Adult Beginner

Edited: December 30, 2017, 7:51 PM · Hi everyone,

I'm an adult beginner and was hoping to hear from those of you who have started as adults.

I've always loved the violin and took a few lessons as a child. Unfortunately, my family didn't have the means for me to pursue further lessons.

I am now taking lessons as an adult (at the age of 35 - for about a year now). Progress is slow, but steady. I don't have any dreams of being a professional violinist, but my goals are to be able to play Czsardas, Brahms, and Schindler's List well, and to pass level 6 or 7 of the ABRSM.

Are there any late starters out there who have been playing for a while? How did you overcome the feelings of discouragement that sometimes creep up? Have any of you passed advance level exams (i.e ABRSM, RCM, etc)?

Thank you

Replies (47)

December 30, 2017, 9:32 PM · Welcome to the violin world and this website! There are lots of adult beginners on this forum. I'm just muckin' around here to share my voice on violin-related topics.
December 31, 2017, 1:36 AM · Not an adult starter but I know someone who started in their 40s and has passed the equivalent of ABRSM grade 7.
December 31, 2017, 1:51 AM · V.com is a terrific website for adult starters. In Australia, I’m aiming for ABRSM grade 7 equivalent as well (we could generally aim for higher I think - maybe grade 8). I started at 32 and I’m satisfied with my progress.
December 31, 2017, 1:55 AM · I've been taking lessons for almost a year. I have felt discouraged a couple of times about aspects of technique that seemed hopelessly difficult, but I seem to have passed those hurdles. It did require deliberate practice, though! One of the bigger hurdles was independent finger positioning along the strings, in particular a low second finger. That one got solved with the help of other people here on the forum.

Regarding exams: I don't think they are very meaningful for an adult. Unlike driving exams and university exams, they don't have official consequences. From what I hear, orchestras will require an audition anyway. You could treat them as milestones; if you need those, you can use student recitals. (They are also stage fright training :-) )

In my teenage years, I did exams (not violin). What I remember is that it did force me to spend more attention to theory and scales than what I would have done as a part of the regular lessons. Theory covered music notation and names of intervals and keys.

Although I'm not going to do exams, I do check occasionally where I am relative to ABRSM grades and Suzuki books, so that I have an idea of my progress and so that I have context for online discussions that refer to Suzuki books and ABRSM grades. (My teacher doesn't use Suzuki.)

December 31, 2017, 2:05 AM · I've taught a dozen or so adult beginners in the past ten years.

The one factor that contributed to their success was daily practice. Even if it was only 15 minutes a day. The ones that invested at least that made so much more progress than those who skipped days, even if they spent an hour on those days that they did play.

Best wishes, and enjoy the journey. :)

December 31, 2017, 6:37 AM · One person's idea of fun music is not necessarily another person's. ;-)

Good luck to the OP.

December 31, 2017, 7:06 AM · Wow.
December 31, 2017, 7:54 AM · Han N. Depending on what your goal is but I suggest stop being so mechanical. I play by music but I also play hundreds of pieces by ear. Playing by ear is much more fun and less stressful.
December 31, 2017, 7:55 AM · I am a adult returner. I played violin when I was in fourth and fifth grade. I started back up when I was 34. I have had a couple of times that I have not played for a month since then. The best thing I can say is to love the process love playing scales, love practicing a shift over and over. It is my meditation.

Michael, it seems like you might be just trolling but you are coming off as a jerk. I am sure many people think you and your interests are boring. No need to insult anyone else because you don't like how they live.

December 31, 2017, 8:16 AM · Heyyy! Happy New Year Everyone!!!!
Edited: December 31, 2017, 8:23 AM · I started the violin at 32, close to 9 years ago. The thing that keeps me motivated is my lessons. No matter how busy life got, or how much i did not practise, i always turned up for lessons, and thus kept playing because there was a goal - to be prepared for lessons otherwise it’s pretty easy to slip off and end up quitting. The other thing is to be prepared for the long haul, it’s hard to do in the first couple of years as you constantly wonder when you will be able to play xxx repertoire, but after a while the feeling does get old and you just plod on.

I won’t call ABRSM exams advanced but i did do and pass my grade 8 a few years ago, and if i can do it, anyone can. If you want more company on the adult learning road, you’re welcome to check out the Facebook group called Adult Starters - Violin/fiddle. Loads of nice people and encouragement there.

