Your perspective on teaching adult students needed

June 3, 2008 at 07:11 PM · What I really like is that they question many things I say or suggest; this has prompted me to think ever more deeply about how and why I(we)do things the way we do. I like that they have an awareness of how they learn, and can apply components of other experiences and skills. On the downside, lessons tend to be less than consistent. Legitimate family concerns, illness & injury (not from my lessons!), job stress & requirements. With kid-students, I have a short-range plan and a long-range plan in my head; with the adults I feel like it is more a one-shot concept (like giving a workshop), than a sequential program. I am giving thought to how much of my sense of frustration, not connecting the dots, springs from being a long-time classical player converted to fiddling about 8 years ago. Any ideas? What works for you? Thanks much, Sue

Replies (46)

June 3, 2008 at 10:38 PM · I teach Classical, so I don't know how relevant this is to your Fiddling conundrum, but when it comes to the Big Plan/Small Plan approach to each student, I don't treat the adults differently than the kids. They all get a Big Plan and a Small Plan! But like you said, because of this pesky thing called "Life", there can be much more backtracking with adult students than kids.

When these practicing setbacks occur, some adult students need a lot of reassuring. A whole lot.

Also, I agree with what you say about how adult students make one a better teacher. Another positive is that many actually enjoy etudes! Go figure...Good Luck!

June 3, 2008 at 11:45 PM · I'm 62. Got serious about learning to play about three years ago, when I finally had the time to devote to it. I've played music all my life, but was generally too busy making money and "being somebody" to really give music the time it needed. More's the pity. Maybe I should have been a musician all along. Making money and accomplishing things is perhaps a little overrated in comparison with making good music.

My primary focus presently is the fiddling tradition of Missouri, and fiddlers such as Lonnie Robertson, Cyril Stinnett, Pete MacMahan, Lyman Enloe, and the like. I also like blues, swing, and jazz a lot, and plan on broadening out into those areas, once I've got the chops to do so.

It took me two years to find a teacher, during which time I taught myself, with the help of a decent mind a mirror and a good recorder. Even though I am primarily interested in fiddling, I want to be able to play whatever I hear in my head, aany way I want to, from sweet to gritty, with plenty of expressiveness. In order for me to do this, I'm interested in developing the best technique and "vocabulary" that I can.

The teacher I found was a violin performance major, and played classical violin in the local symphony for twenty years before switching to fiddle - about twenty years ago. The thing I like about her is that we speak the same language. She understands where I want to go, and can help to guide me in getting there. I could already play fairly well when I started with her, but my technique, and consequently tone and expression have improved a lot, since she has been able to observe what I need to work on, and point me in the right direction.

I interviewed several other teachers - I work with a bunch of them - but none of them seemed to "get it". They didn't have a deep interest in the kind of music I want to play. I'm sure they would have been great at improving my technique, but they simply didn't have the kind of musicality that I am interested in, since all their training was rooted in the Classical tradition. I really admire their skills and their playing, but that's not where I want to go.

I work hard, practice fifteen hours a week or more, but I don't need lessons more than every couple of weeks. I'm just interested in learning how to play the best I can. I have some goals and objectives, but just learning consistently is the main thing for me.

The other thing I like about my teacher is that she treats me like an adult - a peer, but also with a high level of enthusiasm. I've heard her teach teens and little kids too, and she relates to them the same way, guiding, encouraging, motivating. Her kids work hard under this kind of approach, and the results speak for themselves. None of her students is ever apprehensive about going to lessons.

I don't know if that helps at all, but that's my experience. I may be a little different because I like to practice. Scales and arpeggios and bowing exercises are interesting and satisfying to me. I like to play, and to play well, but the process of getting there is very enjoyable for me, as well. I think that's the key to staying with it, and with enough well-directed time on the bow, I think anybody who wants to can learn to play adequately, or even quite well.

June 4, 2008 at 12:40 AM · Ah, we adult beginners love etudes because it's music we can actually play.

June 4, 2008 at 01:30 AM · LOL.

It must really be an adult thing. I like etudes too. My teacher laughs at this phenomenon. I say I'm just tickled to death that I can play *anything*.

