Adult Violin Beginner - 3 years in :-)

June 29, 2018, 3:05 PM · Hi all, I started learning the violin 3 years ago. As many adult learners here I think it's a real challenge but also a wonderful experience! I've posted here before and wanted to give you an update.

I've had to learn the first 2 years and a couple of months on my own due to where I live. It was doable but not so easy... And when being on your own it's also sometimes difficult to stay motivated. That's when I heard about Artistworks where one can learn through video exchange! I signed up about 10 months ago, first with Nathan Cole and now with Richard Amoroso. And I just wanted to say to everybody out there who can't have violin lessons in person that the video exchanges are an awesome way to learn! I have a video exchange feedback almost every week and it feels like a real lesson, it's just condensed in a couple of minutes. But there is plenty of information in those minutes to keep me busy for the whole week and more. I'm so happy now that I have a teacher to ask questions and guide me in the process of learning the violin. :-)

The video below is one I also send to my teacher on Artistworks. It's a summary of what I've been doing in my first 3 years of learning the violin. And in reply to that he said that for my next year it would be great to work on my tone and vibrato. I'm so much looking forward to improve those aspects of my violin playing and with his tips it will work!

Anybody else out there learning the violin on it's own or with video exchange?

Replies (34)

June 29, 2018, 3:16 PM · Wow. I am so impressed by how far you have come with only online instruction! You must work very hard. GOOD FOR YOU!! :-)
Edited: June 29, 2018, 4:40 PM · Good job overall. Your intonation is amazing. You play in tune almost 100% of the time. You can learn to play with more dynamics. I love that you can get a full sound. However, your sound can be more resonant. Feel free to use all parts of the bow and play around with where the bow is on the string. Your somewhat unresonant/choked sound is also due to tension in your right thumb. It needs to be relaxed, or you won't sound good. Also avoid tension in your left thumb, as it leads to challenges playing fast and even and overall it causes trouble. Your downshifts are too noticeable. Work on hiding them. Speeding them up will help. Have you started learning vibrato? I think so, but I didn't notice you use much of it, even near the end of the video. Have you already started off-the-string strokes?
June 29, 2018, 6:44 PM · Just to elaborate on what Ella said:

"Tension" - in the context of violin - is simply when your muscles are being contracted when it's not necessary for them to contract. When people talk about "tension" here, what they really mean is "unnecessary tension."

For example, hold a pen in the air, and press all of your fingers towards each other. You'll notice that the pen doesn't move much, but all of your muscles are being used. This is an example of "unnecessary tension" because the pen would have been there regardless of the muscles pushing towards each other.

But technically, periods of "tension" are necessary for all physical movements, such as walking, breathing, or even just standing up. If a person had truly *zero* tension in their body, they would collapse onto the floor. We also need periods of tension to apply force into the string via the bow. Tension - in general - could best be defined as two opposing muscle groups pushing into each other. So we definitely need tension to do anything on the violin.

But coming back to the main point here: "tension" in this context means that you are contracting muscles AFTER the point that you should have stopped contracting them. So in general, you need to be more aware of any unnecessary "squeezing" you are doing with your bow hand or bow arm.

As a general rule: if you want notes to ring more beautifully instead of stopping in a dead fashion, you should start each bow stroke with tension BUT end it with no tension.

June 30, 2018, 6:33 AM · Thanks so much for your comments! :-)

@Ella, I didn't know about my thumb pressure, I will pay attention to that when I practice today and try to figure out when and how I'm using too much pressure. My downshifts need a lot of work still!
About vibrato, yes I started learning it 2 years ago. But it doesn't work out well... when I do vibrato exercises it goes well, but as soon as I try to apply it in a piece I tense up and the vibrato is very narrow. After 2 years it still is horrible and not relaxed. So this week I started from scratch, trying arm vibrato and it feels much more relaxed and I can make a better sound with it. So I think I will now focus for some time on arm vibrato now and get used to that. Because I can only do it slow for now. I hope it will go better than wrist vibrato and that I will be able to use it in my pieces.

@Erik, thank you for the further explanation about unnecessary tension. I appreciate it very much. That is very helpful and I will experiment with it and learn when to relax more.

