Violin Lessons

Beginning the violin just before she was 2 years old, Juliet plays Paganini, Bach and Sarasate at 9 years old.

Beginning the violin just before she was 2 years old, Juliet plays Paganini, Bach and Sarasate at 9 years old.

Let’s face it. The violin is downright demanding. There’s no shortage of feats to tackle on this proclaimed “most difficult instrument” but that’s no reason to raise the white flag of surrender.

Playing the violin is a highly intricate art form that requires not only endless precision but also the know-how behind the precision. Teaching the violin, in its true art form, requires no less in terms of precision and know-how. Sure, a quick field trip to the virtual classroom that is YouTube can have anyone scratching on the violin in five minutes or less, but that’s about all it’ll amount to: scratching.

However…

If you want to really learn to play the violin…

If you want the ability to go beyond merely slapping notes and rhythms together…

If you want to set yourself up for playing success…

Then you need a real violin teacher.

The Art of Violin Playing

You’re probably wondering what it is that makes a violin teacher “real”. Let’s begin by throwing sugar-coating to the wind and laying out the facts. The truth is, no matter how musical someone may claim to be, not all “violin teachers” are created equally. The violin, appropriately coined “The Devil’s Instrument,” is said to be the toughest instrument to learn and even more so, to play well. Great violin playing does stem from an ironclad persistence, but persistence is nothing without an equally ironclad know-how to go with it.

Before we continue, let’s take a look at just how involved violin playing really is.

The Bow/Right Hand

Expert violin teacher working with Brendan in our Scranton studio.

Valenches Music Company violin teacher Fritz Valenches working on technique with Brendan in our Scranton studio.

The bow, though seemingly just an accessory to violin playing, is really a big deal. Anyone can hold the bow like a chicken sandwich and call it a bow grip but they’ll undoubtedly be limited to screeching and a few other irksome sound effects. The bow grip has everything to do with good violin playing and it doesn’t end with tone production. The fancy schmancy tricks of violin playing, like staccato, and especially spiccato, leave the bow with big shoes to fill, but an improper bow grip will leave those shoes feeling pretty empty. In short, a lousy bow grip will end your violin career before it even starts.

Tone

Tone refers to sound quality and tone production on the violin calls for more than simply rubbing the bow against the strings. A violinist’s tone should be, at the very least, pleasing to the ears and free from extraneous noises. However, really good tone, the kind that’s trance-inducing, will sound like sparkly glitter. Listen to the great Fritz Kreisler play and you’ll know what we’re talking about. The good news is, tone is not simply a matter of chance. There are tricks to glassy tone production — and we’ve got ’em.

The Violin/Left Hand

Stellar left hand posture.

Stellar left hand posture.

Violin playing keeps the left hand well employed, so much so that it makes us right-handed players wonder if we’re really left-handed. The left hand is in the business of notes and rhythms, of course, but that’s just the CliffsNotes version. For whatever technique responsibilities the right hand has, the left hand has double.

Intonation

First of all, intonation, or the accuracy of pitch, is controlled mostly by the left hand and along with a screechy tone, is one of two factors that’ll give violin playing a bad name. Intonation requires the most precision of all, as moving your finger as little as one fingerprint line to the next will change the pitch of a note. Violinists have no frets or keys to guide intonation so pitch can go awry all too quickly. Luckily, with credit due to the late Leon Valenches, we’ve got the intonation secret hidden in our coffers, too.

Double Stops, Fingerings & Vibrato

Intonation isn’t a lone item in the left hand’s job description. While thirds, fingered octaves, tenths, harmonics, and a variety of other left hand obstacles are intonation mountains to climb — doubling the notes double the possibility of intonation glitches — they demand rock-solid technique as well. Rounding out the mass of left hand duties are fingerings (the ability to know which fingers to use when, and why) and perhaps our favorite: vibrato. Vibrato, the shaky-looking business going on with the left hand, is like a flashing neon sign when it comes to violin know-how. Because there is a very specific, gradual process to properly executing vibrato, arbitrarily jiggling left hand impostors can be spotted a mile away. From finger waving and nervous-looking wobbling to wrist convulsions and, believe it or not, leg twitching, we’ve seen all there is to see in the vibrato hall of shame. Vibrato is not something that one can fake their way through, period.

So yes, there is a steep learning curve as far as the violin goes, but don’t believe for a second that it is instrument impossible. A great violin teacher, one who has a deep-seated understanding of the ins and outs of violin playing, will guard against years misspent on the proverbial hamster wheel.

Not all “violin teachers” are created equally…

Rebecca - Scranton violin student & assistant concertmaster of the Sinfonia Youth Orchestra

“I never thought I would be playing Bach and Paganini after only eight years of study.” – Rebecca, Scranton violin student

Certainly, there are enough talented musicians to go around and though notation and rhythm may be universal factors that transfer from one instrument to the next, the brass tacks of playing are not. It’s no problem for a professional pianist to plunk out the notes of a violin piece on a piano, but when it comes to knowing how to extract those same notes from a violin — look out!

