I love teaching in general and teaching the fiddle in particular. I come from a line of teachers (both my parents taught), and I feel that it comes naturally to me. I am fascinated with how different people have different learning styles, and I love the challenge of figuring out how to meet each person’s needs.
Working one on one with weekly lessons is best, in order for the student to get a good grounding. I recommend that children take Suzuki fiddle or work with teachers in town at the Brattleboro Music Center (802) 257-4523 because they are set up for short lessons on a very regular basis and have logged years of teaching experience with children. Adults in general learn in a different way from children, and I can help these older students better, I believe, with private lessons.
The first order of business is to get “set up” with the instrument, get the right sized instrument, a good chin rest and shoulder rest and make sure that the fiddle is comfortable for the player. Without this, playing can be more challenging than it already is!
I sometimes use David Tasgal’s “The Family Violin Method” (two books with CDs included) and sometimes do all the teaching entirely by ear. Learning to read can be a huge help for an adult who has never done any music before and has difficulty with pitch, with singing, or with remembering tunes. Tasgal’s books are very useful for these students, I have discovered. Playing along with the CDs for his books helps develop the ear as well.
I work on ear training, increasing the student’s facility with scales, arpeggios, and other patterns for the left hand, learning tunes by ear or from music, and gaining dexterity and technique with the bow. Becoming more relaxed is a key thing to making strides on the fiddle--and sometimes there are significant blocks to this that need to be addressed.
I work with both children and adults. We can explore different styles of music--Irish, Appalacian old-time, New England, Scottish and Cape Breton, Quebecois, airs, waltzes and other couple dances. I take my cue from my students in terms of what kinds of music they want to pursue, and I introduce technical aspects of playing in the context of this repertoire. I like the players to understand some music theory (more if the students are especially inclined in this direction), the harmonic underpinnings of tunes in particular, and how the violin is set up with its four strings tuned in fifths. I help people with phrasing, singing the tune, developing tone, gaining more coloration with bowing techniques, and, most importantly, learning about rhythm. The keystone of music is rhythm, and the use of the bow is what creates the “drum beat.” Learning how to create danceable music is an important part of what the intermediate and up player may have to focus on.
As someone who began as a classical player, I had certain advantages when I took up fiddle music. I knew my way around the instrument, had a fair amount of technique, could read music and discovered that I could learn by ear. That last skill was the most important of all because I found out that listening to different styles of music informed me in ways that written music never could. Dance music is all about groove and space and lift and timing, which was all something I had to learn about in order to be a good dance musician. I can certainly help people gain more facility with this important skill.
Another thing that classical music helped me with is learning how to practice effectively. There are many techniques that were passed on to me from my piano and violin teachers, orchestra conductors and other mentors that have stood me in good stead when faced with so much to learn. Again, there are students who are methodical and detail-oriented and others who are just the opposite. I see my role as one of trying to help people keep music in their lives, so I make every effort to respect the needs and wishes of each student and tailor the lesson to their wishes and the reality of their often very busy lives.
Feel free to get in touch with me if you think you would like to take lessons.
I’ve taught at dance and music weeks all over the country, sometimes fiddle classes and sometimes band workshops. In the fiddle classes, the focus has usually been on contra or English country dance music, on repertoire, phrasing, bowing techniques, learning by ear, practicing techniques, as well as individual problems. In this last regard, doing a master class is a great challenge and lots of fun. Each student gets to play something or address a particular issue giving him/her trouble, and I try to assess what to do. It can be a very stimulating and informative format for people in the class.
Band workshops are different, of course, and usually contain a range of instrumentation and often ability. I have worked with bands that have played together and wish for some coaching, as well as groups of unrelated musicians. In both cases, I’m often charged with helping the musicians create better medleys and arrangements and improve their communication skills, with playing as an ensemble and developing groove, variety and drama in their music. I find it very enjoyable to work with groups on improving band dynamics and find it especially satisfying to help them craft their music in order to better present it to their audiences.