Category Archives: Performance Tips

Forget the Map at Home!

A Guide to Improvisation, by Katie Lubiens

You don't need sheet music on this journey.
You don’t need sheet music on this journey.

Improvising? That sounds scary! Making up the music as you go? But where’s the sheet music? Who even improvises anyway?

As a classical violinist, these were all questions I asked myself when confronted with the thought of improvising.  I never was taught to improvise.  As classical musicians, we always have our sheet music to guide us, to show us the direction we should go.  Going forward into the musical realm without sheet music seems like going on a roadtrip without a map.  Where do I go?

Surprisingly, I’ve discovered, improving is all around us as musicians.  Even classical musicians improvise, too!  There are so many musical genres to experiment with which do teach you to improvise and foster those creative juices that make new music happen.  From blues jams to Irish sessiuns, from jazz club improvs to bluegrass jam outs, there are endless outlets for practicing improvisation.  Without sheet music, how do we know what to play?   Especially when improvising with other musicians.

Katie Lubiens performing with The Seseseisiunists.
Katie Lubiens performing with The Seseseisiunists.

Here are a few pointers when learning to improvise: 

  1. The most important thing to know is what key you are playing in.  It can sound great when everyone is playing something completely different, but they must be playing their own unique parts in the same key for it to work.
  2. Think of the scale, then play itterations of the scale.  I like to play the scale aloud before trying any kind of improvising so I really get the notes in my ear and fingers.  Then try playing the scale up and down, jumping around with different arpeggios, and always keeping the tonic, dominant and 7th in mind.
  3. Take turns.  Most improv music works best when everyone takes turns being the melody.  When it’s not your turn at the melody be sure to keep the energy up.  Long notes mixed with off beat rhythms are easy on the tonic or dominant.
  4. Practice some cool licks at home.  Most improv artists aren’t actually making it up as they go.  Usually, they have practiced some licks which they made up at home and can transcribe them into any key to play while performing in an improvising scenario.
  5. Perfection is not the point.  Improvising teaches you to be adaptable.  Adapting to your current musical situation makes you a stronger player and shows you that the imperfections are what make improvising so thrilling.
  6. Don’t be afraid!  Although you can feel put on the spot while improvising, recognize that everyone else recognizes that you are improvising.  It is not meant to be perfect.  Once you get used to improvising, you will begin to feel the powerful energy in making up music with your peers as you go.

Like anything, improvising gets better the more you do it.  I promise you, if you try you, will find that creating your own music with others in the moment is one of the best adventures you can embark upon. The moment when you close your eyes and listen to yourself creating music together, making it up as you go, and you hear that it sounds beautiful and harmonious, you will find pride in yourself like never before.  So, go ahead, make up the directions to your next adventure and forget the map at home!

**Check back soon for more in depth imrpovising tools and tips!

When NOT to Practice Your Instrument

Hate to “break” it to ya, but you may need to lay off practicing for a while. (Photo by James Lee)

We’re always telling you to

PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE (Why don’t you read Kennedy Violins‘ article “The Art of Effective Practicing” while you’re at it) PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE—

—but, like your mom’s nagging, all this talk of what you should be doing all the time can make you feel seriously guilty anytime you decide to take a little break. And yet, sometimes,

 IT’S OKAY NOT TO PRACTICE.

Serious musicians who take a break (whether it be a day, week, month, or year) from practicing for whatever reason often feel guilty or even depressed as a result. For regular practicers, not practicing may feel like

  • not brushing your teeth
  • wearing the same underwear all week
  • letting dishes pile up in the sink
  • not checking Facebook

 

WHEN NOT TO PRACTICE

Cut yourself some slack. Here are a few instances when you probably shouldn’t (or literally can’t) practice:

