Monday, August 27, 2007

Lessons learned...while teaching

A few thoughts today from today's violin lessons...

Today I was thinking about how some of my students resist letting their parents help them learn. The "secret trick" we have for teaching young violin students how to make a beautiful tone right from the beginning is: to do it for them. Once they have learned how to hold the violin and bow (a good 2-3 months right there), the day finally comes when they can put the bow on the string. The next thing that happens is not to let them move the bow on their own. Instead, for a few weeks, the teacher and the parent moves it for them. I teach the parents how to reach over and move the bow on the string while the student is holding the bow and violin in play position, just relaxing, a process called "patterning." In the process, the student learns the physical feeling of how the bow moves on the string properly, and most importantly, learns to relax his elbow while Mom or teacher does the work for him. In essence, by learning submission he learns the right way to make a beautiful, relaxed tone.

This works extremely well--until the child starts refusing to let Mom help him and wants to do it on his own. Scrub, scrub, scratch, scratch. This is where the fights and tears and "I wanna quit" breaks out at home practice time. Yes, it is practically inevitable that this will happen at some point. I try to counsel the parent to take control of the situation, not to let Junior manipulate or control her. Because the alternative is that the child will learn a pattern of disobedience--not to mention a tight bow arm and a horribly scratchy, uncontrollable bow stroke which is extremely difficult to unlearn, except by Mom regaining control and our young violinist learning to submit to authority.

Lesson number 1 is that we are all children, like it or not, and we have an Authority, as well as our earthly authorities. If we submit and let the ultimate Teacher and Parent control our bow arms for us, we will be able to make the most beautiful sound possible. If we think we can do it better on our own if we just work harder, we will make a scratchy, horrible sound. That's hard to unlearn.

Lesson number 2 comes from listening. The way I teach young beginners how to play new songs is by listening to them on the CD over and over again until the tunes are stuck in their memory, like new words for an infant building its vocabulary. This not only frees up the student to concentrate on technique, but also gives him a pattern of tone, phrasing, etc. to imitate. The music will flow out of the student naturally as if a recording were played in his mind, rather than "the C# comes after the E, then two beats on the B," etc. When the student has trouble remembering how to play the notes to a piece, all I ever say is, "Go home and listen some more." If the student has learned the notes wrong, my usual line is, "This week, listen to this piece more often than you play it. If you play it three times a day, listen to it four times; if you play it ten times, listen to it eleven times."

Oddly enough, this answers a philosophical question involving what we should be studying as Christians. Sometimes I've asked the question, "Should I study other religions, what other people believe as well as the Bible, so that I can relate to them and be able to answer their questions with knowledge of where they're coming from, rather than ignorance of everyone else's worldviews except my own?" It's a tough question, because it does make sense; however, the more we study other worldly philosophies without truly grounding our own beliefs the more danger we're in to be influenced by them.

How is this idea related? If my students have not listened to the CD enough to know the correct notes, they will have their own ideas stuck in their heads, and no matter how much they practice, they will be practicing the wrong notes to perfection. Practicing is great, though. Just be sure to study the real thing more than you practice your own wrong notes. Likewise, intellectual study and philosophical thoughts are great. Just be sure to study the real thing more than you study your own ideas, otherwise, you won't have the Pattern in your head, and your own philosophies will take precedence.

This thought occured to me when I was reading from 1 Testimonies, a letter of reproof to a Brother Hull: "You will receive more strength by spending one hour each day in meditation, and in mourning over your failings and heart corruptions and pleading for God's pardoning love and the assurance of sins forgiven, than you would by spending many hours and days in studying the most able authors, and making yourself acquainted with every objection to our faith, and with the most powerful evidences in its favor." (1T 433-434)


Adrian Zahid said...

Wish Brother Hull listened.

Anonymous said...

It has been said that Secret Service agents, when learning to identify counterfeit money, never study counterfeit money. Instead, they study the REAL money so well, they can easily detect a fake.