Thursday, July 7, 2011

Learning the Violin as an Adult

 Written by: Amy Tobin

I love the new players who come in to our shop to look for instruments. There is a certain look in their eye, a moment of hesitation before getting a little more comfortable with us, and certain sense of both nervousness and excitement. Sometimes these new players are adults, and there is one consistency among all of them. They all seem to think that we are going to act like they are crazy for wanting to learn to play the violin (or viola, or cello) as an adult. Au contraire!


I think that learning a string instrument at any age is an extremely wonderful thing! As a child, learning an instrument is important for different reasons-discipline, coordination, mental acuity-but learning to play the violin as an adult can be a totally joyous experience! First of all, you, yourself, are choosing to learn to play. Nobody is making you take lessons or looking over your shoulder everyday to make sure that you are practicing. This means that you are more likely to really put your mind to it and really enjoy it!

When I have an adult beginning violin student, I always start by mentioning what I consider to be the most important part of learning. Don't get in your own way! As we get older, we tend to have more preconceived notions about ourselves. Things like 'I'm smart, I pick up on things easily, so I should be able to learn this pretty quickly.' Or, conversely 'I'm smart, I pick up on things easily, so I must not be any good if I can't seem to do this right away!'

In truth, the more you can approach your lessons with a child-like mindset, the better off you will be. You see, when a youngster comes to their lesson, most often they just listen to the teacher and do what they say. They don't berate themselves for picking up on it more slowly than they think they should, they don't sit there and try to figure out why the teacher tells them to do something a certain way, they just go home and do it. The whys and how comes happen later, if at all.

The other thing to realize is that playing the violin is awkward. No two ways about it. There is nothing else that you do in your daily life that can prepare you for holding the violin, holding the bow, or bowing with the proper motion. You will need to take some time to learn the mechanics of playing before you are able to really make music. This can be the most frustrating part of learning for an adult, but if you take your time, you will find that progress starts to happen very quickly at a certain point. And, once the pieces start to fall into place, it can be a very comfortable experience!

When you look for a teacher for yourself (and you really should. Learning the violin on your own is very difficult), get some recommendations from people. Ask around at your local music shops and schools. Above all, get together with the person to make sure that you get along well with them and what they say makes sense to you. There is no reason, as an adult, that you should be going to a teacher that you don't feel comfortable with. After all, you are doing this for enjoyment, aren't you?

A lot of people ask how long it will be until they are able to play a certain song. This is one of the hardest questions to answer. It all depends on how open you are to doing things the way a teacher tells you, how much time you have to devote to practicing, and how dextrous you are initially. That doesn't mean that someone who is a bit stiffer with their fingers can't learn quickly, but that person would really have to be easier on him or herself to allow that to happen. I have had some students progress through the basics and play pieces in a matter of months, while with others it can take quite a bit longer than that. The important thing, however, is to notice the progress that is being made. After all, it is the journey, not the destination, right?

Once you feel a little more comfortable playing and feel that you have made some progress, there are usually a lot of different kinds of groups that you can find to play with. Most areas have at least one, if not several, community orchestras, most churches have music groups, as well as just finding people to play chamber music with. The possibilities really are limitless, and playing in a group can really help to bring you to the next level, and beyond. Plus, you will find more people like you than you realized were out there.

Above all, be patient with yourself. Learning the violin takes time, but with some practice, you will soon be able to play beautiful music!

1 comment:

  1. Liked the blog post. I'm 29 and started playing the violin a year ago. I could identify with a few of the things in here. What else is pretty funny about the differences between kids and adults is that when I was in band in elementary school, I hated filling out those practice cards and having to get my mom to sign them saying that I practiced.

    But now with practicing the violin, I do this willingly just so I make sure that I'm practicing 1) as much as I should be and 2) as much as I think I am!

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