Category Archives: Performance

“Don’t touch that!”: 10 Reminders for Beginning Students

One reason not to touch your bow hair: Cheeto dust! (Photo by James Lee)

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.

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Avoid over-tuning the strings. They might pop.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

    Playing an instrument, like playing sports, requires good posture. Check out that batting stance! (Photo by Michael Pick)
    Playing an instrument, like playing sports, requires good posture. Check out that batting stance! (Photo by Michael Pick)
  7. Have a pencil handy. Write things down so you’ll remember them.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. DON’T GIVE UP! Enough said.

Do you have more tips for beginners? Contact us or drop in at Kennedy Violins anytime. We love hearing from you. Happy playing!

The Masterclass: Learning in a Group Setting

There are many ways to prepare for a performance, including taking your practice out of the practice room and into a masterclass setting. (Photo by David A. Wolfe)

At Kennedy Violins we often offer people tips on how to practice more efficiently or sightread or learn music theory. But it’s hard to teach someone how to become a better performer. Why is performing so difficult? Probably because as musicians, we spend far more time playing for ourselves, alone, than we ever do playing for other people.

I mean, this makes total sense. Say you spend 100 hours practicing a piece before it’s “performance ready.” But once you’ve worked on a piece, having played it for yourself and for your teacher, does that mean you’re ready to take it to the stage in a recital or concert setting?

Perhaps. But there’s another step, another place and setting where you can “perform before performing,” and prepare yourself even more effectively for your upcoming debut. That setting is in a masterclass.

What is a Masterclass?
A masterclass is a session where a group of students have the unique opportunity to perform for and critique each other. Typically, a masterclass is a gathering of all the students under the tutelage of a single teacher. At each masterclass a few students will perform a piece they have been learning in their private lesson. After the performance of their piece, the teacher and/or students will offer their commentary, critiques, suggestions, and (if you’re with nice people) praise and encouragement!

Guest Artist Masterclasses
You might have the opportunity to attend a special masterclass with a guest artist. Accomplished performing artists often offer a masterclass in conjunction with a performance held. For example, an artist might perform a recital at a university, then conduct a masterclass with music students at the school. This allows students to gain an even broader perspective from a musician other than their private teacher or professor.

Where are Masterclasses Held?
Almost all college and graduate schools incorporate masterclasses as part of the music curriculum. Younger and older students who aren’t studying in a conservatory setting may have the opportunity to attend masterclasses through their schools, private studios, youth symphony programs, camps, festivals, or other music forums.

The Benefits of Performing in Masterclass
Performing in a masterclass is one of the best ways to conquer your nerves, overcome performance anxiety, and stand up to perhaps the toughest audience you’ll ever have. I’ve often felt more intimidated to play in a masterclass of five students who play my instrument than to play for an audience of 100 people who may have never even heard a string bass solo. But that’s the beauty of the masterclass: you get the best tips from people who understand what you’re doing and how to do it.

Masterclasses offer you extra sets of ears to hear things you don’t hear, different perspectives on the interpretation of the music, and a “practice audience” who will give you extra-useful feedback on your performance. A thorough critique of your performance by a group of musicians may be hard to swallow, but it will help you develop as a musician far more than the 100th “Good job!” someone says after your recital.

Of course, those “good jobs” are so, so worth it to hear because it means you accomplished something AMAZING by performing live music! And attending masterclasses can be a huge help towards the successful accomplishment of that great task.

The KV Concert Series: Upcoming Workshops
Speaking of guest artists and masterclasses, we invite you to attend the first performing in our fall concert series! Dan Levenson will be performing on Friday, September 27 at 7:00pm in our recital hall at Kennedy Violins (508 SE 117th Avenue, Vancouver, WA 98683) and conducting workshops on Saturday, September 28 at 4:00pm and 6:00pm.

Hope to see you there! Visit kennedyviolins.com/concerts for more details.

Back to School Tips for Parents: Practice vs. Homework?

It’s that time of year again!  I’m seeing photos pop up on Facebook and Instagram of my friends’ children ready for their first day of school — backpacks on, fresh new outfits, big smiles. And while these courageous kids may be a little nervous to tackle a new year, it’s often the parents who feel more overwhelmed when school starts up again.

We’re getting a glimpse of that at Kennedy Violins as parents call us in preparation for orchestra season. There is so much to worry about — filling out registration forms, buying new school clothes, sizing up that endless list of school supplies, getting everyone fed and dressed in the morning, meeting with the PTA, getting to know your child’s teacher, hoping your child has good friends and stays out of trouble . . . it’s enough to make you want to just sit still at a desk for a few hours while someone lectures you about the Civil War.

