Starting violin...need some help

November 25, 2012 at 01:54 AM · Ok i'm thinking about violin at 23 and just want to ask a few questions to clear up some things i'm thinking of, and it is regarding the crappy subject of self learning.

I'm aware self learning violin is looked down upon since there are so many habits and pitfalls you can fall into. Unfortunately for various reasons, I won't be able to get lessons until maybe a year from now minimum, could be 3 years even, and when I do get them I probably will only be able to get 3 and never again. Because I happen to be starting Uni soon and what timing I thought of to start violin. So (this is not a money issue, it is a parental issue) questions below.

1/ If I have missed it, what are the reasons self learning is so bad, as I want to see all these issues and hopefully avoid or study beforehand how to eliminate them.

2/ If I was to take lessons online, eg from Ben Chan, Todd Ehle + looking around for hundreds more is it possible to self study, reason I ask this is their websites look soooo detailed, that it makes me think that their instruction videos would deal with all the habits, posture problems and pitfalls with self learning, if I am incorrect in thinking this please advise why.

3/ Books to buy when learn violin, although I would prefer online videos or links to resources that cover said information in books, as it is easily accessible. So why do we get those books when the videos and internet is so detailed, please advise.

4/ Would just like to know some daily simple excercise regimes to practice violin everyday, eg lets say you were really busy one day and had no time to extensively practice, what small practice would you do, so that it is still beneficial and you are still learning a bit everyday?

5/ Before I get the violin (and since I have no musical experience), which may take a few weeks, what should I start learning that I can do now? eg reading music, learning where notes are etc etc (almost like theory stuff that doesn't involve the actual instrument)

6/ This is only 1% chance, so don't consider it strongly, but do you think if I did the above self study for maybe 3 months, and was able to get a maximum of 3 lessons after would that be the most efficient time to get lessons? aka 3 months self study and the 3 lessons used to correct habits and pitfalls, as I think if the 3 lessons were done before the self study, it would be wasted, as I THINK I would be taught holding bow, notes etc, when most of those can be self learned, and it's the pitfalls and habits I should be correcting with lessons. Am I wrong in thinking this?

Thank you for your looking at my detailed questions that are quite long, i'm quite technical so I try to understand as much of something that I can so please bear with me.

Replies (23)

November 25, 2012 at 05:23 AM · I don't think it is looked down on, it is just looked at like something that only people that don't play the violin will seriously attempt.

That conundrum aside, I see it similar to learning calculus; it is possible to learn by yourself, but it is already something difficult to learn, and not having a teacher augments that difficulty.

The things you would need to achieve success include an excellent ear, disciplined habits and an ability to maintain a practice schedule, as well as some music theory, aside from any violin skill.

I had an instructor to start, I then tried to continue on my own, but I am struggling; I really need a teacher. My problems are related to scheduling; I have too many other things that conflict.

So, although I have played for a few years, I don't hesitate to assume that someone with a teacher that keeps their practice schedule can't pass me in a matter of months.

So, how far do you expect to get with the violin? If you plan on getting very far, definitely find some way to include an instructor.

November 25, 2012 at 06:09 AM · I have no high ambitions such as goal is to play well enough without effort when I want to relax, and if I was ever asked to play at a wedding or something, I don't mind.

November 25, 2012 at 06:26 AM · Todd Ehle is very good and also Beth Blackerby from You have to pay a membership fee to access violinlab. It's worth it.

I would spend some time with both these sources, and then when you decide which you like better, get in touch personally with Todd or Beth, and ask what books or other material they would recommend and if they could advise you as you study using their materials.

November 25, 2012 at 11:15 AM · I have not looked through all Todds videos yet, but does it cover where to put your fingers to get what notes??? or should I get stickers and read a chart?

And another question, could I get a list of some sort of what you believe is the first things you should learn as a beginner...i'm aware I wouldn't have to ask this question if I had a teacher but bear with me.

November 25, 2012 at 11:32 AM · 1/ The main reason in the beginning that self-learning is not advised is because the majority of things that can go wrong are things that may only be apparent to a trained eye. They are not things that students will be able to identify on their own and failing to correct them will result in a lot of time being wasted in the long run. These may be individual things that don't happen to every student. Each one is slightly different and a position and technique that is appropriate for someone else may not work for your individual physiology.

2/ Those online lessons can be helpful but they are not a substitute for having a teacher who can look at you, see the problem your having and say "ah, this is why that's happening. Try it this way and do it again".

3/ Books are individual. All for Strings is a good one. Wohlfahrt, Sevcik book 1 and Hrimaly scales are classics. If I were you I'd avoid the Suzuki cookie-cutter, but that's personal preference mainly.

4/ Scales.

5/ Rhythm.

6/ If you self-teach and then get lessons after you've already done this, it's not efficient. Your teacher will likely have to start you all over. I've seen students who have had bad teachers who failed to make corrections and the students are still struggling to get over those bad habits years later. The most efficient time to get lessons is the beginning, and from someone you can trust.

