Teaching yourself violin

August 2, 2010 at 01:05 AM ·

I am new to violin, and I need some help getting started! I have played piano my entire life, so I know a lot about music theory, so I'm hoping this will help in learning violin. I have a friend that used to teach violin, but no longer has time to teach, so I am left without a teacher! She is willing to help me on occassion when I need it, but I was wondering if anyone knows about a set of methods books or a DVD that is helpful in teaching yourself how to play. I saw several at a local music store, but I have no idea where to begin...Any suggestions?

Replies (44)

August 2, 2010 at 05:02 AM ·

You might try the Clayton Haslop 'Beginners' Circle' DVD (4 lessons) per month subscription.  Also, get a copy of Drew Lecher's book (for his exercises and tips), along with Simon Fischer's Basics (for a good and expansive reference work)...and maybe throw in the first book (and CD) of the Suzuki series to have a little more to practice all those basics on.  And explore violinmasterclass.com.  And get a big mirror, and a metronome that you keep on 40 a lot. 

Try to do everything everybody listed above says, and always be on the lookout for little tense places (in your shoulders, back, neck, arms, wrists, thumbs, fingers...) so that you can learn to relax them.  And breathe.



August 2, 2010 at 06:09 AM ·

i'm in the same boat - i found these on-line lessons to be very helpful:


... consensus will probably state that teaching yourself is fraught with difficulty but if it's the only avenue open, i say take it.

August 2, 2010 at 01:23 PM ·

Unless you're another Mozart ("but one doesn't need lessons to play 2nd violin, Papa!") I'd strongly advise you to get a live teacher. I see that you're from Memphis. Surely there are are other teachers in your town.

August 2, 2010 at 01:41 PM ·

Every week it seems I develop some little bad habit or other. Every week my teacher gently but firmly corrects me. I've been having lessons for 15 weeks. I make that at least 15 bad habits I'd already have if it weren't for the teacher's input. Having said that, Todd as previously mentioned is good. I've used him to get a different perspective on spicatto and martele.

August 2, 2010 at 01:57 PM ·

It's really difficult to teach yourself.  After five months I finally relented and found a teacher.

All the comments about being on guard against bad habits should be taken VERY seriously.  Also the suggestion about getting a big mirror.  It can tell you so much about your posture, bowing, etc.

One thing I didn't see mentioned so far is the importance of warming up before you begin practicing.  Hopefully one or all of the instructional DVD's and/or books will suggest useful warm-up exercises.

Best of luck to you, and HAVE FUN!!!  :)


August 2, 2010 at 02:07 PM ·

The important thing about having a real live teacher in the same room with you is getting the help you need to stop doing wrong things. No video or book can do that for you.


August 2, 2010 at 10:22 PM ·

BTW, feel free to check out my approach on my website http://rkviolin.com  to "fundamentals of holding the violin and bow", in my "writings" section. I hope to eventually make a video version of this. But even that can only go so far, and will best function as a giude for the initiated, or pre-initiated.

August 3, 2010 at 12:53 PM ·

Amanda - your bio says you grew up playing classical piano competitively.  I suspect you would admit that you would probably not have been competitive at all without your teacher.  Learning violin is much more difficult.  Follow the advice of all the posters and get a teacher.  BTW, as far as I can tell, knowing a lot of music theory will not particularly help your technique, although it will help you interpret the pieces when you are good enough to play them well.  All the theory in the world won't help you if you can't make the violin sound good.

August 3, 2010 at 11:31 PM ·

Thanks everyone for your advice thus far! I have 2 friends that play violin quite well, so I plan to meet with them on a regular basis to help with noticing and fixing errors in how I play. I only want the books to help give me more things to do in between meeting with my friends. I don't plan on doing it exclusively on my own. As a classical pianist, I know it is difficult to advance in your field without instruction. I can only push myself so far, so I'm sure at some point, I will get an "official" teacher, but for now I will use books and advice from my friends.

I will check out all of the resources you gave! Thanks!

August 4, 2010 at 01:36 AM ·

This subject has been brought up many times on the Discussion Board of v.com, and each time, I and many others say, loud and clear, "GET A TEACHER."  Having a teacher is especially important at the very beginning, when you are learning the fundamentals.  The violin is technically a difficult instrument to learn.  You need to learn new postures and movements with your shoulders, arms, wrists, hands, and fingers.  Many of these postures and movements are not used in every day activities.  You need a teacher to watch you play and give you feedback.  No video or book can do this.  If you try to teach yourself from the very beginning, you will probably form many bad habits which you will need to unlearn later.  I hope that you will do yourself a favor and get a teacher.

