Archive for the ‘Violin & Viola’ Category

Bow Care: Tips for an Efficient Set-up and Proper Maintenance

April 5, 2017

by Summer Lusk

Violin/Viola Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Whether you are a beginning student or have been playing for a while, taking a few minutes before playing to ensure that you have a good set up is extremely beneficial in having you sound your best, and also, avoid potential injury. Playing violin or viola comes with certain complexities and technicalities, between both the instrument itself and the bow, that often seem to escape recognition. So here, I want to discuss bow care in particular, and the sort of things you are going to need to keep tabs on in order to ensure that you are setting up your bow correctly and efficiently before playing, as well as maintaining it properly over time.

Bow Tension: How Much?

One thing in particular that I notice among many violin/viola students is that they might neglect or just simply forget to check their bow for the proper amount of tension prior to playing — with the bow either too loose or too tight. This can have consequences from the very first note played.

Having a properly-tightened bow is crucial to producing a good tone and reducing any extraneous movement that might possibly hinder you in practice or performance. A bow that is under- or over-tightened will be that much harder to control.You can easily avoid this by making it a habit to check the bow tension before playing, every single time.

 

I have noticed that there is a tendency among newer players, regardless of age, to over-tighten the bow. This creates too much tension, which can lead to over-stretching of the bow hair (meaning you will have to rehair your bow more frequently), and might actually cause the bow to snap at the head (not a cheap fix).

So what is the proper amount of tension?

 

 

 

 

If your bow is tightened correctly, you will be able to slip a pencil just between the bow hair and the stick.

 

You can use your pinky  too. The tip of your finger should just should just be able to fit.

For another visual cue, watch the stick as you tighten. It should look a bit concave towards the tip and and towards the middle. If the stick appears like it is curving outwards, then it is definitely too tight, and you will need to readjust.

 

 

Proper amount of tension — tip

 

 

Perfect amount of tension — middle

 

 

Too much tension

— tip

 

 

Too much tension

— middle

 

Rehairing Your Bow: How Often?

In terms of long-term bow maintenance, it a pretty good idea to get your bow rehaired

at least once a year, although more advanced players setting aside many hours a day for practice/performance will need to get theirs done more frequently. If you are not sure, a good way to tell if it is due time for one, is to take a look a horsehair near the frog. If the horsehair is dark and grimy, and it is pretty near impossible to get a smooth, clear sound in the lower half of the bow, then chances are, you will probably need to take your bow in for this crucial bit of maintenance.

 

Other indicators that a rehair is necessary:

  • If you have to continuously apply more and more rosin in order to produce a quality sound. This shows that the hair is simply worn out and has lost its grip.
  • If the bow is losing hair frequently — before, during, and after playing.
  • If if the hair appears stretched or shortened and/or you find yourself unable to tighten or loosen or bow. Changes in humidity can cause this, especially during cold, dry months. NOTE: Any unnatural stretching of the hair may be potentially dangerous for the bow, as the strain at the tip could cause it to snap.

 

Rosin

Although it depends on how frequently you are playing, you should definitely be putting rosin on  your bow at least once a week.  Every few days is ideal. You want to use a generous amount — enough to coat the horsehair and provide enough friction again the violin strings — but it can be easy to go overboard. If you find that playing becomes more like a powdery explosion, make a few taps with the stick against the back of your hand. Continue along the whole length of the stick. This will shake some the excess rosin off the horsehair.

 

Another good thing to remember is to periodically check the quality of the rosin you are using. Rosin can get overly dry and brittle over time. If you find that it is really difficult to get any powder out of the block of rosin, it is time to toss it!

 

If you are replacing your rosin, it might be a good time to experiment with the various types available to violin and viola players, perhaps enhanced with precious metals such as gold, silver, lead-silver, or copper. As far as the light [summer] rosin vs. dark [winter] rosin debate goes, I advocate for both. In my opinion, there is not much difference in tone quality. However, I would note that light rosin is generally harder and denser than dark rosin, and thus is thought to be better suited for violin and viola. With this said, a couple personal favorites of mine are actually of the dark variety — ‘Jade’ rosin and ‘Pirastro Oliv’ (pictured below) — so I would say, stay open to trying different things. You never know what could end up being a major preference.


In summary, during your time studying the violin or viola, you will need to take some time to making sure you are setting up your bow efficiently for practice and practice, as well as keeping up with long-term maintenance. In doing so, you will gain a better connection with your violin or viola — resulting in improved tone quality, avoid the potential for injury, and ultimately preserve and prolong the life of your bow. So be sure to stay aware of the few things I mentioned here, and the knowledge will serve you well!

