Is Violin Hard To Learn? (Read This Before Starting)

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  • The top reason why should you learn to play the violin
  • How hard is the violin to learn?
  • Essential things to look out for when buying a violin

The violin is one of the hardest musical instruments to learn. The combination of a demanding bowing technique and getting the pitch just right on a fretless fingerboard can make it particularly challenging.

Like any instrument, it takes time and commitment to master.

However, it’s a versatile instrument that has a timeless and beautiful sound. You can play it alone or in a group. It’s perhaps THE quintessential classical stringed instrument.

Let’s see which challenges await and how you can overcome them!

Also check out our article How Many Strings Does A Violin Have (& Some Fun Facts).

How hard is the violin to learn?

The violin is regarded as one of the hardest instruments to learn, but why?

Let’s take look at how the sound is created first and then break it down into its different parts.

The violin is a string instrument, so like with playing the acoustic guitar, the sound is created by a vibrating string which then resonates within its body.

While violin strings are plucked in some pieces or sections, the usual way of playing them is with a bow. Which is normally made out of a wooden bow stick and horsehair, about 160-180 individual hairs, to be exact.

This hair is tightened and treated with a sticky material called rosin that is extracted from trees. This helps the hair create friction when dragged over the string, which is what causes the string to vibrate and create a sound.

The pitch of this sound is controlled by the fingers of your other hand (usually the left one).

Again like with playing the guitar, pressing a finger down on the fingerboard will shorten the string and result in a higher pitch.

To have both hands free for those tasks (right hand for bowing, left for determining pitch), the violin is pinched between your jaw and your shoulder, just like when you are trying to use the phone and do the dishes simultaneously.

Bowing

To achieve a nice consistent tone with the bow you need to pay attention to different parameters. One would be the angles at which the string is struck.

Holding the bow so the horsehair and strings meet effectively and you can maintain consistent pressure from the bottom of the bow (called frog) to the tip (called… tip).

The bow and strings should form a 90-degree angle throughout the stroke.

Moving the bow from frog to tip across the strings is called a down-bow. The other direction is called up-bow. 

Those directions are sometimes written in the sheet music with the symbols below, but also have to be assumed from context at other times.

The different string sections in an orchestra will always have a rehearsed and uniform use of up-and-down-bows to create auditory and visual synchronization.

down-bow

   up-bow

Those are the basics. Once you have mastered the general use of the bow, you move on to more intricate techniques that will tell you to use broader strokes or let your bow jump over the strings.

Different playing instructions tell you exactly how to utilize your bow and use Italian terms like legato, staccato, or spiccato.

Pitch

So now that we know what one of the hands is doing, what about the other one?

As mentioned earlier, a violin fingerboard doesn’t have any frets so getting the right pitch is one of the biggest challenges for beginners.

As you can imagine, when playing violin, wrong notes can be quite frustrating for you (and your neighbors) especially since our ears are so used to perfect pitch from the heavily processed and pitch-corrected recordings we hear on the radio. Or, other instruments like keyboards, which are always in pitch, and you “just have to hit the right note”.

In addition to this general challenge come different hand positions in themselves and on the fingerboard depending on the key you are playing in.

Trainer Tip: If you ever write music for string instruments. The musicians will usually prefer keys with sharps (#) like G-Major, D-Major, or A-Major (and their parallel minors) over keys with b’s (♭).

Another technique that revolves around the pitch is vibrato. The player will vary slightly up and down from the correct pitch to create this famous effect that is also common in synthesizers and other instruments.

The hand positioning for good pitch as well as the often quick succession of notes heavily rely on muscle memory and therefore requires lots of violin practice.

Posture

To achieve a well functioning combination of bowing technique, quick fingers, and good pitch in the left hand, a good posture is crucial.

This refers to the way you hold the violin with your neck, position your hand on the fingerboard, and hold and strike with your bow.

A good posture can be physically challenging at first, so you might not even be able to practice extended periods. And if you are, be ready for the fiddler’s neck.

That’s what they call the mark you get on your neck from extended violin practice which kind of looks like a hickey.

Attaining good posture can be hard, and even harder still is trying to check your posture by yourself with nothing but a mirror for guidance.

Wouldn’t it be great to have somebody look at and listen to you play when learning the violin e.g to check your posture? Hmm… who would do that?

Why you need a violin teacher

Sure, there are many online courses and videos on learning the violin. But considering how hard it is to learn the violin, a teacher seems like a pretty good investment.

The danger of you attempting to self-learn after spending money on an instrument, only to get frustrated after a few weeks is too high. Yes, violin teachers can be expensive.

