The Endless Search

July 2, 2007 at 02:04 PM · I've been trying to learn the violin for about two years now. In this short period, I've also had four teachers - all very professional players and good violinists - but we didn't seem to connect at all. I believe that the teacher-student relationship is a special one, and that there is some sort of magic or divine providence that brings the two together. I'd like to ask if you could all share how you found the teacher that made the most impact in your violin education and brought you to where you are now. Maybe this will help me find the teacher for me, too.

Replies (32)

July 2, 2007 at 03:34 PM · that is so much like what i experienced. i've learned for 3 years, each year with a different teacher. and the recent one is the best ever!! such a great teacher. (amazingly talented, motivating and humourous too!) well at first i heard of him from a friend of mine who learns from him and kinda worships him. then one, he replaced my school's orchestra instructor. what a coincidence. and so at rehearsals i found out what a great player he is and how he is personally. and then i decided that he would make a great private teacher. well that was just my luck. perhaps (i may be wrong) you should look for a teacher that has a degree in music education. i guess generally they would know how to bond with students better and how to motivate students more effectively, etc.

so good luck!


July 2, 2007 at 03:57 PM · One thing that may be helpful is to try to find not just a good teacher - there are many of these - but one having experience teaching adults and who enjoys it. For me that has made a great deal of difference.

July 2, 2007 at 04:00 PM · and i agree with Tom. my former teacher clearly didn't enjoy teaching me and made no effort of hiding it. hh i hate that. it makes the lesson felt soo looong.

July 2, 2007 at 09:51 PM · I'm going to look at your problem finding a teacher from the other point of view: a teacher's. Often, students come to me that have been through lots of other teachers. And often, I discover that the problem is indeed the student. So I have to ask you: what do you really mean by "not connecting"? To me, it often means a student that is not teachable. That is, they don't seem to listen to the teacher, or are unable to implement what is said in the lesson, or are looking for constant praise no matter how unprepared they are. Although we don't know you or your teachers, I would ask yourself if you are guilty of any of the above. It's nice to connect with a teacher, but look for good information that will help your improve. You've stated the teachers were knowledgeable and professional--maybe you're looking for a best buddy also.

July 2, 2007 at 10:21 PM · The best teacher is a very good player who at the beginning was nothing special but after his/her studies, facing and overcoming with intelligence all technical problems, arrived to be a very good player. So this kind of teacher is the best because he can explain to youhow to face all the technical problems because he knows how to solve your technical problems because in the past He solved too.

By contrast, a talented teacher who takes for granted all the rules of playing because he can play very well but wthout knowing how is not a good teacher.

Once I found in the classroom a copy of Shradieck, thinking that some young students left it before my lesson and my teacher told me, no it is mine I'm studying that.

I'm very progressist as for that I belive in the progresses everyone can achieve by thinking about problems and how to solve them and not in the conservative way that everything is predestinated.

Ah PS. The best teacher is not a woman!!

July 2, 2007 at 10:42 PM · Greetings,

some day women are going to teach you a lot.

Probably in a taxi...



July 3, 2007 at 01:54 AM · Teaching is sometimes a tough and uninspiring job. And yet art is all about inspiration. If it ain't got that, it ain't got nothing at all. The teacher thinks the adult student has got what they came for and is satisfied: a lesson with a pro teacher, the feeling that they are achieving something vaguely important, and that they are plugged into some kind of higher-level artistic pursuit. The teacher is wrong if he/she thinks this. That is the trap. An inevitable clash results. Then comes the drifting away.

The average adult student is (I think) very serious about finding a true mentor type teacher. A mentor inspires and supports his/her student, even when dishing out unpleasant exercises or constructive criticism (sometimes very stern criticism, but always constructive). The mentor provides an environment conducive to outside engagement with the community (performing in quartets or whatever). He/she provides vital contacts and introductions, whether at amateur or more advanced levels. He/she provides encouragement and belief in the student (unless of course the student is making poor progress or shows insufficient talent. But if the teacher acknowledges the talent and achievement yet does not provide support...that is very bad).

To be kind to teachers it must be admitted that the student is probably a bit naive that such a thing is even possible at their age. But on the side of students, well, they can expect it because they're paying money for just that very thing. Adult students are I think quite different to children. The adult has to battle with the concept of absurdity more than a child does. The adult has less years left. The child naturally thinks that he/she will live forever. The adult has to be reassured more in some ways. If the teacher is unaware of this then problems can result. Adults are paradoxically stronger and also weaker than children.

