Difficult Adult Student

October 20, 2009 at 02:38 AM · Help! I received an email this past week from a gentleman that was inquiring about violin lessons. I've been running ads in craigslist, so sometimes I get interesting inquiries. This is no exception. I informed him that the first lesson would be more of an evaluation to determine best how to proceed in teaching. He informed me at that point that I best not have the expectation that he will play or practice scales because "I will lose my mind" and "don't think for a second that I will walk out of a lesson and play VIvaldi". I was stunned. Then he proceeded to state "I just want to learn vibrato, I've been playing for 8 years and have trouble with vibrato-that's all you need to teach me." What do I do? I saw him this eve--I don't know what to do?!!

Replies (96)

October 20, 2009 at 02:42 AM ·

Drop him. Putting up with that kind of b.s. is not worth any amount of money he pays you.

October 20, 2009 at 02:56 AM ·

Don't prolong the agony.  End it now. 

October 20, 2009 at 03:13 AM ·

thank him for making us other adult beginners look better. hope my teacher reads this.


October 20, 2009 at 03:15 AM ·

Yikes!  I would phone him and gracefully bow out as his new teacher.  Next, I would take down the ad on Craigslist.  Let's face it, an internet ad is going to attract some undesireables compared to word-of-mouth referrals.

October 20, 2009 at 03:28 AM ·


everybody is right.

Just point out to him that you ahve a special payement system for individual aspects of technique.   Vibrato is widely held to be central to the violnists art and therefore a tad expensive.  It`s a flat fee of 10, ooo dollars (in advance).



October 20, 2009 at 03:33 AM ·

I think Id take the easy way out, he claims he's been playing for 8 years and just wants to learn vibrato. I think Id explain to him, you only teach beginners,regardless if thats true or not and him having 8 years in, he would be better seeking someone else.



October 20, 2009 at 03:44 AM ·

As an adult student, let me interject what I think it is fair for the student to expect.

I am an adult student; at 55, I do not look up to you as an adult, but I see you as a peer in life. I came to you because you have a skill I lack, or at least because you have the skill to teach me a skill I lack.

I may have expectations aside from your normal students; in fact, I do. I personally do not care if I play for anyone else, I just wanted to learn the violin as a child, and now I am letting myself. I don't care if I ever play for anyone else (well, my grandson enjoys my music; he conducts!).

That said, for me to be able to learn anything from you, I need to be ready to ACCEPT. I cannot hold control and gain anything of value; I need to release that control to you, through the teacher/student contract. I can tell you what I wish to learn, but then I need to be able to depend that you know more than me about how to get there; if it is scales, I need to do scales. If I need to practice barefoot, I need to practice barefoot.

When the time comes that I don't want to practice scales, or play barefoot, that is the time for us to part. It may be on good terms, or on poor terms, but that is the time.

So, you are getting the opportunity to part right at the beginning of the relationship! See how Quickly he learned everything you can teach him!

I am struggling how to imagine a healthy learning process where the student is in control; the instructor MUST be the one with the decider hat on, not the student (sorry, I had to slip that in there!).

October 20, 2009 at 03:59 AM ·

Oh my! Such wonderful responses and so quickly! I can't thank you all enough. What I wrote was only the tip of the iceberg -and all during a 30 minute lesson. Exhausting? Yes! I will take what you wrote and come to a decision soon. I am a very determined person and perhaps just out of spite to prove to him he is wrong, I am considering making him suffer through the lessons. If he should choose to not want me to teach him, then he can always quit. He questioned why I would potentially tap the VIva Vibrato materials that my professor in college co-authored---"it's not just more exercises is it?" I told him you've spent 8 years and what do you have to show for it? Not much, if you ask me!

He also didn't understand when I began the evaluation why I would worry about his posture and positioning. "why, will that fix my vibrato?" He couldn't get it that you don't learn vibrato by playing gypsy tunes (which is his goal). So, I starting working on compiling several pages of exercises and info for him (and of course my other students that could use the same info) should I continue the lessons. Continue providing me suggestions, opinions etc. You are so very appreciated everyone...and thanks Buri for your student perspective.

October 20, 2009 at 04:31 AM ·

Good grief. If you keep him, make him pay for it with misery. <evil grin> I am an adult student, and I sure as heck don't try to boss my teacher around. He says practice scales and exercises, that's what I do. If he decides to tell me to jump like a frog...I'll do that, too. And so should that guy.

October 20, 2009 at 04:35 AM ·


Don't hesitate - dump him.  People like that will cause nothing but issues and it's really not worth your time. 

October 20, 2009 at 05:17 AM ·

Interesting discussion and, indeed, a seemingly difficult student. But it does raise an interesting point, particularly for older students.

I'm in my mid-50s and have started to learn the violin. I ended a six-month relationship with a very good teacher -- good credentials, good player, great personality -- because she showed no interest in helping me learn to play what I want to play on the violin.

I understand the need for structure to learning, the value of scales, the importance of technique and all that goes with that. But do all students need the same lock-step approach -- the same Suzuki studies, etudes from the classical canon, etc. -- to learn the instrument?

The difficulty I am now having is finding a teacher who is as willing to work with me, as I am to work with him or her. I'm willing to put in the time on scales, technical exercises and the like, but -- and this may be because of my age -- I have no interest in spending months and months learning and playing classical pieces. Surely, there are enough technical challenges in the music I do want to play (klezmer, eastern European folk, Roma, etc.) to cover the bowing, fingering, shifting, intonation, expressive etc. techniques that I need to learn.

Good teacher-student relationships, it seems to me, are partnerships, not dictatorships.

By all means, teachers should refuse students who make unreasonable demands, or carry unrealistic attitudes or expectations. (I wouldn't put up with that in my classroom.) But surely teachers should also have enough flexibility to work with motivated students to help those students reach their goals, even if they differ from what the teacher considers proper, appropriate or normal.

October 20, 2009 at 06:04 AM ·


Mark wrote:

>The difficulty I am now having is finding a teacher who is as willing to work with me, as I am to work with him or her. I'm willing to put in the time on scales, technical exercises and the like, but -- and this may be because of my age -- I have no interest in spending months and months learning and playing classical pieces. Surely, there are enough technical challenges in the music I do want to play (klezmer, eastern European folk, Roma, etc.) to cover the bowing, fingering, shifting, intonation, expressive etc. techniques that I need to learn.

Mark, you sound like an ideal student. I think the origin of the problem in your case is not quite the same.   Your goal in learning the violin is not the same as classical training.  There is no point in climbing a ladder if it has been put against the wrong wall.   You actually need to find a teacher who can teahc you about the styles you are interested in or bite the bullet a sa claccisist;)  If you came to me I would spend time finding out what your goals were and then perhaps have to explain that I am not the right perosn to help you.

In classical terms yu actually rais quite an interestng point:  do students have t go through the cannonic classic repertoire to get ,,,, where?  Into a community orchestra. What is the goal?

Ihave often argued for and advocated the classic etudes and scale son this sitebecause that is why they are classic and the road to mastery is a tough one.  But sometimes things come along that give us a fresh perspective and we are free to question things as we see fit.  In my case I got a great deal of impetus in this regard from Drew Lecher`s book which you can check out on his web site.   This does rathe rraise the question  if you can cover most of the aspects of technique in a veyr systematic way why bother with all those etude books?   Teachers are often guilty of duplicating material in etudes anyway but maye they are just too long and an adult learner might just need to get the pont and then spend a feew minutes on it everyday along with other odds and sods before getting into whatever music they want.     Whereas I would expect someone training to be a pro to practic escale sfor 50 minutes a day I wouldn`t see any problem with an adult doing ten minutes here and there. It all adds up by the end of the day or week.

Whatever, I hope you find the right teacher.



October 20, 2009 at 10:23 AM ·

 Why not just give him a few lessons if you have the time? It sounds like he just needs some questions answered, not a long term teacher. And it could mean a referral of a great student.

 Attitude while learning or teaching go both ways. But unlike a student, the teacher must demonstrate by example the value of "wax on & wax off" and explain to the student the wisdom and reasoning of each lesson, so the student understands how each lesson contributes to his goal. Making all of this fun is the challenge to keeping students long term.

October 20, 2009 at 10:56 AM ·

Case by case wise, IMHO vibrato isn't something that can be magically learned from teachers. My teacher did asked me to do a unique finger exercise (without a violin), and showed me in slow motion on how to do it on the violin.

That's it, in one single lessons. The rest? I learned from watching a lot of players, different vibratos, different character, different sound. When I was practicing, I recall the images of those vibratos, and try to visualize it in my head an apply it on my fingers. It require a lot of self exploring and experimenting. I find it's pretty difficult to teach vibrato, some of my students aren't even motivated to even try it; some students will just learn it right away in a few lessons, they did it on their own, what I did was just demostrate some key points.

I love the way my teacher teach, he'll let his students to think and solve a problem on their own, not because he doesn't care for his students, I find it's more effective to learn that way, where the students will thoroughly understand when they learn something new.

October 20, 2009 at 11:23 AM ·

 It's just an E-mail ,you can't really tell if he is being difficult.Talk to him on the phone,ask him a few questions,then judge .

