Something the teacher cannot do on Zoom

May 15, 2020, 3:30 PM · As I'm getting better at assisting my students via Zoom I ran into something that I just could not do - tune the student's instrument.

I could tell, watching the parent tying to follow my instructions, that her daughter's instrument has a slipping peg.

The upshot is that she's bringing over the instrument tomorrow and I'll try to teach her how to tune the instrument. Yes, her daughter has been taught how to fine-tune but when the strings are really out and the pegs not holding...

I think I need to give all the parents classes in how to tune their young musician's violins.

Technology is great but,...

Replies (14)

May 15, 2020, 3:42 PM · I don't understand why this is not part of Suzuki Book 1: Parents learning how to tune the child's violin. How else, then, do they keep it in tune between lessons? I accompany a Suzuki violin group and often at the start of the session I'm asked to help tune the kids violins. I'm delighted to do so, as it makes me feel useful. But it's astonishing how many of them are woefully out of tune, and you just wonder, "How on earth have you been practicing?" But of course the answer is: "They haven't been."

There are innumerable YouTube videos on this, including some presented by reputable outfits like Shar.

Edited: May 16, 2020, 4:02 PM · I just told my students how to use the fine tuners, right is up, left is down, just like a jar cap.
Then you (teacher) open a tuner app on your phone, you ask them to play open string and you tell them to rotate the fine tuner. One string at a time, very simple.
Unless there's an actual problem which then the fine tuners won't be enough, but so far so good, only less than one month to summer holidays.
May 15, 2020, 4:17 PM · Paul,

The Youth Orchestra I work with is where I tune(d) 40+ every rehearsal, sometimes the same violin more than once either because they dropped it (most common) to playing with the pegs or fine-tuners because they get bored when they aren't actually playing.

I do try to teach my students how to tune using the fine tuners and explained to the parents what to do if the string is way out of tune. Unfortunately, few develop the skill.

The sad reality is that the young musicians get used to playing on an instrument that is out-of-tune between rehearsals/lessons and aren't at all bothered by it.

I was frustrated today because this student does keep her instrument in tune with the fine tuners but this time the A-string peg got loose and nobody on the other end of the connection understood the concept of turn and press so the moment they let go of the peg - back to out of tune.

Perfection pegs would resolve this problem but installing them on fractional instruments that they will outgrow isn't practical.

May 15, 2020, 4:24 PM · Parents of my students learn this skill early on, using an electronic tuner on phones and plucking until in tune. If my adult students can learn this, then parents can too. I think it’s really important, and something I didn’t have as a child. My mum never learned to tune my instrument when I was a youngster, which meant I played on out of tune instruments for several years. But I also wasn’t taught how to properly tune until I decided to learn via YouTube videos and patience. Geared pegs really would help with this as George says, but I can’t see any of the parents being up for this expense, when they don’t even want to buy strings more expensive than those Green packaged Astrea strings...
Edited: May 15, 2020, 8:59 PM · Here I'm envisioning George sitting in an old Fotomat kiosk fixing kids' violins with "social distancing" with a dozen cars queued up.

Yeah -- if the parent doesn't understand pushing and turning, it's hopeless. Maybe explain that their hand needs to function like a screwdriver.

(George -- isn't there a tidy killing to be made in supply chain management consulting right now? *grin*)

May 15, 2020, 10:31 PM · To be fair, pegs on those little fractional violins can be quite tricky
May 15, 2020, 11:15 PM · Yes they certainly can.
May 16, 2020, 8:45 AM · And if a parent isn't a trained musician and doesn't understand the fragility of the wood, if you tell them to "push and turn" they can easily push too hard and split the wood.

To get back to Paul's point, parents not knowing how to tune a violin isn't just a function of "Suzuki book 1" so I don't quite understand why you singled that out. It's not endemic to any single teaching method -- it's more a factor of klutzy parents who have tin ears and are nervous about handling a musical instrument.

To be fair (speaking as a teacher who often has to repeat instructions to both parents and students many times over many weeks because they don't remember) it's not an issue of "teaching the parents." It's a matter more of "having the parents learn" and for some parents that will never ever happen.

May 16, 2020, 8:55 AM · Paul, et al.,

Supply Chain professionals are in high demand only if they are familiar with the specific industries. Since my most recent (almost two decades ago) was in high tech electronics there really isn't any demand for me. While I have had experience in grocery & restaurant businesses and consulted with a hospital - that was a very long time ago. Today's chains are not what they used to be.

