should I learn a second instrument?

February 8, 2017 at 07:22 PM · Hey guys! I've been playing the violin for 12 years, which was since i was 4. I really enjoy the violin, but I'm wondering if I should learn a new instrument on the side. I have kind of played the piano but I never really enjoyed it so I quit. I was thinking of learning the flute or clarinet because they always fascinated me. Is it worth learning a second instrument?

Replies (28)

February 8, 2017 at 07:59 PM · Go ahead. I don't see why not.

February 8, 2017 at 08:24 PM · It's very fun to learn additional instruments once you've acquired a degree of proficiency on your primary.

I started violin at six, clarinet at eleven, and have never stopped. Now when my clarinet students study the Mozart, Weber, and Brahms Quintets, I can lead the string quartet that plays with them, or play them with my string students with me on clarinet. :)

February 8, 2017 at 08:39 PM · If you can handle the extra weight and awkward position, learning viola seems to be the most logical extension. If you want to do some creative musical work, I think the piano is the better option.

February 8, 2017 at 10:46 PM · If I had to learn another instrument like seriously, that would be the piano, that's the king of the instruments!

But hey, if I had extra time, I would learn oboe/clarinet and the french horn, my God, those instruments are incredible. Oh, and the bassoon, the bassoon is great too.

If you're a violinist, learning viola does not seem exciting (jokes aside hahahaha). I mean, I know many, many violinists learn to play (or already know how to) the viola, but it's pretty much the same. I would go for something different, at least if it has to be a quartet instrument, let it be the cello. But come on, we're bored of the strings, no more strings, bring me some tornado (wind).

The last instrument I would learn would be probably the triangle. I hate triangles, as much as I hate trigonometry. Lol.

February 8, 2017 at 11:10 PM · I wish I had learned to play piano as well. I do play viola - it took virtually nothing to learn to do that - if your hands are big enough and your arms long enough it is a great additional skill - you just have to learn to read the alto clef - it can be "faked" for a while, but ultimately you want to be able to think "viola" rather than "violin up a third" or some such thing.

I also started violin when I was 4, and I was given a cello shortly before my 15th birthday and subbed in an adults' string quartet 10 days later - I had taught myself to read bass (and treble) clef on cello well enough in that time. I subsequently studied with a very good professional cellist for 2-1/2 years who immediately corrected all the mistakes I was making as a typical violinist turned "cellist."

All the principles of violin playing apply to cello as well - upside-down and backwards (as some people say) but I never found that a problem. The "feel" of the bow on the strings is so much the same even if it is heavier and held differently. My violin playing continued to improve all the time I studied cello - so I continued as HS orchestra concertmaster for my last 3 HS years, and played cello in the community orchestra during those years as well.

I switched from orchestra violin to viola 2 years ago, and have played cello in piano trios for the past 18 years. For about 30 years before that I regularly played violin in piano trios and string quartets - and cello solos in churches. My community orchestra "career" on all 3 instruments now stretches back about 68 years. Time does take a toll on those violinist muscles and joints - so it is great to have alternatives - and there are so many more ensemble opportunities the more instruments you are able to play.

I think if you start cello young enough you will not find mental conflicts reading the music --but get a good cello teacher to avoid making postural errors on the big instrument that can actually injure you.

February 8, 2017 at 11:17 PM · You ask if you 'should' learn a second instrument. If you want to learn it, then you definitely should! When there's a will, there's a way.

February 9, 2017 at 09:24 AM · The good thing about learning viola is that it opens new windows to you, both professsionally and artistically.

February 9, 2017 at 02:04 PM · The piano is not the King of Instruments - the Organ is!

February 9, 2017 at 02:37 PM · Far and away, the most practical second instrument (besides viola, which is rather too obvious) is the piano. Piano skill is super useful if you ever teach violin, because you can peck out a Suzuki accompaniment at a lesson. Also the piano enables more rapid uptake of theory because internalization of the keyboard leads to visual learning. This must be one of the reasons why college music programs require piano proficiency. And the piano it a great tool for composing and arranging. Notice how 90% of the great composers were pianists (keyboardists in the pre-piano era)? That's not a coincidence. These days you just buy a decent digital piano such as the Yamaha P-255 (with stool, pedal, and X-stand, $1300 at and you're good to go for a long time, very versatile and economical, and you can practice any time of the day or night wearing headphones. Interface easily to your computer via MIDI. Add a PA such as the Behringer Europort PPA500BT and you're ready for gigs in pretty much any venue (reasonable to skim an equipment fee from the invoice total, especially when you're not the pianist but you're providing the gear). Suddenly piano trio or violin-and-piano gigs become possible in venues that have no piano or have only a small corner for musicians to play, such as many restaurants.

February 9, 2017 at 03:06 PM · The second instrument you should learn is the one that interests you. Go with flute or clarinet if that is what you want. You will have a hard time with piano if you do not really enjoy it. Viola might be good to try out, because it could help you with violin.

If composing is something you are interested in, you do not need a piano these days. Any instrument is fine. There is fantastic notation software, such as Sibelius and Finale, as well as great software for electronic music, such as Logic, ProTools, and Max/MSP. Most composition programs these days do not require you to come in as a good pianist anymore. That so many composers are/were pianists, is a hold-over from the time when that was what had to be used to compose dense textures, if one could not hear things in their head.

I would also say that piano doesn't necessarily make a difference in how well you learn theory. Perhaps it is most useful for singers who cannot visualize an instrument in which to match the concepts. Either way, I find the requirement at schools a bit overrated, and outdated. The best thing about it is that you would be prepared if you found yourself at school needing to test out of secondary piano, and as Paul said, accompany your students from time to time.

