Whenever anyone says, “Wow! You play so many instruments! How did you learn?,” I often say: “mostly, I taught myself!”
Sure, I had many inspiring musicians around me to talk with and to learn from – but except for the violin, I have never taken any consistent formal lessons on any of the instruments I play. Essentially, I learned to play most instruments on my own. Over the years I have taught myself the piano, the guitar, and many other instruments to be able to play with them in bands & music groups.
Combined with the fact that I am a violin teacher and violinist for 16+ years, I feel I have valuable information to share on how you can go about learning the violin on your own.
So, what were my tricks? How did I learn so many instruments on my own? And how can you go about learning the violin by yourself? There’s no getting away from the fact that it takes a long time and a lot of personal dedication. Anyone who says you can learn the violin in just a few months is lying. You might be able to play a simple tune after a quick crash course with a violin teacher, but it won’t be enough to join a jam session, play in an orchestra or even play along with a recording without scratching and squeaking. (If you’d like to see what you could realistically learn as an adult beginner in 1-5 years of playing the violin with video examples, you might like to read my article “How Long Does it Actually Take to Learn the Violin?”).
The key to learning to play any instrument well, including the violin, is to throw yourself into the deep end. During the time I made the most progress, I practiced every day, almost all my friends were musicians and basically, music was the center of my whole life for a while. As a young girl, I created lists in my diary of how much I had practiced which instrument to discipline myself to practice more. It was difficult sometimes, to practice new instruments and compare myself with all the awesome musicians I had around me. But I also believe it was vital to my success because it was a constant reminder that I needed to practice.
One thing that was extremely helpful in learning new instruments, is that I slowly developed ways to practice that worked for me and helped me to learn a new instrument more quickly. So, this is my personal advice to learn the violin by yourself, which includes all the strategies I used and proved to be very helpful to me.
How to Learn the Violin by Yourself in 6 (Not-so) Simple Steps
1. Spend at least 30 minutes a day practicing scales & basic violin exercises
Wait! Don’t leave the article just yet. I know you probably don’t like practicing scales. Most of my violin students don’t like scales when they first start playing. After all, we started playing the violin to play our favorite songs. Not to practice boring scales, right?
Funnily enough, after a while most of my violin students LOVE to practice their scales. The thing is, if you want to learn the violin effectively (and not take 20+ years to play a tune beautifully) practicing scales is THE way to go. You could see practicing scales as a highway to better intonation.
Of course, you will also learn intonation when practicing songs. But when you practice your scales and arpeggios, you will learn it 3 times faster. Scales are the best way to focus on all the basics aspects of your playing: intonation, violin hold, bow hold, tone production… And if you notice how fast you start improving at violin playing, you don’t want to go back.
If you practice scales and exercises, make sure that you choose ones that will progressively get more difficult. In that way you will get to learn new techniques with every scale and exercise that you practice. So start practicing scales right from the start, to make sure you will learn as effectively as possible.
2. Practice pieces, take the hardest parts out and practice only those
If there would be ONE secret to learning to play the violin beautifully by yourself, it would be: LISTEN TO YOURSELF!
If you don’t have a teacher, this skill is especially important. If you practice for hours a day, but don’t listen well to yourself and analyze your playing for mistakes, you might make no progress at all.
If you practice your pieces, make sure to listen very well to yourself. Do you like the way it sounds? Is it in tune? Do you use the correct bowing technique to make it sound pretty? And if not, how could you improve it? Then, only focus on those areas of your playing that you wish to improve.
Sometimes it is very difficult to listen to yourself while you are playing at the same time. Especially when you are just starting out with learning the violin, there are so many things you already have to look for: correct bow hold, violin position, if your fingers are in the right place. It gets even harder if you also have to analyze yourself at the same time.
So how do you go about it? The simple answer is: your phone! Video tape yourself while you are practicing and look back it afterwards to analyze your playing.
In my online violin academy for adults, Julia’s Violin Academy, my students can submit their personal videos for feedback to Victoria. Victoria is our 2nd violin teacher at Julia’s Violin Academy. As an assistant concertmaster of the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra and solo violinist in many musicals and film productions, we are proud to call her a teacher at our Academy! And I have noticed something fun!
Often my students have already learned so much from recording the video, even BEFORE they sent the video in! Just by watching themselves play, they became aware of mistakes they made that they didn’t realize before.
3. Listen to violin music as much as possible
One of the things that is so difficult about violin playing, is that you need to have a very good ear in order to have proper intonation. One of the best ways to develop your ear is: LISTENING to music! Especially violin music.
When I first started playing violin I listened to violin music every day, almost without a break. I listened to all the famous violin concertos, Bach, orchestral pieces and even listened to the CDs of my Suzuki Violin Method book on repeat…
If you want to optimally use your time, make sure to listen to violin music as much as possible, so you will develop your ear and get a better feeling for musicality, rhythm, and intonation.
4. Watch other, more experienced violinists play
And don’t only watch them, but try to analyze them at the same time. What kind of bowing techniques are they using? At which part of the string are they playing to get their tone as a result?
When you watch other violinists play, you will learn a lot, even when not being consciously aware of it. If you have a chance, go to local concerts. If you live in a city, there are often many opportunities to go to smaller violin concerts for a low price. Many music schools will even offer you to watch the concerts of their students for free, so they will have an audience to practice performing with. Immerse yourself in an environment where you constantly see other violinists play.
5. Make friends with other violin players
Did you ever hear the saying “You are the average of the 5 people closest to you?” Well, it’s true! It is much easier to learn to play the violin in a supportive environment with friends that understand your passion for music and why you are practicing for hours a day to learn an instrument.
Learning the violin is very difficult. If you are going to do it well, you need supportive people around you to help you with it.
Your violin friends will understand your struggles and motivate you to keep pushing forward. They will remind you that it is normal that you are sounding like a crying cat for at least a few months and that it is part of the process. They will really be understanding the difficulty of the pieces you play and how much you have practiced to get there. Your violinists friends will give you the strength to keep practicing.
I feel like one of the biggest contributors to my ability to play many instruments, is having a friend group and family that was very supportive of me taking time to practice and that motivated me to keep pushing through.
6. Find a bigger purpose for your practice mission
Ask yourself why you want to learn the violin….. Do you want to connect more with other people in your life? Would you like to have a creative outlet? Do you want to join the jam session or orchestra in your town? Do you want to learn something amazing to remind yourself of what you are capable of? Do you want to be a part of long-lasting family traditions of playing an instrument? Is it a long childhood dream that you want to fulfill?
If you have cleared for yourself WHY you want to learn the violin, you will find the motivation to keep practicing, even in times when it is very difficult and seems impossible to learn the violin.
So there you have it, 6 steps to learning the violin on your own. Follow these steps along or a similar path, and there will come a day when someone compliments your violin playing and inquires how you learned to play the violin so well. And then, you can proudly respond, “I taught myself!”
If you want to become a violinist, make sure to also check out my post “How to Play the Violin: The Complete Step-by-Step Guide” with more technical instructions from buying an instrument to playing in a band or orchestra. Enjoy!
Which step you’re at currently? Please share in the comments below, I always love hearing from you!
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