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The Myth of Violin Fragility & A True Confession

I am going to tell you the truth. The fragility of violins is something of a myth.

Of course, violins will be broken if you drop them on a tile floor or if something heavy like a car or a human smashes down on top of them. Really there are myriad ways to damage a violin enough that it would need to be repaired by a luthier or possibly given a proper burial. Cremation, anyone?

I suppose it may depend on the instrument itself, whether its glue and components are of the highest quality or not. Let’s just say that while a violin is certainly breakable, it is not as delicate as a glacier lily.

We learn to take loving care of our dear violins, to wipe them carefully, to change strings regularly, to have the sound post adjusted from time to time or the fingerboard planed, and little dings cosmetically enhanced.

Confession

Here comes the confession. (I am admitting to my innate clumsiness and am sharing some of my most humiliating moments here, so please cut me a little slack.)

I have broken my dear, lovely baroque violin twice in my adult life, quite severely. Both were accidents, and each time seemed as though they would be the kiss of death.

The breakage was not light, either time. The damage was truly horrifying on both occasions.

The first time it happened I was 21 years old and I had just been admitted by Roman Totenberg to the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts for my undergraduate diploma. Living in a tiny studio apartment which had a little foyer when you opened the door, I had my music stand in this space. Here is where I did the thing that no violin learner or player should ever, EVER do. I left the violin hanging on the edge of the stand. This is a terrible thing to do and don’t you ever do it! In the morning when I was stumbling around in the dark only half awake, I bumped into it and it came crashing down on the antique tile floor. The sound it made was shocking, with the wood splitting, and my heart breaking.

The department head was willing to give it a try

First, I was petrified at how stupid I had been to let this happen. Second, I made myself numb to the financial impact it would have on me, being a student with basically a zero-sum bank account. Nevertheless, I took it around town (Boston) having it examined by various strangers who were the famous reputable luthiers willing to help me. The prices they were demanding were all far out of my budget (again, I had no budget so this was doubly painful), and to add insult to injury, their prices came with the clause that there was no guarantee that a fix would hold up.

Exasperated

Finally, exasperated, and ready to give up, someone mentioned to me about the North Bennet Street School of Violin Making. As a last resort, I tried not to get my hopes up too high, but actually the department head was willing to give it a try, to glue it without removing the top, also with no guarantee. I cannot recall what I ended up paying but it was a fraction of what the others had demanded. In the end, it worked! You could see some small lines where it was glued, but in the many years since, it has never once opened along those cracks.

Since I am opening up my heart here and sharing my clumsiness in the public blogosphere, I will now tell you about the second time this happened, in Germany. This time it was at the end of teaching a lesson.

Trying to convince myself that the damage was not too bad

The child had finished, she was already packed and ready, and there was something she had asked for that prompted me to open my violin a second time. Only the problem was that this time, having been distracted by something else, I did not close it properly and zip it up. So, when I finally did intend to leave and picked the case up by its handle the whole thing went plummeting down onto the floor. This floor was wood, but that was not soft enough to cushion such a blow. My face must have conveyed the utter loss I felt in the moment, for the student yelped out “Ms Buckley, is everything okay?!” (It wasn’t.) I just lied and said don’t worry, it would be okay, probably trying to convince myself more than her.

I did not know what the future would hold in this case, as the break seemed much worse than the earlier one. But I did know a fine luthier, Susanne Müller, who lived in our county of Böblingen, near Stuttgart. I took it to her in fear of the worst, but she was willing to try to salvage the instrument. She also would not guarantee anything, but I was only able to hope for the best once again, as I did not see any other way forward. This time the bill was much higher, but it was absolutely worth every penny.

A second miracle

It was returned repaired and glued back together with some rib-stitches (ouch!). In the end, to my sheer amazement, it never sounded better. I am definitely not saying to go out and break your fiddle, (but if, in the off chance it should happen, try not to worry too much unless it’s smashed to smithereens).

Wood, in my experience, is an incredibly forgiving, long-lasting, and malleable material. We should be so grateful for the wonderful, time-enduring trees which gave us the raw material for our beloved fiddles.


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String Teacher Moves to Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

This string teacher has moved house to Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, China.

Mostly I’ve been quiet in the blogosphere lately because after our wonderful student concert in Stuttgart (along with the lovely and very talented, kind & generous string teacher Cornelia Hierlinger and her student), I had to focus my attention on our move to Suzhou, Jiangsu Province in the People’s Republic of China.

Those of you who know me, know l am no stranger to China. I’ve taught and performed in China for ten years so far, so what’s three more in the big picture, after all? Plus, it will force me to brush up on my Mandarin skills. I love it when l can read some characters l had no idea l still knew. Memory is a funny thing; it seems very much like a computer sometimes in that skills and pictures get stored beyond our consciousness and are retrievable based on demand. I don’t mean you can just willfully call up something you think you forgot; it isn’t that simple, at least for me. But l do experience a place-based awareness which l believe is really a thing.

