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.
Hello & Happy Spring.
This blog post is an update from yours truly, Heather.
First, if you are new to the Music for Young Violinists project welcome! Even though we may never meet in person, it thrills me to connect with our shared love of music and all things violin. I would much rather play duets together than type words on the screen, but you may live halfway around the world, so this is impractical. The next best thing I can do is introduce myself thru a short video HERE (and if you want to meet my amazing Great Dane, here is another short video).
Next, I am starting a new series called FREEBIE Fridays and, it is precisely what it sounds like - a new free download (aka freebie) will be posted on the Music for Young Violinists FREEBIES Page every Friday. I have already started working on this and will do this for at minimum the month of April. The first installment is One Octave C Major Scale & Arpeggio in LARGE Print format.
I feel I owe you all an apology for such a long absence from reaching out. For those of you who don't know, in addition to my experience as a violinist, educator, and composer, I am also in my second year of nursing school. It's a bit of a long story about how I got here, but the end goal is to combine the arts with healing.
I started a series this winter about practicing. I believe it is essential for us to devote some contemplation and energy to this component of music making because it is what defines a positive and successful outcome (however, sometimes we as teachers or students just expect it to magically fall into place and become an effortless part of our daily routines).
Due to some of the challenges of my nursing school course work and exams, I had to put this series on hold and therefore only finished three of the six installments. I am eager to share the remaining few in the next season while I also share some fun new FREEBIES.
In other Music for Young Violinists news, I have been working with great zeal and enthusiasm on editing ten of the twenty M4YV collections. Most changes are aesthetic (many covers are getting a makeover) but there have been a few minor compositional changes and some additions of extra pieces that complement some of the collections. I will be hosting some FLASH SALES (24-48 hours) in the near future to celebrate these new versions so if you are interested in some new pieces to brighten up your music collection, keep your eyes peeled on your inbox and the Facebook page.
Thanks and happy music making!
This is a great little 2-minute nugget for older students (like teens and adults) and works for many things beyond the violin. In fact, I have a cold this weekend and would rather be laying in bed all day but don't want to get too far behind so I just used this advice to clean my kitchen, finish my homework for my nursing program and walk my dog.
Below is a 2-minute video of some advice my teacher gave me in graduate school. It has served me well in all areas of my life.
Happy practicing and feel free to share your "best" practice advice in the comments below.
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.
If you have followed this project for a while, you may know that one of the most profound things I ever did in my teaching career was to spend a week watching my students practice. You can learn more about what I discovered and how it was arranged here on The Practice Experiment.
The 15 Ways to Optimize Violin Practice free PDF list (click here to download) and correlating video tutorial were created as a response to watching my students practice.
Too often students were working hard but not progressing as far as they should because they were not practicing the right way. This list and video will help any violinist make better use of their practice time and reach their goals more efficiently.
Teachers - you can use this to better support teaching technique, as a reference to share with your students and for professional development to expand your skills.
Students - you can use this to help you practice more efficiently. Practicing smarter will help you progress faster. My passion is taking my 20+ years of teaching experience and helping you know the fastest path to success thru the trials and errors I had working with students these past two decades.
Parents of Young Musicians - I know that one of the hardest jobs for you is keeping momentum in your home practice routine. Peruse the ideas on 15 Ways to Optimize Violin Practice and use the appropriate ones for your child to help keep practice creative, fresh and engaging with some new ideas.
Print out a PDF of this list below (posted on the FREEBIES page) and keep in your violin folder as a reference.
Please note, some things on the list may not be apparent to you until they are demonstrated in the accompanying video.
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!
Win a Set of WonderThumbs!!!
Relax your hand and let the music flow...
I recently discovered these neat violin playing aids called the WonderThumbs and really like them. In fact, I am surprised it took so long for someone to create these - thank you Craig!
Lucky for us the creator was kind enough to donate a set to one of our lucky members. If you don't happen to be the lucky duck who wins, you can order these from the WonderThumb website or from Shar Music. They cost $24, and if you are thrifty like me, you may be on the fence for making this investment so I invite you to consider this price in comparison of 4 years of remedial violin lessons ($4,000+) if this is a product that could benefit you, your student or your child. Remedial lessons are costly and honestly, can be treachery for all parties involved. Just some food for thought as you consider this product.
I played around with several different sizes and as a 5"8 female with slightly larger sized hands am probably an L in the WonderThumb sizing. That being said, I tried all the sizes, and I like the XL for using backward which is a non-traditional use of the product, but it worked for supporting the neck of the violin. I also liked the smallest size for taking up as little space as possible. Just some ideas to consider when looking into these.
