An Interview with Professor V
The Professor and I tried to have a telephone interview, but the tech wasn’t happening that day.
Todd Ehle, AKA Professor V, graciously provided answers to these questions I posed to him, and a video that will help improve your intonation. Thanks for being a supporter of iFiddle and thanks to ProfessorV, Todd Ehle for his video later in this article. You’ve got to check out his YouTube channel.
View more info about Todd here. Todd Ehle
Thanks for talking with me today on behalf of iFiddle Magazine. I¹m sorry the recording didn’t work out, but those things happen.
iFiddle: Why is intonation so difficult for some? How can one develop their ear, and how much practice should one do daily?
TE: Having fine intonation is a two-pronged process; first we must learn how to listen, then we must develop our technique so our hands can create what we want to hear.I think ear-training is essential, and practicing with an electronic tuner is a great place to start. As for technique; I teach my students to contact the string in the same way every time, hitting the same point on the fingertip, feeling the thumb, lifting from the base knuckle, then memorizing the motions so them become automatic. Also, and this is critical; not to squeeze with the left hand. We always need to be able to make micro-adjustments with the fingers and if we are squeezing the neck this won’t be possible.
iFiddle: Improvisation. Old-time improvises a lot as well as jazz players, however I don¹t see too much in classical music.
iFIddle: Why do you think that is?
TE: If you go back far enough, the musician was actually EXPECTED to add all sorts of ornaments to the music, and were evaluated on how well they could to this. Composers gradually moved away from it by writing out every detail, probably because they wanted more control of their compositions, and possibly because they thought musicians were messing up their work!. The improvisational elements are back in style with performers who specialize in the music the Baroque and Classical periods. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of research to do this correctly, so most teachers shy away from it.
iFIddle: Why do you think some folks gravitate towards certain styles of music?
TE: I genuinely have no idea! With me, it¹s partly gravitating towards music I heard as a child, but also I have a real desire to keep learning. I’ve been a “Classical” violinist since I began studying, back in 1973, but I’ve been devoted to learning Irish fiddle since 2006.I try to keep the two worlds very separate when I play, but it¹s challenging to do so.
iFiddle: Is it more difficult for older students to learn violin or fiddle?
TE: The traditional answer to this is Yes, it is more difficult as an adult. I have many adult students, the ones that are impatient often struggle the most. Children usually learn without this burden, and at least when they are young, have no preconceived notion of where they are going. However, adults are often able to think, reason, plan, listen, and practice in ways a child can not. If the adult student is persistent and patient, they will learn. They may not become as good as their favorite fiddler, but sadly, this is the case with most of us! I think spending a life with the instrument, and trying to become better every single day, is the real reward.
iFiddle: I hear one thing and play another. This seems to happen to other students as well. Why?
TE: The goal is to do things automatically, or at a subconscious level. The reality is that this takes a lot of time, and requires a lot of repetition. When I have a struggling student I try to reduce the difficulties down to just a single problem, have them correct it,then repeat it multiple times (until they achieve the desired result), then add another layer of difficulty. If we practice this way, we feel successful with each small accomplishment,Instead of overwhelmed by the big picture. If a student really struggles, say in front of an audience, I¹ll have them work on a single note until they are able to achieve the desired result.
iFiddle: What can be done to get good timing where it¹s automatic? How can the pulse of a tune keep your timing solid?
TE: I have my students listening to their music constantly, trying to learn how to not only play notes, but how to fit into a specific style, and how to feel a groove. I also insist that my students practice with a metronome! Most students resist this, but I force it in lessons. It¹s no different than playing with a rhythm section, or playing in an ensemble.
iFiddle: The Suzuki method. Do you think this is the best method for students?
TE: I think a great teacher can teach with any system, or even no system. A good teacher listens, and plans out a path for each student. Learning via the Suzuki method has definite benefits with the development of the ear, and learning to recreate what they hear. This can be easily transfer to other styles of music that would be learned by ear, such as old-time or Irish Fiddling.
iFiddle: What music inspires you the most?
TE: I go through phases! I’ll just answer by saying it’s whatever I’m working on at the moment.
iFiddle: Why do you think some are more gifted, or talented than others?
TE: We all have gifts, and most of us also have weaknesses. I try not to concentrate on the weaknesses beyond attempting to improve them. Of course some have perfect pitch, some have brilliant reflex speed and coordination, some have photographic memories.These things together create what we call ‘Talent”. I realize music is extremely competitive at the highest levels, but I also know performing a simple piece, and doing it well, can bring tremendous pleasure to many people, and the self-discipline and process of discovery can bring great satisfaction to many others.
iFIddle: Who could you listen to and not get burned out?
TE: Itzhak Perlman and Kevin Burke, as well as many others!
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