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When Seven Steps Become One

John Kendall was a cornerstone in the early days of the Suzuki Method. You can read more about him on Wikipedia but, in a nutshell, he is credited for helping bring the approach over to the U.S.A. In addition he was a violin teacher of more than fifty years.

Something that always stuck with me when hearing about stories of his teaching was his "seven steps" approach. The concept boils down to the idea that your short term memory is capable of retaining, on average, seven items.   The short term memory is fast but not powerful.  There is a limit to how many items each person can remember in his/her short term along with a limit to the duration the short term memory retains this information.

Obviously the goal is to make those short term memory items make the switch to long term memory. But in order for this to happen the items must be reinforced and repeated.  This means the exact action needs to reoccur multiple times.

This is extremely important to understand when working with beginning music students.

Consider the bow hold for a violin or viola.  If a student is unfamiliar with a bow hold, the following things must be in place in order to successfully produce a sound:

-Relaxed arm and soft hand
-Curved thumb on "the silver part"
-Index finger wrapped around the stick, slightly away from the middle two fingers
-Middle two fingers hanging over the stick
-Pinky finger curved and on top of the stick
-Wrist straight
-Fingers rounded and not crushing the frog

With just the holding of the bow--and that's not even factoring in making a sound--that is easily seven items the student must be working on.  If any one of those items is causing the student difficulty, then it must be broken down in to further steps.

Which means that in order for a student to remember how to do a bow hold correctly, each of those seven steps must be repeated until all seven make the transition into long term memory and become "one step."  With each individual part that comprising a bow hold mastered, the process transforms from the steps of a bow hold to just a plain and simple bow hold.  

It is at this moment that the bow hold becomes one step and the student is now prepared for six more.

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