Are musicians being trained to care for their tools?

December 11, 2011 at 06:21 PM · We are still seeing activity on the “Are you interested in your instrument?” discussion.

Rather than hijack that thread I will start a discussion on one of my pet peeves.

But let me apologize up front for the length of this entry: Are musicians being trained to care for their tools?

I have a family member, Masters in Jazz Performance, a keyboard player. A long time ago she asked about borrowing my violin. I evaded the situation. I once loaned her a melodica. When I found it in its open case covered in dust I asked for it back.

She recently borrowed someone’s nice Ukulele. She keeps it in the living room unprotected and ready to be kicked by those going by. I have also seen people borrow a group of recorders and carry them like a bundle of sticks.

I had to use my cane once to block a middle school student from stepping on her friend’s flute, which had been left on the floor in the middle of the band while the owner went to sing with the choir.

A couple more examples; the first year my oldest was in middle school, four years ago, there was a student using a school supplied French Horn. At the end of the day he would meet his friends near a tree. As he approached he would sling and release the horn so that it would fly to the base of the tree.

We have very good classical guitar programs at some of our middle and high schools. I was sitting in the car maybe three years ago watching a kid playing classical guitar. His friends thought it funny to toss a not so small segment of a thick twig into the guitar. The player’s reaction was to turn the guitar face down and shake the guitar. I was maybe 20 yards away and could hear the stick banging on the inside of the instrument. I got out of the car and happened to reach the group just as my son did. I held my hand out as my son said “he’s a player; he knows how to do this.”

I gently slid the stick so it was centered under the sound hole and did a quick flip, allowing the stick to fall out. The kids acted as if they had seen a miracle. Of course a classical guitar player doesn’t have to get picks out his guitar like a folk musician but I would have thought he would have known not to bang a rough object around in his guitar.

Now I not talking about folk musicians like the bass player who kicked my granadilla and ivory one-key flute while pushing between our chairs (we got pushed also). He told me to not worry about it. A flute like that probably can be replaced for $60.

I am talking about trained musicians, instrumentalist and choral, who do not seem to be much concerned when they are around other’s instruments, or their own.

Is this just something I have experienced here in Central Texas or is there a lack of training in instrument care and handling within the music schools?

Replies (23)

December 11, 2011 at 08:55 PM · This is an interesting topic. Without exception professional musicians in orchestras (such as festival orchestras I've gotten to play in) I've met have been very protective of their violins.

But professors less so. There's the surprising videos of Heifetz where he picks up the violin by the bridge and clunks it down on the table....

December 11, 2011 at 09:07 PM · link plz!

December 11, 2011 at 10:30 PM · Most of the examples in the op seem to be with borrowed instruments. I think most of us agree that many people tend to treat borrowed/rented things with less care than their own (cars, houses, instruments, clothes...).

Heifetz, well, he was a law unto himself in many respects! I'd like to see that link, too.

December 12, 2011 at 01:38 AM · I can't imagine Heifetz would ever have risked damage to his violin by holding it by the bridge. In the Heifetz workshop series on YouTube there are one or two occasions when he replaces his violin on his desk after demonstrating something to his class. He did it carefully and I'm pretty sure (without having to view the whole lot again) that what he did was to hold the violin by its waist with fingers and thumb – his hand would have been directly over the bridge. This point of hold at the waist is pretty well the point of balance, so the instrument would have been horizontally stable as he set it down, with minimum risk of knocking either end. Don't forget that he didn't use a shoulder rest. That fact alone encourages the player to treat the instrument with respect.

Since I've seen those videos I've used his way of holding the violin by the waist when putting it down (I don't use a shoulder rest). It's a good method, and if it's good enough for Heifetz ...

December 12, 2011 at 02:00 AM · Most of the musicians I know here in Central Texas are pretty picky about their instruments.

But then, I saw one violinist with her bridge at a pretty alarming angle toward the fingerboard.

December 12, 2011 at 02:06 AM · I think the habit of looking after and respecting an instrument should be started as early as possible. When I was 5 I started having piano lessons, and my teacher (one of those legendary old dragons, although she wasn't more than 40) insisted that I washed my hands before the lesson started. At home I had never been allowed to touch our piano (a Bechstein grand) even before I started lessons without first washing my hands. A habit I've had ever since.

My cello teacher always taught his pupils the basics – how to install strings, to make sure the bridge was vertical to the table, to clean rosin dust off the strings, cello and bow after playing, not to over-rosin the bow or to over-tighten it, to loosen the bow hairs after playing, and to keep the finger nails short.

December 12, 2011 at 04:19 PM · I volunteer in a middle school string program. Most of the kids are beginners, and very few have had any prior exposure to string playing. The school supplies instruments. Most of the kids seem to have NO IDEA what the instruments might cost or how easy it is to damage them. Their inclination is to treat them with the same respect they would give a soccer ball, cafeteria tray, or math textbook. The assumption is that they will wear out and be replaced, just like ball point pens.

It's great that the district supplies instruments, as a lot of these kids' families couldn't afford them. On the other hand, if the kids had some skin in the game they might treat their instruments differently.

Most of the adults I am around are much better than this, but I am surprised at the number of people that will leave an instrument in a car, a bow on a stand, and so on.

December 12, 2011 at 05:17 PM · Kids in school programs are the worst. They might not want to be there...the instruments might be loaners (=free) and therefore not considered important. And they're just 'kids' as can't expect the same level of concern from them that an adult might have.

With adults - some might just not care, or have enough money to replace an instrument so they don't worry about it. Some see an instrument as a tool rather than a precious object, so it's there to used, not to be babied. Others might just not know - although you'd think they'd have noticed a trend for instruments to be looked after.

