How do you find a violin teacher for your child?

Where do I find a suitable instructor for my child?  Once parents decide that they want their offspring to learn a stringed instrument, they are immediately faced with this often challenging question.  For most parents, it’s very difficult to know where to start because most are not active participants in the world of stringed instruments and have no idea who to talk to or what kinds of questions to ask.  Instinctively, most parents realize that starting off on the right foot is very important for future development, so they do their best to find a teacher who will not only show them proper technique but also instill a joy for music that will last for the rest of their lives.

These days, most people will go to the computer and do a Google search in their local area. Several results will inevitably pop up on their computer screen.  After perusing the bios of teachers that have their own studios or work out of a large music store, one trait becomes clear.  Everybody is an expert and they all have an abundance of awards and testimonials concerning their education, performance history and love of teaching.  So if everybody is so great, how do you know who’s good and who’s not?  How do you pick from one or the other?  Which teacher’s self documented accolade is more trust worthy?

Personally, I’ve been playing the viola for over 30 years and 16 of those as an instructor.  I have several gold lettered pieces of paper (in a closet somewhere) that list my performance pedigree and pedagogical certification, but do they really prove anything?  To believe that everybody that graduates from a certain school or has played in many differing performance venues is going to have an equal ability to engage your child in a meaningful way is of course, ludicrous.  So how do you know that I or anybody else with the same background is going to be worth all the money that you’ll be shelling out?

Most Kennedy Violins customers, know that we are comprised of string players and that the majority of us are violin instructors, so they ask us fairly often how to find a good teacher for their child who is just beginning.  Because of the amount of times I’ve fielded this question, I’ve been able to distill the filtration process, into 2 basic criteria that you can use to weed out the less desirable instructors.

1.  Does the instructor currently play professionally or is retired from playing professionally? Chances are, if nobody is willing to pay to hear a person play their instrument, you don’t want to pay them to teach your child.  The reason this is a good question to ask, is that there are many people taking money to teach the violin who are a “jack of all trades and masters of none”.  They love music and teaching and play just about every instrument that you can think of.  This may be indicative of a certain level of passion or talent, but not having the stringed instrument as their primary professional focus, creates the situation where their technical knowledge of the instrument is diluted and blase.  However, many teachers have performed with a variety of groups and they are quick to mention them on their bios but you need to do your homework.  Are the groups they’ve played in on the same professional level as your local quilting club?  Was the bulk of their performance experience in high school or college?  This is not to say, that if they haven’t played in a major symphony orchestra they are bad teachers, or that all teachers that play in highly regarded symphony orchestras are all fantastic but usually this simple question can take about 85% of the instructors out of the running.  This will not only save you a lot of wasted time and money on unhelpful lessons but also years of frustrated effort on the part of your child, who will be taught mind numbingly bad technique and flawed posture.

2.  How successful are the students of the teachers? This is probably the most important question to ask because this is really where the rubber meets the road.  Regardless of professional performance experience or certified pedigree, an excellent teacher will consistently produce well respected students.  Once you have cut your list of potential teachers down to a few, ask them about their students participation in the local youth orchestras.  Most cities of decent size have 1 or 2 youth orchestras that are pretty good.  The only way to get into the higher level youth orchestras is by auditioning.  Therefore, only the better playing students of that geographic location are going to be accepted into the orchestra.  The better students get in and the others don’t.  Consistently, the more effective teachers not only have many students participating in a good orchestra, but the same teachers are represented year after year.  You can call up a local youth orchestra and ask for a recommendation or a list of the instructors that are represented by the students.  Chances are, there will be a person working in the office that will be more than happy to assist you in narrowing down your search.

After you have found a teacher that you think may work, you will want to have a preliminary lesson, to find out if the teacher is a good fit.  Often the better teachers will not only be more expensive and have a waiting list, but will want to “audition” YOU and your child as well.  They will not accept certain students who may display an obvious disdain for learning or have parents who simply want a hour of alone time at the local mall while their child is babysat.  If your child is progressing well after 10 lessons or so, you have probably found a suitable match.  If your child is stuck on the same primary piece for several weeks or is locking themselves in their rooms to prevent themselves from going to a lesson, then it may not be a good fit.

The majority of parents do not start music lessons with the idea that they want their children to become professional players.  Most, just want to expose their children to the world of music and gain all of the cognitive benefits that learning an instrument like the violin have to offer.  Whatever your goals are for your child, one thing is for certain.  It’s not possible for you to know the future and to what extent your child may want to pursue music.  The best thing you can do, is find a teacher that will ultimately assist your child into reaching their full potential with proper technique and efficient practice habits.  If your child develops a deep love of music and the ability to express it, then you have done your part in giving a gift to your child that is truly priceless.  It’s been said that nobody regrets being a good person on their death bed.  Well, nobody regrets being a great violinist either!

 

Cello can be the beginning of greatness

 

Kevin Olusola

Cello isn’t just for classical music, as anyone who has heard the Portland Cello Project will tell you.

I just had to share this amazing young man with you here. He plays cello, yes, but in a very unique way. Check him out:

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I’m all about nurturing music in young kids, advocating music as a means of higher learning, early development, well-roundedness and overall life-enhancement via music.

