"All you can eat" pedagogy

November 21, 2021, 12:22 PM · Noa Kagayama sent me an e-mail with an essay (I subscribed a while ago, never took any courses but am still getting his e-mails--he clearly still hopes I will eventually succumb). Title: "Evidence That Too Much Repetition and Consistency in Practice Could Potentially Hinder the Learning Process (WHAT?!)"

Here is the link:


Replies (21)

November 21, 2021, 1:10 PM · I see a few possible interpretations. I think that this is pointing out that for a student engaged in self-directed learning, they can often naturally focus on the stimuli that will allow them to make their own subtle adjustments, and that putting too much insistence on them paying attention to other things can cause them to ignore the stimuli that should predominate (the sound they want and things feeling relaxed). Another way of understanding this is that we get used to something, and in order to keep learning, we need to add complexity - This could be adding in the left hand once we've done work on open strings, or changing the bowing that we are learning the fingering for a passage, or ticking the metronome up, or learning a passage in rhythms.

Learning something exactly perfectly all the time might instill a certain level of sameness into a student's playing, but I would still think that it's better to learn a fundamental technique as perfectly as possible before allowing a lot of variation. In my experience, I'm struggling for a long time when learning something new (say spiccato), and I have a hunch that all the ways I played wrong end up serving me in a sense when I finally get the basic technique down, but I'm sure that I could have learned the basic technique more quickly. There are probably tradeoffs, and the basic premise of the article makes sense to me.

Edited: November 21, 2021, 6:33 PM · Greetings?
very interesting article. I think a lot of the problems with violin learning stem from the teacher saying ‘this is how you do it’ and then demonstrating a perfect model and nothing more. The student is then prescribed certain exercises which will lead to more or less successful internalization of the technique , with the unspoken caveat that it kind of depend son level of talent. The student then embraces the surface of the approach and struggles, usually improving from week to week until they are , more or less, successful. There are important and correct aspects to this approach such as the student does require both model and appropriate materials. However, it is too often the case that this. approach takes the sense of responsibility and experimentation away from the student.
I find a strong correlation between the primary idea of Simon Fischer (during our practice we should constantly expiremnt with proportions in order to improve one of the four playing aspects: sound, pitc rhythm and ease). Young students should be taught about these factors, what it actually means to listen and how to experiment with proportions. It is only then that they may begin taking responsibility for their own way of playing rather than trying to recreate a perfect model presented by the teacher which does not correlate with their internal make up.
November 21, 2021, 9:09 PM · @Buri, Mark O'Connor would probably argue that encouraging young students to experiment and find their own way should extend not only to aspects of technique but also the actual notes that one plays.
November 21, 2021, 9:46 PM · Here is where I see limits: When learning the instrument one sort of piles skills on top of skills. E.g one begins with the bow hold. There are probably many ways to hold the bow if all you need to do is straight up and down bowing. Then you are to add other skills like spiccato, martellato etc. At this point it is important to hold the bow in a way that allows for all those skills to be practiced. In other words it is advisable to guide a student in the early development of the bow hold so it works for future requirements. Similarly for the left hand.
November 21, 2021, 10:13 PM · Agreed. That would be where the model is relevant/necesssary.
November 21, 2021, 10:44 PM · Practice itself is somewhat of a double edged sword. Practicing good habits leads to progress while practicing bad habits can lead to regression.

The article mentions the commonly given advice around bowing exactly parallel to the bridge. But I’ve seen many fine violinists/teachers that have experimented with bowing not exactly parallel but slightly inward and have found they can produce a better sound (whether that’s due to way modern strings are wound, I’m not absolutely sure; although it certainly makes sense to err on “in” side as opposed to “out” side).

November 21, 2021, 10:50 PM · Greetings,
Raymond, a while back when this topic was raised because Szeryng often plays this way a rather detailed response was posted by Mr Warchal the string maker who said that this is how violinist were taught in the Czech ?(sorry, I cannot recall) school he comes from. ‘Tonus’ (Isupposethe best possible sound) is achieved by angling the bow slightly.
November 21, 2021, 10:50 PM · Greetings,
Raymond, a while back when this topic was raised because Szeryng often plays this way a rather detailed response was posted by Mr Warchal the string maker who said that this is how violinist were taught in the Czech ?(sorry, I cannot recall) school he comes from. ‘Tonus’ (Isupposethe best possible sound) is achieved by angling the bow slightly.
Edited: November 22, 2021, 6:01 AM · Thanks, Buri: "Bohdan Warchal, Jr., graduated from Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, Czech Republic" (from the Warchal website. However, I question whether, at the time of his graduation, the Czech Republic was yet in existence). The Warchal family is, however, like Tomas and Jan Masaryk (after whom my old school debating society is named), Slovak.
November 22, 2021, 2:15 PM · We discussed this method of bowing, which I do, 45 years ago when I was an undergraduate. It is not really revolutionary, or really different from what many do.
November 24, 2021, 6:25 AM · I don't think that what Kageyama is talking about in reference to that article is "try a different technique". It's really more about changing up the practice environment. It's more akin to the kind of "games" that Suzuki kids play in order to reduce the tedium of repetition: do this while sitting on a ball! do this while standing on one foot! do this with your eyes closed! etc.

It's also about the notion of allowing things to deteriorate slightly and then come back to them. For instance, if you're practicing for an audition one year from now, don't grind that same repertoire every day for a year. Learning it. Put it away briefly. Bring it back, work on it some more. Put it away again for a somewhat longer interval. Come back to it again. Etc.

