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I just bought a violin yesterday (a cheap electric one) mainly for experimentation.

I am a musician I play guitar and piano. Already in one day I can play a few scales on the violin (with the aid of some stickers on the neck) but I noticed that the pitch and precision is much better when I pluck the strings either with my hand or the bow compared to bowing.

Is this normal to control pitch less accurately when bowing (fully)? I noticed that my right hand (the bowing one) sometimes moves a little bit back and forth between the neck and the bridge and then a horrifying cat like sound appears. How can I improve this?

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    Take lessons. Don't expect to be able to play correctly or efficiently without a teacher. – Carl Witthoft Jan 25 '17 at 12:39
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    I've removed the second part of your question since it is a separate issue -- please feel free to ask it in a different post! -- and edited the title to be a bit narrower. "Any tips?" is generally too broad here, but it sounds like you have a specific issue and could use specific answers! – Matthew Read Jan 26 '17 at 7:08
  • Following up -- please don't take comments about getting a teacher personally. All answers here are not just directed at you, but at the broader community who reads this question and might share your concerns. "Get a good teacher" is both a valid answer and something that others are able to do. – Matthew Read Jan 28 '17 at 5:00
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Disclaimer: not a teacher. This is just what my teachers have had me do. Get a teacher.

Violins are hard to learn. You have so much more control over all aspects of sound production on a violin compared to a piano or a guitar (particularly a piano) that you also get a million more ways to do it wrong and make a horrible noise.

As with all instruments, the best way to learn is to have lessons with a competent teacher.

Your specific question about the bow moving up and down the strings - yes that's bad. You want the bow to be perpendicular to the strings, so that it excites just that one spot on the string that you want it to. If it slides during the note, the sound changes through the bow stroke and some of the energy is lost and sometimes it just sounds horrible. This is actually a legitimate technique - once you know how to control it, what it does and you can limit it to happen only when you actually want it to.

So you need to learn to control that. Get your violin and your bow. Stand in front of a mirror in which you can see your entire instrument. Place the bow on the strings, about halfway between the bridge and the end of the fingerboard initially. Look in the mirror. Check the angle of your bow - if it's not parallel to the bridge, move your hand away from your or towards you to change it. This is easier to see if you start in the middle of the bow, rather than at one of the ends.

Now start moving the bow. Does the angle change? Watch in the mirror and adjust. Play open strings only - this is hard enough without having to think about your left hand as well. If you keep hitting multiple strings unintentionally, look down at the contact point on the instrument (not in the mirror this time) and use that to adjust your bow angle. Keep checking in the mirror to see if your bow is still parallel with the bridge.

Go slow, stay relaxed. Don't press the bow down into the strings, you need a little weight from your arm but not very much.

Bow long notes up and down and up and down and up and down. Then do the next string. Then the next.

It will take some time, but this is how I learned to get my bowing angle right on the violin (and before it, the viola da gamba - although I get it wrong on both instruments from time to time as I'm no virtuoso). My teachers both put me in front of a mirror and had me looking and bowing and adjusting and looking and bowing, because they can tell you but there's nothing like seeing it for yourself.

  • thanks a lot. Indeed, I figured this out myself about the bow being parallel to the bridge. And also I found that the sound slightly changes depending on the angle of the bow relative to the strings (more or less hair exciting the string). After 2 days my sound is already greatly improved to the point I can play a few scales up and down changing strings. Indeed, a teacher is ideal but 1) I have no time for regular lessons, 2) at this point I am not interested. Thanks a lot for your detailed answer and effort. Thankfully a friend who is violinist will help me sporadically. – Marion Jan 27 '17 at 22:34
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This is a violin, not a piano. There is a large number of degrees of freedom for all of the playing action. You don't just strike a tone and it's there. You have to control it from start to end with a bow that has completely different weighting and leverage depending on its ever-changing point of contact. Getting all movements to work well and smoothly hand in hand requires skill and practice.

Your post amounts to "I just started juggling, and I dropped a ball. What am I supposed to do now?"

There is no magic trick. You need years of practise, sensibly under occasional direction of a teacher.

There is a reason violin is considered an instrument that is hard to play even though you usually only need to bother about a single note at once.

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