V.com weekend Vote: Did you ever have a violin teacher who used fear to motivate you?

January 23, 2015, 11:19 AM · These days, teachers are pretty nice.

I have not seen recent masterclasses where a teacher publicly rips a person to shreds, or heard of many private lessons where the teacher rages at the student every week. Certainly, times have changed. People like Suzuki encouraged "nurturing with love" and higher-level teachers like Dorothy DeLay couched criticisms with "Sugar Plum, what is your concept of F#?"

And yet, the violin has a long, proud (?) history of tyrannical teachers!

Kreutzer Fit

It can make for amusing stories when it's all in the past, but it's not too fun when you are terrified to go to a lesson for fear of being yelled at angrily, humiliated, etc. I'm sure that teachers still use fear to get results from students; I'm pretty sure that it was used more in the "olden days" than it is now.

I was fortunate that the teachers I had as a child were quite kind. Now, in college -- I did have one good, old-fashioned yeller. I liked him quite a lot, but it was occasionally pretty stressful!

Did you ever have a teacher who used fear to motivate you? Or one who regularly became angry, one who yelled and scared you into playing well? In the comments, you can describe!

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January 23, 2015 at 06:10 PM · I had 8 different teachers growing up (my family moved a lot). I remember two of those teachers as particularly intimidating. It was quite a stressful time going to my lessons. Even though it's been nearly 30 years since my last lesson, I still have the occasional recurring dream where I'm heading to my lesson and I haven't practiced all week. Very similar to another recurring dream where I'm heading to a final, and I haven't studied all semester... :-D

January 23, 2015 at 07:54 PM · Not a violin teacher, but a conductor. The whole orchestra was terrified of him, but our concert the week that he worked with us was amazing.

January 23, 2015 at 07:55 PM · Like Gene, I have had anxiety dreams about lessons. I have also had lessons turn into anxiety dreams :-)

January 23, 2015 at 07:57 PM · I had a pretty traumatizing experience with a mean mean teacher my first year of college. She put my self esteem through the wringer, and I played like a mouse for a couple years after.

January 23, 2015 at 08:27 PM · Iv'e had good relationships with all my teachers, but years ago I was in an orchestra that had a conductor who angily shouted and raved at us. He didn't last long because it took the orchestra only a short time to work out that his behavior was a cover for his inadequacy as a conductor. That's what can happen when a new conductor is parachuted in because of an emergency, and so evades the standard audition procedure.

January 23, 2015 at 09:18 PM · The fear of being yelled at was indirect. That means the conductor yelled at other musicians in the orchestra or berated an entire section without singling out a person. The violin section berating was very motivating for me. I always made sure that by next rehearsal I knew my part. The conductor was a violinist, and I knew that he could tell who knew their part and who didn't. I have never had a private teacher who was mean.

January 23, 2015 at 09:56 PM · Ran across more than one of these, both as teachers and conductors. Convinced me that music was not anything to pursue as a career. Yuck.

January 23, 2015 at 10:35 PM · Haha my violin teacher right now is very eccentric and yells all the time. But I know that deep down he' just wants to motivate me, and it's a good thing he does because I'm so lazy I would never get anything done otherwise.

January 24, 2015 at 12:28 AM · For far too long in college I studied with a man who would pace the studio while I played, tapping his left forefinger with a pencil. When I would stop, he'd sigh, and say, "It's so boring. I don't know what to tell you. It's so boring." Over and over, week after week. It was like an abusive relationship, and I was too intimidated to try to change teachers...after all, they'd all think I played boringly, right? Took years to recover.

January 24, 2015 at 12:50 AM · OK it wasn't a violin teacher, it was for piano. At about age 8 I started to teach myself piano out of amusement. My mother (who had been a very accomplished pianist in her youth) was so smitten with this budding piano-prodigy she immediately packed me off to a Prussian teacher. Her 'method' was to strike your fingers with a heavy ruler each time you played a wrong note.

I have to admit worked! I promptly gave up piano and returned to the violin....

January 24, 2015 at 02:54 AM · The first teacher I had was in high school and she didn't yell, but she hit and because of that my lessons were terrifying. She had a "special" bow and when you were playing if she felt that a passage wasn't up to par or she thought you weren't focused she would lay that bow across the back of your neck. I left so many lessons in tears but she was considered the best violin teacher in town so none of us kids ever said anything until years later. Most of her students, including myself, played at a pretty high level but we were scared of not playing well. Even after I had moved to other much better teachers I would flinch when I made mistakes expecting to be hit. It took years to recover from her teaching.

