Learn to play the violin

February 12, 2020

While it is certainly easier to learn something when you're younger it is never too late to do so. The key is regular practice. If you can set aside 15 minutes a day to practice you will start to see yourself improve at a decent pace. Just make sure that during your practice time you're actually practicing something you have difficulty with, and not just playing something you've already mastered.

Also seek out some good videos or advice from someone that can show you proper technique (holding the bow, findering positions, etc.) It's much easier to struggle learning technique the right way first than it is to correct bad habits down the road.

If you're serious about learning the violin, I whole-heartedly recommend Itzhak Perlman's masterclass:

This masterclass obviously won't teach you how to play. It will inspire you and show you what the mindset of a professional musician is like. And that's worth priceless.

  1. Get a teacher and schedule lessons.
  2. Let the teacher help you find an instrument.
  3. Buy books and accessories according to what the teacher tells you to buy.
  4. Set aside about 15 minutes a day for practice. You will need to gradually work up to 30-60 minutes by the end of the first year, so make sure you have time to do that, even if it means cutting other activities to make time.
  5. Continue lessons at least until you have a good command of the fingerboard and have learned vibrato and advanced bowing techniques.

I play simply because I enjoy it. I started playing flute in band in 6th grade and have loved music ever since. A couple years ago I started thinking about learning to play but my hand problems stopped me. I've now been having lessons again for about 2 years and love it.

I just play for fun, hoping I can start on "real" music by the end of the year. I know I'll never become amazing as I just don't have that kind of talent and time to put into it but I really do love music, so why not?.

How to start learning the violin

Start by finding a violin teacher. Let them help you find an instrument. Your best option is going to depend on your location and other factors, so you need help from someone accustomed to helping beginners get everything they need. Sometimes, it saves time and hassle if not money to know what you will need before you start making purchases, and you will need a few other things besides just the violin, depending on how your teacher does things.

Also, there are a lot of gimmicks out there marketed to beginners that they don't need, and without talking to a teacher first, you might buy something that will ultimately be useless to you.

Attempting to learn alone makes things slower and more difficult and due to divided attention and muscle memory development will eventually result in bad habits and a dead end. You limit yourself by not taking lessons.

Multiple lessons each week is overkill and not productive. Beginners usually take lessons once a week, sometimes once every two weeks. You need time to practice between lessons or else there is nothing to be gained from the next lesson.

It is better to take lessons first than it is to seek them later. The most readily-available free resources online and even many of the paid resources are full of incorrect information that you don’t have the background to recognize for what it is. When people try to learn as much as they can before seeking violin lessons, the violin teacher still starts at the beginning and ends up moving slower to fix bad habits and misconceptions. The result is an unquantifiable waste of time and money.

You should not start with an electric violin, and most teachers won’t agree to that. It is too forgiving in tone for you to learn proper bowing technique. The same is true of a practice mute, but slightly less so. A violin through the walls of an apartment sounds similar to a TV in terms of volume. Your neighbors probably watch TV without thinking about whether it disturbs you. As long as it isn’t an unreasonable time of day, don’t worry about your violin disturbing them.

My studio is surrounded by apartment complexes and shares a wall with one of them. I never get complaints. My students get compliments from those who hear them play as they are leaving, and I pick up students because they hear others learning and want to learn, too. One of my students lives in a different apartment complex from where my studio is. Granted, she is more advanced, but her neighbors downstairs actually asked her to play loud enough to be heard. Your living situation is probably not the issue you assume it to be.

Practice scales ... every day! Slow and careful scale practice will revolutionize your intonation.

That, and record yourself practicing in short bursts - only record a few measures at a time, or another manageable selection. It’ll be easier to hear intonation errors on a recording of yourself as opposed to listening as you play - doing this will make it easier to hear and correct intonation errors on the fly.

Do you really need a teacher to learn playing the violin?

Yes! Get a teacher before an instrument. Let them guide you to an instrument and tell you what you need to do to get started, how and what to practice, and so forth. Suzuki books are not the Suzuki method. They are collections of music used in the Suzuki method, but they are not the whole method or even all of the music. The method itself is what Suzuki teachers learn, and Suzuki lessons are more expensive than traditional lessons because you have two lessons a week (one individual, one group).

Suzuki is really intended for very young children. There are adults who learn from it, as parents doing Suzuki lessons with their kids, and there are teachers who draw concepts from Suzuki or use Suzuki books to supplement what they teach. It's not a good choice for someone who is 17 and on their fifth instrument. You don't typically choose your own method, anyway. You choose a good teacher from whatever your community offers, and your teacher brings a method, or more likely a mixture of methods, that fits well with their overall teaching philosophy.

How long should you practice the violin as a beginner?

