Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Mastering the (Rubber) Bow Hand

           Violinists, Violists, Cellists, and Contrabassists (usually we just call them “bassists”) need a good bow hand (some call it a “bow grip” or a “bow hold”) to produce a beautiful tone (the kind of sound you make) on their instrument. This good
bow hand is a relaxed, tense free, firm bow hand.  Sounds like a contradiction, right?  I mean how can your hand be relaxed, tense free and firm at the same time?  

What helps me to imagine this is a good quality rubber band. You can stretch the rubber band (something that is flexible and relaxed we can say) and at the same time it is firm because you can only pull it only so far before it breaks. The same goes for the bow hand.  The fingers are firm and flexible at the same time. The picture of the hand being like a rubber band is no a perfect one, but it may help you like it helped me.

So how do you get this rubber bow hand?

Short answer: Consistent concentration, practice and patience to have curved, firm and flexible fingers.

Longer answer: As you practice regularly (this means that you have a goal for how often and how much to practice) you will make it a priority to achieve the rubber bow hand by spend time doing exercises patiently to attain this wonderful phenomenon of curved, flexible and firm fingers. The pinky is standing on top close to the ring finger, the ring and middle finger are on the frog, the index finger leans passed the middle knuckle, close to the middle finger.

Inside Scoop: This is why teachers spend time with you the first 2 years of lessons working on your bow hand; it is a part of the foundation of being an excellent string musician.  So do not get upset with them for taking so long, it will pay off big time in the long run, join them in the journey!

What can I do to achieve the amazing rubber bow hand?

1. The Pencil Miracle. Take a pencil (or pen, or marker, etc.) and apply the bow hand. Hold the pencil as lightly as possible, see how gently and lightly you can hold it until it falls out of your hand! Then practice bow taps, your songs, and whatever else you like in the air with the pencil miracle!

2. The Bow Tap. Take the pencil in your bow hand, once it’s ready. Tap each finger 5 times while keep the non-tapping fingers in a perfect bow hand position. 5 to start off, after 2 weeks tap each finger 10 times, keep adding 5 more taps until you can tap each finger 25-30 times with a perfect rubber bow hand.

3. The Air Bowing. Take the bow in your bow hand and practice songs in the air like a rocket, like a car parallel to the ground, then slanted like on the violin.

I only listed three exercises because you probably know others from your teacher.  Do these simple exercises consistently, patiently with concentration during your practice and you are on the road to the amazing, wonderful, incredible rubber bow hand!

                                                                              Copyright © 2013 Mircea & Daniyela Ionescu. All rights reserved.

How Much and How Often Should I Practice?

      Good question. This is a question that students, parents and teachers struggle to answer. And, of course, there are many stances on this issue, some of these stances make sense and other do not make sense.

I will not evaluate other stances here, but I will give you mine. Here is the way that I think about it: age, level, goals. I use these three categories to decide how long and how often someone needs to practice. For instance, a five year old (age) that’s just started (level) and whose parents want him to get a good well-rounded education (goals) will practice differently than a seventeen-year old that is in the top orchestra at school that’s interested to keep it as an extra-curricular activity while in college.
Whatever your age, level and goals, it is best to strive for consistency and realistic goals in practicing your music.  Realistic goals are crucial because many people make drastic changes in their practicing that do not last long, so they get discouraged, feel like failures and practice less or give up. Therefore, it is better to start where you are and take one step up from there.

So here are some general guidelines:

1. Days per Week: No matter the age, level and goals start with practicing 3 days a week. Commit to that and you if you get some weeks where you practice a day or two more, that’s good! After a month, you are ready to push for 4 days and so forth.

2. Minutes per Day: Start out with 10 – 15 minutes at a time.  Cover all the material and exercises that your teacher assigned to you.  Get consistent at this for a month, then push for 20 minutes.  If your son or daughter is 4-8 years of age, you may need to patient because 10-15 minutes per day maybe the most they can do with you for a few months.  Eventually, you will be at a level that will require 30 minutes up to 1. 5 hours.  This of course is after a few years of lessons and practicing consistently less time.

As you are working on your consistency and regularity of practice, remember that the quality of time (efficiency, concentration, and expressiveness) is just as important as the quantity of time that you practice.  Always seek to enjoy your practicing, it’s time well spent!

Copyright © 2013 Mircea & Daniyela Ionescu. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Inspiring to Practice

      So you or your child have started lessons but the excitement of the "new" is wearing off, just like new toys and video games at Christmas.  What do you do to keep practicing going? 

An Ongoing Journey. So let me just tell you upfront that there is no quick solution, no special words or gimmicks that will cause unceasing inspiration to practice an instrument. Learning how to practice and learning to practice consistently is an ongoing journey. So enjoy the journey and try different strategies to keep the journey going.

