Learning an instrument can be a beautiful long journey on which you may face new exciting adventures every day. There is no template that would suit every single student. Therefore, the learning process can be challenging although at the same time it can encourage us to find creative solutions and discover our own way of playing, leading to the best possible individual approach at a given time.
Unfortunately, at some point some of us may feel that in our practice we hit a rut and get bored and discouraged. That situation is common; we become full of excitement and energy and decide to start a new activity but somehow we change our mind after a couple of weeks.
Usually, standard of playing doesn’t matter, we can all experience that disappointing feeling as a beginner as well as as a professional musician. How can we stay inspired? How to stay fresh every day? Maybe there is a chance, if we can awaken our ears, become more aware and sensitive to the sound, the quality of touch, as well as being open and imaginative. Perhaps we could say simply be more alive and present.
I would love to share a simple answer that would work for everyone always, for example listen to great recordings or take a break. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that it might do the trick for a short time, but it won’t solve the problem for a longer period. Therefore, I would highly recommend studying the violin under a good teacher. Having regular individual or small group lessons can benefit your musical education in many different ways. Most importantly it would support your great wish to play the violin.
You Are Not Alone!
Finding a teacher takes the pressure off structuring, planning your practice and musical education. In comparison to learning on your own, studying with a teacher can be a great help, especially in terms of thinking about what would be the best next step for you, what repertoire you should work on and what technical aspects you should look at in order to improve your playing.
If we compare learning violin on your own to learning another language, we can easily see the problems that the learner would face. After memorising vocabulary the student would encounter the difficulties of pronunciation that it’s not possible to learn on your own. After 5 years of living in the UK I’m still pronouncing ‘th’ sound incorrectly as an ‘f’ or ‘d’. I’m aware that I should place my tongue between my teeth, but it just doesn’t happen and I’m losing patience. I think that there is a chance for a change only if I have some speech lessons with a professional teacher.
As I said in a previous article, playing violin is a complex activity in which various skills must be learnt and trained at the same time. While looking for comfort in posture, especially the awkward hand position where two hands are performing completely different techniques, you should be learning music notation, training your ear and sense of rhythm as well as becoming aware of different styles of playing.
From my experience it may be challenging to learn some techniques and make significant changes in your playing even with the help of a talented and dedicated teacher in regular individual lessons. Learning on your own, even when you are an adult beginner, may be overwhelming, while in reality studying music is supposed to be joyful, fulfilling and exciting. Always remind yourself of the primary reason for studying the violin, which is to enjoy it.
Learning the violin is not primarily visual as it may seem at first, it is more kinesthetic. We can see from a picture how to hold a bow, or which finger we should place on a string to make a particular sound. What beginners can’t see is the quality of touch that is important and how to avoid unnecessary tension.
The great world class soloist Maxim Vengerov once said that while playing the violin you need to feel the love and joy of connection between the string and the fingers. This is quite difficult for a beginner to see from a picture of a video. Therefore, the individual approach to each student in lessons is so important. You can explore a unique way of holding a bow that would suit you best and find the most natural way of playing.
The same rule applies to awakening your musical sensitivity. We can listen to great soloists and try to copy their phrasing but it may sound fake and weird. In developing your own voice, searching for a particular color or even finding your own taste in music, the support and inspiration coming from a teacher can be really helpful.
Even if you are looking at a particularly difficult passage or technique that you think you think is especially difficult, a good teacher will motivate and inspire you to work on it. He or she can change your attitude to challenges and leave you with a feeling of excitement and willingness to practice. A good teacher can make a huge difference in your music education, help you improve in a short time and mentally support you in the learning process.
An experienced teacher is able to see more than you think. Very often we may be fixed at some particular problem in playing, desperately looking for a solution which in reality it may be irrelevant and the actual problem is somewhere else. For example, if your problem is intonation and with a negative attitude you are trying to remember where each finger sits on the fingerboard. The real problem may be the way you support your instrument, which causes unnecessary tension or movement. When we get used to our playing we can’t see the actual problem and what creates it, we need a fresh look from outside that we trust.
In the 21 century we can take advantage of many music apps or available masterclasses or youtube channels that could be beneficial for our musical development, although we need to remember that these are only additional tools. It is a shame that most of the advertisements create a fake reality, where apparently the participants have learnt to play an instrument only using a certain app in a ridiculously short time, when in reality they are either professional musicians, or people taking regular lessons.
I would like to express my disappointment towards the marketing team. It is challenging enough to learn an instrument with support from a professional and experienced teacher. I think it is dangerous to believe in that fantasy of the enormous power of a music app.
Learning as An Adult
I don’t know anyone who has been studying violin without a teacher and has successfully achieved a high level of playing classical or pop music, even as a hobby. I’m guessing that there is a possible different learning approach in folk or gypsy music where the student would be surrounded by other family members playing the violin or in a band.
Can Adults Learn the Violin on Their Own?
Yes, adults can learn the violin on their own, but only with a well grounded music education. All of the members of professional orchestras learn their instrument on their own, practicing every day, preparing for a concert or performing in great halls. Learning the violin is a long wonderful journey that never ends. Let’s enjoy it, and benefit from sharing our journey with an experienced guide.