Improving study communication with the teacher

October 17, 2017, 4:32 AM · Hi. First of all, thank you to everyone who post in violinist. In the past months I have found many answers to problems or questions I had, thanks to all those who share their advice.
I'm a beginner adult student. So far I am loving it and I practice hours everyday. To make a long story a short one, I got lucky to have an accomplished violinist and composer as a teacher. He accepted to teach me in order to help some friends because the teacher I had before put the academy I used to go in a bad spot. What started as a sustitution has become a permanent teacher-student relationship. I feel privileged and I don't want to miss the opportunity although I am aware that my level as a student does not grant such a level of a teacher. His approach is to make me play, again and again, until I have the perfect tone and rythm; however if something does not work, there are no corrections on what causes it. Just exasperated "again!". It is up to me, thanks to youtube, Simon Fischer books or Violinist to discover, for example, that the problem was that the bow was getting away from the bridge after some notes, or that the pinky tended to get too far from the strings. Those kind of basic things that I had to correct. I don't know if the reason why he doesn't correct me those is because he thinks they will mend themselves with time and practice or because I am older and with some professional status (I live in Asia and those things matter). I would like him to be more "involved" or active in the teaching (which so far is giving me music sheets to practice at home and test me about them the next week). However, I don't want it to be seen as a criticism and I am very aware that, both in role and skills, he is the master and I am a novice. After that long story, I would like to ask those of you who teach regularly what do you expect from your students and how would you want the student to raise concerns about the method you are using.
Cheers, C.

Replies (23)

October 17, 2017, 5:13 AM · "such a level of a teacher"-- do you consider this teacher to be high-level because of the success of his other students, or because of his playing ability, or because of what? He doesn't seem to be teaching you at all.

I can tell you what I do not expect with my students, especially beginners no matter their age. I do not expect them to know how to solve their own problems. That is why I am the teacher. Part of my job as a teacher is to teach my students how to practice, how to solve their own problems. Pointing out that they are doing something wrong is not productive if I also don't explain or demonstrate how they can improve it.

I'm happy when my students ask questions. If they are not understanding something, I need to know that. Something tells me though that your teacher might not respond the same way.

Are there other teachers in your area, and do they teach with a similar style or a different style?

October 17, 2017, 7:19 AM · I have a colleague like this. Occasionally her students ask me or my students for advice. Tricky!

If I try to discuss problems my students (may) encounter, she just says "practice more".......

Edited: October 17, 2017, 7:24 AM · I have to agree with Mary Ellen. A robot could say "Again" when it detects an out of tune note, or misplaced rhythm. You are not being taught. Playing the violin well is exceptionally complex. These layers of skill and complexity are not being explained to you. So you learn, but at a very slow pace.

The teaching relationship is a bit like a marriage - personalities don't change much. You get what you signed up for. Don't expect much, if any change, from any discussion about how the relationship is going.

It seems to me you have a choice - continue with a high status professional who does not teach beginners well, or find another teacher who teaches beginners well.

October 17, 2017, 8:03 AM · Mary Ellen, in an earlier discussion (around 10th post there), you stated that it you do not appreciate being told by the student how you should be teaching. (And I think you were not the only teacher with that opinion.) It seems to be a thin line between which questions are welcomed and which ones are offending...
October 17, 2017, 8:08 AM · The context of the post to which you refer is a beginner dictating to his teacher what materials to use. That is what I don't appreciate.

A question from the student regarding how to play something or how to execute a certain technique is not at all the same thing.

October 17, 2017, 8:10 AM · There are always other teachers, of course, but not so many and my initial approaches were rejected. They did not want an adult beginner. Answering to Mary Ellen, I suspect that this is the average teaching system not only in music. Here the teacher and student relationship is not expected to be bidirectional. Students asking questions are regarded as "disrespectful" and a class is normally to read a lesson from the book and to do a lot of homework. From previous experiences of other things, changing the teacher led to little improvements. On the other hand I think that one should try to fix something before replacing it. I would like to try that first. That's why I would like to know how would you like that a student would criticize the way you are teacher. How to make it constructive and not offensive.
October 17, 2017, 8:16 AM · Carlos, I suspect that cultural differences are at play here, so please take my suggestion with that in mind:

In such a circumstance, try phrasing all questions as if all misunderstanding is on your part. For example: "I am having difficulty understanding how to do this, do you have any suggestions?"

That's all I've got. Sorry not to be of more help.

Edited: October 17, 2017, 8:42 AM · The above advice sounds decent. It seems like most of the posters asking about their trajectory issues here tend to be involved in the absolute worse case scenarios in terms of resources, and other circumstances deemed unfavorable to violin playing.

I could almost make a template (give or take a few things):

Hi, I am John Smith from No Classical Music Country. I am an adolescent/adult beginner who started off with some YouTube tutorials and don't know what to do with these teachers who won't take me/aren't trained properly/are hostile. I work 10 hours a day, and have children, but I couldn't see myself doing anything but violin all day. Couldn't afford more than a few bucks a week, and saved up for a $60 instrument. How do I find a teacher I like? Could I get into Curtis next year?

