In ￼our recent recital, Pianist Lynne Huang dedicates the song by John William’s debuted by the great Itzhak Perlman, “Theme from Schindler’s List”. I had the privilege of being able to play with her to… More
At the moment, I am currently working on a project with a very talented pianist Miss Gillian Hu. In our collaborative efforts of interpreting the Brahms Sonatas for Violin and Piano, we have been practicing regularly together. It is unmistakably important to have chemistry with whom you choose to play with and I am privileged to share an alike passion with her to deliver our best performances each time. This journey has been so rewarding thus far: sharing ideas together, striking just the correct balance to achieve what we feel Brahms would have wanted, and just making music together for a change from playing a completely solo unaccompanied piece.
On this note, as unaccompanied pieces are rare on the violin (aside from the more frequently played unaccompanied pieces like the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin and Ysaye’s Sonatas for Violin Solo), I am very happy to host Guest Blogger Austin from Consordini Musical Instruments to give us some important insightful information and tips to play with an Accompanist. This will be a very helpful read for anyone who has an examination (as most examinations require an accompanist), or anyone participating in a competition or for any reason or event to have to present your piece. These will be good pointers for sure.
Secret Tips for Playing the Violin with Piano Accompaniment
Written By Guest Blogger: Austin Consordini
Playing the violin is fun, but it’s even better and exciting when you are playing with other musicians or when you are accompanied by a pianist.
It might be difficult especially if you are a beginner because it requires specific skills and techniques to play as one.
If you want to play the violin with a piano accompaniment, it’s always helpful to know some tips and tricks such as the following:
Set the Tempo
Playing in tempo with an accompaniment requires your brain to focus on the music. You can try to practice by playing with a metronome alone so that you can master the timing. Then, you can record yourself and listen after.
In short, learn your part ahead of time. It might be boring but lots of practice time can help you get your part and your partner’s part perfectly synced.
Once you are sure that you can play the music in the right tempo, you can practice together.
It might be confusing at first to read sheet music with two parts (yours and your accompaniment), but it is recommended that you play along as a duet.
Counting is Key
This can be the same as setting the tempo. But it is better to dedicate a separate pointer because counting is the key to playing with accompaniment. Some opt to use a metronome, but you may count off quietly as you wish.
You can start both in slow tempo until you are both ready to gradually speed up.
Remember, it is vital that you both count in harmony and play together than just follow the written tempo on the music sheet.
Study the Pieces Individually and Together
One of the major pitfalls of playing the violin with a piano accompanist is that both musicians do not understand the music thoroughly.
The key to playing well together is to study the piece individually and get together to discuss things like character, style, and features of the piece that you both want to bring out.
You should also discuss who should play what part or when to enter and not, as well as if there are ‘echo’ phrases you want to show.
Talk about how you would like to deal with any tempo changes and cues that both of you should listen to. It will require a couple of practice sessions, but it could be worth the effort.
Practice! Practice! Practice!
Practice is an essential tool to maximize the impact of training. After all, the only way to master a skill is to practice. It is the only way to get better and is the building block of expanding, developing, and maintaining skills in violin playing.
The hardest part of playing with accompaniment is getting used to another person playing a different part.
Practice and train your ear to adjust. If you can’t, it might be useful to ignore his/her part and focus on counting with a metronome.
Just be sure to play the same tempo as your partner. Focus one line at a time before going on to the next. Play the song line per line together.
When playing with a piano accompanist, it is often useful to let the accompanist play the melody once in a while. The alternating melodic material between the piano and the violin creates musical variety and texture.
There’s nothing worse than having a fantastic performance and then falling apart at the end because you and your accompanist never decided on an ending!
How the piece ends is just as important as how you commenced. If you want to get creative, you can arrange your own ending or have your partner finish with a chord accompaniment pattern.
Playing in a duet is an artistic endeavor, so no matter what the piece is, try to play musically. It might sound weird, but not all musician plays and performs artistically.
Music is not just about following and doing what the notes say; it is about expressing and making music touch everyone’s lives.
3 Main Points of Utmost Priority
in Playing with a Piano Accompaniment
Of all the tips listed above, with regards to playing the violin with piano accompaniment, three main points should be of utmost priority – time, tone, and tune. All of these three are to be regarded.
Playing in perfect timing seems to be the most challenging skill to harness when playing the violin with piano accompaniment. It is of course, very challenging for the accompanist if the violinist keeps awful timing.
But it must be remembered that the violinist must be the leader, just as a singer should lead when singing with piano accompaniment. If the violinist makes a mistake, the pianist should help and try to cover it.
