Positive Experiences in Violin Lessons

August 14, 2007 at 11:39 PM · I am trying to always learn to be a better teacher. I'd appreciate anyone sharing their "positive" experiences with a teacher and why?

I posted my teaching approach in the "blogs" section. This posting talks more about the psychological approaches to teaching, than the technical.

Replies (20)

August 14, 2007 at 06:18 PM · Also, feel free to comment on "negative" experiences too and why?

August 15, 2007 at 12:07 AM · I love that my teacher takes differences in body shape into account. Whenever we are working on technique, he asks how certain positions or technical executions feel for me. He really acknowledges that we have different body types/shapes, and from there we work to develop a technique that will consistently produce the desired effect without forcing my body into unnatural and painful positions. If something works for him and not for me, we work together to find an alternate path.

August 15, 2007 at 01:55 AM · I think that 'you' are already a good teacher from your own reporting.

There are teacher threads on this site that would serve you best I think, one being "How to Leave a Teacher", or something like that--just do a search.

Teaching is as much a personal match thing beyond core competency and ability to communicate I think. But in terms of excellence in teaching: many are called, few are chosen.

And even among those who have the right stuff, it still comes down to personal match to some extent I think.

Some will have horrendous experiences with the same teacher that others excel with.

August 15, 2007 at 02:25 AM · For me, the best thing about my teacher is that she's someone I can relate to. At this moment in time, I need someone that can challenge me, inspire me, and still give me the tips I need to improve.

I don't know whether this is an indication or not, but this is the first year that I've practice scales after the first semester technical exam.

Of course, this sort of teacher isn't for everyone. Some people prefer a teacher that will tell them what to do, and how to do it. For me, that wasn't what I needed right now, I am working better with a little bit of guidance, lots of inspiration, and a desire to find things out for myself.

August 15, 2007 at 04:08 AM · Sung-Duk, my positive experiences with a violin teacher sound very similar to what you described in your recent blog. I was taught to

- teach myself

- take a discovery-based approach

- be inquisitive and positive

Also, she this particular teacher I have in mind taught me that “it’s all in my head.” Let me explain.

Teach myself

She showed me how to practice. She didn’t just say practice slowly; instead, measure-by-measure, she walked me through how slow it should be practiced, what to think about when I am doing this and why. Before I met this teacher, I knew for years that I should practice slowly to start with and then speed up when I’m able. That’s pretty basic and self-evident, right? Wrong. A student can’t be expected to just know exactly when is the appropriate point to speed up a piece. Most students are eager to play in tempo and we are often told to crank up the metronome gradually so that you’ll get the speed in no time. We do that and then we wonder why our in tempo playing is so full of “dirt”.

Discovery-based approach

Like you, my teacher would ask me, after I played a little, what do I think happens in my playing. I would describe the problems that I noticed. Then I’m asked why? Usually, I would tell her what I had thought the might be the cause of the problem and what I had tried and what didn’t work. Then she would suggest me to do something, usually very subtle, such as paying some attention to the 3rd finger of my bow hand, the slight bent of the left hand thumb, etc. The results are frequently amazing.

Inquisitive and positive attitudes

Sometimes I think she is just a genius, as ever so often she instantly solved my problems that other teachers couldn’t over some years. I think one reason for her being so good at fixing problems is that she is a keen observer and she loves solve puzzles. To her, every problem inspires her to find the most elegant solution.

She does praise me often but she doesn’t do so just to make me feel good. When I’m not doing so well, she’d make jokes to get her point across. When I did well, her praise is honest and heartfelt. I felt each praise I have received from her was earned.

This is very positive for me to experience because when my playing is problematic, I feel I’ve given her something interesting to work on. I don’t feel bad and I’m not apologetic. And when I’m getting things right, then it’s a true success of a teamwork. I’ve had this teacher for only a few months but I’ve felt a trust and bond between us is one of the strongest.

August 15, 2007 at 05:18 AM · Yixi, you are doing great with that HTML. Glad I could help.

August 15, 2007 at 10:27 AM · I've had my best lesson experiences as an adult. I've had two teachers who were people I was glad to get to know whether they were my teacher or not. There's a balance because you have to be careful, as the student, that you don't waste everybody's time just shooting the breeze and hanging out with your teacher rather than getting down to business. But I found it important to develop a real, "equal" relationship with the teacher. Not equal in the musical sense, but equal in terms that I had something to bring to the lesson too. Sometimes that could be talking about my work in neuroscience, sometimes that could be something I discovered during practicing that week. That's where the affirmation and friendship would come. As long as the basic trust and respect were there, then pretty much any constructive criticism of my playing was welcome and easy to take.

