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Pauline Lerner

May 13, 2005 at 5:17 AM

A First Lesson

I had a new student tonight. V is an adult beginner who speaks English as a second language, and I really respect her. She had called me on the phone to arrange lessons, and her communication was a bit strained. I have had lots of experience with people who speak English as a second language. I have taught English and violin to lots of people like her. In fact, her spoken English was better than that of some of my students. Frequently, non-native speakers of English have more trouble communicating on the phone than in person, and this was true for V. Her phone call took courage. I often email directions to my home to my students, and I asked her whether she used email. She said no, and I got some idea of her financial limitations. I asked her where she lived so I could give her directions, and her answer told me, again, that she is far from wealthy. I asked her whether she had a violin and she said yes. She knew nothing about violins, except that she wanted to learn to play, so she went to a music store, asked for help, and bought one. Gutsy! She brought the violin home and experimented with it, and her teen aged daughter told her that she sounded terrible, but she was undeterred. Some of her friends told her that learning the violin is very difficult and she’s too old to start, but she stayed right on track. Gutsy again!

During the lesson, I made a special effort to encourage her to ask questions. I always do this to make students feel more comfortable about expressing what they don’t know or don’t understand. In her case, there were two more reasons. First, people from cultures other than our own often have more respect for teachers (amen!) and sometimes feel that it is inappropriate to ask questions. Second, I didn’t want her to hold back because of her English. To this end, I also told her that I teach English to people from other countries, including hers. She asked whether I had other adult violin students, and I said yes. Then I told her that my adult beginners are often unsure of themselves, but they really enjoy learning to play.

She seems to be an innate violinist. I spent most of the lesson showing her how to hold the violin and the bow and then how to move the bow slowly, smoothly, and straight across each open string to produce a pleasant sound. She held the violin as if she’d played it all her life, and her bow hold was relaxed and graceful. I told her that using the bow to produce a good sound is something that even professional violinists work on. When her tone got a bit off, I looked at her left arm and hand, figured out why, and corrected her. She learned really quickly.

I made a list of things for her to buy at the violin store, along with their prices: music stand, Kun shoulder rest (I lent her one for now), tuning fork, and two books.

When she was getting ready to leave, I told her that her daughter has no business laughing at her any more. Then I told her that I enjoyed teaching her and I hope that she will enjoy taking lessons from me. Now I’m really looking forward to her second lesson.

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