While it may be the musical challenge of a lifetime, teaching yourself to play the violin can also be a profoundly rewarding experience.
If you’ve gotten this far, you likely already know that the violin is notorious for being one of the most difficult instruments to learn and play. Between mastering a fretless fingerboard, perfecting your posture, and manipulating the bow in vastly different ways for different sounds (not to mention developing a seamless and artistic vibrato), learning to play the violin is no small feat.
But whatever your reason may be for wanting to teach yourself, you can rest assured that there are steps you can take to increase your chance of success!
Following are some helpful tips, tools, and resources on how to learn the violin yourself …
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Gather Some Necessary Tools
Aside from mustering all of the requisite patience and motivation you’ll need for this endeavor, there are some basic tools worth acquiring that can help set you up to succeed.
First, you’re going to need help tuning your violin before every practice. Not tuning your violin regularly is the quickest way to sabotage your progress.
To ensure that your violin is always in tune before you start playing, pick up an electronic tuner like this one or try a free tuning app on your smartphone.
Similarly, metronomes can be a beginning musician’s best friend. If you’re not familiar, a metronome is a device that plays an audible click on each beat to set the rhythm for you. They can play as slow at 35 beats-per-minute all the way up to more than 200 BPM.
This is an invaluable tool when learning new songs as you can work your way through difficult passages at slower tempos before graduating to the proper, noted tempo all while maintaining good rhythm.
Go for a classic style metronome, a smartphone app, or a dual function tuner and metronome in one device.
Mirror & Video
Next, you’re going to want a long mirror. (Stay with me on this one …)
One of the primary reasons violinists are adamant about the importance of formal instruction has to do with posture. Not only does poor posture make learning the violin significantly more difficult, it puts you at much greater risk for injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, and neck or back strains.
Like dancing or yoga, there is tremendous benefit in being able to see your body as you play the violin.
It is also a great idea to record video of yourself playing. Not only can you review the sound, pitch and rhythm of a particular scale or etude, you can watch (and later correct!) any bad posture you’re displaying.
Finally, help yourself learn pitch by applying fingering tape to your fingerboard as guides. Or, try out this nifty fingerboard fret guide that absolutely did not exist when I was learning, and I 100% wish it had.
This is where the proverbial rubber hits the road. Fiddling around on the violin (pun intended) can certainly make some fun (and not so fun) noises. But if you’re serious about learning, you’re going to need some guidance.
If you had a teacher, they would more than likely be teaching you from some of the more popular classical methods and their corresponding book series.
One of the most widely utilized is the Suzuki method comprising 10 books that are based on the concept of teaching violin like children learn their native language.
Another popular method is the Doflein method; but be prepared to find yourself a practice buddy as these books can be duet-heavy.
Other books commonly used by formal teachers and self-learners alike are the Schradiek series and Mark O’Connor’s program.
If book-learning isn’t really your style, there is a lot that you can learn from online resources. Indeed, you can find entire programs for free or a perfectly reasonable price. Here are some solid choices …
An extremely popular choice for adult learners, Julia Turmeer’s Violinspiration offers hundreds of free videos and resources tailored specifically for adult beginners.
Start at the very beginning with a lesson on bow anatomy and how to use that tuner you just purchased before advancing through easy songs and rhythms.
She also offers a subscription-based academy that offers feedback on your practice videos as well as live online classes.
For less than $20, Udemy offers a comprehensive violin course for beginners. Starting with the basics of how to hold the bow and how to read music, this course advances you all the way through scales, and etudes and even includes an introduction to vibrato.
Itzhak Perlman Masterclass
There is arguably no violinist on earth better to learn from than Itzhak Perlman, and the popular Masterclass platform offers you that very opportunity.
In this series, you will learn all about bowing basics, intonation, posture, color and tone, and even the performance mindset from the legend himself.
Certainly, the appeal of YouTube instruction is the free price-tag; and there is no shortage of tutorials to watch. However, a better use of YouTube might be for supplemental or topic-specific content such as spiccato technique or perfecting vibrato. (Violinmasterclass is great for this kind of content.)
For example, the comical TwoSet Violin stormed the scene a couple of years ago producing wildly popular shorts such as “That is NOT how you clean your violin” and “The Most Cursed Key Signature Ever”. And while you’ll definitely learn something from them, their content is designed to entertain, not necessarily to instruct.
Taking the above measures to teach yourself violin will certainly get your journey started off on the right foot. But if you’re looking for a little boost, here are some other useful tips that can take your instruction to the next level.
Find a Community
Engaging with other violinists and musicians is priceless. Aside from making new friends, you can become part of a community of like-minded musicians that may provide access to valuable feedback, practice tips, performance opportunities, and more.
That practice video that you took earlier? Post it to the r/violinist subreddit for additional feedback.
Hate your shoulder rest? Consult the brain trust on the violinist.com forum about their favorite products.
Head to local jam sessions to find fellow rock, jazz or folk enthusiasts. And community orchestras can provide a wealth of resources and opportunities for the aspiring violinist.
Like online tutorials and courses, there is no shortage of smartphone apps dedicated to violinists and musicians.
For a price, the Trala app offers instant feedback and tutorials from well-known violinists. Institutes of higher music education use EarMaster to help their students train their ears. For those in need of a little extra help reading music, the free Notes Teacher app can be a great supplemental resource.
Throw in a Lesson or Two
Finally, even if you can’t keep up with a tutor on a regular schedule, it’s still a great idea to take a lesson or two when you can. There is simply no substitute for the dedicated instruction a teacher can provide.
P.S. You can take live lessons online easily at places like TakeLessons and Lessonface.
The Journey Ahead
If you’ve landed here asking yourself “can I learn violin on my own?”, then you’re hopefully feeling a bit more encouraged about the prospect.
You can. By gathering necessary tools like tuners and metronomes; finding a program that suits you; and supplementing with apps, videos and community, you can get pretty far on your own.
In the end, don’t forget to keep yourself motivated, practice A LOT, and just enjoy the journey. By this time next year, you may be serenading your friends and family or sitting in on rockin’ local jams!