Exploring the 5-String Violin


Most of everyone knows I play an acoustic 5ing violin, even though I don’t treat it as such. When I first started playing the violin with the newly added, and sometimes controversial, 5th string I wanted to ensure that I didn’t over-use the string as if a new toy or gimmick. Something of this nature, an innovation of sorts, needs to be handled with care as to not allow it to become something that sticks out as a thorn. Rather, the fifth string should be treated as an equal member of the family. A 1/5th component of a larger unit. If this mind set isn’t adopted, the addition string becomes over played and subject to auditory abuse.

Technical Alterations:
A common question that arises is whether the technique of the 5ing player is different than that of a traditional player? The answer is, yes. Although, maybe not as drastically of a difference as you might think. The main technical difference is mainly in the openness and reach of the left hand fingers. This is obvious due to that new string you have to accommodate for. As for the right hand, the strings are often closer together. This can make string crossing either easier or far more difficult. Easier in the sense that there is less distance between strings. More difficult in the sense that you can no long rely on that G string as your bottom string. These adjustments are easily adapted once some practice is had. Julie Lyonn Lieberman said that, “Playing a four string and a five string fosters the development of spatial acuity in the right brain, creat(ing) a vital and useful mental heirarchy betwen the motor cortices and both hands.” Chiming in, Daryl Silberman feels that the five string was best for students that was “specifically interested in the technical challenges” of a 5ing violin. In other words, after you beat the “4ing level” you can go on to the “5ing” level? I believe, and know first hand, that playing a 5ing is extremely building of character. Also, the creative component is inspiring.

Although you can do a very many fun musical things with a 4ing, one more string couldn’t hurt. The covenant C string adds a new way of looking at the instrument and the approach to performance. Like a child that has jut received the colour turquoise to add to is crayon collection, a musician with a 5ing is just the same. The crafty use of the new string is found in conscious use, lest everything become turquoise. Nevertheless, this new colour allows for new ideas to emerge, now that the opportunity has been given. To be clear, I don’t think every violinist has thought “I wish I had another strong.” Rather, the new ideas are exciting due to the new string’s availability. Therefore, this creative availability establishes new thought processes and instrument exploration. Now there are options to explore the other areas of the instrument in relationship to the new string. The entire creative landscape alters as the mind can expand along with the music.

Viola Appreciation:
As a colleague of mine stated, “The five string; the wanna be viola” The 5ing can offer some appreciation for the violin’s close family member the viola. As if to transport you to another world, you can suddenly read two new clefs. When playing the 5ing we are able to understand playing from the violist point of view, or at least a good sense of it. This is both humbling and character building at the same time. As this perspective grows collaborating with violists might become easier and simpler.

Whether you agree with the 5ing alteration or not, I hope everyone can see the many benefits that accompany attempting the 5ing experience. I truly believe that any challenging experience builds musical character and creative development. In the case of the 5ing violin, the truth lies in practice. The rewards in the results. The inspiration in the creation.

(Article originally featured on Violinist.com)

Live your passion deliberately!

With deep appreciation,





Focused posts Facebook | Everything in-between @mcgregor_thomas | Me on video Youtube | Where all the magical stuff happens http://www.THOMASMCGREGOR.com

These 3 hacks will make you play the violin like a pro

In this day and age, “hacking” things have become the norm. We like to think that we can hack out body, mind, and spirit in our pursuit of higher and higher achievement. To some extent this is true because in every system is a loophole, no matter our diligence in securing it.

When it comes to playing the violin, there are some “hacks” that you can apply to your every day practice in order to hyper-speed your progress.

WARNING: The hacks listed below will make you play more accurately, consistently and with more emotion. You have been warned.

  1. Be Relaxed:  One of the first hacks you can apply today is to hack your nervous system by overriding the feeling of anxiety. You can do this simply be concentrating on your breath every time you pick up your instrument. This will train your brain and body to be in a relaxed state when your instrument is in your hands. We become stressed via triggers. These triggers can be caused by past experiences, environment and other people. By concentrating on your breath and relaxing your muscles you will open up your tone and notice your volume to increase. You will need to control this new found power — but I trust you can manage better tone. :)
  2. Focus On ONE Thing: Don’t discount the simplicity of this hack. This means you will NOT focus on multiple things that you need to work on in your practice. It means that you will focus on ONE things — thats it. Scales? No, Scale. Songs? No . song. Every component of your playing should be broken down into a singular task that you can singularly focus on. This will completely change the game for you and your playing. Your accuracy will become better, with in increase in tone consistency. Make sure to always ask; “Is this the ONE THING that will make me better?”
  3. Increase Your Personal Standard: This is a mental hack. You will need to bypass your old way of thinking and start applying a new standard that is way higher than where you are currently. If your standard rises then you playing will rise. Your personal standard is the part of you that sets the ideal for the moment. If your ideal for the moment is only slightly above where you are, you won’t strive to get it. If your ideal is massively higher than where you are, you will strive to hit that higher target. Then, once you have set that standard as where you NEED to be, then your “must” has changed. This will drastically change the game for you in every way possible. Raise your standard — raise your playing!

