Having a good structure to your violin practice, as described in the Practice Menu, is important. But it isn't everything... you also need to be able to use time efficiently within your practice time.
That means knowing what to do... which types of exercises will be helpful, and which kinds of activities will guarantee you results?
It's a big topic, but a great place to start is with some of the most useful and effective practice techniques that have been proven time and again by violinists over many years. Here's a useful checklist of some of the most popular techniques...
The song dates back to the early 1830s, when it was written by the English writer and poet Thomas Haynes Bayly. It became famous after it was published in America in the mid-19th century, and has remained in wide circulation ever since.
The piece has been a firm favourite amongst violinists for many years, not least because of its prominent positioning in Suzuki Violin Book 1 - one of the best-selling violin books of the last hundred years!
To a violinist, a violin is a beautiful work of art, whose sound can generate the deepest and most profound emotions known to humankind.
But to woodworm, a violin is avery tasty lunch!
Let's explore how woodworm can damage violins, and what you can do to avoid woodworm problems in your violin!
What are Woodworm, anyway?
Well, they're not worms. Woodworm are actually the larvae of wood boring beetles - and a violin is a nice place for that larvae to live, before it becomes a beetle!
The wood boring beetles usually emerge from wood during the summer months - so generally between May and October in the northern hemisphere.
If you're aware of what a woodworm infestation looks like, then you have a chance of spotting it early... before it's too late to be treated!
The Best Conditions for Eating a Violin (if you're a woodworm!)
Obviously Woodworm love wood... but they're also attracted by humidity. So a humid violin makes for a great hot meal!
It all starts after mating, when a female beetle will look for small cracks in wood, where it can safely lay its eggs.
For this reason, you're unlikely to have a woodworm problem in a new or new-ish beginner instrument that's recently rolled out of a mass production workshop.
But if you have an antique violin, particularly one that's had repair work done to it in the past, this is definitely something to be aware of - particularly if you're in a humid part of the world.
Ready to Hatch... and Munch!
Once the eggs hatch, the larvae will burrow downwards into the wood of the violin, and eat their way up and down for anywhere up to five years! This can cause extensive structural damage.
The larvae form 'pupal chambers' - spaces where they enlarge the burrowing tunnels towards the surface of the wood, so that they have space to pupate into fully grown adult beetles.
Each beetle then eats its way out of the wood, in order to search for a mate. Once they're successful, the process begins all over again.
Woodworm can cause significant damage to violins by eating their way through the wood whilst they're still in their larval stage.
The Early Bird Catches The Woodworm
It's essential for violinists to identify the signs of a woodworm infestation before it becomes too severe, and the instrument becomes damaged beyond repair.
It's not clear whether larvae are affected by a musical instrument being played... but as far as we're aware, they don't have particularly strong musical opinions!
On a practical level, it's easier to spot woodworm deterioration if you're handling an instrument regularly, than if it's locked up in a storage unit!
That's why woodworm is a greater worry for collectors or people buying second hand instruments, than for violinists who are playing their instruments regularly.
HOW TO IDENTIFY WOODWORM
Finding Burrow Holes and Tunnels in a Violin
When the beetle is looking for a mate, it eats its way through the wood. On the way out, it creates a small exit hole ('burrow hole') in the violin.
These holes look similar to the holes that darts make when thrown into a dartboard!
If you notice burrow holes in a violin, then you should first establish whether or not the infestation is still active.
You need to know this in order to assess the level of damage that has been caused to the violin.
Its possible that there may still be wood boring beetles inside the instrument - but this can't be determined by the burrow holes alone.
Instead, look for raised “tunnels” within the wood. These tunnels indicate the route taken by the larvae as it eats through the violin.
A key sign of an active infestation in a violin is 'frass', a fine powdery dust which looks like moist sawdust, and is found near the burrow holes.
This powdery dust is essentially woodworm poo! It's the faeces that the beetle larvae leave behind after they've eaten. Mmmm, delicious!
Frass is generally a sign of a woodworm infestation at the larval stage (not the result of new beetles emerging).
Over time, the number of woodworm will multiply if the infestation isn’t treated.
This will result in an increase in the amount of exit holes in the violin, making the edges of the wood appear crumbly.
Crumbly edges indicate that the woodworm infestation has been active for a long time. In this instance, immediate treatment is necessary to prevent further damage to the violin.
Beetles Found... Dead or Alive!
The strongest indication that your violin has suffered a woodworm infestation is if you find beetles - dead or alive! - in close proximity to the instrument.
If you actually see beetles emerging from the exit holes in the violin, then you're almost certainly dealing with an active woodworm infestation.
Beetles generally emerge from the burrow holes in summer, after having caused damage during the larval stage.
In the United Kingdom, the 'Common Furniture Beetle' (a small, brown beetle) is extremely common. These beetles are prone to dying just a few days after mating, so they can often be found lying dead near the infested wood.
WHAT DO I DO IF I SUSPECT WOODWORM IN MY VIOLIN?
The adult beetle itself causes very little damage to wood. But after mating, the female beetles will fly around in search of nearby wood to lay their eggs.
Therefore, if you notice signs of woodworm in your violin, there's a risk that if the infestation remains untreated, that it could spread to other instruments and furniture.
