Self-learning violinists, tell me your stories!

April 18, 2014 at 11:36 PM · Hi, I'm a violin teacher looking for succes- and disasterstories of people who learn or learned violin by themselves, and for ways to improve the self-learning process. Can you tell me...

1) What is your biggest struggle when learning violin on your own? (e.g. lack of time, energy, discipline, guidance...) Do you have problems with sound quality, pain when playing, issues

with the instrument s.a. tuning...?

How do you adress these problems?

2) Are you completely self-taughtor did you have a teacher at some point? Why did you want to learn the violin by yourself?

3) Have you used online resources, courses or books? What kind? What worked out well and what didn't, what was missing? Did you find solutions for the 'missing links'?

Thanks for taking the time, looking forward to hear your answers!

Replies (70)

April 19, 2014 at 02:48 AM · Apart from the very minimal lessons I had, I consider myself to be completely self-taught. I chose to do this because of the high fees demanded by violin teachers and the lack of time I could devote to practising the violin. But I have no 'disaterstory' to tell you, my story is of 'success'....

In my early years of violin study I desired to acquire the classical players technique, but I did not want to play classical music....I wanted to use this technique as an improviser, which I am today...thus 'success'.

This was all before internet so I have read many books and have many books in my library. My favourite book is 'Herbert Whone, The Simplicity Of Playing The Violin'. Everything worked very well, there are not any 'missing links'.

The only struggle I have, and that is nothing any book or teacher can fix, it is just what I am born with, or lack of, ( or maybe this was neglected in my pursuit of technique ) is the memory of musical pieces. But I continue to improve my ability in this area by committing to memory violin pieces for my repertoire. And I believe the Bach S & P to be invaluable in this regard.

April 19, 2014 at 06:09 AM · David,

I think your research might yield more concrete conclusions if you could also obtain a reasonable-length sample of each player's playing.

In coaching chamber music, I've worked with a number of "self-taught" players who have accomplished quite a bit on their own. Not to detract from their accomplishment, but often times there are significant gaps in their technical training that can't be easily solved independently (and that's if they're even aware of it). I do understand that there are regions of the world where high quality teachers are not available, but I hope that advanced communication technology can help bridge that gap some day.

April 19, 2014 at 07:55 AM ·

April 19, 2014 at 11:42 AM · Very interesting question. I'm going to give a fairly full answer, in the hope of countering the usual advice here that teaching yourself is a doomed enterprise. I know many very good players who are largely self-taught. I feel that the key issues are to develop an effective approach to identifying and solving problems, and to have realistic goals - you simply ain't going to be playing the Brahms in the Albert Hall...

Why teach myself?

It started (in my mid 50s) because of financial constraints. But then I realised I enjoy the challenge.

It's increasingly clear to me that all good players have, to a large degree, developed their own approach to the problems of the violin and that the best teachers help their students become self-sufficient in this problem-solving process. But in a rural area there are few teachers with that level of skill, and I would probably drive a more directive teacher crazy by questioning everything that didn't make sense to me.

I'm a confident self-learner and problem solver, so I'm finding the whole process enjoyable. I'm sure a good teacher would accelerate my learning by helping me identify issues earlier, but I'm not in a rush...

Completely self-taught?

Pretty much. Played the cello at high school, which is both a help and a danger, as you have to understand the differences. I do have a semi-pro background as a singer, so I haven't had to struggle with the fundamentals of music.

I do occasionally ask classically trained fiddlers for feedback and in general they feel there's nothing obviously off-track in my technique.


My main goal is to have fun, and the fiddle has given me enormous pleasure. So in that sense it's been a 100% success.

My stretch goal is to become a useful semi-pro folk fiddler in my retirement, and I seem to be on track for that - I'm starting to get pretty positive feedback from knowledgeable people. My main interest is the Doric Scottish style which is quite demanding technically (full tone, position playing, of-the-string bowing etc) so I'm focusing on correct classical technique.


Pretty smooth sailing, really. I've been making stately but steady progress, and seem to be able to solve whatever problems have come up.

I've been focusing very much on developing a safe, relaxed and fluid technique, and this has been the biggest challenge, rather than any specific technical issue. A background is Yoga has been helpful here, as I have a reasonable grasp of body mechanics.

Useful resources

These days you can easily find all you need, I think. I've used the usual resources - Fischer, Ehle, Sassmanshaus etc. And adapted some insights from cello pedagogy too. I also use the archives here on

Every now and again I come to the forum for advice, and have always received generous and often brilliant guidance.

April 19, 2014 at 12:35 PM · I am a product of internet pedagogy with only a few months of live teacher assistance to start.

I did have some background with other instruments so sight reading was no big problem. I also had no problem with intonation. I will venture up to 3rd/5th position if I must. Fast tempos still limit me.

I've had a violin for about 10 years. It was an orphan from the grammar school days of my son. My actual violin "career" probably amounts to 4 years or so. I started and stopped often.

I recently decided that I had achieved my main goals. I have performed in church to 100-150 people both solo and in groups. (And I was asked back :)

Does my playing suffer for not having a good teacher ? Most definitely "Yes". In what way ? Every way.

It's a matter of the details that turn a violin performance into something special.

Right now I would rate my playing as "average" but I think a good teacher would have had me push the envelope a lot more.

April 19, 2014 at 10:52 PM · Well said, Darlene!

We all teach ourselves when practice alone, so we are all self-taught to a large degree. The worst thing about self-teaching is how do we know what we don't know? How many gaps and how much cognitive bias can we tolerate in self-teaching? This is why I still want lessons at a fairly advanced level after more than ten years of leaning the violin, even just once in a while.

Reasons for not having a teacher is too easy to come up with, mostly has to do with money, let's be honest. With Internet full of free stuff, you have a little voice inside saying "why paying some one so much money when I can get free advice and DIY?" I don't think this is a good reason at all because this shows you are not that serious and you don't know what you have missed.

You may have tried some teacher and it didn't work out, or worse, you were injured by your previous teacher. I've been there, but this is like saying once fell on the ground, I now prefer not to walk.

These are not reasons but excuses. So the question we should be asking is: do I have a really good reason to rob myself from the opportunity of the best violin education I could have by not getting a best teacher I can afford?

April 19, 2014 at 11:27 PM · Greetings,

given the state of the world I think it is becoming harder and harder for anyone to afford the time and costs of learning to play the violin to a reasonable level. I deliberately use the term reasonable level (even though that is undefinable anyway) because I don't take very seriously the idea that one would want to just do something a little. Most people aren't like that and even when their motivation is simply to play a few tunes nicely enough not to hurt their ears that in itself is not a simple achievement arrived at by disorganized messing around. So it makes me really happy that the Internet and other resources are at least compensating in part for this gap.

What Yixi says is absolutely true but I hope those of us who have already trodden part of the path will continue our efforts to support teacherless players efforts on the violin . It is also in our interest because it sustains interest in concert going and the likes



April 20, 2014 at 02:33 AM · Very wise man you are Buri! I am not so sure that those who don't want to pay for lessons are willing to pay for concerts though, not if the motivation is solely monetary for being teacher-less.

I know I sound harsh but I strongly feel music education takes a village. Buri, you've done a great service here as a teacher and mentor to many of us, but we students should know when to give and when to take too. So many wonderful professional violinists out there struggle to make ends meet. It is not too much to ask those of us who love music and have a day job to seek some of them out -- give them a call, try a few lessons, go to their concerts, and even better, volunteer for local musician groups and help with fundraising. Yes, we all want to have some fun with violin, but you will have way more fun when you are actively engaged with music commmunity and contribute to it.

April 20, 2014 at 03:42 AM · For some people, it is difficult to even find a violin teacher ! Now if you live in New York I am sure that there are violin teachers aplenty. But if you live in smaller regional areas then you might encounter some problems.

Even when I was living in a capital city of over one million people (Brisbane) I would often call round and get told :

1. Sorry, I am all booked up. Try again in 6 months.

2. Sorry, I only teach advanced students.

3. Sorry, I only teach children.

That last one is becoming increasingly common here. What is that all about ?

So when I moved to Cairns (population 140,00) the situation was even worse. Recently I have had the good fortune to find a violin teacher who has just moved here but prior to that there was nobody available. Money is a problem too but I get around that by having fortnightly lessons rather than weekly. This is not ideal but better than no lessons at all.

For anybody contemplating teaching yourself : DON'T ! You will only teach yourself how NOT to play the violin correctly and it will take months to unlearn everything that you are doing wrong.

My biggest problem is bowing ; trying to get the right wrist to be flexible so as to execute a full and smooth bow stroke. I find playing at the frog especially difficult. I need to put more pressure on the bow but WITHOUT increasing the pressure of the left hand on the fingerboard. I really struggle with this.

April 20, 2014 at 03:59 AM · Greeetings,

Yixi, I aspire to be wise but it is not working. ... I do see the Internet etc. route as the very last resort for the reasons you outline.


You dont actually need -any- weight at the heel of the bow . The weight of the bow is enough. Probaly you need to explore the role of the thumb a little more in general. Make sure you are only contacting the bow with the top right hand corner of the the tip of the thumb. Common mistake is to have a lot of thumb on the stick and even poling through to connect with the first finger.