Live your passion deliberately!

With deep appreciation,


Focused posts Facebook | Everything in-between @mcgregor_thomas | Me on video Youtube | Where all the magical stuff happens http://www.THOMASMCGREGOR.com

Here are 4 ways to play the violin better

We can be honest — we want to be better at playing the violin. This is a nobel aspiration and we should take every opportunity to become better!

In this post to you I hope to illuminate the 4 ways to play the violin better that have greatly impacted my performance on the instrument.

Take time to contemplate each tip. They have been carefully thought out and I truly hope that they benefit you in every way possible.

I know — the violin can be a challenging instrument to master.

Keep the faith! You can do it! 

The rewards will be well worth everything you put into your advancement on the instrument — and that’s a promise.

The key to the success of these betterment keys is to apply them where you are as a player. Be honest, and approach the tasks in a way that will springboard you from where you are to where you want to be.

  1. Analyze: Take time to analyze the are of study you are currently in. What this means is that you take time to become more aware of what you are studying in an effort to gain an larger vision of where what you are studying is taking you. Everything we study contributes to the map that we are following to achieve our dreams. When we study the violin this rule still applies. Analyze why you’ve decided to study a particular area. Is it actually helping you? Or, is it keeping you from more important areas? Pro Tip: Take 15mins before you start each practice to become more aware of how what you are studying is either helping you or hindering you.
  2. Listen: Do whatever you need to do to gain access to great music — the masters. Listen to every breath they take. Listen to how they phrase things. And, listen to them playing something you’re working on. By studying the masters we can shortcut many of our challenges. Furthermore, we can find new avenues for our own expression when we are given tools from the masters. Pro Tip: Find the song you’re currently practicing on youtube played by a master and copy the way they phrase it. This will give you deeper insight into how they think about the piece.
  3. Practice: You didn’t think I’d leave this out did ya? But before you scan past this tip, let me put a twist on it. Practice should be done in short hyper-focused sessions. Why short? Because our attention spans our getting shorter and shorter. Also, when we hyper-focuse our attention we absorb, remember, and articulate more. Pro Tip: A 20min hyper-focused practice is better than a 90min practice that’s scattered.
  4. Experiment: This might be my favorite! Don’t be afraid to experiment with your instrument. Try to make new and different sounds, rhythms, and songs. Try something crazy with your instrument. Go play for someone randomly in a gas station. I’m not kidding! Experiment with ways you can better impact and influence your community. This will give you a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Pro Tip: The more you explore your instrument the easier it will be to play. Think of your instrument as if it’s a person you need to get to know. Remember, you are in charge of how far you take your exploration; so, go CRAZY — and enjoy!

Live your passion deliberately!

With deep appreciation,





Focused posts Facebook | Everything in-between @mcgregor_thomas | Me on video Youtube | Where all the magical stuff happens http://www.THOMASMCGREGOR.com

Can you make perfect by practicing?

The taboo and questioning around the statement “Practice makes perfect” has been debated for centuries… Well, maybe not centuries but, at least the last decade or so. 

What do you think? Do you believe that endless amounts of practice enables performance perfection?

Different alterations of the statement have been submitted over the years. Those include:

  1. Perfect practice makes perfect.
  2. Perfect attention to the right things makes perfect.
  3. Practicing perfectly makes perfect.
  4. Your practice makes your perfect.

No matter how you phrase it, the question still remains; does practice make perfect?

A new study from Rice University, Princeton University and Michigan State University finds that practice will most definitely make you better – regardless.

“This question is the subject of a long-running debate in psychology,” said Fred Oswald, professor and chair of psychology at Rice and one of the study’s co-authors. “Why do so few people who are involved in sports such as golf, musical instruments such as the violin or careers such as law or medicine ever reach an expert level of performance?”

This is a good point!.. There are many you study yet, few that master — or — reach a level of experiential achievement.

“Deliberate practice was a strong overall predictor of success in many performance domains, and not surprisingly, people who report practicing a lot generally tend to perform at a higher level than people who practice less,” Oswald said. “However, perhaps the more important contribution of our study is that no matter how strongly practice predicted performance in our findings, there was always statistical room for other personal factors to predict learning a skill and performing successfully, including basic abilities.”

Oswald noted that significant amounts of research have already identified basic abilities as also being important to predicting performance, but some researchers tend to minimize them and consider practice as the sole determinant of performance.

