Repetition practice is like a journey. I know to expect things to feel rough, uncoordinated, and awkward at first. I also know that the end result, feeling fully self expressed and coordinated through my music is well worth the process.. Therefore I proceed!
With each repetition there are lightning fast mental assessments. Troubleshooting galore! The next repetition is always approached in a different way. This isn't mindless repetition, it's a thoughtful mind journey. I love hearing the improvements and am now addicted to hearing change.
There is a ton of information being shared these days about repetition. Proof that 10,000 repetitions is the magic number humans need to attain exceptional mastery. Games to get kids to practice their repetitions. Even violin practicing videos here to help you make repetitions with teachers guiding you. But I'm not going to go there today.
I'm simply going to leave you with this amazing video. This is exactly what Dr. Suzuki had in mind when he studied how children learn to speak. Twin brothers having a complete conversation. They are totally engrossed in Tone, Projection, and Pitch. Even without words we understand the conversation. Listen as if you are them. Notice how they are playing with their repetitions. Changing subtle nuances although repeating over and over and over again.
Play this video for your students, children, whoever! Show this as a model. How can you use this to help you practice repetitions on the violin?
Environment for Learning a Musical Instrument
In the Introduction to the Environment for Learning a Musical Instrument blog series, we looked at how babies are immersed in language. Here's a direct quote from that blog entry:
"When we look at how a baby learns to speak it seems so simple. The baby is surrounded by talking all the time. The baby copies the sounds and is rewarded with attention and praise when the sound resembles our language. The baby happily practices making sound all day long."
Let's focus our lense a little closer:
The baby copies the sounds and is rewarded with attention and praise.
One more time a little closer:
"rewarded with attention"
That in a nutshell is joyful support. Most of the time all my son wants is for me to see what he is doing. See him in action. Just watch and check it out. Even though I'm inclined to offer my two cents worth, he really just wants me to be there and witness. Spend the time together.
How do we react when a baby mispronounces a word? Awwww - how cute! How do we react when our child makes an unrefined sound on the violin? Hmmmmm.... After we recover from our "cute" phase with the baby we certainly don't get stern and correct, bribe or punish the baby. We just smile and keep repeating the correct pronunciation. All the while showering the child with that joyful kind of support that comes natural to us as parents and care givers.
In this goal oriented world where we put ourselves into a mode of constant production - I'd like to remind you to enjoy your practices. This is your time to share with your child. Tap into that natural fun loving supportive role that may be hidden somewhere deep inside you. Maybe you don't need to do anything but just sit there and be with your child while they practice and learn how to play the violin. Cheer for the wonderful violin tone. Find that note that is out of tune endearing!
Environment for Learning a Musical Instrument
Role Models are key to any kind of learning. Whether you are a Suzuki trained musician, studying a foreign language, or pursuing science! We all learn from our predecessors.
Dr. Suzuki knew that children copied their parents. In designing his Mother Tongue approach to teaching the violin, he taught the parent first, with the child in the room soaking up the stimuli. Nowadays, many parents come to lessons, take notes, practice with their child but they don't have their own instruments and don't participate in the experience of playing the instrument. Parents are always surprised when younger siblings naturally soak in and emulate everything their older violin playing sibling is doing! How to arrange having Role Models for the older sibling or any violin student for that matter is the question.
I would like to share with you some stories from my own teaching studio, tell you to attend live concerts, and show you how to take advantage of modern technology.
The concept of a one room school house comes to mind when I think of my students. My students range from age 4 - 64. I have some fond memories of how my students interact with each other. I remember a student had a very strong performance of Boccherini's Minuet. Her poise, clarity and passion for music were quite striking. For the next 2 years, any student who had not known Minuet but who had attended the recital with the striking performance really had their own moment to shine when they learned Boccherini's Minuet for themselves! What was blatantly obvious to me was something the students had quietly absorbed and internalized.
My incoming students are required to observe a minimum of 6 times prior to beginning lessons. One of two things occur during this observation period. Either the incoming student becomes out-going, or, they become overly excited to begin. This year in particular watching this process unfold was a miracle in itself. For starters, my students did a fantastic job modeling at their lessons. I had 100% of the observing children actually sign up for lessons! They were so engaged in the observation process that they came into their beginning lessons showing me all the steps they had already learned!
For many years these two girls had their lessons back to back (Olivia and Sophie). Sophie has now gone away to college and Olivia misses her. Olivia now realizes that she's "one of the older ones" in my studio. I know that part of what Olivia models for my younger students is also a part of what Sophie modeled to her. This relationship is filled with unspoken awe, respect and admiration.
Attend live music! Just do it! Most of the music people hear is electronically stored, modified, enhanced, you name it. On 10/10/10 at 10:00 a.m. I had the pleasure of performing in a string quartet for a wedding. One guest after another came up to us and commented at how wonderful it was to hear live music and to hear it played on wooden acoustic instruments! Sign of the times...
The flip side of hearing live music would be to take full advantage of modern technology. I Tunes, Youtube, www.myviolinvideos.com! Cds, dvds, PBS concerts. Here's an oldie but goodie: radio! I remember in college, each year the incoming freshman were always better violinists than the year before. I'm sure that it's still true to this day. The art of teaching has been getting better and better and the results are astounding. I've noticed this even with my own teaching. There was a particularly high jump in the quality of my students progress when I opened up this website. Having this site model both how to practice (tutorials) and how to perform (recitals)... the results are obvious. Students are excited, flourishing, and saying to me "that was easy" when I clearly know how complicated it really is.
Environment for Learning a Musical Instrument
It's common knowledge that the best way to learn a new language is to immerse yourself in that language. Dr. Suzuki made no difference between spoken language and musical language. They are both learned the same way: immersion.
Listening is a huge component to the immersion process. In an ideal world you'd have an orchestra, string quartet, and solosists living in your home playing music all the time! Isn't that what happens if you go to another country that speaks another language? You're naturally surrounded by the sounds of that language?
You've deduced correctly - you are going to have to create your own listening environment. How is the question! Yes you should attend concerts regularly, and play music in your home but let's get up to speed with today's technology. If you are in the car a lot you have a golden opportunity to make a habit out of always having the music turned on. Upload your kid's ipods with the music they have to listen to repetitively. Kids are content to listen to music over and over. It drives adults crazy! Get the kids some ear buds, stick the ipod in their pocket and send them outside to play! Set up music in their bedroom, kiss them goodnight, start the play button and walk out!
Video recordings have taken the world by storm. Videos of tutorials and recitals such as the ones you'll find here are wonderful. They incorporate listening as well as viewing role models (our next blog topic!) I'll be quite frank about the videos. I can always tell when a student has spent time watching the videos on www.myviolinvideos.com. I can tell by the spark in their eye, the confidence they exude, and the way they have incorporated material in an organic natural way.
I know that arranging a listening habit can be just as overwhelming as counting calories or starting a new exercise routine. You'll be amazed with the results. You'll notice that practice time goes smoother and confidence levels rise. The rewards are priceless!!!
Environment for Learning a Musical Instrument
One of Dr. Suzuki's most defining moments: German children speak German and Japanese children speak Japanese! Most of us will take this for granted but Dr. Suzuki completely dissected the process of why this occurs and created his Mother Tongue approach to teaching the language of music.
