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SUCCESS with the Violin & Life – BOOK SAMPLE
Introduction and Chapter One



Story: First Violin Lesson
One day a fellow violin teacher told me she had just given a young boy his first violin lesson. She started off the lesson showing him how to hold the bow, the violin, and the first rhythms he would play.

As the lesson progressed, he began getting impatient, and asked her to show him how she played the violin. After she played something for him, he asked, “How do you do it?”

She explained to him, that what she was showing him with the bow hold, etc. was so that he would be able to play that way, too.

“But how do you do it?” he asked again. They kept going back and forth, with him asking how she did it, and her trying to explain that it was a process, something you learn in steps…

Then he tried a different tactic. He came very close to her and whispered, “But what’s the secret?”

Explaining that there wasn’t any secret didn’t fly. Now enraged, he yelled, “You know, AND YOU JUST WON’T TELL ME!”

To that she answered, “The secret is PRACTICE.”


From the boy’s perspective
Although this story may seem amusing to us, imagine how it was from the boy’s perspective. Up until that point, learning how to do things was pretty straight forward. To make the light go on, flip the switch. To turn on the TV, press a button. To make the letter “B,” you do it like this. That’s how we learn to do things, right?

Not like flipping a switch
Developing a skill is a different story. It evolves through sustained focus and efforts over time, and includes lots of repetition!

Growth spurts & plateaus
Sometimes we see marvelous results with very little effort and other times we just plug away like putting one more penny into the piggy bank, hoping someday it will add up to a dollar. If we keep at it, we will have good days, lousy days, plateaus and growth spurts. All are natural parts of the journey when learning a skill.

But, there ARE some incredibly helpful “secrets”!
The good news contained in the pages of this book is that there are “secrets” that can speed up your learning process considerably!

Learning skills can be much, much easier and faster if a person knows and applies some universal success principles. An example is the way Bernie had spent many days trying to improve his speed on a passage without much result, but in his lesson was able to increase his speed by five metronome markings in just 15 minutes (pages 45-48). You can look forward to results like that, too!

As on the violin, so with other life skills
While the principles explained here will greatly facilitate your progress on the violin, they are universal (not just specific to violin playing), so can be applied to other areas of life as well.

People may think of it as being “multitalented,” but actually, once we have learned the process of attaining skills, we can easily apply that to other things we do.

Violin (also Viola, Cello and Bass)
The first section of each chapter gives specific applications to playing the violin (as well as other stringed instruments) – step-by-step applications, strategies, and techniques, as well as lots of helpful tips about playing and performing.

The second section of each chapter gives ways to apply those same concepts and principles to other aspects of life.

I hope you enjoy it and find it fruitful.

To your SUCCESS!      

                     –  Ruth Shilling



Practice Being Successful

Skills cannot be bought or given away. We acquire them through our own actions over time. But good guidance and the knowledge of how to most easily acquire a skill makes a huge difference. Applying some universal principles for successful achievement can save us vast amounts of time and effort!

Many highly competent people at the top of their fields, including the majority of entrepreneurs, learned to play an instrument when they were young. They invested time and effort in hours of practice, they got a taste for the momentum brought by inspired action and focused desire, and they delighted in the sweet satisfaction of accomplishment.

A man, who made a profession of showing others how to achieve skills in the shortest amount of time, demonstrated one of his strategies in a dramatic way.

Story: Success Breeds Success
John* had never fired a gun in his life and knew nothing about target shooting. He went to a shooting club and asked how long it usually took to achieve a certain level of success. The answer was about 2-3 months.

John first needed to learn how to shoot a pistol. When he fired it the first time there was a kick back and all the guys were laughing at his reaction.

The next thing he did was to walk all the way up to the target, stick the gun right on the bullseye and fire. SUCCESS! Bullseye!

The guys standing around were not impressed. Of course he could get a bullseye if he stuck the gun right on it.

What John then began to do was to gradually move away from the target, constantly shooting directly into the bullseye and each time feeling the satisfaction of achieving his goal.

So his pattern was:
Success, Rejoice, Satisfaction.

