What % of Time is Actually Spent Teaching Violin?

November 28, 2017, 12:53 PM · The other current teaching thread got me thinking about how much time I spend teaching things "other than violin."

A few examples:

Trying to build the relationship between a mother and daughter, so that the daughter doesn't feel invaded when the mother attempts to supervise the practice at home. I HAVE to do this, because if the mother doesn't supervise the practice, then the practice either won't happen or it won't happen in an effective way. Likewise, if the mother simply forces the daughter to practice while being supervised, then it builds a resentment of the overall experience, and suddenly violin becomes like a chore to the student. Then that bad attitude gets carried into lessons. In any case, the only option ends out being to spend 10 minutes, once every 3 lessons or so, acting as a "mediator" between mother and daughter, and telling them both how the other probably feels. The child alone is never the problem. They both contribute by refusing to see how the other feels about the situation. Basically, in this situation, I NEED to be an amateur psychologist first, and a violin teacher second. If I were to simply say "you guys need to see a therapist, because my job isn't to teach you how to have a healthy relationship," then obviously they would LEAVE and the whole process would start over with some other teacher. The end result would never be a student getting better at the violin.

Encouraging adults to keep trying, and to stop having such ridiculous expectations of themselves and their progress. Telling them that this is a long journey, and if you're always hell-bent on the end result, then you won't get there. You have to appreciate each step, and take note of the accumulative effect of the small modifications that we make over time. Then repeating this once every month to keep them encouraged.

Telling both adults and kids that practice is a literal necessity for improvement. Stating this in different ways. Confronting them with the fact that they supposedly want to get better, but have spent the last 2 years practicing 15 minutes, once per week. Telling them that maybe this isn't for them, but still seeing them every week.

Building basic dexterity in the hand of a student, because if I say "move your pinky" and they move their 2nd finger, then their 1st finger, and then their 3rd finger, and finally "find" their 4th finger, then they're going to seriously struggle to play anything. So developing the dexterity WITHOUT the violin in hand is a necessity in this case.

Telling a child that physically assaulting their sibling, and then lying about it, and then screaming at the top of their lungs when confronted about their obvious lie, is a bad thing. Trying to calm a clearly volatile child, and then halfway through my almost-effective explanation, having the mom peak her head around the corner and undermine/interrupt my explanation saying "Focus! or "Keep practicing!" to their child, which then brings back their previous level of volatility. Then having the mom smile at me like she did me a favor, and leaving the room again. Brilliant.

Anyways, I could go on and on with examples of time that I spend "not teaching violin" during lessons, but I'd be curious to hear some other peoples' stories, as well as knowing how much time, on average, you spend doing things that can't directly be called "teaching violin," such as explaining how to change the mindset, how to calm yourself, how to learn, how the parent can help the child, etc... I would personally say that, on average, I spend about 20%-30% of my time doing things that are not directly "teaching violin," but rather prerequisites for effective learning.

Replies (13)

November 28, 2017, 2:00 PM · I'd say teachers spend 60-90% of their time teaching. Students ask questions or chat with their teacher about lesson times, music, etc.
Edited: November 28, 2017, 5:07 PM · Teachers do a lot on "their own" time:
(1) Correspondence: Emails, phone calls, texts.
(2) Creating teaching materials -- arrangements, studies, duet parts, and foot charts.
(3) Dealing with agreeable parents.
(4) Scheduling studio recitals and other events.
(5) Occasional minor violin adjustment or repair.
(6) Dealing with disagreeable parents.
(7) Free trial lessons.
(8) Attending student recitals.
(9) Watching video of student at competition.
(10) Dusting and vacuuming the studio.

I just wrote all that but I guess you were asking how much time is spent during lessons not teaching violin.

If you want the proportion of productive time to be higher, you only need one thing: A waiting list.

Edited: November 28, 2017, 5:22 PM · Paul, I don't exactly agree with #10, since it depends on where the teacher is teaching. Sure, you might have to spend time organizing your things in the studio (or cleaning up your things if your studio is shared), but sometimes, janitors may do the job if you teach at a music school or other public place. If it's your home studio, this could be counted as general/typical domestic cleaning. You've come up with a good list of things I've never though of, though.
November 28, 2017, 5:28 PM · Paul, the best results I've had recently - in terms of increasing students whom I was able to spend a higher % of time truly TEACHING - were from raising my prices. I've noticed that there is a cutoff of low-quality students if I price a bit above a "standard" price point (the price point that music shop teachers generally offer).

