Beginner's talk

December 19, 2016 at 04:26 PM · This discussion is intended for beginners like myself (are there any out there?). Advanced players are not excluded - just requested to encourage us newbies :)

Having first picked up the violin 3 1/2 months ago, and after four one-on-one lessons, I'm wondering how far one is expected to have progressed in certain areas.

1- left hand tension! And if I loosen up, I get a scratchy sound. Can't figure out the balance between pressure/weight of the fingers/arm vs loosening up (I.e. aiming towards learning vibrato)

2- intonation and tuning by ear? I sometimes think I'm on tune, but then when I record myself I cringe. (I took off the fingering stickers after 2 months.) And I still tune my violin with a tuning app.

3 - smooth transition between notes: there seems to be a consistent 'scratchy break' between notes when I play a song; they don't seem to blend smoothly.

If any advanced players have good practicing advice related to these areas, please share. Thank you for your encouragement!

Replies (26)

December 19, 2016 at 05:19 PM · G.A. This isn't meant to be discouraging but it is a fact of life that 3 1/-2 months is next to no time at all in the business of learning the violin! Now, 3 1/2 years on should see a significant resolution of the difficulties you currently have, depending of course on the teacher, the number and frequency of the lessons, and personal application.

Frequency of lessons. I feel that 4 lessons in 3 1/2 months is not sufficient. In the early stages of an instrument such as the violin fortnightly or, even better, weekly lessons are much more effective. The problem is that with long gaps between lessons in the all-important early stages it is only too easy to make mistakes that you don't notice and which get perpetuated and strengthened over those 3 or 4 weeks before the next lesson. A weekly lesson is much more likely to nip these mistakes in the bud before they harden.

I shouldn't worry about vibrato at this early stage. Many players have found that as time goes on and they loosen up and tension disappears then vibrato starts to appear of its own accord. This when the teacher steps in and teaches the finer points of the technique. I think it is counter productive to teach vibrato before the pupil is naturally ready. It was my experience that vibrato didn't start until I was easily shifting up and down the fingerboard without having to think about it. This is because vibrato and shifting both need the same degree of relaxation and lack of tension.

Another thing that is worth thinking about is that tension in the bowing arm will cause tension in the left hand, and vice versa. The reverse is also true: if one side of the body is relaxed then the other side will be as well. This boils down to good posture of the whole body - torso, neck and shoulders, all of which have a fundamental effect on the action of the arms, hands, and fingers.

A bit about myself, which may have some relevance: I was an amateur cellist from my early 'teens, and started learning the violin only after I retired. I was having violin lessons for 7 years (1-hour fortnightly), and started playing violin in orchestra about 3 years from starting the violin. Being a cellist admittedly did help a little for about the first 6 months, but thereafter the violin and cello diverged so much that the slight boost of having been a cellist ceased to be relevant. However, I did have a helpful lifetime of orchestral experience when it came to moving over from cello to violin in orchestra.

One further thought. Everyone who plays the violin continues to be a beginner in some way or other throughout their playing career. It is a long ladder, and no-one knows where the top is.

December 19, 2016 at 05:27 PM · unintentional duplicate

December 19, 2016 at 05:29 PM · unintentional duplicate

December 19, 2016 at 05:50 PM · Trevor, I'll agree with you about weekly lessons being important. I was self-teaching for the first 2 months, then I realized that I needed in-person guidance if I want to advance quicker. So I had 4 lessons in 1 1/2 months. Now my teacher is on vacation too... like the other forum on that topic.

I'll try not to jump ahead too much, and begin with shifting before vibrato. I guess I'm just eager to sound GOOD! However my teacher did mention that she thinks I can acquire a beginner vibrato in a few months. What do you think? Is that realistic?

December 19, 2016 at 06:03 PM · Possibly, but don't try to force a vibrato, that's counter-productive. Be guided by your teacher. Don't obsess with it but let it arrive of its own accord, which is usually when you're not expecting it.

December 19, 2016 at 09:43 PM · @ Trevor: "I shouldn't worry about vibrato at this early stage. Many players have found that as time goes on and they loosen up and tension disappears then vibrato starts to appear of its own accord. ... I think it is counter productive to teach vibrato before the pupil ist naturally ready. ... This is because vibrato and shifting both need the same degree of relaxation and lack of tension."

I totally do agree with you for the most part, but my own experience was that I only managed to loose tension by implementing some vibrato exercise into my daily routine. Not that it was a big success at first, and it really took some time to get it right, but it taught me that it wasn't necessary to clinge the instrument like a lifebelt... (And within a few weeks I also got rid of that nasty callous in my fingertips...)

