January 6, 2015 at 5:29 AM

January 5, 2015, 10:29 PM ·


January 6, 2015 at 08:16 PM · Although an adult student may be well into his or her senior years, please don't ever feel, as one of my earlier teachers did: "At your age, we don't have time for the basics." After 3 years with this teacher, trying to play all kinds of music, I had to spend the next four backtracking to learn all the things we'd skipped over.

Many of us are very accomplished professionally and placing ourselves in this situation where we know little or nothing, and the teacher is significantly younger than us, may not be easy. Yet, we are highly motivated and take our learning very seriously.

January 6, 2015 at 08:46 PM · I am a very late adult learner. however, I have fifty years' experience as a pianist, play fairly decent, and of course know and can read music. A good teacher would find this out right away - so she doesn't have to explain what p and f mean ! I am also a retired teacher and I loved teaching because I learned so much from my students! A violin teacher should learn from her students, too, not how to play the violin, but how another person learns and how she learns in a different way from a small child. The

teacher shouldn't assume that it isn't a serious endeavor.

Some believe, I think, that only children will become the virtuosos so why bother with the rest. This is condescending and downright maddening. Teachers shouldn't

be defensive about stupid questions - like 'why does it matter which way the bow goes?' or 'I learn something from duets, but cant say what it is'....

January 6, 2015 at 09:24 PM · This all really takes the "customer knows best" idea to the extreme. The presumptuousness is really a bit shocking. It may explain why so few high-quality violin teachers are willing to take adult students.

January 6, 2015 at 09:48 PM · Laurie, I am curious about what seems presumptuous to you. I see a lot of points being raised - some of which I agree with more than others - but I don't get a sense of presumption from any of them, just a request for understanding. Of course, as an adult learner, I may be biased :-) Anyway, I'd love to hear your point of view.

January 6, 2015 at 09:52 PM · Laurie's point is very interesting, and disconcerting to this adult learner if this is the prevalent view of adult learners. Still, there is a good point that there needs to be some humility on both ends of the relationship. Nonetheless, I think adult learners understand that this isn't a fast food order where we can "Have it our way" every day. Nor is it one that bends easily to the goal-oriented mentality type-A personalities.

January 6, 2015 at 10:12 PM · If you ask a teacher to bend every bit of their expertise to meet your needs, then what is the point of engaging a teacher? Sure, come to just one lesson a month. In fact, come on any day of the week. Busy? It's okay if you can't practice much. You don't feel like trying it that way? Just do it your way. You don't want to repeat it 20 times? Just repeat it 3 times. You don't want to play this piece in the book? Let's just go straight to something you like, no need to do the step in between. Let's do it your way.

Then: Why aren't I making progress? I need a new teacher.

January 6, 2015 at 10:22 PM · I'm an adult beginner (have been playing for just over a year now) and also have the same difficulty with low 2nd. Can you elaborate on what worked for you to address the issue? Good article.

January 6, 2015 at 10:28 PM · Hi Laurie - As I read and re-read the comments, I don't see a single one asking a teacher to "bend every bit of their expertise to meet your [the student's] needs." No commenter mentions not practicing, or doing everything their own way. No one mentions overlooking repetition or sequenced pieces. No one indicates a desire to simply do what they want. Where from the article and the responses did you come up with these ideas?

January 6, 2015 at 10:29 PM · Adult beginners can find an easy entry into violin by starting in the fiddle scene. There are lots of groups to play and learn with and they seem to be heavily populated by adult beginners, as well as experienced recent retirees playing together for fun. But this should be accompanied by private classical violin or string lessons to get proper technique.

January 6, 2015 at 10:47 PM · I didn't get the sense that the points raised ask teachers to change everything (or even much of anything) to accommodate adults. Point #3 is the only one that even comes close to that, and not very. In fact, I saw a lot of the points as requests *not* to be written off as students simply because we're adults. It's interesting that we came away with such different impressions.

January 6, 2015 at 11:00 PM · I'm also curious why Laurie read presumptuousness into this.

