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What is the hardest instrument to learn? Perhaps violin?

Life in general: I'd like to get your opinion on whether violin is the toughest instrument to learn and master.

From Smiley Hsu
Posted September 4, 2009 at 03:12 AM

I've always realized that violin is tough, but lately, I've been pondering whether it is indeed the toughest instrument to learn and master.  Compared to piano for example, there is so much more technique required to play violin.  I am not saying that piano is easy, or any instrument for that matter, but just to learn basic technique and play a simple tune on violin requires so many fundamental skills.

My 7 year old who played piano for 2 years is now learning violin.  He spent nearly a month just practicing how to hold the bow.  Then he spent a few more weeks playing open strings, and now he is finally starting to use the fingers on his left hand.  I think about all the challenges he has ahead, different bow strokes (legato, staccato, spiccato, sautille, richochet), then shifting, vibrato, double stops, and the lifelong, never ending quest for perfect intonation.  I can't think of any other instrument that requires mastery of so many skills, each one so difficult to master.

I'll even go out on a limb and say that violin is the toughest of all the string instruments.  Take cello for example.  Yes, you do have the issues of intonation and bowing, etc, but the basic position of the instrument is much more natural than a violin.  Gravity is your friend with cello, or it certainly does not work against you.  The cello rests on the floor and you can naturally support it with minimal tension.  But with violin, there is the issue of holding up the instrument with the left hand, or using a shoulder rest, but that results inall sorts of unwanted tension in your arms and shoulders.  The bow arm for a cellist is much more natural than a violinist.  Playing slow legato at the frog is much easier on cello than violin since you do not have the weight of your arm working against you.   I think vibrato is also easier.  The test of that is to compare the vibrato of a violinist playing cello, and a cellist playing violin.  I'll bet the violinist will do a much better job.

I'm interested in getting other opinions on this topic.  I'm sure that musicians on Trombonist.com or FrenchHorn.com (if those sites even exist), would disagree with some of our violinist viewpoints, but I'm interested to hear what others have to say about this.  Especially those that have experience with other instruments.

 

From Anne Horvath
Posted on September 4, 2009 at 04:49 AM

Although the repertoire is difficult, piano doesn't present the challenges that violin does.  Bow, intonation, vibrato, left and right sides doing different things, etc.  I do think it takes a really great musician to make a piano sing, bring out colors, and make a gorgeous legato.

French Horn must be very difficult!  And I have nothing but respect for our double reed friends, making reeds all day...

From Ronald Mutchnik
Posted on September 4, 2009 at 05:30 AM

I've always felt that in the beginning stages learning to play the violin is very challenging. Perlman said as much in one of his interviews, but, at the highest levels, all instruments have their significant challenges. I know several adult professional french horn players whose kids have been learning to play the violin and they tell me that despite the pitfalls and treacherous curves of playing  the french horn,  they feel the violin is still more of a challenge.

There's also the issue of how one learns and how it's taught. If the skills are introduced in a way that build from one to the other and the teacher understands the personality of the person they are working with and the ways they learn best, then the challenges can be less daunting and one can enjoy the experience with far less frustration.

  Sometimes it's an issue of the light bulb going on and what seems like fruitless struggle suddenly turns into an "Oh, now I get it" feeling. The main thing is to know that the instrument you are choosing to continue to play and learning to play better and the music written for it is something you love and would not want to be without and, therefore, you accept the challenges and difficulties and grow to appreciate the process. It is a never-ending one. There's always more to learn and discover. Never a dull moment!

From Tobias Seyb
Posted on September 4, 2009 at 08:44 AM

Surely the violin is one of the most difficult instruments to play.

But there is one aspect that makes instruments difficult to compare. I, for an example, could be practising hundred years without becoming a good trumpet player, simply because I haven't the lips and teeth. But after more than twenty years without playing the trumpet I could still sightread rather difficult trumpet pieces without mistakes, because the finger actions are really easy. But I can't produce no proper tone, and I couldn't then. It's simply not the right instrument for me.

And apart from physical limitations, there's an inclination towards special types of instruments in every player.

I see this every year when the students select their instruments in the beginners orchestra. Some pick the tuba deliberately, some are born brass players, some will never touch anything other than a violin, and in most cases the choice fits and it seldomly has to be corrected later.

I am, of course, referring to the children with real love for music, not the many that end up in the football team instead.

