Advice and Resources - Self Learning Violin

Edited: January 6, 2018, 11:03 PM · After browsing through these forums a bit, I'm not sure this is the best place to find this kind of advice, but maybe somebody can at least point me in the right direction.

In brief, I have a contract working at a remote research station where there will be very few people, zero options for travel, and 24 hour darkness for months. Since I'm going to be stuck and won't want to spend much time outside and will have lots of quiet rooms where I won't disturb people, it seems like a fantastic opportunity to learn an instrument. Obviously there are a lot of limitations too (primarily that I won't be able to attend lessons with an actual instructor.) Basically I'm looking for advice and/or resources to get me set up doing this. I'll include more details below, but that's about the gist of this post.

More background - I inherited a violin that belonged to my great grandpa a couple years ago. It's nothing super fantastic, but obviously has a great deal of sentimental value. My family decided to give it to me because they figured I'd be the most likely to actually learn it. I spent a small fortune getting it all fixed up and in playable condition and then took a few lessons. My instructor was well respected in the folk/bluegrass community and her lessons were not cheap. However, I quit after just a few lessons because I didn't feel like I was learning any fundamentals or music theory. Also, she was clearly not spending any time prepping for the lessons (she'd write out music while I was sitting there in front of her instead of beforehand and things like that) and that seemed ridiculous considering the cost. While it was immensely satisfying to be able to sort of vaguely scratch out some things that were recognizable as songs after just a few hours, I didn't feel like I knew anything more about music than when I started. So I quit and found a more I guess classically trained (?) instructor. Less folky anyway. She was fantastic but I only got about 4 lessons in before I moved to Alaska and didn't bring my violin because was going to be living in a tent. That was about 3 years ago and I haven't had the opportunity to take any more lessons or practice regularly since.

So now, since I'll be stuck at this remote research station, I'm thinking about buying a cheap violin on Amazon and spending the winter months at least trying to relearn to read music and be able to make sounds that seem more like notes than cat screaming. I know self-learning violin seems to be very frowned upon, but I figure I may never learn if I wait around until I'm in the same place long enough (while also having enough money) to take real lessons. Learning poorly may be better than not learning at all? Plus I hopefully will be in a place to resume lessons once I finish this contract next October.

But, I'm a little hesitant. I've only had a handful of lessons (half of which were all but useless,) have very little musical experience otherwise, and will not have access to stores to buy things like new strings or books, nor will I have access to people who can do things like restring a violin. I don't want to spend the money getting started if I'm just setting myself up for failure. At the same time, I'm excited by the idea. I should have time to practice at least a couple hours every day. I like the idea of picking up a skill over this contract instead of just wasting time/making money.

Other considerations:
-Besides a handful of violin lessons, I played guitar a little in highschool and drums through college. I could kind of read simple music in highschool, and could read music for drums fairly proficiently, though I've forgotten a lot. And drum music only goes so far for other instruments. I would MOSTLY be starting from scratch.
-Ultimately, I would be most interested in probably playing more folky/bluegrassy type music but obviously not opposed to learning other styles, especially initially.
-I'm in a terrible environment. It's going to be incredibly cold and it's very, very dry. I imagine this will effect an instrument and most likely negatively.
-The violin I was looking at is only $120 on Amazon. I was going to buy a different bow and different strings per the recommendation of one of the reviewers. Not sure I can even put strings on by myself though? I imagine youtube could show me? Anyway, I'd be working with cheap equipment.
-I have no delusions of becoming an amazing expert musician at any point of my life. But it would be pretty fantastic if I could eventually play music casually with my friends on occasion. My very highest aspiration in the music realm would probably be playing at some kind of backwoods pub or something similar.

Does anybody have any suggestions? Online resources? Good lesson/music books to purchase? Inexpensive equipment recommendations? Tips for dealing with cold and dry weather? Advice to just forget about it and learn the guitar or something instead? Tips on what to stock up on if I need my resources to last about 9-10 months? I can order things until about the end of the month. Shortly after that, flights stop coming so we won't get any more mail so I need to make decisions quickly.
Maybe even an idea on where else I could ask these questions/get this kind of advice?

Thank you for any help!

Replies (8)

January 6, 2018, 11:08 PM · Well, you said you’re interested in bluegrass/folky music. That’s a clear goal and a very good one. I think the good news is that it’s very feasible to self learn in those styles of music. I don’t like to use the word easier, but those are styles of music that can be much more forgiving. Lots of well-known folk fiddlers have “wrong” technique by classical standards, but they sound just fine for the music they play. I think youtube will be your best friend. A book of simple folk/bluegrass melodies can help as well, and you watch youtube videos for technique... Again, without a teacher, you’re likely to develop a technique that’s your own (that’s a nice way to put it), but really, for those styles of music , it might not matter...

It could be nice to get the occasional skype lesson though!

January 7, 2018, 12:28 AM · has what you want and need.
January 7, 2018, 1:12 AM · Hi Kate, check out this page. In my opinion it has been voted by most members as the best online source. It's from professor Todd Ehle, and his videos are hosted on YouTube.

Other great youtube learning sources:

Kurt Sassmannshaus (violinmasterclass)

Beth Blakerby (violinlab), Michael Sanchez (violin tutor pro), etc.

January 7, 2018, 8:23 AM · You can search this site for threads like this, as they're plentiful.
January 7, 2018, 8:32 AM · If you're going to be in a place with a lot of scientists, it's possible, perhaps even likely, that there will be at least one or two violinists among them.
January 7, 2018, 8:36 AM · Possibly. Ask around if anyone might be able to tutor you. If not, you're stuck with self-learning.
January 7, 2018, 11:55 AM · Prepare for small problems: pack a few sets of strings, especially a few extra E strings; have a graphite pencil or some peg compound for sticky strings, and extra batteries for your tuner; pack more variety in sheet music in case your tastes or interest requires some wandering and explorations.
January 7, 2018, 3:05 PM · Thank you all for the responses! I've looked over the links provided and they all seem like fantastic resources. I'm more excited now and I think I'm going to do it. The worst that happens is I'm out a couple hundred dollars or I learn some bad habits, but like I said, at this rate, I won't learn at all if I don't just jump in and start.

I'm also glad to hear that the music I'll be most likely to be drawn to makes the violin a slightly more forgiving instrument.

Ha. Denis, I like your phrasing of "a technique that’s your own". I might look into Skype lessons as well. It seems better than nothing. Technically skype isn't allowed on the station because it uses too much of our very limited bandwidth, but there may be some work-arounds and there's a lot more bandwidth to go around during the winter.

I'll poke around these forums a bit more too for similar threads and see what has been suggested to others in similar situations. Thanks!

There are a lot of scientists hanging around during the summer months as well as non-scientist musicians, but the station population drops heavily for the winter months (when I'll have the most time,) and all the researchers/scientists leave. The station is left with bare-bones support staff. Still, there should be slightly over 100 people around, there's a chance they'll be somebody willing and able to tutor me a bit. I'll be sure to ask around.

And thanks again for these links and the advice. I appreciate it.

I feel like I'll get a great sense of satisfaction if I just get as far as relearning to read music, even if I end up always sounding like garbage on the violin. Plus I'm sure my family would get a kick out of hearing me play something recognizable as a song on my great grandpa's fiddle even if it's not actually all that pretty.

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