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Did I start too late?


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Hi, I started playing the violin when I was 4 and stopped a year later. Then just recently I started again ( I started again at 14) I have been playing for 1.5 years and I have broken through the first 3 suzuki books and I am now playing in book 4. I am playing in two youth orchestras (Florida youth Orchestra, and a new one at my school) And I was wondering whether I could possibly make it to a professional level. I am planning on applying to UM in two years at their frost school of music. Is this dream possible?

-Michael

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I think it is possible to have a career in music even if you have started later. It all depends on how hard you work. Being a "professional" musician has a lot of different definitions: soloist, chamber musician, orchestral musician, teaching and performing, free lancing etc. A kid may start playing when they are 5 or 6, but may not take playing seriously until much later. I think we live in a culture that in some ways is obsessed with youth. So unless you start playing when you are 3 or 4 years old OR unless you aren't super talented as a kid, we often get the message that music, as a hobby, is all we can hope to achieve. But, the truth is there are plently of people out there that didn't start playing until later, but we are so enthralled with prodigies, that the late starters often get lost in the shuffle. Carter Brey, principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic started playing the cello when he was 12.

Personally, I started playing the violin when I was 10 and even that is considered late! I was a very good violinist in high school, but not the best one and that made an impact on me. I decided that I would go to college and just minor in music, after all if I wasn't the best in high school what chance did I have competing in a bigger pool of musicians. Then something wonderful happened, I switched teachers and started improving. After seeing my improvement, combined with the fact that I really missed music, I decided to get a degree in masters degree in music. It's 7 years later, I'm a string teacher who performs on the side. I have the best of both worlds. You can start late and be successful in music, don't limit yourself.

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The answer, in part, is not when you started but how much you're willing to give to it now. You sound like this is what you really want to do. Go for it. I've lived in the arts community for the better part of my life, and I've known many committed musicians who weren't always able to find the work they most wanted, but with a little ingenuity also never starved. The first question, then, is do you want to devote your life to making music, and are you willing to put in the study and practice it takes. I suspect that if you answer "yes" to both of those, the rest will follow. You may not live in the best neighborhood, the largest house or drive the hottest car -- but if all of that is critical to you, get an MBA instead.

Good luck!

Robert

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Hi, I started playing the violin when I was 4 and stopped a year later. Then just recently I started again ( I started again at 14) I have been playing for 1.5 years and I have broken through the first 3 suzuki books and I am now playing in book 4. I am playing in two youth orchestras (Florida youth Orchestra, and a new one at my school) And I was wondering whether I could possibly make it to a professional level. I am planning on applying to UM in two years at their frost school of music. Is this dream possible?

-Michael

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

" Too late " for what ? You know the answer more than anyone can answer it for you.

I know many children started very early and then they did not continue. If it was not too late so they did not continue but

they found better goals and they changed directions. Many won contests and in later lives became good doctors and good lawyers.

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If you were a statitical population, then the answer is yes, you waited too long. However, an individual, with enough drive and talent can overcome many things, and any good statistician knows that statistical probabilities cannot be applies to an individual. It is a very complex question. By far, most people who start at your age will never achieve a career as a performer at the soloist or major orchestra level, especially if they had no other prior musical training. However, if you played other instruments or sang, having a good musical bacground, thus developing your hearing and sense of musicality, then your only real challenge is the technical aspects of manipulating the instrument. Some things do become much harder to learn as you get older, and those are mostly the hearing and innate sense of musicality. You will need to work very hard to develop agility and a natural comfort on the instrument, but I believe it is possible.

In my experience, I only know of 3 people who started as late as you who achieved a professional level of playing on a stringed instrument (2 cello, 1 violin), but none to a major orchestra level. All three had significant musical interest and exposure before taking up the instrument, and one was already and accomplished pianist. One did manage to be accepted to a major music school, one is still a student, and the other two make their living teaching children, one privately and the other in a University pre-college program.

However, I tell all my students that not one minute of practice is ever wasted, it does so much good for the developement of the mind - high level reasoning, focus, concentration, that anything else you may decide to do will benefit from it. Even if you don't go pro, you can still enjoy making music. But if you decide to go for it, you must become fanatical, practicing every minute you can manage, building technique and agility.

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If you were a statitical population, then the answer is yes, you waited too long. However, an individual, with enough drive and talent can overcome many things, and any good statistician knows that statistical probabilities cannot be applies to an individual. It is a very complex question. By far, most people who start at your age will never achieve a career as a performer at the soloist or major orchestra level, especially if they had no other prior musical training. However, if you played other instruments or sang, having a good musical bacground, thus developing your hearing and sense of musicality, then your only real challenge is the technical aspects of manipulating the instrument. Some things do become much harder to learn as you get older, and those are mostly the hearing and innate sense of musicality. You will need to work very hard to develop agility and a natural comfort on the instrument, but I believe it is possible.

