September 10, 2010 at 07:50 PM ·

what is most important in the teacher/student relationship?

Replies (51)

September 10, 2010 at 08:06 PM ·

Teacher: patient, analytical, open-minded, experienced.

Student: kicks their own butt so their teacher doesn't have to.

September 10, 2010 at 08:24 PM ·

janis, you must be a teacher.  but how to establish communication over the barriers of  age and gender?

September 10, 2010 at 08:44 PM ·

>but how to establish communication over the barriers of  age and gender?

By talking.

September 10, 2010 at 08:51 PM ·

To me, the most important aspects of the teacher-student relationship are mutual respect and open communication. We should be open about our goals, expectations, and how we can help each other work toward those goals and meet those expectations.

Personally, I don't believe in one-size-fit-all "great teachers." I believe finding the "right" teacher is more important. A right teacher is one who matches your personality and learning style, and is willing to and capable of helping you achieve your goals. Here is an old thread that lists characters about teachers that adult students appreciate.

As a student, I do my due diligence to follow instructions, come to lessons prepared, be courteous, show up and pay on time, and never cancel lessons unless I absolutely have to, and just try my best to make my lessons as rewarding to my teacher as they are to me.

Di, if you are not comfortable communicating with your teacher, perhaps he is not the right teacher for you.

September 10, 2010 at 09:03 PM ·

I've been a teacher in the past but am not now (and have never taught music).  I don't know about age barriers or how to get past them, though -- I've never taught kids.  Gender barriers are a matter of professionalism, ideally.

I think the biggest difference between teaching kids and adults is that either the kids are being taught HOW to be musical, or the teacher may think they are.  An adult generally comes in with a clearer goal of what they like, what sort of music moves them, and where they'd like to be.

It's not always the case, and I'm partly going on what I know of piano teachers as well here, so I may be off-base ... but a lot of music teachers see young kids as potential mini-mes.  As an example, if a teacher likes Heifetz and doesn't like Stern, or prefers Argerich to Horowitz, they often can't resist trying to convert the kid to liking and disliking the same people or developing the same tastes in music.  An adult usually comes into the game with their broad preferences crystallized, even if they are still learning about the greats of the instrument.

Teachers of young kids seem to sometimes approach them as needing to be molded, and often in the teacher's image though of course not always.  That's a dicey perspective to use on an adult student.  It's ultimately dicey to use on kids as well, because there will come a time when the kid will start to speak to the ways in which they are different from their teacher, which can mean a break from music training if both aren't careful.

September 10, 2010 at 09:18 PM ·

Just my opinion from a student's point of view.  Because, indeed, finding the good teacher/student match is not an easy thing!  I think the best match is when you find someone that thinks similar to you.  If you are rational, find a rational.  If you are artistic, find an artistic.  If you are both, find one that is both.  : )  Morover, your musical interests (style, era, idols, schools, ideal sound conception) should match too because otherwise you'll always be fighting at higher levels on interpretation and so. 


-knowledgable, experienced, kind, patient,

-beeing able to really know what each student needs and expect from the teacher.  I.e. Don't try to do a Perlman with a student that just wants to play for fun as a hobby...  And push harder on those who told you they wanted to be at their best.  -

short and sweet in the explanations.  I dislike when someone goes in a long story to explain something that could be done more efficiently. 

- Be a good psychologist!!! Students will face stage fraight issues, bad days at school, family problems, examination stress periods at school, emotional and physical changes if they are young. They might also be stressed in lessons if you push them the wrong way!  They can also have no other musicians than their teachers in their surroundings so if the teacher doesn't understand their musical/psychologic issues, who will??? 

- or course, respect.  Not everyone is talented is as talented as the teacher but hard work, little everyday achivements, passion and devotion should always be respected!  Playing well his little easy peice might be as hard for an ordinairy student than something harder for someone more talented.  (proportionally)



-work the hardest you can according to your situation (and explain your situation to the teacher so he/she can understand you)

-participate activly. Otherwise the teacher would just as much enjoy to teach a cabbage!