And what was the result? Within just two weeks he was shooting at a level that would normally take 2-3 months.
*All of the stories in this book are from the author’s own personal experiences, however, many of the names used in the stories have been changed.


Practicing Being Successful vs. Using Willpower to Continue While Failing
Why does repeatedly being successful yield better and faster results than trying again and again, despite failing, until you finally get it?

Let’s look at the target shooting example.

John’s goal may have been to shoot a bullseye at 30 feet. He could have started standing 30 feet away and shooting. Each time he would have failed, but he may have gotten closer and closer with repeated attempts. If he had the willpower to keep trying despite his constant defeats, he would probably eventually be able to achieve his goal. But during that process he would be constantly dealing with defeat.

People who work to achieve skills learn to deal with defeat and keep going, but getting back up on the horse after falling takes effort. It is hard on the ego to fail and we have to use willpower to override feeling deflated by it. Having willpower is good, but constantly dealing with defeat is like pushing uphill rather than coasting downhill.

John, on the other hand, chose to constantly experience being successful. That feeling of “Hurray!” was like the wind at his back. It provided a momentum that naturally wanted to carry him forward.

Body memory imprint
Another aspect of working with repeated success, as opposed to repeated failures, is that the body learns by doing. If the body does something well or not well, either way it is establishing a sort of groove, like a rut in a field where people keep driving the same route.

Our bodies remember the way it was done before and are most likely to do it in a similar way the next time. It will always be easier to do it that way, rather than a different way.

So if you fail the first time, the next time you attempt to do it your body will most likely do it in a similar way, which will mean failing again.

If on the other hand, you experience success the first time you try to do something, that makes an imprint in your body memory which will make it more likely that next time you will also be successful.

Imprint of connection
In the target shooting example John’s body, mind and spirit were repeatedly making a connection with the bullseye. This imprint of connection guided him towards replicating that success as he
challenged himself to achieve the more difficult goal of moving farther away from the target.

Visualizing success
Another aspect which contributes to this is the ability to visualize success. Athletes and high achievers are well aware of how the power of visualizing helps them to accomplish their goals. Having a series of successful experiences to draw on helps us to recreate them in our mind’s eye. It is a lot easier to visualize success when we have already experienced it!

Where does willpower come in?
Willpower always has an important role in learning skills. Without it we would be unfocused and our attempts to achieve things would be short-lived. Even when we are working with the success model, we will have defeats. We will still need to “get back on the horse” when we don’t achieve our goals.

What about aiming high?
When we build from success to success, we are aiming high, but doing it in steps. However, sometimes taking a chance at a big leap forward without doing the groundwork is worthwhile, too, and can be exhilarating. Even if a goal appears unobtainable right now, it is still worth having the courage to give it a shot. We might be lucky and hit it! So that is part of the process of going beyond our limitations, too. However, if we do this repeatedly and fail at hitting the goal, we lose ground and have to make it up again by doing additional careful stepwise work.

“Practicing is making SUCCESS a habit.”
Since 1988 there has been a sign in my studio that says “Practicing is making SUCCESS a habit.” That concept can be easy to forget, but my students certainly hear it a lot!


The Best Use of Your Practice Time

If you want to improve your intonation on a particular passage, figure out a way that you can play the notes in tune. Devise a method that will enable you to play each note correctly, and then repeat that until it becomes reliable.

Suggestions of methods to try:

