If you’re reading this article, we’re going to reasonably assume that you’re passionate about this violin business. It can’t just be an infatuation – a “crush” never lasts long, but passion is everlasting. You’re gonna have to work as hard as a K-Pop trainee, before and after debut. If you’ve been raised like Vivaldi, introduced to playing at an early age, then you have a huge advantage in the sense that your childhood has already molded your skills. On the other hand, if you’re starting from ground zero, then your learning has to be intense, productive and consistent. Of course, the latter is very, very hard.
How do I measure what is a “great” violinist?
This honorary term takes into account everything you’re ever done in your life for love of music – through the violin. A qualification like violin diploma or more prestigious Master of Music from globally recognized school is very likely a given. In essence, if you’ve helped to keep the art of violin playing alive by inspiring, provoking thought, making people appreciate this cool instrument and they’re all somewhat curious to learn more about your life, monetized your knowledge, then you’re much closer there than your peers to unlocking the status of “great” violinist.
However, it’s a very subjective term. Let’s look at 2 case studies.
Case Study 1: Antonio Vivaldi
You could say he was born into music. Since young, his dad Giovanni exposed him to the violin, music society, distinguished maestros like Legrenzi and lots of performances around Venice. At just 25, he was already teaching and composing music professionally, and had exceptional technical skills with the violin that earned him maestro di violino.
Though gifted with quality music education from the beginning, Vivaldi’s career hasn’t always been smooth. He was battling asthma, his monetizing options we footloose and he’d failed to make his theater appeal to the masses in 1714 with Orlando finto pazzo. With a reputation to protect, his stakes were a bit higher, but he still pulled through. All while teaching music at an orphanage. Vivaldi is admired by professionals today for the stuff that he composed, his innovation and originality.
We remember his music, then we remember the guy in the wig.
Case Study 2: Lindsey Stirling
She was able to charm a massive YouTube audience and monetize live performances by blending mainstream Pop culture into her music. Now the driving force behind the “Hip Hop violinist” movement, lots of people have praised her for her skill and tenacity.
She wasn’t lucky enough to have afforded the amount of training Vivaldi had during childhood. Even today, she’s still taking private lessons and it’s somewhat easy for a music expert to pick her technical flaws. Majority of those applauding her skill are non-musicians, but her real talent lies in her creativity. The top reason she would pose a threat to Vivaldi’s theater is simply, her mass appeal.
We remember her style more than her music.
What are my obstacles?
A major obstacle is definitely your level of mastery, but a bigger challenge is competition. It’s like joining special forces – you need to make the cut. If you’re a late bloomer, your chances of joining an orchestra are very, very low. This is from statistics, and from the “anything is possible” mindset. To make it as a professional, you’re going to be competing against child prodigies who would’ve had training since much longer. Auditions for a serious conservatory are no child’s play – they will know how much you’ve studied.
You need to get into the conservatory in the first place.
Cruel as it sounds, music is still a game of fame and demand. It’s a bit like professional sport such as football, and yet it’s not. In sports, the market’s taste is somewhat defined – the game. A footballer just needs to groom his skill, reputation, health and play his best on the field. In music, the market’s taste is loose. Just like in Vivaldi’s case with Orlando finto pazzo, you might have great skill in composing, perfect technical skills and a cool wig, but if your audience isn’t interested in your music, they’re not. This is why, today, the “Hip Hop violinist” path only favors you as long as you have visual appeal. You always need to come up with something fresh for the audience.
You have to develop your creativity and musical intuition.
So what do I need to do?
1. Practice makes Perfect
There’s no shortcut for this. You need to develop muscle memory while your brain is memorizing theory. Online courses and textbooks a good as reference, but you must have a pro tutor to tell you what you’re doing wrong. Understand that music is not your hobby, but your lifestyle. Every minute you’re not doing music, you’re not moving towards your eventual goal. Don’t be afraid to experiment and utilize any possible hacks if your current method is not working, but always consult your teacher. Malcolm’s 10, 000 hour rule, or even the 7,000 standard for undergrads, aren’t based on calendar days, but how much you actually learn to master. Good news is that you probably need less than that to advance out of the “beginner” stage. Make sure each session counts.
As a beginner’s guide, that 4-5 hours of focused practice everyday is good.
2. Build Experience
Be active, participate and align yourself with an orchestra, learn the ensemble, familiarize yourself on stage as a solo concerto. Give your teacher a solid reason to back you up with a letter of recommendation. Watch auditions, watch masters at work, and just assimilate yourself in the culture within the chamber. Jump at every opportunity that comes, and hustle your way to play for weddings, competitions, campaigns, YouTube (Internet community) and other gigs. Don’t waste time hesitating, for every minute you engage in self-doubt is time you could be spending playing and building a portfolio.
It’s all about confidence, intuition and stage presence.
3. Aim for University
This is extremely important, because you get to open yourself up to much more knowledge as an undergrad, and this allows you to reach “world class violinist” level for real. A degree isn’t just your safety net, but during your time you’ll get to meet great masters and socialize with other people that will inevitably be good connections in the future. Not to mention that there’ll be lots of opportunities to build your repertoire, like teaching or maybe gigs outside the country.
4. Secure your Finances
This is tricky. Even the guys with wigs had trouble with this, and they could get money from teaching jobs. Music is an expensive indulgence by itself, and returns are based on commissions. You’ll definitely need funding, especially to pay for quality lessons. For many people, this comes from a non-musical career like engineering or law. Slowly they build up and then fully embrace music. In Lindsey’s case, while she was able to monetize YouTube, much of her time is taken up by dancing as much as catching up on her violin playing. In any case, be financially prepared.
5. Hack your Brain
This is an important investment. The major goal is you keep your health good, your mind sharp, your mind focused while practicing and your spirits high. Most of the time people fail is because they just turn around halfway, admitting to themselves that it’s hopeless. Now the reason for this is not just from lack of passion, but also from self-doubt, procrastination or even practicing too hard. Their bodies protest from overwhelming exhaustion, and their minds ultimately follow. How do you solve this?
Practice only on the days you eat.
– Shinichi Suzuki
Eat healthy, exercise well, chill with friends and family, meditate or pray to keep yourself at peace. This ensures you get the most out of every session. You can even hack your studies with speed reading techniques.
A career in music might not start out great, and life of a violinist is really a lot like a K-Pop artist pre-debut. All you will get are long practice hours, little sleep, classes, keyboard, more practice, listening to others, listening to yourself…and no money. You’ll hear lots of discouraging comments initially, but these are hardly obstacles for someone as determined as you. For those who start late, the biggest reason they say that you need to “start young” is because of musical instinct, that’s admittedly very important plus a bit more difficult to develop late in life. However, the rewards of success in the future is both financially rewarding and fulfilling. Then you hear of an extraordinary tale involving a particular one-handed violinist.
The endgame always boils down to your ultimate goal.