Forever Young: It’s Never Too Late to Learn an Instrument

Photo by Alex E. Proimos

You’re in your car, stopped at an intersection, and glance over to see a young, beautiful teenage couple in a red convertible, laughing, smiling, and presumably taunting you with their youthful future of endless possibilities. In your minivan, now with 299,000 miles on it, you brush the stale crumbs off the passenger seat, glance in the rearview mirror to find a few more gray hairs, and think, “Has life passed me by?”

Too often in my conversations with others, I hear, “I wish I had learned an instrument when I was younger,” “I always wanted to play the violin,” or, “I wish I were musically talented.” Well, for one, as we have established in previous posts, good musicianship has more to do with practice than innate talent. And here’s the other half of the story–the big secret if you will: you’re never too old to become a musician. You may think you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but it’s far from impossible.

We’ve all heard of virtuosic performers who started playing before they could even tie their shoes or read. Joshua Bell started violin lessons at age four. Yo-Yo Ma similarly started on the cello at age four, but only after he studied violin and viola for a time. Hilary Hahn began violin one month before her fourth birthday. So it seems that four years old is the magic number to begin playing. But is that really true? If we didn’t start learning at age four, is it not even worth trying?

Answer: ABSOLUTELY NOT

There are plenty of professional musicians who picked up their instruments later in life. But keep in mind that you don’t have to be a professional to enjoy music as an important part of your personal development.

Photo by Dierk Schaefer

Plenty of research supports the benefits of not only listening to, but playing and practicing music as nourishment for the mind and body. Playing music releases stress, rejuvenates and excites unused areas of the brain, and boosts confidence and one’s sense of accomplishment. There are plenty of reasons to play music beyond cashing a check or autographing programs at intermission.

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For adults learning music for the first time, here are a few pointers to remember as you pick up a new instrument:

1. Methods for teaching children are not the same as methods to teach adults. For children, whose gelatinous brains are still growing, musical connections are often formed from scratch in their developing minds. For adults, we use the brain power and synaptic connections we already have to understand new concepts. So if you’re an adult returning to an instrument you played as a child, you may approach it differently this time around.

2. Practice is necessary. Your mom isn’t going to ground if you if you don’t practice or take away your iPhone until you perfect that movement. Simply reading about or watching YouTube videos about your instrument won’t do the trick either. Without that “adult figure” to push you along, adults often don’t take the initiative to practice as often as children do. They don’t attend music classes at school everyday or have the external discipline or academic requirements that demand so many minutes or hours of practice per week. So be sure to set some goals and give yourself a little time to step away from the demands of your day to enjoy a little bonding time with your instrument.

3. Be patient with yourself. Even for children, it takes years and years before sounding “good,” especially on a stringed instrument. Don’t give up if you don’t sound like Itzhak Perhlman after two private lessons or a few afternoons of practice. Relax and enjoy the learning experience, keeping realistic expectations for yourself.

4. Learn some theory. If you don’t read music, don’t be overwhelmed by the prospect! Learning to read the musical staff is similar to learning a foreign language. Challenging, perhaps, but very worthwhile! Consider music theory and the musical staff to be your building blocks for your musical foundation.

5. Find a teacher. Trying to learn an instrument by yourself and without guidance quickly leads to frustration and quitting. Find a teacher, friend, or mentor who will encourage your progress and provide you with the technique necessary for success.

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Now that you’re ready to finally embrace that long-lost dream to pick up an instrument, give us a call! At Kennedy Violins, we are always happy to help. From finding the right instrument for you to learning the basics of rosining a bow to choosing accessories, we are here for you. And as you progress, let us know how it’s going!

Roses are Red…WINNER

This year, we decided to do a mini-contest for Valentine’s Day.  The contest was simple, anyone who wanted to participate just had to post a poem on the wall of our Facebook page to enter.  The winner would be selected the day after Valentine’s Day.

Well, that day is today!  After looking at all the submissions, the decision was unanimous.  The winner of the first ever Kennedy Violins Valentine’s Day Mini-Contest is: Emma Buckman.  The judges commented that they  really liked “her use of metaphors” and “the cadence of  her verses.”  Check it out!