January 24, 2015 at 03:41 AM · I had a teacher that had a loud speaking voice. In fact, this teacher spoke in ALL CAPS way before there was such a thing as ALL CAPS.

And he would get REALLY LOUD when he would bring up the topics that excited him THE MOST, say, the topic of HEIFETZ! Because a person had NO IDEA how GREAT HEIFETZ was, unless you heard him LIVE. And HEIFETZ'S SOUND! WHAT SOUND! SO PERFECT! Or perhaps MICHAEL RABIN. Now THERE was a VIOLINIST! Or MILSTEIN! That BOW ARM! Etc...

This teacher was nothing but kindness itself though, and quite marvelous. And had infectious ENTHUSIASM! And was LOUD!

(Guess who, Laurie :-)

January 24, 2015 at 05:22 AM · I never had a teacher who used "fear" in the sense of which the article speaks. But when I went to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London) in 1999-2001, and studied violin with Yfrah Neaman, the weekly lessons were actually 4 hour blocks, where 4 of us would have our lesson and the other three would observe! While it was extremely educational and ultimately provided an abundant amount of musical growth for everyone involved, it was sometimes terrifying to play your concerto for not just a world renowed pedagogue but also three peers! Of course, us four peers could unite in solidarity over that terror... ;)

I have played under two or three conductors in my life who were tyrannical and yelled, causing a shudder through the body of everyone in the orchestra. I won't name names.

January 24, 2015 at 09:17 AM · I quite recently left an intermediate group class learning Irish trad as every lesson the teacher would treat me like a child ( I am 60). Irish trad certainly in Ireland is mainly taught to children and the adult classes were a new concept to the local Ceolthas group, so I suspect she was more used to teaching kids. She was very abrupt and sarcastic. I seemed to be singled out as I was the only one who spoke in class. I left after about 5 lessons out of 12. Minimum technique was taught, just sets of tunes played along with her. I continue to teach myself now.

January 24, 2015 at 09:27 AM · I also met another Irish trad teacher a few years ago who only handed out music in ABC format as very few trad musicians can read music, and 'the dots' as they call it is rarely taught in schools. I can read ABC but slowly and can sight read 'the dots'. He made me feel vey inadequate when he told me I would never ever learn to play Irish music until I forgot about reading 'the dots'. It was not long ago that guitars were banned by Ceolthas groups(which he is a member) in Ireland from sessions as they were not considered traditional enough, yet they love Bazoukis which are a recent addition from the middle east.

January 24, 2015 at 11:40 AM · I had a conductor in high school that used to say "Let's do it again. And this time, feel free to play the right notes!" Always made me laugh but other people didn't really like him because he was so sarcastic and blunt.

He also used to say "Ohhh what music!! No... Really. WHAT music??!" Hahaha! Good times... :D

January 24, 2015 at 11:48 AM · I was asked to play in a quartet in a well respected program at the Conservatory, in a very busy year, with a longish bus ride within the city. All the other quartet members paid to take part in the program but as I was asked and did not apply, that fee was waived. I found out why. The two violinists and I were a vehicle for the extremely young cellist. She couldn't read music, had a very pushy stage dad, and was simply an annoying child. Already, a very negative situation. The coach was a horrible little man. He was German, and nasty. And the child's cello teacher. More than once, I made myself less than available, but was enticed back by the violinists who needed the experience for their resumes. I have suffered at the negative personalty of coaches before but this one was horrible. I know that we did not complete the credit for the violinists, so I suspect they rebelled and made complaints to the management. Maybe the stage dad and coach locked horns. All I know is that I was so relieved when I escaped. I learned nothing in those "classes", except to leave my options more open when entering any musical situation.

January 24, 2015 at 12:52 PM · In many years of violin studies I have a lot of teachers that don't try to create any motivation to me.

I really try to do many things to make they liked me and accepted me as a real pupil but without any success. Most recent teachers can make me so sad that I feel deep hurt and depressed.

I almost break it all and really think to never play the violin again. In one of my last masterclass incursion I was public humiliated but just continue with my studies because one of my teachers was very good and I try to absorb only the good things at that moment.

Learning the violin in Brazil and particularly in the state that I live (south of Brazil) is very difficult and the scenario have too many competition and terrorism from the teachers and colleagues.

