I am a non-violinist mom to a 9 year old who has been learning the violin for 3 years now. This is her passion and for her own reasons, she wanted to enter a local violin competition this year. She will be playing the Seitz Concerto No. 5 and Movement No. 2 from Vivaldi's Winter Concerto. She is a disciplined, above average player but nowhere close to a child prodigy.
Usually, I have nothing to do with her violin practicing or lessons because I know nothing about the violin. However, I sat in on her most recent lesson and became concerned about the comments from her teacher. Her teacher plays in our city's orchestra and is an absolute perfectionist. She is a kind teacher but can been extremely demanding. My daughter enjoys her lessons, but clearly, the teacher is demanding so much that I am not sure if my daughter can deliver what she asks.
My questions are:
1) How can I help her practice the double stops in the Seitz Concerto - she can play them at a moderate speed but still not as fast as the Suzuki recording. Or is that not necessary?
2) How can I help her develop her musical ability for the Vivaldi? I don't quite hear what the teacher wants from her (and I am assuming my daughter doesn't quite get it either).
3) Are these competitions just for child prodigies or also for kids who enjoy playing and competing? Neither I nor my daughter have ever been to a music competition so I am not even sure what to expect.
4) Any overall tips for helping a child prepare these pieces either in general or for the competition?
She still has two months to prepare, but the teacher picks on every little thing and I am worried that my daughter will get frustrated and lose her enthusiasm before the competition.
Any advice or comments?
This is perhaps a very short answer because it is basically a recommendation, but this book has a wealth of wonderful information in it that can help with practicing anything, not just the Vivaldi or the Seitz. Chapter Three in particular dealing with solving problems is quite useful. I'd like to recommend to you The Musician's Way ( A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness) by Gerald Klickstein. Though it is probably intended for reading by older students, young adults, much can be gained from its plethora of valuable information. Also, for parents, there is Edmund Sprunger's Helping Parents Practice which, to quote the description, is " written in small, easily managed sections for the busy parent. The aim is to support and inform parents who want to maximize their usefulness and minimize their interference--but are sometimes unsure how to achieve these goals during practice."
Sorry to jump into the thread but your wonderful advice brought up a question.
Would you recommend always working with the same pianist for competitions as well as solo recitals? What if a student prefers an accompanist because of personality but one that might not be the best player? My son's teacher always uses the same accompanist for recitals and competitions. She is excellent. However, my son has used two others and prefers to use one in particular when making recordings. She's a friend of ours and is very nice but I have no idea which of these three is "the best".
I don`t really have a clear answer. There is no objection to using the same paino player for differnet palying conditions.
The criteria you sue for preferring a particular player may well vary slightly with a younger player. However, there comes a point where it boils down to a very nebuluous factor which is extremely hard to define: working with a true accompanist a soppose dot a good piano palyer.
To put this in soem kind of perspective here is what happened to me at the Royal College of Music somewhere in the beginning of time. The first year exam demanded two movements from the Bach e major cocnerto. I naively assumed that a piano player was an acompanist and found out in the performance that paino player scan be lumpy, varibale in tempos agreed in the practice room and go much to slow when the going is really tought anyway. In the second year I was a tad more careful and asked a few friends who wa sa `good pianist` and ende dup with a Malaysian student who had the wildest sens eor rythm and ignorance of the fundamental of music I have evern come across. MOzart cocnetro was not a roaring success....
At this point my teacher gave me a stern lecture 8for him) and told me that a good accompanist wa sworth about an extra ten points on an exam or grading so I needed to be more careful. It then turned out I needed another accompanist urgenmtly to play Ballade and Polonaise for a differnet exam. I was told to use Miss x. (Jayne Aspinall ;)) I found her knitting in the college bar and she seemed well, a tad relaxed about the whole business but agreed to do it. I asked about rehearsal and she just stared at me like wa snuts. Walked into the exam and she just played at one with everythign I did so perfectly I wa son another planet. That was the moment when I learnt what a true accompanist was. So after talking to my teache rand few other real msuicians I finally discovered the consensus that there were only basically three accompanists in the whole institute. Bear in mind that this wa sa college world renowned for paino players , pulling in young viruousos from all over the world and producing top competition winners regualrly on that instrument. But only 3 accompanists!!!!!!!!!!!!!
