What to Look for in a Violin Teacher
What's a good violin teacher in your eyes?
Passionate on teaching, love to help students on problem solving, and continuous progressing as teacher on teaching methods.
Look for someone that can teach you HOW to practice. Everything else is so much fluff (in the beginning anyway). In the 2.5 yrs I have been playing I have had 4 violin teachers. The first could play really well, had done some solo stuff and memorized most of Beethoven. Not much for teaching though as she would merely correct if I was out of tune or sometimes rhythm. It was essentially a slightly better way of practicing by myself. If I practiced in front of a mirror I would have had not too dissimilar feedback.
I had 3 violin teachers whom I remember having (I don't really remember them as people) and probably a fourth, whom I forget completely, for my 8 years of childhood lessons. None of them really inspired me to do more than my daily 30 minutes of practice. In my mid-teens I had a cello teacher for almost 2-1/2 years who turned me into a pretty good cellist eager to advance as far as I possibly could - and to also continue to play the violin as well as I could.
I would say someone who is able to precisely pinpoint areas that are lacking and provide appropriate solutions so that, technically, the student can take his playing to the next level.
Some great comments already, not much to add, except that for an adult some schedule flexibility is greatly appreciated.
Someone familiar with Alexander Technique as well as all the qualiries already mentioned can help students prepare for lifelong playing.
"Good" is relative as it depends on what kind of student we are talking about. A violin teacher is good when she/he is
It's such a personal question. Every violin teacher I've ever studied with has been good for *someone*, probably–-although not all of them were good for me.
Yixi, I would add flexibility, and the ability to calibrate according to each and every student’s personalities:)
Roman, I agree. Flexibility is the key for any relationship, and it comes from both sides. It's not fair to expect teacher to be flexible but a student is not, right? My point is, teaching is not a one way activity -- it has everything to do with giving and taking between a teacher and a student. A super flexible teacher may not be so good for a super rigid student because she might just be an enabler for the student's rigid habits/mindset.
Now I have another question: I am young teen (not giving my real age), with a suzuki teacher. Are suzuki-certified teachers centered and trained around teaching younger students?
That depends on which Suzuki teacher, IMHO.
A good teacher for me would be like a doctor. Able to observe symptoms, diagnose the base problems, prioritize what to tackle, know what medicine is needed, etc.
I mean, are MOST suzuki teachers trained to teach younger students rather than teens?
Students need different types of teachers during different stages in their playing. It's a rare teacher that can cover the spectrum. Moreover, students also have different priorities in what they need in a teacher, based on personality, learning style, and goals.
Suzuki teachers are trained to use the Suzuki method -- a "mother tongue" method primarily used to teach younger children. Usually, students effectively "graduate" beyond Suzuki, in terms of repertoire advancement, before they become teenagers. (After Suzuki book 6 or so, so much additional supplementation is typically required in repertoire, etudes, etc., that a student effectively isn't doing Suzuki any longer.)
The validity of 'it depends' is hard to negate. However since the OP has asked a general question, let me try a general answer, based on my previous experience as a college teacher (in a different field).
Yixi, you are certainly right, and I shall add that a teacher cannot force flexibIlity in a student.
Harrison asked, "Are MOST suzuki teachers trained to teach younger students rather than teens?"
This may be an unpopular view.
"For me, a necessary but not sufficient condition is that a teacher should as part of her training have studied major concertos of the romantic era, solo Bach, and some Paganini caprices. Ideally, she should also perform regularly as a recitalist and chamber musician."
David, would that view include someone's very first teacher, or simply the teacher that they would have acquired as they approached a more advanced level? In other words, should someone's very first AND very last teacher both be able to play Paganini caprices in order to teach effectively?
David, I don't think a teacher needs to be able to play Paganini to do a good job with students up through the intermediate level. It's far more important that the teacher both has and teaches correct basic technique, and that the teacher has the personality and patience to work with and inspire children.
David, would you also prefer that kindergarten teachers know advanced calculus in order to teach, since this will be a requirement for many of the potential degrees that the kids will pursue eventually?
Mary Ellen,I don't disagree. The skills you mentioned are important!
David, do you expect your daughter's kindergarten teacher to be able to score well enough on the SAT to get into Stanford or Cal Tech? Because that's basically what you're saying with your Paganini and multiple Romantic concertos requirement.
Two points of clarification:
Mary Ellen, having studied (struggled with) a piece of music is not the same as being able to play it at a level that gets one into Juilliard/Curtis (just as having studied for and taken SAT is not the same as scoring high enough to get into Stanford/Cal Tech).
David, you are arguing against the opinions of several people whom I KNOW to teach for a living - in Mary's case, at a very high level.
What I would look for in a teacher first is if I like his playing. Is it passionate, clean, intelligent and so on... does he perform solo? If that is the case he will most likely be able to show me, how he learned what he is doing.
Erik, with all due respect, is it fair to question David's right to have an opinion because he is not a teacher? There is also a perspective coming from a particular sort of student. Im not sure duch a dismissal is fair.
Erik, I don't think I am arguing with Many Ellen. I happen to agree with most of what she says.
Perhaps we could pivot to the question of *why* a teacher of beginners should need a repertoire of romantic concertos and Paganini caprices?
I've said this on another thread, but it bears repeating: Being able to demonstrate a skill is not the same as being able to teach another how to do it.
Julie, I think that the required technical level to help guide beginning students is being referred to as one necessary condition, in addition to ability to teach. Also, this idea is presented with reference to the main point - that one doesn't need to be able to play some of the hardest pieces ever written, to be able to teach a beginner student - which I strongly agree.
I don't think a teacher of beginners or even intermediate students needs to be able to play at the Paganini Caprice level. I do think that such a teacher needs to have good, correct basic technique. And I also think that such a teacher needs to recognize his or her own limitations, and pass students on to a more advanced teacher when they start approaching the teacher's own limits (by which I mean limits of teaching, which are usually lower than the limits of playing).
As a beginner I also have another question.
"My own feeling is that a violinist needs to have achieved a certain technical level to help guide beginning students"
I don't think it's wrong to seek a teacher who's familiar (not necessarily an expert) with advanced repertoire. Violin teachers are all over the place. Maybe the closest there is to screening/credentialing is to see if they have studied at the college level (Bruch, Mendelssohn, Bach at some point). They know what's ahead, and they're more likely to understand basics and good technique than someone who's only worked up to Vivaldi A minor. Not that a Vivaldi A minor level player can't be a good teacher for beginners, but it is riskier if you have no other information to go on.
