Process of Finding a Suitable Teacher

May 23, 2009 at 03:31 AM ·

My 12-year old daughter is on her 3rd teacher since she started playing 5 years ago--although the first was me, so that doesn't quite count the same way. Her second teacher was excellent, just lived farther than preferrable and moved even farther away, making it necessary for us to end that. The 3rd teacher she has is OK and we have been with him since Sept., but I am not pleased with a few things-- 1) no recitals.  "Too busy," is the reply when I asked. I had actually meant to "interview" him for the lessons, and should have probably backed off when I go this reply, but he lived so close that it was hard to pass up. 2) not very organized or systematic about assignments. I don't think she's ready for the the Bach solo sonatas, in particular her playing of double stops was not developed enough, and she struggled with the G minor fugue for weeks. (I suggested the Bach concerto, but he said he thought that required a higher level.) Many of the pieces and etudes will be assigned for several weeks, and then "we'll let it rest."  There is especially little polishing of etudes. 

My daughter is not as enthusiastic about violin as we her parents are (that is, I play a lot, and maybe that's another can of worms), but I figure she's still a kid and we just have to keep at it.  When I asked my daughter about this teacher, she seems to prefer staying with him because he does not require her to practice as much. When she heard about a good teacher who asked his students to practice 1.5 hrs per day, she voiced a bit of protest. 

   Anyhow, what is the way to go about finding a suitable teacher? We live in the Bay Area, where there are many good (though expensive) teachers. Call up numerous candidates, then go visit each one?  I can't see us doing that with more than 2 candidates.

Replies (73)

May 23, 2009 at 05:33 AM ·

There are many red flags in your post. The first is, of course, the difference in expectations between you and your daughter. The second is that while you criticize teacher no. 2 for "not having time" to have a recital, you also don't want to take the time to audition more than two teachers. If you really want to find someone to inspire her to work harder, than, yes, you may need to try many more teachers. If you don't wish to take the time to do this, than it seem the best option is to just let her keep studying with the current teacher, whom she likes. At least she will continue, and maybe she will eventually want to really improve on her own. The problem with finding a more disciplined teacher is that she may turn off altogether. You don't like the idea of paying bay-area prices, and you don't like the idea of taking the time to find a suitable teacher. Sounds like there is a witch's brew of competing priorities here. And yes, age 12 is exactly the age at which all motivation and musical discipline goes down the toilet.


May 23, 2009 at 05:47 AM ·

I'll bite my tongue here and merely say that Scott has touched on most of my concerns. What are you paying this teacher for lessons, and what do you consider "expensive"?  Perhaps a youth program at a college might be what you are looking for, where performance whether by recital or groups is part of the offering

May 23, 2009 at 01:39 PM ·

It might be helpful to clarify your expectations:

  • I am willing to pay X amount.
  • I am willing to travel X miles.
  • I expect a teacher to do X, Y, and Z.
  • I am willing to do X, Y, and Z to meet teacher's expectations.

Telephone conversations and email might narrow your search.  If you are willing to do two interviews, so be it.  That might be enough, it might not.

May 23, 2009 at 02:25 PM ·

There are a lot of factors involved in motivating children and adolescents to work hard at their playing. For me, the most significant became the socialization and ranking of playing in an orchestra. I felt a lot of competition in that environment and I rose to meet it.

I don't recall any recitals that I had with my teachers, although it is possible that my 2 years at the Manhattan School of Music (age 10 - 12)  required it - but I don't remember it, and none of the 6 years of teachers before that had any recitals.

I don't have a lot of students and I have chosen to have no recitals, because I'm not looking for a competition between various children of different abilities and adult students (often with less ability). I do recognize the value of recitals for some students in some environments - but it should be for the students, not for their parents.

I think ther is a lot of potential for trouble when i violin-playing parent tries to over-direct the violin career of their average adolescent violin student child. I had the potential for that interference when I was growing up, but my violin-playing father left the relationships between my teachers and me alone. When I chose to quit lessons at age 12, I was criticized only for having continued them beyone when I first wanted to quit. I only stopped playing for one year and after that I resumed and worked very hard on my own for the rest of my life. The rate at which I progressed on my own was rather incredible -- at least all those years of lessons had given my good playing habits/technique. Motivation was the key to setting and achieving higher and higher goals.


May 23, 2009 at 09:56 PM ·

I am just wondering.. This may not be relevant to the OP.

Do teachers talk among themselves? Especially in smaller cities, where the classical music community is intertwined. Would it be "embarrassing" to go from one teacher to another (as in change teachers)?  I have heard of cases of teachers refusing (politely) to take in students after knowing that the kid is currently studying with another teacher (in the same community). Is there an "implicit" understanding, or sorts?

May 23, 2009 at 06:34 PM ·


 I do appreciate all your responses. I guess what I was fishing for was what the typical process is for looking for a teacher at this point. It helps to know that you do call a number of potential teachers based on location, price, and then the finer points that Anne mentioned, which seem to involve the match between teacher, student, parent. I called around the first time we were looking, and also when we looked for my other daughter (cello). The location, price, perhaps lesson time are answers you could get from a phone call or email, but I suppose it is really the time on both ends to allow for interview, or audition, that gives the more important information.

I am not expecting my daughter to pursue a career in music. Having the opportunity to learn to play music is a wonderful gift in life, and that's what we'd like for both of our daughters to have. If one so decides that doing music as a career is what she wants, then we hope we can help support that as far as it's our responsibility. I don't want to squelch a child's interest in something by pressure, but I ask myself if I am doing right by staying with a teacher who is not as experienced or professional.

The price we currently pay is $70/hour; the cello lessons are $80/hour, and I think that's the going rate in the bay area now.  I'm not looking for someone who charges less.

As for recitals, I had a nice teacher during high school (when i was most "crazy" about violin) who did not have recitals for students who were not his university students. My piano teacher didn't have recitals either.  I didn't know any better, except that I know I don't perform well in public. My other daughter (cello) shares this same difficulty and appreciates the oportunity to work out her nerves in her teacher's twice-yearly student recitals. My 12-year old's first teacher didn't have recitals, nor  does this one.


May 23, 2009 at 06:48 PM ·

I'm not sure what you mean by "interview."  Most violin teachers would not care to be interviewed because that denotes a different kind of relationship with the parents.  As a teacher I would not want to be interviewed by a parent because I'm not signing up to be your employee.

You can and should however request a "trial lesson" with a few teachers so you can figure out if the teacher is a match for your child.  It sounds like your kid already has a match though and you could stay out of it for now because this teacher is meeting your child's needs and vice versa.  When that changes then you should look for a new teacher.

If you're looking for a teacher that's less expensive then get in touch with undergrad and graduate students from a nearby music conservatory.  They need money, won't charge too much, and it will be a learning process for them too.  Your child may also be able to relate to college student better since they won't seem too adult.  I would go about it by contacting a college violin professor and having them suggest a student of theirs that they think would be particularly good at teaching young kids.

May 23, 2009 at 06:58 PM ·

Two words about recital opportunities.  It is wonderful to do them if you want to.  I personally force myself to do those I can and so far, it is the best way to become less shy when I play with a pianist!  I love them and even the worst one showed me exactly my weak point.  I take them as challenges and stage is a wonderful teacher. So it is great to offer them to the students who want to do them but you should never force a student who don't want to do them against his\her will! 


May 23, 2009 at 07:04 PM ·

You might try what I did as an adult wishing to resume studies after many years of no teachers. I called a member of the local world class orchestra and asked so and so if he would give me lessons. He replied that he had never worked with adults and suggested his stand partner saying his partner was world class in teaching technique. My playing has been transformed for the better, I agree with his assessment. You might try calling a local conservatory, symphony, etc. With my superb teacher I do not pay $70. a lesson, it's less.

