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Teaching Adults -- Problems and Solutions -- ASTA 2015

By Laurie Niles
March 30, 2015 06:40

Adult students can be transformed by learning to play a stringed instrument, but they require some special consideration by teachers.

Elmhurst College teachers Susan Blaese and Edgar Gabriel spoke about this topic at a lecture at the American String Teachers Association conference in Salt Lake City earlier this month. Both have many years of experience, teaching adult beginner and intermediate string students.

They defined "adult learners" as anyone age 24 and older who is either starting to play an instrument or resuming after a period of years (not those who continually played since childhood).

Susan Blaese and Edgar Gabriel
Susan Blaese and Edgar Gabriel both teach groups of adult students

Gabriel said that, during his early years of teaching adults, he noticed a trend: "They would quit, right when they were starting to get good!" About a dozen years ago, he started teaching adults in groups, and he's been happy with the results. "In groups, they stick around longer," Gabriel said. "There's a camaraderie, and they don't quit."

Adults have certain challenges: life gets in the way of practice routines for them. They may have arthritis or other physical conditions, and vibrato can be difficult to attain. They also often have unreasonable expectations; they want immediate results.

But on the other side of it, adults stand to gain much from studying violin or another stringed instrument. Gabriel pointed to studies by Dr. Nina Kraus of Northwestern University that list some of the advantages of studying an instrument as an adult: improved overall hearing, improved ability to distinguish voices in a crowded room and improved memory. He said that his students have told him that their doctors said that playing the violin would help their arthritis.

He described the case of one adult student who had lost her ability to do mental math, due to severe injuries from a car crash. Seven years of therapy did little to help with this skill, which affected her ability to measure distances, understand speed limits, do recipes and balance her checkbook. She had nearly given up when she started playing the violin. As she said in a video, "I didn't realize that some of my mental math skills were coming back," but after several years of violin, she found that those skills were growing. "Now I feel like I'm completely normal." Her skill level on the violin, as shown in the video, was still at a beginning to intermediate level, but the benefits to her brain function were immense.

Blaese, who taught in public schools for 33 years, now directs a group at Elmhurst College called Varsity Strings, an orchestra consisting of music majors playing their second instruments, and also adult students. Gabriel and Blaese did an informal poll of their adult students, and they found that those students felt that learning an instrument gave them increased flexibility, confidence, relaxation, sense of purpose, improved vision, better auditory memory, increased enjoyment of music, exercise for the mind and importantly, new friends. They reported that they liked going to rehearsals better than they liked practicing alone.

What are some of the challenges for adults?

For one, "adults don't want to hear any bad sounds right away, but the kids don't care." No beginner sounds good on the violin, but many kids will saw away happily, largely unaware or un-judging of the sound. Adults have the awareness already.

"I made a rule for my adult students," Gabriel said, "if anyone says anything negative about their own playing, they have to drop a dollar in a bucket."

Gabriel also recommended that if you are teaching adults in a group, they each should have their own stand. "I've tried to get them to share; it doesn't work." Also, with adults, "you have to get them to play, right away," they won't go for a month on a cardboard violin.

Gabriel-chairTo teach adults how to hold the bow, Gabriel said that he shows them how to make a bow hand, then he tells to do it every day, but in the following rather unconventional way: sit in a chair with an arm rest and watch television, keeping that proper bow hand, with the bow sticking straight up. They simply need to spend time with their fingers in that formation, around the stick.

When it comes to holding the violin, he said that he does the first lesson standing up, but he's also more inclined to allow an adult student to sit for subsequent lessons. He does use tapes on the fingerboard, and shoulder rests, depending on the student's needs.

Blaese said that with adults who may have conditions like arthritis, "you have to be super-observant and let them play for a while any way that they want to. Try many set-ups, and don't give up. It takes a lot of effort -- don't expect that they'll look right, right away." Eventually, they'll get there, but it just might take more time.

Some of the repertoire they recommended for adult students includes: Wohlfahrt Easiest Elementary Method for Violin; Fiddlers Philharmonic by Dabsynski and Phillips, The O'Connor Method Books 1-3, Solos for Young Violinists and Violists by Barbara Barber and any middle school orchestra arrangements that grades 1-3 level (and they recommended classics, adults don't prefer "pop" style).

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Larry Shapiro: 70 Years Young

By Shauna Kaske
March 27, 2015 14:47

I wrote this article for the Butler Collegian and I thought anyone in the Indianapolis area might be interested in going! It's right on Butler's Campus!

 photo Larry-Shapiro

Larry Shapiro, the first official full-time instrumental music professor on Butler’s campus, has been teaching here for about twenty-eight years. Over 70 years old, Shapiro said he plans to keep teaching well into his 90’s.