Beginners can sometimes only go ten minutes before they start to hurt or feel tired. With previous experience and probably already hardened fingertips from the guitar, you can probably push that a little further, maybe 20-30 minutes. In a few months to a year, you might be able to get to or past an hour, depending on how often you play. If you ever want to be in a community orchestra, you're going to want 90 minutes worth of endurance, at least, just so you can make it through a concert. More serious violinists practice for 2-4 hours at a time.

I have had pain in my neck, shoulders, lower back, abdomen, elbows, wrists, hands/fingers, legs, and chest/lungs after playing the violin. It really all depends on where you tend to have tension when you concentrate, and I'm naturally a rather tense person with a bad habit of holding my breath under pressure. Some people never have any pain, and it's not really supposed to hurt.

I broke my collar bone several years ago, and I had an injury to my wrist a few years before that, both on the left side. I feel strain sooner than other advanced and professional violinists do, but I can play for nearly two hours before I start to feel any strain. You are trained to stop when it starts to hurt, unless you're in a performance and can't do that, so I don't get to the point of being sore the next day or anything very often. I did two gigs in a row yesterday and feel fine. Take breaks and drink water and it's not a big deal, but push beyond that point and you can hurt yourself. Nothing about that is unique to the violin, but holding a violin is very unnatural, so we violinists are very prone to injury and so just talk about it more than other musicians.

How difficult it is really depends on your motivation. If you won't be happy if you don't get quick results and easy progress, you're looking at the wrong instrument. You want to be able to play things after a "given time," but how much time are we talking about, and what type of music are we talking about? For simple folk tunes, you need several weeks to establish the basics. For popular tunes, two or three years, and for classical, four or five years. To be able to play at a level where other people actually want to listen to you, we're talking something like five years, and it will be 10 to 15 years (if you ever get there at all) before anyone would be willing to pay you to play.

Most of the professional violinists you hear have been playing for a very long time and took private lessons for over a decade. However, you can have a lot of fun from the beginning as long as you can be content with the learning process. A lot of would-be violinists quit because they don't want to put in the necessary time to learn how to play or they try to cut corners only to hit a wall and quit out of frustration when they realize they will have to go back and learn what they skipped before they can move forward. It does take a lot of time and effort and a commitment to practicing efficiently as well as listening and studying carefully, but if you are truly motivated to play, those things shouldn't be deal-breakers for you.

What's the best way to teach violin playing to my children? When should they start?

If the interest comes from the child they are absolutely ready. If the interest comes from mom and dad but the goal is to take advantage of the developmental benefits of studying a musical instrument at a young age, the child might still be ready, but that depends on the child and also on the willingness of the parents to be involved.

Children do not usually practice on their own until they are at least 12 years old with at least two years of experience. Five year olds will not be successful in learning to play the violin if they are simply told to set a timer and go practice in their rooms. It doesn't matter how much they want to play the violin or whether or not they like practicing. They don't have the maturity to manage their time or to take responsibility for their own training, and their brains are not in the right stage of development to fully understand the value of exercises.

Also, to a child, "practice" spent alone in a room for a designated amount of time starts to feel like time out, a.k.a. punishment, and that kills all of the child's motivation to play. If a child that young practices at all, they will play a piece from beginning to end, and whether it was error-free or not, they will tell you they are done. They don't understand that what they did was not practice, and when that stops working for them, they won't understand why they are stuck on the same assignment week after week until they get frustrated and ask to quit.

You have to go to lessons with your kid, take notes, and then when it's time to practice, you need to sit with her and tell her how to use every minute of her allotted practice time. I know parents who actually get a violin for themselves and learn right alongside their child.

Size cannot be determined by age, and brands are not a good way to select violins. A violin has to be setup professionally, not sold as it comes in the box from the factory, so you shop by source and trust that reputable sources will only carry reputable brands. The way to find a reputable source is to find the teacher before the instrument, not the other way around. There are size charts that differ a bit from one brand to the next and from one shop or studio to the next. The measurements can be helpful information, but it's best to actually hold the violin and see what fits.

What to do when you're really bad at first when trying to play the violin?

I hope this helps: Next time you think "I won't be a great violinist," your next thought should be "Yes, I will" ... because who the fuck cares? If thinking that you'll never be great discourages you then think that you will be great.

I'm not advocating this as a general mindset (i.e. - "If you don't like it just don't think about it.") But the fervor with which we embrace the whole "realistic" I-will-never-be-good-because-of-12-year-olds is way too pessimistic for my taste (and I'm the biggest pessimist I know). When you watch a little kid play masterfully, you should be learning from his/her technique with the goal of catching up and improving your own.

