Being the iconic instrument that it is, many might find themselves wondering: how hard would it be to learn to play the violin? This is a very good question! And, while the answer very much depends on the individual themselves, the short answer is yes, it is certainly possible to teach yourself to play the violin. The longer answer is that there will be a lot of variables which determine the success of someone who is attempting to learn the instrument single-handedly. (Okay, technically it would be “double-handedly”, but you get the point….)
So, then, what are these variables?
Ah, yes. Talent. That thing you just can’t control, that thing you’re born with. I hate to say this one, but accomplished musicians always have a large degree of innate musical skill. And while there are a handful of different talents that aid in the learning of any instrument, having a good ear is particularly important if you want to teach yourself the violin. This is because, unlike instruments such as the guitar, violins do not have frets. Where you place your fingers is determined entirely by listening to the notes you’re playing. I always put “tapes” on my students’ violins when they first begin, which show them where to place their fingers. However, if you are self-taught, you will either need to place these tapes yourself or just not use them at all.
While it is possible to develop a better ear for music, without a teacher this would be extremely difficult. However, if you do know yourself to have a good ear, you might have some success trying violin on your own! If you aren’t sure whether or not you have a good ear, check out this test, which will give you a good idea of where you stand. Listen carefully!
Self-awareness while you teach yourself the violin
As somebody who is painfully self-aware in more ways than one, I know this quality can have its positives and negatives. It can make you realize you sound like a screeching cat when you are attempting to teach yourself to play the violin, for example. But it can also be really useful in applying online resources while you practice. If you are watching a video and you are able to see exactly where your technique, posture, and other qualities are differing from the instructor in the video, you will be much more likely to catch yourself making common mistakes, such as a private instructor would point out to you.
Commitment when you teach yourself the violin
Violin is a hard instrument. Period, end of story. It doesn’t matter how great your teacher is or how talented you are. Though these things can make learning violin a lot easier, they do not make it easy by any stretch. Learning the violin takes a lot of time and dedication, so how far you get, especially without a teacher, will depend a lot on how committed you are to learning it. Devoting your time to frequent practice sessions (at least three per week) would be essential if you are trying to teach yourself the violin.
The violin you use to learn
Okay, so this one is actually very important, too. As someone whose mom bought her a $40 violin off Ebay, thinking it to be an amazing deal, I can tell you myself that these violins are NOT playable. My orchestra teacher at school couldn’t even tune the instrument! Even those $100-$200 violins on Amazon are not the best. If you’re buying online, please check out my article on reputable instrument dealers so you can make an informed decision. You will usually need to spend at least $300 to get something decent enough that you won’t get frustrated to the point of giving up.
If you already own a violin and you aren’t sure about its quality, try looking inside the left F-hole of the instrument (see image below). Usually there is a tag there which contains the brand/maker’s info and sometimes a serial number as well. You could try researching the information online to get an idea of the quality.
Your resources for teaching yourself the violin
In today’s world, we have a surplus of resources at our disposal for learning all kinds of different things. Violin is no exception! In fact, sometimes the difficulty isn’t in finding the resources, but rather in narrowing down which resources to use. I know from experience that there are many great teachers on YouTube and elsewhere on the internet. However, a novice might have a harder time discerning which teachers are legitimate. Plus, to add to the confusion, even amongst all the legitimate violin teachers in the world, there are so many varying opinions!
I would recommend looking for teachers who have videos which demonstrate their own playing abilities. Of course, as a novice, you might not be able to tell just how professional a given violinist is just by watching them, but if they can play difficult classical pieces by composers such as Mozart, Bach, Paganini, etc., then you are probably dealing with a classically trained professional with solid technique.
All this being said, I personally would not recommend trying to learn violin without a teacher. Though I am 95% self-taught on the piano, I cannot imagine learning to play the violin to any accomplished extent without the help of the amazing teachers I had throughout my life. Violin is just so technical and detail-oriented!
Of course, I do understand that lessons are expensive, and not everyone has that in their budget. So, if you are one of those people, this article is definitely for you. While you may not make it to the professional level on your own, that doesn’t mean you can’t get to some enjoyable level of playing. If you are attempting to learn the violin on your own and find yourself getting frustrated, that might be the sign that it’s time to sign up for lessons. But if things go smoothly and you feel you are making progress, who can argue with that?