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Musicians: Small Muscle Athletes

September 30, 2013

By: Beth Deininger ,violinist, instructor at The Lesson Studio

When most people think of athletes, they think of professional baseball, football, soccer, and basketball players.  But what most people don’t associate with the word athlete is musicians-but you should!  Musicians train, sometimes up to 8 hours a day, learning techniques and performance practices much like sports athletes attend practices, personal training, and strategy.

So why are musicians called small muscle athletes?  Think about it.  Most instruments require subtle, precise movements in order to create the best results both technically and musically.  Woodwinds, brass, piano, guitar, and strings all have small movements that involve their hands, fingers, and fingertips.  A violin etude could be likened to the football exercise with tires laid on the field, timing how quickly you can run through them.  With that etude, we are trying to see how quickly and accurately we can navigate a course.

Another similarity to think about is performance.  What do sports athletes do? They perform under pressure, hopefully at their most optimum level.  Isn’t that similar to what musicians do?  We practice our songs and pieces, with an ultimate goal of performing them.  We may have the pressure of performing in front of one, or in front of thousands.  Both athletes and musicians train for performances, constantly honing their mental and physical talents.

So whether you are training for a regional game or orchestra placement, it is important to treat your body in the same way.  Stretches, strengthening exercises, and frequent breaks are all important.  When you practice, you should treat your body and mind as if you were out training on the field.  So let’s break down the above three categories-

Stretches:  Stretching is imperative at the beginning, middle, and end of any playing/practicing session.  Find out what muscles or areas of your body you use most when playing, and stretch them frequently.  Most music related injuries are a result of too much tension in our muscles.  One great stretch to try is placing your hand palm down onto a wall, and then lean your arm forward.  You should feel a stretch down your entire arm.  Remember that stretches need to be held for 30 seconds in order to be effective. Whatever you do, DON’T pulsate back and forth on a stretch!!!
For other musician related stretches visit this website: http://www.musicianshealth.com/stretches.htm

Strengthening Exercises:  Like all athletes, we are trying to strengthen certain muscle groups and generally become more agile.  For strengthening exercises, it is best to ask your private teacher, who will know what muscle areas are liable to be weakest and which will need the most attention.   By acknowledging that we all have weak spots in our overall strength, we have already taken the step to becoming a more successful musician.

Frequent Breaks:  I cannot stress this last topic enough.  In a world where we are all constantly running here and there, it is important that we give our brain time to focus on whatever task we have at hand.  With practicing, quality is always more important than quantity.  I can practice poorly for two hours each day, or practice with intense focus for one hour each day and make more progress.  A general rule in music practicing is that we need a ten minute break for every hour of practice that we do (we call it the fifty minute hour). So if you practiced for an hour, you would play twenty minutes, take ten minutes off, and then play for thirty more minutes.  If you only practice for thirty minutes, play for ten, take five minutes to refocus and rest, and then practice another fifteen.  You will find that your practice sessions will be so much more rewarding when you give your mind time to focus.

Now that you know that you are a small muscle athlete, get out there and stretch, strengthen, and ALWAYS take time to give your brain a break!

Should I Leave it in the Car?

April 9, 2013

By Beth, Violin/Viola instructor at The Lesson Studio

When one plays a musical instrument, it is important to know not just how to play it, but how to take care of it as well. Almost all instruments are sensitive to heat, humidity, and general handling. This is especially true with violins.

The body of the violin is held together with a special epoxy. While we all know that it is glued together, what we often forget is that this glue is meant to break down at some point and let the instrument come apart. Why? In extreme temperature and/or humidity fluctuations, the wood reacts by expanding or contracting. In order to avoid cracks and further damage, the glue simply ‘lets go,’ allowing your instrument to come out unscathed, minus an open seam.

If you have an open seam on your violin, you need to take it to a luthier or repair shop as soon as possible. Playing on an instrument that has an open seam is dangerous, as the violin is not stable, and certain techniques could seriously compromise the violin structure and sound.

In order to protect your violin against open seams or other damage, it is important that you keep it in a stable temperature/humidity environment. Do not leave your instrument in your car for an extended period of time. What is an extended period of time? More than fifteen minutes. Heat and freezing cold can do equal permanent damage. In the picture on the left, the violin was left in a car, and the varnish melted, creating a wet, smeared finish. On the right, a violin cracked when left in the car. Both scenarios represent repairs worth hundreds of dollars.

images
violin_crack1

The above damage to the violins is easily avoidable. Just treat your instrument like it is an animal or human. You wouldn’t leave a dog in a hot car for three hours in the summer, or your child in the car for an hour in the winter with no heat. Your violin is no different. Take your violin with you into the store, restaurant, or work. Most people won’t give you any trouble, and understand that an instrument is something to be protected. Your violin will thank you!!!

