Why do we play violin?

May 17, 2005 at 08:22 PM · I just met with a new student. She is an adult student who played violin years before she had a family, and now wanted to learn again. But we talked a lot today about the reason we should play music and this lady was full of a wisdom that inspired me as a teacher and as a musician.

She reminded me that we are here on this planet for so short a time and music is a gift. We should enjoy it and it should be fun.

I think often I get bogged down with preparing for concerts or auditions and worrying about if my technique is clean or what others may think of my playing, that I forget why I play violin...why I really play.

THere are possibly thousands of reasons to play violin, but I think this lady reminded me of my own reason. By talking to her, it has refreshed me and I do not drag my feet to spend hours in my practice room today... I look forward to it because I have a renewed perspective on the WHY.

Why do you play violin? :)

Replies (49)

May 18, 2005 at 07:04 AM · Freud said performers are motivated by three things. Incidently, he hated music. He really couldn't stand it for some reason.

May 18, 2005 at 10:35 AM · I was 51 and visited my 95ish aunt. Up until a few years ago she was totally active in volunteer work after "retiring" at 80. Due to a broken ankle and it's aftermath she has been limited physically, but her mind is as sharp as the days when she switched my legs for being sassy.

She regaled brithers abd sisters and me with stories of our parents when I visited. Her thoughts were so clear and listening to her memories was wonderful. As my siblings and I drove away, I told them that if I reached that age, I wanted to be just like her.

When I got home I began to think about how my aunt has always been involved in everything...especially, life. I wanted to spark my brain cells to keep them as active as hers so I made a list of "new" things to do to challenge those brains cells that were lying dormant.

My job is in engineering and uses my brain, but I was looking for something to challenge the part that was just sitting and doing nothing. I made a list of things that I had always wanted to do and learning how to play the violin was at the top.

About a week later I started lessons and it has been sheer joy. Though I could not have chosen anything more mentally challenging, I feel more alive than ever.

May 18, 2005 at 11:39 AM · I just need to play

May 18, 2005 at 11:50 AM · ;o) I agree with luke...

I've also heard from an old teacher that a lot of people say playing music is like therapy - helps you relax, unwind, and gives you something to do that you enjoy...

I think it's just good for your heart?

May 18, 2005 at 12:47 PM · Hmm i somtimes find that which draws me to the violin a bit annoying but in like a good way. Like some nights i really have the urge to play but it's too late and it would annoy the neighbours. So i go to bed early so i can wake up the next day or get into it. Or i remember one night i was making out with somone at the movies, yes i know how innocent and adorable of me anyway all i could think about was double stops! i just had this little phrase in my head and yeah.

May 18, 2005 at 12:44 PM · That's funny, Jim - Freud certainly didn't know what he was missing out (his obsession with you know what doesn't appeal to me either - hated psychology ever since i had those lectures on him!! =D)

It's a very mind-probing question. I don't know why I play the violin, although apparently according to my mum, I was attracted to the sound of the violin for one of the TV commericals when I was a baby (about 9 months old maybe) and I just sat there, dropped my toys and listened - then everything was back to normal when the commerical was over...Umm, don't know how true that is but I can assure you that even now at 24, I still stop at the sound of a violin, whether it's on the street or on tv or in a dept. store! No, I didn't start learning the fiddle till 12 and had to relearn at 18...=(

I guess I like the amazing fact that violinsts can make music on 4 strings with just 4 fingers, unlike the piano (no offense to all the pianists here!) It's a great challenge and you'll always learn something new every time you pick up the fiddle - guess that's why I play the violin and absoluately love playing it as time goes on.


May 18, 2005 at 01:46 PM · Jim Said:

"Freud said...he hated music. He really couldn't stand it for some reason."

Freud was not well. He might have even been one sick pup. I always though freud seemed off--now I know why!

May 18, 2005 at 01:42 PM · I find music to be the purest and most direct form of expressing emotions and ideas.

May 18, 2005 at 04:53 PM · Because the sound of a violin is evocative of an expressive human voice, full of a wild beauty. Because violins clearly convey both intellectual and emotional musical conversations. Because it's fun.

Violins are the cats of the orchestra.

