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Beginning teachers and the trials/dilemmas


JKF
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Hi Everyone,

I thought I'd begin a thread, and present the problem. At least I can delete if I don't like my words! only if you start a thread...

Anyway, I didn't want to bog down Lymond's tread anymore and I really am happy and excited for his pursuits. Yet beginning teachers are so hard to find, especially if you have a particular program in mind which is nearly extinct, save for upper level playing. And say, you learn to play, as Arpa suggested instilling the "bad" habits brought from a differing school of play (remembering one school's bad habits are the other's good habits) into the finally sought after method. It takes a massive effort to untrain and retrain (I Know about that, having been there). So what do you do? Arpa, I thank you for the suggestions but have already been there, and got myself into trouble...another long story and I won't bore you with it.

I don't want to ramble on, leading to mindless uncomprehensible conversation, so I leave it to you to help me sort this out. Just in help to understand the problem, one school will say to curl your fingers close to the string, the other not (raised). Contientious teachers on the beginning level, will make sure that the fingers remain curled close to the string. My little one has learned raised. This is only one element... there are others. So, what would you do?

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I believe that there's a serendipitous match between a particular student's physique, and a particular "school" of thought's physical approach... and that in the end, a student's overall approach to the instrument might draw from several such "schools", with original unique amendments Just For That Person.

I don't believe it hurts a student to be exposed to many such ways of thinking; over time, the student will sort out what works for them.

I have been through an Old German approach (bow arm held against the body, "hold a book under your arm while you play", and so forth, ick), a New Soviet approach (think Vengerov: very forceful), a Gingold-influenced approach (i.e., Ysaye/Franco-Belgian), a Galamian-influenced approach (later topped off with some of Kato Havas' thought), and an Old Russian (i.e., Auer) approach.

All of those teachers were good, despite their different approaches. And of course none of them were 100% "pure" in any "school", because everyone always adjusts for their own needs and discoveries. And yes, I did spend some time re-learning basic technique under each teacher. This has provided me with both a conscious understanding of why I do things in certain ways, as well as flexibility in possible technical approaches in a given situation.

This is further complicated by the fact that students, early on, are typically taught ways of playing that are designed to correct flaws by exaggerating in the opposite direction, and other such "waypoints" not intended to be part of the student's final "polished" technique.

My advice: Find a good teacher who has a good rapport with your child, and whose teaching results in the child making technical progress, *even if the way the child plays is not in the same tradition as your personal preference*. It'll all get sorted out in the end.

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Do you think so, Lydia? Oh, I hope so. This smaller daughter has been waiting, I fear, too long. I don't know if Ms. Kawlwasser (whoops I have to check the other thread for spelling), would take her. But like you already mentioned, I think Helen's a mix too (DeLay/Galamian?). There was a teacher in LA, Steiner, who was Zimbalist through and through. The school I mentioned there, Kadima, was excellent.

But maybe it is a blend, now. I don't know. I can offer that my elder daughter went through a tussle correcting quite a few difficulties, fortunately young enough to handle it. She was a real mix or perhaps mix-up...no need to go there. But that's fixed now and she's really doing great. It was that experience, however, which led to the hesitancy for this young one, and it has to do with eventually being able to play with the older one. She began learning from her sister: Well you know how that goes. Too many arguments, and I'm worn out from referee-ing. So, do you think the main thrust should be toward intonation, and let the technique of placement handle itself? And, should the impending age place priority over school of thought?...

Thanks,

-J-

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Hence, take your child to several teachers and watch the lesson.

Observe the rapport between child and student, and observe the improvements the teacher asks your child to make.

Ask your child which teacher she prefers.

I just lost a student (lasted 2 weeks, like most of my prospective students) whose mother had been questioning my abilities and credentials behind my back (according to my friend).

This was after I had asked the mother to observe a lesson - she felt that the training was too difficult for her child.

The thing is, she wasn't the type to listen to her child.

[This message has been edited by HuangKaiVun (edited 10-16-2000).]

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I agree with Lydia on this one. Over the course of many years, a student will, and should, be exposed to different techniques and schools of thought. Not only will this help the student to define his/her own style, but it also encourages the student to remain flexible in thinking, as well as in technique. The most important thing in those early years, in my opinion, is to find a teacher with whom the child has a good working relationship. After your years of experience with your older musician, JKF, it sounds as if you know whether a teacher is instilling good habits. Styles and preferences have evolved through the years for a variety of reasons (larger concert halls, audiences accustomed to recorded sound, etc.) so teaching methods have, necessarily, changed as well. It would be very difficult to find, for instance, a strict Auer teacher today, and I'm not sure whether that would be such a good thing in the long run. Depending upon your aspirations, you do have to give some thought to what judges/audition committees/audiences are looking for in this day and age. (Rugged individualist that I am, it irks me to say that, but reality does creep in at some point!) Helen Kwalwasser does give frequent master classes in Phila. -- if you are not already familiar with her teaching, you should attend one.

