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The West Music Blog
The West Music Blog presents articles, press releases and other information of interest to our local and worldwide customers.

Blogs by Amanda Hazelett

How Often Should I Change My Strings?
By Amanda Hazelett
9/9/2011 3:25:00 PM  

When parents come in to lease a string instrument for their children, they often wonder about the care and maintenance of this fragile piece of wood. 

A frequently asked question is how often should the strings be changed?  There is no warning light that comes on anywhere when the strings are ready for a change and no set rule, like change every 3,000 miles.  Really, what it comes down to is how often one plays.

Rosin will naturally build up on strings, as well as the oil and sweat from your hands. 

Wiping down the strings after every playing will help prevent this.  While you can’t do anything about the oil and sweat, you should never play with dirty hands. 

You can CAREFULLY clean strings with rubbing alcohol.  This will help your strings to last longer, but when they start to sound dull, it is time for a change. 

Professional musicians can change their strings every month, but a beginning student can go for 1-2 years before needing a change.  Most students are on child-sized instruments and trading for the next size up as they get bigger, so they are probably not even going to be on one instrument for more than a couple of years. 

Parents of beginning students will probably not have to worry about changing dull strings, unless one breaks. 

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Tags: string instrument care, string instrument maintenance, changing strings
Categories: Band & Orchestra
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Three Widespread Misconceptions About the Suzuki Method
By Amanda Hazelett
10/27/2010 3:30:00 PM  

Originally written by Suzuki instructor Ronda Cole and author Katie Lansdale

1. ‘Suzuki students don’t read music’ was justified in the early years. Japanese Suzuki students began violin at three, and began reading around five to six, upon reaching Book 4. The first American teachers lowered the starting age of students, but not as low as three, and failed to re-evaluate when to start reading. Critics were quicker to complain than appreciate the younger development of talent. Fortunately, the adjustment between age and reading in America was corrected years ago; the old complaints still echo occasionally.

2. ‘They play like robots!’ Robotic playing can be heard by students of any teacher, using any approach. Listening to recordings is not to blame: students listen to create their ‘inner song,’ not to copy interpretations. The level of musicality taught and expected from students depends entirely upon the teacher’s standards and persistence.

3. An enormous, hurtful misunderstanding is that at some point students should ‘finish’ with Suzuki and move on to a ‘real’ teacher. Since Suzuki teaching embodies an educational philosophy, it does not ever ‘end.’ If the work between a student and teacher is fruitful, it should continue. The differences between Suzuki and other approaches are most evident in the beginning. As a Suzuki student advances, components of ‘traditional’ lessons multiply: scales, rhythm studies, conducting, études, theory, and reading. My students also report on a recording or concert they heard, play a tune they worked out by ear, and recite a memorized poem. My advanced students play major repertory in lessons, but still benefit from group class, with solo opportunities and an extended group repertory.

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Tags: Suzuki Method, Suzuki Violin Method, Violin Method, Instrument Method
Categories: Band & Orchestra
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How to Choose the Right Teacher
By Amanda Hazelett
10/26/2010 11:19:00 AM  

As your child progresses on his or her instrument they might need to find a private teacher.

You might be asking yourself, “Why a private teacher? Why can’t my child just take lessons from the school’s music teacher? It would be cheaper and easier for us. I wouldn’t have to find a teacher and find a time in my already packed schedule to drive back and forth to lessons.”

Well, school music teachers have to know a little bit of every instrument. Eventually, the teacher will have taught the student all they can. That is to be expected; it is not a sign of a bad teacher. If you are lucky, your child’s instrument will be the same as the teacher’s main instrument and a private teacher won’t be necessary. But if the teacher played clarinet and your child is a budding drummer, you need to find a private teacher who specializes in that instrument. So how to find a good private teacher?

First of all, ask the school’s teacher.

Some teachers have a list of acceptable private teachers. If they don’t have any recommendations then ask at a music store for names. Why is it better to ask other musicians than just looking in the paper or online? Anyone can claim to be a music teacher and put out an ad. You may not be sure what exactly you will be getting from this person.

Here at West Music, all teachers have undergone extensive background checks, reference checks, and interviewing. Most of our teachers have at least a bachelor’s degree in music. West Music also works extensively with the area school teachers, so our private teachers will not be contradicting with the school teachers. We make sure our teachers are not just good musicians, but they are good teachers as well--and well worth the extra time and effort on your part.

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Tags: conservatory, lessons, private teacher
Categories: Conservatory
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How Often Should You Take Lessons?
By Amanda Hazelett
10/26/2010 11:16:00 AM  

At West Music we offer lessons once a week for half-an-hour.

Half-an-hour may seem like a long time when you're just learning an instrument but, believe me, it goes by fast!

When you factor in time to tune the instrument, warm-up, and review what you learned last week, plus add on the new things you are about to learn, the lesson is full. Offering lessons once a week gives the student time to practice new techniques.

Occasionally, I get requests for lessons on alternate weeks. Sometimes the reason is financially based or because of scheduling issues. Usually though, it is because the student is not sure how interested they are in learning music. In that situation I would still recommend taking the weekly lessons.

