In-Depth Post #6

Hi all! As this project is coming to an end, this will probably be my last post. I had another meeting with my mentor, and we discussed how I will be presenting on in-depth night.

Progress update

As promised, here is a recording Over the Rainbow. Unfortunately, the file exceeds the upload limit for this blog site so you will have to click the link below:

Click here for recording

There are a few aspects of this piece that I am still unsatisfied with. I would have liked to play it a bit faster, but was limited primarily by my shifting speed and my ability to use vibrato on shorter notes. As such, I also have not been very confident using these two skills I have been practising in my pieces, and I use them quite sparingly. You may have also noticed that some of my notes were a little off tune and the middle section wasn’t very smooth. I will put a lot of focus into improving my shifting in preparation for in-depth night.

I have also been continuing to do the drills mentioned in previous blog posts, and on top of that I started practising some scales and arpeggios, as these patterns can be very commonly found in pieces, especially classical music.

In-depth  night

For in-depth night, I plan on doing a stage performance to show what I have learned. Since I have limited time on the stage, I obviously cannot play all the pieces I have played throughout this project. So, I started a new piece, Musette in D major from the RCM level 3 repertoire. I picked this piece because I think it is quite technically demanding and involves a variety of skills that will allow me to showcase as much of my learning as possible. I will also try to record my performance and post it so those who are not able to watch my performance live will still be able to see it. I hope that there will be noticeable improvements from my original baseline that I included in my first post.

I also plan on having another final meeting with me mentor in between now and in-depth night to improve this piece more.

Thanks for reading!

In-Depth Post #5

Hi all! Since the last blog post, I had another meeting with my mentor.

Progress update

As promised, I’ve been working on the second section of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. It actually turned out to be quite short, and was easier than expected. For the next meeting, I will put the whole song together and add some ornaments (extra notes) to wrap it up.

 

Learning this section brought up a very important skill that I started learning about – shifting. In many pieces, there are patterns of notes that are very unnatural to play with the left-hand fingers only positioned at the end of the fingerboard. To make these more playable, it is helpful to move the fingers up the fingerboard into other positions. In order to shift properly, it is necessary to develop muscle memory for the different positions. I have been trying some exercises in one of my mentor’s old books to help me with this.

In the past week, I have started doing regular warm-up drills from this amazing video. One of the most important ideas I learned is that the vibrato sounds best when it is below the note, with the high point of the vibration being the actual note, rather than having the vibration rise above and below the note. This is a mistake I have been making for a while now. Although I have seen improvement, my vibrato is still too slow to sound very good. I intend to continue to work on this skill and do my warmups for the rest of this project, as vibrato seems to be an ongoing skill that is never really mastered.

In my next meeting with my mentor, I also want to pick one or two more songs to work on for the rest of this project.

 

Questions about my mentor

What kinds of learning opportunities does the mentor provide to expose you to new learning?

My mentor has a lot of old books that he used which are very helpful for introducing me to new concepts. They contain exercises and pieces that are designed to incorporate them and make the process of learning them more interesting. For example, the book about shifting that I mentioned earlier was one that was lent to me by my mentor.

What kinds of learning opportunities exist to reinforce new learning?

My mentor and I have been trying to pick pieces that incorporate the new techniques that I am learning. I have found the RCM étude book to be really helpful for picking short-term studies. The order of the studies are in a way that corresponds to the RCM levels, which I have found very logical. At the beginning of the book is also technique exercises, such as scales and arpeggios that I do often.

What kinds of opportunities exist that might accelerate learning?

Sometimes a helpful YouTube video pops up in my reccomended feed. I often watch them if I think they might be particularly useful or interesting. Often the most valuable part of them is being able to watch someone else play, rather than trying to interpret written content on particular ideas. An example is the video that I showed earlier about the vibrato warm-up exercises.

When you get together what do you talk about?

Our meetings are pretty much structured the same as a normal practice session for me, except that my mentor is there to comment and provide feedback throughout. We start with technique from the étude book (scales and arpeggios), and then we do warm up exercises, and then the studies and pieces that I am currently working on. I also like to talk about things that I noticed during my practice and pieces, and he teaches me about new ideas usually.

What is going particularly well in your mentoring relationship right now?

At this point, we have developed a meeting structure that works very well. Because of this, we are efficient and waste no time during our meetings to decide what to do. It is also good because it makes it easier for me to ask questions because there is more dedicated time for that.

