Why should you learn the Violin? Simply put, for two reasons. First, it has a sound and an emotion that very few other instruments can achieve without the need for special effects. Second, it is one of the most loved instruments in the world that can be played in any genre. If you are considering learning this masterful instrument, the question that is often asked is, “Is violin hard to learn?”
As Much As I Would Like to Say No…
You can’t say any musical instrument is easy to learn, but the violin does possess a set of very individual skills to master. But don’t let that put you off; it will be worth it. You can expect it to be one of the hardest of all instruments to learn.
As I said, there are some unique challenges when learning the violin:
- Achieving the correct pitch on a fingerboard with no frets.
- Bowing techniques.
- Ensuring you have the correct posture.
Like all instruments, it will take time and commitment to begin to make it sound as it should. But when you do, it has a beautiful, timeless sound. It is the real deal of stringed instruments.
How Is The Violin Played?
As a stringed instrument, creating the sound is the same as any other stringed instrument. The string vibrates, which causes the resulting sound to resonate within the body of the violin.
It’s played with a bow, although the strings, on occasion, can be plucked. The bow is simply a stick with horse hair strands tightened along its length. Between 150 and 200 strands on average.
The horse hair must be treated with a product called rosin. Rosin is a sticky material that causes friction as you drag the bow across the strings. This creates the sound by making the strings vibrate. The bow is held in one hand.
These are created by the fingers of the other hand. As you press the string down on the fingerboard, it has the effect of shortening the string, the same principle as on a guitar. This produces a note. Changing the position of your finger on the fingerboard, effectively lengthening or shortening the string, will create different notes or pitches.
With both hands being used to create your pitches, the violin is held by clasping it between the jaw and shoulder. This is a technique that has been made easier by people who balance their mobile phones in the same position while doing something else. An amusing observation, but a relevant one.
As you can see, there is a lot to consider and to get right when learning how to play the violin. Before we move on to an in-depth answer to the question, “Is violin hard to learn?” let’s consider the instrument and where it came from.
History of the Violin
The violin wasn’t invented per se. Evolved is a better word. And it took a long time to reach the stage we recognize today. There were stringed instruments in the area known as Palestine 2000 years ago. We know this because we have ancient texts that describe them being used.
The Rabab, a two-stringed instrument played with a bow, arrived in Europe in the 11th Century. How long it was used before then is unknown. It is more an ancestor of the cello than the violin, as it was played seated.
Early European Changes
Over the next hundred years, the Rabab developed an extra alternative, the Rebec. This was more violin than the Rabab, as it was played under the chin. The Rebec had three strings, not two.
Music was changing, becoming less vocal and more instrumental. As a result, changes were a necessity for some instruments. The first instrument we would recognize as a violin appeared in the Court of Versailles, complete with its body with F-holes.
Not France, but Somewhere Else
In the early 1500s in Northern Italy, something happened. Great instrument makers all seem to be located within an area of about 50 miles, all at the same time.
In Cremona, a violin-making school, which also included the manufacture of other instruments, was established by Andrea Amati. He is recognized as the father of the violin we know today. The oldest violin we still have in existence was made by him.
Not only the violin but the viola and cello, were also being made. Amati lived and worked in Cremona, Lombardy, from 1511- 1577 and had some famous students. Apart from his relatives, the famous Nicolo Amati studied there. It was him that taught Antonio Stradivari. Yes him.
Andrea Guarneri was taught there, and his grandson was Giuseppe Guarneri, a famous maker recognized as a master violin luthier. Vanessa-Mae uses one of his instruments.
The Lombard Legacy Lives On
Today, these instruments are still known as the finest ever made. Hundreds of years later, they are revered. The legacy of what the Italians gave us will never be matched.
We will talk about buying your first violin a bit later. I doubt it will be one of the models we have talked about, but you will see companies try to feed off the names. They use names like “Cremona” and “Strad.” But, of course, they have nothing to do with what they infer.
So, are you inspired to pick up an instrument that can only be described as majestic? Let’s get a bit more precise about learning to play this instrument and what it takes.
Is Violin Hard To Learn? – Mastering the Basics
I mentioned earlier three fundamental areas that need to be mastered. These are Pitch, Bowing, and Posture. Let’s take a look at each one.
By pitch, I mean note; being able to hit the right pitch on the fingerboard to get the note you want is important. And that fingerboard does not have any frets as you would see on a standard guitar, for example.
Unless you are tone-deaf, your ears will expect to hear the correct pitch. Slightly off, and it becomes discordant and unpleasant to us. Therefore, learning how to play the correct notes on a violin is a very real challenge.
That makes learning the violin very different from, shall we say, a piano. With the piano, you only have to choose the right note visually, and you know it will be right.
One of the things that will help you with pitch is employing the correct hand position. That is where good technique plays an important part. You will find the hand positions will vary. These can include where you are playing on the fingerboard and even what key you are playing in.
