Ok, so you’re ready to purchase a violin! Great! This is an exciting time with the anticipation of having an instrument all your own, that you’ve picked out, and that you love! However, the process can quickly become overwhelming and discouraging. So, to keep this experience positive I wanted to give you a few guidelines.
First, watch the video found at the link below. It’s about 10 minutes long and is chock-full of good information that can help you go into the process with a plan that will work.
Once you’ve watched the video you will have a good idea of where to begin, what to prepare before shopping, and what to look for in the shopping process.
A few additions to the info on this video from my experience:
- Do your instrument testing blindly. Have a price range in mind (say $1500-$3000). Ask the violin shop owner for the instruments in this price range but DON’T look or have him tell you the prices! Knowing the price of the instrument can skew your impressions. We automatically are wired to think that more expensive instruments will sound better, but this may not be the case. So choose 5–10 instruments and blindly test them using the principles in the video. After you’ve eliminated your choices to 3 or fewer and you’re ready to take them home to try them out then you can look at the prices. See which ones you picked and which ones you left. Don’t second guess yourself if you eliminated one that was more expensive. Take the advice in the video and go with your gut. The instrument you eliminated might be great… but just may not be right for you. Go with what you liked and with what worked for you!
- When I was shopping for a violin I often focused on very simple melodies because they gave me the best impression of what the sound of the instrument was like. More technical repertoire helped me discern playability, but I found the most helpful tool was my slower melodies. You can tell a lot from an instrument by just using a simple melody. Dig in, play lightly, test all the strings and different positions. I found that usually the instruments I liked best playing slow melodies, gave me the greatest depth in sound and response from my more advanced repertoire as well. I was also able to concentrate on what I was hearing and feeling with the slower melodies because I wasn’t so focused on playing my concerto correctly! See what works for you. Remember, this is going to be YOUR instrument and YOU are the one who’s going to have to play on it! Take your time and see if you “connect” with the instrument.
- Remember that a new instrument is going to sound raw as compared to an aged one, and an instrument that hasn’t been played on for awhile (old or new) will also need to be “worked in” to get its best sound. When shopping for instruments I played on both old and new. The instrument I ended up purchasing had NEVER been played on before. The sound was extremely raw. However, I could hear the potential it had, and even in its raw stage I liked the feel and sound of the instrument. I went with my gut as the video suggested, and I have not been disappointed. Knowing the age of an instrument will help you compare apples to apples, or at least know when you’re comparing apples to oranges, so you can keep your perspective accurate. However, if you already have an idea in mind of what you think you will prefer, this information is best found out AFTER you have done the tests suggested in the video and have determined sound and playability without the influence of price or age.
Good luck and happy shopping!
Recently I received a request from a gentleman overwhelmed with the options of self-teaching tools available for the violin. While he wanted to take lessons, there was no one in his area who taught, and he was asking my advice on what to do.
First of all, kudos to him for asking! I did my best to give him an answer, and I would like to share that answer with you.
As a rule I am against self teaching materials. Whether it’s from books, method tapes, DVD’s, internet resources, or the like, it’s not the medium that is the problem. My main problem with self help teaching materials is that they fail to take into account the complexity of the violin, and the many bad habits that you can pick up very quickly and easily (most of them having to do with how to hold the bow and the violin correctly).
Learning how to play the violin properly really requires someone to show you and work with you hands on. I see this in my own students all the time. Those who have tried to learn on their own and come to me for lessons always have issues with their technique. Once I show them how to do things correctly, it still takes weeks months or even years for them to actually implement it as they need to correct their bad habits and foster new ones. I need to continually tweak what they’re doing until it becomes second nature to them when they pick up their instrument. This process of learning occurs with any student, but it’s a shame when students need to go through the hard work of re-learning things that they could have learned correctly the first time had they just had the right instruction.
Now, I want to be clear. There are many good self teaching materials out there that are produced by good teachers and provide good information. However, as violin is one of the most difficult instruments to learn it just can’t be learned properly without the help of a good instructor who actually interacts with what you are doing personally. Even if you get the basics correct from the beginning (which is unlikely), as you progress you will undoubtedly slip into bad habits unknowingly. You, as a learner won’t catch these things. This is not any slight against a student’s intelligence, diligence, desire or effort. This will just happen, and there are several different causes:
- The instruction tape, book, DVD, etc. has not addressed this specific problem yet so you don’t know to look for it.
- The problem was addressed, and you got it correct originally but have forgotten to keep checking on it.
- You THINK you got it correct the first time, but actually didn’t.
There are other possibilities as well, but I just listed the most common.
To give you an idea of how critical it is to have hands on help, especially as a beginner, I won’t even teach students via programs that allow you to teach a private lesson over the internet. I had an adult student ask this of me once because she was having difficulty fitting in her lesson time during the week due to travel. I explained that if she were farther along in her technique I would consider it, but that at the point where she was I really needed to be able to help shape and mold her hands physically to show her what to do. I could talk about how to do something for half an hour and a student still might not get it, but if I just go over and help them do it themselves, in 5 minutes the light bulb suddenly comes on and they “get” it because they can feel the difference. I really can’t stress enough the importance of having a physical teacher, one who you cannot only interact with, but one who is present in the room with you.