I've also preferred lessons from a teacher who isn't insanely busy, even if not necessarily a big name. I like it when the teacher has time to think about me and my lesson outside of the lesson, the way I do. And when the lesson can go on over the scheduled end time if something interesting comes up.

August 15, 2007 at 11:22 AM · Thank to all of you for responding. I'm happy to hear that it seems like you really like your current teachers.

August 16, 2007 at 03:29 AM · I have had nothing but good experience with all my teachers over the years. The collabrative approach is one that I take to quite well. As an amature doing this for fun, I have specific goals in mind like learning to play a favorite piece or learning a particular technical skill to enjoy what I do that much more. Having teachers that let me guide the lesson plans to reach these goals makes my lessons exciting.

August 16, 2007 at 11:31 AM · Overall I've had great experiences with teachers, especially as an adult, and wrote about that above. But since Sung-Duk said we should feel free to talk about negative experiences too, I want to add the following.

When I was a teenager, my teacher's interests and mine started to diverge. His interests were straight classical: play your Kreisler, listen to Heifetz. I was feeling cramped by that emphasis. I didn't really care for Kreisler all that much, and I found Heifetz' style intimidating. I remember asking my teacher one day for some "popular music for the violin." This was a long time ago in the days before the internet, you tube, and sheet music plus. The only music store was a long way away, not bikeable, and I didn't have any way to get there on my own. He didn't know what to make of that request and brushed it off. I felt generally that he didn't really know what to do with students who weren't on the conventional professional track, who didn't have as their life goal to play a big romantic violin concerto in front of an audience.

I've had a number of other teachers since then, whom I more freely chose (as an adult rather than going to a teacher my parents chose) and they've helped me find my own way--I've taken up viola, I've started fiddling, I've found some popular music for the violin that I enjoy playing and that isn't by Kreisler. At least when things are working, I'm pretty self-motivated and practice every day. I perform in small venues like church and the Farmers' market and am planning to be in a community orchestra this fall.

When I think back on that troubled time, in adolescence, I sometimes wonder what could have been done differently. My teacher wasn't bad, and I'd done well with him in middle school, but as I got older, the fit wasn't right anymore. I probably should have switched teachers, but ended up staying with him for financial reasons. And he never suggested that I switch teachers or try something different, he just criticized me for not practicing enough and for a general lack of motivation--which made things worse.

So if you're the teacher in this situation, I'm curious as to how much flexibility you can or want to have in terms of overall musical approach. If you want Kreisler and your student wants popular music, or Irish Fiddle, what do you do? How do you spark an interest in Kreisler if it's not already there? Or, is there some way of combining them, "holding your nose" if necessary and using the popular music as a reward for practicing the Kreisler, like dessert after eating broccoli? Or do you just recommend some good fiddle teachers? Or other?

While many students are very articulate about what they want musically at very young ages (and Sung-Duk has posted about some of those), not all kids are, even as teenagers. They might not even really know what they want or what's really bugging them underneath. And then, being told that the music they don't like is a great masterpiece, and they should suck it up and appreciate it more and practice harder isn't very helpful.

Twenty-plus years later, I'm finally learning to appreciate Kreisler. But I had to take a long detour to get there.

August 16, 2007 at 01:50 PM · Karen, when interest is raised by a student/parent about "alternative styles" (ASTA's term), I just explain that I am a classical violin teacher. I have been trained as a classical musician, and classical music is what I do. I don't consider myself qualified to teach "alternative styles", and I try to steer them to a qualified, dedicated teacher that can serve the student well in these types of music.

What I try to do is to teach the student the what, why, how, when, who, and where, of the piece. Not every student will like every piece. Some of my students like the slow sentimental pieces, some are Baroque nuts, some like the fast movements only, etc. But all are important, to be a well rounded violinist.

I hope I don't come off like a snob. I respect people who excel in their fields, and I wouldn't consider encroaching on another turf without proper qualifications.

I also like to teach Kreisler pieces...many, many Kreisler pieces. I hope I haven't scarred anybody for life :)

August 16, 2007 at 02:35 PM · Oh the pain Anne!!!!

