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The Weekend Vote

V.com weekend vote: Have you ever had a lesson in which you played barely more than one phrase of music?

April 26, 2013 at 6:09 PM

Sometimes it happens: You play three notes and your teacher says, "STOP!" Fix this, fix that, more of this more of that!

Okay, okay. You play three more notes, "STOP!"

I really felt for the student who submitted a discussion related to this topic this week.

I try not to do this, as a teacher. I feel like it's important for a student to play for me, as they have played all week, so that I can tell how they are actually doing things. And, I don't want to create a neurosis in them, whereby a violinist develops a Pavlovian response to playing for people, expecting that they'll be stopped and criticized.

But that's me on my moral high horse. Sometimes a student grabs the bow with a claw clutch, slouches their scroll to the floor, plays staccato when it should be legato…."STOP!" I can't bite my tongue that hard! I don't think I've ever done this for a whole lesson, but I'll admit that I do interrupt, some times more than other times!

Have you ever had -- or given -- a lesson in which you (or your student) played barely more than one phrase of music?


From Timothy Lessler
Posted on April 26, 2013 at 8:39 PM
My best teacher wouldn't let me get away with anything, and would interrupt me a million (zillion?) times a lesson. I don't think this teaching technique is for everyone, but I sure improved more and faster under him than any of my other teachers as I practiced so diligently because of it!

We'd always get through much more than one phrase though each lesson...

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 26, 2013 at 10:27 PM
Unfortunately I have to take most of the blame for lessons like this, when I have them. My teacher is very good about letting me play through at least a phrase or passage, and sometimes a whole piece, before interrupting. So when I have a lesson where I don't play that much, it's not because she's interrupting me, it's because I don't know when to shut up. She doesn't have that many students right now and the lessons are in her home, so sometimes we'll be there for 90 minutes or even 2 hours, and an hour of that was talking and the rest was playing.
From Patrick Tinney
Posted on April 27, 2013 at 1:20 AM
I have just completed two years of lessons. For a long time now I have worked on some pieces, selected from Suzuki books, but mainly from exercises and etudes.

Though my left hand and bow control has continuously improved my tone and musicality has suffered. Recently my teacher had me change to cut back on the exercises and etudes and concentrate more on fiddle tunes. At my last lesson we started what she called “deep practice”. I mainly worked on a single phrase from an Irish fiddle tune with her aiding my bowing to get the most out of each note. We then did the same with a Bach Gavotte from Book five.

Over the next two weeks I am to memorize short passages in these two works and concentrate on a straight bow and a more robust sound. I really love my teacher and since my last lesson every day my tone and style has been improving.

This is not the problem that originated this thread but it does point to a time when it is better to go deep rather than play through.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on April 27, 2013 at 2:37 AM
Sometimes yes. And sometimes like how Sharell experienced it (in the discussion thread) - even before the first note was sounded. Most of the time I am permitted to get through a section first before stopping.

However now that lessons have focused on a particular technique, getting through a few seconds without getting stopped is an accomplishment. But this, for the time being, is very deliberate. We are trying to get me to form new habits & muscle memory.

From sharelle taylor
Posted on April 27, 2013 at 9:15 AM
Yes Mendy, We're in this together I think :)

It started for me with my teacher in our third lesson IIRR, Papa Gino's Aria from the Magic Flute. We didn't get past the first phrase. This attitude has never upset or demoralised me, it has always uplifted me because it was always been delivered with the attitude that it was what would differentiate learning from real playing in the longer run, and she has always been excited to have someone who was willing to listen to how and why it was necessary and do the work for the hour that it took for those three or four notes.

From marjory lange
Posted on April 27, 2013 at 12:15 PM
I remember when a new (to me) teacher was addressing the issue of stress in my shoulders...every time she saw even a hint of clutching, she took my viola away and made me do a short relaxation stretch. Three lessons of that, and the habit of tension was broken. Those lessons were maddening, but it was worth it in the long run to build a healthier habit. And those three lessons (long ago) built a new habit that lasted years...till I forgot and got tense again.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on April 27, 2013 at 12:11 PM
The best lessons ever were the post grad school 'zerp lessons I took with a friend.

One note, two notes, and maybe, just maybe, if he was in a good humor, three notes.

We got a lot done. It was terrifically frustrating though, and not the sort of coaching that is appropriate for most, especially children.

There were a few times that, after many stops and starts, I would lose my poise and snap "SHUT UP, J--- and let me play ONE LINE!", but as we were friends, I could occasionally do that...