Edited: November 25, 2021, 8:53 AM · As far as I can tell - understanding what the thread and the OP are about requires some understanding/assumption of pedagogical context - I agree with Kristian and Buri.

Raymond's view requires different context - beginners who find their bow drifting half way towards the scroll do need to learn, initially, to bow parallel. That doesn't mean they are stuck there for life. I think Galamian discusses the tonalities produced by other bowing styles. Or maybe it was Fischer - I read him in very small amounts.

But is there really a school that says repetition is practice? Is that what Suzuki is about? Screw Suzuki if that's the case. That's probably why the image we get of Suzuki classes in the UK is that it is all rather robotic.

Only one respondent to the OP source uses the word "listen" and only Buri uses the word here.

Practice is about listening to everything you do (like Kristian says, listen to yourself - other stimuli will distract you), and if you repeat something, it's because it needs to be better, not the same. If your legato string crossing sounds crap, you repeat it, you play it cleaner, you vary the timing of bowings and left hand fingerings and listen to the results. You work out how you got the desired result and maybe repeat it once or twice to confirm that you've understood it right. Flexibility is always key (music is about permutations and combinations), so muscle memory is sometimes a red herring.

If I want to play an easy piece better, I don't repeat it 1,000 times, I play it until it's adequate, then I work on something harder until that's adequate. Then I go back to the easier piece later if I want.

November 25, 2021, 4:31 PM · Greetings?
Exactly Gordon:
‘If I want to play an easy piece better, I don't repeat it 1,000 times, I play it until it's adequate, then I work on something harder until that's adequate. Then I go back to the easier piece later if I want.’

Your comment demonstrates two of the most fundamentals aspects of learning: 1) it’s recursive and 2) we don’t learn something perfectly the first time. When we go back, relative to our new knowledge and experience we can take the work to a higher level . This is a never ending cycle.


November 25, 2021, 8:56 PM · I don't know if a there is a violin school that says repetition is practice. There are such schools in other fields. I learned English that way--and I believe it worked better than the French approach (where they make you memorize tons of rules and the exceptions to the rules and the exceptions to the exceptions, 5 pages or so for subjunctive alone!).

I do think repetition has a place in violin teaching--and practicing. Years ago some professional I was on a gig with told me the way to know if you have learnt something: If you can do it correctly seven times in a row you are good to go. I have no idea where that comes from but it sounds plausible. Unless I practice just for myself alone I want to be sure that my skills don't fail me when I play with or for people. Of course it implies listening, otherwise how can you know it's correct. But I don't see how one can learn to do something reliably every time (or almost every time at least) without repetition being part of the process.

I read Kageyama to mean that there should be room for students to adopt unorthodox practices and to experiment with them, especially if they help deal with physical idiosyncrasies (small hands, short pinky, long neck etc.). Seems very reasonable to me but there is the caveat I brought up already: What if a technique discovered that way ends up impeding progress down the line? Seems to me in this case one has to go back and "rebuild the technique", not something anybody will find motivating.

November 25, 2021, 10:28 PM · I think there is a difference between learning a technique "wrong", so that it needs to be totally reworked later when there is a harder application of the technique, and learning a technique basically correctly, and then building robustness into the technique which allows small bits of variation and mistakes, so that the technique can be applied well to variations in use.

To give a practical example, some teachers teach some kind of intermediate bowhold, with the idea that the actual bowhold will be learnt later, but the bowhold is going to serve for the initial low level. Other teachers insist on an adult bowhold from the start. I believe philosophically, I'd be inclined towards the latter of learning the correct bowhold immediately, even though it is more complicated. I think there are good arguments for having the intermediate bowhold as well. Hmm, maybe that's not a good example...

November 26, 2021, 1:01 AM · There's certainly a difference between languages and musical instruments.
November 26, 2021, 4:31 AM · With youngsters I asked for 3 repetitions of a note or a tricky measure, choose the best, and try it 3 times etc. Nine goes in all plus one for luck..
November 26, 2021, 8:04 AM · Adaptive bowholds for beginners seem to be based on the theory that young hands might have inadequate finger strength, which is certainly true for the vast majority of kids that start in the pre-elementary school years.
November 26, 2021, 8:49 AM · Indeed we give very small children big fat felt tips to draw with.
Edited: November 26, 2021, 12:42 PM · My teacher teaches the final bowhold off the bat, and her students are excellent, but it's possible that very young students drop out and only the ones that the system works for keep going. Maybe talented embryos need other teachers.

Can a teacher teach a technique and be confident that the student won't go home and practice the technique completely wrong, and then come back with something messed up? The student that has grasped some core element of the technique can then go home and not do it perfectly, but be able to play in the sandbox with the technique to adapt it to their physiology, so that it becomes theirs. The student that hasn't might come back having ingrained a motor pattern that is actually contrary to the actual technique, beyond just having a really grossly coordinated and inexact version of the final technique. One is a mistake that needs to be undone, and the other is a basis for building robustness.

I'm not exactly sure how my initial bowhold example fits into the paradigm, because presumably, the initial bowhold doesn't include motor patterns that are contrary to the final bowhold - I'd like to think of better examples - I've seen young players with really tense looking bowholds that actually play quite well, but I have the sense that they are due to hit a wall at some point, and are going to have to redo a lot. Better to have the relaxation as foundational in your bowhold before you start learning all the bowing patterns and right hand complications, because if you learn all of them tense, then the moment where you can't do the next thing, you now have so much more to redo.

November 26, 2021, 7:09 PM · Greetings,
you may find this short video on repetitive practice interesting.

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