Alina's Music Studio • Blog

Mastering the Art of Online Lessons: Advice for Educators and Learners

The purpose of this blog is to provide useful advice for teachers and students alike, who, just like me, had to quickly adapt to the virtual world of teaching with very little preparation and time to adjust.

If you already own an external microphone, please use it for your sessions. In many cases, it can significantly improve the sound quality.

If you are using a wireless network (WiFi) and your router is on the other side of the house, you may experience moments of poor connectivity. In some instances, if you are in an area with a good cellular signal, you might be better off broadcasting from your phone or tethering your computer/tablet to your cellular data. Experiment to see what works best for you.

Please ask household members to avoid streaming movies on your network during your lessons or recitals.

Try to place the webcam at eye level with the subject. For singers, you will want to sing directly into the camera. Place a music stand under the camera if you need your music. For violinists/violists, a profile shot works best.

Please set up your primary light source so it comes from behind the camera. Too much sidelight or overhead lighting can cause weird and unflattering shadows, whereas insufficient light makes the image blurry. If the sun is shining directly into the camera, the image quality will also suffer. Please consider adjusting the light with blinds, window curtains, or choosing a different location in the house.

If you are using a backtrack/karaoke, it is sometimes better to play the karaoke backtracks on a different device from the one you are broadcasting from. If you are using a newer model laptop or iPad, there is usually no problem streaming with the same device. If you are using Zoom, please choose the option to share with computer audio.

I hope you find these tips useful. Online lessons offer the opportunity to connect with people from around the world. It is a new and exciting world that I am just beginning to discover.

Buying/Renting a violin

Violins are made of wood, and wood is affected by the environment. Because of this it is important to examine the body of any violin (new or used) to make sure that there are no cracks in the top or back.

Well repaired cracks in the top of an older instrument may not be a problem (Seek the advice of a teacher or violin maker), but cracks in the back of an instrument can depreciate its value as much as 75 percent. From my experience, violins ten years old and younger that have repaired cracks, will often be more sensitive to environmental changes such as humidity and temperature, and their sound will be affected quite a lot on some very hot or very dry days. In any case, crack in the violin can start the negotiation on violin price.

Examine the ribs (sides) of the violin to make sure that they are not bulging out beyond the edges of the top or back. This happens because wood that is not well seasoned will shrink noticeably when it dries out. As the top and back shrink, the ribs begin to bulge. Most instruments of reasonable quality do not have this problem, because close attention is given to curing the wood properly. If everything else is in good order, this may not be cause to reject a used violin, but consult your violin repair shop concerning repair costs before making such a purchase. Again, this can be a good reason to negotiate the price of the instrument.

Check to make sure that the neck of the violin is straight. Occasionally an instrument is made wrong, and somehow slips through the adjusting process unnoticed.

Make sure the bridge is centered between the f-holes, then sight up the fingerboard to see if it aligns with the bridge. If the bridge must be offset toward one side or the other to make the strings and fingerboard line up, it will require repair by professional. Make sure that the intervals between the strings on the nut are even.

“Set up” on violins is very important. This includes proper bridge and string nut fitting so that the strings are a proper height from the fingerboard, fingerboard planning to make sure the strings don’t buzz, peg fitting so the pegs turn smoothly and stay in place, and setting the soundpost for proper tone adjustment, etc.

Some music stores do not set up their own instruments, but well-known brands generally are shipped in good adjustment. Many violin shops do their own “set ups,” and work with the customer to meet the requirements of the teacher.

Most violin outfits will have a case and bow included in the price. A fiberglass bow with horsehair is often included in beginners outfits. A wood bow can add $100 or more to the cost of a beginning violin outfit. I have a strong preference for wood bows even for my beginning students. For my opinion, the fiberglass bows don’t feel the same and don’t play the same as wood bows. Even high quality carbon bows are my least preferred choice. The only advantage of synthetic bow is that it wouldn’t get warp if maintained not properly.


