Learning to play the violin is not an easy task. It is not just about the fingers and the bow, it takes time to learn how to play all the different pieces of music you are interested in.
There are quite a few things involved with playing the violin, some easier than others but all still very important for learning proper technique. There are four main things that we will talk about here: posture, breathing, rhythm/timing, and finger positioning on the left hand (and their importance).
If you don't think that these items apply to you then feel free to skip over them completely-they won't hurt your playing and if you do so. But if you are having some issues learning this new instrument then we would recommend that you take the time to read them!
This is one of the areas where a lot of people tend to struggle with, myself included! It is really easy for anyone who doesn't normally sit up straight all day long to slouch down while they play. You can check how good or bad your posture is by sitting in the way that you normally do when playing and seeing what it looks like from behind.
If there are no major problems with it then go ahead and keep doing what you're doing-it's working! However, if you find yourself hunching over or sort of curving around the violin, then you will need to work on changing this. What should your posture look like?
The answer is simple: straight! You want your body to be as relaxed as possible but also sitting up so that it isn't fighting with itself or fighting against gravity. I would recommend that whenever you are playing you sit up in a way that makes this easier for you-but no slouching!
Being able to keep a good posture will help keep tension out of your shoulders and neck. This can cause pain if someone/something has caused it enough stress, which again could hinder practice time due to needing breaks more often or even stopping altogether because it hurts too much. Here are some different ways of practicing good posture if you have trouble getting used to it.
First, sit in a chair with your back straight up against the back of the seat. Now lift one leg off the ground so it is bent at an angle that you can maintain without needing to move or adjust yourself in anyway-this will probably be around 45 degrees for most people.
Keep this position for about 5 minutes, working your way up to about 20-30 minutes if you are able (if it starts hurting then take a break). After that's done, do the same thing but on both legs. If you find this easy enough then you can work your way up to doing this on your violin bench while playing, if not then keep practicing on the chair until that becomes comfortable enough.
This is a very important part of playing the violin, and it is something that should be taken seriously. You want to have good breathing technique when shooting for that "perfect" tone or sound because if you don't then it could result in bad air support which will hurt your overall ability as a musician. But how do you improve this? It's simple.
Whenever you are practicing your scales or any other piece of music where you need to play with good attention paid to note accuracy, speed, etc… shorten up your breaths so they are shorter and quicker. Do this until there is a noticeable change in what comes out of your instrument (meaning it sounds different).
At first, try doing this every few notes or even once in a while just to get the feel of it, but eventually, you should be able to do this for your whole piece of music.
This frees up more air-you just need to know how to use it. When short breaths are taken, less air is used overall than when someone breathes in deeply and then exhales slowly over an extended period of time (think about what happens when you see someone yawn).
This leads to greater control over the sound given off because there isn't as much pressure on the tone that you are playing with. You can even try closing your eyes or wearing earplugs so all you will hear is yourself, and then try changing different aspects of your breathing technique such as how slow or deep each breath is taken.
The sound will become clearer and easier differentiated, allowing you to work out whatever problems may be occurring with your tone.
Choral singing is another great form of training for your breathing habits during playing. You are still controlling the air that comes in or goes out, but this time it is coming through not only your mouth but also your nose as well.
It makes hitting notes much simpler because you can continue playing while doing this (make sure to breathe only through the nostrils if you do decide to use choral singing as a way of practicing though).
Rhythm is a very important part of playing the violin. This is why using a metronome while practicing scales or other exercises can be beneficial, not only to create accuracy but also to help you develop a great sense of timing between notes and rests in your piece of music.
When you are practicing this way, set it at a speed where you feel comfortable with the tempo and don't worry about it speeding up. Then adjust yourself so that when the device beeps/clicks on beats "one" and "three," each note played fall on one of those beats (or any beat in your song for that matter).
If this proves too difficult then just work on getting comfortable with hitting two separate notes per click. Once you feel like you can do that then try moving on to three notes per click, and once again adjust things so that those beats hit where they are supposed to. Don't let any of the rest of this intimidate you though it will all come with time and practice (and don't forget it is used as a tool for accuracy).
Keep practicing these breathing exercises and using a metronome constantly through your days, whether it's while cooking dinner or even just playing scales at home for fun!
On the left hand, the finger positioning on the fingerboard is very important, and this means even more so for violinists than it does pianists. Consider this: there are four fingers (index, middle, ring, pinky) on each hand of a pianist; however there are only three fingers (index, middle, pinky) on each hand of a violinist.
