Paul Rolland and His Method of String Teaching
© 2019 Goh Tong Keat
One of the founders of the American String Teacher Association, Paul Rolland was born in Hungary and subsequently moved to study and work in the United States. He taught at several schools before being appointed as the professor of violin at the University of Illinois, a position which he held until his death. He became a well-known figure for his approach in early string teaching that emphasizes physical balance and freedom of movement. He believed that "most elements of string playing can be introduced in embryonic form during the first year, and refined thereafter."
When Rolland first came to the United States, he noticed that the teachings in American schools tend to focus on isolated movement of the fingers, hands, and arms. This resulted in the build up of static tension in other parts of the body. Areas that are most susceptible to static tension include the lower body (legs and feet) and the left shoulder. The human body is a unified system where tension in any part of the body can easily spread to the whole body, affecting the physical balance and ease of movement in string playing.
According to Rolland, an object that is in balance can be moved easily. Similarly to the physical body, good balance allows for efficient movements. The concept of balance can be applied to all areas of string playing, including the posture, violin hold, and bow hold. Rolland related the movements in string playing to the movements in sports, particularly golf and baseball. To make a good swing, the player has to maintain a good body balance, use the right leverage (the larger muscles of the whole body instead of isolated parts), anticipate, and follow-through the movement.
"The Teaching of Action in String Playing" is a project conducted by Rolland at the University of Illinois. Children from the Illinois public schools were recruited to participate in this program for two years where they learned to play the instruments using Rolland's method. The project was filmed and a companion book was published along with it. In this project, violin techniques were taught as simple actions that they already know, along with plenty of practice and review. The project reported favorable result from the teachers involved, particularly in faster learning compared to conventional teaching that emphasizes on learning notes and tunes.
The Actions and Tunes
"Action Studies" is a booklet that contains graphic illustrations of the exercises taught by Rolland. The tunes used in the project was composed by Stanley Fletcher and published in two volumes as "New Tunes for Strings".