Tag Archives: violin lessons

“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 Art of Effective Practicing

Photo by How I See Life

When I was a university music student, my daily practice requirements were three hours per day, five or six days a week. My personal goal was fifteen hours a week, or 2-4 hours on weekdays—more than I ever worked in a part-time job up to that point in my life. And in preparation for a recital, I upped it to four hours per day to meet my performance deadline.

For me, as one who had never practiced more than an hour a day before college, this seemed like a daunting task. Up until then, I was fortunate enough that whatever basic talent I had was enough to get me by with minimal practice.

 

But the problem is, no matter how talented you may be, talent only goes so far. Practice—and effective practice—is what will take you from good to better to even (if you work really hard) the best.

 

So what’s your approach? When you sit down (or stand) to practice, what’s your plan? When your mom tells you to practice, do you simply go in a room and make noise for the appointed amount of time and resurface to say you’ve finished without accomplishing much? When you practice, do you set goals?

When I had that 3-hour minimum expectation, it was SO tempting to go to the practice room, set a timer, and simply “make noise” until I could check practicing of my to-do list and get on with my other homework. Yay. (Not!) But as I showed up to lessons making the same old fumbles and mistakes, it became clear to me that how much I practiced wasn’t as important as how I practiced.

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Here are a few tips  to make the most of your time in the practice room. I mean, if you’re going to dedicate so much time to your musicianship, you might as well make the most of it, right?

  • Have a plan. And not just a plan for the day, but a plan for each hour, day, week, and even the months leading upto a performance or recital. How often do you sit down—either as a performer or a parent motivating your child to practice—and come up with a plan to not just practice, but practice well?
  • Break it down. What works well for me is to break my practice time into thirds. Try this recipe out for a delicious result:

•  1/3 C warmup and technique (scales, etudes, exercises)
•  1/3 C orchestral works (audition exerpts, current concert repertoire)
•  1/3 C solo repertoire (for recitals, juries, lessons, etc.)

Photo by tvol
  • Don’t practice what’s easy, practice what’s hard. Step out of your comfort zone! Don’t just play your favorite piece or what you’re good at over and over to fill the time. Especially when preparing for a recital, you have to make sure you’re not spending too much time on your favorite pieces, but that each piece is prepared to the same golden (or platinum!) standard.
  • Don’t always start pieces from the beginning. I’ve seen this over and over with my students: the first line on the page sounds great, and sometimes the last four bars, but everything in between? What a mess! I can tell when students only start practice a piece from the beginning when they pull it out to work on. They perfect that impressive introduction, but never take the time to work through all the tricky material that follows—especially if they only spend a few minutes on the piece before moving on. Don’t be afraid to even photocopy a piece of music and CUT IT UP into chunks to practice individual phrases with equal attention.
  • Zone in on tricky groups (or even pairs) of notes, not just on tricky phrases. Do you always fudge that big shift up two octaves? Well, don’t just practice what’s around it, take five minutes and practice JUST THAT SHIFT. You’ll be surprised what five minutes of repeating just two notes will do. It’s much more effective than playing twenty notes for twenty minutes, I promise you that.
  • Don’t skip scales and technique. Until you can play every single note of the scale with each note perfectly in pitch not wavering a cent with perfect bow technique and absolutely perfect articulation (you see where I’m going?), you haven’t practiced your scales enough. There’s no such thing as perfect technique, so take the time to hone in on it before moving on to the “fun” stuff. If you have weak technique, it will show in everything else you play.
  • Use your time wisely. I remember practicing six hours straight one day just to say that I got my hours in that week, but it wasn’t necessarily productive. If you go back to step one and practice with a plan, be sure to stick to that plan. It’s depressing to leave the practice room at the end of the day feeling like you haven’t accomplished anything. The remedy? Accomplish something by practicing smart.

Practice makes perfect. Ever heard of the 10,000 hour rule? Check it out. Basically, in order to find success, you’ve got to put in your time. And making the most of that time will take you even farther. Developing the talent to efficiently practice requires just as much skill and effort as it takes to become a great performer. No brainer, right? If you’re good at practicing, you’ll be good at performing.

At Kennedy Violins, we not only want to provide you with the quality instrument of your musical dreams, we want to see you succeed.

So what works for you? We want to know! And in the mean time, happy practicing!