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Learning the violin as an adult

2/11/2013

I have decided to try and learn to play the violin some two years ago. This idea was met in a somewhat discouraging manner. Firstly because I did not want to take lectures (primarily because they are too expensive), and secondly because I was already an adult and didn’t have any formal musical education.

Music teachers and players will often say that one a person reaches a certain age it is more difficult to learn how to play. However, let’s back away a bit and think about this. How is it that a child has more potential to learn something than an adult who has significantly more experience in reasoning and understanding things?

If a child is given a violin at a very young age it is probably because their parents wanted them to play it, not because the child had a wish to play it. However, a grown person would likely decide to try to learn the violin because they want to and that would motivate them. So, obviously, an adult would be more motivated to learn the violin since they aren’t pressured by their parents.

Adults have better understanding of physics then children. It is obvious that an adult will be more logical in their perspective on the practice and playing. A child practices only by repetition. This is similar to training artificial neural networks. They do not know what they are doing, but they are getting better at it. As opposed to that, an adult will likely try to understand the point of the exercise, the reasoning behind it. If you understand why the bow is held in a certain way, you are more likely to adopt the hold.

Of course, there has to be some source of information, otherwise the beginner would be inventing the violin playing from start. The Internet is a great source of information about the violin. There are people who give very comprehensive online lessons about violin playing (there is a great violin teacher on YouTube, nicknamed professorV who made a number of very detailed video lessons). Contraire to children, adults are in the position to explore and understand more about the instrument they are learning. From music theory we can infer information that can help us learn how to play.

Most of the people who say that the violin (or any instrument) cannot be learned once passed a certain age either do not play an instrument or have been playing one since very young age. The crucial thing about learning to play an instrument is not to give up. Of course it’s not going to sound like a bird’s song the first time you draw the bow over the strings, but, with persistence and motivation, obstacles can be overcome.

If you’ve decided to try to learn the violin, a good start would be to familiarize yourself with the instrument before buying it. Search the details of it, even look at some online lessons. This might give you the idea of the difficulty of playing it. If you are still motivated to learn the instrument after familiarizing yourself with it, then you could find an affordable one to buy and start practicing.

Practicing does not need to be an annoying or bothering thing. If you have a genuine interest in the instrument you may find that overcoming little obstacles can be motivating. Listening and watching the professionals play is also another form of practice. Adults can learn this way, while children cannot (of course this does depend on the child’s age).

When I started to play the violin, my goal was to be able to play simple little love songs, but as I learned, these simple love songs became too simple and I wanted to learn more complicated things. As I played and listened to people play, my taste in music changed as I realized that I am becoming able to hear things I wasn’t able to hear before. Now I find Handel’s Passacaglia very inspirational and am learning parts of it as I learn the violin. I started practicing the Mendelssohn violin concerto some time ago which is far from simple love songs I started with. My piano playing and composing has evolved since I started playing the violin.

Even if you have no prior knowledge of music theory, you can learn how to play an instrument. It would require some extra effort, but it is achievable. You just need to be motivated enough and need to realize that you cannot fail at it. If you dare to try and realize that the violin wasn’t the instrument for you, you dared to try it as opposed to all those who didn’t. As Thomas Edison said: “I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to not make a light bulb.”

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