We Call it PLAYING Violin!

August 20th, 2012 1:23 pm

Are your violin practices like this?

I was talking with a young lady the other day about returning to school for the Fall semester. She took up the violin last year, and she had been really excited about playing. But when I asked her about what she had done with her violin over the Summer months her response was that it had resided in its case in the corner of her room. She hadn’t played it once.

When I asked her why she hadn’t played her instrument she told me that it really wasn’t fun now. It seems that toward the end of the semester her teacher had decided to try to build some skills with the hopes that the kids would use them over the vacation months. The method used was to emphasize etudes and scales. At least with this young lady that was exactly the wrong thing to do! And the tragedy is that she isn’t looking forward to returning to orchestra this Fall!

I tell folks all the time that playing violin should be exactly that…PLAY. Every time we pick up the violin we should spend a part of the time playing music that we really want to play. Does that mean that we completely neglect scales, etudes and other technical studies? Absolutely not! But we need to spend some time on a regular basis doing something we enjoy as well as working on the hard stuff!
Play some Bluegrass or Country like Mark O’Connor! Dance around like Lindsey Stirling! Get into Rock like Mark Wood, Bridgid Bibbens, or even Rachel Barton-Pine! Or if Classical is your thing, and you really want to work on scales go right ahead. The whole point is that we need to do something with the instrument that makes us smile.

And if teachers forget that a major part of teaching the instrument is instilling that joy into new students and then helping them maintain that joy they are failing the entire strings community!
Give your students something hard and technical to work on, and then help them to see how to use the skills that you are nurturing in the music that they really want to play. (And that probably isn’t Wohlfahrt or Kreutzer.) It’s great for the kid! It’s great for the community at large. And in this time of economic difficulty, it’s job security.

Art Haule


It’s All in the Approach

August 16th, 2012 3:26 pm

Violin Fine TunerI got a phone call the other day from a friend whose daughter has taken up the violin. She made the wise decision to start practicing a little bit before school began and pulled out her instrument for the first time in 6 or 8 weeks. Not surprisingly, the violin was out of tune.

In trying to tune the instrument, the young lady found that the fine tuners on a couple of the strings were not working. She showed the problem to her parents, neither of whom play the violin, and they called me to come look at the problem.

“We might need a new tailpiece. Would you take a look and tell us what to do?”

Since the Mom makes a mouthwateringly good frozen Oreo pie, I headed over there the first chance I got, fully expecting to just make a simple adjustment loosening the fine tuner, tightening the peg, then adjusting the fine tuner. It’s something I advise people to do on a frequent basis, and you’ll find read the suggestion that you check your fine tuners once a month in my daily violin tip.

The young lady was relieved that her violin was okay. Mom and Dad were happy that their daughter could start practicing and that no money was involved, and I was promised a piece of Oreo pie at some time in the next few months. It was a true win-win-win situation!

But the incident started me thinking. The Mom jumped to the thought that a new tailpiece might be necessary. It was a logical thought, but proposed a radical solution for a simple problem.

I do that all the time…immediately think of the worst case scenario. (The Mom, by the way, usually does not. She is one of the most positive people I know.) Worst case scenarios are just that…WORST case scenarios. I look to the possible disaster and feel better when I find that my fears were not realized. But that means that I am stressed a good deal of the time. Many other folks operate in the belief that the simple solution will almost undoubtedly present itself, and they are frequently right. In both cases the work required to make things right is the same, it’s just the approach to the problem that differs.

I need to remember to relax, take a deep breath, and think about the likelihood of good outcomes. Sometimes attitude adjustments are hard.

Art Haule



Trying to Update and Become Current again.

May 21st, 2012 5:02 pm

It’s been forever since I’ve updated this blog, and it seems that long since I’ve played my violin with any regularity. Arthritis in the hands is no fun when it comes to violin or typing! I’ve started a regimen of glucosamine and chondroitin, and I hope it will improve things.

As we enter the summer I hope to be hearing more violin and fiddle, and may even make it to a fiddle fest or two. I’ve been in contact with Mark Wood and his crew with regard to his annual <a href=”http://www.mwroc.com” target=”_blank”>Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp</a>. It looks like Mark makes things better every single year. The faculty is strong, enrollment is growing, and things look like they are progressing nicely.

Can Five More Minutes Make a Difference?

January 13th, 2011 1:32 am

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to try to make a significant improvement in my playing this year. There are several things that I intend to do to achieve this, but probably the most simple that I am planning is adding a mere five minutes to every practice.

The key is not going to be playing my violin an extra five minutes. In fact the five minutes that I am adding, and that I am suggesting that you add, will take place between the time that I play the last note and the time I close the lid to my violin case.

I’m going to do a much better job organizing what I practice and play. I’m going to write down what I do right and what I do wrong. And I’m going to make sure that the next time I pick up the instrument I step right back into the thick of things. The five minutes that I spend writing a critique of my practice as well as any insights that I have during the practice are going to pay off big time! Guaranteed. And if I take the time to write down things that other people tell me it will help even more. Lists and journals are important. What your teacher or peers told you are important. Things that I want to remember are important. Five minutes at the end of this practice will probably save me ten or fifteen minutes during my next practice, and it will allow me to use those extra minutes more effectively!