So any instrument can be hard to play, but choosing the right type is essential for success.

From Charles Cook
Posted on September 4, 2009 at 02:17 PM

 I thought the same way until I started teaching guitar. I found guitar much harder to teach and saw that students learned at a slower rate. Younger student’s 8&9 years old struggle with proper technique, there’s more arm movement with guitar to get to lower strings. For example, what’s harder to learn a two octave G scale on guitar or the same scale on violin? I can get the majority of students to play a two octave g scale, with OK intonation (with my help on the piano) and OK technique in the first two lessons. How many months do you think it takes the average guitar student to reach the same level? A lot.I stopped teaching it to beginners, I wait until they been playing a year first. Teenagers are the exception, it doesn’t take them long to learn guitar they have the strength and coordination. If we are talking about the basics and how quickly a student can learn them, I would say piano is the easiest, recorder, violin, and then guitar. When you think about it, you can teach a 4 year old to play the violin. There’s one thing that I have learned, that if the teacher doesn’t teach good technique, intonation, uses a poor approach or doesn’t have the correct concepts, the violin becomes extremely hard to learn or teach.

  What gives people the idea that the violin is hard is intonation. “How do the fingers find the note? There are no frets!” But repeating what we hear is a natural instinct, we have the ability to parrot any sound in our vocal range. The same part of the brain that is used for singing and vocal chord muscles control also controls the fingers muscles to find the right intonation. Playing the violin is second nature. If we teach with the idea of hear first then repeat second, a person will learn the violin quite quickly and effectively.

From Royce Faina
Posted on September 4, 2009 at 02:39 PM

I've always heard that the French Horn is the most dificult!

From Joyce Tsai
Posted on September 4, 2009 at 04:34 PM

I think that the COGNITIVE demands of playing piano are more difficult.  Reading 2 lines of music written in different clefs; thinking chordally/structurally about the music at a much earlier stage of musical training; all those black dots on the page, some of which should be emphasized while avoiding unintended emphases... Oh my!

I also think that learning to sing is extremely difficult, in that it is so mysterious. Ever take singing lessons? No one can truly demonstrate exactly how to do something. The descriptions for how to attain a sound or placement are vague at best; you must engage or dis-engage muscles over which there is little or no voluntary control; and you cannot actually hear yourself.

From Glenda Williams
Posted on September 4, 2009 at 03:45 PM

I played the french horn for 15 years before learning to play the violin. To me, the french horn seems ludicrously easy compared to the violin. With the horn, the physical things you must master in order to get a beautiful tone are breath control, the vibration and tightness/looseness of your lips, and make sure your right hand is cupped just the right amount and at the correct position inside the bell. Maintenance is easy: just oil the valves regularly so they won't stick, and remove the water at regular intervals to avoid a gurgling sound. Heat and humidity won't make the horn fall apart.

As you all know, with the violin, a multitude of little things have to be perfect to get a beautiful tone: bow position relative to fingerboard and bridge, finger position (for perfect intonation), elbow height, arm weight, shoulder relaxation, hand relaxation, wrist flexibility, string quality, posture, humidity level, etc. So many things to think about at once. I absolutely love playing the violin, though... so I don't mind that it's a challenge to learn. I have the rest of my life to get it right!

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on September 4, 2009 at 04:51 PM

I studied piano and clarinet before having a chance to study the violin, and I always thought the violin was the most difficult of the three.  So it was illuminating to read all the thoughtful and open-minded comments that people have made.  Tobias added a new thought: that some people have a special affinity for a given instrument regardless of its difficulty.  Every day (and every lesson, for my violin teacher), I marvel at how learning the violin is the most difficult thing I've ever done (and this isn't the first big challenge I've given myself over my lifetime), yet the most rewarding and fulfilling.

From Stephen Symchych
Posted on September 4, 2009 at 06:48 PM

I have a simpler gauge of difficulty-- if I can do it, is probably isn't too hard. 

If I can't, it might be.

 

I can't play horn.

From Mary Skeet
Posted on September 4, 2009 at 07:46 PM

What about those grand church organs? Multiple keyboards, base pedals, volume pedal and multiple stops, so you're using every extremity.

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on September 5, 2009 at 12:33 AM

I wonder if it is very closely connected with how our individual brains are "wired" - referring to the topic about scientists/mathematicians who were/are excellent musicians? 

