- What to Look For in a New Violin
- Violin Size Chart
- Practical Practicing Pointers
- Practice Games
- Tuning & Changing Strings
- 100 Day Club
What to look for in a new violin
- Be prepared to buy the best quality instrument that fits your budget. An instrument that sounds bad or is difficult / painful to play will severely discourage your child and sometimes leads to a desire to quit playing. Imagine trying the very best you can and still not being able to make good sound!
- Beginners should expect to pay at least $600 for a fair quality full-size instrument. The higher-end student violins can cost as much as $2,000. The price lowers as the violins get smaller in size. I don’t require my students to pay a certain amount for their instrument – I understand difficult financial situations. Just remember, when it comes to price, you get what you pay for!
- Make sure the instrument comes with a case, bow, and rosin. You will probably need to purchase a shoulder rest, and have a rosin cloth available at home.
- Go to a violin shop! The sound is most important, and you can't hear it first if you buy it from a website. I'm not convinced local music stores know everything they need to know about violin sales, and often have a small selection of overpriced, low-quality violins. I recommend the following violin shops:
- Be very wary of what I call “attic violins.” These are instruments that an old relative played many years ago and have been sitting in the attic for the past 50 years. Even if it’s a good quality instrument (which I’ve found to be a rare case), and happens to be the correct size for your child, you can expect to pay $100 or more to replace the bow hair, rosin, strings, and possibly bridge.
- Violins come in different sizes: full, ¾, ½, 1/8, 1/10, 1/16/ 1/32, and even 1/64. I will measure your child and help get an idea of the correct size, but the best way to fit a violin is to try the actual instrument and see how it looks/feels. If you go to a good violin shop, they will do this for you.
- You want the child to be able to reach around the scroll and have their middle finger knuckle point downward. When the arm is back in playing position, you want the elbow to be a 90 degree angle or slightly smaller.
- Just as a child’s voice sounds smaller and doesn’t resonate as much, you can expect a smaller violin to sound different from a full-size. They tend to be quieter with less resonance, and the lower quality ones have a “tin-can” sound.
- If a child is on the borderline between two different sizes, some parents want to push for the larger size because it sounds better. However, if a violin is even slightly too large, it can be difficult for the student to reach to the neck, separate his/her fingers enough to play, and too heavy to hold comfortably. Always go with the smaller size.
- Rule out immediately any violins that feel too heavy or too wide.
- Once you’ve determined the correct size, the most important quality to look for is the violin’s sound. You need to hear a violin before buying it. The best way to shop is to play several violins using all the strings and see which one makes the nicest tone
- Try to use the same bow with a good amount of rosin for each violin you try.
- Avoid violins that are a bright yellow/orange color, because they tend to have a piercing quality. Other than that, try to ignore the color, looks, or brand of a violin. The “prettiest” ones are rarely the ones that actually sound the best.
Size ChartThese sizes are tentative! You need to actually see the recommended size violin on a child to be sure it's correct. For arm length, have the student look forward and hold out the left arm. Measure the distance between the neck and the middle of the palm.
- 1/32 size
- Arm length: 13.5 in.
- Age: up to 3 yrs
- 1/16 size
- Arm length: 14.5 in.
- Age: 3-4 yrs
- Height: 37-40 in.
- 1/10 size
- Arm length: 16 in.
- Age: 4-5 yrs
- Height: 40-43 in.
- 1/8 size
- Arm length: 17.25 in.
- Age: 5-6 yrs
- Height: 43-46 in.
- 1/4 size
- Arm length: 19
- Age: 6-7 yrs
- Height: 46-49 in.
- 1/2 size
- Arm length: 20.75 in.
- Age: 8-9 yrs
- Height: 50-53 in.
- 3/4 size
- Arm length: 22 in.
- Age: 10-12 yrs
- Height: 54-58 in.
- 4/4 (full) size
- Arm length: 23.5 in.
- Age: 12 & up
- Height: 59+ in.
Practical Practicing Pointers
- Pick a time of day when both parent & child are at maximum energy.
- Be consistent! (Especially in the summer, when it’s most difficult)
- If it’s not possible to practice the same time every day, it can help to create a weekly schedule and keep it visible in the practice area.
- On busy days, there is still probably time for a brief practice session…better than none at all!
- Listen! Listen! Listen!