In my experience, I only know of 3 people who started as late as you who achieved a professional level of playing on a stringed instrument (2 cello, 1 violin), but none to a major orchestra level. All three had significant musical interest and exposure before taking up the instrument, and one was already and accomplished pianist. One did manage to be accepted to a major music school, one is still a student, and the other two make their living teaching children, one privately and the other in a University pre-college program.

However, I tell all my students that not one minute of practice is ever wasted, it does so much good for the developement of the mind - high level reasoning, focus, concentration, that anything else you may decide to do will benefit from it. Even if you don't go pro, you can still enjoy making music. But if you decide to go for it, you must become fanatical, practicing every minute you can manage, building technique and agility.

+++++++++++++++++

Talent, training are necessary. What is sufficient? No one really knows.

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Hi, I started playing the violin when I was 4 and stopped a year later. Then just recently I started again ( I started again at 14) I have been playing for 1.5 years and I have broken through the first 3 suzuki books and I am now playing in book 4. I am playing in two youth orchestras (Florida youth Orchestra, and a new one at my school) And I was wondering whether I could possibly make it to a professional level. I am planning on applying to UM in two years at their frost school of music. Is this dream possible?

-Michael

It's not too late, but you have to be realistic about your goals. To be a top level orchestra, chamber music or solo player it seems to be necessary to start when you are still young enough that your brain has some physical development left to do. Your starting at age 4 might be enough to have laid the neurological groundwork and maybe age 14 is young enough to continue with that development. One thing is clear to me, you have to be deeply passionate about it. If you can get into a conservatory you probably have what it takes to have a career as some sort of musician. So that might be your first hurdle, whether you can pass the audition for the Frost School.

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Do you intend on staying within the world of classical music? I ask because I guarantee you that neither fans nor musicians of the blues, jazz or any other genre could give two flying stinks about what age you started, and you have the same chance of being a true professional as anyone else.

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It depends on how talented you are, how hard you are willing to work, and how much drive you have to succeed. I can think of a couple of people who started late: the principal cellist of the NY Phil started at 12, and the associate principal violist of the LA Phil started at 13. I know another person who started at 15 and made a decent career as a freelancer. Obviously these are exceptional people; but then generally, anyone who makes it to that level is exceptional, whether they started at 3 or 13.

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Do you intend on staying within the world of classical music? I ask because I guarantee you that neither fans nor musicians of the blues, jazz or any other genre could give two flying stinks about what age you started, and you have the same chance of being a true professional as anyone else.

I agree. My Pardigm was limited to classical music. In more 'popular' styles of music it is a different world.

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Thank you for the plentiful responses, I love music, I actually own a piano and have been playing on it since I could talk... I really do enjoy playing every second, and I am also working 4 hours a day (when possible) to learn all that I can. I am also trying to get into a summer camp (like Brevard) I do hope to stay in the classical music realm.

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Thank you for the plentiful responses, I love music, I actually own a piano and have been playing on it since I could talk... I really do enjoy playing every second, and I am also working 4 hours a day (when possible) to learn all that I can. I am also trying to get into a summer camp (like Brevard) I do hope to stay in the classical music realm.

++++++++++++++++++++

Are you taking private lessons?

Do you have a teacher ? Your teacher may be able to tell you how to go about.

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My teacher, Viola de Hoog, is teacher for baroque cello at the conservatories in Amsterdam, Utrecht and Bremen, apart from having a well functioning career as performing artist. She started playing the cello at the age of 16, no previous string playing experience, only piano. So it is possible to achieve a good level, but it is not the standard case. The disadvantage of starting late is that you learn slower, the advantage is that you can really do the things you do with much more awareness. If you really want this, study systematically. Solve technical problems using your cognitive skills, your brain: analyse them, practice every muscle movement and be aware of them. This can be boring for a while, but it will bear fruit on long term. I'm a baroque cello major myself, 26 years old, and have started the systematic approach way too late, but still am noticing ho much it helps me get better, even or especially now.

Oh and, you need a REALLY good teacher. Not all good players are good teachers! especially those that have never needed to think about how to play the instrument (They usually are the more natural and often better players) often are bad teachers since they are not really aware of what they are doing, or are aware of it on a different level. Seriously, in my opinion, good teachers are at least 50% of you success.

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I'd like to add that, if you have your mental and physical health, and you love music, then all you have to do is keep learning, and be willing to grow your skills and general maturity, and you will get there. You absolutely will. People are regularly living to 100 and beyond these days, so no worries; just keep going and enjoy the ride.

I have a piano student who has autism, and he's not the so-called "idiot savant" (I hate that phrase), but he plays very, very well. After about three years of private lessons, he's playing Czerny and Hanon and John Lennon. He plays in public recitals without a moments hesitation or fear. I'm determined he's going to college; there is a world class program near here in commercial music. I have great hopes for him.