I've had a few students who have come to me and ask for help in one or two areas.It's no big deal,theres always other areas they need work on.If he only wants help with his  vibrato then teach him that ,>why is that a bad thing ?

October 20, 2009 at 12:31 PM ·

Actually, the original email was quite short. I then contacted him by phone to schedule the first lesson/eval. It was during the phone call and the lesson that he made it quite clear that the only thing he wants to learn is vibrato. He seems to take the stance that theh music he is playing: Kansas tunes, Gypsy songs, celctic....they just "know" how to play with vibrato and all this nonsense of scales and theory and etudes and exercises-all that is just a waste. That "stuff" is unnecessary to learn vibrato. The big question is..Is he right? I don't agree with it, so what should I do? I feel that yes, he is indeed disrespectful. But, I can choose to not let that bother me. So, I try to convince him that I really do know what I am showing him, teaching, demonstrating etc is the correct thing to do. He just questions me on everything I do. Interesting topic don't you think? Thanks as always for the wonderful replies!


October 20, 2009 at 12:45 PM ·


you could point out that Bobby Lakatos is a very classically trained violinist.

If one makes an analogy with learning a language then one needs sounds ,  grammar,  discourse etc.  He just wants to gurgle like a baby...



October 20, 2009 at 12:55 PM ·

The teacher and student need to be pretty clear from the start about goals, expectations, and what it takes to play properly from the teacher's perspective. It was interesting to get some feedback from the other side of the fence -namely an adult  student. It's true that an adult learning for pleasure has needs that are worlds apart from an advanced high school student who wants to get into a conservatory. It's also true that a teacher need not be a "dictator". But the fact is that a teacher must be the "boss" to a reasonable extent. Even in our modern age of anything goes, political correctness, accepting everything and everybody blah, blah - you can't and mustn't abandon this fact. If the student knows best, why even approach a teacher?

I've encountered this attitude from many - certainly not all - adult learners, as well. They feel that they're hiring you the same way that they might hire a contractor to re-do their kitchen, and they're calling the shots. If they can't/won't be quickly disabused of this notion, drop them like a hot potato, or you'll have nothing but grief.

I really don't have time to post this morning, felt felt compelled to, as apparrently others have. This seems to strike a nerve.

October 20, 2009 at 01:01 PM ·

"He just questions me on everything I do."

There is nothing wrong with an adult student asking why something is done.  When this question is asked with an open heart, both of you can benefit.  If this question is asked, or demanded, in a defensive manner, there is little or no chance for building a successful student-teacher relationship.

Respect is a two-way street...

October 20, 2009 at 01:13 PM ·

I see my teacher as the boss. He's older than me, he knows what he's doing, and his job is to teach. Mine is to learn and do what he says. He knows my goals and what I want, we established that before a single lesson. He teaches at the music conservatory at the university  where I earned my IT degree, so when I go on campus for my lessons, I fall right back into student mode anyway. I feel very fortunate to have this teacher...and I wouldn't dream of trying to tell him how to teach me.

October 20, 2009 at 02:04 PM ·

Some adults are so pretentious, to proud roosters to have a teacher, it's terrible and they'll stay... terrible with this way of thinking.   (I am not talking about those who can't afford lessons)

If he is that good, I would have asked him to play something for me so that I can see his problems in his vibratos...  

Sure if I were you I would drop it after but my ears/eyes would have had the satisfaction to see someone who claims high and loud he doesn't need a teacher pissed out unfront of a teacher! (good lesson to cure pretention, no?)  Many chances are, he would have never wanted to play something in front of you... Either way, he passes for a ridicoulous and hopfully realizes he is...


I agree the teacher should always have the last word because you are suppose to take one that has much more experience than you and that you trust 100%.  It's find to come up with ideas, questions etc but if he/she disagrees with them, they surely have a very good reason to do so and usually, it's for your good!!!   The only reasons to argue is if the teacher does something fairly knowned as stupid by other teachers (like to force a student to use a rest if the student has pain from it and is not comfortable...) Then I would not only argue but change!!!

October 20, 2009 at 02:28 PM ·

 Are you getting anything out of this relationship?  Money?  Challenge?  If yes, then why not give it a try?  If no, and it's just going to be aggravation for you, tell him that you're sorry, but he needs a different kind of teacher.  

October 20, 2009 at 04:14 PM ·

Quite a few responses above suggest that you shouldn't accept him as a student, or scare him away with excessive nonsense pricing, probably based on the expectation that this student will give you a hard time.

I guess that depends a lot on you personally: Imagine, that you accept him and seriously try to teach him Vibrato. If his intonation, bow hold, etc. is bad, you tell him politely, but he'll probably ignore that until he thinks his Vibrato improved. Can you live with that?  This relationship could be quite uncomplicated and stressless if you address what he wants and don't attack his distorted self-image. Can you do that?  Probably he thinks that he pays money for the lessons so he should have a say on what you teach him, like he's the customer and you provide a service to him. Can you live with that attitude?  Maybe he's a little rude. Do you care?

Does it hurt your self-image as a teacher too much, to take money from this guy because you consider his efforts useless? Do you take teaching rather idealistic? Do you have to live from it? Are there other candidates that you would prefer but can't take because this guy occupies the last slot in your schedule?

October 20, 2009 at 04:43 PM ·

Thank you thus far to everyone. I wish I could pull my post from craigslist, however that is the only way to advertise succesfully, unless I work for/at a music store in town. I have 4 students includng the lastest one I have referred to in this discussion. I have tried so hard to build my studio, but to no avail. Oh well. I do what I can. I also created my own website, but no takers. Perhaps it's the area I live in. I've spent years scratching my head. But, that would all be another discussion! As for this student that has created a bit of a dilemna for me. I will attempt another lesson next week and make a decision on if to proceed then. He has no intentions of learning proper violin techinique as I see it. However, his point of view is who is to say what is "proper"--when he really wants to play everything other than classical and made it clear from the beginning. He thinks in order to sound like recordings of simple gypsy tunes, he needs vibrato. He has no clue about 3rd position and when I asked him to play a piece...he said "yeah, no problem". He proceeded to play 3 minutes all in 1st position and then I asked him 3 times to stop when he finally began to slip and slide his way through what would be somewhat comparable to glissando up and down the E string with his 3rd finger. I was shocked and informed him that doesn't count as 3rd position. In order to teach vibrato and play the music he wants, I would have to teach him positions too...and I made that clear. So, perhpas we will see what the 2nd lesson holds. Yes, I am more than a tad worried, and wouldn't mind informing him of the $10,000 flat rate!


October 20, 2009 at 05:30 PM ·

Some nuts are hard to crack.  :-)

October 20, 2009 at 05:37 PM ·

If you can teach this guy what he wants to learn, in a reasonably professional manner, then do so.

If your style is geared more toward a holistic approach, and you feel you cannot be of benefit to this student, tell him so, and if possible direct him toward someone who can fulfill his perceived needs.

If you feel that taking someone's money and trying to drive him away because you don't like him, or because you cannot deliver what he wants, is ethical, we may have a difference of opinion.

If you're hungry for students, you may have to eat a few who are less palatable than others. You may find that the experience teaches you more than it does the student. But it would be unprofessional to pay him for the lesson.


October 20, 2009 at 05:47 PM ·

The way I look at such thing is that - you learn a lot more when you're dealing with the person that you don't like, than dealing with person you're pleased with.

There's no obligations, if you think your life is too normal or bored, consider accepting such student? It'll definitely spark up your life, you'll never know. ;-)

October 20, 2009 at 05:51 PM ·

In working with a number of adult students, I think the confusion is in their  failure to understand how the study of the basics gets them to where they want to be.

One of my former students is the chair of his department at the local state university. He had very clear goals ("I want to play in the community symphony's viola section") and from there we were able to structure his lessons so that he could acquire the skills he needed in order to function in orchestra. We didn't work on any concertos!

Another student started after graduating from high school, having loved the violin her whole life, and wanted to be able to play solo Bach. In four years time, following a standard progression of scales and etudes with a healthy dose of practice, she was playing in her university symphony, coming to summer festivals and playing chamber music, and tackling the second Bach Partita. Her peers in her college orchestra never believed her when she told them she had only been playing the instrument a couple years.

One of my most recent ones loves fiddle music...it's all she really cares to play. As we work through the scales and etudes that I teach, I make it a point to correlate specific skills in fingering and bowing that she is learning with the fiddle tunes that she wants to play.

I tell my students, "I will teach you *how* to play the instrument, then you can go and play whatever music you want." We work on the skills that are relevant to their goals!

October 20, 2009 at 06:54 PM ·

What a wealth of observations, reactions, and suggestions, literally from A to Z. If I may add my 2 cents worth....

It seems to me that one of the issues here is indeed what one might call "control." I think it has to do with an agreement over one's role. If a teacher and student both accept their typical reciprocal roles (one is the expert and instructs the other), then there is no problem (like this one, anyway).

But here we have a student who does not accept the expected role as the student who is there to be guided by the teacher. This student has a very definite perception, however inaccurate, that he knows exactly what he wants and needs, what he his willing to do and not do, and what he wants his teacher's role to be - namely, to help him achieve his goal (learning vibrato) in a manner that he (the student) chooses.

