Lockdown learner

Edited: December 16, 2020, 4:02 PM · Hi everyone, this is my 1st post on here so please be gentle with me. I have a few questions but first a little back story about me.
I played the violin briefly as a young child. Always wanted to learn again. Apart from knowing the bow needs to be unwound after playing, plz take me as having not remembered anything else.
I started playing during uk covid lockdown on an extremely cheap violin picked up on marketplace for £20. Im learning using the online violin tutor from youtube called Allison.
Im getting on ok practicing 1-4 finger placements and simple songs, bowing and trying to keep relaxed. I quickly realized 1. Im going to not give this up, and 2. I needed to upgrade my screetchy violin. So ive just picked up a stentor conservatoire secong hand. Its got tonica strings on it. I love its sound already but am finding that when playing this new one i feel like ive never played. Its uncomfortable, the chin rest is on the side more than the previous one. Im aware this new ones bridge is more arched so thats throwing me off a bit. Should or can i take it to a luthier and ask him to fit it to me ie chin rests and shoulder supprt or is this not something they would do. Im also having issues tunning. I tune it, using app on my phone, get it to the sweet spot, practice then notice its out of tune already after 10 or 20 mins. Are there any tips for keeping it in tune. And lastly i practice about 1-2hours daily, every day. How often does my bow need rosin, playing this amount.

Sorry this is a long post but boy it is difficult teaching yourself during a pandemic and i have so many questions that i cant ask a tutor. Thankyou to anyone who reads this and replies.

Replies (13)

Edited: December 16, 2020, 4:29 PM · Hi Justine

It's so good to hear that you're inspired to continue playing and that you're showing an impressive amount of dedication and perseverance.

There are many patterns of chinrests and many players (me included) take a very long time to settle what's best for themselves - lots of experimentation is necessary (I've a very big box full of shoulder rests and chinrests I discarded on my way to finding my perfect set up). Unfortunately, because everyone is different (no two bodies are identical), what works for one person may not work for someone else. So the bad news is that there is probably little anyone here can do to make too many recommendations.

Normally, most players start out with the help of a human teacher - I've seen Allison's videos online and whilst they're good, they are not even close to being a substitute for one-to-one lessons. I realise that at the moment, in-person lessons are hard to do and find (I'm in the UK and my teacher has had to change her policy on lessons several times over lockdown), but if there is any way you can find someone to teach you, then that is your quickest way to unravelling the entirely natural puzzles you're facing.

One thing I maybe to help with is the tuning issues. If the strings are new, they will take some time to settle. Also, if the violin hasn't been played for a while then it too will need a period of adjustment. So it's quite normal under these circumstances for the instrument to detune periodically. This usually settles after a few days and the instrument will stay in tune longer. But changes in temperature and humidity can also cause the violin to go out of tune so tuning is kind of a reasonably regular thing. You should expect to get more than 10 - 20 minutes in tune - if this hasn't improved after several days then I'd say you do have a problem and should ask the advice of a reputable luthier.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that to ensure you're instrument is at it's best, it might be worth getting a luthier to check over it. If it's second hand and has been stored without strings for a period, the sound post will almost certainly have moved and will need putting back (definitely a job for a luthier).

In terms of how much rosin to use, to an extent, it depends on how old the bow hair is. If it's reasonably new (less than a year) then a few strokes over the rosin cake should do you for an hour or two. Older bow hair may need more.

Hope this helps

December 16, 2020, 5:07 PM · Thanks Tony it does help. I wish i could get out to have some lessons too, but i am having to isolate quite strictly for the next few months as im a support bubble with my sons family as one of my grandchildren was taken to hosp for asthma, unfortunatly the hospital made a catastrophic mistake and overdosed her (25 × what she should of had) on an iv drug, which caused cardiac arrest resusitation and multiple organ failure. It was touch and go for a few weeks but shes improving daily now, this has left her extremely vulnerable and im childminding my sons other 2 children while shes recovering. Shes only 4 and im certain her age has been on her side in recovering. So this leaves me unable to have a face to face lesson at this time. Im worried about picking up bad habits that wont get picked up, do you have any suggestions on common mistakes i should watch out for?
December 16, 2020, 6:17 PM · Justine - would it be possible for you to hire a violin teacher via Zoom or Skype? While in-person is ideal, for many of us right now this just isn't an option. If you can do it, finding a teacher who specializes in adult students (it matters) and can start working with you remotely would be far better than YouTube videos. The advantage to this is the teacher doesn't need to be local which does broaden your pool choose from.

I am an adult returnee myself, I'm currently 61 and started back up 2 years ago. It has really helped to have a teacher - even remotely.

December 17, 2020, 12:23 AM · Hi Justine

It sounds like you've had a torrid time at the hands of our NHS. They're fantastic at many things, but situations like yours are too common.

It's been a long time since I was a beginner (as in decades - I'm 55) and I've never taught, so I'm not the best person to advise you on common mistakes.

Catherine has a good idea - many teachers (mine included) offer lessons over Zoom or Skype and whilst it's definitely not the same as in person, it's still a very valuable experience. All of my lessons have been via Skype since June, and they do work.

December 17, 2020, 4:03 AM · Catherine and Tony thats a great idea, i will be getting on with that today.