December 19, 2016 at 11:11 PM · G.A.: Like I was, you are a "Late Starter" (Considering that children are starting as young as three there are a lot of late starters.) My guess is that you are probably an adult with a love of music and an occupation that consumes a lot of your time. The problem is you want to catch-up quickly with those darned pre-teen musicians you hear on "From the top."

I'm almost 70 and I've only been playing for about 40 years so I was a really late starter. Like you I wanted to cover a lot of ground fast but I had to learn to take it slow, absorb the lessons and use the skills of being an adult to make good decisions.

If you really love the instrument you will learn and overcome all the problems you noted. You might even become a good teacher yourself because you will have to struggle and the struggle burns in the lesson better than anything else.

I agree with the other comments, you should have more frequent lessons but I also understand that for adult beginners that is not always as easy at it seems.

Be gentle on your self, you have the rest of your life to learn the lessons that the violin has to teach, and the first one is patience with yourself.

December 20, 2016 at 12:50 AM · Thank you for your input, George. Yes, I am a young adult with not much free time... but what could you do when you love music?!

It's hard to be a beginner, especially when my first instrument - piano - came and continues to come naturally without any effort (quite literally).

It's encouraging to know that there are people who began violin at a later stage than myself and thrived, so thank you.

December 20, 2016 at 04:25 PM · Tuning/Intonation

Tuning and intonation present a complex and varying challenge depending on the demands of the music and the other instruments that are playing. I mention this so you realize that in the long run, there is no easy, perfect solution, only compromises.

Most electronic tuners can only handle Equal Temperament tuning/intonation. This is sometimes called piano tuning. If you tune the strings by ear, the tuner will show the G and D strings as tuned flat, and the E string as tuned sharp. If you are using the tuner to learn basic finger positions to get you started, then tuning be ear will result in many odd-sounding notes that the tuner says are perfectly in-tune.

If your tuner does not have an option to set it for "Just" intonation, then I recommend tuning the strings with the electronic tuner rather by ear, and initially learning to play using Piano tuning/intonation.

If you want to immediately take advantage of the lovely harmonics that the violin can produce, then get an electronic tuner that can use Just intonation. You can now tune by ear and check the tuning directly with the tuner. Moreover, when you check your intonation of other notes, the tuner will indicate notes as in-tune that maximize the rich harmonics of the violin.

If you are stuck with an electronic tuner that s limited to equal temperament, then you can still check your tuning by ear if the tuner has a +/- cents display.

Tune A to 440 using the tuner.

Tune all other string by ear.

The G string is in-tune by ear when it shows -4 cents flat on an ET tuner.

The D string is in-tune by ear when it shows -2 cents flat on an ET tuner.

The E string is in-tune by ear when it shows +2 cents on an ET tuner.

December 20, 2016 at 04:31 PM · I don't have any advice for you unfortunately, I'm just here to offer some support! I'm also a adult learner, started about 4 months ago now, but I jumped on board as soon as I could with a teacher. I think we're up to 12 lessons now and we talk a lot about the differences and similarities of children and adult learners.

One is definitely intonation. She says that children and adults if both coming from a "non-musical" background learn about the same pace in intonation. It takes a long time, and you're constantly checking to make sure you're in tune. For myself, I cannot tune in fifths by ear yet. Around a difference of 10hz is where my ear stops, everything in that range is so similar to me I can't hear the difference. When played perfectly in tune there just seems to be more of a feeling of being correct than anything I can hear. Usually I can't get back there.

I never started with the stickers, I felt that they would make me rely too much on finger positions for intonation when I needed to force myself to rely on the sound produced. that is the large difference between adults and children I think, I can push myself through more difficult exercises without getting frustrated after 30 minutes.

As for the scratchiness while playing, I would say for me I am still working on it, but recently a large part of my success has been a proper bow hold and bowing. I've been working a lot on the correct balance and pressure to produce an even open note, then across open strings, and then finally with some basic exercises like Sevcik.

I've lurked a lot on these forums and others regarding proper bowing and visualizing the bow being weighted down by gravity, letting your arm be heavy but not crushing... it seems very subjective and vague, but it's helped me. The only other thing that has helped me is playing slower. Fast gets scratchy, I'm not quite there yet.

I am thrilled to see other adult beginners here though! it's certainly a long journey and only being three or four months in is daunting!

December 21, 2016 at 03:36 AM ·

December 21, 2016 at 11:51 AM · Guys I'm Gustavo Woltmann and I am learning to play Violin. I started when my grandfather from Panama gave me a violin on my Birthday. I know how to play Guitar but when I play Violin I am having a hard time playing it. It's like my fingers are very hard. Any advise you can give for my fingers?

