How to Return to The Violin After Years of Not Playing
By Joel Kennedy
At Kennedy Violins, we get calls all the time from people who want to get back to playing after taking a hiatus of several years. The one thing that these individuals have in common is that they regret not keeping up with the violin. As a side note, if you are a current violin student and are thinking about quitting, consider this fact when making your decision because at some point, you will regret quitting! The fear that everybody has, is that they will have forgotten how to play the violin and will not be able to teach their adult minds how to do what they did when they were much younger. The simple answer is an emphatic YES! You can get back into your stringed instrument and have a great time in the process.
Why It's Easier If You Played More as a Youth
The better player you were when you were younger, will make it easier to get back into it when you are older. The simple reason for this is that your brain creates neural connections to play the violin and the more you practiced when you were younger, the stronger those connections are and the longer they will stay with you. Physically, any elasticity that you created in your joints when you were younger will go away to some extent, especially if your current hobbies or job do not require you to have loose joints. Conversely, having a job description that requires a lot of elasticity, like typing, will help you get back into playing a stringed instrument.
Starting With the Basics
Regardless of your past level of experience, you'll want to start with the basics. Even though you'll probably be very tempted to start digging into a bunch of music that has all your favorite songs, you probably end up just getting frustrated with your scratchy sound and bad intonation. More than anything, you just need patience.
The Importance of Scales
The first thing you should do is play scales. If you're playing the violin, you'll want to start with a simple 1-octave G Major scale. With the viola and cello, it'll be a C Major scale.
As you play your scale, concentrate on using whole bows from tip to frog and focus on drawing the bow with an even speed in the middle of the bridge and the fingerboard. This will help retrain your arm to draw a straight bow consistently and be able to do it automatically. Being able to control the bow well will not only help you produce a nice sound without squeaks and scratches but will also reactivate and loosen the large joints in your arm.
Left Hand Technique
Regarding the left hand, you'll want to focus on placing the fingers correctly and resist the urge to pick up your fingers after you've used them. Keep your fingers down until you MUST pick them up to go on to the next string. This will retrain your fingers to consistently have the correct placement on the fingerboard and will teach your hand to not move around while placing individual fingers down.
Your goal (and proper technique in general) is to have a relaxed hand that changes position as little as possible. Having a stable and relaxed hand will create the situation where your hand works efficiently and will lend to more reliable pitch placement.
After you've warmed up sufficiently with easy scales (using a metronome), you can start playing more difficult scales that have more flats and sharps in them. You can also start playing your scales faster. You can determine how fast you can play from your pitch. As soon as your pitch starts to get unreliable, then practice the slower speeds more before moving on. From here, you can graduate towards scales that require shifting into other positions.
Once you feel that you are drawing the bow fairly well and your fingers are pretty in tune, then start playing pieces that are similar to the scales you've just played. If you've mastered the G Major scale, then play a piece in G Major and go on from there. Every day, you'll notice that not only are you sounding better in every way, but any soreness or stiffness in your hands will slowly go away.
In general, you never want to go 2 days without practicing. You can skip 1 day but any more and you'll have to work harder to get the gained flexibility back into your hands.
The most important thing to remember is to be patient with yourself. If you start out slow and practice with intent, you'll surprise yourself with what you can play within a week or so. In many ways, playing a violin can be more rewarding as an adult because any peripheral pressures to practice as a child are gone. As an adult, you are just playing for the love of the music. It's a simple pleasure that never goes away.