Often regarded as the archetype of the classical lead instrument….
The violin has also always been regarded as THE virtuoso’s musical instrument…
And is therefore also considered by many, the single MOST DIFFICULT instrument to play.
Just think about names such as:
One was a composer that was famous for his “inhuman” technique…
And the second is one of the most famous piece of classical music due to its extremely high level of technique. And yes, it was originally written for the violin.
But whether you want to become the next Paganini…
Or want to play:
The truth is that the violin is not limited to classical music anymore and is a center piece of many other music genres.
And with so much resources available on the internet nowadays, reaching a decent level on the violin is now easier AND quicker than ever.
So for today’s post, I compiled everything you need to know in order to get started on this beautiful instrument.
Then read on.
The violin as we know it today is believed to have been created during the 16th century in Italy, during the Renaissance period.
And, funnily enough, it has remained virtually unchanged since then.
Now, before we get to the heart of the matter, I’d like to start by answering a question many musician, or wannabe musicians often ask themselves:
We often read how the violin is such a difficult instrument…
Which is absolutely true, to some extent. But why is that? And why do so many kids choose it as their first instrument if it’s so difficult to learn?
Well, here are the two main reasons:
But even though it might be tough in the beginning, being able to play the violin is rewarding as it’ll set you apart in the music scene…
Providing you with something MANY musicians actually lack: a true musical ear and exceptional pitch perception.
Obviously, the very first thing to do is to choose the right size for your violin.
If you’re an adult then it’s a no-brainer, go with a full size 4/4 violin.
However, if the violin is intended for a child you’ll need to choose between several different sizes.
And rather than looking at how tall the player is, it’s the arm length you need to measure.
Take a measuring tape, straighten your arm and start measuring from the middle of the palm all the way up to the neck.
Got it? Good.
With violins, the choice is pretty simple when it comes to woods since you only really have 2 options:
You might occasionally stumble upon a poplar-made violin, but that’s it.
So although we won’t cover each and every part of the violin (it’s made of over 70 different ones), I’d like to talk about the ones that have the BIGGEST influence on the outcoming sound…
Excluding the bow, of course which we’ll cover further down.
On the image on the right you can see a very basic anatomy of the violin.
Now, INSIDE the violin, there are 2 parts that influence the sound a lot.
And these 2 parts are actually pretty much the same, the only difference is that one is used for the bass “side” of the violin, and the other for the treble “side”.
Take a look at the image on the right
See? The bassbar is right under the leftside of the bridge, which is the bass sidesince it’s the side right under the G string.
And the soundpost is placed right under the right side of the bridge, wich is the treble side, since it’s right under the E string.
So, first off…
Fun fact: in many languages, the soundpost is called the “soul” of the violin, which should actually tell you how important this little piece of wood is.
So although this little rod might not seem like much, it actually has 2 essential roles:
The sound of the violin will change dramatically depending on the soundpost position…
Of course different luthiers have different opinions on the perfect placement of the soundpost, BUT the general consensus is that:
So that’s for the soundpost.
Now, on to…
Just like the soundpost, the bassbar has essentially the same 2 roles:
And factors such as:
…All influence the sound of the violin.
On the image above you can notice the bass bar is actually tapered out on both ends. This is done in order to prevent the bar from falling over.
I think it’s pretty safe to assume virtually EVERYBODY has heard the name Stradivarius at least once in their life, even if they’re not musicians…
And everybody knows they are synonyms with “tens of millions of dollars“…
The thing is, NOBODY really knows why they are so expensive, or even why they’re so special, construction wise.
A lot of scientists, musicians and engineers have tried to analyze, study and understand the building method of Antonio Stradivari…
But nothing truly conclusive ever came out of it.
And so, the only thing we know for sure is that:
In fact, some blind tests have been done, and many of the participants said they preferred the sound of the newer violins to the ones of Stradivarius violins…
Anyway, since you’ll probably never come across a genuine Stradivarius, no need to really rack your brain around it!
If the violin itself is obviously the most important when it comes to sound…
People often mistakenly disregard the importance of the bow when it comes to tone-shaping.
And, in fact, bows’ prices can range all the way from a few hundred bucks… To several dozens thousands of dollars.
So what makes a good bow exactly? Well, essentially these few characteristics:
Here are the wooden bows I recommend:
However, since the 2 first resources are so limited and expensive, new alternatives have recently emerged…
Such as carbonfiber bows.
Carbonfiber bows are:
All in all they keep getting more popular and they’re pretty much a safe bet.
Check out the ones I recommend here:
As for fiberglass, they’re the cheapest bows available because fiberglass is a very fragile material.
They’re usually used by kids or students, but if you’d like to try one out, here are the ones I recommend:
The bow need some maintenance, or preparation before you use it. You’ll need to:
Here’s an accessory that is actually crucial, not only for beginners, but even for professional violinists.