Shapiro began playing the violin when he was just six years old.

“Sixty-seven years later and I’ve almost got the hang of it,” Shapiro joked. “I chose the violin because it was the hardest, and I was right.

“My house was always full of classical music, it was natural to me,” Shapiro said.

Although he was a natural-born musician, Shapiro went through a typical youthful rebellion.

Shapiro started out as an English major at Columbia University. He refused to play the violin for a couple years. Soon, he left and went to play tenor sax in a dance band in Dallas.

He returned to New York and met his wife of over fifty years, Ashley.

“That was when I realized I couldn’t live without it,” Shapiro said, referring to his violin.

Although Shapiro was a little behind when he first started out because of his hiatus, his talent did not go unnoticed.

Shapiro soon dropped out of Colombia and attended the noteworthy Manhattan School. People would call Shapiro after seeing him play, begging him to play for them. He was an original member of the American Symphony, as well as assistant Concertmaster of the New York City Opera.

Shapiro, however, has not always had it easy. A car accident a few years back left him and his wife, Ashley, with severe injuries. Unfortunately, Shapiro suffered a shoulder injury that he is still recovering from today.

As of late, Shapiro underwent cataract surgery for both eyes because he could no longer see the music.

Because of this, Shapiro had to move back his recital to March 31 to have sufficient recovery time.

But he won’t let anything stop him now.

Shapiro said he likes to associate a theme with his recital programs, and this year the theme will be “Musical Bonbons,” or short musical compositions that he thinks are treats.

Shapiro has gathered ten works from Mozart to Gershwin, even including a fiddling tune that he prepared himself.

“I play from the heart, rather than from the head,” Shapiro said. “Music is the closest thing to a religious experience, and I am so honored to be able to learn my living this way.”

Shapiro said he believes music is more eloquent than words. Music, in his eyes, has the power to transform lives.

Kim Busic, one of Shapiro’s students, had nothing but sincere words to say about Shapiro.

“Mr. Shapiro has inspired me to become a better violinist and musician,” Busic said. “His knowledge of the violin is like no other violin teacher I have had. Without some of the philosophies and techniques he has taught me, I definitely would not be the violinist I am today.”

Being here for almost thirty years, Shapiro has watched Butler University evolve.

“I have watched Butler University over 28 years to transform itself into something extraordinary. I was the first person ever to be appointed to a full time musical instrument position,” Shapiro said. “The university continued to support that position with similar full time positions and I’m just happy to be a part of what is such a great music school. The entire campus has been transformed.”

Still, Shapiro believes that there is one thing about Butler that makes it stand out from every other institution that he has taught at.

“The thing I value most is that it’s the most nurturing place I’ve ever been a part of,” Shapiro said. “The faculty cares so much about the students. I was a tumbleweed for many years, and when I came here it felt like home. And I’m just getting warmed up.”

Larry Shapiro will give his yearly recital at Eidson-Duckwall Recital Hall on Tuesday, March 31 at 7:30pm.

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V.com weekend vote: Have you participated in graded music exams in your area (as either a teacher or a student)?

By The Weekend Vote
March 26, 2015 23:15

Many students find motivation in taking graded repertory exams, though these are not as commonplace in the United States as they are elsewhere.

Music Exams

Here is a list of some of the most common music exams, and where they take place:

There are other music exams, and some are more localized. I welcome your additions to this list!

Have you participated in a music examination program (or more than one)? Are they motivating for you or for your students? Are they a waste of time that interferes with other learning? Please share your thoughts on the subject!

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How to Get Local Violin Students To Find You

By Michael Sanchez
March 26, 2015 20:45

In 2009, I remember my Mom looking over at me and saying "Michael, why don't you start teaching the violin again?" At the time, I had only taught a few students in high school, and never thought that teaching would become a full-time job. I remember wondering how I would even find students without already having a reputation in the area? I couldn't imagine leaving my job as a leasing agent at an apartment complex, and giving up the rights to my 20% discount; actually, that wasn't so hard. Wow, have things changed since then!

Three years later, I was teaching 82 students, many of them on Skype and other online platforms. By 2012 (all from the comfort of my Mom's home), I went from a teaching nobody to one of the busiest in the area, generating an income of $75K/yr. just from teaching lessons. I was also getting additional money from gigs, selling music books, accessories, instruments and more. This is ultimately what led me to start my online store, which is what takes up the majority of my time now.