June 4, 2008 at 03:54 AM · Sue, I'm sorry to say that I saw myself in your message. I've rescheduled my lessons because "life gets in the way" much too often: work meetings, school vacations, father's surgery. I think that it helps me that I'm a relatively advanced student and self-motivated (and I have to read between lessons). But there is still a real danger to losing sight of long-term goals sometimes.

I think the written practice log is especially important in this situation. Maybe having written goals as part of the practice log. And do you email your students outside of lessons? I emailed my teacher a link to a video of my church talent show performance and we were able to discuss it intelligently over email even though I didn't have a lesson that week.

June 4, 2008 at 04:35 AM · Sorry I can't give you a teacher's perspective, but I can give you one as an adult student of 5 years (with prior playing experience).

When I start with any new teacher (teacher changes due to moving out of state or country), I always spend my first lesson or two with my new teacher on goals & goal planning. I assure them I don't want to be a concert violist :) So what are some adult student goals? Playing in a community orchestra, maybe being principal or CM at some point. Winning a concerto competition at the CO. Be able to play a certain piece. Finally learn how to do a certain technique (vibrato for instance). These have been my goals (except the CM thing, I'm a violist).

Lessons typically then resume with the "gotta play piece". Within a week or two, we either on continue on that piece or a suggested "alternative". Any challenges I have playing that piece result in "homework" assignments. Shifting studies, vibrato studies, etudes, scales, etc.. I don't get more than one or two "homework assignments" at any given time. I have gone months with just one assignment - vibrato, or bowing, or shifting.

We I start showing signs of getting bored playing the same piece (or etude) over and over again, we have a "pick a new piece" lesson. An hour of sight reading - or just listening to different pieces to pick one by the end of lessons. The whole proces then repeats again.

About once a year, sometimes more frequently when I get down in the dumps or frustrated with myself, my teacher asks me to bring back a piece I had played before months or years before. He points out the improvements I made since that time ("remember how difficult that was for you before?"), then introduces new techniques to make it even better.

Hope this helps in some way.

June 4, 2008 at 05:31 AM · Violin etudes and adults... it must be an adult thing, I agree!! I kept telling my teacher that I love etude every week!! I hated etudes as a kid (piano), i didn't know if it's older age or violin etudes are different!!

June 4, 2008 at 11:20 AM · Hi,

Well, there you go, I love etudes too. My son really do not like them, so it must be an adult thing! In fact, I sometimes prefers etudes to pieces... Maybe because I can see what we are working on, and some etudes are really beautiful!

I like scales too, am I the only one?

June 4, 2008 at 12:41 PM · Hi I'm 25 yrs old and started my violin lessons 2 years ago (from a private tutor). I would like a shift on career and do full time music studying, but I dont have any idea. Do i have to enroll in a university get a BM degree? do they accept old students like me, since as i rate myself, im still a total beginner.

June 4, 2008 at 01:10 PM · Thanks to all, especially Anne and Karen for "getting" the source of my concerns & frustration from both student and teacher perspective.:) Don, your idea about using a basic method book gets to the source of the problem, I think. There really isn't such a thing for playing fiddle. There are tune books, and then there are things like Fiddlers Philharmonic, which is intended to guide classical(kid)players into fiddling in a traditional manner. Re my problems organizing lessons, I note first that fiddlers are very much pragmatists about technique. I teach conventional playing position and bow hold, but don't obsess on it the way I tend to with my classical students. For ex., they will rarely need to shift, do few off-string bowings, or use vibrato, so a funky wrist or pinky isn't the same level of problem. On the other hand, I do find myself remediating a lot since fiddlers tend to invent technique that doesn't always work efficiently or conveniently. Second, these are by-ear fiddlers with one exception. The others have no need or desire to learn to read better than what they have already garnered, so I teach little if any of all that literacy stuff that consumes classical lessons. It would be a good idea, though, to teach more theory, so that they connect quickly to scale patterns, arpeggios and chord sequence. Looks like I need to be on to writing a curriculum that puts what seems to be needed in some reasonable sequential order, and then figure out where each student fits on the continuum. Also write out some practice plans in advance, perhaps tying together a scale, arpeggio, chord back-up and a couple of tunes. Then at least if it is some weeks between lessons,they have something concrete to work on, not just the recordings they make of the tunes during lessons, & I have something to refer to. Sue

June 4, 2008 at 02:18 PM · sue, lets turn this around. what do you think your adult players think of you:) ?

