What to Look for in a Violin Teacher

Edited: November 26, 2017, 1:02 AM · What's a good violin teacher in your eyes?

Replies (271)

November 26, 2017, 5:07 AM · Passionate on teaching, love to help students on problem solving, and continuous progressing as teacher on teaching methods.

Many good and gifted players are not necesaarily the best teacher :)
But I think it depends on the skill level... above certain level, it may require different skill set since it may be more musicality driven...

November 26, 2017, 5:28 AM · 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.

The second teacher was better at fixing what I did wrong in more dimensions but was frenetic and all over the place.

The third was in between the first two. All three were about correcting what I was doing wrong at the lesson. Whereas my current teacher who is as legit as it gets teaches me how to practice correctly at home. It's beyond scales and exercises though of course those are part of it. When I arrive at my lesson whether or not I am prepared or not ( not as prepared as I would like usually) I ALWAYS learn and improve because what we work on is first and foremost correct practice.
Then it is the other stuff.

Hopefully this helps you! I wish I would have understood what to look for earlier but until I found it I didn't know what I was looking for.

November 26, 2017, 8:19 AM · 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.

Later on I also taught violin and later cello as well as an avocation for about about 40 years. And I have observed my grandson and his father in long-term relationships with their classical piano teacher. From these experiences I would say the most important thing - if you are not trying to become a pro - is to have a compatible teacher who inspires you and whom you enjoy being with and want to "please." I also think you have to respect the way the teacher is able to play.

For my own teaching, I quit in my mid-70s as I lost respect for my own playing - which was going downhill and no longer met the standard I would want my students to experience. Teachers who need the income from their teaching might not do that.

November 26, 2017, 8:26 AM · 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.
And someone who loves music, and encourages his students to develop their creativity muscles.
November 26, 2017, 8:54 AM · Some great comments already, not much to add, except that for an adult some schedule flexibility is greatly appreciated.
November 26, 2017, 9:15 AM · Someone familiar with Alexander Technique as well as all the qualiries already mentioned can help students prepare for lifelong playing.
Edited: November 26, 2017, 11:11 AM · "Good" is relative as it depends on what kind of student we are talking about. A violin teacher is good when she/he is positively suitable for a particular student during certain stage of their learning.

For instance, a perfectly good teacher in the eyes of many serious students may be too strict for someone who isn't prepared to do what it takes to be excellent. A teacher who doesn't have solid technical expertise but has great nurturing skills can be very good for young or sensitive players, whom may not be ready for honest feedbacks.

Some violin teachers can teach students of all ages equally well, but often you'd find that a teacher is great for kids are not necessarily suitable for adults; good for beginners but can't teach students above a certain level.

A great violin teacher is a mentor for life, but I guess that is not what OP is asking about.

Edited: November 26, 2017, 11:35 AM · 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.

My most recent experience was probably the most disappointing and as an adult student, I'll be looking for the following red flags when searching for my next teacher:

1) Scheduling: I want someone who is willing to commit to a regular lesson time, at least at the outset. I was very much shoved into the margins of my teacher's schedule, and I don't think this is how her studio worked for other students.

2) Time management: My lessons were expensive and I was acutely aware of how much time we spent *not* practicing during lessons (actually, a significant chunk of time was dedicated to finding time for the next lesson!)

3) Intellectual engagement: my teacher seemed irritated when I asked deeper questions about musical choices––e.g. why do we use this bowing for this phrase, but a different bowing when the phrase comes up again? how does the music shape those decisions? I want a teacher who agrees that these are interesting questions (because understanding them means I can make better choices later on).

4) Personal connection: my most recent teacher wasn't very friendly. I know this is a personal style issue for me, and I think if I'd been seeing commitment from her, it would have mattered less. But as Andrew mentioned, I work best with teachers who actually seem to enjoy teaching me/getting to know me.

Other experiences I've had in the past that were less than positive: the college teacher who spent most of her time trying to accompany me on the piano instead of actually listening to me play–-and then told me "it can't GET any better!" when I expressed a frustration with my intonation in a Beethoven sonata (which was definitely not in tune). The German teacher who compared me to other more talented students and basically told me she was teaching me because I could afford to pay her.

Flip side experiences: the childhood teacher who was somewhat stern and undemonstrative but very disciplined and regimented in her teaching style. When I earned a warm smile from her, I knew I was doing something right. And I appreciate her commitment to theory and exercises, and the regular recitals/local competitions she insisted upon. The high school teacher who introduced me to chamber music and set up a group for me. She was also the one who insisted I start going to as many concerts as possible. I adored her. The other high school teacher who wouldn't let me play the things I wanted to play until I fixed some fundamental technical challenges. I resented it at the time but boy, was she right.

Basically, you want someone who will be truthful about your challenges and not just tell you everything is great--who has a clear commitment to technical study, not just repertoire--and who believes in you and your ability to improve. If that person also likes you, inspires you, and opens new doors for you, they're a keeper!

Edited: November 26, 2017, 11:42 AM · Yixi, I would add flexibility, and the ability to calibrate according to each and every student’s personalities:)
November 26, 2017, 11:59 AM · 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.
November 26, 2017, 2:59 PM · 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?
November 26, 2017, 7:01 PM · That depends on which Suzuki teacher, IMHO.
November 26, 2017, 7:59 PM · 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.
In terms of intellectual engagement, it depends on the student's stage. If the student cant bow right, not much immediate use talking about bowing in terms of interpretation.
Of course, time management is commonsensibly expected (though not all teachers have that unfortunately).
Not being negative...but not being falsely too positive either.
As I understand, there are not a thousand ways to Rome when it comes to playing...so not sure what is meant by flexibility. Techniques are learn and practiced...theres a pretty standard literature and pedagogical methods ...so whats meant by flexibility? I dont think a teacher really is there to calibrate theur method to suit personalities. This is not free form dance.

November 26, 2017, 8:32 PM · I mean, are MOST suzuki teachers trained to teach younger students rather than teens?
November 26, 2017, 9:12 PM · 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.

Goals are difficult things, though. Ideally, a teacher should methodically prepare every student to play well -- putting together a good foundation that will take a student as far as they want to go. But students -- and often their parents! -- may have very different priorities. A parent whose goal is fun music exposure may not want a teacher who requires their student to practice and improve methodically, for instance. A parent seeking quick bragging rights may really want a student to push through repertoire as much as possible, even if this means advancing without improving. A competition-oriented parent may want their child to spend most of their time on competition and audition-prep activities, even if it comes at the cost of really learning to be a better violinist.

November 26, 2017, 9:15 PM · 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.)

If you're a late starter (or you've been a slow learner), the Suzuki method might work just fine for you still, though. Many Suzuki teachers also teach traditional violin, too.

Edited: November 27, 2017, 1:00 AM · 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).

A good teacher needs to have a strong passion for teaching, in addition to any monetary interests, and regardless of the level of virtuosity. A passionate teacher has the energy and desire to make her student improve. A teacher's passion and energy is also very contagious, and serves as a great source of motivation to the students.

A good violin teacher also needs to be at least a decent violinist in the level that she teaches (i.e. good mastery of the what is being taught, in terms of both theory and practice), together with a solid understanding of music theory. I think this should be a component of effective teaching in any subject area.

Last but not least, as mentioned in other comments, is flexibility and adaptation to different kinds of students' skill sets and personalities. Even when a teacher only specializes in teaching a specific group, each individual student is different with their own strengths and weaknesses.

November 27, 2017, 3:12 AM · Yixi, you are certainly right, and I shall add that a teacher cannot force flexibIlity in a student.

I draw from my own experience. A few years ago I entered the class of my current teacher, and I didn’t even know him before my first lesson. The first year was really hard, since we had conflicting views as to how I should develop and no ‘chemistry’, so not much was achieved.
The second year was better already, but I was still a bit stubborn and resistant to following his advice.
Now I’m completely on board with his vision, our relationship has blossomed, and I’m now making fast progress.

So if a student is not ready or willing to follow his teacher’s plan, no matter how flexible the teacher is, nothing notable will be achieved.
As you say, flexibility must be two-sided!

Edited: November 27, 2017, 7:10 AM · Harrison asked, "Are MOST suzuki teachers trained to teach younger students rather than teens?"

My answer is "Yes, probably." That's because I've run into quite a few "Suzuki teachers" who are themselves intermediate violinists who have no ambition to ever teach beyond Book 3 or so. They get to the point in their technique where they can pass the training for the first few books and then they hang out their shingle. Often they were adult beginners who thought they could teach violin as a hobby in their golden years. There are far fewer Suzuki teachers who are "certified" (or whatever they call it) all the way through Book 10. Now, of course that assumes that beginners will be little kids and not teenagers, but generally that is what these "teachers" are assuming as well.

Edited: November 27, 2017, 11:07 AM · 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.

Edited: November 27, 2017, 11:36 AM · "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."

That is a huge amount of overkill for a teacher who primarily works with young beginners.

A good teacher for beginners is one who insists on correct hand position and good intonation and rhythm while keeping the child engaged sufficiently to want to practice and please the teacher.

A good teacher for intermediate level players is one who insists on correct hand position, good intonation and rhythm, and correct shifting, vibrato, bowing, and practicing techniques while assigning appropriate music, teaching phrasing, and keeping the young person motivated to practice.

A good teacher for advanced players is one who insists on correct hand position, good intonation and rhythm, correct left and right hand technique, practicing strategies, and musicality, while assigning appropriate music, providing the student with competitive and performance opportunities, and inspiring the student to seek continuing improvement even at a very high level already.

There are far too many teachers around who don't even insist on the basics of good technique. I have also had the experience of getting a new student who was set to perform the E Major Preludio in just a couple of weeks, who was completely unaware that she was playing numerous wrong notes--I don't mean out of tune (though that was also the case), I mean actual WRONG NOTES--that her previous teacher had either not noticed or chosen not to mention. So to all of my above descriptions, add "insists that the student play what is actually on the page."

November 27, 2017, 11:53 AM · 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?

Most people "upgrade" teachers as they advance. But the real question is: "because they upgraded, does that mean their previous teacher wasn't as good as their current teacher?" Or is it simply that each teacher was qualified within their range, and once they "outlived" their usefulness, the student moved on to the next applicable teacher?

"Good" is quite relative in this instance, since the best teacher for a beginning student is simply one that can motivate the student, teach proper basic technique, and set up their baseline attitude towards the violin, so that they don't get discouraged early and quit. It doesn't matter how good the student could be or how qualified their teacher might be if the student quits. Yes, sometimes parents can force a kid to keep playing even if the child hates it, but this is very inefficient compared to a situation where the child actually loves the process.

I would argue that a child's first teacher is the most important in their overall development, and I would also argue that for someone's first teacher, a high level of playing is absolutely not important and - oftentimes - counterproductive.

With all of that said, I really do think a teacher - even a beginner one - needs to at least be able to play with a beautiful tone and know many of the technical basics in a "sturdy" way, such as shifts, vibrato, scales, basic etudes, and the main bowings such as martele, spicatto, etc...

As a teacher, you at least have to have an IDEA of where the student is going to send them off properly to the next level of teacher. But, I'd still recommend an under-qualified, motivating/engaging teacher for someone's first, rather than an overqualified and discouraging one.


Paul, I strongly dislike these types: "They get to the point in their technique where they can pass the training for the first few books and then they hang out their shingle. Often they were adult beginners who thought they could teach violin as a hobby in their golden years."

It's a real shame when a student isn't taught correctly from the beginning, and ends up fizzling out before they discover that their teacher was the weak link.

November 27, 2017, 12:15 PM · Erik, Yes.

Romantic concertos, solo Bach, and some Paganini are essentially audition repertoire before entering a respectable undergraduate program. In other words, they are the equivalent of high school materials.

Of course, teaching skills as mentioned by Mary Ellen are also very important.

Edited: November 27, 2017, 12:23 PM · 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.

I know several public school orchestra directors who have never been and never will be at the Paganini level but they do a credible job with beginners. And I certainly know people who play Paganini well, but whom I would never recommend to a parent seeking a teacher for a beginner or even the typical intermediate student.

November 27, 2017, 1:30 PM · 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?

Also, those things are NOT the equivalent of "high school materials," unless we're talking about very exceptional high school students. Just as there are a few unusual high schoolers learning very advanced university-level math, but we wouldn't call that "high school material," we also can't define the Paganini caprices as "high school material" simply because a very few select high schoolers can do them.

You are a perfect example of why talented people (like yourself) are completely unable to relate to the plights of a typical beginner. I'll reiterate my quote: "the talented can only teach the talented."

Please take it upon yourself to teach a few normal beginners, and I think it will open your eyes a bit on what is truly necessary to effectively teach someone who is just starting (hint: it doesn't involve Paganini).

Also, Paganini's teacher didn't know the Paganini caprices, and his student turned out pretty well :)

Edited: November 27, 2017, 2:29 PM · Mary Ellen,I don't disagree. The skills you mentioned are important!

Erik, I expect the kindergarten teacher of my 5 year-old daughter to be able to read and do math at a level needed to take college entrance exams such as ACT/SAT. The expectation that violin teachers should have studied the repertoire needed to audition for a respectable undergraduate program is not unreasonable.

November 27, 2017, 2:40 PM · 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.

Plenty of respectable programs don't require Paganini. The best ones do, yes.

November 27, 2017, 2:49 PM · Two points of clarification:

1. Being a trained, certified Suzuki teacher who teaches the Suzuki method and a teacher who just uses the books are two different things entirely. I know many, many teachers who have no training in Suzuki method at all, but use the books as a graded repertoire series. (I personally think if you're going to do that, there are better method books than Suzuki.)

2. Knowing how to do something is not the same as knowing how to teach someone how to do something.

Edited: November 27, 2017, 5:22 PM · 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).
November 27, 2017, 7:13 PM · 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 do you do for a living, and have you ever taught a student (In any field, not just violin?)

And if you haven't taught a single student, what exactly makes you so adamant about your particular viewpoint? My viewpoint is based on experience, and it would seem that other people that have also taught prolifically share the same general views about this as I do.

So I'm wondering if your strong opinion is simply some idealistic thing you thought up one day while in the shower: "AH! I hereby decree: all teachers should be able to play Paganini! By associative thinking, I have determined that people who play Paganini tend to be better, so it simply makes sense!" Or, perhaps it's more experiential reason than that, that you simply haven't disclosed.

Also, regarding your last post, it sounds like if I struggle to play the paganini caprices crappily, then I will still meet your requirements for what a teacher needs to be able to do?

November 27, 2017, 8:03 PM · 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.

Certainly there are some violinists, who can play decent and are still bad teachers, because they just practiced lots of hours on auto pilot, but I doubt, that there is a very good player who isn't really at least a decent teacher.. to himself and others.

Sometimes though, when a player is very good and just teaches a few times a year, it will take some intelligence and effort from the student to get to the golden points of the good players but rusty teachers teaching.

I am a teacher myself and I wouldn't be teaching, if I would think, I am really bad at it. But I know that for example repertoire is my weak point. That limits my teaching skills overall a bit, but makes me able to teach up to a certain level and in a specific repertoire. Still there are skills, that can translate to all levels of teaching the violin. For example a good understanding of the principles of the actual technique and motions.

So a good teacher should have: a good eye for the foundation of the technique, a good knowledge of the repertoire he or she is teaching and a good balance between teaching and performing and improving his or her own playing. And last but not least modesty and honesty in the words he or she chooses and being quick and diversified with the language he or she is teaching in.

I see teachers lack either the knowledge about technical foundation, or the ongoing performing. Many rely on what has been done in the past and forget to continuously work the fundamentals. Performing means stepping out of the comfort zone, making yourself vulnerable again. Some people cannot combine this feeling with teaching, because they have a picture of the "never failing teacher" in their minds. But there is nothing better for a student to see the teacher perform on a high level and dealing with difficult musical situations in an intelligent way.

Should a good teacher be able to play all the Paganini Caprices? If that would be the case, there would be close to no good teachers out there. Even Ruggiero Riccis rendition of all the caprices is kind of sloppy at some moments. But a teacher should have the knowledge of how to play all of them and how to get them to a performance level. Having the time to practice all of them and keep them warm at all time is unrealistic for a common teachers schedule. Being able to play one of those should be a question of time though and not of technical abilities and knowledge.

November 27, 2017, 8:45 PM · 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.

I think David might bemore intetested in such a teacher because they might be more aware of what it takes to get to these difficult pieces than a teacher who hasnt gotten to them in the first place.

I would also like to genuinely question the assumptiin thst someone with a good teachable technique, who knows the basics of (good) playing, who got to a point where they can teach...which is to say they have gotten to a stage where they themselvez have internalized good technique and wont communicate bad technique...has not gone to some advanced level of playing tgat covers some of that repertoire.

Otherwise, its sn intermediate player teaching a beginner or a less intermediate player. Of course, im not saying this as a my own belief, but i can see the sense in it. So i dont think Davids rationale 8s baseless.

Edited: November 27, 2017, 9:14 PM · Erik, I don't think I am arguing with Many Ellen. I happen to agree with most of what she says.

I also happen to think that a teacher of any field should ##at least ## have studied the repertoire/curriculum that prepares one for a credible undergraduate program. That view didn't come to me "while in the shower " but I think, for me, it is just as valid if it did.

Edit to add: reading your post the second time, I caught the personal question for me :) For what it is worth, I am an academic who has had appointments in a number of universities and finally tenured in a rather minor one. I must have taught thousands of students in the last two decades. But i think my opinion comes from the perspective of a violin student.


Edited: November 27, 2017, 9:12 PM · Perhaps we could pivot to the question of *why* a teacher of beginners should need a repertoire of romantic concertos and Paganini caprices?

My own feeling is that a violinist needs to have achieved a certain technical level to help guide beginning students, because through the development of that skill (even if it has long since faded) they will have gleaned a superior working understanding of the reasons and principles underpinning hand positions, posture, bowing mechanics, and so on. I sense that this is what Tammuz was getting at also. However I don't think to teach beginners that this level of skill needs to be as high as David is suggesting.

Edited: November 27, 2017, 9:16 PM · 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.

Edited to add:

"My own feeling is that a violinist needs to have achieved a certain technical level to help guide beginning students"

I disagree- I think a good teacher almost always has had some training on how to teach. (Although I'll admit that there are some who can receive good instruction and distill that into a coherent pedagogy) Good players aren't always the best teachers, notably because they haven't had any formal instruction on how to teach people.

November 27, 2017, 9:39 PM · 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.
November 27, 2017, 9:43 PM · 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).

For myself, I am coming from the other end. I have taught young beginners, successfully, but it isn't what I do best nor what I enjoy most. And there are other teachers in town who are better suited to it both in temperament and in experience. So if you were to call me to start your four-year-old child on violin, I would most likely, despite my ability to play Paganini Caprices, recommend another teacher in town even knowing that that teacher did not have the facility to play Paganini.

Edited: November 27, 2017, 10:05 PM · As a beginner I also have another question.