August 16, 2007 at 02:42 PM · Anne, I think your approach is just fine, and I don't think you come off sounding like a snob. Certainly a lot of people like Kreisler, probably you're the majority.

But I do think that acknowledging the lack of fit in some cases and steering the student to another teacher the way you do is important. I think there's a role for the teacher, even one who is very clear in her own mind on what she is and what she does, to help the students broaden their horizons in that way, and help them gracefully move on if necessary. Otherwise I think there's a real danger of the student just coming to think they're a poor, second-rate musician and getting discouraged and turned off.

I suppose it sounds clueless now in retrospect, and maybe it's different today with the internet and v.com and you tube and all, but at that age I wasn't even able to articulate that I wanted "alternative styles." I didn't really know they existed as such or that you could get a teacher who specialized in, say, Cape Breton fiddle (had never heard of Cape Breton fiddle at all, in fact). I'm amazed at what I read here on v.com from some of the teachers, the different things they do and teach, the variety of approaches they take. I often have the experience of wishing v.com had been around when I was a student.

August 16, 2007 at 10:29 PM · My teacher does exactly as Anne has stated.

Waiting for my lesson once I overheard a conversation she had with an adult student who expressed a desire to learn "popular" music. She told the student that she was classically trained and didn't have time to explore "popular" music and therefore felt ill-prepared to to teach it. She assured the student that her desire was perfectly reasonable, she just didn't feel like she could commit to it. She did, however give her a couple of teachers to consult.

August 17, 2007 at 03:35 AM · I once had a teacher who was so hard on me that i stopped playing the violin for a year. I stopped cold turkey and pursued other interests. He is quite infamous in Philly for being notoriously hard on his students and often many would leave crying.

Then I had a teacher (who studied with Gingold, something about that man..) who inspired me to love the violin again.

Very extreme examples...certain people react to certain methods of teaching but I feel that a teacher should teach everyone a little different according to personality, temperment, etc.

August 17, 2007 at 03:58 AM · All my best teachers are tough ones. I haven't found a teacher is so difficult that I can't work with.

When it comes to tough-love, I differentiate relationships roughly this way:

Teachers: be as tough as you can and you are paid to do so!

Friends: be honest and tough some of the time, but nice and supportive when I needed and this is mutual.

Husband: be nice and supportive always and never never be tough on me. This is also mutual.

Most of my teachers are also good friends, when they are not teaching. All my friends can be my teachers, especially when they need to be tough for my sake.

My husband is a great professor but can't be my teacher because he is so biased. This is not to say he won't give me his honest opinions, which he often does and they are usually very helpful. It's just he can't be the kind of teacher I consider great for the above-stated reasons.

Albert, you are my friend. Thank you and you are welcome.

August 17, 2007 at 06:21 AM · Thank you Yixi.

Learning. It's all about learning. When my mom talks about God, she always arrives at:"it's all about four little letters-l-o-v-e".

Learning as a technician and learning as a lover of life are so different, though I love both. I love math--a lot. But learning for being able to do something real, and juicy, and substantiative in a truly living breathing spirit, is what music teachers face.

I can attest that it's the technician that develops the substance, even though it must fall upon fertile ground. Is mine fertile? History will tell. I personally think yes.

But, becoming a better teacher of particularly violin--but I'm not prejudice or anything ;), is like becoming a better lover, or becoming a better potter, or becoming a better baker. It is the synergy of love, abstraction and technique that makes not the artsy artist, but the passionate participant.

To become a better teacher (of violin anyway) therefore, one must be able to project the passionate substance (an old world image), that is violin.

My piano experience was one not unlike my first experience of "Paganini Concerto One". It was a string of technique and exercise, that I struggled to bring into both originality and substance in other ways simultaneously.

It is arpeggios, and both left and right hand dexterity and 'courage'. It was stepping outside the box in dissonance and white space, while seeking melody and cohesiveness. And finally, it was/is arriving at a richness in such a way as this 'substance' is real and coherent. (and quiet, and nourishing, and dynamic, and ...)

So becoming a better teacher means building a foundation of ability to create a very special synergy of ability and 'substance'. Whether it's a Hilary Hahn or a community ensemble enthusiast, giving the other person the understanding, ability and courage to create are the goals of a changing teacher--each student being different.

So, you've pegged the each being different. And like someone asking about motivating to practice scales, you clearly understand technique. You must light the way to Promethus' cave, and watch while your students steal fire.