That said, I realize that as this gentleman found out, finding a teacher in your area is not always a possibility. There are several different ways to deal with this situation. The first question to ask yourself is; How far a radius am I willing to travel? I suggest students consider an hour radius from their location. I know an hour seems like quite a distance to travel just for a violin lesson, but you’re better off getting good instruction from the start with a little extra investment of time and resources than acquiring bad habits that could result in injury, disinterest in the instrument, or set-backs later on. Even if you just saw this teacher 2x a month instead of on a weekly basis the pay off for having a face to face lesson will be worth it. Keep in mind that you don’t just want ANY teacher, however. There are a lot of teachers out there that are a waste of your time and money and you don’t want to travel an hour for these! If there are teachers to consider within an hour from your location, educate yourself on what to look for (I have blog posts that can help you). If not, let me address what else you might consider.
If there is absolutely no chance of getting a teacher that you could at least see 2 times a month then I would consider the following options:
- Move. This is probably not a viable option for most prospective students and their families. I only mention it because it IS an option. Many serious parent have been known to move to another, town, state, or to even to another country to get the instruction they seek.
- Travel farther than 2 hours, at longer increments of time. (Say, see a teacher once every 1–3 months).
- Do option number 2 while using a DVD series (or other self teaching tool) to help you in between lessons that your teacher approves of and is monitoring.
- Do lessons via internet sessions. Although not ideal, this would be more effective than “going it alone.”
- Do option number 3, but instead of visiting a teacher, check in every so often via internet sessions or video recordings that you send to the teacher and receive feedback on.
- Go it alone and just learn by yourself from a DVD (not recommended).
I’m sure there may be some other combinations of options other than what I have suggested here, but you can use these as a starting point to help you decide what you think would be best. Sometimes it just takes a little knowledge, creativity and ingenuity to get the results you desire when circumstances aren’t ideal.
A good question—and as someone who has battled with extreme performance anxiety I would like to say “Yes,” however personal experience as well as research shows otherwise.
I recently ran across a blog post (Kavbar’s Blog: Recital Retrieval) which does a very good job of explaining why we need to perform in order to learn. I will copy a lot of it word for word here just because there’s no point in restating what someone else has already adequately said!
The post is based on an informative article in The New York Times (January 20, 2011) entitled, “To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test,” reporting on a study that is detailed online at the journal, Science.
“The gist of the study was this: Three groups of students were asked to read a passage of scientific information. One group re-read the material several times. Another group engaged in “concept mapping,” in which diagrams, lines, notes, color-coding, etc., are created to help organize one’s thoughts. The final group took a test on the reading material, to discover how much recall they had with what they had just read.
One week later, each of the three groups was tested on the initial passage. To everyone’s surprise, the final group (those who had been given a written test after the reading) did much better on the test–about 50% better. In other words, the relatively passive exercise of simply reading was not as effective, nor was the more active approach of creating a visual “map” to identify the conceptual relationships.
The study actually was a bit more involved than what I describe. The Times article includes comments from several scientists (some of whom were not involved in this study), on how the mind seems to re-organize material through testing, making it easier to access in the future. “I think that learning is all about retrieving, all about reconstructing our knowledge,” said the lead author, Jeffrey Karpicke, a psychologist from Purdue. “I think that we’re tapping into something fundamental about how the mind works when we talk about retrieval.”
For performers, I see several implications in this study. First and foremost, the activity of performing is itself a major piece of the learning/growing process. Every public performance is a means of learning and moving ahead. Those tests must not be mere “Look at me!” photo-op attempts to validate what has already been achieved. The artist must actively engage in each performance, so that retrieval can support the moving ahead/growing process.
Far too often, the immature student (even a chronologically-advanced artist!) seems to think that public performance is merely a vehicle to display accomplishment–an occasion to gain the approval of family, fellow students, the public, even God–eagerly depositing a dead mouse on the back doorstep to establish “top cat” status.
A primary benefit of performance is the strengthening of the performer’s relationship with the repertoire. That success empowers the next performance to be even more textured, more effective!”
In my own experience the results of this study are true. As an undergraduate performance major the only solo performances that were required were our juries (end of the quarter/semester evaluations) or our recitals (one at the end of our junior year, and one at the end of our senior year). This amounted to 3–4 solo performances a year, and since juries were only held for the faculty the only time we heard our peers perform were at recitals. While there were other opportunities to perform I rarely took advantage of these due to my extreme performance anxiety.
During my masters degree in performance I was introduced to the studio class, a bi-weekly meeting of the violin and viola students where we got together with our teacher and performed for one another. We would receive and give comments to each other and have the opportunity to perform the pieces we were currently working on. Our instructor made sure that we were all up and playing regularly, even if we weren’t quite polished yet. As much as I hated the days I had to perform, I gained an appreciation for the skills I gained through having to get up and play frequently in front of my fellow students. You got a good idea of what was going well and what wasn’t. It was often a humbling experience, but also proved to be a very rewarding one at times as well. I can’t say I learned to overcome my performance anxiety, but I did learn how to cope with it a tad better. Coming out of my masters degree I wished we had had the same requirements in my undergrad. I grew tremendously as a musician in the two years of my masters degree and I attribute a large portion of that growth to the time spent performing.
