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Editorís Note by Kimberly Syvertsen

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The articles included in this newsletter are available in pdf format with beautiful graphic design and artistic layout. Click on the Newsletter icon below to download.

Happy Fall, and welcome back-to-school! I hope your summer was restful and enjoyable in spite of the hurricane. Our theme for this issue is “Double Trouble” ---or perhaps better still--- “Good Things Come in Pairs.” Many of our articles for this edition are complimented by two perspectives. In “Lifelong Learning”, discover how two string teachers in different stage of their careers benefitted from summer professional development experiences. We hope you will be delighted  with “Something To Try…” and “Pedagogy Corner”, as two formidable studio teachers share some thoughts on introducing advanced bow techniques. In a new “Dear NJ Strings” featurette, trail-blazing high schooler Rebecca Damante makes a difference building an inter-school music lending library, while in “My Favorite Teacher” a young musician shares her literary gifts to honor that teacher who made all the difference. Lastly, in “Vivace Assai” I’ll share some inspiring words from two different Essex County moms who have made at-home practice culture into something of an art form!

Our other October supplements include traditions new and old. The annual Youth Orchestra Directory is back once again, with updates for the 2011-2012 academic year. As always, please consider sharing your insights by submitting an article for publication to Thanks for all you do to make this another year of outrageous string playing and teaching in the Garden State!

Kimberly Syvertsen
Editor-in-Chief, NJ Strings


Presidentís Message by Erika Boras Tesi

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Here we are again in that weird space where we are saying goodbye to the summer and trying to wiggle our way back into a new school year, concert season or shoes that feel too tight after a season of wearing nothing but flip flops!  Welcome to the Fall Newsletter that should help get you acclimated.  Please sit back, relax and enjoy the varied articles filled with inspiring ideas from our members.  You will read ideas to help your year move forward with ease along with practical suggestions that I am sure you will be excited to try. 
Also take a moment to browse the rest of the website as we have many new offerings including the Private Teacher Page where you can list your studio.  This is free advertisement for you as part of your ASTA/NJ membership. 
Have a great new season!
Erika Boras Tesi
President, ASTA/NJ


Lifelong Learning with Betsy Maliszewski and Kimberly Chiesa

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I am a Villanova string week junkie. For eight of the past ten summers, I have spent the last week of July attending the Villanova University Eastern String Educators Workshop. This three credit graduate course offers string instrument technique lessons as well as daily classes in a wide array of string subjects. These classes include conducting, rehearsal techniques, first and second year string teaching strategies, basic string instrument repair, score analysis, orchestral bowings, and string literature reading sessions.

The workshop, taught by string masters Dorothy Straub, Robert Genualdi, Andy Dabczynski and Jim Kjelland, uses a menu approach in course selection.
The participants choose from the course offerings for each hour and set a personal schedule that meets their own needs. My focus this year was first and second year string teaching strategies and bowing/rehearsal techniques. These classes provided a good mix of technical information, playing opportunities from both the student and conductor’s perspective, and practical application.

Each afternoon, all participants assembled for a Special Session. This year we fiddled with Andy Dabczynski, strolled with Stanley Nosal, the originator of Strolling Strings, learned about technology in the orchestra rehearsal with Joe Brennan and repaired instruments with Luthier Chris Bluemel.

For me, one of the highlights of the week this year occurred on Tuesday. After forty-five minutes of trying (honestly twenty-five years), I actually set a violin soundpost correctly, and it stood up! By the end of the String Repair session, I had successfully set three soundposts without injuring myself or the instrument. Success!
A valuable aspect of the Eastern String Educators Workshop is the special track for non-string players. Non-string players take two beginning violin classes each day--- one with Dorothy Straub, the other with Andy Dabczynski. The goal of the class is to finish String Explorer Book One and to play in a reading session of string orchestra music on the final day of classes.