May 18, 2005 at 05:22 PM · Sorry Clarrisa, but as a pianist who just recently started playing the violin, I haven't learned how to make music with only 4 fingers yet on the violin. It usually takes me all of them. Or do the fingers using the bow not count? I guess my teacher is wrong when she says that bowing is the most important (and hardest) part! ;)

May 18, 2005 at 05:43 PM · To answer the actual topic of this discussion (thanks for sharing, Sarah!) of why I play--there are two different reasons for the piano and the violin. For the piano, as Luke said, there are times when I just NEED to play (either for my own personal sanity, or to practice for a specific performance).

Hopefully, some day before I die, the violin will be that way too. I just know I have a lot of hard work in front of me before I get to that point. I have had some satisfying moments, though. This week I’ve actually started to hear sympathetic vibrations from the D and G strings when I play those notes on the A and E strings. I was probably a little too excited the first time I heard it, but now I expect to hear it every time, and that’s just not happening yet. That brings me to an additional reason for playing the piano. Since I’ve started violin lessons, the piano occasionally provides a much-needed break for my poor ears!

May 18, 2005 at 08:43 PM · When I was a kid my motivation was definitely Freud's three things. Now that I'm older and either have those things or wouldn't know what to do with them, trying to progress on an instrument is just working an interesting puzzle. That's really the only reason I play anything at this point.

May 19, 2005 at 06:58 AM · In addition to the feel good, life afirming meaning I place behind music, I also have developed a sort of need to use my hands to create something. It is also about solving an intricate puzzle and achieving a sense of accomplishment from being able to play a new piece...I just enjoy doing it. :)

BUt- I do it for me. I truly realised that the other day....I really don't play with an audience in mind at all. It is to see if I can do it and do it true to the composer's intentions and to do justice to the beauty of the violin. I hope that doesn't make me selfish :)

May 19, 2005 at 10:36 AM · Heather,

I was referring to the 4 fingers on the left hand - coz, if you want to be real PC (politically correct) about it, then we'll count the fingers on the bow...but then again, one can still play passages with right hand pizz, which only takes one finger - so all up, 5 fingers....

May 19, 2005 at 03:09 PM · Thank you Clarissa—I did understand what you meant, but the point I was making is that trying to compare the piano and the violin in that way is a fruitless exercise, in my opinion. They are both beautiful, versatile instruments, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. I’ve found violinists, more than any other musicians, to have a strange love/hate relationship with the piano. Even my violin teacher makes comments every once in a while—last week she asked me if the piano seemed easy compared to the violin. Who cares? Certainly to me it is, but I’ve been playing the piano for over 20 years, and the violin for only 2 months. I can freely admit I’ve never felt as much satisfaction over hitting one note perfectly in tune on the piano as I do on the violin, though!

Speaking of love-hate relationships, I dreamt last night that I left my violin on the floor and someone stepped on it and crushed it. I woke up in a total panic. I have certainly never felt that level of emotional attachment to any other instrument I’ve played.

May 19, 2005 at 11:29 PM · Why not?!

Philospohy students will appreciate this response.

May 20, 2005 at 12:02 AM · Hi Heather,

No, I'm not comparing the paino and violin as such - I just couldn't think of another example at that moment...Of coz they're both beautiful, I admir ppl who can coordinate the 10 fingers on the keyboard in fact! My brother plays the paino and my closest friend is a talented pianist as well, so there's no way I hate the paino =)

Actually, I had the same dream as yours when I was a kid - yeah, that shiver down the spine afterwards...yuck..


May 20, 2005 at 12:43 AM · OMG i have the violin smashed dream as well! Never ever put your violin on the floor! My old teacher used to say it to me all the time. My current teacher recently had a microhone stand crash through her violin and the poor thing had to have oppen heart surgery.

And i deffinatly have a love/hate thing with the piano. I'm going to start learning it sooner or later but yeah i kinda look down on it... To me violin is the far superior instrument. Hay it's jsut my opinion. One of my best friends is a talented pianist and we have to be careful when we start talking about music cause we often argue. We tried to play together once. hmmm didnt turn out so well.

May 20, 2005 at 03:15 AM · Well, I didn't dream that the violin was smashed... I dreamt it drowned! Well, sort of.... Right before I bought my new violin, while I was still techincally borrowing it, I dreamed that the case was open and floating in my bath tub. I ran to fetch it out and realized that it had soaked the back of the violin and had caused it to bend. I went to try and unbend it and I created a perfect break, like what you would do on a perforated edge of paper. It was just a dream, but it scared me to death.

