Category Archives: listening

“Polly want a cracker! Polly want a cra”–AVOID TURNING VIOLIN PRACTICE INTO PARROTING! Effective Violin Practice (Part 2)

Posted by Elizabeth Devereux

Repetition is necessary to learning any skill well.  We learn how to speak our mother tongue by repeating what we hear around us over and over in infancy; we learn to crawl, walk, run, ride a bike by making repeated efforts (and repeated failures!) to do so.  Rote learning–memorizing through repetition–can help us internalize our multiplication tables, basic arithmetic, the periodic table, Latin noun declensions, and, in music, the circle of fifths and the order of sharps and flats.

Our brains are such sponges before we hit the age of 12 or 13 that we should be sure to use our spongey brains to sop up helpful info!  [I still remember the pledge of allegiance to the flag and Longfellow’s poem, the Ride of Paul Revere, even though we memorized those in my 1st grade class and I haven’t recited them regularly since that year!  The utility of these two could be called into question, of course, since I still struggle to recite my 7’s and 9’s of the times tables…]

While rote memorization is a helpful, and I would argue necessary, component of learning almost any skill well, IT IS ONLY ONE COMPONENT OF LEARNING!  We must be sure that we do not go on autopilot in our learning, whether it’s while reading a novel, studying our chemistry, or practicing our violin!

The most important part of repeating a measure or two of difficult music many times is STAYING AWARE while we repeat the measure.  

If you are making a slight mistake each time you repeat the measure, then you are practicing the mistake, rather than practicing the corrected version of the mistake!  Similarly, if you make the same mistake two times in a row, then it will likely take at least twice as many times (that’s AT LEAST 4 times for a mistake made 2X in a row, AT LEAST 8 times for a mistake made 4X in a row…) of playing the spot correctly to ensure that you avoid making the mistake in the future!  That starts adding up to a lot of time, if you’re not practicing carefully.

STAY AWARE, my musician friends, and repeat away!  Avoid turning into a musical parrot (especially a masochistic musical parrot)…

And, please, sometimes give yourself a break from repeating the hardest stuff possible, and repeat some of the easy stuff that you play beautifully and with ease…

WOW, it’s fun to be able to play something well, isn’t it? 


Happy Birthday, Dmitri Shostakovich!

Posted by Elizabeth Devereux

On this day 106 years ago, the composer Dmitri Shostakovich was born in St. Petersburg, Russia…and SO much has been written about his life and his politics, that I’ll let you do your own research about all of that, and make up your own mind about the hot topic among Shostakovich music historians.






Instead, here I’d like to tell you about my own introduction to Shostakovich, and why every angsty teenager, every adult who’s ever felt angry or despondent, and every child who has to get up and dance whenever they hear energetic music…



I remember being 14 years old and hearing Shostakovich’s music for the first time: I was at a summer music festival called Eastern Music Festival.  EMF had two student orchestras which rehearsed six times during the week before performing in concert on the weekends.  It was the other student orchestra, the one I wasn’t playing in that week, which was performing Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.  All of the students in the “Shosty 5” orchestra suddenly went around as if they had been fortuitously admitted into an exclusive and really cool club.  At the age of 14, I almost never wanted to part of any cool clubs, because as soon as anything became “cool” or large enough to be a club, I found that the strong non-conformist inside of me–especially strong in my teenage years–quickly became wary and ready to run the opposite direction of “cool”.  BUT the Shosty 5 club was a different story.  I began sneaking into the other orchestra’s rehearsals during our breaks, and the Friday night concert, for all of the inevitable student orchestra faults, was a life-changing experience.


…and I haven’t been able to remove the hook since.

And it is a HOOK–not a Brahmsian blanket, not a pair of Mozartian dance shoes, not a Haydnian garden stroll–a HOOK.  Shostakovich’s music catches and tugs.

Give a listen and see if you can extract the hook afterwards…make sure you listen past 16:18 (or skip there, no one will know!) before you let me know about that hook extraction:

Happy Birthday, J.S. Bach!

Posted by Elizabeth Devereux

Today would be the great composer’s 327th birthday were Johann Sebastian Bach alive today.  Last year for Bach’s birthday, I posted videos of his music–some pieces in their original form, a few reinvented…

This year I’d like to write a bit more personally about what Bach’s music means to me.  In last year’s post, I wrote:

If you ask many a professional musician, especially violinists, what three composers’ music they would bring with them to a deserted island, Johann Sebastian would be among those three for almost every musician you ask.

It’s a fun game to play–a fun conversation starter with musicians you’re meeting for the first time:

What music would you bring to your desert island? 

When we musicians put ourselves in the role of Tom Hanks in Cast Away…

…our “Wilson” might be a series of melodies by different composers that we’d sing to ourselves; they would be our sanity, our company, in isolation.

Four and a half years ago I was in a car accident with one of my closest friends and her sister (my friend was driving and I was in the passenger seat).  Our car flipped off the side of the road and landed upside down.  We were extremely lucky to find that all three of us were safe and unharmed.  We were, however, stranded on the side of one of the most remote roads in all of North America–the Dempster Highway in the Canadian Arctic.  The accident itself was scary; the fear of being stranded in bear country overnight was scarier.  In those frightening moments after the accident, I found serenity and strength by imagining that I was playing Bach’s Sonata in G minor for unaccompanied violin.

I’ve never been to a deserted island, and I will likely live my entire life without experiencing that level of isolation.  I have, however, lived through a few frightening experiences–such as the Arctic accident–and will likely live through many more.

In those moments, I have felt, and will continue to feel in the future, SO LUCKY to know even a few pieces by Bach well enough to be able to “play” them in my head, or, if they’re not for violin, to be able to sing them silently in my head, as if turning on my mind’s own personal Bach songlist.  This is one of the gifts I hope to be able to pass onto my students: the gift of Johann Sebastian Bach.