While every class I have taken at Villanova has been worthwhile, the best parts of the week were the conversations and discussions with world-class instructors and string educators from all over the country. Every year I am invigorated and bring back new techniques and strategies to use with my students. Hope to see you there next year!
--Betsy Maliszewski

So you worked hard and practiced countless hours throughout college to become the best strings teacher you can become. As soon as college is over, you begin to either teach private lessons or you get that perfect strings job you have been envisioning throughout your college career. Everything you learned in all of your education classes comes into play, and you love every minute of it. There is just one problem--- what are you planning on doing with all those hours of countless practice that you put in to reach the highest level of musicianship you can achieve?

When you have a teacher and you are still in school, you have to practice to prepare for the next rehearsal, lesson, concert, and jury. For some people, taking away that structure opens the door to countless possibilities of things to work on. For others, it does not provide the structure that one may need to continually achieve excellence.
I am one of those people who needs to find goals to work towards, and has had a difficult time figuring out what can be reasonable and useful to work on. I would start a sonata, then not have the time to put into it that I wanted to. I would start a concerto that would be fun, and then not see any realistic performance opportunity for it.

This past summer, I went to the Chamber Music Conference at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont. This festival has completely changed my perspective on what to practice! I went for a one week session that consisted of me getting coached in 4 different chamber groups, and reading through different pieces during the “free” time that was scheduled.

The chamber groups that I got placed in were great, which made the coaching experiences incredibly useful. With such a short amount of time to work on each piece, the coaches focused more on how to achieve the bigger idea of the piece, and gave my groups great ways to go back and rehearse specific sections.

During our “free” time, my chamber groups did not get together to rehearse. In fact, almost no group did that. Instead, everyone mingled and made new groups and picked new pieces to read through. I have personally have a very limited chamber music experience, so to get the chance to read through and learn new pieces was a huge eye opening experience!

During these reading sessions, I decided that the best goals I can set for myself to continue my musical growth is to set up my own reading sessions with friends, and to work on parts of pieces that I really want to play! I am beginning to come to find that working on techniques to be able to read through a piece with people is way more fun and rewarding than anything else.  The other plus side to it is that you get a chance to continually make music within your own community. That is what music should be all about--- giving people the chance to come together as a community and create something beautiful. 
--Kimberly Chiesa


Something to TryÖ Pencil Exercises on Steroids! By Leslie Webster

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Most modern method books include pencil exercises.  They work well, as far as they go, but they don’t readily lead to nicely flexing fingers and thumb in actual bowing.  I’ve put together some extended pencil exercises that move the student smoothly from pencil to bow.

Basic Level
I start with the pencil exercises that appear in Essential Elements, Book One by Allen, Gillespie, and Hayes. They are all good, but I particularly emphasize the Thumb Flexers, the First Finger Taps, and the Fourth Finger Taps.  I don’t allow students to move to the next level until these three can be executed fluently while maintaining a relaxed, nicely molded bow hold on the pencil.

Intermediate Level       
I was given these higher-level pencil exercises by Margaret Pressley, who teaches advanced students in Seattle. 

Teeter Totter:
Set up the right hand “bow hold” on a pencil.
Rock the index finger and pinkie, alternately, up and down.
The balance point is the thumb and middle finger.
Feel with the left hand for a soft thumb and flexing, relaxed knuckles.
Note from Leslie:  I find this easier to introduce by asking the student to press and release the pinkie only.  Later the index finger can come into play.  Look for fluency, a rounded, soft thumb, and a relaxed, nicely molded bow hold on the pencil.

Push the pencil out with the pinkie.  Watch the thumb straighten a bit.
Pull the pencil back in with the pinkie.  The thumb rounds up and the pinkie rounds up.

Using your wrist and fingers only, make the pencil rise and lower vertically.
Note from Leslie: This is best taught after the student has mastered Rotor.  If a student has trouble with this, have him swing the hand up and down from the wrist.  It will move in an arc and the pencil will move in an arc, as well.  When the student can do this easily, he can add finger motion to get the rocket to move straight up and down.  Launching the rocket from the palm of the left hand is fun to do.
Make sure the forearm isn’t doing the lift!

