Welcome! Log in, or Join

Violin Blogs

Violinist.com members may keep personal journals on the website. Violinist.com's editor selects the best entries for the column below. Links to all other recent blog posts may be found in the column on the right.

Top Blogs

15 Tips to Successfully Sight Read

By Liz Lambson
December 17, 2012 16:30

Photo by Horla Varlan

One of the least anticipated elements of an audition is the dreaded task of sight reading. As perfectly as you may have prepared your performance pieces and your scales, all of a sudden a completely foreign piece of music is placed in front of you and—what?—you’re supposed to play this stuff cold?

Horribly fumbling through a passage of music for a panel of judges is not only scary, but potentially embarrassing—especially after so much preparation for an otherwise impressive audition.

But it doesn’t have to go badly, and the prospect of sight reading doesn’t have to fill you with absolute dread. The stage fright that sets in when that piece is placed in front of you can be completely avoided if you approach the task with confidence and a little know-how.



Here are 15 tips to successfully sight read. You can do it!

  1. Practice sight reading. Pull out some music you’ve never played before each time you practice, especially in the weeks before an audition. Practice sight reading using the tips below as if you were actually in an audition setting, even in front of family or friends. If you experience stage fright or get anxiety when you audition or play for others, be sure to practice your audition (including sight reading) in front of a “mock” panel of judges.

  2. Take a BRIEF moment to look over the entire passage. Glance over the whole piece to familiarize yourself with any dynamic markings, tempo changes, key changes, articulation markings, and the like. Don’t take too long doing this; you don’t want to keep the judges waiting. Try to look over the following details in less than 60 seconds.

  3. Look at the key signature. First things first. Take note of any sharps or flats. Also glance over the piece and take note of any accidentals.

  4. Identify measures with lots of notes. Look for clusters of notes (or lots of black). These are spots that will most likely be the trickiest.

  5. Identify measures with complex rhythms. Note dotted rhythms or clusters of sixteenth and eight notes. You will base your tempo on how quickly you think you can play the tricky passages.

  6. Look at the tempo marking. If a passage is marked andante, largo, lento, or moderato, do NOT play it faster than it should be. Playing a piece quickly with the intention to show off will not impress the judges. In fact, you’re more likely to trip over challenging passages if you start playing too fast.

  7. Start playing. Again, don’t keep the judges waiting too long. Go for it!

  8. Take your time. Concerning the tempo, it is perfectly okay when sight reading to play the passage a little slower than you might in a real performance.

  9. Keep a steady tempo. Don’t speed up or slow down. One of the most important things you can do is play the passage at a steady, consistent speed. This is something the judges are specifically looking for. Varying your tempo will give the judges the impression that you don’t have a solid sense of rhythm.

  10. Read ahead. Play one measure as you’re look ahead the the next measure(s). “An experiment on sight reading using an eye tracker indicates that highly skilled musicians tend to look ahead further in the music, storing and processing the notes until they are played; this is referred to as the eye–hand span.” [1]

  11. Don’t sweat the bowings. Start with a down bow (unless otherwise marked) and take it as it comes.

  12. Don’t stop or repeat measures if you mess up. This is also something the judges look for specifically as you can’t stop and repeat measure in a real performance, especially with an accompanist or when playing in an orchestra. Forge ahead!

  13. Don’t apologize or say, "Oops!" In fact, don’t say anything. Not even a disclaimer before you begin, like, “Oh, wow. Okay. This is probably going to sound really bad, but here goes!”

  14. Stop playing when instructed. Always stop immediately when the judges say so. Usually they stop you to stay on schedule or because they’ve gotten a good impression of your playing abilities based on what you’ve already done.

  15. And lastly, pat yourself on the back. It’s over! You did it! It’s as simple as that.


[1] Wikipedia, “Sight reading,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sight_reading#Sight-reading

Comments (7) | Archive Link

The Parts of the Bow

By Daniel Broniatowski
December 17, 2012 12:54

Greetings dear readers. This is part two of a series geared toward beginners who are looking for a basic introduction to the violin. For part one, which discusses the parts of the violin, click HERE. In this article, I will discuss the parts of the bow.

We will start from the bottom and make our way toward the top.
At the very bottom of the bow, there is a screw. This screw regulates the tension of the hair (which is from a horse's tail). When you turn the screw clockwise, the hair tightens. When you turn the screw counter-clockwise, the hair loosens. I like to tell my young students "righty-tighty, lefty-loosey".

How do we know how much or how little to tighten or loosen? Well, when you have finished practicing for the day, loosen your bow so that the hair starts to "hang" a bit. The hair does not have to be so loose that it touches the wooden part of the bow (called the stick). You can see the photo below of a bow with loose hair for reference. Note that the stick is of a somewhat concave nature.

violin bow with loose hair
Violin bow with loose hair

When tightening the bow, you should stop when you have roughly a pinky's thickness of space between the hair and the stick. Once you can play, you'll get a feel for this in a different manner. You will realize that the ideal tightness is just enough so that you can push down the stick of the bow so that it touches the hair while the bow is resting on a violin string. In the mean time, however, the pinky-method described above is ideal.
Be careful not to over-tighten! Also notice that the stick now has a slightly flatter rod-like shape. If at any time the stick becomes convex, immediately loosen the hair. You have gone to far and serious damage can result to the stick! You may wish to refer to the picture below to see the bow with ideal hair tension.

violin bow with ideal hair taughtness
Violin bow with ideal taughtness

Moving up the bow, we have a black almost-rectangular part called the frog. No, it is not made of frog and it does not ribbit! The frog is the heaviest part of the bow and often has decoration (such as a little white circle in the middle, often made from mother-of-pearl on expensive bows). The frog is also referred to as "the heel" by the French and is where one holds the bow (more on this in the next article).