May 23, 2009 at 08:28 PM ·

there are so many mixed messages coming from this...

  • not very organized or systematic about whose standards, yours?
  • "suitable teacher" keeps surfacing...what is a suitable teacher
  • "Many of the pieces and etudes will be assigned for several weeks, and then "we'll let it rest."  There is especially little polishing of etudes".  Sometimes, certain goals are achieved without "polishing" and if her"enthusiasm" is a factor, perhaps he not only is aware of this but identifies when enough is enough in a certain etude...a plateau has been reached and a different piece, study, etude is the best route
  • you pay $70, but $80 is too expensive...$70 seems pretty steep to me, unless we are talking about a wiz-kid with college centered study or a situation where the teacher is renting a specific studio..I'm no Dorothy Delay, but no slouch by any means either but $70 seems to be pushing the envelope. Either that, or I'm being way too generous at $25 half $45 hour. I have a studio within my home and as such, it costs a little more for the homeowner's insurance policy
  • Interview and trial lesson...Of course we all know that we are on our best behavior trying to impress at an interview; but I agree with Marina here. The teacher is not your employee. Trial lesson? I'm not clear on this... Do you expect this to be free? Do you go to a restaurant for a free trial meal or to a physician for a free trial appointment?

My situation...the initial contact, usually a phone call should answer not only some questions/concerns of the parent (in your case) but also be a time to explore what your goals and desires are...what is it you are looking for. Sometimes, this phone call is enough whereby I do not accept the student. Specifics; the kid who wants to rock out on the electric but has NO past experience. The initial lesson, more often than not goes well past the half hour/hour  time slot, a chance to meet and chat with parent and student (very important). This is interspersed with playing the violin. I do not want to make the student feel like he/she is being grilled, or on display. Reason for this, I do not as of yet know the personality, strengths and/or frailties. Once done, I do expect to be paid but only for the half hour or hour fee.

Even with resumes, accolades, accomplishments and others' opinions (perhaps the best valuation meter) the meld of personalities, expectations and results are all factors in a student-teacher relationship. Not every situation turns out to e a good match-up. My main goal with your daughter right now would be to maintain her level of enthusiasm and elevate it. A change in teacher could do this. It could also squelch it.

May 23, 2009 at 08:11 PM ·

As for interviews, I always have them, and find them most useful.  A face-to-face meeting with a newbie, and also listening to a transfer student play is a way to make sure everyone is on board with agreed expectations.  Not every student is a good fit with every teacher, and that is perfectly fine.  Keep in mind that an "interview" or "trial lesson" will not necessarily be offered gratis...


May 23, 2009 at 09:31 PM ·

RE. the cost, I see ads in music stores for lessons around $40/hr , but i haven't gone to check them out. I simply mean that I am not out to find the cheapest lessons, but $80/hr is what many people in the bay area seem to be willing to pay for professional lessons.  I'm not ruling that out at all.

Thanks for pointing out that not every teacher has the idea of "interview." The cello teacher we found for my daughter clearly specified that our first meeting would be "interview," and I understood it to be 2-way. One violin teacher we visited when we were looking the first time also made it like a 2-way interview, and at the end he said he'd be happy to teach her, and that we could let him know if we were interested.

I understand that at age 12 for the average student, hardly any piece one plays could be expected to be polished. Every piece is put to rest, yes, I do it too and find that a week or month or year later, it comes back fresher and improved. My standard is indeed limited, and it is mine,--I don't know where else to get standards besides here  :)  -- but it comes from my observations of my own lessons, many years ago; and my observations of my other daughter's cello teacher; and my observations of this daughter's first teacher.

I appreciate the comments about the recitals. I'd be concerned if my daughter was resistant to practicing, recitals, what have you. She's never had a teacher who's offered recitals, so i don;'t know what her reaction would be. (We've staged some home family recitals over the years, and she's been happy to participate.) We just think it's a valuable part of the music experience, and I think she in her 12-year old way would agree.

May 23, 2009 at 09:52 PM ·

Regarding recitals, I think one definite benefit is playing with the pianist. It is much more difficult than playing alone, esp for young players!

I like the idea of a 2-way interview. One mother I know met with 2 piano teachers. I think there was some miscommunicatiom, after the meeting with the frst teacher, the first teacher immediately put the kid into her calender.  The mother was surprised, as she thought it was supposed to be "2-way", but she went with along it. It was only later that she felt that the second teacher was a better match.  I think as parents, we have to be tactful, yet put our intentions across clearly. 

Yes, what I get put off by (I'm a little blunt here).  A straight reply - "I don't teach beginners" when teachers hear the age of the student, even before I get  to elaborate further.




May 23, 2009 at 10:59 PM ·

Oh, beginners are so much fun...different process altogether though

  • if youngsters... Mom or Dad must, not only attend the lesson; they must take notes and ideally bring an instrument for themselves too. After all the parent is  the coach, motivator, teacher the other 167½ hours in the week  If the parent does not want to accept this level of "their own" involvement...ADIOS
  • the entire format of the lesson is totally different, usually in two 15 minute violin blocks (lesson time includes movement, singing, etc.)...they wind up getting much more than the half-hour contact time

May 24, 2009 at 02:26 AM ·


I don't mean to hijack your thread, but I think this is relevant to the topic and might be of interest to other readers including myself.  You mentioned that you taught your daughter initially, but you did not elaborate on the pros and cons of that relationship.  How did that work out?  I have a 7 year old and he is going to start violin next month.  We will definitely get him a teacher, but I'm wondering how much I should get involved.  I am a proficient amateur, with a totally awesome violin :-)

I have contacted a few teachers and the point about recitals is very important in my opinion.  Some teachers have weekly private lessons which are coupled with regular group lessons once or twice a month.  I'm beginning to think the group lesson is a great way to get exposure to other musicians and get over the fear of playing in front of other people. 


May 24, 2009 at 04:37 AM ·


 I don't mind at all answering your question. The pro of teaching your kid yourself-- save on money of course. I mention it only because as i skimmed the other responses that I didn't completely address, that I've heard from a music teacher from the midwest that the prices out here are much higher. (one of Sam M's questions)  The other pro for me-- The parent should be involved in the beginning process, as Sam M's more previous post recommends. The parent knows the kid better...and of course that's what I'm sure is also the con, where the relationship is too familiar. The parent may not be as nice as some teachers, and the kid won't listen to or follow things as he/she would for a teacher.  That's what eventually happened. Violin is tough. I'd ask my daughter to practice slower, more carefully, correct out-of-tune notes, and she'd resist. The teacher would ask her to do it, and at least she'd comply at the lesson and I think she knew inside that that was pretty much I had asked her to do.  Anyway, the home teaching was running into more resistance, plus my husband thought it would be fairer that both daughters have their own private teachers. I also cared about how my daughter would do--didn't want to risk ruining her technique or interest once she got more advanced--, so it was good to bring her to her first teacher, who built on what we had started and added her own wonderful personality, expertise and excitement of violin to the whole thing.

 I heard of the group lesson once, when I had called one cello teacher. It would have added an additional lesson per week under her arrangements, and we weren't ready for that.  I think there's merits to the group lesson thing,  but the recital--like an audition or a serious master class--it's the working with a pianist, the polishing and memorizing of a piece, the aspect of performance, that I find worthwhile for students who have reached a certain level.

May 24, 2009 at 02:54 PM ·

Hi Margaret,

My daughter is 9 and we seem to have run into some similar issues.  I taught her for a while after a Suzuki teacher didn't work out (I'm an amateur, and not trained as a teacher).   But the opportunity to teach my daughter was actually what got me to get my own violin out after about 8 years of not playing.  