Then consider how the thumb changes shape as you approach the point. It straightens in order to provided counter pressure against the weight of the forearm which is being filtered through the first finger. On the way back the bends and releases the pressure. Its an interesting thing, but even players already in the profession sometimes have the habit of not fully releasing the counter pressure at the heel with the result their bowing is never fully as fluid and comfortable as it should be.

Also try bending over as far as you can while playing so the violin even touches your left knee. After playing like this you return to the upright position and see how things have changed....

Idle thoughts,


April 20, 2014 at 05:23 AM · You'd only have to look to the best teachers who share a very common goal: to help a student develop their skills to the point where they are *able* to teach themselves (and others).

Those of us who teach for a living also continue to grow through professional development activities, including taking lessons from a diverse range of teachers, throughout our careers.

Self-teaching isn't impossible, and it's certainly a worthwhile intellectual challenge. But there are times when experience is valuable, and while mowing the lawn with scissors is impressive, some of us don't have the luxury of that time.

April 20, 2014 at 07:15 AM · Greetings,

`including taking lessons from a diverse range of teachers, throughout our careers.`

yep. expensive isnt it...



April 20, 2014 at 11:06 PM · We're getting the usual "don't even think about it" responses from some, but I go back to my point that it's all about your goals and your personality.

If your aim is to become a virtuoso classical soloist, you have a fair point.

But there are many other ways of enjoying the violin, and as I often say, I know many excellent semi-pro players in non-classical music who are largely self-taught.

It can be done - in fact it's done quite often. But only if you are a confident self-learner and problem-solver.

April 21, 2014 at 01:53 AM · Geoff, point taken. However I think your assumptions are problematic. You appear to suggest that those who choose to have teacher are neither confident self-learner nor problem solvers. Quite to the contrary, I for instance taught myself English in China (it shows:)) and legally trained in Canada as an ESL and I make a living solving all sorts of problems. I tend to be an overconfident as a self-learner, if anything. I don't want to be a soloist, only want to be as good a violinist as I can and this is the main reason I make sure I learn from those who ahead of me.

As I said before, the unavoidable danger of teacherless lies in the fact you don't know what you don't know. Our friends won't or may not have trained ear to tell us that we sound aweful. I yet to see a self-taught violinist sound good. Prove me wrong if you can :)

That said, being self-taught is really great for one's ego, and if ego is so important, then go for it! You can even be famous on YouTube like this darth vader violinist and have all the fun you want:



April 21, 2014 at 04:57 AM · How about video exchange lesson- which seems to be getting popular due to flexibility and low cost?

April 21, 2014 at 01:28 PM · Hi Yixi

I'm not criticising people who choose to take a teacher - that would be absurd!

But there are many of us who simply can't afford a teacher, or can't find a suitable teacher. The point I'm making is that you can get a good deal of pleasure from the violin in any case, provided you're a problem solver and are prepared to accept a slower rate of progress.

April 21, 2014 at 02:15 PM · Geoff, thanks for clarifying!

I too have experienced porverty and the difficulties of getting a teacher myself. Growing up in a poor and crowded country, my parents' $40 per month income could stretch a lot in China back in the 70s-80s but not when the violin lessons costed more than 15% of one's monthly income. Violin teachers were also extreamly hard to find even in a big city like Shanghai then. You had to beg and bribe your way through to secure one that was half decent. But when people felt so important to giving their kids violin education, they managed by sacrificing and delaying gratification and what have you.

I'm not suggesting everyone should follow the same path as we did back then, but it's worth putting things in some perspective.

April 21, 2014 at 08:17 PM · For me this discussion has put one thing in perspective. I did not realize that it was such a problem to get a teacher in a big city.

Ever since I moved to a small town, I have been moaning about the lack of violin teachers here.

I have been lucky enough to be taught by the one fiddle teacher in our town (next closest town is a 2 hour drive away and I do not own a car).

Sadly he has a day job and is so busy I only get to see him once every four to six weeks for a lesson. The rest of the time, I am on my own. So I feel that I am both self taught and have a teacher as when problems arise I do have to be my own problem solver and figure out what I am doing wrong as I will not see him for quite a while.

I will stop my moaning now as apparently it is apparently just as hard to get a lesson in the big city as it is in my town. :)

April 22, 2014 at 02:41 AM · On the subject of finding a teacher,

I remember when I was looking for a teacher after changing cities, the first teacher I called turned me down, for they do not teach non-children males. This was a first for me and took me by surprise, but I suppose I can understand it in a college city..

April 22, 2014 at 03:53 AM · If you wonder why some teachers put so many conditions on whether to accept a certain type of students, check one of today's top blogs on this site called "18 Real Life Expectations as a working musician" by Michelle Jones and you can see why this is the case. She has painted a very true picture of the life of today's classical musicians, the part of the world most non-musicians don't see and don't understand.

I have many professional musician friends in Canada and I've seen these stories in their life all the time. I have so much respect for these musicians that I can't even put into words.

I also find classically trained musicians tend not be good business people and don't know how to sell themselves. We need to work with them otherwise the loss is just much ours as theirs. If you tried to find a teacher in your area and got lukewarm response or an initial rejection, don't be deterred. Ask them if they are willing to have just one lesson at their convenient time and location. If they say no, give them your phone number and ask them to call if they have changed their mind. If you persist and be nice, based on my experience, most of them will be willing to make an exception for you.

April 22, 2014 at 04:17 AM · Interesting topic and apropos to many of us in the fiddling world.

I am basically self taught but I have to say I started out with one advantage having played guitar for a long time so I was quite aware of chord structure and concepts of scales and melodies.

My greatest struggle was with using the bow correctly and with good tone production.

I did break down (fiddle pun) and get with a classical teacher for 5 or 6 lessons and he was able to help me greatly with bow control. He observed problems I had that I never would have figured out on my own. The only proble was that I had to travel over 100 miles to see him.

Other than that I had to self teach because there was no other solution in my rural area and the few older fiddlers were not keen on showing me anything because they didn't want to lose a guitar player and as I write this they have all long passed on.

I have used some online resources for a few tunes, keeping in mind that I am a fiddler and not a classical player, but I do have to say that even though 80% of my playing is by ear, learning to read music was a great aid to learning songs especially old time breakdowns and other fast tunes. I finally figured that someone else had already invented the wheel so why should I do it all over again.

Unfortunately I have a very bad rotator cuff problem at this point so I have not played violin for a few weeks. It has been back to the guitar and singing and I really miss the fiddle. After I have gotten my shoulder fixed and rehabilitated I am afraid it will be back to square one again with the fiddle.

To sum up I would have to say as a self taught player the worst obstacle was starting way too late in life. A person can never make up those early years of learning. A good example is that after not playing the guitar for a good 10 years it is coming back fast. Those early teen years of learning never really left.

April 22, 2014 at 12:01 PM · I've been a member for a while but have not actually posted - using the forum as a place to pick up useful tips and hints, and for ideas to help my self improvement.

(warning, long post)

This time, I feel compelled to share my experience:

  1. Are you completely self-taught or did you have a teacher at some point? Why did you want to learn the violin by yourself?
  2. I'm lucky that I at least have music education on piano, so I have some basis to fall back on, or somewhere to start trying to decode the mysteries of getting that note to sound on the violin. I started violin a little late - about 12 or 13 and I wanted to learn violin because I liked the sound (ok I admit, it was Vanessa Mae that got me interested)

    I initially had a teacher when I first started, and learnt the basic "how to hold a violin", "how to hold a bow", "how to draw the bow on the string", "first position and third position", but it was frustrating that I could not play what was on the page even though I could read the music fine, know what it sounded like. Struggling with boring Grade 1 repertoire and technical difficulties killed my interest. Also, I was pretty much on my own, my hometown is a small city-town which had only 2 music schools and not many of my friends was interested in classical music.

    Since then, due to studies and moving overseas, I stopped lessons and resumed a few times, kind of stop start (like an engine which wouldnt start!). Overall, I would say I have 6-7 years actually learning on violin (both self studies and with teachers). I lost interest for a few years and my violin lay untouched. I struggled for a while - having no one to talk to, and not knowing how resourceful the internet could be at that time. I was rather nerdy and spent most of my time studying :)

    Then in 2008 I randomly decided to join an open student orchestra for the kicks. This was a turning point. It was my first time playing with other musicians, and was such an experience! after a few rehearsals, I chicken-ed out and didnt do the concert, but what I took away was:

    - I'm not good enough :(

    - I will come back when I'm good enough!

    This was when I tried to get some lessons but they didnt work out.

    I got really serious in 2011 as I joined a quality community orchestra - and darn it showed I could not play the pieces and was missing the technical ability so it was a good kick in the ass to get myself some lessons to improve.

    I had a teacher as recently as last year (had lessons with this teacher for a bit over a year, mostly weekly), but stopped due to lack of time. I was revisiting my piano technique and getting advanced lessons for piano, plus other life events and focus on my day job. I still continued playing in community orchestras, but by this time I was at a level where I could play decently (or 'fake it' decently)

    I'm now in the self study phase due to time restrictions, yet wanting to improve more to be able to meet my orchestral demands.

    So perhaps, I'm 40% tutored and 60% self taught

  3. What is your biggest struggle when learning violin on your own? (e.g. lack of time, energy, discipline, guidance...) Do you have problems with sound quality, pain when playing, issues

    with the instrument s.a. tuning...?

    How do you adress these problems?

