Posts Tagged ‘violin instruction’

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!

Singing More than Just the Words

October 12, 2014

By, Catherine Behrens. Voice instructor at The Lesson Studio










Music can bring about strong emotions, bring back old memories, and soothe our tired bodies at the end of a long day. As musicians, it is one of our chief goals to move people with what we do. We want to give a message to our audience that will leave them changed after they have heard us play or sing. There are many things that go into creating an impacting performance, but there is one tool that I want to focus on that is specific to singers. We have words. Composers and songwriters choose their lyrics very carefully. Whether they have taken inspiration from a great poet such as Shakespeare, Dickinson or Goethe, or if they have written their own, these words have been crafted to evoke emotion. When we sing, we sometimes get so focused on all the technique (which is super important!) we forget about the words. So here are some ideas on how to get the most meaning out of your song.

First, write out your words on a separate piece of paper and read them out loud. If there is a part that doesn’t make sense to you, really focus in on it. Try and figure out if it is symbolic or literal. Maybe it’s a metaphor or a description. If you still don’t know, talk to other people about it. Your teacher, family members, classmates, anyone who you think might be helpful in understanding what the writer meant. Keep reading it to yourself until the message of the words, and what you want to get across when you sing it, becomes ingrained in you. This is also a fantastic way to help memorize your songs!

Next, go into each individual sentence and determine which words are the most important in that sentence. For example, if you have something like “Never mind I’ll find someone like you” I would pick “mind” and “someone” as my two big words (although next time I sing that phrase I might pick “find” and “you”). This is probably going to be a little different for everybody, which is great because that’s going to make your interpretation unique. Once you have your words for each sentence or phrase, go through your music and underline them to remind you that those are the words you want to highlight. When you sing them, give them just a little more love than the other words. Making them pop like this will give your listeners a road-map of what is important in the music.

Finally, invest in what those words actually mean. It isn’t enough to have a head knowledge of what you are singing about, you should be feeling it too. So if you are singing a love song, and you’ve never been in love, maybe try to think about a friend that means a lot to you, or a family member. Make the lyrics your own. If you can’t relate to it, neither will anyone else. The thing that makes your favorite artists so good is that they move you. Maybe it moves you to dance, or cry, or to change the world, but you are feeling those emotions because the artist felt them first. Now it’s your job to feel those same things and pass it on the the next person.

So, at the end of the day, be sure you know what your song is about, and that it means something to you. Whether it’s Mozart or Rihanna, look at what the words behind the music mean. They cared a lot about how those words fit into music, and you should too. So dig deep and make the world listen to your song!

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!

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:

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!

Some Tips for Attaining that Glorious Sound that Made you fall in Love with the Violin

October 27, 2009

Our violin instructor, Rachel Sliker, submitted this awesome blog about using your bow to attain various sounds:

“People love the violin for it’s smooth, melodious tone. Many decide to learn the violin simply because they love how it sounds. However, beginner violin students are often quickly dismayed by the screeching sounds that seem to be the only thing they can get out of the instrument. But do not despair. Here are some bowing tips to help you understand a little more about violin tone.

There are three bowing elements that affect the tone. Experiment with all of these with an objective attitude. Notice what kind of sound you produce, and try not to label them as “bad” or “good.” Just notice.

1) Placement of the bow between the bridge and the fingerboard (or “sounding Point”)- Playing the bow near the bridge produces a bright, loud and sometimes harsh tone. Playing it near the fingerboard produces a mellow and soft tone. Playing the bow halfway between produces a sweet and full-bodied sound. The bow must be pulled across the strings parallel to the bridge or else it will drift between the different sounding points and create a scratchy tone.
2)The weight of the bow- Weight is delivered into the bow through your index finger. Try not to press down, but to use the natural weight of your arm.
3) The speed of the bow- This is how fast or slowly the bow hairs are drawn across the string. A slow speed paired with lighter bow weight is softer, and a faster speed paired with more weight is louder.

The key to a beautiful tone is a proper balance between the three elements above. When you are experimenting, notice when something sounds particularly good and try to replicate it again and again. Most importantly, do not be dismayed by “bad” or scratchy sounds. No one can expect instant gratification, so try to enjoy the process. Take time, and keep it simple. Take five minutes a day on just one note while you experiment with the different bowing elements, and after a few weeks you begin to notice a significant change in the sounds that you will be able to create!”

To contact Rachel or to gain more valuable information about the violin, please call 303-543-3777 or e-mail