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Teaching Tips

Teaching and Pedagogy: A Compiled List oftips for how to teach, feel free to add any ideas you have

From Grainne Murray
Posted November 1, 2005 at 05:22 PM

To Be A Good Violin Teacher


Overall Attitude

Make the student feel valued, like they are your best student.
Have a ‘Don’t rush, don’t rest’ attitude.
Persuade even non-musical parents to become involved.
Be a good role model.
Have rules (e.g. punctuality) and stick to them, always.
Be patient
Make it fun.


Basic Teaching, Technical Work

Be aware of what they were supposed to practice.
Ask questions to make them think about what they are playing.
Motivate
Challenge
Provide context
Show what you mean.
See the problems, and be able to come up with creative solutions
Explain clearly.


Making Music out of Notes

Let their talent and ability flow
Have the student visualize stories, and characters within the music
Focus on the love and passion, not just the notes

From Christian Vachon
Posted on November 1, 2005 at 06:14 PM
Hi,

Grainne - interesting post. Here are some of my thoughts based on my experiences (including pitfalls).

To Be A Good Violin Teacher


Overall Attitude

"Make the student feel valued, like they are your best student."

This does not work and leads to problems in the long run - including lack of reality and ego (always bad). I would suggest making the student feel valued and treating all students equally, no matter what the talent. Encourages mutual respect and prevents long term problems.

"Have a ‘Don’t rush, don’t rest’ attitude."

Absolutely!

"Persuade even non-musical parents to become involved."

Depends on the parents. Sometimes, the parents are the sources of the problem. Each case is individual. The parents should be eliminated if they are the problems.

"Be a good role model."

Yes! Have integrity above all at all times.

"Have rules (e.g. punctuality) and stick to them, always."

Yes!

"Be patient."

Most of the time. However, a little kick in the behind is good sometimes.

"Make it fun."

Yes, in the sense that it should be a joy to learn. However, one needs to understand that work is not always fun, which doesn't make it less important or less worthwhile.


Basic Teaching, Technical Work

"Be aware of what they were supposed to practice."

Yes, and more importantly, how to practice.

"Ask questions to make them think about what they are playing."

Yes, and how they are playing objectively.

"Motivate"

Yes!

"Challenge"

Yes.

"Provide context"

Yes

"Show what you mean."

Yes.

"See the problems, and be able to come up with creative solutions"

No. Most problems on the violin are simple. There aren't a million solutions. Show the root of the problem, and the solution. Many problems have only one if understood correctly. Teach them to analyze the problem and use the correct solution.

"Explain clearly."

Above anything else.


Making Music out of Notes

"Let their talent and ability flow"

I would rather say guide their talent.

"Have the student visualize stories, and characters within the music"

Yes. But many are imbedded in the score. Textual fidelity comes first.

"Focus on the love and passion, not just the notes"

Yes, as long as the notes are there, and the energy is well channeled. Miscontrolled passion and blind love are sometimes part of the problem. There is a fine line. Know it at all times.

CHEERS!

From Emily Grossman
Posted on November 2, 2005 at 03:30 AM
Christian, how exactly do you plan to eliminate the problem parents? A couple of sinister ideas came to mind. ;)
From Christian Vachon
Posted on November 2, 2005 at 01:30 PM
Hi Emily,

Remember the movie Fargo? ;)

Cheers!

From Anthony Cheng
Posted on November 5, 2005 at 05:05 AM
i totally disagree with all ideas that christian and graaine gave..
1)being nice does not get you anywhere
2)if you are nice, when that child grew up he/she is going to look up after you, but what will the parents think?
3)being a good violinist recquires discipline and force.. just like how you don't like reading history books but you do it anyways...you don't like scales but you do it anyways etc..
4)usually start violin at an early age..
5)if the first student you taught is a professional violinist, other parents will look up to you
6)it doesn't it hurt to discipline your child when he/she doesn't play perfect
7)it doesn't it hurt to make them cry, so that to make them think that they are going to play better than you
8)always end the lesson with candy^_^

i started when i was 3and a half^_^

From Rita Livs
Posted on November 5, 2005 at 05:41 AM
Anthony, may I ask you a question? Don't answer if you don't want to...
For how long do you teach?
From Mariam Gregorian
Posted on November 5, 2005 at 06:35 PM
Hi,

I'd like to jump in here on the word "nice." I believe that different people define it in different ways, therefore I'd like to be more specific...

