What steps should be made for a late teen just starting violin? Is it too late?

Anna Riccardo said: Nov 20, 2014
 2 posts

I am 18 years old and just beginning Violin. My parents never exposed me to the arts as a child and now in my later teen years I find myself scrambling to make up for lost time on endeavors I should have started over a decade ago. My Violin instructor says I am very self driven, which is a plus but that I am an extreme perfectionist, which she seems to think may stunt my growth if I get hung up on difficulties. Either way I still intend to pursue because it is my dream. What measures can I take to better develop my skills and possibly move along a little in my quest to make up for lost time? Will I ever be as good as those who began as toddlers or is all hope for being at an advanced/professional level lost. (By “professional” I don’t mean I wish to pursue a career, simply using it as a term to describe skill level.) So far I have been playing for 5 weeks and have covered the first 6 songs from Suzuki book 1.

Danielle Kravitz said: Nov 20, 2014
Danielle KravitzInstitute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Violin
64 posts

Well, I don’t know if this will give you any sense of comfort but Shinichi Suzuki, the man who founded this method, didn’t start playing the violin until age 20. And he didn’t even start work in what would later become “The Suzuki Method” until his 40s.

Point being: it’s not a race. The best thing about music is that it’s a lifelong study. Yes, there are advantages to starting young. But consider a student starting at 4, by the time that student is 24 that’s 20 years of weekly lessons, practicing and adults harping on him to keep going.

The main problem adults have is just that they lack the time to put that kind of effort in (school and jobs) and they don’t have their parents there to yell at them when they don’t practice.

But anyone who puts consistent effort into learning something for 20 years is going to be pretty darn proficient by the end.

Man said: Nov 21, 2014
 Violin, Voice, Viola
13 posts

I suspect there are various factors at play besides the “lost time” thing. Yeah, all things being equal, the lost time makes a big diff, but all things are rarely actually equal.

For instance, consider the Suzuki philosophy that you are today who you are in very large part due to your environment and experiences. Depending on what those actually involved, you’re probably not exactly equal to the “average” 18-yo who might want to start violin. Maybe you’ve spent a lot of years doing certain things that would positively contribute toward violin technique, eg. listened attentively to a lot of music, regularly do certain things that would help left/violin-hand and/or bow-hand/arm technique. OR maybe you’ve done the opposite and need to undo those things (often called “bad habits”). A 3-to-4-yo would have far less of those things built into them whether to benefit or work against.

Ultimately, I think as long as you approach the violin in a reasonable manner, ie. reasonable expectations to go w/ corresponding diligence, etc. you can be happy and satisfied w/ your new, life-long journey. Also, it’s not clear what “professional” playing level means to you. There’s a lot of variance in actual skill levels amongst professionals, ie. people who do it as their day/primary job—this is true in most fields, not just music. Take Suzuki’s own example for instance (as pointed out by Danielle above). He wasn’t a world-class violinist, but he was a professional performer for a season before he essentially retired from that (in part due to WWII)—and maybe his technique wouldn’t be good enough to make it professionally in today’s highly competitive world. And yes, actually being professional means it’s a business and there’s lots of competition… whereas simply making music and loving and enjoying (and sharing) it is something else.

FWIW, I’m an adult beginner (alongside my Suzuki kids), and just treat the violin/viola as a recreational thing (while doing the Suzuki thing for my kids) and love and enjoy it for what it is. I do likewise w/ other hobbies like photography—and some people would consider my photography professional enough for some purposes (and certainly plenty worthwhile to share and enjoy) in many instances. Yes, I guess I’m an artist at heart who just didn’t have the opp to develop in and pursue that direction growing up—and I try to make sure my own kids have that opp now…



Irene Mitchell said: Nov 21, 2014
Irene Mitchell
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Dallas, TX
114 posts

Yay, Anna, good for you!!
I agree with Danielle, it’s NEVER too late!
As an adult you are your own practice partner at home; if you are conscientious, you will not waste the time that most younger students do. One of the most advanced students I have ever had started at twelve; but was dedicated to practicing intelligently so he covered a lot of ground efficiently. The emphasis, of course, is on practicing carefully and slowly, every day. John Kendall (one of the first American teachers to embrace the Suzuki method) used to say “the slower you practice, the faster you’ll go; the faster you practice, the slower you’ll go”. That careful effort plus listening to your recordings every day will make your violin adventure a success. (You did see that every day part, right? :o)
Good luck, and keep us posted!

