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Everything You Need To Learn Violin

Learn how to play violin

The violin is an incredibly rewarding instrument to play, and an excellent choice for learners of all ages. It’s well respected for both its level of difficulty to learn and its beautiful sound.

Keep reading to find answers to some of the most commonly asked questions when starting to learn how to play the violin. We’ll share how to find the right violin size for you, how to tune your instrument, and more!

Is violin hard to learn?

Any instrument comes with both easy and difficult concepts to learn. The violin has only one clef and one line of music to follow. However, one challenge of the violin is that it doesn’t have frets, so a violinist's fingers need to be properly trained.

Usually within a few months though, and sometimes less, you’ll be playing simple melodies on the violin. Exactly how long it will take to learn the violin will vary depending on your age, musical background, and attitude toward learning.  

Is it possible to teach yourself violin?

It can take years of determination and practice to master the violin. Because of the importance of proper technique, most students start off their journey with the help of a qualified teacher. A minority of students try to teach themselves how to play the 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 the violin before taking classes or lessons, here are a few introductory steps.

1. Find the right spot

Where is the best place in your home to practice the violin? Your practice spot 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. Try out several rooms before deciding. It will make practicing a lot easier when you and everyone else in your household knows where your “official” practice area is!

2. Tighten the bow

There are several actions you need to take before actually playing the violin, 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 teacher 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

3. 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 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 often need more rosin than others. If you have trouble making a clear sound, rosin your bow with a few more strokes. Be careful not to apply too much rosin, or this will create a scratchy sound.

4. 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-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.

5. Grip the bow

Gently place the middle part of your index finger on the slightly padded area of your bow, 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.

6. 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.

7. Watch bow pressure and position

Unfortunately, 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.

8. Play open strings

Open strings are strings that you play without using your fingers. 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.

How much does a violin cost?

A violin for beginners can range from $100 to $1000. Intermediate level violins range from around $3000 to $6000, and some more expensive violins can range all the way into the millions.

For a beginning violin student, a less expensive violin is usually preferable, but be careful not to buy the cheapest, factory-made violin you can find. Lower quality violins can be difficult to tune and might not produce the purest sound.

You can purchase a violin online, at a website like sharmusic.com that specializes in stringed instruments, or at your local music store. If you’re looking to rent a violin, check out the nearest music studio.

What size violin do I need?

To size a violin, put it on your left shoulder. The end of the tailpiece should point right in toward the neck, and the instrument's scroll should point out toward the left side.

Try reaching out with your left arm and curling your hand around the scroll of the violin from underneath. When your left arm is extended, the tips of your fingers should touch the peg box on the near side of the scroll.

Usually, an eighth size violin will work for children ages 5-7, a quarter size violin for ages 7-9, a half size violin for ages 10-12, and a three-quarters size violin for ages 13-14. Keep in mind that these are only estimates, so be sure to size one for yourself.

Learn more about the different violin sizes here.

What are the parts of a violin?

Starting from the top of the violin, here are the many parts of this diverse instrument.

  • The scroll is the top of the instrument above the pegbox.
  • The pegs fit into the scroll, hold the strings, and help with tuning.
  • The neck is the thin section between the scroll and the body, where the left hand grasps the violin and slides back and forth while shifting.
  • The strings are where you place the bow to create sound.
  • The fingerboard is the black portion on top of the neck and above part of body, where the fingers press down to change the notes.
  • The f-holes are the two s-shaped holes on either side of the body of the violin. They allow the sound to come out after the body of the violin amplifies it.
  • The bridge is usually lighter in color than the rest of the violin, and the strings run across it. It is a separate piece and is replaceable.
  • The sound post is visible when looking through the f-holes underneath the bridge. It is standing up inside the body of the instrument. This piece helps the body to more effectively amplify the violin's sound.
  • The tailpiece is the thin black piece below the bridge. It holds the strings from the bottom end.
  • The chin rest is the black piece where you place your chin. It is usually on the left side of the violin, but some are placed more towards the middle of the violin.

What are the benefits of playing violin?

If you’re thinking about taking online violin classes, get ready to discover the many benefits of playing this versatile instrument.

The benefits of playing violin go far beyond simply gaining the ability to play a new instrument. Take a look at what else the violin can do for you, below.

