Why Practice Scales?

 

Scales have been ubiquitous with learning how to play a musical instrument for centuries. But until recently not a lot of scientific study has addressed the pros and cons of such an endeavor. In the last ten years though, interest has grown steadily. Everything from what contributes to brain development to what practice constitutes the best way to achieve mastery in a given endeavor. I have noticed in my violin studio that structure and goal orientation seem to be essential to maximize the learning curve. In the early stages of violin study, the metronome & tuner are introduced as go to learning aids that over time, become very familiar practice companions.

For an interesting and informative take on the practice and application of scales, click HERE.http://www.creativitypost.com/arts/why_id_spend_a_lot_more_time_practicing_scales_if_i_could_do_it_all_over_ag

Violin Beginner Series #5

Lesson #5 of the Violin Beginner Series sheds some light on basic exercises that can be ulilized addressing both left and right hand violin technique. These exercises are essential for proper functioning as concerns finger placement, bow grip, navigating upper and lower half bow technique, and the all important bow grip, or bow hold. This lesson is an essential step toward playing your first melody. Lesson #6 is entitled Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Seven Variations.

Violin Instruction-Tapes on the Fingerboard-To Use, or Not to Use? That is the Question.

Learning aids that address a multitude of endeavors are nothing new. The ubiquitous training wheels are a vital, sometimes necessary component in the travails of the learning process. How much of a price do we pay for added security and comfort? When do we venture away from that security? When do the training wheels come off?

Tapes on the violin fingerboard are meant to help give definition, clarity, and security, in an endeavor that (for most) is an adventure into the unknown. I will submit in this article a couple of concepts, and a couple of ideas (i.e. opinions) that are really meant to contribute to the conversation. A discussion that I suspect is not either/or but an opportunity to address a relatively accepted pedagogical concept, and see it from a slightly different angle.
I use tapes with my beginning students (generally age 6-9). However, my journey as a violin instructor has taught me that tapes on the fingerboard are not a good idea for two reasons. 1. For the student they offer an opportunity to avoid the responsibility of aural integrity (i.e. play in tune dude) and more…the fingerboard is not a keyboard, there are many shades of grey, and a multitude of subtlety involved with intonation. That’s one of the things that makes playing the violin, and other fret-less instruments so great. 2. It allows the instructor an easy path to a mediocre end. It’s just plain easier to ‘teach’ the beginning student that has the added pitch crutch of a placement indicator for most, if not all of the notes they wish to employ in a given selection of music. The point in this humble diatribe is to express a different point of view concerning the use of tapes on the violin fingerboard.
Imagine for a moment that instead of the usual four tapes in the first position, we utilize only two (first, and third finger) but not for the reasons generally assumed. My personal epiphany came courtesy of the left thumb. Thumbs are basically the anchors for both left, as well as right hand technique. Noticing that many violin students early on have difficulty with thumb placement, and have (not yet) established a good frame in their left hand. The first finger tape is a good landmark position for the thumb and first finger, especially when engaging the third and fourth fingers. My beginning students become quite accustomed to hearing “check your thumb tape.” In addition, I like to introduce the G string early on, and instruct the student to practice a basic four finger pattern, this also helps to establish the ‘frame’ for the left hand, as well as better left arm positioning. The second finger being the strongest, and the student needing to learn the difference between ‘higher and lower’ generally progress quite nicely without the aid of a tape. Now on to the third finger tape….
The idea that one must not necessarily begin their study of the violin in the first position, is not a new one. However, this is a pedagogic concept that has yet to achieve any popular resonance in the violin teaching community. My interest in this teaching approach is twofold. One, observing a pronounced inability in the vast majority of players that have taken private lessons to ever perform in anything but the first position. And two, the observation that particularly with small hands, and the introduction of the fourth finger, early exposure to the third position has certain advantages over the first. In addition to the above, there is also the concept of cradling the violin in your hand as opposed to letting a shoulder rest do all the work. Coming to the rescue of this dilemma would be the ‘third finger tape’ now of course it has become the ‘first finger tape’ or more importantly, the new ‘thumb tape’. This familiarity with a new region of the fingerboard, in the very early stages of learning the violin opens up whole new realms of possibility.
Mark O’Connor, in his early competition days distinguished himself in the fiddle world by frequently shifting between first and third position, and utilizing fourth finger extensions from the third position. None of these techniques were anything new in the classical world, but applied to a different genre, were ground breaking. O’Connor took an old concept from baroque times and applied it to improvisational folk playing. The point here is that a violin instructor, by shifting their perspective on what is taught when, can incorporate some interesting and beneficial changes in how violin technique is addressed for the beginning violin student.

Traditional American Folk Songs

Ave Maria-Schubert


This beautiful melody is associated with religious as well as secular events. In this arrangement, shifting between the first and third position is utilized. The rhythm in this arrangement can be challenging, and a metronome is recommended when first studying this selection.

Intermediate Violin Vibrato


This lesson on vibrato picks up where the “Introduction to Violin Vibrato” leaves off. Shifting exercises in the 1st-5th positions, as a means of relaxation, and shaping the finger. Also, exercises to increase flexibility, and strength. Vibrato exercise in double stops is also discussed. This lesson addresses wrist vibrato only.

Left Hand Technique – Violin Lessons – Paul Huppert


This particular lesson covers a lot of territory in a minimal amount of time. The idea being to pack as much punch into a 15 minute or so warm-up for the left hand as possible. Linear movement is addressed via shifting exercises, both short distances and longer. Drones are introduced, as well as left hand pizzicato and trilling exercises. About half of these exercises are in the first position, and some more advanced shifting is done up to the fifth position.