Popular String Pedagogies And Teaching Methods

Four different ways to teach string instruments and some pros and cons of each.

There are many approaches to teaching string instruments. Most teachers use a combination of different approaches. Here are some of the most common methods:

Suzuki method: This was developed by Shinichi Suzuki in the mid 1900's. It is a method used mainly in private instruction. A parent and child enter private lessons and begin learning to play a string instrument together. Neither learns to read music until well into their lessons; typically, a student is one book behind in reading music from the music he is playing. The student learns to play by ear through watching his teacher and mimicking his movements and sound. The parent, too, does the same thing. Suzuki also uses a number of "movements" in order for the child to understand where his hands must be placed on the instrument and how he must move his hands and arms in order to play the instrument adequately. At home, the student is supposed to be surrounded by music at all times. The parents are given recordings of the pieces the student is playing, and the parents are told to play this (or other classical music) at nearly all times. Students are encouraged to get their instruments out and play at any and all times of the day.

This method is advantageous because students are immersed in music, so they learn very fast and very well. However, they can struggle to read music later, and it's hard to get students to commit to such an all-encompassing method in today's busy world.

Paul Rolland method: This method primarily deals with the physicality of playing. Rolland recommends ways to move, based on how the body works, in order to make string playing more "natural." His method does not deal as much in specific music as it does in ways to teach playing, feeling, moving, and thinking about the violin and viola. He reasons that if you show a student how his body should move and why, that he will move it more correctly and learn to play better.

This method is better suited to students who already know how to play somewhat, rather than real beginners. Beginners don't have a real "sense" of what they're doing, and young ones won't understand the intellectual explanations anyway.

All For Strings Method: This is a series of books that are often used in classrooms. They are written by Robert Frost. The method teaches students to read letter names first, not music on a staff. It also recommends starting off with pizzicato (plucking the string) with the instrument held in rest position (across the lap) rather than with bowing. Once students have grasped the basic hand position, it moves students on to reading music and to bowing. It concentrates on using the first finger first and building up to the second and third fingers.

This method is ideal for a classroom setting, particularly for violins and violas. It teaches the base between the thumb and the first finger necessary for these "chin" instruments. It also doesn't move too fast to accommodate a classroom with differing ability levels.

Essentials for Strings Method: This is a series of books that are used in classrooms, written by Michael Allen, Robert Gillespie, Pamela Tellejohn Hayes, and John Higgins. The method is very similar to the All For Strings Method, except that this series concentrates on introducing the third finger first. This is because the authors of the book believe that if one starts with third finger, one will learn the shape of the hand properly and quickly.

This method is ideal for cellists and bassists, for whom the hand shape is very important. It is less appropriate for violins and violas because of their different technique with the left hand.

There are, of course, many other methods out there. Every teacher has his or her own hybrid method of teaching strings, based on his or her experiences as a player and as a teacher. Typically, all of these methods are used to some degree, both in the classroom and privately. All potential string teachers should check out these methods as well as reading about others before deciding what to use. It also helps to talk to experienced string teachers.

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