My daughter plays with her school program and recently started private lessons with a friend of mine whom I play with in a community orchestra.  This friend is also a professional school music teacher.  

What I've been doing so far is following my daughter's lead rather than trying to be too top-down about it.  I'm not expecting a career in music from her either; but I am glad as an adult that I had the experience playing as a child.  When I picked it up again I was not a total beginner, there was a lot of muscle memory there and I enjoy being able to play "real" orchestral and chamber repertoire.  That's my goal for my daughter, that she have music for the rest of her life, whatever else she does as a career.

The recital issue is one that I'm still thinking about.  Because I share your concerns.  My teacher didn't have recitals either when I was a kid, and I'm of two minds about it.  On one hand I reached adulthood with almost no solo performance experience.  But on the other hand, I didn't really *want* solo performance experience at that age.  In fact, "hating" solo performance would not have been too strong a description for me back then.  It took me until my mid-20's to start to get over this.  And it extended into all areas of life, not just the violin.  I also hated to give presentations and talks, which I had to do when I was getting my PhD.  I ended up doing a lot of work for that purpose--I took public speaking classes, I joined Toastmasters.  I became much more comfortable with giving talks, and that finally seemed to carry over a bit to violin performance.  I did my first solo recital (on viola) at age 43, a month and a half ago.

And my daughter is similar.  She is shy and doesn't like to have people looking at her and judging her.  She looks and acts like she would rather have a root canal than perform.  So with that in mind, I've been approaching my daughter's reticence about performing more globally, with violin as a small part of that.  With her, we've started small:  we've had a couple of performances in our church's Christmas pageant, in her school's talent show, and at a local Farmers' Market.  She's doing the Farmers' Market again this year with a friend of hers who is another of her teacher's students.  It's a low-key thing and she gets a little gift certificate from the market as a reward.  I'm hoping by the time she is your daughter's age she will not be as terrified and put off by the thought of a recital as I would have been at 12.  

In your position I think I might just explore with your daughter a little more what her feelings about performance are.  Then look around for avenues where you might be able to get her some low-key performance experience and see if she enjoys that.  Push her comfort zone a little bit but not too much.  Maybe a recital is at that level for her already, but I didn't get a good sense one way or another from your post.  I just think it's important to follow her lead here rather than pushing her where you think she ought to be vis a vis performance.  And her teacher ought to be part of the conversation as well.  It sounds like the communication between you and her teacher isn't working as well as it could.  Maybe you can fix that with her current teacher, maybe you have to look around for one you communicate with better.  I think it matters less what their rules and policies are than whether you feel that this is a person you can communicate with and work with.

May 24, 2009 at 08:07 PM ·

Whether you call them interviews, trial lessons, discussions, or meetings, you need 'em.  A preliminary discussion to see if you are on the same page about expectations, schedules, contracts, and so on.  And a trial lesson so the teacher can "try out" the child and the child and the parent can "try out" the teacher.  (As someone said, you might not have to pay for the trial lesson, but you should expect to.)  If anybody's unhappy you don't make a deal.  The teacher says their schedule got unexpectedly full.  You say that  you are not sure how the child's schedule is going to work out, but you will call if you can make it work - and you will understand that they cannot hold a place for you.   You go onto the next candidate

We had a discussion here a number of months ago where some folks got a little hot about whether one did or did not try out teachers at conservatories, trying to make a good match.  The bottom line as I understood it was that the faculty at top schools have so much reputation and so much power (and in some cases, such sensitive natures) that one is well advised to describe all requests to meet as opportunities to audition for them and see if they will take you on. 

But this is frankly not the same situation you are in.  You are going to hire a teacher and he/she really is going to be your employee (or pehaps your consultant) for an hour a week.  I'm not clear why saying so is a problem - employee is not a dirty word, nor does it suggest subjugation.  You need to try to find out ahead of time whether your respected, highly skilled, employee who is going to do a specialized and delicate job with an uncertain outcome for you - for a non-trivial sum of money - is going to be a good person for the job. 

May 24, 2009 at 09:14 PM ·

I do so appreciate everyone's input and ideas. I guess the word "employ" suggests that the one who is paying is the boss, and we think of someone who is domineering, calls the shots, runs the game, hires and fires, etc. We're paying a lot of money; it means we do respect the teachers and their expertise. It is a kind of partnership and entrusting, and the parent should feel they can trust to a reasonable extent. I don't want to interfere as a parent, but neither can I be completely hands-off. I am always at the lesson, I take notes, I try to listen at home, and I try to keep my mouth shut, although I'll admit I will tell her to practice and practice well if I see it's being avoided. This discussion has helped me to see that it's not just the recitals. (Teacher no.1 didn't have them,  for the reason that she didn't have any other students--and we were fine with that because we really liked her teaching style for our daughter. )  I think we have stayed with this teacher because it's convenient in location, and my daughter can do " well enough" to have a teacher just keep her going and listen to her playing.  But I will think about it more and make sure I am not being lazy about looking for another teacher, or too top-down here.

May 24, 2009 at 10:49 PM ·


I agree that recitals are absolutely necessary. They are time-consuming to organize for the teacher, but students simply must get experience performing in front of people.

You haven't given your background, but it seems you are a trained violinist, possibly at a professional level. Unfortunately, your knowledge is rearing its ugly head: you already have opinions on when the teacher should be teaching what. You're showing all the signs of being a "stage mother"--and that may well turn off even the most secure teacher. No one wants the parent second-guessing their teaching. When you look at other teachers, I suggest you reign it in or you may scare them off.

I recently played in an orchestra that featured 2 young competition winners, and one of them studied in SF with a teacher that was charging something like $150. For a high-level teacher, that is not out of the ball park. And probably average for NY or Chicago for well-known teachers. I'm not sure why you're using music store fees as a standard.

May 25, 2009 at 01:17 AM ·

America is pretty big, and the word "employee" might have different meanings in different places.  In my neck of the woods the word "employee" means someone who answers to someone else.  Although teacher/student relationship should be organic by no means is a teacher subservient to a parent.  I can hardly imagine a parent telling me what to teach or how to teach it just because they pay me.

Freelance teachers and musicians are self-employed, most commonly referred to as independent contractors.  We are our own boss and our own employee.

May 25, 2009 at 01:29 AM ·

attn. Marina:

May 25, 2009 at 01:55 AM ·



I hesitate to jump in lest I get jumped on…..


However here goes:




We go with out strengths and love, which come from the internal core of our being.  I taught kids who just couldn’t resist cartooning on all their papers so their signatures weren’t necessary.  Budding artist. This behavior was very consistent and long lived, as reported by other teachers.  The driven kids that love music can’t put their instruments down.  They “sleep” with them and are self motivated, constantly.  There is no magic pill to give a child this kind of drive.  We parents would love to find it.  To ask a 12 year child who isn’t driven to daily practice ANYTHING for 1.5 hours does not appropriate.  There are loads of kids who don’t stay focused on their homework for that amount of time.


These statements speak volumes:

My daughter in not as enthusiastic about violin as we her parents are..

I don’t think she’s ready for Bach

Her playing of double stops was not developed enough

She protested when she heard about a good teacher who asked his students to practice…she voiced a “bit” of a protest????


What is the way to go about finding a suitable music teacher?  Mom do you really want advice? From your note it seems like you have a pretty good sense of criteria. However, without knowing more details, I humbly make another suggestion:  Ask your daughter what she would love to do with her free time this summer and go with it.


As for recitals, I think they are valuable but not critical. It depends on many things, concrete and abstract.  However, I humbly suggest you use them in another way.  Instead of interviewing a mess of potential teachers, find out when they’re having their student recitals and attend the recitals with open eyes, ears and mouth.  Talk to students and parents, and more importantly pay attention to the performances of children your daughter’s age.  Take your criteria list and get some first hand answers.


