Started after 6 years old? Too late!


An interesting article that offered a valuable perspective found its way into my Facebook feed last week. The article was about a violinist who started violin in his mid-teens, not at the “normal” age of 3.

One person commented on the article that starting later than age 6 was detrimental if one wanted to be competitive. I had to politely disagree and replied that for me, starting at 10 seemed to be okay. A flood of other colleagues shared similar stories. Some starting at 11, 13, and like the author, 16!

There is a quiet assumption that one must start violin (or piano for that matter) between age 3 and 6 to make it. While it is a popular age to start, by no means is it a rule. So often we see artist biographies that state the artist “began violin at 3,” followed up with, “made their solo debut at 10” or “became the youngest member of the XYZ Symphony,” as if those are the most important benchmarks for success…qualifiers to an audience member that they are about to hear a performer that is worthy.

There is a stigma in music business that one will only accomplish notable points if they started at an early age. But as renowned composer Jennifer Higdon stated: “Starting late gave me a different advantage, because if you’re starting that late, the fire in you is different.”

A lot of impressive and charismatic musicians who started “late” have amazing and noteworthy careers. But you don’t really hear about their delayed beginnings. It would have been so comforting and inspiring for many to know that starting late could still lead to a respectable career.

I used to feel so insecure for starting later than many. I kept thinking: If only I had that head start, I’d have been so much further in my career!

But I really enjoyed my early childhood and to be completely frank, I wouldn’t have had the maturity, focus, or coordination to really make that “head start” worthwhile.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if more musicians divulged if they started late? Or is the audience so conditioned to expect wunderkinds and prodigies that mentioning starting music at 10, 15, 18 years old disqualifies the musician in their minds?

Let’s normalize starting when it’s right for the individual. Let’s normalize that there is no age-limit. It’s not a race. It’s about finding the best path for the artist to best serve the audience.

About Holly Mulcahy

After hearing Scheherazade at an early age, Holly Mulcahy fell in love with the violin and knew it would be her future. She currently serves as concertmaster of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. She spends her summers at the celebrated Grand Teton Music Festival. Believing in music as a healing and coping source, Holly founded Arts Capacity, a charitable 501(c)3 which focuses on bringing live chamber music, art, artists, and composers to prisons. Arts Capacity addresses many emotional and character-building issues people face as they prepare for release into society. Holly performs on a 1917 Giovanni Cavani violin, previously owned by the late renowned soloist Eugene Fodor, and a bespoke bow made by award winning master bow maker, Douglas Raguse.

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1 thought on “Started after 6 years old? Too late!”

  1. Hi Holly – I was one such late starter. I Picked up the bass just before my 22nd birthday. With a lot of drive and luck I’ve managed to make a living playing the bass for the last 35 years. I only studied privately, but was incredibly fortunate to have worked with many of the best players/teachers in the field.

    I would say that folks that start young tend to trust their teachers and mentors, whereas those who start later learn to trust themselves.

    All the best, look forward to seeing you this summer, CJ


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