freestockThe Common Problem We All Face – TIME!

Have you ever heard yourself say, “I don’t have enough time to practice”?

You may feel that a lack of time keeps you from progressing, and practicing can become like a chore. Do you feel that you can’t get as good a sound on the violin as one of those prodigy students who probably practices three hours a day?

Here is an eye-opening reality: some of my most successful students practice only 60 minutes per week.

I can picture them right now. Their success wasn’t due to how much they practiced–it was a result of how they practiced. They learned how to practice properly!

The Amount of Time Spent Practicing is Often Overrated

Check out this video of a student of mine, age five, that at the time had one year of experience. Her practice goal was 20 minutes per week at the time. Why does a five-year-old student sound this good after one year? Because she is practicing properly (her parents are a major help with this at home, which is crucial).

Talent is overrated, folks!

It may surprise you that your ticket to becoming a great violinist is not in freeing up more time–it’s actually in the way you spend your practice time.

Here’s another example. About a year ago, I had a student come in for a one-time lesson who had been self-taught for about five years. She claimed to have practiced about one hour per day consistently before taking her first lesson with me.

You would probably think someone who practiced that long would sound really good. Not necessarily.

Spending a lot of time practicing improperly will actually stagnate your progress or even set you back.

Take Shelly, one of my adult students over 50. After a few years, she wouldn’t be this happy about her progress if she hadn’t practiced effectively. A big help for her is that I gave her the proper mindset and showed her how to practice right.

Is Progressing on the Violin Only Based on Practice Time?

Let’s take this example of a student who has been practicing 60 minutes per week for the last three years. She has very good fundamental technique and sounds better than some students who have been playing for ten years or more.

By practicing the violin correctly, student A can sound better than student B even with 1/20 of the time spent on the instrument. Hopefully this is an eye-opening reality for you—it’s more important to practice smart than hard.

So pay less attention to the time you spend practicing, and more on HOW you practice.

The Violin Practice Checklist

Unsure how to practice effectively? Violin Tutor Pro is here to help! I’ve put together a quiz (below) that will help you make sure you’re not leaving anything important out of your practice routine.

Music Practicing Quiz – How Efficient Are You?

Print the quiz and put it on your music stand. It will help you practice smarter.

I hope you enjoyed this post! You can live chat with us if you have any questions

how to help your child learn violin

How to Help Your Child Learn ViolinAfter reading this article, you will have a clear understanding of how to help your child learn violin.

I’ve seen parents build a lifelong bond with their children through private lessons. If prepared, they can play a huge role in their child’s progress.

Get Involved with Private Lessons

I have a student named Danny that came in for his first lesson about 4 years ago. His Mom (Jeanine Heemstra) not only comes to lessons, but always pays attention to everything going on. She has never actually tried playing the violin, although we joke at recitals that she could easily play since she has listened and asked so many questions!

She is the type of Mom who wants to know exactly what Danny should be doing that week, and as a result, she knows when Danny is getting off track at home.

Danny is a good kid, and a huge chunk of his success with violin has been because of Jeanine’s attention to detail in his private classes. They are a great Mom & Son team!

Don’t Be Passive

I once had a parent call me who was interested in lessons for her 12 year old daughter. The student came for the first lesson, and I could barely get her to pay attention.

I looked back at the Mom to see that she was on her phone the whole time, and wasn’t interested in how the lesson was going. When I tried to explain to her a few practice recommendations for the week, she seemed to not really care if or how she was going to help her daughter.

As you can imagine, this led to bad habits right off the bat with the student. As the teacher, I only get to help once a week!

Establish Clear Expectations

My best advice for parents is to establish a clear understanding with your child that private lessons are expensive, and they need to be taken seriously. This means they not only practice at home, but be doing exactly what the teacher recommends.

And to be able to do that, you need to know what is going on!

Here are some specific examples of how to help your child learn violin and progress with private lessons.
1. My child is supposed to focus on a certain technique this week.
2. My child needs to play less of this song, as it’s not going to help them much.
3. My child needs to write down their practice time.

Keep the Bond with your Child in Mind

What I have found is that parents who get involved with their child’s progress on violin develop bonds that would never have been achieved otherwise. There is something about music that brings people together; parent to child teamwork is a perfect example.

Here are some videos showing you the student/parent relationships I have helped develop through the years. They were so kind to put these testimonials together for me!
Danny and Jeanine Heemstra – 4 Years of Lessons
The St. Louis Family – 5 Years of Lessons

Also, here is a video of me playing with some of my students. Their parents were so proud!

