When you’re an adult beginner violinist in your 70s, expectations shrink about ever sounding as good (or being as adorable) as a 5-year-old virtuoso performing a perfect Paganini on YouTube. And at 70, you assume that just about every violinist on the planet has had a head start over you.
I could easily regret not starting when younger, like in my 60s, but the reality is, it never occurred to me to take up violin until the moment it did, shortly before my 72nd birthday.
Yet I still have ambitions. Even if it’s as minimal as leaving the door ajar when my husband is home. Or learning a new piece. Like Fritz Kreisler’s Liebesleid, https://youtu.be/9uU_94aCUTo a beautiful song which looks teasingly simple, but I know will be a challenge for me.
Since I’m a bit ‘late to the gate’, I try to make the best use of my time. Part of this comes into play before I even pick up my violin. It has to do with awareness and self-care of my physical, mental and emotional health. If any of these are in short supply, my practice is noticeably compromised, aka a ‘bad day”.
Mental health in regard to learning violin is, for me, about focusing. For over a year I’ve kept a daily Practice Journal which basically has two components. Intentions and Discoveries.
Intentions: First I set my Intention for the day by deciding what pieces and what techniques I want to work on. Often I read over previous days’ notes to see what I learned.
Discoveries: Discovery takes place during practice. Instead of just plowing into a piece, if I stop and ask: what new aspect can I discover about this piece? Or why do I continually fumble this passage? What is my body doing that prevents me from getting a better sound?
When I started realizing how much learning to play was a matter of problem solving, my practice sessions became moments of discovery. These are little light bulb moments. Sparks that keep me going.
When I stop to isolate and analyze the problem, I usually discover something that gets me closer to a beautiful sound. The more specific I get, the better chance for edging forward and building on that. Jotting down notes in my Practice Journal as soon as possible assures that I’ll retain it better.
When I keep this frame of mind, I’m wasting less time stepping in the same hole every time I turn the corner.
Physical Health: Playing violin takes a lot of energy. I’m a morning person, so a good practice session before lunch means I’m at my best energy level. Sometimes though I practice too long, straining my somewhat arthritic back, something I deal with by taking a long break, doing yoga and back stretches.
Emotional Health: I’ve learned to look for incremental achievements. As a perfectionist, this has helped more than anything to keep me going. I’ve learned that incremental achievements are the norm. So are days when you seem to regress.
When I have a really bad day, thoughts of throwing in the towel do creep in. Why am I trying to do the impossible? Why not just watch old movies and putter around the house? A sour note of a thought. So far, I’ve been able to let these off-putting ideas pass.
And in spite of the fact that I don’t sound like someone who’s been at it for ten years, learning to play the violin feeds my spirit in ways no other activity accomplishes.
I love to hear from other #adultbeginners, whether you’re learning violin or any other new skill. I love real stories about grownup people striving to do seemingly impossible things.