From feeling excited and assured that it would be fun, to having episodes of frustration and anger. You probably never expected violin learning to be this difficult until you attempted learning it.

A typical Nigerian is competitive, goal-driven, and wants perfection in whatever s/he does. Thus, it's understandable to have expectations and set achievable milestones. But we all have preconceived notions about things before trying them out. Some untrue statements about violin learning include the following:

  • You just need a few months to become a pro violinist.
  • Only geniuses can master the violin.
  • You can’t learn the violin unless you’re 3-5 years old.
  • You cannot become proficient with self-study unless you employ a teacher (while it might be hard to do, it’s possible).

“I’m wishing he could see that music lives. Forever. That it’s stronger than death. Stronger than time. And that its strength holds you together when nothing else can.”
Jennifer Donnelly, American Writer.

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Don't expect to master sight-reading within a few days of learning. Photo-Credit: Unsplash.
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Methods of Learning the Violin

The Traditional Learning Method

This method best suits students interested in self-study or private tuition. It comprises learning different violin playing and strumming techniques. Once this is perfected, students would proceed to learn music reading. The music reading process is gradual but productive; students would begin playing open notes before learning the notation basics such as timing, values, and note detection on the treble clef. The traditional method is devoid of group learning and interaction.

Pros of the Traditional Learning TechniqueCons of the Traditional Learning Technique
Note reading is introduced very early. In addition to becoming great at sight-reading, the student would be able to play in an orchestra.It’s difficult multitasking. You might master note reading at the expense of intonation, posture, and rhythm.
There are countless methods and materials with which you can learn to play the violin.Most violin teachers don’t stick to one method. They often combine a plethora of techniques they’ve mastered over the years.
It saves parents the stress of active involvement.The student isn’t held accountable or monitored at home.

The Suzuki Learning Method

This music learning technique is designed for kids who are three years or older. It involves surrounding them with the music they would play eventually. These recordings are played time and time again for the kids to get used to them. There are five steps involved in the Suzuki technique they are:

  • Vocalization: this involves music students recognizing and producing ringing and sonorous tones with their violin.
  • Sound recordings: while listening to your music is a teaching method in practice, the Suzuki method involves constant music repetition of Ancient pieces even before the child’s birth.
  • Adapted musical instrument: the musical instrument is designed to fit the child’s body size. This enables the child to start violin playing at a tender age.
  • Suzuki institutes: these were built for teachers and students implementing the Suzuki teaching method.
  • Shared repertoire: here, students attend group classes to practise traditional songs they once learned and learn new music pieces.
Pros of the Suzuki Learning TechniqueCons of the Suzuki Learning Technique
It involves private and group learning. Having at least two sessions weekly would help improve your violin playing skills quickly.This learning method is more demanding than conventional private tuition. Furthermore, the learning schedule is rigid which makes it difficult to miss lessons.
Listening to music recordings every day would make the child’s ears to be musically sound.Compelling parents to play the same recordings continuously can be tiring. Most parents have stressful jobs.
Suzuki students must perform at recitals. This helps beginner violinists build confidence, self-esteem, and be goal-driven.Some kids have stage fright. Irrespective of how skilled they are, they would be shy to perform before an audience.
As a beginner, you would learn songs using the rote method. Committing music to memory is beneficial to students struggling with note reading.Delaying note reading lessons complicates violin learning over time. By the time students start learning sight-reading basics, they would’ve mastered pro-level playing techniques. Thus, returning to note-reading would be frustrating and challenging.

 

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Music stores have good music tutor recommendations. Photo Credit: Unsplash.

“Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.”
Ludwig van Beethoven

Expectations when Learning to Play the Violin

Skill Evaluation and Practise

If you’ve got previous violin playing experience, your music teacher would want to hear you play. This would help him/her assess how good you are, what to improve, and what not to teach. For beginners, however, you would start with the basics. Some of these include identifying the violin parts, plucking open strings, bow tightening, music theory, and caring for your instrument. Furthermore, you would learn how to tune your violin and use rosin to create friction.

