We are always thrilled to receive great news from members of the Kennedy Violins family all over the world. Congratulations to seven-year-old Leah Kramaric from Zagreb, Croatia, who recently won first prize in the regional Croatian competition playing on a Louis Carpini G2 Violin from Kennedy Violins! Leah is now qualified for the national competition, the largest in Croatia.
The Kramaric family loves Leah’s 1/2-size Carpini G2 purchased from Kennedy Violins last year. According to Leah’s father, Damir, Leah “loves the instrument and demands (nothing less, mind you) to purchase a 3/4-size Louis Carpini G2 from you again. Well, I guess that’s it then. How can you argue against that? You’ll be hearing from us pretty soon again. Thank you to all of you at Kennedy Violins who put in good work for the benefit of your customers.”
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.
Here are a few pointers when learning to improvise:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
As parents, teachers, and musicians, we hope to guide both our children and students to learn in the most effective way. But how can we encourage
a desire to learn
discipline to practice
and a sense of accomplishment
when teaching children to play an instrument?
Quite often children
equate practice with punishment,
experience boredom during lessons and practice sessions,
don’t understand what is being taught,
resist being encouraged (or forced) to practice,
lose interest in their instrument,
and/or don’t believe music can be enjoyable.
How can we keep children from these pitfalls and stumbling blocks during what could otherwise be a fulfilling, effective, and FUN learning experience?
Understanding how children learn is absolutely imperative when you are a teacher or parent introducing a child to music. Parental involvement is very important in the process, which is why all private instructors at Kennedy Violins encourage parents to participate in and be aware of their child’s learning experience.
The following series is a guide expanding upon eleven points from “Principles of Learning,” an article excerpt from Helping Young Children Flourish by developmental psychologist Aletha Solter, Ph.D. This series will expand on the eleven principles of learning in terms of how children can learn to play a musical instrument.
Please check back as sections of “A Guide to Teaching Children Music” are added to this series!
We have a few Game of Thrones fans in our office, and we’re pretty excited about the Season 4 premiere — which is on RIGHT NOW! Because we’re so psyched, the Kennedy Violins’ staff presents a special performance of the Game of Thrones theme music. Enjoy!
One of the least anticipated elements of an audition is the dreaded task of sight reading. As perfectly as you may have prepared your performance pieces and your scales, all of a sudden a completely foreign piece of music is placed in front of you and—what?—you’re supposed to play this stuff cold?
Horribly fumbling through a passage of music for a panel of judges is not only scary, but potentially embarrassing—especially after so much preparation for an otherwise impressive audition.
But it doesn’t have to go badly, and the prospect of sight reading doesn’t have to fill you with absolute dread. The stage fright that sets in when that piece is placed in front of you can be completely avoided if you approach the task with confidence and a little know-how.
HOW TO SIGHT READ
Here are 15 tips to successfully sight read. You can do it!
Practice sight reading. Pull out some music you’ve never played before each time you practice, especially in the weeks before an audition. Practice sight reading using the tips below as if you were actually in an audition setting, even in front of family or friends. If you experience stage fright or get anxiety when you audition or play for others, be sure to practice your audition (including sight reading) in front of a “mock” panel of judges.
Take a BRIEF moment to look over the entire passage. Glance over the whole piece to familiarize yourself with any dynamic markings, tempo changes, key changes, articulation markings, and the like. Don’t take too long doing this; you don’t want to keep the judges waiting. Try to look over the following details in less than 60 seconds.
Look at the key signature. First things first. Take note of any sharps or flats. Also glance over the piece and take note of any accidentals.
Identify measures with lots of notes. Look for clusters of notes (or lots of black). These are spots that will most likely be the trickiest.
Identify measures with complex rhythms. Note dotted rhythms or clusters of sixteenth and eight notes. You will base your tempo on how quickly you think you can play the tricky passages.
Look at the tempo marking. If a passage is marked andante, largo, lento, or moderato, do NOT play it faster than it should be. Playing a piece quickly with the intention to show off will not impress the judges. In fact, you’re more likely to trip over challenging passages if you start playing too fast.
Start playing. Again, don’t keep the judges waiting too long. Go for it!
Take your time. Concerning the tempo, it is perfectly okay when sight reading to play the passage a little slower than you might in a real performance.
Keep a steady tempo. Don’t speed up or slow down. One of the most important things you can do is play the passage at a steady, consistent speed. This is something the judges are specifically looking for. Varying your tempo will give the judges the impression that you don’t have a solid sense of rhythm.
Read ahead. Play one measure as you’re look ahead the the next measure(s). “An experiment on sight reading using an eye tracker indicates that highly skilled musicians tend to look ahead further in the music, storing and processing the notes until they are played; this is referred to as the eye–hand span.” 
Don’t sweat the bowings. Start with a down bow (unless otherwise marked) and take it as it comes.
Don’t stop or repeat measures if you mess up. This is also something the judges look for specifically as you can’t stop and repeat measure in a real performance, especially with an accompanist or when playing in an orchestra. Forge ahead!
Don’t apologize or say, “Oops!” In fact, don’t say anything. Not even a disclaimer before you begin, like, “Oh, wow. Okay. This is probably going to sound really bad, but here goes!”
Stop playing when instructed. Always stop immediately when the judges say so. Usually they stop you to stay on schedule or because they’ve gotten a good impression of your playing abilities based on what you’ve already done.
And lastly, pat yourself on the back. It’s over! You did it! It’s as simple as that.
I have been inspired by many violinists, but one stands out in particular. This musician overcame a big obstacle in his life, and didn’t let it stop him from becoming extraordinary.
Itzhak Perlman was born in Tel Aviv, British Palestine on August 31, 1945. Having contracted polio at age four, he was able to make a good recovery. Today he walks using crutches and plays the violin while seated.
This is not a typical situation for most musicians, but Perlman didn’t focus on his limitations. Instead, he diligently studied the violin and became extremely accomplished.
In 1963, Itzhak Perlman made his debut at Carnegie Hall, as well as winning the Leventritt Competition in 1964. At this point he began to tour extensively, making appearances on American television programs. He has also played for several functions at the White House.
In 1975, he joined the faculty at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College, and in 2003 succeeded his own teacher, Dorothy DeLay, at the Julliard School. Perlman also began his own music program on Long Island, New York, where he teaches master classes to promising young violinists.
THE MASTER’S VIOLIN
Itzhak Perlman has the privilege of playing an antique Soil Stradiviarius violin that was made in 1714. This violin was formerly owned by Yehudi Menuhim and is considered to be one of the finest made during Stradivarius’ “golden period.” He also plays the Sauret Guarneri del Gesu, made in 1743.
WHO IS YOUR INSPIRATION?
If you already play the violin, do know of someone who inspires you? If you don’t yet play the violin, have you ever been inspired to play when listening to or watching someone else?Tell us about it!
And If you haven’t yet begun to play the violin, let the friendly, helpful staff at Kennedy Violins assist you in selecting a violin that will be just right for you.