V.com weekend vote: How long did it take you to sound good on the violin or viola?

November 30, 2018, 12:16 PM · Though it can create some of the most beautiful music on Earth, the violin is not necessarily an instrument that sounds good, the first time you try playing it.

violin listening

Or the second, or the third time! Learning to play the violin is a long-term commitment, and most often it takes years to find ease in playing it and to make a consistently beautiful sound. And even so, the instrument is very sensitive - take a week off from playing it and your violin will likely make some unpleasant noise about it!

So how long does it actually take, to sound good on the violin or viola? As a teacher, I would say that most students take around three to five years to start sounding good and probably 10 years to sound like a completely fluent player. This varies greatly, of course, with the amount of time a person spends practicing, whether the student plays in a group (that tends to help it go faster) and the quality of the student's instruction.

When did you begin to get satisfied and pleased with your playing? When did it really start to kick in for you? To be blunt, when did you really start to sound good?

Of course, this depends very much on your perspective. I'm not talking about how long it takes to be able to play the Paganini Concerto, just how long it takes to be able to play something for someone else, and have that person genuinely enjoy the sound.

Please participate in our vote, and then share your perspective, whether it is from your own progress or the progress of students that you have observed.

Replies

November 30, 2018 at 06:41 PM · Speaking as a returner of 2 years (with 8-9 years of experience prior to stopping for a long time), so I guess 5 years of experience: I am still waiting to sound good.

But! I think I have recently discovered what I do not like about my sound, so at least I can make steps towards improvement in that area. Ask me again in a few months to see if I am closer to what I am hearing internally ;)

November 30, 2018 at 07:25 PM · Brilliant question ! I am taking grade 4 violin next week and been playing for 2 years and have been asking myself ‘when will this sound better?’ And ‘ how good will the examiner expect me to sound at grade 4? I’ve now got the answer from the result of the vote - and its very comforting !!

November 30, 2018 at 08:22 PM · I relied on my teacher to tell me how my tone was progressing because I reckoned my own opinion was too subjective. I think it took about 6 years from start for me to get a reasonable good and controllable tone.

November 30, 2018 at 09:49 PM · Thought provoking guestion. I’ve read the average is 5 years. I know it’s al up to the individual, but from a personal view it took me a good long 7-8 years.

But I’m only playing short not too difficult pieces.

November 30, 2018 at 10:11 PM · What! This assumes any of us sound "good." My definition personal bar gets moved both up and down as the years pass for what's quality sound. Some of this is familiarity with bow and instrument. I could check all the blocks.

November 30, 2018 at 10:19 PM · Very subjective question. I'd ask my teacher but he is no longer living and my wife's opinion is biased. Somewhere in the second decade for my personal opinion. Being totally honest, my best playing is now, over 40 years since I started. I had a fallow period when working for Bell Labs where I traveled a lot and only got to play a little on weekends.

After I retired I rediscovered the love of the instrument as well as, for some odd reason, better intonation. Maybe lack of pressure and becoming and autodidact and playing simply because I wanted to. Picking up students re-grounded me as well.

I can't say that my best days are ahead. Old bicycling injuries keep be below fifth position and I don't have the desire to join a community orchestra (all night rehearsals and no longer a night person). I'm managing to hold my own and have happy and grateful students (as well as their parents).

November 30, 2018 at 10:24 PM · Within 3 months! I started as a kid, having come to violin from basic piano training. Violin lessons were my idea -- I was self-motivated, as opposed to parent-motivated. This no doubt helped.

I had started fingering and bowing simple tunes by ear on a half-sized fiddle several weeks before my first lessons. At the first lesson, my teacher and I went through a number of the simple pieces in my first instruction book, which I'd already heard and seen other kids play from. She was pleased. About 3 months later, she felt I was ready to start 3rd position, shifting, and vibrato. She was right -- I took to these, and the rest of position-playing, quite readily.