Like when l go back to my hometown, l know and recall all kinds of things l don’t have conscious access to when l’m overseas, largely because l don’t need it constantly, just when in that place.

With music though, l use it everywhere, and this special language never really gets lost as much as verbal language does. Could be that that’s because it’s something l use more constantly. I’m finding it easier to manage switching between German, English and Chinese now too. Just don’t ask me to be an official translator! That’s a whole different ball game and not one l am interested in jumping into. Of course, unofficially, l do it all the time.

So, in this blog l wanted to give you an update on SuperStrings Studio and what’s happening in my work life, the Royal String Teacher Association and a Museletter.

Although we’re living in Suzhou, Shanghai is something of a magnet pulling me happily back there with concerts to perform and friends to visit! Luckily for us there’s a fast train station nearby which has frequent trains taking just 20 minutes to Shanghai. For about the same price as what we had to pay to go from Böblingen to Stuttgart we can get to Shanghai about 50 miles away, and faster. (Overall it does take longer because foreigners have to show up in person at the station to buy tickets, which one does in advance or else face frequently sold-out trains if one waits till the last minute, and some destinations inside Shanghai take an hour or more to reach too.)

If you’re available, l would love to invite you to these wonderful concerts, all of which will take place in Pudong at the Shanghai Oriental Arts Center. I have to thank our good friend Stephan Brandel for inviting us to play music together with his ACMP friends. Through Stephan and colleagues from previous concerts I’ve played, I’m very grateful to be asked to play in these concerts.

Why do l sacrifice time away from building my business and teaching to perform in concerts? The answer is simple: it’s fun, even if it’s a lot of effort. The music is of a very high standard and l love the repertoire! It’s great to reconnect with colleagues and meet new ones. In short it soothes the soul and makes the world a better place. It’s nice to be paid and it’s also fun to show students what might be in their futures if they pursue it.

A Museletter arrived in early June 2019, the fifth issue, and continues to be a way to connect with other string teachers around the world, encouraging, supporting and generating a fun vibe for all engaged in string music education. The June 2019 edition features the incredible and lovely Wendy Velasco, a cellist and cello teacher with some fantastic things to say about music and how she teaches. In case you’re new to it, there’s no charge for a Museletter but it’s full of real teacher news, interviews, tips and inspiration. Since it’s a publication l produce out of love and compassion for our profession and the dear teachers who already sacrifice so much for our students, l offer this free of charge as a service each quarter to give back. My life has been immeasurably enriched by my students and their families; if l can share some of this wealth of knowledge and experience with you then l am very pleased to do so. The only thing it “costs” is your subscription by email, because l want to send it out only to people who truly want it. l put my heart and soul into it as well as a significant amount of time and effort (read: blood, sweat & tears). In case you’re on the fence and are wondering whether to subscribe or not, there’s no catch at all. That’s a promise. I am not going to spam you and won’t share your contact information with any third party except for the mail client Mailchimp, which l use to make pretty formatting and to send it out. I host the issues myself on SuperStrings Studio’s website. You can also unsubscribe at any time, no questions asked. But l hope you’ll fall in love with it and will look forward to reading it every three months!

As far as teaching, l thank my students and their families in Germany so much, as well as my dear colleague Cornelia Hierlinger and Sarah Kupke, Head of School at the International School of Stuttgart in Sindelfingen, for our work together and the beautiful experiences (and progress) we shared. I continue to teach a few by video conference and am excited to play concerts in the Shanghai Oriental Arts Center.

The Royal String Teacher Association is still taking shape and will become available later this year. Members receive

  • Monthly Super Topics which will dive deeper into subjects relevant to string teachers in the 21st century (only available to Royal String Teachers)
  • Live video round table discussions each month
  • Invitation to join a live meet up in China (possibly Germany and the US in future)
  • Collegiality, friendship, fun and support from me and other amazing members in a private group on Facebook
  • The ability to be matched with another teacher to have a professional colleague to pair with and be accountable to for any goal you’re working toward or just for general support
  • Option to participate in a self-evaluation certificate program to improve your teaching (no additional charge for members)
  • The chance to be part of something growing and keeping pace with the times using digital communications & social media to enhance our teaching and professional relationships

Founding members join at a ridiculously low price, which will remain permanently in effect as long as one continuously remains a member, even when the price increases for the second and subsequent membership offers, and even when additional valuable services and content are added!

There is also full transparency with the Royal String Teacher Association, as what is promised is what is delivered.