  1. Slower
    Could you play each note in tune if you played it slowly?
  2. Stop-Prepare
    Can you get it right if you use Stop-Prepare (pause between the notes and then consciously choose where to place your next finger)? It is best to do Stop-Prepare with an intentional rhythm, so use the metronome. Add a one or two beat rest for the time you need to stop and prepare the next note.
  3. Tuner, open strings
    Would it help to use an electronic tuner to find out where those notes are on the fingerboard? Can you check with any open strings to see if the note is right?
  4. Finger spacings
    Note the finger spacings from one note to the next. How close are they to the other fingers? Be sure you know the distance between them. Notice how your fingers feel when they are in the right place on the fingerboard, and how they feel when they are in the right relationship to each other. Memorize that feeling.
  5. Hear it before playing it
    Can you hear what each note should be before you play it? Can you sing the intervals? Playing the passage on the piano first can help you to know what it should sound like. Sing what you think the next note is before playing it on the piano.
  6. Play with the piano
    If you have someone who can play the passage on the piano while you play it on the violin, doing that could help a lot. Having the piano play an octave lower is usually better than in unison. If you have a digital recorder, you can play it on the piano yourself and then play the violin with the recording. Some keyboards will also record it and play it back.
  7. Make all the notes the same length
    Play every note as a quarter note, rather than the rhythm as it occurs in the piece. That way you will be able to focus totally on the finger placements. Play with a solid, healthy, loud tone so you hear it clearly.
  8. Double stops
    If the notes are on two strings, play them as double stops and remember the way your fingers feel in relation to each other as well as your hand position.

As you are practicing in those ways, remember to:

Enjoy hitting it right on.
Feel the satisfaction you get from the vibration and resonance the instrument gives you when the note is just right.

Repeat until it is easy and solid.
Once you find a way that you can get the note(s) in tune, do it repeatedly until it feels easy and reliable. Once you can do it easily, play it at least 5-10 more times in a row without mistakes. Memorize that experience and the feeling of security you now have as you play it.

Enjoy the feeling of knowing that you can do it now. Have a “Yes!” feeling each time you play it in tune. Like the man who kept hitting the target, your pattern can be

Success, Rejoice, Satisfaction.



Building from Success to Success in Life

Story:  One Success Builds to Greater Successes
I once met a man in his mid-twenties who already owned and operated a very successful piano business. He did not even have a college degree, and yet he had a large number of employees, three of whom had PhD’s. He had already gained an international reputation in piano sales, and he had made a lot of money, too!

How did this happen? 

When Mark was about 14 years old someone gave him an old upright piano that was in sorry need of some major repairs. He had a wonderful time tinkering with it and learning about how a piano works. Eventually, he got it fixed up and sold it. He was thrilled with his ability to do it and with the profit it brought him! 

With the money from the sale of the piano, he bought a do-it-yourself kit with all the pieces needed to build a harpsichord. He built the harpsichord and sold that at a tidy profit as well. 

That enabled him to buy another bigger and better kit… Within about ten years he owned two warehouses full of Bechstein grand pianos and a lucrative international business. 

Mark’s success was built by first being successful at a small goal and then building upward and outward from there. Success builds on success.


Story: “I can play every note in every piece of music.”
At the time that Mary Elizabeth Leach finished high school and applied to music school, the three top places to study music were the Julliard School, the New England Conservatory of Music and the Curtis Institute. The chances of being admitted to one of these schools, especially as a pianist, were slim. To say that it was competitive would be an understatement.

Mary Elizabeth chose to apply to the New England Conservatory, and was not only accepted, but was one of the few piano majors to receive a nearly full-tuition scholarship (based on her skills). 

Many years later she told me, “The most important breakthrough in my musical development came when I was in the 6th grade. It suddenly occurred to me that I had ten fingers, and I knew how to read and play every single note on the piano, so I could play virtually any piano piece in the world, provided I played it slowly enough! 

“I got excited, and asked my father – who was a musician himself – what the most difficult piece of music was that we had in the house. He pulled it off the shelf for me. I was completely confident that I could learn it, and so I did, one note at a time. 

“After that, nothing stopped me. I knew that I could play anything.” 

The piece she learned to play was Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso. In the years to come it became one of her signature pieces. In fact, it was one of the pieces she played for her audition at the conservatory. 

How was she able to play such a difficult piece? 

“At first I played each individual note so slowly that it was almost absurd, but even at that pace, I made sure to learn the notes in the correct rhythm. I practiced with a metronome. I went through the piece from beginning to end, over and over. Gradually, I turned up the speed on the metronome.  After I became familiar with all of the notes, I practiced the more difficult sections individually.” 



Setting Goals

Clarifying our Goals is essential for using our time and energies effectively. Goals can be altered as we go along, but the shortest distance between two points will always be a straight line…




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