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Sunday, October 31, 2010

It's a New Week!

We have been discussing posture, and I promised to finish my story about my student Joseph. I realized though that it was the beginning of a new week, so I am interrupting my posture discussion to remind everyone of the importance of Mondays!

Monday is the start of a new work week. It's a great time to consider what you plan to accomplish for the coming week. If you have a lesson coming up, you probably already have a good idea of what you need to accomplish. I like to use Mondays as a time to consider what work needs to be done and what plan I should use to accomplish that work successfully.

When we know where we want to go, we have an easier time figuring out the route to take. Basic stuff, right? First we need to know where we are headed. Then we can figure out the steps we need to take in order to accomplish our goals. Here are some questions to help you get started making your plan for this week:

(1) What is your goal or focus for the week? Where do you want to be at the end of the week (Saturday or Sunday)? Write this down.

(2) How can you break your goal into smaller daily steps? Make a list of the steps you need to master.

(3) Put these smaller daily steps into a workable order. Which step should be taken first? Which steps need to be taken after other steps have been accomplished?

(4) Plug these ordered daily steps into your calendar or some other planning and scheduling tool. Put down on the calendar what steps you wish to accomplish on what days.

(5) Work your plan. Follow the planned steps you marked on your calendar.

(6) Make a note on Thursday to check in and see whether you are making the kind of progress you had planned. You may need to make further adjustments: maybe you will have to step up your effort, or maybe you need to add other steps to your list of daily steps.

(7) Evaluate your progress at the end of the week. Compare your end result with your stated (and written) weekly goal. Did you make your goal? If so, celebrate. If you didn't reach your goal, figure out why. This is an excellent opportunity to learn much about yourself, your work habits, your lifestyle, and your goals. Don't forget that life can often get in the way too. I have often started a week with very good intentions and a workable plan, only to find that life just got in the way. Unexpected fires popped up and demanded my attention. It happens. I don't beat myself up about it. I teach my students that life is mostly about learning how to prioritize. Then I show them how to do that.

(8) Next Monday, repeat the process.

So write me a comment and let me know what your goal or focus will be this week.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Meet Kaiser, the Posture Watchdog

I'm going to talk about one of my students, whom I shall call Joseph (fictitious). I have been working with Joseph for two years at the university level, where he needs to prepare for the mid-course university upper level review -- the end of the sophomore year jury performance that determines whether the student should be eligible to take upper level courses.

When Joseph first came to me, he did not stand completely upright. Joseph is a tall young man, but two years ago his posture gave a different impression. Joseph's shoulders tilted forward a slight bit at the ends, which also caused his head to droop a little bit. One day I brought one of my smooth haired dachshunds to work, and my little Kaiser slept on my office chair behind me. Kaiser would raise his head in interest as each student entered the studio. However, when Joseph came into the studio, Kaiser's demeanor changed. Kaiser sat up, extremely alert. Joseph is a "dog person." He owns a dog and likes them. However, Kaiser's barking at Joseph alerted me to a problem. When I looked again at Joseph with the same perspective that my dog used, I realized what was missing from Joseph. His posture was that of someone who lacked assertive and postive energy. I had known that there was something "not quite right" about Joseph's performance, but I just couldn't put my finger on it at the time. My little Kaiser dog nailed it from the moment that Joseph walked into the studio, and Joseph's posture spoke volumes.

Since that time for the past two years I have been working with him to get Joseph to stand up "taller": by pulling his shoulders back a little bit. I tried helping him to "pull up his suspenders" by hooking his thumbs in his armpits and pulling upwards. I tried trailing my hand along his spine and asking him to lengthen the spinal column. I tried verbal cues, such as "head up, shoulders back." Nothing seemed to happen. Yes, Joseph would do what I asked at the time, but none of my suggested changes would make themselves permanent.

Then Joseph failed to pass his upper level review. Now the pressure is on, because he would only get one more opportunity to pass the performance test in the next semester. Tomorrow I will tell you what happened next.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fundamentals Start With Natural Posture

The fundamentals of playing well begin with the best natural posture possible. Posture is the way in which the body is held for a particular activity. Good posture is crucial to other areas in addition to the playing of a musical instrument. If you were to enter "posture" as a Google search term, you will immediately see that there are many links that promise to explain how good posture will improve your general health. I believe that good posture also affects our mental and emotional state as well. Let me explain why.

For the moment, sit in a chair and close your eyes. Imagine what it feels like to be incredibly sad. Notice how your body responds to this thought. I'm guessing that you lowered your head forward, your face muscles loosened and slid forward, your torso sagged into itself and forward, your shoulders slumped and drooped forward, and you felt your upper body take on additional heavy weight. This is how sad, depressed, and unconfident people generally carry themselves, and probably a reason why they feel so heavy and burdened.

Now try the flip side. Instead of feeling sad, imagine that your are the happiest you have ever been. Notice how your eyes "brightened," your facial cheeks lifted upwards, your shoulders pulled up and back, your torso lifted up out of the rib cage, and you sat up straighter. You feel so much lighter. While you are in this position, notice if there are areas that could be better balanced and centered. Is your heavy head resting perfectly balanced on the spinal column? Are your shoulders really up and back? Is your torso lifted out of the rib cage? Are your hips tilted in a way that spills your guts forward, or are they tilted upward a little to keep your energy level contained and comfortable? These are all important considerations.

I am a huge fan of Cesar Milan and his "Dog Whisperer" show on the National Geographic Channel (showing on Friday nights). As a teacher I have found Cesar's observations regarding posture and the use of energy to be particularly helpful. As teachers we are more than just the person who teaches the student how to play the violin. I believe that teachers have a higher obligation to help the student to discover themselves and learn the best way to improve and teach themselves, for ultimately the final goal is to teach the student to be his or her own teacher.

I will spend the next week or so discussing posture, and I look forward to hearing from my readers about posture issues, problems, suggestions, and insights. There are several of you who have experienced specialized workshops related to posture. Please share your insights.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Wow! Isn't the internet amazing? When I was a young teacher just starting out in 1976, I had little in the way of resources. I had one book to consult about how to apply the Suzuki method of Talent Education. It was Dr. Suzuki's "Nurtured by Love" book. I read the entire book in about an hour (it's short), but I had so many questions. Since that time, I have taken many Suzuki teacher trainings, and I have had the benefit of gaining experience by teaching full time. I can now diagnose a student or teacher issue within minutes and offer helpful solutions. Come join me in a discussion of teaching or learning the Suzuki Method for violin. Post your questions or comments about your particular situation, and I'll do my best to answer them.