Have you ever received advice from a teacher that may work for everyone else but would end your (or your child's) violin career?
We live in the information age where everyone seems to have an "expert" opinion about what is best. However, that does not mean that it is the "best" for your unique situation.
Learn how to evaluate what is best for your (or your child's) practicing needs with this blog and video post explaining the importance of context.
Everything in this world exists in context including when to practice and what shoulder pad to use. Here I share my favorite metaphor about why size ten shoes are the best size to explain the importance of context and how to evaluate what is going to be the best formula for your (or your child's) violin practice needs.
I felt that if I was going to do a series on practicing, which in itself asserts that I have an expert opinion on the subject, that it would be insincere to publish these posts/videos without adding the balancing view that this contribution to the practicing series adds: Life exists in context.
What exactly do I mean by this?
I think most violin teachers would agree that practicing in the morning is the optimal time to practice - the mind is fresh, the daily responsibilities have not accumulated yet (for either parent or child). Also, by practicing first thing in the morning, you achieve the triumphant feeling of having accomplished something of significance at the start of the day which empowers a young person to proceed confidently through the rest of their day.
However, I know that more than one person reading this would assert that practicing first thing in the morning would be the kiss of death for their child or student because it would lead to negative power struggles as the child works against their delicate circadian rhythms resulting in defeat for all parties involved.
Morning practice routines are just one example of many that we as adults have to consider in context when teaching the violin to young children. Other areas that come to mind are shoulder pads, chin rests, repertoire sequencing and musical genres.
Keep the concept of context in the back of your mind when working with young musicians to help best support them in their journey learning the violin.
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.
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.
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.
Hello M4YV Peeps,
It is my week off for Spring Break and has been an absolute constant rainstorm here in Oregon. This means I have time off & time inside to have too much fun with my MacBook photobooth feature and I have gone nuts restocking the FREEBIES page.
Head on over to the FREEBIES page & enjoy some awesome new downloads to help you bring out the best in your teaching. I rotate my FREEBIES on a regular basis so many of these resources will not be up for long.
Happy music making!
The THIRD POSITION STUDY SHEET is part of the free Winter 2016 music packet available only from Music for Young Violinists. This worksheet has been such an empowering resource for my students who are just beginning third position and they often progress thru these short studies much faster than we expect. Although I could assign each of these passages by ear, I find that it creates more clarity and organization to have the expected assignment clearly notated on a piece of paper. I designed this worksheet to combine multiple learning channels into one experience:
EARS - Using review pieces to learn third position serves as guard rails to keep a student on track. They already know what the tune should sound like so there is clarity from the start.
EYES - I remember when I first started reading on the G string and high on the E string how difficult it was to discern with all the additional staff lines. If a student and teacher prefer, this worksheet allows for writing in fingerings and half/whole step markings. Eventually the consistency of playing in the same range will help your young musician develop fluency for playing in this new higher range.
HANDS - I kept all of the studies in the same range on the E string to give students enough repetition of the new skill set to truly grow confident in this new skill. If a student only practices third position in a single piece they will likely struggle for a while due to not receiving enough support to master this new and fun skill.
How do you help your students with third position? Please share in the comments below.
Woo-Hoo, another prize!!! There is a special $15 Gift Certificate Prize to the Music for Young Violinists STORE for the first person who can help me identify the piano composition this excerpt comes from.
I used to hear it being practiced next door decades ago when I was in music school but I never knew the composer. I only know it is *fantastically fun for teaching young violinists how to master their low and high 2nd fingers. Nothing replaces good old fashioned 2 octave G Major scales but in my experience most students need a little more support in their curriculum.
The worksheet pictured below is a part of the Winer 2016 Music packet which is one of the many free perks of being on the Music for Young Violinists newsletter list. I give away an entire packet of music to my list every season. I love hearing from you and even if you can not tell me who composed this piano piece please let me know your feedback about the Winter 2016 Music Packet:
*If you are like me you may have wondered if this is a real word. I thought I was just making this up but learned something new today and according the Merriam-Webster this word actually exists. The definition of fantastically is 1 : in a fantastic manner. 2 : to a fantastic degree : extremely Ha! That was exactly the word I was looking for to describe this small etude I use to help students with their 2nd fingers.
This packet is not longer available but the worksheets from this can all be found in the Teacher's Toolkit available here at the Music for Young Violinists store.
La Folia - I noticed my students struggling to memorize the straightforward opening of this piece and could not figure out why until I looked at the score they were using (Suzuki Violin Book 6.) This version has the 4 bar phrases broken up unevenly on the lines, and my students were unable to identify how simple the pattern is. After my students used this re-formatted version, the phrases became visually apparent, and memory was much easier.
Sub-Division - Concerto No. 2 in G Major, 3rd Movement (F. Seitz) m. 68-83 By the time a musician is at this level sub-division should already be an acquired skill and having it printed out for explanation is not necessary. However, I find that having an assignment blocked out on a separate worksheet creates clarity of goals between teacher and student as well as preventing a student from plunging into the score without having the proper foundation to interpret the music accurately.
Ring, Ring, Ring - This is a simple etude that is easy to learn and designed to help younger musicians work on their sympathetic vibration ring tones. It can also be done starting on the D string.