Advanced Level (Applications)
Applications for Teeter Totter:
Place the bow on the A string at the frog.  Using fingers only, rock the bow over all four strings.  There will be no sound.
Using the fingers as much as possible, play open G and D as a down bow double stop at the frog; play open A and E as a up bow double stop at the frog.  Connect the notes.
Play an open G and D double stop in a colle down bow, allowing the bow to lift off the string; do the same with an A and E double stop up bow.  The fingers should be doing most of the work!

Applications for Rotor:
“Shadow bow” with your pencil, keeping a straight “bow” path.  Watch the fingers and thumb doing rotor.
Play whole bows on each of your strings.  Watch the fingers and thumb doing rotor.
Place your bow on the A string, in the middle of the bow.  Using fingers only, play little notes.  Try this on each string.
Place your bow in the balance area and play fast, short notes, letting your fingers flex.  As you increase speed, throw the bow down with the fingers and let it rebound up. This can ultimately result in a sautille, with gently flexing fingers and a relaxed, floating arm.

Applications for Rocket:
Do rocket, holding the bow, instead of the pencil.
Starting with extended fingers, use your fingers to play an up bow colle stroke at the frog.  You will be launching the “rocket” off the string.  The string will make a “ping” sound.
Try a down bow colle, starting with rounded fingers.  Launch the rocket off the string with a sudden extension of the fingers.  The string will make a ping sound.
Do a series of up bow spiccato strokes.  Watch the fingers do a series of rockets.  Keep the arm and shoulder relaxed.


Googling Violin By Betsy Maliszewski

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It’s the end of the summer. Your private students are back from vacation, you’re planning programs for the high school orchestra, and the district has approved the middle school string quartet curriculum. All is right in the string world. Reality sets in quickly: the school music budget was slashed, any appropriate level school-owned quartet music is missing the cello part, and your private student lost the excerpts for her up-coming seating audition. What to do? Log on, and let the internet bring the sheet music to your printer.

First some caveats: virtually all music available for download is music no longer under copyright, is not bowed or fingered, and ends up costing some money. Googling “free classical sheet music download” promises 169,000,000 hits, but usually translates to a limited amount of public domain music available for an annual fee.

My first go-to music site is the Petrucci Music Library (International Music Score Library Project) at This online pdf database is a collection of 100,000+ classical scores and parts that are available for download at no charge. The library considers itself a service to the music community, and is continually being expanded through member uploads. Within minutes of logging on I located, downloaded and printed the second violin parts to Beethoven’s Fifth, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Brahm’s Fourth for my private student. This site is also valuable for the director of high level high school orchestras or youth symphonies – not only are missing parts a click away, it provides study scores and links to recordings and mp3 files.

Two of the best sites for quickly downloading chamber music, small orchestra arrangements and supplemental solos are, at $37.75 per year, and, $29.95 per year. Membership at each site allows for unlimited downloads of all material; non-member pricing is available on a per download basis, with selected freebies in each category.  Both sites are organized by instrument, ensemble, difficulty level and composer. currently offers 2750 digital files for download, 315 of them free. All music is also available in midi format (audio) – members have unlimited midi downloads, non-members can listen only. In addition, will transpose up to five of their files at no charge. This is a great site for supplemental beginning materials and easy quartet literature.

The Virtual Sheet Music (VSM) archive lists about 80,000 titles ready for download, 8000 of which are classical or traditional. Every month, VSM pulls out 64 different, best-selling scores to offer as free downloads. In addition, VSM is adding   MP3 accompaniment files and Scorch capability to their inventory, a Minus One for the 21st Century. This feature allows your students to practice with straight accompaniments, slower accompaniments, or a metronome click track. Downloads with Scorch can import the file to a music writing software program on your computer, and let you tailor it to meet your student’s needs.  VSM also has a free iPad/iPhone app that allows members to view and download music anywhere – home, school, practice room, gig… touching the screen seamlessly turns the page. (Ok, this is cool, but I downloaded it to my iPhone and truly couldn’t read the music; need to wait until I get an iPad.)
Due to copyright laws, most free online music is Baroque or Classical. As educators of young string players, this is a large segment of our rep, anyway.While downloadable music will, for most musicians, never replace an edited, hard copy edition, it is a great new tool to have in your teaching bag of tricks.

