Let me start by saying congratulations. Learning how to play the violin is something that should be applauded. And truth be told, you could not have picked a funner, more expressive instrument to learn how to play.
It doesn’t matter if you are completely new to learning to play the violin, or you played in the past and have chosen to pick it up again. Either way, the information in this guide will prove to be very beneficial.
In it you will learn how to start playing the violin, ways to keep your child motivated, and the many benefits that are associated with playing the violin.
4 Steps To Follow When Learning How To Play The Violin
Step #1 - Learn To Relax
Okay...you know the routine. Breathe in for 3 seconds, and breathe out for 3 seconds. Those are the first steps to relaxing your body.
If you are just learning how to play the violin, learning how to relax is the first, and most important step you need to take.
When you relax you reduce tension. When there is tension in your body it is very difficult to play. When you release that tension you open yourself up and you will start to enjoy learning how to play.
Keep in mind the secret to creating good music is keeping your muscles relaxed. When you are relaxed your hands will move easily and you will be able to practice for longer periods of time.
Doing exercises is a great way to keep your muscles relaxed. If you start to feel some tension while you are playing, it's okay to put the instrument down and stretch your muscles.
Step #2 - Make Sure The Violin Is In The Right Position
When it comes to playing the violin, position is everything. The violin should always be parallel to the ground. Your chin and your jaw are the contact points. When you bring the violin up, that’s the two points it should be touching.
Ultimately, how you position the violin will depend on what’s comfortable for you. Here are a few steps that will help you find the most comfortable position.
- Stand up straight and make sure your body is in a neutral position. This means that your neck and head will be aligned and facing forward.
- Try looking to your left, and then going back to neutral. How does that feel?
- Use your left hand and pick up the violin by its body. Hold it out to your left side. You should avoid picking it up by the neck for this step.
- Now you will want to place the violin over your shoulder. Use your chin and your shoulder to hold the violin in place. Avoid raising your shoulder or putting too much pressure on your chin. You need to find that perfect balance. Remember to relax and focus on breathing properly. This way you won’t end up playing with too much tension.
- While in the neutral head position, look once again to your left side. The exact same way you did in the second step. This time however you will want to place your jaw and chin over the chin rest.
- Make sure your jaw remains on the chin rest, and let the weight of your head rest on the violin.
Following these steps should help you properly position the violin. Keep in mind your posture is also important. You should never play in a slumped over position.
Poor posture is without a doubt the most common mistake beginners make. Good posture, and properly positioning the violin over your shoulder, are the two keys to producing a good sound.
When your posture is correct, and the violin is in the proper position, playing in tune becomes a lot easier. This is because gravity will now do most of the work.
Good posture will also reduce the amount of tension you feel when playing.
If the scroll points straight out, or is parallel to the ground, that’s a sign the violin is in the correct position. So take your violin out of it's case and get practicing.
Step #3 - Make Sure You Hold and Move The Bow Properly
Let’s start with how you should hold the bow. First, the violin bow is not a baton or a baseball bat. This might sound funny, but many beginners actually hold the bow like it's some sort of stick or bat.
Some will use the thumb and pointing finger as support, while others will grab the bow and clamp down on it with their fist.
To properly hold the bow, you must make sure your grip is not too tight, or too loose. It should be a delicate balance between the two extremes.
You should hold the bow in a way that allows your fingers to be flexible, and weight control is maximized. The goal is to deliver power and sensitivity.
Here are the steps to properly holding a bow:
- Start by placing your two middle fingers on the side of the frog.
- Find the curved portion of the frog, and tuck your thumb between the stick and the hair.
- Now you will want to gently bend your index finger, and place it over the pad of the bow.
- Your pinky finger is what helps control the weight of the bow. It should be slightly bent, and placed on top of the bow stick, which is right next to the nut.
- Your knuckles should remain flat and leveled. During each bow stroke they may flex and point up. This is perfectly normal and to be expected.
Here are a few things you will want to watch out for:
- Make sure your pinky doesn’t lock and start to straighten while you are playing.
- Your thumb pressing too far inward.
- Your middle fingers sliding too far up, or too far down.
- Make sure the index finger does not touch the bow stick and first digit. It should instead be touching at second digit.
- Knuckles becoming too stiff in a pointed position.
- Fingers or wrist becoming too stiff.
If you notice any of the six things above happening, stop playing, take your hand off the bow, and let it rest for a few minutes. After your hand has rested for a few minutes, you can resume your bow hold.
And once again, remember it's all about relaxation. The more relaxed you are, the better you will hold the bow.
Step #4 - Moving The Bow
Now let’s move into moving the bow.
When you first start playing the violin, you will hear a lot of squeaking and scratching. This is completely normal and nothing to be embarrassed by.
