tell me sweet little lies...

March 12, 2009 at 05:21 PM ·

my kid almost always comes out from violin lesson and laments: gee, i did so bad.  well, as much as i agree with her that with each lesson new issues are identified and that the focus is essentially entirely on new problems,   it sounds to me she is looking for a pat on the shoulders to acknowledge her effort for having attempted to tackle the old problems,  before being bombarded with new ones.   i know what works for her, with school and with golf.  when she is happier, more confident and more relaxed, her mind is sharper and is often capable of exceeding expectations.  so after each lesson i have to bring her back  up from the abyss by telling some sweet little lies,,, :):):)

some disciplines are known for hard training,,, military, medicine, law, to name just a few.   the thinking is that if we owe our success to the hard training, it will be an inevitable rite of passage for you as well. 

with classical music, in my limited exposure, with some old school trained teachers, it seems that hard training could also be the norm and that tradition is to carry on.  hate to generalize, but the newer generation tends to buy into this fun driven perspective, both the teachers and the students/parents, esp in the usa where the emphasis is on giving credit for effort or trying or simply being physically there:)   at times, when clearly not even bare minimum effort is put forth,  to preserve self esteem, we still say: good job!   or, that dress is beautiful!

i know what to say when my wife asks me to comment on her dresses:)   but it is inconceivable for children to demand how violin teachers conduct their biz.  the students essentially are at teachers' mercy.  old dogs can learn new tricks:), but should they bother?

as students how did/do you manage this situation where what is good for you violin wise may not feel that great personally?  as teachers, do you choose to focus on problems and skip the little talks, or do you try to strike a balance?

ps.  this is not a complaint about teachers in general or in particular, but a discussion on differences in style or perhaps different psychological approaches.

Replies (53)

March 12, 2009 at 05:34 PM ·

Al, as a teacher, I'd say that the key is to find the balance. I don't tell sweet little lies. I do something that parenting expert  Noël Janis-Norton calls "descriptive praise," balanced with what I'd call "specific correction."

There is usually something that goes right, when a student plays, unless the student just isn't trying. But if you are paying attention (and also if you've noted what the goals were for the last lesson), you can usually see that Susie actually worked hard this week on making a crescendo where we talked about it last week, even if the next passage is completely out of tune. So there is nothing wrong with, "I can see you've worked on that crescendo, and it's really starting to happen!" Then you work on improving the crescendo for a bit, conquer it, praise the good work, then, "Now I'm sure you can tell we've got some intonation work to do in this next section..."

The problem comes with praise like, "Great, that was awesome!" That means nothing, and it actually can be disconcerting and problematic to the student, who knows he or she did not play "great" or "awesome."

So the key is to praise something very specific, and to be honest about it. Then of course, there is much correction to do, but by the same token, you don't have to say, "That was horrible! You play like a pig!" That's just cruel and demoralizing, and usually just as untrue as "Great, that was fantastic!"


March 12, 2009 at 06:48 PM ·

yes, a balance between the screaming pedagogue and gold stars for Sally. As a wee lad of nine years old,I had the former complete with his chain smoking  Kent cigarettes. ..had me petrified... The other extreme is the new society where everyone is a winner and gets praise just for showing up.

Teaching is an art

March 12, 2009 at 07:40 PM ·

Every kid is different.  Al, if your kid is not getting any positive reinforcement from her teacher, then have a private chat with that teacher and nicely suggest what your kid needs.  Keep in mind that transfer students are tricky, because a teacher doesn't really know the kid yet, the kid's work capacity, and how the previous lessons were run.

It is an interesting subject, no doubt.  I was brought up "Old School", and my teachers certainly didn't lavish praise.  In fact, compliments were few and far between.  (Just laughing, trying to imagine Henry Meyer gushing over the likes of my Haydn...Ha Ha!!!)  It is a whole new world of parenting out there! 

I like to point out good things, improved things, things that need more improving, and stuff that is not so great.  The Socratic style is fun for the older kids...Good luck!

March 12, 2009 at 08:24 PM ·

Hi, interesting topic!  I think there is a great different between adult students like me and kids and with each ones goals. One must tell his/her goals to the teacher since the beginning.  This will tell to the teacher how picky he or she must be!

Personnally,  I took the violin because I love it and want to play well at a good level one day (hopefully)!  I know how much sacrifices it is and, truly, I am willing to make violin my "lifestyle" outside my futur job of course (because I am an amateur and have chosen to remain:(    My teacher knows it and she openly said to me, "I push you because I know you want to... !   She knows the goals of each student and try to make the best decisions with this.  For sure, at first, I was scared.  Hope she doesn't read this...   I remember crying in the car to my mom telling that she was mad after me and surely though I was the laziest in the world when I practiced so hard at home...  When not happy, she is very expressive! I am rarely able to show her my best side because she has a sixth sense to pick out always the things I'm horrible at or those I didn't have time to practice much.  She is almost able to read in my mind which is normal for a good teacher...  She likes to do this because she says we can see the real faults when she makes me play something new, less practiced or a weak point of me...   100 agree with this though!  But, at 20, I am mature ennough to know that it is the only way to get better.  I had a teacher that everything was always perfect...  (to make me happy I suppose!) and you can not progress as much with this approch.   I learned through the years that a lesson is made for you to look stupid and incompetent! What is the sense for you to play what you are good at on front of your teacher?   Of course, for a young kid, emotionally fragile, I would make something between the two!  

But for those of my age who want to progress, you have to accept that violin isn't something to boost your estime (not the lessons anyway).   Go make a tour at julliard and they must be truly demanding too towards their students.   But it doesn't mean the teacher is not a good person.  A real tirant will be bad all time.   A good teacher will be strict during the lesson but such a nice human being when you talk to him/her when it is not a lesson or when the lesson finishes...

In french we have a quote:   who loves well, punishes well

In violin I would say:  who loves well, pushes hard !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

In the long run, you are greatful that your teacher has pushed you because you are much better than if he or she didn't!  But, I agree, you feel like a big 0 when comming out of a lesson...

