How to Succeed as a Beginning Violin Student

August 12, 2017, 6:53 PM · As of this year, I've been teaching for 25 years! This year I also find myself in a season of transition, as three longtime students leave for college and I welcome the same number of beginners into my studio. How can I help set them up for success? What do they need to understand about setting expectations and committing their time and efforts?

beginning violinist

Here are some of the most important things I came up with. Please add any ideas of your own in the comment sections!

Commit to practicing every day

Daily practice leads to success - and success leads to satisfaction with your music-making. Practicing every day accomplishes more than practicing long hours infrequently. Playing the violin requires physical strength, coordination, balance and mental concentration. Just as athletes need consistency routines to develop their talents, so do musicians. Daily practice also creates a virtuous circle: the more you practice, the better you play. The better you play, the more you practice! Start with the goal of practicing 21 days in a row, to set the practice habit. Then aim for a longer streak of practice days -- a month, 100 days, a year! The more days you practice in a row, the easier it becomes to keep your daily practice going.

Choose a good teacher, then put your trust in that teacher

A good teacher knows how to play well, and a good teacher knows how to teach well. Choosing a teacher is not like choosing an apple at the market; it's a mutual decision to meet for a period of time, every single week, for years. So take time and care with this decision. Once you have chosen a teacher, you'll need to trust that person to guide you through uncharted territory. This can be at times uncomfortable, as you try the unfamiliar, so trust is essential.

Choose a good violin

You might want to wait until you have a teacher, so that your teacher can help you pick a good violin. Buyer beware: there are a lot of "deals" out there that are not really good deals! A cheap violin can create a lot of headache and frustration. A good violin is like a good computer, it serves the function and allows you to explore more possibilities.

Pay very close attention to physical set-up

Your teacher will show you how to hold you violin and bow -- and doing so correctly turns out to be very important! Playing the violin is an awkward endeavor, so at first it will likely feel strange. A lot of people get hung up on trying to make something awkward feel better; hold off on that. When you develop the relevant muscles and callouses, things will feel better. Setting yourself up with the proper ergonomics for playing will allow your technique to develop in a much more efficient way, and it will allow you to avoid injury. If, say, you hold your bow improperly, you can still play "Twinkle," but you will run into a wall down the line when you need to play "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso." Both you (and your teacher) should have big goals like that, even as a beginner! So set yourself up for full success.

Master small steps and be patient with your progress

Good violin-playing flows from having a solid foundation that includes a good set-up, accurate technique and a well-developed musical vocabulary. If you skip steps and take shortcuts, you may arrive at a juncture where you aren't able to progress further or your playing simply doesn't sound good. Master each step along the way, and you'll build a strong foundation that will serve you well for a lifetime of making beautiful music.

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August 13, 2017 at 02:09 AM · Those are great suggestions. I myself will set a goal to practice even a little bit, every day.

Another thing that I do is that after I practice, I reward myself by playing something "just for fun". Currently it's a Bach piece that I really love, and want to learn to play well. It's a little over my head right now, but I really enjoy working through it!

For other people, their "just for fun" piece might be fiddle music - Scottish or Irish folk music.

August 14, 2017 at 12:12 AM · Is that you in the picture Laurie?

August 14, 2017 at 05:18 AM · No, that's one of my former students, who is going to college this week!

August 15, 2017 at 11:01 PM · sort of on the subject, as an adult beginner, i do practice every day and except for a vacation have pretty much done that for 3-1/2 years (4 in November). where would you think is reasonable progress for me to be in the Suzuki method. i have a teacher and go once a week. i know there are many variables, just wondering if i'm progressing as i should be.

August 16, 2017 at 05:30 AM · My son wants to learn the viola but we just learned that the viola music uses the Alto Clef. He is currently also into his 3rd year of piano lessons. We are both concerned it will be difficult and confusing for him to go back forth between alto and treble, especially being a beginner. Would you recommend he just go with violin and avoid the potential issues? He is really torn what to do.

August 16, 2017 at 09:15 AM · Suzuki method is based on training for small children. It might not be ideally suited to adult students. It assumes you are practising with your parent daily, who is able to perform all the pieces with good technique and tone.

August 16, 2017 at 11:48 AM · Just as 'talent' is a multi-faceted concept, and dependent on many variables, such as the ability and willingness to practise frequently for a sustained period of time, a musical aptitude and the willingness to develop this by being able and willing to take risks, a supportive network of family and friends, a body that is strong and not susceptible to injuries, being able to succeed as a violin student as Laurie states so clearly, depends on many different parameters that each are so important for the development of a good technique right from the start.

