My progress so far as a self-taught violinist. (2 month)

Edited: April 14, 2018, 10:56 PM · It's been 2 months since I first picked up the violin and looking back on my first day in the music store (when my mother was laughing because I was making dying cow sounds) I really feel like I've come a long way. What's even more exciting is that it's only been 2 months so that there are more things to understand.
I posted my 1 month progress here and got some really good advice so, I decided to do it again. Here's my progress since a month ago.
I've understood the third position and can play some notes in it.
Intonation isn't the best but it's improving. I won't attempt vibrato until it gets somewhat close to 'good enough'.
Third finger has strengthened so I'm starting to play fourth finger notes instead of open strings so that my pinky stops acting 'special'. XD
I can play 'Ode to joy' pretty good now and so I've started 'He's a pirate' which (I know) is a fast paced difficult song but I'm learning the beginner/easy version. The reason being that the constant note changing from one string to the other is good exercise.
I've let go of practicing for a specific amount of time and instead I practice when I have time or when I want to or when I feel a rush of energy. The average time that I've practiced in the last month (because of the above mention reason) is approx. 2 hours a day. And this is not constantly me playing for 2 hours, I just pick up my violin more than once a day but sometimes I keep practicing for long when I'm having a lot of fun and I don't want to stop. Other times when I don't feel like playing at all I only do a few exercises.
I can play the intro to Canon in D efficiently and a few measures after that since I'm taking my time to sing the notes, understand them and play them. i'm moving one measure at a time. Meaning that until I get it right I won't move on to the next measure.
I've also started Crystallize which some of you might think I'm being really ambitious but really I'm only practicing that one when I get bored and want to understand trickier notes.
'Aloette' is a simple song but I keep forgetting the notes and what it's supposed to sound like so it's sounds a video buffering. :P
I've also decided to do straight-bowing exercises before starting any piece.
Also, I've made "Don't stop practicing when you get it right, stop practicing when you can't get it wrong" my practice motto.
What do you think? Is this okay for as an average for a 2 month old beginner? Anything I should add? Any exercises that you recommend?
P.S. I'm using the violinspiration song book as a guide for now.
P.S.S. This is the link to my last thread:
Just in case you might want to compare.
Please and thank you.

Replies (39)

April 15, 2018, 1:20 AM · "Is this okay for as an average for a 2 month old beginner? "

That's very young to begin the violin! Why don't you wait until you are three or four, like most people?

April 15, 2018, 3:18 AM · @Peter Charles That's not what I meant! Sorry I wasn't clear enough! By "2 month old" I meant playing for 2 months; not the age.
April 15, 2018, 3:25 AM · I know - I was just teasing you! It's English humour and comes with a health warning!

It sounds as if you are doing quite well, but an occasional lesson from a really good teacher will hopefully safely steer you where you may be going wrong.

April 15, 2018, 8:34 AM · Sounds reasonable, except most people don't usually do 3rd position after 2 months of playing. Focus on sounding good.
April 15, 2018, 10:47 PM · @ Ella

I think it's easier to start in 4th or 5th position - it's much more natural and the hand shape is correct from the word go. But then I'm a weirdo so don't listen to me! (wink)

Edited: April 16, 2018, 2:01 AM · Nice progress.

My advice, though, is that you should probably wait with 2nd position a bit longer. First make sure you are bowing straight and that you got the 1st position right. Especially if you have bo teacher.

Also, make sure to record your play every now and then (the sound), so you can hear yourself. What you think is good sounding under the ear more often than not sounds terrible to a third person in the room (trust me on this one).

Edited: April 18, 2018, 6:57 PM · Your progress seems AMAZING. I have about the same amount of time in playing violin as you (this past month, plus a couple months-ish a few years ago) and I'm honestly still primarily playing scales and drilling on open strings because I keep hitting hitting two strings at a time! Not for the entire duration of the note, but generally just a squeak as I switch, but it's SO frustrating because I can't seem to improve. In fact, sometimes I'm worried that by practicing string changes over and over, I'm just training myself to do it incorrectly more efficiently.
My intonation is complete garbage, I really only know the E and A strings (and really just an A scale) and am only barely starting to learn a D scale and the D string. I can't bow straight at all unless I'm looking in a mirror and even then it's a real challenge and as soon as I step away from the mirror or glance away from it, my bowing goes all wonky again.
And I've been practicing quite a bit and very consistently.

