Is Playing Music Unhealthy For Some People?

Edited: November 3, 2022, 4:11 PM · This topic mainly applies to adult beginners. Kids seem to have the ability to learn to be positive about pretty much anything (assuming their parents reinforce that at home). In fact, pretty much every child/teen I've taught has a fairly healthy relationship with the violin.

But, having taught many adult beginners over the years, I have started to wonder if some of these people should have never started. I know that sounds a bit harsh, but I'm simply basing it off of their emotional reaction to playing.

Sure, I have taught some adults over the years that, despite a clear lack of progress, seem to enjoy playing. It is a positive thing in their lives.

But a surprising portion of adult students seem to have a very negative relationship with playing. Any attempts to reassure them are met with skepticism. After a while, I might even ask "do you *really* enjoy doing this?" And the answer tends to be that they love the violin, but hate that their body won't do what they tell it to.

The reality is that if they just practiced slowly and carefully - and were patient - they would get the same results as some children would. But their intense self-awareness at such a vulnerable stage in the learning process makes it impossible for them to do that. I think they often practice too quickly and too recklessly because they feel that they should have something down already. And in doing so, they sabotage their efforts. It becomes a self-fulfilled failure.

Meanwhile, a child at the same level may spend weeks practicing the same thing, but (often due to parental intervention) it doesn't bother them that they're on the same song for a while. They can somehow understand that each increase in technique/form is a success in itself, rather than only viewing it as (1 song) = (1 success).

So, I have wondered this often: should some people never start the violin? Or, at the very least, should they know when to quit, rather than using it as a tool for self-flagellation? Would they be better off doing things that they're already good at? In some cases, is attempting to learn new skills detrimental to one's mental health?

(note: adults who already have a grasp of the instrument don't seem to have this issue. Adults under the age of 25 or so also appear to be an exception)

Replies (37)

November 3, 2022, 5:43 PM · I'm convinced that self-consciousness is one of the two biggest obstacles for adult beginners, the other being limited free time.

But I don't think the answer is necessarily that people should not learn the violin for the sake of their mental health. If the violin is having that effect on them, then it's very likely that they're self-flagellating in the same way in many other areas of life. If anything, the violin just might be a useful place to start learning to reframe and set realistic goals, because there's probably much less external pressure.

November 3, 2022, 5:49 PM · There are so many areas of
potential discomfort in learning to play bowed string instruments, which ones have you encountered most?

left hand
right hand
"other handedness"
other body/instrument compatibility problems
intonation
reading music, etc.?


November 3, 2022, 6:14 PM · Personally, sometimes the violin is just not right for some people. It's not because they don't like playing, it just might be an unfortunate thing that their body is not suitable for the instrument. Some children play the violin just to have it as a second thing but because they don't truly enjoy it, they will definitely not be able to be patient about practising in the future. So I think people should always be thinking carefully about
1. Why am I playing the violin? Do I enjoy it?
2. Will I practise it with all my patience?
3. What are my goals? What is the purpose of practising?
I think without asking ourselves these things, we are just doing things for the sake of doing them and that's not right, especially for music. It should be an enjoyable experience for all but of course sometimes when we're practising we tend to become frustrated or annoyed if something does not get fixed. However it is important to know that patience is required and enough slow practice will do us justice.
November 3, 2022, 7:34 PM · Adults bring two things with them that children don't have too much of: self-consciousness and baggage
Edited: November 3, 2022, 8:26 PM · Andrew Hsieh:

Indeed, they are probably being overly critical in other areas of their life, too. I do try to use it as a way reframing their perceptions, but then again, I'm a violin teacher, not a therapist. So I have limited success in this (with adults).


Andrew Victor:

While this thread mainly pertains to the emotional impact of learning the violin, I will answer your question because it is relevant. Obviously, when people find that their "body doesn't do what they're telling it to", it's often because they're struggling with something in particular.

I find the biggest issue is in the ability of adults to "accept" the correct form in the right hand. They know exactly how it should be, but they lack the "freedom" in the bow hold, particularly when multitasking with the left hand. Many adult students have perfectly good open bow form, and perfectly good left hand form, but when they put them together, both forms fail entirely. My solution to this is basically slow scales, to train the left/right sides to work nicely together, but to be honest this has mixed results.