So in a nutshell, you use who produces the best results, can play anything with minimum rehearsal and -makesyou find musical depths in yourself-. The eprsonality thing may be a factor but its not crucial as long as there is no antagonism or mistrust.
Clear as mud?
PS I belive this may be my spelling piece de resistance.
Also, re: your feeling that the teacher may be demanding too much--teach your child to ask questions (if she does not already). Your teacher probably doesn't put up with "I can't" but any time a student comes into a lesson and tells me that (s)he had a spcific problem, I take that as a good sign that the student is evaluating their own learning. And it helps me teach them better. Whining is not tolerated of course :) but communication is necessary, even if it's "I don't get this." Once we figure out what they "don't get", I can adjust my appoach to help.
By the way, I do want that to come from the students most of the time, not the parents. While parent support is great and I respect and value parent questions, what I really want is to know what the student is feeling and to see them take ownership of their learning. That is what really helps me tailor my teaching to them.
YES PIANISTS MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
I know I'm still young (my years of playing I mean) but I had the chance to play with such a wonderful pianist. So much better skilled than what I would ever deserve. She played with national contestants and was a teacher and coach for the performing PHD students at the university. She didn't usually teach or play with conservatory students that were not universitary students but I was very very lucky that she knew my teacher... I probably have already tell this but not only that she was very confident and a wonderful played that happened to know much things about violinists since she had some in her family, but she also coached me as well as my own teacher (I also had the luck to follow ear training and theory lessons from her so it wasn't a "stranger" either and knew exactly how my brain worked), she really was the one who had the most influence on me (along with my teacher) to get me more confident (did I already tell that you'll die with russian musicians as teachers if you are not 100% secure and confident while playing??? ; ) They read your mind and can detect unsecurity from 10 miles away without even looking it's crazy!
My best performances were difinitivly with her. How can you not give your 100% when you work with such professionnal pianists? She never threated me as if I was an amateur (even if I am!). I regret so much that she has changed jobs and can no longer play with me but this is life, it's a real luck if you can play with the same pianist for many years. I still have this sticker in my violin case written "I'm a star" on that she forced me to put there!!! A wonderful souvenir to remind me to always keep this "knowledge" and attitude she taught me whatever with who I play and in what event. !
So yes, if you found an extrordinairy pianist, stay with him/her. It makes a huge difference and every enconter with a wonderful musician will change you for the better!
Buri, you're right. You have outdone yourself. What on earth does "working with a true accompanist a soppose dot a good piano palyer" mean?
A native speaker of English
"Usually, I have nothing to do with her violin practicing or lessons..."
It sounds like your child is doing well. If you are not accustomed to monitoring lessons and practicing, you might be unaware of what the teacher's standards are. If this sort of expectation is par for the course, and your daughter is doing well, there might not be any need for concern.
(I'm not negatively judging your "hands-off" approach. Every child has his/her own needs. Whatever works...)
This might also be the time that your child's teacher has stepped up expectations, and it would only be fair to wait and see if your child can rise to the occasion. Good luck!
Marriane, you just haven`t cracked the code yet. Remember I always reverse to (or rather ot) and write palyer instead of er, palyer. All you have to do after that is move a few letters to proceeding or succeeding words. Pie ceof cake.
It's a bit more than that; you also think in words, and type with the long fingers faster than the shorter fingers.... anything that you type with the middle finger followed with a short finger letter, the reader just reverses the letters. Also, any normal type of progression similar to a music fingering (the 'li' in like, for example) will be in 16th notes, and can sometimes be reversed. Plus, you anticipate your stops (spaces), so you often space before the last lette of a word.
It's actually fairly easy to read, you just need to understand!
I rest my (lower) case....
I think it is important to learn what your daughter expects from this competition. Has she ever attended one just as a listener? If she is looking forward to a "win," she may be discouraged in her future violin playing.
Playing these pieces artistically, in my opinion requires "scenarios" that are in excess of the usual 9 year old's emotional capacity. However, if she can relate the Seitz and Vivaldi pieces to stories she knows, she might be able to inject the intrepretive sense that you feel is missing.
In my opinion, listening to the Suzuki recordings s a great way to hear how a piece goes (especially for students who are not good sight readers, however, it stops there. Once they know what a G# sounds like and where it goes (for example) and how the "turns" are done, they should play at their own speed and work toward their own satisfaction.
