Adult Beginner Advice

May 23, 2018, 1:16 PM · Hi everyone! I am looking for a little guidance as to where to start. A little history: I am 35 years old and have not played an instrument since my early 20’s. I played piano, violin and flute in elementary, flute and percussion in middle and percussion, flute and baritone in high school. I also had 2 years of music theory including AP in high school. I will be starting private lessons in the fall, however, I am purchasing a violin on Friday. I have all summer to play around, and I’m curious what the best books would be to purchase for an adult who is proficient in reading music. I plan on spending the summer working on the basics. I trust the teacher I’ve chosen and will follow his program of instruction in the fall, whatever that may be (I do not believe he uses Suzuki). Any advice of what to purchase would be greatly appreciated! I’ve read through a few years worth of forum posts but I still can not decide what would be right for me! Since I only spent a year and a half on violin in elementary school (age 10-11), I consider myself a complete beginner on the violin since I really have no recollection of anything that I was taught. Thank you so much to whomever replies!!

Replies (22)

Edited: May 23, 2018, 2:45 PM · I would go through the first book of Suzuki if I were you.

Most likely you'll be stiff after not touching a violin for 25 years. Do whatever you can to counteract that but be patient. It'll take some time.

Do you remember good posture? If not have someone set you up properly. No sense in going through an entire summer learning bad habits. That would set you back.

The left hand will come. It's the scientist. Just keep your left wrist straight and don't squeeze your hand to put your fingers down.

The right arm is the artist. Don't ignore the open string tonalisations. If I was in your position I would spend 5-10 minutes a day just playing open strings with a long bow, making sure you stay on the contact point, and keeping the bow as straight as possible. Enjoy the beautifully resonant tone that comes from perfect bow strokes. Make sure your right wrist doesn't lock up. If it does do some exercises to counteract it.

This is probably dumb but you can try it if you want to: grab the first two pages of Schradiek's school of violin technique vol. 1 and play through them every day, first with 4 notes per bow and then gradually expanding. You can probably download them somewhere.

Once you feel comfortable switch strings each day (keep the same finger pattern 1-high2-3-4), saving the G for last. Make sure your elbow adjusts properly depending on what string your playing on.

If you start to feel really comfortable you can try the 1-low2-3-4 fiber pattern.

Edited: May 23, 2018, 4:02 PM · I would not start with Suzuki Book one. I would go to a music store and look at the Suzuki books starting with Book one and look through the volumes until you get to the highest numbered one you think you can read and play. That's where to start!

Also any other book of studies that starts at the most elementary level and progresses from there. Schradiek is fine.

Edited: May 23, 2018, 3:39 PM · Ryan, Thank you! I do plan on enlisting my friend’s high school kid to guide me a bit until I start lessons. I really don’t remember anything from playing. I’m the type that can pick up an instrument and learn it but not master it. Jack of all trades if you will. I do suspect I will need the most help in technique and probably someone to keep my hands/wrists in check haha! What, in your opinion, would be the pros of going through Suzuki 1 as opposed to a different book? Thanks again!
May 23, 2018, 3:38 PM · Andrew, thank you for your response as well! Is there a reason I should start in a later book? I do still need to learn fingerings over the summer. Even though I’m proficient at reading music, it will take some time to learn fingerings, especially coming from percussion and woodwind. I feel I would progress quicker than a complete beginner who has never touched an instrument, however strings are a whole other ballpark from typical band instruments. I tried to get some advice from my sister who is a music teacher, but she is also woodwind and choral and only took a basic strings class in college so she doesn’t have a solid opinion on anything strings. Thanks again!
May 23, 2018, 3:47 PM · Angela - what reason is there to rush things? The pieces at the end of bk 1 (etude, the minuets, Gossec Gavotte) are not easy to play well. I've had plenty of older beginners successfully get on track learning what bk 1 has to offer.

Violin muscles take time to develop, especially at your age. Take it easy as you try to get back into a flow.

Andrew - why are you pushing a person who played violin for a year 25 years ago into almost certain trouble?

Edited: May 23, 2018, 4:11 PM · Just trying to save her a few bucks! She will know right away whether or not Book one is the right one to start with. If it is fine.

When I switched to teaching from Suzuki books I would start all beginners (age 5 - 60) with Book one. But I was not considering Angela to be exactly a beginner - may after an hiatus of 15 - 22 years she is.

