Category Archives for Practical Violin

How to Fix a Broken Violin String

Lots of players and parents continue to send me questions about broken violin strings, even though I did cover the topic in this post. Still, this short video offers additional help.

After watching the video, please re-read my original post. With any luck at all, you’ll be fine.

Remember these key points:

  1. DON’T PANIC! Broken strings are a common problem. Keep a spare set of strings in your violin case.
  2. Whether installing a new string, or simply tuning your existing strings, raise the pitch slowly as you turn the peg (or fine tuner), and don’t go past the desired pitch. Use a tuning meter.
  3. Keep your violin and pegs in good working order, and always store/transport your instrument at a moderate temperature. Maintenance and transportation problems can lead to excessive tuning, which in turn can break strings needlessly.
  4. Your violin strings may (and likely will) need to be replaced long before they break.
  5. Last but not least, never remove more than one string at a time from your violin, broken or not. Doing so can cause the bridge to collapse. That’s not good.
My thanks to Shar Music for providing this video.

 

What Walt Disney Can Teach You About Practicing the Violin

Here’s how the young father of a beginning violin student posed his parenting theory to me the other day: “I like my kids to stay busy. I want them to do a lot of things. In fact, my daughter has only enough time to practice for a lesson every other week.”

Beg your pardon, if I don’t agree. “I don’t teach students that way,” I replied, though my real thoughts on the subject ran far deeper. In my view, this parent is a variant of the now famous “Tiger Mom.” In this this case the student is given a quick weekly tour of a half dozen activities. Plus work, plus school. No time to explore anything, no chance to deeply master any one thing.

Are you swatting mosquitoes in mid air?
If you’ve ever tried to knock down a flying mosquito, you’ve discovered that it’s almost impossible. Now that’s how a lot of kids live today. They’re giving a scourge of mosquitoes deal with, and no possible option to pin anything down for even a second.

What Tiger Mom got right
Your kids won’t get any better at music (or anything else) left to their own devices. They need your guidance and support. You and your kids do need to spend a serious amount of time working on the violin to make a serious amount of progress. That’s true for kids that are old enough to practice alone as well as the under 12 crowd that needs your help during practice.

How to “Imagineer” Your Next Practice Session
By nature, both adults and kids tend to pratice using the “swatting mosquitoes” method: you keep swinging until the job is done. But that pesky mosquito always seems to reappear.

It’s a huge mistake to treat practice as a mundane chore, like filling out a sheet of math problems, or mopping the floor. What if it was more like inventing a theme park, or a thrill ride? Actually, it is.

Great practicing, (what most people mistake for “talent”) is the ability to innovate, imagine and create on an ongoing basis. It’s much like the work of Disney and Pixar Imagineers who recently created Cars Land; their active minds transformed a corner of Anaheim into something entirely new, novel and useful.

What a great practice session looks like
Does you child share that frenzied look and feel of a mosquito swatter while he practices? Then he’s not really practicing at all. In fact, he is probably making things worse. In fact, if your kids lack a systematic, thoughtful approach to practicing, you can pretty well bet that their practice is mindless and unhelpful.

Pratice differs for different people. It’s not “paint by the numbers game.” Still these three things will always hold true:

1. There is a “spacious” feeling around the practice session. This is where the real work of practice gets done. It’s where you identify the specific problems and opportunities. It’s where you start to form strategies to make progress. Brainwork must proceed before hand work. You never feel rushed, under pressure, or bored.

2. Great practice is strategic. Tools and tactics are used to streamline work. For example, I teach a “simplification” method that enables you to always achieve meaningful progress, even in a single session.

3. Practice motivation is intrinsic. The work of practice isn’t constantly directed at a particular result, such as an audition or upcoming talent show. Instead the practicer learns to appreciate the value and enjoyment of the practice process. The process feeds upon itself as enjoyment and mastery both continue to increase over time.

More is not better

Tiger parents of any stripe often put their kids at a great disadvantage. While progress can (in the short term) be forced by sheer effort, the quality of resulting work is not high. Basically, great music can’t be “beat” into your mind. It is nurtured over time.

Kids that get shuttled endlessly from one activity to the next never get to enjoy the luxury of a beautiful, creative approach. There’s nothing “spacious” about their practice, or their lives in general. They often grow to hate their music practice.

Invention is the key that unlocks rapid progress, sustained motivation, and excellence

Remember: An Invincible Family jealously protects the practice space. Invincible Parents keep their kids involved in creative, meaningful work, without compulsively pushing ahead at unreachable goals.