If you liked this post, check out one of our blog articles: The Power of the Parent

If you have any questions about how to help your child learn violin, or if want to learn how to get started, you can contact us by live chat or phone (616) 299-9196. We have a rental program and provide affordable private lessons (first lesson free).

Have a nice day!

Beginner violin

Finding a new instrument can be overwhelming—there are a lot of options out there! To help simplify the process for you, we’ve compiled four of the most important things to remember when choosing a beginner violin.

Superior Violins Gia Rosana

Though one of Superior Violins’ least-expensive instruments, the Gia Rosana violin offers quality construction and impressive sound.

1. Know What’s Important

Two of the biggest factors in choosing a violin are the construction and the sound. The price range you’re shopping in determines which quality you should be looking for when assessing instruments. While more expensive instruments perform well in both areas, quality of construction should be your main concern with instruments under $300. Most entry-level instruments will have similar sound quality, adequate for a new player. Unfortunately, it’s quite common for these entry-level instruments to have cosmetic defects or be structurally weak. Thus, quality of construction should be the biggest factor in your decision at this price point.

To make sure you’re getting an instrument with good-quality construction, you should check the materials used. Ideally, the violin’s top should be spruce, the back should be maple, the fingerboard should be ebony and the bow should be wood or fiberglass, never plastic. Check out this article on the woods used to make a violin.

2. Find a Good Retailer

The second thing you can do to ensure you’re getting the best-quality instrument in your price range is to choose a good retailer. A good retailer won’t sell anything that is not up-to-par where quality is concerned. If you do end up with a problematic instrument, they’ll make it right. You can save yourself a lot of hassle by choosing to work with a seller who weeds out the worst specimens for you.

When choosing a retailer, you should make sure that they are a reputable company and have good try-before-you-buy and rent-to-own programs. Trade-in programs and financing options are two other things that can be nice to have available. You should also make sure that you understand the company’s return policy, shipping charges, and any warranties or guarantees they might have.

An online company that has a try-before-you-buy program is important because it allows you to send the instrument back if you don’t like it for any reason. Choosing an instrument is a highly personal process, and you should be able to try multiple violins to find the one that suits you perfectly.

You also should find a retailer with a good rent-to-own program. Buying a violin outright is certainly an option, but it’s nice to be able to pay monthly to build equity towards the ownership of the instrument. This alternative is great because you can return the violin at any time if necessary, and you can build ownership over time for a future upgrade.

3. Don’t Limit Yourself

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because you’re a beginner, you have to start with a low-quality instrument. People who start learning on a nicer, intermediate-range instrument have more success. The reason for this is that when an instrument feels and sounds good, it will be more rewarding, inspiring and motivating to play.

As a long-time teacher, Michael Sanchez of Superior Violins has found that the odds of someone sticking with violin is much higher if they start on a nicer instrument. Violin is already a rather difficult instrument to play, and an inferior-quality instrument only makes learning harder.

There are two situations where a starting with a higher-quality instrument may not make sense: if you’re buying a fractional-size violin for a child who will outgrow it, or if you are not entirely committed to the idea of learning to play violin. In the latter case, keep in mind that getting a nicer instrument could be the deciding factor in whether someone sticks with violin. Be sure to at least look into a higher-quality option, and consider the possibility of rent-to-own so you can start on a nicer instrument.

4. Use Superior Violins

Superior Violins is the perfect place to purchase a new instrument. We have excellent violins that we personally look over, play, and quality check. We set them up ourselves, so they come to you completely ready to tune up and play. We have instruments in every price range, as well as bows and broad selection of accessories. Our try-before-you-buy, rent-to-own and trade-in programs are excellent (ask us about them), and we have great payment plans and financing available.

Superior Violins is a personal business. We place a high value on customer service, attention to detail and customer satisfaction. We want to make sure that our customers end up with an instrument they love, no matter their age, level of experience or budget.

After all, your playing is Superior Violins’ passion!

You Might Also Like…

Five Reasons We Love the Violin

Why do we love the violin? Let us count the ways! Here are just five of the many reasons to be passionate about this wonderful instrument.

Antonio Stradivari

The violin-making genius of Antonio Stradivari helped define the violin as we know it today.

1. The Violin Has a Rich History

Over the course of a few hundred years, the violin has undergone many changes to become the instrument we know today. It descended from the viol family of instruments along with the viola, cello, and (arguably) double bass. How extensive was its evolution? In the mid 1500s, the violin’s earliest ancestors had just three strings!

By the 19th century, thanks to the famous violin maker Antonio Stradivari, the violin’s unique shape and proportions were established. Many of Stradivari’s violins are still played today, and are regarded as some of the greatest instruments ever created.

