Meet the Players: Hilary Hahn

Does your instrument case tweet? Our String Player of the Week has a very active violin case that posts social media updates from around the world! Hilary Hahn is only 38 years old but as of this writing has played 1594 concerts. She has also won three Grammy awards and she regularly performs with major orchestras.

Hilary Hahn began playing the violin shortly before her fourth birthday. Starting in a Suzuki program in Baltimore, Maryland, the young Hilary Hahn started on a “box violin” (a cardboard box with a ruler taped to it). By age 11, she was soloing with major orchestras. In the popular imagination, child prodigies and superstar players are often depicted as antisocial, totally absorbed in their art and unable to identify with regular people. However, Hahn bucks the stereotypes. She has appeared on Sesame Street and Mister Rogers Neighborhood and you can follow her violin case on Instagram and Twitter! In fact, through social media, Hahn recorded herself daily practicing for 100 days in a row under the #100Days hashtag.

Although performing and recording keeps Hahn very busy, she has made time to pursue other interests, attending summer language immersion programs at the Middlebury Institute in German, French, and Japanese. Even for an accomplished concert violinist, there is always more to learn.

 

Hilary Hahn, violinabout_bioHI2

Born: Lexington, Virginia, USA, 1979

Website

Recordings

YouTube

 

 

“Things get in the way. You do your best as an artist regardless of the circumstances and you just keep moving forward.” – Hilary Hahn

 

Watch Hilary Hahn play on NPR’s “Tiny Desk” Concert Series

Fun Fact: Hilary Hahn plays on an 1864 violin which was copied after Paganini’s violin.

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ViOlympics: What Music Students Can Learn from Olympic Athletes

 

ViOlympics_ What Music Students Can Learn from Olympic Athletes

I love the Winter Olympic Games. The athletes and events are a fun diversion during the cold, dark months of winter and it’s inspiring to watch the drive, artistry and focus of the world’s best athletes. This semester, my students are participating in the “ViOlympics” (violin/viola olympics) as we look forward to the PyeongChang Olympic Games. Every week, each student must practice at least 6 days and complete other special challenges, such as bow exercises, listening, ear training, or music theory worksheets. I’ll be posting the challenge chart on my TpT page later this week for any teachers who might want to use it. As I created this new practice challenge, I started thinking about the parallels between excelling at a sport and excelling at a musical instrument. What follows are just a few observations.

In both sports and music, players must practice diligently every day in order to improve. While some sports have “rest days” when athletes don’t practice their sport, or do other exercises, instrumentalists must practice every day to develop their muscle memory so that the fingers will remember the correct notes, rhythms, and articulation. Both sports and music require a similar daily discipline. A feature article in Women’s Running magazine reveals one Olympic figure skater’s daily routine: “While her off-ice training varies day to day, she consistently trains for two to three hours on the ice every Monday through Friday. ”

Similarly, one of the all-time greatest violinists, Jascha Heifetz also knew the value of daily practice:

The discipline of practice every day is essential. When I skip a day, I notice a difference in my playing. After two days, the critics notice, and after three days, so does the audience.  – Jascha Heifetz

Athletes and musicians alike start playing at a young age, almost always during the elementary school years. Due in no small part to the prevalence of the Suzuki Method, many students now being music study around age 4. A cursory reading of Olympic athlete bios shows that an early start is also important in many sports, specifically choreographed sports such as gymnastics or ice skating, where it is not unusual to begin classes at age 3. That’s not to say that one can’t reach a high level of achievement when starting at a later age, but it seems that earlier study provides real advantages. Continue reading “ViOlympics: What Music Students Can Learn from Olympic Athletes”

BTS Deals: School Supplies to Improve Music Practice

picture of colored pencils

It’s that time again and here in St. Louis, we are all settling into the new school year. But while you’re getting your backpacks, markers, and rulers, there are some items that pop up at stores this time of the year that can help with music practice. Most are available year round, but a lot of school supplies are marked down in August and September, so it’s the perfect time to stock up on things that will help with music practice.