June 4, 2008 at 09:15 PM · Sue, I study Irish fiddle. My teacher is a fiddler who also has classical training, so he does have me doing etudes and scales, but he does a lot of stuff by ear too. He gave me a serious reel for my first tune---I was totally intimidated, but it turned out to be a good way of introducing so many of the techniques I needed like string crossings, arpeggios, etc.---and two years later I can finally play it properly. I think you can't underestimate the enticement of a good tune for motivation!

I'm kind of unusual in that I never miss a lesson and have lots of time for practice, but there are some things I think would work with anyone to help them advance faster:

1. Have them record the entire lesson instead of just a particular tune. I didn't do this at first and I found that there were so many things my teacher said at my lesson that I didn't remember, and he ended up repeating himself unnecessarily. Plus this way I can listen to bits of demonstrations as many times as I like. Very often I'll sit with my fiddle and run through the recording, practicing things point by point. Sounds a bit OCD, I know, but it really has helped.

2. Make up a list of recommended cds for your students to listen to, as well as a list of websites and YouTube clips for them to watch. As you know, listening is the most important element of learning fiddle, but not everyone has exposure to the right influences or knows who the best artists are in the tradition. I've known people who decide they like a tune and then go on YouTube and bookmark the first rendition they find, which are often poorly executed or otherwise wrong (played classical style, etc.)---and then they end up playing the tunes that way and they sound awful. If they don't have a good background in the style, you need to be their guide.

3. Have them bring a book for you to write down what they should focus on until the next lesson. Sounds like something for kids, but it helps us remember what to practice and how to be as efficient with practice time as possible. I don't know, some adults might not like this, but I find it helps, especially if you're thinking about how much practice time there is likely to be and how much is reasonable to expect.

Finally, I know someone else who takes lessons who has been very busy lately and hasn't had time to devote to practice, but she still goes to lessons and enjoys them because the teacher is patient and understanding with her, and is always able to find something new for her to learn---which helps her stay motivated and happy, even if she's not progressing as fast as she would if she had a different schedule. So I guess my conclusion from that is that learning to play is about the experience of learning as well as the end product, and both can be enjoyable---and if they are, you're doing a good job, even if the results don't come at a particular pace. It's so great that you care about your students and how they're learning. I'm sure they appreciate it!

June 4, 2008 at 11:35 PM · Adults want to have fun but as adults are pretty serious I think and want to be taken seriously in that they know they are improving. As an adult I like to play duets/trios. My teacher has helped me hook up with a few other adults and we get together once a week to practice together. I use 1/2 of my lesson preparing for my group and the other half and solo work. The group playing has improved my reading more than anything. My teacher is more of a facilitator. She knows I practice after all the kids are in bed, so sometimes we play duets together on a bad week. I find I practice the same amount of time but am getting much better with the group playing. Mty prior teacher did treat me like a kid and wanted me to memorize all these Suzuki songs which was just a bizarre requirement and did little for me. She wasn't very flexible at all and my new teacher is really flexible which helps me a lot. The groups make it fun to perform versus trying to do solo recitals and has helped my intonation. We asked my son's teacher to stop by once a month for an hour and gives us feedback and marks up our sheets. he is a CM and chamber muscic performer and helps us with the performance aspects of playing. He figures out great bowings for us and the committment to meet has made everyone make time to practice. We keep each other very motivated and our director plays with us sometimes if we are having trouble or don't understand a particular style or period. He also picks our pieces based upon what we are working on in our private lessons and brings in new pieces he thinks we should consider learning. My teacher lets us crash her monthly recitals every few months and everyone enjoys themselves very much. All the adults are improving quickly. This approach has really improved our intonation. We also do potlucks and BBQ and play for our friends and family because they have little choice. Honestly we are getting so much better.