Art Haule



Another Year With Bow In Hand

January 1st, 2011 3:36 pm

Fun With Your ViolinHappy New Year! It’s January 1, and that starts me thinking about my interaction with my violin.

Frankly, I haven’t been as active this year as I would have liked. I hope to change that this year. Some of my goals (I don’t make “resolutions.”) for the year include:

Getting a whole lot more active with this blog.

Scales and arpeggios at least three times a week.

Playing something that makes me smile every time I pick up my violin.

Using my violin to help others smile much more often.

Working on my fiddling and my improvisation more, rather than just my more classical stuff.

Interacting with more people who share a love of the violin…both in person and on the Internet.

More games on Violin Student Central.

Trying to spread the word about the website better. If we want to stay online we MUST generate more interest! (You can help! Tell your friends and share the URL if you find a daily Tip or History page you like. And if you buy through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or eBay, or ANY of our partners, you can help us pay our server bills by simply using a link on our site to go to their site. It won’t cost you a cent, and it will be very helpful to us!)

Happy New Year!

–Art Haule  – www.ViolinStudent.com

It Doesn’t Matter How You Learned, All That Counts is That You Play!

Christmas is Just Around the Corner!

December 2nd, 2010 2:30 pm

My favorite time of year as a violinist is the time immediately before Christmas. There are a couple reasons for this.

First, it seems to me that the most interesting amateur orchestra concerts occur at Christmas. I don’t know why that is. Maybe I just prefer listening to (and playing) music with which I am already familiar. Maybe I enjoy hearing new variations on favorite songs. Maybe I just enjoy the enthusiasm students show when they play songs they’ve sung for years.

Second, the songs and carols just seem to be ingrained in my fingers. I hate to admit it, but there was a time that my instrument lay unused for almost a decade. When I picked it up again, the songs were still there in my fingers. My wife thought that I was reading music, and walked into the room to find me with my eyes closed standing next to the open violin case playing and improvising. Some of what flowed from the instrument had been parts of pieces I’d played years before. Some were improvisations produced on the spot. But they were not only recognizable, they were pretty. When I’m just too busy…when I’m sad…when I’m frustrated it is the music of Christmas that returns to me again and again.

So, I’ll play this year. I’ll listen this year. I’ll enjoy the songs for my 57th Christmas as much as I did for my tenth — when violin was still a new and wonderful mystery to me. I hope you enjoy the music of the season as well.

Well, back to the Violin Student Central website.


Remember, we don’t work the violin, or struggle the violin, or suffer the violin…the verb we use is play!

Thankful for Violin

November 24th, 2010 12:35 pm

Boy Playing ViolinI started violin lessons when I was in fourth grade. I was really happy about it.

But I can tell you that at various times in my playing career I have been somewhat less enthusiastic than others. But at age 56 I can tell you that I am Thankful that I learned to play the violin. Here are some reasons why.

My first teacher was Ellen Buxton (nee Shenton). One of the first things that she told me was that I was really lucky to be allowed to learn an instrument. I never really thought about that before I took lessons from her. But many people want to learn to play an instrument and never get the chance. The teacher is not there. They can’t afford an instrument. Their parents just don’t think it is important. The buy into the fiction that three years of high school football is more rewarding than picking up an enjoyable lifelong skill, and then regret it ten years down the line. Mrs. Buxton reminded us all that it is a privilege to learn an instrument. I’m thankful for that.

Mrs. Buxton also let us know that we were not going to make the immediate progress that many of us were used to in school. I was a member of an “enriched” class, in which many of the students were quite smart. We read something, and it stuck. We were articulate and polite, so many of us were well liked by adults. We worked for a little while, and we achieved what we wanted. Violin wasn’t like that. And most of life isn’t. Immediate gratification was not going to be the norm for my life, and my screeching on the violin just drove that home. It was a lesson I needed to learn, and I’m thankful for it.

I’ve met a lot of people because of violin who I never would have known. Several world-renowned musicians in Rock, Folk, and Classical genres. Instrumentalists gathering from hundreds of miles away for special events. Young ladies who had recently immigrated to the United States, and spoke very little English, but got the chance to play music in school. I’m thankful for that.

A chance to step away from the nonsense of daily life and participate in something more transcendent on occasion. I’m thankful for that.

Just some thoughts on this Thanksgiving Eve.

BTW, I’m Thankful for your stopping in to read what I had to say.

Getting Ready for Christmas

October 20th, 2010 12:18 pm

My birthday is October 17. There are two things that always come to mind on this date.

The first is that I am another year older. That is obvious to me every day. The waist inevitably expands, and I vow to start doing twenty-five sit ups and twenty-five crunches every day. I’ll make the same vow next year, I’m almost sure. I look in the mirror and see a few more grey hairs, or the fact that there are fewer hairs atop the head today than there were yesterday. I vow to look into some dye, at least for the moustache. I view the expanded forehead as a sign that wisdom and knowledge are expanding. My 14-year old daughter, Adriana, would take issue with that.

