New ed., Introduction by Sally Thomas. Paperback. Publication Date: March 21, 2013. A celebrated instructor presents his philosophy of teaching and practice methods, including the appropriate combination of technique and interpretation. The longtime Juilliard professor incorporates aspects of both the Russian and French schools in a system both ingenious and logical. Topics include posture, vibrato, intonation, bowing, double stops, and many other subjects.
Check the Teacher Directory; we may have someone in your area. (This is a subscription listing for teachers; if you'd like to be listed, the contact link is at the bottom of that page.)
Contact the music department string teachers of any local universities: they may not take beginning students, or they may charge more than you care to spend initially, but they are likely to know the good local teachers, or recommend one of their abler graduate students.
"Can I teach myself the violin?" is a question which comes up six or seven times a day. This may be a function of the economic times we live in, and also, frequently, there are no teachers available in the Asker's area. The answer to that is, I don't think you can, unless you are already a trained musician, and even then a good teacher is necessary. It is not out of mere self-interest that teachers insist that teaching oneself the violin is apt to be counterproductive and frustrating. It is an instrument which requires individual, hands-on guidance from an experienced teacher, and students frequently report that their initial efforts to teach themselves were not very productive.
Nevertheless, I don't mean to be dismissive about this. There are people who live in areas where there are no violin teachers locally, people who would gladly go to a teacher if one were available. To them I would recommend the following books and online services (see lists, below). Note that Ivan Galamian, an Iranian teacher who taught at Juilliard for many years, and trained a generation of eminent violinists, is the source of almost all technical issues currently in practice in modern classical violin. His assistant was Dorothy Delay, and her assistant was Simon Fischer.
The Violin Lesson is the logical sequel to Basics and Practice. Basics gives all the fundamental technique; Practice shows how to merge technique with music-making. The Violin Lesson, while adding fine detail to many of the subjects covered before, is able to go beyond the headings of the previous books into other essential areas of music-making and violin playing.
Each chapter is a masterful presentation in which Simon Fischer tackles the obvious and seemingly intractable problems of playing and teaching the violin. In his typically thorough but straightforward way, he addresses technique, musical artistry and psychology as manageable and interconnected units, often illuminating the problems from new and unexpected angles and transforming even the most intimidating matters into inviting subjects with clear solutions.
While those who know Basics and Practice will recognize some of the topics - and various familiar landmarks reappear - they are expanded with new and substantial material in The Violin Lesson....read more
Tune A Day, Vols. 1-3 (available for violin, viola and other instruments): This is an excellent set of progressively more difficult books which includes good introductory explanations (I love book 1!) and pieces based on American themes and folk music (lots of Steven Foster pieces). I started on these as a child, and I still use them to supplement the Suzuki books in order to go sort of sideways rather than forging ahead inappropriately, or forcing the student to play the same Suzuki pieces interminably. There is also a Tune a Day Scale Book which may be used to precede the Hrimaly.
The Doflein Method, Vols. 1-5: This is listed second under the "Violin Literature" link (see below). I am not familiar with these books, but I have seen them recommended by European teachers and my impression is that this is what is used in Europe by traditional (or eclectic?) teachers who do not primarily rely on Suzuki for their beginning students. I'm sure it's good material.
New students are also likely to get the Suzuki books and CD's; these are very widely used internationally and are slowly coming out (circa 2008) in revised editions which have lots of explanatory text. Suzuki books are used by many teachers who have not taken Suzuki training; this training is expensive, and requires adherence to principles with which many teachers do not agree —that is, the initial teaching of the violin to very young children, by rote. Many of the ideas in the Method (or Philosophy) are quite good, however, especially the child-centered Montessori-like notion that "Every Child Can" and respect for the student—versus the old "ruler over the knuckles" approach in traditional teaching. It is probably wise to keep an open mind. Please see:
Suzuki books (texts, not method books).
If you want to tread the usual path, after you've worked through one of the sets of traditional introductory books, you can then proceed with Wohlfahrt, Kayser, Mazas, Rode, Dont Op. 37, Kreutzer, Dont Op. 35, etc. You will absolutely need a private teacher to work through this material. Hohmann, Laoureux and Sitt are also excellent. See: What is the usual progression of violin études?
The least expensive way to get some of this material is buy the CDSheetmusic CD, which has the etudes. Contents are listed here: Violin Methods, the Ultimate Collection. This has Hohmann and Sitt (which I left out of my descriptions) but which are great, and Secvik, Dont Op. 35 and 37, Hrimaly, Kreutzer, Schradieck, Rode, Fiorillo. If you don't mind printing this stuff out yourself, it's worth getting. Bear in mind that after three downloads of the software, it locks. So you only want to download it with that in mind.
Am I too old to learn the violin, which has always been my dream? I would say, absolutely not. The benefits are enormous and you don't have to feel at all odd about it. There is one YahooGroups, "Beginning Adult Violin Study" (bavs) which has been online for eight years now and has over 3,000 members. This is a great place to get acquainted with other adults on the same path.
Initially, beginning students may come to realize that the violin is harder than they thought it was going to be; it takes at least five years to get into the violin. The beginning stages may be difficult for adults who are accomplished in other areas. In some sense, they have to become like children again, playing Twinkle and other simple pieces. It may also be difficult for busy adults to integrate consistent practice time into their busy schedules, but many adults manage to do this and have great success, enabling them to play in local orchestras, play gigs with friends, etc. The advantages of the mental and physical efforts needed to play an instrument far outweigh any drawbacks. If you have children, in particular, it is an advantage for them to see their parents give importance to this sort of effort.
I have had many reports from ordinary people who take up a new sport or a musical instrument in their 50s or 60s, and not only become quite proficient, but derive great joy from doing so. Eliza Bussey, a journalist in her mid-50s who now studies harp at the Peabody conservatory in Baltimore, could not read a note of music a few years ago. In a letter to me, she wrote about what it was like learning to play Handel's "Passacaille": "I have felt, for example, my brain and fingers trying to connect, to form new synapses. ... I know that my brain has dramatically changed." Ms. Bussey is no doubt right: her brain has changed.
Music is an especially powerful shaping force, for listening to and especially playing it engages many different areas of the brain, all of which must work in tandem: from reading musical notation and coordinating fine muscle movements in the hands, to evaluating and expressing rhythm and pitch, to associating music with memories and emotion.
(4) Since I am left-handed, can I learn to play and have a violin fitted for playing in the opposite way? (In other words, with the G string to the right, and holding the bow with the left hand?) Much like the question about adult learners, this question is very controversial, and I would hesitate to answer positively one way or another. The literature is really not designed for this, and the problems of adjustment in reaching higher positions seem overwhelming when you consider what the configuration would have to
be. It would require a re-fitting of the G bar inside the instrument, and a reshaping of the bridge, at the very least. I think a lot depends on what sort of music you want to play; there are very many areas of music where a left handed player would be at no disadvantage. I'm thinking of popular players in rock, C&W, Jazz and other musics. I don't see it as a problem in those venues, though my knowledge in this area is limited. I do think that in so-called "art music," left-handed players are very rare, since the ensemble playing in orchestra or chamber music requires consistent bowings, and even consistency with respect to fingerings for uniformity of phrasing. I know of only one such player whom I encountered in a university orchestra, and do not know of any others.
While, oddly enough, the question of refitting the violin comes up rather often, this is, naturally, a separate issue from someone who is merely left-handed and wants to study the violin with a traditional hold. One player suggested that being left-handed is an advantage because of the requirements of the left-hand technique, and certainly there is nothing to prevent a left-handed person from taking up the instrument. My guess would be that the percentage of left-handed string players is the same as the percentage of left-handed people in the general population, though I have no hard data on this. If anyone has research on this and would like to contribute it, that would be great. See also: Playing the Violin and Fiddle Left-Handed.
