One size doesn’t always fit all

In today’s media we are bombard with the latest and greatest ways to things fast without any work. Want to lose weight without exercises? There’s something for that. Learn to speak a language fast? Also something for that. Believe it or not this mentality has creeped over teaching music. Want to straigthen your bow stroke magically with no work? There are several contraptions for that. Or how to keep your wrist straight while playing? Or the perfect bow hold? There are things for those too. It seems that every where there are people pushing things to make your life better without any work. It’s the reason why I don’t take many young students. Parents want me to teach them, but they don’t realize that a 3 year old can’t play the violin right by themselves at home. They need a parent to help them practice.

I see all kinds of technique walk into my door at my violin studio. Some from other teachers, and some from my own students. For a long time I was taught to play the way my teachers played. In the end I got injured. While having good technique and form is important in anything you do trying to force yourself into “the box” isn’t always helpful. I see it all of the time with beginning Suzuki students. They get 2 inches of bow to use, often in the wrong part of the bow, to play Twinkle when in reality what the teacher is trying to do is completely missing the intent of the exercise. The point isn’t to use little bows. The point is introduce an easy way to move the bow that has a high success rate.

Lately my big thing in teaching has been to make sure each student’s technique is right for them. While there are general points that should be similar in everyone’s technique each individual is quite different. I remember watching a lesson during my graduate school observations, and the teacher would get quite upset with the student when the left wrist wasn’t straight. The problem wasn’t that the wrist wasn’t straight. The teacher was actually over correcting the issue, which is why the student would complain that it hurt and not do it the same way. While the teacher was tall and limber, the student was not the same shape or size. Her wrist was different. So were her fingers and hand. Each person has a slightly different shape, but so many people insist on putting things in the box of “straight wrist” or “small bows” without listening or watching the student. The student is actually much happier when you listen, and help. It requires more work on the teacher’s part, but the end result should be what’s best for the student, and not what fits in the box.

I remember one time when a teacher couldn’t figure out why my bow wasn’t straight and wanted to use one of those bow straightening gadgets on me. It wasn’t that I couldn’t move the bow straight. The problem was no one taught me how to use my arm to make the bow go staright. Take the gadget it off, and the old habit comes back because unless you’re thinking about it and actively trying to change the habit it will stay the same once you take the “helper” off. To be a good teacher you have observe and correct where needed. You can’t assume because something was right one week that it will continue over to the next. You need to look, and feel with your hands that things are in the right place, and that students aren’t squeezing. Sitting back and observing may be easy but being active, and using your hands to help the student will produce greater results.

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