Guitar Vs Violin: How They Differ & Which You Should Learn

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If you want to know how to compare guitar vs violin and which one you should learn, you’ve come to the right post!

I debated this same question when I first started playing musical instruments at age 9.

I ended up choosing to learn violin and played for three years before I touched a guitar.

Once I picked up the guitar at age 12, I’ve kept playing for two decades (and counting) and haven’t looked back!

Why did I switch from violin to guitar?

I’ll address that in detail below.

But the short answer for which instrument you should learn to play is:

Learn to play whichever instrument whose songs you want to play.

  • If you’re most excited about learning to play guitar songs, learn guitar.
  • If you’re dying to learn songs on the violin and you can see yourself as a violinist, learn violin.
  • If you’re still not sure, start with guitar. It’s a more versatile instrument that’s generally easier to play and adapt to your musical aspirations.

Choosing which instrument to learn isn’t always this simple.

Check out the section below to learn more about how to make this decision.

How Guitar and Violin Differ and How This Plays Into Which Instrument You Should Learn

Passion or interest in playing songs on the instrument might seem too simple to work as a guide in choosing whether to play guitar or violin.

But it works!

And it’s what I wished I would have considered more before I rushed into playing the violin.

However, not everyone who wants to play the guitar or the violin necessarily has a passion for one instrument or the other.

If that’s you, then you might want to consider how these instruments differ and let those differences guide your decision.

Guitars and violins clearly look different.

But not everyone knows how exactly they differ.

And few realize these differences’ importance in deciding which instrument to pursue.

Here’s a table of some of the differences between violin and guitar.

stringed instrument with frets
stringed instrument without frets
can be strummed or plucked with picks or fingers
almost always played with a bow
simple playing posture
more difficult playing posture
abundant learning resources
not as abundant learning resources
simple to make a good sound come from the instrument with very little experience or practice
difficult to make a good sound come from the instrument without many months of practice
harder to press down strings
easier to press down strings
extremely versatile for learning a wide variety of genres
played in fewer genres
easier to multitask (sing or play an accompanying instrument like harmonica) while playing
more difficult to play and sing at the same time

This table lists only a handful of the differences between these instruments.

But you can probably tell how these differences might affect your decision about which instrument to learn.

In fact:

I recommend looking at these differences, considering your reasons for pursuing either instrument and seeing which instrument makes the most sense based on your goals.

Let’s look at each of these differences in turn.

Guitars Have Frets, Violins Don’t, and Instruments with Frets Are Easier for Beginners

When you look at a guitar, you’ll notice several thin pieces of metal regularly spaced along its neck.

These pieces of metal are called frets.

You can place your finger anywhere between two frets, and the string will produce the same sound.

In other words, the fret your string touches actually determines which note comes from the guitar, not exactly your finger placement on the strings.

You can place your finger anywhere between two frets and the string will produce the exact same note because the note is being produced by the metal fret, not your finger’s placement.

If you look at a violin, you won’t see any thin pieces of metal along its neck.

This is because violins don’t have frets.

Instead, your exact finger placement on the violin strings determines which note comes from the instrument.

Move your fingers a millimeter up or down the neck of the violin, and the note produced from the instrument will be higher or lower based on your finger’s movement.

This means there’s much more room for error when playing the violin because finger placement matters.

As such, I believe the violin is more difficult for beginners than the guitar because it doesn’t have frets.

It’s Simple to Play Guitar Quietly and Difficult to Play Violin Quietly Because the Violin Bow Naturally Produces a Lot of Sound

Guitars can be played with picks, finger picks, or your fingers.

This wide variety of options enables the player to easily regulate how loudly (s)he plays.

On the other hand, it’s more difficult to play the violin quietly because the bow naturally makes the violin player’s notes loud and full.

Playing an instrument loudly that you can’t play well can be disheartening and difficult for those around you.

I remember practicing the violin at age ten and my older siblings begging my mom to make me stop because my playing was loud and discordant.

My siblings didn’t mean any harm.

But the already delicate self-esteem of a beginner musician can easily be crushed without exceedingly understanding neighbors, family, etc.

On the other hand, when I picked up the guitar at age 12, I had countless quiet practice sessions as a beginner without disturbing those around me.

This was one important factor in my continuing to play guitar for the long haul.

It’s Simple to Produce a Good Sound from the Guitar and Difficult to Produce a Good Sound from the Violin

The first day I picked up a guitar and played it, it sounded great.

