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Answers to questions people ask about musical subjects

Harris Shilakowsky answers to music questions Q & A questions about music

As a teacher of violin, viola, cello & piano and theory, and even composition & arranging, I have a lot of experience...added to my years as a performer, conductor, contractor and organizer. So here are some questions I've answered on Quora over the last couple of years.

QUESTION: Do professional violinists use shoulder rests?

Absolutely. These days most violinists and violists use a shoulder rest. Not all do however.
Added Nov 22

QUESTION: How do I make up a lie on how my violin cracked? I tripped and fell into my open case on the floor and caused the violin that I’m testing to crack. I want to be honest and say that I cracked it, but I don’t want to say the full truth. What do I do?

This isn’t a question about violin playing… it’s an ethical question. Check in with your parents, your teachers, your spiritual leaders…rabbi, priest or trusted guide fir moral or ethical guidance.
my answer is always tell the truth. It’s the right thing to do. Besides, you will always get caught in a lie.
Added Nov 21

QUESTION: How do you play Spooky Scary Skeletons on the piano?

You can try these 8 cool scary songs for piano...

Schirmer's Halloween Favorites for piano solo

Added Nov 21

QUESTION: Where can I find high quality shell inlaid ebony parts for my violin?

I help people find strings, parts, pegs & even luthiers tools. Use the chat button on any page at MusicStoreUSA.com

Added Nov 4

QUESTION: What is the price range for a Stainer violin?

While I don’t have up to date specific info I do know how I find answers to violin pricing for antique or ancient instruments. I check recent sales versus historical prices from auctions, many of which are posted online, and create an average of those.

if you have a Stainer you need valued accurately you must bring it to an accredited violin appraiser. A good source of reliable info is The American Violin Society info@vsaweb.org

Added Apr 5

QUESTION: Is a 61 key keyboard good for beginners?

Depends on whether you want to tinkle a little melody line or really play the piano. If you want to play piano, get a real piano which means 88 keys. As a piano teacher I recommend that all my students try to start with a real full keyboard with weighted keys or a real piano. Can’t afford a Steinway, get a nice used upright. Can’t pull that off, go for a console piano. I bought a used one for $300 & have used it for more than 15 years niw

Added Apr 1

QUESTION: How many years does it take to really understand and play a piano sonata (or other longish music) to recording quality?

Since there are many variables to consider, I would suggest instead that you do an experiment! Try practicing that piece until you feel you can play it virtuosically. Perform it for friends, parents, and in public for an audience (or several concerts). Get their opinion, especially that of your piano teacher, whether they feel you are ready for a career in music performance. If they say yes, then go ahead into your recording studio of choice.

Sometimes, a performance competition will include sponsored concerts and/or recording label deal as the ‘prize’ for winning. If you want to sell those recordings, its important that you have the recognition that you get by winning a major competition, like the Tchaikowsky Competition in Russia, or Young Artists here in the USA. You’ll get help booking tours/concerts, etc., and might even get a job teaching piano to other young musicians at a great college or conservatory.

However, if your goal is just to make a recording for friends and family or fun fans, then record it whenever you like, as long as you feel it sounds good. You can make a YouTube or Facebook Watch recording with your smartphone and post it. That’s called an amateur recording. Sometimes peoples’ amateur recordings become very popular!

Added Feb 26

QUESTION: Is a ball-end the default end for at violin string?

The string fastens to the fine tuner in the tail piece by means of either a loop or a ‘ball’, which can look like a little ball or sometimes a round washer or grommet that actually has the wire loop going around it. You choose which type (ball or loop) of ending you need depending on which type of fine tuner device you have on your instrument. We carry both types of strings in The String Store at MusicStoreUSA.com

Added Oct 16, 2019

QUESTION: Should every child learn to read music in school?

many states have educational standards that do require Arts Standards. Read music, or what I call, ‘musical literacy’ is a very advisable skill to require.

Added Sep 21, 2019

QUESTION: When you were growing up, were there musical instruments in the house?

you bet! nice baby grand piano in the living room which was necessary for my Mom who taught piano students and performed. Brothers played various other instruments, and of course I played piano & violin. Rhythm instruments had a strong presence, too and of course, my Dad played the radio (and the phonograph), and sang tenor.

