Posts Tagged ‘Boulder viola lessons’

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.



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!

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:

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!

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.

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.


  • 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.


  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
  7. Self-Esteem: A Byproduct of Quality Classroom Music, Laverne Warner

Related Video to embed:

Listen To Music!

January 8, 2010

by Rachel Sliker, Violin & Viola Instructor @ The Lesson Studio

Violin/Viola Instructor Rachel Sliker

Rachel Sliker, The Lesson Studio

We all know how important practicing is in order to improve on the violin, but I cannot stress how important it is for your musical development to listen to music. Sometimes it is as helpful to listen to a recording as it is to get out your violin and play. You will absorb musical nuances just like you absorb a language simply by listening to it. Hearing music will also inspire you to practice. When I am feeling uninspired, nothing is better for firing me up than listening to my favorite musicians (they aren’t always violinists).

Put on a recording while you are doing your chores, cooking, or riding in the car. Surround yourself with music as much as you can. Try to reserve some time out of your day to do nothing but listen to music. Sit or lie down, take away any distractions, turn up the volume and just immerse yourself in the sound.

If you don’t have any recordings of violinists, they are worth investing in. Here is a short list of famous violinists to check out. You can start with them but I encourage you to seek out the ones that move you. YouTube is a wonderful tool for finding new inspiration!

Classical– Fritz Kreisler, David Oistrakh, Joshua Bell, Hilary Hahn, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg

Fiddle– Martin Hayes (Irish), Bruce Molsky (old-time), Aubrey Haynie (bluegrass), Mark O’Conner (Bluegrass and Classical), Stephane Grappelli (Swing)

In addition to listening to recordings, I strongly recommend practicing with recordings. They can be your best teacher when your teacher is not in the room. Many of the best musicians from the 20th century mastered  their instruments by playing along with records. First, try this. Pick a song that you know and love – one that you can sing along with because you know it so well. Turn up the volume on your best speakers and play along. Just use your ear, and play what you feel. If you are having trouble playing what you want, try singing first and then playing what you’ve sung. The most important thing is that you are feeling the music. Don’t worry if you aren’t playing the “right” notes. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but if keep an open mind and leave your self-judgement outside. When you do know the right notes, the next step is to capture every nuance of the performer. Try to play exactly the way they play. This may seem uninventive and plagiaristic, but the best way to master your instrument is to imitate the masters.

Whenever you can, attend performances of live music. No recording can capture the energy and spirit that you will feel when you watch musicians in person performing for a live audience. Whether it’s just a street performer that catches your eye, a band at a local coffee shop or bar, or the Metropolitan Opera, you will come away from those experiences a better musician yourself!

For more information about taking lessons with Rachel Sliker at The Lesson Studio, call 303-543-3777.