Teaching both violin and viola lessons has been a large part of my career for the past decade and a half, and for that I am very thankful. Most students do not enter their own education at a prestigious music school imagining that they will spend a large part of their adult lives teaching pre-college aged children, and I would have included myself in that category when I was an 18 year old at the Eastman School of Music. I had taught some violin and viola lessons as a high schooler, but in my 3rd year at Eastman I began to teach children and teenagers more regularly. Being from a small town in Oregon, I had limited exposure to professional musicians, and no viola teacher in town. I missed out on gaining a good technical foundation early in life. The upside to this is that I learned many more of the basic techniques of violin and viola playing in my teenage years at music camps and in college when I was much more aware of what I was learning and how. I find great joy in explaining the same concepts in dozens of different ways to students of all ages, finding that moment when the technique “clicks” for them and great strides are made in a single lesson. In music lessons I feel there should be a balance between making visible improvement in the lesson and taking home the work to review, study and improve on the student’s own time. Learning how to teach and discuss with my students how to practice has been a big improvement in my own teaching the past several years. Having clear goals to aim for and expectations for every lesson keep students organized and on track.
I am fortunate that even in my small town, my first violin teacher had a lovely musical personality and was a great classical music enthusiast. From the first moment I picked up a violin there was always a feeling of shared joy and happiness with my teacher simply to be playing music. I have worked hard in my own teaching to make sure that I am always communicating with my students what a privilege it is that we get to play music, and to make sure that while it is so easy to get caught up with technical endeavors in violin or viola playing, we always spend an equal amount of time figuring out what it is that we want to communicate to our audience through the music that we play. There is simply no point in playing the instrument without putting our real energy and feelings into what we do. Let us not forget that what we get to do all day with our instruments, after all, is “play”. I have used several different method books with my younger students, often choosing between Shirley Givens and Sassmannshaus for the youngest of age, Suzuki, Mark O’Connor tunes and Essential Elements. Usually I will choose a primary method depending on the personality and learning style of the student and supplement with a few songs or exercises from other books to keep us well-rounded. I have my students keep any extra copies of music in a 3-ring notebook or folder to keep things organized. I take notes on each student in every lesson to help me remember what we have worked on and if there is anything I need to bring or prepare for our next lesson. At times a student will come to me with music they have downloaded online, a rock song or Lindsey Stirling piece that they would like to learn. As long as the work is reasonably within reach for them, I will indulge the student and help them with these works, usually as as extra piece, while they stay focused with their scales, etudes and repertoire. For advanced students, I have technique books by Louis Kievman and Simon Fischer which I love to use for the basic mechanics of playing, along with the usual Sevcik, Flesch and Galamian scales and exercises. I am particularly fond of working on solo Bach works at all times with violin and viola students as soon as they are ready. I have studied all of the standard viola repertoire including the Bartok, Hindemith and Walton concertos, and much of the standard violin repertoire such as the Mozart, Mendelssohn, Bruch, and Tchaikovsky concertos. I am comfortable with any repertoire that a student needs to work on and happy to learn new works as well, as contemporary performance has always been a huge focus of mine. Comes with the territory as a viola player!
Playing music is a privilege and teaching music perhaps an even more important one. We are building not only our future players, but also enhancing our culture, creating an audience for our art. Classical music has always seemed under threat because of the delicate reality of arts funding, but one would never have reason to be pessimistic considering the number of students who sign up for music lessons. Children are drawn to playing music and parents know that it is learning an instrument is a valuable skill and experience. I am thankful to be a part of that process for each and every student that I cross paths with, and I look forward to sharing this experience with my students for many years to come.