It takes years of determination, focus, and practice to master the violin. Many people start their musical education using a qualified instructor, but maybe you want to try to teach yourself violin. This is a huge undertaking with great potential for learning the wrong way of holding the violin, standing incorrectly, or practicing imperfect fingerings. However, if you want to understand the basics of learning your instrument before taking violin lessons with a teacher, here are a few introductory steps when starting to teach yourself violin.
Find the Right Spot
Where is the best place in your home to practice violin? You need to find out where that location is. It should be quiet and without distractions, have sufficient light, and have adequate space for your music stand. You also might want room to store your violin and violin accessories when you’re not playing.
Clear some space and try out several rooms before finally deciding. It will make practicing a lot easier when you and everyone else in your household know where your “official” practice area is!
Tighten the Bow
There are several actions you need to do before actually playing, and one of them is tightening your bow. Slowly turn the end screw of your bow clockwise until the space between the hair and your bow stick is approximately large enough so that a pen can pass through easily from tip to tip. A qualified instructor can help you judge the correct tension. Make sure that your fingers do not touch the bow hair; the oil from your fingers can negatively affect the sound and the hair.
After you’re done playing, always loosen the bow hair; leaving your bow tightened can damage the bow and hair, which can result in costly repairs or even a replacement bow.
Rosin the Bow
Rosin is a block of pine resin that you need to rub on your bow before playing so that you can create the friction needed to make sound.
To rosin your bow, hold the rosin by the papered or cardboard sides, and firmly rub it up and down the length of the bow hair about three or four times. This will transfer some of the rosin “dust” onto the hair, making it somewhat sticky. New bows will often need more rosin. If you have trouble making a clear sound, rosin your bow with a few more strokes.
Don’t apply too much rosin; too much will create a scratchy sound. A teacher can show you what optimal levels are when first using your bow, and after you have used it for several weeks.
Tune Your Violin
Your violin needs to be tuned to ensure that you are playing the proper notes. The strings, from lowest to highest, are G, D, A, and E.
One method to tune your violin is to pluck the string while looking at an electronic tuner. Gently adjust either the pegs at the top of the violin, or the fine tuners (if you have them) at the bottom of your instrument, and then repeat the process on each of your strings.
Grip the Bow
Gently place the middle part of your index finger on the slightly padded area of your bow, generally several inches above the tightening knob. Put the tip of your pinky on the flat part of the stick. Your ring and middle fingers should rest with the middle section aligned with the tip of your pinky, and their tips should be on the side of the frog, which connects the tightening knob to your bow hair. Your thumb should stay underneath the stick, at the front of the frog, near the bow hair. Keep your hand relaxed and somewhat curved. Your palm should not rest on the bow.
Hold the Violin
Stand or sit with your back straight yet relaxed. Place the thicker end of the violin to your neck. Rest the lower back of the instrument on your collarbone and hold it in place with your jaw. In time, you should be able to support your violin solely with your jaw and not with your right hand. Make sure to consult your violin teacher as you’re learning this, to make sure you don’t pick up any bad habits in form or posture that may affect your playing.
Bow Pressure and Position
You can’t simply plop the bow on the strings and start sawing back and forth. To begin, place the flat part of the bow hair about halfway between the fingerboard and the thin piece of wood called the bridge, and angle the bow hair toward the bridge at a 45-degree angle. When you are ready, pull the bow straight along each string, keeping it parallel to the bridge, while applying a small amount of pressure.
Play Open Strings
Open strings are simply strings that you play without using your fingers – it’s a simple bow stroke across one string at a time. Playing open strings will help you develop control of both your violin and bow.
To play an open string, rest – but do not hold – the neck of the violin in between your left thumb and first finger. Hold the bow with your wrist, elbow, and shoulder within a single plane on each string, then draw the bow across the string.
Begin with short strokes of about six inches in the middle of the bow until you feel comfortable. Change strings by raising or lowering your elbow only – not your arm – to bring the bow to the correct height.
If the violin were an easy instrument, then everyone would be playing it. But it isn’t, and you shouldn’t underestimate how difficult it is to learn at first. Get yourself started with the steps above, and once you feel comfortable enough, find a qualified violin teacher – working one-on-one with an instructor will make the single biggest difference in how quickly and how well you learn to play. Your instructor can get you to where you want to go much faster than if you were to continue to teach yourself violin. Stay committed, and have fun playing this beautiful instrument!
Photo by Juhan Sonin