What qualities make for a delightful student?

August 10, 2017, 4:56 PM · There are a lot of discussions about teachings lately. Violin teachers, what makes one an excellent young or adult violin student? Why?

Replies (82)

August 10, 2017, 5:10 PM · This is a tricky question. I think it will mean very different things to different people, and depends on the motivation and biases of the teacher. I think that most teachers appreciate it when at least one party, be that the student, or the parent on the student's behalf in some cases, shows consistent discipline, reliably shows up to lessons on time, pays in a timely manner ( or explains why they can't), and is respectful to the teacher.
I am sure no teacher would dislike a nice dose of inborn ability along with all of the aforementioned things, but it isn't a necessity to being considered "excellent" by all of them. I personally look for all of these qualities as well. Some teachers want to look prestigious, so innate ability and an early start is probably more important to them.

What makes an excellent child student vs. adult student? To me, the criteria are no different, but I have seen some around here mention that they view child students as being preferably more passive, and not questioning the teacher, and the adult student being more analytical and perfectionistic.
I imagine some teachers would be thrown off on a subconscious level and express this in some way if the student were not to "act their age", and perceive the student as disrespectful, especially in the case that the child learner behaves more "adultlike" in their approach and treats the teacher like a peer.

August 10, 2017, 6:43 PM · Here's a list of qualities I think delightful students possess:
1. willingness to learn
2. interest
3. polite and well-behaved
4. dedication
Edited: August 10, 2017, 6:52 PM · Leaving aside chemistry, I like students who practice and ask questions - especially ones relating to something a little deeper. 'what chord is this? (Remember: Guitar chords are frequently partials)' 'why is that a Gb and not a F#', etc. It shows they're engaged and they actually care about what they're playing instead of just playing dots on a page.

Slow progress is fine, even a little (note: little) ill manners can be overlooked, if they're engaged and learning.

I also prefer adults to children. I've had bad experiences teaching some children - nothing malicious on their part, but I tend to leave those sessions feeling drained and stressed out. I teach on the side of my studies and day job because I love it. If I'm not enjoying the experience of teaching you then there is something wrong with the relationship that needs to be addressed or terminated. This is easier with adults than children.

August 10, 2017, 8:35 PM · I may add a couple of more traits of a delightful student
5. Optimistic
6. Enjoys what s/he is doing
7. Creative
Edited: August 11, 2017, 1:59 AM · Students who seem to give me back more than I give them.
I then feel less tired at the end of the lesson than at the start.

And those who sometimes do what I was going to show them!

And those who spontaneously watch how I do things without being told to...

August 11, 2017, 2:54 AM · 1. willingness to learn
2. interest
3. polite and well-behaved
4. dedication
5. Optimistic

Is a good list already! But I would say it is more like a list of requirements than something special.
I think a at some level serious relationship to music and the instrument is to look out for. Understanding the students motivation, why they chose the violin, can help a lot in the development of the student. But often the students don't know why exactly they want to play the violin. It is up to the teacher to find that out together with the student. When this source is found, everything else falls into place quite naturally.
I also like students, who have strengths which were my weaknesses when i was young and the other way around, so that we can complement our strengths. For example for me reading notes fast was not always easy, so when a student has no problem with that, I can show him how to translate his good reading into music and violin technique.

A sign for me, if I like a student is that when he/she enters the room it lifts my mood, because it is like seeing a friend. It is hard to teach when there is no sympathy between teacher and student at all.

But what makes a good student is quite simple: He is generally interested and listens to a lot of "good" music. He listens carefully in the lesson and practices like you told him. Plus that he brings something from himself to every lesson. May it be a new piece he wants to play or a new idea for an old piece. So a level of independence is there already.

August 11, 2017, 10:23 AM · Simon,wow! Very insightful and a lot to think about what you wrote. Can you elaborate on this:
"A sign for me, if I like a student is that when he/she enters the room it lifts my mood, because it is like seeing a friend. It is hard to teach when there is no sympathy between teacher and student at all."
Do you mean teacher-student relationship should be relationship of friends?
August 11, 2017, 11:53 AM · A delightful student? Mine are all delightful in different ways and at different moments! But since you asked, here are some things that help this relationship to work, and most of these things work both ways!

1. Regular practice
2. Good-faith effort
3. Mutual trust and respect
4. Willingness to exchange ideas (listen to mine, share their own)

August 11, 2017, 12:20 PM · Generally, young students are delightful when they haven't been utterly crushed/exhausted by school before coming to their lesson. There's just no way to reverse that bad mood in the course of 30 minutes and still get in a good quality lesson.


August 11, 2017, 12:29 PM · Erik, I think one of the things that parents hope to gain from violin lessons is that some of the positive energy from violin study (and concentration / focusing skills) might be channeled back the other way into school work. On the days when a student is "crushed/exhausted" perhaps sight-reading some duets might be appropriate?
August 11, 2017, 1:15 PM · For me the student must want to play the instrument, really want to play. Not the parents, or somebody placing pressure on the young musician because they are told that learning to play is: "good for your development."

I've had more than a few parents ask me to teach their children but only a few of the children have the desire. I can deal with all the technical issues but not create a desire where non exists.