When a student reaches a very advanced level of virtuosity, does her teacher need to be able to play at the same level?

I presume that her teacher doesn't have to. I presume that as the student becomes more advanced, the role of the teacher becomes less of a technical instructor, and more of a critic, who would give valuable advice on how the student should play to improve the overall expressiveness of the piece.

Take Michael Phelps' swim coach, for example. His coach doesn't have to be able to swim anywhere near as fast as Phelps does, at anytime in his lifetime whether as a coach or a swimmer.

Needless to say, swimming is a bad analogy to violin, but I am curious about the extend the same principle applies to violin playing. I doubt that even famous teachers like Dorothy DeLay would play better than her best students, even when they were still under her tutelage (edited to say I could be wrong on this). At what level does a teacher's virtuosity not need to match that of her student? Does anyone have any thought on this?

November 27, 2017, 10:35 PM · "My own feeling is that a violinist needs to have achieved a certain technical level to help guide beginning students"

I have to agree with Paul here. I would say that there is a "skill threshold" of effective beginner-instruction, but of course many other factors such as temperament, creativity, etc.... play a huge role. However, for that threshold to be the Paganini Caprices is hilariously idealistic and absurd, and I'm honestly surprised anyone who has taught ANYTHING would believe such a thing. But, I'm assuming David is a very talented individual, and talented people have said some of the silliest things that I've heard. Like Heifetz telling everyone - no matter their condition - that shoulder rests or pads should never, ever be used. Ironically, I believe a shoulder injury ended up preventing him from playing more as he got older, and perhaps a shoulder pad could have alleviated that.

Getting back to the minimum skills required to teach beginners in a highly effective way, I personally consider this skill threshold to be a solid, Suzuki book 4 level. And I don't feel like I'm being greedy by asking that. Anything less than that, and the teacher is going to struggle to "See through the fog" far enough to lead the way properly.

I have definitely seen the results of likable teachers who didn't understand basic technique. Their students stayed motivated for a long time, but due to the teacher's lack of technical skill or understanding , they eventually fizzled out. Then I get those students and have the pleasure of telling them they've essentially been doing their technique incorrectly for several years (of course I don't present it this way, and of course I'm being sarcastic about it being a pleasure).

I don't know if using Dorothy Delay or other notable pedagogues is even worth noting in relevance to this particular discussion, because their students were all very exceptional people. And exceptional people can do exceptional things. So yes, perhaps Delay was able to teach people much better than herself, but those were no normal students. They're probably the type of students that, even left to their own devices and without a high-level teacher, probably could have still achieved quite a lot musically (as long as they were instructed properly for the first 5+ years, of course).

Actually, when it comes to very young children (like 3 or 4 years old), I take back what I said earlier about skill thresholds. With those kids, you just need a very fun, engaging teacher to keep them playing notes and enjoying it. But once they can effectively play Twinkle, that's when I think the Book 4 skill threshold starts to take effect.


David, I have an expression I use a lot. It is: "Idealism is the death of progress." And in this instance, I feel it's very relevant. If everyone who couldn't get close to Paganini simply refused to teach, then almost NO ONE would teach. So, we'd have a huge shortage of teachers. This means that many kids simply couldn't start at all. Because they couldn't start, then they could also never get to the point where they'd truly benefit from a Paganini-level teacher. So by having idealistic gatekeeper views about who should be teaching, you'd essentially deprive 90% of the population from ever even being able to TRY violin, let alone get to the point where they'd get to try Paganini.

If you're familiar with the idea of "Feeder programs," then you know what I'm talking about. You need low-level teachers to start people with. A select few of those students do well, and then they naturally leave the low-level teachers to the mid-level teachers. If they do well at this stage, then they eventually get to the high-level teachers. And so on and so forth. It's a natural filtering system that inevitably propels the star pupils to the top, where they belong. I don't see how you could possibly be against such a system, and you still haven't actually given a reason besides "it's my opinion."

Can you explain how this system would actually increase the number of successful violin students?

Also, given that you've always taught in a group setting, rather than a private one, your viewpoint doesn't surprise me too much. You're fed hundreds of students each semester, who are going to pursue their degrees whether or not you're an effective teacher. So it's easy for you to be idealistic, since the result in your situation is roughly the same either way. But violin is WAY more niche than typical academic pursuits, so please bear that in mind. There aren't hundreds of students flooding into my studio - or anyone's - each semester. There are a select few, and I need to make the most of each one.

Edited: November 29, 2017, 10:42 PM · 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.

It should be emphasized more that a violin teacher should recognize their own limits. They should be proactive in referring their student to another teacher as they get more advanced. They should do it sooner rather than later. There are beginner or intermediate level teachers who aren't qualified to teach advanced levels but attempt to do so, to their students' detriment.

November 27, 2017, 10:38 PM · http://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/10749/

As stated on the last post on that thread, I have read elsewhere too that Dorothy DeLay left teaching techniques to assistant teachers.

November 27, 2017, 11:05 PM · 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.

I would guess that some of my other childhood teachers could manage a passable Bruch, but they probably never played a Paganini Caprice. I was passed on to other teachers when my level of advancement exceeded their teaching capabilities.

Once I reached a late-intermediate level, my teachers were all technically accomplished, active performers. I don't think that being a current active performer is absolutely necessary, but it's useful to study with someone who understands how to deal with performance situations.

Edited: November 27, 2017, 11:15 PM · "But violin is WAY more niche than typical academic pursuits, so please bear that in mind."

While I agree that a beginner teacher does not have to be at the Paganini level, this line invites a joke about academia. Have you read any graduate dissertations? Most are far more niche than the violin. :)

Professors like David are likely to have closely and individually supervised quite a few theses (their teaching is not limited to large lecture classes). The outcomes of grad students and the quality of their research often matter a lot to professors - it affects their professional reputations, grant funding, and things like that.

Edited: November 28, 2017, 12:11 AM · "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."

Erik, that was what I said: ##some Paganini ##. I consider myself an intermediate student when I stopped playing at 17. I was working on Bruch G minor, selected movements of solo Bach, AND the easiest of Paganini caprices (15 or 16).

Is it really that high a threshold for someone who charges a student anywhere between $50 to $150 a hour?

November 27, 2017, 11:23 PM · 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.

A student playing a decent Bruch is at the advanced level, definitely, not the intermediate level. That's fully-professional repertoire.

By the way, lots of US school-teachers have difficulty managing the 4th grade math necessary to pass the qualifying exams to get a teacher's certification. Lots can't add fractions, for instance.

Edited: November 27, 2017, 11:40 PM · "Is it really that high a threshold for some someone who charges a student anywhere between $50 to $150 a hour?"

An effective teacher of young beginners needs to have quite an extensive skill set, so yes, it's fair for an experienced and successful teacher of young beginners to charge a substantial amount per hour.

The fact that the required skill set does not necessarily include the ability to play Paganini or even, perhaps, Bruch, does not negate the amount or depth of skill required to work with children. Different does not mean lesser.

Personally I find keeping a five-year-old engaged for twenty or thirty minutes while teaching correct bow hold, correct violin hold, and a reasonably in-tune Mississippi Hot Dog, to be difficult, exhausting, and at the very edge of my own skill set. Those teachers who excel at that are worth every penny they may charge. But in purely violinistic terms, they don't need much more than solidly intermediate or early-advanced playing ability, assuming they play with correct technique and good intonation.

Edited: November 28, 2017, 12:36 AM · 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.

As a student, I think the probability of having "good technique and good intonation" positively correlates with the ability to play advanced repertoire; and having good technique and having good teaching skills are not necessarily mutually exclusive (a parent's perspective: the piano teacher of my 5-year old daughter is both good with kids and a graduate of a major conservatory).

I have nothing but respect for everyone on v.com and we just have to agree to disagree when it comes to beginners as I still believe that a teacher in any field should have studied the repertoire/curriculum that prepares one for a credible undergraduate program.

November 28, 2017, 12:15 AM · I never intended to suggest that good technique and good teaching skills are mutually exclusive.

I do think that you have an ambitious idea of what a credible undergraduate program requires of its incoming freshmen. I consider most flagship state universities, some satellite campuses, and many private universities to have "credible" programs, but very few approach conservatory level, and it's possible to be admitted to many such programs without any Paganini at all.

Having said that, I am now ready to agree to disagree. :-)

Edited: November 28, 2017, 1:29 AM · 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.

And, if argument gets overheated one need to calm down ... it also inhibits further discussion. :-))

Edited: November 28, 2017, 5:32 AM · 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!

This is something that is hard to put one's finger on ... and hard to articulate. But my sense, as a career chemistry teacher, is that the there are people who, as they go through their academic training, tend to absorb the principles and facts of their discipline in a certain way that lends itself to teaching that material later on. For me, I think back to the way I studied. I always recopied my notes from every lecture into a separate notebook, and during that process I gave the lecture to myself, trying to think of alternative ways to explain the same concepts so that I wouldn't be trapped in the death spiral of memorization. Anticipating what professors would ask on the exams also meant trying to think like they did, to see what they saw -- obviously a stiff challenge but I have to say that it was easier in graduate school, which was gratifying. Not to compare myself at all to legends like Galamian or DeLay, but I'll bet they just thought about things more broadly and deeply as they were coming up through their own training rather than focusing only on doing it better themselves. Whether that was intentional self-preparation for a teaching career is anyone's guess, but I'll bet they had moments like, "If my violin teacher had said X and Y instead of A and B, (s)he would have convey this point more effectively." But the thing is that you can't get to that point where you have those kinds of moments without a certain level of conceptual grasp, skill, knowledge, etc.

Edited: December 1, 2017, 4:57 PM · "A student playing a decent Bruch is at the advanced level, definitely, not the intermediate level. That's fully-professional repertoire."

Lydia, my Bruch is better than some, not as good as others There are spots in the third movement that are quite problematic. I have no problem calling myself an advanced student := )

November 28, 2017, 8:31 AM · 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've since done a lot of additional education, and have found that those who are the "best" in their field do not necessarily make for the best teachers because so much is assumed (one forgets the "beginner's mindset" over time) and having to consider the foundation-laying can be troublesome. As such, having a "less accomplished" teacher in the beginning can be beneficial for all that technical know-how so long as one has the gift of being able to teach.

Edited: November 28, 2017, 9:40 AM · 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."

But I don't think it's necessary to have really really struggled with the conversion of meters to centimeters (for example) to be able to empathize genuinely with students who do, and then help them cross that hurdle. Just as I don't believe a teacher needs to be someone for whom everything came easily, I also don't believe one needs to have had a few C's on one's transcript to empathize with students for whom a C would be a dream come true. That empathy needs to arise elsewhere -- perhaps from setbacks on other areas of one's life, or perhaps from having read good books (Dickens, Tolstoy, Hemingway, etc.).

November 28, 2017, 12:16 PM · David, you said:

"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."

You're right; you did say that this was your own personal preference for a teacher, but please keep in mind you posted it in response to a thread that asked what makes a good teacher in general, rather than what you prefer in a teacher.

It's not that I have a problem with your opinion, but rather the lack of explanation behind it. I still have yet to see an actual explanation from you, rather than an arbitrary "I just think ___ who charges ___ should be able to play ____"


Regarding the rates teachers charge, keep in mind that that is a reflection of SEVERAL factors. I hate it when people say that teachers makes "$__ per hour" because they don't. Yes, their "hourly rate" is that, but every "one hour" that is taught is backed by another hour of supplemental activities involved in running a business, such as taking phone calls, giving free introductory lessons (in my case), answering questions between lessons, advertising, visiting violin shops, doing research, etc etc etc.... So $50/hour quickly degrades to $25/hour in actual pay. And on top of that, you can't teach 8 hours a day. You CAN'T. So when people hear "$50/hour," that naturally equates to approximately $100,000 per year in their head. But that would only apply to those who were able to teach 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.

Plumbers often charge in excess of $100/hour. Mechanics often charge $150/hour. But do you see mechanics or plumbers driving around ferraris? No, because you know damn well that that rate is not representative of their ~actual~ income. There's a lot of overhead, and a lot of time/energy spent giving quotes that will never end up in income. The same is true of violin lessons, and I would think that you, as a person who supposedly loves music, would have a heck of a lot more respect for violin teachers as a whole.

With that said, if someone is charging $150/hour, I would expect them to be a very, very good player as well as a very proficient teacher, simply based on market rates. In my area, $50/hour will get you a "music shop" teacher, $60/hour will get you an intermediate/advanced player who hasn't yet developed good teaching experience, and $70/hour will get you an advanced player who also has significant teaching experience and a well-developed student base. Above that rate, you start getting professional musicians that also have teaching experience, and above that you get high level teachers who might teach at conservatories and play solo concerts.

Meanwhile, I believe that if I drive 2 hours South to the San Francisco Bay Area, all of these rates will probably be 30% higher, at least.

Paul Deck, I feel that you have an excellent teacher's attitude and approach. "Crafting" a proper beginner-mindset in the student is SO important in the overall learning experience. I tend to think of it as teaching someone "how to learn," because most don't actually understand that. I probably spend 30% of my time teaching kids/adults "how to learn," because for some reason school hasn't taught them that :) As much as I'd love to be able to "just teach the violin" rather than teach them all of the prerequisite common sense skills involved in learning, sticking to that would be idealistic and it would prevent them from ever getting anywhere. So, I'm 30% learning-coach, 20% strength/dexterity/body awareness coach, 20% amateur psychologist, and 30% violin teacher :( I can't tell you how often I need to repeatedly tell a parent that they NEED to supervise their child's practice in order for effective results. You CAN'T send a 7 year old off to the next room to practice and expect them to do anything productive, even if they're trying their very best.

I'm assuming that those who teach at a higher level - where the students have already developed a reasonably healthy mindset and attitude, and have the basic motor functions and musculature to play - probably get to be closer to 100% violin teachers. The students with all the issues tend to get filtered out by beginner/intermediate level teachers like me, which allows the higher level teachers to simply teach violin when my better students eventually get to them.

November 28, 2017, 2:05 PM · 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.
November 28, 2017, 4:03 PM · 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.
Edited: November 28, 2017, 4:19 PM · 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.
November 28, 2017, 4:37 PM · 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.

If anyone thinks it’s unfair, note that teaching violin is mostly one-to-one, which means it’s very hard to become super rich from that. Compare this to good high school teachers of STEM and language subjects, for example, who are able to jam up to 100+ students in a one-hour class with a fee of $20/student/hour, several sessions per day and per week.

November 28, 2017, 5:53 PM · 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.
November 28, 2017, 6:56 PM · 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.
November 28, 2017, 7:11 PM · Erik, did you have to take one more swipe at David? C'mon.
Edited: November 28, 2017, 8:13 PM · I think David has put it very clear that, it is a necessary but not sufficient condition, for him, to have a teacher who has studied major concertos of the romantic era, solo Bach, and some Paganini caprices. David is neither a kid nor a beginner but an advanced adult player. I don't know why this personal view of his has caused so much dissonance among some violin teachers. It's a minimum criteria that I would adopt too when choose a teacher for me. This also seems to be consistent with the credential and experience of the teachers at our local conservatory, which sort of sets a benchmark for many people when looking for a violin teacher for themselves or their kids.

The kind of teachers who could or did at some point play such rectories somewhat implies that they know what's like to play at a professional level, whether or not professionally trained. As a student who is interested in playing these reps, I would be very reluctant to have a teacher who doesn't have this under their belt.

Again, from an adult advanced student point of view, this is what I think a minimum criteria for a good violin teacher. And it's a fallacy that a non-teacher can't tell what counts as good teaching. If I were to spend hundreds dollars in a fancy restaurant, I don't have to be a chef to criticize the food they serve or question the experiences their head chef has.

Edited: November 28, 2017, 10:49 PM · 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.

Willy, in the land-grant American university I am at, teaching a large classes (I do regularly) is not without its rewards. The teaching load is typically 1-2 a year. That is , one course in the fall and two in the spring, which amounts to three student-contact hours per week in one semester and six student-contact hours per week in another.

Paul, I am a big boy and i have thick skin : )

Edit to add, Yixi, the disagreement appears to be between "providers" and "consumers" in this service "market" , and is not unexpected.

November 28, 2017, 8:01 PM · Yixi, of course it would make sense for you. But you are not a beginner.
November 28, 2017, 8:20 PM · 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.

P/S i hope it’s just a discussion and no one should get overheated :-))

Edited: November 28, 2017, 8:46 PM · Theres an unecessary and insufficient reason to disagree here :)
David, Erik's point is to clarify whether you consider your condition necessary for all students (beginners and early intermediate, say) or just for your personal demand/stage.
Erik, David made it clear I think that it applies to his stage or to at least to his own personal view (which remains personal enough to not have been turned into a duscursive principle with an argumeny behind it).
I dont think theres necessarily a disagreement here.
Not sure where the bump is.
Other than the consumerist bit.
November 28, 2017, 9:08 PM · Lol, I think part of the problem is that I enjoy getting heated.

Tammuz, he already specified that he feels this should be the requirement for teachers of beginners.

Hey, what fun are forums if we can't have heated debates? Why are we trying to calm this down? :)

Edited: November 28, 2017, 9:38 PM · You guys probably drove the poor OP away.

ETA:

Nonetheless, I think the discussion could help others with their teacher search.

Edited: November 28, 2017, 10:05 PM · 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) :-)

David, it’s nice to know you’re in education as I was 5 years ago. I trained students who would become future secondary school teachers, before I decided to move to Oz and started a new life. Which is why I participated in this thread as this is kind of related to my old job :-))

Edited: November 28, 2017, 10:43 PM · Willy, it takes a lot more to get me upset.

In most metropolitan areas, there is such a over supply of unemployed/under employed conservatory graduates, all are eager to fill their studios, that there is no reason why any violin student would not want to study with someone who has been professionally trained.

There are going to be good teachers and bad teachers among conservatory graduates and those who never went to a conservatory. The idea that only those who "maxed out at the Bach A Minor" are "good at teaching" is laughable.

November 28, 2017, 10:51 PM · 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.

What some of us are saying--and it isn't just the "providers;" Lydia at least agrees with this--is that not every beginner needs to be taking lessons from a conservatory level player. I know some excellent teachers of beginner to intermediate students who have never approached the Paganini level. Nevertheless, they have good solid basic technique and strong personal and pedagogical skills. And they recognize their limitations and send their students on to stronger players when the time comes. I have gotten some excellent students this way.

It's important to keep in mind that not everyone lives in a major metropolitan area with an oversupply of highly trained violinists. Does this mean that children in rural or small-town America shouldn't have the opportunity to take violin lessons just because the nice lady who is the only teacher in town never got past the end of the Kayser book? The overwhelming majority of child violin students are not going to be professionals. Why shouldn't they have the chance to develop to at least some level a skill that will enrich their lives?

November 28, 2017, 11:54 PM · 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.

