Saturday, September 16, 2000

Erin's Violin Blog 17

So far so good! We returned home, made the switch to a tenth-sized instrument, and have established a routine of daily practising. The focus on review continues, with Erin spending about 80% of her practising time playing through her previously learned repertoire. She really enjoys the systematic nature of this, and we now have a review book which comprises her permanent repertoire record. Within this are pages for each piece which list the teaching points and reminders for review, and give a mechanism for counting repetitions. She's working from scratch to accumulate 100 documented repetitions of each piece.

We've been working well together on detail work in The Two Grenadiers and Witches' Dance is coming along nicely. We'll be starting regular lessons with her Grandma this week. For the past couple of years we've scheduled lessons only when we felt a particular need and desire, but a more regular schedule seems to feel right for all of us now. She already has such a schedule for piano lessons, so it's nothing new.

The posture issues all still need work.... the hunched shoulders, the squeezing left hand, and a somewhat wobbly, insecure bowhold. We intend to attack them in this order, since the shoulders are part of the cause of the more distal problems, and the bowhold is the least problematic of the bunch. She has made significant gains in the shoulder posture in the past month, and I have almost totally stopped reminding or correcting her on this. I'm hoping she'll notice how nice it is to play without me picking away at her posture and find this motivating when it comes time to work on the next posture task.

Now that we're doing lots of good practising on both violin and piano, I'm realizing what a big committment it is to do both instruments "properly". Sometimes more than two hours a day are spent on musical things at home, once we include the improvisation, unstructured review playing on piano, and the theory work she's doing (partly on the computer). Two instruments would certainly not work for most six-year-olds attending school, but homeschooling makes it a possibility for us.

Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Erin's Violin Blog 16

During the fall we managed only sporadic lessons. As a result, practising was a struggle for a couple of months. Then Erin decided the time had come to do some intensive remediation on her left hand position. At the summer institute in Calgary her master class teacher had "planted five seeds", ideas for focusing on posture. Most of these related to her left hand (wrist, thumb, finger independence) and so Erin diligently practised 100 Twinkles with perfect left hand position. She then scheduled a lesson with her Grandma to surprise her with her new posture. A couple of days before the lesson, when her Grandma attended a group class as an observer, Erin intentionally squashed her wrist and clamped her thumb, to preserve the "surprise". She thought this was the cleverest thing!

The surprise came off nicely, but for some reason it wasn't enough to carry her out off the plateau she was on. I think some of it may have had to do with the energy that was going into her second instrument, piano. She'd just begun studying piano, and was finding it very gratifying, and not nearly as difficult as the violin. She was learning a half dozen little primer pieces every week or two, and no one was hassling her about tone and intonation and posture, and everyone thought she was doing terrifically, even though all she did was play, not really practise the piano.

(By way of explanation, I should say that I don't think this would have been the time for Erin to start a second instrument if not for two things: first, as a homeschooler, she had the time, and second, as the daughter of her primary violin teacher, and the grand-daughter of her secondary violin teacher, she needed a teacher-student relationship outside the family.)

At any rate, we had our typical winter lull in violin work. I was dismayed to see the gains she'd made in her left hand position begin to slip away, and the tension in her neck and shoulders worsen. I waited expectantly for the inevitable end of the lull. And waited. And waited. And then I couldn't stand waiting any longer, seeing the posture gradually worsen. She was practising, somewhat reluctantly, every couple of days, but not really working with me, just putting in the time, playing.

I scheduled some regular lessons for her, and decided that I was, no matter what, going to make sure she played every day and actually worked on a little bit of technique. As had been the case two years earlier, it wasn't so much anything I did, it was mostly just a change in my attitude and orientation. I was going to make this work! I was going to help get my daughter over the hump. Her resistance had been just enough to reduce my enthusiasm for daily practising. The reduction in my enthusiasm prevented the semi-regular practising we were doing from being stimulating and enjoyable. And so the lull persisted, until I resolved to pick both of us up by our bootstraps. Miraculously (and with the aid of a few creative games) it worked. Within two or three lessons her posture (all of it! not just the left hand, but the shoulders, neck and head, too) seemed to fall into place. There were days when she actually looked gorgeous playing!

And of course, the repertoire began coming as well. In December we'd begun dabbling in Gossec Gavotte. In early March we attacked it seriously. Now, at the end of May, it is very nicely polished, almost recital-ready, and she's just finished learning Brahms Waltz.

Locally we've finally managed to get group classes happening on a regular basis. Erin has a number of good friends amongst my small group of students, but she falls in a funny place because she started violin so much younger than they did. From a social standpoint she prefers the beginner class which includes her younger brother and her agemates, all pre-Twinklers or new Twinklers. But from a musical standpoint, she's a better fit for the mid-Book-1 to Book 4 group made up of 8 to 13-year-olds. So she flits back and forth between the two groups, attending as much of both as she can. At any rate, the group exposure can't be hurting her, and I'm sure she's helping to inspire some of the other children, too.

Things seem to be going fairly well, but I'm doing my best not to get complacent. I know the posture issues aren't solved yet. Everything still collapses into knots when she's distracted, annoyed or coping with new technical details. I hope we can keep the momentum going for a time. It's so nice to see her enjoying her progress again, working more-or-less-willingly on details, and becoming more comfortable with taking guidance and suggestions on polishing details.

Her piano playing has become more challenging in the course of the year: she's learning to read music and is now having to cope with changes in hand position, technique exercises, and detailed practice "hands separately". It's a relief to the violin teachers in her life to see her needing to use diligence and repetition in her piano work! Somehow it seemed unfair that it should come so easily at first. But I have to remind both myself and her that it only came easily because of all she'd already learned on the violin.

This summer, to cap off her third year of violin playing, we travelled across Canada for (among other things) a week-long Suzuki institute in Waterloo, Ontario. In the month prior, we made review work a big focus and noticed grand strides in tone production. Motivation ran high, and the institute was a positive experience. For once Erin was in classes where their were other children her age, rather than children who were all older than her. She made friends, established a lot of positive independence from her mother, and was incredibly focused, cheerful and attentive. It was hard to believe this was the same child who had been in outer space during group classes at the Penticton institute two years earlier.

Erin is now poised for a switch to a tenth-sized instrument. And time will tell whether we go through our annual fall slump. The long camping and visiting trip home from Ontario was of course a violin-free time, and it may be difficult to re-enter regular home life and daily practising without that sense of let-down. Wish us luck!