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First of all. I am 26 years old. I have no musical background or whatsoever. I don't know how to play any instrument. I can't even read musical notes. But I want to learn an instrument. About my time. I have a 3 hours free time on weekdays and whole day on weekends for practice.

I have a few questions:

  1. Is it too late for me to learn an instrument? And just give up because of my age. Some say it's too late because my muscles and bones are already hard and molded.

  2. Can I learn it by myself? Hiring a teacher is out of the question. I plan to learn by myself. If this is not possible should I give up?

  3. My choices are violin and piano. Which is easier to learn?

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    "my muscles and bones are already hard and molded." What does that even mean? You can safely tell those people to avoid a career in medicine or biology. They'll only end up killing people. – fredsbend Jul 7 '15 at 6:12
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    that's only kind of true. It's easier for children, because their brains are in a unique stage that learns so quickly. By 25, we're pretty much out of that stage and learning, in general, takes more intentional effort. But you'd rather try and fail than never have tried at all, right? At least, that's way I think everyone should live. – fredsbend Jul 7 '15 at 6:28
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    You say that you want to learn an instrument,. That's awesome and I encourage you to do so, but I suspect there is a reason why you want to learn an instrument. As my piano teacher wisely told me, some people learn because their parents force them, some people learn because they get pleasure from the music, some people learn because they enjoy entertaining other people. What do you want to do with your skills once you have them? Knowing that would influence which instrument I'd recommend. – Eric Lippert Jul 7 '15 at 15:43
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    To me the most important, actually the only important factor, in choosing an instrument to learn is to choose the one that speaks to you the most. If you ignore all the other instruments in the orchestra but the violin, if you stare hungily at them in music stores, if your heart soars when you hear a single violin note, then you should choose that regardless of anything else. Likewise for the piano or any other instrument you can think of. Another dimension of this is when you try one in the store, does it feel comfortable and fun to hold/play/touch/hear/smell/etc? – Todd Wilcox Jul 7 '15 at 17:16
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    I would start with piano, because it visually teaches music theory better than any other instrument. It's a great first instrument for any musician who eventually goes on to specialize in any other instrument; any musician would benefit from having some basic piano training. – Tab Alleman Jul 7 '15 at 20:07

10 Answers 10

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Is it too late for me to learn an instrument?

No. It's never to old to learn anything. Having the determination and persistence to continue is the hard part. It might be harder for you to learn as your brain isn't as flexible as it was. Music is a language and it will take work to learn. Don't get discouraged though!

Can I learn it by myself? Hiring a teacher is out of the question. I plan to learn by myself. If this is not possible should I give up?

Of course you can. There is a source right here for you to ask questions regarding technique, etc. But, I would recommend getting a basic theory book and an instrument book (make sure it isn't band oriented). These will give you a path to follow, then supplement with videos on YouTube, etc for other things you want to learn.

There are some downsides to self learning especially if you pick violin. You will probably end up with bad posture and possibly end up not even hitting a correct note. You can probably find some sources on the internet on ways to prevent and on what proper posture and finger placement is. And, a beginner with a violin sounds VERY bad (You've been warned. :)).

My choices are violin and piano. Which is easier to learn?

My personal opinion is that the piano is easier to learn. Violin requires precise hand movements (not that the piano doesn't, but less so). It will also be easier to play, note- wise, because it should already be in tune. I also think the piano is more versatile, you rarely hear a pop song with a violin, but every song has a chord progression that can be played on the piano as you or someone else sings along.

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    Yup. You could always learn both! I think starting on piano would give you basic theory, so you don't have to learn that and the violin at the same time. – Jacob Swanson Jul 7 '15 at 3:43
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    I think the piano also makes it easier to visualize the theory. You'll find you know the notes because you understand what fits and what doesn't. On violin, you'll end up mostly memorizing for a long time. – fredsbend Jul 7 '15 at 6:14
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    Sorry, dude. Downvoted. Music.SE cannot replace a teacher, if the guy is starting from zero, unless you are willing to go visit him on weekends, listen to him, point out mistakes he isn't even aware of doing and help him with posture and physical aspects of playing before he gets hospitalized with tendinitis. – Some Dude On The Interwebs Jul 7 '15 at 14:12
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    I'm not an expert, but doesn't much of the violin repertoire expect multiple musicians? For someone alone, a solo pianist can hold together a performance or back up a vocal performance of some kind, without requiring additional instrumentalists. – Bill Michell Jul 7 '15 at 14:48
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    @SomeDudeOnTheInterwebs I didn't suggest it was (or if it sounded like that, I didn't mean that). It is a resource for people to ask about things they don't understand in theory or on their instrument. – Jacob Swanson Jul 7 '15 at 18:02
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I will throw in my own take as I differ from the other opinions on a few points:

