Is learning to play violin hard? Many people do not know what to expect in beginning violin lessons until they take them. Learning to play any instrument has unique challenges. Taking violin lessons is certainly no exception!
As beautiful as a singing violin sound can be, it does take a bit of work to produce it. Over my career teaching violin lessons, I have seen many students become discouraged or frustrated within the first couple weeks of not immediately making a wonderful sound.
Fortunately, most students quickly realize that it takes a bit of time to start playing simple songs at a decent level on a violin. These are indeed the main challenges of learning violin: patience and persistence.
During the first couple of months of learning, you are planting the seeds for your future advancement on the instrument. It is important to know that learning to play the violin takes patience, persistence, and practice.
The violin rests over the left collarbone and shoulder area, with the jaw acting as a stabilizing counterbalance. The bow is held in the right hand. Just from these two sentences, you probably realize that posture, or physical stance, plays huge role in violin playing.
Posture builds the basic foundation of most music making, giving a musician the ability to play more advanced and longer repertoire comfortably and without injury. Excellent musicians frequently check in with their bodies to make sure that their posture is in good shape. This makes learning violin much easier, expedient, and comfortable. Expect to take the time to get this right at the very beginning.
Each violin player needs to personalize their setup (involving the chin rest, and shoulder rest) to make it comfortably suit your body. This allows you to maintain the posture throughout your playing without incurring incremental injury. This all takes some time to understand and is much easier to figure out with the assistance of a violin teacher.
I find the most helpful tip for this process is to practice consistently each day, rather than to try to cram it all in before your next violin lesson. When you first start violin, it is best just to spend a small amount of time, such as 5-10 minutes, each day. You can then lengthen that time incrementally as you start playing longer pieces. I compare it to training for a half marathon—if you’ve never ran that far before then you best start with a shorter distance and gradually build up to that 13.1 mile run!
While students are occupied with the posture element of holding the violin, this is a wonderful time to focus on note reading and listening—particularly if the student does not know how to read music. This way, my students have multiple items to focus on during the week. It is important to both be able to start differentiate pitches and rhythms by ear and connect what you’re hearing to what is written on the page.
Depending on the student’s age, these points are learned through worksheets, assigned listening, and age-appropriate games during lessons. Once the student starts playing simple pieces, he/she will understand at least part of what is written on the page!
I find that students of all ages benefit from these activities, as they can at least recognize some note symbols even if they haven’t started reading in school yet!
Bowed string instruments can be a bit complicated for sound production, as you can either pluck the string, called pizzicato, or use the bow. Pizzicato is easier to start with, but the bow takes a longer time as students learn to hold it, play on the right part of the string, and find the right amount of weight for the string—not to mention a myriad of other details.
Students (and their parents!) are often treated to a variety of squeaks and crunches as they experiment with the bow over the first few months. This is part of the process.
Once a student gets the bow moving and finds a decent basic sound, then the creative gates open for a massive amount of sound options: sustained, whispered, strong, focused—the possibilities are endless! It just takes a bit of patience and experimentation to reap the rewards.
Of course, what is learning a new activity without having to sort physical coordination? Besides having to coordinate the elements already mentioned, violin players also have to put all of these into specific time-frames (rhythms), left hand fingers changing note pitches, musical interpretation, etc. There is a lot to coordinate. Coordination is achievable through consistent practice. When practice is guided by a great violin teacher, it can be quite fun!
Due to all these elements, students generally start with shorter and simple pieces such as “Hot Cross Buns,” “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and “Ode to Joy.” I also tend to focus on scales, as the building blocks of music, and use repertoire from the Suzuki books and the Essential Elements methods, among a mix of other materials according to the interests and needs of each student. From there, we advance into more complex and longer pieces.
I hope this post gives you some idea of what to expect in beginning violin lessons at any age. Hopefully also makes it seem less daunting. Once you start, I recommend trying a couple months to get past the initial starting phase and being able to show off a few simple pieces!
As you advance, you will find the violin can provide many different opportunities, from a solo instrument to playing in a group or orchestra. There are plenty of opportunities in NYC for violin students of all ages—school orchestras, youth symphonies, chamber music programs, and adult community orchestras—that can provide additional musical and social experiences. Why not give it a try?
Written by Riverside Music Lessons’ NYC Violin Instructor, Deborah Nixon