Violin Self-Study

October 19, 2011 at 05:19 PM ·

I barely have enough money to find a teacher so I guess I'm stuck with learning on my own. I believe I can make it.

After 3 years of playing, I still suck. I barely know the second position and I still have problems on finger placement on the first position.I'm a bit loss on violin music theory too. I think I can play Gossec's Gavotte but I haven't tried playing it yet. I'm confused on how to play the smaller eigth notes that you need to slur before the bigger quarter note. Anyone has an idea how I can play that?

I'm aiming to play Canon in D by Christmas of this year is that possible?


Replies (29)

October 19, 2011 at 06:13 PM ·

Franco, please please find the money for a few lessons.  If there's a college or university nearby you might find a student who has taken on beginners before and can help you with your overall setup and your specific questions about the pieces you are working on.  Three years is a very long time to still be struggling with Gavotte.

October 19, 2011 at 06:15 PM ·

those are called grace notes. The school on how to play them  is divided - before the beat vs. on the beat. The line through the stem of it is generally intereprted to mean that it's not to be played with the full value of an eight note. Have you listened to the piece? Here's a Youtube w/ Zimbalist.

  self-study is a tough way to have to go. Plenty of teachers would have no problem giving you a lesson every now & then when you can scrape together the money.  I also know of folks getting lessons through Skype. Hopefully you're taking advantage of the online resources like Professor V's videos &


October 19, 2011 at 06:31 PM ·


I sympathize. I've just found a teacher, after almost 3 years going alone.

It would be nice if you could have at least one lesson, for things like posture, hand position, check your bowing...

There's help to be found on the internet. Try youtube. Type  "professorV" on the search (youtube). You'll find the lessons of a very good teacher, Mr Todd Ehle. There's also help from Mr Kurt Sassmanhauss (check his masterclasses) and there's more on youtube ("violinlab", for instance).

If you can't read music properly, try listening to some pieces (if I undestood it correctly, you're playing the pieces in the Suzuki books?) on youtube WHILE reading the music, so you'll see what the different  "signs" mean. You can get  "free" theory from Wikipedia and there are other sites offering music theory for free.

I've started at the last week of 2008  and I can find third position easily now. What helped me: playing scales and playing a very easy piece with third position. For the scales, I start playing one octave (G major, Dmajor, A major), then I play G major two octaves, then G major 2 octaves, but with a shift to third position from the second G on. I play them very slowly, then I try to accelerate, but if I don't get it right, I don't accelerate further.

One easy piece to get third position going is, for instance, Amazing Grace (no, I'm not religious at all, it is just for practicing). The  "ma" of Amazing should be a first finger in third position (depending on the key you decide to play it, it could be the C on G string, the G on D string, or the D on A string).

If you can, record yourself, as a reality check. You can film yourself (webcam, for instance) to check posture, for instance.

Good luck with your Pachelbel quest.

edit: I'd like to say that I've looked for teachers before, but it is very difficult to find people who take adult students.

October 20, 2011 at 02:45 AM ·

Canon in D is a pretty good piece for you to learn after 3 years of learning.  I personally don't think you will die if you can't afford a teacher. When you can afford one, get one! As for now if you have the passion and the drive, just try to play the notes.

You can either try to play it with the music super slow with a metronome and slowly creep  your way up to the speed that you want it.  Or you can play with the same recording over and over again.

Don't be at a loss, just think of the things you want to learn a little differently.  You should be fine!



October 20, 2011 at 03:46 AM ·

By the way, 2nd position is generally considered more difficult to learn than 3rd, the latter is usually taught before the former. 

October 20, 2011 at 06:03 AM ·

it does suck if you don't have a teacher. I am preparing to start teaching elementary kids if their parents can pay for the instrument rentals. Too bad you are not in my area. I am not professional but I would have helped you out

October 20, 2011 at 12:07 PM ·

 one way to proceed is to address your problems, self assessed vs verified.

perhaps write down a list of 10 big problems you have.  play for someone or make a video for feedback and try to match the list items, to see if you and the experts see eye to eye.

then, perhaps focus on 1-2 biggest problems for the time being.

ask people for all they know about those 1-2 problems so that you can attack them in depth.  

i think if you insist on self teaching due to money concerns, you should buy or borrow a video cam, because again, you need to have experts verify for you after each step.

violin theory, imo, for you at your stage, is not that important.  you need first some basic playing ability so that you can enjoy your own sound.  theory will come along naturally.

October 20, 2011 at 12:49 PM ·

because argentinian culture is the most europeanesque in latin america

October 20, 2011 at 02:21 PM ·

October 20, 2011 at 02:37 PM ·

Thanks for the replies guys!

I have been with two teachers already. I started with a teacher who taught me all the basics, posture, bowing etc. I can say I'm good with that because of her. However after more than a month I decided to quit because I can't anymore afford taking lessons. I quit playing after a year (only playing around thrice a month or so) and played again consistently at the start of this year.

