Hip Hop Violin: Beginner Tips & Techniques
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


If you've ever wondered how to play violin for hip hop, you're in the right place. Hip hop violin is a captivating blend of classical and contemporary music that can add a unique flair to your playing repertoire. This blog will guide you through the steps to get started, from choosing the right violin to exploring hip hop rhythms. So, let's dive into the world of hip hop violin.

What is Hip Hop Violin?

At its core, hip hop violin is the fusion of classical violin techniques with the rhythmic and improvisational elements of hip hop music. This blend creates a unique sound that's both familiar and fresh. It's like combining the elegance of a Beethoven composition with the beat of a Jay-Z track.

Here are some key features that define hip hop violin:

  • Improvisation: In hip hop violin, you won't always stick to the sheet music. Instead, you'll often create your own melodies and rhythms on the fly. This improvisation is one of the hallmarks of the genre.
  • Rhythm: Hip hop music is known for its distinctive beats, and these rhythms play a big role in hip hop violin. You'll learn to play different rhythmic patterns that add a hip hop vibe to your violin playing.
  • Syncopation: This is a musical term for a shift in the expected beat. In other words, you'll sometimes play notes where they're least expected. Syncopation is a key element of the hip hop sound.

Learning to play violin for hip hop involves mastering these elements and using them to put a hip hop spin on your violin playing. It's like learning a new language—you're still playing the violin, but you're using a different set of rules.

Now that we've defined what hip hop violin is, our next step is to choose the right instrument. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Stay tuned for our next section, where we'll guide you on how to select the perfect violin for your hip hop journey.

Select the right violin

Choosing the right violin is one of the first steps in learning how to play violin for hip hop. Here's what you need to bear in mind:

  • Size: Violins come in various sizes, ranging from 1/16 to 4/4. For adults, a full-sized 4/4 violin is the standard choice. For younger learners, you might need a smaller size. Remember, comfort is key when selecting the size of your violin.
  • Quality: When it comes to violins, the price often mirrors the quality. While a Stradivarius might be out of your budget, there are plenty of reasonably priced violins that offer great sound quality. Brands like Yamaha, Stentor, or Mendini offer good options for beginners.
  • Electric or Acoustic: Hip hop violin can be played on both acoustic and electric violins. An electric violin can offer a wider range of sound effects, which can be fun when playing hip hop. But remember, a good hip hop sound can also be achieved with a traditional acoustic violin. The choice depends on your personal preference.

Once you've chosen your violin, it's time to get a grip on your bow—literally. Our next section will cover the basics of holding a violin bow, an important part of learning how to play violin for hip hop. So, keep reading—it's time to get hands-on!

Learn the Basic Bow Hold

Now that you have your violin, the next step on your journey to learn how to play violin for hip hop is mastering the bow hold. Here's how:

  • Relaxed Grip: Hold your bow like you're shaking someone's hand: firm, but not too tight. Your fingers should be relaxed—remember, a tense grip can affect the quality of your sound.
  • Thumb Placement: Your thumb should be bent and placed at the corner of the frog—the part of the bow where your fingers rest. This helps you control the pressure and direction of the bow.
  • Finger Placement: Your middle and ring fingers should drape over the frog, while your pinky rests gently on top of the bow. The index finger is positioned slightly away from the others, about halfway up the bow. This finger helps guide the bow on the strings.

Practicing your bow hold daily will help it become second nature. Remember, the journey of how to play violin for hip hop is a marathon, not a sprint. Rome wasn't built in a day, right? So, patience and practice are your best friends here.

Next up, we'll dive into the beats and rhythms that define hip hop music. Stay tuned!

Practice Hip Hop Scales

When you're learning how to play violin for hip hop, scales are more than just a warm-up—they're the DNA of your music. Particularly, the minor pentatonic scale is a goldmine for hip hop melodies.

But first, what is a minor pentatonic scale? Simply put, it's a five-note scale that gives a soulful, bluesy sound—perfect for creating those catchy hip hop melodies. Here's how it looks in the key of A minor: A, C, D, E, G.

Try playing this scale on your violin:

  1. Start on the open A string
  2. Go to the third finger on A (C)
  3. Open D string
  4. First finger on D (E)
  5. Third finger on D (G)

Once you're comfortable with this scale, try playing it in different keys. This will not only improve your finger dexterity but also give you a wider range of notes to use in your hip hop melodies.

Playing scales might not be the most exciting part of learning how to play violin for hip hop, but it's a bit like eating your vegetables before dessert—you've got to do the groundwork before the fun part. So, keep practicing your scales, and before you know it, you'll be creating your own hip hop melodies!