By the way, I'm inclined to think that these principles also apply to teenagers, who are old enough to be thoughtfully engaged in the lesson process, and possibly particularly bright youngsters as well, for the same reason.

January 6, 2015 at 11:31 PM · I'm not sure why you would think that any teacher would ever assume that someone is studying "just for fun," or that any decent teacher would ever think someone was "too old for the basics" (what?).

I would think that the reason someone is studying the violin is to learn to play the violin. Yes? Then any teacher worth taking from knows that this is a serious, long-term project. It is for a two-year-old, it is for a 54-year-old. You start from a student's current ability level and then move forward. It is that simple, and that difficult, for any student and any teacher of any age.

I'll take seriously any student whose goal is to learn to play the violin, and who approaches the endeavor in good faith.

But this blog seems to ask for a long list of special accommodations for adult beginners, as if it is a completely different project for them, and as if most teachers need guidance to understand their special needs.

Adult students aren't so different from children. If they pay attention and practice, they do quite well. If they decide to look for shortcuts and avoid the work, they tend to tread water.

January 6, 2015 at 11:36 PM · In a different direction for a moment, I believe there is an entire literature that has been emerging over the past twenty years on how adults learn. Much of the seminal work was initiated by neuroscientists who detected that the human brain changes physically, with increasing and more balanced activity occurring on both the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Developmental psychologists approached this from the information processing direction and found (I'll paraphrase...) that repetition without a goal does not work very well with the adult brain.

Most teachers today were trained in pedagogy, which is centered around how a child's brain learns new patterns and lessons. The discipline that focuses on adult learning is termed "andragogy"; then there's gerogogy for seniors.

I would recommend a book by the Dr. Gene Cohen, who was with the National Institute on Aging, titled "The Mature Mind" as a starting point. Some teachers know intuitively how to adjust their instruction to match the learning patterns of an adult.

January 6, 2015 at 11:39 PM · "Nor is it one that bends easily to the goal-oriented mentality type-A personalities."

This is a really interesting point. I think that the type-A personality is often considered a virtue and an asset in an endeavor such as learning to play the violin. But in reality, the learning process for violin requires incremental steps, small goals, and the ability to hang with things the way they are as various abilities gel. It can be very difficult for the Type-A mindset, which wants to set concrete goals and meet them on a time frame.

Perfectionism also can be a problem rather than an asset, because in order to try new things, you have to be willing to be downright BAD at it at first, and then have the faith that with some tweaking, some breaking it down, some repetition -- you'll eventually become an expert.

On the other hand, one does have to be willing to work toward precision and accuracy. It's no easy task!

January 6, 2015 at 11:53 PM · Brava, brava, BRAVA.

as a 40plus year ski instructor YOU NAILAEFD IT.


January 6, 2015 at 11:57 PM · Laurie wrote:

"Adult students aren't so different from children. If they pay attention and practice, they do quite well."

Amen! I agree wholeheartedly. And that's what I see this blog post trying to say, not the other way around :-)

January 7, 2015 at 12:17 AM · Hi again Laurie:

The essay states clearly why I think "that any teacher would ever assume that someone is studying 'just for fun.'" As stated, "Many [teachers] have informed me outright that I am studying 'Just For Fun." The fact of the matter is that most violinists with whom the topic has come up have used those very words with me. Based on my personal experience, I would conclude that this is a common attitude regarding adult beginning violin students. Perhaps my personal experience is not extensive enough to represent the population of violin teachers as a whole. However, it is what it is.

Regarding teachers thinking that someone could be "too old for the basics." While my essay does not address this, I can say that I have experienced teachers who want to pass over basics, and I find myself in the position of pointing out to them that my intonation was not good enough, or my fingers not moving fast enough, or the bow not smoothly enough, or whatever, and might I please have some exercises and work more slowly to address these issues. Again, I speak from what I know and have experienced, and the belief that I am not alone. It is from these experiences that the essay was born.

I apologize if it offended you. The essay is not a personal attack on anyone. It is an attempt to open the conversation regarding the differences between adult and child learners, and how pedagogy might be developed to address adult needs.