(5)Can you give me some advice about how to play the "wiggly thing," i.e., vibrato? This is a large and important subject which is best managed under the supervision of a teacher, or at least with videotapes. Having said that, it is common that students will see teacher and other players vibrato and, usually around the second, third or even forth Suzuki books, will want to acquire this technique themselves. My introductory remarks on the subject usually are something like:
There are primarily three sorts of vibrato: finger vibrato, hand vibrato, arm vibrato. Vibrato is very personal, and also dependent on the style of the work in question. Zukerman suggests a "continuous vibrato," but performance practice requires that one recognize that in early music, vibrato was considered to be an ornament and used sparingly. Students normally exhibit a desire to learn this technique, struggle for some time to acquire it, and then wake up one day with a vibrato. Vibrato should be used knowingly and deliberately, rather than continuously and nervously.
(6) What is the distinction between "weight" and "pressure" with respect to playing double (and triple) stops?
Galamian students (Davidovici, Luby, Bedelian—the three I studied with) relay to their students the notion, taken from Galamian (and from his teachers, one supposes, though I have not followed this through), the distinction between "weight" and "pressure" in bowing. In Galamian's Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching , (Prentice-Hall, 1962), I located the exact passage (page 57):
What counts in tone production is not the amount of pressure used but, if one may so term it, the quality of the pressure. This is determined by the manner in which the pressure is transmitted. The main point is that it must not, under any circumstances, take effect as a dead weight, inelastic and inarticulate, that would crush the vibrations of the string or, at best, produce a tone of inferior quality. Instead the weight of the arm and hand and the pressure from the muscles should be transmitted through the flexible and well-coordinated system of springs, natural and artificial, which was outlined...
Thus students are warned to use "weight, not pressure," as I heard from my teachers over and over. A deeper examination of the whole chapter is recommended to clarify all the issues involved.
(7) What is best approach to producing smooth bow strokes?
Bring bow stroke up from the bottom wrist slightly bent up. Make sure the hair has a constant firm contact on the string. As you approach the upper part of the stroke and are turning around, kind of throw your fingers up to make the turn, lowering your wrist at the same time. At the top of the turn, squeeze the bow as you lower the top of your hand. Bring your hand down squeezing and gradually release as you reach the bottom. Then lead with the top of your wrist. Leaving the fingers behind, gradually bringing your fingers through the stroke to end up top again to make the next turn. It's like driving your car around a corner, you don't stop, but bring it around smoothly. Watch the hand and wrist of good players.
(8) What technical routine do you use to stay in shape?
Violin and viola: scales, etudes, pieces. Piano in the morning, early. If you have a lot of performance responsibilities, "routine" is not quite the right word. Professionals practice all the time, and the more you practice (with supervision if you're new to this), the better you'll get—assuming you're practicing correctly and not practicing mistakes. This is what a good coach or teacher is for. Practice should be "mindful"—in other words, it should be pleasurable and interesting, not dull or "routine." That's why no one who plays really well can answer this question, because it's so personal. You play what you're interested in, or required to play, and you LISTEN to yourself. Awareness is everything. Otherwise, you're wasting your time.
(9) What is the usual progression of violin études?
Excellent books to use in conjunction with the Suzuki materials
Nicolas Laoureux, A Practical Method for Violin. The open string approach at the beginning of the first book is very effective in teaching good sound production, proper bow alignment and rhythmic accuracy in reading:
Note that I was unable to find a copy of Part 4, but a print-out may be purchased directly from the publisher, $29.00 plus Shipping. Email: email@example.com. Part 3 also available for download: Part 3.
There are really no hard and fast rules; what a teacher must be is sensitive to what the student needs, their interests and how they learn, and use materials appropriate for them, rather than everything the same for everyone. I normally start with the Suzuki book 1, but use an eclectic combination of materials: at the Minuets in the first Suzuki book, I add Laoureux, A Practical Method for Violin Part 1 and the
Tune A Day Scale Book (an excellent book!). For the smallest children I use Mary Cohen's Bags of Tunes.
It should be noted that there are violin teachers (Dr. Schmeider at Rice and later, at USC, is I believe an example) who don't use any études at all, in their teaching, and they have great results with students. On the other end of the spectrum are teachers who load you up with Ševcík, endless hours of purely mechanical study, and some people swear by this method.
After the Tune a Day Scale book, I use Hrimaly.
Between the Hrimaly and the Carl Flesh, I've started using the Barbara Barber Scales for Advanced Violinists or Scales for Advanced Violists. I use the first two pages, with all the different bowings, applied to all keys in three octaves. I have a small box with small cards with all the major and minor keys written on them, and the student picks a card, which is their scale for the week. In order to develop a consistency in the fingering, I have the students shift up into third position on the A (or D on viola) string, and then shift down on the top string. Every three octave scale starting with a 2nd finger has the same fingering. Thus the students are easily able to memorize all the scales in every key. See:
John Krakenberger: Violin-Viola Pedagogy: Ševcík yes or Ševcík no
One way of acquiring many of these materials inexpensively is to purchase the CD Sheetmusic CD which has the etudes. Contents are listed here: Violin Methods, the Ultimate Collection. This has Hohman and Sitt, which are great, and Secvik, Dont Op. 35 and 37, Hrimaly, Kreutzer, Schradieck, Rode, Fiorillo. If you don't mind printing this stuff out yourself, it's worth getting. Bear in mind that after three downloads of the software, it locks. So you only want to download it with that in mind.
(10) What is the best way to achieve good intonation in string playing?
As an intellectual concept, this is a difficult area, particularly if you're primarily right-brained and not given to mathematical and scientific thinking, though this sort of thinking can in some degree be learned, with effort. There is an excellent discussion of these issues in Dr. Michael Kimber's "Scales, Arpeggios, and Double Stops for the Violist." This book, available online on Dr. Kimber's page, has several pages of really interesting text at the beginning, referring to methods of practicing the material and intonation issues in string pedagogy. Extremely valuable resource. See his diagram explaining intonation differences.
As a practical matter, there are a few concepts that teachers use, including the "ringing tones" in Suzuki. These are the fourth finger/lower open string and third finger/upper open string pitches which should match, and also the notion of "frame" formed, initially, by the first and third fingers (with a "high" or a "low" 2), and somewhat later, the frame formed by the octave reach of first and fourth finger. If you have a really beautiful instrument and you play really in tune, then any pitch you play will very likely cause sympathetic vibrations in the other strings.
The initial Suzuki way of conceiving of this starts with the matched pitches of:
1. Open string, G, D or A, and the next string's third finger, which forms an octave. An octave is one letter name to the next, so for example:
open G string matches third finger on the D string
open D string matches third finger on the A string
open A string matches third finger on the E string
2. Alternatively, the 4th finger, as I'm sure everyone knows, is, if played in tune, the exact same pitch as the next open string, so for example:
4th finger on the G string is the same pitch as open D
4th finger on the D string is the same pitch as open A
4th finger on the A string is the same pitch as open E
One can actually see the next string over vibrating in sympathy, especially in the first pair, the 4th finger G and the open D string; you can see the D string vibrate if the G4 is just right.
John Krackenberger talks about how endorphins are released when this phenomenon occurs; this is an addiction musicians have, but in a good way. Please see: John Krakenberger's article on "Laterality," published in the April 2007 ed. of Strad magazine:
What has left-wrist suppleness to do with good intonation? Firstly, I make a distinction between correct intonation and sensitive intonation. The former hits the note accurately but may just miss the place on the string that produces vibrations in sympathy with the instrument itself or with surrounding sounds. If you can tune in to these, the sound improves, becoming richer and rounder: this is what I call sensitive intonation. To produce this requires the left hand to be supple enough that the fingertips are extremely sensitive subliminally to the vibrations coming back from the string. Incidentally, this feedback also produces endorphins in the player, and once you get a student to feel this you are on the right track. The human has an insatiable appetite for endorphins and will look for more sensations of the kind; thus, gradually, sensitive intonation becomes automatic. [pdf of Article]
An additional concept may also be introduced, having to do with the roles that pitch steps (of the scale) play within the context of any given key, [See Wikipedia: tonic, supertonic, mediant, subdominant, dominant, submediant, leading tone]. Stringed instruments are not equally tempered the way the piano is, and thus, key context is everything when it comes to intonation on a stringed instrument. The leading tone, for example, is higher, and half-steps can be smaller, within the context of the key (than they are on piano). Playing with piano, one may attempt to adjust to the equally tempered notes, but this is not accurate for the violinist.
