Do you learn technique in violin lessons?

January 3, 2008 at 02:51 AM · I'm an adult violin player that has played the violin for two years now but have only had a violin teacher for about 4-5 months. I have high goals for myself and i am starting to get worried when it seems as if nothing happens on the violin lessons, it's 30 minutes, once a week. the first piece my teacher gave me was chanson de matin by edward elgar and i played it for a while but only learned the beginning, then i started with mozarts

swölf duo nr.1 and has been playing it ever since and i am expected to continue the same song this year. so that's 2 songs before christmas.

first i have to figure out the notes then the rythm, upbow or downbow and what finger to use and it takes forever! i would like to learn bowing techniques and scales and stuff, but i just have to figure out songs that i have never heard. i have one hour a week a lesson to learn notes and all that but it's as if the violin lessons are only about learning how to read sheet music. But i want to make progress in my playing as well. is this how it is usually done? or do i have a school that doesn't care if i learn anything. at the moment i am trying to teach myself sautille so that i can learn czardas. i want to be able to play virtuoso music in the future and i am 23 years old so i feel as if i should be moving along a bit faster. and i hope that i someday will be able to study violin full time.

Replies (25)

January 3, 2008 at 05:24 AM · Sarah, I'm an adult beginner too. My teacher has me working in method books and using Suzuki books for repertoire. I also use a scales book.

Are you saying that you only work on repertoire at your lessons and even with that your teacher does not help you with the bowing, fingerings, rhythm, etc.? You don't practice scales together, or work on technique and theory?

I wonder you need to find a new teacher or you are an exceptional student and don't need much guidance?

Wait, I'm confused. First you said your lesson was 30 minutes once a week then later you say it's an hour once a week. Are you in group lessons also?

January 3, 2008 at 07:11 AM · Sarah, your teacher should have their own teaching philosophy that is being communicated to you; and, equally your goals to the teacher by you, including your concerns. Start there.

There are several ways to understand what the various bowing and articulation techniques are as a list of goals online, but if your teacher wishes you to learn music and counting first, then it is upon you to ask how to fill in your toolbox of techniques as you go along.

Check out the virtuous moments at as a starter.. Particularly as an adult, it may be important to have at least some stewardship over your direction. Some teachers are use to teaching kids that have years and years of lessons ahead of them, waiting on their musical maturity to develop. And some teachers will not even teach adults, because in reality, they simply do not know how to approach teaching adults very well.

And some teachers love teaching adults, because we bring many many strengths to the learning mix. And I've heard more than once that sometimes they even learn from us.

So, I'm saying, I nor I believe anyone here, really can walk in your shoes. Equally, we cannot walk in your teacher's shoes. I can only say, there are good teachers and there are bad teachers. And there are good students, and bad students.

However, given all the above, if there is anything at all I can do to help you feel like you have better understanding and stewardship of your directions, email me and I'll try share what my experience has been with both teachers, as well as myself--as an adult in the jungle.

January 3, 2008 at 06:02 AM · Sarah,

I will second what Albert just mentioned. The main point is to communicate with your teacher what you are wanting to achieve through lessons: be it technical work or repertoire or a combination of both. If you have not communicated your goals with your teacher, s/he is left to working with a "generic" syllabus so to speak.

Take some time to write down what you would like to learn over the next year. I do this with my own teacher. My 2008 list included a few pieces I would like to learn, a few specific techniques (bowing styles, shifts, vibrato, etc..), and stylistic methods (phrasing, dynamics, etc..). If you take a bit of time to formulate your personal goals when it comes to violin playing and share it, your teacher should be able to develop a "lesson plan" to enable you to meet your goals.

As an adult, you have a certain level of control over how your lessons are conducted. It is up to you to communicate that with your teacher. If for some reason, your teacher does not accomodate those goals, then maybe you should look for another teacher. However, I wouldn't advise on looking for another teacher until the two of you have a few heart-to-heart conversations.

January 3, 2008 at 08:16 AM · I'd support what the others have said, but encourage you to go with your intuition. If you feel you get on with your teacher otherwise, and that you share the music with her, its worth letting her what you want t achieve this year, and the things you feel anxious about. If not, start looking around for an alternative.

I have had three teachers, the first one was very knowledgable and everything she wrote in the books I used was substantiated down the track, but I found lessons with her more difficult than I wanted them to be. I was with her 4 months or so.

The second teacher was lovely, she just wanted me to get in there and play. She is a Suzuki trained teacher, but also taught from the syllabus I was used to (Australian Music Exam), so we used that mostly. But lessons just couldn't keep to a time fram I could manage, and in 8 months, she didn't actually correct my posture, bow management, just got me reading and playing. It was probably what I needed at the time, but I knew I wanted more certainty that I was doing things right.

