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Student turned teacher

November 10, 2008 at 4:30 AM


One of the biggest barriers to progress in the teacher/student relationship is communication.  To what extent have we understood each other? It reminds me of a demonstration a colleague of mine in the language teaching profession used to do repeatedly at seminars with the same result.  First something would be talked about/explained and then volunteers would repeat what they had learnt and understood from that explanation.  Invariably, what was reproduced  was a function of the individual teachers personal view of the world which created not only a different slant but on occasion a diametrically opposed position to everyone else.
In the violin lesson it is often true that the student may have either completely misunderstood or only picked up certain aspects of what is being suggested or discussed that seem most salient to them. Often the teacher is at fault because they give more information than can be processed at one time. This is actually quite a human error- one uses the same data so often and fluently that it is all to easy to forget the stages of blood sweat and tears one may have gone through to acquire understanding and put into practice a particular aspect of playing.
Something I have been doing in my practice more and more over the last few years is reversing the paradigm.  Not quite sure what that means but I always wanted to say it.  So much more exciting than for example, reversing a dumpster. Anyway, what I mean by this (I think) is that I decide to focus on an issue a student is having trouble with. Supposing that area was for instance, vibrato, I ask the student to imagine that I am a beginner player who has reached the stage of learning vibrato.  I then ask them to teach me the nature and means of vibrato production.  I am quite ruthless about acting the novice. If the student is not articulating a concept well I express lack of comprehension.  If they are explaining something contradictory or in error I will follow the instruction, possibly even exaggerating it until it strikes the student turned teacher.  I try to ask the kind of questions a novice might ask.
By using this procedure it very quickly becomes clear that a student has a strong grasp of some aspect of the vibrato but actually erroneous understanding of the technique in another.  In one case I found the student was very clear about the first joint regulating speed and width but equally convinced that the pressure of the fingertip on the string was a constant in either forward or backward position.  Sometimes there is a conceptual misunderstanding. I find instances of students believing that dynamics come from intensity of vibrato or that it isn’t possible to produce a beautiful sound without vibrato and so on.
This technique has not only proved of great value to me.  I also feel it helps to make students aware of the problems of being a teacher and how hard it is to communicate with clarity.

From al ku
Posted via on November 10, 2008 at 2:03 PM

buri, it is great that teachers like you bother to think outside the dumpster.  at least with me,  the biggest torture is boredom that  you have nowhere to run. if the teacher becomes predictable-- the same routine week in and week out--  students will fall asleep with glassy eyes open and start wondering when the class will be over.   meanwhile, a teaching point will make a more lasting impression, with staying power, if it is instilled with an interesting experience.

a little creativity and fun goes a long way.

From Ray Randall
Posted via on November 10, 2008 at 3:35 PM

Superb idea. You never realize how much you don't know until you try and teach it.

From Tess Z
Posted via on November 10, 2008 at 4:44 PM

I agree wholeheartedly.  As an adult learner, I don't hesitate to ask my teacher to clarify something I haven't understood...or to play and replay a passage I can't seem to get right so I can get it in my ear.  Now...for my kids lessons.  Their beginner teachers were great.  Ideas were simply explained, etc.  Then they progressed to needing (for lack of a better term) better teachers.  Their current teachers are professional musicians with outstanding credentials but...they don't relate to how a young child learns.  I can see it in their eyes when the teacher is explaining a concept and it is going right over their heads yet the teachers is completely unaware and just keeps going. 

This is why I take notes during my kids' lessons, in language they can understand.   I encourage them to ask question's if they don't understand  but they're both too intimidated to speak up.  I don't like to interrupt their lessons but my one child especially, will look at me with that deer-in-the-headlights look, and I know I have to speak up and ask the teacher to clarify.

From Tess Z
Posted via on November 10, 2008 at 5:11 PM

I wish we could edit on these responses as I didn't make myself clear! 

I too would like to see my kids' teachers ask the child to explain how they are playing something or why they think a concept is important.  It would help them to understand that which they are not understanding and also help them to understand why things need to be done a certain way.  Such as your vibrato example.

As teachers, we always run the risk of talking at our audience instead of talking to them.

From Jessie Vallejo
Posted via on November 10, 2008 at 6:01 PM


This IS such a great teaching technique, and it's something I love to do.  It creates ownership of the knowledge and concepts for the students.  I always found it interesting that students could correct me and be so specific on some things (like posture, for instance) even though they didn't always do it themselves.  Shows they listened...and then you have to find ways to have them realize what their own bodies are doing.

Your blog makes me want to go back to teaching middle school again :)

From Anne Horvath
Posted via on November 10, 2008 at 6:42 PM

When teaching a beginner one of the Great Classics (Mary, Twinkle, Hot Cross Buns, etc), I have the student place down and pick up my left fingers whilst I pizzicato.  After the student has successfully helped me, I say something on the order of "Now, look at that!  If you can show me how to play this song, then I know you can play this song too!"  The kids get a huge kick out of it!  Great fun.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted via on November 10, 2008 at 10:22 PM


thanks for all the interesting responses.

Anne, I aways sit on the utside in orchestra so that my stand partner can lift my fingers up and down when I don`t know what I am doing.  Very useful in Bartok`s cocnerto for orchestra.




From Ruth Kuefler
Posted via on November 10, 2008 at 10:52 PM

What a great idea! I can't wait to try this with my students. 

From Drew Lecher
Posted via on November 11, 2008 at 5:31 AM


I love to do this as well, and have fun with them when I do exactly as they first say—with a slight exaggeration when the opportunity arises, as I am a very bad student:-) 



From Mendy Smith
Posted via on November 11, 2008 at 7:52 AM

I must say that I've never had a teacher "reverse-teach" me before.  Sounds intriguing.  The closest I've had was being "tested" on something, like in my last lesson: do I start forte or piano?, mark the phrases, etc...  However, being put on the spot in any form to show your understanding of a concept  does make you think alot of what you are trying to do yourself. 

Maybe I should "teach" my teacher how to do 1st finger vibrato in 1st position? 

From Craig Coleman
Posted via on November 11, 2008 at 11:53 PM


Thanks again for your blog. One of my goals in teaching is that my student will become better and be able to do more than me. It's the same for my kid's, that's all a parent can wish for. 


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