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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Everyone Can Improve

I wanted to share an experience with you. I have a university student who showed up as a freshman without ever having much in the way of private lessons before arriving at the university. This student learned most of what he could play on the violin in his school music program. He had some chops, but the biggest problem is that his left hand posture interfered with his ability to make improvement. In fact, just about everything about how he held the violin impacted on how he played.

We made the necessary adjustments, and this student got better. Along his university journey, he discovered that he enjoyed teaching and was quite good at it. Although he was not a great role model when it came to showing students how to do things right, he had very strong analytical and teaching skills. So he took on a few private students and began working with the university string project. Students liked him. He could relate to students that other teachers found difficult to reach.

As he progressed in his teaching career, he came to me frequently with insightful questions. He is one of my regular blog readers. He expressed interest in more formalized Suzuki teacher training. I started going through the Suzuki books with him, beginning with the Twinkle Variations. I noticed something interesting as we went along.

This student started to improve everything! Once I showed him the various teaching points involved in the songs, and he discovered many of these points himself while teaching his own private students, he started to improve his own playing. His posture solidified in the right direction. His bowing and tone production sounded much better, and his skill as a violinist grew. It is actually quite exciting to see the changes from week to week, all because he started at the beginning of the Suzuki violin books and worked through the material.

I know that I myself have grown as a musician and violinist because I teach the Suzuki repertoire. My first year of taking teacher training, I embarked on a review program of all ten of the violin books. I made up a blank calendar form of the 7 days of the week, and I started filling in the calendar form with each song, allowing each Twinkle variation to fill up one box. I filled in across the chart and then continued filling in songs in the second row, the third row, etc. When I finished putting in each song or concerto movement on the chart, I would just look at the songs that fell under the particular day's column and do review. I skipped repeats or repeated sections, and generally did what I could to minimize the amount of time I spent. It generally took me about an hour to play the review section for the day. I could have cut down that time by dividing up my review chart to span two or three weeks or even an entire month.

I made so many discoveries about my own playing. I struggled with some of the same issues that my students have to struggle with when they learn a piece. I found out how to play Vivaldi's concerto in G minor without my hand muscles aching through most of it (play on the thumb-side corners of the fingers) -- something that plagues a person with small hands. I learned so many things and solidified so many of my technical skills. It was a great experience that summer.

Now, of course, I review quite often because I am teaching all of this material to students. I still draw from my own personal review experience when I teach. I highly recommend that teachers and performers take the time to review and really study the Suzuki repertoire. When we approach the material with a thoughtful and analytical mind, we will reap a great many benefits and discoveries.

I am reminded every teaching day of the genius of Dr. Suzuki. He put together a masterpiece of material for teaching students. I hope that everyone can share in this wealth.

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