Added Sep 18, 2019

QUESTION: What’s the best way to become better at playing the violin (books, videos, lessons, etc.)?

I would discuss this very question with my teacher.

Added Sep 16, 2019

QUESTION: Is it better to rehair a violin bow or invest in a new bow?

ANSWER #1: It is unbelieveable that we need to ask this question. Traditionally, there would never be a question that we would always rehair a bow every time you use up the hair. However, nowadays, we have a new financial picture. We have companies that manufacture thousands of cheap bows and so the price of buying a new bow is actually less than the cost of rehairing it! Also, the craftspeople who do a good job of rehairing bows need to charge more money for their labor-time than they used to…its just economics. So if your local bow repair-person charges $40–80 for a rehair, but you bought a really cheap bow for $25, it makes more sense to trash the bow…unless you just love that particular bow. HOWEVER, most decent bows cost much more than that. I don’t recommend that serious musicians and/or students play on a bow that costs less than $100 or so, since most of the cheaper ones aren’t worth using, since they aren’t reliably crafted. A bow that you chose carefully…the right weight and balance and action that you like…is worth re-hairing.

Added Sep 2, 2019

ANSWER #2: I can’t believe that I neglected to offer up this addition to this question… Now we have an alternative. My music store can take in your bow that needs re-hairing or is broken or otherwise a loss, and get it re-cycled. The company we work with re-cycles all the useable parts and materials of the old trashed bows. This way, the materials don’t end up on a trash heap. In return, they send us back a brand new carbon fiber bow with brand new hair, which is frequently worth a bit more than the old broken one was! This service is provided at a price that is less than that of re-hairing or buying a new bow, so everyone comes out a winner! Call or email if you need a re-hair or to replace a broken or disfunctional bow. Contact 

added December 9, 2020

QUESTION: As a fairly intermediate pianist, should I pick shorter pieces in order to expand my repertoire?

Its hard to judge what a ‘fairly intermediate pianist’ really means, since perceptions vary, but in general, it seems like good common sense ‘practice’ to try for a varied practice routine, and a nicely balanced recital program. Your teacher should help you develop a nice program, but in general, I like to be working on some finger warm-ups like scales and exercises, and then to have some kind of etude that focuses on a specific technique or set of techniques you are developing, then a sonata or other recital piece. Remember that a traditional sonata in legit sonata form has multiple movements, that usually have contrasting moods. Then a big work like a concerto or other large work.

If you are practicing to become more of a popular and/or jazz pianist, you could use these guidelines but adapt them to your style of music.

Remember that you are aiming to develop a nice program, but, unless you have limitless practice time, that you should aim to have a program that you can fully practice at each practice session, that is to say, don’t overload yourself. More is not better. You need to make sure each thing you work on gets its full amount of necessary practice so you become proficient on each task you approach.

Best wishes and good luck with your studies. Refer back to Andrew Remillard’s comments, which tend to speak about the same concepts.

Added Sep 2, 2019

QUESTION: How many years does it take to master the violin?

There isn’t one simple answer. It depends on how quick you tend to learn, how good your teacher is and how many hours of different exercises, etudes and other pieces you play. It also depends on how you practice your scales and a variety of other factors that are debated by various professors of violin in conservatories. Certain “schools” of playing which are based on the traditions of the great teachers like Galamian tend to generate great virtuoso players fairly consistently. New discoveries or experimentation is always ongoing in the field of violinistic pedagogy. To become a great violinist it’s like becoming a great surgeon. A medical degree takes about 12 years including residencies, I think. I’d allow at least half that if you are a child prodigy starting at age 4, so about age ten fir first appearance with a symphony orchestra, but more often probably age 13–16, so minimum 11–12 years of study and practice.

Added Jul 18, 2019

QUESTION: Why is my violin string really loose? Even, if I will try to tighten the string, it just will not tighten up.

