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Drew Lecher

TEACHING: A few thoughts—

January 26, 2009 at 2:36 AM

The most important individual in the studio is the student—what is best for them personally, academically and musically (both technically and artistically).

The teacher, on all levels, is to guide the student of any age to teach themselves, and the student must strive to be as knowledgeable and independent as possible—originating ideas, concepts, questions, answers that pertain to their moment of time and showing exactly where they are in the thought process to gain the particular skill.

When the student asks questions as they arise, it will help the teacher focus in on where the student is mentally at that moment. A young pupil should be encouraged to ask and inquire about anything related to playing.

Teachers are not mind readers and will focus on various difficulties they see and challenges that are to be addressed. There are basic outlines in the teacher's mind, which should be kept very adaptable. This enables both the student and teacher to mentally meet and accomplish a tremendous amount in a short time.

Progress varies with every student. Two students at any given age will be totally different in development. This is why the private lesson is so very important. 

Also of great importance is the student playing with others and thereby assessing how they are doing compared to their peers and colleagues—chamber music and orchestra are a wonderful way to gain this perspective. Recitals are excellent, but can be a daunting endeavor for the adult student and therefore not beneficial.

The student needs to be instructed and guided not only in how to hold the instrument and bow and push all the right buttons, but also in the very way to develop facilities necessary to achieve the passages, both technically and artistically. They must learn that the ‘true intonation’ will help guide their interpretations and make them as individual as they themselves are.

A composer chooses various keys, modulations, rhythms and dynamics to convey many differing characters, moods and depictions. They give explicit instructions regarding tempi, styles and emphasis in order to convey their intent. It is up to the artist to observe as literally as possible and then interpret, with absolute conviction, what they believe is the core meaning of the composition along with all the side-lights of individual phrases and their inter-relationships.

All of this requires that the mind be actively engaged in both the technical and artistic endeavor.


Rhythm, Pitch and Nuance: the heart and soul of music.

Hope this helps—Drew

Author of

"Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master…" 

"Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master…"

From Benjamin K
Posted on January 26, 2009 at 6:40 AM

"Also of great importance is the student playing with others and thereby assessing how they are doing compared to their peers and colleagues"

That makes a lot of sense, never looked at it from that angle.

In this context, there is something I meant to ask you, although it isn't exactly on-topic to your post, I hope you don't mind ...

I noticed that quite a number of my teacher's other adult students seem to be incapable of playing in tune, they don't seem to have any sense of pitch, yet most of them have been studying for many years. Some of them have developed quite amazing technical skills, but often they'd play through a piece entirely out of tune and they never seem to notice. My teacher sometimes gets really frustrated about that and when that happens I feel really sorry for her. Do these guys need a fretted fingerboard for practise? Solfege lessons? What would you do?

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on January 26, 2009 at 10:30 AM

Speaking as a teacher, I would not let my students progress to higher technical levels for years if they were not playing in tune.  There are a number of ways of addressing this issue, and different approaches work best with different students.  I've never had a student who could not learn to play in tune.  I'll let Drew elaborate.

From David Russell
Posted on January 26, 2009 at 12:13 PM

A wonderful post, Drew. You are a teacher's teacher!

From Benjamin K
Posted on January 26, 2009 at 12:51 PM

Pauline, that's nice to know. I almost assumed my fellow co-students were hopeless cases. 

From Ray Randall
Posted on January 26, 2009 at 3:56 PM

I learned to finally play in tune by using a CD drone chord with every key available. Just set the player to repeat endlessly. doing this taught me not to imitate a pitch, but to listen to make my pitch blend perfectly with what I was hearing in scales or whatever.

From al ku
Posted on January 26, 2009 at 1:13 PM

oh boy, another must read from drew.  i am trying hard to keep my kid from the computer! :)   

here is something kinda off topic on benjamin's observation.  i cannot be sure if one can draw any parallel literally or figuratively, just something to be aware of...

was talking to an opthalmologist friend of mine on children's vision, which reminds me of the intonation issues with music training.  the visual cortex vs the auditory cortex.

apparently IF a kid is to have eye problems with visual acuity issues, congenital or hereditary, it is important to catch the problem as early as possible, preferrably before the age of 4-5, if not earlier.  the thinking is that as visual cortex of the brain  develops after birth, if a child has NEVER seen what a 20/20 looks like, later in life, to try to correct the vision to 20/20 is almost impossible.  reason:  the processing center of visual images does not have the needed hardware/software for 20/20 vision.   1 or 2?  um, they look the same.  eyes corrected; brain, not necessarily.

it is probably politically incorrect for me  to elaborate on kids vs adult beginners on music training. but, based on the vision counterpart, i do wonder if some adults, those with similar issues,  may have missed the boat.  one may need to keep in mind the selection bias, that is, we do not know about those who have stayed away from violin teachers' studios and have only sampled a few relatively speaking.  ears corrected; brain, not necessarily.

i strongly believe in training, training to be best one can be, with an eye on the golden standard set by a few.

