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Parents Guide to

the Violin
A Practical Guide to Violin Lessons presented by InvincibleViolinist.com

The InvincibleViolinist.com Parents Guide to the Violin and Lessons

by Bill Alpert

Dedicated to my parents who shared a deep and abiding love for music and inspired the same in me.

You are free to share this book with anyone, but please do not alter or extract it in any way without written permission. For information visit: http://InvincibleViolinist.com or e-mail: bill@thealpertstudio.com

The Real Key to Mastering the Violin (or any other life project) When your family begins a violin journey, the excitement and interest level will always be high. Just like a marriage, this initial excitement wont necessarily sustain a long term healthy relationship. As Tiger Mom has notoriously pointed out, children left to their own devices wont want to work. Theres much truth to that statement. If youre picturing violin as a fun or recreational activity, think again. The real fun of violin (or any musical instrument) comes with continued growth and mastery. It can bring joy and fulfillment to your life, and enhance it beyond description.

What Every Parent Faces

Expect challenges from the very start. As a violin parent, your role is that of ceaseless benevolent dictator. Your mission is to guide your childs practice to an always positive outcome. To help her learn that she can conquer the challenges, to keep him always inspired and motivated. And to simply show up and work, day after day. Your kids dont need a lame pep talk to get them to practice. They dont need false praise when they produce mediocre work. Instead, they need a practice strategy that automatically produces the motivation to continue and grow. They need an appropriate level of challenge, and the tools to meet the challenge.

Mind Games The most important tool for a child (and for any Invincible Violinist) is a healthy internal dialog. That of course, extends far beyond the practice room. When posed with an inevitable problem, seven year old John, might think (or even verbalize) this is beyond me. As a result, his practice routine will consistent of an unbearably dull sequence of lets try it agains until boredom shuts him down completely. He has metaphorically left the room and shut off the lights. Completion of this project was filed in the someday or never category. Lets wind the clock back a few years. Erase any undesirable pampering, spoiling and indulgence. Replace it with a healthy sense of independence and self efficacy.

Now Johns internal dialog is more like: my family and teacher gave me this age appropriate task, and so they expect me to complete it. And before long, the impossibly difficult becomes the everyday. John doesnt yet have the ability to practice independently, but his I can belief system stimulates a vastly higher quality of work along with a generous dose of motivation and inspiration. The process becomes fully enjoyable for everyone involved. So many kids left at music lessons are like ship passengers stranded on a life raft. Without propulsion, they will float aimlessly at sea. But the minority of kids fortunate enough to have good teaching, appropriate family support and a self-empowered mindset will excel. Those are the kids we call talented but rarely, if ever, is native talent the real driver of their success.

Your Part of the Deal You are the unsung hero of your childs success. You keep her on-course and inspired. You provide the proper resources and environment. You show up for practice too. You train her to be independent and resourceful. Music is a part of that. Practice Tool Kit The Invincible Violinist program is rooted in three very basic, but frequently overlooked principles: 1. Clearly defined objectives for practice 2. A systematic success-based practice strategy 3. Visualization/Imaging and Repetition This tool kit will provide a sound foundation and springboard for your childs success. Best Wishes Upon Your Violin Journey! --Bill Alpert http://invincibleviolinist.com

Chapter 1
Common Myths

6 Common Myths about Learning the Violin

Is what youve heard true? Your questions answered by a professional violinist and violin teacher.

Myth #1: Violin is a difficult instrument

False. If taught (and learned) correctly, the violin can be played with ease. Watch a great violinist, and youll be amazed by the effortless movements he/she makes while playing. On the other hand, watch a poorly taught student and youll see clumsy movements, grimaces and tension throughout the body.

Myth #2: The violin is best learned at a very young age

False. Mostly false. Ive seen a few students make a good start at the age of 3 1/2 or 4, but theyre in the minority. Learning the violin is a highly structured activity that requires a certain amount of focus and physical stamina. More often than not, youll be fine at 5 years and up, provided there is good instruction and family support. Keep in mind that kids under 11 need to practice with a parent, not independently. Plan your schedule accordingly.

Whether you want to play fiddle, classical, jazz or rock, the violin can do it! Great violinists cover every known musical genre.

Myth #3: Buying a violin is expensive

False. A well built, pleasing and playable instrument can be purchased for a reasonable price, in the range of $400-500. Still, to the untrained eye, most violins look about equal, so its easy to be duped into buying junk if you dont know how and where to shop.

