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Steven Albert

Concerto for Beginning Violin and Ear Plugs in G Major, Op. 1

July 11, 2009 at 1:28 PM

I have been steadily working away for seven weeks now at my violin studies.  While obviously not a vast amount of experience here, I am in a position to have a certain perspective.  To that end, I'd like to share a few observations and encouragements I've learned over my short tenure to those of you teens and adults who have recently taken up the violin.

12 THINGS I'VE LEARNED AND OBSERVED

1.  It is possible to learn to play the violin, daunting as it may seem.

2.  it is possible to learn to play it in tune, once again, daunting as it may seem.

3.  it is possible to get the bow moving in a straight line parallel to the bridge, ditto.

4.  You have to move your left elbow (not the whole arm) as you move from string to string, unless you like the sound of squeaks, squawks and "breathy" tone.  And while you may, it is doubtful that your eventual audience will.  Elbow goes to the left as you ascend, and to the right as you descend. 

5.  Keeping your left hand in proper position, while on the surface seems to run totally contrary to how the human being is constructed, it is not.  Eventually you figure out how it works.  Here's a hint.  Its connected to observation number 4.

6.  Good intonation is much easier when you connect it to observations 4 and 5.

7.  As you move from string to string, bowing, hand position and intonation seem to work like a wheel that pivots around the neck of your violin.  Right elbow up, left elbow in, ... and vice versa.  It moves your left hand along and keeps it in position.  Amazing how much easier it is for finger attack when you realize you're rotating around like this.

8.  Don't worry quite so much about your left thumb ... it seems to go along for the ride without much help (see observation 7).

9.  Use your bow like you mean it!  Tentative little scratches rarely give you a sound that doesn't make you cringe, and it will never sound in tune even if your finger is in the right place.  Right or wrong, play it with confidence, especially when you're not.  You may surprise yourself.

10. Keep a picture in your head of what you should look like as you play ... body erect, wrist out, instrument up.  Look proud.  It really helps to keep everything in proper position.  If you don't see yourself on that inner screen AS a violinist, you'll never BE one.

11.  Hear the next note in your mind before you play it.  Once you hit the wrong note, or one seriously out of tune, its difficult to get the right sound back into your head.  But, if you hear it first, its easy to bring the correct note in line.

12.  Sight reading music, bowing, hand position and intonation.  At this point it only "seems" possible to manage two or three of these at once, without the remaining going out of whack.  I am confident that getting all four are not impossible, daunting as it may seem.

I do realize that there is room for vast improvement on all of the above as I continue my studies.  But, I am here to say that after only 7 weeks, I'm not sounding all that bad at all.  So I'm living proof that it can be done, even at the ripe old age of 48 ... ooops birthday yesterday, 49.  

I hope these observations are valuable to somebody out there.  Needed to get them down on "paper" and maybe encourage others in the process.

Oh I almost forgot Number 13.  HAVE FUN, or why bother doing this at all.

Steven-

 


From Pauline Lerner
Posted on July 11, 2009 at 10:22 PM

Steven, that is an outstanding blog.  I teach a lot of adult beginners.  If you don't mind, I'll download your blog and show it to them.  You've captured some very common anxieties.

 I will suggest two changes.  In number 4, you meant to say, "You have to move the right elbow.  You said "left elbow.."  In number 8 you said "Don't worry so much about your left thumb."  In my experience, I've found that it's very important to keep the left thumb vertical to maintain the proper hand position to avoid resting the violin on your hand or arm.  Laurie addressed this issue to her first grade students.  Her video was intended for six year olds, but I often show it to my adult beginners.


From Christopher Ciampoli
Posted on July 11, 2009 at 11:42 PM

I think he did mean left elbow for number 4...


From Nicole Stacy
Posted on July 12, 2009 at 12:06 AM

Yes, the left elbow does have to move.  Surprising but true.


From Steven Albert
Posted on July 12, 2009 at 12:52 AM

Pauline --

Thank you for the  encouragement.  Yes, please feel free to copy the blog and pass it on to any interested parties.  I'm very gratified that somebody would find my musings useful. 

In #4, I was indeed referring to the left elbow.  I figured the the right elbow was too obvious, even at this level, to mention.  Can't even think about bowing without it.

