An Introduction to the Violinby Joanna Storm, Music Educator and Music & Arts Lesson Instructor
Tools for Success
* Items marked (SP) are included in the Starter Pack
This is an electronic device that produces a steady stream of clicks. It’s a tool designed to help the student play at a steady tempo in the proper rhythm.
Music Stand (SP) Shop Now >
A music stand is required for proper posture. If the music is not placed at approximately eye level, this will have a negative impact on the student's posture. Improper posture has a negative impact on the student's sound and health over time.
A notebook is great tool for success. A notebook lets the student (or their teacher) take notes about new terms, what music they should be practicing, what goals the student has, etc.
Pencils are useful to write in both the student’s notebook and also in their sheet music. Sometimes it is useful for the student to make notes in their music regarding fingerings or dynamics. It’s good to make these notes in pencil rather than pen in case they need to be changed later.
Polishing Cloth (SP) Shop Now >
This is a soft cloth used for wiping off rosin dust. When rosin dust builds up on the violin, it dampens the sound and the instrument will not sound as good. Excess rosin dust can also cause the violin to become sticky to the touch. This will eventually will damage the varnish. While a yearly professional cleaning is recommended, this will help maintain your instrument in the meantime.
Rosin (SP) (light rosin only) Shop Now >
Rosin needs to be applied to the bow hair at the beginning of each playing session. There are two basic types of rosin: light (or amber) rosin and dark rosin. If you live in a humid area, you will want to use light rosin. If you live in a dry or arid climate, you should choose dark rosin. If the area you live in experiences a large change in humidity during the year (such as the midwest) and you only want to purchase one rosin, you should choose the light rosin.
Shoulder Rest (SP) (foam pad) Shop Now >
This is a tool used to aid in both posture and proper violin hold. While they are sometimes unnecessary for younger players, most older students need them. They come in many styles, from a simple foam pad to a framework with solid padding, and are sized to your instrument.
Tuner Shop Now >
This is an electronic device that helps students make sure their violin is in tune before they start practicing. If the violin is not in tune, the student can be playing perfectly but will still not produce the correct notes.
About Your Violin
Pegs are the four black knobs at the top of the violin. They are used for making large tuning adjustments.
The fingerboard is the long black piece underneath the strings. To get the best quality sound when playing, the bow must be kept off of this part of the violin.
The violin has four strings. Listed in descending order, they are: E, A, D, G. The E string is the thinnest and highest-sounding of the strings, and the G is the thickest and lowest-sounding.
The F-holes are the two holes on the front of the violin. They help the violin project its sound, so it is important not to cover them when playing and to not let anything ever fall in them.
This is an oval piece of wood or plastic, usually black in color, located next to the tailpiece. This is where the player's chin/jaw rests. If the instrument is missing this piece, or if it slips off, you should take your violin to be repaired, as it is impossible to hold the instrument properly without it.
The tailpiece is located on the bottom front of the violin, just underneath the bridge. All four strings attach to it.
The fine tuners are the little screws located on the tailpiece. They are used for making minor tuning adjustments. As there is no risk of breaking a string when tuning with fine tuners, it is perfectly fine for students with no tuning experience to tune with these.
The soundpost is a small wooden rod located on the inside of the violin. You can usually see it by looking through the f-holes. It helps to amplify the sound of the violin.
About Your Bow
The stick of the bow is the long wooden part of your instrument. It is important to make sure that it is never too tight. The stick should always have a 'recurve', or should always curve under slightly. If the stick is straight or is bowed over, it is too tight and will eventually warp.
The hair of the bow, aptly named because it is usually made out of horsehair, is found opposite the stick. The hair must be rosined every time the instrument is taken out and played, otherwise it will be very difficult to make any sound on the violin.
The frog is the chunky part at the end of the bow, which is where the student should be holding the bow.
The screw is located at the end of the bow, just after the frog. Turning the screw to the right tightens the bow and turning it to the left loosens it.
Scheduling and Measuring Practice
Practicing the correct amount is very important. Practicing too little will impede the student's progress, while practicing too much can lead to fatigue, frustration, and even injury. I often tell my students to treat playing the violin like a weightlifting. If you want to get good at it, you have to do it every day, but you need to start out small and work your way up so that your muscles have a chance to build.