OK, now onto the FUN STUFF - enter this giveaway contest by saying "Hello" (or "你好" or "Bonjour" or "Dzień Dobry") in the comments below and a winner will be chosen in 24 hours.
It's Time for Holiday Music!
Free Jingle Bells Duet for 2 Violins
Hello and warm wishes to all of you this holiday season. I hope that music is a part of what helps you express your love and connection during the holidays.
There is no shortage of ways or places to celebrate your love of music with the world and here are four ideas:
1- Learn Jingle Bell Rock by ear with this slow tutorial video.
2- Download a FREE Jingle Bells duet (it's a pretty fun arrangement with my favorite thing in the world - double stops!)
3- Get even more heart filling holiday & Christmas music with the 50% off sale on the Holiday Joy! collection.
4- For the youngest musicians, click here to learn a neat little trick to make the instrument more festive.
This is such a fun song to learn!
Here is an old video of me playing this very slowly so you can play along and learn Jingle Bell Rock by ear.
If you need technical support with the low 1st finger (and want to meet my cat), click here for a 90-second video to help break this down.
Use stick-on jewels on the fine tuners to help make violin playing fun and personalized for young students.
This idea for making violin fun comes from one of my 5-year-old students who brought in some stick-on jewels one lesson. While I have a strict rule for no stickers on the face of the violin, I thought to add these to the fine tuners would not damage the instrument and they helped a young musician make her music-making a little more personalized and festive.
You can purchase these on Amazon by searching for stick-on jewels and also at many stores in the scrapbooking and craft sections.
All of the awesome Music for Young Violinist music is on sale at 40% off Friday thru Monday.
(November 23-November 26).
No need to leave your home or wait for delivery because this music is available as an instant download so you can start learning your favorite Holiday Tunes (or Fiddle) this afternoon.
While you are here visiting the Music for Young Violinists site, please:
1- Sign-up for a free packet of music on the HOME PAGE.
2- Download some inspiring freebies on the FREEBIES page.
3- Sign-up for the GIVEAWAY CONTEST on the blog.
Things 4 Strings® Studio Kit:
If you have an extra 20 seconds today, I will value your thoughts on music and money in a 3 question survey. Feedback will be used to better serve the Music for Young Violinists community with future content. You can access the survey by clicking the button below. Thanks! Heather
* Limit one set per customer.
- Celebrate a new school year and new goals.
- Celebrate getting back into our violin lesson & practice routines.
- Celebrate our love of learning.
I also want to celebrate the first physical item for sale in the Music for Young Violinists store - Violin & Fiddle postcards. Having elements connected to our passions and goals placed in our environment helps us create an identity and culture and supports our long-term goals.
I love mail, all things violin and expressing gratitude, so the postcards were a heartfelt project for me to create. I reserved a portion of them for sharing as gifts with purchase in September.
While supplies last, a colorful pack of postcards will be sent in the mail to violin sheet music orders starting today.
I thought it would be fun to show you a peek from behind the scenes. I love working on this project 1st thing in the morning when the rest of the house is asleep.
I have an old computer that is holding on for dear life and I only turn it on when I must retrieve a specific file so that is why they are both out today. Usually, I just have my single laptop open.
I made a DIY stand-up desk from a storage crate from IKEA for about $8 (vs. the $200+ fancy ones available elsewhere). My coffee cup fits perfectly in these built-in sections. I got on the stand-up desk craze a couple of years ago for health benefits but as you can see, my cats totally take over my chair anytime I leave the room so the whole situation keeps them happy and me a little healthier.
Today's to-do list:
- Finish collating the bundles.
- Get the postcards ready to ship as free gifts for the upcoming back-to-school sale (they are really neat, you can see them in the pics for a sneak peek).
- Edit the website (oh man, this is a never-ending endeavor and I am amazed at how easy it is to spend 9 hours a day fixing things).
- Email past prize contributors to see if they want to donate again to all the lovely people who are a part of this community ;)
- Hope with all my might that internet connections are working today so I can get this work done and honor a request from a teacher who wrote me today asking for viola materials. I have wanted to create these since the inception - wish me luck!
+ Cook lunch, clean the kitchen, do some laundry, call my sister who just had a baby, exercise, walk the dog, go to the post-office to mail my mother's birthday present, write thank you notes for a prize I recently won (that is where my new speakers from), a little violin practice (open strings mostly) and do a bit of physical therapy for my back and arm........
OK, that is a small snippet of what goes into Music for Young Violinists. I gave myself until the end of August to work on this until my heart's desire but have to shift gears and review Pathophysiology and Pharmacology beginning September 1.