August 4, 2010 at 03:08 AM ·

All the violinists here realize that producing beautiful tone/timbre and developing excellent intonation are paramount in violin.  These skills don't transfer at all from piano playing, tho, so being a concert pianist wouldn't help much, if at all, in learning them.  After a pianist learns those skills, tho, reading music and understanding tempo would transfer, but they don't make violin so challenging.  If you look at the posts on this board, very few people ever have problems with reading notes or figuring out tempos!  :-)  Good luck!!

August 6, 2010 at 10:39 PM ·

i'll put it this way..if you don't get a good teacher, you'll develop bad habits you won't even be aware of and could damage yourself, nevermind not achieve what you need to achieve.  The violin is the hardest instrument to play.  You need a real teacher.

meanwhile: http://www.youtube.com/user/professorV#p/u/12/o8DdxxhKOdo

August 6, 2010 at 11:02 PM ·

An honest answer from another early-starter classical pianist here ... I'd really really really REALLY put as much effort as you can in getting a good patient, analytical, open-minded, experienced teacher.  I've been a pianist pretty much my whole life (with a long hiatus but got back to it with a vengeance), and I can tell you that aside from the music-theory-based advantages of having been a pianist, it will help you very little with this instrument.

I'm learning viola, and the physicality, sensitivity, and sheer awkwardness of the instrument is almost unbelievable.  I have never in my life had such a hard time getting physically used to manipulating something.  And I'm not only a pianist but a knitter, crocheter, tatter, and spinner -- repetitive, extremely precise handwork is my life.

I also had a hard time finding a teacher since I play lefthanded, and it's brutally difficult to find one that won't roundfile you out of the gate.  I had to go through four candidates and decided early on that I would also continue regardless.  But I'm glad that I found one.

If you absolutely must go on by yourself, then pick up the thing and simply learn scales by ear.  Over and over and over until you want to scream.  Scales and half-scales up a fifth and back down, major and minor.  Trust me, that's more than enough to keep you busy and if you are a musician, you won't chafe too much under the repetitiveness of it since you'll be used to it.  Scales on one of these monsters are radically different from on a piano where they are usually regarded as warmups.  It stunned me to learn that three-octave scales are so advanced that they are actually requested during auditions to top schools!

And keep looking for a teacher.  These are ungodly awkward and sensitive devices.  One millimeter can make the difference between something that sounds like music and the screech of an outraged macaque.  Not only that, but the physical playing of the instrument risks damaging the hands terribly if it's not done right.  Pianos are much more ergonomically forgiving.  Just holding the viola requires that one maintain a position usually only held by people with the assistance of an aikido-knowledgeable cop.  O_O

The advantages of being a pianist will come in later, once you -- and I! -- grow more comfortable with the instruments physically.  For now, knowing when the Bach Minuet #2 that I'm currently mutilating is moving into its relative minor via E7 doesn't keep the thing from screeching at me when my bow wanders too close to the bridge.  :-P  The best thing about being a pianist is that you don't have to worry about all that crap and can start zeroing in on the physical mastery immediately.

August 9, 2010 at 11:23 PM ·

 Hi Amanda,

 I am in the same boat as you. This is what I do to learn violin.

I go to YouTube and find and download violin music like this one.


 Then I go to http://imslp.org/ and  get the violin sheet music for free.

 I have a MAC computer.  I import the violin video into imovie and separate the video frame by frame.  Then ,I can play several frames together and watch the violin player and she changes positions, watch the fingerings, and so on.

 Watching the video and using the free sheet music is how I learn.

 Also, listen to John.  You must get your bowing right.


