Here in London, the new term is starting, and for the first time ever we are synchronising our online and offline tuition.
Regardless of whether you're learning with us here in London or from anywhere around the world, you'll have access to exactly the same course content, learning resources, exercises and learner support.
If you'd like to be notified when each course becomes available, don't forget to join our mailing list - you can leave your email address on the courses page.
I'm reliably informed by our technical wizards that all Member accounts have now been transferred over to the main website at www.ViolinSchool.com so you can now log in there with your existing details (though you may need to reset your password depending on when you originally registered... if you need any help just email email@example.com).
More about this soon, but the big news right now is that...
I'm super excited to let you know that our upgraded Digital Library is now fully stocked and ready to use!
There's sooooooo much more we have in the works for the Library, but the most important things that you can use right now are:
Weekly Updates / New Learning Resources
Because there's so much happening now that term has started again, it's hard to keep track without a regular update, so we're restarting the ViolinSchool Updates most weeks from now on.
If you're a member, you'll get a weekly email with direct links to all the new resources, tutorials, and lessons so you can access them in one click.
And if you're not a member yet, signup is open again - you can join today for $19 and access absolutely everything in the library instantly!
Requests & Feedback
Remember that as a ViolinSchool member you can send requests for sheet music, exercises and tutorials.
Requests that we know will be useful for other learners go straight to the top of our production list. So ask, and ye shall receive!
And of course we ALWAYS love to hear your feedback (in fact, most of what we do has been built according to what our learners have asked for!)... so don't hold back, let us know
Stay tuned for more!
We'll be blogging regularly from now on to share with you all that's new, including new topics and video tutorials as they are delivered.
So bookmark this blog and keep an eye on your inbox for our newsletters!
OK, that's all for now. More soon!
- Simon 🙂
There's a fascinating moment in many of our Beginner Violin Classes where I shout 'FREEZE', and everyone suddenly stops moving. Then, to much hilarity, I point out that every single person in the room is bending around to the left!
Faces are turned towards the violin, eyes are locked down in an intense stare, and everyone is looking directly at the bow/string contact point or the left hand fingers.
Everyone's eyes - and everyone's attention! - have turned to where the most compelling action is!
But what effect does this have on our playing?
Unnecessarily bending and turning to the left isn't great for violin playing. Even just staring at your left hand or bow whilst playing can lead you to twist your head and neck too. Ouch!
Unnecessary tension will start to creep in, your neck will begin to ache, and other parts of your body movement will start to seize up.
If your whole mental focus follows your gaze, you'll end up with the left side of your body taking up 100% of your attention. There'll be no spare space in your brain for checking that your body posture is correct!
For clear, easy sound production, our body posture and right hand technique must be relaxed, well-balanced and correctly positioned. So having that spare capacity isn't just important, it's actually essential.
So why do we get distracted?
Our primeval 'fight or flight' responses demand that we give fullest, fastest focus to our most difficult challenge at any given moment.
This is why our subconscious memories kick in: they allow us to respond to challenges faster than the speed of thought!
But the unique complexity of violin playing means that the immediately obvious solution isn't always the right one.
Yes, we need to rely on fast instinctive reactions... but those instincts are themselves based on carefully thought out, well-drilled behaviours, which in turn can be very counterintuitive!
Whoa...! This is the point where many people start to think: "this violin thing is really difficult!".
But it doesn't have to be that way.
There are two precautions you can take in advance which will make it MUCH easier to tackle complex violin-playing problems:
1) Practise the fundamental body movements carefully and conscientiously so that they're drilled deeply into your muscle memory. Then...
2) Take the time, EVERY time you're about to play, to make sure all the fundamental balances of the body are correctly set in place BEFORE you start...
...If you do these two things, then you'll start playing with a clear head... and will be able to focus on the other challenges ahead of you!
But when there's so much else to think about, how can you develop the discipline to remember to do these two things?
The solution, as ever, is having a checklist - and remembering to use it!
Firstly we must insist upon getting our fundamental body positions in place BEFORE we start to play. Use ViolinSchool's 3 Important Checklists to make sure that each part of the body is in the right position.
Secondly, we need to remember to check in regularly whilst playing, to make sure they haven't shifted.
THEN we stand the best chance of keeping a good balance, and therefore optimising our sound production as we play!
It's worth reiterating how important that second principle is - of checking the body position regularly whilst playing.
You see, it's not enough just to make sure your body is correctly positioned before you play - crucial as that is.
Because as you play, your body movements will gradually wear down the integrity of your posture. This creates inefficiency in your other technical movements.
You might start with the best of intentions, but as other challenges begin to take up your focus and attention, you have a stream of other things to think about, so you forget about your posture.
The solution to this is to actively reset your posture on a REGULAR basis as you play. You need to take time out from that shiny new finger technique or that difficult bowing motion, in order to check that the fundamentals are still correctly in place!
But this goes against our human nature. What's urgent often takes the place of what's important. But we can’t afford to allow that here!
Even if it feels wrong, we violinists need to develop enough discipline to make sure that the fundamentals of good body posture are always in place... whatever the cost!
Getting a trick or a technique right at the expense of your core posture or bowing technique might feel like an achievement at the time. Indeed, for a few minutes in a larger practice session, it could be the right thing to do.
But if you repeatedly ignore your body position and posture in order to focus on technical details, then in the long term it will lead to frustration.