June 30, 2018, 6:35 AM · Aah and @Ella, no I haven't really started yet with off-the-string strokes. I have tried it a little bit, but nothing seriously yet. How do you suggest getting started with that?
June 30, 2018, 11:13 AM · At this point, I don't think you're quite ready for it yet. I noticed that at the very end of the video, you were doing spiccato, so that's why I asked.
June 30, 2018, 4:13 PM · Can anyone tell me where the Veracini Gigue originates?
Edited: July 2, 2018, 2:26 PM · Hi Bill, Veracini's Gigue is in Suzuki Book 5.

Nice video, Mariko! I am glad you have a teacher to guide you now; this will surely boost your progress! :-)

July 2, 2018, 10:27 PM · Thanks. I was wondering if it was part of a larger work of his.
July 2, 2018, 10:39 PM · Lots of things that need serious improving especially the very foundation part of bow movement & grip (you need a teacher in person for this - not online or video), but I must say that is impressive by learning with just an online video!

July 2, 2018, 11:46 PM · @Bill Barber: "Thanks. I was wondering if it was part of a larger work of his."

It is. The Gigue is the last movement of Veracini's Sonata in D minor op. 2 no. 7 (from 12 Sonate Accademiche op. 2).

July 3, 2018, 5:38 AM · Oops, sorry, Bill, I misunderstood your question.
July 4, 2018, 3:20 PM · Mariko,

Welcome to the world of violin music. Like you, I started at 30 with very pedestrian goals. I still enjoy playing 40 years later even though the years have not been kind to my skills.

You are doing quite well and seem to have some passion for Celtic music. Was that what inspired you to take up the instrument? Enjoy!

July 6, 2018, 7:56 AM · Hi George, thanks so much! I do enjoy Celtic music but also lots of other styles of music. I just love the sound of the violin and good players look so elegant and relaxed when they play. That's what attracted me to start learning the violin. :-) I hope I will keep enjoying it for as long as you!
July 8, 2018, 1:13 AM · I think we should all bookmark this thread as a real living example of adult starter success. And with no teacher! OP with a live teacher would be even better, but this isn’t bad at all, all things considered.

An yes, I know no one says it’s impossible to learn like this, just low probability, but it’s still striking when you see it.

I think what is really required is an extreme level of personal conscientiousness that is rare in adults, even with a normal teaching situation. Kids can be pushed around by authority, but adults only learn things by choice and force of will.

Also, OP, your setup is really great for your circumstances, and explains a lot of your success. And it looks pretty good from day one all things considered. What did you consult when you started your self study?

July 8, 2018, 12:32 PM · Very well done! Inspiring to see what you’ve accomplished despite what many would condsider in a less than ideal circumstance or down right impossible.
July 9, 2018, 9:02 AM · Thanks so much for your nice comments!

@Jason, it's not always easy to stay motivated and keep going but comments like yours help me to continue to work hard. :-) To answer your question, the first months I saw videos on YouTube from many different violin teachers. Some I liked better than others. Those that helped me most are Heather Broadbent and professorV (Todd Ehle). Their videos are very helpful for learning to have good posture and bow use. I still follow Heather Broadbent and I have most of the exercise books which focus on shifting and fourth finger use. I've also posted sometimes on the Fiddlerman's forum and received some nice suggestions which was very helpful too!
And now I'm very happy to have regular feedback from Richard Amoroso via ArtistWorks.

July 9, 2018, 9:08 AM · Your posture at the 6 months of practice was already better than my 5 years of learning the violin lol. Good job, wow.
July 16, 2018, 3:03 PM · Hi Tom, wooow thank you so much for your encouraging comments! :-) For the vibrato I'm indeed still trying to figure out which one will work best. I'm used to doing wrist vibrato but actually arm vibrato sounds better and I feel more relaxed. It's just that I tend to go back to wrist vibrato automatically and tense up, so I'm now focusing on improving my arm vibrato.
And indeed I also feel that when I don't hold back and use lots of bow my tone gets better. So much to experiment and improve. Thanks again. :-)
July 18, 2018, 11:50 AM · Nice progress Mariko! This shows it is possible to learn using only resources found on the web.

There seems to be a lot on the web, especially YouTube. Udemy has some decent low cost courses as well.