Scale Steps and their Corresponding Triads
submediant or superdominant
Regarding naming scale steps in minor:
"The names of the scale degrees are the same in major and minor, with
one exception: when the seventh degree isn't raised with an accidental to
make a half-step with the tonic, it's better to call it "subtonic" instead
of "leading tone". ("Flat seventh" or "lowered seventh degree" will also
do in a pinch!)."
Other perspectives include:
Within the key context: 3 and 7 are high, the perfect 5th is wide
Tendency tones: 2 goes to 1, 4 goes to 3, and 6 goes to 5. The exception is that 7 goes up to 8, whereas the others tend to fall down to the tonic triad tones
Four different kinds of intonation: illustrated at
Violin Masterclass (Click on "Definition") These include:
(1) Pythagorean Intonation;
(2) Just Intonation;
(3) Equal Temperament; and
,,(4) Expressive Intonation.
(11) At what stage in students' development do they begin vibrato and shifting? Interesting to pair shifting and vibrato, since they really are in so many ways, related concepts. I have some ancient Paul Rolland tapes (I haven't seen the new ones—assuming there are any, which I imagine there are), where *beginning* students are doing tapping and other exercises to develop the flexibility necessary for both of these practices.
By the time the student gets to Suzuki Bk. 4, shifting is necessary for Seitz concerti, and vibrato should be online by then, also. (See: Suzuki Repertoire list). Towards the end of Bk. 3 I introduce the
Wohlfahrt studies and numerous exercises for developing a freer left hand, even in the
Hrimaly. [I don't think it's wise to get into the habit of practicing scales with vibrato, all the time, but according to Dr. Michael Kimber you can practice scales with or without vibrato, but it should be either with or without, but not both, and deliberately, not habitually. If you're not careful, vibrato can be a hindrance to developing pure intonation, "frame," and "ringing tones."]
Depending on the age of the student—with adults there is *much* more verbalization—ideas about both vibrato and shifting are mentioned early on, but not addressed directly until maybe mid- Bk. 3. But indirectly addressed by seeing that the left hand is flexible, free, and able to operate independently of holding the instrument, which should be more a function of the collarbone and shoulder.
(12) Should a teacher who is primarily a violinist teach viola?
I've played the violin for many decades, teaching and performing, and
then started studying viola seriously several years ago. I am enamoured
of the sound and what the study of this instrument does for my overall
The question is, should a violinist, however familiar with the violin etude and chamber music repertoire, be teaching viola? Even beginning viola? (I mean privately, private
studio). I wonder about the ethics of doing this, particularly if there are
good viola teachers available. Same with cello. In a rural area, with
no other options, perhaps it's excusable. But in a larger city, with
numerous other teachers, I wonder.
While many of the standard studies for violin are available for viola (Mazas, Rode, Dont, Kreutzer, etc.), one ought not to neglect the original etudes for viola: Hoffmeister, Campagnoli, Fuchs, and others. Violin etudes of course have to be selected and/or edited judiciously for study on viola: ones that feature useless extreme-high positions (that are VERY stressful on the left hand on viola) and nearly or literally impossible reaches (tenths—ouch!) are not going to do an advancing viola player much good, and indeed can easily lead to counterproductive frustration. Even such a thing as over-use of the fourth-finger extension in first position is going to be an issue for most players on a adult-sized viola.
I think Fuchs has a note in the introduction to one of her collections
mentioning that a lot of violin etudes fairly well neglect the middle range of the instrumentand —she's right. You could play violin etudes all week without learning that the instrument has a third string (slight exaggeration only!), thus without playing much in the register that is the bread-and-butter, most highly characteristic part of the viola's range.
In general, the responses on the newsgroups support the idea that a teacher in this situation would need to be aware of the needs of advanced students, or students with exceptional potential, whereas teaching beginning students would probably be okay, at least initially or until the student was ready for more advanced studies. Care should be taken, however, that the teacher who is primarily a violinist continues to study the viola and continues to understand the pedagogical aspects of viola playing. These differences include but are not limited to: broader vibrato, differences of tone production with the bow, more use of second position, and different fingerings.
Practicing is a key issue in developing students as musicians. Children normally will not do this on their own until they're in their late teens. So it is up to teacher and parents to insist. There is a very useful book that parents find helpful; it is available on Kindle on Amazon.com. You do not have to have a Kindle to read it, but can download it to your PC or laptop with the free software available on Amazon. I also have a copy in the studio, should you care to examine it:
Develop a set time during the day when the student will spend 10 -20 minutes every day, with the instrument;
Design a practice area for your child (or yourself) which includes a chair, their music stand, their music, and perhaps some decoration, like a mobile, posters, etc.;
Remember that brushing teeth (for example), is not optional and neither is "spending some time with the instrument";
Slower is better: slow practice is much more effective than simply running through their week's assignment without reflection;
Most of my students have four or five books or printed materials to work on each week; please don't feel that everything has to be practiced, every practice time, but rather, divide the materials up through the week (children will need help with this):
Remember that Suzuki-inspired lessons are very different than the lessons most of us adults had: the student/parent/teacher triangle (the "Suzuki triangle") means that everyone works together for the good of the child; parents should observe the lessons carefully (many take notes) and supervise the home practice. It's not the same, at all, as the old "drop the student off and pick them up afterwards" type of study.
(15) I have been playing for some time but my technique is not very good. What is your recommendation?
If you will look at Question 9 in this FAQ, there is a section listing études. What I do with my students and myself is to divide the time spent with the instrument into three sections: Scales/arpeggios, études, and pieces. To develop a firm foundation, I would start with Wohlfahrt and Hrimaly, and then progress forward in the order mentioned above. [Wohlfahrt-Kayser-Dont Op. 37-Mazas-Kreutzer, followed by Rode, Gavinies and Dont Op. 35. Scale books: Hrimaly-Schradieck-Flesch-Galamian (in that order).] You could also add the Whistler, Introducing the Positions and the Trott Melodious Doublestops. It goes without saying that you will need a teacher to guide you; someone who is closely acquainted with this literature and has a history of developing students to a high level of proficiency.
Good luck with your work!
(16)If there is an harmonic alteration, that alteration is good for the whole measure: is the alteration also good in all octaves, or just for the note that's altered?
Rule of Accidentals
Depends on the composer, country, and century. At least! In music before the late 18th century (maybe the early 19th), all bets are off on what's going to come up. There was no international convention that all composers had to agree with, in any of their notation, as to the normal duration of accidentals.
There are also some spots, for example in CPE Bach, where the sharp or flat is supposed to be carried forward *across the barline*, if we happen to be within a port-de-voix, and preparing a note that becomes an appoggiatura. That is, for example: last note in bar 1 is an F#, and the first note in bar 2 is that same F# (but the # is missing), as an ornament to a G or whatever...the F in bar 2 needs to get a sharp anyway. BROADER PRINCIPLE ON THIS: No chromatic slithering within a
complex ornament: if a note is being sharpened or flattened, it stays sharpened or flattened all the way through that same ornament, even if it extends across a barline that would normally cancel it.
Example: To the right is a short example from one of CPE Bach's sonata movements. In the first note in the right hand, bars 3 and 5, the C-flat has to be carried across from the anticipation in the previous bar, even though it doesn't say so.
(Anticipation + appoggiatura + resolution = port de voix.) This happens similarly in other pieces of his, as well: a bunch of notes together comprising an ornamental unit, and a sharp/flat needing to be carried all the way through...even if it crosses a barline.
You're getting this from a college music professor who taught theory for many years (now retired). I am writing this out off the top of my head without footnotes and references. You can look up these things yourselves later, if you wish; but I think you'll get the general drift from this narrative of what went on.
