Counting stones are a variation on the abacus. They are easy to make and as simple as getting a jar and 10-20 of your favorite stones (or really, anything that is small, personal and is readily available).
You can see a version I made as gifts for my students one year here.
Counting stones will help make violin practice successful for the following reasons:
1- Anytime you can make something personal by choosing a unique stone (or sticker or toy, etc...) it will bring a positive connection to the experience.
As advanced as the frontal lobes of our brains may be, what drives the show in our life experiences is the unconscious part of our minds. Making a simple positive connection like choosing your personalized counting stones will bring this positive influence into violin practice and help encourage the practice process. Helping to make a positive and personal connection is equally useful for a 5-year-old as it is for a 57-year-old, or in other words, is applicable for all ages.
2- Violinists need ways to release the repetitive stress involved in playing to avoid an injury.
Laying practice stones out on the music stand will create a built-in mechanism for regularly relieving the arm from holding the instrument up (of using the left arm). Since I have injured myself in part thru lack of implementing healthy practice techniques such as this, I feel strongly about emphasizing this subject for future musicians to help preserve their music making experience. This led to inviting physiatrist Dr. Lin to do a presentation for my studio informing violinists and their parents about preventing violin related overuse stress injuries. The presentation, The content shared by Dr. Lin in his presentation The Violinist Athlete and Injury Prevention, is concise and solution oriented.
3- Tangible goals and tangible results.
I was once teaching a 10-year old student named Julia, who came into her lesson with a look of wonder in her eyes as she stated:
"Isn't it amazing that I just move my fingers and arms around and all this beautiful music comes out?!"
She perfectly captured the awe of this magical experience of creating invisible art (which is what music is). Other art forms are visible - painting, films, the martial arts, etc... We violinists create invisible art and having something concrete to aid in our process such as counting stones can be useful in tracking progress and bringing a sense of groundedness to our practicing.
4- Optimize practice methodologies.
In the correlating video, I show how to use practice stones to create better sequencing in violin practice. Too often students will play thru something 10x but only reinforce the incorrect bowing. With practice stones, a student can lay out an alternating pattern with one type of stone representing doing the correct bowing in the air and the other kind of stone for implementing the proper bowing on the instrument.
Over the recent Winter Break, I spent 2 weeks traveling to spend time with loved ones and it was glorious. The highlight of these special moments was meeting and holding my 3-month-old nephew, baby Liam. I do not officially resume school until Monday but have already started waking up early and working 12 + hour days getting ready for the intensity of nursing school and working ahead on all things Music for Young Violinists so I can devote myself to my studies.
I was initially going to send some neat FREEBIES out this season but my own current experience of feeling how limited time is caused a change of course in sharing.
When I am studying new content for my nursing program I find the most challenging part is discerning how to best use my time - Should I:
The list above is abbreviated and illustrates the challenge of starting at the beginning of acquiring a new skill and knowledge base.
In contrast, however, having spent decades in the world of teaching and learning the violin I had a very clear idea of how to make the most use of my time and was able to concisely pass this along to my students. This information is what I will be sharing in the 6 part practicing series.
I have mused that perhaps the only thing that is fair in this world is that we all get 24 hours a day.
Learn how to make the most of your precious time with the Music for Young Violinists 6 part practice series.
15 Ways to Optimize Violin Practice (video and free chart)
The Practice Experiment
(More Coming Soon)
Remember, practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Your time is precious, let me show you how to make the best use of it with this series on practicing.
There is ONLY one way to know what your students are doing at home...
I spent 1 week watching my students practice, and it was one of the most profound things I have ever done in my teaching. I believe that if more teachers did this, then we would be able to help more students reach higher levels in their violin playing.
In this video (posted below) and correlating blog post I explain how I organized a week of watching my students practice and why this was such a powerful use of time.
How I organized The Practice Experiment:
The week before watching students practice I had told them to expect something very different at their coming lesson, but I did not say what it was since I wanted to observe them in their "natural practice state" as much as possible. I was hoping to avoid students preparing for this observation since it would not be an honest representation of their work and defeat the purpose.
On the following week, I brought my computer to my teaching studio and reorganized the space so I could sit at my desk. After explaining that I would be observing them practice, I was silent and typed up a personalized report for each student while they showed me how they practiced. We reviewed the report together at the next week of lessons and went over suggested modifications to their practice routine.
It was a heartfelt but shocking and humbling week.
I was touched by the loving interactions between parent and child, but I was genuinely shocked that only about 20% of my students actually followed their practice notes (I create a personalized lesson sheet for each student to help us stay organized). Also, I was humbled that after 20 years of teaching and priding myself on being highly organized that so many of my students were not clear on:
1- What was actually expected of them.