Playing slowly is the proper road to "perfection." Once you have it right at a certain speed it becomes possible to keep it right and increase the speed incrementally. I've good some good stories about violinists developing that way - but I'll spare you for now.
Personally, I find both of these pieces to be "romanitic" and play them that way. I have used the Vivaldi movement for a number of weddings (including that of one of my daughters) - must have worked, since they celebrated their 28th anniversary this year. "Romantic" can be tough for a 9 year old!
Andrew's point is well taken, but I don't believe a musician, of any age, requires extra-musical ideas to perform a piece well (though sometimes imagery may help).
I'm not sure why this is so, but it seems many teachers think that pure musical interpretation is beyond the ability of young musicians and fail to demand their students to learn and employ it at every step of the learning process. Western musical language is rooted in tonality (not emotions, although interpretation - as in any human performance - must certainly involve emotions), a system of pitch relations based on a key root or center, the tonic, a.k.a. Do. A hierarchy of pitches results from each scale note's relationship to Do. It might sound technical and blah at first, but anyone who can sing Do a Deer can appreciate this system, even if they don't fully understand its rules (even if they're illiterate, which most students remain for too long in their education).
The first thing parents ought to do, if they truly want their children to be musicians, not just instrumentalists, or 'trained-monkeys' (sorry if that sounds harsh), is to get their children to take ear-training lessons, piano lessons (there are many teachers who will teach the piano for keyboard training and theory if it's not the student's main instrument), singing lessons, or get them to join a choir, where the teachers involved are serious about their do, re, mi's.
Students should also train musicality everyday. Musicality begins with identifying such seemingly mundane things as the key (and secondary keys), the names of the notes which comprise the scale in this key, how the composer uses the scale; i.e. what kind of intervals and scale patterns the composer favours (or what's the tune, the secondary tune?); how the composer employs resolution, the movement of notes/chords from dissonance to consonance (or tension to release). How does the composer modulate - or where does the composer introduce non-scale notes and what does she do with them? In this way, theory can be studied everyday, and brought to life - learning theory can only be made functional in this way; in the textbook it remains in the realm of numbers and ratios, which is related but not the same thing.
Scales should primarily be used to train the mind to hear scalar and intervallic relationships, not the fingers, as is the common practice. The first step is to practice scales against the tonic. Use a pitch generating device to play the tonic; play each scale degree with the tonic and listen for the meaning of each degree. Listen for how stable it sounds to play Do and Do, and Do and So, how unstable to play Re and Ti against Do; listen for the colors created by Mi and La with Do; listen for how La wants to lead to So, Fa to Mi, Re to Do, Ti to Do. Learning to hear tendency tones is the first step to learning harmonic progression. Practice (against the tonic): Do, La, So (hold So - feels like home away from home); Do, Fa, Mi (hold Mi - feels content, but not like home); Do, Ti (hold Ti to hear it's push toward Do - want to go home again); Do, Re (hold Re - wanna go home again); Do, high Do, Do (finally, back home!). Studying how the composer delays satisfaction, or fools the listener, takes us a long way to discovering a convincing interpretation. It's more efficient to learn harmony on the keyboard, but there's no reason not to do it on the violin too. The next step is to learn arpeggios to train basic chord progressions.
Listening for tension and release (the basis for much artistic expression in all fields) should inform how we employ the bow and left hand to express the composer's musical thoughts. Exactly how we choose to do this is where all the fun begins!
Best wishes to your daughter,
P.S. Maestro Zander says it much better than I:
My response relates to Jee-won's--I do believe even young students can interpret musically and I believe it is based ont he things he is talking about, but the way I begin to teach it is maybe a little simpler if less thorough (that ear trainig stuff is great though and I'm trying to find more ways to incorporate it naturally into my teaching. Anyway--I teach phrasing, listening for the rise and fall of the phrase, the resting points, the climaxes, the style (connected, separated, strong, peaceful, etc...) echoes, relationships of phrases to each other i.e. repetition and contrasts, relative importance--all relatively tangible things that a child can grasp and relate to (and apply to their level of feeling/understanding, but giving him/her a rich musical vocabulary that will transfer to their growing musical and emotional maturity). A child may not be able to interpret all these pieces like an adult (though I find much at least of the Suzuki literautre very easily grasped by the students I teach) but they can definitely express them in a musical way fitting to their understanding.
