Violin Lesson Structure
Depending on the ability level of each student, I structure lessons as follows:
From the beginning to advanced violin student, I always insist on proper violin technique.
Beginning students: Attention is spent on properly holding the violin with head and chin so that more difficult techniques, such as vibrato and shifting, will be learned more quickly as the student advances.
At the very first lesson, I talk about posture and having feet shoulder-width apart. By using this stance a person has balanced posture which contributes to better performance. I also emphasize soft knees. Playing the violin with locked knees contributes to tension which may cause carpal tunnel syndrome and/or tendonitis. Playing with tension always affects the sound. A relaxed person will produce a bigger sound and their playing will appear more effortless.
The next issue which is discussed is the positioning of the fingers on the bow. During the first lesson, I encourage taking pictures of the proper bow hold so this can be referenced for home practice. I have noticed that holding the bow correctly is one of the more challenging techniques for the beginner. Improper technique that is exercised at the beginning of study creates bad habits which becomes ingrained in muscle memory and is more difficult to correct later. An improper bow hold makes playing off the string impossible. A bad habit becomes ingrained in muscle memory. A faulty bow hold also contributes to other problems for producing good sound. I continue to work with my students on a good bow hold as long as needed.
At an appropriate maturity level I explain how to tune the violin.
At an appropriate maturity level I introduce music theory so that a student is able to sight read and accurately play music. Knowledge of music theory is needed to play a piece accurately and I make every effort to talk about theory with beginning and intermediate students. Some theory in every lesson results in a good grasp of how music works and leads to learning pieces more quickly.
After the bow hold is mastered, a student may notice that the sound isn’t ideal and is sometimes scratchy. This may be caused by playing too close to the bridge or holding the bow too tightly. I discuss proper bow placement with respect to the bridge and the necessity of a loose bow hold. A loose bow hold enables a more resonant sound and allows for a cleaner, lighter stroke off the string.
Students begin playing with the pinky finger on piece number nine in Suzuki Book One, Perpetual Motion. To prepare for using the fourth finger in Perpetual Motion, I have a student practice a fourth finger dexterity exercise in the lesson and for home practice. Another advantage of a stronger fourth finger is that vibrato with this finger will be easier when that technique is taught.
Scales are practiced in the lesson at all levels of musical development. When violin students can play scales like G Major accurately, they have an
understanding of finger spacing or finger patterns on the violin which helps them play more in tune in that particular key. Playing scales is also a good opportunity to work on the violin techniques that are mentioned above.
I often suggest that the student begin playing with a metronome before playing in a recital. A metronome is a device used in practicing that keeps a steady tempo. Working with a metronome ensures that the beat is consistent so the violinist and pianist are in sync with each other. It is important to keep the same tempo, speed of a piece, during the whole piece.
When teaching intermediate students, more attention is given to note reading after a certain level of violin technique is developed. At this point after a student’s left hand is relaxed, vibrato is introduced and students begin studying Josephine Trott’s “Melodious Double Stops” Book and “Introducing the Positions” Volumes One and Two” by Harvey S. Whistler. I use “60 studies for the violin” op. 45 and books one and two of Wohlfahrt for sight reading practice.
An advanced student’s practice would include scale work for left hand development to ensure ability for playing faster repertoire. To further enhance the tone of the violin, continuous vibrato would also be part of an advanced student’s technique. By playing with continuous vibrato, a student’s piece sounds more musical. For youth orchestra auditions, sight reading is included as part of the audition. As a student advances, it is not uncommon for the sight reading component of the audition to include big skips from low to very high notes. This can be awkward for students. This is why I have students do target practice for high notes. The student selects one high note and plays that note for a two week period so they know what the note sounds like and how it feels in the hand when played. I will draw a high note on a sheet of people and ask a student the letter name of that note and have them play it. It is necessary to be able to play any low note to the high note the student is playing from what is drawn on the sheet of paper. It is necessary to be able to play a high note without any reference pitch beforehand since this skill is needed in the violin repertoire.
Another part of a student’s practice would be doing bowing exercises from Sevcik’s op. 3 40 Variations. The purpose of this book helps a student play various off the string bow strokes needed for more advanced repertoire.