Edited: November 29, 2017, 12:39 AM · "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 would say that is due to lack of transparency, lack of meaningful regulation, and a severe degree of information asymmetry in violin teaching. In no other discipline would
parents in a developed country accept a person with a fifth grade education teaching a first grader, no matter how good she may be with kids. Yet, it is implied (if not explicitly stated) by some in this thread that it is ok or should even be prefered in violin teaching.

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.

Edited: November 29, 2017, 1:01 AM · 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?"

Edit: Just saw David's post. Yes, I was thinking along the same line. There's nothing desirable for a violin teacher to be a terrible violin player. Worse yet, a terrible player who has never properly trained beyond an intermediate level who has the confidence to put up the shingle as a violin teacher. It hurts the profession.

November 29, 2017, 1:01 AM · 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.
Edited: November 29, 2017, 1:05 AM · People’re tho thenthitive ...
November 29, 2017, 1:30 AM · 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.

My attempt at answering OP's question; it depends on the level & goal of the student. As others have said, for a 5-y/o beginner, they just need to know how to teach basic technique & engage children. But it's a lot more demanding for a conservatory-level teacher.

November 29, 2017, 1:55 AM · "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."

I love how you claim to know so much about the profession despite being a hobbyist. Mary Ellen is more than qualified to meet your standards, and she still disagrees with your arbitrarily chosen criteria. You are such a classic academic; one who lives by ideals and not by real world experiences. Please know the limits of your experience in this field, and soften your opinions accordingly.

Edited: November 29, 2017, 5:16 AM · 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?

I suppose the question is fundementally whether such a teacher may be excellent within the limits of her or his repertoire of teaching for the early years of education (at whatever age). If yes, then it wouldnt have to be a necessary condition for the teacher to be playing very advanced conservatory level repertoire .

Asked another way, can such a teacher teach proper basic technique, which is really complicated anyway, good violin hold, bow hold, proper bowing, nice legato, bow control, intonation, coordination etc etc within the realm of kayser (which has a broad range of challenging pieces anyway)?

November 29, 2017, 5:53 AM · 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.

I might note that there are plenty of highly-capable violinists who are terrible teachers. Indeed, some percentage of them are actually worse teachers than the ones who are not good players themselves. (And not every terrible player is a bad teacher for beginners, either, as long as their technical basics are okay.)

Edited: November 29, 2017, 7:31 AM · "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."

That is very true. I play one recital every year or two, and at most one chamber music performance a year, unless you count weddings, which nobody should.

I would also not be comfortable performing Paganini caprices in public at this point in my life--not because I couldn't learn one to standard, but because doing so well would require that I take time away from other, more lucrative pursuits, not to mention my job and my family. Perhaps I should reconsider my secondary career as a violin teacher. (Just kidding. I have a documented record of successful teaching, and there is at least one v.com regular contributor who has heard my students under competition circumstances and thought highly of them.)

It's worth noting that neither Galamian nor Delay would qualify for teaching the violin by David's standard.

Please show me where I have said that an inferior player is *preferred* as a violin teacher. No, all I have said is that it is possible for someone who is not qualified for conservatory admission to have solid technique and be an effective teacher for beginners to intermediates. It should go without saying--but evidently doesn't--that included in my definition of a good teacher is someone who recognizes his/her own limits and passes a student along to a higher level teacher when the time comes.

(I was also comfortable having my children learn math from elementary school teachers who almost certainly either never took basic calculus or didn't remember any of it if they did. Perhaps my standards are simply too low./s)

Edited: November 29, 2017, 7:47 AM · 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."

I read his Paganini requirement as suggesting a lack of familiarity with caprices other than the "easiest" one (#16) that he probably studied as a teenager. Someone at the Bruch level could probably work on that one, though they are better off working on other things first. If that is not what he meant, then he is unrealistic in his expectations of most teachers.

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.

Edited: November 29, 2017, 7:47 AM · 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!
Edited: November 29, 2017, 7:55 AM · "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."

There is nothing unreasonable about an adult beginner or a parent seeking a highly qualified teacher for his or her own children.

What is unreasonable is insisting that only such teachers should be teaching violin at all.

I have certainly encountered teachers that I thought should not be teaching, and I have gotten some of their former students. My opinion in those cases was based on a failure of the teacher to insist on correct basic technique and/or the inability of the teacher to play with correct technique or good intonation himself. But this minimum requirement can be met by someone without attaining Paganini status or performing regularly in public.

Edited: November 29, 2017, 9:16 AM · Lydia, I believe Mary Ellen does perform in recitals regularly as a faculty member in UTSA, most recently in 2016.

Public performance is helpful in that the teacher gets to signal her command of the instrument she claims to be a expert of. It is especially important when a teacher has no degree, has not won any audition in any professional orchestras, and is not with any institution. Mary Ellen obviously does NOT fall into that category since her qualification is public and transparent. I and my daughter would be honored to have her as our teacher.

Mary Ellen, I completely agree with you --teachers one has to settle for when there is no qualified teacher around are, for some, better than nothing. I believe the OP's question is about "a good teacher". 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".

Yixi, your mention of shanghai reminded me of the Canadian violinist Susanne Hou. Susanne was one of the soloists who participated in the "Paris Experiment" discussed in the thousand-post thread on v.com. Hou's father graduated from the Shanghai Conservatory and was the concertmaster of the Shanghai Ballet during the "Culture Revolution". When Susanne was 8 or 9, she would get up at 2 am on Sundays and her parents, recent immigrants to Canada, would drive her from Toronto to NYC to have a lesson with Delay in the afternoon. They would drive back to Toronto on the same day. Her parents wanted what they thought was the "best teacher" for their daughter.

Edited: November 29, 2017, 8:13 AM · "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"."

That is true, but I was already a professional with two performance degrees from top-tier schools at the time. The discussion is not about who should be teaching students at the highest level. I don't think there's any disagreement about that. The discussion is about what makes a good violin teacher in general.

My contention is that the requirements for a good teacher of young beginners are different from the requirements for a good teacher of professional level players, and that the former need not include performance ability at the same level as the latter.

I can tell you that if you were to contact me about lessons for your young child who was just beginning, I would steer you to other teachers far more experienced with such students, not all of whom would necessarily be able to play at my level. All teachers have their limitations, and I do better with older students.

Edited: November 29, 2017, 8:31 AM · "It's worth noting that neither Galamian nor Delay would qualify for teaching the violin by David's standard."

That is unfair! I think it is fair to assume that both Galamian and Delay "as part of their training have studied major concertos of the romantic era, solo Bach, and some Paganini caprice." And their quality as teachers have been demonstrated through their students around the world!

Frieda, somehow "as part of their training" has been taken to mean pubic performance which is not what I meant.

November 29, 2017, 8:15 AM · "And their quality as teachers have been demonstrated through their students around the world!"

This is no different in substance (though vastly different in scale) from my point that I have gotten some excellent students passed on to me by beginner to intermediate level teachers who do not play at the level you require.

November 29, 2017, 10:56 AM · 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.

Many violin performance majors will graduate from their programs with absolutely no training in how to teach violin (despite the fact that many of them will teach as a major source of income, but that's another thread).

November 29, 2017, 11:00 AM · So many good responses and answers! Thanks!
November 29, 2017, 11:43 AM · 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).

I have a hypothesis: Your criteria for a teacher pretty much matches exactly what you were able to do at your highest level of playing. Now you have a daughter, and you want what's best for her. So you probably thought to yourself "well, I couldn't possibly respect a teacher who couldn't play as well as I could at 17 years old." And so you came up with this criteria based on what's best for YOU and YOUR opinion of the teacher. The only true reference point you have had - due to a general lack of experience - was yourself. I think it's just a bit too coincidental that your requirements match very closely to what you were able to do at your peak. I'm super glad that you were able to find a teacher for your daughter who is BOTH good with kids AND matches your arbitrarily defined criteria. You're lucky. But I hope that if that teacher moves away and you have to choose between a less accomplished player who is a great teacher and a more accomplished player who is a crappy teacher, you will do what's best for your daughter and choose the better teacher. Because I promise you she'll play "When the Saints Come Marching In" or "bah bah black sheep" (are these the songs pianists play?) better and quicker with them.

Edited: November 29, 2017, 2:42 PM · 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.

Bringing up Galamian and Delay is interesting. There is no information asymmetry there. None whatsoever. Besides their affiliation with Julliard which has a pretty reliable way of screening their staff , they operated in a highly competitive market in NYC! The fact that they certainly have studied as part of their training major concertos of the romantic era, solo Bach, and Paganini caprices is irrelevant.

Edited: November 29, 2017, 3:35 PM · 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.

Information asymmetry exists in every transaction, but dismissing a teacher outright based on their ability to play Paganini and romantic concertos isn't a great way to filter out a potentially good teacher, because that way you would be missing out on a whole lot of good teachers who can actually do a great job at their targeted levels. Instead, why not see the teacher's public profile, read the reviews, contact other parents, or even watch the teaching in action?

What's more, I don't know how you could completely find out whether a teacher has studied or could play Paganini as part of your screening process. It's as much difficult to know what hardest piece a teacher can perform as it is to know what's the fastest speed someone can run - except when you could test them multiple times, not to mention the necessity of some full-dose preparation on the test taker's part.

Edited: November 29, 2017, 3:58 PM · 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!

You have a problem of information asymmetry when you have somebody who is very good with people/kids and is a terrible violinist/violin teacher. You/your kid may get stuck for a long time, developed a lot of bad habits that may take years to unlearn, and spend thousands of $$ and get nothing to show for.

November 29, 2017, 3:55 PM · 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.

There are different ways to gain information about prospective violin teachers. Degrees and professional accomplishments are a big way, true. But there are other ways, and most parents that I know do at least one or two of these: Looking at the achievements of the teacher's current students; getting recommendations from high school orchestra directors, youth orchestras, or people like me; asking at a violin shop (probably the worst way but still it is better than nothing).

There may be an oversupply of highly trained violinists where you live (and therefore no problem for anyone who wants to start violin lessons to find that kind of teacher), but that is not the case in many places including, believe it or not, where I live. There are many more young beginner and intermediate violinists here than there are spots in the studios of people like me. I am grateful for the existence of plenty of teachers who are willing to teach beginners; that's the pool of students from which I draw my own students. A student can't become an intermediate or advanced player without lessons as a beginner, and that student can't take lessons as a beginner without a teacher, and if all the most highly qualified teachers are full (or beyond the student's family's financial means), then either that student goes to someone you would sneer at, or that student never has a chance to learn violin at all.

Incidentally, I always have a few students whom I teach for substantially less than my usual fee, but I would never take on a beginner like that. I only consider students who have already demonstrated an unusual commitment and work ethic along with a reasonable amount of talent. And how do those students demonstrate that unless they begin with someone else?

Edited: November 29, 2017, 4:28 PM · 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?
Edited: November 29, 2017, 4:59 PM · 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.

Mary Ellen, if all violin teachers are as capable and have the intellectual and moral integrity as you do, the discussions would be a lot simpler. I mean it. For one thing, you'd refer a very young beginner to someone else whom you believe to be more suitable for their age. My teacher would too and for very good reasons, but this is not a norm I'm afraid.

David, I know the story of Yi-Jia Susanne Hou. We had a little online chat a few years ago in fact. It is interesting that how far some of us are willing to "sacrifice" once we are committed to a dream. But we are not saying everyone should follow our approach.

Tammuz, you asked "... can such a teacher teach proper basic technique, which is really complicated anyway, good violin hold, bow hold, proper bowing, nice legato, bow control, intonation, coordination etc etc within the realm of kayser (which has a broad range of challenging pieces anyway)?"

My answer is yes, so can I, and I did teach out of necessity when I was young. I don't think I'm a good teacher though. We shouldn't be confused with (A) what is minimum skill set for any violin teacher and (B) the necessary conditions for a good violin teacher. It is the latter that is hard to get consensus.

Edited: November 29, 2017, 4:46 PM · 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.
November 29, 2017, 4:48 PM · Ah, how about let's define what's good? A great philosophical problem for us to continue this discussion.
Edited: November 29, 2017, 4:55 PM · "All else being equal, I prefer a conservatory level player with good technique. Why is it so unreasonable?"

That's very reasonable, as I have said repeatedly in this thread.

What is unreasonable is expecting every violin teacher of beginners to meet that standard. What is unreasonable is insisting that a teacher who doesn't meet that standard cannot be a good teacher for any population of students. What is unreasonable is stating that a violinist who does not meet that standard should not be teaching violin at all.

November 29, 2017, 5:13 PM · 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.
Edited: November 29, 2017, 6:04 PM · I think David's preference for a conservatory level player with good technique is his necessary but not sufficient condition for someone to be a good violinist for him. I share the same preference for me. This is not inconsistent with the belief that a conservatory grad can be a poor teacher. Nor does it contradict with the fact that a non-conservatory violin player could be a good violin teacher for someone, a position I always maintain.
November 29, 2017, 6:08 PM · 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."

Then Erik asked, "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, "Yes".

I think here lies the source of this lengthy discussion.

Edited: November 29, 2017, 6:51 PM · 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.)
Edited: November 29, 2017, 6:32 PM · Will, I agree. Another part of the confusion: is he saying that his necessary condition should apply to:

"a good teacher for him,"
"any teacher for him,"
"a good teacher for anyone,"
"any teacher for anyone"?

If the statement is about a "good teacher" for him (which is how I read his comments), where is he saying that a non-good teacher (from mediocre to bad) should not be teaching? But if that's his criteria for all teachers for everyone, then some of the reactions are justified.

Edited: November 29, 2017, 6:57 PM · 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.

Mary Ellen, again! I agree with you.

Yixi, I could not have articulated my position better!

November 29, 2017, 7:08 PM · Our 7 yo's private music teachers meet David' standards in spade.

On the other hand, we have a few cautionary tales to tell about choosing teachers based on credentials and recommendations.

As I said before, it all depends.

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. :)

November 29, 2017, 7:16 PM · I consider a good violin teacher *for me* to have the following qualities and attributes, in no particular order:
1. Has patience - I've met many a teacher in my day without patience, and with something as seemingly slow-going as the violin this is an absolute must.
2. Has a good sense of humor - so necessary to be able to laugh at our foibles!
3. Is willing to give pep talks during plateau periods, and able to buckle down and hammer out the big problems when necessary.
4. Is willing to answer questions, and discuss why the dynamics/fingering/bowing/etc should be that way
5. Plays the violin in a way that resonates with me.
6. Has the ability to explain, show, and break down technique/problems/etc in a way that is understandable - and if not on the first try, then the second or third. (I recently had an "aha" about what my childhood violin teacher was asking me to do, over 20 years ago, because he didn't explain it in a way I understood!)
7. When I returned to playing, I started with the nearest teacher that was reasonably priced (less than a city block away - woohoo!) but quickly outgrew them - for one, they didn't really know how to play the violin much better than I did. 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.
8. A good teacher can teach me how to practice better (I apparently have been wasting time during practice sessions, it's a very old bad habit that's reared its head again now that I have a good amount of repertoire built up: "oooh, let's play this part that I play well and sorta work on the parts that I don't play well...")
9. A good teacher gives me the feeling that I CAN do this, that the pieces that I want to play are not out of reach and with the right work (ethic, discipline, technique, etc.) it is all possible to some extent.
10. A good teacher has scheduling flexibility. My first one upon returning could only see me at X time on one particular day of the week. As an adult, this is not entirely feasible week after week.

Lastly: I felt (and still feel) like I won the lottery when my teacher agreed to teach me - that for me might be the biggest indicator of a good teacher in my eyes. That I feel lucky to be their student, and look forward to lessons, and look forward to practicing for myself and these lessons.

November 29, 2017, 7:20 PM · 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!!!
November 29, 2017, 7:28 PM · Frieda, I am so sorry that the fact that so many people disagreed with him made us look like a lynch mob.

There wouldn't be this much of a discussion if everyone was clear about David's intention is to speak only for himself and his daughter. Unfortunately, this was in no way clear from the conversations we have had.

November 29, 2017, 9:19 PM · 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.

Beginners are indeed the most susceptible to falling into the grips of a bad apple teacher.


However, there are more ways than just looking at a degree to know if a teacher is a "good apple." Reviews, recommendations, videos of their students, and - most importantly - your INSTINCT on how they are as a teacher.

Every parent should try MULTIPLE teachers before settling, regardless of paper qualifications. If a parent uses their instinct and does a bit of research, they should be able to figure out if a teacher is right for their child.

However, what I've found is that students who end up with - and stay with - bad apple teachers are usually bad apple students. The reason? Anyone who is too lazy to do the TINIEST bit of research on teachers, or too lazy to try multiple teachers, is also going to be lazy about practicing and about paying attention to the teacher. I used to be pretty upset about the prevalence of the bad apple teachers until I realized that the parents/students who ended up with them were just lazy or not paying any attention to the progress of their child. It's one thing to stay with a bad apple teacher for a month or two, but to stay with one for several years without even considering that something might be wrong speaks more about the parent than the teacher. To be brutally honest, I'm kind of glad that those types of students are sucked up by the bad apple teachers.

Parents who care about the progress of their child won't simply settle on one teacher because that teacher is the most convenient choice. They'll keep a critical eye out, pay close attention to HOW the teacher teaches (and plays), and won't be afraid to leave if they start to feel stagnation. These are good students/parents, and they'll almost always end up with good teachers, degree/paganini/recitals or not.

This is also part of the reason that teachers with degrees end up with so many successful students; good apple students are automatically going to contact orchestras/universities first to find a teacher. They're not going to drive to the nearest music store and request whatever teacher happens to work there. So, keep that mind when weighing the statistics of degrees vs success in students. There is a lot of "correlation vs causation" going on here, since the excellent and healthy-minded students are going to generally seek out teachers with credentials, whether that's necessary or not.

An example of this effect can be found in my personal business: as my number of reviews and business reputation has increased over the years, I have also received a generally higher quality level of student as opposed to when I started. Of course, I've also come a long way as a teacher, but that doesn't explain why the clients that initially contact me are of such a higher quality than they used to be. So, instead of a formal degree, I have reviews and an established business presence. Anyways, the net effect is that I'm a better teacher but I also get better students, so it's an exponential phenomenon.

I think this was probably the case with certain well-known pedagogues, as well. I doubt crappy students were flooding into Delay's arms. Yes, I'm sure she was an excellent teacher, but HOW excellent she was is definitely amplified by her reputation which brought in droves of awesome raw talent and work ethic.

Long story short: bad students stay with bad teachers, good students find good teachers, good low-level teachers pass their students on to good high-level teachers, and everyone ends up winning in the end.

November 29, 2017, 11:56 PM · 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.

Some students may be forced to leave the program entirely if they're unable to switch to a satisfactory teacher -- but many students might not want to leave the other benefits of the program despite a teacher that isn't as good, and therefore suffer with their inferior teacher.

November 30, 2017, 12:22 AM · Hmmmm very true Lydia, I wasn't really thinking in terms of group programs. That's sort of a screwed up system.
November 30, 2017, 5:22 AM · 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?
Edited: November 30, 2017, 7:26 AM · "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?"