There's the opposite extreme, that I've seen fairly often as well...treating a VSO as a precious instrument...and affording it too much care for what it is.

And as the person in our household who cleans the piano keys - I wish I had insisted my daughter wash her hands thoroughly first too... ;) But they get gungy over time regardless...

December 12, 2011 at 06:12 PM · I'm always amazed at experienced string players who, at the break, will leave their instruments on their chair. Another one I wonder at is when people put their violins in the case with shoulder rest still on, and kind of close the case partly so it's resting on the violin itself.

December 12, 2011 at 07:26 PM · The most classic move is hanging your violin from the music stand by the scroll. To a third grader it must almost seems designed for that very purpose.

December 12, 2011 at 07:47 PM · I've also seen the kids put the stands flattish and lay a violin on the stand. (Of course the way the stands are handled, many of them do that sickening swaying thing, too.) Maybe slightly safer than hanging by the scroll, but not much.

I certainly don't own instruments or bows in the 6-figure range, but I have plenty of money and time invested in finding stuff I really, really like. The thought of having to search for replacements is daunting enough to convince me to keep what I have safe.

December 12, 2011 at 09:04 PM · I've been playing in pub folk sessions (instrumental) regularly for a number of years, and I cannot recollect any instrument being damaged during that time. Some of the instruments, such as the button accordions, can be quite expensive, but the players well look after not only their instruments in that environment, but also a colleague's instrument if he is absent from the session for a few minutes.

In orchestras, though, I've seen times without number:

violins (and violas) left lying on chairs; or,

left standing upright on the chair with the neck leaning against the back of the chair or the scroll hooked over it; or,

lying on the floor between chair and stand, or alongside the stand.

December 12, 2011 at 09:42 PM · I am surprised at what I'm reading here. I'm zn adult beginner with a vso. I always put my violin in mu case or hold it if I need to answer the phone or door. If I need to help the kids I put it away till I can get back. I clean it off daily and monthly clean and polish it. It is a well loved vso. I'm not rich, can't even pass as middle class. I wish I cold afford a better violin but can't so I do the best I can for my vso.


December 13, 2011 at 12:16 AM · I love my violin. I hold him with loving tenderness, hug him when he is sad and apologize to him when the humidity or heat in my house is out of control. In return he sounds better than my skill and his low price tag would merit so I think it's working :-)

December 13, 2011 at 01:03 AM · I have to remember to teach careful behavior to my students. Things get damaged mostly through carelessness. It's not that they thought to be dangerous, it's just that they didn't think.

The number one danger in my studio is the low ceiling. I have my students initial the pocks they make with the tips of their bows.

Studio back flips come in at a close second.

December 13, 2011 at 01:52 AM ·

I believe that I mis-saw however. It seems he's holding it by the end of the fingerboard

Still, I would never hold my violin this way, much less Heifetz's violin =P

December 14, 2011 at 12:22 AM · If you love your violin, there's no such thing as taking better care of it than its monetary value warrants. I'm sure I'd be considered by a lot of people as being overly-cautious with my violin, bow, etc., but they're such an important part of my life that -- to me -- they're worth every bit of care and consideration I give them.

Today I had lunch with a friend (who's a violin teacher) after we'd played a "gig" at a local nursing home. I told her I'd be bringing my violin into the restaurant -- that I never leave it in my car. She seemed rather surprised -- she apparently regularly leaves hers in her trunk if she has it with her when she stops at a restaurant. Sounds to me like a violin mishap waiting to happen!

December 14, 2011 at 01:41 AM · I never leave mine in my truck. Sure its a cheap one but I hope to have a good one someday so I will start good habits now. Besides I can't afford to replace my vso.


December 14, 2011 at 02:17 AM · When I think back to how I treated my poor fiddle when I was a kid, I blench.

Fortunately, there was no damage done.

Still I've gotten a lot more careful over the last 45 years.

December 14, 2011 at 06:14 AM · Once, one of my old teachers left his antique violin (appraised as although not thoroughly authenticated as a del Gesu) in its case (sitting out in one of the rows in the concert hall) with the shoulder rest on during a break in a rehearsal of Mahler's Eighth Symphony.

When he came back, there was a girl from the children's chorus sitting on top of the closed case, with another girl combing her hair.

Fortunately, the violin was insured, and it was repaired through the use of dozens of patches on the interior.

A couple years ago, he forgot his violin in the unlocked trunk of his car, which was parked on the streets of New York City. He hasn't seen it since.

December 17, 2011 at 02:21 AM · Since we're sharing horror stories, how about this one. Recently I was playing with a friend, a mature and skillful chamber musician, trying out his new violin. He borrowed my bow, a decent pernambuco stick, to see how it would compare with his own, and promptly dropped it, from a standing position, on the hardwood floor. I had difficulty suppressing my screams. "Don't worry" he assured me, "that won't hurt it". Fortunately it didn't land on the point or the heel, I examined it carefully, and satisfied myself there was there was no damage. I pretended to be blasé about this incident. But since then I am much less generous about who handles my bow or violin. With my friend, if he ever asks for it again, I will take care that we're sitting down on a carpet before I pass it over. But who could have guessed?

December 17, 2011 at 04:21 AM · When he came back, there was a girl from the children's chorus sitting on top of the closed case, with another girl combing her hair.

thim girls wood hav being cryin crerdile teers whin in i gots through with thim

December 17, 2011 at 06:51 AM · I takes car of my violin had to use my ebt cerd to buy it tha giy at the puwn shop takes ebt cards buts you has to pey him tin dolers for evry hondrud dolers you spind wit him he taks food stamps 2

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