This will rely on developing “muscle memory.” Enough correct practice will teach your memory to tell your hand and fingers which position to assume automatically. This becomes critical where there is music with lots of fast notes to play. It sounds a bit scary, but it happens automatically with dedicated practice.
Another technical aspect of what you do with your fingers on the fingerboard is developing “vibrato.” That is a necessary technique that is commonly used. It demands you to be able to make the pitch of your note move very slightly up and down as if the note is shaking. Hence, the term “vibrato.”
A good technique with the bow will help you achieve a nice, consistent sound. For that to happen, there are some things you will need to pay attention to.
The first is the angle that the horse hair on the bow makes when it comes into contact with the strings. It should be at an angle of 90 degrees for each note. Given the position of the strings on the instrument, it is clear there are some techniques to be learned.
Up or Down?
There are two ways that the note can be created. You can either use the bow across the strings, known as “down,” or draw the bow back across the strings, called “up.” This is not usually a personal choice, and the music will instruct the violinist on which action to take.
All the violins in an orchestra must play the same way. When you have mastered the basics of playing the violin, then you will move on to other more sophisticated bowing actions.
How you hold the Violin and your neck position will affect the results you can produce. If your posture is wrong, it will prevent you from playing well. Furthermore, it will affect every aspect of your playing.
From obtaining a comfortable position to the strike of the bow, each action can be linked to your posture. Obtaining a comfortable but also efficient posture is one of the biggest challenges of learning the violin for people when they first start. It is one of those aspects of learning where you may need some help.
Benefits of Finding a Violin Teacher
You will find plenty of materials that can teach you certain aspects of the violin in the early days. Online resources, DVDs, and books are all available. A good one is Learning the Violin, Book One.
However, we have already seen the importance of technique in learning to play. Can you get the wrist and arm shape right to get the correct bowing action? Are you creating your notes in the best way? Is your posture correct? The answer is probably no, and the only way to solve that problem is to have an experienced teacher help you.
Teachers can be expensive, so it hasn’t got to be every week. But having someone occasionally check and correct these things would be a big advantage.
How a violin teacher can help…
These days, violin lessons do not even have to be face-to-face. They will be able to take a look at you online in a ‘live feed’ situation and see what needs to be done. Violin teachers will address the following:
- Bowing technique.
- Hand positioning.
- Pitch creation.
But they are also going to be able to help:
- When you start to read music.
- Introducing and explaining music theory.
- Helping you choose the correct pieces.
- Taking care of your instrument.
Some may have contacts that will allow you to rent an instrument first before the expenditure of buying one. And, if you’re serious about learning the violin, I would say some form of instruction is essential. There will be no substitute for the input of a teacher whenever you can afford to have one.
They cannot reduce the time it will take you to learn very much. But they can keep you motivated and make sure you are solving any problems which may be holding you back.
Buying Your First Violin
I mentioned this a bit earlier, but let’s go back to it. There are so many things to consider it would take two of these articles to cover them all. You need to make sure you get the right size violin for you, and that the manufacturer has a good reputation for starter instruments.
Ideally, it should be ready to play, but you will need to learn the basics of how to tune it. If you buy from a shop, they will help. And you will need to consider if the instrument comes with the following:
- Chin Rest.
- Rosin for the bow.
Again, these are all things that a violin teacher will help you with.
How Long Is It Going To Take To Learn?
There is no simple answer to that question. It will be different for everyone depending on your dedication, commitment, and the time you invest in it. It will also depend on your musical abilities. Some people find it easier than others. But, just because you find it harder is no reason not to learn.
Need More Information and Advice About the Violin?
If so, check out our thoughts on How Can I Learn to Play the Violin on My Own, Tips For Tuning Your Violin, A Guide to Choosing the Right Violin Strings, How to Replace Your Violin Strings, and Easy Violin Songs for Beginners to Play for more tips, hints, and tricks about learning the violin.
Also, have a look at our reviews of the Best Student Violins, the Best Cremona Violins, the Best Violin Rosins, the Best Violin Strings, the Best Violin Bows, and the Best Violin Cases you can buy in 2023.
Is Violin Hard To Learn? – Final Thoughts
Of course, but it will be one of the great things you do. Learning to play any instrument is a wonderful thing. And learning to play the violin goes beyond that.
But let’s end with this one last thing. It is not a five-minute job. It’s a long road with plenty of obstacles in the way. But, each step you take is a step nearer to what you want to achieve.
Some things you might need…
Eastar is a quality company producing instruments for beginners. And there are numerous package that includes everything at a cost-effective price. Likewise, a tuner is always useful, such as this ENO MUSIC Professional Violin Viola Tuner. And, extra rosin, personally, I like this D’Addario Violin Rosin; it is a good thing to have handy as well.
Let’s finish by just making one last point. Enjoy learning. You are joining the ranks of 500 years of violinists and learning one of the greatest instruments. You are very lucky.
Until next time, good luck, and let the music play.