No! but your teacher must be someone who can #perform# flawlessly all 24 of Paganini caprices on command.

Edited: November 30, 2017, 7:53 AM · 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.

Then there are good beginner teachers who are bad intermediate teachers who keep students too long. (Maybe that makes them bad beginner teachers. But they do set you up well). It's hard to determine at the outset how likely a teacher would pass on students once they reach their limit. They all say they will, but many don't.

Edited: November 30, 2017, 9:00 AM · 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.

You are less likely to have this problem if you start with a teacher who can take you from the beginning to Bruch (if not Paganini).

Edited: November 30, 2017, 9:46 AM · 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.

edit: And if that teacher is not "advanced" or well known, or has a resume the length of my arm, that's OK by me.

Edited: December 1, 2017, 1:05 AM · "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. "

Pamela, when I was a teenager, the sweet, singing sound my former teacher ( whom I consider as my most important teacher) got out of his violin was what kept me practicing. I wanted to play like him. One thing that is missing in this conversation is how important being able inspire a student is for a teacher. #For me#, a teacher whose playing I don't respect would not work.

Edit to add: I know Galamian and Delay cannot play at the level of many of their students. That doesn't change my preference that my teacher should be able to play at a much higher level than I.

November 30, 2017, 10:34 AM · @David - yes! "ability[able] to inspire a student" needs to be in the mix.
Edited: November 30, 2017, 11:30 AM · 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.
November 30, 2017, 11:28 AM · 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.
November 30, 2017, 12:34 PM · 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.

November 30, 2017, 1:44 PM · 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.
November 30, 2017, 2:53 PM · 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.

On the other hand, there is something to be said for having a couple of successful years with one teacher, and then to have a few more with another, and so on. It allows a greater diversity in the learning experience. I remember back in the day, when I would switch teachers, the new teacher would almost immediately be able to fix something that the previous teacher had struggled to fix. Of course, each teacher had their own "holes" in their ability, but by changing through the teachers I was able to get a more diverse teaching input.

Hard to say which is ideal, but chances are - like everything else - it just depends.

November 30, 2017, 6:12 PM · "I think this was probably the case with certain well-known pedagogues, as well. I doubt crappy students were flooding into Delay's arms."

It depends on how you define "crappy." (I hate to use that word to describe students, but I'm just quoting the source.) I can assure you that even at the most prestigious programs and teachers, there are stronger students and weaker students. Now, of course, we're still talking about inordinately high achievers compared to the general population of violinists. But nonetheless, even amongst extraordinarily talented students, there are usually only one or two true prodigies (if that), and it's immediately obvious who they are.

Edited: December 1, 2017, 1:01 PM · "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."

Pamela, I know exactly what you mean. Mentoring is another aspect that is missing in this conversation.

In my teens, I was a minority kid who was the opposite of the so called "model minority". I was hanging with the wrong crowd and driving my mother crazy. Violin-wise, I was stuck in the beginner mode with my first violin teacher for years. One day, my mother took me to see my second violin teacher who studied with Gingold in IU in the 70's. He gave me subsidised lessons, got me to practice, was able take me from the equivalent of Suzuki book 2( may be 3) to Bruch in 4 years. Meanwhile, I was able to get my life on track. He taught me my first and (so far) only Paganini caprice the copy of which, with his bowing and fingering, is still with me all these decades later.

May be I am just too old school and mentoring is completely outdated.

November 30, 2017, 9:38 PM · 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?

I'm the teacher that's usually developing those skills in players (work ethic and motor skills, among other things) but not necessarily the teacher that gets to benefit from the results (reputation-wise).

So, I send these well-crafted students to a higher level teacher eventually, at which point they start delving into the fancy stuff and that teacher inevitably is the one that gets noted for the effort, even though that effort would have been totally futile without the skills that I properly laid into place.

At the end of the day, both teachers are important and necessary, but the "beginner teachers" never seem to get enough credit. I guess it's assumed that their job requires less skill than the job of the advanced teachers.

Edited: November 30, 2017, 10:12 PM · "May be I just too old school and mentoring is completely outdated."

???

I do a lot of mentoring as does every other good teacher I know. Of all the qualities that make up a good teacher, however, the mentoring aspect may be one of the *least* quantifiable. It is intensely individual; not only are teachers different personalities, but every teacher-student dyad is unique. I don't really know how I could describe how it goes in my studio without possibly compromising my students' privacy, since who studies with me is not a secret in my real-world existence.

Erik has posted at great length about his mentoring activities, including on this thread.

November 30, 2017, 10:30 PM · 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.
November 30, 2017, 11:01 PM · 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. :-)

(And there are enough competitions for younger kids that the good intermediate-level teachers are noted in that context too.)

December 1, 2017, 9:04 AM · 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.
December 1, 2017, 9:35 AM · 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.)

Every time you switch teachers, especially during the developmental stage, there is a significant adjustment and possible disruption, and delays a process which should take 6-8 years, dragging it out to 10 or more. You definitely don't want to purposely seek out 3 or more teacher during this crucial developmental period.

To become an advanced player (as opposed to merely reaching an advanced level) you need to go through that whole developmental process 2 or 3 times (refining basics to performing advanced rep,) regardless of your innate abilities. It's just that most prodigies complete the first cycle 3 or 4 years ahead of their peers.

So ideally: if you start very young (3 or 4) you learn from an early childhood specialist; your first teacher takes you from 0 or near 0 to advanced rep, then you go to your next teacher to develop artistry and performance skills (along with other teachers for chamber music.) Most conservatory bound students, having had inadequate 1st teachers, have to spend several years fixing technique (practice habits, performance/mental habits) and so are stalled for a while before studying with that next 'artistic teacher,' who may or may not be the same teacher who rehabs their technique (higher profile teachers will have their assistants do this.) At this level some may choose to go to an orchestral or chamber music specialist, or a solo specialist.

Edited: December 1, 2017, 4:42 PM · Jeewon, once again, you have eloquently explained what some (in this case me!) struggled to articulate.

What some on this thread have termed as "arbitrary" criteria (which are essentially identical to required audition repertoire for many credible undergraduate programs) for ##MY## violin teacher are milestones that can indicate to a student she has learned, more or less, the mechanics of violin playing (something I would think any serious student of the instrument, amateur or not, would want to achieve herself; something her TEACHER, imho, should have achieved) and is ready for the next stage of development as an artist. My inability to articulate a rationale was no doubt the cause of so much controversy.

December 1, 2017, 2:39 PM · 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.


WAY too many people in the music world seem to view this type of subject from the perspective of conservatory-bound students. It seems normal - in the classical music world - to be elitist and say "well if they're not heading towards a career in music then they shouldn't be playing at all." Or, "what's the point in playing if your eventual goal isn't to at least perform publicly?"

That's not MOST people! Yes, it's probably most people HERE, because this is a violin forum (let's be honest, only the absolute geekiest violinists actually frequently spend time here). Even the adult beginners that frequent this forum are relatively serious ones, and NOT representative of the average violin student. But most of my students are just NORMAL people that want to play the violin nicely. They couldn't give a single care about these high-end goals - which by the way, are NOT considered high-school level material by your average person.

I'm so sick and tired of this attitude which is so prominent in the music world. I really think it's the reason a lot of students give up entirely instead of just realizing that they could keep learning music but not do it as a career. The "career or nothing!" attitude has probably killed (metaphorically) far more amateur players than you are aware of. I've met a lot of them.

Why is it so rare to find high-level players that can tell a new student that music is supposed to be enjoyed and loved? That progress without joy should be reserved for a degree in Economics, and not one in Music? If you want to make joyless cash, then music is the least efficient path I can imagine. Maybe music was a solid career choice 300 years ago, but it certainly isn't now, unless you can't see yourself doing anything else.

So let me lay it out for anyone reading this, who is now immensely confused on what to look for in a teacher:

The "Best" teacher is the one that allows you to meet your goals (and to discover your goals if you're not sure what they are). And in SOME cases, a very advanced teacher will PREVENT you from meeting your personal goal of playing nice, simple music, because their eye will "be on the prize" of having you reach Bruch in 5 or less years. Instead of rewarding your low-level efforts, they will make you feel guilty and self-conscious about not achieving more and not "reaching your TRUE potential." Then, when you fail due to discouragement, they will blame you for not being committed enough.

However, if your goal is to make a career in music (God help you if it is), then by all means, find a teacher for your 6 year old that can play Paganini.

But please, in either case, find a teacher that you can both love AND admire. Then you'll be happy.

Edited: December 1, 2017, 3:34 PM · 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.
Edited: December 1, 2017, 4:20 PM · 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.
Edited: December 1, 2017, 5:49 PM · 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".

There is a problem when a serious student who would like go from "0 to advanced " but end up with a teacher who couldn't do it AND the student doesn't know that the teacher couldn't do it!

As a parent, if I have to choose a teacher for my child starting on the instrument between (A)someone who can take my child " from 0 to advanced " in 6-8 years or (B) someone who is very "loving" but could not teach my child beyond "simple tunes", I will go with A and do the " loving "bit myself. I think many parents would too,but I would not presume to speak for others or someone will put up another straw man.

I think it is a bit self-serving to say because I can't teach x, students don't want/need to learn x. It's like saying i don't have a degree, therefore degrees are useless.

Edited: December 1, 2017, 5:33 PM · 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.

Edit: and yes, there is way more demand than supply of good teachers

Edited: December 1, 2017, 5:48 PM · "I think it is a bit self-serving to say because I can't teach x, students don't want/need to learn x."

It's easy enough to find out what they want to learn by asking them. The trick is to ask them again and again, because their goals might evolve. I see this all the time with my research students. One started out as an undergraduate wanting to become a pharmacist but ended up getting a PhD in polymer chemistry (in my lab). I remember the conversation just after she decided to take the plunge, where she basically said that until then she never thought she could be good enough at chemistry research to make a career of it. Another student started out in my lab as a PhD student and wound up in pharmacy school. Just the opposite!! I remember the conversation where I told him he was really good at synthetic chemistry and he said, "Yeah I know, but I just don't like it." Both have great careers now, making more than I do by comfortable margins.

December 1, 2017, 5:45 PM · 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?
Edited: December 1, 2017, 5:59 PM · 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.
Edited: December 1, 2017, 5:59 PM ·
"It's easy enough to find out what they want to learn by asking them. The trick is to ask them again and again, because their goals might evolve. I see this all the time with my research students. One started out as an undergraduate wanting to become a pharmacist but ended up getting a PhD in polymer chemistry (in my lab)"


Paul, the assumption is that you are able to direct a dissertation on that topic. What If the student ends up in a lab of someone with no terminal degree and is utterly lost when it comes original research and the student doesn't know it? That is sometimes the case in the unregulated world of violin teaching.

December 1, 2017, 6:03 PM · 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?
Edited: December 1, 2017, 6:07 PM · 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.

Edit: Jeewon I'm not sure what you're asking me.

December 1, 2017, 6:11 PM · "Some people actually do not want a Heifetz-level violinist as a teacher."

Has anyone said a good teacher is one who plays like Heifetz?

Not sure what you meant by Heifetz-level.

December 1, 2017, 6:15 PM · 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.

(David later qualified this assertion, saying that the best teacher for him or his daughter would have attained this minimum level of technical proficiency.)

My first teacher probably wasn't quite so advanced, at least not by the time I worked with her. She studied with Delay at Juilliard but this was early enough that Delay herself probably wasn't considered the rock star that she became. I was her second-most advanced student by the time I left her studio, playing a serviceable but not perfect Accolay. I think most of her students either switched or stopped after around Suzuki Book 4. One could argue that they might have gone further with a better teacher––but I think it's probably more accurate to say that they went as far as their interest led them. I don't think her technical skill was a hindrance, nor do I think she was a bad teacher.

There's an interesting attribution question here, though: do we see so few advanced violinists because of the dearth of good teaching--or is the attrition a natural process? I might argue the latter. Not everyone is willing/able to commit the kind of practice to get to an advanced level on any instrument.

Edited: December 1, 2017, 7:24 PM · 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.

Paul, you said rightly that what people want changes over time. And I hope you'd agree that what people want may not be a criterion for a good teacher, but it is certainly the reality why there are all sorts of teachers out there in the market. There seems to be a tendency for a few posters here to lump "good teacher" with "teachers who are adequate to meet certain needs". Surely you see the difference between the two?

December 1, 2017, 6:28 PM · David, I will have you know that you just made a false duality AND a strawman argument in one post.

I never stated that a "0-advanced" teacher would be a problem in that situation: I simply stated that they're not always going to be the best choice for meeting a particular goal. Just as I am not the best choice for a student looking to learn fiddle tunes or the "bluegrass style." A very advanced teacher might have an issue with the student STAYING on simple tunes, or they might have an issue with waiting for the student to decide that they want to make it past simple tunes. It just depends on the specific teacher.

I also can't imagine a situation where a very serious student would end up with a beginner teacher and stay with them forever. I think they would either 1) quickly outgrow the teacher or 2) see from the outset that the teacher wasn't advanced enough to bother with, long term, based on their playing ability. I think even beginners can tell the difference between someone who plays beautifully and someone who doesn't (especially because modern technology, like youtube, allows us to have more of a reference).

I never said that a parent has to choose between a very advanced, loveless teacher or a completely newbie, loving teacher. I'm saying there are teachers in between those two extremes that are worth considering. An intermediate teacher with an excellent teaching ability and nice attitude, for example.


Jeewon: I receive many casual students as part of my business, who will never make it to an advanced - or perhaps even intermediate - level due to the fact that they can't/won't consistently practice more than 15 minutes 3x per week. I tend to get most of my students from people googling "violin lessons," which leads to a high percentage of these casual students. Since I make a living teaching, I must accept these students except in the most extreme cases. Would it be your opinion that my aptitude as a teacher should be judged on these students, or rather judged on the small proportion of students that go home and actually do as I ask (and whose parents assist them with practice?) Because I can assuredly tell you that when my students give the minimum necessary effort - which means 30 minutes of practice 5x a week, and actually practice in the way I specified - their progress is quite good and very solid. I have taught students well into an upper intermediate territory (let's call it a proficient symphonia concertante level). I have also produced students who - within barely over a year's time and no previous musical experience - were able to join a decent state college orchestra. But if you're looking at my "average" student, then you're not going to see the results you're speaking of.

I don't see how it's possible for someone to consistently get advanced output from their students if they're truly receiving kids of varying abilities and work ethic. For example, the best teacher in the world cannot produce an advanced player out of a child who doesn't practice at all, and whose parents don't care about their progress. So, when talking about a consistent output of advanced student: were these students TRULY varying in their abilities and discipline, or are we talking about a variance within an already-decent work ethic group?

With all of that said, I will admit that the easiest way to find a good teacher is indeed to find one that has consistently produced decent students from 0-advanced, but it's important that we see "shades of grey" here when viewing teachers. This is why I say it's more important for a parent to use their critical instinct when trialing teachers, rather than simply looking at whether someone has a degree or not.

Edited: December 1, 2017, 6:42 PM · "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."

But these graduate students are accountable to their professors. This is more like a big name teacher (e.g. Galamian ) having assistants (e.g. Delay).

December 1, 2017, 6:42 PM · Thanks Katie for the summary :)

I remember skimming something about an available teacher is better than none, and some other stuff about "life lessons" students may learn from a less than great teacher. All that's true, but doesn't really describe what makes a good teacher of violin skills, though I agree there's more to growing up than being able to play violin well.

Having seen a good 1st teacher in person and in action and the results she gets, I'm not sure the attrition rate is due to the difficulty of playing an instrument at a high level. Not all her students will be competitive getting into conservatory, not all of them will be able to perform convincingly, but they can all get around the instrument with at least passable intonation and good tone on very difficult repertoire, and do it with good form and decent technique.

She has a poaching problem, sometimes losing students to the "advanced teacher" in town, but I'm not aware of any of them dropping out before leaving highschool, quitting because of a lack of interest. She can be a bit more selective now as she has a permanent wait list, but she doesn't pick solely on talent (I'm not quite sure what here criteria are.) But she has been at this for almost 30 years now with a very consistent success rate, by which I mean training her students to play advanced repertoire without major technical or physical problems. I think that standard should be what 1st teachers aspire to.

December 1, 2017, 6:43 PM · 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.

This is not to mention that violin is stylistic - each teacher, with their own style, can possibly contribute to the maturity and aestheticism of a student's playing in their own ways.

December 1, 2017, 6:51 PM · 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.
Edited: December 1, 2017, 7:30 PM · 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.

It seems you're being a bit double minded: you'd rather teach serious students, but x, y and z. I don't know you or your situation, but you can't have it both ways and fill all needs (even from a marketing perspective alone.) I don't know how much choice you have, financially, or with respect to obligations in life, but if you want to teach seriously you're gonna have to study with a master teacher, and possibly get a degree or two.

December 1, 2017, 7:40 PM · 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 :)

Unfortunately there is no way I could only teach serious students and still have an acceptable income. Therefore, I try to be the best teacher for everyone within my capacity to teach, since I'd rather just make the best of what I have. With that said, it would be great to receive a higher proportion of semi-serious (in this context, that just means they'll practice 2+ hours each week) students. However, I'm much happier than I've ever been before with my current proportion of "serious" students. Given a few more years, I think my % will truly be in the Goldilocks zone.

I think it's important to note that you and I probably have a very different idea of what "teaching seriously" entails. My idea of teaching seriously involves a student who actually wants to improve week to week, and perhaps make it to a solid Suzuki Book 5 level within several years.

I would assume your idea of teaching seriously probably means being able to effectively teach up through Solo Bach and into Paganini, or at least through much of the Romantic concerto repertoire.

Edited: December 2, 2017, 1:03 AM · 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.

I know we are assuming an idealistic universe. From a realistic perspective, I have never had a teacher, or known someone who have the same teacher for 10 years or more in any fields. Not just maths and high school subjects, but handicraft, carpentry, architecture, painting, and sports. I haven't found a reason for the violin to be different, or haven't read any reasons being given in this thread, apart from members' experience.

Of course, the fact that I haven't had the fortune to know such a teacher-student relationship doesn't mean they didn't exist. But what I believe is that they are definitely rare, and to find a teacher who is made for a certain student and match him/her with a student who is made for that teacher would require some considerably high search cost on both the student's and the teacher's part.

Hopefully I will be able to meet such teacher some time in the future, preferably in violin.

Edited: December 1, 2017, 8:26 PM · 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.

Now, having said that, I will add that I do not manage my undergrad research students that way. With few exceptions, I teach them individually in the laboratory, preferably starting as freshmen or sophomores. For this reason I cannot have more than one or two undergrads at a time. I do that because I feel that they can be on a much steeper learning curve and take on more interesting projects under my direct tuition. But whether they might learn as much or have perhaps even a more satisfying research experience working with a graduate student, reporting directly to me only occasionally, that's open to debate. It's actually something that bothers me a little.

