I’ve been playing the guitar since I was a teenager.
I only just started learning the play the violin a few years ago.
Coming from the guitar, I have definitely found the violin to be much harder.
It has taken me much, much longer to reach even a basic level of proficiency.
After the same amount of time learning the guitar, I was able to play advanced pieces. Not so with the violin.
But that is my experience. How is it for others?
Is violin harder than guitar for everyone? Or is that only the case if you start out on the guitar?
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the relative levels of difficulty in learning the guitar or the violin.
Hopefully this will help you decide which instrument is right for you. Or which one to learn first, if you plan to learn both, as I did.
Table of Contents
- 1 Is Violin Harder Than Guitar?
- 2 Is Violin Easier Than Guitar: Final Thoughts
Is Violin Harder Than Guitar?
Objectively, the violin is significantly harder to learn than the guitar. Its steep learning curve is mainly defined by minimal room for mistakes, a smaller playing surface, more intricate finger positioning, and a unique playing style.
That said, every learning process is subjective. Some may actually find the violin easier than the guitar. But those people are definitely going to be in the minority.
Another important reason the violin is harder to learn than the guitar is that guitar players enjoy only a limited benefit from their experience on the guitar, when picking up a violin for the first time.
The violin is dissimilar to most conventional instruments outside of the violin family and it requires years, if not decades, to learn to play it proficiently.
Reasons The Violin Is Harder Than The Guitar
Guitars have long necks, six strings, and most importantly, frets. Violins lack all of these, which is a major reason most people struggle to wrap their heads around the violin when they first get started.
Moreover, you can play the guitar with your bare hands or with a guitar pick. To play a violin correctly, you need a long bow. It is possible to play the violin like a guitar to an extent, but to produce the right tone and execute even the most basic techniques, a violin bow is a prerequisite.
We will now take a closer look at the primary reasons most people need considerably more time to learn to play the violin than they do to learn to play the guitar.
The Violin Is A Fretless Instrument
The strips of a metal wire on a guitar’s fretboard serve many purposes. First of all, they tell you where you should place your fingers.
More importantly, they divide an octave, so that it doesn’t matter if you’re placing your finger at the start, in the middle, or at the end of the fret. You end up playing the same note no matter where in the fret you press down on the string.
Everything is different on a violin. Most violins lack frets. Without the frets, you can’t rely on your sight to determine where you should play the notes.
You will need to practice for months, even years, until the distance between the semitones becomes etched into your muscle memory. Position markers, which are the little dots on the violin’s neck, help a little. But not nearly as much as actual frets.
The Bowing Technique Is Difficult To Grasp
Before I get to the bowing technique on a violin, let me briefly explain what plucking a guitar with a pick is like. The way I’d describe it is that you place a thin piece of plastic between two fingers and move up and down from your wrist at the correct tempo.
A violin bow is almost as tall as the violin itself, and the string of horsehair is about 0.3 inches (8 mm) away from the stick. Getting accustomed to the fact that the contact between the horsehair and the violin’s string happens a millisecond earlier is not intuitive.
Bowing a violin has another dimension compared to plucking a guitar: the angle. To reach any of the four strings on a violin, you need to adjust the altitude and angle of the bow moving the entire arm, rather than just the wrist.
Mistakes Are Much Easier To Make
The tendency to miss notes (or the entire string) is a subjective factor closely tied to the amount of practice you invest in learning an instrument. However, the tiny fretless playing surface on the violin makes mistakes far more common.
Without the frets splitting the octave into equal parts among them, you need a much higher degree of accuracy to play the desired pitch. A single millimeter off the mark will produce a different semitone.
The playing surface of a violin is also far smaller than the guitar’s long & wide fretboard. Since violin players have to use a long violin bow to play a note, they need to spend considerably more time building hand dexterity skills.
Complex Hand Movements
When you’re strumming a guitar, you have to coordinate vertical movements with your strumming hand and horizontal movements with your fretting hand. On paper, you have to do a similar thing on the violin. But in practice, this is a bit more complex.
The wrist position of the ‘fretting’ hand with a violin is a bit less comfortable, since it is angled away from the body. You also need your bowing hand to hover above the violin, whereas on a guitar, you can rest it near your waist (or even on the guitar itself, if the guitar’s body allows it).
Aside from being less comfortable, coordinating these movements is not as simple as learning how to simultaneously move your fingers up, down, left, and right.
On a violin, you must execute a range of horizontal movements, depending on which notes or chords you are playing. In a way, the bowing hand is circling around the violin while the wrist is locked in a relatively uncomfortable position. At the same time, you have to worry about the precision of every movement you make.
The Violin Is Less Painful To Play Than The Guitar
If there is one aspect where the violin is easier than the guitar, it’s that it is not as painful to play. Once you’ve learned the basics, that is.
The reason is that the ultra-low tension and naturally low action of the violin don’t require you to use too much force with the fretting hand to produce a note.
On low-quality, unset (or improperly set) guitars, especially if they have old, rusty strings, pressing a note can make your fingers hurt a lot.
This is not a rule, though, since you can replace old strings with new ones, you can reduce the tension on both instruments, and you can set the action to a more playable level.
That said, even on a perfectly setup guitar with new strings, your fingers will bleed when you first start out. You will feel pain, until you begin to develop calluses on your fretting fingers.
Usually, it’s the material of the strings that plays the most important role in determining how painful fretting is. Guitars are mainly strung with steel strings, while most violins are strung with synthetic ones. Steel is harder, so it can inflict a bit more damage on untrained hands and fingers.
Is Violin Easier Than Guitar: Final Thoughts
For most people, violin is harder than guitar. This is the case whether you start out on the guitar and then learn the violin later, or start on the violin and learn the guitar later. It is also the case if you only choose to play one.
There are a number of reasons that make the violin so much more challenging than the guitar. Or, indeed, than just about any other instrument. On the other hand, the violin is a bit less painful to play, at least when you are starting out.
Finally, we also have an article comparing the difficulty of learning the violin against the difficulty of learning another popular instrument. Is violin harder than piano compares how hard each instrument is i various aspects of learning.