Writing a Violist/Violinist

May 31, 2018, 9:52 AM · For my ongoing novel, I'm writing about a high-school violist who dabbles in the violin from time to time, albeit very rarely. I have five years of clarinet experience, playing from sixth grade to sophomore year, but no experience on string instruments. I’ve graduated now, and haven’t read music in two years. I’m a little rusty. Please excuse my ignorance!

I'd like to know any pointers on the techniques or scales one who regularly plays the viola/violin indulges himself in. Any other bits of knowledge that I may be susceptible to overlook are highly welcomed! What are some popular pieces within this community (experienced to advanced)? What mistakes do people of this playing level find themselves falling into? (I want his teacher to point out things he could improve on.)

For context, I'd also like to know what level and how many years of experience one might accumulate in order to master and perform this piece:

My character (19) performs this piece some time after he graduates from high school. I'd like to know, with extensive practice, around what age he would have to have started playing the instrument (in this case, the viola) to reach this level of playing by the first year of college.

Lastly, when I mention the name of this piece in the narrative, how should I word it without it looking like gibberish on paper? Something that's easier to read than "He was going to play Viola Sonata No. 1 in D Major, Op. 15: I. Moderato for his recital." (Bonus: Is this piece even “fit” or popular enough for a recital? How does one go about choosing a piece to play for a recital?)

Thank you for bearing with me! Hope to hear your words of enlightenment soon.

Replies (42)

Edited: May 31, 2018, 10:13 AM · When a violist occasionally dabbles in violin, s/he will find that the violin feels small, delicate, plays out of tune, reads the wrong clef (maybe), plays on the wrong string (maybe), bows wrong (too far from the bridge and too aggressively). If you want to mention the title of a piece, for sonatas and suites, maybe write something like "second movement of Rebecca Clarke's Viola Sonata".

String teachers can suggest phrasings, fingerings, bowings, dynamics and postures.

May 31, 2018, 1:14 PM · I'm a violist who plays violin only once or twice a year. When playing violin, treble clef is not a problem (violists use it too), though when sight-reading I sometimes forget that I have an E string at all. I tend to bow too aggressively on violin, but bowing too far from the bridge is not something that happens at all. I tend to play sharp for the first 10-15 minutes after switching to violin.

I've actually never heard of the Juon viola sonata myself! But there's a lot of viola recital repertoire that is well-known in some places but not others. And every time I've attended a viola recital I've heard at least one piece I'd never heard of before.

I'll get back to you on popular recital repertoire, scales/techniques, and likely areas where a violist at that level might need improvement.

May 31, 2018, 3:08 PM · I'm just curious why you don't make your character a clarinetist instead? Much easier to write about something you know firsthand.
May 31, 2018, 3:24 PM · Yes but "clarinetist" doesn't have that sexy ring to it, Mary. Don't you know that violinists are the new vampires?

If you have Netflix, please look up "high strung" and watch the first 1-2 minutes to understand how the general public now views violinists (and no, I don't mean the similarly named "highly strung" documentary).

Edited: May 31, 2018, 3:43 PM · Thank you all who contributed so far.

Ella, I'll be sure to keep that in mind. Thank you!

Andrew, you've just unknowingly answered the question I've been racking my brains trying to answer! Paul Juon's Sonata in D Major. Wonderful! Can't wait to hear the information you return with. :)

Mary, Erik does have a point. Not as sexy on the tongue. Also, I've never considered it. I guess I've gotten so familiar with the clarinet that I wanted to venture into something completely out of my comfort zone.

Erik, I don't have Netflix, but I'll be sure to check out the documentary on another medium. Thank you.

May 31, 2018, 4:54 PM · I'm sure as a writer you've read Haruki Murakami and have seen how classical music works are put on the page. The way it's laid out never bothered me (in the non-Japanese translations I've read anyway).

I gotta say I've never heard of Paul Juon before...and I like to think that I'm pretty familiar with the rep. If I were a reader I would have thought you made that name up.

What's the background of you character?

Did he just switched over from violin to viola? Is he going to college/conservatory as a viola major? Or that's just his hobby?

May 31, 2018, 7:26 PM · Dorian, unfortunately, no, I haven't read Haruki Murakami, but I look forward to doing so. Like you with Paul Juon, I've never heard of the name until now.

My character started first with the violin, then decided later to switch to the viola, thus discovering his sound. I'm just not sure when he should have started to play the viola to reach this level of playing by the age of nineteen.