Historical background: Back in the days of "musica ficta," (later Medieval, Renaissance, and earliest Baroque), rules governing proper intervals meant that certain notes above the bass (or, in the earliest days the tenor, which used to be the lowest voice before the advent of the contratenor bassus or "bass") had to be altered to avoid the tritone (the augmented 4th or diminished 5th, the "so-called "devil's interval," which was considered so unstable as to be avoided at all costs) EVEN IF THOSE NOTES WERE NOT SO NOTATED. EVERY "good" musician knew these rules, so there was no need to notate them in the music. Also, in general, until Petrucci in 1501 and his first PUBLISHED music book for polyphonic music printed from moveable type, there wasn't much argument about what the notes were. The composer himself generally passed out the manuscript parts, rehearsed the musicians, and he would be the arbiter of correctness. After music began to be published, the music could be purchased by someone hundreds or thousands of miles from the composer. The composer was no longer there to "put things right." It became the responsibility of the publisher to make things clear to the performer (many times an amateur performer who didn't always know "the rules"). Each publisher set up his own essential "house rules" for where to include accidentals. There was no common agreement. Remember that in the days of Bach, key signatures would often be one accidental off from our current system. A piece in D major might have only one sharp (F#) with the C# (the "leading tone," most often the most prominent old musica ficta note in the old days) getting a written accidental. Key signatures, as we know them, weren't standardized until starting about 1750.
Now to today's point of discussion: The idea of whether to put an accidental in ALL octaves of a chord, or just in one (and assume that the others were also thus affected), again, comes from INDIVIDUAL publishers. One will find some 18th century and even 19th century publications that include only one accidental. HOWEVER, as we get to the late 19th c. and into the 20th c., the Garner Reed quote (given in earlier posts) becomes the generally accepted norm for the music publishing industry. The accidental must appear in any (all) octave(s) in which the note must be altered. Once written, an accidental remains in effect (but only for the single line or space upon which it is written) for the rest of the measure until cancelled by the bar line. If such an altered note (whether it has an accidental attached to a note, or whether it is a later note in the measure on the same line or space as an altered note) is TIED across the bar line, then the accidental is ALSO tied across. In that case, the accidental will continue until the tie (or continuous UNBROKEN series of ties) ends, even if that is many measures later. And in such a case, no accidental is needed on any of those later continuously-tied notes.
The above rules generally cover TONAL music.
With the advent of ATONAL (particularly dodecaphonic [12-tone, serial]) music, SOME (but not all) composers look at things a little differently. For SOME 20th c. composers, an accidental covers only the note to which it is attached. If it is followed by another note on the same line or space, then it, too, needs an accidental, IF it is to be altered. Otherwise, without the accidental, an unmodified note (even if it follows a modified note on the same line or space within the same measure) reverts back to its plain, white-note state. In the case of atonal music, it seems to make sense to notate each individual note requiring an accidental with an accidental even if it is in the same measure as a previous accidental on the same line or space. It does make the music easier to read for the performer. Again, not all 20th c. composers do this, only some. Many still follow the standard rules (i.e., Gardner Reed). [From Viola List]
(18) What is the best method to produce a straight bow?
Getting students to play on the so-called "Kreisler Highway"** is a difficult task for the teacher. Some of the ideas that I use to get a straight bow include:
We discuss the math notion of "parallel." The bow needs to be parallel between the bridge and the fingerboard;
We discuss the terms (and sounds of) "Ponticello" and "Sul tasto." [See: Violin Terms] Ponticello is the sound, used primarily in contemporary music, produced by playing on or very near the bridge; alternatively, sul tasto is the sound
produced by playing on the fingerboard, a softer sound requested in the score by some composers, for affect. Neither are appropriate for most playing;
We discuss how the arms of humans beings, specifically the right arm, naturally move in a circular motion. So in order to maintain the parallel placement of the bow, it is necessary to push outwards, toward the front of the player (sorry -- difficult to express verbally);
We discuss the notion of "cutting the string." Not a nice image, I realize, but useful in sound production on the violin: the bow "cuts" the string at the "sounding point" (Galamian's "point of contact"); sound is produced by the "spinning out" of the vibrations, created by a perfectly parallel "cutting" of the string, controlled by the second joint of the index finger of the bow hand.
Simon Fischer's Basics: Simon Fisher was a protégé of Dorothy DeLay, who was of course, Galamian's assistant. His articles regularly appear in Strad. The book has some wonderful exercises, and is the best book for self-teaching on the violin that I know of. The book has very explicit, detailed directions and explanatory photographs. I use these exercises in my teaching. The first chapter of the book is about the bow hand, and well worth examining.
One of my favorite exercises is #36, page 20 (Peters ed., 2004):
Fig. 23 Moving the hand along the bow
In this exercise the hand moves along the bow while it rests on the string without moving. Because the bow is parallel with the bridge the arm has no choice but to make exactly the correct movement. This is one of the best exercises because it gives you the feeling of drawing a straight bow.
The exercise requires an assistant  who rests the bow on the string at the point holding it exactly parallel to the bridge (Fig. 23). Use only the screw of the bow to hold it, to leave as much room as possible for the player's hand.
Position the violin so that the end of the down-bow, which remains...etc..
I would encourage anyone to get this book; I think used copies are available on Amazon, on occasion...
Chapter Outline (with numerous subheadings, not listed here):
A. Right Arm and Hand
B. Tone Production
C. Key Strokes
D. Left Hand
** Occasionally a reader will use the search engine on my page, looking for
this phrase, but spells it "Chrysler," which of course, yields no results.
RE: Private Teaching Studios
(19) How can I develop a private teaching studio?
Important question, especially for those of us whose income is primarily from teaching and performing. [Also see: Teachers Resources]
Ideally, you want to have such a good reputation as a private instructor, that all your referrals come in by word of mouth. But you may, initially, need to hang flyers in the local shops. I like designing a flyer with my phone number listed numerous times at the bottom, so that prospective students can take a strip of paper with the phone number.
Some of the places where you could place ads (bring your own box of pins) might include:
grocery stores (United allows it; Walmart does not)
any school (higher education; often need to get permission)
some coffee houses
churches (get permission)
some copy places have bulletin boards
all the local music stores (I mail two flyers and a small stack of business cards every six months or so)
Montessori schools, religious schools (sometimes they have newsletters, also)
some privately owned, "hippy" type restaurants will let you tape a flyer to their door glass
some other private businesses will sometimes allow you to tape a flyer to their glass door
some bookstores may allow you to post your flyer (ask first)
some teachers who teach instruments other than the one you teach will not mind having a few of your business cards; I send these periodically in a nice card
§1. Cancellations: Request 24 hour notice.
§2. Dismissals: The student's feelings are key.
§3. Illness: Children who are ill should stay home.
§4. Instruments: 100% trade in policy for student instruments.
§5. Fees: About middle ground for this area.
§6. Lesson Time: Not early, not late.
§7. Makeups: Only with two week advance notice.
§8. Parents: Observations.
§9. Parking: On the street but not in anyone's driveway.
§10. Recitals: Two per year, adult students not required.
§11. Retainers: Monthly fee remains stable.
§12. Time-out: Vacation policy.
(21) What are some of the techniques teachers use to approach beginning students?
Students are required to have a three-ring, loose-leaf notebook with filler paper, in order to keep track of their assignments and handouts. I take a blank sheet of paper and put it in *front* of the student's notebook, to write out the current assignment each week. Sometimes I can get two or three weeks on one page, but more frequently I cannot because I write on the page, reminders of note values, articulations, etc. I also put those little post-it bookmark strips on the pages in their books they're working on, I date every assignment (and of course date the notebook entries), and I use lots of stickers. I find that even my adult students want stickers "if that's part of the experience," they say. A lot of them are taking lessons which they had wanted to take, as children, but couldn't. I buy stickers specifically for boys, girls, men and women. (I use stickers for decoration, not rewards for practicing, so they can "have something nice to look at" while they're practicing.)
If the student is playing something in the notebook, then the notebook is on the stand. Otherwise, it is open, next to me, so I can refer and notate. It is important to put the assignment in the front of the notebook, so student doesn't have to shuffle through paper to locate current assignment.
Don't let students try to let you use a spiral notebook (you can't put handouts in it - I have a three-hole punch nearby), a notebook which is too small, or one which is more like a folder and won't sit on the stand. They try all of that. Also, don't let them put anything else in the notebook: only music lesson stuff.
