Violin FAQ

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Violin Practice Q&A

Welcome to the Question and Answer Archive! Here you will find answers to your toughest violin-related questions. How do you stop a bouncing bow? What can you do about a double jointed thumb? How do you correct a poor bow hold? All these and more are in our growing violin practice questions and answers archive. Click the category heading to jump straight to that category, or press Ctrl+F in your browser to search for specific words.

 

Contents
Bow Bow Hold Bouncing Bow (several questions)
Form, Physiology and Posture Pain Practice
Equipment and Tuning Rhythm and Tempo Intonation and Tone
Lessons Technique General
Troubleshooting Children

 

BOW

Question:
My bow hold is improving but my baby finger and thumb always straightens and my hand can’t seem to relax. For my left hand, it also can’t relax and my baby finger always
cramps up. I really need proper guidance or tips on improving them!
Answer:
It sounds like TENSION is your greatest enemy. It is good that you recognize this.
First, it may sound crazy, but I think you need to BUILD your strength in the small muscles of your hands. (BOTH left and right)
To do this, carry a “stress ball” around with you, or a racquet ball, or something small enough, yet STIFF so you can squeeze on it.
When you squeeze, try to squeeze keeping your fingers ROUNDED, not straight, and not caved in. I think you need to strengthen your fingers, and the muscles in your forearms, and hands in general.

Another method of building finger and joint strength is to use a clothes pin. Have you seen my video on YouTube about this? Here’s the link:

Once you build your strength, you also need to imagine your hand differently. (check out “Alexander Technique for musicians”….it’s all over the internet. Bascially, you have probably mis-mapped your hands, and imagine your fingers shorter and weaker than they really are. Your fingers actually begin somewhere in the middle of the palm, for instance, and once you realize this, suddenly, your fingers are longer and stronger….and there is not that desperate squeezing tension anymore. Check out this ONE free video…..it is SO HELPFUL understanding the hands:
http://movewellavoidinjury.com/#hands

Third, they always say all tension comes from THE NECK. Think about your neck, and try to make sure it is relaxed.

For your bow hand, try just playing open strings….play fast open string repetitions…..and think relaxation and round fingers. Tap your pinky on the bow frequently, to ensure it is relaxed. Bend your thumb SO MUCH that it TOUCHES the horse hair…..frequently bend and crunch the horsehair, to remind yourself to keep the thumb bent. This is a good habit to get into.

Then try to do some repeated string crossings on open strings…..this is much more difficult, and make sure you are able to relax your right hand, and keep the pinky and thumb bent.

The trick to fixing stubborn problems and breaking bad habits, is to REMOVE ALL THE OTHER STUFF (like left hand notes) and figure out a way to isolate the PROBLEM.

To work on your left hand, I would start by putting the bow down, and just WATCH your left hand pinky as it activates. Activate it from the BASE knuckle. Lift, and press down. Relax. Repeat.

These are just some simple ideas, but I think if you take them to heart, YOU can fix your problems just by focusing and getting creative.

BOW HOLD


Question:
I’m having a tough time with the bow hold (actually playing viola) – I’m an adult so maybe my muscles are already formed, but I find it very hard to curve both my thumb and the pinky at the same time; my thumb always wants to stiffen; can’t seem to get a comfortable grip when both are curved, or control the bow; any advice re position of the fingers regarding this – for instance, I’m not sure if the index finger should be on the bow at the first knuckle, or closer to the tip; it’s easier to control when I go closer to the tip
Answer:
YES, I have some advice for you. What you are describing is familiar to me….and you might be a good candidate for the “Russian” bow hold. Hey, you would be in GREAT company….seeing as how Heifetz and Milstein used the Russian grip!

You can research the “Russian” bow hold online, you can search for it on my blog….I did an article on it…if you just search “Russian” on my blog, it should come up.

To answer your question about your index finger, and where it should contact the bow, once you ask the question, you are ready for the answer…..so here are some links to a couple of my YouTube vids which talk about this very thing. The answer is, your index finger contacts the bow at the middle joint when you are at the frog, and near the base joint when you are at the tip. (IF you use the Franco-Belgian bow hold)

If you decide to pursue the Russian bow hold, then your index finger will contact the bow near the BASE joint EXCLUSIVELY. (I had a russian grip for years….but I changed in my graduate program….and honestly, I don’t know if I could TEACH the Russian grip, because it was never taught to me…..I sort of learned to imitate my Russian teacher….so I won’t teach it, because I’m no expert…….but watch videos of Heifetz, and you will immediately see what a Russian grip is)

Ok. Here are my 2 most relevant videos to your index finger question:

Good luck to you. You are asking the right questions, so you are obviously on the right track! Keep up the good work! (I hope you have subscribed to my newsletter….you’ll probably benefit from it….you can subscribe by visiting my blog at www.reddesertviolin.com

Question:
I seem to have a “death grip”on my bow that I cannot seem to relax. Any suggestions?
Answer:
I think you need to re-visit some flexibility exercises. Have you watched my YouTube video about colle, NOT FOR THE COLLE, but for the “Jellyfish” exercise. I really want you to spend some time doing the “jellyfish”.

Also, along those same lines, grab a LONG piece of yarn, or ribbon, or other light, fluffy string. It should be SO LONG that it will touch the ground even if you hold your hands above your head with the string. Now, move the string in the air back and forth with your right hand. DO NOT LET THE STRING TOUCH THE GROUND. You must keep it suspended in the air by changing your hand direction at the right time in the right way. You will figure out how to do this very quickly. Pay attention to what you figure out…..does it work best with flexible fingers or stiff fingers?

The exercises listed above will help you break your “death grip”.
As far as getting the form just right, the “frog leg fingers”, and the thumb touching the horse hair……if it is fighting you that much, then back off a little bit. Maybe you are doing it “TOO WELL”, some of my adult students are SO GOOD at following instructions that they actually over do it. So, give yourself permission to “break the rules” a little bit, and see if that helps you to relax.

Bouncing Bow

Question:
I am trying to get my bow not to bounce. I’ve adjusted tension, angle of bow in relation to bridge, etc. I would be a decent fiddle player if I could master this.
Answer:
Here is a link to my video, Common Causes of Unwanted Bow-Bouncing
If the suggestions in my video didn’t fix your unwanted bounce, there are other things you can do, but it takes alot of work to “unlearn” what you have learned that causes the bounce. (the biggest part of the job is recognizing what you do that causes the bounce)

But FIRST…..make sure that you have tried everything in the video, including playing upside down. This is a great exercise which will teach you a lot about bow weight….even if it doesn’t fix the bouncing bow problem.

Ok. Step #1: Identify EXACTLY when and where the bounce happens. I bet it is on DOWN bows, and it starts a few inches below the half-way mark (closer to the frog).

But maybe I”m wrong. You must figure this out.

The cause of this mystery bounce is several things:

  • Arm tension
  • Bow not being on the right “plane” for whichever string you are playing on
  • Inflexible bow hand, or TOO flexible of a bow hand (too little colle’ or too much)
  • Faulty transition from forearm motion (upper half of bow) to upper arm motion (frog area)
  • Faulty transition from bow hand 1 and bow hand 2 (pronated bow hand and unpronated)

If you have not seen my videos called, “Two Bow Holds for Every Violinist“, parts 1 and 2, WATCH THEM!

Here is what I would do:
1) Once you figure out WHERE the bounce happens, put a piece of tape on that spot. The spot might be a 1 inch spot, or a 3 inch spot…..you must determine the perimeter of your problem area.

2) Work on playing from the tip to that taped spot, but don’t go past it. Make sure there is no bounce unless you go past that spot. Notice your bow hand, how it must PRONATE in the upper half of the bow. Notice how you are using your elbow joint to move the bow, and your forearm is moving through space.

3) Work on playing from the FROG to the taped spot, but don’t go past it. Make sure there is no bounce unless you go past that spot. Notice your bow hand, how it is flat, not pronated, and notice how your pinky is doing more work. Make sure your elbow isn’t dropped down to your ribs. Notice that when playing in the lower half of the bow, your upper arm and shoulder must move in addition to your elbow.

4) Work on playing in the problem spot. Just go back and forth through about 12 inches of bow. Feel your bow arm making the transition from pronated to non-pronated, feel your forearm staring to “Roll” into a pronated motion on your down bow, and feel it rolling back to a normal position on your upbows. All these complicated transitions are taking place in that tiny spot on your bow! Close your eyes. Feel the weight of the bow and your bow arm. Know that you are transferring the weight of your whole arm into the bow, and then balancing the bow at exactly the right plane and angle for each string.

Notice any tension or STRESS, or fear and dread. I found that I was getting a very emotional response when approaching my problem area….I was really full of stress and fear about it, and then when a bounce happened, I felt failure and disappointment. Those emotions only make it worse, and you have to intellectually reject those emotions.

Feel your whole SHOULDER SOCKET relax. Feel your whole rib cage drop and relax with gravity helping. Feel your elbow loosen up and your forearm is simply rolling and unrolling. Close your eyes and really really feel all these things. Play a thousand times over your problem area.

5) Once you can play about 12 inches through your problem area, you are ready to apply WHOLE BOW strokes. You have fixed the problem…..now you just have to get rid of your fear and dread, and learn to trust your new wings. Sometimes, you may start to get the bounce back, and you have to back up a little bit…but it’s usually a very quick review session, and you will be back on track.

Also, know that the way you attack the string will CHANGE the bow’s tendency to bounce. Also, your bow speed and your dynamics greatly increase/decrease the bow’s tendency to bounce or not bounce. There are a ton of variables….and you will gradually learn how to deal with each variable. And if there’s a simple way you can change your attacks, or shift your bow speed on really “bouncey” songs, that is also a very easy fix.


Question:
What can I do about my bouncing bow?”
Answer:
I’ve called upon my friend, Todd Ehle (Professor V on YouTube), regarding the bouncing bow issue, and here is what he said:

As for the bow trembles…
I often see it when a student drops the wrist too quickly (usually right about half way between frog and tip – on a down bow). Reducing the amount of wrist movement often fixes it. Locked fingers make it worse, since loose fingers help absorb the tremble. However, fingers that are too loose can’t control the bow.
I see it in up-bows when the bow is very crooked, running towards the left ear.
Also, it obviously happens when a person is nervous (even in lessons), so deep breathing can really help.

SOLUTION #1:
Occasionally, if there is TOO much bow weight on a poorly balanced bow, it can “jump start” the bouncing bow and can be very hard to control. I have emphasized HEAVY BOW in our lessons, therefore it might possibly be contributing to your bounce. Try to lighten up a bit, and see if it helps.

SOLUTION #2:
When playing UPBOW, as you approach the LOWER HALF the bow, why don’t you try tilting the bow EVER SO SLIGHTLY toward the scroll, so the hair faces you JUST A LITTLE. As you draw a down bow, go ahead and LEVEL OUT the bow. So, on UPBOWS, tilt toward the scroll. On DOWNBOWS, level it out. I hesitate to have you do this so soon…..it’s an advanced technique. However, when the bow is on the side of the hair, it is VERY flexible, and it really absorbs that bounce.

SOLUTION #3:
Watch the Unit 11 video on BANANAS, and really start thinking about the FULL TRAJECTORY of your bow. On downbows, we extend our arm forward. On UPBOWS, we bring our wrist up toward our face.
Also, think of pushing the FROG out toward the scroll on DOWNBOWS, and pushing the TIP out toward the scroll on UPBOWS. This is a “good banana”. If you really nail this good banana, I think it will help.

LAST SOLUTION:
I think getting a better bow can only help. I don’t like to blame equipment….but I do think there are times when it’s really out of our hands, and we just need better equipment.


Question:
I have an unwanted bouncing bow problem. When I?m moving the bow down from frog towards the tip, my bow is bouncing but it isn?t too tight. How hard do I press the bow to the string or is there anything else I need to correct?

Answer:
I?ve been thinking about what might cause your bow to shake or bounce if you are in the upper half of the bow, and I?ve narrowed it down to the most likely causes.

1) Your bow hand is probably fighting against itself, which causes tension, which causes shaking. Most likely, your pinky is fighting against sitting on top of the bow, and may be pushing on the stick. This would certainly be worse on a downbow than it would be on an upbow. (you said the problem occurs on a downbow)

2) Your index finger may be trying to grip the bow because you may feel like you will drop the bow.

3) Your thumb may not be bent enough, or may not have found a good ?toe hold? on the corner of that ebony frog. Check your ?whalemouth? and make sure it?s big and open.

4) Your whole wrist might be TENSE due to #1-3 above, and the tension in your wrist will be worse on a downbow.

The solution: Work really really hard on finding a good, balanced bow hold. Hold your bow over a bed or soft surface. Pass it through the toilet paper core, ask yourself, ?Where does it feel insecure? Which finger is unhappy??

Also, hold the bow over a bed, and take turns releasing different fingers, and observe whether your bow hold feels better or worse.

Can you send a photo of your bow hold? I?d like to see your bow hold just plain, holding the bow, and also a shot of your bow hand while holding the bow on the violin string, ready to do a downbow.

This problem is really annoying. (I?ve had to deal with it too).


Question:
Hi. I?m a senior adult beginner, though I?ve practiced the violin on and off for five years. I continue to struggle with merely holding the bow on the strings, weighting the bow with a relaxed bow hand and arm ?pressing? down with the bow. Any helpful advice on how to develop a relaxed and weighted bow?

Answer:
I have a TON of videos that you will find helpful because your problem is a common, typical problem. If a person doesn?t develop a proper bow hold, then they never learn the art of RELAXED POWER?.that is the whole reason the bow hold is so strange.