Any chances that you have of being great are slowly being suffocated by self-pity. Keep practicing, keep trying hard, learning, and improving. If you end up being great, then great. If not, then you either die playing or give up violin entirely---either way you won't care about being great anymore. 😉

Is learning the violin really THAT hard?

Violin players especially sometimes exaggerate the instrument's difficulty. Call it defending our turf, or a conflict of interest, or some cognitive bias defending our sunk cost, but there's a lot of bad habits that result in worse tone and thus playing at all proficiency levels, especially with bowing. Unless you're super diligent and self-aware (or practicing in front of a mirror a lot), you'll either never notice or not have the motivation to change your technique because you're satisfied with how you sound now. But this is the same with all instruments.

Bad habits that are hard to catch include: moving your elbow too much when bowing, not bowing perpendicularly to the strings (this is a really common issue and particularly challenging for many to solve even with instruction), bowing at locations on the string not suited for the music (i.e. legato or staccato), using locations on the bow not suited for the music, too much or too little pressure, not using enough/using too much bow-length, holding the weight of your violin too much with your arm, etc.

I think most people argue that it's a gentler learning curve to "sound good" as a beginner guitarist, but there's a much steeper hill for "sounding good" as a violinist because there's so much that can go wrong.

After a while of practice, you don't need intense attention to what your hands are doing for violin, just like with guitar. Learning how to bow or where to place your fingers is just like learning how to pick or change chords. Maybe it's more nuanced for violin, but it's not necessarily completely different.

What about left-handed players?

What's the deal with left-handed violins? Why is it so hard to find them? Can I play if I'm left-handed?

It's not just violins. It's actually all instruments except those commonly used outside the classical world. The guitar and other instruments that come in left-handed versions are the exception to the norm. Concert halls don't buy left-handed and right-handed pianos. They don't re-arrange the percussion section for their left-handed players. The hand placed closest to the mouth on a wind instrument is the same regardless of which instrument you play, and all the flutes point the same direction. To put this all on the violins is inaccurate and unfair.

The orchestra is about equalizing sections, and separate is not equal. A stage full of violinists all playing different directions wouldn't work. If left-handed players bowed backwards to compensate, their articulations would be backwards, and the music would sound weird. If they bowed up and down as written, they wouldn't be able to share stands with right-handed players. Since they make up 50% of the orchestra because of the higher proportion of lefties in orchestras compared to the general population, we would have to either decrease the size of the orchestra or increase the size of the stage so that everyone could have enough space to have their own stand and not hit the people on either side with their bow. We could pair stand partners based on handedness instead of skill, which would make dividing parts and choosing section leaders more difficult. Some school orchestra conductors will have one or a few left-handed violinists sit in the back of the orchestra because their hands are tied by parents and administrators who don't get it, but that makes them look ostracized. A left-handed violin's sound holes face the wrong way, so left-handed players sitting with right-handed players are playing to the wall and so can't actually be heard. We could make all lefties second violinists and put them on the opposite side of the stage as some orchestras do with their seconds, but that wouldn't be a fair way to choose who should be a first and who should be a second. You couldn't rotate first and second parts across the stage, either, because that would mess with acoustics. Basically, nothing about the structure of the orchestra would work, anymore, and since it took us 500 years to get here, we can't just decide to change it.

The alternative would be a brand new design, different from what we currently call a left-handed violin, with a reverse-weighted bow and the strings in the same order as a right-handed violin but the shoulder rest and chin rest formed to fit the right shoulder. That way, articulations would be correct with reverse bowing. However, technique would be vastly different. All right-handed violinists would have to seek right-handed teachers and all left-handed violinists would have to seek left-handed teachers. In studios with only one violin teacher, the studio would have to discriminate against students who didn't play the same way as the teacher.

Making all violinists play the same instrument, regardless of handedness, really is the best solution we have. The fact that you are personally not interested in playing in an orchestra is irrelevant because your likely classically trained teacher will come from that background, which means they won't know how to teach you to play in reverse.

There's a rumor (probably exaggerated) that Paganini had trouble perfecting his bow hold, so he walked around with a stick in his hand everywhere he went for two years. I had a particularly difficult time with my bow hold. I did with my pencil hold, to, so I think it just takes longer for me to learn such things. I really did walk around with either a pencil or my bow in my hand for several hours at a time, using tape to force my hand into the right position, until it finally felt natural.

