Breaking Emotional/Musical Barriers With Students
(This mainly applies to adult students)
In years of teaching, I've figured out ways around most technical and physical issues with students; bow technique, listening/recognizing intonation, etc...
But one thing I have always struggled with is the point at which a student can play adequately, but can't actually MAKE MUSIC. Yes, they are playing the notes. Each note is in tune, perhaps even with vibrato, and arrives at the correct time.
But it's not music.
In tracing this problem to its origin, I've realized that generally, the students that have this problem are also the most emotionally closed-off. I can play for them musically, and I can have them listen to recordings of great players. But in general, they tend to "recognize" what good music is, yet don't have any sort of emotional response to it.
This has been - by far - my greatest challenge in teaching. Has anyone else encountered this issue? How did you get around it? Or, did you perhaps find that certain people are just born with an innate musicality?
Try having your students play a phrase demonstrating a variety of emotions. For example, I might have a younger student play something like Allegro or Minuet 1 the following ways: angry, happy, sad, nervous, worried, etc. The more exaggerated, the better. Don't worry about whether the emotion fits the piece. You're not trying for "correct" here; you're trying to get the student to convey emotion through notes.
I think Roy Sonne, retired first violinist of the Pittsburgh Symphony and sometime participant here ( http://www.violinist.com/directory/bio.cfm?member=roy ) has "hit the nail on the head" with his linking of music to scenarios or stories. Yo me his DVD on the Accolay A Minor Concerto is outstanding in this regard. I think using that approach will encourage even very young students to picture stories that fit the music they are learning. As their emotional lives mature so may their playing.
Pokem in the ribs with your bow while saying more krov , worked for Auers students :P
As an adult student, It seems there is no alternative but to work with what you have. The paradox that I see is that the young learner probably assimilates the technical more easily, but what's missing is the maturity to express a lifetime of emotional experience in music. The adult on the other hand may have had the life experience, but struggles with the technical ability to express it. I like the idea of trying to connect a piece with emotional scenarios that a student, at their acknowledged stage in life, can understand and express. With good technical foundation, the emotional expression can then build with maturity. In the words of Eugène Ysaÿe (with apologies for his gender specificity): "A violin master? He must be a violinist, a thinker, a poet, a human being, he must have known hope, love, passion, and dispair..." Give young students the tools, and Ysaÿe's definition of mastery may be realized.
Not quite sure I understand the whole concept of this. How does one put emotion into their playing? Is this mostly variation in volume (and perhaps speed of vibrato)?
Part of the picture might be nerves. A nervous student might just want to get through a piece without it being a total train wreck, somewhat involuntarily placing artistic expression on the back burner as flight or fight mode takes over.
Adults are tricky. Mary Ellen's approach sounds solid, and/but/also...
anyone know what a kiso suzuki violin is
I have always felt that part of the problem is the culture of main
A lot to respond to here, so I'll just clarify a bit more:
I think all we can do is offer all we have. It is not not for us to "break a barrier" into someone's soul. We simply (!) give the technical and expressive means. We are artisans, guides, assistants, not lovers!
Music is played from the heart. Most will never get it. I suppose I'm a bit Calvanistic there - to each their own.
We teachers are the finger pointing to the moon. We have to point straight. So does the student. Then maybe we share the beauty.
You may already do this, but have you tried simply teaching them expressive playing through the technical steps?
For those of us who do have difficulty expressing emotion with our music, how does one develop that? At my age I have had decades to shut emotions away and separate them from skills that involve critical thinking. Adding them back in on top of technique means two worlds we usually keep separate have to work in tandem, which is difficult for those of us who specialize in not doing that.
I remember that I was already well into my teens, and already a technically highly accomplished player, before a new teacher realized that the reason that my playing was clean but inexpressive was that I simply had never been taught to produce a broader range of shadings. (Part of it also turned out to be the fact that I really needed a better violin.)
My teacher has been working with me to play more "musically" with the Wolfhart etudes I've been going through. I consider them such blanket technical exercises that I don't even bother to consider that they are music as well. Her current solution for this problem of mine is to let me "learn the notes" then ask me to work on it again until our next lesson to play it more musically/expressively. My most recent etude has allowed me to change some of the bowings and dynamics - which has been really liberating. Of course, the verdict has yet to be given on whether how I want something to sound meshes with what I am producing.
Whew, so many responses with so much dense info! I forget how high the response rate is on v.com. I'll have to get back to this later to appropriately respond to all.
A very interesting thread to read. I am left wondering though, how many here would have been trying to get Heifetz to play with more emotion*.
Perhaps it might help if tunes were selected that had an obvious emotional state built into them. I'm thinking of tunes like "Niel Gow's lament on the death of his second wife", "Ashoken Farewell", "The lovers waltz" and most of the modern era waltzes-(see the waltz book collection by Bill Matthiesen). The technical ability is not as important as the expressiveness of the player on tunes like these.
