January 2011

Teacher Talk

A series of teaching-articles in the Strad Magazine

How do you keep teenagers on track? The superstars will always practise, but what about the future rank-and-file players who seem to be dropping out of practising, not to speak of school orchestras, in record numbers? Mark Merkel, Alberta, Canada
Boris Kuschnir: Superstars often don’t practise enough, either! Of course they practised a lot to reach their status but once they get there some of them stop being self-critical and so they might lose the excellence of their beginning. Rank-and-file players tend to practise better when their teacher gives them interesting goals such as preparation for competitions, concerts or recordings. The teacher always has to give an idea of how to reach these goals on a very specific level, not just saying, ‘Practise a lot’, but giving clear guidance about how to solve both technical and musical problems. The result will not only be that the students eventually practises more and more, but also that they enjoy it.

How long should a young person work on a repertoire piece? Notorious pedagogues form days of yore often kept a student on a piece ‘until they had mastered it’. However, today’s fast pace seems to demand constant change. Justine Renfrew, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Boris Kuschnir: The duration clearly depends on the goal that teacher sets for the student. For example, they might choose a piece to practice technical problems such as vibrato, staccato, spiccato, legato, bow-division, double stops or the learning of different musical characters and styles. When the student reaches a good level, normally the best thing would be to leave the piece and go on with something else. Of course in the case of recordings, important concerts or competitions, we should look for the mastery of that piece, which could take months, or even years.