I am excited to announce that the beginning violin book that I have been working on with my husband (composer Dr. Benjamin Williams) is almost complete!
This book has been several years in the making and is meant to be a companion book to the many beginning violin method books already available on the market. If used by itself it would leave much out of the beginning violinist’s instruction, however, the need arose for this book because I believe that the majority of beginning method books currently available also leave out much of what is needed in the beginning violinist’s instruction. Therefore, coupled with current popular beginning method books, this companion book will round out the beginning violinist’s repertoire. If used under the supervision of a capable teacher this book will serve to balance the musical instruction of both the child and adult beginning violinist.
Why is such a book needed?
Problem 1: Beginning method books tend to focus on the A and E strings to the exclusion of the D and G strings.
Solution: This companion book focuses heavily on repertoire that uses the D and G strings. That is why it must be used in conjunction with more popular beginning method books. Students need to learn ALL the strings, and this book is the perfect solution.
Problem 2: Beginning method books tend to use only traditional Baroque and Classical harmonic structure.
Solution: This companion book branches out into more contemporary harmonic structures in a way that is accessible to the student and pleasing to the listener!
Problem 3: Beginning (and even intermediate) method books contain mostly pieces in one key or time signature.
Solution: This companion book introduces the beginning violinist to changing meters and keys in a way that is easy to understand and idiomatic to the violin.
Problem 4: Beginning method books tend to teach the 1st through 3rd fingers, but not the 4th finger.
Solution: This companion book teaches all four fingers right from the start in a way that helps to correctly set up the students left hand and reinforce correct technique/posture.
This is a selective example of the problems and solutions that are addressed by this companion book. All the materials in this book have been tested on my own students and proven to be useful, accessible and relative to both children and adult beginning students.
If you are interested in my material please email me at email@example.com and I would be happy to let you know when the book is completed so you can get a copy!
What I call “the practicing myth” comes in various forms, but it always goes something like this:
“My kids hate to practice,
and I don’t want them to hate music, so taking music lessons must not be for them.”
If parents took that perspective with other things it might sound something like this:
“My kids hate eating vegetables,
and I don’t want them to dislike food, so healthy food must not be for them.”
“My kids hate doing their homework,
and I don’t want them to dislike learning, so school must not be for them.”
“My kids hate taking a bath,
and I don’t want them to dislike cleanliness, so washing must not be for them.”
“My kids hate cleaning their rooms,
and I don’t want them to dislike organization, so chores must not be for them.”
I think you get the picture.
Lets turn these scenarios around:
“My kids hate eating vegetables,
but I know it’s in their best interest to get the nutrition they need, so I will make sure they do it anyway.”
“My kids hate doing their homework,
but I know it’s in their best interest to get an education, so I will make sure they do it anyway.”
“My kids hate taking a bath,
but it’s in their best interest to be clean, so I will make sure they do it anyway.”
“My kids hate cleaning their rooms,
but it’s in their best interest to learn how to take care of their things and clean up after themselves, so I will make them do it anyway.”
Many parents enroll their children in music lessons because they realize there is value in music, not just as something to listen to, but as something to participate in. Many parents did not have the benefit of music lessons growing up and want their children to have an opportunity they missed out on. Some parents (like my own) took music lessons as a child, but did not stick with it and regretted quitting. Other parents see the value music lessons played in their own life and want their children to enjoy the same experience. I’ve also had parents enroll their child in lessons solely because the child had an interest in learning and the parent saw a benefit in giving the child the opportunity. Whatever the reason, parents enroll their child in lessons because they see a benefit to the child. But, somehow the focus changes when their child encounters an aspect to learning an instrument that they dislike. Usually this is the required daily practice. What if instead the parent had this perspective:
“My kids hates practicing, but it’s in their best interest to learn an instrument, so I will make them do it anyway!”
I’m up-front with parents who come to me discouraged because their child dislikes to practice. I tell them that I don’t expect their child to like to practice and that they shouldn’t expect them to either. There are rare cases where children are self-motivated to practice, and put in more than the required time and effort each day. Teachers and parents love these students! But, the reality experienced by most parents and children is that daily practice is a chore. Even if a child seems self-motivated at the start, the hard daily work it takes to learn an instrument can diminish their enthusiasm over the weeks, months or years. Parents see this and are afraid of pushing their child too hard, but, this is not a reason to give up on lessons. If we as teachers and parents truly believe that taking lessons on an instrument is beneficial to our students and children we should expect some dislike along the way, because hopefully we have learned for ourselves that most things that are worthwhile in life require effort and work, and are sometimes not fun.
When raised to eat healthy, do their HW, take baths and clean their rooms, children grow up to enjoy healthy foods, value education, practice good hygiene and are relatively organized adults. Music lessons and daily practicing can yield the same results. So, I encourage parents to approach practicing as they do anything that they know is good for their child, but that their child doesn’t like. Here are some good standards to follow to make practicing less of a battleground:
- Be Clear about Practicing Expectations: Set a practice duration, set clear goals of what’s suppose to happen during that time, and let it be known that arguing, whining or other attempts at thwarting practice time will have consequences.
- Set Consequences: Set consequences and follow through with them. Don’t make bigger threats than a behavior warrants or than you can follow through with. I have seen parents say, “I told you…..”, but they don’t ever enforce what they said. These children don’t last long in lessons.
- Give Rewards: Reward your child when they follow through with your expectations. A sticker chart, extra story time, a small piece of candy (like one Starburst), playing a short game, etc. are good motivators. Pick something that is particularly meaningful to your child!
- Set a Practice Time: When practicing is built into the schedule children will be more likely to do it without complaining. It will become part of their routine rather than an interruption to what they want to do.
