How much money are you wasting on violin lessons?

It’s a fair question.

When I was a young student, I wasted my share of family funds in the violin studio. I was unprepared. I didn’t fully understand what the teacher was saying. The subject matter was over my head. The teacher couldn’t explain it in a way I could understand. It could be 1000 things. And over the years, it probably *was* 1000 things..

And it’s not all on the student side; teachers are human… they make mistakes too. They miss things that should be fixed. Or they don’t know how to correct problems that the students brings into the studio.

Enter the real world; distracted parent, exhausted student and frustrated teacher. This is not a recipe for making progress on the violin.

It gets me when people worry about the high cost of private lessons, then turn around and barely put any effort into making good use of the invested time and money. It just doesn’t make any kind of sense.

That’s why Invincible Violinists are always fully prepared. They value their time and money. They want to use their teacher’s expertise in the best possible way. Whether in the studio or at home, they’re embracing the best practices.

The most expensive violin lessons you can ever take, are the ones you have to take over. And over, and over.

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What is my violin worth?

STRADIVARI portrait by Alton s. Tobey, 1971

The king of all violin makers, Antonio Stradavarius in a portrait by Alton Tobey


Is your violin a Strad?

 

Could that violin you’ve been storing in the closet be a Strad worth millions?

There are literally millions of violins in existence that bear the label Antonius Stradivarius; they’re almost all copies of the classic “Strad” model made famous by the master from Cremona, Italy. Antonio Stradivari handcrafted about 700 instruments during his lifetime. All but 100 are accounted for.

Even though your instrument may not be a real Strad, it still may have considerable value. Strad copies range from junk level factory made instruments to very fine handmade violins worth thousands of dollars. The maker, construction and condition of your instrument all go into determining its value.

The best way to determine the value of a violin is to get an appraisal from a violin shop (luthier.) He or she will be able to determine the authenticity of your instrument, the cost of needed repairs and an approximate market value. A more formal written appraisal might be warranted if you own a fine instrument. You should expect to pay a fee for such an appraisal.

The greatest value your violin might hold is the joy it can bring you when you play it. Fix it up; get some lessons and make some music!

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Violin: Buy or Rent? and What Size?

An Invincible Violinist knows that beginning the journey with the right instrument is important. The “I’ll get a Suzy a good violin if and when she sticks with it” approach in not doing your young student any favor.

Before you buy a violin, answer these questions:

  1. If you are just starting, do you need a violin right away? Many teachers of young students will start their pupils using a lightweight “mock violin” instead of the real thing. In this case, the teacher will likely be your best source of information on size, budget.
  2. Do you have access to a speciality violin shop in your area that rents instruments? If so, you’ll generally get a much better instrument in a ready to play condition. Many off-the-shelf violins bought at generalist music stores and online will be of marginal quality. Again, an experienced teacher or player is a great resource.

Rent a Violin, Don’t Buy

There are plenty of reasons to rent. A five year old will quickly outgrow the fractional size “kiddie size” instruments, and will probably need a larger instrument every year or two.

When you are ready for your “forever” instrument, chances are you’ll want to select it from among many sources. Sometimes, a rent-to-buy program might save you some cost on that final purchase. Just be sure to rent from a dedicated violin shop that offers high quality student and artist level instruments.

When It’s Time to Buy Your Violin

Violin shopping (online or in person) is an exciting time for any student. It can also be very confusing. Here are some tips to simplify the process:

  • Always buy where you have a trial period with a return privilege.
  • Take an experienced violinist friend along to the shop. You’ll get added feedback about how an instrument sounds across the room. Or, your friend can play the instrument for you to hear.

What Size Violin is Correct

Playing a violin that’s too large can be crippling at worst, and will slow down your progress, at best. Beyond the size, the excessive weight is a burden on the player. By the same token, a tiny fractional size instrument won’t be playable by a player who has outgrown it. Her fingers and arms will be hopelessly “mashed” together.

Small instruments also come with a small tone. They force the player to work harder, which is not a good thing!

Still, when in doubt it’s best to err on the side of too small, rather than too large.

Sizing is accomplished using one of these methods:

  1. A size chart based on age. Not accurate at all.
  2. Violin Size Chart matching an actual instrument to a player’s arm length.
  3. Using Method 2, tempered by the experience of a teacher.

Obviously, an experienced teacher should be your guide whenever possible.

If all of this hasn’t convinced you to buy or rent a perfectly sized instrument consider this:

If you are trying to save money by playing a full size instrument before you are ready for it, you’ll like spend what you’ve saved on the instrument on lessons to fix the technical problems that will result.

A wrong size violin costs you time, money and bad playing habits.

Bottom line here: rent or buy the best instrument you can afford. Always be sure it is sized correctly. Seek out impartial advice.