If you haven’t been taught the correct way to tune your instrument, I would wait til you meet with your violin teacher. Sometimes you cause more harm by doing something that you don’t have enough training in yet.

1. you can break a string if you overtune it

2. you can break the scroll right off of inexpensive instrument or snap a peg if it has poor grain and is jammed in.

however, in most cases, you just need to apply some pressure to make sure your peg is wedged into the shaped hole on the side of the pegbox. You must turn the peg, tuning the string AS you apply pressure, so you’ll tune up the string and keep it from slipping.

some slippery pegs can be made to ‘stick’ better by the application of a peg compound that is specially made to help slippery pegs to stick better. You ca get it in a good string shop. But while you’re there, you should just have their expert look at the problem! (try to go to a place that only does strings, unless you are POSITIVE that they have a reputation for doing good repairs on string instruments. There are many shops who claim to know how to repair string instruments and they actually are lying. BE CAREFUL)

Added May 15, 2019

QUESTION: What sheet music do you recommend for those just beginning to play the piano?

this question is like choosing one grain of sand from all the beaches in the world. If you have a teacher, let them guide you. If you’re just learning the instrument, you’ll need to learn about finger numbering, and perhaps note recognition. I usually start students with some kind of method book, which gives this background and starts introducing some simple songs after discussing correct hand position and a few other basic concepts.

Added May 15, 2019

QUESTION: How would you characterize the different musical instruments as animals?

I like Saint-Saëns Carnival of the Animals music which brings the poems of Ogden Nash to life.

Added May 15, 2019

QUESTION: What instrument would be easiest for a blind person to master?

I have known blind pianists, singers & know of other blind guitarists, but I think it really depends on the individual and their interests and intuition, and drive!

Added May 15, 2019

QUESTION: Can I become proficient with piano through online courses or do I need a teacher/mentor?

the two are not mutually exclusive. You should have a teacher. A mentor is something different, although some teachers also become mentors. You may decide to take your lessons online or in person. Whether you do one or the other depends largely on your personality. I think the best situation is to study in person with a teacher and to take some online lessons as well. There are benefits to both ways of learning.

You used the words, “online courses” instead of lessons. If you are using pre-recorded video courses, you will not have much of the necessary immediate feedback you need from your private teacher. Taking a course that is ‘set’ may be useful at some point, but ‘live’ lessons, that is to say, where you play for your teacher or ask a question directly and they answer you immediately, are the most important, central part of your education as a student of music.

Enjoy music making!

Added May 13, 2019

QUESTION: How many times should I practice one piano piece to master it?

Don’t count how many times you play. You need to learn the music. Practice til you’ve learned to play the music so it sounds correct

Added May 11, 2019

QUESTION: Is learning fragments of songs a good way to start learning guitar?

Sounds like a good plan to me. Remember that guitar can play both melodies and rhythmic chords. So practice a few chord progressions beginning with one or two ez chords and then practice a melodic lick or two.

Added May 11, 2019

QUESTION: I have to play a piano piece with violin and cello soon, with little time to practice. I don't have sheet music and can't read it fast. How do I practice timing/sense of harmony by myself? (Quora moderation: a "song" is SUNG.)

Added May 11, 2019

QUESTION: What are some easy sheets that I can learn the 3rd position playing violin?

I use the Whistler Introducing the Positions
volume 1 Third & Fifth Positions

with most of my students who are ready to shift, and who would like to play pieces like the Vivaldi A minor Concerto. Each one-line exercise is preceded by a quick prep that ensures that your hand is in position and tuned correctly. Though I use that a lot, I actually ‘grew up’ on the Sevcik books, which are also well thought out. The one you need is called SHIFTING THE POSITION AND PREPARATORY SCALE STUDIES, OP. 8

Once you’ve dipped your toes into the shifting introductory books, you’ll want to start applying your newly minted abilities by working on a piece that uses some third position, and gives you some practice shifting back and forth from 1st to 3rd like the Vivaldi A minor Violin Concerto also known as L'ESTRO ARMONICO (RV 356/PV 1) PIANO REDUCTION WITH SOLO PART

Added Jan 14, 2019

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