Like most musical instruments, learning how to play the violin is difficult. For some people, no amount of practice or violin lessons will ever make them sound good enough to be confident in their playing. The violin has a reputation as being one of the most difficult instruments to learn. In this guide we are looking at this concern, helping you decipher how hard it is to learn how to play and how long it will take if you are interested in learning.
The violin, let’s face it, is probably the hardest instrument to play well. It doesn’t have any frets like a guitar that will space out the strigs, meaning it’s hard to find the right notes and be accurate when you are learning to play. It’s also difficult to try and multitask, moving the bow with one and and pressing down on the strings with your other.
There are four main reasons why learning to play the violin is so hard.
- No Fret Design
- Correct Intonantion
- Proper Bow Technique
However, just because the musical instrument is hard to learn, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a go. As with anything, with plenty of practice and some violin lessons you can learn how to play properly.
Table of Contents
- 1 Is the Violin Really Hard to Learn?
- 2 How Long Will It Take to Learn?
- 3 Finding Time to Practice
- 4 Learning Musical Notation
- 5 What To Know Before You Play
- 6 How and Why You Should Learn Violin
- 7 Tips On How to Play for Beginners
- 8 Recommended Violin Brands for Students
- 9 Conclusion
Is the Violin Really Hard to Learn?
After playing a number of different instruments, we would say that the violin is one of the hardest to be able to play. Four reasons why are listed below.
No Fret Design
Frets are most commonly used on guitars and are incredibly useful when playing because they guide your fingers onto the notes you need to play. When you are learning violin you won’t have any of these frets, which is an advantage because you can play more interesting notes than the standard scale. However, it’s very easy to turn a note sharp or flat a little bit when you first start out because the tonality will change with only the smallest movement of your fingers.
If you are taking violin lessons with a good teacher they may have a special way of helping you to learn the notes. One of these methods is to place tape along the fingerboard, showing you the correct notes. This technique has been used for years and when you are playing violin you will find it easier to hit the right notes. There are multiple types of tape you can use that won’t damage your instrument such as pinstripe tape, electrical tape, painter’s tape, dot stickers and graphic chart tape.
There are so many different things going on when you are playing the violin that it can be difficult to train yourself to multitask. Not only do you have to play the notes with your bow but you also have to make sure the musical instrument is held in the correct way so that the tone that is produced won’t be screechy and unpleasant.
If you are planning to play within an orchestra or with others then you will have an extra task to add to the list. You will want to learn to be aware of those around you so you can play as one and create a cohesive piece. Don’t forget that you will need to keep an eye on your sheet msic and the conductor as well.
Intonation is the term for playing in tune. It’s one of the biggest challenges beginners to the violin have to master. In order to learn this skill you will need to practice a lot and pay attention during your practice times. As you learn you will begin to train your hearing so you can correctly and easily find the right and wrong sounds.
Having the correct intonation takes years to learn. If you’re having trouble in the beginning you can use the tips below to help you stay in tune and commit those violin notes to memory.
- The more you practice your piece, the more it will be stored in your muscle memory. This means you wil begin to be more accurate with your playing.
- Rope in a keyboard or piano player and play your violin alongside them.
- Listen to as much violin playing nad music as possible. You may even want to make a recording of yourself playing so that you can listen back to it and find out if the intonation was off at any point. Listening to recordings of the violin like this can show you your mistakes and helps you to memorize the violin notes more during practice.
Proper Bow Technique
Your bow technique will vastly impact the way you play this musical instrument. It can affect your tone and a good technique can even make a cheap violin sound good. As part of maintaining your instrument you should be keeping your bow in good condition. Every time you play you should be cleaning the bow down using a soft cloth that removes the rosin that has built up there. Bow hair wears down over time and will cause the tonality of the music to be off if you don’t look after it. The professionals recommend that you are rehairing your bow between six to twelve months.
How Long Will It Take to Learn?
It’s not just children or young people that can pick up a bow and start learning to play the violin. Even adults can begin learning and still get the same results. However, don’t expect to be a master on the strings after practicing for a few days or months.
The amount of time it will take you to learn the violin will all depend on how much dedication, discipline, passion and talent you have. It can take anywhere from three to ten years to become good at playing the violin and learning all of the techniques involved with the instrument. If you have dreams of becoming an intermediate, advanced or even a professional violinist you will have to commit at least three to four hours of practice a day, even from the very beginning. This is why so many people stop trying to learn violin – it’s a lot of dedication.
Let’s look at a goal that’s more realistic for a beginner who is just starting out learning to play the violin. Simple songs can be mastered anywhere from three months to a year. Below is a time frame of the different milestones you will want to hit as you learn to play.
