One of the best instruments you can learn how to play is the violin. Even if you decide to call it a fiddle, you’ll be creating soulful notes and dance-worthy tunes in no time with it!
As with any instrument, you have the option to be self-taught instead of paying for professional tutoring. Even when you pay for lessons, most of the practice you’ll do happens at home without supervision.
That’s why you’ll want to consider saving this guide if you plan to teach yourself how to play the violin. When you have some musical talent, know how to correct poor notes, and have some familiarity with stringed instruments, you can have a successful experience.
How Can I Learn to Play the Violin on My Own?
Although the violin is one of the most challenging instruments to learn how to play, you can teach yourself with enough dedication and resources. The trick to a successful experience is to be patient with the process. It can take several years to sound good, even when you work on it daily.
When you think about learning how to play an instrument, anything with strings qualifies as an intricate item to get to know.
That ranges from the violin, which uses a bow to “hum” the strings, to the piano that uses hammers and keys to strike them.
If you start learning how to play music, the process is a lot like trying to understand a new language. Although you can get many of the basics right at first, you’ll need to be patient with yourself as you progress to continue the process.
Many people get stuck with the violin because the hard work becomes less fun over time. It is a sensitive and complex instrument that requires a lot of practice and lessons to help you get better. If you feel that your passion is ebbing, it might be time to step back from the instrument and pursue a different creative endeavor for the next couple of weeks.
Before you get started, try to set some realistic goals for yourself. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? Will you take your violin to a band, orchestra, or symphony?
Is this something you want to do for yourself as a challenge?
Once you have your goals set, you’ll be ready to proceed with the DIY methodology of learning how to play the violin independently.
History of the Violin
Bow-stringed instruments have been around since the Middle Ages. Some of the first versions are the rebec and rabab, which were played widely in France and Spain after they came across the continent from China. As that era neared its end, that’s when the different fiddles started getting produced.
The violin is an instrument that stands alone from its ancestors.
What makes it remarkable is that it has rarely gone through improvements over the centuries, which means the instrument from 1550 is remarkably similar to the ones played today.
Except for a couple of length modifications to the neck and updates to the chinrest, you can teach yourself how to play the same instrument humans have enjoyed for about 500 years. Andre Amati built the oldest known existing instrument in 1565.
Several luthiers have become famous over the centuries because of their skill and craftsmanship in designing the instrument. When you shop for one to start learning, you won’t want to invest in one of those options.
A violin like a Stradivarius is something that gets played by a professional because it can easily be priced above $100,000 for an authenticated one.
Best Tips to Follow When Learning How to Play the Violin
When you’re ready to start learning how to play the violin, these tips can help you keep moving forward with your progress.
Before you start working with the instrument, it’s essential to avoid the development of bad playing habits. They can form quickly and take lots of time to break, which can cause significant setbacks to your learning process.
That’s why some people who tried the DIY approach decided to pay for lessons anyway. Although there is an added cost to that choice, it might save you time and money in the long run because you’ll develop positive techniques.
1. Take it slow when learning how to play the violin.
You’ll want to work on getting the basics right from the first moment you sit with the instrument. That means you’ll want to focus on a balanced hold with the violin, figure out a comfortable grip for the bow, and be precise when you start using those basic techniques.
That’s why it helps to start with above-average equipment when you want to learn how to play the violin. If you’re using something cheap to see if you’re going to pursue this instrument, it won’t take much to ruin the bow or the various components.
2. Hold yourself accountable to the learning process.
Even when you have a teacher helping you weekly, most of your practice sessions happen at home. That means you must be accountable for your technique. If a mistake happens with your form, it helps to correct yourself immediately.
Don’t be afraid to listen to your instincts. At the same time, you should not allow your technique to get sloppy or discombobulated because no one else is there to remind you of what to do.
Your goal should be to get it right the first time, on every attempt. If you miss, try to learn from the mistake.
Many violin students hear voices of self-doubt and low self-esteem during the early days of learning how to play the instrument. At some point, everyone fails on a note, has a string break, or damages their bow.
3. Be consistent with your practicing schedule.
The primary reason why people reach a plateau when they DIY their violin learning is that they don’t practice consistently. When you aren’t putting in the work, the results aren’t going to come. If that happens over a long time, it can serve as a demotivational influence.
You should think about picking up the violin daily if you want to improve. Each session should be at least 45 minutes, but it is better to set aside an hour for the work. That’ll give you ten minutes to warm up, another ten to cool down, and 40 minutes to put in some hard work with your technique.
Will you become a virtuoso? What we often forget is that the masters of this instrument were also once beginners. The only difference between them was that they chose not to quit.
4. Keep going with the learning process.
What makes the violin such a wonderful instrument is the fact that everyone becomes a lifelong learner when they stick with it. Some people become world-class musicians that play in symphonies and orchestras, others provide lessons to help more players learn, and some go into bluegrass, country, and other genres to become more of a fiddler.
The only instrument that delivers a similar result is the piano, and it is equally complex to learn when you think about all of the various chord possibilities.
When you become a student, you stay that way. Even famous soloists critique their performances and playing styles to keep improving. We all work with each other to get a little bit better every day.
If you start teaching yourself how to play the violin, you’ll be joining this community.
How to Play the Violin: Positioning
When you lift the violin to start playing it, the instrument should get trapped between your shoulder and chin. Your head’s weight keeps it in place to deliver a stable surface for your bowing.