I do advise her to take along a knowledgeable violinist when she purchases her new instrument and BOW! Even knowledgeable violinists have been known to do that!

Edited: May 23, 2018, 4:23 PM · Thanks guys! I will definitely take both of your thoughts into consideration on Friday! Unfortunately, Andrew, I live in a town in the middle of nowhere that literally has one violin in stock at the moment. I’m perfectly okay with that one to start while I do some research and save up enough to purchase a nicer setup. At this time, I can not make the 4 hour drive to Lincoln or Denver, nor do I have the funds to purchase one over the $500 that this one costs. In a year I do hope to upgrade. Baby steps on the small fortune! It does sound very nice, and I believe it will get me through for awhile. Hopefully by then one of my boys will want to learn and I can give it to them when I upgrade. (Currently they are both hooked on the ukulele.)
May 23, 2018, 5:04 PM · I really enjoy Wolfahrt Etudes, they really break up the monotony of things like Sevcik and Schradiek.
May 23, 2018, 5:40 PM · Consider getting a Smart Music subscription -- it includes all the Suzuki books, and lets you play with accompaniment at your own pace. Playing with accompaniment is a bit harder / troublesome than playing without, but there's the challenge -- to match pitch, rhythm, and to read it correctly. It's also nice to play the baroque pieces with period accompaniment where available. Of course it's not the same as playing with a person, but it is a good start / preparation for that; teachers often accompany as well for similar reasons.
May 23, 2018, 5:54 PM · "I will be starting private lessons in the fall, however, I am purchasing a violin on Friday."

Is that like planning to go to the doctor when you feel better?

Basic instruction given properly is critically important. If your prospective teacher has any availability at all during the summer, ask for it, even if it's ad hoc. Don't try to learn by yourself and then take lessons if you can avoid it.

Also look for resources such as Simon Fischer's 'Basics' and/or good video instruction to help you with that in place or in addition to the teacher. Violin playing is more ergonomically challenging than the other instruments you've played, and needs more attention for these aspects.

May 23, 2018, 6:30 PM · J, yes, unfortunately I live in a small town. I’m hoping to possibly be able to start lessons in August if he has availability, until then I am on my own with only a high schooler to potentially guide me(?). I will definitely look into your suggestions! I also agree that the violin is more challenging although I believe it to be more challenging in all aspects. Thank you!!
Edited: May 23, 2018, 6:50 PM · As an adult beginner, I strongly prefer Doflein over Suzuki. As Christopher mentions, the Wolfahrt Etude books are nice, but if you are looking for something even more basic, Whistler's "First Etude Album" is a good place to start. They're progressive, and even if the early ones are too simple, the later ones are good for a more advanced beginner. Once you're at the later ones, you can start working on Wolfahrt Op. 45. All the time while working on Doflein. Wohlfahrt Op. 54 is nice, but more specialized and advanced than Op. 45. There is a Wohlfahrt method too, but I prefer Doflein. Good luck. Have fun!
Edited: May 23, 2018, 7:09 PM · Suzuki, without a teacher, does not show how bowing works or how the left hand works.

For books on violin teaching and technique, I think Simon Fischer is really good to get, possibly more The Violin Lesson than the Basics in this case.
I would also recommend Samuel Applebaum The Art and Science of String Performance. Both books cover teaching violin technique from the very elementary basics (to more complicated).
I think you would want to understand what is happening in your arms and body before you put the bow how the strings...and in the absence of teachers, such books -complemented by good YouTube teachers (such as Prof V, Eddie Chen) might at least help point you out in the right direction.

As suggested above, violin playing is really an ergonomic coordination of very physical actions, learned and not necessarily intuitive, in the aim of serving of musical purposes. I discovered this more and more.

May 23, 2018, 7:22 PM · I think you're better off waiting until you have a real teacher to start again. You likely didn't have a totally correct set-up as a beginner all those years ago, and trying to vaguely remember what you did then will almost certainly result in problems. Your teacher would then have to undo all those problems when you start. It will actually slow your learning down, not speed it up.
Edited: May 23, 2018, 7:47 PM · With all due respect, I cannot agree with telling her to wait.

1) She's given no indication that she intends to pursue any kind of performing career. She seems to be doing this for fun. She should play and have fun.

2) What critical, irreversible damage can be done in a few months, by a beginner, as long as their basic setup is in the ballpark? None.

3) She'll gain more in violin muscle strength and control from playing during the summer, while she's excited, than she would potentially lose by not doing everything exactly right for a few months.

