Author Archives: Entertainer

How can I help my child succeed?

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I think the heart of this question can be answered by one of Dr. Suzuki’s founding principles. Learning is not about talent, destiny, or even intelligence. It is about environment. There are many things you can do that fall within this realm, but the bottom line is, if you want them do their best, surround them with the right influences. Understand that your child may opt for music to be a hobby in their life, that is OK. What is important is that they have the skills to make it a career, if that is the path they choose.

I am not a parent myself, so the suggestions listed below are from my perspective as a student and teacher.

  • Practice with them. For the beginner, you are essential. I realize this is a tall order for a family with multiple children, but where there is a will, there is a way.
  • Insist they practice everyday! Make it part of the daily routine. This may not make you popular at times, but every musician I know states they had a parent that forced the issue for at least some period while they were growing up. Designate a specific time each day for practice, and stick to it.
  • Eliminate distractions during practice time. Practice time is valuable, and should be treated like a treasure. I am a fan of modern technology. It provides such easy access to resources like audio/video recordings, practice helps from worthy players, etc., that were not available even for me not that long ago. But, if not used with proper discipline, phones especially create more problems than they solve. Studies show that when someone is focused on a task and get interrupted by a phone call or text, it takes on average 20 minutes to get back the same level of focus following the distraction. In our fast-paced era, that is a lot of time. Put the cell phone on silent, or better yet, leave it in another room during practice time. If you object to me taking calls or texting during your child’s lesson, you should feel the same about it happening during their practice.
  • Take them to concerts! They may not always like it, but they need to be exposed to it. Let them witness in person what others are doing on their instrument, both professionals and amateurs. They will hear more music that inspires them than not.
  • Build your classical audio library. Listening to their specific study material is vital, but the pillars of music in the repertoire need to be heard as well. For me, the Mendelssohn violin concerto gave me something to aspire to, and that was good motivation to practice.
  • Set the example. If it is important to you, they will respect it, and it is likely to rub off, at least to a degree.

Do you teach note-reading?

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Yes! Contrary to common belief, the Suzuki method has a comparable note-reading element. In the early days of the Suzuki method in America, many teachers, all of whom where new to the method, often missed this skill development. Truthfully, there was a time that many American Suzuki students did not note-read well. But, for several decades the Suzuki Association of the Americas has been making great effort to correct this folly. Sadly, the archaic narrative that Suzuki students do not read music continues to be propagated by those unwilling to properly investigate the method’s merits. In truth, most Suzuki students coming out of today’s studios read music just as well as students using other standard methods.

Like literacy in language, note-reading is not introduced to the Suzuki student until they achieve a suitable command over several other facets of playing,  i.e. posture, tone, intonation, etc. The latter two are directly connected to ear-training, a crucial discipline for a string player. Experience has taught me that if adequate ear-training is not completed preceding note-reading, it does not reach its pinnacle. It is essential to develop these two skills in a sequential order. On the other hand, wait too long and the lack of note reading will inhibit a student’s rate of progress.

Ear-training happens at a different rate for each student, so there is no specific time that I move on to note-reading. By the time a student gets to book 3 they should have a basic competency in note-reading. Between the Twinkles and that point, it happens when the student is ready.

What about audition recording?

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Now days, audio or video recordings are practically an expectation for competitions and auditions. In many cases a recording is all that is needed, in other instances, it is merly a screening process to so if your student is worth personal audition time. In standard cases, the video capabilities of a digital camera, smartphone, or tablet are up to the task. On the other hand, the audio mic on these devices is typically inadequate. Fortunately, good auxiliary mics for these devices are readily available for reasonable prices.

West Violin Studio has invested in some good quality audio recording equipment. It is available to members of the studio. Non-students may schedule the engineer and equipment for a modest fee. And, the equipment is portable. Contact Nathan at WVS for more information.

Instrument maintenance?

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There are a handful of common routine maintenance practices for string players. Most of these can be handled at home or in the studio.