- If the student hasn’t been listening to the Suzuki recording every day, practice and lessons in general can be miserable
- For example, how would you sing “Happy Birthday” if you had no music and had never heard it before? You wouldn’t even want to try!
- Have a designated practicing location and keep it in the same place – keep the violin there when it’s not in use
- Choose one that’s away from distractions like phone calls, siblings, TV, etc.
- Keep in mind that the student’s bedroom itself can be a distraction and can lead to a “goofing off” attitude, so it’s preferable to use it only if there is no other ideal place.
- It's called PLAY the violin, not WORK the violin!! Have fun, play games, be joyful!
- Visit "Practice Games" on the left
- Use short-term rewards, and lots of them!
- Younger children have little or no concept of long-term rewards. They rarely ever think, “I’m practicing my left hand position now so I’ll be able to do vibrato in book 2.” It’s helpful for the parent to create short-term, attainable goals with visible results. These don't have to be tangible rewards. They can "earn" a link on a paper chain, a sticker, or can draw part of a picture. They can earn TV time, pick a movie, invite a friend over, get a bcak rub, story time, play a game, later bed time, computer time, favorite snack or dessert, etc.
Enter: the practice chart. You can use the one I provide during lessons or copy them over each week onto a more interesting and colorful chart. You can use charts for daily practice, review, essential concepts that have been mastered, anything. You can fill in the chart with check marks, stickers, glued sequins, etc. I do recommend making quite a ceremony out of letting the child place the sticker in the box on the chart.
- Small rewards for remembering to practice without being reminded
- Avoid the P-word
- For some students, the word “practice” already has negative connotation. Instead of saying “it’s time to practice, or go practice now,” you could try, “I’d love to hear some pretty music now” or “Hey lets go play some violin!” or “Your violin is getting lonely! Lets go keep it company.”
- Do what ever you need to do to make it fun! As long as they have good general technique (posture, bow hold), they can experiment with moods, dynamics, styles, etc.
- Empower the student
- Some children really enjoy taking control of their environment – this is usable! Let them be “in charge” of informing the parent it’s time to practice. Some enjoy knowing that the parent needs their help to remember. The child can be the one to check off the practice chart, or to put a sticker on a review chart.
- End on a good note!
- Set a timer and make sure time is up while the practice session is still happy and playful – leave them wanting more
- Be playful! “Children respond well when families value order, yet convey it with a light touch & sense of humor.”
- If you are enthusiastic & optimistic, your child will be, too!
- Give specific praise for what was accomplished, then guide what needs improvement (“That was such a great bow hold! Now let’s focus on remembering notes.” Whatever you do, don’t say, “That sounded terrible! Do it again, and this time, do it right!”)
- Emphasis on both kinds of practice: mastering important sections of music, and playing through the whole piece
- Listening activities – Parent plays a song or part of a song, child guesses which one it is
- Don’t do mindless repetition – have a technique to polish
- Video- or Tape-recording your lessons can help immensely.
- Encourage them to make recordings for relatives – they make great gifts and are fun to listen to years down the road!
- Make recordings for your teacher! I’d love to see how practicing happens at home, and I’d be happy to make suggestions.
- Be clear of assignments; ask questions if you need clarification.
- Come up with a reward system that works! Plan on changing it before it gets worn out.
- Exposure! Immerse child in a musical environment. Expose them to orchestra concerts, solo concerts, music competitions, listen to classical CDs as well as Suzuki, buy music played by famous violinists. Help them be inspired!
- Go to as many workshops, institutes, and concerts as possible.
- Give your child choices whenever possible. They will enjoy being in control.
- Playing the CD right before practicing time can set the right mood.
- Do it together
- Make sure they know you’re there for them.
- Learn about different composers together. Visit the library, look online.
- Be supportive, but don’t do everything for them…and beware of the “weaning stage.” Know that they will eventually (or may already) be ready to work you out of practicing. It’s not the end of the world, they will need to know how to do it themselves.
- Keep it engaged – no mindless repetition.
- Teach your child that a mistake is a gift! The music is saying “Practice me here! Pay attention to me!”
- Encourage curiosity & creativity.
- Be creative yourself! Always be trying to come up with new ways to make practice interesting and fun.
- Learn from other parents and share your ideas
- Arrange home recitals – Play for family, friends, relatives, etc. Go all out if you can, print a program, invite a friend to play too.