Last, but not least, sometimes we forget the value of unstructured down time, with no TV, no computers, no texting. Kids need this, perhaps even more than their parents. Remember the creative power of a walk in the park, a bike ride, or eight hours of sleep!

Novice musicians almost always underestimate the value of creativity and invention in practice. It’s truly the key that unlocks rapid progress, sustained motivation, and excellence in life as well as in music.  Ready to get started? OK, put your mouse ears on!

Extra credit: Famous violinist Nathan Milstein’s creative approach is highlighted in this video. Enjoy!

Why Looks *Do* Matter for Violinists

My X-Ray Vision for How Well You Play the Violin

Send me a still photo of your kid with her violin in playing position. It won’t take me more than 10 seconds to determine if she’ll be able to make any progress beyond her first year of playing. It’s not that I’m some brilliant pedagog of string playing. But after a decade of teaching young students the violin it’s quite clear when an approach is doomed to failure.

Here it is in plain English: if your posture is poor, so is your tone and technique. Stated another way, you must look something like a pro, if you want to advance past beginner. Mind you, looks are not a guarantee of progress, but they most certainly are a condition of success.

The Sink or Swim Factor for Violin Beginners

The number one success factor for new violinists rests in the left (or violin) hand. Fingers must be curved and inclined, just so. The perfect amount of pressure must be applied to the fingerboard. Too much squeeze and the tension will kill you, not enough and the tone will suffer. Because all of this is so crucial, I’ve devised routines to help students learn it in baby steps. This is an example of such a routine.

Over the years, I’ve developed many such routines. If you’d to see them, sign up for my e-course. Totally free, the form is at the bottom of this post.

Beyond the Violin Hand

But wait, there’s more! Like how exactly do you position the violin on your shoulder? And how do the arm, elbow and shoulder come into play? Yeah, it all matters, more than you might expect. And we haven’t even discussed the bow yet!

Patience is Your Friend

Don’t get me wrong, I admire your zeal to move ahead quickly and learn your favorite songs. Though really, learning songs is only the tip of the iceberg. More often than not, what the violin can teach you and your children is the virtue of patience.

Practical Advice for Invincible Violinists: Take your time, especially at the beginning. Don’t worry so much about learning songs; the extra time you spend with your kids on the basics will more than make up for itself with rapid progress in the future.

Focus on producing a full tone with a minimum of effort. Be certain that you have a comfortable and cozy physical relationship with your instrument. And don’t forget to look in the mirror. If it doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.

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What to do if Your Child is Too Young to Start Violin

 

Parents: Are your kids just getting started on violin? I’m not going to pull any punches. In my studio, violin lessons can get pretty intense, fast. There’s a lot to remember, and a lot that can go wrong. All of this means that the average 5 to 8 year (and you, as his home teacher) will need draw upon an unusual amount of focus, a reasonably robust physical makeup and some real fine muscle control.

Even something as simple as the slope of a shoulder and the relative position of a collarbone can make holding and playing nearly impossible for some kids until the moment is right. But not all is lost!

Six “Must Have” Skills for your Future Invincible Violinist

So, here’s my short list of necessary activities that will support the first song your child will likely need to learn in a Suzuki (and/or) traditional violin studio:

  1. The Twinkle Rhythm Vocabulary. Be able to clap these the six basic twinkle rhythms accurately, crisply and at consistent tempo.
  2. Clap and March Be able to march in time with the songs from the Suzuki Volume 1 CD, and at the same time clap at a matching or (if appropriate) double speed.
  3. Match Pitches Be able to sing and match a pitch in the range of middle C to G, after hear thing pitch sung or played on a keyboard.
  4. Follow a Melodic Contour Be able to sing along with a familiar melody, and follow the up and down contour of that melody, if not the exact pitches.
  5. Object Focus Be able to visually focus on a single object for increasing intervals, without turning away or being distracted.
  6. Tone Up Be able to hold an empty violin case in front of the body with arms fully extended. Be able to march in tempo with empty case held above crown of the head.
  7. Tap and Count Be able to demonstrate fine muscle control and basic counting skills using a simple song.

The honest truth: if your child has significant problems with any of these items her violin journey will likely be short. Don’t let this happen to your family!

Here’s the Proven Invincible Practice Strategy

This list is fairly basic, but at least one point deserves your consideration:
Set up your kids to be successful from the start. Break down these activities into their simplest components so that every repetition, every practice session, is in some way successful. This is at the heart of the Invincible Violin system.

