Let’s say you’ve always yearned to play a musical instrument but, for whatever reason, you simply never got the chance as a child. Now, master of your own destiny, you intend to satisfy the need to express your artistic side by studying music and learning how to play an instrument.
You’re not really sure which instrument appeals to you the most and, quite frankly, you don’t really care which instrument you learn to play. In fact, your criteria for selecting a musical instrument comes down to a handful of factors: availability – of lessons and equipment, affordability and ease of mastery.
As so many of us do in times of indecision or when more information is needed, you turn to your trusty research assistant, _______ (insert name of your favourite search engine here).
You are astounded to discover that the answer to both of your questions, ‘easiest musical instrument to learn’ and ‘most difficult musical instrument to learn’ is one and the same: the violin.
How can a single instrument be both the easiest and the most difficult?
You Superprof examines both sides of the violin: the ease and joy of playing as well as the hardships involved in mastering this melodious music-making device.
Along the way, we’ll provide tips and tricks you can use to quickly achieve mastery!
By starting to play the violin, you are entering a community of violinists. Photo credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg on Visual Hunt
As those above-mentioned search results indicate, anyone can learn how to play the violin, regardless of age or musicality. Nevertheless, there are some things that every prospective player should take into account on their way to becoming a virtuoso.
You should know that the violin is not just an instrument, it is the emblem of a prestigious club and a community. You’ll notice that, even as you learn to be a violin player, you’ll meet fellow violinists who share your passions, to whatever degree.
You may find yourself seeking classical and ensemble performances to attend or, if you are more into jazz, may start collecting the works of Jean-Luc Ponty and Stephane Grappelli.
If you are active on social media, you might connect with like-minded musicians and music lovers. If you are at a point in your life where such is possible and if your passion for playing is truly that deep, you may find that your life has become ‘all violin, all the time’.
Knowing you are not alone in your passion of this instrument is quite reassuring. For some, that sense of community adds to the enjoyment of playing.
However, others may feel threatened knowing that there are so many others like them out there trying to get by (particularly in a professional sense) as a classically trained musician.
You may take comfort in the fact that those musicians who would seethe with jealousy at your big break are very few and very far in between.
Soon, you will discover that most of your fellow violinists will encourage you and cheer your success, just as you would surely cheer them on should a big break come their way.
Some sensational violin players in the classical music world may be little older than toddlers but could outplay you, especially if you are just beginning to learn how to play the violin. Selling your burgeoning ability short in the face of their prowess will not serve you at all!
While it is true that they may be gifted musicians, there is nothing wrong with taking the slower route, learning musical theory and mastering technique. Who knows? Maybe, one day, you will find yourself performing alongside him/her!
If your interest lies with the violin, you surely will have watched people playing the violin or electric violin. In movies, in concerts – be they classical, jazz or rock concerts.
It would be a good idea to place these memories at the forefront of your ‘dream sheet’ – make it your goal to play and perform as well as any of your violin playing heroes. Maintaining a firm idea of where you wish to be in your ability to play music is great inspiration.
A good music teacher would ask you why you wish to learn the violin and who serves as your inspiration for such.
However, we caution you to remember this: unless s/he is in fact a virtuoso, your violin idol will have put many years of work into his/her ability to play. You mustn’t assume that only a few practice sessions will make you stage-ready!
It is quite common for musicians of any instrument to get discouraged; violin players are no different in that aspect.
Mastering the basics – feeling the violin correctly positioned and playing simple chords are all great achievements in your development as a violin player.
The intermediate stage of learning, when you are more than a beginner but not yet qualified to successfully audition for a band or a chair placement (if playing in an orchestra or ensemble is your intent) can last a very long time; years, even!
Another aspect that affects violin players exclusively is mastering the art of holding a violin and working the bow in an optimal position to prevent pain and injury. Getting the physical aspects of violin playing down pat takes a lot of practice, as does the ability to actually play a tune.
That that scratchy sound you make whilst you get your head around holding your bow properly is normal, and it will ease up over time!
All of those screeching sounds your instrument makes as your pass your bow over the strings are actually essential: if you are able to make your violin sound like a cat in agony, the closer you are to finding your ideal fingering, posture and bow pressure.
Soon, muscle memory will take over the act of positioning yourself and your instrument correctly. Any further screeching, should there be any, will be quickly corrected.
Harsh solvents may ruin the finish of your violin! Source: Pixabay Credit: Pexels
It should go without saying that if you want your violin to play well and last a long time, you must take good care of it.
