Chapter 3: The Practice of Violin Teaching in Middle Childhood


3.1 Introduction

Before explaining my ideas about violin teaching to children I should answer the preliminary question: what are my objectives with my young violin students? It is no use talking about the ‘how?’ if you can’t answer the “why?’, because the first follows from the last.

My objective and ambition is to help my students develop into all-round violinists and musicians, who understand their instrument, understand the music they are playing and understand the processes of deliberate practice and performing for an audience. All students are different and will develop in different ways. There is not a single mould that can be used for all of them. I want them all to develop on the basis of their personal skills and qualities, and therefore I demand an attitude of commitment to use and develop their personal skills to the maximum. In the end, they must be able to perform as violinists and be able to teach themselves in their further development. For me as a teacher it is of less importance whether they end up as professional musicians or teachers, or will find other ways to earn their living. What counts is that they are good and happy violinists, who love music and continue to play the violin as an important element of their life. Thus they can be the ambassadors for music in the next generation and help to maintain an important aspect of the cultural life of our society.

Music education for children serves broader objectives than only the acquisition of the skills needed for an adult expert musician. It teaches them planning skills, concentration and discipline. They learn to think about what they are doing, why and how, and to be alert to their results, adapting their actions where necessary. Music education teaches them how to convey a message to an audience and how to perform in public. Being able to play together and listen and react to one another provides a good basis for co-operation in other domains. And, of special importance in the modern era of overexposure to rapidly alternating stimuli, it teaches them that it can be worthwhile to spend time and energy on something even if the reward will not always come immediately. All these factors give an added legitimation to music education. However, they do not influence directly my methods, so I will not refer to them in what follows below.

In this chapter I want to explain how more than 20 years of experience as a violin teacher of young children, supported by theoretical knowledge as explained in chapter 2, have been translated into my teaching methods. Once you start analysing you realize that everything is related to everything. The development of right- and left-hand technique is about the development of motor skills, but even so much about cognitive skills. The child has to learn and understand what to do and how to do it, and how to practise deliberately in order to improve the own skills. In the development of both motor and cognitive skills, it is very helpful to use the social dimension of group lessons. And thus, all the different aspects of violin playing – and teaching – influence one another and depend on one another. Nevertheless, it is important to distinguish between all these different dimensions of violin playing when analysing your teaching methods, just as much as children have to learn to distinguish between the different mutually interfering elements of playing. Only in that way they can focus and improve their skills. And why would not that be true for teachers as well?

One more general remark I wish to add here about my objectives for the violin training of young children, is the notion that at the end of middle childhood inevitably comes the transition to adolescence. A new stage in their development, with often rapid changes in their physical and mental state, which may turn their lives upside down for quite some time. If possible, at this moment they should have a sound technological basis and a good general understanding of music and violin playing. If that is the case, probably violin playing is already so much a part of their life and self-image, that they can survive this tempestuous period and will soon be able to devote their attention to the new challenges of violin playing for which they are now more receptive: emotional expression, tone quality and the further perfection of their technique.

Below I will treat the different aspects of children’s development in the practice of violin teaching in the same order as in chapter 2: motor development (3.2), cognitive development (3.3) and social development, also from the perspective of group lessons (3.4), followed by paragraphs on deliberate practice (3.5) and motivation (3.6). I have added special paragraphs on the role of parents (3.7) and on the role of the teacher (3.8).


next



Posture and relaxation

Given the physical nature of playing an instrument, it goes without saying that a good, balanced posture of the student is of primary importance. The child should feel comfortable when playing, without any tension beyond what is needed for performing the right movements of arms and fingers. Therefore, it is important that the child does not feel fear, but feels at ease with the instrument, as if it were an extension of the body. How understandable it may be, it is rather counterproductive when teachers or parents tell the child too often to be cautious with the instrument.

Below: playing with the violin may include putting it to bed.

For learning how it feels to have a good, sufficiently relaxed posture, it is useful to ask children to move around while they are playing: walking on the pulse, or deliberately off the pulse, so that they learn to feel the correlation between physical movements and the rhythm and metre of the music. If they are too tense, you can ask them to stop playing and wave their arms, jump, walk around etc. There is a good chance that they will feel but also hear the difference when they start playing again. Such exercises meet the need of children to move around. Moreover, multitasking in the sense of making movements (walking around, bending the knees etc.) while playing is a good way of developing automation. Exercises in which notes are alternated with rests can be another method of teaching awareness of tension and relaxation. Not in the last place, it can be helpful to draw children’s attention to their breathing. A good, regular breathing helps to concentrate the physical effort on the right activity.

It is of paramount importance for a healthy development of the child, both physically and mentally, that the child is allowed to be a child indeed. They have to play outside with friends, run and jump and be happy without feeling obligations. They need free time to recover from the stress that school, the violin study and all the other obligations of life put upon their young shoulders. Without proper relaxation in due time, there is a good chance that the child will not be able to learn how to play without too much tension either. And a healthy, happy child is much more receptive to the many challenges of violin education.

Bowing technique

The right-arm technique is the basis of violin playing. Without bowing there is no sound (except for pizzicato). It is important that the child, in spite of all the attention needed for the left hand, never forgets this elementary fact. Unfortunately, it happens too often that so much attention is given to left-hand technique that the bowing is seriously neglected.

Children must learn to really feel how they move their arm, wrist and fingers and how this relates to the resulting sound. They can be taught to bow in a straight line by verbal instruction or by looking into the mirror, but nothing is more instructive than when they hear the result in sound quality for themselves.

There are many different aspects of bowing technique that all have to be addressed on a regular basis: bow division and speed, bow changes, staccato and martelé, change of string, playing crescendo or diminuendo, playing at the frog or the point, sul tasto or sul ponticello, etc. The golden rule is to teach them awareness of what they are doing, how it feels and how it sounds. This takes time to develop, so the keyword for the teacher is patience, and not perfection.