Moving further up, you might notice that there are some leather covers and/or silver windings surrounding the stick. These are partly decorative and partly practical. When you hold the bow, your index finger will touch one or both of these sections. In my case, my index finger makes contact just above where the silver winding and leather covering meet. We will also discuss this in more detail in the next article.

Now, a quick word about the hair. We have invisible oils on our hands that keep us from drying out. We do not want to transfer these oils to the horse-hair because sweat can damage it, rendering it unplayable. If the violin shop you rented your instrument from gave you a bow that has black rubber-like material coating parts of the hair, ask for a replacement! This is a symptom of someone who regularly touched the hair.

I have been told that if one looks at it under a microscope, there are tiny little bristles that grab the string of the violin when you play. This is why horse-hair is so effective. Yet, it is not effective enough until we have applied rosin to the bow (see photo below). Rosin is a cake of melted and then dried tree-sap. This is not ordinary maple syrup! You may find different kinds of rosins in violin shops and as you get more advanced, you might find that you prefer one over another. In the mean time, however, it is not worth spending much on rosin. A relatively cheap one will do the trick. So how do we apply it to the bow? Well, this is best done once you know how to hold the bow, but in the mean time, I'll give you a primer.

Rosin case for violin bow
Rosin case for violin bow

First, take your rosin out of the violin case. Then take it out of its own plastic case. You'll notice that it looks very clear and beautiful. Unfortunately, we have to scratch it with a coin or sharp object. Just a few scratches will release the rosin dust so that it is "activated". Once this is done, rub it all along the length of the horse-hair. If this is the first time your bow has been rosined, be sure to do this for a good few minutes. The horse-hair should turn white or off-white at the least. Be sure to get all parts, particularly the ends of the bow. Concentrate on one part of the bow at a time and don't be afraid to be vigorous.

Rosin for violin bow
Rosin for violin bow

Speaking of parts of the bow, we can divide it into three parts. When violinists talk about phrasing, they often refer to the "frog", the "middle", and the "tip". Playing in these different parts of the bow results in sounds of different qualities and colors (called timbres). I don't think that it is necessary to tell you where the middle and tip are to be found! What I will mention, however, is that the tip is the lightest part of the bow and requires the most amount of weight and pressure into the string, unlike the frog, which requires that one suspend the upper arm to take weight off the string. We'll get into this more at a later time.

Meanwhile, I hope that this has been helpful for you!
Stay tuned for part three in the series: "How to hold the violin and the bow"

Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A.
Maestro Musicians, LLC

Comments (1) | Archive Link

Kids and Self-discipline when it comes to music

By Tim Yip
December 17, 2012 10:50

Does the above picture look familiar? Your kid is glued to a game when it's time to practice or do some painful task like *gasp* practice music!?

What do kids naturally gravitate towards doing when left alone? From polling my students, I’ve found that they would likely find something to play with, go somewhere to explore, or play video games. Kids are wired with amazing traits, but one trait I’ve noticed that kids aren’t born with is self-discipline for things that require perfection.

Kids aren’t born with self-discipline

When was the last time your child decided to set up his own practice schedule? Or was there a time where he accounts of the quality and time spent practicing? Most likely, never. (But if your child is like this, contact me ASAP because I want to learn your secret!)

What is self-discipline?

Here’s how Robert Brooks, Ph.D., a Harvard Medical School psychologist, defines the term self-discipline: “Self-discipline means taking ownership, accountability and responsibility for our behavior. It is one of the most important qualities we can help our kids develop.” Why is it so important?

  • Self-discipline helps you to think before you act

  • It improves your relationships with others

  • It helps you perform better at school and work

  • It makes you a good problem solver, and thereby improves your quality of life dramatically

Now wouldn’t it be awesome if our children were born with a natural incentive to love to self-discipline? We’d probably end up with an army of olympic level athletes and music virtuosos!

But let’s be honest now, kid’s don’t just pop out of the womb practice happy. When it’s time to practice, kids will always opt for more computer time rather than working hard at their scales. That’s where learning music comes in.

How music helped a wild child (me)

So you already know a bit about my childhood. From my mom’s account, I was a terrible student at 5 and 6 years of age. I could not hold still. My focus was all over the place and I was very hyperactive. Part of the result of that was me letting off energy through being a rambunctious, appliance-breaking maniac. Now this would have continued for many more years, my mother said, if I hadn’t played the violin. Something about the music lessons and practice made me have to calm down and put my focus on the instrument. After a year of learning music, my focus increased dramatically and my desire to roughhouse lessened.

Who's responsible here?