In line with Prov. 27:2 -- "Let another praise you, and not your own mouth" -- I'll offer what my first teacher told my parents within the first few months -- "Jim's doing so well"; and what Mom told me that same summer -- "Mrs. S____ [a neighbor and professional violinist] said she heard someone playing a violin in the background [during their phone conversation], and it sounded very good."

Still, I won't ever be satisfied with my own playing -- although I may be gratified now and then with a breakthrough in solving problems or making improvements. Always reaching for something better -- that's part of what makes this study fun.

November 30, 2018 at 10:26 PM · With the violin the player isn't necessarily the best judge of their own tone. There's a shrillness at close range that dies off with a bit of distance. Anyway, sometimes I find my tone to be gorgeous, often surprisingly so, and sometimes I find my tone shrill. I more often than not don't really know exactly what I'm doing to cause one or the other outcome. Factors include rosin condition on the bow hair, rosin buildup on the strings, excessively old strings, my personal state of mind, i.e., tension or lack of it, fatigue, etc.

Pretty much anyone can judge the sound of a guitar, though it requires experience to know an excellent guitar tone. But years of work are required before someone can realistically judge violin tone. And then there's the bow.......

November 30, 2018 at 10:29 PM · My private student asked me this question recently. I told her that it depends on practice frequency and time, but for me it really happened in college after 10 years of playing before that. I was a lazy high school kid, thought I was good enough (or didn't know what I was missing), and slogged through my lessons.

The first few years of college music school was the same, but finally I realized that I actually needed to take my teacher's instruction seriously. This lead to massive amounts of focused practice, (8hrs/day at its height) and a major improvement in overall sound.

Many years later, the quest is not over, since we will never always play perfectly.

(Although, in High School, my teacher said not to listen to Joshua Bell, because he always played perfectly and that's impossible. Might of been a joke, but I'm not totally sure to this day.)

November 30, 2018 at 10:41 PM · It's my first year of playing the violin so I'm really at the very beginning. First several months were just pure despair, but now I started to get some pleasure listening to the sound I produce. But so far I lack stability, that is, one day its nice, next day its horrible. I have a good teacher, she is very patient and demanding at the same time. It is very important when one starts playing the violin. My pianistic experience helps a lot - I've got a habit of listening to myself.

November 30, 2018 at 10:52 PM · I would say it took 3-5 years, but that was over 40 years ago. I had a gap of over 20 years, but it didn’t take long to get back to playing with a good tone. Saying that, being your own judge isn’t to be trusted. The best bet is to record yourself and listen back frequently. While you are busy with reading music and the technicalities of playing you can’t listen as well. A new app called Modacity allows you to record very easily whilst in a practice program, has other features such as a drone metronome and mindful practice tips and ideas (no affiliation)

November 30, 2018 at 11:32 PM · Depends on what "good" means, doesn't it?

I thought I sounded great after 1-2 years of self-teaching. Right now, having played for 19 years, I think I sound mediocre at best even though I'm undoubtedly playing at a far higher level. I seem to alternate between 2-3 years of being extremely pleased with my sound and 2-3 years of being extremely disappointed with it.

If it's about playing reasonably in tune and with a generally pleasing sound in intermediate-level pieces, I'd say I got there around 5 years in. Complete fluency, i.e. not having to constantly think consciously about intonation and tone quality when playing, took 10-11 years.

November 30, 2018 at 11:51 PM · It was so long ago, I cannot say for sure. I picked 3-5 years because in my 3rd year of playing I was accepted into an honors orchestra consisting of only 4th, 5th and 6th graders. The year before I was not accepted because I had not yet learned third position. As an senior citizen who returned to playing for the last 8 years, I have focused on tone quality, intonation, and bow control. I am pleased with my progress. But there is, of course, always more progress to be made. Most importantly, I derive great joy and satisfaction from playing!

December 1, 2018 at 12:06 AM · Define "good". There is no objective standard for "good".

In any case, I did my RCM level 4 exam a year after starting, my level 6 the following June, and level 8 the following January, all with distinction. So, a year? Who knows. I personally think I sound awful, but that's because I'm a tireless perfectionist. Others think I sound good, but that's because they're uninitiated in the violin world and don't understand just how high you can go.

