Come to lessons prepared. Practice daily, including what your teacher asked for. Also, use your imagination and practice something your teacher didn’t teach. Be curious. Try things out, and arrive with questions. Assess your weakest skills, and spend extra time on them.
Pay attention. Record lessons and take notes from them. Experiment with bio-mechanics and evaluate the results. Play with expressive dynamics and allow the violin to become your voice.
Be enthusiastic about your studies. Love your instrument. Enjoy music and the people who make it.
Support your teacher. Attend her or his performances. Same goes for your fellow students.
Attend live concerts. Explore music. Attend plays. Attend live concerts. Attend art shows. Attend live concerts. Explore the arts.
Arrive on time, and get to work. Communicate what you feel is working well and where you are having difficulties. But remember, music lessons are not talk-therapy.
Think of musical goals you’d like to accomplish, both short and long term. Ask for help in reaching for them.
Show respect for your teacher. Express gratitude to those who support your studies.
Work diligently on basic technique. Assume your bowing, intonation, sound can always improve, and that you will be a better musician for having worked on them.
Seek musical challenge. Participate in performing groups. Avoid being a prima donna. Be thoughtful and kind. Avoid gossip. Share the spotlight.
Be the student your teacher most looks forward to seeing each week. Ask yourself, “What do I bring to this mentorship? What can I give back to my teacher?”
I want to play with nice sound. Beautiful sound, Sound that someone would actually like to hear. And I want to do this in the spring recital performing the Bach Bourree with all the repeats. But I can’t. Regardless of the opening notes, my right shoulder ratchets up, up, up. Invariably, by the end of the second phrase my arm is tensely sawing away creating a sound somewhere between airy and screechy. And what’s the point of the repeats if it sounds like that? As usual, I have a plan.
Alexander Technique instructor Cathy Pollock is in town this week and we’ve started working together, again. (“Again” refers to the successful work we did together about 10 years ago when I had difficulties stemming from an overly tense jaw.) She asked me to play, and within a few strokes could see the hunched back, clenching chin, shoulders caving up and into each other - not a good position for any physical activity, and disastrous for playing violin. My teachers and I are aware of all of this and have been working to correct the posture, with limited results.
With kind words and warm hands, Cathy explained anatomy and repositioned my body. She covered the structure of clavicle and shoulder socket, and where the scapula sits most naturally in the back. She discussed intention of motion, and initiation from the back. She had me sit, stand, walk, and bow open strings in this new positioning. It felt more natural, and sound improved, but it also felt less secure. The physical freedom it provided was scary in its unfamiliarity. My body desperately wanted to fall back to tight, old habits, and it took a lot of awareness to maintain the re-formed posture. I have faith in the method, though, and expect that 5 – 10 lessons will establish significant postural change, resulting in sufficient sonic change, allowing the repeats in the Bach Bourree. That’s the goal.
(P.S. For more information and perspective about Alexander Technique, check out Stephen Brivati's article, A Violinist's Experience with the Alexander Technique.)
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