Also, you need to learn how to ?pronate? the bow using your forearm. Professor V compared the motion of pronating to the motion of pouring a glass of water. Hold your bow vertical, pointing it to the ceiling, like you are holding a full glass of water. Tip your bow toward your left, and it?s like you are slowly pouring the water out.

Anyway, I have a whole list of videos which you need to view, and take some time to DIGEST and apply the concepts. Once you do this, write back and let me know how you feel after trying my concepts.

Video #1: Advanced Bow Hold. However, many fiddle players prefer my “Beginners Bow Hold“. I didn?t realize it at the time, but the bow hold used for beginning Suzuki students is the ?thumb under frog? bow hold, which fiddlers swear is the best?..and you may find that bow hold easier to control.

Video #2: Keys to Good Posture

Video #3: Tone Video about BOW WEIGHT. It will probably be helpful if you go ahead and watch ALL 3 tone videos, because they overlap and tie in together.
That?s over an hour of videos for you to view and digest. The next 2 videos I?d have you watch after you digest the ones above are my videos on YouTube about Greasy Elbow and Straight Versus Crooked Bow?..those skills are the next steps.


Question:
I’m a little confused on exactly how the index finger moves with the bow. Does it roll slightly as the bow travels up and down? Or does it simply slide between its joints?
Also I have a question about the ‘tree frog’ fingers. Do they lie exactly on the ebony? I used to place them on the upper octagonal. How does that affect my bow activity? And what is the best way to place them?

Answer:
You have asked some excellent questions.
1) Your index finger slides over the top of the bow. So, at the FROG, your bow will touch the MID section of your index finger. At the TIP, your bow will contact closer to the BASE knuckle of your index finger. Have you seen my latest YouTube videos called, “Two BOw HOlds for Every VIolinist”? Those talk about this exact point, and I think you will find them very helpful. (although they are long videos) THe key point to remember with the movement of your index finger is that the PAD of the index finger REMAINS in the same spot……glued to the leather…..(it just pivots in the same spot)

2) Your “tree frog” fingers: I teach my students to pin them down on the ebony, with the Parisian Eye peeking through the fingers. But, they do not stay there. They will naturally slip up a little bit, but not as far as the upper octagonal portion of the wood. That is definitely too far. They need to stay at least partially on the ebony, and they will move about as you shift from tip to frog, but always always keep them partially touching the ebony.

I hope this helps you! You are asking all the right questions, which means you are paying attention to the right things, which means you will make progress in the right direction! Keep up the good work!


Question:
I have a bow-hold question.
I notice sometimes as I am playing, that my middle fingers seem to have drifted closer to the stick and farther from the flat surface of the frog. My pinky and index fingers still seem in proper position. Is this normal, or am I always supposed to be making good solid contact with the wood of the frog? Any tips?
P.S. I do have short fingers.

Answer:
VERY good observation. It shows that you are paying attention to detail.
I find that on UPBOWS, my ?tree frogs? (2 & 3) slip up a little bit, and on each downbow, I try to ?reclaim? the territory I lost. So, my bow hold is always fluid, slipping up, and getting back down. The key is to NOT let your tree frogs slip up so much that they are on top of the stick, OR that it takes a MAJOR INTERRUPTION to fix them.

Also, as in my clarification video on the bow grip, I mentioned that the tree frogs will slip up little. (I think that supplement video has been posted in Unit 1, with the bow hold lessons) In fact, the middle finger has a GREAT toe-hold in the tongue of the frog (that?s where your thumb sits, but of course your middle finger is on the opposite side of the tongue.) And that gives your middle finger lots of control by having that toe-hold. So if your middle finger is slipping up past that toe-hold, then you are MOST DEFINITELY going too far.

The cure: On every downbow, try to re-establish your tree frog position IF NECESSARY. It could develop into a very bad habit if you do it on EVERY downbow?.but if you feel you have slipped, try to re-grip and move your tree frogs down a few millimeters.

Bow and Rosin

Question:
I have a dark no. 7 cake of rosin. It has the cloth stuck to the top and the bottom is completely shiny. Do you have to remove something from a new cake or rough it up or something? I just don?t see how anything is getting on the hair.

Answer:
You are correct: Until your rosin loses the shiny coating, nothing will get onto your horsehair. Some people rub their rosin with sandpaper, or even concrete…..I don’t like to do this, it just wastes the rosin. To break in a new cake of rosin, I make 10 good firm passes in one direction, then I rotate the rosin, like numbers on a clock. I start at 12 and do 10 swipes, I move to 1 and do 10 swipes, I move to 2 and do 10 swipes, the full length of the bow. By the time you get to 6, the shiny coat should be going away.

Keep in mind, this is EXCESSIVE, and you only want to do it when breaking in a new cake of rosin. If that doesn’t get rid of the shiny coat of rosin, LET ME KNOW….because it could be defective or OLD rosin.

Also, when I rosin NORMALLY, I make several SHORT swipes at the frog, several in the middle, and several at the tip. I sort of “scrub” little portions at a time. But that’s personal preference.


Question:
How often and how much should I rosin my bow?

Answer:
After you have loaded your BRAND NEW BOW with tons of rosin, then you need some “daily doses”. For every HOUR of playing, you should swipe your rosin about 6 times.
So, Down, Up, Down, Up, Down, Up. That;s six passes across the hair.

 

FORM, PHYSIOLOGY, POSTURE


Question:
I noticed that in the posture video that your instrument was almost straight up . When I do the posture movement, the instrument is at more of an angle. The f holes point mostly straight toward the audience. It feels comfortable to me and I can hold the instrument very well in this position. Is this right or is it to much of a angle?

Answer:
Regarding the “tilt” of your violin….if you can get the violin more “level”, so it’s like a boat floating in the air, that would be best. (I tell my kids…..”you’re getting water in your boat! Don’t sink your boat!!!”)

HOWEVER: in all honesty, I can’t think of a technique that will suffer greatly from tilting, so if that helps you to stay comfortable and free of pain, then it’s ok.
It will affect your spiccato, because spiccato (bouncing bow) is directly related to GRAVITY. But that’s about it.

So, let’s compromise: You see if you can get it a little bit more level, and I’ll give you permission to tilt a little.


Question:
My problem is that my fingers are too large for my 4/4 violin.
I can squeeze out single tones to a certain level of satisfaction but my fingers are too large to allow independent string playing. This would be particularly impossible in playing 2 strings (like D & A) at one time. Can you offer me any help on this matter?

Answer:
I know it seems impossible, and is very difficult, but if you’ve taken a close look at Itzhak Perlman’s hands, you’ll notice that his fingers are like sausages….very large and clunky hands, and yet his playing is as clean and agile as can be.

Several things can help you:
1) Work slowly, and precisely. If you are working on something with 2 tones, say on the D and A, like you suggested, then adjust your hand gently around until you can it the notes precisely.

2) Some ways of adjusting your hand around include:

  • try adjusting the angle of the violin on your shoulder. Perhaps if you let your violin tilt so that the f-holes are facing more to your RIGHT, it can relieve the angle, and your hand will be more pliable.
  • try MINIMIZING the pressure of your fingers onto the fingerboard. (most of us press too hard anyway….and it was said that Sarasate never EVER had dents in his fingers from the strings…..he would barely touch with enough pressure to make the note sound.) Think of it….if you don’t press your finger down all the way, your fingertip will not “spread out”.
  • try adjusting your elbow…..bring it more to the left or more to the right….and as you do that, try to also adjust the tilt of your violin, as well as the ANGLE that it protrudes from your neck. So you can tilt the violin by changing the angle of the f-holes, and you can also change the angle by moving the scroll to the left or to the right.

I know this seems like a lot, and it’s a HUGE upheaval, and frustrating, but Bob, I know it can be done. And if you can find the position that works just ONCE in a hundred attempts….that is GOOD! Eventually, you will be able to find the position once every 50 tries, then once every 10 tries. I can sort of relate to you, in my frustrating search for a shoulder rest that worked for me. It took a long time, but I eventually nailed it. And all the time spent in the meantime is NOT a waste of time…….it’s not like your progress must come to a halt as you are trying to solve the puzzle…..NO! You will continue to progress….and there will be some passages you can’t play yet, because of your fingers…..but keep working at it.

There is one other, easier solution, and that is to get a viola, and play the tunes on viola. That opens up a whole world of harmony to you…..and if you play in fiddle bands, it will be harder for you to play the traditional fiddle songs…..but you could harmonize, and IMPROVISE your OWN solos….or, ask your band to take the song down a 5th…..then the fingerings would ALL be the same as for a violin. But this is just a suggestion.

Here’s a couple Perlman videos…..look at his hands….watch the angle of his violin….watch the tilt of his violin….watch his elbow…..
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pR8ABKpwm7w
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkmFgQ9fM94&feature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4JPHah7V5M&feature=related

Now, I realize your fingers may be even larger than Perlman’s…..I had a student whose fingers were literally about the size of small Bratwurst….but, if you see what he is able to play, in all that complexity and precision, then hopefully you will realize that you can play something of less complexity with some precision as well.

I also noticed on these videos that he NEVER has all his fingers on the strings at the same time….I think for people with LARGE fingers, the concept of “finger glue” is out of the question. You only have room for 1-2 fingers at at time.

Also, his violin is held at a downward sloping angle, more towards his front than his side, and the f-holes are tilting to the right. Some of this has to do with the fact that he SITS to play….but it’s also to accommodate his large hands.

GOOD LUCK…..you gotta have patience, and perseverance, but most of all, you’ve gotta have fun along the way, because it’s all about the JOURNEY, not about the DESTINATION! 😉


Question:
I have a double jointed thumb, and I’m having trouble using vibrato because I cant hold up the neck very well.
Answer:
I have 4 very important suggestions for you. The first is the hardest.
1) Find a shoulder rest and chin rest that will allow you to hold your violin up with EASE. This takes lots of time and patience, but it will set your technique FREE! Watch my video about the Kun shoulder rest. Also come to my website at RedDesertViolin to read more about ergonomics.
2) Double jointed thumb really shouldn’t interfere with vibrato unless you are squeezing the neck. This is a hard habit to break, but you must learn to relax and do not squeeze!!
3) Try holding your violin with your SCROLL pinned against the wall. (put a soft cloth up) This helps to “simulate” the feel you should have when your shoulder rest works properly, and it will allow you to learn to relax your thumb.
4) Of course, doing the clothespin exercise will help your technique as your joints become more stable, so do the clothespin exercise on both hands for 6 months. You will see results in 1-2 months! Good luck! Keep me posted!
Clothespin Exercises for Double-Jointed Violinists


Question:
What are the specifications of violinist? In other words, how do I know that the person is suitable to learn the violin? *Note* I did not mean age.

Answer:
Dr. Shinichi Suzuki firmly believed that ALL PEOPLE can learn the violin, and I agree. Granted, it might come more easily to some people than to others, which seems unfair, but it’s a fact of life.

The question is, what are your expectations, how great to you expect to become, is this a hobby or do you hope to make a profession of it, etc. Do you want to join a local orchestra, play in a band, just play by yourself, play in church?

If a person wants to play as a hobby, for the pure enjoyment, then I would say EVERYONE can play violin.

There are a few things to consider:

  • A very VERY tall person might consider viola or cello.
  • A very tone deaf person might consider piano, since intonation isn’t a concern for pianists. Of course, we can train most people’s ears, but I have seen a few people who seriously couldn’t hear pitches, just like a color blind person cant distinguish some colors.
  • If a person has a deformity on their left hand, or is missing fingers, they might want to learn to play violin “right-handed”

Other than the things above, everyone can learn violin, whether they have intellectual impairment, autism, or other issues. Music is very very good for the brain!

Violin does require some patience, because it’s very easy to sound BAD, and very hard to sound GOOD. It requires coordination, and lots of fine muscle control. But it’s worth every bit of effort when you finally make a beautiful sound and play your favorite song!


Question:
In practice coach 2.8/2.9, you catch all of us ?squeezing the chicken to death? (i.e. squeezing too tightly with the left thumb). I am guilty of squeezing too hard, but I did not pickup on what is to oppose the downward pressure of the fingers (pigs)? My squeezing would explain why I could not keep the violin under my chin during my previous attempts a vibrato! So, what holds the violin neck up when I press down with the left hand fingers?

Answer:
GREAT question. Most people squeeze in order to oppose the downward motion of the fingers. Instead, you must rely on your PERFECT POSTURE and BALANCE. It is very tricky to get this perfect, but even a beginner can learn it if they have the right shoulder rest and chin rest. In Unit 1 I discuss posture and also we discussed shoulder rests. This is SO IMPORTANT, because getting the right posture and the right shoulder rest can SET YOU LEFT HAND FREE!!!
So, work on posture where you could drop your left hand at ANY moment, with violin remaining secure. If this is difficult, try adjusting the shoulder rest using the guidelines provided in this YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oIMoJAy_XY It demonstrates adjusting a KUN shoulder rest, but the concept applies to most shoulder rests.

Also of HUGE importance is using the weight of your head to your advantage. Assuming you are in the posture I showed you in Unit 1, TILT your head to the LEFT ever so slightly?..you will be amazed at how effectively this balances out the violin.

And finally, experiment with the MINIMUM amount of downward pressure you need to play a note. You will discover that you are probably using at least DOUBLE the amount necessary.
If you find that you cannot help yourself from squeezing the neck, you will have to do the ?Thumbless Torture??..and remove your thumb completely from the neck?.don?t even let it touch. This makes everyone sound bad, but it teaches your hand to use other resources besides the thumb to oppose the fingers

This is an important concept to master, and it is worth ANY amount of time and effort it takes you, because if you can get this concept, you will develop a beautiful vibrato, good intonation, smooth shifting, and you won?t develop tendinitis! Keep up the good work!