Beth Barnadyn, Violin Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Beth Barnadyn

Summer: To Practice or Not to Practice

July 6, 2012

By Beth Barnadyn, Violin & Viola Instructor at the Lesson Studio

Beth Barnadyn, violin & viola instructor at The Lesson Studio

Beth Barnadyn

The summer is one of the hardest times for music students, young and old alike, to find time to practice.  So many outdoor activities, vacations, concerts, and visitors make the thought of practicing boring, daunting, or uninteresting.   Certainly it is hard to sit down and practice scales when the mountains beckon you for a summertime hike.  It can certainly become easy to put off’ practicing until the Fall, when things have settled down.  Summer has a way of getting into your mind and seducing you away from any kind of work, even if the rewards are great.

So how do you combat the difficulties of summer practicing?  One of the most effective tools is to set aside some time everyday, or every other day, just for practicing.  The best time to practice is in the morning, when your mind is fresh, and you have the prospect of the rest of the day to motivate you.  You can’t truly enjoy an activity or outing if you know that you haven’t practiced at all lately.   Just thirty minutes or less is all you need, and you can continue to progress without feeling like you are missing out on all the summer has to offer.

Another great way to maintain your music skills during the summer is to set up jam sessions with other musicians.  You can invite them over for a barbeque or other activity, and just enjoy playing music together.  After all, isn’t the joy of music being able to play with others and have a good time?  So don’t brush off practicing or playing for the summer–embrace it.  Music is a gift, not a burden.

Tip-Top Shape

April 22, 2012

By Daniel Yang, Violin, Instructor at The Lesson Studio

ImageKeeping up with the maintenance of an instrument can be a lot of work! Pianos have to be tuned, violins bows need to be rehaired, and clarinets need new reeds and diligent cleaning. Have you ever seen a professional give your instrument a physical? It is quite amazing the amount of checks and balances one can do with a piece of metal or wood.

Have you ever wondered why, of all things, we use horsehair to draw a sound out of a stringed instrument?  Why not cheap cloth or rope? Also, we rub tree sap on the hair! This helps to grip the strings; however, over time it can cover the instrument in white powder. This residue should be wiped off with a soft cloth after every practice. Horsehair can break, wear out, or get dirty, and as a result, it can become difficult to make a nice clean sound. Attempting to practice on an instrument that is out of shape can be like trying to play with worn out, broken toys. As we age and mature, we lose interest in our daily activities and need to keep it fun and exciting…and new!

After a nice long vacation, it’s exciting to buy all the cool back-to-school gear. New backpacks, notebooks, and clothes give us the tools and confidence to learn and engage in school activities. Put the same energy into the maintenance of your instrument! Just like wanting to play catch after getting a shiny new baseball mitt, you’ll probably want to practice and make music right after caring for your cello or guitar.

Keep it fresh!

Wait…we can play that?

February 27, 2012

By Beth Barnadyn, Violin, Instructor at The Lesson Studio

ImageAs a violin teacher here at the Lesson Studio, I am constantly responding to the diverse musical tastes of my students. Some want to play bluegrass, some want to play classical repertoire, and some want to play the Beatles and Journey. But wait….violinists aren’t supposed to play popular or rock music, right? Wrong.

Unfortunately, there is a stigma that taking violin lessons means that you will be condemned to playing Bach and scales, and that you will never play anything that you recognize or love. But this is simply not true. The violin is a diverse instrument, and almost any song or work can be transcribed. So if you want to play ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey, it can certainly happen. But what if I can’t find the music? I would like to point out that even if the music may not be readily available, or not available at all in terms of a violin ‘part,’ it is possible. All you need to do is talk with your teacher, and find out how you can arrange and transcribe it. Or, if you have the ability, you can transcribe and arrange it yourself. The possibilities are truly endless.

So the next time you hear a Beatles song, or anything that would be considered ‘unconventional’ for the violin, go ahead, play it!

