Tag Archives: family

Kennedy Violins Celebrates 15 Years!

This month marks Kennedy Violins’ 15th Anniversary!

15 years ago, Joel Kennedy started Kennedy Violins in order to create a platform to provide high-quality instruments for his own string students, who often showed up at lessons with instruments  that were barely playable.

What started off as a homemade webpage in the Pacific Northwest has grown into a business that features luthiers from all over the world and serves string players all over the world.   All the while, we have  maintained a staff of string players that provide our customers with quality service along with quality instruments.

We’ve compiled photos chronicling our 15 years of growth and change.  Take a stroll down memory lane with us and comment on your favorite Kennedy Violins moment.

Thank you for being a part of our first fifteen years.  We can’t wait to see what the future brings for us!

A GUIDE TO TEACHING CHILDREN MUSIC – Principle 2: “Self-Initiated Learning vs. Imposition”

“Children learn best when the learning is self-initiated, arising from their own curiosity and interests, rather than imposed on them.”

– Aletha Solter, Ph.D., “Principles of Learning”

Godfrey Kneller's portrait of IsaacNewton, 1689
Godfrey Kneller’s portrait of IsaacNewton, 1689

Newton hit the nail on the head with his third law of motion: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Try verbally or physically trying to make a child do something will make them resist even more.

Examples:

  • Try forcing green vegetables into a kid’s mouth and they will refuse to open their mouth or immediately spit out whatever you put in there.
  • Yell at a child to get in bed and they’re be riled up and less tired or willing to sleep.
  • Try physically removing a child from doing or playing with something they like and they will kick and scream.

When we apply this to music and helping children develop the habit of practicing, negatively forcing a child to play a specific instrument or practice at specific times for specific lengths of time may produce results—BUT, on the other hand,  they might sap away a child’s desire to play over time. This happens especially if those measures result in reluctance, resistance, indifference, apathy, or rejection of musical activities or practice.

There are two types of motivation:

  1. Intrinsic motivation, or an inner desire or interest to do something, usually for the sake of enjoyment or self-satisfaction.
  2. Extrinsic motivation, or a drive to accomplish something in order to receive a reward or recognition from an outward motivator. Motivators include threats, bribes, prizes, fame, competition, pressuring, etc.

In teacher Lara Hansen’s article “The Inherent Desire to Learn: Intriniscally Motivating First Grade Students,” she says,

“When people are intrinsically motivated they feel interest and enjoyment in what they are doing. They also feel a sense of capability and determination. What they don’t feel is tension, stress, and anxiety.”

In general, people tend to enjoy activities more when they can enjoy the experience and develop a personal passion for what they are doing. Any trauma introduced to an activity in the form of external motivators can lead that activity becoming stressful instead of a pleasure to perform.

As teachers and parents, we can provide opportunities for a child learn an instrument, but imposing, pushing, or bribing a child will create resistance and perhaps kill the child’s original curiosity and interest.

But don’t worry! We all have negative experiences with music, like playing a bad concert or being pressured to practice because of an assignment or impending performance. External/extrinsic motivators naturally exist and aren’t all bad unless they kill our passion for music.

And even if desires and passions dwindle, they can be fed and nurtured back to life. Just because a child throws a fit and doesn’t want to go to a music lesson one day doesn’t mean all is lost—you may find the same child excitedly getting their instrument out to show a friend the next day.

They say curiosity killed the cat, but perhaps killing the curiosity in the cat is the sadder scenario. Let’s keep the desire to learn alive and well!

Face to Face with Heather from Kennedy Violins

Today, we get to know Heather Case, a Kennedy Violins veteran!

Heather started playing violin in the public school system in the third grade. She continued through college where she studied music education. Currently, she performs locally with groups like the Beaverton Symphony Orchestra and the North Oregon Coast Symphony.

Heather Face1. How long have you worked at Kennedy Violins?
Two and a half years

2. What is your favorite thing about working at Kennedy Violins and why?
It hardly ever feels like work! When I get up in the morning, I am excited to go play violin and talk to people about playing the violin all day long. From the very beginning student — to the parent who is encouraging a student to begin — to a teacher doing research for their program — to a professional player who wants to try new strings, I look forward to all aspects of the string world in my day.

