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Do you need a teacher to learn a string instrument?

12 Apr 2021
by Jeroen

I would like to learn to play the violin, but I don't have time for lessons.'; 'A teacher is expensive, so I will play the cello on my own.'; 'There are so many people who play the violin, it can't be that difficult!'

Learning to play a musical instrument is fun. Whether it is the violin, flute or bass guitar, a whole new and fantastic world opens up to you. The positive effects of playing a musical instrument on our brain and body have been scientifically proven countless times. But can you actually learn an instrument, especially a string instrument, on your own? Do you need a teacher to help you navigate in this wonderful world, or can you find your way with all contemporary aids (instruction videos on Youtube, a book like 'Violin playing for dummies', ...)? Is a string instrument, such as violin, viola, cello or double bass, more difficult to learn than, for example, a wind instrument? And what if you already play the guitar at a good level?

What a music teacher can mean for you

Learning to play a musical instrument is a long-term process. With some instruments you will quickly be able to play simple songs, but with a string instrument, this is a little more complicated. Its specific characteristics make it a complex instrument to start with. Not only do you have two different parts (the instrument itself and the bow), the fact that there are only four strings tuned in a certain way makes it a lot like a braingame to find the right notes. Let alone to play them in the right way with your bow! Here are a few things a teacher will help you with. Feel free to let us know in a comment what your experiences are with a teacher, or without :)!

  • Posture

A violin is anatomically one of the least healthy instruments. The asymmetry and complexity of the movements makes it very difficult to find a correct, relaxed posture. Add to this the fact that anyone who has just started playing the violin is called 'the screeching cat'. With the viola and cello, the high sounds are slightly less present, but getting a nice sound from the instrument with the wrong posture is very difficult, if not impossible. Not only the fingers of your left hand have to make unusual movements, but your whole body is suddenly in symbiosis with the instrument. A single joint bending in the wrong way, whether intentionally or not, can make it impossible to get a clear tone from the instrument. The most important thing here is that once you have taught yourself a wrong posture, it takes much more effort to unlearn it! A teacher will help you find the right posture from the start and correct you if anything goes wrong.

  • Sense of tonality

On a string instrument you have no frets, keys or buttons to find the right tone visually. A correct sense of tonality is therefore very important. You can learn to find the right notes with a tuner machine or app, but if you really want to know a song, this will not be enough. You need to develop a way to find the exact tone automatically by hearing and feeling. If you take lessons, the teacher will give you certain tips and exercises to develop this. This is a step you should not skip. Without this skill, you will soon reach a burden when learning new music!

  • Repertoire

The repertoire is very important. Most people who want to learn to play an instrument have a few songs in their heads that they want to be able to play as soon as possible. But learning to play an instrument is a learning curve. You can't calculate integrals without knowing how to do a multiplication either. You learn an instrument step by step. Without knowing what technical skills are necessary to perform a song or piece, you will continue to struggle with the music.

  • Practice method

Learning a good practice method is one of the first things you will learn when playing an instrument. A clear and structured approach to certain difficult passages is a prerequisite for mastering the instrument; just repeating a difficult bar countless times will not help you to play a song quickly!

  • Motivation

Perhaps the most important reason for getting a teacher: motivation! Whether you are a teenager or an adult and want to start playing an instrument, there are a thousand things that demand our attention. It is so easy to push practising off our daily to-do list. But if you have your violin lesson on, say, a Saturday morning, you'll be much more likely to grab your instrument during the week and be well prepared. Even if you have a hectic schedule, this will motivate you to practice anyway.

  • Instrument lessons are fun!

A teacher is not just there to give you instructions on how to hold your violin, alto, cello... He or she will show you the way to the musical world in creative ways. Via games, exercises, fun songs, and so on! Learning to play an instrument is not only about the result, the process itself can be very enjoyable. Often, from the very first lessons, you will be able to play together with your teacher or with other students. In this way, even as a beginner, you will discover the pleasure of making music together.

Finally, I would like to emphasise that music lessons do not necessarily have to be very expensive. There are different ways getting a teacher. Through a private teacher the cost price will indeed rise quickly, but this system is often more flexible than taking lessons at an academy. Which then again, has its disadvantages. Subsidised part-time art education ('the music academy') is very accessible and affordable. Be sure to ask the academy in your area if there is still a place available in the class! And join the community! :)


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