Only my two cents...


Al, take candies and give them to your daughter after the lesson so that she can think of something else!   Or better, to all teachers, give candies or stickers at the end of the lesson and the kids will like you!

March 12, 2009 at 10:39 PM ·


>Al, take candies and give them to your daughter after the lesson so that she can think of something else!  

And conversely give CDs after those long painful sesisons at the dentist???



March 13, 2009 at 02:02 AM ·

While I agree with much of what has been said, a teacher can be a great motivator, or on the flip side,  a great DE-motivator.  If the teacher motivates your daughter to practice harder and want to improve, then a little humiliation might not be so bad.  But if your daughter becomes dejected and less interested in playing, then it's probably time to find a new teacher.

I personally switched teachers last year at age 48 and I have to say, it made a world of difference.  Both teachers knit pick on the fine points.  That's what they are supposed to do, but it is amazing how differently two people can deliver the same message. 

In the final analysis, it is a very personal thing.  One teacher might be great for some, terrible for others.  I think a lot has to do with personality and how well the student meshes with the teacher. 


March 13, 2009 at 02:08 AM ·

It sounds like you're doing a really good job Al, the way you think about these things and are sensitive to your daughter's needs. 

I have to say, I wish I had been brought up, violin-wise, with more praise and/or sensitivity from adults.  The most affirming and all around helpful violin teachers I have had have been the ones I've had when I was an adult--and they are definitely not "gold star" types.  They seem to have found that elusive, and specific, balance.  Or maybe I'm just a better student now and able to understand the nuances of what they're getting at.

It's interesting that someone here brought up "socratic".  I think the socratic method can be overrated, for some personality types anyway, and for young kids.  I was thinking about that when I read Patrick Hu's blog about "interpretation."  He said that teachers had been pushing him for a long time to develop his own interpretation and he'd found this confusing.  I think what he wrote about was totally appropriate for him now that he's a conservatory student, and if the teacher weren't doing that now she wouldn't be doing her job, but I really wonder how appropriate that process is for high school students or younger.  Certainly some kids are precocious, but does an average 9th grader really have the musical maturity to benefit from being pushed to find his or her own original voice and interpretation?

I remember that kind of "socratic" pushing and questioning being confusing and discouraging when I was younger.  They'd ask "what do you think?" or want me to form some kind of original opinion or interpretation, and then when what I came up with wasn't very inspired, mature, or well-formed, the feedback was discouraging.  After those kinds of lessons I often ended up with this uncomfortable feeling that I had just let the teacher down and that there was nothing I could do about it. 

As an adult I feel differently, but I do remember how hard it was back then to try to put myself out there week after week and try to "find my voice" and "interpret" and so on, when I was struggling with technique and just looking for something a little simpler and more affirming.  

March 13, 2009 at 02:33 PM ·

Socratic style is not usually productive for younger students.  I thought I used the word older.  (Insert smiley face here).  Those age labels are gray, of course.  There is no way you can teach a 10 year old that has played for 6 years the same as a 10 year old beginner...


March 13, 2009 at 05:00 PM ·

You did use the word older, I was just free-associating from my own experience and thinking about that interpretation blog.  The author of that blog said that he'd been pushed since his sophomore year in high school to develop his own interpretations.  

Sophomore year in high school seems like a gray area to me:  some kids that age would be chomping at the bit for the opportunity, others not so much.  I suspect it wouldn't necessarily correlate with technical facility on the instrument, either.  

But I can imagine at many ages, on down to 8, there is a strong temptation to listen to a kid who is very good technically and assume that s/he is ready to take the next step musically as well.  It happens all the time in classroom settings in other subjects, where a kid has a high IQ and is great at math or reading or whatever but is behind in emotional development.

From watching the YouTube videos, it seems clear to me that Al's daughter is way ahead of her peer group technically.  She also seems to be quite advanced musically/emotionally, although I'm not so good at telling that, especially from a few short videos of someone I've never met.   I don't think there's anyone in a better position than the parent to be able to assess this for a particular child.  

And in that kind of situation I think there might sometimes be a role for a parent in either telling the teacher to back off, or just in providing a necessary counterpoint to the what the teacher is saying--so that it's not all pushing, all the time.

March 13, 2009 at 10:44 PM ·

I hate the socratic approch...  I find it pretty stupid!   You don't learn by some "what do you think..." You have to have an idea of what to do!  At school, we loose so much times with these "modern" teachers who say learn by yourself...

only my two cents!


March 13, 2009 at 11:23 PM ·

The "What do you think?" question can be very helpful in case of students who develop the habit to play their piece for you and dully wait for your reaction. If a student just doesn't listen to his/her own playing, it can be an eyeopener. Sometimes students are too much relying on the teacher, mentally dependant.

Or a student says: everything went wrong. What of course is also an easy way of getting away with it. 

I try always to develop, from young age on, that a student can really make up his own mind about the things that went ok and the things that need more practise and then: in what way can you improve and overcome this or that (technical) difficulty?

Of course, this is a long process, but when you start early in an easy, relaxed way, most kids are really good at it. They use it when they practise at home for the rest of the week.  

I try always to be honest with my students.

When a student plays like crap while he can do better, I will tell him. And I make  very clear that I mean only his playing of that piece is crap, not that he as a person is worthless.  Until now there was no student who didn't understand.

My students and I laugh a lot during the lessons, they come in with a smile and go away with a smile, whether they are 5 years old or 75 years old.




March 14, 2009 at 07:22 AM ·

For some strange reason, I'm thinking of Mr. Holland's Opus, starring Richard Dreyfuss. A student that sounds so miserable trying some wind thing; he explains to her what she needed to hear to relax and play.

I do not think you should tell students they are doing something right when they are not, but if they are tense, you can focus on getting them to relax; possibly have some exercise that is fun and relaxing between the pieces that are a lot of work.

March 14, 2009 at 09:10 PM ·

The difficulty with teaching is not to give too many comments at once.