I've also been practicing Ode To Joy, but it sounds bad and I get frustrated with the squeaks from hitting two strings during string transitions.

I'm actually really frustrated, if you can't tell.

All that is to say that it seems like you're doing super well! In fact I'm a touch jealous! Though it does sound like you have been practicing more each day. I had some pain problems early on so I could only do short practices and due to my work/living schedule, I can only practice at a certain time in the evening.
But awesome job! It's encouraging to see others self-teaching and making good progress. Hopefully my learning curve is just different and I'll hit a growth spurt soon.

April 18, 2018, 9:40 PM · Yes, everyone learns differently, Kate. Make sure that you aren't overtensing your bow arm and hand, and try to keep your string crossing motions as small, quick, and precise as possible without overtensing. Have you used tapes or markers on your violin?
April 18, 2018, 10:01 PM ·
Do NOT use tapes or markers on the violin! You must train your ears to hear that you are playing in tune. Practise one fingered scales on each string or on the most comfortable string. This will train you ear to hear the correct pitch.

If you are having problems with the bow it will be because you are holding the instrument incorrectly. (And probably the bow as well). You need guidance on how to get the holding position correct and get the angles right.

April 18, 2018, 10:43 PM · Don't listen to Charles. If tapes help you, use them. If they don't, then don't use them.
April 19, 2018, 1:14 AM · Don't listen to Williams. Any teacher who put tapes on for my kid's fingerboards I would have sacked immediately. It's a recipe for bad intonation.
April 19, 2018, 1:18 AM · Ha. Such a strong opinion!

I do have one of those vinyl stickers on my fingerboard. I use it a bit when learning a new song or a new scale but have mostly weaned myself from it when practicing the few little tunes that I've done so far from the book I'm following, or when practicing scales (which is the majority of my practices lately.) I've been ignoring it a lot more this past week since I've been focusing on my bowing and, like I mentioned, I have to really watch myself in the mirror to keep it even slightly straight.Obviously if I'm watching my bow, I can't look at the sticker.
I'm hoping with enough practice eventually it will click and I'll be able to bow somewhat straight without the aid of a mirror.

Despite my frustration with this endeavor on a whole, I actually think training my ears to hear that I'm playing in tune is my one area of at least slight progress. In fact, I thought I was getting WORSE at playing as I practiced more, but I think I was just learning to hear how bad I'd been all along.

I've been doing a lot of playing VERY slowly while watching my tuner and a bit of playing along with the drone of my tuner. Most importantly, I found that my book came with an audio download that I didn't notice previously so I've been able to play along with a recording of all the scales and tunes and I think that has helped immensely, even just in the last week. I've also tried singing and humming along with the scales as every single resource I've read/watched has suggested that. No real progress there - my tuner always says that my singing/humming is way off and it's hard for me to adjust it correctly, but hopefully that process of trying and failing is still helping me understand/hear proper pitch.

Ugh, I definitely need guidance on holding the violin and probably the bow even more so. Sadly, other than online videos, no guidance is available at the moment.

Edited: April 19, 2018, 1:33 AM · Using a drone is very good for ear training. You can use an open string as well as this will show up any notes that are off pitch. And as for the use of markers/tapes you will have to decide who to believe. We all have to do this with many things and live by the consequences.

If you bring the fiddle a bit more to the right so you are looking down the fingerboard you might find your bowing centred between bridge and fingerboard where you will get the best sound. Of course the correct bow hold is very important as well. (And you need to decide between Franco Belgium or Russian bow hold). (This is why you need a good teacher, which in themselves are hard to come by).

April 19, 2018, 2:28 AM · Well, I'm certainly no teacher, but I really doubt a few glances at fingerboard markers in my first few months will do me in. But I do think it could quickly become an easy crutch so I'm definitely putting some effort into using it sparingly. Anyway, with the angle of sight, I think it's just about as hard to see if you're hitting the right spot as it is to hear if you're hitting the right spot.
But as somebody with very little musical experience, I'm not sure where I'd even start if I hadn't had it for the first few weeks. I think it's helpful for me to at least get some sense of the spacing since i don't have a teacher to physically put my fingers where they belong for the first time.