It's a hobby he's very passionate about. The chances of him going to college for it, let alone going to college, are quite slim. Among his peers and parents (this isn't set in stone, however), they're unaware of the fact that even plays an instrument, which brings me back to the conundrum above.

With a playing level like that at such a young age, how would he be able to keep his hobby hidden from his parents without being brought up on it as a child?

May 31, 2018, 7:59 PM · The character you're trying to write sounds like a younger version of me. Will have a lot more to discuss when I get home tonight.

I do want to note that, if you're a good violinist before switching, you can typically play viola at a similar level to violin within a month or two. If you're playing a viola recital, though, you would need more time to learn repertoire.

May 31, 2018, 9:36 PM · I'd pick an age anywhere from 3 to 12 years. This does not have to be the age he started viola if he switched from violin, since any violinist can learn viola and play it at approx the same level as violin in a short period of time.

Just one more note: Authors who write about instrumentalists don't necessarily play the instrument themselves. They will know a bit about the nature of the instrument, though, either from previous experiences or with the help of someone who plays the instrument. So, there's absolutely nothing wrong with writing about a violinist/violist if you only play clarinet.

May 31, 2018, 11:01 PM · You might have read Vikram Seth's An Equal Music since you're embarking on this genre of classical music fiction...I think my beef with that book and other classical music fiction I've read so far is that there are weird moments of romanticization about odd things that's just not what musicians really think about.

Probably same thing ballet dancers feel watching Black Swan...

Hope you get to really do a lot of good research and get a lot of feedback from violinists and violist beyond this site.

I don't really think it's plausible a kid would play that sonata well and is able to keep his practicing a secret from his parents. Dunno, perhaps he goes to boarding school.

June 1, 2018, 1:47 AM · What a refreshing thread!

I don't think that it's necessary for the writer to be experienced in a topic to write about it as long as a good research is made. As a matter of fact, sometimes the vision of the amateur and outsider paints a more interesting picture.

I think it's impossible to play at a very good level such as the one you want the protagonist to have, without the family knowing about it. Unless (and this could be a point) you want to highlight that the family was a neglecting one and they didn't care or follow up on his life or education even as a kid. In that case you may create a Billy Elliot scenario... Saying he was going to do A, but actually attending classes. But any family falling for that for so many years... well... It would be a shitty family. Bear in mind that such scenario of neglecting parents would need a mentor figure that would take a preeminent position in the protagonist's life (maybe too preeminent)

Finally, although the main tool of the novelist is the imagination, some experience is necessary. Go to an academy or school and ask to watch some classes. Grab the instruments, play a bit. Those are memories that the character needs to have and express some times.

Edited: June 1, 2018, 2:01 AM · I'll donate my viola introduction anecdote to you if you want it.

It happened when I was in college. The graduate quartet violist pulled out a week before the semester was to begin and caused a panic amongst the string faculty since the rest of the viola students were non-majors. The quartet's schedule for the school year was already confirmed: masterclasses. performances etc. My teacher, who was a decent violist as well as violinist, couldn't sit in because he was finishing his doctorate that year which required lengthy absences. It ended up costing him his tenure, but that's another story. He's happy where he is now.

One day I walked into my lesson to find him standing in the middle of the room holding a viola. The school had purchased it at the behest of the string professors. As he told me my viola career was about to begin I was pretty taken aback. I had never played viola and didn't really have any intention to do so. Nevertheless, I grabbed the instrument and played some violin tunes on it. It was a nice instrument and felt fairly comfortable in my hands. I'm a bigger guy and the size difference didn't affect me too much. My vibrato is pretty well suited to viola.

So I accepted the challenge. The first masterclass was a week away, and we were to play the first movement of Beethoven Op. 18 #3 for William Pruecil Sr. I took the music home to practice the part and it was a nightmare. I couldn't read Alto clef to save my life. I kept hoping it would begin to flow at some time, but that time never came. Rehearsals were a disaster, with me continually throwing out honkers left and right. You should have seen the looks the other quartet members were giving me. I wanted to slink into a hole.

Two days before the masterclass I was ready to hand the viola back to my teacher with apologies when, during a brief meditation, I thought to myself "Whats you're problem, you imbecile? You can play this thing fine. It's just the clef!". So I proceeded to finger every single note in the score. I didn't leave out even the simplest open string whole note. At the rehearsal the next day I simply read the numbers and forgot about the clef. If I need additional direction on a low or high finger I simply drew an up or down arrow over it.

The result? Spectacular. Everything came together and flowed so well. My ensemble mates were pretty impressed. I remember the first violinist (who was an arrogant jerk) saying "wow, you really improved".

