Should I postpone my lesson if I've been too ill to practice?

May 9, 2010 at 06:59 PM ·

Quick question... I've had the flu for a couple of weeks and consequently haven't done any practice. Should I go to my lesson anyway or put it back for a week and try to get some practice in? Still feel a bit rough.

Replies (20)

May 9, 2010 at 11:43 PM ·

I would be OK with you coming to a lesson when you have been too ill to practice, as long as you are no longer contagious, and aren't putting yourself in danger, such as driving while tired or unfocused. I would like to know ahead, and would spend the time on gentle exercises, previewing literature, etc. I'm also pretty liberal in my policies as far as canceling or re-scheduling lessons, though. Not everyone can be. Sue

May 10, 2010 at 12:58 AM ·

If you are asking yourself this question for the first time, chances are good your teacher can find something to work on, even if your latest pieces are no further along than they were two weeks ago.  ;-)

May 10, 2010 at 04:10 AM ·

 It's entirely individual.  You should call your teacher and ask.  

May 10, 2010 at 04:33 AM ·

You raised a very good quesiton. I always feel I need to be decently prepared for my lessons. Since I don't have a lot of time to practice, I usually only see my teacher twice a month at the most. If I were in your situation, I'd call my teacher ahead and reschedule the lesson. I do see the benefit of going to lessons less prepared though, especially when I'm working on a new piece that is challenging. By being less prepared, I need less work to be corrected. I don't think this is your case. Having not been practicing for two weeks, you probably won't be playing in your true capability so I think it might not be the most efficient way of using the lesson.

May 10, 2010 at 06:05 AM ·

Thanks for your replies. I just sent my teacher a text letting her know I've been ill so that way we're both prepared! She's very friendly but I don't want her to think I've not been trying. (Currently stuck in Suzuki book 4 limbo where I can play the pieces I just can't play them very well ... it would be very easy to create the impression that I was verging on giving up!) Ganbatte as they say in Japan. (keep trying).



May 11, 2010 at 01:45 AM ·

Yixi's response makes me wonder about something. Why do we need to be prepared for a lesson? It seems like the teacher's job is to help you prepare for performing. Sometimes they will need to help the students through rough spots. Times when you have been sick Times when you have been busy. Times when you hit a plateau and can get past a problem. It seems like these are the times when you need a lesson (and and understanding teacher) most. This is when a good teacher shines and helps you get back on a good path in playing.

May 12, 2010 at 05:16 PM ·

Eric--sometimes, yes.  But in many ways, the bulk of the real work is done at home in the practice room.  A big aspect of the teacher's job is to teach the student how to learn for themselves.  Usually there is something that can be worked with if the practice hasn't been the greatest--sometimes those lessons actually give great opportunity to work on a piece form a different angle, or whatever--lots of options, often!  But other times really the next step is for the student to do their homework, and there's only so much I have to work with if that hasn't happened.  It really is case by case, and sometimes it really is better to save the lesson till the homework has been done.  The job to prepare is the student's.  The job to help an is the teacher's, and depending on the student capability that may be very hands-on and step by step, or it may be more "guiding"--but either way I can't do the work for them :)

May 12, 2010 at 05:20 PM ·

BTW my post is not meant to refer to Jude :)  more to the extreme of what Eric posted--I do ahve families in my school job that think their kid can come to a lesson and become a great violinist with little to no work outside the lesson.  They really don't understand that you can't go anywhere without consistent and effective practice--that's something I have to actively teach not just to my beginners, but to counter that mindset.  I doubt Eric is in that category either :) but that' s what your post reminded me of.

May 12, 2010 at 08:36 PM ·

Kathryn, thanks so much for having eloquently articulated the chief benefits of being well-prepared before lessons.

