Tips for Aspiring Violinists and Violists
Signing up to Play the Violin and Viola
As we learned in our other “Getting Started” blog articles, the process of learning an instrument varies significantly between the piano, percussion, and guitar. The violin and viola have their own unique distinctions that lend to a slightly different learning process as well!
Violin and Viola Recruitment and Places to Play
Many school districts recruit students in elementary school, with most initial recruitment taking place between 4th and 6th grades. Quite often this recruitment process takes place the year prior to initial enrollment. Once they’ve enrolled in orchestra, string students will often begin by learning in a small group environment prior to migrating to a large group rehearsal environment within a month after first picking up their instrument.
What Will First-year Violinists and Violists Learn?
The first step in learning a string instrument involves right and left-hand development. The right hand and arm are the most important to master, as they serve to produce the tone of your student’s violin or viola. The left hand controls pitches and allows the musician to play in tune.
First-year students will also begin to learn to read music, although very young musicians may wind up learning to read music at a later date. The goal for novice string musicians is to learn to make a good sound.
Where Can Violin and Viola Students Perform?
The first opportunity a new string musician will have to perform will be at a concert in December or perhaps January, which is traditionally followed by a second concert toward the end of the school year. Some school districts may include a third performance at some point during the school year.
Making Sure Your String Instrument Makes the Grade
One common pitfall novice violinists and violists may run into when first starting involves the purchase of an inferior quality instrument. Subpar string instruments may feature poor parts and materials, making it difficult for a student to play. If the pegs aren’t set up properly, your instrument may be impossible to tune. Fiberglass bows are a decent option for the beginner string musician, but they also need to be designed properly to achieve a good sound.
The sides, back, and neck of your student’s instrument should be made from maple, while the top is typically made from spruce. A quality fingerboard will be produced from harder woods like ebony. Manufacturers such as Yamaha, Eastman, Mathias Thoma, Glaesel, Kohr, Christopher, Lewis, and Scherl & Roth produce good quality rental instruments for beginners. When it is time to consider purchasing a student or step–up orchestra instrument, please visit The White House of Music’s String Shoppe or speak to any of our sales associates at our many locations.
Violin and Viola Accessories and Supplemental Materials
A beginner string student will normally need several accessories to ensure their violin or viola is played properly and remains well-maintained throughout the life of the instrument. Rosin, a cleaning cloth, a shoulder rest (beginner students will normally start with a sponge substitute, while middle school musicians will migrate over to a regular rest), a carrying case, a bow, and a music stand will typically be required to maintain good posture during practice. White House of Music offers accessory packs as an option for the beginner musician.
Each school district will have its own selection of method books, which are stocked on the White House of Music database. Just visit one of our stores, mention the name of your teacher and your student’s school, and we’ll pull the right books off the shelf for you!
Practicing With a Violin and Viola
As with many instruments, it is typically recommended that beginner musicians spread their practice sessions over multiple short periods of time, rather than practicing a few times a week for extended periods of time. Students will likely receive excellent instruction from their orchestra director, but private lessons always offer a welcome opportunity to enhance a musician’s abilities.
There are a few things to keep an eye on during your student’s practice sessions:
- Make sure the bow stays at a right angle to the strings as it is drawn. The elbow and wrist being able to flex is an important part of keeping the bow straight and at a good angle to the strings to achieve a good tone. Your student’s left hand and wrist should not collapse and remain fairly straight to help with playing in tune.
- The hair on the bow should be tightened before practice and loosened after each practice session. 3-4 turns should be sufficient.
- Avoid over-application of rosin, but be sure to apply with each practice session.
- Wipe off the instrument with a rag after playing, especially under the strings where rosin may collect.
- During winter months, make sure your student has a humidifier in their case to keep the instrument’s wood from separating and allowing it to maintain its good tone.
If you have any questions about instrument maintenance, private lessons, or violin and viola accessories, don’t hesitate to reach out to your local White House of Music store. We’re more than happy to help your student Make Music For Life!