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Which String Brand?

I have a bad student— 12 years old, wants to play, but she never ever practices... should I terminate her lessons?
-Anon.

•  I have had what many would have called the worst of students, but I absolutely do not believe in "bad students."

• For every misnomered "bad student" there is a bad teacher somewhere along the line of their life- not necessarily the music one.

• Because our species thinks in words, I believe it is imperative to, in our jargon, distinguish between a "poorly taught student" or the (theoretical) "bad student."

• I would begin by evolving with how you regard this student.  Learn her goals, and work together with her, not separately at her.  There is a stark difference between attempting to end the issue, and ending the cause.  Pull a weed from the head, and the problem will remain— tug at the root of problems.

 

• Do not say "practice more" with a list of things to practice.  Of course, review how.  Most importantly (and most overlooked) discover and regularly review WHY to practice.  Use her answer, not yours.

• That is my best advice.

Opinion on playing a recital with the score in front of you?

-Anon.

• There are traditions regarding these which are best honored in auditions, and at institutions.  (E.g., Sonatas with piano— with the music, solo Bach Sonatas and Partitas— without the music, all concerti— without the music, chamber music— with the music, etc.)

• Aside from within auditions, and at institutions, whatever you feel best doing is the best idea. Regarding traditions— I say make your own whenever possible.

Slanted Tailpiece, Harp Tailpiece, Compensated Tailpiece:
 "What do harp tailpieces do?"
-Megan Ramirez 

• The tailpiece is a largely overlooked conductor of tone. If you wrap your tailpiece with a light handkerchief and play, it’s like donning a steel practice mute. 
• Bassists sometimes bow their tailpiece as though it were a string. With enough rosin, I’ve heard this make quite a loud tone! Yes, they do affect tone!

There are 5 main types of tailpieces: 
• 1)“Tulip” which is the most common. Shaped like a wineglass and rounded at the top.
• 2) “French” also rounded at the top. The sides may be rounded conversely or convexly, but the defining feature is the built-in fine tuners.
• 3) “Hill” or “English” which has a two-sided roof-shape.
• 4) "Senza"— a new development, using a specific string set. This tailpiece is shorter, and string attached with a knot instead of a 'ball.' The opposite side of the string is said to tune to the next overtone partials: B, F#, C#, and G#, allowing sympathetic resonance and overtones for the accidentals, making keys like Eb resonate with sympathetic D#, and Bb with sympathetic A#.
• 5) “Compensated” which curves like a harp, making the higher strings slightly shorter, and the lower strings slightly longer. 
Here is a sample of its sound on viola:
https://youtu.be/GYfWOxrowDo

 

My old tailpiece was the lattermost mentioned “Compensated Tailpiece.”
• Its title is due to the fact that it compensates the temperament of the individual strings, in the same way, and for the same reasons, that a harp or piano does.
• A thicker string needs more surface area to vibrate. (While to the naked eye it vibrates back and forth, the string actually vibrates as a parabolic oscillation… topic for another time.)
• This is why the E string sounds rich in “high” positions, while the G string easily sounds choked without extra bow speed and pressure.
• A "Compensated Tailpiece" aims to provide slightly more length to the G string, and slightly less to the E, for the reasons above, shared with the harp and piano.

• The are pros and cons to compensated tailpieces. 
In my experience: 
Pros: 1) richer resonance on lower strings. 2) brighter high strings. 
Cons: 1) High notes, especially harmonics speak better on longer strings. Excerpts like the Tchaikovsky Cadenza with high harmonics are made a bit more difficult... which it really doesn't need to be. 2) The difference in bow-speed needed to make each string speak equally is greater, and something necessary to be even more aware of.

Why Can't I Play Today?: "I could play violin yesterday, but everything feels and sounds wrong today."
-T.J. Perez
• Every musician experiences this.  I'm not ashamed to say that I experience it daily.
• I also experience that I learn (or *can* learn) the most when trying to overcome this obstacle.
• How to play when: you are exhausted, frustrated, had a not-so-great day, feeling stiff for no obvious reason, the space is too cold...
• The real question is not "why can't I play"— of course we can.  So what answer are we looking for?
• I think it is: How long does it take, per environment, to snap into peak focus.
• More specifically— "Which warm-ups will bring me to said point most efficiently."
• Slow scales, using vibrato and musical taste, ranging 1st through 8th position.  These can be done in chords, on one string, with martele, different rhythms— but it all comes back to SCALES.  Chose the ones which work on your weakest technical points, and repeat.  A focused warm-up brings me to "peak focus" in around 10 minutes. 
 