I think many of us find that Heifetz' playing is enthralling, but does not always correspond to the music itself.
I totally agree with Lydia's post. Almost exactly what I was thinking. I therefor dont think the fault is to be necessarily identified in the emotive nature of the students. Inmy opinion (and its just an opinion), the reason might well be far less relevant to emotions and more so to cold, calculated mastery of technique and musical knowledge.
I think the factor that makes "emotion" so difficult to invoke in OTHER people is that everyone experiences it differently. It's essentially impossible to define, as it's like explaining what "red" is to a colorblind person. It has to BEGIN internally, and then the teacher can guide that raw feeling so a more refined state. But if it hasn't began, then I'm not sure the teacher can do much.
I agree with Freida about singing. I should actually do this more to clarify phrases. Maybe you can encourage them to sing at home alone when they won't have to feel shy about it, or explain the concept of them singing it in their heads. Some shy kids might be more amenable to that. If they can sing it in their head with a lot of expression, then they probably have it. I don't even think you need to be able to sing well to benefit.
Wow ... a lot of amateur psychology in this thread!
Erik, consider the logical extreme of what you're suggesting: that every orchestral performer is really *feeling* the Sugarplum Fairy Waltz or the Stars and Stripes Forever or their 20th performance of that Rossini Overture...that every time a soloist throws off a Kreisler or Paganini nugget at the end of a long concert, they're centering themselves in Vienna or a practice room or whatever Paganini evokes for them.
Also, here's an old-but-interesting thread from the perspective of students. https://www.abrsm.org/forum/index.php?showtopic=18797
It is a conceptual confusion to mix musicality with personal emotions. The two can be related but they are not the same animals. As Ingrid Popp and many others have pointed out, we can be very emotional when listen or play music, but it doesn't mean we
"I'm not sure it's possible to ooze so much on command" is my new favorite sentence from v.com. Thanks, Katie!
LOL Katie, very well put. I guess I was thinking of more soloistic performances with melodic pieces.
Sorry duplicate / deleted posts!
I recently read this blog on playing expressively, answering pretty much the question that the OP asked. This is in regard to children, but I think many points can be applied to adult students too. In fact, many adult students in my FB group reacted favourably to the ideas in the blog.
Yes, as always, Paul is onto something, and so are the others. I was shocked when I watched an interview with Harrison Ford a few years ago. His personality has nothing to do with the roles he played so well on big screen! In personal life he appeared to be at the opposite side of Indiana Jones.
By contrast, some might think they play expressively...their vibratos are so wide its distateful, their dynamics are hysterionic
If you're working with a student that seems emotionally closed off, it helps to avoid trying to "open them up."
I'm an amateur but I suppose you could call high school senior players as "young adults". I had introduced this one senior to a summer music camp, and he started off camp with no emotion to music whatsoever, he just liked playing the instrument, and after the camp I could tell he was a different person. I believe that sometimes we just have to go through some kind of event that makes us click.
Zina Francisca, thanks for the link to my blog post on this subject. I indeed use the same techniques with adults as I do with young students and they work equally well. I just change my vocabulary and explanations according to their age and intellectual level. It is my firm belief that everyone is musical, admittedly some more than others, and it is up to an adept teacher to find ways to bring it out of a student. Indeed, it's quite a challenge but whoever said teaching should be easy?
You're welcome Eloise! You sound like the kind of teacher that many of my fellow adult starters would be very happy to study with.
The most important thing about being musical is understanding, to have a clear concept about a piece -- the history, the composer and the structure of the composition, etc. If a teacher can do something like Geoff Nuttall did in this video, then I think it'll be very hard for the students not to be inspired to play musically:
Yixi we saw the St. Lawrence Quartet here in Blacksburg. Nuttall did a presentation before each half just like this where he introduced the main themes, etc. It was a scholarly job, but he's a master showman for sure. In addition to their usual Haydn (they played Op. 20 No. 5), they did the Beethoven Op. 131. (!!)
Paul, your experience with the SLSQ sounds amazing. Do you know they have the Annual Chamber Music Seminar in Stanford? Its attendees vary from young professionals to advanced amateurs. I chatted with Geoff about it last year when I was at the Banff International String Quartet Competitions (BISQC). He was extremely encouraging to amateur string players. I'm quite tempted. Just a couple of weeks ago, SLSQ was doing another "Haydn Discovery" at the BISQC chamber music festival, where my husband and I attended. That was a lot of fun.
I think it's more about "playing with emotional expression" than "playing with emotion."
Yixi, my understanding is that the SLSQ does these play-ins a lot of places they go. I'm on their mailing list and their Seminar in Stanford sounds awesome but right now I'm kind of aiming toward Bennington.
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