Does bad early training do anything for you once you get to a good teacher?

January 31, 2007 at 03:16 AM · I started violin at 8 with a teacher that didn't put emphasis on good, solid technique. At 12 I got to my present teacher, whom I adore. He completely altered my technique and it was almost as if I was staring from scratch, so much he changed. Did I benefit from those 3 years before I came to a good teacher?

Replies (30)

January 31, 2007 at 04:35 AM · Hi Avigail,

I firmly believe in beginning students with an experienced teacher who can make the lessons educational, yet fun. I think violinists in their teens can often hold onto bad habits that were introduced (or neglected) from the very beginning. A top notch teacher who can start 'em young is indespensible!


January 31, 2007 at 12:40 PM · one way to get to an answer that is almost reliable is that you have to manage to find a twin that has gone other route:)

January 31, 2007 at 02:09 PM · Hi,

Avigail, the answer is yes and no. Yes, in that if you teach later on, you will want to give a good technique from the start to students and be better equiped to reform students with technical problems.

For your own playing, they are a waste. Luckily you are young, so doing the changes now may benefit you more than if done later.


January 31, 2007 at 02:23 PM · I think one great thing it does for you is that in your head, you started at 9 instead of 12. Seriously.

January 31, 2007 at 02:38 PM · This is a question I used to ask a lot having started my daughter on a wrong track. In her case, it didn't take long to correct her bad habits. I also realize that spending a lot of time doing the basics would have never worked for her. She still has a lot to catch up but during those first few years, she got used to violin and violin playing in general. When the basics were presented in a proper manner a few years later, they seem to stick to her right away. Maybe this is what Jim meant, "In your mind you started at 9 instead of 12."


January 31, 2007 at 02:48 PM · Daniel, "experienced" teacher might not mean "good" teacher. And likewise, "inexperienced" teacher might not be a "bad" teacher. Everything else you said is true.

I have taken students on who studied with teachers with years of experience, and those students weren't given the best of violin lessons. On the other hand, I have taken students who started with novice teachers that did a marvelous job, even if the teacher had little previous experience.

January 31, 2007 at 03:22 PM · Ihnsouk, that's not what I meant but I'm sure that's true too. I meant I think people who didn't start "until" 12 have doubt complexes people who started at 9 wouldn't have:)

January 31, 2007 at 03:33 PM · I started when I was 4 with a teacher who had been teaching for I think more than 10 years. When I was younger she would sometimes correct my posture, but from the time I was 4 to the time I was 16 she never ONCE corrected a single bit of intonation, never worked with me for tone, never let me read music until I was in middle school, even though when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade my mom told her I was getting bored and sightreading my piano music on my violin. She never worked with me on interpretation or style. Overall, it was 14 wasted years that accomplished really only getting me decent posture (with loads of tension), the worst ear you could ever have, and no sense of style or tone. She has a TON of students, several of which are my age or a few years younger. They all the ears of a beginning 6th grader.

After a year plus of being really frustrated with my lessons (30 minute lesson, I would go in, she would rant about politics for 10 minutes, I would play through my piece and "etudes" - tpyically simple duets, she would say, "That's fine, let's go on", and leave. I never practiced because there was no need to - me going in and sightreading was the same results as me practicing and going in), and begging my mom to let me change teachers, as there were 2 or 3 actual GOOD university teachers where she worked, she finally let me change when I was 16, but only because of politics (and of course she was extremely offended when I changed teachers, and also called me a liar to my mom).

My new teacher I believe had perfect pitch, and she started me from scratch basically, and I have a much stronger foundation now. Like someone else said, I do know now exactly what NOT to do when I teach.

January 31, 2007 at 03:54 PM · I started out with great violin teachers, but I think I would have gotten very frustrated if they hadn't let a few things slide in the beginning. My mom didn't when I tried to learn piano from her and I quit two years later because I didn't think I'd be any good! I did work on some of those things later in my violin lessons, but some kids can get frustrated if there isn't a lot of encouragement, especially when just starting out. If nothing else, during those years of practice you got used to having a violin in your hands and coordinating your right and left arm - probably a lot easier to do at age 9 than 12.

January 31, 2007 at 10:39 PM · I agree with Sarah. Good teachers will have to decide constantly how much to correct and how much to let go. I don't think insisting on correctness will necessarily accomplish much. It certainly wouldn't have worked for my daughter.


January 31, 2007 at 10:16 PM · I really appreciate this thread, as I have sort of a similar dilemma currently with my 4-year-old (as of yesterday) daughter. She's very interested in the violin, but she's easily distractible and doesn't follow directions well. I'm reluctant to spend lots of money on a weekly lesson until she's ready for more structured instruction, so I've been teaching her myself. I think I'm doing a decent job, and she's enjoying and progressing---albeit slowly---but sometimes I wonder if it would be better not to have her play at all until she's older. My reasoning is that even if she has some small errors in setup, she's at least getting ear training and learning finger coordination, but I don't want to make it harder for her later on when she does start working with a real teacher. Any thoughts?

January 31, 2007 at 11:14 PM · Karin Lin

Perhaps she could have shorter lessons or a lesson every other week. That way you would better able to follow her progress and correctly help her with her technique. Over time you should be able to tell if she requires more attention from her teacher. I think most children are more cooperative and attentive when learning from teachers other than their parents.

February 1, 2007 at 05:15 AM · It would have been much better to have a good teacher from the get-go, but failing that I do think it's best that you started when you did. Eight is not young to start the violin, and those years of natural development from 8-12 may have been essential to your development of a musical mind and ear. Music, like language, is harder to learn the later you start. I understand the perspective that says, "learning bad technique is worse than learning no technique," but I don't think I agree when the difference would have been between starting to play as a child and starting as an adolescent.

(incidentally, I speak from personal experience... I didn't have a good teacher from ages 9-12. now i'm studying violin in college.)

February 1, 2007 at 05:27 AM · Do not think of those early 3 years as wasted. Instead, if you think of it as a time that you were able to learn from "doing it wrong the first time" and not repeating those same bad habits from that point forward knowing them for what they were, then then you make yourself stronger as a musician.

February 1, 2007 at 06:53 AM · Correcting bad habits in a student depends entirely on their mind set.The famous 21 days applies here as well.A new habit can be formed (much easier to introduce a new way of playing rather than correcting an old way) in the same lengh of time as good practice habits can be established.However the student must want to do it and be convinced as to its effectiveness.Its important howver to tackle one problem at a time.

February 1, 2007 at 08:38 AM · Just hope for a good teacher period--it's a jungle out there.

February 1, 2007 at 06:00 PM · It's not just finding someone who is competent either! Ensuring the teacher and student have compatible personalities is important as well.

I've auditioned a number of students in the past year who were excellent, but we didn't quite hit it off on the personal relationship front. Of course, I recommended them to colleagues I thought would be a better fit, and everyone is happier. ;)

February 1, 2007 at 10:09 PM · Albert, I am glad to say that for the last 7 years + I've had a terrific teacher!

February 1, 2007 at 11:07 PM · It also has something to do with the athletic/physiological ability one has to adapt and change and "feel" their way through change. Some students cannot replicate what you do in a lesson once they leave the studio. Some students you can correct their body, and immediately they understand physically/spatially/muscle memory... and have got it.

So, besides the willingness to change and faith that the change is what is best, and effective (as stated..and I believe the most important), is the student's physical aptitude for change.

I had bad habits for a very long time. ANd I was a dedicated player/practicer...knowing full well from very early on that this was going to be my career and love. It has taken many teachers, approaches, and tactics to change. There are still things that need work.

Possibly the most confusing thing for a student who has a bad technical foundation is conflicting information from different teachers. That is extremely frustrating as well as detrimental.

For example. If a student goes to a music camp and has a very intense and invigorating month or so with a new teacher who changes a lot of technique and then comes back to their regular teacher who tries to change it back. Or going to college and having a teacher change your technique and then changing teachers with different ideas, and then seeing masterclasses that agrees with one or the other....

There is so much sensory information that is fed into us regarding "correct" technique that it can be hard to determine what should be changed, what is fine, and what is "right".

There comes a point where the student must decide. The ideal would be having teachers who are all apt at working with the student with personal approaches and not set technical moulds.

As for having a bad first teacher, whether it is a waste or not...who can say? Maybe there will be a teacher down the road that will change your technique once again, to something similar to what you started out with. Most likely, though, you can tell if your instruction has been bad for your playing. If so, then it is not altogether a bad experience.

THere is something to be said for the challenge of fixing a bad technical foundation. It gives one a very clear view of how to focus practice and growth. If that makes any sense...



February 2, 2007 at 02:07 AM · That's great! Your question validates my perspective, as does the experience of not a few.

There is a paper over at project Gutenberg interviewing many great teachers/players. To get a feeling for how broad and varied things are, I'll try and look it up for you.

Here it is:

The point is, that not only with violin, but at the same time especially with violin, whoever remarked that the best indicator is the effect on one's playing that is a reliable measure, spoke a lot of wisdom.

February 3, 2007 at 09:19 PM · Avigail,

When I was a kid my instrument was piano. I grew up in a very small rural area, and started at 2nd grade with a local teacher (whose teaching credentials were pretty much limited to also having had lessons as a kid from a local teacher).

In my case, it was 5 years, not 3, before I got a real, serious piano instructor. My technique was bad or non-existant, I hadn't learned to memorize, I hadn't learned to practice (because I didn't need to...the pieces were simple enough that I could play them without practice), all these things.

But that didn't turn out to be the real problem. I was the only one in my entire extended family, *ever* to have music lessons of any kind, so my parents didn't know what to expect. I think mom pretty much thought that if you had talent, you just started lessons, something inborn "clicked" and a year or so later you were ready for Juliard, playing concertos, etc (tho she didn't know what a concerto was). And, obviously, I wasn't very good because that didn't happen!

She had also "learned" that if I had to play a song more than one or two weeks, there must be something wrong (again, I mustn't be very good). Thank goodness she worked and I got an hour or so to practice before she got home, because I couldn't practice around her. If I had to work on a measure or a phrase more than a couple of times before I got it, she would say things like, "Can't you play something you can actually *play*??"

She hated listening to me practice, she found it painful, I suspect, because of the implication that I wasn't very good if I had so much trouble with what I was playing. She was a grade school teacher, too ;o) To this day I can't bring myself to practice in front of others. The sad thing is, when I was in college as a music ed major, my piano instructor (who was familiar with all this) said that if I could have overcome all this I could have been a performance major by then.

Then, of course, came the recitals where kids who were much younger than I, but who'd had years of quality instruction, could play technically more difficult pieces. That was pretty much the nail in the coffin for my folk's opinions about my talent.

Anyway, this could have probably all been avoided if I had talked to my teacher about it (I didn't, mostly because, since my mom believed this, *I* believed it too, deep down, and because I was ashamed).

SO, if *you* feel like you're getting discouraged about any of these things, or if you get any *hint* that your parents (who have also been limited by your early teacher, in their way) might not understand what it takes to be a serious music student, Speak Up! Talk to your teacher! Ask your teacher to have serious conversations with your parents!

Then your poor early instruction will really not hold you back.


February 3, 2007 at 11:51 PM · Oh, boy, is this ever a perfect question. My first two teachers were just ok. They were more interested that I progress through the books rather than make sure I had that technique down solidly before moving on. I'm still paying for that.

I finally ws able to study with Dorothy Delay and Kurt Sassmannshaus for awhile, but my flying schedule wiped me out of frequent lessons. They both said my basic technique was flawed.

Now I'm with a wonderful teacher who plays in one of the upper stands of the St. Louis Symphony. She's teaching me all over again and it's working. The only problem is she has a parrot who sits in the studio, looks at me and says, "awaaak, you suck." Is there such a thing as parrot under glass?

February 4, 2007 at 12:36 AM · Did you make that up?


February 4, 2007 at 12:44 AM · Hello,

my opinion:

if you want progress, you need to understand the things you do or to reproduce them mechanically exactly (in most cases with a bad tone).

A good teacher makes you understand, a bad one makes you imitate - so even after many bad ones there is only the wasted time as a problem, because with the good teacher you will begin to understand. After 4 teachers and many contradictive advises I can only say: you have to go through that to understand. Sometimes it is also the problem to make the teacher understand you...

kind regards

February 4, 2007 at 02:19 AM · Everything except the parrot is real. It's actually a parakeet. Her son has the parrot.

February 4, 2007 at 05:15 AM · The three years were not wasted. There is a lot more to becoming a violinist than acquiring a solid technical foundation. Very likely during those three years you built up your fluency with the fingers and the bow, built up your fluency reading music and transferring it to the violin, built up your repertoire and knowledge of musical styles, played in an ensemble or orchestra, developed a concept of tone and musical expression, etc. If you did any of those things your time was not wasted.

February 4, 2007 at 02:06 PM · I was most interested in "It sucks." part. Not fully grown up yet.


February 4, 2007 at 04:05 PM · Ray - I love your story! how rare to have a good laugh without a joke! thanks!

February 4, 2007 at 05:19 PM · I think many (most?) people have trouble deciding if a teacher is the right one for them. The more school-oriented someone is, the more likely they are to accept a teacher's evaluation and curriculum, (meaning what to study and when. It's kind of a waste of time and money to question everything a teacher says, but equally wasteful to question nothing. And then, of course, there are teachers who are inspired and inspiring teachers, just not for you. I'm working with one 11-year-old and getting basically nowhere. Redo the same basics every week. She admits she practices very little, and its obvious she doesn't practice what I've asked for. Since she's not working, and I'm not motivating, it's probably an idea for her to move along. Luckily I don't have to hold on in situations like this, or sugarcoat what I see and hear, in order to support myself. Sue

February 4, 2007 at 06:11 PM · I don't know how to find this in a teacher in advance of working with him or her, but my wonderful teacher is teaching me and guiding my technique based on MY learning styles. She also is not staying with a rigid teaching pedagogical method, but is basing what she recommends on how I sound and play right now. I'm not being forced to adopt a technique because that's the way it's supposed to be done, she's teaching what works for me. Believe me, she misses absolutely nothing. Now if only all teachers were like this.

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