Playing with accompaniment is a complicated matter, and it is not sufficient to be just a good musician. To facilitate correct timing, some of the tips mentioned above should be done such as practicing individually and as a group, setting a congruent tempo, and continuous practice.
In playing with piano accompaniment, there should be congruity between the tone of the violin and the piano or any instrument used as accompaniment. Pianos may vary considerably in terms of tone, so much so that a connoisseur can tell the piano maker’s name by just listening to the instrument.
However, co-existence in sounds and tones can be practiced. The key is to keep practicing together until both of your tones match and blend well together.
With regards to tune, there exists a difference between the violin and the piano. A piano’s tune is absolute, relative, and depends on the piano tuner. While on the other hand, the violin’s tune depends on the violinist.
To be able to sound good together, the secret is to keep the piano perfectly tuned, and the violin played in perfect tune.
Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing for my upcoming book, violist Dr Michael Hall who is an active soloist and currently teaches at Vandercook College of Music.
His life story is both unique and captivating with a motto to “Make indispensable yourself as a musician to your community at large”.
This led to my inspiration for my students to do something out of the ordinary not just to enjoy their performance in a confined concert setting, but to find others in the community out there to share this love for performance and music with.
Typically in a year, my students go through two mandatory annual concerts in a formal recital hall where we would film their performance and I would give them constructive reviews to improve (for some students who enter competitions have more opportunities for this to happen throughout the year), so this rare chance to play at the PassionArts Festival in Ulu Pandan was a good opportunity to put that motto into action.
We had only 3 weeks from start of getting the songs printed and learnt to the performance date due to the National Day festivities. This was also the first time the kids got to play together as a team. The outcome was that they worked hard (they had to do this on top of their usual violin practise and curriculum) and thoroughly enjoyed themselves so much…and we will indeed do this again! The residents of the community were so happy as some of them had never heard a violin played live, some of them even shared photographs and videos with us that they took of our performance. It did bring us closer together and smiles all around 🙂
We also got a chance to play for and meet Member of Parliament Chris DeSouza who so graciously took time off his rounds to talk to us.
We will definitely be doing more informal stage performances perhaps this time amongst the adult students (Stay tuned!) who are most susceptible to stage frights in our usual concerts, so hopefully these more informal settings and group playing will help them greatly to overcome these fears and become more used to being on a performance platform.
Thank you Dr Michael Hall for your wonderful advice to adding color to the lives around you! Best Wishes! From Belcanto Violins
Earlier this year, something terrible happened to me that I nearly lost my life. I haven’t been writing because there have been adjustments that I’ve had to make due to the trauma and had to recover to get my health back. I am still in this process of recovery and although I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel, there is no inspiration to write short articles for now.
This is why I am absolutely very much delighted to have a special Guest Blogger Julie Morris who is a life and career coach to write something on my blog to keep this blog of mine going for now (Incidentally we are both each writing our very first book!)
This article is written with much experience of her own, taking up the guitar at this stage of her life. She hopes definitely to inspire more to thrive on a new found hobby! So do enjoy her sharing. Thanks for reading as always 🙂
How To Learn Fun, New Skills At Any Age by Guest Blogger Julie Morris
Photo credit by Pexels
One of the benefits of living in the digital age is having easy access to online programs that can teach you a fun new skill, no matter where are you in life. You may even be able to learn a skill that gives you a professional boost or allows you to indulge in a creative hobby.
The Benefits Of A New Hobby
Most people don’t realize that a hobby can be good for you. Here are some of the ways that different groups of people benefit from learning a new hobby:
- If You Suffer From Stress
Don’t take my word for it? Science proves it’s true! Current research shows that these seven hobbies from Simple Most can alleviate stress.
- Seniors In Addiction Recovery
Hobbies can provide therapeutic relief for those dealing with alcohol and/or drug addiction, particularly when used as a creative outlet. Additionally, they can help eliminate boredom, which can often lead to relapse. Learn more about how hobbies can benefit seniors at Fitness Essentials.
- Those Who Feel They Lack Purpose
Hobbies can provide a creative outlet and build your skill set, allowing you to set out on a new career or enterprise. Read more ways they can give you purpose at News Cult.
- People Who Want To Be Healthier
Research shows that hobbies may lower your risk of depression and dementia. Many people also claim they help with reducing both blood pressure and stress.
- People Who Need Socialization
Today, many people struggle to get offline and interact with others. You can learn a hobby online and then use that skill to improve your social skills. Here are five hobbies that can help you socialize from com.
Skills You Can Learn Online
Now that we see these benefits, here are some skills that you can learn online.
