Shouting at students?

Edited: May 30, 2018, 6:39 AM · Hi All,

My teacher,of whom I must say I respect a lot, tends to shouting at me when I don't play it to her standard, and, when that happens, I tend to just tense up and get nervous. The consequence is that I won't even be able to play a one octave scale intune, not to mention the chords in Bach's Partitas. And we will then spend a gazillion minutes on 2 bars to fix something that I could play well under normal circumstances. The very frustrating thing is that the more I get shouted at, the more I tense up and the worse I play, which leads to my teacher getting more upset, and to shout more; this cycle countinues untill we both basically die of exhaustion.

I respect and like my teacher very much,since normally she gives great advices, but I feel utterly helpless when she gets angry at me.

One of her more soul destroying things she said is: "you should be be ashamed of yourself for playing this blasphemously, especially when you are capable of playing better, this is a disgrace to the entire profession!"
What can one ever say to that?

I really don't know what to do.

Replies (55)

May 30, 2018, 6:22 AM · Find another teacher.
May 30, 2018, 6:42 AM · I think you can be direct, especially if you intend to find another teacher. You can inform your teacher that the way that they are communicating is not helpful. Remember that although a student/teacher relationship isn't entirely a regular business relationship, you are ultimately their customer.
May 30, 2018, 7:55 AM · I don’t think people can really change.

Evaluate the benefits and COSTS of paying her for instruction. If the latter exceeds the former, find another teacher.

May 30, 2018, 8:04 AM · Maybe annotate that leather bound score you give her, with helpful reminders of where shouting tends to result in intonation errors?

Kidding, obviously.

You're moving on anyway, right? I guess you could think about an exit interview in which you share your respect and love for her and enumerate the specific things you've learned...and then boldly share also that her temper has at times had a deleterious affect on your ability to process her tremendous insights and you fear it might sometimes be hindering her from maximum impact. Probably, though, she won't be able to hear this feedback as the gift it was intended to be. And if you don't think it will have an impact, maybe not worth it.

One final point, though: it's not appropriate. It's abusive. And you don't have to sit through it. Next time she starts, could you ask her, calmly, to stop? In the moment? As in "when you shout at me like this, I can't think clearly and I'm afraid. Is this what you want? Because it doesn't work for me." And you could, honestly, leave.

May 30, 2018, 8:45 AM · Get a new teacher. My teachers have always been direct and honest when something wasn't great, but never raised their voices or said things like your quote.

There are many teachers, get a better one.

May 30, 2018, 9:39 AM · I think that some people with a certain constitution can probably do pretty well and come out unscathed by an abusive teacher, if the teacher is somehow really good otherwise. I would think that either those people really really know who they are and don't internalize any of their teacher's personal issues, or that they are used to being abused and it's how they already motivate themselves. I would guess that the latter are headed for a breakdown anyway. Unless you are emotionally made of teflon, I would get out of there. There's gotta be good teachers that have their heads together in your area.
May 30, 2018, 11:54 AM · I don't want to make any assumptions here. But it has been my experience that individuals who originate from non-American cultures are often much more sensitive to even slightly raised voices than we typically are here. Sometimes they hear yelling when we're just being enthusiastic.
May 30, 2018, 12:30 PM · Neither the OP nor his teacher are in North America.
Edited: May 30, 2018, 12:40 PM · Okay, then that's probably not it. To have one's teacher yelling and shouting just seems so hard for me to envision. I don't think I would tolerate that.
May 30, 2018, 12:51 PM ·

"And we will then spend a gazillion minutes on 2 bars to fix something that I could play well under normal circumstances."- This is the problem with some teachers: they have this unrealistic expectation that something needs to be learned now. This poor approach creates the frustration with both teacher and student. When I teach, I stick to a 3-6 repeat rule of something. I've have never found that repeating something more than 6 times equal learned or even better. Usually when someone is learning something new, they get worse after the 4 or 5th repeat not better. 20 min. later you can repeat it and see some improvement, but you need that break.


May 30, 2018, 3:51 PM · Kind of sounds like your respect for your teacher is misplaced.
May 30, 2018, 4:05 PM · Get a new teacher immediately.
May 30, 2018, 4:36 PM · Good news is, if you ever learn to relax while she is yelling, stage fright will be a piece of cake compared to your experience!
Bad news is, you may start believing her and internalize that critical voice. This internal voice can potentially kill your love for music.

