Have you ever played the same piece for 2 different people (perhaps for masterclasses or lessons) and received conflicting feedback? About a month ago I played the exposition of Mozart’s 4th violin concerto at two lessons in the same week for two different teachers. For reference, both teachers worked together for an online summer program that I took part in. All participants had 2 lessons a week – one with each teacher.

Here’s a paraphrase of the feedback I got on the opening phrase.

At lesson #1: “I think you’re using too much bow; the sound is too direct. Try to really plan how you want to articulate each note in order to shape the phrase.”

So I practiced after the lesson in hopes to achieve a better sound for this opening using the suggested approach.

Two days later, I had lesson #2: “The sound can be more open. I think you should just use more bow and feel more free in the arm.”

 

Both lessons went really well but now I was confused. This was also the first time I had any lessons in over 4 years. Some students who went to big conservatories had the opportunity to take lessons with more than one teacher at a time (often a main teacher, plus their assistant), but I never experienced something like that; so the 2 Mozart lessons really made me think.

 

As a “good student” the first thing that came to mind was: “Oh no! I’m going to have to disappoint someone after practicing this!” And that’s when I caught myself – how many times do we try to please (or “not disappoint”) the teacher at our lessons? What is really the purpose of these lessons? And how many students in music schools are spoon-fed how to play each and every phrase? Hopefully less than I fear, as that would prevent students from thinking, analyzing music for themselves, and developing their own ideas. I am speaking here mostly about advanced students. Of course some need to be shown a musical “choreography” to follow along when first getting to know a certain composer or learning how to phrase, but it’s almost always better when a teacher demonstrates several interpretations and help the student explore the music to make a decision and help the music come to life.

 

That weekend, I realized that the lessons and the program were set up this way intentionally – two first-class violinists with very different backgrounds working together. I was put into an ideal position without realizing it – the frustrating situation left me with no choice but to try many different ways to play that opening, self-record over and over, and use my best musical judgment and reasoning. It forced me to trust myself better and be more decisive, which led to more confidence.

 

A great musician and teacher will always have a good argument to back up their musical idea and/or execution of a phrase. But they’ll also acknowledge other interpretations and be flexible to try something a different way. If we listen to the great masters, the musical flexibility and growth is evident by comparing recordings of the same piece played by the same musician in different years of their life.

 

Do you have a similar story? I’d love to hear it – just leave a comment below, or if you prefer to share privately, contact me.

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