  4. My biggest struggle when I had no teacher - for the first time was - I could not find the note on the violin, and it sounded bad and I was frustrated because i could play the exact same thing on piano with ease, but struggled on the violin. I also struggle with the repertoire I was able to play being too boring and too simple for me...

    Oh and scales. I know what a D minor scale sounds like, but hell if I could find where the notes were on the G string! lots of smudging happened. I struggled with tuning, if I did not hit the note I was expecting, this throws me off the entire line or phrase. I also struggled with bowing. I struggle to get the muscle memory 'map' of where the notes are.

    If I had to summarise, I struggled with my differences in proficiencies between my two instruments. I expected to be able to play this - but I cant.

    While in the beginning stages I did have some pain on my finger tips from not having developed callous, it was mostly minor.

    Only recently have I hit the issue of pain and RSI - this is ongoing and I wasn't fully aware of how much impact this can have on a person's life. It may mean I have to take a few months hiatus from violin :( However, I'm using this time to learn the theory and history, eg. reading Wulfhorst

  5. Have you used online resources, courses or books? What kind? What worked out well and what didn't, what was missing? Did you find solutions for the 'missing links'?
  6. My day job involves problem solving, so I think I've used my work skills in solving my violin problems :)

    I actually structured a "course" for myself mentally:

    1. I cant play this piece. Whats wrong? I dont know how to play this note! I can't find it!

    - Drawing on experience on another instruments - perhaps I need to learn scales to find where these notes are. So off I went looking for a book on scales - surely there is fingering for these scales specific to violin? (again, I'm drawing on my knowledge from my other instrument)

    2. This music is boring. Its only a single melodic line (in my case, I'm comparing it to piano right hand and left hand).

    - Well, I started searching for tunes I'm familiar with. Even some which are not playable at my level, I attempt it and then take stock of where I'm at and come back to it later. Having some music I can sort of play, keeps my interest going

    3. Instead of "I can't do this!" reverse it and ask "How do people do this?" which leads to 'how can I do this?'

    Perhaps I need to hear more music played by different musicians? I started going to concerts by community orchestras, and professional orchestras. Here is where Youtube is useful. I started looking up well know musicians - Hilary Hahn, Maxim Vengerov, etc and watching them on those HD videos - watching their techniques, the sound, etc. This is when I started finding patterns, blocks. And I'm finally starting to understand the importance of scales, bowings. I worked on my bowing more (however, improving my bowing was something my teacher identified and guided me on, so its a bit of cheating)

    4. Being around like minded people/community and joining an ensemble

    I think what helped me most was joining an ensemble with like minded people who enjoy music. It was this community where I met really talented and passionate musicians, from whom I've learnt so much by watching, emulating, and talking about music. I've learnt a lot by observation, and asking questions. I've also made friends, who are awesome resources for that late night "How do you play this phrase in Brahms??" question on facebook :)

    Being in an ensemble requires commitment - if I need to learn how to convincingly pull off Dvorak 9 for violin 1, I have a goal to work towards. I find having goals, and having people working towards the same goal is a really good motivator to learn those arpeggios!

    5. Goal setting

    I have a 'progression plan' for myself. I started in the 2nd violins and have now moved to 1st violins. I still struggle in the higher positions and with technical (eg. scales, fingerings, advanced bow techniques)

    6. Details!

    I started becoming more analytical and aware of what I was doing. This came from observation of live performances and recordings on Youtube, Instructional videos on youtube and discussions of techniques/issues on youtube, and listening to recordings. I started to really LISTEN to what I was playing, not what I THINK I'm playing - the articulation, the type of bowing, decresendos/cresendos, what is the music trying to convey? Is this fingering better? Is this note out of tune? Stop, and fix it! slow practice, etc.

    And I started reading books and related materials on too

    Phew, sorry for the long post... I do think I'm luckier than most in that money is not a limitation for me, and having prior musical education AND teachers has enabled me to progress in my self studies

April 22, 2014 at 04:22 PM · I took lessons regularly from age 9 through college, and only sporadically since. I should have done more, but (yes) time and available energy are problems. has been very, very helpful, but certainly no substitute for a teacher.

When I was in grad school (for 5 years), I had literally no time to practice, so (as a Psychologist), I invented a little technique for myself. It got me through grad school without any damage to my technique. In fact, I think I even improved a little.

I've shared this little method (which is similar to some of the responses above) with others, and in the mid-1970's submitted it to a music journal (The Instrumentalist) and got it published - which I am very proud of, since I'm not a professional musician.

It's on my website, and you're welcome to copy it and try it.

Go to -

and click on "music practice tips"



April 22, 2014 at 04:43 PM · Hello there David, I have been studying the violin for four months now,and I have been practicing ever since. I have watched videos on youtube, I have read texts of violin players and still think that the problem about self teaching is that there comes a time where you don't know where to go.

You can play in front of the mirror and record yourself but eventually you grow tired of doing the same stuff and with the same results.

But so far I am happy with my progress, I am very demanding on myself to make things right, here in Brazil every kind of course from language to driving is nothing but a waste of time, if you are a begginer and have no previous knowledge of what it is that you are studying you are damned. And it is one of the reasons why I wanted to learn by myself, but just as I said, eventually you become stuck, also because you don't know which road to take: What should I learn first? Holding the violin, the bow, bowing, finger position, scales,pieces. But then what? Just that?

So I think that a book made for self-teaching students or a website would be of great help for us. If anyone knows of any please tell me.

April 22, 2014 at 05:13 PM · Christopher,

There are tons of great stuff here on you might find helpful. Buri's blogs are extremely insightful and he has helped many of us who with and without teacher over the years so I'd say definitely not to miss that. You can find his blogs at:

Also, Zlata Brouwer provides wonderful short video lessons and she responds to specific questions just like the ones you have mentioned (being stuck, etc). I am an advanced player and have a great teacher, but I'm still learning good tips from her. Go check her out at:

Michael O'Gieblyn’s 17 practice tips video also gives really solid advice and demonstration. The examples he gave may be a bit too advanced for you at this stage but don't worry, if watch the video again and again, you'll absorb the fundamental techniques applicable to all levels:

Good luck


April 22, 2014 at 07:24 PM · Thanks Yixi! Appreciate your help, I will definetely check them! Best of luck for you !

April 22, 2014 at 08:19 PM · Greetings,

thanks Yixi. There is so much good stuff for beginners on the Internet thesedays. Unfortunatey ther eis not so good as well..

Three names to research you can trust are:

Todd Ehles

Kurt Sassmannshaus

Mimi Zweig

Best of luck,


April 23, 2014 at 06:45 PM · This topic speaks to me. I had a wonderful teacher for 5 years,started as an adult beginner with no experience and was working on the Country Dance in Suzuki book 5 when my teacher unexpectedly died. I have been in limbo since as I can't find another teacher in my area. I have been trying to maintain what progress I had made but months later I am still without a teacher.

So my dilemma is do I forge ahead on my own and hope for the best? I've been a member of for several years and anytime someone mentions being self taught the majority of the forum is against it.

So the question is, what is a violin student supposed to do when they do not have access to a teacher, no matter the cost?

April 23, 2014 at 07:46 PM · Tess, it depends a lot on how well your teacher taught you to practice. If you practice well already, then I say keep at what you are doing well and teach yourself to a higher level if you can. You can use mirror and a video recorder to examine yourself from time to time so you will have an objective view of your playing. Of course, there are a lot of online resources, some of which Buri and I mentioned above, from which you will learn a lot.

On the other hand, if you aren't sure if your practice is a sound one, or if you keep practicing but see no improvment, then i would suggest that you pratice less and instead study practice materials out there to see if you can improve on the way you learn.

I was in a similar situation as you are in when I was young so I know how devastating it can be. My first teacher didn't die but he couldn't continue for personal reason and I coulnd't find another teacher for years after that. Foolishly, I kept teaching myself and practiced way too much for my own good. I ended up had to spend years to correct bad habbits built over those self-teaching years.

Hope this helps.


April 24, 2014 at 03:19 AM · Picking up bad technique is definitely a concern. I have been working on pieces I can find videos/recordings such as Rachel Barton Pine's two etude books. I worked through the first Wohlfahrt book with my teacher but don't mind doing it again with Ms. Barton Pine. Would love to have a double stop book with recordings.

Actually, what would be beneficial is a teaching guide to go with the Suzuki books and recordings. Would be helpful to know what specifically each piece is teaching and which technique's are being fine tuned. My teacher was good at visualizing what was going on in each piece to help me break it down and understand the goals to be accomplished. I miss that very much.

April 24, 2014 at 07:48 AM · Your "teaching guide to go with the Suzuki books and recordings" is called The Suzuki Violinist by William Starr (AP 0605). Step by Step series by Kerstin Wartberg also contains a lot of detailed teaching notes for the pieces, especially lower volumes (AP: 20220, 20300, 25601, 25869, 28079, 28084).

April 24, 2014 at 10:18 AM · Hi all,

Thanks for all your posts-really interesting to read people's experiences. I am a violin teacher who teaches children and adults and I often get asked if there is any material to help people learn on their own. As you all know, there are times in life when having a teacher is great, and at other times having a teacher is not convenient or possible for whatever reason.

When you play the violin, the technique varies depending on individual body-shape as well as on the instrument and bow and to some extent to the music chosen and therefore in my opinion it it near impossible to learn good violin technique from a book, however well written- and there is a lot of really good stuff around.

