"L'ho sentito quando suonava il violino."
Translation:I heard him when he played the violin.
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"Suonava" is imperfect, a past action on a broken (imperfect) arc of time:
1. a past repeated/habitual action
2. what was going on when something else interrupted it
3. something that was ongoing without a clear start or end
As there is no imperfect in English we somehow need to reconstruct one of these scenarios.
L' = it/him
ho sentito = I heard
quando = when
suonava ~ he/it 'used to' play / played / was playing
il violino = the violin
I heard him when he used to play the violin(strange sentence?)
- I heard him when he played the violin (an ongoing action without clear star or end, - seams OK to me!) /
- I heard him when he was playing the violin (to me a past uninterrupted and unrepeated event, - perhaps ongoing . . . or ?)
I will try to . . .
"l'ho sentito" is passato prossimo, (a single finished action in the resent past), - in English = I heard him.
("I used to hear him", (a past repeated action), in Italian this would be in imperfetto, - "lo sentivo")
"quando suonava" is imperfetto (a past action on an imperfect arc of time, - something that is interrupted, repeated or an ongoing action with uncertain start or endpoint).
As there is no imperfect in English we have to construct something that meets these premises, e.g.:
When I heard him* he played the violin**.
* A past finished action
** A past ongoing action with uncertain start and endpoint.
I believe the sentence could mean that, but I suspect that would be "L'ho sentito quando il violino suonava," would be more nature. Here using the word order to clear up that ambiguity.
Also, your sentence makes no sense, at least in English, as violins do not play, they are played.
In a straight, word by word, translation I think that is possible . . .
But as "I heard him" is a single past and finished action while "when he used to play" is a habitual or several times repeated action I think it is kind of strange. To me, it implies that "I" had a very long listening session while "he" played the violin over and over again.