Due to the way my book is arranged, I so far have a decent sense of what would be the 2nd, 4th, and 5th frets (at least on the E and A strings, and slowly learning D) if a violin had such a thing. I'll probably remove the vinyl sticker shortly and may add it back once the book starts trying to teach me 1st and 3rd 'frets' or 6th I guess?
Or actually probably not because with 2nd, 4th, and 5th somewhat down I think I should have enough of a general sense of where the others should be that I'll be close enough to let my ears take over, if that makes sense.

I'd about kill for a decent teacher. Or, lets be honest, at this point I'd be happy with a mediocre teacher. This self learning thing is HARD.

I'm really struggling with a bow hold. I realized I was doing this weird thing where my pinky was locked out and kind of hitting the side of the bow instead of the top. After noticing that anybody I saw play had either a curved pinky or a pinky that lifted right off the bow, I decided I should probably try to stop that so I watched a lot of videos explaining proper bow holds and tried to get my pinky curved and resting on the top of my bow. I don't know if I'm just going from one incorrect hold to another even worse one, or if I just got really used to my old incorrect hold, but switching to what I believe is the more correct hold has really messed up my playing. I think that's when my squeaking from hitting other strings thing really started happening. Also the bow just feels more awkward in general. But I'm hoping I'm on the right path and the awkwardness is just due to the 10 - 15 hours of practice I spent accidentally getting used to the wrong hold.
I just wish I could get even one lesson so somebody could tell me if I'm on the right track or not.

Ha. I'm really just ranting now, but in real life, I'm pretty sure all my friends are sick of me complaining about my thus far unsuccessful foray into violin playing. At least on a violin forum people can just scroll past it and don't have to politely listen. ;)

April 19, 2018, 4:24 AM · For an absolute beginner, stickers are sort of a must... For anyone else thry are detrimental.
April 19, 2018, 6:48 AM · Well, Bruno, I think it would be better for absolute beginners to play scales one octave up each string using one finger. Putting fingers down by-passes the ear and only train the ear to think in terms of one two three four etc., which is usually out of tune, and which has led to the use of tapes or marks. So we will have to disagree on this one.
April 19, 2018, 11:29 AM · How many beginners have you taught, Peter?

"Putting fingers down by-passes the ear and only train the ear to think in terms of one two three four etc"

Your oversimplification of how a beginner perceives and uses tapes is pretty irritating. SOME people can learn without tapes, but not everyone can. And when you take someone who needed tapes to start with and then convince them they must just suck because they needed them, you're basically ensuring their demise on the violin.

The closest example I can use is learning to do pull-ups. Some people have the pre-requisite strength to do at least one pull-up. So with these people, they can eventually do 2 pull-ups, then 3, and so on.

But what about someone who can't yet do one pull-up? They'll never, ever get to the point where they can do one pullup, because each workout will just be an attempt followed by failure. So, we give them an elastic band that makes it an "assisted pull-up". This way, they can have a success in the total movement which eventually will translate into 2 assisted pullups, and then 3, and then even later down the road, a full, unassisted pullup. If we'd told this person that "only sissies use the elastic band", and they followed our advice, then they would never, ever get to the point of doing one pull-up.

One-finger scales, drones, etc... are all terrific, but they're pretty useless for someone who hasn't yet learned basic music. Can you hum a tune? Well, that means you already have a foundation in music. It means your ear is already trained to recognize half steps and whole steps. So are you going to take someone who can't hum, who can't aurally differentiate between half steps and whole steps, and just tell them to "find the notes by ear"?

It's so easy for those who don't teach a wide variety of beginners to talk about how to teach; I can usually tell how many beginners a person has taught based on how idealistic and ridid their viewpoints are.

