William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

Should your students play like you?

If you are a violin teacher, this video is for you

In this video aimed toward violin teachers, Prof. Fitzpatrick asks a question: should your students play like you?

Released on April 3, 2019

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

So here, I have a question for you. What do you think, should your students play like you? I mean, I believe that one of the hardest things to manage as a teacher is the controlling of one's personal bias. You know, trying not to have students do what you do or play as you play. So okay, what exactly do I mean by bias? Well, bias is a tendency, an inclination, or prejudice towards or against something. When one has a bias, we support what we already believe while ignoring facts that go against that belief, despite its relevance. So as a teacher, controlling one's bias is obviously a very difficult thing to do. For example, I can think of so many fingerings that I could not possibly consider changing, but just suppose the student chooses another one because their hands are much smaller than mine. I mean, seriously, is that a bad thing?

I remember once rehearsing the Bach oboe and violin concerto with an orchestra at the Aspen Music Festival, you know, the one that... A very famous oboist and very famous violinist showed up and sat and started listening to the rehearsal. So when there was a break, I of course had to go, had to jump from the stage and ask the violinist what he thought. Well, he looked at me and said, "Though most people started the movement with a down-bow," like I just did. He said he was convinced that it should start with an up-bow. I shook my head in agreement, went back on stage and started it up-bow. When I saw that they had left, what did I do? Well, I returned to doing it down-bow. Now, does this mean that I was an awful student? Was I destined for failure as I didn't follow the instructions given to me by this wonderful famous violinist? Was I just hard-headed? Well, given the many times that this occurred to me, one might say yes. I fought often with Ms. DeLay about so so many things. Was this a bad thing? Well, my answer to this question lies in a TEDx that I did called "Why is Why So Important?" I invite you to have a look and let me know what you think. Well, as it was with my teacher, Ms. DeLay, I have fingerings for the majority of works my students study, and I do insist that they do these fingerings. But I think it's very important to understand the difference in sharing your experience, your valuable experience with a student, rather than sharing your bias, the prejudices you believe to be true. It's a very hard distinction to make.

So I have a very simple control mechanism that I use to harness my bias. When I give a student a part that has my bowings and fingerings and the student changes something, the first thing I do is ask myself, "Did it work?" If it did, then I say nothing, even if it goes against my musical bias, my musical prejudice, even if it goes against the way that I played it when I performed it. But if in my opinion it doesn't work, if they don't convince me, then I will insist that they do what I've given them. I remember once a young man played Sarasate's "Zigeunerweisen," you know. He started playing the pizzicato passage in the last movement, he came to that spot. This is what we normally do. And he did it going the other way. Instead of this way, going this way. So I immediately stopped him and asked him to play the passage again, and he did. Well, again I stopped him. This time I stood up and I asked him to play the passage again. And he looked at me and he said, "Please don't make me change the fingering. I tried really hard to do it the correct normal way, but this was the only way that I could get the note to do it." I looked at him and said, "Oh, no, no, no, no, no. I don't want you to change. I just want to know, how do you do that?" Well, we both started laughing.

You see, I could've very very easily insisted that he use the normal fingering, but why would I do that? It was working. So you see, I wasn't swayed by my own bias. I allowed him to continue what he was doing, because it worked. So you see, I personally am proud of my students, both past and present, as none of them play or look like the other, so very proud that they do not look or play like me. Come to think of it, perhaps this is one reason that Ms. DeLay, in the seven years that I studied with her, never played for me, just occasionally open strings with her hand here. That beautiful Guadagnini that she had stayed put on the table in front of her. Mostly, she explained things in the air like this, "Do it this way, sweetie." There was however one exception, she played this excerpt for me from the Mendelssohn concerto. And that was all I ever heard her play.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Adriana Triggs on April 15, 2019 @2:46 am PST
This is very true! The three and a half years a studied with Bill Fitzpatrick he never played a full phrase of a piece! We all had our own unique sound but shared the same principles! Thank you Bill for your teaching and guidance! Thank you for valuing our own voices both musically and literally our voices! For letting us question you and for letting us be able to express ourselves in the lesson and on stage! You are one of a kind teacher.
Cheryl * VSM MEMBER * on April 5, 2019 @10:38 pm PST
Timely message, as I ponder how to teach a few students tomorrow, with my shoulder covered in ice packs!
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