- Make it Personal: Make an effort to give your child a special space for their studies. Personalizing their instrument, case, notebook, etc. can be a good motivator for practicing. This can be especially helpful if you have two children taking lesson. Getting them their own materials (not having to share) can go a long way to encouraging children to take ownership of their practicing and instrument.
- Eliminate Distractions: Make sure you and your child have a quiet place to practice. No TV, no interrupting siblings, no phone calls, no animals, no radio…whatever the source of distraction might be, eliminate it. This may require some cooperation from the rest of the family. Good! When the whole family supports a child in their music lessons the child will be more likely to succeed and see value in putting in the hard work.
While you want to avoid falling into the trap of “the practicing myth”, I am not suggesting that music lessons should be all drudgery either. I think it’s important that if your child does not like practicing that you find an outlet in music that they do enjoy. For me this was my weekly lesson and my school orchestra. For other students it may be time spent alone with their instrument apart from organized study, a chamber group, playing in church, or a music group of peers that get together to jam. Find out what makes your student or child enjoy their instrument and make sure that they are engaging in this activity on a regular basis in addition to their daily practicng. It will keep them motivated, and as they improve they will see the benefits that daily practice has for them!
With the introduction of the Suzuki method in the United States came an increase awareness and division between those who learn music by ear and those who learn by reading music. For those unfamiliar with the Suzuki method please read my following post outlining its basic tenants, history and success in the US: http://blog.playviolinmusic.com/2011/01/17/experiencing-the-suzuki-method/.
Since this time many debates have ensued about whether students should be taught to read music first, or whether they should learn by ear first and learn to read music later. If you read my aforementioned post on the Suzuki method you will know I am not an advocate of the method as it has been employed in the US. I believe in teaching students how to read music from the first lesson. However, this does not mean that I think students should not also be taught how to play by ear. I think that it is important for students to acquire both skills.
Proponents of teaching students to play by ear usually quote from Suzuki who promoted the idea that young children should learn music just as they learn language. He postured that since children learn to speak before learning to read, music should also be approached from this same premise. There is truth to this idea, however the problem comes in its implementation.
When do we expose children to speech on a regular basis and when do children start imitating speech? They are exposed to speech from the womb and begin imitating what they hear before they can even walk. Children begin to speak words and form sentences far before the age of 2. When do children normally start music lessons? Age 5, 8, or 10? If we are going to teach children music the same way they learn speech, the time for learning by ear needs to come far earlier than when most students begin musical instruction. Many Japanese students of Suzuki did follow this musical training model. Music was a family affair which included daily classical music listening and practice. Babies born into these families demonstrated recognition of music that had been played for them while they were still in the womb. Their musical training had already begun.
Most students in the US will not have this experience, and that’s OK. Children can still learn music and an instrument and become well trained musicians. In order for this to happen both ear training and music reading must be part of a student’s lesson experience. I start with music reading so that students can begin to make the connection between what they see on the page and what they are playing on their instrument. If students do not have this training they are more likely to have trouble making this connection later one.
Students are also encouraged to listen carefully to what they are playing. String instruments require students to acquire a very good ear if they are to play their instrument well. This type of ear training should occur from the very first lesson. As a student progresses and gains a good understanding and functionality on their instrument I introduce how to play by ear. This will happen at different stages for each student. Just as we start teaching children the foundation of reading words by teaching them their letters as soon as they are able, so should we introduce students to the foundations of music reading as soon as they are able to comprehend it. As we combine this with the training of their ear they will be more complete and competent musicians at every level.
Studio Recitals are a wonderful opportunity for students to showcase for family and friends all the hard work they have done. It’s also a great benchmark for students to work toward and a time for them to realize how far they have come since their last performance.
I recently got asked by a parent if I had ever thought about performing for my students at one of these recitals. The short answer is ‘yes’ I have thought about it and, ‘no’ I have chosen not to perform. Let me first say that I think it’s important (I would even go so far as to say imperative) that students see their teacher perform. That said, I have chosen not to make my Studio Recitals a venue for this to happen for several reasons.
The first reason I choose not to perform on Studio Recitals, and perhaps the most important one, is because I believe it’s important for students to hear me play out in the “real world”.
Students need to attend professional concerts in order to gain an understanding of what it means to be a musician. Fostering an appreciation for professional concerts contributes to the education of young musicians. Whether a student chooses to become a professional musician, amateur musician or a musical spectator they will need this education. There is becoming a widespread ignorance of classical music as a profession and as entertainment because children are not educated and exposed to it, therefore as adults they do not understand or value it. It is my desire to encourage parents to bring their children to professional concerts of all kinds. Students and parents who are interested in hearing me play can attend a local symphony concert, a solo recital, a chamber performance or a special church service. I make it easy for parents and students to know when these opportunities are taking place, and many performances are free. I believe the value for a student in hearing their teacher play lies not only in the experience itself, but also in the venue and atmosphere in which it takes place.
The second reason I choose not to perform on Studio Recitals is a personal one: it’s simply too busy and stressful for me to plan a recital for all my students and perform on that same recital.
As one who knows what it’s like to experience severe performance anxiety, I have learned in my professional career what I must do to cope with this. (You can read about some of my methods on the following post: http://blog.playviolinmusic.com/2011/07/26/performance-anxiety/ ) I believe any teacher/performer will tell you that while teaching and performing are intrinsically related, they are very different functions for the individual. When I perform I need to be in a different “mode” or “zone” than when I am teaching. In order to do my job well I need my mental and physical energies to be dedicated to that task. Probably no one but my husband knows the time and effort that goes into coordinating each Studio Recital, and for me, performing even a “simple” piece would add too much undo pressure and would take away from my ability to be fully dedicated and available for my students.