Back to the original question--- because it's everything! Well, to me it is. I don't neccessarily always practice as much as I should or obsess over things like an aspiring violinist should. Most of the time I'm very good about it, but one thing I always make sure of is that I am loving every second of it. Okay, I don't love arpeggios in thirds or playing the Ysaye Preludes (especially the ones in 7ths), but I'm getting something more out of it than just technique. I know that every time I'm practice I am learning how to express myself better. It's like learning vocabulary- with more words, you can express yourself more thoroughly. Seeing as music is the medium I chose, it's playing and practicing that helps me to do that. Let's face it... music rocks. :)

May 21, 2005 at 08:52 PM · I play for stress reduction and to express myself, but one of the top reasons I play is the challenge. I know that now matter how hard or long I practice, I will never truly "master" the violin. There will always be pieces I listen to and say "MAN that piece is BRUTAL". Nothing is more satisfying though, then tearing through a section you thought was impossible when you first tried. All the hard work is worth it when you listen to a recording of a piece and think "no....they should stress THAT note more...or hold onto this note just a bit longer", and after hours of practice you can play the piece just the way you like.....that is the best!

May 28, 2005 at 05:52 AM · I starting playing not the violin but the viola when I was 8 years old because my mother made me do it. (Different story on why the viola not violin). Anyway, I played under parental pressure up until high school.

Recently, my company gave me a job assignment in Malaysia, and brought the same old viola with me, and took up lessons again. During my first lesson, my teacher asked me why I was taking up lessons after such a long sabatical (also took up cello as well).

I told her because music is something that fundmentally comes from your heart and not your brain. When I play, I find that sheet music bypasses my brain and goes right to my fingers.

I also told her that by the time I returned to the US, I wanted to learn how to play all of Bach's Cello suites on both the cello and viola. It is completly satisfying to go from "how in the world can you possibly play that part" to being able to "play that part" at least satisfactory.

In a nutshell, playing music is all about challenging yourself and making yourself better, and not impressing someone else.

After 1 year of lessons, I'm on the 6th suite.

May 28, 2005 at 03:32 PM · Congratulations- those Suites aren't easy!

May 28, 2005 at 04:57 PM · Mendy, congratulations from me, too. Bach's cello suites are very difficult and very beautiful.

Heather, I, too, have experienced the thrill of hearing sympathetic vibrations with open strings when I play a note one octave higher. There's something even more exciting: If you have another stringed instrument out of its case while you're playing your violin, the second instrument sometimes gives faint sympathetic vibrations. It's like having an unseen friend who loves what you're doing and joins in, making the music richer. Sometimes when I'm jamming and I hold my fiddle in rest position on my lap and just listen to the others play, I can feel the sympathetic vibrations in my violin. I tell someone, "My violin likes your guitar." I feel like each violin has a soul within. It's very special to play a violin that your teacher played. A bit of his/her soul lives on in the violin. I refuse to believe that the violin is an inanimate object.

May 30, 2005 at 10:35 PM · funny, they sound like cello sours when i play them. *shrugs*

May 31, 2005 at 04:56 AM · Why do I play violin? One word: Bach.

May 31, 2005 at 05:19 AM · i play the violin because of my first music teacher, zena miller.

she loved to play baroque and chamber music with her students (haydn, corelli, bach, telemann, purcell, etc) and i wanted to be good enough to sit in with her and learn the repertoire. i remember i practiced like a madman for a year to show her i was good enough to sit in with her older students but when i went back to show her i was ready, i was told she died of cancer.

i play in honour of her for giving me the gift of music.

June 1, 2005 at 06:45 AM · Ralph,

I'm the same as you. The reason I learn the violin is because of Bach.

I haven't given up on my piano yet and keeps practising every now and then (sometimes more often than violin). The reason - Bach.

June 2, 2005 at 08:04 PM · Because when I play, I'm no longer a citizen of anything formal or uniform. I become what I become from what I create. I'm free and alive. That's why I play.

-Ross Christopher


June 4, 2005 at 02:58 PM · In life, we are radiated towards what makes us feel. Hearing the violin for the first time, I felt emotions I did not think were possible to feel simply by hearing music. We play music because it makes us feel, and we play the violin, because it is one of the more powerful instruments in that sense. I play violin because listening to violin music has moved me emotionally, and I wish to one day provoke the same effect on others.