From Benjamin K
Posted on January 26, 2009 at 5:50 PM

Well, yes, all those folks who can't seem to play in tune are, I believe, what most here would call "late starters", although the latest starter amongst my teacher's students is the by now famous (I guess) Japanese lady who started at the age of 60, so compared to that we are all early starters and she plays perfectly in tune :-) I also started as an adult and I play in tune, or at least if I don't I notice immediately and nudge it. Anyway, bottom line is I don't think this is related to age.

I had suggested that those out-of-tune folks might want to take solfege lessons, but most of them are adult Japanese males and as Buri had recently pointed out, Japanese guys don't usually like to sing in front of their teacher :-) so they wouldn't necessarily be thrilled about solfege lessons. The idea with that drone chord CD is interesting though. Is there any link to that? What is it called? I'd love to pass this info on to my teacher.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on January 26, 2009 at 10:26 PM

How true! I have always said that every student should follow the teachers instruction to develop their personality. (every student should develop his or her personality in respect to the style of the pieces).  Ask questions is a sign of intelligence!



From Drew Lecher
Posted on January 27, 2009 at 5:42 AM

“…seem to be incapable of playing in tune, they don't seem to have any sense of pitch,… Some of them have developed quite amazing technical skills, but often they'd play through a piece entirely out of tune and they never seem to notice.”


Benjamin, without hearing and seeing these students I would first question if they are singing/hearing in the head and listening with the ears in order to match the head, inner ear. If they are indeed getting around the instrument with “quite amazing technical skill” perhaps too much time is spent on fast fingers and not enough on accurate fingers AND playing with the bow in tune. This last issue is frequently the traitorous culprit that is always lurking in the wings and especially waiting to pounce on us in performance situations.

Play 2 open strings for 2 bows with a beautiful tone. Now play the same strings with the same bow speed and weight too near the fingerboard—disaster! Now play the same strings with the same speed and alter the balance to favor the high string just a bit—disaster! The varieties of cause for disaster are high; the one beautiful and successful way is truly singular. It is like standing a pencil on the tip, it can fall many ways, but only stands when truly balanced.

REMEDY—lots of double-stops and then more double-stops, and in all passages and all playing. Forgive the plug, but in my books I am constantly working double-stops, even in scales and arpeggios. Repetition Hits are worked everywhere, including the repertoire, and with double-stops for ALL string crossings—no exceptions. When there is no string-crossing use the open string below and also the open string above—all the better if it does not suit the key, as it is phenomenal ear training. Remember that RHs develop freedom of action, accuracy, speed and agility with incredible balance and proportioning of the left hand.

Rhythm, varied rhythm and varied again and again…

Hand Groups/Hand Interval Patterns if not used are like trying to speak by spelling the words—it is accurate literally to the letter, but quickly doesn’t mean anything as it is too difficult to follow. Hand Groups are our words for the left hand and proportions all the necessary moves. When a student plays with hesitation and/or ‘vague’ intonation, I will instantly have them identify the Hand Group(s). It gets instant results and simplifies the most difficult of passages.

We play in physical patterns with choreographed moves that are free, flowing and balanced.

Posture, balance, breathing all combine with all of the above.


Pauline, I agree but will admit to moving a student to a more difficult level a bit soon—either because they have a passion to learn the piece or when I am trying to give them a ‘gently firm kick-in-the-butt’:-) If it doesn’t work, I pull them back and use that piece as a carrot to work toward—either way it is a win, and generally they rise to the occasion. The above to Benjamin is my ‘little elaboration’ that I do with my students.


David, that is very generous of you and thanks.


Ray, you got it. I just like doing everything on the violin to wake up the brain and ears and send those fingers and bow stokes out to do the job.


Al, did your daughter teach you the Mozart 5, yet? I do think the ophthalmologist’s observation is interesting, but perhaps it does not quite apply. Regardless of the age, I hear students able to improve to the level, desire and passion they want. This is limited only by what they are technically able to achieve at that given time. It is different for everyone and one of the fascinating enticements of teaching—you never quite know when something will click, but you sure know when you hear it and the student brightens with the achievement of that next level.


Anne-Marie, yes, as long as they are actively guided and encouraged by the teacher to develop their artistic personality. Students can gain so much by simply playing a passage 3 distinct ways—even just a phrase with, a crescendo, a diminuendo and sostenuto, all without vibrato. Then do it with the vibrato complementing the change of dynamic and intensity level. Instantly they have added to their artistic language.

“Asking questions is a sign of intelligence!” Absolutely!!!


Cheers and God bless, Drew


From al ku
Posted on January 27, 2009 at 12:44 PM

thanks again for your continued wisdom.  it is  helpful to read info on that level because, to borrow your word, it tends to "click" things...

"Al, did your daughter teach you the Mozart 5, yet?"   haha, actually we have been working together, except she plays and i just watch, listen, remind and suggest:)   she has better ears, but i use mine better, haha.

thanks again.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on January 28, 2009 at 2:08 PM

This was wonderful to read - very timely on many levels for me. I'm going to print it out and share it with my teacher, as well.

Thanks, Drew!

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