Now, in certain cultures, there is a huge respect for a teacher (authority) and some avenues of learning are meant to test the student (his/her ego) to the limits.

To me, this does not sound like a conscious decision, but rather a character flaw.

May 30, 2018, 5:50 PM · I tend to agree with Rocky, and suspect some cultural element in the “shouting” approach (Orient?), which by North American standard may seem out of place. The important thing is that you need to communicate to your teacher the effect it has on your performance, which is counter productive for either of you. You either learn to take it as a genuine care by your teacher for you (otherwise why should she bother), or have an open discussion with her in the hope that she might tone her enthusiasm down and cater to your feelings.
May 30, 2018, 6:04 PM · Shout back at her :)
May 30, 2018, 7:03 PM · See it on the bright side: She gets angry and frustrated because she believes in you and expects the very best (which means that she thinks you can deliver the very best).

A whatever teacher, who doesn't give a damn and murmurs "good, good" to anything with no correction would be much worse... Would you be happier with that one because she would be nicer?

Point is: The shouting is incidental. Annoying but incidental. What makes her good or bad will be her teaching, corrections, her capacity of seeing flaws and find a way to fix them. If she has those skills, bite the bullet. Learn to isolate yourself from the noise of the yelling and listen what she says, not how she says it.
If she doesn't have those skills and it's just cracking the whip without actual teaching, look around. Any change will be good.

May 30, 2018, 7:37 PM · Yelling at a student is like swearing. It might be effective to make a really big point...once. Maybe twice.

But the issue is, when it's the method of delivery at every lesson, either the teacher can't communicate, or the student doesn't have the capacity to do what is being asked. In both cases, a change of relationship is necessary.

Edited: May 30, 2018, 9:21 PM · In my opinion a teacher of any subject must first be able to master his/her own emotions. That's a basic component of adulthood. Shouting once as a strategy, OK...I wouldn't do it but I could see its potential effectiveness. Shouting as a regular occurrence means that the teacher is not able to control her own frustration. That's a big red flag. I would not tolerate it.

Incidentally the OP has stated in other threads that he and his teacher are in Hungary.

May 31, 2018, 12:46 AM · Calling me a stupid pig is fine if you make me become good. But that’s only me ...
May 31, 2018, 1:09 AM · That's really unfortunate.

I think you either 1) learn to develop a thick skin and understand her shouting and insults are ultimately about your playing and has nothing to do with your self-worth, and you learn to relax the muscle groups you tense up under stress, or

2) you move on to a different teacher and respectfully tell her you two are not the best match.

Hope things turn up better. Remember there are very specific muscles you're tensing up when being shouted at or under nerves on stage. Learning how to relax specific parts of your body is probably a priority for you, especially under your scary teacher...

Edited: May 31, 2018, 1:23 AM · My piano teacher was of international renown and not only shouted but stamped her foot. I knew it was her problem though.
May 31, 2018, 12:47 PM · The more I read on these posts about the odd behavior of some teachers, the better I feel about my own efforts. If we follow the money, technically the teacher is an employee of the student (or parents). In earlier centuries we would be considered servants.
May 31, 2018, 1:54 PM · In my life experience I have found that abused people tend to become abusers. Unfortunately, there is a long tradition in the world of music where teachers, conductors, and others in positions of authority are abusive.

The only way to stay with a teacher like that is to confront the abuse with a simple question: "How did you like having your teachers yell at you?" Don't expect miracles but, touching her humanity, may get her to realize that she may well have become that which she hated.

Unless having her on your resume is important to you and your goals - find another teacher. When leaving, forgive her, then move on and forget the insults and pain.

Edited: May 31, 2018, 1:56 PM · Harvey Shapiro was a very well known and excellent cello teacher who taught at Juilliard for many years. He was well known for shouting obscenities at his students. It turned out that this was something he was unable to control. He was diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome late in his life.
May 31, 2018, 4:16 PM · Speaking of Tourette's, first thing I thought of re: OP, was some processing issue that may interfere with playing parts that might not even be challenging at other times. This may frustrate the teacher. Does the teacher yell/scream frequently, or only when certain types of mistakes are made? Are the problematic passages easier ones that shouldn't be a challenge, or the new material you're working on? Does it feel like your brain 'floods' and there's all of a sudden too much to process? Sometimes, do you have excellent concentration and can play really well, but other times you just can't get it together?

