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Learning to play the violin for beginners - here's what you need to know

Updated: May 19, 2022

The violin is a beautiful instrument, and some of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written have been written for it over the last 300 years - despite its fascination, for many, it seems unapproachable and complex. How difficult is it really to get started on the violin, and what does it take to make it work? That's what we asked our very own music teacher Sebastian.

The violin

Who can learn to play the violin?

I believe that the violin can be played by anyone. After all, it doesn't require fundamentally different skills than other musical instruments. And these skills, such as hearing pitch or a sense of rhythm, we all have to learn at some point in order to make music, whether with ukulele, trumpet or violin. Therefore: Everyone can (learn to) play the violin!

Also adults? Isn't it much more difficult then?

I have already taught and accompanied several adults from the first violin tone and can only say: It is different. Adults learn some things faster, some slower than children, of course always depending on musical background and commitment.

What makes the violin special?

I am equally fascinated by all bowed instruments: It's simply a special way of producing a sound that creates a particularly expressive, variable sound. The fact that even after years of learning, you still discover new ways of bringing the bow hairs and the strings together, that's unique to string instruments. And as written above, the violin was for a long time THE solo instrument in classical music: what composers like Bach or Tchaikovsky wrote for the violin is simply wonderful.

Die Violine, Die Bratsche

What will a good entry-level violin cost me?

A trial lesson with a qualified teacher is the best way to make a decision and get started. If you still want to find out which instrument you particularly like, you can find inspiration in live concerts by professional musicians. Student concerts at conservatories can be a great opportunity to hear many different instruments played at a high artistic level - and for free!

I have decided, which violin is the right one for me?

Excitingly, the crafting process of violins has been almost unchanged for many centuries, at least in our western classical music world. There are smaller instruments for children, but basically, all violins have the same "blueprint". What differentiates violins qualitatively is mainly the level of craftsmanship with which they are made.

What about electronic violins? They are very quiet and do not disturb the neighbors. Perfect for practicing?

I think the sound is the biggest fascination of the violin, and the reason to learn this instrument. I would recommend the electric violin only to people who focus on electronic music and want to experiment with effects. The sound of a "real" violin cannot be produced by an electric instrument. If you want to be considerate and not disturb your neighbors too much, you can simply put a large rubber mute on your classical instrument to make it almost inaudible.

What about the viola?

The viola is the violin's big sister and is characterized by a warmer, deeper sound. If you like to hear the lower "registers", you should definitely give the viola a try! In addition, violists are always in demand as playing partners for groups such as string quartets or orchestras. So if you want to pursue a hobby with friends, the viola is a particularly good choice.

Geigenspieler an einem Konzert

Where can I find my first instrument?

Due to its design, the violin is much more complex to make than, for example, a guitar or flute. The quality, condition, and value of an instrument are difficult to assess, even for a professional musician. Therefore, the only recommended place to buy an instrument is a qualified violin maker or a specialized music store.

What will a good entry-level violin cost me?

I would set the entry threshold for a decent full-size instrument (not a child's size) at about 1000 francs. I would be careful with cheaper instruments. At the latest with the first major repair, e.g. the exchange of the bridge after a few years, it is a financial total loss. Another advantage of a high-quality instrument from a renowned workshop: These violins are very stable in value, sometimes the value even increases.

What about second-hand violins?

There is an old instrument in your basement, or does the teacher offers to buy one from him? That can be a good idea. Here, too, a visit to the violin maker is necessary to check the condition/playability and value of the instrument before buying. Purchases from the Internet or flea markets, on the other hand, are not recommended. Every such attempt that I have seen in my life as a professional musician has ended in disappointment for the student!

Geigenunterricht für Anfänger*innen

Better to rent then?

If you are not yet sure whether playing the violin is something you would enjoy in the long term, you would be well advised to rent an instrument from the violin maker, at least for the initial period. In this way, you have everything you need for a solid start and can - and this is the most important thing - simply get started and try it out!

Everything needed - What is included?

An instrument that works - that is, with strings, working pegs, and chinrest. A bow with intact hair – hair comes from the horse’s tail and does not last forever. A protective violin case for transporting the instrument to lessons. Violin resin so that the bow sticks well to the strings, a cleaning cloth, and a shoulder rest.

Is it possible to take lessons online?

It is possible! I myself teach an adult student who visits me about every 8 weeks and otherwise takes weekly Zoom classes. This works very well - I would not recommend online lessons all the time. I also think it is even less suitable for children. In case of doubt, however, face-to-face is always the more effective teaching method, no matter what level or age.

What do you teach in a first trial lesson?

In the very first lesson, we look at the instrument together, how to hold it, pluck the first notes, and some first strokes with the bow. Simple pieces to play together give the first sense of achievement, perhaps a short prelude from myself for a preview of the way ahead. It is equally important to get to know each other personally: to exchange motivations, learning goals, and experiences. Music lessons are teamwork, and in the trial lesson, we put the team together!


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