October 17, 2017, 8:41 AM · I guess it comes with the territory. People with resources probably have knowledgeable supportive people in the flesh to ask.
Edited: October 17, 2017, 8:44 AM · Mary Ellen: "... beginner dictating to his teacher what materials to use. That is what I don't appreciate."

What you don't like, I think, is the student questioning the your teaching style or method. Am I right? Here we have another teacher whose teaching might need to be changed a bit to match what you think is a good teaching style even though they believe that they are doing a good job. That is a delicate issue...

I can relate a bit to this myself: when I was a 4-week beginner, I suggested my teacher to change the format of the lessons a bit. She would spend all the lesson making me unlearn what I had practiced (at least, so it felt to me). I suggested that we should spend more time going over the homework for the next week so that there would be less unlearning to do next week. She didn't quite appreciate that suggestion... Fortunately, we did get more used to each other's personality and style over time.

Edited: October 17, 2017, 10:19 AM · Carlos, I'm not a teacher but I've had more than 10 years experience of working with different violin teachers so here is my $0.02:

1) If a teacher doesn't correct, no matter how accomplished a violinist he/she is, I will walk. The reason is simple: uncorrected mistakes get solidified into bad habit with repetition. It's a lot harder later on to correct bad habits than learning good ones.

2) No matter how polite you ask your teacher to consider different way to teach, the teacher has to have "it" (meaning the teaching skills) to make change happen. It goes the same way, no matter how skillful and patient a teacher is, the student has to have "it" (meaning the willingness to take criticism, to self-examine, to work hard, etc.) to progress.

I had a teacher in the past who was a bit like what you've described. She was passionate and really wanted me to grow, but she kept asking me to repeat when I didn't get it right without pointing out what was wrong and how to correct.

In contrast, other good teachers I've had, especially my current one with whom I've been for about 10 years, would only ask me to repeat when I've got something right for the purpose of solidify the correct playing. When she hears something problematic, she'd stop me immediately, either tells me the problem, or ask me whether I like what I just did, especially when the problem is a persistent one that has been addressed in the past.

My point is, good teachers exist so don't lower your standard. Keep looking and if you find one who is reluctant initially, be persistent. Show that you really serious and take whatever it takes to be a good violinist. Chances are some of them will consider to take such a dedicated adult beginner.

3) Regarding two-way learning. Violin learning is more like apprenticeship, which is very different from the more democratic institutional education. Trust and diligence are more important than rational inquiry.

That said, good teachers I've known are very happy to entertain questions or requests of different options/approaches to work on particular PROBLEM rather than particular teaching approach. In other words, I wouldn't ask a teacher how to teach me. But I frequently ask "I wonder why I should do it this way?" "What if I do this?" "Can you tell/show me more clearly where/what I did wrong?" etc.

Edited: October 17, 2017, 10:14 AM · "What you don't like, I think, is the student questioning the your teaching style or method. Am I right? Here we have another teacher whose teaching might need to be changed a bit to match what you think is a good teaching style even though they believe that they are doing a good job. That is a delicate issue..."

You are putting words in my mouth. I said what I said, and in context anyone reading for comprehension will understand what I have said.

"That said, good teachers I've known are very happy to entertain questions or requests of different options/approaches to work on particular PROBLEM rather than particular teaching approach. In other words, I wouldn't ask a teacher how to teach me. But I frequently ask "I wonder why I should do it this way?" "What if I do this?" etc."

Yixi hits the nail on the head.

In the OP's case, the teacher appears not to be teaching at all.

Edited: October 17, 2017, 10:45 AM · Carlos,

I second Mary Ellen and Yixi's good advice. "An accomplished violinist and composer" may be relevant, but not necessarily sufficient as a teacher, especially of an adult beginner. Your description of his teaching method is good enough for me to drop him from the potential violin teacher list.

Some good violinists with "child prodigy" background just do not imagine how students can struggle with small things because they may have had not experience the difficulty themselves as a student. As in any other field, doing something well is one thing, but teaching it well is quite another.

Another possibility is that your teacher may be teaching people not out of passion but of necessity/obligation. This is pure speculation but if that is his mindset, then to him teaching an adult beginner may be a chore in which he does not want to invest his effort.

Anyway, don't let your teacher burn out your initial enthusiasm quickly. Find another teacher, if it is possible at all. Good luck.

Edited: October 17, 2017, 11:01 AM · Hello Han N.,

Let me tell you an analogy. Say you are teaching an intro physics course for non-majors in a college. While you were covering the course syllabus in the first lecture, a freshman raised a hand and told you that he did not like the textbook because he thought it was boring. In addition, suppose he told you he found a decent textbook off the internet that he wanted you to use for the course. Would you drop everything and appease him?

