Perhaps you consider learning the violin, or your children want to start; maybe you have already begun on that wonderful journey. You want to know how long it will take to get there. Even though the ‘it depends’ answer is of course tempting, I will try and give you several typical cases depending on the desired level, the age you start at, the age, and several other parameters such as musical styles and teachers.
So how long does it take to learn the violin? The learning curve is steep. The violin is not an easy instrument. It takes usually one year to play a real simple tune. Two years are enough to play with friends and four years allow you to change positions, play fast, vibrate, and be part of a band. This is on average. But there is a lot more to it and with the right help and tools, you can accelerate the process.
Adults vs kids
I have detailed thoroughly the ins and outs of violin difficulty in this blog post.
And due to the intrinsic difficulty, the earlier you start the violin, the easier. First, as a child, you don’t really bother playing bad, out of tune, or simple tunes: you are usually happy enough just to play. That simple pride drives your energy and you make regular progress just like that. Plus, as a child, you tend to learn with the same abilities as a mother tongue, and the violin is wired in your brain deep inside; you don’t speak the violin like a foreign language. This is crucial if you want to be a virtuoso and have a great career. It is not compulsory though if you just want to enjoy music.
Childs prodigy: an exceptional case
Some small kids who start at the age of 4 take 3 to 4 years to master the whole instrument at the maximum technical level: with work and a good teacher. For example, I can list Menuhin, Vengerov, and Repin… So that is how long it takes to know and execute everything! And then starts the never-ending journey of learning the music…
So yes, this is extreme, but wonder kids, child prodigies usually do not take more than 3 to 4 years to master this incredible instrument.
If I don’t take into account those particular and exceptional cases, it usually takes 3 to 4 years for a child to reach an intermediate level. Children learn fast but they do not work a lot, especially with all the temptation that lye around them now (games…) But let’s face it: kids must be interested to learn and not to lose faith and motivation. That is why they must get to hear music at home to develop a sincere feel and love to it otherwise they will quit. It is not because they are young that magically they will be good violinists. They must have a decent ear and train it. They must like what they do and work regularly as adults should. After four years, a toddler will be able to play with friends and enjoy music: this is crucial if we want them to go on and continue.
It is a completely different story because adults usually learn less quickly and naturally than children but, on the other hand, are more mature and dedicated. So it is difficult to know how long it will take for an adult to learn the violin.
Basically, the main risk for an adult is to quit during a difficult phase. That is why it is crucial to be part of a small band early and play with friends in order to stay motivated and enjoy the music; then and only then the adult will find the drive to study 30 minutes every day, which is necessary to make progress.
Then, it depends on several factors:
- The level to want to achieve. Of course, a career as an international soloist will be impossible to achieve. But to be part of a band and start enjoying music is quite doable. To be part of bluegrass or folk and Irish band will be doable in 2 years roughly as there is room for different kinds of levels (accompanying, soloing…); Playing some classical music at home (Bach) or with friends will take 3 to 4 years for easiest baroque repertoire. For jazz, as a rough guess, I will say 4 to 5 years for a beginner, depending on the work on new scales and chords.
- It depends as well on the level you have when you start. Have you played an instrument before? Have you played a string instrument already? In that case, your progress will be much quicker. Do you start again after a certain period of time? Then you are rusted and the kind of effort is just different. In every case, you will spend less time learning the violin than a complete beginner. You will most likely be able to read music, hear music, know the rhythms, and so on.
- As I have written in the first bullet point, the type of music you intend to play will be of course important. Bluegrass and folk, then rock will take you less time to master than classical or jazz. I am not despising some genres over others here, I am just saying that folk will be of easier access than jazz, providing different kinds of roles for a newcomer.
- It will of course depend on whether you work and play alone or with a teacher. It will also vary according to the kind of teacher you have. You will make much faster progress with a good teacher. So look for one even he is more expensive. I don’t really think you can learn the violin all by yourself from start to finish. Periods without a teacher are alright though. But a good teacher will make the difference between you quitting or you playing a magnificent tune with a beautiful sound.