The third and last reason I choose not to perform on Studio Recitals is because I do not want to take away from the work of my students.
Studio Recitals are a special occasion, set aside to celebrate the work of my students and I desire this to be the focus of each Studio Recital program. My goal is to have students leave with a sense of personal accomplishment, not a feeling that they have “so far to go” to get to the level of their teacher. This said, I do perform with my students on duets or in other capacities that serve to highlight and support my student’s music. I believe this is important and very appropriate. Studio Recitals are a day for my students and I desire to keep them that way!
When it comes to choosing a teacher for yourself or your child you want to make sure the teacher you choose will give you quality instruction. Teaching philosophies, techniques and goals will greatly impact what kind of instruction each teacher gives. It can be an overwhelming task to pick a teacher, especially if you don’t feel qualified to critique in this area – however, it’s imperative that you do! Even if you are unfamiliar with music you can gain insight and knowledge just by asking questions. Ask the same questions to a few different teachers. Teachers are usually very happy to talk about their teaching philosophies!
Here is a helpful list of questions, designated by category, that you can ask a prospective teacher in order to evaluate their teaching style.
- What is your professional and educational background in music?
- What is your teaching experience?
- Where do you teach/What is the atmosphere of your teaching environment?
- What age groups do you teach?
- Do you have a written studio policy?
- What is your cancellation/rescheduling policy?
- How much practicing do you require from your students?
- What role do you expect parents to play in their child’s practicing?
- What do you expect from weekly practicing?
- Do you require students to learn scales and etudes?
- What are your requirements for students to progress from song to song?
- What books or materials do your students use?
- What kinds of music do you teach?
- What materials/accessories other than an instrument do you require your students to purchase?
- What emphasis do you put on correct technique?
- How do you evaluate student progress?
- In your opinion, what’s the most important thing students should gain from taking lessons?
- Do you offer Studio Recitals? Are they required?
- What festivals or competitions are available for your students?
- Other performance opportunities?
- What are your lesson fees?
- Are there any extra fees other than lesson fees?
- When/how are lesson fees paid?
You do not need to ask every question on this list, but do choose at least one from each category so that you get a broad overview of a teacher’s style. You may also have questions of your own to add! Remember, no question is stupid. Teachers do not expect that you know everything (or anything) about music and are more than happy to answer any question you might have for them!
Picture with me an elementary school stage,…
…a full audience of parents and friends, and a procession of young violin students parading across the platform with their instruments neatly tucked under their right arms. When they reach their positions they stop and face forward, waiting for their cue, eyes on their instructor who follows the last student out. Proud parents are smiling, taking pictures and making sure their recording devices are catching every bit of their young darling’s violin debut. According to the program they will play “Concerto in A”, which sounds like quite the advanced repertoire for students so young! The instructor raises her instrument to play position and the students follow suit, looking quite accomplished with their scrolls all pointing the same direction and their bows placed silently on the strings. The instructor plays an introduction, and they’re off!
Creases start to appear on the brow, where before smiles had brightened the faces of the audience. Recording devices continue, but cameras are slowly lowered inadvertently as Mom tries to decipher if this is the piece or some kind of tuning procedure. The clear tone of the instructor can barely be heard above the din of scratchy ‘open A’ strings and Dad tries to watch the bow of the instructor to see if his son is playing the same rhythm. Thankfully, “Concerto in A” is not a long piece and the students raggedly come to a stop as they reach the end of the piece.
The students tuck their instruments neatly back under their arms, bow to the applause of the somewhat befuddled audience, and file off following their instructor.
If you have ever attended an elementary string performance you may have had a similar experience. Hopefully it was a tad better than this – but there are certainly those who can relate to the scene described above.
What was that?
String instructors (both public and private) certainly have their work cut out for them when teaching young children the art of playing the violin! The violin is complicated and difficult to learn and play. One does not easily come by making it sound beautiful – the trait that attracts so many to the instrument. Just compare what a beginning violin student of 6 months sounds like in comparison to the beginning piano student of 6 months. Both instruments have their challenges, but sound quality and production will be the most obvious in the early years.
Many a parent might try to encourage their child in a different pursuit to avoid what seems to be the inevitable period of screechiness, or they may decide that having their child practice only at school is a good way to keep their sanity and hearing in tact. There is however a better way!
A Better Way
Young students can play with a good sound from the beginning. This is best accomplish through one-on-one instruction. Some school teachers have the ability to devote this kind of time to their students, but more often than not large class sizes and short class periods make this next to impossible. Private instruction, where students attend a weekly private lesson, coupled with daily parental supervised practice time is the best way to insure that the young beginner gets the attention he or she needs.
The school instructor and the private instructor need each other, but their marriage is only a beautiful thing for their students when parents bring the two together. The private lesson instructor offers the student the vital one-on-one instruction that every student needs to learn an instrument well. The school instructor offers the student the opportunity to play in a group with children their own age, inspiring students and giving them an experience they wouldn’t have all by themselves. School instructors and private instructors support each other in encouraging their students to correct posture, good tone production and the ability to read and understand music. Parents are the glue that holds this marriage together. By committing to weekly private lessons, daily practice time and enrolling children in a school string program, parents can give their child the needed elements to succeed and enjoy music for a lifetime!
The World View of the Christian
As a Christian my world view is founded on the Bible and my faith in God. I like to integrate my faith into my teaching, especially with those students who I know share my faith in God or who are being brought up in this faith at home. I think it is important to support parents in this most critical area in their child’s life.
