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Strike with the Band: The meritocratic failures of classical music (thebaffler.com)
78 points by tintinnabula 38 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 104 comments

I have a masters degree in music composition which I got back in 1997 from the University of Minnesota. Even then it was clear to me that my future career paths were quite limited. Most people with composition degrees would fight for a limited number of teaching spots in music theory and ear training. If you were lucky enough to get a job (even an adjunct one), you might be able to teach a few composition students too. But there were far more applicants than jobs, and of course forget about deciding where you want to live. You have to take any job you get (if you even get one).

The other path was to move to LA and try to get work writing for film and TV. But that's also incredibly competitive. You also have to write music incredibly quickly to succeed, and I was a slow writer.

Fortunately for me, I absolutely hated teaching theory and ear training during my masters, and I made the decision to not go on to a Ph.D. Even more fortunately, I got my first computer when I was 5 (its own example of privilege) and I was able to get first a support job and then soon after a programming job during the first dot com bubble.

I still love music and I miss composing, but I'm sure I'm happier being financially stable, having a choice of where to live, and not teaching things I really don't enjoy.

We've built a unversity system in the United States for the past few decades that is not at all serving society's interests.

Unfortunately, unless born to wealth, we all require a supporting job. Jobs that don't pay the bills are hobbies. Attending university to broaden one's education is not a sound basis for borrowing money and encouraging students to do otherwise is shamefully wrong.

Frankly I would put it the other way around. We have a system of work that doesn't serve society's interests. Created scarcity forces people to do undesirable labor instead of things that would be genuinely worthwhile. Universities are already training too many middle managers, even though the market is demanding more middle managers. There's a difference between what the market demands and what free people would choose for themselves.

Disclaimer: I work at a university.

Universities do a poor job of training technical workers -- engineers, programmers, technicians. For every middle manager there are ten workers, who need technical schools.

One way to see this is in programming. So many people come out of CS programs with little practical programming ability -- even programs like Stanford. The kids who learn the most in school are, often enough, people with backgrounds in computational biology or physics where they have to work on real software engineering problems -- like maintaining legacy code -- from the first day that they type code in a text editor. Where is the Embry-Riddle for software engineering?

Fortunately I got a merit scholarship for my undergrad and I was a TA in grad school. Between those two things my six years of education cost just around $60k, and my parents were able to foot that bill, so I didn't have any loans to deal with (again, another privilege).

While I do regret getting my masters because I didn't enjoy it much, I can't even imagine the level of regret I'd have if this all came with a giant loan to pay off as well.

That's interesting I worked with some one who had done A PHD in music and was a London session musician.

After an accident when they where laid up in hospital after breaking most of the bones in their feet - they taught then selves programming with book and a laptop.

I go the impression that the PHD was interesting but took a lot of the fun out of playing.

> But classical music can be other things, too: transcendental, lush, heartbreakingly emotional.

The thing that makes so-called classical music stand out in a crowd is the long duration over which musical ideas may be worked out. Even in the 1700s we're talking multiple hours for something like Don Pedro's/Commandatore's themes over the course of Mozart's Don Giovanni. And the assumption behind a CD being able to hold Beethoven's 9th in its entirety is that a modern audience is able and willing to concentrate on the relationship among related musical ideas over the course of 70 minutes.

But "transcendental, lush, and heartbreakingly emotional" can only be marketed atop those long forms if listeners have sufficient leisure time, money, and attention to devote to it. The modern world doesn't give, say, the average American much leisure time nor money. And most HN devs here seem busy writing apps that capture any attention left in the cracks.

That means classical music must compete as one of many sources of "transcendental, lush, and heartbreakingly emotional" experiences. In that light its time requirements make it a detriment. So it's no surprise that a skilled violinist is struggling just to pay off the debt it took to be able to proficiently perform large-scale classical works.

> The modern world doesn't give, say, the average American much leisure time nor money.

The average American watches three hours of television a day. The only countries with higher GDP per capita are city states or comparable to US metro areas and if you look at the better measure of average individual consumption the US beats literally everyone despite being most of a continent and 1/20 of the world’s population. If the average American lacks time and money I struggle to describe living standards in the UK or Malaysia.

> the falseness of the “work hard and you will succeed” ethic washed over me

It isn't about working hard. It's about working smart.

Make a list of things you love. Make another list of things that others will pay for. The intersection is where to make a career.

In the limit of a efficient market[0][1], those lists are disjoint.

0: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Efficient-market_hypothesis

1: And assuming non-contrived values of "what you love"; ie: this obviously doesn't apply if you love soul-crushing scutwork.

At one point in life I also had the mistaken (and costly) impression that one should pursue one's dreams: that is a fine idea if the dreams are good and you have a way to make a living and stay solvent and prepare for the future. But to think it must make a living is to make a demand of the marketplace that it has no care whether it satisfies for you.

I think the author's angst comes from missing that: 1) Markets outweigh other financial considerations we wish for. Currently, those don't support as many musicians as there are people wanting to be professional musicians. As a music and history lover who got some attention as a youth (also in a small pond), I eventually realized that programming pays better, if one is persistent to learn. 2) We can scratch our itches in the form of hobbies or outside interests, as part of having a balanced life. And in activities with family, friends, neighbors, and church members. For example, my mother made us practice the piano (she was just tougher than I was when I tried to quit), and I am so grateful to my very non-wealthy parents for those sacrifices. We had good times as a family singing around the piano: we weren't what anyone would call very good at it, but those are priceless memories to me. (It also taught us that we can do hard things, if one sticks with it and practices the right way, like, one hand slowly with many repetitions, then put them together: life can be similar.) We sang mostly "parlor music", like Stephen Foster melodies from an old book, etc etc., and kidded each other and had popcorn and told stories etc. It didn't have to make me a living to add joy to life. Similarly for our little, amateur, local church choir. Some people learn to jam together. (Coolness...)

We have to make realistic choices (and avoid debt!), and strive for a balanced life. I write some things about having a balanced life, and balanced human growth in good ways, at http://lukecall.net .

For those interested in a more thoughtful take on this subject, I highly recommend the short book, "Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking" by David Bayles and Arthur Morey.

Favorite quote, "When rich people get together, they talk about art. When artists get together, they talk about money."

I'm not a musician but this bothers me

"Those who achieve such heights are capable of playing the most complex, technically difficult music on equally complex instruments that take decades to master"

Complexity just isn't of value in software and I don't know if it is in music. One of my favourite pieces is Bach's Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, and that's extremely simple (ISTM. IANAMusician. YMMV. etc).

The only value to music is a purely subjective one, how do assess merit in such a situation.

As a non-musician, you don't really know what complexity sounds like and what is or isn't difficult to play. A guitarist can play a flurry of notes that looks ridiculously difficult to a lay person, but that a musician will immediately spot as a cheap trick; conversely, there are all sorts of incredibly subtle and difficult things that go completely un-noticed by 99% of the audience, but have a huge impact on the performance. You know what you like, but you don't have the training to know what's actually difficult.

