When Should I Learn Violin Vibrato?

The best time to start learning violin vibrato? Day one.

Often vibrato is considered an “advanced” technique, which should be pursued only after the basic foundation of the left hand is securely in place.
But instead, vibrato is the natural result of a healthy approach to the instrument.

With that in mind, I ask my beginning students, young or old, to perform motions that resemble (and in fact are) integral to a relaxed and mature vibrato. These motions emanate from both the wrist, elbow and hand joints, which all play a part in the final result.

Some players may want/need to wait before making a formal study of vibrato, but in fact I’ve seen many very young players in their first year of study pull it off with an impressive amount of finesse and freedom.

For me the bottom line is why wait? Developing and perfecting the vibrato reflex takes months and even years. It is integral to every style of playing, and so it should be addressed not as an “add-on” but from the very beginning as an essential part of playing.

Can I Clean My Bow Hair?

Many a string player has asked, “Can I clean my bow hair?”

In all honesty, I’m not the best person to ask. Though some musicians clean their bow hair, in my view the process is either non necessary or non effective. Over a lifetime of playing, I’ve only felt the need to try it once or twice. Most busy musicians simply replace their bow hair at a regular interval.

Properly maintained, your bow hair will last quite a long time. But it isn’t intended to last the life of the instrument. So when your bow hair looks dirty, it is likely in need of replacement, not simply a cosmetic cleanup. The exception would be a minor smudge in a single spot, caused by your thumb rubbing against the bow hair.

Here are some best practices for bow hair:

– Use your rosin sparingly, and only when it is needed. Most people use too much too often, causing a snowy mess on everything.
– Apply rosin with moderate pressure and slow to medium speed strokes. Too much pressure/speed damages the hair
– Use a quality rosin. If your rosin cake looks brand new, hard or glossy after many uses, it’s probably junk
– Keep your grubby fingers (or the body parts) off the hair!! And remember to release tension in your bow when you’re not playing.

Now, if you are still determined to try and clean your bow hair, remember to remove the frog from the bow so that your cleaning agent isn’t anywhere close to the bow wood. Alcohol and water are not wood or varnish friendly!

Please Do Not Wait

Please do not wait until you’ve learned your favorite violin piece to celebrate that within your hands is a beautiful, powerful and precious object that was crafted lovingly at great effort.

Do not wait to recognize that your mindful focus during practice itself is a life affirming, positive statement.

Do not wait until your have achieved that elusive goal we call “mastery” to recognize that real mastery is finding joy in your work this very moment.

Music Lessons. Who Cares?

Many teachers and families use games and activities to spur on the music practice cycle in their kids. If this works for you, great. But take heed:

Games, stickers and similar activities only motivate the student as far as the game itself. They won’t in themselves make students care about the music or the violin. Then, when the novelty of the game wears off, what is left?

On the other hand, when a kid really cares about music and the violin, meaningful progress will occur, even with a beat up instrument and uneven family support.

For older students and adults, it’s much the same. Your deep passion for the work will carry you through the inevitable bumps and dips.

FOR PARENTS: CREATING KIDS WHO CARE ABOUT MUSIC

Inspire, don’t entertain. It’s not your job to amuse those kids with an endless parade of practice bribes. So prepare to go deeper into the music as a family. Here are some suggestions:

  • Attend lessons and take notes (instead of your iPad). Be involved with the daily practice routine
  • Explore music every day.
  • Listen actively as a family and talk about what you’re hearing.
  • Attend live concerts performed by great musicians across many genres.
  • Quit talking (or even thinking) about “talent” and/or comparing your children to their peers.

Too busy or not interested in doing the above? Then you’ll get poor results at best. Be prepared for “I’m bored,” or “I don’t like violin lessons.” Novelty wears off quickly.

Seriously. If you don’t care, why should your kids?

My bottom line, speaking as a teacher to a student or to a family: “If you don’t care; I can’t help you.”

Turning Passion Inside-Out

Instead of “practicing the violin music you love” perhaps a more useful idea for students of music, beginner or expert, might be “love the music you practice.”

If you can become passionate about etudes, scales, or music chosen for you by others (orchestra, or teacher for example) it’s far more likely that whatever and wherever you play, you will move your journey forward.

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