2- How to execute the specific teaching points by themselves even after covering in repetition at their lesson.
I also have always assumed that if something were not accurate, then the student would isolate the issue and create a practice spot out of it. I was WRONG on this because over and over again I heard my students plow over obvious inaccuracies in their interpretation.
((((((Deep Exhale from Me))))
So, the other part of this humbling lesson is that I had first heard about doing this years ago but delayed implementing it. I regret this because had I done this in past years my students would absolutely be having a higher success outcome with their efforts. I will know at the end of April if I am accepted into nursing school. If so then this will be my final nine weeks of violin teaching from a 20+ year career. Better late than never but hopefully by passing this along here you can carry the torch and watch your students practice to serve them best and nurture their gifts.
The following is an extreme statement but I think the sentiment will be heard:
It DOES NOT MATTER how great of a teacher you are and it DOES NOT MATTER how talented your student is.
IT MATTERS how they interpret the lesson information and practice in their own space and time.
The only way to check in on this is to actually watch them practice.
We want to hear from you and know how you help your students reach their highest potential. Please share in the comments below. Thanks!
I love this Sarah Andersen cartoon because it perfectly captures how we make progress in our art forms by just simply practicing.
It's not a mystery, it's practice.
It's not magic, it's practice.
Not one violinist in the entire world was born playing the violin. Each and every one of us had to practice, practice and practice.
When we play the violin, both shoulders tend to tighten up and cause negative issues in our playing. Here are three tips to help your students 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 9 years ago I purchased a Poly-Pad in each size and it really helped me individually fit all of my students.
* Click HERE to read why “chinrest” is a misnomer.
Join the conversation - How do you help your student keep their shoulders relaxed when they play the violin?
I love spreading inspiring ideas to violin teachers that help you bring out the best in your students and thrive in the heartfelt work you do. I created a new page here on the Music for Young Violinists project called "Things I Love" as a resource list to share with you things that I have used in my violin teaching over the years and had success with.
Some of the items listed here are things that have stood the test of time and worthy of praise such as my Korg metronome which has been dropped 100 times in 15 years, rarely needs a battery replacement and still works fine. Other resources may be lesser known products worthy of spreading the good word about like the Poly-Pad shoulder sponge. This page will be growing on a regular basis so please check back soon.
Featured on “Things I Love” is Helping Parents Practice (Ideas for Making it Easier) Volume 1 by Edmund Sprunger. This is HANDS DOWN my favorite resource to use in supporting parents practicing with their children. I appreciate this book so much that I have practically underlined every sentence in my copy because it is so clarifying and poignant.
Sprunger combines decades of experience teaching Suzuki violin with his formal training in psychology to offer wise and compassionate perspectives that will elevate a parents understanding of why their child is responding or behaving in a certain way. He also offers solutions that are effective and healthy for addressing these specific situations.
The book is divided into sections by practice topic and then further broken down into 2-5 page solutions for specific scenarios that a parent would encounter while helping their child practice. This concise organization was done with the busy teacher/parent in mind and makes it an especially convenient tool because you can look up your immediate situation without having to read an entire book.
Thank you Ed and please let us know when Volume 2 is available. Learn more about Ed Sprunger and his resources HERE.
To celebrate this new page we are giving away Ed Sprunger’s new book: Building Violin Skills: A Set of Plans Designed to Help Parents and Children Construct Positive Practices.
To enter, just list one “Thing You Love” for your teaching and music making in the comments below. Winner will be chosen at random at the end of the month.
Thank you to TakeLessons.com for including me in this neat infographic.
Did you know that there is a violin teacher who created an online store of neat things to help make practice fun? I just made my first order (pictured above) and love this store because it is reasonably priced, full of neat things to help make my teaching fun and has quick delivery. The owner of the store shares this on her ABOUT page:
"Practice makes it easy!" Without practicing, playing a musical instrument is hard. The more you practice the easier it gets - and THAT's how you progress on an instrument.
I'm a Suzuki violin teacher and Suzuki mom. Practicing is part of my daily life with myself, my students, and most of all my children. Practicing every day with young children is hard, but your children will love practicing if you help make it fun!
I started this business making bead counters in 2009 because it was something I wanted my children to use during practicing. They loved it! So did my students! I offered the bead counters to my teacher friends and it was a huge success. I make each bead counter unique and wonder which child will love practicing because of it.
I am excited to teach this week with my new finger tapes (aka Car Pinstripes), review piece dice, kiddie chopstick and removable highliter tape - where has this been all my life?