I don't think my first teacher was an accomplished violinist -- I'm guessing she was a solidly intermediate-level player -- but she did a perfectly adequate job of teaching beginners.
"But violin is WAY more niche than typical academic pursuits, so please bear that in mind."
"For me, a necessary but not sufficient condition is that a teacher should as part of her training have studied major concertos of the romantic era, solo Bach, and some Paganini caprices. Ideally, she should also perform regularly as a recitalist and chamber musician."
I don't really know why it's necessary for a teacher, especially of beginners, to be a regular solo or chamber performer. In particular, most teachers, if they perform at all, perform as part of orchestras. Many of the violinists in world-class symphonies do very little performing outside of their orchestra work.
"Is it really that high a threshold for some someone who charges a student anywhere between $50 to $150 a hour?"
The OP's question is: "What's a good violin teacher in your eyes?" I think my original response, qualified with a "for me" and given the repertoire I am working on, is a reasonable one.
I never intended to suggest that good technique and good teaching skills are mutually exclusive.
LOL with respect to everyone I think 'agree to disagree' is such a lazy term to avoid further discussion, especially when there is a need to defend your position and to refute evidence/experience/reasons on the contrary.
Julie said there's a difference between knowing how to play and knowing how to teach. Yes that's true in violin and in chemistry!
"A student playing a decent Bruch is at the advanced level, definitely, not the intermediate level. That's fully-professional repertoire."
Once upon a time I was a teacher (k-12), and I was one of the only graduates from my Master's program who did not sweat the certification exams. Those who I went to school with, who had the best relationships/results with their students and were able to communicate clearly were also those who struggled the most with those exams. This said, the program I was in (for a particular subject), required one to be accomplished in said subject area to that "fluency" was already engrained in each would-be teacher.
I think the idea that "one forgets the beginner's mindset over time" might apply to some. They should just stop teaching introductory courses. What I try to teach, based not only on my own experience but on the experiences of all the students I've had over the last 20+ years, is how to help the beginner formulate a better beginner's mindset that results in more productive outcomes. "I see your frustration -- here's how you channel that. I see your study habits -- here's how to improve them. I see why this explanation doesn't work for you -- here's a different one."
David, you said:
David, I don't think that the teachers necessarily need to be the best performers, even when they teach very advanced students, but they do need some sort of passable competence on the instrument. I am sure most of Galamian, or DeLay's students were better players than them.
A good violin teacher is someone who helps the student become a better musician. Depending on the level and tastes and goals of the student, the "good" ones might come from very different places in the range of varied teachers.
As far as what a teacher charges, that's really a matter of local market forces. Ideally those with more experience, reputation, and track record for outcomes would be able to charge more, but all of those things can be defined in various ways. A teacher who maxed out at the Bach A Minor in terms of skill but who is nevertheless able to get beginners up through Suzuki Book 3 in a year without any gaps in basic technique should be able to charge a small fortune. I can see where a lot of parents would be very attracted to that studio.
The tuition fees per hour is driven by market forces of supply and demand, so there should be nothing to complain about, whether they are low or high.
Lol, hopefully David's income is never determined by what someone thinks he deserves, or what is considered arbitrarily fair, rather than the market standard.
Also re: playing Paganini, and I'm replying before finishing the thread, so someone may have already addressed this: even people who were able to play Paganini caprices very well as students may not be able to do so in their professional lives, simply because virtually no one gets paid to play Paganini. It's kind of like expecting someone to be in audition shape 100% of the time. It's not particularly realistic once there are obligations other than practice in the picture.
Erik, did you have to take one more swipe at David? C'mon.
I think David has put it very clear that, it is
Erik, I am a consumer in this "market" and my spending behavior is determined exactly by what I think I deserve which may appear to be arbitrary to you. And I don't owe anyone an explanation.
Yixi, of course it would make sense for you. But you are not a beginner.
Yixi, in subsequent replies David also thinks the same standard applies to someone’s first teacher as well, which I think underlies the main source of this lengthy, sometimes unnecessarily intense, discussion.
Theres an unecessary and insufficient reason to disagree here :)
Lol, I think part of the problem is that I enjoy getting heated.
You guys probably drove the poor OP away.
Erik, your highness, your argument makes lots of sense but with fiery emotion you’re upsetting poor David :-)) I wish I were in your location so I could take one of your classes, cause I like teachers with some passion (don’t do it too much though as it may scare your students) :-)
Willy, it takes a lot more to get me upset.
Nobody is saying that the only good teachers are mediocre players. Nobody is saying that you can't be both an excellent player and an excellent teacher. Nobody is saying that there's anything wrong with looking for a teacher of the highest caliber for oneself or for one's own children.
Not every excellent player is an excellent teacher. The excellent players who are also excellent teachers often don't want to teach beginners; they might not even want to teach intermediate students. Indeed some don't want to teach any students who aren't serious, advanced players. And many won't teach adults, period.
"There are also plenty of terrible players who are beloved by their students, even if they're not especially good at teaching students to play the violin. But they are clearly fulfilling a consumer desire nevertheless."
I get Mary Ellen's point about the need for teachers in rural areas. No body denies the fact that having some violin teachers is better than having none. When I grew up during the 60s-70s in Shanghai, violin teachers were very hard to find. My first teacher in Shanghai probably never got past the end of the Kayser. I'm extremely grateful to him for getting me started and for being supportive. I consider him to be a very good teacher because, after having me as his student for less than two years, he stopped teaching me because I had reached at a level beyond his expertise, and he made efforts to find a more suitable teacher for me. This is a quality of a good violin teacher who knows his own limits and will do what in his pupil's best interests. Still, making compromise like I did by studying with less qualified teachers is not an ideal situation and certainly not the first or last answer comes to my mind when asked "What's a good violin teacher in your eyes?"
Yixi, thanks for reminding us again the OP's question. For me and for my 5 year old daughter, a «good teacher» is certainly not someone who "maxed out at the Bach a minor" or someone who never gotten beyond Suzuki book 5.
People’re tho thenthitive ...
A lot of the best teachers have led successful performance careers. Not sure if this is just correlation, but it's something to consider when you think about playing ability/experience/knowledge.