As a teacher I do not require my students to perform, but I do strongly encourage them to do so. I also offer a variety of opportunities so that they can choose what is most comfortable for them. Master Classes, Recitals, Church Performances and Competitions offer my students several different venues in which to work on their performing skills.
Happy performing to you all!
I was recently contacted by a fellow violin teacher to answer some questions regarding private lessons. She was asked to speak at a homeschool conference and wanted to get her peer’s insights into the material she was going to present. I was happy to oblige and I thought some of you might be interested in her questions and the answers I gave her, so here they are!
Q: What, in your mind, are some of the most important qualities of a good student?
A: A good student gives their best to the task at hand. They do what’s asked of them, engage with the information and the teacher, and do the work outside of lessons that is assigned by the teacher. A good student is NOT necessarily a good musician. Some of my worst players (or rather those to whom the instrument did not come easily) have been my best students. I have also had students who showed great potential and natural ability, but were not willing to put the work in to harness that talent, and I would consider these poor students. The important thing to realize is that a good student is more likely to succeed than one who shows natural talent but is not interested in putting in the work necessary, and as a teacher I would much rather have a good student who will never become the next Itzhak Perlman, than a naturally talented musician who thinks they can get by with as little effort as possible.
Q: How would you describe a successful hour of practice? What qualities characterize a successful practice time, and how do you teach these to a student?
A: A successful hour of practice in my book is one in which the student has made progress on previously set objectives (usually made by the teacher) using good practice techniques that make the best use of their time.
These include but are not limited to:
- Isolating problem spots (not just playing through something top to bottom several times in a row)
- Use of a metronome to insure correct rhythm and to work things up to tempo
- “Problem solving” mistakes so a student is not just going over the same passage multiple times, messing up and practicing the mistake in. For instance, figuring out if their problem is a left hand one, or a right hand one, are they moving too quickly or too slowly, etc. These skills should be developed in the lesson.
- Break problem spots down to identify what’s not working, and then identify how to fix it. (If you can’t play the measure, play half the measure, if you can’t do that break it down by beat, if you can’t do that subdivide the beat, etc. or if you can’t play it at the tempo written, play it a 1/4 of the tempo, if that doesn’t work cut the tempo in half, keep going until you CAN play it.)
- Once you identify the problem and solve it, do it CORRECTLY at least 5 times in a row to solidify the correction. Then work up to tempo using a metronome and put the isolated passage back into context.
There are numerous things that these practice techniques can be applied to; intonation, technique, tone, bow control, left hand control, etc. And it can be used on any repertoire; scales, arpeggios, etudes, pieces, etc. These practice techniques apply to all styles of music as well; classical, contemporary, jazz, religious, latin, etc.
If a student is practicing correctly they should be able to see and calculate their improvement from day to day. It may not be large, but it should be measurable.
I believe the best way to teach these practice techniques to the student is to show them how to do it in lessons. When I teach I do exactly what my student needs to do at home in a shortened version in lessons, then I write it down for them in their practice notebooks so they won’t forget. At the end of the lesson the student should have WHAT they need to practice and HOW they should practice it written down for them. Then there’s no excuse for not doing it at home, and in time they will learn how to figure these things out for themselves. I always ask to make sure the student understands what we just went over and how to implement it.
For one student I had this system didn’t seem to be working, so I tweaked it by allowing the student to write down her own notes. This allowed her to put into her own words what to practice and reinforced what we had just talked about in her own mind. This made a big difference in her productivity each week, so the extra time taken in lessons for her to think through and write it down was well worth it!
Q: What specific benefits do you see from music education (private lessons, practicing, performing, etc.)?
A: There are many benefits I see from music education, specifically private lessons. This excerpt is taken directly from my website (www.playviolinmusic.com), which includes additional information you may find helpful:
Music lessons are essential to playing an instrument well.
- The ability to play an instrument cannot be self-taught.
- Students gain direct access to their problems and solutions to those problems through one-on-one instruction.
- A private instructor will be able to teach students how to practice correctly and be most productive in their practicing.
- Lessons help stop and correct bad habits early on before they become big problems.
- A private instructor can give students the skills they need to enjoy music into adulthood.
School instruction is not enough.
- Due to time restraints students often receive little to no one-on-one time with music faculty.
- Students need one-on-one time to continue building on the good techniques that are initially taught in school.
- The amount of group time students receive through orchestra is not enough to learn an instrument.
- It is best to start lessons earlier (age 4+) than when schools make it available.
- Music faculty in schools often do not have the time to make sure students learn good practice habits and efficient use of practice time.
- Without one-on-one attention students are prone to bad habits which take twice as long to correct.
- Schools alone cannot prepare students to study music as a career.
Private lessons help foster success in other areas of life.
- Becoming skilled at an instrument gives students confidence and a sense of accomplishment in life not offered by other disciplines.
