The Well Aging Fiddler – Finding and choosing a good teacher

July 12, 2017, 3:52 PM · I’m 68 years old, I’ve got a good violin, and I’m ready to learn how to play. I tried teaching myself, but that didn’t work. I needed a good teacher, and I found one. In fact, I found three. So, how do I select the right teacher to work with?

violin

While my experience as a violinist is quite limited, my experience with education is based on 37 years as a teacher. I may not know what to do with a violin, but I know what to look for in a teacher. No matter what the subject matter may be, a few things stand out above all others. Let me offer some qualities to look for in a teacher that may help you if you are searching for someone.

Chemistry.

First of all, right from the start, the chemistry between the student and teacher is the make or break factor that outshines just about everything else. I don’t mean they have to be buddy-buddy, but it’s important that the personalities of the teacher and student blend in a way that make the experience valuable. For me, a sense of detail, enthusiasm, patience, and a sense of humor are vital.

Price.

I understand violin lessons can cost between $30 and $200 an hour. I would presume the more expensive lessons would be with someone with excellent teaching and playing credentials. Frankly, at this stage, I don’t know enough to give an educated comment on those prices. I’m in the $40 range simply because of my budget. I want to learn how to play a violin, but I don’t’ want to go broke doing it.

Experience.

I think it goes without saying that the amount of experience in both teaching and playing is important when selecting a teacher. Is the person a classical violinist? Folk music? Bluegrass? Jazz? Is that really important at this stage in your lesson history?

Goals.

What are my goals? Now, for me, I want to get a good sound out of the instrument, I want to be able to sight-read music, and also pick up songs by ear, and perhaps improvise on the violin. Other goals will reveal themselves as everything unfolds.

Genre(s)

What kind of music do you want to learn? I’m wide open with this issue. I don’t want to lock into one specific genre. I like to quote Duke Ellington, “There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.” I’m open to it all.

Reviews

What do other students have to say about this teacher? In this day and age, many teaching websites include reviews from current and former students. Check them out. Even though the chances of finding a bad review are slim I think you can get a good general feeling for the satisfaction level from most students.

The teacher’s website, YouTube, recordings, performances.

Are there any videos of the teacher playing and/or teaching? Recordings? Is there any chance the teacher will be playing live? Check these out. Every bit of knowledge will help.

Interview the teacher, and perhaps take a sample lesson with that person. A lot of teachers offer this, and I think it’s well worth the time. After all, lessons are a long term investment, a free sample is a great idea.

Having said all of this, I want to reemphasize the search for someone to give private lessons is very personal and subjective. I don’t think one teacher will fit all styles of learning. Let me state again that even though someone may be a skilled teacher, and a good communicator, there is something to be said for the chemistry between the student and the teacher.

Now as I said, I’ve found three excellent teachers, all of whom I hope to work with in some capacity over the next few years. How did I find them? I did it the old fashion way – I asked people. I asked people in music stores, I looked at Internet sites that list string teachers, and I asked some friends. I simply did some digging around, asking around, and it all came down to three good teachers.

So here is what I found.

Teacher Number One is very experienced in orchestral work and small ensembles.
Teacher Number Two is a very popular and respected teacher and professor.
Teacher Number Three is experienced in a wide variety of genres, well traveled, and has won awards as a teacher.

All three are professional in their approach. Each offered to meet with me prior to any formal lessons, and all of them are excited about their craft. I could have gone with any of them and I have a feeling things would have worked out.

I went with Teacher Number Three – Mirabai Peart. Why? Pure and simply, I was excited to work with her. Her website shows a background in a wide variety of genres, she is active as a musician, touring and recording, and comments from her students were glowing. Also, the price works for me.

I wrote to the first two teachers and told them my decision. They were very professional. Both were gracious, encouraging, and one even offered suggestions for future music. I am so impressed; I still hope to work with both of them somewhere down the line.

So, in the end it was and is a gut, chemistry, excitement, and eagerness that brought me to my teacher. I wanted someone with imagination, experience in teaching, a wide knowledge of genres, and a sense of adventure.

Next week – The First Lesson.

Replies

July 13, 2017 at 11:25 PM · This reminds me that I need to look. I went with my current teacher based on her professional experience. Unfortunately, English is her second language and her style of teaching is mostly by example. When I have questions, it is difficult to know what to ask and how to convey what I want to know. Most of her students are young Suzuki with two of early high school age. At 64, I am her oldest. This was my first experience seeking out a private teacher so next time I hope I am better educated as to what to look for.

July 13, 2017 at 11:29 PM · I can't wait to hear about your first lesson.