Gosh, you live in a major metro area, are willing to pay a substantial fee, are a musician, have gone through a number of teachers, know what your limitations are (traveling) and know the student the best. 


I’m not saying to give up, (and I personally know many patient teachers, music and otherwise)  just to follow her lead,


 Kahlil Gibran. 


And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of Children.

And he said;

Your children are not your children.

They are he sons and daughters of Life’s Longing for itself.

They come though you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For live goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s had be for gladness:

For even as he love the arrow that flies, so He love also the bow that is stable.


I’ve been on the site for many years, but have only posted a few times.  This theme has been on before.  I just decided to put in my 2 cents, which in the whole scheme of things isn’t much. 


Music has personally sustained me in ways your can’t imagine, I wouldn’t give it up.  But, I am also aware that there is a lot out in our world that can do the same.


Best of luck let us know what happens.




May 25, 2009 at 02:11 AM ·

 "I can hardly imagine a parent telling me what to teach or how to teach it just because they pay me."

Marina, if you teach enough, you won't have to imagine it. I remember one particularly bossy mom who called one evening: "we don't really like classical concertos. Can Billy do something else? Maybe Bruch?" 

Oh, sure, let's let him scrape though the first page of Bruch badly while ignoring what he really has to learn......


The only thing worse is a kid that begs to learn Tchaikovsky one line at a time. Oy.

May 25, 2009 at 04:02 AM ·





May 25, 2009 at 05:30 AM ·


I'm not a professionally trained musician, but I like to play when I have the time. I took piano and violin lessons as a child, and stayed with violin much more, played in youth orchestras, took a few lessons in college but went the route of science instead.  Some of my ideas about what music is good to play at a particular level has come from reading these posts. Much of it matches what I went through and what I now know of those pieces from my own playing. I have not said anything to this current teacher about what I think is appropriate for him to assign to my daughter, or what i have thought about his teaching method and style. It was part of my debating with myself and readers on this site whether I was off or on about staying with this teacher, or looking for another.  Thank you for your advice, though. Maybe I'll suggest my husband to take my daughter to lessons with the next teacher, or I should not say at all that I know anything about violin to the next teacher.


May 25, 2009 at 06:30 AM ·

 Here are just a few odds and ends that may (or may not) add to the discussion.

Here in San Diego, the going rate for the best teachers is $80.  However, you can find excellent teachers for $50 and I'm sure there are excellent teachers who charge less (I just don't know any).  If my son didn't have financial help with his lessons, we wouldn't be with his current teacher.

My middle son's cello teacher has had only 1 recital in the 3 1/2 years he's been with him.  That's ok by me because my son is so shy and introverted, he would rather quit cello than play in a recital.  Since he enjoys cello and we don't want him to quit, we won't force him to play in a recital. :-)

My son's had 2 teachers.  He was with his first for 7 years and I made him switch because he'd grown too comfortable with his first teacher (who is like family).  I picked his current teacher for several reasons:  He was male (sounds prejudice but I felt that my son needed a male teacher after 7 years), he had a reputation for being one of the best in town, he had high expectations of his students, and I thought my son needed a traditional approach since his first teacher was Suzuki.  It also turned out that he was close to us (and now his new studio is even closer-yay!).  I didn't ask about cost when my son auditioned for him and I didn't try any other teacher.

My son didn't want to switch and it took several months before he admitted that it was the right thing to do and my son shed a few tears during that time.  Now he is glad he has his teacher and they have a good relationship.  He's learned a lot, though he's still getting rid of bad habits from his first teacher.

 Oh, and my son isn't keen on practicing 1 1/2 hours a day, either, though I know his teacher's other students no doubt practice more than that. My son is trying to practice 2 35-40 minute sessions a day but he is 3 years older than your daughter.  My son's violin playing is very important to him but he isn't driven to be a professional classical violinist.

Hope something in this convoluted message helped a little.



May 25, 2009 at 07:55 AM ·

There really has to be a personality match between the player and the teacher, as far as what is expected and where they want to go.  My daughter is a reasonably good player, but she's not going to major in music.  We started out practicing together for school orchestra (this devious mom wanted practicing to be fun, so especially in 7th & 8th grade orchestra, I got the other part from the conductor and we'd simply play together).  It took me a year or so of talking to convince her to try private lessons, but the first teacher and she didn't hit it off (my daughter felt she wasn't challenged enough).  It took me 2 more years, until she was about 13, until I managed to get her with a teacher with whom she can work and get along.  It was a big relief!  Now I just hear the orchestra concerts and there is a recital once per month, but otherwise she plays with this teacher.  She's motivated to find a university with an orchestra she can play with. 

May 25, 2009 at 11:56 AM ·


I basically agree with your point above, and I also told Margaret to follow her daughter's lead.  But I think there is a problem with assuming that kids always know how best to spend their "free" time.  Some do.  But my experience has been that that kind of focus is really rather rare.  And it certainly doesn't run in my family--I don't know about Margaret's.  If I asked my own daughter how she wanted to spend her free time this summer, she would say "watching TV" and/or "playing computer games."  And that is what she would do if I didn't provide guidance and alternatives.  Parents have to walk a fine line, and the feedback we get from acquaintances is often more confusing than helpful--sometimes it can feel like no matter what we do, someone will tell us it's not right.  So we just have to put our heads down and do what we think is best for our own kids.

Also, regarding pricing.  At some point it's not about what you think a teacher is worth, but about what you can reasonably afford to pay.  I don't doubt that those teachers who charge $150 per hour or more are "worth" it to someone, but that pay scale would break our budget.  

May 25, 2009 at 01:45 PM ·

In regard to your original statements about what the teacher is covering in lessons:  etudes are not meant to be lingered on for too long, nor are they to be polished.  They're just exercises, nothing more for now.

I'm sure your teacher has his reasons for choosing a Bach Sonata rather than a Bach concerto but my reasoning would be opposite from his.  On the other hand the solo sonatas/partitas are essentially etudes in themselves and he's probably using them in that manner for now.  Go with it.

I understand your frustration with your child playing chords but there is no simple way to go about it - there's going to be some awkward unbearable hacking until she can get the hang of it, might as well start with the best chords ever written.

May 25, 2009 at 02:16 PM ·

Buri, have you been nipping on ye olde PJ bottle again?

 What the heck does this mean?





May 25, 2009 at 02:23 PM ·

Tippecanoe County Historical Association...???

May 25, 2009 at 02:43 PM ·

One can do worse than learn the "Tchai----" one line at a time. Back in the day I had a book with 10 of the world's greatest violin concertos and I learned to sight-read by reading through them (and faking where I had to) (including the big T). My playing today would be a lot better if I'd learned them one line at a time.

As a cello student less than 2 years in I studied the Haydn D Major one line at a time (some weeks) and as a result after only two years of cello lessons I had learned the entire concerto and the technique to do it.

Even now, when I learn new music that is beyond my sight-reading ability (which is pretty darn good) I have to learn those passages one phrase at a time - especially when the fingering or optimum position are tricky.


May 25, 2009 at 08:17 PM ·


Anne,  you go there too?!   We really must  start taking the masks off from next year.



May 25, 2009 at 08:20 PM ·

Buri, very happy to de-mask, but be sure to wear your rose-colored glasses too. 

(Insert smiley face here).