I personally found violin much much easier to learn than piano, which I found incredibly frustrating and hard.  Funnily enough it was OK if say I was playing a fugue on the piano with similar figuration in each part - and as a high school student I could happily play Bach's 3 part inventions etc, but when one had say melodic lines in the right hand but accompanying chords in the left, I simply found it baffling to fit the two contrasting lines together. 

It was the same feeling that I got when confronted with algebraic calculations and formulae in math, all the numbers and notes just jumbled together and "scared" me.  I could read them on the page, but I couldn't process them in my mind as they just didn't make sense.  Weird, as I can read complex scores without problems but I'd never be able to play them on the piano as many conducting students could.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on September 5, 2009 at 01:28 AM

I played flute with a teacher for 2 years when I was in school band.  If I compare with violin, it is a piece of chocolate cake mmmmm. Wish I had this more often in my violin but only with the violin am I truly in love... and this is not always rationnal no? : ) 

Anne-Marie

From rachel berlin
Posted on September 5, 2009 at 11:37 AM

I've not posted here before, though I've enjoyed lurking on this thread.  I'm an amateur violinist (BM in Music History) and my husband was horn major with both performance and education degrees.  He learned a little bass in college at CMU.  We have a daughter now 13, who plays the cello.  As we began in a suzuki program my husband had to lean a bit of cello.  For years, we've laughed over the differences of stringed instruments and brass, including difficulty.  One he has stated that no one has mentioned here is that the workings for a brass player are much more internal, thus a student can't see what is going on.  This is an area of difficulty.                                

 When we selected cello for my daughter, I of course wanted her to be a string player.   I always had a thing for the cello, and so it was to be. My husband felt stringly that he wanted her to play an instrument where she had to  form/create the note herself, so piano was out of the question. 

My daughter played clarinet in school for a year (and was selected for PMEA, an honors orchestra) and found it very easy.  Then the school teacher asked her to switch to trombone because he needed trombones.  She picked it up very easily.  My husband remarked that she was a natural brass player.  (Maybe it helped that he provided her with additional instruction at home :)  The following year, she did not like the band teacher or the band at all and was totally bored from a musical perspective.  She was a reasonably advanced musician in grade 6 from her cello experience and had not time for middle aged bad boys who struggled with the simplest musical concepts.   She also said she was a cellist at heart.   So she quit trombone and band.  She still plays the cello, and quite well.   She picks up the clarient at home every now and then since we have one at home and can still play.   As a violinist, I always thought cello would be a bit easier since the position is a bit more natural.   As I watch my daughter play in thumb position and observe the real estate she must cover while shifting, I think they might be equal.  

Sorry for being long winded, but at least initially, I think the stringed family is tougher.  As somebody mentioned, at the most advanced levels, every instrument has its difficulties.

From Ron Kovach
Posted on September 5, 2009 at 02:37 PM

I play cello and violin, and the one thing that continues to bug me about the cello is that sometimes I have to fight against gravity when holding the bow. With violin, gravity most often works with me. Now I know that that alone doesn't make the violin undoubtedly easier than the cello, but it sure does help as far as I'm concerned!

From Joyce Tsai
Posted on September 5, 2009 at 03:16 PM

I had the same experience when trying to learn piano, that Rosalind describes, being able to play Bach Inventions but not a simple left-hand chordal accompaniment. I always attributed it to having learned a melodic instrument first, getting into the habit of reading music one line and one clef at a time, and thinking in terms of lines not chords.  I started violin at age 9, but attempted piano at age 16.  And I practiced, oh how much I practiced the piano, how badly I wanted to play it! But all the practice did was help me memorize my way through my pieces. Reading remained difficult. Simple chords remained far more difficult than independent lines... Later I met a few others who had similar difficulties taking up piano after years of playing another instrument.  Don't know whether the difficulty stems from having to unlearn music-reading habits from playing the first melodic instrument, or the impatience of someone who is able to play real music and who wants to move on with playing before the reading skills and hand patterns have been adequately trained -- maybe some of both.

Now I do wish that I had learned piano first. Of the people I know who are able to play both piano and another instrument well, all of them happened to have studied piano for at least a couple of years first. 

All that said, I think instruments are easier or harder just because everyone is different. As a teenager, a flutist friend and I decided to give each other a lesson on our respective instruments.  I could not even get a single sound out of her flute. Not at all. Violin certainly was not THAT hard to get started!!