- Studies have shown a link between music and a student’s performance in other areas of study:
- Music students have higher test scores and IQs
- Music promotes creativity
- Music aids in student’s success in other fields of study
- Music promotes self-sufficiency as an adult
- Music students have decreased disciplinary problems
- Music aids in giving students problem solving techniques
- Music provides a healthy and unique atmosphere for making and keeping friends
- Music gives students the ability to express their emotions in a healthy way.
- Studies show that the ability to perform complex rhythms allow students to make faster and more precise corrections in many academic and physical situations.
- Lesson and opportunities to perform teach students to conquer fear.
Q: In your opinion, what place does parental involvement have in private music lessons and practicing, whether or not the parent is musically educated themselves?
A: I believe that parents should be involved with all ages of students, with the level of involvement being appropriate for the age and ability of the student. Young students (10 and under) definitely need parental help in their daily practice, and parents should be attending their children’s lessons in order to know what the child needs to practice. In lessons I tell parents everything they need to know in order to help their child. In some ways it’s as much instructing the parent as it is the child during the very first lessons and for very young children! A child cannot be expected to learn on their own at this age and both child and parent need to be instructed in good practice techniques as well as the foundations of music if the parent does not have a musical background. If a parent is not going to be involved in daily practice time then they might as well not take lessons. As a student grows older and is more capable of practicing on their own the parent can be less involved with the daily practice time. This depends greatly on the maturity level of the student rather than their age. When a student is practicing fully on their own I still encourage parents to know what’s going on and be involved. I’ll usually treat the student as the one in charge of themselves, but if I see problems I will definitely bring this up to the parents. The parents are usually the ones paying for lessons so they deserve to be involved and notified of their child’s progress!
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I think one of the most important things for parents to understand is that not all teachers are equal. They need to inform themselves on what to look for in a good teacher and a good method of teaching. They also need to find a teacher who is a good fit for their child. I don’t think most parents understand what to look for, or even that they should be evaluating. While it would be nice to trust that if someone has a degree or is teaching they must know what they’re doing, it’s just not the case! This makes a parent’s job harder, especially one who does not have a musical background, but this is where I hope my website and blog can help. One of my goals is to educate parents and give them the resources they need so that they can do the best for their kids.
If you want further information on what to look for in a teacher please check out the other blog posts I have written under the category of Music Lessons. If you don’t find the answers to your questions here, please feel free to contact me with your specific questions. Your question(s) will probably inspire another blog post which will help other parents, so don’t hesitate to ask!
Experiencing the Suzuki Method: A Guide to Help Answer your Questions about this Extremely Popular Method—And Why I Don’t Teach It
This blog entry contains the material of a bulletin I made to have available in my studio. Because of this, the material is short and concise. I would be happy to write more on the subject should I get enough interest!
First of all I would like to clarify 2 things:
- Many of my colleagues and friends are Suzuki teachers and educators. This information is not meant to discredit their teaching or their students. Each teacher and student should be evaluated on an individual basis, not by a label or association.
- I have sought to represent the Suzuki method accurately.
Q: What is the Suzuki method?
A: The Suzuki method was created in Japan by Shinichi Suzuki. His idea was that children should learn music just as they learn to speak. If properly taught using this school of thought children would become just as proficient on the violin as they were at speaking their native language, and learn it just as easily.
Q: Did it work?
A: Yes, students of Suzuki were able to learn the violin quickly and proficiently. They could learn new pieces rapidly and autonomously at an early age.
Q: Do students of the Suzuki method in the US show this same aptitude?
A: No. Unfortunately the majority of students learning under the Suzuki method today have poor technique, note reading ability, rhythm, and understanding of music.
Q: What accounts for this difference?
A: I believe there are several factors that are contributing to the low level of proficiency demonstrated by Suzuki students in America today.
- Shinichi Suzuki vs. The Suzuki method: Suzuki was an extremely intelligent man and a gifted teacher. I believe the success of his students in Japan did not primarily have to do with his method, but with the man himself. If you read about Suzuki you will find he did not teach all students the same. His philosophy of learning was consistent, but one cannot codify what made Suzuki such a brilliant and successful instructor. One can take his ideas, but one must be sensitive to each student to know how to utilize and adapt these ideas. This is why I use his books, but do not use the procedure taught by the Suzuki Association. In addition, Suzuki taught out of a love for his students and their learning. Unfortunately many teachers today teach because they need to make a living, and the highlight of their day is going home, not the time they spend with your child.
- A difference in cultures: Japanese and Asian cultures are structured very differently than American society. In general they are more disciplined, more driven to academic success, more family oriented, and more involved in their children’s education. If you read more about Suzuki and how he taught, you will see that the “Suzuki method” America so proudly asserts is very different from the teaching Suzuki imparted to his students.
- American Suzuki teachers are often uncertified, or have low skill levels: There are certified Suzuki teachers and uncertified Suzuki teachers. Teachers certified in the Suzuki method have to demonstrate a level of proficiency for each Suzuki book they complete. This means that if your child is learning Suzuki book 1, that teacher must have completed the hardest song in that book. While many Suzuki teachers are certified above this level you don’t want to assume all teachers are skilled at their instrument. Uncertified Suzuki teachers have not taken the certification test that the Suzuki Association of the Americas offers and may or may not have taken any Suzuki method courses, they simply use the Suzuki books and call themselves a “Suzuki Teacher.”