- try to stay optimist (this one is hard when your playing sound like sh_ _ and you know it... : )

- be clear on lesson schedrules and tell ahead of time if you have to cancel

- find by yourself what keeps the fire burning...  Yes the teacher can try to transmit passion and love of music but nothing beats a self motivated student...  

- be respectful and find a teacher you will look up to. 

- chocolate at christmas always help to keep good relations : )


Just a few ideas.

Interesting thread!


September 10, 2010 at 09:38 PM ·

Be on time, and be prepared!!!!!!!

Psychologist? True, a teacher has to have some idea of the dynamics of mind & body, but a teacher is a teacher not a psyche therapist, and must know when to suggest seeing a professional councilor or a minister. I would be leery of getting too familial!

Diagnose the problem and prescribe appropriate études/exercises, don't treat symptoms. Remember that the goal is for the student to be able to teach his/her self someday.

Just my 2 cents.

September 10, 2010 at 10:59 PM ·

Yes of course Royce!  I was maybe refering to the "psy" for minor things.  if their is a big big problem, I agree that a real psychologist would be a better idea! : )

But a teacher with 0 psychological skills could be a kind of a dictator who would scream after the students and laught of them when they express real problems, stage fright etc. But perhaps I'm wrong?

September 10, 2010 at 11:25 PM ·

@ Anne-Marie; Sure, nothing wrong with sharing advice from life experiences and practical wisdom..... I see what you mean now.

September 11, 2010 at 12:22 AM ·

To answer your question. In no  order of importance humor ,dedication, respect ,communication correction and appreciation.I find if two or more of these qualities are missing in the lessons, from either the teacher or the student  ,the lessonswill  be stressed.Of course these qualities need to be natural.

September 11, 2010 at 10:45 AM ·


I cannot make generalizations, but my personal goal as a teacher is to help the student understand the violin, the movements necessary for good playing  and how to analyze what they are doing so they can teach themselves.  I try to encourage them to develop an objective attitude about learning, not to judge themselves harshly and look at mistakes as a sign that change is needed or there is an obstacle to overcome rather than thinking it is a failure.  I insist on slow practice.

What I would hope from my students is that they prepare well for the lessons, work on the goals of the week and try to accomplish them.  What I dislike is lies.  Your teacher knows anyway what you did or didn't do just from the sound of the first few notes, so lying about it won't help.  I think that respect is important too, and for me, I do not accept that my student call me by my first name.  But, that depends on each teacher I guess.

Hope this helps with the question...


September 11, 2010 at 05:13 PM ·

As a teacher:

Try to understand how your student thinks, so you can explain things in a way they will understand.  Some students respond well to a "here, play it like this" demonstration approach, and some respond better to verbal explanations.

Try to take your student's physical characteristics into account.  If you're an Isaac Stern worshiper, and you have a student built like James Ehnes or Janine Jansen, then there's a good chance that Stern's exact way of holding the instrument isn't going to work for them.  (Remember when Zukerman either fired, or wouldn't hire -- I forget which -- a concertmaster for his orchestra because the guy's left thumb came up over the neck of the violin?  In that case, Perlman would also not be qualified to play in Zukerman's orchestra.  I guess his hands are too big for him to be a good violinist. :-/)

Be prepared to back up your instructions.  If a student wants to know why arm vibrato is better than wrist vibrato (or vice versa), "Because I said so" might not be the most informative answer.


As a student:

Remember, and be willing to believe, that your teacher really is doing their best to help you.

Understand that the greatest teacher on earth will not be able to help you if you don't practice, but even a terrible one can help you if you do.

Believe in your own powers of understanding.  Remember that "you don't know" does not equal "you are stupid."

September 11, 2010 at 05:26 PM ·

Be on time, be prepared, don't bump into the furniture and don't get in the family way.

Sorry wrong thread

September 11, 2010 at 06:24 PM ·

Bruce, I really likes your points!  We don't always think of them said in that way. Thanks


September 11, 2010 at 06:35 PM ·


Great post!!!!

September 11, 2010 at 07:17 PM ·

My thoughts exactly, Bruce.

