Interview with Tong Wei-Dong, Part 2


This is a continuation of our interview with Chinese Professor Tong Wei-Dong, one of the top violin teachers in China. In part 1 we explored Professor Tong’s personal and professional development, along with his formative experiences as a Chinese musician learning about the Western classical tradition.

In part 2 we conclude our interview by sharing Professor Tong’s teaching philosophy and how he has applied it to building musical technique and maturity in his students.

String Visions: What are some key aspects of teaching that you try to focus on with your students?

Professor Tong: First of all, I really want to treat all of my students the same way as I was treated by my teachers, and to share what I know and have learned from all of my great teachers. I insist that my students master intonation and develop a very strong technique. To do that, they must combine great practice habits with a lot of dicipline. Every student in China is required to practice a lot of scales because they have juries two times a year.  Beginning in elementary school, students start playing thirds, sixths, octaves and tenths scales.

String Visions: Are both juries for technique ?

Professor Tong: No, the scale juries are held at the beginning of the year and the repertory juries take place at end of the year.

String Visions: That is a great idea–I will adopt it with my own students. That will inspire the students to work a lot on scales and double stops over the summer.

Professor Tong: Yes, it is important to get a great start at the beginning of the school year. In my teaching, I also stress the need to help students develop the ability to correct themselves. Because regardless of the  effort the teacher makes during the lesson, it is those students who have learned to correct themselves, who are best able to apply what they learned in the lesson and therefore derive the greatest value from the teaching.

String Visions: Yes that is essential.

Professor Tong: Getting a great set-up–with both hands and the left-hand position, so the fingers fall on the string in a most natural way–is very important. Ear training, singing certain passages out loud, and videotaping oneself are all very helpful practice tools. However we must not forget that the most important aspect is the love we have for music–we really must encourage our students to love music.

String Visions: Yes, being fond of music is helpful ! (LOL)

Professor Tong: Yes! [Laughing]

String Visions: How do you inspire that?

Professor Tong: It has a lot to do with personality–we all have our personalities. I can see in you, that you are a very warm-hearted man who really understands how to inspire and communicate with the students. That quality is essential and I very much try to be like that also. Having that quality will inspire the students to love music and really dedicate themselves to music and their studies.

String Visions: Yes, creating and sustaining a bond between teacher and student is important.

Professor Tong: Communicating and listening to each other, and having a two-way exchange of ideas is very helpful.

String Visions: Can you share a few more aspects about your teaching?

Professor Tong: Some of my students, in our lessons, will claim that during their very careful practice at home, they were playing in tune. And so they ask me to explain why, during their lessons with me, they play out-of-tune. Some attribute their poor intonation to being nervous in the lesson. I tell them that I don’t believe they were playing in tune at home, in the first place, nor that nerves are a reason for their poor intonation. What is likely happening is that in the lessons, they now  listen to themselves in a much more self-critical way, and now they are borrowing my ears.

String Visions: Yes, it’s like they listen in the lesson with four ears instead of with two.

Professor Tong: Yes, indeed! There’s this story that I am very fond of telling my students:

“A person walks out of his house, unaware of the trap just outside of it. He falls into the trap. On the second day, he walks out of the house, and falls into the trap again. On the third day, he makes the same mistake, and falls into the trap for a third time.”

I then ask my students, “What do you think about this person?” They usually answer, “Probably, something is wrong with this person’s brain!” Then I say, “That’s what playing with poor intonation is!”

String Visions: [Laughter] I like that! I like that!

Professor Tong: May I ask a question of you? The old players such as Jascha Heifetz, David Oistrakh–they do not move at all while they perform. Yet nowadays, there are some equally great musicians that move a lot when they play. I would like to know your opinion about that.

String Visions: I think is is important for people to use movements to enhance their playing. I also love what Geminiani writes in the Introduction to his treatise, The Art of Playing the Violin:

The intention of music is not only to please the ear, but to express sentiments, strike the imagination, affect the mind, and command the passions. The art of playing the violin consists in giving the instrument a tone that shall, in a manner, rival the most perfect human voice, and in executing every piece with exactness, propriety, and delicacy of expression according to the true intention of music. But as the imitating [of] the cock, cuckoo, owl and other birds, or [of] the drum, French horn, tromba-marina, and the like, and also [as] sudden shifts of the hand from one extremity of the fingerboard to the other, accompanied with contortion of the head and body, and all other such tricks rather belong to the [practitioners]of legerdemain and posture masters than to the art of music, the lovers of that art are not to expect to find anything of that sort in this book.

This is really what music should be about, but nowadays the audiences are also expecting to be entertained, so a lot of movements from the performers can give the impression of more exciting playing. From my perspective, any movements that help the performer play better and enhance the music are OK–and we are all different. However movements, just for the sake of acting, should be avoided.

Professor Tong: Thank you, I like that.

String Visions: Could we finish with a few personal stories about you?

Professor Tong: Yes, I’ll share some very happy moments in my life, such as when I was very young and watched TV while practicing.

String Visions: Really!

Professor Tong: Yes! My parents were very tough with me, and my secretly watching TV while practicing was psychologically very helpful for me. It helped me relax and relieved a lot of pressure that I felt at that time.

Another story is about an incident that happened during my studies in Germany. My teacher, Professor Jörg Wolfgang Jahn, gave me a chance to play a concert somewhere in France. On the way to the concert, travelling on the train from Germany to France, I fell asleep.

String Visions: You what–(LOL)–fell asleep on the train?

Professor Tong: Yes, and I just kept travelling way past the city where the concert was, and I never made it to the concert!

String Visions: I really enjoyed those two stories, and I very much appreciate your sharing your time and knowledge with us. Thank you so much.


2 Responses to Interview with Tong Wei-Dong, Part 2

  1. Cellimom September 17, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    Thank you for helpful and funny story!

  2. He Sihao October 21, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    He is a good teacher in China that his student always respect him and love him as well!

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