2. Playing the Violin is a Full-Body Challenge

Playing any stringed instrument poses a great challenge to both body and brain. It forces the musician to develop acute fine-motor skills, dexterity in the fingers, a precise ear for pitch and intonation, and a free flow of information across both hemispheres of the brain. Along the way students of the violin also establish advanced muscle memory, quick responses, strength, consistent accuracy, and mental as well as physical stamina. These attributes help them flourish in other activities as they learn how to apply these skills to other areas of life.

Many great minds have loved the violin

Many great minds in history, including Albert Einstein, had a deep love for the violin.

3. The Violin Has Been Loved by Some of the Greatest Minds in History

The brilliant physicist Albert Einstein had a deep love for music and the violin, even crediting his musical studies as the inspiration behind his greatest theory. Einstein said, “The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition. My parents had me study the violin from the time I was six. My new discovery is the result of musical perception.” Playing the violin teaches in all areas of life.

4. The Violin Touches Hearts

Because of the deeply emotional sounds the violin can produce, the instrument can be a door to the performer’s heart and passion. The positioning of the violin on the musician’s shoulder allows it to become part of the performer–violin and violinist become one. This gives a unique ability to express musically whatever feelings the violinist wants to produce. Played well, the violin is an instrument that touches hearts and speaks directly to its listeners.

5. The Violin is Portable

Lastly, portability is always helpful when playing an instrument. As long as temperature and humidity are kept reasonably stable, you can take your violin anywhere. Even on airlines the violin fits safely in the overhead bin as a carry-on item, allowing the violinist to keep their precious companion always by their side. Unlike musicians who play large instruments, violinists never have to miss an opportunity to share the joy of music with others. As composer Robert Schumann once said, “To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts—such is the duty of the artist.”

Do you also love the violin? Tell us why in the comments section.

You Might Also Like…

When it comes to making progress on our instrument, we can often be our own worst enemies. Sometimes we adopt practice strategies that seem effective but are actually holding us back. Instead of spending hours practicing the wrong way (and frustrating yourself week after week), try using these more focused methods to save time and achieve faster progress.

1. Don’t Start Over

Do you start practicing a piece, bump into a problem area, then go back to the beginning? Many students think this is a productive way to practice, when actually it is one of the least effective ways to practice. If you start over every time you make a mistake, can you guess what is really getting practiced well? The beginning!

Sadly, the problem is getting ‘practiced’ too, but not in a way that is going to help. You are literally practicing your errors permanently into the piece. Trying to fix errors in a piece you’ve already learned is much more difficult than learning it right the first time.

When you make a mistake, don’t start over at the beginning. Instead, focus on the problem area until you can play it correctly (or have at least made some good progress). When you’ve addressed all the tricky spots, you’re ready to put the whole piece together.

2. Keep Your Brain in the Game

You should never practice something without thinking, nor should you try to practice while multitasking. Think about why you are doing a certain drill or exercise. What is your goal?

Goals don’t have to be large. Here are some examples of “mini goals” you could set for yourself in the course of a practice session:

a) Play these eight measures with a perfect bow grip
b) Keep the bow on the string, instead of lifting it off, at measure 27
c) Keep the wrist straight during this passage
d) Try to get a better tone on this sustained note

3. Harness the Power of Repetition

Learn to create practice units, which are a few notes or a phrase that you’ve identified as the ‘speed bump’ that causes you to stop playing. Find the hard part in your music and create a short exercise out of it. Then play the unit correctly, over and over, until it becomes easier. Play it, listen and evaluate, and fix problems as you repeat. Don’t start over at the beginning!

Isolating small sections in this way makes it easy to fix rough spots in your music. Try starting a few measures before the problem area and then play through it to see if you’ve solved the issue.

There will be times when this is not enough. Perhaps you know the problem spot but not the specific problem. In this case…

4. Separate the Hands

Practice the bowing on open strings to see if your problem is with the bowing instead of the fingering. Work out the bowing, and then add the left hand back in. Alternate between playing with and without fingers, concentrating on the problem. Did it improve? Now play it as written, starting a few measures back.

If the bowing is easy and the problem lies with the fingering, create an exercise to correct it. Size doesn’t matter–it’s OK if you have to break it down to a two-note unit. It’s better to spend 30 seconds playing two notes properly than four minutes playing back from the beginning. Repetition is your friend.

To recap: identify the problem area and start there, create small practice units, use repetition, separate the hands. Divide and conquer!

You Might Also Like…

Violin is an instrument most commonly associated with classical music, but it’s not limited to playing in orchestras and quartets. The violin’s versatility and capacity as a melody instrument has helped it establish itself as a staple in many types of music.