What are you learning about one another?

I am learning about how my mentor doesn’t actually remember a lot about being a beginner at violin. Sometimes he doesn’t remember to teach me about a certain topic until I bring it up when I notice it when playing, or if he notices it when I am playing. I think one reason for this is because RCM doesn’t cover some skills that may not be as necessary as others, such as vibrato.

I also learned that my mentor is quite busy sometimes. He recently had to cancel a meeting and it was took a while to reschedule.

Thanks for reading!

Theme Park Project

Map

Brochure

My contributions

For our theme park project, I was responsible for designing the shows. I made three shows, called Drawing with Tommy, Organ Donations, and Never Let Me Go. I wrote a paragraph describing and advertising each to pun in the brochure, with ideas from the text of the book. I also found some images and graphics from the internet and put them in. For the brochure, I summarized each show in a couple of points. Apart from the shows, I also helped Draedon pick templates for the PowerPoint and brochure and helped him find stock images.

 

Thanks for reading!

In-Depth Post #4

Hi all! Over spring break I had just one meeting with my mentor and I’ve been practising my technique.

Progress update

While looking through songs from my mentor’s etude book, I came across various new violin techniques that may be necessary in certain songs moving forward, so I decided to give them a try.

First, I learned how to slur my notes. This basically involves playing two notes of different pitch with the same bow (either an up-bow or a down-bow). It produces a very smooth transition between the notes. The main problem I had was open string sounds while slurring across strings because I wasn’t holding down my finger long enough on the first note. However, after some repetition of the same song, I can usually play clean notes fairly easily.

Second, I learned pizzicato, which is plucking the strings instead of using the bow. I found this technique quite easy, and the hardest part was transitioning quickly between bowing and plucking in the middle of a song. Again, after practising the same song for a while, this becomes easy.

Vibrato has been more difficult than I expected. I have the motion down, but I can only do it with my second and third fingers and I can only do it very slowly. When I try to do it fast, my fingers become too tense and I am unable to vibrate my wrist very well. I will continue to practise, but it may take a while to perfect the technique.

Last blog post I mentioned that I wanted to play Somewhere Over the Rainbow. I have learned the first section, but I would like to perfect the articulation a bit more. Also, the slurs are messing up my rhythm a bit right now. I hope to improve this by the next blog post (two weeks from now). I also will learn the second section, although it may be more difficult because it is faster and there are multiple accidentals (notes outside of the key signature).

 

Questions about my mentor

What has been your most difficult mentoring challenge so far? Why?

One of the biggest challenges for me and my mentor is having clear goals. Since I planned a lot of my project at the beginning without my mentor, I feel like he has been a bit disconnected from some of my goals, especially the goal-setting process. As such, he may be missing some opportunities to help show/teach me some lessons that may be beneficial to my learning. Last year, I was able to learn very effectively because my mentor gave me some resources to look at each week and it gave him input into my learning. However, this year, my mentor’s main input into my learning is only feedback and considurations during meetings, and outside of meetings I mainly use the books that my mentor lent to me.

What is working well? Why?

I have a great relationship with my mentor now. We both trust each other and are comfortable and enjoy working with each other. I feel like meeting in-person has been very beneficial for this, as we are able to talk easier and “connect” with each other more. As such, it has been easy to develop routines for meetings and such, and if we need to reschedule or change anything, we know that the other person will be understanding.

What could be working better? How can you make sure this happens?

I feel like currently I am not pratcising as much as I probably should be practising. This is slowing down my learning a lot. Concepts that I learn during meetings do not become skills until I spend sufficient time practising. One way I can force myself to practise more is to log my practice time and present them to my mentor at the beginning of each meeting. Combined with practice goals, this should help hold me accountable when I am falling behind.

Thanks for reading!

In-Depth Post #3

Since my last post, I had another meeting with my mentor and we discussed some plans moving forward.

Progress update

In the past two weeks, I’ve mostly been playing some songs from books that my mentor had as well as picking some out from the Suzuki book. In general, I am getting more used to playing for longer periods of time (my arm used to get sore after playing for a while) and developing my muscle memory to the point where I can play somewhat decently without really looking at my fingers on the strings. However, I still have trouble with faster pieces that require me to position my fingers more quickly. I think I am going to hold off on getting tape for my violin for now because I feel that my muscle memory is developing quickly and I will probably be able to play accurately soon.

