Hi all! It’s been three weeks since my last post and, in that time, a lot has happened. I learned a lot more about my mentor, and we had our first meeting together in-person.
An update on my project so far
Currently, I am following a book called Suzuki Violin School Volume 1, but I think I will switch to playing songs from other books and sheet music as the Suzuki Method is not very suited for me.
From the book, I learned a few new scales and their finger positions, such as G major. Although I previously held off on getting tape to indicate where to put my fingers because I thought I would be okay without it, it is starting to become much more apparent to me that my fingers are always slightly off, making the notes sound a bit wrong. As a baseline, I recorded myself playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in A major (below). If you have good ears, you may hear that some of the notes are off.
For the next two weeks, I will be practising a jig called “The Irish Washerwoman,” and continuing practising my scales and technique.
There are some other mistakes that I want to correct in the next two weeks:
- Not using enough of the bow. I currently have a bit of a habit of playing with very short strokes, which is bad because the sound produced is not very loud nor rich.
- Pressing too lightly on the string. This tends to produce a bit of a squeaky sound.
- Ignoring bowing symbols. In violin sheet music, there are symbols indicating whether a note should be played on a downstroke or an upstroke. It is important to follow them because some tricky, fast sequences of notes are very awkward when played incorrectly.
- Accidentally hitting other strings or having unclean transitions between notes. This is more of a matter of just improving my right-hand wrist movement when playing, which helps keep the bow perpendicular and on the string.
A bit more about my mentor
How did your mentor gain their experience/expertise?
Currently, my mentor has RCM level 8 in violin, which took 6 years of dedication to get. Originally, he started playing violin in a school club, but shortly after, he started taking private lessons once a week. For each RCM level, his teacher would let him pick a couple pieces from the RCM repertoire or other pieces of a similar difficulty level. He would stick to those songs for multiple months, perfecting them until an exam. During lessons with his teacher, his teacher would help him set short-term goals for the pieces and provide feedback and support, keeping him on track for the exam. However, by far the most time spent practicing was in between lessons by himself, applying the help that he got from his teacher.
What were those experiences like for your mentor?
Most of the acquisition of new information came during lessons, but for an instrument like violin, learning can really only happen through experience. He would only see significant jumps in in his playing ability during practice outside of lessons. Nonetheless, the most important part of the lessons was for his teacher to check in on his progress. This forced him to practice and improve every single week, even when he didn’t really feel like it, which is important because practice tends to be more effective when it is consistent. He was definitely very involved in the process and had a comfortable relationship with his teacher.
What wisdom have you gained from your mentor so far?
In my meeting with my mentor, I learned about effective practising techniques. Usually, when playing a song, when playing it the first time, it is best to look for difficult sections in the piece with the teacher/mentor’s suggestions in mind. Then, drill those sections repeatedly until you are comfortable playing it, each time looking for specific mistakes to correct. This is the best way to practice without a teacher because it allows you to evaluate yourself and improve with targeted practice. I think this practice approach can also be applied to almost any other hard skill that can be repeatedly practiced.
What have you learned so far, in terms of facilitation strategies, that might contribute to your own development as a mentor?
As mentioned earlier, learning comes through experience. The first step of learning a new skill is acquiring new information, which can simply be done through teaching. This is teacher/mentor-oriented and is just a matter of showing them the new information in a way that they may remember. However, minimal time should be spent on this step and the mentee will not have fully learned the skill at this point. Completing the learning process can be accomplished though letting the mentee try out the skill for themselves, without fear of failure. When they do make mistakes, the mentor can point them out and help correct them, and the mentee can ask questions. This feedback loop gets rid of bad habits and keeps the mentee involved. The key to this strategy is to keep the environment comfortable for the mentee, as the mentee cannot be too stressed or afraid of making mistakes, and they have to be able to ask questions freely.
Thank you for reading!