When is the Best Time to Start?

…to start learning to play the violin?

We’ve all heard about child prodigies who start lessons when they’re three (such as Stefan Milenkovich), and we’ve been bombarded with the thought that adult beginners cannot hope to achieve the success on the violin that a mere tot can. Well, I stumbled upon a thought-provoking thread from Violinist.com that illuminates all sides of the issue, and will, hopefully, bring hope to those older students who greatly desire – and have every right – to succeed.

Some Quotes from “Learning to play violin: Adults vs. Children – Do adults really have a harder time learing to play violin than children?” From howard vandersluis

  • “I think an adult’s ability to intellectualize the early concepts gives them an ‘edge’ at the very beginning.” – Christian Abel
  • “The only real obstacles I’ve seen other than my own inherent flaws, is stiffness, posture and flow. They have been brutal for me, and continue to compete for my focus.” – Albert Justice
  • “Children admire, wanna-be-like, and strive to please their teachers….they also have the advantage of peer pressure in school and the distinct pleasure of an uncluttered brain/hard drive, and hopefully some parental stimulation/encouragement. Adults fall short in all these significant attributes and have to generate their own momentum.” – Peter Kent
  • “The theories about why you have to be a kid are really a manifestation. For interesting evidence, consider all the people who started at 7 and never got any better 😉 Also, adults are capable of much more complex physical and mental tasks than kids. But you’ll never see somebody from Earth starting at 19 and winning a major competition at 29. Maybe in the future.” – Jim W. Miller
  • “I find that adults learn at about the same rate as children. But, adults think way ahead, and are sometimes impatient about the physical aspect of playing the violin, which takes a lot of time, patience and REPETITION to cultivate, no matter what your age.” – Laurie Niles
  • “…I have to say that physically I think it is more difficult for an adult to learn than a child. I have had difficulty with holding properly and my left arm gets cramped from trying to turn it around the right way to finger the notes….especially on the G string. I manage ok, but it’s downright painful sometimes. I think children have more plyable bones and ligaments and when you start early your body sort of grows into it. I don’t have any hard evidence for this thought….nothing except how those who have played since childhood have no idea why it’s so hard for me to get my arm around when by all appearances I’m doing everything right. *shrug*” – Eileen Geriak
  • “The biggest differences I have noticed are mental, more than physical. Adults are more self-conscious. Adults can’t memorize worth diddly squat (and that goes for me too!). Adults cancel lessons a lot more. Many of them have jobs… Adults can suffer terribly from Heifetz Syndrome (“If it can’t be perfect, I don’t want to play at all.”) And…Adults can suffer from “Checkbookitis”. “Checkbookitis” is the totally normal adult expectation of writing a check for a service, and expecting that service to be completed in a prompt and professional manner. However, learning music is different. You buy equipment, music, and lessons, but the work has just begun! Very unfair, yes?…So in our service-oriented society, it is easy to have re-occurring bouts of this disease. Getting in a ‘learning’ frame of mind is very difficult for most adults. And what was the thing that gave me the most empathy for my adult students? Learning this silly glorified typewriter.” – Anne Horvath

My conclusion? It doesn’t matter what age you start, anyone can succeed at the violin and enjoy the wonders of music. Every age category has its pros an cons, its “edges” and its limitations, and every person is different in their drive, motivation, and reasons for playing. Stay true to yourself and your personal goals, and you will go far.

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