This leaves fewer options in terms of finger placement when playing certain patterns or scales/arpeggios (although many times that can actually be an advantage), but it also makes each finger position more crucial because you won't likely have another option to compensate if your fingers aren't placed where they need to be.
The best advice given about finger placement for string players is from the book "Violin Secrets" by Ethan Mordden (which, if you don't already know this, is an excellent read for violinists). What he says is that the only way to really develop good hand position with your left-hand fingers is not so much by developing habits but rather by developing reflexes.
Reflexes are very different from habits-so different in the fact that one can say they are opposites. While habits are conscious actions that are repeated over and over again, reflexes are automatic responses to stimuli that aren't used as often or rarely at all.
For example, if someone tries to touch their friend's elbow when walking down the street together then many people will automatically pull away without even realizing it. It's a reflex.
Well, it has everything to do with the development of good left-hand finger reflexes because practicing scales, bowing exercises, etudes, etc. are all stimuli that eventually lead to muscle memory for many people.
That being said, if you are constantly using one position over another then your muscles will naturally adjust themselves so that they can move into that position faster and more efficiently should you need them to respond during a piece of music/etude/etc.
To develop these reactions in your fingers be sure first of all that your fingernails are properly shaped (for example very sharp tips on the nails will cause pain when trying to use the tip of your finger to stop a string so it should be more blunted).
Once you have the nails correctly shaped then place your fingers in each position on the fingerboard (e.g. first, second, third) and play that note repeatedly while trying to morph into that shape without conscious thought or effort.
You will find that playing something like this over and over again does begin to form what you are looking for-a a reflex for proper hand placement when playing each note individually.
Tips to learn violin faster:
- Establish a solid foundation for your playing with the Suzuki Method- if you can play a scale and read one-note music (yes, it's possible) then it is not too early to start.
- Take lessons-the ability to apply effective practice habits comes from the teacher telling you what those habits are and how they work best. Trust your teacher.
- Take classes for ear training and enunciation-learning to tell the difference between right and wrong notes (and good enunciation of words/songs helps with learning languages!) has much more impact on playing well than just learning to read music notation well. It might take a little longer but the results will be worth it!
- Listen to classical music while you play, and play while you listen -this will help you to get an idea for the phrases that make up a piece of music. It will also teach you enunciation (or, actually it's probably better to say enunciative awareness).
- Say what you are playing aloud while you play-some people learn best by saying words out loud when doing something; if this is true about you then verbalizing your movements while practicing scales or songs can be super helpful because the act of speaking helps tie both sides of your brain together, which in turn makes learning easier!
- Learn all 4 strings (or more) before adding new notes or techniques - this is a good idea because it will help you develop proper bow holding habits.
- Be patient with yourself-it takes time to learn something correctly, so practice slowly and accurately, then speed up your tempo!
- Play songs that relate to each other (parallels) -if you play two songs back to back or during one song transition from one set of notes to another set of notes that sound similar, it will help you learn the new song faster as well as give you an I'm-enjoying-what-I'm-doing feeling during your practice sessions!
- Move on from songs that are too hard to play -if it's hurting your hand/fingers then stop playing it. Instead, go back and work on a piece of music that is a bit easier or more enjoyable for you at the moment. Once that becomes easy then switch to trying out the harder song again. Just keep going through this process until one day all of the pieces come together and suddenly become much more manageable than they were before!
- Don't try to learn too many songs at once, particularly if they are far beyond your ability - it's better to set a small, realistic goal like learning one song well in its entirety rather than having let's say six pieces that are only half learned. This will keep you motivated and not frustrated-if you can do it with one then suddenly the others will start looking more possible!
- Don't stop practicing when you get frustrated! Take a 5-minute break and come back to it later - it's better to practice for five minutes and then stop than not practicing at all because you can't focus. When you come back to it later with a fresh mind your progress may surprise you and suddenly become much easier than before!
- Practice scales and songs in different keys - this will help teach your ears what the correct pitch sounds like as well as show you the relationships between notes (for example, if one note is higher or lower; or is sharp compared to another).
- Play songs with only 1 string per bow (no shifting) until you are good at shifting-this will make playing multiple strings together far less daunting when you do start working on them. If necessary, start by playing two strings without shifting first, then play all
- Practice every day, just 30 minutes at a time will yield results - even five minutes of practice is better than none!
- Read music notation (and play "ear" as you read)- this will help your music reading skills and also expand the range of songs that you can play.
Keep practicing, be patient with yourself, do what works for you, and have fun!