Anyone with the will, facility, and determination to learn an instrument can. But there is no getting around the fact that some instruments are a little harder to learn than others, especially if you didn’t manage to get an early start.
While the violin is a popular instrument, it’s also one of the more complex. It requires musicality, and good coordination between your two hands / arms, but perhaps most importantly, it requires consistency and persistence.
This guide will outline the work ethic required to learn the violin.
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Is The Violin Hard To Learn?
Whether the piano, guitar, trumpet, or violin, all instruments take time to learn.
Many of us were raised on recorders, harmonicas, and even melodicas, which offer a bit of instant gratification. But stringed instruments – like the guitar, cello, violin, and others – are a little different.
The violin is largely considered one of the hardest instruments to play and the learning process has even been compared to learning a second language.
Of course, this does not mean you should not attempt to learn the violin. No matter your age or talent level, if you’re willing to put in the time and stick with the process, you can learn to play the instrument.
Assuming you understand the commitment required, you have a better-than-fair chance at learning to play the violin, even if at a very basic level.
The violin can be hard to learn, but it can also be very rewarding.
What Is Involved In Playing The Violin?
Here are the main components that are involved in playing the violin:
- The bow. To prepare your bow, you must tighten it and add rosin to it (it would be wise to watch a tutorial or get a teacher to show you how). Your bow will not produce a sound without rosin. Applying rosin to a new bow can be quite time-consuming, and adding new rosin to a new bow can be even more laborious.
- Tuning. Violins need to be tuned, and frequently. A brand-new violin will generally require tuning too. From low to high (thickest to thinnest), a violin is to be tuned G, D, A, and E, and you will need to use your tuning pegs and fine tuners to get your strings to the correct pitch. You can tune your instrument with the help of an electronic tuner, piano, or even pitch pipe. Again, it’s a good idea to find a tutorial before you attempt this yourself.
- Holding the bow. There is a specific way to hold the bow. First, place your fingers gently over the violin bow. Keep your hand relaxed. Place your thumb between the thumb leather and the frog and place your pinky on the top of the bow. Refer to relevant pictures and videos for examples.
- Holding the instrument. There is also a specific way to hold a violin. Lift your violin to your shoulder, rest your chin on the violin, and ensure your wrist and forearm are straight. As with all other aspects of playing the violin, expert guidance can make a big difference here. But if nothing else, refer to relevant tutorials.
- Hand position. The position of your left hand is also very important. Place your left hand under the neck and your fingers over the strings. Your thumb stays at the back of the neck. Using your wrist the wrong way can lead to injury, so avoid the “waiter’s hand” habit.
Keep in mind – these are the various components you need to have in place before you even attempt to play your first note. We haven’t even gotten to bowing yet!
Playing Your First Note
The easiest note to play on the violin is an open note. So, let’s say you were about to play the first string / E. To play this note with your bow, you would rest the bow on the string. Starting at the bottom of the bow, you would rest the hair on the string and gently pull the bow down.
If you did everything right, you got a nice-sounding note out of your violin. Otherwise, you probably got a squeak or a squawk, which is where most beginners begin!
To get a nice-sounding note, you must apply the right amount of pressure and have your bow angled correctly.
Of course, if you want to be able to play anything other than open notes, you’ve got to learn left-hand finger positioning too. This guide is not a lesson, so we won’t be going into significant depth here, but we have no doubt you’re starting to see just how much is involved in playing the violin.
Do I Need A Teacher To Help Me Learn How To Play The Violin?
There is the occasional prodigy that comes along and surprises everyone. Sometimes there are also “self-taught” musicians who exhibit a great deal of skill on their instrument.
Theoretically, you can do anything on your own. Practically speaking, though, most individuals should seek out expert guidance when attempting to learn one of the hardest-to-play instruments ever created (i.e., the violin).
Experienced teachers can walk you through the basics and even have you playing your first notes, your first scale, and in some cases, your first song, in your first four lessons.
Meanwhile, if were to try to figure out everything on your own, there is the possibility that you could get frustrated and give up while taking your first steps to set up and learn the violin.
When and where possible, we highly recommend finding a qualified violin instructor to help you on your journey, even if it’s just to learn the basics.
Lessons aren’t free, but they are usually worth it!
What Are The Most Challenging Aspects Of Learning To Play The Violin?
There must be a reason why the violin is considered one of the hardest instruments to learn and play.
Well, there is.
In this section, we detail the main factors that make learning to play the violin a long-term investment of time and energy.
Posture / Relaxing
It has often been said, “The better your posture, the better your playing.”
But as with anything, posture isn’t instantaneous. That would be like someone showing you how to do a deadlift for the first time and then telling you, “There you go – figure out the rest.”
You could injure yourself doing that!
Posture takes practice.
And if it wasn’t enough that you need to train your body to do many things it has never done before, you need to do it all while relaxing. And at first, you probably won’t feel relaxed!
Ultimately, good posture is cultivated. It will feel unnatural at first, but gradually, it will start to feel more natural, and eventually, it will become second nature. But it’s that journey that some find long and challenging.
You would not expect something as simple as “tuning” to be all that complicated. Yet, many beginners and students struggle with tuning up their instruments before even playing a single note.
Tuning your violin requires that you work with both your pegs and fine tuners. You usually can’t get the correct pitch with the pegs alone (although you can get within the ballpark), thus the need for the fine tuners.