Disclaimer: I recently contacted the owner of this store to ask if she could share a Music for Young Violinists coupon with her patrons to help spread the good news about my project but I am in no way affiliated with the Practice Shoppe and this is a sincere endorsement for someone who I think is doing good work and deserves to have her shop promoted.
Counting stones for practice jars are an easy, quick and economical gift to make for your students and will help a musician of any level stay organized and goal oriented in their home practice.
Above is a picture of a counting stone practice jar from a batch that I recently made and shared with the teenagers in my studio as a Christmas gift. I purchased the stones and beads from my local Michaels Craft store.
To use the counting stones for practice jar the student removes the stones from the jar and places one back in the jar for every repetition they complete to satisfaction. Since I believe it is important to use both singing and visualization when doing repetitions I used a variety of stones to emphasize my teaching values. The special stones (or beads) that are different looking can be used to keep track of these non-violin repetitions and create a sequence. For example, a student could place the stones on their music stand in a specific order that represents 2 violin play thrus and 1 sing thru, 2 violin play thrus and 1 sing thru, etc…
Practice counting devices like this help musicians keep track of their repetitions without having to log the numbers in their head. This frees up mental space so they can more fully concentrate on their musical goals. Also of benefit is using the left hand to put the repetition stone back in the jar which will give a much needed muscle release to the body so that tension does not accumulate.
How do you help your students accomplish repetitions in their home practice? Please share in the comments below.
Words like "high" and "low" can be confusing to a young student while they are in the process of playing the violin. Consider altering your instruction to be a description location like "closer to the bridge (or nose)" and "closer to the scroll" instead for more efficient results in the initial stages of learning these distinctions.
Let’s face it, getting kids to stay engaged during violin practice can be tough. Whether they’re tired after a long day at school or they’re frustrated with a particular skill, kids can get easily distracted.
To help keep your student or child motivated, try implementing a few violin games into their practice session. Not only will games keep them engaged, but they will also help reinforce important skills and techniques.
At TakeLessons, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of over 20+ violin games. Each game works on a particular skill, such as reading music, ear training, and violin posture. What’s more, these games can be applied to almost any instrument.
Below is a sample of a few games both parents and teachers can play with their budding musicians.
Simon Says: To help with ear training, play this new rendition of the old-school game “Simon Says.” Taking on the role of “Simon,” start by issuing instructions to the student(s). For example, when you play A on the violin, the kids have to stand up. Or when you play E, the kids have to sit down.
Spot the Mistake: Start by showing students the proper bow hold, then ask them to close their eyes while you set up your bow hold with one obvious mistake; for example, a straight thumb. Once you’re ready, ask students to open their eyes and spot the mistake. They get three chances to guess the mistake before moving on.
Tree Trunk: To practice the proper violin posture, have the child pretend he or she is a tree in the middle of a tornado. If the student’s feet are placed too narrow, then the wind will be able to push him or her over sideways. If his or her feet are placed too wide apart, then the wind can pull him or her forward or backwards.
Children can get easily burnt out when trying to master a complex instrument such as the violin. To help keep them motivated, mix up their practice routine with these fun, educational games. To view all 20+ violin games, click here.
This article originally appeared on TakeLessons.com. Brooke Neuman is a violin and piano editor at TakeLessons, an online marketplace that connects thousands of teachers and students for local and live online music lessons.
A "hack" is defined in the urban dictionary as:
A clever solution to a tricky problem.
As violin teachers (or parents of young violinists) our technique development can all be categorized as tricky problems so here are a few photos of "hacks" I have used in my studio to offer solutions for my students. For more, please visit the Violin Hacks & Bow Hold Helpers page.
LARGE PRINT Music for Beginning Violin is a 21 page digital download that includes 17 popular folk tunes and 3 beginner level scales.
This is the perfect collection for the young violinist (aged 4-7) who is just beginning to learn how to read music. The large music font makes it easy to see notes and was formatted for plenty of room to write in. Once purchased, teachers and parents can print out as many copies as they like for multiple educational uses. As a teacher myself I know that I sometimes want to revisit pieces and write in pitches or fingerings. I also love using color with my students and having multiple use copies with this digital download format gives me versatility and creativity in my teaching.
The scales and beginner level pieces included in this collection were chosen because they complement the foundational skill set established for a student who is at the Suzuki Violin Book 1 level but are also appropriate for any young beginner.
I owe a special thanks to my precious young violinists over the years who have taught me what pieces light them up and keep them invested and working hard. Popular tunes like Jingle Bells, Happy Birthday and the Itsy Bitsy Spider Song are pure violin teaching gold for teachers working with young students.