- A difference in education: The Japanese educational system during Suzuki’s time placed a high emphasis on teaching children the rudiments of music. All students learned how to read music and sight sing. They understood rhythms and musical notation. Since they had this foundation, Suzuki was mainly concerned with teaching students the violin. Since students in America do not learn music as such under the American educational system, private teachers have a lot more to teach. This must be taken into consideration when trying to apply Suzuki’s method to American students
Q: What evidence do you have that the Suzuki method doesn’t work?
A: 1. Experience as a Suzuki student. 2. Experience as a teacher of Suzuki students.
1. As a child, starting violin at the age of 4, I gained the benefits of developing a very good ear under the Suzuki method, as many students do. However, I also became a very poor note reader. I soared ahead of my classmates in ability as I had natural talent, but my inability to read music, quickly decipher rhythm and poor technique lead me to a dead end. In middle school I decided I wanted to overcome my deficiencies, and found a teacher who worked patiently and diligently with me to give me the instruction I needed to fill in the gaps in my learning. It was a hard and arduous road I wouldn’t wish on any student. This kindled in me a desire to be a teacher, and teach students the violin correctly from the beginning.
2. As a teacher, I have seen that the negative effects that I experienced as a Suzuki student are still plaguing the majority of Suzuki students today. Most of the students I have had the pleasure of teaching that have come out of the Suzuki method have demonstrated a high level of playing ability, with extremely low levels of technique, musicianship, note reading and rhythmic understanding. I have had to walk through the difficulties with them of re-learning the violin to fill in the gaps, just as I had to do many years ago with my teacher. It is a delight for them to finally be able to pick up music for themselves and play the correct notes and rhythm without having to hear the music first. They experience the satisfaction of feeling competent on their instrument, and not weighed down by the burden of being tied to their teacher for all the answers. I give them the tools to be able to figure things out for themselves. Just as a parent seeks to teach their children how to become self sufficient and successful adults, so I desire for my students to become self-sufficient and successful musicians at whatever level they choose to work to achieve. My experiences as a student and teacher defy the claims that the Suzuki method is the best way to learn an instrument, and I believe it does more harm than good.
Q: I’ve read a lot of positive things about the Suzuki method and other parents have said their children really enjoy it. Why should I believe what you have to say?
A: Don’t take my word for it. Research it for yourself! Most successful Suzuki students had teachers who did more than just teach the Suzuki method, and just because a child has fun does not mean they are learning. Inform yourself on what to look for in a good teacher and a good method, then compare!
Recently I came across several discussions commenting on the high cost of music lessons and whether or not they are worth it. The benefits of music lessons have documented benefits physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, so the worth of music should not be in question. However, understandably (especially in today’s US economy) some are unable to pay for these lessons. In my readings I came across a clarinet teacher who wrote a very good article on her own blog about what to do if you want lessons for your child, but they seem too expensive. This is a very good comprehensive and creative article, which poses very viable solutions to this very real problem. I hope you will enjoy reading this as much as I did!
Meri’s Musical Musings: Alternatives to “Expensive” Music Lessons
As I plan on leaving my current students to move to Mississippi with my husband, I have been taking the time to compile a list of teachers to help my students find a new instructor. This is a difficult time for me as I will miss my students and wish I could continue with them. I know I will start a new studio in MS and am looking forward to that opportunity. In the meantime it will be rewarding for me to help my students transition to a new instructor and comforting to know they are in good hands. I have personally talked with a number of teachers and created a list of things about their studios so that my students (with my help) can make an informed decision regarding with whom they would like to study. I have found that there are unique things about each teacher that I really like, and that it will be hard to recommend who is “best” because they are so different and beneficial in their own ways. Nonetheless I will do my best to recommend the teacher(s) I think my students will learn best under and will hopefully enjoy the most. If you are considering switching teachers either out of necessity or desire I would like to provide a few things for consideration to help you in the process.
First of all, I would like to say that there are many good teachers out there, and many teachers who you do not want to study with. Here are some things I look for when assessing if a teacher is someone I would recommend:
- Does the teacher have a passion for teaching? There are a lot of good musicians out there, who only teach because they need the extra money. They may know how to play wonderfully, but if they don’t have a heart and a passion for instructing you don’t want to study with them. You will learn more from someone less accomplished, but who is dedicated to the art of teaching. Better yet, find someone accomplished who also loves to teach!
- What does the teacher place an emphasis on in lessons? In my opinion, a good teacher should be focused on technique, musicality, the basics of music theory (including learning to read music) and creating a love for the instrument. Most teachers have different ways of going about these things and may have “specialty” areas that they focus on. This is fine. You won’t find someone who “has it all.” However, if you find a teacher who doesn’t seem to correct bad posture, hand position, or bow hold, or who only concentrates on whether the student is having a good time or not you probably want to find a teacher with a little more constructive criticism to their teaching.
- Is the teacher a good fit for the student? There are many great teachers out there, but not every teacher is right for every student. Just like we gravitate toward certain people to be friends with, so students gravitate toward one teacher more than another. This is not to say that if a student isn’t good friends with their teacher the teacher is not a good fit. However, if the student likes their instrument, but hates going to lessons each week and is not progressing because they don’t like their teacher, it would probably be a good idea to find another teacher. The teacher you are currently with might be a great teacher, but they might just not be good for your child.