However, as you become better at moving the bow, you should no longer hear squeaking and scratching.
Proper bowing is something that is learned during the early stages of training. The big secret is to avoid the temptation to work too hard. The trick is to let gravity do the bulk of the work. That’s how you master proper bow movement.
Instead of forcing the bow, or pressing it down too hard, just let gravity, and the weight of the bow, guide you.
When you apply too much pressure, that’s when you will hear a scratching sound. On the other hand, if you are forcing the bow and not letting gravity do the work, that’s when you will hear a squeaking sound.
To avoid this, just relax your arm and place the bow over the strings.
Here’s a short, step by step explanation of how to properly move the bow:
Relax and Let You Shoulder Fall Into Its Natural Position
Start by taking a deep breath. This will allow your body to relax. As you exhale I want you to imagine a waterfall. This waterfall is pouring down from your shoulder, through your arm, all the way to the tips of your fingers. Once it hits your fingers imagine it flowing into the bow.
Make Sure Your Elbow and Wrist are Bent
Your elbow and wrist will act like a door hinge. As you make good contact between the bow hair and the string, you want the bow to move as if it's on a door hinge. If your elbow becomes too stiff, or too tight, the bow will make contact outside of the correct space.
Know Where The Contact Point Is
The contact point, also known as the contact space, is the small space between the bridge and the fingerboard. That is the space where you want the bow to make contact with the strings. As you are moving the bow, be sure it stays parallel to the bridge.
Use The Middle of The Bow When Playing
As a beginner it is very challenging to play on the upper or lower half of the violin. They are both extremes and can be difficult to control without proper training.
The best way to acquire balance and improve your bowing skills is to break up the bow in three different parts.
Using sticky tape, outline the middle of the bow. For the first few months of your training, that middle area will be your playground. Don’t start playing outside of the middle area until you feel comfortable playing open strings in that area.
Proper bowing doesn’t happen overnight. It is actually a lifelong process that you must be committed to. You must practice, and be very patient if you want to master this skill.
Pay Attention To Your Left Hand and Fingers
Unlike other stringed instruments, the violin does not have a fret. This is what makes learning how to play so challenging for some beginners.
As a violinist you must learn how to utilize muscle memory. You must visualize the frets in your mind and use them as your guide.
To make the learning process a little easier, it is recommended all beginners practice with tape markings on the fingerboard.
The tapes will help you learn the correct finger positions by giving you a visual representation of where they should be. They can also help with tuning and intonation.
If you don’t know how to put tape markings on your violin, let your violin teacher do it for you. Or, if you would prefer, you can invest in a ready-made finger position indicator. They are very affordable and very accurate.
It is a self adhering vinyl that shows the finger positions using different colors. It's easily applied and is very effective at teaching you where to place your fingers. Also make sure you use violin rosin on the strings as it helps the bow to grip them and produce sound.
Practice Smart... Not Hard
According to Trevor Wye, one of the best all around musicians in the world, effective practice involves patience, time, and intelligent work.
Notice how he didn’t mention practicing harder. Let’s break down each one of these factors so we can better understand exactly what he meant when he said this.
Patience - No one in the world has become a great violinist overnight. So as you learn how to play, don’t become discouraged if things aren’t moving as fast as you would like them to. When you practice, do so with patience.
Time - Most beginners will set a certain amount of time they will practice each day. The problem is, most beginners cannot focus on the violin for extended periods of time. Trying to practice longer than you can focus will only hinder your progress.
You should instead focus on practicing more frequently, for shorter periods of time.
Intelligent Practice - Some violinists will practice for hours on end without ever stopping. This might work for some, but it's a disaster for most.
When you practice, you should make sure you are putting your fingers in all the right positions, and that you are holding the violin and the bow correctly. If you don’t do this, your practice time will be a complete waste of time.
As a beginner, your first year of training should focus on learning the basics of the violin, and figuring out how you can practice smarter. It is during the first year or two of training that you develop muscle memory. That’s why this time is so vital. Don’t waste it.
The Many Benefits of Playing The Violin
Like with all instruments, playing the violin has many benefits. Not only is it fulfilling, but it can also give you a certain level of class that you don’t get with other instruments.
As you very well know, there are a lot of really wonderful benefits that come with playing the violin. Some are benefits that will last you a lifetime, while others are more short lived.
Playing the violin benefits us all differently depending on where we are in life. So to help you better understand how playing the violin benefits different people, we have broken things down by age.
We will first show how playing the violin benefits children, followed by adolescents and young adults, and then finish it off with adults.
4 Ways Children Benefit From Playing The Violin
Children are curious by nature. And if the child in your life is curious about the violin, encourage that curiosity.
