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Emily Liz

A self teaching regimen

May 20, 2010 at 10:44 PM

May 17, 2010

My Internet is out, so I’m going to resort to what people did in the Dark Ages of dialup and write my blog out in Word before I venture online.

As I mentioned in my last entry, I’m going to start making violin videos to post on Youtube. I haven’t had a teacher for over four years, and I haven’t had a long-term one for nearly seven. My playing has improved somewhat during that time, but not nearly as much as it could have if I had had a good teacher - or, at the very least, focused my studies. As you know from my last entry, I’ve had some pretty major health issues over the past four years, and unfortunately, when you’re convinced you’re going to die, focusing your music studies is not a major priority. If I ever played at all, it was in a desperate attempt to have some fun.

So. Now that I’m feeling (somewhat) better, and playing the violin seriously is possible again, I want to try my best to improve. Having a teacher would obviously be the best way to go about that, but thanks to a variety of circumstances, a teacher is simply not in the cards right now. That’s the bad news. Now the good news: as I said in my last entry, I’m feeling the ground shift beneath my feet when it comes to self-teaching. Yes, self-teaching still has a stigma attached to it (and I’d say that it’s usually a well-deserved one - the violin is just about impossible to learn well on your own, and studying with a teacher is almost always preferable to teaching yourself). But in the last couple of years, with high-speed Internet becoming more and more ubiquitous, self-teachers have opportunities that no musicians have ever had before. We can instantly solicit advice, critiques, and possibly praise from string-players all over the world. I feel that this is an opportunity I should take advantage of, especially when the alternative is not playing at all.

I’ve thought about self-teaching question for a few months now and I decided that one way for me to focus my studies would be to shoot a series of videos every week or two (or three or four, depending on my schedule), consisting of a scale, an etude, and repertoire. Then I’ll boot up the computer, load the video from my little red Canon camera, and watch and critique. I’ll share my videos and blog about them, and then other people can feel free to chime in with their thoughts, both here and on Youtube. This method is going to have its drawbacks (people will no doubt have conflicting advice; lots of things about violin-playing are invisible through videos; the sound quality won’t be the greatest, etc.), but surely this method has to be better than me aimlessly shifting through loose sheet music late at night, wondering what I should play through next, ignoring the scale book and etudes I’ve let settle toward the bottom of the pile.

There are three main reasons I’m doing this. First, I want a motivation to play better. If I know other people are watching, that’s a huge motivation to improve. Second, I’m an aspiring teacher, and there is no better guinea pig to experiment on than myself. I’ll always be on time for lessons and I’ll never argue about repertoire. Third, and most importantly, maybe someone somewhere will learn something, either from what I’ve written or others’ comments.  That would be worth the time alone.

So here’s a run-down of what I hope to include each week (or two or three or four, as I said).

First, I’ll play a three-octave scale, preferably in one of the keys that my repertoire for the week is in. I’m going to try the Quarter Equals Sixty method, where you set the metronome to sixty and then do your scale in whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, triplets, eighth notes, and sixteenth notes. I’ve never employed that particular practice method before but I’ve heard great things about it.

Second, a Kayser etude. Many years ago someone recommended that I go from Wolhlfahrt Book One to…Kreutzer.  In my anxiousness to get to the blessed state of Kreutzer, which I figured meant that I had arrived as a violinist, I never questioned this advice. I struggled through a few Kreutzers and although I could play most of the notes, I felt like I needed etudes for the Kreutzers, which, when I think about it, is kind of insane. After checking this site, I see that most people recommend Kayser in between Wolfhart and Kreutzer. I found a copy of the book and I heartily agree. Kayser looks like a terrific stepping stone for the intermediate violinist.

Third, repertoire. I’m trying to get a group of pieces ready for performance for the late summer or early fall. As I mentioned in my last blog entry, I’m wondering about giving a recital in September, and it looks like I may also be playing at a family reunion in August. So I’m bringing out a variety of Victorian and Edwardian pieces: the adorable Dvorak Sonatina, the Scene de Ballet, a violin arrangement of Kol Nidrei, and the Praeludium and Allegro (the dear old P&A is a bit of a push for me technically, and if the time comes and I don’t feel comfortable including it on the program, so be it).

As for longer term repertoire goals, this may be foolhardy, but I desperately want to play one movement from a big romantic concerto. Afterward I'll "go back" to do the Mozarts and maybe some Rode and Viotti and Haydn and Kabalevsky and de Beriot, but I desperately want to try out one of those "overplayed" "warhorses."  I’ve looked through the scores of the Mendelssohn, Bruch, Lalo, etc., and decided that the first movement of the Bruch would fit my strengths best. It’s a very emotionally fulfilling choice for me because the Bruch was one of the first big violin pieces I fell in love with. I still remember clicking open the CD player and putting the disc in and being completely blown away by it.  It would be such a great way to celebrate my recovery to finally be able to play it myself. In the meantime I’m going to need to get comfortable with finger strength, velocity, double-stops, chords, higher positions, and my bow - in short, everything. In a couple of months or so, when I feel like I can run through the rest of my possible recital repertoire without crashing and burning, I'll begin Viotti 22 to prepare. It looks like it has a lot of the technical elements I’m looking for help with, and it’s a pretty piece in and of itself. If I play that and still feel like I need some help before Bruch, then I'll scout around for something else to supplement.

And fourth, I’ll always try to remember to include one of my favorite classical music Youtube videos, so that viewers don’t have to slog through watching me without seeing some good stuff.

So that’s the tentative game plan from here on out. I’ve already done one week’s video review and it has been one of the most illuminating weeks of my violin study so far. So even if no one reads this but me, it will have been well worth it!

From sharelle taylor
Posted on May 21, 2010 at 9:52 AM

 Great idea to have regular schedule and format for the video blog. I'm going to try it myself.  Best of luck on your recovery and discovery.

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