Skip to main content

Posts

Like Throwing A Punch

The concept of "tone" is difficult.  It's especially difficult for young musicians because it is not only intangible but also hinges on the notion of quality.  At the ripe old age of six, the difference between a good quality meal and a bad quality meal usually boils down to whether or not dessert was included.  In other words, a student may rush through a piece with terrible tone but still views the playing experience as a good one for reasons the adult may not agree with.  Playing "as fast as possible" is more important than playing "beautifully."

So developing beautiful tone is an ongoing process.  It's also not something that's going to happen overnight.  It's a balance of physical expertise and musical maturity.  It's also a bit like trying to explain what color is to someone who's never seen color before.  How do you describe the difference between a "rich" purple hue and a "faded" purple if the person has…
Recent posts

Tone Starts with the Legs

Something I've been working on with my students of late is "using the legs to create tone."  No, this doesn't mean holding the bow with the legs!

It's more along the lines of lifting a heavy object.  While it's easy to focus on just the arms, lifting something heavy is a full-body activity.  The same goes for an instrument.  It's easy to think of music as "just" an intellectual past time.  But that's the trap!

So if we approach the instrument with the same mentality as we would approach any other physical activity then focusing on the legs makes perfect sense.  Using the legs and core muscles promote good posture and breathing.  Good posture and breathing allows all muscles to function more efficiently and fatigue at a slower rate.

This increased efficiency allows us to create a more relaxed, powerful sound on our instrument.  Almost all of the weird sounds that happen on a string instrument (and, I'm sure, any instrument) are the result…

A Healthy Obsession

I'm always fascinated by the process of learning a new piece.  As a music teacher it's what keeps the job interesting for me.  Each time you teach a piece you become better at teaching it.  The more pitfalls you see students fall into the better you become at helping them to avoid those traps.

When a student becomes advanced enough, learning the notes to a new piece becomes easy.  You no longer have to spend the entire lesson helping him learn how to "extend his third finger."  It is during this magical time that the focus of the lesson shifts away from mechanical details and more toward art details.

Appreciating the art behind a piece is a completely separate challenge from just playing the notes.  Students will sometimes reach a point where they can kinda play through everything but fall just short of being comfortable.  It's at this point that I often have to have the conversation with my students about developing a "healthy obsession" with their pi…

Being Busy Kills Creativity

I've been busier than usual of late.  My husband and I bought our first house together and, naturally, this had to coincide with the San Diego Suzuki Institute's inaugural year.  Because heaven forbid these big life events are comfortably spaced apart.

With both of these things going on at the same time it has led to a marked change in my day-to-day activities.  Time that I normally spend doing things like practice or writing have been consumed by paperwork and scheduling.  Coincidentally, I stumbled upon an article the other day that talks about how being busy kills creativity.

It's so true!  Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining.  I'm happy that we were able to get this institute off the ground and I'm thrilled that we were finally able to get a house.  But it has made me realize how easy it is to become "addicted" to busy.  Being busy is almost comforting in a way because you always know what you should be doing next.  It involves very little…

Learning Styles and the Importance of Critical Self-Reflection

The belief in learning styles is so widespread, it is considered to be common sense. Few people ever challenge this belief, which has been deeply ingrained in our educational system. Teachers are routinely told that in order to be effective educators, they must identify & cater to individual students' learning styles; it is estimated that around 90% of students believe that they have a specific learning style but research suggests that learning styles don't actually exist! This presentation focuses on debunking this myth via research findings, explaining how/why the belief in learning styles is problematic, and examining the reasons why the belief persists despite the lack of evidence.

Dr. Tesia Marshik is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Her research interests in educational psychology include student motivation, self-regulation, and teacher-student relationships.




Rate of Development Part 2

I went into the bowing development class with a healthy appreciation for the separate challenges the left hand and right hand face.  Getting both sides of the body to work together in a coordinated fashion is no small feat!  Furthermore, the idea of the "one point" lesson is a cornerstone of Suzuki philosophy.  Skills are developed by being broken down to simple, more manageable, tasks.

So the concept of bow exercises to develop the right hand was not new to me.  The breakthrough moment for me was why they are so important.  Early on in the course the instructor made the observation: "The left hand and right hand develop at different rates."  It was such a simple observation that I couldn't believe the thought had never occurred to me!

This really made me rethink my whole "three player" approach when working with students.  All three players must work together, yes.  But it's also possible that maybe one of the players isn't quite ready for a …

Rate of Development Part 1

I took a bowing workshop taught by Cathy Lee a few weeks ago.  It was fantastic.  Totally worth going even if you don't specifically play the violin.

What I love about teacher development courses is that often the thing you "get" out of the class isn't necessarily a new idea.  It will be an idea or ideas that were already floating around in your head and the course helps to pluck them, lay them out and organize them into an applicable teaching strategy.  For example, you may know that your students need phrasing work and you may have dabbled in trying to teach phrasing.  But the person teaching your development course may have found a way to logically approach the massive concept that is musical phrasing.

The thing that stuck with me the most at the end of this bowing course was the idea of development rate.  Something that I often discuss with students is the idea of the "three players."  In order to play a difficult section you have to realize that there…