I have recently launched Pro-Am Strings, where you can find good quality technique videos. There is also the possibility of backing up what you have learned with Skype lessons and weekends away. I think for most people, a combination of online and face to face learning will work the best. Check out

I have great respect for people with the stamina and determination to teach themselves a string instrument. But I know from experience that having a good teacher is often a lot more efficient, as a teacher can point out how to approach issues in a structured way. We all know that when we try things on our own, we quite often take the long route, finding out what does NOT work before we find out what does. Having a good teacher therefore saves time and energy, which may be better spent learning new things.

Best regards,

Henriette de Vrijer

April 24, 2014 at 02:19 PM · I encountered several challenges to being self-taught and to being taught by teachers. The biggest being the tradition of pedagogy that has developed in violin teaching. In a general sense, pedagogy is a method to teach people how to teach themselves by developing a framework of critical thinking while giving them some initial skills to get them started. But in the violin world, it seems the word has taken on a rougher meaning: "Do it my way. Period."

In order to make progress and avoid frustration, I found the following mind set helps when dealing with self-teaching literature and teachers: if I do not feel relaxed, comfortable, yet confident after giving a piece of advice a "fair shake", then I toss it aside and look for something else.

That said, I cannot emphasize enough the advantages of a "good" teacher, especially when you get to a point where you want to add sophistication to your playing, like creative use of dynamics, accents and bowing patterns. Sadly, the reality is such teachers seem a bit rare and expensive.

Some highlights...

Violin Position

I have read descriptions by famous artists and teachers on how to do this, only to view videos of them where they break all the rules they so carefully laid down. An apologist might say, "Well, that is because they are advanced!" A more likely explanation is they did not actually write the descriptions but instead lent their names to the publication.

Videos of actual artists talking about their violin hold and the use of shoulder rests made one thing clear to me: they adapted their positions to match the contours of their body. Once this became clear, a little experimentation soon yielded a very comfortable and secure violin position, both with and without a shoulder rest.

No more death grip on the violin neck, jaw clamp on the chin rest, shoulder scrunching or odd-looking head tilts! If you suffer from any of these, you should rethink the position of the violin upon your collar bone or try a different shoulder rest. What is good for the teacher, virtual or real, just might be rarely good for the student when it comes to violin positioning.

Thumb Position

The thumb position of the fingering hand is also a topic of much discussion. I had an Aha! moment after processing two bits of advice from internet guru Todd Ehles.

1. The hand position should be balanced so your middle fingers and pinky can comfortably reach their diatonic intonation positions (notes on the scale you are playing), and

2. The angle of the hand to the finger board should be such that simply activating the base knuckle will throw the finger down and forward into the correct position for diatonic intonation.

Interestingly, if many people attempt to achieve this by using Todd's explanation on how to position their thumb, they are likely to have problems. Here is why. There are practical reasons for 1 and 2 above. You need to be able to accurately, reliably and comfortably play a range of notes with all four fingers. Once you achieve a hand position that gives you 1 and 2, then where your thumb ends up is the "correct" position for you.

I have looked at many videos of the great soloists. I cannot name two that use the same thumb position in the lower positions. Most are not even similar unless playing in the higher hand positions. Yet they all fire off their fingers like mini-piano hammers with seemingly effortless and accurate intonation.

When I took Todd's suggestions, 1 and 2, and let my thumb position itself naturally, it looked more like the hand of Zino Francescatti than Todd Ehles (if only I could play a hundreth as well as either of them!) But the bottom line is I am now confident in my intonation through my first three fingers. The pinky is slowly but surely finding its way. And the whole hand feels very comfortable.

Bow Hold

The violin world's brand of pedagogy is perhaps most evident in its approach to teaching the bow hold. There is no end to the HOW, but rarely a coherent discussion of WHAT one is trying to achieve. I went through a parade of unnatural, cramped and inflexible grips that online gurus and well-known authors swore were the best in the business.

Then I stumbled onto an extensive discussion of bow technique by cellist Georg Mertens. In it, he tells the story of a student who complained that when the teacher uses the student's hold, the teacher sounds like the teacher. But when the student uses the teacher's hold, he still sounds like a student. After many lessons, the student concluded that there must be something else that the teacher gets from the bow hold that has not been communicated to the student.

The same cellist also mentions the time another famous cellist broke his hand before a concert, and could only proceed by gripping the bow in his fist. After the concert people commented on his wonderful tone! There is SOMETHING that the bow hold needs to do, and once one knows this secret function, pleasing tones can be produced with a variety of grips.

The main functions of the bow hold that I gathered from self-teaching literature are:

1. Maintain a relaxed, supple wrist in order to execute a variety of bowing techniques and develop a consistent, uniform tone along the whole bow,

2. Have the pressure of the bow on the index finger consistently reflect the pressure of the hairs on the string so one gets accurate and reproducible feedback on how hard strings are being worked, a critical bit of information for developing pure tones, executing accents and bowing in various positions from the bridge to the fingerboard, and

3. Hold the bow parallel to the bridge when taking a natural position at the mid-point of the bow so pleasing tone production occurs with little effort across a good part of the bow.

These functions should be achieved with a comfortable, yet secure grip. What the grip looks like will vary among players depending on the size of their hand, the proportions of their fingers, and how the hand has been shaped by the work they have performed throughout their lifetime. Like the thumb of the fingering hand, a quick video survey of past and current soloists yields a variety of bow grips, all producing a wide range of amazing tones.

My hands were formed as a teenager by unloading ship cargo along the docks of Philadelphia. The callouses are long gone, but the hands are shaped more like hammer heads than long, dainty spider legs. I guess if I started the violin at age 5, the stress of practicing would have molded their shape into something compliant to a Galamian hold. But such a hold is painful and unnatural to me. I can pick up a bow and have it look exactly like the pictures, but I have no shot at achieving the bow functions with it.

I place the fat pad of my thumb on the leather, close to the nut, then let the rest of the fingers curve naturally around the bow. The bow is cradled in the middle knuckle of the index finger because that makes the bow align parallel to the bridge. I guess it might be called a "Russian" hold, but I prefer "comfortable and secure". I obtained all three functions with ease and my tone production improved so dramatically that members of my household no longer accuse me of murdering cats while I practice.


Sassmannshaus's website is an excellent resource for systematically presenting technique at multiple levels of skill. He usually ends a video with something like "...practice this for 5 minutes every day...". I cannot emphasize enough how amazing this last piece of advice is. Do something every day, even if it is only for 5 minutes. I was astounded at how rapidly the mind and body can be trained through daily, modest repetition.

The writings of Auer helped me early on by insisting one focus on open string bowing. Indeed, his entire book 1 of the Graded Course series contains only open string bowing exercises. Simply put, the hands want to move together. Once the bow hand can unconsciously stroke the strings with good tone, I found intonation exercises much easier. Even today, many months after I first picked up a violin, I make sure I practice a variety of bow techniques and rhythm patterns on open strings every day.

Finally, end each practice session with a song! Even if it is just some variation of Twinkle Twinkle. After all, THE reason why we study the violin is to make music.

April 24, 2014 at 04:55 PM · Pavel : thank you for the book recommendation.

Carmen : I had the same epiphany when watching Todd Ehles video on left hand finger placement. I was taught to put 1st finger down then space the others accordingly and that made 4th finger stretch quite a lot. Once I started thinking with Mr. Ehles method, I had much less tension in my hand and 1st and 4th finger were both working equally instead of 4th taking the brunt of the load.

April 24, 2014 at 05:33 PM · Noob here. I've been "playing" since December 2013. I'm 34 yo, but I've been in band all through school. I remember my first day at band orientation when the teacher asked me what instrument I'd like to play. I responded, "Violin". She smiled sweetly and said, "We have percussion." And so it was for the next 9 years. Oh well. At least I learned how to read music, carry a tune, etc.

I would like to take lessons because I am a stickler for proper training, however it's just not within my budget at this time. My violin was purchased for me as a gift after trying a few other beginner instruments. I chose the Johannes Kohr k500, not exactly sure of the model, since it was the sound that sold me in the price range of a beginner instrument.

The biggest struggle with learning violin on my own has been overcoming self doubt. Am I holding the violin correctly? Is my left hand correct? What about my right elbow? These are things that I've studied/watched for on YouTube and read about from different sources online in an effort to absorb as much information as possible to better apply it to my body type. The more you know, the better able one is to make a proper judgment for themselves. Of course, I am afraid of creating a bad habit just to have to break it later, but I can't allow fear to hold me back from trying either.

I haven't had problems with sound quality while playing since I already know what I'm listening for. Bowing correctly to create a clear, even sound has been my focus. I have experienced pain when playing in my left shoulder blade. I've taken frequent breaks and have also tried position adjustments to prevent future pain and/or issues that may crop up later. I know the pain is from using my shoulder incorrectly, so I'm already on track to fixing the problem starting with relaxation exercises and release of tension before I play.

