Newbie Violinist Alert!

Edited: July 21, 2017, 3:17 AM · Hello. I'm Cazzie, an amateur violinist at the grand age of 22.

I've wanted to play the Violin since I was a child but my parents refused with their words of 'I don't want to hear cats drowning, and neither do the neighbours.' So I was forced to play the Piano which never stuck.

Now that I'm 22, I've decided to play an instrument I've always dreamed of. However, as of late I'm struggling to keep motivated with my eyes being caught by other instruments such as Trumpet and Clarinet.

So, I have a question for you all.

When I play, my right arm gets tired really easily from my efforts in keeping it straight and then stop practising as soon as it starts becoming uncomfortable which is usually 5-10 minutes in. Am I doing something wrong or is it something I need to push through in order to overcome?



Replies (23)

Edited: July 21, 2017, 3:59 AM · Welcome to the violin world and this forum!

Do you have a teacher?

If not, you can be certain you are doing something wrong and need someone to evaluate the way you are holding and using your bow and violin. Unless there is something wrong with you physically it should not hurt to hold the bow - you might be holding it too tightly. But it would not be unusual for your right hand, arm, and shoulder to get tired - so try pushing through - at least to 20 or 30 minutes. Holding and playing the violin, on the other hand can hurt until you get used to it - so you want to get started "slowly."

We have no idea what you are trying to play, so we have no idea how much work you are doing with your arm. Tell us more.

Edited: July 21, 2017, 4:12 AM · Practicing is not the funniest part. Learning to play the violin is maybe the highest challenge among all instruments. This should be a motivation, imagine to learn every instrument at the same time with the violin.
At the beginning you probably might do everything wrong and that always hurts. Get used to it, don't stop, analyze, the pain tells you where to find your errors.
July 21, 2017, 4:02 AM · Welcome to the world of one of the most beautiful (and devilishly difficult) instruments in the world.
I am a 59 y/o re-starter, and would offer several suggestions.

1) To your specific question, one can initially over-estimate the amount of effort needed for both R and L hand technique. Think "gentle", with emphasis on wrist and forearm, not shoulder on the R, and the lightest necessary touch, without gripping, on the L.

2) Multiple short sessions may be better than over-discipline to do a long one each day. Practice at least a little bit every single day. Don't passively repeat material - practice is problem solving.

3) You are starting a very long journey - celebrate even your smallest increments of improvement, and don't get frustrated by periods of lack of progress. Keep a journal of your violin journey.

4) Find a teacher - essential - I think many on this site will agree that it's almost impossible to progress quickly and well without one.

Good luck!

July 21, 2017, 4:04 AM · Addendum- don't forget to give us a progress report from time to time.
July 21, 2017, 4:22 AM · Hi, Cazzie, from a fellow newbie.

I just started violin about 12 weeks ago. At the tender young age of 59. And while I'm in relatively good shape, I had shoulder surgery to rebuild my R rotator cuff about a year ago, and I've never had an issue with pain or fatigue in my bowing arm. I take frequent breaks, but have no trouble practicing for two hours or more when I can find the time.

At my first lesson, after learning how to hold the violin, I was shown how to hold the bow and then draw it. And in every lesson since, I've probably been told (and reminded) more about bowing technique than anything I do with my L hand. It's hard, and especially as you start out you need someone to observe and correct you to prevent bad and injurious habits from seeping in. If you don't have a teacher, you should look into finding one.

Edited: July 21, 2017, 4:51 AM · Thanks for your comments.

I currently don't have a teacher and have been trying to self-learn this entire time. There are no violin teachers in my area and the ones I know are either full or very difficult to get to with no driving ability.

I'm trying to play LIT from Koe no Katachi, a very gentle and beautiful piece. While it's probably above my skill level, I can get the idea of it even if I'm far away from being able to play it at its usual speed.

I've searched out a teacher but am never able to find one. I realise that I took my piano teacher for granted when I was younger as she gave me all of my lessons for free being a family friend. I don't have such a thing this time around haha.

No matter what piece I play or if I'm simply practising changing strings, after ten minutes, the bicep on my bow arm aches. I've never had any kind of discomfort on my left while I hold the violin. So I fully expect there something to be wrong with my bowing.

I also practice several times a day for short bursts.]

