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glenn kotnik
I'm new to this site and find it to be a great resource. I have some opinions about your answer to the question "I'm 60 years old, is it too late to learn to play the violin?" I didn't really start learning the violin until I was about 42 y/o. Since then I've had a great teacher and have been practicing faithfully for 15 years. However I often wish I had put those 15 years into a different instrument. Why? I love the violin, but even after 15 years it is hard to play a piece with a sound others could really enjoy listening to. I think that to play the violin with consistantly solid intonation and solid tone requires starting at a younger age. Someone putting this much time into the piano, harpsichord or even cello would by now be rewarded with a much more pleasing sound. That is not to say that I cannot play in tune, but to solidly and faithfully hit each pitch with almost inperceptable adjustment over the course of a piece still eludes me. The ability of a nonmusical listener to detect imperfections in intonation is remarkable. To eventually find the correct pitch is not enough to please a listener. Other instruments have their difficulties but the violin is a harsh mistress, (to quote someone). Adult beginners on other instruments can often reach a level where they play very pleasingly, not so the violin. Also, when you advise an adult on starting the violin, ask why they want to play the violin. Do they hear themselves playing the Mendelson concerto pleasingly? If so, they may be thinkingly unrealistically. A number of years ago NPR had an hour long program on adult beginner instrumentalists. They had samples of many adults playing nicely on many instruments, even the cello, but not the violin. The adult violinist they interviewed who had played for 10 years spoke passionately about her instrument, but no sample of her playing. So older adults who take up the violin need to understand that it's unlikely they will ever completely rid themselves of that wisp of Jack Benny quality, and play well enough that others will want to hear them play. I'm not saying I regret taking up the violin and putting so much time into it, but it's really a private and Quixotic endevor, and there are very appealing alternatives. It's not unusual for me to put over a year into learning one or two pages of music, the Adagio from the Bach g-minor, Bieber Passacaglia, Chausson poem, Stravinsky Elegy, etc. but never really play them well enough that I would want anyone but my teacher to hear me.
glenn kotnik
17 Responses
Posted: May 26, 2011
Last Comment: June 2, 2011

Posted: June 2, 2011
Jo / Beth - I've just started a new thread to continue this... (PS Jo - I'm right down the south of Kent....)

Beth Blackerby
Posted: June 2, 2011
Hi Don! Nice to meet and greet you. I think if the UK folks could find a way to meet, that would be amazing. Would love to see everyone in Austin, but I understand how expensive the travel would be.

Posted: June 2, 2011
Simon, are you UK based too? South/North? I am 'dying' to find people local to me so that we can meet on a regular basis not just once a year, I am London based :) Shall we start a UK thread?

Posted: June 2, 2011
Hi Jo - I think there is a good, and growing, number of VL members from the UK! I know I should really start another thread for this, but as I'm here....

Maybe we should think of organising a violin day / weekend for all the UK (and Europe) members? I'd love to go to Austin, but can't afford the travel (or time away from work / family!) but would love to do something here. Any thoughts?


Posted: June 1, 2011
Don! another UK member,EXCELLENT!!!! where are you?? I'm also in the UK, I started at 37 and am now 41, 42 this year. It can be done :) I am in South London :) we also have another UK member on violin lab, am sure he will say hello in due time :) x Jo

Posted: May 31, 2011
Hello Don, After going through Beth's tutorials and videos, you'll have a great handle on what to look for in a new teacher, when you start your search. Welcome to V-lab !

Posted: May 31, 2011
This is more to say Hi than to contribute anything major to the topic. I am a 49 year old learner. I have been playing for a couple of years now. I was lucky I guess that I studied the flute when young so could read music and had a good musical foundation. I always loved the violin but was always put off by people saying how difficult it was, and how impossible it was to get a good sound out of the instrument when learning. Finally I decided that I would just give it a try, I am now at that stage of life where it doesn't really matter that I wont be the next Joshua Bell :) I have to say my fears were unfounded. Yes it is bloody hard ! LOL and my tone is a little intermittent but I am actually amazed at how far I have progressed in such a short time. I think as an Adult I have the staying power and the committment that I probably wouldn't have had as a kid. I did have a teacher but sacked him! I was learning nothing from him to be honest. I have learned more from this site than he ever taught me (thanks Beth). I will find a new teacher hopefully, but for now I can read, watch and listen on here and practice, practice, practice. Vibrato was just impossible for me until I started working with Beth's techniques. I am still way off but have seen an improvement in one week of joining this site ! Kudos... Don (UK)

Posted: May 30, 2011

I think you are probably being too harsh on yourself. I believe the most important thing is that you enjoy the process of playing and learning.

My playing is not that great for others (ask my ever so diplomatic wife!) to listen to but I thoroughly enjoy the process of learning and getting better little by little.

I agree with Eileen on re-visiting a piece. It is a good confidence boost to find that you can play it much better than you previously did.

Post a video of your self, I am sure you will be surprised at the comments it attracts. Certainly looking at your repertoire i think you probably can play better than you imagine.