If this student will not accept the role you expect him to have as a student, then you have basically two choices: 1) Tell him you simply don't work that way, and he can go somewhere else, or 2) try to convince him in some manner that his perceptions are not only inaccurate, but will not in fact get him where he wants to go, and that he should accept his role as defined by you (not as defined by him).

There was a wonderful Psychiatrist/Psychologist named Milton Erickson who relished working with this kind of situation. He had a way of accepting a person's often unreasonable demands as having a basis in legitimate needs, and he developed a perspective and techniques for working constructively with this situation.

My guess is that if Dr. Erickson were alive today and read about this story, he might suggest something like this: Agree to take the student on his terms. ALL he wants is to learn vibrato, and he doesn't want to practice or do any other kind of stuff. OK, so you agree to do that. So you focus on his actual vibrato.

Perhaps after watching him play, you might suggest that his vibrato could be improved if he does "just one little thing differently" by moving his left elbow a little bit more to the left. You might praise his efforts and allow him to reflect on that. You take your time and only do one little thing at a time. Then perhaps you might suggest that get a better vibrato if if he did just one more "little thing," say, play the note more truly in tune. So you might have him place two fingers on the string, so that his intonation is better because of one finger's relation to the note on which he's playing the vibrato. And so forth.

Since it his his goal and you're doing it in the manner he wants, how can he disagree or not cooperate? After all, you're just asking him to do "one little thing."

It's an approach which can be very effective, but it takes patience and a bit of psychology. If you're interested in Dr. Erickson, look for the book "Uncommon Therapy," by Jay Haley. You'll find it fascinating, and it may give you a different perspective on working with people who are resistant or oppositional to our noble efforts as teachers.


October 20, 2009 at 08:26 PM ·

Sandy! Fantastic thoughts! I just may have to look into that book... his approach sounds very much like what I was thinking I would do. Assigning him simple little things or demonstrating one little thing at a time would also be combined with my taking him one week at a time. If the control on his part should becoming overwhelming or his improvement is nil, then of course it wouldn't make sense to continue. At least this is my thinking at this point. I hate to have limited expectations of my students, particularily from the get go...so to see this student never become a good muchless great violinist is hard to swallow. But, it's his choice to only want to learn one aspect of violin playing...vibrato.

October 20, 2009 at 08:35 PM ·


Your approach reminds me of stone soup. Is that a coincidence?


October 21, 2009 at 12:06 AM ·

This has been an interesting discussion.  It sounds like the student has a negative attitude and probably does not understand what is required to be a competent violinist in any style of music.  He seems to view vibrato as an isolated skill that is independent of everything else in his setup and playing.  From your description, Lisa, I suspect that he could be very difficult and frustrating to teach.

I disagree with a few thoughts that have been expressed in this discussion: 

1.  I believe that it is okay for students to have particular goals in taking lessons and for the students to communicate those goals to a teacher.  While a traditional view of the teacher-student relationship has the teacher, as the expert, setting all the goals without consulting the student, most often learning is most successful when students either have determined their goals or at least have had a voice in them. 

2.  I believe that deepest and most successful learning occurs when students understand why things are to be done in a certain way or why they can be done in a variety of different ways.   I think that "why" questions should be celebrated if they are genuinely "why" questions and not merely expressions of distrust or disrespect (as they so often are and appear to be in the case of the student in question).   Too many teachers in many disciplines (violin, piano, voice, math, English, chemistry . . .) know the how, but do not know the why.  It can be very threatening for them to be asked "why" when they do not know why something works, but merely know that it does work.   Most of us need to dig deeper to understand our crafts and our arts.  It is not best  to merely respond to the why question with, "Because this is the way it has always been done" or "Because this is the way I was taught" or "Because this is what works."  Sometimes that is the best a teacher can do;  if so, the teacher should honestly admit that they do not know why and this should not undermine a healthy transparent honest student-teacher relationship.

3.  I believe that the locus of control does not need to be with the teacher, especially with a one-on-one learning situation.  While the teacher is an expert and has something that the student lacks and the student must respect the teacher if learning is to occur, I believe that the more control a student feels they have over their learning, the more successful the learning will be.  Please notice the phrase, "control . . . over their learning."  I do not think that students should have control over their teachers;  if a student has the need to control their teacher, then they are sick.  I suspect that the student in question may have a need to control others (rather than just control his own learning). 

Having said all that, I do believe that a wise student recognizes their own ignorance and weaknesses and recognizes the teacher's expertise, knowledge, and skill.  Students that respect their teachers generally learn much more than students that do not.  Students who question in order to learn usually do learn, but students that question in order to undermine a teacher generally do not learn.

October 21, 2009 at 02:25 AM ·

My studio currently includes 4 adults, whose personalities, interests, skill levels & learning styles are as different as they can be.  I don't teach them "like kids", but then, I don't teach kids like kids, either ;) This person sounds SO difficult, though. I don't know that you can get through to him that the skill he wants hinges on a number of other technique points. I have, however, given single (short!) lessons on vibrato to fiddlers at fiddle camp. A few did in fact produce an acceptable vibrato sound given a clear explanation of how vibrato works. Most of the ones w/very fiddle-y left-hand positions couldn't, though surprisingly enough some with pancake- wrist but the weight of the fiddle not held too much in the hand could do a variation of arm vibrato that could eventually sound OK. But everyone who wanted a lesson did get my perspective on what else they would need to adjust if they wanted to develop vibrato.

October 21, 2009 at 02:37 AM ·

Sue, I may try to touch base with you (if you would be so kind) to tap your mind about some specific vibrato tips that I can use on this student. His hand does not collapse against the neck of the violin, however I had mentioned at his lesson on Monday that he desperately needs to adjust his position/posture as I do notice his arm is doing the majority of the supporting of the violin. As opposed to the jaw/neck "violin spot". This won't allow him to have the freedom necessary to keep the wrist loose and the natural motion through the finger tip for vibrato. Hopefully he took what I said and my recommendation to go back to a shoulder rest and change where the violin rests on his collar bone. Oh it's just all so awkward. If I make it past the second lesson I will definitely have plenty of areas to focus on with him. Of that there is no doubt. oh, that is if he allows me to work on them...or teach him. LOL.



October 21, 2009 at 03:09 AM ·

I think that there is inherently in the teacher-student relationship, an aspect of 'politically incorrect' hierarchy that you just can't and shouldn't want to get way from or make apologies for. That said, there are many ways that this basic context can work out. It doesn't mean that the teacher should be a tyrant. It doesn't mean that the student shouldn't have certain specific goals nor be able to respectfully ask "why". I welcome questions when I teach. As many of us have said, a lot of this comes down to attitude - and most of us agree that this prospective student in question has an attitude problem. I could cite some specific horror stories with students young and old, stage parents, etc. - but we've all been there.

While I tend to be pretty structured in my teaching, and strive to develop a solid foundation, I also look at the student as an individual. I try to teach the student, and don't just teach the violin to the student. I'm also open to short-term coaching for a specific emergency goal, where corners necessarily must be cut. Just recently, someone approached me for a few emergency lessons. She is an actor and an amateur violinist - someone in her 20's, who took some lessons back in high school. From a classical point of view, she's at a low intermediate level, in need of lots of re-structuring. But she can turn out a spirited Irish reel, and has a very pleasant attitude. She got a part in a play of someone who has to play of all things, the opening solo of Ein Heldenleben! Well, we got to work, and in one lesson she actually made a lot of progress, and I really enjoyed working with her!

Psychology has been brought up, and the Erickson approach sounds impressive - but you may need the patience of a saint! In any case, a private teaching context is not unlike therapy in some ways, and issues of transference and counter transference can arise. We can learn a lot about ourselves from our own reactions to a student.

PS Craigslist itself is not a bad thing. But any particular posting - or response to a posting - may be questionable. It's an enormous cyber bulletin board, and we must use our judgment. I got a wonderful piano from an ad appearing there!

October 21, 2009 at 03:17 AM ·

Here's an idea.

My preference would be to cut him loose; I seem to remember from some martial arts training I took that you can't fill a cup that is already full (That couldn't have been me they were talking about!!!).

However what you may do is work on a series of contracts.
Start with one specific item; Vibrato, Third Position, Etc.
Identify the number of lesson hours he will receive
Identify the cost as a package. If he decides to leave before the end of the term, he forfeits 50% and the rest is pro-rated as a percentage of the completion.
If you cut him loose before the end of the term, if you have created the lesson plans, it is worth 50% of the cost; then the rest is pro-rated the same.
The contract indicates the components he needs to include to achieve the desired outcome.
The contract ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT specify that you will teach him any skills; they can only be learned. Your requirement is to PRESENT THE CONCEPTS AND COMPONENTS. If he does not absorb them, you have still met your part of the contract.
If you also give additional guidance, it is not charged (examples, more detailed instruction than presenting the concepts and components, etc.

If he is unable to relinquish control, a tight contract may allow him to function and still let you have a sense of self-worth after the lessons are over.

I am NOT in favor of you putting yourself through a series of lessons where you are emotionally invested trying to be a good instructor (not emotionally invested in the student, but if you have a passion for music, you should also have an emotional investment in the process). I may be reading you wrong, but I think that you will be invested in your student's progress, and this guy sounds difficult.