Good luck on your journey! :)

Edited: December 31, 2017, 10:26 AM · Jessy Ringquist Aww did I hurt your little feelings? Stop being such a bore and get a life. I'm sure that you could dazzle us all with your great accomplishments in life. I know I could.
December 31, 2017, 11:15 AM · Hi Phil, I started playing violin about 31 months ago, at age 49. Just over a year ago I even had 3 lessons! Like you, I do not intend to become professional, which takes all the pressure off and leaves it for what I want it to be: love of music and joy in making music. My goals include making music on the front porch and in local venues with my son and brother and whatever friends I can make in other adult-learner musicians. I have occasionally felt discouraged, as you mention, but I have a friend who is a graduate of the Yale School of Music and a very excellent piano teacher and he says EVERY musician passes through periods of better and worse playing, and better and worse feelings about their playing. I play almost every day, and "play" is my concept of what I'm doing, as it is so much more fun than "practicing," though I do often take apart difficult sections repeatedly so technically it could be called practicing. To me, the best way to deal with frustrations is to recall how much worse I used to be, and to remember there was a time not so long ago when I was still teaching myself the names of the notes on paper and using a tuner the whole time to tell me if I was hitting the right note. Like growth of a child, you might not notice progress day-by-day, but after a period goes by, you'll be able to say "I really did come a long way already!"
Edited: December 31, 2017, 11:20 AM · And Jessy, I agree very much that playing can function like meditation: clear the mind of all distractions and even of ego awareness, then concentrate for extended periods on sound and joining the body with that sound. There are definitely mental and spiritual benefits from such escapes from the cares of daily life and from the focus of the attention span on such an ethereal thing as sound and becoming one with sound.
December 31, 2017, 2:45 PM · Thank you everyone for your comments. It's definitely something that I enjoy and am glad I started! Also good to know that level 8 is achievable : )

December 31, 2017, 7:09 PM · I started five years ago and was taking lessons until just last month. There have been periods of discouragement, but I just kept going until they stopped. What works best for me is to find ways to play with other people. I started with duets with my teacher. After a couple of years I joined an beginning adult chamber ensemble, and now opportunities keep falling in my lap.

I found the thing that most triggered disappointment in my playing was when I was struggling with new concepts. During those times, it helps to move sideways for a while. While there are a ton of people who will say "just play for fun", I don't know that any of them were adult starters with the goal to improve. It's hard to be a beginning violinist while also having a career, family, mortgage, etc. It always feel like you'll run out of time before you get where you want to be.

Exams aren't much of a thing here. The kids do a festival here where they get graded. My kids do it, but I've never seen an adult testing.

Best of luck with your lessons. I look forward to hearing your experiences.

December 31, 2017, 10:48 PM · Hi Phil, welcome to the adult beginners club ! I started about 16 years ago at the age of 39. Never was in the same room with a violin in my life, never mind actually touching one, but a friend had one sitting around and she offered it to me....I said no, but then...one of the teachers at the local elementary school started giving lessons, so I changed my mind. I've been playing ever since.

I went through the obligatory "cat screaming" stage, but actually moved along rather nicely after that. I was invited to play in the praise team at my church after only 3 years....I had a very gracious teacher, who happened to be the worship leader. I also did some time with a local fiddle group and now....still play in the worship team and also in a local string orchestra as well.

Here's a vid of our orchestra, I'm the lady behind the concert mistress. This orchestra is a mix of professionals and amateurs like me, and we just have a good time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWW7gd7f8Jk&t=1436s

Yes, it's possible to learn to play well when you've started late, though I'm fairly sure that an adult starter will never reach the level of someone who started back when their ligaments and connective tissue were still pliable and fresh. I will never be able to get my left elbow under as far as I should so the G string is a bit difficult at times. But I've come farther than I ever thought I would.

I would recommend to you #1....stick with it, especially when you get really frustrated and think of quitting. In my experience, when you get to one of those points...they seem to come right before a breakthrough, so stick it out. #2....find a group to play with. I have learned so and my playing improved a lot after I started playing with the orchestra. It was supper challenging at first, but I stuck with it and I'm glad I did.