The shoulder rest is a kind of cushion that is attached to the violin’s back as seen on the image on the right.
It has 2 main purposes:
Now, all beginners are advised to use one and the truth is, it is really difficult to play without one…
Your clavicle will hurt and you will end up griping your violin way too strong because of the fear of letting it fall down.
And even professional violinists who don’t use one always use some sort of padding.
So don’t overlook the shoulder rest and just get one at the same time you purchase your first violin.
Here are the best ones I recommend:
Got it? Next up…
Violins are tuned in perfect fifths, starting from G, which gives G D A E.
Occasionally, a slightly different tuning can be used such as A D A E, G D A E♭or G♯ D A E♭.
Respectively, these last 2 examples were used in two famous classical pieces so as to emphasize the dissonance wanted by the composer.
In most classical, jazz and folk music though, the standard G D A E tuning is used.
As for tuning your instrument, it will definitely be pretty challenging in the beginning.
Just know that you should use both he tuning pegs AND the fine tuners to tune your violin.
And so to help you in this extremely important and crucial process, here are a few tuners options I recommend:
To learn more about tuners in general, check out this article:
Renting a violin has always been a rather popular decision, unlike other instruments for which you wouldn’t even consider it.
So why is that? Well, mainly for these reasons:
The thing is, violins have NEVER been cheaper than they are nowadays, with models costing as low as $40. So is renting really justifiable?
Well, it really depends on what you’re looking. If you want a quality model you can’t afford buying right now, then yes.
But if you’re just looking to save money, just buy a cheap model. Because trust me, any good violinist will make a cheap violin sound good.
Got it? Then let’s move on…
When it comes to violin strings, they are usually 3 questions people ask themselves:
So let’s answer all of these questions now, starting with…
There are several ways a string will let you know it’s worn out:
If you notice any of these happening, it’s time to replace your strings.
Got it? Next up…
Once you’ve decided it’s time to replace your strings, comes the difficult task to actually CHOOSE a string set.
The 2 main factors to take into consideration when choosing a violin string-set are:
And so, for materials you’ll find the next 3:
And then you also have some string sets with different winding depending on the string (like platinum plated E, aluminum wound A, silver wound D & G for example). These are generally only found on the high-end though.
If you are a lead violinist in an orchestra or playing chamber music these might be a good option…
But if you’re not, they’re definitely overkill.
As for the gauge, it is usually advised that beginners use light gauge, and advanced players medium to high gauge.
Now, to be honest gauge is not nearly as important as material choice. And even then, if you listen to videos comparing different strings…
You’ll really have to listen hard to hear a real, significant difference between different models.
Now, I’m not saying you won’t hear small differences and variations, but if you listen to the video without looking at it, can you really tell he’s playing through a dozen different string sets?
And have no doubt these small differences might be very important for professional or advanced violinists, but they definitely aren’t for beginners
After you’ve chosen the right set of strings, you’ll need to mount them on your violin.
Now that you’ve probably decided which strings are the best for you, here are the string sets I recommend:
Remember the first time you saw someone play an electric violin? Didn’t you think: “Woah, that’s a really cool looking violin!”? I know I did.
But beyond their peculiar look, what exactly sets electric violins apart from their acoustic counterpart? Well, a bunch of features as you’ll see:
So electric violins are definitely not the high end, unaffordable instruments they used to be 15 or 20 years ago (although these high-end models still exist)…
And it’s therefore normal to ask yourself whether you should choose an electric or acoustic violin as your first instrument.
But based on all the advantages I listed up above, I’m sure you’ll manage to figure it out…
And so if you choose to buy an electric violin, here are the best ones I recommend:
Let’s be clear: learning the violin on your own is NOT EASY. Unlike the guitar, you won’t be able to strum a nice sounding chord after just a few minutes of effort…
And so taking lessons is almost indispensable. The good news is, finding lessons, paid OR free on the internet is nowadays easier than ever.
But how do you sort the good ressources from the bad ones?
Well, first of all remember what the old saying says: You get what you pay for.
Now, although that is true to some extent, there are in fact some quality FREE lessons out there. However, what you WON’T get with these is a dedicated, personal teacher.
And so for this list I decided to create 2 categories:
Before we end this long post, I’d like to mention a few helpful accessories for beginners I’ve found.
As I was saying earlier, one of the reasons the violin is so difficult to play is that it has no visual cue whatsoever…
And when you’re starting out, it can be frustrating taking really long to play a simple note. That’s why the brand Don’t Fret developed this sticker that shows where to press your fingers on the fingerboard.
Check it out:
Also check out this model which, although a bit more expensive has much more information on it:
Another very useful tool for practicing is a practice mute. Just like what you’d find for a trumpet, violins can be played lower by using a practice mute.
Check these out: