“We are well aware that the future of classical music is in Asia” - Didier Schnorhk, President of the World Federation of International Music Competitions.
Playing the violin (or fiddle) is wildly popular in Asia. Asians represent 47% of entrants and 35% of winners in violin competitions such as the Yehudi Menuhin International Competition for Young Violinists.
Of course, the violin and other string instruments like the cello and viola aren’t thought of in exactly the same way across the whole continent. In this article, we're going to have a look at the ancient practices, how the violin differs from region to region, and how people learn to play the violin in Asia.
String Instruments in Asia
The violin follows a long tradition of string instruments in Asia. While the violin first appeared in Cremona, Italy, in the 15th century, there was already a long history of bowed stringed instruments by other names on the Asian continent.
In a lot of countries, there are instruments similar to the violin being played:
- In China, the erhu is common. It has an open sound box which is often covered with snakeskin. The soundboard is a wooden plank and the strings are made of hairs which are vibrated with a bow.
- In India, they play the vînâ, a musical instrument that’s very common in traditional Indian music.
- In the Middle East, the vielle is commonly played, though it's slightly different in each country.
- In Japan, they play the kokyu is popular. This is like a vielle and a blend of a traditional Western violin and the Chinese erhu and is Japan’s only bowed instrument.
It should be noted there have been many a disagreement between luthiers. While Europeans traditionally made the best luthiers, with big names such as Antonio Stradivari and the Guarneri and Amati families, there’s a lot of competition coming from China. Pinggu, a city near Beijing, is home to many luthiers selling violins sold outside of the country. 70% of Geng Guosheng’s sales are to countries other than China.
Stradivarius isn’t the only brand of violin you should be thinking about. It's all down to what a musician prefers, after all. Additionally, if you can't play the violin, any violin will sound terrible.
An Asian soloist won’t have the same training and understanding of music as a European soloist. For example, an Asian violinist may not have grown up listening to Paganini, Bach, Mozart, etc. so their musical reference points and their teachers won’t be the same. The same is true for the sound. The violin is different all over Asia.
The Violin Around Asia
Asia includes many different countries: 47 in total and the majority of Russia. This means you can’t generalise when talking about the violin.
The Violin in Southeast Asia
There are musical influences from the following countries:
- The Philippines
Since these countries were colonised by European empires, you see the violin pop up again and again. The inhabitants of these countries are more familiar with the biola, a local variation of the violin brought by the Portuguese and the Spanish, than chamber music and symphonic orchestras.
The Violin in the Middle-East
The violin is quite famous in the region where the violin is a part of most countries’ traditional music. We’re talking mainly about the following countries:
Just like in North Africa, you can find Gyspy music influences. The violin, as well as the kamancheh, djoza, kemençe, and the folk violle, is played on your legs or knees without a shoulder rest or chinrest.
The violin is very common in classic Turkish music as well as contemporary popular music. The violin is regularly practised and is taught in music schools just like it is in Europe and it's quite easy to see a symphony orchestra or hear a violin concerto.
Passion for the Violin in China, Korea, and Japan
While the Chinese empire seems to have used traditional bowed instruments from as early as the 8th century, Japan and Korea would take longer to adopt them. This grew from competing musically with Europe and other continents.
Learning the violin and modern music training requires discipline and work, two things that are considered very important in this part of the world. As Didier Schnorhk said in South Korea, “There has been a willingness to invest in general education and culture, in particular. Incredible music schools have opened, they’ve welcomed the best teachers from abroad, and created structures which help spread culture.”
These plans seem to have had a positive effect.
So where can you learn to play the violin in Asia? Where can students become famous violinists?
Establishments for Learning the Violin
In order to learn the violin, you need exceptional training, music theory lessons, and a lot of practice. The main places to get all this are conservatoires and universities.
Students go there to learn how to become violinists and will get training on different types of violins and can train regularly with string quartets and orchestras.
The best way in Asia to become a violinist is to attend higher education establishments such as conservatoires, specialised music schools, and universities. You’ll be able to improve your playing abroad as well as get the opportunity to enter international competitions if you’re good enough.
The most reputable establishments across Asia for learning to play the violin are:
- The Korean National School of Music in South Korea
- The Delhi School of Music in India
- The Khoshnahad Peiman Conservatoire in Iran
- The Bechmann-Mehta School of Music in Israel
- The Aichi Music School in Japan
- The Kuala Lumpur International College of Music in Malaysia
- The Taiwan Normal University College of Music in Taiwan
- The Istanbul Mimar Sinan Conservatoire in Turkey
- The Conservatoire of Hanoi in Vietnam
Did you know that 23% of violinists trained in Europe are of Asian origin?
Each year, Asian violinists attend European institutions in order to complete their violin training. This allows them to get a similar musical training to the greats like Beethoven, Brahms, Stravinsky, and Profokiev.
The Greatest Asian Violinists
Not all violinists are created equal. Playing in a philharmonic orchestra or a national orchestra will definitely increase your chances of being one of the greats. That said, there’s still a huge number of Asian violinists winning international violin competitions.
Looking for a good performer?
Here are some of the greatest Asian violinists:
Ray Chen. A violinist from Taiwan has perfectly mastered modern violin techniques.
Kyung Wha Chung. A famous violinist from South Korea.
Vanessa-Mae. A classical Chinese-Thai violinist who became famous from a young age.
Nedim Nalbantoglu. A violin prodigy from Turkey.
Lakshminarayana Subramaniam. An Indian advocate of multicultural violin playing.
Kayhan Kalhor. The Iranian king of the violin.
How long does it take to become a great violinist?
The average age of violinists, not including child prodigies, is 33. Of course, that doesn't mean that you can't learn to play the violin if you're over this age.
When we consider conductors, too, there’s also:
- Jing Huan. A young woman from Beijing.
- Myung-Whun Chung. A holder of the prestigious Kumkuan award whose both a pianist and violinist.
Despite the historical, social, and cultural differences, violin playing in Asia shares a lot of similarities with Europe. Additionally, the traditions of both continents are available to everyone.
After all, music is international, isn’t it?
Would you like to learn how to play the violin, become a violin virtuoso or composer, and see these great violinists live?
If you can't make it all the way to Asia, don't forget there are private tutors available in the UK such as the tutors on Superprof. Since you're a tutor's only student (in that class), they can tailor all the lesson to you.
Additionally, a large portion of the tutors on Superprof offer the first hour of tuition for free. This is a great opportunity to talk to them about how they teach, what they can teach you, and just to see if you get along. Whether you want to learn the violin for fun, get into a prestigious music school (in Asia or elsewhere), or become a professional violinist, you can find a tutor to help you work towards your goals.
For those who live rurally or have a work schedule that doesn't allow them to get regular violin lessons, there are always online private tutorials via webcam. These are often cheaper than face-to-face tutorials as the tutor doesn't have to cover the cost of travelling in their rates.