May 26, 2009 at 12:55 AM ·

I agree with many of the opinions of Karen A, and I'd like to extend them.  On this thread we've talked a lot about what you want and what the teacher wants, but we've not considered the student's opinions much.  Of course, your daughter is not old enough to understand values as we adults do, but she is a key player here.  The chemistry between the student and the teacher is one of the most important factors in the outcome of the lessons.  A trial lesson makes a lot of sense.  I give a lot of trial lessons, and sometimes the whole family attends, particularly families of certain ethnicities.  I often have discussions by email or on the phone with a parent of a prospective student.  In my very first email to the parent, I refer him/her to one of my web pages ( that tells a lot about me as a violin teacher.  The parents often tell me that they have read all the pages in my website and that they feel that they know me personally before they ever meet me.

Re taking instructions from the parent: Many of my students' parents are immigrants who want their child to learn some traditional songs from their own ethnic background, and I oblige.  (I learn a lot from this, too.)  Occasionally a parent or spouse of a student who loves to play folk music asks me to give the student some classical music to play, and I do.  I believe that giving the student a sample of several kinds of music is very fruitful.  The student may find something that he didn't know he liked.  Hopefully, he may simply find out that each genre has something of its own to offer.  I don't try to force a student to learn a genre that is anathema to him.  In the worst case, when I had a student try playing some Bach because that was what his mother loved, he played some of Bach's minuets like Irish jigs -- rather clever, actually.

You are an unusual parent because you play the violin yourself.  Most parents don't present this level of knowledge to a prospective teacher.  The prospective teacher may not know how to respond.  However, you can learn something about the teacher in this situation.  Is he open minded?  Does he insist on complete control of what and how to teach?  Does he teach each student as an individual or does he use a "one size fits all" approach?

In conclusion, I'll say that I wish I could get paid $70/hour.

May 26, 2009 at 06:05 AM ·


     Thanks for your comments. I think my daughter's "OK" with this teacher was far as chemistry--that is, I think she's fine with this teacher because he is just about all but praise  for her playing, does just a little bit of fixing, and doesn't ask her to do more than she does. In fact, after a piece has been "put to rest," she'll continue to play it on her own. I think she senses that she still wants to work on the piece and isn't quite ready to shelve it. 

   I can't tell if this teacher is open to suggestions I might have on how to work on things, because I haven't said anything to him about how he teaches, beyond asking him if he does recitals, and after reading a lot from some teachers in this discussion, I am glad I haven't said anything. I haven't heard him teach other students, although when we just started, the young boy who had his lesson before us didn't practice much, apparently, and the teacher seemed quite gruff with him. From the sound of it, I have a feeling that my daughter is probably one of his most advanced students.

   BTW, you might like to get $70/hr for teaching, but it'd quickly get swallowed up by the price of houses out here.

May 26, 2009 at 12:40 PM ·

Have you talked to other parents? If you know someone whose children takes lessons, they can be a valuable source of information. My daughter's present teacher was recommended by a parent with accomplished children. It's working out beautifully. My daughter and her teacher get along fabulously She also made a tremendous progress. 

May 26, 2009 at 12:58 PM ·

margaret, i can identify with your situation, as a parent of 2 kids on music, without much fire within, with no pro aspiration, but with an already established routine.  and with my kid on violin, we had to settle with a teacher nearby for convenience. i am not a good judge on music teacher, but i do think my kid can learn a lot, if not about music, at least through music, about problem solving, about sticking to fundamentals and routines.   IF my kid cannot put in enough time and effort to go over all the assignments and issues for the week suggested by the teacher, it may be too much for me to ask too much of the teacher to be more inspirational.  it would be great if every time my kid walks away from the lesson like those perlman masterclasses, where every point is nailed while everyone does the hahaha,  but reality is reality.  if we are to help average kids into above average level, it takes extra work, usually not put forth by an average kid.   it boils down to the product of what the kid, the parents and the teacher can contribute to the experience.   there is really a limit what a teacher can do with a kid meeting only once a week.   i think the kid and the parents have the advantage to work together, to kick up couple notches in terms of self initiatives.  my bias is that the teacher is sensitive enough to appreciate that extra effort and will "change" accordingly.    the student can take the lead and ignite the pilot light inside the teacher.   

having said that, i think if a teacher says  that he is too busy to arrange a once in a year recital for his students,  i would consider there is room for improvement on skills in time and business management.    in that case,  i think the parents need to make a stand, to stay or to continue the search for an appropriate teacher who can serve as a positive role model for the kids.   we go through the trouble to find trustworthy dentists, pediatricians, landscapers, etc.  we probably should consider all available options when finalizing a music teacher as well.

you said something about your kid still working on a piece after the teacher has passed it,,,i think that is wonderful.

May 26, 2009 at 04:43 PM ·

I second Ihnsouk's advice- talking to other parents has been an invaluable resource for me over the years. It's not that I've blindly followed any particular person's advice, but the more information and the more I can learn from the experience of others, the better my own decisions can be. Of course, I've made a lot of mistakes, but I hope I've learned from them in over 15 years of taking kids to music lessons.

I also second Al's advice in that there is nothing wrong with factoring in practical considerations in order to accommodate your family's needs. When I had a houseful of small children, I made a decision not to drive far for lessons (although now I drive literally hundreds of miles a week...) and for the most part I found good teachers near home. My biggest mistake, always, was not acting when I sensed a problem. Some teachers are easy to communicate with; some are not--  they are human. The best you can do is to treat them with respect and always honor the business aspect of the relationship because most teachers depend on their studio for a living. So, if you cannot finish out the year or semester, you should offer to pay the remaining tuition, even if there is no contract in place.

As for interviews and trial lessons-- it makes sense to me to call the prospective teacher and find out what his/her preference is. If the teacher has the time and inclination, you can find out a lot about one another just by talking on the phone for a few minutes. Enough, perhaps, to rule out a teacher who would not be a good fit for your child ("I require my students to practice 4 hours a day.") On the other hand, some people are just awkward on the phone. I would feel weird going to a teacher alone for an interview, but I think a trial lesson is essential. For a student your daughter's age, it makes sense to sit in on the lesson if the teacher is willing; in a year or two, you should expect to wait outside. You should be prepared with a check in hand, although in my experience very few teachers will accept payment for a trial lesson. But you should always offer.

As for the rate of payment, that varies with cost of living locally, as noted above. Teachers of beginning and advanced students tend to charge less than highly sought after teachers of pre-conservatory students. $70/80 in the Bay Area for an intermediate student sounds fair, or maybe even a bit of a bargain. In my area there are some excellent, highly sought-after teachers who charge around that rate for advanced students (don't ask me why-- they certainly could charge more) but most charge double or even triple. Since your daughter isn't planning to go into music, you probably won't need to take out a second mortgage to pay for her lessons-- unless she suddenly catches the music bug (beware!)

My last point is about performance opportunities. I have four kids and only one will go into music professionally, but they all had plenty of performance opportunities from a young age, thanks to our proximity and enrollment in a few music schools. Sometimes their lessons were through the music schools, but most of the time they were studying privately outside of the schools and using the schools for orchestra, chamber, choir, etc. As a result of these opportunities they are all pretty much fearless about public speaking or public performances of any type. Having done plenty of auditions, masterclasses, and juries, they don't have problems with test anxiety or interviews. Another bonus that has carried on beyond their musical lives is their ease in memorization. When I contrast their musical education to my own (I studied music regularly from age 9 to 17, but had only a few, terrifying performance opportunities and never learned to memorize a score) I can see how well they were served by early and frequent performances. My reason for going into such detail is to agree that it benefits your daughter if you can provide her with performance opportunities (and more than just a yearly recital, which in itself could become a source of anxiety if it becomes overly important). Even if she stays with her current teacher, you could perhaps convince her to join a youth orchestra, a chamber program, or even try out busking at a local outdoor mall. In our area it is common for music students to do recitals at local nursing homes/retirement centers, where they have a ready-made, receptive audience. With her teacher's permission, you could organize something like this for your daughter and a few other of his students, splitting the cost of the accompanist among parents. Three or four recitals a year would go a long way to normalize the experience of playing before an audience.

