It is often said that playing the violin is harder than playing the piano. This is a crucial question when a kid starts to learn an instrument. Parents want to give him or her the best chances to succeed. There are a lot of children that learn both the violin and the piano at any classical conservatory up to the point that there can be a waiting list.
Is playing the violin harder than piano?
Technically, it is far more difficult to produce a good sound on the violin. It is also far tougher to play in tune on the violin compared with the piano. The piano is easier to play the tune music on it. But when it comes to music, both are difficult instruments because learning music is a lifelong journey.
Let’s see how the violin differs from the piano and what kind of difficulties awaits the kid who chooses to play the violin. Different characters choose different instruments. Let’s see which one is for you.
Is the piano that easy to play?
You just have to press a key and the sound of the piano is there, in tune, well defined, with a good tone.
For that result, you need one year of practice as a violinist, or even more.
You just have to press 2 keys simultaneously on the piano and there you have a nice chord, in tune, well defined, and with a nice tone.
For that again, you need an additional year or two of hard work to get to the same result on the violin.
So that’s it, right? Well, let’s understand why the violin has a steeper curve at the beginning and if playing the piano is just that easy.
Right-hand technique: Violin vs Piano
The piano is designed to produce sound by itself. It has many strings and a system of keys. These keys are waiting for you, for your input. You press a key and that system produces a sound. The sound is there, awaiting you. It is that automatic. Yet, a good pianist will get a better sound; but that is not the purpose of this post.
In the case of the violin, there are many parameters crucial to making a sound at all, let alone a good sound.
The violinist, as a pilot in a plane, has to check and correct all these parameters at all times.
The sound is produced by the right arm. If this simple gesture is not mastered, the sound is bad, like a crying cat, as many people say.
The sound is produced by mastering 3 different aspects of the right arm:
- pressure (or even more, contact) of the bow on the string,
- speed of the bow,
- point of contact of the bow and the string.
Each element depends on the other.
If the pressure is too heavy, the sound is bad; the violin creaks, grates, squeaks, grinds…
If the pressure is too light, the sound vanishes.
If the bow is too close to the bridge, the sound squeaks…
And so on. I explain in that long article what it takes to have a good sound on the violin.
But to produce a single note with a good tone, all the three previous elements have to be mastered. Special exercises or scales have to be practiced in order just to know how to produce a sound. That was just pressing a key on the piano, remember?
So no, your kid won’t be able to play Twinkle twinkle little star for the family on the first week of learning.
Left-hand technique: violin vs piano
The left hand, on the other way, has its own challenges. We’ve already said that the piano is in tune (if well tuned beforehand, that is to say).
It is the left hand of the violinist that makes the intonation.
The intonation is the ability for a note to be in tune, not too high, not too low.
The violin doesn’t have any frets or keys; the board is smooth. It is where the violinist puts his or her finger to stop the string that gives the pitch of the note. If the finger is placed slightly higher or lower (a millimeter is enough), the note is out of tune. How can a violinist play in tune, then?
By practicing a lot, gaining muscle memory, and reflexes, and correcting instantly with the help of the ear. There are many hours of scales to be made before a violinist can play in tune.
And many people say that a violinist will never play really in tune…
The scales will make a structure to the hand and will help replace frets. Frets, for a violinist, are in the mind.
- A regularly shrinking board
Not only a violinist has to overcome the absence of frets or keys, but the room he or she has to fit a finger proportionally shrinks or tapers the more the note is high…
This leaves little room to put the fingertip. And this is something more to experience and learn.
- Double stops
Playing more than one note at the same time is difficult on the violin. That is why the violin is considered a monodic instrument (an instrument that plays a single voice). That is why pieces with chords and double stops on the violin are considered difficult up to virtuosic.
On the other hand, playing a chord is basic on the piano, and is learned really early.
Playing both hands at the same time on the violin vs on the piano
Now, some say that it is difficult to play two hands at the same time on the piano. That is for sure something tricky to learn. But let’s not forget that on the violin as well the two hands have to move at the same time in order to do really different tasks. One has to produce the sound, the other one has to stop the strings. And the more you progress on the violin, the more you will have to play several voices at the same time as well. So I don’t think this is a difficulty that learning the piano has that learning the violin hasn’t.
Different styles of music: what can be easily played on the violin vs on the piano?
Ok, the learning curve is steeper for the violin, nobody will deny that. But what now?
When the technic is gradually mastered, now comes the music. And that is the real subject. Music is never really mastered, no matter how long we study, learn and play. And playing the piano leads to learning, reading, and playing masterpieces that have lived through centuries. A lifelong career won’t be enough to understand, play, share and learn anything, be it on the violin or on the piano.
It all comes down to your expectations. What are they?
To play pop music with simple chords, while singing along, the piano is of course preferable. It is also easier to learn little tunes fast.
It is possible though, to start the violin to play folk music, pop or bluegrass for example. The technical requirements, though interesting and rich, will be less intimidating than playing through Paganini the first time.
If you or your kid want to learn classical music, with a steeper start, I think we can safely say that both instruments are equally difficult in the end.
Depending on your expectations, classical music or pop music can lead to different choices.
Should my kid choose the violin or the piano?
It comes down to a matter of character.
Can your kid delay gratification? Can he or she wait for a result while trying or working on it?
Let’s see what temperament or personality fits with the violin or the piano.
If your kid cannot wait and wants everything NOW, then make no mistake, the violin is not the right choice.
On the opposite, if your kid can picture himself or herself one day playing the violin and is happy today just holding an instrument, then his or her chances to succeed will be high. (I mean chances to succeed to learn and not necessarily on a musical career).
This might sound a bit cliché, but there are two distinct, different types of personalities. If your kid has a more logical mind, and loves mathematics, and certain types of games, then the piano with its harmonic structure will be a better choice (maybe the left side of the brain).
For a mind that is more sensitive, and expressive, maybe the violin is a better fit. Let’s not forget the monodic nature of the violin, on which are often played melodic lines rather than accompaniments, chords, and harmonies. If your kid loves to sing, then this is the essence of the violin\
But it is difficult to make a choice and categorizing things like that leads to clichés. Of course, a great piano player needs both sides of his or her brain and needs to learn the multiple monodic lines that make music. And a violinist needs to understand harmony to play well his or her instrument and master for example Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas.
My advice for your kid: violin or piano?
Yes, the violin is more difficult than the piano, especially at the beginning. But in order to choose your kid’s instrument, you should consider:
- What types of music do you intend to play?
- What temperament do you have?
- Logical mind that can’t delay gratification -> piano
- Sensitive character, loves to dream, can be patient -> violin
- Logical mind that can wait for a result -> both instruments
- Classical music, small age -> violin
- Pop music who wants to play in public soon -> piano
So an important role is given to the fact that a kid (or you) can or cannot wait. It is meaningless to start the violin and expect a quick result.
Another important thing to consider is what type of music is played at home. If rock and pop music are the main choice, then the violin is not maybe the main match, even though it is possible to play those kinds of music on such an instrument. Classical is maybe a better match for a violin. Well, this is my two cents.
Now, if your kid hesitates with the guitar, here is where I weighed the pros and cons of each instrument.