Celia Cobb reviews the latest from Kathy and David Blackwell, published by the UK’s ABRSM examining board

Violin Star Theory

Kathy and David Blackwell

52PP ISBN 9781786012999

ABRSM £6.95


Aimed at ‘young players in the early stages of learning the violin’, this book provides a comprehensive introduction to music theory. It approaches the subject from the young violinist’s perspective; there are no cows eating grass (or good boys deserving fine apples), no unfamiliar clefs and definitely no C major. The book begins by covering a few basic note values and non-pitch-related concepts. Then, after the open strings are highlighted, the pitches on each string are presented in a systematic and easily comprehensible way.

Each new theoretical concept is accessible to the young player from a practical point of view, and throughout the book there is an emphasis on switching between the theory and its practical application. Various icons, including a pair of clapping hands and a mini violin, act as visual reminders to encourage the pupil to put their theory into practice by clapping or playing on their instrument. There is also a link to a few extra activities on the ABRSM website, which would be useful for both individual and group teaching.

Although the book is titled Violin Star Theory the blurb advises that it ‘can be used alongside any violin tutor’, and I imagine that Colourstrings teachers will be delighted to note that the colours for each string match those used in their method. If you are familiar with the Violin Star series and are expecting the books to match the gloriously Quentin Blake-esque explosions of colour on each page, you may be a little disappointed, but the illustrations are nevertheless cheerful and bright, and give the book a friendly feel. There is sometimes a danger of sensory overload – the pages are busy and the explanations towards the end of the book get quite wordy – but there is certainly no opportunity for boredom, as each page contains something new and interesting. Seven-year-old me would have loved it.

However, I have a gripe, and it is a substantial one: where are the versions for viola, cello and double bass? Perhaps the answer is ‘coming soon’, in which case I will be happy to climb down from my high horse. But until then, I must say that I feel resources for young beginner string players, especially those published by a major exam board, should be available across the range of instruments. I teach in a setting where youngsters learn side by side on their chosen stringed instrument right from the start. Lovely as this book is, I simply could not imagine using it until it is available for all of them. I appreciate that many publishers are constrained by market demand, and need to produce things that will sell in order to continue publishing. But this book is published by ABRSM, a registered charity – surely there is a chance here to support and encourage young players of all stringed instruments, rather than always concentrating on the bestsellers? The huge disparity in what is available means there is very little (apart from the new ‘Initial’ exam packs) for young students of viola and double bass. (Cellists fare a little better.) Come on ABRSM, please provide parity across the board by making resources like this book available for all young string players.