Environment is the key. When we look at how a baby learns to speak it seems so simple. The baby is surrounded by talking all the time. The baby copies the sounds and is rewarded with attention and praise when the sound resembles our language. The baby happily practices making sound all day long.
How does a violin student go from being a complete beginner to performing? What will it take? What environment do we need to create? If we follow the Mother Tongue approach we will need to be immersed with hearing the sounds of music. We will have role models to copy. We will receive joyful support throughout our endeavors. We will repeat things over and over and over again.
The next few blog entries will take a closer look at the many different ways we can create environment for positive musical nurturing. In the meantime - enjoy the videos of violin tutorials and violin recitals. Listen to them. Learn from them. Lean on them as part of your violin environment!
Being the Parent of a Music Student
Enjoy this video highlighting 3 main parenting roles of music students: the Communicator, the Coach, and the Rock!
12 Etude-Caprices in the
Styles of the Great Composers
Enjoy the following:
Videos of Etude-Caprices
Interview with Composer
Diane - What inspired you to take on such an enormous and unique project?
Amy - I suppose my greatest inspiration for this project was the feeling that I wanted to create a body of literature that would give intermediate students more stylistic insight and preparation for the exploration of solo, chamber and orchestral works they would soon be encountering in these settings. Not only would the study of my etude-caprices ultimately save students and teachers time when approaching the works of the great masters, but it would also be a uniquely enjoyable way in which to synthesize technique and musicianship.
Diane – I was particularly excited to see the Ravel and Copland Etudes. I specifically remember having to learn these styles “on the fly” through orchestral playing without any formal training!
Diane - Do you have a process for delving into each composer’s style of writing?
Amy - The quest for each composer’s individual signature within the appropriate historical context required that I become totally immersed in his music. It was an utterly consuming and fascinating process where for a week or two, I’d play and listen to everything I could get my hands on: concerti, sonatas, short pieces, parts to orchestral works, etc. I have to admit that there were plenty of doubtful, soul-searching moments, but ultimately, I’d wake up in the morning speaking what I felt to be a language akin to that of the composer of choice. Then I’d know it was time to “set pen to paper” and begin each etude.
Diane - It’s clear you chose a composer from each era. How did you decide on which composer to write about?
Amy - That’s a very good question. It was a difficult choice to make, and actually, my list went through some changes as the book progressed. I guess that having taught for a little over forty years has developed my vision for the directions in which young violin students of varying levels are headed. I wanted to consider not only the upcoming solo repertoire that would be in the near futures of intermediate students, but also the kinds of chamber and orchestral literature they would be encountering when auditioning for summer music programs and festivals or playing in their local youth orchestras. Additionally, it was important that there be enough contrast between one etude-caprice and the next for the student who would move progressively through the book. I think that the composers I selected work well together on many levels. For some students, this will be the first contact they will have with a particular composer. It is my hope that this introduction will be rewarding enough to encourage further exploration into the music of these great composers.
Diane - Could you elaborate on the pictures and illustrations?
Amy - I particularly enjoyed hunting for and selecting the paintings and photographs that are in my book. They came from antique books as well as modern resources including the internet. In my search, I wanted to find representative works from each period, but I also wanted to be sure that they would compliment each of the original etude-caprices in a way that might inspire discussion as to their stylistic correlations. Essentially, I chose paintings or photographs that I thought would give more insight into the personalities and backgrounds of each composer on whose music I based the etude-caprices. It was my hope that I could use the styles of the various paintings to influence performance techniques of pieces in their corresponding periods. I feel that the more historical perspective and depth we can have, the more convincing we can make our playing, and the more life we can bring to our music-making. Exposure to the multi-faceted visual arts enriches understanding and communication skills in a most enjoyable and memorable way.
Diane – I have fond memories of a history class I took in high school. The music, drama, English, and art teachers all collaborated. It was great learning all of the arts history at the same time instead of having to try to correlate it later.
Diane - Besides intermediate violin students, who else might find your book beneficial?
Amy - The versatility of my book has made it very attractive to teachers and students in a variety of situations. Having taught at NY’s School for Strings as a bridge between Suzuki and traditional methods, I feel that this book would work beautifully in similar settings. Not only are experienced teachers using the etude-caprices as study pieces, but they are also using them as concert pieces and “choice” competition works. Young teachers are finding that the uniquely designed measure by measure practice guides accompanying each etude-caprice are helpful in reinforcing their teaching skills. Teachers of college and conservatory pedagogy classes are also finding this book useful and stimulating. In addition, recently, it was brought to my attention that adults who are wishing to return to the violin after having been away from it for some time are using my book as a positive approach to reviewing and strengthening their technique and musicianship.
Diane - What have you been composing lately?
Amy - Most recently, I have been working on a project that actually began ten years ago. My Requiem Mass was originally written to be performed in a very intimate setting. It was scored for soprano, violin and viola. However, when I founded a small chamber orchestra called, Akron Baroque in 2006, it seemed that it was time for a growth spurt. In 2008, we premiered six movements as scored for soprano and chamber orchestra. It was wonderfully received. This past year, though, we introduced our new chamber choir. I knew when I heard this wonderful ensemble, that it was time for yet another incarnation of my mass. So, I am busily in the process of expanding it once again, this time for soloists, choir and orchestra. Our commissioned performance will be in 2012, and I’m hoping that a recording will follow.
Diane – Thank you so much for giving us an insider’s view. Students, teachers, composers, and history buffs can all gain from your wonderful collection of Etude-Caprices!
AMY BARLOWE, violinist and composer, received her B.M. and M.M. degrees from the Juilliard School after studies with Ivan Galamian and Margaret Pardee. Her chamber music coaches include Josef Gingold, Felix Galimir, Samuel Rhodes and Earl Carlyss. She is the recipient of numerous awards including the Helena Rubinstein Scholarship, Atkinson and Northwest Area grants. Her critically acclaimed solo recitals and chamber music performances have taken her throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico, as well as to the major concert halls of New York City. Josef Gingold praised her for "...fine musicianship, excellent instrumental qualities, and a devotion to all things musical." Ms. Barlowe has been featured on PM Magazine, performed as guest artist on numerous radio stations, and toured extensively throughout the Northwest as violinist of the Oregon Trio. In 1988, she and her husband, Alan Bodman, formed the Duo [AB]2 (AB-squared). They have recorded for the Medici and Azica labels. “Their tonal production is flawless, and musically they meet the highest standards.” - American Record Guide Ms. Barlowe ’s original compositions and arrangements include works for two violins and piano, an opera ballet, and a Requiem Mass. Her two Celtic duos for two violas, appear on a CD recorded by the Aureole Trio and have been released on the Koch International label. Recently, Ms. Barlowe’s arrangement of “Schindler’s List” for two violins piano received the endorsement of John Williams and has been published by Hal Leonard for two violins or violin and viola with orchestra, as well as for the same combinations with piano. Ms. Barlowe’s “12 Etude-Caprices in the Styles of the Great Composers”, newly published by Alfred Publishing, is receiving accolades worldwide. Formerly Associate Professor of Violin at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, Ms. Barlowe has held teaching positions at the Juilliard Pre-College and New York's School for Strings, as well as the Estherwood and Bowdoin Summer Music Festivals. Currently, she is on the artist/faculty of the Meadowmount School of Music and the Ohio Conservatory. In 2006, she founded a vibrant new chamber orchestra called Akron Baroque. Ms. Barlowe ’s biography has been listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in American Women, and Who’s Who in the World.