Question:
I’m not sure what it means to “find your square.” Is this an important concept?
Answer:
“The Square” is pretty important, although not widely recognized. (everyone knows it’s there, like an elephant in the room, but no one really says much about it!) In a nutshell, “the square” is the point where your bow arm must choose between moving from the shoulder, or moving from the elbow, or in more “anatomical” terms, from moving the Humerus bone or the “ulna/radius” bones. When you move from your shoulder, the humerus bone moves through space. When you move from your elbow, the radius/ulna bones (forearm) moves through space.

“The Square” is roughly in the middle of the bow, and your elbow will be ROUGHLY at a right angle. This will vary depending on the length of your limbs, and the angle at which you hold your violin from your neck. That’s why I say, “Find YOUR square”….because it will be at a slightly different location on your bow than it would be on mine.

It’s a fairly complicated maneuver, crossing past “the square” while bowing, because all your muscles must either “take up” the work, or “pass on” the work. (like a relay race, passing the baton with minimum interruption). But once you get the concept, you forget how complex it is….it just works.

I teach my students to play ONLY in the upper half of the bow at first, so that they can master JUST the elbow motion, moving the ulna/radius through space. Later down the line, they start to learn how to play in the lower half of the bow, which involves some humerus movement, and also some wrist compensation in order to keep the bow on a nice straight path.

In general, if you start “At the Square” it’s a very safe place to start, because you will avoid making the bow bounce involuntarily, and your muscle movement will be very natural without any special compensation.

So, in answer to your question “is the square important”….the answer is…it is VERY important to me. I think students gradually figure it out by sheer trial and error, but when you understand the square, it gives you some knowledge as to the “mechanics” involved and takes some of the guess work out of it!
GREAT question!


Question:
I have some trouble with my left hand pinky. I cant curve it! Im so frustrated with it… could u please make a video to show us how to curve our little pinky?

Answer:
Have you viewed my video “Three Common Left Hand Problems”? In that video, I don’t specifically talk about the pinky curving, however, if you will draw the line on your knuckles and elevate your PINKY higher than the INDEX knuckle, also BRING YOUR WRIST INWARDS slightly, I betcha this will give you the curved pinky, and STRONGER pinky too!
Three Common Left Hand Problems (Violin) and How to Fix Them


Question:
My left hand pinky is a little bit weak. Could you recommend appropriate practice to develop it?

Answer:
The pinky is one of the easiest fingers to strengthen and fix. I don?t know why, but it REALLY responds fast to exercise. You can start by doing ?The Clothes Pin Exercise for Double Jointed Violinists? . It isn?t just for double jointed people?.it?s for ANY weak jointed finger. So start with that. I think the clothes pin exercises will be all you need.

However, I have another video about the left hand pinky, but keep in mind that these pinky exercises are more advanced than where you are at this point. This video involves SLURS and rhythms that you are not yet used to. It might be too soon for you to try these, but I?ll include a link anyway, just for the sake of being thorough in offering you some suggestions. ?Pinky Exercises for the Left Hand? video. Let me know how your pinky is in a couple weeks! EVERYONE who does the clothes pin exercise is amazed after just a week!

Question:
Is it possible to learn the violin by the right hand?
Is if the difference between the length of the fingers of one hand hinders the learning violin?
Answer:
YES, it is possible to learn violin right-handed, however, you MUST have a violin that is special-made with strings backwards, bass-bar and bridge reversed, etc. They are getting more and more common.

It will not work to play a REGULAR violin right-handed.
If the LEFT HAND is severely deformed or missing a finger, then it would be best to learn violin right-handed, because you can use the BOW fairly well with missing fingers or a damaged hand.

Finger length does present challenges. I have a friend who plays professionally who has a VERY VERY VERY short pinky. (both hands) But she has learned to compensate.

 

PAIN

Question:
Hi,my 11 year old son has been playing the violin for about 5 years and lately concentrates mostly on bluegrass music. He has been getting a lot of pain in the last few months although he says he had the pain a long time but not as bad in his bow hand thumb ,from the middle joint to the tip. do you have any ideas ?

Answer:
As for your son’s pain, there are several suggestions. The first is the easiest.

1) Watch his thumb when he’s not concentrating on it, and see if it is BENT. Playing with a straightened, flat thumb really creates extra work for the thumb, but it usually causes pain in the BASE of the thumb and the wrist. But it’s still good to make sure his thumb is BENT, so that the tip of his thumb contacts partially on the ebony portion of the frog, and partially on the thumb leather. And as a guideline, I have my students bend their thumb until it TOUCHES the horsehair…..they won’t continue to do that, but it’s a great little “guide” that they can check themselves with.

2) The thumb does more work at the TIP of the bow. So if his thumb is getting “over-worked”, it probably happens in the upper half of the bow. He just needs to learn to not over-work himself. We try to “force” the violin to do things, especially in the upper half of the bow, because that’s where the sound is weakest. We have to learn to minimize our effort, and ONLY use our MUSCLE strength when it is truly needed, which is only going to be about 5% of the time. The other 95% of the time, we get our power and strength from good BALANCE, and good FORM.

Watch my videos about the bow hand, and colle, (on YouTube, just go to my RedDesertViolin channel, and search for “Advanced Bow Hold” and “Colle Exercises”)….you and he will get little tips, but mainly, he’ll gain an understanding of the underlying need for good technique, because it allows us to RELAX.

Also, have you signed up to receive my free TONE PRODUCTION videos? The one on BOW WEIGHT will be helpful to him. (although you might have to watch with him to interpret) If you need help finding my tone videos….let me know. (I don’t even know where my tech guy hides them)

3) Bluegrass: If I know kids, I know they LOVE to saw away on the double strings. Chances are, he is doing a lot of this. If he is, then I think this is the MAIN CAUSE. When we play on double strings, we tend to DOUBLE our bow weight. But what we need instead of increased bow weight is PRECISION. We have to learn how to put our bow EXACTLY on two strings without pressing.

The best test is to see if he can play SUPER QUIETLY on two strings, like on a hoe down, or just on scales or something where he can test out 2 strings. This is one of the most important skills a fiddler can develop is the ability to PRECISELY play on 2 strings, and to control our volume.

Let me know how it goes! I’m curious to see how this plays out.

Question:
I am experiencing right shoulder pain when I play due to a previous injury.

Answer:
I’m sorry to hear about your right shoulder pain. Violinistically, the advice I offer to you is to give you permission to hold your elbow LOWER when needed, so that your shoulder muscle won’t over-work itself keeping your elbow suspended. I would try to suspend your elbow just for good technique, but when you feel your shoulder getting tired, go ahead and let your elbow droop a little big.

ALSO: When you are on the A and E strings, you can really rest your shoulder alot. Let your bow arm drop very low on A and E, and save your strength for the D and G strings. This has been a survival tool of mine for YEARS…..learning to take it easy whenever I can….and save the strength for times when I absolutely have to get my elbow up.

That will create a couple of stability problems in your bow hand at the FROG, but it’s nothing we can’t work through together. You can compensate for this by learning a good colle’…..but we’ll cross that bridge after about Unit 18.

ALSO: BE SURE that you are using your ELBOW motion, NOT your shoulder. Pay attention to the greasy elbow lessons, and practice this technique religiously! Most students think they are using greasy elbow, but they are really only doing about 65% elbow, and they are still allowing the shoulder to do 35% of the work.

But most students can get away with it, because they don’t suffer from injury. YOU must be super duper aware of using greasy elbow. Practice in a mirror or a darkened window at night.

NON-violinistic advice: ICE your shoulder after practicing. I am always amazed at the healing capacity of ice. Of course, liniment rubs help it to feel better, but I don’t think they really help to heal….but you could use those for relief.

One other tip: When I am in the middle of a flare-up of my tennis elbow, and I have a big hairy rehearsal or practice session, I do several things: I make sure to warm up slow and nice. I stretch after I’m done. I put ice on my elbow IMMEDIATELY after rehearsal lets out. (convenience store, cup of ice, and a shopping bag…..and I ice it all the way home!) AND…..this one might be controversial…..I take a couple ibuprofen BEFORE the rehearsal. I feel that helps to take down the inflammation, so that I”m not playing on a fully inflamed arm. I find that I feel pretty good if I follow those steps, even when I”m in full flare tennis elbow.

TECHNIQUE and ICE!

 

PRACTICE TIPS


Question:
How can I supplement my ear training to further develop this skill?
Answer:
First, just pure listening. Since Suzuki is all “by ear” there is no need at this point for you to study the score as you listen. Just try to absorb, internalize, so that as you practice, you will have that SOUND in your head, emulate it, and try to DUPLICATE it.
The best things you can do to “supplement” the Red Desert Violin ear training, is to pick a tune you know and love and pick it out by ear on your violin. Tunes that work VERY well for this are hymns, Christmas songs, children’s songs, because they work well on the violin. Rock and Roll songs do not work well for many reasons.
Another thing you can do, is once you have figured out a song, like “Jingle Bells” on the violin, try to play it starting on a different note, in a different key! (you may already know this is called transposing) That will whip your ear into shape VERY VERY quickly!!! (but it can be frustrating)
So, try starting Jingle Bells on C# (hi 2 on A).
Then try starting Jingle Bells on E, (1st finger on the D string)
But, you might not be ready for transposing yet. If it feels utterly impossible to do this, it’s ok. Don’t force it. Just pick out as many songs by ear as you can, and don’t try to transpose yet.
One final tool (and you will get this link later on in the Suzuki class) is this ear traning link: http://www.teoria.com/exercises/ie.htm
I hope this link is still active. It’s a GREAT site for all sorts of ear training exercises. (we don’t start intervals in the Suzuki Class until about Unit 8….so this site might not make sense to you yet)

Question:
In the ear training session, I got a perfect score for the first part, which was same v/s different notes. However, I got every one wrong for the second part which was to determine whether the notes were higher or lower. So, my problem is ascertaining the direction a note takes relative to the one before it. Apart from playing pairs of notes on the piano (I know you prefer the violin), is there anything else I can do to improve this aspect of discernment of notes?

Answer:
There is a lot you can do to improve this.
Continue to play pairs of notes on the piano. Just listen and absorb the difference when a pitch goes higher versus when it goes lower. Your ear just needs LOTS of samples to learn how to process this properly. (just like a synthesizer sampling thousands of violin sounds to attempt to mimic the perfect violin sound)
IF you can have a friend or family member “quiz” you on piano, that would be EXTREMELY helpful. (not always easy to find willing victims…..but if you do this once every week, after working on it ALL BY YOURSELF, then it will help you to capitalize and solidify all the samples you have been processing)
Here is another suggestion: SING!!! SING!!! SING!!! Sing in the shower, sing in the car!
Sing a scale or a tune. Pay attention to the sound of pitch going UP, versus going DOWN. Pay SPECIAL attention to the sensation in your throat and vocal chords when you go to higher notes versus when you go to lower notes. You can even just sing 2 notes at a time. Pay attention to how if feels.
When you are playing the notes on the piano, SING THEM. Your vocal chords will learn to tell you whether the first note is higher or lower. SING SING SING.
Trust me…..it will come, especially as you are willing to supplement your learning with other drills. Your ear just hasn’t learned to process “higher versus lower” comparisons.
It might help for you to scientifically understand that when pitch goes HIGHER, the frequency goes higher…..more beats per second. When it goes lower, the frequency slows down.
When you SING a higher note, your vocal chords are tighter.
When you SING a lower note, your vocal chords loosen up.
When you tune a violin string higher, you tighten it.
When you tune a violin string lower, you loosen it.
As you play going up a string, 1st finger, 2nd finger, etc., you are going UP in pitch, and notice your fingers are “shortening” the string by stopping the string a notch higher each time. SHORTER strings vibrate faster, making a higher frequency, making a higher pitch.
These are just tidbits to help you understand the science behind what makes a pitch higher or lower. Sometimes it helps us if we know the nuts and bolts behind it.
Keep me posted on your progress if you would, and try to be patient. Ear training doesn’t come overnight! But it does come!


Question:
I find it hard to keep my first finger down while stretching the pinky. Any advice?
Answer:
Learn to “plant” your 1st finger, while stretching the metatarsal bones within your hand. Don’t just stretch your pinky…..stretch out ALL the bones in your hand, like opening a fan clear down to your wrist. SPREAD THEM wide, and you will slowly increase your stretching distance significantly. Give your soft tissue time to stretch and adapt to the new demands.

Question:
What is the best way to practice?
Answer:
Well, that’s a large question and I have a large answer. Email me for a free Ultimate Beginner?s Practice Guide. Here is a link to my blog describing the guide with a link to email me. http://www.reddesertviolin.com/the-ultimate-beginners-violin-practice-guide/

Question:
My practice on the violin can be somewhat inconsistent. Some days I progress very quickly and do most things right. Other times I tend to mess everything up and can’t nail dail the tone, rhythm or seem to do anything right. I’ve been playing for about two months.
Answer:
I just had a student cross the frustrating plateau of beginner violin….he as visibly frustrated…..and when I told him that beginning violin is like playing a bad game of “Whack-a-Mole”…..you smash one problem, and 3 more pop up…..so you just have to keep smashing problems as fast as you can.
But also, get better at smashing the problems: Yes, identify it….but also….why don’t you keep whacking that ONE MOLE until it stays in its hole? Then….you can start whacking the next mole. Eventually, you’ve whacked all the problems, and they stop popping up.
You also have to get good at “MUTI-TASKING”, so that you can focus on 2-4 problems at once. Create good habits, because you don’t have to concentrate on something that is a habit. But habits only come from doing something the SAME WAY many times…..so yes, it takes lots of repetition, and patience!
Emphasis on patience! AND FORGIVE YOURSELF if you totally mess something up! I STILL mess things up, and sometimes they are EASY things that I mess up…..that’s just part of a human playing on a REAL instrument.
This digital age has presented us with an impossible ideal: Perfection. Nobody is perfect. Just some people are better at hiding their mistakes! Perlman said “Even I play out of tune sometimes….the difference is that I don’t miss the note by very far, and I fix it very quickly….most casual listeners don’t even hear the mistake”. (I’m paraphrasing)
So, just get more accurate, and quicker response to mistakes, and you’ll sound like Perlman!
Keep up the good work…..and ENJOY THE GOOD DAYS! (also try to notice what you are doing RIGHT when it goes well!)