As a pro you see and hear so many little or big mistakes - as a teacher you must choose what to say and more important: what not to say, or not at this specific moment. You cannot correct everything at once - right, left, intonation, rhythm, posture, etc. Just pick out the one, two things that the student at his/her level can really improve and focus on.

I mention the positive things. Maybe the intonation is still not perfect, but improved since last time, just for this particular student much better. It depends so much on the student you have at the moment.  

Being a good student is an art in itself: being patient, willing, attentive, awake, communicative, can stand a bit of criticism, eyes, ears, mind, heart, wide open. As a teacher you cannot say everything, so boring! a good student picks up a lot by just watching and listening.


March 15, 2009 at 01:00 AM ·

Al, I suggest that you talk one on one with your daughter's teacher.  It's quite possible that the teacher doesn't realize that she is coming across in such a negative way.  Perhaps she doesn't even mean to.  It's possible that your daughter misunderstands the tone or intent of the teacher's words.  It is well known that kids can perceive nuances of conversations quite differently than adults do.  Another possibility is that your daughter may present herself one way to her teacher and another way to you.  Maybe she knows that you're a softie and wants to get some sympathy from you.  What kind of experience does your daughter have with her teachers at school?  Is she hypersensitive to criticism, even constructive criticism, at school?  Often, the misreading by the child is the same with all teachers.  I'll suggest one more possibility that I've had with some of my kid students.  They hold themselves to impossibly high standards.  They consider themselves a total failure and lose motivation because they think they're playing poorly when they're actually not.  I can say, "This is the first time you've played that.  You can't expect to play it 100% perfectly the first time.  With a little work you can correct all your mistakes in this piece."  As I said, I think it's really important to discuss the issue with the teacher.

March 15, 2009 at 06:39 AM ·

> I hate the socratic approch...  I find it pretty stupid!   You don't learn by some
> "what do you think..." You have to have an idea of what to do!  At school, we
> loose so much times with these "modern" teachers who say learn by yourself...

That is *not* the Socratic approach.

The particular method of teaching requires that the instructor be able to pose a consecutive series of logically leading questions that permit a student to make his/her own individual discoveries regarding the concepts being taught. At each step, the comprehension of new material permits the student to make more complex and informed hypothesis about solving the problems presented. Eventually, once a particular skill or concept has been mastered in this fashion (by "getting to the point"), the student has a comprehensive understanding of the entire *process* necessary to get there. However, teaching in this fashion not only requires a thorough mastery of the material, but also the ability to accurately gauge where the student is in the process, how the student learns, and be able to dynamically adapt the questions being asked to help them along when they get stuck.

If I want to teach a student to create a specific sound, of course it is far simpler to walk up to him, physically move his bow to the right place, then tell him "this is how you do it." Far more complex is a discussion of the merits of changing the point of contact (where the bow touches the string) and asking the student to conduct a series of experiments in that regard to see and hear what different bow/string placements can accomplish. In discovering on their own, through a series of logically-leading questions that there is a relationship between piano->forte dynamics and point of contact placement from the fingerboard to the bridge, empowers students in instilling the desire to continue this experimentation to broaden their palette of instrumental skills.

Learning is fun (despite what some of our schools have made our poor kids believe). Discovering things independently and being able to attribute them to our own abilities is even more fun...that is what creates the motivation to continue down a road, be it the violin, astrophysics, or World of Warcraft!

March 15, 2009 at 12:39 PM ·

Gene, that sounds great, but I think this is pretty difficult to do well.  There are certainly teachers who can and do do it very well.  Where I think it has the potential to break down is with students who are either used to getting answers from authority figures, or who have a personality type that isn't comfortable with uncertainty--or both.  I think that part of the process of growing up includes both learning to find your own answers and becoming more able to live with uncertainty, but those don't just happen magically and some people are always going to be better at it than others. 

Logically-leading questions can also be annoying or confusing in some contexts.  Some things, like what constitutes a good sound or the right interpretation, can be a matter of opinion.  And if you reach a point where the two parties don't agree on a particular conclusion because they have different opinions about it, then you can't really move on to the next set of questions.  It's particularly annoying and frustrating to be logically led to a place you don't want to go or don't agree with.  It can almost feel like being tricked or betrayed or put down.  And I can imagine it's frustrating for the teacher as well, because it seems like the student is just being stubborn and argumentative.

Whereas if the issue is presented more directly and assertively, then at least the two parties know what they're dealing with.  Even if the student doesn't agree with the conclusion at first, he can agree to "try it" anyway or think about it for a while, out of respect to the teacher or because he likes or trusts the teacher, rather than having to draw and adopt a conclusion for himself that he doesn't feel right about.

March 15, 2009 at 01:11 PM ·

I agree with Karen. In violin, we must try things at home which I could call experiences (telling to a student where is about the spicato spot on the bow and experience to find it is not actually letting the student alone like if the teacher would say: you put bowings and fingerings and erase them all the next week... this is a great loss of time in many cases!)

but at school it is such a waste of time (even with a competent teacher.)  They are applying this method in my collegial physics courses and the group is always failling.  The exams are disastrous for all of ous!  Because of these silly teachers, our grades are lower and we will maybe not be able to enter in what we want at the university.   This is a CRIME to handicap students this way...   They are also doing this in my sister's medicine school and all the med parents of these students who were taught in the conventional way find it terrible for their kids!    It is a big style here in college and universities (everything must be self-taugh because otherwise they call us lazy.  Following their description of lazy, everyone who has had a classical training would be a lazy and immature ...) and the (bad word here) teachers who apply this don't realize that they "handicap" themselves because they have many many questions that they find annoying from students who just don't know what to do etc!   So maybe you can understand more why I hate these "modern" methods....