August 11, 2017, 1:24 PM · George I appreciate what you are saying but having been both a violin student (in childhood and again in adulthood) and a parent of a violin student, and having observed other kids in the studio, I can tell you that many students (if not most) suffer periods where they get pushed or dragged through to the other side by their parents. To the parents out there who are tut-tutting and thinking, "I would just let them quit," I say, "Fine, you go ahead and let yours quit." I'm going to protect my investment.
Edited: August 11, 2017, 4:06 PM · To some of us, our relationship with violin teacher is more of a master-desciple relationship you’d find in the environment of traditional scholarly pursuit or martial arts in Asia. Such relationship goes much beyond contractual and monetary matters that you see in today’s studios, as a desciple considers what he/she gets from the master is priceless. Obviously, as a desciple, you don’t second-guess your teacher. You value your teacher’s time and effort and gladly be as accommodating as you can. You are dedicated and you are passionate. You may not be super talented but you do your best because it is your character that matters the most. You never try to outsmart your teacher, and so on.

I’m sure you will find this quality in many students who share certain values of an ancient culture. Comments?

Edit: What I described master-desciple relationship above is purely from the student/disciple point of view.

Edited: August 11, 2017, 3:41 PM · Yixi, it is a rare teacher that isn't overly concerned with money ( It's rough out there isn't it?), and it is certainly nice when a genuine mentor relationship develops, which doesn't depend solely on paying the lesson fee. I was lucky to have a few of teachers who were still willing to work with me even though my parents didn't always have the means to afford the fee every single week, or even two or three times a week.

I have known people who live with their teacher. By that point, the investment for them had certainly transcended a contractual agreement. A student-teacher relationship should always be a two-way street with each party willing to accommodate and compromise along the way.

As far as second guessing your teacher? In being a good match for a teacher, something that was always important for me was actually being able to second guess them, without said teacher becoming offended. Of course, I would expect that their suggestions not generally rub me the wrong way, and that a disagreement would only be an occasional occurrence. If the teacher is competent enough, they should be secure enough in their image of themselves as an artist/teacher to not get defensive whenever a student either doesn't agree with them, or needs a more in-depth explanation. A teacher who is unwilling to acknowledge that they are human, that their opinions are subjective, that they at times make mistakes, and that most aspects of instrumental study are not trivial, and need thorough explanation as to the reasons behind them, is not a teacher I want to study with.

In fact, especially in the later stages, some differences in opinion between teacher and student may actually be desirable, as the goal for the student should be to develop a unique sound which is distinct from that of the teacher's. Of course, if a student is too defensive, and easily-offended to take any criticism at all, that is problematic.
Being outsmarted by a student? Bound to happen if you teach long enough, and teach the full intellectual spectrum. As a teacher, I would want this to happen at some point. It means I am doing my job. A good teacher should strive to teach their way out of a job. A teacher who is not comfortable with the idea of their students surpassing them at some point in time, or being more knowledgeable in a couple of areas, probably has a huge ego, and is probably teaching for precisely the wrong reasons.

August 11, 2017, 3:53 PM · Qualities I don't have. Poor teachers!
Edited: August 11, 2017, 4:09 PM · @Lieschen, I'm sorry that I didn't make it clear. I'm talking about the student, not the teacher, who considers the relationship is beyond contractual and monetary matters.

It seems interesting to see that we can't stop talking about teachers when my intent of this thread is about good qualities of a student :)

August 11, 2017, 4:06 PM · He / she brings Turkish delights to the teacher.
Edited: August 11, 2017, 4:12 PM · Rocky, indeed! With coffee, snacks, and all kind of delightful gifts.
Edited: August 11, 2017, 5:25 PM · Yixi I understand what you mean ... the violin teacher is a kind of guru. Partly that's because if you study with the same teacher for a few years, it's someone you get to know much better than your school teachers, almost like family. You care about them and you expect that they care about you as well.

I suspect what teachers are looking for in a good violin student is not terribly different from what chemistry professors are looking for in their doctoral students. In fact I'm pretty sure of it. :)

August 11, 2017, 6:15 PM · Right, Paul. So tell us what you are looking for in your doctoral students?

I started this thread partly because I think in order to do well as a violin student, we need to look inward to see if we can improve ourselves as a student. It should be an obvious consideration for many of us but still worth checking.

August 11, 2017, 8:32 PM · Actually I think Laurie pretty much nailed it.
Edited: August 11, 2017, 10:04 PM · I too like Laurie's list because it covers all the basics, the reason for not firing the student, but surely that's not enough to make one delightful. I'm hoping to hear some stories of great violin students one has or had. Come on guys!

Ok, let's take a close look at this. Regarding Regular practice, does this mean daily good/slow practice or just practice any way the student likes? Practice only the things the student likes to play, or established a routine to practice the basics (scales, shifts, bowing exercises, etc.) in addition to assigned works?

As for Good-faith effort , does it mean the student is following instruction and making sufficient effort or going beyond by explore ways to fix problems, actively listening and researching music, especially the ones the student is working on?

Edited: August 11, 2017, 11:27 PM · Good faith effort is kind of a combination of trust and trying things. Making progress necessarily means trying things you have not done before, which usually means getting out of your comfort zone. When someone else (a teacher) is guiding you in this process, it's likely they will ask you to try things you haven't done, things you might feel resistant to because they are unfamiliar, uncomfortable and unlikely to flatter your strengths. It takes good faith effort to trust that your teacher knows you are ready, to risk the embarrassment of doing something "wrong" initially, then to persist until the new skill is mastered. Also both parties have to be willing to persist with the conversation and effort until things are fully conveyed and understood. There has to be that "good faith" and trust on both sides!
August 12, 2017, 12:00 AM · Persistance
August 12, 2017, 4:54 AM · Willing persistence!
August 12, 2017, 5:10 AM · I'm looking ideally, for a student with a certain degree of intelligence, talent, who does a certain amount of practicing, patient, has a good and respectful attitude, etc. I also encourage students to ask me questions and let me know if anything is bothering them, physically or otherwise. There is an old Hebrew expression to the effect that a very shy student doesn't learn well and a very impatient teacher doesn't teach well. Both parties need to be patient and the basic frustration for me is that, as the old saying goes, "you can lead the horse to water but you can't make him drink."