My first teaching area (2012)


So, how did I get into a position where so many people call me and book lessons? I’m not Joshua Bell, so it wasn’t because I had name recognition. It was because I took advantage of the many resources the internet has to offer. Keep in mind, you have to be a decent (preferably good) teacher to keep the students, but it has to start somewhere, and that’s by getting the students to find you.

The Internet is such a great place for people to find music teachers, and it isn't as difficult as you might think to get them to find you. If you’re looking to find more students in your area, focusing on online marketing is the way to accelerate. For anyone interested in this path (which is how I found 95% of my students), here is a progression of the things you can do to give you the best chance of success. This progression is what ultimately led me to quit my job as an apartment leasing agent, and make teaching violin my career and my sole source of income. All the tips I have for you below are related to generating the emails and calls you need to start building your teaching studio.

1. Start an online page - To get started, you want to establish an area where you can post information about yourself, to ultimately get students to contact you. This could be in the form of a website (Weebly or Web.com are examples of hosting), or even a Facebook page. Make sure that your contact information is easy to find so people can easily reach you.

2. Build a professional profile - First impressions are everything in getting someone to call you and inquire about your services. Make sure you have a professional picture, preferably one of you with your instrument (smiling doesn't hurt). Write a professional bio, and keep in mind it is all about selling yourself. Even if you don't have your degree, you can still tell people about your passion for teaching, and that you would be a great fit to help them achieve their goals. Maybe you are great with kids or have the ability to connect with adult beginners. Aim for being professional with your writing, and be confident about anything that you say (no sob stories or concerns). Keep it under two paragraphs unless you really think there is more that brings value. Have someone review your profile to make sure it sounds professional, is easy to read, has no grammar errors, and is convincing enough for them to take the next step in contacting you for lessons.

3. Get out of “word-of-mouth mode” - Even great credentials don’t put you in the best situation to find students. You can try doing things such as hanging flyers on doors (I did this when I first started), or telling everyone to tell their friends about you. The problem is that these sorts of things really don't work for finding a lot of students. I learned pretty quickly that I had to try other options, and the ones that worked were ones that revolved around something Internet related. If it wasn't for the Internet (online marketing), I'm certain I would only have a few students right now and probably still be living with my parents (sorry if this is where some of you are at). So what kind of marketing strategies should you be doing when it comes to finding students? I'll try to highlight some of the important ones below.

4. SEO - When I first started teaching, I was developing videos in my Mom's basement (for Violin Tutor Pro), and this led me to have interest in how to market DVD's. The most important concept that I stumbled across was "SEO", which is the abbreviation of the phrase "Search Engine Optimization." This is a fancy phrase for how Google ranks you on their search engine, based on many different factors. By really understanding how this works, you can start understanding how different things lead people to your website or landing page which is ultimately how you can develop situations to find new students. When I first started studying about SEO, I learned everything from SEOMoz, which is a great tool to learn about SEO. Take the time to learn about SEO—you won’t regret it.

5. Google listings - Make sure you have your information updated properly on Google, Yahoo, and Bing listings. When you search for a service on a search engine and the provider assumes it is local, they will include those listings ranked first before any of the others. Try searching for a restaurant in your area on Google and you will see what I mean. This is a prime way to get exposure when someone is searching for "violin lessons" or any other service in your area. Make sure to always keep these listings updated.

6. Create a video - The best thing you can do to establish credibility online is by creating a video. You can do this on smart phones these days, and all it needs to be is you talking about your services. It can be as simple as your name, what instruments you are able to teach, your credentials and where you are going to be teaching. You can post this video on your website or landing page to attract even more attention. A good place to post videos is YouTube, and you can also record directly to YouTube from your webcam.

7. Post on free classified websites - The #1 website that I used when I was trying to build a local studio was Craigslist. Most likely, this is a website you are familiar with. I developed a lot of leads just by posting my information about my services and lessons there, and you can also post on other classified sites. Go to Google and type in "Top Classified Websites 2015," click on a link that brings up a nice list, and choose maybe 4-5 of the best ones to post on. I wouldn't recommend paying anything since you can find free ones that are effective.



Like I said earlier, these are only the first steps. Once they find you, you still need to convince them that you are the teacher they want! If you find you are not a good talker on the phone, I would suggest having someone else filter leads for you. This can be done in a way that is still professional, but puts you in the best light. That is a very important part of the process.

I hope this was helpful for you. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me through my Violin Tutor Pro website.

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