NOTE: I don't think this guy is a bad guy; he may even be someone I would like to have a beer with and shoot some pool. However, the interaction between him and the instructor he is trying to arrange is flawed; the teacher is the one that identifies what components are needed to achieve the goals. The student IS appropriate for identifying the goals, but the instructor is like the wagon train boss; they have been there before, so they know the path.

October 21, 2009 at 03:26 AM ·

Raphael, Thank you for your input! It's remarkable to receive so much support from everyone! Yes, this may be a situation where I end up learning more than my student. I now have to start digging for some really good vibrato exercises etc. since that is expected to be my primary area of focus. Oh, if I could only video record the lesson and have you all watch....Popcorn anyone?

Roland: First, I'll buy the beer...where should we meet?! Believe me, I could use one! I am not sure that you would feel too comfortable sharing a table with this guy. Perhaps I am now appearing too judgemental, but he scared me when he walked into my house. Bar brawl came to my mind...

Anyhow, Without hesitation I can tell you that this guy would run for the door if I so much as mention a contract. Guarantee you. He's laugh and go straight to the door. Now I am not saying that would be a bad thing, but nonetheless....it would never happen. I'll see how it goes for round 2 with him-if I can find some good technical exercises to demonstrate what is required to have good vibrato. Of course I will do this while listening to my hubbie saying -"DROP HIM".


October 21, 2009 at 04:03 AM ·

"But, it's his choice to only want to learn one aspect of violin playing...vibrato." 

This reminds of my own experience a couple of years ago when I asked my teacher to help me to improve my vibrato. She picked up the violin and played the first a few lines of the Bruch 2nd movement completely without vibrato, but it was full of colour and sounded most gorgeous. Then she said to me, good sound is produced by the bow arm.  Vibrato doesn't cover the basic problems you need to fix first, such as intonation and bow control.  I have been completely in awe till this day. Well, she did spend a few minutes later teaching me finger vibrato, but I also completely changed my view about what I need to learn the most.

A teacher can help students to recognize their false assumptions is a great teacher in my book.


I hate to think your student is reading this thread, but hey buddy, if you do, check out the old thread titled "Singing without vibrato":



October 21, 2009 at 05:54 AM ·

While I may have had reservations based on the intial contact I had with him, it was without a doubt the attitude that was displayed, the lack of respect and professionalism and concern for my role in this relationship that blew me away. I was taken aback at his almost disdain for classical training or instruction. And yes, I was somewhat more concerned once he arrived in my home/studio-but it was certainly his approach-intentional or not- that only added to the fears I had. I have no doubt that I can teach him, however I of course will only do so if he allows. I cannot make him take my advice. I cannot make him do anything he doesn't wish to do. So, if he does indeed continue next Monday to question in a critical or second guessing sort of way each and every attempt I make at teaching him techniques...then we all will have the answer. And it will be don't let the door hit ya on the way out. After all, I am not expecting anything less than anyone that has a job would demand. When in the workplace, do you disrespect your trainers? Your boss? We are talking about a student that is a grown man, not a 14 year old boy.

Now, if he actually appreciates the instruction and is using it wisely and practicing it-then I will expect that the respect follows. If not, see above end result! 


October 21, 2009 at 12:43 PM ·

Lisa, you're very welcome - and good luck!

October 21, 2009 at 02:39 PM ·

Hi, Lisa, By all means contact me by e-mail in my profile and I'll do my best :)  Sue

PS  The anecdote about great sound vibrato-less is a wonderful one & a great place to go w/this student. (Also something I'll see if I can add to my bag of tricks.)

October 21, 2009 at 02:49 PM ·

Give Him a Box Of Prunes !!!!

October 21, 2009 at 03:48 PM ·

Or eat the box of prunes yourself. If you're going to put up with a lot of stuff, you might as well dish it out.

October 21, 2009 at 06:23 PM ·

the customer is always right :-)  Teach him vibrato and send him on his way.

October 21, 2009 at 06:30 PM ·

You know, I am an adult student, and I would NEVER tell my teacher what to do!  It's a honor to be able to play and learn...frankly!

October 21, 2009 at 07:18 PM ·

When I read this, a particular adult student of mine came to mind.  When we sat down to discuss policies and contracts, it went in one ear and right out the other.  Lessons proceed in a similar fashion.  A person like the one you describe is going to be a lot of work to teach.  It will create a lot of stress which you will have to diffuse.  If you are willing and able to work with him, you may learn some interesting things about teaching.  I've learned a great deal about learning the ins and outs of a person, which is as important about teaching as the information being presented.  Before I make sense to a student, I have to understand their current views and knowledge about the subject.  Once I know what they're thinking and why, I can explain things in a way that makes sense to them.  I can also create teachable moments where they are more likely to want to understand what I'm explaining. 

One of the most frustrating things I run into is the unwillingness to try something.  If they won't try it, they won't find out how helpful it can be.  You are highly likely to have this problem with such a narrow minded student.  The other frustration I find is when someone wants to learn a specific skill that is built upon various other skills that have not yet been developed.  First, learn a, b, and c, and then we'll talk about d.  A lot of time gets wasted trying to explain why d is so impossible, and it's not due to my inability to teach it.  Say your student comes for his vibrato lesson and his sense of pitch is so bad you can't tell a whole step from a half step and his wrist is a pancake crutch.  Teaching him vibrato would be like putting trying to put makeup on a wriggling pig.  But hey, if you get paid to put the makeup on the pig, you could just call it a job, teach him a couple of wavy tricks, and send him on his way.

I love teaching...

October 21, 2009 at 08:21 PM ·

Seriously..... Is this student teachable?  With someone this forwards...... and calling the shots..... Is this person willing to take what needs to be said?  Or is this person only wanting what he wants too hear?  This person reminds me of the kind of person that will shop arround for a Physician who will prescribe what the patient wants... What's going to happen if he makes the decisions and you don't deliver?????  I seriously doubt that you can deliver what this person wants!  No one can.

October 21, 2009 at 09:53 PM ·

I feel the need to jump in and remind us that the student is not here to tell his side of story so if we want to be fair and, indeed, be really helpful to Lisa, we might need to imagine what's like to be this student and how to develop or end this relationship professionally.  He may have all the wrong ideas about what he needs and about who should be in control in this teacher-student relationship, but he went to Lisa with a fee for guidance. If Lisa is not willing to try to guide him for whatever reason, I think it’s her job to make it clear up the front. Whether the student is handful or not it’s really not up us to judge without knowing exactly what happened.

October 21, 2009 at 10:17 PM ·


I'll bring the beer; rather I'll bring beer for you if that is what you want, and I'll have porter or stout.

If Bar Brawl is the theme of the day, well, I can still fit in, although it is contrary to my personality. (take a peek at my profile and web site..... I'm not the kind to sit meekly in the corner when everyone else is having fun!).

October 22, 2009 at 01:16 AM ·

My experience with responders to fiddle lessons on craigslist has been to take the wheat with the chaff. My understanding of artistic vibrato in the violin and the human voice is the same. It is a component of the physical and mental being of the individual. GOOD LUCK!!!

October 23, 2009 at 08:53 PM ·

October 24, 2009 at 05:00 AM ·

Several thoughts...

1) He may just want to control the situation...male dominance aka "me Tarzan - you Jane syndrome"

2) He may actually have low self esteem and this all may be false bravado

Every dedicated teacher does not want to admit failure with any student EVER and he/she will go through great lengths to get the point across to a student. However, is it worth it to you in this case.? You, alone must decide. Personally, I would teach him the vibrato and in so doing offer subtle suggestions for improvement in other areas. You will know quite soon whether he is receptive.

October 24, 2009 at 01:21 PM ·

Personally, I enjoy teaching adults more than children because their ability to think rationally and their life experience in that area can really speed up the learning process. But some adults are stupid and terribly slow learners and others (who only seem to be stupid) have their minds blocked from thinking and guiding them rationally in some areas. When you get one of these adults as a student you have to break through that block before they can even begin to learn a new skill (such as violin playing). And if their ego gets bruised in this process it's best for all if they seek a new teacher to continue the process (if they still want to).

When it comes to the vibrato thing, I think it is best to work on an "experienced" player in the 3rd position and work on a "wrist vibrato" then go up a bit higher for a "finger vibrato." Then see if they can pull it off in 1st position and if not work on an arm vibrato (which can seem a very unrewarding month until they get the speed up). I think vibrato learning is well started with the bow still in the case so they can't hear how bad they sound until they get an easy motion and rhthm to it.

My own father was a very good and serious amateur violinist and I was 13 (and had quit professional lessons [after with left NYC there was no teacher around who could help me anyway]) by the time I asked him to help me with vibrato. He used and arm vibrato and he showed me the motion (in the 1st - 2nd position area of the fingerboard) with a sliding finger rather than trying to keep the finger in one  place. He told me not to use the bow yet. And it took me about a month before I had a vibrato I could live with. It was another 20 years before I knew I had to expand my vibrato repertoire to include wrist and finger involvement.

(My father did not interfere with my violin self-learning, but loaned me any of his music I wanted to try, and I think he rather enjoyed how hard I worked on the concerto literature.)