"Parents and students demand a minimum standard for teachers; teachers, especially who could not meet it, resist. The story is as old as the profession itself."
Yixi, factoring out availibility of teachers, do you think your first teacher did well with you, within the limits of her or his knowledge or do you think the sheer fact that s/he wasnt for advanced players a disasvantage that set yoi behind within those two years of working with her or him?
Didn't David want someone who's a regular recital and chamber-music performer? Mary Ellen, like many other highly-qualified players, holds a full-time orchestra position. Most such people don't routinely play solo recitals and chamber music performances.
"Didn't David want someone who's a regular recital and chamber-music performer? Mary Ellen, like many other highly-qualified players, holds a full-time orchestra position. Most such people don't routinely play solo recitals and chamber music performances."
Performing "regularly" can mean anything from once every couple of years to several times a year. Most of the orchestra players I know perform at least once or twice a year in other projects, but I'm not sure if that's what David meant by "regularly."
Mary Ellen, on the other hand, when I was studying mathematics at uni, one of my lecturers (with a PhD, of course) had spent some of her post-doctoral years in teaching elementary school children!
"If an adult beginner prefers a teacher who can play beyond Bach A minor, who has studied up to the Bruch level as David had in high school, is that unreasonable? It's different from teaching young children."
Lydia, I believe Mary Ellen does perform in recitals regularly as a faculty member in UTSA, most recently in 2016.
"I recall from reading your previous posts that in the early years of your career in Louisiana and San Antonio, you too commuted for hours weekly to the nearest metropolitan areas to have lessons with "good teachers"."
"It's worth noting that neither Galamian nor Delay would qualify for teaching the violin by David's standard."
"And their quality as teachers have been demonstrated through their students around the world!"
For a beginning or intermediate student, I think a teacher with an understanding of kinesiology would be a much better quality than the ability to play Paganini or a romantic concerto. For teaching children, college level coursework (or commensurate experience) in child development and education classes would be helpful.
So many good responses and answers! Thanks!
David, have you ever taken a step back and considered that you might be wrong? Lots of people here seem to be disagreeing with your basic assessment. Some of those are professional performers, and some are professional teachers. And yet you still hold strong to your belief. You've provided no solid evidence for your point, and haven't really even given a hypothetical explanation of why it's important for a 5 year old's first teacher to be able play some Paganini (or looked at it, or whatever..... everyone's LOOKED at Paganini, I have it sitting on my music stand so I look at it all the time with my eyes).
Mary Ellen, One of the biggest issues students and parents face when selecting a violin teacher is information asymmetry. That is, the teacher has a lot more information about her ability as a violinist than the parents and students. That is why prior training, experience, and pedigree of the teacher and public performances are so important to screen out the bad apples.
David, I don't think information asymmetry is as problematic in choosing a violin teacher as in, for example, buying a used violin or car, simply because having a teacher for your kid is not a one-off transaction - at the very least, there is nothing which forces you to commit to a teacher for eternity.
Will, just google "audition requirements, name of the school "! You can see what some has described as my "arbitrary" criteria is exactly the same as audition repertoire required in many creditable schools: major concertos, solo Bach, and some Paganini!
David, you are changing the subject. The question being debated is whether a less-than-conservatory-level player can be a good violin teacher, NOT how one verifies such a teacher's qualifications.
Someone's prior taining is a huge factor in determining whether one is a good teacher, so I think I am on the subject. All else being equal, I prefer a conservatory level player with good technique. Why is it so unreasonable?
David is right on topic. Information asymmetry is one of the biggest issues students are facing. The rules for keeping or changing teacher are so opaque that sometimes you feel you only have one shot in choosing a teacher, unless you are prepared to risk hurting someone's feeling. This is a very unique/strange situation in educational settings, and it does underline the criteria for good violin teacher a student has to adopt. We want the very best we can get for a long-term relationship, even if it seems to be a bit of overkill. This is not unreasonable approach, giving the asymmetry situation we are facing.
David, I too think you are changing the subject. Did you assume someone who can’t play or hasn’t studied Paganini caprices or romantic concertos can’t be a good violin teacher for anyone? This is precisely the part that almost everyone would disagree with.
Ah, how about let's define what's good? A great philosophical problem for us to continue this discussion.
"All else being equal, I prefer a conservatory level player with good technique. Why is it so unreasonable?"
David, A conservatory level player is not necessarily the better teacher. I think that's the underlying assumption you're making and that we're all disagreeing with. The ability to audition for a conservatory and the ability to teach are two unrelated skillsets. Some people have one or the other, both, or neither.
I think David's preference for a conservatory level player with good technique is
Yixi, in his original post, David said, "For me, a necessary but not sufficient condition is that a teacher should as part of her training have studied major concertos of the romantic era, solo Bach, and some Paganini caprices. Ideally, she should also perform regularly as a recitalist and chamber musician."
There's something to be said for learning from a teacher who can take you from 0 to major concertos. I think such teachers are as rare as first rate soloists, but if you can find one, that teacher would be truly great for a beginner to study with, and they most definitely would have conservatory, or equivalent (from master teachers) training. My sister, a cellist with a masters from USC under the late Eleonore Schoenfeld, regularly takes beginners to Haydn, Saint Saens, Lalo, Dvorak, in about 6 to 8 years (I think 5 years is her record, with a particularly diligent student.) I wouldn't be surprised if many of the teachers behind the biggest names are capable of such a feat (e.g. Rivka Goldgerte, who taught Perlman for his first 8 years before he went to Galamian, Klara Yefimovna Berkovich, who taught Hilary Hahn for 6 years before she went to Brodsky.)
Will, I agree. Another part of the confusion: is he saying that his necessary condition should apply to:
Frieda, I only speak for myself and my 5 year old daughter. At no time would I presume to speak for anyone else or know what is "good" for anyone else. The technique of "putting up a straw man and attacking it "is not new.
Our 7 yo's private music teachers meet David' standards in spade.
I consider a good violin teacher *for me* to have the following qualities and attributes, in no particular order:
Kiki "I say a good violin teacher is someone you can respect as a violinist, musician, teacher, and person who can help you meet your goals. If you ever find such a teacher, show your appreciation as much as you can because they are not that easy to find. :) " YES! Very hard to find!!!
Frieda, I am so sorry that the fact that so many people disagreed with him made us look like a lynch mob.
