The violin is one of the most dynamic instruments with its range being very similar to the female voice. Its opportunities for subtlety and detail of tone are unprecedented. A great violinist can shape music in ways that few instruments can with the change of bow direction or by changing the angle of the instrument. Often beginning violinists are frustrated when they don’t immediately hear a silky pure tone with their playing. A great violin teacher understands that the first few months for a beginner can be a challenge, and that they should help prepare the student for this time in which they might not be able to produce a sound that they love. This article will cover what to look for when searching for a great violin teacher.
Patience and empathy
During the first few months of learning the violin, a student will most likely not produce a clear and beautiful tone. Parents might compare the sound to that of a squeaking door or to fingernails on a chalkboard. The instructor must be very patient, warm, and encouraging during this time. It is also helpful if the instructor explains to parents and students not to expect a great sound for at least a few months. Empathy is a critical quality because it helps the instructor to connect with the needs and emotions of a student. Often times the most advanced players are playing by muscle memory, and have forgotten what it feels like to be a beginner. A great teacher will often look back to when they first began learning the instrument while also asking students to describe how they feel in order to better help them advance.
Guiding the student
A great violin teacher will break down each step of the process so that the first few months are not overwhelming. One of the biggest challenges in learning violin involves control of the bow arm. To produce a beautiful sound, the arm must move smoothly and fluidly while also applying an adequate amount of pressure to the string. The challenge with this is that the pressure should be applied not with muscle, but with weight from the arm. The arm must be relaxed and flexible at the shoulder so that it can deliver just enough weight at each point the bow moves across the string. A great violin teacher usually begins by working on this bow arm and hold separately from the other hand. A common exercise is to run the bow along the strings slowly back and forth for several minutes while trying to produce an even and consistent sound. Separate from this, the student will now begin working on the other hand (typically the left hand). This hand presses down and releases the string. The word pressing is deceptive, because it’s important that weight is used rather than muscle to create this pressure. The student may practice various pitches with this hand by plucking the string with the right rather than using the bow. The resulting sound may then be adjusted to the correct position to produce a clear, clean pitch.
Overcoming challenges unique to the violin:
One of major challenges in learning violin is that there are no frets or guidance for the fingers as to where each note is located. The distance between notes must be learned by feel, and constantly adjusted to what sounds in tune. Because of this unique quality presented in violin and other string instruments such as cello, viola, and bass, a beginning student needs to develop their ear far beyond other instruments. To be successful, the student must learn to know the difference between in tune and out of tune playing.
Knowledge of multiple teaching methods:
What method of violin instruction is correct? Today we have many different methodologies for how children should be taught the violin, Suzuki being one of the most popular. We believe that great violin teachers shouldn’t always subscribe to one particular method, but have a keen awareness to a wide variety of methods. Though Suzuki and many other methods of teaching contain great ideas, we believe the lesson and method needs to be tailored to the needs and individuality of the student. This may be the Suzuki method or a custom curriculum that suits the needs of the student. We advise parents and students not to get attached to a particular method, and instead search for a great violin teacher that inspires and understands many methods.
How can I tell if a violin teacher is qualified?
This can be a challenging question, especially for a beginning student or for parents searching for the right fit for their children. It is helpful if the parent or student has an understanding of what good playing sounds like and requests the instructor to demonstrate their own skills with the instrument to model good playing. Parents and students must also take into consideration how far they intend to go with their training. In the case of simply introducing a five-year-old to the instrument, it is much wiser to pick an instructor with a warm personality and charisma rather than their degrees and accomplishments. If the student is well-advanced, then the skill level of the instructor as a performer is very important to consider. A good institution, such as Angeles Academy, will ensure that as a student progresses to the next level, that they are matched with the right instructor for them. At the Angeles Academy, we have frequently observed parents who want a DMA graduate (doctorate in performing arts) to teach their five year old child. While there are doctorates of music that have the patience and personality to work with children, many of them would prefer to be training high-level students. As a result, these high-level instructors can sometimes quickly tire of working with a beginner. As an alternative, there are less experienced performers whose warmth, personality, and extraordinary patience generally make them a better fit for a beginning student.