Self taught experience.

April 10, 2008 at 04:37 AM · I am living in Vietnam and to find a good violin teacher here is extremely hard,that's why I have to learn by myself by using the video from violinmasterclass.

If any one has experience in self teaching,please share it with me,tell me what book should I read.

PS:Please don't tell me to find a teacher,I'm not against learning with a teacher at all,I just can't find one.

Replies (42)

April 10, 2008 at 06:40 AM · I had teachers when I was a kid, so it's not the same as starting from scratch, but after not playing for 36 years I'm trying to relearn on my own (no money to spare for a teacher right now.) What I've been doing is watching Ben Chan and Professer V videos on youtube, picking up little tidbits from the discussion boards and trying them, and playing through my old Suzuki books (I was in books 3 and 4 when I quit as a child.) I like Suzuki because it helps immensely to listen to the recordings and I can find them on youtube. Plus I love the old classical pieces. I'll check how my fingers and bow hand look in the mirror to see if looks right. When I practice, sometimes I'll work on specific things like scales, and sometimes I'll just experiment with the bow for a while--trying to get the sound to change up from sweet and light to dark or loud, or really smooth to chirpy. Or I'll start at the beginning of book one and play through everything. Often I'll just take a break from the book and figure out tunes by ear just for the fun of it. I also bought the "Viva Vibrato" book and have been working on teaching myself that--it's slow but I am making a little progress.

Some days I think I'm horrible and other days I'm surprised at how well it goes, but it's always fun and I absolutely love the sound of my violin. The hardest thing has been retraining my fingers to land in the right spot, since I played guitar for a long time. I'm not crazy enough to think I'll ever be a professional, but I do want to be good enough to play with a community group. Yeah, I wish I could get a teacher, or even find someone with time to play with me, but for now it'll do. Don't let anyone discourage you--you can do it! Just have fun with it and enjoy the trip. :o)

April 10, 2008 at 01:23 PM · I've worked with a number of people who taught themselves in order to play fiddle music, and then came for lessons. What I notice with many is that they come to "logical" conclusions about technique that are very contrary to common practice, and then need lots of extra time to undo before they can play more successfully. As a simple example, a student decides to hold the violin more or less straight, thinking that it is a good thing to be able to look directly at the fingers with both eyes. Or pulls the bow mostly from the shoulder. Watching very good players and READING all the teaching content in books designed for school programs would be some help. Being in Viet Nam with no available teachers is one thing. But there have been many posts here about ways to get some solid instruction via group lessons, joining a community group for "advanced beginners", etc., for someone who feels they can't budget some private lessons. At some point it does come down to what your time is worth, when you have to redo, or plateau out much too soon. Sue

April 11, 2008 at 05:23 AM · I've taught myself most of what I know, and I'm an advanced violin student. I know that my level represents a true level of achievement because I go up through a graded system of violin exams (the AMEB - I'm not sure if this system of examinations is available where you live. If not there might be alternatives such as ABRSM or Trinity, etc, based in England).

I always read very carefully the comments section on my exam results, to make sure I'm doing things the legitimate way. Always nice to read the "lovely tone" comments, and "you are making excellent progress. Keep up the great work!".

That's one way to keep an external check on your progress. But you could get by without, though presumably a real affinity (natural understanding for and perhaps to some degree a natural talent for its technique) for the instrument would help. If you struggle obviously you will be in far more danger of picking up bad habits. Even the very talented can pick up such bad habits, so you have to become very knowledgable about the subject of violin technique, how to hold the instrument, what to do and what not to do, and performance style (also what they call taste). This is possible with time, hard work, and love for the instrument and for music.

You'll have to probably develop a lot of toughness and belief in what you are doing. Some musicians will write you off, no matter how well you play, because you are self taught.

I can remember once standing talking to some people in the crowd of audience members during intermission of a classical music concert. We were all violinists, or associated with learning violin in some way. The mother of one of the violinists asked me, "and tell me, who do you study with?". I said, "Actually, I'm teaching myself", and smiled at her. She smiled with a sudden worried look on her face and physically backed away from me. That was the end of that conversation. In her eyes, I instantly became a charlatan, or at best an amateur not worth knowing.