It's all related to the other recent thread about the whole point of playing music. Why do we do it? As a 'technical' activity it would have to qualify as one of the most absurd things imaginable. Only musical inspiration can save us from absurdity. That is hard to find out there in teachers (and students). The student/mentor relationship is as rare and fragile as it always was. If you find for yourself a great mentor teacher it is a b****y miracle (to misquote IP yet again). I wish us all luck.

This all sounds a bit disheartening, but it isn't really. The one thing that saves the situation is the love of playing violin and the seeking of musical inspiration that is inside the best adult violin students. They have so much love and drive and inspiration inside themselves that they will go on, and keep going on, regardless of all.

P.S. From a personal perspective, I suppose I am guilty of blowing this problem out of proportion a lot. I just find it very difficult to find a teacher I like. I don't play with a shoulder rest, and everyone else does. No problem if that isn't a problem for them, and sadly it is a problem for them. They think I'm technically up the ****. End result: no mentor for yours truly. Those who don't play with rests around these parts are into period performance, which isn't for me.

July 3, 2007 at 08:39 PM · As a violin teacher that still takes lessons, let me share what I expect from a teacher:

1. Honesty. That is why I am there taking a lesson. I am paying for opinion and guidance. If there is a physical or musical issue (or both!) I am there to change or evolve into a better direction.

2. Respect. I am not going to take a lesson from a teacher I don't respect, and I expect a teacher to respect my best efforts, whatever those efforts may be.

3. Trust. I don't want to get yelled at, or berated, for a clumsy effort. Basic human decency, and patience, goes a long way!

What I don't expect from a teacher:

1. Friendship. I have friends. I just don't socialize with people I take lessons from, just as I don't socialize with my own adult students. Good rapport comes with the three expectations, but good rapport is different from friendship. I am good friends with one of my former teachers, but I don't take lessons from her anymore. I take her out for a beer at The Irish Rover!

2. Motivation. I am motivated, otherwise I wouldn't be taking lessons! I am motivated by my own progress. When progress is praised by the teacher, that is an added bonus, but what really counts is how I recognize when I am on the path to improvement. The proof is in the results.

3. Praise. I don't need to be told how great, or not, I am. Deep down, I really don't care what the teacher thinks of my playing. The goal of lessons for me is not to win approval, but to get better.

So that is how I approach my own violin lessons. This works for me. Maybe my imagination is lacking, but I don't think there is any magic involved.

July 4, 2007 at 05:16 AM · I second what Anne outlined, and will add one more point - an open mind. I have had the blessing to never once having had a "bad" teacher. Each one I've had over many decades have help me improve my skill in their own fashion from basics, to intonation, shifting, posture, and style. Over the years I have always walked into my lessons with the "what will my teacher contribute to my playing today?" in the back of my mind. It might not have always been what was on my personal musical agenda at the moment, but looking back at all my lessons, what my teachers have given to me is invaluable.

July 4, 2007 at 06:35 AM · I think you need to keep looking.

For two years I searched for teachers for myself and my daughter, and we have found that we have roughly the same reaction to the four teachers we have had, which supports my feeling that how we judge a teacher does not depend primarily on our age.

I quite agree with Anne Horvath that one should not look for a friend. Or a guru.

In my view, the key things are: 1. that a teacher should be strongly interested in teaching, and 2. that she should take her students seriously.

Our present teacher is excellent. When I mentioned to her that the effort she puts into her teaching seems unusual, she said something like - "I want your daughter to have the opportunity to play as well as she possibly can, and so I am determined to provide her with all the tools she needs," and with regard to myself she said: "No student of mine should leave here without a good sound; regardless of what level of playing you achieve, I am going to make sure that your sound is good."

These remarks show her character, and in addition, her teaching displays great creativity and imagination. She is also fairly strict, nobody's fool, certainly.

Oh, and another thing, paying more does not get you a better teacher. And in our small survey, women teachers have in no way come out inferior to men.

How did we find her? We got her name from the local music store.

