During our June Conference, we had an effervescent session with Yin Ke (String Program Leader at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Art’s School of Young Talents) on Nurturing Music Talents, and received an overwhelming number of questions for him. We appreciate Yin Ke taking the time to answer some additional questions through an interview we had with him after the conference. Enjoy!
1. Teaching basics to children is not an easy task. What do you teach them and how?
I have my own teaching philosophy for educating children. It has at its essence working from the fundamentals: considering both hands as a complete set, and building technique accordingly.
It is useful to remember that kids have limitations, especially at a young age. Their bodies are still growing, and they will make mistakes. But in considering mistakes, it’s important to be discerning, and to particularly avoid those that become habits, and eventually become a detriment to their future playing. Teachers have to use good judgement to know which minor errors can be accepted at a young age, and not expect perfection – and which errors are ticking time bombs. Which small flaws could grow into major setbacks? The ability of anticipation is in essence an asset to the skilled teacher.
2. How do you teach young kids (e.g. 7-8 years old) musicality given that they might be too young to understand?
I would teach younger children the same way as I would older children – the difference is simply locating the language in which they will best understand. Regardless, musical requirements should still be conveyed.
Kids have the capacity to both feel and express music, and our role as teachers is to allow them to feel how beautiful a piece is, and discover why that beauty exists, and how it comes to be – and to inspire them to express it.
It is a difficult situation indeed when one knows, but somehow is unable to express it. On a more fundamental basis, if they are incapable of understanding and appreciating it, then perhaps music isn’t the right path for that child to walk. That being said, there are many ways to guide and inspire one to express music, whether through demonstration or a spectrum of options to let a young one’s imagination take flight. It is a holistic engagement, covering all aspects, including the piece’s style and background. It is the teacher’s duty to guide and inspire – we can’t leave too much responsibility of this on a child’s shoulders.
Often, parents can communicate more effectively with kids – they know them better, and know how best to speak to them. Thus, we shouldn’t neglect getting parents to know all about a piece of music as well.
3. For children with low attention span (even though they still enjoy playing the instrument), how do you keep them focused in class?
This question is difficult. We see this in all kinds of kids – some have very lively minds, and that can mean short attention spans, and it happens often. It can be difficult to get them to be calm and quiet. I can’t say I have the best method to deal with this in young children, except to say that they will grow out of it as they mature. So perhaps the quality of performance, level of steadiness, won’t be quite so good, but don’t give up on them, as they may just take longer to bloom. Accept that they may have limitations to focus, and don’t force things and end up in a situation of conflict. Go to the boundary, then release, then try to pull them back again, and give them time to mature and find the control within themselves.
4. What are some techniques that you use to build a strong foundation in students for competitions?
This is complicated. When it comes to technique, there are a variety of structured methods – complex exercises for each individual hand, and the coordination required to put the hands together. Regular use of etudes and scales can train accuracy, coordination, bow movement as well as left-hand technique. This training is for the long term, and one must start at the very beginning. A foundation that is built step by step allows the student to be capable when they finally reach a competition. It is important to achieve this level before deciding to enter a competition. When following a structured method, one can see results of this meticulous training after around three to four years.
If you would like to watch the full video recording of Nurturing Musical Talents by Yin Ke, purchase the recording access here.