My current teacher taught the adults ensemble I am in, and I feel she is an excellent match for my aspirations. She immediately picked up on my perfectionism and determination, so lessons sometimes have many repetitions of just one note, to get an entrance right, or one interval to get a shift right. Nowadays she doesn't actually plan my lesson for me though, I come in and tell her what I'm working on and she deals with what I need to know. She's tactfully advised me that I'm not ready for lots of pieces, Czardas, Elgar's Salut d'Amour etc, but wouldn't stop me trying them. Occasionally I come away miffed that my obvious genius on the instrument has been missed }:|

but within a day I'm over that.

So let your teacher know what you want, and if you feel you can't do that, or if she gets offended or defensive, fg o looking elsewhere.

And good luck.

January 3, 2008 at 12:48 PM · A recent student of mine has been a Suzuki Student for 5 years. His teacher had never taught supplementary bowing or left hand technique. No scales. No theory. For 5 years, he just went thru Levels 1,2,3 of the Suzuki Books. He switched over to my studio and now I'm working him to death with my rigorous training program. The student claimed that the rigorous training is alot more intellectually stimulating as it helps him connect all the dots together. He went from have 30 minute lessons/week for 5 years to 2 hour lessons/week. We both find that 2 hours goes by REALLY quickly and the lesson is over before we even realize it.

Also, with the rigorous technical supplement, he now claims that he sees a new perspective with Books 1,2,3 and can play the songs alot with much beter sound and technical quality.

He made an analogy that these rigorous lessons are like an AP/college level music class. He's currently a 9th grade student.

January 3, 2008 at 01:29 PM · It sounds as though there is a huge disconnect between your ideas and your teacher's. It is worth planning a discussion for one of your lessons very soon. You may like to announce this at the end of this week's, so your teacher has time to consider & prepare if he/she chooses. My gut level reaction is that this is a bad fit, and a waste of time & money. Maybe you can salvage it, but after some conversation, you will know much better if it is time to move on. Sue

January 3, 2008 at 01:35 PM · hi T Netz! i have 30 minutes violin lesson and 1 hour theory lesson (with a group) It's a music institute education that should take about 4 years. after that you can apply to a music school. this is for children so i am the only adult violinist.. atleast this year.

i don't know if ti's possible to get another teacher, and by the way this educatuon is the cheapest there is in finland.

she thought me a 3 octave scale that we practiced about 2 lessons and she helps me get my bow hold right and she corrects me if i use the wrong fingering, and if i use the wrong part of the bow.. well maybe the lessons are as they should be, but i don't get any books or anything. hah, i guess i'm expecting some kind of master class! i should take your advice and discuss it with my teacher. thank you all! gotta go.

January 3, 2008 at 02:38 PM · agree with others that sarah, it seems that you are very serious about music as a possible future career and you are not getting the level and amount of feedback you need to reach that very lofty goal i must say.

not knowing your level of play but assuming you are still at some level of beginning stage, i would offer the following:

bottom line is still basic intonation and correct left and right hand techniques. wrong part of the bow? not a big deal. wrong fingering? not a big deal. unless you are very serious about developing good fundamentals, your future, serious teachers will bring you back to the same loop again, which you will find to be very frustrating and it has nothing to do with how many years you have played. sightreading is indeed frustrating but there is no short cut to bypass that if you want to be a musician and the earlier you can handle it, the better off you will be.

i would also start developing a practice routine and set aside MOST of your practice on fundamentals, instead of pieces. do stand in front of a mirror and check your bowing, etc. tape and video yourself and self critic. one of the best golfers has this line: most of your problems start before you take your swing. in other words, need to start thinking more, reflecting more, instead of playing more. i think that is an advantage of being an adult player.

finally, i hope you can find a good teacher that is not too expensive, soon!:) i guess having to pay for your own lesson is a disadvantage of being an adult player:)

January 3, 2008 at 04:52 PM · Sarah, Not to belabor a point, but it seems that you and your teacher have very different ideas about the lesson. For myself, an hour lesson is essential and sometimes that isn't long enough. Yes, I have learned techniques in lessons. I have also had the benefit of teachers that can guide me to new techniques when I am ready. Less experienced players often want to surge ahead to the "good stuff" but you have to be musically, physically and mentally ready. Your brain and your desires may lead you along a path of frustration if you try to do too much too soon or at the wrong time. This is not to recommend caution, but rather, following a stepwise path of learning that consisently challenges you with new ideas at the right time. I would say that 30 minutes isn't enough time for an adult lesson. You may want to consider another avenue toward your goals with a different teacher or develop more of a partnership with your current teacher. My best teachers have always made me feel that the lessons are a partnership with current goals/objectives and plans for the future. It's not all about the teacher lecturing or pointing out mistakes. You are in partnership to learn and to create beautiful music. Good luck!

