September 2009

Improve a fool with a tool.

September 19, 2009 04:41


weird kind of day.  Leave the house at six to race to first school sports day.  Put up marquees,  do warm up stretching in front of 1000 kids in opening ceremony,  pretend to look busy and then cheer kids for two hours. Get on bike and repeat procedure at next school minus the ceremony.  Get on bike and race to third school. Repeat procedure.  As I watched one forty meter dash of four seven year olds I suddenly realized I was watching a very important lesson unfolding before my eyes.  The fastest,  strongest runner of the group was out in front by a meter or so and for the duration he kept twisting his head from side to side to check if anyone was catching him.   He won by about ten cms.  I knew he could have run much faster but he didn`t.     Keep turning your head from side to side to see how you compare with everyone else and only a small fraction of your potential will ever be realized.

Now how about this for a tool:

`...a pocket knife that had a blade to take care of nearly all physical situations in the world,  and some spiritual ones.  It was equipped with blades that were scissors,  with blades that were files,  awls,  saws,  can-openers,  beer openers,  corkscrews,  tools for removing stones from a horses foot,  a blade for eating and a blade for murder,  a screwdriver and a chisel.  You could mend a watch with it or repair the Panama canal.  It was the most wonderful pocketknife anyone has ever seen,  and we had it nearly two months ,  and the only thing we ever did with it was to cut sausage.   BUt it must be admitted that the knife cut sausages very well.`

That of course comes from Steinbeck`s `A Russian Journal.`   I was mentally comparing that tool with one being advertized on a twenty meter neon billboard outside my local station.  Today`s billboards are not static of course.The image changes and there is sound IE even if you don`t have a TV you can no longer avoid seeing the same TV commercial everyday.  The tool in question was a combination cellular phone and hair styler/curler or whatever women call those things. You`ve guessed it-  one end was a phone and the other the two heated prongs that open and close to leave Japanese women`s hair exactly as straight as it was before it was curled.  Aside form being profoundly inelegant at double the length of a regular phone and also a lurid pink it seemed to me to be egregiously dangerous.  What happens when you answer the phone and put the wrong end round your ear?

There are good tools and better ones.  I is up to the violin teacher to have a whole chest of them to apply to any given situation.  This is not to deny information to students if you consider the point that the student is also the teacher with responsibility for changing and developing themselves.

I was idly speculating on what kind of programs and demands I would create if I had a free rein to shape a music institute.   One rule i think I would introduce is to upgrade the usual rather farcical teaching diplomas handed out.  In order to graduate the student would have a written exam posing a rather simple question that correlates with any section of Basics.  Something like `A student needs to improve their independence of left and right hand.  Describe an exercise and give a variation on it.`  or `A student changes string with very abrupt and violent bow movements?`  Say how you would explain the problem to a student and then what exercises you would prescribe.`   In order to pass this exam one would be required at the end of four years to have read and reread Basics and experimented with the content.   It wouldn`t automatically create a great teacher but it would mean that people had an adequate supply of tools to begin the job.



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Thumbs up for prunes...