And then there’s homework. Before you know it, the dining table is buried in notebooks and papers and textbooks and (these days) a laptop or iPad or two. And somewhere, underneath a pile of backpacks and sports equipment you might find your child’s violin.

For children in school music ensembles, there’s yet another somewhat-intangible task that needs to be accomplished between all that homework: PRACTICE. Because not all music teachers require their students to keep a practice log that will be graded, the expectations to practice are vague for most studens who don’t know how much, how often, or simply when to practice during the school week.

As a parent, you want your child to succeed in both academics and extracurriculars, but finding a balance can be a real challenge. (See “Back to School: Music, Extracurriculars & Life Balance.”) So when your child is stressing out about a book report due on Friday, is it possible to step away from Bronte to spend some time with Brahms? Does practice interrupt study time, or does study time interrupt practice?

Hopefully neither. When it comes to encouraging your child to practice AND do well with their studies, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Homework, homework, homework. (Photo by John Morgan)
Homework, homework, homework. (Photo by John Morgan)
  1. Homework and practice are both important. Neither are superior to the other; rather, they complement each other. If you want your child to take music seriously, emphasize how important practice is to becoming a great musician. Likewise, your child’s love for music shouldn’t keep them playing Rock Band for hours on end when there’s a huge exam coming up. Balance is key (see below).
  2. There IS time to practice during the week. Hard to believe? Yes. Impossible? No. Scheduling and setting aside time for both homework and practice is key. For elementary students, even ten minutes of focused practice every day is a huge accomplishment! Older high school students serious about their musicianship might commit to practicing an hour+ per day. Maybe practicing every other day works better for your child. But no matter what the goal is as far as how much time to spend practicing, the key is consistency and regularity. Practicing doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. Just carve out a slot of time in the morning, while dinner is cooking, right after school, or whatever works for you and your child.
  3. Establish a place to study and a place to practice. Most students have a study space at home, whether at a desk in their room or at a table or in an office. Similarly, designate a place to practice. It could be a room or simply a corner somewhere where there is already a music stand set out, a metronome at hand, a shelf for music, a storage spot for the instrument, and decent lighting. So when you say, “Hey, Johnny, it’s time to practice!” he knows exactly where to go to make it happen.
  4. Being well-rounded is a good thing. Academics, arts and music, and sports/physical fitness are all wonderful and each require discipline. Encourage your child to embrace both academics and practice as exercises for different parts of the brain. Music sharpens the mind and will likely help your child do better academically as a direct result of learning an instrument.
  5. Practice can be seen as a nice break from time at the desk. When you notice your child’s eyes glazed over and drool trickling down onto George Washington’s face in the history textbook, try for a change of pace. Doing something physical like standing up to play an instrument is so invigorating after reading or writing for too long. Practice can be actually be really relaxing and rejuvinating when the brain is otherwise fried.
  6. Homework can be a nice break from time at the music stand. After practicing a really difficult exercise or piece, encourage your child to take a break–like flopping down on the couch to read an assigned chapter before returning to the music stand to finish up.

    Need a change of pace? Try practicing outdoors with a friend! (Photo by John Benson)
    Need a change of pace? Try practicing outdoors with a friend! (Photo by John Benson)
  7. Practice can be fun. Mix things up. Keep the act of both practice and study far from grueling. Keep a positive attitude about practice by talking about practice as if it is (and because it totally can be) an enjoyable activity and something fun to do. Talk about the instrument as something special and worth respect. Avoid treating practice as a form of punishment or your child will begin to view practicing and eating slimy green vegetables as similar forms of torture.
  8. Practice is a form of homework. If practice is seen as an optional activity, it may never happen. Treat practice like an assignment, as something that must be accomplished.
  9. Family time is essential. Doing homework and practicing don’t have to draw away from positive family relationships and time together. Try practicing with your child. Ask them (in a positive, inviting way) to play what they’re learning for you or to perform for the family. And when it’s time to hit the books, try sitting down to study with your child by helping them with their assignments or simply sitting next to them while you do your own reading, study, or work. Being present is a simple way to be supportive.
  10. Don’t take anything too seriously. Keep calm. Don’t panic. Everything is going to be just fine.

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We wish you the best with the new school year, whether you are a parent or student. As always, feel free to contact us with all your musical questions–we always happy to help. Visit us at kennedyviolins.com or on Facebook and keep in touch. It’s an exciting time, so we hope you enjoy the ride!