So, I will agree with David on one point, which is that there are plenty of "bad apple" teachers who will happily suck the money out of a student, knowing very well that beginners have no reference points to what constitutes a "good" or "bad" teacher. These same teachers will not only get a student nowhere fast, but if the student DOES progress beyond their means, then they also won't recommend the student to a higher level teacher.
I don't think it's as simple as that. For instance, community music schools and large Suzuki programs often don't let students pick their teacher initially, and they may have stringent rules regarding teacher switches and be vastly unfriendly to students who try to switch teachers. Yet it's very clear that there's a broad range of teacher quality in such programs.
Hmmmm very true Lydia, I wasn't really thinking in terms of group programs. That's sort of a screwed up system.
I just want a violin teacher who will turn me into a conservatory-level player without having to practice. Is that really so much to ask?
"I just want a violin teacher who will turn me into a conservatory-level player without having to practice. Is that really so much to ask?"
What Lydia describes also happens outside of music schools. In some places, violin teachers have a tacit agreement not to allow teacher switches unless initiated by themselves. Parents could try out different teachers at the start, but if it doesn't work out, you'd have to drive out of town to find a new teacher.
Freida, you are spot on! Many of these bad teachers know their limits, others don't (hence, information asymmetry) and there are powerful financial incentives for these teachers to keep their students from reaching the teacher's limit or not pass students to better trained teachers once the limit is reached. I have no empirical evidence but the incentive is there.
From the perspective of a student, beginning. I don't care squat if my teacher can play Paganini. What I do care about is if the teacher is reasonably proficient with the violin, has a passion to teach violin, and can get me from the basics thru vibrato technically correct. A teacher who is experienced enough to catch my mistakes and have the patience to help me work to correct them. I suspect not everyone who plays violin aims for an orchestra setting playing Paganini, who I don't particularly care for anyway. Once I get the basics down, then I'll think about what comes next and if I need to get another teacher or keep the same.
"On my search for a second teacher, I chose someone who went to two top-notch conservatories and who is a performer, and whose sound I love. "
@David - yes! "ability[able] to inspire a student" needs to be in the mix.
It's always interesting when people bring greats to make their point. The problem is that the greats are the exception rather than the rule. I absolutely want a teacher who can inspire me by his/her playing, all things being equal. But if Galamian or Delay would accept me as their student, that's a totally different game. I'd drop all the criteria I've held for a good teacher and go to them. Why? The criteria/rules we set are based on our experience/evidence in dealing with mortals. When all of sudden we are dealing with greats, these criteria/rules simply don't apply anymore.
Frieda, I imagine such a cartel approach is probably doing the parents a favor in the long run. I can't imagine any teacher with any sort of professional pride and actual ability colluding like that.
David - oh yes. My childhood teacher made beautiful music with his violin too, and at that time it was what kept me motivated as well - especially when I became frustrated with what we were working on. He was great at selecting repertoire for me. I still play one piece in particular and think of him every time I play it and the conversation we had about the piece; and I still regard him with much fondness and respect.
Yixi wrote, "It's always interesting when people bring greats to make their point. The problem is that the greats are the exception rather than the rule." Yes yes yes. Theories based on the statistics of outliers do not generally hold water.
Honestly, I'm not sure if it's ideal to be able to just have ONE teacher all the way from beginning to Bruch. I really just don't know. On one hand, I can definitely see the benefit, which would be that the teacher already knows your every in and out after the first year, so they can immediately refine the process based on your thinking pattern, motor skills, and personality.
"I think this was probably the case with certain well-known pedagogues, as well. I doubt crappy students were flooding into Delay's arms."
"I still play one piece in particular and think of him every time I play it and the conversation we had about the piece; and I still regard him with much fondness and respect."
Sarah, I wasn't necessarily just talking about prodigies. I just mean high achievers with a good work ethic and good technique already in place. Can you imagine how good any teacher's output would be if every single student that entered their studio already had a rock-solid work ethic and excellently developed motor skills?
"May be I just too old school and mentoring is completely outdated."
Making good violin players brings me great satisfaction, but knowing that students leave my studio as better human beings than they came in as is what actually provides me with the most intrinsic gratification. It is not uncommon for a young person to enter the door with a bad attitude and a week's worth of stress, and then leave 30 minutes later with a calm and confident demeanor, and advice on how to better cope in the future.
At least in local circles, the good intermediate-level teachers are usually noticed. They are the ones who are feeding the studios of the best advanced-level teachers. :-)
David - funny, my teacher took me on the same trajectory (Suzuki 2/3 to Bruch in that same timespan!), minus the Paganini. Though I did find some Paganini in my old piles of music, that had notations on them, so who knows what we managed to do that I forgot about! I don't know who my teacher studied with. All I know was that if you were "good" (or had the motivation to be "good") in the area that I grew up in, you studied with him - and you were only "good" because he made you sign a contract that you would practice daily, no matter what, for at least an hour. Ah, I loved, and was terrified of, him. What a time that was.
In an ideal world... (acknowledging most of us live in the real one) the beginner teacher should be able to take a student from 0, or almost 0, to advanced. There is good reason to have early childhood teachers for kids younger than 5 or 6, but it could be argued there is no need to begin on the violin at such a young age. It is likely more advantageous for any toddler with a sudden desire to play violin (or with parents who have such a desire for their kids,) to start on keyboard and/or take early childhood classes (Kodaly, Orff, Dalcroze.)
Jeewon, once again, you have eloquently explained what some (in this case me!) struggled to articulate.
I think my pet peeve here is the idea of the "all or nothing" approach. Many of my students - and the students of others - just want to play some folk tunes nicely, or perhaps some simple classical music. Maybe they just want to be able to play slowly and beautifully. They don't give a crap about going to an undergraduate program, or even joining a community orchestra, for that matter. They just want to "play violin." So I do my best to help them achieve that goal, and to do it properly in case they decide halfway through that they are no longer satisfied with simple music. And of course, my personal preference would be that I'd only have serious students who want to get to an advanced level as quick as possible, because I find that when that happens, it's very satisfying. But that's just not MOST people. So instead of projecting MY personal goals onto students, I let them decide on their goals and I help them meet them. And if the conversation changes and their goals change, then I will do my best to help them meet those new goals, even if that involves moving them onto a teacher more qualified for that purpose.