June 8, 2005 at 07:02 PM · Because without music I would shrivel up and die.

It is what sustains me. It is my one true passion.

July 15, 2007 at 06:48 PM · I play for the moments of transparency that it offers. Being the medium for the music. I believe that is the way to achieve an individual performance -- be open to what the composer wrote.

And it is a way of having a good time, too, with or without an audience.

Thank you for starting this thread. I was going to start another thread on the same question, but I am glad I did a search first.



July 16, 2007 at 06:16 AM · Nice thread--though many of the folks who responded no longer 'seem' to be around.

I play because I love to play.

July 15, 2007 at 10:50 PM · I play violin because it's the greatest 'rush' of my life.

When you perform well,you know it and the feelings involved are sublime and magnanimous to the nth degree.

When you and a group of musicians play well together and enter 'the zone',then a musical bonding occurs which cannot be torn asunder.

Music seems similiar to climbing a ladder,the more you climb--the better the results...

"Music is the only release from the tyranny of conscious thought"---I think this may be a quote from Victor Hugo[not sure].

Also,when you play it seems that each of the 4 fingers of the left hand have their own separate minds--which you really do not attend to--cuz they work almost involuntairly in their own unique fashion to produce sounds which enhance the complete persona of the player.

Playing a musical instrument is a gift.Most players will admit that it is a gift and in most cases they are extremely thankful to have the gift of music.They are often humble and great people to associate with--cuz they know how to act as a team to accomplish a tune well done.

"Music is the only truth" [often].

Playing music is soo much fun and I believe that playing music makes us better people in all aspects of our brief lives thereof.....

July 15, 2007 at 11:24 PM · I love play violin because I would hate to play all the other strument existing in the world comprised the harmonic glass or the onde martenot.

What should I play piano? Puah!!

July 16, 2007 at 12:06 AM · I play violin because I can ;-)

I play violin because it's an integral part of my being, that is, as long as I still can.

July 16, 2007 at 12:14 AM · I just finished a short hiatus from my violin. It was a good way to remind myself what life is like without my violin and how much better it is with it.

Why I play violin: It is not only fun but it gives me an outlet in which to express myself, share my feelings and to build relationships with a diverse and interesting group of individuals who I otherwise would never have the opportunity to meet. I love it. It's hard sometimes but no matter how frustrated or angry I become with it, I always come back to it and it always excepts me with open arms.

July 16, 2007 at 04:24 AM · Just for the fun of it all.

Jam on violin to Mark Knopfler--'Marbletown' from his "Ragpicker's Dream" cd............

July 16, 2007 at 10:33 AM · I play violin and viola because, as a working mom, music is one of the few things I have and do just for myself. No one tells me I have to do it, or don't have to. It's not primarily for the benefit of work, or family, but for my own personal and spiritual growth. As a side benefit, I think it is good for my family and helps me discipline myself at work too.

July 16, 2007 at 01:22 PM · Because is so small and the more we are confident with "him" the smaller it seems to be under our hands!!

July 17, 2007 at 09:52 AM · I play because, it's the only time that I can get the noise that I've got clanging around inside of my head to stop. Although, being as that today was the first time that I've even held my violin, as I had suffered an injury, this feeling has recently increased. Even though I could only play for about 20 min, I felt so ecstatic to finally play even the most simplest piece that I almost cried.

July 17, 2007 at 04:35 PM · I need to be making music or I feel sick. I've stopped singing for all intents and purposes so now this is all that's left to me. The problem is that I have professional ears and I feel like my progress is like slogging through lead.

July 17, 2007 at 04:43 PM · I wish I could explain why. It fulfills my soul in ways that nothing else can. The feel of it. The history behind it's construction. The perfect design. The sound.

July 17, 2007 at 04:54 PM · I play, because I can't not play.

It's as simple as that.

July 18, 2007 at 04:47 PM · We did have this question before. (See Laurie, no stopping me now)

I just like the sound, that's all. My violin is very sweet, but I enjoy scratchy ones too. Once on a trip to Delhi, I even bought something made out of coconut and corrugated wire, that had a tone like an erhu. Unfortunately I couldn't tune it.

July 19, 2007 at 05:22 AM · One of my students, age 9 years, recently told me, "I'm glad am playing the violin even though it's a pain sometimes. It's fun to hear music on the radio, but it's more fun to hear music and know that I'm making it."