December 31, 2017, 11:22 PM · One useful thing about exams, juries, and the like, is that you get an outsider's view of your playing -- an assessment by someone other than your teacher, which helps you get a set of neutral observations that can be helpful for figuring out how well you're really doing. And they can give you a structured goal to work towards.
Edited: January 1, 2018, 10:32 AM · Someone already mentioned the Yamaha “silent” line of violins. I thought I’d mention the YEV line. They are extremely quiet as well. They can be played unplugged if needed, or you can plug in electronics and use headphones. I have the YEV-104 in the natural finish, and I love it,

EDIT: After logging in so I could comment, I navigated back to the wrong post. Apologies for the random comment that wasn’t relevant to your question.

January 1, 2018, 1:50 AM · Hi Phil,
I played as a child and returned to playing about 10 years ago. Swapped countries, lived in remote areas with no teachers, so had to guide myself. On your own there is loads of music but sometimes knowing where to start is the issue. I did ABRSM grade 5 at school but after that needed grade 5 theory to do more exams. When I was younger I hated exams, playing in public, so for many years just played for my own enjoyment.
Earlier this year I decided to bite the bullet. Now living in Australia I only needed grade 2 theory to do my next practical exam, I did this in July. I wanted to do another exam to give me more structure on my learning. I took AMEB grade 6 in December and was pleased to pass with a grade A. I’m now encouraged to do grade 7. Although still a nerve wracking experience I’m glad I did it and actually enjoyed the process.
Good luck and enjoy the journey
January 1, 2018, 1:51 AM · Eileen's advice is unerring - you are likely to face some physical challenges that could be avoided, or at least alleviated, by starting when young. For example, I find it hard for my little finger to reach its spot in first position of G, D, A strings, due to my little finger's length, and the limitation in stretching of the skin at the base between little and ring fingers. Had I started playing violin at 5, that stretching limit could be lifted to a degree.

That said, it is important to not stay discouraged just because you are a late starter, and perhaps more importantly, to not blame everything on age whenever you face a technical problem that can't be solved immediately. Your problem could be faced by any age group.

There are many 30-year-old-ish late starters on youtube that sound amazing that you only wish to reach half of their level - I often use them as a source of motivation for myself.

January 1, 2018, 8:56 PM · Little finger in 1st position should not be a stretch. The fact that it feels like a stretch strongly suggests that your left hand is incorrectly placed.
January 1, 2018, 9:56 PM · Hi Lydia, thank you! I meant when playing. Maybe my hand was in the wrong position like you said. I was practicing Suzuki book 1 Minuet 1, and I use little finger in where there is instruction/option to use little finger in the piece.

Maybe I did not press the palm close enough to the fingerboard side when using little finger so that causes stretching?

I see this lady in this video does seem to stretch her 4th finger whenever she uses it but I could be wrong.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6IM5a3YMtg&t=3s

Anyway, thanks very much for sharing your thoughts. Sorry to the OP for this sidethread.

Edited: January 1, 2018, 10:16 PM · The lady in your video locks her fourth finger whenever she uses it, which is incorrect technique.

Here is a video where the lady's pinky appears to be short and yet she does not lock it--she is demonstrating better technique with her fourth finger, though I am not a fan of that kind of exaggerated elbow swinging. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_iU--hIiHQ

January 2, 2018, 3:03 AM · Hi Mary Ellen, thank you for this!
Edited: January 2, 2018, 5:50 AM · Welcome to the world of the adult learner! I started violin aged 40 and I'd strongly endorse the advice to practice every day (or 6 out of 7) for brief periods. It builds confidence and skills and keeps parts of the mind on the process even when you're not actually practising. I joined a learner orchestra which was a powerful and enjoyable learning experience and developed skills in ways I had not anticipated. Discouragement is part of the process of developing any complex set of skills, and adults in particular my be subject to expectations which are unrealistic. Stick with it through the discouraging and despairing moments and don't force yourself to persist at times when you really feel you can't. Putting the instrument down or away for a while at such times can free you up to return to it refreshed.
January 2, 2018, 7:41 AM · I started when I was 60 and can now play a bunch of tunes from memory in a range from baroque to folk. I have gotten good enough so that my wife no longer tells me to close the door to the practice room when I play. >grin<

Some general advice that I found invaluable:

1. Do SOMETHING every day, even if it is just an open string exercise or a simple scale, and you only have a few minutes.

2. Focus on a scale and a song in that key. Each will reinforce the other, keep practice sessions FUN, and develop a repertoire. ABRSM and RCM exam syllabi are both excellent sources for tunes and scales.

