Newbie going to study under concertmaster...

April 29, 2009 at 04:23 AM ·

Hi, I'm a Software Engineering major currently studying at RIT. I've been interested in playing the violin for quite some time, and I finally went ahead and bought one.

Now all I needed was a teacher. Being a student, my budget was tight, so I did some investigating and found out that Karine Stone teaches private lessons as a free elective course.

So I'm planning to take that class, but I have two questions: firstly, the class requires an audition (I don't know what they're looking for) and I have no direct contact with Ms. Stone. So I think I'm either going to fail horribly at audition or she's going to be like "you're a noob" and get pissed off or something. If you started playing at the age of 2 and were teaching an absolutely new student (I can barely and slowly read music, though I can play by ear and tell when I'm off), how would you feel?

My second question is, since I have all of Summer before these classes actually begin in the Fall, should I try and get faster at reading music and figuring out where my fingers go? (eg: the note on the first line is first finger on E (F))

Or should I get a different, temporary teacher to be at least at some sort of level before I audition?

Replies (21)

April 29, 2009 at 06:19 AM ·


Obviously, you can't audition if you can't play. My advice, before trying to sign up for the course, is to contact this teacher and describe yourself. She may or may not agree to take you. I suspect she won't. You may find that busy performing professionals would rather not take beginner adults.

I teach at a local university, and have the right to refuse someone who's a beginner. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't. My U actually prefers that we not take on beginners because it actually costs the department money.


April 29, 2009 at 01:05 PM ·

Hi Scott, thanks for your answer.

What's the minimum level of the students you usually take? I know it probably varies quite a bit, but I'm looking for something to work my way up to, perhaps with a different teacher.

Also, there are currently zero students in that class, which has a total capacity of 12. Would that increase my chances of acceptance?

Once again, thanks for your time :)

April 29, 2009 at 01:14 PM ·


Yes, I would agree that it is pretty unlikely that the person you are describing will take you as their student. If you want to start learning, it may not be a bad idea to go to a violin shop or music store and sign up for lessons there. Obviously, this will not be free, but it's probably a good place to start.

I hope it all works out!


April 29, 2009 at 01:30 PM ·

Sometimes it works!


Rohit, you should really tell your story to this teacher if you want to have her as a teacher!  Also be SURE to tell her that even if you don't play violin, you really LOVE the instrument and are willing to make it part of your futur life etc.  Tell her that you will really work the best you can to achieve this and that you know violin isn't a piece of chocolate cake. (they want the people to know the value of their work... They don't want to teach someone who think it will be easy IMHO)  Maybe she will refuse but maybe also she will see this incridible passion/will that sometimes some very interested beginners have and think about it...  I'm not saying to cry on the telephone but just to let her know that it IS important for you and that you will be a devoted student.  It's actually not your fault if you are a grown up and happened to try violin now!  If ever it doesn't work. Find yourself a conservatory or look at the sidelines of symphony players. You may be surprise that they don't always teach to top nutch students... I had the chance to be matched with a super good teacher who played many years in the Montréal Symphony and I was a total beginner when she took me but I told her that I would work my best... I found this teacher via a conservatory.  Hope it is possible to do the same in your country!

Good luck!

Also, teachers HATE to undo bad habits and I think they would rather take someone who reads music but have NEVER touch to a violin than someone who fiddled without real technique at home...  They like to be the one who starts the student from 0.


April 29, 2009 at 03:17 PM ·

Hi all, thanks for your advice.

I've decided to somehow find the teacher and talk to her, after all, no one knows the answer to these questions better than her.

Also, let's say I can only study at most for 11 weeks under her. Is it better to be a beginner and learn from scratch, or would it be better to begin somewhere else and take her class for more advanced stuff?

I do know that the basics are the most important, but I might miss out on something she could've taught me because I was too far behind.

April 29, 2009 at 04:25 PM ·


April 29, 2009 at 04:43 PM ·

11 weeks of study is great if you're advancing on an instrument and know the basics...but it's not very long if you're learning the basicis from Step. 1.

I suggest you find another teacher to show you  the basics.  Next year, if you advance quickly, you might be in a position to take the 11 week course and actually gain something from it.

Alternately, you might ask her if you can sit in on the class  (or part of it) and watch to see what they're doing so that you know what to expect next year.  I'm open to such propositions myself, I imagine other instructors might be too.



April 29, 2009 at 05:28 PM ·

Actually, I hadn't thought about the bad habits vs. starting from scratch thing. That's a very good point! And if you could learn the real basics and foundations from someone who knows what they are doing really well, then that would be really ideal.

Definitely give it a try and see what she says. I'm sure if she can't take you she will be able to recommend someone else who can.

April 29, 2009 at 05:45 PM ·

Get in contact with this teacher pronto and tell her what you're looking for.  Being at RIT gives you access to amazing musicians that are studying at eastman.  See if by talking to her she can put you in contact with graduate students or even undergrads that will be there during the summer and would like to gain experience teaching a beginner.