By the way, I'm right-handed. I have had numerous issues with my left hand in learning to play the violin. Once I got the bow hold right and learned about placing my bow and balancing the speed and weight, everything sort of fell into place on that side, but the left hand was a completely different story. Every finger has to be able to move independently from the others. You know how your ring finger and pinkie probably like to move together? If you want to be a violinist, you have to break yourself of that. Otherwise, if you play a fourth finger note followed by a second finger note, you'll have an extra third finger note that will sound unintentionally every time. When I'm tired, I still struggle with that one, and I've been playing for 25 years. You have an advantage because you've had a lifetime of strengthening the fine motor skills in your left hand. And that's just one example. Harmonics were also incredibly difficult for me because I couldn't keep my left hand steady enough at first. So were double stops and fast passages because I had to train my fingers to move quickly and in sync with my bow. Then there were the injuries. I have injured both my right hand and my left bad enough to harm my ability to play. I can compensate when my right hand is injured. When my left hand is injured, I have to either opt for an easier piece or cancel altogether, due not to pain but to lack of dexterity. I have such a high pain tolerance that I auditioned for an orchestra - and made it - the day after I broke my collar bone and tore my rotator cuff.

Nothing about playing the violin feels natural. Holding the bow is extremely difficult, regardless of which hand you use to write. About half of my students either refuse to give it the attention it needs because it is so difficult, or they actually cry about it. Since I'm not a particularly tough teacher, I often end up crying with them. If you're wanting easy and fun from the beginning, you're looking at the wrong instrument. It's going to be two or three years of building the basics before playing the instrument is actually fun. A good teacher can motivate you and make the lessons fun, but the actual playing and practicing is hard, tedious, frustrating, uncomfortable work. It is incredibly rewarding, but you'll never get there if you don't do it with proper instruction and an instrument that is set up properly, and that means you're going to have to accept that the idea of the violin being designed for right-handed people is a myth. The fine and gross motor skill requirements for each hand are about equal. If you're left-handed, you'll have more trouble with the bow. If you're right handed, you'll have more trouble with the fingerboard. It's an ambidextrous instrument, and even ambidextrous violinists have to use their fingers in ways they have never been used for any other task. It's not easy for anyone.

You might find it interesting that there was a study published in 2012 about handedness as it relates to various skills. One of the skills tested was music. It turns out that there are significantly more left-handed musicians - and specifically left-handed violinists - than what you would expect given the proportion of musicians to the general population. Your left-handedness is not a handicap, and you don't need any special accommodation to play the violin. You just need the determination to learn to play it.

Tips for people who are already playing guitar and want to switch to the violin

This is not to discourage you. If you want to learn violin, you should. But you don't really seem to have any idea what you are getting yourself into.

Left hand position on the violin is significantly harder than it is on guitar. Your eyes have to be focused on other things when you play, like reading music and synchronizing bow usage with your section leader, so you have to blindly find finger placement on a fingerboard that doesn't have any frets, anyway.

String crossings on the violin have to be nearly as smooth as if you were playing on just one string, so you have to prep your fingers in advance. Your left hand has to anticipate what the right hand will do for the next note and move into position without losing the placement of the finger you are currently using. Your fingers fall between strings almost as often as they fall on them, and there is this weird thing with color choice where you have to decide between multiple possible fingerings for the same phrase based on the tone and expression you want as well as the most efficient approach to transition from the phrase before and to the phrase after.

Violinists spend a significant amount of time pouring over their music with a pencil just to annotate their preferred fingerings and bowings. As a member of an orchestra, you often do it before you have even learned to play a piece, which means you need enough ear training to be able to "hear" the music in your head even if you have never actually heard it with your ears before.
On a guitar, you can place your finger anywhere you like in the space between two frets and get the same sound. On a violin, there is a very exact place, about the size of the head of a pin, on which your finger has to be centered. You can place your finger, then roll it around while you bow without actually moving the contact point, and get at least three different pitches. The placement has to be absolutely perfect or you will be completely out of tune.

Learning to play the violin takes a lot of effort and a good teacher. It also takes a lot of time, and meanwhile you are going to need some more realistic goals. It will take you at least ten years of serious lessons and regular practice to be able to pass an audition into your average university orchestra, and that is still assuming that you are an above-average violin student.

People who are not children when they start learning violin and do not intend to be non-traditional college students are much better off forgoing any college-level ensembles and instead taking their time and perhaps joining a community orchestra later, maybe even after retirement.

What injuries can you get while playing the violin?

Repetitive strain injuries are most common. That happens when you subscribe to a "no pain, no gain" philosophy. Pain means you are doing something wrong or have done too much. Either way, it's time to stop, not push through the pain. Hyperextensions, sprains, carpal tunnel, and tendonitis are also possible. If you already have a tendency toward it and don't take care of yourself and your joints, it can make arthritis worse. Neck and shoulder strain occur if the chin rest/shoulder rest combination is wrong for you. If you really overdo it, you can do damage to your rotator cuff. On the other hand, if done correctly, the violin can be good physical therapy. You just have to be careful and do as your teacher suggests. Too many beginners want to just play through familiar music. They don't want to do exercises, and they don't want to stop and work on a trouble spot in the music. It's the careful, repetitive focus on one skill at a time that helps build your skills without putting you at risk, so it is important to discipline yourself enough to do that.