January 7, 2015 at 12:40 AM · Interesting. I too did NOT read this as a long list of accommodations except for maybe the last point. The other points I could relate to as an adult student with the perspective of having been a serious child student in the past. On that last point I personally know several fellow adult students that have some level of schedule accommodations & flexibility that work well for both student and teacher alike. The key to that is mutual understanding and agreement up front.

Myself for instance - my regular lesson is scheduled a particular day each week at a specific time after work. However, by teacher typically does NOT have a student before my lesson time. By mutual agreement, if I text her when I leave the office that I may be early, she'll reply back yeah or nay. Sometimes she will ask ME if I can come early (or later) to accommodate her schedule which I will do whenever I can. However if I'm running late, I'll also text her as soon as I can with the knowledge that I may very well still have to end on-time. Its a win-win for both of us.

My teacher also "accommodated" me recently on repertoire, etudes & studies and how much I was expected/planning to practice each week due to a project in its final crazy stage (a short term problem). We decided to take advantage of the situation and dust off some Bach and delve more deeply into bowing (Kruetzer #2 with ALL its bowing variations one at a time) and how it applied to Bach as well as getting into the nitty gritty of the phrasing in more depth than ever before. Yes, I could and did spend an entire week on 5 measures. Again, a win-win.

Its all a matter of perspective, moderation, mutual agreement and respect.

Stepping off my soap box now. ;)

January 7, 2015 at 12:57 AM · I think the third point would be one that might not sit well with many experienced and high level teachers. While teachers should be open to discussing a student's strengths and weaknesses in terms of learning styles, it should ultimately be up to the teacher to decide what repertoire is taught and the manner in which it is taught.

Kate writes, "Your guidance is essential, but you will not be making unilateral decisions about what will be learned and when and how. Teaching an adult can be an extended negotiation." Why should it be an "extended" negotiation? I find that many teachers might take offense to this--after all, they have dedicated decades to learning this instrument and you are there to learn what they have to teach, not what you want to be taught. Trust is a large part of the student-teacher relationship, and this should be respected regardless of whether the student is a child or an adult.

January 7, 2015 at 01:11 AM · I am adult learner. I started in the Violin in my 50's because I had my mothers beautiful old 1880's violin and wanted to learn - unfortunately my first teacher was a shonk so much of my any hours of practice were wasted. I now have a " proper teacher who has produced many fine violinists" I appreciate her skill and experience and knowledge and welcome every time she intervenes to correct my bowing technique etc. I pay for and attend lessons to learn from an expert it is still fun but it is more it is a passion for a beautiful instrument and the fine music it can produce. I guess it's all about attitude does an adult student want to truely learn or do they want to do it their way.

January 7, 2015 at 01:36 AM · Hi all! I began playing two years ago (I'm 37 now) and I have had a wonderful experience with my teacher. We have managed to build relationship based on trust - I trust that he knows the most appropriate methods to help me learn and he trusts that I will take the process seriously (I do) and put in the time and effort required. He is always patient and encouraging and I make a point of letting know I appreciate these qualities. He is exceptional in his ability to challenge me (recitals are a regular occurrence, memorization of all pieces is mandatory) without overly pressuring me. I must stress that the student/teacher relationship can never be one-sided - I think sometimes teachers are undervalued and unrecognized for their individual efforts.

January 7, 2015 at 01:41 AM · Again I find it interesting on how a point in the original post is perceived by different people. I read the "extended negotiation" not as a long drawn out discussion on what to work on next piece by piece/week by week, but more of a process where there is a collaboration between student and teacher on what piece(s) to study next over the course of a lifetime of learning.

"...it should ultimately be up to the teacher to decide what repertoire is taught and the manner in which it is taught."

I completely agree that the teacher is final rule on the manner on which something is taught. Otherwise, what is the point in taking lessons from a professional? However I politely and respectfully disagree with the portion of the statement in regards to the repertoire decisions. If my teacher came to me and said "today you will learn XYZ piece" without me having any say in the matter, I would be looking for a different teacher.

