Stop Being Late to Your Lesson

October 11, 2016, 10:13 AM · "Sorry I'm late!"

It seems harmless enough, occasionally being five minutes late to your violin (or viola or cello) lesson. But 25 years of private teaching has shown me that running late tends to be a chronic problem, when it's a problem. Like being on time or being early, it's a habit.


There are exceptions, to be sure: the family emergency, the road closure, etc. And certainly I have empathy for the crazy schedules people are keeping, with school activities, sports, religious and family events. But on any given week, I can predict -- almost to the minute -- which students will be five minutes early, on time, seven minutes late, 10 minutes late. Every week.

If you are habitually punctual, congratulations! I invite you to share your strategies with us in the comments below.

If you are habitually late to your violin, viola or cello lesson, consider changing your habits. As most students and parents understand, it is not possible for the teacher to "make up" that lost late time at the end of a lesson. So if you are late, the person who loses most is you; and you lose quite a lot.

Allow me to illustrate: Over the course of a school year, a typical student has about 30 lessons, taking holidays, sick days, etc. into consideration. Let's say you are five minutes late to every lesson; over the course of the school year, you will lose two and a half hours of lesson time. If you are chronically 10 minutes late, you will lose five hours of lesson time; if you are 15 minutes late (and some people really are, especially by the time they get ready to play), you lose a staggering seven and a half hours of lesson time!

It adds up. Maybe it means that this week, you don't really play your scales. Or you don't go through the etude. Or, maybe you just simply don't have time to move on to a new piece, or to perform something from start to finish. These omissions add up to slower progress, less breadth of repertoire and less depth to your work with your teacher. Not only that, but also every lesson begins with an apology and feeling of "being behind." It's not the best formula for success!

What can you do?

First, recognize that your tardiness is a habit. Sure, there was traffic, there was the activity before the lesson, you needed a snack, there just isn't enough time. But that's not the reason you were late; admit it. You left too little time to get there!

Second, figure out exactly what you need to do, to be on time. What time to you truly need to leave? Does this affect the activities that happen before the lesson? Get those things under control: get the snack ready at another time, or get gas in the car beforehand. Maybe even reschedule your lesson time, if it runs too close to another activity. Plan, very precisely, how to manage your time, to arrive fully five to 10 minutes early.

Third, change your habit. This is probably the hard part: stick to your plan, repeatedly. Old habits are hard to break; ask anyone who has tried to change their diet or start an exercise plan! But you can do it: you can form a new and better habit, and you can stick to it, too. You just have to be very clear about your plan and determined to overcome those problems that caused you to leave too little time. Set a timer; not for when you should leave, but five or 10 minutes before you should leave. Begin the entire process of leaving, earlier.

And envision your success! Being punctual feels good. You will enjoy making more progress and not having that harried feeling before every lesson!


October 11, 2016 at 05:41 PM · It's really amazing how all those shortchanged lessons add up. I know how crazy staying on schedule can be. My son and I have a combined 90 minute lesson at 5:30pm. I work 10 minutes from the teacher, but have to drive 25 minutes home in opposite direction to get the teenager, instruments, and music. In order to make that work, I had to make arrangements to leave work 45 minutes early (4:15). That allows for 60 minutes of driving, plus 5 minutes to get my son motivated, and 10 minutes for random rush hour traffic nonsense. With the exception of 2 times in the last two years, once weather related and once traffic related, we have made it on time. I know not everyone has a job that is as flexible as mine, so building in 15 minutes extra to the commute isn't always possible. However, it might help somebody.

October 11, 2016 at 07:17 PM · And what to do if teacher is always 5- 10 mins late for your lesson but starts the next lesson (of other student) in time?

October 11, 2016 at 08:51 PM · Ugh- I'm almost always late to violin lessons, or college lectures, or pretty much anything. Most of the time it doesn't really matter much; my current violin teacher has (usually) nothing to do before nor after my lesson, so he my lesson alwas ends past the hour- even if I was late or early.

