I started playing violin when I was 8 years old. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter– my father is a professional violist and music was always a huge part of my family’s life. Luckily, I took to it naturally and the violin became “my thing." My parents praised my playing and encouraged me to continue.
But what if you didn't have that kind of support? And what if it took you until adulthood to finally give violin a try? Is there an expiration date on becoming a musician?
You may have heard that kids learn faster than adults. Studies have shown that that's actually not true. I've taught hundreds of violin students, many of whom have been over the age of 30, and what I’ve learned is that anyone can play this instrument, and anyone can get better. What truly matters is the commitment a student makes to a task, how much trust they place in their teacher, and how patient they can be with themselves in the process.
So here are 5 tips to success as an adult beginner of the violin– or any instrument.
1. Don’t Let “Bad Sounds” Stand In Your Way.
One of the first obstacles an adult beginner will face is their own understanding of what sounds “bad” or “good." I've seen many students feel unable to make the progress they want because they continually punish themselves for making a “bad” sound and eventually lose enthusiasm for their practice. The reality is, you will make bad sounds. The violin does not yield itself over easily to beginners. Kids just don’t care or even notice, and they keep playing anyway! Of course we should always strive to play with beautiful tone and accurate intonation, but after all, how would you learn if you didn't persist through that failure? Forgive yourself now for making “noise” (it’s very freeing!) and you will see the benefits.
2. Set Musical Goals.
Here’s the thing. Kids often don’t have a choice when it comes to music lessons. Many are on the Suzuki Method conveyor belt. It can be wonderful–it keeps kids engaged and making consistent progress. But what they often don’t get is any agency. Kids have their process outlined for them, from the music they play to the frequency of their practice.
Luckily, adult students do have a choice! Adult students want to learn, and that’s beautiful. But what might be absent from the adult's process is a set of goals, from the small and easy to achieve, to the grand 3 year plan. Without them, why stay committed to a practice regimen? That's like getting in the car without knowing where you want to go. Drive yourself towards something specific and the path will come into view!
3. Listen to Music. A Lot of Music.
Music needs to be a part of your life in more ways than just practice and lessons. Find the music that inspires you performed by a player you admire. Consume it voraciously! It doesn't necessarily have to be violin playing, though that can help. What's important is that you inspire yourself to play, if that means looking up an arrangement of "Ground Theme" from Super Mario Bros., or buying a book of easy arrangements from your favorite movie musical. Keep reminding yourself of why you picked up the instrument, and let the music you love help you determine what kind of player you want to be!
4. Trust the Process.
Hopefully at some point in your life you heard an encouraging voice–a parent, teacher, mentor or friend who believed in you as you took on a new skill. Did you believe them when they told you you had potential? Or when they saw you making progress? As kids, we absorb this kind of encouragement and take it to heart. But as adults, often we write off the positive feedback and tell ourselves that if we were truly great, we’d be further along by now. Making progress on this instrument can be slow, and sometimes it might be hard to believe any is happening at all. Our impatience and inability to see verifiable progress hurts our pride and takes away the joy of the journey. Just because we don't see it immediately, doesn't mean it isn't happening. Trust your teacher and internalize the positive feedback they give you! Don’t compare yourself to others. When your practice gets frustrating, take a break! And if all else fails, set up a camera and film yourself every day for a week. You'll see.
5. Get Organized.
Violin is a shiny new pursuit in the beginning, full of promise and possibility. Staying consistent with practice is a slightly less enticing premise. Unfortunately there is no substitute for consistent practice. So wherever you are in your process, take the time to actually plan out your practice schedule the same way you schedule your lessons. Bribe yourself with a cup of tea or a cookie or an episode of your favorite TV show if that helps you! Your body and your brain will benefit greatly from the routine and ritual. You’ll start to consider your instrument a part of your life and not only will you make progress but you’ll be better able to see it happening! And when you hear and feel your progress happening, you'll be hungry for more.