I'm also completely on board with Yixi's ideas about the master/disciple relationship. That's where I've sometimes encountered adult students who were problematic in this area, with an attitude like "I'm hiring you to teach me; you work for me and it's no different than if I'd hired a contractor to re-do my kitchen cabinets."

Finally, there is an unpredictable mystery about the kind of chemistry there might be in any kind of relationship, be it romantic, friendship or teacher/student. Also, not unlike with psychotherapy, transference and counter/transference issues can develop. We might find ourselves charmed by one student and irritated by another student acting in almost the same way. We might set off in some students, reactions to issues they really have or had with their parents, etc.

Hopefully, it's the love of learning, teaching and music that can get all concerned past some bumps in the road.

August 12, 2017, 5:32 AM · Authenticity.
Edited: August 12, 2017, 5:58 AM · My teacher really seems to like it when I've solved some kind of problem on my own. I'm working on the Mozart Rondo from "Haffner" (it's in the big red Kreisler book) and there was one passage that was really frustrating me until I changed one shift from an "obvious" 2-2 to a "non-intuitive" 3-3 and suddenly it was totally fine.

I think, obviously, teachers like students who are willing to try things their way. I think that bears on Yixi's question about daily practice. And that depends on the teacher. Some really script their students' practice regimens, others not so much if at all. We often hear on this site from young people who describe their teachers as "strict." I would describe my teacher as one who gets into the small details when necessary (which means frequently of course) but also helps his students orient toward his "big picture" view of musicality and violin artistry. I don't think a teacher like that would respond well to Raphael's kitchen-cabinet student. My teacher doesn't get into how much time a student should spend on this or that.

Is it also fair to say that teachers like students who can take a scolding and channel that into determination?

August 12, 2017, 8:07 AM · I'm not a teacher so I can't speak of what qualities make for a delightful student :P Judging myself though, I'd say patience and interest are my top two. Regular practice and learning abilities are my worst two (I have different hobbies and I'm a very slow learner).

As an adult beginner, I sometimes wonder what my teachers think of me. I sometimes get this feeling that I'm the slowest-learning student they ever had. I keep making the same mistakes and can't memorize anything. During lessons, I get some sort of repetition fatigue where I actually get worse after playing the same thing too much. I understand how hard it is to learn the violin so I have all the patience for myself, but I worry that my slow progress would cause my teachers to run out of patience with me :(

I'm very interested in learning the violin and reading music. Sometimes out of curiosity I want to skip ahead and get a preview of more difficult pieces and more advanced techniques. I'm taking advantage of the cheaper rates in my home country right now and have two different teachers (three 45-min classes each day total). I realized that the teacher-student dynamic changes from teacher to teacher. I'm glad my current teachers are very open and they're ok with me asking about more advanced things. Now I'm hesitant to go back to my original in the U.S. because he's too structured + strict. I can't experiment or try different things. I can't be curious. He always says "I don't need to know it yet."


Edited: August 12, 2017, 8:29 AM · - Shows up on time
- Regular attendance
- Sincere interest in all things violin
- Regularly attends local music events / concerts
- Asks questions
- Practices thoughtfully
- Doesn't make excuses
Edited: August 12, 2017, 11:11 AM · Paul said: "Is it also fair to say that teachers like students who can take a scolding and channel that into determination?"

I believe it is probably one of the most important qualities a student (and their parents) should be cultivating. The best young violinists I've seen my teacher's studio or masterclasses everywhere are all very much at ease with the frustration a teacher displays in teaching. They just nod, smile or laugh and try it again and again until they get it right.

Jeewon, could you elaborate a bit on anthenticity in a student? Any real or hypothetical example?

Edited: August 12, 2017, 2:38 PM · Yixi, at first I was just thinking of one who is true to oneself. Honestly assessing and accepting, and acting on the situation one finds upon reflection, the cards dealt so to speak (kind of a Sartrean facticity I suppose.) It's only then the student can know what must be done to achieve goals and dreams. I've always thought one of the teacher's main functions is to be a kind of mirror, "this is what you think you're doing, professing, sound like, but actually it's like this," or something like that. But I guess being authentic has many implications.

As an assistant, I've often had to deal with students I disliked, but even then, when they got something musical, or technical, because they were getting at the core of the phrase, or some small motion or coordination, a Eureka moment, it made it all worth the effort. Then they'd go off and be jerks to a fellow student or something and... ah well. I guess there are many aspects to being a good mentor, most of which I don't possess. Sorry my post is not very clear. Must think on it some more...

August 12, 2017, 5:50 PM · 'Can you elaborate on this:
"A sign for me, if I like a student is that when he/she enters the room it lifts my mood, because it is like seeing a friend. It is hard to teach when there is no sympathy between teacher and student at all."
Do you mean teacher-student relationship should be relationship of friends?'

Sure :)

For me, the time a student is in the room, I treat him like a good friend in the way, that I truly want the best for him or her. That can sometimes also include general tips about life, or even social relationships. For example I always want to know how my students do in school and I make a game of it to guess their grades... and sometimes for example I give them advice how to deal with bad teachers who they maybe can't avoid.
I wouldn't say, they are friends. But it happened over time, that my class became more and more filled with students, who really want to study with me and the other way around. That doesn't mean, that they fulfill all the other preconditions for a "good student". But they are willing to learn and have a healthy attitude in the lesson.
But they are all very different and I like them for such different reasons, that i could not pick out any quality, which makes them sympathetic for me. If i had to pick one, it would be "humor" I guess.

