From Guitar to Violin

 

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The violin has always fascinated me. In my opinion, it’s one of the most sentimental instruments. That being said—it can also be a discordant instrument as you’re learning how to play. I’ve heard on numerous occasions that the violin is “one of the most difficult” instruments to learn how to play, if not “the most difficult”. I could certainly believe it. A piano is cleanly laid out in 12 keys of white and black, repeated in several octaves. Not to say that the piano is easy by any means, but a violin layout isn’t as straightforward. There are quite a few similarities between violin and guitar, both being stringed instruments, and this has made my journey with the fiddle a little easier.

Differences/Disadvantages

In regard to the tuning, it’s kind of like an inverted guitar. A guitar, lowest string to highest string, is tuned in fourths (except G to B, which is a major third): E A D G B E. While a violin, low to high, is tuned in fifths: G D A E. The violin tuning is an inversion of the lowest four strings of a guitar. This is tricky in the beginning because as a guitarist you grow accustomed to certain scale patterns pertaining to certain scale degrees. This is just close enough to annoy you. Being in fifths rather than fourths, there is an extra half-step or whole-step that needs to be added to each string, depending on the scale. What were three-notes-per-string scales on guitar are four-notes-per-string scales on violin.

Another obvious and significant difference—unlike a guitar, a violin is fretless. Rather than having nice little pieces of metal telling you where to put your fingers, you almost have to guess. A combination of muscle memory and an ear for music are two necessities to ensure proper intonation.

One biggie that is foreign to most guitarists (Jimmy Page excluded) is the use of a bow, rather than a pick. This takes some practice. The bow must be completely perpendicular to the strings, and you must use a gliding, smooth touch. It’s difficult to get into the swing of coordinating your two hands effectively in the beginning.

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Similarities/Advantages

In regard to the tuning, it’s kind of like an inverted guitar. This disadvantage develops into an advantage with time. After becoming familiar with how the scale patterns differ—you get used to fact that you have to incorporate an extra half-step or whole-step. It becomes a great reference point. Looking at it like a backward guitar provides insight—allowing you to know where you’re at on the fingerboard. It’s also a useful guide for double stops.

Having already played guitar for several years, I have naturally developed finger strength. This is something that a newbie, with no prior experience, will have trouble with. You have to press down pretty damn hard on the fingerboard to ensure the note rings out properly.

Knowledge of music theory is an advantage not only for a guitarist, but for anyone who has experience with any melodic instrument. Knowing what notes make up certain scales (major, minor, pentatonic) in a given key is substantially helpful. You know how it’s supposed to sound. If you’re off, it’s easily adjustable. Understanding how notes build chords triads, how chords relate to scales, and whether something is in key or not gives an enormous head start when learning an instrument.

I would recommend that anyone trying to tackle any instrument learn all they can about music theory. It’s a universal theory for all instruments and simplifies the puzzle the deeper you go down the rabbit hole.

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The Journey

Whether or not you have experience with a musical instrument, the violin is a great instrument to pursue it. It’s challenging, a great hobby if you’re just looking for something new to try, and it can be an interesting addition to a music ensemble of any genre. I’ve mentioned many of the difficulties of starting out, even for myself with guitar experience under my belt. But like everything else, if you are passionate about it, you continue even during the times where you’re tempted to quit, and you strive to get better every day, you will be rewarded for your time and effort. Don’t get discouraged. Keep it up, practice it regularly, and you’ll get there.

Happy bowing!

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