Upperclassman Finds Surprising Lessons in Teaching Violin

Meeting with one of my  students for the weekly lessons.

Meeting with one of my students for the weekly lessons.

In the past few years at the Out-of-Door Academy, the Arts Department has grown and thrived.The Theater Arts division of the Arts Department now produces two to three shows each year, and with the addition of the Black Box Theater, our actors are able to bring shows to the next level of performance. Students in the program even won a local award for their 2011 spring musical adaptation of Guys and Dolls. ODA has also gained many talented musicians over the past few years, and well as talented visual arts students. All of these factors have made the ODA Arts Department much stronger.

Being an avid musician, I have taken advantage of these programs in every way I can. In my junior year, I was unable to fit orchestra class in my class schedule, so my teacher presented me with the opportunity to teach violin lessons for half an hour twice a week to new middle school orchestra students. I was given the task of teaching the students who were new to playing the violin, so that they could learn basic techniques and be able to keep up with the music in their orchestra more easily. Little did I know that teaching these students would become an integral part of my junior year, and that these students would in turn teach me more than I could ever imagine.

When my orchestra teacher, Mrs. Porrello, first approached me about teaching violin lessons, I thought “why not?” Teaching would be a way for me to both play music during the week, and earn community service hours. After the first lesson, however, I realized how fun teaching would be.

Teaching a private violin lesson is not something I ever imagined would be difficult before I began doing it. I remember the first lesson vividly; I found myself struggling with how to explain techniques and how to play the music to my students. They had little to no experience with the violin, so I had to keep in mind that I was teaching them something totally new and foreign, and how I once felt learning a new instrument for the first time. I quickly learned that just because someone may know a skill well, does not mean they can teach it. However, I soon was able to put my thoughts into words, and looked forward to my weekly lessons.

When I finally figured out how to properly teach music, I realized how much I enjoyed doing it. Each week we would work on pieces for the upcoming concerts, and each week I would watch my students improve a little more. I started the year by teaching them essential techniques they would need for the year; basic bow movements, how to count different notes, dynamics, articulations, and much more. As the year progressed, it amazed me how far they had come, and I was excited each time I could teach them something a little more advanced.

I had three different students over the course of the year who each had different strengths and weaknesses, which became the basis for my teaching. If one was having a hard time moving their bow and fingers at the same time, we would practice simple rhythms, and work each piece slowly. If another was having trouble counting, we would clap out or sing the counts to hear it differently, and practice those rhythm patterns separately from the piece. While I would watch them improve their own skills, I also got to practice violin fundamentals, a fulfilling solution for all of us.

People have always told me that teaching is one of the most rewarding professions out there, and this experience gave me a glimpse of this. At our first concert of the year, I was excited for my students, remembering the excitement I had once felt at my first concert. I was sitting next to one of them, and hearing her play almost each note correctly, and remembering everything we had talked about in the lessons, was a memorable moment. After we had finished playing, the enthusiastic look on my student’s face was all the fulfillment I needed.  I loved knowing that I had made an impact on her skills, and, more importantly, on her love for the instrument.

Teaching violin lessons was one of my favorite parts of the year. The students were all amazing to work with. Getting to know them individually was the best part. It was so rewarding to watch them finally play a particular note correctly that they had been missing for weeks, to see them perform at their first concert, and to watch how much they had improved from the beginning to the end of the year.

In turn, I learned so much, and experienced the mindset of a teacher, something truly unique. This opportunity was such a rewarding experience; I hope I can continue it next year, and that others might consider trying it as well.