- Lastly, it will depend on the quality and quantity of work. Dedication is important. And even if the quality of work will basically depend on the quality of your teacher, there is a part he or she can’t control. A for quantity, regularity is key. You mustn’t play too much one day or over the weekend and not touch your violin for a week. You have to acquire a routine and play regularly, every day, for at least 30 minutes. But there is a quantity of work without which learning the violin is not possible. If you want to learn in the time-frame I have given above, 30 minutes is a bare minimum.
Typical learning stages
I have detailed how long it takes to learn the violin. But here are the basic learning stages that teachers usually witness.
Open strings and sound
This is the right-hand technique. The left hand is not used in that period. Usually, it takes around 3 months to play open strings. The violinist has to understand and get a feeling of the bow on the strings and how the sound is produced on a violin. It is very important to get to understand this part: it is a cornerstone of the violin technique.
Then, the violinist starts to use the fingers of his or her left hand and play actual notes. Here, all that has been learned with the right hand and sound production will be of great help. It must be a kind of reflex already as the mind must focus on the left hand.
The musician must be able to read music already or this is the moment when he or she will learn how to read while playing the first notes.
Usually, the fingers are taught one after the other. When the four fingers can be used, then the first position is known and mastered. It usually takes 3 to 4 months again.
String crossing and first bow strokes
Now that the principle of sound production and first position is known, the emphasis is upon new bow strokes.
Détaché and legato are learned together with various ways of string crossing.
Different kinds of simple rhythms are played as well as different tonalities (sharps for example Gmajor, A major).
And this is the end of the first year. So you understand that, with a couple of bow strokes, just a position without shifting, and two or three different tonalities, you can’t play much; but it is maybe enough to start enjoying yourself.
At that stage, I was dying to learn how to shift and to vibrate.
The same kind of progress will be made in the second year. Emphasis usually shifts between the left and right hand, depending on the teacher and on the student. I consider, with my mentor, that the right hand is the most important one and the one which gives you the spine that will hold your technique.
So the second year usually you learn the third position and shifting (that means, changing positions). You perfect basic bow strokes as well. You start playing double-stops (two notes, two strings at once) especially with the comfort of open strings for a start.
Again, you build upon the same basis. Now you learn how to shift better and learn a new position: the second one (odd position).\
You start to learn more difficult bow strokes such as saltellato or even spicatto.
Depending on your teacher and your level, you usually start to vibrate. This has been a tipping point for me as a child: being able to vibrate was for me being a real violinist!
Now that you can play more advanced double stops with thirds, some chords, 16th notes: you can play with friends, in a band, whether classical or not.
The fun part starts here.
After that, it is difficult to divide by year as it really depends on each violinist.
What qualities does it requires to learn the violin?
Now that I have detailed the usual stages and the time it takes to reach them, here are the qualities that are important for learning the violin in those time-frames.
You have to be dedicated. Even though I know that a child or an adult have so many other things in their mind, learning the violin isn’t comparable with learning how to ride a bicycle. It is a long term process that requires love and energy.
Patience is king. The violin is an instrument that humbles the musician: that’s the way it is. You can’t force yourself into a violinist. You have to tame it like a wild animal, with patience and perseverance.
So, can I learn the violin in one year? I can’t say so, but it is not typical, it is hard work. To double the typical speed, you need to double the typical work. I have seen it a couple of times. My mentor has reached a young person in an accelerated manner. This is how he did it:
- The person had already touched the violin a little before;
- He is a really good teacher ;
- He gave 2 lessons per week (double the rate);
- The student studied twice per day (twice 45 minutes) that is to say 90 minutes per day for a beginner (that is a lot)
- The teacher was available on the phone to course-correct;
- The student could be helped by friends.
After one year, that girl had the level you usually see with a student who has studied for 3 to 4 years and I was quite impressed. But this is the kind of work and context that awaits you if you want to learn the violin in one year.
Lastly: how long to sound good on the violin? I would say around one year provided you play open strings calmly and understand with your teacher the principle of violin tone production.