After our masterclass performance Preucil came up and put his hand on my shoulder while giving some of his thoughts. He even said some stuff like "As a violist you surely know that...". I just nodded at everything he said. I remember trying so hard to obscure his view of my score. I didn't want him to see what I had done.

I continued to write in all of the fingerings for the rest of the year. I don't remember every piece we played but I do remember that we performed the complete Death and the Maiden on the year end concert. It wasn't until years later that I started to feel comfortable with alto clef.

But I fooled everyone who listened. They all thought I was an experienced violist lol.

Edited: June 1, 2018, 2:00 AM · OK, now that I'm able to respond more fully...

I said your character looked like a younger version of me. But he might be so much younger as to be implausible.

I might be the closest to having had to "hide" a music hobby from parents, because they got irritated by any and all music (even listening to it)... but even then, they were perfectly willing to pay for piano lessons and try to help me find a violin teacher, they just asked me to practice only when they weren't home. For a child to completely hide his playing a musical instrument, it's implausible. If nothing else, learning a string instrument is expensive. It would be difficult for a child to pay for an instrument or lessons without the parents' knowledge. If he were working a part-time job for spending money, the job would get noticed. Perhaps he might have received his instrument as a gift, and either gotten free lessons or self-taught. But while getting one instrument as a gift might be plausible, it becomes a lot less believable for him to get both a violin and a viola that way.

A note on self-teaching, too: while it's possible to self-teach to that level (I did), it's difficult and time-consuming, and it would be much more difficult for a child than an adult. (I started at 16 and reached that level around 30.)

With a good teacher, someone who is at that level at 19 almost certainly started no older than 14 (this would be extremely fast progress), and most likely started no older than 10.

I think it's more plausible to be able to hide a violin or viola hobby from one's parents as an adult. As much as they tolerated my musical activities through high school, my parents pressured me to quit as soon as I started getting college acceptance letters. I finally pretended to quit music halfway through college, and my parents didn't learn I was still playing the viola until I was 30. With that in mind, boarding school might also be a possibility, but I think a musical instrument is even harder to hide from peers at boarding school than parents at home. Perhaps the story might be more plausible if your character were several years older, and learning as a young adult.

One thing that might fit better is: what if at some point his parents couldn't afford to continue paying for lessons beyond a certain level (or alternately he was unable to continue getting free or inexpensive lessons), and his parents were then unaware that he continued playing on his own?

Recital repertoire: pieces at a similar level to the Juon sonata might include the Glinka sonata, the Vieuxtemps Elegie, the Bruch Romanze, and the Bach cello suites. Pieces at a slightly higher level but within reach include the two Brahms sonatas, the Clarke sonata, the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata, and Schumann's Märchenbilder. Pieces that are a bit easier than Juon, and still commonly played in recitals at high levels, include the Hoffmeister and Stamitz concertos, Schumann's Adagio and Allegro, and the Glazunov Elegie.

Scales: A violist at that level should (at least) be practicing all the three-octave scales that end at or below the F in ledger lines above the treble clef, and may even go a little higher. Scales in thirds, sixths, and octaves would also be expected.

Likely areas for improvement: This is where different people's needs may vary greatly. Intonation is a constant struggle at all levels, but at this point your character will probably be working on intonation in double-stops and artificial harmonics, and chromatic shifts in higher positions. Phrasing, articulation, and tone quality are also something that will be worked on forever, mostly because the level of control needed keeps getting higher. Many violists at this level seem to spend a lot of time practicing fast spiccato. Removing unwanted accents and playing evenly across strings might be areas of concern, as might tone quality in the upper register. Many violists at or above this level may go back to basics and work on posture, because they're playing enough hours that they may develop back or neck pain if not careful about posture. It's also not unknown for string players at this level to change the position of their left hand and thumb as part of their work on posture.

Edited: June 1, 2018, 8:09 AM · The amount of responses and information within them this has is incredible. I very much appreciate it.

Ella, thanks for the words of encouragement. I was beginning to have second thoughts!

Dorian, I've never heard of classical music fiction to save my life (Is that bad?) I guess this is why writing this novel is such a challenge for me. The two authors you mentioned will soon find a place on my bookshelf, and I'll be on the lookout for things to avoid and for things to imitate. On the topic of romanticizing about odd things, since this book does carry a strong romantic sub-plot between the protagonist and his accompanist, what are some of these things I should avoid? I'll try to get a hands-on, if not first-hand experience with the instrument, like Carlos suggested. Thank you.

