Even for those with natural talent, mastering a musical instrument takes time, dedication, and years of practice.
Both the flute and the violin are challenging classical orchestral instruments, and a novice musician might wish to choose one on the easier side to learn.
The violin is comparatively harder to learn than the flute. Both instruments require refined techniques relating to bowing and embouchure, but where you can play 7 of the 12 notes in an octave on the keys of a flute, the violin is performed entirely by ear. Playing by ear necessitates an above-average understanding of musical notes.
Learning to play an instrument is immensely rewarding, but the first hurdle to overcome is to settle on the type of instrument you’d like to master.
This article will cover all the necessary talent, abilities, skills, musicality, and physical demands that playing each instrument will require so that you can select the best one for you.
The Necessary Talent, Abilities, and Skills
In the world of music, there is a continually raging debate as to which instruments are more difficult to learn, to play, and to master.
Every musical instrument requires a varying combination of talent, abilities, and skills to perfect, and the flute and violin are no exception.
In the realm of technique, it might initially seem that the flute is more challenging to master than the violin because of the primary technique required of a flutist upfront.
Embouchure is the name of this technique, and it refers to the way a person applies their lips to form their mouth around the mouthpiece of a flute. Embouchure is essential because it affects the production of the sound the instrument ultimately makes.
However, nobody is born with the innate ability to generate quality sound from a flute. You will need to learn how to blow in precisely the right spot in precisely the right way to produce a clear sound.
However, once you have mastered these techniques, it’s smooth sailing for any flute enthusiast.
Whereas it can be challenging to know how to coax any sound whatsoever from a flute, anybody can pick up a violin and force it to make a sound. However, it is getting quality sound from a violin that is the challenging part.
The primary technique any aspirant musician needs to master to play the violin is bowing. Although beginners may struggle for months just to prevent the “squeak” of the bow on the violin strings, perfecting bowing may take many years.
Holding the bow incorrectly or holding your violin incorrectly both affect bow position and the ultimate sound of the instrument.
A significant issue for many violinists, even experienced ones, is “bouncing.” Bouncing happens when the player places insufficient or too much pressure upon the bow.
A bow pressed too hard into the strings will cause an abrasive sound, and a bow that presses too lightly produces a patchy sound and can cause severe bouncing, which leads to even further trouble (source).
So much goes into the correct bowing technique that it can take many years to master, and even professionals can find their technique waning over time and may need to go back to the basics.
Although not the first thing you think of, the physical ability does come into play where it concerns music.
Both the flute and the violin require varying degrees of motor skills to play, but the violin requires significantly more dexterity and more refined motor skills.
This is because finger position on the bow is critical, and sometimes you will also need to pluck the strings to generate a different type of sound.
Additionally, the fingers on your left hand will need to be placed very precisely on the neck of the violin for the notes to be clean, clear, and in tune.
Physical Demands of the Flute
Flutists will require adequate lung capacity to produce a proper sound. It is taxing on the respiratory system, but basic breathing exercises can assist in expanding lung capacity for those dedicated to the instrument.
A flute has closed keys that require less dexterity and, therefore, less-developed fine motor skills than a violin. The reason for this is because closed keys don’t require you to place your fingers precisely over the holes in the instrument (source).
Physical Demands of the Violin
The violin is more physically demanding than the flute because it involves the entire upper body and demands good posture.
Playing the violin has been likened to athletic activity due to the tremendous amount of precision fingerwork necessary. There are also the demands placed on the wrists and forearms for holding the instrument as well as bowing.
All of the muscles, nerves, ligaments, and tendons in the arms and wrists could be at risk of injury if not warmed up properly.
The violin also requires upper body strength and incredible posture, and that is because of the repetitive motions necessary to play the instrument.
Poor playing posture can result in injuries affecting the shoulders, neck, and jaw. That is why it is so essential for violinists to incorporate stretching, physical warmups, breaks, and light weight-training into their lifestyle (source).
Regarding dexterity, the violin is also more difficult to master than the flute because the flute has physical keys that assist with finger position. A violin has no frets to guide finger position, and the ability to play in tune rests with finger placement.
It might take several months or years of steady practice for players to develop the muscle memory needed to know where to place their fingers to play a proper tune.
Although a natural musicality will be beneficial to both flutists and violinists, it is not a gift everyone is blessed with. That is why, for the layman, the flute may be easier to learn than the violin.
There are twelve notes in an octave, and with the keys on a flute, you can play seven of those notes without knowing them by ear. A violin has no keys and no frets, so every note will have to be played by ear.
The Benefit of Instruction
It will always be better for any aspirant musician to receive instruction from a professional or someone with years of experience themselves. It is better and faster to learn from the mistakes of others rather than from the ones you will make yourself.
It is a fairly common belief in the music industry that you can teach yourself to play the flute with enough determination; however, a multitude of factors determine how long it takes to teach yourself to play the flute.
Many people might choose to teach themselves the flute due to money or time constraints or simply because they prefer to have control over their learning pace.
But, there are several bad habits that self-taught flutists can pick up, and the most common is, of course, poor technique.
If you want to teach yourself to play the flute, it might be a good idea to invest in a few beginner lessons from an online resource such as Learn Flute Online to teach yourself the basics before taking things further (source).
The jury is still out on whether or not you can teach yourself how to play the violin, but many agree that it is much better and easier to learn how to play the violin from a qualified teacher or professional.
If self-taught, violin players need to focus on intonation and sound. If you are not naturally musically gifted, you can be playing the violin off-key without even knowing it.
However, if you’re wanting to teach yourself how to play, taking a beginner online course, from a reputable site such as Udemy, could help you master the basics.
If you are musical enough to play in-tune by ear, you could even continue with online learning until you master the instrument.
However, remember that it can also be slow going because you won’t be receiving personalized feedback or even just the helpful way in which a physical teacher can correct your bow hold.
When you attempt to learn the violin on your own, you cannot see yourself and correct your posture or technique. It can be challenging to understand what you’re doing wrong or even to know that you’re playing off-key.
For these reasons, it can be especially difficult to teach yourself how to master the violin.
For the aspirant musician, learning to play an instrument is an exciting time. Regardless of the difficulty involved in learning a new instrument, the most important thing to remember is to choose the one that you most want to play or would enjoy the most.
Musicians generally agree that the flute is more straightforward to master than the violin because it requires less refined techniques and can be self-taught in those with the necessary dedication.
Still, each one comes with their own unique challenges that will require time and commitment to master.