If Roses are Red and Violets are blue

Then Violin music is a beautiful hue

A kaleidoscope of breathtaking shades

Of color is seen when violins are played

It soothes your soul and warms your heart

The very first moment the violin starts

It makes you feel loved like a sweet valentine

So Kennedy Violins won’t you please be mine

Thanks Emma!  We would also like to give a shout-out to Patrick Lengkong, Mary Nicholson, and Crystal Ramsey.  You can read their entries on our Facebook page.

If you didn’t win or receive a shout-out, don’t worry.  There are more contests coming up!  Check our blog and our Facebook page for the most up -to-date news at Kennedy Violins.

Stringed Instrument Care and Maintenance, Part 1

You’ve made the decision to begin playing a stringed instrument. Or, perhaps your child has begun taking music lessons on a stringed instrument. In order for you to enjoy years of trouble-free use from your instrument, it is a good idea to follow a basic program of care and routine maintenance. This will ensure that your instrument is always functioning in top condition, and will help you avoid costly repairs. 
Temperature & Humidity – Always be sure to never let your instrument become too hot or cold. Excessive heat can damage the delicate varnish, and can also melt the special glue that is used to hold the instrument together. Extreme cold, as well as dryness or rapid climate change of any kind can cause terrible cracks in the instrument. A rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you’d be comfortable in which whatever environment you’re thinking of leaving your instrument. One common mistake is to leave a stringed instrument in a parked vehicle in the sun. Temperatures inside these vehicles can easily reach over 120 degrees Fahrenheit in less than ten minutes.  Dryness is often experienced in areas of the country with dryer climates year round, and also during the winter in any part of the country.  Heaters are very good at drying out the air, which can be damaging to your instrument. It is an excellent idea to use some type of humidification device, such as the ones sold here. This will keep your instrument from getting too dry and developing cracks or open seams.
Storage – It is a good idea to keep your instrument and bow inside its case when it is not in use. This is especially important if you have small children or unruly pets in your house. However, many people do feel that they tend to practice more when the instrument is left out where they can just pick it up and play it. Exceptions to the “always store in the case when not in use” rule can be made if you are certain that the instrument is in a very safe place, such as on an instrument stand, in a place that it is out of harm’s way.
Finish – Use a soft, clean cloth to remove the rosin dust from your instrument. You will need to carefully clean the top plate, fingerboard, bridge, and bow stick. If this is not done, rosin dust can build up over time, and become more difficult to remove.
Bow – Never overtighten the bow hair! The stick of the bow is supposed to have a curve in it at all times. Overtightening will severely damage the bow, and may render it unplayable. Always loosen the bow hair after playing, and before storage. Avoid handling the hair on the bow with your fingers. Natural oils from your skin will transfer to the hairs and will shorten their useful life. Also avoid applying too much rosin to your bow.
General Handling – Great care should be taken in handling your instrument and bow. They should be treated as the highly crafted pieces of fine workmanship that they are. Never throw or toss your instrument or bow, and be very careful that they are never dropped. Chairs and sofas are dangerous places to leave instruments and bows. They can easily be sat upon and tragically damaged at a moment’s notice.
If you ever have and questions about the care of your instrument, or if you’re wondering whether something needs to be adjusted, err on the side of caution, and be sure to consult a qualified luthier.  The Kennedy Violins staff are always happy to answer all questions concerning repair needs and instrument care.  Next time I write, the topic will be part 2 in this series, and will cover routine maintenance for stringed instruments.  Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

Roses are Red…

Roses are Red…
We are trying to get into the Valentine’s spirit here are Kennedy Violins by writing a lovely little poem about how much we love violins, violas, cellos, and music but, we have writer’s block!  Maybe you can help.

Submit a Valentine’s Day poem to our facebook page!  We’d love to hear your sonnets, odes, and perky limmericks.  To sweeten such a sweet request, we will pick a winner from all the poems submitted by midnight (PST) on Tuesday, February 14.

The winner will be announced on Wednesday, February 15.  The winner will have their choice to receive a set of D’Addario Helicore strings, a Music Doctor Metronome/Tuner, or a Portland Acoustical Shoulder Rest.

*Please note: to qualify, a submission, must be posted on the Kennedy Violins facebook page.  The poem must be an original work of the person submitting it and can’t have been previously published.*

For inspiraton, please enjoy these classic Valentine’s poems:

Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
Sugar is sweet.
And so are you.

Roses are blue.
Violets are red.
If you agree,
You’ve got rocks in your head.

Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
Please don’t kiss me,
‘cuz I have the flu.