Carlos, I left a pivotal piece of information out, thinking it didn't pertain to my character's viola situation. Of course, I was wrong. My character, who is in his late teens, "lives with" his father only. His mother, well, let's just say they divorced a long time ago. In my previous post, I said "parents" to include his stepmom, which he evidently doesn't see as a mother at all.

The father is an on-site manager of the apartment complex his son lives in. So technically, while the protagonist does have the apartment to himself on most days, his dad still lives with him whenever he's free to do so. Their bond, or the lack thereof, is why he's able to hide his hobby so well. Would this be plausible?

Ryan, that's quite the story! How I'm going to implement that into my own is another one. I'm surprised how well you were able to pull off that kind of prowess and fool others in the process in such a short amount of time. You've inspired another attribute for my character. Thanks for sharing!

Andrew, you're a godsend! Yes, it would be implausible for my character to somehow inconspicuously take up an instrument and be that good at it, with present parents being completely unaware of it. To his advantage, his father is not always present, with managing an apartment and all, and his mother no longer lives with them.

I'm thinking of having his mother introduce him to the violin at the age just before she leaves him. Maybe have him resume playing some years later.

Thank you for taking time to answer the remainder of my questions. Wow, that last portion about improvement areas was much needed! This has definitely helped a lot. :)

June 1, 2018, 11:46 PM · It could be tough to constantly be practicing a stringed instrument in an apartment with shared walls. Neighbors will hear you practicing and they will talk about it, or complain to the apartment manager.

He could practice at school in the band room, before school begins, during lunch, or after school. It might be feasible if his school orchestra teacher also gave him private lessons at school for a reduced fee (or for free). They'd need to be a highly trained teacher, someone who attended a conservatory.

Edited: June 2, 2018, 8:00 AM · In my experience what really distinguishes the special young string players is their right arm and the sound quality they are able to create with their bows (and of course they later develop great vibrato to go along with it). I heard it in Anne Akaiko Meyers when she was only 6 years old. I heard it again with a college viola player who soloed with our community orchestra and I was not at all surprised to learn that she had been the concertmaster of the Utah All-State Orchestra when she was in high school (as a violinist, of course) - but she switched to viola - I presume because there were far fewer violists with that evel of ability. This is a characteristic this young (fictional) violist must have if he is to be that remarkable.

In my opinion, the Schubert Arpeggione is a far more likely piece than the "Juon Sonata" (which is probably all you need say to identify it). As a trained cellist (and violinist) but an untrained violist I can assure you the Arpeggione is just as effective on the viola and much easier (and it has an interesting history) - in fact I found it reasonable to sight read on viola (not so for me on cello - I had to work at it). It is probably one of the great violist secrets - in my opinion (I have not discussed it before, but I suspect other violists, those who do not also play cello, may wonder what all the fuss is about and why it is considered a virtuoso piece). It has been recorded on all three instruments (violin, viola, and cello ) and of course, some modern-built arpeggiones),

One of the other darker viola "secrets" is how difficult it is to navigate the upper reaches of the instrument (because of it's size relative to the human hand) - it is why some modern violas have been built in very unsymmetrical ways to make it easier for the left hand to reach higher notes - and for more modern viola (solo) music to be composed up there - there is really no reason for viola parts in ensembles to get up higher because the violins can do all that - but most viola sonatas and concertos have stayed lower (even Paul Juon's) - I presume because of the difficulty of playing high up. These are the kinds of things that will bedevil a young violist who had (and has) a reasonable level of violin skill.

Edited: June 2, 2018, 1:51 PM · I beg to differ. I consider the Arpeggione Sonata to be the most difficult of the pieces I listed, very much a virtuoso piece if you want to play it well. I considered it a bit of a stretch to include in my list of level-appropriate repertoire at all. It requires some uncomfortable 4th finger stretches and jumps across strings in fast tempo. For me it was the last step before taking on the Walton concerto.
June 2, 2018, 11:48 AM · That said, the other thing about viola is that the viola's size and inherent awkwardness causes technique to vary much more than violin technique. Unless they have long arms and fingers, every violist has to make adjustments to violin technique to make viola playing possible.

That also means certain violists may find a piece much easier or much more difficult, compared to the repertoire as a whole, than other violists do.

