September is always an exciting time here in London (the home of ViolinSchool). Yes, there's a tinge of sadness that Summer is fading away... but as the nights here begin ever earlier, there's a buzz in the air... it's a time for new things, a time for action, and a time to work hard and get things done!
The beginning of an adventure is always a time of immense possibility; a time of anticipation as we imagine the trials, tribulations, and successes that lie ahead. The start of a new year of learning engenders all of those emotions: excitement, inspiration, and perhaps a little trepidation!
But the first step is the most important one: deciding to take the journey! I believe that committing to growth and self-development as a musician is one of the most powerful decisions a human being can take... and I wish every single one of you courage, resolve and strength as you embark upon the next stage of your learning!
Coming up at the London School
Here at ViolinSchool, we are looking forward immensely to the coming year (tumultuous and chaotic though it may be in the wider world!). Our research has shown that our eLearning will be greatly strengthened by growing our local school here in London. So we've doubled down on our development of the classes and courses at our London school.
This term, our Beginner Violin Course for Adults introduces a new level, Course C. As with the A and B courses, we'll be adding all of the course content to our eLearning, so wherever you are you'll have access to new video tutorials and repertoire at the C level.
I'm also super-excited to welcome my aunt Caroline Lumsden to ViolinSchool London... she'll be introducing our new Children's Violin Course, alongside Setareh Mood who now begins teaching children at our London school. We begin with the 3-9 year old age groups, with courses for older children (and parent-child online learning) coming later.
Caroline is acknowledged as an international expert in children's learning of string instruments, and her work brings together the very best of diverse approaches such as Dalcroze, Kodaly, and Suzuki, with an environment that inspired deep creativity and fun for every child. It's a truly holistic approach that's designed not just for learning violin, but for all-round development of beautiful musicians and human beings!
I'll be entrusting my own children's music education to Caroline and Setareh - and if you're in London, I hope you'll consider doing the same! Take a look at the Children's Violin Course page and get in touch.
Although the reach of our London School is significant (and you're always welcome to come and visit!), the biggest impact of our work comes from helping people all around the world to learn. And to speed the development of our online learning, we'll be putting our blog front and center of our teaching.
Blogs are a superb way of covering in-depth ideas that don't fit into eLearning courses, but they're also a way of developing new concepts and engaging with an audience. We'll be publishing here more regularly, and I'll be excited to introduce to you new guests and ideas that will provide ongoing inspiration as you move steadily through our curriculum.
One of the strongest aspects of ViolinSchool's London school - and indeed one of our core values - is Community. This Autumn, I'm looking at ways we can better bring our amazing community online. Do we finally develop our member Facebook group into a popular, well-used discussion group? Or would you prefer a closed-door online forum for ViolinSchool members to meet and discuss ideas in depth? I'd love to hear what you think.
Wherever you are, and whatever you're working on, we look forward very much to hearing you play soon. Happy practising, and talk to you soon!
I like to think of a Violin Practice Journal as less of a physical thing, and more as an approach to keeping a record of your practice.
However you choose to keep your journal - notebook, app, word document... or my favourite, old scraps of paper stored in a cardboard box! ...
... what's important is that you have some sort of records of your practice. What you did, in other words.
And, more importantly, why.
A practice journal is all about documenting what you've done in the past. But why would you want to do that?
Journalling shows you - in full, inescapable detail - exactly how you've spent your time.
Now, as they say... past performance doesn't necessarily indicate future performance.
But what it does do for you, the violinist, the journaler, is to show you clearly what you did, and why.
Once you know that, and have time to reflect on it, then you can plan ahead to what you're going to do in your next practice session... ... and why!
Keeping a practice journal can have a number of benefits.
Some are very practical, some are more emotional and motivational. But all of them lead you towards better, more efficient practice.
Here's an overview of some of the things you can expect to see when you begin to keep a practice journal...
Time is one of THE most precious - and finite - resources that we, as human beings, have.
As musicians, we need more time than most to hone our craft, and put in the practice hours that will make our playing as good as we want it to be.
So we must make sure we're using every second wisely!
