Two weeks ago I enjoyed a week long course training at the Memphis Suzuki Institute where I met fantastic teachers, did the most observation I’ve done in an institute, discovered a few great restaurants, and found time to spend time with new friends. As the institute progressed I began to develop an evening routine: practice for an hour after class let out, change clothes and drop off my violin at the lodge, walk to a nearby restaurant for a healthy dinner, walk to Avenue Coffee to enjoy herbal tea and review the day’s notes, and finally walk the long route back to our lodge. Because I didn’t have a car, the walking served as an opportunity to explore neighborhoods, stretch my sorely unused legs, and engage with podcasts. One podcast episode in particular captured my attention and resonated with themes discussed in pedagogy sessions with Mr. Kreitman — an interview with Joshua Waitzkin about his discoveries on learning.
Joshua Waitzkin began his career as a child chess prodigy, and then focused his efforts on mastering the art of Tai Chi and its martial counterpart Push Hands. In both disciplines he achieved world titles. Today he trains extremely successful professionals to embody their greatest selves and be the best in their field. In Waitzkin’s book, the Art of Learning, the grandmaster deconstructs his methods for learning. At the core of his approach is the concept of “small circles” which involves identifying a singular element of any art that when mastered will have profound affects on the artists’ entire ability.
To demonstrate this approach Waitzkin recounts the careful mastery of the jab punch. He first threw himself into Tai Chi and absorbed as much of the theory and philosophy of the art as possible. Once he had the basics down, he spent months and years focusing on this specific skill. He built from the ground up, working to move energy unblocked from the floor through to his palm to deliver a fierce jab while utterly relaxed. Finally, he scaled the move down to the smallest action possible that still delivered the power and force of the entire coil he previously mastered.
As I listened to, and subsequently read about, this process, I was struck by how closely it aligned to Suzuki’s and Kreitman’s method.
Though I spent the second week of June with Ed Kreitman registering training in Suzuki Unit 3, our class spent the majority of discussion and observations studying the foundation for Book 3 laid in Book 2. For Mr. Kreitman, Book 2 is concerned entirely with teaching a student how to produce beautiful tone on his or her instrument, and to do so effortlessly. His approach is to use the transitional time after Gossec Gavotte to teach the technique of tonalization (a term developed by Dr. Suzuki himself), which is then implemented into all pieces thereafter. The absolute focus on tone production once the basics of playing has been achieved allows students to master a fundamental skill that will forever inform the way they play the violin.
Below is his step by step approach.
- Explain RINGTONES
- definition: fingered notes that are spelled the same as an open string (G,D,A,E)
- requirements: 1. in tune violin 2. in tune finger 3. nothing touching the ringing string
- Discover ringtontes.
- Play ringtone exercise. 3 (A) 3 (D) 3 (G) 4 (D) 4 (A) 4 (E) 2 (G) 1 (E) 1 (A). 4 short bows on each note, hear the ring after.
- Explain TONALIZATION
- definition: making the whole violin ring, not just the strings
- requirements: bow friction (slow, heavy, mid contact point)
- Discover the feeling of tonalizing – teacher guides the bow.
- Play tonalization exercise. 3 (G) 1 (B) 3 (D) 2 (G) 3 (A) 4 (B) 3 (A) 2 (G) 3 (D) 4 (E) 3 (D) 1 (B) 3 (G). Pg. 9 Book 2. Start with 4 notes per bow, find ringtones immediately.
- Refine the sound to get to beautiful tone
- Implement TONALIZATION
- Use Book 1 and then Book 2 to put this sort of playing into practice in pieces