Time to change strings? Aug-98 you should DEFINITELY change your strings. Maximum would be 1 year, I tell my
students every 6 months. If I could afford it I would change mine once a month I play a lot. Change your strings when 1. you have problems tuning or string won't stay in tune 2. when plucked, the string thuds as opposed to rings. This is a dead string.
Shelah Spiegel fiddle teacher/performer southern Ca
Music lessons & sports Aug-98 I am a recently retired student. And I have strong feelings in regards to the subject. I am not
saying that everyone should do nothing and not be in shape, but _school sports_ is a different issue. I am one that is against school sports at the degree that they are at right now. People who are
emphasizing sports are not doing children any favors. There are too many children who dream that they will be the next sports superstar, where there are less than .001% chance that a viable career
will grow out of school sports. I know in music, it is not easy to become a superstar, but there are more benefits that come out of
music than sports, less injury, better esteem, better mentality. Where former athletes are concerned, most endure injuries or disabilities associated with the
sports. I have a few friends who played school football, but they can no longer run or do demanding things due to back and knee injuries. My friends who were doing girl's basketball also has similar problems.
Also think of it: with sports, we are training children to be competitive and the only way to solve problems is to tackle them, literally.
A couple things about sports- children are excused frequently and are missing out on more class time because of games, where music students only get MAYBE one excuse a month.
Where is the money spent in schools? If it were like my ex-high school, it is sports. The students involved with the sports say that they raise all of the money necessary to run all of the problems,
but that is not possible. There is no way that the students could raise the approx. million dollars per school that is necessary for the maintenance of the sport, let alone raising the millions necessary
for the facilities. Now let's think about time constraints: 8 hours for school, 8 hours of sleep, 1 hour for eating, and half an hour of homework time per class ideally, 6 classes, less one for PE which equals to 2 1/2 hours) which is 4 1/2 spare hours without practice times and game time and family issues. High
school and college is worse. Teamwork in music is much better than teamwork of sports. If you don't agree to work with someone in sports, you can always try to beat them up, but in music, in order to get the best sound, everyone has to work their best, there is no physical contact to interfere with the sound. Daniel Medina
Students assessing other students Aug-98
When my students play for one another, I ask each listener to tell the performer one thing that the performing student did well. I ask them to be very specific--not just That sounded nice, or You
played musically. I ask for one very specific comment about something such as posture, tone quality, rhythmic expression, dynamics, or stage presence.
I find that students play with more confidence if they know that others are looking for their best. I only allow students to make negative or "critical" suggestions after they have been giving and
receiving positive feedback from one another on a regular basis for two or three years. At that point, with *great* care and discretion, I might ask some of the more observant and tactful
students to make a suggestion for further improvement. I always say, If you were this student's teacher, what is one thing that you would work on in the next lesson?
I've had good luck with this approach. I would definitely avoid any kind of ranking. It's easy to be distracted by *what* students are playing, and forget that it's *how* they play that really counts. Stephanie
Lesson preparation by teachers Aug-98
In my own group of students, I find a very high correlation between the quality of the parents' notes and the quality of the students' work. Most of the parents do not play the violin, and so are
meeting this information for the first time. The biggest problems come with parents who take few notes and then can't remember what or how they are supposed to practice. If any practicing is
done at all, it is sometimes done incorrectly, which is really discouraging for everyone concerned. This year, I want to try to be much more helpful to parents--suggesting ahead of time that they jot
something down, rather than asking afterwards, Did you get that in your notes? (We are talking here at the level of keep your left elbow under and start down-bow, etc.)
I admire your memory skills! I find that when I am given lots of new and complex information in a lesson, masterclass, or rehearsal, I really have to write it down. I don't have to write down as
much detail if the skill is clearly demonstrated and I get a chance to practice it and get a good kinesthetic "feel," but I still need one or two cue words to remind me later. Stephanie
pioneer days Aug-98
As a professional BLUEGRASS, country, Appalachian, Irish fiddler and teacher, I have a few suggestions. 1. Mel Bay has several books out on bluegrass fiddling. 2. Stephen Foster doesn't quite fit with pioneers. Most pioneers did square dancing, clogging,
flatt-foot dancing, jigs and reels, etc. 3. Purchase a book called Fiddlers Fake Book. It will give you EVERYTHING you might want to play. Try learning the following tunes:Arkansas Traveller, Fisher's Hornpipe; German waltz; Fire on the Mountain, etc.
