Violin: Is there duty to teach?

May 1, 2018, 11:40 AM · As I cruise along trying to learn how to play violin, I am struck by similarities of how the teaching of others proceeds in a similar fashion to that of the practice of medicine.

One of the foundations of the process of becoming a physician involves the "duty to teach". This is not some idle claim, but part of the intertwined experience of all current physicians.

Everyone starts off as a lowly medical student and ascends through the ranks. The maxim of "see one, do one, teach one" as far as procedures go, definitely applies. By the end of training, each person feels an incessant pull of teaching others to the best of one's ability. Those at a certain level feel bound to raise the levels of others who are not in a way that is almost obligatory.

I find the desire of others to help me learn violin reminiscent of the process.

Do you feel the need to help and improve others who are not fortunate enough to be as far along as yourself? Do you feel it enough to almost be viewed as an obligatory duty?

Replies (41)

May 1, 2018, 12:51 PM · Yes, sharing what one has had the chance to have acquired is a vocation.
However, high-power performers may or may not have the patience, empathy, and powers of analysis to be good teachers, even when their playing is a true inspiration.
May 1, 2018, 12:51 PM · This is a very interesting question. My initial question is where does the duty come from? I gather that medicine is an exception in imposing a duty to teach. So far as I know there is no such duty in other trades, such as law or engineer. Certainly there's no duty to teach literature, philosophy or other subjects in liberal arts.

Personally, I find teaching is a great way of learning in addition to helping others. It is a voluntary act in my part. It is also a contractual duty when one teaches for a fee. I don't know how the violin "trade" can impose a duty on all violinists to teach though.

Sorry if I'm sounding a pandemic, but a duty can't be imposed on anyone unless we can come up with some clear idea to justify such imposition because, for one thing, to say I have duty to do X means someone else has a just claim x against me if I fail to do X. So we have to think through some of the questions first: what is the rationale behind such duty? To whom and to what extent such duty entails? i.e., as a violinist, at what point I start to have the duty to teacher? To whom I owe this duty? To what extent I have to fulfil this duty (e.g.how many students I must have to have and how many hours/week I must teach)?

I hope I'm not spoiling the topic because it is an interesting one, and I'm curious to see what others think.

May 1, 2018, 1:06 PM · I've never felt a "duty" to teach -- that is, in a structured, scheduled setting; but sharing what we know with someone who doesn't have our knowledge -- which is what teaching is -- is something most of us can probably find opportunities to do, even if we're not in the teaching profession. This I can do and have done.

I remember one time, when I was 18-19 y/o, that my teacher had me coach another student of his in studio -- just a one-time session of about 10 minutes. This other student, who was about my age, was a late starter, beginning violin in mid-teens. He had his lesson right after mine. I agreed to stay a short time and show him a few things -- under our teacher's observation. I don't remember all details now, but I do remember telling the kid, "The D is too low" -- and then playing the passage myself to show how it should sound.

Sessions like this, every once in a while, are fine with me. But I have never felt that the teaching profession itself was my calling. I leave that to those who have the gift for it and personally feel the need to be involved in it.

May 1, 2018, 1:09 PM · Yixi, it is not the kind of duty that says you need to make money by teaching. It is more like an instinct, to share your knowledge. This is easy to see on Violinist.com. Every day people here sincerely try to share their knowledge with others. Just as in the medical field, this helps the whole violinist community, it helps the people who are asking for advice, and it helps the people who are sharing their knowledge, because by doing so they also gain new insights.
May 1, 2018, 1:34 PM · "So far as I know there is no such duty in other trades, such as law or engineer".

There is. That's why conferences are so widly used. That's why the journals in science are peer-reviewed. Etc.

In any sphera of our lifes. Forums became so popular, not only because people get answers on their questions, but also because people are happy to answer.

It is a basic animal instinct to pass on the knowledge you have. The survival of the species depends on that process.


May 1, 2018, 1:46 PM · Teaching, to me, is a calling, not a duty. It took me the better part of my professional career before I started teaching others about my paid profession (Supply Chain Management). I actually liked both the profession and teaching. The violin was my non-work activity, something I did just for my own enjoyment. Three decades of lessons and playing in multi-generational community orchestras and that was sufficient for me, until...

