We delved deeper into Violin Basics with co-author Jessica O’Leary, and found out from her a little bit more about the process of writing this exciting new beginner method.
In the previous article, you talked about the process of writing Violin Basics. Was there a specific ‘approach’ that you’ve used or drawn on?
I have an eclectic background in string education and am lucky to have grown up in a family of Suzuki teachers. I studied under a pupil of Galamian and was trained partly in the Russian method, I’m qualified in the Coloustrings method and work with top string players professionally in London. I’ve drawn on all these approaches in this method: a little left-hand pizzicato half-way up the fingerboard is a great way of encouraging the correct angles for the left arm and hand while strengthening the little finger (this is used in Colourstrings). Warm-up games are used by all professional musicians and have been more recently promoted by the Nicola Benedetti foundation; singing and clapping is a well-developed process used by the Kodaly method, bowing open strings first and then putting all left-hand fingers down in quick succession is a feature of the Russian method while early performances from memory is a Suzuki idea. In this book I have taken the best of all these ideas as well as calling on my own experiences of thirty years of teaching to arrive at a method that is both aspirational and practical.
Many violin teachers will surely be interested to know, what sort of pace does the method progress at?
The book is designed so that students can move at a pace that suits them and teachers will guide them so that learning is personalised. As note reading is encouraged right from the start, learners will be able to progress to new pieces within a stage seamlessly so that once started in a lesson, an enthusiastic beginner might finish that stage at home during the week. Later stages are longer and may take more time, so there are opportunities to speed through some pieces and polish others for performances. Again, the teacher is the expert in controlling pacing.
What other problems does it solve at the early stages for violin teachers?
Traditionally, the best teachers of beginners used a little from several different methods to fully cover the core elements. This often meant asking parents to buy more than one book or lending out their own copies. Having one book that draws together all the best ideas and covers everything from day one will remove this endless organising. There is lots of space for individual input from teachers and playing violin duets is a wonderful way to make music together and encourage that joy from the beginning. Downloadable piano accompaniment backing tracks will be useful if the teacher doesn’t play the piano and will encourage good rhythm and tuning from the start.
This book will help a new teacher to see the possibilities of in-depth learning and provide all the tools needed; for more experienced teachers it will mean having everything in one place so nothing is likely to be missed. The addition of the physical games is new in a method book and incorporating them with Paul’s Simultaneous Learning method is an exciting and thorough way of learning.
Parents will be delighted that they only need to buy one book to get their children playing sophisticated pieces and there are clear explanations of posture and bow hold at the start so they can help support their child, too. The Teacher’s Book has all the accompaniments and the downloadable backing tracks allow parents to be able to enjoy whole performances at home.
Tell us about the writing process – how did you and Paul Harris collaborate, and what were each of your specialities?
We knew each other a little already and had attended each other’s seminars, but shortly after our initial meeting at the Faber Music offices, the UK went into lockdown. Ironically, that meant that we had more time for our daily Skype sessions and as Paul can also play the violin (Grade 8!) we even played the duets together over the ether. Of course, Paul already had his Basics series for other instruments, so the rigour in his Simultaneous Learning method was already in place.
Working with someone who thinks so clearly about the order of processes was fantastic and we had a great time. I worked on the order of the initial technical elements and spoke to several colleagues about what stage they introduced fingers, for example. We are both lucky enough to have several experienced string teachers as friends and they were invaluable in offering suggestions along the way, too. Paul and I chose the individual components for each stage and worked out where we wanted to get to by half-way (roughly Initial Grade) and by the end (secure Grade 1). Then we filled in the gaps with the technical games, pieces, theory and creative elements to consolidate understanding and performances. There are familiar tunes as well as original ones. We are both good at writing within specific guidelines, but we didn’t hold back if things needed changing – we are both quite forensic about detail! It was great to be so closely aligned with the educational parameters and encouraging a sense of creativity in the learner was always on our minds - there are lots of opportunities for the students to compose pieces, for example.
We encourage singing and performing right from the start, so students gain confidence and experience, and there are helpful hints along the way to keep things on track. I wrote the violin duets which can be played with the teacher or other students and Paul wrote the piano accompaniments. I also had a fun morning with our editor as she took photos of me modelling for the violin diagrams!
Do you plan to write more together? What are your next plans?
We’d love to write more together as we have such similar ideas on education and had huge fun. I also play viola so we’re both thrilled to be working together on Viola Basics!