In the beginning stages of playing the violin or viola, there are many things to consider: the posture, bow hold, and bowing motion for starters. But for beginners, simply placing the fingers in the correct shape on the fingerboard and using an appropriate amount of force vs. relaxation of the finger can be a challenge. Even more advanced students must work on improving finger action, for example, in using the fingers to articulate a series of notes under a slur. I like to use the following exercises to teach finger action.
The Ants Go Marching
In the pre-twinkle stage, I will draw the finger numbers on the tip of each left hand finger and we will sing “The Ants Go Marching” while doing “finger pops”. In finger pops, the finger and thumb make a circle, with the finger on its tip. This both helps to strengthen the arch shape of the fingers, and also reinforces the finger numbers, since we pop the first finger when singing “the ants go marching 1 by 1”, pop the second finger when singing “the ants go marching 2 by 2”, etc.Read More »
My Favorite Scale Books
Last week, I talked about the importance of scale practice for young string students. This week, I thought I would go more into detail about how I introduce scales and some of the materials I use.Read More »
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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One of the wonderful things about teaching from the same repertoire year after year is you tend to develop “favorites”. One of my favorite pieces in Book 1 is Song of the Wind. It’s fun, energetic, and often a student favorite, and it’s fun to vary the tempo in group class so it becomes Song of the Gentle Breeze, or Song of the Tornado. Song of the Wind seems like a short, simple song, but there is so much to explore in just a few lines. One of the trickiest spots for beginning students occurs right at the beginning, in measures 3-4. There are several skills going on in that spot. There is a quick string crossing for both the left hand finger and the bow (more on that in a moment) and we have our first instance of a bow retake, also known as a a circle bow or circle set. But for any of this to work, the student also has to leave their first finger down, while moving the 3rd finger over to a different string.
I’ve created lyrics for this measure, which go like this (from the beginning of the song through measure 6):Read More »
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 »
There are a lot of method books that help students with beginning shifting. When I was just starting out as a teacher, it was overwhelming the amount of shifting materials I could find. But although many books contained helpful exercises in practicing shifting, there was nothing that actually explained how to shift. When I was in graduate school, I had already been shifting for about a decade and had gotten some great teaching in how to shift. “Lighten up”, “keep it smooth”, “no jerky motions”, “use a link note”. I thought I was a pretty good shifter, but as usual, my brilliant teacher, George Taylor was able to boil a technical issue down to its essence and reveal how I could be doing better. He’s the one who taught me the Shifting Formula.Read More »
Shifting is the great divide for my viola studio. On the one hand, I have always had a handful of students who are excited to start shifting, perhaps after they have seen an older student deftly moving all over the fingerboard. Other students approach shifting with reticence and sometimes outright dread, particularly my transfer students who may have gotten a rushed introduction to shifting in a piece from school. To get my shifting-averse students on board with the process, I’ve come up with a lot of games and special review pieces to make shifting less scary.Read More »
One of the most common technical hangups with string players is excess tension in the left hand. In the beginning, many students don’t yet have the finger strength to be tense, but as soon as they do, it can seem like they are holding the violin or viola like a vice! This can be a difficult habit to break because the student can’t see the tension and often isn’t aware they are squeezing.
Over the years, I have found these simple games and activities to help relieve left hand tension and promote good position. I have divided them into two categories: games that support holding the violin/viola without the left hand helping, and games that help with left hand to relax. Read More »