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Thanks for the pat on the back, Arpa.

I feel we've got a good discussion going. I've seen a lot, and I'd like to attend one of Helen's classes: I guess I'll have to keep my eyes peeled. Over to the Auer method of teaching, I feel you know the way he taught and it was by no means "gentle". It was effective, however. We moved to the area several years back, and worked with teachers for my elder 2 daughters: Violin and viola. Needless to say, I am somewhat familiar with a lot of teachers in the music schools. From past experience, my comments are generally not appreciated by the teachers (Agh), and maybe have gotten me into some unhappy trouble. I just want to do my best for this little girl. She keeps watching her older sisters, and waits for her turn. I must tell you though, she learned a beautiful bow hold and stroke from her sister's teacher. I hope she'll always keep it. I'd ask him, but he's not in this area, and I fear that in beginning levels, I better be closer to home. Huang, she had a teacher she liked last year, but the teacher isn't teaching any more. It's really a shame. Anyway, me as a violin teacher, really bad. I can watch, I listen, but I really can't give the expertise that real artists have. Guidance is all I can offer, and a ride to where they need to be.

Thanks for the support, and if anyone has any ideas or names, I'm all ears.

-J-

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It doesn't seem like Auer was really responsible for the technical training of his students -- he had assistants that did that. Milstein speculates that Auer students learned from each other, more than they did from Auer, and this is almost certainly part of the equation as well. I suspect Auer's talent was to bring out the best in prodigiously gifted youngsters who already had solid technical skills.

Regardless, I believe that you can instill good habits while remaining entirely gentle.

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I'm not sure if this is what you're getting at, but here are the criteria I used to choose my daughter's teacher (she started 3 years ago at about age 4.75 years and is now nearly through Suzuki Book 3 and playing well.)

1) Teacher has produced students who have gone on to advanced training and, more importantly, who play well.

2) Teacher herself is a good player. (I know this not only because she is assisant principal 2nd in a good regional orchestra but because I have heard her play and indeed have played gigs in which she also played.)

3) Teacher is a properly trained Suzuki teacher. (Your mileage may vary on the Suzuki method, of course, but for me it's the way to go with young kids.)

4) However, teacher had years of successful experience as a traditional teacher before doing Suzuki training- despite my remarks in point 3 I would probably not trust her competence otherwise.

5) Attended another student's lesson before signing on and liked what I saw.

As not only the father of a violin student but the husband of a piano teacher I can tell you that certain kinds of "input", however well-meaning, from a parent are unlikely to be appreciated- though I am a fairly competent amateur player I certainly do not see it as my role to tell the teacher how to teach. I am at the lesson to observe, learn, and ask questions as needed, so that I can help my daughther complete her assignments properly. In other words, find a teacher whose credentials and accomplishments you respect and who can establish a good rapport with your child- and then by all means, step back and let the teacher do his / her job!

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Thanks everyone.

I think my suspicions have been confirmed. I felt that there were no beginning teachers around who followed the Auer technique, and from what I'm hearing, this is true. It's odd, but I liken the beginning teachers as the assistants of yester-year. I guess it will take some time searching, as before. I will ask my daugher's teacher, and hopefully he'll know of someone in the area. 'til then, I thank you again, and I send you my best,

-J-

PS. just an asside, the frustation I believe Auer felt came from students who would play out of tune or with improper technique. It is true he had assistants who worked with the students prior, it was if they came to the lesson unprepared. It was his frustration which lead to displays of anger and at times, broken violins. (I heard this from someone who would know.)

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quote:

Originally posted by JKF:

So, do you think the main thrust should be toward intonation, and let the technique of placement handle itself? And, should the impending age place priority over school of thought?...

Thanks,

-J-

Shouldn't the main thrust be towards making music? I don't understand all of the worrying about whether fingers are curled or raised, or whether this or that. People play all sorts of ways. Some, in ways that defy everything another has been taught. There are some amazing players who've never even had a lesson.

Don't you think when a player finds what's comfortable and what works, it doesn't matter if it's "proper" or what school it's from? Sometimes musicians, especially string players, seem like the "technique" is the goal rather than making beautiful music.

Let your daughters enjoy playing. That's the goal.