With very small children it is special, because most of them are so pure and unbiased, that you can only feel sympathy towards them. or maybe I am just lucky lately. I had some difficult very young students a while back too.

Regarding Parents and intrinsic or extrinsic motivation in the students there is a joke, which my Russian teacher loved to tell:
---------------
A mother wants her son to study with a very famous professor. This Professor is very picky who he teaches and he doesn't take new young students. She lets the professor know, that the son is soooo talented and that he has to listen to him. After a while the Professor gives his o.k. and accepts to listen to the young violinist. The audition goes wonderful and the Professor asks the boy "you have to give me a honest answer right now" the boy says "I will answer the truth!". So the professor asks the boy: "who actually wants you to play the violin, your mother, or do you want it yourself?" The boy thinks and because the Professor said he really needs a honest answer he says without looking at his mother "my mother" "O.K. I take you!" said the professor...
--------------

I actually like the joke, because it has a deeper meaning, which is often neglected. Of course there must be an intrinsic motivation in the child, but history shows, that with hard work comes skill and with skill comes interest in the craft. Without the parents pushing a little bit here and there, the most talented student is a lost cause so to say. There must be a bigger plan in the heads of the parents, when it comes to really developing a talent.
Over all the sad stories about tiger moms, we kind of lost the appreciation for a determined education and training in the upbringing of a child.
Of course everything in the borders of common sense.
But a good education is a present we can give the new generation for later in their lives. Especially to the own children, who we see every day (hopefully). Only on a solid foundation of knowledge ans skills can impactful creativity and musicality really flourish. Exceptions confirm the rule.

Edited: August 12, 2017, 7:55 PM · Thank you, Simon, for explaining. Humor, especially being able to treat bumps and take harsh criticism with humor is a very desirable quality.

Jeewon, among all other stated good qualities above-mentioned by everyone, to me, true to oneself is probably the hardest quality to achieve. We are motivated to believe what we want to believe, but to honestly assess, accept, and act upon reflection can be done, especially if we have vigilant teacher and/or peer to keep us honest. We have to actively seek out the difference between what is what we believe or wish to be true and what is the actual case. It’s not easy. Recordings don’t lie but I don’t like recording myself, although I do use mirror a lot when playing. I love those eureka moments when my teacher pointed out the difference between what she heard and what I thought I was doing, but I used to hate it when my husband pointed out when intonation was shaky. Now I beg him to tell me this, not because I like to hear it, but because I hate playing out of tune even more.

Authenticity is a very high and worthy goal to achieve.

August 13, 2017, 4:02 PM · Simon nailed it.
August 13, 2017, 5:55 PM · I would like to add a few more qualities and would love to hear what others think:

1. Be flexible and accommodating with respect to the schedule of lessons, especially if your teacher also is a performer.

2. Frequently exceeds teacher's expectations.

This can be hard to achieve because students don't always know how much a teacher expects from them implicitly. However, often we do hear teachers praise certain (superstar) students for having such quality.

3. Be loyal to your teacher and don't keep changing teachers unless the current one is not working out.

I realize that people want the best they can get. Sometimes a more famous teacher moves to your area, it's tempting for a student to switch. If a student resist such temptation and stays with the current teacher, is this at least a demonstration of trust? The student trusts that his/her teacher is always has the best interest of the student in mind and will know whether and when to help the student to switch. This was in the case of my first teacher when I was a kid back in China.

August 13, 2017, 6:35 PM · @ Yixi

1) Goes both ways! I've had times where I couldn't make it but there are also times that my teacher has to perform. There's definitely mutual understanding on this part.

2) Of course every teacher wants a student that excels. But as a student who isnt at the top and likely more towards at the bottom, I would definitely be discouraged if this is high up on what my teacher wants in a student.

3) If I were ever a teacher who isnt prioritizing income, I actually wouldn't mind if my student tries other teachers. This way my student could see other perspectives and teaching techniques. I understand there is no one method that's perfect for everyone. Ultimately s/he decide what is best for him/herself. I just want the student to be able to develop to his/her best potential. If the student does try other teachers and comes back to me... wouldnt that feel wonderful?

August 13, 2017, 7:06 PM · I actually think many students, especially more advanced ones, could switch teachers more often, and that there is a point of diminishing returns with pretty much every teacher. Certainly no student belongs with one teacher for 10, or 12 years, like I have witnessed on some occasions. A responsible teacher will tell a student when it's time for someone else. I feel that my personal upper limit has been around 4 years with one instructor. After so many years with one teacher it is easy to stagnate. One of the things I loved about the composition program at my university was that you got to pick a new private teacher every year from their faculty, and had several other teachers for other group composition classes, I wish the strings program had done that, instead of expecting lengthy monogamy.
Edited: August 13, 2017, 11:02 PM · One more, generosity. A delightful student should be willing to help other students and never be small-minded. As Ning Feng (the First Prize winner of the 2005 Michael Hill International Violin Competition and the first prize winner in the 2006 International Paganini Competition) said, to be a good violinist, one should first be a good person. I have been very much inspired by a few such great violinists.
Edited: August 14, 2017, 5:38 AM · I disagree with the conflation of delightful with good. i think good, bad or excellent being based on the degree of the student's performance during class (as evidence of practice, attentiveness, intellectual curiosity, respect of time, etc) should not be conflated with qualities that resonate subjectively with the teacher.

quite simply, an excellent (on all skill-based, musical, pedagocical accounts) student will come across as extremely undelightful if she or he makes, for example, a racist, sexist or otherwise misogynistic joke or comment (that might not be directed at the teacher - assuming for the sake of the argument that there is also utmost respect for the teacher). Of course, we would assume that the teacher does not harbour similair beliefs.