Who is responsible for practice? The kid, parent/guardian or teacher?
The answer to this question really depends on the level and age of the student. I would argue that the responsibility of practice rests on the student and his parents or guardian and the teacher. Each person has a different role.

Why not place the responsibility completely on the student? Think about your average 7-year-old’s perspective: He has no concept of pushing himself to potential excellence. Practice requires self-discipline that comes from mom or dad helping them make choices that teach them how to do it. So yes, parents play a hugely important role for ingraining a sense of discipline through encouragement, reminders, correction and rebuke.

The teacher on the other hand sets up the expectations of how long, and what to practice. A good teacher will go as far to show you how to practice it, too.

Love what you do and you’ll do good

It’s a given that loving what you do will help motivate you to do well in a given field (more on that in a later post). Yes, absolutely! We want kids to love what they do.

When it comes to music though, it can take years to develop that love. Think of it like romance. Some people fall in love at first sight. For others, it takes a long time to kindle a loving relationship. Relationships are never easy, and playing an instrument is really very much a lifelong relationship with music! Wow. That is very cool and also a little scary.

Be assured though that music produces wins that develop a whole person and makes it all worth it.

Some helpful ideas

If you are struggling with finding ways to help with the self-discipline arena, here are some thoughts to consider.

  • Quick wins produce massive momentum for behavioral change. A quick win could be simply practicing everyday for a week then getting a prize!

  • Simply telling your child to “try harder” will almost never work. If you find yourself trying the approach automatically, think carefully if you are over allocating responsibility to the child or tweak your pep-talk approach. Enthusiasm and encouragement helps.

  • You gotta believe- that sounds super cheesy, but tactics really are not enough if you and your child don’t believe that music is important for living a full life.

  • A routine is a powerful tool for getting kids to get things done.

It takes perseverance, but once you love music, it’ll increase the quality of your life forever! So parents, keep in mind the long term rewards when your child’s interests wane when the going gets tough. Hang in there, it will be worth it!

Comments (2) | Archive Link

Weekend vote: Cast a wish for peace

By The Weekend Vote
December 16, 2012 17:10

Besides the embrace of a friend, I can't imagine anything that brings more comfort and understanding during difficult times than music.

I applaud Saturday Night Live (of all shows…) for perhaps the singularly most appropriate tribute to the victims of Friday's violence in Connecticut: opening its show with the New York City Children’s Chorus singing in unison, a cappella, "Silent Night":

The song may be about Christmas, but it certainly seems appropriate in this situation: the silence, the night of the soul as it mixes with the night of winter at solstice, and the wish for peace for those in heaven and on earth. I wish peace for the children slain, for their parents, their friends, for their community, for the United States of America.

I can't think of a vote for this week that pits any answer against another. So perhaps you could just join me casting in a wish for peace:


Comments (6) | Archive Link

Reasons I'm Grateful for my Violin

December 16, 2012 10:45

I've loved classical music since I was very young - particularly Baroque music, which I believe is the holy grail of ALL music. I was bought a piano for my 10th birthday, but I never took serious lessons, worrying that they'd make it seem more like 'homework'. That is something I seriously regret now.

When I was about 12 or 13, I began taking music seriously. I taught myself a good deal of music theory, and began to develop a particular obsession for the violin. Sadly, it took me another year or so to finally ask for lessons.

I found a wonderful teacher this May, and shortly afterward purchased my own violin. I had the summer holiday approaching. I made it my mission to get up with my mum at 8, get my chores done for ten after a hurried breakfast, and practice until she got back at 5 with breaks for food. I know over-practicting can be bad - I've listened to my teacher, and to the wise people on this site - but I progressed well enough.

Funnily enough, I love practicing. Maybe that's because I'm a beginner, so everything I do is pretty much practicing and improving.

At one point I became very disheartened when I began to be more aware of child prodigies, and professionals who started at 3 and 4 years old. I've gotten away from this now - I'm sure there are plentiful people on here who'll tell me 15 is still young!

I've been playing for about seven or eight months now,and shortly I'll be taking my Grade 3 exam. I have done the typical beginner thing where you look at Bach's Partitas (although I can play the Allemande of No. 2), but don't worry! I diligently handle my etudes.

This year, I was diagnosed with psychosis, although I've had 'problems' since around 11 or 12 years old. The violin has given me a passion, and something to work towards and achieve. For that, I'm insanely grateful, and I'd probably be in an even darker place if not for Sir Roderick (my violin).

In short, I love my violin. Tell me why you're grateful for your own, and thank you for reading. Enjoy yourselves, and take care.

Some Reasons I'm Grateful:

1. It has given me something to work towards
2. I have a renewed passion, and can eventually play the music I've loved since earlier childhood
3. Through my violin, I've met lots of wonderful people
4. I went to my first concert
5. The violin is a beautiful thing, and I feel blessed to own one
6. Granted, a lot of the time when things are particularly awful, I don't play. But sometimes I'll curl up (figuratively) with Sir Roderick, and I feel less lonely and safer.

For all of these reasons, I'm eternally grateful.

Merry Christmas!


