5 Tips for Budding Violin Players

Learning to play the violin can feel daunting. Whether you’re just starting, or perhaps picking it back up for the first time since childhood, you’ll need to acquaint yourself (or re-acquaint yourself) with the basics. These can be tedious, but they’re the foundation of good playing. Before you can glide through a concerto or bust your fiddle out at a square dance, there are a few basics you’ll need to master. Here are a few tips to get things started!

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1. Prioritize good posture.

The basics of playing an instrument are, like it or not, pretty boring. That said, they provide a vital foundation for continuing successfully. One of the first things you should learn is good posture—and it’s sure to be one of the first lessons any teacher drills into you.

Make sure your shoulders are straight, your wrist is dropped and relaxed, and your elbow makes the telltale “box” with the neck of your instrument. Yes, you should do drills to practice your posture, and yes, make sure to revisit them periodically—even after you’ve nailed it (or think you’ve nailed it). Make sure you’re also holding your bow properly: index finger curved slightly over and pinky relaxed over the edge of the frog

2. Start slowly, with correct fingerings and techniques. 

When you’re practicing, it can be tempting to rush ahead and try to nail a performance at its final speed. Violinists have to practice patience, though. And there’s a pretty simple reason for that: if you don’t start slow, you risk not learning the proper fingerings and technique.

It’s much harder to correct poor technique that you’ve already made a habit of than to go slow and steady until you get your form right. Then, once you’ve nailed your technique, you can bring your performance up to the right speed. 

3. Use the tools that are available to you. 

Some simple tools go a long way toward cementing good habits. You might not think you need all these bells and whistles, but some are truly useful. A metronome, for example, is vital for helping you memorize rhythms—which are a must at every stage of practice. Make sure you’re always practicing in rhythm, even if it means taking the whole piece at a much slower tempo. Don’t slow down for hard passages and play the rest faster; aim to keep things consistent, even if you’re still getting familiar with the piece. Some violinists also find it helpful to record themselves or practice in front of a mirror to pinpoint techniques they need to work on. 

4. Get used to repetition. 

It’s every music student’s least favorite activity: the daily scales. But there’s a reason why they’re one of the most fundamental parts of learning an instrument. When it comes to the violin, these repetitive exercises serve more than one function. Not only do they help you memorize fingering, they also help improve muscle memory and form, and give you the chance to practice rhythms and bowings. Depend on it: any time you learn a new playing technique, you’ll have to hone it by going back to scales. Boring? Maybe—but incredibly important. 

5. Memorize your bowing.

Like many aspects of the violin, bowing comes down to muscle memory in addition to technique. As you practice a piece, you’ll learn what bowing you want to use. Commit to a bowing and keep it consistent, since it will be one part of a grand moving scale. With all the components of the muscle memory in place, playing will become much more instinctive. This means it’s also extra-important to cementing good technique. Many violin teachers tell their students to start out by watching their bow to make sure they’re using long, even strokes.

Photo by David Redfern/Redferns

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