Sophie Till has been the In Harmony Liverpool string specialist since 2017. At In Harmony all children start by learning a string instrument (Violin, Viola & Cello) at primary school. As a team we have deeply researched the way we teach these instruments to beginners and beyond and there is a lot of good knowledge and information in many string teaching methods which we have combined with our own experience of learning a string instrument. The difference with the way that Sophie has worked with us is that she hasn’t just given us information on how to teach children to learn string instruments. It is through the In Harmony teachers having their own one-to-one lessons with Sophie, alongside group workshops, that she has informed our own playing with her knowledge. We as teachers have experienced for ourselves the transformative effect of her knowledge which has then informed the way we approach teaching the In Harmony students. With her knowledge comes highly specific language which allows us to clearly understand the physical movements involved in playing and in turn this language allows us to communicate more clearly to the In Harmony students what they should be feeling whilst playing.
There are many traditions in string teaching that Sophie has made us question and we have come to realise that many of these traditions are not actually best practise. Sophie’s knowledge is on one hand incredibly detailed but on the other hand there is a single piece of simple information that if the student doesn’t feel physically comfortable it isn’t a case of practising harder until it feels normal it is a case of making changes with that student until it feels good. It is very common for string players to feel uncomfortable and this is really demoralising for any child learning. We have learnt from Sophie how we can teach children through everyday movements applied to the specifics of playing which is a clear way of communicating what we want the children to achieve.
With Sophie’s information we have changed our technical approach to string playing including how we teach bow holds, how we teach children to hold the violin or viola, how we approach getting fingers down on string instruments and also we are really spot lighting the way children sit whilst playing as well as many more things. We are enjoying the results these changes are making. Another element of Sophie’s work is putting the responsibility onto the student to analyse how good they feel physically and if it doesn’t feel right they can make adjustments to how they play and we have found it is surprising how when the students are given the ownership of what feels good they really can find solutions for themselves.
Working with Sophie has been inspirational for our personal playing and transformative in teaching the next generation of string players.