November 8, 2007 at 7:20 PM"You teach; should I? I just really enjoy working with kids and with people, but I don't know where to start..."
Whenever my performing friends say this, I can't help but try to rope them into teaching. The world needs good teachers, and if you have studied fully the instrument and have an enthusiasm for teaching others, then you have what it takes.
So over the years, I've encouraged a number of my performing friends to try teaching, and also to get training in violin pedagogy -- Suzuki pedagogy, if they are interested in teaching very young children.
The problem is that sometimes I think people have found pedagogy training to be discouraging.
For me, having taught for about five years before, pedagogy training gave me a shot in the arm. It gave me more "tricks" for my bag. It also gave me a deeper understanding of certain techniques, particularly techniques that have been easy or natural to me for a long time. I've found that the technique you struggled with most very often is the technique that you teach best. Conversely, it's harder to see what's difficult about techniques that feel "easy" to you.
So why would pedagogy training be discouraging?
Recently a new teacher, an excellent violinist who is clearly devoted to the idea of teaching, was comparing notes with me, asking about my approach. She'd recently taken some Suzuki pedagogy courses, and she was re-thinking various approaches to her own teaching. Before the training, she'd been letting an older beginner use the music, and afterwards she felt she needed to make her learn by rote. Before the training, she had introduced the use of lefthand fingers one way, and afterwards she felt she should try the rather complex method taught in the pedagogy training.
"I don't really understand the point of what they taught me to do, actually," she said, "it's really confusing for my student, and for me. Do I have to do it that way?"
The answer? NO!
We study the means and the method, but what matters is the end result. Sure, explore all the pedagogy you can, observe great teachers, read books, go see what the V.commies are saying, but in the end, it's just you and your student, learning to play. Know what you want to teach, and teach it any way that works.
I told her that when I teach students vibrato, before I try breaking it down into 45 detailed steps and exercises, I try the following:
"Do this." I play a note, with vibrato. "Try it!"
Sometimes, it's there. Usually, something is there, however elementary, and that's our starting point for deciding which of the 45 exercises will work.
It's easy to be impressed with how brilliantly a pedagogy expert or experienced teacher can teach the "teaching points."
Don't teach the teaching points. Teach your students. Learn all you can, and then do it YOUR way.
Very, very good and so very true!
I haven't been to a pedagogy seminar for a long time. Rigid dogmas presented as The Truth were off-putting to me, especially in the Shoulder Rest Category...
What I have found to be invaluable for my own development are the private lessons I have been able to take. Working regularly with gifted communicators on a variety of material has done more for me as a teacher (and musician) than any seminar I ever attended. I have been so fortunate to have such an opportunity!
The more advanced and serious a player is, the more they need to learn that the goal of playing well is to express the music more fully. In that respect, each technical point needs to be understood as a way for better clarity, variety or projection of an expressed idea. The implication of this is that the teacher also understand that and knows how to integrate the mechanics of playing with the expression of the intent of the music. This is not covered in the various methods of violin pedagogy, except in a very rudimentary way. I find this way of teaching to be relatively rare.
Learning a new instrument can be very difficult, especially one as unforgiving as the violin. Above all, do what U can to keep it fun for the student. If the student is struggling, unhappy, frustrated, then it is time to change your approach.
My teacher threw the books out at week 3, has given me music above my head since but the freedom for me to find other music and bring it in to work on as well. It's very disjointed but it works very well for me, I think I am making decent progress and my interest and practice schedule remains very high. Although I confess I still dodge Canon in D a lot, but the strings ensemble at work is doing it 3rd quarter so I have to buckle down on it.
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