Explore Hip Hop Rhythms

Now that you've got a handle on scales, it's time to dive into another important aspect of learning how to play violin for hip hop—rhythms! The rhythm is what makes hip hop music stand out. It's like the heartbeat of the music, giving your melodies a certain groove that gets people nodding their heads and tapping their feet.

But how do you get started with hip hop rhythms on the violin? It's all about subdivisions. In most pop and classical music, you divide the beat into two or three parts. But in hip hop, you often divide it into four parts. This is called 'sixteenth-note subdivision'. It's like slicing a pizza into four equal parts and eating them one at a time.

Here's a basic exercise to practice this rhythm:

  1. Set your metronome to a comfortable tempo—let's say 60 beats per minute.
  2. Play an open string, evenly dividing the beat into four parts. You can think of it as saying "one-e-and-a" for each beat.
  3. Do this for a few minutes, focusing on keeping the subdivisions even and staying in sync with the metronome.

Once you're comfortable with this, try adding in some scales that you've learned. Play one note of the scale for each subdivision. It might be a bit tricky at first, but with practice, you'll start to feel the groove.

Remember, hip hop is all about feeling the beat and expressing yourself. So, don't be afraid to experiment with different rhythms and see what sounds good to you. Happy practicing!

Improvise to Hip Hop Beats

With some knowledge of hip hop rhythms under your belt, we're ready to jump into the next step to learn how to play violin for hip hop—improvisation. This is where you get to create your own melodies on the fly, like a chef adding their own twist to a recipe.

Here's the secret: Improvisation isn't as daunting as it might seem. It's all about taking what you've learned so far—the scales, the rhythms—and combining them in new and exciting ways. Think of it as building a lego tower, where each lego block is a note or a rhythm, and your job is to stack them up in a way that sounds good to you.

So, how do you start improvising to hip hop beats? Here's a simple exercise to get you started:

  1. Pick a hip hop beat—any beat that you like. There are tons of free beats available online that you can use.
  2. Start by simply playing the scale that you've learned, but this time, along with the beat. Try to match your playing with the rhythm of the beat.
  3. Once you're comfortable with this, try changing it up. Maybe skip a note or two, or add in a rhythm that you've learned.
  4. The key here is to experiment and see what sounds good to you. There's no right or wrong!

Improvisation is an important part of learning how to play violin for hip hop, and it's also a lot of fun. So, let your hair down, let your fingers dance on the strings, and let the music flow. You might surprise yourself with what you can come up with!

Listen and Analyze Hip Hop Violin Tracks

You've probably heard the saying, "To be a good writer, you need to be a good reader." Well, the same goes for music. To learn how to play violin for hip hop, you need to listen to a lot of hip hop violin. But don't just listen—analyze.

Here's the game plan:

  1. First, find a bunch of hip hop violin tracks. Consider artists like Black Violin, Lindsey Stirling, and Miri Ben-Ari. They're all amazing violinists who've made a name for themselves in the hip hop world.
  2. Listen to the tracks, but not like you ordinarily would. Put on your detective hat and try to pick apart the music. What scales are being used? What rhythms can you identify? How is the violinist improvising?
  3. Try to replicate some of the things you hear. If you hear a cool rhythm, pause the music and try to play it yourself. If you hear a melody you like, see if you can figure it out on your violin.

Listening and analyzing is a brilliant way to learn how to play violin for hip hop. You're learning from the pros, after all. And as you get better at picking apart the music, you'll also get better at playing it. So, go ahead, put on some music and let's start analyzing!

Record and Review Your Practice Sessions

One of the best ways to improve your hip hop violin playing is to record and review your practice sessions. It might feel a bit weird at first—like listening to your own voice on a voicemail. But trust me, it's incredibly helpful.

Here's why:

  1. When you're playing, you're focusing on a million different things: your bow hold, the notes, the rhythm. It's easy to miss the little things. But when you listen back to a recording, you can focus solely on the sound. This gives you a chance to catch any mistakes or areas that need improvement.
  2. Recording your practice sessions also allows you to track your progress. After a few weeks, listen back to your first recording. You'll be amazed at how far you've come!
  3. Finally, listening to recordings of yourself can help you develop your own style. Hip hop is all about individuality and expression, so don't be afraid to experiment and find your own voice on the violin.

So, next time you practice, hit that record button! You might just surprise yourself with how much you can learn from listening back. Remember, nobody is perfect in the beginning. Practice makes progress, and soon enough, you'll be nailing those hip hop violin tracks!

If you're excited about incorporating hip hop violin into your repertoire and want to take your skills to the next level, check out Debbie Knox-Hewson's workshop, 'How to Get Better at What You Do - Go from Good to Great!.' This workshop will provide valuable tips and techniques to help you excel in your craft and push your musical boundaries.