Edited: May 31, 2018, 7:17 PM · Depends on where the OP is- I'm guessing he isn't in the States. In some cultures and countries, it's normal, even expected, for violin teachers (any instrument, really) to raise their voices, put students down ("garbage" was a favorite of my teacher), even employ corporal punishment if the situation called for it. And parents were usually on board with it. Heck, I think shouting was the gentlest of punishments my teacher ever threw at me...

China comes to mind. There's a Chinese saying that a charitable mother produces a weak son, and the same applies to teachers, who have to be strict, even borderline abusive, if any level of success is to be reached.

I'm not saying I agree with that, of course, but it's acceptable in some cultures, not so much in others.

May 31, 2018, 8:53 PM · I think that a shout is a shout, and it's not abusive or demeaning or disrespectful. It can be, but only if the things said are abusive, demeaning or disrespectful.

In the OP when shouting, the teacher was praising the OP skills. I don't see anything wrong about that.

Some answers here are like the teacher was hitting with a cane...

@ Chao Peter Yang: If you think that your teacher is insulting or demeaning you, protest and eventually fire her (she is your employee!). But if your teacher is just shouting (is this the same one you were buying a gift?) and is not actually being mean, I recommend that you learn to ride that wave. Because if you can't take that a person who cares for you yells at you, then you are really f***d when you leave your safe school environment and you have to interact and work with those who actually want to make you stumble and fall.

May 31, 2018, 8:57 PM · Eh

I agree with many things in regards to shouting, but I'd be careful with the whole "the teacher is my employee" thing.

May 31, 2018, 9:17 PM · Over the course of a highly successful career, one of the things that I have learned is that I should strive to avoid environments where toxic people stay employed. It's one thing to temporarily deal with people who actively add negative value, until they are Invited to Seek Success Elsewhere, and another to tolerate working in such environments for the long term. Toxic people drive high performing employees away, and if they are allowed to stay, the entire environment deteriorates. No thanks.

I don't tolerate people who theoretically care for me yelling at me. They can either express themselves maturely, or they won't be communicating with me. I make it clear to family et.al. that if they yell at me, and if they do so, I will hang up the phone. Setting boundaries has much improved those relationships.

I do tolerate a certain degree of irritable impatience in my teachers. The conductor of my first youth symphony was a screamer, too. But none of them were disrespectful, although one much-beloved teacher of mine was blisteringly sarcastically insulting (but funny).

Edited: May 31, 2018, 11:47 PM · @Carlos- funny you mention canes.

One of my teachers caned the absolute hell out of us as beginners (we live in Asia, incidentally). He’d ask us to select a color (canes come with coloured handles) and go to town with us on the one we’d chosen. If we complained once we got home, our parents would beat us double!

Was it harsh? Certainly.

Was it acceptable? Definitely. We even compared cane marks from time to time.

Did it work? In some ways, yes.

Corporal punishment does help reluctant little buggers as many of us were as kids. I know I was an absolute hellion growing up, and I do attribute harsh instruction to my having become a decent violinist. It may not work on everyone, though.

It’s also worth noting that the majority of our teachers did not give two hoots if we actually loved the instrument- the onus was on our parents to keep the flame going, so to speak. Their job was to teach and produce performers, end of story. That’s what they were paid to do, and our parents understood that harshness, even harshness bordering on abuse, was perfectly acceptable. Many of us grew up in households where the cane was used as a disciplinary tool, anyway, as is common in the Asian country I’m from.

I personally see nothing wrong with what the OP’s teacher is doing. Is this a cultural thing?

Edited: June 1, 2018, 12:15 AM · More and more I find myself defending (vigorously but not violently!) our soft-bellied "western" culture. We are not circus animals (a different, but linked, topic...)
June 1, 2018, 12:17 AM · @Adrian- I did not mean to imply that. No disrespect meant. I’m sure also that life doesn’t end and begin with corporal punishment, and that what works on one kid may not work on the other.

But I don’t think the OP is based on America, so we have to consider context. If he were studying in Russia or China under an elderly dragon lady teacher, shouting would likely be the least of his problems.