Here’s a recording of The Irish Washerwoman, a jig that I’ve been working on.

First of all, the most noticeable mistake (other than finger positioning mistakes) is accidentally hitting other strings or unclean transitions between strings, especially open ones. There’s not really an easy solution to this problem and hopefully I will be able to play better soon. My mentor also mentioned that more advanced players tend to avoid open strings whenever it is convenient (by using the fourth finger on a lower string), since they tend to produce a distinctly different sound, ringing out a lot more than non-open notes. Also, vibrato is not possible on an open string. If you have a keen eye, you may have noticed that I used my fourth finger at 0:08 instead of switching to the E string. My fourth finger is by far my weakest finger, and my muscle memory is far from perfect on that finger right now. I will continue to work on this for the next couple weeks.

For the next post, I also want to add little slurs (connected notes with smooth transitions) on the first two notes of each three-note rhythm, which will challenge my bowing a little bit.

I have also decided that I want to try to learn some vibrato (rapid slight change in pitch by moving the finger back and forth) as one of my main goals for the end of this project. As such, I want to try to play a violin cover of Somewhere Over the Rainbow as one of my final songs for this project. For reference, I will probably base it mostly off of the video below, but my vibrato may not be as great as his and I may have to make some modifications to make the shifting easier.

Questions about my mentor

What went particularly well during your mentoring sessions?

Since my mentor is a good friend of mine, we try to have some fun during our meetings. Usually, we practise violin for about 40 minutes and then take a break/chat for a couple minutes before practising violin again for about 30 minutes. After our meetings, my mentor sometimes stays over for a while and we go outside to shoot some hoops. The result is that I don’t really feel as though he’s teaching me, but more so that he’s just helping me out with any problems that I have. As such, I greatly look forward to our meetings. I know he’s nice, and that I can ask him any questions I have without getting judged. For example, if he was explaining something and assumed I already knew about a certain musical concept (from my piano experience), I could ask him to clarify it if I didn’t know about it already. Being able to easily try out new ideas helped me improve significantly faster.

What learning challenges emerged?

Sometimes we get a bit sidetracked talking about interesting topics. These conversations aren’t necessarily completely off-topic and are usually music-related, but they don’t directly contribute to my learning and end up wasting a lot of time. For example, in our previous meeting we talked for a while about a Russian folk dance called Sasha that I found in my old binder from my elementary school violin club. We googled it and talked about how the violin teachers at the violin club may have been Russian (I hardly remember anything about the club) based on the other pieces that I still had in the binder. However, this conversation was unnecessary and took up a chunk of our meeting time. Although time is wasted from these discussions, in most cases, we are not strictly limited by time because we meet on weekends so we are able to meet for longer if needed until we accomplish our goals for the meeting. I think we are able to easily recognize when a discussion is spiralling off topic, and after that example I just shared, we learned our lesson and try to keep our side discussions short in order to get back on topic quickly.

What three strategies could improve the quality of your mentoring interactions?

  1. Set specific goals for the next meeting. I know this works well because I use this strategy with my piano teacher. It works well because it gives us topics to address at the beginning of each meeting, which also has a benefit of keeping the meetings more structured. For this to work for my in-depth project, I first need to form a more regular meeting schedule with my mentor (currently we don’t have one).
  2. Let my mentor demonstrate techniques if I don’t know them yet. I feel like we can definitely utilize the benefits of meeting in person better, as sometimes I go straight into attempting a difficult technique. For example, when we were talking about vibrato, I ended up trying to do it by myself for a bit without actually knowing how to do it. After I saw my mentor do it, it was much more clear.
  3. Take notes during the meeting. For me, notes serve as a good way to remind my brain about the information I previously learned. Especially with in person meetings, they trigger certain memories. This way, I can practice more effectively outside of meeting time, targeting my efforts towards problems that had been previously identified.

Thanks for reading!

In-Depth Post #2

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!

Colin’s Blog 2022-01-28 12:25:04

This year, I am excited to take on violin for my In-Depth Project. The project will span over five months until May, in which I will hopefully be able to learn a great deal about the basics and hopefully some intermediate violin techniques that aren’t extensively taught in school. Throughout the process, I will be assisted by an experienced mentor to help guide my learning and help me with problems I have.

