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Zlata Brouwer

Is Your Left Hand a “Centenbak"?

June 30, 2015 04:49

I know from my ground school days that playing on the street can be quite lucrative. To get some extra cash you can put down your open violin case in front of you. This is where the term ‘playing with a cent container’ comes from. I translated directly from Dutch, so perhaps one of you peeps can tell me the English term for this thing in the picture.

What we mean by playing with a ‘cent container’, is when you collapse your wrist and hold your violin in the palm of your left hand. Almost like you hold up your hand to receive some cash.

centenbak-linkerhandpositie-viool-300x246Playing with a collapsed wrist instead of a straight wrist has a couple of disadvantages:


  1. It’s really difficult to stabilize your intonation. It’s a coincidence where you place your fingers.

  2. It blocks your vibrato, as your left hand isn’t free.

  3. Position play is very hard, because you can’t slide in this position. When you would play positions, you’d have to change your hold causing the shifts to be inaccurate.


goede-linkerhand-houding-viool-300x258So... How can you do it the right way?

Keep your left wrist it into a straight line. From your elbow to the tip of your pinky there is a natural flowing line without sharp angles (see the pic on the left).

giving-hand-linkerhandpositie-viool-300x252The alternative that works just as well is the ‘giving’ hand hold. The ‘giving’ hand hold is a term Kato Havas (amongst other violin pedagogues) uss. It means your left wrist is slightly curved (see the pic on the right).

In both cases it’s important to have a little ‘mouse hole’ under the neck between your index finger and thumb. This keeps your hand free and makes vibrato, position play and playing in tune easier.

Something to help you maintaining this hold while practicing is to keep a toilet roll between your hand and the soundboard or to use a Wrist Rascal.

Now... check how you hold your left hand and see if there are some tips I shared that can help you improve.

Is this video helpful to you? Please let me know in the comments below! If you like it, share it with your friends!

Love,

Zlata

PS: Do you have questions or struggles on violin or viola playing? Post a comment below or send an e-mail to info@violinlounge.com and I might dedicate a Violin Lounge TV episode to answering your question!

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5 Tips to Maximize the Results from Practicing the Violin or Viola

June 25, 2015 02:34

The technique of practicing is more important than the practicing of technique.

90% of the time you are holding your violin or viola you are practicing. From beginner to professional player, practicing is what you do most. It’s very important to like practicing.

In my violin shop and teaching studio I see the importance of practicing. When people return a rented violin or viola or they stop taking lessons, the main reason they stop playing is that (they say) they didn’t find the time to practice.

Violin or viola playing is not something you can do half. It’s difficult and takes a lot of time to get results from your practicing. When you pick up your instrument once in a while, you eventually lose your motivation and stop. This is just what I see in my experience with loads of violin and viola players.

Some people think you just have to be talented to play the violin or viola and you wil magically get results and play beautifully. No, you won’t. Even if you are very talented, you still have to practice a lot.

When you look at the stories of child prodigies or virtuozo players, you always hear them about how much they practice. You never hear stories of: I hardly do anything for it.

My private students are very different from each other and have different talents. There is however one truth: the students who practice most, get the best results and faster progress. Talent is just a little gift that makes this journey a little easier.

It’s important to be in the circle of more practicing -> faster progress -> higher motivation -> more practicing etc.

So... Now we know you have to practice... but how?

There are 3 things very important when practicing:


  • The duration of your practice (how long?)

  • The regularity of your practice (how often?)

  • The quality of your practice (what strategies?)


It takes around 10.000 hours to master a skill. When you want to master the violin, calculate how many hours you have spent practicing.

Of course... ‘just’ spending 10.000 hours and expecting the results to appear doesn’t work. The quality is just as important.

As I trust you can determine the duration and regularity of your practice yourself, I would like to dive a little deeper into the quality of your practice with 5 tips...

1) Optimize your concentration! 

Sleep well, eat healthy and take good care of yourself in any way. Be fit when you practice. When you are sick or tired, don’t practice.

When you are not focussed, you will not be able to correct yourself and you will automate mistakes. You will teach yourself the wrong things when you are not focussed enough to correct yourself.