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Hi Crystal,

That was neat. In all honesty, I was where you are thinking, several years back. please allow me to digress. I have 4 daughters, each love music, and we play together for enjoyment. I'm totally inadequate in violin and viola, and so they learn from those who can teach them the technique of playing these instruments. Now, I totally agree that the goal is music making, but without technique, this is not possible. How can one play notes, without knowing what the notes are? That's a bit simplistic, and I apologize, but I think you understand. Music that doesn't harmonize because notes are not in tune with each other isn't pretty in my opinion, so the first and foremost effort should be in playing in tune, at least I think so. So we leave that one.

Technique comes in how to gain that ability to play in tune, in time, and with accuracy. Here comes the large variety of methods and ways of accomplishing that end goal. My preference is toward the Auer method of playing. I feel that it is the best way of accomplishing an artistic way of playing. But this is how I feel, others feel differently, and how one goes about achieving this accomplishment, as long as it works; so be it. I honestly feel that the Auer/Russian school is what would be best, and so I search. And if I support my children in learning in this manner, then I feel that they will accomplish a lot, a good deal faster, than if I was not in agreement and therefore could provide less help and support. I have seen and heard a lot, from many many different teachers and styles, and have arrived at my current state of belief. The problem lies in finding teachers that still possess the knowledge to continue in this school. So I thought I would pose the question to the FB in the hopes that someone in my area would have heard of or know someone. The complication comes in that the 4th daughter, who is 8, is not experienced enough a player to audition for higher level teachers. At her stage of development, and having begun this style of play, I'd love to have her continue. She learned from her sister, and now her sister has very little patience with her. I'd like for her to be able to proceed to the next level of development, and so here I ponder the possibility with friends. The discussion continues...

-J-

Arpa, Bob dePasquale feels that it is important to play for the judges too. He has always said so, and that you must conform to succeed. I don't know if I've come to that yet, I just feel it important to express over comply. Maybe I'm wrong, but I can't abandon my belief. We're simply not competition bound; it's not a goal. I pray we don't have to travel that route and hopefully we won't, but thanks for the thought.

[This message has been edited by JKF (edited 10-17-2000).]

[This message has been edited by JKF (edited 10-17-2000).]

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I still don't get why the Auer method of training in particular.

Auer's training methods presumes that the student practices three or four hours a day -- which, as he says, because of the necessity of taking frequent rests, really means they need five or six hours at their disposal. It was intended to produce, specifically, soloists.

Auer's method books are interesting, but rapidly go from extremely tedious beginning material (probably fine for a determined adult, but likely hellishly boring for a child), to a very high level of difficulty.

If you're referring to just the Old Russian school of playing, there are a gazillion violinists on the planet who play that way, and who teach the instrument. It should be very straightforward to find such people. (Plenty of them teach beginners, some even in the context of a Suzuki program.)

Absolutely no one uses a "pure" Old Russian technique, of course -- even Auer himself did not (Auer's own bow grip was not the Russian one, by the way -- it's something of a mystery who exactly taught it, and the flared elbow, to his students); to do so would be dogmatic and foolish, as everyone adjusts for what works for them. If you consider, say, Elman, Heifetz, Seidel, and Milstein, you'll note distinct differences in their physical approach to the instrument.

I would also really hesitate to proclaim the superiority of any one training method or school of thought. After seeing two of Jascha Brodsky's students play recently (Hilary Hahn and Juliette Kang), I was impressed by their tremendous tonal control and wonderfully liquid bow arms, both clearly from the same source of training -- and Ysaye (Franco-Belgian) in origin.

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Hi Lydia,

It's not a superiority, please don't misunderstand. It's a preference. Auer's main premise was - what works do it and if it doesn't need fixing, don't fix it!:-) Different hands, different holds, different fingerings. But there was and underlying technique...and here I'll leave it. I know it works: I've seen it and like it, very much.

Hilary Hahn is a wonderful player, and yes, a student of Jascha Bodsky: So was Bob dePasquale and his daughter, as well as many, many fine violinists. Rosand also uses the bow you describe, and has wonderful players. There are Russian schooled teachers in our area: Shook, Nedorsoff. The way of play is not the same, please trust me on that one. There is tension building resulting from the instilled technique rather than the opposite, which is the aim.

Auer did train soloists - that is very true. Not that I feel this particular daughter is geared toward solo career development, I head this way in an effort to keep peace between violinists in the same family.(Agh). Now why Auer? Simply because there is an underlying understanding for the difference in physique in adapting to play!

