Learning a new language is often said to double the size of your world.
The world you see gets bigger in relation to the size of your vocabulary.
Every vocabulary word you learn adds a building block to your mental perception of the world around you.
Understanding how language works helps you understand how the human experience works. As a person develops their knowledge of language, their perceived experience of the world becomes richer. The person developing a larger vocabulary gets a larger number angles to see the world from.
Igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic, are richer descriptions and experiences than “red,” when describing a rock. They imply spans of time, world events, composition, and so much more. Being able to speak the words with understanding provides the opportunity to experience those things.
But this is a violin blog. So I will stop talking about rocks now.
Most of my violin students begin their lessons with one tie to the violin world, how they discovered and became interested in the violin. They may have gone to a concert that had a violin. A relative may have played one. They might have heard a piece of music they enjoyed that had violin in it. They might have learned about a particular artist who played the violin and become passionate about that musician. Or a parent may simply have bought them a violin, and that ownership of the instrument made them feel connected to the idea of playing the violin.
But generally, it’s only one of those things.
And that’s natural, because most interests start that way. Think of the last hobby you picked up. Did you know everything about that hobby as soon as you learned the hobby existed? Generally, you knew just a tiny bit of information, or had the smallest of experiences, that led you to explore deeper into the hobby. Knowledge grows gradually. And your list of gained information must start somewhere. Most lists begin with the number one. Unless, of course, they’re written by inter-dimensional stardust nymphs. They always start at the number three hundred and thirty two. (Or anyone who makes slide shows for business presentations, those always result in the unprovoked use of the letter ‘A’ at the beginning of a list, at some point in the slide show.) So most students start with one piece of information, or one experience, that ties them personally to the new skill they’ve just signed up to study. And that’s natural.
But it’s not enough to keep students going for a lifetime of improvement and skill building.
We generally have reasons to get better at the violin:
“I want to be better than my stand partner.”
“I want to make my dad proud.”
“I want to piss off my parents.”
“I want to be better than my past self.”
“I want to be enlightened.”
“I want to do this hard thing.”
“I want to do this easy thing.”
“I want to do this interesting/fun/magical/fascinating/dipty-woo-dappy-boop thing.”
“I want to be like my hero.”
“I want to be worshiped as a musical god walking in the midst of mortal men.”
You know… reasons. And those reasons come from (and increase with) the number of angles we see the world from. But those reasons have to come from somewhere.
All this is to say, violin lessons must be more than violin lessons, especially if the student’s only enrichment and exposure to the musical world is through those lessons. And more and more often, that is the case.
(As a side note, I’m not talking about the three year old with the devoted mother who takes notes during the lesson then sits with her child twenty five hours per day in order to develop them in to the magical beast that is the violin ‘prodigy’. Those a honorable people, let’s hope, and they are the extreme minority of humanity and musical society.)
Public schools rarely throw money wildly at arts programs in general. Students aren’t getting arts and humanities education from school in a way that connects directly to music education. Also, we have Spotify now. And as magical as Spotify is, we can now say, “Alexa, play me happy music,” and a very smart computer with a nice accent will oblige. The result of this is that students often have no idea what they’re listening to. Now, I’m not anti-tech. I’m very pro-tech. But student need experiences that deepen their understanding of their chosen interest. Students need angles of perception, reasons to learn, individual experiences, and richer descriptions of what they like and what they could become. They need to connect the dots between themselves and the music.
There are so many ways to make this happen.
There are music appreciation classes, ensemble experience and other forms of collaboration, concert experiences, blogs, vlogs, movies, tv shows and more.
But a good start is simply YouTube. I give lists of suggested artists for my students to check out. And along with those lists, I give them a series of questions. The first question is, “Will you think about these questions while you listen to the music and try to explore what you like? The goal is to develop your own tastes and preferences.” Because tastes, or preferences, are part of personal identity. And if a student identifies as a musician, which will undoubtedly happen if they connect to enough musical experiences, they will grow faster than you might imagine.
The rest of the questions are designed to provoke thought:
Do you like modern music or older music?
Do you like popular styles or more classical styles?
Do you enjoy the violin combined with electric guitars, drums and synthesizers, or combined with cellos, brass instruments, and woodwinds?
Do you like covers or originals?
Do you enjoy fast music or slow music?
Do you prefer happy music or sad music?
Do you enjoy a particular artist or a particular genre?
I’ve never had a beginning student who knew the answer to all of these questions. And why should they? Some seventy year old professional musicians change their mind every day as to how they would answer these questions. But asking the questions and doing your best to answer them helps develop a sense of self, or personal identity, in the world of music. And that is fundamentally necessary to long term musical development.
Below I’ve inserted a bunch of videos. They’re intentionally placed in rather random order (in fact, when I give these to my students I only write down the names of the artists, and let them discover the specific pieces for themselves). Because the goal isn’t to rank one thing above another. I do that enough when working on technique and during discussions about theory and composition, and in many other places. For this assignment, ranking is their job, not mine.
The goal is to see things you might not have noticed before. To build a richer perception of your craft. And to decide who you are as a human and a violin player.
(This list is, of course, too short, too long, imperfect, oddly curated, offensive to people who only like one style, and offensive to the people who see that very important people have been left off. But please see the point – To show students that there is more than one way to be, and that they can choose. And that the more they see of what is possible, the deeper their experience will be. If you’d like to add your own artist suggestions below, please do! I’d love to see them. But please make sure your suggestions are ‘different’ and not ‘better’ the point is to see the violin from many different angles.)
There are so many different ways to violin!
There are so many different ways to human!
Go learn what’s out there!
Ziyu He and TwoSetViolin