The first thing you should do if you want to learn to play the violin is to find a qualified teacher. Violin shops typically have lists of teachers or provide violin lessons. There are also directories online, but I don't know of any that actually check a teacher's credentials, so you will need to do that yourself. I'm in the minority in that I don't necessarily believe a violinist must have a degree to be a good teacher for a beginner, but they do need to have taken over a decade of private lessons themselves and have a record of continued performance experience. Even if your teacher is not primarily a performer, it is the act of preparing for performances that keeps his or her skills sharp.

Local teachers are better than online teachers, but if you can't find or can't afford a local teacher, online is an option. You need a teacher who does live lessons over Skype or exchanges videos with you. If "online lessons" means a series of videos with no interaction or evaluation with the teacher, that's not a good substitute for in-person lessons. Once you have a teacher, you can ask their advise on where to get a violin. They will know the local market better than anyone you find here, unless you find a violinist who lives in your community. Renting is usually better for beginners. Make sure the rental program gives you credit toward the purchase of an instrument.

More reasons why learning to play the violin by yourself is not a great idea

The problem with something like that is you are still working through it by yourself. You aren't getting any feedback, and there are two problems with that. First, the violin doesn't sound the same to the person playing it as it does to the person listening to it. Even professionals often have someone else listen to them play because feedback from someone they know and trust is the only way they can get a sense of what their audience hears. Sure, you can record it, but recordings just aren't the same as hearing it live. Second, there is so much to do when you are playing the violin. Without someone to spot you, it is incredibly easy to develop habits that will at some point prevent you from acquiring new skills and not even know until you reach that impasse and the habit is already cemented.

There are a lot of resources out there that are misleading, confusing, or just wrong in the way they present information for those learning to play the violin. Unfortunately, those tend to be the ones that use the most clickbait and otherwise have managed to find their way to the top of search results. There are a handful out there that aren't bad in the quality of information they provide, but they tend to have another problem. They are poorly organized.

You have various topics, but they are not in any particular order, and the order matters when one thing should be built on another. Even if someone could build an accurate, perfectly organized, comprehensive website or app or YouTube channel and somehow build in enough cautions to stop and check that you are doing things correctly and not developing bad habits, it still wouldn't come anywhere close to what a teacher can do for you because it would have to take a cookie-cutter approach. Musicians can't be turned out through such a method.

The result would be a programming of people as if they were computers to replicate the appropriate sounds at the appropriate time, which is not the same thing as playing music. Musicians are able to go beyond what is written on the page and tap into expression if not improvisation skills to make the music their own. They learn to do that by going through a customized experience that takes their strengths, weaknesses, and interests into account. The only way to have such an experience is if someone (i.e. a violin teacher) who knows how to get where you want to go designs it for you and then helps you stay on track.

My studio provides exchange lessons. You correspond by video recorded offline instead of having a live lesson, so you can get direct feedback. You won't make progress as quickly because your feedback will be after the fact and your lessons will cover less material. You will also have to be committed to practicing regularly without having a lesson at the same time every week to hold you accountable. And if there is a problem with your instrument your teacher won't be able to do much but tell you to take it to the shop. But they cost less than what is typical of a more traditional arrangement and you don't have to schedule them and so can move at your own pace.

Any tips on bowing technique and strokes?

You have to start with your bow in a different place, both relative to the string (sounding point) and the bow stick (bow placement), for every different kind of bow stroke. You have to have a perfect balance between weight and speed to get the desired tone, and you have to have the right amount of hair in contact with the string. You have about ten different bow strokes, each of which can be varied with accent marks, dynamics, and bow placement indications like "sul ponticello" and "sul tasto."

As a result, you really have more like forty different bow strokes. About half of those can be further complicated with double stops, drones, chords, and bariolage. Détaché can feel like a different stroke if playing pickups or tremolos. Actually, pickups feel backwards no matter what stroke you use. There is also something called a lift, which is basically two notes in the same bow direction that, other than a difference in the heavier articulation with a down bow than an up bow, sounds like you changed bow direction.

If you get into fiddle techniques, depending on style, you might learn chops, birling, or bow trebles. String crossing is a significant challenge on the violin all by itself. Plus, you have to learn some French and Italian. Learning what the words mean, as opposed to just memorizing the terms, gives you a much better idea of what you will have to do. In addition to your bow strokes, you also have pizzicato, snap pizzicato, left-hand pizzicato, and col legno. In other words, there are a lot of different ways to get sound out of your violin.