Archive Link

The Violinist.com Glossary of Violin-Related Terms

By Laurie Niles
December 15, 2012 10:29

We've compiled a glossary of terms used when talking about the violin, to help everyone understand our common vocabulary. We've given short definitions so readers may get a quick answer, then in many cases, we've linked to more information. Here and there you'll find a few definitions that simply illustrate the quirks and history of the Violinist.com community. If you would like to add a term to this glossary, you are welcome to e-mail editor Laurie Niles with the term and your suggested definition.


* * *

Appoggiatura: an ornamental note that is added before a principal note, usually a step higher or lower than the principal note. The appoggiatura note is leaned on, then it resolves to the principal note.

Arpeggio: sounding the notes of a chord in succession, rather than simultaneously.

Artificial harmonics: harmonics created by holding down one finger (thus "shortening" the string) and then putting another finger down lightly. On the violin, one usually holds down the first finger and touches the fourth lightly to the string. "Czardas" by Monti has a section with all artificial harmonics, as does the "Pe loc" movement from Bartok's Rumanian Folk Dances.

Avec le bois: French: "With the wood." See "col legno."

Bariolage: the quick alternation between a static note and changing notes, which form a melody either above or below the static note. This technique usually involves repeated string crossings and is common in Baroque violin music. A good example is in the Preludio from Bach's Partita No. 3.

Bow: a flexible wooden (or carbon fiber) stick with horse hair stretched from the bent tip, or point, to a moveable frog, or nut. The hair is drawn over the strings to set them vibrating. A Baroque bow has more convex curve to the stick; the modern bow, developed in the late 18th c. by Francois Tourte, has a more concave curve and more tension applied to the hair. (Here is an article on the parts of the bow.)

Bow holds: see Franco-Belgian, Russian and Galamian.

Brazilwood: later-growth Pernambuco wood used to make bows. Here is an article about Brazilwood vs. pernambuco

Bridge: the ornate, raised wood that holds up the strings in the middle of the fiddle. It is not glued down; it stays in place only because of the pressure of the strings.

Buri: Stephen Brivati

Cadenza: Look carefully and you can find the word "cadence" in this term. A "cadence" is the conclusion of a phrase, and a "cadenza" is simply a very fancy one. Usually occurring toward the end of a concerto movement, it is a place where the orchestra drops out and the soloist plays a virtuosic cadence, which can be written by someone else or improvised by the soloist. Rachel Barton Pine has spoken extensively about how to write your own cadenzas.

Chin rest: a wooden device attached to the bottom-front of the violin that separates the chin from direct contact with the violin surface. There are many different kinds. See also: Shoulder rest

Coffee: common elixir among fiddle players

Collé: "pinched" bowing at the frog done with fingers only; often assigned by teachers to help students cultivate finger flexibility while still balancing the weight of the bow. (Here is a discussion about it.)

Col legno: striking the strings with the wood of the bow instead of the hair. To avoid messing up their expensive bows, sometimes professional musicians use a spare bow or even a pencil when music calls for col legno.

Conductor: evolved from the concertmaster position -- Ideally, he or she works to resolve issues of pitch, balance, articulation, pulse, etc. with orchestral musicians during rehearsals and keeps a steady and clear beat during performances.

Con sordini: played with mute. (See "mute")

Concertmaster: the first-chair first violinist of an orchestra, often charged with leading the section, deciding all bowings, translating the wishes of the conductor to the orchestra and vice-versa, listening to auditions, and serving as a representative of the orchestra to its larger community.

Concerto: a composition for solo instrument(s), with orchestral accompaniment. Typically, it's in a three-movement sonata form, with cadenzas in the first and last movements, though a number of violin concertos, especially more modern ones, use different ideas to organize movements. Before 1650, the term referred only to a work for voices with organ or continuo. In a nutshell, it's a vehicle for a soloist, or group of soloists, to show off!

Concerto grosso: a kind of concerto in which a small group of instruments alternates with a larger group. Corelli wrote many of these, most famously his Christmas Concerto.

Daempfer: German word for mute.

Demisemiquaver: the European word for a 32nd note. If you say it loud enough you'll always sound precocious.

Détaché: detached, with separate bow strokes, but not staccato (or short)

Double stops: playing on two strings at the same time. (FYI: "Stopping" is simply putting your finger down on the string, to produce a note other than an open string. So technically, it refers to using your fingers on both of those strings.) And yes, there are "Triple stops," playing on three strings at once, and even "Quadruple stops," playing on four strings at once.

Drone: a single tone that is sustained for a period of time while a melody is being played. (A teacher might play a "drone" on the tonic while a student is playing a scale, to help keep the student on-pitch) Bagpipes have a built-in drone.

F-hole: This sounds bad, but it's not. It describes one of the openings in the face of the violin, on either side of the strings, that is shaped like a cursive "F" but really looks more like an "S."

Fiddle: same exact thing as a violin. That doesn't mean we can't argue about it on Violinist.com.

Fingered octaves: alternating using fingers 1-3 and 2-4 in a passage of double-stop octaves, rather than playing them all with fingers 1-4, or all with fingers 1-3. (Here's a discussion on practicing fingered octaves.)

Flautando: a "sul tasto" (over-the-fingerboard) bow stroke that creates a flute-like sound.

