Stringed instruments come in many different shapes and sizes. Guitars and violins are two of the most versatile instruments that a musician can learn, as they can both be used across a wide range of musical genres.
Learning any instrument requires patience, dedication, and consistent practice. However, some are harder to learn than others due to the techniques and skills that are required.
In this guide, we’re going to compare the difficulty of learning violin vs guitar. We’ll break down the processes of learning each instrument to get a definitive answer.
Is Violin Harder Than Guitar?
It is generally accepted that the violin is harder to learn than the guitar, for several reasons. Violins have no frets, so the musician must develop their ear for note placement and tuning. Also, the techniques required to play the violin, such as bowing, are more difficult than the strumming and fretting techniques used for guitar playing.
Challenges of Learning Violin
The violin is a beautiful stringed instrument with a rich and decorated history. Traditionally used in classical music, it has also featured in songs across most popular music genres.
A capable violinist must develop a skill set that includes mastering complex techniques with both hands, the ability to produce the correct notes, and a variety of other capabilities.
Here are some of the main arguments for violin being harder to learn than guitar.
Violins are traditionally played with a bow, which produces a sound when it is pushed against the strings and moved back and forth. The bow must be gripped correctly, with the index finger placed on a grip, and the top of the pinky towards the base.
By placing the hair of the bow against the string of the violin, the musician then must smoothly move it to cause a sound to be produced.
Although using a bow may sound fairly simple in theory, anyone who has tried it for the first time will tell you that it is very difficult to produce a consistent, and ear-pleasing sound.
Violinists spend months drilling their bowing techniques before they can create the sounds that they want to. On top of that, there are many different bowing techniques that are used to produce different dynamic and tonal results.
If too much pressure is applied to the strings, the violin will sound too harsh, loud, and scratchy. If there is too little pressure, it will sound weak and inconsistent.
Learning to use a bow takes a lot of dedication and practice, and it can be incredibly frustrating until you have a breakthrough moment which may take weeks or even months to come!
Lack of Frets
The violin, like the viola or cello, is a fretless instrument. Frets are used to separate notes by semitones, allowing the musician to use them to precisely play the note that they want to produce.
Due to its lack of frets, an aspiring violinist cannot rely on their instrument to assume that the note they play is correct. They must memorize the spaces on the violin, which is no easy task.
A violin, like a guitar, should be tuned before it is played. Then, the violinist must press down the string with precision, otherwise, they will play a note that is slightly out of tune.
Frets allow the musician to visualize scales and notes, which can speed up the learning process considerably. However, violin player must use their judgment rather than relying on the fretboard.
To build upon the fact that violins have no frets, this forces the musician to develop their ear for harmony and pitch. While guitarists also require this skill to reach an advanced level, the frets do a lot of the work for them initially.
A violinist must develop the ability to hear whether the note they play is right or wrong. If they are slightly out, even by a fraction of a semitone, this could sound terrible when playing as part of an ensemble.
The mental faculties that must be trained to learn violin are arguably equally as important as the physical techniques. This causes the process of learning the instrument to take considerably longer, on average, than learning the guitar.
An aspect of violin playing that is often overlooked is the stamina it requires. Violins aren’t the heaviest instruments in the world, but they also aren’t particularly lightweight.
They must be held in the correct position, over the shoulder, and under the chin. This feels unnatural at first and puts strain on the upper body muscles of the violinist.
Guitarists often either play sitting down or using a strap that holds the weight of the guitar on one shoulder. A violinist doesn’t use support and must hold the full weight of the instrument against their body.
This requires a good level of physical strength and stamina. Developing a strong, correct posture is also essential for the longevity of the violinist’s body, as forming bs habits could result in repetitive strain injuries further down the line.
Challenges of Learning Guitar
As a keen guitarist, I have some wonderful memories of learning to play this wonderful instrument. However, when I remove my rose-tinted glasses, I remember the frustration and challenges that were also part of the process.
Guitar is often described as an easy instrument to learn, but a difficult one to master. I would agree with that statement to an extent, but there’s no denying that the first few weeks are painfully slow and difficult for most people.
Perhaps the most difficult thing about learning guitar is developing the finger strength in your fretting hand to apply enough pressure to the strings to create a desirable sound.
Most people have never really used the muscles in their fingers to press down in this way, so it feels very unnatural initially.
After a few hours of playing guitar, the fingertips on your fretting hand are likely to become very sore. Next, callouses will form, and the pain will continue for a few weeks until the skin becomes resilient enough to handle it.
This part of the process requires determination to push through and faith that your fingers will indeed gain the strength required to press down on the fretboard.
Learning to play guitar is similar to learning violin in terms of coordination. It requires you to use one hand to press against the frets, while the other hand strums or plucks the strings to produce the sound.
Strumming a guitar is by no means easy, but there are basic techniques that can be learned in a few hours. These include downstrokes, upstrokes, and ringing out chords.
Overall, most musicians would agree that the strumming techniques used to play guitar are easier than the bowing techniques used to play the violin.
Forming Chord Shapes
Another important distinction between guitar and violin is that the former requires you to play chords. Chords are played by pressing down against certain frets at the same time, causing them to interact with each other.
Violinists generally don’t play chords. Guitarists, however, probably use chords more than they use single notes unless they specialize in riffs or solos.
Learning all of the chord shapes on a guitar takes a long time. Sure, the guitarist can learn basic major and minor chords relatively quickly, but if you want to learn different inversions and more complex chords with accents and additional notes, this takes time.