3. What is your favorite instrument/product that Kennedy Violins carries and why?
That constantly changes because we are always getting something new! My current favorite is the Vitacek Violin Outfit because it has such an incredible sound and is easy to play. I’ve been calling it our “red violin” or the “gypsy violin” because of the color of the finish. But, our new David Yale line is quickly growing on me as we have been getting them in and playing each of them. They definitely have unique characters to them (you can click here to see more David Yale instruments).

4. What is your favorite band/musician/composer?
I always wanted to be involved in movie soundtracks or Broadway musicals as a kid. I find ways to play for cheesy occasions whenever I can. It is my guilty musical pleasure.

5. If you didn’t play the violin, which instrument would you play?
Piano, without a doubt. Performing an instrument with both hands seems to be a constant hurdle for me. I should say something more like the ‘bagpipes,’ but that’s not going to happen.

6. Which musician (alive or dead) do you wish you could play with?
For me, music has never been about fame or fortune. I am amazed by people who do it so well, but music is a very social thing in my life. Performing with my friends and family (especially my kids) is the best thing ever, and I wouldn’t give that up for performing with someone who would only intimidate the heck out of me.

7. What are you looking forward to most in the upcoming year?
With our new retail location, I’m looking forward to working with new teachers and school programs in our immediate area as well as outreach across the country.

A picture of Heather drawn by one of her students.
A picture of Heather drawn by one of her students.

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.

463769_10150744801834312_1340379933_o

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.

384889_10151247395169312_1416937106_n

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.

301108_10151191406259312_28703616_n

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 Music at M.I.T.C.H. Charter School

Every once in awhile, there is a collective sigh at Kennedy Violins when we hear of yet another school orchestra program being cut.  A few months ago, however, we were thrilled to get a call from Cami Galloway of the band, Virginia Real.  She was in need of violins to use for a workshop at a school that wanted to START a string program for their students.  We were thrilled to know that there were still schools out there that recognize the value of music. So, when Cami asked if we could provide the violins for the workshop, we didn’t have to think twice-of course we would!

VAREALposter 1_edited-2
The members of Virginia Real

Over the next several weeks, we worked with Dee Grothe, the coordinating teacher for the workshop at M.I.T.C.H. Charter School.  There would be 78 students participating in the 3-Day workshop!  Wow!  She described how the hope was that the workshop with Cami would ignite an interest in the students and that an official strings class would begin in the fall.

Our team of luthiers worked for weeks to professionally set-up all the instruments that would be needed.  Then, a few days before the workshop started, our customer service team went to M.I.T.C.H. Charter School and sized each student so that they could have the proper violin and they got to take home their violins that day!  So, by the time the Cami and the Virginia Real band showed up, they students were eager and ready to go!

By all accounts, the workshop was a huge success!  By the end of the three day workshop, the students performed “Twinkle, Twinkle,” “Boil Them Cabbage Down,” and “Shortenin’ Bread.”  Many students expressed an interest wanting to continue and are going to get private lessons this summer!  According to Cami Galloway, “M.I.T.C.H. is truly showing innovation and the teachers, Dee Grothe, Dianne Wright and Kelly Shelton have corroborated together to help bring the band across the country to provide this opportunity for their students.”  We think that when school starts again in the Fall, M.I.T.C.H. Charter School will have no problem getting a string program up and running.

Students participating in the string workshop
Students participating in the string workshop

Cami Galloway and Virginia Real have done workshops like this across the country.  If you are interested in having them lead a workshop at your school or organization, you can contact them at varealband@gmail.com.

Rent or Buy? That is the question!

1950's Music Store

Around this time every year, as the musical season gears up again, we see a lot of new string players preparing to start a new adventure.  There are inevitably A LOT of questions, and we are happy to address them.  In the past, on the blog, we have covered many topics about Beginner Basics.  One that we haven’t gone over in too much detail, though, is the question of renting vs. buying and in these tough economic times, how you spend your money is important and worth considering.