Buying a violin online can be a risky business. An instrument that looks great can be unplayable when it arrives. Look for a referral.

Myth #4: My son/daughter can use grandpas old violin

Maybe. Or maybe not. A violin must be properly sized to its owner. Custom fitted accessories need to be added. Its easy to get fouled up with this. Even if everything fits and is well built, most instruments from the attic will need to be adjusted by a violin shop so they can be properly played and tuned.

Reputable dealers allow you to test drive an instrument and bow for a week or two. Take advantage of this to get your violin checked out locally.

Myth #5: Ill know if violin is a good fit for my child if we just try it for a month. False. This is pretty much the equivalent of saying Lets put Johnny in first grade and see if he likes it. Almost certainly the fun will be over after the first few lessons. Kids dont see the value or the responsibility ahead. Your child can and will succeed with violin. Its your job as a parent to make it so. Your duty to provide the inspiration, tools and attitude of success. Its serious business. Drop any fantasy of thinking you can leave the kids at violin while you run errands or read a book.

Violin practice for kids should be treated just like school work: doing your homework is not optional!

Myth #6: I dont really need lessons; I just want to learn to play a few songs or to fiddle. False. Youll need expert help with fitting the instrument and accessories, holding the violin and bow properly and producing a decent tone. Dont expect the clerk at your local music store to help you with this while hes busy selling trumpet mutes and sheet music. Nor is it reasonable to expect youll be able to learn the basics by watching YouTube videos. Ive heard of a few selftaught violinists, but personally have never met one, in a lifetime of playing and teaching.

A Violin Journey requires a patient guide to help the student navigate the many hazards along the path. This speeds the trip and makes each milestone a pleasure!

Chapter 2
Where to Buy a Violin and How to Find a Good One

Finding the Right Violin

My son just got a new violin for his birthday and now we want to get lessons! Ouch! Ive heard a version of that story from enthusiastic parents hundreds of times over many years. More often then not Im faced with having to break the bad news. That violin just simply isnt going to work. Sometimes its the wrong size. Yes, violins come in a multitude of sizes. An inch or two can be a huge issue for a young violinist.

Wait, dont buy: That violin simply may not work!

Often factory made violins are of poor quality; many are virtually unplayable. But for many parents the biggest surprise of all is this: A four or five year old wont need a violin at all for her first lesson. And likely wont for weeks, possibly even months. Some of the best violin teachers spend weeks building up to that special moment, when your child receives his first real instrument. Up until then, hes been gaining skills, and and increasing strength. A home made cardboard violin and inexpensive wooden bow are frequently used for this purpose.

Some of the best violin teachers spend weeks building up to that special moment

OK, Ill conceed that its possible to begin on a real instrument from day one. But depending on age and a variety of variables that can be a huge mistake that ultimately ends your familys violin journey before it even begins. Q: A: So, where should you buy a violin, and how can you find a good one? Dont! And you probably wont!

My best advice: Dont buy a violin without qualified help. And I dont mean the teenage clerk at the music store in the mall who also sells trumpets and clarinets.

Same holds true for violins bought mail order or over the internet. Buyer beware! If nothing else, make sure you are purchasing from an established reputable violin merchant who offers a trial or return privledge. One of the best reasons for working with a great violin teacher is that youll have a guide who can help you find the perfect instrument at the perfect time. Thats worth a lot. And more often than not, that can mean the difference between failure and success.

The right instrument can make the difference between failure and success

Chapter 3
Top Ten Questions Parents Ask About Violin and Lessons

1. Is my child old enough to start violin? Somewhere between four and eight years is the best time to begin a violin journey. Thats a wide range, and your child will fit in based upon a number of factors such as the childs maturity, motor control, available family time and most of all: your level of patience. Beyond these factors Invincible Violinist parents can use a simple test in the appendix of this book to determine musical readiness. 2. Suzuki or Traditional? This question can be the source of much confusion, but heres what you really need to know. Suzuki instruc-

Wait, dont buy: That violin simply may not work!

tion is very traditional in approach. So dont worry that your student will be missing out on any aspect of violin technique. Plus, Suzuki comes with many other benefits, not the least of which the ability to get up on your feet and build stage confidence at an early age. On the other hand, this choice in itself wont make or break your results. Instead focus on finding a great teacher that you are comfortable working with, and doing the best possible work with that person. Suzuki teachers are often very experienced in starting young violinists from scratch. Its a key factor to look for in your search for a teacher. 3. Should I consider piano lessons instead?