Question:
Hi Lora, I wanted to get some advice on practicing. I was knocked out with pneumonia for three weeks and I didn?t get to even pick up my violin. When I finally did feel better enough to practice I sounded like a first week student. In cases like this where, at best I could only practice for five minutes a day, what do you recommend working on?
Answer
When I am very very sick, I don?t even feel like holding the violin up to my chin. In cases like that, you can do a few things:

  1. You can hold your violin like a guitar, and practice playing some simple scales, or practice agility, like hopping first finger from E string to A string to D string to G string. And then practice hopping 2nd finger, etc. Finger hopping is an essential skill. You can do some GREAT awareness exercises by doing the Pinky Twiddle exercise in guitar position without the bow?..for one thing, guitar position is MUCH easier on the Pinky, and eliminating the bow from this exercise can REALLY help you to be aware of your left pinky.
  2. You can hold your violin up to your chin and just “pluck” some songs just to keep your left hand in touch.
  3. You can do some bow-only exercises like windshield wipers, pinky pushups, and others that you have not yet learned like “colle” exercises.
  4. If you are well enough to hold the violin up and bow, here are some GREAT 5 minute focus ideas, which can really improve your playing:
  • practice scales and arpeggios
  • pinky twiddle, on all 4 strings (this involves learning to properly swivel your elbow to ensure that you hit the TARGET, o “good corner” of your finger, on ANY string.
  • Three Stooges exercises on all 4 strings. (learn to hop fingers, learn to play with straight bow on ALL 4 STRINGS, see also below)
  • Practice Twinkle RHYTHMS ONLY, on ALL 4 STRINGS, OPEN STRINGS ONLY, and look in a mirror, making sure your bow is straight.

Learning to play with a straight bow and good technique on the G string is a huge accomplishment. D is the next hardest. In 5 minutes, you can acquaint yourself with the different adjustments you need to make on EACH STRING, and your technique will accelerate.

Question:
Is there a “warmup routine” you could recommend we do. It seems I need to get my fingers moving a little before I jump into the lessons just to get the blood flowing and the fingers moving. I just do scale or arpeggio or Twinkle routine.
Answer:
YES, I can recommend a basic warm-up routine. Here is a video called “Warmups for Violinists“. I also recommend doing these stretches
After you stretch, then it’s good to get the fingers moving in a relaxed way, with something EASY, like a scale and arpeggio. Also good to get the bow hand warmed up as well as stretched. Basically, I move both my hands in circles, which really warms up the forearms, and then I do some SLOW windshield wipers and pinky push-ups.
Simple Stretches for Violinists

 

EQUIPMENT AND TUNING

 


Question:
Should I practice with a metronome?
Answer:
My adult students are always anxious to get started practicing with a metronome, but my young students don’t even know what a metronome is, and they don’t care! That’s good because it means I get to introduce the metronome to a child only after they have developed a good sense of internal rhythm.
It is often hard to convince my adult student that a metronome is not going to give them good rhythm. There, I said it. A metronome does not give you good rhythm any more than a gun makes you a good shot. (I am a fountain of analogies…and I love them even if no one else does!) Before a metronome, which is purely external rhythm, can be helpful to you, you must develop a good sense of internal rhythm. The following is what I have my students do before I allow them to start practicing with a metronome:
First Prerequisite: A student must be able to pick out “the beat” on the tunes they are currently learning, or have learned already. They must be able to tap it out. This is rarely a problem.
Second Prerequisite: They must be able to tap their foot to their own playing, and accurately place each beat in the right place. Many students have the habit of skipping or adding beats for their convenience. And if they practice doing this with a metronome, they just get better at the bad habit of adding/dropping beats. I realize that some teachers think tapping the foot is a bad habit, but I find it is an easy habit to break. And it creates some necessary skills and coordination.
The ultimate test for this skill is Twinkle Variation B or “Song of the Wind” because the student must tap their foot during a SILENCE where they must not play. It is very hard to get your foot to do one thing while forbidding your hands from moving.
Third Prerequisite: A student must be able to clap and maintain their own rhythm against an opposing, but complementary rhythm. For instance, I will ask them to clap the rhythm to Twinkle Variation B. Why Variation B? Because it is very easy to throw them off by clapping other rhythms such as Variation A or C. Eventually, my students can clap any variation rhythm against any other variation rhythm. I might also ask them to clap sub-divisions of my quarter note claps. (That is, I might ask them to clap twice for each of my claps, or 4 times, and so on.) This is extremely difficult for beginners, but wow does it develop their sense of sub-division!
Final Prerequisite: They must be able to play one of their easiest tunes (one they know very well) in any tempo I choose, and they must be able to tap their foot while they do it, placing the beat in the correct places. This requirement of versatility solidifies an understanding in a student’s mind that TEMPO is fluid, but RHYTHM is not. The rhythm must remain the same RELATIVE to the tempo. At this point, the student has developed a sense of internal rhythm, they understand that they can manipulate the tempo, but they can’t manipulate the rhythm, and they can reconcile their own playing and internal rhythm to the static, rigid, external, metronome.
If you meet those prerequisites and believe you are ready for a metronome, check out my review of the Korg TM40, which is one that I like. And with those prerequisites in mind, here are some practice tips to help you develop that internal rhythm.
Practice Challenge: Try to assess your internal rhythm by attempting the pre-requisites listed above. Number 2 is hard to do without a teacher, so you might have to ask a friend to listen and tell you if you skipped or added any beats.

Practice Ideas

While the radio is playing, clap along. Figure out the meter of the piece….is it 3/4 time, 6/8 time, 4/4 time? If you don’t read music, can you tell if the beats are in groups of 3’s or 4’s? To do this, figure out where the STRONG beat happens, and count how many beats are between each strong beat. If there is a pattern of 1 strong beat then 3 weak beats, add 1 plus 3, and you have a 4-beat pattern.
While the radio is playing, clap along to the beat.
Next, try to clap to the off-beats.
Next, try to clap only on beat 1.
Next, try to clap 2 times per beat. (8th notes)
Try to clap 4 times per beat (16th notes)
Try to clap 3 times per beat (triplets)
While WALKING, use your footsteps as a metronome.
Try clapping opposing, yet complementary rhythms to your footsteps.
Examples:
Clap any of the Twinkle Variations along with your footsteps.
Clap the rhythm of any tune you have learned or are learning. You might have to adapt the speed of the song to fit with your footsteps…..but the footsteps are the boss. Make the tune fit.
Clap twice as fast or twice as slow as your footsteps.

Question:
I have heard about the all-in-one metronomes and i’m considering buying one soon. I’ve been learning violin for 2 yrs now and if the tuning goes bad I’ve to wait to take it to my teacher to get it tuned. I wish to be able to learn to tune my violin myself, will an all-in-one be the right choice?
Answer:
Well, an all-in-one offers streamlined options. It offers you a VISUAL tuner, an AUDIBLE PITCH, and then a metronome as well. It’s definitely the most economical and convenient. You just have to make sure the tuner is chromatic, and that the pitch generator can play at least 1 octave of CHROMATIC tones.
HOWEVER:
The All-In-Ones that I like offer less elaborate “tuner” functions. In other words, if you were to buy a TUNER by itself, with the needle on it, you would have a slightly better tuner than you would get in an “All-in-One”. I place LESS importance on the VISUAL aid, because I feel that violinists need to use their EARS, and train their EARS to match a GENERATED PITCH. (tune to a note, not to a needle)
So, please understand that if you want more VISUAL help, you might be better off getting separate tuner, IN ADDITION to a metronome and a pitch generator.
But, let me give you some suggestions:
The biggest problem with tuning a violin isn’t EAR TRAINING. It’s simply the difficult mechanics of tuning with PEGS!!! If the pegs would work more easily, most students can get their violin VERY closely in tune. So, here is what I would do to get rid of the mechanical struggle:
I would put a FINE TUNER on EVERY STRING. ($2 each, and your teacher can easily install them) OR, you can spend about $50 and have “PrecisionPegs” installed on your violin. I don’t quite understand them, but they make your violin tune up more like a guitar, with “GEARS” instead of just the friction of wedging the peg into the peg box. I have 2 students who have bought these, and they love them, and their tuning struggles are over.
But, being old-fashioned and thrifty, I strongly feel that fine tuners will give you the advantage you need while you learn how to deal with pegs.
So, with that bit of advice, hopefully you can make your decision and be happy with it!

Question:
I am having a hard time finding a chin and shoulder rest combination that works for me. I am 5’3″ and around 165 lbs. I have always had a bit extra under the chin. My neck is almost the same width as my head. My shoulders are straight, but not broad.
The chin rest that came with my instrument “bites” into my jawbone. It is too ‘carved’ for my face to rest on. I think I need something side-mounted with a flatter contour. I feel a lot more comfortable without any chin rest at all, but have to find some way to secure the violin at my collar and chest. Also I tend to hold my chin against the tailpiece, and worry that it will distort my sound by pressing against the tailpiece.
Answer:
The two type of chin rests that I suspect may be good for you are:
Stuber, or in the family of Stubers. This chin rest mounts on the side, and features a nice contour so you don’t get that “cutting” into your jawbone. This is the chin rest I have, although I think mine is more expensive, made of ebony. It doesn’t much matter what material you get it made of. Plastic, wood, whatever. There are fine differences….but for a beginner, it’s all about the shape. Here is a link to view the stuber:
http://www.amazon.com/Stuber-Violin-Viola-Chinrest-Ebony/dp/B0002FP24C
The other type I’m thinking might be good for you, if your chin wants to drift over to the tailpiece, is a nice center chinrest:
http://www.sharmusic.com/Shop-Shar/Accessories/Parts/Chinrests/Berber-Ebony-Violin-Chinrest.axd
That is just one example of MANY different contours of CENTER chin rests.
I recommend that you NOT buy it from Amazon. Go to a VIOLIN site, like SHAR, or SOUTHWEST STRINGS. They will have dozens of choices.
Often, once you pick your MODEL, you can further customize by asking for larger hump, smaller hump, small, medium, or large plate, etc. Feel free to CALL them. Their customer reps are all players, and are very helpful. (usually) If you get a dud, ask to talk to someone who has first hand experience.
Finally:
I am leery about the center chinrests. Many professionals use them, and they are perfect for some people. (so there’s nothing wrong with using one) But in my experience, when I started using one, it was because my shoulder rest wasn’t fitting properly, and I kept trying to get my jawbone over to the right side of ANY hump on ANY chin rest. So once I went to the center chin rest…..my chin started going over to the RIGHT SIDE of the tailpiece! I saw a reflection of myself and thought…..”I look freakin’ ridiculous….something aint right”…….so I went back to the drawing board, and years later discovered it was my shoulder rest.
Chin rest is secondary. If your chinrest hurts……put a Corn Pad sticker, or Dr. Scholls pads on the spots that hurt you……just to “get by” for now. And find the SHOULDER REST that fits you FIRST.
Once you have that part of the puzzle, then the chin rest will be much easier to choose.
Continue with your lessons during all of this. YES, it is frustrating, and YES, you will have to tweak and re-do some small things…..but it’s normal and natural….and it’s not that big a deal to re-learn something. It’s a fact of life.
So continue your progress as a PLAYER, as you seek for the perfect shoulder rest.
There are shoulder rest sponges, which you can cut to shape however you want….like you can make it the shape of the telephone rest, or you can make more of a “hook” for your shoulder, or whatever. They are cheap. http://www.sharmusic.com/Shop-Shar/Accessories/Essentials/Shoulder-Rests/Perfect-Violin-Shoulder-Rest—Clear-Elastic-Band.axd
And the shape you see is the exact shape you should create.
I hope this helps!
Just know that EVERYONE struggles with this…except a lucky few, and it’s one of my specialties, so we’ll get there eventually! (it’s harder for some body types….mine and yours, for instance) :-0


Question:
What type of strings do you recommend?

Answer:
I use Thomastik Dominant strings, as do MANY professionals. They are clean and clear, with a complexity to their sound, they are relatively affordable, and resist changes in weather very well. They cost around $50 per set, which is still quite expensive, but they are worth it.

And GREAT string for students which comes VERY close to the Dominants is “PRELUDE” strings by D’Addario. I have been extremely impressed by these strings, and they cost about $25 per set.

Violin strings can be split into 2 hemispheres. Steel Core, and Synthetic/Gut Core. I ONLY play on Synthetic Core strings. Fiddle players favor the steel core strings, and if I ever wanted to get very competitive with FIDDLING, I would put steel strings on my second violin…..I just haven’t bothered to make that transition…..YET. That day is coming!
I HATE steel strings for classical playing.
Fiddlers HATE synthetic strings for fiddle playing.
So, if you split the strings into 2 hemispheres: One hemisphere for fiddlers, and one hemisphere for classical, it helps you to narrow things down a bit.
As for steel strings, I’ve heard good things about Black Diamond. Steel strings are DIRT CHEAP, but they also don’t last as long.
I once spent hundreds of dollars and ordered about 10 different sets of violin strings, which was very educational and very expensive. But what I realized is that EVERY VIOLIN and EVERY VIOLINIST has different preferences and different needs.
My advice to you: Start with something basic like Thomastik Dominants or D’Addario Prelude. You will quickly realize if they don’t work for you, but chances are…..they will work great. If they don’t, let me know, and I’ll help you to dial in a good string for you.


