Category Archives for Practicing the Violin

The Buddhist Art of Violin Practice

Basketball MVP Allen Iverson famously had to take it on the chin for his poor attitude and memorable soundbites about practice. Still, western culture sees practice as a means to an end. Practice is the necessary evil we must endure on the path to musical bliss.

The problem with that western concept is that will power alone can’t sustain us through that 10,000 hours of must-do time on the chin rest. And no amount of parental nagging will can create a Sarasate Tarantella like the one I heard 12 year old violinist Karen Ferry play today.

Then how and when can we achieve true mastery and harmony with our instrument? Continue reading

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?

Continue reading

The Five Things Your Child Needs from You During Music Practice

OK, I admit it, as a child I was involved in a dysfunctional relationship… with practice. And the sad thing is your kids probably are too. They need your help; great practice skills are not inborn. Without regular guidance, kids almost always get bored and frustrated.

How much progress should you expect in the first year of violin, and what should your kids be able to play? The short answer: no more than you are able to play yourself.

If you can’t play this week’s song, how in the world could your six year old son or daughter?

I know you’re exhausted, the last thing you want is one more thing on your plate. Still, the fact is that without your help, your kids, (especially under the age of 10) will get stuck in their music lessons, sooner rather than later.

Well then, what’s the job of the music teacher?

  • Teach you (the parent!) how to practice. A practice method.
  • Provide material with the right amount of challenge.
  • Provide and demonstrate technique goals for the week’s practice.
  • Provide and demonstrate musical goals for the weeks practice.

You may have noticed that “teach the student Go Tell Aunt Rhody” is not on the list. And in fact, the song itself is just the starting point that you and the student must bring to each lesson. It’s your job as an Invincible Parent to make sure that everything from the teacher’s list is built into your child’s daily practice. Don’t expect a highly skilled music teacher to become your combination nanny and babysitter. Sorry.

The good news: As the years go by, a properly trained young musician becomes more and more “practice independent.” But this process begins and rests with you, the parent. Here’s your job as an Invincible Violinist’s parent:

  1. Understand your teacher’s practice strategies. Try and include a variety of strategies that are age appropriate. Hint: “let’s try it again until it gets better” is a strategy for failure.
  2. Set up a daily schedule, and always include a segment of listening, repeating back, clapping rhythms, etc. that is related to getting familiar with any assigned songs. It is a shameful waste of everyone’s time to teach a student the rhythm, melody, bowings, etc. of a particular tune during precious lesson time.
  3. Directly supervise or monitor minute by minute practice of your child. Use the practice strategies (see above) as a guidepost for the “how” of practicing.
  4. Use the bulk of the practice session to complete the technical and musical goals that your teacher has provided. You should always have weekly goals from the last lesson in hand. (See number 5. below) Refer to the notes often. Add questions/comments/notes for the next lesson.
  5. During the weekly lesson, take good notes. Written, audio, video, whatever you prefer. Make sure your weekly goals are clear at the end of the lesson. Remember, you are the hero of practice, so be fully engaged during the lesson. Don’t fall asleep at the switch!

Many parents are surprised to find out that music lessons aren’t about learning songs. Instead they’re mostly about learning how to learn. Solve that puzzle, and practice time flies by, while progress goes into overdrive.

Best of all, Invincible Violinists, become invincible in life. It’s all about setting goals, managing long term projects, staying motivated and enjoying the ride. So practice well, and enjoy your violin adventure!

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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