Children do not think in abstract terms the way adults do. Making ‘a beautiful sound’ does not make sense to many younger children. They can however distinguish different sound qualities and relate them to concrete things in their own world: emotions (angry, amorous) or taste (a child that is fond of chocolate understands pretty well what it is to bow ‘with a mouth full of chocolate’). Some children in middle childhood have a natural ease with bowing – and a corresponding sound – while others need much more time. Some children are very much aware of their own sound – even to the point of frustration – while others do not really bother yet. There is no ‘one size fits all’-method. The teacher has to to treat every student on an individual basis.

Left-hand technique

The development of the left-hand technique has its own challenges. The greatest risk is here that the child learns that it is ‘difficult’: intonation, playing in different positions, position changes, vibrato. And to add to their misery, they have to practise scales, arpeggios, double stops and boring studies. The way to avoid this is actually quite simple. From the very first beginning, they must experience that it is fun to play the violin. Playing scales or arpeggios can be fun if the child is challenged to focus on one specific issue and experiences progress. Developing vibrato can be fun as well: challenge them to think of a word with many syllables and play it on one bow, and then make the word even longer. Especially in group lessons, such a playful approach can be very effective and stimulating.

Training the left hand is a way of condition training, aimed at the development of strength, flexibility and independence of the individual fingers. Especially with the youngest children I use a lot of funny exercises for the fingers that they can practise without the violin. The children enjoy this and it makes them aware of how it feels to move the fingers independently from one another. By the way, this kind of finger exercises can be equally useful for the right hand.




For the development of left-hand flexibility it is important that the child feels at ease in all the different positions. They can start playing all over the violin at a young age. They can discover that they can play a tune they know in different positions, on different strings and in different keys. This helps them in developing a sense of freedom on the violin: they want to play a melody and the violin is their obedient instrument. At the same time, they experience that they may have to use other fingerings etc. and thus realize the finger memory they can rely upon when they play the tune in its original version. This also helps them to develop a sense of relationship between notes and their place on the violin, without thinking in terms of notation, position or fingering. And as much for the left-hand as for the right-hand technique, the fundamental issue is to teach the children to proceed from sound (imagination) to movement, and not the other way round.

next

 



This does not mean repeating the same studies and exercises again and again. The teacher can offer them new studies for practising the same technical skills. Bow exercises can be played on different scales or melodies, etc. In this way you can find a balance between continuity and variation. The child does not have to get bored or frustrated. On the contrary, the child can enjoy playing so many different studies and progressing quickly through his books. The challenge for the teacher is to concentrate on just one or two issues that the child has to work on in this specific study or exercise and refrain from demanding the child’s attention for too many things at the same time (sound, intonation, musical expression etc.). This asks for patience from the side of the teacher - addressing all the relevant issues, but one at a time - and a long-term ambition. In other words: the confidence that if all the technical aspects are addressed and properly exercised, in the end everything will fall in its place.

Above: Marcel playing a technical bowing exercise; it sounds rather boring, but his dedication speaks from the stickers he attached to his bow for the right bow division (video)

Below: A totally different Marcel here, playing Elgar full of musical expression (video).

In essence, playing an instrument is about producing sounds with body movements. The training should be directed at learning how to make the right movements with your arms and fingers at the right moment and listening to the results. This is about developing strength and accuracy, but also about responsiveness and understanding the relation between your movements and the sounds you produce on your instrument.

3.2 Motor development in practice

In middle childhood children have an enormous motor drive. This can be very useful for developing a sound technical basis in violin playing, if this drive is channelledin the right way. The teacher has to guide them in this process, by constantly addressing all the different aspects of motor skills in violin playing: right-hand technique, left-hand technique, and a good, balanced and flexible position, without any unnecessary tension. At the same time, the teacher must make sure that the child takes one step at a time. A child has to concentrate on concrete tasks that he/she can understand and that are within his/her reach.

In physical terms, the development of violin technique is about the development of myelin (see chapter 2.2), or in other words automation of movements. This entails that repetition is important. Repetition is a keyword for the acquisition of skills and this is equally true for learning to play the violin. Most children in middle childhood really like to repeat things they know they can do well; this gives them self-confidence. So the trick is for the teacher to make them feel and understand what they have to do in the lessons, so that they can repeat this at home.

3.3 Cognitive development in practice

At the beginning of middle childhood children enter a new phase in their cognitive development, which allows them to learn many new things. They have increased abilities to understand and analyse complex issues, they have increased memory skills, they develop meta-cognition etc. All this is very helpful and necessary for the development of the cognitive skills they need for violin playing. However, there are some caveats to be taken into consideration.

In the first place, the teacher must realize that these new skills do not appear out of the blue. It is a process of many years, in which the child develops new abilities. These can be turned into new skills by training, but that needs to be guided by a teacher who understands the actual level of cognitive development of the child. Building upon that, step by step, the student can reach higher levels of understanding and improved skills. However, nothing is more frustrating for a child than to be asked to do something he/she is not (yet) able to do. It is the teacher’s task to lead the way and determine what steps are to be taken.

In the second place, although in theory the development of children follows more or less the same path, in practice no child is alike. They all have different speeds, different specific abilities and constraints, and more than once, the order in which the diverse elements of cognition develop in a child differs from the average. One child loves puzzling and is eager to find out fingerings for arpeggios on the violin. An other child is fascinated by the sound of the violin and is willing to pay attention to his/her bowing in a manner that is ahead of others. It is important that the teacher is aware of these specificities and does not apply a ‘one-size-fits-all’-method on all children alike. The child’s specific abilities are the teacher’s working material and point of departure.

It may be useful for the teacher to be aware of the parallels with the learning career of children at primary school. In the first years of middle childhood, most of the attention at school goes to learning to read and write, arithmetic, and learning of some general facts (e.g. geography), supported by memory training. In continuation of this, they will be challenged to move on to the solving of problems, creative expression, co-operating etc. All this includes a lot of repetition and training, and the child is given many years for this learning process. There is no reason to think that the cognitive training of young musicians should be that much different.

The cognitive dimension of music education is very broad and contains many diverse elements. At the same time, none of these elements can be treated in total isolation. Everything is somehow related to many other aspects. Below, I will treat a range of relevant aspects, from the understanding of the violin and understanding of music to more general elements such as performing in public and coping with failure.