My ten-fifteen minute tardiness is in fact my "little achievement," considering I have been a hour late for a two-hour class. But I know, I know... I should put more effort into being punctual. My acquired habit has been reinforced by the fact that almost all my college professors come late to class, so being late to lecture doesn't cause much harm- sometimes I get there before the class starts, while still getting late!

I do remember that it was the same with my first violin teacher. He was ten or fifteen late every time, and his lessons, with the exceptions of the first one, only lasted 15 or 20 minutes. Every lesson: "Do these exercises. That was good. Practice these for the next the next time." According to him, violin lessons were short because his job is give me some exercises and if I do it right I can go home. At some point, I believe he even pointed out that he had given five or ten minute lessons in the past.

Needless to say, I stopped taking lessons after a month, for which I had paid upfront before the first lesson. I told him I had to stop to take violin lessons because I was busy with college. I almost wish I hadn't stopped, because I didn't get another teacher until almost a year later, but when I think about those lessons...

October 11, 2016 at 09:38 PM · Teachers being late is another issue, for sure! The most famous late-lesson teacher was probably Dorothy DeLay; because sometimes she would make students wait a DAY or more for their lessons!

DeLay was exceptional in this regard; if a teacher makes you wait for every lesson, it is worth bringing that up with your teacher.

October 12, 2016 at 03:11 AM · How hard can it really be? Get to your lesson on time. And teachers? Honestly I've been teaching for 21 years and I dont think I've been late more than once or twice. Spsre me. It's just really rude.

October 12, 2016 at 04:28 AM · I'm the punctual person and I'm pretty much only late because of a before-lesson emergency or traffic issue.

October 12, 2016 at 01:21 PM · We have a waiting area downstairs and since we live in the city, many of my students arrive early. It has been necessary to institute a nobody comes upstairs until asked policy because it was interrupting and distracting the student in the midst of their lesson to have someone come up and unpack. Everyone means well and I DO appreciate them not being late so much but sometimes being early also presents a problem when you have an 8 year old in lesson JUST about to get something and their friend comes upstairs and clunks down their case. Also sometimes if we are on the cusp of something, I might go two minutes over and I sense the tension in the next parent if we are starting 5 minutes late but I always then extend their lesson. And then there were the periods when I had hungry or crying newborns in the house that sometimes necessitated a break in lesson - cue the clock being stopped. All of this is very challenging to manage on lesson days and it is great to read an article addressing it. I think in the end I believe that people need to try to be thoughtful and courteous or each other's time and energy - students, parents, and teachers. It is a constant balancing act.

October 13, 2016 at 01:32 AM · In the private music school where I take lessons, part of their written policy is that sometimes the teacher has to go over a few minutes with the previous student because you're "on the cusp of something" to use Amy Beth's words. Everyone understands it all works out in the end. Because I take lessons sporadically, I'm always the first of the day. That allows me to come early (since the lessons are in a church), unpack, tune, and warm up.

October 13, 2016 at 01:48 AM · As Paul says, how hard can it be? We are swimming in a sea of information about variables that, unheeded, might make one late for a lessons. My phone analyzes traffic and suggests a departure time and route that will put us comfortably on time at my daughter's teacher's studio with plenty of time to unpack and organize music, and so forth. Honestly, can you you control your bow; can you precisely fine-tine your intonation? Then you can control your arrival time. Apart from the odd emergency it's controllable.

October 13, 2016 at 12:51 PM · If parents thought of music lessons like any other school activity, they would feel more compelled to get children there on time. (Coaches wouldn't put up with it for a minute.) The relaxed feeling that often exists between teachers and parents makes being late somehow acceptable. It's up to the teacher to insist that lessons start on time. That's not easy, but if you can convince the parents how important these lessons are, then they're more likely to show up early.

October 13, 2016 at 04:04 PM · Paul Stein's comment was illuminating. I think a lot of it is that the lesson is an individual experience, whereas, orchestra, chamber music, sports activities, etc., are in a group. People feel much more pressure to be on time when they are keeping other people waiting. How I cured myself from this condition was always thinking of starting maybe 15 minutes early, then, when I'm "late" from my early, I'm still on time! A simple psychological trick for us late people. I think actually, that on time should be an actual part of lessons. If the child can learn at an early age to honor time commitments, it will save a lot of grief in the future, especially if they want to turn pro. No one likes a habitually late diva!

