Learning the Violin as an Adult
Have a go
Do you want to start learning the violin as an adult? Just go ahead and do it. You will never know how good you could have been until you give it a try. It takes a while to get past the scratchy stage but once you do all the hard work is worthwhile. You can just enjoy it on your own or join an amateur orchestra, or a small chamber group.Here I will give encouragement and some helpful tips, with photos to check you are doing things correctly.
Not an Easy Instrument to be Learning as an Adult
The violin has its difficulties. First you have to put up with sounding rather awful for quite a while, whereas piano sounds reasonably O.K. from the start. It is worth it to persevere. When you can play a little tune try to find someone to accompany you on the piano. The violin is intended to be played with other instruments. Once you have the harmonies supporting you it makes your melody line glow.
If you can afford lessons have them, but you can still have fun on your own, if you keep practising regularly. Little and often is the best way.
I had a seventy-year-old farmer come to me for lessons. He had made a start as a boy but not continued. Despite his gnarled farmer's hands he made good progress and joined in ensemble playing as an adult.
Follow the pictures below and you will be able to develop good posture of the hands. You should stand with your feet slightly apart with your left leg under the violin, to keep your centre of gravity correct. Place the violin with shoulder pad along the line of your collar bone, turn your head to the left slightly and drop it firmly onto the chin rest. The weight of your head should be sufficient to clamp the violin in place, leaving your left arm free to let go of the violin without dropping it. Now your left hand fingers are free to do their work.
I wish you every success in your playing. If you have anything to ask me ask in the guestbook below.
Advantages and Disadvantages
As an adult beginner on the violin everything is not stacked against you. The child has the advantage of supple fingers but you have the advantage of a life's experience. You will have the discipline to practise, once you set your mind to learn. You will know how to manage your time to fit practice in, whereas a child is reliant on a parent to do this for him.
You will also have experience of how a violin should sound, even though you will find it difficult to emulate at first. You will also probably have more chance to play with other people. Your determination to succeed will probably be greater than that of most children who will rely on a parent to keep them enthused. Your progress in reading music and understanding finger patterns will be faster than that of a child. So do not feel that the situation is helpless.
Almost an Adult When I Learnt the Violin
I was fourteen years old when I took up the violin. When I was nine I had taught myself to play the piano with the help of one piano book and a little guidance from my mother. Then at the Grammar School I had piano lessons when I was thirteen. When I was fourteen a new music teacher came on the scene. He had grey curly hair and a beard to match and looked a bit like Brahms. After assembly he asked for anyone interested in playing an orchestral instrument to stay behind. I had wanted to play the violin for some time. He was a great teacher and very dedicated about getting an orchestra started. He gave up most of his lunch time breaks so that he had time to teach us. We learnt in a group of about six.
One advantage of learning late like this is that you remember the difficulties you had with certain techniques and so can understand the problems your pupils are having.
The Parts of the Violin
The Tailpiece and Chin Rest
Here you can see the chin rest, obviously for your chin to rest on and also the tail piece which has the strings attached to it. We will see the fine tuners in another photo.
The Scroll and Pegbox
Here we see the pegs in the peg box. The strings pass through a hole in the peg and the peg is turned to hold the string. The peg at the left hand side on the top of the picture holds the G-string. the one on the right the D-string. The pegs at the bottom of the picture are the E-string on the left and the A-string on the right.
The bridge is shaped so that the strings are kept at different angles so that the bow can play them individually. You cannot bow a guitar because the strings are all in the same plane. In one sense the bridge keeps the strings up, but also the tension of the strings keeps the bridge in place.
As the strings vibrate the vibrations are directed by the bow towards the bridge. The vibrations are then passed down the sound post and around the body of the violin and out again by way of the F holes.
To send the vibrations along the strings the bow has to be held with the wood slightly away from the direction of the bridge, so that the hair of the bow will be slightly nearer the bridge, in this way the vibrations are directed towards the bridge.
The E string on the left of the picture would cut into the bridge if it did not have the protective, plastic sheath.
You need to check that your bridge is kept in the right position. It is possible for it to collapse if you do not do this from time to time. It is held in place by the tension of the strings, but it can be knocked out of position or move gradually out of position.
The Fine Tuner Screws
At the tail piece end of the violin the strings are attached to little attachments with screws. From here the violin can be fine tuned if there is difficulty tuning with the pegs.
The object shown here across the strings is a mute which can be moved into position on the bridge as required in various pieces of music. This produces a silvery, ethereal tone.
An F hole
The sound escapes here from the body of the violin.
The Sound Post inside the Violin
The sound post sits inside the violin connecting the belly to the back. It is positioned just under the bridge and transfers the vibrations, that is sound waves, to the sound box which has the typical violin shape which produces the distinctive sound of a violin. If the bridge falls down, the sound post will usually fall down too and need to be expertly positioned again. The position of the sound post makes a difference to the sound, according to how it is positioned in relation to the bridge.
