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Pauline Lerner

The best and the worst in a violin teacher's day

July 13, 2010 at 6:07 AM

Recently I had one student who was a violin teacher's nightmare and another who was a violin teacher's dream, both in one day.  What a contrast!

First, the bad news.  The student is a boy in middle school who sometimes shows up for his lesson and sometimes doesn't.  He never calls in advance to let me know.  He arrives any time from 45 minutes before to 45 minutes after his scheduled lesson time.  He rarely practices.  I can count on that.  In fact, he gave me a string of excuses for not being able to practice more during the summer.  At the end of each lesson, I write out his homework, go over it with him, and remind him to put checks in the boxes for each day he practices.  Every week, he loses or forgets his written homework page.  He only practices two songs, and one of them is Twinkle.  For a while, I can tolerate this because I don't need to do any work on lesson preparations.  However, after a few months, it gets stale.  Usually, if I have a student anywhere near this bad, the parents intervene, but his parents are not communicative with me.

I've saved the best news for last.  This student is a girl in middle school who loves to play the violin.  She practices, and she makes progress.  She has fun, and so do I.  She will spend most of this summer with her grandmother, who plays a musical instrument, as do most of her aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Her grandmother has arranged in advance for her to take violin lessons from a musician she knows and works with.  On this student's last lesson before leaving for the summer, I told her that I'm glad that she will take music lessons during the summer.  "Oh, I would never stop taking violin lessons," she told me.  "I love playing the violin."  I grinned a big grin.  "I'll miss you during the summer, I told her."  "It won't be too long.  It's just until August, and I'll call you as soon as I get back," she assured me.  She is a violin teacher's dream.

From Martin Villegas
Posted on July 13, 2010 at 7:16 AM

 I am tht of the second one. I am a male in this case im 14, love to practice daily, challenge myself, and not to bea show off but i work hard,a nd i sound pretty descent. I have had some classmates like tht of the first student you described, they just arent meant to play the violin, they dont understand the importance of the art. 

Good Luck

  - Martin

From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on July 13, 2010 at 10:53 PM

Any idea why the first student keeps coming, Pauline?  Probably not because the parents are making him, if they're so checked out.  What is he getting out of this?  Does he just not know he can quit?

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on July 14, 2010 at 1:01 AM

Martin, good for you.  You must make your teacher and yourself proud of you.

Lisa, I keep asking myself why the student doesn't quit and why the parents don't realize that they're wasting their money.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on July 14, 2010 at 3:22 AM

P.S.  I just got an email from student #2 telling me about her lessons with her summer violin teacher.  I love her!

From Angela Choi
Posted on July 14, 2010 at 9:17 AM

I am an adult violin student of a 71-year-old teacher. He is now almost retired after 40 years of full-time teaching. I know that some of his students, usually in primary or secondary school levels, rarely practice like the first student. He was getting very helpless of them. I once asked why they not just give up. He said many children are arranged by parents to take music lessons, most are working parents and you will never get a chance to see the parents at home. The kids are left home with domestic helper. I believe maybe the parents do not give time to talk to the children and so the children do not know how to give up. This is something very sad, not just a matter of violin lesson, but parenting.


From Susan Horn
Posted on July 14, 2010 at 2:11 PM

Pauline, I too love to play.  It seems I cannot play enough though to my satisfaction, however, when I go for my lesson my teacher is very happy with my progress.  She is a teacher come true.  I have had teachers for other instruments I play, but she is wonderful.  She sets high goals for me, and I do my very best to reach those.  At the present time, I am not spending as much time as I would like practicing because of a shoulder injury.  It is not allowing me to practice for the 2 hours a day I like, I might get in 45 minutes before the pain stops me. 

My son took lessons when he was younger, it didn't last long though.  He just found the violin wasn't for him.   I truely believe one needs to really want to do this, not feel like they are filling a square.  The young lad taking lessons may feel like he's filling a square.  Too bad his parents aren't more involved.   You could ask him what kind of music he likes and see if there is something similar in violin music to peak his intrerest.  You also have alot of patience with this young man, my hat is off to you for that.  Good luck with him.

From Daniel Jenkins
Posted on July 14, 2010 at 3:00 PM

Pauline, I'm curious to know, what do you do if a student shows up as much as 45 minutes early or late?  If you schedule your students back to back as I often do, or even if you have 15 minutes in between students, surely you can't accommodate him?  Do you just send him home, or have him wait around until you have an opening?

From Janis Cortese
Posted on July 14, 2010 at 5:01 PM

I have to admit, my first instinct on reading this would be to just ask him point blank, "Honey, why are you taking violin lessons?"

