Here are some pointers from Strings Notes for those of you with a budget to buy a violin at (USD) $10,000 to $15,000. This category price would also put you in what is classified as “Professional Instrument”… More
Though playing the violin is not a contact sport and it is classified as a mild activity, you can still get repetitive stress injuries or other injuries over time if not careful with your daily routine and posture.
I read an interesting strings magazine write up on a luthier that makes unorthodox shaped violas to prevent injuries. We are not talking about just removing a part of the upper bout of the viola so as to reach better on the fingerboard. But seriously funny odd shaped ones, some looking like a splat! Or that it had been initially made of playdoh in its perfect traditional hourglass shape and then sat on by an elephant. The review of the maker Luthier David Ravinus creations are good too: despite its odd and uncanny design, the violin is powerful and resonant and has gained popularity with many long standing viola players
For professional players who practise at least 3 hours and over each day, it would be a good idea to get an ergonomically designed instrument so that injuries like tendonitis at the elbows or finger/arm or back injuries will be cut down or not occur.
Unfortunately, there are currently no violin instruments in the market resembling Ravinus’ so for now being be cautious to take some steps against injury will be the only preventive action available. And here is my personal list of how:
1. Warm up by Moving your Body
I do stretches especially for the arms fingers and back and tend to do a short workout before actually going into violin practise for the day. Some Yoga poses to stretch out your body would also be useful in maintaining a good balance and helps your mind to be calm before practise.
2. Work at strengthening your Core Muscles
At my gym work out I work to strengthen not only my arms and shoulders but my core muscles as well because playing the violin as a solo instrument requires a lot standing up and movement around the core, you would want your core to be stengthened in order to build endurance for playing the violin. With strength, there will also be endurance and less stress on the muscles to do the work.
3. Always checking my posture
At all times, I work at checking that I have a good posture in playing. In standing, I stand upright and not slouch and in sitting I make sure that my feet are in a 90 degree angle and that I am not sitting completely into my seat but a little more towards the edge. To help me with this, I use Backjoy, a nifty contraption that enables me to sit with less strain on my back.
I also check that my fingers are in the correct position and that my thumb is not pressed too tightly against the neck. When I am playing the different strings, I coincide the angle of my elbows and arms accordingly and not use my back or neck to compensate the movement instead.
4. Practising with the 4th finger
Finger no.4 which is our pinky is often overstretched when doing 10ths or playing octaves with alternating 1-3 and 2-4 fingerings. Sometimes to avoid an entire change in position, we can also stretch out 4th finger to reach the note (for example a C on E string in the first position). When encountering rigorous practise involving a lot of stretching of the 4th finger it is best to be cautious to do the practise efficiently only for a very short while and not to dwell too long in over stretching this.
5. Take breaks
If having a five hour practise schedule, it is not advisable to practise all five hours at a go. Personally do one and a half hours at a go but it would be better to do 55minutes and then take at least a 5 minute break before moving on to the next section of practise. This gives your body a break and stretch in between, your eyes and mind will also thank you for this short breather. And you can find your practise a lot more effective than to have gone on the whole duration at one go without stopping.
6. Go for periodic massages
For hard to stretch areas, massage is a good way to prevent injury and to make sure the muscle knots are dealt with regularly and not left for a long time as there can be acid build up and poor circulation for healing. The best places to go for massages would be shops specializing in sports injuries they tend to be less therapeutic and soothing but they do get to the painful roots of my aches and pains on my arms, hands and back.
Hope these six tips will revolutionalize your violin practise before an ergonomically designed violin is available for sale.
In this post, I shall endeavor to cover the differences you will encounter with the two instruments as this is a popular question I get, “Which should I start my child with first? The Piano or the Violin?” So hopefully after discussing some differences in learning and playing the two in this blog post, there can be some conclusion to this matter
- Size matters
This would be the first difference between the Piano and Violin, a Piano no matter at what age, is a “one size fits all” instrument. Whereas a Violin grows in size as you grow starting as small as a 1/32 size for a 2 year old. For a good article on sizing Violins please refer to my other blog article about Violin sizing. This means that proportionally, if you have really small hands like I do, the piano would be more daunting to achieve than a Violin would. It is also not as portable so for example when you travel you would have to leave your piano behind or if you do concerts, you will always need to get used to the key touch and resonance of the instrument…constantly. The violin once chosen by you is yours and follows you like a beloved pet or favorite pillow wherever you would like it to go and whenever you would like to be with you. Which is why choosing a violin that you like to play and hear is so important!