Similarly, there are excellent practitioners of all arts and sciences who have embraced the worse kinds of ideologies in history. I disagree that good makes delightful and that a good violonist should (or must be , or is or probably is or ...etc) be a good person.

The reverse is not true either. There are people who really suck at their jobs( professions, art and so on) and yet have the most acute empathy towards humans and animals. It is a special independent sensibility.

Edited: August 14, 2017, 10:35 AM · @John C:
If I were ever a teacher who isnt prioritizing income, I actually wouldn't mind if my student tries other teachers. This way my student could see other perspectives and teaching techniques. I understand there is no one method that's perfect for everyone. Ultimately s/he decide what is best for him/herself. I just want the student to be able to develop to his/her best potential. If the student does try other teachers and comes back to me... wouldnt that feel wonderful?

As I see it, the mutual trust is pretty hard to established if a student believes that her teacher keeps her entirely for money. I agree with Lieschen that a good teacher will advise or even find a new teacher for their students when the time is ready.

Trying other teacher and switching are two different matters. One can try other teachers during camps, masterclasses, in teacher's lengthy absence based on teacher's recommendation/consent, etc.

I'm going to make another bold statement here: a good violin teacher would likely take some ownership over their students. By that I mean such teachers have both immediate and longer visions about the development of their students. They don't just give lessons and teach students how to play, they also go to their performances and give immediate feedback. Like good grad school supervisors, they nurture, support and mentor their students, promote them and, yes, when appropriate, find future teachers or other opportunities for them. This to me is one of many good reasons for not shopping around and switching teachers, if you've already had a good teacher as I described above .

Edited: August 14, 2017, 11:58 AM · @tammuz,

I completely agree that being a good player and being a delightful person are two different qualities. However, I think you'd agree that being a good player doesn't make one a delightful student if player is a jerk. :)

What I am saying is that it is a necessary but not sufficient condition to be a one with good character for violin student to be a delightful one.

The wisdom in what Ning Feng was saying should not be over-looked. As an artist, especially at a very high level, his/her character matters just as much, if not more, than the craft of the violin art itself. Talent alone is not enough for one to become a good player. Similarly, a good character is built over a long time with hard work, not merely a result of one natural disposition.

Edited: August 14, 2017, 8:00 PM · I pretty much agree with this (i had Wagner in mind):

"Behind the shock, though, lies the curious assumption that all great musicians should be great examples of humanity, and that you can’t be one without the other. Where in history you find the slightest evidence of this, I’ve no idea. The fact is that bad people often generate good music, and good people bad. Wagner was a monster but still gave us Tristan, Meistersinger and the Ring."
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/classicalmusic/9922592/The-Nazi-musicians-who-changed-their-tune.html

This extends to other fields. Le Corbusier (architecture) was a bit of a fascist and sexist (and reputed not to have a nice character at all). Maria Vargas Llosa (writer) is an anti-indigeneous racist. Artists, like anyone else, can be just as racist and misogynistics, and still be very talented.

I might be digressing from the topic, but I think there is a certain assumption made here that conflates musical talent with character traits and this is, in my opinion, a bit of a myth...and, if a teacher believed in this, it might be counter-productive in her or his evaluation.

Also, the cruel and ugly truth is that while generosity might get you places, but selfishness, egocentricism and a dose of manipulative psychopathy might get you much further in the reality of our world
https://www.cnbc.com/2016/11/18/why-psychopaths-are-so-good-at-getting-ahead.html

Edited: August 15, 2017, 2:21 AM · Some of my "best" students are "delightful", and some of the "worst" as well!!
Edited: August 15, 2017, 4:37 AM · There are other reasons to try to keep a promising student besides money. Another reason is ego. There are lots of teachers who would like to believe that they're still the best teacher available for a particular student even though they've been that student's teacher for several years and sometimes even though the student's progress may be faltering. I don't necessarily condemn that attitude though. Regardless what you do in your professional career, you've got to have confidence in your ability -- you've got to believe that you belong there -- or you'll surely fail.
August 15, 2017, 5:44 AM · Paul, of course. People have mixed motives and false confidence, but I believe that the discovery job is best to be left to the court, psychologists or fiction writers. Student's job is to make sure they are learning as much as they can. If not, then move on.
Edited: August 15, 2017, 5:47 PM · I like Laurie's list. There is also chemistry.

A student might be delightful (satisfies all the things on Laurie's list and more) to one teacher but falls short in the eyes of another teacher. The same student who asks questions could be seen as sincere by one teacher while seen as disrespectful by another. A silent, hardworking student who takes directions may be preferred by an old school teacher, while a more communicative teacher may perceive them to be uninterested since they don't talk enough during a lesson or look enough like they're having fun.

August 16, 2017, 11:42 PM · "I actually think many students, especially more advanced ones, could switch teachers more often, and that there is a point of diminishing returns with pretty much every teacher. "

Hmm...
Depends on the particular teacher, and what other options are available without traveling for hours.
In my particular area, if a student wants to leave me, they will kill two birds with one stone: they will pay more (for several teachers MUCH more), and they will get a worse teacher.

However, there are students that, for whatever reason, do stagnate with even a fine teacher. Who knows why. Some students need cutesy games or constant unctuous praise. Or maybe they will respond to being browbeaten or yelled at in a foreign accent. There many types.