Feature image by Phil Roeder.

Decisions, Decisions: Should I Major in Music?

Working for Kennedy Violins, I am constantly immersed in music–and I like it that way. There was a time in my life, though, when I reached a crossroad that would determine exactly how music might, could, or would be a part of my future. It’s a crossroad many young musicians face.

As high school wound down to an end, I had mixed ideas as far as my future plans were concerned. I went from feeling reluctant to go to college to eagerly applying with the hope of a scholarship. Then, during my senior year, I really started considering not just where I would gain my higher education, but in what emphasis of study I’d immerse myself. At the time, I was very dedicated to two creative pursuits: the visual arts (painting) and the performing arts (classical string bass).

To paint or to play? That was the question. Even though I majored in music, I still enjoy painting.
To paint or to play? That was the question. Even though I majored in music, I still enjoy painting.

When I approached my private bass teacher, the principal of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, with my decision, he surprised me with the question, “Are you sure you want to major in music?” At the time, the symphony was facing serious financial troubles with a lack of funding and drama within the board of directors. Sometimes, apparently, the music business can be no fun.

I went on to major in music–mostly because playing the bass was something I was good at, so why not keep going with it?–but looking back, I wish I had considered some of the following questions regarding my decision, my goals, and my future.

Now that ten years has passed since graduating high school, I am grateful for my music degree and to still be performing, teaching, and sharing a skill (not just a hobby) developed during my years of collegiate study.

So if you (or your child, friends, or associates) are facing the decision to study music, ask yourself the following questions to bring some light to the subject:

  1. What do you think about when you don’t have to think? What occupies your thoughts (when you actually have a moment to think) is a good indicator of what’s important to you and what really interests you. If you find yourself jotting down melodies, humming the theme from a favorite symphony, or mentally practicing a piece you’ve been working on, these are signs of your interest in or passion for music. Don’t major in music if you’re not seriously passionate about it.
  2. Do you plan to seek higher education? Really assess not just your desire for further education, but the path to get there. “Planning” to go to college includes actually having a concrete plan! Talk about it with your parents and guidance counselor. Access all the resources you can. Research scholarship opportunities and financial aid. Learn about different schools and the programs they offer. Put application deadlines on your calendar and schedule time to complete the mounds of paperwork and online forms. If you want to gain a higher education, do all you can to realize the opportunity!
  3. Do you like to practice? Does anyone really like to practice? Well, sure! Practice isn’t drudgery when approached the right way and with a desire to improve. But SERIOUSLY, you need to have a high tolerance level for being in the practice room. If you major in music, you will practically live there. And if you dread stepping foot into the practice room, you’re going to be a miserable music major. You have to be really dedicated to your craft to understand the value of diligent practice.

    My program required three hours of practice per day. Exhausting, but so important!
    My program required three hours of practice per day. Exhausting, but so worth it!
  4. Do you perceive music as a hobby or a potential profession? Maybe music something you simply do for fun or as a social outlet. But perhaps you’re interested in applying your skills in a way that influences others on a greater scale. Consider whether music is something you simply do for yourself and your own enjoyment (and this is great!) or if you want to share your talent for music more broadly in your music community through performance and education. If you hope to share music effectively with others, majoring in music will provide you with effective means to do just that.
  5. What are your career goals? Do you want to be a dentist or a doctor? A journalist? An accountant? Your professional ambitions don’t have to eliminate your musical involvement, but you will need to invest in an education that enables you to reach your professional goals. (Note: You can actually still minor or even major in music and still access those career paths through graduate and doctoral studies.)
  6. Which do you hope to do more: teach or perform? This question will help you decide whether to pursue a degree in music education, music performance, or general music. All music majors can teach privately, but if you plan to teach in a public school, you’ll need a teaching certificate attained through a music education program.
  7. Are you hoping for a scholarship? Whether you major in music or another field of study, you might be eligible to receive a music scholarship! There are so many scholarships, grants, and awards available to musicians. Do some research to find these, and again, be sure not to miss any deadlines to apply or audition!
  8. Will you regret majoring or not majoring in music? This is a hard question to answer because you may not know until after the fact. Whatever you decide to do, I hope there will be no regrets as you look back on the decisions you’ve made and the doors of opportunity you’ve opened. I hope you’ll find success and joy in your future pursuits no matter what they are.

And remember, even if you don’t major in music, there will always be opportunities to study music and be active in the music community throughout your life. (Visit www.kennedyviolins.com/lessons to learn more about lessons offered in our private studio.) Whatever you decide, we hope music will continue to play an important and enriching role in your life as a music performer, teacher, or lover. Either way, it’s totally worth it. Best of luck!