Edited: October 17, 2017, 11:53 AM · Han N.:"She would spend all the lesson making me unlearn what I had practiced (at least, so it felt to me). I suggested that we should spend more time going over the homework for the next week so that there would be less unlearning to do next week. She didn't quite appreciate that suggestion... "

Sounds like you've got a good teacher, Han! If your teacher thinks you need to unlearn what you've done, it means the teacher sees what you've done is problematic. I can understand that you want to do more new stuff rather than correct the old bad habit. I've been there myself. It's much harder to unlearn something that is bad, but desire aside, isn't it obvious that the good can't be built on the bad? Or am I missing something?

Edited: October 17, 2017, 12:52 PM · In that (rather hypothetical) situation, I wouldn't change the course material because I'd have a whole class room full of students to deal with and it wouldn't be fair to the rest of the class. However, in a one-on-one teaching situation, I would certainly have a look at the internet book. If it seems to cover the topics that need to be taught and the student is motivated: sure, give it a try. I'm far enough above intro physics level to deal with it.

P.S. I generally like it if the person that I'm explaining something to challenges me by telling me that I'm wrong because of [good reasons]. That is a sign of critical thinking skills. It could be that I forgot to mention an important detail or that - indeed - I am wrong.

Edited: October 17, 2017, 12:52 PM · If I were a Suzuki violin teacher, and someone approached me and said, "I've heard Whistler is the best method, and I already have all the books. But I've also heard good things about you as a teacher. Would you consider teaching me from the Whistler method?" I wouldn't consider this question disrespectful, but I don't think I should feel obligated either to acquiesce or to give a reason for refusing. It's really when the person's tone, or body language, or facial expressions, or follow-up questions indicate indignation that you would refuse such a "simple" request that it rises to the level of disrespect. The fact that my reputation as a teacher and the methods and materials I've selected and developed for my studio might be closely related is something that would not necessarily be obvious to a beginner.

Edited: October 17, 2017, 1:29 PM · As I'm getting older, I am more and more aware how self-sabotage is the main reason preventing me from succeeding what I attempt to achieve. One of such self-sabotages is my ego, especially thinking I know better when I am asked to do by my teacher that I don't quite get it. Analytical/critical thinking, as great as it is, can create such sophomoric attitude all too easily. We are taught to question and be confident about our one ability and beliefs to the point of shallowness. As one of my profs at the University of British Columbia said to me during my early years that had changed my way of learning: you have to know the rule well to break it.
October 17, 2017, 1:59 PM · Yixi: "If your teacher thinks you need to unlearn what you've done, it means the teacher sees what you've done is problematic. I can understand that you want to do more new stuff rather than correct the old bad habit."

The typical pattern was like this:

Teacher: show me exercise 10... no, you were supposed to do it like such and such. Try it now how it is supposed to be.

Me: fumbling and sounding like screeching cats because I could not use any of the routine that I built up over the week.

Teacher: OK, I think you get the idea. Ah! time's up; homework for next week: numbers 11 to 15. See you!

October 17, 2017, 2:11 PM · "Me: fumbling and sounding like screeching cats because I could not use any of the routine that I built up over the week."
Han, I think your "routine" might be the problem. If you can record the lesson and record your practice, you might be able see what your teacher tries to show you. It takes time to sink in what teacher says. I also often heard teacher said, "yes, I think you've got it." I would be like "Huh? But I don't know what I'm supposed to do." Well, often our conscious mind is a bit behind in recognizing certain moto skill we've just learned.
October 17, 2017, 3:58 PM · Han N.,

I admit that my scenario has several holes. Of course it is not a room full of students, unlike the one-on-one situation in the violin lesson. However, the student is a beginner, not a graduate student. and if the online book is an old one that has been gone out of style quite awhile ago (for a good reason), I would not be so accommodating.

Of course as Paul Deck rightly pointed out, the context is also important. If I remember correctly, the student in the scenario was pushy toward the new teacher.

October 17, 2017, 7:15 PM · Thank you all for your advise. I will take Yixi Zhang's advice to focus on particular problems asking for more explanations about them instead of a general methology change. Sung Han: You are right that the teacher started out of an unwelcome chore and I guess that he has been waiting it out to see if I was going to give up. However recently he had the chance to step out and he decided to continue. As he said, he appreciated my "not the talent or skills, but the commitment and hard work". And also to Sung: luckily the enthusiasm is not going to disappear. There are things to improve about him, but his love and passion for violin is enormous and very contagious. That's one of the reasons why I am reluctant to change. He is the kind of teacher that makes you want to do more and to do better... only problem is that he doesn't really show the way or at least I don't feel it. I think I will try what some of you suggested and go for very specific "hows?" and "is this right?" about technical points.
October 17, 2017, 8:26 PM · For the most part, playing in front of a teacher should not be trial and error. He should be giving specific feedback on what specifically is wrong with each attempt, and what you should try to keep in mind for the next attempt.

(Advanced students sometimes don't need the verbal correction when asked to do something and they feel; they can feel it was wrong and why it was wrong, and don't necessarily need intervention until they've been unable to get it a few times in a row. But beginners certainly need constant intervention.)

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