This article closely examines two violinists’ first notes—two beginnings animated by contrasting American conceptions of music and musicality. Each beginning occurs in a lesson: one follows Japanese pedagogue Shinichi Suzuki's assertion that music is like language, universally accessible and collectively enjoyed; another exemplifies a more “traditional” approach embracing individuality and differing aptitudes. Through a detailed ethnographic analysis of the events before, during, and after these first notes, this project (1) theorizes musical “beginning,” (2) demonstrates the benefits of video-based microethnography for ethnomusicology, and (3) argues that conceptions of “talent” profoundly influence musicians’ achievements, even and especially in the beginning.

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