I'm not totally self taught, in the sense that almost no one who has the opportunity to study from others is truly self taught. I do go for occasional lessons (though I appreciate that you cannot), and I learn from watching others play, talking to them, and watching DVD's. My lessons generally take the form of double checking that I have indeed been on the right track in my self-learning studies.

Getting a video camera is a very good idea. Also getting a mirror to watch your bowing. I can recommend Clayton Haslop's DVD courses as being truly excellent.

In my own case I chose self teaching because I could not find the right kind of teacher. There are no violinists similar to Clayton Haslop around where I live, and he represents the style of playing, musically and technically, that I have realised is the most suitable for me to learn from.

Which book to read? Try to read them all. I tend to favor the older books and methods/technical material, as written by people like Auer and interviews with violinists of years ago. I think I must have gotten reasonably close to checking most of them out. I frequented libraries for many years. I still do when I get the chance. The quiet library is my temple of knowledge, and if you have access to a good one you are fortunate. All the best to you!

April 11, 2008 at 05:14 AM · Juda,

Do you have access to high speed internet and a web cam? I bet you could play for people over the internet. It's not the best solution, but it's better (much better!) than nothing at all. Lessons by snail mail video would work too, I suppose, but slower. Basically, ANY input from a teacher, using some sort of video would help you out. Barring that, start watching every video you can of good players. Go to as many concerts as you can afford and try to get at least a few lessons somehow!

April 11, 2008 at 06:37 AM · Juda,

Read Sue’s post very carefully a few times. You'll be thankful eventually if not now.

Most folks here are just way too nice to tell you anything that might appear to be discouraging. But I’d rather be annoying you by telling you this right now than to risk the chance to hear you say years down the road: “I wish people had warned me about this!”

Do you know what’s like to undo bad habits? If not, you need to find this out before starting because you’ll most certainly to acquire bad habits as soon as you start to teach yourself violin as a beginner.

I had teachers when I was a kid for a few years and then I played on my own because I had difficulty finding good ones back then in China. Eventually I got bored with playing because the progress just stopped and everything came out of the violin just sounded equally lousy and boring. More than 20 years later, I started taking regular lessons again here in Canada. It’s been more a year and half now I’m still working on correcting some of the bad habits I built then. I know I’m not alone.

If I were you, I’d keep contacting orchestras and conservatories in my country until I hear something. Meanwhile, I would listen as much violin music and read as much violin scores as I could so that mentally I’d be preparing myself without actually playing the violin until I’ve got a teacher.

April 11, 2008 at 09:32 AM · I also give people the advice to get a good teacher, if you can get one. Juda, as you said not to mention getting a teacher, I told you my story, as asked. If you are living out in the provinces, and simply cannot get a suitable teacher, or afford one, no matter what you do or how long you wait, you will have to do what you can.

I'm very glad of the path I have taken.

April 11, 2008 at 01:19 PM · agree with above posts. i think the issue is the LEVEL of your self criticism. in other words, do you know what you are doing, hearing, seeing, etc?

looking back in history in the art world, many giants were more or less self taught in the schools of hard knocks, and not trained in ivory towers. however, that can be misleading.

for an average person, to play an above average game, great effort to stick to correct routine is needed. as howard mentioned, multimedia is at your fingertips. i would think comparing now vs 20 years ago, self teaching is much more do-able. still, the obscession for quality control is the key and it has to come from within. it is challenging to provide feedback to self.

April 11, 2008 at 03:43 PM · Jon, your story is great, but you said you do take lessons. That put most of us into the self-taught category because we all have to be self-teaching between lessons, no matter how infrequent the lessons are.

April 11, 2008 at 04:23 PM · Thank you everyone.

The situation of violin in Viet Nam,especially Ho Chi Minh city--where I live--is very bad.Most of the time,there is less audiences than the orchestra's member.

Most teacher(well,may be all,I'm not sure)consider private student as a cow,trying to milk as much money from him as possible.They don't teach you everything they can,because they consider their knowledge as something so precious that they only teach their favorite.

April 11, 2008 at 04:45 PM · I started playing again after an 8-year break almost 2 years ago now. I took lessons as a child and adolescent, and in a couple of chunks as a young adult. When I just started again this past time, I worked for about a year without a teacher, getting "back into it."

