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I have been playing guitar for several years now and I feel that I'm ready to start another instrument a bit more classic, but I'm not able to decide between piano and violin. I know that I will learn both but I can't decide which one I should begin with. I've been trying to hear melodies with violin alone and piano too but sometimes I prefer one, sometimes the other. I'm torn between them.

Is one a better choice then the other to start with? What should I be thinking about to choose?

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    Learning piano will help you understand music better and in that sense can help with learning violin (and anything else). Learning violin will not help you learn piano. – Todd Wilcox Aug 14 '15 at 13:11
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    @JacobSwanson: it's not a duplicate, because that question says “I have no musical background or whatsoever”. That's quite a crucial difference here. – leftaroundabout Aug 14 '15 at 15:52
  • @JacobSwanson it was actually that question that made me want to ask mine, but i didn't find there the answer i was looking for . – Zineb Aug 14 '15 at 17:06
  • Do you have access to a teacher? Will you be able to get one for which ever instrument you pick? – Jacob Swanson Aug 14 '15 at 17:42
  • @people voting to reopen, mind explaining what's different between the two questions? The answers seem to be VERY similar. – Jacob Swanson Aug 16 '15 at 1:15
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The answer is to learn both. They are not exclusive of each other, and as you say, you're going to learn both eventually anyway. Both require development of your music reading skills. Spending time on the one will not detract from the study of the other. Virtually all advanced, university-level music programs require the student to have fundamental basic piano skills, regardless of principal instrument. There's a reason for that!

The violin will require more time before you reach a state of basic proficiency, i.e. the point where you will be able to play with other players in an ensemble.

You'll find that one or the other instrument will begin to emerge as a preference, and that's a far better selection process than making an arbitrary flip of the coin today.

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    I agree that learning both is the right answer – however, I'd take a different conclusion: because piano is practically inevitable anyway for any western musician, but violin is not, one should make a deliberate commitment to learn violin ASAP. Otherwise, the “will learn both” is likely to not be fulfilled, because violin is so hard (and it doesn't get easier to start with it later). – leftaroundabout Aug 14 '15 at 16:02
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You could think about how you use the guitar most, if you mostly play to accompany yourself singing, the piano may be a better choice. If you treat the guitar as a solo (melodic) instrument, or regularly have other musicians to play with, the violin may be a better choice.

For what it's worth, playing the piano develops and uses a lot more transferable skills. Ways of looking at music theory and chordal harmonies etc which you probably use while playing guitar are a lot more prominent in piano playing. If you learn to play piano you will get keyboard skills, which can then be used for organs, accordions and synthesisers.

You may find that having some form of keyboard synthesiser handy when you're playing guitar becomes a useful tool, if you know both it's fairly easy to switch instruments. The idea of having a violin as an instrument for part of a song and guitar for others would be a lot more difficult, practically.

If you really want to try something completely different, which doesn't combine with your guitar playing at all, the violin may be a better choice. It's got a lot more to think about in terms of expression, detailed technique, although it is likely to tie you down to a fairly limited number of musical contexts, classical or folk, mostly. (Obviously, it can be part of any music, but is less often).

Basically, think about why you want to learn another instrument, and what you hope to achieve with it.

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    this answer seems to utterly ignore a vast swath of musical cultures. Violin figures prominently in every eastern/middle-eastern culture; it figures prominently in western classical repertoire; it figures prominently in all american and european folk/indigenous musics: country&western; irish;appalachian; klezmer; turkish/persian; indian; gypsy; on and on. The piano does as well. – dwoz Aug 14 '15 at 15:16
  • Firstly, yes, it is an over-simplification, I stated that myself. Secondly: all of the styles you've listed could be described as folk, or classical styles. I'm very sorry if I've offended some sensibility here, I'm merely trying to suggest things to think about when choosing one of these two instruments. – AJFaraday Aug 14 '15 at 15:18
  • when you say "...a fairly limited number of musical contexts..." in describing an instrument that is prominent in MOST musical contexts, it naturally gives pause... – dwoz Aug 14 '15 at 15:30
  • Agree with @dwoz, violin fits easily in as many genres as piano. In fact, I couldn't name a style where you could not use violin, but there are many styles where piano quite fundamentally doesn't work (to name two: most indian music, due to microtonality, as well as most metal styles, due to lack of ability to “chunk” rythms). Piano is more common in past-1950 western popular music, but that's about it. – leftaroundabout Aug 14 '15 at 15:40
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    'Keyboards utterly useless...' ? Several of mine have a little gismo on the left hand side, that changes all sorts of parameters, making them as expressive as - just about any instrument! And I've a swell pedal! Your bias is showing! However, it's a great answer! +1. – Tim Aug 14 '15 at 16:29
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Well, don't fool yourself: violin is difficult. But...