A good guideline for practicing is to go by how long your lesson is. If you have a 30-minute lesson, you should practice approximately 30 minutes per day. Some students have difficulty focusing for that long, especially younger students. In that situation, I take a different approach and have students practice each task/assignment five times. That way, you go over your scales five times, your etude five times and your solo five times. This method ensures that you get to everything your teacher assigned and it gives the student clear stopping points if they need to take a break.
Maintaining Your Instrument
Before You Play
- Make sure you have clean hands.
- Get your music and practice area ready.
- Check your instrument and bow to make sure nothing is wrong.
- Tighten and rosin your bow.
- Put on your shoulder rest (if you use one).
- Tune your instrument and make sure to check your bridge first!
After You Play
- Remove any unwanted items from your case.
- Remove your shoulder rest (if you use one) and put it away.
- Loosen your bow and secure it in the case.
- Wipe off any rosin debris from your violin.
- Secure the violin in its case. Make sure you zip the case closed!
- Sudden and extreme changes in temperature are bad for your instrument. Although your case helps slow down these changes, it is still a good idea to avoid exposing your instrument to places that are excessively hot, cold, humid, or dry. Extreme temperature changes put your instrument at risk for cracking, separated seams, broken joints, and snapped strings.
- Cold – You can take your instrument out into a snowstorm as long as it is in a properly insulated case. It is best to avoid doing so, however, unless absolutely necessary.
- Damp – Your instrument should never be exposed to excess humidity. Too much moisture will cause the wood to warp and the glue to break down. While a well-insulated case should protect the instrument, consider covering the case in a garbage bag if going out in especially heavy snow or rain.
- Heat – Too much heat can cause severe damage to the joints and seams of your violin. It can also melt the glue holding your instrument together. Never store your instrument in direct sunlight or in the car.
- Dry – Wood needs some moisture to keep its shape, otherwise it can become brittle and crack. If the area you are in is extremely dry, you should invest in an instrument humidifier to protect your violin.
- Earthquake/tornado – If you live in an area prone to earthquakes or tornadoes, never store your instrument near a piece of furniture that might fall (ex: bookcases). A heavy object falling on your violin, even while it is in the case, can cause severe damage to your instrument.
Do's and Don'ts
- Due to the fact that it is easy to break a string accidentally when tuning with the pegs, it is recommended that the student/parent not use them without first receiving specific instruction from their teacher.
- To get the best sound from the violin, it is recommended that all the strings be changed at least once per year. Picking a memorable date for your annual strings change (birthday, Christmas, Independence Day, etc) is recommended so that you don't forget when you last changed your strings.
- If your soundpost ever falls, you should loosen all the strings immediately and take it to get repaired. Never play on a violin without a soundpost, as this can cause irreparable damage to the instrument.
- It is important to never touch the bow hair, as the oils on our skin will make the hair dirty. When the bow hair is dirty, it will not make as much sound, no matter how much rosin is applied. Never leave your violin alone in the car. Not only can it get stolen, the change in temperature in an unattended car can cause irreparable damage to your instrument. Too much heat can cause the varnish to bubble and glue to unstick, while too much cold can cause the instrument to crack.
- Always keep your violin in the case when it is not in use. Never leave it on a chair, or worse, the floor.
Forming Good Habits, Not Bad Habits
It is important to make practicing a habit that happens every day. Some people find that a practice chart helps them get their practicing done while others work it into their daily routine. Students who practice daily consistently outperform those who do not, regardless of talent or age.
Students should be standing/sitting straight while playing. Slouching, slumping and resting all one's weight on one foot can lead to poor sound.
When holding the violin, the wrist/palm should not be touching the instrument (aka, the infamous 'pizza wrist').
While teachers recommend different bow holds, one constant is that the bow should not be gripped in a fist. If you are unsure about the proper bow hold, ask your teacher for help.
Always follow the care instructions for your instrument, to ensure it is in proper working order. This will help you get the best out of your instrument.
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