Hey everyone! I get so many questions from those of you wanting to start learning the violin so I wanted to do a more in-depth post about that here to try and offer some advice and supply you with some additional resources. A lot of you have said that you are unable to afford lessons and simply don’t know where to begin. Obviously if you can afford a teacher to help guide you, then that’s an ideal route. But if you can’t, that shouldn’t at all stop you from trying to learn because there are so many great free resources available out there now that can help you learn on your own. What I’m going to do is go through all of the necessary equipment for you to get started and provide an explanation and piece of personal advice for everything. I’ll also post on some extra equipment and give you some additional resources at the end. This is going to be a long one lol, here we go!
1) Violin: You really don’t need anything fancy to start, because even if you were playing on the world’s best violin as a beginner it would still take you many years to make it sound like the world’s best violin! I haven’t played on a beginner instrument in a while now, but I would imagine you’d want to plan on spending at least a few hundred dollars to get something decent that is in working order. If you buy something too cheap, it will constantly slip out of tune, possibly crack, and probably wouldn’t be set up properly. As far as sizing, if you’re 10 years or older, you will probably need a full size instrument. The best thing you can do is set a price range for yourself and go into a music/string store and try out as many instruments in your price range as possible. If you can’t get to a store, you could try ordering online at a site like Shar Music. I’ve used them for a lot of equipment orders and I know they have a great reputation for quality products. Another site worth checking out for quality beginner equipment would be Fiddlershop.com.
2) Bow: You should probably be able to get a violin, bow and case as a package when you’re buying a beginner instrument, but in case you don’t go that route, just be aware that there is just as much of a price range for bows as there is for violins themselves. Make sure when you’re buying that the hair is clean (not dirty/extremely yellow looking) otherwise you’ll need a re-hair of the bow for it to grip its best, and it’s usually not cheap for that so don’t go spending more than you need! For as much as I play, I re-hair my bow around every 6 months, but you should probably only need to do it once a year, if that, if you’re not playing a lot.
3) Rosin: Rosin is what helps the bow grip the string. It’s cheap for how long it lasts, but again, you can may as much or as little as you want on rosin. I’d say spend around $10 and you’ll have it for years and it will be better quality than the cheaper stuff.
4) Shoulder Rest: This is an extremely personal choice and, oddly enough, a cause of great divide amongst violinists lol. Some people are firm believers that shoulder rests of any kind should not be used, some people use a small sponge or pad just to provide some friction between the body and violin, but the majority of people choose to use a shoulder rest. For the first 14 years of playing the violin I actually didn’t use a shoulder rest. I decided to give it a try because I was experiencing some collar bone pain, and once I got used to it I couldn’t imagine playing without one! It took me a LONG time to find one that worked with me, and to be honest, it’s still not 100% comfortable all the time, but it’s extremely helpful. It helps you hold the violin up so you’re not clenching with your neck or lifting up your shoulder, and it provides an easier way for your hand to shift into higher positions since it takes much of the burden of holding up the instrument off of your left hand. You certainly can play without one, but like I said, it’s just a very personal choice and there’s no reason not to at least try some out just to see what works best for you. If you can, get to a store and try out as many different ones as you can because there are a lot of different models out there. I personally have really enjoyed the Wolf “Forte Secondo” model because it’s very adjustable and flexible so you can actually try and mold it more to your body than most. Basically, just use whatever is comfortable for you and don’t worry about what other people think of it!
5) Case: No need to get anything expensive here, just make sure that it’s not flimsy and will protect the instrument, and make a decision as to how many storage pockets you’d like it to have if you want to keep extra equipment (rosin, shoulder rest, sheet music, etc.) in there.
Phew, ok, you still with me? Lol, I want to be as thorough as possible here to give you some meaningful advice so I hope this is helping! Continuing on with optional equipment:
1) Mute/Practice Mute: Mutes come in all different sizes, and most are used for effect in orchestral pieces. But for those of you who are planning on practicing in shared spaces with thin walls like apartments or dorm rooms, you probably want to consider getting a practice mute so you don’t get noise complaints from your neighbors =) It really dampens the sound, and the great thing about that is you can still concentrate on normal bowing technique and applying pressure without worrying about making too much noise. They’re fairly inexpensive, and I’d recommend getting the slightly more expensive rubber coated one just in case it falls off, that way it won’t scratch up your violin.
2) Extra set of strings: As for what strings to choose, don’t worry too much about that at this point, just make sure they’re not worn out or starting to break. When you’re starting out, you can really go as long as your strings will hold without changing them.
3) Cloth: When you’re done playing, wipe your strings and violin off with a soft cloth to remove rosin. If you let it build up, it can cake on and interfere with your sound quality, and also ruin the varnish on the wood of your instrument.
4) Metronome : I’m not a huge fan of these, because they really show you how out of time you are haha! But they’re actually really good to play with on a regular basis because you learn to play in tempo at a steady beat, and that’s very useful if you ever want to play with others or in an orchestra.
If you’re starting from scratch with absolutely no knowledge of music or how to read notes, I would recommend starting with the “String Builder” series by Samuel Applebaum. From there, the Suzuki series is a good option for learning and practicing songs in a progressive manner. I personally think it’s important to start your training with a classical foundation because you’ll be playing pieces written specifically for your instrument that will help you improve your technique as fast as possible. If you’d like a little more of a challenge, I would recommend trying out the Wohlfahrt etude series.
Alright, that’s pretty much it for this post lol! I just feel that I have been very blessed to have been given the chance to train with teachers through private lessons for the first 13 years of playing and really want to help those of you who haven’t been afforded that opportunity but are still looking to learn. Since I can’t answer all of my messages on this topic, I felt compelled to write something in detail that I thought would be very useful to those of you looking for this kind of information. A lot of this information is my personal opinion based off of my experience, so feel free to check out some of the other resources out there for other opinions. I hope this has helped you and has given you some meaningful direction, and I wish you the best of luck on your violin journey!
My beginner tutorial video here I made on my channel a couple of years ago. I give a general summary of what equipment you’ll need, some suggestions on training and my opinion on what it takes to learn to play the instrument.
Take a look at professor Todd Ehle’s YouTube channel (username Professor V) where he features violin techniques in great detail. I would highly recommend his videos for those of you learning without a teacher. Click here for his channel.
My personal favorite place for finding answers to violin questions on the web is Violinist.com. I highly recommend searching their forums where you’ll find wonderful discussions on every violin-related topic imaginable from violinists representing all different skill levels.