Question:
How often should I change my strings?

Answer:
New strings can transform your playing! But how do we know when it’s time to get new ones? There are several things to consider. Are you a professional or amateur? Beginner or advanced player? How much are you playing daily? What brand of strings do you use, because different strings have different durability.

You know how Jiffy Lube recommends you change your oil every 3,000 miles or every 3 months, whichever comes first? Same goes for violin strings. When I’m putting in A LOT of miles, I have to change my strings very frequently. For instance, when I’m performing in an orchestra pit EVERY DAY, plus practicing at home, I will change my strings every month, at a minimum.

Yes, it’s expensive, but so is tendonitis. New strings help you work less to get the sound out. When I’m not doing a lot of high-pressure performing, and I’m just practicing an hour or two a day, I will change my strings every 3-4 months. Honestly, this last set of strings was on my instrument for about 8 months, and that was WAY TOO LONG from a professional standpoint.
If you are an amateur, and you would call yourself a beginner, I would say you need a new set of strings on your instrument every 9 months to a year. No ifs ands or buts. It is a necessity. If you are intermediate or advanced, change your strings every 9 months at least. If you have a recital or important performance coming up, put new strings on a week before your performance, and save the old ones as spares.

Its a very good idea to keep a half decent set of STRETCHED strings on hand, in case of a broken string during a concert, or the day of a concert or something like that. (It has happened to me twice and I was prepared both times!)
Should you change just one string, or all of them? Change all of them. I know it’s expensive, but let’s go back to the automobile analogy. Would you put a brand new tire on your car with 3 worn tires? Most people agree this is not a good idea. I hate spending a ton of money on strings too, so here are three good compromises:
1. When you buy your strings, buy an extra A and E string. When it’s time to change your strings, put on the new A and E. They tend to wear out the worst.
2. Keep a brand new, full set of spare strings available at all times. When one string starts to unravel or go false, replace it with your spare, then get another spare. You’ll notice you will be replacing your A and E most often.
3. When you have a big performance coming up, SPLURGE and get a FULL new set, and take the old ones off as emergency, stretched spares.


Question:
What is your opinion on using a mute to practice? Sometimes my playing Twinkle twinkle over and over bothers the family but at least the dog doesn’t run to the furthest part on the house and under the bed anymore! I must be making process! Seriously, I have one of those heavy metal mutes that does it’s job well but the sounds is muffled to say the least but pitch seems OK.

Answer:
The practice mute (heavy metal mute) is great for practicing in hotels, or late at night, but when you are working specifically on TONE they are completely detrimental to your progress. They are deceiving as far as what sound you would really be making if the mute were off. My Dad confessed to me years later that it was hard for him to sit and listen to me practice when I was just starting out. My brother complained and teased me. He’d sneak up behind me and throw a dish towel over my bow, causing a hideous screech, followed by my screaming at him. But, the important thing is, they tolerated it, and now they respect it.

Bottom line is, a beginner on a violin sounds much worse than a beginner on a piano or guitar, or flute!
I’d offer a compromise to your family, and use a regular rubber mute during times when it would be most disturbing to them but only 25% of your practice time should be spent this way. Avoid using the heavy metal practice mute if AT ALL possible. It’s critical that you hear your sound accurately. Another compromise you could make is to go into a room and put a towel at the bottom of the door. Tell your family you are teaching them to appreciate a violin played well!

This is just something your family needs to respect and try to learn to appreciate. You can ask them to pay attention, and tell you when you’ve made progress. Hopefully, they will be willing to adapt, and at times when it’s REALLY a bad time for the family, go ahead and use the metal mute.


Question:
Could you quote me a price on what you think that a good violin should cost… I’m no concert player, I just want something that sounds good and is dependable!

Answer:
You can get very good, solid, reliable violins for as little as $500.
Of course, you can go lower, but for a long term violin, I recommend biting the bullet, and investing in a good one.

I send my students to either a local shop (when I lived in the city) and now I send them to Southwest Strings (in Tucson AZ) or SHAR (in Michigan), because I am familiar with their quality, and their guarantee and customer service CANNOT be beat, and that is worth a little extra money when you are talking about a $500 or more purchase price.

There are dealers online who sell decent violins for less….like $300 or so…..but it’s hit and miss. I can’t guarantee or recommend them, because there are so many, and I haven’t had the time or money to ask them to ship them to me…..although I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to do that sometime!

So, although you can find cheaper than Southwest or SHAR, I recommend them because they are established, and have great customer service. My favorite violin outfit for students is from SOUTHWEST, and it is called the Yuan Qin, and costs around $800…..but I believe that includes the bow and case….maybe. But these violins are GREAT, and they are gorgeous too.

If you end up going to Southwest or Shar, tell them Red Desert Violin sent you….I want them to notice me so they will give my readers a discount! (it may never happen, but hey, we have to try)
(I get no kickbacks from recommending them…..I just like them)


Question:
I got a new violin for 60 bucks, does that mean that it’s plain junk? Its been a wonderful starter for me, but I’ve already replaced some things, and am wondering if that will just be the story of it’s life. I personally think it sounds really good, (especially after you told your “string-changing testimony” LOL! that really helped 🙂

Answer:
Yes, changing strings can TRANSFORM a violin’s sound!!!
Funny, a set of strings costs almost as much as you paid for your violin!!!

Price has NOTHING to do with the quality of the violin, especially if you got it in an online auction…sometimes you can get really lucky. If you bought it in a store, and that was the price in the store….then honestly, my guess is that it is pretty bad, because even violins that cost $250 in a store are pretty bad.

BUT there are exceptions!

What have you replaced? It’s normal to upgrade things like chin rests, tail piece, the bridge, even PEGS, although on a good violin, you should not have to upgrade the bridge, tailpiece or pegs.

Once you replace those things, you should be set….you will not have to continually replace parts on it. HOWEVER—if you are ever told that it needs a new fingerboard or bass bar, WALK AWAY! THose are extremely expensive to replace, and no honest luthier would try to replace those things, unless the violin was worth at least $800….AT LEAST.


Question:
What kind of shoulder rest to you use? Do you believe simplifying and playing without shoulder rest is more natural, and achieves better more open sound?
Answer:
“What kind of shoulder rest to you use?”
“Do you believe simplifying and playing without shoulder rest is more natural, and achieves better more open sound?”

I use a Mach One shoulder rest because the curve is just right for my shoulder, and because it is made of maple wood, with special feet that BARELY touch the violin. This means that the shoulder rest doesn’t “dampen” the sound as much as other shoulder rests.

It is expensive, about $65, but the KUN shoulder rest is VERY similar, and only costs $20. But the KUN does dampen the violin somewhat…..but honestly….it is so miniscule that I don’t even worry one bit about that.
This answers your question about whether ELIMINATING your shoulder rest would improve your sound. Yes, it does improve the sound IF you can play the violin without scrunching your shoulder up to the violin, which dampens the sound worse than a shoulder rest. If you eliminate your shoulder rest, you want to balance the violin on your collarbone, which creates a nice resting spot, and boosts the resonance. But that means the violin will also rest on your left hand at times. It’s a trade-off.

NO, I don’t think playing without a shoulder rest is more natural. I wish people would stop asserting that point. I got into a debate with someone on Violinist.com about that. Pinchas Zukerman encourages violinists to get rid of their shoulder rests. I think this is irresponsible of Pinchas Zukerman. YES, many of the old-school GREAT violinists play with no shoulder rest…..but many of the hikers who hiked the Himalayas didn’t use oxygen or light-weight tevlar….THAT’S BECAUSE IT DIDN’T EXIST BACK THEN!!!!!! They learned to adapt because they HAD TO. It doesn’t mean that shoulder rests are unnatural or bad or wrong!!!!!

If you need one, use it.
If you don’t need it, don’t use it.
It’s simple. I would never force a student of mine to USE a shoulder rest if they didn’t want one.
I would never force a student of mine to NOT use a shoulder rest if they wanted one.
It’s just not an issue of “right or wrong”!

 

RHYTHM & TEMPO


Question:
How do I listen to a song and figure out how many beets per measure it has, or what its rhythm is?

Answer:
When you are listening to a song to figure out the rhythm, the first thing to do is to “feel” the beat. Just tap your toes, or clap your hands.

The next thing to do, is to figure out where the STRONGEST beat is. Once you listen for it, you will hear it….there will be stronger drums, or stronger bass, or something to emphasize the STRONG beats.

Then, you just have to COUNT the number of beats that come between the strong beats. Count the STRONG beat as “one”, and then count the weak beats.

Try to tell if the song is organized in groups of 3 beats, or groups of 4 beats.

But you must realize that many rhythms can be written in DIFFERENT TIME SIGNATURES, and the rhythm will sound the same…..the important thing is to recognize the BEAT PATTERNS, and then take your best guess as to which time signature is the most likely. I remember writing out some pop songs when I was a kid….and I took them to my violin teacher, and he LAUGHED at me (in a loving way)….because what I had written was “correct”….but was the strangest possible time signature I could have chosen. That’s when I realized there’s more than one way to scramble eggs.

Only practice and experience will help you to get CLOSE to the intended time signature, but here are some guidelines for you:

3/4 time: Groups of 3 beats, STRONG beat 1, weak on 2 and 3. (Star Spangled Banner, Away in a Manger, Silent Night, Oh Christmas Tree)

4/4 time: Groups of 4 beats, STONGEST beat 1, strong beat 3….and very weak beats 2 and 4. (Joy to the World, Jingle Bell Rock)

2/2 time: Sounds the same as 4/4, but with strong implications of beats grouped in two’s. (Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells)

2/4 time: Groups of 2 beats, STRONG beat 1, and weak beat 2. (Baaa Baa Black Sheep, Mary Had a Little Lamb)

6/8 time: You will detect TWO STRONG BEATS, and you will be able to hear 3 fast little beats WITHIN each strong beat. Examples:
The Wassail Song/I Saw Three Ships/Bring A Torch, Jeanette, Isabella, What Child is This)

But look at Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer: It starts out in 12/8 time while naming all the reindeer. YOu can tell, because it has groups of 4 beats, but they are sub-divided with 3 smaller beats.
(Dasher and/ Dancer and/ Prancer and/ Vixen rest)
(Comet and/ Cubit and/ Donnor and/ Blitzen rest) then, on “But do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?” it goes into 4/4 time……
Once the song starts, it could be argued that it is in 4/4, 2/2, or 2/4.

So, as you can see, there is no absolute way to tell, except by combining knowledge and experience.


Question:
Is feeling the beat more important for melody or harmony?

Answer:
I think when you are playing random, accompanimental notes such as we often get in 2nd violin, it is ESPECIALLY important to catch the beat! It’s important to feel the big beat and understand how your part fits in with it.

When you play the melody, you are correct….you don’t need to feel the beat as much……what is MORE important is to listen to those around you playing the accompanimental part, and catch the beat THEY are providing for you. (your accompaniment becomes your metronome)

I hope you understand what I mean….when playing 2nd violin, you have to be better than ever on rhythm.


Question:
I find the ear training exercises fairly easy, but the rhythm builders are not at all easy, confirming what I had always thought. I have no rhythm! The exercises without the violin I can do, but tapping my foot while playing is impossible at this point. Any tips?

Answer:
Yes, I have lots of tips to make this easier. But please be aware that MANY people find this VERY difficult. It seems to be a skill that comes either naturally to some, but others must work to achieve it. In my experience, about 1/3 of my students have internal rhythm naturally and the others must work to different degrees to achieve it.
1) Tap your foot or clap to the radio, or to your Suzuki recordings. Every chance you get, FIND THE BEAT. The first step in acquiring internal rhythm is to learn to follow along to someone else’s beat.
2) SING A SONG, any song, but especially your Suzuki songs, and clap or tap the beat while you sing. Rock songs are good practice, because there’s never any question where the beat is on, “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen, or “Mama Said Knock You Out” by L.L. Cool J. (Folk songs such as your Suzuki repertoire have much more subtle beats)
3) Sing along to the rhythm of your footsteps as you walk to your daily activities. (or while chopping wood!) This is step #3, because it’s much more sub-conscious and automatic than step #2, where you are focusing primarily on your task of finding the beat.
After you do these songs, it should get easier for you to tap your foot along as you play your easier tunes.

I think I’ll go ahead and do a practice coach review session which is dedicated to drilling the internal rhythm and tapping while you play. This will be coming in Unit 12.


Question:
I find it hard to get up to tempo on the more difficult songs. If I go fast I just make errors. How do I get up to speed and avoid practicing errors.

Answer:
As far as practice time and getting things fast:
It is more important to nail things SLOW than to play them sloppy fast.
The speed will come.
Still, I understand the desire to play things up to speed instead of at a “learner tempo”…..so here is a suggestion for you:
Try to figure out WHAT the basic problem is that slows you down, or causes you to trip up. Start with very broad questions, and narrow it down.
Is it left hand or right hand?
Suppose it’s the bow hand.
Is your bow hold correct?
Does it happen on a string crossing?
Does it happen on a down bow or upbow?
Does it happen on a specific string?
Does it happen in the upper or lower part of the bow?
Is it the HIGHWAY (sounding point?)
Is it your bow weight?
Is it bow speed?
As you do this, you will get BETTER AND BETTER at dialing in to the true problem. Once you know the source of the problem, fixing it is much easier.
Also: Learn to ISOLATE the problems spots. Not only do you need to understand the TRUE CAUSE of the problem, you need to learn to ISOLATE the SMALLEST POSSIBLE snippet that contains the problem, and make a “loop” out of it, or just repeat and repeat. Don’t play an ENTIRE section to try to fix 3 problem notes. Learn to just isolate the 3 problem notes.
What I have described above is “The Art of Practice”. And it takes time to develop…..but the earlier you start, the sooner you will reap the rewards from focused, effective, efficient practice.