I had retired as had my wife and we were enjoying our retirement and were asked to pick up neighbor's children after school and that is when I discovered that their son was trying to learn the violin at school from a well-meaning music teacher. I invited him over to encourage his playing and what I saw made my heart sink. He held the instrument all wrong (straight in front of him - out from his chin holding the bow like a club). I asked the question: "Do you want to learn how to play the violin?" An enthusiastic yes and suddenly I was teaching the violin. Since everyone says that I "think like an engineer" I was well versed in the bio-mechanics of playing the instrument and the fact that I was trained using Doflien ground that in.

Now I have some special students that meet my criteria of not having a family able to afford private lessons but sufficiently funded to afford a good instrument and youth orchestra fees.

Why did I make that decision? Because when I was in Jr. High a very long time ago, I wanted to learn how to play the violin after I was introduced to one in music class. My family would/could not support that and only as an Adult with my own career and money did I pursue the dream (Late starter - 30 years old).

No, I don't do it for money because I don't want a transactional relationship. I also hand-off my students to other teachers will to lower or scholarship their fees. They like my foundation building and it also got my wife and I involved in the local youth orchestra.

Still, teaching is a calling, when you hear the call you will know.

Edited: May 1, 2018, 1:54 PM · "It is a basic animal instinct to pass on the knowledge you have..."

Actually, I have a slightly more cynical view of the pedagogical instinct: our instinct is to create more members of our tribe. It's why most people who are religious follow what their parents made them follow.
You rarely see parents who say to their kids "sure, go try some other religion and report back to me." Those who actively prosthelytize, such as Mormons, may claim they simply want to share their great religion and can't stand the thought that one singe human can't be "saved" as they are. Which is why they "convert" dead people in cemeteries.

However, I think a large part of why they and other groups do it is that they simply want to make more of themselves. I'm not criticizing Mormons or other religions--just pointing out what I think is a basic instinct. It's partly altruistic to share knowledge, but partly selfish as well.

It happens in all human activity, including music. And may people instinctively pass on the same dumb fingerings and bowing because....they're THEIR fingerings and bowings. And they were similarly indoctrinized by their teacher. A long line of teacher creating students in their image.

I saw this recently in a young student that came to me who had been taking lessons from a Heifetz student. The Heifetz student was teaching Bach in the manner that Heifetz played Bach, something I strongly disagreed with. It's not that I disagree with how Heifetz did it. But slavishly imitating Heifetz? It just seems rather...something. Maybe simply tacky?

The corollary to the OP's statement might well be that poor teachers have a duty to NOT teach.
How to prevent them is another issue...

May 1, 2018, 2:20 PM · Fully argee))))
Edited: May 1, 2018, 2:58 PM · That's an interesting question. I didn't know that physicians had a duty to teach but it make sense in that there are learning experiences that one cannot absorb simply through reading or writing but only through direct and immediate observation and discussion. I don't feel an obligation to teach but I will certainly engage if someone asks for help or feedback. On a side note, it appears there are many physicians who are also excellent musicians. I wonder if their training has cross benefits or transferable skills.
Edited: May 1, 2018, 3:59 PM · @ Mary and K Ch, I think we have different concept of what duty to teach. To me, one's instinct is not a duty. Sharing what we know or believe is not teaching. It becomes a (self-imposed) duty to teach when we clearly believe that we ought to teach and take on the responsibilities to teach someone specific according to their needs. In carrying out such responsibilities, there will also be consequence if we don't fulfil them properly which causes harm. Therefore to me, assuming a duty to teach is a big deal. As Scott rightly pointed out that some violinists "have a duty to NOT teach", first, do no harm.
May 1, 2018, 6:35 PM · Just wanted to point out that in conservatories in Greece you are not supposed to receive a violin degree without teaching first. It is somehow a mandatory thing, involving teaching at least one beginner, for at least one year. Depending on the student teaching the beginner, the whole practice can be supervised by a senior professor at a regular basis.

May 1, 2018, 7:19 PM · In every employment context I am aware of I have found a basic rule, often unspoken, but none-the-less acted on: You can ask for help (advice, etc) on any issue "once", and people will help you.

But you should learn from that "once".

Of course, one thing often leads to another, and over some months, an ongoing dialogue may occur, in which the mentoring continues from that "once".

To that extent, all of us are teachers.

