studied and played cello, including some serious cello concertos, (and taught cello) with this "limitation." I could come up with a note name faster than my students, but not as part of sight-reading music (but I actually don't do that when playing violin or viola either - things are happening too fast in those situations to bother with names, or with any thoughts - except, perhaps, when the music slows down).

It was only more than 50 years later, when I tried to play some simple two-hand piano sonatinas for the first time, that I had to relate the notes on the page to the piano keys, whose names I did know that naming bass clef notes started to become routine for me.

My point is that different people approach the things they do in different ways - I have just described what happens to be my way, the way I have ended up playing my instruments based on the ways I was introduced them and the experiences I had with them.

January 2, 2022, 2:18 PM · @Andrew Victor, Andrew I never think 'thats an a, or thats a b', I just relate the note that I see on paper to where my finger goes, so knowing as you say that other people do the same thing makes me feel a bit better as I thought I was doing something wrong, if you asked what the note was I could tell you, but I am reading in the manner I say, my main problem is getting the timing correct.

@Mollie mc Cabe, I originally suggested trying fiddle music not because I think its easier but I thought it may suit more and keep the interest going, as the OP said he struggled with the dots, its at least worth trying this form of playing rather than just giving up.
He may enjoy it or may not, I try to play classical myself, but I am hopeless at it, whearas I enjoy fiddle and as you say the challenges this style brings with it;)

Edited: January 2, 2022, 3:06 PM · There are also Playford dances, English, Irish, Scottish folk dances, Nova Scotia... . So many ways in which this little instrument can discourse most excellent music.
January 2, 2022, 5:24 PM · I didn't think I needed note-names, either, until I started switching back and forth between viola and violin. Then I started thinking about them and wondered if I have been all along. But I don't really know! Weird.
Edited: January 2, 2022, 7:08 PM · There are always very accessible folk instruments which are played by ear of form tablature. I play the old time banjo, which is a very forgiving instrument and also led to some explorations of American history and Americana. Perhaps you will find something else that speaks to your heart.

You will find that "failure" is better labeled "learning" and is almost always a good thing.

January 3, 2022, 11:18 AM · That’s a profound truth, Ann.
January 3, 2022, 2:29 PM · John C, did you ever have a teacher?
Edited: January 3, 2022, 2:59 PM · Richard, it should be obvious but we are in an age where "you can do whatever you want, be whoever you want" is commonly accepted, beginning with youngsters in school where "everybody gets a trophy." This ignores simple facts of innate ability or the mixture of qualities called "talent." Example: when I was a kid your position in the orchestra was by ability. I was so far back in the second violin section my elbow hit the wall. A coworker of mine showed me a picture of her daughter's school orchestra and I noted she was concertmaster. I was told that they took turns in that position, week by week.
Edited: January 3, 2022, 9:26 PM · I just read your profile, John, and everything you said is not "useless" it is great and useful in all sorts of ways. Feel free to contact me.
January 5, 2022, 1:16 AM · Good to see many of the same folks. I remember many of you from several years ago. Good to see new faces as well! Thank you for the messages.

Violin will always be one of my favorite instruments to listen to. I will definitely continue to visit concerts but will focus on non-classical as I've already seen, with great pleasure and privilege, many world-renowned violinists such as Anne-Sophie Mutter, Hilary Hahn, Joshua Bell, Itzhak Perlman play classical pieces all within 15 feet distance. It was very fascinating and wowing to see how they all played.

@Erin, appreciate the post. I think at this point I've given up on trying to understand technical aspects and music terms/words. I don't mean to offend. Just reading some of the terms was stressing me out already hahaha! I just wanna let go of that stuff and, as some people have suggested, just play/fiddle. My brain is already overloaded with a lot of thinking / figuring things out. On my spare time I just wanna relax.. turn my brain off. Not think. Not worry about hitting the right notes and timing as shown on the music sheet. Instead just feel the bow and strings, listen to the sound the violin makes.

@Erik W, yes I've had several. First one was super strict and unenjoyable but taught proper technical skills and made sure I didn't develop bad habits early on. My other instructors were more lenient and relaxing to have lessons with. I think if I lived abroad where the instructors are 10x more affordable I would continue again. I find it too difficult to rely on the internet to learn the instrument. I'd get frustrated so I'll just go do something else.

@Paul D. Sorry to hear about your vision problem! I would be really sad if something were to happen to me and not be able to play tennis properly. Doubles should help as you mentioned! Pick a side that gives you least trouble.

@Mollie, I actually considered piano first but decided against it because of how my thumbs lock in a weird position/angle. Despite my supposedly advantageous long and slender hands/fingers, I can't properly grip basketballs and American footballs because of it. Regarding the violin, I'll take some time to let go and forget some things that's frustrated me then I'll see if I can play by ear. I'll play some music on my loudspeakers and try to play along.

January 5, 2022, 10:01 PM · Have fun, John!

I like to just warble around with my fingers and bow, making sounds with no goal in mind. Sometimes I'll accidentally hit a few notes in succession that remind me of a song. Then I'll fiddle around with it to see if I can figure out how to play a few bars. Sometimes I can work out the whole melody, but I'm not looking at any sheet music or thinking about the names of the notes. I'm just playing by ear. I'm just having fun.

Maybe try that sometime.

January 6, 2022, 6:39 AM · Somehow an intrument will work for some musicians and not for others. I occasionally consider getting a plastic trumpet, and I have a flute and ukes and guitars and a tenor guitar, but I've never wanted a clarinet or a saxophone. Our uke group soloist plays guitar, uke, banjo, mandolin, tenor guitar, but didn't get on with the violin. It's not everyone's cup of tea.
January 6, 2022, 6:57 PM · It's about music, not the instrument. If you've made any progress on any instrument (including voice..), you're progressed in your musical ability.

Presumably it's music, and not a particular love of breathing rosin and holding a wooden object in an awkward position that drew you in the first place.

May you continue to express and enjoy that love of music in other forms and in yourself.

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