Edited: December 1, 2017, 8:51 PM · @Katie B. As usual you have good observation of how a discussion has propelled itself into a megathread :-)
December 1, 2017, 10:25 PM · 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.
Edited: December 2, 2017, 1:34 AM · 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.

My teacher through my early teens was excellent -- he took me from an intermediate level through major concertos; he had Galamian-style technique (he had been a Delay pupil) and was very tall, with long arms and big hands. Then I switched teachers, to someone with Russian-style technique (he had been a Raphael Bronstein pupil), with a short stout body and stubby fingers. The switch in technical foundation benefited me enormously.

Just because someone is capable of taking a student from a fairly basic level through an advanced level doesn't mean they're necessarily ideally matched to the student in technical approach.

December 2, 2017, 2:00 AM · Just because a teacher is extremely capable doesn't mean she is suitable for everyone.

And (this is my beginner opinion) just because a teacher is perfect for a student at a specific time in his life doesn't necessarily mean the same teacher is suitable for the same student at every other time in his life as child, adolescent and adult, regardless of the teacher's technical proficiency.

Therefore I think to find a life-time teacher who is made for a certain student and match him/her with a student who is made life-time for that teacher would require some considerably high search costs on both the student's and the teacher's part.

Edited: December 2, 2017, 7:37 AM · 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?

Which goes back to Mary's point about how teaching beginners might take a different skill set from that of teaching advanced (although that doesnt mean both can be found in one person). However, it seems to me though that this is not even a skillset necessarily present in many beginner stage teachers, who merely teach their way without necessarily an open minded observation of the students physical nature. ?

December 2, 2017, 11:10 AM · 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.

But every teacher has a baseline default for what's comfortable for them, and their own technical style. This has been especially apparent to me as an advanced player (perhaps because by that point I could thoughtfully observe differences). They may adapt what they do to the student, but they are almost certain to advocate for their own style.

I've studied with two pupils of Raphael Bronstein, for instance (who studied with him around 30 years apart!), and they had physically very similar approaches as well as an intellectual approach to playing the violin, and identical approaches to problem-solving, that's based on the way that he thought about it.

My current teacher has had a hodgepodge of influences but his physical approach is also classically Russian, and he's not a big guy, and he has small hands. I suspect that even though he's capable of teaching students with another physical approach, the student themselves would learn more easily from someone whose physiology more closely matches their own.

Edited: December 2, 2017, 12:19 PM · 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 clinician rather than a stickler to any specific pedagogy. Her approach is both intellectual and practical, but the focus is always on what one can do to best serve the music in each instance. This makes is particularly fun to watch her teaching others and I did in many occasions. Her teaching seems always flexible/adaptive with in method, based on individual's physicality and strengths. One thing is constant: the principle that technical works must not be done in isolation from particular music context. I recall Henning Kraggerud also said similar thing that once we know what music we want to make, we know what to practice. This is a much more efficient way to practice.
Edited: December 2, 2017, 1:09 PM · "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. "

Paul, many of my colleagues in science ( science is not my field) think that this song and dance of having undergraduates in the lab is suboptimal and takes precious resources from research that results in quality peer reviewed pubs. Perhaps this sort of thing is more appropriate in a liberal arts college than a research university. What do you think? (Ok, I am off topic now)

December 2, 2017, 2:18 PM · 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...)
December 2, 2017, 3:10 PM · *the performance of an (associate) professor is often primarily measured by research publication output rather than quality of teaching*

As an ex-academic I can't agree more. I should even say that generally, the performance of any academic staff is primarily measured by research publications. Except if you are an adjunct faculty member - which you only teach, grade, and do admin tasks but accept lower salary in a non-tenure assignment.

Sorry to be off-topic a bit.

December 2, 2017, 3:54 PM · 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.
December 2, 2017, 4:33 PM · 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.

Violin teachers who prioritize their reputation by rejecting less-talented students, for example, may gain a greater reputation by having a higher % of successful students, but they may also be lesser teachers in general by only having learned to teach naturally talented students.

I remember the very FIRST violin student I ever taught got so good so quickly, that I figured I was just an awesome teacher. But the next several students quickly showed me that teaching the talented is simple, but teaching the common man is an art all its own.

Follow the dollars, and you'll usually have your answer!

December 3, 2017, 1:06 AM · Lol, Paul doesn’t like side-threads
Edited: December 3, 2017, 12:52 PM · "...teaching the talented is simple..."

I have not found that to be true. It's just a different set of issues, and usually comes with the added, considerable responsibility of planning for their future, should they wish to compete and/or entertain a career. Also talent is not a monolithic package of characteristics, but individual to each student. So the teacher must unpack strengths and weaknesses and keep the student challenged without being discouraging, just as with any student. I think you mean to say you enjoy teaching students you perceive to be talented.

I've found some students who are deemed talented, particularly those who think of themselves that way, to get easily bored and discouraged, avoiding the hard work necessary to fulfill their potential (because of their fixed mindset.)

It's true, as is probably the case across the general population, that some teachers are more concerned about reputation and career building, some at the expense of their students/clients. But thinking of what you like, what you want is not a bad thing, some might say it's the only way to live a good life, to stay happy and prevent burn-out over the long term. Discerning what you're good at and choosing to focus your career is actually quite difficult, involves honest self-reflection (which is often painful to do,) requires sacrifice and discipline, and most certainly doesn't preclude being an ethical person.

Re.: "... you'll see how I got from a place of simple disagreement to taking this all personally."

Sorry. I don't see how that happened. OP's question specified "... in your eyes?" David, in his first post said, "[f]or me..." so I'm not sure where or how it became personal, and why you responded with such disdain.

Of course Lydia is correct when she says "...doesn't mean they're necessarily ideally matched to the student in technical approach." But I was responding to this notion that David was crazy for thinking he should have a highly educated teacher for his first and last teacher. Not only do I think it's perfectly reasonable, I suspect it's preferable to have one first teacher (maybe two) who can take a student from 0 to advanced in the shortest time possible, and most likely all such teachers are highly trained, with a comprehensive and interconnected knowledge of the complete materials related to their instrument (from 0 to advanced, in other words.) I suspect if you don't know Gavinies, it will affect how you teach Suzuki Bk 5.

P.S. it's a bit crazy and presumptuous to believe Auer, Flesch, Zimbalist, Brodsky, Gingold, Galamian, DeLay, Frank, Fried, Weilerstein, the Kavafians, Lipsett et al. have or had it easy teaching all those talented kids

P.P.S. "Please know the limits of your experience in this field, and soften your opinions accordingly." I find 'experts' can easily find themselves stuck in groupthink and so strongly disagree with such sentiment. But also, it's mildly ironic doncha think? ;)

Edited: December 3, 2017, 10:50 AM · 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.
Edited: December 3, 2017, 12:51 PM · D'oh! Gotcha David. Thanks for spelling it out for me!

I suppose when one doth protest too much...

The funny thing is this thread will not make an iota of difference to the market, as there are far too few good first teachers for the demand (and probably fewer discerning parents.) But perhaps it's a little too pointed for egos.

Edited: December 3, 2017, 3:32 PM · 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.

This is why Erik, in his first comment did clarify it again with David, asking whether that view would include *someone*'s very first teacher, and 'should *someone*'s very first AND very last teacher both be able to play Paganini caprices in order to teach effectively?'.

Saying yes, David also commented that romantic concertos, Bach and some Paganini caprices are equivalent to high school material (wow!), and 'a teacher of any field should ##at least ## have studied the repertoire/curriculum that prepares one for a credible undergraduate program.'

Only when the thread got sufficiently long did David confirm that his standard applied to him and his daughter.

I think language can cause confusion sometime, and *for me* I give people the benefit of the doubt for whatever they clarified later about how their ideas should be construed.

As one could see, among those disagreed with David, only Erik was overreacting. Someone could have defended himself the way David did, but if I were in his situation I wouldn't think everyone who disagreed with me was being unfair and biased. Even if I did, I wouldn't say it out loud - knowing that this could only unnecessarily intensify the discussion, especially when I had no solid evidence of partiality.

P/S I am not a violin teacher, so I am not in the 'provider side' whose opinion may be perceived as not being objective.

December 3, 2017, 2:16 PM · "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."

That's exactly how I interpreted it.

December 3, 2017, 2:36 PM · 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'll leave with this tidbit though: the teacher that had the most profound impact on my musical trajectory was one of those "beginner teachers" who couldn't play much past Book 5. But she was the reason I actually started taking music seriously when I Was about 14. I'd spent 6 years up to that point not really caring whatsoever, and she took me from that, to practicing over an hour a day and making good progress. After her, I once again got highly "qualified" symphony players as teachers and they got to reap the fruits of that that "beginner teacher's" efforts and take my consistent practice for granted and get to focus simply on building my technique.

But if I'd had those more "qualified" teachers BEFORE the "unqualified" teacher, I would have certainly quit, or perhaps just never taken off musically. So she was, by far, my most important teacher. She taught me how to enjoy and love playing, and once the joy was there, the discipline followed.

But I was never the type of student that was going to do competitions or realistically seek a career, anyways, so perhaps my musical trajectory is one that is "under the radar" of certain people. I guess if we're only talking about very serious students (those who have the potential to make a career in music or at least do competitions), then all of these "beginner problems" are moot anyways. I feel that perhaps we're just living in two different worlds, and that explains the disparity in our viewpoints.

December 3, 2017, 3:08 PM · 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.)

Related point: on Nov. 29, you mentioned that lazy students just stay with the same, bad teacher, rather than seeking a better one. To do so, you have to realize that the teacher is bad, rather than that you as a student have no talent. You write on your own website: "It took us about 5 years of lessons before we realized what a 'good' violin teacher looked like". Especially if the "bad teacher" appears to be helpful and friendly (even though ineffective), it is hard to blame them.

What are your thoughts?

Edited: December 3, 2017, 4:30 PM · *how does an aspiring student recognize a good teacher if it's not for the name of the conservatory where they were trained?*

IMO Mary had a good answer to it. "Degrees and professional accomplishments are a big way, true. But there are other ways, and most parents that I know do at least one or two of these: Looking at the achievements of the teacher's current students; getting recommendations from high school orchestra directors, youth orchestras, or people like me; asking at a violin shop (probably the worst way but still it is better than nothing)."

*what were the qualifications of that first teacher that didn't get you anywhere in the first six years?*

I think 6 years is a pretty long time for the student and parents to recognize that they didn't get anywhere with the teacher. But this is my thought, as someone who trained future high school teachers, in a non-violin setting: They may have even graduated from acceptable programs. But attrition, the loss of interest, the loss of passion in teaching (i.e. the teacher only does it for a living), and erosion of techniques for whatever reasons, make a bad teacher. What's more, I even observed that some graduates, being irresponsible to themselves and to their careers, graduated with even lesser competence than when they were freshmen.

This is not to mention the quality of the program itself. I remember someone mentioned in V.com that some programs only require levels of Thais (Thais Meditation?) for violinist graduation. I don't know how true it is.

December 3, 2017, 5:00 PM · There's definitely something to be said for the idea that the better teacher is the one you actually practice for.
Edited: December 4, 2017, 8:05 AM · 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.

Some find David's assertion astounding, that Paganini and Bach are 'high school' level pieces, but I don't think it's such a stretch provided you start at 6 or 7, even 9 (I have an alum who started at 9 and was playing Paganini and Bach by 16 or 17, and now plays in the symphony here. I believe he started with his aunt, then had 1 teacher before university, where we studied with the same teacher.) Yes, you must be a serious student and study with a serious teacher, but you don't have to be uber-talented to progress to a level which I now think should be fairly normal for a student who works hard.*

If I didn't know a teacher up close like my sister, I suppose I would have reacted the way Mary Ellen did. I first became aware of this idea of 'one teacher from start to finish' when I read that Oistrakh Sr. had had only one teacher in Stolyarski, which surprised me. But instead of thinking "no way," I started to wonder how is that possible? Then it occurred to me that my very own sister was doing a similar thing, teaching kids from scratch and getting them to the equivalent of Paganini, solo Bach and major concertos on the cello by the end of high school. She's never produced an Oistrakh, but her consistent results were nothing short of astonishing to me when I stopped to think about it. (One of her kids went on to receive her BA and MM from Juilliard, but that student and her mother were loyal and didn't succumb to poaching--I think there would be more such students if they all stayed to the end.) So I guess I can understand the reaction in this thread in retrospect (even if the absolute incredulity-bordering-on-contempt of some of the responses I find unwarranted.)

Edit: and FYI plenty of her students play cello as an extracurricular, though I don't have the stats.

Edit 2: there's nothing wrong with playing violin as just a hobby, just don't expect to be playing Paganini by the end of high school that way.

*Edited to add "for a student who works hard."

Edited: December 3, 2017, 6:01 PM · Hey Han, thanks for the way you asked that question.

---"what were the qualifications of that first teacher that didn't get you anywhere in the first six years?"---

First THREE teachers to be exact. First teacher I'm not totally sure about, but she was working at a college so I believe she may have had a masters. But she threw me into a chair (that was the reason we left, rather than her poor teaching). 2nd teacher was a career orchestra player in a somewhat small symphony, and I'm pretty confident she had at least as a Bachelor's in music. 3rd teacher definitely had a degree and her kids were working on their degrees in music as well. Only reason we switched from the 2nd to the 3rd teacher was because I switched from violin to viola, and the 3rd teacher was much closer to us.

One thing I remember all 3 of these teachers had in common: they never changed their approach with me. They just kept trying in the same way, every lesson. Honestly, I think they just didn't really care about my progress all that much. They had other stuff going on, so what did they care if one kid's lessons didn't produce anything? On the other hand, maybe they could tell that we just didn't care that much about the result week-to-week, so they cared an equal amount? Hard to say.

---"And how does an aspiring student recognize a good teacher if it's not for the name of the conservatory where they were trained?"---

Of course this is a complicated question, and there are many good answers. I think a good start is to have a trial lesson with a teacher and for the parent to use their common sense to judge how they feel about the teacher/student chemistry, as well as the general sense of knowledge that the teacher gives out. I do believe that if a parent cares deeply about the result of the lessons and is willing to trial multiple teachers and do some research, then they will get a good teacher 99% of the time.

---"On Nov. 29, you mentioned that lazy students just stay with the same, bad teacher, rather than seeking a better one. To do so, you have to realize that the teacher is bad, rather than that you as a student have no talent"---

I suppose I probably could have worded this better, as it doesn't fully line up with my views on this subject. I've now written probably 20,000 words in this thread alone, and that starts to degrade the quality of my posts. With that said, it is still my belief that generally, bad students stay with bad teachers. On my website I write about how it took us 5 years to figure out what a good teacher looked like, and that is true. But to be frank, that was because WE were bad students for 5 years (I say "we" because I was 8 and didn't know anything, so my mom was more responsible for my progress at this point than I was). When my mom started me on violin when I was 8, it was only because she wanted me to learn a musical instrument, and I had to choose between the only 2 locally available music lessons, which were either violin or piano. I don't believe it was her intention to have me get GOOD at an instrument. I think she just liked the idea of learning one in a very basic way. Because of this, she never made me practice unless I already wanted to, and when I did practice it was in a completely undisciplined way. It wasn't until after about 5 years of doing lessons in this fruitless way - with equally fruitless teachers - that my mom thought I should take it more seriously and she put more effort into finding a better teacher, as well as putting more effort into encouraging me to practice. So when SHE wanted to take it seriously, then we found a better teacher. We went from bad students to good ones, and at the same time we went from bad teachers to good ones.

Isn't there some expression like "the answer comes when the student is willing to ask the question?" or something like that? Well, this was my experience with the relation between myself, my teachers, and my mom. We got a better teacher when we were ready to look for one.


Also, it's important to note that my website is a business website, and so it's going to be worded in a specific way. I wouldn't say that my personal views are drastically different from those on my website, but I'm also not about to write "bad students stay with bad teachers" on my website, either :) It's also important to note that many of my views are summarized there due to length restrictions. It's already lengthy enough, without adding in all the specific exceptions to what I'm saying.


My best teacher, overall (When considering both attitude and paper qualifications) was my last teacher, and even she was not perfect. She really should have asked me HOW I practiced at home, because even though I was practicing a solid 2 hours per day under her instruction, my progress on my piece was very slow. That's because I had been doing 1 hour of scales per day, 30 minutes of etudes, and only 30 minutes of looking at the Bartok Viola Concerto (Which was also probably a bit too difficult for me as it was). But, she never considered how my at-home practice was going.

Personally, when I find that students aren't making the progress I expect from them (based on how much practice they claim to be doing), I have them record their practice sessions so I can make sure that their quality is good, and that the proportions of time spent on each scale, etude, and piece are logical. I think this teacher assumed that because my playing quality was relatively decent, that I already knew how to organize my practice intelligently at home. So I don't believe we EVER discussed how I was practicing at home in about 2 years with this particular Juilliard-trained teacher. BUT, I want to say, she was still very very good in other ways, and put a ton of effort into writing good quality notes and giving me great fingerings/bowing/analogies. Definitely my best "overall" teacher and the one I learned the most from. BUT, I can't deny the fact that if she had analyzed my at-home practice, my progress would have been at least 200% better in my time with her.


In my opinion, common-sense utilities in teachers - such as the ability to recognize why a student isn't progressing as they should, due to lack of quality in their at-home practice - are far more important than paper credentials. But statistically, I suppose someone has a better chance of getting a qualified teacher by looking for credentials as a starting point.

And even after writing all of that, a million other questions pop up in my mind, such as "What if the Juilliard-trained teacher had been my FIRST teacher? Maybe she would have told my mom that she needed to make me practice, and maybe all of these other bad habits that I learned would have never had a chance to proliferate?" Who knows.... .so many variables, so many questions.


EDIT: I also want to give a little shout-out to Will Willy for trying to help me out and keep me level headed in this discussion :)

December 3, 2017, 6:19 PM · Erik, you don't end up having to defend yourself if you just stick to defending and critiquing ideas :)
Edited: December 3, 2017, 6:43 PM · As someone inexperienced I have some questions.

If Paganini, Bach and the romantic concertos are high school materials, then what pieces should match the level of first year college, senior year college, university grad, Master, PhD, Post Doc?

Do the the grad/ post grad students in a credible program still perform these pieces to graduate, or something more difficult?

I could see that romantic concertos like Sibelius, Beethoven rank quite high on Dorothy Delay's concerto sequence.

In my eyes as a layman to violin, I also find it quite surprising that concerto and Paganini performances with noted symphonies worldwide are just that of high-school. One may argue that it is the level of playing that determines the grade you are in, not the sheer passable performance, but that hasn't been mentioned here.

I could be wrong, but my view is that if a task (like Tchaikovsky concerto) takes me at least 8 years with constant practice on average, to be able to produce a passable result, whether I start learning it as a child or an adult, it is definitely not high school material :-) It sounds like uni or postgrad to me :-).