If your schedule leaves you with limited time for violin practice, you can keep your momentum going by restricting the number of minutes you spend on each task.
This way you'll get through more tasks, and cover more ground in your practice. Your development will be more balanced, because you're making progress in all areas, rather than just one or two.
Over time, as you review your journal, you'll start to notice improvements across the whole of your playing. This will create a virtuous circle, as you'll be motivated to practise even more!
"What did I ACTUALLY do?"
If you want to be sure about how you're using your time, journaling is an excellent tool. From your notes, you can see exactly where your time has gone!
If you've used your practice time effectively, you'll see it right there on the page! And if you haven't, you'll see it there too!
Of course we all have days where practice just isn't flowing. That's fine. Note it down in the practice journal, go and have a biscuit, sit by a river and mediate, try again tomorrow.
But at least we know how we've spent our time, and we know that we were clear and deliberate about our decisions.
Keeping a journal each time you practise doesn't need to take long - a minute or two is more than enough. But the simple act of journalling every time you practise can work wonders for building your regular habits.
A written record of your daily practice creates an extra incentive to keep taking daily action. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld famously suggested to record an unbroken chain of daily work on a big wall calendar. It can be extremely satisfying to see every day's practice checked off on the calendar!
The opposite is also true; once you get into the habit of keeping a daily record of your practice, it will feel wrong to 'break the chain' by missing a day. You'll be excited and motivated by your progress, and you'll want to keep it going for as long as possible.
These little daily habits are the foundation of achieving your long term goals. You won't necessarily see progress every single day, but the cumulative effect of daily practice over a long period can be extraordinary.
Use your journal to keep yourself accountable on a daily basis, and get yourself into a really good 'daily habit' of violin practice!
After a detailed piece of practice on something, our subconscious mind gets to work on it - especially whilst we're sleeping.
That's why sometimes you can wake up in the morning, and suddenly have a magical clarity about an issue you were struggling with the previous day. Or, you get to the practice room and find that you can do something that you couldn't do the day before!
However, if you haven't taken clear notes and already set out your priorities for the next day, you might forget the work you did yesterday... you might not even remember to try out the tricky passage you were working on!
But if you DO keep notes, then you can go straight back to yesterday's challenges, and apply whatever amazing solutions your brain has come up with during the night!
There's an old saying, "what gets measured gets done". It's worth tracking how much time you spend on each task, so that you know you've covered everything adequately.
When you can see exactly which practice tasks helped you to make tangible, measurable improvements, it gives you a much clearer idea about what's working and what isn't.
This makes it easier to decide what to spend your time on next!
When you look at your recent journal entries before planning the next day's tasks, your record of what you did (and for how long), will give you a sense of what you need to do to achieve the next short term goals.
Make a note of what worked, and how long you had to practise it before seeing results. From there, you can start to predict efficient ways of overcoming the next challenges on your list, and building them into your practice plan!
ViolinSchool members can download the Practice Journal templates in the ViolinSchool Library
Too many people practise in an 'ad hoc' way, without a clear sense of what they're trying to achieve.
It helps if you have a clear goal or objective that you're working towards, such as a concert or exam, but what if you don't?
This is where having a clear framework or structure for your practice can give you immense clarity about how and why you are practising.
Even if you don't have a short term goal to work towards, you can still plan your practice time wisely.
At ViolinSchool, in the absence of any alternative plan, we like to break up practice time into four key areas:
TECHNICAL, MUSICAL (Repertoire), PERFORMANCE and CREATIVE.
Here's a useful 'practice menu' that explains a bit more about each of these key areas. We find this is a helpful framework of thinking about the different sections of your violin practice, so that you don't overlook anything when planning your daily practice!
ViolinSchool members can download all of our Practice Tools in the ViolinSchool Library
Journalling can help you understand how balanced your practice is. For example, are you spending all your time just playing through pieces? Or spending so much time on technical work that you're not doing any creative, fun stuff?
Of course, people need a different balance to their practice at different stages of learning, so the structure of everyone's violin practice will be different.
But by keeping a note of which TYPES of practice task you do, and for how long, you can keep assessing whether or not your violin practice is balanced, and whether you're focused on the most important tasks... the ones that are most important for YOU, right NOW!