July 4, 2007 at 09:48 AM · My first teacher was the man who sold me the violin, and the lessons came free with the violin. But as I took these free lessons from him, I found that he was more interested in letting me hear how he played than in teaching me how to play. I must say he was very good - although I don't think he was very schooled. He even showed me how well he could play with only three strings on the violin. Fun though it was to see and hear him play, I didn't think I would progress with him.

My second teacher came from a musical store that also offered violin lessons. He was a professional musician, too, and played for commercials, ads, and political jingles. But when we would have lessons he would send and receive text messages on his celphone (texting is very big in the Philippines; if the celphone were a violin, everyone would be a virtuoso here - except me, maybe) while I was playing whatever he was asking me to play. Admittedly, as a beginner at that time, what I played probably bored the heck out of him, but I couldn't stay in that environment. Although I don't really need to be praised, a little interest would be nice.

My third teacher was one I appreciated very much. He was dedicated and hardoworking, and I could see he truly wanted me to get somewhere. But at that time I was so confused with how I should start. I needed to play 20 pieces a week in church, in different keys, and here I was being taught from Suzuki Book One. I sounded good on the Suzuki, but bad in church because I couldn't catch up. I felt I needed someone who could help me through my situation.

And I landed with my fourth teacher, which is technically the best - a concertmaster for a popular PO here. But maybe a teacher of that level has a certain threshold for patience also, and is not really a good teacher for a beginner, an adult beginner at that. I never really enjoyed the lessons and, later on, as the pieces I needed to play in church grew more difficult, his patence grew shorter and I just had to leave it at that.

And so now I have no teacher and have no clue as to where to find one. But I do appreciate all your advise here, and will take it to heart. I do hope I will one day find the teacher for me.

July 4, 2007 at 11:43 AM · Taxi are expensive in Italy because cabmen are a rightwing lobby here.

I prefer to take private lesson from women in my car;)

July 4, 2007 at 12:58 PM · Putch, just from reading your description of the four teachers, my opinion is that you made the right decision to leave #1 and #2, but the problems you perceived with #3 are going to have to be solved with any teacher.

Eventually you will be able to play everything in church, but not right away. You will have to start with Suzuki Book #1 or equivalent beginner system, and work your way up. This may take a while but there are no shortcuts and no teacher will be able to do this for you. Realistic expectations are important, especially for adult students. But if you hang in there and make progress, you should be able to play what you want to play in church within a few years.

July 4, 2007 at 01:21 PM · First of all you have to understand that 99 out of 100 students have weaknesses in one or more areas important to violin playing.

Many students (unfortunately, not all) have some strengths related to violin playing, as well.

Students will gravitate toward using their strengths, teachers (knowing more - and perceiving the future) will try to reduce the weaknesses.

What everyone needs in a teacher is one who recognizes these things and optimizes working within these constraints andwithin the context of individual student physical, mental, and psychological differences.

July 4, 2007 at 02:39 PM · Putch, Karen is right, you have to crawl before you can walk. I have had adult students in your exact position...they want to play music for their church that is too difficult for them to handle. You might have to satisfy yourself with taking a pass on the tricky stuff for now, and play simple hymns until your chops get better. Traditional hymnals are a good place to start.

As for finding a new teacher, it is a good idea to interview a prospective teacher and outline your goals. Ask for references from other adult students of that teacher. Call all the music shops and schools in your area, and ask for names. If those particular teachers can't or won't deal with adult students, ask for suggestions. Good luck!

July 4, 2007 at 03:49 PM · I have only had one teacher. What I have discovered in four months is - there is a "break in period."

You have to let the teacher know what you think and feel about what the teacher is saying and the direction they are taking you. I am rather blunt but some students are milk toast passive resistive jelly. The poor teacher is trying to traverse the spectrum.

Our job is to tell the teacher how practice "went." The crap you told me about how to hold the bow surely must be for a left handed monkey. I can't do it!

Now the "teacher" has something to work with.

My very rocky road is now very smooth because I finally shut up and listened. I really get along very well with my teacher - now. We are through the break in period and ... I am getting somewhere. Four days ago, after getting the green light from teach to go learn a few new songs and back out of them if they are too hard; I had a magic 30 minutes where I played six new first time songs out of my head, songs I already considered favorites, and had a ball playing them.

