The Beginner’s Guide to Learning Violin
Written by Trala teachers (with feedback from our students)
It’s never too late to learn violin!
Whether you’re picking up an instrument for the first time or revisiting an old hobby, consider this your go-to guide for learning violin. Bookmark this page for video lessons on violin bow hold and tuning, a checklist for building your perfect practice space, tips for finding a great violin teacher anywhere in the world, and more.
As you’re first getting started with violin, focus your attention on perfecting your posture and violin bow hold. Little details like how your pinky rests on your bow, the shape of your wrist, and the way you stand can have a monumental impact on how you sound.
Check out these instructional videos from Geoff Dolce, Head of Curriculum at Trala, to get you started on the fundamentals of good violin posture and a comfortable bow hold.
Like any new skill, holding your violin and bow will feel awkward at first but will become more natural with practice and time. If you’re unsure how to hold your instrument, here’s a step-by-step video for holding your violin with proper posture.
Developing a natural violin bow hold will give your more control over your tone, technique, and volume. The next time you play violin, pay close attention to your bow hold and return to this video to check your form.
Every time you practice, hone in on one element of your posture. For example, if you’re learning how to play the song Amazing Grace, spend your practice session paying close attention to the position of your left hand. How does its placement and shape impact your tone and intonation?
If you need a refresher on violin posture and form, watch this short video from Trala’s Head of Curriculum.
Violinists use both hands equally, so left-handed students are often encouraged to learn violin using the same side and posture as right-handed individuals. That being said, there are many musicians who choose to bow their violin with their left hand due to injury or personal preference. If you’re one of these rare violinists, you’re in good company - the comedian Charlie Chaplin, the famed violinist and conductor Paavo Berglund, the multitalented composer Niccolo Paganini, and many Trala students learned to bow with their left hand.
Picture yourself playing violin one year from today.
Are you serenading a loved one? Auditioning for a local ensemble? Sharing your favorite song with friends and family?
No matter your end goal, daily practice will be your ticket to success.
When it comes to learning violin, consistency is key. Set a realistic practice schedule, and stick with it. Practicing for just 15 minutes a day will help you more than if you were to commit to a single halfday practice session once a week. Don’t be afraid to repeat the same skill or section of a piece again and again. You may find that your biggest violin breakthroughs come through methodical, repetitive practice.
If you’re a parent, college student, or work long hours, you might find it easier to practice first thing in the morning or right before you go to sleep. Leave your violin case in a safe, high-traffic area of your home for a visual cue to practice, or set an alarm on your phone as a reminder for when it’s time to play.
Busy beginner violinists should also consider habit stacking, the process of linking your new habit of practicing violin to a longtime habit that’s part of your daily routine. For example, if you set the table every night at 7pm, keep your violin case in the dining room so that you can practice for 30 minutes while dinner is in the oven. If you already do yoga every morning, keep your violin case by your yoga mat and practice for 20 minutes before your sun salutations.
Set yourself up for success by creating the perfect atmosphere for practice. Find a quiet, private space in your home where you can play violin without fear of being interrupted. If you live in an apartment building, have roommates, or want to practice while the kids are in bed, purchase a violin practice mute so you can play for as long as you’d like without bothering anyone.
Consider this checklist when creating the perfect practice space for a beginner violinist:
Privacy - Do I have the peace and quiet I need to play without distraction or self consciousness?
Lighting - Can I see my music and instrument without straining my eyes?
Motivation - Do I have a practice mantra or poster of my favorite violinist to inspire me to keep practicing?
Supplies - Do I have rosin, a chin rest, a music stand, a pencil and notebook, a phone to record myself, a tuner, and a metronome?
One final piece of practice advice: your violin is a sensitive instrument that needs to be tuned at the start of every practice session. Practicing on an out-of-tune instrument slows down your progress and makes it hard to create a beautiful sound. Think about it this way: when your open strings are out of tune, every note you play will sound wrong, even when your fingers are in the right place. For tips on how to tune your violin, check out Violin Tuning 101.
When you’re first learning violin, you’ll make some strange, scratchy sounds. Your bowhold will feel awkward and reading music might not come as easily to you as you’d like. This is normal. You’re not a slow learner, you’re just in the process of learning a very difficult and rewarding instrument.
Learning violin takes patience, dedication, and perseverance, but with the right mindset, anyone can do it. If you commit to a consistent practice routine today, you’ll be making beautiful music by this time next year.
While it may take some time for you to feel comfortable jamming with friends or performing on stage, resist the temptation to rush your violin journey. You’ll find more joy in your daily practice if you take your time, return again and again to foundational skills and exercises, and celebrate the growth you’re seeing along the way.
With slow and steady learning in mind, here are five learning tips for violin beginners of all ages:
1. Go slow to learn fast.
When you’re first learning a new song, start slowly and practice with a metronome. Learning a new piece too quickly can lead to sloppy playing, poor technique, and bad habits. Start your practice session at a tempo that feels almost too slow to sustain. When you’re able to play smoothly without stopping or making a mistake, up your tempo incrementally by two beats per minute until you’re able to play at the correct speed.
2. Practice without your instrument.
When you get stuck on a new technique or life gets busy, resist the urge to take a few days off from your practice routine. Instead, try practicing without your instrument. Practice your bowhold on a pencil. Listen to a piece you’ve been practicing and sing along with the music. Count and clap the rhythms of a song you’re stuck on. When you pick up your violin the next day, you might be surprised by what you learned during your time away!
3. Record yourself.
Every week, take a few moments to record a short video of your practice session. Rewatch old practice videos to see how much you’ve learned and spot opportunities for growth that you might have otherwise missed.
4. Explore many genres.
The violin is a versatile instrument that’s at home in both a symphony orchestra and bluegrass band. Follow your musical interests and don’t be afraid to ask your teacher to help you learn the pop, country, jazz, or hip-hop songs you love. Think beyond the concert hall and go listen to your favorite Kanye West, Shania Twain, or Led Zeppelin album. If you listen carefully, you’ll likely hear the violin!
5. Find a practice buddy.
Find a friend who’s learning a new instrument or skill and hold each other accountable. Whether you call each other once a week to show off what you’ve learned, collaborate on a performance, or learn a new piece together, sharing your progress with someone else will build your confidence as a violinist and help you stick with your practice schedule.
As you learn violin, getting feedback on your technique and how you sound will help become a stronger musician and avoid bad habits. Feedback can take many forms including a private lesson teacher, group classes, or an app for learning violin.
When you’re meeting a new violin teacher for the first time, ask yourself the following questions:
Do they understand and support my goals?
Are they used to working with students who share my experience level and age group?
Do they make me feel comfortable, motivated, and confident about my abilities to learn violin?
Are they actively engaged and invested in my learning?
Can they accommodate my schedule?
Are they able to teach me the genres I want to play and techniques I want to learn?
If you’d prefer to learn on your own or need more structure in your self-directed practice time, go beyond YouTube videos and look for a tool that will allow you to get feedback on how you sound and the notes you play. Consider purchasing a chromatic tuner or downloading Trala to make sure that you’re playing in tune and developing a beautiful tone.
Looking for inspiration? Read up on other violin students who began their musical journey later in life.