One of the best benefits of dancing is that you can do it in the privacy of your own home (provided you have the space) or in a classroom setting, which can help you socialize. It’s also a great way to get in shape and learn about your own body’s abilities and limits in a healthy way.
- Learning A Musical Instrument
There are so many mental and emotional health benefits to learning a musical instrument that it’s hard to list them all. Some include improved memory, better reading skills, boosting creativity and staying Discover how learning an instrument after age 50 can benefit you at Sixty And Me.
- Learning To Cook
This is a skill everyone can use or improve. Whether you are setting out to learn the basics, want to learn a style of cooking such as gourmet, or are seeking to create old favorites in healthier ways, there are lots of videos that can help guide you. Simply prop up your phone in your kitchen, and you’re ready to go. The next thing you know, you’ll be hosting parties to share with your friends. Check out these seven recommended cooking sites for beginners from Make Use Of.
All you need is a smartphone and you can learn photography! Of course, if you have a traditional camera or are in the market for a DSLR, there are many more courses you can take. Photography is not just fun, it’s also a marketable skill. Once you have some skills in place, you can make money by selling photos to stock houses or work with brands to share photos. Learn the basics of photography at ExpertPhotography.com.
Hobbies can help improve our physical and mental health, help us to socialize, and even teach us useful and marketable skills. There’s no downside. What hobbies will you choose today?
At our recent Concert Finale 2017, a student of mine came up to me and said that she would not perform again (this is her second performance on the violin) and may quit her violin if part of our music course were to entail her performance again in our next bi-annual concert in 2018. I told her of course I would rather she continues with her lessons than to quit the violin completely, which would be a waste. I am glad that she is following my recommendation and not giving up with lessons altogether, and may enter the stage if she ever feels ready again.
Playing any instrument’s main goal of instruction is to eventually perform. Just like training a basketball player to shoot hoops everyday, which would result to participating in a game of (competitive) basketball at some stage. So if taking up an instrument like the violin, I have in mind that the eventual result of that besides for personal enjoyment would be to perform one day. After 20 years of teaching and performing, I am not immune to nerves, in fact I am still looking for an antidote for decompression after a concert. But I have come up with the following things that may help with stage fright:
1. Be prepared. – this means that you should do the adequate practice for the pieces for performance.
2. Practice in every way possible. – whether it means listening to many versions of recordings or videos of the same song and also a visualization of the score in your head while humming the tune outside of the practice room.
3. Visualize yourself performing. – this includes seeing yourself on the stage performing the piece, visualizing every note and position change with your fingers. ( I always find myself memorizing the steps of my fingers on the fingerboard of the violin like a ballerina finding her steps on stage)
4. Have adequate everyday technical practice. – at every practice and lesson, I make sure that my students show me a very slow bow on whether a note or an open string, this greatly helps with grasping a good bow control so as to avoid “shaky bow” syndrome. Being technically apt on the violin also ensures that you are confident in playing your instrument. If you have a really bad case of nerves on stage, never choose a piece for performance out of your technical ability. You should ideally find a piece of music that you are comfortable to perform which corresponds with your technical ability at whatever learning stage you are at. It will also help to like the piece that you are performing if you have to overcome stage fright.
5. Go to the venue. – do not be late for rehearsals and if there is a chance to rent the venue at an affordable rate, you should by all means do at least one or more rehearsals on site, this will help you to visualize and have a feel of the atmosphere so that you are not caught off guard completely during a performance. Of course with a full house at the venue, the atmosphere and even acoustics may be different, but at least you have sized up the room and you can also practice the vision of yourself on stage playing the piece many times before the actual performance.
6. Be your worst critique during practice but your biggest fan on stage.- this holds true, I purposely record a lot of my practice and try not to allow the slightest mistake to slip during practice as if I can hear it, chances are somebody else will too. But on stage, before any performance, I psyche myself that I can do it and that I have already been so prepared and will give the best performance there even if there was only one person really listening out there. I also like the suggestions in the recent strings magazine article especially on visualizing how the first notes will sound like and even feel like for five seconds before going onto stage.
7. Be focused on the emotion of making music.- it is that passion of music that leads us to making music for others to enjoy it with us. So therefore, instead of being focused on the emotion to be nervous during the performance, it will be better to really get deep into the emotion of the music and bringing that energy into communicating the emotion and passion of the music to the audience. It would be a waste to be caught up with nerves and lose that opportunity to. I really personally find getting into the focus of the music very helpful to survive during a performance on stage.
