It’s time for a new school year, an opportunity for a fresh start in your studio. A new crop of students is arriving, and many of your students are returning. And each student is different, with different strengths and weaknesses, different commitment levels, and different motivations. You’ve got lots of students to teach, and they need to cover a lot of ground quickly. Fortunately, you have your method books, your supplements, and especially your own experience and good sense, and that has always served you well. For most of your students.
But for those students that need some special attention or have some challenges to overcome, where do you find the time to investigate the solution, find the right book or product, and apply it to their unique issue? And yet, you know that you can’t ignore it, so that your student doesn’t quit playing. The issue could be physical, requiring something that could help develop better positioning. Sometimes a new point of view can help a student who has become bored and lost motivation. Or perhaps they are at a threshold, ready to advance to the next level but frustratingly stalled, requiring a “mind pivot” to really take off. At SHAR, we’ve discovered the answers from an obvious source: From other teachers! After all, teachers know best, and because they are teachers they love sharing what they know! SHAR has reached out to teachers for over 55 years, and teachers have reached out to SHAR. The answers to your teaching challenges come right out of the teaching community.
Here are some of our favorite products from some of our favorite teachers, organized by the kind of problem you may be trying to solve:
COMMON RIGHT HAND PROBLEMS
You know that mastering a solid bowing technique is among the most difficult challenges a student faces. And teaching it is just as hard. Here is a group of products developed by teachers and string players that are super effective.
The best solution that we have found for students having trouble with bow stroke tracking. Created by veteran violin teacher Becky Fields, and perfected in her own studio, the Bow Force is hand crafted in the USA, and will not damage instruments because of its soft edges, and is easy and intuitive to use.
Helps train bow distribution by means of feel, not just by means of a visual reminder, such as tape. Easy to use, safe for all bows. Made in the USA.
Gently develops mastery of proper right hand placement on the bow by training muscle memory, without the locked-in rigidity of some other bow hold products. Easy and safe to use. Made in the USA.
Invented by Dr. Suzuki himself, the super short Frog Meister quickly helps break the common student habit of playing only in the top half of the bow.
COMMON LEFT HAND PROBLEMS
Learning left hand technique is a problem in itself, but is mainly a matter of proper practice and troubleshooting. The dreaded “Pancake Wrist”, however, is a common and frustrating bugaboo. In fact, many players are never able to master proper left hand wrist positioning, which greatly limits progress. As with all tools, if used improperly they can be overridden; but if taught correctly, they work great. These two products, created by teachers through years of studio work, approach the problem from two completely different perspectives, helping smoothly overcome the problem, with the teacher’s help.
This simple device easily attaches onto the violin or viola, similarly to a shoulder pad, and acts to block the wrist from collapsing. The key to success is to train proper use of the Wrist Rascal NOT as a crutch or something on which to rest or lean the wrist, but to tell the student to not touch it with their wrist. This very quickly develops muscle memory, and a proper wrist position. The Wrist Rascal also doubles as an outstanding vibrato trainer.
Placed on the wrist with included Velcro straps, the Virtuoso Wrist Practice Aid provides students a physical reminder if they begin to collapse their wrist. The proper instruction for using the Virtuoso Wrist is to point out to the student that is not a splint, but a reminder: When you feel it, straighten your wrist!
BOOKS THAT HELP WITH PRACTICE AND MOTIVATION
“Practice Makes Perfect”? Well, not exactly. As has been stated more accurately, “Practice Makes Permanent”. These guides help keep careful practice on track through organization, recordkeeping and fun.
One of the most unique, engaging and charming books we have ever come across, especially appealing to young players. Why? Because it was written by a 12 year old, violinist Eleanor Hamilton, from a fresh viewpoint that only a young person could bring! Widely lauded for its tips, games and wisdom, Eleanor’s book encourages students to break free of boredom, developing a strong relationship with their violin by encouraging them to track their daily impressions. Practice is transformed from chore to joy!
Time is precious. The Musician’s Practice Planner helps you track your practice in order to maximize its impact. Develops great habits in students, and optimizes practice time for the seasoned professional. Year after year, one of SHAR’s most popular books with teachers, with strong artist endorsement.
Well-known educator Edmund Sprunger helps parents realize that every child is different, with their own sets of challenges. Approaching the age-old dilemma of practice avoidance and frustration from the standpoint of developing a stronger and loving relationship with your child, this book is not only invaluable in increasing the return from expensive lessons; it is a life-changer for both pupil and student.