I email the student a one page document of large type manuscript paper. And I ask that they make 10 copies for their notebook. That way, I can use it to demonstrate where the notes are located, scale patterns, chord structure, etc. See: Large size Manuscript paper
Almost from the beginning I have students (both violin and piano) playing scales (with "Suzuki bowings"), learning the scale step numbers and half steps between 3-4 and 7-8, and the minors in their three forms.
Initial notebook entries/techniques:
I draw the violin and bow and we study parts of instrument and bow
finger numbers; if student is also studying piano with me, the distinction is made between piano finger numbers and violin finger numbers
ask parents and student permission to place tapes on violin and bow: three finger tapes (for "frame") on fingerboard, and two tapes in centre of bow, to begin "Pepperoni Pizza"
"left hand technique" (violin hand) and "right hand technique" (bow hand)
how to hold violin (1-2-3): (1) violin is held at arm's length, scroll up, parallel to student's body; (2) position of violin is reversed, with scroll down; (3) violin is placed in correct position to left, on collorbone, with violin parallel or above to floor, and elbow under violin. Next step is to practice holding violin without hands, and then shaking hands under violin
how to hold the bow (1-2-3): (1) thumb is placed, under frog for little ones, crooked near grip for adults and older children (thumb and 2nd finger make "doggie" circle); (2) first three fingers are dropped across stick, tilted slightly toward the tip, with space between 1st and 2nd finger (importance of 2nd joint of 1st finger for the purposes of controlling articulations is later examinedoften); (3) pinky finger is curved on inside of bow.
"rocket ships": bow is held in correct position, and "launched" (with rocket noise) from floor towards ceiling
"tick-tock": bow is held in correct position, slowly making windshield washer movement
"the spider": bow is held from the back, careful not to touch the hair, and hand crawls up bowup is easy, going down is much harder
"the stretch": (for adult or older students), bow is held in correct position, then fingers are extended flat, and then bow is drawn into the palm
"squeelies": start with bow at tip and draw slowly to frog, while running finger up and down strings (great for Halloween)is preparation for shifting and vibrato exercises
"ticks": hold bow in correct position, and make tiny notes at frog and at tipthis is to develop strength in hands and focus on straight bow
son filé: start at one end of bow and slowly draw bow to opposite end, counting, with bow parallel to the bridge
"choo-choo train": very small bows in the middle, spaced notes, getting faster and fasteris prelude to "Wish I Had a Watermelon" variation, i.e., two sets of 16th notes, each starting down bow
"hovering" fingers: develop notion of hovering, e.g. the bow is hovering over the pencil
"Moon Man Silent Landing": bow is brought down, between the two centre tapes on the bow, on sounding point ("point of contact"); "Pepperoni Pizza" is developed from there, starting on the E string.
"pump handle": the seven levels of the right arm, four string levels and three combination levels
Galamian and his students refer to the "pump handle," consisting of the seven levels of the right arm. Each of the four strings has a level and there are three combination levels, double stops with G/D, D/A and A/E.
If the configuration of the right hand remains consistent (the shape and the notion of the bow hanging from the hand like fruit), then it is the whole arm that moves up and down to remain in the plane of the string(s).
Developing the shape of the right hand is so important! Isaac Stern referred to it as a "series of springs." It has to be rounded and sensitive. It's very elegant and very difficult to develop at first.
Most students—whether they're three years old or adults with doctorates—make the exact same errors I have found: pancake hand in the left hand (wrist flat and touching the body of the violin), elbow not directly under the violin, and right hand fingers too far apart with a stiff pinky. All of the right hand needs to be rounded, with
the second joint of the index finger the focus for controlling articulations,
a finger's space between left index and middle fingers,
middle finger across from thumb,
thumb bent against the stick NOT between hair and stick (rounded),
4th finger on or above the eye of the frog
pinky curved with the tip on the top or slightly inside the stick
(23) What are some of the advantages of studying music?
I believe that music study is productive for anyone, at any age. The benefits may be said to include
(a) Sense of accomplishment, self-esteem;
(b) informs one's knowledge of human history and aesthetics;
(c) teaches self-discipline and awareness;
(d) is enjoyable and pleasurable;
(e) gives meaning and purpose to life;
(f) inspires self-knowledge and psychological insight;
(g) teaches patience and persistence;
(h) promotes physical coordination;
(i) develops attention to fine detail;
(j) teaches humility;
(k) provides a release of emotions;
(l) allows one to share concepts with some of the best minds in human history; and in chamber music performance
(m) teaches one to work with and respect others.
For children, in particular, it is thought that music study supports high academic performance and positive socialization. Individuals responsible for decision making on college entrance applications look at private music study and orchestral experience, as very positive factors. For adults, it is an aide to memory and physiological coordination and wellbeing. [See also: Why We Play.]
It has been amusingly pointed out by a denizen of the Early Music forum (rec.music.early) that the same advantages may be had by baking bread. I think that is accurate; anything done well will produce similar results.
(24) How much music history and music theory do you cover, or attempt to cover, in the private lessons?
I have found that I follow pretty much the "Unit Objectives" from the Lesson Plans in my Math/Music Curriculum unit:
[See orig.: UNIT OBJECTIVES.]
Drawings of how a piece of music makes the student feel.
Drawings of staves, notes & rests, dynamic markings, clefs; creating a collage of music symbols.
Numbers as they relate to music (pitch, rhythm, conducting).
Acoustic properties of sound. Meaning and importance of A=440.
Use of electronic instruments (metronome, pitch devices).
Simple 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4 conducting patterns (down-beat & up-beat).
Recognition of instruments, sight and sound.
Recognition of major and minor chords.
Recognition of major and minor scales.
Recognition of V-I and IV-I cadences.
Recognition of steps and half-steps.
Vocabulary of dynamics: Italian, French, German, English (say aloud in class).
Learning of parts of the scale via solfeggio, numbers and letters.
Improvisation using all black keys (pentatonic scale) and percussive instruments.
Passing around of musical artifacts: things from the violin case.
Introduction of personalities: Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Cage.
Student repetition of rhythmic patterns.
Student repetition of pitches.
Student singing of one-measure pitch-rhythm patterns.
Concert decorum; coaching of how students should behave during demonstration
visits by guest musicians.
A timeline for determining when these subjects are understood, depends upon whether the student has begun lessons:
(a) early, as in the Suzuki method, or;
(b) more traditionally, at seven, eight or even nine years of age, or;
(c) begins as an adult, which is also very common nowadays.
As a general rule, it takes several years to integrate all of these concepts within the framework of learning an instrument. I would expect students who have had three or four years of private and group lessons to have grasped this material.
With a new student with prior training—either in public or private school, and with or without private lessons from a prior teacher—evaluations have to be made in order to determine where the student's training needs to begin. One way is a brief written or oral test. See: Music Pre/Post Test. It should be stressed that this is not a test anyone can "fail" but merely evaluative. If given orally, which is probably best during a private lesson venue, it will quickly become apparent if the student knows or does not know this material. Thus running through the entire test is not always necessary. Most students are not going to know this information initially.
(25) What is the purpose of practicing scales? I found this interesting observation on the rec.music.makers.piano. It was written by a jazz pianist/teacher, but I think it's very worthwhile and applies to strings:
Why Practice Scales:
There are many possible answers, depending on your background and your
goals. For a complete beginner, they help build finger dexterity by
giving you something to play that you can work on without being slowed
down by reading. They also teach you what notes are found in each key,
which makes reading music go more smoothly as you'll cease having to
read each note one at a time and start to see patterns within the key.
If you're planning on playing jazz or any other style with
improvisation, it teaches you what notes are available for use in
improvisation, and teaches your hand good fingering habits that will
hopefully come into play while improvising.
Galamian has a scale study method covering much the same material, but includes more contemporary harmonies, more diverse choice of fingerings, and a separate book with bowing options. Notes are only note heads, which is different than the Carl Flesch.
An even more contemporary scale and arpeggio study book with a jazz/rock influence is Mark Wood's Electrify Your Strings. This may be studied with an acoustic instrument and is well worth examining.