Is it possible to be a completely self-taught violinist?

There is no such thing as being self-taught. To teach is to impart knowledge. You cannot teach what you do not already know. If you watch YouTube videos, the people in the videos are your teachers. If you read a book, the person who wrote that book is your teacher. The knowledge came from them, not from you, and it is absurd and arrogant to take credit for it, even if they give you permission to do so right in the title. In addition to that, there is no such thing as a single, comprehensive resource for everything you can ever possibly want to know about the violin. There will always be more to learn and more to play. Most of those videos are not presented in a logical sequence so that you even know how to learn the right thing at the right time, so you start to think that how much you can play is what counts when that says nothing about how well you can play. When you finish the books or videos, you move to something else, but you have no sense of difficulty level or what skills you need to learn next. Instead, you just aimlessly wander to the next tune, but learning to play a new tune doesn't make you a better violinist. If your repertoire isn't shaped with a purpose, then you won't continue increasing your skills.

Music is not something we do in isolation. We use the work of those who came before us, those who made instruments, developed the techniques to play the instruments, and wrote the music. All of that comes from outside of us, and we cannot both access it and cut ourselves off from it at the same time. If you insist on learning on your own, you are cutting yourself off from the very traditions that made the instrument and the music you wish to play what they are. It's ballroom dancing without a partner, and it looks and sounds silly to anyone who knows what ballroom dancing is. You might be able to impress people who don't know what it is with your moves, but you won't be doing it right, and you will never be accepted by those who are doing it right.

Because you do not yet play the violin, you're not qualified to determine whether the source you are learning from is a good source. There are a ton of books and videos out there from people who claim all sorts of credentials that are really just absolutely terrible, and you have no way of knowing if what you have chosen to use is one of those. It can also be said that teachers can be bad and you not know it. I'm sure you can probably find some other threads here where it was revealed that some teacher out there has some really bazaar idea of how to do something, in some cases to an extreme that the OP was urged to find a different teacher. However, unlike online where any information about the source you are evaluating is just as suspect as the source itself, in real life you can ask questions from other local violinists, schools, violin shops, and others who have a stake in the local industry. Local musician circles tend to be small, and we have long memories of what we have seen and heard. I recently received a referral from one of my adjudicators from a contest when I was a child and was shocked that she even knew who I was, let alone believed it appropriate to give someone my name. Out there, people know who I am and can confidently tell others what I can teach them. In here, or if I post a video on YouTube, you can't tell if I am who I say I am, or if I'm just really good at editing videos and memorizing scripts so people think I know what I'm doing. The internet is no more reliable for truth and knowledge than those supermarket tabloids, and if you put stock in it for anything you want to take seriously, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Is it a good idea to learn the violin after learning the piano?

Due to your piano experience, you can probably pick up a violin and figure out how to get something recognizable out of it with very little effort. That's not the hard part. Neither are any of the skills you will ever need to play. The hard part is patience and control. If I want to make a sound on a piano, all I really have to do is press a key. Now, there is skill involved in learning to press the right keys at the right time and using finger patterns that make doing so efficient, but no one has to teach you how to get sound out of a piano. With the violin, on the other hand, there are at least 100 different ways (I've never bothered to count and would probably leave something out if I did) to get sound out of it, most of which are just subtle differences is in the weight and speed of the bow that produce very different results. Sometimes, you encounter problems you have never had before, too. Today, I assume because of weather and not feeling so well, I was having a terrible time with my cello. I was getting a harmonic out of the C string, so it was sounding an octave higher than it should. I know how to fix that problem, but when I focused on other things, it came back because apparently this is a bad day for me to be playing the cello. Such things will still happen to you after you have been playing for decades, and it will drive you nuts. If you don't like solving problems, nearly every practice session will be nothing but endless frustrations. The real reward of playing the violin comes after the struggle.

In addition to that, there are things we do on the violin that are unique to the violin, so you have no piano context to understand them. We also have things that we use the same name and symbol for but execute very differently. Our slurs blend into each other in a way the piano simply cannot replicate. A lot of my violin students who play piano want to separate the slurred notes or use a different technique called a hook instead. Then when we break that habit, they get all confused again when we really do hooks because to them, combining slurs with staccatos is an oxymoron they just can't get their head around.

Piano does give you some theory advantages, though, and it will be easier for you to read chords and double stops because you will already be accustomed to that, whereas novice musicians starting with the violin are not. Use those advantages, but don't make the mistake of thinking that your theory advantages translate to technique advantages because they don't. You really need a teacher to help you with the technique, or else what you can do now, messing around and getting simple tunes out, is about the limit of your skill level. You might be able to play something more advance, but it will be messy and uncontrolled and other skilled musicians won't really be able to play with you as a result. That's when "self-taught" violinists often discover that they aren't as good as they thought, when they attempt to play with violinists who have been trained.