One song by Alison Krauss was third position by the time I really die-sected what she was doing and I backed out of it, called teach, and she said to wait a while on that one, it would tear more stuff up than it was worth. But, I got a glimpse of what I'm shooting for. And she knows how bad I want to play it and will help me. That motivates the crud out of me.

In short - tell it like it is - listen - and follow your instincts.

July 5, 2007 at 09:50 AM · Yes, maybe I need to accept that I have to start from the very beginning - no shortcuts. The Hallelujah Chorus will be played in December - wonder how I'll fare with that. Some beginning violinists learn to "fake" it (we call it miming, bowing with no sound). I really don't want to do that, but I know they will still require me to play. It's something we call "walking by faith". I will walk by faith, but I'll take lessons, too. Thanks for the advice!

July 6, 2007 at 12:30 AM · As I reached 40, I rekindled my great love of playing music. Although I played music in the years leading up to college, I didn't realize that years later as an "adult student" I would have to deal with my

own limitations as well as crappy attitudes from other folk. Adults can be terrible people (just look at the way things are going in today's world) but it saddens

me to see that adults studying music are often regarded as something to be endured rather

than cherished. If adults seem to be seeking excessive praise during lessons, it could be because they spend the rest of the week taking in words of discouragement.

Personally, I have pushed the naysayers aside, continued to pour time and money into playing the violin and have made progress.

Unfortunately, I rarely have the opportunity to interact with artistic people so being around my violin teacher was so refreshing that

I wanted to be her best student, her pal, help her build her business- anything a devoted initiate would do for her Jedi Master.

I finally snapped out of it.

July 6, 2007 at 01:16 AM · Well said Renee. I know just what you mean about the desire to interact with other artistic people. Many people are creative, deep inside, but they bury it (or at least that's my theory). The result is that 85% or more of everyone walks around through life thinking and talking only of how they do their washing, or what brand of beer they like, or what make of car they drive, or what sort of investment scheme they're currently considering, or the football or cricket (or baseball) score, or what brand of chocolate they like to eat, or what they saw on reality TV last night. Materialism.

It would be OK if a bit of humor were interjected into it, but even the level of humor around seems to be regressing. I've met people who don't even seem to know what laughter or a joke is. People who watch too much TV seem to lose an aspect of their humanity, at least on the surface. No wonder that I have high hopes for interacting with some sort of imaginary artistic mentor.

July 6, 2007 at 12:54 AM · Putch, in relation to your need to play pieces beyond your ability at the present - is it feasible for someone to help arrange the violin part for you so you can play?

I remember my (now violin-lapsed) son, only wanting to play violin so he could play the tchaik concerto, and it was just a bit beyond him at first :)

So his teacher, recognising that this was a boy with not unlimited reserves of attention, did a fiddadle with a bunch of the phrases so he could play them in first position and use crotchets and quavers. I'm sure that the pieces you are playing could bre modified - like a third violin section - for a bit to allow you to participate, and then you'd also get the really good feeling of being part of an ensemble AND knowing what you need to do.

I have found that having started an ensemble 6 months after I started taking lessons, that my private lessons and stuff I do for them keep quite a distance from the ensemble pieces. And this is even so now that the facilitator for the ensemble is my teacher. I have only played through ensemble stuff with her once, actually I've only practised it outside of ensembe twice (oops).

July 6, 2007 at 02:57 AM · Personally, I've been through more teachers than I care to know myself. Some have worked wonderfully, some not so great. All the teachers I studied with were highly recommended by the professional violin players in my area. I really regret the years I've tried to "make it work," only to discover once out of that situation that my hunch was right - the previous teacher was not dealing with what I needed most. I guess my advice to myself would be first to look at myself: am I willing to put in the work to practice? Am I doing my best to follow my teacher's instructions? If both of these are "yes" and I'm still frusterated and unhappy, it's time for a change. Not every teacher works for every student. Some teachers are better with certain levels of student ability than with others.

July 6, 2007 at 03:25 AM · Great observation, Jonathan. We are programmed to work ourselves to exhaustion every day then flop down in front of the TV at night to have our minds filled with doubt as to whether or not we drive the right car, use the right soap, have the right "look" or own enough shoes and other stuff we don't need. Artistic pursuits are beneficial to the adult brain and from what I have been reading lately, amateur adult musicians are breathing new life into the classical music business. More adults playing will lead to more income opportunities for teachers and better teachers for students young and old. Plus, people who feel a part of something are more giving of their time and money. This can help organizations that are struggling for resources. We all have a part to play, I just wish mine was first violin!

