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Pauline Lerner

Beyond the Goal

October 15, 2009 at 4:32 AM

I know a little girl who is growing up in a very musical family. Both of her parents love bluegrass music, and her father plays in a bluegrass band. Every summer her family goes to a bluegrass camp where performers play during the day and almost everyone stays up late at night and jams. This girl loves bluegrass music and she especially loves her father's band. She started violin lessons in school with the goal of playing with her father's band. Her parents agreed to let her take private violin lessons, and I became her teacher.

I found her to be smart, musically talented, very directed, but somewhat lacking in self confidence, so she was sometimes scared to start something new. I give her intensive training on new pieces and then assign her just the first half of the piece for homework. Breaking down the piece this way makes her feel less intimidated, and she makes progress quickly. She was really excited when we started working on The American Fiddle Method, a wonderful instructional book for beginners which teaches technique beautifully and contains some really fun American folk songs. When she learned to play about half of the songs in the book, we went to the section at the end of the book called "Creating Your Own Variations," which teaches drones, double stops, slides, chords, and "chunk" style of backup playing. Right now, she is having a great time playing drones and choosing the spookiest tune she knows for Halloween.

At the end of her last lesson, my student took notes on her homework assignment in her fuzzy purple notebook with her purple pen, as usual. Then her mother suggested that she play something at a Christmas party planned for a school for children with disabilities. The girl's father's bluegrass band is going to play there. My student didn't want to play alone. I suggested that she play something with the band. She was thrilled with the suggestion. Her mother told her, "You will accomplish one of your major goals. You can put a big checkmark next to it on your list." I said, "This is not the end. It's just the beginning."

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on October 15, 2009 at 5:38 PM

Thanks for sharing that story, Pauline!  I'm excited for the girl.

Would you recommend that fiddle book to other violinists who need some inspiration for improvisation?  I'm getting into Klezmer music, and it has its own embelishments.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on October 16, 2009 at 2:37 AM

Francesca, I hadn't thought of that.  The book itself is for absolute beginners, but the end part which teaches some improv techniques should be helpful for someone just starting to improvise.  The best way to learn more about improvising is to attend jams with other players and learn from them.

I have heard that Klezmer music is difficult to learn because it doesn't use the same scales as European classical music.  Improvising in Klezmer must be challenging.  You have an awesome role model in Itzhak Perlman ( ).

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on October 16, 2009 at 4:37 AM

Thanks for the suggestion that I find a Klezmer group to jam with, Pauline.  There is a Scottish fiddle group in our area that does that but I didn't think to look for a Klezmer group.

In my experience, Klezmer music is merely in a minor key-- good for developing sight reading skills. ;-)  Regarding Perlman: I actually have the album the You Tube clip is from: "From the Fiddler's House".  I figured I couldn't lose with that combination!


From Pauline Lerner
Posted on October 16, 2009 at 6:04 AM

Fran, I have the CD "From the Fiddler's House," too.  I've read that there is a DVD of it. 

There are only a few cities in the US that have Scottish Fiddle Clubs.  Where are you?  The local one (Washington DC and environs) is very good.  The teacher is great, and we all have fun.We play at festivals and Scottish dances.  I suggest that you look into the one in your area.  Scottish fiddle music often appeals to clasically trained violinists because it is very technical.

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on October 16, 2009 at 4:04 PM


My copy of "From the Fiddler's House" comes with the DVD.  It was a re-release.

I'm in Berkeley, CA.  Our Scottish Fiddler's group is the San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers, and every amateur violinist in Berkeley that I know belongs to it.   Some day I'll get around to joining.



From Marianne Hansen
Posted on October 17, 2009 at 12:31 AM

There is a newish book, Klezmer Fiddle: A How-To Guide, by Ilana Cravitz, which explains the klezmer modes.  It also has music for a dozen or so songs, complete with comments on how to play them, suggestions for ways to alter and improvise, etc.  I used the suggestions while learning one of the songs to vary a number of the phrases on the repeats, and I am sure the advice is good.  Not the same as working with another player or a group, but great to start off.  Available through Amazon -

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on October 17, 2009 at 4:02 PM

Marianne, thanks!  Ilana Cravitz did a "Master Class" article in Strad Magazine and it mentioned her book.  I don't know why it didn't occur to me to get it.


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