I know there are kids of high-school age who are able to perform these pieces, but the way I understand it is it's rather the nature of violin and other string instrument that require the learner to start at a very young age - which only speaks to the strict requirement of learning the violin.

Edited: December 3, 2017, 7:05 PM · 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.

What I've seen of all the students I rehabbed from "intermediate" teachers (the ones whose students got into my teacher's class--all with music degrees, though I don't know more details) is a technique which is adequate to their level, but which impedes progress. I believe this to be, in part, a result of incremental, curricular thinking and teaching. "This student is in this grade and so she will learn such and such." The following school year students are advanced to the next grade and learn the requisite skill set and rep, regardless of what they might actually need. In other words, those intermediate teachers didn't possess the whole picture, and the interconnections such knowledge entails.

Edit: "If Paganini, Bach and the romantic concertos are high school materials, then what pieces should match the level of first year college, senior year college, university grad, Master, PhD, Post Doc?"

You just keep doing more of the same: open strings, left hand exercises, bow exercises, scales, etudes, salon pieces, concert pieces, sonatas, chamber music, concertos, etc.

Learning is not linear, but spiral. You're repeating the same set of skills, but each time you pass them again you're refining them and performing them at a higher and higher level. The earlier you complete your first spiral, the more time you'll have to refine before hitting university/conservatory.

I think prodigies hit their first spiral between 6 and 9. Unusually talented kids by 12 to 14. I think it's possible for most serious students to finish their first spiral by 17 with proper guidance and training. In terms of specific rep. that might be Bach Partita 3, Sonata 1, Paganini 16 and 13, Bruch, Mendelsson, Lalo, Wieniawski, Vieuxtemps, that sort of thing. And for the more driven, but not necessarily more 'unusual', yes, even Tchaik and Sibelius, and more difficult caprices.

December 3, 2017, 7:09 PM · 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.

I assume that it takes the same amount of time for an adult (if not more) to achieve the same results.

Thanks for helping me explain it :-)

Edited: December 3, 2017, 9:13 PM · 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.

In my class at university, I don't think anyone of us had done Tchaik or Sibelius by end of high school coming into university. The friend I mentioned above went to my teacher a year before university (as many of his students did) and was given Goldmark (after Lalo?), which is quite a difficult piece, quite a jump. But all had done some major romantic concerto (Mendelssohn, Bruch, Lalo, etc.) After 4 years they ended with things like Tchaik, Sibelius, Shostakovich 1, but others Wieniawski 2, Lalo, Bruch, etc.

Contrast that with the kids studying with my teacher, after he had retired from university, when I was assisting him (kids aged ~12-14, when I joined him). They probably came to him with things like Viotti (if they didn't come with Viotti 22, that's what they did first,) Mozart 3 or 4, and maybe some had done part of the typical first Romantic concertos. One kid was unusually driven and came to him with Mendelssohn at 11 or something, before I started. Over the course of my 4 years assisting, some of the things she covered included complete Bach Sonata 1, Partita 1 and 2 (including Chaccone), many Wieniawski and Paganini Caprices ending with Variations on Nel Cor Piu and several Ysaye, Brahms (at 16), and ending with Bartok 2 (at 17,) and a myriad of other material, sonatas and show pieces, which I can't remember. You might think she was prodigious, but she was not--or maybe she was a prodigious worker--I've never met one who worked harder than she. Two years into my time assisting, all those kids who started when I got there were doing big Romantic concertos by 14-16, all movements: Khachaturian, Lalo, Bruch, Wieniawski 2, Vieuxtemps 5 and 4, Barber (no one did Mendelssohn as my teacher had a special reverence, or hatred, for it) and of course everyone did Mozart, sonatas, show pieces and etudes/caprices concurrently. Some of the more driven ones ended with Wieniawski 1 & Walton (same kid!), Sibelius, Tchaik, Shostakovich 1, some serious stuff. Except for maybe 2 kids, I wouldn't call those students unusually talented, much less, prodigious. The more advanced ones simply worked much harder than the others. So the university students I went to school with had achieved much less in their 14 yrs (let's take age 7 as an average starting point) than the kids I assisted, who on average achieved much more in 7 to 11 yrs.

I think my classmates were typical serious students. The kids I assisted were also pretty typical serious students, but with a very serious teacher midway through their 1st spiral. Now imagine kids who started with such a serious teacher, someone like Stolyarski? Well we don't have to imagine because we have seen some of his results (I've read that no one considered Oistrakh a prodigy.) So I think it's fair to say 10 years is what is common now, but I think that could be cut to 6 to 8, based on what I've seen of my sisters kids, though cello is more physically comfortable on average I think.

As to what happens in uni levels, what I meant was that they would just go on learning more rep (there is a lot of violin rep!) not necessarily repeating, though some may repeat. Also, you don't just keep learning harder and harder rep, but rather you keep mixing things up depending on what you need to work on.

As for adults, I think it's hard to say for many reasons, including, but not limited to, lack of access to very good teachers, lack of a community of peers doing the same thing, lack of concurrent education (academic musical stuff,) lack of other coaches/conductors/teachers (e.g. sonata class is usually taught by a pianist,) but I don't see why that first spiral couldn't be achieved within that 10 year mark.

December 3, 2017, 11:54 PM · 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.

FWIW, my personal experience is that I usually need a few months to adapt to a new teacher (or conductor). The only generic thing that I can judge quickly is whether the teacher can handle the way I fire questions at them. (And I still force myself not to start arguing about physics :) ) Trialling multiple teachers would not be practical for me.

December 4, 2017, 2:09 AM · I would love for a student to start arguing physics with me :)
Edited: December 4, 2017, 5:33 AM · 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.

Erik, we argue physics all the time when we talk about:
(1) weight vs. pressure, and
(2) the bow stick's role in tone production.

Edited: December 4, 2017, 9:10 AM · 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.

I am an adult amateur who returned to the instrument after 25 years. I (re)started last year initially just to demonstrate to my daughter what dedicated and committed practice means. Then, slowly but surely I found that playing the violin fills, as they said, "a void in my heart." I took the approach of reworking the repertoire that I once learned. After about a year and half, I think I regained all my former facility and have made measurable progress. I am now (re)working on what some may consider advanced level repertoire. I might even (re)tackle Paganini 16 in a year or two : )

I owe my progress to my teachers.

I don't live in a metropolitan area and had to drive 200 miles to the nearest metropolitan area for lessons during the first 10 months of my return. I felt like "I won the lottery " when the spouse of a recent hire in a local college took me in her studio.

Both teachers meet my criteria!

More importantly, they treat adult students seriously even though they know we are not "conservatory-bound" and we "just want to play violin".

Edited: December 4, 2017, 2:21 PM · 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).

I remember that I got an ex-viola-performance major (who hadn't played in like 5 years) a couple of years ago and all of the other teachers in my area wouldn't even give him an introductory lesson because they felt under-qualified to teach him. So I told him that I didn't know if I'd be able to help, but I'd give it a try. Long story short, within 2 months or so of lessons, he was back to where we wanted to be, and joined some college orchestras and a theatre orchestra.

One of our big moments was when I realized that his tone was never thick enough, and had to take a closer look at the formation of his bow hand. Turns out, one of his professors at Ball State had totally screwed up his bow hand by almost placing his index on TOP of his thumb position, so he could never get sufficient leverage when we wanted thickness from the tone. So, by simply moving all of the fingers up the stick by about 1/2" so that the index and middle finger could be used as leverage, his tone and playing comfort totally changed. He hadn't considered this option himself, because it was a very credentialed teacher who had originally given him this advice and he thought "must just be something else I'm doing wrong."

This was one of the many "obvious" changes I was able to make, despite him being almost as advanced as I was. Of course, he didn't really need more than a couple months of lessons, but the change he made in that time was tremendous, and I really felt that all of my knowledge was put to "proper" use, which is rare. Generally my patience is being utilized more than my knowledge base.

Another thing he noted was that I was the first teacher who actually went through lengths to make sure he was practicing correctly at home, despite the credentials of his previous teachers.

Anyways, it's always satisfying to teach someone who actually wants to learn, and really goes home and does precisely what I say, rather than about 10% of what I say. It is these rare students that make great progress that I can be proud of. I'm sure your teacher is very happy that you're one of those students, also.

Edited: December 4, 2017, 3:11 PM · 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.

So if you're serious about violin study you must be freakishly talented, is that it? You can't possibly be a normal child who just works hard at a worthy activity which brings enjoyment, validation, a sense of achievement and personal growth. If you get so good the average person can't comprehend how you achieved it, it must be attributed to "savant-level talent" rather than discipline, perseverance, endurance, dedication, competitive edge, sense of self worth, and finding the right teacher. Or sheer love of it.

But I wonder why the double standard? Why do we still marginalize young classical musicians? Isn't the kid who makes the first string high school football team also a freak? No doubt such kids spent hours a day passing the ball around, or running, or in the gym getting physically stronger than their peers, watching games, playing pickup, learning the rules and practicing strategy. Studying Paganini and major concertos is not like being drafted into the NFL, which is the equivalent of mastering Paganini, or signing a Deutsche Grammophon contract and being engaged to play 100 concerts a year on the world stage. But even then...

Is it more normal to spend 4 or 5 hours a day in a pool, or court, or track, or on the field, or fairway? Aren't all our high achieving adolescents just a bunch of quasi-savants? It can't possibly be that they just work really hard at what they love to do.

Welcome to the culture of fixed mindset.

December 4, 2017, 3:57 PM · "Isn't the kid who makes the first string high school football team also a freak?"

Yes, but not as much of a freak as the kid who actually gets into the NFL.

I think Paul was somewhat joking, but I think his bigger point is this:

When you start saying things like "being able to play paganini is high-school level material", you're really downplaying the achievements of people who work very hard and don't achieve that.

Anything that requires thousands of hours of hard work, in conjunction with a very qualified teacher backing that effort AND good quality genetic motor skills, is not a "normal" achievement. High school material, in terms of regular academics, is not extremely difficult. If you're reasonably smart, you can make it through high school with As without trying very much at all. So to equate that with paganini is just silly.

I think people should just view paganini as it is: a very high-level achievement that someone should be proud of. And we shouldn't condense it into "this is high school level material."

We should also remember that when Paganini introduced his caprices, they were ground-breakingingly insane material.

Edited: December 4, 2017, 4:30 PM · 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.

Erik put it better. Have we really got to the point where playing at that level as a high school student is a routine expectation? I kind of don't think so, but that could just be me.

And I didn't discount discipline, perseverance... or finding the right teacher. I included all those, where, of course, the "right teacher" was likewise defined by a totally ridiculous standard.

December 4, 2017, 5:33 PM · 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.

To me personally, no amount of high school is equivalent to the hard work, commitment and dedication one puts into some of the hardest violin pieces ever written.

I have nothing but admiration to the young teenage violinists out there who are capable of such achievement, knowing and acknowledging the sacrifice they have made, the thousands of hours they put in, and perseverance that they have had, practicing with discipline from when they are still young kids.

Therefore when one compared Paganini caprices and romantic concertos to high school materials, I’m really surprised, to be honest. Correct me if I’m wrong, Paganini’s caprices were written to showcase his talent. If Paganini was alive, I suspect that he would be more likely to take offence than to be amused by this comparison.

Edited: December 4, 2017, 6:54 PM · 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.
Edited: December 4, 2017, 7:12 PM · 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. :)
December 4, 2017, 7:41 PM · 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.

Just saying.

Edited: December 4, 2017, 7:58 PM · But the #good# ones do. We are still talking about "good ", right? The level of mastery--calculus or Paganini--is always variable : = )
Edited: December 4, 2017, 8:18 PM · 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.

But as Will already pointed out, my initial interpretation of your first responses was the same as his (that you thought all good violin teachers including those working only with beginners should be able to play Paganini and should be performing recitals on a regular basis), and you have since clarified that you meant *for you* and not necessarily for the world at large.

I have no problem with your preference *for yourself* that your child's kindergarten teacher be able to do calculus. I just don't think they all need to.

December 4, 2017, 8:21 PM · 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.)

I think many of my teacher's teenaged students are hitting that kind of competence on a routine basis, on two hours of practice a day -- and in their early teens, at that. And I don't think that it's rare for the competitive studios in this metro area. The level of violin teaching, globally, has risen steadily for the last century and continues to rise.

I think students -- even non-conservatory-bound students -- playing Tchaikovsky before the end of high school is now pretty routine. It's certainly a small percentage of the total number of students who begin the violin, but for the ones practicing diligently, under the instruction of an excellent teacher? A reasonable expectation.

December 4, 2017, 9:04 PM · 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.
December 4, 2017, 9:08 PM · Mary Ellen, I agree!

Math is more curriculuar and less interconnected than violin playing. I tend to agree with Jeewon--having worked out the technical challenges of Paganini ( to the extent possible) will have an impact on how to teach Suzuki 2. Just two cents from a middle aged amateur.

Edited: December 4, 2017, 9:33 PM · Less than an hour a day! Holy smokes Lydia!

"...practicing diligently, under the instruction of an excellent teacher..." That's pretty much a requirement to do anything well. Since we're all taking everything to extremes anyways... if all you're looking for is a hobby, you just wanna play simple tunes and don't really care about playing well, by all means, settle for a less than excellent teacher and practice whatever you want, however you want, be happy. The analogy some people are drawing here is that it's perfectly fine to have people with a grade school education teach kindergarten. And while I agree it's not necessary to have "mastered Paganini" or be a "Heifetz-level" teacher (I'm not sure where such criteria came from,) or to have studied calculus, it's not such a bad thing to expect beginner level teacher's to have had proper training, just as it's reasonable to expect kindergarten teachers to have post-secondary education. And no, those degrees don't guarantee anything. As with everything in life, you still have to do your due diligence.

Edit: David explained:

"...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)."

He's clearly talking about starting to study Paganini, which means 16, 13 and 14 which aren't that much harder than Kreutzer 26, 30, 33, 41 and easier than many Rode, Dont, Gavinies etudes.

Edited: December 4, 2017, 9:30 PM · "The level of violin teaching, globally, has risen steadily for the last century and continues to rise."

My current teacher is in her late 20's with degrees from IU. My unprofessional assessment is that she is technically more polished than my former teacher who studied with Gingold in the 70s and had a significant orchestral career. People are playing better and better although the market for violinist is shrinking......

December 4, 2017, 9:51 PM · 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.
December 4, 2017, 10:05 PM · 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.
December 4, 2017, 10:16 PM · 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: LINK.)

Most 14-year-olds are not in the league of paid soloists, obviously, but many of them are playing with technical command and good musicality. How many *adult professionals* play a Tchaikovsky at a high enough level that you'd pay to watch them, after all?

It's not unusual to hear a student play Bruch who's obviously not ready for it, or who's playing it awkwardly (i.e. is missing a relaxed and natural command of the instrument). 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.

Edited: December 4, 2017, 10:25 PM · 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.

I would still do it for a good cause and I would like to be supportive but sometimes, it’s easier said than done.

Edited: December 4, 2017, 10:27 PM · "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."

Indeed, often these three concerti are used to 'shock' or 'jump start' inadequate technique, with more or less success depending on the teacher and student, because the technique was not sufficiently prepared by an "intermediate teacher." With a good enough teacher, such a student will, usually with great effort, remediate sufficiently to move on. Without such a teacher the student will stall and likely quit. Better to study with a teacher who knows how to prep. technique while the student is playing simpler music, a teacher who has interconnected knowledge of the materials.

December 4, 2017, 10:34 PM · David: "My current teacher is in her late 20's with degrees from IU".

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.

December 4, 2017, 10:41 PM · 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 :))

1) What percentage of kids that decide they want to learn violin are willing to practice a minimum of 30 minutes every day (assuming their teacher tells them this is important)?

2) Of those kids, what percentage have parents that are willing to help supervise their lessons and pay close attention on what to work on at home, and then go home and watch their kids every time they practice?

3) Of those kids/parents, what percentage do you think will NOT fight with each other due to (necessary) criticism/guidance from the parent during practice?

4) Of those kids, what percentage do you think will be willing to ramp up their practice times as the repertoire/scales/etudes demand it?

5) Of those kids, who are going to stick with this routine from an early age all the way to late high school, instead of giving up at, for example, age 12?


Ok, what percentage did you end up with? Because, assuming that their motor skills and intelligence are high enough for the eventual task of playing paganini AND assuming that they have good teachers, I think we can all agree that those 5 things are NECESSARY, at the very least, for a student to accomplish some paganini by the end of high school, regardless of other factors.

This is a very small percentage of students. Perhaps 0.5% of students that decided to start the violin in the first place had the situation which allowed them to make it that far. You're telling me that students in the 99.95th percentile are representative of a "Relatively common" phenomenon?

I also want to point out that Lydia is probably in the 99.99th percentile of talent on violin, and I wouldn't surprised if David and Jeewon were as well. Of course, talented people still have to do their "due diligence," but they get a heck of a lot farther than others would in the same amount of time.

But if there's one thing I've noticed, it's that talented people always claim that "talent doesn't really exist" (or something to soften the effect of talent).

Let me list some things I consider "talent."

1) Having both parents around
2) Having a parent willing to help you practice and take you to lessons
3) Having a parent willing to teach you work ethic from a young age
4) Having good motor skills (probably both genetic and environmental)
5) Having good basal intelligence (once again, both genetic and environmental)
6) Naturally-occurring "grit" or discipline, to keep trying despite challenges (genetic and environmental).
7) Loving music.

"Talent" is simply any factor that the student doesn't have control over. Yes, a student theoretically could just ~decide~ to start working hard one day, but that's amazingly difficult for someone that's been trained from a young age to give up when things are hard. In fact, it's nearly impossible. A lack of "learned helplessness" is its own talent.

So please don't discount the effects of talent when talking about what's "normal" for a high schooler to achieve. The top 0.5% does not mean "normal." It means "Exceptional."

December 4, 2017, 10:49 PM · "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."

Josef Gingold died in 1995.

December 4, 2017, 11:10 PM · 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".
December 4, 2017, 11:17 PM · 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.
December 4, 2017, 11:58 PM · Jeewon, I don't know where to start ...

*Are you suggesting we use the lowest common denominator to determine what makes a good violin teacher?*
It should neither be the lowest common denominator nor the highest one. The denominator should be the whole pool of kids out there who decided to start learning the violin. So it includes the both the extremely talented and the disadvantaged.

*You're kind of saying not everyone in the world can do everything, and you'd be right.*
Honestly I don't understand the logical flows of your argument, but I think the main point is that among all the kids who did learn the violin, the percentage of those who are able to play Paganini before the end of high school is definitely very small. At least, in my opinion it's not big enough for us to consider this to be a routine expectation.

Edited: December 5, 2017, 12:15 AM · 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.

Edited: December 5, 2017, 12:50 AM · 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.

Edit: same is true of school teachers. I'd guess kids who learn violin only in public schools have 0 chance of getting to an advanced level. Child prodigies have 100% chance. So what have we learned?

