July 25, 2013

Recognizing the Trade-Off, Part Two

Posted in music and writing, Revising at 1:30 pm by Rebecca Hein

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

Recognizing the Trade-Off, Part One

Posted in music and writing, Revising tagged , , at 3:12 pm by Rebecca Hein

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.

January 11, 2013

Fun or Work? Part Two

Posted in music and writing, writing for fun tagged , at 10:33 am by Rebecca Hein

The best music teachers recognize that students have to be taught to love music from the very beginning, at the same time they’re learning proper technique. Although these methods succeed in varying degrees, the emphasis is still on getting things right.

Therein lies the problem in both music and writing. We have to do a good job, yet the need for correctness can spoil our pleasure in the activity.

December 20, 2012

Fun or Work? Part One

Posted in music and writing, writing for fun tagged , at 9:49 am by Rebecca Hein

Far too many people regret their early music lessons, associating them with drudgery and boredom. What’s wrong with music pedagogy that practice and lessons become so tedious?

Part of the problem is that conscientious teachers want to make sure their students learn proper technique and good practice habits. So they focus on correct hand position, getting the right notes, and other detailed tasks. In the long run, there’s no doubt that these make playing easier and more fun—if the student stays with it that long.

December 12, 2012

No Artifice, Part Five

Posted in music and writing tagged , at 4:02 pm by Rebecca Hein

Perfect spontaneity in writing can produce such a good first draft that sometimes only a few minor revisions are needed. When you achieve this, you know you’ve entered a new and more productive zone.

But how do you get there? Not with too much time spent directly aiming for your best work.

I learned this in music when I’d spend long hours practicing hard pieces. My attention was totally taken up with getting the notes right and trying to fill the holes in my technique that prevented full mastery of a passage. Thus, no attention was left over for pure enjoyment.

Likewise, in writing, you have to turn away from what’s hardest, at least some of the time. Not out of laziness, but because the easy flow of words, when achieved again and again, sets up a vibration within your being that eventually sounds the deeper chords of creativity.

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