from West Africa to Woodinville

  • Written by Henry Bischofberger, violin maker
It is imperative that you get a good instrument, even if it is a child’s size. Quality does not have to mean expensive. Many factory-made student instruments, if well “set-up,” will be of good quality for your student. Having an instrument “set up” means a qualified violin maker makes the final adjustments by hand. These adjustments include making sure the pegs fit properly, cutting the bridge to fit the instrument, putting on good quality strings and making sure the bow hair is clean and full. Proper set-up can make the difference between a good instrument and one that doesn’t play well. Your child is much more likely to stick with it if his instrument sounds and feels like it should. Read on to avoid the most common instrument problems.

The strings: Look closely for any fraying or imperfections.  Run your finger up and down each string and feel for bumps or divots, which indicate the string should be replaced.  Steel strings are the lowest quality. It is well worth the extra fuss to upgrade to Perlon core strings (Dominant brand). Old or metal strings will not make a clear tone and they are more likely to squeak or break. It is best to use Dominant for violin/viola, Spirocore or Jargar for cello and Spirocore or Helicore for Bass.

The Pegs and Tuners: Make sure the pegs fit snugly and turn easily but also stay without slipping. For all instruments except for the bass, the pegs should NOT be mechanical. There should be no screws in either end of the peg. Your instrument will have at least one (and often four) fine tuners on the tail piece.  Make sure these tuners turn easily and work properly.

The bridge:  The bridge is NOT glued down. It is held in place simply by the pressure of the strings. The feet at the bottom of the bridge must fit the top of the violin exactly.  The height of the bridge should also be correct. If it is too high, it will be very hard to press the strings down.  Bridges that don’t fit properly are much more likely to fall down. A continually falling bridge may cause the sound post to fall.

The bow: Good bows are made from wood or carbon fiber and real horse hair (not synthetic hair). Look over the hair from the top to the bottom. It should be white or slightly yellow in color with no dark spots. If the hair is thinning at the frog (the part that is held in the hand), discolored or dirty, ask for a different bow.  Make sure the screw works to easily tighten and loosen the hair.

The sound post: The sound post is a small wooden post inside the instrument placed almost under one foot of the bridge. Look inside your instrument and make sure it is there and that it is straight up and down. The sound post is very important for getting a good sound. If the sound post is down or missing, the instrument should NOT be played until a violin maker puts the sound post back up.

The case: Make sure the case is in good working order, all latches and zippers work properly. Make sure the instrument doesn’t rattle inside when the case is closed.

Instrument size: Make sure to get the right size instrument for your child. The violin shop owner can determine the right size. An oversized instrument is frustrating to play, and causes the student to develop bad habits.

The “Great Deal:” Stay away from instruments that are very cheap or seem like a great deal.

If you want to buy one of these instruments, let your teacher or a violin maker look at it before you buy. If you have an instrument from your grandpa or in your attic, take it to a violin maker to have it properly set-up and get fresh strings.

Your teacher will likely require you to return the instrument if it is not up to par.

A good instrument is a joy to play. Follow these tips to give your child the best chance for a great orchestra experience.

Henry Bischofberger is a third generation violin maker located on Seattle’s Eastside. He learned his trade at the Violin Making School in Brienz, Switzerland and has been in business for over 35 years. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., (425) 822-0717,

A strong financial education makes good ‘cents’

  • Written by BPT

1594057_webMillennials, also known as Generation Y or those born between 1978 and 1994, are money movers. They’re wielding more purchasing power, spending $200 billion annually, and are expected to outspend the baby boomer generation by 2017, according to Kelton Research. At the same time, they face an increasingly complex global economy that puts heavy responsibility on individuals to plan for and manage their own finances from pre-college years through retirement.

This overwhelming reality presents both an opportunity and an obligation to enhance the financial literacy of young people so they’re better prepared for the world they will encounter upon graduation. However, Millennials aren’t the only demographic that would benefit from more resources to improve financial knowledge. No matter your age or income, having financial literacy will always be essential to making smart money decisions. One family-friendly resource available is – a website that provides educational tools and resources about budgeting, saving, tracking and investing money.-

Financial literacy by the numbers

Young Americans are in a tough spot, financially. Today’s 20-somethings hold an average individual debt of about $45,000 between student loans, credit cards, car payments, mortgages and other sources, according to PNC Bank, a staggering burden for an unprepared young person to carry, exacerbated by an elevated unemployment level among this group.

Consequently, this group is significantly more likely to feel that financial planning is complicated and overwhelming, according to a recent study by Northwestern Mutual. The study found that young people rank “not falling below your current standard of living” as an important financial goal, but only 54 percent believe that they are on track to achieve this goal.

And it’s not just young people who feel they could be more financially prepared. The majority of Americans feel their financial planning needs improvement. In fact, Americans rated “improving personal finances” as their second highest annual priority, according to Northwestern Mutual’s study. They are also worried they’re unprepared to financially support themselves into their 70s, 80s and 90s.

Education is empowering

This month, get thinking about how you can improve your financial literacy and become better prepared for your future. You can use resources such as to re-teach yourself and your children how to manage money wisely. Understanding the fundamentals of personal finance is the first step to planning for the rest of your financial future. So why not learn more? It just makes “cents.”

