Some of the best ideas come from my students' parents. Here are a few.
The Sticker Practice Chart
I often have my students use practice charts, but Sara recently made an especially clever one for her daughter: it uses stickers for every day of the week, not just the days she practices. So in addition to the smiley face stickers (the days she practices), there is an owl sticker for lesson days, a popsicle for days she doesn’t practice, and a rainbow heart for “bonus days” which are any days she practices beyond the required number per week.
The genius of this plan is that every day when she puts a sticker on, it reminds her that she either chose to or chose not to practice. If she gets to bedtime and there’s no sticker in the box yet, it reminds her that she didn’t take the time to practice that day. If that was a day she intended to practice, it means she has to pick another day to practice when she intended to skip. And the rainbow hearts are special, so she’s motivated to practice an extra day.
The Cell Phone Speaker
Kelly, who plays piano, recorded the accompaniment on her phone and brought it to her daughter’s last lesson. We’ve tried this in the past with limited results (it’s pretty easy to drown out a cell phone recording as soon as you start playing violin) but this time she had a little round speaker that plugs into the phone’s earphone jack. She found it online for not a lot of money, and it worked great.
James, one of my viola students, is a pro at performing, rarely getting nervous in front of an audience. It turns out that his dad, who plays guitar, has been taking him to open mic sessions for years. Often on a Friday night father and son are performing together.
These are friendly gatherings with low pressure. When he was younger, he would sing a song. Later when he was learning viola at school, he would play his viola part from orchestra. Now he tries out his recital pieces. It’s all part of the fun.
Taking the Tapes Off
This is another good idea from Kelly. When it’s time to take off the fingerboard tape and you don’t want all the sticky residue, try putting scotch tape under the strings and over the strip, leaving enough of a “tail” to hold with your fingers. Tamp it down and pull to the side. If there’s any residue, do it again with another piece of tape until there’s no stickiness left on the fingerboard. Scotch tape has a lot less goo in the adhesive, so it works without leaving behind another kind of stickiness.
Buying an Instrument at a Garage Sale...or an Antique Store
Having grown up in a musicians’ family where things are done “properly”, it never occurred to me that a garage sale is a good source for a musical instrument. However, Rohan’s parents happened to find a viola at a garage sale for $600 which would probably have sold at a violin shop for a few thousand.
I think part of the explanation is that people often don’t know the value of musical instrument. And so $600 for an item at a garage sale sounds like a lot of money. Another possible reason is that, if they had tried to sell the instrument for what it was worth, it probably would have taken a while to find a buyer; certainly not as quickly as gone in a weekend! And the shop would have taken a commission.
Thad & Linda had a similar experience when they found an old violin in an antique shop on their honeymoon. It was $50 and not in playable condition, but it looked cool and was a nice souvenir from the trip. Years later their daughter was playing a rental violin, and Thad took the old violin to a luthier and said “Can you make this thing playable?”. A few hundred dollars later, they had a pretty decent violin, and everyone liked it better than the rental in blind tests.
Of course, these are flukes. You could look for a very long time for such a deal when you actually need the instrument now, and you could just as easily end up with a piece of junk. But if you happen to be in the neighborhood, it doesn’t hurt to look.
The Sponge Rubber Band
I can’t remember who showed me this, but it is brilliant and I have been using it ever since. (Maybe most of you already knew this and I’m just slow…) For the younger players who are using a sponge shoulder rest, get a rubber band big and elastic enough to stretch into a triangle rather than just across in one direction. This keeps the sponge much more stable.
Also, Elizabeth showed me that ponytail rubber bands work too if you find one big enough. And Sara showed me how to connect it to the tailpiece cord so it’s always there.
Quodlibet: A piece employing several well-known tunes from various sources, performed either simultaneously or in succession. (Schirmer Pocket Manual of Musical Terms)