Listening in Pedagogy
I was inspired to write this post by the current thread about teaching the violin to children.
I teach on the side -- but I teach jazz piano. I only do this because there really is nobody else in my area who seems to want to do it.
The number of students in my "studio" varies -- between zero and one. Right now it is one. Partly because I consider myself not very well qualified, I charge a modest fee. I don't feel that I'm undercutting anyone.
Listening is critical to learning jazz, but I feel strongly that listening -- like playing -- is something that benefits from tutelage. So, for each lesson assignment for my student, I create a listening assignment. I find a YouTube video and I set various tasks ranging from simple (write down the video time at the top of each chorus) to more challenging (transcribing a short riff, or counting how many times the bass player plays the root of the chord on the first beat of the measure over, say, one minute). Other "tasks" are just me pointing out devices or aspects of the recording -- at specific time points -- that I consider significant. Full disclosure that I got this idea from the piano teacher that I had in high school. As the student progresses, ideally so will the level of challenge in the listening "tasks."
I wonder if there is any room for this kind of thing in classical violin pedagogy?
Suzuki once asked a student "Who was your teacher this week?"
Adrian that's interesting. But did Suzuki ask him exactly what he learned from that teacher? Generalized inspiration is important but are there specific aspects of artistry that students can appreciate even before they've developed the technique to make it happen?
As a child, having my dad to point out things happening in the music in real time was interesting, as it guided my focus and shaped my ear. It sounds like you describe doing this with your students. Sometimes the student might just need that aspect of interest and mentorship shown, which spurs their own exploration more than anything. Then they can go off and do more specific assignments, or just bring their own little discoveries in without prompting.
Suzuki knew the instrument from his father's workshop, but discovered its beauties from discs; he the had to find out by himself how to achieve them.
I understand the Suzuki pedagogy is oriented toward listening, although I imagine a good number of Suzuki teachers forget that.
Jim and Buri: you have perfectly explained the ideas that my mind was crawling towards. An important topic, particularly at this moment in the year for many teachers will be gearing up for the new school/academic year.
Even if we try to copy someone's performance, it is still our own ears and limbs that do it!
The idea of copying a performer is not lazy or misguided or sinister. (I don't suggest that anyone here has implied that it is.) As Adrian points out, if you want to copy Hadelich's vibrato, then, first of all good luck doing that, but you learn what your hands have to do. Copy enough different vibratos and you'll have the physical tools to build your own.
Along with imitation, a violinist could assign practice time to improvising in a key. Can only be done by listening and will eventually yield a signature sound. Best to start in the younger years--it seems that many string players shuttered in classical music have a dreadful difficulty playing jazz. Of course that's probably the way Dorothy Delay would like it.
Interesting poin tJim. Most classical muscians tend to ignore this completely but it's something that Milstein used to enjoy. Not a bad role model.
A good tune for violin improvisation at the entry level is La Folia. Or any chaconne in a favorable key.
Adrian Heath "Even if we try to copy someone's performance, it is still our own ears and limbs that do it!"
Yes it's important. I don't know about a factor of 1000.
Listening to "yourself" seems to work best as something interactive. There is nothing more trying than a walz with a parter that resists the motion of the dance. So the interactive violonist is the one who might claim that this particular Guarneri is difficult to play, but when unlocked.... The musician is passive when listening to the violin.
But no'one is trying to copy Oistrakh while performing!
I've heard Zukerman copy Stern for fun. Clowning around. Maybe it snuck in when he performed. I won't guess how much effort it took to produce a convincing imitation. For electric guitarists, the best imitation wins.
I think it was Pavarotti who said that most professional tenors could force themselves to sound like Caruso for a few minutes, but more than that and you risk serious injury. I don't think this is true of the violin.
You are absolutely correct.
Three violinists who have taught me something about phrasing, balancing and style simply through listening to them are possibly unknown to most of this forum - Anthony Marwood, Lawrence Jackson and Lorraine McAslan. All are superb chamber musicians but it was hearing Marwood warm up for a rehearsal of the Beethoven concerto that stuck with me, with a fluidity of line that I hadn't noticed in any other player. It was Jackson's propensity to "float" over his colleagues in the Maggini Quartet that made me think "that's the way to do it". With Lorraine McAslan, I gratefully and shamelessly copied her completely appropriate portamento in the Janacek sonata. I hope I've also learned a great deal more subliminally from other fine players.
Nowadays listening to others for specific things is easy for us to do, but it was less easy 50 or more years ago. There were record libraries if one wanted to listen much, and a teacher might have said occasionally, "try to listen to a recording of this," but I only recall one girl at school seriously listening to a recordingn of a soprano in order to study the breathing technique of something she was learning. Listening to others was general and listening to oneself was therapeutic. Is there insufficient self-reliance nowadays?
Most of the music I try to learn, I am sight-reading and don't usually know how it is supposed to sound. But if I already know the piece, or find recordings, then such foreknowledge of the rhythm and phrasing allows me to read less strenuously and focus on the sound more, such as intonation, tone quality and articulation, ie legato or more separation of notes, bowing, etc. My learning mind can't possibly attend to all 10 or so elements of playing that could be broken down in a lesson. So listening at least gives me a target more than pure reading, at least at my skill level where reading rhythm and especially phrasing can still challenge me enough that, besides always striving for best intonation, there's little brain left for much else.
Music is surely a sonic art, while the score is just a really useful means to share it!
This is one reason why I love YouTube. And encourage my students (and me) to use it. Most pieces are on YouTube. Usually many different videos of different playing levels. I also like to use the YouTube videos for having students watch to see performers who play with body balance, alignment and ease of motion.
Buri writes, "sit down with a blank score. And listen to their favorite violinist , noting down every single dynamic change that their hero makes."
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