Some Photographs to help you get the right positions of the hands, fingers and arms
You Really Need a Shoulder Pad
Make sure you choose your shoulder pad carefully. Some of them fall off too easily. It is helpful to have one that will fit in your violin case. You also need the right depth according to how long or short your neck is.
For Comfort Most People Need a Shoulder Pad
Hold the Bow with a Gently Bent Thumb
It is important to keep your thumb bent while holding the bow. If you keep your thumb straight you can damage the joint and possibly cause strain further up the thumb. This end of the bow is called the frog. The other end is the tip. When you draw the bow across the string, starting from the frog, it is known as a down bow. When you start from the tip it is an up bow. The French have a much better idea and call them pull and push.
The Bow Hold From Above
The fingers are gently curved and spread out
Very Bad Left Hand Posture
This is the way some beginners try to play and will just stop any real progress. Begin as you should go on. You will eventually need to move further up the finger board which is impossible this way as the wrist will bump into the main body of the violin and impede progress
Look at the distance here between the hand and the body of the violin. In this picture you can clearly see the peg box. The four strings are attached to four separate pegs through a hole in the middle of the pegs. To make the strings give a higher note you gently turn the peg away from you clockwise and also push into the box to wedge them in place. This must be done carefully or the strig might break. At the other end of the strings you will fine fine tuners which are easier to use.
The Left Arm is not Supporting the Violin
Place the violin under your jaw and along the collar bone. Raise your head, look left and let your head sink onto the chin rest. This will gently clamp the violin in place and your left arm will be completely free to do all the things it needs to do
Look at the Distance Between Thumb and Finger
Again I want to point out that the violin is NOT held up by the left hand. The violin is held by the shoulder and jaw. The left hand is simply brought up to the violin and completely unhampered so that the fingers are free to move and the arm to move up the violin when required.
See How the Fingers are Spaced on the Violin String
The fingers are placed on the A string. If we bowed with just the first finger it would give us the note B. If we bowed the second finger it would give us Csharp; and with the third finger D. If we played the open string that is without any fingers we would have A. If we play A,B,Csharp,D that would give us the first half of the A major scale. To complete the scale repeat the same pattern on the E string.
The Bow is Kept at Right Angles to the String
The bow has to be kept at right angles to the string in order to make the string vibrate evenly and produce a good tone
The Angle of the Bow on the E String
The right arm is low and relaxed to play the E string.
Get Some Tips on How to Play Twinkle, Twinkle
The Angle of the Bow on the A String
The Angle of the Bow on the D String
Angle of the Bow on the G String. Note the Raised Right Arm
So Many Instruments
Which is your favourite instrument?
Oh! To be able to play the violin like this.
There is nothing quite as inspiring as going to a concert with a world class violin soloist. Study the way they play and make up your mind to do the best you can to imitate them. We forget what vigour needs to be put into playing the violin. I have a friend who says that the violin is a man's instrument. What she means is that to play well you have to put a lot of physical energy into your playing. Watching orchestral players is also very rewarding.
If you are tackling quartet playing yourself, by all means watch and listen to a quartet playing. You might think that watching and listening to these wonderful players would make you lose heart, but I have always found it inspiring. Although live performances are the best there is much to be gained by watching good players on You-tube, such as the one below.
Let Some of Charlie Siem Rub off on You
Playing the violin with other adults
It is so much fun to play your violin with other people. At first this should be a pianist. Your efforts will sound so much better if your melody line is supported by the harmony a piano can give you. The violin is not meant to be played on its own except in the case of advanced and gifted players. When you have gained confidence from your sessions with a pianist it is time to join an amateur orchestra.
This is great fun and as violins are split into first and second violins you can join the second violins who play a lower part which is easier for you. This is extremely good for your sight reading as you have to keep in the right place on the music and no- one is going to stop if you get lost, you just have to find your way back in again.
It can be a bit hair raising at first but very worthwhile if you can keep your cool.It is all part of learning as an adult. The conductor is likely to be sympathetic as string players are always needed. They are much harder to find than wind players.Just be confident and have a go.
Chamber music is great fun for the learning adult
When you play your violin in the orchestra you have others with you playing the same part; when you play in chamber music, of which quartet playing is the most popular, you have a part all to yourself and you have to keep in time with the others. It is a good idea to find a fairly competent violinist to take the top part as in the quartets of Haydn and Mozart the top part is the most difficult. You need someone in charge to decide if things are going astray and to take everyone back to the beginning if things have got in a muddle.
