First off, here is a picture of my Grandfather and me playing the violin together. He is now 93 years old and has been playing for over 75 years! We've spent some incredible time together playing the violin. Even though he doesn't speak English, violin is our universal language.
Now how cool would it be if that was all of us at a later age? I just hope to live to be over 90. If I'm still playing the violin as well, good for me!
This post is created to help violinists and violin teachers worldwide. I thought long and hard about the most effective way to do this and here was my thinking. First I asked, what is a big problem that both violin students and teachers face? There are many problems that I could dissect, but I decided to cover the one that can have the most positive effect for both students and teachers.
And that is the longevity of playing the violin and increasing the likelihood that a student will continue to progress on the violin through good and bad experiences.
Introduction to Violin Longevity
When a student starts learning the violin, excited as ever, it’s a sad story to hear they got frustrated to the point of deciding not to practice as much anymore, or quit altogether. Most of us at some point have had an excitement and passion for learning the violin, and it’s sad that this passion can fade, making the time and energy spent a waste of time.
I think most of you would agree. Learning and progressing on any musical instrument has so many advantages. When a student decides to quit or let the violin collect dust, this negatively changes identity, while sticking to the violin and playing for life can lead to a positive progression of identity and self-worth.
On the other side of this topic, I think about the thousands of violin teachers worldwide. How many of you teachers have had students you enjoyed teaching, and soon to find out they have decided to quit or take a break from the violin? Wouldn’t it be nice to continue to give influence to a more significant percentage of students, especially those that you enjoy teaching?
So here is my conclusion. The world would be a better place if more students decided to continue their efforts on the violin. Not just for a short period, but a lifetime. I think about my Grandfather who is 93 years old and still practices his violin every day. I think about some of the students I’ve had that if they just were able to get through some of the bad times, they would continue to develop their skills on the violin until a late age.
Here is a video of my Grandfather and me playing the violin together. :)
Let's dive into the concept of VISION which in my opinion, is directly related to how long a student decides to play the violin.
Less Students Get Frustrated when they Understand Vision
About ten years ago, I ran a violin studio of 80 students which was my full-time job. The students ranged in age from age 4, all the way to the age of 89. In my career teaching violin, my drop rate has been meager - somewhere under 5%. That means that for every 100 students that came to my door looking to take private lessons, only 5 of them will quit - the other 95 continue wanting to learn and progress.
To give you another statistic, about 85% of my students that started taking lessons with me continued beyond three years of lessons.
Now I think about the flip side of these statistics - talking about the self-taught student. I keep tabs on online students and I would say the drop rate of them starting the violin (feeling extremely motivated) to them quitting is somewhere between 50%-75%. Yikes…
That is a lot of violins getting little to no use in the world.
So what I want you to understand is there is a difference in longevity between someone self-taught vs. someone that uses online resources only as a supplemental tool.
So what is the reason for such a difference? There are many factors, but the biggest one, in my opinion, is VISION (or lack thereof).
What Does it Mean to Lose Vision?
Let me explain what I mean when a student loses vision.
They first see a path of success to learning and progressing on the violin, but then psychologically get discouraged based on uncertainties and/or frustrations of learning the violin.
You’ve all heard the excuses…
When I hear these excuses, I believe the student believes it. But underneath it all, there could be more going on. There has to be...why else would the statistics I gave you above be so polar? I was teaching human beings privately, and similar violin hopefuls decide to take the self-teaching approach.
The reason, in my opinion, is that a large percentage of self-taught students have lost a lack of vision. No, they haven’t lost time even though they probably believe it themselves. :)
Yes, teachers, I believe this is what has happened over and over again to you (and me) over the years - you maybe have just let it go and decided it's an ordinary happening that you have no control over.
But I don’t believe that at all, at least not at a rate higher than 5%.
Here is my belief...
Excellent instruction + Good Encouragement/Vision + Consistency/Being Organized + Creativity and Ability to Adjust to Students Needs = Student of Longevity
Think about a teacher you had in high school or college that had these traits, didn't it make you more excited to listen and learn? Teachers, any of the above that is missed can lead to it being more difficult for a student to want to continue progressing. With you...or maybe not at all.
Prepare for Violin Challenges
There are tons of great resources for learning to play the violin online, but if you don’t get feedback regarding the vision of your progress, you can come to the point of feeling discouraged, agitated and frustrated with learning the violin.
This is not an “if” it happens but a “when” it happens. It all comes down with how this is managed which a teacher can help with, but also possibly by a self-taught student who has an awareness of this concept.
Example of a Student Losing Vision
This happens a lot. A student gets excited about the thought of playing the violin and decides to get their first violin and learn to play. Probably on Youtube.
They dive into every resource they possibly can. Every drill, every practice tip, every song they can get their hands on. Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with doing this. I’m pointing this out because some people ONLY use Youtube or online tutorials.
Here is commonly what happens with someone only learning online. The first week or two (or even month or two) goes excellent. But then frustration seeps in for any of these common reasons.
Any of these can cause a student to become frustrated and quit the violin. Likely it’s a gradual curve of digression. I know you, teachers, out there are nodding your heads.
How to Create Vision if You are Self-Taught
Your personality plays a significant role in your ability to be self-aware and conscious of vision. I think about adult students that do well in the first few weeks of learning the violin, but over time, their mind convinces them that they aren’t doing a good enough job and progressing at a good enough pace.