May 26, 2009 at 09:14 PM ·

Yes, thank you all, especially many parents who have shared your experiences.

As E. Smith put it,

"It's not that I've blindly followed any particular person's advice, but the more information and the more I can learn from the experience of others, the better my own decisions can be."

I also agree on the value of memorizing pieces. Not every single one, but at least on a regular basis. You can probably guess that that hasn't been something that's been assigned in the last year. Not major, just part of a teaching philosophy, I suppose, and if a teacher doesn't ask it of his students, if a student continues on, she will learn. I personally think memorization of music isn't as difficult a skill to acquire, even later in life, as playing in front of people.

And Al, thanks for your comments too. When I hear my daughter playing pieces that are no longer assigned, that does make me feel like there is real progress, not the technical sort, but something inside.

May 27, 2009 at 01:38 PM ·

i don't want to take one point in this discussion off to a different tangent, but i think a meeting with a new teacher prior to the beginning of the lessons is as essential as sunshine and oxygen...:)   what is more pleasant and effective than going over things over a cup of tea or coffee?

what are we selling, what are we buying,,,how else would you know?

teachers should be thrilled to have a chance to get to know the kid and the family,,,of course the family is "interviewing"  the teacher, but it works boths ways, so what is there to hide or feel uneasy about? with the past history of the kid handed over on a platter,  the teacher is provided with essential info to tailor a fitting program and a chance to market his own approach and perspective.    i have seen great teachers not connecting with great students because psychologically they have not been on the same wavelength from day one.   never a team.   i suspect there never was an " interview" on day one where concerns, expectations and feelings were exchanged candidly and openly. 

in fact, this first meeting sets the tone for future meetings where progress can be mutually evaluated among everyone.  it is this type of timely, hands-on management  i think that will make meaningful differences over the long term.


May 27, 2009 at 01:29 PM ·

hmmm, double happiness today i guess, with just one touch.

May 27, 2009 at 08:27 PM ·


for whta it@s worth I have a fac eot fac emeeting with prospectie studnets of any age.  I ask them what thye wnat or nee dout of the violin and what they expect form a teacher and lessons.  I then explain whatI ask for if we have good common gound.  This includes taking four lessons before eithe rof us makes any decision about a mor elong term relationship.  This means I can also turn round after four lessons and advise them to go elsehwere (i try to familiarize myslef with other local teachers) with no hard feelings on either side.

But then my job is a luxury;)



May 28, 2009 at 12:28 AM ·

Thank you, Al and Buri. Those are very helpful suggestions--the "teacher -student - parent conference" or "tea," (and I know some who have responded would probably suggest getting the nosy parent out of the picture), as well as the idea of a short-term trial period for lessons. Not that I could request them of prospective teachers, but maybe teachers who read this may get some ideas.


May 28, 2009 at 03:38 AM ·

" and I know some who have responded would probably suggest getting the nosy parent out of the picture"

no one stated, suggested or even hinted at this

May 28, 2009 at 12:59 PM ·

I have a suggestion about switching teachers in a smaller town. First quit the lessons with the current teacher. Then look for a new one. Don't try to sneak around while you are with a teacher as they all know each other and you might hurt the current teachers feelings or stir up tensions between teachers. If it is not working out, just tell them and don't make it personal. Thank them for their instruction and don't get into what is wrong/not wrong. They all have things to offer students at particular times, strengths and weaknesses, based upon the particular kid. I suspect your teacher is assigning pieces based upon experience with other students. Our teacher is all about "sound production" at the moment with emphasis on the bow arm. He is also pounding on "first reads". At the beginning he was all about intonation and the left hand and hardly talked about the bow as compared to now so it depends on the kid.

Kids go through phases so your daughter's enthusiasm, IMHO, should not be the basis of your decision. Get the best teacher. Just tell her she is doing it and needs to practice. I only let my kids quit activities because they need more time for a particular interest. The pattern at 12 is to quit things and start sitting around which is no good. If she doesn't practice, what is she doing with her time? That would be my question. She needs to practice if her teacher requires it or not.Times Call the best teacher you are aware of and tell them you would like an appointment and are open to their advice...Not lessons...just advice. Don't be intimidate by some older guy or gal or soloist. Don't ask them for lessons, just take their advice on who would be a good teacher for your child. Teachers are generous and will usually give some pretty good advice and your job is to take it. You should expect to pay for this interview much like going to a consultant. Teachers also invited us to observe a lesson. That was very good as well.  The child can see what they are like in the lesson. Have your kids prepare their BEST pieces and then go to the meeting and listen, listen, listen. Good teachers don't blast the last teacher. That was a big red flag. Be wary of teachers who are hyper-critical of the last teacher as this is disrespectful. You want a pro...that is all. Next, ask how many students the teacher has. I stayed away from factory studios, but you will have to decide if you are comfortable. Make sure there is time between lessons so that the next student is not walking in near the end of your lesson every week. This is a bad sign. That shows a teacher who runs by the clock and is probably over committed and trying to jam too many students in after school.

May 28, 2009 at 12:54 PM ·

Thanks Kingston. That's valuable sharing. I am in a small town and I understand what you meant.

I have 2 kids, 2 instruments each. I have moved across cities in the last few years, hence had a number of teachers. I have never met one who doesnt have students back to back. Putting gaps in between means loss revenue? Yes, I feel rushed and I dont even have time to clarify certain things before the next kid comes in to tune. Only now in summer, do I feel more relaxed. Yes, I do envy.

But I do undertsand that there is probably no "ideal" taecher - who plays well, inspires, does not run a factory studio, has a personal interest in your musical education.

Asking too much?

May 28, 2009 at 01:07 PM ·

We finally found a teacher who does not do this. Try an orchestar member as they tend to teachl less and don't make their main income from teaching. They seem less regimented in that regard. You might want to tell the teacher you are uncomfortable with the kids walking in and ask if they can wait outside. If it is a Suzuki studio where this is pretty common in my experience, I told the teacher that at 45 minutes (in an hour lesson) I wanted her to walk through the assignments etc. before the next kid came in. It is very distracting and a waste of time. That worked out for a while. If you don't speak up they never stop it. Teacher who get overly touchy about things are amatuers. Real teachers are professional and care about these types of concerns. It is tough in a small town. We try to go to summer programs to get a bigger perspective. While I don't think parents should butt in on the content of the lesson, I think on issues of logistics and schedules it is very appropriate.

May 28, 2009 at 01:19 PM ·

"First quit the lessons with the current teacher. Then look for a new one."

i always treasure j's advice, but is it  possible that after quitting the current teacher and then looking around,  it turns out no other teachers are better fit nearby?  posting a thread on asking for advice how to explain the roundabout when going back to the original teacher?  :)

which one is the lesser of the 2 evils then:)...looking while still with the teacher or quitting, looking and getting stuck?  i suspect most folks have done the former, not just with violin class but with other situations as well.

sam, i think the "nosy parent" factor has been brought up in several posts in this thread.   may be to some readers or teachers, some of the concerns posted are questionable.  but i think that is the whole point of this thread:  if margaret or other parents with similar situations have everything perfectly under control, margaret would not have bothered to raise the issues.   every parent has something unique to deal with. often it is not that straight forward or clear cut or the entire picture may not be easily conveyed through postings here. 

