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Should I learn to play the violin?

Last night I very nearly impulse bought a violin. I imagined opening the box and stroking it’s glossy veneer and admiring the craftsmanship. I felt the excitement as I thought of all the sweet violin melodies I have listened to, the intensity and the emotional journey the music takes you on. I love classical music and a lot of modern songs played on the violin. I was in the moment, feeling the music and ready to begin my new hobby! Then reality kicked in very fast. Should I buy a beginner violin to see how I get on with it first? It would seem silly to waste lots of money before deciding or not if the violin is for me. I read through the reviews which made me fret more, stories of creaking wood, broken strings and having to do your own tuning. Tuning? How would I do that? I asked myself. I realised I had never even held a violin in my hands. The closest I have ever been to one is watching an orchestra! In fact I don’t even know how to hold a violin, I mean I have seen other people hold violins obviously, but is there an art to it? I’m sure there is more to it than just throwing it under your chin, there is a delicate balancing act of having your fingers in the right place, whilst supporting the instrument and holding your sticky thing…sorry bow, I had to google that! Perhaps I’m not cut out for the violin I think if I didn’t know it was called a bow, and maybe I am too short and it will be too heavy! Would I be wandering round like a hunchback forever just trying to lift the instrument into the right position? This made me worry more. If I don’t even know how to hold it right, how can I ever hope to learn how to actually play it! I remember learning to read some music at school but I’m not sure if I can remember any of it!

I remember the time I decided I wanted to learn Russian and got as far as ‘Meenya Zavoot Kaz!’ then realised Russian was incredibly harder than Spanish or French and I haven’t logged back in to my classes since! My cheeks flush at the thought and I feel silly for a moment, wondering whether I am over reaching. Am I attempting to tackle things that will make me feel out of my depth?

Perhaps it could turn out that I am tone deaf and the neighbours will start a petition to have me evicted because their ear drums will be slowly melting away from the agony! Then I wonder if I am just making excuses and procrastinating and I am torn between being too impulsive and not being spontaneous enough or having the gumption to take a chance on a new hobby.

Besides, there are a lot of good reasons to try an learn a new skill such as playing an instrument. These are a few I’ve found:

•Helps memory and cognitive function

•Reduces stress/good for mental health

•Improves posture and dexterity

•Learning new skills can help prevent degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimers

•It’s a good emotional outlet

•Learning something new gives you a sense of satisfaction

So after pinging back and forth and looping round with these thoughts for a few hours, I watched some Youtube tutorials about learning the violin, then closed my laptop lid in a panic! Am I being self indulgent? I thought. Is it just a silly waste of time? My epiphany moment came, as it always does in the shower when I was singing to myself. I concluded that if I enjoy learning to play the violin and it makes me feel happy then it’s not a waste of time. I don’t expect to ever use the hobby for anything other than amusing myself and enjoying music. If we are locked down again, there are also a lot worse ways to spend the time than having a good strum! Is it called strumming when you use a bow instead of your fingers or is there another name for it? I’m not sure about that, but I do know that having a good distraction that works the brain is good for the soul and has to be better than opening a bottle of wine a couple of evenings a week too often.

So I return again to wanting to learn the violin, but I would love some advice from anyone out there who knows there stuff. Where does an absolute beginner start? I think back over my musical experience, or lack of therefore! I think back to the tender age of five and asking for a recorder so I could take lessons at school. Money was scarce but the lessons were free so I was given a cheap plastic recorder. We learned to play three blind mice I think in the first lesson. Then by the time the second lesson came around I noticed there was a thick layer of dust inside my recorder, and no sound was coming out of it. Something was blocking it. I blew on it hard to remove the residue and it made an almighty shriek. There and then I was banned from recorder classes and forbidden to return!

My next music debacle was in Junior school and I was about 7 years old. I was in the choir and especially loved singing the Christmas songs. Then illness struck and I was off sick for a couple of weeks being really poorly. When I returned to the choir everyone had learned new songs. Everyone except me as I’d been off sick and I only realised this when they hauled us up to sing in front of the rest of the school! I didn’t have a clue what was going on so I moved my mouth silently in what I hoped was the right shapes when suddenly my arm was jerked sharply and nearly torn from it’s ligament by my arch nemesis Mrs Laurence, a wicked old dinosaur of a lady with narrow eyes and a grimace. This was a teacher who when she first met me said, “Oh no, not another ******** (my surname). You aren’t related to *Jessica and John are you? At that tender age I was still wise enough to deny the family link, but she decided she despised me from that first moment nonetheless. So, anyway, Mrs Lawrence man-handled me to the door and I was made to wait outside of assembly. Humiliated, I never returned to the choir. If you ever catch me unawares singing Christmas songs in the middle of the summer when I don’t realise anyone is around, this is mostly likely why. I’m taking my moment back and singing those damn songs! I don’t need an audience and yes I am hanging up my stocking on the wall and I do wish it could be Christmas every day!

My Dad played the harmonica and would often invite me to engage in a game of ‘name that tune.’ Sometimes it would be a popular hit, other times something more obscure. If I didn’t guess correctly my Father would pull a face and say he was disappointed in me. I also think he wouldn’t have liked me playing an instrument when I was a child because he was the only one with musical ability and it was his thing.

Roll on 8 or 9 years I took a couple of singing lessons. This consisted of standing in the music teachers kitchen shrieking variations of ooooohey, oooohey, ooohey, ooohey oooh in different keys. Then I think I ran out of money to go back. One day a relative asked me about the lessons and asked me to sing, so I did. When I stopped she just stared at me blankly. Feeling embarrassed and a bit like a hairy fish in a tank, I proffered, do you think the lessons help? Flippantly she said, “I have no idea what that song is meant to sound like, so I couldn’t tell you.” Then she turned away and that was that.

I think this unpleasant journey with music might have something to do with my hesitance to just bite the bullet and have a go, but maybe I need to make peace with the past and realise it doesn’t need to have an impact on me today. I am the master of my own destiny as we all are, and making excuses is a bit lame. Having said that, I still don’t know where to start!

So if anyone could offer any advice that would be great. I have googled articles about beginning the violin and where to start, but a real human conversation is always so much more invaluable. Is it best to start with something basic or look at auctions or spend a little more? Perhaps you think I should have another go at Russian because playing the violin is so complex and I should at least learn how to say, How do you do before attempting a string instrument! Whatever is on your mind, sharing is caring.

If you’ve made it this far through my ramblings and over thinking then I thank you – hope you had a great weekend!

Kaz B

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