Here you only can grew up as an artist if you really forget all your internal feelings.

January 24, 2015 at 01:22 PM · Elise, at least he didn't dose you with prussian blue. How on earth did your mother manage to land you with a PRUSSIAN teacher?

Actually, my maternal grandmother, growing up under the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, had a piano teacher just like yours. The effect was the same, but Granny didn't have a violin to fall back on (not literally). However, it didn't put her off so badly as to land my mother without piano lessons, which were good enough to enable her in her retirement to make some attempt at the 48.

January 24, 2015 at 02:09 PM · I was such a quiet, shy viola player that if I'd had a mean teacher I would have quit. As it was I had to stop playing because of high school schedule, but I came back later - on classical guitar, and then violin and viola. I tell my students that if they want to be a professional violinist/violist that they do not want me as a teacher - I believe that students who want to play but not make it their profession should enjoy their lesson while learning. Comes from my background ...

I did have a piano teacher who would tap my fingers with his pencil - never hurt/hard but i was so reticent and wanted it to be perfect that I didn't want to be tapped - no matter how gently. Did not stop because of this...Piano is just not my instrument, but I still play simply for myself.


January 24, 2015 at 04:23 PM · Two professors in college; one my private violin teacher for two years, and the other the conductor for all four years. Hated them both then, have no respect for them now. I was always an ed major, never performance, but worked very hard. They belittled me and were sarcastic. I think of them as I teach so that I can be the opposite. Once I switched private teachers my abilities soared and I enjoyed it once again.

January 24, 2015 at 04:56 PM · Anne, nothin' wrong with LOUD! ;)

January 24, 2015 at 06:32 PM · . . . great reading in THIS thread . . . . My first teacher, Simon Carfagno, was patiently neutral. Former principal with the LA Phil, he was a great issue spotter and problem solver. When I took it up again in later life, I remembered everything, including why I hadn't gone pro. Nowadays, I study with Ms. World Wide Web.

January 24, 2015 at 06:40 PM · Being a teacher is so important a job and frankly, not everyone should be one. You have the power to make or break someone.

I started piano as a child and my teacher just made me hate the lessons and the music.

As an adult I came to realize I love music and I re-took the piano and the violin. Most of my violin teachers have been kind but one was particularly negative. I stopped playing violin for seven years after just one year with him.

When I began again I found a wonderful teacher who became not just a teacher for me but a mentor in a most difficult time in my life. He inspired me to play for myself as healing during a period of profound grief for a loved one who had died. I went on to play in several different amateur orchestras and at his insistence, to study and teach beginners myself. What a difference this man made in my life because he showed confidence in me!

I always try as a teacher to be the opposite of the two negative, unkind teachers I had, and to help children believe in themselves and enjoy music as something good in their lives.

January 24, 2015 at 07:29 PM · I have been blessed as an adult with lovely teachers who treat me with respect and humor, and who are unfailingly creative and helpful with suggestions and solutions to problems.

As a child I didn't have teachers who yelled so much as told me what was wrong with me. The words "you aren't" were uttered a lot. You aren't in tune. Your phrasing isn't musical. That's not too good. You're too loud, you're too soft. Your vibrato is too tight. Your vibrato is too fast. You need to use more vibrato. You need less vibrato. Your playing is square, it needs to be rounder. I didn't handle those kind of comments very well. Sometimes I cried. Looking back, what I think was missing was a spirit of "how do we make this better?" I don't wish I had been yelled at, but I think if the yelling had been accompanied by some constructive criticism, it probably would have been better than the seemingly endless list of my shortcomings.

January 24, 2015 at 07:57 PM · Embedded in the human genome are a bunch of cognitive "apps," including, apparently, one for what you'd have to call "authoritarian sadism," or the superiority/inferiority duality complex. If your teacher expresses dominance by making you squirm, you can just bail . . .

January 25, 2015 at 12:01 AM · Shouldn't there be a distinction made between "useful fear" and plain old "fear fear"? I once knew a teacher who was in great demand. He was was of the greats in the history of the instrument and his time was precious. His devotion to his part of the partnership in the teacher-student relationship was unquestionable. But when a student of any level of achievement or talent came into a lesson "coasting" on talent instead of working his or her utmost-- in flagrant disrespect for the teacher-student partnership--- the teacher would grow quiet in the lesson. At the end, he would simply and quietly say: "Leave". It was a true fool who dared come unprepared a second time for a lesson.