I can't claim to be self taught but I'm about 2 1/2 years into learning. I would post video but I not videogenic. Maybe one day.

July 18, 2018, 12:51 PM · This is a great progress video! I'm a new violin student and I'm looking at different types of violin teachers. Could you please talk more in depth about your experiences learning from an on-line teacher? Were you also self-taught, meaning from books and YouTube videos? What was that experience like?

Right now that is my situation, not because it's what I prefer, but because I want to take my time choosing a teacher that I can stick with for the long haul.

July 18, 2018, 4:57 PM · Mariko, surprised that noone has suggested this yet, but at this point you should definitely join an amateur orchestra (second violins section). The parts will challenge you in concrete ways to improve further and you will also have A LOT of fun.
July 19, 2018, 11:08 AM · Hi, thank you all so much for your comments and advice!

@Tom, you're completely right about my vibrato. I've been ignoring it for a long time. It's so difficult to learn but I'm focusing more on it now. And as you say I will play easier pieces to fully focus on improving my vibrato. Wooow it's so wonderful that you're playing Tchaikovsky and Sibelius Concertos. Wishing you good luck with it! :-)

@Rhiannon you were asking how I learn online. So here goes. :-) I've been self-taught from the beginning, not because I wanted but because there was no other option. There is no violin teacher anywhere near to where I live. I would have to travel more than $200km to find a violin teacher, and even then who knows that that one teacher would be the one who is a good fit for me... So I used YouTube and forums from the beginning. There are many violin teachers on YouTube who explain the beginning. For posture, good habits and exercises I follow Heather Broadbent (also bought some of her courses, not just her free videos). At first I mainly used the Suzuki books and for each piece in there exist several tutorial videos on YouTube by different teachers. One is better than the other but if you compare them all you get a good idea of how to proceed. Also I had my YouTube from the beginning and received feedback from some of my viewers. Sometimes I posted on Fiddlerman's forum to also get feedback.
I feel the YouTube tutorials together with the feedback through forums helped a lot to get a basic idea of how to play the violin. BUT even so, being completely on your own is difficult because sometimes I loose motivation or it's getting too difficult and there is nobody to really help. So after 2 years on my own, I started searching for Skype lessons but didn't do that because my internet connection isn't that great where I live, I would get nervous in front of the camera and the prices were also too high for me.
But then I learned about ArtistWorks to learn the violin online. And that's a way of learning that I do like!! The teacher is Richard Amoroso who is a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra, so he is a really great violinist! In the program he has many video lessons for all lessons and I can send him a video whenever I want and then I receive a feedback video from him. It is wonderful to receive his feedback and be able to ask him all my questions. So now I feel that I really have a teacher even though I don't see him live. I'm very happy with this solution. :-)

@Jean, that would be great indeed! I would love to play in an orchestra. As a child and teenager I played in an orchestra when I was learning to play the clarinet and it was wonderful. But I live in a different place now and sadly I can't play in an orchestra here. Hopefully later... But in the meantime I try to make the best of my violin journey :-)

July 19, 2018, 12:21 PM · Mariko Barra - THANK YOU SO MUCH for sharing your experiences! I think you have a very organized and methodical way of being self-taught. Honestly, I'm going to do exactly what you are doing right now to teach myself while I look for a teacher. I've never heard of Heather Broadbent but I will definitely look her up on YouTube.

I think ArtistWorks sounds great! Someone else had suggested that when looking for a violin teacher that they have a background in performance and your teacher is exactly that! I also like that it's a flexible schedule - you don't have to meet weekly at all like with other online teachers on skype - just submit a video for assessment when you're ready. So I think this is a pretty good option.

I'm reading that there are no orchestras near you at the moment. How about if you do an online collab with other musicians? Your group can set up your own channel on YouTube and post the performances there. It will be fun!

Edited: July 20, 2018, 6:43 PM · Hi Rhiannon, that's wonderful. :-) Yes I really like the ArtistWorks lesson system. Hope to see you there ;-)

Thanks also for suggesting the online collabs. I have done some online collabs and have videos on my channel of them. I also did some duets with myself LOL Here is my latest:

Online collabs or virtual duets are fun indeed (especially to watch) but honestly it doesn't compare at all with playing together with people who are in the same room as yourself. Doing an online collab is still just the same as playing along a recording and it's a lot of work to do the video editing. So I'm not that excited about it...