There are methods out there, especially non-classical, that have you playing along with recorded accompaniments immediately. Jazz Wizard has you improvising immediately, but that particular book series is really best done alongside another beginner book series because it brushes over some things. Playing with others is not the end of technique development, so asking how long it will take you to get there doesn't actually tell you anything about how "hard" it is to learn to play the violin. Playing with others is actually sort of a class of skills all by itself. Once you get past the basics of getting sound out of the instrument, you really need education in both playing alone and playing with others, and a program too heavily focused on either solo or ensemble work will make you weak in the other if you aren't supplementing it somehow. That's one reason that private teachers play duets with their students and encourage them to join youth or community orchestras while school orchestra programs encourage private lessons.

Can you learn to play the violin with no past music experience?

I wouldn't recommend it. Start with guitar first or something else. Check out my article on learning the guitar.

If you already played another very similar instrument, namely viola, there wouldn't be a problem. If you played cello or bass, you might be able to figure it out with a few crash courses in the differences in technique. If you played anything else, you would progress faster but would still need regular lessons. With no musical experience, you shouldn't try it. I know that's not what you want to hear, but those who try to learn violin on their own do more harm than good. I've seen it way too many times, and it would be downright careless to suggest you can do it.

Holding a violin is unlike anything else you have ever done in your life. There are professionals who do it incorrectly or push themselves too hard and end up with career-ending injuries, and they have professional training. Without it, you are playing with fire. Then there is the fact that trial-and-error is a very slow process for learning. You will make much more progress and be less likely to quit with proper training. If you can't afford that now, see if you can get a local teacher to give you less frequent lessons or look for group lessons. If you still can't afford it, you are better off waiting until your circumstances change than trying to learn on your own. Free lessons, whether online or from someone you know, are free for a reason. If someone can't make a living playing or teaching the violin, they aren't qualified to teach and they will teach you bad habits that will severely limit your progress. You won't know it until you hit a wall, and then it will be too late.

I am a bit concerned with the fact that a one hour lesson costs more than what you paid for your violin. A useable violin costs about $300. Anything less than that usually requires a lot of repairs, often more than $300 worth of repairs in your first year, which is why you are better off spending more in the first place. If it were a car instead of a violin, it would be the kind that is so cheap you would rather walk than risk it falling apart or blowing up with you in it but don't want to repair it because doing so costs more than a new-to-you car in much better condition than the one you have. If the return policy from wherever you purchased it allows you to do so, send it back for a refund before you get trapped in the money pit it will inevitably be.

Should Chinese violins be avoided?

I disagree on avoiding chinese violins. I have one made by Ling Zhen Hua and it sounds fucking awesome (to me) and much better than others ive tried costing many times what mine cost. Also, i think violin is the toughest instrument out there (highly biased) and a instrument for a real man, a balanced man. It takes more patience, determination and sheer effort, as well as consistency for the violin than almost anything else.

Combine grounded intellect with violin playing chops and you will be able to mentally and physically seduce any woman you like. Violin is tough to pick up though, and the older you are the harder it is. I'd strongly suggest a tutor to get you started. As for student violin's, you can get some pretty decent ones for around $500.

Any less usually means it's harder to actually make it sound good, and will only deter your playing and practice. Also, hiring/renting is also a good idea and usually much cheaper. I used a really cheap chinese violin learning, then used an old violin that belonged to my teacher throughout my highschool years playing in orchestras and chamber music/trios etc.

I didnt touch the violin for a long time since i stopped having lessons as i had no violin, but then i finally bought one that i liked and could afford in my early 20s. Once you get a little better after a few years, you can look to go into the $1500-3000 category. A lot of people think i am just a gym bunny full of aggression and no tenderness since i am a strength and conditioning coach.

Tips for people who are thinking about quitting playing the violin

Do you really want to quit?

Or are you quitting because you think you should?

You might lose motivation to practice without losing your love of the instrument. That's normal. A lot of people love to play but hate to practice. You need to find practice that works for you. If you are bored or frustrated, practice isn't productive. The point is to remind yourself that you actually like playing the violin before you put it away, so that whatever frustration you feel about that thing you can't get isn't your last thought in practice and so isn't associated with the instrument itself. Play something you passed a long time ago or something you really enjoyed, no matter how simple, and force yourself to do so without judgement. I know it sounds impossible when you're in this mindset of being overly critical of yourself, so turning that off so you can enjoy playing is itself a skill you have to practice. Once you can do it, it will help your perspective significantly.