For those of you that are parents, you want your children to grow into mature adults, to have a disposition of the heart that knows what is important in life, keep doing these valuable things consistently, and enjoy them at the same time.  Recognizing and treasuring the great things in life is also what you want for yourself.  Part of this growth occurs when you and your family seek ways to be inspired, build discipline and move forward. Remember that the goal in music lessons is to gain a well-rounded life, which includes enjoying to play the instrument with feeling and excellence, but it is not just music lessons.

What I have noticed is that some students struggle with practicing because of the values they have adopted.  They are used to immediate gratification, whether it's the candy, the video games, the internet time they want, they get it quickly. They are used to quick results and so are you. This is not how it works with learning an instrument, or even a good career.  The lessons open you and your child up to the opportunity to grow in this area of working hard and awaiting the pay off, lots of good conversations on the importance of hard work, patience and perseverance, etc.

Alongside the conversations, here are some things to keep the inspiration going:

Music in the Air. With all the wonderful technology that is around you can find recordings on the instrument that you or your child is learning. It is also an opportunity to go to the library, where you can look at CD's and pick one out. Have music playing around often.

Home Recitals. Pick a day out of the week to perform for family and friends whatever pieces you know.  Even if it's only one piece, it will motivate you and/or your child to keep going.

Go to Concerts. There are lots of free concerts in town; check out the high schools and colleges. There is probably a youth orchestra that you can go watch.  Get out of the house and enjoy!

Group Playing. Invite friends over to play the pieces that you know together.  There are group classes available if you look around. The youth orchestra usually offers group classes and/or ensemble playing for various levels of experience.  Playing with others pushes you to keep going.

What ideas have you learned and come up with to keep you and your child motivated to keep playing?  What are your struggles to practicing at home?

                                                                    Copyright © 2013 Mircea & Daniyela Ionescu. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Don't Got Money For Lessons

       With the economic problems in the last few years many of us have had to give up some things, cut back on luxuries and prioritize our spending.  Now you have heard about private lessons – tutoring, but you are not sure you can afford it.  You probably can.

Prioritzing.  Many of us are not very disciplined about our finances, we live to spend.  So we need to take time to prioritize things in your life. After necessities are settled (food, shelter, transportation), we need to consider: Where do private lessons fall?  Are they crucial to you or your child’s overall education? Are music lessons another hobby, like soccer? 

The cost for lessons can run from $15-30 per thirty-minute lesson every week. For some people this is the cost of eating out one night a week. So you can think of it as giving up one trip to the restaurant per week.

However you think about it, husbands and wives need to talk through these important issues so that they can discern whether or not to proceed with private lessons.  It is a team effort planning out education.
Are the benefits of private lessons-tutoring worth the cost that you will incur? Yes! Whether they are cello lessons, ACT and SAT prep, helping yourself become more well-rounded, or helping your child bolster their math skills, it is worth it. Private lessons always affect other areas of life, like concentration, self-discipline, confidence, comprehension and verbal skills.

The going rate is about these days is about $20-25 for 30 minutes a week, which means that if you cut out one trip per week to a restaurant, the movie theaters, or other forms of entertainment, you can take private lessons! Try them out for a year and you will see that it's worth the investment.

How have you dealt with the financial part of private lessons?

Copyright © 2013 Mircea & Daniyela Ionescu. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Free Trial Lesson

     So you have contacted some universities and tutoring places, now what? Some teachers-tutors offer to meet so that they can explain to you what they have to offer, you can ask questions and see if you connect well. Also, if your child is taking the lesson you will get a chance to see how they get along as well. 

Take advantage of it!

Here's what I typically do in a free trial lesson:

1. Introductions. I tell a little bit about my background, why I teach lessons and then I ask the parent about his or her background, and how they became interested in lessons. Then, I ask the student about their experience with the subject or instrument. 

2. Go over my teaching approach and policies with the parent and student.  It is important to talk through all of this, so that there is no misunderstanding.  That sounds good to you, but maybe you are wondering why have the student there for this part?  The student needs to hear about my expectations and it gives us the opportunity to interact.

3. I work with the student.  Now it's time for some action, we work on something together.  If they have never played, let's say the violin, then I will teach the student the parts of the violin and bow, how to care for the instrument, playing and rest position, how to hold the bow, play some rhythms on the open strings, and some educational games to put in practice what has been learned.

4. Demonstration. I usually finish demonstrating a piece of music that the student will learn in the course of their study with me.

It does not have to be very complicated and the free lesson only gives you a glimpse, so there's no need to have high expectations. Everyone tries to make good first impressions, we all have good days and bad days, it's part of life.  Take your time and visit a few teachers, so that you can compare and contrast.