Irene Mitchell

Man said: Nov 21, 2014
 Violin, Voice, Viola
13 posts

Ditto what Irene just said as well.

Our older kids (just 2-3 years younger than you) have to be reminded of that now and then. And I’m still trying to instill that in our nearly-8-yo who is gradually getting it… :-)

Take it slow… and often, you may need to do seemingly counter-intuitive things like start w/ staccato bows rather than just try to play something the way you’d expect to be the final result, eg. you will especially learn this when you get to Gossec Gavotte (and the 4-note slurs therein). ;-) :-)

And don’t rush thru Book 1 just because it’s Book 1. Each piece has at least one (if not more) new, basic skill/technique that you’ll need to master to build a good foundation, eg. by the time you’ve done a gazillion Twinkle variation A tacca-tacca-stop-stops (or whatever you and your teacher call it) heading toward the Bach Double at the end of Book 4, you will have mastered something needed to play that piece beautifully. And if you don’t learn those various skills well and move on, you’ll eventually run into problems later and need to relearn them, eg. a lot of kids (and adults) probably run into trouble somewhere in Book 4 like the Vivaldi A-min, if not sooner.



Heather Figi said: Nov 21, 2014
 96 posts

The immediate responses here demonstrate how thrilled we are for you!

Starting at 18 makes you special and has distinct advantages that will reveal itself over time.

My advice- always feed your soul by:
- Attending performances
- Listening to recordings of pieces you are passionate about
- As soon as possible, start playing chamber music

Please keep us posted.
This is incredible and exciting.

Anna Riccardo said: Nov 21, 2014
 2 posts

Thanks so much for all your encouraging words and bits of advice! Definitely if you always focus on the destination you will miss the beauty of the journey. :) My idol is Taylor Davis because she can play such a wide range of genres that you would never consider for the violin and makes it work! For example Katy Perry’s Wide Awake I would prefer performed by Taylor Davis over the original any day! I guess I just have a tendency to compare progress to spans of time or years but now reading all these great comments I have some changes to make in my thinking! Once again, thanks for supporting me and all other late starters! Off to my lesson! :) Anna

Sue Hunt said: Nov 22, 2014
Sue HuntViola, Violin
403 posts

You are so lucky to be starting in your late teens. You have much greater intellectual understanding of what you take from your lessons.

A word of caution. I started the viola when I was 17 and, because it was something that I had always wanted to do, I rushed at it and unlimitedly did myself a lot of physical damage.

You obviously will want to progress quickly, but it is very important to make your set up so good that it will not let you down when you are emotionally involved in the music. Please stay aware of what your body is doing when you are standing in this strange position with your heart in your sleeve. You will find it a valuable skill to be able to use just enough muscular effort to do the job without dropping the instrument.

Good luck. I hope that your music gives you years of enjoyment.

Alan Duncan said: Nov 28, 2014
Suzuki Association Member
81 posts

There’s a book with a relevant title: “Never Too Late” by John Holt (of homeschooling/unschooling fame.) He began studies on the cello as an adult and became a proficient amateur musician. The book is his autobiography of this slice of his life.

As an adult violin student alongside my Suzuki violinist daughter, I’ve found that the challenges are different for older students (granted, in my case, a lot older!) A 17 year-old is going to have more demands on her time than a 6 year-old. More than anything this the challenge for students starting later than typical. The output is proportional to how much time you put into practice, up to a point. Beyond that, it simply takes calendar time.

Also, I feel as if there’s something about one’s body growing with an instrument that imparts a comfort level and relaxation. So much of the technique requires that you discover and find ways of removing tension that you may need to be even more mindful. Those differences may not necessarily show up in Book 1; but as you add shifting, vibrato and and advanced bow techniques you may encounter and need to be mindful of any excess tension.

I will say this: although I’m relatively inexperienced violinist, I am a pianist in a chamber music group where our violinist had been an adult beginner some years back. He plays beautifully, has excellent technique and is absolutely fearless in approaching the repertoire we play. It can be done at any age. Your maturity and enthusiasm will overcome many obstacles.

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