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Looking for more advice? Feel free to contact us at support@kennedyviolins.com or call 1-800-779-0242. As usual, we love hearing from you!

Making It Your Own: The Interpretation of Music

As a musical artist, you have the right to perform music however you please! (Photo by Ivan McClellan)
As a musical artist, you have the right to perform music however you please! (Photo by Ivan McClellan)

Here in our new Kennedy Violins location, we’ve opened a new studio for private lessons with local teachers in the area. Students are coming in with sheets of music and saying, in one way or another, “Show me how to play this.”

As the student learns the piece, it begins to take form, becoming something completely unique. But how do you take a sheet of music and bring it to life with your own interpretation?

A “RIGHT” WAY?
If you’ve ever studied the Bach Cello Suites in depth, you probably noticed that there are quite a few opinions and options as far as how to play them stylistically. I’ve sat in masterclasses observing arguments over bowing patterns and embellishments and whether or not playing a single eighth note as a harmonic is kosher.

So who’s right when it comes to all this?

  • bowings
  • fingerings
  • tempo
  • articulation
  • embellishments
  • phrasing

Answer: Everyone.

BUT! At the same time, why would we have opinions in the first place?

CREATIVE LICENSE
As a musician and performer, you are an artist. You are someone who takes a medium (your instrument) and creates something with it. The act of creation is a power and a right you have claim to as an individual artist. You have a style of your own that no one can replicate. With that said, what about influences like . . .

HISTORICAL CONTEXT
When I’m teaching students, I often tell them to look at the dates at the top of the page next to the composer’s name. Then we discuss that musical era and the characteristics of music played at that time.

Maybe you’ve had a talking to about the difference between a Baroque trill and a Classical trill (Baroque starts on the note above the note and trills down while classical starts on the note on the staff and trills up). Maybe you’ve studied music history and various composers and their stylistic characteristics. Are these stylistic prescriptions valid?

Answer: Yes.

As a performer of today playing music written hundreds of years ago, an interesting phenomenon occurs. Your performance becomes a combination of two historical moments: then and now. The composer who wrote the piece couldn’t escape the influence of his or her surroundings hundreds of years ago or a few days ago.

However, you can’t read the composers mind because he’s probably dead or lives far away or something. And you also can’t escape the current influence of the your modern relationship with music, the current techniques you’ve learned, or even the modern materials, design, and sound of your instrument. It is almost impossible to remove yourself from the influences of your historical circumstances or your teacher’s instruction.

As you approach a piece, maybe you’ve reflected on what the composer intended the piece to sound like with specific tempo markings, phrasing, and melodic elements. However, while a piece of Bach is distinctly Baroque (i.e. laden with characteristics of the Baroque era), you are certainly entitled to your own interpretation!

MAKING IT YOUR OWN
Your interpretation of a piece of music might be to

  • play the piece as “historically correct” as possible with absolute dedication to the composer’s markings and style of that time period. For example, with that Bach, you might play with little to no vibrato, those Baroque trills, dynamics as marked and little variation in the tempo.

OR

  • play the piece with a complete modern, post-modern, post-post modern, or twisted interpretation with completely unique tempos, instrumentation, phrasing, etc. You could play a piece of Bach on a synthesizer with each note lasting forty-seven seconds each whilst tap-dancing with a Carmen-Miranda-style fruit hat on your head. Your audience might walk away, bored to tears or totally offended, but you can revel in your own genius.

OR

  • do something in between.

And is any way better than the other way? Not really, no. In the end, you are the artist and the performer who can and will take a piece of music and make it completely your own simply by taking it into your own hands. So enjoy the creative process. That’s what it’s all about!

Violin Parts: All About Fingerboards

As a luthier at Kennedy Violins, I spend hours a day staring at fingerboards–sanding them, smoothing them down, looking for the scoop (see below). As you can imagine, a stringed instrument would be impossible to play if there were no place to put your fingers. So, naturally, one of the most important parts of a violin is the fingerboard: the long black piece of wood that (hence the name) is a board on which you put your fingers.

fingerboardstevesnodgrass
A fingerboard painted black to look like ebony. Fingerboards made with less-dense white woods usually decrease the value of the instrument. (Photo by Steve Snodgrass)

IS IT EBONY? AND DOES IT MATTER?
The main reason ebony is used for fittings (chinrests, fingerboards, nuts, pegs, end buttons, tailpieces) on stringed instruments is not because it’s pretty or exotic, but because it’s STRONG. Each time your press a metal-wound string down in contact with the wood, the wood has to be dense and strong enough to be a firm platform and hold up to potential wear over time. For example, imagine if your teeth were made out of balsa wood instead of enamel. Each bite would wear your teeth away in no time.