“I Am High, I Am Low” - When a young musician begins differentiating between what we refer to as low and high 2nd fingers, they need a great deal of support. I borrow this musical phrase from a favorite piano piece and have students learn it in the five-part sequence listed on the worksheet. They enjoy it and have fun getting some speed in it.
Do-Re-Mi Song - Solfège is not something that most American musicians learn when they are young, but I would like to see this change. This simple and fun piece focuses on the intervals of the scale while teaching the seven syllables of solfège used in English. I first introduce this by singing and using hand symbols and fun body movements to match the lyrics. After it is learned vocally, a violin student can easily transfer this onto the violin.
Third Position Study Sheet - I love teaching the III position by ear but found that some students need a correlating visual to help it make more sense and not get discouraged in their home practice. This worksheet takes several familiar pieces and transposes them to be played in the III position on the E string to help concentrate on a specific range. It is a fun assignment and students enjoy experiencing their growth by mastering these phrases in the III position.
Did you know that my book Twinkle: Duets, Trios & Quartets was written to help students gain fluency and confidence with their III position? I created this collection of chamber music pieces before the Suzuki books were revised to fill the gap that used to exist with the use of the III position. You can view samples from this collection on the website and download a free Twinkle Duet when you sign-up for the newsletter.
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.
The Violinist Athlete and Injury Prevention with Dr. Victor Lin
Dr. Victor Lin, is physiatrist with the Rehabilitation Medicine Associates of Eugene, gifted educator and parent of a talented young violinist. He created this concise presentation The Violinist Athlete and Injury Prevention specifically for teenage violinists to inform them about the potential injuries violinists are prone to getting and to offer solutions for preventing these injuries. I suggest making these videos a required viewing assignment for any of your teenage students who are practicing more than 1 hour a day to help them have healthy and long violin careers. This 2 part presentation can be viewed by clicking on the video links below along with a summary of the contents.
The Violinist Athlete and Injury Prevention, Part 1:
The Violinist Athlete and Injury Prevention, Part 2:
For a young violinist having difficulty integrating the words "down" and "up" into their playing consider substituting with the words "open" for down bows and "close" for up bows. Since the bow moves in lateral directions left and right the actual words "up" and "down" do not correlate with the motions and can be confusing to a young violinist and their parents during home practice.
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.
Click to set custom HTML
“Doctor Suzuki said, ‘Only practice on the days that you eat.’” I say, in my most optimistic and encouraging voice, to every new cello student and their practice parent.
We all start out knowing that practice is the name of the game, we must commit to at least this part or it all goes down the tubes, right? But, when I hear myself saying this, I know full well that in about 5-6 months it is possible that I will see this same eager family, who nodded in agreement, walk into the studio with flat expressions, barely speaking to each other, and desperation showing in their once bright eyes. “We’ve had a hard week, month, few months,” they say.
I know exactly what they are telling me. Despite all of the love, opportunity and dedication the parents have provided, the child refuses to practice. Maybe there had even been arguments, tantrums, and foot stomping by both parties. The honeymoon has ended and they are at their wits end. They don’t want their child to despise music or them, so maybe it’s time to throw in the towel?
My heart fills with empathy for them both. I know so much of their pain, feelings of failure, guilt, and confusion about where they went wrong. How could a professionally trained Suzuki teacher have this problem?! After much reflection over the past few years as a new Suzuki parent, I have come to the conclusion that this struggle is absolutely part of the process and is completely necessary for many families.
A familiar comment that I often hear from parents who are trying to pinpoint their practice struggle is, “Once she/he is in there, they play their hearts out and they enjoy themselves." It’s the “getting in there” that is the problem. The obstacle of transitioning from the outside world, with all of its excitement and wonderful distractions, to their actual workspace and mindset is something many artists face, from painters to musicians. Most of the time, once inside that space, it seems a magical inertia carries them forward until they have exhausted their creative output and work is done for the day.
Personally, I find it very difficult to shift from my mama mode to the music studio, for either teaching or practicing. It was equally as challenging, if not more so, for our daughter, who spent all day at school or having fun with friends and family, to drop everything and pick up her violin because it was time. I would tell myself, “If I could just get her to the other side of the door with the instrument in her hands, everything will be okay, and the music will take over.”
Unfortunately, because of the negative interactions prior to practice, our combative attitude would follow us through that door, and very little music would be accomplished. Realizing the transition period had been ignored and not included as part of the practice itself, we decided to make it inviting, special, and fun by creating a small ritual, which for us took the form of a tea ceremony.
Once our daughter is aware that it is time for music practice, she finds her favorite tea cup, and with my help, makes herself a cup of tea with honey and puts a small cookie or biscuit on her plate. The entire process takes about 5 minutes and during that time we usually chat about what she intends to work on. She enters the studio with her tea and nibbles or sips through the first part of her practice. I have found that both of us consistently have a much calmer and more positive attitude as a result of being mindful of the transition.
Emily Graff-Uhlman has been teaching cello privately for 13 years and currently maintains a small Suzuki studio in Eugene, Oregon while enjoying her three young children. She is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music (BM) and the University of Nevada, Reno (MM).
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!