- Month 1 – In your very first month playing this instrument you will learn the basics. Having a violin teacher is a good choice at this point because they can teach you the basics properly. You will need to know the different parts of the violin first and how you need to take care of it. Other things that may be discussed during your violin lessons are the basics of notes, music theory and scales on sheet music.
- Month 2 – Going into your second month you should feel a lot more confident in holding both the violin and bow properly without finding it too difficult. Your teacher may being to help you play notes using your first, second and third fingers and pluck out simple music on the strings. You will also learn about different ways you can use your violin bow to produce different sounds as well as what the bow markings mean.
- Month 3 to 6 – During these three months you will begin to learn some simple songs using your bow instead of plucking the strings with your fingers like you did in the beginning. A big part of learning to play are learning the notes and rest values and these will be included in your lessons during this time.
There are, of course, huge advantages of learning to play such a difficult instrument at an early age. The younger you are, the easier it is for your brain to absorb new things. However, this fact shouldn’t stop anyone from playing the violin. It’s never too late to learn an instrument like this.
Finding Time to Practice
The same as it is with any type of musical instrument you will need dedication and practice to be able to play the violin properly. If your long term goal is to become a great violinist then you will need to find the time to practice your instrument every single day. We all have very busy lives, especially as we get older, but if learning to play the violin is truly a passion then it’s important to practice it a little bit every day.
The reason why practice is part of the difficulty of the violin is because you’re working on your muscle memory. It’s a big frustration for many new students that they can’t coordinate their fingers and bow to work in unison. It’s also difficult to listen to yourself with a critical ear when you are learning the proper bow technique. Even the slightest change in speed or pressure can send the notes off on a tangent, creating unpleasant noises from the instrument. When you are first beginning to play the violin try to do short and focused practice sessions each way to overcome this challenge.
Learning Musical Notation
It’s perfectly possible to learn to play the violin by ear but to be a true player you will need to learn how to read music. If you can read the music you will be able to bring out the true emotions of the piece.
Learning to read music is as hard as the violin playing itself but it will reward you once you’ve put in the effort. With violin music there are extra symbols and terms that go along with the standard music notation. You will have to learn and understand these in order to play the violin properly.
In violin music you will have unique markings that don’t feature in any other types of music. For example, vibrato is written as vibr. and pizzicato is marked as pizz. There are also bow direction symbols that tell you whether that series of notes are going to be played with a down bow or an up bow.
Other markings and terms you may come across as you learn how to play include:
- Arco – return to normal bowing after a pizzicato section.
- Au talon – Play a section of the music using the nut end of your bow.
- Bariolage – This is a French term that means ‘odd mix of colors’. It indicates that the violinist should try and achieve a contrast in the tone by playing the same note on different strings.
- Bow lift – Tells you to lift the bow up and put it back to its original starting point.
- Col legno – Translates to ‘with the wood’. It means you should strike the string with the wood of your bow.
- Flautando – Let’s you to to put your bow slightly over the fingerboard.
By learning and understanding the special terms used in violin music you will be able to express the tones in the music and become a better violinist overall.
What To Know Before You Play
The first few years of learning the violin is hard. When you first start the screeching of the instrument can put a lot of students off. Because of this we’re giving you a list of things we wish we had known before learning the violin so you can learn them before jumping in.
You won’t sound like the professional violinists from movies and classical music for a while.
The truth is you’re not going to sound like a professional for at least a decade due to how hard it is to learn how to play this instrument. When you first start out you’re not going to sound good at all. The way that you have to hold your bow will feel completely unnatural and uncomfortable to start but over time it will begin to feel like second nature.
When you play using your bow for the first few weeks you will hear a lot of scratching. Once you’ve got the hang of holding your bow the sound your produce won’t get much better but remember this is the way we all start out when we learn violin.
The violin will be noisy in most cases.
Even the most expert violinist will sometimes find their instrument making some strange and scratchy noises. There is actually a positive side to this though. Where the sound is produced from your violin are just a few inches away from your left ear. Because of this many violinists who have been playing for years lose their hearing because of the sound being so close to their ear.
A violinist, especially if they have a solo, will try and articulate the sound to the very last seat in the hall. Just because you’re hearing the scratch and creak of your instrument, the concert hall will dampen that effect and the audience will still only hear the music.
Violins need maintenance and upkeep.
A violin takes a lot of care and maintenance which requires work on your part. Although this is a daunting prospect in the first instance as you start learning, over time it very much becomes a habit that will be second nature. Watch how a professional violinist prepares to play their instrument. The first thing they will do is tighten their bow and then apply a small amount of rosin to the bow hair. The reason why they titghten their bow to begin with is because it has to be loosened off after each time you play. This helps maintain the curve of the bow and stops it from bending.
