Is violin hard to learn?

Violin is one of the most popular musical instruments in the world and as such, many people want to learn how to play it.

Unfortunately, many aspiring violinists' desire to learn is often overshadowed by the fear it is too late, they don’t have enough time, or that violin is too hard to learn. 

If you’re struggling to learn the violin, or debating on whether or not to even begin, don’t worry, you’re not alone! Chances are you’re reading this because you’ve also dreamed of learning the violin and you want to know the answer for yourself. 

Is violin hard to learn? 

The short answer is yes. But with some hard work and perseverance, not only can you be successful in your new venture, you can actually have fun learning! 

It is true, the violin is one of the most difficult instruments to learn - and for good reason. While it only has four strings, it presents its own set of unique challenges for beginning violin players. Anyone who has ever tried to play the violin has struggled at some point along the way. 

But by knowing the challenges ahead of time, you can better prepare to overcome them, avoid bad habits, and enjoy a life-time of music making. 

Begin By Knowing Your Why 

Take a moment to think about your “why." What is the reason you want to learn the violin? It may be that you want to learn a Bach concerto, play for your friends and family, or maybe you just want to have fun picking up a new hobby. You may have even heard the violin in the background of one of your favorite soundtracks or saw a violin virtuoso in concert and thought, “I wish I could do that!”. 

Whatever your “why” is, it will ultimately keep you motivated whenever you feel frustrated or discouraged. It will help you face the challenges of learning violin head-on and you’ll have a better chance of reaching your goals.

Let’s look at some of the reasons violin is hard to learn and how you can set yourself up for success from the very beginning.

Physical Placement

As a beginner, it is hard to just pick up any instrument for the first time and make a beautiful sound. This is especially true for the violin and any other bowed string instruments, like the cello, bass, or viola.

The first time you pick up your violin and try to play, you may feel a little awkward and make some unpleasant sounds. Don’t let this discourage you! Even the best professional violinist you can think of didn’t make beautiful sounds when they first started. 

In order to produce a pleasant sound, your hands have to move in completely contrasting ways. One hand moves the bow on a horizontal plane while the other works on a vertical plane on the fingerboard. This doesn’t come naturally to the human body. It’s counterintuitive - like patting your head while rubbing your stomach (talk about something being difficult!) 

You can overcome this challenge by practicing one thing at a time in the beginning. Instead of jumping in and learning how to use both hands at once, take some time to get more comfortable holding the violin and playing pizzicato (plucking the strings). Then, put the violin down and practice holding your bow and moving your bow arm. 

Bowing Technique

The bow makes the violin sing - it’s the voice of the instrument. Traditionally, your right arm and hand control the bowing technique. Gaining proper control of the bow without dropping it, or sending it flying through the air, can be difficult for beginners.

Instinct tells us to grab the bow like we would any other object, like a pencil or a water bottle. But there is a specific way to hold the bow so you have control over its weight and speed. A bow hold might seem hard to master at first, but after determined practice it becomes second nature. 

You may be reading this and wondering, what if I’m left-handed? Does that make the violin more difficult to learn? 

You can bow with your left hand if you choose to. Because violinists use both hands equally (and they are both equally awkward in the beginning), it’s really up to your preference.  

Either way, with a little rosin, some guidance on technique, and a lot of practice, you’ll be able to make your violin sing! 

The Fingerboard 

Traditionally, the left hand controls the fingerboard. On many other string instruments, like the guitar, the fingerboard has frets. So, for a guitarist, as long as their guitar is in tune, they play in tune.

However, the violin is a fretless instrument. So having the correct distances between your fingers and pressing down on the exact right place on the violin strings is how you play different notes correctly.

This sounds hard, but it’s not impossible! There are methods to make this easier in the beginning, like putting finger tapes on your violin to help you know where to place your fingers.

You can also practice finger placement using pizzicato. Beyond that, ear training and repetition is key to overcoming this challenge. Eventually, muscle memory takes over, and knowing where to place your fingers on the fingerboard becomes like second nature. Then you can move on to more advanced left hand techniques like vibrato. 

Now that you know a little more about what makes the violin hard to learn and a few strategies to help, knowing how to set yourself up for success is equally important. 

Finding The Right Equipment

First, you’ll need a good violin, a bow, rosin, an extra set of violin strings (accidents happen!), and of course a case to keep your instrument protected. That sounds expensive, but it doesn’t have to be.