Once you have determined that you have a good teacher on your hands you’re going to want to ask some questions before committing to lessons. Obvious questions are their availability for lesson days and times, their location and their fees and policies regarding payment. You will also want to ask about their cancellation and rescheduling policies. In addition here are some things to consider asking;
- What age/level students do you prefer to work with?
- Do you teach year round and do you have any current plans on moving out of the area within the next year?
- Do you offer recitals or performance opportunities for your students? Do you have any polices regarding these?
- Do you have any practice requirements for your students?
- What method of teaching do you use, or what’s your style of teaching?
- Will my child learn to read music? How soon?
- Can we observe a lesson or come for a trial lesson before committing?
These are just suggestions and you may find all of these important to ask, just a few, or even add some of your own. My goal is just to give you a start and to help you figure out what’s important to you in the teacher you choose.
If you need more guidance feel free to contact me!
Best of luck and happy teacher hunting!
In teaching young children, the fight to practice everyday often leads parents to feel that the struggle is not worth the results. Even if a child likes their lessons, it can be discouraging to parents to have their child complain and make practicing a chore. While no one likes to practice (OK, there may be a few quirky kids out there who really enjoy their practice time), but most children do not like it, and are not able to understand that doing something they don’t like will be beneficial in the long run. Here is where some creativity can really help!
Making practicing fun, or at least tolerable is our goal. In doing this though we cannot compromise learning. The following are a compilation of ideas I came up with myself, age old motivators, and some things I have adapted from others to help parents of young children make practicing less of a chore and more of a bonding time.
The old Rewards Chart or Sticker Chart. This idea has been used for decades by parents to help motivate their child to do everything from cleaning their room, to taking a bath. The good thing about this method is that the child can see their progress, be physically involved with checking off duties or picking stickers for a job well done, and they are working toward an achievable, tangible goal. This method can also be adapted for each individual child and can be changed as the child progresses and gets older.
Another motivator for young children is for the parents to take lessons along with the child. This may sound funny, but think about it, a child usually wants to do what they see their parents doing. What better way to create a desire to practice than if they see Mommy or Daddy practicing. They can’t join in unless they practice too, and because young children often progress faster than adults, children will love it when they can do something better than Mom or Dad! This is also a good way for Mom and Dad to better understand the difficulties a child might be having with one aspect of their technique, and can aid parents in helping their children learn an instrument they have no experience playing.
Another great idea, which I can’t take credit for but is a wonderful creative idea, is something I’m going to coin Story Book Practicing. This idea focuses around the fact that kids have active imaginations and often get bored with the monotonous repetition of practicing. The Story Book Practicing method involves the parent making up a story that revolves around them completing the tasks their teacher has assigned for the week during their daily practice time. As you progress in the practice time and complete the tasks at hand correctly you continue in the story. The story can be shaped and molded to fit whatever is needed to be accomplished that day. Here is an example.
Parent: “Oh no!”
Child: “What’s wrong?”
Parent: “Monsters have just kidnapped the fairy princess, and somebody has to go save her!”
Child: “I’ll save her!”
Parent: “Okay, they took her into a dark cave. You’re not afraid of the dark, right?”
Child: “No way! What do I have to do?”
Parent: “There’s water in the cave, but fortunately there’s a rowboat. To row the boat, you need to play the first four measures of Twinkle. If you can do it three times with a perfect bow hand that will get us to the end of the cave and we can see where to go next.”
Parent: “Get into a good play position, here we go!”
If the child forgets to play with a good bow hand the parent could tell the child that they lost an oar, or that the boat tipped over and floated backward, or that they ran into a rock, etc. You can change the story line daily, or you can make it into an ongoing saga so the child can’t wait to practice to they find out what happens next. You can make stories that go along with the music they are playing to help the child get in the character of what they are playing. There are an endless variety of ways this method can be used, and when I came across it I thought it was just brilliant!
Let your child have a say. For me, taking an instrument wasn’t an option, but I was allowed to choose the instrument I played. Perhaps it has always been your dream to play the flute, but your child might not have any interest in this. If you try to live your dreams through your child you are most likely going to be met with resistance. Instead, ask your child what instrument they would like to play. If they pick they will be more likely to feel a connection with what they are doing and will eventually embrace it as their own.
Also let your child have a say in when they practice. Do they prefer to practice right after school, or maybe they need a break but want to do it before dinner. Maybe after dinner is the best time, or perhaps they want to practice before school. Allow your child to have as much say in when they do their practicing as possible. This will allow them to take responsibility for their choice.
Let your child pick the order they practice things in. Just because their teacher goes in the same order every week at lessons doesn’t mean you have to. As long as you get through everything that’s what matters. If you can give your child a list of what needs to be practiced and allow them to choose the order this will give them an additional sense of personal connection to their practicing and instrument.
This is not an exhausted list of what you can allow your child to have a say in. Getting their input as much as possible and having open communication about things is key. This also teaches them to grow and start taking responsibility for making decisions that affect them, which is all part of the learning process!
