Will a better violin help me play better?
I've been playing just over 10 years. While music will not be my career (I'm not particularly good, and I know it) it's something I love and take fairly seriously. I practice 2-3 hours a day 6 days a week, and I always want violin to be a part of my life. I currently own a 2010 Chinese violin that I believe was around $700 from the shop. I've been told by several people who know violins that for what it is, it's quite good. I've gotten to the point (actually, I've been there for a while) where the sound I can get out of my violin is frustratingly limited (and yes, I'm sure a pro could make mine sound lovely). I was told by a previous teacher that I was probably maxing out the tone available. However, I'm currently a college student in a non-musical major, and my money is limited. Obviously, I'd love a better sounding instrument. But if it's just a crappy sound, I can deal with that. What I'm wondering is whether continuing to that playing on a mediocre instrument could hinder my technique. I'm at a bit of a plateau in my playing right now, and I'm wondering: is this just another one of those times when I need to buckle down and do (more of) the work, or could a better instrument actually help me improve my playing?
Edit: I've already tried a bunch of different string combinations to see if I could get it to sound better (I did) and I had the sound post adjusted (which also helped). However, I'm not sure if there's any other tweaks I can make.
Where is your current plateau?
A couple of random thoughts:
Andrew: I'm working on parts of the Bach Dm partita right now. As for my violin, it's constricted sounding in 3rd position and above. Part of that is my technique, I think, but my former teacher also said that that it was part of the instruments newness and cheapness. I've tried several rosins, and the one I'm using currently (L'Opera Jade) is certainly a noticeable improvement above what I had, but nothing earth shattering (not that I expected it to be). I haven't tried other bows. I'd always been told that you should choose a bow to match a violin, and it didn't make sense to me to spend money on a bow that worked with a violin I'd like to upgrade. I'm not actually sure what my current bow is -- it's generously loaned to me by a player who moved on to a better one.
Obviously, there are levels of improvement. One doesn't become a better runner for changing from Adidas to Nike, but certainly you will be if you have been running on sandals.
If you are in the USA, Ari, check out and Email Fiddlershop.com (= Fiddlerman.com) and see what they say.
If your teacher thinks the instrument is holding you back, they are probably right.
FWIW, if constricted tone in higher positions is your only issue and you are in college in a non-music major, then think about a plan for a really serious upgrade when you graduate and have a salary. A $5,000 violin is still student grade - for music students. With a salary, you can get that grade of sound, or go even higher.
A $700 Chinese violin from a shop....that's a student violin. You can't hear anything on those violins. Time to upgrade to the 4-5k range. Buy smart and you can get a very high performance violin. When trying out violins, don't focus on tone. Tone can be adjusted. Listen to clarity and resonance, esp higher up in the fingerboard.
Yes, if you are progressing. Try things that are hard on your current instrument on your prospects BEFORE buying one of them. Chances are you will find that certain bow strokes and slections suddenly play with less effort if your skills have improved. It may not be across the board, but don’t buy if there isn’t more playability.
Better violin will help you play.
A better violin will certainly make you play more. I recently got a very nice 10 string mandolin and I noticed that.
I'll second something Carlos posted earlier: get out and try playing as many good violins as you can. You need to do this so YOU can understand what instrument qualities are out there and what it means for your playing. If you can get to Cleveland in November for the VSA competition, there will be hundreds of them that can be compared, many from excellent makers.
Thanks Luis, that is encouraging. I've been afraid to go try better violins at a shop, thinking I'd just embarrass myself, what an amateur fooling themselves, wants to waste thousands of dollars, doesn't deserve it etc. Was going to wait till I sounded "better," whenever the hell THAT would be. I have a $1200 violin... just a decent student violin. It can actually handle higher positions pretty well. It maybe struggles at the top of 7th but I think it still could be my fault. I mean it definitely is, at least partly. But I really wonder what I'm missing.
Having a crappy violin/bow will definitely hinder your playing. As many people stated above, you won't have the full range of colors and techniques on a bad instrument.
Note that you normally do pay for an instrument all at once. Shops generally do not offer payment plans. You could, of course, charge it on a credit card.
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