One big teaching technique is to break down complex issues into bite size pieces for students to digest. What about putting all the pieces together? I made this chart to help students keep track of piecing together the puzzle.
In the technique column you fill in a particular techinique you are working on. Examples could be: feel the beat, round your bow pinky, play your D finger in tune. In the boxes listed Day 1, Day 2, etc., you can tally mark every time you remember to use that technique. This may seem slow and laborious - but keeping track of what you are doing helps keep you accountable and get you to the end result faster!
The bow has 5 basic jobs. CLAWS in an acronym to describe those jobs: Contact Point, Length, Articulation, Weight, Speed. The various combinations of those jobs are endless and so therefore musical expression becomes limitless. But having limitless possibilities can seem daunting and overwhelming. That's why I made this simple list.
CLAWS is a a list of tools. Having the list to refer to, I introduce students to each tool. Later - when we're engrossed in discussing how to play the music, we refer to the CLAWS list giving us both speaking terminology, and ways to discuss all the complexities of what to do with the bow.
Here is an example of a typical interaction I have with a student using a crescendo:
Teacher: What can we use from the CLAWS Bow List to make a crescendo?
Student: Weight. We can go light to heavy
(We now practice light to heavy.)
Teacher: What other tool can we use?
Student: Speed. We can go slow to fast.
(We now practice slow to fast.)
Teacher: Believe it or not, there still are 2 more tools.
Student: Length & Contact Point
(We now practice changing the length of bow changing and the contact point moving towards the bridge.)
The example clearly shows that we are able to converse easily having broken down all the different actions into words. Also - practicing the crescendo thinking only of one aspect or tool at a time helps students to learn to control that tool. In reality we end up using a combination of the tools and that's where the individualism of self expression comes through.
Interpreting musical notation seems overwhelming. There are symbols for notes, rhythms, bowings as well as dynamics and articulations. But how does one learn to read between the lines and turn reading musical notation into a flowing musical statement of self expression? Enjoy watching this video I prepared for a Toastmasters speech!
When a dancer holds a pose for a long time, it's much more difficult and strenuous than constant movement. That goes for violinists as well. Constant free movement will keep you from getting tense. However, the movement does need to enhance your violin playing and not detract from it.
This video outlines two different movements and how to use them in a musical context. Enjoy the experimentation and enhanced musical expression!
A stringed instrument is demanding in that the left and right hands are doing completely different things. You may as well be typing with one hand and washing windows with the other. Of course you're doing it simultaneously and with coordination!
There actually is one movement in playing the violin and bow that the left and right hand share: rolling elbows for string crossings. This exercise explores this amazing phenomena where both the right and left elbows get to swing and dance together!
This exercise should enhance your coordination for string crossings, provide clearer intonation (left hand fingers will be at the same angle for each string) and awaken a graceful flow in both arms.
Clarisse Atcherson shared this with me. She believes she got it from John Kendall. Now I'm sharing it with you! The sharing that goes on in the Suzuki Community is heartwarming!
Where have you heard this before? "It shouldn't hurt to be a child." Child abuse awareness! Right! Well - It shouldn't hurt to play the violin or viola! Talk about abuse! How can one be in a teachable state of mind when they are uncomfortable? How can anyone be musically expressive when they are in pain?
"A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?" Albert Einstein
How much money have you spent to purchase a table, a chair, a bowl of fruit? If you’re a fan of The Antiques Road Show you’ve witnessed $100,000 tables being revealed! But have you ever seen a $75 banana? Like the astounding $100,000 table – you’ll find a Stradivarius violin is worth millions. We recognize and appreciate the table and the Stradivarius as museum quality fine art. But you would never let your kids eat at the $100,000 table! They could look at the Stradivarius violin – but don’t touch it!
Let’s get back to the $75 banana. To many, spending $1000 on a violin, $425 on a bow and $325 on a violin case to create a beginner’s violin outfit may seem like spending $75 on a banana. Violins are as commonplace as bananas so these prices may cause some serious sticker shock. Who would spend $75 on a banana? Who would spend $1750 total on a beginner’s violin outfit to be used by a young person?
Having recovered from sticker shock, you have arrived at the calm place in your heart where the decision to go ahead and purchase a violin has been made. You know that you are providing yourself or your young person with a rich and life shaping experience. You are now ready to receive the information you need to make your purchase wisely.
Enjoy these videos on how to go about sampling violins and bows. The pdf downloads are summaries of the videos.
One woman deeply committed to bringing violin lessons to underprivileged children has created an enormous ripple effect of gifts of the heart!
Martha Shackford has established The Portland Suzuki Project (PSP) a non-profit benefit organzation to fund violin lessons for elementary school students in underprivileged areas. At this time Beach Elementary School in North Portland has 61 kindergarteners and first graders studying violin 4 days a week and is funded through the PSP. Each year the next kindergarten class will begin lessons and all other grades will continue.
Celestine Fitzgerald in 1996 founded Barcel Brioso, a Wisconsin based advanced group of violin students. Brioso's mission: encourage and motivate young students and their families by sharing music through concert tours and workshops.
These devoted violin teachers have touched so many hundreds of people through their vision, passion and dedication. Bring it all together? Absolutely!
In addition to raising funds for the PSP to fund the Beach School, you must know that the Barcel Brioso kids are raising their own funding for their trip to Oregon. Kids helping kids, teachers helping teachers, teachers helping kids...there is no end in sight to the gifts that abound!
My Twinkle Mat is a fantastically fun resource for Suzuki violin supplies. The inception of the website started out as a Suzuki Mom frustrated with a bedraggled looking foot chart. She designed a durable, appealing, and useful chart that she now sells on My Twinkle Mat.
You'll enjoy other products such as: 100 Days of Practice chart, tattoos for violin hand and bow hand, t-shirts and much more.
Flip Video Camera
A student of mine showed up to his lesson, handed me his Flip camera, showed me the "on" button and the "record" button and asked me to record his lesson. I was so jazzed about it I told my husband that evening. He (thinking I was easy to win over) didn't pay much attention. Months later my husband was trained at work to use the Flip. Being trained to use the Flip? Really? Who needs training - it's so easy! He was so jazzed about it he told me all about it that evening! Now I'm telling you about it.
We combed over all the information we could find and picked out the Flip UltraHD Camcorder, 120 Minutes (Black). With 8GB it can record for 120 minutes in HD. Many of the videos that I've posted are made on the Flip. As mentioned earlier, it's as simple as pushing 2 different buttons. When you're done recording you plug the camera directly into your computer. The software is built right into the camera so as soon as you plug it into your computer you're good to go. Any editing is quickly and easily done with the Flipshare program. From there the videos can be used in a variety of ways: saving, playing, emailing, create a Flip Channel, upload it online, create a greeting card, snapshot or dvd. I'm telling you - it's super easy and the quality is great!
The pitfalls have all centered around the battery. It is only battery powered. There is a rechargable battery that sometimes won't turn on unless you remove the battery and just put it back in again. You can also run the camera with AA batteries. I've just learned to make sure that the the rechargable is fully charged and to carry some extra AAs around.