Edited: June 3, 2018, 7:06 AM · I am a violinist, not a violist, so I can't offer any specific advice for that. However, they are very similar, and from my understanding, violinists and violists can usually adapt extremely quickly to the other instrument, because they are so similar.
That piece seems like it would be around intermediate level. Some musicians reach that before others, and some take longer, so basically your violist could be playing for around three to five years to play this. There's quite a bit of shifting, and a lot of vibrato, which is why I'd say it's around intermediate. So he is nineteen years of age? He'd have probably started playing at around fourteen to sixteen. Assuming that he's performing as he goes, by the level he's on at that time. He could be of a higher level and perform it. Lots of advanced musicians perform easier works. So that is an option, as well.
I recommend reading Gayle Forman's "If I Stay." It's about a cellist, not a violist or violinist, but it may help you understand things from a stringed musician's perspective. Plus, I'm pretty sure the notes are the same for the cello and viola (correct me if I'm wrong).
And look for any books where the main character is a violist or violinist (or any other musician, really), especially in the genre you're writing for.
Here are a few (I haven't read any):
'Guitar Girl,' by Sara Manning
'The Lost Boys,' by Lillian Carmaine (and the sequel, 'the Lost Girl')
'Five Flavors of Dumb'
'Harmonic Feedback'
'Size 12,' by Meg Cabot
'Revolution,' by Jennifer Donnelly
'The Mockingbirds,' by Daisy Whitney
'The Musician's Daughter'
'If You Find Me'
'Virtuosity,' by Jessica Martinez
'Audrey, Wait!' by Robin Benway
'Ballads of Suburbia,' by Stephanie Kuehnert
'This Song Will Save Your Life,' by Leila Sales
And here's a whole list on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/2142.YA_Music_Books
These will help you to understand what can be included and what shouldn't.
For example, you don't really need to add technical terms. You don't even have to be as detailed as this:
"Dan unzipped his case, removing his bow first, then the rosin from the small compartment above his viola. He applied several coats of the smelly stuff to the bow, then to the strings,* between the bridge and the fingerboard. Lifting the instrument from its padding, he raised it to his chin, drawing the bow across low C. Vibrations reverbrated from it.
He started with a simple warmup he remembered when he'd first began as a young teenager. The bow glided from open C to high D, but on the way down, he practiced his spiccato. The bow jumped, controlled, until he reached low C again."
That's interesting, but readers don't really care. I mean, some will, and if you want to be that detailed, go for it. But maybe sumarize it to:
"Dan opened his case, and as he rosined his bow, he contemplated how he should respond to Mr. Bailey's offer for a position in the orchestra. He desperately wanted to say yes, but he knew there was something holding him back.
He began with a simple warmup, one that was different every week, always different. He pushed the voices and worries from his mind, and focused on the music.
He began to play the piece he was considering for his upcoming recital, the Moderato from the Juon Viola Sonata in D major."
So obviously you don't need to use that, but it was just an example.
In the first example, his actions are described. In the second, readers have a mental image of what he's doing, but his mind is elsewhere while performing the basic task of rosining.
Also, you can exlude the "No. 1," and "Op. 23." Just say the Moderato from the Juan Viola Sonata in D Major, or something like it. However you would say a piece's name in everyday conversation to someone, write it as that.
He's probably going to have a bit of difficulty playing violin, because it's smaller. But it should only take a few minutes to adjust, if that.
I don't think he would just "dabble." I mean, he doesn't have to perform the violin as regularly as he does the viola, if viola is his primary instrument. But I'm pretty sure he'd want to practice it often, so at least once a week. Otherwise, he could easily be a bit confused switching to it again.
The viola is in the alto clef, which isn't used by other instruments to the best of my knowledge. So if he's sight reading violin, he might have to stop a few times to figure out the treble clef. And when he played viola after that, he might have to adjust to the alto clef.
I know I have to think about what I'm doing before I begin sight read the bass clef on the piano, and I've been playing that longer than I have the violin. So I could definitely see the clefs being an issue, but only for a few minutes.
As far as improving goes, intonation is a big issue for stringed musicians (at least in the violin family, anyway). We don't have frets, so we have to rely on our ears and muscle memory. Vibrato can be difficult (I can't quite master it). It usually takes at least three months for someone to pick up vibrato, but the average is at about a year. Vibrato is played differently on a viola than it is on the violin. Violists apparently have to have a wide vibrato, whereas we do not. Another reason why I can't see a violist only playing the violin every now and then, but I don't play the viola, so I can't say. Let's see. Shifting can be difficult for some, but for me personally, I picked it up quickly enough. I'm finding sul ponticello difficult to learn without scratching and squeaking horribly, as if I've just erased the last five years of playing and restarted entirely. Some musicians may not truly "feel" the music. It's like they are emotionally dead. I'm finding double stops quite irritating.
https://youtu.be/MDEwJXPl01w (sul ponticello)
https://youtu.be/XierDLeUiYg (introduction to viola)
https://youtu.be/TBpnCKr4O-I (viola vs. violin)
For repertoire, I'd look at intermediate viola/violin pieces on 8Notes.com.
Ask questions as you have them:)
I respect and admire that you are stepping outside of your comfort zone. I attended a writer's group a few years ago, and I was writing a novel that was set in Victorian London. I don't live in London, and I certainly don't live in Victorian times. One of the older writers reprimanded me and told me that I 'should write about what I know.'
I've never taken her advice.
Some writers have the tendency to stay within their comfort zones, and only write about what they are familiar with. There's an old saying that good things occur when you step outside of what you are comfortable with, and this is so true with books.
*This is off-topic (sort of), but how many of you rosin your strings? I do, because an online YouTube violin instructor (Joy Lee) recommended it in one of her videos, and apparently double bassists do it all the time.
Edited: June 2, 2018, 9:10 PM · Andrew H. (other Andrew) maybe it is a matter of hand and arm size. I do have long arms and wear XL glove size. I play a 16-inch viola and have found that the proportions in relation to my arm length are exactly the same as playing a standard (14-inch) violin. That is, my arm angle and finger spacing in viola 3rd position are exactly like my arm angle and finger position in violin first position. These relative proportions continue on up both instruments - but it is much harder to get up there on the wider body of a viola. But if I played a larger viola or had a smaller appendage I would probably reach the same conclusion you have.