I use such drama, because you seem intense. And remembering that it took about five listens before I appreciated Paganini Concerto One, there is a fluidity to musicality that is neither legato nor excited. This fluid like nature is simply correct, and better yet a little more than correct because of perhaps some originality, or passion, or uniqueness.

These like the aspects of spirituality are the parts of 'that substance' (this old world theme continues). So given your commitment to uniqueness and technique; and, given your robustness; and, given your apparent level of personal development teacher-wise, the next step and the reason for all this intensity, is to simply take as many as possible to harness, personalize and master, that 'substance'.

Finally, I'm in page 6 or 7 of Albinoni as I write, so forgive me for being stuck in old world imagery. And I can hear the parts of a substance evolving--oh'm'gosh!.

So if you have twenty students, and you take two or three to Nirvana, feel blessed. And if you can take seven or eight more to just general competency in a lasting way feel gifted. And if you can take at least a couple more to a lifelong love and quest that is a Haiku-like fascination, feel among the best.

Take'm to the water, and demonstrate.

August 19, 2007 at 02:39 PM · As far as negative experience goes, I had a teacher that told my that I was too small to play and should not have even started to play the instrument. She said I might be able to make it into a community orchestra somewhere, maybe... if that. I was a performance major at the time, and it crushed me.

I also had a teacher that, at the first lesson, asked me what my other interests in life were. When I said that I liked math, he responded, "Good. You should pursue that." That was my first and last lesson with him.

August 19, 2007 at 07:31 PM · I'm fortunate to have had mainly good experiences with my teachers. My current teacher has done a great job of helping to correct my killer bow hold which was strangling my playing. It took about a year of reverse engineering, and felt like a retrograde step at the time, but it was worth it. (A bit like learning to touch type makes things worse before they get better).

She does gets immersed in the lessons. Once we were playing the slow movement from Bach Double Concerto, when I heard a noise outside. 'Don't you usually have another pupil after me?'. 'No, it's too early, keep going'. Five minutes later that poor girl was still hammering at the window and was being ignored. When she eventually answered the door, my teacher said to her other pupil,'Sorry, we were lost in music'.

We have some overlap in musical taste (Bach, Kreisler), but she doesn't share my enthusiasm for Eastern European composers, and has even commented that I must have been born in the wrong country. That's not unkind - I feel the same way too. Anyway I sometimes visit my last teacher who has closer taste to mine, and is a bit of a dynamo. She is good at running small orchestral groups (and roping me into them).

Although I have never conciously tried to befriend my teachers it usually happens naturally. The only real complaint I have is when a teacher (none of the above) confides in me about the performance of other pupils. It is OK to say so-and-so is always late for a lesson, but it's not professional when I get to hear about all the flaws in someone else's playing. It might be because I am the first adult they've spoken to all day, but sometimes teachers seem to forget that I'm also a student.

August 21, 2007 at 05:45 PM · I adore my teacher, so there are lots of positive things to say---

1. He has incredible patience, and doesn't mind finding 15 different ways to explain the same thing so that I really understand it, even if this takes several weeks

2. He has empathy, and many times has told me that he has experienced the same kinds of frustrations that I do (hard to believe when you see him play, but surely he had to work for it too!)

3. He's happy to play for me if I ask him---sometimes I just want to hear the tune played properly, or hear how he interprets something, or just have a short break with some beautiful music up-close

4. He's not a clock-watcher

5. He doesn't throw me too many compliments, but instead gives me challenging things to learn, which I see as a sign of respect (and he knows I'll work hard on everthing)

You also asked for negative bits, and I'll relate a few of the things I've heard from other students (I'm very thankful I haven't had to experience these!)---

1. Playing favorites---one friend's teacher has two students he brags about---I don't know if he bragged specifically to my friend, but she found out somehow, so it's no secret---I'd feel pretty inadequate and discouraged if I were in her position

2. Pointless criticism---another friend heard her teacher say to another student "you know, you've been taking lessons for how many years now? and your intonation is still terrible!"

3. Gossiping about other students---do teachers think we don't compare notes?---I'd be mortified if I found out my teacher had said something unflattering about me to someone else---or even something flattering, for that matter, because I don't want to be compared with anyone

Ultimately, I think any good teacher deserves all the credit in the world---it's such an intimidating thing to try to learn violin, and anyone who can stay focused and positive and help a student learn is doing such a noble thing.

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