Mary Ellen: I agree that the fractional instruments are, at the best of times, difficult. Some of them are so vexing that they take me time to tune. (Let's not discuss, fathers, bridges and glue...)

Also, the parents of my students are not musicians. I asked one parent if she could, using the keyboard I saw in the background, play a C-major scale while her young musician/daughter worked on learning how to play that scale in third position starting on the G-string - Mom looked like the proverbial Deer-in-the-headlights while the young musician doubled over laughing. The good news is that the keyboard can record and replay and the young musician knows the basics of how to play the piano.

May 16, 2020, 8:56 AM · David "Suzuki book 1" was meant to convey "at the outset of their programs." It wasn't a slight against the Suzuki method. I'm a huge Suzuki fan. But, inasmuch as Suzuki is probably the most popular and best-developed method with a national organization (SAA) behind it and so on, maybe they could take the initiative to provide better coaching for students and parents on the proper care and maintenance of stringed instruments. (And maybe it's already there, I don't know.) As far as "teaching the parents" vs. "parents learning," I agree wholeheartedly. That's why I wrote "parents learning how to tune the child's violin" in my very first post on this thread.
May 16, 2020, 10:22 AM · "I don't understand why this is not part of Suzuki Book 1: Parents learning how to tune the child's violin."

I suppose it might be because in the traditional view, it would have assumed to be implicit. Certainly when the parent is expected to learn the basics of the instrument and music in order to be able to help the child with knowledge instead of just good intentions and money, being able to tune the instrument (assuming that it is tuneable - otherwise it's a construction issue) would be among the very basic requirements to get started.

Edited: May 16, 2020, 10:48 AM · Very little is "implicit". There's not a teacher alive who doesn't tell their young students -- in the presence of their parents -- how much they should be practicing, how they should be referring to their notes every day, how they should be wiping off the violin and the strings, using their practice journal/chart, loosening the bow every time, tightening the bow again, applying rosin regularly, etc. Nobody assumes that stuff.

My daughter has had lessons in the same cello studio for 10 years and the teacher has a very good policy about tuning. Every student (or parent for the really young ones) learns to tune the cello, and in fact they are all told to buy the same make and model of tuner-metronome. When they arrive at lesson, in the anteroom the teacher's tuner is set up there and they are meant to tune their own cellos before entering the lesson room. Which they all do. However that teacher also has the requirement that the parent must also take cello lessons for an entire year along with the beginning student.

All that aside, though, it remains that a slipped peg on a fractional violin can be tricky to fix, and the point someone made that parents may be afraid to break the instrument is a good one too.

Edited: May 16, 2020, 3:02 PM · One of my acquaintance-colleagues seemingly does not tune instruments at the beginning of lessons but requires students/parents to do it. I assume they don't get to the "playing" until the instrument is tuned so they learn that they had better figure it out if they want to get to the rest of the lesson. Unfortunately, I'm one of those who had previously enabled parents to not have to learn to tune, meaning I covered the subject, but didn't "force" them to get it done (under pressure of not continuing with the non tuning part of the lesson).

The last week before going online, I did in fact "force" everyone to operate the fine tuners and pegs. Some of them, 10 min later, were still working on it, and at that point I took over so that we could at least play for what turned out to be the last time of meeting in person. Meeting online, we now have no choice. If you are late to your lesson and we spend the rest tuning* because you haven't watched the tuning video links I recommended, haven't tried it at home, tried it but had difficulties and didn't call me when I explicit told you to call on my day off (my non video days) to get help over the phone...I can "instruct" all I want but if you aren't helping yourself, I can't help you.

*Tuning during video lesson: "higher, higher, still higher, no go lower, a little more, STOP THERE, no wait go back up because the lag made it too late by the time you heard me" (then I say, an app won't turn your tuners/pegs but can at least tell you higher and lower, and what I don't say is, I do not want to waste my time (well, really your lesson time) being a live person app!)

This aspect of my teaching will surely change once we resume in-person lessons, whenever that turns out to be.

Edited: May 16, 2020, 2:58 PM · "Very little is "implicit". There's not a teacher alive who doesn't tell their young students.."

What's implicit is that tuning must be learnt, and therefore taught, as a part of violin playing, and it would be taught to the students and parents present or parents being students themselves, when required, implicitly if not explicitly stated in the Suzuki or whatever materials being used.

But my response was essentially to your earlier complaint about tuning not being explicitly taught in Suzuki Book 1, which I've found since is incorrect.

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