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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Do you like your sound?

This week, I wanted to focus on quality sound/tone.  I began with a video of the week to introduce the idea of clean, strong tone.  We listened only to the music...I didn't let the students see who was playing the music.  Then after a couple minutes, I turned on the projector and students were shocked to see a very young child creating amazing tone on the violin.

Next. I told students that they could create an equally powerful tone.  We talked about times we have heard our voices in a video or in a recording.  So many people believe their voice sounds different when they hear it in a video.  Students relate to this...maybe said they don't like how their voice sounds. I asked them if they like the sound of their instrument.  It is so easy to focus so intently on fingering, that we forget to notice what we sound like.  And we can so easily change our sound for the better!

Students next played 4 open D's with their best possible tone.  They really listened...and wanted to do this more than once to get their very best sound.  We talked about bow weight and bow speed.  I told students to move their bow fast on quarter notes, twice as slow on half notes, and twice as slow again on whole notes.  As we played warm-ups, students focused on bow speed and they listened to their sound.  I demonstrated a tune played with only one bow speed.  It was boring...and lacked clarity and volume.  Students enjoyed experimenting with bow speed it made our warm-ups way more fun.  My entire group sounded so much more mature after this activity - and I was happy to see some of my more timid students using more bow and getting a bigger sound.

There are times I have nagged my students to use more bow.  After this activity, I see that asking for 'more bow' is not as effective as asking for faster bow speed.  I will now focus on bow speed more often to help my groups develop powering tone.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Beginners and Intonation

Beginners can play in tune.  Really...they can.  And they WANT to play in tune.  No one wants to sound bad.  I learned this while studying the Suzuki method as my son (age 4) began his violin lessons.  He was taught to place his fingers perfectly and he wasn't to pull his bow until his fingers were set.  That means, we had to pause after every 'tukka tukka stop stop' to place the next note before pulling the bow again.  With this careful practice, my son never had the chance to play out of tune.  Soon enough, he developed the muscle memory to land his fingers in tune add we no longer had to pause between pitch changes.  In a beginning orchestra setting, we may not be able to physically check and move each student's finger to the right place, but we can use tapes for a guide.  Students in a classroom are older, anyway...and they need to learn how to monitor their own playing.  When students are struggling to get pitches in tune, I have found it helpful to step back and use the Suzuki strategy.  Set. pull, listen.  Does it match - is it in tune?

Recently, I did a warm-up with my beginning orchestra class and it helped their overall intonation so much that I started doing it with all of my groups.  We often warm-up with finger patterns and scales...this is just a new way to approach the patterns.  We drilled only 3 notes at a time.  In my experience, students are most often out of tune when playing half steps.  This little drill helped students fix those intervals and they performed with better intonation through the entire rehearsal after playing it.

I don't have students read the sheet music for warm ups because I want all of their focus to be on their fingers, half steps, intonation, tone, bow placement. etc.  They easily pick up on this simple warm-up by rote.

The other thing I have learned about beginners and intonation is that they sound a lot better when I tune them!  This is pretty obvious, but I used to not tune them very carefully.  I have 50 students to tune in each of my beginning class, so I'm in a hurry...I tune them all in 5 minutes or less.  With tuner blaring, I used to tune via pizzicato.  Then, after nagging my class to fix their intonation, I noticed that their D's and A's didn't match...and I had tuned them!  I learned that I am not very good at tuning accurately when I use pizz.  Now, I tune every kid's instrument using my bow...and wow...what a difference.  You students just might be playing better than you think.  Every now and then, I even tune my advanced class...just to make sure their instruments are perfectly in tune before we focus a rehearsal on intonation.