well, as part of the `master Japanese or die` program of the last year I have regularly been watching DVDs of Japanese TV dramas for up to eight hours at a stretch. From this I have concluded the following:
1) Tissues are expensive.
2) My botty hurts.
3) Matsushima Nanako is the most beautiful woman on the planet.
4) My cat –really- hates TV drama.
So what better way to vary my learning/life experience than studying the long awaited Simon Fischer DVD on the secrets of tone production. I know there is already a thread on this but I haven’t done a blog for so long.....
I think the question in some people’s minds is something along the lines of `is it just a rehash of `Basics,` in which case do I need to buy it?` kind of thing.
It’s not an unreasonable question so let me backtrack a bit. When I first got my hands on `Basics,` it didn’t take me long to realize that this was a major new contribution to pedagogy in the same way that the books by Flesh and Galamian were. For the first time, the art of violin playing was truly systematically demystified under the fundamental heuristic of `proportion,` and not surprisingly , this is very much a theme that Simon returns to in his DVD. It was interesting for me to study Basics in depth because on the one hand it was a truly joyful experience and on the other I felt rather bitter that –not one- of the teachers I had studied with over the years had ever articulated violin playing to me in a way that was maximally efficient and helpful. I do believe that it is the responsibility of the teacher to talk in clear, simple and practical ways about how to solve specific problems on the violin rather than leaving it to chance, but such teachers really are few and far between. Becoming a violinist for many is a `hit and miss` affair with very few ever truly realizing their actual potential. That is why I have suggested from time to time that the major music institutes should have a teaching exam based around `Basics` with specific problems presented that are covered in that work. For sure, not everyone would like to slog through `Basics` from beginning to end during four years at College but I think it would produce a whole generation of better teachers and violinists, in my book at least.
So who do I actually recommend `Basics` to?
Certainly every teacher should study it in depth. For sure professionals and college students. However, there is one area where I have always been a little more hesitant: the beginner. Obviously a child can be prescribed exercises but does not really need the work itself. It is in the area of -adult beginner- that negative feedback tends to occur. An adult beginner is, on the one hand, capable of great analysis and thoughtful work but on the other, the art of violin playing still needs to be mediated by experience that adult learners don’t have and there are also some adults who have clearly identified their own learner style and found it incompatible with `Basics.` It boils down to a question of what to focus on and it doesn’t matter how well organized `Basics` actually is, the reality is that the art of learning the violin is so vast and diverse it may be discouraging or misleading to some adults. (I don`t use `misleading` in a perjorative sense here. It`s just that the adult may choose to focus on certain areas which are not required at a given moment.) The DVD in my opinion solves this problem in two ways.
First, it presents the absolutely fundamental exercises, thereby giving adult beginners (and everyone else) a clear area of focus and purpose. Secondly it presents the information in completely different modalities with the result that people can-see- exactly what needs to be done and process the data in a way better suited to them. For sure, it`s the same as `Basics` in a very narrow sense but in other, more meaningful ways, it is a wonderful supplement for teachers and a crucial stepping stone for adult beginners in particular before they go on to tackle `Basics` in depth.
There is another aspect of this DVD which is outside the purview of `Basics` and indeed best presented on DVD. Simon takes some trouble to get across in a very passionate way some rather fundamental knowledge and awareness of the instrument which is all to often ignored by teachers the world over. It sounds a bit abstract but it concerns the nature of the violin as an object of great beauty that resonates, vibrates and has a perfect voice that needs to be searched for. As Simon points out, some schools of playing call this magical resonance `Tonus` and it is rarely found in students or even professionals playing for that matter. Although the tone exercises provide a route to this magical violin sound one needs to feel/understand the concept before beginning one search for this wonderful thing. The DVD puts it across beautifully in a way that can clearly set adult beginners on a well defined path towards a glorious sound right from the beginning. It is something that we professional teachers need to think about and discuss a great deal more.
On top of this, although he doesn’t belabor it, Simon actually presents a step by step program for finding the beautiful sound. This particlar series of steps is not actually overtly emphasized in Basics so one could argue that it is somewhat new material if one is smart enough to embrace it completely. The steps Simon describes are as follows:
1) Listen. (A topic covered in a meaningful and important way in the DVD)
2) Feel though the fingers what the bow is doing in tandem with the string.
3) Look at what you are doing.(Also covered in detail)
4) Talk about what is happening in simple language (also covered.)
-Anybody- who adopts this deceptively simple looking framework as the basis for their practice is going to make –major- improvements very rapidly. As such it is a very important pedagogical tool! I even wonder if Simon may have actually underplayed it a little...;) Actually I would also add a prior step before the listening which is `imagine` which I am sure Simon would also do. It`s just not quite so relevant prior to the bowing exercises prescribed on this DVD.
So, all in all, the verdict is pretty much what one would expect. Another great contribution to the field of violin pedagogy that will benefit everyone but to my mind also fills a niche for those players who, for whatever reason couldn’t quite get from Basics the maximum benefits.
Bravo Mr. Fischer!
PS If you make the next one eight hours long please can you feature Matsushima Nanako, even if she is only turning pages for the piano player.
More entries: July 2010
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