SPRING FEVER IN THE PRACTICE ROOM! Effective Violin Practice (Part 1)

Posted by Elizabeth Devereux

Our clocks have sprung forward, the Philly cherry blossoms are beginning to spring up as well, birds are springing into song, soon spring will be fully upon us, and, if you’re anything like me, your focus might spring to the outdoors as well.  Even as you try to play that passage a few clicks faster with the metronome–LOOK AT THAT COOL BIRD’S NEST OUTSIDE THE WINDOW!–even as you attempt to hit that high note 10 times in a row to make sure you’ve learned that shift thoroughly–WOW, THE SUN’S SHINING, THE SKY’S BLUE, THAT BREEZE THROUGH THE WINDOW FEELS LIKE IT’S A SPLENDID 75 DEGREES OUTSIDE!–…and as you try to cling to the adage that


you can’t help but notice the IMPERFECTIONS that keep springing to your ears as you play. It’s almost as if the more times you play a passage, the worse it gets.

My professional diagnosis?  A true case of SPRING FEVER! With a side of POOR PRACTICE-ITIS!

Even non-musicians know the symptoms: we’re reading and we suddenly realize that we’ve been re-reading the same paragraph for several minutes without processing ANY of the information in the paragraph.  We’ve ZONED OUT, gone on auto-pilot: our eyes still scan the page, our brains may even register the meaning of individual words.  However, we fail to comprehend the meaning of the passage as a whole.

Now, re-reading a paragraph over and over wouldn’t be a problem if we all led lives of leisure, but few of us do!!!  We’re busy people (everyone seems to be busy these days), and when we zone out as we work, study, read, or practice, we end up wasting valuable time.

Sound familiar?

If so, you should read this TIME article by Annie Murphy Paul:

The Myth of ‘Practice Makes Perfect’

What do you think of it?  What strikes a chord (pun unashamedly intended) for you in the article, if anything?  Do you believe it?  Does it shatter any of your expectations?  Are you willing to change anything in your own practice/hobby/work based on the article’s assertion?

One of the lines I found most important was:

“It was not the case that the top-ranked pianists made fewer errors at the beginning of their practice sessions than did the other pianists,” Duke notes. “But, when errors occurred, the top-ranked pianists seemed much better able to correct them in ways that precluded their recurrence.”

It can be exhausting to focus on our weaknesses and errors.  But, WOW, is it rewarding to trust that you have the power to fix problems on your own in such a way that you don’t make the same mistake twice!

Do you have the courage and commitment–even with beautiful spring calling outside!–to attempt some DELIBERATE PRACTICE?

Happy Presidents’ Day! And What’s on Honest Abe’s iPod?

Posted by Elizabeth Devereux

Last year for Presidents’ Day, I blogged about the surprising amount of musical talent that’s passed through the White House over the years.  This year, I’d like to direct you all to a great NPR segment on Abraham Lincoln’s musical interests called “If Abraham Lincoln had an iPod”.

I’d love to find an extensive musical-historical project that researched historical figures’ musical tastes and listed their “iPod favorites” as well.

What do you think was on Socrates’ iPod? Babe Ruth’s? Harriet Tubman’s? Genghis Kahn’s? Jane Austen’s? Christopher Columbus’? Marie Antoinette’s? W.E.B. Du Bois’? Adolf Hitler’s? Pablo Picasso’s? Henry the VIII’s? Charlemagne’s?

Oh, the list could go on and on…any guesses?  Share them in the comments space below!

Brooklyn Rider: Quarteting Out of the BOX

Posted by Elizabeth Devereux

I just discovered a new string quartet, link and info passed on by a friend of mine:

Brooklyn Rider

I love the look and whimsy of their website, although my impatient and practical side wishes the navigation were slightly more transparent and easy to follow–some helpful pop-up text as you scroll over the pretty pictures, perhaps?

A few other things I loved about perusing the Brooklyn Rider’s site, projects, calendars:


Brooklyn Rider describes themselves as follows:

Born out of a desire to use the rich medium of the string quartet as a vehicle for communication across a large cross section of history and geography, Brooklyn Rider is equally devoted to the interpretation of existing quartet literature and to the creation of new works.


Brooklyn Rider is using Kickstarter, a funding platform for creative endeavors, to pay for their new album, Seven Steps.  Looks like it’s working! They’re already $5,000 over their funding goal.  Check out all the fun prizes at various funding levels! (Sorry foodies, they’re sold out of $5,000+ rewards of dinner out with the quartet!)  This is a great way to incentivise giving at specific levels.


The site’s Art Gallery (on their hompage) displays visual art work by artist friends of the quartet members.  Any sales of the art work support both the artists and the future commissioning projects of the string quartet.  Coffee shops have been hanging the work of local artists up for years–I love seeing this type of music/art joint support at work on a website!


The Brooklyn Rider site plays beautiful music for you!  It often bothers me when websites make noise at me as soon as I open them, but I’ve gotta say that the level of musicianship and the selections (playing now is their album, Brooklyn Rider Plays Philip Glass) make this a wonderful website MP3 player.

Have fun perusing!  And please always feel free to share exciting new discoveries you’ve made with SoundStringS–music, arts, education, creative, etc…

Happy Birthday, Mozart!

Posted by Elizabeth Devereux

We are in a presidential election year.  Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, you’re in for it this year: the political rancor, negative ad campaigning, harsh words and divisive comments will take over the media in the coming months.


For a little hilarity instead…

And wish Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart a happy 256th birthday, thanking him for his music’s lasting power to bring joy to people of any political party.