The idea of maintaining a piece of musical equipment seems a little tedious to some but it is necessary and, rest assured, it will become a habit. You may be wondering: what exactly is involved in caring for a violin?
Essential steps include:
If you have ever watched a violinist prepare for a performance, you will no doubt have seen them checking over their instrument, tightening their bow and rubbing what looks like a small object up and down the length of the bow hair.
The instrument’s unique sound comes from the friction of the bow as it passes over the strings.
Violin rosin is applied to the bow prior to playing – either in concert or practising, to ensure the proper amount of friction for optimal sound.
Beware that, especially as a beginner violinist, you may apply too much rosin! Beyond your instrument sounding ‘uneven’ – a tonal quality only a violinist could describe well, you will see a sticky powder accumulate on your violin’s body.
The opposite is no better: forgetting to rosin or deliberately not applying any will make for a weak, whispery sound. It might take you a while to discover the best rosin and the correct amount for your particular bow.
Now that you know what to expect when you start learning to play the violin, see our tips for beginners below.
When you learn to play the violin, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking all you need is yourself and your instrument. However, every violinist needs, as well as their trusty instrument:
-a good bow
– a carry case
-a rosin (described above)
-a music stand and some sheet music
-pencils and erasers (for note-taking)
-a metronome (a device that helps you stay in time)
-good lighting (in which to read music and practice playing in)
One of the things you will need, along with your violin, is a bow. Photo credit: BotheredByBees on Visual hunt
It may seem a bit of a silly tip but practising at the same time every day actually makes you more committed.
Remember earlier, when we mentioned muscle memory? Just as you get hungry at regular intervals and sleepy around the same time each night, dedicated violin players itch to play at ‘their’ certain time.
Besides, if you don’t set aside a specific time to practice, you are far more likely to be too busy, too tired or to find some other excuse to skip practice altogether.That is the start of the slippery slope that leads to frustration so many budding musicians experience at one time or another!
Even if your violin tutor recommends practising every day, it really comes down to you: how much and how long you practise between lessons, but it goes without saying that if you practice on a regular basis, you will improve faster.
Playing live music and using apps just don’t seem like they should mix – but they do! So many violin apps and great digital tools have been developed in recent years to help musicians, like practice trackers, music journals, tuner apps, etc…
One of the more popular apps musicians of all instruments appreciate is the digital metronome.
A metronome helps you keep time musically by announcing beats. Its steady ‘tick-tock’ sound, set at whichever tempo the piece of music you are playing is written in, will help you keep the correct time that piece is meant to be played in.
The speed at which your metronome ‘counts’ is entirely up to you. You may set it fast or slow, or anywhere along that range. A good idea would be to start off slow, say at a 2/2 beat and, as you warm up, increase the tempo until you are playing a most fiery piece!
Some violinists aver that a classic metronome, one that functions on the same principles as clockwork is more suited to their instrument. However, there is nothing wrong with trying out a digital metronome; there are plenty of well-reviewed metronome applications available for download at no cost.
The idea of saving what you might have spent on a standard metronome is surely enticement to try!
Other apps for music playing in general and violin specifically may be free to download while some might charge a small fee. It would be up to you to determine if the cost is worth – or if the app is even necessary at this stage in your playing.
As you learn to play the violin, you might be surprised to find that it’s not all rosin, bows and music notes. During your lessons, your violin teacher is sure to impart musical theory or music history or, even more fascinating, the history of the violin itself. Wouldn’t you want to take notes on all that?
It’s also a good idea to make notes outside of class. Do you have questions for your violin tutor that you might forget before your next session? Perhaps you came across an interesting nugget on a music chat board and you wanted to run it past your instructor….
For all of those reasons and more, it is a good idea to keep a notebook or folder for any notes you might make as you learn. You will be pleasantly surprised, as you progress in your skill with the violin, when you go back over them to see how far you’ve progressed!
Along with a carry case to pack your instrument into, make sure you include a folder for all of your sheet music.
Many beginners mistakenly assume that a few sheets of paper tucked inside their instrument’s case is perfectly acceptable but, in general, violin cases have sculpted interiors, the better to cradle your instrument with. Tucking random papers around your violin might work for a while but that practice doesn’t coincide with the discipline and orderliness essential to quality musicianship.
Nor is it recommended as doing so may damage your violin!
You might find a case with external pockets or an interior pocket meant to store your sheet music. Otherwise, a supplemental shoulder bag would be the order of the day, and that solution offers an advantage: you can throw in your notebook, a few pens, pencils and erasers so that you have everything you might need in one place.
