December 2014

How to Read in a Different Clef with Ease

December 15, 2014 04:24

Peter plays violin and viola and writes (freely translated from Dutch)...

Is there are trick or a donkey’s bridge (we call mnemonics ‘donkey’s bridges’ in Dutch) to read in different clefs or is it just a matter of practicing?

I hope you have a handy tip for me.

Thank you and best regards,


When you play violin and viola or cello or another instrument, you have to read in different clefs. For example I play violin, viola and piano, so I have to be able to read in three different clefs. This can be quite confusing from time to time. The notes you are used to find in a certain place are now in a different place of the bar.

I will share with you my experience with one of my students, who played violin on an advance level and wanted to pick up the viola on the side. I did some exercises with her to get used to reading in a different clef.

Also I will share the system that is behind these exercises. You can copy my exercises, but as you will know the system you can also create your own exercises based on your needs.

Exercise 1

First I made my student buy a simple beginner book, which was Sassmanshaus - Early start on the viola book 1 (click here to see exactly the book I mean and buy it). As an advanced violin player, this was far below her level. I told her she would go through it really fast, but the advantage would be that she would build up reading in the viola clef from open strings and up.

Exercise 2

After that we did a writing exercise. She had to write down etudes she played on the violin for the viola. She had to transpose it a fifth and write it down in a different clef. This didn’t just save her money on sheet music, but it’s a great exercise to get used to and trained in the new clef.

Exercise 3

Just play the viola! My student played violin in an amateur orchestra. There was a shortage of violists (where is there not?) and we had a chat about this. After some talking we decided that the ultimate practice for her was to make the jump: to play viola in the orchestra for the coming season. Of course it was a big jump and certainly scary.

At this point she was already a little bit used to playing the viola and to read in this clef. Studying the orchestra music took her quite a bit longer than normally when she was playing the violin, but the rehearsals and the concert went really well.

how to read in a different clef with easeThese were the steps we took. They are based on a system I will share with you here.

When you are playing and reading notes, you need to make a couple of connections between your hands and head. Click on the picture on the left to make it larger and see the connections between note, grip and sound.

The note is in the sheet music. The sound is what you hear. The grip is what you do on your instrument.

These three are all connected:

  • We need to know which grip belongs to which note... we need to know where we can find the note on the fingerboard

  • The other way around is that we need to know if we make a grip how this will look like in the sheet music

  • When we see a note we must be able to imagine how it sounds. Otherwise you can’t check your intonation

  • When we do a grip or use a finger we also must be able to know how this will sound

  • When you want to hear a certain tone, you need to know which grip you need to make. This is handy when you know a song or tune that you want to play

  • When you want to write down your favorite song, hearing the tone and knowing how to put it into sheet music can also come in handy

There are several possible exercises to make these connections stronger. For example you can train yourself to imagine the sound of the note before you play it. Playing it is a check. When you hear a tone, try to find which grip corresponds to it and try to write it down in sheet music.

The six connections described above can all be trained separately with different exercises. Always train and focus on one connection at the same time.

how to read in a different clef with ease 2

Your assignment 1

When you read in different clefs the note you see can have a different name, sound and grip depending on the clef. I have added the note name to the system in the picture on the left. Click on the picture to make it larger.

Now there are a lot more possible connections to be made and trained. Can you identify all of them? There are 12 connections in total.

Your assignment 2

From the connections we have identified, test on what connection are well established for you and what connections might need some training. Write down two or three connection that need most training.

Your assignment 3

For the connections that need some training (see assignment 2), create three exercises for yourself to train this. Please share them in the comments below.

I hope this video hasn’t confused you, but can help you identify gaps in your ‘connections’ and enables you to train yourself.

The result will be that you can read in different clefs for different instruments with ease.

Is this video helpful to you? Please let me know in the comments below!



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

1 reply

How NOT To Move Your Violin or Viola when Practicing Vibrato

December 10, 2014 01:49

This video is about how to practice your vibrato without moving your violin or viola.

Lots of people can’t wait to learn vibrato, because it makes your tone so much more beautiful than without.

