For beginner musicians, it's hard to decide what instrument would be better to learn first. The violin and piano are the two most popular choices since some of the most beautiful music ever composed come from these two instruments.
However, the approaches to playing the instruments are radically different. They both require skills that come from dedicated practice, but which instrument is easier to learn, and which one suits you best?
The versatility, range, accessibility, and immediacy of the piano make it easier to learn in the early stages but can take years to master. The violin unlike the piano has an even more challenging initial learning process, often requiring months of practice to produce a clear tone. However, the violin does win in terms of further training, it's way less complicated when you get the hang of it.
Main Reasons to Learn Piano First
When considering which instrument to learn first, you may want to consider the advantages and disadvantages of learning them. Here are a few key reasons you may want to consider learning to play piano first.
Easy to learn beautiful melodies without much training
A piano works relatively simply: you sit down at the keys, play a note, and a note is set off. There are many beautiful easy melodies that don’t require vast technical training. These can be quickly learned and mastered. However, when it comes to more difficult pieces, then it’s worth spending more time on technique and finger positioning.
Piano is logical
The piano theory is very simple, each note is laid out sequentially, and it has only one specific place on the piano. Unlike string instruments, like violin or guitar, which have a small range, the piano gives you an opportunity and space to play in various ranges, which can make it more confusing.
The piano's black and white keys make the instrument highly visual. Thanks to those keys it's way easier to remember where notes are and which are the sequences of a certain piece of music.
A lot of resources are available
The piano is one of the most popular instruments, one that's easy to understand. Because of this, there are many great resources to learn the piano. Many teachers, books, videos, masterclasses, and instructions are available online for free, which makes the piano a very attractive and accessible instrument to learn on your own.
Piano allows you to quickly learn how to read music
One of the biggest advantages of learning the piano is the ability to read music. Violin players can read music well too, but it’s not that complex compared to piano pieces. Pianists learn to read both treble and bass clefs as well as simultaneous reading and playing, which can be also a difficult task.
Pros of Learning the Violin as the First Instrument
Even though the violin is harder to learn, it does have some vast pros.
Great ear training
The violin has to stay tuned for top performance. You need to tune it every time before playing, which helps you to train your ear. After some time playing violin you’ll be able to better hear different types of pitches and various micro-tonalities. This is a great skill to have, it develops your pitch, which is essential in music theory.
Orchestra and group playing
As the violin is a melodic instrument, it is often used in group performances. As a violinist, you can start with group performances until you become confident enough for solo performances. Group violin performances teach you how to coordinate well with others.
Buying a violin is much cheaper than buying a real piano. It's an instrument that's easy to travel with and is highly portable. However, it is fragile so you will need to be careful, or else the maintenance will add up and the violin will cost you more than a piano.
Piano vs Violin Difficulty
The piano and violin both play in a concert pitch which relieves the burden of transposition. However, the instruments are played differently, produce totally unique sounds, and are different in general. Here’s a comparison of various factors that a beginner can look at when choosing an instrument that suits their interests and personality better.
Producing a pleasing sound
The difficulty of creating a pleasing sound on a violin is especially challenging, a large part of the production relies on the capacity to hear a pitch accurately. On a piano, you can press any note at any intensity that you want. On the other hand, a violin has several factors that create the perfect tone, all of which require you to regulate yourself and your touch.
Unlike the violin, for the piano, creating a beautiful sound is much easier. When fingers hit the piano keys, even if not ideally placed, they will still produce a relevantly beautiful sound. Whereas for the violin, musicians must know precisely where to place their fingers to transfer the pitch onto the strings and fingerboard for the notes to sound in tune.
Position and posture
The hand position for the piano is somewhat intuitive. You can imagine it as grasping a cup, keeping that hand position, and placing the pads of your fingers on the table. Pretty simple, right? To maintain that hand position you just need to sit up straight on the piano bench, and that's pretty much it for the proper posture.
On the other hand, learning the violin requires you to master many unnatural and awkward positions. You need to know how to hold the violin with your head and shoulder, using your chin and cheek for a basic violin hold. After mastering this simple hold, you'll need to grasp your bow correctly for maximum range of motion.
When deciding to learn the piano without the help of a piano teacher, there are many great apps and online resources that you can use to improve your skills. Some apps can be connected to your piano and correct you as needed, so you don’t need to always have a teacher by your side. Multiple piano sheets are available on the internet for free as well as on various YouTube channels and websites.
With all of these resources available and enough motivation, you will be able to play some primary songs. But to master, the instrument you'll need to get some structured piano lessons from a teacher.
Even though the violin does have similar applications, the quantity and quality of these apps are much weaker. Therefore, even if you do find a great app, it usually won’t be suitable for a complete beginner. The violin as well as other stringed instruments require guidance from a professional, which makes it really hard to learn it on your own.
How Helpful are the Piano and Violin Skills for a Future Career?
It doesn't matter what you choose to play both the violin and piano will benefit your music career and life as a whole. Music has always played a crucial role in emotional and intellectual development.
Learning to play an instrument awakes and stimulates specific sensory locations in the brain. These enhance reasoning skills, improve motor skills, and increase emotional intelligence. All of these skills are beneficial for any career or problem-solving.
Studying violin or piano will also stimulate the creative sectors of your brain and open your mind to new creative ideas. As the instruments work as a trigger for your emotional intelligence, you'll be able to easily find different ways to approach and solve problems. For both instruments, you need to know the basics of music theory, which will then help you if you want to be a producer or DJ.
The violin and piano are two musical instruments that require vastly different skills and technical training. There are further considerations to make when deciding which instrument to learn. Nevertheless, when the goal is to nurture a musicality and better understand the fundamentals of music theory then the piano is preferable to the violin.
However, it’s also important to remember that it all comes down to what you want from a musical instrument and what kind of musician you want to become. Choose the one that fulfills you and brings you joy, so endless hours spent on practice and training won’t be daunting and discouraging.