One of my teachers shared with me long ago that the body is the first instrument. After spending decades teaching and spending hours every day watching how the body's posture impacts the instrument's sound, I agree.
When we play the violin, both shoulders tend to tighten up and cause negative issues in our playing. Here are 3 tips to help violinists gain awareness in their shoulders and keep their violin playing healthy.
1- PRACTICE LAYING DOWN
This is silly and awkward BUT highly effective.
The laws of gravity will help a violinist feel a naturally aligned state in their body when they play laying down. Laying down while playing the violin is an incredible tool for the following three techniques:
1-Teaching the neck to release tension.
2- Supporting the shoulders in finding the base of their sockets.
3- Getting the knees to soften up.
Young children love this because it feels like a novelty, however, this practice technique is appropriate for players of all ages and levels. Laying down while playing the violin will create a very unnatural feeling in the bow arm and compromise the sound, but the long-term results of alignment and awareness are more than worth the short-term compromises.
2- TIGHTEN UP:
Go to the extreme to build awareness. Tighten up the shoulders as much as possible for 5 seconds and release. I use this verbal cue: "put your shoulders in your ears."
After this intense use of muscles, the shoulders will respond with fatigue and rest by staying down in the bottom of their sockets. They may not always stay down for the rest of the lesson or practice session, but this exercise helps develop the necessary awareness to address tight shoulders and fix this problem in violin playing.
In addition to creating muscle fatigue and natural inclination to release, this tip will also help a violinist realize the extreme of their range of motion so that they have more control in choosing where their shoulders go when playing.
3- EVALUATE THE CHIN REST AND SHOULDER PAD SET-UP:
When was the last time you changed your *chin rest or shoulder pad? Young students with growing bodies have different proportions in their neck-shoulder-arms approximately every six months and, their playing needs are also growing. Chin rests and shoulder pads need to be re-evaluated for younger players on a regular basis because of this continual physical and musical growth.
Most of us do not live in a major metropolitan area with a large string supply store to experiment with a variety of gear for our violins. Instead of this, stay up to date and informed of the variety of chin rests and shoulder pads by subscribing to string catalogs (links below).
Also, consider the Poly-Pad which I have featured on the “Things I Love” page. This economical shoulder sponge has extra curves than competitors pads and is one of my favorites. When I moved to Oregon 11 years ago I purchased a Poly-Pad in each size and it really helped me individually fit all of my students.
Interested in more tips for playing the violin? Here are 3 M4YV tutorial videos on vibrato, pizzicato and bow hold "bunny flips" that share ideas to help you bring out the best in your music making!
How do you help your student keep their shoulders relaxed when they play the violin?
Sorry, this FREEBIE was only available for 24-hours. Please join the M4YV mailing list to learn about the next flash FREEBIE. Thanks!
Enjoy another Friday flash FREEBIE fiddle tune posted on the M4YV blog (scroll down to access the file & a slow, practice video)
This will only be up for 24 hours and was taken from the Fiddle Duets sheet music collection. Friendly reminder that the 50% fiddle music and fun stuff sale is almost done and will be going on thru February.
Happy music making!
Every year in this month, I celebrate Fiddle music. It started in my studio as a way to brighten up the dreary winters here in the Pacific Northwest and became a fun tradition.
Enjoy this flash FREEBIE of Mississippi Reel for Violin and Viola in the key of D Major. I will take this down in one week from posting, so please help spread the good news and tell your fiddle friends to take advantage of this easy and free download.
For more fiddle music from the M4YV project, click HERE.
Sorry, you missed out on this flash FREEBIE available for 1-week.
Please sign-up for the M4YV mailing list to be alerted to future flash FREEBIES.
This fun fiddle tune is still available for instant download in the M4YV collection Let's Fiddle!!!
Did you know there are 4 ways to do the "spider crawls" on the bow?
Learn all 4 ways, neat tricks for teaching and learning these and get introduced to the ultimate challenge with a short tutorial video below.
Guest author Adrian Martinez helps tackle one of the most popular questions - how long does it take to learn how to play the violin?
How long does it take to learn the violin? We’re going to start by responding to this question with what is perhaps the most frustrating answer: it depends.
