Tag Archives: student violin

Tidings of Comfort and Joy: 10 Ways to Tune Up the Holidays

Sargent Major Mercy Diez sings Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” for a United States Army Christmas concert. (Photo by United States Army Band)

The debate continues. The tension increases. Individuals and societies pit themselves against each other over THE question, yes, that question: when is it too early to start listening to Christmas music?

Whether you crank up tinsel-tunes before Thanksgiving, after Thanksgiving, or sometime in July, one truth remains: music brings meaning to the holidays. Unlike any other holiday throughout the year, there is more music associated with the Christmas than any other holiday–even Easter. Not only that, but every nation around the world that celebrates Christmas does so with song.

So what could be more appropriate than to celebrate the holidays by pumping them full of melody? Here they are:

TEN WAYS TO SPICE UP THE SEASON WITH QUALITY TUNES

  1. Give the gift of music. First things first. You know you’re sweating over your Christmas shopping list. But here’s a little secret: everyone loves music. Easy peasy. Wrap up your favorite CD, give an iTunes gift card, or tie a bow on the violin your child’s been bugging Santa about for years. Don’t forget the frosting on the fruitcake: sheet music and accessories!
  2. Go caroling. Bundle up and don’t even worry about bringing music along if you don’t want to. Sing the standards you know: “Jingle Bells,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Let It Snow,” “O, Christmas Tree,” and all your other favorites. Gather a group of friends and family to carol around the block or drive around the neighborhood to loved ones’ homes. Organize a group of musicians to play or sing carols at a nursing home. You’re sure to brighten someone’s day.
  3. Organize a holiday recital. During the holidays, people are looking for excuses to get together. If you’re a private teacher, schedule a holiday recital for your students to play for their parents, friends, and other family. If you’re a solo performer or play in a quartet, organize a performance with some traditional tunes. Don’t forget to pull out the cookies and hot chocolate after the show!
  4. Host a singalong. It’s especially fun if you have a piano. Make copies of Christmas songs and put them in binders. Invite a pianist to accompany and ask guests to bring a holiday treat to share: think peppermint bark, caramel corn, and gingerbread men. Now there’s something to sing about.
  5. Light the Menorah. Learn and sing the three Chanukah blessings when lighting the menorah: l’hadlik neir, she-asah nisim, and she-hekhianu. And don’t forget to sing “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel,” when you pull out the top.
  6. Hire a quartet. There’s nothing classier than a live quartet or small ensemble providing beautiful background (or foreground) noise at a holiday party. If you’ve never arranged for live performers at a gathering, ask around to find a good group of experienced players. Appreciative guests will be telling you all evening how much they love the entertainment.
  7. Attend a concert. Holiday concerts are never few and far between. And school orchestra and choir concerts are only the beginning. Look through the paper or online to find out where and when you can attend. For some extra interactive fun, find a local “Messiah Sing-Along” to attend and rock out with Handel’s famous oratorio. Don’t forget to warm up those vocal chords before you go!
  8. See The Nutcracker. What could be more classic? Enjoy taking part in a historical tradition by attending this popular ballet. Tchaikovsky’s famous, heart-warming melodies will definitely leave you feeling the spirit of Christmas.
  9. Send a musical card. Come on, birthdays aren’t the only occasions worthy of the stationery sound chips. Distant family and friends will especially enjoy finding  a tune in the mailbox to fill them with Christmas cheer.
  10. Watch cartoons. Christmas brings out the kid in everyone, and there’s no better time to tune into classic holiday specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Sing along with classic toon tunes like, “Christmastime is Here,” and “You’re a Mean One, Mister Grinch.”

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It’s time to celebrate, and what better way to do it than with music? After all, that’s our specialty. Happy Holidays!

Sincerely,

The Kennedy Violins Team

How to Return to The Violin After Years of Not Playing.

At Kennedy Violins, we get calls all the time from people who want to get back to playing after taking a hiatus of several years.  The one thing that these individuals have in common is that they regret not keeping up with the violin.  As a side note, if you are a current violin student and are thinking about quitting, consider this fact when when making your decision because at some point, you will regret quitting!  The fear that everybody has, is that they will have forgotten how to play the violin and will not be able to teach their adult minds how to do what they did when they were much younger.  The simple answer is an emphatic YES!  You can get back into your stringed instrument and have a great time in the process. 

The better player you were when you were younger, will make it easier to get back into it when you are older.  The simple reason for this, is that your brain creates neural connections to play the violin and the more you practiced when you were younger, the stronger those connections are and the longer they will stay with you.  Physically, any elasticity that you created in your joints when you were younger, will go away to some extent, especially if you current hobbies or job do not require you to have loose joints. Conversely, having a job description that requires a lot of elasticity like typing, will help you get back into playing a stringed instrument.

Regardless of your past level of experience, you’ll want to start with the basics.  Even though you’ll probably be very tempted to start digging into to a bunch of music that has your all favorite songs, you probably end up just getting frustrated with your scratchy sound and bad intonation.  More than anything, you just need patience.  The first thing you should do is play scales.  If your playing the violin, you’ll want to start with a simple 1 octave G Major scale.  With the viola and cello it’ll be a C Major scale.

Easy Scale for Violin

 

 

As you play your scale, concentrate on using whole bows from tip to frog and focus on drawing the bow with an even speed in the middle of the bridge and the fingerboard.  This will help retrain your arm to draw a straight bow consistently and be able to do it automatically.  Being able to control the bow well will not only help you produce a nice sound without squeaks and scratches but will also reactivate and loosen the large joints in your arm.

Regarding the left hand, you’ll want to focus on placing the fingers correctly, and resist the urge to pick up your fingers after you’ve used them.  Keep your fingers down until you MUST pick them up to go on to the next string.  This will retrain your fingers to consistently have the correct placement on the fingerboard and will teach your hand to not move around while placing individual fingers down.  Your goal (and proper technique in general) is to have a relaxed hand that changes position as little as possible. Having a stable and relaxed hand will create the situation where your hand works efficiently and will lend to more reliable pitch placement.

After you’ve warmed up sufficiently with easy scales (with a metronome), you can start playing more difficult scales that have more flats and sharps in them.  You can also start playing your scales faster. You can determine how fast you can play from your pitch.  As soon as your pitch starts to get unreliable, then practice the slower speeds more before moving on.  From here, you can graduate towards scales that require shifting into other positions.  Once you feel that you are drawing the bow fairly well and your fingers are pretty in tune, then start playing pieces that are similar to the scales you’ve just played. If you’ve mastered the G Major scale, then play a piece in G Major and go on from there.  Every day, you’ll notice that not only are you sounding better in every way, but any soreness or stiffness in your hands will slowly go away.  In general, you never want to go 2 days without practicing.  You can skip 1 day but any more and you’ll have to work harder to get the gained flexibility back into your hands.

Being patient will help you learn faster

The most important thing to remember is to be patient with yourself.  If you start out slow and practice with intent you’ll surprise yourself with what you can play within a week or so.  In many ways, playing a violin can be more rewarding as an adult because any peripheral pressures to practice as a child are gone.  As an adult, you are just playing for the love of the music.  It’s a simple pleasure that never goes away.

Happy Practicing!