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Daniel Broniatowski

How to Choose a Violin Teacher

May 6, 2012 at 1:38 AM

When choosing a violin teacher (or music teacher) for yourself, your son, or your daughter, there are a number of factors that must be taken into consideration. First and foremost is the question of value. What do you consider important in choosing a teacher, in general? How much does music play a role in your life and/or how much of a role would you like music to play in the life of your child?

Let’s address the role of the teacher first. As is the case in any subject, a teacher has the ability to make or break a child’s enthusiasm and sense of interest in a topic. How many of us have memories of teachers who just made a particular subject dreadful! On the flip side, so many of us also have memories of a special favorite teacher who made a subject come alive. Because violin lessons are so intensive in nature, the necessity of student-teacher chemistry is vital. Violin lessons are usually conducted in a one-to-one fashion and last 30-60 minutes on average. In my opinion, the student-teacher relationship should be the final determining factor in choosing the right violin teacher. Many violinists offer trial lessons (even for free!) where both teacher and student can try each other out to see if there is a good fit.

Now, a word about price. Learning the violin takes commitment. You or your child will need weekly lessons. Here in Boston, prices can range from $25-$200 per lesson. A well-known teacher with high credentials, such as a doctorate degree, or a performer in a major orchestra might charge $100/hour or more. A student in college will likely charge on the low-end. Please don't be put off by the cost. Experience matters and musicians have to eat! There are also only a limited amount of hours available to teach, due to the after-school scheduling of most students.

Are you musically inclined? Would you like to impart your love of music to your child? Or perhaps as an adult, you would like to develop a hidden talent! Music is really a labor of love. Whether professional or amateur, the commitment necessary to learn a musical instrument is so great that one must truly love to communicate in order to be a good musician. There is something magical about conveying your innermost feelings through your instrument. In reality, it is a partnership between the performer, the composer, and the audience. While most children are not ready to understand this partnership yet, they can certainly benefit from the discipline that music lessons provide.

In fact, so much more is taught than just how to play the violin! My students learn how to be really good listeners. They also develop character and self-esteem because they are taught never to give up. Yet, they are also taught to seek “out-of-the-box” solutions to problems that cannot be solved through repeating passages alone. Both of these traits apply beyond the music lesson and translate into life skills.

From a practical standpoint, what are your ultimate goals? Please know that if you are an adult and would like to be a virtuoso like Itzhak Perlman, it is unfortunately too late, as it takes over 10,000 hours of practice. Still, it is NEVER too late to learn how to play at a decent level with proper guidance. Furthermore, if your mind is technically inclined, and you enjoy putting together puzzles and/or computer programs line-by-line, you are particularly suited for the hobby of music making, since a musical piece is learned by putting together many parts, phrase by phrase and section by section.

From the standpoint of violin lessons for children, there is a highly important dynamic between the student and his or her parent(s) that comes into play. While I do not advocate a one-size-fits-all approach, many of my students have a parent sit in on the lesson. Others have parents help them practice their music at home. This is a great way to build a rapport between a child and his or her mother or father. In this day, how many parents wish they had a way to relate better to their children?! Music lessons provide a great way to bond.

At the end of the day, music, when taught properly, is all about communication through love. There is no better way to express feelings, whether between parents and their children, the teacher and student, or between the performer and the audience, than through the wordless wonder of music.

-- Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A.
http://www.violinteacherboston.com


From elise stanley
Posted on May 6, 2012 at 8:57 PM
Interesting and useful. Thanks.

But why write this? "Please know that if you are an adult and would like to be a virtuoso like Itzhak Perlman, it is unfortunately too late, as it takes over 10,000 hours of practice."

First if you start playing at age 1 you will almost certainly not be an Itzhak Perlman either, its way way way beyond 10K hrs 100K hrs for ordinary souls - not that you should not aspire to. But lets suppose that what yu meant to say was to attain a virtuoso standard that would permit you to play as a soloist with a major orchestra (I hope thats reasonable).

If you use the 10K notion (which is such a simplification its really just a discussion illustration - we have atopic on this) you only have to play 3 hrs a day 10K hrs is actually only 10 years so its achievable up to age 55 or so.

I've posted this before but need to do so again. When I was looking for a teacher (as an (late) adult returner) I talked to a highly qualified one (after hearing that I was an adult returner, and before I had even mentioned my goals incidentally) who said "the first thing you have to do is lower your expectations". Baloney - and yes, another teacher in the 'out' box.

One of my criteria for any teacher is that they allow and encourage you to see your dreams - they may know know in their hearts or heads that those dreams are not unreachable but its frankly not the teachers job to tell you that. We all have to find our limitations by ourselves. Coinsider this, what if a truly unique adult walked into your studio who really COULD attain violinist stardom and you poured oil on those dreams? Sure the odds are way against but they are still there.

