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Violin - wrong instrument?

(16 Posts)
morethanpotatoprints Wed 02-Apr-14 12:41:26

Can somebody make steady progress, gain distinctions in exams, but it be the wrong instrument.

I am listening to dds violin lesson and her teacher is sorting out the bits she always seems to be getting wrong that she regularly practices wrongly.
Its as though she doesn't hear that she's played a wrong note, even though she knows the music well.
Is this a problem with string instruments or just her.
She has excellent pitch, wouldn't say absolute but not much short of this. She doesn't do this when singing or playing her other instruments.

It is difficult to put a finger on it, but its like listening to somebody play the wrong instrument.
Considering her commitment to music, she also doesn't seem as motivated and keen to know more and push hard as for other instruments. She could hardly name a violinist but can tell you lots of singers, saxophonists etc.

I've asked her about continuing and she is adamant she wants to, but as she has such high ambitions, knows where she is going etc, it seems she is wasting valuable time if she isn't going to take it to the level she wants with other instruments and singing.

On paper she looks fine age 10 doing gr4 in summer playing 3 years.

Does anybody know what I mean and what to suggest.

summerends Wed 02-Apr-14 14:39:11

Morethan I am not a music teacher but may be one way to find out how much natural affinity she has for the violin would be to suggest that she take a six month break from it after her grade 4 and then see whether she continues to push to return. If she wants to be a multi instrumentalist does she play the guitar? That would use her violin skills and she could accompany herself singing.

morethanpotatoprints Wed 02-Apr-14 14:52:03

That's a good point.

I know if I suggest she takes a break she'll say no, but she isn't always practising like other instruments.
I'm not sure about guitar, she did mention this a while back, but we laughed as she had already spoken about a clarinet that thankfully didn't last too long.
She plays piano though and picks out chords to accompany herself with.
Maybe one of the problems is spreading herself too thinly, and I know if say a school suggested one would have to go it would be violin. She would choose others way before violin, but is really upset if people talk about her dropping it.

summerends Wed 02-Apr-14 15:26:40

It may be that she has just reached a technical hiatus with the violin but if she is spreading herself too thinly and enjoying it less then I would be the firm parent and suspend it for at least a trial period. Perhaps as a compromise or a 'swop' you could let her try bass guitar smile, less time consuming but good for rhythm.

JulieMichelleRobinson Wed 02-Apr-14 17:22:57

As a violin teacher, I'd say frankly that I went through several phases of refusing to practise at all. Maybe a change of repertoire or style (e.g. jazz or fiddle) would kick start her again, or some easier pieces or ensemble playing, and she needs to just keep this as a 'hobby' instrument rather than a serious one for the time being? Finding it hard (and it is) could be a reason for less enjoyment, too, and grade 4 has lots of lovely shifting in it. Sometimes we need to just play for fun.

FWIW, at three years post-grade 8 violin I had to go teach myself the flute from scratch just to have something to pootle about on rather than spending two hours a night on technique - there's no harm in having an instrument that we take less seriously.

Get her to google:
Lindsey Stirling
Black Violin (they don't actually play all that well but are fairly cool)
Dueling Fiddlers
Crooked fiddle

morethanpotatoprints Wed 02-Apr-14 18:49:59


I think perhaps just letting her get on as she is is probably the way forward. I know she wants to do the exam, but it worries me she doesn't play much else other than exam pieces and her parts for her string group.
I think a lot of her motivation to continue is because she has been asked to try for the county youth orchestra this year, so would go in at y6 and not y7. If we offered her another instrument I know she'd choose bass or drums, so no way grin


Many thanks for the names, I will leave them out for her, if I suggest it she won't look because she's a stubborn mare and likes to be independent.
She has a few books with accompaniment cds but tends not to play them for some reason. I have found one I thought she'd like, have you any views on the jigs and wheels book? She likes the gypsy type as well or the Jewish ones like The Bridegroom one from the syllabus.