Jeewon, I don't know how to thank you for this. Simply put, this is one of the most incisive, honest and insightful accounts about the path for successful young violinists I've ever heard and believe. Learning violin is very much an old fashion apprenticeship. If you get to study under the best master in your region, you are already well-ahead of most.
Erik is right -- there are so many violin students, especially adult students, who would just like to be able to play a few simple folk tunes, Christmas carols, or maybe, in their dreams, the melody of a church hymn on some out-of-the-way Sunday morning. They deserve loving tutelage too.
I don't see how an excellent teacher who can take someone "from 0 to advanced" would be an problem for a student who just wants to learn "simple tunes". The fee alone may turn such students away as excellent teachers have higher fees. Even if these students do end up with an aforementioned teacher, the teacher should be perfectly able to teach "simple tunes".
I thought we were talking about what makes a good teacher... Yes the teacher student relationship is complex, but if you find a teacher who teaches 0 to advanced consistently, with kids of varying abilities (i.e. not highly selective and possibly too career minded) then that's the standard.
"I think it is a bit self-serving to say because I can't teach x, students don't want/need to learn x."
Yes, there are those who insist on talking about ##teachers you settle for ## when good teachers are not available. Isn't that changing the subject?
Some people actually do not want a Heifetz-level violinist as a teacher. They feel intimidated and they worry that they're wasting the person's time.
Sorry, I haven't read the whole thread carefully. Paul are you saying people are suggesting a good teacher must be able to perform at a world class level?
David, many of my colleagues manage their undergraduate researchers by assigning them to graduate mentors. Often a rewarding initial experience is had this way, even though the graduate student may well be someone who is clearly not destined for an academic research career. The starter project is limited in scope and the point is to learn one's way around the lab and pick up a few essential techniques. Hmm ... I'm liking this analogy more and more.
"Some people actually do not want a Heifetz-level violinist as a teacher."
Not world-class. I think the core disagreement here is between David, who at some point asserted that a violinist must necessarily have reached an advanced (as defined by major concerto, Paganini, Bach) level of playing in order to be a good teacher–-and others who suggested that actually, there are probably quite a few effective beginner teachers who haven't attained that level of technical proficiency but make up for it with their pedagogical skill.
This is what I believe: if I choose a less qualified teacher even when I could have a great master, I am risking inadequate learning and over time, it is not an insignificant type of waste. If I have Heifetz-level violinist as a teacher, nothing I've learned from such a master will be wasted in my life, no matter where I am ended up doing.
David, I will have you know that you just made a false duality AND a strawman argument in one post.
"David, many of my colleagues manage their undergraduate researchers by assigning them to graduate mentors. Often a rewarding initial experience is had this way, even though the graduate student may well be someone who is clearly not destined for an academic research career. The starter project is limited in scope and the point is to learn one's way around the lab and pick up a few essential techniques. Hmm ... I'm liking this analogy more and more."
Thanks Katie for the summary :)
I personally find having one violin teacher all the way from zero to advanced level quite boring, even when the teacher is capable of such requirement. For example, I can't imagine having the same maths teacher from kindergarten to end of high school (assuming high school is the advanced level or near it) even though he or she could be competent.
Will, violin learning and math learning are completely different games. If you've never had a teacher who can teaching you from 0 to advanced level, you may not know or imagine what's like to be a student of such teacher. That's not your fault, but for those of us who have the good fortune to know such teacher(s), I can tell you that it's no more boring than having a wise and loving elder throughout your life.
Erik, you're taking all this very personally. I'm not judging you. There is a great need and a market for teachers of many levels and backgrounds, which supports an ever growing flood of teachers. But I agree with Yixi and David, there are standards for what constitutes a good violin teacher (though I'm not sure I quite agree with David's criteria ;) especially a good 1st teacher.
Jeewon, if you read all of the previous posts in detail (not that you're obligated to), you'll see how I got from a place of simple disagreement to taking this all personally. You only joined in towards the end :)
Thank you Yixi :-). Yes maths and violin are different, and I have no hesitation to say that you have a great deal more experience than I do, in violin learning and in searching for violin teachers. My violin learning experience is that of a beginner, and this opinion should only be valued as of someone who is a beginner.
David, you're right, the grad students are accountable to their professors. But the professor does not sit the graduate student down and say, "This is how you show an undergrad how to set up a reaction, this is how you teach an undergrad to do a distillation." The grad student shows them all that stuff based on their own experience and knowledge, which is much more limited than the professor's. Saying that's like having a lesson with DeLay would be correct if we were talking about the truly special kind of grad student who one sees once in a decade. But I already indicated we're talking about median grad students here. DeLay is more comparable to someone on their second PDF who's interviewing at R1's.
@Katie B. As usual you have good observation of how a discussion has propelled itself into a megathread :-)
Jeewon, you have no idea how grateful I am. I thought I have doomed my child or at least have ruined her dream because I did not find the "perfect" or at least a good teacher from the very beginning.
In reflecting on my own experience, I had many teachers in my childhood, and I learned something from each of them. Some were teachers I studied with over the long term, but some were "summer" teachers -- teachers that I studied with over the length of a summer, when my primary teacher was gone.
Just because a teacher is extremely capable doesn't mean she is suitable for everyone.
Lydia, do you think that it is not just the affinity of physical makeup but also the lack of study of how the differences in physical makeup necessitate different strategies?
No, my Galamian-style teacher had a deep interest in pedagogy, and had studied with teachers who taught different styles, and continued to seek out and spend summers with interesting pedagogues (for instance, he really liked Kato Havas's New Approach). Indeed, he was explicit with his students about this, and as a teenaged private student of his, I got quite a bit of assigned reading from him also. My physical approach had to be different from his, but I think the differences always required him to think about how to adapt his natural approach for what I needed.
Lydia, I agree that every teacher has to start from somewhere, but good teachers should have a keen sense to gauge the unique needs of each student and work with them accordingly. Teachers who stick to their "own style" might be somewhat of an "old school thing". Unlike these, my current teacher (European trained and is much younger than me), who is very much a
"David, you're right, the grad students are accountable to their professors. But the professor does not sit the graduate student down and say, "This is how you show an undergrad how to set up a reaction, this is how you teach an undergrad to do a distillation." The grad student shows them all that stuff based on their own experience and knowledge, which is much more limited than the professor's. "
The primary purpose of a university is to educate. Sure, time spent teaching is not time spent writing publications. That's only problematic because the performance of an (associate) professor is often primarily measured by research publication output rather than quality of teaching. (Just like music teachers are sometimes judged by their Paganini skills...)
