Sunday, January 14, 2018

Strings Players and Dancers

Hi  all.

This will be a bit shorter and certainly less developed than some of my other ideas expressed in this blog.  It is more of an observation today.  Here is the  quick thought:

  • String players = start with technical,  work toward expressive.
  • Dancers = start with expressive and work toward the technical

My Recording Technology class recently completed an assignment that I call the Dance-Mix Editing assignment.  The students are tasked with editing several of their favorite songs together in mo more than 32 pulse segments, editing for consistent tempo, consistent or complimentary key and tonality, 8 count phrases, and "cutting to resolution."  The idea is that it could be used for a dance team or cheer-leading team routine with no difficulty.  I am always pleased to hear the resulting ideas and themes that emerge with this first project of the course.

As we were reviewing all of the projects in class, I came to find out that one of my students is particularly interested in dance and took a particular interest in this project the possible applications to his art moving forward.  A wonderful conversation about dance and movement ensued, spurring the following train of thought.

String playing and dance are certainly similar. Both require a great deal of physical training in order to become proficient.  Both require a great deal of kinesthetic rhythmic movement. And both, when done well, can elicit a great emotional response.  That said, it seems to me that string playing typically begins with a focus on the technical and can lead to emotional expression of ideas with perseverance and determination.  Conversely, dance and dancers typically begin with a desire to demonstrate emotion and eventually develop the techniques that  facilitate this pursuit.

A few months ago, I wrote a related post entitled What? and How? I that post, I explored the need for young artists to be aware of the areas of technique, artistry, purpose and perspective.

This may be a subtle difference, but I don't think so.  Having been around instrumental string music education for over 30 year, I have observed students and teachers alike.  I pay attention to string pedagogy and love to consider the intricacies of teaching.  Us string players are obsessed with technique.  I think that we all really want to be expressive, but I find that it is very difficult to attain artistry.  In fact, I have written before that is was very hard for me to consider my self an "artist" until well into my middle-age years.  I was a technician.

I have enjoyed watching various dance shows over the past several years, including So You Think You can Dance, Dancing with the Stars, and others.  One of the things that strikes me always is the artistry and artistic motivation of everyone from the judges, to the pros, to the students. The motivation of the dancer seems to begin with the artistic.  From there, the best dances seek out the technique that is needed to further their art.

Us string folks seem get there from the opposite direction.  Young students (or perhaps  sometimes their parents) want to learn how to play the violin.  They rent an instrument, go to their lessons, and begin the process of learning the techniques of playing.  If they hang in there long enough, they will make the transition to artistry.

I head about 150 violin students audition for a regional orchestra festival yesterday.  I will bet that I heard less than 10 get close to an idea of expression or artistry.  Don't get me wrong:  Artistry is hard. And, one MUST learn the proper techniques in order to demonstrate artistry.  So, I am not suggesting there is anything wrong with any of this.  I just find the dichotomy to be very interesting and telling.

By the way, I was just thinking about kids that start on the guitar and other "rock" instruments.  Many of them begin with an artistry motivation as well.  But, the techniques that are required for real expression with a guitar can be attained significantly quicker.  Tone quality for a power chord happens pretty fast. Tone quality on a violin is a lifelong pursuit.

What are your thoughts? I welcome your feedback and remarks.  Meanwhile, string players: seek out artistry.  You ARE expressive. You ARE artists.  Play with an ear toward moving your audience at all times!



  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! While I agree with you partially, I have to disagree, too. It certainly depends on the "style" of dance you are talking about and on the training of each individual. Hip hop dancers, like tap dancers or percussionists, are trained for "precision" and technique is huge. The motivation for getting involved in the activity in the first place may be for personal reasons of "expression"...but in the end, what separates the exceptional artist/ dancers from those who do it just for fun is only being the technician, but the expression. Many ballet dancers, just like classical musicians, have studied from a very early age. Depending on the quality of the teachers, and the pedagogy goals of those teachers, I think you would find most are trained for the technique. Modern dance initially "broke away" from dance (think Isadora Duncan) to put the expressive front and center, and to question the rigidity of the lexicon of movement. But today, there are many movement lexicons and they are taught with rigor. The best dancers today still struggle with how to translate all this "technique" into artistry, how to apply the "breath", how to use the space, how to focus, how to determine the motivation for each physical movement : in short, how to "express". (In dance you also have also the assistance and influence of the music you choose, the lighting, the set design it is much more comparable to theatre in that way.)

    I play largely for Duke Dance program ballet students these days during the year. The students are exceptionally finely trained ballet dancers, from an early age. What the professors at Duke work almost exclusively on with them is their artistry. (even though few of them will become professional dancers.) At the American Dance Festival, the contemporary modern technique classes are always a combination of "how" with "why." The more experience in movement forms the dancer has, the more the conversation goes to artistry(use of space, focus, motivation: all mentioned above). But if there is a lexicon of movement to embody, that must be done first. Images are used to access technique, but so is anatomy, and pure physical exploration.

    That all being said: I have also said SINGING IS TO BALLET as PERCUSSION is to TAP. I think for the most part (and in the 21st century all "rules' have been broken) ballet is more like the singing quality that a violinist works toward and tap (or even hip hop) is more like the precision work percussionists practice.

  2. Hi Natalie and thanks for your thoughts!

    Actually, I don't think we disagree at all. I just think you are looking at it from a slightly different perspective. Everything you say makes complete sense to me and your perspective is definitely from a more educated dance side of things.

    I don't really think that I was talking so much about pedagogy in this post. I was thinking more about motivation. What initially motivates us to play? What motivates us to practice? But, I really was thinking more about how string players get mired in the technical. I wish that my community would invest a bit more artistry from an earlier age. Some do. But not enough. Certainly the best artistic training includes both the technical at a high level and the artistry at a high level. The two will always go hand in hand.
    All my best!