If you ponder the issues and costs of not providing help to that "once asked" question, it makes business sense that we have a duty to teach.

Pablo Casals is an example of a musician who (very nearly) didn't teach people. I think he had only three actual students during his career. But of course, he dropped into master class situations set up in his name over many years.

Edited: May 1, 2018, 7:54 PM · I should add some context to my question.

During training at some point, you have control over the lives of some of your juniors in way and to a degree some might find hard to believe. One is allowed power and control over others such that, if desired, you could make life easy or incredibly difficult for any given individual. This power you may have for several years. Your juniors will perform scut (dirty) work and you in return, guidance/teaching.

If you have a meanie as your boss this would mimic having a bad violin teacher as mentioned by others.

Nevertheless, most of us who emerge unscathed at the other end have a deep abiding of responsibility to lift up others in the very purest sense. This is what I mean by "duty to teach". An innate sense of the goodness of providing instruction/guidance in an unqualified manner is what I really mean.

And it seems to me many of you here at V.com have it.

May 1, 2018, 9:32 PM · "Sharing what we know or believe is not teaching"
It is.
Teaching is a way to communicate and transfer the knowledge and experience to others. All the teachers share what they know and believe. A good teacher will make an effort to control that knowledge is passed on intact. e.i. without mistakes. The best teachers will analyze the situation and find and eliminate the reason why the knowledge is passing perverted.

For the species survival (in our case we talk about Homo violinus :-) ) to pass the knowledge and help people to improve is a crucial moment to do not extinct. If you do not teach, if you do not provide advises, if you do not help the next generation - there is no future for the homo violinus. Imaging we all stop to talk and write about violin and stop lessons all over the world - In 20-50 years there would be no a single person who would know how to hold it properly...

So, teaching is the duty. You have to if you can. I would if I could.

The good news about it that this duty is compensated by a biological mechanism to get satisfaction and joy from the result. Even if the teaching is your job - you do like the moments when your student succeeds with the task, don't you?

The bad news, there are always outliners and escapers in the biological systems and populations in whom biological programmes are failing. It is ok. But it does not mean, that the others should follow that route.

Edited: May 2, 2018, 4:51 AM · At the medical clinic where I go for care, none of the doctors teach. Not even the old ones. They practice medicine until they retire. So the comparison on which this thread is based is seems suspect to me.

For many academics, teaching starts out as a means to an end (which is to do research), but if you're lucky (like me) it grows on you pretty quickly. It's only a "duty" now because I'm actually being paid for it.

May 2, 2018, 6:35 AM · I agree that medicine might not necessarily be the best comparison since modern medical teaching techniques are now high tech. Some students seldom touch a real human being. If it were compared to violin directly a person would look at violin techniques presented via video and listen to good violin music, of course dissect the theory and physics behind all of it, eventually they would get to play a computer assisted violin.

There is now a gulf between the old school/ new wave of medical professional. Can the old school convey something to the new comers? I'm sure they can, however the tools and techniques have drastically changed making some of the old ways obsolete.

We now have computer assisted music and sampled violins. A.I is getting a foothold in many professions. I could build a loud trance track in probably less than an hour but is that music? I don't see it as equal to real music.

When I read of those who are contemplating the violin and they say things like," I need to see if I have the motivation to learn violin". Really?
This is the millennial generation talking. This is how most of them think. Everything is based on how I feel and is disposable or temporary.There are machines to do things for us. Why should we exert much effort?
I'm sure there are many wonderful people in this new generation, but if we don't get a grip technology is going to ruin sincere effort and make us all lazy.

May 2, 2018, 6:45 AM · “Nevertheless, most of us who emerge unscathed at the other end have a deep abiding of responsibility to lift up others in the very purest sense. This is what I mean by "duty to teach". An innate sense of the goodness of providing instruction/guidance in an unqualified manner is what I really mean.”

Most, if not all, violin teachers end up teaching because they fail to win cut-throat auditions.

So, the answer is no.

May 2, 2018, 7:27 AM · That's true. But even those that win cutthroat auditions or even have solo careers still teach. I think teaching for many musicians must satisfy some need for interaction that doesn't happen in an orchestra or on stage. What kind of human interaction can you have in an orchestra except for sotto voce snide remarks to one's stand partner?
Edited: May 2, 2018, 8:15 AM · Scott, I agree. They teach for reasons other than “An innate sense of the goodness of providing instruction/guidance in an unqualified manner” , which, to be fair, is too high a bar for anyone.
May 2, 2018, 8:16 AM · I think that the interesting issue raised by the OP is answered by the fact that the biggest title a musician can get is "Maestro", which means teacher.