Learn a piece bit by bit. You will be surprized how things improve as you practise. As with orchestral playing you will most likely be able to take the music away with you to do that all important practice. If the viola player and the cellist are a little better than you and the first violin still more competent you should have hours of fun together.
This means reading a piece of music for the first time and playing it as you go. It is very important to note the time signature and count the beat. For 4/4 time you will need to count 4 in your head, over and over. If you do this when you make a mistake you will know where you should be and then can join in again. Practise on your own being able to play a new piece right away.
This skill is necessary if you are to play in quartets. You need to find people who are not too impatient, to play with at first. The more you play with others the more your sight reading skills will improve. If you feel it would help to tap the beat with your foot don't do it, it will annoy the other players. However you can wriggle the end of your toes inside your shoe in time with the beat and no one will know.
If you play with players of your own standard you may breakdown a lot in the music and be unable to sort out what has gone wrong. It is better to play with better players who are tolerant and patient with you. If they see you make progress they will continue to play with you.
When I was fourteen a new music teacher came to our school and asked for volunteers to play various musical instruments. He started with strings, in order to make a good basis for forming an orchestra. I volunteered enthusiasticly. I had a violin at home. When I brought the violin in to school it was rejected by the teacher, but he supplied me with one to borrow from his small collection of instruments. I was so excited to be learning the violin.
We practised every day during the dinner hour. My enthusiasm was noted by the teacher and soon he was giving me individual lessons and my progress was rapid. Fourteen,for a starting age is very near to the experience of an adult and so I have written this page from my experience as much as anything.
Many people recommend learning the violin at a much earlier age, but that is no help to you if you did not have the opportunity. Whatever age you are, if you are determined, you can succeed sufficiently to have a very enjoyable pastime.
I remember the first time the orchestra played in public. It was on Speech Day when all the prizes were given out. I was not good enough to be in the orchestra at that stage. The noise was frankly awful. I remember stuffing my fingers in my mouth to stop myself laughing as most of the school was. We had an eminent person come to speak, some sort of relation of the Queen. He managed to produce a benign smile for the orchestra. It was a a poor start for the orchestra but it went on to become rather good in the years ahead.
Great Site About the Violin
- Violin Tuition
You can find lots of help on this site. It even has a pop-up tuner so you can tune your violin. There is also help with theory and an overview of the history of violin music.
Care of your violin
It is best to keep you violin in a strong case when it is not in use. If you have a quiet household and it is safe to leave your violin out on a piano or a table it can encourage practice as there is not the bother of getting it out, otherwise keep it in a strong case. Always wrap it in a soft cloth to prevent it being marked by the bow which is kept in the lid of the case.
Get your strings renewed after about two years as they will lose their tone and your playing will not be so enjoyable. It is a false economy to make them last much longer.
Prevent build-up of rosin on your violin, near the bridge, by simply removing it with a soft cloth frequently. You need to do this with the bow also. If you do not remove it, it will become black and sticky. The bow hairs can also become dirty. You should wash the hair with soap, not detergent. This will completely remove the rosin and like that your bow will make no sound on the violin! You have to renew the rosin on the bow. To do this take an old broken bit of rosin, place it on newspaper and wrap it up in it. Now take a hammer and strike the rosin in the paper until it is pounded to dust. Now you can easily apply the bow to the crushed rosin and quickly cover the bow hair once more. Apply rosin to the bow every day with just a few strokes and it will grip nicely.
One alarming thing that can happen to your violin is that the tail gut which attaches the tail piece, which holds the strings in place, can snap and it looks as if your violin is done for. Do not panic a violin repairer can soon put this right. It happens less frequently these days because the tail gut is no longer gut, but strong synthetic material. Enjoy playing your violin as an adult learner.
How about joining a barn dance band or playing for square dancing
Wow there's an idea. I know learning adult who have succeeded with this. I once started a barn dance band. It was called and still is called "The Lucy Lastic Band." Sounds like "Loose elastic band." If you live in the South West of England you might like to hire them.But to get back to you and barn dance. It is a great advantage to be able to play by ear for this as you can watch the dancers and adjust the rhythm if necessary. I never mastered that.
With me the band came from very humble beginnings and has now gone on to greater things. The violin part is very important, so if you want to show off here is your chance. A barn dance lasts about three hours so you will be quite busy. Much of the music is quite fast so you need to practice getting up to speed. If you are one of those clever people who can read music as well as play the violin by ear, you will be able to get used to new music on your own before playing with the others in your band.
If you get really good at this you can make a bit of extra money in the evenings. Barn dances often take place at weddings. They go well because everyone is in party mood. It is important to have a really good caller to teach the dances, someone who encourages people to join in without being too pushy. If you think it is your sort of thing have a go. You might need to get together with some musicians who are of your standard and work up from the bottom. All the best.
Could you play the violin?
