Essential Elements for Strings or String Builder for a total beginner

October 25, 2016 at 01:28 AM · Hi Everyone

I'm hoping people who have experience with both of these books could give some insight into their thoughts on which is better to start off with for a self learning adult beginner. I am totally new to violin. I need a relatively structured book that will guide me through progress. I've heard good things about both series and not too much bad about either. I've read essential elements is more for classrooms and kids (I'm not exactly sure what that means although some have complained about that). I have been leaning towards String Builder. I don't want to be going between two books as I just want to follow along with one book and move up. I will be working out of suzuki books too but I heard they move faster through concepts and there aren't many practice pieces. Please tell me your thoughts. thank you!

Replies (32)

October 25, 2016 at 02:37 AM · I highly recommend you find a good teacher of adult beginners and go with the method s/he uses. You can use any method book, but the book only shows you the notes to play; in order to do any of the book's exercises correctly, you need an experienced teacher to demonstrate HOW to do the exercises, and to CORRECT your mistakes of right and left hand position, arm motion, and/or intonation. I will eat my words and recommend you go it alone if you can go through just ONE lesson (in Essential Elements or String Builder or Suzuki) without a single correction from your teacher. :)

October 25, 2016 at 04:28 AM · These books were designed for use in late elementary school and junior high group string classes. I wouldn't advise using them to begin playing independently.

If you absolutely must though, check out New Directions for Strings, which does an excellent job with the presentation of posture, setup, bow hold and left hand tetrachords.

October 25, 2016 at 05:43 AM · Please, please, please get a teacher. Playing the violin, like neurosurgery, is not something one can learn without guidance.

October 25, 2016 at 01:07 PM · At this point, I don't have access to a teacher nor can I afford private lessons online. I have online sources to show posture and all that so I won't be depending on the book alone to teach me that. I am looking for a book that will ease me through progress.

October 25, 2016 at 01:30 PM · essential elements then go to

October 25, 2016 at 02:17 PM · Why do you say you don't have access to a teacher? Where do you live?

Online resources are a handy adjunct to a real live teacher, but in no way a substitute. Since you are willing to think creatively about how to learn to play, consider what you can do to barter for a lesson: dog walk, cook, clean, shovel snow, there are a dozen things you might offer; any teacher interested in a serious student will be happy to strike up a bargain. What do you think?

In the beginning it is vital to have a live teacher; once a week would be ideal. Guess I am being pushy because the fact is, it will be harder for you to break bad habits later on, and re-learn, than to get the lessons you need now. Essential Elements is a very methodical and thorough series for a learner of any age, and offers online resources too.

October 25, 2016 at 02:31 PM · I would recommend lessons, but I can understand how a terrible life situation would make this difficult or impossible.

October 26, 2016 at 12:19 PM · Hi Patrina, I am familiar with the books you mentioned. Each book has its strengths and weaknesses. Its best if you are able to learn from multiple books. American fiddle method is also a good start and supplement to EE/SB/Suz.

October 27, 2016 at 03:26 PM · Thanks all for the responses and the advice on finding a teacher. I would love to take lessons eventually, it's just not the right time right now.

Kimberly can you advise on your thoughts between EE and SB? Thank you

October 27, 2016 at 04:47 PM · Essential Elements is a crappier version of All For Strings. Having experience with both, this is what I think the authors had in mind:

"Hey, I have a great idea! Let's make a new series of beginner string books that's pretty much exactly like other books. But ours will be different! We'll use x-tra biggie notes, and that that way less music will fit in each volume. Then, the students will have to buy more books in a shorter time!

Yay! $$$ ka-ching!"

October 27, 2016 at 05:28 PM · Like everyone, I recommend getting lessons. If not, consider posting video in violin forums. Most people would be ashamed to do so, especially when they're beginners, but I've seen people get some useful feedback in videos (for example, fiddlerman).

The next alternative to posting videos online is artistsworks. You have to pay for it though. I think classical violin school with Nathan Cole charges 35 dollars a month. I think is accesible if you can't afford 70 weekly dollars for lessons.