So there is traditionally an association and an expectation according to the idea in the OP.

Edited: May 2, 2018, 12:24 PM · There are many reasons people teach and there are many methods by which they attempt to do so. Most conventional are the one-to-one music teacher/tutor/mentor relationship and the teacher/professor to classroom relationship. But there are other teaching relationships including apprenticeships, lectures/seminars and professional publications. I have had some experience at both ends of all of these either in music or my professional field (physics).

I only felt a "duty" or obligation to teach (or pass on what I thought I knew) when I was asked to or when I felt it might reduce the amount of work I would have to do later on when I would be asked to do so -- and sometimes there was money (and/or psychological reward) in it for me. But for me there has also always been a personal reward in sharing things I value with other people, and sharing music with others in any way, including teaching has always been one of those things.

I was about 30 when I started to give violin lessons to a couple of kids whose parents (I knew) asked me to teach after they learned that I played the violin (it had been 18 years since I last had a violin lesson [and 26 years since I had my first violin lesson, although I had had very successful cello lessons from a fine professional from age 14 - 17] so taught the way I remembered I'd been taught). I charged $5 for a lesson that lasted from 30 to 60 minutes depending on how long progress was apparent. I continued teaching and charging $5/lesson for the next 30 years (as long as I lived in that town). After I became the concertmaster of the local community orchestra a few years later i (guess I became better know and) more people wanted lessons from me. I think I got up to about 12 weekly students (especially after the local Suzuki school sent me their teenage castoffs (the ones who had pretty much finished Suzuki but did not want to make the 300 mile round trip to more professional teachers in LA). However, those kids impressed me so much that I started using the Suzuki books in my teaching. I also had a couple of adults. I continued to charge $5/lesson. One of my music colleagues, who played all 4 bowed string instruments and also taught, told me "you have to charge something otherwise they will think it's not worth anything!" He was proved correct after I did take on one student for free.

Shortly after my wife and I moved away to be closer to our 3 grown children and our 3 grandchildren I resumed teaching again - this time for free - our 6 year old older granddaughter. This started a wonderful relationship that lasted 10 years (until 12 years ago) during which time we went through the music in all 10 Suzuki books (although we used different editions for some of it) and she played in various kid school and community orchestras from 4th grade on and on into a chamber music group in high school and finally into more "world music" solo stuff her last 2 years there. She doesn't really play much anymore - too busy as a published (and publishing) author - but we all live close enough together that we all see each other frequently, and maintain the relationship she and I established those years ago.

Because the local music store in this community offered big discounts to music teachers who registered with them and paid to be listed, I signed up as a violin and cello teacher. From that I did establish some cred and acquired some cello and violin students (kids and adults) and continued teaching here for about 12 years. This time I charged closer to the going rate and made myself more available by being willing to travel to students' homes (that gets old fast when you have to travel on freeways during rush hours!).

When I taught I always combined teaching reading the music with teaching how to play. For this reason I vowed never to teach any student less 6 years of age (or at least who could not read their natural language). I started violin lessons at 4-1/2 and was reading at that time. If nothing else, when you are reading music you cannot watch your fingers so learn learn to play by touch and feel and I think that is a good thing.

I think it is important that a teacher do no harm. It takes a lot of experience to know what you are doing is not going to cause harm. Although I had not been taught recently before I started to teach, I believed I had seen (and heard) enough in my orchestra and chamber music experiences to understand the different ways people might play successfully (and unsuccessfully) and what worked for me and why and how some different things might work for others. But I have always known my limitations and would never try to keep a student beyond a point at which I could no longer be helpful.

I remember being so impressed when the violist in "my" string quartet, Shirley Helmick (and principal violist in our community orchestra), who led the Suzuki School in the town where I lived those 30 years, released her "prize student," Anne Akiko Meyers, at about age 8 to study in Los Angeles where her phenomenal ability could be more effectively cultured. I'm sure you know how that turned out - or you can google it.