Thank you everyone for you responses. They were all helpful and useful. And, I really enjoyed the video clip from Maestro Zander. Hadn't seen that before.
After the craziness of the holidays, I started attending the lessons of my daughter to learn how I could help her (teacher's suggestion), and I spoke with the teacher as well. She says my daughter plays very well, but she always has high expectations so that when a child reaches a certain level or understands a concept, she then helps the child to learn the next one. Sometimes I think the teacher focuses on way too many things at once for a 9 year old, but perhaps this is normal as well. Anyway, the talk helped put things in perspective.
The teacher has been doing many of the things already suggested above, but your responses helped me to understand the reason behind the methods and the purpose. The teacher is helping my daugther with phrasing and dynamics, and putting expression and feeling into the music. My daughter came up with her own "stories" for the music and even drew graphic short stories - whether to help her remember the phrasing and dynamics or just because she likes to draw and write stories, I don't know. Not sure if this has really helped her playing though.
At first, I was hesitatnt about letting my daughter do this competition because I know many parents who disdain music competitions, but overall, this has been a good experience for her. Her musical abilities have developed tremendously over the past few weeks. She was always diligient about learning pieces for lessons and for recitals, however, preparing for this competition has increased her musical ability by several notches.
She's starting to get nervous about the competion, but I've told her to just think of it as a big recital and to have fun. The piece is far from perfect and while she can play really well by the end of a lesson with all the coaching and reminders, we'll see what happens when she has one shot (after warmup) to play the piece in front of the audience.
Most of all, I think it will be exciting and interesting to see the other children play. She is in the group for 8 and 9 year olds and at our location, there will be about 19 kids playing which apparently is a lot more than usual. Some kids have incredibly difficult pieces listed (especially those who started playing at age 4 or 5), others are much simpler. Overall though, everyone says that this competition is more about motivating young children and emphasizes musical ability and presence on stage rather than just technical ability.
There is still about a month left so we'll see how it goes.
It sounds as though your child has Suzuki-ish lessons, so I am a little surprised you haven't been requested to attend lessons right along. Of course, many teachers use the Suzuki books & various components of that system w/o picking up the entire program, and they & their students do fine. Re Suzuki recordings, I always take those w/a big grain of salt. My studies in music history & lit. lead me to believe that a number of pieces are recorded too fast for common practice during the time period they were written. Even when they seem historically accurate, they can still be seen IMO as one model, not necessarily as the tempo goal. It would be good to find out if this is a competition where winners are announced, or the also-common sort of competition against a standard. Think of this like race-runners: some go out to be first, others go to improve their times. Teachers who have kids preparing for contests or solo festivals of any kind do well to help their students prepare thoroughly but not obsessively. They should strive to keep their egos out of it, and let it be the child's experience and his or her success. Sue PS I'm an active adjudicator.
My daughter's lessons are more traditional but she uses some of the Suzuki pieces. When my daughter started three years ago, she mentioned that in her experience, children learn best when their mothers (or fathers) work through the lessons with them and assist them in practicing, but I have other kids and life gets busy, and well, I hadn't been attending in a long time and forgot about this aspect.
You're also right about the teacher's ego. There are many teachers or music schools who see their students' success as their own and certainly, participation and awards are often mentioned on their websites or other info. This teacher in partciular has had other students participate in this and other competitions who were awarded first place, and I certainly think that this added to the fact that she wants every note perfect makes her seem incredibly demanding. But, I try to balance that out by making sure that my daughter knows that the most important thing for her is to have fun. She and her teacher actually have a genuinely wonderful relationship, and my child adores her, but it can be hard as a mom watching someone criticize my child.
Knowing what I know now, I don't know if I would have let my daughter sign up, but my daughter was adamant about doing this. Although I said I would think twice before letting her do it again, she already mentioned that she wants to do this again next year for the ensemble/duet string competition. Yikes!
I say let her sign up! :)
It is great experience for a child, even if it doesn't go well, I'm sure she'll need this kind of experience in the future. -- Just be ready to comfort her should anything go wrong.
Even tho she wants to do this again next year, her opinion might and probably will change when you let her in this competition. Sooner or later she's going to do it. I would say not letting her sign up is not a choice, or at least not a very wise one. (unless there's something awfully wrong with the competition which there probably isn't)
Anyway! I would love to see her perform so if this get's video taped, please send me a message.