September 12, 2010 at 12:10 AM ·

A great teacher never stops learning, and a teacher's ultimate goal is to enable students to become their own teachers.

September 12, 2010 at 12:28 AM ·

Just my opinion, but I think that (besides the really obvious stuff) the most important things are...

For the teacher: to be open-minded enough to accept that you can't teach every single student in the exact same way. Work with your students in order to figure out what he or she needs to learn in the most efficient way. Also, be a good listener. If your student is trying to tell you something, take the time to really understand what he or she is saying before you blow over it, or jump the "obvious" conclusion/solution.

For the student: ask A LOT of questions. Make sure you really understand the reasons behind what you are doing. You want to know exactly what the goal of each exercise/etude/piece is in order for effective practice, so if you don't quite "get it" the first time, ask!

In general, I think the best teacher-student relationships are those where communication is open, easy, and muutal.

September 12, 2010 at 02:20 AM ·

     I have learned that being a student that brings enthusiasm to lessons lights my teacher's face!  Also, coming to class where there is no question that both student & teacher love what they do!

     I also appreciate teachers who understand that I work a full time job that is labor intensive and am old enough to be the student body's parent, so when get too class I am exhausted! I start work at 3:45 in the morning and finish by 12:30pm then go to lessons! Understanding that I may need time to work on études & exercises to tone, build strength & muscle and that I sometimes need a little extra time for my poor muscles to recover and that I throw my poor little heart into every moment I have violin and bow in hand!!!

September 12, 2010 at 03:16 AM · My thought on what make a great teacher are things like being experienced, serious , and firm. But they must also be patient, kind, and understanding. And inspirational! I also think a great quality is when the teacher pushes you to strive for more(: And a good student is one who has passion and commitment.

September 12, 2010 at 02:16 PM ·

MATTHEW= Oh love what you posted! The teacher that I currently have I certainly try to imitate! And when I begin having doubts he passes a few ideas for me to try and WOW! I am encouraged and go for it again!

September 12, 2010 at 03:48 PM ·

Mattew and Royce, I can certainly relate to having an inspiring teacher you can look up too!

I am a fan of russian violinists and their violin school (perhaps because the first violinist I heard live was Vadim Repin imho one of the best representative of these violinists. I then learned about Bron's students, the Oistrakhs etc) and remember to have secretly wish (beeing afraid this was asking too much for me the little amateur...) to have either a skillful russian teacher or someone who had the chance to work with them when I applied to the conservatory.  Of course, I didn't tell this to anyone. Guess form where was my teacher, accompagnists and theory teacher???  (all skilled and good pedagogues) I will always be greatful to life for this! 


September 15, 2010 at 04:19 AM ·

I've commented on this subject extensively on my website,   In one small section on "teaching" I give the basics of what I have to offer. Then in my "writings" section I have a long article on how to choose a teacher.

I'd like to explore a couple of areas that I didn't touch on so much on my website, if at all. Different teachers have different strengths and different needs, just as different students do. What I'm looking for among other things, is a student at the high intermediate level and above. I welcome very advanced students, and the challenges that their repertoire would still pose to me! I'm looking for someone serious, talented, intelligent, ambitious, willing and able to put in a good amount of work more often than not. My motto is that I offer serious training for serious students. I like working with highschool students preparing for college/conservatory audtions, and professionals looking to explore a different approach - but I'm good with someone at the Vivaldi a minor/Kayser studies level, too. But whatever the level of advancement, I do expect a student to produce. A student who has the attitude of "well I'm not nor am I going to be a professional, so I'll work when I want to" won't pan out with me. Don't get me wrong. I'm not looking only for future and current professionals. But why take lessons, whether in violin, tennis, or anything, if you're not going to get somewhere with it?

Absolutely, not every student or teacher needs to or ought to be like this. There is a wonderful pianist that I've worked with a number of times, who often tours as a soloist. Her approach is very different. She welcomes anyone who wants to learn. I take my hat off to her. That's just not me. ("A man's got to know his limitations" said 'Dirty Harry'!) I know what I find interesting and stimulating at this point in my life and career.