From Ryan Frania
Posted on September 5, 2009 at 03:37 PM

Either German or French pipe organ is the most difficult instrument to learn, IMO. There can be up to five manuals with many dozens of stops to go with each manual. There are also 26 keys on the pedalboard. And, while playing the manuals and the pedalboard, you still must control the the swell shoes (dynamic pedals) and know where were every stop is as to be able to rapidly change from several diapasons in the Grand Orgue to diapasons and reeds in the Recit coupled to the Grand Choeur and the Grand Orgue. You also must be able to reach the top manual (Solo or Recit on a four manual console) and the pedals; a very big physical stretch! Yea, thou dost not need to worry of intonation or vibrato, but you still must have a consistant temperature of 60 degrees ferenhiet to have the most colourful range of overtones and in-tune-sound. It is a great challenge to read music for two hands and two feet as well. There is constantly counter melodies and counter harmonies. The only great difficulties in the violin are: even vibrato, bow control, intonation, new strings falling out of pitch in the middle of a concerto, and many other problems, but not quite as bad as the organ.

Ryan

From Brian Hong
Posted on September 5, 2009 at 04:53 PM

 The hardest instrument is most definitely the digeridoo ;)

From Ryan Frania
Posted on September 5, 2009 at 05:41 PM

Yes. The Didgeridoo is certaintly mush harder than the piano, violin, cello, or even the French Pipeorgan.

Ryan

From Royce Faina
Posted on September 5, 2009 at 07:09 PM

That's a tough one to top, especially with that, 'continuous breathing'.

From Ronald Mutchnik
Posted on September 5, 2009 at 10:51 PM

 Royce, you might be interested to know  there is also the circular, continuous breathing in thetrumpet, most notably the brilliant trumpet player Rafael Mendez who could put many a violinist to shame with his faultless execution of Rimsky  Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUij8FCg0z8

From Dimitri Adamou
Posted on September 6, 2009 at 12:52 AM

Is it just me or does Rafael remind you of Heifetz?

From Rei Miyasaka
Posted on September 6, 2009 at 07:22 AM

Maybe there needs to be a distinction between learning and mastery?

I don't know which instrument is the most difficult to master, or if there even is an answer to such a question. It might be that there isn't, because arguably to master the performance of an instrument is to master music itself. By definition, a good pianist is as much of a good musician as is a good violinist, and likewise, a violinist that isn't a good musician is also not a good violinist.

As for learning to play the violin, I can't say with much confidence since violin is the only instrument that I can claim to play, but I would guess that it does involve a lot of the same aural skills as a singer as well as the level of dexterity and precision that's demanded of illustrators and such.

Being that those are rather unrelated abilities, you probably could say that in learning to play the violin you're juggling a lot more skills than you might be if you were to learn a lot of other instruments, especially at the beginner level.

**edit: maybe I should clarify that by "learning" I mean "getting started", as in, the first few years.

From Royce Faina
Posted on September 6, 2009 at 01:07 PM

Ronald- Really!!!!  I didn't know that!  I thought it was only unique to the digereedo (sp) ! {:^O

From Bill Walderman
Posted on September 6, 2009 at 07:01 PM

The difficulties of the violin are magnified (literally) on the viola.  Maybe the viola is the most difficult instrument.

From Tobias Seyb
Posted on September 6, 2009 at 08:08 PM

One more aspect to consider.

The typical parts to play are very different for different instruments. Usually string players have to work a lot more (compare this with the tuba, for example).

I watched an irish fiddler on YT. The guitarist had m-pah m-pah and sometimes a bassline, the fiddler had no chance (and no sign) of getting bored...

@Bill: The wider scale on the viola makes intonation easier, and adding too much weight on the bow will not at once be punished by a squeaking sound.

From JUAN MANUEL DE COSIO
Posted on September 7, 2009 at 01:58 AM

To begin with, a violinst cannot say that playing the violin is more difficult than playing the piano if he/she has not tried to learn to play BOTH instruments. Secondly, there are many "prima donnas" that play ONLY the violin and who insist (I don't know why) that the violin is the most difficult instrument to learn. By the way, I play both instruments.