  • Like everyone says: go for it. If you put in the time and attention to it, you will get rewarded. You mention "3 hours free time on weekdays and whole day on weekends for practice". I'd suggest that you start slow: practicing is tiring. Practice a tiny bit but regularly, every day if possible. Multiple times a day is fine too, but don't overdo it by spending an hour each time. Consider perhaps practice sessions of 20 mn each. This will allow your body to not get too tense and you will feel good about what you did rather than burning out too early. If you cramp or feel you are getting tense or uninterested, stop immediately: you have the luxury of knowing yourself better when you start on the late side and should pay attention to what your body and soul tells you rather than forcing it.

  • Everything is possible, including finding free tutorials online. BUT I strongly encourage you to find help before you even start. If getting a teacher is out of question for you for financial reasons, find someone who knows the instrument who is willing to help you for free or in exchange of something you can offer: teaching that person something you know well, cooking for them, walking their dog, getting their grocery, or just giving them a kiss. I don't know what they will be willing to take but most people playing music will be happy to share their love for it. You can still learn from online resources and books, but finding that person you can go to ask questions and who can occasionally--every week or couple of weeks--look at you to point out the obvious-not-so-obvious-for-a-total-beginner mistakes will make your learning experience infinitely better.

  • I have been playing the piano for 30 years and still wonder whether I should have played violin instead. I do not know. Some obvious differences that you may want to think about:

    • violin is portable; a piano isn't.
    • piano is easier to start with.
    • there is a physical pleasure in pressing the bow directly against a string and making a note vibrate on a violin: you are closer to the instrument.
    • you can play random chords on a piano and let the harmonies surprise you.
    • piano is a bit more versatile.
    • Etc.

At the end of the day, go with your gut feeling. Both instruments are marvelous.

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    I don't play violin, but I do guitar and piano. I've never thought about the violin being more intimate than the piano, though now that I think about it, I believe I agree. – fredsbend Jul 7 '15 at 6:20
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    These are good comments on practice (3 hours of unfocused practice for a beginner sounds too much to start with!) and on finding a local person who also plays, to get you over the initial obstacles. – Andy Jul 7 '15 at 8:08
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For question 1:

It's never too late to learn anything. Age is never a barrier to learn anything. You are still 26 years old. How come you came to such a conclusion? And about your muscles and bones concerns, all I've got to say is you are not going to work out in a gym, weight lifting or body building. You are going to learn the best philosophy that can bring your inner emotions alive, so why worrying about your body conditions? And since you are still young, I really don't think that your muscles and bones are that weak that you can't handle those instruments.

For question 2:

I play guitar and I learnt it alone. There are lot of tutorials (both video and diagrammatic) that you can use to learn. It'll take some time. Nothing is impossible if you have the dedication and willingness to learn. And for your information, as I have learnt in my life, 'Giving up is not an option"

For question 3:

It depends. Don't go for an easier instrument to study. It's up to you to find out what brings out the best in you. Both instruments you have mentioned in your question are great instruments. So no matter what instrument you learn to play, you'll be happy as long as you show the passion towards music. So, why not giving a try to learn both instruments?

