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StringPedagogy VOLUME ONE


Philosophical and Pedagogical Approach

Violin performance engages the physical, the psychological, and the musical abilities of the player. Mimi Zweig's fundamental principle of violin teaching, based on natural physical motions nurtured in a *non-judgmental environment, embodies all three of these elements of performance. The development of a facile and secure technique begins with physical freedom. This then gives the performer the freedom to play with musical sensitivity and confidence. The teaching/learning environment is also critical. From the first lesson a non-judgmental atmosphere is established. This means that mistakes are viewed as an opportunity to learn. Much of what one does in life is learned through experimentation. Mistakes should not be used as negative experiences. Instead, they can be seen as neutral information that will be used to solve problems. Another goal is to reduce anxiety. Anxiety can be a primary source of tension. Tension is also a physical issue. It is wise for teachers to be aware of the students' physical approach to the violin for many years. As young students become older students, their bodies are constantly changing. Overnight, what seemed comfortable to a child can feel awkward to the growing gangly young person. The natural reaction is to hang on for dear life, but this only exacerbates the tension problems. Training students to be aware of their own bodies is a life long quest. The more one tries to control specific motions, the tighter one can become. By returning to the basic physical motions of playing, restoring and refining the natural balance of movement, unnecessary tension can be avoided.

Establishing a healthy foundation for playing the violin is like growing a beautiful and strong tree. Without a secure root system, the tree will be blown away in the first storm. The same occurs in violin playing. A violinist must have a healthy foundation that can withstand the pressures of performing. The teacher guides the student in building a solid technical and musical foundation with a clear sense of the journey from the beginning sounds to the artist level.

Mimi Zweig founded the Indiana University String Academy in 1976. Her teaching integrates the violin pedagogy, musical vision, and teaching philosophy of *Shinichi Suzuki, *Paul Rolland, *Josef Gingold, *Tadeusz Wronski, *Janos Starker, and *Jerry Horner. By synthesizing the best aspects of each pedagogue, Mimi Zweig and her colleagues at the Indiana University String Academy, are engaged in a teaching process that releases the creative potentials of their students. The art of teaching is a life long adventure; many other people, artists, colleagues and students alike have contributed to the whole. Students develop solid foundations in the basics of violin performance, ensemble and chamber music, and are well grounded in written and aural music theory. Even when students do not choose to become professional musicians upon completion of their studies, all take with them a love and understanding of music only obtainable after years of study.

The String Academy emphasizes two principles of learning that come from Suzuki's philosophy as expressed in *Nurtured by Love.

1. All children are encouraged to strive for their potential. Given the right environment, any child can learn to do anything, and in particular, to play the violin. This musical environment includes supportive and actively involved parents, listening to good music from an early age (including the early violin pieces), and good instrumental training. [p.13, 36-38, 97-99]

2. Children can learn to do anything given enough repetitions in an encouraging environment. As a result, practice is based upon the number of repetitions rather than the quantity of time. [p. 43-47, 97-99]

The String Academy also incorporates much of the Suzuki repertoire into its curriculum because it is a well-conceived technical and musical progression of pieces. Students progress from open strings to Vivaldi Concertos with ease and confidence. (See the repertoire list.)

From *Paul Rolland, who founded the University of Illinois String Research Project in the early 1970's, comes the awareness that violin playing must incorporate the most natural physical motions allowing all string players to play with ease and beauty of tone. By applying balanced body positions to violin playing, physical tension is reduced. Rolland made a series of fourteen films entitled*"The Teaching of Action in String Playing", in which he demonstrates innovative ideas to achieve this freedom.

Each film deals with a specific aspect of string playing, i.e., Left Hand Position, Vibrato, Bow Strokes, etc. The films approach violin playing in a systematic way starting with large motions and proceeding to the smaller ones. The basic premises are that all movements must be balanced and that every action has a reaction. Rolland's action studies awakened the string teaching profession to systematic movement training and to the relationship between the kinesthetic and the musical.

It is important to develop a sense of pulse and rhythm from the beginning lessons. Students are taught to associate rhythm with action by beating drums and moving in time to music. Rolland's principle is that, "Good rhythm concepts are the basis of all well controlled movements, otherwise our playing becomes disorganized and confused." (From page 60 in "The Teaching of Action in String Playing" 1974)

The String Academy has applied many of the Rolland principles to its program. For example, the Statue of Liberty, sliding on the "Magic X", tapping over the high dot, shadow bowing, plucking the high, low and middle positions to develop freedom and flexibility in reaching all the positions, are just a few of the concepts that are used.

Paul Rolland worked with the composer Stanley Fletcher to develop two volumes of repertoire with piano accompaniment, *New Tunes for Strings. Each piece deals with a specific technical issue and portrays a unique musical character. These books are a valuable addition to the beginning repertoire for private and group lessons.

Mimi Zweig began the *Indiana University String Academy in 1976 with six violin students. Now it has grown to 160 students studying the violin and cello with a faculty of teachers dedicated to working with young people. Beginning students in the String Academy participate in three weekly lessons. These are a half-hour private lesson given by the major teacher, a one hour group lesson, and a “helper lesson”. The “helper lesson” is a private lesson given by a university student taking a *string pedagogy class. As the student advances, the lesson times expand to 45 minutes and then to one hour. With advanced students, more time is given as needed.

Groups are divided by repertoire according to the Suzuki books. Group lessons for students in Books 2 to 5 meet for 1-1/2 hours and include ensemble playing, solo performances and theory instruction. Books 6 and 7 meet for a 1-1/2 hour ensemble and master class, and a one hour theory class. Up to this point theory was included in the group lessons and now it is a separate class. The most advanced group, The Violin Virtuosi, meet for a one hour theory class, 1-1/2 hour master class, a two hour ensemble class, and chamber music. A chamber orchestra is arranged for the advanced students once a year and rehearses intensely for three weeks prior to the concert.

Performance opportunities are an important aspect of the musical education. Each semester contains a series of Solo Recitals where each student is required to perform. For students who have prepared entire works, there is an Entire Works Concert. If students have an entire recital program prepared, this will be added to the concert schedule. The Violin Virtuosi perform a number of concerts outside of Bloomington. Highlights of the last few years have been tours of France, Spain, Sweden, Italy and Japan, a concert at Carnegie Recital Hall and an appearance on the National Public Radio show, “From the Top.” A documentary film entitled, "Circling Around-The Violin Virtuosi", was released by PBS Television in 2006. Performing is the worthy reward for all the hard work it takes to play well.

Competitions also become a part of the musical education for students in the String Academy. The real benefit of a competition lies in the preparation process. The student needs to be ready at a specific time, with specific repertoire. It is the responsibility of the teacher to make wise decisions as to what a student is capable of doing and what is in the student's best interest.*Go to "Online References" found at the top of the page.

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