Drawing on a mysterious fund of patience, my cello students all agreed to adopt one of the most routine, simple practice techniques I’d ever assigned. It could have been boring but somehow wasn’t; even those most likely to resist this task were excited.
Possibly this miracle of pedagogy occurred because I’d tapped a deep place within myself to find the vision for this drill, and the reason for doing it.
Building on a traditional component of stringed instrument pedagogy, finger patterns, I modified certain procedures for my purpose. The most important change was in the period of time my students were to practice finger patterns. Where most of my teachers had assigned finger patterns for a limited period, I told my students to practice them for the foreseeable future.
During the next few weeks, we had fascinating conversations about this simple, repetitive drill that didn’t even rise to the interest level or challenge of an easy etude.
After demonstrating finger patterns, and having my students try them, I said, “These are so simple that your reason for practicing them from now on isn’t because they’re hard.”
They agreed. One or two asked, out of curiosity more than resistance, “Why should we practice these so much if they’re so easy?”
“Because of what they will do for your technique: When you play, can you currently see the fingerboard; every note on it, and which notes are accessible from any given location of your left hand?”
It was a rhetorical question because their playing wasn’t at that level yet. But when I asked, their eyes sparkled.
“Finger patterns are your journey toward that comprehensive grasp of the fingerboard. It’s a limited task, though long, and every time you practice them, you’re advancing one step closer.”
They all got it. Not one argued or dragged his or her feet. And as they gained experience practicing this drill, other benefits soon emerged.