November 9, 2009

Rumor: School Orchestra = bad habits?

Posted in School Orchestra, Violin Practice at 7:13 pm by theviolincase

Recently I had a concerned parent ask me about school orchestra for her daughter.  Her private violin teacher had advised her not to enroll the daughter in school orchestra because “they teach bad habits.”

As you know I have been a private teacher for many years and have recently been volunteering on an almost daily basis in my son’s beginning orchestra class at our public school.  I can promise you the teachers do not teach bad habits! However, kids who learn to play exclusively in their school orchestra do often end up with bad habits simply because there is one teacher and too many students.

So I told this concerned mother that her daughter doesn’t just learn about the violin when in orchestra.  She also learns valuable skills about playing in a group and watching a conductor.  Ensemble playing is a skill separate from playing the instrument, and is a very valuable skill to learn. Her daughter needs both private lessons AND school orchestra to be getting the most from her violin study.

Yes, bad habits are a possibility, but not because the teachers are not doing their job.  It is simply due to the teacher/student ratio in the orchestra classes.  Music classes such as band, choir and orchestra, can have teacher ratios much larger than any other subject.  In our school there are 2 teachers and 95 students, which works out to be 47.5 students per teacher.

Volunteers would be a great way to even out this ratio. Call your local school orchestra and see how you can help.  Even showing up once a week (scheduled with the teacher) makes a big difference to the teacher and to the kids.  Some of these teachers are band or choir teachers who have been asked to take on orchestra.  If orchestra is to become as prevalent in our schools as band, we need to accept these teachers and give them unconditional support from the string community.

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September 19, 2009

Motivation – always an issue

Posted in Violin Practice tagged , , , , , , at 1:06 pm by theviolincase

Today, I really didn’t feel like practicing.  I was dreading trying to play the Bach (EM Partita) today.  Even with all the help I’ve been getting, it just doesn’t seem to be getting any better.  So I decided to give myself a little break, and play for fun!  I did all my scales and etudes, then instead of the 1st mvt of the Bach, I played through the last mvt.  It is much shorter and less technical, and very fun to play.  There are still a couple of measures that I get hung up on but overall it sounds like music.

Then I started working on an encore piece by Wieniawski. It is fun to play, a bit technical, but sounds much harder than it is.  It is a piece I played in college when I got sick of concertos, and it reminds me to have fun with my violin! It needs work of course, so I’m going to add it to the current repertoire and work it up with the others.

This totally fixed my lack of motivation.  In fact, when my hour was up I was surprised and sad.  I put the violin down anyway because my hands are still susceptible to over-work right now, but also because I wanted the session to end on a good note.  It worked beautifully.  I thought about my violin the rest of the day and looked forward to the next time I could play.

It is easy to get wrapped up in the WORK of practicing.  All the techniques we need to fix/learn, all the notes to get in tune, all the bowings to get RIGHT.  And all of that is good.  But if that’s ALL there is, then I think we’re missing out on the best parts of playing. The JOY of playing needs to be part of our practice sessions as well.

July 5, 2009

Fix collapsed pinky finger on violin

Posted in Violin Practice tagged , , , at 9:23 pm by theviolincase

In my new effort to get my long unused violin fingers back, I am always looking for advice and help.  I was lucky enough to be able to have a lesson with Lenore Vardi this weekend.

One problem I’ve had since I started playing is a pinky finger that collapses.  When I put any pressure on my left pinky, it just locks at the smallest knuckle and won’t stay round no matter what I do.  In my previous life I thought this was normal, just one of those things.  This time around, however, I’ve heard that other players have fixed this problem and I’m looking to remedy this so I can have more flexibility overall.

Lenore said she had this problem and was able to fix it for her in a matter of days.  She told me put my left hand palm down on a sturdy surface, make my fingers round, fingertips on the surface, and press on the pinky as hard as I can without having it collapse.  I can do this anytime, anywhere, no violin needed.

I’ve only been at it for one day, so I will report with progress as we go along.  I am very hopeful though, as I have already been able to play a few easy passages with a round pinky finger.

