A Survey of Viola Teachers’ Perceptions of Viola Pedagogy
Parker, Sophie Elizabeth
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The purpose of this basic qualitative study was to explore college/conservatory-level viola teachers’ perceptions of viola playing and pedagogy. Participants received a link to a researcher-designed survey instrument called the Viola Pedagogy Survey (VPS). VPS questions were designed to help define current practices in viola pedagogy and to assess participants’ perceptions with regard to viola pedagogy. VPS topics included: (a) differences between violin and viola technique; (b) whether or not they encourage students to switch violin to viola and, if so, at what age; (c) methods employed to help former violinists obtain a more violistic sound; (d) teaching style and initial instrument, (e) recommended viola repertoire and etudes; (f) recommended remediation strategies, (g) influential mentors; (h) division of lesson time; (i) goals for students; and (j) important violists of the 20th century. Following a pilot study, 60 surveys were sent out for the main study, and 19 respondents replied, for a return rate of 32%. Participants in the main study (N = 19) were current members of the American Viola Society who self-identified as university or conservatory level viola teachers. The main categories of discussion were organized by corresponding Research Question topics, and included: (a) reasons for choosing or switching to the viola, (b) viola technique, (c) viola pedagogy and methods of implementing remediation, (d) viola repertoire and etudes, and (e) viola mentors. Participants gave five types of responses as to why they chose or switched to the viola, including chamber music, suggestion of teachers or peers, sound qualities, physical aspects, and playing opportunities. Participants described several areas of pedagogical technique unique to viola including right hand, left hand, and sound quality/tone production. Participants also cited many different mentors and influential pedagogues, but only three were mentioned more than once as most important of the 20th century: Karen Tuttle, Heidi Castleman, and Robert Vernon. The participants’ quotes in this study indicate that many violists do see the viola as more difficult, less perfect than the violin. Their quotes also indicate that a violist needs special skills to play the viola, and/or that certain individuals may be better suited to its rigor, given certain physical attributes. Suggestions for future research include surveying a larger population of violists to compare attitudes towards viola pedagogy, then and now, and to observe for the emergence of new important teachers in 21st century viola pedagogy.