We had been planning to begin our daughter on violin last year, and have been waiting to go back to in-person lessons. Right now, we wish to remain doing fully virtual instruction. Should we wait for in-person violin lessons? Is beginning violin lessons from scratch even possible in a virtual/online lesson?
This is a good question. I would say that in general, beginning to learn the violin in person would be ideal. Sometimes a concept just needs a teacher to move a student’s hand a bit. Or your teacher might need to help a beginning student move the bow up and down in order to help a beginning student really understand.
That being said, although ideal, one can still begin lessons virtually. What would need to be tempered is our expectations in terms of what areas of learning would move at a faster pace and what areas of learning would move more slowly.
With beginning students I am currently working with virtually, we have increased our focus on music theory, music notation, and note reading while taking virtual lessons. Also, complex rhythmic patterns have gotten more attention, in addition to fine tuning bow hold and stance, while we have been moving more slowly through beginning repertoire.
Our virtual learning/teaching space is very vibrant and active, but also very different from in person lessons. And ultimately I would say that violin lessons that are different from before would be better than none at all!
Do you think that ensemble playing is important for student musicians? If so, why?
It may seem counterintuitive, but I actually think that ensemble playing is very much like a team sport. Sometimes you are playing offense, sometimes defense on a sports team. Sometimes you have the melody, and sometimes the accompaniment within a music ensemble. Both can be about the excitement of the interactions the players have with one another, and both can be about building on our humanity through team spirit.
In sport and in music, it matters that the other players on your team respect you as a player. So, you will do your best and you will do your practice because you want to bring the best to your team; you (the young player) want to bring your all, and it propels you to keep practicing, and stay focused.
This is why I think youth ensemble participation is so important for young people. It is a positive way to interact with peers and friends, to grow (your brain, your confidence, your sense of connection), and to be excited about what you are doing; all in the process of celebrating great art and building valuable skills for the future (teamwork, self awareness, consideration of others, the list goes on!).
"Art is the only thing you cannot punch a button for. You must do it the old-fashioned way."
My older daughter plays the violin, and my younger daughter wants to start. Is it okay for sisters to play the same instrument?
The short answer to this question is, yes. Siblings can play the same instrument. There is, after all, no law prohibiting it. The long answer would be, that it depends. It depends a lot on family dynamics. In some families I have taught over the years, every child played the violin (sometimes a pair of siblings, sometimes more). A few siblings took it very seriously and practiced a lot, other siblings did not. As a result, sometimes the younger students played at a more advanced level than their older siblings and no one seemed to mind. In contrast, I have known of other families who considered an instrument to be "taken" once one sibling had begun study on that instrument. Younger siblings were allowed only to choose an instrument that no one else in the family was playing. The reasoning being that when siblings are playing on the same instrument, someone is bound to have an easier time learning/excelling, and it is not always the sibling who is the most passionate about the instrument. Said parents did not want any kind of musical competition to interfere with the relationships between the siblings.
The question for you to ask is what the dynamics are between a specific set/group of siblings in your family. As the parent(s), you are probably in the best position to judge wether having siblings playing the same instrument will be "harmonious" or not within your household!
How is the best way to practice?
This is an excellent question with no simple answer. As a student, you may be just beginning. Or you may be an advancing student who has been playing for many years. Professionals and great artists, of course, also practice. And types of practice are going to be dependent on what stage, level of development, level of commitment, ability your have attained in addition to the style/school you have learned.
I could suggest certain methods of practice, and many might agree while others might disagree with. To generalize, I think it is safe to say that there is no one way to practice, nor is there one style which is the best (although some are better than others!).
When speaking for students, I would say that there is one constant which can help regardless of level/style/school: Routine. Think of all of the routines we have in our lives. Most of us go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning. We expect the sun to rise in the east and set in the west (and we are never disappointed!). School usually occurs during the week, etc. We as humans are quite used to routines, and these routines seem to suit us pretty well.
What constitutes a practice routine? What you practice, how long you practice it, and how you practice should all be what is in your practice routine. Hopefully this will include the suggestions of your teacher, orchestra conductor, etc. And you can experiment with your practice routine, tweak it, perfect it, and change it again and again until it is just right for you at this specific time. Then, of course, you will grow and change. And your practice routine, hopefully, will evolve with you!
Once your routine is established, practice can become a consistent part of your life!
My son is 11 years old. I have been sitting in on his lessons for many years. I take notes on the lesson, and help out with his practicing at home. Should I let him take lessons on his own, or keep attending his lessons?
I would say that the answer to your question is a very individual one. I have had parents observe lessons with me and take notes, as you mention doing, with children as old as 16. I have also had parents of children as young as 4 years old tell me that they thought their child would concentrate better if they waited outside.
One memorable instance was teaching violin in a group class setting at a school where one child’s parent, who was also a teacher at the school, was very enthusiastic and would come and sit in on her daughter’s groups violin class. Her daughter wanted to be like the other children, who had no parents in the class, and whose parents were not also teachers, but her mother really wanted to be there. Eventually, the daughter threw her mom out, and her mother was content to check in with me outside of class to ask how she could best help her daughter with practice at home.
My advice would be to check in with your son’s violin teacher, and then maybe have a brief check-in with your son to see how best to move forward!
“Education is the best weapon for peace.”
Should violin students use a foot chart? What are the benefits?
First lets actually define a foot chart. When talking about beginning violin, a foot chart is usually a piece of cardboard (about the size of a pizza box) where a young child will stand and place their feet where marked. The idea when talking about “stance” is that a violinist should stand in a way that provides the most comfort and ease of movement. The violin (and the viola) is not a symmetrical instrument. It is held to one side of the body, and if held incorrectly (including an incorrect stance), everything around playing the instrument can become quite problematic (This is one of many reasons why it is important to have a good violin teacher!).
It can be argued that the foot chart actually creates more tension in a student’s body by too rigidly imposing how a child will stand. However, once you have worked with very young students for a while, you will understand that it is important to be pretty specific about how they stand, where they stand, and how much locomoting is going on!
In my own teaching, I find that I fall somewhere in the middle ground of the foot chart conversation. I do not use foot charts much anymore, but I do work with children on how they stand when holding the violin and when in rest position, and I do have a specific location of where children will stand while in lessons and when performing in recitals.