V.com weekend vote: What is the important supplementary musical skill for playing the violin?

January 22, 2023, 10:15 PM · Let's face it, not every skill that we learn on the violin is something taught in a violin lesson. A lot of that skill can be transferred from other musical activities - such as playing the piano, singing, learning solfege, dancing, composing - or maybe something else.

Personally, I did not start the violin at the young age that people do these days - I was nearly nine years old. At that time, there was a dominant idea that anyone who wanted to play an instrument should take piano lessons first (not that I did!)

piano hands

That said, I don't think I would have had the same kind of success with the violin if I hadn't done a great deal of singing as a child. Not that I was formally taught to sing, or that I was good at it, but I as a very young child I would "practice my songs" and try to make my voice match the music in my head. I also whistled (to my mother's great annoyance!) and tinkered around on the piano. I would even argue that my very short stint with ballet lessons helped my eventual violin-playing by putting music in my head alongside physical choreography.

After my violin years began, I still had other musical activities that helped with my violin-playing: more singing in choirs, learning piano in college, a bit of composing and solfege.

This week I want to explore how those musical activities other than violin (or viola or cello) playing helped along the fiddle playing.

Did you, or do you, have any activities that gave you skills that have helped your violin playing? What were they? How did they help? Which was most important? Please participate in the vote and then share your thoughts.

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Replies

January 23, 2023 at 01:07 PM · Based on my own experience, and the input I’ve had from other players, I voted “Piano.” The piano was my first instrument - I started on it at 7 y/o. At the time, I had already been listening, on my own, to classical music at home via recordings and radio. During this period, the violin fascinated me, and I soon made the switch to this instrument. I first played by ear on a half-sized fiddle. Thanks to basic piano instruction, I could already read music; so I learned some beginning violin steps from my first instruction book - before I started lessons with my first teacher. Hard to explain now how I managed to pull this off, but somehow I did.

Later, as a violin performance major, one requirement I - and all other instrument and voice majors - had was x number of semester hours in piano as a minor subject. Thanks to early piano training, I could already read treble and bass. The keyboard skill came back to me, like the skill of riding a bike does; and I worked my way up to Beethoven’s Für Elise without much trouble, even though I hadn’t played on a keyboard instrument for some years.

My experience in switching early from piano to violin is a bit like what happens when you acquire a second language at an early age - and then the second language takes over and becomes the one you use in everyday life. The first “language” - piano - isn’t gone, even though I don’t use it now and don’t think in terms of it anymore. Still, I don’t doubt that having first had piano lessons made violin, in my case, less intimidating. Side note: It also helped me pick up a fair amount of theory at an early age.

January 23, 2023 at 02:17 PM · Listening to music was an escape from a very difficult childhood as it would take my thoughts to happier, fantasy-filled places. I played briefly as a child and the violin became my "happy place." When I picked up the instrument again after a 50 year absence, I hesitated to learn again, but the comfort I found in practicing and playing returned. The focus it requires helps block out most of life's unpleasantries. I became part of the dreams I had as a child when I became good enough to join our regional orchestra with which I now play 1st violin.

January 23, 2023 at 05:05 PM · I voted "singing" but I also learned to play the treble recorder as a first grader (I started on violin at the age of 11). Plus I attended one year of solfège which in my music school was required before starting with instrument instruction. I still think singing was the most basic of these activities because it is physical and "direct form the belly" whereas the other two things got me the facility in music reading and a fairly solid grounding in basic theory*.

* Come to think of it: This may be the reason I never needed stickers on my fingerboard...

January 23, 2023 at 05:37 PM · Good choral singing and piano got me off to a flying start on viola at 14yo.

January 23, 2023 at 08:39 PM · Not what you would think of as a "Musical Skill" but, concentration and focus.

Today in particular when our attention and focus are being drawn in a thousand different directions. Every noise, visual items, every random thought is a distraction and making music while distracted is impossible.

January 23, 2023 at 09:23 PM · I voted for singing. Even though I didn't do much of it until college, choral singing was what really accelerated my progress on violin and viola more than anything else. Learning to sight-sing helped immensely with audiating passages before playing them.

Piano and other musical instruments helped too. I had a DipABRSM in piano performance, had played low brass in school bands for a while, and was just starting to get into composing at the time I started on string instruments. The piano made it easy to learn music theory and gave me a good sense of harmony. Playing brass (especially trombone) forced me to think about intonation for the first time.

January 24, 2023 at 08:13 AM · I voted Solfège because I believe it is important to hear in advance what you are about to play. Piano and singing are important too.

January 24, 2023 at 09:07 PM · I voted "something else" because there wasn't an entry for music theory. Learning the relationships between notes - both in pitch and in time - gave me a foundation in melody and rhythm.

My first instrument, at age 8, was the cornet, which I played through my teens - after which began my Great Musical Hiatus, which lasted for 25 years. But I still enjoyed listening to music during that time; said enjoyment was enhanced by my sense of perfect pitch and rock-solid rhythm.

Even more than the violin, the cornet is a melody instrument, not a chording one. But the first instrument I picked up in my musical renaissance was the guitar, from which I learned chord theory; this filled in a big hole in my musical knowledge. Now, on violin, I can play a melodic line, or use double stops to hint at chord structure.

January 25, 2023 at 04:47 PM · Piano definitely helps acquire practical knowledge of music theory, and it is needed for the college music major, but I voted for [singing] as something that actually helped my violin playing. Connect the dots. Design better, longer phrasing. There is a big analogy between bowing and breath control; air flow, support, placement = bow speed, weight, point of contact. Unfortunately, I waited much too long before starting formal voice lessons and solo singing.

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