June 16, 2013 at 10:50 AM · tech your self violin

YES YOU CAN i keep going on about picture strings .but i got my pictres strings pack with 8 free finger placements the fingerplacements show you wer to put your fingers .plus on top of all the music notes thar are note guide so now if we put the finger placements and the notes guids YOU CAN PLAY plus the have the count it.s all ther so have fun i am l.jim

June 16, 2013 at 11:21 AM · hi;

excuse me, but the logic of "looking out for bad habits" is an improbable one. you need, first, to have the knowledge to identify bad habits...so, this assumes some measure of knowledge. therefore not a beginner.

ok, perhaps a provocation but ...even as an amateur myself, i think that the idea of "bad habits" in violin playing is questionable in a fundamental way (although i understand that it might work as a convention). it is a lack of knowledge that is to blame for the bad violin playing in the first place. "bad habit" assumes that one might know exactly whats wrong ...like smoking cigarettes, one knows it may cause diseases but continues nevertheless. but playing violin badly is playing it ignorantly on mental and physiological levels. unless, one deliberately plays it badly to derive a perverse pleasure from that painful experience.

i think a lot of "bad habits" that some teachers try to cure students off and perhaps have a difficult time doing so are due to lack of mutual understanding between teacher and student. it might be obvious to the teacher but not so to the student so the teacher should find a bridge because it is the teacher who is in the know.

now, imagine if the student is her/his own teacher. exponentially more difficult.

i know...long winded, the above :)

June 16, 2013 at 11:46 AM · The less elementary recommendations on self-teaching given above could be useful to me in improving technique. Fortunately, I once had for my teacher a distinguished violinist who was also a very good teacher, and I can remember a great deal of what he taught me. Having restarted playing three years ago, I could do with a few 'refresher lessons' but I don't want to risk either a teacher who may want to take me back to learning at a much lower level (this happened to me at least twice as a child) or else not be someone I can work with well (this happened to me four times as a child). I have read much on v.com about pupils firing teachers (as well as - more usually - the other way round) and I don't want to get involved with any of that. However, I have to keep a watchful eye on technique for purposes of trying not to form bad habits.

OTOH, I would join with numerous posters above in saying that, if you're starting from scratch (no pun intended) you will need a teacher if at all possible.

June 16, 2013 at 01:31 PM · If you ever had to un-learn something you did on piano, you know that however long 'eventually' is in coming--that's how long you will build and practice bad habits that will take much longer to undo the longer you have practiced them. GET A TEACHER NOW. Friends who playviolin are better than nothing, but unless they know how to look for problems (and have no serious ones themselves), they may not be MUCH better.

June 16, 2013 at 03:55 PM · This is a really old post- I wonder if the OP is still around? I also wonder how the people who say you can teach yourself are doing in their studies? Anyone here?

June 16, 2013 at 08:51 PM · Jim Black, that is bad advice. Fingerboard stickers do not replace a real live teacher, and a good teacher who knows what they are doing has no use for fingerboard stickers or decals or whatever it is that you're recommending. I know you are probably not going to like that I said this, but you are beginner, and you do not know the truth. I'm sorry. I don't mean to be unkind but this is the truth, blunt as it is. Also, this thread is dead. Next time check the date.

June 16, 2013 at 09:05 PM · I also wonder how the people who say you can teach yourself are doing in their studies? Anyone here.....

Hello there....

I am doing very well, thank you very much.....

Yeah, But, if you don't have any Nouse....GeT A TeAcHeR..........

June 16, 2013 at 10:51 PM · Eugenia, I think you can teach yourself. Nowadays the pedagogic materials are out there, as earlier posters have pointed out. But it helps if you have:

  1. An analytical cast of mind, so you can begin to understand and apply the elements of sound technique
  2. Decent awareness of your body and the fundamentals of safe and healthy movement, perhaps through Yoga or the martial arts
  3. Some background in music, so you know what you're aiming for
  4. Realistic goals – you're not going to become an international classical virtuoso unless you're a one-in-a-billion genius.

I haven't been able to afford lessons, but I'm enjoying the challenge of working things out for myself, and am beginning to become a relatively competent player of traditional music. I often play with classically trained pros who give me feedback that there's nothing too adrift with my technique, and I get a great deal of enjoyment from the instrument. Of course I won't be playing Paganini any time soon, but then again, that's not what I'm aiming for...

June 17, 2013 at 01:29 AM · Just to clarify, I wasn't asking if anyone was there in a sarcastic way...I meant no offense with the question. I was wondering how people were getting along by themselves. I can’t help but notice that this is an old thread and all the people who emphatically stated you can teach yourself aren’t around and haven’t been for a while.

What I would argue is that a person sitting alone in a room staring at a computer screen trying to figure out what someone is doing with their fingers might not even know what they don't know. Learning isn't just about listening to what a teacher says (that's only half of the learning part) - it's also about getting feedback and using it to correct mistakes. The feedback is a vital part of the learning process. NObody wants to listen to any violinist who doesn’t ‘need’ feedback...

