Friday, April 12, 2013

Learning An Instrument As An Adult Beginner

In August of last year, I began learning to play the violin. This is the first instrument I have ever played, and I did not even know how to read music (and to be honest I am still working on getting past counting from the G clef every time). I am 30 years old.

Many people consider this too late to get started. I will probably never be as good as someone who started as a child. I will not be attending a conservatory, nor in all likelihood will I ever make money off this. I am doing this because I want to. I have wanted to for a long time. While I was growing up, we had an upright piano in our living room. I would peck at it randomly, sometimes even getting something remotely rhythmical going, but I was never able to learn to play. We didn't have the money or the time for me to have lessons, and most time I went to the piano I was pulled away from it anyway, due to it disturbing the neighbors in our thin-walled apartment. Eventually, my parents decided to sell the piano to open up space, and so it could go to someone who would actually use it.

The other question I get is why I picked the violin. It is, after all, one of the hardest instruments to play, held in an awkward position, requiring vastly different motions with each hand and lacking any visual or touch indicators for notes. The instrument also does not hold tune very well from session to session due to temperature and humidity based expansion/contraction, meaning you can't even get started till you can tune well. A piano needs to be tuned once or twice a year. A violin needs it once or twice a week, at minimum, more preferably every time you play (I admit that I cheat and use an electric tuner). My simple answer is this: If I am going to spend hours upon hours playing an instrument (especially the basic 'learner' songs I will be playing for a while, which are not that interesting), I am going to do it on the instrument I am most interested in listening to. It was violin or piano, and violins are more portable.

The challenges as an adult beginner are myriad. I have no one but myself to encourage me to play. I have to self critique my own practices; there is no one to sit there and listen to me playing all the time. I have to find time around my job and everything else in my life. I have to scrounge up the money for a violin, lessons, repairs, etc. Shopping for a violin when you have no idea what you are doing is also nerve racking; I personally lucked out in that a family friend had a violin they were willing to give me, for which I am very grateful.

One thing that turns out to be an unexpected benefit is that I am hard of hearing. You would think this would be a problem, but when the sound source is 10cm from your ear, you can actually distinguish tones more easily with decreased volume. This is, of course, dependent on the level of hearing loss; I am fortunate that I have not lost the ability to hear any of the relevant frequencies.

The hardest part is finding a teacher. Most music teachers fit into two classes: people who teach children the basics, and people who teach adults the hard stuff. Just as kindergarten and college teachers cannot switch places, music teachers do not like to step out of their specialty, and many will refuse to teach a beginning adult. You also sometimes find a teacher who is willing to teach, but cannot stop treating every student as a young child; this obviously creates and awkward situation for an adult learning. Finding a teacher who is comfortable and able to teach an adult beginner is not trivial; it took me months after I obtained my violin to find a good instructor.

So here I am, working away at Suzuki 1, with weekly lessons. And I have no intention of stopping any time soon if I can help it.

Should you, however old you are, go out and learn music? The answer to this is of course personal, and depends on your personal definition of 'worth it'. You will have to be willing to put time and effort and money into it. You definitely have to understand that you will not learning quickly; you will be doing simple things for quite some time. You could find that you have no talent, or that you picked the wrong instrument. All of these are risks. So the question is, for all this, is it worth it? For me, I will say, it most certainly is.

If you want some good violin tunes, check out these artists on Youtube:

Lindsay Stirling
Taylor Davis
The Piano Guys (not strictly speaking violin music, but I don't discriminate in the family)
Jason Yang
Ben Chan
Josh Chiu
Lara DeWit
2 Cellos

1 comment:

  1. Finally, a good use for partial hearing loss. :)

    Enjoy!

    ReplyDelete