What Pathway Am I On?

Edited: November 12, 2022, 8:32 AM · I just turned 19 and have completed learning Prokofiev Violin Concerto #2 to a solid level (usually one off mistakes at random places only). Before that I learned Wienawski 2 to a similar degree, after working my way up with Saint Saens 3, Mendelssohn, and Barber. I am curious about how this progress compares to others at the university level, and what sort of career path someone like me would be most likely to end up in, such as level of orchestra, level of students for giving lessons, and what music schools I might be able to make it into for a master's program. I am practicing 5 hours a day and love the violin sincerely.

EDIT: I already am majoring in music at The University of Tennessee simply because I grew up in the area. I'm hoping to make a lot of progress to attend a higher level music school for a masters. I have 3 1/2 years left. I don't have any good videos of me at the moment. All my technique is in order and the only imperfections in my playing are little mistakes like an occasional e string whistle or slight intonation error. I wouldn't say I sound like a soloist overall, but I do sound like a professional, just maybe a little more inconsistent.

Replies (16)

November 11, 2022, 7:41 PM · I’d say you’re doing fairly well. If you were 12 and played this repertoire I’d be more impressed, but if you work 5 smart hours a day you’ll be fine.
November 11, 2022, 8:24 PM · A video would help.
November 11, 2022, 8:36 PM · I second Erik's comment. Very hard to tell someone what their prospects are without hearing them.
November 11, 2022, 10:50 PM · Another vote for “can’t evaluate without hearing/seeing you”

Are you in the US?

November 12, 2022, 7:57 AM · If you play these pieces well, and you can also competently play Bach, Mozart, and Paganini as well, you are currently competitive for freshman entry into a top conservatory. Not Curtis or Colburn, but you would be at level or close to level for the others.

Now, if you play these pieces just OK, then second or third tier conservatory level.

If you are practicing 5 hours a day, why aren't you at a conservatory already? Entering at 19 or 20 is not uncommon, especially post-pandemic. I guess I am asking because the other aspects of conservatory education (theory, orchestra, chamber music, similar peers, high level teacher) have considerable impact on how much you will progress in the next few years before entering an MM program. Your peers in conservatory are likely to progress at a higher rate just because of the environment they are in. You may not be competitive for a top tier conservatory MM program in 3 or 4 years if your rate of improvement is lower.

Edited: November 12, 2022, 9:39 AM · Sounds like Ryan's parents wanted him closer to home. Or maybe out-of-state tuition is an issue. Bloomington is only 6 hours from Knoxville, and if you're playing your rep as solidly as you say, you could maybe get a scholarship there, although Jacobs is basically as close as you can get to Curtis without being Curtis. Maybe your prof at UTK is the perfect teacher you've always needed, but in the end, their letterhead isn't going to turbocharge your career.

So ... maybe it's time to cut those apron strings? Evanston and Ann Arbor are not all that far either. Those are not weak programs.

Now that you're already in college, I wonder what access you have to summer programs that might help you make significant gains in technique or musicality within a short time.

The reason folks here are asking to see a video of your playing is because there are a lot of folks like you who come from small communities where they were always the big fish in the small pond and are not always calibrated to "city" expectations.

One idea would be to reach out to Nathan Cole and consider one of his master-type courses. Nate grew up in the same area (Kentucky IIRC) so he will resonate with "where you're coming from" and will meet you where you are in your development. It would be like an extended master class and I believe it would not interfere with the instruction you're already getting from your professors at UTK. Heads up that it's likely expensive, but in that game I think you get what you pay for.

November 12, 2022, 10:39 AM · Maybe consider transferring after two years?
November 12, 2022, 11:26 AM · One thing we can advise without hearing you is to try to get rid of the whistling E. There are several E strings out there (I don't recall which ones but there was a thread on this fairly recently and someone here can chime in) that pretty much don't whistle. You really need one of those. Good luck figuring out the rest and moving towards your future as a musician!
November 12, 2022, 11:37 AM · The first thing you should do is make some recordings of yourself. Before you even show them to other people you will gain a clearer idea on where you stand. If you still want an opinion of the experts: Post your videos somewhere and post the link here.
Edited: November 12, 2022, 7:16 PM · With all due respect, it has been my experience that students are often not very good at correctly assessing their playing level with comparison to professionals - not just students - I think a lot of people in general do not understand just how very high the required playing level is for even an “average” professional.

If you have an opportunity to share a recording of your playing, I would be happy to comment.

With regard to the whistling E string, I don’t recommend the special strings that don’t whistle. What you gain by not whistling, you lose because those strings aren’t as resonant. If you hear the whistle starting, pull your bow somewhat crooked backwards while playing, and that usually takes care of it.

I agree with you that a masters at a name music school is an important next step, if you complete your bachelors at UTK. I’m sure your current teacher is excellent, but you also need to be surrounded by students who are themselves playing at the highest level.

Editing to say that I mean no disrespect to the other students at UTK. When I was teaching at UTSA, I had a few students who could have gone to conservatory but who were at UTSA for financial or for family reasons.

November 12, 2022, 8:58 PM · @Ryan, you can post audio only on soundcloud.com and disable the link after couple of days. I think it's a good idea to have the community to give you feedback once in a while.
November 13, 2022, 12:22 AM · I never quite understand what actually is gained from people sharing their videos here for feedback (not that there aren't thoughtful commenters here). Ryan, you have to really go in search of who you want to study with and advocate hard for yourself. Usually, the people getting into conservatories have a level of support and mentorship from parents, coaches, teachers and others, that really smooths some of the logistics out for them in getting them into the programs, summer camps, and eventual studios where they can learn their best (obviously they still have to work incredibly hard).

I would think that you may not have all that support if you are asking this question here. You have to figure out what resources are available at your school and use every last one of them. Talk to anyone who knows anything in your music department, and go pester your counseling office about transfers and other conservatory departments that you want to study at. Most importantly, you need to figure out what teachers you want to study with, and then hopefully your school can help you figure out the logistics of applying, what your realistic chances are, any financial or other career considerations you face.

Have you talked this out with your teacher or anyone in your music department? You can't dilly-dally on this stuff.

November 13, 2022, 9:24 AM · Whistling E string? What has worked for me, when having that problem, has been to twist the E string 180° or 360° before inserting the end in the tuner. In fact, I now do this with all E strings before first installing them (except for the Warchal strings noted below).

his may be having the same effect as the built-in helical turns of the Warchal Amber and Timbre E strings.

Edited: November 13, 2022, 10:13 AM · Andrew, interesting I’ve never heard of anyone twisting violin strings. Does it brighten them?
Piano technicians often try twisting old, dead bass strings to bring them back to life.

In my experience, wound E strings solve whistling, but tonally, they react differently on different violins.
I’ve liked them on some violins but not on others. You have to just try them.

The only advice I’d give to the OP is NOT to borrow money for a master’s degree. It is not a growth industry, and schools are already jam-packed with talented hopefuls who also “love the violin sincerely.”
There are probably many fewer jobs than there were pre-pandemic and too many violin professors ready to sweet-talk anyone with a fiddle, bow, and a pulse to fill their studios.

November 14, 2022, 5:24 PM · Ryan, glad it's not the Liverpool Pathway you're on!


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