How far could I go?

September 25, 2004 at 08:41 PM · Hi,

As you perhaps know, I'm sixteen and I picked up a violin for the first time in the early June this year. I'm learning by myself at home, without any teacher. I have never learnt in the music school at all. Now I'm playing simple things quite well, I'm relaxed when playing and I really enjoy playing my fiddle. But one question still bothers me - how far can I go playing alone? Is it possible to extend the playing skills over simple etudes? Will I ever can play, for example La Campanella correctly? Can I learn bowing techniques such as detache, stacatto or others? I'm not talking about being a virtuoso, or even a fiddle player in philharmonia - just about playing for fun and satisfaction. Maybe there are some tips over the internet about learning alone?

Thanks for any replies

Best regards,


Replies (33)

September 25, 2004 at 10:29 PM · Greetings,

it doesn"t matter what age you start. Nor can anyone predict whether you can play Campanella correctly or not. Frist of allyou have to decide what that actually means...

But if that is you goal then get a teacher. Don't kid yourself that the complex array of skills neede to play the violin can be learnt without one, no matter how helpful the many sites on the Internet (including this one) are.



September 26, 2004 at 08:56 AM · Hi,

Thanks for advice. I would really like to have a teacher, because I love playing violin and a teacher would be very helpfull, almost "a must". But now I'm in high school, and there is no time to add a music learning to my week plan :( I've got two english lessons a week, chemistry after-school practises and I'm going to start in IT olympiad... I'm afraid, that I just can't afford getting a teacher. But that's something, that I'm surely thinking about - maybe in future :) Now I'm playing alone, and getting better from week to week. When I hear my recordings from first days and from last week, I feel a great difference ;)

Yeah, I know it's not interesting at all. But if somebody like to hear my playing skills after two months of learning on my own, I recorded two simple pieces

1. Beggining of Paganinis' 24 Caprice

2. A sample piece of The King Of Golden Hall from Lord Of The Rings

p.s. playing La Campanella was only a example of piece more difficult than simple etudes :)

Best regards


September 26, 2004 at 09:35 AM · Very good for only two months, and also by yourself, seems like you've made good progress. Nevertheless you can't expect to make large amounts of progress without the guidance of a teacher, a guider, someone to teach you the details of violin playing. You probably don't realise a lot of the technical problems you might have until a teacher sees. so ye...

September 26, 2004 at 09:43 AM · Yes, I know... I know, that I'm learning without any guide what to do, how to practise, what things to improve - I just play, and play, and get better. Violin is the most difficult instrument to play I heard about, and it's almost impossible to make great progress without help of somebody, who can guide you how to learn. And yes - I'm going to get a teacher after the high school ... now it's just impossible :(



September 26, 2004 at 09:50 AM · Hey Mateusz what's your email (do you have msn?), I could send you some useful stuff from some books I have. Both Polish and English that could help you a load.

September 26, 2004 at 10:13 AM · No, I haven't got MSN, but if you'd like - I've got jabber, and my jid is the same as my mail -

Thanks for help!

September 26, 2004 at 02:14 PM · Well, the Paganini is definitely better than my Gavotte from Mignon (Suzuki book 2), and I've been playing for about a year and a half now. Great progress, but I've learned that you can't depend on recordings to teach you the technical stuff. Which is why it's great you're finding a teacher!


September 26, 2004 at 06:56 PM · Hi Mateusz,

I cannot stress enough the importance of finding a good teacher asap. You may consider yourself to be playing well using relaxed technique, but as a beginner you are not in a position to judge this for yourself. You need guidance, not least in finger patterns and placement, and also in key signatures and what they mean: this Paganini Caprice is in fact in a minor key, not a major one, and you will not understand the meaning of this and how to execute the instructions given in a score until you seek decent instruction. Your present confusion is audible in your recording. Forgive me for being candid, but if you delay this, you will continue to ingrain bad technical and musical habits, and this will make life that much harder later on when you do decide to seek guidance.

September 26, 2004 at 07:04 PM · You are not candid at all! Thanks for that comment! I know I should find a teacher. I know, that I don't understand many terms (acctually, I play almost everything using D-major finger patterns... because I learnt it from the book). I'm planning to find a teacher _if_ it won't break me my school activities. It's very important to have a guide, who can help and teach. But it's also hard to afford in my age ;(

Best regards!


September 26, 2004 at 07:15 PM · If you can't afford to go for an hour a can try to go for a lesson every two weeks. Even once a month, if planned out properly, would be of great benefit.

