Can you learn to play violin by yourself?
“I would LOVE to learn to play the violin!! But… can I do that on my own?”
Music enthusiasts of all ages have asked themselves this question. Sometimes they have just inherited a violin from a relative and want to put it to use. Others have a strong desire to learn such a beautiful instrument but don’t have an available group class or the ability to take private lessons. Then there are cases where a parent decides to let their child try violin on their own before getting a teacher “to see if he’ll like it”. Because the question of needing a teacher or not arises in so many different situations, it is impossible to give one single answer. Instead, I will break down some of the reasons you may want a teacher, ways you can learn on your own, and resources for getting started on the right foot.
Child vs. Adult Violin Learners
The player’s age is a big factor in determining if to learn on one’s own. Take for example the parent who hands his six-year-old son a violin and says, “See how you like it first, then we’ll get a teacher”. Obviously, the child has no idea where to start and no structure, so how can he enjoy it? Children need clear hands-on guidance from the beginning. However, an older teen or adult who has some previous experience with reading music and playing other instruments can teach themselves several things with perseverance and the right resources.
What are your Goals with the Violin?
Based on your goals, you will require different levels of proficiency. Are you interested in picking up an extra hobby to enjoy in your free time? Do you want to play for your friends? In your local community orchestra? Or would you eventually like to teach or earn paid gigs someday? If you have professional aspirations such as teaching or playing in paid ensembles, it is very important to get a quality teacher as soon as possible. You will want to learn quickly and efficiently and make sure you are not misleading yourself. However, if you simply want violin to be a relaxing, fun extra hobby, you can have a lot of fun with it on your own before deciding to take further steps.
Have you played an instrument before? What do you remember? Can you read music, rhythms, or figure out fingering charts? Many musicians with experience in other instruments are able to pick up violin on the side because they already understand how to practice and problem-solve. If you have no previous musical experience, it would be a good idea to consult with a teacher on how to consistently improve and develop a good routine, because the wealth of information out there can be overwhelming.
Having a Good Violin Set-Up
What is the biggest challenge facing beginner violinists? Notes? Rhythms? Finding pieces they want to play? No, it’s actually just having a good instrument and being able to hold it. The number one reason aspiring violinists quit is because they buy instruments that are poor quality, so no matter how hard they try they can’t produce a good sound. Either that, or holding the instrument is so awkward and uncomfortable that practicing is more pain than joy. This is the biggest thing a teacher can help with. Professional teachers understand the dangers of low-quality instruments, and can advise on where to buy or rent suitable violins. They also can teach a free and relaxed violin hold that doesn’t cause pain. Your teacher will explain to you how different body parts interact to support the instrument, and can also help find specific chin rests or sponges that fit your body better and help you play freely. I cannot overestimate how important this is, so even if you’d rather learn on your own long-term, consider meeting a few times with a teacher at first to double-check your instrument and set-up.
Choosing Pieces and Exercises for the Violin
There is an overwhelming amount of material for beginner violinists. Method books, scales systems, fingering charts, and simplified arrangements abound. If you are doing it on your own it is very difficult to know where to start, and even more difficult to know how to proceed. Yes, you could just try playing your way through Suzuki book 1, but you will miss some of the finer points of technique that a teacher would bring up. If you want to learn supplemental material, it is difficult to know without pedagogical background what pieces fit where. This is a source of great frustration. Good teachers provide guidance on what their students are ready for, what techniques they have comfortably learned and what will healthily stretch their abilities. A teacher will provide clear guidance on where you should look next, rather than trying to sift through countless options on your own.
Practicing the Violin
Okay, this is the biggest challenge we ALL face… It also ties in to what I mentioned above. Having someone to whom you are accountable and who is regularly critiquing your work provides motivation to be consistent. Without a teacher, it is easy to put that difficult technique off a day, a few days, next month… You may feel guilty because you know exactly what you need to work on to improve, but have no real motivation to tackle that thing. Teachers provide the encouragement and accountability needed to stay on track in those difficult areas. They also help create a practice schedule so you can work efficiently and not waste precious time and energy.
Almost everyone falls into one of two extremes: always preferring the easy way out, or pushing yourself so hard that you get discouraged. In any type of self-study these are very dangerous. In the first scenario, you will never discover your true potential because you go in circles, repeating easy habits instead of taking the next step. Others will impatiently jump to something very difficult they are not prepared for and lose heart. It is possible to find a middle ground on your own if you’re someone who is good at finding balance. You should always be practicing something familiar you find satisfying and also new things that make you think a little harder. There is so much material out there that you will always find something new. Again, teachers understand the learning curves in violin and know when it’s time to introduce something new.
Hi! I'm Zlata
Classical violinist helping you overcome technical struggles and play with feeling by improving your bow technique.
Resources for Learning the Violin
Let’s say you would rather work on your own at the moment, but you want to do it in the best way possible. Where should you start? My website contains lots of fantastic resources for self-taught beginner or intermediate violinists. Also they are great to check out in between lessons if you have a private violin teacher.
Once you have an instrument and set-up you’re happy with, check out my FREE 10 lesson beginner course. We’ll start from the very beginning of how to hold the instrument, and learn fun, famous tunes for which you won’t have to read music. I include basic, important information such as tuning, fingering charts, first scales and songs, etc.
After that I have hundreds of video tutorials sorted by level for learning new pieces, special techniques, and even concertos! As a bowing coach, many of my videos focus on how to get a gorgeous sound from the start by actually focusing on the bow rather than the left hand. Having a firm understanding of bow technique from the very beginning will make your violin journey so much easier, I can tell you that! All these videos are completely free for you to use and learn from, as are my online tuner, metronome, and fingering charts. If you’re still stuck on something, I may have many blog articles that go into detail on specific pieces and techniques. With some time and determination, you will find something among these resources to inspire you and spark your curiosity.
While having a teacher is always preferable given everything discussed above, it is perfectly understandable that it is not possible in all circumstances. If finding an in-person or online teacher is not currently an option, it is worth also considering group classes because they are typically less expensive but still provide valuable help. If you hope to be able to have a teacher in the future, using the free resources available to you now will keep your motivation up until that time comes.