You may have heard the violin is a difficult instrument. But, is the violin hard to learn?
As an adult beginner, I will answer this for you. In order to do so, I have enlisted the help of a group of friends. They are adult beginners of different ages, from different backgrounds, who live in countries all over the world.
Who Am I?
My name is Angelina. I am a member of team Violinspiration, helping with customer service emails that come into the @support address, Julia’s Violin Academy, and an adult beginner violinist. My violin journey began over a year and a half ago in May of 2019, at the age of 50.
A bit about my musical journey
As a child, I was raised in the urban area of East Orange, New Jersey. Whitney Houston, Dionne Warwick, and Queen Latifah are from there. My mother did her best to raise my brother and me on a school teacher’s salary.
I played basketball in grammar school and high school, coupled with going through stages in my choice of music. For instance, starting with the Partridge Family and Rick Springfield, I moved on to rock music in high school. Aerosmith, Van Halen, the Scorpions, all 80’s hair bands, and of course, Bon Jovi were my favorites.
The 90s bought house music into my life as well as dance clubs. Classical music was foreign to me. I am sure I would have heard it played in an elevator or in a waiting room from time to time. But never by choice. Now I have grown up, and have found the violin!
It is amazing how things can change. Surprisingly, a brief encounter with a stranger changed my life for the better by introducing me to the violin.
If learning the violin is so hard, why did I start to try and play it?
I live in Greece now. I heard a woman playing the violin while I was out shopping with friends about two years ago in an area of Athens known as the Plaka.
The Plaka is a historical place nestled in the shadow of the Acropolis, with narrow cobblestone streets that are dotted with ancient ruins, sidewalk cafes, tiny shops and tourists.
The sound of her violin playing brought calm to these streets and could be heard above all the noise and chaos in the distance.
Leaving my friends, I followed the trail of sweet music to a shop and found her. This woman answered my questions and encouraged me to try it. I wish I had gotten her name, because I would like to thank her for being helpful, insightful and encouraging. She has no idea how that brief encounter with me changed my life.
If you would like to learn more about why I started learning the violin, you can read my JVA member of the month profile.
How I want to help other adult beginners
My hope when you finish reading this article, is that you will have answers to two questions.
Firstly, “Is the violin hard to play?” Secondly “Is the violin hard to learn?
Is the Violin Hard to Play?
The simple answer is: Yes. The violin is a bit difficult to play because of three things.
- The violin has no frets.(Markings on the fingerboard. You can feel where the note is)
- To play the violin in tune your ear needs to hear when you are playing out of tune.
- You have to develop muscle memory in your left hand to find the correct notes.
- Your left hand is doing many different things at one time. Even more, the right hand is holding a bow, while your right arm is controlling the bow. They are all moving at the same time to create a tone.
A lot of technique:
- There are many different bow strokes and many different left-handed techniques needed to play the violin.
Is the Violin Hard to Learn?
As an adult looking to learn how to play the violin you may have heard, “Isn’t it too late for you to learn to play the violin?”, “Why do you want to do that?” or “Don’t you have to start learning to play the violin while you are young?”
So, is the violin too hard to learn when you’re an adult? Am I too late? I’m letting a friend of mine answer those questions:
Millie, member at Julia’s Violin Academy
In the next part of my post I would like to go over some of the difficulties and advantages (!) adults have when practicing the violin.
What are some difficulties an adult may encounter when learning the violin?
Physical difficulties that develop in later years may impact the way an adult learns their instrument. This doesn’t mean you can’t learn to play, just that you may need to learn differently so that you feel comfortable.
An Example: My physical difficulties and how I compensate
To demonstrate ways you can adjust your playing, I will share some that I have had to make.
Firstly, I have a genetic bone disorder called hereditary multiple exostoses, benign tumors that grow outwardly on many of my bones. This gives me pain in several ways. Some tumors put pressure on nerve endings, causing me to have neuropathic pain. While others due to their position, limit my mobility.
Secondly, because I was very athletic when I was younger, I have had a lot of surgery on my knees. Torn ligaments, torn cartilage, and water on the knee, continue to haunt me in my later years.