And what about you? Will you have opportunity to play with others where you live?

July 21, 2018, 10:59 PM · Also, have you thought about playing small ensemble (aka chamber) music? Playing small ensemble/chamber music can be an extremely rewarding, educational and fun experience.

These days, there are a lot of options for online video lessons, both free and paid. There are lots of threads on online lessons on this site that are filled with a wealth of information. Ever heard of Zlata Brouwer's Violin Lounge Academy? I hear it has some similarities to ArtistWorks because it has a video exchange service. I also believe that has a video exchange service as well.

With regards to vibrato, vibrato varies significantly among violinists (and other instrumentalists too). Some violinists have a really wide and intense vibrato, while others have a narrower, more sparse vibrato, and everything in between. In order to learn the correct movement patterns for bivrato, it is best to start with arm vibrato, as it involves more movement. Ultimately, however, it is every player's duty to find a vibrato style that suits both their sound preferences and physical tendencies. Keep in mind that many players use a combination of both arm and wrist vibrato, both simultaneously and at different times, so feel free to do that if that suits you the best.

July 22, 2018, 2:05 PM · I really like the duet you played! I also bookmarked your channel because your videos are so inspiring!

But I do understand that it would be great to play music with other people in the same room. I was trying to think of other groups that you can join that may be closer to you. I know a lot of churches these days have a string section in their worship teams. My own church has two violinists. So that is something to look into. There are also opportunities to perform a solo sometimes during service. At my church, someone always performs a solo (instrument or singing) during the tithes portion for example.

I also read of workshops and violin camps for adult violin students where they have masterclasses and guest violinists, and opportunities to play together. It can be expensive as they usually last for a week or so and you have to stay at a hotel, but I know people go on those for vacation and really love it.

I live near the border of two counties so there are two community orchestras I can eventually join. One of them is small, around 35 people. The pieces they play aren't very complicated and tend to play on a much slower tempo. Overall, they sound very decent! The other community orchestra is by far much larger and more polished and they play more complicated pieces. They play much better than the smaller community orchestra, but I feel like something is missing when I watch them play. I'm not sure what though.

I'm also thinking of joining the worship team at my church so that they'll have THREE violinists. Not that it would make such an impact, the volume on the mics for the guitar, piano, and singers are so loud, I can barely hear the other instruments. But I think it'll be fun all the same.

I'm thinking of joining ArtistWorks later when I actually develop some skills and need advice on performance. I'm really too beginner at this point and I don't want to waste Richard Amoroso's time. I'm interested in his videos though. What are they like? Does he have beginner level videos?

July 22, 2018, 5:09 PM · About those workshops... many of them are on university campuses in the summer, where you can get affordable accommodation in student housing that is otherwise mostly empty. I'm about to start a chamber music workshop tonight, in fact. I'm just commuting because I live 20 minutes away, but most people of the people coming in from out of town stay on campus and pay something like $200 for housing for the entire week. I think the workshop basically takes over an entire floor of a dorm.
July 22, 2018, 7:20 PM · I am just so impressed by what you have accomplished. I think you should move to a place where you can get a real teacher and join some ensembles--might that be possible in the near future? :-)
July 23, 2018, 11:32 AM · ELizabeth, that might be possible, but moving is not easy and it sounds like that's out of the question for Mariko.
July 24, 2018, 2:36 PM · Agree with all the other comments. You're right on track for someone 3 years. This is where it starts to get fun. Your playing can really accelerate now I think. Whether you have a teacher, or you use Youtube and Artistworks -- everybody has to be their own teacher to a large degree anyway. The most important work you do is in your practice room with just you and the fiddle.

Your biggest thing to work on now -- I would vote bow grip. Learn how to make your fingers strong yet flexible, and hold that bow softly as you would a hollowed-out eggshell. Learn a relaxed detache.

Like most players at this stage, you could improve your sound in general by increasing bow speed and reducing bow pressure. Allow the sound to "bloom" naturally from your strings instead of "squeezing" the violin.

Yes it is definitely time to get out and play in community orchestras. But don't stop practicing a lot and contining to develop your playing on your own.

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