Physical benefits of playing violin
  • Increased arm strength - Playing violin can be quite tiring at first, because it’s a workout for your arm muscles and upper body! The more you play though, you’ll notice that your arms are becoming stronger, without making a single trip to the gym.
  • Increased finger dexterity - As you practice new violin techniques, your fingers will become more flexible. Learning difficult songs causes the fingers on your left hand to strain to reach certain strings, while the fingers on your right hand are learning to control the bow.
  • Improved posture - Another one of the benefits of playing violin is that it requires you to sit up straight and tall. Before you know it, you’ll find your back and shoulders becoming stronger and able to support your upper body with better posture.
  • Better coordination and motor skills - While playing the violin, you need to coordinate your fingers and arms simultaneously. Pressing a string with your left hand must match with the movement of the bow in your right hand. In this way, learning to play the violin increases your motor skills.
Mental benefits of playing violin
  • Boosted academic success - A study by the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts showed that children who play the violin often see a boost in academic achievement compared to their non-musical peers. The study explains that there’s a commonality of skills associated with playing the violin and excelling in school, including focused attention, critical thinking, and problem solving.
  • Better concentration - It takes a lot of mental effort to learn how to read violin music and translate notes on a piece of paper into sounds. You must remain focused while practicing the violin, so playing the instrument inherently improves your concentration and attention span.
  • Enhanced speaking skills - A study by the Institute for Music and the Mind at McMaster University found a relationship between a child’s musical training and their word decoding skills, a fundamental part of learning to pronounce specific words. According to the study, this occurs because music lessons train the auditory abilities necessary for correct word pronunciation.
  • Sharpened memory - Your muscle memory will improve as you become more proficient at playing the violin. You’ll also have the opportunity to memorize songs and play them without sheet music, which is a fun mental challenge!
  • Lower stress levels - On a stressful day, playing the violin is a healthy way to let off some steam. The sound of the music itself can be therapeutic, and playing a song that you know well provides even more relaxation.
  • Greater perseverance - Beginners to the violin should expect to complete many hours of practice in order to see improvement. These hours will lead to greater perseverance though, and at the end of it all you’ll get to enjoy the fruits of your labor in the form of beautiful music that you can create yourself.
  • Improved self-discipline - Practicing the violin to become a better player is your responsibility alone. It’s also your job to tune, clean, and replace the strings on your instrument so that it lasts. These actions are enough to create self-discipline in any new musician.
Social benefits of playing violin
  • More confidence - Playing in front of a group of people at a concert or recital is nerve-racking, but stepping outside of your comfort zone will give you more self-confidence than ever. This confidence spreads to other areas of your life as well, such as speaking in public!
  • Greater sense of community - Playing the violin automatically creates a bond between you and others who play the instrument, as well as musicians in general. You’ll feel part of something important, which can bring great fulfillment to your life.
  • Opportunities to socialize - As a violinist, you’re bound to have concerts and recitals you can invite your friends and family to. This could open the door to other social opportunities, like finding other musicians to jam with.
  • Stronger collaboration skills - If you’re an orchestra member, then you already know how each person needs to play their individual parts just right. In this sense, playing the violin will teach you a lot about teamwork and holding up your end by mastering even the trickiest parts of a song.

How do you tune a violin?

Before joining in on group violin classes, you need to make sure your instrument is ready and tuned. Most modern violins can be tuned in two places – the pegs, located in the scroll of the violin, and the fine tuners, located in the tailpiece.

The pegs are better used for large changes in pitch, while the fine tuners are better for smaller adjustments. Tightening the strings will make the pitch higher, while loosening them makes the pitch lower.

Since fine tuners are a relatively more modern invention, some violins don't have them. For violins without fine tuners, pegs are used for all tuning, regardless of the size of the pitch change.

Learn more about how to tune a violin here.

What are the notes on a violin?

The four strings of the violin are tuned in fifths. They are, from highest to lowest, tuned to E, A, D, and G. The G string is the G below middle C. The highest string (E) is always the furthest out toward the audience when the violin is held on the shoulder in playing position.

To play the notes in between, the player presses his or her fingers down on the fingerboard in the correct places. Generally, each finger is responsible for one note, regardless of whether it’s natural, sharp, or flat.

Over time, your fingers will learn to associate the proper position for the natural, sharped, and flatted versions of each note.