- Precise Intonation, playing the Right notes
On the Piano, you are not in control of intonation, one just merely hits the right notes and the sounds come out as the notes. On the Violin, the notes are more obscure and you are in charge of the intonation, likened to knife thrower, a small minute misplacement of the finger even in a millimeter would render the target out, disqualifying the player from a perfect rendition of a piece. Hence, constant ear training to be sensitive to intonation- being able to play immediately the true pitch of a note should be paramount in learning the violin. You need to even differentiate between enharmonic notes such as a B flat and an A sharp. On the Piano they would be regarded and struck on the same note. On the Violin, this is not so and would require the player to know the subtle difference of pitch even between these two enharmonic notes. (For example, the B flat would be placed lower on the fingerboard than an A sharp)
- Right and Left Hand functions
On the Piano, most of the time the Right hand plays the melodic line while the left plays an accompaniment (e.g. Alberti Bass common with Sonatinas or Sonatas). While sometimes where there is a more polyphonic texture like in playing Bach pieces, the Left hand would be playing a counter melody as well. Or both hands could take turns playing the accompaniment and melody. On the Violin, the Left hand plays the notes, while the Right hand bows or plucks (pizzicato) the strings, they work hand in hand to produce a melodic line with accompaniment or polyphonic parts. As Solo Violin Music is usually just a melody and lacks accompaniment, (except for Bach’s composition of the Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin and other rare compositions that feature the Violin as a Solo instrument) a Piano accompaniment is usually written for its performance of the piece. So most of the time, the Violinist does not perform by himself or herself but with an accompanist on the piano (or an orchestra). However, a Solo Pianist usually is able to have a music performance without any form of accompaniment necessary since the Right and Left hand has enough harmonic structure to support a range of music for the listener. The concept of harmony for the Pianist would be more important than the Violinist (though it should be as important) as the Pianist will have to consider his Left hand harmonising with his Right hand (especially for the process of memorization) and the different importance and voices of the two almost always. The Violinist will also need to think about the Harmony and how his part would fit and harmonize with the accompaniment, but less for sure (though it should be just the same).
- Range of the Piano Vs Violin
The range of the Piano is 7+octaves (a group of 8 notes), whereas a Violin is only a range from G (just before middle C) to a High C about 3 octaves up. The Violin has a more limited range of notes that it can play, and only requires reading in the treble clef with all the lower notes on the ledger lines being played on the G string (the lowest string on the violin). The Piano on the other hand, has typically the Left hand reading the Bass clef and the Right hand reading the treble clef. This means there is another clef for the Pianist to learn. There are also more notes to learn as there are about 4 more extra octaves both higher and lower in registers that a Pianist will have to encounter. The Pianist also can play cool melodic structures like contrary motion, whereas the Violinist will only encounter this upon harmonizing with another instrument like in a trio, quartet or piano, orchestra.
- Violin Invisible Notes Part 1 – (Harmonics) and Piano Pedals
On the Violin, one can play magical sounding notes where you do not depress your finger on the string and play “harmonics” when bowed. These notes have an ethereal effect and are widely used in many compositions to create this angelic tonal quality that is peculiar to the Violin but impossible to do on a Piano Keyboard. The Piano usually has three pedals (if not two) the right pedal sustains any note or notes played on the keyboard. It gives an effect that even though you may be in a small room with sound proof padding, it can give an acoustical effect that you are in a large hall with a lot of echo. Some music in Piano playing will require this maneuver.
- Violin Invisible Notes Part 2 – just a black fingerboard? No black or white Keys!