Do you think you could learn to play the violin as an adult?
Advice on Practising
One good tip which may help you to practise more often, is to leave your violin out of its case. Then it is easy just to pick it up and begin playing. This is only possible if you live in a house with calm adults. Under other circumstances you will need to keep your violin in its case.
When tackling a new piece of music, work at small sections rather than struggling from beginning to end. As the saying goes,"How do you eat an elephant?" and the reply is,"One bite at a time."
It's the same with a piece of music, note by note. If you play all through a piece you will make slow progress. Little sections repeated many times can be joined together to make the whole piece. This is definitely the best way and the quickest way to learn a piece.
If you play the piano you have centimetre sized notes to find, you will always be in tune and only hit the wrong notes sometimes. Playing the violin is not so easy, a very tiny spot is the right place to be in tune. To stay in tune you have to listen carefully. Ears get tired and sometimes switch off. You must recognise this and switch them back on. It is better to do just ten minutes practice with concentration than to play along with your thoughts elsewhere. There is another reason for doing short times of practice at the start. Your left hand fingers will get sore if you play too long. Gradually they will develop little calluses and you will be able to play for longer. These calluses actually produce a sweeter tone.
Be disciplined and set aside some time to practise every day. It is more beneficial to do short practices every day than to do a large practice on one day a week. If you think of a toddler learning to walk it keeps trying over and over, nothing stops it from getting up and trying again. If violin playing was the same as walking some of us would still be crawling!!
You will practise more if you have a goal in mind, a lesson to attend or a concert to play at. If your desire to play is great, you will practise more.
One more important piece of advice. To keep the peace with your neighbours, if you have problems with sound proofing, buy a practice mute like the one in the photo below. It reduces the volume of your playing to a level which will not be heard by your neighbours. Always good to keep the peace, especially as you can relax when you practise, knowing you are annoying no one.
A Practice Mute - Essential to keep the peace with the neighbours
Tips for looking after your violin.
When not in use it is best to keep your violin in a violin case, to keep it from being bumped and scratched. Always put the bow in with the hair facing the outside edge of the case , or the hair may get caught and be damaged by being in contact with the fine tuning screws. From time to time the bow will need cleaning. The hair should be washed and dried and then new rosin re-applied. To do this place small bits of rosin in newspaper and cover it, then use a hammer to break up the rosin into tiny particles. Then rub the bow in this and you will soon have it covered again. The rosin has to be on the bow so that a good contact is made with the strings. Try playing without rosin and you will find the bow glides over the string without any noise. The grip that rosin gives is essential to produce a sound. For this reason you need to apply rosin to the bow often. It is however possible to overdo this.
Professionals change their strings very frequently, but after two years would be acceptable with an amateur. New strings produce a better bouncier tone, but the other consideration is cost.
Keep your violin away from strong sunlight and radiators as the tuning will be affected.
Here's how it looks to play C natural
In the photo below the violinst is playing D but the second finger, the one second from the left is C natural. It is easy enough to place the second finger close to the first but when you come to play the D it will feel as if it has to stretch more than usual to get the note in tune. This is because there is stretching between the second and third fingers, whereas when you were playing with C#'s the third finger was supported by the second. Now it has to stand alone. I hope you will find this helpful.
Playing with C natural
The second finger from the left is in the C natural position. Note it is near the first finger, whereas C # would be near the third finger. Of course the third finger would have to be lifted for the note C natural to be played.
Vibrato is a left hand technique which enhances the sound of each note. It is a little tricky to learn but once mastered becomes an integral part of one's playing. I always teach it in the following way:- Hold the violin in the usual way and then slide the hand up the neck of the violin until your wrist is touching the body of the violin. Imagine that your left wrist is joined to the violin with a hinge. Flap your hand to and fro keeping the wrist attached to the violin. When you are used to this movement, place your second finger on the string and make the hand movement.
The finger must not slide along the string but oscillate slightly sharp and slightly flat of the note. Try this whilst drawing a single bow. This is difficult at first because your bow hand will want to imitate the oscillations of the left hand. It is fine at first to do wide, slow movements with the left hand; these can then be speeded up. It is all a matter of determination and practice. Vibrato can also come from the arm, through a movement from the elbow upwards to the hand.
When you have mastered this you will find your playing greatly enhanced.
A Great Choice of Music for the Beginner and the More Advanced Pupil
I used these books a lot when teaching, simply because they contained such tuneful pieces. I did not teach the Suzuki Method as such. In this method the violin is taught by rote and imitation, not by reading the music. The original idea was that just as a baby learns its mother tongue from its mother so it could also learn to play the violin as it was taught alongside the mother. I'm not sure what the long term success rate has been with this method.
I'm not particularly keen on the Suzuki method of teaching but the music chosen is excellent.