May 30, 2009

Practice-time Conditions and Distractions

Posted in Violin Practice at 10:38 pm by theviolincase

If there’s one thing I’ve learned this week it is that I don’t need ideal conditions in order to practice. As a teenager, I hated to practice where others could hear, had to have the right lighting, had to have silence, etc. Now I’m a wife and mother of 3 (2 are teenagers).  There are endless distractions if I choose to listen to them. I’ve listed my most common distractions here to help me find ways around them:

1. Not enough time, “I can’t practice because I only have 30 minutes.” I struggle with this because I know once I get started I will want to keep going.  BUT if I never start I will be right back where I was with hands that don’t work.  So once or twice this week I practiced knowing I would only have 30 minutes and that was it.  I spent that time on scales, arpeggios and double stops because I believe that is the best way to get stronger more accurate hands.

2. Too much noise or distraction. This used to be my number 1 pet peeve. I’ve decided that there will never be no distractions, so I’ve been practicing with the downstairs TV on, the phone ringing, the kids coming and going, doorbell ringing . . . you know how that goes.  I’m getting better at ignoring it all and working on my scales.

3. I don’t want people listening to my practice time. How many people are distracted by this? Do you care if there are people in the other room listening? Or is this just me being strange? As a younger person I really let this get in my way. This time around I have decided it is really good for the kids to hear me go over and over things to get them right.  They all 3 have instruments that they work on, and I want to set a good example for them.  However, next week my father-in-law will be here, and I really don’t know if I can practice with him listening.  Scales and arpeggios just don’t sound all that great, and I’m still working on getting them right.  I’ve been adding the 3rds, 6ths, and octaves too, and they can sound pretty frightening when I get them wrong!

4. I’m not looking forward to sore hands. This is a new distraction for me. My hands didn’t get sore when I practiced as a young person.  Well, they got sore right after a good workout, but these days they STAY sore for days!  In my previous post I mentioned icing, and that is working wonders.  If I ice after practice time, my hands are only briefly sore. And as I get more practice time under my belt, the soreness is going away in general. So hopefully this will be a short-lived distraction.

5. I keep thinking of all the other things I should be doing. The grass is always greener on the other side! If I’m practicing I think I should be working on the website, if I’m on the website I think I should be doing dishes, and on and on. I am working on making a conscious effort to just be in the moment, and work on one thing at a time. My practice time is still an only an hour or less, so it’s not like it’s taking all day!  When I work up to a few hours at a time, then I might have reason to wonder which thing I should be doing. Right now I really do have time to do it all with a little advance planning.

I would love to hear your suggestions and experiences in your own practice sessions.  How have you overcome your distractions?

May 26, 2009

Ice is nice!

Posted in Violin Practice at 6:05 pm by theviolincase

Today I could only squeeze in a half hour of practice. But once I had the violin out I stretched it to 40 min, so that was nice.  I spent the time entirely on scales and arpeggios trying to get my strength and flexibility back.  I think it will be fine as long as I can be consistent for the long haul.

I have been icing after each practice session, just holding an ice pack in each hand or holding it to the back of my hand and wrists.  It made a huge difference last time in how long my hands were sore, so we’re trying the same thing today!  I’m icing and typing at the same time, quite a trick.

Thanks to all who have sent encouraging words.  I’m interested in hearing your story as well!

May 25, 2009

Re-learning how to play

Posted in Violin Practice tagged , , , , , at 12:38 pm by theviolincase

Today is the 2nd day of the new practice schedule!  I’m not very good at keeping a rigid schedule, so we’ll see how it goes.  My goal is to get my hands back after many years of sporatic playing plus one broken wrist that set me back quite a bit.

So from here on I’m looking forward (look at my progress) instead of backward (sad about all the things I used to be able to play).

I’m very interested in all input from those who have suggestions or who have been there and have recovered from injury or long absense.

So a brief report on today’s practice.  I don’t have a clock in that room, so I don’t know how long I worked, probably about an hour.  For now I’m just going to let my hands be my guide as to how long to work.  Almost the entire time was spent on 3 octave scales, starting with G, Ab, A, Bb, B, C, Db, D.  All major, most of the time spent on G, loosening up my hands on something easy and familiar.

Then on to octaves, but mostly working on making the switch from 3/0 to 4/1 in tune.  Back and forth 3/0, 4/1, 3/0, 4/1 on and on.  Didn’t really try to do a whole scale yet. Then on to easy double stop etudes. I really feel intonation is of primary importance, so I’m working on that first.

My first practice session was 2 days ago on Saturday and my hands felt pretty good after practicing, but then ached for the next full day. So today I’m icing right after practicing to see if I can avoid the days of aching.

We’ll see how it goes!  I can’t wait to play Bach again, but that is down the road quite a bit from here.