Children (and any student, for that matter) should ALWAYS be treated with respect. This means that you should always acknowledge their efforts , as well as their feelings. However, acknowledging does not mean that you are necessarily going "easy" on them. For example, if a child complains that something is hard, you might relate to them that you remember things feeling hard when you were a child. This shows them that you empathize, but it doesn't in any way imply that you are backing off of a request.

If being "nice" is defined as not asking things that are hard, then I don't support that definition. Not helping a student realize their full potential is not nice at all. (Sorry for the double negative!)

Anthony, I am very concerned about a lot of the language that you use. Being a forceful teacher is much different then being demanding. I consider myself demanding, but not forceful. There is a big difference.

Also, I really object to "making them cry." Sometimes children will cry in the lesson, but it shouldn't be because the teacher goes out of their way to "make them". If I am asking a lot of a student in a lesson, sometimes they will cry. I usually try to read them for how far I can push, and I will (try) to stop before they reach the breaking point. Occasionally, I do misread it, and that's when the crying happens.

But I interpret "making them cry" as saying hurtful things such as "you sound terrible" simply to make them feel bad. There is certainly a long history of this kind of abuse in the history of violin pedogogy. It has even produced some great violinists. But at what cost? There are definitly better ways to get results.

And always ending the lesson with candy? Maybe occasionally, but certainly not always! Then their parents will have to deal with a sugar crazed, hyper kid! Also, accomplishing something big in the lesson is the real reward. If you always need to end lessons with candy in order for the student to feel good, then something is seriously wrong.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on November 5, 2005 at 08:24 PM
Shinichi Suzuki did all right with the idea of "Nurturing with Love."

I agree with Miriam's emphasis on respect. I think a teacher should act with respect for the individual, and respect for his/her abilities and potential.

Also, also one must have respect for a student's challenges. And yes, the solutions may be simple and finite, but expressing them and getting to them sometimes requires a lot of creativity. "Move your thumb" will not work for every learner. Some need you to take their thumb and press on it and say, "the violin should press on your thumb here." Or "see where the one tape is, the thumb goes right behind it" or "straighten your thumb, don't bend it" or "fix your thumb while I look away for a minute, you know where it goes." All those approaches could be for the same one problem. A teacher has to have the ability to know what works for whom, and to switch gears if it isn't working.

I think it's bad news if a teacher just assumes that a student has problems because he isn't working. That's your problem, too. Motivation. But being abusive is just being abusive. It's not necessary for good teaching or good discipline.

From Natasha Mcgregor
Posted on November 15, 2005 at 08:06 AM
Well I am a student at the moment, but i dont agree with some of the things that christian said we as students need support making us cry wont help either there has to be motives so telling us were not doing it write wont help as for saying most problems are simple and easy to figure out is RIDICULAS everybody learns in a different way my teacher has had to find new waysto teach me and some of her other students because we dont all comprehend things the same way so i would like to tell you that violin is not all that simple and theres not only one easy way of teaching it
From Joseph Galamba
Posted on November 16, 2005 at 12:22 AM
Christian, I think patience is more important that a kick in the behind. My teacher often tells me that I sound bad or that I'm practicing wrong and not enough, but I don't think she's ever been anything but patient.

In either case I don't like the idea of motivation comming from the teacher in the form of a kick. There is a difference between motivating somebody and pushing. When I was first starting out I'd work to please my teacher, then I started working to please myself. I never worked because my teacher would yell at me if I didn't, or because of any negative emotion at all. I have a feeling I would have quit back when I was very little if I was

From Samantha MacGregor
Posted on November 16, 2005 at 01:26 AM
One thing I would add is to try to always find something to complement the student on, wether it's an improved scale, improved passage, posture, whatever...
Carrots work better than the stick, and if the student is trying, a complement does wonders. Just think how good you feel when you get a pat on the back at work, or from your spouse or child. Does wonders!!
From Stephanie Lau
Posted on November 16, 2005 at 02:39 AM
Being a student myself, I agree that we, as students, need a lot of support from our teachers. You can probably tell the younger kids to do whatever you want them to do, but with teenagers it is a little bit different. Of course, all teenagers have quite a lot of ego, so we don't like it when teachers just treat us as 10-year-olds. We would like them to explain why they want us to do certain things or do things the certain way.