Another really valuable insight you'll gain from keeping a regular practice journal is that you'll start to notice patterns in your practice. This can be positive OR negative!
Ask yourself: What do you see popping up regularly in your journals? Are you always practising the same exercises? Are you seeing the same challenges coming up repeatedly? Do these patterns suggest a technical problem, or some other issue where you need to seek help from a teacher?
Of course, some repetition is good. If you're starting most of your practice sessions with long slow bows or other similar sound production exercises, that's probably a good thing.
And scale routines, for example, are useful for maintaining the fluency of your left hand technique, so it's good to see a regular pattern of scale practice in your journal.
However, if you find that you're often playing the same study or technical exercise over and over again for weeks at a time, then you might be at risk of your practice habits becoming stale (and boring!).
Unnecessary and repetitive tasks are a warning sign... once the creativity disappears from your violin practice, the fun will often disappear too, and practising can become a chore. Don't let that happen!!
Use your judgment - ask yourself if recurring patterns in your practice journal show good habits, or whether you need to mix things up a bit and look for new ideas.
Learning the violin well takes a long time, so your goals and priorities are likely to change over the years.
What you're aiming for one month might be totally different a year or two later.
If your approach to violin practice doesn't evolve to support your changing goals and priorities, then you'll hit problems.
And your practice journal provides a great way to monitor - and prevent! - this.
By regularly reassessing your short term goals, you can assess whether you're moving in the right direction for achieving your long term goals.
That's why we encourage you to make a note of everything you've learnt or discovered in your practice journal, as well as using short term goals to clearly map out what you want to achieve in your practice... BEFORE you do it!
Don't get too lost in the detail though. If you're so focused on your short term practice that you never reflect on your long term plans, it's easy to lose focus and momentum.
Every few months, take some time to review your practice journal AWAY from the violin.
Take it to a quiet place where you're not going to be disturbed, and give yourself some time to read and think.
As you reflect on what you've done over the past months, you'll get a feeling for how you're progressing according to your 'big picture' plans.
Your learning and your new discoveries might even send you in a different direction! Perhaps you'll discover a new style of music that you love ... Or suddenly you'll become interested in a different type of ensemble music!
Embrace these changes, and update your approach to practice so that it's congruent with what you want to achieve long term.
Being able to 'zoom' in and out of your short, medium and long term activities is wonderfully helpful for giving you clarity and confidence in how you're spending your time.
Looking back through your journal allows you to see how your day to day practice has fitted into the big picture of what you want to achieve.
Reflect on what worked well and what didn't work well. Use your observations to model what you want to do - or not do - in your future violin practice!
Finally, never underestimate the power of motivation.
When you see, from your practice journal, that you're making tangible, clear progress, then you're far more likely to feel enthusiastic and motivated about the journey ahead!
The simple act of looking back through your practice journal and seeing what you've achieved, can be extremely empowering. A small breakthrough or new discovery can fuel your excitement, and keep you looking forward excitedly to your violin practice time!
Unless your home is patrolled by rambunctious pets or wild children, a great way to reduce the 'barrier' to practice is to leave your instrument out of its case, so that it's easily accessible ...
... You're far more likely to pick it up and start to play if you don't have to go through the hassle of getting it out of the case!
Do the same with your practice journal ... leave it near your instrument so that you always remember to fill it in. But also, leave it somewhere accessible during the day so that you can refer to it and reflect on your current work whenever you have a spare moment!
Once you've got into the habit of journaling regularly, you can then think about how to improve the process.
If you're able to keep a digital journal, then all sorts of opportunities open up for tagging, categorising, and sorting your notes. Software such as Evernote, Dropbox, or even just a folder of Word documents can be a great way to sort your ideas in an accessible, easily-navigable way.
For some people, this is way too much hassle. But for others, the convenience of a digital device - and the possibility for organising your notes in a creative way - can really help to make learning and practice more efficient.
Just... don't forget to back it up!
If daily journaling doesn't work for you, or you're not yet convinced that it's a necessary thing to do, that's fine... but you can still keep a basic record of what you've done!