For the record, I don't believe the *only* kind of violin training is you and a degreed teacher in a small room playing Kreutzer etudes. Hanging out with friends on a porch learning fiddle music is training. Having violinist friends help with your technique is also training. I do believe in a fairly wide definition of training.

June 17, 2013 at 10:15 AM · Eugenia

Feedback from a good teacher is obviously ideal. But not every teacher is good. Even as a self-taught player, I often spot major technical flaws in musicians who've had years of classical training. So teaching is only part of the picture.

I suspect that pretty much every violinist who reaches a decent level has developed an ability to guide their own development. There are plenty of routes to auto-feedback: mirrors, body sensation, attentive listening, self-recording...

The ideal is good teaching together with a highly developed autodidactic ability. But failing that, you can achieve a pretty decent level if you develop your self-teaching ability. I play regularly with musicians who have achieved a semi-pro standard without teaching, in the field of folk and jazz playing, so this isn't really open to argument.

Of course many will try and fail. But they've no-one to blame but themselves...

June 17, 2013 at 12:00 PM · Speaking as a mature adult returning to play the violin after about 40 odd years - I couldn't imagine being able to do this without my teacher. I have no idea at what point I'll be able to play without a teacher! I look forward to this of course but for the foreseeable future, I feel that I need her input for all the technical stuff mentioned above.

However, there are some very good violin teachers on youtube that you can watch and post clips of yourself playing if that's what suits you.

I noticed that this was an old post originally, but it is still a useful discussion for some of us who are newcomers to the site.

June 17, 2013 at 11:28 PM · Marie -

I think in the end it boils down to your cast of mind.

I enjoy figuring things out, and would probably drive a teacher nuts by questioning everything, even if I could afford lessons! Others, rather more sensibly perhaps, prefer to work with an experienced guide.

As we're doing this for enjoyment rather than preparing for a profession, we have the freedom to choose whichever way suits us best...

June 18, 2013 at 12:38 AM · Simon Fischer: The Violin Lesson.

June 18, 2013 at 11:24 AM · http://www.toddehle.com/

... all you'll need to know - taken at your own pace and in your own time without hearing admonishing tut-tuts every three seconds.

June 18, 2013 at 01:59 PM · I've said this before...it boils down to knowing what you mean by 'playing the violin'. If your goal is to explore the instrument, see if you like it...and play some basic tunes in first position - and if you have any affinity for the mechanics of it all...you probably can teach yourself.

If your goal is to play in an orchestra...probably not.

Some of the things that one can do 'wrong', are things that you can't even see yourself doing...you need someone to spot you.

June 18, 2013 at 04:50 PM · Geoff

I agree with you - if we are playing for our own 'pleasure', then of course it doesn't really matter at the end of the day how we do it. I'm just saying that personally, I felt that I needed a teacher to give me the rudimentary elements to get me started and some encouragement. Unlike you, I don't have the patience to try and figure it all out on my own - I would lose patience left to my own devices. However, I do agree with one of the other posts - it is annoying listening to tut tuts (not that I've heard my teacher doing this) but who knows what she's thinking when I hit the wrong note or can't instantly understand something. But who cares!! I'm paying her to help me and when I feel I know enough to either play uncomplicated tunes all on my own, or have enough confidence to figure stuff out, I will be very happy to go it alone. My teacher knows that I'm not trying to do something professional and I won't be doing any official grades, though I do use some of the graded scales books etc. As you said, Geoff, we are in the nice position of being able to choose how to go about learning the violin without the pressure others have. I don't think there is a right or wrong way to do this - just your own preference.

June 18, 2013 at 10:19 PM · "If your goal is to explore the instrument, see if you like it...and play some basic tunes in first position - and if you have any affinity for the mechanics of it all...you probably can teach yourself."

First position? Basic Tunes? Come on, if you can play in first you can play in any position. It's not that inscrutable and if it is to you then you do need a teacher


June 18, 2013 at 10:26 PM · Yes. Getting past first position is a barrier for many...

...and yes...I have a teacher...a very good one. Thanks for the suggestion...

June 18, 2013 at 10:30 PM · It was not meant as a personal message. "You" was meant in general, plural. Replace all "you" by "one" if you like (if it doesn't sound too pompous).

My argument was just that being able to get out of "first position" on your own is actually a minimum requirement for being able to do it yourself.

June 19, 2013 at 04:07 AM · Mr. Kilpatrick, that is not everything and it is not a substitute for a teacher. It is a supplement.

