Purchasing an instrument

For my younger (still-growing) students, I typically recommend that parents rent the fractional size instruments, as most music shops offer an option to trade in the instrument for a larger one as the child grows. Alexandria Music Company offers a great rental program. (Full disclosure: I teach there.) Once a student is ready for a full-size violin, the best option is to purchase a nice-sounding fiddle rather than rent. In the DC area, we are fortunate to have several wonderful shops with great sounding instruments at reasonable prices. Brobst Violin Shop, Foxes Music, Lashof Violins, and Potter Violin Company, and Day Violins all offer an excellent selection.  Trying and buying a violin, viola or cello is something that must be done in person and not over the internet. The player needs to experience the sound and feel of each instrument, because they all feel different! Visit one of these locally owned shops if you are in the market for a rental or purchase!

Caring for your beloved instrument

Since it's been quite toasty outside lately, here are a few instrument-care reminders to keep your fiddle in tip-top shape! 1) Never leave the violin/viola in a hot car for any extended period of time. Hot temperatures wreak havoc on the delicate wood instruments. Heat causes cracking, bubbling in varnish, and warping. Bring it inside with you whenever possible!

2) Humid temperatures can cause pegs to stick or become impossible to move. For a lightly sticking peg, loosen it first, then gently turn it until the string reaches the correct pitch. If it won't budge, don't force it -- pegs can break, and then you'll have a real problem on your hands. Instead, take it to a reputable violin repair person such as Brobst Violins, Michael Weller, or Potter's Violins. They can use a peg lubricant to loosen it up.

3) To keep the violin finish looking gorgeous, always wipe it off with a soft cloth after playing. Make sure to get underneath strings where rosin dust builds up. Also remember to wipe the strings themselves to remove rosin dust from the bowing area and any residue from the fingerboard. Lastly, to prevent fingerprints, try to avoid handling the violin by the wooden body. Instead, hold the violin from the neck.

4) When you are returning your instrument to its case, remember to loosen the bow so that the hair becomes slack. Otherwise, undue pressure is placed on the hair and the wood of the bow, putting both at risk for breakage.

Tuning Your Violin

It's a daunting task. [Insert sigh of frustration here.] At this chilly time of year, especially with our constantly changing weather in the DC area, violins and violas have a tough time staying in tune.  For the inexperienced player or parent of a string player, you run the risk of breaking a string when you tune the instrument. This site provides tuning pitches for each of your strings. If you can use your fine tuners to get the strings in tune, use them. If the string is so far out of tune that you must use the pegs to tighten them, proceed with caution. Starting with the A string, pluck or bow to hear its pitch and compare it to the tuning pitch on this website. Chances are, you will need to tighten the peg. The strings are wrapped snugly around each peg so they don't typically tighten on their own -- they're more likely to slip out of tune. Gently turn the peg - gently! While you do so, push the peg into the peg hole a little bit to help it stay in place. Listen to the tuning pitch, pluck the string, and turn the peg again if necessary.

I could write pages on the tuning process, and this is just a start. If you're unsure of how to tune, ask your teacher. It takes years of practice to become proficient at tuning your instrument, so be patient!

The Bow Hold for First-Timers

Ah, the bow hold. Students young and old may struggle with developing a comfortable, effective bow hold. Today, I was inspired to find this video after helping a first-time student learn how to hold her bow. Mr. Ehle offers a nice introduction on bow finger placement. And, practicing on a pencil is a great way to get a better understanding of how it should look and feel! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBXFdJ3rJFc

Playing By Heart

Memorizing music is an important aspect of learning any musical instrument. While I personally don't require students to memorize every single piece they learn, I do feel that memorization skills are necessary for any aspiring musician.  Everyone who plays music should have some solos in their memory vault that they can pull out at a moment's notice - we don't want to go through our performance careers tethered to sheet music. Teaching students exactly how to memorize can be challenging, as each person learns in a unique way. Shadow practicing is one way to rehearse the music from memory without your instrument. Martha Beth Lewis provides some excellent tips on memorizing music as well. (Although written for pianists, the techniques can easily be applied to string players!)

Again, everyone learns differently, so it's important for individuals to figure out what methods work best for them.  Also, it's never too soon to begin memorizing music. It's easiest to practice these techniques on simpler pieces first rather than pulling them out when tackling your first concerto.