Some of the best violin teachers spend weeks building up to that special moment

Absolutely. Especially if your child is very young, or physically small in build. For most children piano might is a bit easier at the very beginning. But before long, the rigors of the keyboard can meet or exceed those of the violin. Whether you choose piano or violin, finding a great teacher and doing great work with that teacher are really more important to success than the choice of instrument. 4. How much does a good violin cost? The $100 violin and bow outfit you find on the internet will likely be unplayable. These instruments can be a major source of frustration to students and teachers alike. Expect to pay several times that amount. Alternatively

you can rent a good quality instrument from a local violin shop. 5. How much do lessons cost? Should I consider group lessons? Private studio lessons can be a great value; they offer you an individualized course of instruction that will speed up progress and enjoyment on the instrument. You can expect to pay $100 a month and up for weekly lessons, largely depending on the skills and level of instruction you are seeking. Group lessons can offer a lower price, however youll often receive a lower quality of instruction and certainly

Private lessons may be a more cost effective way of gaining skills on the violin.

much less individual attention. Unfortunately, group classes are often led by teachers with very limited experience on the violin. This can lead to bad playing habits which are almost impossible to surmount. There are a very few excellent group or school programs, generally led by credentialed experienced string teachers of an exceptional level. If youre lucky enough to find such a program in your community, certainly take advantage of it! Please note some excellent group programs are intended only as a supplement to private lessons. Theres no substitute for private instruction in a great studio, if you are serious about your violin journey.

Some excellent group programs are intended only as a supplement to private lessons, not a substitute.

6. I found a violin. What is its value? That violin you found at a garage sale or in your attic may have some monetary value, but the chances are very slim. 99.9% of such finds are cheap factory made instruments in an unplayable condition. Often the cost to fix them up exceeds their resale value. If you know that you own a quality student or professional level instrument, the best way to determine its value is to have it appraised. Theres generally a cost associated with such an appraisal, though a local violin shop may offer you a general indication of value as a courtesy. 7. Will my old violin be OK for my son/daughter? This depends on three main factors: the quality of the instrument, its current actual condition and its size. All

The right instrument can make the difference between failure and success

three of these factors must be considered. A poorly built instrument that looks brand new may be completely unplayable. Any violin of the wrong size can end a violin journey before it even begins.

Invincible Violinists know that the challenges of the journey require a correctly sized violin in a fully playable condition. This is one of the most important things your teacher will help you with.

A poorly built instrument that looks brand new may be completely unplayable.

8. How can I find a good violin teacher? If youre truly serious about your familys violin journey,

there will be a perfect teacher for your family. A successful search should begin with respect for the teachers devotion to the art of teaching. Show that you value your prospective teachers time and accomplishments in your conversation. Do your homework (you are doing it now!) and ask intelligent questions. A great teacher will want to know that youre going to fully support the student and follow the prescribed course of study closely. Yes, that teacher has the right and responsibility to audition your family just as you are evaluating his/her fitness for your needs. You must earn the respect of your prospective teacher to secure a spot in the busy studio of a top teacher.

Your prospective violin teacher is auditioning you!

Certainly dont open the conversation with that all too common (and irritating) opening: how much do you charge? Begin your search by seeking a teacher that has a dedicated studio in place, and spends much of his/her time with students that are similar to your family. Invincible Violinist is creating a growing list of such teachers, and you are welcome to [contact us] for a possible referral in your area. We also welcome inquiries from teachers as well. 9. Do I need to replace the strings on my violin? Yes, strings require replacement. and likely theyll need to be replaced before they break. Old strings lack tonal

Never open the conversation with a prospective teacher by asking this question. Never!

quality. Worse than that, they can make your pitch inaccurate. When you change strings, consider a bit of experimentation. The best sounding strings for your instrument might only be discovered by trying different brands. Also, keep in mind that you can mix strings of different brands as needed. Change them when needed, not necessarily all at once. Its important to learn how to properly install and maintain strings. This can prolong their playing life to a great extent. 10. Do I ever need to replace the hair of my violin bow?

Bow hair is definitely a maintenance item. Its life can range from a few months to a couple of years depending on how much use it gets. Try to keep your fingers from contacting the hair of the bow; oils from your skin can stain it and reduce its life. Use a quality bow rosin to maintain the tone quality your bow produces, but dont overuse it. If your violin and case looks like its been hit by a snowstorm, youre likely rosining too much or too frequently. Some cheap kit bows may need hair prematurely. Youll likely be told that the cost of re-hairing exceeds the actual value of the bow. In this case it would make sense to invest a decent quality bow.