This happens commonly with adult students that have a musical background. They have mastered another instrument and find themselves getting frustrated over how difficult the violin is compared to their instrument of comfort. It can create thoughts of re-focus - or taking a break.
I also find adult students that are highly successful in their careers (or before being retired) tend to have a certain sense of expectation at how they should sound after a certain period on the violin. I find this less in younger adults and even less with kids.
Here’s the thing. These mind tricks that can happen to some are not reality; they are only a lack of understanding and vision.
Why do you think people that have a personal trainer in fitness generally get better results than those that try to lift weights on their own? The personal trainer can evaluate, give you a vision and keep you on the right track. This effect cannot be underestimated. In my opinion, vision and encouragement have to come from somewhere.
When a student comes to me after a hard week of practice here is a possible dialogue...
Wow, I’m frustrated, I feel like I’m not progressing at a good enough pace. I didn’t get that much practice in either.
I think you are doing great, remember how great you did last week? Keep it up, and you will start to see progress over time! Think back six months ago to how good you were and how good you are now. Do you see the movement in development? Sure there are some things we need to keep working on, but you really shouldn’t be so hard on yourself.
It was a rough week…
Many adults like yourself get frustrated, but I’m telling you, you are doing well! You're ______ and ________ have really improved from last week. I know you didn’t practice as much this week but keep at it, you are doing a great job!
Now think about it, how do you get this kind of feedback with only self-teaching? Wouldn’t you say you’ve let your frustrations get to you at times because you haven’t gotten that sort of positive energy?
Even if you have a very encouraging friend or relative saying you are doing well, how would anything they say about your progress be credible from a progress standpoint? You probably would consider them being kind. :) Sure it helps a little, but getting feedback from an experienced player (or positive self) is what will help you.
Here is what you have to keep telling yourself which can help if you are self-taught to counteract negative feelings.
Two Steps Forward One Step Back
This concept happens with not just beginners, but also advanced violinists and teachers like myself. For every two weeks of something positive, you will likely deal with one negative. This relates to so many other aspects of life, can you think of one?
Let me give you an example.
You are working on a song you are going to perform in a recital or for a friend. The first two weeks you felt progress, and your violin sounded better than usual. Then all of a sudden you have a stretch of seven days straight where it felt like you seemed worse than before the three weeks.
This is what I mean about VISION. If the student saw the big picture that this is a normal thing, they would understand the concept of two steps forward and one step back, which will still give you overall positive progression over time.
Here is an example of how this also happens with advanced students…
A violinist is auditioning to get into a local symphony orchestra.
They practice super hard for two weeks and feel they have mastered the excerpts they have to play at an audition. They get into the audition room and play the excepts worse than they have been playing it for the last two weeks.
They could become frustrated and never audition again (assuming they didn’t get in) or they could see that this is something that happens and that trying still is a great idea - they just had a bad day.
Encouragement for Students
I love the thought of a student learning the violin online, but I’m a believer that to have the most likely success with LONGEVITY, you have to use online instruction as a supplemental resource.
Yes, teachers, I’m giving you a plug! I am doing it because it is the truth!
The reason I believe this is that students that only learn online are more vulnerable to getting into some sort of rutt - and never getting out. These same rutts happen with private lesson learning, but a teacher sort of acts as a “shield” or “aid.”
I know some of you can’t take private lessons, and that is ok. At least this article gives you more awareness which can also help immensely.
Here are things that can happen that you need to manage with self-teaching.
Is it possible to be self-sufficient and learn the violin without a private teacher? Absolutely.
What about becoming a great violinist and playing until you are 93? Absolutely.
Anything is possible, but you must know that I think the odds are against you relying solely on self-teaching. Think about this article when you get frustrated with your progress at any point - it may come in handy.
Consider the idea to at least get feedback from someone regarding your playing so that you can feel you are on the right track.
Here is a suggestion if you can’t afford lessons. You could go to a local university and ask if any of the students studying violin would be willing to check out your playing for a few minutes. Many of these students might be ready to do it for free or charge a meager fee. Tell them you are most interested in the vision of progression and want to make sure you are on the right track.
Finding the Right Feedback Source
There are many teachers out there that are outstanding players - but that doesn’t mean they are super good teachers.
I have had seven teachers in 30 years of playing the violin - every teacher was different in their unique way — many things good, some things bad.
This is a topic that could be discussed in a whole other blog, but I want you to realize that a significant component of you progressing on the violin is getting validation and vision. And that validation and vision are not always 10/10. This is not you - it can be the teacher who cannot give you what you need.
If a teacher evaluates you and has nothing much to say about how you are doing and what they see (the vision) of you progressing, you can stray in a way.
Some students quit because the feedback is negative, harsh or unprofessional.
On the other hand, a teacher that has more emotional awareness and teaching ability will encourage you, find out what motivates you, and keep you on the right track…
Try to find a teacher like this and don’t get discouraged (or worse think it’s you) if the teacher doesn’t fill your need. Also telling them that you want to get some of the things mentioned in this article can help their approach to you - as a good teacher will adjust to a student’s needs.
Now I don’t teach private lessons anymore, but hopefully, now you see how I was able to maintain a 5% drop rate. I was able to teach effectively by adjusting to every personality and weighing many things that ultimately was done to keep students coming back for more.
Wouldn’t that be the goal of a student when they hire a teacher - to help them learn the violin and keep them motivated? And that is the one thing I hope I can help the violin world in general. How great would it be if the world had only a 5% drop rate?
How many more 93-year-old violinists would be in the world making it a more musical place?Tweet
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