I do think many of the issues I encounter are because people go home and do something completely different than I asked. Some people, no matter how detailed my explanation is, will go home and just "do their own thing" without really thinking. This makes me feel insane, because there's not a great way of me knowing how much of the lesson they're taking home. So I start to gaslight myself, wondering if my advice is bad, or if they're simply not really doing it. And asking doesn't help, because people seem to have distorted perceptions of how they actually practice. (and if asked to record their practice, it's very rare that people will comply).

Jina:

I agree that more people should actually consider how much they want to play. Many, many young kids come to me for their first lesson, and after a couple of months, I still haven't managed to convince their parents to get a consistent practice schedule. "15 minutes 2 times a week" seems to be the norm. It all comes down to their priorities. Usually they have about 3 different hobbies, and somehow they manage to find hours every week to do the other 2, but violin gets the back burner.

Christian:

Yes. I can deal with the former pretty well, but it's very difficult to teach people with significant baggage. I do grow very tired of being peoples' budget therapist, though I will admit I've helped quite a few people over the years.

Edited: November 3, 2022, 9:29 PM · The problem of students that do not practice enough to bother teaching is solved by having a waiting list for one's studio.

I understand what you mean about being a therapist but I would recommend resisting that at all costs.

"Many adult students have perfectly good open bow form, and perfectly good left hand form, but when they put them together, both forms fail entirely."

I suspect that these individuals somehow consider technique and form to be something that applies only to practicing, not to actually playing the violin.

My guess is that a lot of people take up violin because it looks like so much fun and they think it's going to be some kind of relaxing pastime. They just don't realize that it's one of the most grueling, frustrating hobbies on the planet. Such people would be much better off learning the piano.

Edited: November 4, 2022, 4:19 AM · Paul, I usually do have a waiting list, but I have a bit of a problem with "Getting rid of" students. I mean, they are still people with feelings. There's always that part of me that says "maybe they need a bit more time, or I just haven't found the true path to motivation for them." Don't get me wrong: I eventually will convince people that violin isn't right for them if enough time goes by and they haven't practiced, but I'm pretty lax about it.

I'm a pretty big sucker for when people genuinely want to practice, but seem to have trouble with motivation. I've dealt with depression for most of my life, and I get that sometimes the will just isn't there.

I agree: many people would be *way* better off learning the piano.

Edited: November 4, 2022, 11:40 AM · I'm going to disagree heartily - having gone through all of the emotions above (even as a returner - but with >40 yr no-play gap).

I think the problem is not actually with a lack of progress but with a mental 'expectation' of progress. Surely the cure here is not to stop playing but to establish realistic expectations. When an adult learns they automatically establish milestones for themselves. These may work well for learning, say, gardening - where there is no absolute measure of progress - but they fail with the violin first because they have absolutely no idea how hard it is and second because its obvious when you are playing badly.

The first thing that is necessary is to give the beginning adult a realistic idea of expected progress to start to educate them on what is likely and what is possible It definitely does not work to simply tell a student that they are 'making good progress', they need an independent relevant scale by which to compare. I think it would be invaluable if someone took the time to start an adult (even better a few) on the violin and made an actual video log of progress. This would provide a realistic measure of expected progress and even better (with several lab rats), one of the reasonable range.

As mentioned in a separate topic, the other way to do this is to teach adults with group participation. Indeed, teachers should network so that their adult students can meet each other and talk about their challenges and achievements - and also have a chance to do recitals without the grade 10 15 yr old performing the Bruch.

As far as body limitations are concerned, I definitely had a big advantage having played into my early teens. However, I have found that the weaknesses that developed in the non-playing years are gradually yeilding - at least to some extent you CAN change physically when you are older, its just slow.

November 4, 2022, 11:58 AM · Erik, et al.,

I think you need to ask an important question: "What do you want to accomplish/do with the violin?" That was the first question my teacher asked me almost 50 years ago before he would accept me as a student.