Re: NHS: i still have faith in them as a whole and are still very proud of them.

Edited: December 17, 2020, 6:14 AM · Justine. I have a Stentor Conservatoire II. You can be happy with its action and the curvature of the bridge. If you don't have a shoulder rest, get one - I like the Hidersine Maesbury or one of the Ammoon copies of it on Amazon. Shifting the chinrest is a job you should be able to do yourself, but it requires a special tool, or an appropriate nail or screwdriver or similar, but don't scratch your violin. As with all such things, Youtube will have plenty of examples of how to. Since you are in the UK, you should be aware of thestringzone.co.uk and Cardiff Violins, among others.
December 17, 2020, 8:15 AM · If the chin rest on the old violin was better for you, take it off and put it on your new violin. (?)
December 18, 2020, 12:44 PM · Justine - as was previously mentioned, transfer the chinrest from the previous violin to this one.

Are the strings new or old? If they are old, then replace them. There are videos on youtube for this. (Also mentioned.)

If all else fails, bring the violin to a luthier.

I rosin my bow every 4hrs of playing or so, and I wipe my strings down with a chamois (and the violin under the strings) after every practice session.

If you'd like help going through things, and are unable to find a teacher, send me an email. I'm happy to help.

Edited: January 4, 2021, 10:14 AM · I am pretty much in your same situation. Started seriously around March when the COVID situation started to peak. Self-taught with the essential elements method for about 5-6 months until I was able to find a teacher.
Having an idea of the location for the first position notes helped but I've found that there is no substitute for personal one-on-one instruction. While 30 minute sessions can be short and condensed, it has helped me to help myself in a manner of speaking.
I've heard it from many sources that you can only get so much out of youtube, books, etc. My personal experience, albeit minimal, has corroborated that. Try to find a teacher if you can, it will help immensely.
A good Luthier can also be a very good resource. A professional set up and great recommendations can make a world of a difference. Also, they can be there if you, like me end up stupidly collapsing the bridge and dislodging the sound post. =P
Edited: January 4, 2021, 7:11 PM · Hi,
in my opinion one of the best websites to start from is Julia Bushkova. She goes right from the beginning clearly and effectively like no other site I’ve seen. REmarkable teacher and resource.
The hardest thing for a beginner on this instrument to do is *not* practice but that is actually really important even if it sound silly. The problem with the violin is that because it is such a complex set of unnatural skills the best way to succeed is to not make mistakes. Every time you make the slightest error as a beginner it becomes part of what you lean and has to be unlearnt which doubles your learning time or just becomes a hindrance to further development. I’m afraid trying to play pieces (not songs) without the initial foundation will hold you back more or less indefinitely.
For example, one of the reasons Heifetz was the greatest technician (possibly) of the 20c was simply that his father was a fine violinist who never let any errors pass as the baby Jascha developed.
So, if you are practicing 1-2 hours a day that immediately throws up some red flags. This is not going to work well. At the very least change to no more han 15 to 30 minutes a day divided into three sessions, morning noon and night. In each session do something absolutely fundamental that you learn from the Bushkova site (for example) such as putting the violin up correctly and without tension. This is all you need and unless these kind of steps are gone through you will probably never fully enjoy playing the violin to your maximum potential. Sorry to be so severe!
You should listen to recordings for at least half an hour everyday and create a sound bank in your head. Getting to know the repertoire of violin pieces in this way will help you a lot in the future.
Edited: January 6, 2021, 12:52 PM · Just an update all, i have managed to swap the chin rest over from my other violin. Its better but not perfection i will keep tinkering with chin rests and shoulder rests till i find it perfect. Im extremly extremely careful to be learning as correctly as i can but in no way am i going to cut down my practice time. I have a mirror to check positioning, and start off with a good hour of scales, C,F,A,Bb majors, G major and minor D major and minor, Then i practice bowing exercises for at least half an hour ect.... i only get round to songs for the last half hour and am extremely strict on intonation. Ive come a long way in a short time and am thoroughly enjoying myself. Thanks to all who have had positive encouragement to give. We in the uk are in another lockdown with this new variant of covid really sweeping through our nation. I am so glad i have this hobby to keep me mentally occupied. Keep safe everyone.
Edited: January 9, 2021, 7:45 PM · I too rock a conservatoire (I). I changed out my chinrest to a Flesch-type made by a local luthier as the side position was uncomfortable. He also gave it a setup which changed the playability (adjustments included bridge position for scale length, bridge feet, sound post, string heights, and tuning pegs).

So I highly recommend taking it (and really any instrument) to a pro to get a proper setup (atleast once so you know what the instrument is capable of).

As for tuning, mine stayed quite well in-tune before and after the luthier (also slightly easier to get in tune after the visit). Perhaps the way the strings are wound around the pegs? Are they helping the peg bind by being turned into to walls of the pegbox?

Also, take pictures and measurements of where everything is placed (bridge, soundpost) just in case you have to do an emergency reset while, let's say, on a roadtrip or vacation.

January 10, 2021, 12:44 AM · Great advice/post from @Stephen Brivati (aka Buri) who has been a good contributor to these forums for many many years, thanks Buri.

Justine, have you managed to find a 'skype' teacher?

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