Violin Teacher Dilemma

February 21, 2008 at 04:40 PM · Hi! I am new to this site. I am a parent of two little violin students. We've been happy with their progress until I unintentionally found out from the music school website that our teacher doesn't have a degree in music (or music education). I didn't look far for a teacher when we started out, but signed up for this well-known music school of the area. The kids were young and we didn't know how long they will continue, so the whole thing was like an experiment. It seems that she was Suzuki trained herself, plays beautifully, and loves to work with kids. She is a devoted, loving teacher.

Now that my kids are progressing into Suzuki book 4, I wonder whether we should look for some other teacher. Their lesson time, right now, is spent a lot on polishing up their Suzuki songs, and we don't do any other books. Luckily my kids are OK sight readers (I teach them at home).

What would you do if your children's teacher didn't major in music?

Replies (26)

February 21, 2008 at 04:58 PM · You are taking a bigger chance NOT to hire someone with a music degree.

Sure, lots of soloists don't have music degrees, but they are rare exceptions.

Perhaps there are many teachers without music degrees that are good- but I don't know them. So I would play it safe.

February 21, 2008 at 07:26 PM · I have lots of degrees, including a doctorate. It didn't make me a good teacher. In fact, it took me quite a while to really learn how to teach younger students. The degrees and exposure to advanced repertoire help with older students, but I think experience and experimentation are what counts with younger ones. Someone who has been at it a while but doesn't have a degree could be a perfectly good teacher, as long as they have a good grasp of the fundamentals and are giving the student a good set-up.

February 21, 2008 at 07:48 PM · A great teacher has an aptitude for teaching that they are born with. It can be developed and expanded but it's essence cannot be put into place by formal education.

Of course, they also need to know something about violin and violin playing if they are a violin teacher!

February 21, 2008 at 08:09 PM · although scott may be too modest, what he says makes sense.

in school, the primary concern is to learn and there is not necessarily a focus on EFFECTIVE teaching what you have learned. to me, teaching is not regurgitation, but about imagination, sensitivity, creativity,,,all those fancy words,,,and above all, patience and tolerance.

lets say i aim to have my kid to become a prof musician with a certain track in mind, yes, i may weigh more toward finding a teacher who has been there and done that. yet, the thought of that narrow path is pretty scary to me.

if the intention is to simply learn music and an instrument, to me the best bet is someone that my kid can relate to.

of course, for those parents in the middle in terms of direction, the biggest concern i guess is that whether the kids are learning properly enough, fast enough, etc.

i guess in helen's case, the only way to satisfy the curiosity is to explore how more "qualified" teachers in that area are like. it is really a tough call.

good luck!

February 21, 2008 at 08:49 PM · This is a question that is difficult to answer. You need to ask yourself if your children are receiving quality instruction.

February 21, 2008 at 09:11 PM · Thank you so much for your responses. First of all, unfortunately, our teacher was just starting out as a teacher when we started lessons with her. Second, I don't know what to expect from a violin teacher for this age group, so I can't really tell whether my kids are getting quality instruction or not. And the whole thing of Suzuki method confuses me. I don't know when they are supposed to start with Etudes or formal scale books.

February 21, 2008 at 09:39 PM · Al,

No modesty, I really did suck for a while until I began to figure out what worked and what didn't.


February 21, 2008 at 09:39 PM · Helen, perhaps the best approach would be to have this discussion with your childrens teacher. Ask if/when she will introduce other books into the lessons.

It also would be a good idea to interview some new violin teachers. If you live in an area where you have options for teachers then certainly explore those options and see how other teachers are educating their students.

February 21, 2008 at 10:04 PM · You can't evaluate the teacher, but the school hired the teacher. Find out what its reputation is.

February 22, 2008 at 02:35 AM · I've been thinking about the whole "what is the whole goal of music education" stuff. Things are simple when you start out. You would be just happy if you can play a couple of songs. If your child is gifted, you probably have other burdens, but at least you know you shouldn't stick with anything mediocre. If your child is musically challenged, you'd be just happy if he or she keeps playing and enjoying it. As Al pointed out, it's middle of the road parents who are in trouble. You know the fundamentals should be covered in order to develop as a fine violinist. And you look to your child's teacher for a cue. But if your child's teacher looks to you for a cue, you start to wonder whether your child is missing something developmentally.

February 22, 2008 at 02:57 AM · Oh, Helen, well put! And I think your last line said a lot. If there's a hiccup of faith, a moment where you wonder whether the teacher is up to the task (this isn't always the case, I'm just referring to what you've expressed here), that's a signal to listen to. I am with the camp that argues that a teacher doesn't need to have a degree, just as a degree doesn't guarantee someone will be a good teacher. But if someone without a degree is showing signs of floundering in the least, or doesn't have teaching experience in the least, well, wow, that might be some money going to waste.

There was a woman who posted here a month or so back, asking for advice on how to teach, as she was still a beginner, being asked by an overworked teacher to help teach kids. I felt that scenario was a real injustice to a paying parent, or at least that a parent should be aware of the level of skill the teacher brings. And that the payment should be commensurate with skills. Are you paying what the teacher is worth? And you brought up another great point. Finding the right teacher for a beginner is infinitely more easy than finding a teacher for that next step up. Because the training at that level really, really does matter, doesn't it?

Good luck to you, and follow your instincts, that's what I say. And remember, you're forking out your own money for this very important endeavor. So don't let feelings of "But she's so sweet and nice..." get in the way. (Sometimes easier said than done.) And yet, as suggested, if you have a talk with the teacher, it might be a win-win situation for all of you. Because, in reading your initial post again, it sounds like she's got a lot going for her.