Another very nice--though more expensive--means of recording students is the Edirol R-09HR High-Resolution WAVE/MP3 Recorder. This is a wonderful, pleasant to use mechanism which produces high quality MP3 or .wav files. Be sure to set the recorder on MP3 files; most variations of the Twinkle and pieces in Suzuki book 1 are around 15MG. Most webpages and email services will let you send or download files of up to 25MG. If you set it to .wav file, it will be more than that.
(27) What are some of the questions perspective students ask? Teachers will all likely have very different answers, but these are the questions that I get asked the most frequently; click on the links for my answers.
(28) What are some of the legal issues associated with a private teaching studio?
Issues in the home studio: (a.) If you teach in your home you can have liability issues if anyone gets hurt there. It's recommended that you have home owner's insurance, or renter's insurance;
(b.) You should have your instruments and other equipment insured if they are costly; the AFM (American Federation of Musicians) has good instrument insurance. Regular carriers will often not be able or willing to cover this;
(c.) Private teachers need to have a very clear and specific lesson policy, written out, perhaps available online, and in hard copy for new students to sign, so that misunderstandings don't occur. I have one online at: http://beststudentviolins.com/Studio.html which covers the contingencies I have encountered over the years. If there is a question, we can always refer to the policy, such as the following:
§1. CANCELLATIONS: Please think and plan ahead, and remember your lesson time. If you need to cancel a lesson, make every effort to give teacher as much notice as possible, at least 24 hours. Makeup lessons are not given without 24 hour notice.
§11. RETAINERS: The flat monthly fee covers four lessons, and occasionally five, per month—except for November and December, when it covers three lessons. Regardless of the number of lessons you receive in a month, the fee remains the same. No monthly refund will be given, once lessons are started.
(d.) Unfortunately, in this era, one needs to be sensitive and take care with respect to touching students. The Suzuki process of having the parent in the room is a wise one. I would never touch a student if a parent is not there, and especially so if the parent seems confrontational or otherwise emotionally unstable.
(e.) In my opinion, a teacher must be willing to dismiss or let go of students, or parents, who are emotionally volatile, or inappropriate in behavior.
Regarding dealing with difficult situations: In terms of telling students that it's not working out, the central issues, for me, are dishonesty, primarily: not paying on time, no shows/no calls (I give them three and then ask them to find someone else to work with), and behaviors which are otherwise counterproductive.
Legal issues online: (a.) If you have a studio policy or other information online about your teaching, associated with your email address, you are apt to receive a lot of fraudulent messages, attempting to get you to accept a stolen or bad check, and then return an overage amount to the thief. I have a Teacher Directory and an online Studio Policy, and regularly receive messages of this type, based on my online presence. See: Fraud Against Music Teachers
(b.) If you do business online, you must educate yourself about online security issues, including concerns about wireless security, hacking, phishing, spam and identity theft. If you put your name, phone number, address and resume online, you are bound to encounter difficulties. To start, I recommend the following:
(29) Teaching Fiddle:
I frequently have students contact me who are studying law or working on a Ph.D. in a science subject, who are clearly not planning on becoming professional musicians (though some approach that level), but who "want to know everything" while mainly their focus is fiddle. In these cases, I still use Suzuki book 1, but add AltStrings Fiddle Method by Caroline McCaskey, along with a lot of handouts and a lot of listening but using more an aural tradition [See "Easy Fiddle" link, below].
By observing the posts on Fiddle Hangout (very friendly list) and Fiddle-L, a forum based at Brown University, I have come to understand the real distinction between classical music orientation and folk/fiddle orientation. Learning fiddle is not done by the book, but by listening and teaching improvisation techniques. This is the way folk and popular music is frequently learned, and I highly recommend it.
Like studying the viola, studying fiddle takes the classically trained violinist out of their comfort zone, and is wonderful for the development of their musicianship. There are also sociological and cultural issues, and it's incredibly interesting. [See also, below: How many difference fiddle styles are there?]
(30) How many different fiddle styles are there? The "art music" versus popular or folk music discussion:
The distinction is between so-called "art music"
and popular or folk music. This distinction is no longer very
meaningful, however, as the social classes that participate in these
art forms are pretty much completely across-the-board. In other
words, highly educated individuals enjoy playing "fiddle," and
discovering what that art form is about, and students from all social
classes (not just the privileged), study classical music.
There is still some resentment. Sometimes people are taken aback by
the term "art music," assuming that this phrase suggests that other
musics are not art (understandable, actually). But nothing could be
further from the truth. The phrase "art music" is found in every
musicology textbook, and simply means a distinction between
academically oriented music versus popular or folk musics. It is not
If you trace the history of music from the Renaissance to the present,
it is evident how events in music mirror the socioeconomic events in
human history. In the early development of Western "art music," this
music was mostly created for the European wealthy class. There was no
middle class - until the Industrial Revolution.
At that time, entrepreneurs began designing larger concert halls to
accommodate the middle class, who could afford concert tickets, and
the modern stringed, keyboard, brass and woodwind instruments came
into being, in response to the acoustic needs of these big halls.
This is an important fact that students should understand. The
"piano-forte" (our modern piano) was so called because it could play
both loudly and softly; an ability unknown in the previous keyboard
instruments (like the harpsichord), which were designed for the small
"chamber" ensembles, which were an entertainment of the wealthy.
In Arnold Steinhardt's Violin Dreams he wrote about his visit to Mark O'Connor's summer fiddle camp:
where violinists of all types -- jazz, bluegrass, country and western, blues, rock, Texas style, old-time, classical, and Cape Breton -- gathered to teach and play. (p. 240, 2006 ed.)
So he mentions eight styles, other than classical. I have a couple of questions about this: (a) Should there be other styles on this list?; and (b) What are the definitions of each?
"In addition to those already mentioned, I'm aware of the following fiddle styles: Irish, Scottish, French, Swedish, New England, Midwestern, Quebecois, Southwestern, Alaskan, and Northwestern. These are just the ones I can pull out of my head at the moment, and I'm sure there are many more. . .they vary widely in the type of music played, the bowing styles, and ornamentation. Within Irish fiddle music alone there are as many different styles as there are counties in Ireland."
The list is definitely incomplete. There are other musical cultures in which the violin or fiddle is used extensively, and the style or styles in which the instrument is played would not fit any of the categories already listed. For instance, the violin is a very important instrument in Indian classical music. It is also played quite a bit in Greek traditional music. The category "Gypsy" would not be adequate to represent Hungarian traditional playing as well as Romanian fiddling. We also have all the Native American traditions of fiddle playing, Metis (ND and Canada), Tarahumara and other Northern Mexico tribes, Bolivia, etc...
I can think of five very different fiddle styles in Michoacan. Around Lake Patzcuaro (Morelia, Uruapan); Tierra Caliente part of Michoacan; the southern coast; Tarascan (native fiddle); and modern Mariachi, which is found everywhere but seems strongest to its roots in the western part of the state.
Let me suggest a few styles that have thus far not been mentioned: Son Huasteca, from Veracruz on the Gulf Coast side of Mexico and the son and gusto styles from La Tierra Caliente, over on the Pacific side. Is it proper to call that Son Calientano. And the fiddle is used in Michoacan, in a configuration that differs from its neighbors (Son Michoacano?), Also there's some wonderful fiddle music from the Andes that is unlike any other I've heard. Have you tried to list the various Indian styles in
North America? Waila, Athabascan, Metis from the Red River Country, North Woods styles (Anishanabe, Menominee, etc.) And don't forget the Poles (several varieties right here in Chicago), and the Danes, and the Finns, and the South Slavs.
I'm not sure if you can even list all the styles, even in one specific geographic region. West Virginia probably has a half dozen different styles, to the discerning ear, as does North Carolina. Eastern Kentucky is different from Western Kentucky, East Texas/ West Texas, Southern Missouri/Northern Missouri. It goes on and on.
Thus far, we have:
American fiddling (e.g., New England, Northwestern,
Old Time Fiddling Across America, David Reiner. 66 carefully transcribed tunes from excellent fiddlers across various regional and ethnic traditions, as well as history, bowing and cross-tuning discussions, and stylistic analyses.