Problems tuning? I have no problems using a standard tuner, I hear the correct note and tune my violin accordingly (thank you Timpani tuning experience!) BUT! I did snap a brand new "E" string that cut my hand in two places, so now I'm a chicken-poo whenever I have to tighten with pegs. I had a professional put the "E" on in the first place, but by the time I got home it already needed re-tuning since it was a new string and there was too much peg dope or whatever it's called that lubes the pegs, so the tension unwound itself, and it was just a noob nightmare for me. I cried like a baby while holding a paper towel to my hand to stop the bleeding feeling like such a failure for snapping a string. I'm using the fine tuners as much as possible even though it would not have solved my "E" string problem in the first place.

How do I address these problems? A call to my local violin shop,, YouTube, a will to educate myself and keep moving forward.

I've already mentioned the online resources I've used, however what I believe has really trained me so far is the book Essential Elements 2000 for violin. I absolutely love the lesson structure and ease of following along. Slurring was a bit of a challenge to coordinate bowing separate from fingering, but I wasn't going to move forward until I was confident. Anything that I felt wasn't addressed in the book when I needed it I've searched for answers online. My current confusion with the book is understanding sharps and flats and the fingering of same, as well as different positions. I'm hoping that by playing music I'm familiar with listening to, I can read along on the sheet music to connect the sharps/flats to what I hear to be the correct note.

I've so far learned to play, Yesterday by the Beatles, This Land from the Lion King (even the slurring, Woohoo!) Hymn to the Sea from Titanic, and My Favorite Things. Along with crowd favorites such as Baa, Baa Black Sheep, This Ol'Man and the Can Can. lol

As strange as it may sound, being a horseback rider for most of my life has taught me how to teach myself, problem solve and even perform in front of a crowd. It's okay to take a step back to something your good at playing just to end a lesson on a good note and to think about what the current challenge is with new material, letting your mind digest what you've just learned. My violin has yet to buck, bite or rear too, so that's a bonus.


April 24, 2014 at 06:16 PM ·

There are some out there that really require to have their hand held through things, while others only require a sentence to help them to produce a complete novel. People who are good at teaching themselves things still require that sentence to get them on track.

The good thing about listening to someone who is self taught or with very few lessons is that they usually have their own sound, whereas over schooled musicians are unable to trust their instincts, or they feel their own sound isn't good enough.

April 24, 2014 at 10:33 PM · I agree with that. My fears of continuing on without a teacher is that I'll not learn proper technique for the finer nuances of dynamics in more advanced repertoire. I learned what I know of dynamics from listening and watching my teacher then I could work towards that same element in the music. If it was something I was struggling to emulate, I would record her so I could use it while practicing at home. This really helped with etudes and position studies where a CD is not available.

May 26, 2014 at 02:37 PM · l was learning on my own, because I travel a lot for work and because of money issues.

I have a teacher, now, but I'm very disappointed.

He told me to vibrate by wiggling my fingers! He doesn't teach me technique and I end up looking for help on the internet.

He seldom corrects me and I do it alone by filming myself.

The only thing I like about him is the repertoire choices he comes up with.

I think he doesn't care if my playing is hideous, because I'm an adult.

I wish I could find a teacher who had experience teaching adults.

What are my problems? Everything!

But I've taught myself five languages, including English, so, I keep telling myself I can do it.

Anyway, my objective is easy: to spend as much time as possible learning to play.

My experience is that we never know anything. We're forever learning. I'll be forever learning to play the violin.

May 27, 2014 at 03:15 AM · I started learning violin after being a pretty decent pianist.

"1) What is your biggest struggle when learning violin on your own?"

Low standards. I picked up a violin and joined a middle school orchestra in the middle of a term. I started out in Violin III, hanging out with the basses. I didn't think it was such a weird thing at the time. I stayed there for a few days and got a feel for the structure/hierarchy in the orchestra and learned about the challenge system. Basically, if you wanted to sit in front of somebody you had to challenge them to a competition playing an excerpt of the conductor's choosing. Second chair in Violin I looked rather vulnerable to me so I challenged her and won. This was a week after I picked up a violin for the first time. That's a problem. At that time I was without a shoulder rest, holding the violin up with my palm, and holding the bow kind of like a bad cellist.

"2) Are you completely self-taught or did you have a teacher at some point?"

Perhaps a few months after what happened above I upgraded my violin to a $350-ish outfit, which was much better than what I had before. My parents also set me up for lessons at that point. The teacher was provided by the violin shop. He was a pothead/stoner and ended up getting arrested for stealing money from the violin shop, but he did show me a thing or two about my technique, and started me on Suzuki books. Concertmaster was easy prey after that.

"3) Have you used online resources, courses or books?" videos and Menuhin's series of lessons on YouTube. Good stuff but as with many things intended for a general audience, they can't react to me like a teacher can. A teacher can give me immediate feedback and show me things I don't know to look for. Also, there isn't anything like a list of stuff one should play in sequence for becoming a well-rounded violinist. It would be nice if there was a pretty good list of repertoire to follow. For example, there can be multiple levels, and within each level one can select a certain number of pieces. That would be nice.

May 27, 2014 at 01:50 PM · >> It would be nice if there was a pretty good list of repertoire to follow.

Such lists exist but only for higher skill levels.

What I started doing is adapting simple exercises that also have interesting melody and rhythm changes and bowing techniques into "performance" pieces. This lets me practice fundamentals while also "making music".

I think there might be a market for a book of scores that players in the first few years can use as both their practice routine and performance repertoire.

June 3, 2014 at 10:42 PM · Wow, Harvey. Where did you go to school?

June 6, 2014 at 05:49 PM ·

Why teach myself?

I have been playing for two years, and in terms of repetoire, I am on book 3 of the Suzuki materials (and other books).

I don't feel that I have progressed to a level where I need a teacher. Yes, that may seem ironic, but I hired an instructor for a couple of sessions, and most of what they were providing was instant feedback when I was playing out of tune, not keeping the time, or getting the melody wrong. These are things that I can correct myself using tools like Anytune Pro+ and Tune Master (my tuning app).

The other principle benefits to using a teacher are that they have better grasp of technique and experience with training methods and principles of practice. I have approximated these benefits in my course of study by watching Youtube videos (e.g., Violin Labs, Karen's violin studio, Fiddlerman), practicing in front of a mirror, and researching courses of violin study on the web and then selecting practice materials from those courses. I rate my progress through self-assessment and comparing what I am working on to the RCM Syllabus.

One quote that I found inspiring in this regard was from Perlman: "I am playing the violin, that's all I know, nothing else, no education, no nothing, you just practice every day." I think that's a truism for people who want to learn and who know they will never get to the level of a major orchestra.

Completely self-taught?

Yes, although I do sit through and listen to the instruction in many of my daghters practices and have sat in with her Youth Symphony group.


The only disasters I had were the couple of times I tried to work with an instructor. I was overly self-conscious and repeatedly found myself trying to strangle my violin with a left hand "death grip".


The biggest struggle is having the confidence to move forward with material that I don't know very well and forcing myself to take the time to practice scales and positions. I am totally out of tune when I work in the third position and my vibrato is either non-existant or sounds like a dying cat.

Useful resources


  • Anytune Pro+

  • TuneMaster

Instructional Materials

  • Whistler, Introducing the Positions (vol 1)

  • Whistler, Learning Double Stops

  • Whistler, Preparing for Kreutzer

  • Hrimaly Scales

  • Suzuki books 1-4

  • Wolfhardt, Foundation Studies for the Violin

Web Sites


  • YouTube

  • RCM Violin Syllabus (

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February 24, 2016 at 11:06 PM · Why teach myself?

I lived in a remote Scottish island so had no access to teachers. I was given a half size violin by someone to start with and I didn't know I was meant to be using a full size one. Then a fiddle player loaned me a full size and I used books which seemed to be aimed always at children. Being an adult learner has always made me feel out of place

I mis understood how to hold the violin and in an attempt to not support the neck with my wrist I bent it out the other way, a common mistake I think. I played like this so long I had to re learn my finger placements, when I self-corrected it.

I learnt to read music and tackled everything from pibrochs for the bagpipes to irish airs.

An orchestral project came to town and I had my first proper lesson after more than 20 yrs of scrambling about by myself. It was like a window opening. Some fine tuning was done on my posture and bowing. Absolute basics that were still not right. I was drawn out to play more difficult things that always seemed just out of reach but it showed me how to learn and practice and gave me more desire to improve.

That has ended and I'm now retired in France. I benefit from many online resources and am currently, finally tackling vibrato, doing strengthening exercises found on utube.

Completely self-taught?

Apart from my year with the orchestra project, yes, always been alone.


Making basic errors at the start cost me months of correction practice later. I would really recommend getting the basics right with a teacher to save you that pain.

I really enjoyed playing in an orchestra and being part of a musical whole.


When you are by yourself it's easier to play what you want and not what is a bit too difficult.

Vibrato is a goal for this year. Online videos are great but it's not easy to track progress as it's a slow build up of strength and technique, I truly identify with the previous poster and have been driven to use a heavy metal mute to save my neighbours from the wailing.

I just want to play well and find my violin's true voice....

February 28, 2016 at 12:15 AM · I am self-taught. After almost two years of playing I think I am pretty much on schedule to get where I need to be soon (hold my own in a beginner bluegrass jam). But absolutely I would have made more progress with a good teacher. I use instructional videos and real-time and recorded videos of my playing. Here is an example of slow going: Many videos show the bow hold and specify to keep the hand loose and flexible and keep the pinky curved. But they don't say why. After I found out why I should do that I was much more motivated to work on it. And, by the way, Laurie Niles video on bow-hold exercises is very good.