Understanding the violin

Many of the aspects of violin playing, the bowing and left-hand technique, the position of body, fingers and arms etc. are primarily physical and have been treated in chapter 3.2. However, there is also a cognitive side to it, that has to be developed parallel to the motor skills. The child has to learn to play, feel the movements and hear the sound, but must also understand what he/she is doing.

As for the bowing,  from a young age a child can be taught to understand and hear the difference between the different techniques: playing at the frog or at the point, sul tasto or sul ponticello, bowing with different speed or articulation. It does not have to be perfect at once, but it is important that the child learns what it is doing from the very beginning. Giving them the tools  does not mean that they can perform right away. However, once they master the techniques, they will also understand how they can use them to their benefit. In other words, in the course of time they will learn to see technique not as the object of boring assignments but as an extension of their scope of expression on the violin.

The same holds true for the left-hand technique. When they are challenged to play in many different positions from a relatively young age, they experience that playing in positions is an enlargement of their freedom to produce different notes all over the violin, instead of a burdensome strait-jacket, consisting of many different obstacles that have to be mastered one by one. From a young age I ask them to perform melodies they know in different keys, at different places on the violin. At this stage they do not yet need to know in what position they are playing. It is just about having them experience the scope of their violin.

Once we start talking about different positions, I prefer to introduce playing in the 2nd and 3rd position in parallel. And from the same moment I have them do exercises with change of position over the range of at least an octave. In this way they become flexible in switching between positions, not only in the motorial but also in the cognitive sense. Practising the same studies in different positions can also be very useful. Thus they develop a good understanding of where all the notes can be found on the violin.

Notation, sight-reading and playing by heart

At the age children learn reading and writing at school, they are also ready to learn staff-notation. It is important to keep the parallel in mind. The children have already learnt to speak the language and now they learn how to read and write it down, using the alphabet. Music notation is no more difficult than that. First there was music – all children know a lot of songs, and some of them, e.g. those that started at the PIVO class of the KC, already learnt to play without notation - and now they acquire the means to write it down and read it back. From the very beginning they should realize that music is about sound – in reality or in your imagination – and notation is just a way of remembering and preserving the music.

Writing and reading of music can be taught in a playful manner. Children love to write down melodies they know – or made up themselves – and to play from their own notation. Especially rhythmic notation makes much more sense to them once they have experienced what it is to write down a rhythm you have in your mind. It can also be very stimulating and instructive to cut a melody they have written down into small pieces, out of which they can form other melodies. In this way they acquire a solid fundamental understanding of notation.

Once they have learnt to read from notation, they have to ‘make many miles’ in order to develop their sight-reading skills. Investing in sight-reading already from this young age gives the violinist an advantage for the rest of his/her career. Too many violinists that started their first years of violin lessons on a strictly aural basis never fully acquired the ease of sight-reading, and rely too heavily on playing by memory. This is however a serious handicap that can and should be avoided at all costs. Practice and experience is the only answer here. This is one of the reasons that I have my students play a lot of pieces and studies, instead of repeating the same pieces over and over again until perfection.

At first sight it may seem paradoxical, but at the same time children learn to read from notation and develop sight-reading skills, they must also be trained to play by heart. Actually, it is not that paradoxical, since it is based on the same philosophy: notation is only a means to memorize and transmit a piece of music, but once you know the piece you don’t need the score anymore. Of course, this is easier said than done, but experience shows that children can be trained to memorize and play by heart with amazing ease if they have been doing this from the very beginning.

Scales and harmony

At the beginning of middle childhood, children have already developed a good ear for the scales of modern Western music. They have to learn that the scales are built with whole steps and semi-steps, but it is most instructive – and motivating – when they are asked to figure out for themselves how this alternation of smaller and larger intervals works. It gives them self-confidence when they experience that they can rely on their ears for finding the right notes. On this basis they can work through the different scales, always the same ‘melody’ and often the same fingerings. As a first step, they will learn that the places of the sharps and flats are dictated by the melody. They will understand by now that these follow from the scale and can always be figured out. Of course, it saves time when they know this by heart, so the next step is learning to memorize the sharps or flats of the scales. Then they can be taught to look at the sharps and flats at the beginning of a music piece to understand in what key it is written.

 

https://media.researchcatalogue.net/rc/cache/9421/94212733a08af8b2bd9535e6ce31d525.pngPractising double stops from a young age is very important. I have my students play octaves, thirds and sixths, but also primes and – if their hands are big enough – tenths. This is useful for both the development of the left hand and the bowing technique, but moreover it teaches them the place of the different notes of the scale on the violin in relation to one another. In the case of thirds, sixths and tenths, I prefer them to play the alternation of major and minor intervals on the basis of their ears, and not by memorizing by heart the order of major and minor thirds etc. Thus they are trained from a young age to play on the basis of sound imagination and have their fingers respond to that, instead of the other way round.


Left: Job playing arpeggios over four octaves; he figured the fingerings out for himself (video).


In the same way, I have them exercise arpeggios, triads but also seventh chords, by listening to the intervals. Some children love to figure out for themselves the fingerings, something I encourage, because it strengthens the aural orientation in the development of left-hand technique and the understanding that finding the right fingerings is instrumental, instead of fingerings being an aim in itself.

During middle childhood, children develop a sense of harmony according to the Western classical music idiom. They learn to recognise which notes fit or do not fit within the harmony. They can be taught the general principles of consonance versus dissonance, the functioning of the harmony at the end of a phrase (dominant to tonic chord), etc. However, at this age it is not necessary that they have a full understanding of all details of harmony. It is more important that they learn to use their ears and recognize certain patterns.