4. If you tell me what city/state you are in, I can get you in contact with local folk musicians who can lead in the right direction. Shelah Spiegel The Shady Creek Band-Arizona southern California
Relationship with violin teachers Sunday,.Aug-98
My violin teacher is very understanding and patient. She never criticizes my playing-she will point out mistakes and show me how to correct them. Since I go to my lesson right after work, I'm pretty wiped out, and she realizes that my mistakes are due to my being tired. Way back when, I had a flute teacher who made me nervous, and I never really progressed at all. Once I switched to one who was fully supportive, I started doing very well. Your music should make you feel wonderful about yourself and life and all that stuff. After all, that
beautiful sound is being created by YOU!! Lose the bully violin teacher, and find one who recognizes your potential. No matter where you are in life, never let anyone make you feel "small" or bad about yourself. advice from somone old and hopefully getting wiser. nancy
Dorothy Delay Aug-98
Yes, she teaches only talented students, but she is a remarkable teacher nonetheless. She does a one-day workshop at New York University every summer for teachers and performers of all levels; try to catch. I came away thinking I'd loved to have studied with her. RS
cold hand Aug-98 You need to breathe deeply. When a person gets nervous they breathe shallow and then the
circulation is not good and then as the hands are already in a high position the circulation gets really
bad. Practice taking deep breaths before you play and be aware of your breathing.
cold hands and breathing Aug-98
Sheila--I really like your suggestion. I would amend it to say breathe out rather than breathe deeply.
Sometimes, when people are told to breathe deeply, they tend to hyperventilate take in or hold back too much air and they end up feeling dizzy especially if they're nervous already. If, on the
other hand, you simply concentrate on breathing out-on emptying your lungs-your body will look after breathing in, and you'll take in exactly the right amount of air for your needs. Stephanie
What do "mutes" do? Aug-98
Mutes are used to add mass to the bridge in order to dampen the harmonics. Each mute dampens differently. This acheives different tone colors. The most dramatic colors being no mute vs. mute.
Some pieces require them in order to get a darker, almost sinister tone depends on the piece, of course. I think that the better mutes are held on the strings behind the bridge i.e. Tourte model, but not
the wire one, since that can dampen the afterlength harmonics not to mention damage the strings if used quite a lot. The ones on the string don't get lost like the ebony ones and the other clip-ons. Daniel Medina
Violin positions Aug-98 I really recommend the 2nd & 3rd position volume of the Doflein Method. You can buy it from one of the mail order catalogs such as Shar. Just make sure of 2 things when playing in positions -- 1.) Mark your half-steps in the new position
2.) Make sure your thumb moves to the new position so it is always in the same relationship to the index finger and the rest of the hand. Good luck! RS
IMPROVING SIGHT-READING SKILLS!
improving sight reading skills Aug-98 A big question!-a few quick thoughts-
Read *lots* of easy music-whatever is at a level that you can get through with no sweat. I think a big component of good sightreading is confidence. Don't put yourself in a situation where you feel
swamped or panicky. When you are sightreading, always make your priority keeping a steady beat. Don't worry about wrong notes or missed notes--keep going. Spend some of your sightreading time just playing the first note in every bar, or the note that falls
on the first and third beats, or the note that falls on the last beat of one bar and the first beat of the
next. These are skills that will help you keep your place in a group when you can't play every note.
Always look over a piece before you start to read it. Figure out the key signature and time signature. Look for repeats, dynamics, repeated melodic or rhythmic patterns, obvious shifts, obvious trouble spots, etc. Have fun! Stephanie
beat 1 is at the very BOTTOM of the baton's downstroke called the ictus - NT
Intonation problem Aug-98I think what Irina means is that when she plays
that E along with G she adjusts her finger to get a good sounding 6th. Now with her finger
in the same position, she plays the A along with it, she doesn't get a good sounding 4th. If she then adjusts the finger to get a perfect 4th with the a, then the 6th will suffer with the open G.
Irina, this is because you are playing the intervals in a natural scale. What is right with one is not right with the other. You can use the tempered scale, such as used on the piano for your scales studies. The piano's scale is detuned to make everything agree.
When you play double stops, though, you should use the natural scale. Your ear will tell you. Use the finger position that gives you the best 6th interval and change it for the 4th. Whatever
you do, always use your ears and listen. Wish you the best on all your studies. G Gregory
Intonation problem Aug-98
I'm not exactly sure what you mean--I'm guessing--so if I'm wrong, you'll have to let me know. I
think you mean that in a G-major scale, the E on the D-string does not sound right if you leave it in
the same place and play it first as a double-stop with the open G and then as a double-stop with
the open A. This would make sense. In the G-major scale, E is the 6th tone, and has, really, no
fixed address. It is one of those tones that you can play with, moving it slightly higher or lower, to
get particular expressive effects. However, that's not your goal in playing a scale!