Happy Surfing!


Vivace Assai By Kimberly Syvertsen

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“Practice Makes Progress”
Teachers come in many places.
Like many of you, I’m trying my darndest to get the practice momentum going amongst my students. Some students practice with little encouragement, while for others, it’s more challenging to establish a routine. As I start the year on a hopeful note, working to cultivate a culture of practice with my students at the various places I teach, I find teachers in new and exciting places.

Two parents, to be more specific. Meet Rhoda, who has an eighth grade son working on the gems of the standard violin repertoire and Connie, who has two children (one in kindergarten and one in elementary school) working on Suzuki Book One.  Both are musical laypeople with different personalities, family backgrounds and daily schedules.
There are similarities, too. In both families, practicing is both routine and creative. The children progress consistently in their musical studies, and there are even moments of joy and inspiration in at-home practice sessions. There is an appreciation for each stage of the musical journey and a respect for a solid technical foundation on the violin. In addition to the many credits due to each family, both mothers remain humble and keep perspective about this musical education which has enkindled a magical joy in every member of the household.

In short, they’re “doing it right.” I simply had to pick their brains. The below exchanges are what I learned from Rhoda and Connie. I look forward to sharing and incorporating their insights into my discussions with other my other students’ parents this year.

K: Your child(ren) clearly love(s) to play the violin! What do you do at home to encourage and inspire this love of music?
R: I think our child enjoys playing the violin for many reasons …We play music in the house a lot, and we play everything from classical to rock. We also have made an effort to take him to concerts and to the theatre. He has gone to classical recitals, operettas, and has heard modern music played in lots of different types of events, including two violinists playing in a show called Black Violin. I think those experience made him more aware of how much music is all around, and the various things you can do with the instrument.
C: The kids seem to have a love of music on their own.  We don’t feel that do a lot to encourage it but have music on in the house (often the Suzuki Violin CDs!) that they like. 

K: How much are you involved in the practice time? How much is unsupervised practice time?
R: When our son first started playing the violin, we were strongly encouraged to sit in on lessons. The teacher felt that, that way, we could provide useful support and encouragement when he was practicing. I think that approach worked. While having me in the room might have been a bit distracting when he was younger, the benefits outweighed the harm as he was certainly more interested in picking up the violin to practice when I stayed with him. Once he turned twelve, he became much more independent both in terms of not having me sit in on his lessons, and not needing me to be with him when he practices. When he was younger, I offered help in terms of correcting position, positions and properly holding the bow. As he became older and more advanced, I was not really able to provide much advice. My role turned to more of providing support and listening for proper intonation.
I don’t think there is a magic age when young students are ready to practice on his/her own. I think it depends on the child. Another of my children who is twelve is not at the point where practicing alone is effective.
C: We’re very involved in the practice time.  We try to practice about 5 times a week, always with an adult involved.  Sometimes they might be practicing while I’m cooking dinner, but we always have an adult in the room so that there is some input.  I find at this young age that they can’t guide themselves well yet in practice.

K: Your child has really exceptional posture. What would you attribute this to? Is it something you’ve stressed in at-home practice sessions? Has the Suzuki Method had a positive impact on his posture?
R: My son’s posture when he is playing the violin is something he should be proud of. He actually struggles with low strength in his upper body. Playing the violin has really helped those upper body muscles develop and has dramatically improved his hand/eye coordination. We haven’t had to emphasize posture at home--- it really came naturally in learned to play the violin since maintaining good posture makes it easier to play the instrument.

K: Your children are different ages and at different stages of their musical journey. They really seem to embrace each other's experience level and rather than compete. How do you cultivate this spirit of patience and appreciation for each child's uniqueness?
 C: We generally handle their practices separately, but sometimes we’ll do practices at the same time where they take turns or do a playdown where they play songs together.  It makes the lessons a little more fun!  We sometimes look to our older daughter to help and demonstrate for her younger brother, especially if he’s having trouble with a piece.  Luckily, she likes to do this and he’s receptive to it!