I got another teacher who fixed all my problems and taught me a lot also. Because of him aside from Suzuki I also have Hohmann's and Wolfhart's. I quit taking lessons again after almost two moths due to financial problems again. Now I'm stuck with learning on my own. But I promise to practice at least one hour a day this time. I've been doing scales these past few days and have gotten quite proficient of them. If I go on this rate I can play Gavotte before the end of this month.

Can I learn to play Canon in D only with the first position? After mastering the first position should I go for the second position or third position?

October 21, 2011 at 06:37 PM ·

 There are definitely resources available on the Internet, not to mention blogs, coupled with an occasional "live" lesson, you should be fine. Also free sheet music and the like, have you ever had your violin set up looked at? That can dramatically affect your progress as well. Good luck!

October 21, 2011 at 06:56 PM ·


It's still not clear whether  you've ever actually had a conversation with local teachers about not being able to afford regular lessons.

Surely there's someone who would agree to an ocassional lesson even if they're several months apart?  It's so easy for bad habits to sneak into your technique and it can make things more difficult than they have to be, they can even lead to injury. I really think it would be worth it to look into this if you haven't already.

October 22, 2011 at 03:35 AM ·

Let me second Christina's comment. It's much better to get a lesson from a competent teacher every once in a while than to just do it on your own. Too many things can creep in that can mess up your technique and keep you from advancing. Nothing can take the place of good, productive one-on-one instruction.

November 2, 2011 at 12:51 PM · Thanks for the comment guys.

I still cannot find an affordable teacher. However, I was able to learn Schumann's Happy Farmer by my own. It's just half decent but I can manage to finish the piece just by making a few mistakes.

I don't think I need to master it so I'm moving for Gavotte. After Gavotte can I be able to learn Canon in D? Or should I learn 2nd and 3rd positions first?

Aside from that my supplemental exercises comes from Franz Wohlfahrt: Easiest Elementary Method For Beginners. For anyone knowledgeable about it I'm on the Double Stops. Is it okay to be learning double stops even though I'm still technically a beginner? I can already easily do scales but only on the first position.

November 2, 2011 at 02:29 PM · With or without a teacher you should think about changing your perspective a little. You seem to have a checklist in your mind of things that you should be accomplishing. Scales... check, happy farmer... check, Pachelbel... etc. For people (like myself) who are very goal oriented, it isn't easy to adjust our attitude, but try to remember that your time as a musician shouldn't be an endless series of checkpoints. You should also be able to enjoy making music. Don't practice to learn the notes and move on. Practice to make playing the music second nature.

Without having a teacher, you might also look into the step-by-step series. It breaks down the first few Suzuki books into smaller sections and exercises. Don't remember the author off hand, but you can find it on Amazon.

November 7, 2011 at 06:12 PM · Kudos to you if you're want to learn for fun, but if it is at all humanly possible, find a teacher. PLEASE. You could develop some really bad habits trying to teach yourself.

If it's not a possibility at all, there are some resources online. Canon in D seems like a reasonable goal, if you're willing to work really hard.

November 7, 2011 at 07:30 PM · Do you have a video camera? If you emailed me with a link to a video of your playing, I could give you helpful feedback and some practice tips and suggestions for a regimine that will get you where you want. And I'll do it for free! :)

November 7, 2011 at 07:48 PM · I'd be careful about Emily. That's just a ploy to get you hooked on her superb teaching skills. Next thing you know, you'll be moving to Alaska to get private instruction. Make sure to get a bear-proof case before you move there :-)

November 7, 2011 at 09:32 PM · I've been playing for a long time...but not advancing...just getting better at what I already know.

I've recently found myself a great teacher. It's amazing how much I wasn't able to teach myself (even though I knew/read about the technique).

November 30, 2011 at 07:21 PM · "With or without a teacher you should think about changing your perspective a little. You seem to have a checklist in your mind of things that you should be accomplishing. Scales... check, happy farmer... check, Pachelbel... etc. For people (like myself) who are very goal oriented, it isn't easy to adjust our attitude, but try to remember that your time as a musician shouldn't be an endless series of checkpoints. You should also be able to enjoy making music. Don't practice to learn the notes and move on. Practice to make playing the music second nature."

You're right Mr. Tim. I guess I should make my enjoyment of playing always a priority.

Also I have bad news since these past month I barely able to even touch my violin case. Now my goals of playing Canon in D before 2012 is far off. But it's okay.

Actually I'm not a goal oriented person. I just shifted into that thinking because I now saw that I am not achieving much in life. This is not only on my violin playing.

I will try to practice at least an hour everyday this December. I promise.

Thanks for the offer Ms. Emily. If I do happen to do a recording, I will inform and post it here right away.