July 6, 2007 at 07:42 AM · Sharelle, we have a musical director who arranges the pieces for violins 1 to 3, but he does this only for specials using classical pieces. In the coming Messiah (Handel) concert I play Violin 2. Have not seen the pieces yet, and am praying that I can play it. But I find from past experience that I need someone to walk me through the pieces.

July 6, 2007 at 08:54 AM · Here is my perspective as a teacher of beginners, mostly adults. Almost all of my students marvel at my patience. The second trait that they admire and appreciate is my enthusiasm.

July 6, 2007 at 01:42 PM · Renee, one of my adult students told me that when he first started playing violin, he would play for his family, and they would make fun of his efforts. His feeling were hurt, of course. I suggested that next time they started picking on him, that he pass the violin around to see if they could do any better. He did, they couldn't, and then they backed off.

July 7, 2007 at 02:04 AM · That's it, Pauline! I am looking for enthusiasm in a teacher. Patience, too, but enthusiasm really shows the adult student that something good is going to appear down the road if we persevere. Maybe it's too much to ask. But, just like some people believe violinists are born and not made, I think teachers are, too. They are born with that trait to water a seed that outwardly shows no promise, are willing to stick with it until they see that seed grow, and are rewarded in the end with the sight of a beautiful, richly foliaged tree. A good teacher can see the tree in the seed and has the patience to work with it so that it can reach its full potential.

July 7, 2007 at 05:28 PM · Putch, I remember that Karin Lin discussed her search for a new teacher in one of her blogs, but I can't find it. You might want to write to her.

July 7, 2007 at 06:48 PM · So many teacher work with children who started with them, or started really young when the student is not extremely well defined as a person yet. The teacher that helps you define youself as a musician (later in life) needs to be very mature and understand that everyone has a right to explore this side of themselves. As an adult learner, I have a lot of expertise and maturity in areas that are not music. My teacher is able to respect my prior knowledge and present material so I understand it better based upon where I am coming from at this stage in life. The sheet music is information and that is the way we start out looking at new pieces. Adults bring different life experiences to a lesson and might really stretch a teacher in ways they are not use to. Violin lessons are part of a defining experience for many children, but older beginners are usually pretty well defined as people before they walk in. They have opinions based upon their experiences. A good teacher respects that and uses that to the students advantage.

Check out the Mimi Zwieg (sp???Zweig??)web site. She advocates a very non judgemental approach in these little videos on the web site. My teacher really likes her and uses that philosophy for students like me. I think you might ask prospective teachers about their philosophy and then do more research before you switch again.

Note: I find that a great performers (true artists) sometimes like to teach adults. Maybe because they are so confident, is is easier for them to be generous without getting defensive about how you reflect on their teaching. That is just my observation over the years. The better the teacher plays, the nicer and more respectful they are. As a ad-hoc observation, I find younger teacher less patient in general and the older more accomplished ones more laid back and fun.

July 9, 2007 at 12:16 PM · Hey, thanks a lot. I will check out these websites :)

July 9, 2007 at 12:25 PM · Hello. A number of good points have already been offered. Let me add mine. Visit my website Click on "writings", then see my article "How to find and choose a musical instrument teacher". Good luck.

July 9, 2007 at 02:09 PM · Will do that, thanks :)

September 10, 2007 at 02:58 PM · Putch,

From your resume, I'd say teacher No 3 was the best. Violin is not an instrument you can learn to play extremely well in one year, though one can do well. Is there any way you can go back to teacher No 3 or is that not a goer?

I do envy your opportunity to play at church. I don't think I'll get a chance to play at mine for a very loooong time as they absolutely do not want folk who are not excellent musicians. Then again there are no violinists there at all, never mind first and second violins ....

I would slog my guts out (and did when I thought there was a hope of even playing one song) to be able to play with others. For now, I think I'll focus on improving my tone, technique, etc stick with etudes etc

In your place, I would work with what I can do, and not panic if there's anything out of reach - surely others will 'cover' for you even if you 'played' one bit silently. You will make progress, and it must be fantastic to be in the midst of all that sound, able to make some contribution.

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