As I mentioned in an earlier post on this topic, I’ve been a bit discouraged lately about my apparent lack of progress at learning the fiddle. I’ve been at it for 12 months now and I still can’t play Orange Blossom Special or Turkey in the Straw. So I decided I would do a bit of research to find out if it is just me, or whether this is typical. What I found is that a lot of people do this sort of research before they decide to take up the fiddle. Given what I found – I’m actually glad I didn’t think to do that.
For example, I did a search on the questions: How long does it take to learn to play the fiddle? and Am I too old to start? I found the best answers at this link – here’s a smattering of the responses.
“The first year is unavoidably grim.” (I actually found this encouraging to hear.)
“I started to learn fiddle from scratch at age 53, I’m still learning it at age 66…” (This worried me – I mean, 13 years?)
“I’ve been at it for 50 years and it’s still a little b****r!!” (This really had me worried.)
“It involves a long period of sounding like a dying cat, but if you can get through that then you’ve got it made.” (I ‘ll vouch for that first bit – as will my family!)
“It’s a lot like trying to play golf…there are so many variables and ways to screw up…” (OMG – I suck at golf!)
That was all a bit too discouraging so I tried this question. Are their stages in learning to play the fiddle? I got some good answers at this link.
“I think the phases are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.”
“Frustration and despair fit in there somewhere.”
“…joyful self-delusion, dream-like wakefulness, grim reality, determined perseverance, and utter madness. But then I’ve been at it for only 30 years, so maybe there’s something after utter madness…”
“I think I’m entering the Carboniferous phase, but I’m probably being optimistic.”
Personally, I like the last one – I agree that geological time scales are the most relevant. Unfortunately, I am still in the Precambrian stage myself.
Although entertaining, none of this helped me to determine whether I was ‘fiddle challenged’ or on par with my peers in terms of progress to date. Then, finally, I came across a site that put things in very practical terms. Apparently it depends on how many hours of practice you put in – who would have thought? After investigating many students, researchers have made two important observations – first it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become an elite virtuoso and second, they found no evidence of anyone becoming such an elite expert with less than 10,000 hours of practice. In other words, stars are made, not born, and there are no shortcuts. Of course I’m not trying to get to Carnegie Hall – but the premise is valid – practice, practice, practice. This same site mentioned that those who had practiced 4000 hours were sufficiently good to teach beginners and those with 8000 hours on the practice odometer were good enough to entertain professionally.
Armed with this info, I did what any engineer would do – I put together a little spreadsheet (including a graph of course!) to see where I’m at now and how long it would take me to reach these lofty heights under various scenarios. The results were pretty shocking. For starters, I’ve been averaging about 3 hours of practice per week over the past year, which adds up to a whopping 156 hours since I started. I didn’t find any particular threshold of achievement associated with that number – but I can tell you that it pretty much takes you to the point of being (relatively) comfortable holding the fiddle and bow (which is a big deal – believe me!), being able to play a few novice tunes Like Oh Susanna, Short Bow Jig (very slowly) and Faded Love, and you can find the right notes as long as you have someone else to play along with, but only if they play sloooowwwly.
No wonder I haven’t gotten far yet – I’m barely registering on the experience scale! No point showing you my graph – 156 hours doesn’t even show up. Suffice to say that, at my current rate of practice, I will not be teaching beginners until I’m 80 and I’ll need a miracle of modern medicine to get to the virtuoso stage, because I’ll be 118 years old when I’ve racked up my 10,000 hours. Armed with this information, I did some hypothetical calculations and came up with the graph below – which helped me to determine two important things. First, it is realistic to attempt to get to 4000 hours – not that I’ll ever want to teach the fiddle – but I figure I should be having a lot of fun with it by then. And second, it’s going to take me about 8 years to get there if I can step up my practice intensity to about 10 hours per week.
So, I’m no longer discouraged about my lack of progress – it makes sense, given the actual hours I’ve put in so far. And I’m actually excited to have a plan.
One last piece of wisdom I found – apparently, people who practice every day – even if only for 30 minutes – progress faster than those who do a couple of longer sessions per week totalling the same amount of time (which has been my general approach to date). So, I’d best get at it – I’ve only got 7.5 h logged since Sunday!