In our last episode I presented what I consider to be the major impediments to the simple learning of the VIOLA! In this edition I will focus on my solutions to these obstacles as well as attempt to present an overview of my personal approach to both the teaching and playing of the VIOLA. As you review the specific principles and ideals which guide my approach, hopefully, you will recall the obstacles identified in last week’s blog and better understand the rationale for the majority of the elements which make up my ultimate philosophies.
First and foremost…my entire approach is based on the theory that:
“The technical/instrumental skills one develops in the process of the playing of a musical instrument should ONLY be a means to the end….NEVER THE END ITSELF!!”
In other words…we should never forget, even for a moment, that our primary goal as a musician is to make music by way of successfully communicating our deepest and most personal thoughts and emotions through our musical performances. Obviously the more technically proficient a performer is on their instrument the easier it is to reach this goal. However, once again, our technical expertise is ONLY a MEANS to the end. One should be able to communicate musically even if equipped with only the most basic of skills.
Additionally my approach to teaching and playing the viola is based on the following principles and ideals:
- Making anything that is physically unnatural as natural as possible.
- Identify and analyze most common problems and create simple and easily understandable solutions.
- Design a building-block system of training which emphasizes the inter-relationships of the instrumental elements (ie. the ankle-bone is connected to the leg-bone…the leg-bone is connected to the knee-bone etc. etc.) I happen to call this “The Learning Tree”.
- Develop separate approaches for the development of instrumental technique and “music-making”. I, personally, am not a big supporter of the concept of learning technique on repertoire. I believe that this approach can all too often lead to an extremely sterile and technical approach to one’s sense of “music-making”.
- Create a mentality within your student that encourages them to become their own best teacher. Here are some reasons why:
- Reduces unnecessary student dependency on their teacher
- Increases student confidence
- Helps to develop good teachers while supplying them with a guide or outline for all their own potential future teaching
One other element I would like to talk about in a little more detail today is the concept of “UNNATURAL vs NATURAL”.
Lets begin by holding both our arms up in playing position for a few minutes.
So, now I ask……does this seem physically natural?? I feel quite confident that most of us would answer with an emphatic, “NO…not at all!”
Yet each of us has made some level of commitment to spend hours each and every single day forcing our bodies into this relatively unnatural state. It is my sincere belief that consistently functioning in the most relaxed manner possible is not only the key to maximizing our success as an instrumentalist but an absolute requisite for our ultimate physical survival!
Interestingly, if we could always strive to play in the same casual physical manner we stand or sit when comfortably conversing with friends or colleagues the majority of our tension-related problems would miraculously evaporate. Things just work so much better when we use our muscles in ways they were designed to function…NOT in ways we force them to operate!
Think about it for a minute. Typically, when you are just standing or sitting comfortably:
- Are your knees tight and/or stiff ?
- Are your shoulders rounded ?
- Is your neck stiff ?
- Is your spine tipped to one side ?
- Are your arms, wrists or hands tense ?
Then why do we change physically (and mentally) when we insert an instrument in our hands and begin to play??
A few answers to this question include:
- When we begin to focus or concentrate on specific passages or elements of playing we tend to inadvertently hold our breath. Definitely creates TENSION!
- Teachers NOT insisting their students remain as relaxed and natural while playing.
- Common Vicious Cycle: Tension compounds technical problems…and…the more technical problems created…the more tension.
I am a firm believer in:
“EVERYTHING WORKS BETTER THE MORE RELAXED AND NATURAL WE ARE”
In closing…I must say that, ironically, I have found this statement applicable to almost EVERYTHING one does in life.
Below you will see pictures of my daughter, Manon, who in her youth was a highly successful competitive gymnast. Her athletic achievements earned her access to some of the world’s most respected coaches. I cannot tell you how much I learned about the critical significance of “natural versus unnatural” use of our muscles…. just from observing her coaching sessions with these giants of the gymnastic world!