What is infuriating, to me, is that his public school teachers said he was (1) retarded -- which he patently is NOT; and (2) was destined to work at McDonalds (they actually said this later at a parent/teacher conference.) Well, I believe that this student is going to end up making more money and having a more interesting career (he's only 13), than Ms. work-at-mcdonalds.

You simply cannot let people discourage you. They will try.

..and yes; don't settle for anything but the BEST teachers. Keep looking until you find them.

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I started at 13 (and a half) and am making a career as a player and partly as a teacher. I actually think it's a kind of optimal age for learning in some respects and for me it was a wonderful thing to enter my life having lived some time without playing. Maybe if you take it up really early you just take it for granted.

My biggest problem was that I was slow to learn to quickly sight-read music and I think early starters have a big advantage in this. I can read fine now but still feel slightly dyslexic at times and probably don't have the reading level needed to be a high level orchestral player. However, I think if I had practiced sight reading a lot from early on it would have helped. As I had a good ear I tended to rely on that more and developed that as a strength gravitating more towards music that included improvisation and playing by ear. So my career has been playing all kinds of 'other' styles such as jazz, latin, world music of all kinds and recording session work. Work-wise I tend to fill the gaps left by classical violinists and only occasionally play classically for a wedding or for recording. I'm probably working more than most classical violinists from what I can see of the gig scene in my area.

I think it's important to realize that there is a whole world of music out there. The classical world tends to see the life of a string player as having only three playing opportunities: soloist, orchestra or chamber but there is a whole world outside of the classical scene.

Promote your strengths, tackle your weaknesses.

Good luck and remember that even though it's important to work to get good technique it's your maturity as a person that ultimately matters in what you say as a musician.

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I would have to say that I too have pretty bad sight reading skills. I guess I really have to work on that...

You don't really have to "read" music. Your eyes can catch notes much faster than your fingers.

Go through the music a few time slowly . Then, everything is automatic by "blocks" (of notes).

PS. Signs read is a must as to be a competent player of any instrument.

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I too have difficulty reading music fast (I too, started at a late age). And although Fellow is partly right, he is not completely. Music usually consists of patterns, parts of scales and broken chords, patterns 'circling' around a note. When practising sight reading it is most important to start recognising these patterns, just like when we are reading words. When we read text, we don't read every letter of every word, we see a number of letters and our brain quickly finds a word with it that it has read a thousand times. That is why we often don't read typos which occur in longer words and consist of two letters in the wrong order, for instance. So the trick is to start recognising these patterns and learning how to place your fingers so that they can play these patterns easily.

Since you write you are playing from the suzuki method which I've never seen, I don't know exactly what your level is, so I can't give you a special advice suited to your level, but playing scales and broken chords and sequences of four or six note patterns (like you often find in baroque music, ask your teacher if you don't know what I mean), either from notes or by imagining what the notes would look like will help you. Playing scales for learning to read notes is a different activity from playing scales for improving technique, don't try to do both things at the same time, focus either on reading or on technique/intonation, both is too much for the brain to handle. Also, really keeping in mind which position you are playing in will make reading easier.

You are young so don't exaggerate the amount of time you invest in it, however I would suggest you do it on a daily basis for 5 to 10 minutes, but really focused, and really every day. Over the course of months or years I'm sure you'll improve dramatically.

good luck!

Leonard

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Regarding sight-reading (probably a fit subject for another thread), I would maintain (an opinion not original by me, by any means) that this is something that can only be learned by doing, and takes a number of years of experience. There is something about this in the Violin/Viola FAQ:

http://beststudentviolins.com/PedagogyTech.html#30

(30) How can I develop good sight reading skills? Sight reading is learned by doing; it takes a quick wit, direction from an experienced teacher, and practice. I require sight reading in every lesson. Being a good sight reader requires a combination of two elements:

1. Learning as much music theory, music history, and related subjects, as one can manage. Having, in other words, a deep interest in music, in general; and

2. Practical experience in sight reading. This is acquired by joining as many formal or informal groups as one can locate, and also regularly attending to new music in the home practice.

A few things to keep in mind:

1. At the head of every piece of music, there are three areas to examine initially: the clef signs, the key signature and the time signature;

2. One should also have some general idea about the style period;

3. Glance through the piece if you have time and look at the form and chord structures. Determine, at minimum, whether it's in a major or minor key, and note any development or recapitulation materials.

Knowing how to sight read well is the prized skill of many studio musicians. These are great, great players who can "sightread the bugs off a wall," and are highly trained, highly experienced, reliable, professionals. Some of them also teach, some privately, some in university. Studio musicians are typically used for recordings and film music. They are frequently AFM (or the Canadian counterpart) members. See: American Federation of Musicians.

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