The Benefits of Music Education

Music education benefits the student beyond just learning to play or to sing. Some of those benefits are emotional expression and satisfaction from making music, brain development, ability to multitask and to concentrate on a specific task,  coordination and much more. Recently I came across the article “Why study music?” by music education professor Donald Hodges. In his article, Professor Hodges presents 10 understandings/experiences unique to music. I hope that being aware of the benefits of music education will help students and their parents through the long journey of music studies.

Below is a brief description of the 10 understandings/experiences, presented by Professor Hodges:

  1. Feelings: central to any discussion of music as a knowledge system must be the idea of feelings. From one end of the continuum dealing with vague, unspecified moods to the other end dealing with crystallized emotions such as grief or joy, music is intrinsically connected with feelings.
  2. Aesthetic experiences: all human beings have a need for beauty and to activate their innate responsiveness to the organized expressive sounds that we call music.
  3. The ineffable: precisely because music is a nonverbal form of expression, it is a powerful means to express or to know that which is difficult or impossible to put into words.  Two of the most common human experiences that are often known through music is love and spiritual awareness.
  4. Thoughts: musical thought is just as practical as linguistic, mathematical, or visual thought. It can be a potent means of expressing ideas and of knowing the truth.
  5. Structure: closely allied to the idea of thinking is structure. The human mind seeks patterns, structure, order, and logic. Music provides a unique way of structuring sounds across time, as well as providing a means of structuring thoughts, feelings, and human experiences.
  6. Time and space: time and space are the ‘stuff’ of the universe. All human knowledge systems provide ways of dealing with time and space. As indicated in ‘Structure’ above, music is a means of organizing sounds across time. Although music occurs in ‘real’ time, it deals more with ‘felt’ time. Music, especially in connection with dance (bodily-kinesthetic knowledge system), is a primary means of experiencing space in time.
  7. Self-knowledge: music’s role in intrinsic, and especially peak (transcendent, life-changing), learning experiences provides for powerful insights into our private, inner worlds.
  8. Self-identity: many gain their sense of self through a variety of musical activities and experiences.
  9. Group identity: group identity through music is both inclusive and exclusive in that (a) music helps cement the bonding of those members of a group who share common ideas, beliefs, and behaviors, and (b) music helps isolate and separate one group from another.
  10. Healing and wholeness: from more specific applications of music in therapy and medicine to more general interactions, music has profound effects on human beings. Music provides a vehicle for the integration of body, mind, and spirit.

How Can Parents Contribute to Their Child’s Progress?

Parents have enormous effect on their child’s practice.  By showing your interest in the child’s progress and often being part of the child’s practice at home parents can support and encourage the kids in their learning progress.

Here are some ways that parents could show their support to the learning process:

1. Ask questions about their goals and tasks for this year/month/week.

2. Ask the child to play for you a new piece that was recently learned.

3. If the child reports difficulty dealing with homework, please discuss what strategies have been used in the past to deal with similar issues. If necessarily, don’t hesitate to email me for advice. I will be more than happy to help.

4. Encourage the child to do quality and not quantity practice. Some weeks the child will be able to accomplish things in less time, some weeks more daily practice time is needed. Practicing is about outcome, not the time spent playing.

5. Design practice time on the child’s schedule.


A Musical Journey of Self-Discovery

Music and singing in particular, has always been an essential part of man’s life. Often music serves a social function and accompanies happiest and saddest moments of our lives. Singing or playing violin or viola stimulates the senses and the mind. Making music is a unique spiritual and physical experience.

Each student is unique and has different way of learning, so I strive to explain my thoughts in a variety of ways. Most of the technical exercises and assignments tailored to meet individual needs of each student. Learning to sing or to play a string instrument such as violin or viola, is a complicate process and I strive to create a nurturing environment to support my students along that process. My goal as a teacher is not only to provide my students with technical and musical skills, but also to educate them about music history and theory and expose them to variety of musical styles.

Learning to sing or to play violin or viola is a journey to self-exploration and I am happy to assist you along this journey. Students of all levels are welcome.