Edited: December 5, 2017, 3:19 AM · Jeewon, so you just want to single out those talented kids and just talk about them?

The original question is what makes a good violin teacher; it doesn't ask about 'what's a good teacher for the select few'.

Just an edit to say that, 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.

December 5, 2017, 1:31 AM · ~"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'?"~

If you don't realize HOW normal these things are in the general population, then it's obvious how your perspective has become so skewed. Also, I'm not saying "lower than average intelligence." I'm actually talking about average intelligence, which isn't as high as you seem to think it is. I really am just talking about the AVERAGE kid who wants to learn violin (And honestly, just wanting to learn violin probably already puts them well above "normal" in many aspects).

~"I am trying to talk about the effect various levels of private teachers can have on what I consider to be normal kids."~

What exactly do you consider to be "normal kids?" Can you provide some parameters for what this might be? I, too, am not trying to be obstinate, but simply to show you that your idea of "normal" is not normal at all, and represents about 0.5% of the violin population, at best. "Normal" would be something that represents roughly 50% of the population. In this specific case, "normal" would represent roughly 50% of the population of kids that start trying to learn violin.

~"Will, if you include the whole pool of kids who start, you can't really discuss this topic in a meaningful way."~

I don't really know how to respond to this. Are you implying that anything that doesn't meet your preconceived notion about "normal" is an outlier? That something like 99% of the kids that start violin are extraneous data? See, this sort of attitude is exactly what I started taking all of this personally in the first place. High-level people often just exclude normal kids from consideration when gathering statistics on what seems to work and what doesn't. Somehow, the 99% of kids who fail to make to make it very far at all on the violin and end up discouraged don't seem like valid data to you. You only look at what worked for the TOP percent of kids, the kids who were probably going to succeed no matter what they did. And then you use this as skewed data to try to prove that high-level teachers produce high-level students. Then you try to make intermediate teachers seem like hacks who can't produce anything, when in reality they're just doing the best they can with "normal" kids who would probably be happy just to make it to Book 4 Suzuki.

I have an adage which I feel relevant here: "don't ask a bird how to build a staircase to the top of a building. It will just tell you to fly there like everyone else supposedly can."

Edited: December 5, 2017, 1:55 AM · "The original question is what makes a good violin teacher; it doesn't ask about 'what's a good teacher for the select few'."


Private violin teaching, with its one-on-one format, necessitates that the number of students that can be taught by a teacher is small. So a private violin teacher by definition is a teacher for the selected few.

Private violin studios all have admission standard of some sorts. Some do not take adults; some, like Mary Ellen's studio, do not take beginners. Most, if not all, do not take students who can not pay. Galamian and Delay (universally acknowledged as good teachers) were arguably more selective than anyone else.

So, of course, a good violin teacher is a good teacher for a selected few!

Any reasonable discussion should be about teachers whose students actually WANT to become good violinists.

December 5, 2017, 2:28 AM · 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?

David, we are discussing about the normality of high school kids who can play Paganini and the romantic concertos. I don't think they are normal. I think they are exceptional, and it seems I am not the only one who holds this opinion. I believe they constitute a very small proportion of even "students actually WANT to become good violinists" per your defined group.

December 5, 2017, 3:53 AM · Actually Will, David was initially talking about highschool kids bound for conservatory, if I'm not mistaken.

I will respond in stages so as not to write a megapost.

December 5, 2017, 4:23 AM · Jeewon, sorry I didn't know what kind of kids David was talking about.

As a someone relatively new to violin, I have no information about the proportion of conservatory-bound kids who went on to advanced levels, so I can't say anything about this; I'm just gonna be listening :)

Edited: December 5, 2017, 4:47 AM · 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.

Of students who do play the violin, one could say it's "normal" in high school to play at the Suzuki book 2/3 level. That's where a lot of kids end up at age 16 without private lessons and after participating for years in casual public school group instruction. I don't think that's what this discussion about private teachers is about.

Then there are students who take lessons for years but have bad teachers. What is normal for them? Unclear.

And there are students who play recreationally for 7 years and are guided by good private teachers. It's pretty normal for them to practice 1-2 hours a day and be playing romantic concertos in high school.

Edited: December 5, 2017, 5:33 AM · 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.

As far as I know, no one in this thread has been crazy enough to consider the total population of students. If that was the case, the definition of normal would be zero for most artistic activities and sports, just like what you said.

Yes, no doubt there are students who can play romantic concertos after some 7 years of 1-2 hours daily practice (which still adds up to several thousands of practice hours with a *good* teacher anyway). Or may be even less for prodigies? But the consensus, at least among members in this thread (no matter what side they are on), is for the serious student who wants to become a serious violinist, an average of 10 years of constant practice and a good amount of dedication is needed and expected.

I could see that you are trying to normalize the achievement of those able to play Paganini/ romantic concertos at high-school age. To each their own, but I do believe they are exceptional, in not only ability but also dedication, and we should give them any possible recognition that they rightfully deserve.

Edited: December 5, 2017, 5:45 AM · 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.)

For people less well-off, or living in a rural area without good teachers, or without parents to handle a lot of the burden, I agree it would not be normal.

Edited: December 5, 2017, 6:03 AM · "Jeewon, so you just want to single out those talented kids and just talk about them?"

I don't know what you mean by talented, but I would rather talk about 'young musicians', students who want to learn classical violin music and take it to an advanced level, as all of this debate re. 'Paganini by highschool' stemmed from the question of whether beginner teachers ought to be conservatory/university trained. So I don't know what Erik's list has to do with this, which is why I questioned relevance. But I will reply to the other questions momentarily out of courtesy since I seem to have incited some controversy.

It's difficult to pin down what normal is, especially when you are all inclusive. But I like how Frieda has categorized it. In athletics if you are a 'young athlete,' you are serious by definition. Similarly 'young musician', the next category after recreational students, should bear that same connotation. I'd say it's normal for young musicians to hit advanced materials by their early teens.

December 5, 2017, 6:08 AM · Frieda, I agree that any achievement would become normal within a sufficiently selective population.

To both Frieda and Jeewon, to each their own, but *for me* the students who can play Paganini and romantic concertos within high school age are exceptional, in my eyes.

Edited: December 5, 2017, 6:51 AM · 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.

Safe answers are not very interested. More concrete criteria can lead to intense disputes and deep confusion. Picking faults is easy; understanding is harder. Excellent answers have been misunderstood and seemingly need further (endless) answers. At some point, one must stop answering. This is not to ignore the questions, but it’s a form of teaching – put it aside for a while, let it sink in, and await some understanding and better questions, as Confucius would advise.

Teacher-student relationship is mutually reflective: to know a student well you need to look who he studies with, vice versa -- says the Confucius. No wonder teachers and students both get personal with OP’s question. Some disagreements are irreconcilable when derived from a value clash, such as excellence vs. something utilitarian.

As an ethnic Chinese, I believe deeply that choosing a teacher is choose a long path/way in one’s life, and that following a master one will have the best learning possible regardless what one ended up doing. This way of thinking doesn’t make economic sense and may be very alien to many modern non-Asian cultures.

Trouble is, I believe violin teacher-student relationship today is still very much a master-desciple one rather than that of an employee-employer one in a free market. If you have read so far and agree with me on this, then my question is this:

Why would you settle for less if you have a chance to follow the greatest master within your reach?

December 5, 2017, 7:01 AM · I agree with everything Frieda said.

I would consider "normal" to be something that you see in everyday situations -- i.e., kids, usually multiple kids, in your home town. To put it another way, the high school's concertmaster is no more unusual than the high school's quarterback; both have put in significant practice time over the years, but they represent a small percentage of the number of kids who start a music instrument / play sports.

A kid who practices steadily (call it roughly an hour a day, at least from middle school forward), and has a reasonably good teacher, but no deep dedication, can generally make it to Bruch level before they graduate from high school. These are the kids who eventually populate first violin sections in your typical community orchestras. Some of them probably could use technical rehab, but their skills are sufficient for adult hobbyists. (Some of these folks go on to pursue music careers, too, though if they're at the Bruch-by-senior-year level, they have a long road of catch-up ahead of them.)

A kid who is less well taught by a private teacher, and/or less dedicated, can probably end high school playing a decent De Beriot 9, or maybe Accolay. These kids eventually populate second violin sections in your typical community orchestras, and from my personal experience, they're the ones who tend to feel that their playing needs improving in adulthood and begin taking lessons again -- a significant percentage need technical rehab.

The kids who are playing Bruch by their freshman year, though, are no longer unusual. Every high school in a reasonably affluent area probably has at least one of these kids, if not several. That may apply even in rural areas where there's access to a good violin teacher. Around here, even the middle schools routinely have those kids -- I reckon that a significant percentage of middle schools in affluent metro areas have one of those kids as a concertmaster. My local youth symphony's grade 8-10 orchestra requires that violinists choose a solo piece at a minimum of ASTA grade 4/5 -- the Bruch is grade 5. The huge number of local youth orchestras have no problem filling their ranks with kids at that level.

Getting beyond the Bruch/Mendelssohn/Lalo often results in technical stumbling blocks that require rehab, though, as Jeewon noted. You can get through the notes of the Bruch, especially if you don't play it especially well, with significant technical deficiencies. (One only needs to look through the archives of this site for examples.) You can, for instance, misplace your left hand and probably have a more-or-less recognizable Bruch. But dense sequences of thirds in Paganini will probably kill you; they will be nigh impossible to get in tune. Playing the more difficult concertos requires fluency in both hands if you don't want to woodshed a million things requiring coordination.

That results in you seeing plenty of kids that can manage Bruch, Mendelssohn, Lalo, maybe Wieniawski 2 or Khachaturian, etc. but don't manage to really progress beyond that point. There's often a barrier between that and being able to do Paganini Caprices (or the first concerto, which is commonly taught to students). This is where you really see differences between merely good teachers of technique and the best teachers of technique -- the best teachers have ensured that their students have no significant bad habits that hold them back.

Edited: December 5, 2017, 8:30 AM · 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.

My original post essentially says a necessary but not sufficient condition for a "good" teacher #for me# should be someone who has learned the above-mentioned materials (or equivalent) in high school.

Given the discussion we had, it does not look like a tall order at all!

December 5, 2017, 8:21 AM · 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.

Also to clarify, I always have a few students who "cannot pay," who were referred to me after they had already demonstrated a good work ethic and were known by objective measures (i.e. free or reduced-price school lunch)to be disadvantaged. Those students pay me a very little (I don't believe it's good for anyone to get lessons for free), work hard, and are a pleasure to teach. I consider teaching such scholarship students to be a moral obligation (albeit a joyful one) in return for all the help and advantages I received as a young person.

And finally, I actually had not met David's standard in high school; I got into Oberlin on Bruch--a fact that still mystifies me--and did an amazing amount of catching up there thanks to a wonderful teacher and a belatedly discovered work ethic of my own. Yes, I was an outlier in a big way but it's important to remember that outliers do exist.

Edited: December 5, 2017, 10:17 AM · It seems to me there are two groups here with different opinions of "normal".

The first group appears to base "normal" on students who are already at the advancing level and has gone through the "culling" out process, whose goal is to go to a conservatory. Whether that was implied initially is not clear to me.

There's the second group who considers all students who starts to learn violin at seven. Whether that person "survives" to a level capable of Paganini is counted along with those who are.

I don't think anyone here is considering normal as the general population.

In my personal experience and limited opinion, and I'm from the second group I described, being able to play Paganini by their early to mid-teens, or even Bruch by that time is atypical - based on my definition of normal. My experience being that of knowing people who majored in violin performance or music education, knowing amateurs and their own history, and knowing the general level of all students who play at the Youth orchestras (all levels) and local high school orchestras.

Certainly, if a student's goal is to get into conservatory, then it is expected that he or she is playing Bruch or Paganini by graduation.

December 5, 2017, 11:40 AM · 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.
December 5, 2017, 11:44 AM · "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?"

Will, as I have mentioned a number of times before, these "high school materials" are the kind that were imposed by undergraduate programs as required audition materials. The music school of the ##University of Iowa## is probably not an undergraduate program that most people would associate with a top-tier music program. Below is their audition rep. for undergraduates:

(1)Major and minor scales in 3 octaves

(2) One etude from any of the following: Kreutzer, Dont, Gavinies, Fiorillo, Mazas, Rode or Paganini Caprices, or similar

(3)One movement of a standard concerto

(4) One additional work in a contrasting style.

An 18 year-old who wants to study violin there will need to learn the above in high school!

December 5, 2017, 12:53 PM · 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.
December 5, 2017, 1:12 PM · 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.

It is generally accepted that an elementary-school teacher does not need to have math skills suitable to enter a math program in university. Math teachers teaching 16-18 year olds at pre-university level typically do have a university-level math background, though.

By analogy: a music teacher teaching beginners does not need to qualify for conservatory, but does need a lot of pedagogical skills.

I'm sure that more children would end up qualifying for university-level math if they got one-on-one lessons at the age of 6, from university math graduates, compared to the present system, but I think it would be more due the one-on-one aspect than due to the first teacher's math skills.

December 5, 2017, 1:28 PM · 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.

Yes, it requires dedication, but the level of dedication and prerequisites isn't anywhere close to those for playing the violin at a high level.


Alright, I'm going to lay out what I see as the IDEAL setup for a teacher flow:

1st teacher: Beginner teacher that brings the student, especially very young ones, up to a Solid Twinkle. Helps develop basics like finger strength, how to sort of use the bow correctly, and a couple of different bow strokes. Gives the young student a FUN start on the violin and also helps develop a basic work ethic, as well as helping the parent understand their role in all of this. Also acts as a "culling" teacher, to the extent that students who aren't practicing at least 15 minutes a day after a year are held back from moving on to the 2nd teacher.

2nd teacher: Maybe maxed out around the most basic "Real" concertos like Mendelssohn, but had solid technique up to that point. Helps the student to go from the first few songs in Suzuki 1 to the end of book 4 (bach double). Helps titrate the student's work ethic so that by the time they are at the end of book 4, they are practicing close to an hour a day. Teaches vibrato, multiple bowings, and whatever else is necessary to play at a very solid Book 4 level. Also acts as a culling teacher for the 3rd teacher.

3rd teacher: Very advanced, has studied and done well at conservatory. A "true" professional, in the sense that they have a career in music, and also know how to lead someone else down that same path if need be. Knows how to accomplish and tackle all of the paganini caprices, as well as every major concerto.

Ideally, about a year would be spent with the 1st teacher, about 2-3 years with the 2nd teacher, and the rest of the time would be spent with the 3rd teacher.

What do you guys think?

December 5, 2017, 2:23 PM · 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.

It's the method I would use if I were to send my hypothetical child to learn an instrument. Some teachers just won't be a good fit for some kids, but I don't see the benefit for the student of switching teachers until they are really ready to or need to take full responsibility for their playing.

December 5, 2017, 2:25 PM · 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.

I don't really see that, but who am I? Most of my 10-month journey was correcting and refining technique anyway. (I have respect for the patience of my teacher!) What kind of bad habits that become roadblocks years later are we talking about?

December 5, 2017, 2:48 PM · 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).

I've studied with teachers who could casually rip off the major concertos and a bunch of virtuosic works (Paganini, Ernst, etc.) from memory. They'll teach anything.

I've also studied with teachers who were capable of winning and holding full-time pro-orchestra positions -- who could play the easier Romantic concertos with ease, but for whom Paganini would be a major effort requiring practice. These teachers are capable of teaching the full range of repertoire, but tend to be less comfortable teaching the most difficult repertoire, and might not be ideal for more advanced students.

December 5, 2017, 3:47 PM · 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.

The idea behind this distribution is that there are enough teachers for everyone, but the tiers work out so that everyone benefits. The beginners get to keep playing with the #1 teachers even if they don't improve much (which enriches their lives), and the more serious students get to quickly progress through the tiers to the #3 teachers. Very serious students would probably get through the #1 and #2 teachers within just a few months, or perhaps a year. Or, perhaps the #1 and #2 teachers would allow these exceptional students to "skip" them straight into the #3 teachers.


For all of this to work, the #1, #2, and #3 teachers would all have to teach at the same music school, and be willing to discuss students with each other. Everyone would have to be willing to know their own limits with a student, and to move the student on when it was time.

Also, the different tiers of teachers would have to respect each other. For example, you couldn't have a #1 teacher that wasn't respected by the #3 teacher. The #3 teacher would definitely need to "approve" that the lower tiers of teachers would be able to effectively move students on to them without serious technical issues.


Basically, my idea is for a music school where teachers of varying grades associate and communicate with each other on a regular basis. One might argue that a #3 teacher wouldn't want to waste their time talking to a #1 teacher, BUT I don't think the #3 teacher would want a student who doesn't practice, so the #1 teacher is of great benefit to them because it culls the uncommitted students.

I have long thought about the fact (and mentioned this before in another thread) that we don't have "real" music schools in the USA. We don't have a school that is able to accommodate everyone, but simultaneously able to bring serious students up to a very high level if they so desire.

December 5, 2017, 4:29 PM · David, regarding the 'high school material stuff'.

I am in a different country than USA, and I presume the US as having the highest number of prestigious conservatories worldwide, especially classical music, and the competition for entrance into reputable programs there would probably the fiercest.

As a side note, if anyone was asking whether romantic concertos and Paganini caprices would be required for entrance into the very top conservatory in my country with a population of ~100 million people (aka the national university in music), my answer is a straight no.

When I left my country for Australia, I happened to know that the top conservatory here (the Sydney Conservatorium of Music - aka 'The Con') requires only "Kreutzer, Fiorillo, Rode, Dont Opus 35 or any other study of comparable or higher degree of difficulty' as audition requirement for bachelor in music performance (string) which I have understood as being far below those concertos and Paganini. Link provided should anyone asks.


David, I understand this isn't of much relevance to the discussion as V.com is American-centric. But I am still sharing this just to explain where I come from with my opinion.

Now, come back to the US :-).

I have no problem with the idea that a high school student capable of playing concertos and Paganini could be seen as 'normal' within some *sufficiently selective* sub-groups in America (studying with a 'good' teacher, having supportive parents, being financially viable, being conservatory-bound, having the serious mindset and intention to become a violinist, so on and so forth). As I have said, any achievement could become normal within a sufficiently selective subgroup, as we attempt to narrow the potential set of competitors and select only the most viable ones.

I wish to ask a question. I have no doubt America is the most competitive country in terms of classical violins. I wonder, roughly, what proportion of music conservatories (selective or non-selective) in America that actually require (i.e. NOT recommend only or leave as an option for students to choose) romantic concertos and Paganini caprices for audition?

Edited: December 5, 2017, 6:33 PM · 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.

Edit: Mary Ellen would have much better information in terms of what it takes to win a job in a full time orchestra with a 52-week season in the US.

December 5, 2017, 6:04 PM · 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 :-)
Edited: December 5, 2017, 6:49 PM · 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.
December 5, 2017, 6:25 PM · 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)
December 5, 2017, 7:12 PM · 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.