Get involved! If your child only goes to their lessons and then practices at home they may not be having fun. Perhaps they would enjoy things more if they could be with other kids. Maybe you could ask your teacher about opportunities for them to take some group lessons in addition to their private lessons. Also getting them to participate in recitals or having them play for relatives or friends can be a motivator too. If a child likes to show off this can be a great way to get them to practice. If your child doesn’t like to get up in front of people don’t force them to. Perhaps they would enjoy performing in an orchestra more. I always loved this aspect of my instrument and always think it’s great for kids to play with others their own age. They get to be motivated by others that are better than they are, and they also feel good when they see that they are better than others in the group. Also getting your kids out to see other performers give recitals, or attending special events designed just for kids where their instrument is showcased can be a very positive experience for your child. Seeing what they can do with their instrument gives them a vision beyond the mundane four walls of your house or the teacher’s studio. There are a variety of ways for kids to have more involvement depending on your location and community. Ask your teacher about some possibilities if you don’t know where to start. Teachers are always more than happy to share ways to enrich the musical lives of their students!
Break up practice time. While a child’s lesson needs to happen all in one block of time, daily practicing does not. If your child has a short attention span do two or three shorter practice sessions a day. You will get the same amount of material accomplished without burning your child out. As your child gains the ability to focus for longer periods of time, up their practice time a few minutes each session. Eventually you will be able to eliminate practice sessions and ultimately go back to one practice section without all the stress!
While setting an amount of time to practice is good, it’s the quality of practice that counts. If children think they can whine and make your life difficult for 30 minutes a day and that’s “practice time” they need to be informed otherwise. Practicing means work. Your expectations of what practicing means needs to be clear so that children know what is expected of them. If 30 minutes go by and they haven’t picked up their instrument and done anything productive they may need to try again later. However, let the child know that if they do what they are being asked and cooperate they might be able to be done before 30 minutes is over and have extra time to play, read a book or watch TV. Make the quality of practice time, not the amount of practice time what matters. This is a reward system within itself that is actually teaching your child a very important life skill, there is only a finite amount of time and we need to use it wisely. Bringing this principle down to their level and giving them a tangible example of a responsibility they have and the rewards of doing it well will benefit both you and them.
Include your child in critiquing their practice time. Think of yourself as more of a facilitator for your child’s practice time. Instead of correcting your child all the time, ask your child what they think can be improved. Ask them what they think could have been better and ask them about ways to help them improve this aspect of their playing. Be sure to also ask them what they did well too. Having them critique themselves is a lot less “painful” than having you critique them all the time, and they are gaining an important skill for when they are older and will be practicing by themselves. Also ask them to remember from day to day what their teacher said to work on for each thing before you practice it. This helps them remember to actually try to do it the first time they go to play it, rather than always having to correct them after they forget to do whatever they were working on. I try to do this when I teach as well. It’s a great tool, and works to engage the child in what they are doing.
While we’re talking about criticizing let’s talk about a better way to criticize than saying “you didn’t do this right”. Try making criticisms less personal by criticizing the specific body part that is not behaving. By saying “your thumb isn’t behaving properly” or “we need to make sure that Mr. Pointer finger goes down in the right spot” you allow the child to feel that they have control over the different parts of their body and that they just have to make the body part do what they want it to do. This doesn’t make them feel like they are doing something wrong, but rather makes them feel empowered to fix “someone else” who’s doing something wrong. You can help your child have more fun and to work together with you to fix Mr. Pointer by saying something like, “Are you going to let Mr. Pointer get away with going down where he’s not suppose to? Let’s see if we can get Mr. Pointer to behave!” Your child will have much more fun with this approach and will become more in tune with how to use and control his muscles as well.
Praise your child! Last on this list, but certainly not least is to make sure you motivate your child with praise and affirmation. Try to get extra excited about the little things that they do well, and minimize the criticisms you give. If your child knows you are just going to be negative all the time they are not going to be motivated to practice, but if you are positive and energized by the good job they do, they will want to work to please you.
Good luck, and happy practicing!
I just finished a book by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer called “Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it.” This book interacts with the data received after surveying young adults in their 20′s and 30′s who are currently not attending church. Ham and Beemer wanted to see why young adults today are leaving the church after they get out of their parent’s homes, and his findings are rather interesting. While the purpose of this blog is not to focus on the main point of Ham and Beemer’s book I would HIGHLY recommend getting a copy and reading it for yourself. It is insightful and relevent to the state of our churches and nation as a whole and where we will be in just 1-2 generations. We need to open our eyes and stop burying our heads in the sand!
To the point of this post, Ham and Beemer’s book indicated that the reason young adults are leaving the church does NOT have to do with the music in the church. If you attend an Evangelical/Bible church of any denomination on a regular basis and are aware of the decisions that go into what music will and will not be included in the service you know that this can be a HUGE issue. Churches argue and split over what style music should be used, what instruments should be allowed, etc.
In an effort to make church more appealing and relevant to the young people who attend, churches have migrated toward a more contemporary musical style and instrumentation, closely mimicking what goes on in the secular music culture. Why? In most cases it’s because they think that’s what young people are looking for. They want to engage the young adults and kids that are growing up in their churches. Sometimes they are counting numbers, and in order to keep their number high they think that they need to adapt their music to fit what they know these young adults and kids are receiving in the secular world.