Question:
When doing chords ending on the E string, the E string sometimes whistles or shrills. I know there are non whistling Es you can buy, but was wondering if there’s anything I can do technically to reduce that. Less pressure? More pressure? Less bite, more bite? Is my bow rolling over too quickly?
Answer:
Gold E’s whistle worse than any other.
Thick Gauge E’s whistle worse than thin gauge.
The little “tube” that comes with E strings to protect your bridge DEFINITELY adds to whistling. Make sure if you use the tube that it is BACK as far as it will go, just barely covering the bridge. I don’t use the tubes. I have a piece of parchment protecting my bridge from being cut by the E string.

I can’t say if it’s more pressure/less pressure, or more speed/less speed….because it is DIFFERENT RATIOS of those to ingredients depending on the surrounding circumstances. You just have to ask yourself exactly what you are doing when it whistles, and try changing the weight or the speed.

CROOKED bow contributes ALOT to a whistling E string.
SOUNDING POINT also is a factor. Depending on your weight and speed, you must choose the appropriate sounding point.

And finally, some KEYS are worse than others, simply because they vibrate at exactly the WRONG speed, competing with your E string. (Key of F and E-flat are bad, and E can be bad)

 

INTONATION & TONE


Question:
How do I play with good violin intonation?

Answer:
I have 3 keys that will help you…..they are the THREE KEYS TO TONE PRODUCTION.
First, is Bow Weight
Second is Bow Speed
Third is Bow Placement

If you learn to control all three, and combine them in the right way for the piece you are playing, your tone will be wonderful!

Other little factors involved in tone production are:
Pulling your bow STRAIGHT (Parallel to the bridge)
Using a “Greasy Elbow for Great Violin Tone“, bowing from the elbow NOT the shoulder
Pronating your bow hand
Do not go too close to the frog as a beginner. (learn to master the top half of the bow first)

These are some REAL KEYS….I hope they will help give you food for thought when working on your tone.
Intonation is the seemingly simple art of playing in tune. Good intonation means you play exactly the right note every time. Not one that is sort of close to the right note.
There are many layers to intonation, from a beginner’s “ball park” intonation, to extremely finite intonation, special “tempered” intonation to match a piano, and “untempered” intonation, for a string quartet or small ensembles not involving a piano.
As you become more advanced, your ear will become more sensitive and your expectations for intonation will also become greater.

The very first thing I train my beginners to do is to use their eyes to play in tune. In other words, I train them to aim precisely for the finger tapes, and I teach them to be very picky.
This consistency helps to train their ear. As they get accustomed to hearing notes in tune, they will sooner be able to do it without the tapes.

Suzuki Book 2 presents the perfect opportunity to remove the finger tapes and move to the next level of intonation improvement, the “Ringy Note” intonation. Using the sympathetic vibrations of your violin, you listen for the hollow, ringing sound created by open strings when you play any G, D, A, and E.

I explain this concept more fully in my video, ?Violin Intonation, a Simple Approach?.
After this phase of intonation, I like to use several tools to bring myself and my students to the next level. One of my favorite tools is the pitch generator or tuner (I like the Korg TM40). Many metronomes have these built in, but you can also buy them separately.
Or you can rig something up with an electronic keyboard. And by “rig something up,” I mean setting something heavy, such as a heavy Swiss Army Knife, to weigh down any desired note.
Practice your scales by droning the TONIC of your scale and listen to the intervals created. As you are doing this, pay particular attention to string crossings. That is a real danger zone for playing out of tune because your hand angle changes slightly as you move from string to string.

Pay attention to your tendencies and you will gain accuracy more quickly. The only issue with this technique is that your intonation will develop in a non-tempered fashion, and you will have to adapt when playing with a piano, but I still highly recommend it.
Another tool I like to use to further refine intonation is simply to record myself playing. This can be very depressing because you really notice the intonation problems. But rest assured, if you can HEAR the problems, you can FIX them! All it takes is awareness, anticipation, and focused practice.


Question:
I’m having trouble playing on 2 strings, especially on LONG bows. Any ideas on how I can practice this technique?

Answer:
Why should the tone of double stops be ANY different than the tone of a single string?
Think about that for a minute before reading, and you will start to solve this on your own.

Playing on 2 strings should be easy….but it’s not. The reason our tone changes (for the worse) is because to play well on 2 strings, the bow must have the appropriate amount of pressure on BOTH STRINGS. And this doesn’t just mean to use the SAME amount of pressure on each string. It depends on what strings we are talking about, and what NOTES are on each string.

General Rules:

  • Lower Strings require more bow weight.
  • Moving passages require more bow weight than a single long note.
  • Higher positions require more bow weight, and/or closer to the bridge
  • The lower half of the bow is naturally heavier (too heavy sometimes) and the tip of the bow is naturally lighter (too light at times)
  • Dissonant intervals need slightly more pressure than open, perfect intervals.
    (and remember…..when I say “heavier” or “lighter” or More/Less….I am talking in VERY SMALL increments! (a couple grams or millimeters makes a huge difference when making adjustments)

With those general rules, you can see that you have to make choices and change some things around, right in the middle of a song.

Some SIMPLE exercises to help you figure this out:

Play OPEN STRINGS, WHOLE BOWS, like whole notes. You can even use a metronome on this…..4 beats per bow, at 60bpm. Listen to the tone. Listen for imperfections. Try G/D, D/A, and A/E.

If those all sound good, then start adding some fingers.
Play 1 open string with 1 fingered string. I like to keep this SUPER SIMPLE by playing a HALF SCALE, ALL WHOLE NOTES (4 beats per bow). So, for instance, I would play on my A and E string, OPEN E the whole time, with A, B, C, D, E on the A string.

Then, I would play Open A the whole time, playing on the E string E, F#, G, A, B.

I would do this on all 4 strings, and I would be very surprised if you don’t get DRAMATIC improvements with this exercise.


Question:
I’m having difficulty getting good sound out of G and D strings . It seems like my bow scratches the strings unless I really give a lot of
downward pressure. Sounds awful. I make sure I have enough bow rosin and try more left hand finger pressure. I have steel strings. Any suggestions?

Answer:
It shouldn’t be giving you such fits to play on your D and G, and steel strings should actually take LESS pressure to play on.
Maybe you are doing too much pressure?
Here’s a good way to tell what you are doing wrong:
When your violin makes a horrible squawk, is it a hi-pitched squeaky squawk, or a low, gritty, creaky door squawk?
If it’s the low creaky door squawk, then you are using too much pressure, or you are TOO FAR from the bridge.
If it’s the hi, squeaky squawk, then you are too close to the bridge, or you need MORE pressure, or more left hand pressure

 

LESSONS


Question:
Do you address things like left hand issues, keeping wrist straight while changing strings, secrets of learning to play in higher positions? I’m specifically referring to relaxing left hand, not distorting wrist and hand when using low second finger, using more bow, bow distribution, oh, and of course, vibrato!! All that good stuff! I know you are right about learning to crawl before I walk.
Answer:
I spend a TON of time on left hand and bow technique.
I remind you constantly to RELAX the thumb, to check your left hand position (which is where you will check your wrist),etc.

I do not work on higher positions at all, because this is a beginners course, and we are mastering first position. Shifting to higher positions comes in Book 3, which I have not yet filmed, but plan to!

As for bow distribution….I have a specialized plan for teaching bow technique. I feel it is extremely important to master the TOP HALF of the bow, learning to draw a straight bow, navigate across strings without losing coordination, bowing from the elbow, not the shoulder.

Toward the end of the book, we start venturing past the “half-way” mark, a little bit more toward the frog. Book 2 and 3 will deal more with things like spiccato, colle’, and getting closer to the frog.

Beginners just don’t need to be using the frog portion yet, in my opinion. I know it feels like a limitation, but there is so much to learn and master in the top half.

I decided to give my graduates a bonus unit all about vibrato, EVEN THOUGH I think it is WAY too early to learn vibrato. (normally, it would come in book 3….and I’ll still re-teach it in Unit 3) So I teach you the very basics, and I encourage you to go slowly and not to try to rush or force the issue, because several things can go wrong if you try to rush your muscles to do something before they are trained and seasoned. (mainly…you can end up with a funky vibrato, which then has to be unlearned, etc.)

So far, my students have been patient and no one has ended up with a machine-gun vibrato. But I still prefer to be IN TOUCH with students as they are learning vibrato, which is why I will re-teach it in book 3.

ANYWAY….so you will get LOTS of basics on your left hand form, relaxation, and bow technique. And yes, I believe the wrist should be straight, not bent in, not bent out.

And REMEMBER: If for any reason, the lessons don’t give you what you had hoped for, you are free to cancel anytime, (no hard feelings AT ALL) and request a refund within 60 days, and you’ll get all your money back. Seriously, I don’t get bent out of shape if my lessons aren’t perfect for everybody….they are perfect for a very very high percentage of people, and so my ego is stable! LOL)

Keywords: LESSONS
Question:
I have been teaching myself music and am already in Suzuki Book 3. Do you think your lessons would help me since they start at Suzuki Book 1?

Answer:
I’m not sure if my Book 1 lessons would help you, because I’m not sure exactly where your ear training is. I start from BASIC…..as in, “This is louder/softer, this is higher/lower”……but I quickly progress to more advanced things.

For instance, my current group is in Unit 12 now, and the ear training covers stuff like, “Is this a whole step or a half step”….and “Is this a skip or a step”……and we also play “Snippets” which is where I play 3 or more notes in a row, and they have to play them back.

Very soon, we will be working on recognizing other intervals like “Major 3rds and Minor 3rds, Perfect 4ths, and Perfect 5ths.

In the Book 2 class, I will cover all the rest of the intervals…..or maybe I’ll throw it into Book 1…..I’m not sure yet!

The other advantage my students have is that they have not yet played the Suzuki Repertoire, so they are learning it all by ear, which TOTALLY develops their ear training like crazy.

My recommendation to you would be: Try it! You will know if it’s going to be helpful or not, and if it’s not what you needed, then simply cancel your membership, and ask for a refund. (no hard feelings! If it’s not what you need, I don’t want you to pay for it!)

I could possibly even bump you ahead several units….(you will still get to watch the initial units…but I’ll advance your membership ahead by a month or so, so that you get into more advanced stuff)

I wouldn’t want you skipping anything though, because I think you’ll find LOTS of things I cover in Book 1 that you never knew, or that will help you.


Question:
I was wondering if the video instruction that you do online is anything like what you put in the newsletter? I have taken lessons for about 2 years, recently made a move to another state and am on week #2 with a new teacher. I have worked thru the Suzuki book 1 with my former teacher but not in the Suzuki way. Would you recommend your online lessons even if I’ve worked thru the songs? If you teach things like what you discussed in this newsletter and the free practice guide, I’m thinking that perhaps I’d benefit from them. I’m NOT a confident player – this teacher started me 2nd level book, thankfully, but I’m not feeling like I’ve had a good foundation to this point.

Answer:
Can my Suzuki Book 1 course help you: I have had many people in your same shoes, and so I can tell you with a fair amount of certainty that you will benefit from my course.

If you don’t benefit from it, and it’s too basic, you can simply cancel your membership. I also have a 60 day money-back policy, so if you request it, you can get your money back, no hard feelings at all.

What I typically do for people like you who have a fair amount of skills already, is I can plop you down in Unit 6, so you have instant access to Units 1-6. Then, you get one unit each week after that, and if you ever get bored or feel like it’s moving too slowly, you simply email me, and I;ll bump you ahead again. I don’t do that for everyone, because true beginners don’t know how to pace themselves, and they would rush ahead rather than master the concepts…..but for people like you, it’s a little different.

My only concern is the possibility of boredom, but like I said, if you are bored, you can simply cancel.

I understand what it feels like to lack confidence, and to feel like you never really got a good foundation….but really, MANY people feel that way. If you take my class, I can assure you, you will feel like you have received a foundation, because I explain all the basic priorities, and everything just boils down to Posture and Form, Tone, and Intonation. If you get the concepts of those, then you can do ANYTHING.

Furthermore, the Suzuki Method is AWESOME. It allows focus on posture, form, tone, and intonation, and it develops your EAR like crazy, and I just love the method…..but it’s not the ONLY way to learn violin. It all boils down to how good your teacher is, and how cooperative you are as a student.

Therefore, if you have a GOOD private teacher right now, and you feel like you can ask for help with your foundation, and reviewing basics, while at the same time forging ahead with Book 2, then I honestly would encourage you to do that.

Oh, and to answer your first question: Is my teaching anything like my newsletter, YES, it is, but a lot more basic. My newsletter is meant to help ALL levels of violin playing. My Book 1 course is, or course, meant for absolute beginners. But I have noticed that my strength as a teacher is my ability to break things down into manageable steps, in a logical way.

Question:
I want to get your advice on having two violin Teachers at different times of the week. On Monday and Thursday, I attend lessons for one hour. And on Friday for one half hour (I’ve been with her for two and a half years now). I just started the Monday and Thursday classes, which I find more challenging. Not that my Friday Teacher is not exciting. Its like the light has come one in my head all of a sudden with my Monday and Thursday Teacher. Perhaps its the newness of the Teacher getting to know her etc…. I just can’t part from my Friday Teacher.I really love her. I will continue taking lessons from both Teachers. By the way , I have my third recital in October. Can you give me some advice?