The notes on Violin on the ebony fingerboard can be said to be intangible and cannot be seen where to press to a layperson who has no idea how to work a Violin. The Piano on the other hand, is more welcoming and even babies which are starting out to grasp coordination of their limbs are able to hit the notes and produce different notes and sounds. The Violin relies mostly on muscle memory to grasp the distance and situation of the notes on the fingerboard. This is where I would say if one has learnt the Piano first, would have the advantage of grasping the concept of the note distances clearer and faster. The fingerboard of the Violin is simply just the same keyboard as the Piano and would have the white and black keys in the exact situation with the exact semitones and tones. So to play a scale, someone with prior knowledge of how a keyboard looks like will be able to press the strings of the violin and bow just by working out the tones and semitones (distances) on the Violin fingerboard. This is the same where grasping concepts of the accidentals (namely flats, naturals and sharps), where sliding your finger along the fingerboard toward your face while holding the violin would achieve a higher note than the notes toward the scroll of the violin.
- Moving Up and Down the Registers Easier on the Violin
As the Violin has strings in perfect 5ths, one is able to play and jump notes easier than on the Piano. Therefore, Violin music and composition will often be more “acrobatic” in texture than Piano music there are often notes in 10ths on the Violin as it is possible to stretch that far and most virtuosic pieces would feature 10ths as part of their scoring. But you will not see a Pianist practising scales in 10ths on the Piano.
- Musical Key Patterns make a bigger difference
As music Key moves in a circle of 5ths (C-G-D-A-E major etc.) and the Violin is also in string intervals on open strings of a perfect 5th. Transpositions and patterns are slightly more recognizable and similar on the Violin than on the Piano where the piano is only a lateral movement up and down the keyboard. Whereas the Violin is able to move a 5th up simply by changing the strings they are playing. A case in point is that you can have the exact position and fingering playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on the D-A strings Vs A-E strings of the Violin. Whereas on the Piano you would need to consider finger positions on the black keys depending on which key you are in. Intervals and semitones are therefore harder to count. Violinists think of positions of their finger patterns, i.e. playing in the first position to the tenth position but there are not really such finger patterns on the Piano, you simply need to understand a good concept of maximising your finger range and different ways to achieve good seamless fingering to go with the music.
This is purely out of experience that I am writing this, so it may not be as founded ^_^ I find that as a Violin student, a little goes a long way. When my teacher told me to be louder on the piano, I needed a great deal of energy to strike the keys, whereas on the Violin, just a slight forceful and more added pressure or speed with the bow will go a long way.
- The Bow
There seem to be 101 ways you can play with your bow on the Violin which is almost true! You can play a detache bow, a martele bow, a ricochet bow, a colle bow, a mixture the list goes on. You will also have to learn that slurs and bowing are directly related. On the Piano, you will not need to use anything but your fingers and hands to play the instrument. This usage of the bow has to be grasped as part of violin technique. The bow also produces the tone of every note so much practise is needed to concentrate on just Right hand technique on the Violin to achieve a good sound. I would say that the Violin could be equated more to a sport than the Piano. I actually give my students physical exercise to do with their bows. (like sword wielding!)
This list of 10 differences isn’t exhaustive and I’m definitely biased as the violin is my major instrument though I have played the piano since I was three and nothing is more satisfying than digging into the harmonies of Chopin or playing the ethereal Grieg Piano Concerto! Violins tend to start cheaper than Piano, by miles, The cheapest violin in my shop in a full set is $150. I think with $150 you will not be able to buy a Piano unless perhaps second hand. Piano classes are also thought to be less costly than Violin classes as the Violin teachers are usually rarer to find. A very important consideration to make is also the true interest of the child or student learning. If the child gravitates to liking one instrument over the other, I’m of the opinion that upon fulfilling a certain aptitude with the less liked instrument, they should concentrate and specialise in just one.
Lastly, the piano is an important instrument to learn if in all doubt as to what instrument you should do. It features the entire keyboard perception clearly with the white and black keys. You would find most instruments collaborating with the piano (like in Sonatas) and most orchstral scores are reduced into a piano score for accompaniment with the violin. So having prior knowledge about the collaborating instrument does make a difference to how you want your performance to turn out as a whole. Nothing is wasted in music learning. And most importantly, try to keep the passion for learning alive!