Instead of a daily, time-based journal, some people like to keep a page of notes for each piece of music they work on.
You could keep all your notes for violin sonatas in one box, and for violin concertos in another ...
... or maybe you have a folder dedicated to studies and technical exercises...
... or even just use a scale tracker to track which scales you've practised, and how often!
Journaling and note keeping can take MANY forms, and it's very important to remember that what works for one person won't necessarily work for another.
Personally, I don't like spending much time on detailed note-keeping about what I've done. I prefer scribbling a quick note to myself, committing it to memory, and dumping it in one of my many cardboard boxes!
Knowing it's there (and knowing roughly which box it's in) is all the peace of mind I need, and if I want to look back on what I've done, I'll just sift through the boxes and explore my past practice sessions.
But plenty of people would hate the way I keep my journal... I know many of our learners carefully type their notes, or keep records of each practice session in a beautiful hand-written notebook!
Ultimately, so long as you're keeping a good record, it doesn't really matter HOW you do it. Your journal just has to be right for you.
"what gets measured gets done" - Unknown
Here's Setareh's most recent video, explaining how to warm up the hands and fingers before starting to play. I've found these exercises a really useful way to begin my own violin practice, and I hope you find them useful too!
Here's an earlier video with similar exercises for posture and breathing. It's soooo important to get your body balanced before you play - everything is easier when your body is flexible and relaxed!
Our New YouTube Channel
Setareh and I are dedicating the next few weeks to filming the latest series of ViolinSchool videos. As well as the online courses, there'll be video tutorials on our YouTube channel as well.
If you're a regular YouTube user, please click below for our new channel then click SUBSCRIBE (make sure you're logged in to YouTube first)! You'll be notified on YouTube whenever we publish new tutorial videos.
More videos coming soon! Enjoy 🙂
It's got me thinking about the nature of what a violin lesson actually is!
A lot of people come to a violin lesson expecting a teacher to teach them how to play the violin! Teacher tells learner what to do, learner does it, everyone's happy.
But is that all there is to a violin lesson?
Of course, imparting information is a huge part of a teacher’s role.
But, rather than simply expecting knowledge (e.g. what to do, how to do it) to be acquired at a violin lesson, what would happen if that knowledge was acquired before a lesson, and then the lesson itself becomes focused on the application of that knowledge?
I'd draw an analogy here between teaching and coaching. For example, whenever I have a big concert or a recording session, I go and book a violin coaching session at ViolinSchool with David (yes, I study at ViolinSchool too!).
David and I spend large amounts of time every single week talking about violin playing, and so information itself is very rarely the main focus in a lesson environment.
But playing to him is always, without exception, a revelatory experience. Why?
The best way I can think to describe it is to have someone hold up an all-seeing mirror to you. The mirror not only reflects back to you what you're doing (valuable as that is), but it also gives you a new perspective on what you're doing.
You become aware of the potential you have to realise what you already know or can do. This opens up more possibilities for you to use your existing skills much more effectively.
The ideas in a coaching session could be musical, technical, performance-related, philosophical, or even something else entirely ... but the hallmark of any great coaching session is that you come away feeling like you have new insights into how you might use your existing abilities in exciting new ways.
This kind of sophisticated and multi-faceted experience can only really come from a strong personal relationship between a player and a coach (and it's no coincidence that this kind of relationship is considered essential in the world of sports).
If you're just acquiring knowledge then you're learning about the violin. But if you're exploring how to apply that knowledge, then you're learning about yourself!
So although there's precious little difference in booking a ‘lesson’ or a ‘coaching session’ - from an administrative perspective it's one and the same thing! - the actual nature of the time spent together - teacher and learner or coach and learner - is very different indeed!
Autumn is in full swing, and here at ViolinSchool we've been busy beavering away behind the scenes, making preparations for three BIG ViolinSchool projects, which we're about to unwrap...
Look out for news about ALL of these over the next month or so! In the meantime...
If you're here in the UK, come and join us! The Orchestra will now begin on Saturday 4th November, but before that, we're running two sessions for everyone who'd like to join the orchestra, on these dates, in London (Victoria/Pimlico):
Not in the UK? Keep an eye on your email and our Facebook page for news about the new Library and Online Courses!
