Pro-Am Strings arranges teaching courses for teachers of violin and viola. We cater both for individuals looking to enhance their teaching as well as for organisations looking for professional development for staff. Each course can be individually tailored to meet your specific requirements and can be held either online via Skype or face to face. Training can last from a few hours to a few days. Just let us know via the contact page what you want to achieve and how you would like us to organise your course. Certificates can be issued.
The following article about Pro-Am Strings was printed in Arco, the magazine of ESTA British Branch Autumn 2014, vol.39 no 4.
Pro-Am Strings’ new online campus for adult amateur violinists and viola players.
Henriette de Vrijer explains how things started, and how Pro-Am Strings is growing worldwide and benefitting amateur players as well as teachers.
As Simon Fisher recently pointed out in The Strad, adults can learn to play the violin as easily as children can. In fact, quite often adults learn more quickly than children because they understand the difficulties they come across and they are more analytical and methodical in the way they learn. Having life experience can definitely be an advantage in learning an instrument. I certainly found that out when I went to the Rotterdam Conservatoire at age 20, having learnt the violin for just four years. I had to accept that my peers who had been learning the violin since they were little were more flexible and had ‘grown around the instrument.’ However, when it came to working efficiently and finding ways around technical issues, I found I could keep up quite easily, developing exercises for all sorts of technical issues at the same time.
When I became a violin teacher, I found that these exercises benefitted my students too and I was astonished to see how swiftly my students -young and old- would develop the technical skills to become outstanding violinists. Over the years, teacher colleagues who came to observe my lessons became interested in these exercises too and I was repeatedly asked to write a book. I found it problematic however to show in photographs or explain in print the subtle differences, which make the technique effective. This is how the idea for technique videos developed and for some time, I experimented using videography for this purpose.
Collaborating with a professional videographer, I discovered how useful video can be in teaching, sometimes even show better than in a real lesson situation what happens in violin playing. The use of slow motion footage proved extremely helpful in analysing bowing technique or position changing for instance. Different camera angles, particularly shooting from above can be very illustrative in teaching straight bowing and the viewpoint is something, which is difficult to achieve in ordinary lessons. In my videos, I also developed split screen sequences where you can see what happens in violin playing and at the same time have an anatomical picture showing which muscle groups are used for certain movements. This has shown to be a tremendous help in understanding for instance how back muscles are involved in bowing technique, again a feature which is difficult to achieve in a conventional lesson situation.
At the moment there are 8 videos ranging from stance and balance to bow hold and position changing and the range of technique videos is growing. Whilst this project is by no means finished, it is a very exciting venture to be involved with.
I still teach traditional face-to-face lessons of course. Aside from their weekly lessons, some of my pupils access the videos online via the Pro-Am Strings website and use this as additional lesson material. There are also Pro-Am Strings members who may have lessons with their own teachers and who use the website as enrichment in their learning. There is no reason why having lessons with a different teacher and accessing the online videos should be mutually exclusive of course. In fact, both may complement each other effectively. The whole point of Pro-Am Strings is that it is meant to enhance people’s learning by offering different ways of looking at the technique. Having the different perspectives can only be a good thing.
Apart from the videos, the campus offers discussion forums and Skype lessons and there is the opportunity of arranging Away Days through Pro-Am Strings for existing groups, such as amateur orchestras or for individuals wanting an intensive technique course. We can organize workshops in great locations- at home or abroad- with fine food and other optional extras such as attending concerts or playing chamber music in the evenings. The comprehensive and varied package Pro-Am Strings offers may benefit people with different backgrounds in violin playing and in different stages of their development and amazingly, violinists and viola players from all corners of the globe access the Pro-Am Strings website.
Teachers wanting a fresh perspective on how to teach vibrato or Martelé bowing for instance can also be members and some teachers may want to use Pro-Am Strings for their professional development, keeping their teaching fresh and up to date.
In my face-to-face teaching, I find that variety is the key to success. So whilst every lesson includes one technical exercise and one scale, a study and a performance piece, there is also time for duet playing and exploring a range of musical styles. The starting point for children in my view should be a pedagogical one: what do I teach first and what follows after that and why? Children in particular benefit from pointing out how all these separate entities are connected. This means that it makes sense to learn the scales and arpeggios in the keys of the piece to be performed in advance and to keep these up whilst the student is learning the concerto. Also, that technical exercises are learned or prepared away from the instrument before the pupil comes across the technique in their studies, as well as the integration between which studies are learned in relation to which performance pieces and so on.
Adults on the other hand, specifically intermediate to advanced players, frequently know which performance piece they like to learn to play. The repertoire then becomes the starting point for tuition and the pedagogy follows on from there. In my experience, adults in most cases are well aware of their technical restrictions and they are able to analyse and advance their own playing with just a few pointers in the right direction and this is where Pro-Am Strings can benefit them. In fact, Pro-Am Strings was set up precisely with adult amateurs in mind: people who want to get back into playing after they have not touched their instruments for a while, or (semi-retired) individuals who want to take their instrument away on holiday and practise at a time that suits them at a location of their choice, using tablet computers or mobile telephones for their instrumental studies. Literally ‘On-the-go learning’.
It is the flexibility that technology offers nowadays that we as violin teachers should embrace in our lessons, not only for our students but also to enhance our own teaching and learning. Wherever we are, whatever we’d like to learn, whenever it suits us.
Image is a still from the “Legato Bowing” video, filmed by UK photographer Adrian Buck.
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