Classical Violin Music

The modern violin emerged in the Baroque era of music and has remained a popular instrument for classical music to this day. The violin is probably the best-known instrument of the traditional orchestra, and has been the featured instrument of countless compositions. From orchestras to quartets, violin is a vital instrument for classical music.

Popular Music

As early as the 1920s and 1930s, the violin can be heard in popular music and was commonly used in dance music. Though use of the violin in popular music dropped off for a few decades, it reemerged in the 1960s and was heavily used in disco in the 1970s.

In pop music, the Motown era relied heavily on strings, which became a trademark of their music. Mainstream acts such as Yellowcard, Dave Matthews Band, and U2 have been known to use electric violin in their music.

While the violin has not been utilized much in rock music, indie artists such as Andrew Bird and Arcade Fire are well known for incorporating it into their songs. Andrew Bird is part an indie rock niche that has been dubbed “violindie”.

Lindsey Stirling is a Youtube icon who brought the violin to the world of electronic dance music.

Traditional Music

Violin (or fiddle, in this case) has long been used in the traditional music of Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales and Cape Breton, to name a few. Dance bands are almost never seen without a fiddle, and the influence of these traditional fiddling styles can be seen in many genres.

Old-time fiddle, Cajun and bluegrass are a few more styles of music that are undisputably fiddle-centric. One very well known modern fiddle player that is featured below is Mark O’Connor.

Jazz and Violin

In the early 20th century, jazz music used the violin as a solo instrument. One great jazz violinist from this era is Eddie South, who earned the nickname “The Dark Angel of Violin”. In modern jazz, violins are used in the avant-garde style of playing. Leroy Jenkins and Regina Carter are two more modern jazz artists whose music showcases the use of violin.

 

You Might Also Like…

Practicing an instrument can take many different forms. Everyone is familiar with the most common type of practicing: playing scales, etudes and performance pieces. What many people overlook, however, are technique and strength exercises. These exercises can’t always be found in books, and some of them don’t even require you to be holding your instrument. Here are a few of my favorite exercises that I have learned over the years.

Intermediate Exercise #1


The first exercise helps to achieve agility, fluidity and flexibility in the bow hand, which promotes smooth bow changes. To start the exercise, hold your bow vertically with your right hand, gripping the stick near the frog. The objective of this exercise is to slide all of your fingers up the stick of the bow one at a time, without lifting your fingers (or dropping your bow!). Climbing all the way to the tip with the fingers is fairly easy, but coming back down is much more difficult. For younger students, you can make it a race to see who can crawl the length of the bow the fastest.

As you practice this exercise, your hand and fingers will probably become tired and sore, and possibly cramp. Don’t take this as a bad sign; you must tire your muscles for them to get stronger. When you first start out, make it your goal to go up to the tip and back one time. If you make this exercise a part of your daily practice routine, you will soon be able to add more repetitions. Eventually, you should do this exercise for five to ten minutes daily. With consistent practice, it won’t take long for you to see improvement in the smoothness of your bow strokes.

Intermediate Exercise #2


The next exercise helps improve intonation when playing double stops. For our example, we’ll use the notes C and E in first position on the G and D strings. Place the third finger on the G and the first finger on the D string. Check the pitches separately with an electronic tuner or a piano for accuracy, then play them together. Lift your fingers off the strings to prepare for the next part of the exercise. Now finger the C on the G string and and hover the first finger above the E note on the D string, Don’t depress the string with the first finger. Play the double stop of C and E with only the third finger depressing the string.

Once you have completed that part you can reverse the process. Place the first finger down on the D string to play the E and hover the third finger above the C on the G string. Now play that double stop of C and E, while only fingering the E. Next, finger both notes and check them again with a tuner. Once you have the notes in tune, finger and play them simultaneously. Press both fingers down hard and hold them in that position for at least one minute. What you are doing is developing muscle memory. If you practice this exercise daily for five or ten minutes, it won’t be long before you notice a marked improvement in the intonation of your double stops. I recommend that you practice this exercise with a different double stop each day.

Intermediate Exercise #3


The final exercise helps strengthen the fourth finger of the left hand. It’s common for new players to avoid using their fourth finger, since it’s naturally a weaker finger. However, it’s important for the sound of many pieces to use a fourth finger instead of an open string. You can’t do vibrato on an open string!