I have been playing piano for several years now, which should help a lot with theory and reading sheet music. I have a small amount of violin experience from a club in elementary school; however, the club was mostly just playing songs in a large group and did not involve any individual learning. As such, I barely learned the very basics. Since I have probably lost most of my experience over the many years that I haven’t touched my violin, I decided to refresh my memory by playing a little bit over winter break. The topics I remember learning a bit about include:

  • How to grip the bow. However, I definitely need to improve my bowing technique as it is currently quite poor.
  • Finger positioning in major keys starting on open strings. As mentioned earlier, I have lost all of my muscle memory, but I have somewhat regained it over winter break. Nevertheless, I can’t position my fingers very fast nor accurately. I am considering putting tape on my fretboard to help me develop my accuracy until my muscle memory gets better (see image below). I don’t have the muscle memory for any scales starting on non-open strings or minor scales. Hopefully, I can learn some more scales in the next month or two.
    3 Mini Color Violin Fingering Tape for Fretboard Note Positions :  Amazon.ca: Tools & Home Improvement
  • How to take care of my violin. I still remember how to put rosin on my bow and tune my violin with a tuner. I plan on learning how to tune by ear, which will greatly make the process faster.

Currently, I would consider myself at a beginner level. Some other goals I have include:

  • Learning music notation unique to the violin.
  • Learning how to play pizzicato (plucking the strings directly with fingers instead of using the bow).
  • If I have time, I would also like to try out arranging music for violin.

Why?

I chose to play violin because I love the sound of the instrument and learning about would be beneficial to my ear training. I also feel that there will be a lot more to learn about violin or even other instruments after this project ends. As mentioned earlier, with my current knowledge of music theory from piano, I am very interested in arranging music or even composing for different instruments. In the future, I feel like this could be a fun hobby.

Mentor

My mentor this year is William, an advanced violin student the same age as me. He has the experience to answer most questions I have, since he has been playing violin for at least seven years. The main reason I chose him is because we are good friends and he lives nearby to me, so we may be able to have in-person meetings. This is especially beneficial for learning instruments, as it would be very hard for a mentor to see the instrument through a video call.

Timeline

By the end of the project, I will learn and master two or three pieces incorporating the techniques that I have learned. Here is a rough timeline of my current plan:

Buy a violin and other related supplies Week 1 (done)
Find a mentor Week 2-3 (done)
Do basic research about the violin and start practising proper bowing and finger positioning. From this point onwards in my project, my mentor will be helping me and offering feedback, which will help correct bad habits. Week 3-5
Learn my first beginner piece from the repertoire. Week 6-7
Learn intermediate techniques such as pizzicato and staccato. Week 8-10
Start practicing sight reading and ear training alongside learning some other pieces and continuing to perfect my technique. Week 11-14
Master 1-3 more difficult pieces involving all the new techniques that I have learned so far Week 15-20

To show my learning, I will be posting on my blog every two weeks. I will try to record videos of myself playing in order to better illustrate my level of proficiency and demonstrate anything new that I have learned. Hopefully there will be contrast in between the blog posts.

In the next couple weeks, I plan on continuing “playing around” with the violin and working with my mentor more in order to get a better feel for the instrument. After this I will refine my plan more and start learning some new techniques to be able to begin playing my first song or two.

 

Thank you for reading! I look forward to this project, and if you are interested, make sure to read my next post in two weeks!

John Maxwell Reflection

After reading John C. Maxwell’s Developing the Leaders Around You, there are a couple points he talked about that particularly stood out to me, and I would like to elaborate on them:

  1. “Can [the apprentice] do what is required? Will he or she do what is required?” (Maxwell, 2014). This is one of the most important considerations for a mentor-apprentice relationship to work effectively. If the apprentice does not have the commitment to do what is required, then the relationship will turn into one almost completely based around the mentor, and the apprentice will not be involved enough to learn well. Even if the apprentice is fully committed, sometimes they will just be incapable at doing the tasks at hand. In this case, the learning process also falls apart. Even though this idea is so simple, I think it is still one of the most overlooked. If this principle is not considered right from the beginning, then the apprentice may not learn effectively, and the result will be wasted effort and time. In order for the grade nines to make the most out of the leadership projects and adventure trips, I can make an effort to specifically tailor tasks (for the leadership projects) and learning opportunities (for the adventure trips) based on their capacity and commitment. For example, if a grade nine is finding a task overwhelmingly difficult or does not have the preliminary knowledge to do the task, I may find another simpler task that is on the level of the grade nine’s capacity level.
  2. “Nothing is more confusing than people who give good advice and set bad examples.” (Peale, n.d.). Leading by example is one of the most important elements of being a good leader. As a learner myself, there have been numerous times when adults around me set bad examples and unknowingly followed them. Often, in real life situations, there is no one around you to correct these mistakes learned this way. However, the opposite is also true: Modeling can be a powerful tool for leaders when used in a positive way to support the other elements of leadership. It is also important that we recognize when we make mistakes and correct our apprentices’ mistakes in order to avoid developing bad habits. During the leadership projects and adventure trips, the grade nines, being younger and more inexperienced, will likely take in a lot just by watching more experienced people doing tasks. For example, if we are working on the leadership projects and some of the grade tens get distracted from their work, the grade nines will likely follow and be unproductive. Even if grade nines are told to stay on task, they may still think it is okay to fool around because they look up to the grade tens and feel they cannot get in trouble if they are just “following.” To avoid making mistakes, it is important that we pay special attention to what we do and ask Ms. Mulder or other teachers whenever we are unsure of anything.
  3. Maxwell says that an effective mentor must have the characteristics of self-disclosure and being able to keep things confidential. A mentor-apprentice relationship works best if both people are completely comfortable sharing all their thoughts. Learning is hindered when a person hesitates to ask questions; failure is a natural part of learning. This allows for insightful and engaging learning, as well as a deep connection between the people. Although it is possible to learn without such a connection, thorough learning requires it. The mentor must be able to put himself/herself down onto the level of the apprentice to the point where they know each other well. The TALONS program puts emphasis on this and encourages friendship between all students. For example, it is always fun when students share funny past failures and mistakes in their leadership lessons, which are used so the mistakes are never made again. Everyone usually listens well, and the process is much more engaging. It will be beneficial if I can make more grade nine friends during the leadership projects and the adventure trips, so that we can engage during activities like hikes and paddling together later during the adventure trips. It is also important that I remain open and honest throughout the whole process. Interestingly, having grade nine friends is also beneficial for me outside of TALONS, apart from the consideration that it allows for gathering and further learning outside of school.

    Learn more about the importance of asking questions 

Thanks for reading!

Eminent person practice interview reflection

To practice for our eminent person interviews, I interviewed a classmate about their life and their experiences in Talons. The interview went fairly smoothly, but based on the feedback I got, there are several improvements I could make.

At first, I was a little unprepared for the interview and I was quite nervous when trying to engage in conversation. However, I found it much easier to talk once I started off the interview by getting to know Clara better. I think it would be a good idea to start off the real interview like this as well. Nonetheless, I still think I need to get much more experience interviewing people to make the process more natural. My parents are a great choice for practicing my interviewing skills because they will probably be willing to be my interviewee and there is no risk in interviewing them. To add variety to my interviewees, I may also try interviewing some of my classmates again if I still need more practice.

Another problem I had during the interview was my unpreparedness. Although most of my questions were strong and had purpose, some of them were quite unnecessary or poorly timed because I was desperately trying to ask all ten of my prepared questions. I will definitely try to prepare at least 15-20 questions for the real interview so that I can have more flexibility with my choice of questions, and I won’t have to ask all of them. I can even prepare follow-up questions for expected responses to help guide the interview, so the questions follow a logical order. Hopefully, this will make it more comfortable for the interviewee. It will also allow me to ask deeper questions and obtain information that I cannot get anywhere else.

Even though the interview went well, I don’t feel very satisfied with the information that I obtained. I didn’t really have much intention or goals in mind heading into the interview, which I can improve on. If I go into the real interview with an idea of the specific information I want to obtain from the interview, I will be able to keep my questions more relevant and avoid wasting the interviewee’s time on unnecessary questions.

The last improvement I could make is to speak more loudly and clear, as well as keep better eye contact instead of looking at my notes the whole time. As an interviewee, it seems much more like a waste of your time if the interviewer talks in a monotone voice and doesn’t seem to care about the interview very much. As I practice interviewing my parents, I will pay special attention to the way I speak, and I think I will naturally get better at it.

Interviewing my classmate was not nearly as stressful as the real interview will be, but I feel it was an important experience that helped me determine my strengths and weaknesses that I need to work on. I hope that with some changes, my eminent person interview will go even smoother than my practice one.

 

Thanks for reading!