Oh, last thing: even in a student who has aural abilities and some musical foundation, tapes are still great to start with, as they assist in proper hand structure. Some students outgrow the tapes faster than others, but they all start with them. I've never had a problem "weaning" a student off once it's time to take their tapes off. In fact, I generally take the tapes off because the student just doesn't really use them anymore. I haven't seen any evidence that the tapes cause them to "only think with their eyes" because I train them from an early stage to listen to the notes, despite the tapes being there as a helpful reference.

April 19, 2018, 11:33 AM · Oh and Kate, you'd probably do best just putting your thumb on the bottom of the frog until you get some understanding of how the bow interacts with the strings. Otherwise you're going to build an insane amount of tension trying to make your bow hand look "like it's supposed to".
April 19, 2018, 12:33 PM · "How many beginners have you taught, Peter?"

Well, I taught beginners from about 1963 on and off until about 2010 - violin and viola and including briefly on the cello. I also have taught fairly advanced players as well. However, most of my career was spent playing in orchestras, for what that may be worth. (Probably not a lot!)

Incidentally some of those quotes I wrote come from a fantastic player and teacher, Ruggiero Ricci, you may have heard of him? And I've met at least one of his pupils, several times. Ricci certainly would not condone using tapes, although he taught mainly very advanced players.

Although I don't teach anymore, I still keep up and play a lot, although recently I've had a 4 month gap due to illness. At the moment whilst still recovering i play about 3 hours a day, and would do more if I physically could.

I presume from you bio that you are a fairly young teacher, and I wonder what your experience is?

April 19, 2018, 12:52 PM · I have also met some of Ricci’s former pupils, Ricci resided in Sanremo sometimes between the end of 80s’ and 90s’, providing masterclass for some excellent students of that time once a month. His viewpoint is very close to what is emphasized in Italian conservatory: to train the ability of identifying pitch by ear, especially the interval between sounds, tape is not allowed in that condition. In fact I think it is necessary to find some videos about solfeggio via YouTube for OP. In traditional violin pedagogy, a sense of good relative pitch is very important, this should be trained at very beginning and can be trained.
Edited: April 19, 2018, 1:00 PM · Yes in many ways Europe has better training than for example the UK. Solfeggio is very good and can be of great benefit for beginners and even more advanced players. I can't comment on the US as I don't know their system, but they do produce some fine players, and some great modern violins. However, there are a lot of modern methods being promoted from different places all over the world, but few I fear are really worthwhile.
April 19, 2018, 1:39 PM · One fingered scales? That's not going to work any better unless the student already has well-developed relative pitch.

Self-teaching is hard, especially for someone who doesn't have a lot of experience on other instruments. The main reason I was able to self-teach without big intonation problems was that violin and viola were my fifth and sixth instruments respectively, not counting voice!

Kate: it may be useful for you to learn to sing or hum scales in addition to playing them, and also to get familiar with how all the intervals sound. There are a number of resources online that teach intervals. A simple one that plays the notes together, ascending, and descending:

I didn't use tapes myself, but I'm agnostic on them. For someone with no music background, they can be useful, as long as they're correctly placed and the student is learning to fine-tune by ear.

April 19, 2018, 2:03 PM · Are you under the impression that the students entering ricci's tutelage were "average" in any capacity?

We can talk all day about what works for exceptional students, but I'm generally more concerned about what works for average students, or even below-average ones.

I sang before I ever began violin, so I already had a musical base. My mom also played piano so I knew the sounds of half steps and whole steps, as well as all other intervals that are relevant for a beginner.

I've seen the results of average or below-average students who were taught before me without ever having seen tapes, and it's not pretty.

Regarding my experience, I have been teaching for about 10 years and have taught well over a hundred students. Most of my experience comes from teaching either children or adults who are brand new to violin and often brand new to music in any capacity. That is to say, they come into my studio without having developed rhythm, intonation, or the ability to sing/hum. Despite using tapes, a vast majority learn how to identify and correct intonation, how to play with rhythm, how to sight-read, and all other skills that a player needs. And the benefit is that their left hand formation is very solid by the time we remove he tapes.

I should also mention that it's possible to learn without tapes, but it requires very dense/long practice sessions, and most of my students don't have more than 30 minutes a day to dedicate to violin. I'm working with what I have, and basing my teaching method on what works in my particular situation with my particular set of students.