Don’t forget the Bow

Many students and families overlook the importance of a quality bow. That’s a serious mistake; bow selection is equally important as choosing the right instrument.

Just as with the violin, be sure to ask for an approval period. Avoid shopping for violin and bow at the same time. You’ll want to select a bow based on how it feels on your permanent instrument. It’s amazing how a bow can enhance the sound of your violin!

Often bows are included with an instrument purchase; the quality varies widely. Generally speaking, it’s best to select the bow on its own merits. Keep the “freebie” bow in your case. It’s always great to have a spare bow.

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Violin Lessons, Turn Signals and Intersections

The city where I live took more than a year to approve a stop light at a busy intersection near my home. When crews finally began construction, I saw activity at the site for many weeks. But there was little visible progress. No lights, no stripes, no traffic control at all.

Finally, one day almost a year later, the shiny new signal lights stood guard at the intersection. In fact, they were installed in a matter of hours. Then it all became clear: the end was the easy part. But the months of planning, drilling, digging and wiring seemed unrewarded and unnoticed. One morning’s work is what got all the attention.

Your violin journey will likely be much the same. The first months, even the first year of lessons may not produce a result that looks glamorous or exciting. Still, it’s the most crucial period of time in any violinist’s lifetime. Doing things correctly at the start make it possible to reach the Mozart Concerti and beyond.

In the perfect curve of a tiny five year old finger, I see a brilliantly executed concerto passage. In the simple arc of an arm are the seeds of a rich and mature violin tone. It doesn’t look like much, at least to the untrained eye.

In the perfect curve of a tiny five year old finger, I see a brilliantly executed concerto passage.

Patience and vision and resolve are by far the most important virtues for a violin family. Too many folks try to sandwich this long term project into a few remaining slivers between soccer practice and homework.

When your child mounts the stage and plays her first Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, it’s a 90 second reflection of months and hour upon hour of dedication. It’s a celebration of a family’s resolve.

Practice is a pleasurable activity for an Invincible Violinist. He works to make sure that is so. That’s not to say there won’t be some moments that test our mettle.

The decision to begin a violin journey is always easier than the many decisions that follow. There’s a decision point at each intersection of the journey’s path with a busy family schedule. Greet each intersection with care. That’s how to make the journey successful.

“Learning to play the violin is not what you think!”

 

 

Understanding what I’m about to tell you can make the difference between success and failure in your child’s violin lessons. Between a joyful experience and drudgery.

Picture this scenario:

You are beaming. Your six year old daughter is receiving enthusiastic applause from a full room of admirers. She has just performed beautifully at her first violin recital.

Or this scenario:

Your son is once again complaining about practicing. You’ve already threatened to cut off his lessons entirely if he doesn’t do better. The excitement and enthusiasm you both shared six months ago is long faded away.

[alert]The sad truth is that kids struggle and fail at violin far more often than you might expect. [/alert]

It happens because the “violin is so hard.” Or at least that’s what most people assume.

We start out expecting to suffer through months of squeaks, groans and scratches. And after that, volumes of exercises, scales and music reading are on tap. Months later, you’re still struggling to “play” your first song.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We can learn to play, really play well, from the very first note.

When I started violin, I shared many limiting thoughts. And sure enough, I was frustrated by slow progress. I worked hard, but without much focus, and achieved only a fraction of my potential, even after years.

After decades of playing in symphony orchestras and recording studios, I began to teach the violin. That’s when something remarkable happened. I stumbled upon some important people and ideas that turned my violin world upside down.

What shocked me the most is that these ideas worked even better for my students than they did for me. As a teacher who loves the violin dearly, I’d like to share them with you in this course.

After years of teaching violin, and of working with some of the finest string teachers around the nation, with each new day I believe more firmly than ever:

      1. Age 6 or 60, learning the violin becomes simple, once you have mental clarity about what’s most important at any given moment.

 

    2. The most important lessons your child must learn are the first ones. He/she must master only three basic skills.

If you take just this one concept to heart, success is practically guaranteed:

Violin lessons aren’t for learning songs.

Many people, even a few violin teachers, forget this basic fact. They lose sight of what really is crucial: with every note you play during the lesson, with every sound you make, you are focussed on learning the simple movements needed to produce a beautiful tone in the most effortless way possible.

Yes, in my studio students perform songs, and they learn to gain comfort performing them on the stage. When students demonstrate the relevant technical mastery, only then do we begin to discuss artistic interpretation of songs.

Stated another way, the best early lessons and practice sessions are less about what to play and more about how to play. How to hold the instrument and bow. Posture. Tone. Freedom of movement and lack of tension.

Focus on the “how” with your child. Let the “what” come in its own good time. You’ll discover that even playing nursery rhymes becomes joyful and pleasureful. Isn’t that why we play music in the first place?

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