Teaching methods and Repertoire
My approach is to customise my teaching to suit the individual’s needs rather than to follow a particular school of violin playing (eg. Suzuki), or to rigidly follow a published violin method. For the early stages I like to use the “Fiddle Time” series. As with all beginners’ violin repertoire, “Fiddle Time Joggers” starts with several pieces using just the open strings, but it has the advantage of having a range of engaging accompaniments. In the lessons I can accompany on either the violin or the piano, and there is a CD of backing tracks to play along with at home. I also use pieces from Paul de Keyser’s “Violin Playtime” and “The Young Violinist’s Repertoire” series along with various studies (Mary Cohen, Niel Mackay, Sevcik etc.), and exercises both of my own devising and taken from the “masters” (Ivan Galamian, Carl Flesch etc.)
I love it if my students have their own ideas about what they would like to play. Generally I think children learn best if they play an active part in the process, and learning the violin is no exception. For intermediate and advanced students, the classical violin repertoire is so rich and diverse, but requests to play particular traditional songs, pop songs, Disney tunes or popular film themes are also welcome!
Many of my pupils work through the Associated Board (ABRSM) exam grades. (I have a 100% pass rate!) Whilst exams are a useful incentive, and earn you UCAS points, I feel strongly that learning to play the instrument is the first priority. If you simply work through the exam syllabuses, you can miss out on some great repertoire and opportunities to learn techniques outside of exam pieces.
I can also help students prepare for their practical exams for GCSE and A-level.
Parents are always welcome to sit in on my lessons. For primary school-aged children, I would like a parent to be present when possible. The details of how to hold the violin, and even more importantly, the bow, are very important to success in playing the instrument. Unless the parent is a violinist themselves, they ideally need to learn, at least in theory, the basic techniques required.
We are all familiar with the quote, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” to which the answer is, “Practise, practise, practise!” It is true that all accomplished musicians, however naturally talented, achieved their success by practising for several hours every day. Whether you are striving to become a professional violinist, or will be content with passing your grade 1, practice is an integral and unavoidable part of learning to play the violin.
Don’t be put off by my mention of “several hours of practice a day”! Quality of practice is much more important than quantity, and “little and often” is best. For the earliest grades, 20 minutes of good practice per day is quite enough, moving up to 30 minutes if possible at around grade 3 or 4.
Learning an instrument follows the rule of “practice makes permanent”, and this is the reason I am so keen on parental involvement. If a parent can supervise their child’s practice, this can prevent bad habits developing that would take a lot of work to try to undo. As an example, it is important to have your thumb curved on the bow. (A straight thumb locks the hand, preventing good sound production, makes it impossible to join notes smoothly, and rules out learning any fancy bowing techniques further down the line.) If a parent understands this, and can keep checking that the thumb is curved when their child is practising, it will soon become a good habit that they don’t have to think about any more. On the other hand, if a week’s practice goes by with the thumb straight, this has become a habit, and will take some work to put right…
Again I am wary of putting people off! Practice should be enjoyable, and part of my job is to make sure it is! Hopefully having tunes that the pupil enjoys, and a backing track to play along to should help.
Listening to Music
I always encourage my pupils to listen to other people playing. This can be going to a live concert or show, or just watching a YouTube clip. It is enjoyable, not hard work, and is an invaluable source of inspiration and musical education!