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Three Great Fundamental Principles for Teaching

My week of Unit 1 Suzuki teacher training with Rick Mooney was very helpful and enlightening.  In addition to helping me develop a plan for teaching all of the pieces in Suzuki Book 1, I learned so much about general principles of effective teaching and realized that values of the Suzuki method frequently match my own.  Here are some important principles that I learned from the experience:

1. Focus on relaxed, balanced weight being poured into the string

In Rick Mooney’s lessons with students, almost everything was related to maximizing relaxed and balanced weight in the body.  When this state is attained, it allows for the production of a rich resonant tone as well as accuracy and consistency in the left hand, providing a strong foundation for executing technical challenges and musical ideas.  The word “pour” is especially effective because it illustrates the natural, fluid, and dynamic sensation that we want when playing cello.  I spend a great deal of my practice time searching for more relaxed and balanced weight in my own playing, and I hope to teach my students how important this concept is.

2. When giving constructive feedback to others, telling students what can be improved without making comment directed at them personally

This style of teaching is effective since it explains what can be improved while keeping students receptive to the teacher’s suggestions.  For example, rather than telling the student “you are squeezing your left thumb”, instead saying “there is squeezing in the left thumb.”   By promoting this more distanced perspective, students will be more focused on improving their technique or musical approach instead of judging themselves and being less attentive towards the goal of learning.  Music can be a very personal activity, and it can be disheartening to hear criticism towards something that we feel emotionally invested in, especially if we devoted a fair amount of time towards it.  For this reason, I will use this approach to minimize the chance that my students get discouraged and increases their receptiveness to constructive feedback.

3. Using simple, child-friendly explanations or metaphors to describe technical or musical aspects of playing.

When Rick Mooney addressed the action or sensation he wanted his students to do or feel, it was very impressive how he could explain important and surprisingly advanced concepts to students who had not been playing cello for very long.  His descriptions were intuitive and practical to the development of high level cello playing, and even if his students did not understand the concept in much depth, it gave them a clear goal to work towards.  These simple goals are relevant at any level of cello playing, as it is frequently beneficial to remind our body and mind how it can work naturally and effortlessly when not given too many overly complicated tasks.  Some examples of the explanations he used is about weight being poured (as mentioned earlier in the first section of this post) and imagining left fingers sinking into the fingerboard as if it were a pillow to reduce pressing and tension.  I hope to follow Mooney’s example by discussing concepts that are intuitive to students of varying age and experience.

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