For this reason, it's strongly recommended to get advice immediately from an experienced luthier, as soon as you suspect woodworm in your violin!
Do you have any photos of woodworm-infested violins? If so, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll feature them on this page!
First rehearsal this Saturday - 15th June!
It's Violin Orchestra time!
The Violin Orchestra rehearsing in London
If you're in the UK, then come to our London School and join in with The Violin Orchestra!
The first rehearsal takes place this weekend (Saturday 15th June), and then we rehearse weekly on Saturday afternoons (Ensembles from 2pm, Orchestra from 3.30pm to 6pm) in Pimlico, SW1.
Orchestra repertoire will include The Devil's Trill by Tartini, and there will be Ensembles for every level, including chamber music by Bach and Handel, traditional Scottish and Irish folk music, and much more!
The Violin Orchestra is open to everyone - all ages and experience levels are welcome! - and music is arranged especially for the group, so there's a part for you whatever your technical level... whether you're an advanced player, or a beginner playing open strings!
New in the Library... all Level 1 Music Theory is now live on the ViolinSchool Library for ViolinSchool members to download right now! Just click the 'Music Theory' button, or click directly here.
The full-colour 'Explainers' show you how all the most essential music theory works at a basic level. You'll find all the theoretical info you'll need to understand in order to play the violin well in 1st position, including:
When we begin learning a piece of music, and find that it contains tough challenges, it's time to break down what's going on and understand the individual elements of each problem.
Complex music often requires complex violin technique. And in tricky passages, it's common to have several movements happening simultaneously in different parts of the body.
Every Element Should Be Strong
Each of these individual movements needs to be accurate and well-proportioned in order for the overall technique to work effectively, and for your playing to sound good.
If you're only vaguely aware of the different actions within each technical task, then you may end up overlooking important details.
So if you're struggling with a passage of music, it's a good idea to stop trying to do everything at once!
Instead, try this approach:
Step 1) Separate the Pitch, Rhythm and Physical movements
You can practise pitch, rhythm and specific violin techniques separately from one another to make sure everything is working as it should be. This simplifies the task and reduces cognitive load... which means you can give your full and undivided attention to one single element of what you need to work on!
Step 2) Train each element until you can do it instinctively
Once you're sure that everything is correct and precisely accurate, then repeat the activity carefully to drill it into your muscle memory. Start slow... it's more important to be right than to be fast! If you have time, come back to it a few minutes later in your practice, and repeat it a few more times.
Step 3) Put it back together... and TEST it!
Once you've mastered each of the different actions, put everything back together againat a slow speed, and see how it sounds! If there are still issues, go back to the element that needs further attention. Or if everything is working well, you can start to increase the speed.
But remember, at the beginning, you must...
Remember to play SLOWLY when you start practising! Even if you can play it fast, resist the temptation. A slow speed will give you much more time to think about the details, and it will help you drill the movements more quickly and deeply into your memory, too.
Here are a few exercises that you can use to break down a piece of music, so that you can practise the individual technical movements, before putting everything back together again:
SAY the words
If the piece is a song, and it comes with words, then try speaking the words out loud, to help you clarify the rhythms! Verbalising different note lengths helps you to get a good feeling for what the rhythms are.
CLAP the rhythms
If the piece you're learning doesn't have words, then this will probably be your first task! Clap the rhythm of the music to be sure you have got all the timings right, and that you have a steady pulse.
SING the words
If the piece has words, try singing them. This way you're practising the pitch and the rhythm together... but without the distraction of complicated violin technique.
SING the note names
If you should be playing an A, sing an A. If you should be playing a B, sing a B, and so on. Try to sing the notes in time (with exact rhythm).
If you're struggling to pitch the notes, slow it right down and work with a tuner or another reliable sound source, so that you can hear the pitch frequency that you're aiming for. Then you can try to match the pitch with your voice.
SING the numbers (fingers)
If you're not yet secure with your finger placements, try singing the notes of the piece in tune, but use 'D', 'D1', 'D2', 'D3' etc. (or G/A/E, depending on the string). This way you are associating the finger placement with the correct timing and pitch.
Act the up and down bow gestures (the bow direction) with your right arm. You don't need to hold the violin or the bow for this... although you can hold the bow if you like!
The important thing is to get used to the up and down bow motions and make sure the bow changes are happening in time, and to practise those movements without being distracted by the left hand and the violin.
Air Violin + singing or speaking
Combine some of the previous singing and speaking tasks with the 'air bow' motion. This will start to associate the up and down bowing motion with the rhythm and pitch changes.
Violin Only (no bow)
Place the left-hand fingers on the fingerboard in time with the rhythm. You can combine this with a speaking or singing exercise. Again, don't use the right (bow) arm - just focus exclusively on getting the left hand correct, without any other distractions.
Finally, put all the movements back together!
You'll find that because you've spent a considerable amount of time on each individual movement, you will have 'drilled' your muscle memories really effectively.
So when you put all the movements back together again, everything will automatically synchronise more accurately ... even when your brain is busy thinking about the music!
Next time you come across a challenge that seems overwhelming in your practice, then break the music down using these techniques.
When you finally put everything back together again, it will seem easier and more fluent, because your muscle movements will be more precisesly trained than they were before, and everything will feel more natural!