New Student Guide: Strings

Modified on Wed, 28 Sep 2022 at 10:55 AM

Thank you for choosing Octopus Music School for your or your child’s musical education! Learning to play music can be a fulfilling lifelong journey and we couldn’t be happier that you have chosen us to be your guide!


What to expect

Strings (violin, viola, cello, and upright bass) are a challenging family of instruments! It isn’t uncommon for it to take several weeks before students are able to produce a pleasing tone with their new instrument. It is important to remind students that practice and patience are very important. If things don’t immediately sound the way you or your child expect, don’t worry! This is normal. Our teaching staff will let you know if they feel there is something extra you can do to help the student’s progress.

First song

Most students over the age of five can learn their first song within a few weeks of lessons. The fundamentals must be in place first: regular practice habits, correct posture, finger placement, and the basics of producing a clear sound.

OPUS curriculum

Students studying at OMS will benefit from our proprietary curriculum and assessment system, OPUS (Octopus Poly-instrumental Units of Study). OPUS comprises ten grade levels, each with an accompanying assessment. Our voice curriculum emphasizes key skills that are crucial to students’ proper development. From the beginning, we emphasize safe vocal practices, sight-singing, aural training, proper breath control techniques, and overall musicianship to ensure vocal students are not just learning to use their voices, but developing skills that will translate to other musical ventures.


Ensembles at OMS are an integral part of our OPUS curriculum and are designed to provide students with a collaborative environment to experience the joys of making music in an intimate group with their peers. Students may begin signing up for ensembles the moment they begin studying at OMS! Barnacle Band (OPUS grade 1) is designed for complete beginners  with absolutely no experience whatsoever! Tentacle Band (OPUS grades 2-4) is for students who have completed grade 1 and have more experience than complete beginners, while OctoRock (OPUS grades 5+) is for advancing students who are very proficient at their instruments.

Advancing grade levels

Our curriculum features a 10-tiered program of advancement wherein graduation from each level is increasingly difficult. For reference, we expect students on the traditional track to graduate from Level 1 in 3-5 months. In contrast, students in Levels 8-10 who practice regularly are expected to advance in a year, or perhaps even longer, depending on the challenges presented in their studies.  In order to advance to Grades 2, 5, and 7, students must complete an ensemble class; Barnacle Band (for grade 2), Tentacle Band (for grade 5), and OctoRock (for grade 7) are our OPUS curriculum ensembles that are open to any currently enrolled students.

Practice, practice, practice!

The absolute most important aspect of learning any musical instrument is consistent daily practice. Students should aim to practice each day for the same amount of time they spend in their weekly lessons. If a student is taking a 30-minute lesson, the daily practice goal should be 30 minutes. Of course, that is the goal, and students shouldn’t aim too high in the beginning!

Tips for practice success

Try to help facilitate success by setting a time each day that the student should practice. In the beginning, it can be just a few minutes, with the intention of eventually building up to the full daily goal. It helps to set a timer and have a “practice space” where all their materials and instrument are easily accessible.

For vocalists, it is very helpful for students to record during their lessons in order to listen back, make corrections, and use to facilitate their own practice sessions. Students are encouraged to record their practice sessions also. This creates a system of checks and balances. It is important to keep practice associated with positivity rather than negativity to encourage the right habits. For example, instead of an ultimatum (“Practice, or no screen time), try to make it a reward (“Every 20 minutes of practice earns you 20 minutes of screen time”). Talk to your child’s private instructor to form a plan if you have ongoing concerns. The amount of adult attention a student needs when practicing varies by age; Beginner vocalists may need 15-30 minutes of parents’ daily, hands-on attention in order to succeed in forming good practice habits and absorbing the material. Students should become increasingly independent in their practice over their months and years of study.

If your child has trouble making practice part of their daily routine, we recommend starting small and making goals to increase time as your child’s attention span and interest is cultivated.

How can I help my child?

The amount of adult help students need varies by age; very young students may need 15-30 minutes of parents’ daily, hands-on attention. Students should become increasingly independent in their practice over their months and years of study. If your child has trouble making practice part of their daily routine, we recommend starting small and making goals to increase time as your child’s attention span and interest is cultivated.

Listen, watch, repeat

Encourage your child to listen to music that prominently features the instrument they are learning. This can be done by simply listening to music in the car or at home, or, taking your child to live music events so they can see first-hand where all of the hard work they are putting in can lead.

Instrument selection & care

Your child’s new string instrument is made to handle the stresses of playing, including quite a bit of pressure from the bow, downward force of the fingers pressing on the fingerboard, and other gestures and techniques learned in the lesson room. However, there are some things the stringed instrument is not built to handle. Please be sure to help your student understand the following DO’s and DON’Ts of string instrument care before they begin!


• Keep your instrument in the case when not in use.

• Make sure that your instrument has enough humidity (~50-65%) when in its case (use a humidifier in the winter months or when humidity is otherwise low. A hygrometer is sometimes built into your instrument’s case, but can also be ordered separately and will measure humidity in real time.

• Use a microfiber or polishing cloth to wipe down the instrument/strings of oils from the hands and rosin from the bow before putting it away.

• Change the strings twice per year, even if they don’t break!

• Rosin the bow before each practice session, lesson, and performance in order to produce the clearest tone.


• Leave your instrument (even in a case!) next to a radiator, vent, window, or any place that experiences extreme temperatures or humidity changes.

• Leave your instrument in a car or outside, even for just a few minutes.

• Play “sword fight” with the bow.

• Leave your instrument unattended in an open case if there are small children or pets around.

• Forget to tighten the bow before playing with it and loosen the bow when putting it away. Failing repeatedly to do so could limit the life of your bow or eventually even lead to breakage!

• Open the case while holding it upright on its end. Always lay the case down fat before opening (or on its side for cellos and upright basses).

Recommended Instruments

OMS rents high-quality string instruments to our students. All of our instruments have solid spruce tops, ebony hardware and fingerboards, are serviced by a luthier, and come with a horse-hair bow and hard shell case. If you do not yet have an instrument, speak to one of our front desk representatives to inquire about a rental.

Tools of the trade


Whether a purchase or rental, your enrollee’s instrument case should come with rosin. Lost or broken rosin costs $3-$12 to replace.

Tuner & metronome

Tuners and metronomes are on our required materials list for enrollment at OMS. That is because they are absolutely vital tools for progress! Tuner apps, such as the recommended InsTuner, are available for free on your smart device. Our recommended metronome app is called Pro Metronome. It requires a one-time fee of $2.99 and is available on Android and iOS. A physical tuner/metronome device can be generally between $15-$30.

Shoulder rest & cloth

Shoulder rests can be $30-$80 and are a one-time expense. Your teacher will determine what, if any, shoulder support best suits the needs of your enrollee.

Dampit & hygrometer

Included in the DOs & DON’Ts above was the suggestion to have a tool inside the case at all times which maintains humidity as well as a tool that measures humidity. We suggest a humidifying tool called a Dampit—which rests inside (yes, inside) the holes of the stringed instrument—and a humidity gauge, if your instrument case does not come with one built in. These tools run in the ballpark of $12 each.

Was this article helpful?

That’s Great!

Thank you for your feedback

Sorry! We couldn't be helpful

Thank you for your feedback

Let us know how can we improve this article!

Select atleast one of the reasons
CAPTCHA verification is required.

Feedback sent

We appreciate your effort and will try to fix the article