For more information, and a variety of educational resources and interactive tools,

Executive Functioning: What’s All the Buzz About?

  • Written by Submitted by Dr. Melodee Loshbaugh, Executive Director, Brock’s Academy

We’ve all known students (or are possibly raising one) who are constantly running late, can’t remember what or where their homework is, or do the assignments but then forget to turn them in. They just can’t seem to follow through on things unless someone takes them by the hand and guides them gently through the process. Often this is chalked up to laziness or carelessness, but researchers who study this behavior believe it has more to do with a child’s executive functioning skills. It is possible for a student to really be doing their best and still not succeed in school if they have executive functioning challenges.

Executive functioning (EF) is a term that describes a person’s ability to follow through on tasks and think and act independently. While all of us have these abilities in varying strengths, a person with executive functioning challenges seems unable to do them at an adequate level. These struggles can become major road blocks in a child’s educational journey if they are not addressed. Doctors Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Laurie Dietzel are authors on the subject. They have provided the following list of executive functions to help us understand the challenges people may face when they are lacking these skills.

What are Executive Functioning Skills?

Inhibition – The ability to stop a behavior, action or thought at the right time, or to prevent an impulsive action from taking place.

Shift – The ability to think flexibly and respond appropriately to different and changing situations.

Emotional Control – The ability to understand and engage appropriately in group dynamics, including waiting turns during conversations.

Initiation – The ability to begin a task and independently generate solutions, strategies and ideas.

Working Memory – The ability to remember short term information for the purpose of performing a task.

Planning/Organization –The ability to think a task through from beginning to end and plan for potential course changes.

Organization of Materials – The ability to organize work and living spaces to promote success.

Self-Monitoring – The ability to evaluate past personal experiences and decide if behavior changes should be made; seeking out additional resources or asking for help when needed.

What can parents do?

Children with executive functioning challenges do not always know the next logical step in a process. Clear, sequential instructions are often necessary to help them be successful. Here are some suggestions provided by the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

• Provide visual clues and review them frequently.

• Make use of planners and calendars; they reduce stress and feelings of being overwhelmed.

• Use both written and verbal instructions.

• Create a daily routine; familiarity makes things easier.

• Create “to do” lists to help students visualize and plan appropriately.

• Divide big assignments into smaller tasks and make use of timelines to stay on track.

• Keep clutter to a minimum.

• If possible, have different work areas for different activities; stock each area with its own set of supplies.

• Frequently consult your child’s teacher and possibly bring in an outside tutor/mentor to help them stay organized and focused on homework.


What is Executive Functioning?

Executive Function Fact Sheet

Additional Suggested Book Resources:

Teaching Teens with ADD, ADHD & Executive Function Deficits

Late, Lost, and Unprepared

Learning to Love Math

  • Written by Submitted by Kumon

Nurturing your children to develop an appreciation of math can be a challenge; however, encouraging them to think about numbers every day may come a bit easier. It’s also a great way to lay the foundation for a love of learning math.

“Parents can incorporate problem solving math in the kitchen, in the car, while they’re grocery shopping,’’ said Lia Crawford, elementary mathematics supervisor for Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, Florida. Give children confidence with the basics, she said, and they’ll fall in love with math – an attitude that serves as a building block for the rest of their education – and for much of life.

When you pay your bills online, buy shoes, measure distance or check the time, you’re using math. Here are a few useful tips to help get your children excited about math.

Be an example

Help your children improve their attitude toward math, by showing them that you are confident when completing routine tasks like counting money from a school fund-raiser, or completing your tax return.

Read books that incorporate math

More and more schools are starting to integrate diverse subject areas in the curriculum so students can make clearer connections between different subjects. One way is to have students read books in which the main characters solve a problem using math or logic. Examples include, One Hundred Hungry Ants by Ellinor J. Pinczes, The King’s Commissioners by Aileen Friedman and Socrates and the Three Little Pigs by Tuyosi Mori.

Use math every day

Encourage your children to solve problems involving math outside of school. In the grocery store, ask your children to figure out the price of four cans of tuna fish. In the car, ask them how long it will take to travel to your destination based on your speed.

We naturally encourage our children to read, write and speak outside of school, but often leave learning math skills to inside the classroom. Like everything else, your children’s skills and confidence in working with mathematical concepts will improve with daily practice, support and encouragement. Be sure to share your own tips with fellow parents and friends today.

What parents need to know about concussions

  • Written by BPT

BTP – Parents of young athletes know that along with the many benefits of participating in sports, there comes a certain amount of injury risk. As more evidence surfaces about long-term health challenges related to concussions, it’s especially crucial that parents bring themselves up to speed on the proper procedures for caring for an athlete who experiences a concussion.

The most important thing parents need to know about concussions is that if an athlete exhibits any signs or experiences any symptoms of a concussion, he or she should be immediately removed from play. While this recommendation is nothing new, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) is again emphasizing its importance with the release of its updated 2013 sports concussion evidence-based guidelines.

For parents unfamiliar with concussion signs and symptoms, they include:

• Headache and sensitivity to light or sound

• Changes to balance, coordination and reaction time

• Changes in memory, judgment, speech and sleep

• Loss of consciousness or a “blackout” (happens in less than 10 percent of cases)

To view the entire AAN concussion report and find more concussion resources, visit