One important thing to keep in mind while you search for the perfect beginner instrument is that violins purchased from sites like Amazon aren’t shipped ready to play, they’re often not even inspected by a qualified luthier. This means you may have to pay a music teacher at a local shop to put on violin strings, and adjust the tuning pegs and bridge. This often results in putting more money into setup and repair fees than the instrument is worth. 

It is best to find a good local violin shop, or look at trusted online shops that specialize in violins. Purchasing or renting a good violin from a music shop will give you the best value for your money and ensure you’re set up for success!

Finding a Good Violin Teacher  

A good teacher will take the time to understand your goals and support the “why” behind your desire to learn. It’s important that you feel comfortable communicating your goals so they know exactly how to help you achieve them. 

They will also give you feedback to help you know that you’re hitting the right notes, using the correct bowing technique.

A big part of violin lessons is also learning music theory, like how to read the notes and symbols in your sheet music and understanding the techniques in the songs you are playing. 

The right teacher will help you feel comfortable and confident in your ability to learn while challenging you to strengthen your technique and skills. 

If you choose to use a self-guided method of learning, it’s still a great idea to check in with a teacher from time to time, as they can monitor your progress and offer you more tips and encouragement. 

When you download Trala on your iPhone or Android, you’ll be matched with the right violin teacher for your age, experience level, and musical interests. You’ll meet with your teacher one a week or on a monthly basis on your own schedule, from your own home. Your teacher will become your mentor and friend, someone who’s invested in your development as a musician and can encourage you to hit your goals. 

Playing Music You Like 

Many think of the violin as a strictly classical instrument. This is not the case! The violin has evolved far beyond the classical genre. No matter what kind of music you like, chances are there’s sheet music out there for it or a teacher that can help you learn it. 

If you are only learning one style of music or from one method book, such as Suzuki, you may feel stuck and become discouraged - especially as an adult student. Learning violin music in the styles and genres you are interested in will keep you motivated and help give you the sense of accomplishment you need to push forward. 

If your goal is to learn to play classical violin concertos, jam along to your favorite pop song, shred in a neighborhood rock band, or improvise with a local jazz group, playing the type of music that interests you from day 1 is important to an enjoyable learning experience. 

Knowing How to Practice

While learning any new instrument takes discipline and practice, this doesn’t mean you have to devote hours upon hours of daily practice to achieve your goals. You’ll benefit from focused practice sessions far more than from honing in the hours and watching the clock.

Instead, focus on gradual improvement and making steady progress. Developing the habit of practicing is very important. The thought of consistent practice may seem overwhelming, but that’s when you really get results! 

It’s not necessarily how much you practice, but that you practice consistently. Pick a time 4-5 days a week and make it a habit. You'll surprise yourself with how quickly you learn! 

Showing Determination

Don’t rush through the learning process. Don’t worry about perfection or getting to an advanced skill level right away. The aim is not to become a virtuoso overnight, but again, to gradually progress. Remember to enjoy the journey rather than stressing about reaching the destination. 

One of the best things you can do is take the time to push through periods of frustration and try your best to have fun!

There’s no reason you can’t become a great violin player, no matter your current skill level, age, or circumstances.

That’s where remembering your “why” comes in. It’s not so much about your age or how much time you have to devote to learning and practicing, but your desire to persevere in the long run.

By using these keys for success, you can overcome every single one of these challenges and reach your goals. 

In the end, while violin playing can be hard work, take a lot of time, and even be a little humbling in the beginning - you’ll find the journey of learning violin is just as satisfying as the end result. 

Many students find learning violin to be a cathartic experience, one that helps them unwind after a busy day or process difficult emotions. Learning violin through a community like Trala will connect you to violinists all over the world and can even bring new friendships into your life. Nothing feels better than learning a new skill or song after a few weeks of mindful practice. 

So, instead of thinking of how hard it may be to learn violin, consider it a challenge you can overcome, and enjoy the benefits of your hard work! Don’t forget -  you can do this! 

Ashley Hicks
If you want to take a deep dive into Bluegrass fiddle technique, create a shimmering, silvery tone when playing Elgar, or learn to read sheet music for the first time, your Trala teacher will give you the support and mentorship you need to learn (and love!) violin.

Learn violin at any age, from anywhere.

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Photography by Orel Chollette
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