The second thing that comes to mind is that Christmas is on its way. If I am going to play my violin during the Holiday Season I need to get to work on some Holiday music. It’s time to start researching what is available and to start making decisions as to what I will play. This year I think I’m going to look for some fun stuff to play rather than just (in the words of my daughter) “churchy, serious” stuff.


School is Almost Out – Don’t Quit Yet!

May 19th, 2010 1:47 pm

The school year is winding down here in Texas, and you can already see the kids beginning to relax. There is talk of swimming pools, vacations, and summer camps. Homework is becoming slightly less important to kids, although their parents and teachers haven’t realized that yet, and still expect it to be completed.

Believe it or not, this is an extremely important time of year for music students!

As we slip into Summer, many students will set their instruments aside to be picked up again the first day of school. This is tragedy enough, but it’s even worse if the student ends the school year with bad habits coming to the fore.

The way we finish this school year is probably the way we will start next school year!

If your posture or position is bad, it will probably be worse when September rolls around. If practice habits are poor now, good habits will be harder than ever to re-establish. If accessories or sheet music are not available as the year ends, they’ll just have to be purchased this Fall, delaying the start of practice for another week or ten days.

My message for you is – Finish Strong!

Now is the time to make sure that you have everything that you need now, because the need won’t go away over the Summer. Now is the time to touch up your posture, you’ll remember the right way to stand, sit, or hold the instrument better if you’re doing things right when school ends. From now until the school year ends you should play a lot! Add fifteen minutes to each practice. Stretch yourself by learning that one additional etude. Play something you really like every single day. Make sure that you remember that when you play your violin (viola, cello, trombone…whatever!) you actually have fun!

Now is the time to make sure that you have a friend or two who will be playing their instrument over the Summer. You can play chamber music. You can get together to jam. You can even just play some of the pieces that you enjoyed from orchestra or band this year. Now is the time to look into Mark O’Connor’s Fiddle Camp or Mark Wood’s Rock Orchestra Camp or any of the dozens of great opportunities to play and have fun that occur over the Summer months. You’ll learn a lot while getting to meet some pretty incredible musicians! Now is the time to realize that playing your instrument is not just a chore, it is a part of your life! It makes you smile and feel good about the things you can do that you never expected.

Finish the school year strong. It will make starting next school year (or maybe even this Summer’s music program) a whole lot easier.

Memories: Violin as Time Machine?

March 30th, 2010 6:06 pm

Janice Commentz, Viola Player

Janice Commentz. Violist, Teacher, Mentor, Friend.

I’m not really good at FaceBook. I set up a page, and just let is stay there dormant for a long, long time. My 14-year old daughter was looking over my shoulder at the computer the other night and said something to the effect of, “Why don’t you answer that message?” I was in a fog and asked her what she was talking about.

I had a friend request. Janice Commentz.

Who the heck is Janice Commentz? It took me a good ten minutes to figure it out.

I’m no spring chicken. I’ve been playing violin longer than most of the parents of the girls on my daughter’s soccer team have been alive. My daughter firmly believes that Antonio Stradivari was a classmate of mine and that the music I like was used to lull Ben Franklin to sleep while he was still an infant . . . and that I probably played it for him.

And Janice asked, “Are you still playing the violin?”

She really knew me…but I sure couldn’t remember her. Her picture wasn’t really of any help whatsoever. But then the light came on.

Janice Commentz was my Home Room teacher when I was in eighth grade. She was the chorus director for the junior high school I attended. It was pretty obvious that I played violin, since I carried the case around with me. Some time during the year it came to light that Miss Commentz played the viola.

After leaving eighth grade I lost contact with Miss Commentz until Spring of my Sophomore year in high school. We put on the play Kiss Me Kate. We only had one decent violist in the district, so the conductor recruited Miss Commentz to play with us. It was one of several times that I had the opportunity to play with adults while still in high school. It gives a student a somewhat different perspective on ensemble work. The adults come into the situation with skills somewhat in place and with the music already worked out. True sectional work rather than instruction occurred at rehearsals. It was fun.

I attended several junior high school concerts while I was a Junior and a Senior…my sister Pam sang in the chorus. I believe I only played with Miss Commentz in one more production. A local amateur opera company formed for the purpose of performing Die Fledermaus while I was in college. Many of the members of the orchestra were high school students, and I was one of the “experienced” players. It felt strange, and yet made me feel really good that they looked up to me, and that my teachers felt good enough about my performance to invite me to play.

I haven’t had any contact with Miss Commentz since then…December of …well, if you have to know the year…it was 1972. (Can it really be that long ago?) It’s great to look back across the time and connect with folks who were “instrumental” in forming your personality and developing your musical taste. I probably won’t get the chance to see Miss Commentz again. We live 1600 miles apart. But I’ll sure keep in touch with her via FaceBook!

Violin: Living Through Playing? Growing Through Playing? Remembering Through Playing? And Realizing That Those Things That Really Matter Are Timeless.

Thanks for contacting me, Miss Commentz…or should I say Janice? Nah, Miss Commentz just feels right.

Art Haule

Remember, With Violin (Yes, and with Viola too) The Verb We Use is Play