How Long does it take to Learn to Play Violin?

by | Oct 11, 2019 | 2 comments

You don’t need to play the most technically demanding classical pieces, but just want to play fun tunes and sound decent. How much time does that cost?

You probably heard all the stories about the violin being the most difficult instrument to master, starting at the age of four and practicing five hours a day

Learning the violin you just want to have fun, express yourself and play some nice sounding tunes to your friends. Is that really that hard?

Do you know Tim Ferriss Accelerated Learning System? It can teach you about any skill in 1/4 of the time. He applies the Pareto principle: learn the 20% that gets you 80% of the results. He applied it to dancing, cooking and also playing the guitar.

What if you could learn the 20% on the violin that gets you to play 80% of the pieces?

However inspiring the article by Tim Ferriss about learning guitar quickly, this is not a way to learn faster, but to learn exactly those things that will allow you to play songs very quickly and those are two different things.

As the guitar is a chord instrument with frets, it’s very easy to learn the four chords most used in popular music (and yes, a lot of popular music is very similar), so you can learn loads of songs with very little technique. In this way you don’t learn faster, but you learn the 20% of the technique (or even much less) that allows you to do lots of things. In classical guitar music you would still be a complete beginner using this method.

The difference between the violin and the guitar, ukelele or piano is that for the last instruments it’s possible to impress people by playing a lot of pop songs decently with just very little technique.

To make the violin sound even decent, you need quite some technique and also quite some time to really master it. Getting to a point on the violin that you sound good just takes more work.

When playing and teaching over the last decades I’ve used any resources I got to make my own progress on the violin faster and that of my students. I use myself as a guinea pig in that and pour all my knowledge in my lessons. And yes, often my students progress four times as fast or learn stuff on which they get stuck at other teachers.

With my program Bow like a Pro, I’ve made things like creating a professional sound, vibrato and bowing learnable skills, while a lot of teachers think you need to ‘have it or not’.

But still: learning violin requires more time and practice than learning to play four chords on a guitar and being able to play 80% of the pop songs using a capo.

Ok, but how long does it take to get a decent sound out of the violin, enjoy yourself and get the minimum profiency to play some pop songs and movie tunes?

How much time do you need to invest daily and how many years does it take?

What 20% do you need to focus on to get 80% of the results? Is it bowing, scales or something else?

Yes, there certainly is a 20% in violin playing that gets you 80% of the results!

It’s not a specific technique, but more the right portion of every technique. For example there are 24 scales, but if you study the 5 scales that are used in perhaps 80% of the music, that’s in a way efficient. There are 24 bowing techniques, but if you do as little as 3 of them really well, you can play over 80% of the pieces.

We require advanced techniques for the big classical repertoire, but with around 10% of that technique you can already play almost all pop tunes, easy concertino’s like these (click here) and loads of different styles of music.

But… know that learning the violin, as it’s hard to get to it to sound decent, will cost you a lot of time and effort anyway. It’s not an instrument to learn quickly or to pick up once in a while. It really requires dedication and for me that’s also the beauty of it. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time with the violin, why do you want to play it anyway? 😉

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To get to a professional level takes at least 10.000 hours. Let’s say you find the 5% to play most pieces: that’s still 500 hours…

500 Hours is 30 minutes of daily practice for 3 years. Sounds doable?

After this you sound decent, can play simple concertino’s, movie tunes and pop songs.

Double this to a thousand hours and you’ll have more music to choose from and a better sound quality. In the eyes of a classical violinist you’ll still be a beginner and your technique is limited, but is that important?

A ‘minimum proficiency’ is hard to define. What you now see as a minimum, will certainly change over the years. Yes, you can already play some tunes after a year, but would you be satisfied with the sound quality?

It’s always hard to put down specific numbers, because it also depends on the quality of your practice and your teacher. I hope this is helpful anyway and gives you a realistic idea about playing the violin.

Music is not just about filling hours and getting results as fast as possible

If you’re looking for the most efficient way to enjoy music, learning violin would be a VERY bad choice

The easiest way to enjoy music is to relax on the couch and listen to your favorite composer or artist.

If you want to enjoy playing an instrument as quickly and easily as possible, learn the four most using chords on the guitar in pop music. That’s about 10% of learning to sound decent on the violin.

Learning to play the violin is simply very time consuming no matter how efficiently you practice

I love the vibrations on my chest and the beautiful sound of my old German violin.

I love playing an hour of scales every day as it brings so much piece to my mind.

I love discovering new music and finding out how it sounds better… and better… and better.

I love finding creative solutions to technical problems and the fulfillment that brings when it works after hard work.

I love striving for perfection knowing nobody will ever achieve it.

I love this master who challenges me every day to become a better, more patient and more loving version of myself.

I love reaching for sky and getting a climpse of heaven in the small moments that everything comes together in just a couple of notes on this beautiful instrument.

And yes, that all costs a lot time.

If you love the violin, go for it!

You can start to play at any age. If you decide in favour of the violin, check out my free beginner course.

2 Comments

  1. Peter Clements

    What a great article Zlata, and so true in my limited experience. I started at age 70, I am now 77 and definitely still a beginner in the eyes of classical violinists but I love it and can play tunes just about as you described for the time scale. I am playing on a Czech violin that I got from you, using a Zlata bow at the moment. I love it.

    Reply
    • Violinist Zlata Brouwer

      Great to read that you’re still enjoying that beautiful Czech violin, Peter, I remember our Skype session about it :).

      Reply

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