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Fiddle Trek

Fiddle Wars

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Fiddle Guru is 30 years younger than me, & yet in some ways we're alike - both sensitive & passionate about music, both volatile of mood, both with a satirical sense of humour, and we also have a rapport when playing together. But in many more ways, we are very different.

I think most of the problems stem from the fact that he is a brilliant player. For the first six months I felt so nervous & foolish, producing my feeble renditions, & it often led me to crash. But the second most serious issue is that I am a retired teacher with my own ideas about learning. We have different views on many pedagogical matters.

The Guru likes to inspire.
I think teachers should inspire, but they should beware of dazzling & make sure that their pupil can see what they're doing & is able both to co-operate & to ask questions. This is even more important with adult pupils.

Fiddle Guru believes that the dynamics are the most important thing when learning a new piece. He often quotes Beethoven: 'To play a wrong note is insignificant. To play without passion is inexcusable.'
I think accuracy & training the fingers & brain is the most important thing when learning a new piece. Until I have those right, I am too embarrassed to play with passion. I am not saying that more confident pupils might not thrive on the Guru's method, however.

The Guru believes in taking pupils 'out of their comfort zone' so that they are stretched and make progress. They should play harder pieces than they can grasp, play faster than they're comfortable with, put in the ornaments straight away, and so on.

For champions, this may be sound sense. For a timid third-ager, it's disastrous. When the Guru played folk tunes along with me, he'd force the pace & the only result is that I'd crash - cease to be able to think, let alone play. And the effect on my confidence was catastrophic. Similarly, he rushed me through two Suzuki books & I never mastered any of the pieces - all I could do was 'get through them'. But there's no point in an adult playing the violin unless s/he sounds okay.

I believe that for people of my age and/or mindset, fluency & confidence are essential. If I proceed in stages & enjoy myself playing fluidly & exploring pieces at the same level of difficulty, I will make slower progress in terms of being able to perform challenging pieces, but my progress will be much more secure. Knowing that I sound okay, I might then be able to play in public, and that will increase my confidence.

Fiddle Guru prefers it if pupils assess themselves. When I first started with him, he'd pause after I finished playing a piece and look quizzically at me, asking me what I thought. I could always tell him what was wrong with it - wrong notes in a particular bar, or which notes were out of tune. But he also wanted me to say what was right with it. My generation wasn't brought up to do that; anyway, as a mature adult who has listened to music played by professionals for over 60 years, why would I think my scrapings were any good at all?

I kept insisting that as he was the teacher, I wanted to know what he thought I should do to improve it, and now he does tell me rather than ask me.
Which is great and shows that he is able to adapt to a pupil, just as pupils should adapt to their teachers.

One thing that I've found with the Guru, and with violin teachers generally, is that they don't seem to make notes or produce lesson plans, relying on the pupil to tell them what they've been practising. I don't know how common that is. But after a while I started writing my own list of what I'm doing & where I'm going to go next, which I call Moll's Leet. Another refinement that I introduced is to ask to sit down. At my age, it doesn't help, standing up for a whole hour, and when I look back, I think a great deal of my early crashes were due to feeling tired & uncomfortable. Similarly, I usually feel that I've had enough five minutes before the hour is up, whereas the Guru is just getting into his stride. He has given me a lot of extra time out of pure enthusiasm.

Another clash regarding pedagogy: Fiddle Guru is a great reader of psychological investigations, or psychobabble as I prefer to term it. He thinks I will make progress when I liberate myself, or when I allow my anger out, not at people, but through my playing. 'Be angry with other people,' he says, 'and they'll hate you. Be angry with your violin, and they'll love you.' In my first year, he was always trying to challenge me & wind me up, but the flaw in this theory is that I am a fair-minded person. Why would I get angry with my innocent violin when I can get angry with my needling violin teacher?

In my teaching career, I was at times too jokey & sardonic - & now the boot is on the other foot. The Guru is a master at parodying my playing, & he once said that my shifting between strings in a strathspey sounded like a donkey braying. Just a little off-putting...

Fiddle Guru has good ideas that may work well with his young pupils - just not with a self-conscious oldie. He was always keen that I learn folk music from mp3s that he sent me, without using sheet music. I can do that, but it takes hours, and life is too short, & besides, if I know a folk tune, I can play it by ear on the spot, so...
I am sure he gets good results from his pupils making mp3s of themselves, too. It's just that I die of embarrassment when I listen to a recording of myself - so I no longer do.
And one's bowing action is improved if one watches oneself in one of the mirrors that the Guru has dotted around the music room. But I position myself beyond them - baby boomer women don't look at their bow arm in the mirror, they look at their hair, or start agonising over their double chin or wrinkles...

Attitudes to age are another point of difference. I am grateful that I can play at all, & am aiming at being a 'competent' fiddler, who can play for friends without error & producing a nice tone. Maybe one day I could play for dances, but in the meantime, I'm enjoying my journey.
Fiddle Guru seems to think I am infinitely improvable. He used to set me tunes or pieces that were way beyond me, and yes, I did improve as a result. One time, I showed him Eta Cohen's violin tutor book 3 with all the baroque pieces marked - and he immediately picked out a challenging Vivaldi piece at the very end, which I knew I wasn't ready for. For many lessons after that he kept asking about 'that Vivaldi'.

But I know that I am not ready for it. The thing is, for a third-ager, it's not worth doing anything for the sake of the outcome. The process itself has to be enjoyable. I've improved because I enjoy practising.

But without someone to practise for - and someone who makes me think about how I learn, and analyse my needs - I'd be nowhere. Despite all the argy-bargy about pedagogy, I have got such a lot out of the last three years.

I don't want to give up, so my Fiddle Trek has to be enjoyable.
Thanks to Fiddle Guru, it is.
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Updated Jun-01-2016 at 19:36 by Ingélou

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  1. Ingélou's Avatar
    This is the last chapter of my blog, at least for the time being.
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