SHAPE & CONSTRUCTION
If you look at the fingerboard, it may not look very special at a glance. But while this standard part may look like a simple addition to the body of a violin, it must be made with detail and meticulous precision in order to function as it should.

1. Curve
When you look at the fingerboard of a violin, you’ll notice that its not flat like a fretted fingerboard on a guitar or mandolin. The reason why the fingerboard is convexly arched on violins, violas, cellos, and basses is because these instruments are bowed rather than exclusively strummed or plucked.

fingerboardblindrobert
Violin fingerboards are not flat like the fretted fingerboard of a guitar or mandolin. (Photo by Blind Robert)

Think about it. When you’re playing a bowed stringed instrument, you’re normally playing one note at a time. Playing one note at a time means your bow is only touching one string at a time. If the fingerboard were flat and the strings level, drawing a bow across the instrument would cause all the strings to vibrate at the same time.

Therefore, the arch of the fingerboard (as well as the bridge) must be precisely shaped and measured so that individual strings may be played with ease.

2. Scoop
By just looking at a fingerboard, you probably won’t even notice the imperceptible dip in the length of the violin. While there is a convex arch across the width of the violin, there is a concave scoop along the length.

The scoop in the fingerboard leaves room for the vibration of the strings. Imagine pressing a string down on a completely flat fingerboard with a flat bridge. The string would lie flat along the length of the fingerboard making contact at every point, giving the string either no room to vibrate at all or just enough to buzz.

When luthiers (violin makers) plane and carve the scoop into a fingerboard, they start by placing a straight-edge along the length. They slowly carve a dip into the fingerboard until it meets precise measurements. This will keep the strings from buzzing when played.

Ébano
Raw Ebony (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

3. Smoothness
Fingerboards (as well as every part of the violin) are smoothed with wet and/or dry sandpapers, micromesh, steel wool, and scrapers to be extremely smooth to the touch. Who wants to press their fingers down on rough, splintery wood? Ouch!

Smoothing and scraping out any bumps also prevents buzzing. If you sight down the fingerboard, it should look smooth, not wavy or ripply.

CRACKS & IMPERFECTIONS
Most cosmetic imperfections on the surface of a fingerboard can be corrected. First, check and see if your fingerboard is made of ebony or a white wood painted black. If the wood is anything other than ebony, it will be approached differently because it is coated with a finish. A fingerboard not made of ebony lessens the value of an instrument.

1. Cracks
For cracks, the key is depth. Is the crack large enough that it opens when you put pressure on either side, the fingerboard will need to be either 1) clamped and glued, or 2) replaced. Fingerboards are typically glued on with hide glue, a water-soluble glue used by luthiers so instrument parts can be removed, repaired, or replaced.

2. Chips, Scratches & Surface Cracks
Because not all pieces of ebony are perfectly smooth, and some may be splintered in the planing process (especially if the wood grain isn’t forgiving), one trick luthiers use is filling imperfections with a clear glue (or even fingernail polish) mixed with ebony dust. Black dyes can also cover any discoloration in the wood.

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So next time you pull out your violin, take a look at your fingerboard. Look to see if its ebony or wood, then look for the scoop, observe the shape, and check its smoothness.  Who knew there was so much to it?

The Musician’s Résumé – Part 2: Writing & Distributing

A well-written résumé can be your ticket to the job of your dreams. (Photo by woodleywonderworks.)
A well-written résumé can be your ticket to the job of your dreams. (Photo by woodleywonderworks.)

In “The Musician’s Résumé – Part 1: Getting Started” on our Kennedy Violins blog, we brainstormed ideas on how to get started with a musical résumé. Now that we know the direction we’re headed, it’s time to put it all together.

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WHAT TO INCLUDE

Keep in mind that your résumé should include a combination of the information below whether you are a performer or teacher.

THE BASICS

Everyone needs to include the same basic information to start, regardless of your end goal:

  1. Full name
  2. Contact information (phone, e-mail, address)
  3. Educational background and degrees/certifications obtained
  4. Primary Instrument and style (classical, jazz, folk, rock, etc.)
  5. Secondary instrument(s). Note: Only list instruments you can play fairly well–not the oboe you played for one year in middle school. As a rule of thumb, honestly consider your capabilities: could you perform in an ensemble or teach beginner/basic music lessons on this instrument? If so, list it.