K: What aspect of the Suzuki Method has been helpful to you in at-home practice? What practice strategies have worked for you? What encouragement would you offer other parents who are interested in signing up their children for music lessons?
R: The Suzuki Method has been great for our son. First, he has genuinely enjoyed all of the music in the program. Second, the program introduces the techniques in a fun and developmentally appropriate way. It has also offered him opportunities to play with other children who play at the same level, and that group experience has been great in terms of meeting people, maintaining his level of interest, and getting to see where it is all leading.
C: Since my husband and I don’t play an instrument and can’t read music, our ability to help the kids is somewhat limited.  Listening to the Suzuki CDs has been really helpful.  We created a playlist and usually have it playing most days during breakfast.  Even though my husband and I can’t play the songs ourselves, we definitely know what the songs are supposed to sound like! This has been helpful, and the kids start to develop their favorite songs on the CD.  My son loved Allegro and couldn’t wait to play it.  Now his new favorite is Happy Farmer – he’s not playing it yet, but he goes around the house humming it!
The other interesting thing is that the kids enjoy going to the group performances and solo recitals. I think it’s motivating to see other kids getting up there to play difficult pieces.  Though they’re a little nervous about playing their solo piece, I think they feel pretty special in the end, especially with all of the thunderous applause!

K: You child makes consistent progress at the violin. How important is it to create a structured, regular practice time? What benefits have you found with this?
R: Establishing practicing time as a non-negotiable part of the day when he was younger proved to work. It was just understood that he would spend a certain amount of time practicing every day. As he got older, that was not always feasible. Sometimes school work or other activities had to take precedence. However, having established a routine when he was younger enabled him to develop a system where he could plan for each week’s demands and effectively “make up” practice time from the days he had skipped practicing the violin.

K: How do you keep practicing fresh?
R: We keep practicing fresh at home by making sure that no matter what his violin homework is for a particular week, he is also working on something he finds fun, whether it be a piece that he is learning for orchestra, something that he is playing for the school play, or a favorite Beatles song.
C: Honestly, consistent practice is tough to do!  We found this particularly hard in the beginning where the kids were just learning.  They balked at practicing, and I tried to enforce it any way I could with incentives, a “point” system, etc.  It was actually pretty rough for about the first four months, but then at some point we seemed to get over a hump once they started to feel that they were making some music.  The kids definitely don’t love practicing now, but we don’t have many disagreements about it anymore.  We also try to keep our practice sessions to 15-30 minutes.  I’d love to have longer ones, but beyond that it starts to get more difficult for us.

K: Do you have practice performances at home? If so, what do they entail?
R: We do not have practice performances at home, but when he is preparing for a recital or an audition, he will pretend that I am his audience and he will enter the room and play through the piece as if it were the actual recital.
C: We don’t do a lot of practice performances at home.  We’ve done a couple in the past where the kids have brought down all of their stuffed animals and created an audience.  That was fun, but we don’t do that as often as we probably should!

K: What advice would you offer other violin parents?
R: My advice would be: don’t start too young, make sure it’s fun but also an integral part of the day, and sit in on lessons and practice session until the child is able to practice effectively unsupervised.
C: Violin, in my opinion, is a difficult instrument to learn. I think it’s hard for kids to start to enjoy it until they are really playing some songs, but that means that you have to stick with it through the first few months of practice.  I think the only advice that we can give is to use the CDs so the kids hear the music, then really commit to 3-4 months of regular practice.  Hopefully after that you’ve gotten into a good groove…

K: What thoughts would you offer violin teachers who struggle to get some of their students to practice regularly?
R: Our son’s teacher gives him a homework sheet each week. That has always been a great tool to help structure practice time. Making sure he is always working on something he enjoys has worked well too.
C: That’s a tough one.  I think the commitment has to be there from the parents, especially if the kids are young and need help/support.