I suspect you are talking about teachers who use fear out of ego, or the inability to motivate or teach effectively in other ways. Truly, this is the sign of a not-so-gifted teacher--- and probably a very angry and frustrated human being. This situation should probably be avoided...

But as a teacher who has had the opportunity to help scores of highly ambitious young violinists excel at this difficult instrument, I must say that I DO believe in creating a hard environment at times--- but always in a way that serves the best interest of the student standing in front of me. I do this because I see it as my responsibility to teach each student how to bring themselves fully to the process of getting better on the instrument--- no matter how well they already play it.

It is never a personal attack that I use, rather a very blunt assessment of reality. This "old school" approach may be dying out,and it might not be for everybody-- but among the few who still use it, it is understood that it is being utilized as a calculated tool of the trade. Reality is sometimes hard for a student to take---but it is ultimately kinder than pretending all is well when it plainly is not. Sometimes a blunt "wake up" is called for... and with some students (not all), it is in their best interest for this to be the standard approach in the lesson.

Privately, my colleagues and I have given each other "pet" names as a result of this shared philosophy... I was for a time called "Professor Bin Laden" ;-), another colleague was "Professor Caucescu".. there was even a Genghis Khan in the mix! :-). But--- at the end of the day, there was no doubt that every one of us cared deeply for our students as human beings and as blossoming artists. So much so in fact, that we were willing to be stern with them when needed.

If a student responds to this approach with fear-- then that might not be an entirely bad thing. If they have the fortitude to overcome their fear, it means they are facing up to what they need to do, and being true to exploring their potential.They are learning that it actually matters when they do not "deliver the goods". Surely, this is an important life lesson.

As a reward for overcoming, they will probably become an even better, more confident violinist, and...dare I even say it--- a more humble artist--- for having done so! Of course, when they overcome these conditions, the teacher needs to then offer some well-earned expressions of respect and even praise.

Those are my thoughts on the subject. I hope they might stimulate a good and positive discussion. :-)

January 25, 2015 at 12:54 AM · Mr. Russell - BRAVO!!!

January 25, 2015 at 05:30 AM · Our conductor is quite intimidating and would often use fear and embarrassment to get results, especially from the youngest of the group. Being older, I would brush it off, and keep my cool...this was good because he saw that I wouldn't be intimidated! First desk woo.

January 25, 2015 at 05:35 AM · David, I was one of those who checked "yes", rather guiltily, because my teacher wasn't mean. She was exactly like you described. It was very motivating for me. I wasn't spacing out or lazy, I just wasn't remembering to do certain basic things for a period of time. There is a LOT to remember, even at the basic level. And it obviously impressed her when I managed to overcome those weaknesses. I believe that part of it was that she was testing my dedication and discipline.

January 25, 2015 at 04:44 PM · David Russell, well-said! I think that, as long as there is a basic trust between student and teacher, all is well, and it's clear that the sternness is calculated to help the student achieve excellence. If it's just abuse and piling-on, then it's a problem.

January 25, 2015 at 07:15 PM · Didn't mention earlier- my first teacher, in a public elementary school, was a bit too fond of little girls! This was in the '60s, before kids really had a vocabulary for this, but we quickly figured out it was necessary to always go to lessons in pairs (or more). He was actually a good teacher, but a bit of a creep with wandering hands.

January 26, 2015 at 12:44 PM · The comment about the teacher with wandering hands... despicable! The exploitation of kids entrusted to us is one of the most abysmally sub-human things imaginable. I even devoted significant attention to the need to create a safe environment for study in a video for my summer masterclass (Mountaintop Mastercourse). Precisely because this disgusting behavior is rampant, we must fight back to provide places that are safe and non-exploitative. Nothing makes me more angry...

January 26, 2015 at 01:02 PM · The conductor of the local orchestra when I tried it walked to the back of the violins pointed at me and said "you late", I thought that it would make no difference, but after he had done this a few times I could not play anything at all...

January 26, 2015 at 03:06 PM · I liken this to coaches in sports who are agressive and loud. They yell and push to get the most out of a player. If you aren't tough enough to handle that, you're not tough enough to play. But that makes some people quit. I was always driven more by being yelled at because i didn't take it personally, but if I were approached in that manner with violin, I think I would quit. (though I do like structure)

January 26, 2015 at 04:13 PM · One more thing: Sometimes only a look is necessary! Case in point: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdZAhpgG8gM (around the 1:36 mark) :-)

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