There are areas of my teaching and in my philosophy of education that while not overtly Christian, point to my faith in Christ and God’s Word. While not all Christians or non-Christians will share the same philosophy of education, understanding what their world view is and how this affects their teaching is imperative for parents and students interested in getting instruction that aligns with their beliefs. I was made keenly aware of one of these areas just this week in two different circumstances.
The discussion arose with a colleague about the balance between teaching technique and creativity. While I think most teachers fall between the two extremes of teaching only creativity or only technique there is a large continuum between these two extremes. This separation of teaching styles and approaches can vastly affect what a student learns.
For me, I see students as being naturally creative. The Bible tells us that we are made in the image of God. We are different from the animals and all the rest of creation. We are unique, and possess a reflection of who our Creator is. I believe one of these reflected attributes is creativity. We come out of the womb with an inherent need and desire to create. We take pleasure in making things and expressing ourselves through creative endeavors. Our creative spirits and the things we produce give evidence of our Creator God.
Now, let us not think that we create in the same way as God. The Bible tells us that God created ex nihilo (out of nothing). We create with only what God has given us to use. Even our intangible ideas and thoughts would not exist were it not for God giving us the ability to have them. God took nothing, and with a word spoke into existence our reality. We use the elements of the created earth to make, build and create.
Our World View in Action
In the sphere of intellectual discussion on teaching there arise many different ideas about creativity. Many teachers believe creativity needs to be taught to students, and spend great amounts of lesson time trying to do this. Many “skills-oriented” teachers are criticized by “creativity-oriented” teachers who say that they should not be so focused on technique, posture, and learning to read music because these things hinder a student’s creative process. They argue that if a student spends most of his time learning technique he will become a robotic and boring player who only knows how to execute exactly what’s on the page and will never truly create music of his own.
However, if we come from the world view standpoint that students are naturally creative we will approach lessons much differently. I believe creativity should be a part of lessons and a student’s experience musically, but we do not need to try to teach them something they already possess. Instead we ought to be taking their natural creative spirit and giving them opportunities and tools to be able to express this through their instrument and through music. Therefore skills and technique must be paramount in a teacher’s instruction when considering how to best tap into a student’s creativity.
I think it’s also important to note that technique and skill instruction does not inherently squelch creativity. On the contrary it encourages it!
Creativity Comes to Life
We know from the Bible that God created us to be interpersonal beings, learning from one another and being influenced through relationships. When we talk over ideas with others, study the creative works of the masters, hear professional performances, and are taught how the pros do what they do, our minds begin to spin with possibilities! Our creative natures open up to a world yet undiscovered and we see possibilities that were previously undetected.
Learning technique and skill helps our creativity in another way as well. Remember that I said that students will only be able to use their creative nature to express what’s inside to the degree that they are proficient in the medium with which they seek to create? A student may have the most imaginative mind on the face of the planet; he may possess an innumerable number of ideas which have yet to be exhibited; he may spend all the time in the world working to make these ideas become reality; but, without technique and skill all he will achieve is a trite and simplistic version of what he sees in his mind’s eye. However, the student who has been instructed in the intricacies of his art and has spent the time and effort it takes to master his discipline; that student will be the one to succeed. That student will be able to make his ideas become reality.
The difference between this success or a succession of frustrated attempts is technique and skill. There is no substitute and there is no shortcut. Our world view directly affects how and what we teach and the results that ensue.
I hope this post challenges you to think more about your own world view, where it comes from, why you hold to it, and how it affects your teaching or the teaching of your child.
Currently my studio consists of about half adult students, most of whom came to me as complete beginners. Being an adult learner has many challenges, and many adult students find learning the violin more difficult than expected. However, there are quite a few advantages to being an adult learner which I feel are important to recognize. I hope these will encourage both those adults who are currently grappling with learning the violin or viola, as well as those who are considering starting lessons.
Advantage #1: Adult students learn cognitive concepts more quickly
Adult students can be taught the “nuts and bolts” of music fairly easily. How the staff works, the relationship between note values, and the general rudiments of music theory are generally assimilated very quickly. As a rule, adult students are usually eager for explanation and appreciate knowing the “whys” and “hows” of what is being taught which affords them the advantage of rich understanding early on.
Advantage #2: Adult students have longer attention spans
While learning an instrument at a young age has its benefits – attention span is certainly not one of them! Adult learners tend to be more focused on the task at hand, and will painstakingly repeat things until they master the task. Adult learners also see the benefit of focus and have most likely learned this necessary skill at some other point in their lives. This mental endurance serves them well as they seek to learn a new skill.
Advantage #3: Adult students don’t tire as quickly
There are many physical aspects to playing an instrument – some of which require use of muscles not normally employed on a daily basis for everyday tasks. The adult student generally does not have as much of a problem with these physical demands and can play and practice for longer periods of time without tiring, thus building more quickly the endurance and muscle tone needed for their instrument.
Advantage #4: Adults understand that anything worth doing requires hard work
Adults come into their first lesson ready and willing to work – children come into their first lesson ready for fun! While both work and fun are part of learning an instrument, and something I endeavor to incorporate into the lessons I teach, a good work ethic is one of the great advantages to being an adult. The teacher can then hone that desire to work hard into practical tasks that yield results, which is when things become fun!
Advantage #5: There’s no “3rd party”
Adults are the one taking the lessons, paying for the lessons, practicing for the lessons, and getting themselves to and from lessons. Adults know what’s going on at all times during practice sessions at home and can communicate that from a first hand standpoint to receive helpful feedback from their teacher at lessons. Adult learners communicate directly with their teacher at all times. This cuts down on a lot of external communication time that often takes place with younger learners reliant on their parents for guidance, support, transportation and finances.