Of course attitude is important. A student should be respectful and enthusiastic. Respect does not preclude asking questions or even asking for justifications sometimes. Yes, while they're working with me, ultimately I have the veto in matters of technique and interpreation - but there's definitely room for leeway. Yikes, i'm almost scaring myself! It's really not all that cut and dry in actuality. Even if I don't agree with it, I'm thrilled if a student has an interpretive idea! When the basic elements just outlined are there and the chemistry is right, we can really strike sparks off each other, and teaching is a joy to me. If you were to poll some of my former students, I have a feeling that some would say that I'm just the best thing going. Others would say "ugh! That Klayman - he's awful!" Still others would say "he's OK", And they'd all be right.

Speaking further of attitude, I've encountered recurring problem types: the young students forced by their parents; the adult amateur students who because they pay you, look upon you in a way similar to a contractor they've hired to remodel their kitchen - they feel that you're working for them, and they'll produce what they want when they want; and most tragically in a way, the promising student dominated and eclipsed by a stage parent.

Some teachers are very cut and dry. In a sense, they teach the violin, not the student. At another extreme is the frustrated psycotherapist, who seems more interested in a student's private life than their violin progress. I lean a bit to the former out of respect for a student's privacy, and because after all, the student is there to learn how to play the violin and develop into a musician - though I certainly teach the student , not the violin. But speaking of therapy, one should be aware that in private lessons, issues of tranference and counter-transference can occur. I have a policy of not discussing politics, religion, or my personal life with my students. I have no interest in prying into a student's personal life. However, if I sense that their progress is being seriously impeded by some personal problem, I will bring that up, and suggest that if they don't feel comfortable talking to me about it, then they really should talk to somebody. On the other hand, I've had students who seemed to really need to talk to me about their lives and problems, before they could settle down to the lesson. I would feel genuinely flattered that such students appreciated my advice and trusted my judgement and rectitude. But after a while I would have to gently remind them that they were here mainly for a violin lesson.

A teacher can hold an important place in a student's history long after the lessons have ended. So can a student for a teacher.


September 15, 2010 at 03:17 PM ·

@ Raphael: You sound like a very reasonable teacher! I wish more teachers would have your approach.

I would still wish to defend the amateur adult students a bit. I tried recently to take a few chamber classes for a very respected and wonderful teacher, employed to work with amateurs. I have not had any classes for many years. My dream as a student (non-pro) who loves working on *music* when I play the instrument, is to learn to handle the pieces I love and to perform them. As simple as this. And I usually have a limitation in time of how much time I can put into the practice, since I have another profession I aim for.

This teacher, he directly when he saw me (that has not taken classes for 10 years?) directly got scared from my bow hold, my bow arm, my standing, my holding of the instrument, my "french" vibrato, my flautando violin tone, the methodology with which I move the fingers on the finger board, tension. So what he told me instantly, is that I have to stop working on the music, and for many months only do the basic exercises like holding the instrument, breathing, and basic bow hold and vibrato exercises...everything needed to reshape everything.

For me, who only has one hour daily and who primarily is driven not for ambition of becoming a professional, but for the ambition of executing the pieces in some way or another (preferably nicely) this is not something I see overwhelming benefits from. Lets say I would follow his plan (that I think would be wise for anybody aiming for being professional/star). I would need to trade perhaps one year (or more) in getting all this correct technique, which would allow me to practice 8 hours daily (which I anyway would not do). Is the gain of appropriate technique really out-weighting what I could learn if I continued just working in the same manner as now on my chamber pieces? I am afraid this rather would demotivate me from my greatest passion...

September 15, 2010 at 05:35 PM ·

mr. klayman, i wish i could study with you - but i live on the west coast so that's not too likely.  i am not an advanced student, but a beginner at age 69, an accomplished pianist, and extremely motivated to learn the violin.  it is the hardest thing i have ever done and i love it.  dont think my younger teacher, though, understands my frustration.  he mainly teaches children and i am sure he considers me ancient.  perhaps motor skills arent first-class, but i think motivation and basic music education, to say nothing of musicality, enter in.   thanks again for the advice - the stuff on this website has helped me a lot.....see 'too old at 69?) and your thoughts are greatly appreciated.     diane        i should add that my teacher is learning from me, too!!!    all teaching and learning is a dialectic process if it  to be effective.