Franco-Belgian bow hold: holding the bow with rounded and flexible fingers, including a rounded pinkie which takes some of the weight of the bow. Here's a nice V.com flame war we had back in 2011 on the subject of 'bow holds'! (See Russian bow hold and Galamian bow hold)

Frog: a removable device at the lower end of the bow stick that secures the hair and permits the regulation of its tension. Also called the "nut" or the "heel."

Haiku: a Japanese form of poetry, and a great way to write about the violin.

Hair: on the violin bow, the hair comes from a horse's tail and is rubbed with rosin to make it sticky.

Galamian bow hold: a modified Franco-Belgian bow hold in which the wrist is flatter and fingers slightly closer together.

Glissando: to glide or slide the fingers along the string, usually to create a special effect. The late Ruggiero Ricci wrote a book called Ricci on Glissando about a kind of violin technique that makes more frequent use of the glissando for shifting.

Heel: the frog of the bow

Hooked bowing: hooking two notes into one bow, usually with a stop between.

Intervals: the distance between two notes. Here are some examples of ways to teach, identify and remember different intervals.

Intonation: the degree to which something is "in tune," or to which something is the correct pitch. (Pythagorian, Just and Equal Temperament)

Jeté: French for "thrown," a bouncing bow stroke that involves two to six ricochets in a row.

Just temperament (or "pure intonation): a tuning system that produces harmonic intervals tuned to eliminate all beats. (Here is a discussion thread on just temperament).

Key: the tonal center of a composition -- the scale that a composition is built upon. The "key" is named after the first note of the scale. For example, "G major" is built on the major scale that starts on the note "G." That first note is also called the "tonic."

Label: Found on the inside of the violin by looking through the left "f"-hole, this tells who made the violin, where it was made, and in what year. Except when the label is fake!

Legato: smooth, connected bow stroke

Limerick: more entertaining poetry about the violin.

Luthier: maker of a stringed instrument such as a violin, viola, cello, bass or guitar. The term comes from the word "lute," a basic stringed instrument.

Major scale: a scale with half-steps between the 3rd and 4th and the 7th and 8th degrees. (My students like to chant, "whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole half," to remember the intervals in an ascending major scale) Here is a Nice, wonky discussion thread on scales and modes and their history.

Martelé: "martellato" in Italian means "hammered." A detached and strongly accented bow stroke.

Measurements for violins: This seems like a fairly amazing website, with an encyclopedic catalogue of precise measurements of violins by makers from the 17th through 20th centuries. For each of 305 instruments, they list 250 measurements: The Luthier's Library.

Minor scale: a scale with a lowered third degree. Many agree it sounds "sad" compared to a major key. In addition to the lowered third degree: a natural minor scale has a lowered sixth and seventh degrees; a harmonic minor scale has a lowered sixth and raised seventh degree; and a melodic minor scale has a raised sixth and seventh degree ascending and a lowered sixth and seventh degree descending.

Modes: There are a total of seven different ways to pick 7 pitches out of the available pitches to form an eight-pitch scale which ends on the same pitch it started with. These seven different ways to arrange the scales are known as modes, and their names are: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian. The major and minor scales are actually two of those seven modes. Major is Ionian mode and minor is Aeolian mode. (Definition taken from this discussion.)

Mute: a small device that fits over the bridge to mute the sound of the violin. It makes it sound like the violin is singing with its nose plugged. Not that a violin has a nose. A "practice mute" is usually a bit bigger and heavier and makes the violin very quiet, for times such as practicing in a hotel room. Here are some examples of various mutes.

Natural harmonics: overtones produced by touching the open string very lightly at various points from the bridge. Generally the clearest harmonic occurs in the very middle of the string, which, when touched lightly without depressing the string, sounds an octave above the string's open-string pitch. Harmonics are usually notated with a small circle over the note or a diamond-shaped note, and they tend to sound open and ring-y.

Nut: On the bow: the frog. On the violin: the grooved ridge of wood near the scroll where the strings pass over from the fingerboard into the peg box.

Passage: a section of music

Pedagogy: the art of how to teach something. A "pedagogue" is an expert in teaching techniques and often teaches teachers. Here are the names of some violin pedagogues, past and present: Leopold Mozart, Leopold Auer, Jascha Brodsky, Carl Flesch, Otakar Ševcík, Eugène Ysaÿe, Josef Gingold, Ivan Galamian, Dorothy DeLay, Shinichi Suzuki, Simon Fischer, Roland Vamos, Stanley Ritchie.

Pernambuco: the rare South American wood from which many bows are made. Here is an article about Brazilwood vs. pernambuco and here is an article about a bowmaker who participates in re-forestation efforts for pernambuco.

Pedal tone or pedal point: a sustained note held under the other musical goings-on, as with an organ "pedal." For us string players, it sometimes refers to the repeated (unchanging) note in bariolage.

Pizzicato: an indication for string players to pluck, rather than bow, the string.

Ponticello: the bridge of the violin. "Sul ponticello" is a direction to play very near the bridge, which creates a nasal sound.

Portamento: an effect done by sliding into a note with the left hand. The violinist Fritz Kreisler was a master of this technique. Here are tips for when to use this effect.

Portato: as opposed to up-bow or down-bow staccato, in which each note marked with a bow stop -- each note in a "portato" bowing is re-articulated very gently, with the bow continuing to move between notes. Think "wah-wah-wah-wah." (btw if you type "portato," spell-check will likely change it to "potato.")