In my experience, teachers give/ask for options on what to work on next. It is a process that starts a few weeks before moving onto something new. Sometimes I have been strongly recommended to wait before working on a piece I suggested and am told why. Most of the time I agree and pick something else. It is part of the learning process to know WHY a piece is out of reach at the moment and what needs to be developed first, or what is being suggested and why. My teacher and I had that discussion on Bartok a few months ago and after walking through it with her, I understood what I needed to address first before picking up that piece (which is now incorporated into my current assignments). We are still looking at the other options (to be decided in the next week).

From time to time however there is a piece that speaks to me so deeply we agree to tackle it anyway. I've done this twice: once when I wanted to learn ALL the Bach Suites to some level of competency before I turned 40 (which I did and am very glad I did), and most recently on the Vieuxtemps which turned out to be a long process but a very soulful and successful one for both of us.

January 7, 2015 at 01:42 AM · Hello - Thank you for your question about the low 2 and physical therapy. I've been thinking for sometime about an article to address this. It is a difficult one to write clearly, and I have not yet succeeded. In the meantime, I recommend Physical Therapist Steve Wixom at Hand and Orthopedic Rehabilitation Specialists (www.handandortho.com). He was very helpful in solving this problem.

Thank you for bringing up the topics of andragogy and gerogogy, and referencing the neuroscience of adult learning. These are important topics to influence adult pedagogy methods. I'll look for the book "The Mature Mind," a good suggestion.

Austin - This is an interesting point you make. My personal experience is the opposite. My primary teachers, both professional performing musicians who graduated from major American conservatories, express appreciation for the information that I provide them about what I wish to accomplish and how I wish to do so. They have both expressed that my input is very helpful in figuring out how best to teach me. They have also both expressed appreciation that the burden of my development is not theirs alone to bear, and that I participate in the process beyond simply practicing what they say.

January 7, 2015 at 01:59 AM · It seems that "adult" student is in reference to a quite older generation-- retirement age. What is the age range of her adult students?

January 7, 2015 at 02:04 AM · In regards to adult students, has anyone ever come across an adult prodigy and how would you define that?

January 7, 2015 at 03:10 AM · Hi

While not specifically defined, in the essay "adult" would mean anyone over the age of physical maturity of body and brain, say, about age 24.

The idea of an adult prodigy is an interesting one. Given a definition of "a person endowed with exceptional qualities or abilities," I can say that I have met some in fields outside of violin, but that I have not personally met any in the specialty of violin or viola performance.

Perhaps those who remain at the pinnacle of the field of performance throughout their careers and into retirement age might be considered adult prodigies, as it takes exceptional qualities and/or abilities to stay at the top of a field for a lifetime career.

January 7, 2015 at 03:57 AM · Can I ask a potentially presumptuous question here? What if I Am just doing this for fun? Why is that a crime? Shouldn't it be fun? If it was all that onerous, why would I do it? Of course I'm doing it for fun. I picked up the violin at 49. While I have no doubt I will achieve a nice degree of competency on the instrument in the fullness of time, I'm not going to be auditioning for the Chicago Symphony anytime soon. I may have a goal to eventually join a community orchestra or jam some chamber music with some musically inclined associates. But those too, are things I would do for fun. But, I have no illusions that this will lead to a career! I have a career. This is, realistically, a hobby.

Big however, that doesn't preclude my taking this endeavor very seriously. I work very hard at my lessons. I show up on time for my lessons. I pay close attention to what my teacher says. I do negotiate a bit of the stuff I study. The rest I do because it's assigned. A 6 year old is not in a position to help guide his studies. What is wrong with asking for something that you'll enjoy working on more that accomplishes the same thing? I also know that it will be a lot more fun when I'm a more accomplished violinist.

People make all kinds of assumptions all the time. Teachers included. I'm sure there are some teachers that feel if they're not training you for a musical career, then you're not worth their time. I too have had that experience. I didn't stay with those teachers. I'm taking my studies seriously, I expect my teacher to take me seriously as well.