EDIT: OH! Forgive me! I haven't noticed all the other replies... There's a button I forgot to click, hopefully I didn't miss anything
EDIT: Yeah, I didn't miss anything -- lucky.
The others here have already given you amazing advice on practice techniques so definitely read up on that and make sure your daughter is feeling secure about her preparation.
My advice is to help her build her confidence through some test runs. Clear some space in a room and sit in a chair far enough away that she feels like she's on a stage. Have your daughter dress like she's going to the competition and warm up and everything. Have her wait for you in another room and come when she's called. She must think of this as a performance and play for you. Gather some family or friends to be part of this audience and make sure they understand that this is a simulation so they have to be formal about it. To take it one step further, record the test runs so that your daughter can hear herself and use it for personal practice.
Also, another tip from personal experience. This is kind of unconventional advice but when I am preparing for an audition I go for a run right before I practice sometimes and then when I get back I play my audition material while I'm still trying to breath and my heart is still trying to catch up. To be medically responsible I must only recommend this as long as there is no concern of a heart condition but as long as there is no health concern, then this method does help to simulate the experience of stage-fright. At least from a physical point of view.
Let me tell you what the judges are expecting. A judge does not want to hear someone try to win. They want to hear someone perform. It makes a much bigger impression on a judge to hear someone who is well prepared perform just for the joy of it than to hear someone with no confidence try to conquer their nerves enough just to run through it, even if they play well.
edited: corrected spelling
Thank you everyone for your responses and well wishes. We thought about and used many of the suggestions in preparing for the competition. I am amazed how hard my 9 year old practiced and how much she improved over the last few months - not just in technique and musical ability, but in learning how to practice. She was incredibly nervous weeks before the competition but had several opportunities to play in front of friends and family. Based on the responses here, I made sure she remembered that it was about performing and not competing, and that no matter what the judges decide, the important thing is that she is happy with her performance. She recently had her competition, and all in all it went very well. She got first place with a perfect score. She was thrilled. All in all, it was a postive experience for her.
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December 2, 2009 at 11:06 PM ·
Hi some "general" tips that I've got from my teacher and a super accompagnist that was as helpful:
- become the master of your fingers. In stressing events, our fingers want to go to fast to follow the piano... you can consciously slow down (in the middle of a performance you started to fast) the tempo to find your comfortable tempo where you don't miss notes and can control your fingers (the accompagnists are highly skilled professionnals who are able to adapt to the student as they play) Vadim Repin, a master violinist, told in a masterclass that when you are on stage, your time reference can be altered. What seems like an eternity to you, is a really short moment. Thus students often take thing too fast.
- practice unfront of as many people possible before the event. under adrenaline, you become like a racing horse with a fast heartbeat and breathing behind the gate... (this is a terrible thing to deal with but if you catch yourself and know it's harmful for you and your performance to feel like this, you can find ways as deep breathing and getting used to the stage before the real event to erase most of this "starting anxiety")
- to be 100% ready, you must be 150% ready home.
- it is very very good to practice things slowly as if everything was quarter notes (one note per bow stroke) just to learn good intonation and undo all the automatic bad moove we aquire. This is a trick used by much students who have a professional musician as a parent (often a pianist mom...) You can do the same for the double stops. (when you don't have bowing to think of, you can focus on the left hand. Inversly, it is good to do the bowing patterns without the left hand)
- For the musicality, listening to as many music possible and ideally the same pieces as she will play played by professionnals or good sounding students is always an excellent start!
- For a good sound you need to check very carefully, bow speed, pressure, if she plays in the good bow areas (heel, middle tip of the bow etc) according to the different parts of the piece. And THE SOUND POINT. Is the contact good between the string and the hair of the bow. (the bow really must be 90 degres)
- Really work hard on dynamics is really paying too since the judges notice this very much and it shows "maturity" contrarly to those who play technically but with a boring stable volume.
On a more "personal" note, make sure she always has warm hands since playing the violin with cold hands is no fun and bring a stiff sound (especially on these days). I don't know if children realize this but a mom with hot packs, blankets and glooves is surely helpful.
(I see much musician moms and dads of small kids who massage their kids hands while they are waiting to go play. They surely know it helps...)
Good luck to her!