I'd wager that you like a lot of very complex and difficult music without realising it. Bach was, in his day, a highly experimental composer who pushed the limits of music technology (e.g. The Well-Tempered Clavier) and is still regarded as one of the most sophisticated composers of all time. The Goldberg Variations involve some immensely difficult passages; the Chaccone from his Partitia in D Minor would have most violinists quaking in their boots.

Technical skill isn't a virtue in itself, but it's essential if your job is literally playing whatever is put in front of you, no questions asked.

>Complexity just isn't of value in software and I don't know if it is in music. One of my favourite pieces is Bach's Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, and that's extremely simple (ISTM. IANAMusician. YMMV. etc).

Which is neither here, nor there. Nobody said that music has to be complex to be good. But a good classical musician should be able to play the complex pieces too.

So, that's like saying every painting should be simple like Mondrian or Rothko or Lichtenstein. Well, we also have great masters who did much more complex, nuanced, and difficult to execute paintings...

Artist expressing themselves can do it with simple pieces like some of Bach's and tons of others, or with very difficult pieces, and a classical musician to have a career should be able to play a lot of that repertoire...

You don't get to be a concern pianist or violinist if you only play the simple pieces...

And speaking as a Mondrian fan, his work actually has a lot of subtleties that are only apparent when you examine the canvasses closely.

Photographic reproductions (like the framed posters in my house) do not reveal the details of his technique. Which supports the point that sometimes, what seems simple is actually complex, and what seems complex is actually simple.

> Which is neither here, nor there

If my personal anecdote counts for anything, it means that complexity is orthogonal to the 'good' in music.

If so, it is here and there.

> You don't get to be a concern pianist or violinist if you only play the simple pieces...

I haven't heard analysed enough classical music, not do I have the ability to, to determine if there is any value in complex music other than coincidental. If you are a musician I'd appreciate your view.

I can't deny the amazing skill in the singing, but is this complex? I love it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tDm_uH0O30

If you'd like to nominate some complex (in your view) music you like I'd be very interested indeed.

>I haven't heard analysed enough classical music, not do I have the ability to, to determine if there is any value in complex music other than coincidental. If you are a musician I'd appreciate your view.

I'm a musician (though not professional), but isn't the question moot?

There already exist thousands of exquisite complex music pieces, from classical, to jazz, to rock, latin, etc -- pieces so powerful they can bring people to tears.

We we saytThat they're not needed because they're complex? That they're not really good because they're complex? Or that their complex/difficult to play nature, as emerged from the composers, is "coincidental" (and they should/could e.g. have made them be much slower, have simple chords, and simpler melodies)?

>If you'd like to nominate some complex (in your view) music you like I'd be very interested indeed.

This is a very beautiful piece (picked a random video of it) and not simple play:


or this:


or this:


or this:


or this:


or this:


Heck, this is quite complex from a totally different genre, it takes tons of practice and years to master the flow and speed required:


Music I prefer, is usually also quite complex, but

"pieces so powerful they can bring people to tears."

... do really not need to be complex. There are very simple folk songs, chants, gospels, or mantras, which can invoke very strong emotions as well.

Even simple drumming can introduce a trance state and people dancing till extase (without drugs).

Our ancestors did not had a full orchester at hand, yet they still enjoyed music and as far as I know it was part of every culture. And I suspect they feeled it even more intense, than the ordinary person consuming some playlists on spotify or youtube today.

>Music I prefer, is usually also quite complex, but "pieces so powerful they can bring people to tears."

... do really not need to be complex.

Sure, but that [that it needs to be complex] was never asserted here though.

The thread started from a comment made by tempguy9999 saying that they are bothered by the article saying: [the classical musicians] "who achieve such heights are capable of playing the most complex, technically difficult music on equally complex instruments that take decades to master".

And he added "Complexity just isn't of value in software and I don't know if it is in music".

My response to which was, and I quote: "Nobody said that music has to be complex to be good. But a good classical musician should be able to play the complex pieces too" and that: "You don't get to be a concert pianist or violinist if you only play the simple pieces...".

tempguy9999 further that they don't have the ability "to determine if there is any value in complex music other than coincidental. If you are a musician I'd appreciate your view."

To which I replied basically that many pieces (classical and otherwise) are both inherently complex and good, and gave some examples.

This whole thread revolves around its tail, but nobody said music has to be complex to be good.

What was said was, to recap:

A: Hmm, the article saying "you need to play complex difficult music on complex instruments that take decades to master" bothers me.

B: It says so for classical musicians. There are lots of difficult classical pieces, and to be a classical musician you need to be able to play them

A: But do they have to be complex? Or do they have just accidental complexity? Whaddaya think?

B: That's another question, but since you've asked, sure, there are classical (and rock, jazz, etc) pieces, that are difficult to play and highly technical, and are nonetheless masterpieces, and one would be hard pressed to take anything away from them. It's up to the artist how they want to express themselves, and a pieces can be very difficult/technical and equally beautiful.

Ah ok, I did not read carefully enough then, I got the impression, that you were implying, that powerful music, needs to be complex. But it seems, we agree, complex music can also be very powerful ..

That is a well worded, thoughtful and precise summary. Thanks.

Thanks for these, I appreciate the effort you put in.

I can't do them justice right now as it's late but I've had a quick listen, and will have a proper bash at them tomorrow.

But I'm beginning to doubt my original post; it asked if good music related to complex music. But if 'good' is so personal, my question becomes void because it's personal to each. (Edit: that was craply put, but I hope YSWIM)

Hope you liked the buxtehude in return!

There are some pieces (eg Chopin, Lizt) that seem very simple and yet are very complex in their playability, but are beautiful. (As an average piano player, they're out of my league).

I once wrote a few bars (as a contemporary music exercise for a course I was doing) that used all 12 tones in a non repeating manner and it had all the requisite parts: motif, development and resolution, and for the task at hand and my musical ability, it was rather 'pretty'. My teacher loved it.

The article is about working. Very few musicians can call their own shots in terms of what repertoire to play, and work enough to support themselves. They have to play whatever gets thrown at them.

I have some experience with this as a part time jazz bassist. When I get a call, the organizer often doesn't even know how hard the bass part is, or exactly what material they are planning on programming for the gig. There is no coding interview. I have a few seconds to say yes or no. Saying no too many times wipes me off the map, and I get to start building my reputation again from scratch. Saying I don't like a particular kind of material because it's too complex, or whatever, puts me on the "hard to work with" list.

Yes. To me it seems that great players find something new and relatively simple in the music and then find a way to communicate it in performance.

Likewise, the best music is simple in its core. Starting with melody. If I can't remember the tune, perhaps it was too complex. Apparently it's hard to compose simple melodies. They're like mathematical theories: much easier to appreciate than to discover.

And there is a darker side to complexity. Many in the audience will entertain fantasies about becoming great players themselves and occupying the place of the soloist now on stage. To them, complex technical feats are glamorous and worthy of slavish emulation.

To some extent, I think that 'simple' depends on your own listening history. Jazz that sounds like noise to one listener might sound logical to the next once the second guy has internalized all of the cliches that are built into the music. If tension-release mechanisms simply result in tension, you gotta problem.