You can't tell me that teachers don't make special accommodations for their child students. Family vacations during winter and summer breaks. Finals are upon you, I can't practice this week like other weeks ... whatever. Yes, adults have more of those challenges. So some may progress more slowly because they simply can't do as much during a week. Well neither can a 4 year old. I'm sure they don't get assigned 3 new scales, 4 etudes and a piece to work up every week. Many teachers I know do back-flips to keep their small child students engaged. Well, I'm a grown-up. I don't need to be kept engaged. I do need reasonable assignments, achievable goals, and the some degree of flexibility.

Here are the benefits of adults. Maturity, responsibility, commitment, we're there because we want to be ... not because our mothers made us, it's our money we're plunking down for the lessons ... no one's giving them to us. My mother has never driven me to one of my lessons, nor has she complained to my teacher how she's overworking her poor little darling. There's pros and cons to everything.

January 7, 2015 at 05:10 AM · I was fortunate that my first instructor exceeded my wildest hopes. He is a professional performer as well as an instructor. At my first interview with him he actually tried to discourage me. I think in an attempt to determine if I was serious enough about learning. He warned me that he had other adult students and that "Life would get in the way" I'm self-employed and the demands of my work are unpredictable and can change suddenly. I also need to travel occasionally. I never "blow-off" a lesson but there have been times when I had no choice. There have also been times when a suitable level of practice between lessons was simply not possible. He also wants flexibility from me as he travels to perform. Sometimes we miss weeks or have to re-schedule. We are both flexible about it. I don't ever try to suggest what I should study next or what skill needs attention next. I do sometimes tell him about skills I think need work. Where he has accommodated me most is that I am primarily interested in Baroque era music so that is what we work on. He has introduced me to composers I had no knowledge of and opened my eyes to the pleasure of delving into music. I trust his judgment but want him to listen if I have a concern. I feel very fortunate that I picked his name from a list and called him.

January 7, 2015 at 01:24 PM · Definitely an interesting discussion. Several observations:

On fun: I meet many musicians in one of our community organizations, the lower level one, who simply make grinding noises on their instruments. They have a very high toleration for ranges of intonation and not everyone uses the same metronome. However, at the end of any piece or passage, there is a murmur of satisfaction that can be heard from the group. There are smiles and congratulatory remarks for each other. Half of this group has teachers; the other half will likely get teachers when the music gets too hard, and those teachers may be there just for that piece. Some of this half looks forward to sectionals, where some new knowledge or problem-solving approach is shared between players. I have no reason to believe that any of these joyful musicians are prodigious, but I find it interesting to ask them what motivates them.

One gentleman who makes a whole lot of noise with his cello plainly said it was his way to get out of the house on Sunday mornings and give his wife some quiet time. Another woman said the violin was her companion who spoke to her whenever she was alone. Another woman with a violin employed the violin as a catharsis after a rough day at the office writing computer programs. It tapped the right side of her brain, when the left was being used all week.

Bless the conductor, who above the cacophony of zoo noises, kept the group feeling connected to the music. We know that no one here is rushing home to play their scales or their Kreutzer. Some of these people will go to YouTube to see how if "should" sound. Most will simply go home to make sure that the next rehearsal is on their calendar.

On adult learning: There is an old saying that if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. A screw looks like a nail; water looks like a nail; an egg looks like a nail. If we figure out which pedagogical techniques work best for children and which andragogical techniques work best for adults, then the world is better off. I'm sure there will still be people with hammers insisting that the screw will do into the wood faster if you pound of it. Those who figure it out will see that the screw needs a screwdriver to take advantage of the best qualities of the screw and to avoid breaking all its treads.

On (us) old people: Geragogy is really teaching and learning of adults with declining capacities to learn; it is not about being different; it is about a reduced capacity. Rather than a rewiring of the brain, it is a loosening of the wiring of the brain. There is probably more written about geragogy than andragogy because of the rise of studies in nursing home activities and the effects of Alzheimers.