Bye for now,
One may think that buying new is the preferred option, but violins are great to buy used. Most violins sound better after they have been played for some time since the vibrations increase resonance and open up the wood to produce a richer tone. A good violin is built to last, will sound better over time and retain, or even increase, its value.
2- Set Your Price Range:
Violin prices range from the double-digits to the cost of a house (or more). To get an idea of an appropriate price range, research the costs of violins at established string catalogs like Shar Music and Johnson Strings and/or at your local violin shops, if available. Also, consult your violin instructor who will have a better idea on the range of prices in your area. Most informal sellers (i.e. Craigslist ads) will overestimate the value of the instrument they are selling so it benefits you to have an idea of what is normal.
3- Size Appropriately:
Violins are offered in the following 9 sizes:
*1/32, 1/16, 1/10, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, *7/8 & Full Size
* Less Common
If you are purchasing a smaller sized violin for a child, make sure you have them sized by an experienced violin teacher for the appropriate violin size. My colleagues and I have had violin stores incorrectly size our students which creates heartbreak for a young child and extra time and money for the parent.
Next, know that violin sizes are like clothing brands and there can be a slight range of lengths and weights for different instruments even if they are listed as the same size. Unlike clothing, never buy an instrument that is too big for your child because you want them to grow into it. This will hurt your child and create damaging techniques that will delay their development.
Before reviewing the next purchase guideline, be aware that cracks and minor repair issues are normal. My violin was built circa 1780 and has cracked several times over the past 238 years. Since the cracks were fixed in a timely manner by a competent luthier the instrument is in incredible condition and sounds fantastic. Cracks and minor repairs should be taken into consideration for reasons listed below, but are not necessarily a reason to avoid investing in a particular instrument. There are 2 circumstances that you should proceed with caution:
1- Cracks or open seams that have been left unrepaired for too long can warp permanently out of place and are complicated repairs.
2- Cracks that have extended beyond the purfling will impact the integrity of the violin and are putting the instrument at risk.
Investigate the craftsmanship of the violin, bow and violin case before buying. Any repair or necessary upgrade such as new strings, bow hair or violin case will increase your investment and should be budgeted for.
Below is a checklist of what to review when inspecting a used violin. I recommend viewing the full explanations of this checklist on the second part of this series as well downloading the accompanying PDF to bring with you when viewing instruments.
- Are the seams glued shut?
- Are there any cracks?
- Is the purfling inlaid or painted on?
- Is the bridge too high and/or not properly fitted to the instrument?
- Is the sound post in the correct location?
- Do the pegs move easily and hold their grip?
- Is the bow stick warped?
- Is there enough hair on the bow?
- Is the hair on the bow dirty?
- Does the violin need new strings?
- Is the chinrest adequate for your playing needs or will it need to be replaced?
- Does the violin come with a case?
Additional Questions to Ask the Seller:
- Does the instrument come with any accessories like a shoulder pad, music stand or sheet music materials?
- Who is the maker of the violin, what model is it and when was it made?
6 - Beware of the “Stradivarius” Label Trap:
Avoid the “Stradivarius” label trap. A Stradivarius violin is a priceless work of art made in Italy by Antonio Stradivari during the 17th and 18th centuries. These instruments are kept in museums and played by select concert artists. They are so valuable and respected that they need to be accompanied by handlers to ensure they are being treated properly. If your seller tells you that the label inside says Stradivarius (or another famous legendary violin maker like Guarneri) and is worth lots of money this should raise a red flag.
That being said, I did have a student who bought a bundle of violins and bows at an auction for a modest sum of money. Their gamble turned out to be a valuable instrument collection worth 12 times the amount paid.
The endpoint is to do your research and don't be fooled by a false label.
Hear the instrument being played before buying. This is important to your purchasing process because even a violin from a reputable maker or violin shop does not necessarily sound good. This also works in reverse where a lesser known violin maker or dealer may have a singular creation that really stands out in sound quality and will be a worthy investment.
Hearing a violin played under your ear is not always the best way to gauge the full spectrum of sound possible by your prospective instrument. Violins need a couple of meters (approximately 6 feet) for the acoustic properties to be fully realized, having another person play the violin while you maintain this distance will give you a complete perspective on the tonal capability of the instrument.
If you are a complete beginner you will need guidance for this and need to hear the violin played for you. If this is your situation, I encourage you to trust your intuition when evaluating what instrument speaks to your heart and preference. Many violin shops will let you take an instrument(s) on loan for a week so you can experiment with playing it. Also, you can ask your teacher if they will come with you to help evaluate a potential purchase. A common courtesy for this is to use your paid lesson time in exchange for your instructor coming to the violin shop to respect your teacher’s time and expertise.