I thought perhaps with all the students who came from Curtis, headed by Zimbalist, surely someone would still be in the area, familiar to carry on the school of thought. Just maybe, Lydia, maybe it may be possible.... I'm not looking for a "name", I'm looking for someone with the knowledge. Perhaps someone will read my post, and a memory may be jarred. At an rate, I am going to ask my daughter's teacher, and hope he has someone he taught who may live near enough by. 'til later,

-J-

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Mmmm. If you look at pedagogical writings, the two people who seriously endeavour to adapt a technical style for the individual player's physique are Galamian and Kato Havas.

Auer does not seem at all inclined to do this -- but since teaching technique was the responsibility of his assistants, this was also by and large not his problem to deal with. (Plus, by the time students got to Auer, they were already rather advanced in their studies.)

If anything, the Russian school is MORE authoritarian and LESS flexible about the individual student's needs, though obviously individual teachers will vary in their degree of dogmatism.

I would disagree violently with the assertion that Hilary Hahn plays with any tension in her technique; if anything, her technique appears to be one of effortless control. I have not seen Rosand play, but I would also be surprised to hear of any tension in his technique. (HKV can confirm this, probably. HKV?)

Ironically: My parents switched me away from a teacher who taught a Russian-style technique because they believed a Galamian-style technique was "better", based on what they had read and seen. They turned out to be wrong *in my specific case*; Russian-style technique works better for me (and I made the switch very easily, much later on, keeping the elements of the Galamian style that felt comfortable to me). However, it was the right move for my younger sister, who finds Galamian-style technique to be more natural. Making these kinds of decisions early on seems misguided. (Also, I suspect that the teacher who has to cope with an amateur violinist -- or even just a strong-willed parent -- with his own strong opinions of the way things "should" be done is in for a difficult time in any event.)

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Hi Again,

Lydia, I think you appreciate my difficulty. I admit, many teachers were not happy about my viewpoints, I must be their nightmare! Look, I didn't say that Rosand (BTW, I have met him, spoken with him and seen him play on several occasions. Enough said here) or Hahn played with tension...I did say that tension resulted from previous experience with several teachers with whom we consulted. That was all, and from this should have been gleaned a little about why I'm so intent about finding a beginning teacher who will work with a young student - to create a freedom in play..not tension in play. Yes, I am an amateur, but I love music and seek that which I do love. There are few professionals who have the time available to post on this board, right? You and I are both amateurs in that we make our living in something other than music, am I correct. But we both study things we love, and look for the continuance of a music, artistic style or passion for that which we absolutely find of extreme importance. For me, its to do my part in the interest to continue the effort toward preserving a school of thought and tradition. We started down this path, and I won't abandon it: I can't, it has become part of me, and this is very hard to explain why or how. I just can't, I believe in it too strongly.

Lydia, I reviewed that small Dover book on which Auer mentions different hands and different holds. My experience is opposite of yours...interesting, huh? Why do I say this? One of my daughters was persistantly instructed to hold her bow with "the index finger riding higher on the stick". She hated it, complaining about cramping her hand, but he was adament about this. The teacher studied with Galamian; maybe it was his own philosophy, I can't say, I simply don't know. But he is highly respected teaching in CA and liked to tell us about his experience at Julliard. I'm not saying this method doesn't work for others (of which I do know one well known person who studied with this man, and it works for her), but it doesn't work for us. That's all I'm saying. I found Auer's school works well for us and the philosophy stands; perhaps the practice by assistants may differ. And this is another topic I find very interesting: when learning from the assistant, it may not be as good as from the Master - but that's probably a truism. So, maybe this discussion brings us exactly back to the dilemma I first presented; finding a good match. Also, the interest in providing variety...viva la difference! Wouldn't it be a boring stage if everyone played alike or spoke alike or thought alike. Now I'm talking too much and will probably get myself into trouble again. Well, Enjoy!

For now,

-J-

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quote:

Originally posted by Irene:

JKF, may I ask which of Lymond's threads you were referring to in the beginning of your post? This is a fascinating topic to me, but I'm missing some background...

Hi Irene,

Sorry, I was running off at the fingers, when you were posting too! It started with Lymond's thread on Winkler. He's a nice fellow, and I'm really happy for him. I enjoy all players, I just have an unusual dilemma. I also made a promise to someone I admire and respect a great deal. I would do anything for this person, and in keeping will pursue this artistic endeavor to the best of my capability.

Thanks, Irene, I send you my best wishes.

-J-

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I think this is a great thread once every one dismounts their high horses. Its tremendous potential is limited only by the linear limitations of the BB format.

All teachers, I think, are really trying to shortcut the inevidible errors one makes by self teaching and experimentation.

I think that all people who have played for a long time have learned that certain ways of using the hands work best most of the time, and most teachers try to teach them - to make those the habits of playing that we adopt. Unfortunately some teachers make the mistake of thinking that all people are or will be the same size with the very same muscle development - not so!