First, it depends on what you mean by “learn.” Within a day, you might possibly be able to play a few notes - within a week, you might be able to play those notes in a way that kind-of-sort-of sounds like a song. You might then say you’ve “learned” the violin. On the other hand, if you’re asking how long it takes to master the violin, you might fall back on Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours, or you might be really impish and say that absolute mastery is impossible. After all, music is ever-growing and changing, and even micro-adjustments to technique can produce totally different sounding songs.
We might then look at the extraordinary variety inherent in humankind. There are so many different students, each with different levels of experience. Someone who has played the guitar before might find it easier to develop a left-hand technique than a total novice. On the other hand, another guitarist might find the lack of frets daunting and disorienting, which could curb their progress.
How you’re learning can also be a pretty important factor. Whether or not you’ve got a personal instructor, if you’re taking online music lessons, if you have access to sheet music, or you’re just trying to guess for yourself.
Other factors include:
Of course, you’re not here reading this blog post for the answer “it depends” - though elaborating on why it depends can help you narrow down what your goals and potential barriers might be.
We’re going to make some assumptions, then. We’re going to assume you’ve never played an instrument before, you don’t know any music theory - that you’re basically a complete beginner. We’re also going to assume you practice for around 5-6 hours a week (an hour a day with a day or two off or 45 minutes every day) and that you have a teacher.
The first month is all about the absolute basics. You’ll learn how to hold the violin and the bow (and yourself). You’ll also learn the basic anatomy of a violin. It’s unlikely that you’ll use the fingers on your left hand during the first month; instead, you’ll focus on your bow technique. You will do exercises like this & this (click on the links for some fun YouTube tutorial videos from M4YV).
You’ll also begin to learn the basics of music theory - mainly how to read sheet music. Learning about music theory is an ongoing discipline. There’s an incredible depth, diversity, and richness to theory, especially once you start going outside of the Western canon, so there’s a lot to learn here.
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Please share in the comments below.
Click HERE to read what others are saying about finger #'s vs. pitches.
Another pro of using #'s is to benefit students with special learning needs. These students (i.e., dyslexic, or right-brain dominant learners), have minds that best connect with a # over a letter.
I spent most of my teaching career using finger #s and have to wonder:
I digress but bring this up since many of us had either very limited or unsuccessful music theory training. It was not until I was age 25 and did teacher training and teaching using the Music Mind Games music theory curriculum that I began to understand music theory.
I recently discovered the Fantastic Finger Guides. I think they are fantastic- they offer a quick and economical solution to accurate finger placement and immediately help to code the language of music theory into the beginning level violinist.
In 8 seconds, I applied the Fantastic Finger Guide. It went on smoothly and would be doable for students to apply independently.
Now, a clear map of pitches appears on my fingerboard as well as easy to see finger numbers identified on the side of the neck (perfect to see from "rest position"). The product comes on a beginning version (with less information as not to overwhelm the beginning student) and an advanced version that includes more pitches and a quick visual guide for how sharps and flats work.
Click HERE to learn more and order the Fantastic Finger Guides.
Entering is easy, scroll down to learn how.
Why do we use finger tapes when first learning to play string instruments such as the violin, viola, or cello?
Is there a better way than finger tapes to get our beginners playing correctly with musical confidence?
Learn more about why using pitches instead of finger numbers is empowering to the learning process below by guest blog post author Toby Weston.
I wondered if there was a better way to teach than with finger tapes because finger tapes don't provide sufficient musical information to help the student grow musically smarter and they are a very abstract teaching tool.
I was concerned that by using finger tapes, my students were labeling the sound only by its physical location and not coding the actual musical language. At one point I used different color tapes for different locations:
1st finger was red, 2nd finger was white, and the 3rd finger was blue.
After a year of playing, most students using this system will code the location as 1st finger on the red tape on the A string, but not code the letter name nor musical language. By the time these students reached the 7th grade, many had deficiencies in understanding their fingerboard in terms of a musical alphabet.
After years of using finger tapes I had a breakthrough in the Fall of 2017:
This way the student has the information needed to move forward in the music. When a student practices on their own they build correct muscle memory for spacing and also musical alphabet memory. This leads to gaining confidence in their playing without their teacher present. The student can code the music alphabet as their primary thinking versus finger tapes that are too abstract and don't provide any musical information.
I ended up creating the Fantastic Finger Guides to solve this problem for my students. I created the D Major Beginner Guide for my first-year students and the All Notes guide for my second-year students. When students are beginning to learn the violin, less is better thus the rationale for a more simplified finger guide.