October 15, 2016 at 01:56 PM · If you're always late, you might have adult ADHD. Now, don't shake your head; hear me out. Not all people with ADHD act like hyperactive schoolboys off their Ritalin!

If you have ADHD, you might be late to lessons because of what I call the "time warp zone." You know exactly what time you need to leave the house, and by counting backwards, you know exactly when you need to start getting ready. Now you've been lazy and sedentary all morning, and now it's time to get ready, and that deadline pressure "activates" you. You get up and go into fast mode, taking your shower, getting dressed, gathering your things right at the door... and then you enter the time warp zone... and when you finally hit the road and look at the clock, you are amazed that getting into the car took so long! How did you lose seven minutes between the hallway and the car?!? What you don't realize is that while you were in the time warp zone, your "activated" brain put in one last load of laundry, ran upstairs to get your spare violin bow, typed a quick message to your boss, put away a bunch of shoes that were gathering on the stairs, and shuffled your pile of papers to find that list of new pieces you want to ask your teacher about.

You may not think you have ADHD because all your life you were a good student, quiet, daydreamer, even sedentary. You think you're lazy because you procrastinate. You think you're a slob because your house is cluttered and you can't maintain a regular cleaning routine. You might be a very successful doctor or lawyer, with hard deadlines, demanding bosses, and a fast-paced schedule... until you start your own practice and struggle with willpower and self-direction problems and it all starts to fall apart. Then you hear that your grandkid just got diagnosed with ADHD and you Google it and -- ta da! You just read an explanation of your entire life!

Oh, sorry, did I ramble a little there? That's because people with ADHD have trouble starting (lacking focus) and stopping (hyperfocus) tasks, too. You put off doing your taxes because you dread getting started because it hurts your brain... and then on April 14, the day before they're due, you gather all the papers, cry, bemoan your fate, and finally take a deep breath and get started... and then you're *really into it* and can't be interrupted and can't take a break and wonder why you took so long to start and man, you should have been an accountant, you're so good at this stuff....

Yup, Google it. Adult ADHD. And then learn to identify your time warp zone and be a little less late from now on!

I recommend a book by Sari Solden called "Women with Attention Deficit Disorder." It's not just for women; it's just that women are underdiagnosed because they don't usually act like hyper, "bad" schoolkids. But many, many men are undiagnosed for the same reason. The hyperactivity is in their brains, not their bodies.

If you don't want to read the book, go to Amazon and just read the description and some of the readers' reviews. That will give you some idea of whether you have ADHD.

October 16, 2016 at 03:52 AM · Late for a lesson? Really? Since I'm the one paying for the lessons with MY money, I'm going to be on time - and prepared!

October 16, 2016 at 05:05 PM · Being prepared for your lesson, as well as being on time, can also be a problem if you have ADHD. Practicing between lessons, doing school homework, paying bills, and other tasks involving focus and willpower are very difficult for people with ADHD.

If you've ever been in the room while a child is refusing to do his homework or practice his violin, you would think that he's a spoiled, bad, command-resistant kid who needs discipline. But there have been brain studies that show that, for people with ADHD, "activation," the process of forcing your brain to focus and concentrate and start a new task, actually causes electrical activity in the areas of the brain that register pain. So it's actually "painful" for an ADHD person to start a new task! Telling an ADHD violinist to get out his sheet music and start practicing is kind of like threatening him with a big needle!

There are methods such as cognitive behavior therapy and positive reinforcement that can make this transition from "off" to "on" easier. For example, I once coached a young gymnast who was known to be disobedient. She was jumping on the trampoline, and I told her to get down. She kept jumping, staring right at me, in what seemed to be an act of defiance. Things escalated, I yelled at her, she kept jumping. And then I said "Marissa, tell your legs to stop jumping." And she stopped. It's like I stopped talking to Marissa and instead spoke directly to her brain, telling it exactly what it needed to do.

