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!
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:
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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!
If there’s any one way to make practice time painful and counterproductive, it is to practice in the land of “will be.” That’s because the oxygen of practice is visible improvement and immediate results. Invincible musicians universally share a “success now” practice regimen.
“Will be” musicians are not “wanna be” players. The former often pay their dues in spades. But their endless hours in the practice room are poisoned by a faulty internal dialog and a matching mindless practice method which is inherently ineffective.
Practicing in the world of “will be” always produces low quality work, despite endless repetition and an interminable work schedule.
The famous violinist Itzhak Perlman famously warns against practicing more that a few hours a day. This, in contrast to legions of 8 hour a day practice zombies that fill the practice rooms and dorms of music conservatories. Perlman clearly knows something that these musicians don’t.
Or, more specifically, Mr. Perlman’s practice is guided by his deep internal belief in his own efficacy, be it on the stage or in the practice room.
Your own practice alone can’t make you Invincible. Invincibility begins from the inside out. Ultimately your practice routine becomes exponentially more effective as it becomes congruent with your beliefs. And similarly, Invincible practice serves to bolster your internal dialog.
Too many musicians are put into situations that will only serve to cripple their future efforts. The scars can run deep. As a teacher, it is my heartfelt obligation to provide my students with a significant track record of positive experiences. And to provide the tools that they can use to achieve it.
Whether your goal is mastering Lightly Row or the Tchaik Concerto, the task can be (and must be) achieved with ease. You must find success at every turn or every turn will become a detour.
Stated another way: you must find the patience to become successful in the moment. That’s at the heart of being Invincible.
What are your favorite practice strategies? Please add your comment!
First of all, enjoy this video of Kyung-Wha-Chung, one of the great violin artists of our time. It’s a fabulous, world class and heartfelt performance by any standard.
Viewed from the perspective of a violin teacher, I feel obligated to point out that from a setup standpoint, the violin and the violinist may not be set up to best advantage, though I would be the last to suggest that Ms. Chung change anything about her playing.
On the other hand, when I see a fit or setup problem in a young student, I would always try to make things more comfortable and practical.
In this case notice that the player’s jaw bone isn’t aligned in the “groove” of the chin rest. Often in a case such as this, a chin rest that floats over the tailpiece of the violin might be more comfortable for the player. It won’t work for everyone as factors such as length of neck and arms also come into play. All of this can (and should) be analyzed by someone experienced in optimizing the violin/chin rest/shoulder rest combination.
So why does this work so well for Ms. Chung? Simply because her approach to the violin is dynamic, not rigid. The instrument isn’t locked into place. Rather, it floats, moves and adjusts along with the needs of the musical passage. The weight of the violin is balanced between multiple points, keeping the head and neck free of excess tension. It’s a great lesson for every player.
Why make things difficult when they can be simple?
For our younger Invincible Violinists and their families, know this: Never accept your instrument setup at face value. The size, lift and type of chin rest, the presence (or absence of) a shoulder rest, the way your instrument relates to your body and its movements, all of this, shouldn’t be left to chance.
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“OH NO! While tuning the violin I snapped a string. Can I fix it? Or does it go back to the violin shop?”
Here are seven things you can do to prevent breaking strings prematurely and to minimize inconvenience when breaks occur:
1. As a violin parent, learn to tune the violin properly. The easiest way to break a string, especially an E string, is to tune it too high. Don’t ask your 5 year old student to perform this operation!
2. Before installing new strings, lubricate the 2 contact points at the bridge and nut of the violin with a small amount of pencil lead.
3. Be sure that your instrument has quality tuning pegs that operate smoothly. Pegs that slip make you tune the strings more frequently, adding stress and reducing their life.
4. When tuning, gradually raise the pitch of the string to the required note, but not more than a small amount above. On student violins, use the fine tuners to make small adjustments, in lieu of the tuning pegs, which can be more difficult to operate.
5. Use an electronic tuner when learning how to tune. Tuning by ear is risky, if you’re not trained in that approach.
6. Practice often, and tune at least once at the beginning of every practice session. A neglected violin is more likely to lose its tuning by a large amount.
7. Purchase quality strings that are correctly sized for your instrument. Keep a spare set in your case, and perhaps more than one spare on the E string.