The violin is one of the most rewarding and beautiful instruments to play. The road to learning the violin is a long one, but with patience, discipline, and enthusiasm, these steps will help you start down the road to success with this storied instrument.
1Purchase a violin. If you’re just starting out with the instrument, there’s no need to spend an excessive amount of money on a violin, but like most instruments, the quality of the violin generally rises as the price goes up. Expect to spend a few hundred dollars on a decent beginner’s violin.
- Buy full size or 4/4, if you’re an adult. The violin is a small instrument, but there are specially designed smaller sizes available. These are generally only intended for very young children, so be sure the violin you’re buying is full size unless you’re very small. You can ask the shop for a recommendation if you aren’t sure.
- You can also ask the shop to measure your arm length to see what size violin you need. When holding the violin in the playing position, straighten your left arm and the tops of your fingertips should be near the top the violin scroll. If your arm is way past the top, the violin is too small.
- Buy from a reputable seller. Music stores stake their reputations on selling solid instruments that are free of obvious flaws and damage. As a beginner, you won’t be able to coax a very pleasant sound from your instrument for some time, so flaws in privately sold violins might not be apparent to you until it is far too late to complain. Only buy from a store or individual you can trust.
2Check the accessories. Unless you have purchased the instrument only, your violin outfit should come with a violin with four strings, a bow, and a carrying case and most of the time a chin rest and rosin for your bow. In most cases, the person who sells you the violin will be happy to string it for you, which has the added bonus of double-checking to be sure the tuning pegs (the knobs at the scroll, or top, of the violin) are properly fit to the scroll. A hard case is important because violins are such delicate instruments.
- Strings come in three basic varieties: gut, which is expensive and difficult to take care of, but which offers a complex range of sound; steel, which is loud and bright but can sound scratchy, and synthetic, which is smooth, clear, and not as unpredictable as gut. Each type’s name refers to the core material around which metal wire is wrapped to create the string. Most beginners should go with synthetic core strings, such as nylon core.
- The bow should be new, or newly re-haired. You can check this by looking at the hair of the bow (the fine, white or off-white fibers) and ensuring that the color is uniform and bright along its entire length. The hair of the bow should be a uniform width from end to end.
- Bows wear down over time. You can get your bow re-haired for a small fee at most music shops.
3Purchase other items. Nearly all violinists use a chin rest, which is a cheap, ergonomic piece of (usually black) plastic that clamps near the base of the violin and allows it to be held securely by your chin. This is usually attached to the violin when the violin is built. Aside from that, be sure you have some rosin (coagulated sap) for your bow, a music stand, and a book of beginner lessons or songs, preferably in a format that will open flat.
- Some violinists, especially beginners, also purchase a shoulder rest, which is a violin-width pad that sits on your shoulder underneath the violin and makes it easier to hold. Many people start with a shoulder rest and eventually remove it after a few years. If the violin seems to dig into your shoulder when you play, consider purchasing one.
- Fiddlers, if they sing while performing, often hold the violin in the crook of an arm while playing, with the butt resting against their shoulder. For them, chin rests and shoulder rests are generally pointless.
1Tighten the bow. Once you’ve set up your music stand and sheet music, open the case and remove the bow. The hair of the bow should be limp. Tighten the bow hair by turning the end screw clockwise until the space between the hair and the stick is big enough to pass a pencil through cleanly from tip to tip.
- The hair shouldn’t be too limp, or too tight. The hair should not be parallel to the wooden part of the bow, but with the wooden part curving slightly toward the hair.
- Don’t use your pinky finger as a gauge because the oil from your skin will transfer to the hair, which needs to remain oil-free to get the best sound from the strings.
2Rosin the bow. Rosin comes in two types, dark and light; either is fine to use, and neither is expensive. In warmer climates, light is preferred, dark is recommended in more northern areas. If you live in an unpredictable climate, it is advisable to have both. It’s usually a rectangle of hard, translucent material in a paper or cardboard casing that’s open on two sides. Grip the rosin by the papered sides and gently but vigorously rub it up and down along the length of the bow hair three or four times. The goal is to transfer some of the rosin “dust” onto the hair, making it stickier. You will need to rosin your bow about every time you practice.
