What is the most important thing you can do to become a good violinist? (Hint: it doesn’t have anything to do with buying an expensive instrument.)
The answer: take lessons.
Truthfully, taking lessons from a reputable teacher is the single most valuable investment you can make in your progress as a violinist.
Sure, having a well-built instrument is helpful. Yep, having a passion for violin is essential. Patience and discipline are crucial factors as well.
But learning from a qualified tutor will take you places you simply can’t go by yourself on your violin journey.
Whether you’re just starting, haven’t picked it up in years, or just want to take your playing to the next level, there’s simply no drawback to engaging a good tutor.
Let’s explore just how much money (and time) you can expect to spend on a good tutor…
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Dollars and Sense
Diving right into the hard cost, violin lessons run anywhere from $25 per hour to more than $100 per hour. On average, you can expect to spend around $55 per hour for a good tutor, which is similar or slightly higher than the cost of most in-person guitar lessons. The difference in price is vast, to be sure, and depends on several factors.
To understand the range, it can be helpful to think of it as structured in tiers.
In the first tier are tutors who are charging the least, around $25 to $35 per hour. These tutors are likely to have less experience and sometimes less education, too.
This is not to say there aren’t fabulous teachers in this price range, including individuals who perhaps just graduated with their music and/or education degree but are only just appearing on the scene. If you want to avoid a gamble, it may be a good idea to ask for any references in this instance.
The subject of education is worth considering. Some tutors will be degreed in music, and some will have supplemented their degree with a focus or another degree in education. Depending on how you learn, it may be helpful to seek a teacher with some instruction in how to instruct!
In the second tier, you will find established tutors charging between $40 and $90 per hour. These tutors tend to have a valuable combination of performance and teaching experience. They often perform with local symphonies or ensembles, and have at least a few years of teaching experience, many with decades or more!
In the final tier are the tutors who charge more than $100 per hour of instruction. These are advanced level tutors who often specialize in students who want to go pro. They tend to hold high level degrees and can often be found at prominent conservatories. If your goal is to get into Juilliard, these are the tutors you’re seeking.
This is a very general baseline of pricing structure for violin lessons. To set yourself up for success, you may want to give more careful consideration to how you would like to learn, what your goals are, and how this affects cost…
The How, When, and Where
Violin lessons are not one-size-fits-all, and there are a few different ways you might choose to approach your instruction.
Online vs. In-person
Technology allows us to connect with teachers online, which can be a tremendous benefit to learners who don’t live anywhere near a robust music scene or don’t want to spend as much.
Online lessons can start as low as $15 for a 30-minute session, and the pool of teachers from which you have to choose is nearly unlimited by physical distance. As long as your schedules match up, there’s nothing stopping you from learning from hundreds of miles away.
If you’ve decided to learn online, choosing an online lesson platform instead of an individual teacher can be more economical. There are popular options like ArtistWorks (starts from $105 for 3 months), MasterClass ($180/year), and Violinspiration ($29 lifetime).
Apart from ArtistWorks, the more popular options miss out on the personal feedback that you’d get from an individual teacher.
There can also be other drawbacks to taking online violin lessons, which we will also explore. But ultimately, students who already have a decent foundation in posture and technique aren’t really missing too much in digital translation.
Indeed, the most tech-savvy tutors are well-versed in supplemental apps to aid instruction as well as optimal audio and visual settings for your session, depending on the platform you decide to use.
Plus, you can easily record your session and review it later when you’re practicing by yourself. (That’s some serious bang for your buck.)
There are circumstances, however, under which in-person lessons should be prioritized.
Beginning-level students, especially children, require a very detailed style of instruction that can really only be taught in person.
For example, it is of the utmost importance to learn proper posture when playing. Without it, you may be at risk for actual physical damage, such as carpal tunnel and tendinitis.
The bowing technique lends a great deal to expressing dynamic ranges, which can’t be heard even with the most expensive microphones and speakers.
Building a strong foundation in posture and technique demands that your tutor be able to make physical corrections. (It’s gonna happen. A lot.) And for your teacher to even notice where correction should occur simply cannot be done in two dimensions.
Group vs. Private Lessons
Depending on your goals, you might be able to save some cash by enrolling in group lessons.
You can find these at local centers for the arts, strings schools and other community centers. And honestly, the cost can be extremely accessible, with some breaking down to as little as $10 per lesson. You will often find prices set up in monthly subscriptions so that you can maximize the number of classes you attend for the cost.
While group lessons are a decidedly frugal choice for the aspiring violinist, it is worth noting that lessons like these are ideal for beginners who may still be testing the waters, so to speak. Once you’ve decided that you’re all in on violin, it’s probably time to consider hiring a private tutor.
Important: if finances are truly a barrier to you or your child’s musical pursuit, look for a nonprofit music education organization that offers low-cost lessons or scholarships. For example, in my home state of Arizona is SOUNDS Academy which was influenced by a similar organization in Massachusetts.
How Long Until I’m Good?
Or, asked a different way: how long do I have to keep paying for lessons?
This is an extremely loaded question, and it depends entirely on you! Some would argue that it’s not even a question worth asking.
For starters, your definition of “good” will be a moving target. What happens after you complete Suzuki Book 1? Book 2, of course. And on and on …
Furthermore, what is your ultimate goal? Learning to play for your own personal enjoyment versus learning to someday join the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields are two vastly different journeys.
Indeed, some of the best advice for aspiring violinists to heed is that the vast majority of people are listening for your passion, not for your technicality. (Unless you’re joining the Academy, in which case you will most definitely be judged on your technicality.)
The point is that the only people who are scrutinizing whether or not you are technically “good” are probably other violinists. You, your friends and family, and other audiences define “good” as whatever makes us feel good.
Now — if you’re really looking for a hard number, count on spending a couple of years practicing four times a week, working with a good tutor, and having plenty of patience and discipline before you’re able to express yourself adequately.
No matter whether you’re playing for your own enjoyment or playing to go pro, violin lessons are integral to that journey. You can find tutors almost anywhere at a range of price points for every level of learner and budget.
And at the end of the day, the most important factor in quality tutelage is connection. If you and your tutor don’t click, your journey can be fraught with frustration and disappointment. If you and your tutor connect well, your journey can be enjoyable and successful.