Due to all the crazy hormone stuff, we can be a little emotional sometimes and we get frustrated easily. Good teachers should recognize this and be patient. Because many of us like to think ourselves better than, let say, the girl down the street, we might actually work our butts off if we get the proper motivation (e.g. "You know, I think you play this passage more smoothly than my other student"). However, just saying "You are terrible" does not help at all. For example, my friend only made the last chair second violin this year in the youth orchestra, and her teacher became all sarcastic and told her that she was horrible. That only made my friend angry and rebellious and she refused to work hard. I don't think any teacher would want to be in this situation.

We are all human beings and we all have feelings. Before you say something that you will regret later, please consider if you would like to be treated the same way when you were younger. Learning to do new things on the violin is supposed to be an enjoyable process; let's keep it that way!

From Peggy Beaudoin
Posted on November 18, 2005 at 02:19 AM
I'm tough on my students but the lesson is usually a running conversation: Did you hear what you did there? It was beautiful! Open up your hand! Fingertips! Stretch...no, farther! Now sing! Fill up the room! Oops...What was that note?? Yes, you can take a break and have some water...You're sounding so much better. Progress is being made. How's school? Do you have a spelling list to study tonight?...Okay, let's hit it again. Posture! Check your feet! I'll play this part with you. Listen...Is that a C#?? Ah...THAT'S a C#! The audience can't hear you...where's your tone today? There it is...better. Let's do that part together ten times and you'll have it. Check your wrist...Big bows! Frog to tip! Arm under. Where's your beautiful sound? Aaah. There it is. Bring your hand up as a unit...now shift!! Excellent. Etc.

Geez, now that I read this, I guess I'm a real type A violin teacher. Credit to my students for enduring! :0)

From Keri Ottoson
Posted on November 20, 2005 at 08:29 PM
As for me, I like to make violin a positinve part of my life, and I try to pass that sentiment on to my students. I see no reason to be emotionally abusive just because the violin world is competitive. I would much rather have a studio of happy, healthy musicians than a bunch of crying, cowering virtuousi. It just isn't worth it.
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on May 18, 2008 at 04:52 AM
Under what circumstance a teacher should suggest the student to take a break from violin?
From al ku
Posted on May 18, 2008 at 11:08 AM
only when the entire upper body is in a cast:) or the whole body in a coma:)

in terms of how hard to push a student, i think it depends on the student's make-up. some can handle it, some can't. some can only go far with push, some only need gentle reminders. still, it is important to not to crush hope, to leave some room for the self, to mandate an open dialogue. here is a recent link showing physiological response to stress.

http://www.upi.com/NewsTrack/Top_News/2008/05/16/scientist_smiling_can_hurt_your_health/2772/

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on May 18, 2008 at 11:20 AM
This thread is an oldie-but-goodie and I'm glad you resurrected it!

What about keeping written records, i.e. practice logs and lesson logs, and encouraging students to do so themselves?

I started doing this as an adult and I find it makes a big difference in what I remember from week to week between lessons. It also makes practicing much more efficient and less discouraging--and helps me keep at it. It gives me a way to quantify my progress (or lack thereof) and is an aid to analyzing and figuring out problems.

But this is something I've started doing on my own, as an adult. None of my teachers, including my current teacher, has ever mentioned it or shown any interest in how I keep my log or what I write in it. This laissez-faire is probably appropriate for adults, but I think for at least some kids, adult/teacher guidance in the matter would make a big difference.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on May 18, 2008 at 11:20 PM
Good link Al! Sucking up sucks but smiling can be a 'weapon' if used properly.

I can think of some situations where a break is called for, such as being physically sick (having a fever or injured arm or back), or emotionally stressed out or depressed. The latter is particularly hard to detect, as it could show up as though the student is not being diligent or lack of motivation. How would an experienced teacher help in such type of situation?

Another way of framing the question is, when a normally keen student appears to be plateauing, where should the teacher look for causes? If it turns out that the student is going through some emotional struggle, such as overwhelmed by school/work environment, or suffering a loss of loved one, at what point a teacher should say to the student that keep practicing at this point is doing more harmful than good to the longevity or the progress of one’s violin playing?