February 28, 2016 at 12:58 AM · About two years ago I had an ambition to start playing violin later in life (50-ish). I am at heart, a DIYer despite test fact that it has rarely worked out. So for two years, I followed books, videos, web, whatever and got to a point where I could make reasonable sound, but could not really make it into anything. So I decided to find a teacher and was lucky to find an excellent one!

So then it began and my teacher basically saw that I my bow hold was very poor and my left hand work was poor due to having been a guitar player earlier in my life. She did some interesting things to help show me the risk and limitations of the positions patterns I had self built - and it was a revelation.

So I am now in my 9th week of lessons and have made progress far beyond my expectations. Despite my best efforts to self learn, I had not been able to really understand what I needed to do and had taken steps to find easy ways to make basic sounds - bad idea.

Also mentioned above, the joy of my teacher is also how she has helped me develop a practice routine so I can undertake a minor level of self instruction during practice but still within the confines of her lesson content "plus a bit".

So I am now firmly in the camp of "self-teaching may be possible, but only with the support of a teacher ....."

March 14, 2016 at 10:19 AM · 1) What is your biggest struggle when learning violin on your own? (e.g. lack of time, energy, discipline, guidance...) Do you have problems with sound quality, pain when playing, issues

-- My biggest problem is discipline and concentration for fundamentals only. Such as exercise of scales/ and etudes which are the most basic things. My mind is very disorganized that is perhaps the reason i just cant make myself practice those fundamental things because i find them very boring. I have spent very less time on exercising those things with great struggle. I can play songs etc by ear. I have natural knowledge for music. I used to play guitar long ago but stopped it and developed love for violin gradually through listening to Yanni etc.

Have to learn myself with help from youtube because i live in india and we dont have music coaching and especially not western notation and violin. One can find indian form of violin but i hate it. I didnt had chin and shoulder rest for first few months so had so much problem but fortunately i corrected the errors of holding(clutching) the neck like guitar after i got shoulder rest. Then had great pain for in back, neck, spine and even in left hip due to shoulder. It give me huge problem for an year or more then it gradually stopped and i found a better position for shoulder rest; I had to try many positions of fitting it but finally found a good one; I only had one type of SRest because i have no other option; For violin also i got a very cheap one that is made in india so the sound quality is poor; I had to cut down nut and bridge myself. But since im a natural fast learner i produce good tone and technique; but still it took some time. I forgot detache for example and kept playing legato or slur; and then when i started learning Partita 2 gigue and asked for help here; i realize detache strokes. Within 2 months i could play whole peace.

Initially for few months i also had pain and problem in my left eye; that was perhaps due to the steep angle the left eye have to bear to look at the fingerboard. But it cured gradually by itself just like my body pain. I realized that these problems may be coming off naturally and we might not have any control over them so that u as a teacher should think you could correct them by over night for students by correcting anything. I think the body itself become adapt to it and become strong. I even had pain in back muscles when i started guitar but that was for only a week. If u look at the face of nicola benedetti u will notice her face is warped due to steep position towards left; she should have avoided extreme position since childhood which resulted in a slight deformity of her face.

:::with the instrument s.a. tuning...?


instrument is very cheap; so great problem in pegs; and now i have made the bridge very bad too so its barely playable and i have stopped playing it since last few months.


2) Are you completely self-taughtor did you have a teacher at some point? Why did you want to learn the violin by yourself?


youtube. and pdf and musescore software etc ; learning myself coz have no other option. I live in a poor third world country with limited resources and money. I have been playing for more than 2 years with very irregular practice. Perhaps i am giving up violin now. I have great struggle in concentrating to practice fundamentals (from books pdf) which are most essential ; though still i could manage to play some good fav pieces such as partita 2 gigue; and also cello suite 1 Prelude to some extent; first half of presto sonata 1. and chaconne vitali to an extent. I could try Partita and and prelude because as an alternative for etude; as i wanted to practice sight reading and i couldn't play simple etude; so i turned to those pieces that looked like etudes and which i loved . (i had even dared to try Bach Chaconne but realized its too advanced)

learning all by yourself is extremely difficult if not impossible and not everyone can do it.

March 15, 2016 at 04:03 AM · I started guitar at 10 violin at 22. Had just a few basic lessons to start, and then a few jazz lessons about 15 years later.

downside: I would have made faster progress with more knowledge of theory, and I don't have much for varied bow technique. My bow hand mostly follows my left hand around, but follows it pretty good by now.

upside: I have a unique style for blues. I don't play 'fiddle blues' I play more like a lead guitar than a fiddle. Can't bend the strings so I slide them. again, shred modes more like a guitar player.

All in all, I'm glad it turned out this way. When I go to jams, people expect to hear a fiddle. more than once I've been told "I've never heard a fiddle played that way...or should I call it a violin". and also more than once, I've heard my blues playing described as dangerous or wild or hot.

I have the utmost respect for great fiddlers and Classical players, and I don't purport to have the skills of either, not even close. I'm happy where I am, but I'm sure it would have turned out different if I took lessons.

March 15, 2016 at 08:17 PM · While I'm not exactly self-taught (from the beginning at least..) I did go for about two months without a teacher (long story).

During those two months was where I made the most progress (not that I'm saying a teacher won't help you even more, but..). I learned to experiment and really practice "properly".

For example, before I usually ran through the piece and if everything was OK then I was done. During my time without a teacher I learned that practicing is a lot more than that. That's a whole other thing though...

Alright. Your question answers:

1) I always struggled with playing "bravely." I was the kind of kid who played everything right but it was *too* perfect. I needed to free up my playing in order to make it more expressive and musical, which was something I'm still trying to accomplish (though I am getting better.

Additionally there were a lot of questions I had about things that I needed to research that I would've normally asked a teacher.

2) As I stated above, I had a teacher who then dropped me. It took me some time (around 2 months) to find a new teacher that I both liked and could work with well.

3) All the time. I used everything from recordings to articles. I think some very helpful ones were the recorded lessons by Pinchas Zukerman on his website. He has a whole bunch of recorded lessons.

Happy Practicing :)

April 11, 2016 at 07:38 AM · I'd you are still interested, this is me as a 3.8 year self taught violinist

(they are not my best but you can get an idea)

I know the gigue and allemande are a bit sloppy but I haven't really done any of the apergios (spelling?) nor scale practice to get the fast passages good.

Hear with some salt in your ears!

Criticism and help is really appreciated!

April 12, 2016 at 03:13 PM · Paul L,

I listened to your gigue, my favorite. I started from that piece only if i talk about playing/learning my first piece seriously. Your violin sounds very nice but u have many errors in between; also u should focus on accuracy than speed in the difficult areas. Take this and use it on any musicxml software like musescore. Adjust clef for violin and add the slurs if u want. Play along with it slowly by taking care of intonation.

April 12, 2016 at 08:47 PM · 1) What is your biggest struggle when learning violin on your own?

Rhythm. When I'm alone I'll count it out wrong for myself and then realize later in a group setting that I have it wrong.

Do you have problems with sound quality, pain when playing, issues with the instrument s.a. tuning...?

Not really.

How do you adress these problems?

It usually has a logical reason I can understand fro experience, or I can find solutions online, or by talking to people at jams and such.

2) Are you completely self-taughtor did you have a teacher at some point?

I was a school orchestra student, so I was aquatinted with basic stuff once a week at school when I first started in Elementary school (about 5 students), mostly we were assigned pages in the Elements of Music books. My middle school orchestra two years later had 25+ of us, it was just about rehearsing. So I saw that people were shifting into other positions, doing vibrato, etc. but I had to go home and teach myself these things.

Why did you want to learn the violin by yourself?

I wanted to play an instrument and all we had at home was a violin somewhere under the bed. When I left middle school I wanted to keep playing, even though there was no more orchestra.

3) Have you used online resources, courses or books?

Google search all day lol. Otherwise not really. The most helpful thing is meeting with other players who aren't teachers, but we all learn off each other.

April 13, 2016 at 03:42 PM · Michael, I see you are from India as well!

Thanks for the advice on the gigue, so you have a recording of yourself playing it? Id love to hear it.

April 25, 2016 at 03:20 PM · Ramblings: I'm so damn jealous whenever I hear/watch people play violin so awesomely. Staring at them, thinking "when can I do that?" And thinking how to get a friend (or two) teach me a thing or two.

Okay, let's start...

1) What is your biggest struggle when learning violin on your own? (e.g. lack of time, energy, discipline, guidance...) Do you have problems with sound quality, pain when playing, issues with the instrument s.a. tuning...?

There are lots of it. Lack of time, energy (I get tired quickly), discipline (I'm lazy, and tend to do stuff my way), guidance (no one, and I mean NO ONE seem to want to teach me, or I can't seem to find one, no matter where I go), I can't read sheet music (people stare at me like I grew a pair of horns when I said that), can't count rhythm, and everything else (name it; I dunno what else, there are too much...)

Oh, and the fact that people keep telling me to get a teacher. (I would, IF I COULD)

How do you address these problems?

