Similar to many musical instruments, it takes countless practice hours to play the violin well. The violin has a reputation of being a hard instrument to learn.
In this article, I’ll address this concern, and describe how hard it is to learn and how long it takes to learn the violin.
Is the violin the hardest instrument to play? The violin is one of the hardest instruments to play. Since it lacks frets to space the strings, it’s easy to play the wrong notes and difficult to get the notes dead on.
It is also difficult to learn how to move the bow with one hand, and press the strings correctly with the other hand.
The 4 main reasons why the violin is hard to play are as follows:
- Proper Intonation
- Fretless Design
- Bowing Technique
But don’t let this discourage you from learning, as like anything, with practice, you can learn how to play it.
Read on to learn more about why the violin is the hardest instrument to play, in my experience, and how long it takes to learn.
Is the Violin the Hardest Instrument to Play?
I have learned about 7 instruments and the violin is one that I found the hardest to play. Four reasons why the violin is the hardest instrument to play are as follows:
1. Proper Intonation
Intonation, also known as playing in tune, is one of the challenges a beginner has to overcome. Acquiring this skill will require you to practice and be attentive all the time. You also need to train your ears, so you can easily and correctly identify sounds.
Proper intonation on the violin will take years to develop. Try these tips to help you memorize violin notes and stay in tune:
- Keep practicing your piece to build muscle memory, or to be more accurate, build nerve memory.
- Try playing your violin along with the keyboard.
- Listen to many recordings. For instance, if you record yourself while playing the violin, you can listen to it later to know if your intonation was off. Listening to violin music recordings can be helpful in learning and memorizing violin notes.
2. Fretless Design
Frets guide your fingers to the notes you intend on playing. Violins don’t have frets, allowing them to create sounds outside of the scales in traditional Western music. The downside is it’s easy to get a sharp or flat sound, even with the slightest difference of your fingertips.
To help beginner violinists memorize each note, violin teachers usually place tapes on the fingerboard. This technique makes it easier to find and remember the position of each note. You can use a graphic chart tape (1/8-inch wide), pinstripe tape, electrical tape, dot stickers, or painter’s tape.
Many things require your attention when playing the violin. The instrument and bow have to be held correctly to produce a tone that won’t make the audience want to put cotton in their ears.
And, if you’re playing with a string quartet or an orchestra, you need to be aware of what others are playing to make one whole cohesive song. Not to mention, you also need to keep looking at the sheet music and the conductor at the same time.
4. Bowing Technique
Think of your bowing technique as your art paintbrush. It greatly affects your violin’s tone and can even compensate for a poor musical instrument.
On top of that, it’s also essential to maintain the physical condition of the bow. After each session, you need to clean the bow using a soft cloth to remove the resin (or rosin). Don’t forget about the bow hair as well. A good “rule of thumb” is to rehair it every six to twelve months.
How Many Years Does It Take to Learn the Violin?
You don’t have to start young to learn the violin. But, one thing’s for sure: you won’t master the best violin pieces, such as the Partita in D minor and the BWV 1004 by JS Bach, in just a few hours or days.
The time it takes to learn the violin depends on the dedication, passion, discipline, and talent of the learner. It takes at least 3 to 5 years, or even up to 10 years, to become really great at playing the violin. You also need to practice at least three to four hours (or longer) a day if you want to become an intermediate or advanced violinist.
Believe it or not, you can start playing simple songs on the violin between three and six months to a year. Here’s an outline of the things you’ll learn within that time frame:
- 1 Month – During the first month, you’ll learn the basics. Your teacher will most probably teach you the parts of the violin and how to care for it. The basics of violin notes, easy sheet music scales, and music theory might also be discussed.
- Two Months – By the second month, you’ll be more confident holding your violin and bow properly. You’ll start playing notes by using your 1-3 fingers (1 is the index finger, 2 is the middle finger, and 3 is the ring finger) and plucking simple tunes. You’ll also learn about violin bow markings and the different ways to use your violin bow.
- Three to Six Months – On the third and six months of your lessons, you’ll be playing more songs using your bow instead of just plucking the strings with the thumb of your right hand. You’ll also learn about rest values (whole, half, quarter, eighth, and sixteenth notes and rests), which tell you when to pause.
Bottom Line: There are advantages of learning musical instruments at an early age, such as having the ability to absorb new concepts. However, it doesn’t mean that it’s already too late for people in their twenties or fifties.
In the next section of this article, I’ll share the following:
- Why you should play the violin
- How you can help yourself learn to play it
The Whys and Hows of Playing the Violin
“Why should I learn the violin if it’s going to be so difficult?” Short answer: Because in the end, it’s all going to be worth it.
If you need more convincing, I’ve listed some of the important benefits of playing the violin for adults and children:
1. Improves Back Posture
Good posture is crucial for violinists. It allows them to move easily and play in tune. Having good posture also prevents fatigue and injuries.
