As a teacher of viola I promote healthy, pain free playing drawn from Karen Tuttle’s coordination method. I guide students to connect their violas to their bodies by exploring stance, instrument balance, body alignment, left and right hand setups, grounding, physical releases, independence and character exercises, and emotional responses to the music. Each student explores coordination between the body and mind through rigorous scale practice and through the process of self observation and analysis. As players, it is vital to connect technique, sound, and phrasing to our human experience. For instance, holding our bow should mimic turning a round doorknob or picking up a glass. Our bodies should play with the same posture as we walk. By using the actions we do daily as a model for our body when playing the viola, players are able to approach the instrument with health, ease, and familiarity. The coordination of our left and right sides of the body must serve musical intention. I encourage students to sing, speak articulations, walk phrasing, and recall emotions and characters from their own lives and imaginations. The awareness of our human body, mind, and emotion establishes technical and musical understanding so that players are then able to connect to audiences.
In addition to the Tuttle coordination method I draw upon my own research and practice method called Creative Musician: An Artistic Method to Aid the Expressivity of Musicians. The method explores musical expression through the lens of dance, theatre, and visual art. When teaching I often select practice aids from my method to help students connect their expression to musical concepts. For example, aids include fabrics and color swatches related to musical color, character development and word choices drawn from theatre to aid articulation, and gesture and choreography of dance related to musical pacing and phrasing. The process of touching a piece of suede and mirroring the touch of the fabric to the touch of the bow eliminates technical explanation and allows students to broaden their expressive palette. This method has encouraged my students to access their imagination, increase their engagement and focus when playing, and find their most expressive voice in performance.
When working with students my goal is to create a safe learning environment and a strong community. Lessons and viola seminars are warm and nurturing spaces for violists to challenge themselves, learn from others, find freedom to discover their musical voice, and to feel part of a supportive community. I require all students to work with practice buddies, observe peer lessons, and practice crafting constructive feedback to help build learning and community in the studio. I also strive to support all students to learn balance between professional and personal life. With my administrative and organizational background I share mechanisms with students so that they learn how to juggle college and adult life. Each student learns how to manage their schedule, carve out practice time, and the value of supporting their colleagues in the practice room and concert hall.
I enjoy teaching all types of students and believe that every physical body and personality is unique and should not be taught the same. I strive to have multiple ways for students to learn in order to create each student’s lightbulb moment. For me, the greatest gift I can give my students is for them to understand how they learn and how to teach themselves.