…the Suzuki Talent Education Association (STEAS) arrived in 2014 actually…! Sponsored by my friends at Synwin Music, Today I participated at a Teacher’s workshop on the Suzuki Values & Teaching Method and to bring awareness to STEAS. Guest Speaker Mr Martin Rüttimann flew in to give us the insights of Dr Suzuki’s violin Methodology and why it works particularly well for young learners. There were also some young performers who gave us a demonstration of the Suzuki Method in action.
There will be two different training workshops for piano and violin coming up this year for teachers. If you would like to join do contact the Suzuki Talent Education Association Association Singapore. The dates of the piano teachers’ training is on an earlier date while the violin course is planned at the end of May. Do contact them directly at the STEAS website for more information. To join this workshop you need to be a member of the Association and also need to send in an audition demo of yourself at the highest proficient level: choose and play a level you are at from book 4 to 10, hence book 4 is at its lowest entry level in order to be qualified to be trained for Book 1 at the workshop in May 2017. (If you send in a level at book 10 Mozart’s Violin Concerto in D major this would just mean you will not need to send in any more auditions for the training for book 1 through to 10. ) note that it is required to be trained from Book 1 and the workshop training sessions are approximately 35 to 42 hours to cover each volume.
For those who are not familiar with the Suzuki Method. Here are some features of the Method that I have summarized below:
- A concept of nurturing an individual through music to learn discipline and a community spirit, which would lead to ultimately having a “beautiful heart”
- Believes that learning music is like learning a mother tongue language where a young child would be able to learn music and an instrument just like learning their own native language. The Suzuki Method strives to teach a musical instrument (piano, violin, guitar, viola, cello, flute etc.) this way.
- Usage of familiar songs in first books to keep the students and child interested in learning as this would be easy to train the ear as well as play from memory which is a compulsory component.
- No particular written technical method reduced into writing (except Dr Suzuki’s concept of Tonalization) as compared to the French or Russian schools of learning but the musical abilities and techniques are passed down from teacher to teacher, thus the need for the Associations for training teachers to be “Suzuki ready”.
- Method encourages a Child, Teacher and Parent triangle where the Parent plays a vital role as much as the Teacher and Child in the Learning Process.
- Lots of group playing in unison are encouraged as one of the key visions of Suzuki is that the child is nurtured into a not being competitive but to having a communal spirit.
- A large range of repertoire focusing on early classical and baroque pieces (my observation of the Violin Method) and an absence of the traditional Etudes like Wolfhart, Kayser, Dancla, Dont, Gavinies, Kreutzer etc. no Romantic period concertos but ends at Mozart Violin Concerto. The idea is that afterwhich, teachers would progress to teaching the Bruch and Mendelssohn Concertos.
- Usage of Solfege instead of note reading initially for ear training as well as easy pick up for even toddlers which is why more students can pick up the violin with scaled down instruments at an early age.
For more of the Suzuki Method and how it is taught, it is best to join one of the teachers training courses available in your region worldwide to have the know how to teach and understand this concept better.
How I would teach and use the Suzuki Method for my Students
The Suzuki repertoire is a popular choice for teachers and students and almost a staple for Beginner’s repertoire as they are really catchy tunes and the songs have been reduced in a way that intial bowing methods for the violin and certain technique can be taught easily. I personally do use the first Volume for a typical beginner for the same reasons but I perhaps teach it in a very different way from a typical Suzuki teacher would (unfortunately out of group lessons or the occasional special concert arrangement, I do not have students playing in unison) and I would graduate much sooner (at about song no.10 this also depends on the aptitude of the student) to a wider range of classical genre and Etudes to explore more aspects of violin technique appropriate for a beginner. The focus would be more on grasping the correct posture, basic music theory concepts and learning completely the permutations of the first position of the violin as an initial hurdle. For e.g. Oskar Rieding’s violin concerto in B minor which pretty much covers the first position (though it can be played in higher positions) would be taught and is a catchy and exciting tune as well! I like to start with the Rieding piece as it offers a glimpse of the many solo violin repertoires to come with great concertos written in D major/Bminor. After which grasping the entirety of the first position, more keys and the second position will be introduced before the third, vibrato and shifting. This would be a contrast to the Suzuki repertoire where they go straight to the Vivaldi pieces at the intermediate level and into the third position straightaway.