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    It's not about my muscles or bones are weak. But rather because some people says that my fingers will not be flexible enough compare to someone for example that played piano since a child because his fingers will be developed as more flexible and fluid in motion. Yes I plan to watch on youtube there are a lot of videos tutorials there. And I also plan to buy some books/ebooks too. You have a point about not going for easier instruments. But I find it quite hard to choose because those two instruments produces different but both wonderful sound. What I am worried is the steep learning curve – aozora Jul 7 '15 at 2:44
  • Well!! I don't think you will have issues related to flexibility in your fingers. Just practice hard and you'll eventually see the beauty of your talents within no time. And as @Jacob Swanson mentioned in his answer, yes, violin needs more attention and precise hand movements compared to piano, but still, what I suggest is why don't you just try both instruments and see which suits you the best. You'll feel it when you are playing it. For an example, I play both organ and guitar, but I prefer and choose guitar over my organ because of the feeling I get when am playing it. So you decide. – Sahan De Silva Jul 7 '15 at 4:05
  • Great point on learning both. He might learn faster on one, but might end up loving the other more, but only find out after spending years on the first. Money might be a barrier. Instruments are expensive. – fredsbend Jul 7 '15 at 6:17
  • True!! Specially the price of a piano is way higher than a violin. I just didn't consider the price of the instrument. Only problem is I can't specifically suggest him to try one instrument and give up on other, because no one can ever provide such a comment. So I just gave him the authority to decide what he'd love to play. :) – Sahan De Silva Jul 7 '15 at 11:48
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Learning to play the violin by yourself is very hard. If a teacher is out of the question, then I strongly recommend going for the piano (there a lot of youtube tutorials for piano self-learners, I've yet to see one for a violin).

  • Not that learning piano by yourself is exactly easy. You can fake it, though. If that's what you want. – Some Dude On The Interwebs Jul 7 '15 at 14:15
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    As someone who has learned both violin and piano as a child, I can at least say that not having to struggle with correct intonation when playing the piano is a big boost. Moreover, playing technique is very important in violin, which is very hard to correct without a teacher. – alekdimi Jul 7 '15 at 19:06
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I'd recommend the piano because you'll inherently learn more about music theory and how notes work together, and that will benefit you in many ways. Keyboards provide a very clear, visual analogy of the notes they create and this facilitates understanding the more abstract ideas in music (it can distract from it, too, but it helps more than it harms).

Also, a piano can simply cover more possibilities than a violin -- not that a violin doesn't have a very important spectrum for emotional expression and a well-deserved reputation as an instrument of technical and expressive mastery.

If you become familiar with music on a piano, you can then move on to violin and whatever else you like with that very useful foundation to support you.

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I played violin (and later viola) since childhood up through college. I never learned piano. You say you don't want to engage a teacher. That's fine, it won't stop you from being able to play. But if you want to become really good that will hurt you because you'll learn habits that will prevent your technique from becoming really good later and those habits will be hard to unlearn. I'm guessing this is true of lots of things not just music. In those cases it always helps to have an experienced person watching how you're doing it.

Aside from that I wouldn't worry that it's harder to get to basic playing on violin vs. piano. You can get to Twinkle Twinkle your first day on violin I think.

Lastly, how big are your hands? I had to switch to viola because my fingers are too wide. Basically if you have to move the finger behind to place your finger down for the next note then your fingers are too big.

  • What do you mean about moving the finger behind to place your finger? Can you elaborate? Anyways I am a male. And I think my hand is like half a ruler long so about 6 inches. Don't know what that is in meters sorry. About the viola the sound it produce is lower right than violin? But are they the same nonetheless? Like their notes? – aozora Jul 7 '15 at 6:11
  • @aozora The spacing between notes will be different, I believe. So if you try to play a violin like a viola, you'll end up with the wrong notes and they'll be further from the correct note, the higher you try to play. – fredsbend Jul 7 '15 at 6:23
  • Big hands are not an insurmountable obstacle. Itzhak Perlman is one of the best violinists in the world, with extremely large hands and fat fingers. Here's a video of him talking about it, and demonstrating. thestrad.com/cpt-latests/… – Karen Jul 7 '15 at 13:15
  • Actually yes, not engaging a teacher will stop him from being able to play. He is 26 and has zero musical learning. Unless he is a genius (he is not, there are no geniuses on the internet, that's the rule) he'd have a hard time figuring out music - the whole of it, not technique, not theory, not repertoire, no music - on his own. – Some Dude On The Interwebs Jul 7 '15 at 14:06
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Piano may be less frustrating to begin with, easier to learn technique-wise. But this is also an instrument that leads many self-taught (or bad-taught) musicians to rely on keys and "finger memory" instead of their ears. Hearing is what makes you a good musician. Violin forces you to train this fundamental aspect from the outset. It's also cheap and easy to transport. So if you like both instruments equally in terms of sound, maybe violin is the best choice.

