Usually we don’t put anything in the violin, but there was an exception last week at MusicLaunch. All 4 violin students and I opened straws up together and I demonstrated on my violin where to put the straws. I asked one high school student, “Why are we putting straws in our violins?” and she thought for a while, and then said, “To keep the bow here?” and pointed between the bridge and the straw goal posts. She was right on the dot.
As we began playing our “Twinkle, Twinkle” variations warm-up, they maintained a much straighter bow direction with the straws guiding their bow. We also practiced using different amounts of bow. For instance, I might say, “Let’s play ‘alligator alligator’ using only an inch of bow” or “Now let’s try ‘zoo zoo’ and use the whole bow.” Then each student made their own rhythm we would follow. In this lesson we also had a 3-minute practice time where I went around helping each student individually on our new tune, French Folk Song. I think when a student is a beginner, it can be helpful to have them hold the bow but assist by moving it by the wooden stick. They get the feeling of how it should sound and more importantly, how it feels before they have all the “technique” to get that sound on their own. If a student is having trouble using more bow, moving the bow faster with them can help them realize the violin won’t squeak if more bow is used. After practicing moving the bow with her for a minute, I then move to work with another student. Another student may not have any hesitation to use more bow, but needs help with having a straighter bow when the hand moves further away from her. The straws already help with this but since this student is 9, I told her to look at the shapes her right arm makes when she is at a different place in the bow. We have a square at the middle, tiny triangle at the frog, and a trapezoid (it looks like a strange rectangle and triangle put together) at the point of the bow.
Over this spring break I observed many classes at the Conservatory Lab Charter School (CLCS), and was very inspired by their school philosophy and everything! They formulated similar vocabulary every teacher uses from K-1 to middle school! Also I found it fascinating that the same warm-ups the students do in elementary school are still used 7 years later to warm the orchestra up. I am thinking of implementing their warm-ups into my teaching as well. After play open strings in a simple rhythm, they play tetrachords on every string to learn the beginnings of major/minor and whole tone scales. They also learn songs in a really great way. The teacher used a white board to write out the songs’ rhythm and note names. First he clapped, and asked the students what was special about the rhythm of the whole song. (the answer: it is the same rhythm 3 times.) If they didn’t hear it, they could visually see this. Then they spoke the note names in rhythm. Some even sang it. Then he had one brave student volunteer themselves to play it. After that he had each section of the orchestra play it and the other sections sing and do the fingerings on their instruments. When they all joined together the sound was incredible. Observing the school that day made me so excited to teach. The students at MusicLaunch have all the potential and joy in the world, and I am looking forward to sharing their development!