Normalize Mistakes and Failure

It doesn’t matter how many times you fall, what matters is that you always get back up. You would experience setbacks when playing the violin, but keep pushing. No one had it easy learning the violin. Adult learners often find ways to skip exercises, especially by talking their way through it. Accept playing badly, squeaking, and failing exercises as ephemeral phases you’d overcome with constant training and practise.

Have Realistic Expectations

Did you expect to work on solo sonatas, major concerti, etudes, and chamber music within three months of practice? After your first month of learning, you would discover that it takes years to attain this level of proficiency. Having realistic goals and expectations would reduce your likelihood of disappointment. It’s advisable to set these goals with your music tutor to have a sense of direction.

Physical Therapy

Whether it’s the violin, bass, viola, or cello you play, they all involve physical activity. This creative activity requires muscle memory, dexterity, and strength. Similar to how a physical therapist recommends exercises after a leg injury, expect assignments, as well as exercises, from your violin teacher. These exercises must be practised daily and repeated consistently. The great violinist, Suzuki recommends practising anything 10,000 times to achieve fluency.

“I play until my fingers are blue and stiff from the cold, and then I keep on playing. Until I’m lost in the music. Until I am the music – notes and chords, the melody and harmony. It hurts, but it’s okay because when I’m the music, I’m not me. Not sad. Not afraid. Not desperate. Not guilty.”
Jennifer Donnelly.

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Living in a rural area can restrict your access to electricity and strong internet connection. Photo Credit: Unsplash.

Violin Playing Exercises

Slurs

This is a violin term which requires strumming two or more music notes by stroking the bow once. To do this, position your bow very close to the violin’s frog. While crossing your bow across the strings, gently hold and release the strings at regular intervals while steadying your bow. For ease, utilize a metronome.

Yoga Poses

Every professional violinist knows that this instrument doesn’t just put pressure on your hands, but also your back, shoulders, and arms. That’s why you should limber up often for easier playing. Stretch your fingers for as long as you can to loosen up the stiffness.

Practice Bowing & Fingering Drills

  • Scales & Arpeggios: run through minor and major ones with minimal pressure. Vibrato is unnecessary for this.
  • Sevcik Etudes: it’s perfect for finger patterns. Just practice a few of these.
  • Bowing: warm-up slurs using long, but slow strokes.
  • Slow Trills: do a string at a time with little pressure.

Finger Placement

As a beginner, you’d start by looking at the fingerboard. With constant practice, you’d get the right positioning without looking. Start with scales to improve your finger placement.

“Beethoven tells you what it’s like to be Beethoven and Mozart tells you what it’s like to be human. Bach tells you what it’s like to be the universe.”
Douglas Adams.

Useful Tips for Playing the Violin

  • Before starting each violin practice, tighten your loose bow, apply some rosin (if necessary), and tune your violin strings. If you’re unsure of tuning the strings, download a violin tuning app. It’s impossible to play any untuned stringed instrument.
  • Work on your posture. Bad posture affects your playing. Don’t slouch; don’t place your left elbow very close to your body; leaning forward paves the way for the “sinking Titanic”. The sinking Titanic is the term used when your violin points downwards. It happens when you lean forward with inadequate counter-balance weight to keep the shoulders back.
  • Have a permanent practice schedule. If you intend to practice for one hour daily, stick to it. Don’t have a haphazard schedule of practising for twenty minutes on some days and one hour on others.
  • Find a teacher that understands you. A healthy tutor-tutee relationship cannot be over-emphasized. Never settle for less; keep searching until you find one that ticks all the boxes.

Irrespective of your goal(s), violin learning remains a lifelong skill that improves your health. It also enhances your social life, teaches self-discipline, patience, and perseverance. Remember, you’ve got no competitor, so, feel free to ask questions. If it’s conceivable, it’s achievable.

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