My personal goals were extremely modest - to learn to play the Soprano and Descant lines of Episcopal hymns. Yes, I went far beyond that even though that was not my initial goal.

What you may find is that an adult may have grand ambitions, or ambitions that do not synch-up with how and what you are teaching.

Right now I'm teaching an adult woman who has pretty much the same goals as I had almost 50 years ago. She is struggling to both play the instrument and read music but she knows where she wants to go. I have to remind her that, at this point, she doesn't have the skills to play a hymn tune yet but will get there and maybe have a Christmas Hymn or two by next month.

I'm not sure what I would say to an adult beginner who wants to play with an orchestra or chamber group. That might be out of reach and would lead to frustration. Those aspirations require more skill and time to achieve.

It's never too late to ask the question - what are your goals and aspirations?

Edited: November 4, 2022, 2:19 PM · I think Elise's answer is spot on. I took up the violin as an adult, about a decade ago (I've just now turned 60, so I was an older adult). I had no idea how hard the violin is, how much work is involved in simply producing a violin-like sound, and all the rest that we all know about. It's a difficult, ridiculous and expensive hobby. It also entails, for me at least, a lot of humbling. I have a professional career where I'm a subject matter expert and am not used to doing things badly in front of other adults (aside from my wife, of course). It's only been in the last year that I have been comfortable working on things in front of my teacher (I've finally achieved the "this isn't working; help me fix it" mindset I should've had all these years instead of the "oh my, I'm awful and I hope she doesn't notice" mindset). I'm rambling, sorry.

The school where my teacher works is smart enough to have separate recitals for adults and kids. None of the adults want to perform our work-in-progress versions of Humoresque or the Vivaldi A minor right after an eleven year-old whips through Tzigane or whatever. We'd simply refuse to get on stage. You could replace Tzigane with a kid playing Humoresque not as well as the adult, and the adult would still feel outplayed, probably, because we don't see past our own performance nerves, usually. I was objectively the worst performer at my first recital, though probably the other adults all felt that they were the worst. Yes, I see the irony that. I was willing to play in the recitals, though, because I'm okay with humility. I think it's good for me.

Although, this spring when our school put on the most recent adult recital, five minutes before I got on stage (to perform Mozart K304), I came down with an almost paralyzing case of nerves. I couldn't breathe, my heart was racing, I was sweating, my hands felt like wood, and my mind was going blank. Really, I was just in terror. Every possible doubt I'd ever had about my playing and the very idea that some old guy who could barely play was going to get up on stage and ruin a piece of beautiful music was going through my head.

I'd been in rock bands in my twenties and have played to big crowds (at a couple of benefit concerts, to thousands of people). I give a lot of presentations in my job, to large audiences of professionals and strangers--I have no fear of public speaking. And at the recital there were fewer than twenty people in the hall, including me. But it was brutal, me and Mozart. About ten seconds into the piece, I thought, "I can just stop and walk off the stage, and that would be okay." But I played through the piece, not very well, and the next week I almost quit taking lessons because I had a panic attack on the way to the school.

We won't have another recital until next spring (this year's Fall recital having been canceled), and my teacher and I are going to play one of the Mozart violin/viola duets. The theory is that if I'm not alone on stage (I don't know why the pianist doesn't seem to count, but the accompanist at these things is usually a stranger even if they're school faculty), I will feel more comfortable playing. I also love playing duets. So we'll see in the spring. I am determined to keep playing in public. Had the weather not been so awful during the summer, I'd planned to take my violin to a nearby park during my lunch breaks to play, but that didn't happen. Maybe next summer.

Anyway, to Erik's point, I think that the violin is just a lot harder to learn, even to a low amateur standard, than beginners realize, and progress is hard to define for adults who know what Hilary Hahn sounds like and think that their teachers expect Hilary Hahn's tone from them whenever they attack "Twinkle." It can feel like failure, week after week for years. Kids are generally okay with it, because they don't necessarily view learning an instrument as something one can fail at. Which is a healthier way to approach it than the way most adults seem to.

