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Emily Grossman


June 8, 2007 at 8:59 AM

"Could you play that again, and this time just a little slower?"

They pause, find the place in the music, and begin again. I’ve said this enough times to enough students that by now it shouldn’t surprise me, what happens next.

They play again, at exactly the same speed, more relaxed, with less mistakes.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on June 8, 2007 at 12:45 PM
How interesting! Thanks for sharing that insight.
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on June 8, 2007 at 3:03 PM
Emily, I think it must be the way you said it that made the difference in student’s playing. I had a teacher used to yell at me "slow, slow, slow!" and then "not that slow!" in almost every lesson as soon as I started to play. I didn’t play any better for her even if I did slow down significantly. I ended up bringing my metronome to lessons.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on June 8, 2007 at 10:15 PM
Isn't teaching interesting?
From Rob Schnautz
Posted on June 9, 2007 at 5:02 AM
Definitely psychology at work. Just don't ever become a mad psychologist that uses her powers to take unfair advantage of others.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on June 9, 2007 at 9:11 AM
But that's what women do best! ;)

Yixi, it sounds like your teacher was setting you up to be stressed out, which is too bad. I could never play well for a teacher who yells.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on June 9, 2007 at 3:56 PM
I didn’t have that teacher for too long fortunately.

This reminds me another issue: how much a student can take from an instruction, how much the effect immediately shows and how long the effect will last?

Tempo and shift are two examples. Students have bad habits in these area aren’t going to respond the same way as the students who start with a clean slate. I had teachers frequently dealt with my bad habit as though I forgot their instructions or that something I just don’t know how to do right. So they get visually upset when the same problems were recurring. For me as a student, the hardest part is not knowing the right way of doing something or how to do something right, but it is to be able to quickly replace wrong habits with the right ones while dealing with 100 other issues. Simply assuming that the student is forgetful rather than designing a special program to deal with bad habits is quite unproductive.

What do my teacher-V.commies think?

From Emily Grossman
Posted on June 10, 2007 at 8:16 AM
That may be the number one reason I don't like taking lessons, Yixi. I hear what they say, and I may even understand it, but my body will not mold into the request as quick as they would like it. I need a long time to chew on new concepts, with lots of experimentation when no one is watching.

As far as breaking old habits goes, I have taught long enough to realise that undoing an old habit may require several weeks of focusing on only that one habit. Say, you want to correct something in your shifting technique. Then you would spend as long as it takes just shifting. Any time you try to do other things at the same time, you risk falling back into that old habit, which will undo all that you've already accomplished. You have to practice your new habit until you've forgotten what your old habit felt like. This takes a long time, and most violinists either don't want to spend months in isolation like that, or their schedule won't allow it (i.e. upcoming competitions, concerts, etc.).

The funny thing is, when you are fixing the habit, you may actually practice less in order to improve. For instance, last summer when I focused on shifting, I only practiced 30 minutes a day. The entire 30 minutes, I concentrated on shifting exercises. At the end of the summer, I noticed a huge difference.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on June 10, 2007 at 7:46 PM
Again and again, you sound like such a great teacher! Believe or not, I taught violin to a few students back when I was in high school – speaking of the blind leads the blind:D! But it was extremely hard those days for us to find violin teachers for any amount of money one would pay. Anyway, the point is I know it’s very frustrating to fix someone else’s bad habits. Some teachers I had simply won’t bother to try. My current teacher is a fixer, so I’m really delighted to finally have found someone who can intensely focus on my techniques. The way she describes how things work is very effective and elegant so that I usually get the ideas instantly. I knew I got it by my own demonstration and paraphrasing the concepts I just learned so that I get her confirmation that I got it right in my head. I do feel sometimes though if I can't show her that I get all the stuff straightened-out in the next lesson, I’m wasting her time, as she has an extremely busy schedule and being a demanding teacher.

What you said about breaking bad habits really helps me to regroup. I’m working on shifting these days. My major problem is not that I don’t know the correct ways of different shifting; I learned that a long time ago when I was a kid, but over the years I got into the habit of shifting by ear rather than by plan. That is, if my finger hit the right note, I didn’t care how it jumped there nor the relationship between it and other fingers. Now I’m putting “sh” everywhere on the music to emphasis all the shifts and to remind myself of planning. It really calms me down a great deal to learn that you had spent the whole summer just working on shifting.

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