The other pitfall has been stuttery playback on YouTube and Vimeo. Even though the camera recorded in HD, simply turn off the HD viewing option on YouTube or Vimeo and the video plays smoothly.
Other lessons I've learned the hard way: make sure if you want to record for 120 minutes, that you've saved all your videos on your computer and deleted all the videos from the camera.
Despite the pitfalls - I'm extremely pleased with the Flip and you'll find many future videos on this website created with it!
Metronome Math is a worksheet that drills the kind of math you may need to use with a metronome. For example: if the metronome is set at quarter note equals 60, and you would like to hear the metronome play eighth notes, what number would you need to set the metronome to?
Many metronomes nowadays (such as my all time favorite Peterson BB-1 BodyBeat Pulsing Metronome) do this task for you. However, the kind of questions I was getting from students recently led me to realize that although it's nice the metronomes now have the capabilities to do this, students still needed to understand why.
When I handed the worksheets out to my students their questions were worth gold! It gave me a direct glimpse into their thinking and I was quickly able to help them out.
Other beginning metronome techniques and worksheets can be found here: Metronome
Lastly, I apologize for the handwritten look. If you only knew the behind the scenes attempt at getting this worksheet to look better! The bottom line is that learning can still happen no matter what the handout looks like!
It seems that a New Year's Resolution has found me! Not the other way around. I'm happy to embrace it and run with it (unlike most resolutions people make)! The resolution? Repetition with a Purpose!
I have a lot of teaching supplies that center around counting the number of repetitions students perform to practice: pennies, beads, buttons... I also have ways to trick students into coming up with "the right" number of repeats to make: "15 is the magic number." "How old are you?" "How old is your Dad!?" (I love the horror on their faces when they realize what I've asked!)
I'm grateful for the willingness of my students to play these repetition games. They're all really good troopers!
Repetition with a Purpose is simply this: EXPECT THAT WITH EACH REPETITION THERE WILL BE IMPROVEMENT! I know - not the most unique concept out there - but I seem to be teaching lately as if I've just made and important discovery!
For starters - if I assign repetition then the student will practice repetition. Remember - they're good troopers. If I assign repetition with a purpose then the student will practice repetition with a purpose. Yes - I now remember they're good troopers!
Some of the purposes assigned to repetitions this week have been: improve intonation, counting, increase gracefulness, and just listen and make your own decision about what you'd like to improve!
Thanks for joining me in looking through a magnifying glass as to the real reason we make repetitions. I'm so excited about teaching next week to see the results!
Interview with Julie Lyonn Lieberman
Julie Lyonn Lieberman, JulieLyonn.com is an eclectic styles violinist and vocalist, and the author of eight music books and five DVDs. The creator of the national program, The Green Anthem (greenanthem.org), Julie is a dynamic, participatory workshop leader who has presented for many of the top organizations in the world. Her music titles include The Creative Band and Orchestra, The Contemporary Violinist, Improvising Violin, Blues Fiddle, You Are Your Instrument, Planet Musician, Alternative Strings: The New Curriculum, Rhythmizing the Bow, Techniques for the Contemporary String Player and Vocal Aerobics. She is a J. D’Addario Elite Clinician and Alfred Publishing publishes her alternative-style string orchestra scores.
How did you initially get interested in playing the violin?
My mother told me that I came home one day from school at age 9 and said “it will be the violin.” I’d already studied piano with my grandmother, accordion with her neighbor, and French horn at school. I don’t remember what happened at school that day, but there must have been an assembly with a violinist. She said, “as long as you don’t squeak” and I promised to do my best. My first teacher was Samuel Applebaum. He was a friend of my grandmother’s. I didn’t realize that he was a world-renowned educator. To me, he was just a friend of the family and I thought that all teachers taught using their own books because as children, we do not have a larger context through which to define the events in our lives. Mr. Applebaum, the Suzuki of my generation, always knew what I was doing, whether he was watching me or eating a sandwich or looking straight ahead. He was a great, great teacher and explained each technique so clearly that he made learning easy.
How long did you practice when you were young?
We did not measure practice by minutes or hours, but rather by material. I worked on each of my assignments with a focus on improvement, and that counted as my practice session. I far prefer this approach to practice because mindless minutes mean nothing. It’s how we pay attention as we learn a new skill that counts.
How did you discover improvising, coming from a classical trained background?
My family was deeply involved in attending and producing folk music concerts and festivals when I was growing up. There were always clusters of people jamming in every nook and cranny before, during, and after the concert. Most musicians were very supportive and would invite me to join in and coach me as I tried to figure out what to do. While I continued to study with seven or eight major classical violin teachers, play in my school's orchestra and in chamber music groups, and go to various arts camps in the summer, my favorite experiences are associated with these jam sessions. To this day, this is one of the defining qualities of the musical world outside of classical training. Think of it this way: when you engage in the classical training process, you are measured against everyone in your age group and rewarded (or not) for how you rate through the seating plan and auditions. This creates a competitive environment and promotes a lot of suffering. You consider this normal. It isn't. It is an evolution of music education and fairly recent to the history of the music. In folk music, pop, and jazz, there is more of a community feeling. People of all ages and levels will get together to play on a regular basis. Since this occurs all over the country and all over the world, I can travel anywhere and find people to jam with. If I don't know the melody, I just sit out while they play the melody and then figure out the key and scale, and add my own ideas to the mix. If I don't do well, no one is going to frown at me. They are more likely to try to help me play better in that situation. This approach creates a dialogue between musicians and promotes friendship. You have a chance to learn from other musicians without feeling badly about yourself. This is why the "drop-out" rate for string players is so high in the classical world. I can't tell you how many people -- even strangers -- come up to me and tell me that they "used to play violin/viola/cello" in school and then stopped. But outside of the classical music world, the drop-out rate is very low. People will play together their entire lives at community events and jam sessions in one another's homes.
What exactly is improvisation?
Every musician has the right to be able to lift their instrument and make music without staring at dots on paper. Can you imagine a world where no one could speak unless they were reading something written down by someone else? Would you be willing to live like that? Improvisation, or “Jamming” describes the ability to explore sounds on your instrument that come from your imagination, from trial and error, from imitation, and from exploration. You can do this in a key you are already familiar with or learn a new key or type of scale by inventing melodies. I offer over one hundred games and techniques in my book, The Creative Band and Orchestra, and also teach improvisation on American styles in my book, Improvising Violin, the blues and rock in Rockin’ Out with Blues Fiddle, and improvisation in sixteen world styles in my book, The Contemporary Violinist. The latter two come with CDs chock full of accompaniments.
When music is improvised, don’t people immediately think of jazz? Are there other styles of improvised music?
Almost every culture in the world incorporates improvisation into their music, including Western European classical music (the cadenza). I outline their different approaches to music in my books, Planet Musician and The Contemporary Violinist.
What is your favorite way to make practicing fun?
Every day I think of something that will bring me pleasure and something that will challenge me. I start with the challenging material first and reward myself with the more pleasurable material afterwards. I almost always use practice tracks. These tracks are generated by a computer software program, Band in a Box, or come from Music Minus One CD’s like Jamey Aebersold’s jazz accompaniments, or tracks I’ve downloaded from the internet or iTunes.
What resources would you recommend (books, cds, dvds, online sites)?
On my website, JulieLyonn.com, I provide a full glossary of books, CDs, and DVDs written by many of the best eclectic styles players in the world. You will also find my own titles there as well as tons of useful information including free downloads.
