Saturday, September 13, 2014

Teaching violin lessons

I am back teaching violin lessons. I can't say that I have been very successful as a violin teacher through the last few years.  I have had a handful of students - a brother and sister in Texas, we traded violin lessons for horse riding lessons in Indiana, the daughter of a close friend here in Iowa and now my two students:  a young woman from church and Colleen. I tried teaching Emily, but that didn't end well.  My Texas students changed to the cello and then quit.  My Indiana students moved to Idaho.  My first student in Iowa quit.

This time I was determined to do a better job and started reading online about different methods for teaching new students.  My mom was my first teacher and taught using the Suzuki method.  I can remember practicing my footwork and holding my cracker jacks box under my chin before I started on the twinkles.  My mom taught another boy my age named Eli, who was my friend, and I went to Suzuki camp in the summer in Nampa.  I can remember signing a very large birthday card for Dr Suzuki, performing the Suzuki songs from book 1 and 2 on stage at the Nazerene College, trying to learn to juggle, panda power bow grip, catching butterflies with my friend Nathan and his sister in the park, and loving to play the violin.

There is apparently a lot of angry debate about the merits and damage done by the Suzuki method.  From my own experience, I have good memories associated with learning to play this way.  When I was twelve I got a new teacher in Boise. I learned a lot about technique, how to read music, played etudes, probably better songs, but violin became more of an obsession than a love affair.  I practiced after school in a practice room at the new center for the arts downtown.  I was in three orchestras: chamber, string, and youth symphony.  I tried competing in a few solo competitions, but was so nervous that in one competition I switched songs randomly in the middle.  Luckily my pianist was amazing and jumped right with me without missing more than a note.  I was so nervous that I felt like Renne from The Soloist. My fingers felt slow and fat, my ear acutely aware of all of the errors that crescendoed exponentially as I played.

In college, my teacher was a superb musician, but not a good teacher and his goal was to break me before building me up in his image - his words at our final lesson.  By the end of the first year, I never wanted to play again and was moved to the very back of the second violin section in the BYU symphony.  I started playing again on my mission and never really recovered from the almost complete breakdown during college.

So, when I was thinking about how I want to teach, and how I wanted to continue to learn, I am not sure that any method my teacher's used is what I wanted to do.  I like much of the music and playing of Mark O'Connor, but man that guy hates the Suzuki method.  His books are set up well for young students.  I never have been sold on the songs and I like many of the fiddle songs better.  Quite honestly I don't care about many of the points that bother Mr. O'Connor about whether Suzuki was a fraudulent teacher that exaggerated his academic and musical background to promote his teaching methodology and books.  I wanted to teach music so that my students and I loved to play.  That is what I remember so fondly about Suzuki violin.

I bought O'Connor's book and the cd, but then my plans were thrown out the window when I had my first lesson with my new student.  She already had played the songs in the first O'Connor book and book one suzuki.  She had taken lessons from a highschool student.  She played well by ear, but couldn't read music, had a list of technique improvements to make, and most importantly was committed to play this at her cousin's wedding in just a few months, unaccompanied and on the violin, but otherwise just like this:


I decided then that it didn't matter what songs we played, but that we would try to use them to build technique as we go.  This means, I have let her choose most of the songs we work on, and then I reserve the right to add additional material to teach technique and expand her musical exposure. I have learned through this that youtube is a treasure trove.  There are a ton of inventive and creative folks that are recording themselves in backrooms and posting them to youtube. Some of them even have sheet music posted online as well.  If you are interested I have posted lesson materials to a new blog:

http://garduniaviolin.blogspot.com/

Colleen is starting as well, but from the very beginning.  We will be working out of O'Connor's book and the Suzuki books for now, until she has mastered the basics and then I think we will try listening to recordings and surfing youtube together to see what else to add.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014