Back to School List for String Players

It’s that time of year when the back to school lists come out and people are buying up #2 pencils, ball point pens, and index cards for the return to school.   Many music students are gearing up to go back to weekly lessons after a summer of traveling and other summer activities and it’s a great time to go over a back to school list for string players.   I would recommend going over this list with your teacher and then spending the last few weeks of summer getting everything together that you need for a successful year.

  • Properly Sized Instrument: This is a great time to have your teacher measure  you to see that your current size violin or viola is still the right fit for you.    In many instrument rental programs you can swap out your instrument for a bigger size, only paying a fee to re-string the instrument for the next person who plays it.   If you own your own instrument, now is a great time to advertise and sell it to someone who is moving up in size as well, or just starting lessons in the fall.   (Always get your teacher’s opinion before getting your new instrument – I have had a number of students bring in great “deals” from e-bay or a garage sale that are not playable and end up as an expensive piece of wall art . . . don’t let that happen to you!)
  • New Strings: The general rule of thumb is to change your instrument’s strings after 120 hours of playing.  You will hear many different opinions about the subject, but this is the most common that I have seen.  For many beginning students  this means changing out your strings about once a year.   If you make a habit out of changing strings at the start of each school year it is easy to remember.

  • Bow Re-hair: If you are playing a full size instrument, it is also a good idea to get your bow re-haired from time to time.   It is especially important to do so if your bow has lost a lot of hairs over time and is getting thin.  The general guideline is to re-hair a bow once a year.  If you are a student please ask your teacher if your bow is in need of re-hairing.
  • Music Bag: By the time students have been playing a year or two on their instrument, there can be quite a collection of books to bring to each lesson.  If your case doesn’t have a compartment to carry all the music to the lesson in, it would be a good idea to find a bag that is used just for your music.  There are cute music bags designed for music students, but any cloth bag will do the trick.
  • Notebook: Having a practice notebook to write down practice assignments and keep track of practice during the week is a must for the students that I teach.  Even a simple spiral notebook works well and helps everyone stay organized.  Picking one up while getting your other school supplies is a great idea.

This list should give you a start to get ready for the new school year.   If there is something else you can think of that I missed, please add it to the comments below.  Everyone can learn from one another and we would all love your imput!

Thanks for reading

~Christine

Goal Setting: Student, Teacher, Parent

Tomorrow is the first of February and many people have already abandoned the new year’s resolutions they made only a month ago.   I tend to avoid new year’s resolutions for this reason.  Instead, I usually make a few long-term goals for each area of my life and I urge you to do the same for your music goals this year.   Whatever side of the Suzuki Triangle you are (the student, parent or teacher) it can help to keep things moving in the right direction if you have some tangible goals to achieve over the next few weeks, months or year.   Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Possible Student Goals:

  • Pick a goal piece you’d like to learn by the end of the school year (make sure your teacher agrees that it is a realistic goal so you don’t get frustrated)
  • Pick a technique you need to fix or would like to learn (like vibrato)
  • Joining the local youth symphony
  • Attending a summer music camp or Suzuki Institute
  • Make a practice goal (100 days in a row is a popular one) or practicing more often during each week

Possible Parent Goals:

  • Help your child set up their musical goals and remind them of the goal if they lose motivation (long-term goal setting and working to achieve those goals is a great life skill that extends beyond music – I know I hope to help my own children learn to do this!)
  • If you practice with your child : work on finding the time of day when you and your child are at your best and can work together well during practice
  • Commit to reading a book about Suzuki parenting or parenting the specific age of your child
  • Commit to taking careful notes during lessons and/or videotaping the lesson
  • If your child is older and practices independently help them make a practice schedule and find time each day to get practice in, even with a busy schedule

Teacher Goals:

  • Commit to joining or becoming more active in a professional organization
  • Attend a workshop this year or the Suzuki Conference
  • Work on your work/life balance and make sure you are at your best personally and as a teacher by taking time to make time for yourself as well as your students
  • Find one thing you always wish you focused more on in lessons and commit to including it in each student’s lesson – I am working on adding in more music theory to my lessons this year

What musical goals have you made this year?

~ Christine

Book Recommendation: The Young Musician’s Survival Guide

The Young Musician’s Survival Guide: Tips From Teens and Pros

by Amy Nathan

This is a great book for teachers, parents, and teen/preteen  musicians. The Young Musician’s Survival Guide does a good job of addressing like practicing, staying motivated and playing in a musical group – all at the student’s level.   I picked up my copy this summer at Powell’s and found some good ideas to pass along to my own students.   Some of the chapters include:  “The Time Squeeze”, “Boring – Practice Blues”  and “The Jitters.”  Other teens and professional musicians share their tips for getting through the harder parts of being a musician.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the interviews with performers.  Many of them shared their experiences learning their instrument (ranging from violin to solo percussionist) and what they wished they knew as teens or had done a better job of.  Many of these points teachers make to our own students over and over but hearing it from a successful performer may help it sink in . . . we can always hope 🙂

One interview that caught my eye was with Joshua Bell (if you are not familiar with him as a performer here are two links to him performing on youtube) :

Here is an excerpt:  ” My mother insisted I practice violin every day, even if only for half an hour.  Then I could do other things,” he reports.  “I had plenty of fights about not wanting to practice.  I liked practicing much of the time, just not always.”

This is a great reminder for students and for their parents – who are on the other end of the “fights about not wanting to practice.”   It’s ok to insist on practice and most students (even Joshua Bell) are going to have days when they don’t feel like practicing and will need you to help them make it happen.

Has anyone else read this book?  What did you think?

Getting the most out of practice

“It’s not necessarily the amount of time you spend at practice that counts, its what you put into the practice”    Eric Lindros (Hockey Player)

As a violin teacher I absolutely love this quote.   Often as teachers we are asked “How long should I practice?”  or “How long should my child be practicing everyday?”   While teachers often have a rule of thumb they would like their students to follow, it is more complicated than that.   It is not just the time spent practicing but what is accomplished during that time that matters the most.

Here are 3 ways to get the most out of your practice time:

1.  ATTENTION:   Find a time of day when your child’s attention level is at it’s best.   For some students this is in the morning before school, for others it is after school, and still others will prefer to practice later in the evening.   Find out what works for your family.   I have learned from experience as a parent, and from many parents of my own students, that practicing right before bed can often be a recipe for disaster.

2.  HAVE A PLAN:  If your teacher doesn’t already help you come up with a detailed plan for practice – ask.  Most teachers are happy to help you break down your practice time and plan out how to use it to be well prepared for your next lesson.  I consider it one of my main jobs as a teacher to teach students how to practice.  Without a plan practicing can be like trying to drive somewhere without a map or GPS system.   Know where you are going and how to get there!

3.   ONCE YOU CAN PLAY IT CORRECTLY THE REAL PRACTICE STARTS:  Often I see students play a practice spot over and over until they get it correct ONCE and then stop.    The problem with this is that the passage has been played many more times incorrectly, than correctly.   I often tell my students “don’t play it until you get it right, play it until you can’t get it wrong.”   If you can make it your goal to play a small section many times without making a mistake then you have made real progress in your practice time.

Try adding these tips to your practice time this week.  Be patient. . . it may take a while to figure out what time of day to practice and to put together a practice plan with your teacher that works well for you.   It is worth the time and effort though!

What helps you and your students get the most out of practice?  I’d love to hear thoughts from parents, teachers and students!

~ Christine