I've largely retooled my thinking on a lot of these things. I can see more genius in a pop tune that is highly addictive than in something with complex changes going 100 miles an hour. Rather than wondering why people prefered (being an old guy) The Eagles to Joe Henderson, I've made an effort to appreciate popular music more.

Dunno much about classical music, and you can argue about whether it's anything but a museum piece (and interesting more for live sound in an era of perfectly good recordings), but I've always been surprised how jazz has largely avoided taking on useful rock cliches in building arrangements. I would think that instrumental music would be more popular as a result.

A lot of music appreciation involves an arc of progression. In Jazz, for example, complex solos sound like random wankery to the person beginning their journey.

But after you acquire a grounding in the basic forms like blues and rhythm changes, then suddenly, more complex music stops sounding random. It makes sense when played with the simpler music as a backdrop.

Then after you’ve listened to that for a while, even more complex music suddenly makes sense. And so it goes for a while.

Then you listen to a simple piece again, but you hear something in the simple piece that you literally didn’t notice at first. The complex music has trained you to notice a certain note or phrasing, and you realize that what you heard wasn’t simple, it too was complex, but it was complex in a subtle way.

Music is not absolute. It is a conversation between performer and audience that changes both.

"But after you acquire a grounding in the basic forms like ...rhythm changes"

I suppose that anyone who has heard the theme from The Flintstones has already done that.

I dislike many of those statements, because optimality is neither simple nor complex. And that's why I totally agree that it is difficult for a tune to appear simple, but recognizable.

Corrolar: software should be just as complex as the problem that it is trying to solve, and if the problem is difficult, the code will be difficult. Finding an optimal code might be more difficult than the problem that is supposed to be solve.

>optimality is neither simple nor complex

Yes, however, do you think that music should be beautiful? And is beauty easy, or hard, to apprehend? If your answers are 'yes' and 'easy' then I think you'll naturally appreciate simplicity or the emergence of simplicity from a complex background.

I can't quite understand why someone would think it made sense to major in classical music, unless they had family money to support them for the rest of their lives. Same goes for majoring in oil painting after the arrival of Photoshop (or for that matter, after the arrival of photography), or majoring in horsemanship after the invention of the internal combustion engine.

Basically, these are nostalgia careers. There is nothing wrong with loving old things, but they make sense as a hobby, not as a career you need to make a living.

I say this as someone who was (for a time) married to someone who "followed her dream" at the advice of her dad, and majored in operatic singing. Good as she was, all she was able to get as a job was in an opera chorus, while teaching music in elementary schools. The opera she was in was eventually closed, the music program in that school district was canceled, but neither paid much anyway. Eventually she took on more loans (while I paid rent and groceries etc) to get a degree in speech pathology.

The economics of this was driven home once when we were together, when we went to see an opera in San Francisco. There was no amplification, but an actual orchestra. The ratio of audience members to performers was ridiculously low. The house was mostly full, but it wasn't that big a house (how big can it really be with no amplification?).

Meanwhile, the same evening, a young coworker of mine was attending an EDM show right across the plaza at the Bill Graham center, so we walked over together. That show was basically a couple guys on stage with laptops. Apparently not much on stage resembling musical instruments. And the crowd lined up outside was so enormous it made it hard for me to find my wife and to get to the opera house.

Some people see that as sad, I guess, and in some ways I can agree. (although I tend to prefer electronic music more than classical, I don't see the point of attending a live show if the music is pre-sequenced, that's just weird)

Regardless, this is reality today.

> Same goes for majoring in oil painting after the arrival of Photoshop (or for that matter, after the arrival of photography)

Based on the books my kids read, illustration/painting is alive long after photography was invented. (Granted some illustrators "paint" digitally but that doesn't mean the computer is doing the creative work.)

Also the complexity and unpredictability of some media such as watercolours isn't even close to being replicated digitally. E.g., check out the work of master Melbourne watercolour artist Joseph Zbukvic at https://www.instagram.com/josephzbukvic/.

It's alive, but more and more is being replaced. Photography doesn't replace children book illustration, but there used to be demand for people to paint portraits, which were first replaced by photographers, and now by the fact that everyone has a pretty good camera in their pocket. (I feel no need to go to a portrait photographer, I'd much prefer all the photos and videos I capture every day)

I majored in Industrial Design and learned marker rendering, as well as drafting. (and yeah I took oil painting classes, etc) Even did professional drafting for a while on paper in the mid 80s. Very few people work on paper for either of those anymore. I found it so liberating to move to computers soon after graduating and never looked back.

Zbukvic's stuff is beautiful, but I'm not all that convinced comparable stuff couldn't be done digitally. He looks about my age or a bit older, so he certainly learned before photoshop etc. Most people today would find it incredibly frustrating to have to paint without access to things like layers, undo, etc. which are incredibly powerful.

The biggest thing traditional media has going for it in art is that it produces an original.

Well, there are painting apps like Krita or Rebelle. But my favourite watercolour app in terms of realism for water flow, damping, brush behaviour etc is Expressi. It is quite awesome, though quirky.


That's ridiculous; I know many professional musicians who have a decent life.

This guy had a hard time of it the same way any kind of regular schmuck might if he had delusions of grandeur. Yes, life ain't fair: you generally won't excel the rich kids who went to Yale unless you have some crazy hustle. That's just how life is.

Meanwhile there are a number of actually fake subjects in college which cost just as much as learning to be second fiddle or third trombone or whatever, but which don't have any useful or interesting skill associated with them

Are they doing classical music?

Yes, most are; that's why I made the statement!

One guy had training in classical guitar, he does session music for commercials and stuff, basically because he likes it and it pays well enough to fool around with jazz guitar (or whatever it is; I am a different kind of nerd) at night.

You can't have a career in automobile racing unless you're rich, either.

True, but until self-driving vehicles are actually available, there have been lots of jobs for drivers. And of course mechanics. Horse related jobs are few and far between though.

In the case of music, though, there were a good number of jobs for musicians prior to the phonograph, radio amplification, etc, for instance playing piano at a saloon or the like. Now a single musician can entertain tens of thousands at a time live, or hundreds of millions with recorded/broadcast/YouTubed/Spotified music.

Oddly enough, you can actually make a good career as a farrier (working with horseshoes). There's not a lot of demand for farriers, but there's an even smaller supply, so they tend to have plenty of work. It's one of those careers that most people don't even consider or even know exist, so they struggle to get new apprentices and workers.

It's one of those jobs that won't be automated very soon either, and demand is steady (there aren't many horses these days, but the numbers aren't going down).

Sure, the demand for farriers has stabilized, but it is very low compared to 150 years ago, when farriers and blacksmiths had a lot of overlap and it was a very common profession.

The difference with music is how many people want to be professional musicians. So many people love music and discover they have talent, so it is seen as a desirable profession.

Relatively rich Lewis Hamilton cane form a well off middle class family - but not a family that 100's of millions.

You can, but it will be as part of a team funded by a wealthy person or corporation. Similar to the patronage model that was classically used to support the arts.