8. Be practiced and perform as much as possible.- I am sure that for the first time a surgeon does a surgery, would be very nervous no matter how trained or well researched he is. However, over time doing the same surgery even with different patients, the entire affair would turn out to be more of a routine. He would also better his reaction and ability to deal with situations arising during the surgery. A well seasoned performer will also be able to tell you that the more practice being on stage and the more frequently that you go on stage, chances are with some few exceptions, most of us would also be able to become accustomed to the feeling of going onto stage, and that yucky feeling of nervousness would transform only to the exhilaration and excitement of wanting to transmit what you have prepared to the audience for the day. Also, do not underestimate small menial performance opportunities such as performing for friends at your own home. I never forgot a good piece of advice from my Professor’s wife who was my accompanist for my entire duration while understudying him, she told me to grow a really thick skin (which she already has) and just not be afraid of making mistakes. Some days, performances will not turn out the way you want them to be but at least you tried and you will do it again.
9. Professing you love to perform.- I am naturally shy as an individual and feel that if I were to say this might be telling a lie, but part of my job as a musician is to perform; rather than always saying I do not like to perform because I am scared on stage, I’d rather focus on how I like to perform because having a gift for music really does bring happiness to others when you share it.
I do certainly hope that some of these advice would help. If you have anymore suggestions, I would really love to hear them and do feel free to comment or let me know them. Thanks for reading!
This was my first ever time speaking about my Career officially at any event so I was not sure what to expect. We had a couple of speakers for the different art groups, for music it was just my fellow Alumni Lin Si Tong (Instagram linsitong, is a Chinese lyricist and Music Producer for Dramas and other Mandarin Songs) and I. This was great as she covered the students who aspired to go contemporary and I addressed the students who were interested in sticking with Classical. Though both of our Careers do overlap somewhat as we still need to practice a lot and be good with our pitch; and we both love to teach!
It was nice to be back in my old school after leaving for so long and meeting most of the teachers who still almost looked the same (to me). Talking to the students and meeting others from the art industry made me realize that it is really not out of necessity that we do what we do every day but for the passion and love for our art that we wake up an try our best with our careers even though what we do sometimes seem more obscure than a more conventional job.
It is truly a blessing to have a talent to share with others, so those of you reading this who is good with any form of musical or artistic talent, do try your best to nurture it. Your creativity is unique and original and even if it seems insignificant, there will be an eager someone who will be truly inspired by your art! Thank you SCGS for giving me the opportunity to share and realize this ❤️
The article in the link below by cello Professor Miranda Wilson, gives useful practice tips on how to carry out the sudden dynamic changes found in Beethoven’s compositions.
Other than Beethoven, Bach’s compositions also have sudden dynamic changes in parts that echo from forte to sudden piano with no diminuendo or crescendo.
I often practice these sudden changes by stopping after the end of the dynamic, just before the sudden comparably soft or loud dynamic change.
For example, complete the forte portion completely without any hint of diminuendo, give a slight halt to prepare for the next piano section. This is an additional way to this author’s idea of practising out a sudden drop or increment of dynamics. You can do the same with a piano portion, practice without a hint of crescendo, stop before the forte section then prepare and continue with the forte.
After a certain while of practicing in this fashion, you will be able to execute your the sudden dynamic changes more effectively for the listener and your ear and muscles get used to not committing any unnecessary diminuendo or crescendo which is not intended by the composer, the sections will be kept distinctly and the character of the piece will be executed well. Do try this method of practice and let me know if it works for you too! This method is not confined to violinists but all sorts of other instrumentalist should try it too.
Before starting your daily practise routine, you should do a series of stretches just to lengthen your muscles and keep them flexible so as to prevent any unwanted injury. The stretching routine should consist of deep stretches not only for the fingers and arms which are directly involved, but also for your core and leg muscles because every part of your body is very much engaged in playing the violin. I would advocate practising Yoga or Pilates a few times a week as these are good exercises to stretch the entire body and to keep your mind calm which is an excellent condition to be in when called to do a performance.
- Practise Basic Technical Exercises, Scales and Etudes at every practice session.
Over the years of teaching, I have noticed that not every teacher would include basic right and left hand exercises or even Etudes to practise in the student’s repertoire. Focusing just on pieces would impede the student’s growth. Basic Technical Exercises, Scales and Etudes enable a Building Time for the students to develop their technical ability on the violin necessary for the skill later used in performance pieces. Having a good Right Hand and Left Hand exercise routine will help to focus on overall posture, tone production and intonation. Even the best of violinists would tell you the importance of practising Scales daily. If Building Time with the Basic Technical Exercises, Scales and Etudes are part of the practice routine, you would realize that that when called to learn a new piece, you would be able to grasp it quicker and there will be more time to be left to explore a Musical Interpretation of the piece which would be just as important as focusing on overall posture, tone production and intonation. Classroom time efficiency with the teacher would also be better as the daily practices on these would a establish a higher chance of being able to teach the student on every aspect of playing the violin and not just focusing on either technique or musical interpretation.