How to Play Violin Faster: "Any suggestions on how to develop faster fingers in my left hand?"
-Anon.
• "Practice slow to move fast" — you'll hear this a lot.  It can become annoying without explanation or context, so I'll reshape it:
— We can already move our fingers quite fast.
— So, "faster fingers" is not the skill we need to achieve.
— What we mean by "faster fingers" is "greater accuracy."
— Seems like trivial semantics, but the concepts are crucial to distinguish between.
— "Practice slow to move fast" really means "Practice slow to move *accurately.*"
— When greater accuracy is combined with the speed we already have, it then has a chance to sound how we want it.
Left Handed Violinist: "Should I play a left-handed violin?"
-Sophia Chen

• The physicality of "left-handed violins" are comparable to "left handed cars."

• You VERY-quickly adapt to whichever you learn first.

• However, if you live in the U.S. versus the U.K., it would be a handicap on the roadway to go against the ambient convention.

• Or if you're a runner who only trained on clockwise tracks, though the international convention only holds races running counterclockwise.

• Earth's planet-wide convention places the bow in the right hand, violin in the left. 

• Any 'physical advantage' of ease to either position is very slight and very temporary. Meanwhile the 'music-making advantage' and 'equipment advantage' is quite large.

• Most western classical ensembles will not take someone with reverse-conventional setup, just the same as even Usain Bolt would not be allowed to compete in the Olympics if he only ran clockwise.

• The best equipment (instruments) are made for this convention as well.

• For all of the above reasons, the conventional setup is advised for all. Again, 'physical advantages' to either are very slight and very temporary, while the equipment (chinrests, shoulder rests, cases, and much better instruments, places to play, etc.) and enterprises of the conventional setup are quite many.

 

How Much Practice?: How Many Hours Should I Practice Per Day?

 

• Measure practice by quality, over quantity.

 

• Smart practice will yield more in 30 minutes, than "other" practice in 3 hours.

 

• Your mind and body remember what you do, and careless practice easily leads to being worse. (Speaking from experience.)

 

• Face the mistakes head-on, eye to eye. If you let those go by, your mind and body remember it all, just as well as something done right.

 

• A better question is "how" to practice, rather than "how long."

 

• And to that question, the short and simple answer is "slow, focused, and becoming better acquainted with your metronome."

 

Vibrato: "How do you make vibrato?"

 

• "Vibrato is the most underestimated factor of string playing. Part of this is because it's the most difficult to teach!" -Itzhak Perlman

 

• You'll see a lot about "arm vibrato" versus "wrist vibrato." This is because some initiate more from the wrist, others from elbow, but most importantly- all vibrato employs both, and it will change depending on the position (y axis) and string (x axis.)

 

• Vibrato is a slight tension and auto-release, either chiefly of the elbow or wrist.

 

• The goal and end-destination of this "tension>release" is the undulation the last knuckle of your engaged finger(s.) • This knuckle's undulation is the reaction, and not the cause.

 

• Similar concept as when you clap your hands; the hand-clapping is the reaction to a "tension>release" in the elbow. You CAN try to start clapping from the hand alone (no elbow) but this will be much more stiff, a lot more work, and you tire out in about 30 seconds.

 

• Vibrato should act as a loosening element, and not a tensing one. In other words, and like all other parts of playing, not forced at all.

 

• If the instrument shakes as you try to vibrato, the destination vector is wrong. The motion should undulate the knuckle, by way of the wrist, by way of the elbow. If it is undulating the instrument at all, the hand is not relaxed enough to absorb the initiating motion, and/or, the initiating motion is simply too much.

 

• Too much information (TMI is a thing in music) at once, can easily do more harm than good. Instead, I would play with the sounds you make exploring the physical concepts above, and come back in a few days.

 

4th Finger: "Why Won't it Work?"

 

• The 4th finger is... special.  It stays special.

 

• It is the smallest, thinnest, and weakest digit.  

 

• Atop this, it also does not get the daily training of our other fingers, because we almost never use it, even when we think we do.

 

• When we write, eat, play ball, drive, wash dishes, comb hair, etc., the pinky finger is just "there," but hardly engaged.  When it does move, it is still without the deliberation we grant to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd fingers, respectively, in everyday life.

 

• So, not surprisingly, it needs a LOT of its own independent and special training.

 

• I have a lot of off-violin exercises for developing its independency, and will be posting videos in coming months.  Stay tuned!

 

Critique: "Why are Violinists so Critical Online?"

 

• The integrity, inherent in face-to-face relations, does not make the crossover for some on the web.

 

• I believe some forget that there are "real" people on the other end, with another screen, just like they.

 

• It is not just musicians, nor chefs, nor politicians... it is some of everyone.

 

• I spent a brief period of my life as a web editor, and today administrate The Violin Guild. Generally speaking, the musicians are some of the more cordial and respectful ones, in my experience.

• One thing which helps is to specify what kinds of comments are useful.

• Another option, if you are on Facebook, is to limit your audience (to friends, friends of friends, a page, a group, specific friend lists, or public.)

• Another option, if you are on YouTube, is to disable comments altogether.

 

Mozart or Bach?: "Which do you prefer, Bach Concerto in A Minor or Mozart No. 3?  And Why?"

• I subjectively grade Bach the more skilled, more creative, and more interesting composer.