If you aren't sure whether you're interested in doing something, then only putting up half an effort isn't going to help you decide, and you're likely to quit too soon.

In order to decide if you're really interested in studying music, you need to make a commitment.

West Music does not make you take a certain number of lessons like other places, but you should take weekly lessons for at least a few months in order to really give it a try. And if after those few months are up and you are still not interested in lessons, then you know you at least gave it your best shot!

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Tags: lessons, beginning students
Categories: Conservatory
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Fixing Problems in a Practice Session
By Amanda Hazelett
10/26/2010 11:11:00 AM  

You're practicing your instrument. Good for you! You make a mistake. Not a problem...you're human. But the next issue is: how do you fix this problem?

First of all, go back a few notes to a place before your mistake. Play that section through a couple of times. Are you playing it perfectly now? Then that first mistake was probably just a fluke, and you don't need to read this any further. (But you can if you want to.) If you are still making the same mistake then you need to stop playing and ask yourself a few questions.

What is the problem? Are you out of tune? Is your rhythm off? Does a passage sound sloppy?

Why is there a problem? Are you not hearing the note? Not feeling proper hand placement?

Is there a pattern to the mistakes? Do you keep making the same mistake over and over no matter what you're playing?

The most important thing to ask now is: how do you fix the problem? Now that you have identified what it is, you should be able to go about fixing it and continuing with your practice session.

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Tags: practicing, practicing at home, mistakes
Categories: Band & Orchestra, Pianos, Digital Pianos & Keyboards, Drums & Percussion, Guitars & Folk, Recorders
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Explaining Fractional Sizes
By Amanda Hazelett
10/26/2010 10:39:00 AM  

If your child expresses an interest in learning to play a stringed instrument you will find that you need a child-sized instrument. Unlike brass and woodwind instruments which are a one size fits all, there are many sizes for stringed instruments.

The music industry uses fractions to denote the different sizes in violins, cellos, and basses. Instruments run from 1/32 size (something a toddler would use) to a 4/4 size (something an adult would use.) These fractions are just to identify the instruments, a half size violin is not exactly half the size of a 4/4 size. Generally speaking there is about one inch difference between sizes.

Violas are slightly different. They are measured by the actual body length. Anything that is 15 inches or above is considered to be full size. Full-size violas can be 15, 15.5, 16, 16.5 or 17 inches. Most adults play on a 16 or 16.5 inch viola. If a child needs a smaller size viola, usually a half-size or quarter-size violin is used and just restrung as a viola. When getting an instrument, you will need to bring the child with you so s/he can be measured for the proper size instrument. This is not something that can be done over the phone or by just giving us the height of the child.

After determining the proper size, you can start leasing the instrument. Leasing is recommended with fractional sizes since the child will be growing out of them. Here at West Music we do not sell fractional sizes, only the full size instruments. As your child grows you can simply trade up to the next size and so on until s/he is at a full-size instrument, and then you can look at buying.

West Music just got in a new inventory of high quality violins, violas, cellos, and basses to purchase. More about those in another blog!

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Tags: child-sized stringed instrument, fractional sized stringed instrument, stringed instruments for kids, fractional sizes
Categories: Band & Orchestra
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Bowing Exercises
By Amanda Hazelett
10/26/2010 9:46:00 AM  

Here are a few exercises that you can do before every practice to strengthen and limber up your bow hand. Younger students should only do each exercise a few times, and older beginning students can start with 10 times. As your hand strengthens, increase the repetitions to a few more. In the end, you should plan on doing these exercises for no more then 5 minutes each session.

Begin by holding the bow approximately one inch above the strings. Straighten your fingers down and lower the bow to the string. Curl your fingers up to raise your bow back above the strings. This exercise is all done with the fingers; you don’t need to move your wrist or hand.

Next, hold the bow in the air again and straighten your fingers out. Bring your fingers back in again. Think about spreading your fingers out and then closing them in a fist. The bow only moves a couple of inches and your wrist moves slightly.

This exercise does not need to be done with your instrument. Simply hold the bow parallel to the floor and rock it back and forth over your thumb. Use your index and pinkie finger.

Remember...don’t strain your hand! If you start to feel any tension, put your bow down and shake your hand out. Try again a few minutes later. After doing these exercises your bow hand will be ready to go to tackle some new bowing techniques.

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Tags: bowing exercises, hand strength, strengthening bow hand
Categories: Band & Orchestra
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How to Clean Strings
By Amanda Hazelett
7/7/2010 3:47:00 PM  

If your strings are looking a little dull or tarnished but are not ready to be replaced, you can clean them with a little rubbing alcohol.

It is easy, but be careful! Alcohol can be damaging to your instrument. The alcohol should not come in contact with any other part of your instrument except for the strings.

The best method is to hold the instrument upside down with the strings facing the floor, so any drops of alcohol will fall away from the instrument. Rub a small cloth with some rubbing alcohol on it over the strings a few times. Or purchase some pre-moistened alcohol pads--the kind doctors use before giving an injection. You might need to rub hard if the rosin has hardened around the strings, but it shouldn’t take too long before your strings look brand new again.

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Tags: string care, string maintenance
Categories: Band & Orchestra, Guitars & Folk
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