Finally, sorry, you should be charging for this grin but any ideas as to why she doesn't always notice out of tune/ wrong note but does so on everything else? oh, even when she knows the tune well. It isn't often but she has no idea at all sometimes that she has done this.

summerends Wed 02-Apr-14 19:07:56

Playing in a county group would definitely be a good musical experience and worth pushing through for even if it is with a second fiddle instrument (sorry for pun could n't help it).

JulieMichelleRobinson Wed 02-Apr-14 22:35:27

Ummm... not sure.

I have a "used to be grade 4 and wants to take grade 5 but nowhere near ready" adult violin/fiddle student. When he first came to me for lessons, he would play horrendously out of tune not because he was incapable of it but because he actually wasn't listening to/didn't care about his intonation. But wrong notes is different. It may be that it has something to do with the nature of the instrument - e.g. if you know the right note on the piano or the right fingering on a wind instrument, you're sorted, but on a string instrument you have to feel its placement and especially if she's now using second/third/fourth position that can be tricky. Either that or it just takes so much concentration on everything else!

It's worth maintaining the fiddle (or switching to the luscious and wonderful viola - I'm a total convert since I got my nice one) even if it's a subsidiary instrument for the orchestral experience (I have a couple of pianist friends who had to learn viola from scratch at music college).

Jigs, Reels and Hornpipes is fine and I use those tunes a lot for gigs - you can go a long way with grade 3 fiddle tunes; there are also a lot of books in the series with different styles. You might also want to explore "Jazz Fiddle Wizard Junior" which teaches improvisational skills and the Eastern European Fiddle Tunes book by Pete Cooper, if she likes the Jewish-sounding stuff. At her level she can probably manage any of that though some of the Eastern European melodies may be a bit beyond her (challenge is good, I was attempting pieces at 10yo that I wouldn't dream of playing now!).

You could try buying a CD by any of the groups mentioned above as a present on some occasion, or something, as a subtle name-drop? Also, if her teacher is a member of ESTA, ask if it's possible to get a copy of the JESTA (Junior Esta) magazine.

FastLoris Thu 03-Apr-14 18:03:44

How many instruments does she play? I'm seeing violin, saxophone and piano, plus maybe more? shock

There are a few issues here. Firstly, you need to realise that the violin is an incredibly difficult instrument to play in the early stages, certainly much more difficult than the saxophone. When you talk about her not realising she's practising things wrong, I presume you're referring to playing in tune? This is a MUCH bigger challenge on the violin than the sax, because you don't have specific keys to press to get each note at least most of the way there, you have to painstakingly learn the EXACT place to put your finger, even playing at great speed. And of course it isn't an issue at all on the piano.

Noone's a "natural" violinist. Some people have the benefit of very good, very early and intensive tuition. Some people practice fanatically until they get very good very young. But essentially, it's an incredibly unnatural instrument.

Secondly, if she's into doing music seriously and learning three or more instruments, you may be right about the advantage of specialising a bit more. Personally I'd be trying to get a sense of what styles and types of playing she gravitates towards. If it's jazz or pop, playing in bands, improvising etc, then keep the sax and piano, maybe try some guitar but leave the violin. If OTOH she's really responsive to the more "straight" activity of sitting in a classical orchestra playing a written part, then the violin is a good instrument to so that with; the sax not so much.

morethanpotatoprints Fri 04-Apr-14 10:17:49

Thank you very much for the responses, they are really helpful.
You always hear people saying that string instruments are hard to play but for some reason I haven't been listening blush

I think I was doubtful because she seems to pick things up easily in other respects, also doing gr4 sax in summer, having only played 18 months by then.

I think a trip to our lovely local music shop is in order over Easter, I know Amazon is cheaper, but I believe in supporting small businesses when I can.


