Foundational Ideas of FiddleQuest

Navy Seals and Violinists

Some things are harder to complete than others.

For instance, approximately 15% of students will not complete high school. More than 50% of students who start college will not graduate. And 60% of the sailors who begin Navy Seal training will dropout.

But….90% of students who start the violin will quit playing by the time they leave high school.

In other words, if you want to impress someone with your resilience and grit, tell them you still play violin as an adult.

It is such a remarkable attrition rate that it warrants conversation.

Some teachers acknowledge it as the natural cost of excellence. As long as you get at least a few excellent players to continue on to a professional career, the cost is unfortunate, but acceptable.

One teacher agreed that the rigor of the classical violin method caused the vast majority of students to quit. But, on the other hand, she felt like the silver lining to this dropout rate was that it created an audience of people who could appreciate the level of work required to play the classics. In other words, it was a way to help the problem of a shrinking audience for classical music.

I’ve witnessed this dropout rate my entire life.

As a young student, a significant percent of my violinist peers would not return for lessons each fall. The first rehearsal of Youth Symphony was spent trying to identify the kids that had quit. By the time I was in high school, I felt like the last man standing.

Even my brother and sister, who I performed music with since I was 5, stopped playing after they left high school.

Yet, like most people, I never asked “Why do so many quit?” Or “Is this really necessary?”

In fact, it was only after I started volunteering in my daughter’s kindergarten class 20 years ago that I wondered about these outcomes.