Questions re
standing/sitting during lessons & how much theory?

Connie Sunday said: Jul 16, 2013
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

I have a couple of questions for other teachers; I’ve been teaching so long, I wonder if I haven’t gotten in a rut, so to speak, with respect to some of my practices. So I’m wondering:

  1. Do you have all students stand during lessons? My advanced students (college age, or adults preparing for auditions) wish to stand, as that’s what they’re accustomed to, but most of my students sit with me in orchestral, two-to-a-stand format, mainly because, though I know the music and could do it otherwise, I have MS and standing is hard for me, never mind standing and sitting constantly. I also teach, I believe, a lot more theory than many teachers do, requiring of students a three-ring, loose-leaf notebook with filler and manuscript paper. Which leads to the next question:

  2. Overall, how much of the lesson time do you use to teach theoretical concepts? Theory itself, conducting patterns, a bit of music history.

I’ve done this so long that I have these set things I want all students to grasp, mainly because I think they need to know these ideas and I believe that it informs their musicianship. Maybe I spend too much time on these things, I don’t know.

Your thoughts appreciated.


Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:

Mengwei said: Jul 16, 2013
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
120 posts
  1. They stand (the little ones get a break now and then) and I might sit (so that I get a break!). When they are at orchestra age/level, I’ll cover seated playing posture.

  2. I have almost all young beginners and cover theory mostly in group class. In the lesson I might come back to something we talked or will talk about in group or might do a quick theory tidbit if I see the student needs an activity change.

Merietta Oviatt said: Jul 17, 2013
Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
104 posts

Just as Mengwei stated, I only teach standing. I always tell my students that they should always practice standing (even their orchestra music), but I will cover how to properly play while seated when they move into orchestra. As a professional musician, it’s sitting while playing where bad habits are formed, so standing practice and lessons are a must for me.

I always use a small portion of private instruction to introduce, go over, and re-iterate theory. Let’s say that they begin a new scale, I will have them quickly tell me how many sharps or flats there are and what the relative minor is. If they are working on sight-reading, I will pick a few spots and ask what interval it is between this note and that note. If they are starting the slow movement to the Handel I will have them put metronome strike marks in for their subdivisions. Of course, I have to introduce these concepts and will take a small portion of one or two lessons to initially explain what a key signature is, why we need to know it, and what the circle of fifths is. These ideas are also developed in group class as well. However, knowing how college theory classes are, I am a strong proponent of developing a solid foundation of music theory in all of my students.

Dr. Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Specialist
Viola/Violin Instructor
Aber Suzuki Center, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
[javascript protected email address]

Amy said: Jul 17, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
50 posts

First of all, I’d like to say Kkudos to you for rising to the challenges of teaching a musical instrument while experiencing MS. I also have had some episodes that may be attributed to MS, and while experiencing those episodes, sometimes I have to resort to whatever works. Having said that, I also find great joy in being able to move freely, and when that’s possible, I do all sorts of crazy things, including sitting down/standing up while playing, doing crabwalk races with my students to work on developing the upperbody, and generally enjoying freedom of movement.

About theory: while a music theory grad student teaching freshman theory, I noticed that the students whose private teachers insisted upon applying theory in performance, generally excelled at theory and wanted to understand it. The students whose private teachers did not use theory terminology or discuss how knowledge of theory could change their musical interpretation couldn’t care less about it. For that reason, I don’t want my students merely to have head knowledge of theory, but also practical knowledge. Occasionally I will make a theory worksheet for a group class, but for my private students, I talk theory while discussing musical interpretation, and eventually we discuss what the terminology means. I love using Minuet I to discuss tonicizing the dominant, and Minuet II for tonicizing the relative minor, and how this knowledge can affect the target tone color. But those conversations can only happen if the students know their scales cold and if we have earlier in book 1 found opportunities to learn about chord function—a conversation dependent on already having learned about triads. Most of my students have great knowledge of music theory, but you couldn’t prove it by giving them a written test. I’ll save that for the music theory courses, but meanwhile I will rest assured that they will care about the theory they learn in those courses.

Rose Lander said: Jul 19, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
55 posts

dear connie,
my heartfelt congratulations on your being so effective and dedicated teacher, despite your physical handicap. it should be obvious that you cannot stand during the lessons. does itzhak perlman stand?
i also think theory is very important. i think kids need to know what they are playing, and know as much as possible about all aspects of music. i have used a workbook in the past with mixed results. i am looking for clear, simple materials to present to my young violinists. i will have more time in group class. can you give me any suggestions about curriculum, and how you structure the class .? it would be very much appreciated. my strong suit is playing and sightreading and relationaships with kids. my weak suit is theory. could you please explain to me the importance of the circle of fifths to young violinists?
much, much appreciation.
rose lander

Connie Sunday said: Jul 19, 2013
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

Hi Rose: I don’t really think of myself as handicapped, and I wonder if Mr. P does either. It’s just different, but I work out a great deal, am vegan, and I’m a lot faster and stronger than many people who are not “handicapped.”
I have a pretty handy set of handouts I use for my students, which are free and available to the public. You may find these helpful:

Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:

Karen Zethmayr said: Jul 19, 2013
Karen ZethmayrViolin
15 posts
  1. I sit mostly for preschoolers so that we can be eye-to-eye. My knees are not what they used to be, but I do get down on the floor with them when we’re doing reinforcement activities that require pieces to move around on the rug.
    Once they’re tall enough to be at a conversational level without straining their necks, I stand. If I had a physical issue that made that unreasonable for me, I’d be comfortable with stating my issue, and rejoicing with the student in his or her own state of agility. Often when the situation calls for the student’s playing unaccompanied, I sit like an appreciative audience, as many of my colleagues do.
    __I do have one or two kids who yearn to sit now and then, and so far it works to say something like, “OK! I like the way you played that tricky part 5 times sitting down. Now let’s do 5 standing up.” Those kids have not gone so far as to try to play the whole piece sitting down. When parents confirm that something like 8 hours of daycamp in the sun or some other issue constitutes special circumstances, we find it useful to alternate often between sitting (with all the appropriate guidelines) and standing.
  2. My own theory was neglected when I was a kid, and one thing I have beginning parents and kids do with me in lessons and together at home (or in the car) is sing the notes of the songs they are learning (and here’s a sitting op in some cases, though not all press for it.) For kids shy about singing, one tactic is to say “tell me the notes so I can play them” (which I do, at their tempo.) They all “tell me” the notes in tune even if in another octave. When they can sing the notes from memory, then we start playing them.
    __Incidentally, I go right ahead and use Cis and Fis, the German words for C# and F#. Only one syllable Yay! By the time they get around to wondering why there’s also a C and an F, I pull out my handy dandy keyboard chart.


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