Music and nature are both important to your “being”. Is there a tie between the two and your performing, teaching and outreach?
Music provides all humans with a vehicle through which they can express themselves, dialogue on a non-verbal plane, and immerse themselves in a life-affirming activity that melts away all of the day-to-day “noise” providing a harmonious, healing environment. Communing with nature can accomplish the same effect.
Sadly, a fair amount of music education in the U.S. has stripped out music’s greatest aspects, turning it into a competitive sport that is dictated by “right” and “wrong.” My life’s work has been focused on restoring a playful interactive exploration of music for music students and teachers throughout the world. Through inclusive musical experiences – meaning music sessions that include many different styles of music from around the world as well as improvisation, we can focus on music’s true gifts.
Thank you Julie for providing us with so much inspiration!
Below you will find comprehensive information regarding Julie's Green Anthem Project - a project that truly unites her love of music and nature!
Green Anthem Community Program This is the perfect time for you to launch a Green Anthem program in your community. You can download your free community kit, teacher's manual, and other support materials at The Green Anthem http://greenanthem.org/Materials.php.
Green Anthem Assemblies There are choral, string orchestra, and band scores available at http://greenanthem.org/Scores.php that can be performed by student and community ensembles. The beginner and intermediate/advanced scores can be performed independently or together, and there are also mixed ensemble versions of The Green Anthem. The music can be woven into a normal school concert, or can be a part of an eco-assembly (see detailed suggestions on the website and in the teacher’s manual).
Green Anthem Products Please visit The Green Anthem Zazzle Store (http://www.zazzle.com/juliell) to order your Green Anthem T-Shirt, Mug, Mouse Pad, Postage Stamps, or any other item you would like to design using the Green Anthem logo. Profits will go to Green Peace, Sierra Club, National Resource Defense Council, and the Center for Biological Diversity.
Green Anthem Documentary If you would like to be a part of The Green Anthem Documentary, it's simple. Teachers can submit video footage of their students as they participate in green school and community projects and/or as they perform in a Green Anthem assembly, and email me to coordinate the release form and how to forward the footage to me: email@example.com and students can submit footage of green community projects. (Download your free teacher’s manual and student kit on the Materials page at http://greenanthem.org/Materials.php.
Martha Shackford Workshop
Recently Martha Shackford taught a Master Class to some of my students and a Parenting Workshop to students' parents. Of course everyone has their own experiences at these types of events. Here are a few of my own.
I'll open my comments here with a direct quote from Martha.
"An artist constantly goes beyond who they think they are."
- When teaching the bow hand - putting on the thumb last helps out tremendously in keeping the thumb loose and not gripping.
- Pulling a big tone exercise: Have the student hold the bow. The teacher holds the middle of the stick. Now the student tries to go down bow and up bow while the teacher resists.
- The bow arm is the motor and the hand reacts.
- Pretend the bow is a magnet and the violin strings are magnetized.
- The weight center of the bow arm is below the elbow an inch or so. When going all the way to the frog, think of this part of your arm as it carries you there. This keeps the sound strong and keeps the wrist from lifting too much.
- Mistakes are a wonderful opportunity for us to learn! Embrace them and learn from them. It's much healthier than stressing out over them!
- "Play the body, not the violin."
- Repetition is one of the most important ways our brains develop mastery.
- The study of the violin is the study of developing new habits.
- Martha's teaching style is filled with questions. Probing the kids to have their own conclusions.
- With a Pre-Twinkler, Martha's languaging was both directive and done in a way that the young student "owns" their actions. "Thank you feet!" "What a good thumb you are - you know right where to go." "OK Boss (pointing to forehead) tell your pinky where to go!" "Thank you pinky!"
Another direct quote from Martha:
"The only job the parent has is to enjoy practicing with their child."
Does this comment make you react strongly? Does it sound impossible and unattainable? During the workshop Martha presented a wide variety of material to guide us in achieving just that - enjoyment with our children!
Her first activity was to have us check in with ourselves. How were we feeling at the moment? Relaxed? Agitated? Multitasking? Do we check in with ourselves before we begin practicing with our children? Since children pick up on all of our internal moods - wouldn't it be wise for us to take a few deep breaths and center ourselves before working with our children?
Martha then went on to outline some typical human behavior; specifically the kind of behavior that leads to the "dramatics" in the household. This was an opportunity for us to hold up the mirror to ourselves and identify some of our own behaviors. While it's great to analyze and figure things out, what I got really excited about was her suggestions to stepping out of "triggered" behavior.
First let's talk about "triggered" behavior. That's the kind of reaction you have when you find yourself yelling at your child when you promised yourself you wouldn't. It's when you feel out of control. Martha presented us with this chart of how people experience the world around them:
0 - 7 months Vibrational
0 - 7 years Emotional
7 - 14 years Mental
14 - 21 years Physical
Notice that 0 - 7 years is when we experience our world through our emotions. During that time in our lives we are first learning about our family dynamics and we react emotionally. That's why a fully grown adult gets triggered into emotional reactions when they are with their parents and siblings.
Ok - so if you're like me this is interesting to know but what do you do with the information? How many times and places do I have to hear from people and read about "being in the present moment" without reacting to triggers. How do you actually do it? Martha's suggestion is to use the chart above and go backwards.
- You feel triggered and out of control (and it's time to practice with your child).
- Start physical. Deep breathing, take a shower, cup of tea - do something physical to center yourself.
- Think mental. How does your non-triggered enlightened self want to be? Use your logic.
- Check in with your emotions. Remember your child picks up on all subtleties.
- Vibrational - Martha touched very briefly on this. But we all know that practicing with our children when we are able to have "good vibes" will produce more joyful results!
So where does the enjoyment come in practicing with your child? You've checked in with yourself and found you were a bit frazzled. You did something physical to get in touch with yourself (nice cup of tea). You made mental notes on what your child's teacher assigned and how to practice. You got yourself in neutral territory with those emotions and feel good vibrations about practicing with your child. Your child picks up on your calm centered mood. You both now have a blank slate to work from. Wouldn't that be a beautiful way to start?
Brain Gym is one of the many different things I’ve explored to help my son. Brain Gym is a wonderful set of different motions that help stimulate the brain. I observed my son’s Brain Gym sessions, helped him practice at home and eventually got interested enough to take the 101 training. Nowadays I use it for myself before performing concerts, help my son out when he requests it, and I use it with my students when they feel really stuck. It’s simple, fun and for many effective.
How do you answer the age old question – which comes first the chicken or the egg? Here is a similar type of question regarding human development from infancy – which comes first the thought or the motion? It turns out that motion stimulates the brain, the brain develops further, more motion is now available to the baby and therefore more stimulation. Therefore – motion stimulates the brain! We all know the major milestones: wiggling, rolling over, scooting around, crawling, standing, walking, etc. Those who have studied infant development intensely have many more subtle movements documented and the order in which they come.
When I first inquired about Brain Gym lessons our instructor discussed how we could go back and redo all the developmental movements, in order, with extremely high numbers of repetition – or – we could do the specialized Brain Gym movements that shortcut the process. Well, it doesn’t take Brain Gym to make that decision!
With guidance from the Brain Gym instructor, my son and I practiced movements almost daily for 2 years. The movements we did took anywhere from 10 – 20 minutes. We enjoyed doing them because we felt clear headed and energetic when we were finished.