December 21, 2016 at 12:18 PM · Welcome Gustavo, my advice for you is to find a good teacher to work with and keep you from developing bad technique which can be difficult to change once you are accustomed to playing a certain way. And lots of practice and not just mindless practice but focused practice and I think this is best accomplished by shorter practice sessions, take a break and do something else and then more practice when you are fresh. If you can gradually put in two or three hours of daily practice without hurting yourself you will start on the road to being the best that you can be.

December 22, 2016 at 08:32 AM · My name is Leif and I started about seven weeks ago.

I'm taking lessons once per week.

I'm learning that many of issues that come up with scratchy or off key notes are due to posture, violin hold and bow hold & technique. For instance, not bowing in a line perpendicular enough to the strings so that you're actually running the bow along the string partially. Or moving the whole arm while bowing, instead of swinging at the elbow.

I have the A string first and third finger position marked on my fingerboard with sticky dots, just to help get accustomed to the finger positions. The instructor did that for me on the first lesson and it's really helped immensely.

The weekly lessons have really helped as the instructor can correct bad habits they notice before they become more ingrained.

December 26, 2016 at 12:23 PM · Hi

I am also a beginner. Started around my 34th birthday around 2 months ago...

Knowing nothing about violins i found a luthier who offered me 2 violins to bring home and try out. I chose a Markneukirchen 19th century old beauty with a powerful projection and he also made sure i got a good bow with it from schaeffer brazil.

I really like this instrument and playing it, but i have some difficulties with tensions in my left hand/shoulder so i had to take a break for a week or so. I think i pushed it too hard practicing some hours every day. Specially trying to do double stops made me tense alot. My 1st finger god swollen and there was a disturbing pain. Now the tensions are nearly gone and i am now very aware of not being tense. Trying to let the weight of the arm push down the strings as Menuhin advocate in the videos on youtube.

Theres a lot of good advice on the web, but i really look forward to getting a teacher.

My first finger is causing me most trouble, i must be very careful not to get an injury from fysically overloading it. I also remember getting pain in this finger playing alot of guitar.

I think the most important right now is being able to play with minimal tension and awareness of my body adapting to the new positions.

Sometimes you gotta learn it the hard way...

Changing the strings recently made a huge advantage in playability. The old strings were quite worn out and that made it very difficult to get clean sound, specially from the G string. These new ones i try is Tonica. I also bought Dominants, Warchal ametyst and for later on when i have more experience some Eudoxa which i expect will have a good sound on this instrument.

Thanks for a great site for people wanting to learn about violin

December 26, 2016 at 05:31 PM · SP. It looks in your avatar like you have a mute on the bridge of your violin. I have the same type of mute. They really work! My advice is to NOT play or practice with the mute.

I learned this from experience. I was so self conscious as a beginner that I tried to limit the exposure my wife and kids had to my playing by using the mute whenever I played.

Once I started take serious violin lessons my teacher made me play and do all practice without the mute. My flaws really stood out which was difficult to accept at first because I thought I was sounding good. Just my experience and two cents worth of advice from a fellow beginner.

December 27, 2016 at 07:27 PM · Thank you James for that recommendation.

Another thing i've noticed using a mute is, that it is more difficult to asses the distance between the bridge and the fingerboard with your eyes.

December 27, 2016 at 09:28 PM · Ah! That's where the ears come in!

December 28, 2016 at 03:28 AM · You shouldn't be watching your bridge while you're playing. that's a bad habit and will fail you if you ever join into an orchestra of sorts. You should instead record yourself and review your posture afterwards to assure it is what it should be. Trust in your technique.

December 28, 2016 at 07:23 AM · Hey GA and SP! Im still a beginner-amateur and have been learning the violin for 3 years (i started when i was 12, then joined the school orchestra for 3 years, and then decided to really start learning by taking weekly lessons when i was 15. Im now 18 :D)

1- Left hand tension. I still have this now (im trying to resolve it without any avail) when i cant accelerate enough for a song.Try playing the piece slowly, then when you get confident play it faster. For vibrato, dont see it as a goal. See it as an enhancer. It just helps you improve emotion in your playing. Vibrato will come naturally when you learn how to shift position etc.