Answer:
What you are experiencing is exactly what you said in your email to me: The light has come on due to the newness of the new teacher. When we start with a new teacher, often all the NEW approaches they have that are different from what you have had before causes your brain and fingers to open up new pathways, and you discover new ways of thinking about things just because a different light is shining on the matter.

But obviously, the new teacher is good, or else you wouldn’t be having this new “renaissance” of thoughts and ideas.

Sometimes, when you switch teachers, there is a hateful little period where the student RESISTS the new ideas of the new teacher…..and doesn’t like the approach of the new teacher, so they think the new teacher is a BAD teacher. Sometimes they are, but most times, it’s just that an adjustment has to happen.

You were able to skip this adjustment period, because obviously you resonate well with your new teacher.

When I have students, I am usually able to help them to the MAXIMUM amount in the first 2-3 years I am with them….after that, the progression slows way down, and it can start to seem pretty hum-drum. There is still PLENTY I can teach them, but you know, the honeymoon is over.

As a teacher, it is my job to try to keep things as stimulating as possible for the student to avoid burnout and this feeling of hum-drummness. Recitals are a GREAT way to motivate and inspire, as are awesome pieces that are just out of reach, so you have to learn 3rd position or spiccato before you can play the piece….it’s a great motivator.

ADVICE: It’s tough, because you really love your Friday teacher, however, if she finds out somehow that you are taking lessons from someone else, I don’t care who she is, she will be upset. I know I would wonder why on earth you needed other instruction, and why you didn’t tell me, and kept it a secret, etc. (and I am EXTREMELY non-possessive as a teacher)

But it happened to me once…I found out 2 students had started taking lessons on the side with some guy from a university. It really offended me. If they had come to me, and asked me what I knew about this guy, and if he was a good teacher, and if I minded if they took a few lessons from the teacher, it would have been SO MUCH BETTER. I never forbid students from exploring other points of view.

Take it from me: You need to casually mention lessons from other teachers, and ask if your teacher minds if you supplement your lessons with other lessons from the other teacher, just for a different point of view and to accelerate your growth. She may have her feelings hurt, but at least you were up front. You did the right thing, and she may be hurt, offended, upset, or she may wish you well and encourage it.

The other thing to decide is if you can afford to continue with both teachers. If you can’t, then you might consider giving yourself a few months to decide, and then make your choice, and gently tell whichever teacher you are leaving that you are moving on. Just simply say that you are needing a different viewpoint, etc. And I wouldn’t just drop it like a bombshell. I would mention your desire for other viewpoints, masterclasses, etc., and then give your teacher a date when it will be your last lesson. This gives you a chance to assure her that she is valuable to you, and that you love her teaching, but just need a fresh perspective.

EVERY teacher knows that students eventually must move on. Sometimes the teacher chooses when it happens, and sometimes it’s the student who chooses when it happens. In this case, it will be you who chooses, or, if you are rolling in dough, you can have your cake and eat it too!


Question:
I have a viola, should I get a violin before I start with lessons? the sound of the two instruments are different and reading the music is different.

Answer:
Although playing the violin and viola are similar, playing along with my videos may be disturbing, since you will always be a 5th off. The other problem would be that every time I refer to a note name, or a string name, you would have to translate in your head. Your success on Red Desert Violin would depend on how easily you can make this “translation”.

Furthermore, each unit I do has an Ear Training lesson, and that would be difficult unless you are VERY VERY fast at translating violin to viola. In the Ear Training, I use note names and string names all over the place. But, you could still benefit from the ear training, because I play pitches, and you have to match them, I play intervals, and you have to identify the interval, and I play little “snippets” which you have to play back to me.

So, if you can get past that distraction of playing in 5ths, the concepts I teach on violin ALL apply to the viola.

If you were to do it, I would recommend that you play your viola as if it were a violin, in other words, pretend your A string is a violin E string. That is the ONLY way this course could be applied to Viola with any effectiveness.

One other issue would be the play-along videos and the free downloadable MP3 piano accompaniments. They would be a 5th off from you.

Sheesh, the more I think about this, the more I’m sorry to say that I think it would be confusing and frustrating. I do have plans to offer lessons for other instruments, but probably won’t have viola until 2013.

If you wanted to sign up and give it a try for 60 days, I would be ok with that, and if it’s just too hard, then you just let me know, and we’d refund the money with NO PROBLEM.


Question:
I began learning the E, F#, G notes on the D string. Now that I’m familiar with these, do I press ALL three Fingers to play the G note, OR just the ring finger? I’ve been pressing all 3 fingers, but would just one be better?

Answer:
The answer to your question is BOTH. When I first teach my beginners, I have them put ALL THREE PIGGIES on the fingerboard if they are going to play a 3rd finger.

If they are going to play a 2nd finger, I have them put 1 and 2 down. This is called “BLOCK FINGERING”. It is a pre-cursor to “FINGER GLUE” which I explain further below.

So, you’ve got block fingering, however, as students get more advanced, I teach them what I call “Spider Fingers”, or “Independent Fingers”…..and this is where individual fingers press on the fingerboard all by themselves, and move independently from one another. This is important on fast arpeggiated sections.

The reason I use BOTH techniques is that both techniques come in handy. It’s important to learn the skill of “FINGER GLUE”…..where you leave your fingers in place until you have to move them. This helps in fast passages because if you can “glue” a finger in place, it acts like an anchor and helps your other fingers to do their job.

SO, here is the bottom line: Whatever you do, do not get into the habit of “POPCORN FINGERS”…….where a finger pops UP as soon as the note it was playing is over. LEAVE IT IN PLACE until it becomes necessary to move it. This helps you to play more efficiently. But you must not squeeze with all those fingers on the fingerboard…..the idea is that they just sit there, relaxed.

In a Nutshell:

Popcorn fingers: BAD

Spider Fingers (Independent fingers) GOOD, if combined with finger glue.

Finger Glue: GOOD

Block Fingers: Only useful as a beginners teaching tool, and to help prevent “popcorn fingers”. When you are advanced, you would not play a fast passage using block fingers. Instead, you would use a combination of finger glue and spider fingers.

Use the block fingers for now, Colleen, but don’t be so religious about it that it gets in your way. When it’s time to let go of block fingerings, you must allow yourself to stop using them, and allow finger glue to take over.

 

TECHNIQUE


Question:
I have a question about practicing vibrato. I am having a terrible time learning this. You suggest starting at 60 on the metronome and moving up to 80. Should I practice on every finger at 60 and then move up or is there a different way to approach this? Also what about bowing – should it be one bow per beat or something else?

Answer:
YES…..do EVERY finger on EVERY string, at 60.
I like to do 4 beats per bow, so you have to develop enough bow control to save your bow whilst your left hand is doing crazy fast stuff.

I like to start my students on vibrato with the heel of their hand up on the SHOULDER of the violin, so approximately in 4th position. The exact position isn’t important…..I just like my students to have that extra “contact point” for the heel of their hand while they learn the motions of vibrato.

Once they get up to 16 notes (4 oscillations per beat) on all 4 fingers, on all 4 strings at 80……THEN, and ONLY then, we move them down to 1st position, and start ALL OVER, without the “training wheels”.

It’s a tough transition to go from having the shoulder of the violin as a crutch, then NOT having it as a crutch, but it’s a great reference point to know HOW IT FELT, and HOW IT SOUNDED with the crutch. Students then can recognize if their wrist is doing weird things or if their vibrato is spastic or out of balance.

The other trick is to make sure your finger is on a good, centered, balanced axis. It’s all about balance. If your finger tends to roll it’s way off the string, or into a new position, or onto a new part of the finger pad, then your axis is off, and your balance needs adjusted. It’s no big deal…..just fiddle around, and pay attention to when it WORKS WELL, versus when it DOESN”T work well, and you will eventually figure out the best axis and balance point.

 

GENERAL


Question:
What is the difference between fiddle and violin?

Answer:
The difference between violin and fiddle is….there is no difference. They are the same.
If you are playing fiddle music, then it’s a fiddle. If you are playing violin music, then it’s a violin.

There are a couple SMALL differences. Fiddlers will often make the arc of their bridge a little “flatter” so they can hit the double strings more easily. Also, fiddle players prefer a different tone from their instruments. I would describe it as hollow, “boxey”, dark, and a tiny bit nasal. Fiddlers also use different strings than classical violinists, again, this is because of their preferred “tone quality”.

Then, Irish fiddlers prefer a different tone than Bluegrass fiddlers……and so on and so forth!

But really, there’s not a big difference fiddle and violin. Just the music they play!

 

TROUBLESHOOTING


Question:
“I practiced your “Boil ’em Cabbage” tune, playing the double stops, but since I started playing that song, I can’t play my Suzuki repertoire worth a darn anymore. My tone is bad, and my accuracy is poor. Help!”

Answer:
It’s ok. No permanent damage was done! What happens is when we play “fiddle” there is a certain amount of slop that can happen, and in fact, can make the fiddling sound even better. The hard part is learning to turn it on and off…..I’m even struggling with this because I”ve been fiddling NON-STOP to prepare my fiddle class….and this week, I have to play in Flagstaff Symphony….and certain skills are not as sharp as they need to be…..but I know in a day or so of focusing on technique and doing things the proper way, I’ll be back to where I need to be. I usually don’t fiddle this much…..so this has been the first time I have ever struggled to transition….so I do know what you are talking about.

First of all, when you play 2 strings, we instinctively play with MUCH MORE BOW WEIGHT. This is wrong. When playing Boil Em Cabbage, we should play with the same bow weight as the Twinkle Variations….but most people mistakenly DOUBLE the amount of bow weight, so they can more easily grab TWO STRINGS.

Instead, we should try to play with LIGHT bow weight, and concentrate on ACCURATELY placing the bow equally on both strings instead of squishing it.

So, I think you need to focus on 2 things: 1—Stay in Lane 3 or maybe a little closer to the bridge, and figure out how much bow weight you need. 2— I don’t want to tell you to lighten up…..it might be enough just to stay in Lane 3 or 2. If your tone sounds bad still, then try LESS bow weight, if that sounds bad, try MORE bow weight. But STAY IN LANE 3, that way, you have a FIXED POINT OF REFERENCE.

The second issue that comes from fiddling is that it’s SO EASY to be allowed to play on 2 strings…..so it allows us to get sloppy about placing our Elevator Elbow on the correct floor. (this is what I”m struggling with….I’m constantly hitting other strings this week) To fix this, review songs like ETUDE, PERPETUAL MOTION, ALLEGRETTO, and MAY SONG. Play these 4 tunes, and do the following:

1) Listen for extra strings
2) STAY in LANE 3, and only lane 3. (for a fixed point of reference)
3) Check your tone quality, and adjust bow weight as needed

Once you can get through these 4 songs without hitting extra strings, and staying in Lane 3, PLAY THEM WITH YOUR EYES CLOSED, or just don’t peek at your strings. That will truly hone in on your ability to navigate the Elevator Floors and the HIGHWAY….and that will get rid of the “fiddle slop”.

I haven’t had any students complain about this problem resulting from Boil Em Cabbage, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen to others. You must be paying very close attention to your tone, and that is GREAT. I’m sorry the fiddle tune gave you fits…..but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fiddle….it just means you need to learn to switch back and forth. (unless you don’t like to play fiddle tunes….in which case, you won’t need to learn to transition!)

 

CHILDREN


Question:
I’m having a hard time helping my son practice violin. There are so many problems (left hand, right hand, toning, bowing), I feel I have no way to praise but just criticize.. And I know I am wrong, but the problem is that he is now afraid of practicing violin. The teacher is now letting him practice “Hrimaly” and “Wohlfahrt Etude 45”. Each week one etude, and scales from C major to A major include the corresponding minors, then from C major to flat B major, and sometime some other music. I don’t know if he can digest all of them. I’ve even asked him if he should quit. He said no. He loves to play, but not to practice. I think I give him to much pressure. How can I help? Should I let him practice on his own? Or let him have a break for some months?

Answer:
If you once told him to just quit violin, and he refused to quit, that says ALOT. That means that he WANTS to play violin. He probably loves to play, but doesn’t like to be corrected, and doesn’t like to WORK.

If you allow him to learn to fiddle, he may never go back to playing Classical again, because fiddling is so darned fun, and less strict……however, he will develop his ear, his fingers, and to a lesser extent, his technique, and he will LOVE playing his instrument.

So…..are you willing to allow him to venture into fiddling? (I am almost certain he will love it)
OR, do you want to continue to fight this battle with him, which could end up with him resenting you, or feeling like a failure, or hating violin.

Asking an 8 year old to play with a straight bow, good posture, whole bows, etc. is NOT overload. But if you have 10 problems, you have to pick ONE problem to fix, then pick ANOTHER problem, so he will have 2 problems fixed. Then add a third problem, so he will have 3 problems fixed.

You can’t fix one problem one day, another problem the next day, etc. You have to FIX one problem until the habit is BROKEN. Then add a second task. Then add a 3rd task.

I call this “Skill Stacking”……because the brain has to manage ALL THE SKILLS ALL AT ONCE.

I use “Checkers”……and I would tell him, “This checker is for your head. Lean your head to the left.” once he spends a whole week focusing on ONLY that skill, and he can get through a whole practice session without being reminded, then you can give him that checker. Then, stack a SECOND checker on top of the first checker, and tell him, “This checker is for your big bows”. Then, have him work on BIG BOWS, but his HEAD must continue leaning to the left. If his head goes into the wrong position, he has to give his checker back.

Do you understand this game?

The thing is, you want him to be free to enjoy the violin, but you can’t just let him play it badly. So, you have to pick on ONE THING at a time, and ignore the rest.