Meet Kevin “K.O” Olusola. This guy is talent incarnate. Not only does he play cello, he also plays sax, he’s a beatboxer and composer. He studied at Yale in pre-med, but his major was not music, but, wait for it…East Asian Studies. That took him to Bejing for a year, where he continued to play and study. You can read more about him here.

He’s super-accomplished in all areas of his endeavors and has performed at the highest levels both in the US and abroad: Carnegie Hall (twice, by the time he turned 17), playing for the US Ambassador to China in Bejing when President Obama was there, opening for Drake, and a lot of other great experiences.

He has decided to put his medical training on hold and go into music as a career, though, because he realized that being a musician wasn’t a choice for him anymore. Music is a lifestyle.

My point is that he is the epitome of well-roundedness: Art, science, humanities, performance, creativity. And I have to think that a renaissance man like Mr. Olusola came by all this first by the love and support of his family, and also in a self-perpetuating way through hard work, recognition and inspiration.

I love working in a field where you can influence kids with such a fulfilling endeavor. Playing music nurtures a lot of things in kids, not the least of which is their discovery of who they are and all they can be. Kennedy Violins can be the place to start their journey.

So when a kid like Kevin comes along, we should all sit up, pay attention, enjoy his talents and be inspired to find or help the next Kevin to come along.

And it can all start with a cello.

Strung out on strings

The best thing about a broken violin string is getting to put NEW strings on. The options for strings are vast, so how do you choose which strings are the best for you? That really depends on the type of sound you are looking for and the playing situations you find yourself in, not to mention how much you want to invest.

When I started playing violin a LONG time ago, all beginners used a basic metal string, which is a string with a steel core and a variety of metals for the winding. These violin strings are extremely sturdy and will stay in tune in all sorts of conditions. Teachers love these strings because they hardly need maintenance, are extremely affordable, and last a long time. However, these basic metal strings don’t produce the greatest quality of sound. But, since then, string makers have started producing higher quality metal strings that produce a bigger, richer sound with the same dependability of all metal strings. Many professional players have started using Helicore strings by D’Addario, which have a metal core, due to their durability.

Basically, the only other option when I was a kid was to use gut strings. Gut strings are pretty much what they sound like. Gut strings are made from dried strands from the inside of cats or lamb. (For those who don’t get queasy easily, there is an interesting video on YouTube on how gut strings are made. Since it’s a little controversial, I’ve decided not to provide the link for it.)

These were the strings that were used centuries ago, and they can still be found in this pure form, although many string makers started winding these gut strings with metal. But, because of their fragile components, gut strings can be quite temperamental to changes in temperature and humidity, causing them to stretch and contract easily. When strings stretch and contract, they go out of tune. Also, eventually, gut strings quickly become “false” and lose their sound quality. Not only do these strings carry a high price tag, but they also need to be changed frequently. People who use gut strings are sold by the quality of sound they get from these strings, which is soulful and deep. Pirastro Eudoxa is a well-known brand of contemporary gut strings.

As the musical and technological sciences started convening, string makers started looking for new ways to make strings that would combine the best of both worlds. Strings with synthetic cores started coming to the forefront of the string players’ circles. Perlon and nylon are just some examples of the cores found in the synthetic strings. The synthetic cores combine the stability of the metal strings with the sweet and rich sound of the gut strings. Synthetic strings are also very affordable. One thing I’ve noticed is that some instruments do better with one brand or another. Not one brand is preferred across the board. It’s really up to the player and the sound qualities of each instrument. I have tried Dominant, Zyex, Evah Pirazzi, Peter Infeld PI, as well as a few others.

When I was in college, the choices of strings only caused more confusion. My “old school” teacher from my childhood was stuck on gut strings and wouldn’t fathom using any other type of string. Before I went to college, I started using synthetic core strings and was very happy with the results. But, the options kept growing, and I wasn’t sure which strings were going to be my best investment. After all, I was a college student. So, I did a little research for a science class I was taking. My teacher indulged me and let me test all three types of strings on my violin. What I found wasn’t surprising. The metal strings were strong and in tune, but they left much to be desired once the bow left the string as the sound pretty much stopped. The synthetic core strings had a richer sound quality, and the sound continued when the bow lifted from the string but diminished quickly. And, the gut strings were the sweetest sounding strings of all of them, and their resonance couldn’t be beat when the bow was on and off the string.

Someday, I’d like to try using gut strings again. But, for now, I’m trying my first set of Peter Infeld PI strings with a Platinum Plated E string from Thomastik-Infeld. I have to say I really like these recently released strings and will probably continue to use them until someone suggests something else. When you buy your next set, try something new. You may be surprised what a difference a new set of strings can make.

Scales: the Backbone of the String Players Practice Session

There is a certain segment of the string player’s daily practice routine that can be viewed as the least exciting, and it can be tempting to exclude this section of the practice session. However mundane practicing scales can seem, it is arguably the most important part of practicing the violin, or any stringed instrument. Why is this? Continue reading Scales: the Backbone of the String Players Practice Session