Yes, it is true that anyone can learn to play "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" at the piano (as per Perlman's opinion in The Art of the Violin) in one day, whereas it can take you months to produce a decent single note sound in the violin. HOWEVER, the difficulty, the real difficulty to play the piano decently is faced much more later during the learning curve. Yes, playing the violin, even with mediocrity, is indeed very difficult, whereas playing the piano at an alementary level is relatively easy, BUT if one dares to try to play, let's say, the Beethoven's piano sonata Op. 111, or the J. S. Bach Well Tempered Klavier, he/she will find that such endeavour is a very, very difficult one, probably as difficult as playing Bach's Chaconne.  Who knows !

The nature of the difficulty is different for each of these two instruments; furthermore, I believe that all the instruments are very difficult to play at a high level of perfection.

From Cesar Ribera
Posted on September 8, 2009 at 12:52 AM

FWIW    http://plus.maths.org/issue31/features/woodhouse/index.html "Why is the violin so hard to play? "  ...Linear versus nonlinear: plucked versus bowed....

If some instrument if FAR more difficult than another at initial instances, I don't know why people would be so sure that the difficult instrument would equalize at advanced stages with simpler instruments...

Another consideration shoud be about COGNITIVE complexity vs physical difficulty...some wind instrument can present a phyisical impediment to be executed, but that doen't mean that they are more complex, isn't it?

A final consideration is that violin is perhaps the instrument that has the best methodology for kids, the Suzuki Method. That makes it possible to see small kids playing it, while other simpler instruments you won't see this so easily, cause the mehodology for them is not as detailed, neither exist a body of well trained teachers and motivated, specialists in dealing with kids.....this is what I think when some people say "violin can't be so hard when there are many small kids playing it".....

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on September 8, 2009 at 01:56 AM

I agree Cesar and I would say that all the kids we hear playing (me included even if I'm not a kid) and 90 % of all violinist students of the world won't end up with an extraordinairy level either... (because the instrument is so hard) (Internet usually show us the "good ones" from good schools etc but must we not forget all the others) So we could say IMHO, as complex as the violin can be, almost everyone that is just a little musical in their heads can learn the basics. This what gives us the illusion that violin is accessible. In fact, at a easy level (maybe intermediate), yes it is accessible!!!  Susuki methods and others the like exploit this fact, no?

And for piano vs violin, it is maybe very true that at advanced stages, piano is as hard as violin (cause many so many keys and notes to read at the same time as a good pianist told me) so this is maybe why music schools always say openly that violin and piano are the hardest (generally speaking). !

Anne-Marie

From Rei Miyasaka
Posted on September 8, 2009 at 02:57 AM

Cesar: I showed that page to my electroacoustics prof when I was demonstrating how my violin synthesizer software worked. He sort of scoffed when he read the title.

And I think you're right, I've always thought of violin pedagogy as being extremely good despite the potential subjectivity of it.

The people are generally great too, even though a lot of people think of us as being stuck-up (and maybe they're often right). I think Violinist.com has the best forum community I've ever seen.

From Andrew Victor
Posted on September 8, 2009 at 02:57 PM

Cello is actually more difficult than violin. True it is a more comfortable instrument to play because the instrument and the bow are both held in more natural positions and aided by the body's balance and by gravity. Also, in much classical and older ensemble music the cello parts are easier than first violin parts.

However, note for note, given any specific piece of music it is much harder to play it on cello. This becomes obvious when one tries transcriptions of Brahms or Mozart or Schubert sonatas, or the Vivaldi 4 seasons (as another example). The problem is that the cello tends to run up an extra fifth on each string for most virtuoso music, compared to violin, works with what are effectively 4 clefs - a problem for sight reading, and because of its size requires an order of magnitude more hand shifting than violin playing of comparable notes in the lowest octave of each string..

Nevertheless, because of the differences in physical approach to the two instruments, a cellist is likely to be able to continue playing at a given skill level into old age for years longer than a violinist.

From Caitlin McMillan
Posted on September 9, 2009 at 04:19 AM

Violins have less choice as to where to put your fingers wherease the finger spacing on the viola are a total pain. If you're a kid and starting on on violin and have a naturally strong bow arm, often the result is so much squeaking that you get moved to viola or cello. The cello seems to fit the human body better, despite being awkard in some ways. Getting a rich sound seems natural and shifting has never been easier... I'm not a cello player but I did give it a go for about 3 months... It just feels right, kind of like another person...