There is room for compromise!

September 26, 2004 at 07:13 PM · Hi there. I learned the 24th Caprice on my own as well (actually just auditioned with it, memorized) just this past winter; I've stopped having lessons for about two+ years.

But I can say that Itzhak Perlman and Vadim Repin were my best teachers so to speak along with the many other artists I listened to who played it.

If you really don't have time for a teacher, you do have to step up the self-discipline and learn to feel the music for yourself through established players. My 24th Caprice style is a mixture of all those I've listened to; each variation a culmination of the best qualities I've heard, in addition to my own unique style.

Though I practice independently, I notice the errors I make. It's not really hard to tell when your own playing sounds pretty bad; you have to STOP yourself when you do so and correct it methodically.

Learning the 24th Caprice alone has actually helped my self-development skills on Sarasate's Carmen Fantasy, and now my preparation for my Beethoven Concerto contest feels so relaxing.

There is something highly rewarding about independent practice. I learned various techniques on my own by listening to recordings; from vibrato to left-hand pizz. Now I'm working on those quick harmonics :)

Just make sure you are fully committed to improving your playing. Pay attention to your wrist/finger tension when you play, and don't forget to ask other musicians to evaluate help you when you can. Practice a lot! Over time your fingers will "automatically" learn a presto passage if you play it daily.

IM me if you have any specific playing concerns (esp. with the Paganini).

sn: Hankdamanhle

September 26, 2004 at 07:35 PM · Your practicing on your own now...

...but how many years of lessons did you have to start with?...

September 26, 2004 at 08:10 PM · Hm... you made me curious! I'm going to look for a teacher in my town, and check whether it's possible to have a lesson per two weeks. I'll check the average price too, and seriously think about getting a teacher for myself. Of course, it does not mean I'm going to stop playing and practising for my own satisfaction :)

best regards!

September 27, 2004 at 01:17 AM · Good luck Mati! Btw, last time budget lessons came up on a thread, someone explained that they use the barter system with their teacher: they mowed the teacher's lawn or babysat her kids or something. Most teachers should be understanding if you explain your situation.

After eleven years of tuition, I went through university with no lessons; just played in a few orchestras and practised my old repertoire a lot. I didn't go downhill... but I certainly did stagnate - I didn't realise how much until I returned to lessons and started progressing in leaps and bounds. It's worth it:)

September 27, 2004 at 04:08 AM · I am a teacher who barters for babysitting, something I desperately need!

September 29, 2004 at 06:16 PM · I'm learning to play violin on my own too! I'm glad I'm not the only one. I know I need to have lessons, I just don't have money. My roommate is a elementary music teacher, last night she nicely asked to use my headphones...haha! And enthusiastically nods her head whenever I mention lessons. It's kind of funny. I don't think I'm horrible, just raw and play everything by feel. I've had ten years of piano lessons and five of flute lessons. I also taught myself how to play guitar, but the guitar was easy to find people to learn from. Violin is a little less frequent in my world of existence. Can anyone suggest a book on technique or maybe a good place to get music to play? I know that I need discipline, but I would find it easier in addition with music that is fun to play.

It's nice how there are statements that say there's hope even if you're older. I had always thought the violin was impossible unless you started at age 3. I know I'll never be great, but I'm playing for pure enjoyment of music. Any suggestions for music would be great!

September 29, 2004 at 06:43 PM · Self-taught people can be ignorant or self-deceived as to whether their tone and technique are "up to specs."

I know, I tried the self-taught route for years, armed with degrees in theory and classical guitar. I was a miserable self-taught violinist with a bad sound and bad technique. Some regular lessons with a good teacher have made all the difference. Unfortunately, he is moving across the country, but I know I'll get with another good teacher here. As someone suggested above, even occasional lessons are valuable.

I'm not saying it's impossible to play well if you are self-taught, but I do believe you will learn far better and far quicker with a teacher. Good luck, I wish you much success and enjoyment with your violin.