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Below your contact information you will clarify your emphasis in the first (and main) section. Group information in a logical way: chronologically, in order of significance (recommended), or in a combination of both (i.e. categories with information within the category in chronological order).

FOR PERFORMERS

Performers will emphasize performance experiences on a shorter, focused, résumé that doesn’t need wordy descriptions. According to The Musician’s Résumé Handbook by Bob Borden and Kathy Ivy of the Eastman School of Music, “Performance résumé must be limited to one page and should include only educational training and performance experience. All material should be listed in order of performance, without any description or list of duties.”

However, while its up to you how much and what information you include, you might consider noting your roles as either a section player, principle, or soloist, unless you’ve exclusively been a section player only and repeatedly mentioning it is unnecessary.

What to include:

  • Ensembles with which you’ve played: orchestras, operas, bands (be selective–don’t mention your garage band to a professional symphony admin or anyone you want to take you very seriously).
  • Teachers of note
  • Master classes in which you’ve performed or taught. Mention notable artists with who you’ve worked.
  • Freelance work and recording gigs. Note studio names and other meaningful specifics about the nature of the gig.
  • Major recitals and other solo performances.
  • Major artists with whom you’ve performed or accompanied.
  • Touring experience.

FOR TEACHERS

  • Workshops and masterclasses you’ve led.
  • Private teaching experience, whether at a studio, a music school, or in your home.
  • Non-music teaching experiences that reflect your capabilities.
  • Certificates and memberships with associations like MENC or Suzuki.

ADDITIONAL SKILLS & INFORMATION

Ttowards the bottom of the page, include info that shows you’re a well-rounded individual with other marketable skills:

  • hobbies
  • languages you speak
  • community service involvement
  • achievements
  • computer/recording skills
A modern résumé layout by Conor Luddy. Choose a style and readable font that reflect the impression you hope to give about yourself.
A modern résumé layout by Conor Luddy. Choose a style and readable font that reflect the impression you hope to give about yourself.

MAKE IT LOOK GOOD

There are many ways to take advantage of the space on the page of a modern résumé, limiting white dead space and including all the important information you can. Working with columns and even spreadsheet cells can help distribute information evenly across a page.

Using light colored paper, like a classy off-white, can also give it a nice touch. However, as most résumés are distributed online now, you may not need to worry about paper. Still, you could make the background of your résumé a non-white, unassuming color for interest in your PDF or digital file.

DISTRIBUTING YOUR RÉSUMÉ

Now you’re ready to send! Send this résumé (along with a brief cover or introductory letter of inquiry) by e-mails or snail-mail to orchestra managers, school administrators, or other potential employers. You might even Include a recording (on a CD or as a sound file attached to e-mail) or yourself performing.

TIP: Once your résumé has been handed over, don’t just wait for a response, be ready to perform! Have audition pieces ready, to play, be brushed up on your conducting, or have a first lesson for students prepared.

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Once your music résumé is complete, we would love to see it here at Kennedy Violins! Feel free to contact me at liz@kennedyviolins.com with questions or with your résumé for review. As supporters of the music community, we want to see you succeed.

All the best!

The KV Team

The Musician’s Résumé – Part 1: Getting Started

Photo by Nguyen Hung Vu
Photo by Nguyen Hung Vu

In a previous post on our Kennedy Violins blog, “How to Find Gigs: Musical Networking,” I talked about ways to make connections within a music community when searching for performance opportunities. Diving further into the networking process, I want to zone in today on a specific and powerful networking tool: the musician’s résumé.

DO I NEED A RÉSUMÉ?

Anyone and everyone looking for work needs a résumé, including musicians and performers. When you’re a student, you rely heavily on your transcript as a reflection of your accomplishments, but once you’ve graduated from high school or college, your work experience becomes the substance of your marketability.

A SENSE OF DIRECTION

Where do you start when drafting your résumé? The first step is not to focus on where to begin, but where you want to end up. Think about your direction, motives, and professional goals. What kind of work are you looking for?

If you’re primarily a performer looking for gigs, your résumé will highlight your performing experience. Or perhaps you are primarily a music educator looking for private students or a position as a professor, conductor, or school orchestra teacher. You may be interested in an administrative position with a music-related organization. There are so many different opportunities, so your résumé will target the type of employment you’re looking for.

