On Learning to Play the Violin

I am learning to play the violin.

When I was younger, I started to learn it at school. The main things I remember about this are:

*Being really excited to play ‘Greensleeves’ because I was a geeky little thing and obsessed with the Tudors.

*Having to play the song from the Hovis advert with the school orchestra and thinking what a terrible noise we all made when put together. It was not the most musically inspiring experience!

*The two girls I had my lesson with telling me we should all go early to the ‘huts’ where our lessons were – and turning up to find the place completely empty, with no sign of the said two girls. There were ghost stories about those huts. They creaked a lot. I was there for an hour. Enough said.

*Arguing with my parents about practise (There were so many other things to do – like sitting on the swing, rollerblading and reading the latest copy of ‘Animal Action’. Just me?)

*Quitting.

Soooo…

Back to now. Learning the violin. It is different when you are an adult. It can be intimidating, knowing that there are likely to be several years of sounding a little awful and childlike before reaching the desired standard; it can be hard trying to fit practise and lessons around work and other responsibilities; and it can be frustrating having less mental energy to devote to learning and progressing. But there are benefits to coming back to it later in life – I now have the initiative to listen to a range of violin music via the Internet and radio, which is far more inspiring than the limited exposure the school orchestra gave me, as demonstrated above! Playing can also be a welcome escape from the pressures of work.

I am struggling at the moment with some tricky pieces, with understanding music theory, and with managing to practise… Until the other day, I had not touched the instrument for three weeks, as a result of a cancelled lesson due to illness and a busy work schedule. I tried one of the songs I thought I was confident at, and it sounded… well – a little creaky, to say the least. Jamie started barking at me. I don’t think he enjoyed my rendition… I attempted a scale (chromatic?) and was a little unsure about which notes were meant to be flat/sharp and at which points I was meant to be changing position. I was not doing particularly well.

It has crossed my mind in the last few weeks that perhaps I was just not meant to be a musician – perhaps I ought to quit for a second time and come to peace with my ineptitude. But a few things have encouraged me to persevere…

1. I have a really, really good teacher. She is only 23 and I suspect that she will go on to do very great things in the worlds of music and media. She quickly spots where I am going wrong, provides pieces that interest me and manages to expect far more of me than I expect of myself without piling on the pressure. She is also endlessly patient with my lack of consistency in both practise and performance.

2. I listened to this and was completely re-inspired. It can sound good after all!

3. It does make sense to do it now, while I am relatively responsibility-free. And when I have children, I want to be good enough that my playing does not put them off music forever (based on my current standard, a real possibility!) and perhaps even helps spark an interest.

4. It would be very lovely to be able to play along with Andrew’s guitar once in a while.

We shall see – perhaps one day I will even be confident enough to youtube it up!

In this country we are generally privileged enough to have all our basic needs covered – food, shelter, clothing etc – but I think as humans we also have a need for enjoyment, inspiration, and progress. My sister never ceases to amaze me with her talent for dancing. Some dancers grow up with it – starting very young and having many expensive lessons with the finest of teachers. She, however, came to dancing a little later than most, and moving around a few times meant that her lessons were a little inconsistent. However, since her mid teens she has managed to achieve such a great deal – including a distinction in her Diploma, which she completed in one year instead of two. I can’t wait to see where she takes her gift next!

The thing about following an interest or passion, though, is that ultimately not all of us can be superstars. I may never be the great violinist I dream of being. But I will be better than I am now, and, through persevering in it, I will have grown in many important qualities and life skills: confidence, appreciation, resilience, patience… And that makes it worth the effort.

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