October 27, 2016 at 08:14 PM · I recommend String builder, but only if you already come from a musical background(ex.I played the piano first).

October 28, 2016 at 01:25 AM · I think String Builder is just fine. Once you get halfway through the first Suzuki book you can look for an easy-level book of pieces arranged for violin and piano. I have some of those that I kept from my childhood, so I could possibly make a recommendation.

October 28, 2016 at 02:01 AM · Maybe Fiddle Time series?

Any piece in Suzuki Bk.1 is harder than the pieces in Fiddle Time Joggers.

October 28, 2016 at 02:24 AM · Sounds good everyone. I guess I'll check out string builder and sure if you have suggestions for other easy level books feel free to recommend. I'll check out Fiddle Time Joggers.


October 28, 2016 at 11:53 AM · My suggestion is that you find a good teacher. If you are a complete beginner, please do not try to learn it on your own. There are plenty of method books and online videos but a teacher can show you much more and eradicate your bad practices/positions etc

October 28, 2016 at 07:00 PM · That's true, but what if your life situation (e.g finnancial, family) doesn't permit it?

October 28, 2016 at 07:31 PM · I do not mean to demoralize the OP or Ella Yu but instruction is necessary. I could play "My heart will go on" on the violin even before my first lesson. The reason being I took piano lessons before, had a decent grasp on theory, and most of all, a good hearing sense. Despite all of that, I decided to take formal lessons and my teacher has made me grow exponentially. Anything in this world costs money. It is the cost you pay for someone's time and service. Can you say that I can't go to school or university because of monetary issues? If you cannot spend money, then you cannot go to school and get a degree. It is as simple as that. Moreover, violin lessons will not dig a big hole in your pocket.

October 28, 2016 at 09:38 PM · Patrina, et al.,

I hope you lived close to me, you are exactly my kind of student and I don't charge for lessons (long story but I'm sharing my skills with those who really want to play the instrument). My guess is that if you dig enough you can find a wiling teacher who will scholarship part or all of the lessons. FWIW: I'm listed in the teaching section of this site and you can contact me directly from there.

October 28, 2016 at 09:43 PM · >If you cannot spend money, then you cannot go to school and get a degree. It is as simple as that.

You know, many countries have free college...

Where I live a few teachers give lessons for free to some students, of all level from beginner to advanced. I'm not sure how they pick them. I had a teacher that said he used to do that, but he stopped because the ones who had free lessons skipped class more often than the ones who paid.

October 28, 2016 at 10:08 PM · Many places -- but NOT everywhere -- you can find some kind of violin teacher who will give free lessons to someone who just can't afford them. I got the feeling, however, from Patrina's comments, that right now it might be about more than just money. To me it seems downright patronizing to be constantly harping on lessons when we don't understand her underlying issues in any detail -- and it's also very unfair to make her feel like she has to explain those to us, when it's none of our business. Patrina understands the value of lessons, but she's surely just as capable of understanding her own situation and making this assessment for herself.

October 28, 2016 at 11:10 PM · Paul, I totally agree with you. Yes, if you didn't have money, you couldn't go to college etc, but my feeling is that you only have so much money, and you can't afford everything. Plus, some people may have other problems that prevent them from taking lessons. Patrina, what do you mean by "it's not the right time?" Are you saying that there are no teachers near you or there's a finnancial barrier? I'm just wondering.

October 28, 2016 at 11:55 PM · I wonder too; thank you Ella for asking. I think lessons are vital for violin because it's not like guitar or piano, where motions occur in one plane. Videos of violin fall way short of the mark for teaching because one cannot see what is happening in three dimensions. The brain needs 3-D to take in all that is happening when bowing violin. For piano and guitar, 2 D is fine, but one needs a 360 degree view to meaningfully observe a violinist. Hopefully Patrina's opportunity to take lessons will arise in the very near future!