March 16, 2009 at 02:08 PM ·

thank you everyone for the very helpful suggestions.  because i teach my kid golf, i know how difficult it is to be good at "teaching" regardless of my intention (of course my intention is good, but whether my presentation is that good, to the point that it is the helpful,  is the question:)    there is room for improvement according to my wife, duh:)

it just happens that violin and golf are both very tricky and requires total mental commitment...the line is very fine between acceptable and total bla.  we have expressed to the violin teacher on day one that violin is for learning an instrument, not for a career.  the teacher, although reluctant to accept that, has been quite liberal when it comes to our excuses for not completing weekly assignment, or even skipping the annual recital because of golf trips.  we are serious but not serious?  i think i can learn a lot from what laurie has suggested and can relate to the wisdom of karen's childhood experiences, but i doubt the teacher would be that accomodating.   in my kid's world, the violin learning experience seems very different, a big contrast to her school experiences where every single  teacher is sooooo nice and school is soooooo much fun!  she is the type that responds better to carrots than to sticks.

hmmm. shoud i suggest to my kid that churchill once said that it's not enough we do our best; sometimes we have to do what's required?  that  bill gates said that your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning?   there is a frank clark who stated that we find comfort among those who agree with us--growth among those who don't.  roger anderson observed...accept that some days you're the pigeon , and some days you're the statue? :)

learn to deal with different people, different styles than one is comfortable with? 







March 16, 2009 at 02:33 PM ·

I don't know how much she'll care about what Churchill said.  Does she even know who Churchill was?  

But I think the "different styles" and "different types of people" lesson is *very* valuable at any age.  I deal with postdoc-age people quite frequently (ages late 20's-early 30's) who are still having trouble accepting that.  Heck, I still have trouble accepting it sometimes myself, that no matter where I go or what I do, I will always have to deal with people who I don't like or who I think are a pain in the you-know-what.  It's much better to just accept that and move on, rather than getting angry or feeling put-upon about it.  But that's easier said than done.

I think the lesson goes down much easier if it's placed in a context that makes sense.  If seemingly every person you meet is a pain in the arse, if seemingly every teacher and every adult a kid encounters is tough on them and pushes them, then rather than developing a healthy respect for diversity, I think there's a danger of developing burnout. 

It doesn't sound like your daughter's in that situation, though.  She has nice teachers, she has you, she has her mom.  She has her violin teacher.  You all bring something different to the table.  That  sounds like it has the potential to be the best of all possible worlds for her.

March 16, 2009 at 02:48 PM ·

As I've mentioned in other places on this site, I was academically advanced.  I could read when I was 2 and graduated from high school when I was 16.  I wasn't advanced in violin--I think your daughter is already better at violin than I will ever be--but I think that as a consequence of being academically advanced, I attracted mostly "pushy" and "tough" teachers and very few "nice" or "easy" ones.  And I didn't get any respite at home, or in violin lessons where I was significantly less talented than in schoolwork, from the same kind of thing I had at school.

That experience gave me a somewhat skewed view of reality and a (possibly misplaced) nostalgia, even longing, for "nice" adults who would just give me a break from all that and a chance to be a kid.  

This is the kind of thing that I think you may have to be extra-vigilant for, given how advanced and talented your daughter is in multiple areas.

March 16, 2009 at 03:03 PM ·

karen, i think explaining a cigar smoking chubby dude will be easier than some chords ! :)

appreciate what you have said about the work environment, things that really need to be learned on the job, an interesting mix of practicality and idealism.  and what you have just said in your second post, that underneath all the achievement exterior, there is that inner voice which needs to be cared for.

which reminds me of an incident that my wife described to me (i forgot now which daughters of mine was involved). anyway, there was this boy "bully" on the school bus who just enjoyed picking on the girls.  so my kid came home to avoid the bully.  i remember my wife suggested to my kid that avoiding someone difficult to deal with was usually not helpful,,,get to know the person.  so my kid next day went straight up to the boy and sat next to him and started talking and she came home telling my wife that the kid was actually pretty nice and smart, probably acting out out of boredom to get attention.

with my kid with violin, as much as we do not want to overload her in terms of the intensity of the learning experience,  we hesitate to encourage her to quit at the first sight of challenges that she is not used to.    we will keep an eye on it , as you wisely suggested, and see how it develops...


March 17, 2009 at 01:07 AM ·

I don't see why music should be treated differently than any other subject.  I mean, you wouldn't do sweet little lies (what a god-awful song, must be Aussie)  about math or social studies.  You would maybe if a kid was mentally challenged, and he was doing the best he could do or something.

March 17, 2009 at 05:33 AM ·

Old dogs should bother...but only if they want the treat...If they get the treat with no trick they are spoiled dogs, but no less endearing to their parents. Being good at violin is the real fun for any old or new generation. Kids know when complements are empty. Kids have bad days, and bad weeks and months sometimes. I agree with Jim for the most part. It is hard to play well. Just acknowledge her as a hard worker, when she works hard, but never lie and say things went better than they did.  It takes a long time to play well, and once she accepts bumps in the road she will take such lessons in stride with the long view in mind. I am fast becoming a behaviorist. No matter how bright or talented a child his, time on the task is all that really matters in the end. No time spent,=  limitted outcomes in most cases. My son for example, thinks being smart will save him. He must constantly be reminded that the time needs to be spent, and spent wisely if he plans to progress. Good teachers know.

Smart kids are used to being the best and brightest and are used to complements and people fawning over them. The teacher expects a lot because your daughter is capable. That is a compliment, don't you think? Kids make trade offs, and spend time on things that are not violin. Every time they do that, they make the choice to take time away from one thing and put it into another. This is fine, but well roundedness too has a cost, and it may be that she won't get the praise she desires without a sacrifice she is not willing, or mature enough to make. .If she needs to work harder, or different, to get the recognition she desires, then just tell her that in plain simple language. In the end she must please herself. At a certain level, you can't be balanced and keep up the intensity required for great playing and please everyone and yourself. They need to learn this and understand tradeoffs. As they go deeper into music, they may explore new facets, like composing, or theory, or viola, but this can add to their playing in the end. I have the same issues with my sons.  Eventually, She will grow up and find her bliss in the end. Reminder her: You can't be brilliant at everything, when everything demands all your time to be brilliant. Maybe she likes golf more right pays better for most pros.