- If you don’t think the rosin is producing any “dust”, take a key, sandpaper, a coin, or any other sharp object, and lightly scratch the rosin. You will see some light streaks if you scratched hard enough.
- Too much rosin will cause the bow to grip too well, producing a scratchy sound. If you over-rosin your bow, it’s fine; it’ll just take a few hours of playing to bring it back down to the correct level.
- If this is a newly haired bow, it may need more rosin than normal. Draw the flat side of the bow hair across a string to see if it makes a clear sound after three or four strokes of rosin. If it doesn’t, add a couple more.
3Tune the violin. Set the bow aside for a moment and take the violin out of the case. The strings, in order from lowest tone to highest, should be tuned to G, D, A, and E. You can usually purchase an electric tuner from $15 to $20 dollars depending on the quality and brand. Major adjustments can be made with the tuning pegs in the scroll of the violin, but if the tone seems only a little bit off, use the tiny metal dials near the bottom, called fine tuners, to make your adjustments instead. Once you’re satisfied, return the violin to the open case for a moment. You probably would like to have a professional tune your violin first.
Here’s a mnemonic to remember the tuning order from lowest to highest:
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- Rely on a tone whistle to find the correct notes, or simply look sound files up on the Internet.
- Not all violins have fine tuners, but they can be installed by a shop. Some violins may have only one fine tuner, on the E string. Some violinists can make do with just that one fine tuner, while others may prefer to get the rest.
4Grip the bow. Use the balance point to learn to hold the bow and even out the weight. When you think you are ready to grip the bow like a professional, start by gently laying the middle part of your index finger on the grip (the slightly padded part of the stick, usually a few inches above the tightening knob). Place the tip of your pinky on the flat part of the stick near the base, keeping it slightly curved. The ring and middle fingers should rest with their middle parts in line with the tip of your pinky, and their tips on the side of the frog (the black piece that connects the tightening knob to the hair). Your thumb should rest underneath the stick, at the front of the frog, near or on the bow hair.
- It might feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but over time, it will form into a habit.
- Your hand should be relaxed and loose, and somewhat rounded as if holding a small ball. Don’t let your palm close or rest on the bow. This reduces the control you have over the movement of the bow, which becomes increasingly important as your skill increases.
5Hold the violin. Stand or sit with a straight back. Pick it up by its neck with your left hand and bring the butt of the instrument up to your neck. Rest the lower back of the violin on your collar bone and hold it in place with your jaw. To learn notes, however, you should hold it guitar style and buy a music book. It helps a whole lot.
- Your jaw, just under the earlobe (not your chin), is supposed to be resting on the chin rest. This helps prevent the instrument from sliding off your shoulder. (This is also why violinists on TV always seem to be looking down and to the right.
6Perfect your hand position. Place your hand under the top part of the neck and support the violin so that the scroll is pointing out away from you. Hold it steady by resting the side of your thumb on the neck, and allow your four fingers to arch over the fingerboard, which is the black plate covering the front of the neck.
- Beware of the “wimpy wrist” where your left wrist is touching the fingerboard. This, too, could turn into a habit if you don’t fix it.
- As a beginner, your hand should be as far up the neck as possible while still allowing your pointer finger to come down on the fingerboard. Eventually, you’ll learn to slide your hand up and down to reach higher notes quickly.
7Play the strings. Place the flat side of the bow hair approximately halfway between the bridge (the flimsy-looking wooden stand 3/4 of the way down the strings that keeps them tented) and the fingerboard, so that it’s directly over the belly (front body) of the violin. Pull the bow along the string as straight as you can, parallel to the bridge, applying a small amount of pressure. A sound should emanate from the violin. Also, tilt the bow hair towards bridge at a 45-degree angle.
- More pressure equals louder sound, but too much pressure makes it scratchy. Light pressure should produce a continuous tone from end to end of the bow; if there are gaps, the bow needs more rosin.
- If you play too close to the bridge, it may also sound scratchy.
- Tilt the bow slightly toward the scroll and your tone will be more focused, producing a more professional sound.
