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Daniel Broniatowski

The First Violin Lesson

October 10, 2014 11:26

violin student
What Parents and Students Should Know


Seasoned and successful teachers and performers of the violin know that one of the most important necessities of decent playing is good posture. I personally believe that good posture is much of the be all and end all of good technique, since the principles of playing well are all based on an inherent harmony between mind, body, and spirit.

Relating to the subtitle above, I firmly believe that a violin teacher (and any other serious instrumental music teacher) should make it clear to the parent or adult student that good playing posture is the most important prerequisite for success. This is easier said than done! Why?

1. Many parents are unaware of the fact that violin is inherently difficult

2. Many children want to play from the very first violin lesson - How does one balance this urge, keep their interest, yet slow down the learning process to include basic postural exercises?

3. Parents who cannot be at the violin lesson are often not in a position to know what good posture is, and they may expect the student to come home after the first lesson with a working idea of how to make a nice sound and play properly

I would like to propose some potential solutions to the above problems, with the hope that my words can save some future students and parents from quitting due to frustration that may arise from improper teaching methods or unrealistic expectations. From our list above, for the sake of convenience, I will repeat the issues-at-hand and then remedy each one separately.

1. Many parents are unaware of the fact that violin is inherently difficult

As a violin teacher, I know that it can be difficult to tell a very excited parent or student what lies ahead. In fact, it can be downright dangerous! We do not want to demoralize anyone and we certainly do not want to be negative. Furthermore, we do not want to push anyone away who was expecting "just to have fun". How does one deal with this situation? It's all about how one presents the information.

When a parent or student approaches me, from the very first violin lesson, I aim to strike a balance by harnessing one's enthusiasm for the instrument with the formation of a realistic plan. The solution here, is to give a parent or student an idea of a "big picture" as to what is possible in a given amount of time. For instance, if Little Johnny wants to "saw away" (sorry - I had to use that expression sometime!) repeatedly because "the violin is so cool!" but his posture isn't anything at all resembling a violinist, I, as a teacher need to step in and tell Johnny and his parent(s) that playing the violin well is something that any student can do but that it takes time. This is a good time to give a violin-demonstration of what "Johnny might sound like one day". Of course, the "sawing-away" process is not to be shunned, and, if you keep reading, you'll see that it goes away on its own after the initial "honeymoon" phase!

Ever hear of the SMART criteria for establishing goals? Without getting into too many specifics, explaining that every lesson will have Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-related goals will convince Johnny's parents that the teacher is professional, in control, and nurturing.

2. Many children want to play from the very first lesson - How does one balance this urge, keep their interest, yet slow down the learning process to include basic postural exercises?

Our subject above certainly wants to play. He wants to play so much that he is likely not even listening to the teacher! How does one cope?

This is a situation that is completely manageable if the teacher, parent, and student are all on the same page. Yet, the solution to the above problem will vary based on the expectations of the parent(s). For instance, some parents prefer that a teacher take a more parental role than others during the violin lesson. Other parents would like to discipline their children in and during the lesson! I personally am not a big fan of the latter, but it works for some.

In an ideal world, if Johnny came to me as a student and demonstrated the above behavior of playing over me while I'm trying to talk, I would take the violin away while I was talking but promise "play-time" at home. Yet, I would also be very careful to then stress that we will be working with the violin and making sounds for most of the lesson. This should work to channel Johnny's enthusiasm. It is important at the beginning to establish a relationship of who is actually running the violin lesson, while still being inspirational and uplifting. In fact, is is also a good time for a teacher to demonstrate cool things on the violin so that Johnny can stay focused on an end result!

3. Parents who cannot be at the lesson are often not in a position to know what good posture is, and they may expect the student to come home after the first lesson with a working idea of how to make a nice sound

This, my friends, is one of the biggest challenges of teaching young children. In an ideal world, a parent will be at the violin lesson, dutifully taking notes. Unfortunately, this is a luxury for many.

A thirty-minute lesson leaves barely any time for a teacher to leave detailed notes for a parent - particularly when the student is asking many questions or making noise with the instrument. As a result, I believe that the very first lesson is best left as an introduction to the violin. Teachers should not expect to have their students attain results after one lesson and it is actually in the second lesson where the real nitty gritty happens. I believe that the first lesson should be left for discovering the strings, the sounds they make, and learning rest position and a very basic playing position. It is also a time for the teacher to write a note to the parent about the proper shoulder rest (or sponge) that is needed. This also needs to be followed-up by e mail, to make sure parents see the notes!

Meanwhile, Johnny will then take his violin home, get the "I have to make many sounds with this cool instrument" honeymoon out of his system and he'll then come back hopefully wanting to learn how he can really play! Just hope that he hasn't broken anything (something to also talk about during the first lesson).

The second lesson is when the teacher should devote time to posture, bow-hold, and, in my opinion, learning how to place each finger of the left-hand on the fingerboard (with finger tapes), one string at a time. If time remains, learning bow-rhythms and bow-games is also an option at this stage.

I hope this has been helpful!

Musically yours,

Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A.
Parent tested, Child Approved
Maestro Musicians Academy

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