Violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky on Teaching Like Your Old Teachers
British violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky shares his expert advice on influenced teaching
Week after week, our art is shaped and influenced by the guidance of an esteemed teacher. As musicians, we understand the incredible value of knowledge that is passed down from generation to generation. An art based on tradition but also seeking new inspirations, how should a teacher approach the guidance of each student accordingly? British violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky shares his expert advice on the topic.
Violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky Shares How His Past Teachings have Shaped His Own Today
It is September and another school year has started. I am very excited to be continuing to work with my students in London and Zurich. Some of them I have seen over the Summer, for others it will be their first lessons since the end of last term.
It is always interesting to see what has been done over the Summer break. Often it is a good chance to reset, to start a fresh program, to set yourself new goals, to concentrate on specific improvements.
For many students, Summer is also a chance to travel to different countries, attend Masterclasses and receive a new jolt of inspiration for the year ahead.
I have always had very fond memories of my Summers as a student. Some of the teachers I ended up studying with I had met either at a Masterclass or at a Summer Festival.
I have always been incredibly lucky with the teachers I had. Thinking back, it felt to me that the right teacher always appeared at the right time.
This also had a lot to do with my mother’s watchful eye and instinct for what was needed for me at the time, but I am sure that luck had played a role as well.
During the lessons with my students, I often find myself wanting to repeat many of the things that my teachers used to tell me.
Whether it is about the relaxation of the right hand, (my personal favourite as my students can attest to!!), bow distribution, the dexterity of the fingers in the left hand, or about the phrasing, the different colours and overall musical conviction; when I see problems in front of me that I also had to deal with, I literally have flashbacks and images of being told how to work on these things during my own lessons in the past.
The question then becomes: am I copying too much from my old teachers? Will their words be as useful to my students as they were to me? I guess the answer is, as it always is when it comes to music making, very individual and personal.
Again it is important to emphasize how lucky I have been with my teachers. They have taught or are teaching some of the best violinists over the past 40 to 50 years.
They have had years of experience of guiding multiple generations of instrumentalists towards a wonderful standard of musicianship and technical excellence.
Of course I want to share as much of what I picked up from them as possible, because I know that it works.
However, I have also learnt, through them and through myself, that teaching is not just about delivering information, but the way in which this is done.
Being a teacher is a lot like being a top level sports coach, it is about finding the individual intangibles that will make the biggest differences to each pupil individually.
For example, this can be psychological; knowing which student can benefit more from being pushed, and which one needs a more supportive and gentle approach.
And of course, this is also so important in the practical sense. For example, I might have 2 students who have problems with their right arms which prevent them from making a beautiful, rich tone.
Let’s say that both of their right shoulders are raised. The starting point would be to try and bring the shoulder down by relaxing the right arm completely, trying to find a natural weight in the arm which would transfer into the sound.
But once you bring the shoulder down, each student might have a completely different feeling in their arm. One might drop the elbow too far down, while the other will press even more with their fingers on the bow because they are afraid of being too relaxed and losing control.
Perhaps the end result is very different to anything that I ever did myself, so there is no memory bank of advice that I can access. Only the words that I say or the demonstration that I give can offer the solution to the student, so I must make that judgement myself.
As I continue to develop as a teacher and become more and more experienced, the knowledge that I gained in the past is invaluable and I am so fortunate to have received it.
However it will only help me up to a point, and it is my own instincts and my own sense of how to best help the student that will hopefully make the difference and help them reach their potential.
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Alexander Sitkovetsky was born in Moscow into a family with a well-established musical tradition. His critically acclaimed CPO recording of Andrzej Panufnik’s Violin Concerto with the Konzerthaus Orchester Berlin commemorating the composer’s 100th birthday won an ICMA Special Achievement Award. He is an alumnus of the prestigious ‘Chamber Music Society Two’ programme at the Lincoln Center, and in 2016 received the Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award. Alexander is a founding member of the Sitkovetsky Piano Trio, with whom he has won various prizes including the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Kammermusik Prize.