Dissecting what is taught in my lessons:
Apart from daily left and right hand exercises, I would also add in Etudes by Kayser, Wolfhart and Dancla and a series scales and arpeggios to learn the different keys in the first then second position, then third…I do agree that parents have to be in the class for any child under the age of 7 years old and are as important in the learning process as the child or teacher is. Which is the same triangle concept that Suzuki has.
My first YouTube videos are planned and will be based on Suzuki Violin Method Volume 1. (Do stay tuned!) and I will not be teaching the Suzuki Method per se. But a method I have developed over the years of teaching and learning which can be used and applied to any repertoire (even etudes and scales or any other training syllabus.) I do follow through with some of the selected songs in Suzuki in the later books but will not typically follow through the repertoire to Volume 10. The students that I am featuring in the content of the videos are real life examples of my teaching method, like in the first video for “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, the student featured there has only had a handful of lessons and the video recorded of her shows her true progress at that particular stage of learning.
I wanted to write about learning the violin from the standpoint of someone who has already mastered the piano and the differences in thought and action of both the instruments this week. But this article from the strings magazine for the week was just too interesting to hold off from sharing.
I send my violin in every other year for a good French polish and revarnishing in certain areas like on the top right areas of the ribs close to the fingerboard where playing on the higher registers make the violin need the added TLC more frequently. This maketh sure that every part of the violin is being well protected and so protecting the original varnish that came with the violin.
The original process of varnishing a violin could have been as simple as boiling a pot of rosin and oil. The experts like Amati and Stradivarius probably tried many times or even maybe just a handful of times (in those days things weren’t so complicated) to get the balance right to accomplish that brilliant shine or chatoyance which is a sparkling and multifacetaed light reflection effect needed, not affecting the sound quality. These days to recreate the same mixture according to the author of the article might actually be explosive with the different chemicals during the process of experimentation.
The pursuit to get the right varnish that is protective enough and gives off the correct amount of aesthetic appeal can cost up to thousands of dollars (USD not rupiahs) just for the ingredients to yield a gallon of varnish. I never knew that! No wonder even modern instruments are demanding high costs, this is not factoring that they also need to have been doing this over a period of years (some take as long as 5 years), one layer at a time as they need to wait for it to dry before setting the next layers.
It takes great skill as well to be able to check that the violin is being protected but not being over varnished such that the wood doesn’t breathe and so this affects the acoustic quality of the violin. So it is not a piece of furniture but a piece of art! Again this article reminds us violinists to treat our instruments with more care as they are unique, created with much tender care and absolutely the one and only in the world.
Manaka started the violin on her 7th birthday. Our first class together was a birthday present from her parents. We have now had 6 months of violin study together and she presented the piece “恭喜发财” for a public Chinese New Year event. She quickly learnt the piece in over two weeks fairly on her own and managed to play it by heart. In spite of the excitable crowd around you, you did a job well done Manaka! Congratulations on your first public debut! Here is the video taken by her mother of her performance for all of us to enjoy! Happy Chinese New Year!
I like number 3, Kneisel Hall’s Adult Chamber Music Institute best as it is so hard to find a group of musicians to better your chamber experience and playing. And this provides the excellent opportunity to learn and expand your repertoire at the same time, a chance to meet likeminded musicians all in the love of music. Do read on here!
I sometimes get this question from friends and people I meet with existing violin teachers or if they are looking for one- How would they know if the teacher is teaching the right content in the lessons? Are they good or are they bad? Infamously, I do not take up students of friends or relatives and would rather to have them learn from someone else. (though it has become somewhat challenging to have this policy as most of my friends with kids now have their kids at the age of learning the violin.) The familiarity sometimes is to a disadvantage rather than an advantage but of course there are lots of exceptions.
To answer this question, is the must read blog article by Nathan Cole, it covers how you would know if your violin teacher is teaching the right lesson content or proves to have the adequate knowledge about the violin and how this works to establish a suitable playing posture advantageous to the student. (Having said this, about 90% of students that I teach having returned to Singapore has an incorrect playing posture which would be disadvantageous to fulfilling a better violin technique. I certainly must start with my violin videos tutorials to cover these initial hiccups to benefit more!) I agree fully and put into practice, that the end goal of any teaching process, is for the student to be independent and free of the teacher. Essentially, every lesson I take with my student would be a step closer in their gaining independence to be self taught!
