Essential "tools"?

Edited: November 8, 2018, 7:32 PM · Putting aside items like resin, chair (cello), good stand, weekly lessons, and two hours practice each day, I made a list of things I consider essential for making strong, steady progress when developing skills on string instruments:

Electronic Tuner
Ears that know intervals better each day
Recording device
Scale book
You Tube

Using each of these items well definitely helps a student to progress, I think.

Now, I also think other people would add a "drone CD" to the list. Perhaps you might add a manuscript book, or notation software (for writing your own exercises).

What else would you add? A CD collection? A weekly mate, stronger than yourself, for duet work?

Replies (28)

Edited: November 8, 2018, 7:47 PM · Dinner, of course! I hate practising on an empty stomach.

I think any student should try to drop the scale book ASAP. They're great for learning the basic patterns in the beginning, but the student should really design their own regimens and fingerings when they're capable—especially when it comes to double harmonics. You have to learn to figure it out yourself. Then it sticks forever.

November 9, 2018, 2:43 AM · Metronome, tuner, recording device and other things you list, are already in the cheapest smartphone.

The main one you are missing is pencil/pencils. My teacher says "if you don't need to make marks or write notes in the sheet music, you are not practicing seriously".

And a basic for classic players: An IMSLP suscription.

November 9, 2018, 3:07 AM · Way back in the day when I was trying to make "strong, steady progress" there was no youtube, which might explain a lot
Edited: November 9, 2018, 3:28 AM · Whaaaat, ditch my lovely 1970s Wittner 801m? I'm even thinking of upgrading it to an 804m.

Drop the electronic tuner. Realising you can tune fifths by listening for the beat was a revelation. And scales are what help the ears; mine are getting better all the time. And I'm still using the same tuning fork I had in 1974.

Mirrors have to be pretty big - I've got a bathroom mirror, but it's useless.

When I was learning CG, I found Youtube great for finding out how not to do something. The violin is different.

What's a smartphone?

November 9, 2018, 3:38 AM · Ears go without saying.

I played for several years before YouTube existed, and I didn't get a smartphone until 2015. So for the first several years it was just metronome (with tuning A), pencils, method and etude books, and mirror. Some time around 2003 I got a microphone to record myself with on my computer, and I added YouTube around 2007 or 2008.

I had notation software before I started playing strings, because I was a pianist and somewhat of a composer first, but I never used it for string study.

The other thing that helped me make steady progress was playing in orchestras and getting free pointers and sometimes repertoire or etude suggestions from people.

November 9, 2018, 3:41 AM · "What's a smartphone?"
It's like a computer, but mainly designed to take pictures of your food. It allows you to avoid interacting with that horrible pest... humans.
Edited: November 9, 2018, 3:58 AM · Carlos,

I still carry a tuning fork and recording device with me, despite having a smart phone.

The reason is a third year anecdote - I was dependent on my phone for tuning and lo and behold, that is the day the phone's microphone died.

Tech is great, but sometimes things go wrong. My little dictation device and tuning fork take up very little space - in fact the tuning fork is barely larger than my car key. The dictation device is smaller than my smartphone!

Always nice to have a back up. Of course I don't carry a spare metronome. If I'm not at home the chances are I'm not playing somewhere I can just whip a metronome out.

November 9, 2018, 4:18 AM · The truth is that usually I tune with the piano (at home or in class), or with the leading instrument during ensemble practice.
I also carry a fork.
But it's worth to say that nowadays students don't need to buy a tuner, metronome, microphone and "recording device". Those things are available, for free or little money, for a tool they already have. Indeed I would tell to a new student to install them, before sending him or her to the shop... even if eventually I would recommend them to go to the shop...
Edited: November 9, 2018, 4:26 AM · Michael - Is that a Zoom H1 in your pocket, or a metronome? I don't carry either of mine as a matter of course but the Zoom beats a phone by not making noises of its own. Of course everyone needs a cloth for wiping off rosin dust and/or perspiration
November 9, 2018, 5:12 AM · I've got the Zoom Q8 bookmarked.
November 9, 2018, 5:24 AM · Old non-smart phones can still have a useful life.

In the small pocket of whichever violin case I'm using I carry an old Samsung phone (GT-S3350), long sans its SIM but with useful integral audio/video recording/playback functions and provision for a 32GB memory chip. This little device can carry its charge for a fortnight or more before needing a recharge, presumably because it no longer has its phone function.

November 9, 2018, 5:45 AM · The issue I have with "smart phones" is that they bring a whole bunch of other distractions into the room.

Focus, concentration, goals, etc could be another tool.

Oh,and a scale book is not a fingering chart to be memorised, but a vast set of patterns: try memorising Daniel Otten "Get More Out Of Your Violin Playing" Boekmans & van Poppel B.V. Amsterdam 1998; or Mark Yampolsky Violoncello Technique Hal Leonard.

The mirror in my studio is 800 x 950. Big enough. Essential.

November 9, 2018, 6:08 AM · As a beginner and community orchestra newbie, I'm about to add an MP3 music slow downer to my tool kit. I've found playing along with the CadenzaStringsNC practice tempo videos which match my Suzuki books tremendously helpful and fun. Now I'll be able to do that at any chosen tempo with my downloaded orchestra pieces.
November 9, 2018, 6:20 AM · "Slow downer" software. Thanks. That is a great addition. I have added a foot pedal to mine (works with The Amazing Slowdowner", and others, and it is a hoot.

