Turning the Tables

April 9, 2016, 9:04 AM · "'Twas the week before spring break, and worried was I
The week would be wasted, since vacation was nigh

My students had played a recital, 'twas true
But in violin lessons, we needed SOMETHING to do.

In true Ms. Claire-style, I fashioned a plan.
"Teach me a violin lesson? Let's see if they can!""

(No, I'm not writing this whole blog post in verse. I started typing, and then I started rhyming and just went with it...)

My studio had a weird two weeks to get through last month - we'd just performed a recital and had two weeks until spring break. I knew I needed to come up with something to keep my students engaged and learning so that their lessons were meaningful. So, I told them that the last 10 minutes of their lesson would be them teaching ME a lesson on one of their pieces before break. Some of them were really excited. Some were terrified. All of them were pretty psyched that they got to sit down during their lesson - not just sit down, but in the teacher's special chair.

Here are some of the great things that happened when we turned the tables and when I had my students be the teacher:

My youngest student, aged 4, made me get down on my knees so that he could reach my left hand fingers. He guided me through playing an A Major scale by putting my fingers down in the right place on the violin and making sure they were curved.

One of my first graders, who is playing Witches' Dance, chose to give me a lesson as if it was my first time on Witches' Dance. She sat in my chair with her violin, and taught it to me phrase by phrase. She broke the piece down into small, easily learned phrases, and explained to me how to do the bow stroke properly. I was amazed to see how well she really understood the musical structure AND the different technical elements in the piece.

I have a fourth grader who has a fantastic ear but has struggled to have beautiful violin posture. She chose to have me play her piece while making mistakes and identify them. This one was hard for me - I tried to imitate the things she does when she plays as closely as possible. The look of surprise on her face was priceless. She stopped me before I was more than a few measures into the piece. "Your feet! They're not balanced!" A few measures later, she stopped me again. "You have a pancake hand!" And just a little later..."And your bow hold keeps creeping up!" It was great to see her awareness change!

And finally, for a student who is a senior in high school, I played her piece and played it with a nice sound, but without a lot of expression. She worked with me on creating more dynamics and contrast in the piece. I asked her this past week whether or not her experience being the teacher had changed how she practices. "Yes," she said. "I realized that I couldn't ask you to do something and then not do it myself."

"...And so with a grin I went back to my chair
Amazed at how my students had become more aware.
Until my next crazy idea, I bid you adieu
And suggest you see what happens when the teacher...is you."

Originally posted on my website, www.claireallenviolin.com.


April 10, 2016 at 05:21 PM · What an original and instructive exercise.

Thank you for posting it!

I can't wait for my next lesson to try it out with my teacher.

April 11, 2016 at 12:08 PM · Thanks for such a sweet, thoughtful article. I especially like the part where you were literally on your student's level by being on your knees. A change of perspective is always good!

April 11, 2016 at 08:07 PM · Great article. Well written and very sensitive. Wonderful idea, too!

April 12, 2016 at 07:26 AM · I think I'll try this today in class. My kids will get a kick out of it. Thank you for posting .

April 13, 2016 at 11:58 PM · I really like this idea! I've seen this happen with some of my high school kids when they take on a beginner student. They suddenly start to focus on their basic technique, and usually have a new appreciation for their instrument.

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