Add complexity as appropriate to the development of your child. Instill the belief that can meet challenges and continually improve. At all costs, avoid dull, mindless repetition of any activity. Constantly provide your attention and support, provide praise when appropriate, and never offer it when it isn’t merited.

Here’s a website loaded with ideas and tools that can help with early motor skill development.

Grab The Unbelievable Power of Getting the Basics Right

This stuff is way, way underrated. The connections to playing with a beautiful tone and great technique aren’t obvious to the average person. But a lifetime of playing and a decade of teaching has shown me otherwise.

Parents and kids alike are always super excited to get started on the instrument and learning songs. That’s great, but motivation dies quickly without having these six skills mastered. And that’s sad, and all too common.

Whether it’s baseball, math or violin the fundamentals do count. As parents, it’s our job to give our kids this solid starting point. It’s the foundation of becoming Invincible.

Why You Should Get Started Now

Don’t waste time! If the moment is right to start actual playing, there’s plenty you can do to make that moment shine when it finally arrives.

Have your own “too young” story or question to share? Please leave a comment below!

“How to Get Your Kids Unstuck on a Song”

Gossec Gavotte

Gossec Gavotte: Song from Hell or Heaven Sent?

If you’re a Suzuki parent, you probably remember the song entitled Gavotte by Gossec. Some might know it as “the song from hell.”

As a teacher, I find the song quite magical; it contains several passages that enable me to read the mind of a young violinist, and to surmise much about his “musical parenting” as well.

These seemingly unplayable fast groups of 16th notes, are being encountered for the first time by a Book 1 Suzuki student. It’s the kind of passage seems to induce what musicians commonly call “black note fever.”

Seven year old John, might think (or even verbalize) “this is beyond me.” Hence, he’ll play and improve the large part of song for week upon week, though the execution of this particular passage itself never seems to change much. He has metaphorically left the room and shut off the lights. Completion of this project was filed in the “someday” or “never” category.

Winning the Mental Game

Enter six year old Susan, an equally skilled student. Upon facing the same passage, she experiences a completely different internal dialog. “My family and teacher gave me this age appropriate problem, and so they expect me to solve it.” And before long, the “impossibly” difficult passage, looks pretty much like the rest of the song.

Both Susan and John have yet to develop a mature practice strategy, yet Susan’s “I can solve this now” belief system stimulates a vastly higher quality of work on her part. If only by a process of elimination, she will ultimately discover one or more keys to unlock the difficulties in the notes.

And it doesn’t stop there. That same “I can do it now” internal dialog fires up a student’s motivation and zest for the violin journey. It’s a circle of positive self-reinforcement that grows ever larger and stronger. These kids rarely crawl to their lessons with an excuse of “I’ve had a really busy week.”

Make This Work for Your Family

The confident six year old recitalist who can easily and brilliantly perform Gossec almost automatically gets the “talented” label. This, as if only the chosen few were fortunate enough to end up on the planet with the super-prodigy-violinist gene. Well let me just say, this just isn’t so. Any six year old with average motor skills has the ability to pull off the Book 1 Gavotte.

 The wise family sees music as a journey of self discovery that gives a child something far beyond a “fun” activity, far beyond mere self-esteem.

Many a family sees their children’s music lessons as just one more extracurricular activity that happens to be centered around playing songs on an instrument. The wise family sees music as a journey of self discovery that gives a child something far beyond a “fun” activity, far beyond mere self-esteem.

All of that said, here’s my advice to parents who are serious about music for their kids:

1. Don’t use the T word. It will only make you kids think they “have it” or don’t. Either way, the result will kill the motivation to improve.

2. Don’t pamper your kids with praise for their half-hearted efforts. Instead, be the benevolent dictator that helps them discover their own ability to solve problems and succeed. Music may not always be fun, but at times can bring joy, bliss and elation, when mastered.

3. As a parent, part of your job is to keep the kids motivated and excited about their music lessons. Why would they be enthusiastic, if your head is buried in a magazine during the entire lesson, if you never take them to a great concert, or if you’re indifferent to the topic of music in general?

Be it Gossec Gavotte or the Sibelius Concerto, the challenge of continual progress is truly met within our minds. For the student and the family, we must always expect quality work, continual improvement and a sense of focused ease while practicing. As a parent, you are the hero that must make it happen.

What are your thoughts about kids and music? Please add a comment below. Thanks!