Our children’s music lessons can represent a sizeable financial investment. It therefore makes sense to get the most out of the money we invest on them. By cooperating with the teacher and getting the right equipment for our beginner violinists, we improve their chances of success.
Would you ask a professional to do a job with poor equipment? You shouldn’t ask this of your teacher, or of your beginner violinist. Getting it right will save time and ultimately, a lot of money. Your beginner violinist will be a lot happier to practice, if the instrument is comfortable to play and is capable of a reasonable sound.
In my studio, my families find the following points useful.
• Size of the instrument:
It is vitally important to make sure that the instrument isn’t too big for a young violinist. An oversized instrument will put strain on a growing body, especially if your child is putting in a lot of practice. The larger the instrument, the more physical strength it takes to play it. You don’t want to hurt your child.
• Quality of the instrument:
It takes a lot of extra effort to make a bad instrument sound good. The violin and viola are both played under the left ear. A beginner violinist will be happier to make a beautiful sound and loud scratching can actually damage the hearing, so get your teacher to help you to find the best that you can afford. To make it easier for you, the pegs and fine tuners should turn easily. You are the one who will have to tune it every day and dealing with sticky tuners really hurts the finger tips.
Get advice from your teacher and get a tuner which actually works, with a proper visual display. Being able to see if you have got it right, will give you much more self confidence and could save your sanity.
• Quality of bow:
The bow has a big effect on the sound a beginner violinist can produce. A good quality bow makes a huge difference to the tone and ease of playing. Ask your teacher’s advice and go with what is recommended.
The bow won’t be able to grip the string unless it has been rubbed on a cake of rosin. There are different types for different purposes. Dark and sticky rosin works best on cellos and double basses. Some rosins contain tiny gold flecks to help a soloist stand out in a concerto. There is even a hypoallergenic rosin for asthma sufferers. A beginner violinist should use a basic violin rosin. A couple of wipes a day is all that’s needed. Too much will make a scratchy sound.
• Chin rest:
The chin rest should be called a jaw rest because a violin is actually held gently between the left side of the jaw and the shoulder. Check that the chin rest actually fits the shape of the beginner’s jaw and that the edge doesn’t dig in in any way. There are several shapes to choose from. Get advice from your teacher. Even with a good fit, squeezing the instrument will be uncomfortable. I tell my beginners, “If you squeeze a puppy too tightly it will bite,” so I ask them to balance their violins right up on their shoulders and hold them so gently that they almost drop them. When ask a child to do this, always put your hands under the instrument ready to catch it, just in case.
• Shoulder rest:
A young beginner violinist don’t need a solid shoulder rest. They are usually to high for childish necks. Also, they can restrict natural movement, causing them to squeeze with the shoulder and jaw. A kitchen sponge will often do. There are plenty of shaped sponges on the market. The best one I know of is the poly-pad sponge developed by Michael Kimber. There is a special one for small children called the lily-pad. For those with long necks, look for a higher chin rest before putting on a tall shoulder rest. I can promise you that it will work better.
• Music stand:
If your child is starting by reading music, you will need a music stand, which can be easily adjusted to the right hight for your beginner violinist. Get your teacher to demonstrate how to set it up, as it is easy to bend them out of shape.
• Soft carpet:
Instruments get dropped. They are far less likely to break on a soft rug than a tiled surface. It also makes a good official practice area, for good practice behaviour.
Now you have got these sorted, you can focus on making first lessons and practice productive and happy for your beginner violinist. Enjoy your musical adventure with your child with fun music games for children.
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