Here's an idea that might help you tune your scales. In any scale, there are three perfect
intervals--i.e., intervals where the intonation of the notes is fixed. These are the perfect 4th (scale
degrees 1 and 4, the perfect 5th (scale degrees 1 and 5), and the octave.
Here's a little pre-scale tune-up exercise that might help you get an entire scale better in tune.
BEFORE you play a scale, first play, in quarter notes, with no vibrato, the octave twice, scale
degrees 1 & 4 twice, and then 5 & 8 twice. In solfege, that's do-do' do-fa-do-fa so-do'-so-do'. In
a G-major one-octave scale, you would play G-G'-G-G' G-C-G-C D-G'-D-G'.
This tunes the perfect intervals.
Next, add the 3rd and 7th scale degrees, playing still in quarters 1-4-3-4 5-8-7-8, or
do-fa-mi-fa so-do'-ti-do'. In G-major, this is G-C-B-C D-G'-F#-G'.
Finally, add those pesky 2nd and 6th degrees. The sequence for these, played in 8th notes is set
up to make the bowing come out right: 1-4-3-2-3-2-1-1 5-8-7-6-7-6-5-5 or
In G-major, that would be G-C-B-A-B-A-G-G D-G'-F#-E-F#-E-D-D. I *hope* I got that right!
One simple way to find a good tuning for the 2nd and 6th degrees is to put them exactly halfway
between the notes above and below--so A goes halfway between G and B, etc.
Once you've played through this exercise to get your ear used to the intervals, then go ahead and
play your regular scales. If you are doing 2- or 3-octave scales, just extend the exercise to cover
the other octaves.
This may seem fussy and time-consuming actually it takes less than a minute for a 2- or 3-octave
scale, but it sure can help to get scales in tune, and I think that's an excellent goal for a violinist. It
also teaches you some basic intervallic relationships. Good luck! Stephanie
I love my string ensemble!!!!!!!! Aug-98
Keep the edge of your vision on the conductor. That's your lifeline if you get lost. Remember, when the conductor's baton goes down, that's the downbeat of a measure. Of course WHICH measure is another problem, but that narrows it down. Also listen when you're NOT lost to how
your part fits in with the others -- that can give you a valuable clue if you get lost. Try to find a recording of the music and listen to it while following your part visually (of course the tempo may
be different.) If you practice between rehearsals and don't panic you'll be keeping up in no time. Have fun! Rita
New Page..MIDORI Aug-98 Hi Sheila,Thanks for the page. Yes, I have heard Midori play. I have been to several of her rehersals and had the oportunity to meet her there. I also
once accidentally walked in on her while she was practising. She was very polite about the whole thing. She is a first-class violinist with a great tone who can outplay many so-called
more famous artists. I also have her video tape which was recorded a few years back. I play that often. Again thanks for the post and the page. G Gregory
New Page....MIDORI Sep-98
Thanks for the page, Sheila--very nice! You solicited comments? My $.02 worth regarding Midori: I agree with Caren that the Encore! CD contains some of the best interpretations of many
popular pieces. I particularly like Faure's Berceuse brisk tempo, and Kreisler's Petite Marche Viennoise. sp? Fun, frisky, almost tongue-in-cheek interpretation. The thing about Midori that
stands out for me is her tone. It has, to my ears anyway, a sort of double reed timbre that I find altogether beautiful. At the moment, she is on my top four list, along with Leila Josefowicz,
Arthur Grumiaux and Nathan Milstein. James
Making Music with an accompanist vs. playing with an accompanist Aug-98 Late last winter my son played in a competition. We hired a good accompanist, but in rehearsal I
discovered a couple of things. 1. They were not making music together. He was playing his part/she was playing her part. 2. I realized that he was playing without understanding the importance of the piano accompaniment
to the harmonic structure of the piece. He didn't understand how the momentum, the dynamics, etc. were affected by the harmonic resolutions provided in the accompaniment.
He had a recital coming up, so after the competition he played very well, in spite of the above I engaged another pianist who is also an excellent musician. This time, it was better, but they still
weren't a team, so again I started looking around and found a wonderful man who is not an accompanist, but a wonderful concert pianist who agreed to coach my son in the fine art of
working with an accompanist. We have had a number of sessions - all of which my son has thoroughly enjoyed, but for most of the summer our schedules haven't allowed us to get together.