Suzuki said “See all, ignore much.” That little saying guides me every day in my teaching. Just pick on the MOST IMPORTANT thing, and ignore everything else. That way, when Kevin fixes his head position, he can feel like he TOTALLY SUCCEEDED. Instead of feeling like he fixed his head but there are 9 other things WRONG.

Just focus on the 1 thing that is right.

It’s ok to ignore bad things. (temporarily) You will put those bad things on a “wish list”, to fix ONE AT A TIME.

Try some of this, and think about fiddling.
I would search out “Kids Fiddling” on YouTube and let Kevin hear some kids fiddling. See what he thinks. He may not like it. Some kids don’t like fiddling (but most LOVE it!)

Question:
I have a two and half year old very interested in the violin. I’m a music teacher and her siblings play instruments so she’s been too many concerts and seen the violin played. I started her a couple weeks ago with a Suzuki teacher who is seemingly stern. Starting her (and I) with feet positions and how to move the chin to shoulder. My daughter is confused with these steps as
she’s already had a chance to Hold her violin and bow before we got the teacher and melted down last lesson after teacher wouldn’t give her a sticker (because she didn’t do all the steps) she got her violin out of the case properly bit only did the first feet set position.

So my question….do you reward little steps of the lesson done right or not?

Answer:
Thanks for your question. VERY interesting situation!
The youngest child I ever started was nearly 4 years old, and she had been watching her sister play violin since birth, she could sing all the Suzuki Book 1 songs, and there was simply no stopping her.

I personally think 2.5 years old is too young to start on VIOLIN. I would recommend getting her involved in Music and Movement, where they teach body awareness and moving the body to the music in meaningful ways. (as you can see, I don’t specialize in it) But there are lots of teachers who specialize in this sort of early childhood music education, and it feeds VERY VERY well into preparing them for the eventual instrument of their choice, regardless of what the instrument will be.

I had a very gifted student who had been given access to a violin prior to beginning lessons with me…..and he had a meltdown in lessons when I tried to get him to do things the right way, because he had been playing “his way” for months, and he didn’t want to be told any other way to do it…..so that is a hurdle you will have to get over….back-peddaling to correct what habits and assumptions have formed.

My recommendation to sort of “distract or trick” your daughter (I love trickery!) would be to PUT THE VIOLIN AWAY, hide it, make it UNACCESSIBLE to her. Then, make a rustic little “fake” violin. I start ALL my little Twinklers on a fake violin, and they have to EARN the real violin…..so it’s a real special moment when you put the real violin into their hands.

I make my fake violins out of a Cream-0-Wheat box (you can keep it FULL of the cereal….that way it is very challenging to hold up on their shoulder, and they get the “feel and weight” of a real violin). I wrap the box in a brown paper bag, just like wrapping paper. I draw f-holes, the bridge, the tailpiece, the button, I draw as many real parts as I can, including the outline of a violin. Kid’s minds are AMAZING…..they will connect the dots, and their imagination will fill in all the blanks! THEN, I take a PAINT STIRRING stick (free at Home Depot), and I tape it onto the cereal box. I don’t go to any great length to secure it tightly, because I want the child to PROTECT the neck of the violin, and not bump it. The child has to learn to be careful with the fake violin before getting the real one.

I have the child use the FAKE violin to learn Posture, rest position, playing position, how to take a bow, the foot positions, and all that. When they can successfully go from Rest Position, to playing position, and hold the violin on their shoulder (with no hands) for the duration of Twinkle Variation A, and then get back into rest postition and take a bow, then they earn their real violin.

Kids LOVE it. I usually have a baggie of sugar or rice inside the violin for weight, but I also always had a surprise inside….so when the child is ready for their real violin, I told them they could open up the fake violin to get the surprise out.

This is one of the VERY FEW treats or rewards I ever use in my lessons. I know kids are kids….and they love treats and stickers…but I don’t like to associate doing something right with a reward. I like to foster the idea that the self-satisfaction and the praise and positive reinforcement IS the reward. Studies have shown that the intrinsic rewards are more motivating and longer-lasting than a tangible “treat” or reward.

I will admit….I got sucked into offering “stickers” at lessons…..and I quickly saw the folly in that decision….so instead of telling my students, “I’m not giving out stickers anymore”……I just had a whole collection of stickers in a bag, and at the end of a lesson, I would let them choose any sticker they wanted, and they would decorate their books with them. That way, it was sort of a little reward, but it wasn’t associated with anything they did right or wrong.

I ALWAYS explained my motives and psychology to parents, so that they could be in on the game. You might want to discuss a game plan with your teacher. Also, meltdowns are normal….but only once in awhile. If a child has a meltdown 3 times or more, they simply aren’t ready for lessons. YES, your teacher might be too strict, and might not understand quite how to deal with a 2.5 year old…..so you could try a different teacher…..but you could also consider the possibililty that 2.5 is too young for violin (plenty of people would disagree with me….that’s fine)……and you could consider the possibility of the preparatory “music and movement” lessons I was telling you about.

Sometimes, I will use a worksheet, like a paper that says, “PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT”, in bubble letters, and each letter will be broken into 3 segments, and each day the child practices, they color in a segment, and when the sheet is all filled in, there will be some sort of reward. So I make my rewards very long and drawn out……all the while, encouraging parents to give LOTS of positive reinforcement, treat practice time as quality time together with your child, build up a “team” mentality between parent and child, and teach parents to “See all, ignore much”, which is my favorite quote from Suzuki. Kids need to feel successful to maintain enthusiasm. But, they also respond very well to a challenge, if presented right.
I like to say something like, “Pretty good! There is one other thing you could do to make that even better…..(then I act like I shouldn’t have let the cat out of the bag)…..but I think it might be too hard for you….I’m not sure if you would want to do something that hard”…..or something like that….I have NEVER met a kid who doesn’t BEG me to tell them what it is….and the SWEAR to you that they can do it, no matter how hard it is. It’s hilarious.
So, wow. This email is long. I love talking about teaching kids.
The main gist of my email is:
I recommend some sort of preliminary preparation for your daughter to build musicality and coordination.
I recommend the fake violin plan to sort of “erase” what your daughter thinks she knows about violin. (this phase can take 1-4 weeks, it’s no biggie)
I recommend reconsidering rewards, what they mean, when to give them out, and try giving intrinsic rewards instead of tangible ones.
I hope this email was helpful. I think the main concern for everyone involved in young children and lessons, is to foster and encourage the LOVE of music, keep it fun (as well as disciplined) keep it positive, and recognize that even if you don’t create a musical genius, you are creating a better human being, improving body, mind, and spirit through music. Sometimes, it’s easy to get super focused on just the music.

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10 Comments

  1. Steve

    When my fingers are extended and not playing violin, I can separate the tips of my 3rd and 4th fingers by one full inch. However, as I curl my fingers back towards the violin strings, the 4th finger moves in to touch the 3rd finger, and will not move away from it. It’s the way the base joint of my 4th finger is structured. (My other hand is exactly the same.) Thus, I cannot reach a 4th finger note that is a full step above the 3rd finger note (B natural on the E string, for example), unless I lift all the other fingers up and move my thumb towards me on the neck of the violin. It’s almost like shifting up 1/2 a position. This makes it all but impossible to play tunes with a slur or trill between A and B natural, for example, or any fast change between 4th and 3rd finger, that is so common in Celtic music.

    Reply
    • Lora

      Hi Steve
      Your issue does sound pretty extreme, but I am a firm believer in “work-arounds”….and I don’t think your problem should stand in your way.
      1) First of all, you can change the angle of your fiddle to assist your pinky.
      2) You can adjust the curve of your wrist (bending IN more and OUT less will help your pinky)
      3) Next, you can choose different fingerings to avoid exposing this weakness
      4) Also, you can do some “rehab” on your hand…..try to imrpove some of that co-dependency between fingers
      5) Study body-mapping and Alexander Technique (this is HUGE for you)
      6) Last but not least, you can schedule a skype session with the high priestess of violin ergonomics, Jennifer Johnson. She is the author of “What Every VIolinist SHould KNow About the Body”…..I WANT THIS BOOK, but it’s pricey…..yet it’s PRICELESS. So, I recommend buying that book, AND/OR contacting Jennifer for a private consultation. Her price is reasonable (50-60/hour last I heard) and she is a MASTER.

      If you need her email and cant find it online, contact me again.
      TAKE HEART!!! You have LOTS of options to help you!

      Reply
      • Steve

        Lora, Thanks so much for the thoughtful reply and suggestions. I don’t think my hand structure is so unusual, but maybe it is.
        1) I’ve tried every angle of the violin. It doesn’t make any difference at all, because my hand moves with it.
        2) My wrist is already bent all the way in that it will go. My knuckles are not quite parallel with the neck of the violin, in fact, maybe at a 30 degree angle. That’s the best I can do.
        3) I’ve tried 2nd position for some of the G-A-B sequences on the E-string. It works very well for me, unless I have to go down to F#. I just happened to think that maybe F# is reachable on the A string while in 2nd position. Hmmm…
        4) The base joint in my 4th finger is kind of like a hinge. It cannot be pulled out when my fingers are curled towards a fist position. It would certainly damage the joint. I’ve been trying for about 6 years now, and it’s still the same as in the beginning.
        I don’t know about the other options. I think 2nd position is my best bet. Also, maybe a 3/4 or 7/8 size would be good, although I’m afraid my fingers would get in each others’ way on a smaller violin. Even on the 4/4, I can’t play F# then G on the D string. I have to lift one finger up and put the other down, or else one of the notes will be flat or sharp. My fingers aren’t narrow.
        I know that many North Africans play violin upright, like a cello, but on one leg or the lap. In that position, I can reach the 4th finger very nicely, because my wrist isn’t turned around. I wonder why more people don’t play that way. My teacher would go berserk if she saw me playing that way! I know it has other problems, such as the bow hold.

        Reply
        • Lora

          Steve,
          I HIGHLY encourage you to check into Jennifer Johnson’s book.
          Also, google “body mapping for musicians”, and you will see that this can make a HUGE impact on how we approach our instruments.
          And…..just think if Jennifer could look at your hand ON your violin, IN ACTION and give you tips and pointers!? Here is her email. She is super nice. I think you should make the investment in yourself and have a consult with her.
          jenniferbodymap@gmail.com
          Good luck!

          Reply
  2. Lisa A.

    Hi! I’m really interested in learning, but have a few questions. I was wondering what option you might recommend for the book that goes along with the course(s). I might not be able to start for a few months- my husband and I have 2 family members graduating with their Masters degrees this May and he has his summer leave from his unit in July so we’ll be traveling a lot- and I am trying out not working so we’ll be seeing what our finances look like in the midst of all of this. Also, I learn better by seeing someone act out the instruction as well as being able to read it in “black and white”. Another thing I was wondering- I’m more interested in focusing on fiddle rather than traditional violin. Do you recommend doing Book 1 and then the fiddle lesson? Or all of the books and just supplement with the fiddle lesson? TIA!

    Reply
    • Lora

      Hi Lisa
      I hope I understood your questions. If you have follow-ups, fire away!
      There is not really a “book” that goes along with MY class, except the sheet music, “Suzuki Violin Book 1”, which I follow to a “T”, plus lots of additional stuff. I do recommend people buy the book just for your library, although you will be learning everything by ear, the book is nice support.
      There are tons of Suzuki supplemental books you can buy, such as “Nurtured with Love”, “Teaching from the Balance Point”, “The Suzuki Violinist”, but I feel like they are mainly for teachers, except “Nurtured with Love”, which is a guide for teachers AND parents.
      My class does have printable lesson summaries, designed to help you organize the concepts, practicing, and to not have to always refer to the videos to remember certain things.

      The fiddle class requires a Suzuki Book 1 proficiency, minimum. It doesn’t teach technique or “how” to play, it focuses on teaching fiddle stuff like bow patterns, scales, chords, ornaments, change-ups, and stuff like that. But if you finish Suzuki Book 1, you will be able to tackle the fiddle class.

      The fiddle class will make you a better violinist, and the Suzuki classes make you a better fiddler. They are very complimentary to each other.

      My online lessons are very flexible, so if you started now and had to take a break, the lessons would be waiting for you when you can return to them.
      And, I will be here when you are ready! Take your time, figure out your finances and schedule, and I’ll be ready when you are!

      Reply
  3. Michele

    My 9 year old is midway through her second year of lessons (group style) I came across one of your youtube videos on how to fiddle and appreciated your pace and detail and thought we will be in a position to play with your program. We will be living in Canada for a few months soon and thought it would be the perfect timing to try you out. Is there any reason why we wouldn’t be able to access lessons outside the US if we purchased a membership? and Where would you recommend someone like her begin in your program.

    Reply
    • Lora

      Hi Michele,
      Replied via email to you, because I need more info! Glad you found me!

      Reply
  4. Beth Carr

    Hi lora,
    i want to use the pdfs “Building Left Hand Speed and Dexterity and Building Left/Right Hand Coordination, but am unclear as to what the finger patterns are. Is this suzuki?? Do you have a video that shows how to achieve these patterns? Maybe I need to sign up for more than the free membership?
    Please recommend a course for me – here is my history on violin: I took 2 years of classical lessons (not suzuki) about 10 years ago as an adult for technique and have been playing in local fiddle jams since (old time and bluegrass mostly). Can read music and play by ear. Speed has always been a problem, so has finding practice time while working full time, etc. To be able to use less time to achieve more is really appealing to me. I have never shifted and really want to do this. I would love to learn western swing and jazz eventually if I live long enough. I know I need much better technique for that.
    Your website/blogs/resources are amazing. THANK YOU – it IS hard to find a good teacher and I am so thankful to have found you and your work!

    Reply
    • Lora

      Hi Beth!
      I am going to email you about this. Lots to discuss! Glad you found me, you are in the RIGHT PLACE!

      Reply

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