- Always start with slow practice
When embarking on a new piece, it is important not to be hasty and excited in learning it. Even if time is short and you need to learn a piece quickly due to a performance deadline, starting with slow practice would yield much better result for the performance than to rush through the piece at performance tempo. This process of slow practice enables you to be able to think of the piece carefully. It is also important to start with analyzing the form and structure of the piece to establish repetitions (the repetition could be in another key as well)
If a piece is already in a slow tempo, it would still be necessary to practice in an even slower tempo so that every expression can be even more thorough and thought out. So that when playing at the normal tempo as indicated a deeper depth of expression can be communicated to the audience.
- While learning a song for the first time, you must take into consideration and follow all markings that are written
Apart from some exceptions, for example the Bach Partitas and Sonatas where some of the movements need to be purposefully played in entirety in forte in order to get the right tone production before taking into account the other ranges of dynamics, performance directions should be followed carefully.
In fact, certain directions should also be played purposefully and intentionally during practise as a lot of dynamics and expressions are lost during the performance due to nerves or just the acoustics of the concert hall. Not only does volume or articulations have to be in utmost clarity, but also the physical expression (body movement) of playing the markings on the score can be acted out to match the markings intended in performance.
Only following markings written down after getting the notes right may result to developing your own expression which is not intended by the composer in the original score. Then taking into consideration the markings as a second thought, might tantamount to bad habits that need to be broken which may be less efficient than to apply the original markings written down from the start. As a Musician, there should be integrity in performing the piece as the composer intends it to be.
- Always have a pencil ready
Get a pencil ready during practice to note down any ideas or changes that you may want to make during the session. It is my own personal practice to have as little markings on my score as possible unless I wish to make essential changes to the fingerings or bowings then mark them down with a pencil. Here are some instances where I would make pencil markings of my own:
- If there is a fingering or another string that I would like to use which is different from what is indicated on the score;
- I keep repeating a mistake with the fingering on a certain note; and
- A particular bar or few bars that I find particularly difficult to play
– There are a lot of parts of the piece that have easy playability and need little to no practise but there are just some parts that need a lot of work and special attention. As I conquer these parts bit by bit, I erase the circles so that the score again looks tidy.
This will minimize mess on the page if referring during a performance it will be neat and tidy to use or if you had to memorize the piece, the score is clearer to you in your mind than a very untidy score. This can be likened to keeping your home neat and tidy where things would be more organized and will more likely to be able to recall where you have kept something quickly.
Another occasion which I would use the pencil would be to circle out parts that I keep making mistakes at.
- Try not to listen to recordings of pieces before you have mastered a piece of music.
It is important to listen to recordings and classical music generally, especially to recordings of violin repertoire. Being a violinist means that you should also be able to appreciate different interpretations and adapt them to your own style of performance. This heading may come as surprise to many that listening to a piece before learning it may not necessary be the best way to learn a piece. It is best to first try to learn the piece according to your own personal interpretation as at the end of the day you are an artiste trying to create something unique and not replicating anyone’s performance.
There is a greater importance these days to be able to learn a piece without listening to a prior recording due to new composers and commissioned violin concertos and pieces where there may be a limited number of performances and recordings done; or you may find that there have been no recordings that have been made at all because you are the first person to be performing the work for the first time. This method of learning from scratch would expand your ability to sight read music to develop all your senses needing to make the music. And from there, to explore a piece on your own which will carry far more depth instead of total reliance of learning a piece aurally and depending on that aural sense to replicate the same tune.
- Always break up the piece into smaller section and single out frequent errors to practise these separately.
When embarking on a new piece, always look at the structure and form of the piece. Some pieces may be in a ternary form (2 sections, A-B Parts) some in binary (3 Sections with repetition of one of the section A-B-A parts); or in Sonatas at the recapitulation section. Hence, always analyse the piece to check with sections repeat. You should ideally give the same weightage of practise to every section. If a section is repeated many times, if you follow the order of the score to practise, you would be practising one section more than other sections. So the other sections may feel less practised at the end of the week.