For the young Spanish-speaking or bilingual violin student struggling with learning music theory, this wonderful guide, in Spanish, helps eliminate the language barrier.
BREAKING THROUGH PHYSICAL AND MENTAL BARRIERS
Progress is usually not linear and straightforward; it happens in fits and starts, as we discover solutions. Once solved, we rise to the next threshold, ready for even greater challenges, and from a loftier vantage point. Often, the hardest problems to overcome have to do with our bodies or minds. Focusing our attention on these areas, with clarity and discipline, can lead to incredible breakthroughs. These books address some of the most difficult challenges musicians can face in effective and creative ways.
As a teacher, you’ve seen it before – a student that was doing well and progressing nicely all of a sudden comes to a halt. Their technique is not the issue, and neither is positioning. They just can’t seem to break through from their intermediate level to advanced, despite your best efforts and theirs. This is a critical juncture, because frustration often leads to quitting.Dr. Melissa Knecht has dedicated years of research to this dilemma, as both an educator and violin and viola pedagogue. Her groundbreaking work has revealed that, at this stage, the problem is often that the student has not developed the internal storehouse of musical patterns. Borrowing from psychology and coding, Dr. Knecht has created a focused and effective program to build an aural and spatial sense of the fingerboard that will lead to a breakthrough to the next level.
There are “natural players”. The rest of us cope with all sorts of physical limitations. Most of these are entirely avoidable. Violinist and teacher Jennifer Johnson has addressed these problems in a comprehensive and thoughtful guide that is both text book and work book. Describing each problem down to the anatomical level, the book solves the problems in specific and focused ways, leading to success. Even beyond this, common notions that have been misunderstood are dispelled, leading to real solutions (did you know that there is no such things as a “shoulder”?) Like a language barrier, or a mental block, this guide helps players remove physical blocks, allowing their playing to break through.
BOOKS THAT HELP FOCUS ANY TEACHING METHOD, FOR TEACHERS AND PARENTS
Teaching methods offer an organized and incremental approach to learning a musical instrument. Individual etude books, carefully curated and organized by the teacher, have been just as important as a way of imparting the pedagogy required to learn to be a musician. Either way, there are always roadblocks or areas requiring more focused attention, in order to move forward. These three books are outstanding resources created by teachers, written for both teachers and parents.
Accelerate your student’s progress! This sensational book, by internationally acclaimed Suzuki educator, Kerstin Wartberg, is filled with fun exercises, pieces, and even scales, that help turbocharge any method. Supplemented with an accompaniment MP3 CD and downloadable audio files.
Notable Suzuki pioneer, Mark Bjork, created this book to help teachers, parents and students, overcome any obstacle, whether technical, musical or vocational. An invaluable resource that helps deepen and firmly establish the principals and practices of any teaching method.
Another revered and positive guide for helping parents support their beginning student establish outstanding habits imparted by their teacher. This valuable guide takes a very different approach in its embrace of struggle, thereby making it a positive experience. In this way, the student becomes stronger in both skills and character, developing the confidence to tackle any problem. In the process, the relationship of parent with student blossoms.
GOOD HABITS BEGIN EARLY: CARING FOR THE INSTRUMENT
Any professional knows they need to “keep their tools sharp”. That’s true for craftspeople as well as musicians. But too often, students do not develop these habits, leading to instruments that don’t play or play poorly. Sometimes this leads to discouragement on the part of both student and parent, who may believe that it is the student, not the instrument, that is the source of the bad sound. Fortunately, it is simple and inexpensive to develop good habits, and the earlier the better!
It’s hard to believe what a difference wiping down the strings after daily practice or playing makes to tone production . . . the difference between squeaky and beautiful! And clean strings last much longer than caked and gummed up strings. This habit, developed from the first lesson, will reap benefits for a lifetime of joyful playing.
Dry air is a violin’s enemy, especially in winter. Too often, it can lead to a cracked instrument, which means a very expensive repair. The Humidi Guard is a simple and effective device that easily solves the problem. Using one regularly is a habit that should be developed by every player.
Aggressive down bows are a necessary technique in learning the violin. But they can lead to varnish and wood damage, until the technique is refined. The clever C-Clip helps protect the center treble bout of the student’s violin during this period of learning. Far less expensive than a repair!
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