As far as the Arpeggione Sonata is concerned, the actual notes in the viola version and cello version are almost all entirely the same - so on the cello they are actually an octave higher relative to the instrument's tuning (imagine that on viola!). Also, while the violin and viola allow the player to play an entire scale in any position without playing an open string, it is not possible for almost any human to do that on a cello below the thumb positions (i.e. "5th position").

I never heard of rosining my strings. I have never seen anyone else do it - although I've never watched bass players that closely. The rosined bow rosins the strings as soon as it touches them. But I will try it, just to see. I've never thought of rosin as "smelly." Sure it smells but it has always seemed pleasant and friendly to me. I have paid too much for my bows (and for the rosins I currently use) to rosin my bows carelessly or without thinking. Maybe I was careless about it when I was young - but that was 70 to 80 years (and a lot of chipped rosin cakes) ago.

June 2, 2018, 9:16 PM · Andrew V, maybe that's the reason. I'm 5'7" and have about average arm length for that height, but my fingers are short -- everyone I know whose hands are smaller than mine is 4'11" or under.
June 2, 2018, 9:49 PM · Andrew H. that'll do it. Although I'm now only 5'8" all my limb proportions are even a bit long for my former 6' height - age and back trouble can do that.
June 3, 2018, 12:41 AM · Also, as for rosining strings... I've played in orchestras for 17 years and never saw or heard of anyone rosining their strings until someone asked a question about it on an internet forum earlier this year. I can't imagine why it would be helpful to add more rosin to my strings when I find I have to wipe excess rosin off them on a regular basis!
June 3, 2018, 5:59 AM · Andrew Victor and Andrew Hsieh, I haven't been playing for too long, only five years, but I had two teachers, and neither of them mentioned it. It sounds odd, as the bow rosins the strings itself. But apparently rosin applied directly to the strings adds more traction for the bow, especially if you use bass rosin, because I guess that's more sticky.
Here's the video: https://youtu.be/ggfE83he9n8
Andrew Victor, I was just using that as an example. I don't rosin "carelessly," but sometimes I do think about other matters when I am doing it, while interestingly still having complete control physically.
Perhaps this rosin smells more than others? It's Facts amber. I think of it pleasantly, too, unless it's overbearing. When I practice in my bedroom (smaller room), it's somewhat overwhelming sometimes. But I meant in the example that it has a scent, not that it smells bad or anything.
June 3, 2018, 6:57 AM · Jeanette, what I wrote was not intended as criticism. I think all posters have good points that could be helpful to a wind player trying to write about a bowed string player.

