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How to string along in later life

9 months ago

Jane Slade

A London-based journalist.

They say you are never too old to learn something new. But I exceeded my wildest expectations when I achieved a Distinction in my Grade 3 ABRSM Viola exam just 10 months after taking up the instrument.

It all started when inherited a much loved but well-worn viola from an old family friend. Even though I had learned the piano as a child and sung in choirs I’d never played a stringed instrument before. But when I opened that battered case, a sad forlorn viola seemed to call ‘learn to play me’.

Fortunately I found an inspirational teacher, Aled Jones, who studied the viola under Jon Thorne at the Royal College of Music and plays with the London-based Quartet Voluté.

I feel so lucky finding a teacher like Aled, and really look forward to his lessons. He has the patience of a saint, makes the lessons fun and doesn’t let me get away with anything!

Safe to say I became quickly addicted and after a few lessons upgraded my viola and bow, and decided to aim for an ABRSM exam. I really wanted a focus for my learning and I liked the ABRSM exam structure because it tests the broader elements of musicianship. Aled had confidence in me and thought I should try for Grade 3. I worked so hard. Unlike when I was a child learning the piano I enjoyed my practice and was really motivated to improve.

Interestingly my frustration was that much of the music for beginners is geared towards children. So I am encouraging my teacher, who is also a composer and arranger, to write some viola music for adult students and also teacher/pupil duets. I am sure it would encourage more older learners.

Aled, who has been teaching the viola for six years, has some words of encouragement for anyone thinking about taking up an instrument. ‘Learning an instrument at any age is a satisfying experience and Jane epitomises the most important qualities any teacher could wish for in a student – determination, focus and a great sense of fun.

‘Even though it’s undoubtedly challenging, the rewards of perfecting a technique or giving a great performance make all the hard work and determination worthwhile.

‘Music is a wonderful social activity too. From chamber groups right though to orchestras, there are opportunities at every skill level to get involved and perform with other people. It’s also a fantastic way of keeping the mind active and focused and to channel self-expression.’

I never thought at my age that I could progress so fast. But while my fingers still work I want to continue. I have just fallen in love with the viola’s lovely rich sound and range. I hope I can fulfil my next dream of passing my Grade 5 in the summer and playing in a string quartet one day.


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