6 ideas to make group and individual teaching even smoother
I would often think to myself as I chowed down my morning tea in my 3 minute breaks over my years of teaching, ‘Surely there is a better way to teach in a group situation . . .’ This planted the seed of thought that perhaps one day I would write my own book. So, 15 years on, I did! The series is called Violin Time and Viola Time and amongst other things it aims to address some of these issues. So, when it comes to beginner teaching, do any of these pointers resonate with you?
- “I didn’t practice because I forgot how it was supposed to sound . . .”
I have heard this many times and decided that if I ever wrote a book it would have to include recordings of the pieces. Violin and Viola Time books come with a website subscription whereby students can hop online and watch and listen to audio-visual recordings of each piece.
- The art of ‘orchestral fudging’
From the back desk of orchestra, I would sometimes observe the infamous art of ‘orchestral fudging!’ This is where students ‘fake it’ by moving the bow hair lightly over the strings in the upper half of the bow. In a bid to encourage students to sight-read, Violin and Viola Time encourage sight-singing from day one, thus enabling students to sight-read.
- The group lesson that’s over before it starts!
Unfortunately, sometimes group lessons go something like this… The first 5 minutes are spent waiting for the arrival of students who were dismissed late from their previous class. The next minute or so is spent listening to a student give an account of how her Dad tried to ‘fix’ her violin as I replace the broken string on her antique instrument with creaky pegs. Then, after numerous other delays, the end of the lesson draws nearer and I frantically begin to scrawl in their note books all of the homework for the following week.
How can Violin Time assist in this end of lesson debacle? Well, on every page is a ‘Points for Parents,’ column which is divided into 4 parts. These are Purpose; Tips; Theory and the Teacher Checklist. Ahh! Simplicity at last, the students have their homework in writing!
- So what are the Year 2’s performing at next weeks concert?
A concert piece . . . Already? They’ve only been learning 4 weeks! Violin and Viola Time come with a handful of pieces that are open-string pizzicato friendly so that teachers can jazz up some simple plucking with a lovely piano accompaniment and an advanced violin part, which carries the tune. The ensemble parts for these pieces can be purchased separately online.
- “Is this a dagger I see before me?”
We’ve probably all inherited students with either the: ‘Macbeth’ bow-hold, or the ‘collapsing’ bow hold! In the Violin Time and Viola Time series there is a whole page of detailed pictures and descriptions of bow holds and exercises. This emphasizes to parents and students the importance of getting it right from the start.
- The survival shifter!
The survival shifter is the student who sees a shift coming up and takes a hopeful leap towards the next position, be it 2nd, 3rd or dare I say 4th. The thumb may catch up, there may be a glissando along the way, or the student may actually hit the right note! The first half of Book 2 is a bunch of great pieces in a variety of genres, with piano accompaniments that teach students how to shift using the lift, ghost and press method.
I have raised a few challenges of group and individual teaching some of which may resonate with you too. If you feel like your repertoire of teaching resources may have room for one or two more books hop online and peruse violintime.com and perhaps try something new with your next student. I hope that the series can be as useful to other string teachers as it has been for my students and me.