Posted: May 29, 2011
I agree Anne ! I too like to "revisit" older pieces. It's always encouraging to pick up something you've struggled with in the past...and maybe even tossed down in frustration and given up on...only to pick it up a year later and wonder why you had such a hard time with it !

I also look forward to Beth's "musically" enhanced "Twinkle" !

Anne aMaudPowellFan
Posted: May 27, 2011

Hi Glenn and everybody! I'd like to add one point to this extra-ordinary discussion. I like to re-visit pieces I have learned some time ago, or study new pieces that are well within the limit of my technical abilities. It is fun and brings with it a sense of accomplishment. Also such pieces are better candidates for performing in front of people than pieces with the newest hair-rising technique that do not really come off yet (but might a year or five later, when it is their turn to be re-visited).

There are all these musical things that Beth has been talking about lately and that can be applied once a piece has been well-learned. I am quite looking forward to what you'll be doing with Twinkle, Beth. It certainly will be an inspiration.

Beth Blackerby
Posted: May 27, 2011
Glenn, I have to say that from the pieces you've listed in your repertoire, you are definitely dedicated to your instrument. I do know what you were trying to say though. There are without a doubt instruments that have a more immediate and instant gratification when it comes to tone and intonation. My sister studied harp, and if the right pedals were pushed down, it was hard to make that thing sound bad. And who is not totally forgiving when their favorite folk singer has an out-of-tune guitar. Violin is just not forgiving in the same way.

Hope you can make it down to Austin next summer (with pictures of your harpsichord!)

So, speaking of like minded people coming together, I'll be announcing the dates of Violin Lab Reunion 2012. Check the members' news reel in the upcoming week.

glenn kotnik
Posted: May 27, 2011
Thanks everyone, I really appreciate all of your thoughtful responses. Obviously there are many very dedicated and passionate violinists on this site. I hope no one got the impression that I consider myself a failure on the violin and am wallowing in self pity, far from it. I get tremendous pleasure and excitment when I conquer a few more measures of unaccompanied Bach or a new phrase in the Chausson. Still, when I consider embarking on a new long term project I consider where I am likely to be with it 10 or 15 years down the road, and decide if that is the best investment of my time, or if a slightly different path might pay off with more satisfaction. This dosn't seem any different than carefully choosing whice piece to begin next, knowing I will spend a year or two on the piece, and wondering if it's really something that will sound good at the tempo I could achieve, if it's really playable by me, and is something I want to play that badly. If not, I choose another piece. A few years ago I build a beautiful harpsichord for a friend who studied the instrument in college. I've never had a keyboard lesson in my life but I could sit down at the instrument and immediately play good sounding notes and chords in tune. If I were just now considering starting an instrument now, this would be a tempting instrument in which to invest countless hours over the next couple of decades, since two of the biggest problems of the violin are eliminated. But, the violin is my instrument now and I will continue to get satisfaction, like Don Quixote, wielding my bow against the violin repertoire.

Beth Blackerby
Posted: May 26, 2011
Hi Glenn and Welcome-

This has been a most remarkable post and I appreciate everything everyone has said. Here is what I believe Glenn: No matter what age you are, you can with diligent, regular, thoughtful practice, over a very long period time, achieve a level of proficiency to deliver a convincing performance so that someone will enjoy listening to it (including yourself).

The problem is, no matter how old you are or what level you are on, you will always fall short of what your own personal criteria is for mastery. That's just human nature. Jack, touchingly lumped my name in with the greats, but the reality is that I will never in my life reach the level of the beloved soloists, not even if I started practicing 10 hours a day...ever! And if I focus on that fact, then I think I should just put the violin down and only teach.

Yet, the people who hear me play and come up after a performance to tell me how much they enjoyed my playing, know full well they aren't listening to Perlman, Joshua Bell, or Hillary Hahn. And they aren't expecting me to play like them either. But they hear proficiency, preparedness, and expression, which are all attainable at any age with thoughtful and regular practice.

I was listening to a student recital at our shop not too long ago, and there was one painfully out-of-tune- performance after another. Then there was this kid who was not at all advanced, had a cheap violin and a small tone, played plenty of notes out-of-tune, but played with so much heart. He had learned his piece well, so there were no starts and stumbles. It was completely engaging and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It occurred to me in that moment what a good performance really is. It's an honest and humble communication from the performer to the listener. And it can happen regardless of the difficulty of the material or the level of the performer. “Proficient” doesn’t mean super advanced and technically difficult material played flawlessly. It means, to me at least, that a player has a thorough understanding of the music and can play with a conviction that reveals the love and connection they feel to the music, even with Jack Benny scratches and out-of-tune-notes (here and there).

You can't communicate something well if you don't "feel" it, or if you don't know it well enough to get through it.

I don't believe that artistry is defined by virtuosity. You can hear artistic integrity from even the most novice player.

