Category Archives for Practical Violin

Scales AREN’T lame!


Photo: Bixentro

Are you bored with practicing scales? Too bad for you; you’re missing out on what could become the most awesome, useful and fun part of your music practice.

Many music students practice scales for the same reason; they’re forced to do it for their violin lesson. And because of that, there’s a lot of scale bashing going on these days. Bashing by sick and tired music students, who see them as a boring, useless and needless exercise. Even some music lesson websites entice their readers with catchy headlines such as “forget about practicing boring scales, have more fun and make more progress playing songs.”

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The Practice Clock is NOT Your Friend

Are you practicing on a timer? Playing 30 minutes a day, or 45 every other day? Or some other random number?

Take that clock off your wall. It shouldn’t be the master of your practice time.

How much time should you practice singing per day? Here’s a simple answer: Practice as long as it takes, no more, no less.

Why practice thirty minutes, when you can get the job done in ten? Why set random time goals into place, when they have little or no bearing on the results you need?

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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.