Shortly before I was 15 he brought home a cello for me because professional instruction on that instrument was available - and that's another story (and it turns out my body already possessed a very good cello vibrato).


October 25, 2009 at 04:20 AM ·

Hi Lisa,   wow, a lot of really great replies here. 

I am an adult learner.  My wife teaches cello, me after carrying hers around the world for 25 years figured it was smart to learn violin/fiddle. hah.  She is a Peabody grad, and does most everything classical.  Pres of the local yourth orgastra and a mess of students, including several adults.   Me? a navy diver who used to take apart nukes and other toys. I have learned to fly commercially and drive large ships.  I think it is easier to learn to work on a fiddle than it is to play on them.  But I am finally  at a point where I have some fun with it. 

My first thot on this is, if you ever have a student that scares you, you need to loose the student.  You wont be able to relax and observe your student and teach at your best ability.  Wow, find another place, other than your home unless you are not living alone.

I am thinking that for adults, they have a legitimate reason for learning something particular.  They are into a hobby, and may understand that they may never master their instrument but think that with help with a certain technique that the enjoyment of their hobby would increase.  They don't have a parent paying for their lessons, and may be tight wads themselves.  I have a friend who is bi-polar and sounds like this guy.  Very difficult to deal with.  I have found that the best way to get someone like this to "bend" is to get them to think that is in their best interest or it is their idea in the first place.  That is basically why he wants to know what and why you want him to do something that he is not expecting.  Bi-polar types don't handle irregularities well, and if they have something in their mind, and are expecting it, then it is a major challenge to change it.  That may be why he is telling you what he wants and is expecting.  Becarefull with such.

All the questions he ask are challenging you in a way.  Trying to reassure himself that his time and monies are well spent.  Lazie maybe????  Or scarred that you are looking for a long term student with a steady income.  Maybe he just expects Merlin to work magic??

Ah, you asked specifically how to deal with the student.  I read some responses and could tell reall quick who I would want teaching me.  Maybe, some more pointers on how others have taught hard students to learn vibrato.  That is your goal right??  Sue had some really great insight.

Teach him vibrato if you can, that is what he asked for.  If at any point you or him can not deal with what it takes in your realistic opinion, end the relationship, professionally with cause.  You have to sleep with your decisions.  Learn from this encounter if you want to deal with such types, and re-word your add to limit such from calling you.

Watch-out for crazy old people who want to learn violin/fiddle.  There has gotta be something wrong with them somewhere????

Good luck, and thanks for your post.  I have enjoyed it.  Let us know how it goes.



October 25, 2009 at 07:51 PM ·

Interesting post. Maybe this guy just doesn't suffer fools well? It is a possibility. If I were you I would be as blunt as he is and he may appreciate it. Too often we avoid confrontations with people like this and he will probably be fine with it. Why beat around the bush. Say something like:

"You seem like a nice guy, but I have serious doubts about how this will work out. If you know so much why do you need a teacher and why would a teacher want to teach someone like you who thinks thay know everything?"

He may respond very well. If he is blunt, then maybe he is just not messing around with the "dance" of who is in control and just wants a teacher to cut to the chase. If you are that person, and you have the will to be as brutally honest as he is, then you might be surprised at how well these types of people can work out and come around to reason. This is a test. I know this because people say I am very blunt and all that but I just want honest answers and don't have time to mess around. That takes a confident teacher though.

Good luck.

October 26, 2009 at 05:53 AM ·

I would recommend to not judge the student as a nut or whatever just take him for face value and show him what he wants to know. Some people learn by watching somebody else do it, some people learn through other modes. The simple fact is that most violin teachers, based on my experience, are good violin players and not good teachers....as with anything that is an art form. You can certainly set expectations up front that it might take two years from this point of doing whatever to get a decent vibrato. If you are a really good teacher you can probably see where he is going wrong in vibrato and give him some practical suggestions to that effect. Then it is up to him to take or not take your advice. Again based only on my experience, only one in ten teachers has this gift. If you have the gift he will recognize it in short order and respond appropriately.

Also:  to say "your posture sucks" (or some paraphrase) is not practical advice.  This might seem so obvious and I am not trying to write something insulting.   I have lived comments like these from the 90 percent of teachers.

And anyway when you look at posture, there are no hard rules.  Gil Shaham is often so far bent over at the waist that the violin is oriented vertically, and I have seen Mark O'conner in concert several times and he tends to bend at the knees like he is going to leap into the air.  Both have great vibratos....


October 26, 2009 at 10:25 AM ·

Any student, of anything, starts from a position of "unconscious incompetence" - i.e. they don't know what it is they need to learn. Their expectations of what they need to learn and how, and the amount of effort it will be, are quite different from reality. 

In a young child, this is basically ignored, because Mummy and Daddy can make the important decisions (when practice will be, who the teacher is) and the child will accept that whatever way of learning they are being introduced to is the right way. 

An adult who is trying to control their own learning is taking a positive step if they are identifying objectives for themselves and trying to work out how to get there. But this path is almost certainly wrong, since they don't know how to learn the violin. If this results in an insistence that they don't need to know anything that's not on that their path, then that's a very difficult situation for a teacher. 

If I were in your position (I'm not a violin teacher, but I do spend some time training adults in other skills) I would try to work out...

1) Are they actually stuck on "their way" of learning, or are they actually flexible about it but failing to communicate that?

2) How much time and effort do you think it will take to coax them away from "I just want to play vibrato" into developing the technique that will genuinely get them where they want them to be? Can you spend a few months teaching them vibrato and then get them onto scales, etc?

You have to decide whether this is someone you want as a client - you can regard them as an interesting challenge, or as an unnecessary burden, as you want. But don't feel you 'have' to jump either way.

October 26, 2009 at 12:38 PM ·

This is really a though-provoking problem with many, many thought-provoking responses. It just goes to show that there is no such thing as a standard human being.

October 26, 2009 at 09:24 PM ·

 Putting aside the stated goals of the guy, could you work with him? Some temperaments are just not worth the effort - can you tolerate how this guy will go about getting what he wants?  Do you feel like teaching social interaction skills as well as vibrato?

October 26, 2009 at 10:59 PM ·

Tom, I appreciate what you had to say, however posture should be taught and it should be learned as a beginner. If, after going pro or at least achieving advanced to performing level you are good enough that you don't need to be concerned with posture to develop tone, arm positioning etc--then be my guest. The basics and fundamentals are crucial. Sure, there are plenty of performers that "break the rules"--but is that how they learned to play? Is that really what we should do as teachers? I don't believe so....

This particular student of mine will be back for lesson two tomorrow night. He has no idea what 1st postion is versus 3rd. He has no idea how or whygood intonation is important to have prior to working on vibrato. Maybe vibrato is something that gypsy or fiddle players just figured out on their own, and weren't concerned with technique...which is what my student seems to believe.

Now it's my job to find a way to teach him vibrato and hopefully sneak the basics which include posture, proper bow hold....

October 27, 2009 at 12:16 AM ·


There is wonderful information at http://violinmasterclass.com/vibrato.php regarding the techniques involved. You probably know this stuff already but I find Kurt's organization of the info really helpful. Maybe you'll find something useful there. As far as ther rest of your issues, I'll just say that you ARE in control of the situation. I suggest you be totally frank with this student regarding your fears and concerns. That way, at least you'll both be operating with the same understanding. Good luck, We're all dying to know how it goes!

P.S. A written contract is never a bad idea.

October 27, 2009 at 06:11 AM ·

The whole posture discussion should be reserved for another day.  Your student expressed an interest in learning vibrato.  I think that an hour spent of him watching you play vibrato will be worth like a million bucks to him.   Another hour of him trying to copy you and you giving practical suggestions will probably be worth like ten million bucks.  Save the discussion of posture, intonation, positions, etc for another day.  "When the student is ready the teacher will appear...."

I always wondered why fiddle music (of any origin) sounded like fiddle music and not like violin music.  I finally discovered that it is because essentially at least half the notes are slightly out of tune.....so if he did not ask for intonation instruction, why go there???

Once the student gets a vibrato that is more pleasing he will probably start listening to more recordings and discover that his intonation is off....that would be a good time to start that whole educational process.

I appreciate that you are not taking my very pointed comments the wrong way.....believe me if you just go with it there is a light at the end of the tunnel.


October 29, 2009 at 06:44 PM ·

Hey Tom - interesting comment re intonation of fiddle music. I have a different perspective but will first recognize that intonation is a persistent challenge for violinists and fiddlers alike :). I'd consider myself a violinist (not fiddler) but being welsh have had the privilege of observing some great folk fiddlers (celtic, norwegian) at close quarters. I think its true that their intonation sounds a bit different, but this is because their ears are not primed for twelve tone equal temperament. Indiginous musics in general leverage a rich palette of tonalities that may have little in common with TTET, so yes the best fiddlers probably do sound a bit different, but no it's not out of tune.

That said the adult learner in question sounds like intonation is almost certainly part of his challenge. I'll give a +1 for violinmasterclass.com, and also to Todd Ehle's series, this is something that you could share in a lesson (with appropriate discussion and tailoring), and which he could watch every day between lessons...



October 30, 2009 at 01:09 PM ·

Hi Everyone! Thank you Thank you for all the suggestions, opinions, etc. I of course take all the info you give me and compile it into a decent booklet &bookmarks  for my reference. Thanks!