There are so many factors that influence the friction coefficients of a rosined bow/string interaction. In my many years of playing (80 later this year) I have found that the choice of rosin can be very important, as can the immediate weather conditions, and the bow stick and the hair. I find all of these influence what happens when I put bow to string. When I am at home I have the choice of all the rosins I have bought in the past, but when I am going out to play with others I must decide which rosin is best for the day's situation. Just this past Friday (when I went out to play cello in the Schubert C major (2-cello) quintet I found my bow not giving me the sound I wanted I re-rosined with an expensive new rosin I had recently purchased - and that made it even worse and less effective. Fortunately I also had a mini-Magic-Ultra rosin with me (in my hang-around-the-cello's-neck accessory bag) and that did the trick. (I always wear dark trousers and check the rosin on my bow by seeing how much comes off on the trousers with a gentle swipe - it seems to be a good test! I do this whichever genre of my instruments I am playing - but I do use different rosins for violin, viola and cello, because it makes a difference for the way I play.)

Edited: June 3, 2018, 7:03 AM · When I posted last night, it only came up that there were a few replies, but wouldn't load them! It did now, so I read them all.
Nnenne, as others have said, most musicians' parents are well aware their child plays. He could practice only while they're out of the house (I usually do).
You metioned that the mother is out of the picture, and that she may have given him a violin beforehand. That is plausible, but what about lessons? Could the father pay for lessons for a certain amount of time, and then stop? Maybe assumed that the protagonist stopped playing?
Technically, the father could work all day (except for the times he could come home) and be out every night. Some people do that. It's unlikely, but possible. That would give him plenty of time after school (while he was in school) to practice, without the parent/s knowing. You'd have to go about it very carefully. Many writers (in the young adult genre especially) have an annoying tendency to make the parents antagonists, although minor ones. Sometimes it's all right. Other times it's too much. It depends on how it balances out with the rest of the novel, I suppose.
He could have worked odd jobs as a young teenager, and eventually paid for his own viola. I think it would have to be either on sale, or a student-quality instrument which would be cheaper. Perhaps he knows the owner of the local music store well, and that person could give him a discount or something?
As for learning the violin at a younger age, he'd need a smaller sized instrument, and the older he becomes, he'll be needing to upgrade to a larger size. So keep that in mind, too.
It's fiction, play around with it;)
If they live in an apartment, there's no way the neighbors won't know about it. Unless they assumed someone nextdoor had music on, that was scales and a whole lot of awful screeching in the start.
Also, where is the stepmother? Does she work? Is she just out during the day?
As for recital pieces, I think the sonata would be fine. Musicians don't need popular pieces. There are many rarer gems that are performed.
How are pieces chosen? I don't perform much, but when I do, I choose pieces I enjoy, connect with, and that I'm comfortable with. That's basically it.
I assumed your novel is set in YA fiction, so please forgive me for listing titles of novels in that genre if yours isn't.
Edited: June 3, 2018, 8:33 AM · Thank you, Freida, for your thoughtful advice. :)

Andrew V., thanks for sharing those secrets! I'll see whether or not the Arpeggione Sonata is a better suited for what takes place in my novel.

Andrew H., thank you again for commenting! I'll keep your points about the varying difficulty among pieces in mind.

Thanks, Jeanette, for contributing! Your insight is very helpful, need I say revelational. I realize I don't need to go into full detail about viola playing. I had the notion to include very minute details, ones only a viola player ought to know, to make the character, much less the writing itself, more authentic and believable. You're right about most readers not caring about all the nitty-gritty details that come with playing an instrument. I know I wouldn't.

His father is out most of the time, yes, but still in area. I don't wish to antagonize his father at all, but there are grudges hidden somewhere in the mind of the protagonist for his father. For the most part, they remain outwardly cordial.

I like your idea about his history in viola playing. His father could in fact have disregarded his son's love for the instrument and stopped paying for lessons at a young age, shortly after his wife left. After all, the mother was the one who introduced the instrument in the first place. He feels that if his father knows he resumed playing, it'd be taken away from him again.

The son does some odd jobs for his father around the apartment complex, such as maintenance and things. He tutors for younger violinists, too, and in that way pays for his own lessons and instrument.

He never practices in the apartment building. This isn't a secret he cares to keep from strangers, but he definitely doesn't want anyone in his inner circle knowing about it.

I also like the idea of his teacher being the owner of a local music store. Giving him a discount for a rental makes a lot more sense that way.

As for the stepmother (technically, she isn't one; I just don't know what else to call her), she frequents the place whenever his father is home. She works weekdays, stays some hours on the weekends. Aside from that, she's not around all that much.