(31) How long will it take me to get really good at the violin?
That question is probably one of the top four or five most "frequently asked" on the violin forums. The answer is that it takes about five years to really get into the violin. According to the following research, it takes 10,000 hours to master it.
I just finished Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success, and I would like to quote the paragraphs having to do with successful learning of the violin [this study is also cited in Geoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else]:
Kindle ed., location 464-492:
Exhibit A in the talent argument is a study done in the early 1990's by the psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and two colleagues at Berlin's elite Academy of Music. With the help of the Academy's professors, they divided the school's violinists into three groups. In the first group were the stars, the students with the potential to become world-class soloists. In the second were those judged to be merely "good." In the third were students who were unlikely to ever play professionally and who intended to be music teachers in the public school system. All of the violinists were then asked the same question: over the course of your entire career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practiced?
Everyone from all three groups started playing at roughly the same age, around five years old. In those first few years, everyone practiced roughly the same amount, about two or three hours a week. But when the students were around the age of eight, real differences started to emerge. The students who would end up the best in their class began to practice more than everyone else: six hours a week by age nine, eight hours a week by age twelve, sixteen hours a week by age fourteen, and up and up, until by the age of twenty they were practicing--that is, purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get better--well over thirty hours a week. In fact, by the age of twenty, the elite performers had each totaled ten thousand hours of practice. By contrast, the merely good students had totaled eight thousand hours, and the future music teachers had totaled just over four thousand hours.
[Similar studies on pianists revealed the same sort of data.]
The striking thing about Ericsson's study is that he and his colleagues couldn't find any "naturals," musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did. Nor could they find any "grinds," people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn't have what it takes to break the top ranks. Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. And what's more, the people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.
The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.
[What follows is a very interesting discussion of Mozart.]
(1985), Bryan & Harter (1899)*, Hayes
(1989), Simmon & Chase (1973)** have shown it takes about ten years to develop expertise in any of a wide variety of areas, including chess playing, music composition, telegraph operation, painting, piano playing, swimming, tennis, and research in neuropsychology and topology. There appear to be no real shortcuts: even Mozart, who was a musical prodigy at age 4, took 13 more years before he began to produce world-class music.
In another genre, the Beatles seemed to burst onto the scene with a string of #1 hits and an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. But they had been playing small clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg since 1957, and while they had mass appeal early on, their first great critical success, Sgt. Peppers, was released in 1967.
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) thought it took longer than ten years: "Excellence in any department can be attained only by the labor of a lifetime; it is not to be purchased at a lesser price." And Chaucer (1340-1400) complained "the lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne." Hippocrates (c. 400BC) is known for the excerpt "ars longa, vita brevis", which is part of the longer quotation "Ars longa, vita brevis, occasio praeceps, experimentum periculosum, iudicium difficile", which in English renders as "Life is short, [the] craft long, opportunity fleeting, experiment treacherous, judgment difficult." Although in Latin, ars can mean either art or craft, in the original Greek the word "techne" can only mean "skill", not "art".
* Bryan, W.L. & Harter, N. "Studies on the telegraphic language: The acquisition of a hierarchy of habits. Psychology Review, 1899, 8, 345-375
** Chase, William G. & Simon, Herbert A. "Perception in Chess", Cognitive Psychology, 1973, 4, 55-81.
(32) How can I develop good sight reading skills?
Sight reading is learned by doing; it takes a quick wit, direction from an experienced teacher, and practice. I require sight reading in every lesson. Being a good sight reader requires a combination of two elements:
Learning as much music theory, music history, and related subjects, as one can manage. Having, in other words, a deep interest in music, in general; and
Practical experience in sight reading. This is acquired by joining as many formal or informal groups as one can locate, and also regularly attending to new music in the home practice.
A few things to keep in mind:
At the head of every piece of music, there are three areas to examine initially: the clef signs, the key signature and the time signature;
One should also have some general idea about the style period;
Glance through the piece if you have time and look at the form and chord structures. Determine, at minimum, whether it's in a major or minor key, and note any development or recapitulation materials.
Knowing how to sight read well is the prized skill of many studio musicians. These are great, great players who can "sightread the bugs off a wall," and are highly trained, highly experienced, reliable, professionals. Some of them also teach, some privately, some in university. Studio musicians are typically used for recordings and film music. They are frequently AFM (or the Canadian counterpart) members. See:
American Federation of Musicians
(33) Do you use fingerboard tapes with your students, and if so, what kind of tape?
I use the following products to set up new students' violins:
Fingerboard tapes: Normally tapes will start to "migrate" (move out of the correct position), at which time you can determine if a second or third set of tapes is productive. The "ringing strings" caused by sympathetic vibrations of fingers being put in just the right place should be the goal; fingerboard tapes are used initially, as introduction only.
Pinky pads: Used for the tip of the pinky finger on the bow hand. There are other products you can buy, but I feel that they are too restricting and possibly could cause damage. A pinky pad should be placed slightly on the inside (toward student) of the bow stick, rather than the very top of the stick. These pads will need replacing several times before they're abandoned. You can use
Stravari String Cleaner and Rosin Remover to clean off any messiness caused by the pinky pads (or by fingerboard tapes). Make sure not to get Stravari on the bow hair.
Masking tape: I still use small strips of masking tape to "fence" the initial middle area of the bow for the Twinkle. I find that masking tape stays in place better on the tiny bows, than the fingerboard tape does. (Masking tape is the brown packaging tape that comes in 1" strips.)
(34) What is the best way to develop effective practice habits?
QUESTION: My goal for right now is making sure I set aside time to practice every day. Any ideas other than will-power?!
Don't think of it as "practicing." Think of it as "spending time with the instrument."
There are sort of two ways of "practicing": the wrong way and the right way. The wrong way is sort of watching the clock and sawing away for a certain number of minutes. The right way is to forget the clock and actually PLAY the instrument with intense focus.
You should never "practice" for more than 20 minutes at a stretch. If you can do two, three, or more such "practice" sessions a day, you will get good at playing the instrument.
But never underestimate the value of "practicing" even just for 10 minutes. If you're really listening, your muscles and musicianship will benefit.
Having even a general idea of both short-term and long-term goals is helpful. Keep track of what you're doing, and certainly what is required from the teacher every week (if you have a teacher). One of the best books you can get on this is Barry Green's The Inner Game of Music. I think every working musician alive has read this book.
I require that all students have a three-ring notebook with filler paper, and I do lots of handouts and put their current work on a page in the front of the book every week. It's helpful to keep records of what you're doing and where you're going. If you have a good notebook, you can always refer to it if you forget something. I give students who have been with me a year an Elson's Pocket Dictionary.
** These two in tandem are recommended for preparing for auditions.
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(35) What is the best way to develop a reliable spiccato?
I introduce spiccato by using the Suzuki "Wish I Had a Watermelon" bowing (two groups of four 16th notes). This bowing variation is used not just for the Twinkle, but for one-, two- and three-octave scales, arpeggios and thirds. There is an older, traditional name for this, the "Round Robin."
The process is to start with two octave scales, and play the two groups of four, at the balance point of the bow (lower middle - MB) without trying to make it bounce. No bouncing at first, and not more than an inch or so of bow. Eventually, the bow (if it's a decent bow) will bounce on its own, but only after dedicated practice in coordinating the tiny bow configurations and the fingers.
While there are occasional exceptions in the literature, it is important to insist that each group begin with a down bow--otherwise you get a "hiccup" affect. There is a reason for this; the down bow is heavier because of the weight of the hand and the frog end of the bow, and so the first tactus needs to be downbow, as a rule. [As I mentioned, there are exceptions, and Geminiani referred to this as the "wretched rule." See: Francesco Geminiani: The Art of Playing the Violin ]
The "Round Robin" consists of these scales, played:
1. 8 to a pitch;
2. 4 to a pitch;
3. 3 to a pitch (this may be saved until later if the student is having difficulties, since it consists of "DOWN up down/UP down up");
4. 2 to a pitch, and eventually;
5. 1 to a pitch
This takes a while to develop, but is extremely useful technically.