May 2, 2018, 9:55 AM · @Adrian

It is interesting you mention the "Elite" as not having patience to teach. It is a common phenomena in the NFL, that many "Great" quarterbacks never coach, while it is very common for backups to become a position coach, often times being more well known as coaches than for their playing career. And example being both Jim Harbaugh and Gary Kubiak.

It seems to me, that it makes sense. The truly great have a fundamental understanding. They just "get it". Someone of the next tier down have work harder to achieve similar results, and because it isn't so inherently obvious to them, they can break the possesses into smaller steps more readily.

May 2, 2018, 9:57 AM · Hello!

This is my first post...by the WAY...

I have come back to violin (with focus and a teacher who is a very good fit for me) in the last 5 months. My violin history is a mess of stops and starts beginning at age 4 through now, at 31. Most of the early years were in a Suzuki institution, but I've had 3 teachers working outside the institution (although more or less in line wth the method.) Also grade school/junior high orchestras, extracurricular Suzuki things, and Scottish/Irish fiddling group lessons. Sorry for digression. Anyway, as a result of this unevenness, combined with the foundational Suzuki ear training AND my tendencies to shy away from anything that reminds me of equations, I coasted through not really learning to read music at the level I should have. I also managed, and this still is unbelievable and embarrassing considering how much playing I did do at one point, to not learn the note names beyond the A string.

So suffice it to say I had never even distantly CONSIDERED teaching. Ever. I assumed that only people with an MM even considered it. If I have trouble READING MUSIC (LOL!) how could I ever---etc. A few months ago my teacher said during a lesson, "You should teach! Try teaching adult beginners." I thought, Oh well that's kind of her to say, but insane. A few weeks later I brought a friend to a performance by my teacher's group, and my friend enjoyed it a lot and said she'd always wanted to learn violin. I thought ok, this is a low-pressure way to begin and see how it goes.

As soon as I started to really think about it, I saw some interesting avenues. The holes in my knowledge are easily fixed. Most of it is simple memorization, and I can catch up on it as I prepare to teach it. In fact it's a great way to get me to learn it. I could also focus on my strong points, tone and intonation. We could move at a slow pace, focus on tone as the absolute core. We could slowly build a bowhold and bowing habits, and fix the buds of bad habits very early. I suppose this is easier with adult students---at least those who have patience and want to play beautifully, even if the pieces are easy... even if it's just etudes and scales. I also started to look at my lack of degree/experience as a positive. I'm, like, the bargain-bin teacher---half-price. Private instruction is beyond the means of a lot of people. So far I've been lending out my old spare violin as well as an old spare belonging to my partner, and am thinking of starting a collection of violins (ask friends to donate those old student violins they took lessons on a decade ago and never play now, etc...) so that all students could use a free loaner. I probably wouldn't even charge for the lessons if I didn't need the money myself. That said, it's nice to make even a small amount of money from something I actually enjoy.

My teacher has been giving me teaching tips, and parts of my own lessons now are turning to this. My student is doing scales and learning note names, Wohlfahrt elementary exercises (the duets, which we play together!) and Suzuki book one tonalizations and pieces. She played her first song the other week.

As I still feel like an outsider to the music "world," like I have to keep it a secret how I have little to no repertoire or everyone will know I'm a hack and a phony---teaching is another way for me to be around violins, to engage with other violinists. I mean I'm actually helping to create a new violinist...! I love hearing people play violin, up close, but I don't have the chance so often. I miss playing in chamber groups and duets. It makes sense, but still I've been completely surprised by how much I enjoy teaching.

I have a new student (another friend) starting in two weeks. Going to look for my first stranger-student soon after that...

In a sense it's duty. I do feel, I think, a moral imperative to use my particular skills to create ties in my local community.

Edited: May 3, 2018, 8:46 AM · I happen to work at a medical school, and I think that while it's great that the OP has taken the service/teaching model to heart, he might be forgetting that physicians belong to one of the few remaining professions that use the apprentice system. The final two years of most med school programs are clinical education in which (despite Timothy Smith's comment about high-tech training) students are constantly exposed to patients (the accrediting body for US medical schools in fact requires that medical students have "clinical experiences related to each organ system; each phase of the human life cycle; continuity of care; and preventative, acute, chronic, rehabilitative, end-of-life, and primary care in order to prepare students..."). Clinicians directly teach medical students during these experiences, and after students are awarded their MDs, they almost always enter residency programs that last from 4 to 8 years during which time they continue to be trained in their chosen specialty by established physicians, often while themselves teaching the next class of MD students. So a great deal of medical training is done by working physicians. On the other hand, I would say that the majority of working physicians in America at least, post-residency, do not teach. Like Paul says, they treat patients until they retire, and that's what they do. I'm not sure how it works outside of North America.

