a teaser.

January 8, 2010 § 1 Comment

Here’s a snippet from the worksheet of my upcoming lecture at the NJ CMENC conference on February 6th. The [tentative] title is “Instant Gratification Strings”, built on the premise that certain tried-and-true techniques can provide immediate results and empower students’ playing. We’d all like that, wouldn’t we? Truth be told, it’s totally possible and totally feasible, given that we have the privilege every day of working with smart, flexible, eager young people. 🙂

Some of these techniques were concocted during my days in a practice room as a twenty-year-old violinist pulling her hair out, while others are hybrids of  (or influenced by) skills taught to me by pedagogy instructors and youth orchestra conductors over the years. Like any approach or strategy in music and teaching, I cannot take full credit for them— they are not 100% new or 100% mine, but they have been puzzled over and refined and cultivated in a way that is uniquely me. I hope that you find them helpful, and in a way that is uniquely you, I know you will make them a better pedagogical offering than I have! 🙂

My only disclaimer regarding the success of these techniques is that 1) the delivery of the conductor is IMPORTANT (the “how” of saying it just as much as the “what”) and 2) the expectation must be high— don’t let them “settle” as they explore these techniques, but REQUIRE their commitment to being musical risk-takers (and thus enabling themselves in the building up of their string playing).

Here we go…


Scenario #1: Weak tone projection, especially in forte passages (symptomatic of a lack of understanding about transferring arm weight in the bow)

Solution #1: Arm weight awareness

Pair up your students by desk— outside musicians will need their instruments and be the “players”, and inside musicians will be “teachers”.

1) “Players” start by landing their bow and the frog.

2) “Teachers” place their hands under the right elbows of the “players” and ask them to drop all their weight into their hands.

3) “Teachers” next move their hands up to the forearm of the “players” and ask them to drop all their weight there.

4) “Teachers” repeat this process at the wrist.

5) “Teachers” finally place their hands under the bow frog and repeat this process for last time.

6) Inside and outside musicians switch roles and repeat Steps 1-5.

Solution #2: Index finger and bow characteristics awareness

Ask your students to…

1) …silently land their bows at the middle on any string.

2) …wave their index fingers at you.

3) …make the hair and the stick touch by dropping their natural arm weight into the index finger.

4) …repeat steps 1-3 at the frog and at the tip.

5) …where it was easiest to get the result. (The middle, where the bow has the most spring)

Solution #3: Application of Arm Weight/Index Finger Awareness

Once aware of how to properly apply arm weight and utillize the index finger, have your students…

1)  …land their bows silently at the frog and drop their arm weight.

2) …pull the SLOWEST IMAGINABLE whole bow to the tip, keeping the hair and the stick together the whole time. (A semantic/pedagogic note: Unless they’re playing on a loosened bow, this obviously won’t happen at the tip and the frog to the same degree that it happens at the middle— HOWEVER, if you ask them simply to make the hair and stick as close as possible, the result won’t be as potent. The secret to success in Step 2 is the mental/physiological expectation the students have for themselves.)

3) After you enjoy the sound of nails on chalkboard (the desired result) ask your students to repeat Steps 1 and 2 on an up bow.

4) Now back at the frog, and using the same amount of arm weight, ask them to pull a much faster bow.

VOILA! (Not viola misspelled.)


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