I can’t speak for my son’s internal experience but I could witness his actions. Homework time previously was giant meltdown time. He used to get overwhelmed and exhausted. That behavior is gone. His ability to focus dramatically improved. He also knows if his thinking is having an “off” day and requests doing Brain Gym with me. Of course he can do it on his own but he likes me to do it with him.
I can specifically outline the benefits I’ve gained! Everything having to do with visual focus dramatically improved: music reading, driving, finding items in a grocery store, you name it. My left hand/right hand coordination in violin playing felt like it snapped together. When playing incredibly fast passages of music my mind actually relaxes and gets into a certain mode. In performing concerts I’m able to easily focus without any interrupting extraneous thoughts. Any stage fright is gone as well.
It took 6 weeks for my son and I to notice any results from doing Brain Gym. Since then results have accumulated. Some of our results have been long lasting to the point where we take them for granted. Some need Brain Gym maintenance.
In this day and age there are so many resources! Anybody can overcome obstacles these days with the right therapy, diet, or movement. We have tried a number of things to help my son (Brain Gym, vision therapy, The Listening Program, occupational therapy, NAET acupuncture for allergies, chiropractic and pediatric massage). I only write this to encourage those who are satisfied with a label for their child like ADD and get out there and find help!
Brain Gym for us has become a way of life that supports clear alert focus which is! why I wanted to write about it! I wish you the best on your journey! We all deserve to be the best we can be!
Wiggling on the Floor
Young students have been known to interrupt their lessons with a sudden drop to the floor for a wiggle fest. Parents and teachers react quickly asking the student to get up and for goodness sake behave! Of course the wiggle on the floor is more desirable to the student and we now have a “situation” to deal with in the lesson.
My son had sensory integration issues and we began seeing a Brain Gym instructor to help him out. While I was observing the lesson my son dropped to the floor for a giant wiggle fest. Quickly I changed my role from the observant fly on the wall to the Mom reprimanding her son. However, the Brain Gym instructor informed me that the wiggle fest on the floor is a child’s way of integrating what they just learned. She explained that feeling their bodies against the floor is part of how their brain processes information.
Nowadays when a student has a wiggle fest I just go with the flow. Learning the necessary coordination to play the violin is amazingly complicated. Having a student integrate what they’ve learned is a cause for celebration! However what I do is inform the student they get to have a 30 second wiggle so we can get back to the lesson and it seems to be plenty of time. I’ve even assigned 30 second wiggles as part of practicing!
Sometimes a small piece of information can really make a difference! While kids are “getting their wiggles out” adults can smile knowing that information is sinking in!
Bow Arm Warm Up Exercises
This download is an outline of Bow Hand/Arm exercises that are the most effective set of exercises I’ve ever experienced and taught. Sharron Smith shared these exercises with me years ago and to this day they still amaze me with their effectiveness. I asked Sharron where the exercises came from. She said some are from Kato Havas, some are her own, and some are things students have shown her after they’ve come home from music camp. I myself have added to the list as well! I love using them for group teaching. I’ve taught a Bow Arm Boot Camp for years and these exercises are an integral part to the course.
In order to understand what the exercises are all about I’m going to have to refer you to the videos. It would be nuts for me to try to write it all out here on the blog. However – here’s a brief outline:
Bow thumb balance – just won’t work unless your thumb is in the right spot!
Core fingers – connecting how the thumb, middle finger and ring finger work together.
String level changes – arm placement for each string
Forearm bow stroke – middle to tip
Upper arm stroke – middle to frog
Finger swap – a powerful exercise that has people experience how to shift and adjust the weight in the bow hand depending on where you are in the bow
If you do nothing else on this website…. DO THESE! Students are often corrected over and over again as to how to hold the bow. These exercises give students an experience for each finger in the bow hand. Once a student experiences who what where when and how a finger contributes to the bow hand it’s magic!
This metronome is phenomenal! Over the years I've taught people who fall into these categories: those who automatically feel the beat, those who learn to feel the beat and those who never feel the beat! Let's just go straight to the point here. Those whom I've taught who barely have any sense of what the beat is TOTALLY RESPOND TO THIS METRONOME! Not only that - those who seemingly have "bad" rhythm actually have excellent rhythm. They just have a really hard time getting in touch with their own inner metronome.
The Peterson BB-1 BodyBeat Pulsing Metronome has a barrel with a clip on it. When you turn on the metronome the barrel vibrates similar to a cell phone or pager. It works best if you can wear the barrel tight against your body. My students have used it in their shoe, on their hip, at the base of their spine and on their shoulder. It's slowest tempo is 40 and it's quickest is 216. The Body Beat can indicate how many beats per measure from 0 - 9 and has subdivisions of the beat including dotted rhythms! If you unplug the barrel you can use the metronome with a beep tone. There is also a visual display of the beat that shows you the beginning, middle and the end of the beat. Lastly - there is a tuning pitch at 440. The metronome comes with a battery. My students and I were so excited when I got the metronome that we wore out the battery pretty quick. When I installed a Duracell battery the metronome really perked up and made a much stronger pulse.
I introduce tempo and rhythm pretty successfully using a large exercise ball, a metronome and the Introduction to Metronome Techniques Worksheet. Bouncing on a ball at an even speed while playing whole notes usually is my first tactic in introducing tempo and rhythm. Students practice whole notes, dotted half notes, half notes and quarters on the ball. We then progress to the metronome and then the Introduction to Metronome Techniques Worksheet. Some students have a really hard time maintaining their ball bouncing at an even speed. That goes for clapping and walking too! This is where the Body Beat Pulsing Metronome really does it's magic!
My own experience with using the Peterson BB-1 BodyBeat Pulsing Metronome has been quite interesting. I'm concertmaster of our local orchestra and I've noticed that since using the metronome I'm totally in sinc with the conductor. If you imagine the point of a ship as well as the wake it leaves behind I feel as though I'm right at the point along with the conductor and not part of the wake. I also have been able to tackle an age old habit I've had where although I feel the beat my down bows are sometimes delayed in comparison. Using the Body Beat has really given me the information I've needed to really align my bowing changes with the metronome.
Along with using the metronome with students at lessons I've had a blast teaching chamber music with it. Each student in the ensemble takes turns with the metronome in their shoe! The rest of the ensemble has to follow the person with the metronome. Once everyone has had a turn the group plays without a metronome. The entire activity is a ton of fun for the students and they really enjoy the results.
This metronome is like no other! It's amazingly effective and fun. In my studio the Peterson BB-1 BodyBeat Pulsing Metronome quickly got a nickname: The Zapper! Now go practice and join in the fun and get zapped!
I absolutely love this image to teach the concept of rhythm and how to accurately hold the bow tone out during a note. I’m going to attempt to write about this subject but if I lose you just go to the video. It’s much easier explained there.
One of the most common misconceptions of counting has to do with how we introduce what a “beat” is. All a metronome does is it makes a sound that represents the beginning of a beat. The beat actually lasts all the way up to the next sound the metronome makes. In the rhythm ruler picture we find that a quarter note equals one inch. The lines on a ruler are not an inch. It’s the in between space that is the inch. It’s the same in music. The beats on the metronome are not the entire note. It’s the space in between. Here’s an example of a common mistake. A note that is 3 counts long a person would count 1 2 3 and the bow would stop right at 3. This would be an example of 2 counts! To play 3 counts the violinist would continue bowing and then stop on 4!
