Under a rest

I usually try to write a blog that is somehow useful or insightful. However, I’m afraid this blog only raises more questions than provides answers, and I’m hoping someone will be able to offer some help. The most difficult part of this is to admit a piece of my musical immaturity.

I answered a call on my cell phone on December 23rd from a friend who was frantically looking for a violinist to play for a Christmas Eve midnight mass. Always willing to help a friend in need, I eagerly agreed to play, although explained to her that I wouldn’t have time to pick up music or even practice before the 10:00 PM rehearsal on Christmas Eve. We did meet a little early so she could talk me through a few of the transitions, and I felt comfortable with the music. I had played much of it before for other church performances over the years.

Typically, for string quartet performances, I prefer to play second violin. Playing in upper positions (the nosebleed zone) is not all that appealing. But, most of all, I like the challenge of offering harmonious support, and I can count pretty well. I rampantly subdivide the beat in my head and am easily annoyed with sloppy players who play dotted eighth-sixteenth figures almost as triplets or showy players who rush running staccato figures because the shorter length of a note means they should play the next note even sooner.

Now, here’s where I run into my problem, and it happened more than once during the holiday musical season. I occasionally get lost during rests. Not for one or two beats worth of rests, but several beats in succession. It’s almost like my brain shuts off momentarily. “Oh, good. A rest; now, I can rest.” Actually, I need to do the opposite. I need to let the music continue in my head and be prepared for the next entrance. This isn’t quite as easy when I’m sight reading during a performance.

So, what is the answer here? Maybe someday in the future we will all be reading our music on electronic devices, and there will be a little red bouncing ball showing where we are in the music. If that’s the case, then I maybe worried for no reason.

In the meantime, I will continue to practice with my metronome and quietly tap my fingers as I count measures of rests. If you haven’t started practicing with a metronome, it is time to invest in one and become a rhythmic genius. It does pay off!

Practice, Practice: Dedication and Time Needed for Playing a Musical Instrument

If you or your child are interested in learning a musical instrument, several things need to be considered seriously beforehand.

First of all, learning a musical instrument requires dedication. Sufficient time will need to be set aside for the purpose of practicing. This may mean saying “no” to other activities or interests. When beginning, depending on the instrument and the age of the student, 15-30 minutes per day will usually be a satisfactory amount of time for practicing. The more you learn, the longer you will be able to practice, because practice skills increase in quality the more you use them. Good practice skills will be a help, not only with music, but also with many other aspects of your life. Dedication, perseverance, and consistency are all great skills to know, and one way to learn them is by learning to play music.

However, practices do not have to be long, grueling workouts. Shorter, more consistent practice sessions are always better than long sessions every now and again. Although they may be shorter, these types of practices ensure maximum concentration throughout. Many people find this method easier to fit into their busy lives. This plan also works excellently for children, who have relatively short attention spans. They will retain the information better, and frequent repetition helps to lock in new skills. Practice times can also be made more fun for children by promising rewards for completing consistent practices or new songs. That will ensure enthusiasm and excitement on the part of the child. During your practices it is always good to have fun. Reward yourself after working on a difficult piece by playing your favorite previously learned song. Having fun helps everything.

Although learning a musical instrument requires time and dedication, these few suggestions may help you in fitting music into your busy schedule, and also make practice sessions more enjoyable. Keep practicing and have fun!

This article written by guest bloggers Heather Kobilan and Jessica Kobilan


How to Return to The Violin After Years of Not Playing.

At Kennedy Violins, we get calls all the time from people who want to get back to playing after taking a hiatus of several years.  The one thing that these individuals have in common is that they regret not keeping up with the violin.  As a side note, if you are a current violin student and are thinking about quitting, consider this fact when when making your decision because at some point, you will regret quitting!  The fear that everybody has, is that they will have forgotten how to play the violin and will not be able to teach their adult minds how to do what they did when they were much younger.  The simple answer is an emphatic YES!  You can get back into your stringed instrument and have a great time in the process. 

The better player you were when you were younger, will make it easier to get back into it when you are older.  The simple reason for this, is that your brain creates neural connections to play the violin and the more you practiced when you were younger, the stronger those connections are and the longer they will stay with you.  Physically, any elasticity that you created in your joints when you were younger, will go away to some extent, especially if you current hobbies or job do not require you to have loose joints. Conversely, having a job description that requires a lot of elasticity like typing, will help you get back into playing a stringed instrument.

Regardless of your past level of experience, you’ll want to start with the basics.  Even though you’ll probably be very tempted to start digging into to a bunch of music that has your all favorite songs, you probably end up just getting frustrated with your scratchy sound and bad intonation.  More than anything, you just need patience.  The first thing you should do is play scales.  If your playing the violin, you’ll want to start with a simple 1 octave G Major scale.  With the viola and cello it’ll be a C Major scale.

Easy Scale for Violin



As you play your scale, concentrate on using whole bows from tip to frog and focus on drawing the bow with an even speed in the middle of the bridge and the fingerboard.  This will help retrain your arm to draw a straight bow consistently and be able to do it automatically.  Being able to control the bow well will not only help you produce a nice sound without squeaks and scratches but will also reactivate and loosen the large joints in your arm.

