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I am not sure if this is the right place to ask this, but I am wondering about the pace of learning of typical working adult (~ 30 years old) learning violin.

I have work (PhD research work, really) that takes the usual daytime and sometimes often the night, and it's hard to practice consistently. I typically managed to squeeze at least 1 hour a day and at least 3-5 times a week (I know this is too little even if playing "for fun"), and I cannot really practice too late since other people living with me require some peace (walls are thin...).

I am basically at 2.5-year mark, taking 30-minute lesson per week (36 lessons per academic year), and as far as I can tell my teacher has been excellent and meticulous. However, I feel like my pace is too slow ~ I am still at midpoint of Suzuki book 2, RCM Violin Repertoire book 2, and also at the beginning of "Level 4 scale" of RCM Preparatory-4 Techniques and Etudes book.

I am wondering if for working adults this growth is too slow (I actually am not sure about grading systems and levels that exist). For example,

  • Is there a rough estimate of what a typical working adult can achieve with X hours per day in Y number of years? Or is it simply wrong to measure progress by time? Does this vary greatly with people?
  • Is the slowness mostly due to "wrong" practice at home?
  • Any other similar experiences with the same instrument or other instruments?

It does not help that I probably will have to move from place to place (country to country) once every two years or so after I graduate from PhD, which is why I am hoping to find a way to sustain this in near future. At the very least I have learnt to cope with the fact that young kids around me, sometimes below 12, can play much much better than I do.

Any thoughts, advice or personal experience would be great!

UPDATE: Seeing all the comments and answers, I decided to consider this question answered (even though I cannot give the right answer for every comment. Thanks everyone for your thoughts.

Overall, I should mention that since I am doing PhD in physics, which by nature is depressing enough (job prospect wise), actually my violin progress right now would have made me feel better about my life, so I am not really dissatisfied or anything like that. This post should help me navigate violin and physics for some time to come, and I appreciate everyone's help!

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    Only for the sake of consideration, suppose your learning is, in some absolute sense, too slow. Then what?
    – Aaron
    Apr 10 at 2:11
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    @Aaron Good point. What I have in mind is that while there is no rule that says I must learn as quickly as I can, everyone has finite (life)time and so I would love to grow efficiently given my own limitations. A large part of this is psychological, since I am quite hard on myself, so I want to do what I can to alleviate this.
    – Everiana
    Apr 10 at 2:26
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    There is probably research about this in psychology. But I think I have gathered that it was something like the brain has to process what you did while you sleep, and that you have to vary your approach and try to find why it's not working, perhaps look in mirror or something...
    – Emil
    Apr 10 at 7:47
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    I have struggled with this too, fwiw I started my instrument age 51. But then I realised this is not the right question. Always practice as well and focussed as you can. The real question is: " what do you want to achieve playing the violin". I.e. what type of pieces do you eventually want to play and how well? Discuss with your teacher if that is realistic. Don't care about the pace of progress then, just practice well. Apr 10 at 12:18
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    I have many thoughts and can’t write a full answer until tomorrow, but these are concerns that are common among adult learners, and many earlier questions on here are similar. You can find some helpful advice on this one, and maybe other results from a search for “progress.” Apr 10 at 12:31

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There are certified Suzuki teachers, and then there are teachers who use the Suzuki books, but without having been trained in the Suzuki method. If your teacher has been trained in the Suzuki method, then your pace is fine. I've seen children with strong aptitude for music, and a supportive parent coach, take two years to complete Book 1. I've only known one student who completed Book 1 in one year. There are many things that can and should be learned while going through Book 1.

If you are feeling frustrated and dissatisfied, then I suggest you take a bit of time each week to play some simple duets with someone, or with yourself, by recording one line and then playing along with the recording. Making music in an ensemble -- as opposed to working on technique -- is fun. And to quote Dr. Seuss, "fun is good." My hope is that this will help you relax and enjoy your learning process. It is a tremendous challenge to learn a string instrument as an adult, and I admire any adult who embarks on this and keeps going, despite the inherent difficulty. I hope this experience with music enriches your life, despite the intensity of your academic study.

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I am fairly familiar with the Suzuki series, and I would say that your progress is not too slow.

From what I know, it usually takes about a year and a half to graduate from Book 1. The following books can usually all be tackled in a year, but sometimes a book can stretch to a year and a half.

So I don't think you're going too slow at all. Don't be disturbed at the fact that people around 12 are playing better than you. I would imagine that some of them have been playing for three-five years or more.

One suggestion, though: I would talk to your teacher about bumping up your lesson from 30 minutes to 45 minutes or even an hour. This would ensure that more time can be spent on each piece you are playing, which would serve to fix more mistakes faster.

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    Thanks, I cannot vote two answers, but I appreciate your thoughts!
    – Everiana
    Jun 5 at 4:24
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A few thoughts from an older (50+) adult learning different instruments (clarinet and piano):

"This is where you should be in 0-24 months" by a violin teacher. I don't play violin, but the targets seem reasonable. So for a "rough estimate of what a typical adult can achieve in Y years" that's probably as good an answer as you can get.

I have experimented with practice amounts and schedules, and found that my speed of progress depends very much on how much I practice: Practicing 1 hour per day 6 days a week I can progress at a steady clip. At 30 minutes per day progress is slower, well below half the speed of the 1 hour practice.

But if I only get 3 days per week, progress is glacial. 5 days is OK, but at 3 days/week my rate of progress is only marginally above zero even with a full hour per practice day. The specific numbers may be different for you; the point is that it can be useful to experiment with different practice routines. We don't always have the option to practice as much as we would prefer, but at least we can be aware of the tradeoffs we make.

Paraphrasing Josh Goo, a clarinet teacher on Youtube:

Best case, practice 2 hours per day six days a week. The minimum is around 20 minutes per day three days a week. With the minumum amount of practice you will probably still see progress, but it will be slow.

He also has a video on what distinguishes the (clarinet) students that progress the fastest. He thinks it's because a) they put in the practice time (45 minutes/day, most of his students don't do that), and b) they are more experimental and less concerned abut sounding bad, so they sample a larger portion of the parameter space and hone in on good combinations more quickly. I think the video is worth a watch for adult learners on other instruments too.

Although time is limited, we can experiment with ways to get more out of the time we have. E.g. "What musicians can learn about practicing from current brain research" by a violinist with a background in neuroscience. (There are tons of tips on how to practice all over the internet. There are probably no magic fixes or "one size fits all" approaches, it's more a matter of trying out ideas to see what works for you.)

Finally, there isn't much point in comparing yourself with people in a very different situation, like the highly skilled 12-year olds may have 5-7 years experience already and/or more time to practice. (Someone in my clarinet group had a 3-month progress similar to my 2-year progress. But he was also semi-pro on sax before he started on clarinet and spent a lot more time practicing. I don't think it's a matter of talent, but a matter of previous knowledge, amount of practice, and efficiency of practice.) The relevant part for all of us is how to make the best out of our own situation, whatever it might be.

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