Indeed, I wonder how far Perlman (or Heifetz) might have got if he had started to play when he was an adult. Undoubtedly not where he is now but I'm going to guess his genetics and obvious work ethic would still have permitted him to become an outstanding violinst.....

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on May 6, 2012 at 10:34 PM
I enjoyed this blog very much and thought it was full of useful tidbits. But I agree with Elise that that particular sentence was unnecessary and even detracts from the rest of the piece. I think that kind of thing should only be brought up if the student brings it up him- or herself.

A small edit in response to Laurie's comment. I agree that talking about expectations is appropriate, and this blog mostly does a good job of that. I especially like the ideas of learning to develop a hidden talent, solving a challenging puzzle, bonding with children, and communicating with others. Those are all great suggestions.

What I object to is dragging comparisons between the student and Perlman into it. I don't think that's appropriate at any age or skill level. Perlman is one of a kind, as are the students.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on May 7, 2012 at 12:51 AM
I think it's reasonable to talk about expectations; not everyone understands how very, very long it takes to learn to play.
From Emily Hogstad
Posted on May 7, 2012 at 3:18 AM
The Four Questions That We Will Never Come To A Consensus On

1) Should I use a shoulder rest?

2) Was Heifetz really the best?

3) What should I play next?

4) If I start playing as an adult, can I become a virtuoso?

From Leslie Townsend
Posted on May 7, 2012 at 3:37 AM
Interesting topic since most of us have a lot of experience with violin teachers. I have had 7 serious violin teachers...out of those I think that 4 were positive experiences and highly motivational. One was seriously damaging. That said I learned a great deal from them all.

The very best encourage my growth as a musician but cautioned me seriously about my potential to become a professional violinist. The gift a good teacher can provide is balancing support of one's love of music and one's ability to make a living at it.

I taught myself for several years and had students with a great deal of talent, motivation and potential. I also had students who just wanted to sit on my lap and listen to music for an hour. I tried to support them all to the best of my ability without any judgement.

The teacher student relationship is very complex......teacher's can't make us the next great anything....the best they can do is help us grow individually the talent we have and support our path.

From tammuz kolenyo
Posted on May 7, 2012 at 7:03 AM
hi;

Laurie, as an adult, i'm also relaistic. so when i go to a teacher, i have realistic goals and expectations. if someone immediately tells me to "lower my expectations", there would be two thougts on my mind...no threee:

1- that teacher underestimates my ability to not overestimate
2- its not of his or her business to guess my expectations are until i divulge them. if he or she asks me what my expectations are and i tell thm i want to be the next milstein...well, of course s/he can tell me to lower my expectations...or maybe suggest the nearest hospital for people who suffer grand delusions
3- its just a negative way to start a relationship. instead of saying "lower your expectations" (which doesn't really make sense to me), one can say somethig in the spirit of "violin playing is quite complex...its important that you take your time to learn and practice ...so it is also important for you to enjoy this process and be patient. we all have varying abilities, but the best thing to do is work on always advancing forward"

From Nicky Paxton
Posted on May 7, 2012 at 3:23 PM
I echo Elise's comment about 'Baloney' and 'another teacher in the 'out' box'. In my last two years of playing I had as teacher a distinguished violinist here in England who was highly motivating and very inspiring - so much so that, on returning decades later, I was able to remember so much of what he taught me that I have, since returning, played without a teacher.Doing so is useful and important to me because as a child/adolescent I had, at least twice, the experience of having a new teacher rubbish the previous teacher and trying to start me again from scratch. I'm not prepared to have that happen again. Elise, can I borrow your 'out' box?
From Laurie Niles
Posted on May 7, 2012 at 8:21 PM
Let me get this straight: Adult students want a highly-accomplished teacher who really knows the violin and how to teach it. That teacher, who has probably spent 15-20 years or more practicing daily for a sum total of 10,000 hours or more and subjected him/herself to the rigors of a conservatory education, must, on day one, allow for the fact that you might actually turn out to be a virtuoso on par with Itzhak Perlman. Otherwise, you'll just take your business elsewhere.

Really?

I'm all for being encouraging, for setting high goals, for adult learning, for everyone learning. But I think a little respect is in order.