And Suzuki bk 1 is fine to get back into the flow of playing a string instrument, Angela. Don't let anyone tell you its not.

Just treat the pieces like etudes.

May 23, 2018, 7:55 PM · Since you are doing this for fun, my advice is to skip the tedious etudes, Suzuki this and Wolfahrt that. Get a book of fiddle music--choose whichever fiddling tradition inspires you most--American, Irish, Scottish, etc. There are tons of books. Listen to recordings of good fiddlers doing the tunes you want to do, to get the tune in your head. Then play. Fiddle music offers you the quickest path to making music on the violin with the least amount of effort. My two cents...
May 23, 2018, 8:41 PM · Not irreversible damage, but why establish bad habits that then have to be undone, at the cost of more time?
May 23, 2018, 8:43 PM · Thanks everyone!! Yes, I intend this to be more for fun. My goals are not to go pro or even play in a local pit orchestra. I understand what some are saying about lessons, but I’d honestly rather get my hands on it and start learning asap even if that means I have to study myself in a mirror and attempt self-correction before I begin lessons. My ultimate goal is just to enjoy the beauty of playing my favorite instrument and make some music with my kids as they grow up. So, basically I would like to become adept but my aspirations are not to be up on stage. Maybe an open mic at a local coffee shop.

I am thoroughly enjoying the suggestions on books, etc. I’ve been out of music for so long that the only thing I am sure of is that I don’t want Essential Elements (I think everyone can agree on that one haha!)

Edited: May 24, 2018, 4:15 AM · Wait a minute...

Why are you buying a violin to start instead of renting? You don't know what you're looking for, you don't have a teacher to help you select the right instrument, you don't know how to set up the instrument, and you don't know if you'll stick with it. Whereas if you rent, you can always return the instrument, and most stores will give rental credit to you if you decide to buy from them in the future.

If you have a teacher in mind for the fall, why not call or email her and ask for suggestions on what music to start with? That way you won't have to purchase more beginner material later, or have the teacher work with unfamiliar music.

May 24, 2018, 7:07 AM · im buying one because I’d rather not pay more in the long run by renting. Also, I do know quite a bit about how to pick out instruments including violins. Just because I don’t play doesn’t mean I’m incompetent in choosing an instrument ;-) Also, great advice on the music. That thought honestly didn’t even cross my mind.
May 24, 2018, 7:46 AM · Angela I don't want to dampen your enthusiasm. You seem very confident like I was/am. I play multiple instruments. Many here do. Many will tell you the same thing. Violin can be more of a challenge than was expected.

My advice on this is- Be prepared to put a lot of time and effort into it to get good at it.Don't become discouraged with slower progress than was expected. No frets, no exact fingerings. Things can't be close, they absolutely need to be spot on in terms of fingerings, intonation, bow, wrist etc.Be prepared for that. Close doesn't cut it on violin.

On buying a violin- It is much easier to buy a bad violin that it is to sell one. I have 5 violins. None of them are bad in terms of being unplayable.4 of them have issues and these aren't all low end violins.I could have had 10 mediocre violins.An inexperienced buyer can get it wrong more than once.

Would you rather drive a Cadillac Escalade 5000 miles on open highway or a 1988 Toyota Tercel without A/C in the summer? The journey is more difficult if you bought a violin that has issues with fingerboard/bridge height angle and so forth. Yes it will play just not as easily or as well.This is a big one, because it can prevent your progress.

Secondly and a big one for me is the tone of the violin. If you don't particularly like the sound it won't inspire you to play it. There are huge differences in the sound/tone of individual violins.Price isn't necessarily a factor.

Advice on a teacher-My comments are also for those who can't find a teacher. For some people choices are limited in finding a good teacher. If I had the choice of only Youtube or similar I suppose this is better than nothing. I would visit places where good players play and watch them. The violin is a tough thing to watch and imitate from only a sheer visual. We really need someone moving our arm or showing us how/where to hold the bow up close.To tell us the things we aren't doing correctly. Even if it can only be an occasional lesson. Alpine skiing looks easy on TV.

May 24, 2018, 10:03 AM · The Suzuki books are inexpensive. Wohlfahrt Etudes are not for pure beginners. You might start those toward the middle of Suzuki Book 2. If you hire a teacher you will want to consider using whatever method books the teacher prefers because that will further optimize your instruction.

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