This is how I compensate
My shoulder rest has memory foam on it relieving the pressure from where the rest sits on my sternum area where I have a very long tumor. It is a Portland Gold rest. Furthermore, I have had to adjust the position of the violin to be more in front of me because my arms are short. When I feel neuropathic pain in my face from the violins vibrations, I don’t try to play through the pain. I stop. This is very important.
I also alternate between standing and sitting several times when I am practicing to prevent my knees from aching. If I don’t alternate between the two often, my posture becomes lazy and I will lean to one side while standing, or stretch my legs out when sitting. Switching positions helps a lot.
Advice for playing if you feel pain
If you are playing and feel pain, I repeat, please stop playing! Older players take longer to recover from muscle and joint injuries than younger players. You don’t want to play through pain and cause yourself more problems down the road. Take a break. It is hard to learn to play the violin if you are in pain!
What are the advantages of learning to play the violin as an adult?
I tell you, a great advantage you have in learning the violin at an older age, is that you are an adult. You’ve had time to develop a sense of responsibility and self discipline. This mindset is what motivated you to start your violin journey. Your passion for your instrument and wanting to learn how to play it, is what will drive you. It will push you to practice and not give up when things seem hard with technique. If you enjoy it enough, you will keep going.
Victoria, teacher at Julia’s Violin Academy.
Will playing another instrument make learning the violin easier?
If you have experience with any other musical instrument this will help you as well. You will most likely know how to read music and understand rhythm from your other instrument. This is a huge advantage.
Philip who always gives the most helpful advice has shared that:
Philip, member at Julia’s Violin Academy.
What was the hardest technique or discipline I have had to learn?
One of the most difficult techniques or disciplines I have had to learn is stretching the space between my fingers if I were to be honest. This is very difficult for me, or anyone with smaller size hands. You actually have to stretch them and practice the stretch often. If not, you lose it. I guess it’s like any other kind of stretching. You have to keep doing it to remain flexible.
What exercise or discipline did I use to make this easier for me?
At the end of Improver Level 3 of Julia’s Violin Academy, Offenbach’s Can Can is taught. The Can Can is written in the key of Bb Major, so there is a long stretch between the low first finger and the third finger that is played several times. I submitted a video for feedback. Victoria, one of the teachers at the Academy, gave me a really nice exercise to help.
After working on the exercises given for my original video submission I submitted a second video for Can Can. My updated version was a bit better.
Have I Ever Performed in Public? If So, Was That Hard for Me to Do?
My first time playing for people other than immediate family members or members of Julia’s Violin Academy was playing in Julia’s online public recital last year. How did it go?? Well, let’s just say I was happy I made it through the whole piece after stopping and starting four times. I was a nervous wreck. My bow was shaking uncontrollably and my mind went blank. There was a tightening in my chest that made it almost hard to breathe. I would have to say yes, for me performing in public is very hard to do without being nervous.
I’m laughing as I write this because though I was terrified and felt I crashed and burned live on YouTube, the experience was such that I would definitely do it again. I had that much fun!
How am I overcoming my fear of playing in public?
In order to overcome my fear of playing in public, I have been trying to play in front of people more often. Julia’s Violin Academy has a monthly members’ recital that I have used for this opportunity. The first time, I just played the Bb Major scale, since that was what I was working mostly on and felt most comfortable playing. My goal was to just play anything in front of people and not worry so much about what or how I played it. I then had the confidence to play a second piece that same night and played Can Can by Offenbach.
The following month I played Morning Prayer by Pracht.
What Am I Working on Now?
My goal this year is to prepare to take the ABRSM exams for violin grade 2. In Greece, the live exams are put on hold until further notice because of Covid restrictions. But this is no reason for me to not prepare for when they open up. The exam pieces I have picked to work on are: Mozart’s Allegretto, Offenbach’s Barcarolle, and Timothy Kraemer’s Angry Tango.
New techniques I am focused on to accomplish this goal are: shifting and playing in the third position, trills, double stops, and my kryptonite, note reading.