December 1, 2018 at 12:06 AM · I started at age 62, with a passion to learn, had a great teacher who gave me a solid beginning with Suzuki book 1. In the beginning, I thought a better instrument might help, he said "not necessary" and kept me focused on the basics. I tried hard in the beginging to get through the songs.

Finally after a year, and a move to Florida due to work, a new teacher. "Bow slow, focus on tone". Suddenly, playing songs didn't seem so important or even that helpful. I started practicing scales, for intonation, really slow. Began to move from 1 octave to 2 octaves going across the strings in first position, then from 1st to 3rd. Then doing intervals, 3rds, 5ths, 4ths. Intonation got better. And my ears got better, my instrument really starting to sing with the better intonation that came from practicing scales. This period lasted about six months. I was not playing alot of variety, but concentrating on hearing and feeling, bow arm, hand, fingers, body really relaxing, enjoying the sound. I suddenly felt I had a voice, the instrument was my voice. That was the beginning of loving to play, it didn't seem so hard anymore and I could relax even more. More relaxation, better sound...

About then, started playing songs as part of my practice, focusing on phrasing instead of notes and concentrating on rythym. I used a metronome more and wished I had been using it more when I began.

I almost never practice more than an hour but I look forward to that time everyday and almost never miss a day.

I am very fortunate because even in the beginning, my wife was very supportive and always said she enjoyed me playing and practicing. Even when for me, the sound was terrible.

Now she says she loves it. I do too. I am looking forward to playing the 10 years and more and really becoming accomplished. I just bought a house and my neighbor plays in the Orlando Philharmonic and will be my new teacher soon.

Thank you, Laurie for this site. Also, thank you everyone for your comments, it helps to put all this practice in perspective.

December 1, 2018 at 12:16 AM · I honestly forget the answer to this question. Plus, the definition of "sounding good" is so broad so it's hard to assess. I remember playing with a decent sound quality pretty quickly, but I honestly forget exactly what now.

December 1, 2018 at 12:44 AM · "Beautiful tone" means different things to different people. To me the tone is part of the presentation of the music one plays. It has to fit the character of the music and it must change as the character changes. One ought to strive for a tone fitting the music more than for a beautiful tone per se.

I had a recording (It was taken with an old tape machine--and a good microphone that my brother and I bought for the purpose. The machine has long been lost along with the tape) of a performance of mine and I liked the tone of it at the time. So this is what my answer is based on.

December 1, 2018 at 01:28 AM · I'm still waiting to sound good! I think that answer is skewing the results.

Realistically, it was probably 2-3 years to being passable and about 6 months or so after my 20 yr break and restart.

I think part of it is what you are comparing yourself to and what you want to achieve.

December 1, 2018 at 02:27 AM · 8 years and still hope that I will be able to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star WELL one day!

December 1, 2018 at 03:12 AM · My pets don’t flee the room when I open my case. I’m accepting that as a musical accomplishment!

December 1, 2018 at 05:03 AM · How good is good? I've sounded better with every year, but am still not satisfied with my playing (and may never be).

December 1, 2018 at 07:25 AM · I think Laurie has adequately defined good for the purposes of starting the discussion: "When did you begin to get satisfied and pleased with your playing? When did it really start to kick in for you?... just how long it...(did it take) to be able to play something for someone else, and have that person genuinely enjoy the sound."

For me this didn't happen until after about 9 or 10 years where I felt it kicking in for me, and someone else genuinely enjoyed the sound. Of course this was do to having 3 very fine teachers during this period, but equally or perhaps more important in one way was acquiring a professional grade instrument. My first violin wasn't "bad" and my teachers could make it sound lovely, but I used it for sentimental reasons ((It had been my father's.), and because I couldn't afford another one.

With the new violin, overnight my tone changed, plus quickly I could do things much easier as well. I had a similar but less dramatic result with a new bow earlier after about 5 years.

