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Pauline Lerner

May 28, 2005 at 9:00 PM

Tai-Chi and the Art of Violin Playing

Today I gave a first lesson to an adult beginning student, and the experience was wonderful. This student has maturity and wisdom that will serve him well in learning to play the violin. He decided that he wanted to learn to play violin after years of listening to his daughter play. Some of his friends told him not to because learning to play violin when you’re an adult is just too hard. Fortunately, he had a goal in his mind and he continued to pursue it. He bought a very good violin for an incredibly low price on ebay. He used his knowledge of the violin and his sense of marketing to good advantage. He knew that he didn’t want to buy junk and he made a very good purchase. He started to teach himself but decided quickly that he needed feedback from a teacher. He started taking lessons from a college student but he was disappointed because she kept telling him that he was doing everything right and he knew that he wasn’t. (Mature, indeed.) He searched for another violin teacher and found me.

He is a dedicated student of Tai Chi and we talked about that. His approach to Tai Chi is quite handily transferable to playing the violin. I believe that his cultural background (Chinese American) is helping him, too. He told me that he loves Tai Chi because there are always new things to learn. In fact, one can spend a lifetime studying Tai Chi. After he took an introductory class, he took it again, and the second time he saw lots of things he didn’t notice the first time. I told him that violin is like that, too. The learning process never ends. The more you play, the more you hear and want to try. In teaching, I start with a relatively simple piece and add ornamentations and interpretations to it so the student grows with the music.

He had one concern about playing. His fingers are short and he has trouble reaching to play the notes. I watched him play and started correcting his left arm and hand position. Put your elbow under the violin and rotate your wrist so that your fingers are poised over the strings. He tried it and, of course, felt that it was uncomfortable. I told him that when he gets used to it, it will feel OK. In playing the violin, you use you arms, wrists, hands, and fingers in ways that you don’t use them for any other activity in everyday life. I told him that I don’t teach posture for its own sake but for the sake of making it easier to play well. He understood and accepted this in a way that a seven year old just can’t.

I also helped him with his bow hold. He was tightening his muscles and pressing down with the bow, as most beginners do. I told him that the more relaxed your bow hand and arm are, the more control you have. He immediately related this to Tai Chi. For Tai Chi, you learn to hold your arm out in front of you and keep it completely relaxed. When he does this, his hands feel heavy because his arm muscles are not working to keep his hand up. I tried a few approaches to help him learn his own relaxed bow hold. (Everyone’s hands are different.) I had him put his right arm by his side, relaxed, and then I told him to look at his hand. His hand should look like that when he holds the bow. He was surprised at first, as everyone is, but he understood the concept because of Tai Chi.

I asked him whether he had anything specific he wanted me to help him with now, and he asked for help playing slurs. You need to have a certain amount of maturity and self awareness to know your own strengths and weaknesses, although I’ve taught seven year olds who can do this. I told him about pacing himself with his bow arm and gave him a few exercises to practice.

Before leaving, he asked me about goals in playing the violin. I asked him what his goals were. He replied that he didn’t want to become a concert violinist, but he wanted to play for his own enjoyment and for the joy and challenge of learning. I asked him whether he wanted to learn to play classical music. He said yes, because he has listened to a lot of it, but he was also curious about Irish and other kinds of music. I told him that we could sample several different genres so he would be able to tell what he likes. He seemed happy and enthusiastic when he left.

I had so much fun. I’m looking forward to his next lesson.

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