I have a confession to make: I love scales! There is nothing I like better than starting the day off right with a cup of coffee and some slow, mindful scale practice. I know that both students and professionals have differing opinions on scales, but love them or hate them, scales are an essential part of string technique. Here’s why I think they are so important.
7 Reasons All String Students Should Practice Scales
They Improve the Left Hand Frame
Scales are “multiple vitamins” for the left hand. Practicing scales strengthens the left hand frame, and reinforces the exact placement of half and whole steps used throughout western classical music.
They’re “Easy Wins”
When trying to form a new habit or improve in a certain area, productivity experts emphasize the importance of “easy wins”. Success breeds success and scales are short and sweet enough to give students an immediate sense of accomplishment, which gets the ball rolling on greater challenges.
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I work on bow hold a LOT in lessons because it is foundational to producing a beautiful tone. But even when my students have learned a correct, relaxed bow hand posture, that ease doesn’t always translate into the bow arm. To get the maximum tone, the bow elbow should generally rest slightly below the wrist. If the elbow starts to go above the wrist, the student is not able to transfer the weight of their arm efficiently into the bow, and both tone and bow control suffer.
Some students may have heard that they need to “push” or “apply pressure” to the string to make a sound so they suspend their arm weight from lifting the elbow or shoulder, producing either a weak, unfocused tone, or they press downward to make a scratchy, unpleasant tone. It often takes a lot of repetition over many weeks and months to help a student learn to release their arm weight into the bow, but when they do, the professional-sounding tone is worth the wait. Here are some fun ways I help my students use their arm weight in producing a good tone:
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Even for a very well-prepared student, Minuet No. 2 in Book 1 can present some new hurdles. In this post, I will give some of my tricks for teaching this piece.
When first previewing Minuet 2, I start with two spots which are tricky for most students: measures 15-16 and 33-34. I call these “Pineapple #1” and “Pineapple #2”, which I will explain in a moment. There are several new skills presented in these measure. From a rhythm standpoint, this is the first time the student has played a triplet rhythm. It’s also the first time they have slurred three notes under one bow. The hooked up bows are not technically new, though there is a new string crossing aspect in this excerpt. So, what’s with the pineapples?Read More »
In any given year, I will have a few students in my studio who struggle to play with a big, rich, projecting tone. Sometimes this is due to shyness or insecurity, or perhaps the student lacks the technical skills to play with a big tone. Often it is a combination of both. If left unchecked, a weak tone come recital time can lead to confidence issues and difficulty being heard above the piano part. When the standard advice of “use more bow” and “stay in the highway” isn’t enough for some students, I pull out one of these tricks.
1. Use a visual. Every time I visit Home Depot or Lowes, I pick up a few of those paint chip sampler sheets in various colors (the ones with the different shades). I explain to my student that the lightest color is playing very soft and the darkest color is a strong, beautiful tone. When my student plays their piece, I will show them which color they played. I (or their parent) will also point to the different colors as they play or, even better, ask them to point to which color they think they played. This exercise helps them to become more sensitive to the levels of sound they can get out of their viola.
2. Focus on posture. Bad posture is the biggest tone-killer there is. In addition to checking that the viola is securely on the shoulder and being supported in a balanced way, Read More »