Positions: This refers to the position of your left hand on the violin. "First position" is the first one most people learn, with the hand resting near the end of the fingerboard, toward the scroll. Typically, students next learn third position, in which the hand is moved forward so that the first finger is now where the third finger was in first position. There are 10 positions, moving progressively up the fingerboard, and also half-position, which is a half-step lower than first position, with the first finger generally positioned right by the nut.

Practice: The devotion you show your instrument by playing it every day and repeating actions accurately until they come naturally. Shinichi Suzuki suggested that it takes 10,000 repetitions to truly learn a piece. That's a lot of practicing! (the verb form, in Europe, is "practise.")

Prunes: dried plums, which aid in late digestion. Ideal snack for string players who may occasionally suffer bouts of rigidity of mind or bowel, due to their high-strung nature. First recommended in 2004 by V.com member Stephen Brivati, aka "Buri."

Purfling: an inlaid, protective border around the perimeter of a stringed instrument. On a violin, viola or cello, it looks like a painted double line -- but it better not be just paint!

Pythagorian tuning: tuning based on the use of pure fifths. It uses Greek philosopher Pythagorus' theories of physics and sound.

Relative minor: Every major scale has a relative minor that uses its same key signature. The relative minor is located 1 1/2 steps down from the relative major. For example, the relative minor of C major is A minor.

Rhythm: the organization of silence and sound in time.

Ricochet: a bouncing bow stroke in which the bow is dropped or thrown on the string and allowed to rebound and bounce again, several times. (V.com member Drew Lecher wrote an excellent article on developing ricochet bowing)

Rosin: a small cake of solid resin from a tree (often pine) that we rub onto the bow hair in order to make it sticky, to make the string sound. No rosin on the bow = no sound from violin! Light rosin tends to produce a smoother sound, and dark rosin (used more often on lower instruments like the viola or cello) tends to produce a grittier, bigger sound. (Here is a nice informational page on rosin, from Shar.)

Russian bow hold: a bow hold in which the right hand is extremely pronated, leaning toward the index finger, with the pinkie quite straight. The right wrist also tends to be very high. Jascha Heifetz was its most famous adherent.

S & P's: Sonatas and Partitas, for solo violin, written by Johann Sebastian Bach. (Here's a long chat we had about them.)

Sautillé: very fast spiccato, done usually with the hand.

Scale: See major scale, minor scale, modes.

Schoenburger: Hilary Hahn's 2008 challenge, suggested by V.com member Stephen Brivati, to create a Schoenburger recipe in honor of the composer Arnold Schoenberg's 134th birthday in 2008. This was the winning recipe.

Scroll: the decorative "head" of the violin. Generally it is carved to look like rolled parchment, but occasionally a luthier gets creative and makes a scroll that looks like a face or animal head. (Here are some wonderful pictures and description of the making of a typical scroll, from luthier Jonathan Hai and his wife.)

Second violin section: a highly essential and underrated part of the orchestra that often plays harmony to the first violins' melody.

Senza sord: without mute (that means if you have it on, take it off)

Shoulder rest a contraption -- praised by many, vilified by others -- to help hold up the violin. There are many, many different kinds. Choosing one involves matching your body type to the right rest: see our article, How to Hold a Violin. Violinists argue rather vociferously about whether a person really needs a shoulder rest or not. A majority of violinists use a shoulder rest, as evidenced by the results of the first poll we ever took on V.com. Playing without a shoulder rest involves special technique; please refer to Stanley Ritchie and his book called Before the Chinrest. Also, there are many articles on V.com about the topic: for example, this one by Emil Altschuler. Above all, either way you choose, please do not injure yourself.

Solfege: a language that assigns a syllable to each step in a scale. For an ascending major scale, the solfege syllables are: Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do.

Sonata: Officially, this refers to an instrumental work in 2-4 movements. As related to the violin, there are many works we refer to as "violin sonatas" which are actually written for the violin and piano, to be played as chamber music. There are also "solo sonatas" for just violin, written by Bach and by Ysaye.(In this thread, people write about their favorite violin sonatas).

Soundpost: a wooden post, set under the bridge, to transmit the bridge's vibrations to the soundboard. Adjusting the soundpost can change the sound of a violin, thus sometimes violinists take their fiddles to a luthier to "have the soundpost adjusted."

Sounding point: the point on the string between the bridge and the fingerboard where the instrument responds most readily and most resonantly. Shinichi Suzuki called this the "Kreisler highway," the place where one must bow on the string, neither too close to the bridge nor too close to the fingerboard. More refined: Dorothy DeLay, and subsequently Simon Fischer, spoke of five sounding points, from the bridge to the fingerboard -- sort of like five lanes on that highway. Each of of the five "lanes" or sounding points, has a different characteristic and is used for various kinds of bowing.

Spiccato: bouncing bow stroke (Here's an article about a class Barbara Barber gave on spiccato.)

Staccato: a short note, which can be produced with several kinds of bow strokes, including spiccato, sautille, martele, jete, ricochet, up-bow and down-bow staccato and more. (Here is a thread that describes the "staccato" concept well.)

