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May 29, 2024 - 8:47:40 AM
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6542 posts since 8/7/2009

I said recently in another thread concerning how I learned to use light pressure when stopping a string:

For me - it has never been an "exercise" as a practice routine I worked on in order to learn a technique. It has been more an issue of being aware that I can, and then reminding myself when I'm dealing with other things that are slowing me down - to remember.  

I am not claiming to have perfected anything. I am claiming that I did recognize, I have discovered that I can, so I am doing, and it helps - a lot. Enough that I will share my experience whenever the opportunity is presented. The benefit is worth that much to me. Folks who disagree, disagree. No problem. To me - it isn't right or wrong, it is degrees of better. That's all. 

I do have a problem when folks declare "you have to, or you're doing it wrong".  Nope.  But I'm not against them personally. I'm just against what they are saying. 

Truth is - I've never had a reason to look into to this at this depth before now (thanks again Rich for making me do that). I was challenged a long time ago by someone here on FHO (BJ has passed). She promoted the idea - see how little pressure it takes to actually stop the string and still get a good tone. I took up the challenge, discovered it really doesn't take that much, and determined for myself that is "better" - for me. Thank you BJ.

And for those who were around "back then" - you will remember that BJ and I went round and round on a few issues. This wasn't one of those issues, but we had a few... Discussions like this are good for me. 

I ran across a TEDx video by a highly accomplished violinist, teacher (educator) that was referenced here on the subject of finger pressure. This video is not about finger pressure, but it is about effective teaching.

I really have a deep appreciation for what he is saying about his teaching style. I’ve never been in favor of submitting to a teacher’s directions, but I think I would enjoy a teacher student / teacher relationship based on these principles.  The video:

Why is 'why' so important? William Fitzpatrick at TEDx San Juan Capistrano

William has had a truly remarkable career, having graduated from the Juilliard School of Music, been first violinist of the New York String Quartet, and served as the director of Chamber Music at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France. His musical experiences throughout Europe, Japan and the United States have led him to positions as conductor of the Nashville Chamber and Symphony Orchestras to conductor (and founder) of L'ensemble des Deux Mondes in France, and collaborations with l'Orchestre Symphonique Francaise and The American Symphony Orchestra of New York.

Agree?  Disagree?

May 29, 2024 - 8:52:47 PM

1511 posts since 3/1/2020

The value of asking questions to aid in learning is considerable, but this is not some new concept. In fact, there are lots of other TED talks about the same idea. Although the talk covers some of the popular cliches, it doesn’t really provide a great deal of insight into pedagogy.

I would say that this idea of exploration of alternative ideas and approaches to musicality is one that has a place in higher education, but it’s not very practical for anyone getting started. When you first take up the instrument and don’t have any idea what to do to get a decent tone out of it, having someone that can give solid guidance in technique is so important. There are a few different approaches to the mechanics of playing, but at some point you have to settle on something so that you can advance, at least to the point where you can appreciate the differences in approaches.

Adult learners often appreciate being able to ask in-depth questions about the reasons for choices in teaching, and I personally appreciate any teacher who has the knowledge to be able to explain these things, but children don’t see it the same way. They get bored easily by the details and are more eager to feel the accomplishment of having learned something and of being able to play things that interest them. When I was little, I wanted to sound like my father. Why he played the way he did wasn’t really a concern to me—I just wanted to know what to do to be able to play what he did. Most children I see are inspired by players or by music they like, and their goal is to acquire the ability to play that way themselves. They need motivation to stay invested in the learning process, but that doesn’t tend to come in the form of some quasi-intellectual search for personal meaning. In other words, the approach Fitzpatrick describes has a use, but not one that applies across the spectrum of all students. Of course lots of kids have their “why” phases, but the motivations are often complex, and it doesn’t serve them very well to just ask them to come up with their own answers.

The idea of suggesting the student figure out the answers to questions of playing has some possible merit, but it also raises the question: what is being imparted to the student? If it’s merely the suggestion to become self-sufficient, then there is no need for the teacher to know anything about violin playing or music. It saves the teacher a lot of time and lesson planning if all that’s needed is to say “why don’t you just explore some of your own ideas and see what you like?” It also saves the trouble of needing to know anything at the expense of the student. Parents often spend considerable amounts of money to give their children an education from the teachers they believe are the most knowledgeable and able to produce consistent results. Let’s hope that what they’re getting is something more than the jargon of a confidence scheme.

While I personally appreciate the opportunity to ask questions, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that that makes it THE ideal method of learning. There are many very good and successful teachers who are very strict about things being done their way without question. Most of the Russian teachers I’ve known have had a reputation for being tough as nails, but you can’t really argue with their results. And I find that students who have been taught this way don’t necessarily resent it in the long run. It’s a different approach that’s equally valid.

I will never forget a varnishing workshop I attended that was taught by a German violin maker. He was furious that people were asking questions in class and eventually stopped in the middle of class one day to lecture on what he considered proper etiquette. He was taught in Mittenwald and he said that it was disrespectful for a student to ask questions—the class was an opportunity for the master to share his knowledge, and students should not waste his time by asking him to elaborate or elucidate. His argument was that as students, we didn’t know enough to ask intelligent questions, and that the only way to understand what we should do was to follow his instructions to the letter. I was not very happy with that workshop, but in fairness to the maker, he was teaching in the way he learned, and that method had made him a master luthier whose skills as a maker and restorer were highly regarded. Every maker I’ve known who went through the Mittenwald school has told me that this was the approach. Instead of asking questions, the student was expected to follow directions and then display their efforts for criticism. By showing your work rather than asking questions, the idea was that the more experienced maker could focus on what was necessary and avoid wasting time on things the student might ask about from ignorance.

I learned in a very different environment where I spent as much asking questions and discussing the tasks as I did in doing them. That method was useful for me in my mind, but that doesn’t mean it was the only way to learn.


I think Fitzpatrick unintentionally shoots down his own argument about finger pressure in the video. Ironically, he does it by using Ravel’s Tzigane and making the same point I did in the other thread—you need more pressure in that piece to get the right tone way up the fingerboard. He only demonstrates the first few measures in first position, but what he’s getting at is the necessity of playing with more force as you shift into the high sections (the first page is sul G). Auer talks about playing high up the fingerboard in his book as well, although he clarifies that if the bow pressure increases too much, it will choke the sound.

The point that he makes in closing about his approach putting him out of a job seems very pertinent to the discussions about AI that are ongoing—the kind of teaching he’s advocating can be done by getting an algorithm to regurgitate suggestions like “let’s find out how to play this piece by exploring different ways of playing it and seeing what you think works.” The teacher I want is the one who has strong opinions about doing things but has equally strong justifications for doing them.

Edited by - The Violin Beautiful on 05/29/2024 20:58:19

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