From Nicky Paxton
Posted on May 7, 2012 at 9:23 PM
Taking into account what Dr Broniatowski writes above, perhaps I'd better clarify that I wasn't thinking in terms of jettisoning teachers who would advise me to to lower my expectations. I don't believe in having over-high expectations of anything - discontent and frustration are optional in life and I wouldn't wish to opt for them. However, I wanted to add that, if I were to resume lessons, I would not be happy about a teacher who radically questioned previous teaching. If that happened, I'd ask for opinions elsewhere.
From Frank Summers
Posted on May 7, 2012 at 10:50 PM
I think the point that trying to be made on both sides is to have reasonable expectations on both sides. On one side, it's important to realize that it does take a big commitment to become a great violinist, and its very important that your teacher make that known to the student. At the same time, it's also important for a teacher to not make any assumptions about a student as to what they can or cannot accomplish.

While it realistic to explain to students the amount of work that goes into play the violin (or any musical instrument), it is detrimental to set any preconceived limits on what your student can accomplish, let alone to let your student know that. Let your students know the work required to get where they want to go, and then let them surprise you from there.

From Christian Lesniak
Posted on May 7, 2012 at 11:24 PM
I don't understand why a teacher would tell a student what the student is not capable of. If a teacher cares to define the path of a student as being unable to attain x or y, then to me, this is a sign that the teacher is focused only on the end result, rather than the journey and joy of learning and improving at something. It is also a sign that the teacher may not be committed to fully investing in preparing the student to the highest possible standard. In life, how can we succeed at something if we expect failure?

This isn't about disrespect, but how can a relationship be established when it is based on doubt on one side, and the recognition of doubt on the other? Finally, a student's progress rests in the student's own hands, and it isn't the teacher's job to limit the possibilities of the student.

If the student's goal is framed in a nonsense way, like "I want to be this person or that", then it is the ethical teacher's responsibility to help the student reframe this goal to be one of enjoying the process, rather than focusing on the result. The result is merely an illusion off in the distance. Because there is no limit for improving oneself (in a general sense), it is not for the teacher to say that a student can make no progress after a certain point. Having been taught and having taught, I would not trust a teacher that would start by limiting me - I would suspect that I was the unfortunate recipient of someone's baggage.

A teacher does not have to indulge fantasies, but the teacher that cannot help a student should step aside and focus on students that the teacher can help. Any goal that is attainable is not worth attaining. This is my highly personal take on the role of the teacher as mentor.

This whole 10,000 hour thing is a symptom of limiting and reductionist thinking. It's really more of a metaphor than anything. And the point, which seems to be misunderstood by many, is supposed to be that mastery is attainable, rather than that it is too far off. Experience tells us that people progress at different rates. Surely, someone out there is concertizing with only 9,999 hours under their belt.

I think it makes more sense to take a Calvinist approach - You cannot know you are saved until you are, but if you have lived faithfully and are chosen, then maybe it turns out you were meant to be chosen all along.

From marjory lange
Posted on May 8, 2012 at 3:48 AM
Doesn't it boil down to starting and maintaining communication about expectations among all the other details?

Granted, a beginner might not have a good idea of the range of realistic possibilities, but it's really unlikely that any beginner (adult) is going to believe s/he could become another Perlman. In any case, it up to the student to make that mistake first, not the teacher to correct it before it's made.

Teaching an adult is different from teaching a child (duh) in large measure because you can discuss things at an abstract level. At least in the original blog, Daniel Broniatowski starts by asking what the hypothetical student's goals are; unfortunately, he goes ahead to answer in the most negative way possible--that doesn't negate the value, in fact, the need for, the question.

Personally, I hope Daniel Broniatowski encourages his students to develop self-RESPECT rather than self-esteem. That last leads more often than not to a sense of entitlement, while self-respect is much more long wearing and useful.

From sharelle taylor
Posted on May 8, 2012 at 10:06 AM
If a fine violinist is only known to immediate family and teacher, can they still be a fine violinist? If a person of many decades age practises like crazy and develops all the skills and then some, can play one of any number of pieces with little run up time, but chooses to be a stay at home parent - can they still br a virtuoso?
I love the comments to this blog - especially all of them by Christian, and I wonder if someone can answer elise's proposal - that if Heifetz started playing as an adult, how good would he have become.

From elise stanley
Posted on May 8, 2012 at 12:52 PM
The argument here is really about whether should spontaneously give a realistic assessment. I do agree that there is a need for realism - but realism has its place as do dreams, even if the latter is incompatible with the former. Why?

Lets suppose I (as an older adult) went to a violin teacher and told her that my plan was to study violin with all my time energy and resources - that is I was going to mortgage my house, divorce my materialistic spouse, gradually wind down my business - with the objective of living off being a professional violinist in (lets be not insane here) a major US orchestra. And I had a 5 year plan to achieve these ends.