April 29, 2009 at 07:48 PM ·


You will probably not be able to talk your way into a conservatory teacher's studio by proclaiming your love for the instrument. The reality is that at music schools, especially those with grad students, the grad students are the ones that teach beginner/non-majors. You will almost definitely be assigned a grad student if any are available. Teachers at that level simply do not take beginners for credit--those places are reserved for professional-level students. Remember that teachers at this level are judged by the level of their students, and their no. 1 priority is to try and recruit the most talented and advanced students possible so that others will flock to their studio.

My college teaching is a bit different--we don't have a strings program, so it's really up to me, and I seldom get more than 1 or 2 per year who want lesson, which has been fine since I care for a toddler during the day. And the university pays me less than my going hourly rate. Just depends on what else I have going on. The situation is much different at a conservatory.


April 29, 2009 at 09:07 PM ·

Hi, I'm not perfectly sure where the definition of a conservatory starts or ends, but as far as I know I wouldn't be studying at one. This course is a part of the College of Liberal Arts, and we do not even have a music major - only a minor and a concentration where all but two of the 10 week courses are theory.

Given those circumstances, and after reading everyone's comments, I believe the best course of action is to talk to the teacher and determine what she thinks.

Alas, I'm going to have to go to the minor advisor first, since I can find no contact information anywhere. :(

April 29, 2009 at 11:47 PM ·

Rohit, I understand Scott's point but here in Montreal we have two conservatories and I'm sure such a setup exists elsewhere. One for the prodigies like he talks and another one for normal and very good ones.  The one I attend is a universitary department and the courses I take are for the "community". This means everyone!  But it is the same building and the ambiance is really cool. And we have access to graduate professional musicians and some are/were symphony members from orchestras like the Montréal symphony no 1 orchestra.  Of course all teachers there are not = but if you search, it is possible to find this type of teacher even for a beginner! 

Also, go to universitary masterclasses where everyone can go.  Often musicians are nice and talkative people. General public often ask questions in these events. You can always ask the university teachers to recommend you a good teacher. (they surely know many amazing teachers) They know many connections and could find you a super competent one.  Don't desperate!  Sometimes, it takes work to happen to find the one.  I hate to say it's like shoping but it's like shoping your futur pleaure or unpleasure if you have pain and problems because of a non experience teacher.  My two cents only!


April 30, 2009 at 05:30 AM ·


For some reason, I was assuming this teach was at Eastman. Things might be different at another school. You'll just have to ask.


April 30, 2009 at 01:44 PM ·

Hi Rohit,

I am currently a music education violinist at Eastman, and am pretty well acquainted with the area. I think your best bet may be to go to a program like Eastman Community Music Scjool (ECMS) or Hochstein School of Music. It is about a 15 or 20 minute drive from RIT, but I'm sure that RIT has a bus service to downtown Rochester. I'd lean towards going to ECMS because it is literally right next to Eastman, and there are always lots of interesting concerts happening there. Also, Karine Stone teaches there as well if you were really focused on studying with her.  If you did go Hochstein however, Eastman is about a 10 minute walk and the neighborhood is pretty safe. Feel free to contact me privately with any questions you may have.


Good luck with whatever happens!



April 30, 2009 at 03:21 PM ·

Any one who can teach violin can teach an adult of moderate or better intelligence to play it.

Anyone who can't play it, can't teach it.

The chance of learning, and continuing to learn well without instruction is probably about one in a billion.

Chances are a top level teacher will be at leat 10 times better than you need at the very beginning and it may well be a waste of talent for both of you. I had much better violin teachers than I needed (or could use) when I was young (just like I went to a much better college than I needed).

There comes a time later in one's musical career when such top level teachers can make a real and immediate difference - when the student is ready and attuned to what is offered to the fullest extent.

I woud estimate that if you took this summer off from your engineering studies and took violin lessons and devoted two hours a day to practice (which means your teacher would have to load you up with the right amount of the right musical studies every week and you would achieve a goal of having it correct at the next lesson), you would be well along a good path by late summer.

Learning to play a violin, even for good amateur achievement levels, is a lifetime endeavor, so be prepared for a long haul. I've been playing for 70 years and still learn something every day.

There are several critical aspects of violin playing:

1. GYMNASTICS: Your left and right hands have comletely different tasks to do and they have to do these in perfect coordination. Even people who "can play" can continue to improve this aspect for many, many years. Think of those wonderful little girl gymnasts at the Olimpic Games - your hands will be doing that - at least learning to do it.

2. AUDITORY: The gymnastics have to be done in a way that makes the music come out in tune, this is all up to the player (the instrument is just a playing field to do it on) and you have to coordinate this with what you are doing and make instantaneous corrections all the time.

3: MENTAL: There is a mental aspect of reading music and playing at the same time that acts as a sort of FLOW, with the musical notes flowing from your eyes to your brain for intonation information and to your hands at such a speed that the music comes out in yur playing in real time. This is integrated with learning the basics of steps 1 and 2 above. I think this is the most rewarding kind of playing: to sight read chamber music (for example) with other people. Over time you will learn to make this mental flow occur in real time, whatever the speed of the music (hopefully).