The 2nd page of the Rhythm Rulers shows sub divisions of a beat. One of my favorite things to do with the rhythm rulers is to cut each rhythmic example into strips. Take the quarter note strip and the eighth note strip. Place one on top of the other and hold it up to the light so you can see the 2 images superimposed.
Many thanks to my age old friend from elementary school Cathy Fogle who shared this concept with me. As a classroom music teacher she fully understands that the quicker and simpler she can teach the more effective her results are. The Rhythm Rulers are easy to understand and very effective.
Many Suzuki teachers share this chart with students as a way to manage review song practice. The chart is simply all the songs in Suzuki Violin Volumes 1 – 3. They are broken down into 5 columns. Each day you practice all the songs you know in a column. For example: On Monday practice all the songs you know in the 1st column, Tuesday the 2nd column etc. I’ve also had students use the Gameboard for review as well.
I love the image of a pyramid. The wider and deeper you build the foundation the higher you can build. Review song practice is our method for students to continually widen and deepen their foundation of violin playing. What a fun way to practice! The results are quite rewarding!
If you are reading this – the chances are slim that you are a 6 year old getting ready for a recital 2 months from now! As an adult I wish I could climb into my students’ heads and perceive the world as they do. The Recital that comes once, twice, perhaps three times a year can at least be perceived by an adult! A young 4, 5, 6 , 7 even 8 year old….. who knows how they perceive the lessons, classes, and practicing that all lead up to a thing in the future called a recital?
For this reason I create an “atmosphere” of the recital for weeks in anticipation of the grand event. This downloadable handout is meant to get you started in thinking about the fun things as well as the nitty gritty work students can do to practice performing. To get young ones (as well as experienced ones) mentally prepared I do a number of things. I have a countdown that I post in my studio “8 weeks until the recital”, etc. We talk about what it takes to be an audience member as well as a performer at lessons, classes and rehearsals. We practice performing at lessons, classes and rehearsals. Our piano rehearsals are informal but students rehearse in front of each other as another stepping stone.
The Recital Preparation Checklist was made in an effort to keep the torch going when students are at home without all the support of lessons, classes and rehearsals. Practicing performing can be a ton of fun and the more it’s done the more relaxed the actual performance at “The Recital” will be!
If you want a mirror held up to your practicing habits and you aren’t afraid to look into the mirror – this is the book for you! When I was a student of Burton Kaplan’s in college he was devising this book. Back then we had loose sheets of paper all over the place as he was trying to figure out the best way to chart practicing habits. This book is the result of his endeavors. It’s a wonderful tool!
This Practice Log is designed for a 16 week semester. If you diligently fill out everything in the book you will have the most complete record of your practicing habits possible. First you’ll have to fill out the form that acts as a weekly appointment maker. You will pre-plan what times you will practice on each day thereby making an appointment with yourself. If you keep or break the appointment that will be kept track of as well! Then you’ll have a daily pre-planning form so that you think and plan first before you start practicing. That’s a lot of work already and you haven’t even begun practicing yet! However – if you want to be a champion you have to train like one and this book will keep track of everything you are doing!
Now comes the actual practicing. There is a page for each week. Not only will you fill out what you practiced and how long, but you’ll have opportunities to reflect on your accomplishment and how well you handled yourself during the practice time. When I was a student of Burton’s we brought the book in and shared how the week of practicing went: how much, how long, what tempos, what went right, what went wrong, etc.
In the back of the book there are various charts, forms and notes to take. Basically you gather all the material you’ve been keeping track of for the 16 week period and by filling out all the information you’ll get a grand view of how you practiced during the semester. Did you keep your appointments? Did you practice what you planned? Did you practice less, equal or more than what you anticipated? How about the quality of your practice? Having a big picture view helps you to look at your habits and shape them to serve you best.
The fine art of violin playing cannot be accomplished without self reflection and practice. Using The Musician’s Practice Log in its entirety will greatly aid you in both endeavors. To quote James Arthur Ray: Discipline brings excellence and excellence brings freedom!
This Practice Tracker is meant to be simple, easy to fill out and easy to follow. For that reason it’s the Tracker I choose for students to use when they first begin to take their own notes during lessons. Somewhere in 4th or 5th grade it’s appropriate for students to start taking steps towards coming to lessons alone. By middle school they should be able to come to a lesson, take notes and practice on their own.
This Tracker is self explanatory. Just fill in the name of what is assigned. Complete the section assigned. Add any particular teaching or practicing points. How many times or how long to practice. The boxes are check off boxes for each day of the week.
High School students are a different breed. They tend to write directly into their music what to practice or use notebook paper. Some of my more ambitious students like using The Musician’s Practice Log.
The violin is a demanding instrument to play. Regular practice that is consistent will keep your spirits up when it comes to such a challenging endeavor! Having a way to keep track of your practice helps keep you organized and will help you streamline your results if you practice exactly what your teacher has assigned.
This practice tracker is designed to follow the Suzuki Model of learning:
The sheet leaves ample room on the right for parents to write notes during the lesson. The chart on the left is to be filled in with the assignment to practice. The skinny boxes are for students to check off (color, put a sticker) each day they practice that item.
Remember to share your completed chart with your teacher at your next lesson. Also – parents and teachers should double check that the correct assignment was written down before the lesson ends.
When a student is ready to take their own notes I recommend the Practice Tracker.
This page labels the strings on the violin. The picture is as if the violin were on your shoulder in playing position. I hand out this page at a student’s first lesson or before their first lesson if they have come to observe. The page can be played pizzicato (plucking) or arco (with the bow – after some bow hand instruction of course!)
A few years ago Martha Shackford traveled here to teach my students a master class. She also spent a couple of hours alone with parents while I took the kids off to another room and had fun with Brain Gym (simple movements that stimulate the brain)! As one of the many positive outcomes and inspirations of this experience, the mom of one of my students made up this game- board.
In the top corner you can just draw in Start/Finish. Fill out each box with a practice activity (ex. Do 5 bow hands. Play Twinkle 3 times. etc.) The gameboard is also great for review pieces. Don’t forget to have some fun boxes like: eat a cookie, go back 3 spaces, give mom a hug!
Get some trinkets of some sort for your game pieces and put them on start. Use dice to make your way around the board. Kids can do this alone or together with a parent, sibling, friend or stuffed animal. Most of all – have fun!
Here’s a worksheet to use for learning beginning metronome skills. The track racer goes from start to finish as fast as possible. The musician develops the skill to go from start to finish at all different tempos (speeds).
The first tempo I have a student work with is 60. 60 is a second and out of all the tempos I would imagine that people are most familiar with the speed of a second. Students start with whole notes at 60 playing the entire D Major scale. I find that starting a student with whole notes is more relaxing and easier for them to get accustomed to playing with a metronome. Then repeat the scale using the dotted half note. When complete repeat again with the half note and then finish up with the quarter. When a student can control their bow and fingers at 60 playing whole notes, dotted half notes, half notes, and quarter notes we check off the top box and go on to 65. After the top box of 65 is checked off we go to 55, then 70 and then 55. You get the idea. Once the slowest tempo has been reached students usually blaze through the quicker tempos with ease.
