Everything You Need to Know About the Violin in Eight Notes

You’ve crash landed on a desert isle with only your instrument. No music or books of any kind, and nothing committed to memory. And you can still develop (or maintain) virtuoso level skills on your violin. Simply play scales.

This much maligned musical element has a huge image problem: it is associated with the screeching, torturous notes of beginning players. And mind numbing boredom.

Still, everything you need to know about the violin can be found in a simple scale. Pitch, rhythm, tone production and every known technical feat on the bow or in the left hand can be embedded in a simple scale routine. Even musical gestures and phrasing can be cultivated through the lowly scale.

In fact, the scale is the most utilitarian of all-in-one practice tools, as I have written and often told students. Mostly, they seem unconvinced, offering only a blank stare.

When you come to accept this gospel of scales, it signals that you have made an important transition as a musician. You have finally embraced that practicing is about process, as much as it is about musical content. Pieces and etudes can become extraneous distractions to the work at hand.

Another way to say it, think of practice in its Eastern sense as a state of being. Release the Western implication that it is a verb.

Scales are a perfect fit for this Zen of practice. They can create a spacious sense around your daily work. Scales offer you the promise of pure, high quality practice. This, in turn, enables you to truly master the fundamentals with a higher sense of ease, clarity and purpose.

Try this: next time you stuck on a musical or technical  problem in your favorite song or piece, simplify that problem by copying and pasting it onto a scale. You’ll immediately gain a fresh perspective plus new clarity on causes and solutions.

Your transformation: the violin teaches us to clarify and simplify what seems complex and to move through life with ease.


Oprah, Bill Clinton and the Violin

It is said that in a business or sales meeting, the quality of your presentation skills will take you 95% of the way to your goal. This, regardless of the quality and nature of your content. It is a fact that typical presentations are so mediocre that even a modicum of skill on stage will place you far above the masses. This is a key ingredient that such diverse people as Oprah and Bill Clinton all share in common, the power to inspire and influence others.

You’d think that cultivating such an important skill would be at the center of every academic program, yet it is largely ignored. Except in thousands of great violin studios across the world, where even four year olds learn to mount the stage and communicate with confidence.

Beautiful violin music bears its own intrinsic and wonderful rewards. Beyond that, even if you aren’t Oprah or Bill Clinton, the violin gives you the power to change the world.

Spreading the Gospel of Music

Performing music is by nature a joyful act. Here is a vintage photo of the author, (along with colleagues Kira Blumberg, Colleen Coomber and Ana Maria Maldonado) dressed in our touring garb, and spreading the gospel of string music to young students everywhere.

A very dear teacher who is no longer with us once shared with me: “there is more than enough negativity in the world. Let’s work to make it a more positive place.” That is our best and highest calling as musicians.


Your Perfect Violin Bow Hold

Let your right hand dangle out in front of you, as if limp or lifeless. There. You have your perfect violin bow hold.

I’m serious. Simply insert the bow from underneath and you’ll likely be on your way to an excellent, professional caliber and fluid bow hand tailored to your own anatomy. That, in contrast to the tortured looking death grip many violinists cultivate over years.

The most important thing I can teach you in your violin lesson is to pay more and more attention to your own body. As your ability to do that increases, you’ll need a teacher less and less.

Your Transformation: Pay attention; your body already knows the truth.

The Violin Teaches us That Life is Limitless

Today I said goodbye to a student of many years. My parting words to her: take what you’ve learned through the violin and use it in your life. It’s very powerful.

While everyday life can seem to leave boundaries around us, the violin teaches us that life is limitless. It shows us at a deep level that we are can (and must) transcend our perceived limitations on a lifelong journey of growth.

Seeing the mastery of others has always been an inspiration to me, it continues to teach me that mastery is not a destination but a process. That our skills are not inborn, but the fruits of a purposeful intention.

The universe is a much larger place than we can imagine or see through our very earthbound, human eyes. Still, the violin is a way to channel into something much larger and far more beautiful than words can describe.

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