None of that, maybe, is to the point. One of my neighbors, a woman who lives across the street from us, played violin as a kid. She told me once that she still had her violin, in the back of a closet somewhere. She suggested that maybe she and I could play duets sometime. I asked her how well she played and she admitted that she couldn't read music but maybe I could teach her some Mozart or something by rote. "I just don't think I'd have the patience to try to teach," I told her. Because it's true. At least, there is no way I could do any good at all for a beginner. I know I'd be a monster. "Why can't you play that yet?" Or worse, I'd be like my own first teacher. "It's not comfortable holding the violin like this," I said once. "Hold it differently," she told me. "Differently how?" "Not like you hold it now." She really hated beginner students, I think. And kids in general.

Some of us, as Scott Cole says, really do have a duty not to teach.

Edited: May 2, 2018, 12:37 PM · This is off topic, but... Andrew Victor, what years were you in or near Ridgecrest? Curious because I personally know at least two outstanding string players from there, a professional violist and a very good amateur violinist. (Small world!)
May 2, 2018, 1:20 PM · As for teaching: as principal violist in a community orchestra, I do things like suggest fingerings, play passages to show how they should sound, and sometimes even offer technical tips to get the right sound, because I want the section to sound right. I think that's a duty in an ensemble setting. But I don't teach lessons because I have no confidence in my ability to teach the fundamentals -- for the last two years I've been reworking my own basic technique after 16 years of self-teaching, so I think I have a duty not to teach beginners. At least with the ensemble, I know I'm unlikely to lead anyone the wrong way because they've had plenty of training already and aren't learning basic technique from me.
May 2, 2018, 1:26 PM · Some do, some don't. When having a choice, study with those who do, whether they are soloists, or "failed" violinists, as was cynically (and horribly) suggested above (some people have a gift for teaching effectively and love it-this does not necessarily makes them bad musicians and performers.)

Yes, don't teach if you don't care for it. And if you teach, care for it. "Survival" isn't more important than being happy-do other things to "survive" if teaching is not your thing (or if you will be a bad teacher and know better.)

May 2, 2018, 1:32 PM · Andrew H., I lived in China Lake/Ridgecrest from late 1962 to mid-1995. Whom do you know?
May 2, 2018, 2:01 PM · "the biggest title a musician can get is "Maestro", which means teacher"

Note to self: make students start calling me "Rebbe."

May 2, 2018, 2:07 PM · "Most, if not all, violin teachers end up teaching because they fail to win cut-throat auditions."

Then there are the people who DO win cut-throat auditions and also devote themselves to teaching. And I don't actually know very many teachers who just kind of "wound up" teaching by default; the ones I know purposely trained and worked to become educators. Maybe it's just a different era now, but teaching is actually a profession.

Edited: May 2, 2018, 2:15 PM · Andrew V: The professional violist is Darcy Rindt, who plays in regional orchestras in Northern California. I think she's in her 40s. The amateur violinist is Heather Boberg, who might be a little too young for you to have encountered (was 7 when you left).

I also know Kenneth Kuo (in his late 30s, I think), who plays violin. I believe he stopped playing regularly after college but still takes his violin out once in a while.

I've never lived there myself, but I seem to keep running into people from there.

May 2, 2018, 2:49 PM · I knew Mick Rindt, probably Darcy's father.
May 3, 2018, 7:18 AM · The best teachers, be they teaching in public school, private school, or other, change lives and even their community to an extent -- sometimes far more than what others may think. They do not do this from a dry sense of duty, but a passion for it. We need more of that, and to support and celebrate it, not more reluctant or poor teachers doing it because they feel they have to.

So no, in my view there is no obligation to teach, perhaps other than what one may wish to do to repay the gift they have received from another.

May 3, 2018, 10:48 AM · With reference to Yixi's earlier comment about law and engineering, there is an area of the law which interfaces with engineering and other scientific disciplines, in which one-to-one teaching is necessary and required, and cannot really be taught from books. It is the skill of drafting patent specifications.