• However, the concerto, as a music form and sub-genre, as well as instruments comprising the symphony, and the cadenza, hadn't developed into what they would be by Mozart's time.

• So, I must vote Mozart's G Major Concerto.

Which Edition?: "What edition of music should I look for when buying violin music?"

• Bärenreiter or Henle- always one of these if available.

• It will come with both a critical Urtext, and an edited edition.  Concerti will also include many different cadenzas.

 

• Bärenreiter also has a very generous engraving, which leaves ample space for fingering and notes.

 

• The page color is also a tan, which I find easier on the eyes than a stark white backdrop to the notation, and hides eraser marks if you have a lot of erasing or 2nd-hand editing to do.


• Dover has valuable manuscripts to keep in mind when needed as well

Rosin: What is Rosin Made From?

-Sean Tripp

• Check out this video from my good friend, Andrew Baker, the creator of Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin— some of the finest on the market.

https://youtu.be/a6GKG3dZxr0

Which brand of Violin strings do I have?

• We can identify strings firstly from their respective thread winding.

• We can also identify from their plating color, materials, ball color, widths, tensions, and their sheaths if they have them.

• Most obvious identifier will be the thread winding.  This is the lowest two inches of the string, nearest to the ball or loop end— the side which contacts the tailpiece.

 

• Here is the most thorough catalogue of all common strings, and their thread winding colors by both brand and tension.

• http://www.lashofviolins.com/stringcolorcodes.html

Fingertips Changing Color: Should fingertips darken after Violin practice?

-Adrian Wu

• This typically only occurs with dry hands, and it usually nothing to worry about.

 

• On the microscopic level, it is akin to having a sponge rub against metal (softer skin) versus a scouring pad (drier skin.)

• The latter wears the metal off more quickly, and it powders, rather than clumping.

• If it is silver in color, it is metal and not dirt.

• If it is NOT silver in color, it can be a number of things.

• Some cheaper instruments have the fingerboards painted.  Sweat on the hands corrodes this paint, and leaves your fingertips darkened.

• Dirt can also accumulate on an instrument which has not been maintained well and kept clean.

Performance: Where do you look when you play violin?

• When I sound terrible, I just look at my feet.

• In Symphony, the music and the conductor.

• In Chamber, the music and the other musicians.

• In Solo, the back of my eyelids.

• When acknowledging an audience, always a vague spot closer to the back seating rows, and center.  Never an actual person— there will be time for this afterward.

Baroque Trills: In Baroque music, do we trill from the bottom?

• The universally-accepted standard is for trills in this period is to start with an upper appoggiatura, unless the precedent pitch is the same as said appoggiatura.

Tailpiece: What can you tell me about tailpieces?

• The tailpiece is a largely overlooked conductor of tone. If you wrap your tailpiece with a light handkerchief and play, it’s like donning a steel practice mute. 
• Bassists often bow their tailpiece as though it were a string. With enough rosin, I’ve heard this make quite a loud tone! Yes, they do affect tone!

There are 5 main types of tailpieces: 
• 1)“Tulip” which is the most common. Shaped like a wineglass and rounded at the top.
• 2) “French” also rounded at the top. The sides may be rounded conversely or convexly, but the defining feature is the built-in fine tuners.
• 3) “Hill” or “English” which has a two-sided roof-shape.
• 4) "Senza"— a new development, using a specific string set. This tailpiece is shorter, and string attached with a knot instead of a 'ball.' The opposite side of the string is said to tune to the next overtone partials: B, F#, C#, and G#, allowing sympathetic resonance and overtones for the accidentals, making keys like Eb resonate with sympathetic D#, and Bb with sympathetic A#.
• 5) “Compensated” which curves like a harp, making the higher strings slightly shorter, and the lower strings slightly longer. 
Here is a sample of its sound on viola:
https://youtu.be/GYfWOxrowDo

My old tailpiece is lattermost mentioned “Compensated Tailpiece.”
• Its title is due to the fact that it compensates the temperament of the individual strings, in the same way, and for the same reasons, that a harp or piano does.
• A thicker string needs more surface area to vibrate. (While to the naked eye it vibrates back and forth, the string actually vibrates as a parabolic oscillation… topic for another time.)
• This is why the E string sounds rich in “high” positions, while the G string easily sounds choked without extra bow speed and pressure.
• A "Compensated Tailpiece" aims to provide slightly more length to the G string, and slightly less to the E, for the reasons above, shared with the harp and piano.

• The are pros and cons to compensated tailpieces. 
In my experience: 
Pros: 1) richer resonance on lower strings.

2)That's about it... It's great for things things do not go very high.


Cons: 1) High notes, especially harmonics speak better on longer strings. Excerpts like the Tchaikovsky Cadenza with high harmonics are made a bit more difficult... which it really, REALLY doesn't need to be!!    Not great for late classical era music onward.

2) The difference in bow-speed needed to make each string speak equally is greater, and something necessary to be even more aware of.