I don't think that's true.

Orchestra is probably difficult, but you can make a living giving recitals. It's not a salaried job, so you'll have to manage yourself and do the selling, building up your reputation in the right places, but it's possible.

For instance, a couple of months ago I went to the church to a recital with a cellist who was bicycling on a tour giving something like 40 recitals in a little over a month. I looked her web site up afterwards, and she charges the equivalent of 800 USD per job. It was near the end of her tour, and no, she didn't seem like she was falling apart. :)

I don't think there's any real money in recorded music these days. You're competing with absolute top stars from the whole world.

But classical music is a very different experience live. If you do the job well, introduce people to the music, help them understand it and give them a touching experience, people will want you back next year.

The fact that it's possible to make a living at it doesn't mean it is remotely typical to be able to. To do so you need to be some combination of extremely talented and extremely good at all those other things (marketing oneself, etc). Just like my ex, she could of course point to people who were making a good living as opera stars, but there were far more people who got the masters degree in operatic performance, and then did other things to actually buy the groceries.

And you are right that recorded music is hard to make a living at as well. Some people do, but the vast majority fail.

Whether classical or otherwise, recorded or live, everyone in music is competing against mass produced, broadcast or streamed recorded music. You can't just learn to play piano and get hired at a saloon anymore.

I didn't grow up rich or culturally connected in New York. I went to one of the few universities in the US where you can pursue a dual degree in a conservatory level music curriculum and a top level engineering program simultaneously. While I now largely play music recreationally, it was absolutely my favorite experience in college and I cherish that life experience.

Her points are mostly sour grapes and throwing shade at the broader industry/community imho. Does it have diversity(?) - it tends to be very, white, asian, and jewish. Does it have a diversity problem? Perhaps, but at the same time, I don't think diversity will some how 'save' classical music. Ultimately, I think classical music more generally in at least the US is more diverse, has much broader engagement and diversity and gas more appreciated/exposure as it pertains to marching bands and football programs. It's a bit lame admittedly, that music can be so dependent upon sports for it's relevance but I also think one of the most fundamental issues with classical music is it's notion of performer/audience. Many people love to play music as it's a satisfying and communal endeavor, but so much of the classical world is focused on aspirations of getting paid to play for audiences. I hope that one day there will be a bit of a mental shift that reconsiders what about playing in a band or orchestra is so magical and recenters the whole thing on the participation in making art collectively instead of trying to exist merely for the pleasure of an audience. I think it would be a welcome realization that would allow the classical realm to refocus and reengage with society in a more relevant way.

Depressing read. I don’t know if I should forward this to my 13 YO aspiring cellist. Of course she wants to major in math, and get a minor in cello performance, which is fine with me, though I’d rather her major in chemical engineering.

You should forward it. Also, being able to play an instrument is a priceless gift. I know a former classmate who worked at a top hedge fund and told me that the thing that gave him the most joy recently was playing in the band to support a friend’s labor of love self-produced musical. Just playing in the band.

Although very US centric in its views - Europe is a little bit better at least when it comes to student debt and talent or hard work a more important than connections - it strikes a chord ( pun intended) with many aspiring musicians.

Only a little bit. Opportunities are still few, but at least they're not paid starving wages when they happen.

I've very early decided that it was a hard life with little reward, so picked the other thing I was excellent at. It was a good choice. A lot of music teachers and performers subsidize their at with odd jobs or contracts.

And a major skill is snoozing the political boss of given opera or orchestra.

Anecdata from Nuremberg, living in the vicinity of the "Nuremberg University of Music" (owned by the state of Bavaria): Here we have lots of Asian students (from the students I see carrying an instrument and walking to or from the school it even seems to be a majority, but I only get to see a tiny sample of those who happen to walk by). That's not meant to counter the blog posts "a field so notoriously white and male" statement, as I said, just an anecdote. I like that my local music school seems able to attract so many from so far away. I have no idea how their job prospects are, probably not that much better than described here. The number of places in that field is limited everywhere after all.

I started learning to play the violin pretty late in my forties, with private teachers, both teachers I had thus far women, both educated in Russia actually. I don't aspire to greatness, but sound basic technique already lets me get really wonderful sound from a €1000 violin (after two years of renting a learner's instrument from a violin maker; without bow; selected by myself by sound/feel only, without looking at the instruments I was given for testing). It does not have to be the most difficult pieces at all. There are plenty of simple to medium difficulty melodies that sound great. For the violin, even playing just a few simple notes can sound wonderful - IF you play them right. You don't have to go for concert-level difficulty to get an interesting satisfying result. But with the violin, your basic technique makes all the difference when playing just a single note. Forget about fast-paced changes and decorations, just master the very basics and even the most simple song will sound good with this instrument.

The exact same very basic melody sounds completely different between a beginner and a master. I think this instrument is on the extreme end as far as the importance of basic skills goes. On a piano or a recorder you vary individual notes much less, and frequency hardly or not at all. On a violin everything is a spectrum, frequency, how you hold the bow, pressure on the bow, speed of the bow, angle of the bow. On the other hand that means that you can get much out of simple melodies.

Something anyone can start on the side is learning to play the recorder. Soprano and alto-recorder. It's dirt-cheap - good instruments for $100, and those really are good enough (and I'm quite picky). There too are plenty of good pieces available even with skills on the low or medium end.


By the way, another commenter mentioned he doesn't understand why that woman spent so much money on a violin:

> Also a violin doesn't have to be wildly expensive: Mine cost $600 and is plenty good enough. My understanding is that the violin makers have made amazing progress in recent decades and routinely make violins as good as the best ever.

Well... you are wrong. While my teacher too says that the €1000 violin I bought was good, and by now I know it really is and it will be enough for me for a long time to come, even with all the progress I'm making, I once got to play a €10,000 violin while visiting a violin maker. The difference wasn't so much the sound - I actually slightly preferred mine. The difference was that that violin was much more light-weight (the wood is made much thinner), and this instrument was significantly better on the edges of play. For example, very fast changes felt sooo much better even to me.

For "normal" songs maybe one won't notice much difference, but from my one-time high-end violin experience (as an advanced beginner only), on the high-end of difficulty the difference is huge.

Note that the bow also costs a lot. You easily spend another $1000 on a good bow (or even multiples of this) - which one you get is extremely individual. This again will be much more noticeable on the outer edges of skill and difficulty level.

Just in case you didn’t see this (article or the accompanying video) a couple years ago:


I studied music from 10 to 12, I left this world for two reasons: one, I was pragmatic enough to see that it would not make money - best pupils were from rich families, as the article described. Second: the kind of craziness musicians display was not 'my' kind. The children-students and even some teachers were pure envy and jealousness, pretty much like Whiplash movie displayed them. OTOH I really liked the computer 'crazies' which generally loved to collaborate and respected each others' talents.

I don't get what the author is complaining about. That there are too many aspiring musicians? That there is not enough public demand?

I see the meritocracy working perfectly here, on average the richest students had the best training and equipment, and as such developed into the best musicians (and without the injuries mentioned), therefore they have the most merit to make a career of it.

