It is often said that playing the violin is harder than playing the piano. This is a crucial question when a kid starts to learn an instrument. Parents want to give him or her the best chances to succeed. There are a lot of children that learn both the violin and the piano at any classical conservatory up to the point that there can be a waiting list.
Is playing the violin harder than piano? There are several kinds of difficulties. On the technical side, producing a good sound and in tune is definitely more difficult on the violin. The piano is easier to play the first tune on it. But when it comes to music, both are difficult instrument because learning music is a life long journey. Different characters choose different instruments. Let’s see which one is for you.
Let’s see how the violin differs from the piano and what kind of difficulties awaits the kid who chooses to play the violin.
The piano is so easy (or appears to be)
You just have to press a key and the sound of the piano is there, in tune, well defined, with a good tone.
For that, you need one year of practice for a violinist.
You just have to press 2 keys simultaneously on the piano and there you have a nice chord, in tune, well defined, and with a nice tone.
For that again, you need an additional year or two of hard work to get to the same result on the violin.
So that’s it, right? Well, let’s why the violin has a steeper curve at the beginning and if playing the piano is just easy.
Difficulty of the right hand
The piano itself, how it is made and build, how it is prepared by its maker produces the sound mainly. For sure a good pianist gets a better sound.
In the case of the violin, the sound is produced by the right arm. If this simple gesture is not mastered, the sound is bad, like a crying cat, as many say.
The sound is produced by mastering 3 different aspects of the right arm:
- pressure (or even more, contact) of the bow on the string,
- speed of the bow,
- point of contact of the bow and the string.
Each element depends on the other.
If the pressure is too heavy, the sound is bad; the violin creaks, grates, squeaks, grinds…
If the pressure is too light, the sound vanishes.
If the bow is too close to the bridge, the sound squeaks…
And so on. I explain on another article what it takes to have a good sound on the violin.
But to produce a single note with a good tone, all the three previous elements have to be mastered. Special exercices, or scales have to be practiced in order just to know how to produce a sound. That was just pressing a key on the piano, remember?
SO no, your kid won’t be able to play Twinkle twinkle little star for the family on the first week of learning.
Difficulty of the left hand
Left hand, on the other way, has its own challenges. We’ve already say that the piano is in tune (if well tuned beforehand, that is to say).
It is the left hand of the violinist that makes the intonation.
The intonation is the ability for a note to be in tune, not too high, not too low.
The violin doesn’t have any frets nor keys; the board is smooth. It is where the violinist puts his or her finger to stop the string that gives the pitch of the note. If the finger is placed slightly higher or lower (a millimeter is enough), the note is out of tune. How can a violinist play in tune, then?
By practicing a lot, gaining muscle memory, reflexes, correcting instantly with the help of the ear. There are many hours of scales to be made before a violinist can play in tune.
And many people say that a violinist will never play really in tune…
The scales will make a structure to the hand, and will help replace frets.The frets, for a violinist, are in the mind.
- A regularly shrinking board
Not only a violinist has to overcome the absence of frets or keys, but the room he or she has to but a finger proportionally shrinks or tapers the more the note is high…
This leaves little room to put the finger tip. And this is something more to experience and learn.
- Double stops
Playing more than one note at the same time is difficult on the violin. That is why the violin is considered a monodic instrument (an instrument who plays a single voice). That is why pieces with chords and double stops on the violin are considered difficult up to virtuosistic.
ON the other hand, playing a chord is basic on the piano, and is learned really early.
Playing both hands at the same time
Then, there is the idea about playing two hands at the same time on the piano. That is for sure something to learn. But let’s not forget that on the violin as well the two hands have to move on the same time in order to do really different tasks. One has to produce the sound, the other one has to stop the strings. And the more you progress on the violin, the more you will to have to play several voices at the same time as well. So I don’t think this is a difficulty that learning the piano has that learning the violin hasn’t.
Ok, the learning curve is steeper for the violin, nobody will deny that. But what now?
When the technic is gradually mastered, now comes the music. And that is the real subject. Music is never really mastered, no matter how long we study, learn play. And playing the piano leads to learn, ear, read and play master pieces that have pass through centuries. A life long career won’t be enough to understand, play, share and learn anything, be it on the violin or on the piano.
It all comes down to your expectations. What are they?
To play pop music with simple chords, while singing along, the piano is more at ease of course. As well as learning little tunes fast.
It is possible though, to start the violin to play folk music, pop or bluegrass for example. The technical requirements, though interesting and rich, will be less intimidating than playing through Paganini the first time.
If you or you kid want’s to learn classical music, with a steeper start, I think we can safely say that both instrument are equally difficult in the end.
Does my kid should choose the violin or the piano?
It comes down to a matter of character.
Does your kid can delay gratification? Can he or she wait for a result while trying or working on it?
Let’s see what temperament or personality fits with the violin or the piano.
If your kid cannot wait and wants everything NOW, then make no mistake, the violin is not the right choice.
On the opposite, if your kid can picture himself or herself one day playing the violin and is happy today just holding an instrument, then his or her chances to succeed will be high. (I mean chances to succeed to learn and not necessarily on a musical career).
This might sound a bit cliché, but there are two distinct, different types of personalities. If your kid has a more logical mind, loves mathematics, certain types of games, then the piano with its harmonic structure will be a better choice (maybe left side of the brain).
For a mind that is more sensitive, expressive, maybe the violin is a better fit. Let’s not forget the monodic nature of the violin, on which it is often played melodic lines rather than accompaniments, chords and harmonies. If your kid loves to sing, then this is the essence of the violin\
But it is difficult to make a choice and categorizing things like that leads to clichés. Of course, a great piano players needs both side of his or her brain, needs to learn the multiple monodic lines that make music. And a violinist needs to understand harmony to play well his or her instrument and master for example Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas.
My advice for your kid
Yes, the violin is more difficult than the piano, especially at the beginning. But in order to choose your kid’s instrument, you should consider:
- What types of music do you intend to play;
- What temperament you have;
- Logical mind that can’t delay gratification -> piano
- Sensitive character, loves to dream, can wait -> violin
- Logical mind that can wait for a result -> both instruments
- Classical music, small age -> violin
- Pop music who wants to play in public soon -> piano
So an important role is given to the fact that a kid (or you) can or cannot wait. It is meaningless to start the violin and expect a quick result.
Another important thing to consider is what type of music is played at home. If rock and pop music are the main choice, then the violin is not maybe the main match, even though it is possible to play those kinds of music on such an instrument. Classical is maybe a better match for a violin. Well, this is my two cents.