Renting is usually more affordable in terms of the monthly payment.  Our rental payments range from $14.97 a month to $92.50.  The amount you pay is determined by the instrument you need and the quality of that instrument.  Also, all stringed instrument stores have a rental agreement.  As part of the rental agreement, you may be required to commit to a minimum number of months, which is important to keep in mind.  For instance, the store may require a minimum of 6 months of payments and that amount could be close to or equal the cost of just purchasing the instrument.  Another thing to consider is what happens to the money you pay each month.  Does it go towards the eventual purchase of the instrument?  If so, how much of the monthly payments go towards the purchase?  At Kennedy Violins, we don’t have a minimum rental requirement and we set aside 55% of all rental fees as store credit that customers can use towards the purchase of any instrument.

Buying an instrument certainly requires the most  money up front, but it can be the most affordable in many cases.  If you are part of a family with several children, purchasing would give you the ability to keep the instrument after the oldest child grows out of it or looses interest and pass it on to younger children.  Or, if you were like my family and you required at least one year commitment to whatever new thing you are trying out, purchasing could be less expensive in the long run.  For instance, if you purchased Kennedy Violins’ Bunnel G2 Violin outfit, based on our current rental price, it would pay for itself in about a year.  Plus, purchasing usually means that you have “trade-in” power later when it’s time for a new size or an upgrade.

Either way, the most important factor in the decision making comes down to what the customer is comfortable with.  At Kennedy Violins, we are happy to provide both options for people ready to start the adventure of learning to play an instrument.

Violins in several sizes

Taking the First Steps

At Kennedy Violins, we have always been proud of the fact that all of our employees, no matter their role, are active musicians and teachers and all of us have been where you are.  Whether you are just starting out learning the basics or finding your own voice or personality musically.  Today, I’d like to talk about those very first steps.  The steps you take before the first note is even played.

I’ll start with kids.  As a teacher, I often get asked by parents at what age they should start teaching their kids music.  Well, now!  Today!  Yesterday! In the womb!  It is never too early to start learning the fundamentals and it is very easy to incorporate musical learning into everyday activities.  Does your toddler like to empty the cabinets and bang on pots and pans?  Teach her a rhythm to play while you reach for the aspirin.  Does your kindergarten repeat the same nursery rhyme over and over again?  Turn it into a game where he sings a different note each time he repeats it or have a him create new melody for the same music.

Outside the home, learning in a classroom setting is always beneficial, but I believe it should also be fun and low pressure when children are just starting out.  I have always been a fan of Kindermusik classes.  Kindermusik serves children ages 0-7 and their families all across the US.  They use folk melodies from around the world and classic stories to teach music fundamentals.

Another question that parents ask is, ” How do I know if my child is ready to play the (insert specific instrument here)?”  Well, I find that parents know their children far better than I do and that they usually have answered that question for themselves by the time they ask me.  If you feel that your child is ready to learn an instrument, then she probably is.  Usually, it’s nice for the future student to have shown some interest in learning music, but I have found that it never hurts to try something new just for the sake of trying something new.  You never know!

The best tool for starting out young kids (5 and under) on a musical instrument is private instruction by a qualified teacher.  One on one lessons with the parents present are best because the little ones tend to focus better and it’s not as frustrating when they have the direct support of family.  Group lessons are fun but progress can be slow.  Older kids can be more successful in group lessons and many schools and community programs have great classes that would be little or no cost to parents.  To find qualified teachers or programs try calling your child’s school or a local music store for recommendations.

Now, let’s talk about grown-ups (from a strictly educational stand point, I place anyone beginning after age 12 in this category of learning…one day I’ll explain in further detail).  We have written several posts about how it’s never too late to discover (or rediscover) a love of music.  The tips I have aren’t much different.  I would stress, though, that even in today’s advanced age of technology with online videos/lessons on You Tube and Vimeo, having private lessons with an experienced instructor is HIGHLY valuable!  Personally, I feel the videos should serve as a supplement to strengthen what you learn in private lessons.

However, more than videos and lessons, to have a successful start I feel that the thing adult learners need most is guts.  It takes a courageous and humble individual to stand up and say, “Hey, I don’t know anything about this, but I want to learn.”  I have great respect for the adult beginners that dive in with their whole heart.  For the adventurous ones, there are many community orchestras that welcome players of all levels and ages and music camps to give them the experience every musician should have.  You just have to go for it!