  1. Right before a performance. WARM UP, but don’t wear yourself out with a real practice session. Tune, play a few scales, and review a few tricky passages, but don’t wear out your fingers the morning of your big performance.
  2. During rehearsal.  We know you’re just itching to work on (or show off) that tricky lick in the concerto you’re working on, but spare your conductor and your stand partner. Rehearsal time is never practice time—it’s unprofessional and distracting.
  3. When you’re really, really tired. There is apparently no difference between driving sleepy and driving drunk. Practice when you’re that tired and you’ll likely not even remember what you practiced. You might even fall over and impale yourself with your bow. Don’t kill yourself—get some sleep and practice in the morning when you’re fresh and alert.
  4. When you’re injured. This totally sucks, but if you have tendonitis, a broken arm, or some other injury that requires rest and recovery, you’ll just have to take a break, perhaps missing an upcoming performance or even a whole orchestra semester or season. Take your mind off your inability to play by focusing on another hobby or skill you can practice or develop during your “off-season.”
  5. After you’ve played a recital. If you don’t take at least a day off after a huge performance, you’re probably obsessed. And that’s okay.
  6. When you really deserve a break. Maybe you’re just shy of your goal to practice 5 or 10 hours a week. If you just can’t squeeze in those last couple hours, think back on what you have accomplished and start fresh next week. It’s more about the quality of your practice—not the quantity—anyway.
  7. When someone asks you on a date. Seriously, music nerd! Put down your instrument and put on your dancing shoes! Bach isn’t your boyfriend—but this guy might be if you give him a chance.
  8. When someone dies. If you’re really hard-core, you may consider death to be a lame excuse. But when big life events happen—births, deaths, marriages, etc.—it’s time to focus on what’s really important in life, which is more than music or your personal agenda. Take time out to develop relationships, be there for others, and take care of your family and friends. That’s the real stuff of life.
  9. When you have a fever over 104°. Put your violin down and go see a doctor.
  10. When you’ve practiced so much that you hate your instrument, your teacher, and music all together. You may be at a point where your instrument is like a really annoying two-year-old constantly screaming bloody  murder in your ear, demanding all of your energy, and keeping you up all night. It’s time to get a babysitter (i.e. your violin case) and step away for a breather. People tend to appreciate things (kids, instruments, food) when they haven’t seen them for a time. Take a moment to step away and 1) ask yourself why you play your instrument and 2) think of all the things you love about music and how it enriches your life.

WHEN YOU COME BACK

When you do come back to your instrument after a short (or long, if necessary), reprieve, you’ll likely appreciate it much more than you did before your separation, breakup, or last “big fight.” Hopefully you’ll be able to kiss, makeup, and get back to making beautiful music together.

But in the meantime, enjoy the break. You deserve it!

 

New Year’s Resolutions: A Musician’s Guide to Self-Improvement

Happy New Year! (Photo by William Warby)

Making New Year’s resolutions is a social trend that has become more popular throughout the last century. Is becoming a better musician on your self-improvement checklist for 2014?

To help you in your quest to take your performance to a new level, here is a MUSICAL interpretation of some of the nation’s most common New Year’s resolutions out there.

Get a better bod.

  • Improve your left and right hand technique.
  • Focus on posture. Stand up straight.
  • Develop muscle memory through repetition. (Think sets of pushups and situps.)
  • Exercise (i.e. practice) three or more times a week.
  • Warm up before you play.
  • Join a musical sports team: an orchestra, quartet, or other performance group.
  • Train for a marathon (i.e. a recital or concert).

 

Have a more positive attitude.

  • Refrain from throwing your instrument when frustrated.
  • Believe in your ability to achieve your performance goals.
  • Repeat encouraging mantras. (“I can do this.” “Never say never.” ““Success is not obtained overnight.” ― Israelmore Ayivor)

 

Make strides in your career.

 

Do well in school.

  • Take private lessons (if you don’t already).
  • Do your homework (i.e. practice).
  • Keep a practice journal.
  • Make sure you have the right school supplies (i.e. accessories).

 

Do something you’ve never done before.

  • Play a new piece.
  • Play with new people.
  • Practice outdoors.
  • Compose music.
  • Listen to new artists.
  • Try a new instrument.
  • Practice new techniques.

 

Get organized.

  • Prepare and decorate a comfortable practice space.
  • Keep your practice room, case, and music collection uncluttered.

 

Reduce stress.

  • Don’t take practice too seriously.
  • Take breaks.
  • Play more ballads.
  • Get back and shoulder massage to loosen your playing muscles.
  • Set reasonable goals.
  • Don’t expect too much of yourself.
  • Keep your love for music alive.

 

Improve time management.

  • Set aside time to practice.
  • Breakup practice time dedicated to specific pieces and exercises.
  • Be realistic with your schedule.
  • Keep a planner and mark your calendar with rehearsal times and events.

 

Read more books.

  • Expand your sheet music library.
  • Learn about composers.
  • Study music history.
  • Learn how to expand your creativity. (You might try The Artist’s Way).

 

Do more community service.

  • Perform at nursing homes and hospitals.
  • Do “show-and-tell” performances at preschools and elementary schools.
  • Support musical organizations that need funding.
  • Organize a concert to support a charity.

Find love.

