While a lot of people are aware of the acoustic violin or fiddle, fewer know about the electric one. The instrument, which was invented in the 20th century, is today quite common within rock and pop groups.

Some musicians even decided to learn the electric violin rather than the acoustic violin. That’s because the instrument is just as accessible to beginners as it is to intermediate and advanced players.

Which type of classes should you pick?

What is sheet music or tabs and which should you use?

Whether you want to play a concert as part of an orchestra or quartet or just for fun, here’s some useful information on becoming an electric violinist.

The Specifics of the Electric Violin

According to 82% of Brits, the world of classical music needs to change. It needs to become more accessible, head out to the streets, and reach a more varied audience.

What better than the electric violin to kick off this revolution?

The electric violin, which was created in the the 20th century, has slowly started to crop up everywhere. It's not uncommon for a violinist to opt for the instrument nowadays.

How can you learn to play an electric violin?
A traditional acoustic violin isn't the only way to learn to play. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Whether to find new sounds or just for practical reasons, there are plenty of reasons why more and more electric violins are being seen. Lindsey Stirling, Jean-Jacques Goldman, Nightwish, the list goes on and on. The electric violin is making its way into all styles of music.

But are really are the differences between an electric violin and an acoustic violin?

The first and most obvious different is the parts of the instrument, (head, body, fingerboard, neck, strings, sound board, pegs, etc.).

While the traditional acoustic members of the violin family (which includes the cello, viola, and double bass) are stringed instruments with bodies carved out of woods such as spruce, ebony, boxwood, willow, and rosewood by a luthier, the electric violin can be crafted using more modern techniques.

In fact, the electric violin doesn’t even have a sound box because its sound is directly transferred to the amplifier via a pickup. Without this amplifier, the instrument is significantly diminished.

When the string vibrates, it moves through a magnetic field on the pickup. These vibrations induce an electric current which is transferred through a cable (or wirelessly in some cases) to amps. The electric current is then amplified and output through a speaker.

While the wood is often an important part of a traditional violin's sound and tonal quality, a good electric violin with the right pickups and amplification can have the playability and sound equal to or greater than that of some of the best acoustic violins.

Thanks to not needing a sound box, plenty of manufacturers have built electric violins in interesting shapes. The new look is an easy way to tell an electric violin apart from an acoustic violin.

The sound is also slightly different. While the sound of an acoustic violin comes from its sound box, the sound of an electric violin depends on the quality of the amplifier, too. You can even get a silent violin! The better the amp, the better the sound quality of the electric violin.

Furthermore, just like for electric guitars, there are pedals for electric violins that allow you to change the sound. Of course, you should learn to play the thing before you buy an effects pedal and don't buy the Stradivarius of electric violins when you first start learning. A good sounding violin won't sound good when played by an amateur.

Does this really change how the instrument is played, though?

You can play the violin, whether its acoustic or electric (or acoustic electric violin), in exactly the same way. You’re going to have to exercise your wrists, practise holding the bow, and improve your posture and positioning.

Electric violin strings can still be bowed in the same way as an acoustic violin. However, it's common for a performer to choose bows that are as outlandish or cool-looking as their string instrument.

Just like an acoustic violin, studying music is still going to be useful when playing the electric violin. Practising your scales and having a sense of rhythm will still be useful regardless of the type of violin you’re playing.

There are a lot of famous violinists who learnt to play the electric violin without a single music class. This is usually because the electric violin is rarely covered in conservatoires.

Just like with the acoustic violin, you can also teach yourself to play the electric violin. If you're wondering which violin to buy, you should pay a visit to a violin shop and ask a sales assistant for the best option for your budget. Beginners shouldn't worry too much about violin sound, you should worry about which instruments are easier to learn on or play.

Don't forget to have a look at tuners and a violin case for your new musical instrument, too.

Learning the Electric Violin: What Type of Lessons Should You Pick?

If they rarely teach the electric violin in schools, how can you play it?

There are several ways to do this.

Violin Lessons with an Association

While the conservatoires don’t often teach electric violin players, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any other places to learn.

There are associations, for example, that offer classes for instruments that aren’t commonly seen in more traditional settings. They can teach you how to play piano, guitar, violin, or almost any other instrument.

The teachers are probably more willing to provide electric violin classes if there’s enough demand for them.

