I was reminded about a great truth of violin playing while walking the streets of New Orleans today. (I’m in the city for my son’s wedding)
Strolling around the French Quarter, I heard a faint and hauntingly beautiful violin melody wafting from around the corner. Soon I found myself in front of a NOLA street band, enjoying traditional and jazz standards spun out with beautiful tone and a great sense of style.
I absolutely loved the violinist (as well as the other band members), and stood there transfixed for one song after another.
Then suddenly came my facepalm moment: Why haven’t I been doing more music like this? And why aren’t we all?
These are songs that you can learn and perform in a matter of days, even hours. The technical demands are modest, giving you the time and freedom to work on style and personal touches. It’s a chance to drop all pretense and simply have fun.
If you’re like most people, you’ve got at least a song or two you want to play. A violin piece you want to perform. Maybe even a song set to play in a band.
Finding the right songs for a developing violinist can a bit of an art in itself. Choose well, and you gain incredible forward momentum in your playing. You’ve got something you can play for years to come. You gain more choices and options as a musician.
How to Mess Up Your Relationship with the Violin
I know from my own experience, it’s tempting to choose material that is over your head. When that happens you’re not doing yourself (or your listeners) any favor. Struggling with notes for weeks on end locks you up physically and may even leave you with emotional “scars.”
Sooner or later you begin to dread practicing and performing.
This is how we can end the struggle.
In coming weeks I’ll begin introducing traditional/fiddle tunes that you’ll enjoy learning and playing. The objective is to get us both up and running on several tunes in a short span of time.
We’ll tie together the songs with the warm-ups and violin motions we’ve discussed. You’ll see how things come full circle.
The real fun (and learning) happens when you can take these tunes out into the world. Playing for (and with) others adds an important and enjoyable dimension to your musicianship, as my new found New Orleans friends have taken to heart.
If you’d like to come along on a “song quest,” please do me a favor: Click on this link and take my short survey. Near the end you can let me know what song(s) you’d be interested in learning and/or performing.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you. But for now, I have a father-of-the-groom speech to practice and a son to marry off!
Until we next meet, savor your violin journey.
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!
You’ve crash landed on a desert isle with only your instrument. No music or books of any kind, and nothing committed to memory. And you can still develop (or maintain) virtuoso level skills on your violin. Simply play scales.
This much maligned musical element has a huge image problem: it is associated with the screeching, torturous notes of beginning players. And mind numbing boredom.
Still, everything you need to know about the violin can be found in a simple scale. Pitch, rhythm, tone production and every known technical feat on the bow or in the left hand can be embedded in a simple scale routine. Even musical gestures and phrasing can be cultivated through the lowly scale.
In fact, the scale is the most utilitarian of all-in-one practice tools, as I have written and often told students. Mostly, they seem unconvinced, offering only a blank stare.
When you come to accept this gospel of scales, it signals that you have made an important transition as a musician. You have finally embraced that practicing is about process, as much as it is about musical content. Pieces and etudes can become extraneous distractions to the work at hand.
Another way to say it, think of practice in its Eastern sense as a state of being. Release the Western implication that it is a verb.
Scales are a perfect fit for this Zen of practice. They can create a spacious sense around your daily work. Scales offer you the promise of pure, high quality practice. This, in turn, enables you to truly master the fundamentals with a higher sense of ease, clarity and purpose.
Try this: next time you stuck on a musical or technical problem in your favorite song or piece, simplify that problem by copying and pasting it onto a scale. You’ll immediately gain a fresh perspective plus new clarity on causes and solutions.
Your transformation: the violin teaches us to clarify and simplify what seems complex and to move through life with ease.
Let your right hand dangle out in front of you, as if limp or lifeless. There. You have your perfect violin bow hold.
I’m serious. Simply insert the bow from underneath and you’ll likely be on your way to an excellent, professional caliber and fluid bow hand tailored to your own anatomy. That, in contrast to the tortured looking death grip many violinists cultivate over years.
The most important thing I can teach you in your violin lesson is to pay more and more attention to your own body. As your ability to do that increases, you’ll need a teacher less and less.
Your Transformation: Pay attention; your body already knows the truth.
I recently worked with two super enthusiastic adult violinists; in both cases their passion for the instrument was obvious. Strangely, they both suffered from a common malady, uncontrolled vibrato.
IMHO, this problem is all too common. It results from a shortcoming in violin pedagogy. Frequently the development of vibrato is left to chance, instead of being incorporated into the overall technical regimen. Drawing an analogy, it’s much like building a house, and deciding where to put the front door and windows only after the building is completely framed.
Teaching violin requires a comprehensive understanding of many moving parts; all these parts should be assembled in a fairly specific order, while keeping the whole in mind.
Your transformation: Violin teaches us project management at a very high level. It’s a skill that serves you well in any walk of life.