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New violins are on their way!

I am ecstatic to announce that I’ve put in my first order for a number of student violins from SAGA instruments.

SAGA offers a range of violins, from affordable starter student violins to high-quality instruments for the discerning amateur. I’ve ordered a couple different Cremona models in a few different sizes to get a feel for the quality of the instruments for the price. All these new violins will be available for sale or rent under the violin rental program.

Just for fun, I ordered this little beauty also:

purpleviolin

The SV-75 is their “premier novice violin” and comes in sparkling purple, among other fun colours. I wish these had been around when I was just learning to play as a child!

Big changes are coming!

Big changes are coming at Studio Kingma 2.0 this week! I’m expanding, in more ways than one.

One thing that has been bothering me for some time is the size of my music room. When I have a young student coming in with a parent, it gets really crowded real fast. But that’s to be expected in a 9′ x 10′ room. So I’ve done some work, rearranging my place so I can use the larger of the two bedrooms, which is about 12′ x 14′. Big difference!

I figured while I’m at it, I should paint the room to give it a fresh look. Once I’ve got the painting done, the new curtains and pictures up and the keyboard moved in, I’ll put up some pictures of the new studio.

The other big change is an expansion to my business model. A big frustration for my students and their parents is the need to make a day trip to Calgary every time they need violin accessories. I’ve been in contact with Saga music, makers of the Cremona line of student violins, as well as the publisher Alfred music and Shar music for accessories. I hope to build a small inventory of necessities for students and other string players in the Brooks/Duchess area.

Check back soon for more info!

Start-up costs

I was talking to the parent of a prospective student today, and we got to discussing the initial costs of taking violin lessons. There is a lot to consider, so I’ll try to break it down in this post.

First and foremost, obviously, you’ll need a violin. Price on a violin can range from $350 to many thousands of dollars. For a beginner, though, an entry-level violin will be around $350 for child sizes up to around $700-$800 for a good-quality adult violin. I am aware that cheaper violins are available on amazon and other online stores, but I’ve not included them in the price range here because I do not recommend them. The quality just isn’t there, and keep in mind that you’ll be listening to this instrument for hours and hours of practice. Also, when you buy a better-quality violin, you have a better potential for resale when your child outgrows her instrument.

Next of course, a bow, which can be fibreglass or wood. $100-$150 for a good-quality child-size bow, up to $300 or more for an adult size.

Accessories: A hard case to transport and store your instrument. Rosin for your bow. A shoulder rest (see my note on this below*). A spare set of strings. A music stand. A metronome, while not a necessity right away, will be very helpful as you get a little more experience and need to work on tempo. All together, you’re looking at probably another $200-$250.

Finally, if you’re taking lessons at Studio Kingma 2.0, you’ll need a copy of the Suzuki violin method, book 1. This is where we will begin. It contains tons of information on technique as well as most of the music repertoire we’ll be playing for the first year. It also comes with a CD recording of the music, which is especially helpful when we’re starting out and not yet proficient at reading music. Cost is around $30.

When you come for your first lesson, you’ll also get an exercise book in which we’ll track your progress from week to week. You will also likely get fingering tape, applied to the neck of your violin, to help you learn proper finger positioning for pitch. You may also get a loan of a bow-stopper or bowing hand positioning aids, if I feel it will help you progress. Finally, for young kids, I have a book of worksheets to help with music-reading with fun activities and games.

Now you’re all set! Time to start playing!

*Just a quick note on shoulder rests: I am not a fan of rigid shoulder rests. They do not allow for proper movement when playing the violin and I do not allow my students to use them during lessons. A soft, sponge-type shoulder rest is recommended. A special type of sponge that has some grip is available from most violin supply stores and can be held on the violin with a simple elastic. This is ideal for kids. For more advanced violinists, my personal recommendation is the Acousta-grip. While expensive, it is the best shoulder rest product I have found. I am able to source these for my students who are interested, since not all violin stores carry them.

My kid is on their 3rd lesson… and they still are not playing!

I think this is the single-most voiced complaint among parents of new students, especially very young students. Let me debunk this off the top: Your child is not going to become a violin virtuoso in a month, or 6 months, or even 3 years. Playing violin is a very difficult skill and if you want them to become proficient at it, you’re in it for the long haul. Just ask my mom… she had me in weekly violin lessons for 14 years!

Of course, your child WILL be playing violin within a few lessons and will be able to play quite a few pieces quite well by the time they’ve been taking lessons for a few years. But often, parents of new students get a little frustrated with my method because it seems like we’re not really playing the violin for the first few lessons. We seem to do a lot of singing, some body exercises and not much actual manipulation of the instrument, let alone putting bow to strings for the first time!

