Just like any instrument out there, learning the viola can be quite the undertaking.  The hardest part is the very beginning.  Where do you start?  Do you need a teacher? How do you even find a teacher? What style do you learn?  These are all questions asked by a beginner violist.  To make things easier, let’s go through a few of the basic necessities when learning the viola.

 

Finding a Private Viola Teacher

One of the most common ways to learn viola is by finding a private viola teacher.  However, there are some issues many face when reaching out and finding a private viola teacher. For one, being a beginner it is tough to sift through the mix and find a private teacher who actually knows what they are talking about.  Secondly, how do you even find private teachers to begin with?

One of the best places to start is with referrals from people you trust.  Local schools and universities have music departments, and reaching out to an instructor or band director at said establishments is a great place to start.  Given that they teach at the local school, and thus have many beginner students as well, most faculty have a good understanding of the local music scene and can point you in the right direction.  Many even offer lessons themselves so you may not even need to go elsewhere.

Another great option to find teachers is at your local music shop.  Asking the employees there is a great option as well as checking their local bulletin board.  Most music shops allow local artists and teachers to post information about lessons and shows so feel to take a look and make some calls.  Also, many shops offer lessons in the store.  Because these teachers work for a store and sometimes even a bigger corporation, you can almost guarantee that they are well qualified due to the intense hiring process many stores require.

Finally, there are a lot of online private viola teacher directories. These are great because they allow you to enter your address or zip code and find highly-qualified teachers in your area. These websites also usually have a review system so you can read about other people’s experience with said teachers.

 

Online and Other External Resources

One-on-one lessons with a private instructor is one of the best ways to learn the viola.  Not only will you be able to understand the instructor better, but with the intimate setting you get instant feedback on how you are doing.  There isn’t really a guessing game.  That being said, a lot can be learned from many of the online resources available.

One of the best online resources for learning any instrument is YouTube.  To many this site is just for funny skits and cat videos, but if you take a deeper look it has become the biggest free collection of learning material for virtually any topic including music.  A quick search can find lessons on any specific question you have.  The only downside with YouTube based lessons is that they are usually designed to be understood by a large audience.  So if you don’t understand something or have a question, there isn’t necessarily going to be an answer.  A lot of YouTube based lessons require you to be able to understand the lessons without a lot of guidance.  For the intermediate or advanced player this comes more easily, but for those just starting out it can be tough to get your feet wet.

Violaman.com actually has a great collection of beginner YouTube videos that cover many of the basic viola lessons. He even has a built-in community chat to connect you with viola players and teachers around the world.

Another great online resource is Skype.  Say you have searched and found who you think to be the perfect teacher online, but they are on the other side of the country.  Go ahead and ask them if they offer Skype lessons.  Many instructors these days have established webcam-based lessons because they offer the best of both worlds.  You can find someone with knowledge that may not be available in your local town, but you also get the one on one instruction that is so helpful.  Also, many of your favorite YouTube private viola teachers offer Skype lessons so if you have a favorite, but feel you use better explanations, make sure to check their page.  Traveling to a viola lesson is no longer the norm and Skype lessons are often very reasonable priced.

Finally, there are many online websites now that offer live private viola lessons over the internet. The Zoen and Take Lessons both offer high quality lessons via webcams and provide all of the infrastructure to make finding and taking a lesson seamless.

Another huge part of becoming a viola player is connecting with other violists.  Bouncing ideas off of other viola players is an amazing way to gain insight into playing and understanding your craft.  So when there are local recitals and performances, go to them.  Not only will listening to high quality playing inspire you, but you will get a chance to actually talk and interact with others learning the viola.

Learning Methods

With the viola specifically, there a few different methods out there to help you learn the viola in a structured way.  Each has its pros and cons and each has its fan base of teachers that swear by it.  So let us break down the different styles to help you pick the one right for you.

  • Suzuki Method
    • The Suzuki Method is one the most famous styles of learning an instrument out there. Created by the one and only Shinichi Suzuki, this method is based around the idea of teaching an instrument similar to how a young child learns their native language.  Due to its balanced learning and positive parental support, this style is great for young kids picking up their first instrument.

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  • Orff Method
    • Similar to the Suzuki method, the Orff style of teaching is based around how easily a child can develop their native language and how to apply that with music. The goal with Orff is to teach music in a way that involves the students and is less pressure and performance driven.  Due to the style, a large amount of the music that comes out of the Orff method is more improvisational and creative as opposed to strict followings of standard sheet music. Unlike Suzuki, there is no one set of books dedicated to the Orff method. Instead, programs such as Viola’s Notes have created their own set of lessons.
  • Kodaly Method
    • The Kodaly follows along the same lines as the other teaching methods with its approach to child development. The method usually starts with students learning music through listening and singing involvement as opposed to notation and written music until they are comfortable.  It tries to naturally develop music in the child’s life as opposed to making a chore or study based skill.

All of these methods are great options for young kids just starting to learn music.  However, if you are a little older or are more willing to teach yourself, private viola teachers or online lessons are going to be a better fit.  Since these methods are geared towards children still in their development stages, they are not the best approach for adults.

 

Learning the viola, just like any other skill, takes perseverance and drive.  The key is to learn in a positive environment where you or the student enjoys what is being taught and is eager to pick up the viola and practice.