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  1. Unless you have a physical handicap, you're not too old to learn. And with that I mean something like severe arthritis or having one or both hands amputated. Being completely deaf would also be a problem of course
  2. You can, but as others have said it's far from ideal. At the very least go for some video instruction course, ideally with an internet forum or something that allows interaction with the instructor(s), for example a place to upload fragments of your play which they can then criticise.
  3. haven't played either myself, but there is more at stake than which is easier to learn (which probably is a highly opinion based thing anyway and varies from one individual to the next). I was years ago in much the same position, thinking 'keyboard or guitar' and decided on guitar because it's a more portable instrument, easier to store without taking up a lot of space in my apartment, and I had a friend who plays the guitar and having someone to go to for support and company is always good.

    For guitar, I bought the course from www.learnandmaster.com which taught me a lot (mind, I've no connection to them, just a happy customer).
    Sadly I pretty much had to give up because I did develop RSI and arthritis like symptoms which make playing extremely painful and frustrating for me (I can barely stretch my fingers, let alone move them individually, since a few years), but I remember the years I could play fondly and still once in a while strum a few notes for old times' sake.
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    At least you can still listen. That would be a real travesty. – fredsbend Jul 7 '15 at 6:25
  • @fredsbend yes, and I do listen to a lot of music. – jwenting Jul 7 '15 at 6:26
  • @jwenting: having RSI, I think you could testify how nice it is, right? Turns out, a great way to get RSI is not having a teacher. – Some Dude On The Interwebs Jul 7 '15 at 14:18
  • @SomeDudeOnTheInterwebs yes, there are a lot of videos and books out there that offer terrible advise that is likely to cause permanent injury when followed. Some of them do so even while claiming that their 'method' actually helps prevent injury (and then when you complain they state bluntly that "you must have done something wrong"). – jwenting Jul 8 '15 at 5:28
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Strongly recommend guitar. Much cheaper than either of the other two.

Violin has an initial learning curve of pure glass to get to making nice noises. It is virtually impossible to learn the technique you need without a teacher.

It also requires you to have the hearing to tell whether you're exactly on the note or slightly off, and adjust for it. Not everyone can do it accurately enough - I know someone who is a pretty good mandolin player, but is an lousy fiddle player (even though it's basically the same fingering) because he simply can't hear pitch well enough.

Piano is much easier than violin to start with. You still need a teacher for good technique, but you can get them in later when you have some basic competence. Piano also sets up a lot of skills (musical score, for instance) which are generally portable to other instruments, so it's a pretty good choice. Of course the downside is that even if you go for an e-piano (and you DO need a proper hammer-action keyboard) then it still takes a fair bit of space.

  • Uh, classical guitar is insanely difficult, though. – Some Dude On The Interwebs Jul 7 '15 at 15:52
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    @SomeDudeOnTheInterwebs Every skill is, it only depends on how far you want to develop it. – 11684 Jul 7 '15 at 22:03
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I realize in these economic times a teacher is sometimes prohibitive. However, utubes can only go so far, for both instruments. If faced with a choice, piano, only because the chance of causing irreversible damage to muscles, ligaments and tendons is less. Basically, playing a keyboard, the stressors are less, as both hands are doing basically the same thing. And you're sitting.

One must be aware of the back, shoulders, elbows, fingers and more. How much more when we are talking about an instrument whos playing involves all these with different stressors for each hand and arm doing completely different motions. Just standing and holding the violin under the chin takes practice.

And if one does not have a professional instructor noticing any motions detrimental to the body, I cringe at the damage that can occur. Yes, the same arguments can be put forth with the piano, but with the violin, other instruments such as flute and trumpet, one can really do harm.

Non withstanding the asceticism of which sound you love so therefore pursue, (ear training with the violin noted), the bonus of playing a piano and accomplishing playing a 2 hand composition quickly is a plus. I am approaching the original question basically from a standpoint of which instrument, is studied without an instructor, has the potential of causing greater harm physiologically.

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