2) Practice in little chunks of 10 to 20 minutes

Don’t practice for hours without taking a little break of a little breath. An adult person can really concentrate for about 7 minutes in a row. Yes, SEVEN! Children don’t even make that 7 minutes. Use this high quality concentration. Force yourself to stop in between, to take a cup of tea, to walk around or whatever refreshes your focus.

3) Use mistakes as a source of information

Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes, but use them as a valuable resource to learn from.

Here are the steps you can take when you make a mistake:


  1. Notice the mistake. Never ignore it.

  2. Analyze the mistake without judgement. Don’t beat yourself up! When you are not sure what went wrong, try to repeat the mistake: Make the mistake again and know what happened exactly.

  3. Determine the cause of the mistake. Was it your violin or bow hold, reading the wrong note, wrong fingering, wrong bowing, not knowing how the note needs to sound or something else?

  4. Determine how you can correct the mistake and prevent it in the future. Know what you have to practice and how often.


4) Get guidance from a teacher. Why do I take lessons for over twenty years... even if I am already graduated at the conservatory? Because it works. Because I improve myself faster and better than I can do myself. It’s a natural part of my playing the violin and me wanting progress. You can’t notice and correct everything yourself.

5) Have a no excuses approach. On a daily basis I am overloaded with excuses my students make not to practice or not to practice long enough. You are not a victim. You determine your priorities in life. When your work or your study has a higher priority than practicing the violin or viola... that’s ok! It’s even sensible. It’s your conscious choice. Always remember that the results won’t come magically. When you don’t seem to have time to practice, review your priorities and decide if it’s worth it to change them.

I hope these tips will help you optimize the results you get from practicing the violin or viola.

Is this video helpful to you? Please let me know in the comments below! If you like it, share it with your friends!

Love,

Zlata

PS: Do you have questions or struggles on violin or viola playing? Post a comment below or send an e-mail to info@violinlounge.com and I might dedicate a Violin Lounge TV episode to answering your question!

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Should You Stand Up or Sit Down when Playing the Violin or Viola?

June 16, 2015 01:37

Should you ALWAYS stand up straight when practicing the violin or viola? Is it bad to practice sitting down?

Lots of teachers tell their students to always stand while playing and not sit down. I’m one of them. The reason for me isn't that it’s impossible to sit down while playing.

Most students have a straight back when they stand up. Also they are more alert when they are standing. When they sit down they tend to slump (is that correct English?).

When you sit up straight on a chair that is not too soft, you can play just as well as you do standing up.

If it would be bad to sit down while playing... trust me, all professional orchestra’s would stand. The fact that they all sit down, proves that you can play just as well sitting down as standing.

I practice a lot sitting down. I just can’t stand up for hours every day, because my legs and feet start to hurt quite soon.

Sometimes I use a chair, but sometimes I use a training ball (like this one, click here). These are bouncing balls for adults (yes, have fun!). A training ball gives you all the advantages of standing, while not standing. Your back will be automatically straight (otherwise you will fall of the ball), the ball moves all the time which keeps you alert and your blood circulating.

If you struggle with playing while sitting down and standing up is too tiring for you? Get yourself a bouncing ball in the right size.

Is this video helpful to you? Please let me know in the comments below! If you like it, share it with your friends!

Love,

Zlata

PS: Do you have questions or struggles on violin or viola playing? Post a comment below or send an e-mail to info@violinlounge.com and I might dedicate a Violin Lounge TV episode to answering your question!

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Improve Your Violin or Viola Playing with a Toilet Roll

June 9, 2015 01:50

Do you know you can improve your violin or viola playing with a toilet roll? You can do various exercises with one and I use it a lot when teaching my private students.

Use a toilet roll to learn to bow straight.

You can hold the toilet roll on your shoulder or hold it exactly in the place you would normally bow on the violin or viola. When you bow through the toilet roll, it forces you to bow straight. You will feel when the bow doesn’t go straight and you can develop a reliable feeling of bowing straight. This can dramatically improve your tone and bowing technique.

You can let the bow rest on it's hair inside the toilet roll. This w0n’t damage your bow. Don’t lift the bow, because the exercises won’t be effective if you do.