Advantage #6: Adults have previous musical experience
Whether or not an adult has taken formal music lessons before, they have had the benefit of being exposed to music in one or more capacities before they decide to learn an instrument. Most likely they have had general music in school, maybe even played an instrument in a school ensemble, and most certainly have listened to and been an appreciator of music for years, perhaps even participating in musical endeavors in their church. This offers them a rich bank of information, usually yet untapped, for them to draw from as they begin to piece the new musical knowledge they are learning into order in their own minds. This previous experience shows itself most frequently through the insightful questions that adult students ask. More often than not “light bulbs” go on for them as they suddenly realize how bits of information fit together to form a whole. It can be very exciting for adult students to finally understand things they have been exposed to for years but have never had explained to them!
Advantage #7: Adults are full grown
Adults have completed the growing process and are fully mature physically. While this can be a set back, as adult students are therefore not as flexible as children, they benefit from the fact that they don’t have to worry about adjusting as their bodies go through the normal changes of adolescence like young children must eventually do. They will play on a full size instrument right from the first lesson, while children must struggle with re-familiarizing themselves with a bigger instrument as they grow. Bigger instruments get fuller sounds than their smaller counterparts, which can be a great encouragement to the adult learner as they seek to make beautiful music.
Advantage #8: Adults are more easily taught how to practice
If you’ve read some of my other blog posts you may have noted that I emphasize quality practice, which is just as much a skill that needs to be learned as the skills one is trying to master learning an instrument. Children are often reliant upon parents to help them with this task – a skill the parents might not have acquired themselves yet. Adults on the other hand, being firsthand recipients of the learner process as discussed in Advantage #5 and having more developed cognitive capabilities as discussed in Advantage #1, will be able to learn this skill more quickly. Because the skills required to learn an instrument can only progress in proportion to the practicing skills employed by the learner this is a great advantage for the adult student!
Advantage #9: Adults are their own problem solvers
Being an adult affords one the history of working through many problems of various sorts. Adults have had to solve difficult dilemmas and understand the benefit of approaching a task multiple ways to find the best solution. These same problem solving skills are helpful to the adult learner as they will encounter difficult road blocks in their learning. While they have their teacher during lessons to help them overcome difficulties, their teacher will not be with them during their daily practicing. In between lessons the student who is their own problem solver will be able to progress more quickly. Adults have a one-up on children in this area – and will tend to persevere rather than melt in frustration when things get tough.
Adult students: You may wish you had started learning your instrument earlier – but I hope this list provides fresh insight as you consider the many benefits of being an adult learner!
When starting private instrumental instruction on violin or viola, most parents and students expect to have to invest (either by purchasing or renting) in an instrument, a bow and a case. Most understand that a purchase of sheet music and repertoire books are probably also necessary. However, there are additional expenses, both up front and on a continual basis, of which students and parents may not be aware.
This post was inspired and adapted from an instrument expense list compiled by my friend, colleague, and fellow violin and viola teacher, Heather Hennessey.
I hope that this expository list of common violin and viola expenses will help you prepare financially and mentally for some of the things required to adequately prepare you or your child for a lifetime enjoyment of learning!
Expected purchases from the start:
- Instrument Outfit – (Rented or Purchased)
Students and parents will obviously be expected to plan on the up front, and continued expense for lessons. Students and parents should also expect that as progress takes place, a longer lesson time will eventually be necessary. More advanced music requires more instructional time and more advanced students will have a larger amount of repertoire, etudes and scales that they are learning. Lesson expenses vary by region and teacher. Usually teachers with more experience/training cost more. A good teacher is a must at any age or ability level. Expect that as lesson length increases, cost will increase, but not usually at a 1:1 ratio. (Hour lessons are usually not twice as much as 1/2 hour lessons).
Students will be expected to either rent or purchase an instrument, bow and case before the first lesson. The combination of all three of these is called an instrument outfit. The quality of the instrument outfit is important, even for young beginners. Poor instruments and bows will require the student to work harder than necessary and students will form bad habits to compensate for the unresponsiveness of their instrument. They will also have trouble executing what their teacher is asking them to do, which will result in frustration. The violin and viola are hard enough without the added frustration of a poor instrument or bow!
An adequate quality student instrument outfit will usually cost between $300-500 (for a full size). As a student advances, you will want to plan on purchasing a higher quality instrument and bow. The progressing student’s technique will outgrow a student instrument and they will require a higher quality instrument and bow to accommodate their playing and continued training. Better quality instruments and bows are usually sold separately, so plan on spending at least $1,000 for an instrument and $500 for a bow as a preliminary upgrade.
For any instrument purchase be wary of Craigslist/Ebay instruments. While you can find deals on these sites you need to know what you are looking for. Never buy an instrument without first looking at it and playing on it. To insure that you are getting something worthwhile always involve your teacher in instrument purchases. Sometimes the repairs on poorly made or neglected instruments are costly and may not be worth the end result. Remember: a quality instrument is an investment, can last a lifetime, and will appreciate in value when cared for properly. A poor quality instrument is wasted money.
Instrument outfits can also be rented, which is what I recommend for children. Renting gives you flexibility. Should your child decide they don’t want to take lessons anymore, you have not invested in an expensive instrument. If your child wants to switch instruments the same applies. It is also a convenient way to deal with the fact that as children grow they will need bigger instruments. Renting also takes some of the expense of repairs off of you as many stores will take care of general maintenance and common repairs for free. Renting until you know your child is committed to lessons, or until they grow into a full size instrument may be better for your budget.