Intonation

Intonation is one of the biggest challenges of violin technique. A violinist is only too often judged primarily on the basis of his/her ability to play in tune. This is understandable, because an expert violinist is expected to possess good intonation skills. The public does not appreciate listening to a musician who is playing heavily out of tune. However, there is a great risk in devoting too much attention to intonation in the education of young violinists. It is the challenge for the teacher to make a clear difference between the development of the child’s ability to hear and recognize correct intonation on the one hand and the ability to perform with correct intonation on the violin on the other hand. Both have to be developed from the beginning, but should be seen as separate tracks that come together in the end if both tracks are followed successfully.

My point of departure is that beginning young violinists already have a basic idea of proper intonation. They can recognize two notes as being of the same pitch and soon can learn to recognize consonant intervals in correct intonation. This aspect needs to be given attention consistently from the beginning. They can be taught to use harmonics or open strings to check their intonation. They can learn to listen to the resonance of the notes they are playing in combination with the open strings or – in ensemble playing – the other instruments. Thus, they can gradually develop a more accurate sense of intonation.

However, it is basically wrong to judge every note they play from the perspective of intonation. Too early focusing on perfection of intonation impedes the development of a flexible left-hand technique. Violin technique consists of many different elements which the child has to learn to master all. A child can concentrate only at one thing at the same time. The teacher has to realize this and be patient with the student. Bowing, fingerings, changes of position etc. are all different elements that the teacher has to work on with the student. When doing an exercise for bowing technique, the child cannot give equal attention to intonation. The same is true for left-hand exercises. Teacher and student are working together in the construction of the different building blocks that in the end will lead to master skills.

Right: an early performance of Pieter, very concentrated, but not on intonation (video).

As a matter of course, one of these building blocks is intonation, for which the teacher can give specific exercises. A good method is asking pupils to sing a melody, an interval etc. before playing. This makes them aware of the importance of sound imagination and pitch accuracy. Playing a beautiful slow melody that allows the student to focus on intonation is also helpful. Changing of roles, in which the student is the teacher and can correct (deliberately) badly tuned notes of the teacher, can also be very instructive. It is a playful way of teaching children to listen and rely on what they hear. However, the teacher should be aware that the fine motor skills necessary for correct intonation take years to develop. Even if the child is able to hear what the correct pitch is, this does not mean that he/she can perform accordingly right away.

Of primary importance is that the child develops a sense of control for all the different elements independently, so that in the end everything comes together. And this sense of control can only be developed if the child develops the skills without fear of making mistakes or playing out of tune. The ideal recipe for training professional intonation skills consists of four elements: a flexible left-hand technique, with a good hand position and flexible movement of the arm and hand around the violin; a good basic sense of intonation; confidence in the own skills, enabling the child to play without fear or too much tension; and – growing with the years – a listening attitude which helps the fingers to respond to the imagination of correct pitch. With all this, a good foundation is given for further fine-tuning in a next phase.

It may be helpful to compare playing the violin to singing. For a singer intonation is equally important, but singers do not think in terms of fingerings or positions. Pitch and intervals are the only things that matter. For a violinist, this is rather comparable, with the difference that he/she has different positions and fingers at his disposal, that enable him/her to produce the correct pitch in the most efficient way. As a means, however, not as an objective in itself.

Expression

Musical expression is not something that is just there. But it can be learnt and taught in many different ways. When children understand that music is about telling a story, it is only a small step to understanding what musical expression is about. It is important, however, to build upon their own imagination. If for example they have made up a fairy story involving a witch, they may indicate to you the place where the witch is entering the scene. You can ask them how to make this turn in the story audible to the audience. This makes them think about the means for expression they have at their disposal: a different bowing, change of dynamics or tempo, or whatever. What counts is, that they realize that all these different musical and technical elements they have been taught, can serve the purpose of telling the story of the music.

In this way they learn that each piece has its own character, either sad or cheerful, dramatic or playful. Expressions such as ‘allegro’ and ‘adagio’ are not only technical terms to be learnt, but may appeal to their imagination by indicating to them what the story of the piece might be. At a more sophisticated level, children can be taught some rules that add to their expressivity: a lively piece of Haydn becomes more expressive with overpunctuation, a piece of Telemann more elegant with the right trills and a Hungarian dance of Brahms more romantic with vibrato. However, at this age it is important to remain within the child’s own world of imagination.


Improvisation

A useful way of training their sense of musical expression is improvisation. This can be done most successfully in group lessons. Children like to make up stories and tell them on their violin. They experience that they have to think about how to express their story on their instrument, using the different means at their disposal. And because in group lessons they are both performer and listener, they realize even more how important it is that the audience understands the story they are telling. This can be very instructive and can give very surprising results.






Further to the development of musical expression, improvisation is also a good method of giving children an understanding of musical structures and notation. Faced with the task to learn by heart or write down little compositions of their own making, they learn from direct experience that it may be helpful to construct the music on the basis of repetition of certain elements (motives or phrases) and experience how it feels to translate music into notation.

Analysis of pieces of music

Already in middle childhood a start can be made with analysing pieces of music. Children understand the parallel with language, spoken or written, consisting of separate sentences which together form the message, the story. They enjoy the task of finding the sentences in a piece of music, preferably together in group lessons. Music is in itself rather abstract, which is a challenge for children of this age. Children are very much visually oriented. They see and try to draw what they see. As soon as they can hold a pencil they start drawing pictures. I use this in my lessons by asking them to draw pictures of pieces of music they are playing. This turns out to be very instructive.


 

Below: the wall of my class-room, full with drawings made by my pupils

At Jong KC ensemble playing is an important part of the curriculum. The young students have weekly rehearsals with piano correpetitors, ensemble lessons and orchestra class and further to that they sing in the choir, which is also very helpful for developing the skills of an all-round musician. And of course, we practise a lot of ensemble playing in the group lessons.

The essential element of ensemble playing is that every single part is only part of a larger whole. It is the whole ensemble that makes the music sound and the individual parts can only contribute to the collective performance if the players realize they have a shared responsibility. Therefore, you cannot start early enough in teaching young musicians this aspect of music making.

Ensemble playing entails listening to your own part in the broader context of the ensemble. This means responding to what is happening around you. Sometimes it means catching up with mistakes of your partner. But more importantly, it is about understanding your own notes in relation to the other parts, and at a more sophisticated level responding to crescendos or accelerandos of other players, adapting your intonation, articulation, dynamics etc. It takes years to fully develop these skills, but the foundation must be laid from the very first start.