As far as readjusting to life in China, that’s an ongoing process but now that we have an apartment, things are starting to feel more at home. I’m also now the proud owner of a chocolate colored bike, not that I would’ve chosen the color but there was only this model, and it was the only one that looked like it would hold up. Most people in Suzhou either drive cars or ride electric scooters, and of those riding bikes, they mostly use free city bikes. (Non-carbon dependent transportation is something we all can use more of!) Those city bikes are also handy because you don’t need to worry about theft and can simply leave them when done with them.

After visiting the local court house for my husband’s work unit today, l was reminded how much bureaucracy l have endured so far in my life. I’m honored because without it l couldn’t have moved to Germany once and China three times. I think l’ve about earned a PhD in it by now! And there are myriad little things about daily life here that l won’t bore you with but are decidedly different from life in the west.

There is a period of adjustment to living in the middle kingdom, even though l have already spent ten years working in China. One good thing l can say with certainty is that the diet is better because it is so much more heavily plant-based. I seldom even have coffee any more, but when l do l can appreciate it so much!

How about your life in strings? Have you got recitals planned or an informal play-in for your friends or students? I’d love to hear from you in a comment!

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Why Validate String Students?

Three Easy & Honest Ways to Validate String Students

What does that mean, to validate students, anyway?

Validating students shows learners that they are of value, not only as customers, but that they are valuable as human beings. Everyone needs the feeling of validation, and giving this to students costs nothing but attention and a few seconds, yet this practice can do wonders for both learning and teaching.

Read the rest of this article in the fourth issue of a Museletter, coming out in March, 2019! (It’s free, & comes out each quarter.)

Get on the list & never miss a beat:

 

Why join the wait list for the Royal String Teacher Association?


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Today is an Earl Grey day in the life of the growing wait list for the Royal String Teacher Association. It snowed early this morning, leaving a beautiful sugar-coating on the wonderful world outdoors. And now, according to my plans, I’ve promised myself I’d write a blog. That’s one of my goals this year, to write blogs at least twice per month. The thing is, when I write a blog, it often takes days of revision to get it shaped into something worthy of your eyes. So for me, twice per month is a milestone! I’ll check back in on this intention in a year.

So what is RSTA? Simply put, the Royal String Teacher Association Worldwide helps string teachers all across the globe have more fun, earn more money and have more success than ever in their teaching.

 

 

Since time is always a commodity we never seem to get enough of, RSTA puts together amazing super-topics on a monthly basis to teach new skills and implement digital tools, helping you avoid overwhelm and stay on top of your teaching business.

Each month, members will receive training and inspiration on a relevant super-topic, in the form of a workbook and presentation (which is an educational workshop just for string teachers) to help with the ever changing day-to-day business of our teaching.

 

Members are invited to join live monthly video meetings – with real string experts and industry helpers – related to the super-topic and have access to replays of live events. The private member group is available at any time for members to ask questions, offer suggestions, give and receive support, and connect with other amazing string teachers all around the world.

I am so honored to have met a number of incredible, wonderful and inspiring teachers in 2018, through ESTA-Deutschland, the violin groups on Facebook like The Violin Guild, Facebook Violinists and International Music Teachers Exchange. For those of you I’ve met in person, whether playing chamber music or at a conference, I am super happy that we got to cross paths and am very thankful for you, more than you can know! For those of you whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting via video conference, or by phone, I thank you too, for your trust and your willingness to employ technology, some of you having used video conference for the very first time! And for many others, with whom I have exchanged a few comments or shared a laugh via forums, I thank you too. You add joy and value to all.

Receive a free printable on whether one needs to rehair the bow or not, right now to use with students, and get occasional updates (monthly or so) on this unique, first-of-its-kind opportunity to know more about RSTA! Just hit the button below and join the wait list for when the doors open for membership.

Note: we use MailChimp as our email host so be sure to whitelist bb at superstringsstudio dot com to receive your goodies!

 

Sponge Blog

violin student in Stuttgart
students soak up a lot more than you think
Students are sponges, so ooze greatness and kindness!

Did you know our students are sponges? Students absorb a lot from us, not only the instrumental technique and musicality we wish to help them master.

They also tend to soak up our energy level, open-mindedness and capacity for joy and enthusiasm, or the contrary. This is one of the reasons it is so incredibly important to consciously cultivate our mindsets as teachers, to be focused on positivity, productivity, kindness and excellence.

It won’t really matter at all if we have a degree from a big-name conservatory but haven’t got the capacity to embrace a wide variety of teaching and learning situations.

With the idea in mind that ours is the only method, or that my is the best way to be followed without consideration for different ages, personalities, wishes, goals and moods, we are in danger of losing out on helping students to reach their potential. We might even lose our students’ trust.