August 17, 2017, 5:22 AM · "Or maybe they will respond to being browbeaten or yelled at in a foreign accent. " sounds like my 2nd teacher!
Edited: August 17, 2017, 6:36 AM · Modesty precludes me from answering the OP's question ;)
August 17, 2017, 11:17 AM · Trevor, you do realise that the OP asks not whether you are a delightful student but what makes one?
August 18, 2017, 5:15 PM · "I actually think many students, especially more advanced ones, could switch teachers more often, and that there is a point of diminishing returns with pretty much every teacher."

I kind of second that! But if you find the right teacher, with who you make constant and fast progress, you should stick with him! They are rare! And the higher the level, the rarer they get! I would still take lessons from my teacher, if she wouldn't be on the other side of the earth! And her work with me overshadows in a good way almost everything I do on the violin and also everything, what other teachers told me. It is like a source of truth. There are only a few of them! Mostly the best are more or less unknown names.
I sometimes tell my students, that they should change the teacher, if they annoy me or stop practicing at all... or if I think I hit a wall with them. But sometimes me saying that helps to destroy the wall and make the student realize he/she isn't giving enough.
But really if a student wants to be a professional for example, I can only show him my way... and I know that is limited and very personal. Having a top tier teacher once in the lifetime is crucial for being happy with the violin I think.

August 18, 2017, 5:54 PM · When it doesn't work out or when the progress is stagnated, it's time to look for the causes, some of which could be suitability of the current teacher. I changed teachers a few times in such situation. Ideally, the student should discuss with the teacher to see if teacher can help with the transition. It can be awkward for sure. Some teachers won't tolerate this and get deeply hurt. I remember a story told by Pamela Frank that her former teacher wouldn't speak to her since her switched, after 16 years with the former one. It's true as Laurie suggested that, to be a delightful student, it works both ways.
August 18, 2017, 11:30 PM · Yo.

Good students choose the instrument or love it after it's being forced upon them ( hope that's not Stockholm syndrome)

They read about the violin. Violinists. Listen. And practice slowly.
Make suggestions on everything.

They show free will

August 19, 2017, 8:46 AM · I think it can be enormously useful to take masterclasses, coachings, or a handful of lessons from someone who's not your usual teacher. As a kid, my teachers usually went away every summer, and sent me to someone different each summer -- from my beginner years on. Every teacher tends to have something that is a "pet peeve" of sorts, that they are very good at teaching/correcting, and it's a great way to pick up a tidbit that will forever be useful.

August 19, 2017, 10:16 AM · I second Lydia's advice. I went to a three-week summer string camp last July and had the chance to have private lessons as well as masterclasses with a few different teachers who are well known in the violin community here. While I did pick up a couple of useful tips,I find trying other reputable teachers can also solidify the loyalty to one's own teacher.
August 19, 2017, 8:16 PM · This discussion taught and made me realize a lot of things, but now I'm stressing out whether I want to continue with my current teacher. He has a very respectable background, but I've been questioning if we are a good match. Though I am also starting to have doubts about myself and perhaps maybe I'm just one of those "difficult" students :(
August 20, 2017, 10:36 AM · Why so John?
August 20, 2017, 11:29 AM · I'm curious too. John wrote earlier:

Of course every teacher wants a student that excels. But as a student who isnt at the top and likely more towards at the bottom, I would definitely be discouraged if this is high up on what my teacher wants in a student.

A student at any level can excel just by working hard, competing against oneself and making steady progress. If a teacher doesn't want to see her/his student excel this way, I would wonder how much this teacher cares about her/his students.

August 21, 2017, 8:09 AM · @Ahmed and Yixi

Just a little bit of background. As of today I've been playing the violin for 4.66 months. I'm 27 years old and have almost 0 background in music theory and playing instruments. It's my life goal to try new things and keep learning. I tried the guitar, but didn't like plucking. I love the sound of the piano, but I wont have space for it. I chose the violin because it's portable and I like the idea of holding a bow since I play tennis. I've also been listening to Lindsey Stirling, David Garrett, and Bond/Escala for quite some time now (no offense I prefer modern over classical music).

I started in April and had two trial teachers show me the basics (30 min lessons each). I took online classes via Udemy and played around for 1.5 months just to be sure I'm interested in the instrument before starting my formal lessons in mid May. I had lessons for 2.5 months until I had to go back to my home country due to an urgent situation. I did bring my violin here and signed up for as many lessons as I could reasonably fit. I had to sign up for two different teachers so I can fit 3 hours of lessons total a day. By tomorrow I would have taken 41 45-min lessons in two weeks haha. I will be back to the US in three days, but I will likely hold off lessons for at least a month or two. I've had too much to absorb from the lessons, but not enough time to really practice and improve on my own. I'll summarize the three teachers and my experience with them below.

1) My 1st formal teacher. Absolutely respectable background. Took years of violin pedagogy under Paul Rolland and studied under Suzuki later on. Very spot on with fundamentals like bow and violin hold, everything and anything to do with placements of elbows, hands, feet, fingers, chin, violin... Very important for beginners so we don't develop bad forms and habits. He is very strict and structured. I can't move to another piece unless I finish one almost perfectly. However, it started getting too frustrating later on as the pieces got harder. I would get stuck because I have to start over and/or repeat even at the very slightest mistake -- millimeter misplacement of finger, contact of bow on string, or any of the things mentioned earlier. I understand its importance, but it can become too repetitive and it feels terribly unrewarding! Furthermore, it bugs me that he would often say "I dont need to know it yet" when I have questions that's ahead of my current lessons. It's frustrating because I'm a "big picture" guy and like to know as much as I can. I'm generally curious and that's one of the ways I enjoy learning new things. It's hard for me to be asked to do task A B C without me knowing the whys, hows, whats, etc. I'm generally a slow learner because I tend to go "off-track". This has been me since I can remember.