The rosin that is applied to the bow hair creates friction on the strings. The hair is naturally slippy and if you try to play without rosin, the sound is not pleasant at all. The sticky rosin triggers the friction and leaves a residue behind which has to be cleaned off after every use. Not only do you need to wipe the strings but you should also wipe down the violin as well to remove any rosin that has built up there.
There are just a few more things that go into properly maintaining your instrument. As well as learning how to clean it and store it properly you will also need to read up on changing your violin strings and bow hair as well as other standard maintenance jobs.
There are other people who will play better than you.
Don’t be put off by the four year old violin prodigy who plays so beautifully it affects your confidence. You shouldn’t be discouraged by this. It’s the case for all sorts of musical instruments. Many people out there will be able to play at a higher level than you can and this will always be true. The best thing to do is make sure it doesn’t get to you.
It will take a while for you to perfect the right techniques that go into playing the harder pieces such as the vibrato or violin scales. However, all of this will go towards making you a better and well rounded player. It’s not a competition to be better than everyone else. The aim of learning to play is to have fun and be able to express yourself through the medium of music.
There’s a wider community.
Violinists are part of a wider community and once you find others you enjoy playing too, you can make some pretty firm friends. Attending local concerts or joining your local string ensemble all goes towards getting this community feeling. As you progress in your learning journey you can get help and support from those around you, which in turn will help you advance your violin education.
How and Why You Should Learn Violin
So if the violin is such a difficult instrument to play, why should I even start? The answer is because eventually your hard work will pay off and it will be worth it. If you’re still not sure if the violin will have a good affect on you, take a look at the list below which show some of the benefits of learning to play the violin.
It Improves Your Posture
Every violinist has to have a good posture while they are learning and playing. Your posture allows you to play and easily move during a piece. Having the right posture will prevent the player from becoming fatigued or even injured.
Whenever you are playing your violin you will need to be sitting or standing up straight. Your feet should be placed a shoulder-width apart from each other. The violin or shoulder rest should be resting gently on your collarbone being fully supported by your body without holding on too tightly. Your chin and collarbone should both be at the same level.
Good For Your Mental and Physical Health
It’s been scientifically proven that learning an instrument for over a year or two has a positive effect on your mental and physical health. Playing an instrument like the violin mans you are able to activate different parts of your brain that help you have better sight, hearing, touch and fine motor skills.
An example of a study done into this areas was carried out by the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind. In this study they had two focus groups consisting of preschool children. One of the control groups had music lessons for a year while the others didn’t take any at all. In the end it was found that the music lessons given to one group had enhanced their memory and attention span which went on to positively influence other learning abilities they had.
Keeps Your Brain Sharp
It’s no surprise that as you age, your brain ages too. This benefit affects every but will have added benefits if you learnt to play the violin when you were younger. Here we have another study to support the fact that playing an instrument keeps your brain sharp. The study was published in the Neuropsychology journal and researchers took three groups of adults aged between 60 to 83 and separated them into three groups.
The control group had never been taught to play a msuical instrument. The second group were adults who had learned an instrument for a decade. The last group were able to play an instrument and had learned to play between one and nine years.
When the results were in it was shown that the longer somone had learned how to play a musical instrument, the more health and mental benefits they experienced. The people who had been playing for a decade had the best memories and could process information a lot faster. The complete opposite was found with the control group who had never learned to play anything.
Improves Fine Motor Skills
In order to learn to play the violin you will need to have some strong fine motor skills to begin with. These skills are used for precise finger placement, proper bowing technqiues and plucking the violin strings. If you’re not sure what fine motor skills are, these are the parts of your brain that allow you to do small actions like picking up a pin, turning the pages of a book and even buttoning up a shirt.
Children especially can benefit from having better fine motor and gross motor skills and playing violin will do just that. These skills are involved in a lot of different activites like painting, writing and playing sports.
Reduces Anxiety and Stress
Learning to play the violin or any other sort of musical instrument helps you with anxiety and stress levels, leading to better control over your emotions. There are plenty of scientific studies that show training and playing the violin or an instrument can help decrease anxious feelings.
One such study took brain scans of children aged between 6 and 18 years old. Amongst these children those that had some sort of musical training had better brain development and reduced anxiety levels compared to those who didn’t. It may make parents think twice about reaching for medication to treat emotional and behavioural issues in children. Helping them learn to play the violin could be the cure they need.
There is a lot to be said when you learn how to play an instrument in terms of fun and enjoyability. If you love music then learning an instrument can boost that passion even more. Music is an amazing medium for you to express yourself as well as putting across the emotions that the composer felt when they wrote that piece. It’s so rewarding and enjoyal to learn hot to play the violin and it’s this enjoyability that will spur you on to play for years to come.