Keeping all of these essentials in one place can make practicing so much easier and more efficient.
Most classical violinists owe their skill to their teachers, at least in part Source: Pixabay Credit: Yanna Zazu
In spite of the wealth of tutorials available online and books to teach yourself the violin, it is not recommended for anyone to attempt learning the violin on their own.
For one, you may be exposed to flawed techniques and poor teaching – yes, it’s really out there! For another, how will you know what you’re learning is right?
Everything from maintaining the proper posture to reading sheet music demands the guidance of an experienced violin teacher.
You should search for a violin tutor who can intuit your level and work with you on finding your musical strengths. Whether you opt for one-on-one learning or are happy to join a class, your teacher should help you learn at your pace and lead you to improve your playing over the course of your study programme.
Where can such a teacher be found?
There are many different avenues to investigate in your search for your ideal violin teacher. You may find such a master at school – more on that in a mo, or you could sign up for group lessons – maybe your community centre has them on offer?
Calling all parents and students: most schools in the UK offer facilities for pupils to learn a range of instruments during their music classes, with string instruments including violin, viola, cello and double bass. Some schools may even be able to offer lessons on the harp.
A school music class violin lesson may not be the best environment in which to fine-tune your instrumental skills, especially if you are in a Year 9 class full of jokers whose hijinks may result in the destruction of instruments.
Still, there is value to be had in such learning opportunities; avid musicians will join the school orchestra, practice after school with extra-curricular music lessons or will be picked by their teacher to received extra tutelage so they can build on their raw talent during term-time.
You don’t have to spend an absolute fortune on violin classes with a professional musician boasting decades of experience.
There are many accomplished individuals seeking to pass on their skill on the violin; however, they may or may not have any experience teaching music theory. The advantage to choosing that route in your search for a violin teacher that you will certainly find someone with whom you ‘click’; someone you feel compatible with and can learn well from.
Another option, one possibly easier on your wallet, would be to interview with conservatory or university music students. These younger, less seasoned teachers may be better placed to teach you the basics in a more logical way, having not so long been a beginner themselves.
Always available for your learning needs, Superprof features violin tutors with varying levels of experience and offering different rates.
With this platform, you can either choose a tutor based in your area, one who either has a studio or will come to your home. Another option would be online classes via video link, which could save you money in the long run – no travelling time to and from lessons, and your tutor might give you a discounted rate because s/he won’t have to travel, either!
You might also be interested in knowing that most Superprof tutors give their first hour of lessons at no charge, just to see if you two would learn well together. With such an offer, how could anyone not choose that option?
Learning the violin over Internet connection is also great for those who have busy lives and need to schedule in lessons with minimal disruption to their routine like having to travel to a studio or tidy up in preparation for a visit from a tutor.
Whichever method you decide on to learn the violin, bear in mind that the joys and benefits of learning by far outweigh any potential pitfalls.
Should you be more of a jazz, rock or country fan, throw on some Ian Cooper, King Crimson or Vanessa Mae and remember: the summer concert season is just around the corner!
What new talent will be uncovered then?
Some children get the opportunity to play string instruments like violins at a young age at school. Photo credit: juhansonin on VisualHunt.com
Admittedly, when youngsters think about playing any musical instruments, most gravitate to those featured in their favourite band: guitar and drums, maybe the bass or the keyboards.
Perhaps, if said youngsters knew about Boyd Tinsley or Charlie Daniels, two violinists who have taken their art into the popular music arena, the violin would be a more popular choice!
Whoever one’s violin heroes may be – classical, jazz or rock violin, aspiring musicians can learn at least the essential elements of playing the instrument by signing up for lessons and workshops. Whether it’s beginner violin lessons you’re after or something more advanced, you can find violin lessons or violin teachers tailored to you.
If you are only just beginning to play the violin, you may seek a workshop or clinic detailing violin anatomy and maintenance.
During such a session, you can learn about the different violin parts like the pegs and the mysterious sound post. What if you’re left-handed: can you still learn to play? Will you be taught how to read music and, ultimately, how to play?
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is one of the most popular first pieces aspiring violinists are taught to play; in fact, the Suzuki Method advocates for that being the first tune any violinist should play, no matter how old s/he is. From there, your instructor will work on ways to take you from being a little star to a huge star on the music scene!
As you learn melody after melody, a good teacher will gradually introduce new techniques to help you make more beautiful music and make the experience more enjoyable.
Pretty soon, you will look back on years of playing and wonder: was it really you who didn’t know so much as how to hold a violin, let alone a bow?