The vertical thumb is part and parcel of proper hand position.  My problem WAS that in trying to move the thumb, it would get out of position, actually becoming almost parallel to the neck.  WRONG,  I hear the screams and see the cringing.  It turns out, that with proper hand and arm rotation, the thumb naturally follows with preserving proper hand shape and position by moving the elbow, and the vertical thumb. Realizing all these intricate interconnections is just fascinating to me. 

I think as beginners, it is impossible to see the big picture at first.  All these things; thumb position, curve of fingers, pronated wrist, arm position etc., I think are perceived initially, at least by me, as all independent things you have to concentrate on.  An overwhelming task for anyone.  Younger children do it just because you say so, and don't really care why.  As adults, we have a greater need to understand what lies behind all these minute instructions that the teacher nags you about.  As the big picture begins to emerge for me I can see more and more the interconnectedness of all these previously seeming independent parts ... how one effects the other .. and how a simple thing like moving an elbow, for example, can uncomplicate a lot of things. 

Sorry to go on.  Every one of these little revelations is like opening another Christmas present for me.  Its exciting and encouraging, and keeps me telling myself, "Self, you can do this!". 

Thank you again,

Steven-


From Laurie Niles
Posted on July 12, 2009 at 5:43 AM

It's fun for me to see what a student feels is important after seven weeks, thanks Steven!

And Pauline, I'm glad my little video helps!


From Steven Albert
Posted on July 12, 2009 at 4:01 PM

Laurie -- glad you like it.  I'll be happy to report back any time you like. 

Your videos are very helpful.  Thank you for posting them

Steven-


From Casey Jefferson
Posted on July 12, 2009 at 4:09 PM

Excellent observation, and it actually give me a lot of hint when teaching students too! So in return, thank you so much for your blog!


From Rita Livs
Posted on July 13, 2009 at 1:38 AM

Great observation, Steven! If you don't mind, I'll also show your recearch to my adults-students, and... looking forward for the 2nd movement of your concerto:)


From Jessica Paesel
Posted on July 13, 2009 at 5:02 AM
thank you so much for posting this! tomorrow actually marks MY seventh week as an adult beginner student. your blog has given me a lot of insight, and i think will help put things in perspective when i get frustrated and feel like playing violin is a crazy juggling act of multi-tasking. thanks!!!
From Charles Bott
Posted on July 13, 2009 at 11:17 PM

Thanks Steven for the post.  I'm 67 and going for my 8th lesson after a 50+ year hiatus.  Having a ton of fun, relearning.  The teacher had me play Mary had a Little Lamb--what a thrill (a little different than the Bruch Gm of 50+ years ago), but I got such a thrill out of playing it slow and in tune--wow, there is hope.  I have been working of bow handling and left hand configuration.  After a few cramps, its slowing coming back.  On the first two pages of Schradieck I, while all one string and 16th notes, I'm taking it slow and deliberate.  Everything needs to be visualized first so you are right on about that.  Without the visualization, I don't think it will work.  And slow.  Us "relearners" have a tendency to want to rush things, so I'm constantly remembering to just take it slow and in tune and watching the bow and (wow there's a lot of things to put together!).  ps, I have the music to the Bruch laying right near the stand so my goal is to some day relearn it.  The original notes from my teacher are still very prominent--its my inspiration.  thanks again

 


From Pauline Lerner
Posted on July 15, 2009 at 12:58 AM

Steven, as you said, all of these little things are interconnected, and beginners have a tough time keeping them all in mind at the same time.  I think the issue of proper hand and wrist rotation vs vertical thumb is like the dilemma of the chicken and the egg.  Which comes first?  Whichever one that the student finds easier to remember.

Laurie, I use some of your other videos with my adult beginners.  The one with variations on Twinkle is very helpful.  My adult beginners love them.  They are very clear and easy to follow.  You take something very complex and make it look simple.  Thank you.


From Don Sullivan
Posted on July 18, 2009 at 1:43 AM

Thank you for taking the time to blog.  I love the excitement and discovery that you convey in your blog.  It really is fascinating to learn something that you love and seemed impossible to do.  Thank you for the encouragement.  If I may be so bold, your descriptions are very thorough and simple.  I think you will make a good violin teacher.  Keep up the good work.  I look forward to hearing from you again. 

By the way, catchy title to your blog; I like it.  Reminds me of the first seven weeks of my violin lessons.  I can still hear the cries of "Make the Twinkle, Twinkling stop already!" 

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