The discussion on learning a musical instrument as an adult is all-too discouraging, and it doesn’t help when one stumbles upon a video of a kid playing a concerto by Mozart before he’s taken his first steps. Even gifted musicians despair at the “late” age at which they started playing. Among the things that interested me were tunes that didn’t strike me as impossibly complex, and I had the maturity to approach the ordeal with a suitable amount of patience. After much internal deliberation, I finally mustered up the courage to take my first lesson in music as an adult-learner. What could I lose?

I showed up to the conservatory, which was a one-storey house with various rooms where the lessons take place. I was greeted by the receptionist who was together with my soon-to-be teacher and went with her to the room all the way in the back. I was not sure whether my teacher was younger or older than me, I eventually found out she is one year my senior. She asked me what sort of experience I had with music, to which I said none; I didn’t consider the couple of years of playing the flute in school to be relevant so long after the fact, even if I did read some simple sheet music and played decently according to my then teacher. She didn’t look enthusiastic about our lesson; it was very likely that I would end up in the long list of those who quit.

There were two violins in the room, one which was easily recognizable as the beginner’s violin, for it had three tapes; these ran perpendicular to the fingerboard: the first one marked one tone above the nut, the second one marked one tone above the first tape, and the third one marked one semitone above the second tape. The bow was also there, and she tightened it as its hairs are better left loose when unused.

In the first half of the lesson my left hand was idle, we focused on the bowing hand, and I attempted to move the bow up and down along the strings as straight as my weak fingers allowed. The correct posture takes a while to develop, and my grip on the bow was a beginner’s shortcut to producing a semblance of decent sound. After getting the hang of it, we put my left hand to work, and I repeated the A major scale a few times, never able to get a clean sound out of the violin. We were well into the lesson and, unbeknownst to me, I had lost all of my beginner shyness.

My teacher wrote the scale on the board and told me not to worry. I knew not the logic behind that short sequence of notes. Before the lesson was over we played Mozart’s Little Star which conveniently makes use of most notes in the scale I’d just practiced. I did not yet own a violin and, after finding out that the conservatory allows members to use its violin for practice, I decided I’d put that benefit to use. I went there and attempted to tune the violin; I started at the E string and went from high to low, “carefully” turning the pegs until I was happy enough with the tuning. The G chord was far off from a G, and each time I turned the peg it bounced back to where it was before. I started to feel a bit of shame after 10 minutes had passed and I had done nothing besides tuning. I kept trying to tune the G string. After much suffering, the G string decided to snap and end its miserable last few minutes. I thought to myself: If am to break a string each practice session, they better be my own strings. That’s when I decided that I would not borrow their violin anymore, and buy my own. I was still able to practice by sticking mostly to the E and A strings, and after the hour was done I let the receptionist know of the incident and went home.

The plan was to buy a violin, progress cannot be made without many hours of practice between each lesson, and I wanted to avoid breaking more strings. I bought a beautiful Stradella quite cheaply, a guitar of equivalent quality would have been much more costly, due to the popularity of the instrument, and the lack of popularity of the violin itself.

The first song I learned to play in full is a rendition of Scorn not his Simplicity by Luke Kelly, it was a great choice for a first song to learn due to its gentle pace. I was able to play it in full after the third lesson: horribly, but fully; fully horrible. Practice for novices is a combination of bowing exercises and left-hand exercises, and to take breaks I practiced simple melodies that comprised other songs. It was 73 days after the first lesson that I managed to play my one song to a standard that I’d be comfortable to share to an audience. Prior to that there was always something that went wrong: I didn’t quite get a note right, the bowing was weak and led to a heterogeneous sound, the bow bounced (only when bowing downward), or the timing was off. Sometimes, my finger landed in the wrong place, and my ear was unfortunately good enough to bear witness. There were so many possible mistakes that I hardly ever made just one; it was usually many, and they happened often. When my attention focused on getting one variable right, most other ones would go wrong. Sadly, that time I got it right was an isolated case, and the succeeding attempts continued not being quite right. I was then left wondering when I’d be able to play it well twice in a row, or as many times as I wanted. Fortunately, it was before the three-month mark that I was able to play it well more often than not. Little by little, the lingering despair and lack of confidence turned to hope.

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