(this is a very long comment, sorry. I had no idea I'd gone on like that)

November 4, 2022, 4:06 PM · I'd like to reframe the question: Is attempting to teach new skills to someone who won't take advice (and then self-flagellates because they are failing) bad for the mental health of the teacher?
I think so.
November 4, 2022, 4:20 PM · I think as an adult hobby it's got some liabilities people don't see. It's a very, very steep learning curve on violin. I learned some with my kids and got into about book two of suzuki but still sounded bad. It encouraged me to go back to a band instrument I had played pretty well as a teenager and now music is a wonderful midlife hobby. My main instrument sounds good and is fun and I'm learning two related instruments. Fun!

But. If I had continued on violin I'd be maybe in suzuki book four or five and probably still not sounding great. I don't know that I would have been good enough to play in church or a community orchestra (these have become my baseline goals as a midlife amateur musician). I also think I would have found the gear more frustrating. And I probably would have really *needed* a regular lesson to to make progress, whereas I think if you are playing piano or flute or trombone you can make a lot of progress on your own.

As a teacher, it might be good to have a few canned motivational talks and also some ways to explain the "things they don't know they don't know." It might even be good to tell them directly that if they do this it may be (for them) a long, hard road, and they might have fun doing something else. I would imagine that on violin people are more likely to make no or really slow progress than they would on other adult hobbies.

November 4, 2022, 7:36 PM · One thing about comparing to kids: often the adults try to compare themselves to children who have been playing much longer than them. I've seen it in online string groups: adults who have been playing for one or two years comparing themselves to 10-year-olds... who started at age 3 or 4. In these cases, it's not even a matter of the children learning faster; the children may not have progressed any faster than the adult, but will still be ahead simply as a matter of time spent!
November 5, 2022, 6:03 AM · I can relate a lot to Scott Bailey‘s post. Thanks for sharing.

I played for a couple of years when I was a kid and early teen; not much practicing, some progress.
But I guess that helped a lot with managing my expectations later.
Picking up the violin again after 30+ years I had the mindset that it is a very difficult instrument and I would stick with it for ten years and then evaluate. I pushed myself to practice during the honeymoon period to be prepared when frustration might set in and at that point to already have gathered some ability which would weigh against the feeling of just quitting.

Now I am in my nineth year and yes I definitely think once in a while I should have started with piano instead.
I sometimes play in recitals where the kid‘s parents are younger than I am. Just because I hope it will help to train to calm my nerves by doing so. Actually I cannot say that the nerve issue improved. Similar to Scott I am used to public appearances and do not mind.

For someone not familiar with learning an instrument and especially violin it must be an unexpectedly slow and frustrating process.

I love the instrument, I love playing, I love my lessons, I even enjoy practicing. But sometimes I quarrel with myself if it is right to invest so much time in something so pointless (not sure if it is the best choice of words). I have a demanding job, I am a mum and I could do good with the time I spend practicing.
But it makes me happy. For the love of it.


Perhaps one remark. For me it is of great help to record myself during lessons (video) and to practice at home while listening to my teachers input. It is hard to remember all the bits and pieces a teacher points out during lessons.

Edited: November 5, 2022, 2:57 PM ·
QUOTE: Elise Stanley - Edited · /4/2022, 11:40 AM:
". . . The first thing that is necessary is to give the beginning adult a realistic idea of expected progress to start to educate them on what is likely and what is possible . . . "
==========
I also think that Elise is spot on, both for adult beginners and also for adult returnees.

Having taken a hiatus from violin playing decades ago, I fit into the latter category. I can see where returnees might have an exaggerated sense of what they can accomplish, based on what they were formerly able to take on when much younger. As a septuagenarian, I'm lucky. I have no trace of arthritis that I can detect, a perception which aligns with a recent bone scan. But still, I have a feeling that I ain't what I used to be. I feel like a kid again, but that's not the case.

So with a few months lessons to get into shape, I eagerly jumped back onto a university orchestra. We had our concert last night, and all in all, it was a terrific experience. The concert went well, and I certainly advanced considerably in my playing. But still, after sooo much practice, I was a little discouraged with some aspects of my playing.

Of course, this is natural at any age. But, I can see some situations with a returnee, where this could drift into unhealthy territory, if not properly managed.