That was only a few months ago, but I've been incredibly satisfied with every student that I've acquired at the increased price and I feel they're much more satisfied as well. They are more likely to be good students in all aspects, including dedication to practice, so of course they are more pleased with their results. In a sense, I think the higher price also "pressures" them to utilize their practice time between lessons because it feels like more of a waste when they spend a week without practicing. I also think higher quality students may naturally seek out higher priced teachers, and this is amplified by fact that the students who are seeking a "bargain" teachers are often the worst students. There seems to be a direct correlation between how interested a client is in my price and how crappy of a student they'll end up being.

Since my price increase, the students who call to simply inquire about price - and nothing else - don't call back. That's a good thing! Meanwhile, the students who call me to ask me about my teaching methodology, my experience, how to get started, etc... are the ones that actually sign up, and I'm very pleased with that.

I've also finally started "letting students go" in the past 6 months, which has resulted in a much better overall quality of student, albeit a lower income for myself. I've gone from 45+ students to more like 35. It's worth the tremendous decrease in stress, though. Kids who are violent or extremely rude, adults who are incredibly flaky, and other extreme situations have all gotten the boot.

November 28, 2017, 5:42 PM · Building dexterity is pretty much violin centric so why lumping it with the other extra violinistic undertakings?
November 28, 2017, 6:20 PM · I'd say that the amount of money a student plans to spend on their lessons also depends on their financial situation. Poor students will more likely go for bargain teachers while wealthier students may go for higher-priced teachers. I remember you stating that you are an extremely forgiviog teacher in a thread called "The Morality of Rejecting Students". How has that idea changed since you posted that thread?
Edited: November 28, 2017, 6:38 PM · About $$$, I saw a few teachers prior to choosing to stay with one. One of the teachers charged less. Ad he sounded like he would be interesting. I had a paid trial lesson, as with the others. I didnt like certain things (nothing of which was personal, all had to do with violin teaching and playing). I ended up with someone else.
Yes, between a good teacher who charges more and one who isnt as good but charges less, i chose the better (or at least I think so).
But its not the money in itself that determined; it was what i perceived was the quality of the teacher (and the price was reasonable for that quality); the signs i got from him about what sort of teacher he was, what he perceived good playing to be.

Its not just the money that I esteem (in the sense that i work for it and that it is nevessary to survive otherwise i think its the core of all our problems) but also the time i spend practicing. So its not just about money.

Edited: November 28, 2017, 7:16 PM · Erik, that's very interesting. Ella, if you're renting from a school or church, then by all means feel free to replace No. 10 with: (10) Dealing with your landlord. And finally, one of the advantages of charging truly exorbitant fees is that one might be able to give a few need-based "scholarships" to students who are less affluent.
November 29, 2017, 1:41 PM · Hmmmm, I just realized that teachers probably don't want to respond to this thread because it might make them look like flakes if they admit they spend any less than 100% in teaching violin :)
November 29, 2017, 2:52 PM · I think that teaching students how to have a constructive approach is essential for violin playing (or any complex activity). Thus, I wouldn't call this "not teaching the violin". For example, on another thread, Mary Ellen Goree includes "keeping the child engaged sufficiently to want to practice" and "inspiring the student to seek continuing improvement" as being among the responsibilities of a good teacher.
November 29, 2017, 2:57 PM · Erik, et al.,

This is your business and a business has a number of aspects that must be done but don't actually relate directly to the actual purpose of the business. In addition to Paul's list of 10 items you also have to do your financial work, marketing and developing new clients/students, maintaining your own skill set, perhaps being part of the music business community, et cetera. The problem is that you don't get paid to do any of that but if you don't do them you go out of business.

FWIW: I did have my own consultancy business in Supply Chain Management after I "retired." It was fun for a while but all those other things that I never got paid for, but were necessary, eventually got me to close my business and simply retire.

That's part of the reason I have very few students who meet my criteria and I don't charge for lessons and only do it for those who really want to learn the basics of playing the instrument and develop up to third position - then I hand them off to the professionals who seem to like the fact that my students don't have to be cajoled into practicing. I tell my students that if they change their minds and don't want to play any more that is fine with me.

November 29, 2017, 3:07 PM · I generally have pretty intense lessons with not much monkey business, but it really depends on the student, and sometimes it's inconsistent even with individuals. I've also noticed that we have to take more frequent breaks and I use more redirection when I first move students from the 1/2 hour to the full hour. Also, if a student hasn't practiced, they are really exhausted and can't make it all the way through at high intensity.

We'll do other activities- kids love being the teacher and I'm the student who does everything wrong. It's weird to hear my corrections coming out of their mouths! Sometimes we'll watch a youtube video and I'll talk about different things happening in the music, or sometimes we'll just go back and play really, really easy music as a reminder to them how far they've come.

November 29, 2017, 3:29 PM · Ah Julie, the classic teacher/student swap! A must-have technique for teaching kids. Or adults, for that matter.


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