Tips On How to Play for Beginners
If you are convinced that the violin isn’t too hard for you and you want to begin learning, we’ve put together a list of tips to keep in mind as you start your journey.
Practice Your Posture
The posture for playing the violin can be difficult for beginners. There are different postures you will need to practice to get your body familiar with this new way of standing. One of the best things you can practice here is holding the violin between your chin and shoulder. Your left hand should be free so you can move it into various playing positions. Practicing your bow technique and gripping your bow properly is also essential.
Hand Coordination Improvements
You will need to use both of your hands to play the violin properly. The hard part is using both hands at the same time and when you are just beginning, it can be very frustrating to master this skill. There’s a simple way of improving on your hand coordination. Bow slightly while changing from one note to the next. As you become more comfortable you can speed up.
Great Bowing Technique
A good bowing technique is essential to producing the sound that you need. The tone of the instrument will be affected by how much pressure you exert on the bow, the speed which you move it and the angle that you bring it down on the strings. It can be hard to see how you are using your bow when you want to learn proper bowing technique. A good tip here is to use a mirror while you are playing the violin to see if the bow is parallel to the bridge. Your teacher will also help you with your technique during your lessons.
Keep Your Violin Tuned
One of the most important things when you are learning violin is that you must keep your violin in tune at all times. This will make it much easier to determine whether you are playing it correctly or not. Every time you use your instrument you should check it and tune it before beginning to play.
Take a look at the professionals out there who are playing the violin. You will notice that they don’t actually ever look at their instrument while they are playing. This is something that comes with playing the instrument for a long time but it’s also difficult to look at the violin and read your sheet music at the same time. Not looking at your instrument should be something you should practice early on in your violin career.
As a newcomer to the world of violin it can all seem quite overwhelming and difficult. It’s frustrating when you can’t get the hang of things right away but you just need to have confidence and keep practicing. It takes a lot of time and plenty of hard work to be able to master an instrument like the violin but it is possible.
Get Some Lessons
You may be very tempted to teach yourself the violin to save yourself some money but with such an advanced instrument it’s not a good idea. Some private violin lessons can be in the $100 range for a 30 minute session so we can see why you would be tempted. Trying to teach yourself how to play can lead to you developing bad habits and techniques which will slowly start to halt your progress. Take a look at the local teachers in your area and enroll yourself in lessons if you want to learn the violin on a professional level.
Measure Your Size
You will need to measure your arm length to determine the right size violin for you. This is especially true for children because some of the sizes are also based on age. Generally adults will use a full size 4/4 violin. You can take a tape measure to get your arm length. Measure the distance from your neck to the center of your palm of your left hand. When doing so your hand should be fully extended with your arm straight out perpendicular to your body.
Renting or Buying a Violin
The issue of renting or buying a violin when you are first starting out will depend on your own unique budget and what your needs are. If you’re choosing to rent your violin you will pay anywhere between $15 and $50 a month for use of the instrument. It may be worth your time to rent for a few months, get a good feel of the instrumen to see if it’s for you, then go on to buy. This is because renting can end up outweighing the cost of buying a beginner violin. A student violin that is suitable for students can be between $100 and $2,000.
Talk to the Experts
It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed when you first start out with the violin. If you do feel like you need some help then reach out to someone who knows about violins like a teacher, professionals in a music shop or a luthier who builds and repairs these musical instruments.
Recommended Violin Brands for Students
The Stentor does a great student violin outfit which is perfect for any beginner. The model is durable and produces a good tone as well as having all the accessories you need to get started playing. The violin itself has been handmade and features a solid spruce top and a maple back. All of these features together produce a topnotch musical instrument that will help you learn how to play properly.
This Cremona is a violin that both teachers and students fall in love with. The outfit is affordable and will suit those on a tighter budget without having to sacrifice on the quality and value of the instrument. You can be assured that with a Cremona you will have a flawless and consistent performance every time you play.
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This model by Stentor is more suited towards adults who want to learn how to play but don’t want to pay the hefty price tag that goes along with it. It’s also a good cheap alternative for intermediate players as well. For the price you will get a nice looking violin that produces great quality sound that will blend in well when played with other instruments.
So is the violin hard to learn? We would say it’s more difficult to master. With the right amount of practice and dedication, regardless of your age, you can learn to play the violin within a few months and become very good within a few years. Getting a good and qualified teacher will help you vastly as well as practicing every day. Choosing the right size violin is also an essential part of becoming a successful violinist. And always remember, have fun and enjoy the journey of learning to play.