By analysing the score and breaking up the piece into smaller sections, you would also be able to understand the structure of the piece better and sight reading this way can be improved as you are essentially learning musical patterns and not just going about the piece at random as it comes. I like to use different colours to highlight the different sections to the younger students, so that the whole piece appears colourful and they are able to break up their practise according to the colours and sections to practise and learn each day or week.
Lastly as mentioned in Number 5 “Always have a Pencil Ready”, you would find playing some parts of the piece with more difficulty than others which would require more practice and attention, do circle out these parts with the pencil and pay special attention on ways to practice them.
- Pay Close attention to your posture
While practising, be conscious of your playing posture at all times. You should ideally feel like a tree, deeply rooted and planted down so that when playing exciting parts of the piece you do not appear wobbly but confident. The instrument should emanate from your soul which means physically, you should appear that the violin is not a separate instrument apparatus but part of your physique, like just an extension of you.
On closer scrutiny to impediments or difficulty while playing some pieces, you may find the root cause to be poor posture whether it is with your fingers or your standing posture itself.
At all times you should feel relaxed when playing the violin, the music should seamlessly flow from the violin. If you feel tense in any area while playing, you should check your posture as that should not be the case. Even at difficult sections of the piece instead of feeling a sense of tightness, you should feel relaxed even if your mind is working overtime. Being relaxed would heighten the probability of the notes coming out as practised and anticipated; the effect would look like effortless playing even at the most technically challenging of parts. Making music really does require one to be relaxed for all emotions and mental faculties to be at their best levels for a good performance.
- Choose Repertoire that is at your Level and Capability
I do not discredit the importance of having a thirst and hunger for improvement. As this motivation is the drive to aim for a higher standard of playing. But the repertoire chosen for the student or for yourself has to be digestible and appropriate for the level you are at. Making a student constantly play pieces that require several position changes when they have barely understood or grasped playing in the first position for example; may be damaging instead of helpful in due course. It may corrode their confidence with the instrument. This hurried teaching style may result to mental connections to be missed on basic foundations of posture, note reading and other violin technique like shifting, playing different positions, bowings etc. When learning the violin in a haphazard manner and not establishing fundamental violin technique is likened to not laying a proper foundation for a 100-storey skyscraper. This often shows up at more advanced levels, the student may feel frustrated or stuck due to the lack of skill to advance.
It would be definitely better and more efficient to follow a moderate climb, one that is at a suitable level of challenge, this challenge level will need to be constantly tested and gauged as it is unique for everyone. I have some students who are like sponges who can grasp concepts very quickly but there are also others who need more time to absorb new concepts of learning technique.
The foundations of good technique should never be belittled. The teacher should make sure that the student learns and practices good technique making use of the repertoire. Finding repertoire to achieve proper Violin Technique should take priority over selecting a piece at your whim and fancy and then working in Technique Building through these pieces. Learning Violin Technique should not be left at random. That is not to say that you should be selecting repertoire that is dry and unpopular, it just means that you have to be wiser at choosing. Be aware on what you can actually play: if it feels too easy, then find something more challenging; if it is too insurmountable, most likely the piece is too difficult and should be shelved for another later time. This will enable a more visible and structured improvement rather than a random one which may leave out certain important points about playing the violin at the more formative stage.
- Memorize Everything
It always looks better to perform a piece without looking at the score. The music stand can be viewed as is a barrier to communication with the audience during a performance. (In some cases, where the piano accompanist is using the music score, as a manner of style the violinist can also refer to a score.)
Knowing how Brain Memory works in the earlier section on devising a Practice Schedule Plan, will aid in understanding how to memorize a piece of music well. I personally find too that it is more effective and efficient to practice a piece trying to memorize the piece rather than to be practicing the piece reading off the music score always. This way, the non-reliance of the score makes me more sensitive to all aspects of the piece.
- Make a Goal for Learning every day
The mind should constantly be seeking out ways of improving and not be on an auto pilot mode while practicing. Time at hand during practice is not just a figure, especially for young children it may seem that time is an infinite concept, but the older you grow you realize the limited nature of time. Therefore, at any age or stage you are at do make a goal for learning every day. You can also make a goal based on the lesson that you have just had for the following lesson; these small objectives met will be one step closer to a larger improvement, thereby achieving a more efficient practice every day. Over a week and months of practice, these improvements will be both audible and visible.
- Do not get through the piece with a Get By attitude
You should always aim for excellence and put your best foot forward. It will pay off to have this tenacious spirit toward practise. Simply achieving goals set by your teacher is good but setting your own goals which exceed expectations would be better. The world is constantly looking for outstanding people and it is good to apply this to everything you do not just for the violin.