March 17, 2009 at 01:25 PM ·

yes jim, i think what she needs is to join the biker gang and hang with you in the school of hard knocks to toughen up a bit:)

j, very good post and there are lots of pearls.

let me clarify a little.  i don't offer empty compliments,,,she is sharp enough to know i don't mean it if i do.

often in the violin class, there are situations where the teacher would challenge her with things that she has no ideas about, be it tricky sightreading, or theory, or asking her to completely change fingering at very high position on the spot.  because there is no room to really think, and that she is under the gun to come up with something quick,  i guess that is what she remembers the most about the lesson.

it is a good lesson illustrating her deficiencies but it comes with shock value.  that is when i often come to the rescue by putting things in more acceptable terms.  for instance, i would say: it is not that bad because we simply do not know that stuff yet. just work on it.    i could have said: i agree with the teacher, that is pretty bad.... were you daydreaming:)?   i'd hate to pour more oil on the fire by reiterating the teacher's message that, yeah,  you really need to work on those areas because you seem clueless.    i frequently borrow some golf analogies...if you take your violin teacher to a golf course to teach the teacher golf,  you will see that your violin teacher will look like a fish out of water for many years, to say the least, because it takes time to be comfortable in an unfamiliar environment.  

the other thing is that one class per week is often not enough for the teacher to cover anything in depth or for the student to learn anything in depth.  the teacher pointed the way, not necessarily in the most acceptable or pleasant manner, we just have to get the job done, ignoring how the message is delivered.

agree that to be good in anything one needs to devote a significant amt of time.   i have already seen that struggle in my older daughter that since she is to pursue academic excellence, other things will have to take backseat.  ideally, things will work out better if all my younger one does is violin or golf.  but one thing good about the current arrangement is that she needs to manage her time better to get things done, something i think she will have to do anyway later in life, like the rest of us.   there is never enough time, so might as well get over with it early :)

March 17, 2009 at 08:25 PM ·

My 14 year old daughter has been known to say: 'How come is it that almost everyone everywhere thinks my violin playing is talented, brilliant, queenly, Godly, etc.. etc. but when I go to lessons all I get are corrections and suggested improvements?'

Her teacher is very kind but also very good and she gets some praise, but not all praise.

I once had a short term piano teacher who said up front after I first played for him: "So what do you want me to do? Tell you how wonderful you are?"

I've seen teachers keen on giving praise but unable to teach... and I've seen teachers keen on giving nothing but criticism and unable to teach.

A great teacher is a very complex being.

March 17, 2009 at 10:10 PM ·



>but one thing good about the current arrangement is that she needs to manage her time better to get things done, something i think she will have to do anyway later in life, like the rest of us.  

Interesting point.   You might enjoy the book `The Practice Revolution,`  which I think is a must read for all teachers ,  parents and , at some point studnets.  In it the writer devotes a large section to this very topic,  pointing out that the success or failure of all the teachers `expertize` , students maximization of @potential etc is ultimately depndent on this very issue.

Ther eis a parctice revolution website but the book is a very good investement.



March 18, 2009 at 12:22 AM ·

I believe students flourish as a result of being treated with respect and good expectations.  I have seen beautiful results from treating a student with more respect than he may have had for himself! When he sees that you genuinely respect him more than he respects himself, he begins to respect himself more, and consequently begins to live up to your good expectations and his newly acquired good expectations.  

From my personal religious studies, this constitutes my best understanding of the Hebrew word "B'racha": Blessing.  My dad used to tell me of his grandfather who, when correcting the behavior of a child, would tell the child what a wonderful person he is, and how the behavior was unbecoming to a person of such character as this child possessed.   As a result of the grandfather's words, the child would come away feeling encouraged instead of discouraged, loving instead of resentful, increased in self-esteem, and he would never, ever do the misbehavior again.  This has been my life-long model of the highest level of teaching.

March 18, 2009 at 03:07 AM ·

Great post Oliver,


Gladwell's Outliers makes a similar point about managing time as critical to success in many endeavors. I enjoyed the book very much although it repeats a lot. I look at time differently since I read the book and have been telling the kids about it. I might sink in gradually. When your age, you think you have all the time in the world. The urgency has not kicked in yet I suppose.

March 19, 2009 at 05:39 AM ·

Outliers was one of the most interesting books I've ever read!  My son really enjoyed it, too.  Hopefully, some of the ideas will rub off on us. :-)

March 19, 2009 at 05:54 PM ·

I found "Outliers" interesting too, especially the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of something to achieve expertise. Interesting that Shinichi Suzuki chose the same number; practice something 10,000 times, then you can really "play" it. I think there is truth in this.

March 19, 2009 at 09:52 PM ·

Al, the best you can do for her is avoid her questions and try to insult her instead, like you did me.  Sometimes our best plans just mysteriously go astray, don't they :) ;)


March 20, 2009 at 04:24 AM ·

Yes, Rebecca...time to task is almost so simple it is insulting. We want some big explanation and methodologies, and it seems it is really that simple in many cases. Understanding something is not the same as having skill. Concepts don't give skill either, just time builds skill. I see this in education all the time. No time spent gives a pretty predictable outcome. Of course you can waste 10,000 hours easily enough as well trying to learn by rote. That doesnt work either. As per Suzuki, one could argue that Suzuki's popularity made becoming a musician more difficult and easier at the same time. Much like soccer 30 years ago there were not many people playing. Now there are millions of kids playing soccer in clubs. Same with music on some levels. Suzuki is like "club soccer" for music. Before than progarm, the barrier to entry was very high and then the institutes and summer camps made it all very accessible to anyone. Teaching became easier in that it became turnkey on some levels in the beginning books at any rate. I think of Gladdwell and how he writes about age/skill cut offs and timing for those soccer kids and SAT scores. Then I wonder about music cut offs that get chrystallized in people's minds.