If note reading is my kryptonite, if it is that hard to do, how do I plan to overcome it?
In JVA, Julia has an entire course with 14 levels on the subject of note reading to help me. She also has interactive sheet music for each exercise within these levels, to help make learning easier and practice more fun, so I am looking forward to going through them.
Finding Time to Practice
Finding the time to practice as an adult makes learning the violin hard to do.
As adults, our lives are very busy. There are jobs, careers, households to take care of, decisions to make, people to tend to, and on and on. Therefore finding the time to practice will be one of the most difficult things you as an adult will encounter in your violin journey.
The secret to good practice as an adult is consistency and focus. It will benefit you more if you find five minutes a day of focused practice and are consistent with it, than if you practice once a week for two hours.
Why do we need focused and consistent practice?
Focused, consistent practice is what your body needs to develop muscle memory. Your brain needs to be focused to process the information. Correct repetition is needed in your muscles to complete proper technique. Professional violinists still practice scales, vibrato, and bowing techniques every day so their muscles don’t forget what they have learned.
What Practice Routine Do I Enjoy?
In addition to the group practice meetups on Zoom that Julia’s Violin Academy offers, I really like keeping a practice journal. My practice journal helps me to keep track of my progress on each specific exercise and keeps me organized. When I feel discouraged or have a frustrating practice, I can look back at my journal to see how far I have come. I found writing things down in this way to be very encouraging for me.
If you would like a printable copy of a practice plan to start keeping track of your own practice habits, you can download it for free here:
Fillable Practice Plan [PDF]
GET IT NOW:
What Is the Hardest Part for Me About Learning How to Play the Violin?
I have thought a lot about this.
Getting over how much everyone was telling me how hard the violin is to play and overcoming the mental difficulties before I even got started.
This is the hardest thing for me even more than learning technique.
How do I overcome my insecurity as an adult beginner violinist?
To overcome my insecurity as an adult beginner violinists, I try to have realistic expectations. I know I am not the next Itzhak Perlman, or Hilary Hahn. Realistically I know I will never play in a professional orchestra. With this in mind I still see that there are many violinists and fiddlers out there. They play in community groups, amature orchestras, fiddle bands and for their friends. Violinists play because they love it. This I can and will do.
What Does It Take to Learn the Violin as an Adult?
Learning to play the violin is a marathon. It is not a sprint. Therefore it will take commitment, diligence, a whole lot of practice, patience with myself, and most of all heart.
A great teacher will help you with technique. (Yes you can learn online.)
Find an amazing group of violin friends and peers to support and encourage you, to laugh with you and listen to you vent about your bow hold and frustrations with double stops. I have found mine at Julia’s Violin Academy.
Everyone agreed when I asked. “What would you tell any adult interested in learning the violin?” The response.. Just GO FOR IT!
Conclusion: Is the Violin Hard to Learn?
When Julia first asked me to write a post about this question, my initial reaction was a hard yes, plain and simple. But after discussing this with my friends and fellow adult beginner violinists, I realized the answer is really more complex than that. There are many layers and ways to look at this question. I hope I answered most, if not all of them for you.
All things considered, if you take away one thing from this article as a means of encouragement, it would be this:
“Yes. Learning to play the violin is hard. The good news is hard means ”hard”. It doesn’t mean impossible.” ( Millie, again) 😊
Two Fun Bonus Videos of Me & Other Adult Beginners
Last, but not least: I would like to invite you to watching the recordings of the JVA Virtual Orchestra! All of us are adults beginners and even though we might be far from perfect, we love to play together.
In this video the students of Julia’s Violin Academy present the Mozart Sonata Theme. Most of us played about 1 year or less when this was recorded.
As a bonus I attach a video of me playing the Ashokan Farewell after about a year of learning how to play the violin. See for yourself what I was able to learn during that short period of time 🙂
I would like to thank all my friends at JVA who helped with my research on this article. And, thank you all for making my violin journey an amazing experience. You have changed my life for the better!
PS: If you would like to hear an answer to this question from a teachers perspective, Julia answered the same question in her blog post “Is it ever too late to learn the violin?”.