8Practice playing open strings (G,D,A and E in order from top to bottom string). Open strings are simply strings played without fingertips on them. Rest the neck of the violin in the space between the left thumb and first finger. Hold the bow with your wrist, elbow, shoulder and contact point on the string within one plane. Change strings by raising or lowering the elbow to bring the bow to the proper height. Try short strokes of 6 inches (15.2 cm) or so in the middle of the bow at first, then try half strokes from the frog to the middle and back again. Work your way up to full-length strokes.
- Short and long strokes are both important techniques for playing the violin, so don’t feel as though you’re wasting time practicing with short strokes.
- Continue practicing until you can play one string at a time without touching the other strings. It’s important to develop control so you don’t accidentally play a note you didn’t want to play.
9Practice playing other notes. It takes a lot of practice to master the pressure and positioning required to get your fingers to produce clear notes on the fingerboard. Start with your strongest finger, the pointer finger. Using the tip only, press down firmly on the highest string (the E string). You don’t need to use as much pressure as you do with guitar strings; a modest but firm amount is enough. Draw the bow across the E string to produce a slightly higher note. If you are holding the violin properly, your finger should naturally come down about half an inch below the nut (the top of the fingerboard), producing an F note.
- Add notes. Once you’re able to produce a clear note, try putting the tip of your middle finger down a little ways below the pointer finger on the fingerboard. Keep both fingers down and play another, higher note. Finally, set the ring finger ahead of the middle finger and repeat the process. The pinkie is also used, but takes considerably more practice to master. For now, just worry about the other three fingers.
- Add strings. Try playing four notes (open, pointer, middle, and ring) on all four strings. Pay attention to the amount of pressure you need to produce a clear note on each one.
10Practice scales. A scale is a series of notes that ascend and descend in a pattern of steps (usually 8, sometimes 5) that starts at one note and ends at a higher or lower version of the same note. An easy (and useful) scale for beginners is the D Major scale, which starts on the open D string. From there, place your fingers down in order (as described above) and play each note: D (open), E, F sharp, G (which should be produced by your third, or ring, finger). To complete the scale, play the next highest open string, A, and then repeat the pattern on the A string to play B, C sharp, and finally D with your third finger.
- When properly played, the D Major scale (and in fact, every major scale) should match the sound of the famous “Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do” singing scale. If you don’t know what that is, look it up online or watch the musical film “The Sound of Music,” which features a memorable and well-known song called “Do Re Mi” that explains it.
- If you can’t seem to get the sound right, remember: place the first finger a finger’s width from the nut, the second finger a finger’s width from the first, and the third finger touching the second. If you prefer, ask your music shop or teacher to tape the finger positions for you with white tape, so you have a visual guide.
- Other scales, such as minor, harmonic, and even pentatonic (5-note) scales exist, but those can be studied, practiced, and internalized later.
Practice every day. Start with a short time (15 or 20 minutes) and work a little longer every day until you reach an hour, or you can’t find any more time to play. Serious violinists often practice for 3 or more hours per day; then again, many violinists at that level get money for playing. Practice as much as you reasonably can, and keep at it. Even sounding good enough to play a few simple songs can take months, but eventually, things will begin to come together.
Is it necessary to get a chin rest? And which shop would you recommend?
While it is possible to play without a chin rest, it’s not ideal. Chin rests give good support as you play the violin and help to protect your neck muscles as well. Try your local music shop, they should carry chin rests, or check online resources.
Why would there be no sound coming from a new violin?
Since your violin is new, chances are your bow is new too. That means it will not be rosined. Without rosin, there is no ‘grip’, resulting in a soundless outcome. New bows tend to need lots of rosin, so be expected to rosin for at least 30 to 40 strokes! Then, you can test the bow to see if it needs more rosin or not.
How long does it take to be good in violin?
That depends on how much time you spend practicing. The more you practice, the better you will become. Usually it will take one to two years of constant practice and dedication to become “good” at playing violin, and longer to become “excellent”. But it also depends on talent, having a good ear for the music and being willing to practice a great deal each day.
How do I play the different notes?
Playing different notes is done by putting your fingers on the strings and drawing the bow. Get tapes to put on the finger board but make sure you get them in the exact place they are supposed to be because on violin you must be very precise to get the correct notes. And also if you play piano there are five fingers that you use with one hand but on violin its only four (index finger, middle finger, ring finger, and your pinkie).