September 14, 2009 20:08


sometimes it seems there is nothing violin players and teacher’s appear to like discussing more than `the bow hold.` However, perhaps due to its hiding place under the ubiquitous `hold,` the thumb itself is in my opinion, disproportionately ignored.
This is a real tragedy and can be the source of constant problems and frustration up until quite high levels.  I recall reading a teacher in the US talking about how Menuhin visited her school and listened t a slew of her students play, presumably rather advanced students.  She seemed surprised (not to mention delighted) that Menuhin talked about the thumb and how it `needed to be relaxed and bent etc.` But I was puzzled as to why this should be a source of interest or even pleasure.  Surely something as basic as this should have been established from the word go and if the likes o Lord Menuhin were offering words of wisdom would want something with a little more meat.
The position of the thumb, it’s degree of relaxation, role and movement should be taught and reinforced over and over again with a beginner.  I am often amazed at how students who have been playing at a very low level for two, three or four years with a thumb collapsed inward and poking through the bow and hair, are extremely resistant to the idea of discussing and working on this issue.   Sometimes when I suggest a simple exercise such as hold the stick in front of you with left hand and simply practice placing the bent thumb on the stick over and over I am looked at like I am a Martian.
What then are some of the basic points?
First , the part of the thumb which touches  the bow should be explained. It is not the whole of the tip. Basically it is the top right hand corner. Easy enough to illustrate- just place your thumb against the middle joint of the middle finger.  Second, as suggested above, in the initial training the placing of the thumb and fingers can be practiced over and over as a drill.  It doesn’t take long enough to get boring bit it is essential. Third, be clear about where this part of the thumb is going to go.  Some teachers advocate between the leather and the frog. I used to but now prefer on the leather itself   Just a personal preference.    Fourth, make sure the students understand that the shape of the thumb changes as the bow travels form heel to point.  Fifth, explain the purpose of the thumb is to provide counter pressure to the fingers and show how this is basically zero at the heel by removing the thumb and leaving the fingers on. Compare this with other parts of the bow. Read up on Basics regarding this topic.
Finally, make sure the bow is set up properly with a decent thumb leather. One of the man cause of the thumb slipping through is lack of care on the part of the teacher about the condition of the bow.  Students don’t know any better. At the end of the day, there is no point in giving all the good advice about the use of arm, wrist, levels, soundpoints and what not if this most elementary point continues to be ignored perhaps even in the vague hope that it will somehow cure itself.

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A walk down memory lane?

September 11, 2009 18:08



many years ago I used to attend a dojo in London that included the study of judo.  I never partook of that particular art but I did know a guy there who was thought to be slightly peculiar.  As a beginner in judo he was only ever interested in one technique:   a relatively simple but highly impressive throw called tai o toshi.  I don`t know what his motivation was  but he obsessed about this throw and it was all he ever practiced  day and night.  He was soon left behind as a beginner in the belt rankings until one day there was an open competition with some Japanese judges.  This `beginner` turned up and plowed through a swathe of blackbelts on the basis of that one technique which was seemed  to have taken over his life.  Afterwards he was presented with a black belt by a Japanese judge who said that he had demonstrated his understanding of the spirit of judo by his willingness to  explore in depth,  practice hard and remain humble.

Now,  I have achieved yet another first. I am the first person to be bounced off the tips board by popular negative demand!  Looking back it doesn`t surprise me.  The tip itself was actually ,  in my opinion,  one of the most important disciplines a teacher should impose on the student and constantly check.   That is  if a student as learnt a piece of music it is repertoire and needs to be maintained so it can be performed at a couple of days notice.  What I ask incredulously,  is the point of learning a piece and then not using it anymore?Is that all we are doing?  A Handel sonata is something to be learnt and forgotten because we want to play the Mendelssohn?

If it is real music that both student and teacher have invested a great deal of soul searching in then the student has a responsibility to reserve this knowledge and build on it as a result of studying the Mendelssohn or whatever. Artistic growth should be reflected in all the works in ones repertoire.   So assuming one has acquired a certain proficiency and presumably performed a umber of works a certain amount of time (perhaps only half an hour)should be set aside each week and a work or two should be performed with just a few passages being repolished and perhaps recognition that an area of technique is faulty and needs work on during regular practice. Of course one cannot play through 3 concertos two sonatas and whatever in half an hour so somesystenatic record keeping and rotation is essential.  All part of te self discipline of being an effective self instructor.

I explain this point over and over to my students and I am still amazed when I ask for a piece that was played last year that I am stared at as though I was asking for an archaeological dig into the mists of time.  Obviously,  like the tips board, I am not communicating well enough;)

The connection with the opening anecdote is perhaps self explanatory,  or perhaps not....



Yellow spots are cool!


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An amazingly generous offer.

September 3, 2009 02:40


I hope ,  I urge all female violinists and viola players to take up Kristin Mozeiko`s fantastic offer in her blog (research Participants needed).   I went to her web site to see how many free lessons she was actually offering .  I know it almost always takes a minimum of ten for people to begin getting the hang of AT and what it is about.  I couldn`t believe it when I read she is going to offer twenty,  and twice a week to boot... It`s the chance of a lifetime.

Get signed up now.

Good on yer,  Kristin.



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