June 5, 2008 at 04:14 AM · I 2nd J King's advice. The first time my teacher and I played duet (well, let's put it this way, the first time I played someowhat in tune), hearing the harmony makes me so happy, something that playing piano never awarded me. My teacher does not have alot of adult students, so forming such ensemble will not be possible, that's why I joined the orchestra even though I'm really stretching it. But if you have a group, maybe you can organize them to get together once a week or something? I'm not familiar with fiddle music at all, do they have quartets? It will be alot of fun!

June 6, 2008 at 05:34 PM · Thanks again to folks who followed up on my 2nd post. Don, you hit another part of it with your question about what (my) fiddlers want to do. Just among these 7 there is a huge range from one who wants to be able to play "something" recognizable all the way through and retain it, to a "tune-hound" with a good ear who wants tunes slowed down and tricky spots explained, to a couple who want to know all there is to know about good tone and style. So in effect every student is a VERY different prep; way more for me than with a pile of classical students(since I've done that for 35 years). Al, re how do they feel about me: we're all friends who jam, go to dances and to music camp together. When the one who has been our dance teacher decided to take up fiddle and asked for lessons, so did 4 others. I believe they all enjoy the lessons and find something enjoyable and beneficial. Adults will verbalize more than kids, I think, when asked, but I find their body language way harder to read, so I'm not perfectly comfortable taking commentary at face value. I do wonder if my "program" was better-defined if more of them would keep up a more regular lesson schedule. But perhaps something different than how it works now would only lead to feelings of guilt, and a sense that they should quit so as not to "burden" me. Sue

June 9, 2008 at 07:07 AM · Sue,

I've played trumpet, double french horn, guitar, fiddle, and mandolin. I took up mandolin from fiddle when Dupuytren's Contracture in my left hand made reaching the violin G string very painful. As I improved as a mandolinist, I was attracted to works with greater and greater complexity.

I finished a viola and, while checking it out, discovered that the deep tissue work I'd been doing on my left hand allowed me to play the viola comfortably. I loved the sound of the instrument, and decided to look for a teacher who could help me with the Bach Cello Suites. A guy's gotta have dreams.

I was lucky enough to find a very good teacher (Lilith Green), in this little town of mine, who'd studied with Walter Trampler. It's been some work to reach a balance between the traditional approach she wants and my desire to just play Bach. I love the brilliant complexity of his music and find myself transported as I study it, even when I'm struggling. I'm not transported by Sevick:) However, very real health and family issues keep me from regular lessons. I am, however, very serious about my study, which is a very personal journey, and my teacher has been able to work with the complexity and help me grow as a violist. Communication between the two of us has been key.

My advice is to work with your students' complex lives, work hard to keep open the lines of communication, and hope that you can help them reach their dreams.

July 11, 2008 at 04:48 AM · I have a student who is 81 who began learning violin with me a year ago. Fortunately he already had basic music reading skills and had learned for about a year when he was 15 so he had some very basic technique. This allowed me to just focus on teaching the violin.

That said, I simply teach him how I would teach any younger student with similar prior ability.

I re-established his technique by working through Suzuki Book 1 (I am not a Suzuki teacher but have great respect for the method) and then moved on to AMEB (Australian Music Examinations Board) Preliminary Grade (which he achieved a A grade in his exam last month).

The only problems I face with teaching this student relate to physical problems due to age, including arthritis and posture. In most cases I have been able to work out an alternative technique but in the end when something has been physically impossible I just get over it and focus on improving the areas that I can.

It has been a pleasure working with this student and I look forward to seeing how far he will be able to progress with the violin. At the moment I can see no limit. I highly recommend working with a student in this age group if you get the chance.

July 11, 2008 at 06:19 AM · Well, I can speak from the perspective of the adult student, but not the teacher.

First, I really want to play well. However, I'm not as limber as I used to be, so I really need more time in the stretching exercises.

Second, the only time I have to take lessons or to practice is after everything else in life is taken care of. So if I always show up tired or inattentive for a late afternoon class, maybe suggest a different class time.

Third, I think differently. When I was young, I learned things piecemeal. Now, I need to integrate things more, so when I am learning to hold the bow, and how to hold the violin, and how to hold the left arm, and..... well it helps if I realize the effect each of thes can have on the sound if they are not correct. It may not be apparent at first, but when I come to more advanced topics later, I will have my concept correctly framed.