From a teacher’s perspective, I look at it like building a house. You can’t start the cosmetic work like painting or installing bathroom fixtures until you have a foundation, a frame and a roof. And you can’t build all three at the same time. Same with the violin. The student needs to learn how to hold the violin, how to hold the bow, how to place the fingers, how to move the bow, etc. We teach all these things concurrently but separately.

So, in a half-hour lesson, your child might spend a few minutes practicing holding the violin under her chin. Then we’ll sing some music together. Then we’ll practice holding the bow. Then we might listen to me play something on the violin or piano. Then we’ll play some games to teach the proper bowing movement. And so on. These many small exercises, interspersed with breaks to listen to music or sing, help us create the initial building blocks without overloading a young child’s attention span.

Rest assured that after a few lessons, we will put all the pieces together and put bow to strings. But in order for that to happen, the parent has a crucial role to play. When you go home from your lesson, your 5-year-old is not going to remember the bowing game or placing their fingers like little houses in a row, or the melody we are learning. It is your role to help your child practice 4-5 days a week in order to reinforce these lessons so we can keep building on them week after week. In some ways, you will become more of an expert on the theory of violin playing than your child. I’ve even had some parents come back to take lessons themselves when their child is a little older, and because they have so much background theory knowledge already, they generally do very well!

Be patient and before you know it, your child will be playing her first notes on the violin. And in a few weeks, you will be begging me to get your child to play something other than “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” because you’ve heard it SO MANY TIMES!

Kiwanis Southeast Alberta Science Fair!

It’s been another crazy busy day for Studio Kingma. Early this morning, I set off for Medicine Hat for the day so I could attend the Science fair. The day started off with some delicious waffles provided by Medicine Hat college for the volunteer judges. After some chitchat with my fellow judges, many of whom are also my colleagues out at Suffield, our real work began.

3 hours of judging projects studying everything from the relative density of various concentrations of sugar water to novel applications for spices and essential oils to innovative ideas for renewable energy projects. There were also various educational workshops covering subjects like 3-D printing, how to extract DNA from strawberries and even a “make your own slime” activity!

I was very impressed by the variety and thoughtfulness of the projects on display. It was very difficult for us judges to decide who the winners would be, but we got there in the end. I’m pleased to note that the Defence Research and Development Canada award was won by Malak, who hails from Duchess (yay!) for her project on using thermal energy from lakes to produce electricity. Congratulations Malak!

You can check out some of the pictures taken during the day at their FB page:

Kiwanis Southeast Alberta Science Fair

Brooks music festival 24th edition

I am spending a quiet evening at home after 2 busy nights attending and volunteering at the Brooks music festival final concert.

I have to say, I am always impressed by the level of talent that our community’s youth have to offer. From youth choirs and school bands to musical theatre and composition, it was two fun-filled evenings of music and song.

Check out the students who distinguished themselves with a 2018 provincial recommendation here.

I was also very pleased to be able to meet some of the organizers who dedicate their time and energy to making the festival a success year after year. Without their hard work, none of it would be possible.

I hope everyone had a chance to attend as well, and if not, maybe consider doing so next year. Personally, I hope to be in attendance as an instructor next year, looking on as my students do themselves proud.

Solfege… Or: “But I can’t sing!”

Solfege is the practice of singing music using syllables for each note of the scale. If you’ve ever listened to The Sound of Music, you’ve heard Julie Andrews and the children singing Solfege.

This is a form of “moveable do” solfege, in that the do is assigned to the base note of the scale, in this case a B flat.

In beginning violin practice, we perform a different type of solfege called “fixed do”, where do is always assigned to the note C.  This exercise is used both to teach music reading skills and also develop the ear, which is vitally important in violin.

Why does a violinist need to develop their ear? Well, a violin isn’t like a piano or even a guitar. On the piano, the individual keys are the notes, and if the piano is correctly tuned, you will always play in tune. Whether you play the correct notes is another matter of course! On the guitar, each semi-tone is marked by a fret. If your fingers are placed correctly, you will play the note correctly.

Violins, on the other hand, have no such aids. While beginner students will often have fingering tapes placed on the fingerboard to help them learn finger placement, eventually you need to be able to “hear” whether or not you are playing in tune.

If you are lucky, you may be one of the 1 in 10 000 who has perfect pitch and be able to hear tonal variations naturally. Otherwise, you will have to develop your ear, and solfege is one way to do that. So keep singing!

Before I leave you, here is another example of solfege, for all you trekkies out there, from the DS9 episode “Chrysalis”