Gladwell does change how you look at things. It made me doubt the whole "gifted" label. The jury is still out on that one for me. Additionally, did you see where he notes that you only need to be "a little bit" farther ahead than others to get all that extra attention from coaches and teachers and that ends up as a huge advantage and one oportunity builds on the next. If you don't get that snowball going it doesn't matter how good you are. Almost a fullfilling prophecy of sorts. That was really something and I agree with him on a lot of that. It is the same he writes for competitions. Judges like winners andI once you win at something your odds of winning again go up exponentially due to that snowball advantage.

March 20, 2009 at 08:58 AM ·

> Where I think it has the potential to break down is with
> students who are either used to getting answers from authority
> figures, or who have a personality type that isn't comfortable
> with uncertainty--or both.

How on earth are those students ever going to become artists if they aren't challenged to think for themselves, and can't deal with uncertainty?

> Some things, like what constitutes a good sound or the right
> interpretation, can be a matter of opinion.

Yes, but the teaching of specific technical skills (and in this case, the discovery of the successful ways of executing those skills) is not a matter of opinion.  For example, at the most basic level, individual bow strokes generate identifiable sounds made using well-defined physical motions.

> And if you reach a point where the two parties don't agree on
> a particular conclusion because they have different opinions
> about it, then you can't really move on to the next set of questions.

The whole point of asking questions is to explore MORE ideas in a lateral way, and not to attempt to arrive at any single one "right" conclusion.  Especially where very subjective things like "interpretation" are concerned.  A student looking at a work might be pondering how to approach the phrasing.  By shape?  By meter?  By harmony?  A combination of those three elements?  There is an incentive for a teacher to discover the right *question* to have the student begin to consider what the options are, not to force a student to accept a particular answer.

> It's particularly annoying and frustrating to be logically led to a place
> you don't want to go or don't agree with.

In music, we have to accept that at times, we may not want to play a particular phrase a certain way. But in playing things like chamber music our goal is to support the ensemble's current take on something, regardless of whether we disagree or not.

I'm not advocating that we ONLY teach using methods like this.  However, the reason that *I* choose to teach this way sometimes (besides instrumental music I also teach Computer Science) is that it forces my students to reason critically within the scope of their knowledge, allows them to find out when they really don't know enough to answer a question and need to research more information, and eliminates most occurences of "well, I do it this way because that's what this book says to do."

March 20, 2009 at 01:26 PM ·

oh boy jim, sorry that i have upsetted you.  it is clearly a case where i did not let the facts get in the way of a bad line.  since you have previously mentioned bike, somehow i always get this image of you riding through town as a geek's envy.  

concur that oliver's post is insightful,,,to influence or lead by being a good role model.  hmmm, when can i learn to be like that?

buri, i will look into that book,,,thanks

i tend to agree with gene on paying attention to when and where to start individualize.  for most folks, i think it is more risky to branch out too early.  i don't know enough about violin to cite examples, but i would like to show clips of  2 very successful golfers, one with a conventional swing, the other with a very unconventional swing.  my point is that with conventional swing, grooved over the years under the watchful eyes of good teachers and self who is willing to pay attention and change, it is easier to develop a fundamentally solid swing and possibly easier to maintain the consistency under pressure.   with unconventional swing, a product of self learning most of the times, the road to success may be more tortuous.  at least looking at the population as a whole, the chance of success is less, in my opinion.  (to relate to violin, i think how one bows, how one holds the violins, among possibly hundreds of details that i am not aware of, possibly plays a big role on where one ends up,,,i would think.  to be in that state of constant and perfect awareness is not an easy task for anyone since questionable thought process does not come with ready visuals)

the first one is an example of a conventional swing, where you stay "on plane" from the beginning to the end.  looks simple but very difficult to do:

then there is this one: fantastic player (since what really counts is the final score) but i am sure he won't teach others to swing like he does:)

on the outliers book,,,i wonder if people have seen some of the reviews (by fellow writers?) on which can be interesting if not is one paragraph: "Gladwell's knack for making a reader say "huh, interesting..." is something for other writers to marvel at. I'm convinced that he could pen a book called "Green: It's the color of grass," and he would write it in such a way that would inspire most of us to say "huh...who knew?!?" "




March 20, 2009 at 01:41 PM ·


How on earth are those students ever going to become artists if they aren't challenged to think for themselves, and can't deal with uncertainty?

I'm assuming this is a serious question and not just a vent.  My opinion is that students more or less grow into those qualities over time (at different individual rates), but I'm not convinced that "thinking for yourself" is something that should, or even can, really be taught.  The desire/ability to think for oneself can be stunted by particular kinds of teaching experiences, but that's something slightly different.

There's also the inconvenient truth that not every student is going to become an artist (I don't think that describes Al's daughter, who already shows the makings of an artist).  But in general, this is not a tragedy.  Those students still have the right to learn to play the violin if they want to, and to be treated with respect, artist or not.

I'm not advocating that we ONLY teach using methods like this.  However, the reason that *I* choose to teach this way sometimes (besides instrumental music I also teach Computer Science) is that it forces my students to reason critically within the scope of their knowledge, allows them to find out when they really don't know enough to answer a question and need to research more information, and eliminates most occurences of "well, I do it this way because that's what this book says to do."

I think we're actually mostly in agreement.  I also believe that these methods have their place and their use.  As Anne said, they can be good for older students, and from your reference to computer science I'm suspecting you're also working with an older age group.  But the original question was about an 8-year-old. Your points about bow strokes/speed and chamber music are both good ones, but it's a little bit of mixing apples and oranges.  The same students are unlikely to be learning both of those at the same time, at the same age and same level of development.   