Yesterday we met again and I was thrilled at the results. They were really making music together. He is starting to really listen to the piano in making decisions about the violin part and the
interaction was marvelous. One of the pieces they were doing was Mozart Sonata No. 5 and it was truly a team effort, the balance they achieved was to me, amazing. They also worked on Marche Miniature Viennois and were having a wonderful time improvising on it at the end of the session. My question is this. How does a violin teacher go about teaching a child how to work on this
level? - it is extremely difficult to find a pianist of this caliber to work with a child and the cost is prohibitive to many parents. When does it become necessary to start teaching a child to work with
an accompanist, rather than just play with an accompanist? Maybe this is something that most just leave to later on when the student goes on to a conservatory?
Making Music with an accompanist vs. playing with an accompanist Thursday, Sep-98
We had another session this afternoon with the pianist. It is incredible the progress we made. Playing with someone of this caliber is uncovering a lot of things my son needs to be more aware
of (he is in his early teens, so part of it is maturity). We worked on the Heifetz transcription of Summertime -- particularly the way the violin rhythms fit with the piano rhythms. Although he had
practiced it carefully on his own, playing it with the accompanist was a different ballgame and the pianist was able to present some solutions to the rhythmic challenges in a different way, using the
piano accompaniment. The coaching we are getting from this man is terrific. It is really exciting to me to see the progress you can make when you sometimes shift gears a little and approach things from a different angle.
Left handed violinists Sep-98 I have seen a number of left handed students play very successfully. I suppose a case could even
be made that there are some advantages to being left handed in terms of dexterity. The problems
you are describing don't hit me as having to do with left-handedness.
At a workshop last year, a well known teacher observed a student who had consistently had
problems with positioning the violin. He had overcome the tendency to hold the violin like the 8
year old, but overcompensated by looking backwards - almost over his shoulder. When he was 8
we went through a series of chinrests and shoulder rests and eventually concluded that he was
growing and each change in his height threw something out of line, necessitating changes in our
equipment. This helped with the problem -- we went to a chinrest for a time which was centered
over the tailpiece, we used all kinds of arrangements of shoulder rests, but never completely solved
the problem. Chinrests and shoulder rests are very individual - what works for one
chin/shoulder/neck combination doesn't work for another. I can't use a Kuhn rest, yet friends of
mine wouldn't use anything else. What works for a few weeks for rapidly growing children won't
always work forever. With the 3/4 size violin we used, I think that we changed chinrests about 4-5
times during the 2 1/2 years we used the violin. At this workshop, the teacher said she felt this student was achieving at a high level, but was
working 10 times harder than anyone else to get the same results. She had had some experience
with eye problems and ran some very simple eye tests on him - tracking type things. Although she
was,of course, not an eye doctor, she strongly suggested that he be taken to a developmental
optometrist for testing. The tests revealed a number of developmental problems with his eyes -
i.e., no peripheral vision it was as if he were seeing through two tubes all the time, and he was
incapable of smooth eye coordination. He couldn't focus near to far, or far to near and his visual
thinking skills were nil. The peripheral vision problem was cleared up first with photo therapy.
Within a month his violin posture had improved remarkably. We discovered that he had been
straining to see and the contorted posture was in reality a vision problem. Not only that, but in
orchestra and ensemble playing, he was consistently a tad behind because he had been listening for
auditory cues -- he could not handle the visual cues until his problems were handled through therapy.
length of practice time for students? Sep-98Hi Sheila--Good question. I don't know that it's possible to define amounts of time. I do try to help
students understand that quality is much more important than quantity. One student can practice an
hour a day and lose ground, whereas another student can put in 20 minutes a day and make satisfying progress.
In the lesson, I try to define *exactly* what I want a student to practice, how to practice it, how
many times to practice it, and how to evaluate the results. I do practice, practices in the lesson:
So, let's hear you do this string crossing cleanly five times. Be sure you relax between each
repetition. The students plays it once and I say, Did that count? Was that a good one? I ask the
student to do the evaluation. And so on, through all five or three or ten or whatever repetitions
that I have assigned. Over the course of a lesson, we collect up several of these specific
assignments, which are then added to a student's regular assignment for scales, arpeggios, review, and so forth.
