Both the piano and the violin are extremely popular among adults and children alike. Which of these two instrument is more challenging?
The piano is easier to start on due to a more natural posture, easier sound production using keys vs bowing, and accurate pitch. At a more advanced level, however, the piano requires very high hand and finger independence and speed which can make it even harder than the violin for masterpieces.
The following table provides a brief rundown of how the piano and violin compare in terms of challenge for various aspects of instrument playing:
|Posture||Unnatural, under chin||Natural, sitting down, elbows 90º|
|Initial sound production||Very hard, can take weeks. Bowing technique||Easy, play notes fast. Press the right keys|
|Fingerings||Hard. fretless fingerboard||Intuitive. Place fingers on keys|
|Intonation||Challenging, requires good ear||Easy. Keys are pre-tuned|
|Advanced||High register challenging||Chord reading & playing, fast runs, wide key range.|
|Musicality||Required from the start||Can start without|
Which is easier to get started on?
The violin has a steeper initial learning curve than the piano. Beginners on the Piano are generally able to play notes and simple melody in a few hours, while it often take weeks to obtain a decent sound on the violin.
Violin or piano: posture
The posture for piano playing is similar to the way you normally sit on a chair. You only have to adjust the piano stool’s height so as to sit up straight with your hands on the keys and your elbows bent at 90 degrees.
As you progress, the basic seating position stays the same, even though you will use more body-movement like bending forward and sideways.
For a new violinist, posture is also crucial. Violin posture is much less natural than for the piano. The way you hold the instrument under your chin with your left hand takes time to get used to.
As a violinist, you have to learn to play sitting (like in an orchestra) and standing – as a soloist.
Violin or piano: producing a decent sound
You can produce a decent sound and even a short melody much easier and quicker on the piano than on the violin.
When you press any key on the piano, a clear sound is heard immediately. As the piano is a pre-tuned instrument, you don’t have to worry about whether the note is on the pitch.
The first basic technique on the piano is to place the hands in a correct position on the keyboard with each finger on a key, and practice pressing your fingers and thumbs independently.
Using one hand, you can very quickly produce a simple melody by pressing the correct keys.
With the violin, It typically takes quite a while before you can produce one or two decent notes, and many weeks before you’re able to comfortably play a short melody.
The violin is fretless and thus has no keys or marks to indicate where to place your fingers on the string to produce a specific note. Your ears need to be trained to determine whether a note is on pitch.
While your left hand must find the right spots on the string to press, your right hand needs to learn the correct bowing movement to be able to generate a clean sound without squeaking.
Violin or piano: reading music score
It is harder to read piano music than music written for the violin. From the beginning, the pianist has to learn to read the treble and bass clefs, while the violinist only need to read the treble clef.
In piano music score, the notes above middle C are generally written in the treble clef and those below middle C in the bass clef.
As pianists normally play more than one note at once, the skill has to be learned to read notes vertically on the two clefs at once. The violinist only has to read one line of music.
Although the reading of piano music is harder in the long run, you will as a new pianist start with simple and easy to read music lines.
Violin or piano: which is harder after a few years?
At an intermediate level, it can be argued the piano starts getting more challenging compared to the violin.
At an intermediate level, a piano player needs to train their hands – and even their fingers – to play different things at the same time, requiring coordination and independence.
The more advanced a pianist becomes, the more finger techniques and precision are required. All fingers and thumbs are used.
The piano also involves playing chords (which are rare on the violin) and rapid runs spanning more than 1 octave with big jumps. This requiring finger clarity, precision, speed, strength.
The pianist must take into account the dynamics, articulations, and tone of several notes played at once. Some notes have to be emphasized more than others.
Intermediate level violin clearly also has its challenges, namely playing high notes with accuracy as fingerings occur in a smaller area on the fretboard.
On the violin, both hands need to be very correct at all time to sound right, there’s very little margin for error.
All in all, it can be argued that a violinist learns fundamental fingering and bowing techniques right at the beginning, which is why the initial learning curve is so long. At intermediate levels, the main challenge lies in high register and fast passages.
Which is harder to master?
On the piano, the challenges of practicing difficult works like Rachmaninoff’s concertos, Chopin’s ballades, and Liszt’s Etudes include:
- Advanced finger techniques to play very fast passages,
- Playing up to 10 notes apart at once with one hand,
- Finger control to play different dynamics and tone simultaneously on different keys
- Arm, hand and finger control to play from pianissimo to fortissimo
- Reading vertical chords of up to 10 notes.
On the violin, playing violin concertos by composers like Brahms, Mendelsohn, and Mozart involve:
- Absolute correct on-pitch notes even in the highest register
- Using the strings in the 3rd position
- Ability to play virtuous and fast passages
- Using articulations and skills like pizzicato
- Using advanced bowing techniques like spiccato, staccato and detache
Is it easy to transition from piano to violin?
Transitioning from the piano to the violin is often viewed as relatively easy due to the skills acquired on the piano.
As a pianist, you have a “mental picture” of high and low notes and the chromatic scale because you’ve worked with a keyboard, making it easier to understand pitch and harmonics.
As a pianist, you’re also used to reading multiple music lines at once, so reading the single violin music line comes relatively easy. You also know how to read notes on the treble clef.
You have all the theoretical background to make the transition easier. You will, however, need to learn bowing techniques and fretless fingerings.
You’ll need to start listening to every note and adjust pitch for correctness. As a pianist, you are used to listening to your playing to get the right articulation and tone, but with the violin, you have to listen to intonation as well.
Which requires more musical skills?
It can be argued a new violinist needs more musical skills than a new piano player. The pianist can initially and for a long time produce music “mechanically” by playing the right keys in rhythm.
In contrast, the violinist has to deal with intonation and harmonics from the get-go, which requires some musical intuition and skills.
At more advanced stages, a piano player also needs to have very developed musical skills , e.g. to identify the patterns and moods of a piano sonata.
For someone only interested in playing piano or violin for the love of making music without necessarily aiming for advanced levels, the piano is overall easier than the violin. Knowing the piano is also likely to make picking up the violin smoother.