Music education

I’ve been asked a number of times about how much one should practice – especially in the early stages.

I’ve heard lots of people try to compete on numbers – 2-3 hours a day being set as the challenge. I personally think that’s hogwash.

At the risk of sounding a bit controversial, I would say practice little but often – don’t do 2 hour marathons, better to do three lots of ten-fifteen minutes a day – that adds up to 30-40 minutes a day, but it spreads the load and gives much better reinforcement of learning by concentrating in short bursts and doing something completely different in between.

Happy new year :-)

The International violin making school in Cremona has a great website with a large gallery of images from every stage of making a violin.

There is a long course and a shorter course depending on prior education and experience. Studies include Italian, English and history, as well as history of art and technical studies of the instrument, violin making, acoustic physics, varnishing and much more. Foreign students must demonstrate a good command of Italian language, sound workshop practice and violin playing skills.

Well worth checking out!


“From picking it up to playing in a band took about 18 months hard work – trick is to play music, not just scales”

How I did it: I stumbled into a folk club and was amazed by the music. They gave free fiddle lessons which helped me to hold the instrument properly and get on top of the bowing. The best bit was that from my first lesson I was playing a tune – the rest came later. You could spend years playing scales, but unless you’re playing real tunes it would have become boring very quickly. I learnt to perform in front of an audience by busking, and 18 months later I joined a band. That was a vertical learning curve! But I hung in there and learnt heaps. I’ve now been playing 30 years and still love it :-)

Lessons & tips: Don’t over practice – lots of short sessions every day is better than one long session each week.
Play music you love – that way you know what it should sound like.
Keep at it regularly for more than six months – after then you are really playing music and can start to enjoy it – remember, this is a craft in which you are training muscles and that takes time.
Break each component down to a single movement and understand how your wrist keeps the bow straight.
Keep your eyes on the prize!

Resources: Irish folk music sessions!

It took me 18 months.

It made me feel great!

Steve Maus’ blog has a good piece on producing vibrato on the violin. I’m a great fan of the arm vibrato, as that way the vibrato comes from the elbow, which gives great mechanical advantage and excellent control – far more than the wrist vibrato favoured in some circles.

Vibrato is the art of making a note waver slightly up and down around the main note, much the way the voice does while singing. It makes the note more interesting to the ear, ad is a great decoration to use on slow tunes or where you have a long note that is not otherwise decorated.

The easy way to practice it is to get a ruler of about 45cm and practice vibrato while stuck at traffic lights or during ad breaks on TV, or during a slow moment at the office.

Just bring your hand up to the playing position, and place your fingers as though they were on a fingerboard. Now make a slight movement from the elbow as though bringing the hand toward you and away from you so that the fingers rock slightly on the ends of your fingers, and keep the wrist fairly straight. This will give you great control because you have the whole arm to provide leverage, making it easy to control the speed and intensity of the vibrato.

Happy Christmas – and happy holidays


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