Back pain is an issue for some instruments, particularly viola when you're practicing 4-5 hours a day. It can be quite discouraging... And at least most instruments give you a selection of great teachers (and repertoire grr), us viola players have it a bit tough at times since a lot of teachers will teach viola to a reasonable level but often don't or can't get to the heart of the matter. Never mind the fact that orchestral parts are frequently boring... and the jokes many. Sorry to have a whine but how many other instruments get such discouragement? </whinge session>

From Tobias Seyb
Posted on September 9, 2009 at 06:16 AM

So far, all the discussed instruments, strings, piano, woodwinds, have no chance being the most difficult instruments to play. All of them have their masters who can reach results sometimes beyond imagination.

But now I found the instrument that must be the hardest to play. I have heard many play it, most mediocrely, but some with astonishing skills. But it has to be the most difficult instrument of all: even the best accordionists I heard haven't produced a sweet, beautiful tone yet.

From Mitchell Pressman
Posted on September 9, 2009 at 04:03 PM

I guess the shofar would count as a musical instrument. (For those who may not be familiar with it, this is the ram's horn blown during Jewish high holy day services).  I've never tried blowing one, but it sounds like it is very difficult to produce the proper notes, let alone a good tone.

Which reminds me of a news show years ago when Edwin Newman had a rabbi on to demonstrate how to blow the shofar.  The rabbi tried as hard as he could but couldn't produce the notes he was trying for.  Finally Newman said, "Rabbi, I guess you could say shofar not so good."

From Roland Roberts
Posted on September 9, 2009 at 08:03 PM

 I bought a Zither from an auction once, beautiful thing complete with AA Darr Zither method.

Having learnt the guitar I thought it would be possible.

But no. This is a tough instrument but in the right hands can sound wonderfully expressive. The amount of pain was just not worth it.  It used to be one of the most popular instruments, every cafe had one. Look at the number of zither players in the MU book compared to violinists.

From Neil Hoang
Posted on September 10, 2009 at 08:48 PM

Whilst I agree that the piano is essentially much easier to play than the violin, an instrument is only as difficult as the composer makes it. For example if I were to compose a violin piece that requires a very scratchy tone with very apporximate intonation, I'm sure there'd be many violinists who could master it with little effort.

From matthew drottz
Posted on September 11, 2009 at 01:35 AM
I've herd the toughest instrument is the harp I herd it takes atleast 7 years just to get decent at it
From Eric Johnson
Posted on September 11, 2009 at 02:09 AM

By far Spoons are the hardest to learn. I've NEVER heard them sound good.    HaHa

From Fayth Williams
Posted on September 11, 2009 at 07:40 PM

SPOONS! THE CARD GAME!

In by opinion, blowing on the top of a coke bottle is pretty hard.

From Rob Schnautz
Posted on September 22, 2009 at 03:10 AM

I found blowing on a blade of grass pretty difficult to master.  Never mastered it.  But the comb with the tissue over it won't even make a single note.  I don't understand!

From Bob Annis
Posted on September 22, 2009 at 04:11 AM

The hardest? Instrument Airplane. SIngle-pilot IFR  without an autopilot is difficult, but the best part is, if you screw up it can kill you. Violins just do not approach that level. 

From Aaron Schiff
Posted on September 23, 2009 at 03:33 AM

As a pedal steel guitarist I always heard that it was the most difficult.  Most have 2 necks with 10 strings each, tuned to C6th and E9th, 8 foot pedals and 5 knee levers.  The claim was that having to use both feet, both knees and both hands made it extremely difficult.  It is a little overwhelming in the beginning, but any decent musician can get a reasonable tone in short order and have a pretty good inventory of "country standards" in a few months to a year.  Becoming really good takes considerably more time.  I don't find elementary piano difficult, nor guitar, nor bass, nor dobro.  Again becoming good takes considerably more time.  But I struggle every day with violin to produce a pleasing tone.  When I am on, I am ecstatic.  And then there are days that I just have to slow down and slog through, take the music apart measure by measure and note by note.  I have tried viola and find it even more difficult to produce a wonderful tone, plus my fingers don't automatically fall in the right places.  I have no personal experience with the oboe family, but I think they are extremely difficult to play, both poorly and well.  There may be more difficult instruments, but for me, the violin is plenty difficult and I am sure that I will spend the rest of my life working at it.   

From pedro botsaris
Posted on September 23, 2009 at 05:58 PM

  to get a good tone from the violin... that's whats reallly tricky ... 

