V.com weekend vote: At what age did you start playing the violin?

November 14, 2021, 9:02 PM · Recently I read an article by Daniel Kurganov, about how he started playing the violin when he was 16 years old. Now a professional violinist, he wrote the story on the occasion of releasing a new album out called Rhythm and the Borrowed Past.

Goodness, what a late starter!

But then last night, after performing in a Pasadena Symphony concert (yay, live music again!), I met a violist who started at age 80 - I'm not kidding! Now, at age 89, he plays quartets and is in a small ensemble. Wow!

Who's a late starter now?

On the other end of it, earlier in the week I interviewed the fine young violinist Maria Ioudenich, who started violin at the age of three and, hitting the competition circuit at age 25, said she felt quite "ancient" compared to other competitors!

early beginner late beginner

It's all relative, isn't it?

I started at age almost-nine (just days before my birthday), and at the time I gave no thought to my age. But as a Suzuki teacher who regularly starts beginners as young as four or five, I sometimes think of myself as somewhat of a "later starter"!

But I've also been teaching and playing for long enough to understand that other factors can matter a lot more than starting age, for example: commitment level, devotion to practice, and motivation.

Still, I think it's fun to talk about when we all started and why. How old were you when you started? How do you think your starting age played into those other factors like practicing and motivation? Did you need parental guidance, or was your playing self-driven? Please participated in the vote and then share your thoughts!

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Replies

November 15, 2021 at 09:30 AM · Asked for a violin for my 5th, and began that fall. I liked the sound and look of violins at orchestra concerts I had been to. I thought the bows looked especially cool under the lights. So much so that I was disappointed to find out that my bow was made of wood, and not gold.

November 15, 2021 at 10:57 AM · Sorry, Stephen, that you consider playing the violin a fall! Now I started playing the viola at 8 - some might say ...

November 15, 2021 at 11:26 AM · I started playing in 4th grade, when the music teacher announced that students could sign up for violin lessons, which were group lessons. I continued with the group lessons and orchestra class until I graduated high school. In my 30s, I took private lessons for a couple of years. That didn't work out too well since I was also working 10+ hour days and living in an apartment. Now that I'm retired and finally have a good teacher, I'm making good progress. Better late than never.

November 15, 2021 at 11:47 AM · Started playing around 5h grade and played through 8th. Then my parents split up and we moved and I went to a school with no music program.i didn't play again for 50 years! I started again at 62, took lessons and now play 1st violin with a regional Symphony Orchestra. I also teach children to play and tutor violin at a performance arts high school. What fun!!!

November 15, 2021 at 12:29 PM · I was 9 or 10, 5th grade. I still am in touch with some of kids that began orchestra class in school. Woodlawn Elementary, Corpus Christi, Texas.

November 15, 2021 at 02:06 PM · I started viola at nearly 15 to replace my lost treble voice, but had had piano lessons (an "awakened" left hand and a sense of harmony) and a lot of singing (well-harmonised hymns and good intonation) so it went well. Still catching up, though, at 72yo.

November 15, 2021 at 03:25 PM · I started at 11. At 7 my mother sent me to our upstairs neighbor who gave me lessons on the treble recorder. I was quite good at that as a kid. Eventually I was encouraged to graduate to a "real instrument". Why I picked the violin I can't remember, I can only say: for whatever reason I chose correctly.

November 15, 2021 at 04:03 PM · I started at age 9 in school group lessons. Mrs. Bargelt taught all of the students in the orchestra. I so admired her. I didn't choose the violin. I wanted to play the flute but my dad had heard Yehudi Menuhin play and so he wanted a violinist in the family. In Junior High, I began taking private lessons from Mr. Cornish. He was so kind and encouraging. He helped me to switch to viola in High School. And so now, at age 70, I play viola in many chamber groups and I'm so grateful to all my teachers and my parents for giving me a wonderful life of music.

November 15, 2021 at 06:30 PM · I started at age 7, with lessons from (the late) Joseph Barone at the Bryn Mawr Conservatory in PA. I may have been his most willful and difficult student. He was not shy about complaining to my parents about concern for my squandered potential, and I lapsed from regular violin study at age 13. Years later in my 60's, I credit him with laying the groundwork for my "adult restarter" focus over the last 7 years, and I am now making steady progress with an endlessly patient teacher. I still have an etude that Dr. Barone wrote for me personally in the style of Vivaldi, but it is also etched into decades of memory. As I approach retirement and plan renewed focus on the violin, it reminds me of those beginnings, and of committment to improve in the future.

November 15, 2021 at 07:10 PM · Started at 8 and am running late...

November 15, 2021 at 08:03 PM · In order to keep myself focussed in retirement, I took up the violin at the age of 65. I had been playing the cello since the age of 11, so had a fair idea of what the left-hand fingers and bow were supposed to do, which helped. I had an excellent violin teacher experienced in teaching adults, which also helped.

After a few years under my teacher's guidance, I was able to make a successful, and complete, transition from cello to the violin in my orchestral playing.

My principal orchestra is Bristol Chamber Orchestra, which I've been a member of since my 30's, first as a cellist and now as a violinist.

November 15, 2021 at 09:21 PM · Like Kurganov, I started at 16. Unlike Kurganov, I didn't start with any kind of formal study. I acquired my late great-uncle's violin and started trying to get lessons beginning at 12 or 13, only to repeatedly be rejected by teachers who said I was already too old to even learn the basics of playing a string instrument. Eventually I gave up on finding a teacher and started self-teaching. I suppose that was formative in a sense: the best way to motivate me to do something is to tell me I can't do it.

