Friday, September 23, 2016

Fundamentals Are Critical

I don't know how many of you are football fans. But, if you are, you surely watched the Houston Texans versus New England Patriots game last night on CBS. I was really looking forward to this game . It featured a rookie quarterback for the Patriots going up against one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. I felt certain that the Texans were going to win this game going away and was completely surprised by the Patriots dominance by the end of the game. The Patriots won the game 27-0 and it was for one reason: attention to fundamentals.

When you watch the Patriots play, all of the fundamentals are in place. They tackle well. Their blocking schemes are basic but extremely well executed. They don't try to do too much offensively. They simply dominate with great fundamentals. This translates to wins on a regular basis.

Last summer I was at a picnic with a bunch of my friends from high school. My group of friends includes some fantastic athletes. In particular, my friend Harvey was a standout point guard on our high school basketball team. During a lull in the conversation and festivities, I went out to the basketball court in his driveway and was shooting the ball. I've never been a very good basketball player and that was showing in my shoot around that day. Two of my sons play rec league basketball and I have never been able to coach them very much due to my lack of knowledge of the fundamentals of the game. Harvey came by and I started to ask him about the fundamentals of shooting. He gave me a few tips . He told me to square my shoulders to the hoop, to set my feet, and to follow through on every shot. These three basic fundamentals completely changed my success rate. Suddenly, I was able to hit jumpers from all over the court at a much higher rate than before.

And so it is the same with bowed string technique. The fundamentals can never be ignored. Even the most advanced students require some reminders of the fundamentals from time to time . For me, and for my students, these include anchoring your feet to the floor, proper left hand and arm position, proper bow technique, and proper bow hold. If a student can master these basic fundamentals, they will be set up for much higher success with advanced techniques.

It is the same with orchestral and ensemble playing. I feel that there are some basic fundamentals for ensemble playing that, when adhered to, precipitate a much higher level performance. These include a well tuned group, feet anchored to the floor and proper seated playing position, effective orientation to the conductor, effective orientation to other musicians, fundamental understanding of uniform bow technique, and a commitment to dynamic contrast. When these basic ideas are in place, an ensemble is much better positioned to perform at a high level.

What fundamentals do you find to be critical? I feel like half the battle is knowing your own perspective on the basics and fundamentals. So many teachers get enamored with advanced techniques, but they neglect the fundamentals. It seems to me that we must be reinforcing fundamentals every single day. I'm sure that the New England Patriots do that. It seems like if it is good enough for arguably one of the most successful franchises in the NFL, then it is good enough for my orchestra. In the end, the most successful teams, athletes, musicians, and teachers, are the ones that make sure the fundamentals are properly taught and internalized for all students. 

As you move into your classroom next week, I encourage you to think about the fundamentals. Encourage your students to think about fundamentals. Where are your priorities? Where are their priorities? I believe that this will yield excellent results for you and your students in a variety of ways!

Best wishes considering these ideas.

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