Strings: There are so many of them! Find some guidance at ViolinStringReview.com as well as a string color ID chart to help you figure out what kind of strings you have, based on their colors, all made by V.com member Shawn Boucke.

Suzuki Method: A music education philosophy pioneered by the Japanese violin pedagogue, Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998) and used especially in the training of young children. Here is a detailed description of its philosophy and history.

Tasto: The fingerboard. "Sul tasto" is a direction to play over the fingerboard, creating a soft, whispery sound.

Tonic: The first note, or degree, of a major or minor scale. In the key of G major, the "tonic" is the note "G."

Tremolo: extremely rapid repetition of a note, usually accomplished by playing at the tip and using a hand motion.

Trill: rapid alternation of two tones either a whole or a half tone apart.

Vibrato: a fluctuation of pitch to warm the tone of a note, achieved by oscillating the left hand. Vibrato can originate in the fingers, hand, and arm, or a combination of all three. (Here are several articles by Anna Heifetz about vibrato: defining types of vibrato; developing vibrato and vibrato and tension.)

Viola: A most beloved instrument, looking like a violin only larger, with a lower register whose strings include C, G, D and A. Sometimes people tell viola jokes, but it's only because violists are our siblings and we love them.

VSO: "Violin-Shaped Object." Don't buy one.

Wolf tone: when one note gets a wooffy, fuzzy sound, no matter what you do. The note is usually on the G string and becomes a bother mostly if you are playing something like Zigeunerweisen or the last movement of the Brahms Sonata in A. Here's a Long discussion we had on the topic; also, Augustin Hadelich talks in detail in this interview about how to deal with them.

* * *

Would you like to contribute an addition, or an "edit"ion to our Violin Glossary? Please contact editor Laurie Niles with your idea or edit.

Comments (14) | Archive Link

Patience... A Vanishing Art?

By Cheyne Winterthieme
December 15, 2012 08:19

How many times have you had someone tell you,"I could never do that; I don't have enough patience." ? It is probably meant to be a complement, but I think it's a tragic confession.
The other day I narrowed the definition of an artist to one word: patience. Not many Americans seem to have it. All artists *must* possess it. Yes, music is an art and a musician is an artist, too. I don't claim to have a talent, but I do claim to have determination and patience. If you want to get good at something, it usually takes time, hours of practice, and LOTS of patience (that is, for most of us). Some people tell me they get bored practicing the same thing over and over. I see it as an opportunity, another chance, and a privilege to be able to pick up my violin and 'play it again'. It fills me with excitement. Nothing can so lift me when I'm down as playing my violin. I can let all those pent-up feelings, whatever they may be, out through those strings and let the goodness of my music flow back in. It is so refreshing. Everyday I look forward to practicing an hour or hopefully more! and it is always hard to skip one day. Even just one.

But just think what the average person could do if they just had a little patience!

Comments (1) | Archive Link

Pietro Antonio LOCATELLI (1695-1764) vc op.3 no4,5,6

By Bram Heemskerk
December 15, 2012 07:03

Pietro Antonio LOCATELLI (1695-1764) violin concerto's opus3 no 4,5,6 :

Archive Link

The Comfort of Music: Ten Relaxing Classical Pieces

By Liz Lambson
December 14, 2012 19:38

I recently wrote a post entitled, "Tidings of Comfort and Joy: 10 Ways to Tune Up the Holidays," and have since been thinking more about music as a source of comfort in our lives. Today news spread of another terrifying shooting at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, just days after one just miles from us at the Clackamas Town Center Mall in Oregon.

During this Christmas season, there will be many families gathering together to find a sense of peace and comfort through music, whether to feel the spirit of the holidays or to overcome a sense of grief as they remember loved ones lost.

There have been times in my life when music has been like medicine to me. I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. Music offers an escape from the noise and chaos in the world. Music therapy is even a popular, effective, and growing practice.

I thought I'd share a list of a few beautiful classical pieces with a brief description of their backgrounds in case you're looking for a calming piece with which to reflect, rest, or even fall asleep. Perhaps take a listen to a recording on Spotify, or put together your own compilation of "Musical Comfort" with downloads from iTunes. You could even pick up some sheet music and learn one of these numbers for performance. Enjoy these magical and comforting pieces during a season of love and togetherness!


Ravel's Mother Goose Suite is soothing collection of childhood stories set to music.

  1. The Mother Goose Suite (Ma Mère l'Oye) by Maurice Ravel – This nostalgic set of fairytale pieces includes musical dramatizations of Sleeping Beauty, Tom Thumb, and the Beauty and the Beast. Each dreamy movement transports you into each character's world, allowing you to step away from the present and into the fantasy land of a child's imagination.

  2. Gymnopédie No. 1 by Eric Satie – This simple waltz has a childish feel, like something you might hear from a music box with a slow, repetitive phrase that rocks back and forth between two major seven chords. The piece feels distinctly French, like its composer, with a light and thoughtful melody.

  3. "Vocalise" from "Fourteen Songs" by Sergei Rachmaninoff – "Vocalise" was written for soprano as a vocal composition with no words. This soothing melody has since become extremely popular, transposed and arranged for almost every instrument and even put to words in choral compositions.