For myself, versus playing in the orchestra throughout the academic year, a better strategy may be to instead take lessons during the fall, and then participate in the pops concert during the spring. I suspect that the music for that concert will be a little more manageable.

Edited: November 5, 2022, 5:11 PM · If there is anything in life that is more difficult, more challenging, more demanding of your focus of attention, more comprehensive, more requiring of everything you have (from your brain to your fingertips), more time-consuming, more humbling, more requiring of your intelligence and knowledge and artistic sensitivity, and more demanding of everything from your thinking to your very soul, and paying for every triumph with a thousand failures and disappointments than learning to play the violin,......If there is anything that is like all that, I'd like to know what it is.
Edited: November 5, 2022, 9:02 PM · I’m one of those adult beginners. It took me years, and a change of teachers, to appreciate the importance of slowing down and practicing patiently and really listening to tone and intonation, and posture and physical stance and letting go of tension and wrong notes. But I’m very glad I stuck with it and those sorts of insights and lessons have carried over to other parts of life in wonderful ways.

Two things helped the most, I think. First, finding a teacher who would stand up to me, and not try to indulge my wanting to play chamber music too soon. She insisted on scales, arpeggios and etudes, and simple songs that exposed and improved the many weaknesses that I had. I respected her so much that I believed her when she told me this was the quickest path to being able to play what I really wanted to play. Plus, several years of doing it “my way” had mostly frustrated me.

Second, it made a huge difference to find a way to play regularly with other people. Someone gave me the good advice to not wait until I thought I was good enough, but to just go do it. This is harder for adults to find than it is for kids in school, but it makes such a huge difference! It’s fun, we encourage each other (taking some load off our teachers in this department), it provides motivation to learn new things, and we learn a lot from each other.

In my case, it’s a regular duet get together with a buddy, a sometimes string quartet playing extremely basic music, a local contra dance band, and a very “minor league” community orchestra.

One of my teachers helped me with introductions to the community orchestra and to other adults at my approximate level, who also were looking for people to play with. I’m still grateful for that, several years later. I think it’s a great service that teachers can informally offer, and may have the benefit of getting the grownup students away from taking ourselves so seriously and towards opening up how fun and beautiful naking music with others can be.

November 6, 2022, 6:24 AM · The problem with "realistic expectations" is that the range of what anyone might consider "realistic" is very broad. I know this because the question of how fast an adult beginner can progress, and how far they can expect to go, has been posted on this site many times.
November 6, 2022, 11:23 AM · Re “realistic expectations,” I wish someone had said to me “check back in ten years; meanwhile, do this, and this and this.” Letting go of the result, and concentrating on the actions, has been difficult but necessary.
November 6, 2022, 11:49 AM · Process over Product.
Edited: November 7, 2022, 6:19 PM · I think Elise and Elizabeth offer excellent responses to the original post. I started violin at age 49, over 7 years ago. In youth I tried saxophone for a year and guitar a few times, and never got anywhere. Had no role models in life to model diligent and focused practice.

But I have always been a diligent and focused listener, collecting thousands of recordings and attending hundreds of concerts and recitals, especially at the Yale school of Music, which has a fabulously rich concert calendar open to the public. I listened so much for so long that I would say it came close to a form of study and music became the love of my life, second only to my son.

So when as an adult I decided to learn violin, I had a determination and sense of the required seriousness that was missing in my youth. For the first 3 years I was self-taught, and for all the problems and limitations with that I am proud of how much I learned: I taught myself to read music and found the notes on the fingerboard, eventually hacking through some sonatas by Corelli and Handel and some other stuff like that. But it never quite sounded like music, and I sensed I had hit a wall and wasn't getting any better.

I knew I wanted to go baroque, especially 17th century, which probably wouldn't have entered my mind except for the geographical luck of being near Yale, where I came to love the baroque opera and other baroque ensembles that probably aren't typical in the concert life of most locales. So I emailed the founding director of a local early music consort, asking if he could recommend a violin teacher specializing in early music. He said that is very hard to find but recommended I ask a certain professor of violin at the YSM who specializes in baroque music. I attached that email (as a form of letter of introduction) to the professor, confessing I will never be in the league to ask him for lessons, but maybe he has a student willing to take on an adult learner. A few days later he put me in touch with she who has been my violin teacher ever since (except I took a year off during the stupid covid). She's perfect for me still!

