Occasionally, I'll have a new parent (never a student) that asks, "What method are you using?"
That's a valid question, and it can have several meanings. Sometimes there's a genuine curiosity. Other times, it means "Do you know what you are doing? Explain it!" It can also mean, "Hey, I'm confused about the structure, here... is there a structure?"
Branded methodology (think Suzuki, Sassmannshaus, O'Connor, Auer, Maia Bang) is maybe a meager 5% of the equation, if even that much. Sometimes it's a help, other times a hindrance. I suppose my long answer to that question is that I teach from the Contemporary American-Franco-Belgian School of Violin Playing, but also draw from all other known sources when necessary. There's got to be a better name for that, right?
Look at the bow holds in a modern day symphony orchestra: Mostly Franco-Belgian. I don't see a lot of Russian or Spivakovsky bow holds out there. The left hand technique? A result of habits and strategies passed down through from teacher to student in Kreutzer/Rode Etudes and Paganini. Stylistic concerns and priorities? Decidedly influenced by the U.S Symphony and Collegiate audition processes and influenced by the top teachers from the last century (Galamian, Gingold, Dounis, Schradieck, etc.). That's where most professionals are at these days, even if it isn't specifically named. It's also evolving, expanding as performance practice increases in popularity, and the extended techniques required in modern and pop music expand.
Recently, I've had a handful of students come to me who had been learning almost exclusively from Leopold Auer's graded course and Flesch Scales for several years (and still haven't gotten out of C major!), but with virtually zero experience playing real, complete pieces of music. What a punishing experience! In the past, I've also encountered veteran Suzuki students who had played lots of baroque pieces, but couldn't read music and had no confidence preparing music without a recording. Yes, of course there are fantastic Suzuki teachers (and students) out there, but not everyone is Mimi Zweig! There's nothing innately special about attaching your identity as a teacher to a popular method. It's obviously impossible for any formula of instruction to apply perfectly to a specific student in a remotely appropriate way. Otherwise, students would be learning entirely from books and videos, not real, human teachers.
I've read nearly all of the available pedagogical texts, studied with great performer-teachers, play professionally, and have several years of experience teaching a variety of ages. But more importantly than any one of those, I try to get to know each student as an individual and figure out where they are. What are their goals? What is their current skill set and knowledge base? Are they sensitive listeners? Do they like classical music? How do they learn? What motivates them? Are there fundamental problems impeding their progress? What are the parents like? I try to think about how I'm going to leave each student when they inevitably graduate. How do I want that student to grow? Each of those is an intense blog post, right?
Here's my mission:
Set the bar high and provide a safe, collaborative, creative environment for growth.
A successful graduating student should be nearly able to express and activate their potential:
A teacher's job is to make themselves obsolete. A graduating student should be self-initiated, confident, able to learn pieces from different styles, exercise freedom of interpretation, able to practice well, listen well, and solve problems. They've been introduced to nearly all of the problems of violin playing, and have at least begun to solve them. They also know that bow strokes have names, well beyond off-ish and on-ish.
Part of the process of arriving at that goal is to find pieces and exercises that will effectively force a student to come face-to-face with the difficulties of violin playing. Not just purely technical difficulties, but a well-rounded understanding of the instrument's interpretive capabilities and challenges. On a basic level, this means there must be a foundation of scale practice, specific exercises for traditional technique, Paganini technique, and also standard rep pieces that serve particular developmental functions. On a more creative level, it means that the student will eventually have some freedom and desire to seek out pieces of study. Maybe they'll construct a personalized senior recital. Maybe they'll collaborate with friends and find a social venue for violin study. That's how I see a serious, realistic approach to violin study.
Below is a basic, but not all-inclusive outline of what I want my students to eventually study.
A Basic Outline of Rep my students will see:
Scales in all 7 unique positions
3-octave Major and Melodic minor scales
3-octave Major and Minor Arpeggios
Scales and Arpeggios on one string
Some double-stop scales
*Augmented, diminished, and inversions would be nice
Working up to and through the study of the Kreutzer Etudes.
If the Kreutzer etudes are studied intensely, intelligently, and reviewed frequently, nearly all of the violin's difficulties can be examined. Massart, Kreutzer's student, wrote a tremendous pamphlet on the intense study of this work.
*Paganini, Schradieck Bk 1, Selected other studies can come into play.
Students work up to real concert pieces:
1 Bach Concerto: Either A minor or E major
1 Mozart Concerto: #3 or #4
1 or more Romantic concertos: DeBeriot 9, Kabalevsky, Bruch, Lalo, Saint-Saens, Wieniawski, Tchaikovsky
Start with works by Kreisler
Show pieces by Sarasate, Saint-Saens, Wieniawski, Heifetz, Milstein, Hubay, Monti, etc.
There usually isn't time for most students to study Sonatas, or adequate piano rehearsals, but Mozart and Beethoven Sonatas are excellent pieces to study too! I love teaching Mozart's e minor sonata.
The most accessible for young students are
E major, G minor
D minor, for an ambitious high schooler
TMEA All State material provides the closest experience to a professional orchestra audition
Choose your own adventure:
If a hard-working student wants to learn a Lindsey Sterling arrangement, or cover a pop song, why not?
-Builds working knowledge of fingerboard.
-Increases sensitivity to intonation and tone.
-Allows for extremely fundamental organization in both hands.
-Introduces new problems on a weekly basis.
-Develop useful practice habits.
-Change action and set up of left and right hand.
- An opportunity to discuss fundamental bow strokes and descriptors like Detache, Accented Detache, Grand Detache, wrist motion, colle, arm levels, Martele, Spiccato, Sautille, Roule, and Son Files, to name a few.
-An opportunity to develop sense of phrasing and line.
-Familiarize student with the rhetoric/style of great works and larger forms.
-Build repertoire necessary for competitions summer programs, and youth orchestra
-Test the limitations of currently available technique.
-Color, style, Virtuosic playing.
-Choosing own finger patterns and bowings.
-Intense listening and collaborative playing.
-Introduction into informed historical performances.
-Will discover baroque dances, read excerpts from Jaap Schroder. Study Baroque recordings.
-Continued integrity in Rhythm/Pitch/Tone
-Students take ownership of self-selected pieces.