Notes on teaching

So, a bit about my recent teaching.

The last couple times i've gone up to the middle school, it's been in "bad" situations. The first time was right before a concert. I volunteered to help coach a small ensemble. The concert was a "solo and ensemble" concert. I took a string quintet (3 violins, cello, bass) out into the hall and worked with them on their piece. Oh boy...

It was a difficult moment. There was no agreeing on a tempo. every time they attempted to start, it was a different tempo counted off differently. I took over counting off for them and rehearsing the sections. I attempted to get them to understand that chamber groups need to communicate a great deal more than a normal ensemble...watching them play, well...They were completely in their music. They weren't even looking at ME let alone at each other. the only one that really looked at me was the bass player, who, bless his heart, is trying really hard but is just behind the rest of the group (he started this year). I worked them for the hour, just on basic issues; playing rhythms correctly, tempo consistency, strong entrances. It was a difficult little session. They were all trying hard, but their attitude definitely got in the way. All but one of them had the "i know what i'm doing!" attitude and just kept making the same mistakes over and over, even with coaching.

I found their big problem to be that they were "playing" not "rehearsing." I remember when i was like this (it wasn't exactly long ago. heh). When does that magical light kick on regarding practice and rehearsal technique. I will admit, i was much better in chamber rehearsals than i was on practicing for a long time. I was more willing to work passages slowly, repeat sections till it was right, and do exercises to get our ears and minds together. Maybe it's because i always understood the necessity to get everyone on the same page and playing together. Individual practicing, a completely different story. I only recently got myself into good practice habits, and i often still have a tendency to just "sit and play" rather than "practice."

I don't know when that light kicks on, and i definitely think getting students to play in small ensembles from the beginning is important, but i had forgotten how difficult it can be.

Now, for note 2 on teaching. The next week i was in, it turned out to be standardized test week. Which means, of course, music and other "specials" or "electives" are unimportant. About 1/4 of the class was there. so, the teacher asked another favor of me; "can you take this bass player and give him a private lesson on these pieces? do you feel comfortable doing this?" I nodded, though i wish i had some prior warning so i could pop out my string techniques book (which i had just unpacked) and looked it over. I asked "it's 1, 2, 4 right?" Ah, fingerings!

So, i took our aspiring young bass player (who i mentioned had only been playing for about a year) to the back and worked a lesson. I had him play a passage and, sure enough, it was all "1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1" finger sliding all over the place, flailing to hit the notes. So, i had him write in fingerings. And practice them in front of me, slowly. I could tell he was playing a lot by hear, so i would play the passage for him first (using Pizzicato, cause i can't handle a bass bow. the weight is almost enough to break my wrist!) and then handed it back. I'm sure i got some fingerings incorrect (i'm no string player. really wish i had brought my string methods book...) but at least there were fingerings! The pieces were pretty difficult, all requiring lots of shifting (which is true of a lot of bass parts anyway. Not many notes available without shifting. heh). I tried to work out the best times to shift so he could get the notes.

We also worked on rhythm a lot. I really believe that with young players, rhythm is almost more important than pitch. so, we worked a great deal on the rhythms and the fingerings, relying on practice later to get the pitches down (if the right fingers go down at the right time, making sure they hit the right spot is almost the easy part. lol. ok, maybe not. lol).

Anyway, i think the little lesson helped. I really think the student could improve greatly with regular private instruction, but i am not the man to give it at all. If he was a brass player, pianist, even a singer or woodwind player, i could fake. Heck, even the other strings i am better with. Bass and i NEVER got along. lol. I can barely get the string down, can barely hold the bow. If i'm going to work with a string player, give me a viola. Sounds funny, i know, but the bow technique isn't bad for me, the fingers are good space apart (violin is too close. i feel like my fingers are on top of each other. I actually have to lift fingers out of the way to do half steps.). it's just comfortable for me.

But, it's still better if you find a string player. heh. I can coach on the big ideas, but the details of technique for a string player are a bit beyond me. It was easily my weakest point in techniques classes. Working with this orchestra has been good for me, for sure. teaching comp to such young students has been a fun challenge, as has working on my instrumental teaching skills from way back when. Ah, the good ole days.

And now, i'm going to go back to film scoring.

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