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How to Get Better at Playing the Violin

By Yann, published on 18/09/2018 We Love Prof - AU > Music > Violin > Our Advice to Progress in Violin

“A gift without technique is nothing more than a dirty habit” [Un don sans technique n’est rien qu’une sale manie.] – George Brassens (1921-1981), Le mauvais sujet repenti.

Learning to play the violin is a great idea, especially if you’re really enthusiastic about music!

However, there are no frets, a complicated bow technique, complicated tuning, and you’ll probably need to spend months in violin lessons just to be able to play in key and develop your playing technique.

While very few children teach themselves to play musical instruments, a lot of adults do.

It’s difficult to learn any bowed string instrument. That’s why in this article, we’ve come up with some advice for getting better at the violin.

How to Use a Chinrest and a Shoulder Rest

Where would a workman be without his tools?

Before you start any project, you need to have all the necessary equipment.

What is a violin shoulder rest? The right accessories can make a real difference in your playing. (Source: effigas)

When we think of violin accessories, the bow, rosin, and strings are probably the first things that come to mind.

There are also two other accessories which we often forget about: the chinrest and the shoulder rest.

You need a good chinrest in order to hold the instrument.

Why a chinrest?

While probably sold with the violin itself, the chinrest essential for ensuring that your violin stays in place.

It can prevent the soundboard wood from deteriorating as well as protecting it from sweat. It also prevents discomfort from the vibrations of the wood on the skin.

With a good chinrest, the violin will sit between your shoulder and chin without you having to crane your neck.

We should also mention that the bottom of the violin will rest on your clavicle (collarbone) meaning that you might need a shoulder rest.

There are many a heated debate on whether violinists should have a shoulder rest or not. A shoulder rest is a curved and rigid quilted bar which spans the back of the violin and rests against the violinist’s collarbone.

When you add it to the back of the violin, you’ll see a change in the way you play as you may find it harder to reach certain strings with your left hand and making a good sound is more difficult. In other ways, it can improve your playing as you won’t be bothered by irritation.

When it comes to getting shoulder rests, you can choose different colours, materials (plastic, ebony, rosewood) and sizes.

Whether you play jazz violin, chamber music, or classical music, you’ll use a chinrest.

The cost of a shoulder rest can vary between £10 and £100 depending on whether you get a budget one or a professional one. Chinrests go for between £5 and £150 depending on the model.

We recommend that you try out these accessories in music stores before buying them, especially if you’re going to buy them online.

Choosing the Right Practice Mute for Your Violin

Do you play in an apartment or somewhere where the neighbours aren’t huge fans of music?

Are the walls in your house paper thin?

Which are the best violin mutes? To mute or not to mute, that is the question. (Source: Pexels)

Budding violinists can really wind the neighbours up since there’s nothing worse than the sound of a violin when it’s not being played correctly.

To counteract this, we recommend buying a practice mute for your violin.

What’s that?

It’s a small device that you put on the bridge to make the violin quieter.

A practice mute is really useful for all string quartet instruments (violin, viola, cello) as it absorbs the vibration from the strings and the sound that would be emitted by the sound box.

By clipping it to the strings by the bridge, you can reduce the volume of your violin’s soundboard and allow you to play more quietly.

There are two main types of mutes for the violin: those for practising in an apartment and those for orchestral performances.

Depending on the material, usually ebony or rubber, a mute can reduce the volume by between 20% and 80%.

If you play in a symphony orchestra or philharmonic orchestra, a mute can leave more space for the soloist to shine.

Before you put one on your violin, you should be aware of the different types of mute available on the market:

  • Tourte shaped violin mutes: This is the most commonly used mute in orchestras. It’s made of rubber and has a magnet in the middle.
  • Round tourte violin mutes: Just like the previous one, this can be used in chamber music and performances.
  • Three-pronged practice mutes: These rubber mutes will drastically reduce the volume of a violin.
  • Metal practice mutes: Similar to the previous mute but with a different tone.
  • Wire practice mutes: This only slightly dampen the sound so it’s perfect for performances.

What are violin positions? Since violins have no frets, you need to learn where to put your fingers. (Source: skeeze)

When choosing a mute, you need to decide on how much you want to dampen the sound, how big it can be (since a large mute will obscure your view of the strings), and the material (metal, ebony, rubber, etc.).

In order to buy a violin mute, just searching “violin mute” into a search engine will give you a whole range of different of different vendors selling them. There are plenty of online retailers that sell them as well as all good brick-and-mortar music stores.

What does your left hand do when you play the violin?

Now we’ve got all the accessories we need!

Before you start playing the violin, you’re going to need to work on your posture to make sure that you don’t pick up any bad habits. You won’t become a good violinist if your technique is poor.

Start with your left hand.

Generally speaking, your left-hand will hold the violin by the neck as the fingers on this hand will press down on the strings in order to produce the notes.

Firstly, you need to hold the violin straight and your shoulders, arms, and hands all need to be relaxed if you don’t want to break any windows…

Here’s how to hold a violin:

  • Place the neck between the thumb and index finger on your left hand.
  • Each finger needs to be straight
  • Your hand mustn’t be tense
  • Your right-hand needs to parallel with the neck.
  • You’ll learn the basic positions of the violin once you start practising.

Just like with the piano, saxophone, and guitar, if you want to play the violin, you’re going to need to learn how to read the music.

On violin tabs, the numbers represent each finger:

  • 0 = Open string
  • 1 = Index finger
  • 2 = Middle finger
  • 3 = Ring finger
  • 4 = Pinky

To move your fingers along the neck, your index and middle finger will move to the left (towards the lower notes) whereas your ring finger and pinky will move to the right (towards the higher notes).

Violin technique is really important. Without it, you’ll never be able to play the music of the greats.

How do you bow a violin? You also need to work on your bowing technique. (Source: RoAll)

There are 8 main violin techniques:

  • Hand shifts
  • Vibrato
  • Trills
  • Harmonics
  • Double stops
  • Pizzicato
  • Glissando
  • Harmonic Glissando

What do you do with your right hand?

How do you do all this if you’re left-handed?

How to Play the Violin Left-handed

Sometimes, lefties will need to reverse the way an instrument’s played to feel more comfortable.

If this is the case, the strings, the nut, the bridge, and the bass bar, etc. all need to be reversed. This can be a problem for teachers as they’ll also have to adapt.

Right-handed violinists hold the bow in their right-hand. However, left-handed violinists play the notes on the neck with their right-hand.

It’s imperative that you hold the bow correctly in order to play the notes correctly. Make sure to apply rosin to the hair on the bow before you play.

Correctly holding your violin, and the bow, is a difficult technique to master and you can’t hold the bow like a baton. There are a number of good violin websites showing you exactly how to do this. After you’ve got the hang of holding the bow, you’ll then need to work on moving it in a figure eight.

Don’t forget that the more pressure you apply to the bow, the louder you’ll play. You need to do more than just play a note correctly, you also need to nuance your playing.

The Italian terms fortissimo, forte, mezzo forte, piano, and pianissimo are used to describe how loudly you’re supposed to be playing the notes.

You’ll also need to learn different bowing techniques to produce different sounds. Nobody becomes a great violinist overnight, after all!

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