I looked up a chord chart, put my fingers in the right places, pressed down hard enough on the strings (thanks in part to my violin training), strummed the chord, and it sounded as good as if the greatest guitarist in the world strummed that same chord.

This is the beauty of instruments with frets.

It doesn’t require much skill to make a pretty sound come from an instrument with frets like the guitar.

This is not the case for the violin.

Because of the lack of frets and the complexity of playing the violin, it can take months (if not years) to produce a beautiful sound from the instrument.

Sure, you can squeak out the right notes on a violin weeks after you start playing.

But it won’t sound good for months to come.

This is not very encouraging for the beginner.

The Posture Required to Play Guitar Is Simpler than the Posture Required to Play Violin

If you observe a violinist playing their instrument, you’ll notice they balance it between their chin and shoulder.

You’ll also notice one hand wrapped around the neck and the other holding the bow.

Though this might sound simple, a violinist’s playing posture is more complex than that of a guitarist.

The complexity of a violinist’s posture is one more example of how playing the violin is harder than playing the guitar.

The Guitar Is More Popular than the Violin and Therefore Has More Learning Resources Available than the Violin

The guitar is a more popular instrument than the violin.

Because of this, there are more resources available to learn the guitar.

In my experience, I found excellent books on learning violin but not as many online (and free) resources as I did for learning the guitar.

More and more resources (paid and free) are created daily to learn either instrument.

However, if you’re on a tight budget, keep in mind that there are more (free) resources available for learning the guitar than for learning the violin.

Guitar Strings Are Harder to Press Down Than Violin Strings

There is at least one aspect of the guitar that’s harder for beginners than the violin.

Guitar strings are thicker and rougher than violin strings making them harder for a beginner to press down.

Many beginner guitarists complain about their fingers hurting because guitar strings are difficult to press down.

Fewer violinists have this same complaint.

I don’t recall having an issue pressing down the violin strings when I first began playing.

(Though I do remember having to develop the endurance in my hand muscles to play for longer periods of time.)

Although I had less difficulty pressing down the strings on a guitar thanks to my violin training, my fingertips still hurt a little in the first few weeks of playing the guitar.

The best ways to get past the finger pain are to:

  • Take your guitar to a music repair shop or luthier and ask them to “set up” your guitar. This typically includes lowering the action (reducing the distance between the neck and strings).
  • Use light gauge strings that are easier to press down.
  • gradually increase your time practicing over a long period of time.

These tips will help minimize the discomfort of playing the guitar and hopefully help you to stick with it and play for the long run.

You Can Play the Guitar in Almost Any Music Genre But the Violin Is Less Versatile

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more versatile instrument than the guitar.

This is great for a beginner who’s not sure exactly which path to take with the instrument.

In other words, choosing to play the guitar keeps your options open regarding which genre(s) you pursue.

The violin, while versatile, is not nearly as versatile as the guitar.

Violin mostly appears in the following genres :

  • Classical
  • Blue grass
  • Folk
  • Jazz
  • Country and western
  • Celtic (source)

The violin is an excellent choice if you’re interested in playing these genres.

If not, you’re probably better suited to learn guitar.

The Guitar Is Better than the Violin for Multitasking (Like Singing or Playing an Accompanying Instrument)

It isn’t easy to sing and play the violin simultaneously.

Some musicians do it.

But it’s the exception to the rule.

On the other hand, it’s not very difficult to sing and play the guitar at the same time.

In fact:

You can do a lot of multitasking when playing the guitar like singing, playing the harmonica, or tapping a bass drum with your foot.

If any sort of multitasking (like singing or playing another instrument) interests you, you’re better off learning to play guitar.

Guitar Vs Violin: The Final Verdict

In short, the guitar is probably a better instrument for you to pursue if many of the following are true:

  • You want to have an abundance of learning resources.
  • You want to be able to play with ease in a wide variety of styles and genres, particularly modern music.
  • You want to be able to sing or otherwise multitask while playing your instrument.
  • You want to have the ease of playing an instrument with frets.
  • You have a lower budget for purchasing an instrument.

If you’ve decided to pursue the guitar, check out the Jasmine S35 which is a great starter instrument for ~$100 or my buyer’s guide to acoustic guitars here.

