Let's start with the good news.
If your goal is to be able to have fun with the world’s most beautiful instrument, then there is no reason you can’t learn violin on your own.
Of course, it’s not going to be easy. But we didn’t pick up a violin because it’s easy!
On the Trala app, 4 out of 10 users are learning without a teacher. Many others play in a school orchestra but don’t have a private teacher.
We made this guide for all of you who don’t have private teachers.
I recently looked at a 2011 violin-learning forum where someone who loved classical music and wanted to learn but didn’t have access to a teacher got shot down by a bunch of strangers (http://www.talkclassical.com/13737-learning-violin-without-teacher.html):
“Studying alone is not a method”
“No, no, NO!! You cannot learn the violin satisfactorily without a teacher. You will immediately develop bad habits and faulty technique that will forever hold you back.”
“Also 30 minutes per day is almost no use if you want to make good progress.”
As anonymous posters on the internet usually are, these people are dead wrong. A huge amount of music education research shows that learning by yourself is difficult but completely possible.
The most important thing to remember is that the best teachers teach you how to teach yourself.
If you follow the 10 Commandments of Practicing Violin, you’ve got a great start.
The most difficult part in following the 10 Commandments for self-learners is diagnosing your own problems. We recommend finding others who are also playing violin. Lots of Trala users practice on their own, but our most successful users engage with others (Commandment 10: Thou Shalt Share Your Struggle With Others). Luckily, this can be done online.
Learning how to take advantage of online resources will help your entire journey enormously. The internet abounds with free resources: video lessons, tutorials, recordings, and sheet music. The top two resources, by far, are YouTube and IMSLP.
Find a simple piece of music you want to play, and listen to it. Then pause and try to play back what you just heard. Rewind and repeat. You can also slow down the video in the settings section to help you pick out tough passages more easily. Some people also learn by playing along with the radio. Remember that your violin doesn’t care what style of music you play. Play along with your favorite songs! There also exist countless video lessons on YouTube breaking down specific pieces, so if you’re not sure where to begin, those are perfect. Here are five of the most popular resources:
Beth from Violin Lab demonstrates a popular practice technique below -
One more advantage to YouTube is the videos of professionals playing music. Not only are these videos sources of inspiration, but we’ve found that most players can effectively diagnose their mistakes when they watch other people play.
Before diving into YouTube though, while there's an abundance of helpful advice, there also exists advice that's not so practical. When searching for online sources, one thing to keep in mind is that internet sources are not all properly vetted and so it's important to research the reputation of a site before committing to its teachings.
You can download free public-domain sheet music here and print it out at home. If you haven’t heard of it before, you’re about to be mind-blown. (Not sure what to practice? Check out our list of free online repertoire [link to a rep list]!)
With those resources, you don’t need to buy any sheet music or beginner’s books.
Now that you have the resources, let's talk about every violin player's struggle: motivation. Practicing violin is notoriously difficult, but there are simple things you can do to stay motivated and push through the tough days.
Here are a few tips on how to stay motivated.
- Join a Facebook group for violinists. Here are a few that I have found to be especially supportive:
- Facebook Violinists
- Adult Starters - Violin/Fiddle
- Beginner Violin Players
- Reddit Violinist Subreddit (Not a facebook group, but this subreddit has been incredible for giving us feedback on how we're building and violin support as well. Both professional and beginners hang out here and it's an incredible community)
- Keep an audio practice journal (Commandment 7)
- Understand that you will not make progress every day. Easy to say; hard to follow. Violin learning is a constant process, like learning a language, and there will be days where you don’t make progress. Roll with it.
What can the internet NOT teach you?
Your body posture, bow hold, and the positioning of your fingers are extremely important for sound production. Video tutorials are only as good as your ability to follow them, and some people need a teacher to physically hold their hand and move their fingers to the correct position. This is the part of violin-learning which is so difficult and why it’s usually not recommended to self-learn. Your best friend is other people who know the instrument.
With that said, if you follow the 10 Commandments, engage yourself, stay motivated, and keep listening to music, you can absolutely reach your goals!