Here are 4 ways playing the violin benefits children:
Improves Overall Mental Health
Mental health experts agree, playing a musical instrument improves important parts of the human mind.
This includes everything from how the brain functions, to the way a child is able to process language and speech.
And according to well-known neuropsychologist Dr. James Hudziak, playing the violin can also help a child overcome any psychological disorders they are dealing with.
Improves Attention Span
Researchers from McMaster University’s Institute for Music and the Mind found that with just one year worth of musical training, a child’s attention span can greatly improve.
Improves Social Skills
During violin lessons playing songs for beginners and recitals children are able to develop their communication skills. They are able to make new friends and practice with children who are at the same level as they are.
Learning to play the violin helps build self confidence and self awareness. Two skills that will serve them later on in life.
Improves Sensory Skills
Many studies are now showing that long term musical training has a much broader impact than researchers once believed.
One study found that musicians have an enhanced ability to integrate sensory skills such as sight, touch, and hearing to higher brain functions.
5 Ways Adolescents and Young Adults Can Benefit From Playing The Violin
So you started playing the violin a little late? No problem...Because no matter your age or gender, literally anyone can learn to play the violin.
As a matter of fact, it's very common for adolescents to take up violin, or other instruments, as a way to enhance their college applications.
It's a Great Emotional Outlet
Academic studies can be tough. You would be surprised how much pressure young adults feel today when it comes to their school work. Playing the violin can provide them with an emotional outlet to relieve some of that pressure.
It Improves Posture
The more you practice playing the violin, the better your posture will become. This is because in order for you to properly play the violin, your body must be in proper alignment the entire time.
It Gives a Sense of Belonging
I think most of us know what it feels like to go through that awkward teenage stage. We don’t feel like we belong anywhere. The great thing about playing the violin is it will provide that sense of belonging that we all long for.
As a teen learns how to play the violin they will be presented with opportunities to play in ensembles and orchestras. As they practice with other members it will promote a sense of unity.
Playing in an orchestra can actually help relieve some of the pressure teens feel in school and at home.
It Strengths Your Upper Body
Bet you never thought playing the violin could do that did you? But it really can. Being that you have to hold the violin in a certain position, it causes your upper body to start to develop more strength. It also improves your motor skills. Just make sure you buy the right size violin for your body.
Opens Up More Opportunities
Playing a musical instrument is something that many college boards look for. It shows that you are multidimensional and can offer the school some diversity.
3 Ways Adults Can Benefit From Playing The Violin
Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you can’t learn to play an instrument. Truth be told, you’re never too old, and it's never too late to learn how to play the violin.
Besides the mental, physical, emotional, and social benefits of playing the violin, here are a few more reasons adults should play the violin.
It Reduces Stress
Being an adult is not easy. You have so many responsibilities that it can sometimes be overwhelming. The good news is you can relieve some of that stress by learning to play an instrument.
Research has shown that playing the violin can not only reduce stress levels, but it can also help with depression, anxiety, and a host of other stress related health issues.
Many adult violinists have said they find great enjoyment in playing the violin.
Improves Posture and Promotes Good Circulation
It's no secret that aging can cause serious damage to the body. Besides cardiovascular issues, aging can also affect our bones and our posture.
For most people, aging is what leads to them being unhealthy. It's the lack of movement and engagement that causes their spine to misalign and their bones to become brittle.
When you play the violin, you exercise by default. As a result your circulation gets enhanced.
Exercise, good circulation, and proper body alignment while playing the violin all lead to better posture in the long run. It may also help prevent other bone disorders such as osteoporosis.
It Will Help You Burn Calories
As just stated, when you play the violin you exercise by default. And anytime you exercise you will burn calories. If you have a few pounds to lose, those extra calories burned can really help out.
According to some studies, you can burn up to 175 calories for every one hour that you play the violin. If you practice 7 days a week for one hour, that’s an extra 1225 calories you could potentially burn. Not bad for doing something so enjoyable.
As you can see, no matter what your age, or current skill level, there are some really great benefits that are associated with playing the violin. Doing so can have a positive impact on the most important aspects of your life.
From the physical, to the mental, to the social and emotional, all of it can be positively affected when you learn to play the violin.
As you learn how to play, remember the importance of maintaining proper posture and holding the violin in the right position. If you can get these two things right, everything else will fall into place.
Don’t force yourself to practice for hours on end. You should instead set aside time each day to dedicate to getting better. If your muscles start to feel tense while you are practicing, don’t be afraid to take a break.
And remember, there will always be bad days when things just don’t seem to be going right. Don’t let that stop you. Just take a break and pick back up when you’re ready.
As long as you maintain a positive attitude, and find ways to keep your motivation high, you too will start to experience the many benefits that come from learning to play the violin.