P.S. No finger tapes and no stick-on thingies of any kind.

November 25, 2012 at 11:58 AM · Why no stickers??? would you learn where the notes are???...and thanks for answering each of my points

November 25, 2012 at 02:15 PM · You learn where the notes are by listening. You have to hear them.

Many teachers do use stickies as well...but I think you're better off not doing so. I think it slows you down in the long run because you start to count on the visual and don't learn the listening skills.

The rest comes with muscle memory...your hand learns where it needs to go to hit a certain note...and your ear confirms it...

November 25, 2012 at 02:23 PM · Maybe there are class lessons at your college to access, possibly as an elective. It is worth looking. Also if there is a music program, you might find a violin major willing to teach you for a modest amount of $. If you can manage a few lessons to help you start out well, then drop back in every few months, you could save a lot of wasted time. There are many scenerios for "affording" lessons. Maybe a teacher needs yard work, dog-walking or childcare. / In the best scenerio, you find the pitches by careful listening and adjusting your finger. You need to have enough of an ear to identify something like "this sound is a correct part of the major scale I am playing". The tapes, dots and graph things are for folks who can't hear pitch well, and for teachers teaching large groups of kids all at once. A quick visual is useful for kid, teacher and parent-monitor, if there is one, when there isn't time to teach this one-to-one.

November 25, 2012 at 03:59 PM · Best to get a few lessons at the start to learn the proper way to hold the instrument, and get periodic check-up/lessons as you can to make sure your posture is correct. If this foundation isn't laid down well, your risk of having physical pain later goes up let alone being able to play well.

Outside of that, there are many things you can learn on your own: how to read music, ear training (recognizing notes and if they are sharp or flat), rhythms, basic music theory, etc. Having this sort of knowledge will help your violin playing, teacher or no teacher.

November 25, 2012 at 05:28 PM · You can't go wrong listening to recordings from the golden-age masters: Fritz Kreisler, Mischa Elman, Jeannette Neveu, Nathan Milstein, Heifetz, Oistrakh, Jacques Thibaud, etc... Listen to their slower, non-virtuoso performances to get a grasp of what exactly they are doing that communicates so much. Music is an art of expression, and feeling and passion MUST be there from day one to guide your efforts. Don't ever give up! Listen to link below:

November 25, 2012 at 08:58 PM · You should use one of the comprehensive elementary method books which includes detailed step by step routines with photos showing how to hold the violin and the bow, instruction in note reading, elementary musicianship (scales, rhythms, etc) and graded musical material (songs, pieces) all of which is presented step-by-step in a coordinated sequence.

The best are:

String Explorer

Artistry in Strings

Essential Elements

Along the same lines but IMHO not as good are:

String Builder

A Tune a Day (that's the one I started with)

the Suzuki books are not comprehensive in the same way. Wohlfahrt could be considered a supplement to one of the abovementioned method books.

Good luck!

November 26, 2012 at 12:39 AM · I noodled around with my violin for a year while my kids started Suzuki lessons. I tried keeping up with them, and studied Todd Erhle etc. They are all good things. But you get more content in two months of instruction than you will in a year of noodling. In person instruction shows YOU what YOU are doing wrong and how to correct to try and do it right.

Why not straight up plead with your folks for lessons?

November 26, 2012 at 12:42 AM · And there's nothing wrong with stickers aside from dogma and Tradition (cue Fiddler on the Roof...)

There's enough to focus on as a beginner with bow hold, etc, etc. ad infinitum to worry about not using tapes. Use them to start and eventually you will no longer need them.

November 26, 2012 at 12:54 AM · Tradition!

November 26, 2012 at 01:19 AM · You can too put stickers on your fingerboard. It's your damned violin after all. I recommend using red electrical tape that has been cut so that it is only about 1/8" wide. Where to put them? Just about any "method book" will show you approximately where the notes are with pictures, and an electronic tuner can help you get them close enough for starting out. Volume 1 Suzuki Method would be a useful purchase. Get the CD with it. You should probably take the tapes off after you have finished Book 1 or halfway through Book 2. Certainly before you start shifting.

The reason Todd Ehle's videos are detailed is because playing the violin is an incredibly detail-oriented activity. Todd is a very fine violinist and the product of top-drawer training.

Someone above said that maybe one of your university teachers would accept payment-in-kind in the form of "yard work, dog-walking, or childcare." Be careful... many universities explicitly prohibit these kinds of activities as conflicts of interest. If you want university instruction, pay for the credit hours or the fee, whichever it might be. That said, the suggestion to look for a group class is a good one. For all you care it might be a group class that is otherwise made up entirely of small children.

January 6, 2013 at 07:04 AM · "Why no stickers??? would you learn where the notes are???"

Your ear should be telling you where the notes are.