Rest should also not be underestimated, a well-rounded person will not be absolutely efficient without adequate rest that the body needs. The mind and the body need rest and adequate sleep to function at its best.
- The use of a Metronome
It is tempting to speed up at exciting parts of the piece. Or sometimes, with a series of confusing note values to attempt to aurally discern the time values and play by what you think is right. Because the violin is usually played as an accompanied instrument whether it is in a chamber group setting or with a piano or an orchestra, being able to be accurate in rhythm and timing is essential and should be developed during practise. Being as accurate as playing in a professional band may not be necessary but it is certainly necessary to follow the note values and develop a sense of rhythm for collaborating with other professionals or instruments. This area of development is just as important as having good intonation, being able to play in tune is just as important as having a good sense of rhythm.
Even where you are the only solo instrument, practising repertoire like Bach’s (Sonatas and Partitas) unaccompanied pieces for the Solo Violin are good opportunities of developing on your rhythms in perpetual motion or the slow movements where the rhythm values are very obscure, achieving accuracy, discerning their note values would definitely sharpen your skill on rhythm and timing.
For passages with runs where the notes are in a perpetual motion (of equal note value), to achieve a consistent rhythm, it would be essential to practise with the metronome from a slow tempo and using increments of two values for example, starting at 80, increase it to 82 then 84 and so on. At the next practise start off at the second fastest value you were at and then start the pattern again. If you would like to play a passage of runs quickly, it would be best to practise it on an even higher value than prescribed or perform. So that when you switch back to correct (slower) tempo, you would find playing the passage with ease.
- Practise pieces from the past frequently
It takes so many hours to get a piece of music polished and perfected to a performance standard. Often so much hard work is put into perfecting a piece, therefore before the memory of the piece diminishes completely, you should pick up the piece and play it once more. Each time playing the piece would rekindle the memory of it. Pieces from the past that have been mastered must be included in the Practise Schedule plan.
- Over-practising and Strain Injury
It is good to be conscientious and hardworking with practise but not overly zealous that it affects your health. Stretching before practise allows the muscles to expand and get ready for the range of motions that are to come during the practise. I strongly advocate resting in between practise: say for example your practise is 5 hours long, break it up to sessions that you have at least a 5-10 minute break every hour. This will ensure that you do not over strain yourself and give your mind time to rest and freshen up. Concentrating on one activity is actually counter-productive to trying to achieve your goal in practise
It is worth mentioning not to over stretch or over work the fourth finger (pinky) on the left hand. The fourth finger is a delicate finger and often the gap to stretch is too far for some hands. Take care especially when playing double-stops in tenths. It is a generally good practise to get the note right and just move on without dwelling too much on it which will cause a strain injury. There are some practises that are better with using your ears to figure out the intonation instead of over practising or over straining. Always remember it is the quality of the practise that counts and not the quantity of hours put in.
- Be Careful with your hands!
If you are playing the violin or learning the violin, it would be just be sensible to protect your fingers by not exposing them to activities which may injure your fingers such as ball games and some sports which may endanger your fingers into getting them hurt.
The body does heal itself but often times, the rehabilitation is a painful process and a sprained or broken finger or arm might not heal back to the original angle it was in. Prevention is always better than cure for sure.
If you do not play the violin or seen one up close, you may misconstrue that parts of the violin are not removable such as the bridge which can actually be moved rather easily and is just balanced in its place by the tension of the strings. Upon loosening the strings, the bridge will come off as it is not glued on.
Almost the entire violin can be taken apart just like it has been put together, which is why a very delicate part such as the neck needs to be well taken care of as without care, the violin’s neck can collapse and this would affect the string height and the violin being acoustically balanced or even in some more extreme cases, the violin would not be playable. Humidity plays a large role in the expansion and contraction process of the fingerboard/neck area. (For more on this, do read this article from Strings Magazine) As the neck is in constant pressure with the tightness of the strings pulled all the way from the end pin of the violin to the pegs at the other end, it is only a matter of time that the entire Neck angle is affected and not where it is supposed to be. And when the violin is played even more pressure is exerted with the fingers and the bow. That’s why it is important to keep the violin in an ideal environment. (A tip on care for this is to leave desiccant gels in the violin case if you live in a hot humid tropical country like me or during the more humid summer months.)
During the Baroque period (1600-1750), where the fingerboard was shorter, the neck angle was also in a kinder position that the strings could be closer to the fingerboard. However, when the concert halls became larger than just chambers or rooms where the violin was being performed, more projection was needed and sought after. The fingerboard was extended to take in a higher range of notes for the compositions in the Romantic Period of Music (late 18th and early 19th century) radically changed the angle and position of the neck of the violin. Inserting and setting the neck had to ensure a more stable method. Do read Michael Darnton’s article on how to set a violin’s neck, he goes into great detail on the specific measurements and method.
