Do you want to learn the violin? Here are some great resources to get you started.
A quick note: I (Isvari) am an expert pianist and so for me the violin adventure has been of learning a new instrument, not of learning music itself. So these tips are for those of you who know music technique, such as how to read music, how to compose, how notes and scales and modes work, and what types of pieces you want to play. For more about how to learn music technique, read here: [coming soon].
Second quick note: Music is one of the few areas where we, champions of all things free and open, think you should probably hire a teacher if you’re serious. It’s impossible to correct posture, bowing, and sound on your own or even across a video. Classes are far better than advice or mentorship when it comes to music.
What to buy
I recommend renting or buying a violin in person from a store. This way, you can play a few notes, at least open strings, and make sure you like the way it sounds. They will also show you the differences between different grades of violin and suggest what’s best for you.
If you’re an adult, you want a 4/4 full sized violin. You also want to get a chin rest (these usually come on the violin), a shoulder rest, a bow, rosin, a violin case, and a cleaning cloth at a minimum.
There are three types of violins you can buy in general: Student, Intermediate, and Professional. I recommend starting with an Intermediate violin if you have any experience with music. You will be able to tell the difference in quality and student violins just don’t sound as good.
Here is a list of good brands for beginners: https://takelessons.com/blog/violin-brands-beginner-students-z08
Here is a list of good places to buy violins online: https://www.rollingstone.com/product-recommendations/lifestyle/best-violins-888039/
How to play the violin
The key to learning any instrument is to practice routinely and as often as possible. Practice. Practice. Practice. You want to start learning skills slowly and use a metronome to increase your speed at being able to play in different ways.
If you want to learn to play the violin well enough to entertain friends and follow along with pop music, it will probably take you continuous practice (about an hour 3/4 times a week) for two years.
Once you master a skill, find pieces to play (there is a lot of sheet music online) that let you practice that skill. Always be practicing an old skill, learning a new skill, and stretching yourself to slowly experience a third one. This way you’re always pushing your boundaries and experimenting, keeping yourself engaged, and growing your ability to play the instrument.
Here are some basic to advanced violin skills with good tutorials I’ve found in each area:
- Learn how to tune your violin.
- Learn how to hold your violin.
- Learn how to use your bow. This is also good, but I do recommend a shoulder rest, unlike the woman in this video.
- Learn how to rosin your bow and how much rosin is correct.
- Learn how to use your shoulder rest.
- Learn how to clean your violin.
- Learn how to play open strings.
- Learn string crossings. This and this are also useful. And this is funny and surprisingly helpful.
- Learn scales. (I learned by ear with my piano, which is another option.) Here is a helpful graphic video about where notes are on the violin. Just keep practicing so you know where your fingers need to be and improve your ability to hear mistakes.
- Decide when to shift.
- Learn vibrato. Another good link. And another. In my opinion, this is the single most important thing to learn to do well on the violin.
- Learn detache. (Some bowing basics here before you learn more types of bowing.)
- Learn martele. Another link.
- Learn spiccato/sautille. Another link.
- Learn ricochet.
- Learn expressive phrasing. Another link. This is a funny video about how important phrasing is; it’s really the difference between notes and music.
- Learn pizzicato. (There is both right hand and left hand.) Good description of left-hand pizzicato here. Left-hand pizzicato is honestly one of the things that’s almost impossible without a teacher.
- Learn semiquavers. Other tips for playing fast here. This is more about practice than technique, in my opinion.
- Learn glissandos. Just slide your finger. It’s beautiful. That’s it.
- Practice arpeggios.
- Learn trills. This series also talks about more detailed technique. More exercises.
- Learn sul tasto.
- Learn double stop.
- Learn octaves.
- Learn artificial harmonics.
- Learn chords. More here. (In my opinion, at this point, just learn the piano. :P)
What Pieces to Learn
Here are some places to find free sheet music.
You can also usually find sheet music by googling the name of the song and “free sheet music.” For example, I found this after Googling “Tosca Fantasy free sheet music.” (This is pretty much my favorite violin piece of all time.)
Tip: Ignore people who say something is too complicated for you to play yet. All that means is it will take more hours of practice for you to play it well. But it pays off and you’ll be really happy you did. Just play what makes you happy.
I recommend also learning to play pop songs and accompaniments by ear. Many violin pieces are just single notes and can take the place of the singer in pop music. It’s a great way to impress your friends and continue learning to play well. In addition, it’s easier to practice music and know if your fingers are on the right places if it’s a song you’ve heard a million times. You’ll know if something’s wrong.
Some of my favorite YouTube violinists and songs
(This is not complete and there are tons of other amazing people out there.)
It’s always a good idea to watch other violinists to get tips on how they play, phrasing (how to make music sound like music and not robotic notes), and stay motivated.
Edvin Marton. This guy composed some of my all-time favorite violin pieces, including:
Taylor Davis. She does a lot of violin covers of pop songs.
Caitlin DeVille. She does a lot of electric violin covers of pop songs.
DSharp. Also does covers of pop songs.
David Garrett. He does a good mix of classical music and pop covers and has great technique.
Katy Adelson. She does the single best performance of Swallowtail Jig and also solid tutorials for beginning violinists.
Samvel Yervinyan (Yanni’s violinist) Just crazy, crazy good. Check out The Storm.
I like a good mix of innovation/composition and skill, so I’m not a fan of either people who are just classical violinists or people who only market on YouTube with great videos but aren’t as good at the instrument.
That being said, two of the best at the technical extreme and the marketing/video extreme are Hilary Hahn and Lindsey Sterling respectively.
Bonus: Two Set Violin. Amazing comedy violin channel and motivation to practice. Plus, they are crazy good violinists.