I recorded myself with my digital camera and I also used materials I already had from my former teachers. I'm glad I have a teacher now, for many reasons, and I always planned to go back to one eventually, but I felt that this teacherless time worked okay for me. I suppose one could say my playing is just all one big bad habit after another (although actually no one ever has said that), but I guess to me, especially given my relatively modest goals, the sum of all those bad habits is good enough that I don't think I need to significantly undo them.

The worst bad habit I had that I'm mostly rid of now--back and neck pain due to the tension of clamping down too hard on the instrument with the chin--I developed as a teenager while I had a teacher and was taking private lessons. I can trace its development back to my misinterpretation of some things I was told by a teacher early on. I'm not blaming the teacher, but I'm just saying that having a teacher is not necessarily an innoculation against bad habits--you have to have the *right* teacher. Which brings me to the following:

The biggest benefit I got out of my recent teacherless time the opportunity to define and refine some of my own personal goals. I was able to figure out and come up with something intelligent to actually say to a teacher once I had one. My experience has been that teachers expect more in that particular area from adult students than from kids: they expect adults to know where they want to go, if not necessarily how to get there. Which makes sense: the teacher can be of much more help to you if you know this.

Also, it helps to think long and hard about what kind of relationship you want to have with a teacher. A teacher might be a great teacher for some students but not for you. It's helpful to the relationship to know and be able to explain your learning style clearly--and this relates to goals, above. Attitudes towards performance are a biggie: whether you'd rather play solo, in an orchestra, in chamber music, or some combination of the above. Solo performance is very important to some people, but it stresses other people out just thinking about it. Whereas some other folks have no desire to play in an orchestra, while for yet others, that's what makes it all worthwhile.

I think if you don't know these kinds of things about yourself before getting into it, you can spend a lot of time spinning your wheels in lessons in ways that can be just as discouraging and demoralizing as any bad technical habit you might pick up playing on your own. And if you do put in the work towards self-knowledge that will help with a teacher, you might also be able to accomplish some surprising things on your own.

April 11, 2008 at 06:26 PM · In light of the topic, does anybody know where Albert Justice went? I kinda miss his posts. Al, you there?

April 11, 2008 at 10:33 PM · Karen raised a few interesting issues.

Regarding bad habit, actually no one told me that I’ve got bad habits either; instead, they would say something like, “Yixi, you like to do such and such but try such and such instead.” If my teacher had corrected me once or twice and I got it, but then I did it again at the following lesson(s), did I forget what my teacher had told me or was it an indication of some kind of unwanted pattern or habit in my playing? I prefer to believe the latter and to be patiently working on it accordingly. The worst type of bad habits of course is the ones we aren’t even aware or even feels right/natural to us. Only very observant teachers are able to help us with this.

That leads to the point that finding the right kind of teacher is in a way more important than finding a teacher. I completely agree with. But finding a right teacher to me is 10% luck and 90%, faith commitment and financial priority, and unlimited amount of faith that they are out there to be found. With limited financial resources and seemingly unlimited responsibilities we have these days, how much is too much to allocate the money to a highly qualified and reputable teacher is a very personal decision.

Motivation, goal and expectation for playing the violin ultimately shape the scope as to how much efforts we put in and how far we will go. Teaching yourself the violin without any guidance from a qualified teacher can be like going to a very remote foreign country without knowing the language, the culture and money. You can grow as a person and learn a lot by doing either or both. However, while migrating can be a somewhat a traumatic means to a rewarding (or not so rewarding) end, but with the violin is something entirely different.

To me, the violin is a close friend but not a mere instrument. While I’m learning tons about myself by playing the violin, but increasingly I feel that, in order to play well, I need to respect the relationship between us. I have to constantly be reminded to check my ego. It is about letting the violin make beautiful music but not about me.

April 18, 2008 at 08:13 AM · Hey Juda, is an excellent site, I've used that myself. I got this new book recently called "Basics" by Simon Fischer, it's extremely detailed and very helpful. Also, he wrote a book called "Practice" which is very helpful, I recommend it strongly. There are pictures and step by step guides for every technique on the violin. VERY helpful. Learn more than you would from most teacher, really.