January 2, 2018, 9:05 AM · The lady in the finger with the locked 4th finger also has her thumb placed too far back, behind the index finger, causing her whole hand to be canted and her left hand very tense. This is effectively a big cautionary warning on online videos -- and teachers in general, since the woman in that video appears to have an offline Suzuki studio as well -- since not everyone who is demonstrating has good technique themselves.

If you have small hands (and arguably for many other people as well), placing the thumb close to the second finger, thus moving the balance of the hand to be centered on the 2nd, makes everything feel more compact (including making a 4th-finger placement feel very comfortable and well-supported), and facilitates being able to stretch for extensions.

January 2, 2018, 9:16 AM · I am a beginner starting at age 64 and currently am enjoying the journey. I don't really care where I end up as the process itself fully sustains me.

Almost 50 yrs ago I was a double bass player in the MCYO. I sucked but those around me did not. I wasn't really serious, just a dabbling dilettante. Many of my colleagues became professional including my stand partner who now plays for the Baltimore Symphony.

I had a great opportunity early on and let it pass.

Now I feel blessed to return.

January 2, 2018, 10:19 AM · Hi, Toby, another MCYO alumna here! I was in the Junior Youth Orchestra grades 6 - 8, and the Youth Symphony grades 9 - 12 (1974-1978). What a great experience!

Sorry for the hijack, carry on.

January 2, 2018, 10:50 AM · Hi Mary Ellen.
Jonathan Jensen (he of the Baltimore Symphony) was a sophomore with me at Springbrook High School in 1968 before he went to the big time at Interlochen.
There was an incredible bassist from the Fort Worth Youth Symphony named Robert Barney who we all heard at a festival in Switzerland in 1969. He's now the principal bassist at Baltimore.
January 2, 2018, 11:02 AM · A cellist friend of mine in MCYO also went to Springbrook and is now in the Baltimore Symphony. Of course this was some years after your time. My high school, Seneca Valley, did not exist in the 1960s.

Several of my peers in the MCYO became professionals also. It was a fertile training ground.

January 4, 2018, 11:03 AM · I'm older than dirt. My problem with playing the violin/fiddle -- which I VERY much want to do -- is the pain involved. I can only play for a few minutes before my bow arm, neck, left elbow and more just really hurt. This is a problem going back 50 years (!!!). I've had lessons, watch the wonderful teachers on youtube but jeez, it's really painful to practice. And, FWIW, I've played a variety of instruments -- for $$$ -- including the pedal steel guitar which is no walk in the park. I'm retired now so I'm giving the violin another shot... :- )
January 4, 2018, 11:14 AM · I'm an adult returner in my 30s. When I restarted I remembered how to shift, and all of the basic components of playing but it sure felt like I was starting over... 13 months after "returning", I will be starting the second movement of the Bruch concerto next week.

I don't plan on doing any of the exams.

Enjoy the journey!

January 4, 2018, 2:14 PM · You can't host photos on this site. You can use the HTML IMG tag to include a photo you have hosted elsewhere, or you can link to imgur or the like.
January 4, 2018, 9:29 PM · Thank you Lydia. Got it done.
January 4, 2018, 10:39 PM · Thomas Quinn, didn't you come in for an intro lesson several years back with me? Are you one located in Sacramento?

Anyways, if it's pain that's the problem, have you ever given cello a try instead?

Edited: January 5, 2018, 11:54 AM · Hello Erik!

Yes, that's me. After I realized that I would need far more time to learn to play than my work schedule would allow, I put down the fiddle and the viola. Actually, I sold the viola. I retired 8/1/2016, sold my house in East Sac and moved back to the Mendocino Coast. I have time now to fool with bowed instruments. No teachers here though so I watch what I can on youtube. By they way,anyone reading this, Erik is a GREAT player and wonderful teacher. And a "cool dude" as well! ;- )

January 5, 2018, 1:26 PM · I am an adult beginner as well. Starting out (lesson #2 is tomorrow) at 42. While not ignorant to music in general, I've never played an instrument before, so naturally I chose this one because, you know, it's so easy ;-;
I've had my violin for exactly one week and I can already see progress so it's exciting to know what next week will bring. Good luck on your journey - looks like you are definitely not alone. And many thanks for the comment regarding the Facebook group. That's my next stop!
January 5, 2018, 2:46 PM · "Regarding exams: I don't think they are very meaningful for an adult. Unlike driving exams and university exams, they don't have official consequences."

