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  • Writer's pictureCraig Birchfield

1/4/2014 A Bright New Year and Yadda Yadda

Okay, so I can’t even do the “New Year – New Beginnings” post without just a tad bit of eye rolling and a wry grinning even though I do think that some periodic refection is not a bad thing. Ultimately, what we are about at Allegro Violin is fostering success in people who are learning how to play a bowed instrument – however you define success. I thought a little refection on the some ideas that we’ve touched on in the past and some new ones going forward would not be a bad thing to do on the cusp of this new year. I am going to throw some noodles against the wall for teachers, parents and students and see what sticks (no Super Glue allowed) and hopefully not step on too many toes in the process. This is all my opinion so your mileage may vary.

A few ideas for teachers:

* No matter how many degrees and accolades you have (and I know that they are hard won) it is not about how much you know but how well you can communicate it. There has to be a connection with the student for there to be communication.

* I think that improvisation should be a part of the learning process as soon as the student has a few scales under their belt and it is practical. Ownership of the music for a beginner is a very good thing. Yes, they need to learn fundamentals but also being able to make up their own little melodies could mean the difference between inspiration and quitting for a student.

* Don’t be afraid to have a little fun along the way.

A few ideas for parents:

* It is true that I don’t believe a child should be forced to continue with an instrument if it is apparent after a reasonable period of time that they have absolutely no interest or desire to play and that it is agony for them. That aside, I really hate it when parents say, “We have to see if little Johnny is going to like this and continue playing before we make a big investment,” especially…ESPECIALLY when little Johnny is standing right there!! It’s not about the money. I know that money is an issue but please don’t program children for failure by putting huge doubt in their minds right at the beginning. There are other ways to indicate to the shop owner that you want to limit the financial downside especially when the child is standing there. How about: “Little Johnny has expressed an interest in playing and we are really excited! We are going to start with a modest rental and then move up as he masters these musical skills.” See the difference? I think that children are a trust from God and it is our responsibility to encourage them in a positive way. A musical education is important and shouldn’t be treated like a whim.

* Consistency is huge. I would rather see kids put in 20 minutes a day, every day than an hour a couple times a week.

* If a CD comes with your book as an option then get it and listen to what they are supposed to sound like so that you can help them knowledgeably in their practice time. I believe at least a third of a child’s success is from the mentoring and enthusiasm of their parents.

A few ideas for students:

* Rome wasn’t built in a day. Don’t expect to sound like Sarah Chang after a few months of lessons. As long as you are making a little progress each week that is all that matters.

* Don’t be afraid of interpretation and improvisation. Get ownership of the music. Put a little passion into it. I’ve seen musicians who could get more music and passion out of a few notes than some great musical technicians that could play fifty in the same amount of time. Just because the little melodies and ideas that you come up with are simple does not mean that they might not be profound. These are your ideas so be proud of them.

* Take ownership of your instrument also. Get a little understanding of it’s history and heritage. Make sure that it is adjusted properly. Learn how to tune it, even if you are young.

* Don’t look too far ahead in your music book. Take it one step at a time. The first few steps that Bilbo Baggins took out of his door led to a lifetime of adventure.

A few ideas for shop owners (and that includes me):

* Take that little extra time to make sure that every instrument that goes out of the shop is properly adjusted and set up.

* Spend time communicating with the student as well as the parent.

* Make the selection of an instrument a pleasant and exciting time. You’ve been through this two hundred times but it is new and exciting for the student – and a little intimidating.

* Don’t make too many assumptions about how much they already know. Take time to make sure that all of their questions are answered.

I would love to hear any ideas that you might have to help us play better in the coming year. Next time: Pain is Not Gain – Part two, I promise.

Keep Practicing

Craig Birchfield

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