Tormenting Teachers!

December 7, 2007 at 04:42 PM · My violin teacher in high school was a tough cookie. She didn't want me involved in extracurricular activities at school, didn't want me to have a job, and even thought that going to prom was a waste of time when clearly I should spend all my time practicing the violin. It was a tremendous amount of pressure for a teenager.

Everytime I walked in to my lessons she would put a box of tissues next to the music stand daring me to cry. And cry I did! Once I was playing the B-flat major scale in my lesson. Each time I played the first note she would yell that it wasn't in tune and kept saying "that's not a b-flat." I'm so traumatized by that experience that to this day if I'm working on intonation and it involves a B-flat on the G string it immediately brings me back to that tearful day.


December 7, 2007 at 06:16 PM · Marina, I comment only to ask if you've seen the movie, 'Hilary and Jackie'? It is about the two talented Du Pree sisters. The B flat plays a most important role in Hilary's life as it has in yours. ;)

December 7, 2007 at 07:16 PM · Wow! I am sorry.

When I had just started the violin, when I was 14, I always dreamed of having a teacher like that, because I always felt like some of the teachers I had did not take me seriously; I started relatively late. So, I yearned for a teacher that would yell and be grouchy like scrooge because it wold seem as if they thought I was talented enough for them to waste their breath on me!

But I have noticed that nice teachers and moderately grouchy teachers have had the greatest impact on my development.

I hope you still play the violin with joy and do not let that B-flat get to you.

December 7, 2007 at 08:21 PM · I had a "violin" teacher who was a gamba player. She emphasized "music first!" and once said with respect to my violin technique - "I don't care about your damn violin. I don't care if you play the violin with your nose!!"

To her credit, she did think it was funny when I stuck the violin to my nose.

She was a great musician, but probably not a very good violin teacher. And possibly not a very good teacher in general because she was somewhat abusive.

At her funeral, a bunch of excellent musicians got up to play in her honor. Just the memory of her caused every one of them to go through such nerves that they all played like crap.

December 7, 2007 at 08:17 PM · I have a story from a master class: To preserve the privacy of the teacher in question, I will simply refer to him by his initials, which are EF. This happened in around 1980, when I was 16:

KM walks onto the stage, ready to play Mozart #4 for EF. EF says, "don't you need to warm up?" I say, "thanks, but I warmed up backstage." EF then says, "do you play scales?" I say that I do. EF says, "then let me hear B major in thirds!" I say "NO." EF says, "how about octaves?!" I say "NO!" EF says, "I *thought* you said you played scales."

Let's just say it was not the most productive master class I've ever done...

Last laugh: a few years later EF was playing a concert in Austin, Texas. Guess who was asked to be the page-turner for the pianist?! It was all I could do not to screw up on purpose...


December 7, 2007 at 09:31 PM · Gosh, you guys made me nervous just by reading these posts!

December 7, 2007 at 10:02 PM · I always assumed that it was me tormenting the teacher...

December 7, 2007 at 10:13 PM · From a teacher's perspective, I can vouch for feeling tormented by a student on more than one occasion. Top sources of torment are failure to listen and follow instructions, and... failure to listen and follow instructions.

December 7, 2007 at 11:08 PM · Sounds like you had a teacher more interested in making herself feel superoir at someone else's expense. Good teachers tear you up, bad teachers tear you down. You teacher sounds like a nightmare--I'm surprised you still play.

December 8, 2007 at 01:11 AM · This post is in response to Kristin Mortenson's master class experience with EF. If the EF you wrote about is the same EF that is in my mind, then your experience almost matches one that happened with a local violin teacher that I knew when I was in high school. This teacher played in master class given by EF about 20 to 25 years ago. EF asked her to play a three octave G Major scale to start with. She proceeded and when she when started to play on the D-string, EF interrupted her and told her to continue up on the G-string. He wanted her to play all three octaves on the G-string. Sometimes you wonder what a person's motive is.

On an encouraging note, there are some DVDs out there of Josef Gingold giving master classes and one of the volumes has a teenage Joshua Bell featured in it.