Personal experience: I was (at the age of 15) in a similar situation as you are now. Knew guitar, wanted to learn something more classical. I tried violin. And tried. And failed.

Actually I didn't try that long, nor did I take professional lessons. But I really couldn't see it going anywhere. The thing with violin is, not only is is hard to play good, it's in fact hard to produce any sound that's not plain painful. And even worse, after an hour of practising, that horrible scratchy mess kept following me around in my head all day long...

I sometimes regret not having had the willpower to learn violin. But well... I ended up learning cello instead, which turned out to be rather closer to guitar in many a sense, yet still can do many of the things that are nice about violin. Something you should consider, too! I'm very happy being a string player:

  • Violin/cello are orchestral instruments. Don't know if you had that in mind, but playing in an orchestra can be an amazing experience. It's a way to be part of a truely, well – great sound, without necessarily having to be extremely skilled. (You may get a similar experience with electric guitar in a rock band, but that never has the kind of “part of something huge” feeling.)
    • Since an orchestra needs quite a large number of string instruments (unlike winds), it's relatively easy to get into one – provided of course that you can play decently, which as I said sure isn't easy. In that regard, the best choice would however be viola or double bass, which tend to be most sought for (because so rare).
    • Keyboards are of course also used in orchestral settings, but unless you're really good and can play piano concerts, you'll end up mostly with somewhat silly (but often crazy convoluted) celesta rings, or kitschy fairytale clichees.
  • String instruments can be used in a remarkably wide range of different ways. The typical silky orchestral violin section is only the tip of the iceberg; you can also do fiery dramatic soloes or rumbling rythms or spooky effects or breathtaking innocent folky tunes. Of course, piano is also versatile (at least keyboards in general), and guitar can achieve a lot through FX processing. But IMO there's no class of instrument which offers such a wide, immediate and emotional response as strings do.
    • And they manage to fit in pretty much any musical context, if played accordingly; you're not at all bound to orchestra playing.
  • Especially violin is nicely compact. You can take it everywhere, practise anywhere, and join any session. OTOH, piano... let's not start.
  • The bowed string instruments, together with guitar skills, readily open up many other instruments. Mandolin is really pretty much just strummed violin with frets, electric bass is exactly the same as cello, and the intonation wisdom can be translated to all kinds of instruments, as well as singing. With piano? Well, you get the other keyboards almost (but not quite) for free, but keyboards are utterly useless for many dimensions of musical expression.

So: definitely try a string instrument, if you're willing to go through some efford!

To disclaim: I'm frankly a bit of a piano hater. Of course piano has undeniable qualities, and sometimes nothing is as fitting as a piano accompaniment. But I find piano is way overused, in part surely because it's so much easier to become decent (which doesn't mean it's easy to become good!), and IMO it also doesn't have any benefits over guitar as a harmony / theory device, in fact I consider the 12-toneism that piano induces rather harmful to composition.

You can (and should) always also learn a bit of keyboard in addition to other instruments. But if you want to become a classical pianist, it requires no less efford as for violin, and honestly I'd consider this is wasted lifetime in your position.

  • +1 for orchestra! Also, please don't forget about viola! Several of the biggie composers were violists -- you'll understand harmonies from the inside. – aparente001 Aug 18 '15 at 20:03
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As someone who first learned the piano and then learned guitar, I would say it would be best if you now learn piano. The reason for this is that once you understand the piano keyboard, music theory will become much more easy for you to understand because each note on the piano only has one place and the piano is designed to play all chord inversion easily. Knowing music theory that you can use in a performance setting really ups your game.

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