Wherever you are, I hope you're having a great summer! Here at ViolinSchool HQ, we're pushing forward with our video production, and rolling out the long-awaited Learning Guide which will soon be available to all our members.
Every week we'll now be releasing new video tutorials. Core content will be published in the Learning Guide and in our Online Courses, and our free tutorials and other special video content will also appear on our new Youtube Channel.
Here's a video from the 'Essentials' course, which explains how to practise the 'Circles' exercise:
As we move through into the autumn, we've got many many video tutorials coming your way, to guide you sequentially through all the most important topics that will help you to play the violin the way you want to! So stay tuned to this blog, as well as to our Facebook page, and we'll keep you updated whenever there's a new video for you to enjoy.
Thanks for watching!
Metronomes, mirrors and tuners are fantastic tools for a violinist.
Metronomes can help you to keep time. Mirrors can help you to see whether your bow is straight. And tuners - not least the all-singing, all-dancing digital tuners that are now available as smartphones - make it easy.
Just follow the device, no? If you can play in time with the metronome, then you've got it right!
Unfortunately, it's not that simple.
What happens when we look at a tuner or a mirror is that we get a visual cue for what is actually a physical or aural skill. In the case of a metronome, or a tuner that can also generate pitches, it can be a visual or an aural cue (or both).
Instinctively, we use those cues to make sure that our physical motions are correct.
We start off with the best of intentions... "I'm going to play this passage slowly for 10 minutes, making sure that every note is in tune". And, eyes glued to the tuner, you do exactly that - correcting mistakes as you go.
Magically, once you've repeated it several times, the passage is starting to sound in tune! You do it again the next day, and it's even better! And by the third day, it's really consistent -- all the pitches are ringing true! Sorted!!
With your confidence rising, it's time to go and play it to your teacher (or to do a mock performance for your pet cat, or whatever!).
But this time, the tuner isn't switched on. It's a performance, after all.
"OH NOOOOooooooooo! It's gone out of tune again! It's soooo out of tune! But why? I practised it for ages!!"
In this example, our conscientious, well-intentioned violinist has unfortunately spent 10 minutes fixing (and then consolidating) precisely the wrong problem.
Instead of making the physical motion really accurate, then practising it until it's 100% reliable, the violinist has been practising the physical motion only when there's a visual cue to rely on!
If you always practise intonation whilst looking at a tuner, you'll get really good at playing in tune with a tuner...
If you always practise rhythm whilst looking at and listening to a metronome, you'll get really good at playing in time with a metronome...
And if you always practise keeping a straight bow whilst looking in a mirror, you'll have a really good bow technique... when you're looking in a mirror!
There are many aspects to good violin practice, but one of the most important is to make sure that you're tackling the right problem in the first place! It doesn't matter how conscientious your practice is if you're not doing the right things.
In the practice section of ViolinSchool's online learning programs, we go into detail about both the strategy and structure of your practice, to make sure that you're never falling into a trap like this. Once you've got a clear roadmap for what you need to do, you'll make much better progress. You can integrate scales and technical exercises effectively into your practice, and soon you'll be thrilled at the results you see!
And when you're dealing with something as complicated as violin playing (or flying a plane, or carrying out surgery, etc.!) - well, a checklist can come in very handy indeed.
For a few months now, we've been handing out three core checklists at the end of our Beginner Violin Classes. And we're pleased to share these new updated checklists with ViolinSchool members here today.
The first checklist is our full body checklist, which reminds you to keep a good posture at all times when playing the violin. The second checklist considers the right arm and hand, and the third covers the left arm and hand.
VS Members can download all three checklists here, in this printable PDF:
It's really important for us to internalise the concepts represented on these checklists, until they become so automatic to you that you always remember to carry out each step.
Therefore, a good aim in your violin practice is to refer to the checklists every single time you're about to play, so that you can reset your body posture. A good strategy would be:
If you do this consistently and conscientiously for several weeks, you'll start to see a good improvement in your posture. And most importantly, you'll start to set your body position correctly without even thinking about it.