The violin and the piano are two completely different animals and what goes for one doesn’t necessarily go for the other. The violin, as explained earlier, has a very unique and specific technique all its own and truly understanding the violin, to the point where you can proficiently teach it, calls for years of detailed studying and practicing under your belt. Sure a pianist can take a stab at teaching the violin but until they can stick a baby grand under their neck, we won’t be convinced. Of course, plenty of musicians do a fine job of learning more than one instrument quite well. Take a look at German concert violinist Julia Fischer. She performed both the Saint-Saens 3rd Violin Concerto and the Grieg Piano Concerto in the same concert!

The bottom line? Piano technique, or the technique of any other instrument for that matter, is not violin technique, just as golf is not soccer. A trumpet won’t make a peep by running a bow across it and a violin will be just as unresponsive if blown into. Instrument study is a highly specialized art form and for best results, teaching should be left to the specialists.

“If you want to get serious about the violin, then you can do no better that the Valenches Music Company. I have been taking violin for six years under the instruction of Fritz Valenches, and I am more than a little amazed with how far Fritz’s instruction has brought me. I never thought I would be playing Bach and Paganini after only eight years of study. Fritz is not the kind of teacher that does not challenge his students; on the contrary, he is always giving us pieces to learn that are challenging in so many different ways, and what is more, he know how to teach those pieces well. If you want violin instruction that rounds you in many areas, go to Fritz. His lessons will prepare you for any career choice that you can take as a classical violinist, either performance or teaching. Thanks to Fritz’s instruction, I want to be a violin teacher after I graduate to hopefully give other people the kind of quality lessons that I have received.”

— Rebecca, Nicholson, PA

The point is, it takes a real violinist to give a real violin lesson. Studying with a teacher who is merely an all-around musician may be a practical way to learn the fundamentals of music, but you’ll be selling yourself short as far as violin playing goes. A music education student, for example, will spend time learning each of the orchestral instruments, which is a great asset for general music teaching; however, each instrument family, such as the string or brass section, is generally studied for a meager twelve or thirteen weeks. That means that three months spent working in, say, the string section, is split between the violin, viola, cello and bass. We love progress as much as the next guy, but four instruments “learned” in twelve weeks, a mere three weeks per instrument, hardly passes the proficiency smell test.

Of course, this is not to say that such educators lack expertise — they have plenty of it — it just may not be in the area of violin playing. Consider this: It takes 10,000 hours of intensive study to master a particular subject. Out of a total 504 hours in three weeks, the average education student spends just 21 of those hours, at a presumed hour of practice per day, learning their current instrument. That’s a whopping 9,979 hours short of mastery. While it may be nice in theory, the numbers just don’t add up to the know-how necessary for teaching the violin.

 The Valenches Music Company: Violin Expertise

The musical Valenches Family: Fritz, Susan, Leon, Jane & Birute

The musical Valenches Family:
Fritz, Susan, Leon, Jane & Birute

So no matter what your end goal may be, the only way to study an instrument is with a teacher who can both teach and play well. At the Valenches Music Company, we set our students on the path to success from day one. Violin skills are learned from the ground up and that means that building a solid foundation through a proper bow grip and correct left hand setup is crucial to future success. Your time is a valuable asset that need not be wasted on learning gridlock, which is a good possibility if your teacher is shy on experience and playing ability. A student faces enough limitations while learning the violin — their teacher shouldn’t be one of them.

Leon Valenches: Violin Mastermind

With the Valenches name comes a long bloodline of musical exceptionalism. Leon Valenches, the late father of Valenches Music Company violin professional Fritz Valenches, dedicated his life to detail. Aside from being an oil artist extraordinaire, nearly professional boxer and natural health pioneer, he was deeply passionate about the violin, which he played well, but understood even better. He investigated every last detail of the violin, constantly experimenting on his son, Fritz, and devising exercises for both the right and left hands that had even the great pedagogue Ivan Galamian intrigued. Leon was the essence of stick-to-it-iveness, as he liked to call it; he had a tremendous knack for fixing the many problems of violin playing both efficiently and effectively. He spent time EVERYDAY training Fritz on the violin, instilling a profound knowledge base that is the core of the Valenches Music Company today. So when it comes to violin playing and teaching, we’ve got it covered — and we’re not kidding.

With that said…

If you want to really learn to play the violin…

If you want the ability to go beyond merely slapping notes and rhythms together…

If you want to set yourself up for playing success…

Contact us today for the most artistically-centered, immersion-based violin lessons in Scranton and Stroudsburg, PA. We gladly teach students of all ages and playing levels!