Incidentally, I identify the second piece of learning scales as the whole note, "smooth", "football" method, which consists of another kind of "Round Robin" but in this case (studio musicians sometimes refer to whole notes as "footballs"):
1. A whole note on each pitch (this is the "son filé" practice);
2. A half note on each pitch;
3. A quarter note on each pitch (détaché)
[It should be noted that détaché does not mean "detached." Détaché is in French what is called a "false friend"; it looks like an English word (remember that about 80% of the words in French are also in English), but is not at all the same thing. Détaché simply means separate bows.
Another example of a "false friend" is the verb in French, demand. If you say, "Je demande" you only say I ask, not I demand...which has been known to play havoc with diplomatic translations!]
This second half of the practice is somewhat like a part of the Suzuki "Tonalization" exercises.
If you carefully lead the student through this material, you will find that the spiccato is better organized. Here is the page of free scales that I use to introduce these ideas (rather than having them buy a scale book just yet):
(36) How do I develop good sound production on the violin?
Sound production on the violin is a function of developing what Galamian called the "point of contact" or "sounding point" which is a matter of controlling that exact spot where the bow hair "cuts" the string. The sounding point may be compared to the diaphragm, with respect to singing; the sound comes from there, and this is where the artist will focus their effort to control the sound. Factors include:
Bow hand (right hand):
Control comes from the second joint of the index finger of the right hand;
The bow comes in contact with this second joint and there is about an inch or so between the index finger and the middle finger; the hand is tilted slightly towards the tip, the 4th finger is over or on the "eye" of the frog (if your bow has one), and the pinky finger must be rounded and not straight or stiff, and preferably the tip of the pinky is on the inside or on the top, if very long;
The thumb of the bow hand must not be between the stick and the hair, but bent and with the tip of the thumb at the juncture between the frog and the grip.
Bow hand ("point of contact"):
The optimal placement of the bow, especially for beginners, is midway between the end of the fingerboard and the bridge, though slightly closer to the end of the fingerboard, on the so-called "Kreisler Highway";
Playing on the fingerboard is sul tasto, which is an orchestral technique for very soft playing; playing very close to the bridge is sul ponticello, which is an orchestral technique used to make a scary sound. Both locations should be avoided by beginning students;
The bow should always be parallel to the bridge. The bodies of human beings are so designed that when we extend our right arm, it makes a semi-circular arc, and this natural alignment causes violin students to play the bow crooked. To compensate, the student must press the violin bow further out in front of them as they move toward the tip, so that at the tip, the bow is still parallel between the bridge and the fingerboard;
Straight bow and correct bow placement are the usual reasons for squeeking, not rosin or the quality of the bow. This is why good players can take a very poor violin and yet sound pretty good; they have control of the bow.
Left hand technique (holding the instrument, shifting, vibrato, intonation):
In violin, there's left hand technique and right hand technique, the later discussed a little bit, above. Left hand technique has to do with holding the instrument, shifting, vibrato, intonation;
The instrument is held with the shoulder and collar bone, and not with the left hand;
The violin should be parallel, or above, to the floor, never tilting downwards.
The left hand operates like an old-fashioned pump-handle (on a well), and there are seven levels of the arm: one for each string and one for G/D, D/A and A/E (double stops on two strings). So on the G String your arm must be rather high, compared to the other strings.
An ancillary concept is the notion of "weight versus pressure." The result of pressure is poor sound quality; using weight, rather than pressure, will result in less crunchy, freer sound.
Isaac Stern referred to an effective bow hand as a "series of springs." The fingers must be supple and extend at the change of bow at both the tip and the frog. This slight flexing of the fingers at both ends of the full bow stroke will facilitate smooth bow changes.
Sound production on the violin is a very subtle, elegant thing to accomplish, and not an easy thing to learn on one's own, I would suggest.
(37) What are "harmonics"?
Regarding harmonics, there is a nice paper by Paul Zukofsky, which some people find helpful (please see, below).
One thing I notice in discussions about producing harmonics is that they talk about positions. Really, harmonics should be perceived in a different way, I think. It's from Pythagoras, a Greek philosopher and mathematician: If you divide the length of a violin string exactly in half, that length being measured from the nut to the bridge, the exact half way spot is where you sound the first harmonic, the one most often used in violin literature.
I introduce this in the first three or four lessons because it's fun to play with. If you extend the fourth finger, stiffen it, and barely touch exactly the right spot, you get this flautando sound, a flute-like sound unlike a regularly fingered note.
The second kind of harmonics are the "artificial harmonics," produced by subdividing still further, length of the string, by shortening the initial length, using a regularly placed first finger, and then extending the fourth finger to lightly touch the string. These are hard to sound without a very good instrument, and difficult technically because both fingers have to be exactly right. This sound is used in a movement of the Bartók Romanian Dances.
(38) What sort of certification is required to give music lessons?
Not to be difficult, but to clarify, there is no such thing as "Suzuki certification." (This is a very common error, to say this). What there is, is registration. You can take the coursework—beginning with "Every Child Can," the initial course, and at least Book 1 in your instrument—in two basic venues: summer courses, or in universities which offer a masters degree in the instrument, along with the Suzuki training.
Many teachers only take the first course and Book 1, in order to get "registered" (that is, registered with the SAA in Boulder), which prospective students can verify. University programs offer a lot more and frequently cover all of the books.
In order to take this coursework, you have to be, I believe, at least 18 years old, and you have to make a videotape of yourself playing two or three prescribed works from the fourth book, and mail it to the SAA, along with your application. Alternatively, you can opt (with violin) to play one of the Mozart concerti in books 9 and 10, with cadenzas--in which case you can take the whole spectrum of coursework.
I have talked to piano teachers who really struggled to play their pieces in the fourth book. Should they be teaching? I don't really think so, frankly. But anyone can hang out a shingle and give lessons, even teachers who only use the Suzuki books but have not taken the training (which is very, very common).
All of this is very controversial and tends to start huge fights, especially among those Suzuki trained teachers who feel that the material is sacrosanct and really resent those who claim to be Suzuki teachers but don't have any idea about the way the training is supposed to be done.
Look at the teacher's training; where did they go to school and who did they study with. Do they interact well with students. How many successful students have they had? Are they pleasant, likeable and thoughtful? Can they play the instrument themselves? Piano skills are really important for all musicians, so I think a piano teacher should have a thorough knowledge of theory and be able to integrate that into the keyboard training. All teachers should have some knowledge of music history and even conducting.
Personally, whether Suzuki or "eclectic," I think the best teachers love children, have a high level of performance ability and training, themselves, constantly strive to improve their knowledge, feel a calling to teach, and have extensive experience playing in ensembles, in school and professionally. I don't think teaching should be a "fall back" position, in order to generate income from a failed performance career. I think it should be done responsibly and with care for the development of the students.
(39) Issues in teaching beginning students.
Anyone who has taught beginners may have a list of issues that usually need to be overcome. Something like:
LEFT, "VIOLIN HAND":
"Pancake hand" - palm of the left hand flat, parallel to the neck;
Wrist not to the player's right of the neck, but under the neck, such that the fingers do not fall straight down, as they should, so the smallest part of the fingertip stops the string, facilitating accurate intonation;
Elbow not under the violin, but to the player's left;
Violin not parallel, or above, to the floor, but slanting downwards;
RIGHT, “BOW HAND”:
Bowing on the fingerboard (sul tasto) or, alternatively, bowing too near the bridge (sul ponticello), rather than on the "Kreisler Highway";
Bowing not parallel between the bridge and the end of the fingerboard, but sweeping more onto the fingerboard as the arm moves the bow toward the tip;
Bow hand pinky finger stiff, rather than curved;
Bow hand thumb stuck between the stick and hair, rather than leaning from the tip of the thumb at the end of the grip;
Bow hand index finger too deep into the hand (overlapping the stick), rather than contact at the second joint;
Student bringing materials to lesson which require them mastering the basics, first, before they play at the level required. (Example: Adult student wants to play "Schindler's List" before they can play the Minutes in the first Suzuki book accurately.);
Students who come, and want to come to lessons, but never practice lesson materials;
Students who always play staccato with everything, or always play in the upper half.
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