There are several different types of rental programs offered by local music stores. Rent-to-own programs offer you the option of a pay-as-you-go plan, and many stores will keep track of the money you pay in rental fees and offer you trade in value when you need a bigger instrument, or want to purchase a higher quality instrument. Usually you will pay higher rental fees for rent-to-own or trade in programs. In addition to rental costs some stores also charge a one time up-front fee. This may be refundable or non-refundable depending on the store. A general price range for rental instruments is $15 – 40/month with an up-front fee of $0 – 50.
Students will usually be expected to purchase several items of music before the first lesson, or shortly thereafter, unless the student already has adequate repertoire. While this is an upfront expense, it is also an ongoing one. As students progress they will need additional method books, individual pieces, scale books and etude collections. The more advanced student should expect to be asked to play, and therefore purchase, a larger amount of repertoire. Usually these pieces are more expensive than the music purchased at the beginning and intermediate levels. Prices on music, scale books, method books and repertoire vary greatly and can range anywhere from $5–50.
Purchases that may or may not be included in an instrument outfit, but are necessary:
- Shoulder rest
- Fine Tuners
The bow will not produce sound unless there is rosin. The rosin allows the barbs of the horsehair to “grab” the string to make it vibrate. Rosin needs to be reapplied every so often to keep the bow playing smoothly and easily. For younger/beginner students rosin only costs a few dollars and is often included in instrument outfits. As students advance and better quality instruments and bows are purchased, a higher quality rosin ($15-30) makes a difference in sound quality and play-ability. Rosin lasts many years unless broken by being dropped.
Shoulder rests are helpful for comfort, ease of holding the violin, and for promoting good posture and technique. Young students often do not need an expensive should rest. Molded sponges can be purchased very inexpensively ($5) and can be cut to fit the neck height of the student. Sometimes these sponges can be slippery, so even young beginners may need to invest in a shoulder rest. Kun and Wolf are good brands for shoulder rests. They retail for almost $50, but I have had good success finding them below $30 online. When students become physically mature, other shoulder rests may be appropriate to accommodate their individual body type. Shoulder rests are made to fit the various sizes of instruments, so they will need to be replaced when a student changes instrument sizes. A good shoulder rest should last for several years, and will only occasionally need parts replaced if they wear out.
All students should plan on purchasing a music stand for home use if they do not already have one. Music stands are essential for promoting good posture and technique. Students should never be reading music that is placed on a table or propped up on their instrument case or a chair. This is bad training, can cause physical pain, promotes poor technique, and fosters the lifetime habit of slouching. Music stands can also be conduits of bad posture and poor technique if the stand is not high enough for the student, so make sure the music stand can be raised to a height where the middle of the stand is at eye level.
The cheapest music stands available are wire. These are usually fine for the beginning student and cost around $15. However, as a student grows and progresses you will most likely want to invest in a hard-back stand. While more expensive (usually starting at around $30), these stands are more sturdy (so they will support heavier music volumes) and they are generally taller. “Tall” stands are also available for students that find regular sized hard-back stands still too short. I also like hard-back stands because you can easily mark music, and light does not shine through single pages of music making it hard to read. If a student needs a portable stand, wire stands are the most convenient, but there are quite a few hard-back stands that fold and come with carrying bags. I have one for gigging and love it! They are no more expensive than their non-folding hard-back stand counterparts. Whatever hard-back stand you choose, these are generally a one time purchase, and when taken care of well will last a lifetime!
I require all my students to own a metronome. They are essential for developing good rhythm and are helpful in a variety of practicing techniques. Students in my studio will most likely use them every lesson!
Most metronomes also include a tuner option. While any metronome that clicks is fine (providing the click is loud enough for the student to hear) not all tuners are equal. Some tuners only play an A. This is fine for more advanced students who are comfortable with tuning their instrument. However, for students that are learning how to tune their instruments I like to have a metronome that plays the four pitches of the open strings as well as has a pitch recognition option that tells the student if their string is in tune or not. I have my students tune by ear first, and then check themselves to see if they are right, using the pitch recognition option. It is important that a student does not tune only using a pitch recognition tuner as this does not train their ear, and it is also important that a student has something to check themselves against after they finish tuning by ear so that they make sure they are practicing on an in-tune instrument. Out of tune instruments will be detrimental in training the ear.
Metronome/tuners will start at around $15. Usually you can find a fairly inexpensive metronome that also includes a tuner. These are generally a one time purchase and will only require occasional battery changes.
It is important to have good quality strings for intonation and sound production. A nice set of strings can make an average violin sound better and a good violin sound amazing! For smaller instruments and beginners, I recommend Dominant strings. They are relatively inexpensive but have a decent sound. You will also want to consider purchasing a back up set of strings. Sometimes a string will break. If this happens you don’t want a student to miss out on valuable practice time or lesson time because they don’t have a replacement string. Strings do have a shelf life and they do wear out. For beginners and intermediate students, I let them play on their strings until they sound bad or will not hold a tune, and/or they start to show visible signs of wear. As students progress, it is standard to change strings at least once a year. String cost varies depending on the brand and quality of the strings. String sets start at around $40 and will go up from there. Advanced students should expect to pay around $70 – 90 for a set of strings.
While some teachers may not think of these as an accessory, I do. While it is common for violins to have one fine tuner (on the E string), students will most likely want to get fine tuners on all four strings. Usually (and especially on student instruments) the pegs are difficult to use. Since I like to have my students learn how to tune their instruments from the first lesson, fine tuners are essential. Fine tuners are not expensive, and you can easily have your local instrument shop add these to any instrument.