  • Develop an intimate relationship with your instrument.
  • Get obsessed with a composer.
  • Ask someone out on a date to an orchestra concert.
Photo by Josh James
Music is good for the heart! (Photo by Josh James)

___________________________

Need reminders to keep your goals? Print out this list and hang in your practice space. Best of luck as you strive to improve your musicianship!

Note: Don’t overwhelm yourself with unrealistic expectations. Keep in mind the value of patience, persistence, endurance, and a commitment to never give up on your dreams. Don’t be afraid to reevaluate and recommit to your artistic goals throughout the year. As Richelle E. Goodrich says in her book, Smile Anyway,

 

Do it again.

Play it again.

Sing it again.

Read it again.

Write it again.

Sketch it again.

Rehearse it again.

Run it again.

Try it again.

Because again is practice, and practice is improvement, and improvement only leads to perfection.”

________________________

Happy New Year from all of us at Kennedy Violins!

Running the Recital Marathon

It can be done. (Photo by Paul Sableman)

I’m not a fan of sports metaphors, so you’ll have to excuse this extremely obvious comparison. But I started running recently and spent the weekend seriously contemplating the concept of the Marathon. And during that contemplation, I was surprised to find myself simultaneously reflecting on my experience preparing for my first recital years ago.

After crossing the finish line at the Scarecrow Scamper 5K this Saturday, I was surprised to feel like I could keep running; I have reached some level of endurance that I’ve never experienced in my life. As I wandered over to the water table to grab a drink and a complimentary apple, I ran into a friend who’d also run the 5K. “You should run with us!” she said, referring to “us” as a group of women who meet at ungodly hours of the morning with the goal of running an actual 26.2 in the spring.

This led to a conversation about the Marathon concept itself. I asked her if she’d done one before and what it felt like. I started doing a mental inventory of friends and acquaintances of mine who have completely the feat. And then I started thinking, well, if so-and-so can do it, could I? If 60-year-olds can do it, could I? If the average Joe can do it, could I?

Then I started feeling a sense of dread. If I possibly could do it—if my body were really strong enough and capable of developing the strength and endurance necessary—does it mean that I should do it? I was feeling a very specific sense of fear that I’ve felt before: the fear of one’s own potential.

Recognizing one’s potential is a precursor to taking action. Recognizing potential leads to developing a sense of confidence, courage, and faith that you can accomplish something you have never done before.

“Well, think about it, and if you want to, come join us on Tuesday morning. I’ll send you the schedule. And there’s no pressure to do the marathon—you could just train with us and see how you feel.”

I got an email with the following schedule:

Marathon ScheduleMarathon Schedule 2I remember drawing up a similar schedule when preparing for my first recital. It had a countdown of weeks to the final performance, lessons with my private teacher and accompanist booked on the calendar, a breakdown of what to practice on certain days, and a smaller breakdown of how many hours or minutes to spend on each piece during each of those practice sessions. I knew that without that steady, regular practice, I’d likely crash and burn on performance day. NOTHING can replace a consistent effort when it comes to preparing for a performance, especially when the music is hard and the music is new.

Music takes time to learn. You get to know the notes on the page, the bowings, the fingerings. You start slowly developing muscle memory as your fingers and arms internally program patterns, shifts, and connections. As a bass player, I know that playing my instrument actually requires substantial muscle strength. If I haven’t played in a while my hand and thumb muscles cramp up. My shoulders ache. My back is sore. My triceps feel the weight of the bow. It’s amazing how even exercising outside of playing the bass can help my playing. Yoga does wonders for my back and shoulders, both of which support my form when I play my instrument.

This morning I actually went to run for the first time with the “Marathon Moms,” as I’ll refer to them. I was both encouraged and discouraged. Encouraged that I ran another 5K in distance feeling like I could keep running when I got home, but discouraged by my slow speed and the fact that I’d never run more than 4 miles—how could I do 26.2?

I’m not sure. But I’ll keep training and we’ll just see what happens.

I think that last sentiment is an attitude that many musicians also feel. Like, “Yes, I can play, and I can play pretty well. I’ll keep practicing and keep playing. Maybe someday I’ll play a real formal recital—maybe someday. But for now I’ll learn a few pieces and we’ll see what happens.”

We’ll see what happens. What does that even mean? Who sees what happens? You? The people around you?

I have an opinion—and I’d love your thoughts on this—but I feel that musicians have some obligation to perform for other people. Practice done in secret is great; there are definitely significant benefits to any individual involvement in music. It’s good for the brain, it can be relaxing, it’s an enjoyable experience. What do you think? At what point should (or is “should” the wrong word here?) a musician take their playing ability out of the practice room and into the performance sphere? Is it selfish to keep your talent and musical abilities to yourself?