Click HERE to order the Fantastic Finger Guides.
- Comment below
- State if you are a "STUDENT" or "TEACHER"
- Write in your learning preference: NUMBERS (for finger #s) or LETTERS (for pitches).
- i..e. STUDENT & Numbers or TEACHER & Letters
I had never even heard of this thing called Zoom.
Fast-forward to June 2020 and I now use Zoom 7x a week to take classes, teach violin and capoeira, and attend meetings. Scroll down to learn the top 5 benefits & 3 downsides of Zoom violin lessons.
I know now how to set-up a recurring session, place the camera, adjust the lights, and easily adjust the audio and camera in a matter of seconds.
I learned a new skill and this will open future options for connecting and has expanded my concept for how I can teach. The options are endless and I now know that if a student or myself ever has a situation where we can not meet in person we can continue our work and fulfill our vision.
Did you see on the Zoom lesson that their music stand is not properly elevated to facilitate proper posture?
Does your student suffer from distractions?
Can you recommend a more ideal place in their home for learning based on what you observe in their environment?
Did you discover that they have a piano you never knew about and now you can integrate this into their curriculum?
The piano keyboard is the best way to solidify music theory concepts, how exciting!
We must remember that we only see our students for 30-60 minutes every week and the rest of their learning takes place in their home. Gaining insight into the student's home learning environment can solve mysteries (such as the posture circumstance listed above) and help you make suggestions to better a student's core learning environment.
- Bow Angles
- Bow placement
- Use of bow
- Finger placement
I have always said that the reason it is so easy for me to teach the violin is that I get to see everything so clearly. Video lessons helped to spotlight this factor and I made use of this in my curriculum. This also correlates with the 4th benefit of Zoom lessons listed next.
Viewing oneself play the violin is one of the best ways to improve. Students should be doing this regularly but as teachers, we get busy and do not always uphold this expectation. Also, this convenience relieves the student (or parent of the student) from taking notes during the lesson.
Secondly, without spending so much time driving and in activities, most of us (teachers and students) are receiving a well-needed rest. Our bodies need this extra time to repair and stay healthy.
I hope that we are all cognizant that health is one of our highest values and this experience will forge in us a commitment to take better care of ourselves in the years to come. Connecting with this value is a blessing that will serve us thruout the rest of our lives and something to be grateful for.
The limitations of the microphones and speakers in the computers we use to do Zoom lessons remove this life-infused quality of beautiful violin tone and frankly put, it's painful to listen to at times. On a basic computer, everything above a certain range or volume entirely cuts out and all violin sounds are compressed. Having a microphone or specialized headphones can help but nothing will ever compare to the beauty of live violin tone.
- No screen time whatsoever for children under 2
- One hour a day for children 2 to 12
- Two hours a day for teens and adults
We love the violin because it's slow and it connects us to a time period where things were slow. The instant gratification offered by my screens dulls our dopamine receptors and may affect the way mitochondria operate within cells. Educate yourself further about the negative impacts of too much screen time here.
Please share in the comments below. Thank you!
I consider this such an incredible feat since it took me years to fill my studio when I moved to Oregon. I know of no other teacher having this amount of consistent success building new studios so frequently and feel very grateful that Bree took the effort to collect her studio building strategies into a handbook titled:
A PROGRAM DIRECTOR: I spent several years directing an established Suzuki Violin program at a prestigious music school in Washington DC and two summers directing a summer institute. In both circumstances, I remember that I always felt like I was re-inventing the wheel when I was asked to think of development and recruitment ideas. Bree’s handbook takes the guesswork out of growing a program and offers a clear strategy for where and how to look for new and ideal students.
THE FULL STUDIO TEACHER: This book is for teachers like myself who are already full. I turn away families on a regular basis but I know from experience that I always need to stay one step ahead and be ready for sudden changes in the economy or other unforeseen events.
THE TEACHER WHO WANTS MORE ONLINE PRESENCE: If you feel overwhelmed or daunted about developing your online presence fear no more. Bree’s book walks you thru all of the resources that are available to music teachers to support our unique line of work. As the title states, she shares with the reader free and low-cost strategies so there is no need to worry about large financial investments with her suggestions.