For time, I got myself a practice mute now, so I can practice at night (for some reason, my violin is louder than other violins I tried. No, I didn't buy it; Dad bought it when he visited my brother 3.5 years ago because it LOOKED pretty or something like that, and he's no violinist. But he knows a bit about wood, or stuff). For energy, I try to play at short intervals, but more often, and try to look for a comfier position bit by bit. For discipline, I try to play songs I like (I tend to pick the solo) to boost my morale (not by much though, I'm afraid). For guidance... Nah, haven't found any solution for this (can't afford teacher, both in time and money). For sheet music reading, I barely read any; I either play by ear (or trial-and-error), or write it in numbers. For rhythm, I tend to play the original music using speaker or earphone so I just follow that.

About the teacher.... I turn a blind eye/ear; I can't afford one, in time and money and drive/motivation (proved it when my parents forced me to learn the keyboard). My parents were SURPRISED that I lasted this long. Mom said she thought it would only last a year, at most.

I try to get people to correct me whenever I can (not that THAT ever happens, though).

2) Are you completely self-taught or did you have a teacher at some point? Why did you want to learn the violin by yourself?

If you count my brother handing me a violin (borrowed from a relative), and saying "this is how you hold it" even though he only looked in the internet SECONDS PRIOR, and showed me the positions (of the notes), as teaching, then I'm not completely self-taught.

If not, then, yes, I'm completely self-taught, from the fingering, the bowing, the position (I changed it after getting a shoulder rest). Even the vibrato (I'm pretty sure I'm doing something wrong, though I can't figure it out). Has been since 3 years ago. And has to restart the basic for around 3 or 4 times (and counting). Same with the vibrato.

Playing a violin has been a dream of mine since 9 years ago, back when I was still around 6-9 years old. No one in the (close) family plays it, and my dad was worried I'd go deaf in my left ear, so I first TOUCHED a violin when I was 15, and after I begged a LOT (imagine my parents' face when they asked what I wanted for my 15th birthday present and I said, "Violin. Nothing else", and they went all "you STILL wanted that?")

3) Have you used online resources, courses or books? What kind? What worked out well and what didn't, what was missing? Did you find solutions for the 'missing links'?

YouTube vids. And some online tips here and there (I don't think I used them, though). Asked my friend a bit (totally useless, though; she didn't correct, didn't comment, and merely nodded and hummed to herself. That's it. I had to correct my vibrato by myself by watching a couple vids.)

Vibrato tips worked out. After around 3-4 vids, and 3-4 restarts. I haven't watched anything other than those vids.

There are LOTS of things missing, but I'm still learning... And I play for the fun of it, so I'm not exactly in a hurry.

April 28, 2017 at 10:51 AM · I am 100% self-taught and that for several reasons.

1. I am autistic and cannot deal with other people well.

2. Music has always been easy for me to learn. (I bought an organ in my early teens and took two weeks to learn..then started playing gigs.

3. I am now old and on Social Security, so I cannot afford lessons.

I have watched a lot of YouTube videos and bought Essential Elements books and ABC's of Violin books, several other song books for violin. That is the extent of my 'training'.

I have arthritis in my hands, so I do not expect to progress very quickly. I only play violin for my own enjoyment. In my opinion it is the king of musical instruments, and I dearly love it's sweet sweet sound. Wish I would have learned violin as a youngster.

April 28, 2017 at 07:59 PM · Very interesting thread.

I started out my violin journey with the thought, "I'm not going to have lessons. I know everyone says it's a hard instrument to learn, but there are tons of videos online, and besides, I play piano without having had any lessons, so I can learn violin too."

Well, after 2 months, I realized that I wasn't advancing as fast as I wanted to, and that there is way more to playing violin than meets the eye of a non-player!

April 28, 2017 at 09:41 PM · I took regular "lessons" for about 25 years, until my teacher got ill and eventually died. I put lessons in quotes because I got to my plateau and was quite satisfied playing in a community orchestra with occasional solos in my church. Actually the later lessons were a mix of working on orchestral music as well as learning music history and theory. Since he died I've been an autodidact and I have learned enough to provide solid foundational training for many young musicians who are in families that cannot afford the going rate for private lessons.

I my retirement from my paid profession at Bell Labs I just play for my own enjoyment and volunteer with a local youth orchestra. I'm the one who tunes instruments and adjust bridges, replace broken string, and otherwise help the young musicians. I've also added more than a few young musicians to the program. Also I have some professional teachers who want to take my students to the next level on scholarship.

April 29, 2017 at 03:02 AM · To be fair, everyone has to self-learn at some point. Teachers are meant for us to eventually be able to make them obsolete-this doesn't mean we ever stop learning, but that we become our own teachers.

That said, always good to play for others, lesson or otherwise, even at a high level.

I now "self-teach" myself. The violin journey never stops-a permanent, happy musical marriage for life.

Most Mr. Simon Fischer's books are excellent for "self-learners", though I must add, genuinely good teacher is invaluable and worth the investment, if practical. The Violin Lesson volume is just great, IMHO.

April 29, 2017 at 03:54 AM · Will you be better off to have a good teacher of entirely self-taught? Here is a test to the question: Just imagine if a qualified teacher will give you unlimited free lessons, will you still prefer self-teaching?

Note that I'm not talking about self-learning because we learn with or without teacher, conscious or unconscious, as we learn good and bad habits when we practice. When we teach ourselves, the learning becomes deliberate. The more you think about your learning when self-teaching, the more you should question if your teaching is correct, as good teaching ought to be. I too use tools such as SF's books and videos even though I have been taking lessons from a great teacher for nearly 10 years, on and off. The books have taught me a lot, gave me many eureka moments, but relying on books is a very slow way to progress in violin. For one thing, playing violin requires non-verbal skills only a good teacher can demonstrate how, and identify and correct issues as when we are in action.

April 29, 2017 at 04:22 AM · I would most certainly study with an excellent teacher were lessons free, but at the same time know they deserve, generally speaking, the pay. Unfortunately, at a certain level lessons can be pricy, especially in NYC. Would I have unlimited resources, I would no doubt look for the best possible teacher, though of course the "self-teaching" concept still is most important.

In any case, for many players finding a good teacher is a challenging quest by itself-nevermind being able to afford him/her. Feel privileged if you are able to afford, at will, the best, live violin lessons in the world.

April 29, 2017 at 04:41 PM · It is a privilege to play violin, and it's greater privilege to have all the supportive conditions (practice time, tools, good teacher, etc.). I feel most privileged part of being a violinist is that we can touch great violin music with our own fingers. With such privilege, it comes to certain obligations.

Coming from financially highly deprived childhood in China during the 70s, I understand how ugly poverty can be but also I've learned if I want to achieve something, the greatest obstacle is the mindset rather than money. Since retirement, I would have to be careful about managing the resources and prioritizing is the key. I set my budget aside for lessons as "violin tax dollars" I must pay. I don't drink, don't smoke and don't even drive. I grow my own food in backyard and I eat well but rarely eat out... you get the picture.

I understand not everyone has made the commitment to violin to the extent as I do. And I certainly don't expect everyone would agree with what I think. I only want to highlight some assumptions behind having a teacher for some of us.

April 29, 2017 at 07:05 PM · Most certainly be proud of your frugality. Life without the violin is empty in my case. I understand why you would make it anong the topmost priorities in life.

5,200 per year is a lot of money, though, even if it's worth it and well deserved (it could also be more-am being conservative.) I believe in the ideal, "forever student" concept, and still deem myself a student for life-just that I cannot afford best of the best teaching.

I also don't drink or smoke, but do have food expenses. I suppose I could save up more "if I really wanted", but just can't imagine being able to sustain those kind of expenses over the years.

And of course, this is not to begrudge any of you who are still taking good lessons-as well you should, if you are able to.

I do wish more people were as committed to the art of violin as you are. It should be a priority, IMHO, but also understand everybody is geared differently. Still, progress requires commitment, wisdom, and discipline, regardless age or so-called "talent."

April 29, 2017 at 07:26 PM · $5,200 per year does seem to be a lot, although it's nothing compare to today's college tuition, but that's a different story. I wonder if this is the only choice for keeping a good teacher in NYC.

Being a lifetime violin student doesn't mean you have to keep taking lessons for the rest of your lifetime, at least not at such rate. For me, I believe at some point, the time between my lessons will change its frequency and eventually stops. But I hope I won't stop taking lessons for the sole reason of money. That's the point I was trying to make.

As I said in previous posts a while ago on this thread, we are self-teaching most of the time when our teacher is not watching. Practice sessions are just such examples. So I'm not arguing against self-teaching, but I'm only questioning the wisdom of 100% self-teaching when one hasn't yet achieved certain level of proficiency. Money and teacher availability are often stated reasons for not having teacher. True, these are important reasons and are universal problems everywhere. When I first took violin lessons in the 70s in Shanghai, my parents' monthly income was less than US$50 and my lessons cost 15% of that house income for five. There was only one symphony orchestra and one conservatory in a city of 20 million people, finding a teacher was even harder than finding the money. But as I said, if you really want something, you can make it happen. The problems often appear to be external ones such as money and lack of teachers, but if we look deep into ourselves, we might find sometimes the real reasons can be found within as well.

April 30, 2017 at 01:58 AM · I'm honestly really impressed that so many advanced players here on this site still have teachers, as I've inferred from their posts. It's ... humbling.

I'm grateful that I currently can afford lessons, but I know it won't necessarily always be that way. What will be then? I don't know and I try not to be concerned about it. "The past is naught; the future has yet to be; the present is like the blink of an eye; what's there to worry about?" But I'm sure will still be around to offer advice and support, so that's reassuring.