December 1, 2018 at 12:29 PM · I asked Laurie to pose this question a couple of days ago, and I think the qualifier of "good" is overshadowing the original intention of the survey. I'm not concerned with being "good" in as much as I'm curious about being "confident" when I play. I've been playing violin for a little over 18 months. I know I'm not anywhere close to where I need to be in feeling confident about my playing, but I keep at it with the optimism and belief that at some point, that some day I can pick up my violin and feel that phrase - "I've got this." I know "good" is a subjective qualifier, and also a golden ring we are all reaching for as we move forward. What I'm wondering concerns that day when I can really consider my violin as an extension of my musical voice, and when I can move forward to becoming "good" with that voice. So I guess the question isn't about being good. If you look at the original questions posed by Laurie, the key inquiry is "When did it all kick in for you?" That's what I'd really like to know. Thanks.

December 1, 2018 at 05:50 PM · In the early years much attention is focused on the left hand. There, better dexterity is learned, intonation is improved, position shifting is perfected, vibrato is achieved, and velocity is gained. As the classic story goes one of the great violinist of the time demonstrated his proficiency moving his left hand rapidly and accurately across all strings asking the observer, “so how do I sound?” At which point the obvious answer was “I can't hear a thing.” The greats response “exactly, the sound is made by the bow.”

I grew up in snow country. One of my early teachers told me, learning the bow is like learning to parallel ski. No one puts on a pair of skis for the first time and is able to ski parallel. Parallel skiing takes hours of practice to learn. The bow takes hours of practice to learn. There is a reason that bowing is a right hand and arm activity. It an important aspect of violin playing and is largely responsible for a “good and pleasing sound.”

As mentioned in a few of the posts, five years is a good average for the violinist to gain sufficient mastering of the bow to keep the pets from fleeing the premises when the sound of an opening violin case is heard. Continue to improve your bow handling and your pleasing sound will follow.

December 1, 2018 at 07:06 PM · One more thought: If you have a good instrument and bow it is much easier to achieve a good tone than with some "student violin". So in my case the credit goes to my parents who got me a lovely instrument.

December 2, 2018 at 03:42 AM · I went really hard for 4 years, got my Grade 6 RCM, then took a break. What I can do now is more of a listening/feeling of my playing. And enjoying, still consumed...more of a want to than a have to.

Surprise! I'm now really comfortable playing whatever comes my way(sans Pag).

I was very fortunate to have 2 teachers that pushed me, one that spoke more about the 'things/

intent happening in the piece/genre'.

Hope this helps you to push on!!

December 2, 2018 at 03:58 AM · I am comforted by the survey in that most players seem to think it takes a few years or more to sound good. After three and a half years, I still don't sound good but I definitely sound better than a year ago. Except for 2 or 3 lessons 2 years ago, I am self-taught, and my full-time job of manual labor makes me tired after work, so although I don't play every day, overall I am satisfied I'm getting better and doing the best I can considering all aspects of my life. Then four months ago I got a bass viol (viola da gamba) and am determined to learn this one faster. Today was already my 6th viol lesson, I take them about twice a month. With the violin, I raced ahead with sheet music, diving into things too hard for me, teaching my left hand a lot, but now I know I need to slow down and learn tone production through control of the bow. By contrast, my gamba has such a gorgeous resonant sound I am in no hurry to whip around on it but rather just love getting good tone by practicing every possible bow pressure and speed and angle, open strings and a few simple gavottes...and my teacher is so patient in exploring all those little things about what the hand and arm do to get good bowing and tone. I suspect the viol is going to be easier for me than the violin, and I expect to sound good on it very soon, already I have beautiful moments on this heavenly instrument.

December 2, 2018 at 04:53 AM · None of the above. I started violin at a late age of 16...by then I have listened to: Ricci, Heifetz, Grumiaux, Francescatti, Milstein et all....needless to say I knew my sound in my head...it took me about 3 months....no bragging. Controlling bow arm and my vibrato has been a natural thing since....