Anyhow, an update.

My student (shall we just choose the name "Mike"?) came for the second lesson this week. I survived. He survived. The tips that I gave him at the 1st lesson actually worked. He appeared somewhat BLOWN AWAY. I almost chuckled...yes, I contained myself-but later did a happy dance! "See, I do know what I am doing" is what I really wanted to tell him. I gave him 3 more exercises to work on and he was more than happy to write down the how-tos. Then he said he needed me to work on his bow arm, check how he is supporting the instrument (which I suggested he change at the 1st lesson!) and when I corrected what he was doing he acknowledged it helped his vibrato immensely.

Yes, there are still aspects of his personality that I find difficult, but will try to work past those. We teachers accept the fact we take the good along with the bad! yes, the Sassmannhaus site is a wonderful tool, and I use it often. I constantly am looking for new techniques in teaching or different approaches because there just isn't ONE way to do anything. "Mike" has certainly taught me that!

Rolland, I could still use that beer! Ha! 

Again, thanks everyone. Also, I posted the other day-does anyone out there own or know anyone that owns a Koo Young Chung violin?


October 30, 2009 at 04:01 PM ·

So what kind of beer? Lager? Pilsner? Porter? Stout? Wheat beer? Ale? Mead?
OK, I know mead isn't beer, but close enough for most people.

November 1, 2009 at 04:04 AM ·

@ Lisa- Rock On!

November 1, 2009 at 05:05 AM ·

Now you've REALLY earned the beer!!!

January 5, 2010 at 11:37 PM ·

John, there are many ways to figure out a good vibrato.  Mine came upon me all at once one day, with no practice whatsoever.  Sometimes, you just get lucky that way.

January 6, 2010 at 12:52 AM ·

 Me three. ;)

My very first teacher told me you cannot teach vibrato.  So, I learned it on my own.  Then I had to learn how to do it correctly later on... but, when I found the right teacher, it was easy to fix.  Said right teacher had sorta learned vibrato on his own (he was just a natural and you couldn't ask for better control or expression on his part).  So.... I don't believe in absolutes, and I don't believe there is only one correct way of doing things.  Sure, there are principles, but obviously if someone does something extremely well another way... then rules were made to be broken. ;)

I didn't read the whole thread but glad it seemed to have worked out.  I turn down students I think will give me trouble at the outset.  Sometimes, though, the only way to know is when you give the lessons.  Glad it worked out in this case.  I've certainly dealt with cases where there was an unbelievable amount of trouble from the client... a true horror story.  Thank goodness it's rare, and I'm glad this case turned out to be different.

Sometimes I'll get situations where the student has different goals than what is good for their playing.  Usually it's around the teenage years, when the student has very particular goals in mind.  Basically I help them in their goals but I also explain that it wouldn't achieve the best results from their playing.  And they're fine with it--they just have their goal and they're gonna do it (whether I help them or not ;).  So, yes, the technique erodes during the time we work on the goal, but I figure, they're the ones paying and if they're happy with what is being accomplished then that is what ultimately matters.  Because my hope for them is that they will have a lifelong love of it.  And... it sounds that while your student may have resisted technical exercises in the beginning.... when such a student becomes receptive to what you have to say.... I find that to be some of the most rewarding work.  Those are always the most dramatic transformations.

January 6, 2010 at 11:16 PM ·

 I totally agree with Laurie. Life's too short to put up with the aggravation.

January 12, 2010 at 01:33 PM ·

 Really, all you violinist teachers that are complaining on the poor adult student-- shame on you.

How can you all even say this student is "difficult"? The problem is not him,its YOUR attitude towards students. Students can be taught (like when they are smaller, and less capable of detecting weaknesses), but students can also be supervised (when aware of a particular weakness to remove). 

In science, we are used to that students get involved in specific projects. If a student contacts you to learn vibrato, it is because he is trying to learn this art, and he needs a supervisor for this in particular. So who is better to ask than somebody that has experience in the topic? When the student will have solved it, he will by himself want to take another step, perhaps one you will agree on.

Realize that the more independent and ambitious student you have, as adult students, the more you will be demanded to supervise rather than to teach. (After all, you want your students to also have some own mind to think with, and not only follow.) And to focus on a particular problem of interest rather than trying to solve 100 different problems at the same moment, is what, at least in science, has lead to its revolutionary progress. 

Perhaps this rather shows the limit of violin teachers in general? 

To the girl who asked the question: help the guy with what he wants! you will learn from him another aspect-- the way of focusing at one problem at a time, and learning how to supervise specific projects.

January 12, 2010 at 04:20 PM ·

To Lena:

Now you are really wrong, when someone is so inmature to say that I ´don´t want to do scales or any other thing like studies because that´s a waste of time... that´s not only ignorance but lack of manners.

iIt is true that science focuses more on individual tasks, but if someone could learn the violin only focusing at one thing at a time, it would be a lot easier.

In order to achieve vibrato you need to have a decent intonatio, good posture, adjust finger pressure.... you need to be concious about a lot of things

"Perhaps this rather shows the limit of violin teachers in general? "

Maybe your comment shows your lack of understanding about violin playing and violin teaching.


: help the guy with what he wants! you will learn from him another aspect-- the way of focusing at one problem at a time, and learning how to supervise specific projects.

As you should know by reading the whole discussion, she took in the student, and is teaching him vibrato but she is also correcting posture and other issues in his playing and the student who was reluctant to take any advice about his posture is happy with what she has done for his playing.

Yes she needs to focus on the aspect of violin playing ( in this case vibrato) her student wants to learn, but you should know that theres a lot more than just a swinging motion in orther to achieve a good vibrato....

And by the way, "To the girl who asked the question" you should have said: " to the TEACHER who asked the question

January 12, 2010 at 05:13 PM ·

Hi Lisa!

I'm sorry you're frustrated.  I think the best thing I've found to mitigate disagreements in the approach to teaching (which I've had myself on occassion), is to have a discussion ahead of time about the student goals and then to tailor a program that fits them.  Sometimes this can be more challenging with some folks than others, but usually, with a little bit of patience and discussion, it can be done.  :) 

I had a student once who came in to my studio and said, "In two months, I want to be creating beautiful music," and while she had never held a violin to be sure, I said that we would start building her violinist toolbox right away and that the practice was all up to her.  :)  She is progressing nicely, by the way (although I think Mendelssohn is still a bit down the road).  ;)  

Perhaps with this particular student, you could try to work with him on his vibrato, but help him to understand the importance of the other techniques that he may not have yet perfected that will support him better in his endeavor.  Sometimes, if you can help someone to see the importance of technique A, B or C (because ultimately, that technique will help with the one he's really wanting to learn), you will be able to guide him down the path of good playing habits.  Who knows?  Maybe he will even come back and ask to have a go at the Carl Flesch system...

Good luck! 

January 12, 2010 at 06:36 PM ·

And an answer to Mr Correia: If the Student wishes to learn vibrato, but it requires a good posture, OF COURSE, a part of the methodology to receive the Goal Vibrato, will include a good posture, which should be a part of the plan. Have I ever said something against it? 

The discussion is whether it is necessary to force students to do methods that do not lead in any way to a better vibrato just because of the sake of improving. For instance: if I am interested in learning the Goal Vibrato, will I learn a lot with studying spiccato? If I pay 50 dollars for one class to learn vibrato, aren't my money and my time wasted if I have to sit doing spiccato instead of getting the Vibrato? That would be a waste of time, and money that the student pays. After all, teachers rarely give classes.

And no, I do not have energy to read the whole discussion of 75 comments-- I read beginning and the end and do not like what I see. It looks like violin teachers want to get paid and have ultimate power.

Well, I think the teacher is a girl also, so saying "girl" or "teacher" changes nothing to me. But maybe, in more machistic countries its would give a less respect-giving tone to the teacher, but at least here were we are perhaps the most gender equal country to the planet, it does not matter and will not offend anybody, except those that themselves see it as a derrogative word.

January 12, 2010 at 06:55 PM ·


I'm only going to respond to two points you brought up.

1)  Playing the violin is like building a house - you can't start building the 1st floor until the foundation is laid.  Vibrato is not part of the foundation - it's an ornament used in playing.  That being said it's not practical or possible to try to teach the student something until they're ready - even if that's all they want to learn.

2)  The reason we go to teachers is because we can't do it on our own and we don't know it all.  That's the reason that although I teach full-time, I also study full-time with a teacher.  Because I know that there's still a lot I have to learn.  That being said, students should not walk into a studio and tell their teacher what they "know" they need to learn.  What students should do is tell their teacher what their goals and dreams are then the teacher can decide the best path to help them get there.  We as students must trust our teacher - implicitly.  If we can't trust them to help us reach our goals ie. vibrato even when what they're asking us to do something that doesn't make sense - then move on.

Lastly, anyone who makes a living teaching knows that we're not in it for the money.  Because when all is said and financially - there is usually not alot left.

