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Tammy Kirwan

The Importance of a Building a Solid Foundation, One Brick at a Time.......

May 8, 2011 at 1:05 AM

I started my journey with the violin on February 1, 2010 in northern Texas, while at school for the US Air Force. I called all around the area, desperate for a teacher to teach me, but sadly I only seemed to find mediocre ones. My 1st teacher, told me that he could "get me thru the fingerings" alarm bells starting going off. During that first lesson, he did nothing to help me with either of my hands, he just had me play while he played the guitar. That was the one and only lesson I had with him. My 2nd teacher, I thought was a home run, until my 3rd lesson, when I commented that something sounded off and she told me that it was me (I had finger tapes on, and I had hit the note dead on), it was her, Her intonation was poor, along with her left hand position (pancake wrist). That was the end of her. My third and finally teacher, while I was in TX, was a retired gentleman who could play well enough, but he had a very hard time getting his ideas on technique thru to me. I probably took 5 lessons from him. Now I should probably mention, that prior to February 1st, I had ZERO experience with string instruments, although I did play the trumpet and baritone for 8 years until 1999. All 3 of these teachers happened in a span of 3 months. To say the least, I had a very weak foundation. 

Then in late May, my violin life changed forever........

Somehow, I managed to get a violinist/fiddler by the name of Alex DePue to be my teacher. Alex has been playing since the age of 5, played Carnegie Hall at the age of 14, has opened for Charlie Daniels, toured with The Chris Cagle Band and Steve Vai, and was nominated for a Grammy in 2009. He is also  a state fiddling champion in Michigan, Texas, Alabama, and California, a regular top ten finalist in traditional fiddling contests, including The Grandmasters Fiddling Championship in Nashville and The National Oldtime Fiddling Championship in Weiser, Idaho. 

I know this sounds like boasting (well maybe a little), but I bring this up for one reason. At the time, I was an adult beginner violinist from a VERY small town in upstate NY. I would have been happy getting a school music teacher as my violin teacher, but the fact that I found Alex was straight from a fairytale! 

Now getting back to the reason for this blog. Up until I had my first lesson with Alex, I thought I was doing awesome. I had been playing for 4 months, had removed all my finger tapes, "thought" my bowing was perfect, and was up to the 12th piece in the Suzuki Book 1 (Suzuki's Etude). I was cruising right along......... 

Then I had my first lesson with Alex. I might add that all my lessons with Alex are thru skype, since he is frequently touring and lives in Mexico. During that first lesson, my violin bubble was solidly popped. Alex basically started me all over from scratch again. We went back to twinkle, twinkle and spent at least 2 months working on all the variations. Since then, we have worked on each piece, until they were perfect and all the nuances and techniques that Suzuki wanted the student to master were learned. This sometime meant spending 40 minutes out of a 60 minute lesson working on 9 notes! I have worked VERY hard to get to this point, typically spending 2-3 hours a day practicing, occasionally spending 5+ hours a day. 

Fast forward to today.......

I am finishing up Suzuki book 2, and still having a blast!!! I have overcome (at the time) a serious mental block with slurring, that whole rub your belly and pat your head thing. My bowing is now wonderfully straight and true, my right wrist is beautifully loose and fluid, and my left hand is getting faster everyday. 

Without Alex's patience and insistance on taking the time for me to really master things, like articulation, dynamics, bow control and left elbow position, I would not be where I am today. I remember getting really frustrated when he had me play the same passage 20 times until it was perfect, but it was what needed to be done. 

Thanks to Alex's persistance and patience; and my hard work, I'm going to be joining a community orchestra in the fall!!!!! 


From Emily Liz
Posted on May 8, 2011 at 1:57 AM

This blog warms my heart. :)


From sam cirillo
Posted on May 8, 2011 at 10:29 PM

A good teacher definitely makes a big difference...not everyone is lucky enough to have a good teacher.


From Diane Allen
Posted on May 9, 2011 at 12:19 AM

Good teacher - yes!

Super responsive student putting in the time and energy, commitment and focus - FANTASTIC!


From Trevor Jennings
Posted on May 9, 2011 at 12:44 AM

Alex DePue's approach to teaching is evidently  the same as my teacher's, and moreover they both seem to have apparently analogous backgrounds both in training and subsequently professional careers. For the last four years I've felt myself very fortunate in having such a similar teacher this side of the Pond. It's a funny old world! 


From Rebecca Hopkins
Posted on May 10, 2011 at 9:07 PM

Great blog, so glad you found him, the right teacher makes all the difference!

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