So what does a learner do? Be willing to try many violin teachers until you find one that meets your needs. Be open and frank about your conditions and KNOW that the teachers of adults that you're looking for are a special breed. Knowing the approach (pedagogical or andragogical) that the teacher employs will be a good hint whether you've got a good match going.

Personally (and this is not meant to be critical of anything... Just my observations of my personal experiences), my most effective teachers as an adult came from the Russian school. We studied to play a complete piece and didn't worry about mastering techniques; the techniques mastery came as you learned pieces. For example, early on in my lessons he gave me six lines from the middle of the Hrimaly scales book, Paganini Caprice #3, and the first few measures of the final movement of the Tchaikovski Concerto. This was in preparation for studying the Bruch Violin Concerto. He was a student of Oistrakh and said that this was more efficient than trying to learn all my scales, arpeggios, keys, double-stop techniques, and shifting techniques. That was perfect for my mind, since I'm all about efficiency and specific goals. As a corporate executive, I could easily grasp this focus.

This, of course, doesn't work for everyone. Some people do want to know their entire circle of eights and have the foundation to be able to play anything that's put before them. People who want to be better sight-readers, for example, would probably do better to learn lots of scales and etudes like Hrimaly and Kreutzer because it fills your fingers with patterns of notes that you might need at some point. At that point, you can let your fingers do the walking because they already know how to perform an octave chromatic. At some point, they may become interested in the deconstruction and construction of chamber music, then they'll have to know more than rotes patterns; they'll need to learn about the relationship between notes.

My conclusion after exploring the literature, talking to professors who specialize in adult learning in fields as diverse as foreign languages, oil painting classes, creative writing, and music, is that both teacher and learner can hit their heads on the walls if they don't realize that one has a hammer and the other has a screw. Neither is right nor wrong. For the best outcome, the learner needs to find a teacher with the right set of tools for their situation.

This is longer than I intended. Apologies all.

January 7, 2015 at 01:36 PM · I have read various comments by both teachers and adult students. I am an adult and will be taking my first lesson this Saturday. I understand the complexity and possible physical barriers that may impede my road to stardom...kidding of course. My reason for wanting to play the violin is simple, because I choose to. I found out that my teacher is a young college student who teaches once a week at a local music store and am hoping we understand each other, specifically, my motivation. I am a self taught piano and guitar player and have already begun playing songs on the violin which I have had for a couple of weeks and played a total of 1 1/2 hrs during that time. I am taking the lessons to learn proper technique and yes...have fun. I am not looking to play in an orchestra or entertain anyone with the exception of my immediate family, so I hope I don't disappoint the teacher I am paying to teach me these fundamentals. An over 60 novice..

January 7, 2015 at 03:02 PM · An anonymous poster wrote:

"Bless the conductor, who above the cacophony of zoo noises, kept the group feeling connected to the music. We know that no one here is rushing home to play their scales or their Kreutzer. Some of these people will go to YouTube to see how if "should" sound. Most will simply go home to make sure that the next rehearsal is on their calendar."

Would you consider it 'zoo noises' if it came from an orchestra full of children who had been learning for a year or so? Or would you consider it 'a wonderful cacophony of youngsters exploring music for the sheer joy of it' or some such sugar-coated nonsense ;-)

January 7, 2015 at 03:22 PM · LOL... I would consider it a choir of angels, flexing their wings!

January 7, 2015 at 03:33 PM · A beginning orchestra of any age is going to sound a bit zoo-y, though probably the adult one won't be running in circles and trying to use their bows as swords! ;)

January 7, 2015 at 03:41 PM · I remember those days...

The sounds of strings snapping as musicians try to tune their own instruments, with cellists unknowingly trying to tune up to a violin A. The sound of bridges falling over because no one realized they were tilting. The sound of cellists stabbing their endpins into concrete floors. The sounds of folks trying to jim their cases closed, forgetting that their mutes were still on the instrument.

And then there are the kids... :)

January 7, 2015 at 03:56 PM · I think the lament against a teacher assuming that someone is taking lessons "for fun" is about being taken seriously. This concept of playing "for fun" is pretty complex, actually. I find playing the violin to be immensely fun; I would hope that my students do as well, I would hope that you do as well.