I appreciate the list! Even if they aren't close to the genre, I couldn't turn down a good read or two. My novel can be categorized under YA, but my intended audience is more along the lines of New Adult, which arguably even exists. Nonetheless, I'll be looking into the novels you mentioned in the hopes to gain further insight. Thanks again. :)

June 3, 2018, 8:58 AM · Lessons from a highly qualified teacher are very expensive, far beyond most young people's ability to pay unless the teacher is willing to teach the student for a substantial discount.

As a violinist who occasionally plays viola and has a few students on that instrument, the more advanced the player and difficult the material, the more the technique diverges from one instrument to the other. It's proportionally harder to play in high positions on the viola than it is on the violin. The types of fingerings and use of the bow (more string crossings in viola, typically) also diverge.

Edited: June 3, 2018, 10:59 AM · I agree that lessons aren't cheap, but if you have a decent income, you can pay for them. I'm not rich, and I take lessons on two instruments from great teachers. I also have a sibling, who also takes lessons on two instruments from great teachers. Furthermore, lesson costs-teacher quality ratios vary from region to region.
Edited: June 4, 2018, 7:18 AM · Thanks, Mary and Ella. How do your teachers (and you, if you're teachers yourselves) guage their prices? And, assuming the teacher in my novel is highly qualified and well known around the area, what would be an appropriate amount for him to charge per 1-hour lesson without a discount?
June 4, 2018, 8:15 AM · Depends on the city, of course.

>$100/hour is not completely abnormal for private lessons in an expensive town. And that's not going to the people who are world-famous.

June 4, 2018, 10:49 AM · Stephen, the novel takes place in Savannah, GA, which has a population of approximately 145,000.

$100 an hour is quite expensive. A discount would be very favorable to his situation then.

June 4, 2018, 12:08 PM · Highly qualified private violin/viola teachers in my city are typically in the $75 - $100/hour range.
June 4, 2018, 12:30 PM · For a small town, maybe $60-70/hour.
Edited: June 4, 2018, 4:28 PM · Thanks, Mary. I'll consider it within that price range. :)

Savannah is just a couple thousand people under Atlanta. Doesn't sound so small to me, but at least I know where to go from here in regards to prices. Thanks, Ella!

June 6, 2018, 10:27 AM · Follow-up question for an integral part of the story:

Can there be an instance where the teacher plays with a student in a gig? The teacher sees high potential for my character and invites him along a cruise ship to play for the teacher's well-respected friend's retirement reception, who also happens to be /his/ teacher.

Also, if you have played on a cruise, what was your experience?

If not, assuming you have played chamber music, were you familiar with other gig members or did you meet the day of?

June 6, 2018, 12:28 PM · Your idea seems plausible, though I've never heard of it. Chamber music needs some rehearsing, by the way.
June 6, 2018, 1:16 PM · I see. Thanks, Ella.
June 6, 2018, 10:58 PM · Can there be an instance where the teacher plays with a student in a gig? The teacher sees high potential for my character and invites him along a cruise ship to play for the teacher's well-respected friend's retirement reception, who also happens to be /his/ teacher.

>>> Yes that's possible.

Also, if you have played on a cruise, what was your experience?

>>> It's usually young graduates from conservatories who wants to travel a bit and save up some money. It's romantic to think about playing chamber music with friends in the sea...but like any job the routine gets tough.

If not, assuming you have played chamber music, were you familiar with other gig members or did you meet the day of?

>>> A string quartet for wedding gig with standard repertoire, no one rehearses for that. If there's a commissioned piece that no one has played it before, the group runs it through during the set-up time pre-contract start time. You run in the same circle of people and sometimes you run into new folks...

June 7, 2018, 5:49 PM · "Savannah is just a couple thousand people under Atlanta."

Are you talking about the cities in Georgia?? There's no comparison...just looked on wikipedia, and the Met. Statistical Pop. of the ATL is abt. 6 million, that of Savannah is abt. 400,000. HUGE difference in music and cultural scenes, as well.... Guess it doesn't matter if you're writing fiction, tho.

Edited: June 12, 2018, 10:18 AM · Violin and fiddle lessons in my area range from $15- $40 per hour, but I've never seen the prices go above that. I don't know how good the guy that has lessons for somewhere between $15- $25 is, but my teacher is an exceptional violinist (fiddler), and her lessons cost $40. This is in Canadian Dollar.
They are both located in a large town, not a small town but not a city. I don't know how many teachers there are, but those two are the ones I know of.
Andrew Victor, I didn't take it as criticism:). I just wanted to clarify what I had said before.
June 12, 2018, 10:28 AM · Thanks, guys. This has been a great help. :)


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