I don't know about ABSRM and others, but RCM exams don't have much in the way of official consequences for kids either. Here, they start mattering at RCM grade 7 -- a performance + theory mark could be combined to serve as a high school grade 11 credit. Similarly for RCM grade 8 performance + theory high school grade 12. Since the theory work alone is comparable to a high school grade credit, preparing for and doing RCM examinations represents a ton of work for such "official consequences".

But that's not the point. Passing the examinations with good grades represents meeting certain standards and educational expectations, including breadth of material, technique, and theory. Anyone can claim to play this or that piece, but does that playing meet a desired or expected level of quality? That's what the examination standards do for you, whether or not you take them, as long as your teacher makes you meet them.

IMO, this is an issue which is just as pertinent for adults if not more so. With adult learners, teachers can take the attitude that it just doesn't matter -- it's a hobby for them and whatever the paying student wants to do is fine. So the adult learner might be playing well under the standards that would be placed on kids who will be compared and tested. A tool to ensure that these expectations are met for yourself and your teacher is to plan for, work towards, and perform a formal test conducted by another qualified examiner.

That said, it is a hobby for adults and whatever you want to do is fine.

Edited: January 5, 2018, 3:34 PM · Phil,

You are where I was over 40 years ago as I started at about the same age (30). Being an adult beginner has some advantages and drawbacks. The advantage is that you made a decision to do this, not your parents and that leads to a different level of commitment. The drawback is that you are an adult with adult responsibilities that demand time.

You have to learn effective practice that is not clock based but sharply focused skill-acquisition practice. That means that you and your teacher have to set clearly defined goals that are achievable between lessons without requiring lots of time. No, it isn't easy but it can be done. Another drawback is that kids are going to "blow-your-doors-off." Don't let that get you down - you have different goals and less time. Be gentle with yourself and enjoy the journey.

Someday you too will be in your 70's and still enjoying the ability to play when a lot of your age-peers will be couch-potatoes who can't read music let alone play an instrument. You will have an interesting set of friends as well much like the participants here on V.com.

January 5, 2018, 3:42 PM · Nice, Thomas! Mendocino is where I'd move if there were students to be had there.
January 5, 2018, 3:43 PM · John O. there are a lot of fiddle teachers on youtube. You can find all that you need there for sure. I do think though that the technique you must learn to play so-called Classical music will serve you very well, even if it is just getting a good tone from the instrument. Good luck!
January 5, 2018, 5:53 PM · Cold and damp here Erik. The music scene is nothing like it was 33 years ago when I left. You need to be self contained if you don't want to go a bit bonkers... -L-
January 5, 2018, 10:22 PM · I'm late to the party, but would like to give my thoughts on a few things.
Pinky reach issues: you can place your thumb more under the neck and have yur hand taller. Also keep your hand and thumb relaxed. This brings your pinky closer to the fingerboard.
Advantages of starting as an adult: your higher intellectual abilities allow you to develop practice habits without assistance from anyone except the teacher, and you have a better comprehension of your lessons
In terms of studying folk violin, try to find a folk violin teacher, or take some classiaal lessons for technical development, and then immerse yourself in your preferred style.
Edited: January 6, 2018, 7:01 AM · John Olley, get the first O'Connor book. Be prepared for some sticker shock, though.
January 6, 2018, 8:36 AM · John Olley, I don't know what the "thing"about "Twinkle" is - I've heard it before. I remember it as the piece my first violin teacher led me to in 1939 (long before Suzuki (in any form) came to America). I also have used it teaching violin and cello beginners from age 6 to 60.The things it does for the student are:
1. uses familiar intonation to help them learn to play in tune
2. simple rhythm for bow metrics
3. training to place the first 3 fingers in tune
4. limits initial bowing to 2 strings for simplicity

The same thing can be done with "Ba, Ba, Black Sheep," "Happy Birthday," and even "Devil's Dream." Some adult beginners came to me with burning desires to play "Amazing Grace," or "Ashokan Farewell" and after starting with "Twinkle" to get their finger placements learned, we moved to their desired goal within a couple of weeks and after that we were ready to actually learn to play the instrument without their pre-set barriers.

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