That said, the learning process is work, and work is not always "fun." I find it to be fun when people (students, or even myself) have breakthroughs and achieve something, but it often comes after struggle, false starts, tentative moves in the right direction, a lot of repetition and then finally, a degree of fluency. It takes so much time and patience and persistence. After which, it's fun.

But when a teacher says, "I can see you are just doing this for fun" it really might be code for "I can see you aren't going to do the work, I've written you off."

January 7, 2015 at 05:26 PM · I completely agree that it would be unfair to a professional teacher to ask for all of the considerations listed in this blog post.

Yes, there are differences between older students and younger students. As a rule, I suspect that older students are generally more motivated than the average child, less motivated than the seriously zealous kids due to more time demands, and overall less talented, since adult beginners, especially those without a background in other instruments, have missed their critical development period for peak learning.

At the end of the day, a student (regardless of age) should respect the teacher and other students by adhering to a schedule, showing up for practice prepared, and ready to take instruction.

That said, I have only visited a teacher on a handful of occasions when my daughter had to miss a lesson and we did not want to cancel on the teacher. We had pre-arranged that on a couple of known weeks where my daughter had to miss and her teacher was nice enough to work with me. Since we knew that my lessons would be very infrequent, we just used them to work on fundamentals like fingering, bowing, bow hold, etc. and picking apart pieces that I had believed were relatively polished.

It was a great experience in that I learned how poorly I was playing pieces that I thought were pretty good, and she helped me to improve my bowing and improve my fingering and the stability of the violin on my shoulder, which opened me up for learning vibrato and moving up the fingerboard more efficiently.

It was hugely helpful to work with a teacher, but unfortunately, the travel time given the lack of instructors in my community makes it difficult so most of my instruction is from watching master class videos, Youtube instructional videos, books like Basics, and is facilitated through slowdown and looping apps like Anytune Pro+, etc.

January 7, 2015 at 05:53 PM · As an adult student (returner, not beginner) and as a Suzuki Dad and as a former child student, I actually sense quite a number of differences in the student-teacher relationships for adult vs. child students. They're mostly small things, though, and they depend strongly on the individuals involved.

But there is one overarching "additional need" of the adult student: We need the teacher to acknowledge the complexity of an adult student's life compared to that of a typical child student, and we need it to be okay, once in a while, if other priorities come before violin, because honestly sometimes that is completely unavoidable.

I get 8-10 lessons per semester, and probably once a semester I'll have a lesson where I just could not prepare properly. Now, fortunately my daughter has the same teacher and usually I am able to use most of the pre-paid lesson time to discuss aspects of her progress that are more easily discussed in her absence. I actually feel that's money well spent, and the teacher does not consider it an abuse of his time. Other adult students might benefit from a review of general practice methods and approaches, going over a practice chart, reviewing goals, re-evaluating setup, dusting off an older repertoire piece to demonstrate progress made (useful!), making adjustments to the instrument (e.g., straightening the bridge, checking clearances, perhaps replacing strings), critically listening to a recording of the working piece, learning how to use a tuner properly, or other things that are actually quite important and useful but might fall by the wayside in an ordinary "working piece" type lesson. (What you should NOT do is use that time to get into one another's personal lives. I sense that some adult students do that with their violin teachers, and I think that's a bad idea.)

My teacher is willing to cut me some slack once in a while, partly because that's just how he is, but probably also partly because **I show him the same basic respect**. I acknowledge that *his* life is complex (quite similar to mine in many ways), and I go out of my way to be accommodating if he needs to shift lessons around, make a postponement, or whatever.

If, as a teacher, you can't deal with that, then don't take adult students. That's your professional prerogative.

Laurie, I agree with you that "just for fun" is a very poorly-defined concept. The problem, I think, is the the word "just" has a condescending or minimizing connotation. Replace this phrase with "for fulfillment" or "for enjoyment" and I think the problem largely melts away. I'm actually much more bothered by the assumption of some teachers that every child student *is* necessarily ultra-serious and keen on becoming a professional-level musician, than I am by the assumption that adult students aren't.