Searching for Inspiration

January 10, 2012

by Daniel Jang, Violin/Viola Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Daniel Jang, Violin/Viola Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Daniel Jang

In recent decades, football, baseball, basketball, and hockey have been the most popular sports in the United States.  There are entire television channels, magazines, and incredibly expensive stadiums dedicated to these athletic events.  This past week, baseball and basketball were at the forefront of national news due to the World Series and the NBA lockout.  And with football season in full bloom, there’s no avoiding the cheers of excitement emanating from your living room.  If you love sports, whether you are in a league or involved at school, you are constantly exposed to and inspired by your favorite athletes by television, internet, and other media.  But how many of you can name your favorite violinist?  How about a pianist that you admire or an orchestra that you like to go see?  The world of classical music is not exactly front page news, but rest assured that with a little searching, you will be surprised by the many great concerts, recitals, and performances there are all around you.

Did you know that almost seventy five years ago, the television network NBC used to have its own orchestra?  For many years, the NBC Symphony Orchestra was even paid for by the network itself without any sponsors.  It had an entire fifty two-week season, offered the highest salaries, and was considered one of the greatest orchestras in the world.  NBC even had a show called “The Bell Telephone Hour” from 1940 to 1958 featuring the best performers in classical music and had many millions of weekly viewers.  Fast forward to today… A classical music performance on television is extremely rare.  Changes in the last seventy five years may be perceived as people losing interest in Mozart, Bartok, or Debussy, but in reality, getting exposed to these great composers just requires a little bit of homework.

The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Symphony, Youth Symphony, Chamber Orchestra, and CU Boulder Symphony Orchestra are among the dozens of ensembles that give regular performances around Boulder County.  There are even more concerts surrounding our city and don’t forget about Denver’s Colorado Symphony, Ballet, and Opera.  Local events to look forward to in November are Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker by the Boulder Ballet, the CU Boulder Symphony Orchestra concert on the 17th, and the Boulder Symphony concert on the 18th.  The School of Music at CU Boulder has over fifty free performances this month alone!  Now, how do we get excited about these performances and what can we do to prepare for watching a live concert?

When enjoying sports on television, we are watching performances of the best athletes in the world.  After the Denver Nuggets or the Rockies have a thrilling match, do you get inspired to shoot some hoops or play catch with your friends?  Try searching online for information on the world’s celebrated musicians for the instruments you play.  For guitarists, try a search for Andrés Segovia or the Assad Brothers.  For those who play a stringed instrument, watch incredible videos of violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz or learn the inspiring story of Jacqueline du Pré.  Also, we can go watch the world renowned Takács Quartet perform because they live right here in Boulder!  If you take voice lessons, look up “The Met Opera” on YouTube, or learn about Wagner’s operas and why there is a ten year waiting list for the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth.

Inspiration, whether it comes from your parents, teachers, favorite athletes, or musicians, can be very important to how much you enjoy a hobby or a subject in school.  What if you were the only person on Earth who played baseball?  It would be very difficult to enjoy and improve your game with no other players on the field.  Once you have a full roster and other teams to compete with, you can expect to get better as a player and help your friends win games.  The same applies to learning an instrument.  With help from family, teachers, and idols, it is your responsibility to make playing music as enjoyable and educational as possible.  So get out there, learn, and have fun!

Would you like Pepperoni with that?

September 11, 2011

by Beth Barnadyn, Violin/Viola Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Beth Barnadyn, Violin and Viola Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Beth Barnadyn

You just got assigned a new piece, and there are some fast passages.  What do you do? How do you practice it?  One of the most common tendencies of musicians is to jump head first into a passage, and repeat the same few measures over and over until, hopefully, it starts to sound better. Unfortunately, this is not the best approach to mastering and ultimately learning a particular section or piece.   The key to learning any passage, whether rhythmically or technically demanding, is to practice in small chunks.

One of my favorite visual examples of how to approach the practicing of a piece is to think of it like a big pizza. If we wanted to eat the whole pizza, we wouldn’t stick the entire thing in our mouth at once, would we? No. We eat it one slice at a time. (Unless of course you are really hungry)   This is a great approach to learning a passage or piece in a timely and solid way.

First, you want to isolate those spots in the piece that need the most attention. Once you have these areas, focus on playing small sections at a time, typically no more than a measure long each. When playing, you will want to go extremely slow, listening for good intonation and good tone/sound quality.  After you have achieved a good foundation at that level, you can start to play the section faster, and to start playing with rhythmic variations. Some typical patterns for digestion would be long-short-long-short, and/or short-long-short-long.  This works for groupings of four, but you can easily play long-short-short, for example, for a group of three.   Continually work towards a faster and more complex rhythm, and you will master even the most difficult passages.