As an engineer, you will also want to learn enough "music theory" to figure out the matho-mechanical aspects of the intonation you want to achieve with everything you play.

4. MEMORY: Some people learn to play from memory, some learn very well indeed, and yet are not able to do step 3 very well. This is a completely different kind of mental thing than step 3.

5. IMPROVISATION: Some people are able to "float" on the instrument and create music and play it in the moment. This is the skill of a "jazz musician" and a completely different thing than 3 and 4, although it may contains some elements of both.

These are all things that can be done on a violin, or any other instrument. You are most likely to find a violin teacher who wants to concentrate on the first 3 steps. And you can live a happy violinst life without ever getting into steps 4 and 5. But unless you follow steps 1 - 3, you will always suffer some violinist insecurities and have more limited opportunities in the world of making music with other people.

Good Luck.


April 30, 2009 at 04:30 PM ·

Andy I value your 70 years experience but with all my respect have you seen a student from a bad teacher or started in a bad place? Did you have experienced being the student of an inexperimented teacher?  If the answer is no, thank god because you wouldn't have liked it!  I know what you mean and sure a good teacher can certainly be a student but not any student... I just want to warn people (especially if you know nothing about violin and want to try) about going in any little school you don't know or to take any student you don't know the data...  The player can be good but terrible as a teacher.  Not all violinists have the right personality/ability to teach!  I really think that even the worst beginner of the world would benefit from a super teacher.  Of course super teachers don't all want to have beginners but some take a few and if you can find one of those, it's wonderful! IMHO.    A frequent thing that they do at the conservatory  is to undo bad habits of students who have started anywhere. The student and teacher both loose enormous time because the basics were wrong and the student played like this for so long... Sometimes there is nothing to do... and this is no fun. In addition, lots of psychological pain + lost of self confidence and motivation in these situations... So yes, maybe not "a maestro" but not anyone either and the most "maestro" you can find who wants to take you, the better!  Just my two cents and you surely meant that you do not need Hilary Hahn as a teacher when you start!!! ;)


April 30, 2009 at 05:11 PM ·

I would agree with Anne-Marie.  I would even argue that the first teacher is the most important one.  The best teachers I have known have even their beginners playing expressively.

April 30, 2009 at 11:44 PM ·

Yes I agree, but one does not need Einstein or Feinmann to learn physics either.

Nor do I think one should go to 1-800-violin-teachers, either.

But I have known many people who taught violin and got some wonderful players started, and many of these teachers definitely had their limitations as players. But they did know what the boundaries are for moving students along - and to me that is important. I have also seen the results of inferior teachers (when I moved from NYC to a small Maryland city I noticed that many of my HS violinist friends had bad habits - so I knew I would never go to their teacher (the town's only violin teacher) for lessons - and from that point on I was self-taught (except for my father's advice, orchestra, coaching, and some master class experience - which have been ongoing for the past 60 years).

You do need a teacher who knows what the pitfalls are - and that means an experienced teacher, but it doesn't require one who creates professional violinists at the highest levels.


April 30, 2009 at 08:41 PM ·

Hi everyone, I must say the response is overwhelming and I didn't expect to get as much advice as I did.

Unfortunately, I'm still having trouble contacting the teacher, I e-mailed the advisor but haven't got a response yet.

I'm going to a concert she's playing at tomorrow, but I probably won't be talking to her. Maybe I should see if Eastman has any info.

And yes, I am planning to get a teacher over the summer if possible.

EDIT: Found her e-mail address. I'll find out what she thinks about it soon.

April 30, 2009 at 08:24 PM ·


both positions are absolutely right on this.  There are -very- good teachers of beginners who basically do only that.   They are tacitly at least,  aware of their limitations and move a student elsewhere as time goes by.  Many of these teachers take time out to attend training seminars and participate actively in the work of organizations like ASTA.  Over the years as hopefully,  the student has learnt to think for themselves in techncial terms it becomes more and more a question of coaching and inspiration although there are always aspects of technique that a more advanced student needs that only a player with higher professional experience is aware of.  At the extreme end of the spectrum pretty much only a soloist can show what a potential soloist needs to know.  Teachers do tend to recognize instinctively the kind of level they teach best although monetary considerations (or a simple need for students)  may fuzz this out.  This is not unlike other areas of education and is often more to do with personality than capability.

I do have a friend who years ago went to UCLA.  He had always loved music and had a good ear but never played an instrument because of his family`s religious propensities.  He made a point of attending master classes given by a then world famous pianist and teacher who worked there.  In his innocence he went over and asked her lots of questions about the piano at the end of a class and then asked her to teach him. She agreed.  That year was one of the ebst years of his life;)



May 1, 2009 at 03:47 AM ·

Here's an update: she replied to my e-mail saying that the course I am talking about is only for fairly advanced students playing in the orchestra.

She did offer to recommend a teacher or community college.

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