Don't forget though, that he could turn into one of those 50 year olds who is on boards like this in thirty years going, "I never took it seriously when I was a kid, but I'm getting back to it now ... "  You never know when teaching kids when the seed you planted is going to sprout sometimes.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on July 15, 2010 at 12:56 PM

Angela, I agree with you.  Something important in the parent-child relationship is sadly lacking.  His mother said just recently that she will make sure that he practices, and I wonder what will happen.  She sleeps right through his lessons.

Susan, I'm glad that you love to play the violin and that you have a great teacher.  Re your pain issues, do you practice in several short segments of time, like 15 minutes, rest, and then play for another 15 minutes?  This might help you increase your total practice time.  Keep ahead of the pain.  I agree that the student must truly want to learn, or he will not be successful.  My student absolutely refuses to try to learn to read sheet music (after telling me that he already knew how), so I thought I'd try teaching him something by ear.  I have patience, but not the patience of a saint.

Daniel, you raised some good questions.  I have to get tough about enforcing the rules.  I've spoken to the mother about this several times.  If they show up 45 minutes early, I will tell them to leave and come back in 45 minutes.  If they arrive 45 minutes late for a 45 minute lesson, I'll tell them that they just missed their chance for a lesson this week.

Janis, I like your first instinct, to ask him why he's taking violin lessons.  I can hope that some of my kid students who drop out will return to the violin as adults, but I really don't have much hope for this one.

I thank everyone who has commented for giving me new perspectives and insights.

From Wesley Hsiao
Posted on July 15, 2010 at 4:46 PM

My friend and I basically fit with the two 'profiles'...

I'm number 2. I (almost) always come in time and never no later than 5 minutes late to a lesson. I have fun of course, and my teacher gives me interesting repotire that i really need to practice a lot to get.

My friend is basically #1. :P I don't know exactly what happens but he always misses a lesson becuase he has no time (i'm guessing that was a excuse that #1 said). Sometimes its becuase he doesn't have a ride, due to his parents working. And he doesn't practice (much). He only practices when someone tells him to, like me :P when we're going to play a duet or something. I feel that he has potential, but doesn't use it.

As a teacher, you should seriously considering either dropping the student or keeping him. I don't know why my friend's teacher still teaches my friend, but my teacher would drop him after missing almost all the lessons. Its a waste of your own time and the student's time. If you do want to keep him still, you should try to give him desire to play (eg calling him everyday to listen him play one song and give him advice?). Maybe you should ask him what he wants to play, or do, or something.

From Theodor Taimla
Posted on July 15, 2010 at 5:23 PM

4 or so years ago when I was still learning the guitar, I was like student 1, except I came right on time.. We'll I was quite a troublemaker. I did practice but it wasn't as much someone really should. I came to the lessons unprepared and well, one day I just stopped showing up on the lessons. I DONT KNOW WHY!!! :(

But the thing is, even though I wasn't practicing much, I was still improving thanks to my teacher ;)

Now, that fate has made him my teacher again but this time the violin, I'm .. I suppose I'm a perfect student. I always practice and.. :O I even taking summer lessons from him right now because I still want to keep learning and I wouldn't tolerate just how much it goes out of tune with just 1 week! Speaking of which, even tho he just gave me a VERY big load of homework, I will do everything perfectly and amaze him like I always do :)
There was a time when he made me rewrite the whole etude with the note names and finger numbers (both c,d,e,f and do, re, mi, fa). He didn't expect me to finish everything for the next lesson but I did it and earned his respect.

I don't know why, but I always want to be a step ahead of what my teacher.


From Pauline Lerner
Posted on July 15, 2010 at 8:10 PM

Wesley and Theo, I'm glad to hear that you two are such good students.  I have a few students like you and I treasure them.  Sometimes when I give them difficult assignments, they seem overwhelmed and doubt that they can do them.  I tell them, "You pick up new things so quickly that I had to give you this" or "You're playing so well that I need to challenge you."  These are compliments.  I have some students who thrive on challenge.  I have one student who responds beautifully when I show her something quite difficult.  She says, "Cool!  I want to learn that," and she practices until she does.

I really appreciate the responses to my blog that I get from students.  Your comments can help me become a better teacher.

I have wondered about firing my problem student.  Does anyone, especially teachers, have any advice for me?

From Janis Cortese
Posted on July 15, 2010 at 10:44 PM

"I don't know why, but I always want to be a step ahead of what my teacher."

I saw a quote someplace online about cello: "Kick your own butt so your teacher doesn't have to."

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