Transferable skills from piano to violin

July 19, 2019, 7:43 AM · What are some transferable skills from piano to violin? I was thinking that the piano is very helpful in learning how to sight read music.

Replies (18)

July 19, 2019, 8:09 AM · Obviously if you can read music on one instrument, it's not so hard to read it on another, clef differences apart.

I felt that quite a lot of mechanical skills transferred from piano to classical guitar, and then from cg to violin, probably, but I doubt if many will transfer directly from piano to violin!

July 19, 2019, 8:18 AM · How far does being able to read music on piano help one learning to play violin?

From what I have seen, not so much. True you know what the notes are and what is up and what is down and how to "count time" but that's about it. But maybe that is "something" and quite enough.

I know one pianist who is a quite good violinist (Heifetz was an accomplished pianist and so are a number of fine violinists). I had a mature adult cello student who was a very successful full-time piano teacher and although he made progress on the cello it was no faster or further than those who came to cello from no previous musical experience.

In my experience sight reading music on a bowed string instrument requires the ability to sense the notes on the page directly in relation to the hands on the instrument without a "thought gap" that relates it to some other instrument or to note names - you have to "get in the zone." Over the past 50 years I have regularly played with three very good pianists who very obviously were able to "get in the zone" sight reading piano music that was new to them. But getting in the zone for one instrument is different than for another.

I play the three smaller string instruments and have on occasion played violin, viola and cello in same 2-hour session. But I find now in my 9th decade of life I probably cannot switch that well or fast. Just yesterday, after very little playing during the past month I tried to read through the 1st and 2nd violin parts of Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony for the first time - I had been rehearsing the viola part preparing for an orchestra concert and was shocked to find that my violin sight-reading was all messed up by "viola brain" for the first time. I started playing violin 80 years ago and viola seriously only 4 years ago. (I started cello 70 years ago and never had a problem switching between cello and violin - in fact I did that in a small ensemble just a week ago.)

July 19, 2019, 8:33 AM · Technically, not so much - all that right hand dexterity gone to waste! The left has to work a lot harder though!
I cannot imagine having to learn to read music, if you didn’t first learn it on a piano. C major on a piano is the first key you learn, as it is all the white keys. The lines on the music stave correspond to the white keys.
How did you learn where the gaps did/didn’t go, without the black keys to remind you.?
Edited: July 19, 2019, 9:25 AM · I would guess that a good pianist will have the left forearm and hand muscular development, and neuro coordination to speed up progress on the violin when learning from a good teacher (posture and all that which it entails).

When it comes to bowing, a violinist's technique does not stop and start with the right-hand fingers; it requires a high level of muscular control from the hand up to the shoulder. A good pianist will have this level of control which will make it easier to acquire good bowing technique (again under a good teacher) than it would be for a learner who hadn't had that previous piano experience.

I started learning the piano when I was 5, cello when 11, and violin some 50 years later.

July 19, 2019, 8:56 AM · I have a friend violinist who originally trained as a pianist. She claims left hand finger independence was never a problem for her. She also says she can transfer typical practice tricks to practice a technical passage to the violin. But of course the two instruments remain as different as can be.
July 19, 2019, 9:16 AM · Ask Julia Fischer...
July 19, 2019, 9:49 AM · I doubt that some of the specific right-hand/left/hand skills transfer.

However, musicians that have piano skills almost always have a better sense of scale, interval, and harmony relationships than those that don't. If the piano teacher has done his/her job, the student will have reinforced skills in reading rhythms, and hopefully will have worked with a metronome.

As Jean pointed out about practice habits, I think it helps if two different teachers are on the same page with regard to practice techniques. The groups/rhythms technique is exactly the same.

The only problem with this theory: many piano teachers, unfortunately, don't explain intervals, scales, chords, or practice techniques.

July 19, 2019, 12:56 PM · String players, based on my personal experience and what other string players told me, developed in our childhood a “mapping process” that directly maps notes to a specific spot on the fingerboard.

Those who play keyboard or guitar presumably already developed a different mapping system which will only create problems when one tries to develop a new mapping system as an adult.

No. I don’t think skills developed in playing keyboard or guitar can be transferred to playing the violin.

Edited: July 19, 2019, 1:15 PM · IMO immeasurable - but not (as above) because of motor skills but because of the far easier imagining of chords, scales and harmonies using a mental image of the piano keyboard than that of the violin fingerboard. Only the piano allows you to 'see' the interrelationship of notes.

But that's how my mind works; YMMV.

Edited: July 19, 2019, 3:52 PM · Thinking through the keyboard amounts to a "thought gap" mentioned by Andrew.

Given that we only use four fingers, the limited permutations of fingerings for chords on the violin (mainly thirds, fifths, sixths, octaves and tenths) can be "seen" on the fingerboard.