January 3, 2008 at 06:28 PM · We had a similar situatation as described to Sung-Duk Song's post. Luckily for us, we found a teacher that shares the rigorous approach Sung-Duk Song suggests is required. He is 100 % correct in his post. It is more fun and very stimulating for adults and children to know what they are doing so they can connect the dots.

From 30 minutes to 2 hours.... His students are being taken seriously and are fortunate to have a teacher so single minded in helping them be better musicians and probably better people in the long run. The violin lesson is not a parking meter. I think of it is a teacher communicating a particular idea to the student that the student can go home and apply. Some goals are long term, others short term. The lesson as parking meter concept (30 minutes, 45 minutes..X rate per hour), while common, is for the convience of busy people (teachers/parents) and not really about the your specific goals.

I recommend you state your goals for the lesson(s) and ask if she/he can help you reach your goal. Then ask her/him HOW she/he will help you reach your goals and how the steps you are assigned will help you reach your goals. If you are comfortable with the answer hang in there. Otherwise, it is probably time to find a teacher who will take your ambitions a bit more seriously. Be aware that many teachers see adult beginners as hobby people. That is fine and you may not ever be the first chair in a major orchestra. Regardless, hard work demands respect so don't sell yourself short or let your dreams be diminished in the process. You need to really enjoy yourself during this process, even though it is hard work. You need to feel you are growing. Your email suggests something needs to change soon.

Good luck to you.

January 3, 2008 at 06:31 PM · I guess that I come from a very difficult upbrining when I had great teachers. My lessons with past teachers would be as much as 3-6 hrs every time I saw them (even in the beginning stages). Of course not 100% of the time together would be only technique or repertoire, but alot of it was learning about life's lessons and building relationships. I've been fortunate that many great artists have given so freely of their time and never asked me for any lesson fees. Gitlis asked me for a very small lesson fee only because he felt I would be more responsible enough to practice. Usually, we went out to dinner or lunch after the lesson so he obviously didn't make a $ profit from teaching me. All the great artists who have been very good to me all requested one thing in the future -- if I ever had serious and talented students, I should do the same in return as they did for me.

I have a very healthy and friendly relationship with my students and their families, as I like to reward them for their hard work and talents. They invite me over for dinner at times and I take the students (along with the parent) for an ice cream to celebrate.

I don't see too many teachers doing stuff like this. (This is not to say that I'm criticizing other teacher). It's just that my approach has always been different and it seems to work wonders because the student feels comfortable yet very responsible to not want to disappoint. So out of guilt, I find my students practice extra harder and the results are good.

January 3, 2008 at 07:24 PM · I keep telling y'all that teachers are evil,but nooooo,nobody listens..seriously,it sounds more like she's interested in vacuuming out your wallet that anything else.Find another one.I would contact the local A.F.M. hall and see if you can get a recommendation.You would probably get further studying with a pro than going the long route,but be aware technique is mainly what you are gonna get,not reading or basic theory..

January 3, 2008 at 07:49 PM · Ardene's point that a lesson is a partnership between the teacher/student is so correct. I create a contract of realistic and achievable short term and long term goals together with the student. This way, it's very easy to objectively evaluate the progress of my student and a fair way for the student objectively evaluate me as their teacher. This method seems to solidify the relationship and trust between teacher/student.

January 3, 2008 at 08:22 PM · Sung-Duk Song

I appreciate your approach. Now that we have a teacher who works in a similar fashion as you describe, we would be so lost to loose the richness of that relationship...for our whole family! He and his wife are almost in our family now. Each "lesson" involves, tea, cookies, violin, theory, listening to recordings, discussions...etc. Your student are fortunate to have you for a teacher, and your generousity will help them in more ways than you can know...far beyond music.

Interestingly, some of the most talented people in music and other fields are very generous with their time as long as you don't waste it.

January 3, 2008 at 08:40 PM · J Kingston: Thanks for your comments.

Here's an interesting tidbit about Zino Francescatti's teaching habits. Apparently, he too was a very warm and generous person. He taught a very small and select group of private pupils including one of my very close friends in Los Angeles. My friend had to commute to lessons by train in France. He told me that Mr. Francescatti would used to slip some extra "pocket money" on occasion after a good lesson so he could reward himself with a treat on his way home from the train station. He would even pickup/return the student from/to the train station and treated him and his classmates as part of the Francescatti family. It's wonderful when I hear anecdotes like this especially in regards to one of the greatest violinists of our century.

I think Milstein and Heifetz were very generous teachers in their own ways. From my observations they seemed to genuinely care about the student, although they were very strict and could be difficult during the lesson but very nice afterwards. I think their teaching approach was Russian.