Happy Music Making!
Children Speak in Code - Learn How to Interpret
When a child declares they hate the violin (or practicing, or you for that matter) I caution you to interpret the meaning of such strong statements with great wisdom and care. Children experience all the same emotions as adults, and this includes frustration, shame and disappointment. Also, children speak in code because they do not yet have the maturity to word their feelings for the full explanation of their emotions to be articulated.
I knew a little girl who started playing the violin at the age of 4. She was full fire and like many violinists tended to be an intense child. She would frequently verbalize strong statements in the home practice sessions saying things such as:
This little girl had a wise mother who knew these statements were code with a meaning different from the words spoken. What this little girl really meant was:
"I hate playing the VIOLIN!!!" = "This is so challenging that it frustrates me and I hate feeling such intense frustration. The frustration is so intense that it overwhelms me with emotion and I lose myself. I feel defeated which also makes me feel bad. Since I am still a child and young I do not have the years of life experience to pull from to realize how my daily efforts will accumulate into a grander total. Without this maturity I feel like I will never, ever, ever, ever, EVER get this in a million, ba-jillion years no matter how hard I TRY or WORK or WANT this!!! I feel like my efforts do not pay off which leaves me feeling inadequate and this feels terrible. I really just hate this terrible feeling of defeat and inadequacy inside of me and not playing the violin.
Please do not give up on me, I need your support and your years of wisdom to guide me through this challenge in a healthy way. I am counting on you to shine a light to a higher path for the challenge at hand. My strong reaction right now even illustrates my need for a healthy emotional expression in life and music is a perfect fit for me and this necessary release. Please do not quit before I do. Please look 20 years into the future and help me through this challenge. I am counting on you."
"I hate YOU!!!" = "I hate disappointing you and feeling like a failure in front of you. You are one of the people I love most in this world and I only want to make you proud. I hate the feeling inside when I am unable to perform at the high level I know is possible and expected of me and do not really hate you. I only want to do good in your eyes and I get so frustrated when this does not happen. I hate the feeling I have that perceives I am letting you down. "
"I hate PRACTICING!!!" = "I hate feeling left out and frankly it does not feel fair. I notice all the other kids at school as well as my siblings get to play and I have this duty to my instrument. It feels like work and I just want to play with my friends and siblings. I hate feeling isolated and cut-off from what appears to be other fun and exciting life experiences. It can make me feel sad sometimes. Also, I have not accumulated enough life experience to see what an incredible opportunity this education is yet but someday I will thank you for this support and the high vision you held for me. I do not mean to be this difficult or to challenge you but it is where I am at as a child."
This little girl with such a strong willed constitution presented great challenges to her mother while growing up but her mother continued to believe in the higher purpose of music education and was willing to weather the storm of these verbal outburts and occasions such as the little girl's violin becoming a projectile object (that is a nice way to say the violin was thrown across the room.)
There is more to this story and a happy ending. Somewhere around the age of 12 or 13 music became an incredibly compelling experience for this little girl and there was a shift with her relationship to practicing. She was starting to connect the dots now how practicing was a path to making her dreams come true. All of a sudden there were String Quartets to play in at summer institutes and sophisticated Concertos by J.S. Bach and A. Vivaldi. It was indeed exciting to be a musician and she finally took full ownership of home practicing so her mother no longer needed to come to lessons or help with home practice.
This girl became so focused and fulfilled with her music that she went onto major in violin performance in her undergraduate. She continued to fall in love with music and even pursued a graduate degree in violin performance with an emphasis in Suzuki Pedagogy. She has been teaching for 15 years now and is extremely grateful that her mother was so devoted to a higher vision when times got emotionally rough growing up.
Please interpret strong statements towards playing the violin and practicing with extreme caution. I know that little girl who used to shout out in home practice very well because that little girl was me. Thank you mom for believing in me at such a young age and for staying focused on the higher purpose of this work. I am so grateful for your endearing support all of these years.
When I went back to school 3 years ago I was amazed at how many things had changed in the 15 years since I had been in college. Not only could I could take classes online but I could augment my courses with online tutorials. I found teaching videos to explain a diversity of subjects like algebra, chemistry, biology and statistics.
The online videos I watched proved to be invaluable tools for my learning and success as a student. I could choose from many different instructors to find a teaching style that worked for me and I could slow the material down, stop or repeat a lesson if needed so that information could be used in a way for my brain to fully assimilate it.
These videos have been so pivotal in my success that I was inspired to create practice videos for my violin students. I hope these are useful and a way for me to give back from all I have gained from online learning.
Link to Heather Figi's Youtube Channel.
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!