January 7, 2015 at 05:58 PM · -----"Adult students aren't so different from children. If they pay attention and practice, they do quite well."

I think this sums the whole thing up quite well for both sides of the issue.

For students, both young and old, they must be committed to practice what they are taught, accept the challenges as they are presented to them, and accept corrections of technique openly.

For the teachers, they have to accept that they have a beginning student, whether young or old without prejudice.

As for the adult student making demands of a teacher: Is this really any different for teachers of young children? Aren't there frequent demands, instructions, etc, etc made quite regularly by pushy parents of little Johnny and Jane?

Again, Laurie's quote above sums it up quite well.

Sometimes adults get too busy with life and quit violin, sometimes kids do as well (usually for soccer team, as opposed to job demands), no real difference there. Some adults take their lessons and practice quite seriously, others are very cavalier about it. Same deal with kids, some practice well, others don't.

Perhaps adult students ask more questions in lessons about the "why" of such and such. But is that worse than a blank stare of a child who may not even care about the "why" of doing a given exercise, and views it as just another chore that the Adults are foisting upon them?

I'm an adult first time beginner, been studying for a little over two years, I practice most every day on my lunch hour, and am about on the end of Suzuki book 2.

I just got a nice, juicy, 17" viola! I'd like to see a 6 year old try playing on THAT!

Viva la Adult Learners!


January 7, 2015 at 06:04 PM · Very well stated, Seraphim!

January 7, 2015 at 07:07 PM · The article makes suggestions regarding (1) use of physical therapy techniques to increase physical function, (2) use of singing to improve intonation, and (3) helping the student find performing and ensemble opportunities.

No one has yet addressed these pedagogical suggestions. What do you think? How might these be useful avenues for teachers-of-beginning-adults to explore? What responsibility do teachers have to expand and improve their pedagogical knowledge?

January 7, 2015 at 08:34 PM · All good ideas, Kate. For about 20 years, I've told adult beginners, "This is going to be like a combination of physical therapy and kindergarten; if you're up for that, we're good."

And just as group class, school orchestra and youth orchestra works really well to motivate kids, a group situation will also enhance an adult student's experience. It can be doing chamber music with another adult, playing at church, playing in a local community orchestra, etc. It will usually require some looking around.

Most good teachers continue to study the art of pedagogy, just as any professional would engage in continuing education. I'd highly recommend continuing education to anyone in the teaching profession, and there are many programs through SAA, ASTA, and more. You can also learn a great deal from observing fine teachers. I know of just a few teachers who really specialize in just the adult beginner, might be a good topic for a convention lecture.

January 8, 2015 at 02:28 AM · Kate, yes, those are .great. ideas.

January 9, 2015 at 05:37 AM · On a re-read of this article before reading the whole comments thread, it occurs to me that much of what's written here applies to adult amateurs in general, not just adult beginners. Although there's probably a whole blog post that could be written about expectations there, too.

Interestingly, there are also a lot of assumptions embedded in about the child/teacher experience, as if teaching children were somehow easier or children were more committed. Children are often studying an instrument because their parents want them to. Some children are studying just for enrichment; others will have parents that have specific goals for them (like "win competitions so it looks good on their activity list when they apply to Harvard"). Today's incredibly overscheduled children also often don't have time to practice or listen to music, and their shifting schedules mean that yes, they'll miss lessons and not always practice consistently.

January 9, 2015 at 04:38 PM · Good points, Lydia.

January 10, 2015 at 05:03 PM · What amazing timing! I am psyching myself up to talk to a prospective teacher and wondering what her attitude would be towards me as an adult learner with a very hectic work schedule. I was lucky that my teacher had very few students

and had a very busy career while raising 3 children of her own. The only thing I might add is that adult students have the luxury of time in some regard. If they're serious about studying the violin, then they can take the time they need to really master the basics before moving on to more advanced topics.

January 10, 2015 at 05:19 PM · I love your remarks about not assuming they are playing "just for fun" !!

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