Welcome to my site, about all things violin and viola. Here you will find interesting tips and pointers, and thoughts about playing these beautiful instruments.

16 Apr 2013

An introduction to scales

A scale is just a pattern - a pattern of steps (or intervals) from one note such as C to it's octave, another C.  Once you know the pattern of intervals, you can start the scale from any note and create the same sounding melody line.

The main scales we have in western classical music are the major, minor (harmonic and melodic), chromatic and whole tone scale.

To talk about scales more easily, it will help to discuss terminology a little.  Lets start by having a look at the major scale (in the key of C major).

C major scale has no sharps or flats, which looking at a piano keyboard means that it is all the white notes from C to C.

It can help to think of each note as being a degree of a scale e.g. I - tonic, V - dominant etc.  The tonic is the most important and stable degree of the scale.

An octave refers to the 8 (oct) step interval from one tonic to the next - C D E F G A B C.  Scales on violin and viola will tend to span 1, 2 or 3 octaves, raising and falling back to the first tonic played.

In following posts, we will look more closely at the details of the different scales.

19 Mar 2013

How many hours a day should you practice?

I came across this article today, which is an excellent discussion on how much (and more importantly how to effectively) practice.

... a really good (and quick) read on how to focus your time and mental energy to get the best out of your practice - even when you don't have time for much.

The Bullet Proof Musician - How Many Hours to Practice

More isn't always better!  It's all about the quality of your work.

20 Feb 2013

Game of Thrones sheet music

If you're a fan of the TV show Game of Thrones, and can't wait for season 3 - then here's an arrangement of the theme song for violin (to tide you over).

I've transposed the melody from C minor to D minor (which makes it a little easier to play), and arranged things a little more compactly for one instrument.

Click here for the full Game of Thrones sheet music for violin.  I have also transposed the music for all the violists out there.

Here are the opening titles on YouTube, if you would like to hear the original version.

If you like it, or have other tunes you would like to play... let me know in the comments.

19 Feb 2013

Ringing tones and intonation

When playing a string instrument, it is very important to always strive for perfect intonation (playing in tune)! Not only does this make the melody sound correct, but over time it 'opens up' your instrument and causes it to vibrate freely producing a more warm and ringing tone.

Sometimes, however, it can be hard to even hear  what is actually in tune, let alone consistently reproduce this.  This can be particularly difficult as a beginner, when you aren't actually sure what you are listening for.

To help this, start by listening to (and training yourself to listen out for) ringing tones.  Ringing tones are particular notes on your instrument, that when in tune cause your open strings to resonate at the same time, creating a richer, warmer and brighter sound.

To start with, it is important that your violin is properly tuned.  When working on intonation, always be careful with your bow contact to ensure you are creating a consistent and even tone, vibrating the string fully.

Now try playing your open strings, and compare the sound to stopped notes (notes created by pressing your fingers on the string).  Notice how the open strings sound, and ring in a brighter and fuller way than stopped notes.  When working on our intonation, we are trying to get our stopped notes to ring as much like our open strings as possible.  The more sensitive you are to the ringing quality of a note, the more your intonation will improve.

Try this experiment (which I think is pretty cool).  Play your 1st finger A on the G string.  If you get this note perfectly in tune (with good bow contact)  it will cause your open A string to start vibrating wildly due to sympathetic resonance.  This means that the resonance of your open A string to be added to the sound of your stopped 1st finger on the G string, creating a warmer, richer tone.  Try playing this note out of tune, then in tune, and compare the different type of sound produced (and the amount of time the note rings after you have stopped playing).  An in tune ringing tone will ring for longer after you have stopped playing than an out of tune note.

There are many ringing tones on your instrument - though some ring more clearly than others.  The main ringing tones are the same note as your open strings (over different octaves).

Therefore with the violin strings of G, D, A, E we have the following very clear ringing tones:
1. 1st finger on G and D string (ringing with open A and E string)
2. 3rd finger on D, A and E string (ringing with the open string below)
3. 4th finger on G, D and A string (ringing with the open string above) - be careful here that you are not touching the string above as this will stop it vibrating.

Try playing these ringing tones, and see if you can start to hear clearly when the notes are perfectly in tune and ringing, compared to when they are out of tune and slightly 'duller'.

As your ear develops, you will start to notice the different ringing qualities of all the notes on your instrument, and this will help you to play beautifully in tune all the time.

18 Feb 2013

Overtones & Harmonics

Have you ever thought about why different instruments sound different, even when playing the same note in the same register?  How can you instantly tell a clarinet from a cello, or even two different violins apart?

The different timbres (tone colours) of different types of instruments (and even between different violins) are due to the different ways the note is produced, and therefore the different ratios of harmonics and overtones created.

But what are harmonics and overtones?

Whenever a note is produced on an instrument, what we hear is one fundamental  tone (for example an C).  What we don't hear clearly, is that there are many other tones above the fundamental - ringing at the same time.  All these tones are called overtones.  The different strengths of each overtone created by an instrument produces the particular timbre that we hear .

String instruments are built in a particular way, so as to create particular types of overtones.  The overtones in violins and violas are notes in harmony with the fundamental tone, and are therefore known particularly as harmonics.  These harmonics create the rich beautiful tone that is so lovely to listen to.

Here is the harmonic series showing the fundamental tone as 1 (low C in bass clef), and following harmonics in order.

As you can see from this, the first harmonic in the series is the octave (C no 2), followed by the fifth (G no 3) etc...

Within the first 4 tones of the harmonic series, you also find the intervals of an octave (C-C), a perfect fifth (C-G) and a perfect fourth (G-C), the 3 most perfectly harmonious intervals in music.

19 Jan 2013

Practise inspiration

Practicing is not forced labor, it is a refined art that partakes of intuition, of inspiration, patience, elegance, clarity, balance, and, above all, the search for ever greater joy in movement and expression.
                                                                                                                         - Yehudi Menuhin

17 Sep 2012

Circle of 5th - part 2

Please refer to my first post on the Circle of 5ths to explain the basics.

So we've looked at what the circle means at a glance. Now let's get a little more in depth.

As you can see from the circle, there is a pattern to the sharps and flats in a key signature. The sharps increase one at a time in this order F C G D A E B. There are a few different rhymes people use to remember this, but the one I always learnt was: Father Christmas Goes Down All Escalators Backwards. The flat keys go in reverse, B E A D G C F (which is the rhyme backwards). Using this you can work out easily that if a key has 4 sharps, they will be F C G D. If a key is 5 flats they will be B E A D G.

Now as I said before, each key signature is shared by two types of scale - the relative major and minor. These two scales are always one and a half steps apart from each other (three semitones). To find the relative minor of a major scale, step 1½ steps down from the major. To find the relative major of a minor scale, step 1½ steps up. Have a look back at the picture of the circle, and see how that all fits together.

Now you should be able to work out what sharps or flats are in a particular key, as well as the relative major/minor of a key.