Now it's your turn, what have you done in free trial lessons or meet-and-greets? 

Copyright © 2013 Mircea & Daniyela Ionescu. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Right Teacher for Your Child

      "How do I choose the right teacher-tutor for my child?"  This question is one of the most important questions that I have been asked by parents over and over again.

So here are some things to consider when choosing a teacher or tutor:

1. Goals.  What exactly do you want to get out of these lessons?  Remember, that a teacher cannot replace you, he or she cannot take over a parent's responsibility.  A teacher-tutor can partner with you to raise your child, influencing, inspiring, bringing resources to both you and your child, but it's on you.  What I mean is that dad and mom are the most important and influential people in the life of their child, they need to embrace that role with their whole hearts and minds.  A child needs both, dad and mom, to raise him or her, so make that a priority no matter what kind of lessons-tutoring you are looking for.  Tutoring-private lessons are not quick fixes, they are another form of investment in your child's education.

2. Time.  A lot of people rush to just find someone quickly. This usually leads to a loss of time, money and not much grown in the child. It's a loose-loose situation. Be patient and you will win in the end.

3. Looking. You can contact universities in your area, look online for academies or centers that offer these services. These places may have the kind of teaching that will beneficial to your child.  Another place to consider is online lessons.  It's new, but it can be done. 

4. Interviewing. Ask the potential teacher for a meet-and-greet so that you find out more about him or her.  
  • Credentials. Where did they go to school? Do they have video samples of their teaching? Why do they teach lessons? You are looking for someone that has some training, but that does not guarantee anything.  You will want to hear them play for you or if it is math, to show you some of their work. Also ask about video clips of them teaching.  Ask them to sit in on a lesson to see how they teach. You are looking for training and results.
  • Administrative. Ask about make-ups, lateness, what if they cancel or they are late?
  • Scheduling. What time and day of the week will you meet?  How long are the lessons? why?
  • Teaching approach. What material-methods do they use? What goals the teacher has for students? How do they handle discipline? What expectations do they have of parents? 
As you take these lessons seriously so will your child think of them as more valuable.  

 Now it's your turn: What has helped you find a good teacher to work with you and your child?

Copyright © 2013 Mircea & Daniyela Ionescu. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Johannes Brahms: Composer of the Month

Brahms having fun!
Period: Romantic
Nationality: German
Born: May 7, 1833 A.D. in Hamburg, Germany.
Died: April 3, 1897 A.D. in Vienna, Austria
Family: Johann & Henrika Brahms (parents), he never married.

His Beginning

Johannes was born to Johann Jakob Brahms. His dad liked his name very much, so he gave it to his son with a little difference, adding "es." His dad played the double bass, that big string instrument in the orchestra you have to stand to play most of the time.
Johanna Henrika Christiane Nissen was Johann Jakob's housekeeper.  Even though she was 17 years older than him, Johann like her so much he decided to marry her. So Johannes' dad got a good deal, he married Johanna so that he did not have to keep paying for the cleaning and had Johannes.

Johannes was born in 1833 A.D. in the country of Germany in a continent called Europe.  Now the cool thing is that he got to live in Hamburger, Germany.  Just kidding, it was called Hamburg, though kind sounds like hamburger.  This was around this time Andrew Jackson was the president of the United States for the second term.

His Education

     Johannes started learning the piano at age 7 from a man named Otto Friedrich Willibald after his dad taught him some things.  The cool thing was that Brahms got good enough to play for people at restaurants and theaters (different from today because they did not watch movies). After Johannes got a little older even started teaching piano lessons to people. And do you know what he did with part of the money he earned? He helped his parents by paying some of the bills, cool stuff!

Later on Johannes Brahms took lessons from the famous Eduard Marxsen, but why is this important? Well, Marxsen’s teacher learned how to play the piano from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, so Brahms got to hear from his teacher about Mozart.

His Career

Brahms worked hard at playing the piano, conducting orchestras and composing music because he was passionate about it. Always work hard at the good things you are interested in and are responsible for.

Here are some of the pieces that Brahms wrote, conducted and played: 
4 symphonies, 2 piano concertos, 1 violin concerto, 2 serenades, A German Requiem for the choir and orchestra, 1 Double Concerto for Violin and Violoncello, 3 string quartets, 2 string quintets, 2 string sextets, 3 violin sonatas, 2 violoncello sonatas, 2 clarinet sonatas, piano sonatas and many others.

We do not even have all of Brahms' pieces because he was a perfectionist (very picky) about what he wrote, so some pieces he just burned up!
Copyright © 2013 Mircea & Daniyela Ionescu. All rights reserved.