After trying to work with me on some of the repertoire I already had in sheet music and in my head as goals, she eventually humbled me completely by telling me to put all sheet music away, and learn how to hold the bow and the instrument (no shoulder rest or chin rest, already got rid of those when I decided to go baroque, 2 years before even looking for a teacher). For more than half a year all we did was scales and the 4-note Follia, just working on tone and bow strokes. Then she told me to get Suzuki Book 1 and we worked on Perpetual Motion, just to get me in some steadiness of timing and small exercise in playing from memory. Can you imagine how humbled I was at that point? 7 years into the instrument and feeling like I was absolutely nowhere!

And that was only a few months ago! Now I'm finally working on a Vitali piece (Bergamasca) and a Playford dance (All in a Garden Green) --simple stuff that allows me to continue to focus on intonation and tone, rhythm, pick-up bowings, and even some dynamics.

Of course I am plagued with self-doubt and usually feel like an imposter. I worry I'll never play a sonata by Biber or Uccellini, but I never quit and tell myself I will eventually play in an amateur early music consort (I will probably have to organize one --they are not common) doing music accessible and satisfying, whatever that will be.

November 7, 2022, 2:55 PM · Will - what a marvellous success story. Thanks for sharing...
ee
Edited: November 7, 2022, 4:32 PM · Will, your post is a testament to the benefits of not selling yourself short, like a lot of adult learners/returners might be tempted to do.

I remember when I was looking around for teachers 11 or so years ago, and dealing with my own negative self-talk that no "real" teacher would ever bother with me. As I reached out, a few "name" teachers in the area said no (never rudely, and maybe they just didn't have room), but eventually I got a hold of my current teacher, who I was nervous about asking, and who was my first choice, and she saw that I was enthusiastic and took me seriously, and I'm really glad I pushed through some of my own discomfort or feeling unworthy to ask.

November 7, 2022, 3:54 PM · Christian, had you ever played instruments before playing the violin? Or, had you played when you were younger, and were technically a restarter?
Edited: November 7, 2022, 4:23 PM · I started at 7 or so, but my training was really spotty. I had a little bit of piano too, but never took it that seriously.

When I started back with my teacher, I had made some progress self-teaching, and then done some good work with another teacher, but had a LOT of remediation to do with my current teacher, who very patiently has worked with me on developing good habits and undoing bad ones.

November 7, 2022, 6:15 PM · How long did you play after you started at 7 years old?

And your parents were both musicians, right?

November 7, 2022, 6:33 PM · Christian, I remember having the same self-doubt when I contacted a teacher for the first time. In my case, I'd been rejected multiple times as a teenager by teachers who said I was already too old at that age to learn a string instrument. And so, even though I'd already been self-teaching for 16 years, was playing in my area's top community orchestra and was principal violist of another orchestra, and had even soloed with an orchestra by that time, I was still incredibly nervous about asking for fear of being seen as not good enough to be worth teaching.

I ended up not taking lessons for very long at the time due to scheduling difficulties, but the experience made it much easier to approach my current teacher later on.

I do sometimes find myself self-flagellating over my playing, but those times tend to correspond to more general mental health struggles, and I think one of the reasons I've been able to progress in spite of it is that it typically hasn't kept me from being able to work on things slowly and methodically.

Edited: November 7, 2022, 10:59 PM · Erik, I played until age 13 or so, and some kind of tense and not-quite-in-tune Bach Double, when I was able to convince my mom to let me quit. I came back and played in a community orchestra from 15 to 17, then again from 21 to 24, where I finally started seriously taking lessons.

Andrew, I really appreciate teachers that take adults; my teacher believes in taking a student from the very beginning all the way to the biggest repertoire, and it's especially nice that she takes me seriously. I think that adult students offer a level of self-awareness and commitment that can be very appealing to a thoughtful teacher. My dad taught piano, and his favorites were always his hard-working adult students, so I'm very familiar with (and opinionated about) the repertoire for 4 hands or 2 pianos, because he often performed with his adult students.