How do I get better at violin?

For beginners to the violin, the road to success is riddled with lessons in patience and self-discipline. But when met with enthusiasm and the right guidance, the journey is certainly worthwhile! Here are eight ways to improve your violin playing skills.

1. Take violin classes or lessons  

The best way to ensure you’re getting the right guidance while learning to play the violin is to sign up for violin classes or lessons. Online violin classes are especially helpful for learning the proper technique so you can build on the right foundation as you progress.

An experienced teacher can help spot specific areas that you can improve on in your violin playing. When looking for a violin teacher, here are a few things to consider:

  • The teacher’s understanding of the violin’s mechanics
  • His or her knowledge of universal music and repertoire
  • His or her own personal playing skills
  • His or her communication skills

Above all of these characteristics, the most important thing to consider is the teacher’s understanding of the learning process; it must correlate with where you are as a student and your ability to learn.

2. Practice efficiently

To get the most out of your practice sessions, make sure to practice when you feel the most fresh and focused. For some, this might be first thing in the morning; for others, it could be right after school or work. Try following a routine that accommodates your natural energy peaks or dips.

If you feel drained during long practice sessions, try splitting your practice into two shorter sessions. Whatever the case, make sure that you’re practicing consistently. Also, keep your environment – where you’re playing – in mind. Make sure you’re in a quiet space that allows for minimal interruptions.

3. Focus on quantity

When it comes to your violin practice sessions, it’s less about how long you’re practicing for and more about what you’re achieving in each session. Sure, repetition of exercises can be helpful, but be careful that it doesn’t become mindless!

Mindless practice can lead to the reinforcement of mistakes. Keep your practice sessions at a length that you can maintain concentration at – this way, quality will trump quantity, and that’s what your aim should be if you’re looking to improve faster.

4. Get limber

While warming up with exercises or scales and trills can begin to feel like a chore after a while, they’re crucial to strengthening your fingers before any proper violin playing can begin.

Practice holding your bow before even picking up your violin – and when you do start practicing, ensure that you relax your bow hand in between exercises by vigorously shaking out tension without the bow in hand.

5. Practice more scales

Many people tend to rush through areas of difficulty when learning violin. Instead, learn how to play a challenging scale slowly until you get it right, and then speed it up.

You have two options when it comes to practicing a new scale: academic or physical. The academic approach relies on you being comfortable with looking at the music, learning the signature key, and then figuring out the relative minor and major keys.

The physical approach can be a little more exciting. It relates to feeling the occurring tones and semitones by observing the spaces between fingers. Either way, you should practice all scales slowly and in detail until you can do them smoothly.

Another tip is to try practicing scales in front of a mirror. This will help you simultaneously develop a few other techniques, like correct arm positioning during shifts or wrist flexibility.

6. Try bow exercises

There are many bow exercises you can start doing to improve how you play the violin in terms of grip and posture, and many of them can be done without the use of a violin at all. Here is one of our favorite bow exercises.

  • Step 1: Hold the bow out horizontally in front of your body.
  • Step 2: Assume the proper bow hold.
  • Step 3: Start to alternatively push your first finger down, dipping the bow down a tad to the left.
  • Step 4: Now push your little finger down, dipping the bow down to the right.
  • Step 5: Try keeping your fingers bent while repeating this movement several times.

With repetitive practice of this simple exercise, you’ll start to experience the benefits of your newly-found finger strength, flexibility, and bow balance!

7. Record yourself

Record yourself while playing the violin to discover areas that sound like they need improvement. As you listen to yourself play, see if you’re missing tones or not quite getting the rhythm right. Recording your practice sessions also helps document your development and makes you more comfortable with the idea of performance.

8. Listen to other violinists

To help you stay in tune, it’s important that you improve your ear by listening to the pieces you’re learning daily. You’ll need to hear how an accomplished violinist handles things like style, pitch, rhythm, and tone.

Worried you don’t have time? Make this a part of your daily routine by listening to violin music while you work out, cook, or during your commute. As you do this, try to get in a variety of both passive and active listening.

Passive listening includes going to inspirational concerts and live performances. Active listening, on the other hand, consists of listening to these pieces with your violin and bow in hand.

While actively listening, you can work through details relative to tune. It’s important that you listen intently, to a point that you can identify downbeats and timing with accuracy.