March 20, 2009 at 02:41 PM ·

karen, thanks for bringing back to the original concern,,,how to deal with younger students.  it is really about psychology here.   intuitively speaking, we treat a 4 yo different from a 8, from a 12 from a 16, even teaching them the same material.   because home environment/parental influence play a bigger role for younger ones,  at times, in our case, when things get a bit confusing between her and the teacher, we are faced with the dilemma whether our kid needs to step up or the teacher needs to be more kid oriented with more advanced material, a path i am not sure if the teacher has explored much to be honest.  i think karen you have related some childhood experiences with violin that at times, when the going got tough, a kid or even a teen may not have developed enough mental resources to just suck it up and go on as usual, as we adults are expected to.   with this approach, some may make it and some may break it.   as parents, we hope that even if our kid does  not make it, she does not break it:)  for now, when the teacher supersizes it,,we go home and childsizes it.  

although our kid has demonstrated some innate ability, she is not interested in violin like some others that we often read or hear about , those, who upon hearing violin music or getting hold of a violin at 3-4, would immediately fall in love and then there is no turning back.   i accept what we have, knowing that there are going to be many shades of gray of interests  and she falls somewhere in between, like many, many others who never get a chance to tell their stories.  telling others that the water is lukewarm brings yawn.   and precisely because of this mixture of a makeup inside her, we look at her violin learning as an unique path to be explored  and as parents we just have to leave it as such. 

to march forward but aimlessly:)

March 21, 2009 at 04:06 AM ·

But Al, don't you understand that you do have something unusual in your daughter besides just an innate talent?  My thought is that if a child can start violin at age 3-5 and then have the ability to practice and concentrate from a young age for 30-60 minutes a day, you've really got something special there.  For my money, the ability to practice from a young age (and your daughter is young and clearly practices) is the biggest strength.

 Look, I've shared about my son before but it bears repeating.  He began at age 6 1/2 with the attention span of a gnat.  There was no way to change his basic adhd physiology and make him practice more than 3-10 minutes a day for the first year or so; for the next few years it was probably 20-25 minutes a day.  Even now, at age 15, (granted he is very, very busy with high school and college work) it takes a lot of concentration to practice for an hour a day.  So, I repeat:  I think a child's gifts lie not only in the talent they're pursuing but their ability to concentrate for long periods.

J, it is and it isn't simple when we talk about 10,000 of practice.  As stated above, for some people, concentrating daily on a task will be much easier and they will have much more success than for others.  My son's jaw dropped when he saw the 10,000 hour mark as he realized just how old he would be before he hits that. :-)  Now, he's never expressed a desire to be a professional musician, so the point is pretty moot. :-)  Still, it's interesting to contemplate. 

As to the original question, it seems to be very true that a teacher deals with children differently depending on age and of course, a child and teacher really have to form a workable relationship for the child to be motivated to want to continue and develop.  My son's first teacher's primary goal was to teach a child to enjoy violin.  She was a "relaxed" Suzuki teacher who didn't demand perfection, scales, or even much practice.  She was a team player who ran a wonderful strings group.  I am grateful, very grateful for her.  The downside was the fact that my son developed some very bad habits that weren't corrected because he was too comfortable with her. (She was like family)

My son cried for the first 2-3 lessons with his new teacher (my son was 13 at the time) because he (the teacher) was so much more demanding and firm than his old teacher.  It was a rough transition but a necessary one if my son was to continue to grow as a violinist.  Now,  1 1/2 years later, my son is glad he switched but the demands of his teacher continue to challenge him greatly. 

He told my son that he knows my son wants to go from A to C without doing all the steps to get there.  He's asked my son to "work hard" for the next 6 months.  This means actually doing Hrmaly (sp?) and Mazas and all the other repetitive stuff my son is not motivated to do.  He needs to do them if he wants to continue with this teacher.  He entered his first violin competition and placed 3rd in his division.  It was motivating yet humbling as his teacher continues to tell my son he's "not at that level".  Will my son respect the teacher and do what he asks?  This is the key.  My son is very, oh, opinionated and often thinks he knows best and has definitely ignored his teacher's corrections.  Well, he knows he can get "fired" if this continues.  He said he and the teacher understand each other better now so I am hoping for the best. :-)

March 21, 2009 at 04:07 AM ·

Ok, I just had to add a couple more things and then I will be quiet for at least a day (thank goodness!).

I stand by the idea-at least for my son-that teaching him to love playing/performing was the best goal for him.  He performs pretty constantly and loves it.  Just a small example:  he had a sight reading gig at a university today, he'll play in youth group at church tomorrow, he'll play in a chaple at a different univ. next week, he'll do a paid wedding gig the week after, a recital next Sunday, and thing spring concerts for his univ. orchestra. 

Now, this playing does not take players of the highest caliber.  The music is generally easy (except maybe solo stuff and harder orchestral pieces).  However, it's a chance to be with other musicians and friends, doing what he loves. (Oh, and he even gets to play his mandolin at church. LOL)  So, there are probably two distinct directions a young musician can take; a move towards soloist (while also certainly learning to play in a symphony) or a move toward the more common type of playing, community musician.  It's a great life for a young person and to be able to earn money on top of it is very motivating to my son.  Of course, sadly, he often throws much of his technique out the window when he performs.   Haven't found a solution for that one yet. :-)

March 21, 2009 at 03:15 AM ·

This place has the rudest bastards I ever saw.  I'm going back to the biker bar.  At least they answer my questions.


March 21, 2009 at 04:26 AM ·

rebecca, not that i am going to play the devil's advocate on the early start issue,  nor will i deny the benefit of having "more" time per day when a kid starts younger,  somehow i don't think, on the average, starting 3-4 will make much difference from starting 6-7 beyond mid term.    i think what will matter more is the age when a kid becomes crazy about playing violin ( i think there are many "good" players who are not that crazy, probably never ever). 

the other thing at least we have found to be helpful is to shamelessly ask questions, esp on :) when being confronted with problems, i think  the most efficient way to learn is to be presented with a buffet of suggestions, perspectives and alternatives.  there are so many layers to understanding and short of immersing ourselves into a conservatory, for amateur players/students,  i think this virtual environment plays a key role in the maturation process.  i regard our teacher as someone who supervises our independent study project and it is our job to research independently, explore independently and then acquire enough supporting material to benefit from lessons.  i think one hour per week of violin lesson, by itself,  is a  well hidden joke:)    it is a sure way for most kids to drive their teachers crazy.

jim, you have been reported for being philosophical.

