Play with us!

Category: On teaching

The neat thing about being a musician is the diversity that comes with being one.  One day you are playing with a symphony orchestra, the next – performing for a wedding in a string quartet, and for most of us – we teach private lessons several days a week. I think that last fact is what makes us happy when we see children involved in classical music. The young flute player in the photo below is a family member that was playing along with our string quartet during a wedding ceremony in Pittsburgh.  Quite often, when musicians hear that a family member will be playing with them – musicians cringe and expect a complete disaster sound wise, depending on how good of a musician that family member is.  In this case, however, the girl did an amazing job! She had requested the needed wedding music from us months in advance, and it was a flawless performance on her part! It also helped that our musicians were very supportive of her beforehand, instantly transporting themselves into “teaching mode”. We are always happy to see kids perform and will help them in any way we can!

The flute player

The times when teacher smiles…

Category: On teaching
It is rare, but it DOES happen

It is rare, but it DOES happen

Perfect age for violin lessons

Category: On teaching

Whenever a parent of a young child contact me for private violin or viola lessons, their fist question is “Is my child too young to start a violin?”.  It has been an overall opinion among music professionals that if anything, music programs in public schools introduce instruments too late, and are non – existent in private schools as a rule due to lack of financial funds and mostly, lack of understanding of benefits that playing instruments brings.  

The concept of playing instruments is very similar to learning languages:  the earlier – the better.  Children who are bilingual (or more) were introduced to more than one language very early in their lives, hence becoming fluent and proficient in more than one. Children who start playing instruments prior to attending school have gained significant skills on the instrument by the time they reach third or fourth grade – the average age when string and band programs are introduced in most schools.  

From my experience as a private teacher, when a child starts violin lessons at around age five, by the third grade his/her level of playing usually equals to a sixth-seventh grade student who started playing in a public school in third or fourth grade without taking private lessons. 

An additional benefit to starting music lesson prior to attending school – a child has an opportunity to establish such concepts as discipline, work ethics, dedication, patience, and homework assignments.  Children who study instruments before attending school have no issues with getting used to homework and deadlines, they are already used to doing so on their instrument.  Throughout my years as a private teacher I have seen how children react differently to attending school. The big difference between those who are studying an instrument verses children who at times are “shocked” by attending school, following rules, etc. 

My personal guidelines for a “starting” age on violin lessons? A  child must know the first seven letters of the alphabet, and have an established conceptual thinking on lines and spaces.  These are usually established by the age of four, five at the latest.   The rest is gained with practice and dedication from all three parties involved, teacher, student and parents. 

 

Learn to learn

Category: On teaching

 In my teaching of violin and viola private lessons, I keep returning to the theme of “how to practice” verses how long to practice.  It is a most commonly asked questions by parents of music students.  During private lessons, I spend a good amount of time on teaching young musicians how to approach studying a piece of music, how to learn it in a most efficient manner while still enjoying it, so practicing does not become an exercise in boredom and frustration; how to focus the energy not on the amount of time spent with an instrument, but on the quality of time spent while playing it. 

In particular, I stress a concept of analyzing a piece of music even prior to playing it for the first time.  Time that should be spend away from the instrument and devoted to studying that piece with a pencil in hand; identifying challenging music passages, notes and places in music that might be difficult to tackle based on the knowledge of your own music skills.  It is just as important to do the above process as it is actually playing the instrument.  By analyzing music prior to playing it a student will learn it in a much shorter time, since he/she has already identified and marked difficult places in music that would need more focus.  A piece of music is like a puzzle: some pieces fit easily together, the ones that are obvious, the others – are much harder to fit.  No piece of music is ALL hard – which makes it useless to practice the entire piece from start to finish at once. Identify/isolate problem spots and focus on those for a few days. Later, “piece” them together with the rest of the music and you will have a final product well learned. 

Whether it is a music piece, a math problem or any other challenge – mental analysis of the problem prior to execution of the solution is a key.  This approach will make learning easier, more efficient, hence faster and will provide a confidence booster when a student realizes that he/she is capable of surmounting any challenge. The inner knowledge “I can learn anything” will motivate a child’s desire to learn more on many different subjects, expanding his/her horizon and enjoying life in the process of learning. 

I have had many parents commenting that their children have taken analytical approach from music lessons and applied to school studies.  It worked wonders to many of them, students as young as six and seven year old.  Bottom line – children need to be taught  how  to learn, learning is not a natural skill but has to be obtain via others.

Below are photos of music that show how some of my students go about studying their pieces by marking challenging notes, measures, etc… That time DOES count as practicing, in case if you were wondering…

More for the brain

Category: On teaching

At times it is fun even for older music students to put aside their instruments and, in this case, brainstorm over a seemingly easy nine piece music-themed puzzle.  These two viola players tried as a team for three weeks to solve it…

 

Music and Education

Category: On teaching

I found the PDF file below not long ago… It has some interesting facts on connection between music and education. I am not sure how many of these studies are true, but I do agree with some of them. Double click on the link below to open the PDF file.

Music and Education facts

Violin fingering chart and practising chart

Category: On teaching

Summer Music Camp

Category: On teaching
For over fifteen years now, I have been a part of Musik Innovations Summer Chamber Music Camp as a string coach. Students from the schools around the area get together in small ensembles according to their level, and form string quartets, quintets, sextets and even octets. After a week of being coached by instructors from our school of music (in between music games, water balloon fights and a pizza party), kids give a concert on a Saturday afternoon, performing pieces that they had only one week to work on. The number of participating kids is not as large as it used to be, but the spirit of music is still in those who attend and we love them for that! Here are some photos from this year’s camp.

In words of others

Category: On teaching
Even after teaching for such a long time, I still try to think of ways on how to improve my teaching techniques, my approach to students of different levels and to their future potentials. I know what I wish for students during my lessons, I have a clear game plan for each one of them in my head, but I have never been able to sum it up in a few words… until now. Here is someone else’s sentence on it, but it surely fits how I feel and what I try to aim for as a teacher.
…” The students and I share a common goal, which is the development of their potential to the fullest extent. I am for a cordial but intense and purposeful teaching atmosphere…”
Arik Braude, Strad Magazine, February 2010

Eureka!

Category: On teaching
I have been a private violin and viola instructor since 1996.  Every time I get a beginner student I have a discussion with a parent, explaining that violin or viola are probably some of the hardest instruments to learn. It will take time, work, and patience from both, student and parents.  I emphasize that point especially to those whose children already play another instrument, especially piano. Piano is much easier to conquer in the early stages than violin or viola, and I don’t want parents to assume that it is the same with string instruments.  Even though I am very confident in my viewpoint on that, once in a while I would feel that some parents did not trust me on that, assuming that I purposely make learning violin or viola look harder than it actually is.  In the long run they see for themselves that it does take more effort than some other instruments, especially piano.  Don’t get me wrong – I am  not prejudiced against piano ( I spent ten years in my childhood with my hands on eighty eight black and white keys in addition to violin), I am simply stating that violin, viola (and cello) are more challenging.
After all these years I finally found something for those who might have mistrusted me at first.  This comes from the March issue of the Strad Magazine, very popular in the world of musicians, professionals and amateurs alike.  This is an excerpt from an article by Norman Lebrecht, cultural commentator.  I think he said it the best, which is why I put it here. I hope this will make it easier to understand what we deal with as string players, and to all of you, especially my students : realize how hard it is what you do on the instrument, I am proud of you for choosing such a challenging instrument,  and have patience with it – rewards are on the way!


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