May 28, 2009 at 01:37 PM ·

There are so many variables when you search for a teacher - and it is truly a blessing when you find a good fit (both ways).  My 16 yo took piano lessons at 7; she has an amazing ear so progressed pretty quickly - her teacher really enjoyed teaching her.  Her teacher was very technical and very good (music store lessons :o)  However...... when it began to get a bit more difficult and my daughter wasn't quite as eager to practice (remember... she was 7/8 lol), there arose a tension between them.  I think the teacher's expectations and my expectations were not the same at this point.  She wanted my daughter to practice for 2 hours a day - not necessarily a bad thing, but our life really did not allow it at the time.  I expected my daughter to finish out the year and she did, but it got very uncomfortable at the end and really turned her off of lessons for a while.   At 10 she began playing guitar and had an amazing teacher (who came to our home - I think that right there made for a very relaxed lesson).  Well, lo and behold she began practicing 2 hours a day - because she wanted to.  She still plays every day (her teacher has since gone on to fame and fortune :o(  ) and we are currently looking for another teacher for her.

  My 14 yo began violin about a year and a half ago.  Her teacher was referred to me by a friend of a friend.  God truly was involved because I could not have asked for a better teacher for my daughter's personality.  I'll spare you the whole story, but suffice it to say that finding a good match was at the top of my list.  Her teacher does not have a ton of private students (she also teaches strings at a local high school), and there is no one before or after my daughter's lesson - so a 1/2 hour lesson really means 1/2 hour of hands on instruction and 1/2 hour of conversation about what goals we're moving toward, instruments, bow suggestions, and life in general ;o) 

 Up until now, I've never 'auditioned' a teacher - and I'm hoping that I wont have to for a very long time.  I guess I'll have to cross that bridge when I get there!

May 28, 2009 at 02:09 PM ·

attn: al ku

Where in any thread does anybody state  "getting the nosy parent out of the picture"???

Fact is nowhere. 

May 28, 2009 at 02:35 PM ·

may be we should be more supportive of parents with inquiries than confrontational, sam.    that  is not a fact either, but my opinion.

May 28, 2009 at 02:44 PM ·

Oh my...

We hear a lot of venting/frustrations from teachers with non-practising kids. Parents have their fair shar of frustrations too. Especially frustrating when the kids do all of their part of the bargain, and parents work as hard, on a daily basis.

May 28, 2009 at 03:11 PM ·

I agree with Al. When Margaret posted originally, she was met with a confrontational attitude by some of the teachers who responded. To her credit, Margaret responded pleasantly, and with a fair amount of restraint.

I'm sure it is very frustrating for teachers when parents are pushy, late in payment, and deliver their offspring to lessons unprepared. Of course I understand that a private music teacher has no obligation to appreciate the complexities of any given student's family life, nor the challenges associated with raising mercurial teenagers, nor funding their education. But private music lessons are a luxury in our society. and given the precariousness of all arts-related businesses in our economy, might it not might make sense for arts providers to try to extend the illusion of empathy towards their clients (even if none exists)? It may seem offensive that a parent is considering questions of cost and efficiency, but consumers should and will do that, like it or not.

When my kid was a serious figure-skater (one of the first of many things our family ultimately gave up in order to fund violin lessons) I remember overhearing another parent comment while watching a young girl's double salchow, "I wonder how much that jump cost her parents." It was an eye-opening moment for me, since I grew up in the arts and had internalized the idea that artistic achievement occurs outside of normal economies and cannot be quanitified. But the quantum leap from artistic sport to sporty art opened my mind, if only for a second. How much did I pay for my kid to learn the Bach Double? And years down the road, how much for each of those Paganni caprices? Sobering thought. It's hard for me to keep this in mind, but easier for other parents: violin lessons are a voluntary diverson of family resources for what can easily be described as a non-essential luxury.

May 28, 2009 at 03:52 PM ·


....  "I wonder how much that jump cost her parents." It was an eye-opening moment for me, since I grew up in the arts and had internalized the idea that artistic achievement occurs outside of normal economies and cannot be quanitified. But the quantum leap from artistic sport to sporty art opened my mind, if only for a second. How much did I pay for my kid to learn the Bach Double? And years down the road, how much for each of those Paganni caprices? Sobering thought. It's hard for me to keep this in mind, but easier for other parents: violin lessons are a voluntary diverson of family resources for what can easily be described as a non-essential luxury.


You just did that to me! That is a really new way of looking at things. Scary sobering way, nonethelss.

May 28, 2009 at 05:11 PM ·

This has certainly taken a nasty twist. Never, have I met a colleague who did not factor all sorts of variables into each particular student. Child develpoment and psychology of learning are at the fore. It  just happens that music  and specifically violin are being used as the teaching tools. Empathy, yes indeed, 100%. However, enabling of either student and/or parent...NEVER

May 28, 2009 at 06:30 PM ·


I like what you wrote!  I was just sharing the cost of lessons with my son this morning.  My son is very, very fortunate to have most of his lessons paid for by a particular organization but if he didn't get this help, his lessons would be about $4000 a year!  Holy cow!  So, I told him that he'd better be successful and work hard for that kind of money that someone is shelling out.  He knows I'm not being pushy or mean (since he pushes back much harder than I could ever push him) but my point is that this is a big investment and with that kind of investment comes a responsibility to work hard and progress and succeed at the set goals.

I love his teacher and he is sooo good for my son as he keeps him working hard and calls a spade a spade.  I am not a pushy parent but I sure do encourage my son to do what his teacher says if he doesn't want to lose him as a teacher. :-) 

May 28, 2009 at 07:40 PM ·

Thanks Al always great to read your ideas.

I know we hit a situation where we were going to quit if we found a new teacher or not. So once again, it is a matter of professionalism on the teacher's side and where the kid is at as well. I personally think overstaying your welcome with the wrong teacher can do more harm that good, but that is only my personal experience. You need to ask around of course, other parents, older students, etc. If your teacher is a professional then quittings a non-issue really and he/she is aware of the situation and may even help you find a new teacher. We have encountered some very professional teachers and others who are more emotional when change was in the air. So there you go. A professional teacher wants the student to progress and is secure in themself as a teacher and musician.

For the original poster though, I would also recommend you go to a few recitals of different teachers and see how the students play. Introduce yourself and talk to the parents about how it is going. Are kids in tune, crying if they make a mistake, happy and supportive in general? That reflects the tone a teacher sets. The proof of the pudding is in the eating afterall!!!!

I stay with teachers who teach skills that can be generalized over many pieces.  So you don't pay to learn the a particular concerto, you learn skills you take forward on the next piece and on and on. A teacher is not doing you a favor teaching your child, they are part of a collaboration. I believe it is best stay with the pros and it usually ends up fine in the end. There are no deals in the arts, but there are people who are reasonable and those that are not. So to in teachers and parents I suppose. The kids however need to practice though regardless of what the adults are doing! That is the only way they can benefit in the end. Children can sometimes make foolish choices so I agree with Rebecca that a parent needs to make the student aware that they have a unique opportunity and not to squander it. Kids that play from early childhood take music lessons for granted. They don't remember life before playing. They need a firm nudge sometimes to better appreciate what they have been given. If that is pushy then ...guilty as charged. 


May 28, 2009 at 10:47 PM ·

Hi, yes the idea of how much cost this jump is frightening but true!!!  How much too do a Sarah Chang?   Ok we can talk long about this lol  Sure success requires talent and ... money from a source or another may it be called parents or scholarships!   

But not realizing what one has is fairly common amongst people, not only kids.  The very talented (In violin or other things) do not always realize their luck.  (I can relate to this.  Those who have the best grades at my college are not, really not always those who work the hardest!) Many healthy persons take it for granted, etc etc etc

Perhaps, I realize the value of all this because I was a teen when I started, say the price of my violin and lessons... 

