Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Don't break my heart


I've just spent 5 days at the Suzuki European Convention, accompanying my cello playing daughter and viola playing son, which was a brilliant opportunity to observe some very hardworking and talented students and teachers in action. There are group classes, orchestra classes, concerts and a lot of playing and learning for the students, the teachers who are not teaching the class but observing classes and of course the parents.

Since my current course is INF536 "Designing spaces for learning" I was particularly interested in seeing how thinking about space and learning was incorporated into the lessons.  The idea of space is an interesting one. I do not have any power over changing a learning environment, since I am an observer and living in a hotel, however I can make some comments on what I have seen around me.

The first thing I have noticed is that we should not limit our considerations about space to physical space.  One of the interesting things is how the temporal space of timetabling is used.  Each group starts the morning with a "play in" - with all children at all levels attending. Then there are group classes depending on levels interspaced with orchestra (for the higher levels) and free time, during which students are free to wander into other orchestra rehearsals or to observe classes of their own or other instruments.  Building "space" into "time" can also have an impact on learning.

Within the structure of the class the teachers (who are all very skilled "master" teachers) build in playing and learning and working (Kuratko, Goldsby, & Hornsby, 2012) through alternating fun activities with advice on technique, dynamics and other musical issues, as well as the hard work of repetition until the desired effect is achieved.

One lesson that stood out was an advanced class that was working on the Haydn Cello concerto with Takao Mizushima.  First the class all played a section together. Then each student had to play it separately while he made comments and suggestions for improvement. All students play to a very high standard, but over the years various habits and issues with posture can creep in which may be expeditious in the beginning, but over time will compromise the quality of sound.  In this instance the learning space is the cello and the bow and in fact limited to a very small section of the cello, namely the area from where the finger board ends to the bridge as well as the C Bouts (see below).
The area of learning indicated by the red circle

An important aspect of sound relates to bowing. Ideally the bow should be at right angles to the string and should remain at right angles even as the cellist moves from string to string - which requires adjustment of the whole arm.  The video below explains this - in a rather boring fashion. (Note there are exceptions to this "rule" such as in baroque playing or when a specific sound needs to be created).




















Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v20gjN3yTLY

As the boy finishes playing, the teacher praises him for his interpretation and then says, "please don't break my heart" - he moves to his bag and gets a roll of sticky tape and fashions a heart out of the tape. He then places the tape on the tip of the C Bout (as illustrated in 3 below) and instructs the student to play the passage again.  At no point does he tell the student he's bowing incorrectly (as illustrated in 2 below) but the student in question and all the students around him immediately get the point of what was wrong.  He plays again, to animated "acting" by the teacher about his heart not being broken and the bowing is better.  The 'goal post' is then shifted (as illustrated in 4) and the bowing is even better.
An illustration of the lesson components
Enjoy the video - the quality is not very good as individuals are not focused on to protect their privacy.


Don't break my heart from Nadine Bailey on Vimeo.



The lessons I drew from this were the making of a design change - in this case introducing a constraint, display (playing with the constraint) and replay (moving the constraint) with the feedback to both the participant in question and all the learners around, as well as to the audience of a teaching "trick" that is effective.