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Pauline Lerner

I love my adult beginners, too.

December 22, 2010 at 9:18 AM

I'm writing this in response to Kathryn Woodby's blog of Nov. 5, 2010 called "I love my adult students."

I have been teaching beginners, both adults and kids, for years.  I love teaching adults for lots of reasons.

I have some true stories similar to Kathryn's.  An adult had tried to teach himself fiddle because he had warm memories of his grandmother, now deceased, playing fiddle.  He thought that he was doing pretty well, so he called his mother and played for her over the phone.  His mother cried because he sounded so bad.  She told him to get a teacher, and he got me.  After a few months of lessons with me, he sounded much better, so he called his mother on the phone and played for her again.  This time, she cried for joy.  He sounded so much like his grandmother that she was deeply touched.

Another adult came to me because her grandfather had made some violins, and she wanted to learn to play one.  She had no previous experience with music and had never really thought about it.  Her niece was learning to play one of her grandfather's violins and talked my student into giving it a try.  The results were great.  My student had a real talent for playing the violin, learned quickly, and loved it.

One of my adult students had studied violin with a different teacher for five years but never got the solid grounding in technique that he wanted.  He came to me with a very specific agenda:  to start all over with Suzuki Book 1 and learn to play with correct technique.  After he had taken lessons from me for one year, he told me that he played better than he had after five years with his previous teacher.  He has been studying with me for several years now.  He has not only learned good technique, but has also bloomed in musicianship.  He has innate talent and sensitivity to music, and we now discuss artistic, as well as technical, possibilities in everything he plays.

Several of my adult students have been so excited about their initial progress that they call their mothers on the phone to play "Twinkle" for them.  I love to see them get excited about small increments in their progress.

I get a lot of calls from prospective students who say, "I don't even know whether it's realistic for me to try this..."  I tell them that it is never too late to start doing something you love.  After teaching them for a short time, I generally have reasons to praise them honestly.  Often, they do not believe me when I tell them that they have talent and play well.  I have to convince them.

One of my adult students frequently does favors for me.  He finds sheet music for me, sends me a link to the virtual copy, and prints it out in PDF format for me.  He knows that I don't have a car and getting to the luthier is difficult.  Once he volunteered to go to our luthier to pick something up for me.  I was overwhelmed with his kindness and tried to tell him how much I appreciate all the things he has done for me.  He just smiled, shrugged, and said, "You're my teacher."  His response is the best payment I've ever received for my work.

I've had adult beginners who take lessons for a month or two and then drop out.  I think that they don't realize that the violin is technically a very difficult instrument to play.  I don't know how to play the piano, but I can walk over to a piano and pick out a melody with one finger.  That is not artistry, but it produces a recognizable melody and it is easy.  A beginner violin student has to learn so many new muscle techniques before he can even play "Twinkle."  Some adults get discouraged and stop.  Learning to play the violin is definitely not instant gratification.

Many adult beginners have the same problem:  patience.  They want to jump ahead and play music they like before they learn the basics.  I try to compromise and encourage them by finding simple arrangements of music that they want to play.  If I can't find a suitable arrangement, I write one.  I take the time and effort to treat each student as an individual.

I respect my adult students for following through on their past experiences or new dreams.  I admire them for their determined and usually successful efforts to find practice time in their busy schedules.  I love talking to them as one adult to another.  Teaching adults is challenging, but it is also very rewarding.

From Tess Z
Posted on December 22, 2010 at 2:43 PM

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.  I'm an adult beginner and I hope my teacher feels the same enthusiasm for working with adult learners as you do.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on December 22, 2010 at 3:20 PM

 I love reading stories about your students, Pauline. Can particularly appreciate the adult beginner ones, for obvious reasons! Thanks for sharing.

From Kathryn Woodby
Posted on December 22, 2010 at 7:45 PM
:) what a privilege
From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on December 23, 2010 at 1:14 AM

As an adult learner and almost-beginner, I second what everyone has already said.  It is a difficult place to be, knowing that realistic goals for me aren't what I'd like.  My biggest wish that won't be fulfilled is what I imagine to be the thrill of sitting in an orchestra and feeling the power of all that music surrounding me.

From Jo Parker
Posted on December 23, 2010 at 9:20 AM

Thank you for this lovely blog :)

as an adult beginner it is difficult to find teachers who 'take us seriously' sometimes.

Yes we all have different goals and some adults may want to learn enough of the instrument to just be able to 'play a few tunes' but when I took up the violin I had 'serious business' in mind and I wanted to learn the instrument 'properly', no shortcuts, no cheats.  Unfortunately the first teacher I had just assumed all I wanted was to bash at some tunes to amuse some non musical members of the family and never taught me ANY technique nor ever made me play one scale or arpeggio!

when I saw I wasn't going anywhere with him and when I saw I was not going to get him to teach me properly I left him and found myself (thankfully) a 'proper teacher' (took me 2 and a half years to realise I was with the inappropriate teacher!!!)

I now have a teacher who sees me as a 'violin student' and treats me as such, it doesn't matter I am 41, he takes my goal as wanting to attain a fellowship as a very serious and real one and he makes me work REAL HARD!!!  of course he sees me as an adult but this does not mean I have lost the ability to be able to achieve! Just because I will not make a soloist career it does not mean I cannot learn and I cannot achieve a fellowship, and he is going to help me get there and I will :)

I am grateful to all the teachers like you and mine out there, THANK YOU!!!

From di allen
Posted on December 23, 2010 at 4:41 PM

thank you, all teachers of adult learners.  i am one, and my problem is not my age (70) but the fact that i have mastered another instrument, the piano.  i am impatient, and my teacher is demanding.  but i want him to be.  i dont wish to play in orchestra, though chamber music would be fun.  in fact, i will mostly be 'fiddlilng' with a country western band and attending various jams.  but i want to play really really well and figure i've got another ten to fifteen years to's up and down, sometimes i feel thrilled at what i can play, other times it seems's a good life metaphor....

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on December 23, 2010 at 8:49 PM

I really enjoyed and learned a lot from the adult beginners and learners who wrote comments.  Francesca, even if you'll never be able to play in a professional symphony, playing in a community symphony is a reasonable goal and a lot of fun.  Di, I'm impressed that you're still playing at age 70.  I believe that teachers who don't take adult beginners, rebeginners, or learners are missing a lot of good experiences.

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