Classic Violin Lessons in a Conservatoire

In the event that there are only conservatoires near you, there is a solution.

You could take traditional violin lessons and then adapt your playing style once you get home to help you play the electric violin. The classes will be very similar.

Having a good knowledge of how to playing the acoustic violin will still help you to play the electric violin. Additionally, music courses alongside your violin lessons london (or wherever you are based) can also be really useful.

At what age should children learn the violin?
Classic violin training has it's benefits, too. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Private Violin Lessons

If group classes don’t appeal to you, you could always get in touch with a private violin tutor. Private lessons are often taken by those wanting to learn to play the violin.

On Superprof, for example, students pick the tutor that works for them and then they put together a programme with them. By doing this, you can find a musician who plays an electric violin.

Whether you take these classes at your home or your tutor’s home, where you have these lessons is up to you.

Teaching Yourself to Play the Violin

Just like with the acoustic violin, you can also teach yourself to play the electric violin. There are plenty of sites and videos on the internet that can teach you how to do it.

  • How to restring a violin
  • Vibrato
  • Tuning a violin
  • How to hold a violin bow and bowing technique
  • Playing a melody
  • Pizzicato
  • Glissando

There’s no lack of learning resources on the internet. A lot of artists learnt to play thanks to the violin resources online and then themselves became famous for their own videos.

However, the internet isn’t the only way to learn to play. Manuals and books are still very useful. Whether you get them from a dedicated music store or violin lessons online, they can teach you more about the violin and some important techniques.

Improve Your Electric Violin Playing by Reading Music

If you want to play a musical instrument, you need to understand music. Different types of languages have been created throughout the history of music.

Generally speaking, sheet music is the universal language for musicians though tabs are becoming more and more popular. Sheet music is a handwritten or printed form of music.

Studying music, whether consciously or otherwise, is useful for all musicians when they write music. Tabs are generally used by musicians teaching themselves.

So what are tabs?

Tabs are printed music written in such a way so that it can be played by those who cannot read music. It used number and letters to tell musicians where they should place their fingers on the instrument.

While reading music is generally covered in schools and conservatoires, tabs are very popular amongst those who are teaching themselves to play.

Should violinists study music theory?
Music theory can be really important for progressing musically. (Source: NGi)

In both cases, whether you’re reading music or reading tabs, practising is the best way to improve.

These are both things you should look into when you start learning to play the electric violin. They can help you understand how to play a violin better. While sheet music will tell you the notes and rhythm, tabs tell you how to directly play these notes on a given instrument.

There are plenty of songs written in tabs on the internet. This is probably why plenty of musicians are recording themselves playing Despacito on the electric violin and uploading it to YouTube.

Learning to Play the Electric Violin: Some Practical Advice

In theory, learning the electric violin might sound good, but in practice, why should you?

When it comes to learning an instrument, the most important thing is motivation. Without motivation, you’re going to have a very long journey ahead of you. The second you encounter any difficulties, you’ll want to give up. After that, it’s very hard to get back into the swing of things and your violin will find itself a new home in your closet.

To avoid this, you should ask yourself whether or not you’re serious enough about learning the violin to play it at least once a week. While you should practise more than this in order to learn to play, if you’re not going to still be playing in a year’s time, you shouldn’t bother getting an instrument.

Once you’ve bought your violin, it’s important that you practise regularly between your lessons, too.

How often should I practise playing the violin?
It's important that you regularly practise playing the violin. (Source: Baohm)

Whether you’re going to school, taking lessons with a tutor, or teaching yourself, you need to stick with it. To make sure you don’t get discouraged, you should pace yourself and practise pieces bit by bit. Turn challenges into manageable chunks and practice will do the rest.

Don’t forget about constructive criticism, either. Whether from your violin teacher, friends, or family, constructive criticism can really help you improve. You'll know what you need to practise and what you’re doing well. If you can’t play in front of your teacher and get feedback, you can always perform for your friends and family and listen to their opinions.

Above all, play, play, and play some more., and make sure you’re having fun, too! Whether you're performing orchestral pieces, traditional violin music, or pop songs, playing the violin needs to be an enjoyable experience.

Now that you’ve got a better idea of what it takes, what about learning vibrato on violin?

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Joseph is a French and Spanish to English translator, language enthusiast, and blogger.