8- Prices Are Negotiable:
Always ask the seller if they are willing to negotiate the price. If you are buying from a private seller, chances are likely they are flexible and eager to get rid of their instrument. If you are buying from a violin shop, ask if they can add in a set of new strings, a free bow rehair in the next year or shoulder pad.
9- Violins Maintain Value:
Violins hold their investment value over time. When investing in an instrument many people will alter their price range when they realize violins hold their value over time. If you take care of the instrument you choose then you should be able to sell it for the price you bought it for. Furthermore, if you purchased it from a violin shop there is a standard practice many stores follow where they will always trade the violin back for the original selling price in case you want to change sizes or upgrade in the future.
Click HERE to view Part 1: 9 Guidelines for Buying a Used Violin (+ video and free PDF download).
Below is a checklist of what to review when inspecting a used violin. I recommend downloading the accompanying PDF to bring with you when viewing instruments and viewing the accompanying tutorial video to see demonstrations.
1 - Are the seams glued shut? Visually inspect and gently tap around the outside of the instrument to hear a change in the acoustics where seams have come unglued.
2- Are there any cracks? Do the cracks stop at the purfling or extend all the way to the edge? Cracks that stop at the purfling are normal in older instruments and repairable if done in a timely manner.
3- Is the purfling inlaid or painted on? Actual inlaid purfling protects the instrument and indicates a higher quality construction. Purfling that is painted on is solely decorative, does not protect the instrument and usually indicates a lesser quality instrument.
Sound posts need to be in a highly specific location in order for the instrument to produce an optimal sound. Sometimes a simple adjustment of the sound post makes a world of difference in the sound of a violin. It is worth playing around with this variable on an instrument that is catching your interest but just seems to be a little off in reaching its potential.
7- Is the bow stick warped? When the hair on the bow has been lost more on one side than the other then the bow will start to warp. Sometimes all that is needed to address this issue is a new bow rehair. However, if the bow has been left in this position for too long then the stick will have permanently been warped out of place and requires recambering.
9- Is the hair on the bow dirty? At the frog of the bow it is normal for approximately an inch of dirt to build upon the bow hair as a natural result of correct playing technique. However, often times hair has been touched throughout the length of the bow which results in slippery spots and compromises the tone. If this is the case then bow hair can either be cleaned or replaced.
10- Does the violin need new strings? New strings are essential in evaluating the potential of an instrument. Old strings create a dull sound and are not able to maintain the center of the pitch. The quality of strings will also make a difference and in my opinion, some of the least expensive strings will compromise the quality of an instrument and should be avoided unless it is the only option available to your situation.
11- Is the chinrest adequate for your playing needs or will it need to be replaced? The chinrest should help a player make the instrument feel ergonomic and facilitate natural playing. If you like the instrument overall but it feels uncomfortable know that there are dozens of different styles of chinrests and even some custom fitted options to help facilitate your unique playing needs.
12- Does the violin come with a case? Not every violin includes the case so do not assume this will be added into your purchase. If the instrument does include a case check if the case closes securely, is weatherproof and truly protects the instrument.
13- Does the instrument come with any accessories like a shoulder pad, music stand or sheet music materials? It never hurts to ask if extra things are included in your purchase.
14- Who is the maker of the violin, what model is it and when was it made? The label on the inside of the instrument (visible by looking inside the “F” holes) will list this information. You need to know that makers have several tiers of instruments ranging from lower to higher quality models. In other words, just knowing the maker is not enough and you will also need to research what levels of violins that particular maker creates.
I love violin technique.
As a teacher, the hardest thing for me to dissect was VIBRATO
(raise your hand if you can relate).
Once you view the video below, I feel confident it will help you teach vibrato with greater success, or if you are a student, gain some tangible practice strategies to break down the inside steps of developing vibrato and help you learn it easier. I also share tips for parents on how to help their young children practice vibrato on the violin effectively.
While you are working on your vibrato it's a great time to evaluate your practice strategies. Watch 15 Ways to Optimize Violin Practice and to help make the most of your efforts in the practice room.
If you have tips to add to this subject please let us know in the comments below.
Ideas presented in this series are excellent for both new teachers just beginning to grow a music studio and seasoned instructors who desire to maintain their success.
Please take a 3 question survey to help me know how to better serve you.
I am interested in your feedback about music & money to see if this subject would be of interest to you in the future. Please take a 3 question survey below to help me know how to better serve you.
Thank you for taking a moment out of your busy life to share some feedback.
By working together to have transparent discussions maybe we can shift the way our society views music education and offer better solutions to families and instructors.
Art & War
Beginning Violin Music
Blue Jello Cards
Boil Them Cabbage Down
By Ear Tune
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
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!