The key here is in the doing day in and day out. Commitment to constant refinement and discipline towards a passion is important to the human psyche and level of fulfillment.

“Other factors matter as well, but even so, no one says that practice will ever hurt you; but be careful if you are walking tightropes,” Oswald said.

At the end of the day, what is perfection anyway? Our ideal of perfection is stale, lifeless and, unnatural. The things in life that make us happy and fulfilled are filled with natural blemishes and slight deviations from what we think of as perfect. This is what makes life spicy and fruitful. 

So, does practice make perfect? Maybe..

However, do we want perfection? Maybe not.

Live your passion deliberately!

With deep appreciation,


Focused posts Facebook | Everything in-between @mcgregor_thomas | Me on video Youtube | Where all the magical stuff happens http://www.THOMASMCGREGOR.com

One Tool That Teachers Should Never Use

There are many tools available for today’s modern educator. Here are a few:

  • Multimedia 
  • Materials
  • Advanced Technology 
  • Children Psychology 
  • Research 
  • Online Publications 
  • Newsletters
  • Conferences 

How do we filter through all the available tool noise and find what is vital for our success as educators?

The vital tool is that which makes the most impact. 

Therefore, I believe your most valuable tool as an educator is your ability to know your students. If you know your students well you can influence them in the most beneficial way. You will be able teach them the way the need to be taught, speak their language and, have a long-lasting impact on their education.

Now that we know that, we can now locate the one tool that we should never use. We can do this now because we now know what are most valuable tool is and therein knowing that the tool we shouldn’t use is the tool that contradicts the efforts of knowing our students well.

That tool is, the mindset of rigid methodologies and philosophies. When we get caught up in rigid ways of thinking we pull away from our abilities to understand how our students think. We get caught in a “I know best” mentality. When, in reality, the student knows best how he or she should be taught, they just aren’t aware of it. Out duty as teachers is to locate these best ways of teaching through flexibility in mind in order to best establish how the student will learn best. We can not do this if we hold fixed ideas as absolutes in our minds.

Methods and philosophies in education are strong pillars that allow us for foundational support. However, once we label them as absolutes, we forego the ability to use best practice for each student. Ironically, we employ methods and philosophies as tools, for them to create concrete mentalities that stunt the growth of our students.

Release your need for control and solidarity. Allow for the students to teach you the method that works best for them. Allow for the students to show you the philosophy that they best resonate with. You will be more at ease, you classroom will prosper and, you students will be forever thankful.

Live your inspiration deliberately!

With deep appreciation,


Focused posts Facebook | Everything in-between @mcgregor_thomas | Me on video Youtube | Where all the magical stuff happens http://www.THOMASMCGREGOR.com

If You Have Passion, You Need Constant Inspiration

As an educator, having passion is what drives us. However, we are human and, sometimes that passionate light can diminish due to lack of personal inspiration.

This article is for teachers. This article is to bring you aware to the fact that you need inspiration in order to keep going in a passionate manner. Sometimes we don’t want to think as though we need help. After all — we’re teachers — we’re superheroes right? Not exactly, we are still human. Humans that need assistance everyone in a while.

Fist, what inspires you? What get’s your juices flowing and your heart pumping? Is it a good movie or something someone says?

I believe that we all have inspirational triggers that set us off both; in positive ways and negative ways. What we want to focus on here is the positive triggers that get us a-movin’.

The negative triggers are also important to know. Mainly, so we can avoid being in situations where they are stimulated.

The positive triggers we want to locate and use and jet fuel to propel our mentality until a passionate speed demon, ready to take over the world.

For example, what really inspires me is seeing others succeed and conquer great accomplishments. In other words, my inspirational trigger is to see what is possible beyond what I’m doing. If I see someone has played a song in under a minute, then I want to do it, but better (See Jesse’s Polka I did in 57seconds!). My trigger is being challenged to be and do better once I’ve seen what is possible. This get’s my creative juices flowing, thinking of new ideas I could incorporate into the project.

Q: What triggers turn you into a passionate jet?

 Once you have your trigger nailed down, it’s time for you to saturate yourself in it.

For me, this means watching people on youtube conquer mountains, break world records, and the like. This keeps me going and inspires me to be more passionate and driven than before.

Q: How can you saturate yourself more in your positive trigger?

This is the key moment when you will start to feel your blood flowing and your mind racing. You will want to take more action, create a better services and, inspire your students to do even better. This is when the circle has been completed. You have been inspired and through your passion inspiration is now being given. This is the beauty of passion. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Live your inspiration deliberately!