The violin is not a one-size-fits-all instrument. It requires customization and a teacher's trained eye to start a student on the path of analysis and problem solving. Mr. Ehle's videos are good, but they are not the entire thing and I don't believe that was Mr. Ehle's intention in the first place.

June 19, 2013 at 01:18 PM · mr. pijoan - i never suggested it was. the information provided by todd erhl is as complete as anything you might learn from a teacher and then some. with the guidance of a good teacher one may learn faster but if one is not available or even desired, it is possible to learn to play the violin and play it quite well. thank you.

June 19, 2013 at 02:09 PM · Mr Pijoan & Mr Kilpatrick

What age are you guys?????

June 19, 2013 at 03:19 PM · ... 39.

June 19, 2013 at 04:33 PM · I would recommend the Suzuki books with the audio materials as a starting point and then branch out into easy pieces that you know and like. There are a large number of videos and materials available for the first and second Suzuki books for free on YouTube. Rachel Barton Pine's newly released version of the Wohlfahrt etudes is a good resource. If you have an iPhone, I recommend Anytune Pro+, which you can use to take songs from your iTunes and slow them down and loop them while retaining the correct pitch. it's a pretty good way to correct dodgy parts of your pieces. Also, TuneMaster by Tactson is a good tuning app for the violin and there are several good metronome apps. I have also found it helpful to download pdf's of the first position fingerings and also the major and minor scales.

June 20, 2013 at 02:58 AM · Whatever did they use before.?.....Suzuki books.....YouTube....Anytune Pro+....TuneMaster....apps and pdf's

I think it was....Nouse......?

June 20, 2013 at 03:28 AM · Henry - People didn't read sheet music before digital publications? They didn't work with recordings of piano accompaniments or listen to pieces before iTunes? Teachers didn't slow pieces down, segment them, and encourage repetition through difficult spots before Anytunes? All technology does is to provide tools to facilitate the learning process. This is a post about people trying to learn without a teacher. These tools might be helpful to people, especially if they don't have a teacher.

June 21, 2013 at 02:00 AM · I'm 26. All I'm saying is that the reason that having a teacher is necessary is because everyone either needs or has needed (along the way) a teacher who can directly assess their work and make corrections accordingly. A video cannot do this. Saying that a youtube video invariably provides more information than a private teacher can is just not logical, even though I agree that those are well made videos.

June 21, 2013 at 09:10 AM · Michael

If you want to reach the very highest levels of classical virtuosity this is probably true. But if you want to reach a level of technical ability sufficient to play professional blues, swing, old time, klezmer, folk etc, it simply isn't. I know this because I play regularly with people who have achieved it. And I'd like to think I'm fairly well on the way to achieving it myself.

The precondition, as I say, it that you become proficient at diagnosing and solving your own problems on the way. As Simon Fischer says, the key is to figure out the next step. And I can see an endless vista of issues to work on. So I'm always moving forwards.

Is it slower? Very likely. But what's the rush, so long as the process gives enjoyment?

For me, the alternative isn't teacher vs no-teacher. It's self-teaching vs no fiddle at all. It's an easy choice...

What isn't optional is getting out there and making music with musicians who are better than you are. Picking up a reasonable technique can, I think, be done on your own. Picking up the spirit of the music can only be done by though example and contact.

June 21, 2013 at 11:03 AM · Could I interject here?

I think it all depends on what you want to achieve. I'd agree with Geoff that if you want to play folky type stuff and you have friends who play this, you probably can pick up a lot from them. Lets be honest, lots of well known guitarists learned through listening to their favourite music in their bedrooms and picked up enough cords to start bands. Some of those are the ones we love to hear and who are at the top of their game. Now, before you say - that learning cords on a guitar is a completely different thing!......I know this, I just use it as an analogy to make my point.

However, I don't suppose Yehudi taught himself in his bedroom. So I think as Geoff said, if you want to climb the ladder of classical style music competing/playing in an orchestra, then I would think you won't find any self taught musicians.

Just my opinion folks!!!!!!!:)

July 11, 2013 at 05:00 AM · Mimi Zweig's website, www.stringpedagogy.com, is an invaluable resource. It contains detailed and organized instructions as well as video clips demonstrating. I suggest purchasing the DVD ($85, or the cost of one or two violin lessons) rather than the online subscription. It's a great resource for teachers and anyone interested in learning violin.

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