January 3, 2008 at 10:19 PM · Sung-Duk, you sounded very much like my teacher, whom I absolutely adore! During lessons, she is both demanding and awestruck (there’re no problems she can’t fix!). Outside lessons, we’d walk around and she would have me over for dinner. We’d chat about music and life with equal passion. I’m not so talented and certainly not young, so all the ‘preferential treatment’ I’ve got from her made feel doubly blessed, given the fact that she has to frequently turn down students due to her extremely busy performing and teaching schedules.

Sarah, I always believe that you can’t be a good violinist without a great teacher. Now Just look around, behind all the successful violinists, there are usually a list of great teachers. And for most of us, the only way to find a great teacher is through some careful research, word-of-mouth and experimenting. (I think you are on the right track by starting this thread). You and people around you will notice your progress almost immediately when you finally have found a good teacher. Good luck!

January 3, 2008 at 11:48 PM · Yixi -- I am so awestruck by your intelligence and hard work ethic. I think you work harder on the violin than many conservatory-bound kids. Keep up the great work and hope to hear you play someday. :)

January 4, 2008 at 07:21 AM · Aww Sung-Duk, thanks for being so nice to me! If you ever hear me play, you'll think otherwise:)

January 4, 2008 at 12:54 PM · Yixi: I think you might be the type that is too hard on yourself. :)

January 4, 2008 at 12:49 PM · Sarah, I assume that the Czardas you are talking about is the one by Monte. If so, this is an overly ambitous goal for most violin players with only two years experience.

It does sound as though your lessons are not aiming in the direction you want, but the basic concepts of reading music, that is, instantly translating what is on a page into what you do with your hands is going to be critical to your future playing - especially at your age.

You speak of working on some pieces for what sounds like a long time. For my better (adult) students, I expect them to deliver at the next lesson what they were assigned at the current one and then to move ahead to the next "piece(s)". I have one adult student who is in the middle of Susuki Book 5 (cello) after playing this instrument for only 9 months, and sight reading quite well (both bass and tenor clefs, at this stage).

"Technique" is harder to come by, exactly how you hold and use your bow; getting the left hand just right to move around (up and down) the fingerboard; getting a utile vibrato. It is something that you move through gradually. I discuss these thiings with my adult students, those who are aware of what they want to be able to do.

Most of my playing progress was made as a child and teenager. When I decided, in my mid 30s to advance my techniqe further, I found that the first 30 minutes of each day's practice had to be devoted to a (rather painful) routine that daily got me to the level I was attempting to advance beyond. Therefore, it was rather pointless to anticipate practice sessions of less than 1 - 2 hours. Without those 30 minutes of scales, Dont (etc.) etudes, and Paganinni Caprices, no further improvement seemed possible for me (at that age). (It certainly seemed to be slow going compared to the way things went 20 years earlier.)

It ain't easy!

January 4, 2008 at 05:11 PM · "For my better (adult) students, I expect them to deliver at the next lesson what they were assigned at the current one and then to move ahead to the next "piece(s)"."

So essentially, you show them how to do it once and expect them to master every nuance by the next week? I've never had that happen to me. I'll get far with a piece in a week, but there is always something I could be doing better---stronger tone, more accurate intonation, different bowings, different phrasings---and usually this implies some pointers in technique to help me do it. My lessons are all about technique, in fact, and my teacher always has to slow me down and help me learn as much as I can from a piece before moving on to the next piece. He wants me to learn "how to play", and not just be able to run through a page of music. It's a looooooong process.

January 4, 2008 at 07:09 PM · "master every nuance" ? If I expected that, they would still be playing "Twinkle."

But I recall that as a teenager, I progressed right along through each and every (cello) lesson and made continuous progress. But that does not mean I was ready to peform all that music in front of orchestras after one and two years of lessons (other music, maybe), even though I also had 10+ previous years on violin.

I think a good teacher can "anticipate" what technical problems each student will have and use the lesson to prepare for those.

Maybe "anticipate" is not that right word, since the teacher can observe (and hear) all the related difficulties leading up to each techical advance and KNOW what is going to be troublesome for each student.

January 5, 2008 at 12:42 AM · Teachers are just learning facilitators. You still have to learn for yourself. Which you are doing if you are investigating things like sautille off your own bat.

January 6, 2008 at 12:36 AM · If you want to get an idea of my "rigorous" curriculum and assignment sheet that my hard working students are expected to do, check out my blog posting as of 1/6/08 to see a sample for one of my very hard working and talented students, Helena Newandee. It's really unbelievable even for me as a teacher, as 90% of the rigorous studies is self-imposed by a 7 year old girl. I actually get concerned and try to becareful not to cause her "burnout". But she insists and seems to thrive with this type of training.

January 12, 2008 at 02:06 AM · I get technique....but I am using a technique based curriculum. We're using essential elements 2000 for strings. After a year I'll just be starting book two at the end of next month ( I think). I do wish she'd stress technique more, I enjoy it.

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