Jasmine S35 Acoustic Guitar, Natural
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The violin may be a better instrument for you to pursue if many of the following are true:

  • You absolutely love the sound of the violin and feel like you really want to learn violin songs.
  • You’re ready to take on the serious challenge of learning an instrument without frets and are OK with not being able to produce a nice sound from the violin for several months.
  • Singing or otherwise multitasking while playing your instrument isn’t a high priority for you.
  • You’re OK investing a little bit more than you would if purchasing a guitar to get a good instrument.
  • You’re prepared to learn a few things on your own or get a teacher for guidance as there aren’t as many learning resources available to the violinist as there are for the guitarist.

If you’ve decided to pursue the violin, this instrument package is very highly rated on Amazon.

Full Size Cecilio Solid wood Ebony Fitted Violin with D'Addario Prelude Strings

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Guitar vs Violin: Related Questions

Is violin harder than guitar? I think the violin is harder for a beginner to learn and play than the guitar. A violin is harder because it lacks frets, it requires a complex playing posture, it’s less conducive to multi-tasking while playing, and it’s more difficult to produce a good sound from the instrument as a beginner.

Can a violinist play guitar? A violinist will have a leg up on a total beginner that hasn’t played a stringed instrument. A violinist may also progress faster than a total beginner when learning the guitar. But just knowing how to play the violin won’t automatically make you know how to play the guitar as they have different number of strings, different tunings, and many more differences that make them distinct instruments.

25 Responses

  1. Viktor Verberckmoes says:

    This is just a pestpost from someone favoring guitar

    1. Harrison Alley says:

      Haha, as someone who has settled on the guitar, I hear ya! But I’m really glad there are violinists out there. It’s such a beautiful instrument. It’s just not the instrument for me.

    2. True, although he does make some good points.

    3. Agreed. Pretty biased probably.

  2. Joseph Salvatori says:

    Violin is WAY harder to master…. Coincidentally violin has much more depth of expression. For the record, violin lessons are proven to boost memory and reflex. In short, violin isn’t a joke. If you choose to remain a noob, stick to guitar. If you wish to improve yourself, give violin a shot. And see the magic unravel, yourself…..

    1. Harrison Alley says:

      Each instrument has its strengths and weaknesses. As a guitarist, I’m happy with my choice but also very happy that there are violinists out there!

    2. regardless of how much depth there is in comparison, music is music. you can achieve a great amount of personality, depth, clarity, and expression through any instrument given the right amount of practice and dedication. the fact that you can plug in a guitar and get a new sound gives another layer to modern music for adaptability and more relatable expression. still, violins are a classic and a great option. just don’t make music a competition—it was never intended to be one.

      1. Harrison Alley says:

        Good points, Daniel!

    3. “If you choose to remain a noob”, are we going to ignore the thousands of guitarists going pro, and with music just as expressive as violinists? All instruments are equal at an expert level.

      1. Harrison Alley says:

        Agreed! Certain instruments like the ukulele or the harmonica are often underappreciated and considered toys more than instruments. But anyone who thinks this only needs to listen to John Popper play the harmonica or Jake Shimabukuro play the ukulele to realize these are beautiful instruments worthy of the pursuit of mastery.

    4. Alan Lee Wilson says:

      In order for a violin to sound good it has to be played with other instruments so it is really not a solo instrument the guitar is and for me the guitar is just a better instrument.

      1. I think the violin can be a beautiful solo instrument. That said, I’m glad you have found an instrument you prefer in the guitar!

  3. Love this post! The other comments seem to hate the guitar and glorify the violin lollll. I’ve played the violin for over 15 years, and no decent violin player (including every single professional violinist I have known) will ever look down on guitar as an instrument. It is hard to imagine how one would find enjoyment in an instrument, for it is seemly “better” than other instruments. Nonsense and we share the same pain from practice anyway!

    However, if someone is already debating whether to choose a guitar or violin, chances are, they better pick the guitar. If classical music does not speak to your soul, learning the violin may be pretty hard, or at least you need to show some interest in classical music. The studies of the violin will most definitely involve learning and appreciating classical music. The guitar does not run into this problem for its versatility.

    It is painful to see kids dropping out from learning the violin before making a bearable sound, which will actually take at least years, instead of months. Everyone is mad at the violin when this happens. I would probably also argue that for adults, learning the violin requires a lot of effort for very little in return, in terms of performance.