September 29, 2004 at 11:02 PM · Hey thats not bad for a few months. I can appreciate your situation - lessons are expensive.When you leave school if you did music at college you would get free lessons - and then you will make real progress. Most beginners struggle with tuning, some people play in tune naturally wheras others (most people) need to develop their musical ear. If you play really slowly then you can control your tuning much easier, by using open strings as a guide - your fourth finger notes are the same as the string above, and 3rd finger ones are the same as the string below. So use this as a guide. And if you want to know how perlman plays this caprice and everything else so perfectly- practice very slowly and perfectly every day, and you will get there eventually! I started at 17 after playing guitar, and I am now 22, and I can play the slow movement and La Campanella. But I did practise for many hours daily. But I would suggest that you have got talent for the violin, and now you have to put in the hard hours to turn that talent into skill. Good luck :-)


September 30, 2004 at 10:52 AM · Matteusz, I'm sorry to be the voice of unpleasant reality, but no one - and I do mean no one - who plays the violin even as a capable amateur has learned how to do so on their own. It is not a natural instrument, and with no musical background to enable you to hear what you're doing wrong (intonation, wrong notes, sound quality, rhythm, etc.) you will not even be able to know that you are, in fact, doing something wrong. Offhand, from hearing the clip, I would venture to guess that:

1) Your left hand is incorrectly positioned. Your fourth finger is consistently and very significantly flat, which is usually the case when either the left wrist is bent inwards, or when the whole hand is held practically perpendicular to the neck of the instrument.

2) Your rhythm is off, in all likelihood because you're at the mercy of your fingers which are

3) too tense, and moving with extreme difficulty

4) Your intonation is off, but what's more worrisome is how your ear isn't telling you this or allowing you to correct AS you play. Thus, without intending to, you're playing so many notes out of tune that subsequent notes become unrecognizable as the pitches they're even supposed to be, thus making wrong notes. And finally, you end up with so many wrong notes that you end up in the wrong key altogether.

5) Given the lengths of the notes, I would venture to guess that you're using about an eighth of your bow, mainly because your right arm is probably quite stiff. This could be due to tension in the elbow and wrist, though whether those are tense in and of themselves or because of a fundamentally incorrect bowgrip is impossible to tell without seeing it.

6) Given all these elements, I'd also venture to guess that the violin itself may be positioned not quite correctly. The usual beginner's mistake is to hold it too low and too far to the left.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that if you're unable to pay for lessons yet want to learn to play even at a beginner's level, Paganini caprices (or even fragments from them), let alone the Campanella, is not the way to go. I like the suggestions I've seen about bartering your services as babysitter or perhaps mowing lawns for lessons. But playing self-taught is simply not possible on the violin. I know we're all supposed to be supportive of everyone on the board, but there has GOT to be a realistic estimation of the situation. I've seen enough students who've been taught by irresponsible teachers or who've tried to teach themselves come to me with such crippling bad habits that it really upsets me to see such a trend be encouraged in any way. And I've seen a couple of students come my way, after having been with a good teacher who gave them the proper set-up of the hands that I gratefully bless the latter and curse the former.

I do know of some pianists who achieved a good beginner-amateur level by teaching themselves, without necessarily forming self-destructive habits, to suggest, if you can't barter services for lessons or find a way to earn money to pay for lessons, that perhaps you might want to begin your musical studies on the piano rather than the violin. But please believe me when I say that no internet site, no magic book of instruction can make you be the exception to a universal rule: the violin cannot be self-taught. If you genuinely believe that you CAN be the lone success story when every other person who has ever tried has failed, perhaps you should take up alchemy and try finding a way of making gold from lead, or seek the Fountain of Youth. Both very worthwhile pursuits if past failures are not taken to serve as indications of possible future successes. And both benefit all humanity, after all...

September 30, 2004 at 11:28 AM · WHAT???

Is there a truth in the Legend of Fountain of the Youth?

Here I go!

Bye Bye! Next time you see me, I'll be wearing diapers!

September 30, 2004 at 06:58 PM · Lol Matt

I agree with the previous comment, if you try and teach yourself then all you will do is practise bad habits and mistakes until they are impossible to reverse. Get a paper round or clean cars, wash windows and get a teacher!

:-D John (still laughing with Matt)

September 30, 2004 at 07:23 PM · I think the previous postings are correct. I, who am beginning on my own, knew, feel, and was once crippled by those sentiments. I wouldn't attempt anything for fear of failure. Until one day, I got a cheap violin and said, what the heck, why not try just for myself.

As with visual arts, I don't think you have to have the best technique to enjoy art or music. It doesn't mean that what's produced will be on a wall in a gallery and people will look at it or listen (in fact they may run from you) But there are other reason for playing the violin or pursuing any creative endeavor.