In addition to the cost of lessons most teachers also encourage and expect students to perform. While not all performances will require a fee you will want to be prepared for this possibility. Performance is an intricate part of learning an instrument at all ages and levels of playing. Here are some of the performance opportunities a studio teacher may offer:
- Studio Recitals
- Master Classes
The Studio Recital is a concert where all the students of a particular teacher perform. It’s purpose is two-fold; To provide students the opportunity to perform, and to provide students the opportunity to hear others play. Studio Recitals vary greatly in form and context from one teacher to the next. Some teachers may choose to host a Studio Recital in their home, while others may choose a nursing home, church or school as the venue. Studio Recitals can be formal or informal depending on the desire of the teacher. Usually teachers host 1-3 Studio Recitals a year for their students.
Studio Recitals may or may not require a fee from parents and participating students. Some teachers choose to provide this as a service included in a student’s lesson fees. Other teachers may choose to enact a separate fee for each Studio Recital from those who choose to participate. Whether or not there is a fee greatly depends on the cost to the teacher of providing this opportunity for their students. Renting a venue or paying for the use of equipment may require that a teacher charge a minimal fee for holding Studio Recitals.
Festivals and Competitions
Many teachers provide the opportunity for their students to participate in local state or regional festivals and competitions. Festivals are usually non-competitive while competitions, by nature, require students to compete against one another. Both festivals and competitions usually give students the opportunity to perform for an adjudicator where they receive comments, criticisms and an overall grade or score on their playing. Festivals may or may not offer awards/ribbons for participation and scores while competitions almost always have a prize involved (sometimes monetary) for the highest ranking players.
There is usually a cost associated with all festivals and competitions. Sometimes this cost is included in lesson fees, but most likely it will be an extra fee. It may be an annual fee that all students of a participating teacher’s studio must pay and/or there may be an individual fee for choosing to participate in each festival or competition.
The Master Class is usually reserved for more advanced students and is basically a private lesson given by a “master player” in front of an audience. However, I have offered similar opportunities on a smaller scale to all my students by making this part of the recital experience or by having a smaller group at my home where students have mini-lessons in front of each other. I usually use the latter as an opportunity for students to prepare for a festival or competition.
Master Classes may or may not have a fee. College students often get to participate in Master Classes as part of their college tuition, whereas those not already paying for an education will usually have to pay as a participant and/or an audience member to attend.
Repairs and Maintenance
In order to keep your instrument and bow in good working order, and to avoid extra unnecessary expenses, it is essential to maintain your instrument and get repairs done promptly when needed.
Bows need to be rehaired regularly. The barbs on the horsehair wear off and then the bow is unable to produce a good sound. It also becomes difficult to play. For beginners, you should rehair the bow when a student cannot produce a good sound. As students progress, bows should be rehaired about once a year. Bow rehairs cost between $30-50.
Other maintanance is the responsibility of the owner. You should wipe down your instrument and bow (stick only) regularly with an appropriate cloth to keep rosin from building up. Make sure that you loosen the bow hair after each playing session. Also, be aware of temperature and humidity changes so that you are not leaving your instrument in conditions that will cause the wood to warp and crack. In general, instruments should not be left in the car or any space with an unregulated temperature.
We hope that the violin will never need serious repairs, but there are some repairs that are normal and expected. These repairs include: warped bridges, open seams, worn pegs, and worn fingerboards. Bridges tend to warp easily, even when cared for properly. Depending on your bridge this may need to be done every few years. Open seams are also a common repair and occur often during the change of the seasons. The glue holding instruments together is meant to come apart if the wood expands or contracts too much, too quickly. This allows the instrument to “breath” without causing cracks in the body. Repairing open seams is fairly easy, but you will not want to attempt this yourself unless you have been trained how to do it! Pegs and fingerboards wear out with use and generally need to be reshaped. This happens very infrequently and usually only with advanced students who are playing hard on their instruments several hours each day. There are other repairs that are less common and usually due to some ill use. These include: snapped tail pieces, loose buttons, cracks, broken neck, fallen sound post, etc. Repair costs vary. You will want to be aware and prepared for the common repairs. Keep up on your maintenance and treat your instrument with care to avoide unnecessary repairs!
If you are new to the violin or viola this expository list may seem daunting and “expensive”. Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it seems! Expenses are usually spread out over a period of time and as you get more familiar with your instrument it will become second nature to care for it properly and know what to expect when it comes to purchases. Just being aware of the information in this post will put you ahead of most students! Remember also that your teacher is there to help you. Don’t hesitate to ask if you don’t know why an expense is necessary. There’s usually a good answer, and it will make you feel so much better about spending the money when you know what it is!
Performance anxiety and nerves come in varying degrees. They can range from a mild feeling of anticipation to a debilitating fear. Some nerves can be helpful, providing stamina and excitement for the performer. However, performance anxiety can often be crippling as it sucks the joy out of playing, and can cause the performer to be physically unable to execute the desired task at hand.
I have had performance anxiety ever since I was a kid. I didn’t even like practicing when my parents could hear me because I was worried about messing up. My brother and I used to arrange to practice at the same time, which felt much “safer” to me. When a performance or audition came around my performance anxiety often took control of me and rendered me unable to play even close to my potential.
Students often tell me, especially my adult students, that they are nervous to play for me in their lessons. I understand this as well as I often felt that pang of adrenaline as I strove desperately to show my teacher that I had accomplished the task I had been asked to work on the previous week.
Many people with mild performance anxiety claim that their nerves help them perform even better, and that after they get going in a performance the nerves go away and leave behind an adrenaline rush that propels them through their program.
This is great, and I wish I could say this can be everyone’s experience if they just learn how to control their nerves. However, I don’t think this is the case for those of us who I would describe as having severe and often debilitating performance anxiety. I’m won’t tell you “it gets better each time you do it” or “just give it time, it will go away” or “stop worrying, you just need to let the music happen”. I would like to share some of the practical advice I’ve found helpful on how to manage performance anxiety so that we can learn to play with the nerves that are bound to be there.