Another variant of this exercise is to bow in the string as you are used to. Have someone else hold the toilet roll for you in the direction of the bow stroke. In this exercise you bow on the string as well as through the toilet roll. I do this with my students as they can feel how to bow straight while playing a piece and hearing the sound they make. The disadvantage of this variant is that you can’t do it alone (as you see in the video).

Use a toilet roll to keep your left wrist straight.

When your left wrist tends to sag (is that the right word?) while holding the violin or viola, you can practice playing with a straight wrist using a toilet roll. Hold the toilet roll between your left hand and your violin or viola. Please watch the video to see exactly what I mean by this.

When the toilet roll falls on the ground while trying this, consider buying a Wrist Rascal (click here for my interview with the inventor).

Is this video helpful to you? Please let me know in the comments below! If you like it, share it with your friends!

Love,

Zlata

PS: Do you have questions or struggles on violin or viola playing? Post a comment below or send an e-mail to info@violinlounge.com and I might dedicate a Violin Lounge TV episode to answering your question!

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How to ReStart Playing the Violin or Viola and Get to Your Old Level as Fast as Possible

June 4, 2015 00:50

When you just picked up the violin or viola again after a long time or you are planning to restart playing, this is the right video to watch!

In this video I will teach you how to get to your old level as fast as possible.

Perhaps you have played the violin or viola as a child or teenager and you stopped. Perhaps now you have the time and space to start playing again. Perhaps you are retired and haven’t played for decades or you just stopped for a couple of years.

You might have already picked up your violin or viola and think... What have I started? It can seem hopeless now, but you will be surprised how fast you can get back to your old level.

For the technique I teach in the video it doesn’t matter how long you haven’t played. The concept will be the same, although the exact execution will be individual. Here are the steps that work best:

1) Write down what you still can do on the violin and viola and know. Did you forget how to read notes and do you need to work on some theory too? Do you still know the basic technique of the violin or viola? Make a clear picture of where you are right now based on trying some things out and playing some things through.

2) Make a clear picture of where you were when you stopped... This is the level you would want to get at as soon as possible, so you can continue from there.

3) Check your violin or viola set. See if there aren’t any cracks in the soundboard. Check if the soundpost and the bridge are still standing up straight. Check if there is enough hair on your bow. Of course you can visit a violin shop to have an expert check this and perhaps do some maintenance or repairs for you.

4) Do the maintenance that you have to do anyway. When you haven’t played for some years or longer, these are the things you probably have to do: your bow needs a rehair, you need to soap your pegs (click here for a tutorial video), you need to replace your strings (click here for a tutorial video) and get yourself a new piece of rosin (buy here).

5) Take one or more private lessons to get you started quickly. 

6) Together with your teacher, make a package of scales, etudes and pieces of different levels that is logically put together. Set a realistic goal for the next year. Talk with your teacher about a realistic goal and the genres of music you would like to play. Adjust this practice package to it.

7) Find the time to practice daily. I understand that, certainly as an adult, you might be busy with so many things. However, when you picked up your instrument it’s important to make some time for it every day. Your practice session doesn’t have to take up a lot of time.

8) Practice in chunks of 10 to 20 minutes. You probably can find somewhere in your schedule 10 minutes to practice. When you manage to practice 10 minutes a day, you can make this practice session longer until you practice as long as you like.

9) You need to share your passion to stay passionate. When you don’t have connections to a teacher, other players or an orchestra playing the violin or viola can be very lonely. It can be hard to find the motivation. Find a teacher, practice partners, an ensemble or orchestra as soon as possible. Make time for this and make it a priority.

10) Be in the good practice circle. You can be in the circle where you practice a lot, meet music mates, get improvement and get back to your old level quickly. This is very motivating and keeps you going with ease. You can also be in the circle where you skip practicing a lot, are disappointed by your progress, don’t seem to get to your old level and eventually stop.

Please apply these tips and you will be surprised how fast you can get back to your old level.

I hope this video inspires and motivates you to restart playing the violin or viola.

Is this video helpful to you? Please let me know in the comments below! If you like it, share it with your friends!

Love,

Zlata

PS: Do you have questions or struggles on violin or viola playing? Post a comment below or send an e-mail to info@violinlounge.com and I might dedicate a Violin Lounge TV episode to answering your question!

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