Posts Tagged ‘violin instructor Boulder’

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!

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:

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