Finally, Although I may be older, I still enjoy praise; no one really outgrows that. However, do not go overboard; I recognize my lack of deeper skills.

July 11, 2008 at 10:51 PM · I found this article a while ago, about adult starters and the problems the author perceives .

What's your opinion about it?

July 11, 2008 at 10:34 PM · I think to effectively teach adults, you have to assume an advisory role. You can show them proper techniques, but they must somewhat teach themselves, partly depending on their motivation.

If you can deal with having adult students, I aplaud you. Remember they want to set their own pace.

July 12, 2008 at 03:21 AM · My personal opinion of ?

The document is simplistic, ill-informed, confused, and negative. No surprise that the author's adult students are not doing well.


July 12, 2008 at 12:06 PM · I finally read that document too. I believe it's been around before in another thread.

I think he has it completely backwards. He says that it's "absolutely necessary" to confront late starters with this big load of negativity at the beginning so that they won't get discouraged later at their slow progress. But then he recounts how little success he's had with this approach: all his adult students failed to overcome one type of negativity or another and indeed did get discouraged. I suggest that not only was his approach not "absolutely necessary," it was counterproductive and made things worse.

He gets to his real agenda towards the end, which is to put the fear of G-d into parents to get their kids started as early as possible. So that they don't meet the horrible fate that he's going to inflict on them later as adults, I suppose.

But for teachers (and students) who don't feel the anxiety about "impotence" that the author of that article seems to be wallowing in, maybe there is a kernel of good advice that can be drawn from it. And that is, to listen to your students and meet them where they are. In particular, don't project your own needs and insecurities onto them, as he does. He talked about the different needs and goals of his students--to relax, to play a simple tune, and so on, and his inability to help them meet those relatively simple goals. He just dismissed out of hand the idea that adults might want to have fun with their violin learning; apparently in his universe, fun is only for toddlers.

I think the author of that article should do as some others on this forum wisely do: accept his limitations, realize that teaching late starters is not for him, and bow out of that part of the business.

July 12, 2008 at 04:19 PM · Daniel made a great point.

Many of the "motivation" tricks that work for youngster are irrelevent to adults. They often don't care what Suzuki book they are in and measure success as individuals. Adult students in general seem less competitive than children as they know there are many aspects to playing even if they don't understand them all. Their motives are more intrisic as they don't have a parent involved encouraging, pushing, or in some case dragging. I think adults are more demanding as customers than children because they are more educated and have a frame of reference for recognizing strong intsrution versus a teacher who blows smoke. Since the sacrifice their own money for the lesson, I think teachers should expect to be clear about the reason for things and how assignments fit together.

I have found teachers with big egos or who are insecure don't do to well with adults. Adults are more inclined to question teachers can bother some people.

July 12, 2008 at 03:04 PM · I liken learning violin to that of learning martial arts or any other intense skill. How could I assume to learn Karate or any of the other martial arts techniques without proper instruction. How can I read of the subtle nuances that only those that having been there and done that can explain? There is a substantial market of how to learn books out there for these arts as well.

However, anyone that wants to learn effectively, efficiently, and with correct results, should have a teacher. Whether it is martial arts or violin.

I listen to my teachers, I don't let my ego get in the way, and I fold my pride up and stuff it in my pocket. I have performed in Suzuki recitals alongside the children. I do what I'm told and I have improved farther than I ever thought I would be by now! My original goal was to just be able to play some tunes on the violin. Now I have greater control and know that with continued instruction I know there isn't limitations. Only those of physical or self imposed mental limitations. I am getting old afterall.

There is a reason why teachers are recommended. They provide results.


September 3, 2008 at 06:40 AM · I find out what they want from the lessons and then work those desires in with the need for basic sound technique. I don't use books obviously designed for kids when working with adults.

Instead I start them on easy Wohlfahrt studies, finger patterns (modes), scales and simple 1st position solo and duet pieces: classical, folk or pop, depending on their interests.