New binders

This is the cheapest you will see three-ring binders all year. If your lesson binder is looking the worse for wear, replace it now. I’ve seen binders fall apart before important auditions throwing papers everywhere. Don’t let this happen to you!

Reading Timers

These little guys have been showing up in deals section of Target. If your child needs to practice something for a certain number of minutes, this flat bookmark timer will fit in their music book and remind them to practice. Here is a link to a similar reading timer available on Amazon.

Practice Mirrors

In the dorm section of Target and other big box stores, you can now buy long over-the-door mirrors for around $5. Buy one and mount it in the area where your child practices so they can watch their own posture, bow hand, bow tracking, etc.  A mirror is an invaluable practice tool for the advancing student and they are deeply discounted right before school starts.

Pencil Toppers

You can use these to place on the tip of the bow for bow hand exercises. You can also use finger puppets.

Counters

Get an abacus to count repetitions. They’re on sale now, or available year-round at IKEA.

Fun Erasers

If you have a student who is working on posture, balancing one of these fun erasers on the top of the violin or viola will be a treat. Target often has seasonal erasers in the dollar section near the front of the store, or check out the dollar store.

Dry-Erase Foam Dice

I found these at our local Dollar Tree in the teacher section and can’t wait to try them out. You could write twinkle rhythms, review pieces, or number of repetitions, the choices are endless. Then you can erase and change them after next week’s lesson.

Charts

I’m not a fan of giving out stickers for practice because I want students to develop intrinsic motivation, but some students just love seeing their progress over time. You can use the dollar tree charts to track how often your child has played a certain review piece, or how many minutes of practice they did on each assignment. These charts can be found in the teacher section of dollar tree, office stores or big box stores.

Picture of sand timer.

Old-Fashioned 2-Minute Timers

I’ve seen these at dollar stores. I often use an app on my phone for minute timers, but these are too much fun. Just turn it over and practice a small section of music until the timer runs out.

What do you like to stock up on during back to school season?

What I’m Reading Now: Beyond the Music Lesson

Beyond the Music Lesson-Habits of Successful Suzuki Families

Summer is a great time to catch up on on some reading. I’m off to Wisconsin soon and will be gone for a few weeks, so I was excited to get a new book in the mail with just enough time to read it before I left town. The book is called “Beyond the Music Lesson: Habits of Successful Suzuki Families”  by Christine E. Goodner, a Suzuki teacher and parent. I’ve enjoyed reading the author’s blog, The Suzuki Triangle, so when I found out she was publishing a book, I knew I wanted to check it out.

“Beyond the Music Lesson” is the reading equivalent of taking a knowledgeable, friendly music teacher out for coffee and picking their brain about how to help your child succeed in music lessons. When I got the book in the mail, I’ll admit I was a bit surprised that it’s on the shorter side at just 141 pages. But as I read on, I realized that the shorter length is an asset. There are many wonderful books about practicing and teaching which are much longer and focus on lots of little details. They are great resources, but this book has the real advantage in that it is easy to read small chunks at a time without getting lost. The format of the book means that even the busiest parent could read a couple of paragraphs when they have a moment throughout the day and still get a lot of helpful information.

Before my Suzuki students begin lessons, their parents are required to attend a series of orientation sessions which include information on Suzuki philosophy as well as practical help in how to practice with their child. These sessions are invaluable in getting parents and students get off to the right start, but parent education should be a continuing process so that families continue to experience success in lessons and feel confident at home. As time goes on, new issues can arise such as what to do if a child being resistant or argumentative about practice, how to structure review practice, or just the daily grind of other activities crowding out practice time. There’s a lot to talk about! “Beyond the Music Lesson” addresses these common practice issues and more, in a simple, down-to-earth format that is accessible to non-musicians. It is written from a Suzuki perspective and for Suzuki parents, though there are some tips that would also apply to parents whose children are in traditional lessons as well. Although the author is a violinist and violist, the advice in the book is not instrument specific.