Regarding the left hand, you’ll want to focus on placing the fingers correctly, and resist the urge to pick up your fingers after you’ve used them.  Keep your fingers down until you MUST pick them up to go on to the next string.  This will retrain your fingers to consistently have the correct placement on the fingerboard and will teach your hand to not move around while placing individual fingers down.  Your goal (and proper technique in general) is to have a relaxed hand that changes position as little as possible. Having a stable and relaxed hand will create the situation where your hand works efficiently and will lend to more reliable pitch placement.

After you’ve warmed up sufficiently with easy scales (with a metronome), you can start playing more difficult scales that have more flats and sharps in them.  You can also start playing your scales faster. You can determine how fast you can play from your pitch.  As soon as your pitch starts to get unreliable, then practice the slower speeds more before moving on.  From here, you can graduate towards scales that require shifting into other positions.  Once you feel that you are drawing the bow fairly well and your fingers are pretty in tune, then start playing pieces that are similar to the scales you’ve just played. If you’ve mastered the G Major scale, then play a piece in G Major and go on from there.  Every day, you’ll notice that not only are you sounding better in every way, but any soreness or stiffness in your hands will slowly go away.  In general, you never want to go 2 days without practicing.  You can skip 1 day but any more and you’ll have to work harder to get the gained flexibility back into your hands.

Being patient will help you learn faster

The most important thing to remember is to be patient with yourself.  If you start out slow and practice with intent you’ll surprise yourself with what you can play within a week or so.  In many ways, playing a violin can be more rewarding as an adult because any peripheral pressures to practice as a child are gone.  As an adult, you are just playing for the love of the music.  It’s a simple pleasure that never goes away.

Happy Practicing!

Gifts That Will be Music to You (or your loved ones) Ears…

In case you haven’t noticed, the Holiday season is upon us and for many families out there that means exchanging gifts of some kind.  If you read this blog, I assume that you or someone close to you is a string musician.  So, what do you buy for a musician and where do you get it?  Stuff Mart doesn’t usually have aisles flowing with merchandise to match a musician’s need. *NOTE:  If you ever find a musical instrument for sale at the same place you can buy your toothpaste-just say no!*

1.  Strings-These are often overlooked as a gift.  String musicians will always need strings.  Even if the current ones they have are not worn out, back-ups are always welcome.  Plus, many string musicians (including myself) find it a fun adventure to experiment with different types.  The cost for strings varies a lot so you really only have to spend as much as want to.  Sets of violin strings range from about $10-$100+, viola strings range from about $20-$150+, cello strings are in the $40-$200+ ballpark, and bass strings you can expect to pay $90-$300+.  New strings are also a great way to upgrade the sound of an instrument without having to buy a new one altogether.

2. New Case-This is another item that a musician will almost always have use for.  Of all the parts in a string instrument outfit, the case probably receives the most wear and tear (as it should!).  Most cases these days come in a variety of shapes and colors that can match the recipients personality.  A new case is a great way to revitalize the instrument outfit without having to break the bank.  Cases have a wide range of prices too.  Violin cases are usually $20-$500+, viola cases range from $50-$500+, a good soft cello case starts around $40 and a good hard cello case starts around $200, while bass cases start at $100.

3. New Bow-Like the previous two listed, a new bow is another way to “upgrade” a string instrument without buying the whole kit and kaboodle.  If you don’t know anything about buying a bow, I would check out last week’s blog by Liz.  She has a lot of great information.  Bow costs range greatly.  For most string instruments, the cost for a new bow starts around $40 and can go into the thousands of dollars.  For this item, I would pick a budget first and stick to it.  The $500 bow will always sound better than the $100 bow.

4.  New Instrument-This is a great idea if you or your loved one wants to start playing a string instrument or if they are progressing to the next level.  A new instrument can be a more expensive option, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a good deal.  Most instruments come as part if an outfit which means that many of the accessories included (case, bow, rosin, etc.).  There are instruments available for less that $100…but those are usually glorified paperweights.  For a decent student violin, I would expect to pay around $200 for the outfit, a good student viola would go for $400,  a nice student cello outfit should be around $600, and for a student bass I would pay around $1500.  If you are upgrading the instrument, I would get the player’s input.  See what it is about playing that they like.  Do they prefer a warmer sound or brighter sound?  You may even consider taking them with you when you make the purchase to play a couple of instruments.  If you want it to be a surprise, you can always get a teacher’s or professional’s opinion.  At Kennedy Violins, we are all professional string players here any we love to talk shop so feel free to call us.

5.  Novelty Accessories-A lot of the accouterments that go with string instruments are pretty mundane.  Lately, businesses have emerged on the market that feature more dazzling accessories.  They may not be the highest quality, but they are sure to bring a smile to any players face and a little bling to their instruments.

6.  Sheet Music-This is one of my favorites, but it can be touchy one.  For instance, if you gave your loved one a book titled “How to Play More in Tune,” that could back fire.  I would choose something that is lots of fun for the player.  The technical sheet music will usually come from a teacher.  Look for sheet music featuring songs from something like their favorite bands or a favorite musical.  Sheet Music Plus is a great resource.

The only other advice I feel I should offer is this:  Don’t buy a string player something just because it has a violin, viola, cello, or bass on it.  Over the years, I can’t tell you how many picture frames, clocks, dishes, jewelry, and other knick-knacks I have received with string instruments on them and sadly I have no use for any of them…especially the creepy violin playing cherub statues.  Mom, if you are reading this, I’m not talking about any of the gifts you got me.