Life is a funny thing that goes off in tangents all over the place if one isn’t careful enough. Mine is no exception! Howver, at the end of the day, I know right in my core that I am a violinist. The reason I know this is that of all the myriad things I have to do just to get by these days, the one thing that feels right and gives me comfort is picking up the instrument and doing some thing as trivial as playing a single colle using only the fingers. Nothing excites me more in my unexciting (!) life than just feeling the balance of a bow in my hand without even a violin there. It’s just something beautiful that I resonates deep inside me. (Buri the hippy strikes again!)
Since the pandemic started I have rarely had time to practice. I have a full time job and then I come home and teach English online in order to pay for my wife’s hospital fees. Teaching English online is actually quite good fun because I meet the most amazing characters from all over the world. The platform I use basically allows people to teach anything they want at any price they like so I decided, somewhat reluctantly, to throw dirt cheap violin lessons into the mix. I decided to make them really cheap for the following reasons:
I don’t practice much so I can’t say my demonstrations are of the highest quality.
I was not 100% convinced that online is the best medium for me to teach because I prefer to be up really close and check people muscle use problems and the like.
The other top teachers on this platform are highly skilled (young???)Japanese violinists who have done reasonably well in competitions and clearly know what they are doing. What right do I have to charge the same as them since they are relatively cheap anyway?
I want people with little spare cash and the desire to learn to have some kind of access to basic lessons.
In the beginning I was swamped by requests for English lessons with violin students being few and far between. I think there was often a mismatch between what people seeking really cheap lessons wanted and what I was/am willing to offer. Very often it would be something like a ’self-taught for six months, trying to play the Franck Sonata’ adult. I have tremendous respect for such a student’s goals and seriousness but I am not willing to compromise on my basic teaching stance. That is to say, for me, it is always back to basics, to the foundations. These basics are absolutely the same for the highest level soloist and the beginner. The only difference is the highest level soloist is just tuning her Ferrari engine while the beginner is tying to screw a tailpipe back on. The toolkit is the same! Thus, with every student who comes to me I explain what I am going to teach, the thinking behind it (in a nutshell: controlling a relaxed body with the mind) and how we are going to strive towards that elusive goal. On the whole, spending a lot of time on pieces goes on the back burner, although essential musical ideas are still discussed using appropriate works for some small part of the lesson.
I guess I know much of the available teaching resources and effective exercises for the violin so it isn’t that hard to find what works best for people. Teaching adult beginners is actually fairly new to me and the relative sameness of the problems is deeply interesting to me, especially with bowing which I will discuss briefly below.
If bowing is the starting point, then initial lessons are always spent on using whatever resources work to get an internalized understanding of such things as:
A natural and comfortable bow hold.
The right hand fingers are the suspension of a car
Understanding that bowing in a straight line is a collection of integrated curves.
The role of the fingers on the stick.
The relationship between speed, weight and sounding point.
Using the smallest joints for the small bowings.
I often have to begin with pencil work so the student can see and practice the three basic directions the fingers the fingers can move the bow in. Work is then done on colle and even a feeling of this stroke within a detache stroke of the bow change although I have long since rejected the excessive use of finger action, which was the bog standard taught when I was at RCM way back in the beginning of time. Playing a colle stroke at the heel followed by the middle or point and/or any sequence the student likes is a fundamental method for helping a student understand precisely what holding the bow should feel like as well as how the balance of the bow changes and a loose, relaxed arm. Balancing the bow on the violin and music stand while sliding the hand up and down the stick is one of the simplest ways to teach the curved movements of the bow arm and I add a few sevcik opus 2/3 wrist exercises later.
I promised not to mention the left hand which is a whole new discussion, but recently I have been using Yost for students who need work on their shifting. That in itself is no big deal, but since I keep my left hand in shape (if I have any time) by practicing everything in fifths (something I learnt form Rodney Friend many moons ago, but check out his current youtube videos) I introduce this practice method through Yost, where it is actually extremely efficient and builds technique rapidly.
There have been a fair number of occasions when students simply don’t come back, but over time the numbers have started to grow. It may be because I am learning to explain what we are doing better in an online situation, but I also feel that adults who are willing to listen and apply themselves are getting the sense of this is how I show my respect to them. I hope so, anyway.
Long time since I wrote anything, so this meandered quite a lot. Hope it was of some interest.
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