April 18, 2008 at 09:55 AM · Do you have a pdf version of those book,Ray?

April 18, 2008 at 10:55 AM · Clayton Haslop has launched a beginner's course (DVDs etc) ...

I haven't seen the material, haven't heard anybody comment on the beginner course yet either, but his other courses receive excellent reviews, so this may be worth while checking out. If you do, let us know what you think of it.

April 21, 2008 at 04:02 PM · Does anyone have a pdf version of "Basic","Practice" of Simon Fischer,and "The Suzuki violinist"?

I'm out of money right now and it will take me at least 3 month to buy these book.

April 21, 2008 at 11:22 PM · Greetings,

I think we sometimes get into the realms of the surreal with this freebie stuff.

There is more than enough tehcnical materila on this site for ten lifetimes. As Oshawa pointed out in his book on macrobiotic cooking- if the food is financially beyond you or not available then learn to wait. Its actually a more useful learning process than having everything handed to one on a plate (as it were)



April 22, 2008 at 05:06 AM · Ha Buri,

Maybe "Juda" is really a copyright lawyer posing as a violin student living in Vietnam.

April 22, 2008 at 05:33 AM · It always irks me when I see people ask for free music online as though everything is just like air for us to breath in and out without second thought. Is the internet free download generation going to miss out the truth that the sweetest fruits are never free but hard-earned?

April 22, 2008 at 07:28 AM · There is nothing wrong with freebie sheet music or books as long as it is in the public domain or licensed under license that permits sharing. Mind you, all of Bach's music is in the public domain. It's only wrong when the works in question are neither in the PD and the rights holders don't permit sharing.

April 22, 2008 at 09:36 AM · It's not because of 150$ that I asked for pdf version of those book,I just don't want to lose 3 month waiting(even when I have enough money,I will still have to wait until my aunt visit her daughter in Switzerland to ask her to buy it for me,because there is no Ebook mall or online library(like Questia) have those book).

Beside,please remember that America is at least 20 times richer than Viet Nam,so 150$ to Vietnamese is like 3000$ to you.

And another problem with those book is that there is no Vietnamese version,otherwise it will be much more cheaper(Harry Potter volume 7 Vietnamese version is sold at 5$,copyright money paid).

And hey,Yixi,if Paul Allen give me his yacht for free,it would still be the sweetest fruit I ever taste.

April 22, 2008 at 03:11 PM · I agree Ben. We all enjoy freebies when they are legitimate, but it's the asking part sometimes bothers me. I think you know what I'm saying.

May 7, 2008 at 10:19 AM · I have just read Clayton Haslop's blog,and I think he really know how to put his knowledge in to word.I will buy the Kreisler set when I have enough money.

May 7, 2008 at 03:36 PM · Clayton Haslop say this on his blog:‘I do not care what level you are at right now. I am only interested in how committed you are to improving. A student who is passionate to improve is an asset to any class.’

Wow,I wish I can have enough money to attend his Masterclass.

May 7, 2008 at 03:45 PM · Hi,

I do recommend Fischer's basics if it's ever a possibility for you.

Galamian's Principles of violin Playing and Teaching is always a huge cornerstone.

Also, watch a lot of videos on youtube of famous violinists - I think that if you pay close attention, your brain will start to note and copy physical motions of theirs.

Best of luck.

May 7, 2008 at 04:28 PM · "Wow,I wish I can have enough money to attend his Masterclass."

Perhaps the original poster means the free online videos? I've been watching them and have learned quite a bit.

May 7, 2008 at 04:35 PM · No,I mean I wish I can have enough money to fly to America and attend Clayton Haslop's Masterclass.

May 13, 2008 at 09:03 AM · You would like to read Suzuki violin .. I don't have a violin teacher too .. because it's too expensive ...since I really wanted to learn I learned to play the violin in such a short time ..

Mostly learned from ^^

May 13, 2008 at 10:13 AM · @ andrea

The danger for a beginner to study without any feedback from a teacher is that one is at risk to form bad habits that will be very difficult to fix later on. If you cannot afford weekly lessons, then perhaps you can afford to see a teacher once a month for feedback and to assign homework so you know what to practise. That would still be better than no teacher at all. Anyway, good luck.

