V.com weekend vote: How do you cope with conflicting advice from teachers?

July 24, 2020, 4:09 PM · This week two of our regular contributors, Claire Allen and Paul Stein, shared their thoughts about dealing with conflicting advice from teachers. Claire analyzed the different advice offered by three equally-qualified teachers about shifting techniques. Paul looked back on how 30 teachers influenced him over a full career - and how much he embraced or rejected their advice.

conflicting advice

In Claire’s post on shifting, she asked: Who is right when the experts disagree? She ultimately came to the conclusion that one should “find the method that is effective, consistent, musically meaningful, and healthy for your body to do.”

Paul describes being told to remove his shoulder rest and to keep the violin from touching his shoulder, even when shifting. It took him two years to realize that this was bad advice for him: he needed to put the shoulder rest back on.

These articles got me thinking about my own experiences with both sides of the teaching equation. As students, how do we know when to listen and learn, and when to move on? As teachers, how rigid are we in communicating a “right” way versus something that works on the individual level?

Here’s a personal recollection. For a long time I believed I simply couldn’t play some of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas. That thinking largely stemmed from the fact that the Galamian fingerings did not fit my hand, yet I felt forced to use them because my teachers required them. Years later, as an adult, it was a revelation to me that I could come up with my own fingerings.

The only reason it took me so long to make this realization is because I wanted (and perhaps needed) to think that my teachers had all the answers. I trusted their expertise - more than I trusted my own judgment. While that is appropriate in the beginning, it's also important to grow into our own expertise after all those years of schooling.

I’m curious as to the experiences you’ve had dealing with conflicting advice and the realizations you came to over time. Please select the response that best corresponds to your thinking, and then share your thoughts in the comments.

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July 25, 2020 at 12:53 PM · My experience is not reflected in your set of possible answers to your queestion: I have literally never had to relearn a significant element of technique in my life. I had to make minor adjustments to be sure; it took me a very long time for example to keep my muscles from tightening up when things got difficult, e.g. in double stops. It also took several years until I "got" how to play sautillé. But nobody forced me to play without a shoulder rest or to use the Russian bow hold or that sort of thing.

I was just lucky that all my teachers were the kind who looked for solutions for the individual they were teaching rather than to force everybody to imitate them in all details.

July 25, 2020 at 04:01 PM · I'm like Albrecht above. When I was younger, I never had to do major changes. Just had a teacher revise some of my previous teacher's fingerings implying politely that he thought the ones of his predesseor were kind of old school.

But with time and distance I do make most of my own decisions now. None of them really go against my 3 main teachers I had growing up, except for a bit about how to practice, but they sometimes go against current things I read from certain professionals.

July 25, 2020 at 05:42 PM · last teacher right elbow in the plane of movement, the one before right elbow above plane and that it sounds better is most notable in me. I stuck with above plane

July 25, 2020 at 06:43 PM · What I found difficult to deal with.....is the "YouTube" instant lesson and comparison scholastic influence. Students without any music background, no theory, no history.....no scales and excercises......blah, blah, blah.....but the students tells you. "I know the G major scale, therefore I must perform Mozart concerto #3 in G major.. Actual student at a college I thaught in NJ.

When teaching a new student..... examine everything.....then go forth....

July 25, 2020 at 06:57 PM · I have done several of your choices. As an adult my lessons tend to be conversations with my teachers anyway, so I usually discuss any piece of advice with my current teacher. If I'm going to disagree with or go against a teacher's advice these days I will have a well-thought-out reason for it, and I might try it for a week or two and see how that works. And sometimes I discover my teacher really did know what s/he was talking about, but I had to learn it for myself by trial and error.

Fortunately I've never had a teacher who was really dogmatic about shoulder rests or fingerings. They have all recognized that people's bodies are different and everyone is going to need to find what works for them to be comfortable and prevent injury.

The one issue where I've had serious, but not fatal, disagreements with teachers' advice has been in the area of listening for intonation. One teacher didn't believe me that I couldn't hear when things were slightly out of tune under my ear; she kept saying things like "listen" and "pay attention" which didn't help at all and were just frustrating and even annoying. What helped was a foam earplug in my left ear. It cut out some interference and enabled me to hear more of a pure pitch. My teacher heard me play the same scale with and without the earplug and she was then convinced. She said it was much better in tune with the earplug. In spite of all the anti-electronic tuner advice I read on the internet, my two most recent teachers have both owned tuners and used them sparingly to check intonation and to support ear training, and encouraged me to do the same, so I haven't had issues with that either.

That's ultimately how I've dealt with conflicting advice between teachers: empirically. What advice actually works and results in improvement?

July 25, 2020 at 07:58 PM · The easy answer is to not have more than one teacher at a time, except for short-term workshops and summer sessions. One teacher is already expensive and busy enough.

I did have one student that wanted to add me as a teacher without dropping her former teacher. I was careful to only do repertoire and not change anything with her posture and mechanics. Fortunately, she had good form.

I was fortunate to never have had a teacher that insisted on any one technical option. My first teacher let me design my own fingerings and bowings, a habit that continued.

As for shifting; Ricci's fingering book discuses the three options for shifting; the whole-arm shift, the crawl-shift, and the pivot-shift, and I have been able to use all three as needed.

July 25, 2020 at 09:27 PM · I was very lucky that I had my first teacher for 10 years and then went to college and had the same teacher for 4 years. As Albrecht wrote, both my primary teachers "looked for solutions for the individual." That said, I voted that I "had time to assess teachers' ideas." As I got older, I found certain things that worked when I was younger simply didn't work anymore. So I had to reassess.

July 25, 2020 at 11:57 PM · My son has three violin teachers now. And they simply focus on different aspects:

1) music theory, sight reading, rythm and pitch development etc. They use mostly pop songs.

2) repertoire, emotions in music. Standard children concerts.

3) pure techniques: scales, etudes, etc. And this teacher time to time has a substitution. The teacher number 4 is from the same tradition, studied with the same master, but explain the same techniques in a different way. It is helpful.

They all three from different countries with different teaching approach.

They all know about each other and do cooperate a lot with me.

At the start, it was a lot of cross comments and argumentation, what exactly the other teachers taught wrongly. ))))

We just took all the comments in consideration and tried to implement them.

But now, they complement each others work more and more, as the progress is very obvious.

We tried this scheme because of covid. Now i plan to keep like this.

Everyone is happy about the results.

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