- Bring the other parent in on it – have mom/dad say “So I hear you’ve been working on Lightly Row, how wonderful! I would just love to hear that!”
What if practicing has become a battleground??
- They may be going through the “weaning stage.” Embrace it and work with it. Back off a little, but still try to be there.
- For older students who are becoming capable of managing their own practice, it may be helpful to just listen from another room but still be supportive.
- Think of yourself and your child as magnets. Right now, your poles are not working together. If you push in any direction, you’ll just keep on pushing until one of you falls off the desk. You need to flip!
- There may be underlying factors. Have they been listening to the CD? Are they embarrassed for any reason? Does either of you have a negative attitude? Has it gotten monotonous? Difficult?
- Talk to me about your individual situation. Together, we can come up with ways to make practicing different but do-able.
- If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it probably will! Be prepared and try to come up with an action plan before it hits.
When playing any game, first make it clear to the student with as few words as possible:
- What the task is (how the student earns the reward.) Ex) practicing for 5 min, 10 min, playing a specific passage, making a bow hold, playing a review piece, etc.
- What the reward is, if any. Very young students have little concept of working hard toward a far-off end result. Their rewards need to be more immediate than "I'll be a good violinist 10 years down the road." Tangible rewards like candy and money are actually OK every now and then, but use them sparingly.
- When the game is over. How many repetitions of the task are necessary or how many minutes to play the game. Whatever you do, do NOT change the rules! If you feel it's not enough, play another game!
- First, check to make sure string is not broken. If so, follow instructions below.
- You need to have an audible “E” or “A” available (preferably A) for a base pitch.
- If you have a piano available, use the A above Middle C.
- D is one step above Middle C
- G is 4 steps below Middle C
- E is 9 steps above Middle C
- Sit down and hold the violin firmly between your knees with the strings facing you.
- Find the peg attached to the string you are tuning.
- If all strings need to be tuned, begin with A. Then work down to D, G, and E last.
- Obviously, you will use your right hand for pegs on the right, and left hand for pegs on the left. Regardless of which hand you use, you will turn the top of the pegs away from you to tighten, toward you to loosen.
- Adjust pegs while occasionally plucking strings with opposite hand to match your base pitch. You will need to simultaneously turn the peg and push it in toward the scroll. If the peg does not “stick,” you need to push harder.
- Warning: Do not over-tighten! Strings will break.
- Keep checking the bridge after each string to make sure it is not leaning. If so, firmly grab the top and tug it in the right direction.
- Once you are close enough to your base pitch, you can use fine-tuners and an electronic tuner.
- Make sure the tuner displays the correct pitch: If you are tuning the A string, make sure the tuner says “A” on it.
- Double-check pitch of all strings before you finish. Remember the tune:
Elephants, Elephants, Elephants…..stepping on the
Ants Ants Ants…..digging in the
Dirt Dirt Dirt…..digging under-
Ground Ground Ground
Changing a broken string:
- Remove the old string, unwinding from the peg. NEVER remove all 4 strings at once.
- Hook the old string onto the tailpiece or fine-tuner (you may need to use a butter knife to pry open fine-tuners.)
- Put top of string in small hole in the peg, taking care not to cross any other strings. Wind the peg away from you carefully and push in toward the scroll at the same time.
- As the string becomes taut, check to make sure it is sitting in its intended groove on both the bridge and nut (near the scroll.)
- Follow tuning instructions above.
100 Day Club
- Practice every day for 100 days! You have five "Free Pass" days to not touch the violin, but if you miss more than 5 days, you have to start over!
- Each practice session needs to be at least 10 minutes long, but preferably more.
- In certain dire circumstances, 30 minutes of active listening to the CD may count as practice. These include: Camps or plane trips where you are not able or allowed to bring your violin, and can’t-get-out-of-bed, out-of-school illness (more than a mild headache).
- 30 Day Club: Same rules as above, but you can only miss one day out of 30.
- 200 Day Club: After you've finished the 100 days, you've earned another 5 Free Pass days! Any unused free passes from the 100 day club "roll over" and add to your five for this club.
- 300 Day Club: After you've finished the 200 day club, keep going! This time, you have earned 7 Free Pass days to add to your previously unused days.
- 400 Day Club: Add another 7 Free Pass days!
- 500 Day Club and counting: For each subsequent 100 days, add 10 Free Pass days!