Since I am passionate about your success, I have also created a resource in an attempt to help close this gap. In my handbook titled 7 Steps to Attract More Students & Grow Your Violin (What I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Studio 10 Years Ago), I share with you everything I learned the hard way when building a studio so that you can have a more streamlined experience offering your talents to the world. Please click on the image below to learn more.
Please leave it in the comments below, thanks!
- The asymmetrical placement of the violin.
- Going against gravity by "holding the violin up."
Once we take out these 2 elements, vibrato is clear to understand and easy to learn.
Watch the video below for a demonstration, a teaching sequence for younger players and tips for practicing.
- Teachers who want "more tools in their toolbox" to help students learn vibrato.
- Students just learning vibrato and/or remediating their vibrato.
- Performers who need to loosen their approach to vibrato.
We would love to learn from you, please share in the comments below.
What is on your musical wish list?
What would make you excited to open your violin case, rosin your bow, and play music?
That's pretty darn exciting!
If I choose your suggestion, I will gift you a free copy of the new resource.
This is a lofty goal, but a fun challenge that propels me forward and is the impetus of the newest resource from Music for Young Violinists:
One Octave Scales and Arpeggios
Years later when I started teaching, I took this concept to heart and was determined to advance my students in a more streamlined way than I learned. I view this as a part of the continuum of humanity. As we discover how the brain works and how myelin is developed, then theoretically, we should be able to produce better students than ourselves.
That is why I created the One Octave Scales and Arpeggios resource for beginning-intermediate level students.
I found my students learning Bach & Vivaldi concertos (Suzuki Book 4 level) and ready for a full, 3-octave scale system to add to their curriculum. However, in my experience even if a student was learning repertoire at this level, their ear had not yet been trained to hear the arpeggio progression so they would struggle with both the learning of correct notes and the advanced shifting required in the upper octaves.
There had to be a better way to teach this and this is what led to the creation of the One Octave Scale and Arpeggios resource. This resource helps build a solid foundation by concentrating on the first octave of the arpeggio progressions so the student can master the aural template and basic finger patterns before embarking on more advanced octave/shifting work.
- Large size font to help make details more understandable
- 12 major keys signatures
- Simplified version (major & minor scales + arpeggios)
- Advanced version (scale + arpeggio progression)
- Coloring sheet
Why I Like? This website has it all (and lots of it). Peruse the wide variety of classical, celtic, children's and more. Also, many downloads have both the violin and piano part.
2 - Violin Online:
Why I Like? They have simplified versions of Vivaldi's Four Seasons for 2 violins. Start playing Vivaldi's Spring today in the key of D major and work up to playing in E major (see #3 for accessing this).
3 - Mutopia:
Why I Like? The Mutopia Project touts 2,124 pieces of music that are "free to download, modify, print, copy, distribute, perform, and record – all in the Public Domain or under Creative Commons licenses, in PDF, MIDI, and editable LilyPond file formats" I started using this site because it has all 4 of Vivaldi's Four Seasons (both parts and scores).
4- The Violin Case:
Why I Like? One and two octave major and minor scale sheets that are easy to read and include broken thirds.
5- Capotasto Music:
Why I Like? A neat variety of sheet music that is professionally formatted in an easy to read size and with violin specific key signatures. I bring this up since many free sheet music sites do not have quality formatting or offer pieces with 5 flats in the key signature which is less than ideal for string players.
Why I Like? The M4YV page includes not just violin sheet music but helpful things to support the music process like practice charts, flash cards, learning resources, motivational quotes and fun things like violin coloring sheets.
Art & War
Beginning Violin Music
Blue Jello Cards
Boil Them Cabbage Down
By Ear Tune
Check Off Chart
Easy Violin Music
Free Gift With Purchase
Free Holiday Music
Free Sheet Music
Free Violin Music
How To Attract Students
How To Build Studio
How To Buy Violin
Inspiring String Players
Jingle Bells For 2 Violins
Jingle Bells For Beginning Violin
LARGE Print Music
Left Hand Technique
Make Practice Fun
Music Mind Games
Ode To Joy
Praeludium & Allegro
Violin Sheet Music
Violin Teaching Tip
Hi! It's me, Heather. I absolutely love working on the Music for Young Violinists project and all the many facets: blogging, website, music, teaching materials, freebies, videos, newsletter and giveaway contests. The best part is connecting with you so feel free to drop me a line. You can learn more about me on the "ABOUT" page. Thanks!