Once you have learned vibrato it’s easy breezy, but to learn vibrato is quite difficult. Learning vibrato can be a very long journey.

While doing vibrato exercises like the big sirene (click here for vibrato exercises), it can be difficult to keep your violin or viola in the same position.

There are two things that can cause this problem:

1) You can be moving in the wrong direction. Vibrato only ‘works’ when you move in the direction of the string. Vibrato sound is achieved by lengthening and shorting the string with your finger. By doing this the tone goes up and down a little bit, which sounds like vibrato.

When you move your finger not in the direction of the string, but from left to right or sideways, you will not hear vibrato. Besides that your violin will move from the left to the right too and can slip of your shoulder and fall on the ground.

2) Vibrato must be done in a relaxed way. Violin or viola playing is already difficult enough and you have to do a lot of things at the same time. This multitasking can tense you up.

When your arm and hand are tensed, you can’t do the right vibrato movement. Besides that you can’t play well when you are tensed. Vibrato must be done very lose and mustn’t cost any effort.

Practicing vibrato should start with a big relaxed movement which you make smaller and smaller into a relaxed fluent vibrato. When you skip a couple of essential steps and force your hand to do vibrato right away in a robotic uncontrolled way, you will shake the violin with this rough movement. 

When you do it the wrong way, your vibrato will sound like you put your fingers into a power point. This is a check to know your vibrato is too tensed.

These two points or one of them are probably the cause of your violin or viola moving while practicing vibrato. Please note that these tips are long term solutions and take some time. You will not see results in two seconds.

Slowly build up your vibrato exercises step by step. Don’t skip anything or rush it. You will automate the movement and your hand will start to know what movement you want. In this way you are programming your motor skills.

Would you like to watch more free vibrato tutorials? Click here! 

Is this useful to you? Please let me know in the comments below!



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

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Why Can't Your Left Hand and Right Hand Just Get Along?

December 4, 2014 02:25

Do your left hand and right hand sometimes have a quarrel? In this episode you’ll see my hands quarreling with each other!

R: You always play out of tune!

L: You make a bad tone!

R: That’s because you can’t do vibrato!

L: You are always out of bow and you scratch and squeak!

R: You can never get that high note!

Why can’t they just get along with each other and keep the peace?

In this video I will give you some tips to make your hands work together instead of fight each other like it sometimes seems.

Warm up by playing scales with some different rhythms, slurred bowing (two, four, five, six etc), variations etc. In this way you work on your intonation and bowing at the same time. Doing that you also train your hands to work together.

Besides training the synchronization between your two hands, also try to train your hands separately. By isolating the technique of one hand, your hands won’t be annoyed by each other.

Example: Do some vibrato exercises without bowing. You can focus on the movement you make without being distracted by the sound. After that with the bowing you can focus on the sound you can make with the vibrato.

Example: when you have a piece that is difficult in the area of intonation, you can decide to pizz a passage. When you pizz you can work on your intonation without being distracted by your bowing challenges.

Example: You can practice the necessary bowing technique of a piece in another piece or in a scale. In this way you can focus on the bowing without being distracted by the intonation problems you have in the initial piece.

Example: When you practice your bowing on open strings, your left hand can take a rest. You can make up some open strings bowing exercises yourself. In this way you can focus a 100% on the bowing technique you are practicing.

When your left hand and right hand have a quarrel, you need to train the following:

Synchronization between the two hands. You can do this with rhythmical exercises. A metronome can help!

Train the left hand and the right hand separately, so you can focus on one technique and not several at the same time. Don’t forget to put them together again and see if the good technique remains.

Your left and right hand might quarrel the most in fast passages. When this happens you are going faster than you can technically realize.

You should lower the tempo to a point where your left hand and right hand can work together again. In this tempo you can do some exercises like rhythmical variants (play the piece in a different rhythm) to synchronize your hands well in that tempo. After that it’s a lot easier to increase the tempo again to the tempo you eventually want.

Is this useful to you? Please let me know in the comments below!



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

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