December 8, 2007 at 02:04 AM · Sounds like the same EF. Haven't heard much about him in the past...oh...twenty years. ;-)

December 8, 2007 at 03:00 AM · If I am thinking of the right EF, his own teacher valued many of the components mentioned:

- Having all keys and types of scales ready at all times

- Preparing for the pressure of performance in lessons

- Being able to stay on one string for coloristic reasons

Some context, even if it is less appropriate in a guest master class.

Maybe this conversation should be an item on the thread "You know you're a violin geek when..."

December 8, 2007 at 03:48 AM · I studied with EF and found him to be an excellent teacher.


and player :)

December 8, 2007 at 05:14 AM · Ick... Stupid abusive teachers. I think about these folks sometimes when I'm doing weight lifting. You know, at any point the trainer could put ten times as much weight as I could lift on the machine or bar for me to lift and then laugh, yell or whatever at me when I couldn't. But what would that prove? Funny thing is, even with all the testosterone floating around the gym, our trainers know better than that. Their goal is to help us improve, not prove what I aready know, which is that I need to get stronger.

Would that all the stupid, ineffective and abusive violin teachers would learn from these humble guys!

December 8, 2007 at 07:00 AM · I guess it's always a question of how a particular teacher (or approach) affects a particular student. When I was in college, I had a friend whose high-school teacher was one of those "that sounds like sh*t! Do it again and do it right!" teachers. She loved him. Our teacher in college was more of a "that was lovely, but perhaps you might want to try phrasing that passage, and try adding some rhythmic integrity and beauty of tone" type of teacher. (I mean, she talked to you very nicely, but when you listened to what she was saying, you'd realize you were actually getting your butt kicked pretty hard.) Well, my friend thought our new teacher didn't care how her students sounded, and she transferred to a school whose teacher was famous for swearing and throwing furniture. A teacher like that would have made me quit, but she loved him; and when I heard her a couple years later, she sounded fantastic.

Apparently there are even people out there who like EF's teaching. :/

December 8, 2007 at 08:15 AM · howard, the story about the trainer would get around and he'd be out of work. My impression is to some extent the only thing that would matter in the music world was he could lift 500 lbs. The Milgram experiment has always fascinated me. And in our case, the experiment gets expanded to include bystanders. Conscience is a very fleeting thing :)

December 8, 2007 at 08:20 AM · The trend in the world today, is for gentler nurturing approaches. I agree. But being a little old school, I've jerked a few knots in my tail a few times. So....

December 8, 2007 at 08:31 AM · 75 years ago the stories would be about how the teacher whipped you with his belt :)

December 8, 2007 at 11:55 AM · I never had a really mean teacher, but I also never had one that simply felt their job was to pump sunshine up my ***, either.

My personal approach is to assume that the student wants to improve, and is attending lessons in order to do this. Why abuse someone because they can't fly, when it's your job to give them wings?

The ones who come in for some trouble are the ones who think they know it all, and aren't listening and applying what you're trying to show them that week. The others who may get some grief are the ones who simply aren't working. A healthy dose of fear works wonders for a few lazy ones ^o^

The one thing I never do is tell someone they sound great when they don't. How can they trust me if I do that? A teacher must be the standard bearer for the student, not his cheering section. That's Mom's job. ^o^

December 8, 2007 at 01:58 PM · Years and years ago, one of my fondest (most dreaded) teachers (bullies) of the violin used to become so frustrated he'd pour himself a drink and say (in his thick, old world accent), "Eric you make it impossible for even me to play the violin..."

He'd then retire to his piano, have another drink and shift his face to unseen shades of red. Such interludes would be punctuated by sudden outbursts of rage, and he'd slam both fists down on the keyboard and yell "Stop!! Now name those pitches from top to bottom, and I mean NOW. GO!!"

I still have the tape recordings of those lessons, and play them now and again for funsies. It's then that I remember how he ruined my technique for almost three years. I auditioned to get in with him on the Bruch g; I left three years later unsure if I was even holding the violin right. While I only studied with him during the summers, it was enough to throw my usual teacher back at school a huge monkey wrench.

It took me about two years to recover after I left him. But all was not for naught, I did come away with an awesome Russian bow technique.


Terrific player, he's now retired from an associate concertmaster post with one of the premier orchestras in the US. Just couldn't teach worth a damn. But it's something to have those stories to tell, and to have experienced the metaphor of the old school of teaching...