Kit bows are cheap add-ins typically bundled with low priced violins

A good bow is just as important to your playing success as the violin itself. There are many issues related to bow and hair maintenance. Let your teacher be your guide in this regard.

A quality bow is equally important as the quality of the violin itself.

Chapter 4
Taking the STRESS Out of Music Practice

Music Practice Minus the Complaints, Arguments and Stress How is it possible to create a stress free, 100% complaint free practice environment for your children? Short answer: it isnt! At least not for the majority of students. That said, its possible to create a healthy relationship between your child and her music practice activities. For time eternal, kids have complained about everything from brushing their teeth to picking up their room. Still, its simple to minimize the complaining while at the same time maximizing the results by setting up the prac-

tice correctly. Being an effective practice guide is one of the most important jobs of both the teacher and parent of an Invincible Violinist. Its a bit of a team effort. Just to be clear, this article is about structured music lessons, with a dedicated teacher and family. This is a long term project that requires sustained effort. Its not something you can tuck between soccer practice, dance class and homework, when you can get around to it. How to Screw Up Lessons Before You Even Get Started Tell your kids (or even just think to yourself) something like Lets give violin a try, and see how Suzy likes it. Its

The innocent comment that can screw up your kids music lessons before they even start!

an approach that will more times than not end in failure. Instead, approach music instruction just like you would an academic subject like English, math or Social Studies. Or even showing up for soccer practice. Your kids shouldnt have an option to opt-out. Period. Once Lessons Have Started You can find a million creative ideas to motivate kids to practice. Everything from gold stickers, practice charts and a profuse amount of encouragement. But the real truth is this: the best practice motivation comes from within. Kids get excited about their practice when they feel theyre making progress and growing their skills.

Nagging is not an effective motivator for getting kids to practice their music. In fact, its a symptom of a larger problem in your practice strategy.

Make sure your kids have a positive practice experience and success will build upon itself effortlessly. With that in mind, heres the short list for problem free practice: 1. Have specific goals for each musical selection 2. Include criteria for completion. Example: Youre done with this song when you can 3. Work efficiently and develop effective practice tactics over time Invincible Violinists use a practice sheet specifically designed to enhance these steps. They take careful notes (parents can help with this) so that important details are

Make sure your kids have a positive practice experience and success will build upon itself effortlessly.

clear and memorable even days later. Simply learn how to practice and everything else becomes easy. Learn to practice well. Make it a second nature to break down tough problems a dozen different ways into easily digestible bite size pieces. Its a skill that carries into every aspect of life.

Great practice skills carry over into many unexpected areas of life. Its only one of the many benefits of music study.

Chapter 5
What you MUST know about Violin Lessons

Three Things Every Violin Parent Must Know aka: The Three Commandments of Violin! To me, violin is a form of religion. As you know, every religion has its commandments! In the course of a lesson Ill often encounter those everyday offenses, a note out of tune or a rhythm mis-played. But then again, there are the mortal sins, those that cannot be recovered from! If you indulge in these sins for too long, youll crash and burn, usually sooner rather than later. Grip the bow like a club, and you can possibly get through Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or Lightly Row. But to

Violin Religion

play past Volume 1 of the Suzuki Violin School, requires a good amount of finesse in your right hand. By the same token, a tight and awkwardly placed left hand is equally limiting. Its a a problem more common that you might imagine in new violinists. Before long it becomes painful for both the player as well as the listener! Im often called upon to fix these problems, seen frequently in self-taught beginners and even a few players who have had group or private lessons. Its almost impossible to make progress, once the poor playing habit is established. Because these are mortal sins, recovery is rare.

Recovery from mortal sins is rare in the world of violin!

Its not a matter of musical style. There are only a certain range of physical postures and actions that will allow you to get past the basics. Heres the truth: Turn off the sound, freeze frame, and Mozarts Concerto #5 looks exactly the same as The Devil Went Down to Georgia. Theres good technique, and then theres all the rest. But wait, you say! Dont different people have different physiques and unique ways of approaching the violin? Of course this is true; still, there is a given range of physical actions that will produce the result of a good tone, accurate pitch and avoidance of injury to the player.