But if that is the main issue, maybe try to reduce the lesson’s time or frequency, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be in person.

Even online violin lessons dedicated to you a few times a month can help you so much!

Simply look at the challenges we’ve covered so far:

  • Bowing technique
  • Pitch
  • Checking your posture
  • Italian playing instructions along the way

And it doesn’t stop there. Taking violin lessons from a teacher can also help you with:

  • Reading music
  • Musical background knowledge
  • Piece selection
  • Handling your instrument
  • Letting you rent an instrument for trial
  • Buying your first violin
  • Music theory
  • Composition

Lastly, and maybe the most important part: Learning violin or any other instrument is a long road that can inevitably feel frustrating at times.

A violin teacher can guide you and motivate you to stay with it.  Ideally, they have seen and heard many students, so can encourage and show you how to improve.

A violin teacher doesn’t take away the time and commitment it takes to master this instrument. But they can help you be disciplined and not lose sight of your goal.

Reading Music

We mentioned reading music among the things a violin teacher can help you with. If you are planning on just using the violin as a sound source, plucking, bowing, or tapping it to create interesting textures for your music, being able to read music is not necessary.

However, if you are planning on really getting into those famous pieces, different styles, periods, and complex techniques, this skill will be required.

As discussed before it’s not only about the pitch and length of the notes, but also about loudness, tempo, bowing techniques, playing instructions, and more.

Fun fact: Once you’re good at it, you can even start practicing without actually playing your instrument.

Imagine just sitting on the train, understanding and memorizing the music on paper before actually practicing the piece and building up the muscle memory.

Why it’s worth learning the violin

Okay, it’s difficult, we get it! So, why should I put that much effort into learning an instrument?

First of all, the violin is maybe THE classical instrument. Most people think of string instruments and the violin in particular when talking about orchestras.

It has been around for a long time and many famous composers played it themselves, so there is a huge selection of pieces throughout the different epochs to learn and master.

Because you have to pay careful attention to pitch (while also handling tempo, technique, posture, etc.), playing the violin also is fantastic training for your ears.

Furthermore, learning the violin builds character, you need to be disciplined, consistent, adhere to a practice schedule, and overcome frustration.

The violin is wonderfully versatile. You can play it solo, in chamber formations like a string quartet, or as part of a big orchestra.

Of course, to a large extent, it is found in the classical realm but it can also be used in metal, country, EDM, beat making, and more experimental genres. There are even electronic violins.

In addition, if the violin ever gets boring (not very likely) it’s quite easy to switch over to the viola, which is similar at the first glance but often takes on a completely different role within the orchestra.

Buying a Good Violin

You made it until this part of the article, so you’re serious about learning the violin and ready to buy an instrument? Let’s see what to look out for in a good violin.

First of all, some general quality standards should always be considered:

  • Types of wood that are used
  • The correct distance between fingerboard and string
  • Correct length of the string (Mensur)
  • Good workmanship
  • Easy to adjust temper pins (tuning pegs)
  • Full-bodied sound

If you are a beginner there are even more things to take into consideration:

  • Correct size depending on your arm length (there are 3/4, 7/8 violins, etc.) 
  • Reasonable price
  • Ready to play
  • Good set-up of strings, fingerboard, bridge, etc.

Including all of this additional equipment:

  • Bow
  • Rosin
  • Case
  • Shoulder brace
  • Chinrest

As mentioned above, a violin teacher can help find your (first) instrument. They can look out for the right size, and quality corresponding to your level.

They might even be able to get you a good deal, lend you an instrument, or find a fitting used one from another student.

FAQ’s

How long does it take to learn the violin?

This of course varies depending on previous experience and general musical talent.

However, as covered above, the violin comes with difficult movements and techniques so it can take 2 years or more before you feel competent enough to actually play for somebody.

Is it hard to learn violin by yourself?

Yes. Arguably learning any instrument with a teacher is easier than by yourself. Because of the importance of posture and the difficult pitching, violin lessons are very useful.

Which violins are good for beginners?

With your first violin, a certain quality standard should be met. But try to make a rational decision.

We covered how challenging it can be to learn this instrument, so spending a lot of money and never touching it would be a shame.

Borrowing a violin from a teacher or friend would be the way to go for beginners.

Is violin easier than guitar?

No. Especially in the beginning, the violin is harder. Finding the right pitch in combination with good posture and bowing technique is very challenging.

You will make faster progress with the guitar and your journey with the instrument will be noticeably easier than with a violin.

How do I start learning the violin?

Our recommendation: take a trial lesson from a violin teacher.

Just going out buying a cheap instrument and then watching some videos on it would probably be an unsuccessful and quite frustrating experience.