*the performance of an (associate) professor is often primarily measured by research publication output rather than quality of teaching*
Will, David and Han, this would be a great thing to talk about over a few beers. Maybe will have the chance someday. I don't think we should take over the thread with this. By the way performance is only partly measured in publications. Increasingly it is measured in overhead-bearing grant dollars. Involving undergraduates in research is highly valued where I teach.
Once again, the topic of reputation vs actual teaching quality is an interesting one, and it seems to apply to any field that requires long-term study.
Lol, Paul doesn’t like side-threads
"...teaching the talented is simple..."
Jeewon, my original post, as mild as it was, upsets the ## supply chain ## of violin teaching!! The reaction was not unexpected. I think the conversation in both form and substance elevated inmeasurably after you articulated the benefit of a teacher that could take one "from 0 to advanced" in a few years AND the downside of not having such a teacher. For me, it was a "a light bulb" moment.
D'oh! Gotcha David. Thanks for spelling it out for me!
Jeewon, 'for me' could have been interpreted as 'in my opinion' INSTEAD OF 'in my specific situation', or 'in what applies to myself', hence the disagreement. I suspect that Mary Ellen, being the first commenter on David's idea, interpreted it that way, much like I did. And I am being completely honest.
"Jeewon, 'for me' could have been interpreted as 'in my opinion' INSTEAD OF 'in my specific situation', or 'in what applies to myself', hence the disagreement. I suspect that Mary Ellen, being the first commenter on David's idea, interpreted it that way, much like I did."
Ugh, I wrote a whole long essay again defending myself, but I'm just going to nod out at this point, regarding defending myself.
I'm curious: what were the qualifications of that first teacher that didn't get you anywhere in the first six years? And how does an aspiring student recognize a good teacher if it's not for the name of the conservatory where they were trained? (The teachers over here usually mention on their website with whom they studied in conservatory, but those names have no meaning for me.)
*how does an aspiring student recognize a good teacher if it's not for the name of the conservatory where they were trained?*
There's definitely something to be said for the idea that the better teacher is the one you actually practice for.
I agree, that's important Paul, except it can be counterproductive if what you practice gets you nowhere, or leaves you stuck at a certain level. That is currently the norm and somehow we've grown to accept it, believing that the simple solution is to move on to the 'next level' teacher. It can work, but it is neither simple nor does it always work so seamlessly. Is it automatically a better way? I no longer believe so. It's just the status quo.
Hey Han, thanks for the way you asked that question.
Erik, you don't end up having to defend yourself if you just stick to defending and critiquing ideas :)
As someone inexperienced I have some questions.
I once asked my sister how she trains kids so consistently, and her response was typical, "dunno." She just does what she does. From what I can glean there are at least 4 factors: 1) she is very clear from the beginning and is quick to bring up what her expectations are (to both parents and students); 2) she is persistent and tenacious when it comes to getting what she wants from the student, i.e. she never lets anything slide but always finds a way to get the student to want to fix it; 3) her mind is always thinking ahead to what should be done next, i.e. she's always giving material (even if it's an 'etudized' fragment from a piece) she thinks should be done next or in the near future concurrently with what the student is working on; she's always 2 or 3 steps ahead of where the student is at, which implies a huge interconnection of information and relations between pieces, etudes and exercises); 4) she knows her students; she has a set of rep, etudes and exercises, but she caters all of this to the needs of the individual--each student goes through the process she deems most suitable.
Jeewon, if I got it correctly from your posts, on average it would take a serious student 10 years+ to produce Tchai or Sibelius, and these high school materials would just be studied again at uni levels.
Will, I'm jumbling all these numbers up as I'm thinking off the top of my head, but I think 10 years is what is common for students who are actually achieving such things from my observations.
Erik, thank you for the extensive answer. About "use their common sense to judge how they feel about the teacher/student chemistry": common sense appears so, IMO, only when one has experience to relate it to, which is a problem with a first teacher - especially when the parent doesn't have experience either.
I would love for a student to start arguing physics with me :)
Paganini Caprices are easily mastered whilst in high school. You just have to start when you're a tiny child, practice like the devil, have teachers who can play all of Romantic concertos in all 12 keys, and you have to have savant-level talent for the instrument. No biggie.
As the number of posts on this thread heads to two hundred, I want to thank everyone who commented on my original post (especially, Jeewon, Yixi, Pamela, Mary Ellen and Erik ). I have learned a lot.
David, I'm glad you appreciate the efforts and expertise of your teachers. I would love to have more students like you, who would be willing to go to such great lengths for the sake of progress (although you would already be too advanced for me to take on as a student).
Hyperbole Paul? I was trying to emphasize that none of these kids was so 'extraordinarily gifted' before they worked hard at it (except perhaps for a couple of kids' ability to work so hard) and before they found an extraordinary teacher to show them what to do and how. But I guess I failed.
"Isn't the kid who makes the first string high school football team also a freak?"
Yes, Jeewon, just hyperbole. Nothing serious. But I think one would have to be truly special for Paganini Caprices to be "easily mastered" while in high school.
When I was in high school I never studied seriously, and doing homework is a rarity. Still, I passed high school with good grades. I know of students who were smarter than me, enough to not even come to classes, to never do any homework and still passed graduation exams, with probably one or two sleepless nights cramming their heads, gnawing lecture notes borrowed from their classmates.
When calculus first came out, it was revolutionary, now it is routinely taught in high school. The world has moved on, most would move with it.
I suspected you would say that David :-) ability to cope well with high school materials is considered as normal for an average person, nothing of an achievement. I wouldn’t say so about ability to play Paganini or Sibelius though. :)
The majority of high school students still do not take calculus. And even among those who do, more take Calculus AB (equivalent to one semester of college calculus spread out over a year) than take BC (one year of college calculus)--and their level of mastery is variable.
But the #good# ones do. We are still talking about "good ", right? The level of mastery--calculus or Paganini--is always variable : = )
I would hazard a guess that the majority of high school students who are planning to major in elementary education are not taking calculus in high school, or in college either for that matter.
I was reflecting on Jeewon's comments. It took me 10 years to go from beginner (age 6) to playing a competent Tchaikovsky and to start Paganini Caprices (none involving big stretches). I did that on less than an hour of practice a day. (Once I hit the Tchaikovsky I had a brief burst of practicing 4 hours a day, then reduced down to 2 hours a day, but it was the only period of time -- less than a year -- where I've ever practiced that much.)