WHERE TO BEGIN

If you’ve come down with a case of writers block before you’ve even started, here are a few ideas:

  1. Make a list of your career goals and the types of jobs/gigs you’re looking for.
  2. Make a second list of specific employers or companies you’re targeting. For example, if you want to play in a professional symphony, look up open positions first so you know your options. The music union (the American Federation of Musicians) is also a helpful resource for finding work opportunities.
  3. Make a third list of major experiences and jobs you’ve had in one column and your skills in a second column. Don’t think too hard, just free flow stream-of-consciousness-style, jotting down anything and everything of import in your life.
  4. Weed out the unnecessary. Underline or highlight the most significant information to include in your résumé. Make decisions about what information is important to keep by asking yourself whether or not your future employer would find it relevant.
  5. Work on your layout first, then fill it in. Sometimes its easier to fill in the blanks (perhaps in a template) rather than stuff your content into a layout later.
  6. Look for examples. Ask to read résumés by people you know or Google résumé examples, templates, and tips online.

FIND EXTRA HELP

Gleaning knowledge from other people can be extremely helpful as they offer you some extra perspective.

  1. Sit down with someone who knows you well to evaluate and point out the marketable skills you have that are apparent to them but not always to yourself.
  2. Meet with a professional adviser who can help you put together your résumé, review your current résumé, and offer editing suggestions.
  3. Meet with a professional who does what you want to be doing. Discuss your goals with someone who has achieved them. Someone experienced in your field is sure to have advice and direction to share.

GET READY TO BRAG

Creating a résumé is a chance to highlight your best. This is the magical opportunity to put your best foot forward, make a memorable first impression (without even being present!), and highlight your greatest achievements. Don’t be humble! Any relevant experience counts–even that one time you subbed with a specific orchestra or played in that masterclass you completely forgot about. Adding up all these details–even one-time experiences–will create a full and impressive résumé.

For information about specific items to include in your musician’s résumé, stay tuned for “The Musician’s Résumé – Part 2: Writing & Distributing.”

 

A Brief History of the Serenade

Photo by Elin B
Photo by Elin B

With Valentine’s Day less than 48 hours away, you might be sweating bullets trying to come up with some way–any way–to impress that special someone.

Well, I’m going let you in on a little secret. There is nothing that wins someone over like MUSIC. Sure, you could always gift your sweetheart a violin. But it’s also prime time for serenading and the singing telegram. And this strange tradition of awkwardly showing up at someone’s door to sing songs (think Christmas carolers) is nothing new. It all began with the serenade.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SERENADE

Going back to prehistoric times, there is evidence that music existed. Like verbal language itself, music is similarly a natural and essential form of communication. The oldest known musical instruments include a collection from China even dating between 6,600 and 7,000 BC. Now those are some serious oldies.

If you think about it, almost any piece of music could be considered a serenade in the sense that all music is intended to be performed for an audience, whether it be a hall of concertgoers or simple an individual.

But when it comes to the traditional serenade, this form developed in Medieval times as a way for an eager gentleman to serenade his lady love of choice. This was typically done in the evening through a window (Romeo-and-Juliet style) with self-accompaniment on a lute or guitar.

These medieval serenades developed into an art form of its own kind. During the Baroque era the serenade evolved into a lyrical piece still sung and played outdoors, but for an an audience rather than a courted lady. By the Classical and Romantic eras the serenade further evolved into a form in concert literature for string ensembles and orchestras, like a light symphonic work with multiple movements and varying tempos, but free of heavy, dramatic orchestration. The serenade kept it’s lyrical, evening-song character.

AND IT’S STILL HAPPENING

Going back to the original serenade with that young man singing at the window, this form of the serenade is still performed today. There is no shortage of young men wooing girls on the guitar. One of my old roommates was even proposed to via song. Singing telegrams, caroling, Italian men singing from gondolas, mariachi band specials, and even Elvis impersonators serenading couples down the aisles of Vegas wedding chapels are today’s popular way to send messages of love.

Now, you can even serenade your loved ones online. For example, my friend Fresh Big Mouf will send his original song, “Secret Crush” to your very own secret crush as a digital message of love. There’s modern serenading at its finest.

Serenade your secret sweetheart with a virtual valentine.
Serenade your secret sweetheart with a virtual valentine. (Photo by Marcello Ambriz)

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So if you really want to win over the one you love, you may find that harmony is the key (signature) to the heart. Ditch the chocolates and warm up your vocal chords because now is the time to confess how you really feel. And while you’re ditching your chocolates, send them to me. I can help you out with that.