Inconsistencies in body movement and core left and right hand positions will ultimately set the body off balance. And this will undermine much of the good work you've done on the details of your violin technique, by introducing inefficiencies and unnecessary tensions into your physical movements.
So... if you find your eyes moving to the left, that's fine for a moment or two, but don't let them stay there! Keep yourself focused on the tasks ahead, and use a clear checklist to give you the discipline you need to stay alert to EVERYTHING that matters... not just what seems most urgent!
Use ViolinSchool's 3 Important Checklists to help you check your posture and body position before you start to play:
A common problem when learning the violin is understanding where you’ve got to in the learning process.
This is important, because if you don’t have any reference points with which to measure your progress, it can be hard to know whether what you are doing is working.
And if you can’t be objectively sure that you’re doing things right, then you won’t have confidence in what you’re doing.
A strong level of self-confidence and certainty about what you are doing is absolutely crucial to being able to perform effectively on the violin.
A comprehensive curriculum can be a very useful tool for developing your confidence about where you’ve already got to with your learning.
A Curriculum is a very useful way of providing this objectivity. It provides a clear breakdown of topics into different levels of achievement.
Unlike other systems of measurement, such as exam grades or graded learning systems such as the Suzuki method, a good curriculum goes into detail about the actual topics involved in each level of learning.
By seeing the detail of what makes up each level, you get a much clearer sense of the ‘big picture’, and the true scope of your learning journey becomes apparent.
At the entrance to a big public park, it’s common to see a giant map of the area, with a big arrow on it that says ‘you are here’.
By putting your current location into context like this, you can suddenly see the ‘big picture’... the many different routes available to you start to become apparent, and you get a sense of the overall journey that lies ahead of you.
A map is very useful, but it has its limitations. It can tell you where you could go, but it doesn’t tell you where you should go!
One of the most important functions of a Curriculum is to show not just the topics that you need to learn and master, but also a suggested order in which to approach them.
This sequence or ‘gradient’ should be smooth... always challenging you in a new and interesting way, but never pushing you so far out of your comfort zone that it becomes too difficult or demotivating.
It’s very important to note that there’s no one ‘best’ way through the topics of violin playing.
Just as there are different tracks to the top of a mountain, there are limitless routes to choose as you navigate the many topics required for great violin playing.
Which track you take will depend on a number of factors:
Remember that a curriculum is a general guide rather than a definitive set of instructions. Although the overall direction of a curriculum should offer a progressive sequence of topics for you to learn, the exact route that you take through the detail of each level can and should vary depending on what’s best for you.
We’ve put together a curriculum for our learners which provides a comprehensive, step-by-step list of topics, sorted into different ‘levels’.
These ‘levels’ are unique to ViolinSchool, but the minimum achievement level for each level is approximately equivalent to the ABRSM exam grade system.
In other words, if you’ve mastered ViolinSchool Level 1, you should be able to complete ABRSM Grade 1 with good results.
We consider the ViolinSchool Curriculum to be a ‘live’ document, which means we regularly refine and update the sequence according to the latest research. Your comments and feedback are always welcome!
Remember that everyone’s path through the sequence will be slightly different.
Use the curriculum as a guide, but don’t feel that you have to learn each topic in the order that it is listed.
Also remember that most topics are complex and multi-layered, and will need to be learnt and developed in stages over a long period of time. It’s best not to assume that you can ‘learn’ a topic in one sitting!
Finally, be sure to consolidate each topic as best you can, before moving forward to the next level.
Use our online courses to acquire the skills you need, but also choose plenty of practice exercises from our Digital Library, to ensure you are carefully drilling everything you’ve learnt.
This kind of consistent, conscientious training is necessary for building up your habits and instinctive skills.
Doing this with every topic at every level will give you the confidence to keep moving through the curriculum, knowing that you’re building your violin playing on solid foundations!
This is one of the busiest times of year here at ViolinSchool, but I'm going to take a moment out to show you some of what's coming up here at VS towers!
The overhaul of our Digital Library is nearly finished, and if you're a member of ViolinSchool, you'll be getting an email soon to let you know where to login.
Did you know we also welcome member requests for new additions to the library?
If there's a piece of music you'd like to learn (subject to copyright!), or a technical topic that you need extra help with, tell us what you need.
If it's something that will benefit other learners, we'll get it done for you at no cost (ViolinSchool membership required).
The start of November means the start of The Violin Orchestra for our school in London, but we'll also be making the Violin Orchestra repertoire available to all our members, wherever you are.
You'll be able to build up your performance experience by practising along with the new MIDI score and part videos, which will show you what to play, when to play and how to play!
We made a decision earlier this term to merge the structure and curriculum of our online and offline courses (from our London school). The reason for this is that we've found learners make better and faster progress during offline courses, if they also have access to the same materials online.
A blend of online and offline learning gives a really comprehensive all-round experience, by offering multiple perspectives on core material. It also provides useful patterns of repetition in your learning... exposure to new ideas at different times in different ways helps with both understanding and with retention.
We're updating the online courses right now and members will have access to all of them really soon (we'll email you as soon as they're accessible again on the main ViolinSchool.com website).
Finally, our regular weekly email updates begin again from this week, packed full of new videos and partitions for you to enjoy. If you're not already on our mailing list, make sure you're subscribed so that you receive our newest content each week! We'll send you superb new resources every Thursday, to keep you focused in your violin practice.
Have a great November, and we wish you the very best for your practice sessions over the winter season!
- Simon, ViolinSchool
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!