And it's when that automatic-ness, that automaticity really starts to take hold, that you truly have the freedom to focus on the music... knowing that your body is doing the right thing... even when you're not thinking about it!
Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that over the Easter weekend, our content goblins and our tech wizards have been beavering away with some very useful updates to the ViolinSchool learning platform!
Practice is such a critical violin-playing skill that we felt it needed its own section! So you'll now find Practice in the top menu bar, with the key ideas outlined in the How to Practise page [membership required].
Sight-Reading now has its own dedicated homepage, where members can browse and download our whole library of sight-reading exercises, as well as articles on how to learn and practise this essential skill.
Scale Central is the go-to place for starting your scale practice! We'll be adding extensively to this section over the coming weeks, with downloadable charts and routines as well as all the different scales for you to cover in your practice sessions.
We'll be introducing 5 Minute Workouts in more detail later this week, but members can already see the first few online here. These are terrific tools for the technical part of your practice... we've got a giant stack of workouts coming your way in the next few weeks too. More about this soon!
The Music Theory section has also been updated. We know that for several learners it's a priority to get your Music Theory skills in shape, so we'll be adding a lot of tutorials to this section as well.
There's so much more to share with you in the coming days, but in the meantime we hope you enjoy these new updates, and don't forget to let us know if there's something specific you'd like guidance on... we're publishing daily again from today onwards, so send your feedback and requests to [email protected] - we're happy to help you with your learning!
David and I once came off stage in Switzerland after a concert, and as we were returning to the dressing room, a man approached us with a big grin on his face and said, in possibly the strongest Irish accent I've ever heard...
"Tell me boys ... why do you use those partitions?"
"Erm, sorry, the ... ??"
"The partitions lads, the partitions!"
"Yes lads ... you didn't seem look at them once, so why do you need them partitions?"
This awkward conversation went on for quite some time, until we finally worked out what he was talking about!
We didn't realise that, in French, the word for 'sheet music' is 'partition'... Turns out he wasn't referring to a structure that divides up space - he was asking about the sheet music we were using!!
Anyway, since that day, the ViolinSchool team has always referred not to 'sheet music', but to 'partitions' (usually said in an Irish accent!)
So it's with great pleasure and excitement that we introduce to you our all-new...
Library of Partitions!
Our new sheet music (partition!) library contains hundreds of pieces of sheet music for ViolinSchool members to download and print.
We're adding more partitions every week, and members can even request pieces or songs for us to arrange (subject to copyright!).
If you're not yet a member, just send us a quick message and we'll be happy to email you a few free Partitions to try! (just tell us which ones you'd like to have)
Here's what's new in the updated library:
I'd love to hear what you think about the new sheet music library. Do leave a comment below and let me know! Enjoy 🙂
- Simon HJ
p.s. if you'd like to download all the partitions and everything else that ViolinSchool has to offer, become a member today! We'll send you a welcome pack in the mail, full of great violin books to give a boost to your violin practice!
Happy New Year from everyone here at ViolinSchool!
We've got some exciting news to share with you for 2017...
Musicland itself is a family business, established in the 1980s by Alan and Caroline Lumsden (Hewitt Jones). Caroline, who is the aunt of ViolinSchool Director Simon Hewitt Jones, has been an advisor to ViolinSchool since 2013, and we're really excited to be bringing together her experience of educating children with all of the expertise in adult learning that's been built up by the ViolinSchool team in recent years.
In the near future, we'll be collaborating together on several ViolinSchool books, including all-new 'tutor books' that will complement our online learning programs. But the Musicland catalogue is already a goldmine for string players (and many of our London learners and Violin Orchestra players are already familiar with some of Musicland's chamber music!)
The new Musicland website is now live at www.musiclandpublications.com featuring 50 of the most popular pieces from the catalogue (and the rest will be arriving over the next few weeks). Music is despatched daily from our dedicated 'cottage warehouse' in South-West England, and as each edition is revised and updated, digital versions will become available through ViolinSchool and other digital sheet music distributors.