This would also answer partly another very frequently asked question if one can learn violin by themselves. With YouTube and the internet with countless books written on beginner violin and information shared about playing and learning the violin, why not? But everyone has a different physiology make up – different shoulder shapes, differing finger lengths (longer thumbs or pinkies and so on) etc, so there will be generally some guidelines on how to hold a bow or violin or how to execute a staccato bow, but a better confirmation will be with a good teacher who has himself mastered the art of the violin. Playing the violin is really likened to being an Artist, I can teach you how to do the (bowings) brush strokes and recommend the colours (tones), but at the end of the day music is made entirely from the heart, and it would be so subjective from one student to another the corrections to be done and praise to be given. So to answer the question, yes, a good teacher is not someone that you cannot do without if you are aspiring to learn the violin properly or well efficiently.
One of the most important things that a teacher ought to teach his students is, therefore, the technique of good practice. He has to impress on his students that practice has to be a continuation of the lesson, that it is nothing but a process of self-instruction in which, in the absence of the teacher, the student has to act as the teacher’s deputy, assigning himself definite tasks and supervising his own work. A teacher who limits himself to pointing out the mistakes and does not show the proper way to overcome them fails in the important mission of teaching the student how to work for himself.
Ivan Galamian – Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching
Happy 2017 to all my readers! May this year be a fruitful one. I have been so caught up with enjoying the festivities and spending time with family over the holidays that it has been ages since my last entry. Also I would really like to start with those violin tutorial videos- I’m thinking of recording the Suzuki violin school volume 1 songs as a start to the series or 30-50 videos I’m intending to put up. So keep a look out!
Well first though I want to write about this article that recently caught my eye! I have always thought that it would be obvious when something is a copy or not to an expert till I read this interview, the examples are interesting too and we can clearly see how some of these violins could be mistakenly believed to be authentic by someone who does not have enough experience. These are REAL experts! And even so they must carry with them years of experience and a large load of violins that have been reviewed in order to build up knowledge to deem what is what and the real deal.
Certainly completely different to a professional musician who would probably be only interested in the outcome of the sound and the playability of the instrument. Having said this, I have tried real Guarneri Del Gesu and Stradivarius violins (and a cello) even an Amati! And they have indeed this vintage timbre that is just lacking in a modern instrument like mine. (I play a 1966 Italian maker modeled after a Guarneri del gesu) These days with technology for reproduction is of course debatable if time really does cause a violin to have that aged sound that new instruments do not.
I had an interesting chat recently with a local luthier, Sin Teck who had the opinion that the rich sonorous tones could perhaps be due to cracks like for example to the bass bars and new instruments being completely intact would not have those imperfections that actually in irony perfect the tones and timbre produced to give that rich quality tone only felt in old antique instruments.
Well not wanting to veer too off course from the topic of authenticity of old instruments, the article here is certainly a good read. I have so many more articles I have read of late I want to blog about *sweats* and am really eager to share it here when I find time to!
In my opinion about this topic, if your violin bears no name to it and you still love how it is played and the sounds it produces, music is a very subjective thing and I would strongly encourage you to keep it as a gem as much so as if it were a $10 million dollar strad! For all violins are unique just like people and no two are alike.
I brought my daughter for her first ever violin recital (that wasn’t mine) at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music sometime last month.
The recital was based on violin pieces without accompaniment starting with Bach’s Chaconne. It was played with such sensitivity with the pianos and pianissimos delicately done, yet not altering the constant heartbeat of the Chaconne, bringing new dimension to what I imagine the Chaconne to sound like, this leaves me forever changed in the way I would approach the Chaconne. Thank you Mieko for your wonderful performance!
One of the pieces really stood out as it was totally played in what seemed like two movements of complete harmonics. This is the composition by Italian Composer Salvatore Sciarinno. I must take my hat off to Mieko who played the song with so much musical precision though the practise would be challenging I can imagine with such a piece.