With practice, tuning can become easier, but as tuning also requires a bit of ear training, it can be a struggle for a newbie.
Without proper tuning, whatever you play will not sound anywhere near as good as it could, and sometimes it can be hard to tell whether you’re playing the right notes.
The tired media trope of beginner violinists squeaking and squawking as they annoy everyone around them is a trope for a reason. Learning to play the violin isn’t a walk in the park, and bow strokes can be very precise.
Bowing requires you to control the angle and the pressure of the bow simultaneously. Too little pressure and your tone will be squeaky. Too much pressure and you will hear scratching.
With enough practice and trial and error, you can start to figure out the bowing technique, and it will eventually become second nature too. But you should not expect it to come easy.
Finger Positions / No Frets, Keys, Or Buttons
A piano has keys. Guitars have frets. Other instruments, like accordions, have buttons.
Sure, this all takes time to learn, but each of these instruments has a logical system for putting the 12-tone Western scale at your fingertips.
Violins may look a little like guitars, but they don’t have frets. Yet, the fingering on a violin is extremely precise. Even if your finger is 0.5 mm off-axis, the note you play can sound out of tune.
The main cause of this is the fact that violin strings are quite short. Larger instruments, like cellos, can be more forgiving due to the larger spaces between the notes.
To add insult to injury, the distance between notes varies across the fingerboard. The further you are from the scroll, the less distance there is between the notes. That means even after you’ve mastered the first position, you will need to train your fingers how to play in higher positions, from scratch.
The correct positions can become muscle memory, but you can’t expect the journey to that point to be a short one.
Learning To Read Music / Sight Reading
While it’s likely that you will be trained on sheet music from day one as a budding violinist, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will come easy. Music theory is in-depth, and if you have no prior experience, it can be very overwhelming.
The good news is that technique and music theory don’t necessarily go together. You can get good at playing scales and melodies without ever having to learn music theory because technique is largely a matter of training your ear and muscle memory.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also study sheet music, though. What it means is you can study sheet music away from your violin, at any time that suits you. You can read books on the topic or watch YouTube tutorials to gather more information.
Many perspectives on the topic are helpful because sometimes things that don’t necessarily “click” with one teacher’s instruction might with another.
Ideally, you would have a teacher helping you navigate the various aspects of music theory too.
Finding An Instructor
If you’re a beginner, we don’t think finding an instructor will be the toughest aspect of learning to play the violin. Most lesson studios should have at least one capable instructor on staff, and if all else fails, you can still take lessons online (TakeLessons is an excellent resource).
But as you continue to advance as a player, finding the right teacher could prove a more difficult task, depending on your experience level, what you’re interested in learning, and what you need to cover next to advance as a violinist.
Ideally, you would be able to find a teacher who can take you from zero to hero, but it doesn’t always work that way. You may need to remain open to working with multiple teachers on your journey.
The good news is that we are more connected than ever with the internet and social media, so if you don’t mind doing a bit of research, you should eventually be able to get connected with the right people to keep your growth journey moving along.
Is It Even Worth Learning To Play The Violin?
Despite all the challenges inherent in learning to play the violin, it can be a very fulfilling and rewarding experience. And if you are willing to stick it out long-term, you will get to enjoy all the benefits that come with advancing as a player.
Here are several benefits violin students experience as they improve on their instrument.
All forms of art, including music, are thought to be the perfect outlet for self-expression.
I can tell you from personal experience that music has helped me process the death of my father, moving to a foreign country, going through breakups, and more.
Generally, artists are quite in touch with their emotions and that’s what makes them great artists. Finding an outlet for these emotions can be a very valuable and healthy thing to do.
Learning To Play Other Instruments
The skills you learn on the violin can easily translate over to other instruments.
One of the best instruments for a violinist to pick up is thought to be the mandolin, given its similar size and string setup, which like the violin is also G, D, A, and E.
Learning the mandolin is sure to prove an easier task after having learned to play the violin since the mandolin comes with frets, which tell you exactly where to place your fingers. Of course, you would need to pick up picking technique as well.
Since you will also be acquainted with music theory and sheet music, it would not be beyond the realm of possibility to pick up the piano or organ too, though you would need to learn technique from scratch.
Either way, whatever you learn on the violin can transfer over to other instruments with some patience.
Improved Social Skills
Music brings people together. That’s why it’s often been said that learning an instrument can help you improve your social skills.
Maybe it’s not so much that learning the violin will automagically make you a better conversationalist, but rather that, because you have something in common with the musicians you interact with, there won’t be any shortage of topics to discuss.
Eventually, you should be able to make fast friends with other violinists and other musicians too.
Music can also be a lot more fun in a group setting, from casual jams to orchestral performances.
Better Cognitive Function
Music is one of the few disciplines that can help connect the left and right hemispheres of your brain, which can lead to improved cognitive function. These connections can prove very helpful in aging too.
Learning an instrument can help improve speech, reading comprehension, language processing, and even memory recall.
Music is quite intensive in the demands it places on your mind, which can help you train your mind to be very effective in other settings of life too.
Is Violin Hard To Learn? Final Thoughts
As much as we might like to, there’s no way to sugarcoat it – the violin is hard to learn.
But that doesn’t mean your journey can’t be an enjoyable one. With proper guidance, you should be able to learn how to play some of your favorite songs, and maybe even participate in recitals, worship teams, and other settings where you’ll get to perform for an audience.
If you want to learn to play the violin, then stick with the process and don’t give up!