I know, it sounds like a horrible, cheesy infomercial. But the truth is this: if you’ve always wanted to play the violin, or have mused about what it must be like, but you’re thinking, nah, too much involved, well, I’m just saying, the opportunity might be closer than you imagine.
1) Go to a music store that rents stringed instruments. There are many. Think of all the kids doing it for school orchestra. Slap down that credit card and for $20, you have a violin for a month. Comes in its own case, with a bow. A bad one, but a bow. Consider buying a shoulder rest for greater comfort. Or not. Some violinists feel they play better without one.
2) Ask staff if they know violin teachers. Odds are high they’ll know several, because kids renting violins are likely going to be having the occasional private lesson in addition to the student orchestra. Arrange for a few lessons. Even just one. Or don’t.
3) Take the violin home. Pull it and the bow out of the case. Tighten the hair on the bow so it’s taut, with a pencil’s thickness between the bow and the hair. You do that via a little adjuster thingy on the base of the bow. Which is called the frog. Don’t ask me to explain.
4) Run the bow in a downward/upward motion across the strings. Try to make it straight, like a bowling ball going down its lane.
5) Look at yourself in the mirror. You are playing the violin. Okay, maybe the sound produced doesn’t qualify as music. But understand this. You are playing the violin.
You might be saying right now that this is wildly simplistic. Sure. I’ll give you that. But I’m going to argue, from the “just do it” philosophy of life, in the way someone who’s never written a novel before can just start writing one and be doing it, and the way any endeavor, whether big or small, commences. You just do it. You throw yourself in and cheerfully blunder your way through it. I’ll never forget doing my own first steps, renting the violin, chatting with the teacher who agreed to take me as a student, even though it might only prove to be three or four lessons (it was, initially, merely research for a novel I was writing). I knew I was not a musical instrument person. I sang, danced. The world of actually making the music felt very foreign to me. But I’d always been fascinated by the violin, its repertoire, the range of sounds the instrument produced and the emotions it evoked. Now here it was, finally, in my hands, in my home. And yes, I was bumbling. I sounded awful on that violin, the scratch of the bow producing honks and squeaks that sent the cat running from the room.
But I was playing the violin.
You can try self-teaching, but seriously consider the lesson idea, if only to get feedback on bow hold, chin and hand placement. There’s nothing intimidating about it. Week one, my teacher had me plucking the notes of a one-octave scale with my finger. Singing along with the notes. The next week, the bow got introduced. The next week, I learned and practiced a rudimentary song. After that, the hunger to do more seized me, and I signed up for permanent lessons.
There are lesson books out there that don’t make you feel like a moron. (I’ve enjoyed the “All For Strings” series by Gerald E. Anderson and Robert S. Frost, and “Beautiful Music for Two String Instruments” by Samuel Applebaum.) There are tunes in these books that are easy to follow that make you feel —gasp!– like you are playing real music. Within a month, I was succeeding. Still sounding thin and scratchy, I’m sure. But the concept astonished me. I was making music, on the violin. This thing I’d long considered out of my reach, out of my realm. It was that easy, in the end.
This post isn’t intended to be a true “how to.” There are dozens of blogs that devote themselves to every step of the process. Violinist.com (http://www.violinist.com/discussion/) is a wonderful community of violin-playing teachers, students, professionals and amateur enthusiasts. I’m here today simply to reiterate this: if you harbor any interest in learning how to play the violin, or if you’re merely curious to see a violin up close, examine how it works, what’s stopping you? For $20, you can rent this fun toy of an instrument (I say that because the violin is so darned cute and pretty, part of my satisfaction is just looking at it, tucking this pretty thing under my chin), and goof around.
You are not too old to start. It is not too hard. You are not too broke. It is not too inconvenient.
Just do it.