From Gary LaCom
Posted on April 27, 2013 at 1:35 PM
I did have this happen to me once that I can recall, but it was not accompanied by any "STOP!"s. My teacher had me go over the same phrase for most of the hour, changing the bowing, rhythm, fingering, just about everything. Actually, rather than it being a trial, 'Can't we move on to something else?' experience, it was very helpful.
From Jim Hastings
Posted on April 27, 2013 at 2:05 PM
This didn't happen to me as a pupil. I had six teachers, and I picked up valuable pointers from all of them. There were things they would have to stop me to discuss, as with any learner, of course; but they would often have me make the adjustments without stopping: "Use more bow," "Dig in," "Keep the fingers down," "Mezzo forte."

I don't teach, although I did -- with our instructor in studio -- coach a fellow pupil once to show him how to play a certain passage. I didn't stop him much. The only thing I remember telling him was, "The D is too low."

Sharelle, regarding "Papa Gino's aria" -- was this deliberate? Whatever -- it's a good one. As an opera buff, I studied The Magic Flute some years back. The character's actual name is Papageno -- with a hard G.

From Nicky Paxton
Posted on April 27, 2013 at 3:37 PM
I'm glad that Jim had such a positive result from his six teachers. Sadly, I can't match it. The main occasions I can remember being asked to play a few notes, or one line, of music and then being stopped were when I changed teachers at least twice in childhood and adolescence. The new teacher then proceeded in both or all cases to rubbish the results of the previous teacher's work and to try to start me all over again. Fortunately, this did not happen when a distinguished teacher took me on at 16 and began by building on what was there before, even to the extent of continuing with the same piece that I had been learning before; he also put me on to Carl Flesch scales. When I started playing again in 2009 after a long absence, the quality of my last teacher's work has been evident in terms of my being able to remember and recover so much technique. Nonetheless, I could do with covering some ground with another teacher, but the experiences of childhood and earlier adolescence still hang over me: I don't want someone who will denigrate what has gone before.


From marjory lange
Posted on April 27, 2013 at 5:03 PM
Nicky's post raises something I recall happening once when I switched teachers, and which I still find inappropriate--a teacher 'dissing' the work of previous instructors. Even if a student has been taught something really horrible, there are ways to help him/her make the necessary change without being denigrating--and usually, imo, a student will take the change better without an attack on previous teachers...I know I did.

I don't know why putting down others' methods in order to promote one's own is so prevalent (I hear about it from students regularly--I no longer teach music, but I still teach) because I can't find any *good* reason for it.

From di allen
Posted on April 27, 2013 at 8:39 PM
i think it's difficult for a teacher to know how often to stop and criticize---too much and the student gets frustrated and loses confidence--too little and things dont get corrected. a good teacher can figure out how to respond individually and a student can help the teacher as well. another thread: how can a student improve a teacher's teaching skills??
From sharelle taylor
Posted on April 28, 2013 at 10:47 AM
Ah, Jim Sadly not deliberate just completely mindless forgetfulness and not knowing my opera aria's and characters well enough. I loved it, even if i did have to spend an hour getting that bitey start to the first note sounding :)
[ I made it sound more like an ad for a pizza sauce and for that I apologise. ]
From Allison Ellis
Posted on April 28, 2013 at 9:16 PM
Sometimes criticism can lead to important and needed change. In my case as a novice violinist (2 months) I have struggled from day one regarding left hand position. This past Thursday NOTHING went right. In passing I mentioned to my teacher that my child's 3/4 violin felt more natural and easier to play as opposed to my 4/4. We measured my arm length and duh! I needed a 3/4 violin. Luckily we picked up on this now and not later. Sometimes a teacher's pickiness can ultimately be quite helpful.
From Millie Bartlett
Posted on April 29, 2013 at 12:02 AM
Unfortunately, this has become one of my lesson bugbears. My teacher stops me and other students mercilessly during lessons, so much so that it has become an 'in' joke between all the pupils. It has all of us afraid to even start the piece because we know that within 3 bars we will be stopped. I once only played three bars and stopped and she asked me why. My reply was that she always stopped me there so I was saving her the trouble. We get on fine so there was a giggle over it then we continued. But she never got the hint. The biggest problem with this is that being the start of the piece we focus on a little too much, and the remainder gets somewhat glossed over. Also, there is no 'warm up' phase in the studio, and if you are like me you never play perfectly the first time. The only time we get to play it through is when she accompanies us on the piano, but then it is expected to be a 'performance' so once again you feel too nervous to really make it through. Yes, we get stopped there too at times.

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