Violin Pedagogue Elizabeth Faidley on Teaching Young Beginners
Elizabeth discusses how she works with a beginner violin student and provides resources for interested parents
Elizabeth Faidley's Approach to Young, Beginner Violin Students
My students have been mainly teenagers for the last decade, so imagine the spark in my eye when a five-year-old pops into my studio. (Literally, I am told that my eyes become as cartoonishly large as Rapunzel's) I have always found the most joy to be found here, in the very beginning steps. As a teacher, a lump of clay stands in front of you, most likely with a giant smile and an earnest attempt to hold the tiny violin. How do we even begin to mold the adorable lump of clay? I have been discovering and rediscovering this process for many years and with many, many wonderful students.
To start, I find that most violin shops send families home with instruments that are too big. It is very important that the violin be the perfect size with an edge towards the smaller end. Everything needs to fall into place easily and with as little frustration as possible. Smaller is easier.
After the family comes back with the smaller size, I then start a two-fold teaching approach: the bow and the violin. I begin by telling the story of the bow hand and its fingers and everyone's jobs. (Spoiler alert: someone is lazy!) I take photos/videos and decorate Instagram posts with rainbows, unicorns, trucks, batman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and whatever excites and inspires. This part is tedious for everyone — the beginner, the parent, and the teacher.
With the violin, I usually begin with a sponge, but I am always flexible. (Flexibility is key in the teaching of all ages/levels). I make sure the parent (or child) understands how the violin feels. If the violin is uncomfortable, I place some moleskin over the metal bars, and then the child always agrees with me that the violin feels like a snuggly pillow. I also promise the parent and new violinist that there are NO silly questions. They can ask me anything.
During this time, I get to know the child. Likes, dislikes, favorite foods, siblings, sports, etc. I encourage the child to ask me questions also. Want to know why I love orangutans? Interested in my obsession with ballet? Trust develops quickly like this, and the bubble of joy will remain around you.
The bubble is very important. As we all know, the bubble inevitably pops on every student, but the later, the better. The longer my eyes stay Rapunzel-sized and the longer the child is actively engaged, the faster and more fun the learning is.
After both the violin position and the bow hold are on the right road, I then begin a few "Pre-Twinkle" pieces - Birdie Song, Flower Song, Monkey Song. Before Twinkle, my hope is that the bow hand looks beautiful and soft (like chocolate soft-serve ice cream) and the left hand shape is perfect (like a water slide). It's very important to remain in the bubble at this critical juncture and to include the parent in every lesson.
I am not a "Suzuki" teacher, but I do use Books 1-4 for the excellent repertoire. I skip some pieces and supplement with other books (such as Josephine Trott's Double stop system). I also soak the vitamins out of each piece and move on. I polish 3/4 of pieces, but never to the point of frustration. Once you sense frustration, NOTHING is worth staying on Minuet 1, Martini Gavotte, or Seitz. This is the needle that will puncture your beautiful bubble of joy. Let it go and return to it later.
Best of luck, teachers, and families. This is a beautiful journey. Keep those hands soft and that bubble around you!
Suggestions and ideas for Parents:
- Listen to violinists, chamber groups, and orchestras in the background of your house, car, etc.
- Trust your teacher on specifics and try to block out the white noise
- Attend concerts. Let young children color and just listen.
- Develop a practice schedule and stick with it, even if you (parent) want to lay on the floor and watch "Ozark" after a rough day
Elizabeth's Book List for Parents:
- Carol Dweck "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success"
- Angela Duckworth "Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance"
- Edmund Sprunger "Helping Parents Practice: Ideas for Making it Easier"
- Esther Wojcicki "How to Raise Successful People"
A highly sought-after pedagogue, violinist Elizabeth Faidley is in her fifteenth year at The Manhattan School of Music: Pre-College Division and was the recipient of the American String Teachers’ Association 2011 “Studio Teacher of the Year” award. She has a large private studio in the New York City metropolitan area where she teaches violin performance to aspiring players from ages 3 to 23. Her students have won national and international competitions and have performed in such great halls as Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Merkin Concert Hall, and the White House. They are routinely accepted, with scholarships, to the world’s premier music conservatories including The Manhattan School of Music, New England Conservatory, the Juilliard School, Peabody Conservatory, Rice University, the Royal College of Music, and The Cleveland Institute. Her students routinely perform as soloists with orchestras around the country and have been laureates of the Sphinx Competition, the Cooper Violin Competition, and the International Stulberg Competition.