With appreciation,


Focused posts Facebook | Everything in-between @mcgregor_thomas | Me on video Youtube | Where all the magical stuff happens http://www.THOMASMCGREGOR.com

Top 10 Mistakes Teachers Make When Stressed

  • Do you feel as though your day, previous to teaching, seeps into your ability to teach effectively?
  • Do you ever feel as though problems from days previous effective how you interact with students?
  • Do you ever feel as though your problems become find their way onto the shoulders of your students?

These are tough questions to be honest about… We all have stressful days, challenges and situations that seem to get out of control. As a result, our teaching is affected. More importantly, our students are affected.

We must learn to keep our out-of-classroom(OOC)stresses separate from our, well, classroom. :-)

In order for use to do this we need to become aware of the things that might trigger unwanted reactions to students. Awareness is key and, in this article I will list the top 10 mistakes[us]teachers make when we are stressed and how they affect how effective we are as educators.

Top 10 Mistakes Teachers Make When Stressed

  1. Take things personally: When we take things that are OOC personally, we tend to carry it with us for a substantial period of time. Furthermore, we tend to take more things personally than we might have before. In other words, we build momentum in taking things personal. This easily transfers to the classroom when a student or parent says something that isn’t personal, but we take as so. Be aware and don’t allow this to happen to you.
  2. Remain closed-minded: This can set it when we feel as though we aren’t in control of a part of our life. For example, if a relationship we are in is spiraling out of our control, we tend to attempt to lock down other parts of our lives in an effort of regain control. Be careful… Allow for an open mind so that your students can grow and prosper.
  3. Not listening: If our minds are someplace else we tend to not listen, on any level, to what students and parents are telling us. Vital information is found in the meanings of what people say. Therefore, if we are mentally closed off due to OCC stressors, we won’t have the privilege to gain that much needed information.
  4. Sensitivity: Every student is different but, every student needs a certain amount of sensitivity in order to thrive. As an educator you should be looked upon as a guide, not an authority figure. You should be someone that has a helping hand, not a hand of steel. Don’t let past OOC stressors close you down to the sensitivities of your students. Be patient and soft when needed.
  5. Organization: This is a subject that I speak about frequently, with conviction. If you aren’t organized in every way possibly, I believe, you can’t teach effectively. When stressed, we often let things fall apart as a result of our internal mental breakdown. What this does is immediately affect our ability to pay attention to organizational details. This hurts our effectiveness and the the level for which we can educate our students. Take deep breaths and keep focused. Details matter in education.
  6. Parent perception: This is a topic that I plan to do an entire series on. A topic that is not spoken of very often. However, no less important, parent perception[of you]is incredibly important. This does not mean you need to lie or boost yourself up to make yourself look more important. Parent perception is all about one things: The ability for parents to see you as someone that cares about their child’s education. This means you need to listen, be open, and ask questions. This also means that you can’t allow OOC stressors to effect the way you interact with parents. If you’re having a bad day and will be interacting with parents; stay silent. Allow them to do most of the talking. Smile when appropriate and acknowledge their comments and concerns. Everyone wins.
  7. Creativity: If your day is going bad and you close down, naturally, your creativity will be diminished heavily. This will also heavily influence your ability to be flexibly with different ways of teaching; a vital skill for an educator. Stress knocks our ability to find new ways of presenting information. Therefore, become aware of if you are experiencing “creativity block” and ask yourself whether stress if having an influence on your ability to be creative or not.
  8. Big-Picture vision: Stress has a way of getting us to think only about the past. Really, that’s what stress is; a distraction from what we need to be doing at this very moment. Stress is like a virtual time machine. It takes us to places that don’t exist and are not how they really are. This distracts us from focus on the big picture for the success of out students. I need say no more as to how this influence your teaching in it’s entirety.
  9. Attitude: 80% of communication is nonverbal. Therefore, our attitude in the classroom is 80% more important than anything we say to our students. Students, children in particular, pick up on subtle changes in our body language, facial expressions and physical gestures. If our attitude is in the wrong place due to someone cutting us off in track that morning, our students will immediately pick up on that regardless of if we great them with a solid “Good morning!”
  10. Classroom energy: Now, hocus-pocus aside, we can all agree that we’ve been in classrooms that have been buzzing with excitement. This is not possible if we enter the room with a bad energy ourselves. We need to leave our personal problems and OOC stressors at the door and cultivate an energy in the room that enables creativity and learning. Focus on how to enhance the energy of the room, not focusing on our personal issues. We must think of our students first, ourselves out of the classroom. Keep the positive energy going and never let yourself get in the way or your educational power.

Live your inspiration deliberately!

With appreciation,


Focused posts Facebook | Everything in-between @mcgregor_thomas | Me on video Youtube | Where all the magical stuff happens http://www.THOMASMCGREGOR.com