You don't think you are as good as you should be and therefore feel that at this stage of your life, you should focus your time on education and career goals instead of a hobby that you don't feel you can justify. I'm going to give you that justification. Do you know what work-life balance is? I took a graduate level class in it as part of my MBA program because the people in charge of that program believed it was so important that they required us to take an entire class over what is really a very simple concept.

See, no matter how hard you work and how well you manage your time and how productive you are as a result, your work literally has no purpose if you never reap the benefits. There is no point in burning yourself out to make money you don't have time to spend and advance in your career but have no time for friends and family to celebrate your accomplishments. You have to make time for things that are important, and ultimately, your career is only a means to an end. What that end is varies from person to person, but everyone needs a sense of purpose for their own physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. So playing the violin takes up time. You need to make time for something you are passionate about.

Are you familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs? Read the top of the pyramid sometime. Creative pursuits are a need, not a want. You can't be truly fulfilled without them. Now, maybe for some, CS is a creative pursuit and they can be happy with that, but I don't believe this would be a struggle for you if that were true. I think for you, CS is about esteem and music is about self-actualization, and the reason you are struggling is that you actually need both.

So, rather than quitting, why don't you consider competing only with yourself? Find fulfillment in each new milestone you pass, regardless of how long it takes to get there. And if you have to practice less or progress at a slower rate to find work-life balance, be content with that. The violin is a lifelong pursuit. There is always more to learn and more to play, so you will never be satisfied if you focus on what you cannot do. Instead, learn to enjoy what you can do.

Why learning the violin by yourself might be a bad idea

It is extremely important, if you care about your health as well as your violin-playing skills, that you do not try to learn to play the violin on your own. It will lead to bad habits that will hold you back and set you up for injury. Playing the violin is just as much a physical activity as it is a mental activity, and you have to be aware of what every muscle is doing and establish proper form. Nothing you have learned from playing the piano will transfer.

You also need daily practice, at least five days a week, for the skills you acquire to stick. If you can't manage that, progress will be slow to non-existent because every time you pick up the violin will feel more or less like the first time, and you'll just be spinning your wheels and not really accomplishing anything. If you don't have time for one lesson a week, you don't have time for five practice sessions a week, which means this might not be the right season in your life to tackle the violin.

If what you are actually saying is that you can't set aside the same block of time every week, maybe because of rotating shifts or other responsibilities that don't allow for a consistent schedule, there are ways to work around that. Try video exchange lessons (i.e. online lessons without live meetings with your instructor but with ongoing direct feedback from your instructor) or find a teacher who is ok with the sporadic appointments.

Violins should be purchased by source rather than by brand. Rent or purchase from a shop that specializes in bowed string instruments (generally called a violin shop rather than a music store) and is owned by or employs a luthier who can make sure the instrument is setup properly before you buy it.

Music stores and online retailers tend to sell instruments as the manufacturer ships them in the box, without a luthier inspecting and adjusting them. The manufacturers of even the best beginner instruments are not going to be taking the time to check the setup in the same way a luthier will, nor can they control things that might need adjusting after the instrument is shipped. When you get a violin from a business that doesn't specialize in them, they will charge you as much if not more than a violin shop, and then you have to take it to a luthier and pay for the setup.

Think of it kind of like how you need to have your piano moved and tuned by people who know what they are doing. Buying a violin by brand without concern for the source is equivalent to having your piano moved by a company that moves furniture and then expecting to not have to tune it when it arrives.

Is learning the violin more difficult than learning other instruments?

It's not more difficult than all other instruments, but the violin family as a whole involves more diverse tasks for each hand than a lot of other instruments. This means that you have to limit yourself to simple folk melodies while you build the skills to play more complex pieces. Some adults aren't ok with that and project their own impatience on everyone else. They don't like the slow learning process and so assume that no adult or perhaps even no person would actually enjoy it. Then people who have never even tried get wind of it and the trials of learning to play the violin get inflated.

Here's what's actually true:

People of all ages can learn to play the violin, but it's time consuming. Children and retired adults often go further because they have more time, but in my experience young adults initially learn faster than any other age group.

There are no prerequisites to playing the violin. Who cares what you are used to.

It takes a lot of work, but everything builds on what you already know. By the time you get to the really hard stuff, it will just be about taking the next step, and you will be so committed if you make it that far that you will no longer care about how hard it is.

The violin is an expensive instrument to learn, own, and maintain. However, there are violin shops that make it easier for you, if you have one locally or can find one online that serves your region. If you can get a rental program that gives you credit toward owning an instrument and takes your old instrument in trade toward upgrades, it will reduce your expenses significantly.

You will need to take lessons, and you will need to set aside daily practice time, or at least five days a week, because even as a hobby, violin skills don't stick if you only play sporadically.

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