Listening to the others while playing your own part must become fully natural for these young violinists. Equally important is that they gradually develop a feeling for the different roles that can be distinguished in the ensemble: the leading melody (not always in the 1st violin part!), a supporting base line, the harmonic or rhythmic function of intermediate parts etc. And all these roles can change between the parts during the piece. Children can be taught that this is the fun of making music together.

In group lessons we work on this also by inventing second part melodies or base lines on the basis of a given melody. This is very instructive for the children. And in ensemble playing we switch roles wherever possible, so that the children experience how it feels to play the different roles. Especially for those who might already have the ambition to become a real ‘primarius’ it is essential to have experienced the interplay of the different parts from different positions. Hardly anything is more painful than hearing a professional violinist perform as a real soloist when his notes ask him to be modestly supportive to the part of the piano or other ensemble partners.


Other aspects of cognitive development

In addition to the understanding of music and the technique of the violin, there are other cognitive aspects that need to be addressed in the education of violinists. These aspects rely on the child’s increased ability for meta-cognition: to think about who they are and who they want to be; to see themselves in comparison with others; to cope with difficult challenges and failure; and to present themselves to an audience. Middle childhood is a period when all this can be developed, but here again the guiding and supporting hand of the teacher is indispensable.

Learning to play the violin is already quite a challenge for young children, but learning how to practise is an additional challenge of equal importance. More about this will be said in chapter 3.5 (deliberate practice).

In middle childhood children develop a new sense of identity. They start thinking about who they are or want to be; they develop dreams and ambitions, also related to the violin; and at the same time they are confronted with where they stand now. I will come back to this in chapter 3.6 (motivation).

More than in young childhood, children in middle childhood compare themselves to others. They are confronted with the dynamics of social groups and the tendency to create a hierarchy within the group. Group lessons are the place where they can learn how to cope with that and how to use the dynamics of the group to their advantage, in a non-competitive, co-operative and constructive way (see chapter 3.4).

Although I try to teach the children from the beginning that playing the violin and making music is fun and not something to be afraid of, and that that practising at home can be rewarding and enjoyable if done in the right way, inevitably there will be moments that the child is disappointed with him/herself, frustrated about a perceived lack of progress or below-standard performance. It is important that the teacher takes these moments very serious, because if treated in the right manner, these can be very instructive for the child to acquire new insight in the process of learning. I remember a student that apologized for a perceived bad performance in the previous week. When I asked her why she had expected to perform better, knowing she had had a very busy week at school, she realized that she had expected too much from herself. And I complemented her for having had the courage to perform anyhow after such a busy week.

Performing for an audience is an essential element of the young musician’s education. My students get a lot of opportunities to perform, in performance classes, exams, concerts etc. When they start doing this from a young age, they have an enormous advantage compared to people who never performed during childhood. Nevertheless, the unconcerned attitude with which many young children can perform in public, without fear to fail and enjoying to play for others, does not automatically remain the same through the years. They learn better to listen to themselves and to judge their own performance. This entails that they become more aware of the fact that they might fail. In particular in the last phase of middle childhood, when they approach adolescence, this might develop into performance anxiety. This should – and can – be avoided if handled in the right way.

It takes renewed efforts of encouragement and affirmation from the side of the teacher to help the student to restore his/her self-confidence. However, this will no longer be the spontaneous unconcern of the young child. In its place comes self-confidence at a higher cognitive level, based on the understanding that a good performance depends on the combination of good preparation and the right balance between concentration and relaxation during the performance.


next

Some pieces lend themselves specifically well to this purpose, e.g. Wohlfahrt op. 45 study nr. 1, the Rondo of Rieding and the Frog Dance of Carse. The children show great creativity in this work, drawing pictures or whole strip cartoons.

Above: Drawing made by Hadewych of the Rondo of Rieding

Below: Above: analysis of Wohlfahrt study in strip cartoons


 

By making up little stories of what the music is about, they relate the music to their daily live and it is not that abstract any more. They may use different colours for the different phrases in the piece. They learn that phrases are often repeated, either unchanged – e.g. in the Rondo – or in slightly different form, mostly with a different ending. In this way they get acquainted with the basic elements of musical structures and phrasing in a playful and not too abstract manner.

Children experience that by analysing their pieces in this way, they also find it much easier to play the same pieces by heart. Often, they do not need to make any efforts at all for learning the piece by heart, because they have already internalized the whole piece by analysing its construction.

Left: analysis of the Frog Dance in colours

Ensemble playing

Of all the pieces these young violinists are going to play in the course of their career, only a small part is for solo violin. Ensemble playing, whether in chamber music, in an orchestra or otherwise, is an essential part of music making and therefore should be an essential part of music education from the very first beginning.

 

Left: a young quartet playing Elgar (video).

Left: Anna playing the Frog Dance by heart, with the help of the previous analysis of the piece on paper (video).

Pupils in group lesson, improvising a melody in the format of ‘Ik ga op reis’ (video).

Of course, ensemble playing is an important element of these group lessons, as is improvisation. The children like to tell stories to one another on their instrument, to argue with one another or make jokes on their violin. It makes them freer, more expressive and more responsive on the violin. The young students really look forward to the group lessons, also for social reasons and this contributes significantly to their motivation.

An additional benefit of group lessons is that the children get used to playing for others from the very first beginning. As a result they are far less likely to develop performance anxiety at a later age. This is a very valuable element in the training of young musicians, because an uncontrollable degree of performance anxiety can nullify many hours of practice.

Preferably I treat the same issues in the individual lessons that have come along or will come along in the group lessons. Thus the individual lessons and group lessons are mutually reinforcing, and this combination allows me to give some more specific individual attention where needed.

