Saturday, February 06, 2016

Adult Learner

If you remember, I blogged at the beginning of the year about starting violin lessons.  This week, I had my first violin lesson. 

I have to admit, I was a little anxious (mostly because I don't want the person teaching me to think I'm an idiot or be irritated that I haven't practiced or something).  But I'm also excited.

My teacher is very cerebral; she thinks a lot about her teaching and how learning works on a lot of levels, and it really shows.  She's also enthusiastic and encouraging.

We talked about the parts of the violin and bow, and she taught me how to hold the bow and violin.  Then we played a duet, pizzicato.  That was fun.  She started by teaching me a pattern of three notes on open strings.  And then she built up the pattern to the point of about 10 notes, maybe.  And then she played the melody part, and I played my pattern, which was the harmony part.  And it was so cool because even though it was really simple, we made music.

My homework for the week is to practice holding the bow 10 times a day, to practice the little song pattern, and to make up my own song.

Being me, and a grown up, I did an errand after the lesson, and then went home and practiced holding the bow, playing the pattern, and trying to come up with a little song.  I really like the G string, and so far, my little song sort of uses the G string as a drone while I play another note or two, and then I go back and play the G string again, if that makes sense?

And of course, being me, I thought about why I had the homework I did.  That's good, because let me say if you don't have a good idea about why you're practicing holding a bow 10 times a day, it feels silly.  Let me revise that.  It feels silly even if you're sure there's a good reason.  I'm guessing it's a lot about muscle memory, teaching your hand how to do something until you don't have to think much to do it well.  And if you start getting that muscle memory in place without actually bowing the instrument, then you aren't going to get into bad habits with the bow.

Practicing the pattern gets me to listen, and to practice the position, and so on.

Making up my own song, though, that's really interesting.  It's fun.  It also has me trying out different things, different patterns, listening carefully to the sounds.  I think it's almost most important to be playing and listening to the sounds.

We have a composer here who's got a reputation for writing incredibly difficult stuff.  So the joke is that I should ask her to write me something using only the four open strings.  Except she'd write something so impossibly difficult that [name a famous violinist] would find it difficult.

One last thing: it's really hard to get a nice sound every single time you pluck a string.  The practice probably is going to help with that!


  1. I'm going to be so interested in keeping up with your violin adventures! As you may remember, I started recorder lessons this year, and I'm finding it really interesting to observe my teacher's pedagogy and my homework assignments from the perspective of a fellow teacher as well as a student. I like to leave my music stand and instrument all set up so that I can practice in 5-10-minute chunks at points during the day, which sounds much like what your teacher is having you do.

  2. Anonymous9:50 AM

    Music teacher here, with a couple of thoughts . . .

    First, your teacher sounds awesome!
    Second, my students always worry that I will think that they are idiots or something because they can't play things or they make mistakes. Fortunately, I (and every other musician in the world) learned by making many, many mistakes, so I know that making mistakes is absolutely normal. Trust the process and keep practicing, and you will get better. Your teacher is not going to expect perfection.

    Good luck with your lessons!

  3. Anonymous8:28 AM

    SO COOL. Have fun! --meansomething

  4. I sometimes think every teacher should try to learn a new skill at some time or other, because it really does help you become a better teacher. When I turned 40, I'd always said I wanted to learn to be a potter. So I took up pottery. I loved it, and got to be OK, but not great. The key is that I'm by no stretch of anyone's imagination a kinaesthetic learner. So I got much more patient with my students!

    1. I agree! It's humbling, and that's really helpful for all of us (or at least for me!) I took some pottery classes in my community at my previous job, and it was just wonderful. My mugs turned out to be shot glasses, though. Still, really neat to make things.