June 1, 2018, 12:38 AM · When I open up the discussion and scan the threads at the top this one always reads "shooting at students" at first glance.

Edited: June 1, 2018, 1:33 AM · Corinne, no disrespect from me either! But if a teacher needs to shout, or even use mild physical violence, to me it is a sign of gross incompetence, however good the results; if punishment is part of their satisfaction in teaching, to my mind they are sick, however many "survivors" they produce.

On a lighter note, I find that if my students play badly, it's my fault; if they play well, it's theirs!

Edited: June 1, 2018, 2:13 AM · @Adrian- totally agree with you, but when something like that has been... normalised, for lack of a better word, it’s hard to see it as anything out of the ordinary. Especially since corporal punishment isn’t exclusive to the music studio- parents (or at least, the older generation) routinely whupped the living daylights out of their kids for being sassy smart mouths, for getting subpar grades... you know, the whole Asian nine yards.

I had the everloving *insert expletive* walloped out of me growing up, and my parents’ reaction was always a resigned, “What’d you do this time?”. Which says a lot.

(Oddly enough, I once read a newspaper article about my country and one line that stuck out for me was how “sales of rattan canes skyrocket during school examination periods”. So true!)

I’m sure there’s more than one way to convey a message, and abuse shouldn’t be an option, but cultural norms can often be very deep rooted, and when it works (even if only by virtue of survivorship bias, as you mentioned), it’s very hard to rebel against or question.

I am curious about the OP’s teacher. The first thing that came to mind was a diminutive but high strung, fire breathing Russian lady. I suspect I may not be far off the mark.

Edited: June 1, 2018, 2:39 AM · I appreciate the honesty! Another thread (long, but now deleted) went off the rails when "Asian" was linked to the Tiger Parent Syndrome, and not only in the mouths of "occidentals".

But I am ashamed at how long the Age of Enlightenment has taken to e.g. "give" (!) votes to women, or impose a heavy fine ( or prison sentence) on kicking one's own dog, let alone smacking one's own children..

Edited: June 1, 2018, 4:27 AM ·
Shouting at students as a tool will only create more shouting and worse:
name calling, demeaning, bullying etc...

After a while the teacher becomes blind and unaware of what they are doing.....Stanford Prison Experiment....

https://youtu.be/yUZpB57PfHs?t=1914

Chief Cordon Ramsey was taught to do this by one of his cooking mentors.


June 2, 2018, 1:32 PM · Most of you seem to live in a violin teacher's paradise...

I admit I sometimes shout at students, too (but never insult them, of course)

BUT: After analyzing it for a long time I can say it only happens when the student treats me, the teacher, disrespectfully and inattentively.

I know exactly when they are tired or whatever. Or haven't been preparing their lesson for some reason. Or whatever. This doesn't matter, it can happen. I will never shout or be angry when a student does not succeed with his task in a lesson.

It's the lack of respect for me, stealing my time, not really trying during the session, etc.
I have quite a lot of lazy, and unmotivated students. It's a shame, but I can't choose and work elsewhere for some reason.

My colleagues have the same problems, it's definitely not my fault.

And I have quite a few fine students who come motivated and friendly, have fun and are a joy to work with, even when they may make no progress sometimes, this doesn't matter much to me, al long as they try. Some of them come to me for 10 years, so I must do some things right.

But those who just steal my time...

...it's my lifetime, and I am always highly motivated to work with every single student, so I find it hard to ignore that some are ignoring me... a wasted hour of my own time.

Like I said - it would be normal to get rid of those, but I simply can't afford it. Hard times for violin teachers here and now.

June 2, 2018, 4:50 PM · I generally disagree with shouting, but context matters. Does the teacher shout also when they're excited about something you did right? When they shout a criticism, do they end with a smile to let you know that they're on your side?

When I read this:

"you should be be ashamed of yourself for playing this blasphemously, especially when you are capable of playing better, this is a disgrace to the entire profession!"

I saw a compliment embedded in the yelling: your teacher thinks you have the ability to play better at that very moment. Look on the bright side, your teacher believes in you and your ability to represent the profession. I'd take that over someone thinking you're a lost cause and shouldn't have anything to do with the profession.