In college, I got the chance to play viola (mostly faking) in a not-very-selective orchestra, because it was a small school with no music department. After that, I worked my way up gradually from beginner/intermediate orchestras to my current semi-pro orchestra, just trying to play more and fake less with each concert program and relying mainly on pointers from other musicians. I had the advantage of substantial non-string musical training: 12 years of piano lessons up to a DipABRSM, some low brass in school bands, and college glee club.

For a long time I mistakenly believed that no teacher would accept me as an adult if I didn't get to near-conservatory-level playing ability on my own, so even though I played in orchestras continuously except for injuries from age 18 onward, I didn't have my first lessons until age 33. Those lessons didn't last long because I was never able to get a regular time slot; my first regularly scheduled lessons started only in February 2021 at age 38. The limited number of lessons I've had in my life have been from top-notch teachers, though: both principal violists of professional orchestras, and my current teacher has been up to the challenge of reworking basic technique while working on advanced repertoire.

November 15, 2021 at 09:39 PM · I started at age 5, as a member of Alice Joy Lewis’s very first Suzuki violin class in Ottawa, Kansas. She was already teaching my older sister traditional violin lessons; Tom Lewis was a colleague of my father’s on the science faculty at Ottawa University, and our families attended the same church. I would say that I was fortunate that even my first lessons were from a teacher of greater stature than “the nice lady up the street,“ except that Alice Joy was literally the nice lady up the street (I think we lived four blocks apart).

After 2 1/2 years of lessons with Alice Joy, my family moved to the Washington DC area where I took traditional lessons from Doris Gazda.

In retrospect it absolutely boggles my mind how very fortunate I was to have pedagogues of such stature as my childhood teachers.

November 15, 2021 at 10:27 PM · I started at 9 in free group lessons at school. Things didn't go well. I wanted to play baseball, but mom insisted I play a violin. I went to these lessons for several months, barely practicing, and frustrating a very short-tempered man. At the end of the year concert, I was placed in the back row, off to the side, and instructed to move my arm in the same direction as the other kids, but to avoid letting my bow touch the strings. I thought it was a great idea. Once the concert ended, I quit. 59 years later, I decided to give the violin one more try. I’m now 72 ½, and I’ve been playing almost every day since. My bow touches the strings in concerts, and it sounds pretty darn good.

November 16, 2021 at 12:39 AM · I started when I retired from teaching (art), I have always loved “strings” in orchestral concerts and decided to learn the violin!

November 16, 2021 at 12:39 AM · I started when I retired from teaching (art), I have always loved “strings” in orchestral concerts and decided to learn the violin!

November 16, 2021 at 12:47 AM · I started at age 7. Don't remember why though lol. I did start piano at 4 and viola at 12. Play all three happily today.

November 16, 2021 at 01:38 AM · classical guitar 16, violin 21, viola 28, I often wonder what would have happened if I started earlier

November 16, 2021 at 06:17 AM · I started at age 11, and got my first real violin teacher at 12. Much later in life I learned that some consider that to be late. I added viola during the college years.

November 17, 2021 at 09:10 PM · Violin was my second instrument. Piano was my first. But not long after I'd started piano at age 7, a professional orchestra visited and played at my school. The violin muse really grabbed me at this point. I'd already become hooked on the instrument by listening to classical albums from my parents' collection. When I asked my parents if I could switch to violin, they consented but wanted me to wait a little while -- actually just a couple of months -- to be sure this wasn't a passing fancy. It wasn't.

I started fingering and bowing tunes by ear on a half-sized fiddle before I had my first lessons. Couldn't explain now how I pulled this off, but somehow I did. Then I got hold of my first instruction book. Thanks to elementary piano lessons, I could already read music. Watching two other kids play from this same book undoubtedly helped, too.

Why did I start? I had a childhood ambition to become a symphony player. But the heavy-duty training for this occupation during the degree program -- plus long evening hours for rehearsal and performance -- changed my mind. By 21, I could see that small-chamber playing suited my personality, and schedule, better. I decided not to go into the music business after all -- and now enjoy music-making more as a serious amateur than I did as an aspiring pro.

About practicing and motivation: Violin lessons were my own idea, and my playing was self-driven. I didn't need parental guidance for lessons or practice. My parents were involved, of course, because they paid for my lessons and knew what I was doing; but they didn't have to tell me to practice. In fact, a few times in the early days, they would remind me that it was time to stop -- with bedtime coming up and school coming up the next day.

About how the starting age played into the factors of practicing and motivation: If I had started at age 3, I undoubtedly would have needed some parental oversight at first; but now that I was already in school and could walk to and from school on my own -- and do homework assignments on my own -- I was ready to handle the instrument on my own.

November 18, 2021 at 02:55 AM · I started at 5. As we could not afford private lessons all my learning was from 'Scotty' who toured round the Leicestershire (UK) junior schools. He was a lovely man and the few moments a week were enough to get me started (SR-less - the reason I do so now, its the only way that feels natural).

Unfortunately, I stopped at age ~12 (kind of faded out) in favor of playing guitar and singing with my elder brother (a duo that led to some amazing and lucrative holidays in Europe). So I guess you could say that I 'started' again in 2008 at age 'very many'!

November 21, 2021 at 07:48 AM · I dimly remember seeing someone with a violin on TV one day when we were visiting one of Dad's co-workers shortly after arriving in Canberra when I was about 10 or 11, and being fascinated. My older sisters were learning the organ, so i asked to learn the viiolin, but my parents said I'd have to ask the teacher myself - which I was too nervous to do. So I put that on hold until my 22 year, when I figured out it was time to do something about it. Had an accident on my 24th year, and stopped playing for the next 30 odd years, until I picked it (and the cello and viola) up again and am trying to get good enough to play in public.

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