I completely agree with Laurie that shortcuts never save time or money and unfortunately, I have come across students where progress has stalled early as a result of trying to skip steps at an earlier stage in their learning. So I am passionate about having patience and progressing slowly, building a solid technique as you develop your playing. Having a supportive teacher, who is an expert in their field, who stays positive and can motivate you when things get tough, and whom you trust completely, is perhaps the most important part of the road to success. I have written a blog about how to choose a teacher elsewhere on this site, and you can also find it here:

August 16, 2017 at 11:54 AM · Thanks for this article Laurie. I sent the link for it to the mother of a 7yo student who will have her first lesson next week. A nice way to let them know a little of what to expect in learning violin :-)

August 16, 2017 at 08:39 PM · Cheryl, when it comes to progress in the Suzuki books, that really does depend on how much practice you are doing. If you practice about an hour every day, it's pretty normal to get through about a book in a year. If you practice two hours a day, you can double that! If you practice less, then it can take years for every book.

When it comes to the Suzuki method and whether it's appropriate for adults, yes, Suzuki is fine for adults, and a Suzuki teacher can be great for an adult. Suzuki is really more a philosophy based on language learning than it is a "method.". More on that here. Certainly the concept of language-learning can be applied to adults learning an instrument, but it's not as simple as just going through the Suzuki books. The books provide a good progression of repertoire, but the teacher has to do a lot to teach technique, likely with supplemental exercises and other books.

August 16, 2017 at 08:41 PM · When it comes to learning the viola, yes, it's necessary to read alto clef, so the sooner your son starts, the better! If he's passionate about it, he'll embrace doing the work required to figure it out.

August 17, 2017 at 04:43 AM · Attention to: 73. 140. 53. 151 ~

To the Mother & Son torn between only Violin or Viola re learning accompanying clef's, I agree with Laurie that the sooner your son starts learning the Alto Clef, the better!! He will likely embrace the Alto Clef quite quickly if with a loving and patient theory on Violin/Viola teacher. Check-in with the most prominent orchestra in your area to request a teacher who knows basic simple theory for difference's between the G Clef (Violin) to the Alto (C Clef) Viola. All should be presented in very simple ways ~ through a scale, i..e.,C Major on the Violin, then immediately after playing the C Major scale (of 1 octave) show & guide the young boy the exact same C Major scale (1 octave) on the Viola & Start on the open C string, and showing the young boy the scale in a simple Scale Book with pencilled in named notes either just above each note or just below. Combining the C Major scale on the Violin (starting on C w/3rd finger on the G string to 1 octave higher (C on the A string with the 2nd finger down), for utter simplicity, will allow the young pupil to slowly feel and hear the C Major scale as it sounds on the Violin (his primary instrument) and on the Viola (his new second instrument or Cousin to his Violin) which may intrigue him! Also ask the string teacher to advise the young boy pupil then play a 1 octave C Major scale on the Piano starting on Middle C for 1 Octave, then 2 & 3 octaves as he is studying the piano. In this way, the young pupil will become familiar with the C Major 1 octave scale on 2 of 3 instruments and feel secure or surely, less overwhelmed by talk of 'how difficult' it might be to learn a scale on the Viola as compared to the Violin. This "pre - it's difficult" thinking/attitude puts an "it's hard & I'm not good enough to do this" thought into a new young pupil's mind from Day One which can impede his very natural innocence. Allowed innocence to prevail will bring a young pupil's natural curiosity to the forefront & dispel fear. There is No Reason to Fear excepting making a mistake, and most 'mistake's' I find, are Good Mistake's! A 1 Octave C Major scale with 1 note to a bow is equivalent to learning How to ride a bicycle w/ training wheels! The C Major scale is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, and shall forever be a basic pillar of security in any young or older beginning pupil's learning to play technical foundation. It offers opportunities for listening to the intonation which can in turn can become a goal to learn more exact locations on the fingerboard of where to place each fingered note to improve the intonation (aka pitch)!

