Learning violin: perseverance and work ethics

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I picked up violin when I was about to turn 40.

This is actually less stupid than it sounds.  I have played the piano since I was six. So I had a bit of an edge over my young child who started violin around the same time:

  1. I could read, and she couldn’t (although she rapidly rectified this situation).
  2. I could read music, and she couldn’t. (I have the dubious last laugh. She’s learning under a modified Suzuki system and she is practically illiterate in note reading even today. I can sight read circles around her.)
  3. I have practiced every rhythm known to man on another instrument while she has to learn each one from scratch.

All the same, it was a fantastically humiliating experience to be an adult beginner in a notoriously finicky instrument.  Unlike piano, where there is a limit to how horrific you can sound (if you keep it tuned), there is no limit to hair raising sounds you can make with the violin.  Even more humiliating is the comparison: a song that takes me weeks to polish will take my (musically talented) child approximately 3 days to master.

It was rough the first few months and yet I stuck with it. Slowly I improved.  I found that this experience is a source of life lessons in perseverance and work ethics.

  • Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something / are too old to start something.
  • Don’t give up on the first failure – keep trying. If you care enough you will eventually make progress.
  • The longer you work on something the better you get (the 10,000 hour rule).
  • That said, you have to take breaks from time to time or you will plateau and/or burn out.
  • You cannot skip steps. You must master each skill before you can move on, or your overall performance will suffer.
  • You can feel great about relative success (comparing what you can do now to what you were able to do a year or two ago).
  • Yet you can still feel crappy about absolute success (comparing what you can do with other amateur musicians).
  • Good teamwork is fantastic to experience (playing in small groups with other beginners is a lot of fun.).
  • Having a long term goal keeps you going (I aspire to play second violin in the town orchestra before I turn 95.).

A few Suzuki books in, I am still highly engaged.   I hope to make some real music in the future.  I will keep working towards that goal!

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