No one is born knowing how to play a viola, what careers are there where your training is not reflected in your merit?

> on average the richest students had the best training and equipment, and as such developed into the best musicians

That's not a meritocracy.

Sure it is, GP is just pointing out that attaining that skill is not a thing of equal opportunity.

All one is guaranteed in a meritocracy is that the most skilled person available reaps the benefit. However, a pure meritocracy does not guarantee who and how those skills are developed.

IIRC this is one of the big criticisms of meritocracy as a form of governance—a system of skilled individuals is not necessarily a fair one.

In a meritocracy the most talented, hardworking child would have received the best training and equipment, not the richest one.

A pure meritocracy doesn't even guarantee that a child could be wealthy without having talent. As soon as someone with wealth but without merit is able to obtain economic goods (such as the highest quality training and equipment) that are not obtainable by those with merit, whatever system you have ceases to be a pure meritocracy.

It's not a meritocracy.

Meritocracy is a spectrum really. Essentially if it looks only at current merit regardless of the circumstances it is still technically meritocratic even if it is unfair.

If only the best fighters can be knights but those raised in wealth have a vast advantage but any peasant outliers can become one it is more meritocratic than one which only allows those of noble birth but selects from canidates within. The fact the nobles compete is the only thing which gives a scintilla of meritocracy.

A system of commissions for officers based entirely on wealth would ironically be less meritocratic than the nobles only pool because it doesn't factor merit in at all.

The adhectives eglataran and meritocratic are technically two separate aspects. Although they are synergistic in that the aspects are stronger together than apart. Equal opportunity of resources would be more meritocratic than a "pure" meritocracy and more meritocracy undermines "gatekeepers" which may emerge among eglatarans where merit isn't what determines advancement.

It's eventually meritocratic, but the part that considers solely merit starts late enough that some have had far more opportunity to develop their talents than others

It's worse than that. The system is actively destructive of talent.

Someone with talent from an average background is going to be "out-merited" by someone with average talent from a privileged background - because the privileged person will have the resources to develop their skill, while the other person won't.

In fact not only will they not have the resources, they'll have extra costs - in the form of forced time spent working away from music to pay the bills, college debt, and so on. And of course limited access to physical and social benefits - good instruments, lessons, practice facilities, and ultimately choice of college and the resulting class network.

Apart from the obvious financial implications, those distractions will saddle the victim with a huge extra cognitive load.

A lot of people will be crushed by it, no matter how talented they are.

Please remember that work, by definition, has a negative utility. We only do work for its side effects.

And the merit here is producing great music; working hard is not a merit. It can command respect, though, and indicate a future growth potential.

A child is never wealthy; the child's family may be. Being born into a wealthy family is a privilege. I child who doesn't waste that privilege, and makes the best of the somehow elevated starting position, deserves as much respect as a hard-working child that achieves impressive results starting from a worse position. It's pretty easy to just coast and achieve nothing if your parents already give you everything.

> And the merit here is producing great music; working hard is not a merit

The usual textboook definition of merit in the context of a meritocracy is "talent, effort, and achievement".

> A child is never wealthy;

That's just somewhat true in our particular flavor of society, and even there children may be wealthy independently of their caretakers.

In a meritocracy where merit is essentially equivalent to wealth or currency, a child may very well be considered wealthy just on its own.

Then there's the example of Florence Foster Jenkins, who gives the lie to both the idea that wealthy people are going to succeed artistically, and that wealthy people (viz., her audience at the time) have superior taste.


Yes, we need a fair-o-cracy, but nobody so far invented the rules for it.

Well, the rules are simple:

Nothing besides talent should ensure you get better music schools, training opportunities, teachers, or more time to practice.

Is it fair to some are born with more talent than others? Is it fair that a 5’8” hard working talented basketball player will never be as successful as Lebron James?

Not a fair comparison. Most NBA players will fall short to Lebron James because of his brain.


Looking at the pinnacle of performance is distracting. I coach little league. Every year I see kids with amazing talent drop out or not scratch the surface of potential due to a variety of factors, most of which boils down to lack of time.

If it's beside human intervention, then yes, it's humanly fair.

The universe might not be fair though, but I'd say the universe does not give a f...

Not doable in the current economic system. Many schools would be more than willing to invest in training, should a very promising although very poor, talented kid knock at their door. But how this kid could have been introduced to classical music or any other activity requiring costly training if his/her family had to struggle every day with temporary underpaid jobs to pay the minimum necessary (clothes/health/food/school etc.)? Potential talents do exist everywhere; I'm pretty sure there are at least a dozen potential pro golfers among the homeless in any country, but they should have been grown in a moderately rich family that allowed them to start practicing at least until someone discovered them. Our economic system however is designed to make the rich richer at the expense of the poor, so I don't think this is going to change anytime soon.

I disagree. Talent is one component that gives you an advantage, but it is no guarantee for success.

Take this guy:


And tell me if up front you'd have recognized his talent and given him the opportunity that you felt he deserved.

In your world perseverance and grit count for nothing, in the real world a bit of talent and a ton of perseverance will outweigh any amount of talent if it isn't coupled with a substantial amount of grit and perseverance as well.

As nice as those theories are the entrance examinations and the judges are swayed easily by things other than talent which we can not measure objectively anyway.

Fortunately instruments are affordable (for some value of affordable) and if you can spare the time then practice is the differentiator. I've seen talented musicians fail due to a lack of discipline and I've seen moderately talented people succeed through endless hard work and everything in between. Of course the talented individual with discipline will always be at an advantage. But fortunately the world is large enough that more people than that handful will get a chance and some of those will succeed way beyond our expectations.

And all that besides the fact that talent as such isn't a static thing either.

Working that out in a practical way is not simple, though. There's the rub.

> I see the meritocracy working perfectly here, on average the richest students had the best training and equipment, and as such developed into the best musicians

Theres a lot wrong with this analysis, one point being that the "best training and equipment" is hardly the only factor for being a better musician. Are the best programmers the ones with the best laptops who went to the best schools? No, of course not- its not an apples-to-apples comparison but great musicianship is not simply a matter of money spent. In some cases no amount of training or quality of equipment will result in professional success.

Wealthy students/early-career musicians can also better weather career hardships that are intrinsic to pursuing a career in the arts. Being able to live with family while working or having a fallback if a risky career move doesn't pay off are luxuries that underprivileged musicians often don't have.

This also ignores the value of a wealthy families personal network- being on an advisory board for an arts institution, as many wealthy parents are, usually means you can pull some strings. These factors have nothing to do with merit.

> This is the way of arts under capitalism, in a culture where the abandonment of government funding results in a void filled only by wealthy donors and bloodsucking companies—it’s not altogether different from when composers and musicians worked as servants for the aristocracy.

As a former professional classical musician (I kicked the habit when I became a father,) I'm always amazed at the sense of entitlement expressed by musicians. As if the state is somehow morally obligated to support their art.

At the end of the day, it's a question of supply and demand. There's a ton of young people that go to music school each year, while on the demand side there's an ever-diminishing group of snotty white-haired patrons that are willing to pay to hear a symphony orchestra live.