Eric, your thoughts on what teacher can do when students are not well-prepared were just what I was looking for. I can’t help questioning my habit of wanting to avoid wasting my teacher’s time and disappointing her for lack preparedness on my part, at the same time, I also firmly believe that it is not the most efficient way of utilizing my teacher’s time or my tuition if I didn't practice enough before a lesson.  Will I learn something useful from my teacher even if I’m not prepared? Absolutely; there are times I would need lessons to just work on certain specific technique, even though it helps to have some well-prepared pieces to use as ‘ground material’, a lack of preparation is not too crucial in such cases. If it is a new piece that is challenging  and has many aspects that I haven’t been exposed to before, then I might go to the lesson without too much preparation so that there won’t be too much unlearning for me to go through.  But if I’m polishing a piece that I’ve learned or have been working on for some time, then my preparedness is vital for a lesson to be productive. 


May 12, 2010 at 08:47 PM ·

I've been mulling over this thread since it opened several days ago.

Jude, I can't tell you what to do in your particular situation, because I don't -- and really can't -- know your situation as well as you do.  But I have to agree with Kathryn's input here.  If I were the student and had been unable to practice for a couple of weeks, I would rather put off the lesson long enough get back into reasonably good form with the material I was currently studying.  For me, personally, it would be a matter of self-respect -- plus consideration for the teacher.

I know from experience that the flu can put the brakes on just about everything.  I've rarely had to deal with it myself; but even if I'm not feeling tops, I can still almost always do at least SOME practice -- even if not my full-blown daily routine.  At such times, I just zero in on basic long bows, sustained tones, scales, position changes, and double-stops -- nothing strenuous -- just to stay in touch with the instrument and maintain finesse.  Then, when I'm feeling better, I can get back up to full power fast.

BTW, I came across an article a couple of months ago on  -- although I regret I didn't bookmark it.  It described an added benefit of regular walking I hadn't heard of before.  I've long been a believer in walks.  I like to go for 20 minutes at a stretch -- not super-fast, just a steady, unabating pace of about 3.5 mph (5.63 kph).  This especially helps me get warm during cold weather -- and that helps me jump-start my practice sessions when it's cold.

This article mentioned that sustained walking like this, which moves the blood vigorously throughout the whole system, also pushes the T and B cells throughout the system so that they can more rapidly seek out and destroy viruses that cause nuisance illnesses like colds and flu.

May 13, 2010 at 01:24 AM ·

Thank you everyone for your interesting responses!

I managed to get an hour in on Tuesday (in anticipation of going to my lesson on Wednesday) but then woke  up with a migraine on Wednesday morning so no getting out of bed for me! I'm usually quite healthy but I've been experiencing a series of connected problems recently. I like to run on a treadmill at the gym twice a week but since getting the flu I haven't much felt like going. Unfortunately exercise is one of the only things that keeps my migraines under control so when I stopped exercising I got a migraine. Rotten luck. Come the weekend I intend to be back in the gym, back at my music stand, back on top of things. 

 I would much rather be prepared for my lessons, out of respect to my teacher and for my own self esteem but I suppose life happens and illness happens. When I picked up my violin on Tuesday I think I made some progress with an awkward section and I enjoyed playing again so don't think I've got any motivation issues generally.

(I've just tried to cut and paste my post in to Word so I can spell check it but it won't let me so I apologise for any typos!)

May 13, 2010 at 02:05 AM ·

I think I may have chosen my words wrong. I do believe it is up to the individual to advance as a musician. I just think that there are times in life that a teacher can help you get back on track. This should be the exception and not the norm.

I would prefer to go to a lesson, unprepared, than start getting in the habit of missing lessons.



May 13, 2010 at 05:36 AM ·

Good point, Eric! There were many times I wish I had lesson(s) earlier so that I wouldn't have to undo so much, although this tended to happen when I practiced before lesson too much rather than being under-prepared.