2) 10+ years experience with violin. Played the guitar before trying out violin. Mostly self-taught during his first several years. Not as thorough and comprehensive as my first teacher, but he knows his stuff like different techniques, intonation, reading music, etc. Not strict at all, so I took the chance to ask him a lot of the things that I felt deprived of from the first teacher. I did a quick go-through of the music books with him so I can know how to read and play and be independent. I asked him to show me different bowing and finger techniques since I'm just generally curious about random things. And to my surprise, there's even more things that we can do with the violin than I originally thought! I learned different ways to play and have fun with my instrument. Sure, "I dont need to know it yet" as my previous teacher would say, but it's really fun knowing about them! It keeps me interested in the instrument.

3) The primary teacher of the other music shop is sick and is in the hospital due to dengue (hopefully he's ok now). They assigned me to one of their best students who is just 20 years old. He has been playing the violin for 6+ years I believe. He's not as technically knowledgable as the previous two, but he's able to get good sound even from the crappy violins they use at the shop, which is impressive. He's also learning some things from the books I brought. I like that he pushes me to keep trying despite my constant and frequent errors, but he's not super strict that I'm almost not making any progress.

I would pick teacher 1 for the fundamentals and mastery. I am glad I had him at the very beginning for solid foundation. However, his strictness conflicts with my way of learning and enjoyment. With teachers #2 and #3, since they're not too strict I was able to learn at a pace that I enjoy. I see myself going back to teacher 1 for mastery, but where I'm at now I'm definitely hesitant to return.

August 21, 2017, 9:12 AM · Your head must be buzzing.
It sounds like too much of everything.
I am not in the position to give sound advice. Only learning myself. But....
Take a deep breath, slow down, choose a teacher who might be a better fit, take a lesson or two a week (depending on your time to practice), commit to a long journey, enjoy the ride.
Slow down.
For your thirst for knowledge read a lot. You will never have enough time with your teacher to ask all questions you would be eager to ask. One step after another.
August 21, 2017, 10:26 AM · John C :) , my teacher was like #1 until i showed him i knew a lot so he became cool and layed off the small bit of pride because i knew as much as him maybe more because im into composition .

Im kind of like #3 fairly young 21reallygood , but i figured out all the technique , the basics of them obciously , i can do ricochet and the sort but not in a piece for very long .

I experimented on my own , learned vibrato on my own from how it felt , figured out all of the artificial harmonics , through trial and error , its fun :) , i know the instrument so well , im so happy to have tried things and fiddled ( lol ) with it , makes me feel closer to it .

August 21, 2017, 11:02 AM · John, based on what you've described, it sounds to me you are still testing the water to see whether violin is for you. It takes time to figure this out. I recall Laurie had a survey a few years ago asking whether one started violin on their own wish or on the wish of their parent. I recall vast majority responded that they wanted to play as a child. This is very telling.
August 21, 2017, 11:10 AM · Yixi a question if i may.
As a fellow Composer what software do you use?
And do u know what the big editors use to make the sheet look to good? And old timey
Not like the wima
August 21, 2017, 12:33 PM · Ahmed, you must have confused me with someone else. Sorry, I'm not a composer.
August 21, 2017, 12:45 PM · Three 45 minute lessons per day over the course of two weeks is a ton of lessons. For me, as an intermediate level player, that would be insanely overwhelming. You need time between lessons to absorb, practice, and get a feel/integrate what was discussed/instructed in your lessons.

I would, if I were in your shoes, choose one instructor and take one or two lessons per week, practice daily to embody what is being taught, and be patient with myself. This is lifelong learning and cannot be compressed into a few week timeframe. And, if you are still testing the water, why not give yourself 6 months before reevaluating where you stand (unless you come to a clear conclusion earlier)?

(This style of learning, immersion, seems a lot like what Tim Ferris promotes, but for something like the violin I'm not sure that it is truly all that useful considering the various factors that are involved.)

August 21, 2017, 6:04 PM · @Eva
I have read quite a bit online, though I still learn a lot better offline especially for some things are hard to learn without someone watching and giving feedback. With all the information online, sometimes reading online is actually more overwhelming. Asking a teacher and him providing a summary + bonus demonstration too is not only more efficient and enjoyable, I also get to know my teacher's personal experiences and understand how my teacher thinks :P

@Pamela
Yes, very overwhelming indeed! but but but 12 45-min lessons here is equivalent to 1 1-hour lesson in the US. Gotta take advantage of that :P I would definitely cut it down, but I'm only here for 2.5 weeks and who knows how many years before I go back here.

Forgot to mention that teacher #1 is in the US and other two are not. I won't take lessons for at least a month or two. Like you mentioned, I definitely do need the time to absorb, practice, and integrate what I learned. I'll see how I progress/feel and then decide if I would stick or find a different teacher. I've already asked most of the questions I wanted to know, so that aspect that frustrates me with my current teacher wont be there anymore.

With my experience with tennis, there's a lot of different strokes, stances, weight transfer, grips, etc. I remember in high school where our coach would tell us to do these drills over and over without telling us what it really is for. A year after, I took private lessons (again in my home country where I can afford it). It's only then I finally started getting positive results after he explained all of those things. Took me a very long time to get better, but at least I'm not just blindly swinging and doing drills anymore -- I now know the hows, whys, and whats.

There are definitely downsides to my style of learning like my brain getting filled with not-too-valuable information and that slowing me down instead of being able to focus on one thing at a time. However, not knowing the explanation for things I'm told to do frustrates me. That's what I mean when I said that perhaps I'm just a "difficult" student for needing a lot of information before I do things without hesitation.