> Perhaps the most humiliating defeat was dealt to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which went on strike for six months in 2011, only to concede to an almost 25 percent pay cut.

I really don't get why musicians feel primordially entitled to a $100K job no matter the economic circumstances.

“Sure, I may have been a failure in classical music”

This breaks my heart, and it’s exactly how I felt for 15 years. Being a violin failure, when I loved violin more than anything, was so painful. But when it comes to things like playing violin, we have the power to decide for ourselves what success and failure are. Success might be practicing five hours a week and mastering four new pieces a year and enjoying the transcendent beauty of playing violin.

I left the pre-professional violinist track and ended up with an MS in CS. Now I’m a homeschooling mother teaching her kids to play violin and piano, among other things.

Our culture is obsessively utilitarian when it comes to music and sports. Playing music, playing sports is anything but playful, and it is such a shame.

I think it's a question of models (the only classical musicians that are visible in most families are professionals) and ends (most parents directing their kids to music are thinking of college admissions and the like).

The idea that it's normal for most people to know how to dance, play an instrument, sing, and play a pick up game of ball is strangely lost.

> This is the way of arts under capitalism, in a culture where the abandonment of government funding results in a void filled only by wealthy donors and bloodsucking companies.

So if your dream job isn't worth people voluntarily paying for, then you're entitled to having the government extract the money from them on your behalf?

I don't think so.

Would you like being taxed to pay professional football players who aren't in the NFL?

This is pretty accurate. My brother is one of the best classical musicians I know, but he ditched it for physics for many of the same reasons laid out in this article.

This is error. People are starved for novelty and contact with talent.

Rather than try to storm this particular upper-bourgeois shrine to "dead shit", fail, then get upset about it, why not make something new, or share the gift with some place that needs it?

With these people, that's inconceivable! The answer is always public subsidy. That way, lower-bougies get a fair and equal opportunity to let their shit roll downhill, and land on the same people who subsidized them--the same way they see "justice" in getting a bunch of plumbers and mechanics to pay off their student loans for sociology degrees.

The sad thing to me, is that the author is from rural NC - a place that has a history and culture of music made for and by people of backgrounds similar to hers. Bluegrass and folk music still have an audience (see the success of Greensboro-based Carolina Chocolate Drops), but not a ton of prestige, and sadly it's not something I've ever seen taught in public schools.

I don't blame the author for her choice to pursue classical, she didn't know there were options. But not only has the author sacrificed her own talent and well-being to a class of people who would view her community with disdain - she denied her own culture of new talent and life that could have been sorely needed.

Sociology degrees don't have to be so bad: Trying to make the field a science, especially a heavily statistical science, is a wide open field with some grant money available. But for both the statistics and the science, have to do good, original work. E.g., my wife got her Ph.D. in such mathematical sociology with professors Rossi and Coleman, each a President of the American Sociology Association: They were trying to be good at both the statistics and science, but there was plenty of room to do better than they did.

More broadly making some of sociology -- the scientific study of groups of people -- a solid science could have important good consequences for major parts of society plus at times some nice money made in business, especially advertising and social computing.

Warning: First understand some good science, best of all, physics, especially mathematical and theoretical physics. Then get one heck of a good background in probability theory, based on measure theory, and mathematical statistics, enough to do good original work in mathematical statistics. Then attack sociology and do VERY WELL formulating new theories to test and inventing NEW and powerful statistical means to test the theories.

Just like we've made economics into a heavily statistical "science", yet one half of economists are never in agreement with the other.

Once free human beings and their choices are in the mix, the combinatorics are astronomical and largely beyond science. Then the whole enterprise degrades to the cataloging of noise.

edit: This part is even worse:

"nice money made in business, especially advertising and social computing"

So now we're using the recently cataloged noise-envelope to help corporations extract even more money from the plebes who subsidized the cataloging in the first place?

Just because the economists have been 99 44/100% unsuccessful making their field a meaningful science does not mean that sociology can't make progress as a science. I DID outline some of how might try to do that; I DID see what my wife, Rossi, and Coleman did. I didn't say it would be easy, but I believe it CAN be done.

One of the best reasons for science is the subsequent applied science, and one of the best uses for applied science is making money.

At work one night, the falseness of the “work hard and you will succeed” ethic washed over me: the truth was the music world was a two-tiered system, and I was in the second chair.

Many years ago, I had a discussion about the same issue in the world of dance. I was reminded that Smith had said "...they are all very poor people who follow as a trade, what other people pursue as a pastime.".

Classical music, like classical dance, is a positive thing that is being sold in a way that doesn't really accord with its value. Much of Mozart's work was commissioned to entertain small audiences at social events the format of which has more or less disappeared from the world. That's why it was a way to make a living back then and why it isn't now. The contemporary pre-occupation with virtuosity and art for art's sake in certain "classical" (really Romantic era) art forms disguises these arts' social function, and by extension obscures anyway of charging for them.

Although the author strikes a tone of strident unfairness ("This is the way of arts under capitalism..."), at no point do they suggest that there is anything on the other side of the balance sheet -- that musicians provide a certain amount of value to society and should thus be compensated for it. The closest they get is to mention putting in a lot of effort and going into a lot of debt. The tough, late realisation facing these musicians is that most people have to work for a living; that having some unique skills of a rich kid does not make you into one.

Performance is a fairly limited way for society to derive value from the arts. A lot of the value of them is in the effect they have on people as they learn to work together in the context of a performance, and on their friends and family as they attend it. For many of the classical arts there are direct antecedents in folk arts which were as much for the benefit of the performers as for anyone else. The antecedents are particularly easy to discover for music and dance. These folk arts bide their time, ready to have their former positive effect on us, if only we would employ them at a scale and in a context that is fitting to them.

From The Wealth of Nations:

Hunting and fishing, the most important employments of mankind in the rude state of society, become in its advanced state their most agreeable amusements, and they pursue for pleasure what they once followed from necessity. In the advanced state of society, therefore, they are all very poor people who follow as a trade, what other people pursue as a pastime. Fishermen have been so since the time of Theocritus. A poacher is every-where a very poor man in Great Britain. In countries where the rigour of the law suffers no poachers, the licensed hunter is not in a much better condition. The natural taste for those employments makes more people follow them than can live comfortably by them, and the produce of their labour, in proportion to its quantity, comes always too cheap to market to afford any thing but the most scanty subsistence to the labourers.

It is noteworthy that quite a few people make a living teaching hunting marksmanship and tracking techniques, running ballet schools, tuning pianos...