Before the 19th century, violinists didn’t have a chinrest to help them keep the instrument stable. That’s why older instruments often have wear patterns along the bottom, especially along the side where contact with the skin occurred.
You can place the violin directly underneath your chin as an alternative, trapping it against the collarbone. This positioning isn’t the easiest one to use, but some beginners find it a little easier since you can see where to place your fingers with greater ease.
Once you know how to hold the instrument in place, it is time to learn how to use the bow. Most players keep it in their right hand, pinching it between the fingers without squeezing it tightly. If someone were to come up to you to snatch it, they should be able to take it right out of your hands.
With your left hand, you’ll be holding the neck tightly. The best grip occurs around the index finger’s base and where your thumb is at its thickest. Since the instrument doesn’t have frets, your angle can’t be off in the slightest because your fingers will slip off the strings.
How to Play the Violin: Bowing
When you start playing the violin, it helps to remember that you are using the bow, not your hand, to create music. You’ll want to move it across the strings at right angles, with the primary position between the bridge and the end of the fingerboard.
You’ll use your hand with the bow to create the long notes that make this instrument such a joy to hear. The other is on the neck, changing the tone in much the same way as a guitarist creates different chords.
Your strength should be kept at a minimum to deliver the classic sounds of the instrument. When you’re too vigorous with it, the tone isn’t as pure or robust.
It’s a common error to grip the bow firmly and apply pressure, especially if someone is familiar with other stringed instruments.
If you find yourself gripping the bow too tightly, try rotating your shoulder a few times to encourage the muscles to relax. Be patient with yourself as it will take a little time to get used to the bowing techniques the violin appreciates.
How you end up moving the bow will ultimately determine the volume, tone, length, and other note characteristics you want.
■ How Sound Gets Produced from the Violin
When you run the bow across a violin’s strings, the impact creates vibrations that transmit to the top and bottom plates through the bridge. This process creates reverberations throughout the hollow instrument body, producing the characteristic tones that have made it famous for nearly five centuries.
The bowed string vibrates and moves with circular motions. This outcome creates the fundamental tones as the vibrations make an overtone.
That’s why a skilled violinist or fiddler can produce sounds and songs that seem to come at you in waves.
You also have the sound post to consider when looking at how a violin produces music. This diminutive component gets sandwiched between the top and bottom plates underneath the instrument’s bridge.
It sends vibrations from top to bottom while preserving the body’s shape. If you were to look inside the instrument, you’d see a bass bar that came up the left side. The piece that sits under the bridge on the right side is the sound post.
There is also the scroll to consider with the instrument. This component is at the top of the neck, often created to look like a rolled strip that gets narrower in the middle. You can tell the skill of the craftsperson by seeing how symmetrical this element is on the violin.
It’s such an essential component to the look that if an older instrument requires an overhaul, the body and scroll get kept to maintain the correct vibrational points.
How to Play the Violin: Fingering
Although the violin doesn’t have frets like a guitar, you’ll still need to press the strings in the correct position to get the right notes.
You must also tune your violin correctly to ensure that it plays as expected.
When you look across the instrument, your strings will be G-D-A-E. Each finger gets assigned a specific number, starting with your index finger at one and your pinky at four.
The hand position for the first finger plays a note two semitones higher than that of the open string in what is called the “first position.” You’ll then learn several different tones to play based on where each finger goes.
If a composition calls for rapid note changes, you can place more than one finger on the same string. When you lift the bottom one, the tone changes to a deeper note. When you replace it, the sounds rise again.
How to Choose a Violin to Play
Since a violin is made from natural materials, the most crucial parts of the instrument are the ones that individual craftspeople create.
That means every violin, including those that get mass-produced in factories, is slightly different from its counterparts. When you choose a single instrument with that much variation available, it can be a challenging task!
If you’ve never shopped for a violin before, the first step is to find a studio or shop you trust. Even if you don’t plan to buy an instrument during your visit, these people will help you service the one you eventually buy.
If you take the time to get to know them and their expertise, it’ll help you locate the right violin.
When you’re not sure if you’ll love this instrument, a silent violin might be a better option to consider. This instrument was created to produce the same feeling as playing the traditional version while having less volume. The bridge, strings, neck, and fingerboard are all the same, and you can even use identical bows.
It also creates sound with less effort, which helps you practice your technique and touch with greater reliability.
■ The Yamaha Silent Violin 5-String Model
If you feel that a silent violin is the right way to go when you start practicing, Yamaha offers a beautiful 5-string variation that’s worth getting. It uses D’Addario strings, dual Piezo pickups, and a control box that lets you manage your sound precisely.
The Yamaha Silent Violent model SV255BR provides a headphone out, line out, and balanced out while giving you a PAD switch, grand lift switch, and treble/bass controls.
It only ways 500g, making it the same weight as a traditional instrument with the electronics attached. You can quickly update it as an electric acoustic, creating an edgy sound with richness and depth that you won’t believe.
The XLR balanced outputs produce beautiful results, while the spruce top with ebony begs hits the right vibrations while playing.
This silent violin also plays loud enough that you can be on the stage without needing an electric setup. If you want to be quiet, you can turn on the equipment and bring the volume to zero. You also have the option to wear a mute if you prefer.
It can be a lot of fun to learn how to play the violin. Whether you have lofty goals to pursue or you just want to tinker with the instrument for fun, you’ll discover that playing this instrument is one of the best choices you can make in life.