One thing that keeps improving is pedagogy. Kids learn much earlier how to practice, how to listen to their intonation, how to get more from their bow arms. The other thing that has definitely propelled at least some kids much faster is the concept of group Suzuki classes. There you see what your peers can do and if you have a competitive streak, it brings your ambitions into much sharper focus. I never had a group class as a child. It would have benefited me greatly because I was very competitive about anything musical or academic. Kids who are not competitive, however, do not really benefit that much.
Mary Ellen, I agree!
Less than an hour a day! Holy smokes Lydia!
"The level of violin teaching, globally, has risen steadily for the last century and continues to rise."
The difficulty of that sort of repertoire is not in the notes, it's in the refined level of technique and musical understanding you need to really play it well. Any decent 16-year-old could get through Tchaikovsky (at least the first movement) but it usually ends up sounding like an etude.
I agree with Lydia & Gabbi. Not that uncommon to find high school kids playing Romantic concertos even at age 14 but those playing well enough that you would pay money to watch their performance? Almost never.
I don't think that I've ever heard any teenager play a Tchaikovsky concerto that sounds like an etude. I doubt that any teacher capable of teaching it assigns it to a student who's not ready for it. And the technical delta between Tchaikovsky and, say, Bruch, is fairly significant. (Here's one of my teacher's 15-year-old students, for instance:
Was going to edit to add that I do not mean $120 for a ticket, more like a $15 per person charity event or a winner’s gala.
"But once you get beyond Bruch/Mendelssohn/Lalo or so, it starts becoming unusual to hear kids who aren't prepped for that level of repertoire."
David: "My current teacher is in her late 20's with degrees from IU".
Hmmmm so I think we need to cover some variables here. I would be interested in hearing the opinions of David, Jeewon, and Lydia on the following questions (if you can answer by number that would be helpful :))
"Now, if you did mean IU as in Indiana U. and degrees were in violin performance then if Gingold had been alive she could have possibly studied with Gingold. Just saying."
Erik, as a violinist, I am most certainly NOT in the same league with Jeewon and Lydia! I am still trying to pass what Jeewon called the first "spiral".
Erik, I'm not trying to be obstinate, but I'm not quite sure I get the relevance of your question. Are you suggesting we use the lowest common denominator to determine what makes a good violin teacher? So you want to include kids who have no support, dyspraxia, lower than average intelligence, have no resilience, basically challenged kids into the pool of 'normal'? All of your questions would depend on demographics, but also the kind of student the teacher attracts. You're kind of saying not everyone in the world can do everything, and you'd be right.
Jeewon, I don't know where to start ...
Jeewon, I believe Erik is saying that what you and others have considered normal such as playing Paganini in the early to mid teens after having started out at around 6 years of age (with somewhat due diligence in practicing but not a crazy amount) is not. He also implied that you and others are outliers -in more ways than one- and are skewed by your own experiences.
Will, if you include the whole pool of kids who start, you can't really discuss this topic in a meaningful way. How do we compare the skillset required to teach disadvantaged kids against the skills needed to teach child prodigies? I am trying to talk about the effect various levels of private teachers can have on what I consider to be normal kids.
Jeewon, so you just want to single out those talented kids and just talk about them?
~"So you want to include kids who have no support, dyspraxia, lower than average intelligence, have no resilience, basically challenged kids into the pool of 'normal'?"~
"The original question is what makes a good violin teacher; it doesn't ask about 'what's a good teacher for the select few'."
David, we are discussing about whether Paganini and romantic concertos are 'high school materials'. I don't think they are high school materials. What kind of high school material would require an average 10 years of constant practice and some good amount of dedication among any age group?
Actually Will, David was initially talking about highschool kids bound for conservatory, if I'm not mistaken.
Jeewon, sorry I didn't know what kind of kids David was talking about.
In the United States, it's not normal for most people to even want to play the violin, much less stick with it for more than a couple of years. Based on that trend, one definition of "normal" for high school is to not to play violin at all, that is, to be at level 0.
Frieda, with similar reasoning, I could say that achieving a Nobel Prize is 'not that difficult' among those top in their fields, with outstanding research capabilities and stellar academic careers.
I'm not "trying to normalize." What I meant is that it is normal for a non-normal population: families who can afford lessons with (and live near) good teachers, and that are able to support a child in practicing an hour a day. These people are not your average US families. They are wealthier, better educated, live near cities with trained violin teachers, and they can afford to shuttle kids around to lessons and orchestra. Some of those wealthier communities in the U.S. have very strong youth orchestras and feeder programs. It is fairly typical for a kid in that environment to be studying romantic concertos after 7+ years. A Romantic concerto includes Bruch or Lalo. (I'm not talking about Wieniawski #1 or Sibelius.)
"Jeewon, so you just want to single out those talented kids and just talk about them?"
Frieda, I agree that any achievement would become normal within a sufficiently selective population.
OP asks a big question, which obviously cannot be easily answered. “Good” is one of the biggest philosophical issues that has been much debated for thousands of years probably will never be settled.
I agree with everything Frieda said.
By "high school materials", I was referring to repertoire that one must learn in high school so she is ready to audition for a credible undergraduate music program. Romantic concertos are "must learned" materials. Some Paganini (e.g. #16) are within the technical reach of someone studying romantic concertos.
To clarify, I do take the occasional beginner but typically only the younger sibling of an existing student, and not younger than about six at the bottom limit--I can teach a seven-year-old; I am not the best choice for a four-year-old.
It seems to me there are two groups here with different opinions of "normal".
I think my analogy would be more like "how many little kids play T-ball" versus "how many kids are playing baseball in high school". The number of kids on the high school baseball team is small compared to the number of kids who play T-ball, but that still makes playing baseball in high school to be a "normal" thing.
"David, we are discussing about whether Paganini and romantic concertos are 'high school materials'. I don't think they are high school materials. What kind of high school material would require an average 10 years of constant practice and some good amount of dedication among any age group?"
There is a huge difference between Fiorillo, Mazas, and Paganini. That list could be met in a number of ways including not terribly demanding ones. I'm guessing the U of Iowa has a much wider range of applicants than does, say, Juilliard.