    Building a perfect pitch, which seems like an exceptional talent for a lot of people, is pretty much required, and such skill will further be trained to actual perfection for everyone who plays the violin (know your A440 and etc). I think this is one of the reasons why a lot of kids do not sound good in the first few years.

    1. Harrison Alley says:

      Great points, Iverson!

  4. Thank you for mentioning how there are a variety of different ways that you can play your guitar in order to control its volume. My son is interested in learning how to play guitar before his school’s talent show next month but he needs to find a way to practice quietly when I am asleep at night. Hopefully, he will learn how to play quietly once I buy a guitar for him.

    1. Harrison Alley says:

      Hi Derek,

      Yes, many don’t consider practice volume when evaluating which instrument to pursue, but it’s very important. Typically, the older the child, the more easily (s)he will be able to control volume. I hope your son rocks his talent show (and doesn’t keep you up at night with his practicing :))!

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for your article. I played violin for 9 years when I was younger and am now thinking about learning guitar or mandolin so that I can sing with it.
    I do feel that violins are considered by many people to be “too hard” and not worth trying. I think that the discussion should be whether or not you like the sound of the instrument rather than which is harder.
    One thing is that guitar is better for accompaniment because it can do chords well and has low notes, whereas violin works well as for “runs” of notes and the different types of bowing techniques and lengths of the notes can influence the emotion.
    Also, you have to consider the opportunities with each. For example, if you learn violin, there are many violins needed for an orchestra and you can get a spot, whereas with guitar there are fewer spots – unless you’re joining a band with your friends or go to a church that needs guitar players for the contemporary music.

    1. Harrison Alley says:

      Hi Elizabeth,

      Good points! There are a lot factors to consider when choosing instruments. I’m glad you brought up some more of them.

  6. I currently have two ex violin students who have taken on classical guitar with me at Marks Classical Guitar School and Have found that to my surprise all of the work of classical violin training does not translate into smooth legato playing on the guitar. This is one strength I would have expected from Ex violin players. What I have observed is that these students have a very developed left hand with no problem pressing down frets, but unfortunately a very poorly developed right hand. Understandably because they use a bow during their violin training. When it comes to sight-reading on the guitar, these students fly through the material, but this only leaves the right hand far behind. My approach is to place a heavier emphasis on right-hand training. I also noticed that if the composition places great demand on both hands, these students are more likely to plan and make better decisions about both hands that are deliberate and well-considered. In summary, the ex violinist has strengths, mostly to do with an overdeveloped left hand and a much more advanced ability at sight-reading, especially tablature, but only at the expense of the right hand, as a result, this group needs very specialised training to make progress on the guitar.

    1. That’s really interesting, Mark!

      Thanks for sharing that insight.

      That actually corresponds to what I experienced personally when switching from the violin to the guitar. Many of my friends were learning the guitar when I switched from violin to guitar, and my left-hand capabilities were more advanced than theirs while my right hand capabilities were at about their same level.

      Also of note, I am left handed but play guitar “right-handed” with my dominant left-hand on the finger-board.

      I’ve never quite understood why the standard way to play to guitar is with your non-dominant hand on the fretboard.

      1. Guitar Student says:

        “I’ve never quite understood why the standard way to play to guitar is with your non-dominant hand on the fretboard.”

        Probably because the guitar evolved from the oud, lute, and lyre. Originated in the middle east and came to Europe via Spain. By the time the guitar was invented in Spain, the eagle feather plectrum had been abandoned for a fingerplucking style.

        Listen to flamenco or classical guitar for examples of this (Andrés Segovia and Charo are the best ever) and you will hear why the dominant hand was used for plucking. The dominant hand only has to press down the strings. The plucking hand in classical and flamenco guitar is much more active.

      2. Interesting. Thanks for the insight!

  7. Ok so this is clearly extremely biased. Although you have some good points, they are over exaggerated. For example, you list 8 genres that the violin can play and then pretend the guitar is waaay more versatile. Where is the list of guitar genres please?

    1. Hi Laramie,

      I didn’t list genres that prominently feature the guitar because that list would be extremely long! Also, I’m a huge fan of the violin. I think it’s a beautiful instrument, and I hope musicians continue to learn and play it. But this is my honest assessment of each instrument after playing both.

  8. Thanks for your blog. That actually corresponds to what I experienced personally when switching from the violin to the guitar. Many of my friends were learning the guitar when I switched from violin to guitar, and my left-hand capabilities were more advanced than theirs while my right hand capabilities were at about their same level.

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