I’m not really sure.

When I chatted with my husband about the idea of training for the Marathon, he made an interesting comment. “You’d have to be obsessed,” he said. “People who do marathons are kind of obsessive.

“I don’t think so,” I replied. “Like, I play the bass, but I’m not necessarily obsessed with the bass. I did a recital and, yeah, it required a lot of diligent practice, but I wouldn’t say I was obsessed with the idea.” He gave made a face that said, “Okay, I can see that.”

“But,” I said, “I do know a lot of bass players who are TOTALLY obsessed—like all they do is think about the bass and play the bass and talk about the bass and live to practice. But you don’t have to be obsessed like that to give a recital.”

“But if you trained for an actual marathon, it would take a lot of time. Like, it’d be a pretty big time commitment.”

And he’s absolutely right. Not just time to run, but time to think about it. Time to mentally be absorbed by the challenge.

So there you have it. There are so many similarities between the Recital and the Marathon. Both require

  • a plan of attack
  • preparation that begins far in advance
  • a scheduled race/performance day
  • dedication to complete the task
  • TIME to develop strength, endurance, and capability
  • Constantly renewed motivation to pull your instrument out of the case/running shoes out of the closet
  • [ideally] a huge group of fans to cheer you on!

It’s frightening to face your own potential. But if you never face it, never try, you’ll never know. You may be left with regrets. You may be left saying, “I could have done that,” because you never did it. You never opened the door to that possibility. You look back at that door and wonder what was behind it and if it’s still there.

So do you want it enough? Do you want it enough to [note obligatory Nike reference]

JUST DO IT

?

Finishing my first 10K ever! What a strange, exhausting, rewarding feeling.
Finishing my first 10K ever. Yeah!

“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.

______________________________

  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.

How Young is Too Young?

As a violin teacher, with a pretty good size studio, I think the question I get the most is, “At what age should I start my child?”  There are several responses that I could have with this question, but I will go with the two that I feel most strongly about.

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First, what is best for your child?  In this day and age it is not uncommon for a child to have an extra activity every day.  From soccer to acting class kids’ schedules can be crazy.  If you want them to play an instrument, not have to practice with them, and just have fun, then starting in 5th or 6th grade is probably the best option.  At that age, kids can be pretty self-driven and if they like the instrument will practice.  You may need to be flexible, however,  because your child will probably want to switch as they get exposed to different instruments.  For a child to try violin one year and cello the next is great, but as a parent can be frustrating.

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Second, what is best for you as the parent?  If you want to start your child on violin at the age of three, that’s awesome, but realize you will have to be very dedicated.  Practicing with the child every day, enduring tantrums when practice gets difficult, and having a slow and steady approach to learning the instrument.  I love it when a young child gets a grasp on music early.  The students I have that started at the age of three or four have a way better understanding of music then a child that starts in 5th or 6th grade.  They have been around music longer, appreciate it, and see music almost as a second language.  It is a beautiful thing, however, it is not an easy thing to accomplish as a parent.  If you are not the type of parent that wants to dedicate yourself to learning the violin and practicing with your child every day then hold off on starting them young.  It will cause you more grief than joy.  So, unless you are a bit of a “tiger mom” it may not be best for you.

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I started the violin at the age of three.  There has never been a day, in my adulthood, that I have regretted starting the violin at such a young age.  It is why I love teaching younger students so much.  By the way, all of the children’s pictures in this post are students of mine.

Starting children young can be very rewarding.  My mom was an amazing, dedicated woman and she said there was nothing more rewarding then seeing her children come alive while playing music.  My mother also came up with the best quitting rule when it came to music.  If we ever came to our mom and said that we wanted to quit she always said that was just fine and we would mark the calendar for 6 months from the time that we asked to quit.  If 6 months later we still wanted to quit the instrument, we were allowed to do so.  You would be amazed at how often quitting an instrument is associated with an upcoming performance, current frustration with a technique, or just pure laziness. Often, after 6 months, we would not even remember wanting to quit.  I still use this rule with my own students.  It works brilliantly.  In ten years of teaching I have only had one student quit.

In closing, a child is never to young to begin to experience music. Singing to and with your child, playing music for your child, and being intentional about learning different instruments and their sounds can go a long way towards teaching your child to appreciate music. Music is not so much a talent but a gift and like all art, should be deeply appreciated.

I would start by watching the “Goat Rodeo” sessions on YouTube with your child. Totally entertaining and lively. They will love them.  You can click here to see what I’m talking about. 🙂

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!

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