Wishing the Mother with her young Son every positive thought about 'running' 2 string "Cousins" (the Violin and its Cousin, the Viola) together as friends learning new things, it will, most hopefully, inspire the young pupil to have more confidence & later on, be able to play jobs on either the Violin or the Viola! This will bring him into deeper contact & connection to future music he will play in a student orchestra, learning both Violin & Viola parts which all orchestra director's pray for!! He will be sought after and respected ~

May his struggle now cease and shopping for a very small size Viola begin with a lighter weight smaller length viola bow. (And don't Ever use too much rosin on the bow hair for it kills clarity of sound and create's white smoke into the surrounding air ... Always use a bit of rosin only when the hair on either the violin or viola bow is slick or like soap on the strings. One only needs just enough rosin for a happy brush stroke onto the strings as opposed to ugly getting-stuck contact ~ Please do remember this!!

With very best wishes, I remain

Musically yours ~

Elisabeth Matesky

August 17, 2017 at 05:53 AM · *To All! I enjoyed many common sense comments here with special interest about the subject of practising and sharing various techniques of motivation to kep daily practise routines. Very valuable ideas set down here, I would like to share 2 little tips from my earliest days of violin studies with my father, Ralph Matesky, former late National President of ASTA (the American String Teachers Association) and an acclaimed String Teaching Expert throughout the U.S., in continental Europe, Mexico and Japan. We had to have Practise Cards for every da of every month of each Year to fill in at the end of the evening. This required habit formulated by my principle teacher -father, was reviewed and all the children in Dad's elementary schools orchestras received comments on their consistency which had to be signed by a parent or a

Teacher. To this very day, I use my homemade Practise Cards and fill in each day of each month for a full Year and, Wow, do I ever suffer a Guilt complex when reading thru the last few days of practise which, occasionally has 0 practise which makes me re determine to do much better for the rest of a particular month, etcetera!! Also, a treasured loved one & not a musician, gave me a novel idea: seeing me overwhelmed by a difficult work for Violin, he very

innocently suggested, "Why don't you practise for Only 15 Minutes and see how it goes?" His idea relieved the norm opus sense of pressure I felt weighing upon my conscience, and when beginning my practise the next day, I resolved outloud to practise for only 15 minutes!! One

hour later I looked up at a clock -- astonished to see I had practised well for a full hour without any psychological stress because I only had to practise for 15 minutes!!

This psychological approach and technique has produced formidable results and, especially, if I'm under other necessary deadlines or Must Do Today lists which greatly reduces my guilt & stress ... Try C.'s "Practise for only 15 Minutes" and feel the stress dissolve and mind relax for much better & easy practise! For those who try this, I will be most interested to read stories about the 15 Minutes of Practise technique!!

Sending Hapoy Practising Wishes to All, I remain

Musically yours ~

Elisabeth Matesky *

* (c) Copyright Elisabeth Matesky, August 17, 2017. All rights reserved.

August 17, 2017 at 12:29 PM · I am an adult beginner seeking advice. I began violin lessons in July 2015 with a private teacher. I took one year of lessons weekly, 45 minutes each. I ended up leaving this teacher because it just felt like I was not progressing enough and all she was interested in was getting paid.

The furthest I got with her was learning some scales in two octaves and got to song 2 (Lightly Row) in Suzuki Volume 1. Admittedly, I have a touch of OCD, so it is difficult for me to move on unless I have mastered what I was learning perfectly.

Now that I am on my own-trying to practice it is nearly impossible. I ended up buying some other beginner practice books (Cecilio The First Lesson, Essential Elements for Strings BK 1, Scales in First Position: Whistler, and finally, New Directions for Strings BK 1)because I just don't care for the Suzuki Method- never really did.

I can read music. I played flute for over 7 years and still play just for fun but the violin is a whole different animal all of it's own! I'm becoming so discouraged but I'm trying not to.

What I'm finding is it seems like I'm on information overload. I have read and printed so many articles, bought all these different beginner practice books, and printed beginner exercises that I don't know where to start anymore. I get frustrated and end up not practicing.

Any advice anyone may have to offer would be greatly appreciated. It has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl to play violin and I am determined to do so.

August 17, 2017 at 01:06 PM · I'd suggest trying a different teacher!

August 17, 2017 at 04:57 PM · For the very discouraged Adult Beginner , 72. 219. 241. 36 ...

It is more than understandable you are experiencing student overload and Burn Out fused with each 'condition' ... Being the daughter of the most probably highly acclaimed American, NY born, String Educator, former National President of ASTA (American String Teachers Association) & recipient of ASTA's Distinguished Service Award, the late, Ralph Matesky, I can

truly recommend you go to several websites to view the works for string orchestras composed by or arranged by Ralph Matesky. Start your 'What String Books will Help Me Search" by a getting to know Ralph Matesky through his compositions & arrangements for elementary school orchestras all the way through to professional level orchestras & in-between. Go to both sites, ASCAP and BMI. Give yourself permission to leisurely view numerous listings to perceive his Body of Works for beginning orchestras & each successive orchestra following, chronologically.