From Jennifer Laursen
Posted on May 19, 2008 at 12:51 AM
Peggy,
You sound like a wonderful teacher! Intensity and engagement in a lesson are paramount, in my opinion.

I have offered copious amounts of specific advice throughout various teaching related threads on this site so I'll be brief this time.

Never be ordinary. Extraordinary love, devotion and enthusiasm are required to produce extraordinary results. It is no accident that the teachers who reliably produce wonderful players tend to have big personalities, abundant energy and focus.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on May 19, 2008 at 01:24 AM
Real knowledge that gets immediate real results. A lot rarer than teachers who are just supportive people.
From Bill Busen
Posted on May 19, 2008 at 02:27 AM
In contrast to listening only for prominent weaknesses, pick out three things they do the best and three things they do the worst (you don't necessarily have to communicate about all of them):

- It focuses and challenges your listening
- It focuses your correction
- It keeps you from overwhelming them
- It keeps you pushing them forward
- It means you can be mostly encouraging, even when the only bright spot was the three times they were almost in tune
- It helps them focus on their strengths, which will develop much faster with focus and encouragement

From Hannah Wright
Posted on May 19, 2008 at 02:56 AM
For "Making Music out of Notes":

There are very good tips in the book "Casals and the Art of Interpretation" by David Blum (I think that was his name..)
He talks about looking for scales, for instance if it goes up, make a crescendo, if it goes down a diminuendo. There was a whole load of good and interesting suggestions.

From Bruce Berg
Posted on May 19, 2008 at 03:30 AM
An effective teaching trick is to point out to a student where they are doing something right that you wish to correct in general. If they are doing it right in one place then you can point out other places they can apply the same principle. In other words, it is best to always be positive and bring the student to a decision that they think is their own, rather than the teacher's.
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on May 20, 2008 at 02:23 AM
Ok, I'm obsessed with this question and am asking again:

When a normally keen student appears to be plateauing, and if it turns out that the student is going through some emotional struggle, such as overwhelmed by school/work environment, or suffering a loss of loved one, at what point a teacher should say to the student that keep practicing at this point is doing more harmful than good to the longevity or the progress of one’s violin playing?

From Jennifer Laursen
Posted on May 20, 2008 at 02:57 AM
Bruce is absolutely right. One of the most important teaching skills is to promote some desired action by noticing when the student is thinking about doing it correctly, or accidentally getting it right. I know two excellent teachers who both often will say something like, "I can see that you are already thinking about ....Let's see if you can exaggerate that." This is a very positive approach and indicates to the student that you have faith in their ability to get what you are trying to teach.

Teaching should be joyful for both teacher and student. Be sure your student knows you are enjoying your time with them.

Never, ever compare one student with another even while complementing. We opted not to have our son take regular lessons with one teacher after two lessons where she compared him with her most successful student. My son thought she was insecure and trying to prove that she was a good teacher and it made him unsure about her competence. More importantly, this type of behavior can cause unhappiness amongst the families in a studio.

From Ronald Mutchnik
Posted on May 20, 2008 at 04:28 AM
I did not notice any mention of non verbal teaching but I find that to be a very effective tool in teaching, especially younger students. Sometimes words and directions get tuned out, no pun intended, and there is a place in lessons for not talking to or at the student. Sometimes, teachers let their frustration out by verbally showing their impatience when a student fails to do what, to the teacher, seems like a very simple thing to accomplish. Sometimes, more can be accomplished, and crying or breakdowns avoided, by engaging the student's ability to concentrate without saying words but showing and doing instead and nodding or smiling approval that they are "getting it". This is a tool, which like any, can become predictable or even overused, but it has its place.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on May 20, 2008 at 08:54 AM
Yixi, at that point, I usually spend a lot of time playing a lot of not-too-difficult duets. We spend most of our time making pretty music together, which is healing and enjoyable. When the love for music is stoked, then the drive to move forward naturally resumes. We also get a lot of good ideas during this time, so it's not actually wasted time after all.
From Bart Meijer
Posted on May 20, 2008 at 10:28 AM
Yixi, my daughter is in the situation you describe: a stressful period in her life, with little time or energy to spend on the piano. Her piano teacher has thoughtfully given her a Satie Gymnopédie, a slow and beautiful peace, to play so she can relax.
From Oliver Steiner
Posted on May 20, 2008 at 12:36 PM
Laurie Niles wrote: "I think a teacher should act with respect for the individual, and respect for his/her abilities and potential."

