6 Things to Know Before Learning to Play Violin, Viola or Cello

Stringed instruments have an amazing history. The oldest stringed instruments, Lyres of Ur, date back 4,500 years. Today, the most common orchestral stringed instruments are the violin, viola, and cello.

Have you always wanted to play one of these instruments? There are many things you should know about learning to play the violin and other stringed instruments. Here are 6 pieces of advice for the new player.

1. Playing Stringed Instruments

As a beginner, playing your instrument will include the basics of hand positioning, bowing, and tuning.

Violin and viola hand and bowing positioning are similar. With your stringed hand, the thumb should be an inch from the peg, touching the peg at the middle joint, and should stay slightly bent.

The wrist should be straight and avoid bending your wrist. All fingers should be curved and the thumb and first finger should align when playing a whole step above the nut.

When bowing, keep your elbow at a right angle. Rest your thumb on the “bump” and the other fingers should curve naturally. Keep the bow flat and touch the middle of the bow on the strings.

What about playing the cello?

For hand positioning, the thumb rests under the neck and the second finger is on the fretboard opposite the thumb. Squeeze both fingers when holding down notes. Raise the left elbow away from the body, but not straight out.

Like the violin and viola, the middle of the bow will touch the strings. The bow should be straight and parallel to the bridge.

Your instructor will likely cover proper hand and bowing positioning in the beginning. It’s also recommended you practice in front of the mirror to ensure you have the best positioning.

Are you unsure how to tune your instrument? This is a common question. All you need is a tuner, a fine tuner, and pegs. We’ll cover equipment in a later section

As you become an advanced player, you’ll be able to recognize when your instrument is out of tune and you’ll learn how to tune by ear.

How hard is it to play the violin? As with everything else, practice is key. You’ll also benefit from finding an instructor, which leads us to our next point.

2. Finding an Instructor

How do you find an instructor? You can likely find many instructors in your local area. Reach out to family, friends, and colleagues for recommendations. You can also visit your local music store or look up instructors online.

The best instructors have experience teaching and performing professionally. You’ll also want to look for teaching credentials, such as a college degree and other awards and accolades.

Always ask if the instructor offers a consultation or a free first lesson. This is when you’ll explain your personal goals and will get to know their teaching style.

3. What to Look for in a New Violin, Viola, or Cello

Before you can take lessons, you’ll need an instrument. But with so many options on the market, choosing the best instrument is difficult.

As a beginner, you’ll want to pay attention to categories. The most common ones are:

  • Student
  • Intermediate
  • Professional

While you may think student-grade instruments are the best option, many of these are not made to last or are not set-up to play.

They’re made of low-quality wood, contain plastic parts, and usually aren’t handmade. They come at a lower price range, which is ideal if you’re not sure how long you or your child will play violin music.

This is where intermediate instruments come in. They’re better quality than beginner instruments but don’t have the hefty price tags. Beginners who are serious about playing stringed instruments should choose these products.

What about sizing?

Violins and violas are sized the same way. Have the player place the instrument under the chin on the left side of the body. Next, have the player wrap the fingers of the left hand around the end of the scroll.

The elbow on the left arm should form a wide V shape. Next, move the fingers to the playing position on the strings right in front of the pegs.

The elbow should be at a 45-degree angle. If the angle is too tight, the instrument is too small. If the angle is too wide, the instrument is too large. If in doubt, go with the smaller instrument.

To size a cello, have the player sit comfortably in a chair with feet flat on the floor and the thighs parallel to the floor. Extend the endpin on the cello so the lower bout is at the player’s knees.

Place the cello between the player’s legs and lean it toward the left side of the body so the pegs are level with the player’s left ear.

The player should be able to comfortably reach around the cello with both arms and gently pinch the bridge with both hands.

If the endpin won’t extend far enough, the cello is too small. If the cello is too big, the bout won’t fit between the player’s legs and they won’t be able to reach the bridge with both hands. Go with the smaller instrument if in doubt.

4. Advantages of Renting

Another option for beginners is to rent an instrument instead of buying one. These are more affordable and you can switch sizes should the player outgrow the instrument. Additionally, the case and bow are included with the outfit.

This is the best option if your child is still growing — you don’t have to buy a brand new violin every time they grow out of their old one.

Renting may also be the best option if you or your child are trying out different instruments to determine the best one.

Keep in mind, you should also focus on playing a quality instrument that is set-up for playability and sound production. Cheap stringed instruments, even when renting one, won’t be playable.

5. Additional Equipment and Accessories You’ll Need

Other accessories and equipment you’ll need include:

  • Case
  • Bow
  • Music stand
  • Chinrest wrench
  • Tuner
  • Metronome
  • Shoulder rest
  • Extra strings

If you’re unsure about the extra gear you need, don’t hesitate to ask your instructor for their advice.

6. Recommended Books

Your instructor will likely recommend books for practicing. If they don’t mention specific books, here are some of the books that we recommend:

  • Essential Elements for Strings by Hal Leonard – Available for Violin, Viola, Cello
  • The Sassmannshaus Tradition, Early Start for Violin, Viola, Cello, Vols. 1-4 by Egon Sassmannshaus, Kurt Sassmannshaus, and Michael Corssen
  • Suzuki Violin School, Vols. 1-10 by Shinichi Suzuki
  • Suzuki Viola School, Volumes 1-10 by Shinichi Suzuki
  • Suzuki Cello School, Volumes 1-10 by Shinichi Suzuki

You’ll also want sheet music from famous composers, such as:

  • Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Tomaso Antonio Vitali
  • Niccolo Paganini
  • Otakar Sevcik

You should also purchase books based on your goals, what you want to learn, and to find easy songs to play on violin.

Learning to Play the Violin and Other Stringed Instruments: Do You Have More Questions?

Do you have any other questions about learning to play the violin and about other stringed instruments? Feel free to contact us for advice, on finding an instructor, and more.

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