I think you should explain to them them that the shouting is making you upset and keeping you from playing better.

June 4, 2018, 3:25 PM · Your teacher is not a teacher. A teacher is a guide, not a jerk. Never go back to that person again. You owe that individual nothing. Someone who finds it necessary to shout at a student is ineffective and insecure. Move on and don't look back.
June 4, 2018, 6:46 PM · The OP asks "what can one say to that?"
One word: "good-bye". (Or is that 2 words?)
June 16, 2018, 2:06 PM · I can really relate to Corinne Chen's comment. She is probably from the same country as me and same generation. And it is true, that is the old Asian way of excelling. I still remember getting caned by the teacher because my score on the exam was 2 points below my score from the previous mid-term (e.g. going from 100% to 98%). You get 2 whips! I think the worst thing was going in front of the class and being humiliated.

It certainly worked on me. Actually this type of education worked on most of the population at that time. Teachers were like gods! Most parents (at that time) would dare not question the teachers' methods.

June 16, 2018, 5:13 PM · @Tom, you wouldn’t happen to be related to this old lady here, would you?

With that said, yes. Shouting and corporal punishment was a powerful motivator, and totally normalised. Not just in the area of music, mind, but in damn near anything else... sales of wooden canes skyrocketed during examinations.

Being called “garbage”, “useless”, “moron”, and all other manner of expletives, many of them not printable here- it was simply something we accepted as part of life. Even at home. Most Asian families aren’t particularly touchy and cuddly. Even praise is generally done with extreme stinginess less you get complacent e.g. oh, you got 99 out of 100? Good try, but what happened to that last mark?

I remember complaining to my parents after one especially vicious violin lesson where my teacher went to town on me with the cane and her voice both. My mother’s reaction?

“Suck it up.”

Never complained again.

June 16, 2018, 7:56 PM · Wow.
June 17, 2018, 3:20 AM · Tobias Seyb said: "I have quite a lot of lazy, and unmotivated students. It's a shame, but I can't choose and work elsewhere for some reason."

Make them sign contracts saying they'll practice a certain amount each week or that you can't teach them anymore. It's worked wonders for me.

June 17, 2018, 4:41 AM · I am old enough to remember classroom teachers shouting at pupils and visiting corporal punishment on the errant ones (everyone!) - a strap on the hand usually, the cane being reserved only for the most serious offences and then wielded only by the Headmaster. This was the norm in Britain in those days. A notable exception I remember was our Latin teacher; he never raised his voice or used corporal punishment, inculcating instant respect from the whole class, seemingly without effort. He later went on to become the Head of one of the most prestigious grammar schools in England.

My private music lessons then - no raised voices, but sometimes a change of tone of voice if the circumstances warranted (e.g. skipping practice), and certainly never corporal punishment. However, I heard stories from reliable sources about private piano teachers who would rap the young pupil's fingers with a wooden rule if a mistake was made. Not surprisingly, there would be the few who survived that treatment and perhaps went on to have good careers in music, with a stellar command of technique at the keyboard.

Edited: June 17, 2018, 12:19 PM · I am old enough to remember classroom teachers shouting at pupils and visiting corporal punishment on the errant ones (i.e. everyone!) - a strap on the hand usually, the cane being reserved only for the most serious offences and then wielded only by the Headmaster. This was the norm in Britain in those days. A notable exception to the "beat-it-into-'em" method was our Latin teacher; he never raised his voice or used corporal punishment, inculcating instant respect from the whole class seemingly without effort. He later went on to become the Head of one of the most prestigious grammar schools in England.

My private music lessons then - no raised voices, but sometimes a change in the tone of voice if the circumstances warranted (e.g. skipping practice), and certainly never corporal punishment. However, I heard stories from reliable sources about private piano teachers who would rap the young pupil's fingers with a wooden rule when a mistake was made.

June 18, 2018, 12:39 AM · @Erik:

Problem is, I would have no more enough students to make a living if I would sort out the lazy ones. Horrible situation, but we have a lot of qualified teachers here in the region and a continuously decreasing demand for violin lessons.

Edited: June 18, 2018, 8:46 AM · Corinne, one of the useful life realizations I had in my adulthood is this: Just because an abusive behavior is normalized by a culture, doesn't make it non-abusive. What you are describing is abuse, plain and simple, and it damages the children who experience it. It turns them into damaged adults with a Stockholm Syndrome sort of reaction to that abuse.

