Nevertheless I think I can make a valuable contribution by writing this down, based on a thorough study of the relevant literature and my experience of over 20 years at the KC. The order of the twelve points formulated below is based on a certain logic as regards content, but should in no way be seen as a hierarchy of importance.
Putting the child in the middle
The challenge for the teacher is to help children develop into violinists using all the talents and abilities the child has and build further upon that. The child’s needs and ambitions are central. Of course, it is rewarding for a teacher to have successful students. However, the teacher’s primary ambition should not be to have success with his or her pupils, but to give the pupils maximal support in their development.
Every child is different, has his/her own abilities, challenges and preferences. Whenever necessary and possible, the teacher should be open to a tailor-made approach, responding to the specific situation of the individual student. This offers the best chances that the pupil is able to understand and do what is being asked and thus will be able to follow the path set by the teacher.
The child is not just a violin pupil but has a life outside the music, with family, school, friends etc. This influences the child in his/her violin playing, so it is important for the teacher to take that into consideration. Are there problems at home? Is the child busy for school? Is the child happy and healthy, and does he/she have free time to play with friends? The better the teacher knows this, the better he or she can guide the student in the violin education.
The pupil needs full confidence in the teacher. This is based on reciprocity. It helps the pupil to know that the teacher has confidence in him/her, knows his/her abilities, sees his/her efforts and commitment and accepts his/her shortcomings. On this basis you build a relationship of openness in which the children know they can always rely on the teacher and discuss their dreams and problems openly. Further to this, the teacher should also invest in a relationship with the parents, so that they are confident in the teacher’s approach and support this.
The path of training for expert violinists is long and demanding. The pupil will never succeed if the teacher is only kind and understanding. At the same time, the teacher has to be exacting, making clear what efforts are to be made in order to fulfill the child’s ambitions. If pupil and teacher have a relationship built on confidence, the child will not experience this as unpleasant austerity from the part of the teacher, but as a natural part of the deal.
Balanced approach of all elements of violin playing
It is a challenge for the teacher to make sure that all the different elements of violin playing are developed in parallel: left- and right-hand technique, understanding of music, sight-reading and playing by heart, performing for an audience, ensemble playing etc. There is always the risk for the teacher of focusing too much on one or two issues for short-term results, e.g. when the child is preparing for an exam or competition. This should, however, be of subordinate importance. The long-term vision of the teacher should be aimed at the education of an all-round musician.
Piece-meal approach based on repetition and structure
A child can concentrate on one thing at a time and gets easily frustrated when asked to do something he/she does not feel capable of doing. The teacher should offer the pupil the tasks piece-meal, working on all the different elements individually, building upon the abilities the child already has and thus guiding him/her step by step to a higher level. It is important that all the different elements are addressed on a regular basis and preferably in a fixed order, so that the child understands that everything is equally important – even if he/she can’t concentrate on everything at the same time – and that in the end everything will fall together.
Perhaps the most difficult part for the teacher is to be patient with the pupils. Often the skills a violinist has to acquire take years to develop. The fact that they understand what to do does not mean that they can perform right away. The teacher should always consider what can be realistically expected from the child at a certain level. As A. Einstein said: ‘Don’t judge a fish on his ability to climb a tree!’ Moreover, not only the speed of development is different from one child to an other, but also the order in which they are ready for certain aspects of violin playing. The teacher needs to be confident that, when all issues are properly addressed on a regular basis, in due course everything will fall in its place.
Building on the child’s experiences
Children in middle childhood are not yet capable of thinking in abstractions. Their perception of the world around them is quite different from that of adults. However, in spite of their young age they have already experienced many concrete things, in terms of colours and tastes, emotions, things that happened at home, at school or at the sports club, books they have read or films they have seen. Building upon that, the teacher can explain many seemingly more abstract issues, such as tone quality, phrasing, the character of music pieces etc.
Involvement of the pupil in the learning process
Children – as much as adults – learn the best on the basis of what they discover for themselves. Therefore, a teacher should involve the pupils as much as possible in their own learning process, by raising their awareness of what they are doing and for what reason. Speaking in questions is a very helpful method for this: what did you hear? what did you feel? what problem did you experience? how are you going to solve it? And before they start playing a piece: what are you going to concentrate on? When they play wrong notes, let them find out for themselves by listening or looking at the score. This strengthens their awareness but also their motivation and self-confidence. Making mistakes is not bad at all, and can be turned into a learning experience.
Sound as point of departure
In our western music culture we forget only too easily that music is about sound in the first place. Notation is a very useful means of preserving and transmitting music, and sight-reading is an important skill for expert musicians. Nevertheless, the teacher should always remain aware of the importance of teaching children to use their ears and take sound (and sound imagination) as point of departure for what they do. A child that has been trained solely to translate visual information into movements of the right arm and left hand, will not develop into an all-round musician.
Love for music
Last but not least, the primary and final objective of violin education should be to teach the child to play the violin and make music for its own sake, out of love for music. To become a happy musician, able to perform without fear of the audience or fear of the instrument. This intrinsic motivation should be stimulated and developed further by the teacher. The best guarantee for this is a teacher who is able to carry over his/her own love for music, for violin playing and teaching, to the students. Unfortunately, it happens too often that students, after many years of lessons and practice and after having reached a serious level, throw their instrument in a corner out of frustration never to touch it again. It is my firm belief that this can and should be avoided. And I am full of optimism at this point, because the love for music is certainly contagious!
chapter 4. conclusions