Should I start by playing with the bow first?
The bow is an essential aspect to the violin, and learning to play properly with this is essential. Many begin by practicing with pizzicato (playing without the bow), but you should learn how to tension and use the bow properly, considering that most pieces for violin require the bow.
Where do I place the violin tape as I am learning?
Obtain regular tape, not the transparent type but the opaque, strong type of tape. Cut it into thin pieces and tape it on certain notes that you need to learn; have the teacher show you precisely where each relevant note is located for taping.
Do you have to have a teacher to learn or can you do it yourself?
It is not necessary to have a teacher, if you have the resolve to focus and work towards it.
How do you rosin the bow?
Rub your bow with the rosin five to eight times from the top to the bottom.
Can I start to learn violin even after being sixty years old?
Yes. You can start playing the violin whenever you like.
Will my violin need constant tuning?
You should at least check the tuning before every play session, especially if playing with others. Minor variations in tuning are guaranteed to occur due to variations in temperature and humidity, as well as just jostling as you carry your violin around. When you play with others, your instrument needs to be tuned to match theirs, so that the music doesn’t wind up sounding discordant.
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- Loosen your bow after you’re done.
- Clean off rosin buildup on your violin after every practice session. Use a clean, dry, soft cloth on the strings, on and under the fingerboard, and around the bridge. Don’t wipe rosin off the hair of the bow.
- It will take years to master the violin so be patient.
- Be cautious about buying a violin online they usually are never very high in quality and may cost more than they are worth to repair.
- Use a metronome to practice if you are having trouble keeping the beat.
- You can also request for finger tapes at your violin store. It will make playing your violin much easier.
- Take lessons at least once a week. Even a short weekly lesson can provide invaluable feedback.
- If you don’t have the money to buy a violin, renting is always an option. Rental violins should always come with a bow, case, and strings.
- Get a teacher, and you’ll learn much faster. Check for teachers at local universities, community colleges, orchestras, and some high schools. If you don’t find the best teacher for you right away, continue to look until you find someone you are comfortable with.
- If you know someone who plays a violin, ask them where they acquired the skill. You could attend the same lesson.
- If you want to just try out the violin or if you are not a full size yet, consider renting a violin. Most music stores allow you to rent an instrument instead of buying one straight away, and some let you pay monthly and can return it anytime.
- Before you start playing be sure you’re devoted. Playing any instrument can cost lots of money and time but is extremely rewarding in the end.
- Ask a family member if they know somewhere you can get a violin and ask if they know somewhere you can learn to play. Try to get lessons locally to you if possible.
- You are not going to learn to play in a day it will take a few months to a few years depending on if you are teaching yourself or have a good teacher!
- Before purchasing your violin, make sure you are dedicated to learning so you don’t waste your time and money. Remember, the average violin is five hundred dollars (for a good one).
- Never put your violin in your case with your shoulder rest on.
- Set a goal to complete by the end of your practice session.
- Keep your wrist straight when you play. This way you can reach the notes easier.
- Practice slowly, then work up to tempo. As in typing, eventually, your fingers will remember where to go by themselves.
- Use your hands by plucking (Pizzicato) then use your bow.
- Check to see if your bow is sliding on the violin strings. This means either your bow isn’t tight enough, or you need rosin.
- NEVER pick up your violin by the strings. It is possible that the strings will break and damage the nut of violin.
- Do not leave your bow tight after playing as it can be damaged and bows can be very expensive.
- Always treat your instrument with great care. Don’t drop it, throw it, or expose it to extremes of temperature or humidity. The same goes for your bow.
- If you aren’t confident using the tuning pegs, ask someone with more experience (such as a teacher, shopkeeper, or violinist friend) to do peg tuning for you. It’s easy to snap violin strings (especially steel core strings) by turning them too far on the pegs, which is both irritating and time-consuming to rectify.
- While the price of a violin generally reflects the tone, it does not always. Don’t get scammed trying to spend the most money on a violin because you want the best possible sound. Many beautiful violins can be some of the least expensive.
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