March 21, 2009 at 04:55 AM ·

Maybe I should ask easier questions.

March 21, 2009 at 09:22 PM ·

Rebecca, I hear you.  My daughter is 9 and she also had the attention span of a gnat when she started (at a little over age 6).  She didn't like Suzuki and quit lessons for a while and then started again in school when she was 8.  It's getting better, slowly, these days she practices 20-30 minutes a day, but not more.    Or I'll be cleaning the guinea pig cages and she'll practice for a while and then stick her head down the stairs and yell:  "How many minutes??"  "Twelve!"  "Aaargh!" I like what you've shared about your son and where he's gotten to at 15.  That is kind of the musician I turned into and I find it quite rewarding, even further down the road.

March 21, 2009 at 09:38 PM ·

ROTFL, Karen!  Thanks for the laugh! 

That's the point I was trying to make.  In fact, my son didn't even have an hour long lesson until he came to his new teacher at age 13.  He simply didn't have the ability to concentrate on something as difficult as violin for that length of time.

Contrast that to my middle son.  He began cello at 5 1/2.  He moved into 45-60 minute lessons by age 8.  He is my calm child and he always had the ability to sit still.  Sadly, we lost about a year's worth of work in the months before and after his diagnosis of juvenile diabetes but he definitely has the ability to sit still for a lesson and practice longer than my oldest did at his age.

Al, you are very smart to take advantage of all the wisdom on  My dh says I ask too many questions of other people! :-)

March 22, 2009 at 10:13 PM ·



>This place has the rudest bastards I ever saw.  I'm going back to the biker bar.  At least they answer my questions.

I`m afraid it was the Terminator movie that gave biker bars a bad rap.   Actually our leather clad brethren only tattoo `hate` because they don`t have enough knuckles for Wittgenstein.



March 22, 2009 at 11:26 PM ·

I'm going back to the biker bar.  At least they answer my questions.

Jim, were there any?

One question (from behind the moon, I admit I hate abbeviations) to Rebecca... What does ROTFL mean ?

my 2cents for 2 silly Qs.

March 22, 2009 at 11:30 PM ·


roll around on the floor witrh laughter.

read only things that facilitate learning

rogue otters tend to fart liberally

rancid okra tastes fairly libidinous


March 22, 2009 at 11:57 PM ·

oh something like

Rock Often Then Fall inLove ?

Haj , short for Hansjürgen (loves to hate abbreviations)

March 23, 2009 at 04:15 AM ·

Rebecca Obviously Trying For Laughs :-)

(No more abbreviations, I almost promise)

March 23, 2009 at 04:36 AM ·

Reading Only Things French Lately

Actually, ROTFL is the short verison of ROTFLMAO where you are laughing so hard rolling around on the floor, your posterior falls off.


March 23, 2009 at 05:43 AM ·


which is the short version of ROTFLMAOUKMC

whereby the dismembered buttocks crush your beloved family moggie.



March 23, 2009 at 07:05 AM ·

> Your points about bow strokes/speed and chamber
> music are both good ones, but it's a little bit of mixing apples and
> oranges.  The same students are unlikely to be learning both of
> those at the same time, at the same age and same level of development.

Well, it isn't a one-size-fits-all approach; it's entirely determined by the individual readiness of the student to process and use the information, regardless of their age.

I have eight year old students who do routinely explore these concepts of point of contact, bow speed, etc. On the flip side, I get the occasional college student who doesn't want to explore but pretty much says to me that they're paying me to "tell them stuff to do." :P

March 28, 2009 at 02:37 AM ·

Buri, actually there's a lot in common between the two.  For example, on websites both claim to be the most complex thing humans do.  And both must be done with panache to have meaning.  I could go on.  You have flaming skull panache and you have "you meet the nicest people on a Honda" panache, and everything in between.  And the famous Japanese panache training system. 

"And the results of his 11 license test attempts:

Test 1: Fell off the ipponbashi (A balance beam 15 meters long and 20 centimeters wide). This was my only time having trouble with any of the techniques.

Tests 2, 3, 4: My riding was not genki enough. Its hard to describe genki; best that I can do is the opposite of listless. Basically they wanted me to accelerate harder, drive faster, and brake harder. Believe me, I have no problems accelerating or driving fast, as a look at my unfortunate Japan Traffic Violation History will confirm. But this test course is small, about 100 meters from one end to the other. And nothing in my nature or my driving training will let me roll out of a turn, see a red light 50 meters ahead, and accelerate for it. So it took a long time to psych myself up for driving fast in this artificial situation.

Tests 5, 6, 7, 8: Got over the genki driving problem, failed here for a variety of reasons. Incorrect turn/lane change procedure, Toe pointed too far out on gear shift, Used brakes after entering a curve. A common theme here was also wide left turns (Japan is left-driving, so left turns are the tight ones).

Tests 9 and 10: Had these in the bag, then got excited when I knew Id passed and made stupid mistakes. For test 9, it was stopping with my right foot down (instead of the left) while parking; for test 10 it was forgetting my genki driving after passing the last challenge, the uphill start.

Test 11: Finally passed!"

Wouldn't surprise me if he was riding a Suzuki.


March 28, 2009 at 08:25 PM ·

Getting back on topic....

The thing that strikes me about the best teachers I've worked with is the way they manage to make even harsh criticism somehow inspiring. Mr. Danchenko would often (with much justification) rip me apart in lessons and make me feel about two inches tall, but underlying even his most outraged rants was the assumption: Of course you are intelligent enough and capable enough to do all of this right, so you owe it to yourself and to the music to work like a professional and play to the very highest standards. I've had certain other teachers who will remain nameless here criticize me in much softer terms than any of those marvelous grumpy old Russians ever did but with a clear uncertainty about whether I was capable of progressing or understanding the material, and THAT, the uncertainty in and distrust of my potential or capacity for improvement, upset and demoralized me exponentially more than any angry explosion of frustration or any exasperated rant.

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