January 12, 2010 at 09:25 PM · Just to clarify: Im against machism, and just because I live in south america doesnt mean that I am one My favorite violinist: Hilary Hahn ( female) My teachers: Isabel Bastias, Danushe Hlavenka ( both females) I told you to call her a teacher and not girl not because I think woman are inferior, I have been taugh to treat women as equals and to respect them , and I do so. But you were criticizing her as a TEACHER and the way you wrote : and to the girl who asked the question... It just seemed to me that you were understimating her ( not because it said girl) but the way you wrote it and all what you said about violin teachers lacking something, I just felt that you though she was just an amateur teacher who hadn' earned her title yet Ps: preconceptions based on ones country are one way of discrimination, last time I checked that was as bad as machism.....

January 12, 2010 at 09:44 PM ·

Gosh, Lena, you might feel differently about this subject if you'd taken the time to read all the comments before posting. There are a great many supportive comments on this thread that you missed out on.

January 13, 2010 at 10:08 AM ·

 Small correction to clarify, Mr Correia: I don't see her as an amateur, even if I say "girl"!

I would call a Noble Prize taker or super-legendary violinist "guy" or "girl" if I would speak about them more personal as I did now, and that does not mean that I respect them less, but that I consider them being humans as well. Perhaps some people really feel the word to be called by title "PROFESSOR" or "SIR".

And why do you dare to use yourself "amateur" in the sense of derrogative word? You see, when people express themselves it is easy to use words that easily can get misinterpreted, without actually having any bad meaning.

Small lesson on logics: if you live in the most gender equal country on the planet that is also the only one in its sphere, any other country will most likely have a less gender equal (and knowing the situation on Earth > more machistic) attitude.  But I am happy to see that it was not that you wrote "girl" that made you upset case, and that I misinterpreted you :-) And I actually though you lived in US!


January 13, 2010 at 10:13 AM ·

Erratum. Last phrase is messed up. Anyway, I am happy to understand your argument, and happy to see that "girl" is not suspected for antifeministic terminology. Sorry if I misunderstood it based on your reaction. Anyway, when I wrote "girl" I did not remember her name!

January 14, 2010 at 01:08 PM ·

Lena, I see you are new to the forum.  Welcome to our community.  Your opinions are welcome and valued.  However I would like to point out that it is common courtesy and respect that you should read through a discussion before voicing your opinion.  It would be quite rude to walk into a room and enter a discussion without first listening to what everyone is talking about, wouldn't you agree?

There are many Americans on this site but it is truly an international community.  Please be respectful - speaking badly of anyone based on their ethnicity will not be tolerated. 

January 14, 2010 at 02:20 PM ·

 Interesting discussion.

 It is true the student initially was rude and not very intelligent in his approach, and I would not blame anyone for refusing him as a student.  

But it is interesting to think of why we would refuse: is it too annoying for ourselves not to be respected as an authority, to be questioned by a student who ought to be looking up to our superior knowledge? Is it maybe even a bit scary not to be "in charge"? Or does one feel that the student with such an attitude won´t learn anything anyway? 

It is wonderful that this seems to be working out so well after a rocky start and I´d be interested to know how he gets on. Thank you everyone for all the tips on vibrato!

I too am from Sweden. Please bear in mind the difficulties of expressing yourself in a foreign language. We translate the way we speak in Sweden into English, it does not always come out the way it is intended (about the "Girl/Teacher"discussion). Our language is blunter and the way we express ourselves less polite than English, that does not necessarily mean we mean to be impolite, it may just sound like that to a native English speaker!


January 14, 2010 at 02:57 PM ·

 that was probably not a violin but a three string viola with a flat bridge, a folk music instrument which is used for accompaniment in some East European countries.

January 14, 2010 at 03:19 PM ·

Dear Marina,

I see whatever I write to explain, just enworses. If I write "I though you lived in US" I mean: "I did not accuse you for seeing 'girl' as derrogatory term just because you are South American, I even did not care about your ethnicity, but I cared about your reaction as having a bad attitude to the word 'girl'." It just states "I did not know you lived in South America". Actually, to make it clearer:

It means I oppositely to what you claim that I did, I chose to NOT connect any ethnicity.

Try also not to always see the worst possible thing in what people say, because I have never thought of neither South Americans or Americans as machists.

I simply do not see why I 'girl' has to be seen as a lower-status word. Maybe you can explain this for me?

January 14, 2010 at 04:03 PM ·


Girl (or boy) is not normally a lower-status word, but the way you used it here, the message is being transferred that you have absolutley no respect for this teacher or her knowledge - it's saying that the teacher is incompetent and doesn't know what they are talking about.  (I'm not accusing you here, just stating what got transferred in meaning.  I suspect that this is probably a translation problem....)

In English, when you are talking to, or about someone, who is a professional in their field (ie. teacher, Dr.-both medical and academic, or anyone else with a title), and the topic is concerning that field, then you use their title.  To not use it (and in this case using the term girl, which is even worse than just not using the title but implies that you are referring to the teacher as a child, hence, not having the knowledge or background necassary) is showing major disrespect for their knowledge, their expertise, and the time and energy they have spent putting the time into their field.

I experienced something similar while studying a semester in Germany with using the formal (Sie) and informal (du) form of address.  Amoung students, outside of the classroom we always used 'du', even if we didn't know each other very well. But inside the classroom, especially during any sort of academic discussion, we addressed each other formally when talking to another person or about what someone else had said.  This showed respect for the other person's ideas and our acknowledgement of the knowledge and background that each person brought to the class.  The usage of 'teacher' to refer to a teacher when talking about their subject area (here violin) shows the same thing. 


January 14, 2010 at 05:07 PM ·

I'm not a violin teacher, but I have taught martial arts. In my karate school, the black belts help the lower-ranked students. There was one 17-year-old student in particular who resisted my attempts to help him improve his techniques. I wasn't bossy, would just give him kind of "older sister" advice since I'd already learned by trial and error what worked and what didn't. He always seemed to take offense no matter how gently I offered the advice. His cup was "already full"... he thought he already knew everything. He didn't have the open mind and open heart necessary for learning. The day that he decided to correct me on a technique I had been doing for years (and which he had only started learning the week before), I fully realized how little respect he had for me, and I knew that any further effort on my part would be a waste of time for both of us.

This experience gave me a lot of empathy and respect for the challenges that teachers face.

January 14, 2010 at 08:13 PM ·

I do not wish to participate in a discussion about the use of the word "girl" because I immediately recognized that it was a language/translation issue.  It's not necessary for you to explain why you used that word and I don't think you were being disrespectful.  But I think this statement you made below is quite rude:

"And no, I do not have energy to read the whole discussion of 75 comments-- I read beginning and the end and do not like what I see. It looks like violin teachers want to get paid and have ultimate power."

As a long time member I want to point out to anyone who is new that we welcome your opinion as long as you are part of the discussion.  You are criticizing what people say eventhough you haven't read the entire discussion.  Who knows, maybe you have a good point but I don't remember what it is because all I can remember about you is that you haven't been very nice.

January 14, 2010 at 09:22 PM ·

You're right. Discussions are made to share different opinions and they are read before posting so that your opinion wouldn't have to appear on the same discussion twice -- at least without the knowledge of a previous post with the same opinion/thought.
It's not that teachers want ultimate power -- well SOME do want that but that's not the case here.
Teacher - student relationship consists of three things.
1)Mutual respect
If one of the three things are missing, one side (the teacher or the student) should/can either work on gaining one of the essential points or just give up and move on.
Right now Lisa Kitzke has done something plausible. She made her student have more respect towards her and therefore turning on the collaboration sequence. Authority.. I think it's fine no matter how it's divided as long as both teacher and student are okay with it and it doesn't stop the learning process. So if we have mutual respect -- there's no way you can mess up with authority.


January 14, 2010 at 09:37 PM ·

 Dear Marina,

Even though you did not participate about the word "girl", I obviously let you misinterpretate me as jumping on people's ethnicity. I did not and will never. In the same way as some got offended that I used "girl" I misinterpreted those people and in my turn, got very offended. A conflict arises from two sides always. 

Second: I will not read 90 comments in a go, considering they contain many other discussions than the main one, just as ours. Sampling usually gives good approximations. Yes, I saw many supportive people, but I also saw some that wrote very unpleasantly about the Student when he was just honest in his wishes. I think it many teachers on this thread show a too power-seeking teacher-student relation. Not all, of course, but enough many to be sad to see.

And last. What is it that ultimately decides if we are nice-- our words or our actions? To bring up the conflicts you have as teacher (I assume the teacher used her own name here) with a particular student and let such a long thread to happen...Sorry. I find this being very unnice towards the student, even if the teacher has good will. He can actually google on his teacher's name and very easily find this thread, and get very, very hurt. (He would recognize his comments.) I hope the teacher who had the courage to post the question, will rightfully also let the thread get deleted when she will find out the solution.

January 14, 2010 at 10:07 PM ·

@Lena -
Your reasoning is not quite correct.
What's so bad about a long thread? Many opinions and thoughts -- this is the only way I see this. People replied because they wanted to support and give advice. Saying that the teacher should delete this thread is also very wrong! Not that I want to adjust your thoughts but this is just my opinion. This thread should be kept the way it is as many beginners or newcomers or teachers may run into a similar problem and when they do, this thread is there for them. Otherwise another BIG thread will result/appear. I understand you are giving your concern to the teacher. Or then again, to the student. You probably have run into this situation yourself OR perhaps you ARE that student -- who knows? Either way, if that student got offended he can just tell us about it and we'll discuss it. All this thread is about is a teacher seeking for help because she is worried she might not handle the student. SO!! I think I've made my point clear here.