3.4 Social development in practice

In middle childhood children enter anew phase in which they become much more aware of themselves in relation to other children. They develop a new sense of identity and compare themselves to their age-mates. This can lead to competitive behaviour or, perhaps worse, feelings of inferiority. On the other hand, their ripening social orientation also stimulates their openness to co-operation and consideration for others. In the education of young violinists this new orientation can be used to the benefit of their development as musicians.

Below: pupils in group lesson, walking around and playing in canon (video).

Playing melodies they know by heart in other keys or changing from flat to sharp, is also something that can be fruitfully done in group lessons. And boring exercises for bowing technique or vibrato can be fun in group lessons. For example, I challenge the children to increase the number of repeated notes they can play on one bow or the number of vibrato movements on a long note. The children like it and see the fun of making boring exercises interesting this way. And when I finish such an exercise by asking them to play a piece of music where this skill can be applied, they appreciate finding out that they really hear or feel improvement.








At Jong KC all students participate in group lessons, consisting of small groups of children of more or less the same age and level. These group lessons are in addition to the individual lessons (twice a week). I will not enter here into the discussion whether it is possible and desirable to teach young violinists in group lessons exclusively, but on the basis of my experience I am fully convinced that the combination of individual and group lessons is the optimal approach. It offers the advantages of both: individual lessons where you can address the specific abilities and challenges of the child and give the child the personal attention and support he/she needs; and the group lessons, where the children can learn a lot from one another and where many aspects can be taught in a more practical, efficient manner.

As Vygotsky explained in his theory of the ‘zone of proximal development’ (see chapter 2.4), children can make a next step in their development more easily when they are interacting with others who are more competent. In the group lessons you see the amazing result of this in practice. When the difference in skills between the children are relatively small, the example of one is an encouragement for the others.

Below: doing exercises on a selfmade melody (video).

In group lessons but also in the frequent performance classes the students are taught to give feedback to one another and receive the feedback from their age-mates. This is a very useful element of these classes, for the students and the teacher. The students learn to listen attentively to one another, which also helps them to listen more critically to their own playing. They learn to give constructive feedback that really helps the other student, but also makes them more aware of their own ideas about violin playing. And it helps them appreciate the qualities of others, realising that everyone has his/her own strengths and weaknesses. Thus they learn that there is nothing wrong in receiving the feedback from their fellow students either, as long as they understand that this is given from a constructive and positive attitude. Finally, it is also very instructive for the teacher to see how children explain in their own words the different aspects of violin playing. Sometimes the children find even better words for the problem because they fully understand what the other child is experiencing.

Group lessons are also the ideal place for many of the exercises and plays I mentioned in the paragraphs above. In the group the children feel safe and happy and this makes them very  receptive to the many things we have to work on. We sing a lot together. Young children enjoy singing, they know a lot of song melodies and this gives a good point of departure for explaining the different elements of music. We make drawings and tell stories on the basis of the pieces of music. We practice writing down the music in staff-notation and cut the melodies into pieces in order to make new melodies from these elements. I have them move on the beat of the music – or off-beat – and to make things even more complicated, I let them play and sing in canon with themselves and the others, thus developing multitasking skills and automation.

Below: Laura and Adinda playing and singing in canon in four parts (video).

3.5 Deliberate practice in and between the lessons

Practising at home is an essential element of the education of young musicians. Without making many hours of practice they will never acquire the skills needed for a professional musician (cf. chapter 2.6). However, practising at home is perhaps the most vulnerable part of their education. Especially at the beginning of middle childhood children have no idea what deliberate practice is about. They have to be taught, step by step, how to work at home in a productive way.

Rule number one is that they have to understand their homework assignments: what they have to do, how and why. A child cannot concentrate on many things at the same time. This is even more so for their practice at home, without the guiding hand of the teacher being directly present. For every part of their homework, they have to know on what to focus. When they practise a study for bowing technique, their primary focus should be on their right arm. When playing a study for the training of reading in new positions, their attention should be with their left hand. And when they study a beautiful melody, they should primarily listen to the sound and hear how their bowing and vibrato can support the expression of the music. When they come to the next lesson and show what they have being doing at home, it is important that the teacher keeps the same focus and concentrates on those aspects the child was supposed to be working on.

An important part of practice is repetition: training the movements of right and left hand technique until they feel natural and easy. This will not happen in one week. It takes many years. But every week the child has to work on it. This entails that the child can only practise fruitfully when he/she feels capable of what he/she is doing: repetition is about practising what you can do, not practising what you can’t do. When children have to practise at home something that they don’t master yet, they get frustrated, simply give up and think they are incapable. The result is a child that does not want to practise at home, comes to the lessons unprepared and loses motivation. To be more precise, this does not mean that everything they practise at home has to be under control already. Quite the contrary, trying and floundering is allowed, as long as the child understands what he/she is trying to do, knows that it is within reach and is able to solve the problems encountered.

If they have to practise a new element of technique at home, it is elementary that you have already worked on that in the lesson. Once they begin to understand what it is about, they can take it up at home. In the next lesson you can see how far they have got and build further on that. In this way there is a mutually reinforcing relation between the lessons and practice at home. Children prepare the lessons at home, and in the lessons they prepare what they are going to do at home in the following week. This approach is essentially different from an approach of checking whether the child has done his/her homework properly. Teacher and pupil work together, week by week, step by step. The teacher may trust the student that he/she will do his/her best at home and the child will see homework as part of the deal and wishes to show the teacher that he/she deserves the teacher’s confidence.

Homework assignments should be clear and as concrete as possible. I do not only tell them what to do, but also discuss how they can organize their homework: how often, how long, at what moments of the day and in what order. And I try to involve them in this. I ask them what I have to write down in their diary in such a way that they understand it and remember at home what we had been discussing and working on. Preferably, I ask them to write down in their diary what they have been doing and which problems they faced. In this way, gradually the child becomes more aware of the objectives of practice and gets more capable of deliberate practice.

I try to maintain a balance between old and new elements in the homework. Repeating studies or other pieces for another week gives them self-confidence and may also help to lower the threshold for starting to practise. New pieces are also stimulating, because it gives them the feeling they are making progress. And often playing new pieces is important for the development of their reading skills. I expect them to be precise in reading and when they happen to play wrong notes or miss sharps or flats, I challenge them in the lesson to find out for themselves what is wrong. Thus, they experience that by using their eyes – or preferably their ears – they can improve their reading precision.

