Like with many careers, the path to becoming a professional violinist is unique with no one-size-fits-all approach that will work for everyone. There are universal steps you can take to help prepare for your future career (some of which we’ll soon get to) but there are nuances, such as whether you want to play in an orchestra or in another setting, where you live, and what your playing background and education are.

Regardless of the path (or paths) you choose, to become a true professional you must demonstrate exceptional command of your violin, master music theory as a technical skill, and be able to collaborate with other musicians.

Examples of jobs professional violinists have access to include:

  • Freelance violinist, available for gigs
  • Music teacher
  • Playing in a chamber or small ensemble orchestra
  • Member of an orchestra
  • Soloist

Soloist and orchestra opportunities are probably what most people think of when they envision a professional violinist, but with some perseverance, lots of paid jobs are out there that can help fund your musical passion.

Becoming a soloist is traditionally the most difficult career path, given how few opportunities there are. In addition to being a world-class player, soloists must follow the job market, meaning it’s often necessary to move to a major metropolitan area that has a big arts scene with funding. For orchestra jobs, there are plenty of first- and second-violin string sections needing filling, and these are competitive as major orchestra performers are salaried and well-funded with paid time off, health insurance and other benefits.

No matter your path to becoming a professional, 10,000-plus hours of playing time is required to reach the developmental threshold needed to become an expert. Even if you want to play with a folk or rock and roll band and tour the country, some of the pressure the band faces is on you to be so talented and precise in your execution you can help sell concert tickets in bars and music halls.

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How Education Informs a Violinist Career Path

Having a college degree is helpful to a violinist looking to go professional, however it’s not always a requirement — depending on the career path you are on. To land an orchestra job, college education can be key. However, to join a folk or rock and roll band, a college degree may not matter.

For orchestra jobs, studying music as an undergraduate is generally the preferred path. Collegiate music programs offering classes in theory and performance allow you to develop and finetune your skills, preparing you for professional work. After that, many violinists find it helpful to attend a graduate program to further refine their skills.

If you don’t have a four-year degree, it’s best to apprentice with a renowned teacher to make up for the skills and musical education deficit you would otherwise face. Plus, seeing that teacher listed on your CV won’t hurt come audition time. Whether you go to college or have an apprenticeship outside a traditional academic setting, everyone can benefit from a mentor, a trusted expert who can guide you, indicating where your skills need additional sharpening.

Beyond Getting a Music Degree

Building and maintaining an online presence has become very important. Think of this as marketing yourself. It’s a job in its own right and one you should take seriously.

If you have interesting videos and expertise to share, it may be worth maintaining your own website. If that sounds like too much work or falls outside your skillset, get active on social media, share videos and content on sites like Instagram and TikTok to help build up your presence. This content will get your name and music out there, and it can help you get gigs that can supplement your income.

If gig opportunities interest you, check out our guide to gigging to learn more. We also have a resource to help aspiring professionals develop their stage presence, which is helpful to master prior to going on auditions.

Mastering Auditions

Sometimes auditions are open, but they are often by invitation. Either way, advance preparation is required. Arranged music will be provided beforehand to prepare, and you must be flawless in your execution to beat out your competition. To prepare, practice at least four hours a day and consider playing a mock audition in front of trusted peers, or a teacher or mentor who can serve as a practice judge.

You will also likely be asked to submit a CV or resume prior to your rehearsal, so make sure all your written materials are meticulously prepared beforehand.

How Much Do Professional Violinists Make?

Glassdoor, a reputable job and recruiting website, says the estimated total pay for a professional violinist in a year is just north of $72,000 in the United States. For a salaried career, the average is about $64,300. The difference in pay is because it’s common for violinists to supplement their income with gig work. For example, if you play in an orchestra with a 40-week season, maybe you perform weddings and parties during your off period to supplement your income.

In major metropolitan areas — such as New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Chicago — pay is often much higher than it would be in smaller markets, due to how well the arts are funded in major metro areas and also to account for higher cost of living.

Develop with CodaBow

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