However, Ham and Beemer’s research discovered that this is NOT what they are looking for in church. In fact a very small percentage of those surveyed said that they left because they didn’t like the music. Ham and Beemer identified that the majority of young adults left the church because they either saw the church or the Bible as irrelevent to their lives. (These by the way, are two very distinct reasons that Ham and Beemer explain at length in their book.) Why did they view the church or the Bible as irrelevant? The former group claimed that the church is hypocritical and the latter group claimed that the Bible couldn’t be reconciled with science (my own generalization and paraphrase of each group’s answers).
So what does this have to do with music? Well, a lot! If churches are spending so much time discussing, reorganizing and arguing about the music that’s in the church in order to meet the needs of its congregation then it is clearly focusing on the wrong thing! Let’s also look at how much time is spent in a typical service on music. Ham and Beemer suggest that music is not even required to be in a church service, yet sometimes the music portion of the service is longer than the message that the pastor brings. Do we have our priorities out of line? It seems so! As a musician I am not arguing that we do away with music in the church, or that it’s not important to praise God through music in our services. What I am saying is that we need to reevaluate our priorities if we want to keep the church around for another generation.
I would encourage you to read “Already Gone” for yourself and see why most young adults leaving the church, were already gone in elementary, middle school, or high school. They may have physically been present, but mentally and spiritually they were gone. Why? In a nutshell, church attempts to feed the spiritual person, but totally neglects the mental instruction of their congregation. You can’t accept the spiritual things if you are not properly taught on the natural things of this world first. That’s why Ken Ham has dedicated his life to the book of Genesis and defending the Biblical truth found therein. “Already Gone” is a must read!
I was at The Loft Violin Shop yesterday in Columbus OH buying a new shoulder rest and getting the grip replaced on my bow. While I waited for my bow I was hanging out in the lobby entertaining myself by watching all the different customers that came into the shop. A conversation between one of the salesmen and a young lady caught my attention. They were talking about her bow and whether she should rehair her fiberglass bow, upgrade to another fiberglass bow, or buy a wood or carbon fiber bow. The salesman was asking her how she liked her bow and gave her a run down of approximate costs for each of the options she had to choose from. I thought this would be an interesting and relevant subject to talk about as many students are confused as to what their options are in choosing a bow and how to determine the best option for them.
Let’s go over what the options there are and then we’ll discuss how to choose between them. In general there are three options for bows: fiberglass, carbon fiber or wood.
Fiberglass bows are your low end student bows. They are basically indestructible and relatively cheap because they are mass manufactured (starting at approx. $50). While the playability of fiberglass bows vary slightly from bow to bow, in general you won’t find a very high quality fiberglass bow.
Carbon fiber bows are also indestructible but come in different grades. They are named and priced accordingly. While there is more consistency between carbon fiber bows of the same price range than wood bows, you are going to find a much more diverse selection of bows to choose from than your fiberglass counterparts. Their pricing starts at around $100 and can range all the way up to $1500+.
Wood bows are your traditional choice for violin bows and are constructed using Pernambuco wood of varying grades. Wood bows run from very cheap (under $100) to millions of dollars. The selection of wood bows is virtually endless and the variety between bows is as diverse as the number of bows available.
So how do you choose? Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of each bow before we make a decision.
Fiberglass bows: Pros – indestructible, cheap, not weather sensitive. Cons – poor playability, minmal diversity.
Carbon fiber: Pros – indestructible, good quality for the price, more consistent, not weather sensitive, medium diversity. Cons - medium diversity, quality has a cap.
Wood: Pros – unlimited diversity, no cap on quality. Cons – sensitive to weather, can be broken/warped, can be expensive.
Ok, so now that we have looked at our options let’s discuss how to choose a bow. Here are some factors to consider: Who will be playing the bow? What will they be primarily using it for (practicing, concerts, outdoor gigs, etc.)? How much do you want to spend? What quality are you looking for?
Here are my recommendations for each bow type:
Fiberglass bows: Good for young students and beginners.
Carbon fiber bows: Good for any age student who is looking to upgrade from a fiberglass bow. If you are looking to spend $1000 or less on a bow, go with a carbon fiber bow that fits your price range. You will most likely get more for your buck on a carbon fiber bow than a wood bow of the same price. If you are looking to spend between $1000 and $2500 check out both carbon fiber and wood bows. Compare bows and see what bows feel best to you and get the best sound out of your instrument. Carbon fiber bows are also great for the professional musician who is looking for a second bow or a bow for outdoor gigs.
Wood bows: I recommend a wood bow to anyone who is looking to spend over $2500 on a bow. A high quality wood bow is well worth your time and money to buy, especially if you are seeking to continue your musical studies into college or as a career. Just make sure you know what you’re looking for so that you don’t get stuck with a lemon!
Deciding whether you want a fiberglass, carbon fiber or wood bow is the first step. I hope this information as been helpful in that process! We’ll talk more in a later post on how to decide between bows once you decide on the material. There is so much to talk about! Happy bow hunting!