It can be helpful to reward them for their results. For example I may challenge a pupil by promising a treat in the group lesson when he/she succeeds in playing a piece without hesitations. This stimulates the pupil to choose the right tempo and play with full concentration. Being allowed to play a new piece they always wanted to play, can be a very stimulating reward too. In particular the younger children can be stimulated with simple rewards such as stickers for doing their homework. A final example is about a young boy who had problems with organizing his homework and resented his mother’s interference . We made a working scheme for his homework and I asked him to draw a smiley for everything he had accomplished successfully. This turned out to be such a success that his school teacher has followed the example for his homework for school.

Listening to themselves is one of the most difficult things for young children. They tend to listen to an imagination in their mind of what they are doing – which in itself is good – but do not realize that in reality their performance is not yet up to that ideal standard. It may be useful to ask them to record small pieces of their playing on their smartphone. I ask them to listen to themselves and note where their performance is not yet as good as they thought. This can be very confronting at first. But when you sit together and discuss how the performance can be improved, the next step is that they can make a new recording and hear that they have been able to do much better. Such experiences can be very stimulating.

 

At Jong KC every group of violin students has a weekly meeting of half an hour where we discuss their work, without instruments. We discuss what they are working on, which challenges they face and how they deal with that. This contributes to the development of their learning skills. They learn to think about their study and their progress at a more abstract level, and with the help of their fellow students they get a more mature understanding of what they are doing.

next

A special case are the violin competitions and general music competitions for children in which many young pupils participate. Everything said about public concerts is equally true for competitions, but the participation in competitions can be an even stronger motivational factor and at the same time has a strong risk of frustration in it because of the competitive element. Children can be stimulated to participate, but there should be no pressure. More importantly, they need guidance in how they prepare for the competition and how they process afterwards the way they performed and were judged. And it may happen that it is best to advise the pupil not to participate, e.g. in cases where the child is not ready to deal with the pressure of a competition.

Under the influence of sports competition, there is a tendency to think in terms of a zero sum game: the victory of one is the defeat of the other(s). However, there is no need to think in that way in a music competition. Children can learn to judge their own performance against their own abilities: Have I performed at my best? Have I been able to show what I can and to reach the public with my music? And if not, or not fully, what can I learn from this for next time?

Summarizing, the stream of motivational energy can be safeguarded when children enjoy what they are doing on their violin, receive applause for it and learn in the course of the years to become more aware of the many possibilities of their instrument and of the fact that with concentrated efforts they can reach a higher level, giving them even more fun and satisfaction.


next

Motivation has its ups and downs. That is an important reality that a teacher has to accept. I remember a young girl who had a motivation dip that seemed to become more structural. I discussed this with her and we agreed that we would give ourselves two more months to see how far she could get with more concentrated efforts. And afterwards we would decide whether we could continue with the lessons or not. It seemed to me that at that moment she felt to be under pressure from her mother, regardless of her own wishes. The fact alone that she realized that she was not obliged to continue forever, that there could come an end to it and that she had a say in it, already helped her to relax and in the course of these months her motivation came back.

Left: performing for an audience can begin on a small scale in a safe environment: home concert for the dolls.

Performing for an audience can be very rewarding and as such can be an important motivating factor. Having other people listen to you, applauding for you and appreciating your performance, is something most children like very much. And it can be even more fun when you do it together with others, in an ensemble or orchestra. Of course there is such a thing as performance anxiety. But when they start performing for an audience from a young age, at a small scale and in a safe environment, most children can learn to perform without being too much hindered by anxiety. They must learn that a good performance comes with good preparation and that their expectations of how they are going to perform must be realistic. In the course of the years they will become more critical towards themselves, so it becomes even more important that they do not get frustrated by a suboptimal performance, but are happy with their results so far and eager to learn from the experience. If this learning process is guided in the right way, public performances can be a very strong motivational factor.


 


3.6 Motivation in practice

Motivation is the fuel that keeps the engine of violin training going. However strong the motivation may have been when the child once started taking violin lessons, without a continuous stream of fuel, the engine will soon come to a standstill. What can the teacher do to maintain this indispensable supply of motivational energy?

In the first place, children should experience that playing the violin and making music is fun. Group lessons are very helpful in this. Children feel at ease in group lessons where they know and trust each other, do all sorts of funny games and where technical exercises are part of the game. At Jong KC, individual lessons and group lessons are closely related and form part of one programme. In this manner, the violin lessons will soon become a natural part of their lives, and this allows time for a more intrinsic motivation – love for the instrument and for music making – to develop.







In the second place, the children should feel safe with their teacher and receive the appraisal they think they deserve for their efforts. Most children are very willing to do their best, but need the acknowledgement that they are doing well. This does not mean they have to be complimented for everything they do, but it is very important for their motivation to get recognition for the progress they make, however small the steps may seem. If necessary, the teacher may be strict and demanding at times, as long as the child understands the reason for that and as long as the teacher does not demand things the child feels unable to do. If the child feels that the teacher has confidence in his/her abilities and commitment, the pupil will also trust the teacher and thus their mutual confidence will grow, much to the benefit of the progress made on the violin.


Further to this, the pupil has to develop an understanding of the relationship between deliberate practice and results. The acquisition of the skills of an expert violinist is a process of many years, something a child in middle childhood cannot oversee. So the teacher has to help the child not only to master all these different skills, but also to distinguish and recognize all these small steps as indispensable on the long staircase towards expert level. Each step is a success for its own sake. Thus the teacher helps the pupil to adopt a mastery orientation (cf. chapter 2.7), understanding that it takes effort to reach an objective and that these efforts will be rewarded with success.