This is a cover I'm using the sheet music based off of for those interested:

July 21, 2017, 5:54 AM · Maybe you are simply unfamiliar with the posture or you are putting too much force on your bow. Just think of keeping a point on your arm just below your sholder pararal with your wrist. It helped me a lot.
Edited: July 21, 2017, 6:00 AM · Something I've learned about violin playing over the years is that it's not always super obvious where strain and tension originate. The different parts of your body talk to one another through your brain. Therefore it is entirely possible that gripping with your left hand too hard (just one example of a possibility!!) is translating into tiredness in your right arm. Also if your bow hold is not optimized you can feel it in your neck before your wrist even though your neck is farther from the problem. That kind of thing is hard to trace down on your own.
Edited: July 21, 2017, 6:54 AM · I think the best thing you can do is to find a competent teacher who is willing to take an adult beginner as student. Learning the violin is very difficult, and your description suggests significant tension and posture problems. These could be best resolved early on, using hands-on approach. Enjoy the journey and good luck!
July 21, 2017, 7:04 AM · I highly recommend you find a way to work with a good teacher. There are virtual lesson options available that I've seen online, and while not optimal, it is better than trying to start with no lessons at all.

You might try to find a online violin teacher, or

I say this as a re-starter, who brought bad habits from my previous life as a violinist, who is now spending an inordinate amount of time fixing those bad habits with a competent (and excellent) teacher. Having a competent teacher is vitally important, in my opinion and experience.

I echo the sentiment that learning the violin is very difficult, having a teacher helps reduce the frustrations that accompany not knowing what you are doing, and help focus the problem-solving that takes place during practice sessions.

Your bicep should not be hurting, are you tensing your elbow and wrist while you are bowing or holding your shoulders funny?

July 21, 2017, 9:03 AM · I would also suggest finding a teacher!

I returned to the violin in my 40's after no touching my violin for 25 years. The first thing I did was to get a teacher who guided my way back. Now, a year later, I am working on the repertoire I was working on when I stopped playing at 17. My reactivation phase would have been a lot longer without a teacher.

July 21, 2017, 9:42 AM · I shall try to search for a teacher once again. My brother is able to drive now so he should be able to take me places now.

I do hold my shoulder funny I think. I knew I needed a teacher and I was shocked at how difficult it was to find one. There are plenty of piano and flute teachers in my town but no violin.

Also, someone mentioned a journal. How would you recommend recording one? Video? Sound? Notepad?

Edited: July 21, 2017, 10:02 AM · I understand that having a good teacher is vital. However, please respect those who are in difficult life situations and unable to take lessons. Online lessons are the next best choice if an in-person teacher isn't an option. There's a chance that your bicep hurts from a non-violin activity. Try massaging it and relax your bowing arm.
July 21, 2017, 10:02 AM · I've found one in my area but I don't know if they're still present. They offer a free first taster lesson as well, which I think is nice.

I don't get much income but I often feel at a standstill on my own. My simple goal is to be able to be good enough to play with others. I'd rather find out where I'm making mistakes haha.

Yeah, I assumed lots of people had achy biceps when first playing due to using your arm in an unusual and unfamiliar way but I guess it's just me haha.

July 21, 2017, 10:10 AM · There are many (both free and paid) tutorials online that can help guide you in the interim, Cazzie. And there are some inspiring folks on YouTube who post their progress from starting at zero playing experience each week/month/etc. It's nice to see people being resourceful and figuring out ways to learn instruments with the means available.

I keep a paper notepad with practice notes (measures that I've focused on, sections where I focused on bowing, intonation, etc.) and will sometimes make comments on "for next time" or "need to improve", or any other notes relevant to that day. Mostly it reads like a dock list.

I do not keep sound recordings of my practice sessions, but I probably should record things from time to time. We are our own worst critics...

July 21, 2017, 1:43 PM · Cazzie,

Is there a community orchestra in your area? If so, go to a rehearsal and meet some of the violinists and see if there is anyone in the orchestra willing to get you started with a solid foundation. You might be surprised.

Edited: July 21, 2017, 3:04 PM · I don't think there is a community orchestra. The only violinists I know of in my area are two children aged 12 and 14 who play at my local church. I'd feel very uncomfortable going to them for help.

I'll do some research into it. If there's a brass/woodwind band around here there must be an orchestra somewhere! Haha!

July 21, 2017, 4:57 PM · Cazzie - you referenced my suggestion about a journal. I started mine with a description of how I awoke one morning with an out of-the-blue desire to relearn violin about three years ago. I played as a youth from age 7-18, but stopped to pursue medicine. Since that inexplicable event, my occasional dated journal entries have included descriptions of shopping for a violin, my first lesson, frustrations over starting in Suzuki Book 1, my first recital, joining my first community orchestra, among other things. I also write about learning technical minutiae such as improving 4th finger tone, bowing, learning to shift, double stops etc. Adults are typically much more concerned about "progress" than young students, so rading older entries charts the progress and satisfies that concern. This might not be for everyone, but I have found it useful and reassuring.
July 22, 2017, 12:16 AM · Ah your journal sounds really cute and lovely ^_^ I remember when I first started playing I recorded a video of myself each week for a month and then I just stopped and ending up not touching it for a fair few months until recently =P haha.