When playing the violin, you need to sit or stand up straight, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Next, your violin should rest on your collarbone and is supported, but not held too tightly, by your left hand and shoulder. Make sure your chin and collarbone are at the same height as well.
2. Better Mental Function and Overall Health
Long-term training (more than a year or two) in musical instruments, like the violin, has positive effects on the brain. One benefit is that you develop the ability to simultaneously activate the parts of your brain that are responsible for your hearing, sight, fine motor movements, and touch.
A study by the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind focused on two groups of preschool children: one group took music lessons for one year, while the other group didn’t take any music lessons. The researchers concluded that musical training enhances attention span and memory, leading to better learning abilities across different disciplines.
3. Keeps Your Brain Sharper as You Age
This benefit is especially true if you took violin lessons since you were a child. There was one study published in a Neuropsychology journal that supported this claim. The researchers divided 70 healthy adults (ages 60 to 83) into three groups:
- Control group (never learned a musical instrument)
- A group who studied an instrument for ten years
- Another group who studied an instrument between one and nine years
The results have shown that the more the test subjects trained and played a musical instrument, the more benefits they experienced. Those who played a musical instrument for at least ten years have the best memory and ability to take in and adjust to new information. Meanwhile, the opposite was observed in adults who didn’t play any musical instrument.
4. Improves Your Fine Motor Skills
The violin demands strong fine motor skills for precise finger placement, bowing, and plucking the strings. Your fine motor skills also allow you to perform small actions, such as picking up small objects with your thumb and finger, turning the pages of your favorite book, and buttoning your shirt.
By allowing your children to play the violin, you’ll help develop both their fine and gross motor skills. They can use these skills for other activities, such as playing sports, creating art, and writing.
5. Reduces Feelings of Anxiety
Learning the violin lets you gain greater control of your emotions. Studies have shown that musical training, regardless of the instrument used, helps decrease feelings of anxiety.
One of these studies analyzed the brain scans of more than two hundred children and teens (ages 6 to 18). They found out that musical training helped in the development of their brain and reducing their anxiety levels.
So, before giving your children pills for treating childhood behavioral and emotional problems, you might want to sign them up for music lessons.
Tips for Learning to Play the Violin
Private violin lessons from teachers with special qualifications aren’t cheap. The prices start around $40 to $100 per thirty minutes.
You might be tempted to teach yourself the violin, but that’s not a good idea. You’ll quickly develop bad techniques and habits, which will slow down your progress on the violin. Get a qualified teacher or enroll yourself in music lessons or instruction school if you’re really serious about learning to play the violin.
Moreover, choosing the right size, type, and brand of a violin is probably one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make. Below are some useful tips for learning to play the violin.
1. Measure the Right Size for You
The best violin size for you will depend on your age and arm length. In general, adults use a full-size violin (4/4). A 1/4 violin size (16.5 to 18 inches) is usually best for children who are 5 to 7 years old.
Use a tape measure when measuring the distance from the middle of your left-hand palm to your neck. Make sure your hand is fully extended, and your arm is straight and perpendicular to your body.
2. Should You Rent or Buy a Violin?
This issue often depends on your needs and budget. If you’re going to rent, you could expect to pay between $15 and $50 every month. Brand-new student violins could cost anywhere between $100 and $2,000.
3. Speak with the Experts
If you get overwhelmed, talk to someone who knows a lot about violins. That could be a violin teacher, the people from your local violin shop, or someone who builds or repairs string instruments.
Top 3 Violin Brands for Beginners
1. 1500-4/4 Violin Student II by Stentor
The Stentor 1500-4/4 Violin Student II Outfit makes a great starter violin because of its durability and good tone. It’s handcrafted with solid spruce top and maple back, which work together to produce topnotch musical notes.
2. SV-130 Premier Novice Violin Outfit by Cremona
The Cremona SV-130 Premier Novice Violin Outfit is the type of violin that both students and instructors will definitely love. It’s affordable, but it doesn’t sacrifice value and quality. Thus, you can be assured of a consistent and flawless performance every time.
3. CVN 300 Solidwood Ebony Fitted Violin with D’Addario Prelude by Cecilio
The Cecilio CVN-300 Solidwood Ebony Fitted Violin with D’Addario Prelude Strings is perfect for adults who always wished to play the violin but don’t want to pay a hefty sum for their first violin. It’s also a good choice for intermediate violinists.
For the affordable price, this violin looks beautiful, produces good-quality sound, and blends well with other musical instruments.
Conclusion – Is the Violin the Hardest Instrument to Play?
So, to answer the initial question: Is the violin the hardest instrument to play? It’s a difficult musical instrument to master. However, regardless of age, anyone can learn it within a few months or years.
The 4 main reasons why the violin is hard to play are as follows:
- Proper Intonation
- Fretless Design
- Bowing Technique
Getting a good teacher, practicing consistently for hours a day, and choosing the right violin size are essential factors to consider to ensure your success as a violinist. And remember, don’t forget to enjoy learning how to play the violin.