It is vastly important to break that chain of abuse and to not participate in that culture, even if one was raised with it and thinks, "I would have never achieved what I achieved if I hadn't been raised with cruelty". The problem with that thinking is that one doesn't know what type of human being one might have been able to become without that kind of abuse, which damages the brain's cognitive centers in irreversible ways.

June 18, 2018, 10:43 AM · That's why beating children has been forbidden by law here in Germany, no matter what traditional and christian circles thought about it.

But since then, there's an effective tool in education missing, and it could not be replaced yet.

(To make clear - beating children is totally wrong, no matter if it was effective or not)

June 18, 2018, 1:13 PM · Read "Coercion and Its Fallout" by Murray Sidman. Not only does it not work, but abusive teaching or training prevents the subject from learning. Get a new teacher.
Edited: June 18, 2018, 2:29 PM · I would say that people who were beaten as kids and grew up to be secure undamaged well functioning individuals did so not because of such an upbringing but in spite of it.

Also I think parents lash out more in response to their own insecurities, fears, irrational anger and not as a logical system of measured punishment in response to their children's performance.

June 18, 2018, 4:43 PM · 100% agree with the previous four posters.
June 18, 2018, 9:22 PM · Leaving out morality and abuse (which really shouldn't be left out, but trying to make a point here):

Yelling and other abusive corrections are ineffective in the long term, *if our goal is to train a student into someone that will both love music and play it proficiently in the long run.*

For example, beating kids with a cane might make them try harder to improve in the short term, but are they going to quit as soon as they get out of that situation (usually when they turn into adults)? Probably.
And, as a parent, if you are allowing your child to be emotionally or physically abused by the teacher, you should realize you are showing them it's *normal* to accept abuse; this attitude will carry on into their adult lives and the relationships they end up in. It will NOT end well for them.

So, not only is abusive correction wrong from a moral standpoint and likely going to turn a child into an adult with significant underlying emotional issues (numb at best, angry and hurt at worst), but it's INEFFECTIVE if our goal is to produce a lifelong musician, rather than someone who will only be a musician until age 18.


Now, there are those really misbehaved kids that will pop up from time to time, and the thought might enter a teacher's mind that perhaps these are the exception, and that perhaps yelling/hitting is the right for these kids. WRONG! The reason they're misbehaved is because there is underlying stress and emotional neglect already happening to them somewhere else, and by beating them or yelling at them, you are only amplifying that already-existent turmoil. Gentle support is really all you can offer them, unless you're willing/able to go the the SOURCE of their at-home issues and fix that. But good luck; I've tried.

Long story short: hitting/yelling is always wrong, whether you look at it from a moral standpoint or from an effectiveness standpoint.

The best way I express discontentment in a lesson is by sighing a really long, soft sigh and then staring into space for 5-10 seconds before trying something else with the student. This is my equivalent of "impatience" with a student.

Edited: June 18, 2018, 10:26 PM · I am not going to defend any kind of corporal or psichological punishment. They are wrong and are usually the tool of ineffectual pedagogues.
But I also want to voice against the opposite path: The "don't force them to do something if they don't want".
I coordinate with many companies regarding their business issues and one problem troubling them more and more often is the difficulty of finding good employees. It's not the technical skills lacking, it's the personality traits. Disregard for deadlines, disloyalty, lack of commitment to the projects they are responsible. Many of these companies (in my geography), have stopped hiring those coming from western education systems (regardless of their ethnicity) for that reason.

It is just a warning that going to the polar opposite of the traditional abusive teaching has unintended consequences. I think its obvious that any kind of damaging punishment should be banned, but I also think that education must, at times, be forceful. Students need to learn to do what they must, not what they want. Yes, the ideal perfect way is to make them want to do what they must do. But waking up from that Arcadia, sooner or later you must confront their natural reaction to any kind of difficulty or work. And in that regard, some put the "you don't leave the table until you finish the homework", in the same shelf as corporal punishment. Do you? Where is the line?
You can find traumatized teens because their allowance was cut (the new cane) or because they were grounded... And from my memories (I am from the caned generation), the spite and resentment of those kids is the same in one punishment or the other.


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