April 19, 2018, 2:20 PM · By the way, I can vouch for Erik's students. I am principal violist in a community orchestra in Erik's city. I have had one of his adult-beginner students in my section, and her intonation is fine.
April 19, 2018, 4:00 PM · Thanks for the link, Andrew. I think I'll be using that a lot. I've definitely been trying to sing and hum scales since EVERYTHING I've read suggests doing that for ear training, but god am I bad.

I also signed up for a music theory class through coursera. I don't think it will help my ear training much, but I'm hoping it might give me some foundations and understanding to better utilize (mostly online) resources that I do have.

Erik, I read the thumb-on-the-frog suggestion (for beginners) in a few different places, so I did try it. It was even harder! Admittedly, I only tried it for a couple practices before giving up and going back to my normal bow hold.
I did have a handful or two of lessons a few years ago and my teacher at the time said that my bow hold was pretty good for a beginner, though she did remind me to relax and also moved my pinky a few times.
I just don't know how much I've forgotten after not playing or having lessons for a few years after that, and then this last month or so of self-teaching.

My general philosophy for now is to just keep experimenting, try to stay as loose as possible, and hope that some poor teacher will be able to magically fix all my problems in October. ¯\_(?)_/¯

April 19, 2018, 5:04 PM · It's also possible that you're just not as bad as you think you are, Kate. Part of what a teacher does for you is tell you how your progress is going from an objective standpoint; it can be dangerous when the student is also the only audience, because negative feedback loops are unstoppable in this situation.

Thanks Andrew, but be careful about associating your name with heretics like me!

April 19, 2018, 6:27 PM · Heretics? Ha! You're downright "establishment" compared to me. I self-taught for the first 16 years, and played seven Beethoven symphonies and performed the Bruch Romanze as soloist with an orchestra before my first lesson. Mostly because, after being rejected by multiple teachers when I was trying to start, I mistakenly thought for a long time that I'd have to get all the way to conservatory level on my own in order to have any chance of being accepted for lessons as an adult. So I'm all for learning in non-traditional ways.
April 20, 2018, 3:39 AM · I'm not using tapes because they will leave a sticky residue when I take them off and I might now be able to clean it so I'd have to take my violin to a luthier which isn't accessible. I learn a song and when I'm comfortable enough to play it without being tense then I record my self ans see (and hear) what I've been doing wrong. Sometimes I compare my sound to other beginner's videos to see if I'm worse or better. Why don't you try that Kate? :)
April 20, 2018, 3:05 PM · That's an interesting idea. I have started recording myself, but I'm not sure I've been getting too much insight from it just yet. Most of my mistakes are big enough that I hear them while I make them.

I haven't tried listening to other beginners. I guess that might be nice to see if I'm 'where I should be'. Then again, not sure what to do to fix it if I'm not. But maybe it will make me feel better about my slow progress? It sure is hard to coax a nice sound out of this dang instrument!

As I'm getting pretty frustrated with right handed stuff/bowing drills, I might take a week to focus more on left hand again and learn some new tunes - just to keep my moral up. I seem to do a lot better with left hand stuff anyway. It was the same when I learned guitar - my strumming was garbage but I could move my left hand fingers pretty quickly and accurately. I spend more time on what I suck at, but at a certain point, that's just going to make it not fun, which is not the point.

April 21, 2018, 11:26 AM · Why don't you try to do open strings and finger excercises? In my first month I didn't attempt to play any songs. I practiced open strings an hour a day for the first week, first finger the next week, second and first finger the next week, three fingers the week after that and after three weeks of practicing fingers then I attempted to play 'au Claire de la lune' which sounded horrid but I kept going as well as doing finger excercises to warm up before every practice session. Try that. No matter how good you think you are keep practicing fingers and bowing as warmups until you at least become intermediate. That's what I'm doing. Try that for a week or so. :)
I hope this helps.
April 21, 2018, 12:07 PM · Violetta is correct. Beginners need to start every day with long, open strings, drawing out the tone and trying to relax while doing the correct movement. Then only introduce one finger at a time.

I recommend Samuel Applebaum's "string builder" book one, as it introduces things in this order.