December 8, 2007 at 05:35 PM · I hear ya. I don't think strict and direct as defined by old school, and a really bad teacher are the same thing though, especially as it applies to retiring to the piano for a drink.

It took me two years, to get a complement from my coach--as she made me squirm. "Your good is never good enough!" "Now go practice". And then of course she'd set the bar so high, that she'd get from me what she really wanted--"Oh, you'll know violin when you can play Mendelssohn perfectly".

And I'm pretty sure she had one glass of champagne about 60 years ago.

Amen though Eric.

December 8, 2007 at 09:07 PM · Here's a thought: Imagine Simon Cowell from American Idol as a violin teacher.

December 9, 2007 at 03:11 AM · I had forgotten this. When I was around 9, a public school music teacher insinuated I was a hopeless musician in front of a class. You don't say stuff like that to kids. Years later I played guitar in a rock band at a dance for the school where she working then, and she was their chaperone. Leaving or entering, I don't remember, she rolled her eyes at me. Next time I'm back, I'll find her grave and leave her a present. Ignernt bioch. Remember that, you music teachers :)

December 9, 2007 at 06:04 AM · I once had a teacher ask me rather snidely if my generally rather slow vibrato was due to a physical disability...the next week she wondered aloud if I was mentally retarded.

December 9, 2007 at 06:09 AM · Very perceptive teacher.

December 9, 2007 at 06:12 AM · EF sounds hilarious.

December 9, 2007 at 06:16 AM · (regarding your first post)--excuse me?

December 9, 2007 at 07:28 AM · .

December 9, 2007 at 12:24 PM · I've never had a really abusive or mean teacher. But the worst experience I had with a teacher was probably a time in high school when my teacher just seemed to stop caring about me one way or another.

Our youth orchestra had a concerto competition every year and I wanted to talk to him about entering it. I brought it up at least a year in advance, while there was still time. I didn't have any delusions about my chances of actually winning it. But I thought that I might learn something important just by competing. The first time I brought it up, he blew me off. The next time I brought it up, maybe 6 months later, he told me there wasn't enough time and expressed surprise and disbelief that I would even consider it. He asked me something like "do you think you could win a concerto competition? You?" I said, truthfully, no, I didn't think I could win, but maybe that wasn't the point . . . and he again just cut me off and moved on.

We hadn't been getting along that well in general, we had different musical tastes and different life goals. I probably should have switched teachers long before it got to that point, but I wasn't very mature, sure, or articulate about my own needs back then. And my parents were very clear about not being able to afford someone more expensive (which virtually all the other good teachers in town were), so I felt a little stuck.

At least I think I've learned from that experience how to be a more proactive and effective advocate for myself as a student.

December 9, 2007 at 01:15 PM · Nate, they're talking about the other EF. Not Eric. :)

And yes, he made me play scales in thirds and octaves and tenths, etc.

So you know what I did?

I went home and practiced them.

December 9, 2007 at 03:06 PM · Thank you, William. You're right, by the way. I'm certainly not saying that kids shouldn't play scales--of course I went home to practice B-major in thirds after that class! I hadn't been asked to do that by my "regular" teacher previously, and I don't believe that in a master class the guest teacher's job is to humiliate young students by pointing out what they *can't* do before even hearing what they *can* do!

I don't believe teachers need to be all warm-n-fuzzy all the time, but in a master class situation I do believe that there is a way to make students aware of what they need to work on without humiliating them.

I don't recall who else had played before me in EF's class; it is quite possible that he was frustrated from hearing several other students who he deemed "not up to snuff" and I was the last one of the day. Doesn't really matter at this point, but it did make an impression on me--I can be picky as a teacher but I'm never intentionally mean-spirited to a student.

The days of "I'm so much better than you and you should feel badly about yourself for being so much worse than me" are gone...or, at least, they should be.

December 9, 2007 at 03:35 PM · Kristin-

I'm sorry for your bad experience in that masterclass.

Maybe studying with him privately is different. He was, for the most part, very gentle and encouraging with me in private lessons.

Then again, it was 15 years later when I studied with him. A different circumstance altogether.

So sorry you had an unfortunate experience. :(

December 9, 2007 at 06:55 PM · I'm positive. We PM'd each other. :)

Ironically, I just realized that both of JH's most famous students are EF. lol

December 9, 2007 at 07:27 PM · William, I realized the same thing also :)

December 9, 2007 at 09:42 PM · try not to upset SK or AA guys....