After that is all completed we go back to 60 again. This time to subdivide the beat into eighths, triplets and sixteenths. For eighths I have students play each note in the scale twice (d d e e f# f# etc.), triplets play each note 3 times and sixteenths play each note 4 times. When students can accomplish each of these subdivisions we check off the bottom box at 60. Proceed to 65, 55, 70, 50 etc. When practicing the subdivisions you may find it easier to start in the middle of the bow.
If someone has a terrible time feeling a beat and playing with a metronome I highly recommend the Body Beat metronome.
As far as I know there is no "graded course of study" for learning how to keep a steady tempo. Some people have perfect pitch - meaning they can hear a random note and tell you what it's called. Others have tempos memorized - play them a piece of music and they'll tell you the speed a metronome would be set to. What we have here is a beginner's worksheet for skills with a metronome. A first step towards what later will become mastered!
My teacher in college, Burton Kaplan introduced me to this form of learning fingerboard geography. I made the Fingerboard Workbook for the First Position as an introductory and comprehensive version for first position. In this workbook students will drill the following skills:
Reading of sharps, naturals, flats
Ear training development
Check out the video that shows you how to use the workbook. Workbooks are also available for purchase.
When a student of mine completes the workbook they are fearless in first position. Third position here we come!
Fingerboard Workbook for the First Position order here
This download is an empty fingerboard chart for the first position. The fingerings are suggested but by no means the rule. You could probably use them for any position on the violin. You would just have to modify the fingerings that are printed on the left hand side of the chart.
My students are assigned to fill out these charts with all the key signatures. They are then referred to when practicing scales. I also like to use these charts if there is a tricky passage in music. For example some music that has a sharp note and a flat note in the same measure. That music could be plotted on the blank fingerboard. Remember – a picture is worth a thousand words!
Once charts are filled out – students can play looking at the chart first, and then play looking at the music. I just love the “aha” moments students experience when using these charts!
This is the first fingerboard chart I introduce to students. The piano keyboard is included as a visual for string students to understand the order of notes since the order is a bit quirky. Then – using the order of the white keys on the piano (the natural notes) I included the natural notes on the violin fingerboard. All the empty circles on the violin fingerboard are the sharps and flats.
I encourage you to watch the video explanation. To write an explanation would be quite complicated and wordy but the video explanation is simple and easy to follow.
Rather than teaching students 1 new note at a time as they arise in the music, I choose to teach all the notes at once at least conceptually. For example – when a student is getting close to learning Etude in Suzuki Book 1 we start looking at this fingerboard chart and discuss it for a few weeks. Students learn how to find notes on the chart that they’ve never played before. When they are comfortable with finding notes on the chart I then have them fill out The Fingerboard Workbook for First Position. When they have completed that book they are completely confident and fearless in 1st position so we then start 3rd position.
I teach a course for adult amateur violinists called Fingerboard Geography. The handouts for this course are the Keyboard – Fingerboard, Blank Fingerboards, and Hand Frames. We spend the week learning the order of notes, finding notes and playing many drills. I love teaching this course because the entire week is filled with students having “aha” moments which break out in big smiles and dramatic exclamations! Once again – a picture is worth a thousand words!
This download is self explanatory. It describes the different finger patterns that are predominantly used in violin playing. Through this knowledge violinists can develop a kinesthetic sense, aural sense, and visual sense of each finger pattern. A key point here is that violin playing can be thought of as a sport. The physical training involved and the mental control over the physical movements is where true excellence and mastery evolve.
A student of mine went to the Greater Washington Suzuki Institute. When he returned his mom gave me notes from a lecture that David Strom made called Characteristics of Advanced Students. I read through the notes and as I got past the first few characteristics my eyes glazed over and I couldn’t read anymore! The amount of thought each item on the list provoked quickly saturated my mind and I never got to the middle or end of the list!
For the rest of the summer I kept the list posted in my studio and I observed people excitedly looking at the list and then their eyes would glaze over and – well you get the picture.
I decided to turn the list into a curriculum that I would share with students throughout the year. I made a simple looking practice sheet with only 3 items of David’s list on each side. That’s because 3 items from his list is plenty to think about! I left room for people to write their own thoughts and boxes to check off like a practice chart. This set of practice charts is what you’ll find to download.
What a fun and meaningful 24 weeks it took to get through the entire list! Students were quite creative with how they used the practice sheets. Some used the check off boxes. Some wrote detailed notes. Many couldn’t wait for the next week’s assignment. I loved how students would spontaneously quote an item from the list they had studied weeks ago. It was great to see them incorporate what they had learned.
Many thanks to David Strom for allowing me to share this with you! The Characteristics of Advanced Students list represents a wonderful role model. We look forward to more from David!
My students have used many charts over their course of study to learn the fingerboard. Putting the 3 Octave Scales into chart form seemed like a natural outcome of their training. Seeing the scales in chart form helps to see half steps, shifts, and makes it easy to compare fingerings from scale to scale.
These fingerings are the ones I learned in college. They are by no means the only fingerings but I like to use these particular fingerings as a foundation for learning 3 Octave Scales. The scales all start in first position and the first shift is either to 3rd position or to 4th position.
In an ideal world – instead of a letter in each box I’d put a little snippet of music staff with the note printed on the staff. Unfortunately – I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.
I just love watching the transformation on students’ playing abilities when they begin the process of learning 3 Octave Scales. The left hand posture takes a leap in maturity in the following categories: facility, fingerboard geography, and muscle memory. When students get to the point of practicing a variety of rhythms and bowings with their memorized 3 Octave Scales the benefits are limitless and the habit of always playing through the scales becomes part of one’s daily routine.
I’ll finish with one of my favorite scale stories. An extremely busy high school student of mine totally faked me out at a lesson one day. She came in and just zipped through Vivaldi’s Winter Concerto with grace and ease. I said “Wow! You’ve been practicing!” She said “No, but I do make sure that I do my scales.”
These exercises are designed specifically for the 4th finger to rely on the 3rd finger for it’s placement. In the 1st exercise you should practice the fingers in a walking type motion where the 1st finger stays down as you place the 3rd finger. After the 3rd finger is in place you leave it down as you pick up the 1st finger and move it to it’s next note. Continue in this fashion. Don’t forget to slowly swing the elbow underneath the violin to support your left hand. For example when you’re on the G string the elbow under the violin is pointing towards the E string. When your fingers are on the E string your elbow is pointed towards the G string.
The 2nd exercise is exactly like the first exercise but with the addition of the pinky. At this point the 3rd and 4th fingers remain on the string together as you move your 1st finger to the next note.
The 3rd exercise is the same as the 2nd except you do not “hear” the 3rd finger note being played – but it goes down along with the pinky.
The last 3 exercises on the page are the same as the opening 3 exercises except the 3rd finger is a half step higher.
Fingerboard mapping and posture that supports a more reliable pinky can be achieved with patience, and dedication. Keep in mind that pinkies are only as long as they are. If you take your hand away from the violin, curl your pinky and then place it back on the violin in it’s curled postion – what will the rest of your hand and arm have to do to support the curled pinky? I’m not a fan of over stretching the pinky in hopes of developing it. I far prefer “spoiling” the pinky and making other adjustments with other body parts!
Here’s the download and as always… Happy Practicing!
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