How to Use a Metronome

Photo by Mrs Logic
Photo by Mrs Logic

Instrument, bow, stand, music, pencil–that’s all you need when you sit down (or stand) to practice, right? Wrong. One of the most essential and useful tools for the wise, efficient practicer is this marvelous, magical machine: the metronome. The timekeeper. That thing that clicks.

As a string bassist who grew up classically trained, I was used to bending the tempo, slowing with ritardandos, stopping for fermatas and railroad tracks, slightly altering the tempo based on the lyricism of the piece, and sometimes completely throwing the beat out the window to play a cadenza.

When I went to music school in college, I was introduced to jazz, and I realized I was on a completely different playing field, playing a completely different ballgame. As a player used to hashing up melodic solos, playing jazz forced me back to the bassist’s primary role: keeping the beat. I remember my teacher telling me that a bassist who can’t keep time is useless. A musician might have perfect pitch and stellar chops, but without a sense of rhythm . . . well. Good luck.

Another time I was preparing for a blind audition and was given a tip to keep in mind. When you can’t see the adjudicators listening from behind a screen, you won’t see their faces, but you also won’t see their pencil lightly tapping on their knee checking the consistency of your tempo. Hopefully all panel judges aren’t that cruel, but my paranoia of that “one” judge made me reconsider my relationship with my metronome.

We needed to become best friends.

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USING YOUR METRONOME

If you don’t have a metronome, now is the time to keep time. My personal favorites are metronomes with a dial (rather than digital metronomes) such as the Wittner MT60 Quartz. But anything that keeps steady time will do.

Here are a few things your metronome can help you do to become a better musician:

  1. Understand tempo markings. I like metronomes with a dial that show you the numerical ranges for common tempo markings like largo, andante, moderato, presto, etc. The metronome can help you get the feel for the overall tempo of a passage or piece.
  2. Set the tempo. Sometimes composers and conductors mark the music with a specific numerical tempo marking in addition to a general tempo marking (like “largo”). Identify the appropriate tempo for your piece of music. This doesn’t mean you’ll start practicing at that tempo. It’s just what you’re aiming for. (See number 5.)
  3. Warm up. When you pull out your instrument, start with long, slow tones to warm up the rosin on your bow and smooth out your tone. Typically you’ll start with scales. Warming up with a metronome is like getting your musical heartbeat pumping again. Wake up the rhythm in your body! Ole!
  4. Practice scales and arpeggios with different rhythmic patterns. After playing scales with whole notes, half notes, and quarter notes, change it up a bit, moving up the scale in triplets (one triplet per bow) or groups of sixteenths. Then practice arpeggios at a slow tempo, gradually turning up the speed.
  5. Perfect difficult passages. For all music, whether you’re playing scales, arpeggios, orchestral excerpts, or solos, START SLOW. Only increase the speed on your metronome once a passage or lick is free of error. You can apply this principle to even a single measure, a group of notes, or even a single shift between two notes. Zone in on exactly what you’re tripping over and then conquer it with your metronome.
  6. Subdivide. Your metronome beat doesn’t have to just be for a quarter note. Set it four times faster to click on the sixteenths, or three times faster for triplets. This will help you decipher tricky rhythmic passages, steady your dotted rhythms, and keep a steady beat overall.
  7. Learn vibrato. A great way to get your hand and fingers comfortable with the physical motion of vibrato is the slowly roll your wrist, forearm, and/or fingers in time with a slow beat. This will develop a vibrato that vibrates consistently rather that shaking uncontrollably. (See “String Instrument Techniques: How to Learn Vibrato.”)
  8. Sight read. After regularly using your metronome, you should get a good feel for basic tempo markings. Remembering that “60” means 1 beat per second, if you can get the feel for the timing of seconds, this can be your baseline reference. When you get a piece of music to sightread, always identify the expected tempo before taking off. (See “15 Tips to Successfully Sightread.”)
  9. Prepare your accompanist. Whether you’re playing with a pianist, a duet partner, a small ensemble, or an orchestra, you can set the tempo specifically to what you’re comfortable with. It’s the worst when your accompanist rushes ahead of you at a pace that makes you stumble over your tricky passages. Even five extra beats per minute could throw you off if it’s faster than you’ve prepared. It’s also torture when you accompanist drags behind you. Give them an exact number so you can play in rhythmic harmony.
  10. Conduct. If you conduct music, all of these principles apply to your ability to lead musicians in time. Just like I was saying how a bass player who can’t keep time is useless, a conductor who can’t keep time is even MORE useless! Conductors have to be the rock when it comes to keeping the beat. If you tend to rush or slow down, spend more time with your metronome.

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 Now, off you go to the practice room. Have a great TIME!