Some of the things that help me to make sure my personal teaching mindset is prepped to give off the things I truly want students to absorb are

  • allowing extra time for planning and preparation time before every lesson to consciously and calmly consider the student(s) I am about to teach, and the single main point I hope to focus on (which is flexible in case the student(s) arrive with a greater need)
  • finding a fun, age-appropriate activity or game I can incorporate to make the lesson more interesting
  • visualizing and focusing on a goal in my own playing and teaching practice
  • reading books and blogs specifically regarding best methods
  • collaborating with and supporting other string teachers

Another thing that I very aware of, is the need to adapt myself to a student’s capacity for understanding. For example, I have found through a bunch of years teaching children of all ages, in really different cultural settings, that a huge number of children up through about the third grade, may not understand a number of ordinary vocabulary words.

Even body parts – I had a highly intelligent, very learning-oriented first grade student who did not know where her shoulders were. To solve this with many children we could play some fun games like “Simon Says” (also with the instrument) to be sure that they know what is what. Other words too, like “emotion” or “encourage” or “discipline” might get you the deer-in-the-headlights look if you use them and are paying attention to the reaction you get. It’s great to teach these words – I don’t mean not to use them – but just be aware that little kids have not got the same vocabulary as you do as an adult and may need you to use synonyms that they do understand, like “feelings,” “help” and maybe “following the learning every day” or to explain in detail the meaning of these important words. Older students need it too—not very many fifth graders would know the words “extrapolate” or “anticipate,” for example.

I don’t ever assume a student doesn’t know words but I am in the habit of asking them. If you have a relationship built on trust the student will be able to answer you honestly. If you’re still working on the trust factor, that’s okay, because that is also not something that comes automatically! It’s okay to challenge the student and when they answer that they know something, to ask them, “then what does it mean?” to be sure, or to turn it into a teachable moment.

So far, I have observed that students absolutely love to soak up the meaning of vocabulary that we use to help them in their learning.

Some students who have begun with me recently have given me a massive feeling of gratitude, because their learning style seems to be in super-sponge mode, understanding things about sound and physical technique long before the verbal. Of course, I still expect daily practicing from them, or five to six days per week.

string teacher sponge blog
sponge blog for teachers of stringed instruments

Lately I’ve been truly blessed by the concept of the sponge. I was even overjoyed to be reminded of this as I stumbled upon a package of sponges we had bought and forgotten, that had fallen under a seat in the car. Sponges are actually quite beautiful. Here is an amazing documentary on sponges in case you might be interested in drawing your own analogies. Our students are beautiful and multifaceted too, every single one of them. Thanks for reading my Sponge Blog.

What about your students? How are they absorbing what you teach? Got a story to share? Write it in the comments – we’d love to read it! ♥

segno, SSS Logo, superstrings studio logo

 

ON LISTENING


December 27, 2017

When someone outside the profession of string music education learns that I am a violin teacher, there is often a reaction of “oh you must be so patient, to listen to all the mistakes” or something similar. Perhaps there is a tiny measure of truth in that, but it isn’t like you’d think.

2017 12 26 LISTENING SNIPPET

I remember back in high school when a band teacher complained that he didn’t like going to concerts because he couldn’t really enjoy them as he heard all the tiny flaws. I also remember thinking, how sad for him, because what a pathetic life one would live as a teacher of music and being so wrapped up in hearing the mistakes that one couldn’t enjoy concerts! I knew at that moment that he was missing something important.

First of all there is no perfect concert. Second of all, everyone has to go through the learning process who wants to become a musician. This involves making some mistakes (and hopefully intentionally learning from them).

As a teacher we do much more than teaching how to make nice sounds, because it isn’t that simple to get good sounds, especially from stringed instruments. There is so much more one has to learn with one’s body to get those sounds and to take care of ourselves while doing this.

Listening, after all, is done with the whole body and not only with the ears.

Many people might be startled to learn that children actually hear more with their bodies than their ears until around seven years old. It’s one of the reasons they love to climb and be on us, to get closer, to feel our sound vibrations. You can feel them too if you allow yourself to and focus on this. It’s pretty amazing how different tones seem to react more strongly in different parts of the body.

The second part of listening is something I believe to be metaphysical yet unique to people:  listening with one’s heart or soul. A child’s off key song, for example, might not be worthy of being performed on a stage, but if we are listening with our hearts it surely brings a moment of enjoyment into our lives, unless we’re listening only with the mean “searching for mistakes” kind of listening. It all depends on where we put our focus.

As a teacher we listen for what we can build upon and take it from there. We do have to use the kind of listening which hears the mistakes, it is true, but it doesn’t have to obliterate the enjoyment or intention for top-level instruction and improvement. The critical listening we use as teachers can (and should) be done kindly, respectfully and lovingly. In this sense it is always rewarding because there is as much potential for growth and development as for the intrinsic joy of helping others to learn to create something beautiful.                                                           

© 2017 SuperStrings Studio