How to Choose a Teacher

Viola or violin lessons are a big commitment, and finding the right teacher is a crucial step.

• The first step is to understand your own musical goals and personal needs.

• Do you want a teacher who will emphasize discipline, or someone who will be patient and compassionate, or a combination?

• Are there specific things you want to address in your lessons? Such as, overcoming pain or injury, managing stage fright, or learning certain technical skills?

• Is there a particular style of music you’d like to work on, such as improvisation, pop, classical, jazz, or folk?

• When you meet the teacher for the first time, communicate your goals to them. Do they understand, and can they explain how they might be able to help you meet your goals? Do you feel comfortable? It’s worth taking the time to find a teacher you trust!

Posted on August 1, 2017 .

When You're Out of Your Routine

Even if your viola or violin lessons are on pause, your fun with music can continue!

• Maybe it’s summer break and your teacher is away, or you’re traveling and can’t bring your instrument. The good news is there are plenty of ways to stay connected to music, even if you have to get creative.

• Going to concerts is very inspiring, and a great way to support your musical community.

• YouTube is full of fantastic performers past and present. Just remember to get up and walk around every once in awhile…

• Organize a recital or jam session with friends.

• Try writing your own music.

• Or research new songs you might like to play when you resume your normal schedule.

• Sometimes an interruption of our usual routine is just what we need to keep our creativity fresh and lively!

Posted on July 1, 2017 .

Handling Stage Fright

Here are some helpful hints for dealing with the viola or violin player's frequent companion: stage fright!

• Stage fright is a natural, if uncomfortable, element of performing. We want to honor the music and our hard work, we want to share ourselves with the audience, and we also care about what others may be thinking about us.

• The best recipe for a successful performance is to focus on what you want to give, rather than what might go wrong, and to keep returning to the present moment.

• In your practice sessions, try to stay awake to your surroundings, and to the sound and physical experience of playing. If you practice being present, that presence will be there when you are onstage, too.

• You can also practice by performing in front of supportive people, even just one person.

• Right before a performance, reflect on your own courage in sharing the gift of music with a live audience.

• When you lose your concentration, come back to the moment. You may lose focus many times in the course of a performance, and that’s totally normal!

• After the performance, no matter how you think it went, be gentle with yourself and appreciate yourself for having the courage to perform.

• When you feel ready, think back over the performance to see what you might have gained from the experience.

Posted on June 1, 2017 .

How to Play with a Beautiful Tone

Tone is one of the most important features of beautiful viola or violin playing.

• A good tone, loud or soft, is ringing, almost like the sound of a voice singing. A less good tone can be thin and wispy, or harsh and scratchy.

• First, check in with the amount of tension in your shoulder, arm, wrist, hand, and fingers. Ideally this whole apparatus should be supported by your back, and feel buoyant and springy, rather than heavy or tight.

• Be sure your bow is generally moving parallel to the bridge. Experiment with your contact point--what happens when you move closer to and farther away from the bridge?

• The default position for the arm is about a centimeter above the string. At the start of a bow stroke, the hand drops into the string with the bow hair at an angle. This ensures a ringing, open sound at any volume.

• Remember that no matter what kind of sound you want to make, the more relaxed and receptive your muscles are, the more you allow vibrations to flow through your body and the instrument.

Posted on May 1, 2017 .


In this video, we discuss a critical element of effective viola and violin study: rhythm!

• Rhythm needs to be felt in the body, starting with pulse. The most basic pulse is our heartbeat. A musical pulse is a regular beat pattern that is present no matter the rhythm or tempo of the music.

• The pulse is further grouped into patterns of weak and strong beats. For instance, a march usually has two pulses, a strong pulse followed by a weak one, while a waltz typically has three, one strong pulse followed by two weak ones.

• After you’ve found the pulse, there are lots of ways to work on the rhythmic patterns, either with or without your instrument.

• You can clap or stomp the pulse while speaking the rhythm.

• When you get good at that, you can try stomping or speaking the pulse while playing the rhythm. The possibilities are endless! If you get frustrated, work slowly on small chunks, then build it up as you gain comfort. Just stay connected to the pulse!

• Remember that pulse is not like a machine, or a metronome. Just like your heartbeat speeds up and slows down, the pulse can speed up and slow down. The more grounded the pulse is in your body, the smoother and more coordinated these changes will be.

Posted on April 3, 2017 .

When Playing Hurts

Playing the viola or violin is a very physical activity, and requires good body awareness and proper equipment to prevent injury and strain. Here are some useful tips for when playing hurts. :(

• Evaluate your equipment to make sure it’s working for you, including your chin rest, shoulder rest, and the size of the instrument.

• Whenever you’re playing, remember to breathe! This will help you maintain energy and focus, and prevent your muscles from getting stuck.

