Teri Einfeldt: Preparing Students for Successful Concerti Study

June 30, 2011, 3:40 PM ·

How do you get from student level to artist level?

This was the question at hand for a lecture by Teri Einfeldt earlier this month at the Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at The Juilliard School. Teri is Chair of the Hartt School Community Division Suzuki Program, a Suzuki Association of the Americas (SAA) registered Teacher Trainer, Chair of the SAA, and adjunct professor at University of Hartford’s The Hartt School, where she also is assistant director of the Suzuki Institute.

How can you turn a student into a problem-solver, how can you build technique in a way that will allow them to attain the highest levels?


Violin teacher Teri Einfeldt. Photo by Nan Melville for The Juilliard School.

Teri, who has been teaching for 38 years and who currently has about 25 students ranging from beginners to advanced students, said that it's important to bring them along in do-able steps -- no insurmountable leaps. For example, going straight from the Vivaldi A minor concerto to the Mendelssohn concerto would be an insurmountable leap. "We want them to meet with success," she said. "It's very easy for them to play the standard concerti if we lead them step-by-step."

High-level teachers tend to be very appreciative of the technique and foundation put in place in a student's earlier years.

To be the kind of teacher who can help a student build a good foundation, it's important to have a philosophy of teaching, to build independence, to create a motivation (or a "burn in their belly") and find those steps for building technique.

Teri said that she did not learn technique during her early lessons, and when she arrived at college, her teacher told her, "There are only two things wrong with your playing: your right hand and your left hand."

"I was not going to let that happen to any of my students," Teri said. "'Good enough' is not allowed. Give your students that sense of excellence that you hold for them."

If they aren't understanding something, or if they are unable to do something, keep trying, she said. Come up with 10 new ways to get the message across. "I don't give up if they don't get it."

"Our big job is to teach our students how to practice," Teri said. That can start with very simple tasks for the youngest students: carry your own violin into the lesson. Take the violin out of the case yourself. Learn to tune the instrument.

"We want to fill our students' toolbox," she said. They should develop a sensitivity to articulation, tone, pitch, intonation, ringing tones, phrasing and dynamics.

They also need to know how to assess themselves, to build their ability to judge their own performance. For example, the teacher can play and have the student identify things such as: is it in tune? Is every note of a staccato scale actually staccato?

Practice does not make perfect, "practice makes permanent," Teri said. "Don't practice until you get it right, then practice until you can't get it wrong." How do you get to that stage, where you "get it right?" Here are a few ideas: Start with tricky sections. Identify the problem. Use the metronome. Remember that most mistakes happen between two notes. Play a section and stop right before the mistake, then sing the next note. Practice in rhythms. Record yourself. Repeat, a lot!

A teacher's studio should be a place where students feel safe airing musical ideas.

"Make your studio a very safe environment," Teri said. "If they take the initiative to come up with musical ideas, I appreciate it."

A teacher also plays a role in motivating students. Encourage them to participate in chamber music and orchestra, to get a nicer instrument, to enter a competition. A teacher's attitude about a piece can also be a source of motivation or discouragement. Some pieces are more "learning" pieces than legitimate repertoire, but there's no need to tell a student that a piece is "just a student concerto." Students should be allowed -- encouraged! -- to enjoy the pieces they are playing, even the ones that may not qualify as high-end literature.

"We have to be careful not to let negativity seep into our teaching," Teri said. "Our students are affected by everything we do."

Encourage your students to listen, and also to play for other teachers. "Share your students, let them to to masterclass, let them go to music camp," Teri said. "Through meeting other people, it brings them back to the music."

What about teens, with their full schedules and sometimes flagging attention? To motivate teens, Teri recommended taking them on a bus together somewhere, planning trips to hear concerts, inviting a guest artist to give a master class, going to symphony rehearsals, planning special performances, playing chamber music.

Teri showed us a way to do scales that requires students to think about different elements at the same time. We first played a G major scale, just one octave, half-notes. Then we played the scale again the same way, but with two quarter notes on all ringing notes (anything that's an E, A, D or G). Then, keeping the ringing notes, we played the scale with four eighth notes on any note affected by the key -- in G major, this would be F sharp. And of course, it's possible to do this exercise in different keys, and with several octaves. In this way, the student is becoming aware of ringing notes and of notes affected by key signature, applying the knowledge immediately to playing.

She also warned that when you introduce new techniques to a student, you must follow through on a regular basis, checking the progress of that technique. If you don't, you can't expect it to develop in the proper way on its own.

When it comes to laying that technical foundation, Teri showed us a number of pieces that bridge that area between the beginner and intermediate student to the student who can play concertos. Here are some of those pieces, and a few of the techniques that can be practiced through performing those pieces:

Boy Paganini (or "Fantasia") by Edward Mollenhauer(Also in Solos for Young Violinists, Vol. 2)

Link to a performance

Technical lessons: left-hand pizzicato; repeated down-bows; fingered harmonics; fifth position; bariolage, octaves.

* * *

Adoration by Felix Borowski

Link to a performance

Technical lessons: High-position playing; slow playing.

* * *

Perpetual Motion by Carl Bohm (Also newly added to Suzuki Book 4, Revised Edition)

Technical lessons: wrist motion; possibly sautille; fifth position; half position; chromatics; fast but relaxed.

* * *

Fifth Air Varie by Charles Dancla (Also in Solos for Young Violinists, Vol. 3 by Barbara Barber)

Link to a performance (music starts at 1:40)

Technical lessons: ricochet bowing; spiccato; three-note chords; arpeggiated bariolage; combined arc and pizzicato.

* * *

Souvenir de Sarasate by William Potstock (Also in Solos for Young Violinists, Vol. 3 by Barbara Barber

Link to a performance

Technical lessons: double stops; left hand pizzicato; schmaltzy playing.

* * *

Concerto No. 1 by Friedrich Seitz

Link to a performance

Technical lessons: a lot like other Seitz concertos, but played less often.

* * *

Czardas by Vittorio Monti (Also in Solos for Young Violinists, Vol. 5 by Barbara Barber)

Link to a performance (Some may students may ask, "Is this from a Lady Gaga song?")

Technical lessons: artificial harmonics; sautille.

* * *

Concerto No. 9 by Charles de Beriot (Also in Solos for Young Violinists, Vol. 4 by Barbara Barber)

Link to a performance

Technical lessons: Excellent transition piece right before concerto literature.


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