Playing While Pregnant

When I found out this last summer that I was pregnant with my first child, I knew that I would have to make adjustments to my everyday life.  I wasn’t sure exactly what all of those would be since  I had never been a mom before.  Luckily, there is a lot of information available online and in print for curious new moms like me.  I discovered I would have to change what I was eating, start taking a pre-natal vitamins, not ride roller coasters, things like that.

Pre-Pregnancy Playing

When the fall approached and the music groups that I had been playing in started new rehearsals after the summer break, I found myself asking a new question: how do you handle pregnancy as a musician?  I knew I wasn’t the first woman to try be a musician and pregnant at the same time.  I spent hours online and reading books trying to find any information about playing string instruments while pregnant.  All I could find were more first time moms with questions like mine.

What’s a girl to do?

Well, I decided to just “go for it.”  I would play like I usually had each year before and make any adjustments I need to along the way.  Now that I am in the last few weeks of pregnancy and having just finished the last concert I would play before my little one appears, I thought I would share some tips for other pregnant musicians that want to know how to make it all work.

1.  Know where the bathrooms are.  There is nothing like a full bladder to throw off your concentration, timing, intonation, and everything else.  Most people that you are playing with will understand if you disappear for a few minutes.

2. Drink lots of water.  This might seem counterproductive (especially considering the previous tip) but studies show that when you are well hydrated, the swelling and muscle aches that can hinder a musician from playing their best are lessened.

3.  Invest in the appropriate brace.  Personally, I spend most of my time playing the cello and violin and I developed pregnancy related carpal tunnel in my left hand.  I found that wearing a brace during the day when I wasn’t playing or night when I slept prevented or reduced any pain associated with this while playing.

My husband and I after a trio recital at 6 months pregnant

4.  Stretch and take breaks.  For pregnant gals, it is recommended that you take a break from sitting/standing every 20 minutes.  I like to incorporate some yoga as the stretching portion. There are positions for sitting and standing that will give your joints relief.  The 20 minute rule works well for practice sessions.  It can be difficult to keep this up if you are playing a concert/gig and when the program/set usually doesn’t have a break for 30 minutes or more.  If you find yourself in this situation, prior preparation is key.  Get plenty of sleep the night before and stretch beforehand.

5.  It’s okay to say no.  This is one I struggle with.  I used to play music with every one that would let me,  but it is very important that you don’t try to do it all.  The baby takes up a lot energy and during pregnancy, you can’t do everything like you used to.  Besides, if you are exhausted, you will put yourself at greater risk for injury and you will your baby under stress.

6.  Know that every pregnancy is different.  You may not experience joint pain or get carpal tunnel but you may get nosebleeds or some other weird pregnancy symptoms that would effect how you play.  Just know that there is a way to deal with any symptom out there.

7.  Remember that pregnancy doesn’t last forever.  All the aches and pains associated with pregnancy end after the baby is delivered.  For some women, they are back to normal with in a few days, some it takes a few moths.  Either way, you will be back in prime playing shape.

If I knew at the beginning of my pregnancy what I know now, there are a few things I would do differently.  For instance, I took on way too many gigs this holiday season, but I still survived.  Hopefully these tips provide some encouragement to other musicians out there embarking on motherhood.

Injured List

For a few weeks now, many students in the U.S. are back at school. Here in the NW, just starting this week. School starting means many things. Homework, lunch ladies, soccer moms…the list goes on. One thing that going back to school means, however, often escapes most people’s mind. I’m talking about injuries.

Think about it: Families are busier now, going to school, to sports, to scouts, to music lessons, to the library and that’s just on Monday. Plus, the students are in new classroom environments that they don’t know and on a new schedule that they are used to. Not to mention that, musically speaking, they have a heavier load, literally and figuratively, with a new instruments that are often bigger than what they had last year and more music to practice that is more difficult that what they are used to. All of these factor combined translate into bumps, bruises, sprains, strains, or worse. Sigh, it’s a jungle out there.

Why is this topic on my mind? Well, almost 12 years to the date, my brother shut my hand in the sliding door of our minivan right before a cello lesson. The door shut and locked with my fingers in there. I broke two fingers and was unable to play for about a month. It was totally an accident and with our busy family it was only matter of time before something like that happened.