• Use the mirror as a tool to observe how you’re using your body.

• Take lots of breaks, get up and move around, try varying whether you’re sitting or standing.

• If you can’t fix the problem on your own, tell your teacher! The more specific you can be about where the pain is, the better. A good teacher will be compassionate, and will help you feel natural and comfortable with your instrument.

• Lastly, there are numerous kinds of bodywork that can help you maintain a better relationship with playing, such as Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, yoga, and many others. Ask your teacher what they recommend, or check out resources online.

Posted on March 1, 2017 .


As any viola or violin player can tell you, intonation is one of the biggest challenges we deal with, from beginners to seasoned professionals. Here are a few ideas that players of any level can use to improve their ability to hear accurately and play in tune. 

• First, try singing your music, as slowly as you need to. If you can’t sing the pitches, that means your ear doesn’t know where your fingers need to go. 

• Try plunking out the notes on a keyboard to hear reliable pitches. 

• If you use tapes, remember to rely on your ears, not your eyes, and listen for clear, ringing tones.

• Play with a drone, or with accompaniment. Pay attention to how your intonation relates to the other part. 

• Remember, intonation is a skill that needs to be developed continually, so make good intonation practice a regular part of your musical diet!

Posted on February 1, 2017 .

How to Start a New Piece

Whether you've been taking viola or violin lessons for a long time or you're just beginning, starting a new piece can be both exciting and daunting. Here are some tips for enjoying the process!

• Before you dive in, keep in mind that the amount of time you have to learn a piece, and where you’ll be performing it, will affect how you work on it.

• Your enthusiasm can make it tempting to rush through the piece up to speed, but your nervous system can only absorb so much!  Start your new piece by observing the smallest details, and build it up step by step. It may take awhile before you are able to play the most challenging passages at the tempo you’d like, but you will learn more, enjoy the process more, and perform the piece better having given yourself the time to learn it properly.

• If you feel totally overwhelmed, think back to your previous piece and how comfortable it seems now compared to when you first started learning it. Remember, the learning process isn’t linear. Some days you may learn a lot, and other days it may seem like you haven’t made any progress. But consistent, observant practice is the fastest and most reliable route to success!

Posted on January 4, 2017 .

Gearing up for Performance

In this video, we're going to talk about one of the most exciting parts of playing the viola or violin, preparing to perform!

• All of us, from beginners to the most accomplished professionals, experience some stress before a performance. It’s normal, and nothing to feel ashamed about. 

• However, there are some important things you can do to reduce the stress of performing: the day before, organize everything you’ll need for the performance--your instrument, music, and any special clothing you’ll be wearing.

• Eat well, get a good night’s sleep, and allow plenty of time to get to the performance space and warm up.

• When uncomfortable feelings of anxiety arise, see if you can let them be just as they are. Backstage, take slow deep breaths and notice your surroundings. Remember, you care about your performance, you’ve prepared well, and now it’s time to share your skills and your heart with the audience.

Posted on December 1, 2016 .

Making Practice a Refuge

In this video, we’re going to share our ideas about making practicing the viola or violin a refuge, especially when you’re dealing with a lot of stress.

• First, create a quiet, inspiring place for you to practice, where you can concentrate and feel at ease knowing you are free from distraction.

• As you practice, find some space away from the thoughts and tasks that you’ve been preoccupied with, allow yourself to become absorbed in your sensory experience, follow your observations, and see where your practice takes you.

• When you finish practicing, notice if you feel any different from how you felt when you started. Sometimes even difficult and stressful situations can seem less overwhelming after you’ve taken the time to connect with something you care about.

Posted on November 1, 2016 .

Mixing Up Your Practice Routine

In this video, we’re going to share our ideas for mixing up your practice routine when you're feeling dull and need some fresh inspiration.

• If you need a little break from your current piece, review a piece you’ve played before, or try sight-reading something just for fun!

• You can also check out some inspiring videos on YouTube, or listen to your favorite recordings.

• Try playing for your friends or family.

• And lastly, remember that playing the viola or violin is a means of self-expression, not achievement. You can always start with how you’re feeling that day, noticing how your feelings change and how that changes the music.

Posted on October 1, 2016 .

Setting Up a Practice Routine

In this video, we’re going to share our ideas about one of the most important foundations for getting the most out of your viola or violin lessons: setting up a practice routine.

• First, set a goal for daily or weekly practice, and write it in the calendar.

• When choosing a time to practice, think about the time of day when you can concentrate the best. If you’re not sure, experiment!

• Frequency is more important than duration. Aim for more days with less time on each day rather than a giant cram session right before your lesson.

• Congratulate yourself when you meet your goals! And when you miss your goals, be kind, see if you can figure out what went wrong, and if your goals need to be adjusted.

Posted on September 1, 2016 .