May 13, 2010 at 02:43 PM ·

Now to that, Eric, I agree with no qualifiers!  :)

May 13, 2010 at 03:40 PM ·

this thread brings up another point:

i see often music teachers getting sick in the flu season in the germ center, i mean, the studio and they can usually pinpoint which sick students have "infected" them.  the loss of productivity can be substantial...just because we show up when we should not.

perhaps some teachers care if our constant cough/sneeze becomes airborne while others don't.  for those who do care, i think it will be a courtesy if not common sense to let the teachers know about the flu and our concern that we don't want to risk infecting the whole studio.  if the teachers know we are sick, their expectation of our practice will be adjusted accordingly.

also, teachers can see through their students quite easily if they know them, whether they are at their best level from good practice or so so level from lack of practice.  everyone has that range, or the up and downs over the long term.  so it is really not a big deal to show some fluctuation on this human side of reality.  perhaps it will be informational to allow the teachers to assess our most basic levels.

everyone learning the violin can get better with sightreading.  if a student is unprepared, allowing the teacher to see how the student attacks a new piece can be revealing.  habits, approaches, thought processes...things that we pay tuition to learn one way or another.  perhaps we learn even more when showing up at our worst.

to me at least, one goal for my kid learning anything is to see how she performs unprepared...if we can draw parallels between violin practice and life events.

May 15, 2010 at 07:13 PM ·

My teacher has a small child, so she asks students not to come to lessons if they are sick. She probably loses a significant amount of income because of this policy - she gives credits when students cancel due to illness, otherwise people would continue to come (Some still do regardless, and get her and her family sick)...  If it were me, I would try to schedule a makeup lesson if my teacher is fine with it. This would be a win-win solution - it would not serve either of us well if I showed up unprepared, and she would not have to lose income (Luckily so far I have not had to cancel due to illness. Knock on wood). Besides, I hate missing lessons - if I were practicing something wrong, I want to find out as soon as possible, not to continue to do the wrong thing for weeks, which makes it harder to correct. So, I had rescheduled when my lessons fell on holidays...

May 15, 2010 at 11:17 PM ·

Al, I agree with you that one should learn to perform when one is unprepared. In real life, a lot of time you've got to be able to just wing it. But wouldn't you prefer to work with a person who is always well prepared on her part? I personally don't have a lot of patience with people consistently showing up unprepared. It tends to waste everyone's time, although I find overpreparing can be equally silly. Preparation is an art.

May 16, 2010 at 12:09 AM ·

yixi, yes, i prefer to work with my kids when mentally they are there and ready to carry over from last session (golf i mean).  it is definitely less frustrating because there is a connection.  when you are ready to teach, it is a good feeling when others are ready to learn.

however, sometimes they are not there, as expected:).  so instead of going through the stuff, i just put them on the spot and challenge them to show me certain shots.  i want to see if they can make the connection while doing it...

right there, if the kids look excited to show off what they can come up with, with a good attitude and perhaps poor tech,  i am happy, because i am looking for that spirit and that is a good spot to restart.

i think violin lessons can possibly use more spontaneity to teach the kids how to react on the spot.  i will yawn or look at the clock if i know what is coming up the next minute for the entire hour:)

yixi, just curious, have you ever yawned during your violin class? :)

May 16, 2010 at 12:19 AM ·

Sometimes a teacher learns more about a student if the student hasn't practised.

do the lesson anyway


May 16, 2010 at 01:41 AM ·

Al, with my current teacher, not only that I dare not to yawn but I'd be lucky if I can keep breathing regular :)  Seriously, during my lessons with her, if I knew what was coming, I'd stop and self-correct before she gets the chance to say "you should know by now what I'm going to say about this..."  I had teachers in the past who were less intense than my current one, but I don't recall any yawning either, although I did use to ask tons of questions to keep them on their toes:)

I don't know about teaching kids, although I did teach some Chinese kids violin when I was in high school back in China.  I was pretty strict but kids were not kids back home back then. You gotta grow fast otherwise you had no second chance. For one thing, everything you wanted to do or wanted to be in life was based on age and connection at that point (eg. you would be too old for studying in unversity if you were over 30 years old, and you couldn't get into any conservatory in the country unless you had the right connection, etc.).

Back to kids learning here in North America, sometimes I felt it was even more intense than she was teaching me when I saw the way she was teaching the young ones. Partly maybe because they were more advanced than me and/or they are simply exceptional. One of them recently went to semi-final in Menuhin competition.  This may be another reason I don't yawn: deep down I believe my teacher is wasted on me:)

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