December 2, 2018 at 08:38 AM · I honestly think "When did it all kick in?" is a much more difficult question to answer. As I mentioned above, I can tell you when I was playing at a certain level. But... right now, 19 years in, when I'm learning virtuoso-level solo rep, playing in a semi-pro orchestra, and principal violist in a mid-level community orchestra, have played the entire Beethoven symphony cycle, and have performed as a soloist with an orchestra... I don't think it's "kicked in" yet. Most of the time my tone comes out at least decent without thinking about it, but I still play at least a double-digit number of ugly-sounding notes in every concert. Maybe one or two days out of each month, I can pick up my viola and think "I've got this." This is probably a result of expectations going up with skill level. (Other people seem happier with my sound than I am.)

On the other hand, the viola has been an extension of my musical voice since about the 1-year mark, long before I was even able to play mostly in tune and with a pleasing tone! The psychology of string playing is strange sometimes.

December 2, 2018 at 05:47 PM · I'm a very late starter (60s) but had fairly decent tone from the outset. That's probably down to playing cello as a kid, and perhaps to having been a semi-pro classical singer which gives me an ear for intonation. A few years in I'm still fairly limited in what I can play competently, but according to trustworthy feedback the little I can play sounds quite good.

Listening to YouTube I think a lot of late starters attempt pieces ahead of their capabilities and their tone suffers as their technique is overwhelmed. I do play challenging pieces to develop my technique, but I leave them in the practice room and stick to my more solid repertoire when I'm inflicting myself on the public.

December 2, 2018 at 10:53 PM · This really depends a lot on the instrument and bow quality. Unfortunately, there are not too many good sounding fractal instruments, so one has to wait a long time to produce a great sound.

December 3, 2018 at 03:12 PM · Hi Michael - "when did it all kick in"?

Well...

I guess this is hard to say because of my history with the violin (fits and starts and all). After returning, I would guess that things started "kicking in" in terms of understanding, and recognizing what is happening in the music and interaction between violin/bow/self/music/etc at about 9-12 months. I wish I could remember what I was working on at the time rep-wise, but I remember a lightbulb going off inside and I "got" what was happening.

I am translating this to the 3.5-4 year mark based on my above math ;)

Now, do I think I sound "good" in the way that I really would like (not even a performing/touring soloist, but competent, expressive, with good tone, color variation, and of course consistent intonation)? Not even close. I love playing/practicing, but in general I do not like the way I sound - so much so I am looking at new violins starting this week. (I want to see if the "problem" is that I am not connecting with my violin's sound anymore.)

Family members seem to enjoy my playing, and my husband enjoys my playing/practicing enough to let me leave the door open to the practice room. So, there's that... I guess.

Ah, perfectionism is such a double edged sword!

December 3, 2018 at 06:03 PM · My three years on the violin was Oct. I played simple things on the violin publicly within the first year. Compared to a seasoned player there was probably no comparison. Compared to myself it was ok. Three years out I still see many things I need to do that can improve my sound.

I seem to sound better to me playing faster. The slower music shows all the warts.Maybe it's actually that the tone comes out more and I'm not happy with that. I think some of it is undoubtedly my violin/bow which is lower intermediate on a good day. I believe I can eventually sound better on my instrument as it is though.

I don't have the time to devote 100% to the violin. The time I have I try to maximize. Even so, I'm probably closer to a 2 year student instead of a three. I think I could have gone further If I had more time to practice.

I am hopeful that at the 5 year mark I'll sound much better than I do now.I keep plugging away at it. I shouldn't be any worse. It's the little nuances that I don't have. The really nice vibrato, the ease of technique in some areas, the almost subconscious detail to timing. Those kinds of things.All things that come with more time and practice.

December 4, 2018 at 10:14 PM · I chose "1 to 2 years", but that was just the first time I got a nice sound at all. It's been coming and going ever since, coming a bit more often as time goes by. It took 6 years to get any kind of decent vibrato. Even now I'll alternate between what I consider good and not so good. In fact, it's just about time to dig out Simon Fischer's "Secrets of Tone Production" video again - I always sound better after watching it.

December 6, 2018 at 06:41 AM · After many years, I changed teachers, a few weeks later my dog stayed around to listen to me practicing, instead of running away.

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