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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 is the "brain Danielle," the "violin fingers Danielle" and the "bow Danielle."  Obviously, all these abilities still originate from the brain.  But most kids think having three of themselves is funny.

I explain to the student that the "brain" player is the skill of knowing the piece.  We are creating sound art so if the student does not have a firm grasp on the sounds she wants to make then communicating with the instrument is impossible.  The "fingers" are general intonation issues.  Did the student use the correct finger?  If so, is that finger in the correct spot?  The bow is an issue of timing usually.  In order to play a section smoothly but not sloppy the bow must always wait for the fingers to work then move.

So the general gist of the exercise is making sure that all three Danielles (or whatever the student's name is) go in order.  The student will play and I'll ask them specific questions like, "Which player seems to be having the hardest time?" or "Did it sound like bow Danielle was trying to cut in line?"  The goal is to help the student isolate exactly how to drill a section.  It's easy to want to put the violin down in frustration when a difficult section sounds terrible.  In order to master such a section you have to recognize what is making the section difficult.

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