Turn off the sound, freeze frame, and Mozarts Concerto #5 looks exactly the same as The Devil Went Down to Georgia

The Holy Trinity of Violin is cannot be violated: You must play without tension. Only the minimum amount of force can be used You must hold the bow and instrument (posture) in a way that compliments your everyday movements. In other words: playing is natural. You must produce a great tone quality. In practice that means you must be able to hear and adjust based on the results you are getting at any given moment. The Church of the Violin doesnt leave much room for individual interpretation. The gospel has been set forth by many who came before. Today we play much the same as

There is a gospel of technique and little room for interpretation.

they did in Beethovens time. This is why violin can be a challenge for some: Youve got to learn hold the instrument lightly, and move with natural actions. Youve got to play Lightly Row with the same technique that supports Mozart, Bach and Beethoven. Its simple, and the Invincible Violinist program breaks it down into great detail. Its about starting with the end in mind. Thats how to learn the violin, and for that matter to teach it. Invincible Violinists have all the tools in place to make the dream of playing the violin a reality.

Great teachers can find and nurture the seeds of an accomplished, expert musician in your child from the very beginning.

Chapter 6
Appendix: Is Your Child Ready for Violin Lessons?

The Invincible Violinist Musical Readiness Test Is your child ready for violin? A simple, 4 step evaluation. This test is not intended to be conclusive, but only to be used as a general guide. Many young students who havent yet developed the physical stamina needed for violin will do fine with piano lessons. Some students who are still developing their rhythm and pitch skills will be better suited for preparatory programs that include singing, clapping and motor skill development. Check InvincibleViolinist.com for a Twinkle Practice Angel preparatory resource list.

Not all children are ready for structured violin lessons.

Its a huge (and all too common) mistake to place your child in a structured music lesson program before he/she is ready. When the time is right, both progress and enjoyment are greater for student and family alike. The Test 1. Physical Robustness Have your child extend her arms and hands fully in front of her body. Can she support a loaf of bread placed in her hands for any length of time? Place a full margarine box on her left collar bone. Can she support and maintain it in this position only with her chin and/or jaw bone? Try for 30-60 seconds.

Dont do this! Embark upon lessons too soon and you can end your childs inborn love for music for a lifetime.

2. Ability to Focus The focus game is one of the favorites in the Invincible Violin studio. Ask your child to focus on a colorful fixed object while you buzz a make-believe funny bee around his head. He wins the game if you are unable to distract him from is visual focus for 30 seconds. A more general test: Is your child able to focus her attention on a particular task for at least 5 minutes without being distracted by internal or external stimuli? Thats a skill shell need to benefit from structured violin lessons. 3. Tempo and Rhythm Awareness Can your child repeat rhythms? For example if you vigorously clap the rhythm of Happy Birthday to You can he

Without some ability to focus, violin lessons can become an expensive form of babysitting.

repeat it accurately and with similar vigor? Can your child separate the concepts of tempo and rhythm? She should be able to march in time while singing and clapping London Bridge is Falling Down. If correct, the clapping will be twice as fast as the marching steps. 4. Pitch Awareness Can your child accurately duplicate the pitches of a simple song? Ask you child to sing along with a familiar song such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star If you have a keyboard, use middle C as the starting note. cont.

Common sense dictates that you must be able to clap a simple rhythm before you could play the same rhythm with a bow

When singing a new song, does you child easily follow the contour of the melody, even if the pitches arent 100% accurate?

5. Taking Direction Will Your Child Consistently Take Direction from a Teacher? To be ready for structured music lessons, your child must be willing to follow directions and exhibit appropriate behavior while in the presence of an adult from outside his family. This is especially critical for students of age six and below.

Great teachers can find and nurture the seeds of an accomplished, expert musician in your child from the very beginning.

Ideally, your child should be able to pass all five parts of this evaluation. Doing so, will make your violin journey more rewarding and enjoyable. Even if you child isnt quite ready for structured music lessons today, theres much you can do to prepare her. Explore a musical enrichment program in your community. Attend concerts as a family. Sing, clap and bring music to the center of your familys activities. The rewards will be many for your budding Invincible Violinist!

The InvincibleViolinist.com Parents Guide to the Violin and Lessons

by Bill Alpert

Receive our free e-course at http://InvincibleViolinist.com/free-guide/

You are free to share this book with anyone, but please do not alter or extract it in any way without written permission. For information visit: http://InvincibleViolinist.com or e-mail: bill@thealpertstudio.com

Whatever your musical aspirations, be sure to learn the basics correctly! Doing so will take you anywhere you want to go on your Violin Journey. Safe Travels!
Bill Alpert, Founder InvincibleViolinist.com