There are some interesting experiences in this article and it starts strong. But as it turns into a critique of society it is weird how she criticizes the unmeritocratic realities of her field while at the same time lauding diversity hires for the sake of "progressivism"? I think her point about (especially in pre-modern-internet days) how it was difficult to judge how you should be efficiently spending your time when you grow up as a big fish in a small pond is a good one, something myself and many kids I graduated high school with can understand, though there's no real solution besides earlier and more realistic educations. I am in her generation and I think we will be raising our kids a little less idealistically and a little more practically based on the hard lessons we've learned about where hard work ends and your privileges-from-birth begin. The society where we pretend that everyone should be able to equally persue the same opportunities is a problem that ignores the practical reality this woman and many in our generation learned the hard way. Or not, I don't think her simultaneous praise for diversimania and progressivism with a critique of capitalism, while I think the critique is valid, is going to do anything helpful. As the author mentions, the divisity hires are decorative flourish demanded by the donor class and are still going to be filled by privileged people, just privileged people of the correct hue.

flaxton 38 days ago [flagged]

"in a void filled only by wealthy donors and bloodsucking companies" - spoken like a true socialist. Like the world “owes” you a living? Produce what people value, and they will pay you. Very simple. Anything else is oppression of the worker or by the State.

Please don't take HN threads further into ideological flamewar. These generic discussions are all the same and we're trying for something more interesting here.


It seems the real blocker here was carpel tunnel and tendonitis, rather than coming from a poor or non-musical family.

Edit: getting downvoted here with no response, but if you read the article, the only thing the author can point to in terms of the prospective careers falling apart are medical issues, followed by a blanket claim that classical music is run by haughty folks.

Not all unwealthy people learn with bad technique.

Money affects the course a person's life takes after recovery from an illness or injury.

I have two friends who started at Ivy League universities about forty years ago. Both got sick and had to leave school. One was from a very poor family, and was the only person in his family to have even begun college. The other was the daughter of a Harvard professor. The one from the poor family started working as he recovered, so he could help support his family, who were supporting him. The daughter of the Harvard professor convalesced in her family's big house in Cambridge. The friend from the poor family never achieved "escape velocity" to get back to college. It was odd that he'd done it the first time. The friend from Cambridge got better and, as was expected, returned to Yale with full family support and backing and the understanding that of course you go to college.

Money and social support make it fairly easy for a person to relaunch after a crash.

Being from a rural town means your teacher options are limited. Having a family that is not musical or well-connected to musicians means you won't get recommendations and nobody knows if a teacher is good. Being poor means your teacher options are WAY more limited.

You can't blame a four year old in a non-musical family for choosing bad teachers.

Btw, that was the main blocker for her being a performer. But she mentions other career paths for musicians, such as composing and teaching. In those careers being rich, well-connected and well located also matter a lot.

Carpel tunnel and tendonitis? How'd she do that?

My career is in applied math and computing, and now I'm heading for an alpha test for my startup, but for hobbies I like both classical violin and mathematical physics.

For violin, for the muscles part, have two hands, one chin, one left shoulder, and one back. There have long been plenty of pictures of great violinists -- e.g., Heifetz -- that show really clearly what positions of hands, chin, left shoulder, and back should be. The left shoulder position is made easier by the long very popular shoulder rests that attach under the violin a little behind the bridge.

I got through some plenty serious music, e.g., about half of the Bach Chaconne with no problems with injuries.

I played violin because I like it: I don't have a good singing voice so can use violin, e.g., with some of Bach's music, to scream out to the heavens the passion of the human spirit! In this way, violin is great fun!

But it was always totally clear to me that there was no money in classical music for me and very little for 99.99% of everyone else in music. E.g., I did clearly understand that all the people who could have a good career as a classical solo violinist could meet in large SUV -- literally true. E.g., there was a report that each year there are in all the world only about 50 solo violin performances with major orchestras.

But also gotta mention, there are not many people, only a small fraction even in that SUV, who can play the music as well as Heifetz. Each year some young violinists come on the scene with a big entrance, but too soon it's clear that for world class performances of the major pieces they need more time in master classes, a practice room, and most of all thinking about the artistic expression of the pieces. E.g., the last few bars of the central D-major section of the Bach Chaconne are the climax of the piece, and that needs to be brought out clearly to the audience but is rarely done effectively. Net, it appears that there is some room at the top for solo violinists.

Also a violin doesn't have to be wildly expensive: Mine cost $600 and is plenty good enough. My understanding is that the violin makers have made amazing progress in recent decades and routinely make violins as good as the best ever.

>>> Carpel tunnel and tendonitis? How'd she do that?

Same way they all do it: Practicing for hours a day with barely discernible deviations in technique and physical approach. Feeling pushed to play through the pain. Facing deadlines such as competitions and auditions. Knowing that taking a break in order to heal means dropping out of the scene and falling to the bottom of call lists. Perhaps subtle genetic variations that make some people more susceptible than others.

What does a hobbyist know about these things? I certainly don't. I'm also a techie by day and a musician at night -- a jazz double bassist. I will never be as good as the top bassists in my locale -- they all have music degrees and have practiced more than I ever will. But I can choose my battles, and that includes putting my health first. My hands are in great shape.

But the injuries are real. Rumors are true: The bass is big. You can see technique problems from a mile away. It saddens me to see this, but I watch promising young professional bassists coming up through the ranks, and a lot of them show evidence that they are playing through injuries that will eventually limit their careers. Some time on YouTube will reveal this, though I don't want to call anybody out.

Physical occupations are always potentially dangerous. People get hurt. I've watched tradesmen work, and it's rare to see workers at my age (55) who aren't hobbling and broken.

Like you, I opted out of a music career pretty early. Luckily, I was equally interested in other things such as math. Realistically, I wasn't good enough to progress in music beyond, say, the community orchestra level.

> What does a hobbyist know about these things? I certainly don't.

I don't know at all well. I made some progress with violin but not on any fixed schedule. I can't recall anything hurting, but if something did then no doubt I just slowed down. But I started violin late, in my 20s and had three problems -- no talent, too old, and too little practice. Still I made some progress, e.g., the Chaconne which is no joke.

I do have a little insight: For a while I was a math grad student at Indiana University with, of course, its excellent music school next door including violin from former Cleveland concert master Gingold. So, I met a lot of violin music students, e.g., guys who could sightread, e.g., the Vieuxtemps 5th violin concerto. Those students showed no pains, and all but one of them held their violin just fine.

Generally if something hurts, then something is wrong, and don't do that. And for the pressure of a competition, wait a while, take longer until are really ready. If are desperate for results for a scholarship or some such, then accept that music is mostly for pleasure, keep music as a hobby, and do something else for money. Sorry 'bout that. Or, maybe play country music on violin. I suspect those guys DO get paid, and from the audience it seems that maybe they have yet to learn about third position, much less fifth position, and much, much less being able to play all the scales in all the major and minor keys. So, play some Country or Bluegrass.

Fiddling is nearly as competitive and overcrowded. Every violinist has had the same idea. And fiddling has evolved to the point where it also benefits from having affluent parents, the right teachers, summer camps, and so forth.

> Carpel tunnel and tendonitis? How'd she do that?

She wrote it in the article: she was trained by to hold in a particular way.

You come across as very intelligent, but I think they telling others that you know how to do things better is not very smart.

"Come across" is very sloppy reading and thinking. Read here again, once again, over again, yet again, one more time:

Smart has nothing to do with it. Instead, to know how to hold a violin, just look at some good pictures. They worked for me. Then Galamian's book helped some more. Don't have to be very smart to look at some pictures. All the old 33 RPM record stores had lots of record jackets with great pictures.