Should a violin teacher burst my bubble? Absolutely - well actually in a respectful way. They could point out the actual time required to get to that point even if you had the capacity of Heifetz. They could also give you examples of 20 somethings that loose major competitions (more impressive than the other kind - look at QEC). They should indeed serve as a realistic advisor because there was much to loose here - but even then they should respect my choice life path.

But lets take scenario 2 which is the one in my case and would seem to be consistent with the blog above. Playing the violin is very difficult and taking it up as an adult may be one of the most intimidating things that anyone can do. Adults are mostly reasonable and well aware of what they are taking on - so for anyone to start this journey they have to have amazing motivation. A violin teacher does not know what drives that motivation. It may be to support a child who is learning; to play a tune they adore, participating in a club - or maybe, just maybe, they are driven by a dream of being a soloist.

Note in the latter case (which was mine) I can see nothing to be gained by unrequested 'realism'. Frankly the only person that might feel better after doing so is the teacher in the smug satisfaction of 'putting that person right'.

The crucial point here is that dreams drive us ontowards destiny. They are dreams, not goals - the big difference is that by aspiring to one thing we discover and achieve another. A person who aspires to be a virtuoso may well eventually really find a soloist role - for example playing in a bar, at weddings or in old people's homes.

And I speak personally. I came back to the violin with just such dreams at age 55 - in my imagination I was going to take the international soloist path I had rejected as a child. Of course this has not happened but I have achieved the results in the paragraph below - I soloed at my son's and nephews weddings. I played to my mother and her aged home-mates at an old folks home (and plan more) and I even did a concerto in a bar. I am achieving the aspirations of my dreams even if I am not achieving their original manifestation.

Why? IMO a very big factor was finding the right teacher. It took courage to put one in my trash outbox - that gave me the chance of finding another that believes in me - that shares my dreams without dousing them in hard fact. But that also introduces a dash of realism when this dreamer most needs it.

Indeed, the whole 'lower your expectations' is IMO actually nothing more than 'lower your expectations of my teaching' - a preemptive excuse not to even try.

And if that doesn't convince you - you think each student should be given a realistic assessment then please, when the next 6 yr old walks into your studio with the aspirations of being a virtuoso soloist be honest, tell them and their parents up front what their real chances are.

From Daniel Broniatowski
Posted on May 8, 2012 at 3:14 PM
After carefully reading all of the comments to my blog, I found it necessary to clarify what I meant by my statement about adult virtuosos and Perlman.

It is obvious to me that I was misinterpreted and that many people do not understand my perspective as a teacher. My intention was never and is never to quash anyone's goals out of smugness. Nor do I as a teacher believe in telling someone what they should do in order to prop up my reputation. In fact, I am one of the most encouraging teachers around and I love it when my students are driven by an inner passion. What I was implying is that it is important to have an honest initial discussion with the student to see if the teacher can help him or her attain those goals, WHATEVER they are.

Yet, as Laurie rightly pointed out, I have the experience and hindsight of knowing what the path is to being a virtuoso. It is also a well known fact among all professional violinists that even those with talent and over 10,000 hours of practicing (no, this is not a literal metaphor) could not become touring soloists like Perlman because of the tiny market for what we do and the fact that the entertainment market has changed dramatically in the past few decades. In addition to Perlman's impressive talent and work ethic, he also lives a lifestyle that involved (and/or involves) over 100-200 concerts per year and constant traveling around the globe. That alone, makes it difficult for adult students to even fathom, talent and work ethic aside. Furthermore, as an expert, I know what is reasonable and realistic and it IS my responsibility to be honest with a prospective student. As teachers, we must make sure that our students do not get misled because at the end of the day, we teachers will get the blame for not speaking the truth. I do not wish that the student will be unhappy in the long-run. It is dishonest and immoral for a teacher to intentionally "string along" a student who might have lofty and noble ideals, but is not able to attain them. Yet, does this mean that I do not support the goal of making quality music at any level possible? Of course not!

I will take a student at any level, any day who shows commitment, drive, and a love of music. In addition, if they want to perform as a soloist, in their own domain, and I feel that I can help them, no problems here - no matter if they are a beginner or advanced student.

While it is possibly true that one out of a million adult students could potentially become the next Itzhak Perlman, it has not happened and there is no precedent. Does this statement make me negative? No - but it does make me unemotionally "educational". In fact, if someone knows the risks, shows potential, and wants to attain that goal and has the energy and the drive, I'll be your teacher. Yet, the talent and work ethic must be there, along with a good concert manager. You can contact me if you're up to the challenge and we'll talk!

Daniel

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on May 8, 2012 at 6:05 PM
Daniel, I don't think you have to bring up Perlman and virtuosos in order to "not string a student along." Especially not an adult student.

