Can You Learn the Violin Yourself?

You can, however there are some very important things that you should know to ensure that you can achieve your long-term goals. Learning the violin is very difficult for everybody. There are some aspects of it that are truly frustrating and can drive you crazy. If you are not aware of these challenges ahead of time, you can quickly lose your drive to practice and you’ll want to quit. There are just a few things, and if you can get these correct from the beginning, you greatly increase the chances that you’re going to love learning the violin. If you’re trying to learn the violin without a teacher there are four things that will probably trip you up, so if you know about these four challenges right from the beginning, then you can be paying attention to them and you greatly increase your chance of success.

I came across this video this past weekend and thought it was quite a good “reminder” for those of us learning on our own. Below, I have recorded the important points discussed in the video.

Knowing how to practice.

Knowing how to practice is very important. A lot of people think that how much you practice is the most important, but it’s not; it’s knowing how to practice. So, how do you practice properly?

First is consistency. Consistency is key. Consistency is more important than how much you practice. So, pick a time four or five days a week and practice at the same time each day so that way you’re practicing becomes habit; it becomes something that you almost can’t do. Because it’s habitual, because it’s consistent, you’ll be surprised how fast you rack up good time practicing your instrument.

The second part of successful practice is playing something correctly as many times as you can. The speed at which you practice is not necessarily important; you just want to make sure you practice something correctly as many times as you can. The easiest way to do this is use the three times rule. Play something correctly in a row one, two, three times without making any mistakes, and then you’ve probably learned the passage. Then speed up what you’re practicing and then do it again three times in a row. Your practice sessions will be much more efficient.

The third part of successful practice is using a metronome. This kind of goes along with the second part. So, when you’re playing something correctly as many times as you can, you want to use a metronome. A metronome will give you consistency.

Left hand technique

There are just a couple things, a couple errors, that students, especially ones without teachers, almost always make, and these errors prevent them from being successful and enjoying their practice because it holds them back almost immediately.

First, you want to make sure that your wrist is never up or pushed out. Your wrist should basically be straight. If you were to drop your arm and raise it up whatever natural position it likes to be in, that’s pretty much what it can be when you’re playing. You never want to have your wrist pointing out and never want to have your wrist touching the neck of the violin.

The second thing about good left hand technique is you want to make sure that your thumb is always attached to your first finger. So, wherever that first finger goes your thumb goes opposite your first finger. They are best buddies. So, any time you’re in first or second or third or fourth position the thumb always moves with that first finger. The worst thing you can do is to move the theft thumb independently of that first finger. Keep them together.

The last big trap that you want to make sure you don’t fall into with your left hand is picking your fingers up. When you put them down make sure you do not pick your fingers up. When you put them down keep your fingers down. A general rule is you want to keep your fingers down unless you have to pick them up. If you’re picking your fingers up, then what you’re doing is creating a lot of inefficiency and you’re working a lot harder. This will make it much harder for you to play quickly and it’ll make it much harder for you to play in tune. Especially with scales, make sure you keep your fingers down. Pick them up when you go to the next string. In the long-term you’ll be much more successful with your pitch and your speed.

Holding your bow properly

The third trap that people fall into very easily, because the proper technique is so counterintuitive, is holding your bow properly. Beginners almost always, especially those who don’t have a teacher, play with a straight pinkie. You want to avoid this. When you’re first playing the violin it’s very difficult to not do this because this feels a lot better and stronger, and when you have bend your pinkie it feels like you are going to drop your bow, but remember when you’re playing your instrument you don’t hold your bow up, the violin holds your bow up. All you’re doing is guiding that bow and what you want eventually is this flexibility. You’ll never get that flexibility, you’ll never get smooth bow changes, and you’ll never be able to bounce your bow unless you have flexibility. You can only have flexibility if from the beginning you learn to play with a bent pinky on your bow. So, as a rule, you want to remember bent thumb and a bent pinky on your bow. Those two joints need to be able to move.

The other mistake with the bow arm that beginners make, especially those without teachers, is that they don’t allow their elbow to move right, so when they bow, they don’t move their elbow and then their bow goes crooked. When your bow goes crooked your sound can be pretty bad because you’re not playing in the right spot. You need to allow your arm to bend at the elbow.

Learn step by step using a good book

When you’re learning the violin by yourself without a teacher, you need a guide. The best way to do this is to use a good beginning book and follow the book step by step. It will keep you on track and you can check your progress. Use a good book for at least six months or a year at least. A good guide will give your practice sessions good structure.

  5 comments for “Can You Learn the Violin Yourself?

  1. MoonShadows
    February 26, 2020 at 4:43 am

    I have visited Zlata’s website often. It is a treasure trove on information, resources and help.

  2. Stewart
    February 26, 2020 at 4:38 am

    Hello Me (Stewart) again,

    I would like to recommend an excellent violin teacher whose web site provides free video and some book access to all beginners.
    Her name is Zlata Brouwer and is Dutch living in the Netherlands (Holland).
    The web site is look under the MORE heading for a lot of help.
    I have contributed some advice in the past so feel free to mention me.
    Many of her videos can also be found on YouTube by simply entering : ‘Zlata Brouwer Violinist’ , and a wealth of help is available. Yes, I have been able to find something myself of help.
    Good luck.

  3. Peter
    February 24, 2020 at 5:29 am

    I’ve been self-teaching for five months now, and I’m feeling fairly confident about my progress. There are a few tunes I can play which survive the ‘three times through’ metric, and my intonation is gradually improving. My time-keeping is rubbish, though; I will have to work on that.
    Anywayup, I have doubts and I will be seeing a teacher at least once to get a good beating-up about the many faults I can’t see in myself. I could submit critique videos to forums, but what I really want is an impartial, paid answer to the big question: “Am I doing OK?” – I’m sure it’ll be worth the money, and teachers aren’t so expensive or rare.

    • February 24, 2020 at 6:48 am

      Peter…I had a chuckle when you wrote, “There are a few tunes I can play which survive the ‘three times through’ metric…” I’ve been at it for a year, and I think I have about 7 songs that I can play from memory, but I don’t always achieve the 3 times through rule.

      I have been really concentrating on my bowing since the beginning of 2020. I have seen improvement, but not as much as I would like to see. I have to work more on my left hand…keeping my fingers down and only lifting slightly off the strings (“little lift” as FiddleHed calls it).

      So much to coordinate…

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