Please stop being so negative even when you take the side of the student (which is very noble of you). I really have to keep my anger in because I don't want to be rude. I suggest you do the same.
We do *unnice* things all the time! In fact you just did one yourself even tho you had a good intention JUST like the teacher. If you will say "I didn't do anything unnice, I just expressed my opinion" then I will say "Sure, the teacher didn't do anything unnice either, she just asked for help". You can say "At least mine doesn't offend the student", I will say "Sure, but you're offending everybody else". Everybody have freedom of expression, with exceptions with a few rules of politeness. So please cut me some slack, I quoted your possible responses so that I won't have to make a reply to posts that I already predicted.
Either way, let's keep this forum nice, calm, friendly and civilized.
ps: I believe that "unnice" is not even a word with a fixated meaning. Probably won't hit anything in the dictionary.


January 14, 2010 at 10:59 PM ·

Lena, my reaction to your comments is stunned disbelief... I had been following this entire discussion and enjoying the free exchange of differing opinions and suggestions in a respectful atmosphere. But your comments are coming across as angry personal attacks, putting us in the position of having to defend ourselves. We come here with our questions because we trust the others in this online community to help us find an answer. The truth is spoken, but it is delivered in a compassionate way. Everyone doesn't have to agree with each other 100% in order to coexist peacefully.

January 15, 2010 at 10:18 AM ·

 Theodore, many of your comments I find very insightful and true. But this one I disagree about:

You wrote" Teacher - student relationship consists of three things.

1)Mutual respect

I question the authority part. Why should a teacher exert authority over a student who has sought her out to learn something he wishes to learn? 

If the mutual respect and collaboration is there, there simply is no need for authority.

The way I understand the word, it means that the teacher can override the student´s wishes and tell him "Do as I say because I know better and you will benefit from it". While this may or may not be true, it is not necessary if there is mutual trust and a spirit of inquiry. If not, well, "you can lead a horse to the water but you cannot make him drink it".

The teacher felt disrespected in this case. But this can have nothing to do with her teaching or person as it was their first meeting. Maybe the student had some bad experience from other teachers in his life and was trying to protect himself. Maybe he was trying to be straight to avoid misunderstandings about what he wanted out of his lessons. 

From what I understand has happened, the student did try out the tips he was given and found they worked and helped him. Now his trust in his teacher has grown and he will be interested in working with her, because he sees that she knows how to help him reach his goals. I think the advice from people in this thread helped with this? But that results from well earned respect, not authority.

 I don´t see that authority has any part in teaching. As several people pointed out, a student learns by himself, the teacher helps by clearing the way, pointing out ways to learn efficiently.

My own teacher when I was a child was a very nice man who did all he could to teach me and encourage me from the best of his ability. But he did have this power issue. I was not allowed to question or have my own ideas about music. I could never play two bars of a piece without him shouting "No! That  is wrong! You want to go ..." and he´d sing how he wanted me to play the phrase. As a result, he finally killed my wish to play classical music. That was of course not his intention. From age 20 to 25 I stood in my living room 3 - 6 hours a day grinding away, trying to find out how to make my violin sound the way I wanted. I did not dare seeking out another teacher. I did not want to defend myself anymore. I wanted to play music, period. I am now a professional musician/violinist playing other kinds of music, classical music  only in the closet ;-)

 Of course I do not believe any of the people in this thread would act like that towards a student! You all seem much to intelligent and aware for that.  But it is important to see that a teacher - student relation is a mututal meeting, we bring ourselves, our whole person into that meeting and a student is vulnerable, perhaps more than we think. Even an adult student. even an abrazive and rude student may be bringing to us a long cherished dream that he did not believe he would be allowed to fulfill. We need to meet that person and his dream, not to try to rule.         It seems to me that is exactly what Lisa has done. 

January 15, 2010 at 12:48 PM ·

@Sara - Interesting story! But I do have to disagree that authority is not needed.
There are different kinds of authority. One is like your former teacher who used the authority you trusted him in a bad way. The other one would be the student knowing that the teacher has more authority and just listen to her/him. I believe that authority comes naturally when you have mutual respect. When you do not have mutual respect, you can still have authority but then it'll be the same as what happened to the teacher. I believe he did not respect you as a student. He didn't respect your wishes. I think you can agree with that -- so you see how important is mutual respect.
So the point here is that you cannot  not have authority with mutual respect but it's possible to have authority without mutual respect so I believe I was right listing authority :)
Well yeah, authority subs under mutual respect so it may have been not needed to list it but I don't think it matters all that much.


January 15, 2010 at 03:41 PM ·

Dear all,

I am sorry if I have appeared very pissed. In fact, I have been only defending myself (as you do), but I really tried also not to be rude. Perhaps I do not succeed with staying polite in a foreign language (where I do not feel the tone, but only can forward the content) at the same time as I try to defend myself. Perhaps these two things are uncombinable. Unfortunately I can only limit the rudeness I am myself able to detect, and impossible to see yourself from the outside with your own eyes.

I will continue to defend the student, and no, I have not been in similar situations and no, I am not the student. Sure, the teacher has all right and good will when she posts it. But WHAT IF the student would see this thread? But these three initial answers were sad to see:

"Drop him. Putting up with that kind of b.s. is not worth any amount of money he pays you."

"Don't prolong the agony.  End it now. "

"thank him for making us other adult beginners look better. hope my teacher reads this."

Even if these comments are not rude or inpolite, they show a great intolerance. A student that could discover this thread would feel SO BAD. "Am I so difficult?" You can create a deep personal conflict within a person that simply has a dream! But the problem, I see, is more on the side of people who take authority for granted.  And no, he is not difficult, but simply is a person with a straight picture of what he wishes to learn. What you see as a weakness, is a strength in the guy. He analyzes and knows how to optimize, and I hope he keeps this strength and individuality.

What I think you should do, is that you should not discuss personal issues with students/collegues under your real names, but create a separate forum were you either use code or some numbers. That is a suggestion for improvement. Freedom of expression is great. But it is also a responsibility and a risk when it is done too openly. Lisa seems like a nice and professional person with a humble approach to student (and she is the last person I have been interested in criticizing in this forum). But I think, she should have in mind that she does something that can potentially harm somebody else a lot, and not to forget about it, which easily can happen anybody of us. And then it is up to her how she choses.

Sure, further answers in the thread got much more tolerant, but still they are often very "understanding with the poor teacher" (who I consider being very brave) which indicates the difficulty of getting the authority questionated.

January 15, 2010 at 03:51 PM ·

I think it is important to realize that the teacher/student relationship works best, or at least better if assumptions can be set aside and generalizations about expected or predicted behavior and likely scenarios can be put on hold to consider that this particular and newly developing relationship with the teacher and student is its own unique one. I give credit to the teacher for not giving up despite alarm bells going off that this will be a difficult student to teach for any number of reasons and I give credit to the student for being malleable enough to give the teacher a chance and take the advice as the teacher presented it. I would not have blamed the teacher for not wanting to take on this "difficult" student but the fact that she brought her concerns up and sought advice and opinions meant that she did not rule out the possibility of trying to be of help to this student in some way and learning something in the process. It is a testament to the resiliency of human beings and their basic need or desire for knowledge that both parties have gained from this experience even if the odds may have seemed against it. There is something to be said for sticking it out through thick and thin, in good times and bad, and not giving up or throwing in the towel.

January 15, 2010 at 06:30 PM ·

I admire your compassion! Let's just agree in one thing -- so that we can get to a compromise. Both student and the teacher were wrong, there's no doubt about that. Your compassion is truly amazing, I myself am a compassionate person but in this case I don't see a point feeling sorry for the student. If he will see this post, it's the teachers job to clear it up. To be frank, it's none of your business. This thread will bring more good than bad so it should stay. If you're so concerned about the student seeing this post then stop posting. There's less chance of him finding out when it's not in the top 5 in the all topic's page. Anyway, you're a good person and I completely understand what you're saying.

Let's just leave it at that.


January 15, 2010 at 06:40 PM ·

Lena, about your anonym thing, it would be great but look all around you the websites where it is anonymous... people bash themselves way more than here cause no one will recognize them. And it is possible to be anonymous here since you can put a false name (I could have said I'm "Julia Smith" unstead of Anne-Marie Proulx and no one would have known the difference) even if I find it's "cheap shot"  since everyone is so honnest here. Yes, we all have had opinions that didn't pass well, were misinterpreted and let's be honnest, not always cleverly said.  When I was a teenager with very strong views, I have had 2 "fights" here but I'm happy it was under my real name since it learned me to improve my social behaviours and art of saying my opinion in an acceptable way wich is so important in life. Had it been under a false name where no one could have recognized me, I'm not sure I would have learned as much since it's much easier to bash when it's "anonymous".

I agree however about thge fact that it can be touchy to say things as my first second or third teacher was no good, I have a student that do x and y etc but this is life and you still have the option to take a false name if you really don't want to put your real.

just my two cents about beeing "anonymous'


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