January 6, 2013 at 08:30 AM · If you haven't done any ear training to recognize intervals, it might be beneficial initially to have some visual aids to help narrow the range of placement for your fingers. If you're self-teaching, it will help considerably in finding that first basic hand frame.

The objective here is not to substitute the visual for the auditory, but to make use of more senses (visual, aural, and tactile) together to develop the awareness necessary to play the instrument. Eventually, you'll be looking at your fingers for their whole/half step spacing instead!

January 6, 2013 at 10:32 AM · Yes, I personally think one can learn this instrument on their own. But at what cost? Bad habits, bad form, confidence, etc. I can not assume what your goals are with this instrument. if it is just for fun and personal entertainment than learning without a teacher is achievable. But if later you want to get serious and take it to the next level you may find yourself relearning many techniques you thought you had acquired.

My suggestion is to learn by playing songs or music you like. Don't force yourself to play that you are not into, this will only make the learning process that much more frustrating. Also play songs you already know. This also helps in translating.

Most important, just have fun with it.

Welcome to the violin.

January 8, 2013 at 02:07 PM · You could at least try to get a more experienced friend to help you out. The beginning can be a lil bit awkward and bumpy especially without someone to guide you.

January 8, 2013 at 05:04 PM · Aaron

I started a youtube channel in September and have been uploading videos since then. I have taught violin for almost 20 years and have freelanced profesionally for about the same amount of time. I would love to get your thoughts on my videos. I also have a blog website in which I talk about the specific video in detail in a blog post. I think my videos would help you to get started and it's free.

Here is my playlist for beginner violin lessons

Here is my playlist for how to hold the violin bow

Enjoy and good luck to you. You have a great desire already and that combined with good instruction and practice and you are on your way.

If you found this information to be helpful please subscribe to my newsletter at

and/or to my youtube channel

January 9, 2013 at 08:59 PM · Hey there, I'm in your exact same position Aaron, except that I am originally a classical pianist so i don't have to waste time teaching myself to read music, or learn scales and theory. I know my scales, and theory, and need to spend time only on learning where those notes are on the fingerboard, and how to hold the violin, how to bow, and correct posture. Im not sure weather that gives a large advantage, but it certainly provides a 'focus' and makes self teaching quite a bit easier.

Let me tell you the downsides of self teaching from someone who is right now in the process of learning the hard way. I started playing with the violin resting in the web of my hand, and did that for 3 days. I then learned that was bad practice, and had to relearn simply how to hold it. I then found out after relearning how to hold it that i was holding my bow wrong with my thumb straight and not bent, my pinky straight and stiff, and my hand way to far forward. I then had to relearn that.

Then, before realizing that there are firm believers in each end of the spectrum, i got stuck in trying to figure out weather holding the violin up with your left hand or not was good practice. I taught myself one way, thought i found out i was wrong and re-taught myself the other way, then finally realized that some people prefer one and some prefer the other method and they are very opinionated on their style, and this is still being debated in the violin community today. I ended up going BACK to playing with a shoulder rest and having my left hand free aside from the thumb, however if your keeping count, ive now re-taught myself the very very basics about 5-6 times. So ive made 1 weeks worth of progress in 3 weeks.

Now..I think all of that is fun, and not only that, its teaching me WHY things are the 'right' way and the 'wrong' way and giving me a far better appreciation for teachers, the instrument, and my own achievements in learning it. If you can look at it in that way, its not so bad.

Still after all that, i do plan on getting a teacher for at least 1-2 lessons on the basics, simply for confirmation that ive finally picked up an acceptable way of playing.

January 10, 2013 at 12:52 AM · The problem with adult beginners is that they don't want to accept the technical nature of the instrument. They want to play pieces immediately like is possible on a piano. The serious instructor wouldn't even want this type of pupil which probably accounts for up to 90% or greater.

I've seen time after time, students with instructors who have absolutely no bow skills after 6 months. Can't draw the bow at an even speed, can't do a smooth bow change, can't maintain a contact point, use only the middle third, etc. Please don't tell most instructors are not interested in bs'ing their delusional students.

January 11, 2013 at 01:45 PM · I have an update on my progress that may aid you in your own Aaron. I spent alot of my time in this beginning period playing on a rented instrument in the 'lower quality tier' of instruments the shop offered. I noticed a few things i was unhappy with about the instrument after actually playing it for awhile and decided to go swap it out for the 'highest quality tier' one of my choosing. After about an hour i selected one which had a brand new set of dominants (strings) on it which beat the preludes on my lower quality one i was trading in and also looked pretty on top of everything else.

When i got it home i was amazed. The sound quality, action of the strings, everything down to the chinrest was so superior that it made an audible impact in my playing. My point here is, if you cant afford a decent instrument whole sale, find a decent violin shop and rent a high quality one from them. Im paying 35$ a month now, and if that is possible for you to do the ability to learn on a good instrument makes playing and picking things up quicker, easier, and more rewarding when you hear yourself producing a beautiful sound.

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