April 30, 2017 at 10:14 AM · When I moved to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, I needed a hobby and since i've always been passionate about music, I decided to start learning the violin. There were no teachers here so I went online. There are two websites that I believe are the best: 1) and 2)

Given that I have a busy work schedule, managing several companies, I had to make time for practice. So basically:

1. One hour in the morning before work (i'm blessed that I don't have to go to office before 10)

2. about one hour at night and usually I use a silent Yamaha violin at night

3. most of the weekends since I live alone. My family is in Lebanon, and I go to see them every 2-3 weeks

I'm now in Suzuki Book 3, but I still feel I still lack the purity of the sound and although i'm learning the lessons but I still feel light on the etudes. I find them boring and usually jump right into the lesson. Red Desert Violin has been helpful because it's like a private teacher where we go into several sessions (wood shedding, scales, musical expression, etc.).

I believe that having a private teacher would give more confidence and structure. Although if someone is passionate about what they do, they wouldn't have a problem finding the time, or making it. :)

May 1, 2017 at 01:48 AM · Why?

I wanted to learn to play fiddle tunes - old-time, Irish, etc, just because I liked the the way they sounded and it looked like a nice way to pass the time. So I bought a violin and just started doing whatever I had to do to get the tune sounding okay to my ears.

I had a couple of things going for me: (a) I already knew how to read music, so I had access to all the great tune collections, and (b) I had played mandolin for several years, and since the size and tuning is the same, I knew what the notes "looked like" on the fingerboard.

I can learn tunes equally well either from notation or just by listening. I can learn very quickly from notation, but it takes a bit of time to internalize the tune so that it sounds natural and spontaneous. But I never, ever, ever use notation when I am performing. That is just wrong.

The biggest problem was always bowing. Especially with Irish tunes, which are very fast and complex. I bought a couple of books of bowing exercises (I think Sevcik) and started hacking away. I did not go the whole distance, but I went far enough to get done what I wanted. I still do not know what the various names for bowing are supposed to mean, LOL.

I have also worked through a lot of the standard violin exercises, including Wolfhardt, Kreutzer and Dont, etc, but I admit I find those very, very intense and difficult. They are fascinating though, and they sure help put an edge on my playing.

I have never considered practicing as drudge work or boring, because I always see positive results from my efforts.

2) Self-taught?

Totally self taught. I would not have done well with a teacher, I think, and I do not think I could have found a teacher would could show me what I was trying to learn. I'm sort of glad I never had lessons when I was a kid. I think I would have been good, but not really good. I would have been good enough to have a false idea of how good I really was, and when the inevitable realization set in I would have become disillusioned and given it up, because that stuff happens.

Most of my playing is for contra and square dances. That's your gig, if all you do is play fiddle tunes, like me. You play a couple of tunes for seven or eight minutes, over and over. The repetition is very hypnotic and relaxing, it's great practice, and it's satisfying to be a part of the event.

3) Online resources?

I've not used online courses, other than to download some of the exercises and etudes mentioned above.

May 1, 2017 at 12:37 PM · While I think having a teacher definitely helps (I have a teacher right now.) I don't think it's a necessity for someone to have a teacher in order to play violin. Unless you're aiming to be a professional your need for a teacher will depend on how "serious" you are, how fast you want to progress, what techniques you'll want to learn and last but not the least is your financial ability.

Even without a teacher you'll be able to learn if you have the dedication and if you actually monitor yourself (not simply playing through and thinking you've perfected a song because you feel like you have. Record yourself and criticize.)

I've started playing without a teacher and I've discovered a lot of new/small things that I wouldn't have normally paid attention to if I just continued on my own.

No matter if you have a teacher or not. The important thing is that you enjoy! :)

May 1, 2017 at 03:23 PM · Despite my previous comments, must add that many beginners and intermediate

students lack the tools to find solutions to their problems, and sometimes can't find problems in the first place, other than knowing that sometimes realizing something isn't right. Nowadays it's easier with videos and great books, but still, it's easier said/seen/read than done. A self-learner may cripple his true potential ability by being a bit too much self-reliant. Sometimes he/she may think he/she is doing what they are reading/seeing, but need a more experienced eye/ear to analyze their playing. While it's possible to advance properly and quite a lot woring on your own, it seems highly unlikely to me that you'll be able to easily surpass certain barriers-some of which may be deemed "basics" that are easily ignored if not careful. All musical genres will benefit from a good, solid foundation, and if you are able to find and pay for a decent teacher, for your own sake, please do.

My earlier, previous comments were mostly directed at the very specialized, higher level classical teaching that is still great, and for many, even essential. Every player can benefit from these, but it's often not realistic that everyone can afford to sustain such lessons for their lifetime (even if that would be incredibly nice), and at which level, we should still teach ourselves for the sakes not only of keeping up one's technique, but even improve upon it.

May 1, 2017 at 03:23 PM · Despite my previous comments, must add that many beginners and intermediate

students lack the tools to find solutions to their problems, and sometimes can't find problems in the first place, other than sometimes realizing something isn't right. Nowadays it's easier with videos and great books, but still, it's easier said/seen/read than done. A self-learner may cripple his true potential ability by being a bit too much self-reliant. Sometimes he/she may think he/she is doing what they are reading/seeing, but need a more experienced eye/ear to analyze their playing. While it's possible to advance properly and quite a lot working on your own, it seems highly unlikely to me that you'll be able to easily surpass certain barriers-some of which may be deemed "basics" that are easily ignored if not careful. All musical genres will benefit from a good, solid foundation, and if you are able to find and pay for a decent teacher, for your own sake, please do.

My earlier, previous comments were mostly directed at the very specialized, higher level classical teaching that is still great, and for many, even essential. Every player can benefit from these, but it's often not realistic that everyone can afford to sustain such lessons for their lifetime (even if that would be incredibly nice), and at which level, we should still teach ourselves for the sakes not only of keeping up one's technique, but even improve upon it.

May 3, 2017 at 05:42 AM · 1) What is your biggest struggle when learning violin on your own?

I am in a rural, remote area of South Australia with a population of about 10,000. In my area there are no teachers and next to no string players. It is a lonely existence as a violinist. I used to do a 6 hour round trip to attend an orchestra in the nearest big city. Now I do a 3 hour round trip on a Monday evening, a bit risky through kangaroo infested countryside.

The biggest struggle is staying motivated and organising my learning. There is so much information on the internet it's hard to know what to begin with. Getting feedback and knowing when to move on is also difficult.

How do you adress these problems? I try to be organised, write plans and use a variety of internet resources.

2) Are you completely self-taughtor did you have a teacher at some point? Why did you want to learn the violin by yourself?

I started to learn the violin at school Aged 7. I continued with lessons up until I was about 18. My first teacher was excellent, related to kids etc but on moving to high school the teacher didn't know how to relate to teenagers. As a result my progression stalled. I then had a 23 year gap from the violin. I played other instruments so never lost the ability to read music etc.

At 40 years of age I got the violin back out again. The intervening years in the attic hadn't done the instrument any favours, so I had it repaired and then started to play again. It felt very odd, like meeting a long lost friend after many years and not quite knowing what to say! A change in life circumstances then saw our family move from the UK to Bangalore India. I took the violin with me and found the Bangalore Senior Chamber Orchestra and a teacher. I played for 2 years (said teacher was only visiting and there for a year) and returned to the UK.

I wrote myself a list of all the things that "worried" me about my playing, found a local teacher who had a very logical, methodical approach to my issues and guaranteed if I did what he suggested my worries would be solved.....he was right. I played at local orchestras, went to summer music schools and played in quartets during this time.

Another change of life circumstances and I returned to university, between study and family there was little time to practice, so once again the violin wasn't top priority and I had to give up my lessons,

After completing my degree, we moved to South Australia. This was just over 5 years ago, I am in a position to take my playing forwards but now don't have the local resources available, so I try to do what I can over the Internet.

3) Have you used online resources, courses or books? What kind? What worked out well and what didn't, what was missing? Did you find solutions for the 'missing links'?

Online resources I use/have used:,,, a variety of uTube videos and various apps (shame that Cadenza app finished).

Online repertoires syllabuses are really useful but sometimes lack suggestions on what pieces to use the new found skills on, other sites just say use Wohlfahrt studies but lack suggested sequences to use them, or bowing etc.

Feedback can be a problem as well, home recordings can be tricky and lack a realistic sound.

There seems to be lots out there for beginners but Intermediate/advanced players seem to be the last on the list for resources to be developed. I haven't tried any of the feedback sessions yet and only tried one online lesson which I don't feel went particularly well. Time differences can be an issue, things tend to run in the middle of my night! Has anyone tried Artistworks and Nathan Cole?

I have found good resources online for accompaniments etc and getting hold of music is usually ok.

Interesting times for technology, especially with virtual reality becoming a reality :) perhaps us folks who are remote will be able to be in virtual ensembles and orchestras at some point.


May 3, 2017 at 06:06 AM · Artistworks with Nathan Cole is excellent, but the downside is that the responses take weeks to receive. So figure that this is more useful for very occasional feedback. Note that it's effectively far more expensive than regular private lessons, since you'll generally be getting about 8 minutes of feedback every month if you're lucky, and for that you'll pay $35/month (or $24/month if you prepay for a year).

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