To start the exercise, with your fourth finger, pluck (pizzicato) the open E string four times, as if you were playing one measure of quarter notes. Then pluck four quarter notes each on the open A, D and G strings. Repeat this until you feel a tightening of the muscles of the fourth finger. Take a break to allow your finger to recover, then continue. You can make this exercise harder by placing the first finger down on the string and then plucking with the fourth finger. However, if at any point you find that your finger begins to cramp or is very sore, stop the exercise for the day. With consistent practice, you’ll soon notice your fourth finger becoming steadily stronger. You want to build up to doing this exercise for five to ten minutes a day.

If you practice these special exercises every day for a few minutes each you will see some amazing results. They have definitely helped me to polish and refine my technique over the years.

 

You Might Also Like…

The Purpose of the Pegs

Violin Tuning Peg

Violin Tuning Peg

The pegs on a violin are the pieces of wood (usually black) that stick out from the pegbox at the top of the instrument. The pegs are held in the pegbox by a pressure fit (friction), and the tops of the strings are wound around them. The peg tensions the string as it turns, changing the pitch of the string. The typical tuning process involves using the tuning pegs to change the pitch of the string in large increments, then using the screws on the tailpiece to change the pitch in small increments. The small screws located in an instrument’s tailpiece are called fine tuners.

When to Use the Pegs

You should use the tuning pegs (instead of the fine tuners) if the pitch of the string needs major adjustment. This is common if you’ve just purchased a new instrument or strings, or if you haven’t played your instrument in a while. A string can also go loose if a tuning peg slips. Obviously, if your instrument has no fine tuners, you’re always going to use the pegs for tuning. The good news is that it’s fairly easy to add fine tuners to your existing tailpiece, or to install a new tailpiece with integrated fine tuners. The latter is preferred because it better preserves the sound of your instrument.

Peg and String Anatomy

If you hold your violin so the top is facing you, this is how the pegs correspond to the strings: lower left peg = G string; upper left peg =  D string; upper right peg = A string; lower right peg = E string. As you move clockwise around the pegs, the strings get smaller and their pitch goes up.

Violin Tuning

How To Tune a Violin with the Pegs

  1. Grasp the neck of the violin with your right hand (if you’re tuning pegs on the left side of the pegbox) or your left hand (if you’re tuning pegs on the right side).
  2. With your free hand, grasp the peg of the string you need to tune your violin.
  3. Holding the instrument tightly, turn the peg toward you to loosen the string. You don’t want the string to completely unwind or be floppy, but most of the tension should be relieved.
  4. Now turn the peg away from you to tension the string again. While you turn, put a little pressure on the peg to push it into the pegbox.
  5. As you turn the peg, simultaneously pluck the string with the thumb on the hand holding the neck. This lets you hear the pitch of the string and get it close to the right pitch.
  6. With an electronic tuner, get the string as close to the correct pitch as you reasonably can. It’s usually best to tune the string just a bit flat (low) and take it the rest of the way up with the fine tuner. (Tip: There are lots of free tuner apps you can download for your smartphone. Our favorite is called IMS Tuner Lite.)
  7. Lastly, use the fine tuners to get the pitch exactly right.

Troubleshooting

Pegs are slipping and not staying put

This is often caused by pegs that aren’t fitting tightly enough. Try putting more pressure inward on the peg to push it further into the pegbox. The primary cause for slipping pegs is that over time, the pegs can become polished by the frequent rubbing on the pegbox. To fix this, buy some 000 (triple zero) steel wool, and use it to buff the smooth, glassy areas on the peg back to a dull finish. This will restore the friction and reduce slipping.

If that doesn’t work, you can try a product called “peg dope”. It’s a liquid that you apply to the pegs that keeps them from slipping.

Pegs are hard to turn, or don’t turn smoothly

Don’t push in so hard as you turn the peg; it’s probably jammed too far into the pegbox. You may even need to pull the peg out slightly as you turn it. If that doesn’t fix the problem, you have two options. First, try pulling the peg all the way out then use a pencil to apply some graphite to the spot on the peg where it contacts the pegbox. You can also buy commercial peg lubricant products that accomplish the same thing.

The fine tuner won’t tighten or loosen any more

When a fine tuner is out of travel, it’s time to re-center it and retune. Start by setting the fine tuner to near the center of its adjustment range (or cheat it out from the center a few turns). Tune the string with the corresponding tuning peg, then use the fine tuner again.


I can’t get the string in-tune with the peg, and I don’t have a fine tuner

Tuning with pegs can be tricky. It usually works best to tune up to the desired pitch instead of down. Try loosening the peg slightly, then tighten it up to the desired pitch. You may have to do this several times, down then back up again, until you achieve the correct tuning. Like anything, tuning with pegs takes some practice to master.

With this advice, your pegs should always turn freely and stay put!

You Might Also Like…