  4. "Nimrod," Variation IX, from The Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar – This single movement from the famous Enigma Variations has become one of the most loved and cherished pieces of British composition. When composer Edward Elgar nearly gave up on music altogether in a state of depression, music editor Augustus J. Jaeger encouraged him to continue composing. This movement was written in reference to that conversation in which Jaeger mentioned Beethoven's struggles and composition of the "Pathetique" Piano Sonata No. 8. This movement is commonly performed at memorials and funerals and is also included in numerous film scores. "Nimrod" is the name of an Old Testament patriarch.

  5. Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber – Adagio for Strings has become an iconic piece used for memorials, funerals, and in many film scores including movies such as in Lorenzo's Oil, Amélie, and The Elephant Man. This piece was performed in memoriam for historical figures Albert Eistein, John F. Kennedy, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

  6. "O mio babbino caro" ("Oh My Beloved Father") from Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini – This is a famous melody that has become a favorite for vocal performers. Italian for "O, My Beloved Father," this song is beautifully expressive and hopeful with a rising and falling lyrical melody that is both simple and charming.

  7. Appalachian Spring, Movement 1 (Very Slowly) by Aaron Copland – This suite was rewritten as the score of a ballet, but is now one of the most popular pieces performed by professional symphonies. In 1945, composer Aaron Copland even one a Pulitzer Prize for this work. During this movement the characters and setting of the story are introduced with the folk-like and airy harmonies typical of this iconic American composer.

  8. Für Alina and Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt – These minimalist pieces for solo piano are mesmerizing with their simplistic, repetitive, and echoing melodies. These two compositions are somewhat different from Arvo Pärt's other 20th century pieces with their calm essence and strong tonal centers.

  9. "Prayer" from Jewish Life by Ernest Bloch – This haunting, rich melody was written for solo cello. The Eastern European character can be felt in the tone of the piece. "Prayer" is an excellent piece to add to a recital if you're looking for a moving number that inspires reflection.

  10. The New World Symphony, Movement 2 by Antonin Dvorak – Dvorak's popular symphony is one of the most regularly performed by orchestras today. This largo's melody, performed by solo English horn, has become absolutely iconic and was set to words in the folk song, "Going Home."


Are there pieces or songs that bring you a sense of peace and comfort? We would love to hear from you! Leave a comment to share your favorites.

Comments (2) | Archive Link

Do they teach ethics and business protocols in schools and universities?

By Michelle Jones
December 14, 2012 12:20

I am honestly asking this question as I deal with new graduates each semester. Just because someone has received a degree from a university does not mean that they are now suddenly “professional.” That term must be earned through experience and practice. Just because you know how to play an instrument for pay does not make you a professional musician. There is a difference between being a paid musician and being a professional musician.

A professional musician is one who has taken the time to learn the ropes in the real world from his fellow musicians (usually older and more experienced). He has learned how to handle contracts, act on the actual gigs, deal with referrals and business contacts, and most importantly, be a responsible, ethical person.

1. Contracts – I have a whole blog post on this. Basically, each gig should have a contract that spells out the terms, requirements, etc. Vinylinist.com

2. Acting on the gig – This is the essence of this blog post. How you act is judged immediately from the first communication. If you act professional, then they will expect a professional. If you were recommended for a gig, then you are representing the person who recommended you. Your actions are a direct representation of the person who recommended you. This is one reason I try to be SO careful with recommendations! Be on time (preferably early). Allow extra time for traffic, finding the venue, loading in, parking, etc. Come dressed professionally. You may not be in your performance attire, but you should look presentable. Do not smoke prior to or on breaks at any performance as the odor permeates your hair and clothing. Do not consume alcoholic beverages prior to or during the event. Many contracts have specific clauses that you cannot partake in alcohol at any time on the premises or with the guests, even after the performance. Make sure you are in place at least 3-5 minutes before each set. NEVER give your personal information (especially your card) to anyone other than the person who recommended or hired you. If the gig came as a result of another company/contractor/agent, you must ask them first relating to handing out cards, websites, etc. And if the client requests you for a future date, that booking should always be handled through the original referring/contracting party.

3. Dealing with referrals and business contacts – When I recommend someone, I am saying that I hire him; that I have “vetted” him as being a professional who represents my company. I am trusting that person to be ethical and know that all referrals should come back through me. This is a sure-fire way that I will definitely recommend him again, and even continue hiring him. I have spent years developing my business contacts, and I have learned the hard way about proper business protocols. I am now a respected and even preferred Union contractor based on how I conduct myself with other companies and musicians whom I hire, but that has taken a lifetime to create. I don’t want that reputation jeopardized when one musician acts unprofessional on my event.

4. Being a responsible and ethical person – does this really need to be explained? It appears so. Do the right thing – always. If in your heart you think you did something wrong, you probably did. If you feel the need to try to explain it away, then you probably did something that went against your moral compass. If you screwed up, be an adult and take responsibility for your actions. Apologize, fix whatever might need fixing, then don’t do it again. Learn from your mistakes. Sometimes it is more important to maintain a relationship with someone who can help you and get you many more gigs than to tick off that person in order to get one more gig on your own.

I invite you to read more entries at my website Vinylinist.com

Archive Link

Previous 10 entries