Someone who enters into the patent attorney profession (in the U.K.) is placed under the wing of a qualified practitioner who will, amongst other things, teach the trainee how to draft a patent specification based on notes and drawings provided by an inventor - which in real life can sometimes be next to indecipherable!

This teaching is never over and done with in a mere few weeks or months, and I remember during my first year or so my drafts regularly came back from my tutor liberally red-lined and with marginal comments such as "See me about this NOW!". Eventually, after a suitable period of time when I was producing drafts that were being returned without red ink and I had been attending patent law lectures for the required time I was considered ready to sit the initial set of qualifying exams for associate, which if passed entitled me sit the finals two or three years later.

Eventually, when I qualified as a patent attorney I was allocated a brand-new trainee to tutor ... and so the cycle continued, a process not unlike learning and then teaching the violin.

Edited: May 3, 2018, 9:39 PM · Trevor, I agree that we all benefit from some kind of teaching in almost any trade. Law articling is not just dealing with dog files :-) The question I had was what kind of duty OP was talking and it could be made a bit clearer -- moral? professional? Contractual? Or all the above? I figure that your having trainees was either part of your professional duty and perhaps also a moral duty that you take upon on your own, yes? I doubt an IP lawyer can be required to teach in a free society.
May 4, 2018, 9:02 AM · Yixi- thanks for teasing this out a bit.
Maybe "teach" is the wrong word.
I'm certainly not referring to a contractual arrangement.
I also am not talking about the teaching involved in a doctor-patient relationship.

The seed of what I'm getting at is planted during the latter phases of medical school and residency where an apprenticeship exists. Somehow the idea of a sort of moral imperative to impart knowledge to others (at this stage, mostly your collegues/juniors) becomes internalized and one goes forth in the world.

An example would be a difficult case. Many of us would conduct a post-case analysis with those involved where I impart what I know and others the same so that we might be better the next time.

No one tells me to do this. No one makes me do this. It is only my internal voice that tells me. Of course, I am not purely altruistic (does that even exist?) because I, too, always benefit.

So perhaps a reworded version:

Do you feel a moral responsibility to impart knowledge to others in the violin world?

Now whether a given individual is well suited or should be doing it at all is a whole different ballgame.

May 4, 2018, 10:44 AM · Ahhhh Grasshopper.

Would not much of the interest in teaching also hinge on the interest/ determination of the student?

"If" I felt qualified to teach and I lived in an impoverished country I might take someone under my wing who had a lot of drive and interest to learn.

Most who truly want to learn and who can learn will find a way if the resources are there. In an industrialized prosperous country I think one way to gauge interest is to charge someone who can pay for the services.

If a person isn't interested enough to pay when they have the money then I wouldn't be interested enough to teach then. Only exception being poverty.Even in that case conditions need to be such that the student has an environment they can reasonably learn in.

Lots of good Samaritans out there helping out if the help is needed and the situation warrants it. I guess my moral obligations or feelings would be dependent on the situation.

May 4, 2018, 3:25 PM · On a number of occasions over the years at the end of an Irish folk music session in a pub I've seen an "elder statesman" of the session take a beginner aside into a corner for 10 minutes or so and give them a kindly mini lesson. I had that happen to me in my early days of playing folk fiddle. Grateful I was, too.
Edited: May 4, 2018, 10:41 PM · “An innate sense of the goodness of providing instruction/guidance in an unqualified manner” , which, to be fair, is too high a bar for anyone.

David, I passed this bar :) I humbly think most people who are passionate about teaching would pass this bar easily. And to the best of my knowledge these teachers aren't too rare (not talking about the US though).

Edited: May 5, 2018, 8:14 PM · Interesting conversation. A duty to teach in music, certainly not. Many compelled to teach, for certain.

Like Victor, I started young, I was 3. I learned to play violin before reading. I disagree thought a bit about the statement that kids shouldn’t start until they can read music. Because they can’t read that young, everything thing is by ear and feel. In fact if my kid gets “goofed” up, I say close your eyes. Listen to the music and let your fingers play what they know. It’s why people play and perform so much better when they are not reading music.