That is how my mind works--I see fingering, not a keyboard when it comes to chords.

July 19, 2019, 3:52 PM · Maybe it's because I started on piano, but I also think it would be extremely difficult to learn to read music, and eventually to learn to hear chords and harmonies, on any non-keyboard instrument.

Finger independence is a big thing too, though it is less of an issue in the modern era with most non-musicians in the Western world being used to touch typing.

July 19, 2019, 5:39 PM · My 9 yo says rhythm, music theory, ensemble plying skills, and musicality.
Edited: July 20, 2019, 2:18 PM · “but I also think it would be extremely difficult to learn to read music, and eventually to learn to hear chords and harmonies, on any non-keyboard instrument.”

This is totally inconsistent with my personal experience. Before my daughter started piano lessons two years ago, I cannot tell white keys from black keys, but I have never had trouble reading music—an ability, like speaking my native language, acquired effortlessly. I wished everything in life were that easy.

July 20, 2019, 2:26 PM · I play both violin and piano about equally well. Technically my proficiency on the violin is better, but on the piano I am able to do a lot more with improvisation and such.

1. Sight reading!! The thing about piano is that (a) you have to read multiple lines at once, and for this reason (b) piano teachers emphasize sight reading a lot more, so you actually learn how to do it. You learn how to sight-read Baroque music with all the crazy ornaments and such -- not just adding them later after you've learned the tune.

2. Harmony and theory. You learn this more quickly on the piano simply because you can see it ... it's all laid out in front of you, 12 notes to an octave. Everything from triad inversions to counterpoint is both an auditory and visual experience.

For this reason, one of the things I did was encourage my kids, who play violin and cello, respectively, to tinker around on the piano. Just having a decent piano in the living room is a good first step. No pushing from me -- but I just "happened" to buy some easy-piano books of "classical favorites" and such. They're both entirely self-taught except for an occasional suggestion from me like "try it with the printed fingerings" and I know their reading has improved greatly. Now they are both basically at the Clementi Sonatina level. One is four years older than the other but they started doing this at around the same time.

Edited: July 20, 2019, 3:56 PM · If you're sight-reading a baroque score on the piano you have to learn figured bass, which you apply when you're playing. I can think of few better ways of learning about harmony in a practical situation.

In my 1955 edition* of Telemann's 6 Violin Sonatas op. 1, the editor, Louis Kaufman, noted in the preface that he had realized the figured bass in a manner suitable for the piano as well as the harpsichord, but had left the original figured bass part in for those who wish to look at the composer's exact harmonic indications. Not only that, but Kaufman further gives a wealth of useful and practical advice about the performance of Baroque music.

I think Kaufman may have made the first recording of these sonatas (he was also the first to record Vivaldi's Four Seasons), and this may be the stunning performance you can find on YouTube:

* International Music Company New York 10016

Edited: July 21, 2019, 10:07 AM · If you have learned to read music on the piano and then start playing violin you have a big advantage compared with someone who learn the violin as his/her first instrument. Because all you need to learn is where the notes are on the violin. Otherwise your need to learn both how to play the violin and how to read music.

I started on the piano myself as a kid and a couple of years later I started on the violin. Reading music on the violin was not a problem. At least I don't remember any problems. Well a little problem can surface and that is that the 2nd finger on the piano is the 1st finger on the violin and so on with the other fingerings.

In general I think that if you have learned to play one instrument it is much easier to learn a new instrument compared with starting on your first instrument. That is my experience with students in my violin teaching.

But there is a huge difference in what is easy or hard for different students. It also shines through the other replies in this topic that the problems are different for different people. So the matter can be a rather subjective matter.

Edited: July 26, 2019, 10:02 AM · I think it's like learning a language. When you learn your first language you're learning the ideas and concepts that go with the words. When you learn a second language you're just learning new words.

Until, of course, you become fluent enough to discover all the things that don't actually translate because the languages experience the world in slightly different ways! (equal temperament, I'm looking at you here).

July 26, 2019, 4:00 PM · As a long-time pianist and more recent (adult) violin student, I completely agree with Paul Deck and Kiki White's comments. I would also add music history and an understanding of musical styles to the list.

My piano background has also affected my violin playing in some interesting ways. For one thing, I've never been intimidated by playing in high positions on the violin, possibly because my mental map of the fingerboard is different from a violinist's mental map.

For another thing, I really struggle with staccato. On the piano, staccato articulation involves lifting the fingers off the keys, but on violin staccato is an on-the-string articulation. I can produce staccato on the violin without a problem, but I really have to focus to fight the urge to lift my bow off the string.

Another slightly amusing side effect of learning violin was that I had to learn how to tune my piano, too, because out-of-tune unisons on the piano started to drive me nuts! :)

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