Getting Started on Violin Practicing the Violin

Violin: How to Guarantee Success

Young Violinist masters the Vivaldi concerto

New music students (and their families) often think learning violin is about soaking up the lessons. That the private teacher will give them those mad skills. So get some lessons, then go out into the world and use what you learned. Practice to refine it and to improve retention. All’s well and good, except…

What you can get out of a 30 minute lesson is just a skimpy slice of the pie. Surprisingly, the process of becoming a proficient musician is more like being a combination of an inventor, explorer and planner. Your teacher can only give you the raw ingredients of the  of the recipe; it’s up to you to actually make something of it.

So forget about coming to lessons and mindlessly spitting out what you’ve learned. Or watching videos on the internet and trying to copy other violinists playing your favorite songs. Learning violin requires that you engage your brain and your best powers of observation. It demands a patient attitude and a lot of curiosity.

If you’re proficient at music, it’s because you’ve learned how to solve these progressively more complex problems. But if you’re bored, stuck, frustrated and/or no longer making progress, it’s likely because you don’t have a solid strategy to improve your playing.

Repeating a song or musical passage over and over until you’re bored to tears is an almost certain recipe for failure. Instead let your sense of discomfort or frustration be your guidepost. Your mind is telling you that what you are doing isn’t going to produce the result you want. You need something more.

In my studio, once we get past the basics we kick into our “creative problem solving” mode. I demonstrate some simple strategies to fix a problem passage, and ask the student to do the same.

“Bobby, next week, show me three different ways to improve this weak spot” goes right into the homework assignment. “And playing it over and over until it sounds good doesn’t count.”

Surely a violin newbie will be hard pressed to come up with much of a list. So I supply a menu from which the student can select the most effective and appropriate choice. For example, here are some items from my “take away” menu for young violinists.

TAKE AWAY SOMETHING from a problem to make it simpler

  • Remove the rhythm and play it in quarter notes
  • Remove the bowings
  • Play it in an easier position/fingering
  • Work on a smaller section and expand to surroundings
  • Use a slower tempo, when improved, make a meaningful tempo increase and try again.
  • Use less tone or vibrato
  • Don’t play across syncopated ties (similar to remove bowings)
  • Use pizzicato instead of bow
  • Use the bow without the violin hand
  • Left hand only and bow 2″ above string
  • Left hand only and sing or count
  • Bow only and sing or count
  • Freeze time after every note and take stock of bow position

The concept behind the take away strategy is simple: problems become easy to solve once you’ve isolated them to their most basic components. This enables you to make visible progress in just minutes. That alone is super motivating for a student of any level.

What are your favorite practice strategies? Please help me grow the list by commenting, sharing or tweeting. Thanks!

Getting Started on Violin Practical Violin

Is your Violin Chin Rest a Good Fit?

Analyzing Violin Chin Rest Setup - Artist Kyung-Wha-Chung

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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Practical Violin

Violin String Broke! Now What?


“OH NO!  While tuning the violin I snapped a string. Can I fix it? Or does it go back to the violin shop?”

No need to panic. We can fix this!  Click here to replace your snapped violin string.

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.

Click here to visit my violin string website for complete instructions on how to replace your snapped violin strings.

Suzuki Violin Violinist Profiles

Jessica Chao performs at the Southern California Suzuki Institute Honors Recital

Invincible Violinist Jessica Chao, student of The Alpert Studio of Voice and Violin

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Getting Started on Violin Practicing the Violin Suzuki Violin

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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