Once you have a more panoramic overview of original compositions and Ralph Matesky arrangements for the full orchestra, you can then (after a rest) proceed to the Ralph Matesky Series, "How to Learn a Stringed Instrument" and view specific ideas on How to begin learning to play the Violin, which is your resolute determined Goal!! The Music Publishing Companies my late father's works & 'Method's' were published by include Carl Fischer, Neil Kjos, Alfred Music Publishing, Schirmer's, Prentice Hall and many smaller publishing companies, many of which I admit not being 100% sure of at this writing ... However, his "Learning to Play a String Instrument" Series, I'm told by many very able & respected teaching Pro's who are member's of national ASTA (or its individual State Chapter's of ASTA, i.e. Illinois ASTA, etc.) can be contacted for informed views about Father's best selling series published, I believe, Prentice Hall or Alfred Music Publishing, w/ Headquarters in California.

It is my personal grave regret my born to teach father isn't here to help you because Dad had No prejudice's against any person or person's loving Music and wishing to play any instrument, but especially the Violin! (He was my first & only principle teacher of Violin from aged 3 until my Los Angeles debut as violin soloist in Aram Khachaturian's Violin Concerto with the mighty USC Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Metropolitan Opera Great, Conductor, Walter Ducloux, who was an avid fan of my father's teaching and compositional gifts throughout their professional colleague days as Professors' of, in turn, Opera and (Dad) of String Education at USC. Maestro Duclohx's daughter, Denise, studied Violin, privately, with my father & loved learning from him. His broad musical scope & vast knowledge of the Great Masterworks for Orchestra by Giant's, Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Brahms, Beethoven, Sibelius, Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Stravinsky, Benjamin Britten, Korngold, et al, prepared a pupil for a serious international concert bound musical career & his daughter was no exception upon the LA soloist debut in the Khachaturian Violin Concerto being praised by no less than the Greatest Violinist, Jascha Heifetz, who invited me (Ralph Matesky's daughter - pupil) to study with him in his original USC Violin Master Classes, & well documented 8 half hour films (now on YouTube under Jascha Heifetz Violin Master Classes, USC Khachaturian, 1st mov't, JH-7, Elisabeth Matesky) as a direct result of my father's exemplary teaching of his own daughter as a violinist from Day One & all the way to Heifetz!!

Proud of being an example of Ralph Matesky's approach to learning How to play a Stringed Instrument and, specifically, the Violin, I can attest to the value of his numerous teaching texts and the series first mentioned above. Suzuki came to America to guest teach and amongst his Top Priorities was meeting with my violin teacher/father, Ralph Matesky, to discuss Dad's rare success as a teacher of violin and all other string instruments in the orchestra ... (Much later on,

my father was the Guest Teacher & Speaker for the Japanese String Teacher's Association who honoured him with a Lifetime Honourary Membership of JASTA whilst touring Osaka and Tokyo ~

Give this 'Route' a goodly try, and if you have any questions, feel welcome to contact me via email which is listed on my (Elisabeth Matesky) Profiled International Musical Career, okay!?

Wishing you the utter grit and courage to reach your goal of leaning to play the Violin since a

being a young child, I remain ~

Yours musically from America,

Elisabeth Matesky *

*ASTA has a new website at or contact CFO, Monika Schultz, via email: (& use my name as a referral + give Monika Schultz best greetings

from Elisabeth Matesky, musician daughter of late ASTA National President, Ralph Matesky

& his Arnold Schoenberg protege accompanist/ pianist wife, the recently late, Betty Matesky)

*Google the Strad Elisabeth Matesky, Profile Chicago Symphony website

at / former members - Sir Georg Solti's Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 1970's

Who's Who in America/Ralph Matesky

August 17, 2017 at 05:24 PM · To Adult Beginner 72. 219. 241. 36 ~

Having forgotten to Login, my response to your quest in seeking help is above but in writing

out so much for you, due to my error of neglecting to Login, you will see my revised title of

an important Book from my late father, Ralph Matesky's, Series correctly titled. It will appear

here later after being approved as, again, I forgot to Login as myself ~

Look for a Number In lieu of my name, Elisabeth Matesky ~

My apologies once again & wishing you continued determination to reach your child-hood dream of playing the Violin, don't Stop!

E. Matesky 69. 216. 245. 91

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