  • String replacement – Strings do not last indefinitely. They wear out, usually before they break. Most strings should be replaced at about a year’s time. Do not replace them with the cheapest brand (Red Label). They are cheap for a reason. Such strings will prevent your child from sounding their best, which is frustrating for us all.
  • The bridge – As we repeatedly tune, the bridge often begins to tilt and on occasion needs to be corrected. It is also common for it to be knocked out of alignment to the side, especially with younger players. Your teacher should keep an eye out for these and make adjustments when needed.
  • Pegs – Sometimes they slip, sometimes they stick. There are professional products and home-remedies to fix both of these. There are instances when the cause is poor fitting pegs, which needs to be fixed by a professional.
  • Bow rehair – This is the only one that requires a trip to the shop verbatim. Like strings, the hairs of the bow wear out from use, and need to be replaced. For the average student, this is also around a year’s time. I recommend alternating strings and bow rehair, so that every six months there is something new between them.

Any other issues that arise are likely beyond the scope of a home fix and should be taken in to a trusted shop for repair.

For recommendations on strings, rosin, cleaning agents, etc., view the resources page.

What about scales/technique?

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I sympathize with Dr. Suzuki’s perspective that music can be learned using actual music and not just dry etudes and exercises…to an extent. Scales and technique absolutely have their place and must be learned proficiently. But many technique practices really take some maturity to understand and appreciate. Therefore, although I am known to teach a student their first fingered notes in an ascending sequence, I do not believe hard study or practice of scales is necessary at the beginning. But, my students do start scales at a time that is right for their progress. My introduction of scales starts simple, but over time morphs into a traditional scale system.

For other techniques, the newly revised Suzuki books have a lot of great basics to get started, often developed for addressing specific known trouble spots in the repertoire. I use those, but I also use many of the traditional sources for reinforcing standard techniques, i.e. shifting, finger dexterity, bow control, etc.

And do not forget one of the student’s best practice partners, the metronome. When properly introduced, students come to accept it as a friend, not despise it as a foe.

Are you familiar with _____ method?

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Most likely yes. While I may not know their repertoire to the degree that I know the Suzuki books, I am familiar with most of the standard methods and what they have to offer. They all have merits, but in my opinion the Suzuki method is the most comprehensive, and better organized for development and reinforcement of musical ability. And, I feel the repertoire provides a superior foundation to the others. I do not use it simply because it is my background, it is a conscious, educated decision.

Practice?

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There are many implications to this general reference. Typically, when I am asked about practice, it is in regards to how often and how long.

How often I can answer definitively. Consistency is one of the most important factors of learning an instrument. Unlike school work, you cannot make up for missed practice by compounding it on other days. A little each day is far more effective than a lot every 2-3 days. It is also important for an occasional day of rest/recovery for the mind and body. That being said, my expectation is that students practice 6 days per week.

How much time per practice is a bit harder to answer. This is determined by the learning personality of the student, which is a very individual parameter. I have found there are generally two main types of learners;

  • Goal setters determine what they are going to accomplish during their practice, and put in the time to get the goals done. Their practice time tends to very slightly from day to day. With experience, they learn what goals they can set to fit within their practice capacity, (mental, physical, and literal time).
  • Organizers like their practice specific and outlined, either by time allotment or repetitions. Organizers tend to practice for exact time every day.

Both methods are effective. The important thing is to find what works best for the success of student.

Rent or buy?

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The answer to this question is determined by two factors; instrument size, and player aptitude. Children grow, and subsequently do not play on smaller instruments for long enough to warrant the cost of a hand-made model. So, through the growing years, you will be dealing with “factory” made instruments, and for this level they are adequate.

Experience as a student and teacher has proved that if you buy an instrument smaller than a full size, you will likely not be able to re-sell it. Therefore, I recommend renting until at least the 3/4 size.

At that point, if your child is serious about his/her music study, buying could be considered. Most shops offer a trade-in policy that can be beneficial for acquiring a quality 3/4. Typically, if you buy an instrument from them, they will credit full purchase price of that instrument towards an upgrade. The nice thing is, you will get full return for your money, and not be stuck with something your child has out-grown, a strong consideration for this size. But caution, you are committed to dealing with that one vendor, which is like limiting yourself to only one car dealer – you could be taken advantage of, or have to settle for an upgrade that does not meet expectation. Due diligence will be needed for the best experience.

For a full size instrument, purchase is going to be most cost effective. There is an endless financial range at this point, hence, your child’s intent becomes a factor. Quality instruments are not cheap, it may be worthwhile to look ahead and do some financial planning.

For a list of vendors to contact, see Instruments on the resources page.