I get that a teacher may want to focus on young students, but I think that teachers that don't take adults because they don't believe that they can play well are foolish, and might just be admitting that they aren't that great of teachers.

The self-flagellation is tough, but I think that if someone is committed, before they know it, self-flagellation becomes self-flageoletion.

November 7, 2022, 11:41 PM · Ha! One very specific skill I've developed a reputation for in my orchestra is sight-reading harmonics more easily than anyone else in the viola section -- and I'm in a viola section where the majority have music degrees. So maybe I do a lot of self-flageoletion.

I think it might have been harder in the 1990s than it is today to find teachers willing to accept adult students. I know a few other late starters who had difficulty finding teachers around that time. Today, most of the string teachers I know have at least some adult students.

That said, I'm currently taking remote lessons with an out-of-state teacher, not because of the pandemic (though I started when almost everyone was teaching only remotely) but because of difficulty finding a local teacher. I spent several years looking for someone who could teach advanced viola repertoire, accepted adults, and had evening or weekend openings. I found every combination of two of the three within an hour's drive, but not all three. Everyone who taught advanced viola repertoire and accepted adults had no evening or weekend availability. Everyone who accepted adults and had evening or weekend openings did not teach advanced viola repertoire. Everyone who taught advanced viola repertoire and had evening or weekend openings did not accept adult students.

November 8, 2022, 9:40 AM · I think there are things that are unnatural in playing the violin, but not necessarily more unnatural than some of the things a beginner learns when taking up tennis or golf (the service grip in tennis is more unnatural than the violin bow hold).

A challenge for beginners and experienced players is to replace (and forget) what feels natural but is incorrect with what feels unnatural but is correct. That would seem to be worthwhile exercise for anyone.

Would some left-handed beginners naturally take up the bow with the left hand and the fiddle with the right? Would some right-handers naturally do the opposite? Do any beginners hold the bow correctly right from the start?

November 8, 2022, 10:12 AM · I could go offline at this point with my teacher, but the online is so convenient! Maybe I'll suggest the switch, or try it out to see if I developed any bad habits that may not come through easily over Skype.
November 9, 2022, 5:08 AM · I'd suspect the internet makes it easier to find teachers now. Maybe you email the studio for a local orchestra player. They might say, "no," but they might also be able to quickly give you a list of five other people locally to try. I found one of my teachers on reddit. Go figure :)
November 10, 2022, 8:50 AM · Elise and Christian, thanks for your positive reaction to my story...despite my confessing frequent imposter feelings, I guess it is still a small "success story " in that I have learned to manage those feelings and the larger self-assessment of being an amateur with a full-time job on the roof, learning from and modeling after professionals trained in the finest schools. It's okay that I'll never be them.

Meanwhile I have also grown in mental habits, learning to be patient and attempt precision in a cognition melding ear and fingers, quite different from the bookish learning that comes to me much more naturally and almost effortlessly.

So, reflecting more on the original question in the original post, I don't think the issue is whether adult violin beginning is unhealthy for some people but rather whether the adult is ready to grow in truly new directions from the life path of mind and emotion that they have been on before picking up an instrument.

November 10, 2022, 2:44 PM · Andrew Hsieh, I find it confusing that some teachers still turn you down even though you're an advanced player. I can understand not wanting to take on adult beginners (for a variety of reasons, the main one being that they rarely have the motivation/time/energy to effectively practice), but why turn down an adult advanced student? It's just strange to me.
Edited: November 10, 2022, 4:51 PM · Erik: I assume the teachers who teach advanced students but don't accept adults at all are the ones who have plenty of demand from pre-conservatory students, and presumably adults are never going to win competitions or get into conservatory.
November 10, 2022, 4:44 PM · Did you ever contact Bill Barbini?
Edited: November 10, 2022, 5:10 PM · I never did. I was under the impression he taught only violin. If he also teaches viola, then I was mistaken. At this point I'm no longer looking; I'm quite happy with my current teacher, who is the viola instructor at a prestigious East Coast college and principal violist of a regional orchestra.

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