An alternative is to allow students to make habits of whatever seems to be working as they progress only to find that those habits must be broken to make room for others.

Many postures that will allow you to fiddle, will not carry you through a lifetime of violin playing.

I think, however, that teachers should balance what they know will ultimately work with the necessity of continuing to work with and motivate their students. I allow students to keep postures that I know will not last, because I can foresee when the necessary changes will occur and I can move them gradually toward them. Then, whether it is the need to use the bow in new ways or the posture needed later for position changes or vibrato (not to even mention far more difficult adaptations), the student has at least been urged in those directions and is not surprised by some other required changes.

Andy

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Auer does not recommend a particular bowhold in his book (he instead handwaves, saying he's seen everyone do it differently), but I was speaking of much more than just bowhold (especially since the "Russian" hold is normally associated with Auer, since his students used it even if Auer himself didn't). Galamian, for instance, talks in his book about how the position of the violin and placement of the left hand differs based on its size, and indeed, in various other places, explains how physique affects what likely will and won't work for a student.

However, I don't think you can judge the willingness of a teacher to be flexible based on their training. Nor do I think that everything good for you, violinistically, is necessarily going to instantly feel natural, especially if it requires the build-up of some specific musculature in support.

As I think about it further: The growing body of a child may be suited to different approaches at different times, too.

My advice continues to be: Have your daughter learn from a teacher that she likes and respects. Don't worry about the teacher's technical approach. Look around: Who has students who play well, and that both students and parents speak well of?

(If you were picking out a teacher for a very advanced student, or a prodigy, someone who would teach the child the concert-hall repertoire and whose artistic tradition the child will end up following, I would say a match in artistic temperament would be important as well. But we're talking about a beginner.)

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Thank you, Thank you again everyone - Especially Andy!,

You put things together beautifully, and I am in your debt. I wish you were close by, maybe you could help this little beginner! :-). Learning violin is a dynamic process, not static, and I have seen the things you mentioned with growth. Additionally, with understanding and increased knowledge the students themselves come to "discover". I'm in total agreement about the self-teaching thing, it leads to many problems. You really need the teacher. Then there's intonation...I've enjoyed your posts on that. It's a major topic, and one I hold in the most importance. Yet, this has something to do with technique, and is part of the training (articulation, hand position, &center of pitch,). Oh I'm getting too theoretical, but you know, when the student understands this coupled with harmonic overtones - wow. Somehow, I think I'm getting bogged down, so I'll leave in saying I send you my very best wishes.

-J-

[This message has been edited by JKF (edited 10-17-2000).]

[This message has been edited by JKF (edited 10-17-2000).]

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Hi JKF,

I wish I could help you, since I don't know much of anything about teachers around here, but as Arpa said, you might possibly find someone at Settlement Music School. I remember reading their faculty list, and there is at least one purely Russian-trained violin teacher there-- though that doesn't guarantee anything about their teaching.

I know that I found it frustrating when trying to figure out how to pick out a teacher. Reputation is one thing, but I have few inside connections and don't know any details. I've been constantly encouraged to "try out" more than one teacher before committing to study with them. However, it seems that this is frowned upon-- it seems that it would be a politically bad move to be accepted by one teacher only to try out someone else.

I sincerely hope things turn out well for your daughter, but I hope that this doesn't end up becoming a huge source of stress.

For an 8-year-old, I can't help but feel that she will be OK even if she is studying with someone who doesn't exactly fit the ideal for the time being. She has time, and she sounds like a talented, motivated student. Like Lydia, I have a feeling that things will probably work themselves out in the end. I worked with a couple of different beginning teachers before coming to my present one (with whom I will start lessons in early November), and none of them were fantastic, but all of them seemed to agree with the principle that everyone's hands are different, and that what works for one person doesn't always work for another.

I don't know what to say about contention among your daughters if your youngest is instructed certain techniques that the older ones disagree with-- but maybe the older kids just need learn to be patient as well, and understand the purpose of "waypoints" (as mentioned in some previous post), especially for a young child. And 8 years old is still pretty young.

Best!

Irene

P.S. Would like to meet you and your daughters sometime.

P.P.S. Aughh! My post just crossed the previous three-- So glad there are other, more knowledgeable people.

[This message has been edited by Irene (edited 10-17-2000).]

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quote:

Originally posted by Irene:

P.S. Would like to meet you and your daughters sometime.

Thanks Irene,

Me too. How's it going? You say November? Anxious to hear about the sessions. For now, I gotta sign off and get going. 'til later,

-J-

[This message has been edited by JKF (edited 10-17-2000).]

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