We're happy to announce release dates for the revised online learning programs:
Thursday 26th January –The Essentials (see the list of study topics)
Thursday 2nd February – How to Practise
Thursday 23rd February – Level 1 (see the list of study topics)
Thursday 9th March – Level 2 (see the list of study topics)
Thursday 23rd March – Level 3 (see the list of study topics)
Thursday 6th April – Level 4 (see the list of study topics)
We can’t wait to share these great new resources with you! Access to all of these great new courses is included in ViolinSchool membership, and we'll let you know by email as soon as they become available. Remember, you can check our online curriculum to see all the topics that will be coming your way.
The other big project we’re about to start is The Violin Course, our epic 12-week course in London that guides learners from total beginner level to Level 4 of our curriculum. We’re starting this Saturday, and we have just a couple of places remaining, so if you’re interested in taking part then make sure you get in touch today! All the info is on the page at https://www.violinschool.com/violincourse/.
The content of the Violin Course will also form the basis of our online learning programs, so even if you can’t make it to London, then keep an eye on our blog, our social media and our newsletter. Over the coming weeks we’ll be sending you lots of video lessons, sheet music and other great resources to help you make 2017 the year where you take your violin-playing to the next level!
Happy New Year!
So I'm deep in one of our research documents, examining some tiny detail of how the arm moves during a Tremolo stroke. I'm trying to make sure that I've got the best possible wording for an upcoming video script.
If I use this word or that word, will it be clear enough? What about people who don't already know what the word means? Would it be clear enough for a non-native English speaker? Or for a child to understand?
I cross-reference with a couple of our primary sources. Ah, Leopold Mozart (Wolfgang's Dad) agrees with me - he writes almost precisely the same thing in his 1756 treatise. Except... he uses the words 'vibrato' and 'tremolo' interchangeably.... ARGH!
I have one of those moments. Why do we use the word tremolo anyway? Or vibrato? Or any piece of violin-playing jargon! Why are we even trying to use words to describe this stuff?
We have to, of course. Otherwise we'd never be able to communicate about what we do. But with something as complex as violin-playing, there's a limit to how useful terminology and words can actually be. Talking about violin-playing is all very well, but as with any highly intricate skill, there's a distinct reality gap between theory and practice.
The reason for this is simple: when you're working on a task that contains extremely large numbers of variables, there are an uncountably large number of potential ways to do it!
And that's why there are many ways to play the violin. Everyone's different. There's no 'right' way.
That said, there are plenty of principles which it's possible to agree on as being 'correct' or 'incorrect'... broad, measurable ideas that can objectively be said to be true for any violinist. To communicate those principles in a way that they can be truly understood, internalised and applied, then you need to talk about them... and talk about them often. And we'll be doing plenty of that in the months to come, both here on the ViolinSchool blog, and also in our Video Lessons and Online Courses.
But the way teachers talk about those principles has to be different for different people. A video or a blog or a teacher's description might resonate perfectly for one learner, but make no sense at all to another.
That doesn't necessarily make the content good or bad, or right or wrong... it's just a reflection of how each person learns. Our experience, knowledge, preferred learning styles, and so on, will all affect how we relate to, absorb and internalise information.
For that reason, a lot of terminology can be quite subjective. For example, in the 19th and 20th centuries, it was common to distinguish between different 'schools of thought' in violin-playing practice... people often spoke of the 'Russian' or 'Franco-Belgian' or 'German' school of violin-playing.
That might have held true in a pre-YouTube world, when long-distance travel was rare and ideas were slow to cross continents. But in the hyper-connected 21st Century, unthinking adherence to old-fashioned terminology is a lazily dogmatic way of communicating our art!
(We joke about this a lot at VS HQ. "Oh David... your spoon-hold is looking sooo Franco-Belgian this morning!")
Ultimately, 99% of your audience doesn't give a damn about the provenance or genealogy of your bow technique!
All they care about is that it sounds good.
It's important not to get too hung up on 'established' musical terminology; there's often quite a lack of consensus about what some of the words mean anyway! What's important is that we speak clearly and simply about what we're doing and how we're doing it, so that we can easily communicate it to anyone, anywhere!
I'll leave the last words to Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong: