teacher - adult learner relationship

March 3, 2007 at 12:11 AM · I took four one-hour violin lessons with a teacher, about a year ago. I spent the first half of my last lesson waiting at the door, then, when I finally was allowed to go in, the teacher acted as if nothing had happened. Not that I learned more once inside... Any question I had about any difficulty, the reply was that the answer will come, the difficulty will be overcome, with time and with practice. My impression was that the teacher really did not want to show me anything, from fear of giving away her secrets, her knowledge. But then, what's the point? She once said to me that she could not understand why my Suzuki 1 pages were so clean, why once I was sure of something I did not write it down, so next time I would take it from there. Then she showed me a page from a piece she was preparing, where she had marked everything, fingerings, bowings, phrasing and I-don't-know-what-else. She said it showed she had worked on it, but to me it looked more like a proof that she could no longer "work" on it even if she needed to. I had nothing to mark on my little Suzuki pieces, no great discoveries, no new discoveries, nothing so important that I would not remember later... My hopes were high going into those lessons, but at the end I was disappointed and confused. Since I stopped taking lessons I made a lot of progress on my own, but I still feel I desperately need a teacher. I started looking again, my hopes are still high, but I am a little apprehensive. How much can I really hope for? Do teachers feel it is a waste of time to teach adults (as adults are not training for a career, there will ultimately be little satisfaction for the teacher)? Do they feel it would be even dangerous and irresponsible to give away the secrets of the trade to adults, for various reasons? Why did my teacher pretend there was nothing that could be taught, any established knowledge or ways of doing things?! Adult learners out there: how does/did your teacher treat you?

Replies (23)

March 3, 2007 at 12:11 AM · I doubt any teacher worries about revealing too many "tricks of the trade" to a beginner!

You may be looking for someone to just show you how to do it, show you right now. Maybe your teacher was trying to say that learning the violin is a long process of mastery, because that's the truth. The learning comes from repetition, from a lot of time with the instrument, from great attention to physical detail and then to refinement.

Unless you have mastered certain skills, even very basic ones like holding the instrument properly, you cannot proceed to the next.

March 3, 2007 at 12:31 AM · "You may be looking for someone to just show you how to do it, show you right now."

Thanks for the reply, but, no, that was and is not the case. I would have given up if it had been, but I did not, even on my own. I knew what I was getting myself into. I did a lot of research since (books, recordings, videos, websites) and I tried many things (with respect to holding the violin, shoulder rests, bow hold etc.) and just practiced a piece again and again till I became comfortable and I could play. But it was a lot of work and I think the teacher could have helped me more! This website was and is helping me more! People can discuss things, answer questions, express their opinions - I could not have that at my lessons.. in fact it felt strange and bad to ask anything.

March 3, 2007 at 01:01 AM · Oh my goodness, she sounds like a terrible teacher. For you. Maybe she's the best teacher possible (doubt it...) for someone else. Taking classes as an adult beginner should be a joy and YES there are teachers out there who relish the differences when they work with an adult. Speaking for myself, my attitude is that since I'm paying so much $$ and so much more aware of it than a kid ever would be, I'm going to make sure I get every penny's worth. Making you wait a half-hour?! And no profuse apologies and a "how shall we make this time up? Right now, or next week?" from her?

Boy.

I don't know if your teacher was purely Suzuki. My teacher offers a hybrid approach and I love it. She's keenly aware of what I want/need and I am perfectly happy with her pace, and, what's more, I trust her. If things feel like they're progressing slowly, I trust that she's chosen to let something sink in before moving on.

There are great teachers out there - I hope you find one. Truly, the teacher-student experience is a very very important part of learning as an adult beginner. You should never never never be made to feel that you aren't 100% as valuable as the younger kids.

Good luck!

March 3, 2007 at 01:17 AM · I agree that your teacher sounds like a loser. I'm an adult who began lessons 2 years ago. My teacher enjoys working with an adult (I always have more questions than many of her younger students). She corrects my mistakes, demonstrates proper techniques by example and, most important of all, teaches me how to practice. I think you should expect no less of a teacher and that you need to shop around for a new one. Good luck!

ab

March 3, 2007 at 01:59 AM · I'm an adult re-beginner (played through high school then gave it up, am now in my mid-30s and starting again). When I decided to take lessons again, I contacted several teachers and actually interviewed two--letting them know exactly what I was looking for. I had trial lessons with both of them as well, to make sure that they were actually comfortable teaching an adult. I've now had six lessons with the teacher I chose, and I haven't been disappointed. She knows my goals, and she's more confident in my abilities than I am. She also listens to the things that I say, and she's very encouraging. In addition, she was actually excited to take me on as a student *because* I'm an adult. ;)

I think you should probably try to find a new teacher, too. Good ones for adults are out there. I was wary of the same problem you've had, which is why I was so careful when I was making the choice.

March 3, 2007 at 03:09 AM · Maria, I second your perceptions--you are not alone. Many teachers do not really know how to teach children, much less adults--it's a jungle out there. Basically, I'm saying is you will have to strive to develop your program and protect it and stick with it. I'm not saying to not listen to others, but I am saying they indeed 'can' cause more confusion than direction--and that's what you seemed to experience.

The violin instruction environment has changed alot since the 70's, and just like other service and professional focused industries one has to really be about their witts not to be taken by either a student mill or an unqualified teacher supplementing their income.

As confusing as it seems, and though there are a phenomonal number of nuances in playing violin, the basics should not be confusing. Look at violinmasterclass.com and check out both the very beginniner and more advanced elements present in the masterclasses.

Now there are many things and different approaches or viewpoints related to these elements, including how one gets to the levels presented, but they are not some abstract 'you'll get it later' type of thing. Nor should the answers to your questions should have been.

When you find a new teacher, have some understanding of your goals, at least on a medium term goal level. This can change--mine has, but those basics to help you progress as you strive for those first level goals should not take prisoner of people's passion for violin--it's too important.

Good luck and talk it out here before you get a new teacher--maybe that will help.

March 3, 2007 at 04:30 AM · Maria,

It’s a very sad fact, but unfortunately, out there, there are many BAD teachers/musicians who give all the others a bad name!

The teacher you have been studying with obviously is not a TRUE musician or perhaps one who has lost the motivation for some reason (broken, unfulfilled dreams could be one)!

I have 2+ “LOVES” in music…

Playing it and Teaching it!

I think anyone who loves music also loves to teach and has a “need” or a feel of obligation to teach it and pass on the art.

I love the violin… it’s what I do, perhaps I can also say, the violin was my first love! Music and the violin have been an essential, beautiful part in my life. If you love something, wouldn’t you want it to continue forever? I think so!

When I teach my students, young or old, I always use the “open book” approach! Meaning I want to pass all my knowledge to them… after all they are the future of music and that wondefull instrument I so much love… the violin!

Find yourself a better teacher, one who loves what they do and want to “pass- it -on” to you! At your level, you should have a teacher to make your violin learning adventure faster, more productive and with less frustration.

Now, get your phone and go call that new teacher…

Regards,

Peter

March 3, 2007 at 01:00 PM · I've had two good experiences taking lessons as an adult. In both cases, my teacher was someone whom, had I met him/her outside of the lesson environment, I would have considered a friend. The relationship is very different than it is between a teacher and a student who is a child/adolescent: you may not be peers musically, but you are likely to be peers in some professional sense. By profession I am a neuroscientist who researches neurodegenerative disease and I often find that people like to ask me about that (and I like to talk about it, and sometimes I'm pretty verbose). So the biggest issue I've had to be careful about is not to spend too much time in lessons just yakking with my teacher about non-violin/viola-related matters. A little of this is good, it helps establish a relationship of mutual respect, but too much of it is not what you're there for.

The other thing that I think teachers like to get with an adult student are self-directed goals of some sort. Not necessarily a professional career in music, but it could be something like performing a solo in church or auditioning for a community orchestra. In my case it was learning the viola after years of studying the violin (and now for me it's the first two--the church performance and the audition--on viola). This gives some shape to the lessons and, when done right, gives both parties a sense of accomplishment.

March 3, 2007 at 02:29 PM · Hi Maria, it sounds like you had a bad experience with that teacher. Please don't let that deter you from continuing your violin studies.

I teach adult students. Let me share some insights from a teaching perspective:

Starting a lesson a half-hour late is not good form, especially without an excuse offered. Sometimes there is a reason for tardiness, but with no explanation?

As for giving away secrets..."Dangerous, irresponsible to give away secrets?" Well, no. One of the shtick lines I use with my students is "It is my job to show you all of the nifty tricks. I am not hoarding all of the good stuff for myself. I am here to share that with you." After going over a new piece or scale with a student, the last thing I say is "Any questions"? And that is when the real fun begins!

As for marking notes on music, that is a personal thing. Some teachers have their students keep some sort of practicing notebook, some teachers write notes on the music itself, and some teachers don't write anything down. I am a big fan of the post-it note. I also prepare my student's music with the bowings/fingerings that I think will be needed. You do not have to mark a million little notes on a piece of music in order to be able to play it well.

Go find another teacher. Some teachers teach adults, some don't. Ask for references, preferably from another adult student of that prospective teacher. Good luck.

March 3, 2007 at 02:59 PM · Maria

Unfortunately there are a lot of music teachers that believe that adults are incapable of learning or they are not comfortable teaching adults. Luckily, there are also many teachers who successfully teach adults. The challange is finding one. They are out there. When looking for a teacher, don't be afraid to interview them and ask many questions. That's the only way that you'll be able to know if they are the right one for you. When you find one, work with them on a trial basis for at least a month.

When I was looking for a teacher, the very first question I asked was "do you teach adult students?" When the teacher I'm working with responded "I LOVE to teach adults!" I knew it was going to work. I went on to check her credentials and she had the education and experience that I wanted to see in my teacher.

We worked on a trial for a month and at the end of the month we discussed our relationship and my progress and decided to continue. It's working out well. We're at a point where we now take an extra few minutes prior to each lesson to sit, have a cup of coffee and chat about my progress (or whatever comes to mind.)

During the lesson we laugh, have fun and turn it into an enjoyable learning experience. Even with the fun spirit of our lessons they are frequently very challanging as I work through difficult or problem areas. She remains a perfectionist and offers criticism constructively and freely. I'm making significant progress working with her.

Good luck in finding a new teacher. There are many excellent ones out there who work very well with adult students. Just don't be afraid to ask questions at the beginning and if it doesn't work out don't be afraid to leave them and look for another. After all, you're the one paying for the service. You deserve to get the best for your money!

March 3, 2007 at 02:49 PM · I end up spending a lot of time talking to my teacher about non-violin matters too. My lesson is an hour, but always runs to one and half or two hours discussing current events, politics, you name it. He's Polish and has some great anecdotes about playing in orchestras behind the Iron Curtain (he was also a friend of Henryk Szeryng, who used to visit him here in Bergen), so we spend alot of time talking music as well of course.

March 3, 2007 at 07:54 PM · Hello everyone,

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this and for being so supportive, it is invaluable to me! It is good to know that it can, indeed, be better. Many of you describe the kind of relationship I had expected, which is very reassuring. When I started lessons I questioned everything, except the teacher. I have played the piano since I can remember, but I thought, here I am, in my mid-thirties, trying to learn a new instrument, and I felt lucky and blessed that someone who went to college to study violin was willing to teach me at all. I really did not think anything could go wrong on the teacher side, while it all seemed, well, unusual on my side... Some of you made friends with your teachers, I wanted that too, very much, but I learned I was wrong. Also, my teacher never asked what my profession was (Karen, it's close to yours) and I kind of got the idea that it would not be appropriate to talk about anything that was not violin-related. I would have been fine with that, because usually I tend to blame myself first, and I also had read, for example, about how Galamian was with his students, or watched the Heifetz masterclass videos. So I thought maybe my expectations had been extreme and unless you are Perlman you do not make friends with your teacher... In the end it did not matter, it was the rest that made me change my mind. Anyway, I am in the process of looking for a new teacher, and thanks to all of you I know better what is possible and what is not. Have a great weekend!

March 3, 2007 at 09:10 PM · I feel lucky to be in a unique position where I'm a young student teaching adults. The thing I love about teaching adult students is that they are doing it for themselves, their own satisfaction. They remind me that there is more to life than just sitting in a room practicing scales. These people have families, careers and lives but for whatever reason they have a yearning to learn how to play the violin. The remind me how lucky I am to have started when I was little and just how hard some of the most basic of things (intonation, not lifting the bow from the strings, straight bow etc) can be and they make me analyze my own playing in order to hopefully be able to help them to the best of my ability. As already stated, most adults aren't learning with a mind of going onto a professional music career but they still have the capacity to learn and comprehend. Another thing I appreciate in my adult students is that they can see and respect the value in practicing when given a good explanation, they don't say "why do I have to practice? I don't want to. It's too hard." etc that younger students can say. Adult students don't generally talk back or hide under desks either at lessons because their parents made them come and they don't want to be there!

There have been a lot of good comments. I think the role as a teacher is not to discourage students but also give them realistic outlooks, especially as an adult student, as to how the learning process works with such a difficult task as learning an instrument. Communication and explanation are hugely important as well as patience on both the student's and teacher's part.

If the student and teacher can meet on common ground and have an understanding and respect for where each other is coming from and agree to trust in each other and stick with it, it can be a hugely satisfying experience for both parties.

I love having adult students and I love having young students. They both bring different perspectives to the table and help me to remember things about my own playing and what are healthy and unhealthy criticisms of myself.

March 3, 2007 at 09:48 PM · I'm an adult beginner and am learning for two reasons: I love music and am finding out that the violin is really great, and I also want to have the "chops" to be a street musician. Don't laugh but where I grew up, that's one of the better ways to make a living. I'm thinking it may work out well here too.

March 3, 2007 at 10:24 PM · After many years in public school, I now have my little band of private kid-students and a half-dozen adults of varying advancements, including an almost-beginner, who appears to have had a couple of not so great experiences before this. I find my adult students take surprisingly more thinking, planning and preparation. I have to work harder in their lessons to verbalize what I want them to hear, and to answer questions. Also to find a balance between what they think they ought to learn and the path I think is the right one for each. I consider this all a delightful challenge, and when I start to feel frustrated, mainly with myself, I remind myself that this is really good for my brain growth. Keep looking! Sue

March 4, 2007 at 12:06 AM · Without reading comments others wrote, just want say, Maria, violin teachers are like any skilled or professional people, some of them are not very professional or just incompetent. Your last teacher seems to fit both categories.

I’m an adult student myself and I had tried a few teachers before settled with this one that I think is just great. I’d do some research (online, phone call, word-of-mouth) before I meet the teacher so I can assess him/her readily at the first lesson. I choose my teachers based a clear set of criteria, including some of the following:

a)Educational and teaching credential: How long has he/she been teaching violin? Which school was he/she graduated from? Whom did he/she study with?

b)Enthusiasm: Does he/she appear to genuinely care about my learning or teaching me is just a part of making a living?

c)Dedication: Is he/she on time? Is he/she focused when teaching? Is he/she willing to work around my schedule if necessary? Is he/she willing to provide extra help, such as short email exchanges and phone calls, if I need between lessons? Etc.

d)Expectations: Does he/she understand what my goals are? Does he/she seem to have the kind of expectations that I feel happy with?

e)Integrity: Will I be able to trust and be always honest with him/her in learning the violin and in our teacher-student relationship?

f)Fee: Is the rate reasonable? If it’s way below or above the current market-rate, why?

I’d go with little preparation for the first lesson so that he/she is going to see some of my worst performance and I can see what he/she is going to do about it. I never try to impress my teacher so that I won’t likely to act like a fool:) I will want to know how much hands-on work (both demonstration and physical touching to get the point across) he/she provides in conjunction with verbal instructions. They should be at least 50-50 in my view. If the teacher does most talking and very little hands on work, I’ll move on.

I’ll observe if the teacher is focused or rushed. I’ve got to have the learning pace to be suitable for me and a rushed teacher is not a very helpful one. Ask a lot of questions and ask for clarifications about things that I’m not clear. If the teacher shows impatience rather than showing interests in my curious disposition, then that’s not going to work for me.

Good teacher is a bit like a good dog trainer in that he/she won't let you (or the puppy in you) to get away with any bad habit or technical problem. Good teachers will interrupt me very quickly, after a few notes, and fix my problems, instead of just letting me finish a whole piece and then ask me to play the whole thing again before saying anything. Good teachers help me to work on the music bar-by-bar, not just on the sheet music, but on my actually playing.

Now, I’m not saying that to be good teacher one has to meet the world famous masters such as Josef Ginguld or Zakhar Bron, but they do set some of the highest standards of good teaching. I think you may want to get a couple of DVDs of these master teaching series and to watch what violin teaching could be like. Aiming high and reaching low does work in life.

The hardest thing is not finding a good teacher but it is to be clear what is my specific sensible goal at specific stage of learning. If I know this, then I can let the teacher know what I want. If he/she can’t help me to achieve these goals nor have better plan for me to adjust me goals, I’ll move on.

You said you learn a lot on your own. A word of caution, you can get a lot of bad habits this way and it’s hard to unlearn them. I read somewhere it says rightly that practice is memorizing for the body and the mind. If we don’t practice right, it’ll do more harm than good to us.

March 4, 2007 at 12:57 AM · "I have to work harder in their lessons to verbalize what I want them to hear, and to answer questions. Also to find a balance between what they think they ought to learn and the path I think is the right one for each."

I totally agree with Sue on that one. I also teach students of all ages including adults.

Talking about questions, I noticed that many of my adult students love to analyse things to death. I think that it is our job as teachers to educate our students in understanding that the hands on experience must take precedence to any questions they might have. There is always time for questions..... later.

Building trust between the teacher and student from the very beginning is crucial. When the adult students trust their teacher, they are more willing to suspend the questions for a time and JUST DO THE WORK:)))

Lucia

March 4, 2007 at 02:34 AM · Lucia said:

“Talking about questions, I noticed that many of my adult students love to analyse things to death.

Building trust between the teacher and student from the very beginning is crucial. When the adult students trust their teacher, they are more willing to suspend the questions for a time and JUST DO THE WORK:)))”

I know exactly what you are saying and I tend to be one who likes to analyze a lot and question a lot. You probably don't want to be my teacher:^) Of course, there are times one should just do it and teachers should point this out to students in a timely manner so precious time won’t be wasted.

However, I don’t agree with the point that students who trust their teacher are more willing to suspend their questions. I think it can easily be the other way around. If students don’t trust their teacher, they may ask less questions but doing more guessing instead because, for one thing, lack of trust leads to avoid being open with someone. Maybe we have different notions as to what it means to trust one’s teacher. For me, to trust my teacher doesn’t mean just do whatever she says and just memorize everything. Sometimes I need clarification and other time I need to communicate what’s in my mind to my teacher and questioning is one of the best ways to do it.

It also depends on what questions we ask our teacher. Most of ‘why’ questions can be too complex to be answered at once, but ‘how’ and ‘what’ questions must be asked and answered.

Different people learn differently and asking question is a necessary learning mechanism for many. Teachers who have good skills in dealing with questions are in my view much more desirable than those who don’t.

March 4, 2007 at 04:05 AM · RE: analyzing to death

Guilty. ;o)

However, it's important to remember that alot of adult beginners and re-beginners have done at least a bit of figuring out (or trying to figure out) the physical aspect of playing on their own. Even if a particular student hasn't done that, when we're practicing between lessons, we're basically teaching ourselves for those days.

When the teacher is standing right there, everything makes sense. When the teacher isn't, often it does *not*. So we have to be able to articulate exactly what's going on so that we can write it down or at least remember more easily.

March 4, 2007 at 01:08 PM · In my opinion, the teacher-student relationship is in fact that - a relationship. When it works best, it becomes a bond in which mutual respect, open communication, and above all a shared commitment to excellence are the guiding values.

The experienced teacher will understand that their adult student is an adult, and therefore the teacher-student relationship must incorporate that fact. Maybe the specific objectives are different for the adult beginner (whose work habits, life experience, and neurological connections may very well be already set), but it seems to me that the overall vision should be the same as for a 5-year-old prodigy - the pursuit of excellence.

"Good enough" should never be good enough for any teacher or any student. As a teacher, you don't facilitate progress by giving up on a student. As a student, you don't advance by giving up on yourself.

I do not believe that teaching the violin is the same thing as teaching chemistry, or woodworking, or accounting, or psychology, or sports, or even religion. When you teach a person to master the voice of music, you are teaching teaching mastery of a profound, living, breathing, in-the-moment art that brings to life the unique vision of composers touched by a special kind of genius.

Teaching the violin has to become an inspiring mission, not just another job.

Sandy

March 4, 2007 at 01:25 PM · Sandy, I agree with your last sentence. But teaching and learning those other subjects (and more) can also be an inspiring mission and passionate pursuit. I think the adult student-teacher relationship is (or should be) one of equals and peers on some very basic human level (a level deeper than music--and I think such a level exists), even though in the lesson environment, the teacher and student play those particular roles. I'm not sure that an attitude that privileges music above all else in that way will well serve either teacher or student, especially not the adult student who is probably going to have other passions and commitments and a non-music career in his or her life.

March 4, 2007 at 09:22 PM · Yes, Karen, those factors are certainly involved in other kinds of teaching (I've taught, too), but in something like the violin you have an additional factor that can get very, very personal in the way the others don't - personal expression and the projection to others of one's inner artistic "voice" (for want of a better term).

I've taught several psychology courses (including supervision of psychotherapists at a doctoral level). Even in something as personal as that gets, there's still a difference.

I'm not sure I can explain it, but I sure do observe it....unless, of course, I'm deluding myself (which has been known to happen).

Anyway, reading the responses of such dedicated teachers on this website has really been very, very enlightening. Thanks for your sage comments.

Cordially, Sandy

March 4, 2007 at 10:23 PM · "we're basically teaching ourselves for those days."

"Teaching ourselves" is a great way to put it, Liz. I think that the ability to teach oneself, to try to figure things out on our own is the most important skill that we should nurture in ourselves as teachers and in our students at all times. A great teacher encourages and supports their students in this learning process by careful guidance. Teachers may do a great disservice to their students if by constantly eplaining everything they do not let the students think for themselves. I think that it is the teacher that should ask the questions! It is the student that must articulate the answers, using their own words. I know from personal experience that the things that I have figured out more or less on my own stick with me more readily then some of the things that were taught to me. It is not just a question of remebering something new, we have to really "own" any new knowledge that we gain in order for us to make sence of it all.

Maria has raised a question of professional secrets. I honestly do NOT believe that there is a teacher out there that would try to hog their knowledge and keep some things from their students or their collegues for that matter. Those of us who teach consider sharing knowledge our highest calling.

For instance, for five years I alongside a few other local teachers took Suzuki pedagogy sessions with John Kendall. Some of you may know that Mr. Kendall is the one and only teacher that brought Suzuki method to America. He is also a wonderful human being. He shared his life's experience with the local string community without accepting any form of payment other than contributions to his favorite charity fund!

By the way Mr. Kendalls greatest "secret" to teaching is (drumroll please) ....teach with humor! I think that he is one of the funnniest man on this earth and his students simply adore him.

Lucia

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