If you suspect that your violin neck was not set correctly as it is visible that it veers towards an angle or to one side; if you feel difficulty pressing the strings than previously felt when u first got your violin, this could be due to changes in the string height. If it is ruled out not due to your bridge, do not despair as this can be repaired by a good violin luthier such as Andrew Carruthers who has extensive knowledge and experience with neck repairs. This repair could really alter the sound of a violin and it could be a night and day effect! So do go and check on your necks, you never know how your violin (or you) may be suffering.
SassyMama is a one stop go to guide for parents in Singapore for stuff to do with their kids and important announcements and Schools recommendations. In their recent revamp to their website, they included us in their round up feature on the Best Music Schools in Singapore 😍. Even though I’m the only teacher at the Violin Studio at the moment and it is certainly counted as private learning! Well it is a vision at Belcanto Violins that we will become a full music school one day! Read the full article here
Over the years having performed and taught many students in different countries, I have had the privilege of playing violins in every size and lineage of American, Eastern European and European makers to the China makers and I even now sell my own line of violins. So what makes a good violin and why do violins differ from a meagre $100USD to $20million?
I recently have been on a journey to rediscover my own violin. My violin is a beautiful Guarneri Del Gesu remake by an Italian maker in 1966. I bought it at a hefty sum (well at least to me it was my entire savings at that time! Thankfully then I still lived with my parents so I didn’t have to become a starving artist as I had already quit my job as a lawyer at the time of buying the instrument.) This violin has brought me through my Journey from playing it in the early days for my boyfriend (now Husband) to impress him and then with my Professor in Beijing-with the tireless and grueling on some days, 10 hour practises and the meaningful time I had spent with him under his tutelage to understand so much more about playing and learning the violin. It has a lot of sentimental value and to me so predictable. Perhaps too predictable, that in this hot and humid climate where I live in at the moment in Singapore, the violin just sounds under the weather lately and I find myself on days too frustrated to work with it. Wood certainly doesn’t fair well in humidity and heat! It does something to the otherwise crisp tone.
So when a friend of mine told me that he could alter the acoustics of my instrument and make it come more alive, I jumped at the prospect that there could be a change without having to change my violin to an entirely different one. It has been hard, because I do love my violin so much even though it is not one of the Greats. I remember being in New York on Labor Day and had the whole music shop to myself, they brought out Strads, Guaneris and an Amati all for me to have a go. The cheapest violin that day I played had a price tag of $300,000USD. I remember being very disappointed as I left the shop I thought I’d be overwhelmed by playing such an expensive instrument commanding a priceless sum, just to discover it’s power to be the same as my ordinary violin just with a more historical tone color due to its aged wood. So since then, I’d been aware that my violin lacks this certain richness of tone color that comes automatically in an aged instrument dated in the 1700s, but not the playing experience and projection so I had no more excuses not to play as good on it as if it were one of those.
This same friend of mine has proved me completely wrong with the minute changes that he made to my violin (he did more than move my sound post and bridge and other movable parts but am not at liberty to disclose as he guards his brilliant skill and precision as one BIG secret). All I know is that my violin now sounds absolutely spectacular, I will not be selling or ditching it anytime soon. And I’m so excited to be rediscovering my Pieces and working through new ones with my more balanced and better acoustically attuned instrument. I am eternally grateful!
Incidentally this article from the Strings magazine resounds my new found understanding of the value of instruments and what makes a good violin. It is a myth that all old violins would sound better than a new one. As new violins these days by good experienced makers go through a lot of research and development to achieve better acoustically sounded violins with quality aged wood that they use.
To sum up what makes a good violin, Wood plays an important role, the maker plays an important role to gathering the wood and materials and the carving the violin out to precision, the luthier can play an important role too in restoring and upkeeping the violin, the violinist plays an important role in ensuring that the violin is well kept (sending it to the Luthier for periodic checkups) and preserved (buy a good case and keep it out of harsh elements such as the sun or rain and too much or too little humidity) as each violin is unique and some violins can be important historical pieces just like art, it is important to be sensible to keep your violin in good shape as you are responsible for its well-being. You will find that these people and factors surrounding the construction and upkeep of the violin would make a good violin. And if you are famous, the violin you own may also appreciate in its value. Although most incredible violinists have their expensive instruments sponsored and loaned to them including the great Maxim Vengerov!