Tomorrow will mark 25 years since I started playing cello. It has been a tough but very rewarding road. Thinking about the subject I wanted to share with my readers on this occasion, I settled on my continued learning and discovery as a teacher. In the past 10 years, I have taught everyone from total beginners to very advanced students, whom I am happy to call colleagues.
Teachers have a difficult task of packaging the information they have in a way that will be easily digested by the student. Working with a student one on one makes the teacher aware of each student's needs. Curriculum aside, I would like to share my change of perspective and evolving teaching style.
As far as I can remember, my teachers have taught me looking at them from the front, the way you would view a soloist in a concert hall. The expectation is that you copy the teacher. There were a few instances when the teacher would come up to me and physically adjust something on me, or my cello or bow, but mostly it was hands off. When I was 19 years old, one of my teachers set out to teach me how to use a mirror. I had heard from my previous teachers that I needed to use a mirror, metronome, tuner, but none of them had taught be to use them. What this teacher set out to do was revolutionary to me. I was seeing myself in a new way, the way I had been seeing my teacher for the past 8 years! It was strange. The straight bow angle I had been trying to achieve suddenly looked crooked. He told me the obvious, that the angle that I see from the player's vantage point and the angle that I see in the mirror are radically different. He said that I need to fix my angle my looking in the mirror, but also to see what the correct angle looks like from my vantage point so I could fix it without the mirror. I spent my grad and postgrad school years in front of a mirror. Once I graduated, I started using a camera. I put that camera every which way, in front, behind, under the bridge, on the sides, from the top in front, from the top from the back. I was hungry to learn to play better, and to look better doing it.
When I started teaching, I made it a point to teach my students to use a metronome, tuner, mirror, and their phone camera. So far, I feel like I have been successful. During one of my recent lessons, I thought that it would be helpful for my student look over my shoulder to see how my bow and hands looked like from the player's vantage point, even for a few seconds. Maybe I had done this before, but this time something clicked in my head as a teacher. This is the vantage point that cellists have with them all the time, including my favorite cellists, and my students' favorite cellists. Why not offer this vantage point to my students more often? Time will tell whether this new teaching technique is a "gamechanger." But for now, I am seeing positive results in my students. Now I wish that Alban Gerhardt and Johannes Moser would clip their cameras to their A string pegs so I could see more of what they see!