2- intonation and tuning by ear? For this i suggest just getting used to the GDAE sounds first and then try tuning the A string with the tuning app, and then tuning G,D, and E by comparing them to the A string. Well for intonation if you have a piano at home i suggest checking the notes on the piano before and after you play the piece. If not try to look up videos on youtube and check your sound periodically (every 8 bars)

3 - Smooth transition between notes. The scratchy break might come from you dragging your bow between notes/switching strings. Try to play without moving the bow in between strings.

4- Strings? I use dominant strings and find that its quite adequate for what i want. The sound is clear and strong. And there isnt a lot of scratchy sounds.

MUTE- DO NOT use mute unless you're playing late into the night and are already fairly competent iin your violin skills, or just dont want to disturb people. I bought a mute and after 10-20 minutes of trying out, i abandoned it because it makes my violin tinny and i cant express properly.

FINGERBOARD- try not to watch your bridge. Your eyes should be glued on the score/your fingers

Hope this helps!

December 28, 2016 at 07:23 AM ·

January 3, 2017 at 09:45 PM · Hi all, i hope you can help me with a few questions.

When i attempt to do vibrato, specially on the D string with either my 2'nd or 3'rd finger they will also often, when doing the motion, lightly hit the G string and that causes an unwanted rumbling sound, quite loud actually. I am allmost positive its when my fingers will accidentially hit the string above the one playing when doing vibrato. First i thought it was my shoulder rest or some loose part making sounds :)

I dont have extremely big fingers so i guess this might be a common issue when starting out with vibrato.

Is it normal to use the 1st finger to dampen the string above the one you vibrate on? You know just lightly touch it so it cant vibrate.

I know when i played guitar i was often dampening strings in different situations. Is dampening strings also common in playing violin?

and a second question:

Can anyone shed some light on technique when playing double stops. For instance do you use more weight on the bow or do you have any other guidelines. Any tips are welcome

Thanks in advance

January 3, 2017 at 11:57 PM · Hi S P,

I'm also attempting vibrato exercises. Can't say I have that same problem, though. I find that it's hard for me to keep my finger at the proper pitch; it tends to slide as I'm vibrating.

As far as double stops, it's all about finding the angle in between the two strings, and keeping your bow arm in that angle all the while. So although there are only four strings, there are really seven different angles to play at: G, D, A, E, G+D, D+A, A+E. I don't think you need more weight, really...

Hope that makes sense!

January 4, 2017 at 03:50 PM · Hey SP!

There are some physical solutions to the buzzing sound

1. Cut your nails if they are too long. (ik this might seem obvious but you should see how many people dont cut their nails)

2.DONT TRY TO DAMPEN YOUR STRING. if there is a buzzing sound check for areas on the string where the metal inside is showing (it will look shinier than the rest of the string). Its probably your violin string wearing out causing the buzzing. If possible change the strings where its buzzing. Dampening by putting an extra finger down will only cause problems later on when you have to change positions quickly and you're fingers are sliding up and down the violin.

Then there are the technical solutions.

1. Look up some tutorials on youtube. Its probably the way you're gripping your violin/your finger positions that are causing the buzzing.

2. With your description of how you're doing vibrato, I assume you're rocking your finger left and right (my sister does that too. its a common mistake when beginners do vibrato). Try to rock it up and down. It might seem like im asking you to break your fingers and if its a bit too hard try it the beginner way, by shifting your whole arm up and down the string. If it doesn'tg look like the ones shown in the youtube tutorial dont fret. Vibrato isn't done in a day. Maybe leave it be and practice other stuff like rhythm and intonation. Vibrato will come naturally when you get better at the violin

DOUBLE STOPS

Double stops are really hard to play. You need weight and speed (more than you would play on a single string but not enough that you are pressing the hair to the bow). Try practicing with two open strings first. Then try each double stop one by one. If it seems too hard take a break. No need to force yourself. If you're relatively new (3-4 months of learning) please do not attempt double stops yet. Same with vibrato although vibrato is on a comparatively lower level than double stops. Wait until you're one year into violin practicing then start on double stops.

Idk if this site has messaging so if you have any questions you can reach me on discord at Seletri#9273

January 4, 2017 at 06:59 PM · Thanks for the help. I am now positive the buzz or rumble is happening when doing a vibrato and the finger bumps into the above string. Even though it is just lightly touching, yet the instrument will make it sound quite huge.

I followed your advice and just tried to not do vibrato when doing some excersises. That made it also easier to work on my bowing technique doing it legato on the appropriate places etc.

thats a valuable lesson trying not to mix too much together when practicing some other specific

i used to pick my nails but yeah started cutting them when started on the violin :)

January 5, 2017 at 04:11 AM · @S P:

Thats encouraging! if you need help on doing vibrato be sure to message me on discord!

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