April 21, 2018, 1:35 PM · Ha. Open strings is about allll I've been doing. This past couple weeks or more, I spend about half an hour on open strings, then half an hour on scales.
I at least don't seem to get the string change squeak when doing open strings. Hopefully I'm making progress but it doesn't really feel like it.
April 21, 2018, 1:50 PM · Honestly, progress on the violin is rarely noticeable by the pupil. It's like trying to watch yourself grow taller as a child. You wouldn't re-measure your height daily. You'd do it once every several months. So you should re-evaluate your total progress thinking in terms of months rather than days. Then everything will make more sense to you.

Violin is a very wide pool that you're filling with water (and it gets wider the more advanced you become). You have to put quite a lot of water in before you actually notice the water level rise. But, for all your efforts, you are eventually rewarded with a very large pool to swim in. Something like guitar or piano is like filling a thin beaker with water. Our efforts are immediately noticed, but the pool always stays narrow because our options for expression are always limited by the very thing that made it so easy in the first place.

The very thing that makes violin difficult is what makes it special. Embrace the difficulty and the violin will reward you.

April 21, 2018, 9:12 PM · This is the website I used for the excercises:
Try to make goals like "I'll finish this bar in the next three days" or something. That really helped me because I knew what I was aiming for so I knew which direction I should head.
Also @Erik Williams, you just reminded me of something I've been doing that I should've told Kate a few comments ago. You're so right about re-evaluating the total progress. I do this by recording my videos and keeping them. So that when I re-record a piece a week later, I can understand how much I've improved. Try that as well Kate.
April 23, 2018, 12:13 AM · Good points, Erik. I appreciate the encouragement.
Sometimes it seems as though I'm getting worse instead of better, but I'm hoping that's just because I'm just learning to hear mistakes better, which is definitely a form of progress.

Violetta, thanks for the link. I'll check out some of those videos. I think I may have watched one or two before just in my various youtube browsing for tips and learning strategies.
And you're so right on the recording thing. I'm going to start trying to do that soon.

In (hopefully) better new, my practice today went much better than my last few. I sounded a lot nicer, wasn't squeaking on string changes, and when I played a scale with my tuner, I was on the right pitch much more reliably than I have been recently.
I stopped concentrating on improving my bow hold which caused me to naturally go back to my original bow hold. Obviously it's hard for me to say, but I don't think my bow hold is wildly inappropriate. I was partially just experimenting with slight changes to see if it might solve some of my little problems. My pinky is also usually pretty straight. Not TOTALLY locked out most of the time, but not very curved. I was trying to remedy that.
Maybe I'll just stick with my current bow hold until I can get some real feedback from an actual instructor instead of experimenting somewhat blindly. Sure, the longer I play with it the harder it will be to change, but at least I'll have guidance and know I'm on the right path if I try to change under proper instruction.
Thanks again for the tips, Violetta. Its nice to hear from a fellow beginner who is doing pretty well. :)

April 23, 2018, 2:22 AM · If there were some way of sending you some tips and advice away from the forum I could do so. That way we won't attract opposing opinions. My email should be on my profile page. If you would rather not, then don't worry.
April 23, 2018, 5:41 AM · I'd say don't worry about the bow hold too much. I think that the main purpose of a perfect bow hold is for the violinist to feel relaxed and comfortable. I had the same problems with the pinky and I didn't start concentrating on curving it until a week ago. I thought I'd open up to the violin first and have the violin warm up to me. Now with the new curved pinky it feels like my bow will slip out of my hands. XD
April 23, 2018, 5:42 AM · Peter Charles:".... But then I'm a weirdo so don't listen to me! (wink)

Will: LOL

Well, you are English, Peter old chap so it's perfectly understandable and we can make allowances for you! :-)

Edited: April 23, 2018, 9:15 AM · In my forty-five years of teaching, I can affirm that in no way do initial visual clues prevent one from listening and playing in tune. Students who never make that transition have been very poorly taught!

And a student's time does not belong to the teacher....
So we have to choose the best path for each student, rather than impose only what worked for ourselves.

I'm English too, but sometimes "we are not amused!"

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