Ennough for now, may I go practice to make this investment rentable!!! lol 


May 28, 2009 at 11:08 PM ·

ha, lets address folks by letters:)

e,  concur that it can be really costly to keep up an music education (esp the fine education that your kid is getting).   an immediate payback is not built into the equation, unlike some other fields.  but, on the other hand, rhetorically speaking, there is no better place to park one's money than children's education.  i have friends' children still in training for serious figure skating.  boy, they have to get up at 4 am everyday to get ring time: (   glad your kid has passed that sport,,,save those kness and ankles!

j, thanks for that post with a lot of helpful, practical considerations and things to watch out for.  what an interesting social dynamic!

just saw andrew's lament below...well, money management and budgeting for an education is part of the education process.  it is an important consideration.  lunch is not only not free, but getting more expensive.  i think e's friend was saying it  tongue in cheek.

May 28, 2009 at 11:01 PM ·


It is not - "How much did it cost to do the bach Double, or how much for that Paganini Caprice?"

It is - 10, 20, 40 years later "How much the ability to do the Bach Double, How much did the ability to do that Paganini Caprice do for my LIFE?"

It is what you as a parent will have been able to contribute to your child's life. A day does not go by that I do not think of what my parents gave me through getting me into violin and later, cello, lessons (70 - 57 years ago). I can still visualize the final violin duets my father and I were able to play together (55 years ago), a treasured memory.



May 28, 2009 at 11:35 PM ·

A day does not go by that I do not think of what my parents gave me true I thank mine as well  and as for duets? Thanksgiving ritual every year it was  Kaliwoda before the turkey. Such wonderful memories.

May 29, 2009 at 12:43 AM ·

Kaliwoda!!  Gotta pull those out... ah memories!

May 29, 2009 at 01:33 AM ·

the turkey on the other hand,  is a tad peeved....

May 29, 2009 at 04:43 AM ·

Thanks, many of you who have posted your experiences and advice. I'm reading carefully and thinking about a lot of things. I have not participated in a discussion like this before, and I have learned a lot about my original question(s), plus much more.

The discussion about cost and value of music had me thinking.

I ran into a friend from youth orchestra days several years ago. I had started playing violin again after many years off, enjoying it more than ever. I shared this with the friend, who told me, "Oh, I would not enjoy playing my violin again. It always gave me such a stressful feeling."  My recollection was that she took lessons with someone who now is possibly one of the premier violin teachers in the LA area. My recollection also was that she was "a good player," but true--not playing with great skill or passion.  I didn't ask her why she kept with violin up through high school.

So, I'll keep  your many suggestions and remarks in mind.

May 29, 2009 at 06:06 AM ·

When you talk to prospective teachers, keep in mind that you are an unusual parent beccause you play the violin.  The teacher may not have had discussions with parents as knowledgeable as you.  The teacher may be surprised and possibly uncomfortable talking with you.  Try not to behave in a way that the teacher may perceive as threatening.  Treat him/her with the respect due to a teacher.  The teacher is accustomed to being the only one who makes decisions about the student's training.  The two of you may have to work out a process in which both are involved in decision making.  A lot depends on the teacher's willingness to be flexible and to work with you.

May 29, 2009 at 05:38 PM ·

Andrew, I hope you are right with the "for life" thing.  Every morning when I take my violin, it is all gone (I mean even the basics!!!). Everything always come back at 10 PM and more but then it is near the bed time!!!   I am frighten all day long that it is all lost!  Ah, how weird each person works!  lol


May 30, 2009 at 01:17 PM ·

I teach in a small town, and as such, it is hard to get students and build a studio.  I am getting my Master's degree in violin performance so that I can be a private teacher/orchestral performer, so my teaching will probably be my primary income at least for a while -- It's what I love to do.

When I brought in a flier about myself to a local music store a few years ago, asking that they just hang it up, they offered me a private teaching position.  The terms were agreeable, but the schedule isn't ideal, as it is run by the half-hour block.  My students are, unfortunately, back to back, but to not do this would be extremely complicated for the store to manage, which they aren't willing to do.  I can't afford to have a half-hour between students, so I do have them back to back.  It's a pretty decent routine, and when I have to go over a little bit with one student, I always make sure to give the next their full time, and whatever more is necessary.  If I have a person who doesn't like the back-back style, I usually put them at the end of my day, where it's not an issue.

My teacher in high school taught this way, and she's played in all the local symphonies, teaches at her home, and doesn't need the money (she's retired).  I wasn't the least bit bothered when she ran late with the person before me, and I had to wait a few minutes.  I got a good lesson, and that's all that matters, IMHO.

Just my 2 cents.

May 30, 2009 at 03:17 PM ·


I think you can do it. It is just when the next student walks into the room and starts tuning. There is a good book called something like, "The Hurried Child" that you might benefit from if you are in this situation. It discusses in one part how the teacher can make the child not feel hurried regardless of the circumstances, which in your case are limitted by the store.

When I said that violin lessons are best when they can be generalized over many concertos etc. I guess I would also add that  lessons can also be generalized over ones life outside of the field of music. In particualr if the teacher is of that mind and sees it as part of an total education versus a tool to do this audition or that audition. The long view they call it. For example, my sons have great, great concentration for their age. Much better than mine was. I associate this skill, which is rare in the children I work with at their age, directly to concentration and etudes and that type of thing. Persistance is a virtue in my opinion and no matter what you sound like, good violin lessons can teach you that. Also, this leads to strategic thinking in students. They have to deconstruct how they will practice best and that is helpful in the academic areas as well. So no one really pays by the jump, the turn etc. Al, how much have you paid for each hole-in-one for your daughter? Just kidding but OUCH if you are inclinded to think that way. I find myself doing that when I ski. How many runs can I get divided by the lift ticket.....there is really no end to it once you start doing that.  But if you look at it that way it will snuff your dreams. Not everything is a commodity even though popular culture might indicate otherwise.

Buri,...."a little peeved"?  Elegantly understated.

May 30, 2009 at 04:19 PM ·


Even though I provide private recitals for my students and do not consider them "public" concerts, I do invite prospective students and parents to upcoming recitals.  Some attend, some don't.


May 30, 2009 at 04:50 PM ·


When transitioning from one student to the next, I do have little tricks where I ask the next student to go in and get unpacked/tuned while I talk to the previous students' parents as need be.  Usually I can wrap up assignments and such in the last 2-3 minutes of the lesson, which is helpful anyway.  I write the assignments in their notebooks, and parents can always contact me via email or something if they have questions during the week.  I don't think anyone gets that rushed, time-wasted feeling at all.  Is this what you mean?

May 30, 2009 at 05:59 PM ·

Pauline, thanks for the comments, and BTW I am learning from all the other comments as well. My parents didn't know much about music, but they went along with the lessons for most part, especially my mom with all the driving to and from. With my relatively much greater background in music, I thought I'd be able to give my daughers  more support, but i see that it could certainly backfire.  We've been discussing violin lessons, but we have seen how these lessons have lifelong, widespread effects.  In the least, I do hope that regardless of what violin means to her later in life, my daughter will at least have the values of hard work, discipline, persistance, fine tuning  rooted in her. Lessons apart, most people do not want to be like their parents--could that be so?  We have handle our passions with care, and we have to realize that our kids may not share them. but back to what Pauline said, I do not expect to find a teacher who, knowing that I played, would ask for or accommodate opinions from me.   With the other teachers we've had, who have had time to "chat" in between lessons, we've once ina while talked about  instruments, or about their experiences as performing musicians, etc. A good relationship, even if it's just a few words here and there, or as Tasha does, availing herself for questions by email, is something to appreciate, not just for parents but for the student. Lacking in people skills, management skills-- you probably have to make up for it in other areas.

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