After a few days of eating the pizza slice by slice, you will find that you will master even the most difficult passages. The key to success is to not get frustrated.   Just take it one bite at a time!

Benefits of Music Education for Children, Why it Matters

May 4, 2011

By Kim Finnigan, Violin/Viola Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Kim Finnigan, Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Kim Finnigan

You’ve heard that music education is important to your children, but no one really seems to go into details as to why it’s important.  Most of the uproar is heard when music programs in public schools are up at the chopping block because of budget cuts.  “Save Music in our schools!”  Why? Why does it matter?

On the most simple level, studying music, teaches our young ones how to become self sustained, and self-directed learners.  They learn goal-setting, and the benefits of working hard (practicing) are easily discernible when they can hear how good they sound.  How’s that for positive reinforcement?  Good pitch discrimination benefits learning to read by enhancing the phonemic stage of learning.  Your child is learning to listen, and it carries over in learning to read.  Reading or composing music engages both sides of the brain.  It is an entire brain activity.  Music in the school curriculum may be a valuable tool for the integration of thinking across both hemispheres of the brain.  This is vitally important as your child’s brain is developing, giving them more brain power as they mature.e

Performing music, even in a group setting is teaching your child to work through anxiety.  Good musicians aren’t cool as clams when they perform.  They’ve just learned to work through it.  This can carry over in all things life, from job interviews, public speaking, giving presentations…you name it.  Music classes also teach leadership skills.  Instrumental music sections tend to have section leaders, who have worked hard for their positions within the classroom.  Depending on some music teachers, these positions can carry great responsibility.

Facts:

  • Music Students are more likely to receive academic honors and rewards than non-music students.
  • High school music students tend to score higher on the SAT in both verbal & math than their peers.
  • Music helps you think by activating and synchronizing neural firing patterns that connect multiple brain sites.  This synchrony increases the brain’s efficiency and effectiveness.
  • In 2003, California schools participating in the Math+Music program (piano lesson in conjunction with math software) scored 25% higher in math proficiency than schools who not participating in the program.
  • Music helps children gain musical intelligence, vocabulary, an understanding of symbols and sequence, and an increase in memory and auditory function.

Sources:

  1. National Center for Educational Statistics, 1990
  2. The College Board, Profile of College-Bound Seniors National Report for 2006
  3. Brain-Based Learning, Eric Jensen
  4. Arts with the Brain in Mind, Eric Jensen
  5. Music & Cognitive Achievement in Children, Norman Weinberger
  6. http://www.schoolmusicmatters.com/resources/justfacts.php?r=40
  7. Self-Esteem: A Byproduct of Quality Classroom Music, Laverne Warner

Related Video to embed: http://youtu.be/mw4vqll9cAM

Can You See What You’re Playing? And I’m not talking about the notes on the page.

March 9, 2010

By Hollie Bennett, Intern at The Lesson Studio

You know you’re a true music nerd when you start finding all the similarities between everything you do or see and how it could relate to music. And you know you’re especially bad when you just see something and bam! Now that you watched that special on the Discovery channel about outer space, you know how you can explain vibrato to the twelve year old. But really, finding those parallels between, let’s just call it this for fun, the “real world” and the “music world” can help you understand exactly what you’re doing even more than before.

Imagery is such a staple part in music, at least for me. Hearing a piece of music that really attaches itself to me makes me feel in colors, imagine stories and truly understand the emotion that the composer or performer was trying to convey. Part of me thinks that as a musician that is your true purpose in life is to tell the story, show the audience what is happening, even if you don’t know, you need to show that you do. Sometimes doing crazy things like pulling out your box of 64 Crayola crayons that you haven’t used since the fourth grade and literally coloring your music the color that you thinks conveys each part of your piece can do wonders. Even making up words to go along with what you’re playing or seeing a story that can play out in your head can get the emotional and expressive side to connect with the technical of your playing.

One of my favorite topics to bring up to students is the Olympics. I’ve probably been driving my students crazy trying to convince them to watch everything from figure skating to the super-g to curling. The parallels between musicians and athletes are really interesting to me. How much work each party puts into perfecting their own craft is mind blowing: hours in practice versus hours on the ice or snow. You can find so many similarities. Figure skating spins and trills is one of my own teacher’s favorite analogies. You can also think of the idea of balancing between technique and musicality as the way a speed skater like Apolo Ohno and J.R. Celski balance around their turns with speed skating. So go out and try to find those parallels and start imagining them will you play. It might just help even more than you’d think!