When I was choosing my current teacher, Perlman, Heifetz, virtuosos, concertizing, blah blah blah, just didn't come up at all. At the time I was interested in a teacher who could help me with viola as well as violin, and we talked about liking to play the inner voices in a quartet. We talked about what kind of music I liked to listen to, and play. We also talked about playing the Bach suites on viola, which she had done herself, and thought was a good (and realistic) goal for me, at least some of the movements. And, we talked about orchestras I might audition for or play in, and what I might expect if I were to play in an orchestra. Being in the middle-to-back of the second violin or viola section was discussed and I was happy about all of that.

Four years later, I'm still with that teacher, and I'm not doing very much of what we talked about. I'm not playing viola at all right now, although I did, and I did play and perform a few movements of the Bach suites. I'm also not playing second violin as we discussed, either in a quartet or an orchestra. I'm playing concertmaster in a community orchestra. When I do play chamber music I usually end up as first violin--which is not the inner voice. And I've done more solo-ing than I ever expected, because sometimes the orchestra parts come with little (or not so little) violin solos for the concertmaster. And because I discovered that solo-ing, at least in small intimate venues like church and the Farmers' Market, was more fun than I thought it was going to be.

Through those years, I have found that my teacher has been able to adjust her goals and expectations for me accordingly as circumstances changed and opportunities arose or disappeared. In fact, while she hasn't used those exact words, I'd say she has encouraged me to raise (not lower) my expectations. This makes me feel trusted, respected, and treated like a competent adult.

I don't know if that same feeling is what others are reacting to here, but this is where it's coming from in my case. It's not that I expect my teacher to "allow for" the fact that I might become a virtuoso. (I don't allow for that either, so I wouldn't expect anyone else to.) It's that I don't choose to spend my limited time on earth worrying about that one way or the other. Life is too short, and what little time there is, is probably better spent practicing ;-)

From elise stanley
Posted on May 8, 2012 at 7:00 PM
Thanks for the clarification Daniel.

However, there a difference in our word usage that is important - you talk about establishing realistic goals, I was talking about cherishing dreams. These are not incompatible - striving towards a dream (which should be personal) is best achieved by realistic and achievable goals (which are undoubtedly best established with a teacher/mentor). Just be careful not to destroy the former as a part of setting the latter....

Maybe next time I'm in Boston maybe I can score a lesson .... :)

From tammuz kolenyo
Posted on May 9, 2012 at 4:30 AM
i don't want to be contrary, but the reality is that most of us adult students are more likely to be fiddling away in discretion, acutely aware of how 'bad' our playing is, conscious of the fact that - due to life demands, family, jobs and the like- we don't have 4-8 hours a day to dedicate to the violin...etc. when you read adult student posts here, the vast majority are more likey to express anxiety over progress, awareness of their lacks, somehow asking for confirmation that they will get better with practice (not that they will be virtuosos). there have been some cases of (young-ish...or young at heart :o) adults on this forum asking whether they can go professional after x-number of years of playing as adults ...but in an orchestra or so, no talk of virtuous material, i believe. the responses were typically very mixed.

so, in my opinion, this is not the kind of talk you want to have with an adult at the get go. you should assume that an adult is an adult ...he or she realizes - or will quickly realize- the difficulty and complexity of playing this small-ish instrument and, in general, of music making. to repeat, its a negative way of starting this relationship. just give them homework...and listen to whether they've been practicing when they come for the following lessons. this is enough to indicate whether someone is serious or not - no need for too much "introductory talks" taht can be inteperated in a number of ways, some of which can conflict with the students' sensibilities/sensitivity. also, i'm talking too much now :o)

From Ellie Phillips
Posted on May 11, 2012 at 6:01 AM
I switched from violin to viola this year, and I was sad to leave my violin teacher, who I had been studying with since I started violin seven years ago. I really like my viola teacher though, and I feel like he has helped me to fix a lot of problems that my violin teacher and I never really solved or even addressed.

Your contrast of prices per lesson was interesting. I live in Portland, and I know that here, there are "Peer Mentor lessons" which the members of my youth orchestra teach for five dollars a half-hour lesson. The teachers of course, are high school students, but are pretty good teachers, seeing as they play in one of the best youth orchestras in the country. Most of the teachers in Portland charge from between twenty or thirty dollars a lesson to about seventy dollars a lesson. A few teachers, like some of the professors at Portland State, charge ninety dollars for an hour lesson. My violin teacher is a friend of Carol Sindell, who was a student of Jascha Heifetz. She's an amazing teacher – I've attended some of her masterclasses.

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