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Pay the Piper
How much progress will I make?
Well, it's up to you, isn't it?
Learning an instrument isn't easy, and there will be times when you'll
have to force yourself to practise. Many other things - your friends,
your hobbies, and most of all your homework - will interfere, but
without steady, regular practice you won't progress. Your teacher
can't learn the instrument for you, or do your practice for you. Read
the advice given in our page about practising.
Different people progress at different speeds, so it's hard to give
advice on what you can expect to do. What's more, you progress at
different speeds at different times - sometimes you'll have a period
of several weeks when you don't seem to move forward however much you
practise. Then, for no reason at all, something gives and you're on
your way again. Strange!
Your teacher will be guiding and controlling your progress, too. He
or she may be the kind of person who pushes on at a great speed. On
the other hand, some teachers prefer to go at a measured pace and
ensure that every single thing is learnt really thoroughly. You may be
having your lessons in a group, so your progress will be controlled by
the speed of the others - they might slow you down, or they may drag
you along with them. Overall, group tuition in in no way inferior to
individual lessons provided the lesson isn't too short. It's more fun,
Although by the time you reach Grade 5 or so all instruments are
fairly equal in difficulty, some are easier to start with than others.
Many people find the clarinet or saxophone really easy at first, and
also the double bass. The French horn is traditionally regarded as a
really difficult brass instrument to start. Many string teachers say
that it takes twice as long to reach Grade 1 standard on the violin or
viola as it does on most other instruments. Our advice is to ignore
this. Starting any new instrument is strange, and difficult, and
interesting and exciting, so what does it matter which one is slightly
stranger or more difficult than the other? Are you the sad kind of
person who looks for the easy way out? If so, learning any
instrument is not for you - none of them is really an easy option.
It would be nice to say that ideally you should be able to accomplish
one grade examination a year, and some people do. That assumes, of
course, that grade examinations are an effective way of measuring
progress and an appropriate basis for your instrumental curriculum.
Sadly, they aren't - see our page on grade
What it comes down to is simply this. "Progress" means
learning new information and skills. If you go to each lesson knowing
something more, or being able to do something better, than you did
last week because you have practised regularly and effectively; and if
you come away from each lesson having learnt one new thing - be it a
new fingering, a piece of musical theory, a musical interpretation, a
bowing technique or just a way of playing something you hadn't
realised before, then you're making progress. Keep doing that week in
and week out, and you'll be a musician soon enough.
That's all you need to worry about - not how many exams you've done
or the fact that your friend who started playing the bagpipes at the
same time you started the violin is light-years ahead of you already.
The violin is not the bagpipes, and you aren't your friend.