May 13, 2008 at 11:41 AM · Well I do have a friend that knows how to play the violin .. she doesn't teach me but tells me the do's and donts in playing the violin .. she visits me once a week to see me practice .. since she is very busy she doesn't have time to teach me .. btw thnk u 4 d advice :]

May 13, 2008 at 04:07 PM · I know this question will sound dumb to most of you,but I don't know where else should I ask.My question is why the bow hair always white horse hair,why not black horse hair or brown horse hair(or may be zebra hair).

And what do you think will happen if we use giraffe hair?

May 13, 2008 at 05:18 PM · Giraffe hair can only be used by violinists with extremely loooooong necks ;-)

May 13, 2008 at 07:21 PM · Actually I was told most bow hairs we use aren't horse hair at all. Can someone verify or repute this claim? I was told real (and more expensive) horse hair on bows are dark.

May 13, 2008 at 10:40 PM · Greetings,

not ture. It`s horse hair. Also male because the female stuff has piss on it,



September 6, 2012 at 09:21 AM · Juda, did you ever find that book? I don't have pdf files, but I have the books themselves.

September 6, 2012 at 01:09 PM · They ain't too dainty those lady horses, huh!

September 6, 2012 at 01:50 PM · Juda--When the student is ready, the teacher shall appear.

September 6, 2012 at 02:22 PM · The original post was four years ago. Perhaps the OP has become a virtuoso by now :)

September 6, 2012 at 05:24 PM · The original poster may no longer be posting here, for whatever reason, but his problem still remains for other players who have difficulties in finding a teacher, so this discussion can still usefully continue on that basis.

My own experience of self-teaching on the violin may be pertinent. I've been a cellist since my early teens, taught by an excellent teacher who played in one of the BBC orchestras. Under him I passed grade 8 (distinction) at age 18, and have played in orchestras ever since.

When I took early retirement I became interested in folk music, especially Irish and English, and decided this would be a good opportunity to wake up my Mother's old violin that hadn't been played for half a century. A local luthier did a good job of putting it back into playing condition.

And so into playing Irish fiddle. My experience as a cellist indeed did give me a useful head start, as did observing the violinists in my orchestra. But that was not enough. After a few years I found myself stranded on a plateau with an impenetrable wall at the end. I was making no progress, and there were certain technical areas that weren't working properly no matter what I did (although, thankfully, my intonation was always sound).

So I started looking around for a teacher. My local violin shop was very helpful and provided me with a shortlist of teachers whom they believed would suit my purposes. The one I chose had been trained under Shinichi Suzuki in Japan as a classical professional and is currently very active in the folk world, both on stage and in the recording studio. She analyzed my technique thoroughly over the first two lessons and completely reconstructed it. What I hadn't appreciated earlier was that being a cellist would only take me so far, but beyond that level there is a great deal of essential detail in playing the violin that cannot be learned from cello playing and is not all that obvious from observation of other players, unless you already know exactly what you're looking for (which I didn't). Face-to-face teaching is essential to sort it out.

My teacher did indeed sort out my problems and after a couple of years my progress was such that I started wondering seriously about changing from cello to violin in my orchestra. I mentioned this to my teacher and she considered I would be ready to make the switch in a few weeks. So at the first rehearsal of the new year I turned up with violin instead of cello and took up a place in the seconds (the orchestra secretary, the concert master, and leader of the seconds knew, but no-one else). That was three years ago, and they haven't suggested that I return to the cello section :).

I'm still having regular lessons, and still play folk fiddle when I have the time. In fact, this evening I'll be playing for ceili dancers.

September 6, 2012 at 11:22 PM · I'm largely self-taught, I was lucky to have a teacher for about 6 months, I had much better progress with a teacher to be honest. I progressed more in 6 months under instruction than I have in two years without.

I still think I'm doing OK for a self-taught adult, but a teacher is definitely the way to go.

September 7, 2012 at 01:23 AM · Absolutey; teacher, mentor yes, if you can find one that you can get on with, and you can afford thier fees. If not, enjoy the journey of teaching youself and taking satisfaction from your achievments.

September 7, 2012 at 01:27 AM · oops

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