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  • Writer's pictureCraig Birchfield

Elephants for Breakfast, Violins for Lunch

As we enter into summer we are seeing quite a few new faces at our shop – younger and older – that want to take up violin, viola or cello as a new project for the summer. For students it is a convenient time with school out and for older adults it is just a great time to learn to play in or out of doors. I want to be part of as many success stories as possible for people learning or improving on their string skills. Here are some ideas you might find helpful if you are a learner or the parent:

1)Eat the Elephant.

It’s an old saying, “you eat an elephant one bite at a time.” The word discipline seems to have gotten a really bad connotation in America but it can be a very positive word because it is only through discipline that we can see our dreams become a reality. They say that acheivement is one part inspiration and nine parts persperation. It is far better to have a daily regimine of practice, even if it can only be a short time, than to have grandiose plans for extended practice, only to have the instrument sit in the corner gathering dust because we’ve lost our “Round Tu-it”. If you have a daily list somewhere with “practice the cello” on it, it will haunt you until you can check it off. For some, doing it at the same time every day is the best. Others like more flexibility of schedule. Like they say in the commercial: Just Do It. But while we are doing it we should…

2)Enjoy it.

Playing an instrument shouldn’t be drudgery. Unless you are working for a scholarship or practicing for a big performance, practice will probably eventually fall by the wayside if you are not taking some joy what you are doing. Find a style, composer or approach that appeals to you. Bluegrass isn’t for everyone. Neither is Celtic, jazz, romantic or baroque. And not every piece of music will speak to you even if you like the over-all style. This is not to say that we should only ever play music we like but if you find a style, composer or piece boring or tedious you won’t do your best. This is especially true if you are an adult and learning an instrument as a hobby or avocation. On the other side of the coin sometimes music grows on you and we should at least be open to trying new things. To get the most enjoyment and progress out of our practice is always helpful to…

3)Find a Mentor.

If possible, it is always good to find a teacher who is a good fit for you. That doesn’t necessarily mean finding a teacher who will cut us a lot of slack. Sometimes we need someone who will push us (or your child if you are a parent) but still we need a mentor that will motivate and inspire us and who has a commitment to help us reach our goals. The greatest musicians are not always the best fit for us as a teacher. Teaching and comunication are tremendous skills in their own right. We are all different so find the right guide for you. And above all…

4)Don’t Give Up.

It is not unusual to find great success just beyond the point that we are ready to throw in the towel. Many of us have that little naysaying voice on our shoulder that tells us we are horible musicians, we’ll never improve and we should just quit. Don’t do it. I wish I had a dollar for ever adult that told me they quit playing music as a child and that they dearly wish that their parents had made them push through to success. You’re not going to let that little box of wood on your shoulder beat you…are you? Don’t try to eat the elephant in one bite. Progress is incremental. Some of you know about the dancing violinist named Lindsey Sterling. No, she is not the greatest dancer or violinist in the world but she is definately the best dancing violinist…period. I watched a very old video of her as a young teen practicing her technique and moves. It was quite underwhelming. We forget that everyone is mediocre at some point but we need to remember what we were like when we first started compared to now (unless we are just starting) and then keep our eye on the prize and…

Keep Practicing,


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