One extra point: Really SHOULD be able to hold the violin in its correct position using just the chin and left shoulder without either hand. So, this way the left hand is free to make music instead of holding the violin. Frequently at concerts can see the performer, say, between pieces, holding their violin without their hands.

One more point: The left thumb should be relaxed and slightly, naturally, comfortably curved and NOT stressfully bent backwards. Again, yet again, once again, over again, one more time, we HOLD the violin with our chin and left shoulder and NOT with our left hand. The left hand is relaxed and making music, NOT stressfully holding the violing. For GREAT details, just look at the video clips of Fischer and Hahn.

These are all standard, common, first day violin lessons and can nearly all be seen easily in long readily available pictures with more from good books, e.g., Galamian.

Every beginning violin student has to struggle for a while learning how to hold the instrument. So, the task is well understood. The solution? Easy, just look at some readily available pictures as I illustrated with several examples from old record jackets.

For the audience here, if anyone wants to start violin or has a child that does, then a good way to learn how to hold the instrument is just to look at some pictures, including the ones I gave here. And now, much better still, look at the two videos I gave, Fischer and Hahn. Any good violinist can confirm that those two are doing JUST FINE.

So what I'm saying here, just dirt simple, look at some pictures, could have helped the author of the OP and anyone starting violin now.

Don't look at some good pictures of good violinists, e.g., Heifetz, and maybe have the pains and horrible problems in the OP. Look at the pictures and avoid all that. Simple.

And somehow you object to my little contribution here?????? Bizarre.

How'd she do that?

How did she manage to not know the things you know? Probably by not being you.

I didn't know those things because I was me. Instead I just learned. The learning was easy, dirt simple -- just look at some long readily available good pictures. That's what I did; it worked very well for me.

Once at the farm at Christmas, I was upstairs practicing on violin. Soon a niece about 9 came up to see. I put the violin under her left chin, put the bow in her right hand, and had her play a note, A on the open A string. She held the violin just fine -- one instant lesson. The next day her father asked me "How much is a violin going to cost me?"!!! So, I did a little violin teaching -- not very difficult.

You're missing some of your assumptions. Why would she think she needed to look at pictures of people holding violins and mimic them when she had a teacher telling her how to play? Why would she think that deviations between her technique and others' would risk her health rather than being inconsequential? How would she realize her technique doesn't match these pictures if she's not looking in a mirror while practicing, or using a camera? How would she know that she should be checking her form in a mirror/camera in the first place, especially since she had a teacher watching her play? Etc.

Yes there are possible answers to these questions, but not everyone's personality and environment will necessarily lead one to them.

How? Common sense.

For more, when pains start.

For more, notice other violinists as happen to see them, other students and/or teachers, on TV, at concerts, etc.

Don't need a camera or mirror.

You seem to be missing the point: I'm trying to indicate a solution, and you and others are angry enough at me to beat me to a pulp and throw my dead body to the sharks. Why? Because I gave an answer, a solution, instead of just dripping empathy without a solution.

The OP is not the first time I've seen violinists suffer from holding the violin wrong starting at the beginning. The woman in the OP is not nearly the first. E.g., Zino Francescatti suffered all his career because he held his violin mostly with just his left hand instead of his chin. And, there's a SOLUTION to this problem -- look at some good pictures.

Here I may have helped some beginning violin student children of some Hacker News readers.

I said over and over, look at some good pictures, e.g., if only from old record jackets, now some Youtube video clips, and lots of people here believe I am a monster to be thrown to the sharks. Bizarre.

Your original comment started with:

Carpel tunnel and tendonitis? How'd she do that?

People are not angry because you are proposing a solution, they are angry because you're implying that only a moron would run into a problem that many musicians run into. That it's somehow her fault, because if she hadn't been a moron and looked all those pictures you're talking about then it wouldn't have happened. You seem to be operating from a worldview where everything that is obvious to you must be obvious to everyone else. This worldview is incorrect.

And you're not really offering a solution anyway, you're offering a possible way the problem might have been avoided that didn't actually happen in reality. A solution would be a way to make sure all musicians avoid the problem, even ones with teachers that teach them bad technique. Or to somehow make sure no teacher anywhere teaches bad technique and is capable of picking it up in their students and correcting it.

You are also assuming that everything you know would be enough to protect you even if you practiced the many hours you need to get to a professional level, even though you yourself have never done it. I didn't feel like challenging this but you should ask yourself why you're so certain something is easy to avoid if you've never put yourself in the position to face it.

The OP explains her pains and suffering.

Lesson for others starting now: For what she suffered, from just holding the instrument, there is a really simple solution -- look at some pictures and now some video clips.

That's some progress for others on some of what she suffered.

It's simple progress, part of the first lesson in violin 101, even earlier than how to tune the instrument -- a violin needs to be tuned again about each 20 minutes of playing.

Sure, the progress is only for the first lesson in violin 101 and not a single, full path to a career as a violinist. Obvious.

You are reading into my writing assertions I did not make and then beating up on me for those.

Again, yet again, over again, once again, one more time, just dirt simple and potentially quite valuable: Beginning violin students need to know how to hold the instrument. Getting this correct at the beginning is important because, as in the OP, getting it wrong can hurt the whole effort for life. But getting it correct is just dirt simple -- look at some good pictures or, now, videos of some good violinists. Simple. Dirt simple. Potentially valuable for beginning violin students. Good contribution. NOTHING WRONG.

What IS wrong is your wildly over active imaginations and extrapolations.

I'm not being critical of the author of the OP. You are being critical of me, throwing me to the sharks, for NOTHING WRONG.

And for "Carpel tunnel and tendonitis" the situation in the OP seems to be related to problems holding the violin and more generally -- understand that if something hurts, then don't do that. It's not supposed to hurt.

There was an old newspaper story about why Heifetz retired from giving concerts. The remark was "Only two things go wrong with a violinist, their bow arm and their nerves. I can assure you there is nothing wrong with Heifetz's bow arm." Net, violin just ain't NFL football -- it ain't supposed to hurt, not even after decades.

I was not clear enough? Good grief:

As I made clear, all she had to do was just look at some pictures, e.g., some of the many ones on record jackets or concert announcements. We can see one quite good example of such an old record jacket cover at


That picture alone shows left hand, right hand, chin, shoulder, and back posture all quite well, and there are more such old record jacket pictures, e.g.,





Of course now there are some just fantastically good videos on JUST how to hold a violin, e.g.,



Also good help has long been in a library, e.g.,

Ivan Galamian, Principles of Violin Playing & Teaching, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, 1962.

Galamian was long at Juilliard.

Of course, looking carefully at the pictures, will see some differences in the right hand: Heifetz has his little finger barely on the bow and Fischer and Hahn have the little finger more on the bow. The Heifetz approach is sometimes called Russian and the Fischer and Hahn, German. Otherwise all the pictures are very close in how to hold a violin.

The record jacket covers did well for me!

So, how the heck did she miss all such pictures?

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