It seems like every time I get a new student, my excitement is tempered with a sense of impending doom. Is this student going to actually stick with it? I warn these potential students that technique is important to me, and I tell them why. They always act on board and eager to play the violin in a healthy sustainable way.
Somewhere down the line, they almost inevitably fall into the trap of thinking that new pieces equal progress. I become the bad guy when I put on the brakes, and insist on good intonation, relaxed bow hand, or efficient left hand technique. Don’t get me wrong, I love the allure of a new piece as much as anyone, and try to assign new pieces fairly frequently,
Why is it so hard to motivate students to refine and perfect the current or review pieces? Why is it so darn difficult to convince the student or their parent that the “soft, bent thumb” is actually important?
We live in an over-stimulated world. We get distracted from checking our Facebook feed to check our email. There are thousands of little red “notifications” on our home screens screaming for our attention all the time. As a society, many of us are no longer practicing the patience required to stick with a job until it is superb.
I love this quote from Janos Starker, “Without discipline, there is no art.” Our students cannot truly play beautifully, or express themselves through music, unless they have the technical prowess to play with precision. Why should we keep trying to teach good technique when it seems like no one wants it?
Because it is right. And it is good. Because children need to learn the joy and pride of a job well done. Because we can help them become amazing human beings who have grit and are tenacious.
What can we do? Do we hold on to our ideals and insist on beautiful playing and lose our students? Do we give in and listen to poor playing all day long as we feel our souls shriveling away on the inside??
No. We remember why it is important.
As teachers, we know what it takes to make the violin sound good. We’ve spent countless hours studying violin technique and pedagogy, not so we could teach a lot of pieces (crappy sounding), but so that we could teach how to play the VIOLIN. Our students come to us with this goal. To learn the violin. If their technique is solid, and their foundation is strong, the student can eventually tackle any piece himself.
We do it for our own happiness.
When we aren’t true to our principles, we cannot teach with integrity. It is a disservice to us AND OUR STUDENTS when we succumb to pressures to allow poor playing to become acceptable. If you think it doesn’t sound (or look) good, they probably don’t either. Despite their resistance, no one really wants to play poorly. And I don’t really want to sit through thousands of crappy sounding lessons, either.
So how do we insist upon a high level of playing, but keep the attention and interest of our students?
We can use games in the lesson to make repetitions exciting, and we can teach our students and their parents to use games in their home practice.
I used to think that I didn’t have time to play games with students in their lessons because of all of the work that needed to be done. Now I think, I don’t have time not to play games!
My students are so much more receptive to criticism and change when it comes in the form of a challenge or as part of an exciting new activity.
Be courageous. Stick to your guns. We can’t expect a child, or even a teen, to know beforehand the satisfaction of a job well done, our part is to help them get there. I am giving all of us permission to accept nothing less than our students’ best efforts, and ours as well.
Do you struggle to retain your students when you lay down the law? How do you keep them interested when you have to slow them down for technique issues?
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