@Yixi and Pamela
I understand the complexity and difficulty of the violin. Based on my experience with tennis, I definitely do not expect myself to get good at violin in a short time especially since I actually consider violin to be a lot more complex than tennis. I'll be honest that violin isn't on the top of my list (I'm sure there are violinists here who enjoy other hobbies as well), but doesn't mean that I don't have the patience and interest in learning it. However, I have to be careful with the process to not push myself too hard or be frustrated at lessons and be sure it's enjoyable for me and not be some kind of chore.

Haven't it been for my new teachers finally feeding me answers to my questions that my previous teacher wouldve just replied "I dont need to know it yet" to allowing me to move on and attempt to play next pieces without mastery of the previous, I wouldve become more frustrated and may possibly have considered quitting. But I'm committed, that's why I went to great lengths posting here to understand the causes of the frustrations that was developing from my 1st teacher. I was beginning to think that perhaps learning the violin is not for me, but now I realized it's not the instrument itself that would give me problems but the process of learning itself. So I need to find that process that fits me...if all of that makes sense.


August 21, 2017, 10:04 PM · Nice informative post!
August 21, 2017, 10:16 PM · I've heard of career students, but John takes the cake.

20.5 (have to keep up with your specificity John!) lessons a week.

August 21, 2017, 10:22 PM · Yixi

Yixi has been devoting herself to building violin solo and chamber music repertoire since returning to violin in 2006 after a long hiatus.

I understood building the repertoire as writing xd my bad.


It's all right :)

August 21, 2017, 10:25 PM · Ahmed - You compose?

I use Sibelius. I learned the shortcuts for it and am too lazy to re-learn on anything else now.

August 21, 2017, 10:49 PM · Ahmed, that's funny! Part of my repertoire will soon include Sibelius ;) Too busy to compose.
August 21, 2017, 10:54 PM · It's a complicated piece of software but worth the investment in time to learn.

I know how that feels Yixi - so many things, so little time. If only we could 'pause' to work on one thing and then have time resume. Then we could all be the ideal student - unlimited practice time.

August 21, 2017, 11:00 PM · well too much practice leads to injury , max 4 hrs a day .

and yes i do , im getting really lazy these days , mostly in my writing , even that is going slow , hate writers block ( this is not that , just pure lazy) .

Sibelius :/ i want to play taht , heres the thing , when i came to france i had to stop for a year ... i got everything back and better , but i dont have a music stand so i mostly practice fingerings .

i usually only write for solo violin , short pieces 1-3 mins .

i dont want to write variations because thats the easy way out , seriously , theme , left hand pizz , artificial harmonics , tenths or octaves , and end with fast ricochet , wow paganini was such a lazy ff XD .

im sad because i cant write what i want , id be good at writing bravura works ,waiting for competitions to see

August 21, 2017, 11:01 PM · Ahmed,

How's your theory?

Study chord construction and voice leading and write a quartet. Much more exciting and challenging - give it a try. What's the worst than can happen? :)

August 21, 2017, 11:39 PM · my theory is top notch ;) 2years of reading before playing because i dropped my first violin ....
August 22, 2017, 7:06 AM · Initial immersion for a beginner is a very interesting concept. So much of the initial stage probably benefits from constant and immediate correction while habits are formed. Problematically the player needs time to build up some stamina to avoid injury, though.

I do think every student could benefit from a lesson every day, or every other day, simply because this is a source of immediate correction. I remember that when I was a kid, there was a tiger mom who hired a conservatory student to sit with her kid every single day while he practiced the piano, to make sure that he did it right all the time. (He went on to Juilliard and major international-competition awards, so I guess it worked.)

Edited: August 22, 2017, 8:59 AM · A lesson everyday or every other day can be very beneficial to students at all levels, I believe. During the summer music academy I went last July, each student had a 45 min lesson every other day. You can see that the changes in each student's playing was almost day and night. Seven years ago, the first time I went to the same summer programme, it was 1 hr lesson everyday! Students were thriving but I thought some teachers were tired.
August 22, 2017, 5:33 PM · @ John C
Couldn't you take lessons via Skype? That would give you a wider choice of teachers. In my experience (as both teacher and student of piano), Skype lessons tend to require more concentration on both sides, as well as good sound and camera angles, but the results can be excellent.
August 23, 2017, 7:57 AM · I'm not sure how long I could hold up under daily lessons, but there's definitely something appealing. I am amazed at how quickly I can develop bad habits - much quicker than good ones, it seems :-)
September 4, 2017, 2:54 PM · @Mary

Skype/online teaching was mentioned to me by one of my teachers. He said one of his students moved overseas but wanted to continue lessons with him so they tried Skype. He said it didn't go well since the quality of sound wasnt there plus it was hard to spot and tell mistakes.

I think I can do online lessons with piano, but not violin.

September 4, 2017, 4:24 PM · Lydia, this is a thing now out here: teachers are basically telling parents to hire "practice coaches" (often conservatory students) to sit with kids and monitor/help their practice. (Kids are also getting $3K+ violins when they graduate to full-size, even if they're only playing at a Suzuki Book 4 level. Maybe this is the norm now? Maybe today's $3K instrument was the $800 violin of my childhood? But I digress.)

I'm torn on this one: it feels like a more extreme form of the ubiquitous tutors, and an extension of the whole current trend of outsourcing/throwing money at things/overmanaging our kids.

that said...

there's no doubt that it's at least technically beneficial. You can't cheat your practice when there's someone there watching you. And I imagine it's good training for future teachers. And after all, who's to say that spending money on education isn't a good thing? It seems more useful than the more material excesses that are prevalent here.

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