October 14, 2013
When my traditionally-trained cello student told me that her fellow orchestra students who were Suzuki-trained couldn’t read music, I knew she was probably right. I’d been teaching Suzuki cello for several years and had been struggling to introduce music reading at the right time, and then to get those skills caught up with their technique, which was far ahead.
Until that conversation with my traditionally-trained student, I’d believed that Suzuki was superior, because a well-trained Suzuki student typically has much better technique than a traditional student who has been playing the same number of years. But traditionally-trained music students can read music.
Many excellent Suzuki teachers work hard to close, or prevent, the technique/music reading gap, but even with the best teachers, delayed music reading is built into the Suzuki approach and therefore will always be a pitfall.
So which is better: great music reading and so-so technique? Or great technique and crippled music reading?
July 25, 2013
As noted, problems in our writing pop out even when we try to improve it. For years I fought this reality in both cello playing and writing, and didn’t progress in my understanding of the problem until I began to think seriously about music pedagogy and the difference between various approaches.
All are designed to smooth the early path of technique and performance, and all have their limitations. For example, the Suzuki approach delays music-reading until the student is comfortable with the instrument and can play in tune and with good tone. By contrast, traditional study introduces basic technique and music reading all together at the beginning.
I really thought the founder of the movement, Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, had solved the problem of laying a strong foundation for good pitch and tone, until one of my junior high cello students told me, “Suzuki students can’t read music. In school orchestra, my Suzuki-trained stand partner watches me and copies what I do, a split second after I do it. It looks like she’s reading the page of music, but she’s actually faking it.”
This was an early clue that there’s always a trade-off. With the Suzuki approach, in pursuing good technique first, the important question of how to teach music-reading was not solved but delayed.
July 17, 2013
Often writers fiddle too long with their sentences, trying to purge them of mistakes or no-nos such as misused commas or too many adverbs. But this doesn’t always work.
Sooner or later, you notice that in improving one part of a sentence or paragraph, you create a problem somewhere else. Thus you trade one difficulty for another, and sometimes just have to decide between the two. If you don’t accept this reality, you end up with the feeling that you’re trying too hold too many ping-pong balls underwater.
One is always popping up, no matter what you do. The answer is not to grab at that one pesky ball and try to push it under again, but to work with the reality of the process.
June 25, 2013
Ease of execution; smooth flow; producing a great first draft—these skills are possible with practice. Not the “practice” of polishing a piece for publication or of working through a series of early drafts, but practice writing.
Put words on paper, or type them. The content is irrelevant because your state of mind is the key. You have to know the intrinsic value of basic writing, without regard to quality, form, or content.
No musician would ever deny the need for practice, and writers shouldn’t either. What seems to be throwaway time—so tempting to skip so we can get on to our real work—is the foundation of our craft.
June 14, 2013
In all my years of playing concerts, recitals, and even wedding receptions, my most memorable encounters with the audience have occurred after the performance.
“I wish I had your talent,” someone always sighs while shaking my hand. “I don’t know how you make it look so easy.”
I do. Years and years of persistent work. Yet in the minds of these wistful people, there was no mechanism. There was no daily battle to play better in tune, to feel the sway of the beat, or to achieve beautiful tone. Instead, there was a vague idea: “talent.”
The mechanics of practice are the most important component of your writing. That means daily writing, for practice only. Not for brilliance, not to polish a draft, just to put words on paper.
You want to dazzle readers, and especially editors and agents, with the mastery of your craft. So don’t handicap yourself by neglecting practice. If you do, it’ll take you just that much longer to reach your goals.