As for me, Keuna said it for me: Because without music I would shrivel up and die. It is what sustains me. It is my one true passion.

July 19, 2007 at 07:09 PM · Pretty much what Deborah Mitchell said a couple years(!) ago above, except I'm not sure about the cat part -- sheep maybe. ;-p

And nice to see that other old thread linked by Alison.

Guess I could add that I find the violin (and viola and cello as well) to be very romantic, singing instruments. It speaks and sings like no other non-string-bowing instrument can w/ such wide expressive range and a voice that's so rich and human. I also like how close one can get to it so as to be one w/ it. And I guess I do also enjoy the challenge as well. But I speak as just an adult beginner and probably romanticize the whole thing much more than someone who's been playing since childhood. :-p Still, I've always enjoyed singing even though I'm not much good at it, and the violin family of instruments certainly make for great substitute for one's own inadequate vocal cords. :-p

Well, there's also the matter that it's great fun and good quality bonding time to play w/ my kids now that we've taking up the violin together. We just need someone to take up the cello also -- while another double up on the viola (or maybe the er-hu!) -- and maybe my wife to get back to piano playing, and then, we're all set for some jamming family quartets/quintets. ;-)

Of course, that's not to say I wouldn't enjoy playing other kinds of instruments too... :-)


July 20, 2007 at 03:40 AM · Singing voice? What about French Horn and trumpet?

I sing too. Violin is an extension of my voice and me. Violin is external to me in a sense my voice is not, and this makes me feel less vulnerable when I play the violin than with voicing.

I can list all the reasons why I play violin. But I’m not convinced that's why I play. It’s like when you love someone, how can you explain why it is this particular one but not someone else just as wonderful if not more so?

July 20, 2007 at 07:40 PM · Maybe off topic - maybe not. I just read it on another forum: Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author (Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat) will publish a book called Musicophilia, the following is a copy from the publishers preview and a mp3 with an interesting interview about his book:

Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion. It can persuade us to buy something, or remind us of our first date. It can lift us out of depression when nothing else can. It can get us dancing to its beat. But the power of music goes much, much further. Indeed, music occupies more areas of our brain than language does—humans are a musical species.

Oliver Sacks’s compassionate, compelling tales of people struggling to adapt to different neurological conditions have fundamentally changed the way we think of our own brains, and of the human experience. In Musicophilia, he examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people—from a man who is struck by lightning and suddenly inspired to become a pianist at the age of forty-two, to an entire group of children with Williams syndrome, who are hypermusical from birth; from people with “amusia,” to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans, to a man whose memory spans only seven seconds—for everything but music.

Our exquisite sensitivity to music can sometimes go wrong: Sacks explores how catchy tunes can subject us to hours of mental replay, and how a surprising number of people acquire nonstop musical hallucinations that assault them night and day. Yet far more frequently, music goes right: Sacks describes how music can animate people with Parkinson’s disease who cannot otherwise move, give words to stroke patients who cannot otherwise speak, and calm and organize people whose memories are ravaged by Alzheimer’s or amnesia.

Music is irresistible, haunting, and unforgettable, and in Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks tells us why.

Here's the interview published in the New Yorker (worth to waste ten minutes).

I'm a big fan of Oliver Sacks, his writings are brilliant and very clear. I'm looking forward to this book, maybe the book is interesting for some here as well.

July 21, 2007 at 01:05 AM · Yixi,

You're right. There definitely isn't just one reason why I chose the violin -- and indeed, I'd love to take up the cello too and also love the sound of the viola (and play one now and then alongside the violin). The singing voice reason is just one key aspect -- and I did try to note some others though I did not really attempt to list everything. :-)

And yes, there is definitely some sort of connection I feel beyond what I can think of right now -- or perhaps could ever fully think of. OTOH, if I have very little inclination/desire for singing, I doubt I would have taken up the violin -- maybe I would've gone for the piano instead. Also, as I hinted before, I think part of it is also that I'm not particularly good at singing -- well, I'm ok enough to sing in a very modest little choir or the like -- and certainly don't have enough range to do anything remotely like a violin (or viola or cello) can. If I were actually a good singer w/ very good voice (particularly if I had a soprano voice :-) ), maybe I'd actually have less inclination for the violin just because I feel less need for that substitute...


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