July 14, 2017 at 01:01 AM · I am the same age and started taking lessons 4 years, after I retired from teaching art at our local university. I had always loved going to the symphony and especially love the strings. I decided to take violin lessons and asked for suggestions on teachers from the only music shop we have in town that rents instruments to students/schools of all ages. I was lucky to find my teacher who plays for our local symphony and has a masters in performance. She is professional, extremely knowledgeable, and very patient with a good sense of humor! Now the rest is up to me.

July 14, 2017 at 11:21 AM · Often times, this works in reverse also. Many teachers love beginning a student with the foundations and don't mind the weekly repetitions and reminders. Some teachers prefer the intermediate student who needs corrections but is motivated to practice and improve. Most teachers desire the students ( regardless of age) who are ready to be challenged , has a good practice ethic and moves through repertoire with a critical ear. Most lesson schedules swing the pendulum of levels and it takes time to have a consistent schedule of students who fall within the same platform. At that point teachers , and with good networking, teachers can recommend the best fit for the best level.

July 14, 2017 at 05:15 PM · Congrats. Mirabai is an amazing musician.

July 14, 2017 at 09:41 PM · I am 70 and have been taking lessons for a couple of months now from Aaron Rutter, here in [Tampa Bay] Florida. Although I had a musical background, it was important to me to find a teacher that, as well, had the skills, enjoyed a variety of genres, capably played them and, in addition, the understanding of a "seriously humored" senior that although had played, never was personally taught the basics and desired to hear something better out of my instrument than I was capable of producing. For me, it's a struggle to go back to SLOW scales, in order to have both the right and left hands working together and in tune, but that's what it has taken. The Stephane Grappelli 'licks' and style copying has had to be put on the back burner, in order to do what is needed. Congratulations Michael! I, too, want to hear how you are progressing.

July 15, 2017 at 02:55 PM · I agree with Jan. Mirabai really is a wonderful musician and a skilled teacher. I record the lessons I have with her. A few days ago I listened to a recording of Mirabai playing a song I'm working on for my next lesson. At the end of the recording my wife shouted from downstairs, "Wow! You're really coming along with that violin!" Alas, I only wish I were that good.

July 17, 2017 at 04:14 PM · I truly value the importance of a good, in-person teacher, but some people must teach themselves due to difficult life situations. Some people can teach themselves (admittedly not so well), some find excellent online teachers (e.g Skype) and others just feel the real need for an in-person teacher.

July 17, 2017 at 06:15 PM · All these comments are good, but the most important ingredient is the student, not the teacher. You should be asking:

1) Do I have time/motivation to play every single day (or at least almost every day) for years? And if I can make that commitment, can I devote significant time to it -- 30 minutes minimum, but sometimes hours. The best teachers can't do much with students who are not "all in."

2) Do you love the violin enough that you enjoy practicing? Because if it's a chore, a go-through-the-motions thing, a means to an end, you are not succeeding. You need to love picking up the violin even to play scales and etudes. If you don't love it, you need to try to teach yourself to love it.

3) Are you realistic about how much time it will take to play violin well enough that others enjoy listening to me? To be a professional takes around 10,000 hours of practice and playing experience. To be a decent amateur takes a minimum of 1,000 hours -- approximately three years of an hour a day. That is, probably, how long it will be before you are playing the kind of music you envision. Playing an instrument takes more perseverence than almost anything else you take on, and violin is not an easy instrument to get started on.

I do not say any of this to be discouraging -- just the opposite. I think talent is hugely overrated. The people who learn to play violin are the ones who fall in love with it, who pick up their instruments at every opportunity and enjoy the PROCESS of learning. If you love this and you make the commitment, you almost certainly will succeed.

The problem with adult beginners is that they're impatient, too goal-oriented, and they don't understand the time it takes. To me it's THOSE things that have to be overcome to be successful.

July 17, 2017 at 07:45 PM · A key quality that I have not seen mentioned is the ability of a teacher to solve problems and be persistent. Many people can say to get a better sound, improve string crossings, improve intonation, but what are the individual and specific actions to get there. Also, teachers my have to remind a student to resolve certain issues....are they going to be persistent or give up. Certainly a lot falls on the student, however both parties must be persistent. Also be careful on price. Obviously the easiest measure is dollars/minute. However at the end of the day the real goal is what was spent vs what was learned. Make some calls, but the best decision is made by a trial lesson or even 2, with a minimum of 3 teachers.

July 19, 2017 at 01:28 AM · I agree with Thomas, except sometimes teaching yourself to love it is impossible. I once was forced to learn an instrument and hated playing it to the point of not wanting to practice at all, although I really appreciate the instrument.

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