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Seek and you Shall Find

After discussing my philosophy as a teacher in the first post of the year, I would like to turn my attention to the second partner in the musical team: the student. Having been there myself, I realize how easy it is for students to forget the critical importance of their active participation in the process. Not only in violin playing, but in all other subjects, students often approach lessons/classes in a passive state, showing up ready to take in what is to be offered but without having done thorough preparatory work. While possessing an open and inquisitive mind is a crucial part of the learning experience, it is equally important for the student to come in a studio/classroom already possessing a good sense of what he/she is there to learn. In Gravity and Grace, Simone Weil writes: “Nothing can have a destination which is not its origin.” In order to get the most out of their lessons, students need to develop a strong vision of their destination.

How fast one progresses is directly proportional to how much care is brought in preparing for the lesson. Every. Single. Week. Students provide their teachers with the raw material with which teachers will do their magic. The better the material, the better the results. A teacher can offer only as much as the student is capable to receive, and the work done between lessons will determine how much a student can absorb and how fast the progress will be.

I. Plan

Proper planning is key in sustaining consistency. For this, I recommend the use of a practice journal. When used strategically, a practice journal helps students stay organized, focused, and on course. It should be easy and quick to use, therefore I encourage students to adopt a format that matches their personality and learning style, and to keep it to the point. The practice journal should include:

· List of work to be accomplished

· Weekly goals and ways to accomplish them

· Daily goals

· Time practiced

· Self-evaluation on motivation, effort, and results

· Relevant notes and observations

By scheduling daily practice sessions at the beginning of the week, organizing them in the practice journal, and making sure the assigned tasks are completed, students dramatically increase their productivity.

I also recommend that students record all lessons, listen to them during the week, and take notes while doing so. This can be a very valuable learning tool. It reminds students of the principles they should focus on, will help them understand notions they might have poorly grasped or altogether missed in the lesson, as well as allow them to hear and judge their own playing. Since music students usually do not get daily coaching like many athletes do, referring to the notes taken during the lessons and during the listening sessions will help them steer their work during the week.

II. Seek

Once a student is well organized and working steadily, we get to one of the most important factors, perhaps the most instrumental, in a student’s pace in making progress: the student’s own curiosity about the intricacies of violin playing.

Once a teacher explains a principle, it is up to each student to internalize it through diligent work and concentrated reflection. It is through this personal exploration that the student will begin asking himself/herself questions, experiment with technical and/or musical ideas, and fully absorb the concepts transmitted by his/her teachers.

By being assiduous and consistent, a student will figure out what he or she is seeking, which is one of the most significant catalysts of growth in a person. Dedicated and inquisitive students are extremely motivating and inspiring for a teacher. The student who walks in a lesson knowing what he/she is in search of will very often find it.

A Time Magazine article identifies three types of students: the surface students, who do as little as possible to get by; the strategic students, who aim for top grades rather than true understanding; and the deep learners, who leave college with a real, rich education. Deep learners have a thirst to understand and explore any given field they are invested in. By remaining curious, enthusiastic, and motivated to fill in the gaps in their knowledge, they greatly increase their chances of success and fulfillment in all aspects of their lives.

III. Find

Once the weekly work is done, it’s “Show Time.” Lessons are one of many forms of performance training. While they do teach practicing techniques by showing students how to best approach and solve problems, teachers are not there to hear the students practice. They are there to listen to what the students have prepared and to offer guidance on how to take it further.

Students should see each lesson as the opportunity to work on their “performance muscles” by playing everything as beautifully as possible, treating every single element as “repertoire” (including long tones, scales, technical work, etudes, etc.), to train themselves to play without stopping, hesitation, and/or fear, and to ask questions.

Asking the right questions can change your life. Being willing to work diligently towards a goal will take you to heights you might have never imagined. So, work hard, be smart, seek wisely, and make great art!

In the studio this week: “Let us “delight” in some notes, e.g. don’t over prepare by letting us hear string crossings in advance, sometimes keep us “suspended” on some notes (while respecting the rhythm/tempo).” “Keep the bow in motion. Don’t stop the music short: if the bow doesn’t stop, neither does the music.” “Don’t adjust a note: stay with the problem, analyze it, find a solution, go back one note, think, hear, and execute.”

(Next time: Asking Yourself The Right Question)


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