I think the problem with a written journal for me is I won't know what to write in terms of what I need to work on unless it can be something as simple as 'stop hitting other strings' haha.

Thanks for sharing that though! I might consider getting a pretty notepad to decorate or try the video thing again.

Edited: July 22, 2017, 5:08 AM · Cazzie,

welcome aboard!
re:"Am I doing something wrong or is it something I need to push through in order to overcome?
Overcome is not what one does in violin playing. Your body is giving you messages that something is off. It is possible that your posture, violin hold and right arm movement are less than optimal.
If so, your movements will put unnecessary strain on your muscles and this may lead to injury.
Once you make sure your posture, violin hold and movements are optimal, your muscles may need time to strengthen and get used to a new working position.

In the meantime, apply the rule of 10% increase (often used after the injury):
Find out the amount of time you can play with no issues.
Increase by 10% (I know it may be as low as 1 minute...)
Stay with that practice time for a while. If fine, increase next 10%.
If you feel discomfort, roll back to previous practice time.

July 23, 2017, 12:05 PM · I'm 51 and picked up the violin about 27 months ago. Except for 3 lessons with an expert professional violinist, I am self-taught. Although my playing today is still not music, I am happy with my progress and I know how far I have come. I expect most people, and probably even me, would progress faster and in a straighter line with a teacher than without, but if you cannot or do not want to find a teacher, do not therefore think you cannot learn to play.

I started with about 4 or 5 "Book 1"s and studied especially the first pages to learn recommended ways of holding the instrument, hand and finger positions, bowholds, posture, etc. And of course I went through all the pages of exercises and tunes, though without a teacher to hold me back and make me do it right and learn everything before turning the page, no doubt I flew through those books impatiently and without the discipline a teacher would have imposed. I skipped some skills and concentrated on others.

When I finally went to a teacher for 3 lessons after a year and a half on my own, he said I had a very well-developed left hand technique despite my disastrous incompetence at counting time. Oh well, since I can only work on a few things at a time, I do not regret my approach and always I search for the best way to learn the next skill on my agenda. I've been circling in closer to timing lately, but actually counting blocks out all other operations in my head so I still time "instinctively" and hope to eventually find a way to let my body count so my head can stay focused on finding the notes and running the bow in a way that sounds good.

Back before I concentrated on buying and playing baroque music, a special "Book 1" for me was Wayne Erbsen's "Old-Time Fiddle for the Complete Ignoramus" --not for anything technical I may have learned there but rather for the encouraging psychology. He contrasted Philadelphia Orchestra players to photos of 19th century country fiddlers to show that although many old-time rustics did not hold the fiddle in an orthodox way (nor could many of them read), they were no doubt expert players who could play all night and were beloved in their communities. The point I took from that was that every teacher will have an opinion on exactly how to hold or posture or move, but your unique body and sensibility will need to find what works best for you, so just keep experimenting until you feel and sound better, and never quit that continuous slight experimentation approach to be sure you are doing the best you can for the set-up of your skills and body at that time. My philosophy if I get a teacher again will be to get my money's worth by trying everything the teacher advises, but in the end trust myself to make adjustments as feels best to me. In the end, to learn anything, no matter how good our schools or teachers might be, we must be our own best teacher.

Finally, one other psychological tip I also got from Wayne Erbsen's book, was that learning to play violin (fiddle) is NOT HARD and anybody can do it if they are willing to give it enough concentration and time, ie, focused practice. It doesn't mean we can all become virtuosos, but keep perspective and remember that 100 years ago, before the recording industry and radio made most people passive consumers of commercial music, if you wanted music you had to make it yourself. Its not something we should just leave to the professionals and abandon because "I'm not good enough," but rather a life skill that many if not most of us can develop to some degree, to the extent that we choose it over other uses of our time. Unless you are in that tiny minority of people who have chosen a professional career in classical music, make music for YOURSELF and for the people around you, not for the judges of international competitions or professional conductors.

July 27, 2017, 8:48 AM · I have a feeling something is wrong. It could be as simple as just how it is being held, or a body issue.

If anything, I'd seek out an instructor and see if you could find any assistance. I'm beginning as well, and I can play for an hour before I start to feel any fatigue. Considering the very short duration of play time, you should get some help from an instructor.

Side note: I like the idea of a journal. I may have to break out my camera and at least do a video journal documenting my progress. It would be something great to go to when I feel discouraged on my progress (which is bound to happen).

July 28, 2017, 8:32 AM · I am also new to the violin I've been playing for two weeks but I was having a little bit of problems with my right arm because I'm left handed. So I started doing exercises to help build up more strength in my right arm. By any chance are you left handed?

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