So, how can we keep ourselves from being on the injured list?

Communication-This is huge! Communication is necessary every day, but if good communication is practiced between parents, students, and teachers, then possible injuries can be prevented.

Tools-Giving your students or yourselves the proper tools to work in new environments can also prevent injury. For instance, the proper shoulder rest for a new instrument can prevent muscle strains in the neck and back.

Sleep-Countless studies indicate that there are many benefits to a good night’s sleep. In addition to health benefits, good sleep can decrease your chances of accidents like falling or running into things.

I’d like to say that I learned my lesson 12 years ago and have avoided injury since then, but that would be a lie. I totally busted my lip by slipping on a puddle and face planting on a stone floor hours before a flute final in college. Still, those three things have lengthened the time between injuries. Oh, and don’t forget to drink plenty of water.


Nurturing music in your kids

Baby with headphones

Music is everywhere. It’s part of our lives every day, whether we realize it or not. Who doesn’t listen to music?

That said, even though everyone listens, not everyone is a musician. What if you love music but can’t carry a tune in a bucket? And what if your child, or your niece or nephew or stepchild loves music? Not just loves music, but is moved by music, is transfixed by music, or is fascinated with a particular instrument, and who gravitates to music with that kind of instrument in it? What then? Do you let that child stumble toward self-realization, or do you nurture that interest and see if they have the talent and drive to be a musician?

I hope most parents would want to try to nurture it. But, how?

Although musicians can certainly provide some unique and valuable experiences for children, a musically rich environment can be provided by anyone. That’s the first step. This can begin very early in their lives – even in the crib. Or even before, if you subscribe to the teachings of Zoltan Kodaly, noted Hungarian music educator and composer. When he was asked, “When does music education begin?” he originally answered, “Nine months before birth.” He later amended that to “nine months before birth. . . of the mother.”

His point is that music is inborn and influenced by the mother.  This article is an intriguing exploration of that  assertion, and one that makes you wonder if we’re doing a disservice to our kids by not exploring that fundamental inclination in us all.

One of the first forms of music humans experience is a parent singing to them – but there’s that “can’t carry a tune in a bucket” problem. No worries, there are plenty of lullaby CDs available.

Young children can be musical in a wide variety of ways, including rhythmic chanting; bouncing their bodies; trying exploratory vocalizing; singing spontaneous songs of their own making (with and without words or exact pitches); using simple percussion instruments that rattle, shake, hit, or scrape; singing along to songs for children and moving to recorded music; and joining in on a family sing-along on car trips.

This kid is probably gonna rock:

YouTube Preview Image

Taking kids to live concerts, festivals, or anywhere age-appropriate music is offered, should be included in your explorations. And even though you might not fancy a certain style, your child just might, so expose them to as many types of music as possible. Classical music may not be your cup of tea, but finding opportunities for your child to hear it may just awaken something magical.

As you expose them to a variety of music, you’ll likely begin to see their preferences for certain types of music are starting to take shape.

Let’s say, violins or cellos are particularly attractive to your child. There are many programs and teachers who teach very young students, often in a class setting rather than privately, such as the Suzuki method. This method and many others utilize smaller instruments, or fractional sizes, to fit smaller bodies and hands.

Fractional violinsViolins are available from 1/16th size for the very youngest students through 1/10th, 1/8th, ¼, ½, ¾ and full size (or 4/4). Cellos come in fractional sizes as well.

Once a method or class or program is found, an instrument will be needed. There are several ways to go about getting an instrument. If you’re not certain about whether your child really wants to play, maybe renting one is the answer. It’s a low-cost alternative to buying one and is a great way to get acquainted with the instrument without spending too much right away. Full size and fractional cello

Kennedy Violins is a great place for parents and others to go for everything the beginning string player needs to start exploring their musical inclinations. Besides offering for sale or rent violins, violas, and cellos, they offer a full line of fractional sizes, and provide a size chart for determining which size to choose, as well as excellent advice and customer service. A hallmark of Kennedy Violins is that it is owned and operated by violinists who play or teach every day. Expert advice is just a phone call away.

Whatever your taste, music is a part of all our lives, a primal calling in some. Once you establish it in your family’s life, it will become the soundtrack for your life.