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Laurie Niles

Picking it up

July 1, 2006 at 5:30 AM

One of my favorite teachers to watch is Lucy Shaw. No matter that she wasn't teaching the books I was studying at the Colorado Suzuki Institute earlier this month. I just had to see her anyway, having watched her work her magic with students in previous years.

This day she was listening to a student play a lovely Adagio movement from the Sonata in G Minor by Eccles. It was so lovely, I was rather carried off by it, enjoying the accurate intonation, clear tone, nice vibrato, a well-executed diminuendo at the end. Still, it felt a bit murky, somehow out of the lines. I really wasn't thinking why.

Lucy, the owner and director of the Village Violin School in Houston and who is moving this summer to Seattle, smiled at the young lady and praised her performance. "I really liked your intonation, and I'm not saying that to too many people these days," she said. She confessed to being extra sensitive to intonation of late, then declared, "When we play out of tune, it's like adding pollution to the air!"

The young lady could be quite pleased that she did, in fact, keep our wonderful Rocky Mountain air as fresh and fragrant as it started out.

"What's the time signature of this piece?" Lucy inquired with a smile.

Ah, the time signature! This question elicited some on-the-spot research and yielded the interesting answer: 3/2. A rather unusual time signature, especially in student literature. Not only that, but the piece begins with two beats of rest.

"I don't think you felt those two beats..." Lucy said, and her student agreed.

"Have you tried this with a metronome?" she asked. The student had, with the quarter note on 72.

"That's good, it makes you subdivide and be very aware of the beat," Lucy said. But it puts six beats in every measure, and the piece is meant to be felt with three slow beats.

The girl played the piece again, and Lucy conducted on the half note, giving big upbeats.

"Three big beats, that's the first thing I want you to explore with this piece," Lucy said.

At this point she took out the metronome, and my guess was that she'd put it on that big, slow beat, to show the girl how to feel things in three.

But no!

She put the metronome on about 72, and simply had her play it about double speed!

"We will start fast with the metronome and slow down," Lucy said.

I'll be darned. In all the years I've played Galamian acceleration scales, I hadn't thought of the idea of a "deceleration" exercise for a slow movement!

The piece was quite brisk-sounding at this pace, and it took the student a bit of an effort to slip into this faster-moving tempo. Then, Lucy slowed the metronome about four notches, and the student played again. Then four more. Lucy conducted along.

"Is it starting to feel like it flows more for you? That is what was missing for me," Lucy said to her.

"You always have to make sure you aren't making your audience feel like..." and Lucy demonstrated, wordlessly loping across the room, hunched over, the personification of "pedantic."

"You know how people can have things implanted, like pacemakers," Lucy mused. "Wouldn't it be nice if we could have metronomes implanted?"

I had to laugh, thinking about writing referrals for students to the Beverly Hills Metronome Implant Surgeon.

The student's assignment was to "eat different tempos and internalize them." I drew a picture of a little guy holding a big fork.

Dig in!

From Jeanne Majors
Posted on July 1, 2006 at 1:19 PM
Thank you for sharing this lesson moment with Lucy Shaw! It's so good to hear how a fine teacher can guide and encourage.
There is so much to playing the violin, it's good to focus on something more than just the notes on the page & technical issues. Of course, all that must be in place as well. But I think some teachers might forget about the music itself. Let's not forget that the flow and the feel of the music create the expression for which even a young student with the simplest of pieces can aspire.
From Steve Skinner
Posted on July 1, 2006 at 2:38 PM
Wow! That was priceless. Thank you. Steve
From janice wyllie
Posted on July 1, 2006 at 8:52 PM
oh, the invaluable importance of a teacher who is actively thinking and looking at things from different perspectives. Searching for what's true and what works rather than doggedly following textbooks, curriculums and accepted practices.

Has anyone thoughts about the help versus hindrance question of such conveniences as eletronic tuners and shoulder rests?

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