October 29, 2016 at 12:10 AM · Patrina, Its hard to know from an online forum what book would be better for you. The graphical representations in Essential Elements are super easy to follow. The books is really good at getting the basics down, but I felt the book lacks technique building and depth. This is where other books come into play so you can practice what you learned through etudes and other music via Fiddle books or Suzuki books etc...

In terms of the classroom - there are many opportunities throughout the EE book to play duets and orchestral arrangements and thus, in a classroom setting, with other violin,s viola, cello... you would all have the same music to play together. There are also written excercises to help you learn to read music and understand some theory. If you aren't interested in the written parts or doing the duets/arrangemnts then probably 1/3 of the books isn't applicable.

The String builder series is much more fleshed out then the EE books. I think overall it has better pacing when learning music and material, but I also am a returnee to the violin (I played in elementary school so I remembered the basics) so I don't know if that matters or not. The intermediate String Builder books were really great. I hated the Essential Elements intermediate book.

I have a couple of beginner fiddle books that I never used as they are for people who never played the violin. I can mail them to you if you live in the states.

October 30, 2016 at 07:00 PM · Thank you Paul for understanding.

Just because some people can't afford to go to school doesn't mean they shouldn't go to the library and pick up a book at all, but I appreciate all the advice on urging for violin lessons. I know you all mean well.

Thank you Kimberly and for the books, unfortunately I don't live in the states

And George, thank you so much for the offer, I wish I did live near you! However I don't even live in the USA :(

October 30, 2016 at 08:54 PM · Where do you live Patrina?

You may be able to find someone from your country here that can give you advice.

October 31, 2016 at 11:48 AM · Hi Patrina, Contact me through and we can see if we can get the books to you.

October 31, 2016 at 08:08 PM · Patrina,

Thanks for the reply and additional information. I'm curious as to what you want to play on the violin. Amateur orchestra, hymns in church, dance music,...

Where you want to go will have an impact on what you should use for your study materials.

Like you, I was a late starter (around 30 - that was almost 40 years ago) my goal was an Amateur orchestra and the occasional hymn tune in church (not lofty goals). Being able to say that to prospective teachers and their methods made a difference.

November 1, 2016 at 03:08 PM · I'm so brand new I don't know what direction I want to take yet. I just want to play as a hobby. If I get good enough sure, maybe come casual jam sessions with other musicians. I haven't thought about an orchestra.

And Demian I'm located in Toronto, Canada...

November 1, 2016 at 06:42 PM · I'm sure there's plenty of teachers where you live. If you can take lessons, great. If not, then you may be forced to teach yourself.

November 2, 2016 at 12:58 AM · Toronto has a kazillion teachers. Ask around at high schools with music programs, music stores, the University. Check on Kijiji. You just might find someone willing to accommodate you and your current needs.

I love the String Builder program!

November 3, 2016 at 07:48 PM · Patrina,

Thank you for the information. Playing the violin (or any instrument) as a hobby is a great goal. Jamming is a whole different matter. That is a difficult skill to develop. It requires more than a little knowledge of music theory and a great "ear" to be able to just join in.

Now, I'm going to pitch my favorite method - Doflien. It isn't the most popular and it's kind of flat if you don't have a teacher or partner that plays better than you because the method has duets on just about every page of the books. The real reason I like it is because it is all based on understanding how the "attitude" of your hand works in the construction of a scale (there are four attitudes). This makes the understanding of how music works very easy for the string player (almost as easy as the keyboard player).

Perhaps you can find a violin student about your age that might be willing to work/play with you and help you develop your skills.

Who knows, you might well develop the kind of skills required to sit in on a Jam Session and really participate. Or you might find that you love chamber, or orchestral, or church, or jazz and take flight.

That being understood all good musicians have a solid grounding in the basics of music theory. There is no way to avoid that.

I've been playing for almost 40 years and I've developed a love of the instrument and music in general. Now, I'm passing along my skills and still enjoying the journey. The reality is that nobody ever masters music - they just move on to the next lesson that it has to teach.

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