February 9, 2017 at 03:20 PM · Flute would be great to play with your violin friends! But you choose what attracts you most, no question. Most of my music friends have migrated to a second, even a third instrument, as I have...only thing is, it's hard to take lessons on two instruments and keep up with community orchestra. But we struggle along!

February 9, 2017 at 03:51 PM · Learning a good notation software is a good thing, but it is hardly a substitute for learning piano.

February 9, 2017 at 05:36 PM · "90% of the great composers were pianists". True enough, but there is the occasional one who had little or no practical experience of a stringed instrument, and this can show up in orchestral scores with violin (usually the seconds) or viola parts that are sometimes too pianistic for comfort.

February 9, 2017 at 05:59 PM · You should learn piano because you'll then get a practical understanding of harmony and counterpoint. This really aids a person in composing music. If I play a couple of chords, I start improvising and create interesting music. Just by knowing a couple of chords, you could make millions of songs. How cool is that! Playing piano is a lot of fun and I am sure you will like it once you get comfortable.

February 9, 2017 at 06:06 PM · I think that there is a lot to be desired when composing solely with piano, and it is amazing what a lot of older composers have done. Perhaps most of the great composers heard things in their head to begin with, and it doesn't matter what you use. For one, you only have ten fingers. Computer software can play back dozens of tracks simultaneously. Also, MIDI playback can at least give you a vague idea of how instruments will sound, whereas all of the voices on piano will sound the same. There are also excellent sample libraries. It is also inefficient to write things out by hand. Pretty much everyone these days expects a publisher-quality score before even a reading takes place. And like Trevor said, it is obvious in many places that composers such as Brahms and Bartok did not have the best understanding of string instruments.

February 9, 2017 at 10:43 PM · Excuse gentleman, the organ is not the king of the instruments. The piano is!

The organ is just a wanna be piano, it has no guts (strings lol) to be a piano.

You even have to trample on it!!!

What respect can you have for an instrument that you literally stomp on it?

February 9, 2017 at 10:52 PM · The piano has pedals as well!

But I don't think there is a king of instruments. The ones that have stood the test of time all have something unique to offer. It is a shame that the repertoire and PR don't reflect that.

February 10, 2017 at 12:16 AM · @Lieschen, composition software with MIDI capability (which all the good ones have now) becomes even more powerful when coupled with the digital piano because you can compose at the piano and the software will write down what you play. You may have to clean up the rhythms afterward, but it definitely gets the notes right. Add a synthesizer (like the Yamaha MX49 with CubaseAI software, ca. $500), and you can write movie scores.

February 10, 2017 at 03:23 AM · Why not try the mandolin? Tuned in fifths and the fingering will be the same so it shouldn't be a long learning curve to feel comfortable playing. Also, picks are a lot cheaper than bows, but a lot easier to lose.

February 10, 2017 at 07:01 AM · Ditto, Piano is the obvious, most useful choice for any musician. Most Violinists should try Viola to see if it physically fits them better than violin. Unusual suggestions; Serious vocal lessons can do wonders to teach phrasing, sustained lines, stage presence and integrate the mind and body. Electric bass is comparatively easy, very marketable for those interested in non-classical genres. But, most important; do what you really want to do. jq

February 10, 2017 at 03:37 PM · Tim, the organ was around long before the piano and its struck or plucked ancestors, in its primitive form dating back to Ancient Greece, and in its modern form from the 14th century.

Some personal background: I had many years of piano lessons in my youth, and, in my twenties, three years of organ lessons at St Mary Redcliffe Church in Bristol. Before WW2 my father played piano concertos in public on a number of occasions, and in later life was a church organist for many years.

February 10, 2017 at 08:29 PM · What any of that has to do with the fact that the piano is the king?

February 10, 2017 at 09:07 PM · The piano has the range of the whole orchestra except non-pitched percussion. The organ is like that, too. Learn the instrument you want to learn, just like others said. There are plenty of multi-instrumentalists.

February 10, 2017 at 10:39 PM · You can play more notes on an organ and produce different tones, but the downside is that detailed expression within phrases is difficult on Swell/Choir and impossible on Great.

But Mozart did not favour either. HIS favourite was the Clavichord.

On the subject of keyboards, one reaction to a laboratory question of whether the new centrifuge was still virginal was that it was more likely to be spin it.

February 11, 2017 at 02:33 AM · That's not even close to funny. :)

February 13, 2017 at 04:55 AM · As a classical trombonist, violinist, violist, electric and double bassist, who dabbled in piano, organ, synclavier, synthesizers, guitars, mandolin, choir, cello, euphonium, tuba, trumpet, clarinet, and alto saxophone (BA in composition) I can say that

each instrument has changed my perspective on the world of musical literature, interpretation, and performance throughout over 45 years of playing. Currently, I'm going back to my second instrument -organ, and exploring the vast old world of differences in modal counterpoint, additive synthesis (overtone / stop mixing) and phrasing.

BTW church organ is bigger, louder, and has more range than anything with more variety of sounds- It is, has been, and always will be the king.

February 13, 2017 at 07:36 PM · Oh, no, no, no, you don't give me that, the piano is the King, period. A King is not the most powerful human among all the citizens, neither the most clever, tall, strong... but he is the perfect combination of all of that, that's why he's the King. Same with piano. :D

February 14, 2017 at 05:21 AM · Then in Menuhin's terms -Tsar.;-)

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