The important thing is to put forth a goal and find the proper means to get there. For me, my goal is to play melodies that I've written, to experiment. I owe so much money from my debt from art school, I just can't afford lessons. I work full time and I'm going back to school to become a counselor, or something! For me playing the violin, is part of my crazy self that tries everything.

I remember one drawing class, a music professor came to our class to play the violin while we painted. He told us how precious visual arts were, because there is a record of what we did. He said with the music performance there isn't a way to experience the live music again once it is over...not in the same way. To me, it showed how precious music is as well.

Well, I will go, or I would be able to write two books about this stuff, but me and my situation isn't that important. I just wanted to put out the wishy-washy ideal of playing music just to play. Sorry if I've offended anyone or am ignorant of many least I know that I don't know....oh well.

October 1, 2004 at 12:17 AM · Greetings,

thanks for those observations Emil and Sue. I have noticed a `modern` (?) trend towards soft selling truth/reality or even reversing it completely because we are supposed to be `encouraging` at all times whatever the situation. But when encouragement (or even praise) is based on false expectations it can be extremely destructive, and this even seems to occur at relatively high levels of music teaching. Sometimes it even goes a s far as a kind of moral laziness on the part of the teacher.

The analogy I thought of regarding the Paginini was a blind person going to a local art shop and buying twenty tubes of oils at random, going home and plastering colors on with the fingers and then asking relatives what they think of their copy of the Mona Lisa. Intrepid, butnot an indicator of much except a perhaps rational desire to reduce the number of visits by relatives,



October 1, 2004 at 05:37 AM · Buri, great to see you back. I'm also glad to see we agree on this point. Being supportive does not, in my opinion, mean blindly seconding everything that the object of your supportiveness suggests. If your friend decides to commit suicide, for example, how supportive and how good a friend are you if you say "Great idea! Go for it! I know you can do it!" Similarly, if your friend asks you what you think of their trying addictive drugs, wouldn't the mark of a true friend be how vehemently such an experiment were opposed?

Obviously I'm stating extreme examples here. But there are an infinity of lesser examples all around us. Basically, if a friend asks for one's support in an action which will hurt them, I've always felt that the truly supportive thing is to act like a seeing-eye dog, and to get in the way of their proposed self-destruction. Unfortunately, in our relativistic times, we are told to act not as intelligent dogs but as nonsentient crutches, enabling the blind man to stroll blithely into traffic.

Incidentally, can you tell where I stand on the question of France and the US from all of the above?

October 1, 2004 at 10:21 PM · Paganini seems to fascinate people because he represents an extreme, and we live in a time of extremisms of all kinds. Trying to play Paganini becomes, in this context, something like bungee jumping or some new, crazy, life endangering sport. But while musicians may at times indulge in virtuosic display, the fundamental concern of a serious artist is the music itself and to communicate something through the performance/recreation of that music. So, the problem I see, Mateusz, is not lack of technique, which you may eventually learn w/ a good teacher, but lack of sincere devotion to the music. In the violin every note has to be played w/ love and care. I agree that the piano is an easier instrument for self-teaching, but that is deceptive, you may injure your hands and develop bad postural habits anyway.

There always are pieces we love and would like to play, it could be a Chopin ├ętude or a Schubert impromptu. In such cases the only thing one can do is to play fragments, or only the melody line. But w/ Paganini that does not work.

One possibility is to play instead etudes that are somewhat similar. A good example is Kayser #9, which is superficially similar to Capriccio #5. Kayser #7 is also paganinian. #20 has left hand pizz and double stops. #12 has beautiful arpeggi. Just a few examples. If such etudes were recorded, and listened to, they would be more appreciated.

October 1, 2004 at 06:14 PM · Ok, I undestand, I agree, and thank you all. But one question bothers mi from the beginning. If I can't afford a teacher (no matter why - financial, time, or other problems - it's not the point) what should I do? Drop the violin, or play for fun and satisfaction just as I do now? I really enjoy making sound of my instrument and it makes me happy. I can't find any good reason to put it down and don't touch until i find a teacher. I know, and I'm sure I won't be a good violinist, and I'm not going to. I just want to do this for fun and pleasure.



October 1, 2004 at 06:26 PM · You can go as far as you want as long as you have the determination. Not having a teacher may make some things much more difficult to learn, especially stuff like vibrato and spiccato but you can still learn it none the less.

However, DON'T DROP THE INSTRUMENT JUST BECAUSE YOU DON'T HAVE A TEACHER!! If you really like playing, keep doing it!