I do try--especially with teens and adult students--not to assign more than a student can
reasonably get through in a single practice. I used to hate the feeling of going to a lesson, dreading
that my teacher would ask for one of the things I was not able to prepare-and of course, that's
what he always asked for first! Stephanie
length of practice time for students? Sep-98
Hi Sheila,I think I may have had a variation of this discussion with you previously. When my son was little, 4-5 years old we started practicing in very short bursts - 10 to 20
minutes max, but we did it several times a day. Always, we did fun things with it and made it a special time. As he progressed and built up
endurance the practice times lengthened, but we still continued to practice two to three times a day, schedule permitting. Unfortunately, as he got older and his practice load increased, he
probably ended up practicing more than he should have because he wasn't practicing efficiently. I think that some children "practice" and some like to practice a little and play through a lot. He
loves his violin, loves the sound, and loves to play and it is very easy to let the playing through take over the practice sessions.
Because he is very dedicated and is willing to practice lots, we have allowed him to have relatively
free rein, although it was disturbing when he refused to do homework until he had finished practicing.
This year we are having some special lessons with a very special teacher designed to improve the
efficiency of his practicing. Because he is so dedicated and for other reasons, we have pulled him
out of public school and are homeschooling him. This will allow him to practice early in the morning
for a large chunk of time - up to 2 hours with a break in the middle for breakfast, then he will
alternate 45 min to 1 hr chunks of practice time with schooling. He seems to be getting more done
in a shorter amount of time and the focus is getting better.
One of the teachers we have been associated with sent out a letter to her students advising them
that she expects them to practice at least 45 minutes a day - even the little ones. It increases as
they get older. I think that this is good - she is telling them upfront that it is necessary to commit to
practice regularly and for at least a specified period of time in order to progress. She recognizes
that they all have lots of activities, but I would guess that most of them practice at least 1 hour a
day and many of them practice 2 hours. There are then a few who do 3 hours and a couple who
go for 4 hours. I suspect that the 4 hour students are homeschooled.
I went to a workshop recently given by a local teacher who is a member of a big-name orchestra.
There were a number of teens present who got up and played and then he gave each of them
feedback on their playing. It is my guess that very few of them were practicing every day, probably
very few of them practiced ever for more than 1/2 hour a day. The difference between the
performances of these children and the students in the studio we have been associated with is
incredible. I think that the bottom line is that in my son's studio the parents and the students are
advised at the outset that it is a commitment of time and energy. If they are unwilling to commit,
they don't belong in this studio. Although this might seem a hardnosed approach to some, neither
teacher in this studio ever lacks for students and, in fact, rarely even take on new students because
their drop-out rate is so low.
Practice 08-Nov-98 The amount of time is not as important as what you get accomplished. Try to set a goal of things
that you want to get better for that day. it can be several measures or a section of a piece. Talk
with your teacher to help set goals that can be accomplished. If you can see improvement each
day it becomes exciting to practice. geoff
Orchestral playing Sep-98Random thoughts-The first violins don't get the melody all the time either. Playing a good 2nd
violin is a noble achievement. EVERY part has difficult counting to do. You won't get away from it by playing 1st.
You HAVE to count. Trying to come in when you "feel like it" is not reliable until you get to know
the piece well. Get someone to show you how to count sub-divided beats. (there are a dozen
ways. Some people count sixteenths by 1-ee-and-a 2-ee-and-a, etc. Some people say tuka-tuka,
tuka-tuka. Some people say Mississipi, Mississippi. Whatever. When you have an entry coming
up on, say the second note of a group of sixteenths, start counting to yourself, two or three beats
ahaead of time-subdivide all your counts. If, say, your entry is on the second sixteenth of the third
beat, count 1-ee-and-a 2-ee-and-a 3-GO! In this particualr instance, aim for the 4th beat-get that
in the right place. If you come in off the beat, don't make the first note you play into your goal.
That note is leading somewhere. Make that somewhere your goal.
You have to feel it in your body, of course, sure, I totally 100% agree with that, but you also
HAVE TO COUNT--you have to do the verbal, sub-vocalized, in-your-head or
just-under-your-breath counting. If you don't, you'll be wrong a whole lot of times, and you won't
get better, and you'll drag other people down with you. In 40 years of orchestral playing, the vilest
things get said about people who don't count. And count here means verbal counting--1, 2, 3, 4.
Wrong notes are OK, but notes at the wrong time-no way. You don't get many chances, so get it
right the first time, and if not the first, then the second time, latest. Tuck
Human metronome... no. Sep-98
I think it is okay to think of the conductor as a metronome in sight reading situations, but not orchestral.
In orchestras, they expect that you have the beat internally after just 2 or 3 beats. Some
conductors don't even give "4 beats for nothing". The job of the conductor is to give the
interpretation of the music. Volume, articulation, the interpretation of, balance, tone color, etc. is
the job of the conductor. He is in a way, the sound mixer :-) But then, we are slave to the mixer...Daniel