For the motivation of the pupil, it is also important for the teacher to respond to the specific abilities, needs and preferences of the child. Each child is different and needs a different approach. It happens that children are not ready for something that other children of their level take up without resistance. If the pupil feels that he or she has to do certain things for the only reason that all children have to do that at the same moment in their education, dictated by a strict programme, they may feel tied and put under pressure. This can rather easily undermine their motivation. If, however, the teacher allows them time to wait for the moment they feel ready for something, this creates a sense of shared responsibility, thus strengthening their motivation and their trust in the teacher.

I will illustrate this with some examples. It happens quite often that pupils feel strong resistance against vibrato, which gives them unpleasant associations with opera singers. In those cases I adapt my speed. We do some vibrato exercises, but I give them more time to get used to the idea and concentrate on other issues. When the time comes, all these pupils without exception will learn to play and appreciate vibrato.

I remember a pupil who hated Mozart when she came at the age that I normally start with playing Mozart. We postponed that, however, and fortunately we found out that she loved to play French violin music. This helped her to develop her sense of musical expression and at a later age she learnt to appreciate Mozart equally well.

As a final example, I recall a student who really burst into tears out of frustration of how she played double stop exercises. She hated the sound of her bowing and she was horrified by her own intonation, although in objective terms she was not doing worse than her age-mates, not at all. However, we dropped the double-stops for a while – she even did not have to play them at her technical exam – until she felt fit for it. And from then she made fast progress, soon catching up with her age-mates.


Therefore, it is the challenge for parents to find a good balance between moral support and encouragement on the one hand and allowing the child some space and time for him/herself, where he/she can play and make mistakes, on the other hand. It is about stimulating but not pushing. This is easier said than done, because the border line is very thin. Parents should realize that the best way to help their children is to guide them in such a way that the discipline that they have to be taught in the early years, gradually becomes a part of their routine. In other words, assisting their development towards greater autonomy.

Especially in the early years, however, the parents are indispensable as it comes to the daily practice at home. They must create good conditions, preferably a special, quiet place where the child can practice without distraction, and one or two fixed moments in the day that are reserved for practising. It is also helpful that parents know and understand in general terms what the homework is about. Thus they can assist the child in planning and organizing the daily practice where needed.

3.7 Role of parents

Parents are indispensable for a successful education of young violinists. Hardly any child would ever have thought of starting violin lessons if he/she had not got acquainted with music and the idea of playing an instrument through the parents, e.g. by visiting concerts or because the parents play an instrument themselves. Most often it is the parents who decide that their child is going to take violin lessons, and the child’s personal motivation follows from that. But that is only the beginning. In the course of the years, parents will find out that it takes a lot of time and energy (not to mention the financial costs) to support the child’s violin education. Often the child has to be taken to the lessons, orchestra rehearsals etc. Parents are supposed to be regularly present at concerts, performance classes etc. And, last but not least, they have to see to it that the child practises at home.

This asks for a strong commitment of the parents, perhaps more than they realized at first. Therefore, it is important for the teacher to realize that the parents’ motivation cannot be taken for granted. They must see that their investments will somehow be paid back. They must see that the child makes progress, and hopefully they find it even more important to see that the child is happy with playing the violin.

The moral support of the parents is even more important for the child than the practical support. Although the role of parents in a child’s life becomes less dominant in the course of middle childhood, most children nevertheless rely very heavily on the approval of their parents, the feeling that they believe in the child and welcome his/her efforts on the violin. Most often, the parents are proud to see the child’s progress and believe that he/she can become a good violinist. Thus, the motivation of parent and child are mutually reinforcing one another.

However, there is a certain risk of parents being overly proud or ambitious. There is a tendency with many parents to believe that their child is somehow special and more talented than other children. Music education is a domain were this tendency is seen all too often. As far as it helps parents to maintain their motivation, it may not be too harmful, but unfortunately I have seen too many cases where the parents’ ambition put a heavy burden on the young child’s shoulders. The child may succumb to this pressure, or – perhaps even worse – one day the parents decide that the child is not such a talented violinist after all, and withdraw their support, leaving the child with harmful frustration.

For this reason, it can be useful when one of the parents is present at the violin lessons in the first years, until the child is about 10 years of age. Parents can see the approach of the teacher, the intentions of the homework assignments, the challenges the child is facing and the issues the child has to work on. It is of special importance that the parents understand the considerations of the teacher when it comes to the right order of things, one step at a time, not always aiming at perfection but helping the child to concentrate on specific issues, within reach of his/her present abilities. Of course, there should be no doubt about the authority of the teacher. In the lesson, the child’s attention should be directed at the teacher. Parents should not intervene, not even when they think their child is misbehaving. They should leave that to the teacher. In this way, a teacher can deal with parents in the lesson in a flexible and relaxed way, as long as the principles are clear and the teacher demonstrates that he/she is in charge.

From all this follows that it is essential that the parents trust the teacher and believe that the child’s development is in good hands. Therefore, the teacher should invest in an open dialogue with the parents, explaining the own vision and approach and evaluating the progress of the child, the qualities and the challenges the child is facing. Moreover, an open dialogue with the teacher can help parents to have a realistic view of the child’s abilities. It can help them to understand that in most cases it is not possible and not necessary to predict whether the child will turn out to be a great violinist, and that it might be more important to see that the child is working hard, making good progress and happy with playing the violin.


next


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.


Tailor-made approach

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.


Holistic approach

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.


Confidence

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.


Demanding attitude

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.


Patience

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

3.8 Role of the teacher

In this paper I have discussed the many elements that a violin teacher teaching children in middle childhood has to deal with. It is self-evident that this chapter, dealing with the practical side of the profession, ends with a sub-chapter dedicated to the role of the teacher. This allows me to summarize from the perspective of the teacher what in my view are the core elements of a successful approach, offering children at the end of middle childhood good prospects for a further development to expert violinists and musicians.

I write this with a certain hesitation. I do not wish to pretend that I have found the secret key to success, nor that all the things I have described above are based on my own discoveries and would not be shared and practised by other teachers. Far from that. Moreover, it goes without saying that colleagues may disagree on certain issues or would stress other elements as being of primary importance. A debate on such issues could contribute to a deeper understanding of the essence of our profession.