September 3, 2008 at 07:14 AM · I'm an adult currently taking lessons. I also have a full-time job, spend 2 1/2 hours commuting per day, I'm a mom, and have home tasks. I also belong to 2 orchestras!

We meet about 45 minutes every other week. We're working on certain technique tricks that she knows are new in teaching methods since I had lessons in high school (she knows from her mother!). We also are working on a concerto, and sometimes we work on a bit of my orchestra repertoire. So far, it works! However, I spend alot of time practicing or rehearsing. I'm also not a beginner.

September 3, 2008 at 09:01 AM · Here's a picture of the guy mentioned above, suitable for framing and throwing darts at.

It got me thinking. If I had to teach an adult the violin, I think I would do it completely differently than the way kids are taught. Adults can take in large chunks of information and perform large tasks. Adults can stock things on the right shelves at Walmart and then drive home.

First I would teach him a simple melody in first position, any melody of his choosing. Then I would add vibrato, almost anything resembling vibrato that he could make. Then I would teach him that melody on one string, to introduce shifting. Then I would help him refine his vibrato and teach him double stops by thinking up a harmony part for him to play with the melody. Then I would sum up what should be improved at that point and have him fix that, and introduce things that would help him learn to sight read, and add more advanced things that he can do with the bow. The first thing I would do is make sure he was hearing what he was playing and could adjust it. Might not work, might eventually resort to Suzuki books if he could take it, but that would be my first approach. If you had to teach a little kid to stock the shelves at Walmart, it would take you showing them over and over and over again for years, just like the way violin is taught to them. Violin has the reputation for being the most complicated thing you can do, but driving a car, paying your bills, and raising a family is more complicated.

September 3, 2008 at 10:21 AM · Going along with the etude crowd..., Etudes for me are a lot like working out in a gym. Exerted effort, strength training my hands and arms, and it's music! I'm actualy 'learning' the violin from playing them! And I love it!

September 3, 2008 at 05:31 PM · I'm certainly glad I didn't get a teacher like Krakenberger, when I decided to start violin lessons at the age of 43. What a dream-crusher!

I was incredibly lucky to find a teacher that helps me to realize my own, personal potential. I play from the same books as his young students (Suzuki, Trott, Avsharian) and I do participate in the recitals along with the kids. But my teacher modifies the curriculum for his adult students, and his approach is more along the lines of "that phrase seems to be giving you some problems, here's what you can do to make it sound better." More of a brotherly, "I've been down the road and I'm here to help you avoid the obstacles".

September 3, 2008 at 06:13 PM · I'm friends with your teacher, from this site, and I would think you're in good hands.

September 3, 2008 at 06:34 PM · Jim, you know Dave Wolcott?

You're right, I am in good hands... I've progressed so much further than I'd ever dreamed, in a relatively short amount of time.

September 3, 2008 at 11:36 PM · Oops, never mind, was thinking of a different guy.

September 3, 2008 at 06:56 PM · Not all adult beginners are the same. I started taking violin lessons 3 years ago, at the age of 24. I currently take 2 violin lessons a week (1 hr each) and the only time I've had to cancel lessons was because of a broken arm. I also play in a local orchestra. When looking for a job I made sure it wouldnt interfere with my violin lessons and studying in terms of schedules. In fact, I always take into account my violin studies before I schedule anything. This year I have been accepted at a conservatory and because of all the music classes I will be taking I have cut back on my other activities.

September 5, 2008 at 09:24 PM · I found this site as the result of a search about adults learning to play violin. I am an organ performance major, I play flute, and played clarinet all through school. I always remember my grandmother wishing I would learn violin, but I didn't know any teachers or as a child wasn't interested in anything else. Now I have met a violin teacher, and she said she will teach me. I did the search to see if it was possible for an adult to learn, and I'm happy to see that I am certainly not the only one! I love learning, and have no problem committing the time for lessons and practice. I don't want to become a professional. I just want to be able to play for church or for my own enjoyment. I've been back and forth about whether or not to try, but some of the posts here have helped me to see that it is attainable. I just hope the teacher really realizes that I am indeed serious! We'll see what happens! Thanks for letting me know there are plenty of adult learners out there! My grandmother isn't around anymore to ever hear me if I learn, but I live in the house that was hers, so I'll fill the house with the sound of beginning violin...that will hopefully turn into beautiful music!