Sure, we are awed and amazed and enraptured when we hear virtuosity and complete technical mastery, but we are, too, able to enjoy many other levels of music making (even from beginners) when we sense the heart behind the music paired with the hard work behind the performance.

I don't practice difficult concertos (anymore)with the hope that someday I will solo with the New York Philharmonic. So the things I do play, I know I can play well. Notice I don’t use Paganini for demos! And like the others stated, in adulthood, we get to do what we love and what brings us joy.

I know I'm not the world's best teacher either. I have witnessed phenomenal pedagogues. But sharing what I do know in the best way I can has value for others and that in turns gives immense satisfaction and meaning to my life

I agree, the violin is crazy hard, and playing something like piano or dulcimer might seem to be more gratifying. But I suspect that if you were an adult learning the piano, you would still have the same frustrations. Everything has that “unattainable” aspect no matter what it is. Feeling like you’ll never be good enough to be decent is not just exclusive to the violin. It is exclusive to being human. Which is where, "enjoying the journey" comes in. And Ray and Jack have already so eloquently described that.

Posted: May 26, 2011
Hi Glenn, Welcome to Vlab ! I picked up the violin 8 years ago at the age of 39...and same as Jo, I knew nothing about music, never mind playing an instrument up to that point. I have yet to regret it.

frustrating ? yeah, quite a bit at times, but I find that just about every time I get to that point of frustration with my playing...it's just before I hit a breakthrough with something and move up another level.

Lord willing, I'll be playing this instrument till He calls me home one day...and maybe even afterwards ! <:-D Sure, I listen to Perlman and others and wonder what it must be like to play so well...but they're exceptional...even folks who've been playing all their lives don't equal their level, that's why they're the masters ! Listening to them play just spurs me on to greater efforts.

I don't know where I'll get with this, I just know it's a joy and I'm so glad I picked it up....and SOoo very glad I found Beth here !!

Posted: May 26, 2011
Welcome Glenn! nice to have you with us. But I have to say I am 'saddened' and a little bit 'upset' at the same time to hear that you think that adult learners will never accomplish a level of playing 'good enough to please an audience' or to put it in your words: 'Adult beginners on other instruments can often reach a level where they play very pleasingly, not so on the violin. Also, when you advise an adult on starting the violin, ask why they want to play the violin. Do they hear themselves playing the Mendelson concerto pleasingly? If so, they may be thinkingly unrealistically.' My teacher who has over 40 years experience in teaching and over 55 in playing the violin, has been touring the world and teaches teachers and gives consultations to professionals (not to 'pump it' but just to say he has a 'little experience' and has seen a 'few' students/professionals/amateurs and normal adult learner like me) would strongly object with what you say I know that because we had a conversation about this and he has had students of ALL ages and all backgrounds in his life. I happen to be just one of those students who started as an adult, I started at 37 with NO prior knowledge of music never laid a finger on an instrument and YES I want to play the Mendelsshon concerto one day and all of the Paganini caprices and the Sibelius concerto and the Sarasate Carmen Fantasy and the Saint Saens Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso and many others and you know what? I WILL and not only I will play them, they will sound GOOD TOO!! and people will love listening to me play them and ask for more! No, I will not be a professional violinist and I will NOT sound like the masters but I will sound 'pleasing' to people because I will put my heart and soul into my violin playing and it will show into my playing :) when you play if you put your passion into it and overall you play it technically correct with overall correct intonation and has the right emotion it will sound good! (ps the masters also play out of tune by the way, not on the digitally corrected recordings but in the live performances LOL) Anyway, to conclude, you don't have to sound like Itzhak Perlman for people to love listening to your performance on the violin by the way :)

Posted: May 26, 2011
Welcome Glenn, I hope the time you spent playing the violin has been fun. As to exploring other instruments, why not? Why not at the same time? No knowledge is ever wasted and the skills and abilities you have gained will be transferred in any of your pursuits. Why do we take up the violin as adults? The answer to that one will be and I believe must be as varied as there are adults taking up anything new. For me, I have always explored my curiousity and it has taken me from communicating with photography, carving stone, making furniture without electricity and volunteering with NASA(all of which I still do but have no illusions as to how far I will be able to travel with any of these pursuits). Finding an avocation can happen at any age and if you are lucky it happens when you are young. At 55 I finally listened to the depth, expression, and voice of the violin. I knew I had found my avocation. I care not for the destination but only for the road side vistas that I am lucky enough to discover along the way. My other pursuits come and go but building and playing the violin is here to stay. If others hear what I am thinking, through the violin, that is fine. But that is not why I began or will continue to play this wonderous of instruments. With a site like Violin Lab, I am able to articulate what is inside. It is pure joy to come togeather with like minded adults, all with different reasons for being here and all pleased to be able to enjoy the scenery togeather. Welcome aboard!

Posted: May 26, 2011
It sure sounds to me as though you do regret it! You said, "I often wish I had put those 15 years into a different instrument." Why not get together with other amateurs and simply play for pleasure and stop all that regret...