November 30, 2011 at 07:27 PM · Warning: If you post it here, you will get fedback from everyone ranging from a three-month old newbie to Itzhak Perlman (under a clever pseudonym, of course, or at least that's what I like to pretend). Not all of the feedback you receive will be helpful, and as a beginner, it will be difficult for you to tell which advice to follow.

December 1, 2011 at 12:06 AM · Hey there,

I'll just tell you what I feel that is going to help you the most: Do not start working on the Pachelbel until you are firm with the first position on the fingerboard. This means that your intonation should be really, really good. Otherwise the Canon in d will be very frustrating and it seems that you are already somewhat frustrated. Also it requires three or four times changing from the first position to the second/third position which is still hard for me even though I can play very accurately. Why?

You need to pay attention to posture, intonation, bow hand, bow stroke, right arm, left arm and read the notes at the same time. Each one of these things need to be trained first. Not necessarely seperately, but with easier pieces of music.

I recommend using one single book that contains about 100 exercises (-> library) plus enough easy pieces to satisfy you for at least one year or two. In my opinion that is much more fun than concentrating on the Pachelbel. Every 2 weeks you take a new exercise, whilst repeating the others you already learned.

I write this from the point of view of an advanced beginner, not from the view of a teacher. This is what I do to not get frustrated and it certainly works. Cudos to you learning without a teacher, this is hard. One last thing: Do not play every day for one hour if you don't feel like it - if you do some exercises at least every 3 days you will be fine. You do not need to push yourself to do this, if you exercise too much you might get very demotivated at some point.

December 1, 2011 at 03:33 PM · I have to completely agree with Kristian, for a few reasons: #1: I am a returning violin player, have been absent from it for almost 30 years. # 2: The only thing helping me is that I completely understand music theory application, and have been using it to learn, play, and improve on, and record my own music on guitar, (same with keys / synth, and violin) but mainly guitar, which I never stopped playing: reason #3: (and probably the most helpful, for myself at least) realizing that the violin is tuned in 5ths, and is strung exactly opposite from guitar, helped me to understand how to play it (the violin) so therefore, I already had begun to practice all the major, minor, melodic minor, and harmonic minor scales in 1st position only, before moving on to learning scales in the 2nd and 3rd position: this is a very important methodology to not only learning the fingerboard, but to condition your fingers' "Mechanical memory" so to speak, so that you're learning the correct way: all the while, focusing on whether or not your intonation is correct, for each position learned, and improving it until perfect, before learning how to transition from 1st, to 2nd, to 3rd positions, in any order: this process took me a few months to "nail" despite being a guitarist all my life: moving from a fretted instrument to a non-fretted was a big (REALLY BIG) change, but now I am comfortable enough to simply listen along to any piece of classical music, by any composer, and simply play along, and learn the piece, and after a few attempts, can pretty much "get it" - might not be 100% perfect, but if I dwell on one composition long enough, each day, I will nail it, by the end of the week, no matter what: so I would definitely follow her advice, and I hope you can understand what I'm saying, too: it does really help. Just take your time, you'll get it. Let yourself learn the "position transitioning" last, and just simply learn each position separately, from each other, 1st, I believe that would be the best way to approach it.

December 1, 2011 at 03:35 PM · PS: I picked up Pachelbel's Canon in d the other day, and it was really cool to learn it in just one night. felt really good about it, and it was a proud moment. You'll get it. Just takes time.

December 7, 2011 at 02:39 AM · Haha Emily! I wish it was me who was Perlman...

Franco, speaking about Emily's post, if you have steady access to the internet, CHECK OUT YOUTUBE for videos on learning the violin. Mr. Perlman has his own YouTube name now and answers questions about playing. It's simple stuff but really very good for a beginner and good advice for anyone!

Look up his video on bow grip called 'Itzhak on Bow Grip' as well as his advice on how to practice called 'Itzhak on Practicing'

To remark on your desire to play canon in D, go for it, just follow his advice on playing it SLOW first. Make as good a sound as you can then try to speed it up. And look in a mirror while you play to make sure your bow is ALWAYS parallel to the bridge :-)

December 7, 2011 at 02:44 AM · P.S. - Not all the stuff on YouTube is good, maybe other people can suggest good videos as opposed to ones that won't be as time efficient...

May 21, 2013 at 11:45 PM · The violin lesson by Simon Fischer includes details of violin playing techniue. I just got it, and like it much. Many advices for self learners too although it clearly says it is not meant to be substitute of teacher. Anyone using this book?

May 22, 2013 at 03:56 AM · Hi, could you trade something for lessons?

I know a man that does the outside work (shovelling, painting, tool work, car mechanics etc.) for a woman who is a school teacher and teaches privately to his son who has learning problems.

They make it that way for financial reasons, it is good for both parties and they live in the countryside where such arrangments are often made.

You could find an elderly violinist who needs someone for weekly services as doing the groceries... I'm serious :)

May 22, 2013 at 01:08 PM · This is an old thread, I hope the OP figured something out!

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