Learning to play with performance anxiety starts in your practicing. We need to learn how to differentiate between practicing to learn the music and practicing to perform. Learn the music first, then set up ways to practice overcoming the nerves that you know are going to occur. For those with extreme anxiety, this has to be done with every new piece you learn.
1) One good way to do this is to make yourself nervous in situations that don’t matter, so that by the time you get to the performance that does matter, you have confidence that you CAN play, even if you feel nervous. Here are some options:
a) Play for people who make you nervous. Family, friends, your teacher, neighbors, a Sunday School class, the babysitter, the cat or dog, whoever! Most people are happy to help you out and are often blessed to hear you play. If you don’t have the opportunity to do this (or are too nervous to even ask someone to come listen to you, like me) then you can use the following methods, and perhaps work up to using this first suggestion.
b) Just think about having an audience. Just pretending there is someone there (I usually visualize someone specific that I know or want to impress) will make me nervous. Use your power of imagination to visualize yourself in the room where you will perform. Who will be there? What will it feel like? What will be going on in your head? What do you want to be going through your head? Practice the mental and physical aspects of your performance through your imagination until you are comfortable with what will happen. Or, practice in a variety of different situations, so that no matter what happens during your performance, you have prepared!
c) Tape record yourself. I get nervous just playing for a tape recorder. This option has the added benefit that you can listen back to what you played. Sometimes what you think you sound like is not what you actually sound like at all! When we take lessons we have the advantage of someone “screening” our playing and telling us what our playing sounds like at a distance. Since being out of school I find playing for a tape recorder is one of the best ways for me to judge my playing as someone else would hear it. It helps me know what to better work on and the more I work and rerecord the more I’m working out my nerves.
d) Whatever it is that makes you most nervous, practice this FIRST; Perhaps it’s starting a certain piece, or the first piece you will have to play, the hardest piece, etc. Play whatever is most difficult, or of concern to you with no warm up and pretend you have to get it right the first time. Usually if I can do this I will feel pretty confident that I can do it when I go to perform it. Nerves can often take on a very similar feeling to not being warmed up. When you’re not warmed up your muscles are often tight and won’t move and nothing feels “normal”. Capitalize on this! If you know physically and mentally how to “make” your body perform difficult things when it is not warmed up, you will have a better chance of being able to “make” it perform when you are up in front of an audience.
2) The last point in section one relates to this next section. Really know the ins and outs of HOW you need to execute a piece of music. There are two important reasons for this:
a) I find that often times the things I mess up on are the things that in my practice time come naturally to me, or are things I have struggled with, but haven’t actually mastered. I find that really analyzing what my hands need to do to make the notes sound clean, to make the dynamics happen, to make the rhythm accurate, etc. helps me master the music. We can’t practice on auto pilot and expect to play well when we are nervous. We need to know our music and how to play it better than anyone who has ever played it before. We want to avoid the “holding on for dear life” feeling during difficult passages. We want to approach these passages with the mindset and ability that comes from conquering those difficult notes.
b) Another important reason to really know how to execute your music is that it will get your brain back on track during a performance when all of a sudden you have a brain freeze and the notes on the page look like gibberish!! This is when your muscle memory (honed by point (a) above) needs to kick in for you to keep going, but you want to be able to regain control of your brain as soon as possible. Having something to latch on to helps bring your brain back to rational thinking and in the meantime helps you execute the music. It’s like a defibrillator for musicians! It also gives you something to think about other than how horrible things are sounding. This is very important because if you continue to think about how awful things are, they’re probably just going to get worse!
3) Feel like you could play the music in your sleep. I need to feel so comfortable with a piece of music that when I play it I’m not worried about anything. This comes from repeating things I know I can play so it almost feels useless to practice it anymore because I’m so comfortable with it. This is not mindless repetition. I’m constantly analyzing things, reminding myself of what I need to be thinking about, and trying to figure out if there is something I can do to make the passages feel even easier to play. Eventually these thoughts come more naturally, as do the techniques I am employing to make the music happen more easily. Now of course we’re probably not going to master everything. There are some things that will always cause us to a heightened awareness as we approach them because they are so hard, BUT my goal is to minimize these things. If I have put in the work, and I know I know the music, I can tell my brain to calm down because it knows what it’s doing. My brain will only respond though when it actually believes it knows what it’s doing. There are no shortcuts. You either know it or you don’t. This is where section 2 above comes in handy.
4) Know that you’re never going to feel as comfortable performing as when you practice at home. I had a teacher tell me once, “your goal is just to raise the percentage accuracy of your performance, not to achieve a 100%”. This was good to hear for a perfectionist like me! If you’re currently performing at 50% of what you know you can do don’t try to jump to 100%, just work on getting to 65 or 70%. I’m never going to perform at 100% and I know that. Knowing that helps me lower my expectations of myself to something reasonable to attain. I will always be disappointed if I’m aiming for an unattainable goal. When I can make a realistic goal for myself then I am more likely to improve because I will feel more positive for at least doing better, instead of beating myself up for sounding so lousy! If you can teach yourself not to expect yourself to perform like how you practice it will take some of the pressure off. Raising your overall playing level helps with this too. If you are currently stuck at playing at 75% of your actually ability, then practice to raise your actual ability level and 75% will sound a whole lot better too!
I hope some of these tips are helpful to you, and I hope that those of you who suffer from extreme performance anxiety as I do will take heart that you are not alone. Sometimes just being understood about what you are going through up on stage from someone who has been there is help enough. As a bonus I hope you can learn from what has helped me so that you can help yourself!