This book is not a comprehensive encyclopedia on efficient music practice. For a more detailed, nuts-and-bolts guide to practice, I would recommend “The Practice Revolution” by Philip Johnston, which is aimed more at music teachers rather than parents. Noa Kageyama over at the Bulletproof Musician Blog also has a list of recommended books that deal with learning and performance optimization. “Beyond the Music Lesson” is aimed more at big picture and practical issues such as how parents can find time for practice, how to create a daily listening habit, and why repetition is important. Just writing about it, I realize that for Suzuki teachers, these may seem like no-brainers, but it’s so important to keep coming back to basics, especially when working with families who are new to lessons. The book also cites research to back up ideas about practice and character development and provides resources for further reading.

For teachers, the last two chapters about mastery (including a long discussion on review) and on looking at the big picture are especially valuable.  I found it enlightening to reflect on ideas such as how I can help to create a positive musical environment in the studio, thinking of long-term goals to get through short-term frustrations, and helping students to cultivate a growth mindset. As all music teachers know, you can never really get too much of revisiting the basics. I’m glad to have added this book to my own library, and I’m hoping that my studio families will find it helpful as well.

What’s on your summer reading list?

Book Review-Beyond the Music Lesson

The Joy of Scales: 7 Reasons All Students Should Practice Scales

7 Reasons All String Students Should Practice Scales.

I have a confession to make: I love scales! There is nothing I like better than starting the day off right with a cup of coffee and some slow, mindful scale practice. I know that both students and professionals have differing opinions on scales, but love them or hate them, scales are an essential part of string technique. Here’s why I think they are so important. 

 

7 Reasons All String Students Should Practice Scales

 

They Improve the Left Hand Frame

Scales are “multiple vitamins” for the left hand. Practicing scales strengthens the left hand frame, and reinforces the exact placement of half and whole steps used throughout western classical music.

 

They’re “Easy Wins”

When trying to form a new habit or improve in a certain area, productivity experts emphasize the importance of “easy wins”. Success breeds success and scales are short and sweet enough to give students an immediate sense of accomplishment, which gets the ball rolling on greater challenges.

Continue reading “The Joy of Scales: 7 Reasons All Students Should Practice Scales”

Using “Glue Hops” to Teach Song of the Wind

Using Glue Hops to Teach Song of the Wind

One of the wonderful things about teaching from the same repertoire year after year is you tend to develop “favorites”. One of my favorite pieces in Book 1 is Song of the Wind. It’s fun, energetic, and often a student favorite, and it’s fun to vary the tempo in group class so it becomes Song of the Gentle Breeze, or Song of the Tornado. Song of the Wind seems like a short, simple song, but there is so much to explore in just a few lines. One of the trickiest spots for beginning students occurs right at the beginning, in measures 3-4. There are several skills going on in that spot. There is a quick string crossing for both the left hand finger and the bow (more on that in a moment) and we have our first instance of a bow retake, also known as a a circle bow or circle set. But for any of this to work, the student also has to leave their first finger down, while moving the 3rd finger over to a different string. 

I’ve created lyrics for this measure, which go like this (from the beginning of the song through measure 6): Continue reading “Using “Glue Hops” to Teach Song of the Wind”

Suzuki Summer Review-a-Thon

 

Suzuki Summer Review-a-thon

Private teachers know that things are, well, a bit different during the summer. I believe that summer lessons are crucial to continued student success and Christine Goodner recently wrote a great article about the importance of summer lessons over at the Suzuki Triangle Blog. While the majority of my students do continue lessons over the summer, many are also doing camps or taking vacations and I’ve noticed that consistent practice habits can start to slip in the midst of all those competing activities. To keep motivation and interest up, my studio will be participating in a summer “review-a-thon”, focusing on Suzuki review pieces. As many students are in and out of lessons, a review-a-thon will be more appropriate to the pace of the summer, rather than a time-based challenge, like the Viola Hero or Practice Wars challenges that I have held during the academic year. Continue reading “Suzuki Summer Review-a-Thon”