February 22, 2008 at 12:12 PM · Thank you Terez. You helped me to sort things out a lot.

February 22, 2008 at 12:25 PM · "Now that my kids are progressing into Suzuki book 4, I wonder whether we should look for some other teacher. Their lesson time, right now, is spent a lot on polishing up their Suzuki songs, and we don't do any other books."

To me this says a lot. By Book 4 I would think they should already be supplementing the Suzuki with an etude book and/or shifting book.

February 22, 2008 at 12:51 PM · What are your children's goals? What are yours?

Most people who take music lessons will never "do anything with them" and everybody (school. parents--even child) know that. Some children show extraordinary interest or aptitude. these cases are different and not every school or teacher is prepared to do anything for them--and while some teachers may say, "your daughter is gifted and is ready for blah blah" others won't. It is up to you, really. No easy answers here. And we are just internet drones anyway.

February 22, 2008 at 02:15 PM · Helen - glad my comments helped!

February 22, 2008 at 11:40 PM · Go hear the teachers' 5-10 most advanced students play at a recital. That is the first clue. You can love your teacher and play lousy, or hate your teacher and play well, or vis versa of course. The strict one is not necessarily the bad one, and the kind teacher is not necessarily good one. The proof is in the playing. Also, don't judge on the one student who is amazing. Inventory the mean of all the students. There is always that one kid who shines and may be an anomolie, but that may not be the teacher. I think if the majority of young students play past book 2 - 4 and beginning concertos seriously out of tune, it would cause me to question the teacher a bit. As far as etudes etc. the Suzuki teachers stress the unison playing for all those Suzuki events. I personally think by book 4 there is limitted benefit to keeping 60 songs in short term memory. There is quite a bit more to learn as you mention. Good luck to you.

February 22, 2008 at 11:55 PM · Someone asked me (a high shcool student) to help with a fourth grader with his violin learning... I declined, partly because I don't think I would be able to teach him well, and I'm still trying to learn violin as well!

February 23, 2008 at 04:29 AM · A music degree helps, but training in violin pedagogy is essential. Being trained as a Suzuki student is not the same as being trained to teach. Beginners especially need to have a good teacher who will make sure they develop their basics properly. As a Suzuki teacher with 25 years experience, I have had to help correct the damage done by untrained or careless teachers many times. This can take years. You might visit another teacher's studio to see how his/her students play, in order to gain some perspective.

February 23, 2008 at 05:09 AM · Thank you all for such encouraging comments. I've been thinking about my goal for my children a lot. My older one is a music lover, with a good ear, and enjoys music in general. My younger one is a quick learner, not afraid of to be challenged, but music is just one of many pleasures in life. I went to the teacher's recital as a parent, but it seems that the majority of the students are below Suzuki book 3. One kid, who played Twinkle at the first recital, played Lightly Row (the second song) at the second recital a year later. I asked the teacher several times about introducing bowing technique books or etude books, but each time I was given an answer that it wasn't necessary.

I am thinking about switching to a traditional teacher. When would be a good time to make the switch?

February 23, 2008 at 05:57 AM · "When would be a good time to make the switch?"

I'd think as soon as you've found a better teacher. Maybe the week after - for a gracious exit.

February 23, 2008 at 06:06 AM · At the end of book III would be a good time, before they begin playing the concertos in book IV. Your new teacher will, hopefully, give your children scales and etude books, and maybe some exercise books to supplement their learning.

I would suggest looking for a studio in which your kids would be among the less-advanced students, so there is obviously a lot of room to learn. If the new teacher has performance classes, it would be advantageous to expose your kids to the playing of the more experienced students, so they have a sense of where they are headed. Hearing the older, advanced kids play was always a great inspiration for my children.

February 23, 2008 at 01:31 PM · I am very nervous about finding a new teacher because I don't want to repeat the same mistake. I live in the north suburb of Chicago area. Would you recommend anybody?

February 23, 2008 at 02:07 PM · Not all trained Suzuki teachers add other books/materials to the lesson, but they know very well how to extract "etudes" from the pieces, and make good use of the tonalizations. Dr.Suzuki organized some supplemental materials. Not all trained teachers use them, but I would advocate for someone who knows about them and has a plan for using them. Sue

February 23, 2008 at 11:59 PM · I you want to switch, do it as soon as you find a good teacher as others mention, but definitely before they start shifting. Good luck and don't be nervous. I will work out great and you sound like you have some great children.

March 6, 2008 at 03:57 AM · Hi Helen,

Northwestern and DePaul are in that area, are they not? As far as I have heard, they have fine string departments; while you will probably not be lucky enough to get one of the professors, perhaps you can still pick their brains. Check out the precollege program if there is one. Also, if you can find it out, I expect it would be telling to see where Chicago Symphony folks send their kids. Even though you can't be sure that yours will pursue music as they grow older, you want a teacher who will not sabotage their chances if they do.

You sound like you have bright kids. Ask them if they ever feel like their teacher is too easy or unclear. Certainly, you'll want to take their response with a little salt, but you may be surprised if they wrinkle their little brows and say yes. I remember one time as a child when, even with my lack of expertise, I sensed something wasn't totally right and I wish I had spoken up.

March 6, 2008 at 04:13 AM · Sorry, I jumped the gun a little -- you're not necessarily looking for someone else yet. Possessing a degree means one has gone through a program, but doesn't guarantee much else. I would not use the lack of it to evaluate the teacher; like I said, do some research and talk with your kids. Trust your instinct, too.

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