Curriculum

Curriculum

The goal of this curriculum is to create self-sufficient students, who can teach themselves—and are therefore able to effectively learn from others. Building on this foundation, students may progress to become conservatory students, professional ensemble players, or lifelong amateurs, with the ability to pursue myriad possibilities in the universe of music.

The table below summarizes the curriculum. It is not a single list, but rather several parallel streams, arranged as a spectrum from left to right: physical to mental. Although this spectrum is interconnected, it can be helpful in practice to focus on the physical as a foundation for developing the more advanced, mental, skills.

Each student will progress along each stream at a different rate, but progress ought to be made along every one. Elements within each column are listed more or less in order. However, all elements are important; and most require revisiting: progressing in a spiral rather than a straight line.

←physical mental→
physical comfort scales bow repertoire music
creation
theory how
to work
holding the bow 1-octave major (all positions all keys) tone tunes
already known (in any key)
improvise keys
and scales
practice
every day
holding the violin 3-octave major (all keys) bow
proportion
fiddle
tunes
improvise
in a key
intonation
theory
organize
practice
left hand (Geminiani Grip) 3-octave minor (all keys) string crossing Bartok
Duos
improvise
on chords
harmony solve
technical problems
shifting arpeggios off
the string
ensemble
music
improvise
on advanced harmonies
structure choose
technique for musical ends
standing and sitting exotic scales
(modes, w.t., diminished, etc.)See the scale program on the menu bar.
expressive
use of the bow
pieces
you love
ornamentation
and enhancement (e.g. vibrato)
learn
a piece
double
stops
dynamics
and phrasing
Telemann
Fantasias
writing
melodies
prepare
for performance
speed Kreutzer
Etudes, starting with no. 2
writing
counterpoint
perform
coordination
with the bow
Bach
Cello Suites
listen
to great music
mental
attitude
Bach
Violin Sonatas
interpretation and performance

 

Physical comfort while playing

  • A proper, comfortable, flexible physical relationship with the instrument is the essential prerequisite for everything else on the violin.
  • As more complex techniques are learned, these fundamentals will need to be revisited.

Scales (all keys) 

  • Scales are music distilled.
  • Scales are a perfect medium for practicing physical comfort and good tone all over the instrument.
  • I introduce scales in every position and in every key from the very beginning.
  • Scales played against a single sustained note (a drone) are the best foundation for intonation.
  • Scales can help decipher hard-to-read passagework.
  • Scales are the basis for improvisation, analysis, and composition.

Bow

  • The bow creates the sound.
  • Good sound is fundamental.
  • Good sound is a result of excellent intonation and bow control.
  • The player must master conscious control of the complex path of the bow through space, comprising: weight, speed, point of contact, bow-proportion, and string crossing. This is the foundation for more advanced bow techniques.

Repertoire

  • From the beginning, a violinist should have a repertoire: pieces that can be played “at the drop of a hat.” An ideal place to start is tunes the student already knows, such as children’s songs, Christmas carols, or popular tunes.
  • The Bartok Violin Duets are miniatures of the highest musical level—which can nevertheless be played by beginners—adding technical and musical challenges as one progresses through the two volumes. In addition to their musical merit, they are great for reading, intonation, ensemble playing, and reading musical directions like dynamics and articulation. And they sound great.
  • Many of my students are in school ensembles. In lessons, I give the highest priority to pieces that will be performed, including audition pieces.
  • Otherwise, I prioritize pieces that can be played solo, without accompaniment. Unless they are lucky enough to have a friend or a family member who can, and is willing, to accompany, few students have the opportunity to play pieces with accompaniment.
  • If a student wants to play a piece, I will jump on that opportunity and teach it. There is almost always something to be learned, and the buy-in is priceless.
  • Memorization is difficult, even painful, but it is the only way to really know a piece.
  • Only study excellent music. It takes a lot of time and effort to learn a piece. Only work on pieces that are worth the effort.

Music creation

  • Not all students like to improvise (and I don’t push these). Some take to it like a duck to water.
  • Improvisation is a useful tool for exploring physical/technical issues without having first to learn an etude.
  • Improvisation is a useful tool for exploring scales, harmonies, and other musical concepts.
  • Playing a written piece should have an element of improvisation.
  • There are many ways to ornament and enhance written music.
  • Some students write music. I encourage this.
  • All students need to listen carefully to great music.

Theory

  • To understand music so that you can perform it requires understanding theory: What key are we in? Where are we going harmonically? What musical patterns are used? What is the phrase structure?
  • Without understanding theory, reading music is like reading a book letter by letter.
  • Theory also enables a student to break down a piece (and put it back together) into order to learn it, as discussed below.

How to work

  • One of the many benefits of studying music—in addition to its inherent benefits—is learning how to learn in a concrete way: the mental process of taking a mess of black marks on a page and figuring out how to turn them into living music.
  • This skill includes:
    • establishing the habit of practicing
    • organizing practicing
    • breaking down a piece into digestible chunks
    • analyzing the technical challenges
    • deciphering the musical content from mere notes
    • putting it all together in segments that make sense
    • memorizing
    • overcoming frustration and performance anxiety
    • preparing for performance
    • performing
    • retaining material for future performance

Students and their parents can refer to this curriculum to see where they are, and where they need to go.

Here is a pamphlet that I have written on the art of practicing: Practice Thoughtfully (and stop banging your head against a wall)

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