I'm writing to express my thanks to you, the Nannie Jamieson Nutshell Fund and Pirastro for funding the bursary which allowed me to attend the ESTA summer school 2017.
It is the first time I have attended the summer school since becoming a member and had a very enjoyable and constructive time. The talk which really challenged my thinking about the approaches to my teaching the most was Paul Harris' talk on 'Simultaneous Learning'. He tackled some aspects in my teaching which I have struggled with some students and he gave us plenty of ideas and tips to deal with this, particularly sight reading and getting students to sing in lessons. These included exercises for improvisation and aural training which all inform things like sight reading and singing. The sight reading, he explained, is mainly about pattern recognition, so if our students recognise patterns of notes or sounds they are going to find it easier to sight read conventional music. Obviously singing is so important to string playing for pitch relativity and I have in the past struggled to get particularly teenage students to even hum or whistle. I have found that if I start with improvising or copycat exercises or pattern recognition first and slip some singing in which directly relates to what’s just been done that they will then find it easier and are much more willing to do it.
I really agreed with his notion that if we have proactively taught the student all the elements of a piece first and they are successful at them all, when we present them with the piece of music they should find it quickly achievable. This is a much more positive pattern of teaching and learning as we are teaching the student to succeed rather than place something in front of them which they can’t do then teach it to them.
As I am in the cohort for ESTA's PGCert course, Paul came to give us an additional talk on virtuoso teaching which I found really inspiring. What I particularly found useful was the relatively simple approaches to nurturing the full musician, as opposed to just the technical aspects of violin playing. This is something I believe is really important but is easy to overlook in week to week lessons. I had the opportunity to talk to him afterwards and a lot of what he said has had a lasting impression on me and I have already incorporated some techniques in my teaching since.
In particular I have been using his ‘learning map’ which encourages the student and teacher to think and experiment a lot around the piece – e.g. using aspects of the piece as a basis for improvisation, memory or theory work, experimenting with expression and what it feels like to play with 0%, 50% and 100% expression and why we do this. Although some people argue that these aspects don’t have a place in a violin lesson as they cover musicianship and theory etc. the majority of my students don’t have separate musicianship, theory or movement classes therefore I have found incorporating such elements have had a positive effect on reinforcing learning. It reminds me too to break up the lesson which is useful particularly for younger students. I also went on to purchase his publications and learning resources too. I have been busy doing some follow up research.
I enjoyed getting to meet Dave and Kathy Blackwell, having used their books for many years. Although what they talked about were things I was already doing it was reassuring to hear straight from them that I am on the right track and it was good to bounce some ideas around and hear the thinking behind some of their repertoire choices.
The most outstanding part of the week for me was the participation in the Unit 2 of the PGCert course. This involved really detailed work with Jessie O'Leary regarding various aspects of violin technique. These sessions often sparked a lot of discussions and impromptu demonstrations as well as some very clarifying talks on how to approach teaching things such as vibrato, spiccato, detache etc. These were very useful because not only did we re-evaluate and assess our own playing Jessie gave us many practical and useful things to look out for when dealing with such technical aspects with students. I prepared a presentation on spiccato which I found useful – it made me think quite deeply about the process and order in which we should teach various bow strokes, for example, should martele come after detache, or should spiccato and sautille be developed next? I have developed a more precise method to follow when it comes to the order of teaching.
I very much enjoyed having a wander through the trade stands, I feel I made some good contacts and have also experimented with some of the Warchal strings they had on show on my professional instrument with good results!
The evening concerts were hugely enjoyable, really varied and imaginative. It was good to catch up with some colleagues as well as meeting other professionals and sharing ideas.
Without your support and the very generous bursary it is very unlikely I would have been able to attend at all. I believe that a lot of the things I learnt, researched and discussed have already informed my teaching and benefited my students, of which I have around 175!