A loop station (I have Boss RC-3) might also make the list of a musician interested in improvisation.

Edited: November 9, 2018, 6:30 AM · @Graeme "The issue I have with "smart phones" is that they bring a whole bunch of other distractions into the room."
Quite. We're on this forum right now - case in point.

"a scale book is...a vast set of patterns"
Patterns, yes, but not that vast. All the double-stopping stuff, if that's what you mean, is just elaboration of a few basic patterns caused by the four strings and their fifths tuning. Mathematicians deal with this in "group theory".

I installed a beta version of the amazing slow downer 10 years ago for learning harmonica, but I quickly lost interest in it and doubt if I'd get value for money from a pay version.

November 9, 2018, 6:47 AM · Graeme, how does "Get more out of your violin playing" differ from standard scale books? And why cite a cello technique book here, out of curiosity.
November 9, 2018, 6:53 AM · An infinite amount of patience with a heavy dose of positive attitude.
November 9, 2018, 7:40 AM · Tammuz, a cello technique book may be useful for a violinist who wants to play like the musician in the link below. I'm already a cellist so I wouldn't need it. (see the "About Stirling's Technique" discussion, towards the end)

Edited: November 9, 2018, 8:16 AM · As a current student, the notepad and pencil is important. Also bringing it to class with questions I have is important.

I tried the smartphone for a metronome. Could not stand it. Sucked the life out of my battery and not wanting to risk it being knocked to the floor. You have to know me to know that that is a real possibility. I prefer the regular metronome, i need to find a better one, actually.

I also have some easy sheet music that I downloaded that is in line with what I covered just to play with when I am done. I make sure that I incorporate what I have been practicing to see if what I have been practicing has helped me progress with those little ditties. “English Country Garden” and “Auld Lang Syne” for now. It kind of helps me enforce the techniques and intonation I had been working on. It is also great help for my sight reading when I start a new one. It is just sort of dessert.

I also have a timer to remind me to take a break after five minutes and then come back, I need to build up my stamina. If I play too long my intonation goes flat. My instructor said to practice in 5 minute lumps and keep adding a minute until I get my arm stamina up. She said my intination is really good when I start but into the lesson half hour, I lways go flat. I love playing my violin and don’t think to stop on my own, I just get frustrated with myself because the intonation is flat. I don’t realize my arms are tired because they do not feel tired, and I love it, so I never remember to stop. So, a timer for students just starting and needing to build up stamina.


Edited: November 9, 2018, 8:48 AM · When I was learning guitar, I played Segovia scales for stamina, which I needed. They have their critics, but since they provide a routine of all 24, and they are structured to be easy to memorise, they were great for my purpose.
I haven't found anything similar for violin yet, but I don't seem to be in as much need. My biggest problem is always being aware of LH/wrist shape and not letting it get poor.
Edited: November 9, 2018, 9:39 AM · @Holly I have CapoTouch on my phone for speeding up/slowing down music. You can even import voice memos into that app, say your teacher plays something your struggling with for you to demonstrate it or if your playing with others and want to practice playing with the group on your own, take a voice memo and import it into the app and it’s right there. There is a free and paid version, I have the paid for version and it’s worth every cent. Love it for slow practice as slowing down when needed isn’t one of my strong suits.

Also to add if you purchase sheet music from Musicnotes, when you open whatever score in the app there is a playlong track that you can adjust the tempo to as well. Hope that helps!

ETA: While I wouldn’t call these essential tools, I find them very helpful.

November 9, 2018, 9:37 AM · A good luthier who can keep your instrument well maintained and well adjusted, and can offer good advice.

Phone app works for a tuner but I like a purpose-specific metronome. The metronome tends to stay on and consume battery unlike a tuner app which is on a minute.

Edited: November 9, 2018, 1:42 PM · Thanks, @Kim W. I watched a Capo tutorial. Interesting, chords appear as the music progresses. Maybe I'll have to dig out that old guitar and build on the three James Taylor songs I could play when in college :-) Yes, I know, I'm showing my age.
November 9, 2018, 5:25 PM · If you play classical music you need sheet music, don't you?

When I was young and took lessons the set was much smaller: Violin, bow, case, cloth, pencil, tuning fork and sheet music. Every other item either didn't exist or was too expensive for me.

November 9, 2018, 5:44 PM · Ear plugs!
Edited: November 9, 2018, 7:00 PM · Holly I like the guitar chords as well. I’m hoping one day my wee rocker kiddo will play some Bach with me!

November 10, 2018, 2:50 PM · a notebook for keeping track of teacher comments, plus practice log, inspirations, etc.
I like video delay apps for a more powerful mirror, and video recording app. My personal preference is Hudl Technique.
November 12, 2018, 4:25 AM · Tummuz, the first exercise in Otten's book, (exercise called Scales in first position), has four bar sections, with the pattern X major, vi/X harmonic minor, vi/X melodic minor ascending, and V/X dorian; and the set of scales modulates to the subdominant tonic, and starts again.
So, we have C major, A harmonic minor, A melodic minor ascending, and G dorian -- modulating to F major ...

This first exercise covers the full cycle, (all keys).

Now, if all this seems a bit of a waste of time, you haven't played in a pit orchestra, for example.

I included a cello book because I also learn cello.

And, thank you, Susanna, I am going to find out about Hudl Technique.

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