September 6, 2008 at 01:50 AM ·'s never never too late. And you may surprise yourself at how far you can get, with your music background. My first goal was to be able to play in my church... less than 2 years later I was playing in an orchestra. I was 36 when I started. Go for it!!:)

September 6, 2008 at 10:26 AM · Now for a different perspective. I teach a lot of adult beginners and violinists who want to learn to play fiddle music and improvise. My biggest problem with the adult beginners is their impatience. They want to learn to play everything right away, instead of going step by step, learning basic techniques, and learn to listen and recognize what's right and what's wrong. (Will any of you adult beginners admit to doing this?) Both adult beginners in classical music and classically trained musicians who want to learn to fiddle need to learn intonation, bow control, the difference between 4/4 and 6/8 time, keys, accidentals, etc. I encourage my adult beginners to take notes at the end of each lesson on what to focus on in the music they're playing. Then I tell them what I've noticed during the lesson and written down about what they need to work harder on. My point of view is not just to point out rough spots in their playing, but also to tell them what they're doing right. Usually they don't know because they're not really listening to themselves, just concentrating very hard on their playing. It's also reassuring to them when I say, "Don't worry too much about this. All my students find it difficult at first. The more you practice this, the easier it will feel and the better it will sound."

Irregular schedules are fairly common around here, in a suburb of Washington, DC. This is, after all, the seat of empire, also called Babylon on the Potomac. Adults who work for the government or government contractors; for other international groups, such as the International Red Cross; and for private companies with offices outside the country, often have unusual schedules, and I have to be flexible.

I really sympathize with classically trained violinists or violists (I've taught them, too) who want to learn to play and improvise on folk music. For a long time, I was in their position. I felt that it would be easier to learn a new instrument than to learn such a terribly different style of playing my instrument. They tend to be very enthusiastic about what they're doing. I provide them with a safe environment to learn new things until they feel comfortable going to a jam session with or without me.

For a very beginner who wants to learn fiddling, I recommend the American Fiddle Method Book Vol. 1, followed by Vol. 2, and then the Fiddler's Fakebook. The first two are Mel Bay books you can order from I also like fiddle music books by Craig Duncan. Both of the Mel Bay books, but especially Vol. 1, also teach some basic techniques, such as low 2 and various bowing patterns. You can use the Fiddler's Fakebook all your life. I had to buy a second copy for myself after I had worn out the binding so badly that it couldn't be repaired and the pages kept falling out.

I bring up the subject of goals with my adult beginners from time to time. Sometimes there is something they'd like to learn to do but are afraid to ask. Sometimes they've learned about something new that they'd like to follow up on in more detail. There are also many who feel comfortable with the direction and the speed we're going at.

I have a lot of respect for adult beginners and for classically trained violinists who want to learn to fiddle. If any of you have questions or comments for me, please don't hesitate to write to me.

I also encourage you to check out my website, Be sure to follow the links to the page on adult beginners.

September 6, 2008 at 12:52 PM · If this has been mentioned forgive me. I don't want to lay a road on top of a road. when in sessions with my teacher, Dr.Pinell, progress to perform simple passages was slower than the younger students (20-25+ years younger) not that I could not comprtehend how to play whatever, but that I had to build up the muscles in my hands, arms, and fingers to "play" whatever I was learning. Progress was contingent with muscle tone/strength even in my neck, chin, shoulders. Even my trapizius (sp?) would be stiff, cramped and sore. Again, the quality and ability 50% of the time was my body getting into shape to play.

September 6, 2008 at 01:07 PM · royce, i wonder if you should incorporate a set of stretching exercises directed at those muscles before each violin session. after all, the posture of playing the violin is not THAT natural. in fact, for injury prevention, consider stretching pre and post violin session.

also, not necessarily directed at you, i wonder how people determine some female players fit 7/8 or full size violins better... are some smaller built female players, in search of better acoustics of 4/4 violins, pushing their physical limit with 4/4 violins?