Would that all violin teachers held to this! One of the richest rewards in teaching comes from those moments when one sees a student increasing in self-respect because he was inspired by the teacher's respect for him.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on May 20, 2008 at 02:47 PM
Thanks so much, Emily and Bart!
From Debra Wade
Posted on May 20, 2008 at 03:47 PM
As a student, I can say with total certainly that a teacher who only emphasizes a negative and forceful approach to teaching the student does NOT work.

In part, I am a product of a teacher like that. In high-school, I would leave her studio in tears after an hour of constant pushing, raised voices, and negative motivation. Granted, I came back every week able to play what she wanted but I was very insecure, always stressed and when I played it was with a huge fear of screwing up and getting yelled at. Even if students rise to challenge and play better (like I did) it doesn’t mean the teaching was good – and eventually, the student will have major confidence issues later in life.

Now I’m 31, and when I started with my current teacher I would cringe every time I made a mistake expecting the same kind of treatment. But he doesn’t work like that. Overall he is mild-mannered and very patient and I’ve never heard him raise his voice. But on the other hand, he has an extremely focused attitude toward music and he loves what he does and it shows. We students react accordingly. We work hard, but we stay relaxed and I think’s due to how he approaches teaching.

As a result, the perfectionist attitude I thought came naturally to me is beginning to disappear. I think it’s because I’ve finally been given permission to make mistakes – and now that I can make mistakes without the abusive treatment I find I stay relaxed and recover much more quickly than ever before and results in higher quality musicianship from me.

From al ku
Posted on May 20, 2008 at 03:50 PM
excellent post debra. unless you want to make it happen, it is not yours.
From Phoebe Clemens
Posted on May 21, 2008 at 07:37 PM
I learned from a woman who was mean, negative, demeaning, and favored certain students over others. She was principle violinist in the community/university symphony, married to the community/university symphony conductor, strings teacher in all schools and private teacher. Unavoidable in the string scene where I grew up.

I cannot tell you the damage this woman wrought on the psyche of many a young musician or the number of very talented string players who put down their instruments because of her. She is a big reason why I didn't pursue music after high school. I regret this deeply.

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” William Arthur Ward

May I add, "The mean (not nice) teacher destroys."

From Jonathan Law
Posted on May 21, 2008 at 07:37 PM
I think everybody likes a different kind of teaching approach. I've had some very strict teachers in my time and I now realise that when I started studying at university level when I was 18, I really couldn't play very well (although I thought I could and most others seemed to as well)

I responded well to the very hard handed approach of a teacher who was trained in Russia, I'm a COMPLETELY different player now. It did me a lot of good.

However I don't treat my pupils this way.

From Carolyn Berger
Posted on May 22, 2008 at 05:33 PM
I have enjoyed reading everyone's posts! Here's some of my philosophy and approach to effective teaching:

~Try to know each student individually, so that you are able to communicate with him/her most effectively.

~Acknowledge when you (as a teacher) are frustrated because they didn't practice/prepare the correct songs, etc. Let students know you are not upset at them personally, but rather at their lack of preparation. Briefly discuss the benefits of being prepared for class.

~Laughter - I like many of my classes to have intense, concentrated moments, while allowing time for laughter. When diagnosing a "problem," occasionally present it in a rather humourous yet memorable fashion. It really relaxes the mood and 99% of the time, my students listen to what I'm saying - when it's funny.

~Emphasize what a student is doing well, rather than always correcting ("I LOVE your straight left wrist!"). Be specific when it comes to suggestions for improvement ("I see you concentrating on keeping your second finger low, but don't let your first finger slide off the tape!").

From Bill Swackhamer
Posted on May 22, 2008 at 10:56 PM
As an amateur violinist who has studied with eight different teachers over the last 70 years I would like to add one more thing to these great tips on how to be a super teacher.

The teachers who help the most were those who do
not play everything along with their students. The student who never plays by him/her self is deprived of the experience they need to develope confidence. Duets are great, but leave your violin alone when your students are working on etudes and solos.
Bill Swackhamer


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