If you compare it to math (Dutch school system; don't know for the US): children learn the basics (adding, multiplication, fractions) in elementary school, 6 years, about 10 hours per week (Not sure, it was a long time ago for me). Then, about 6 years of actual math at 5 hours per week including homework. If you did well (less than the top 5% of all children), you can study mathematics in university. Total training time: 3600 hours.
Regarding the "quarterback in high school" analogy: no one has to train from age 6 for at LEAST an hour a day until mid-late teens in order to become a good quarterback.
My teacher comes from a Russian tradition where the teacher essentially takes you from zero to as advanced as you work until perhaps you go off to music school. It appears to be effective from what I've seen. I don't know exactly how it works around town, but my understanding is that the best teachers have their students for a long time, which I would imagine means at least some of them take brand new students.
I think the concern of some folks here is that teachers #1 and #2 (That's how you see yourself, isn't it, Erik?) are more likely to leave the student with bad habits that need to be corrected later on, compared to a #3 teacher.
Category #3 is actually split, between those who have retained their chops at a very high level, and those who haven't (or perhaps never had virtuoso technique in the first place).
Don't get me wrong: it seems to be ideal if there is a #3 teacher who is willing and patient enough to take on brand-new beginners of literally all background and attitudes, as well as all grades of talent and work ethic. But that type of #3 teacher is way too rare to cover all students. Not enough supply.
David, regarding the 'high school material stuff'.
Will, I don't have the data. As I mentioned before, audition requirements of any school can easily obtained via goggle. I think it is fair to say that "Romantic concertos, solo Bach, and some Paganini " are required audition repertoire of all music schools whose graduates can expect to have a non-zero chance of having a career as a professional classical violinist.
David, thank you for this information. I think earlier in this thread, Mary has briefly commented on audition requirements. Let's see if someone else would offer some more experience, estimation or guesses :-)
Will, you can also search the thread "Orchestra Tiers in America" in which challenges faced by young people post degree are discussed. What seems to some astounding requirements for high school graduates stems from what happens 4 years (or 6 years if one goes for a MM) later at which point one has to win a job.
Will, maybe you can do some research for us :) My guess is that Paganini would be a requirement only at the top schools, likely Juilliard and Curtis, in other words concertmaster track/soloist track schools (not that soloists aren't studying at other schools, likewise potential CMs)
Full-time symphonies vary from 40 to 52 week seasons, by the way -- a 40-week symphony doesn't necessarily pay less than a 52-week symphony.
Yeah, put this way, the "requirement " is as I said before quite modest and reasonable!
Well, you said Bruch
David, *for me* one should know:
In my attempt to understand Erik's list of "talents," I interpreted attributes of what I called "challenged kids," which seems to have possibly outraged Will. But my intent was not to marginalize them, rather, I was suggesting such students require a teacher with a specialized skillset vastly different from 'normal' students, as in the public school system. Here in Ontario under the guidelines of Ministry of Education a student may be formally identified as having exceptional needs so that the student can receive special education. I probably shouldn't have used the term "lowest common denominator" because it seems to have been received in a negative way, but also, I'm really not interested in the numbers. I was continuing to use the ideas of lower level vs. higher level established earlier in the thread. So when Will writes, "...I doubt if the parents of disadvantaged kids would be willing and able to let them study violin anyway. So whether to take this tiny proportion out or to include it in, your denominator would be very unlikely to be much affected," I say again, I don't really care how overall numbers are affected, or not, but rather that students receive the kind of attention they need to achieve their goals. For kids with special needs, I would expect a higher standard of education than what a regular violin teacher is likely to have. I would expect some kind of qualification as a special education teacher on top of a music school education.
Jeewon, no I was not offended :-)) but mainly I was a bit surprised as to why you brought up these disadvantaged kids, since they were not relevant to the discussion, and AFAIK no one did mention them in the first place. Their presence in violin learning is perhaps too small to be of any significance.
There isn't much difference between what it takes to win a 52-week orchestra job in the U.S., a 40-week job (essentially what mine was before our exceptionally poor series of managements and boards drove us into the ground, not that I'm bitter, oh, no), an A contract in a regional orchestra, etc. The actual audition requirements are very similar though the top orchestras are more likely to list entire movements or pieces rather than specific excerpts (some do list the latter). First movement of a Romantic or 20th century concerto (Tchaikovsky and Sibelius are the most frequent choices), first movement plus cadenza of a Mozart concerto (3,4, or 5), a movement of solo Bach, Don Juan, Schumann Scherzo, Mozart 39, and then a half-dozen to a dozen other orchestral excerpts.
Thank you for responding to my list, Jeewon. Your answers have made me realize how vastly different our experiences have been, and thus how our views have been shaped accordingly.
Lol Erik, you’re on fire :)
One of the reasons that most auditions (whether for schools or for orchestral positions) are short, is that experienced panels tend to form an impression of a player very quickly.
Well... I was gonna stop after my last post, but I will do one more, then take Yixi's advice and give it a rest.
Jeewon, thank you very much for your input in this thread. I have learned a lot.
Anytime David :)
Quick follow-up/summary, because you guys are still going strong.
Harrison is or was learning Mozart 3, I believe. His teacher thus far only has assigned Melodious Double-Stops and no other etudes, as in ever.
Katie B said, "In the original spirit of his request, I think we can, and did, cast a broader net for the question."
Kiki, I forgot about that! Harrison was the one whose teacher didn't assign etudes or technical studies (aside from Trott). I bet people's responses on the Mozart thread led to his next question (about what constitutes a good teacher).
Katie, thanks for the shout-out :)
*it is perfectly reasonable to prefer the teacher with a higher education*
"all other things being equal, it is perfectly reasonable to prefer the teacher with a higher education"
Mary, it is interesting that you're the only one here who has achieved a high level and also defends the value of lower-level teachers.
To be honest, I generally do think people should go for the highest level teacher available within their geographic and financial reach.
I totally agree with Mary Ellen's advice. I always recommend my friends of little kids (3-4 year old) to a very good Suzuki teacher who hasn't got MM like some other teachers I know in town. I'm not a teacher so what makes me believe that this is a sensible way of going about is that I know some teachers at the highest level who also sent their little ones to the best Suzuki teachers first, for very much the same reason as Mary Ellen indicated above. The kids came from her studio all have the best posture and hand shape, good intonation, good tone and love to play. What more can you ask for?
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