September 7, 2008 at 07:28 AM · I'm fifteen and I love etudes. So it's not just an adult thing. :P

September 7, 2008 at 01:37 PM · AL- Pinell taught me some stretches and do work, however I'm exploring other prep-methods. Email me with any ideas you may have. I also have begun to stretch afterwards like runners who jog after a good run.

As time has progressed I can play with longer duration and better sound. For me it's like running or cycling... Run half a mile, then six months later being able to run a mile, etc.

September 7, 2008 at 01:46 PM ·

September 8, 2008 at 10:44 PM · Pauline, thanks for your comments. I enjoyed your site. I look forward to giving this a try, and yes I admit to impatience, and wanting it all right away, but I'm going to try my best to realize it can't happen overnight, but with time and good practice it will come. I'm just relieved I'm not alone in the adult learning world!

November 17, 2008 at 01:54 AM ·

I love the variety of students a teacher can teach. :-)  Every age/group category has it's unique joys and challenges.  I really enjoy teaching adults, though!  About half of the students in my studio are adult learners. 

I have a very systematic approach to technique which I find my adult students really seem to enjoy.  I begin teaching all the finger patterns, vibrato, various bow strokes, and positions from the beginning...then within 3 months, the student can play very musically satisfying pieces.  I really respect and search out my student's opinions.  There is so much wonderful repertoire out there, I don't see the need to assign anyone a piece they don't enjoy.  I have not yet had a situation where I felt "traditional method books" such as Suzuki or Essential Elements etc. were the best fit for my adult students.

November 17, 2008 at 03:00 AM ·

I started violin about 18 months ago at the age of 61, but I have 45 to 55 years of experience playing guitar, dobro, steel guitar and bass guitar.  I tried to teach myself violin at 21 and 32 and gave up in disgust.  This time I decided to get a teacher.  The local music store that specializes in school instruments gave me a list of teachers and I picked 4 who were listed as classical and fiddle teachers.  I picked the first one who returned my call: a 25 year old woman with a violin and business degree who works for a hospital business office in the day and teaches in the evening.  I am so lucky and so happy.  She asked if I wanted to study classical or fiddle and I told her that my dream was to play jazz and western swing.  I explained that I had concluded from my other instruments that a classical technical background would probably help me progress fastest and we started with Suzuki Book 1.  I am a big believer in establishing a sound foundation in anything before starting to experiment.  But I couldn't help myself.  After about 4 months I picked up a book of jazz standards and started learning pieces like Summertime, Autumn Leaves, It's Only A Paper Moon, Sweet Georgia Brown, etc.,  I brought a CD to class of Stephane Grappelli playing Nuages and another of Joe Venuti playing Autumn Leaves and explained that was what I wanted to learn.  She gulped and said it would take a while, but we could work toward those.  Right now for my structured learning I am working on scales and third position and having a great time.  Since I have many years of other instruments I know how important scales are.  I bring in jazz or western swing pieces as I find new ones I want to learn.  It is very valuable to me that she is both structured and flexible.  She is willing to work with me on a Suzuki exercise until I am satisfied and hold me to a high standard.  She is also willing to work with me on the songs that I want to play and help me develop variations.  Plus I have had the great pleasure of watching her mature from a serious young lady into a confident woman over the past 18 months.  So, I guess my advice is to have both short term and long term goals that are consistent with the student's personal goals, but be flexible enough to (every once in a while) spend part of a lesson (or a whole lesson) working on the fun stuff.  BTW, she says that I have expanded her musical repertoire quite a bit.  They don't teach Joe Venuti or Stephane Grappelli in most current college violin programs.  


November 17, 2008 at 03:13 AM ·

To any violin teacher who feels he or she lacks a curriculum for adult students, I highly recommend to encourage your adult students to enroll in the ABRSM exam program and then use the ABRSM material in lieu of a curriculum. Not only is the material broad and well selected, but more importantly the exam represents a goal which teacher and student then have to work towards in a given time frame. This worked very well for me and it motivated me enormously (and will continue to do so in the future).

November 17, 2008 at 09:07 PM ·

 Hi Benjamin. Your suggestion sounds perfect, but can you define ABRSM? Is it similar to the Royal Conservatory of Music program in Canada?

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