Solo Bach (at least the easiest choices) is easier than a Romantic concerto (i.e., starting at Bruch level), which in turn is easier than what is normally meant when audition requirements ask for a Paganini Caprice.

There are plenty of places that would ask for solo Bach and a movement of a Romantic concerto, but very few require Paganini, as far as I know.

Also, my guess is that students whose Paganini Caprice command would only extend as far as #16, would probably choose to audition on a flashier etude from Dont op. 35 or Rode instead, given the option.

December 5, 2017, 7:38 PM · Yeah, put this way, the "requirement " is as I said before quite modest and reasonable!

December 5, 2017, 8:20 PM · Well, you said Bruch and Paganini. I think it's rare for teachers to teach a student a single Paganini caprice when they're not ready for the Caprices in general; they usually wait until they're done with the other etudes they teach first (such as Dont op. 35) before moving on.

I don't think Bruch-level students typically study Paganini -- your teacher was an exception. Rather, such students are finishing up Kreutzer, and doing Dont and maybe Rode or Gavinies, maybe with a detour through Wieniawski Ecole Moderne afterwards.

December 5, 2017, 8:31 PM · David, *for me* one should know:

1. Which piece(s) are exactly required. There seems to be some significant variations in the level of difficulty between the concertos, and within the caprices.

3. Whether the whole concerto is auditioned or just one movement (I know it could be unfeasible to require the the full performance - imagine how long it would take for all candidates ! :-)) but still, building a whole house should be more difficult (at least in terms of stamina and in terms of practice) than just building a living room.

3. The key question is the proportion of programs (per total of selective and non-selective) which require any two with average difficulty among those pieces, as in my original question. If this proportion gets to >50% of these programs, I could agree with David that these requirements are 'quite' modest and reasonable :) (but if, say, only some 10-15% require them, I could say the requirements are *elite, not modest*).

Still, even when the said pieces were popular for most programs' auditions, there could be some problems arising from a simple comparison with high school materials. Firstly, one would study them again at college and master levels - so with the same reasoning, one could argue that they are also college/post-college materials. So a better 'high-school' comparison should be about the *level* of performance of these pieces, rather than the pieces themselves. Secondly, I would presume that these pieces become the requirements not because it's the minimum standard to ensure quality of learning, but simply due to the high virtuosity of the candidate pool, while the places in the best programs are limited.

Edited: December 5, 2017, 9:31 PM · 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.

But Erik is saying that such characterstics are normal in the general population, and while I acknowledge I may be of a privileged class where I haven't witnessed such a phenomenon, I myself have not experienced that to be the norm. I've taught several different categories of students during my time as a teacher, and so my answers to Erik's questions differ for each group. Each of us is biased by our own experience. I don't think any of us can conduct research scientifically, so I don't see the point of speculating. But... in my experience:

Among my private beginner students (a handful):

1) Kids who decide to learn music will practice minimums in my experience. I've not taught many beginners, and I don't know how to verify other than by their word, their parent's word, and practice checklists.

2) In my experience, 100% of parents of young kids have said they are keeping track.

3) I don't really know. In my experience most kids complied, even if they weren't yet practicing well. That was just the nature of their relationships with their parents.

4) Again, I don't know how to check compliance, but 100%.

5) I don't know. I've never taught young kids for more than about 3 years. Judging by the parental desire for their kids to learn violin, I'd guess a good portion of them.

I spent 4-5 years teaching at a highschool with a strong music program where students were required to take private lessons beyond gd. 9/freshman yr:

1) 100% before exams/performance, maybe 50% the rest of the year, except during academic exams time, where it'd be near 0; probably close to 0 in summers

2) None. As they were highschool kids.

3) None.

4) Same as 1)

5) None. They probably all quit at the end of highschool.

See how this is not very helpful? It has very much to do with categories.

Among the kids I assisted I'd say maybe 2 out of around 20 quit after a year because I convinced them to do something else they really wanted to do seriously, during their remaining highschool years, and just play casually in the school program. The rest went to university for music performance, most to McGill, a top Canadian music school, a few to Indiana, one to Germany.

So what do I consider to be a normal student. My answer is very similar to Lydia's, but I like the way Frieda has pinned it down. Mostly I had in mind what the school system deems normal.

No talented person I've known says talent doesn't exist. Every serious teacher recognizes talent and assesses it as a criterion for accepting a student. What I'm saying is that there is a constructive way and destructive way to deal with talent, as Carol Dweck outlines in her mindset theory. I linked to her site on Erik's Talent Inversely Proportional to Reliability thread. Mindset theory does not deny that some may start with more talent and intelligence than others. Just that the belief in a fixed talent or intelligence leads to a fixed mindset, "talented and intelligent people are born and don't need to work to succeed," which can lead to self-sabotage, and a belief that talent and intelligence can be grown leads to a good work ethic.

So Dweck disagrees with Erik's statement:


"Talent" is simply any factor that the student doesn't have control over. Yes, a student theoretically could just ~decide~ to start working hard one day, but that's amazingly difficult for someone that's been trained from a young age to give up when things are hard. In fact, it's nearly impossible. A lack of "learned helplessness" is its own talent.

So among normal kids, without "behavioural, communicational, intellectual, physical or multiple exceptionalities," as outlined by the Ontario Ministry of Education, I'm interested in kids right down the middle of the bell curve of those kids who have committed to learning violin to an advanced level, and the effect different level teachers can have on their achievement to the end of high school. And done!

Edited: December 6, 2017, 2:40 AM · 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.

I shared the same thought with Erik that most kids learning violin are themselves elite anyway - since it's a difficult instrument, and perhaps requires a bit more commitment, finance, and a good teacher than many other popular instruments, at beginner stage). So while I did want to include in the sample all students who at least attempted the violin, perhaps at least for some weeks, I think Erik was referring to any violin student from the average (or not much below that) all the way to the most talented.

At this point I think we have discussed a lot in detail points which only remotely related to the original topic, so much so that a new reader would probably feel bewildered and confused as to where to start. I feel myself being partly responsible for that confusion. Maybe I should just stick to the original question from now, acknowledging that others' opinion on all other things we discussed are at least as valid as mine.

December 5, 2017, 10:31 PM · 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.

What distinguishes the winners of 52-week jobs from winners of 40-week jobs and so on down the food chain is the level of playing. If you take someone who just won a top ten job and compare to someone who just won an A contract in a regional orchestra, the difference to my ears would be obvious but I suspect not so obvious to a layperson. As I have said before, you would not believe how well one must play to win a job in my own orchestra, a former 39-week orchestra now struggling to maintain 30 weeks. Former members of my orchestra are now playing in the NY Phil, National Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Dallas, Houston, Utah, and other such jobs.

December 5, 2017, 10:42 PM · 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.

Just for reference, I mostly teach either kids below 12 or above 20. Very rarely do I get students between those numbers (for whatever reason), but when I do they, they almost always do extremely well. High schoolers are usually the best students I have, except that they leave for college pretty quickly.

Almost all of my students are beginners who haven't had a previous teacher. When they HAVE had a previous teacher, it has usually been a very low-grade teacher who should not be teaching. One who truly doesn't know the basics of teaching.

With that said, I will give you some rough statistics of my 35-40 students (both kids and adults)

About 20-30% meet that minimum practice amount (30 minutes 5x per week) consistently.

Of those students, about 50% of them actually practice in the way I ask them to, and don't just play for 30 minutes randomly and call it "practice."

So, at the end of the day, about 10%-15% of my students actually utilize my instruction at the bare minimum. This, of course, is after I've already explained a hundred times how important practice is, utilized clever methods to help motivate them, tried to involve their parents, and so on.

So for you to tell me that 100% of your students actually practiced how much you asked them to (or their parents made them) tells me everything I need to know about our different viewpoints, and the vast difference in the type of students we've come across (perhaps due to city, marketing, or a variety or other variables).

Several of my young students have what I would define as "bad" attention and hyperactivity issues, particularly when trying to focus for more than 30 seconds on a difficult task. Even when they're trying their very best, they can't physically stop themselves from moving. If they try to force the movement to stop, then it clearly drives them crazy and then they can't focus.

Several other students have what I would call "bad" attitude problems, to the extent that they will sometimes physically whine when I simply ask them to do something. Of course, I'm always keeping my cool and not going down to their level. This seems to help quite a bit, given enough time.

Anyhow, does this info provide you with more light on why our experiences are vastly different? In my area, and with the students my business brings in naturally, this sort of student is a "normal" violin student.

As messed up as this is, I've noticed that there's a STRONG correlation with the wealth of the family and the quality of their attention and the quality/amount of their practice at home. My wealthiest students, both adults and kids, almost always do the best. But most of my students are very much either middle or lower-middle class.

Do you feel that the families of most of your students are fairly well-off, financially?

December 6, 2017, 12:29 AM · Lol Erik, you’re on fire :)
December 6, 2017, 5:42 AM · 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.

You're not really worried about whether or not a player is going to get tired after 40 minutes of Tchaikovsky, for instance. If a player has tension issues, they are likely to be immediately visible. If they're inadequate in two minutes of listening, you are unlikely to discover they get better after 30 minutes. (Some people settle in after initial nervousness, but it's often possible to guess at what problems are caused by nerves and which are fundamental.)

Edited: December 6, 2017, 9:57 AM · 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.

With this style of forum, without nesting, it's difficult to keep track of subtopics within the thread, especially as it gets this long, but it would be helpful if, before flying off the handle, posters checked back to see where posters they're responding to are coming from.

As I see it, this is where David is coming from:

"In no other discipline would parents in a developed country accept a person with a fifth grade education teaching a first grader, no matter how good she may be with kids. Yet, it is implied (if not explicitly stated) by some in this thread that it is ok or should even be prefered in violin teaching."

People reacted strongly against his first statement, some to the point of ridicule. After which I joined the thread to throw in my 2¢ where I agreed with him: all other things being equal, it is perfectly reasonable to prefer the teacher with a higher education, and I qualified that sentiment by suggesting the teacher should possess a holistic knowledge of violin materials, which for me includes ear training, sight singing/reading, history, theory, and performance practice. I think a teacher who can show how to contour the rise and fall of a phrase, antecedent and consequent, treat repetitive fragments, and identify rudimentary formal elements in simple songs is likely going to be a better teacher for the beginner playing Twinkle, over the long run.

(There's entirely another side to it. I think the general attitude towards primary education in North America is dismal. We have a fetish for specialists at the expense of generalists. At the RCM in Toronto, beginner teachers, who probably all have at least a MM for those hired within the last 20 years or so, makes on average about 20K/yr, I believe. The highest paid professional school teacher makes about 104K. I think that's a reflection of how the music world regards beginner teachers. We should close that gap and demand a higher standard. Edited to add: I believe the beginner teacher should be a generalist rather than a specialist.)

Then we got onto this whole thing about whether it was normal for a high schooler to be playing advanced repertoire, the relevance of which I still don't understand in the context of conservatory bound students/prospective teachers having to study advanced rep (yes, yes, we disagree on the particulars! but the fact remains you have to play advanced rep, well beyond Suzuki Bk 5, to get into music schools,) which all culminated in Erik and Will trying to assess how many kids get advanced enough to play advanced rep of all kids who start to play the violin. I still don't get it. It's true most people who start violin won't be able to get into conservatory, just like most people who start swimming lessons won't get onto a competitive team, or substitute for any other highly skilled activity (chess, golf, archery, table tennis, etc., etc., etc.) So what were we talking about again? Pet peeves, elitism, huh?

Looking back to the kids I assisted, it was really a mixed bag, not uniform at all, I think mostly because my old teacher could really cut through BS and see talent in the raw, rather than taking only kids who could already play. So there were kids on scholarship (including the Wieniawski 1/Walton kid, whose family literally came to Canada with nothing but the clothes on their backs,) one or two extremely wealthy families and everything in between. The kids unable to focus and practice, the way they were required to, came to me, but I don't recall any correlation there between socioeconomic status and work ethic. So if you include my other private students, students at public and private schools, students in youth orchestras I conducted, I've seen a fair cross section of kids, but overall not a huge sample size (definitely less than 300,) with probably the majority in the middle class.

Of course there is a correlation between socioeconomic status (SES) and achievement. Though how or why doesn't seem to be well understood. My theory is that it has something to do with how SES affects mindset broadly. But the good news is that in Dweck's research changing mindset worked for all kids, regardless of SES. Just the simple shift from believing IQ is genetic and fixed, to believing the brain is like a muscle which needs to be exercised (through neuroplasticity,) improved test scores.

But getting back to this data Erik and Will are interested in. What are you trying to glean from it? What does it show us besides the obvious? OK. Done for real now.

Edited: December 6, 2017, 10:28 AM · Jeewon, thank you very much for your input in this thread. I have learned a lot.

Edit to add: the compensation of beginner violin teachers will remain stuck where it is if every tom, dick, or harry can start a violin teaching "business" anytime they want.

December 6, 2017, 9:58 AM · Anytime David :)
December 6, 2017, 10:27 AM · Quick follow-up/summary, because you guys are still going strong.

Way back at the beginning there was an original poster, Harrison, who identified as a young teen and followed up his original post with a question about Suzuki teachers. I'm going to hazard a guess that OP isn't currently on Paganini-by-college track. In the original spirit of his request, I think we can, and did, cast a broader net for the question.

What might a good violin teacher be, for public school orchestra students in Menlo Park who can afford to pay, whose parents are by and large not musically trained, and who are also doing gymnastics, soccer, scouts, ballet, and horseback? (I wish I were kidding!) Someone like Erik sounds great. Erik might not have met the technical standards outlined by David but realistically we are talking about kids who are going to play 3x a week, under duress, whose parents don't really know how to tune an instrument, let alone coach a practice session. (This does not sound like highly rewarding work to me but it's a living and I bet every year one or two of these kids turns out to be gifted and interested and sloughs off some of the other after-school detritus to focus for real! Plus, Erik seems also to have an affinity for the broader aspects of pedagogy, beyond technique.)

What might a good teacher look like for a kid who *is* quite musical but a beginner at age 12? A kid who asked for lessons and is willing to work? Different question, maybe––but I could imagine that here, too, someone like Erik could give a solid start. Jeewon posits that such a kid might be best served by having a master teacher who could quickly help them solidify their technique and take them through high school. Ideally yes, but in my experience such teachers are in short supply in outside of affluent metro areas and they won't always take on beginners. My first teacher would probably serve this kid admirably. She was not comfortable teaching kids at the Bruch level, however.

So then we get to the Jeewon/David teacher, the one who takes kids off the hands of the beginner/early intermediate teacher. Again, I think this was a thread migration, because I'm not sure this is Harrison's case (but Harrison, good to have a plan!) Here, too, as Lydia pointed out, there's variation: teachers with solid training and conservatory pedigrees who probably had to play Paganini at some point but never worked on the hardest concerto repertoire. My second high school teacher (who also taught Lydia) would fall into this category and would, I think, be more than adequate for the vast majority of high school students. And then there's the final, top category, the ones who specialize in coaching students toward conservatory and performing careers. That category is well-known to Jeewon and includes people like Lydia's current teacher but is smaller still, and almost definitely inaccessible to beginners.

All of which is to say––you're all right. Erik, with his unorthodox background, has nonetheless built a solid business serving young beginners with varying degrees of talent and commitment and I feel certain he does well by them. Someone like David might opt for a teacher with whom he could go the long haul, and that teacher might more likely resemble Jeewon.

Harrison, you have options! including, I suppose, Suzuki.

Edited: December 6, 2017, 11:02 AM · 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.
Edited: December 6, 2017, 12:20 PM · Katie B said, "In the original spirit of his request, I think we can, and did, cast a broader net for the question."

I am not sure what was the original spirit of the eight word question. As I read it, the original spirit is, 'here is an explosive question, fight amongst yourselves.'

The spirit might have been quite different, but from those eight words, I could not divine it so I took a guess.

However, the amount of interest, and heat, the question has developed, is in itself interesting and raises some broad questions about what is good playing and what is good teaching.

Of course a teacher who does not have a good command of Pag. Caprices (or whatever) will take it personally when someone says that no one can be a good teacher without that (arbitrary level). And by my age and level of eccentricity, when technical equipment is no longer central to my interests, I'd pick a teacher who can do a perfect one octave scale over a teacher who can make a passable stab at a difficult Caprice.

However, such criteria are of course important for aspiring professionals. Even Auer felt strongly about the topic of good teaching and how to qualify teachers, and the problem remains unsolved.

December 6, 2017, 12:24 PM · 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).

We missed a golden opportunity to say "one who refuses to introduce Mozart 3 in its Suzuki format without adequate scaffolding in the form of scales, etudes, and technical studies."

Edited: December 6, 2017, 2:21 PM · Katie, thanks for the shout-out :)

EDIT: And Jeewon, I actually think the primary source of our disagreement was how we perceived David's initial remarks (in terms of "for him" vs "for everyone."). I want you to know that I still really appreciate your expertise and overall helpfulness, and also deeply respect you as a musician :)

Edited: December 6, 2017, 2:30 PM · *it is perfectly reasonable to prefer the teacher with a higher education*

Jeewon, no one in this thread ever disagreed with this. (pls correct me if I'm wrong)

Edit: sorry to find fault in a haystack again (which is why this thread got so long). But I think we should clarify this as it has been a key source of much misunderstanding and argument :-)

December 6, 2017, 2:55 PM · "all other things being equal, it is perfectly reasonable to prefer the teacher with a higher education"

I have never disagreed with this and in fact when my own young children were (reluctantly) taking violin lessons, they were taught by one of my symphony colleagues.

All I took issue with was the suggestion that a violin teacher could not qualify as a "good" teacher (even if only teaching beginners) if said teacher couldn't play Paganini and wasn't performing regularly. I felt this was disrespectful to the numerous less-accomplished teachers doing credible work with beginners. David later clarified his remarks to say that he meant "for him," not "in general."

I find the suggestion humorous that those of us who have been defending the value of teachers who can't play Paganini are taking it personally and feeling defensive. My credentials speak for themselves.

December 6, 2017, 5:44 PM · 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.

I wonder why others haven't spoken up? Is it because it doesn't affect them? Or, that having people believe that high-level teachers are the only ones of value is beneficial to those who DO have credentials?

Or perhaps few high-level teachers would agree with your assessment? Perhaps they would agree that low-level teachers simply shouldn't be teaching at all.

It's an interesting question, but I feel it won't be addressed by anyone except you.

December 6, 2017, 9:10 PM · To be honest, I generally do think people should go for the highest level teacher available within their geographic and financial reach.

However, not everyone lives in a big city, and not everyone can afford people like me. And from the other end of the equation, teaching four-year-olds requires a skill set that is very different from the one I possess.

If a less-credentialed teacher is teaching correct position and technique, insisting on good intonation and rhythm, AND refers students to higher-level teachers when the time comes, then I take no issue with it.

Edited: December 6, 2017, 9:38 PM · 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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