So people with ADHD, and parents of children with ADHD, can develop strategies for starting tasks, stopping tasks(!), practicing violin, and getting to their lessons on time. Lifelong ADHD sufferers have an arsenal of coping strategies, such as Jeff's method [above] of setting his mental clock fifteen minutes ahead, my method of gathering all of my music stuff and setting it by the door the night before orchestra rehearsal, and my habit of unpacking my violin and music as soon as I get home from rehearsal and setting it all up, bow rosined and pencil sharpened, completely ready for the moment I decide to practice. Some people get "task buddies" to set a time and place for certain tasks. Coffee shops during work hours are filled with people with laptops who work "from home" but need the extra structure and stimuli of a crowded, noisy cafe to induce hyperfocus on their work.

There is also medication. I hesitate to bring it up, because some people are still suspicious of giving a stimulant like Ritalin or Adderall to someone who is already hyperactive! But the stimulants act on an ADHD brain's ability to focus. It "turns on" willpower and self control and self awareness, so to speak. The right dose of the right drug is a life-changing miracle, but it can be a long, discouraging process to find that perfect combination. I did briefly experience the miracle and got a glimpse into what life is like for someone without ADHD, but cardiac side effects (I have some autonomic nervous system glitches) made me quit the drug. I'm very grateful that I got a chance to see how my brain worked with and without ADHD, and it helped me develop new and improved coping strategies, since I now knew exactly which mental processes I was trying to work around.

So if you, your child, or your student are late to lessons *and* do not practice between lessons, you might consider ADHD as a possible cause and change your approach to addressing the problems. Using rewards won't work on its own -- that's like offering a reward to someone who is short to touch the ceiling! Cognitive behavior therapy can help them identify their roadblocks and figure out mental tricks to overcome them -- and medications, if they can find the right dose of the right pill, can be a powerful, positive game changer for them.

October 17, 2016 at 04:43 PM · Thanks for the commons about ADHD(I wonder if it is really that or just being spirited,but thats beside the point)I can totally relate. I felt frustrated at the poeple that "condemned" us late commers ,I have "just be on time"when I was a child.But its not as easy.We mostly just make it for my daughters lesson,but thats not good enough. Its not fun to constantly rushing and be frustrated with simply not getting up and doing those tasks....It is hard to change those habits and ADHD or spirited habits. I will check out that book about Women ADHD. I also have the book raising your spirited child,which talks about similar things. We will overcome those challenges. Thanks

October 18, 2016 at 05:12 PM · Huh... I've never heard of the "spirited child" until Googling it just now, but then again I'm not a parent. It sounds more like a description of a set of personality traits than a mental illness, but it's all just stuff in our gray matter, and it's up to the psych doctors to decide what to label various thoughts and behaviors. I think the rule is that if it gets in the way of living a productive, fulfilling life, then you can put a label on it and figure out how to fix it.

To bring this back to the topic at hand, if your "spirited child" strongly resists going to lessons or practicing at home, you as a parent or teacher should delve deep into her brain and find out exactly why she resists. It could be as simple as "I don't like the violin." Or it could be a hundred other convoluted factors making the experience unpleasant for her. I'd suggest lots and lots of conversation with her, with the shared goal of helping her learn about her own thoughts, feelings, motivations, mental roadblocks and difficulties. (I say nonchalantly as a non-parent!) If the outcome of some of these conversations is that she quits taking violin lessons, that in itself is a life lesson for her (and I don't mean that in a punitive sense).

Having said all that, I gotta say that I have met so many adults who quit taking violin lessons in their youth for a variety of reasons, and they usually regret having stopped! But that's a topic for another time!

P.S. I feel silly writing all these comments anonymously, because I actually do have a account and username, but I'm too "lazy" (or ADHD) to go find them! Aaaand because I've already established that I type too much, I might as well explain further that for an inattentive-type ADHD person, mental effort and virtual travel can be just as hard as physical effort and movement. As in, I'm too lazy to get out of my chair and go find my "passwords" folder, but I'm also too mentally lazy to go through the "forgot your password? Click here" ritual. It's more comfortable to just sit here, elbows propped, typing about it, because moving my fingers is easier than challenging my brain... hey, maybe that's why I'm a violinist! (ba-dum-ching)

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