Pop and I share a young music student, a twelve year-old girl. He teaches her fiddle and I teach her violin. That seems a fair trade. She comes up for his Sunday musical open house. We both love working with her because not only is she interested and has a bit of talent, but she’s a real worker. She left just now after a 2 1/2 hour violin lesson. And that was when she’s just coming back from starting school and has some slight sniffles.
I love teaching one-on-one in particular because I learn what I know and extend what I know. From the time I was 8 to 18 at least, I was immersed in the world of classical violin training. Later, I learned how to play by ear and that changed my life. And we’re slowly building a relationship. I’ve finally gotten her to laugh at some of my antics.
Today we’re preparing her for two auditions this next week. One for the Chamber Orchestra and another for the larger youth orchstra. Plus, sightreading and practicing the pieces for her regular school orchestra.
First I play the piece so I know how it goes and where the tricky bits are. Then, she plays it and I ask her what she thinks her strengths and weaknesses are. She has an easier time picking out and voicing her weaknesses more than her strengths.
One thing we’re working on is picking up and going on when we mess up. Not stopping ot apologize or expain. Not going through a big re-set business. Just immediate recognition of the error and immediate recovery and going ahead. This strikes me as a good life skill. So much of learning music can be seen as applied character development in this way. She started doing that this afternoon and I praised her for it.
After I play it and she plays it, sometimes we play it together. One of the basic skills is isolating difficult passages and then repeating these over and over again until we can nail them with ease. Yes, practice does make perfect.
Sometimes we clap out the rhythm and then go on to play the rhythm. There’s an approximation factor for fast passages as we start slowly and then work up to speed or “a tempo.” (One of my favorite things about reading classical music is all the Italian words to see and speak).
It’s about the body, I tell her. You do it enough times so the body has muscle memory built in and then the body will do it on its own and your brain won’t have to work so hard.
I give her simple exercises she can do while vegging in front of the TV to train her muscles to produce vibrato, that slightly rolling movement that improves a violinist tone. Or, today, we talk about the pinkie finger and having the option to finger a stopped note for the “A” in addition to being able to play an open string.
“I think your little finger needs to be strengthened. Start doing scales on one string and end with the fourth finger, your pinkie. Keep on doing that until you can nail the right intonation every time. Our pinkies are the weakest finger and also the clumsiest. You almost want to feel sorry for it how awkward it is when you try to move it independently. It’s wired that way on the hand. Therefore, in order to enable it to do what we’re asking it to do, we have to send it to training camp, just like baseball players, you see? When you get a little older, too, your hand will grow some and that will make it easier to get that top note. But you can make your little finger stronger in the meantime. Your typing class you are taking will help, too. Did you notice they’ve laid out the keyboard so the pinkie is responsible for the least-used letters like Q and Z?”
Tomorrow she’ll come back and Pop will teach her “Alabama Jubilee.”