TEACHING: Student-teacher role reversal

I teach fiddling in a rural community in NNY. My students of all ages and abilities see me weekly for private lessons and once a month, we try to gather for group classes. At the gatherings, we do a variety of activities that would be found out there in the “big world” of folk music. We often jam (slow/fast/round robin/non-stop), sometime I get out the sound equipment and we practice how to set it up/take it down, sometimes we contra dance as others play in the dance band…it is valuable time and I rest assured that when they leave our small town, they’ll be prepared to jump into a faster paced music scene.

At one of our upcoming classes, I wanted to give everyone the experience of learning a tune in a group setting, the layout that is often found at the camps and festivals they attend in the summer like Ashokan, Fiddle Hell, Maine Fiddle Camp and more. Having to “find” the notes with 30 other fiddlers at the same time is tricky, especially if you’ve only had one-on-one lesson experience.

I wondered what made some folks more successful than others in a large workshop setting. I think much of it is rooted pattern recognition and organizing phrases. Even though I point out patterns and phrases as I teach, I think sometimes it doesn’t make the student more aware of them. In some cases, students become complacent, turn their active listening ears off, and let me point out all the unexpected twists and turns of a new melody.

I needed to turn up the heat, so I decided that each one of them would be the teacher at the next group class. When you teach, you have to be aware; anticipating, listening, altering the plan as needed. So for a few weeks, I spent time really stressing the importance of identifying and analyzing tunes. They labeled the 4 phrases of an A and B part. They noted if phase 1 and 3 were similar (which they often are.) They compared the A/B phrase endings (again, often similar.) And as a final step, I had them practice teaching ME their tune of choice, and had them point out things that they thought would help me learn the phrase (ie. be careful for the low 2 on the A string!) I purposely made mistakes (which was fun!) and had them help me figure out what I was missing.

They were prepared for a live run at group class. To help this experience go well, I had decided it might be a safe idea for them to teach tunes that the majority of the group already knew how to play. This element, I have to say, turned out to be a great idea. It was still a big challenge for the teachers, but they were met with success as the room aptly echoed the phrases they presented.

I had more comments from students after this class than any other I have hosted in my 20 years in the North Country. My students said the whole exercise was very eye (and ear!) opening. And recently —the young woman leading the class in this picture from last year— informed me that she is interested in becoming a music teacher. #PassingOnTheTradition

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