I was eight or nine when I was first asked to teach. I was surprised to be paid $9/hr.I never saw it - I’m sure it went to my lessons. Another Japanese mom wanted a tutor for her daughter who was talented and who could speak Japanese (mine was passable then.) It was fun for both of us. She has a chance to practice and be guided by someone less strict than her mother and Japanese Suzuki teacher, I got to play with someone like my little sister without the bickering sisters often have. One of my strengths then was to show her how to break up parts giving her difficulty to practice. My kid benefits from this now too. Later I spent lots of time leading chamber groups and even aspired to become a conductor before my mother point blank that she’d disown me if I pursued a music career. She didn’t think I could make it and teaching music wasn’t good enough(Oddly, she denies it now.) It became a huge point of friction which eventually led me to “quit” the track I was on, when I moved out and didn’t have the time to devote while working two jobs and finishing high school. I should have starting tutoring violin again for pay and playing gigs. At fifteen, (my first year of high school), I was CM of a reputable high school symphony in Ann Arbor and was considering switching schools for the best HS symphony. I had started taking a few conducting lessons and by sixteen I knew I could easily get into the U of M School of Music and other similar caliber schools. I dragged everyone I could into playing chamber music on MYS Saturday’s before rehearsals, and into the MYS Comtemporary Music Workshop. Informally, I taught some kids less fortunate as much or more than they were getting in lessons. This was potentially with two more summers at Interlochen and two more years of Michigan Youth Symphony. My friends the same age at the time were standing in for the DSO and the like. Of course, friends I had then that stuck with it are now teaching, conducting, and performing everywhere, some pioneers in their genre of music. This was all due to other people who felt compelled to teach me. What I had contributed, my teachers took note and returned in kind - it was unintentional on my part, but now it’s clear as day looking back. While I had paid lessons, the last serious teacher who took me on was very clear, she taught for her students to excel, not for pay. The conducting lessons I was getting were free, given by a well respected teacher filling in for the conductor on sabbatical, who is (long) affiliated with Interlochen summer programs. It was only recently, in hearing my kids teacher who was one of my teachers, had her colleague comment that some of her high school students are better than half of the UofM School of Music students, that I realized how lucky we were and are to have had such high caliber teachers in Ann Arbor. Had a been less humble and more able to recognize my potential, I should have stuck with it.

In that way only, I do feel like I did not fully repay my teachers for their efforts. But that said, many others fell into the same pursuing other careers after teachers invested a lot of effort beyond what anyone would pay.

Those that were teaching me, I’m confident would have helped me afford a college music education. In fact, the professional CM of the community orchestra in my transfer college town, a colleague of his recalled me as a student of his long ago. He was likely also the teacher who referred me to the best teacher I’ve had. That is what teachers do, and how much students mean to them.

Luthiers and violin makers are somewhat the same. They care about helping students most of who they learn of by word of mouth, often on the word of a teacher. You often hear or read of luthiers like Dave Burgess jumping on here looking for an instrument for a young violinist with great potential. Personally, I recall Chris Reuning (very long ago), sent out two batches of violins to our home and I wonder if he put in the unauthenticated Roth violin purposefully in the second batch, after I didn’t like the first batch in my mother’s modest price range. (Strangely, she says she worked so we could afford music, despite her stance on college Music education.)

Even now, the luthier that worked on my violin went above and beyond with considerable work on my violin. I think it is a genuine will to teach in some and a caring that is easy to express in the music world so unlike many fast paced professions today.

So yes, teaching is valued in the music world. Students are highly valued as well (unlike medical residents who I understand are treated rather poorly.) It’s a world where lots of people have differing opinions, but also one in which many are willing to help and share with both that are known or unknown to them.

May 6, 2018, 7:57 AM · In my folk fiddle days (which is how I started on the violin), getting thoroughly dissatisfied with my lack of technical progress I went to my local violin dealer/luthier to see if he could recommend a violin teacher to help. I was playing cello in orchestras at the time, and although there were several violin teachers in them whom I could have approached I didn't really want someone who already knew me; which is why I consulted the violin dealer.

My violin dealer friend went into his office and returned a few minutes later with a 3-page list of violin teachers in the area with information about the level they taught and their specialities (classical, jazz, folk, etc). He had thoughtfully highlighted the names of four in particular he believed would suit me. I chose the one living nearest me and the rest is history - an agreeable history I must say.


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