Old School vs. New School?

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    What is your opinion on the difference and respective values of “old school” teaching and “new school”? Presumably, the old school approach is to learn how the teacher does things, follow what they instruct, and develop gradually under their tutelage, trusting individuality to come through. The new approach presumably is one of emphasizing individuality and imposing nothing on the student. If you have a different understanding, please explain. When do you consider a teacher to have imposed an or their interpretation upon the student? How then, do you teach interpretation, taste and judgement? Is it anything goes?
    These are important issues, so the more contentious, perhaps the more light will be shed.


    I think it’s best to tailor your teaching to the students’ abilities and preferences, but I believe the first few years are most efficacious if the teacher uses the “old-school” approach. Then, once the student has (hopefully) mastered technical problems and come to some understanding of musical styles, then they can be encouraged to branch out and create their own interpretations. But the teacher should never totally abdicate their responsibility to guide the student. If the student makes a really bad choice of tempo or style, I don’t think it would be good to just stand back and let them play the piece poorly for the sake of individuality. I would encourage every student to go to lots of concerts of different artists, take master classes with as many teachers as possible, and think for themselves! The more influences they get from really great artists, the better they will be at determining their own style of music-making.


    Elizabeth- I would like to add to your post that I have found with all of the students I have taught that musical expression is just as much a part of technique as hand position, finger motion, velocity, etc. Students who are learning the basics of musical expression don’t have the technical control to execute smoothly what they are trying to do. So the first few times they make a crescendo, the first few notes are soft and then suddenly everything gets loud. The same thing goes for making a ritard, where the first notes in that section are at one tempo and then suddenly they switch to a slower tempo. I also find that they have just as hard a time controlling these changes over varying lengths of time. For example, a crescendo can take place over 4 measures or over 3 beats, and the student has to learn how to do each one as a seperate technical issue. Their first attempts are more than likely going to make all crescendos the same length and the same change in volume. So I think initially the teacher not only has to impose a musical interpretation, but then teach the student how to execute each of the interpretative changes. Once the student has these techniques under control, then I try to listen for how that student hears the piece, how he thinks about the piece, and guide the interpretation rather than imposing something that the student doesn’t feel.


    Excellent points, Carl! To refer back to that thread about talent, I have found that some of my students have had a natural gift for being expressive and musical and knowing how much ritardando is just right, etc., while others take much longer to get to that stage. I am always delighted when a student comes to a lesson with a really great idea about a piece that I have not thought of myself. One thing that amazes me: adult harpists who religiously cling to practices because that’s how they were taught, whether or not these techniques are working for them. If they went back to the same teacher twenty years later, they probably would find that the teacher has moved on and changed some of the things they taught back then. You have to keep thinking and dissecting what you’re doing to grow as a person and as a musician.


    What would be really great is if our educational system would give enough time for the old school approach to fully work. As it is, it only works with students who have started early, in order to be fully formed as individuals by the time they finish schooling. Four years of undergraduate is not enough, nor 1-2 years of graduate training.


    Weird how all the dates got changed on this thread.
    As you say Carl, it is necessary as soon as you deal with dynamics, to teach them how to listen to the harp, how to make it respond, and how to create crescendi and decrescendi with ringing or muffled strings.


    Elizabeth mentioned earlier that individual students deserve an individualized approach.

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