Stop picking your nose, don’t talk with your mouth full, be nice to your brother, look at me when I’m talking to you, don’t text and drive, mind your manners. Ugh. Minding your Ps and Qs is so much work!
But in the end, developing good habits and manners help us to become better people. Likewise, in order to become a better musician, there are a few Ps and Qs that will help you be on your best musical behavior. If you’re a string teacher, these are also helpful reminders to share with your students during those first lessons and beyond.
- Tune first. Have your teacher tune for you, or if you’ve learned to tune your own instrument, take the time to do so before you practice. Because your fingers move to adjust the pitch of your instrument, you don’t want to develop muscle memory with your fingers in the wrong place because your open strings were out of tune.
- Don’t touch the bow hair. Definitely keep muddy or Dorito-cheese-powdered hands away from the bow (and the instrument)! There are myths about this general rule, but don’t worry–if you accidentally touch the bow hair, it won’t disintegrate. The reason touching the hair with your fingers is discouraged is because natural oils from your fingers or skin will transfer to the bow and cause the hairs to “slicken.” This greasiness (think of how greasy your own hair gets after not washing it for days) compromises the dry texture of the hair that grips to the string and picks up rosin. For kids practicing right after playing or eating, you may even want to instill the habit to wash hands before making music.
- Avoid over-tuning the strings. They might pop.
- Never over-tighten the bow. While the horsehair is stretchy and could take it, it’s the stick that can’t! Regularly over-tightening the bow will warp the stick and ruin the crafted arch of the bow that makes it responsive. Over-tightening may also cause the tip of the bow to snap off. Ouch!
- Always loosen the bow hair after playing. This is Point 4, Part 2–see above. Even if you didn’t over-tighten your bow, loosen the hair until some of the strands are hanging loose to relieve the stress on the stick. This will also prevent the arch and strength of the wood from being compromised.
- Stand (or sit) up straight. There are so many great reasons to have good posture no matter what you’re doing, really! But because playing a stringed instrument is a physical activity much like a sport, its important that you hold your instrument and yourself properly to promote good playing technique.
- Have a pencil handy. Write things down so you’ll remember them.
- Keep your instrument in its closed (and zipped!) case when not in use. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen someone pick up their violin case, not realizing it was unzipped, and the violin and accessories come cascading out onto the floor. Keep your case nearby when you practice so that when you step away you have a safe place to put your instrument down. P.S. Avoid leaving your instrument on a chair! Like a pair of glasses, it’s bound to be sat upon.
- Don’t let your instrument get too hot. Or cold for that matter. But heat–even from leaving your instrument in the sun, can warp the instrument, damage or melt the varnish, melt your rosin, cause cracks, etc. Store your stringed instrument like you would potatoes–in a cool, dry place.
- DON’T GIVE UP! Enough said.