From Rob Schnautz
Posted on September 24, 2009 at 04:33 AM

Ah, nobody mentioned the quality, just whether it was difficult to produce sound. :)

From Joshua Brumley
Posted on September 24, 2009 at 01:03 PM

I've both dabbled and seriously practiced various instruments over the years, violin being the latest. And I can honestly say each has it's own set of challenges that others usually don't have. I study guitar and piano as well as violin. I also dabble with harmonica, penny whistle, and drums.

One thing I have found is that what I've learned with other instruments seems to give me a bit of a head start in learning the violin. Learning piano, for example, has taught me the basics of reading music which have allowed me to read the practice lines quicker. Guitar has helped work my left hand when doing chord shapes and hammers/pulls so I was I able to get note changing and hand shapes down (but not mastered yet and my left hand is cramping), a little faster. I was able to do the D scale at a slightly slower than normal pace without error after one attempt. 

That all being said, there are a few things that are a bit more challenging with  violin than either.  Violin strings are closer to each other than on a guitar, so I have to be more conscious of where I place my fingers. I'm also trying to find the correct positioning of my left hand where I can both reach the strings easily and not twist my wrist to the point of pain for 1/2 an hour, ( I just started last friday so It'll come in time I hope).

My 50 cents.

From pedro botsaris
Posted on September 24, 2009 at 02:40 PM

 hey joshua....

 

i find the bow hand soooo much harder than the finger board.  once you've got you left hand shaped right in tune everything flows.... but the right hand.. i guess people spend a lifetime learning all sort of bow techniques and getting a perfect tone.

 

pedro. 

From Jenni Bean
Posted on October 14, 2009 at 06:16 AM

The violin is hands-down the hardest musical instrument to learn!!!
Also the most addictive, hypnotizing, rewarding... in that sell-your-soul- to it kinda way...

From Casey Jefferson
Posted on October 14, 2009 at 07:03 AM

I think violin is the most difficult instrument to start with.

But any instruments are equally as hard to master. I play both piano and violin, a little drums and guitars.

I can tell you how hard it is to maintain a smooth fingering and sound when playing piano, and how much notes you need to take care compared to violin. Playing guitar isn't all that easier - the tunings in 4th is not as easy as in fith, with 5ths it seems everything so symmetrical while the 4ths isn't, and you have 6 strings to take care with! Then, the drums, it's pushing human coordinations to the limit! You literally have to dance on the drums when you're about to play something in the jazz genres, each of your hands/legs are doing something different.

From Smiley Hsu
Posted on October 17, 2009 at 02:01 AM

The Tchaikovsky violin concerto is certainly one of the toughest concertos for violin.  But playing the violin AND orchestra parts at the same time brings new meaning to the word "difficult."  Thanks to Jonathan for posting the following:

www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm

 

From Cesar Ribera
Posted on October 17, 2009 at 06:00 AM

"I think violin is the most difficult instrument to start with....But any instruments are equally as hard to master. I play both piano and violin, a little drums and guitars."

first, why doy you suppose that the hardest intrument to start with, somehow then becomes easier, so the other instruments catch up?

From what I've read, even top notch violin soloists say that they can't 'relax' or take it for granted in violin.....

Drums? drums may be physically challenging, but physically challenging activities not always imply intelectual complexity.....

ANY drum solo by famous drummers is replicated by students with some intense practice...I've seen it with my own eyes, my 2 nephews are teenage drummers with average experience....and I really get to see a violinist progressing at such rate, or able to interpret the most famous solos, perhaps not as perfect as superstars, but very alike

...you can't say the same about violin solos...isn't it? can you imagine a intermediate student that with several weeks of practice dedicated to Bach Chaconne, will get a similar result seen on Vengerov?