October 1, 2004 at 10:22 PM · Hallo Mateusz, the decision is yours. What people are telling you here are the pros and cons. The cons are that w/out a teacher you will "mislearn", acquire postural and technical habits that later you will have to unlearn ( and which can be very difficult to correct later).

Unfortunately, this outweighs any fun you may have now. It is more or less as if you decided to start smoking for fun. Playing the violin w/out supervision of a teacher is in this sense harmful. In violin technique, if one detail of posture is wrong, all the rest is compromised.

You write:"I can't find any good reason to put it down and don't touch until i find a teacher."

See above.

You write:"I know, and I'm sure I won't be a good violinist, and I'm not going to. I just want to do this for fun and pleasure."

The issue is not whether you are going to be a good violinist or not. Nobody wants to put you down. But the only honest answer to your question "How far could I go?" is "nowhere" because violin technique is awfully complicated. The truth is that the violin is not an ideal instrument for amateurs. That is why fretted string instruments have always been more popular and will probably always be. Maybe the mandolin would be an alternative because of the tuning and the left-right hand coordination. Ridiculous as this proposal may seem, the fault lies actually in the fact that you can't or won't make the committment of learning the violin seriously. And w/out real committment, nobody gets anywhere.

October 1, 2004 at 10:44 PM · Greetings,

in my opinion, the central factor in the use of or witholding encouragement is trust. It is easy to make someone feel good but very often the praise becomes the objective itself.

The trick for any teacher is to isolate what is genuinly good (ther eis always soemthing- maybe...) and take that as a start point. In Mateusz' case althoug the Paginini experiment was misapplied initiative there is one thing that really does impress me: he has taken the trouble to familiarize himself with the arcane terminology of our rather odd craft and has come to the right place for answers which he is completely open to.

I would reluctantly suggest the time has come to stop playing becaus e of all the reaosns mentioned above and set some clearer goals. It is not always possible, but assuming a best case, decide that in four/six (?) months you are going to get yourself a teacher. In th e time prior to this find out how you can get soem cash for this. Get a parttime job, explain what you want to parents and see if you can negotiate with them, tell the school they should have an orchestra, rob a bank or whatever. Also spend the time watchign endless videos of payers, learning the piano (minus lessons...hah) and doing some ear training and music theory. If you can find a friendly msuic teacher to guide you in this andlend you some books all the better. The more you try to make contacts and show peopel this is somethign you really want to do the more they will help you. Musicians of any level almost always enjoy helping people who are really interested in playing.

This might sound a frustrating route (its only one option)but it would give you a really solid background that is incredibly useful when you actually come to the mechanics of the isntruemnt, and a small waitmakes the learning all the sweeter.

Give up? Certainly not,



October 2, 2004 at 02:02 AM · I'd like to add to the above posts a story about a student one of my colleagues had occasion to discharge:

He was a regular concert-goer, and claimed to be able to play Haydn's Trumpet Concerto. He was a high-flyer in many areas of life, and assumed that this, plus his trumpet playing, would make him an auto-talented student. When he arrived for his first lesson, he'd been 'messing around' with the violin for a month. He considered his progress to be very good, and proceeded to 'play' his teacher an unrecognisable popular folk tune, using the worst technique my friend had ever seen. One would think he'd never seen a violinist before, although as I've said, he was a keen concert attender.

Weeks passed. He was desperate to make exceptional progress - however he considered progress to be playing as complex a piece as possible, whereas his teacher considered it to be drawing a straight bow across a single open string with a clear tone. Their approaches conflicted, and neither goal was achieved; since his practice time was spent diligently pursuing his own agenda, he continued to ingrain bad habits minus the very foundations of solid technique. My colleague also realised, through the immense chasms in his aural and theoretical awareness, that he had most likely learned the trumpet in the same way: self-taught fumbling by rote, with no consciousness of the bare bones of music.

After some months, teacher and student reviewed the situation. He revealed that he expected to be playing the Tchaikovsky concerto within six years of tuition, and had joined an orchestra against his teacher's advice, despite having only twenty notes in his repertoire. At a loss, his teacher suggested to him that there are essentially three components to music: intonation, rhythm and tone. Without these, is there any point to playing the violin? They parted company.

October 2, 2004 at 02:04 AM · Greetings,

you botty wiggling is not allowed?



October 2, 2004 at 02:06 AM · I'll have to ask my learned colleague...

October 2, 2004 at 03:26 AM · Greetings,

if you have to ask, you probably can"t afford it,



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