Her main instrument is voice, this is her first love. She is like a sponge, can learn a song over a couple of days and perform it on the third.
She sings in a major (no pun) choir and some minor ones too (no pun) and believes she's going to be a famous opera or classical singer one day. grin
She practices music for at least 2.5 hours a day and if no concerts etc will do 4 or even 5 hours, she's a bit freaky at times.

Maybe take a break from grading?

I see too many people who want to get to as high a grade as possible, at as young an age as possible, as if it is a competition (not saying you are! but even some teachers are like that).

I have given my son a break from grading, he is "only" grade 2 at 11, but he is a confident grade 2. He plays his practice pieces as well as some old bits, and improvises a bit, just for fun. As to me his enjoyment of the instrument is more important than the grade, this seems to work and not doing gradings for a year takes the pressure off and you can just enjoy it, IYSWIM. He did enter a competition, and had fun deciding which piece to play for that.

Maybe let her play on, ask her which composers she likes, which style of music, and just focus on that?

FastLoris Fri 04-Apr-14 14:04:42

Well, if the singing is such a big thing for her then that's got to be your answer to the violin playing. Get her to learn to sing each violin piece she does - ideally BEFORE even touching it on the violin. Learn it as a song, all the way through, in tune and well. Learn it to note-names, sol-fa names ("so, mi" etc.) or scale degree numbers, depending on what her background and knowledge base is. If I were her violin teacher I would be using this in the lessons.

The get to her to aim for playing it just as she sings it. It should help with phrasing, expression etc, as well as pitch.

There's no excuse for someone who's a great singer not to be able to play an instrument in tune. Something is being lost in the translation from one part of the brain to another.

morethanpotatoprints Fri 04-Apr-14 15:34:46


That is interesting, thank you.
I have this battle with dh who suggests that one day he'll be proved right and it isn't the right instrument.
It is difficult for me to see this, although I know he could be right. Oh, he does know what he's talking about more than me grin
Her pitch is excellent, not perfect but very nearly and she can hear it on everything else but violin.
I will get her to do what you suggest and thank you very much, she has done some practice today and even though general sound was good it still sounded flat, even though instrument was tuned.
I am also bearing in mind what has been said about finger positioning and shifts, this may have a lot to do with it atm.

FastLoris Fri 04-Apr-14 17:59:55

It sounds like she's getting caught up in the technique of the instrument and forgetting to do the two most important things: have a clear idea of the sound desired in her head; and listen to the sound she's making.

She could also approach this from the singing side itself. Take some songs that she knows - ideally simple things like folk songs etc - and try working out by ear how to play them on the violin. She needs to develop the idea of the violin as an extension of the voice.

The way I describe it with my piano pupils (although it's a much harder instrument to do it with) is that when you sing, you think of the song in your head and it comes out your mouth. When you play, the thinking is exactly the same, but at the last moment the thought is diverted to come out of your fingers into the instrument instead.

morethanpotatoprints Mon 07-Apr-14 22:44:35

Wow Fastlorius, thank you.
What a wonderful way to get the point across. thanks
I will give this a go, certainly.

Theas18 Tue 15-Apr-14 09:39:20

Coming late to this thread.

I'm absolutely with FastLoris on this. Sing sing sing. Know what it should sound like, be able to sing it ( in your own octave if it's high! and recognise you are singing an octave lower) and then make the fingers match the sound you know should be there.

Put silly words to the violin music, it really helps.

I only know this because DS plays French horn and that is very much the same. He gets very cross with his fellow horn player in the small chamber orchestra they play in, because whilst he makes a nice sound he can't pitch for toffee and DS has had to hum note to him to start solos off etc (which naturally irritates DS more as he hasn't been given the solos because " M is going to study music at uni and he needs the experience" followed by a catty " well I guess he needs all the experience he can get"!!). DS also finds all the transposition easy because he can hear/sing stuff in his head accurately from the dots on the page.

Isn't it lovely when they just can sing stuff effortlessly? I love your " learn it one day perform it the next" . That's exactly it.

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