From Clyde Pearce
Posted on October 17, 2009 at 07:59 PM

In the original question I noticed there was a reference to bowing challenges early on.  My violin teacher taught me finger positions without introducing the bow at first and I think that helped a lot to minimize the amount of variables I needed to master initially.  After six months of lessons I sat down and listed the number of variables involved in getting good sounds out of the violin (with bowing) and identified 27!  Obviously, we cannot possibly conciously concentrate on 27 different factors simultaneously so most of those must be mastered until they are handled at a subconscious level.  Failure to achieve that is why when we focus on fingering our bowing goes to pot, and when we focus on bowing our intonation goes off.  We must master the skills subconsciously and that takes a lot of repetition and practice.  I have only had lessons on the violin,and learned some piano self taught.  As a result I never mastered the piano but can play well enough for informal enjoyment. So how can I say any other instrument is easier or more difficult if I haven't mastered the other one, whatever it might be? And the fact that I did have piano skills and voice skills and could read music did make learning the violin easier for me I think.  I absolutely agree that the question will yield different answers depending on whether you are talking about simply learning to play a few songs versus mastering the instrument, and that different people are better suited to playing particular kinds of instruments.  I know an organist (which is definitely challenging to play well as already noted) who practices very hard, has her music PHd, and makes good music, but she will never be outstanding  because it seems to always be a struggle for her.  Yet she is absolutely committed to it.  I do play the accordion also and note a comment about that.  In my opinion the accordion basically has the tonal quality determined by the engineering of the reeds and resonating parts so that modification of that is not very amenable to manipulation by the musician.  Mostly, you get what the instrument puts out.  I am not minimizing the importance of developing skill with it, just that the range of variation seems to me to be less.  Even with Myron Floren's excellent playing. The violin, tho, has a very wide range of nuances available to a skilled violinist so that there is an incredible difference between a master violinist and the student who can only play "Twinkle Twinkle  ...".  To me, the fact that the violin is so challenging is a good thing because although many people attempt to play it most give it up before achieving mastery and as a result the longer I continue to work on improving my skills the more I am able to take pride in being able to distinguish myself from others who quit at a lower level.   If it was easy to play than achieving great skill would not make me feel very special.  For example, I also play the CD.;-)

From Tobias Seyb
Posted on October 17, 2009 at 08:51 PM

"Drums? drums may be physically challenging, but physically challenging activities not always imply intelectual complexity.....

ANY drum solo by famous drummers is replicated by students with some intense practice...I've seen it with my own eyes,..."

Cesar, seems you haven't seen nothing yet. Real drumming is a bit different from what you hear from high school students and amateur rock drummers.

After listening to a master musician like Antonio Sanchez, for example (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efERFCN0B_0), any comment such as the above is obsolete.

Have fun.

From JUAN MANUEL DE COSIO
Posted on October 19, 2009 at 03:12 PM

Cesar,

How many instruments do you play ?

Do you ONLY play the violin ?

Did you ever try to play the piano at a decent level ?

Have you tried the guitar ?

Do you play the drums ?

If you only play the violin, then you cannot really know how difficult it is to learn other instruments.

You say :

"If some instrument if FAR more difficult than another at initial instances, I don't know why people would be so sure that the difficult instrument would equalize at advanced stages with simpler instruments..."

Why not ?  Different instruments have different learning curves with different levels of difficulty for each one, and this difficulty does not necessarily arise in an equal manner through time for all instruments. Nobody can say that the violin becomes less difficult at advanced learning stages ... it will always be a very difficult instrument; however, the latter does not contradict the fact that an instrument that looks "easy" to learn at the beginning (like the piano) becomes extremely difficult to play at advanced stages. Artur Rubinstein, one of the greatest pianists ever, once reported that the reason he did not record all the Op. 10 and Op. 25 Chopin etudes was because "they were very difficult".  There are in fact excellent pianists that will never be able to play certain works due to their extremely high degree of complexity and difficulty. Of course, one has to be a pianist in order to understand all this, and the same happens with the guitar, the cello, the oboe, etc.

As per your reasoning, if Arithmetic is simple to learn (for example, 2 + 2 = 4, easy !!!), then it also should be easy to demonstrate that the number 24430000767654111232424441911 is a prime number !  Try it !!

 

 

 

From Ronald Mutchnik
Posted on October 19, 2009 at 03:39 PM

Remember too that the degree of difficulty is also tied up with how composers write for the instrument and the demands made on the player. If you start to add in pieces of music that require the player to quickly tune the violin up or down in the middle of a piece to change the pitches of the open string or to tap the instrument or produce sounds outside the usual pizzicato and arco producing tones or sing at the same time you are playing, or playing subharmonics,  then the difficulty increases even more. The same is true of other instruments- winds have their multiphonics, pianists have music requiring them to play inside the piano and at the keyboard, and so on. In a way,  any instrument can be very challenging if a composer writes music for it that requires new skills or a new way of conceiving of playing it.


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