December 9, 2007 at 10:02 PM · Wow! A horror novel writer studied with JH?

And an entire non profit organization?

(why can't I get smilies to work on this forum?)

December 9, 2007 at 10:28 PM · rumor has it both JR and JFK studied with JH on the QT.



December 9, 2007 at 10:59 PM · LOL! Y'all are OTH!


But now I guess we've destroyed the anonymity of the acronym. EF, I forgive you. But I'm still not sure I want to play B Major in thirds in public...

December 9, 2007 at 11:15 PM · try not to upset SK or AA guys....

I've been thinking of them a lot these days - folks, what is the significance of tomorrow?

December 10, 2007 at 12:30 AM · The anniversary of the day SK swore off drinking? Or, the anniversary of the day SK was hit by a drunk driver, (who later died on the anniversary, very SK-ish, eh?)

December 10, 2007 at 01:13 AM · abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz (and every conceivable and inconceivable combination thereof) * infinity


December 10, 2007 at 01:18 AM · You're trying to employ backward masking to conceal EF's identity again.

December 10, 2007 at 01:19 AM · It's all part of my evil plan.

Just ask my students.

December 10, 2007 at 02:23 AM · I would, but I no longer know in which part of the phone book to look.

December 10, 2007 at 02:21 AM · How about A B C# D E F# G# A B C# D E F# G# A in fingered octaves, ascending and descending, in various rhythms and bowing combinations? :)

December 10, 2007 at 02:54 AM · abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz (and every conceivable and inconceivable combination thereof) * infinity

One of those combinations times 20 is the one I'm thinking of.

SK, AA, EF X 2, Bill, and Nate in particular may want to take the trouble to get this one.

(The date in question is December 10; posting in the evening made that ambiguous between the 10th and 11th.)

...on the topic of tormenting teachers...

December 10, 2007 at 03:11 AM · Greetings,

I have long suspected Nate is actually the Russian ballerian Na-talia Te-rmianiakovitvh who eloped with Lord Lucan all those years ago,



December 10, 2007 at 03:37 PM · Today is the 20th anniversary of the death of Jascha Heifetz.

December 10, 2007 at 04:12 PM · Just a few observations:

- Every teacher has his or her teaching style. Some are strict and "mean," some easygoing and accepting. If their style is a genuine expression of who they are, the values they have, and their commitment to teaching, then that's what counts.

- Every student, I believe, needs to receive a combination of support and challenge. Some teachers who have an excessively challenging style are actually supportive, and some who have a very supportive style are actually challenging.

- I think that as a teacher, you teach best when you allow yourself to be who you are, because that's when you are the most genuine. And I think that even in the strictist and most demanding teachers, that genuineness comes through.

- "The pupil who is never required to do what he cannot do, never does what he can do." (John Stuart Mill)


December 10, 2007 at 04:12 PM · I studied classical piano when I was a kid for about 4 years.She was a retired big-band jazz pianist and had studied with Fred"Jellyroll"Morton.She was so busy whacking my fingers with a ruler it took her 3 years to realize I couldn't read! After that,she threw the books out and taught me how to play music.I retired in 2001.As a guitar player.-JP

December 11, 2007 at 12:10 AM · I started playing violin when I was 14 too! I often wonder how good I could've been if I had started young.

Alas, my teacher did give me a good start despite the B-flat incident. I stopped studying with her shortly after and I've gone on to become a professional violinist. I ran into her while I was in college and she was taken aback to find out I was studying with David Nadien. I don't think she ever believed I would amount to much of a violinist...

Cheers to the teachers that make us better, make us worse, or make us cry.

Who is EF????

December 11, 2007 at 12:15 AM · Hey Marina, I had a B-flat major scale incident too with my teacher when I was in high school, but I was never tormented by it. It could have been worse, she could have asked me to play a three octave, G# melodic-minor scale in fingered octaves, downbow staccato ascending, upbow staccato descending :)

December 11, 2007 at 12:57 AM · marina-

this is 'ef'

December 11, 2007 at 05:52 PM · Haha, maybe I should go practice thirds after seeing EF play... gosh I'd kill for a pinky that long. I think mine's half the length.

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