Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Inspiring, Helpful Books for Violin and Viola Teachers (and other Music Teachers as well)

Teaching violin and viola is a fantastic job, most of the time. I love sharing music with my students, and I'm excited to see their progress. Still, all students are unique, and it's often challenging to discover what works best for each individual person. I think it's valuable for music educators to continually examine their teaching methods and philosophies, so that we have plenty of tools to help us meet whatever challenges we have. I've made a list of books I think are essential reading for any music teacher. These books have helped me solve problems, in my own playing as well as my students'.

1. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. 

This book expresses the closest thing I have to a life philosophy. In it, Csikszentmihalyi discusses his experiments and his experiences studying "optimal experience." Ultimately, most people describe being happiest and most satisfied, to the point of transcendence, when they have high concentration and focus. How do ordinary people achieve this state of consciousness? By developing the same mental discipline and focus that we learn in music. If we carefully gauge our teaching so that students stay engaged and challenged without being overwhelmed, we can help them discover the state of "flow" in addition to the joys of music.

2. Nurtured by Love, by Shinichi Suzuki. 

This is the classic of Suzuki literature. Even if you think you would never want to use Suzuki method with your students, I'd strongly recommend reading this book. For one thing, the love and caring that Suzuki shows for his students and his intention to teach them to have a beautiful character and a love for music above all else, is inspiring to any teacher whatever their methods. I would also keep an open mind about his thoughts on teaching music. Even if you do not intend to use all of Suzuki method, he has many intelligent ideas about music teaching that any teacher can benefit from using.

3. The Inner Game of Music, by Barry Green and W. Timothy Gallwey. 

As a performance major in graduate school, I suffered from crippling performance anxiety. My teacher even suggested that I try beta blockers or other drugs to try and calm down. Instead, I got a copy of Barry Green's The Inner Game of Music, and his techniques became a life saver. I learned to use awareness to keep my mind focused during tough auditions and nerve-wracking performances. Furthermore, I found Green's ideas for using awareness techniques to communicate with students invaluable. I've found that my students learn more efficiently and effectively, and their performances during recitals benefit as well. I recommend this book to every nervous musician I meet, and doubly recommend it for teachers.

4. Teaching from the Balance Point, by Edward Kreitman. 

I bought this book after I attended one of Ed Kreitman's talks at a Suzuki Institute. He impressed me with his compassionate yet highly demanding methods of teaching. I've re-read this book several times since then, often when I'm feeling frustrated. This book reminds me that there are no short-cuts, only intelligent, efficient hard work. More over, it reminds me of many of the solutions to students' difficulties: patience, high standards, more patience, and constant repetition. I never fully valued the importance of review until I read Kreitman's book, and now I find it an essential tool, especially for students who seem "stuck."

5. Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching, by Ivan Galamian. 

This book is a great classic of violin techniques and teaching. While much of it is highly technical for violinists, it's an important read for anyone who wants to learn how to truly master an instrument. Although one might think Galamian's techniques are too advanced to use with beginning students, I think it's easy enough to start with the simple, basic elements of say, an A major scale, and then grow from there into the more advanced techniques. The helps keep scale practice constantly exciting and new. I also think it's important to remember that the basic techniques we teach a beginner set them up to easily develop advanced skills. By taking the time and effort to train beginners well, we save them enormous amounts of time and frustration down the road.

6. Audition Success and Performance Success, by Don Greene. 

This is another book I bought to help me succeed in auditions and high-stress performances. The techniques in this book are highly compatible with those in The Inner Game of Music. As with the Inner Game, I found that the methods of combating nerves in Audition Success were incredibly useful for my students as well as myself. I especially liked using centering to help students (and myself) stay focused.

7. Intelligent Music Teaching, by Robert A. Duke. 

I enjoyed this book because it gives very clear instructions (with accompanying evidence) for how to be an effective music teacher. He notes that the purpose of music lessons is to teach students to play beautifully, and that requires that teachers give effective feedback, including negative feedback. In fact, Duke notes that avoiding negative feedback, especially when a student can hear how badly they sound, only further emphasizes the mistake by making it seem so bad that it's unmentionable. I also think it's important Duke acknowledges that teachers cannot motivate all students. So many teachers, including myself, expect that we can transform even the most reluctant student into a great musician who loves music. It hurts when a student we've worked hard to motivate quits lessons or refuses to practice. But the truth is that motivation comes from within. Teachers should provide a rich learning environment for their students, and engage them as best they can, but students have to meet us half way.

8. Nurture Shock, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. 

This is an important book about how much of the conventional wisdom about child rearing/teaching is completely wrong. For example, praising children for their innate abilities can be terribly destructive. This kind of praise teaches children that their only value in their talent, which they cannot change. Thus when a child encounters a challenging problem, they do not believe that hard work can overcome their difficulties, and so they give up. Instead, it's better to give children specific positive feedback ("Good bow hold!" instead of "You're so talented!"). Bronson and Merryman show how research into child development and learning can help teachers of all kinds (and parents) learn to be more effective.

9. Punished by Rewards, by Alfie Kohn. 

I've already written about this book, but I feel that it's worth mentioning again. Rewards are manipulative, and they can easily destroy children's intrinsic motivation. As a teacher, I try my best to keep students engaged in learning the violin, not getting a piece of candy at the end of their lesson. 

Too often, people think that teaching is an innate ability, but like music, it is a skill that we can develop with practice. Reading these books can inspire teachers, and help them develop the techniques they need to be effective. I know they helped me.

If there are any books that you think should be on my list, let me know about them in the comments!

Related articles on Suzuki Method and Violin/Viola teaching or performing:

For Parents: How to Support your Child's Music Practice and Development

Suzuki Method for Adult Students

Excellent Supplemental Books for Suzuki Violin and Viola Students

Suzuki Method--a Violin Teacher's Perspective

Suzuki Philosophy: Every Child Has Talent

Suzuki Techniques--Listening is the key

Violin Life Lessons

Inspiring Practice

Practicing Violin Effectively

Great Apps for Musicians

Pascale Method for Violin--A Review

More Apps for Musicians and Music Students

Classical Music Isn't Dying--It's in a Recession

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