September 15, 2010 at 11:35 PM ·

Thanks Di and Lena. Glad I haven't scared anybody - yet! ;-)

Please keep in mind that I was being rather personal about what has worked and hasn't worked for me. Also, the problem types that I mentioned were generalizations from my personal experience, and that of a number of colleagues with whom I have spoken, and there are lots of exceptions. As I mentioned in a private communication Lena, I think you are very talented, and have a passion for the violin - and I'd love to have a student like you! Di - don't lose heart.

September 16, 2010 at 09:33 AM ·

Lena - I really hear you though my course seems to be a little different.  When I came back to playing I did not care a hoot about technique, only about the wonder of actually being able to hear the tunes that were on the page - and so I played hundreds of them (not kidding).  I went to a teacher who was just like yours and wanted me to stop and to endless exercises and etudes - in retrospect we were in totally different worlds.  I stopped the lessons and carried on the playing.  Then I went to music camp and met a lot of people like myslef. 

Interestingly, I now find myself back doing more technnique and less music - I think I hit a bit of a wall where I did not have the technique to play the pieces that I now wanted to approach. But the key thing is that, as with you, because of age and limited time its my journey not the teachers - and maybe thats the point, it takes an experienced or open minded teacher to realize that the way they went - starting at childhood and going through college etc is not the only way to approach the violin or even play effectively.

September 17, 2010 at 08:02 AM ·

@ Raphael: when will you come to give master classes in Sweden?

September 17, 2010 at 08:10 AM ·

@ Elise: you seem to indeed have a similar story as mine! when i recaptured the violin, i worked without teacher on etudes on my own (and did Schradieck, Dancla, Dont, Bakhlanova...). It was a fantastic year for the confidence for the left hand skills. (I prefer to say "skills" since I have no technique.) but then i met my pianist and continued only with chamber stuff. i still like to pick difficult pieces (like Brahms concerto or Kreutzer sonata) in order  to train the left hand intonation and dexterity.

I guess its not easy to find a teacher that understands more or less what visions one has. My visions are to be able to play everything as well as I can with what I already have. If something includes compulsory sautille or staccato, or other difficult, jumping bowing, I avoid the piece since my bow-arm is underdeveloped, and there is enough repertoire for me to explore anyway...

September 17, 2010 at 10:41 AM ·

I went for my lesson yesterday - and it was very constructive and helpful (and I have lots of homework!) but there was one thing that I wondered if others would comment on.  I took a piece that I have recently started and really love - Melody by Gluck as arranged by Kreisler.  I like it so much I seem to be memorizing this without trying.  I mentioned it to my teacher and she asked to see it.  When I produced it she proceeded to play it for me before I had a chance to.

Well, thats the issue.  She played it beautifully of course but somehow I felt that I had lost it - I mean it was a performance to me and was rather intimidating.  Was that dynamic wrong?  Am I hypersensitive and overreacting? 

September 17, 2010 at 12:14 PM ·

Hi Elise!

I just have to answer this, since I 1 week ago also started working on Gluck. I think, you are not at all hypersensitive. I have been reacting the same way in similar situations. It is simply: when we practice something with big passion, and we do our absolutely best with a piece, it is more or less like if we would sit at home and write a passionated love poem. When we perform it to somebody, it is like if this person would read our poem. If she directly would show how to play it, then it becomes almost like if they would take your poem, and totally restructure it. I would feel intimidated. I would say, it was rather unsensitive of your teacher, but well-intended.

I think, there is also another aspect: if she would have picked a technically difficult piece and performed it, you might not have reacted this way (you would watch the technique). But as fast as we have a strong feeling for the piece, a big musical passion for it, I think it becomes much closer emotionally for us...and Gluck is that kind of emotional piece!

September 17, 2010 at 01:03 PM ·

i think a good teacher aims to deliver more than expected and a good student works harder than expected. between the 2, a hard working student is more important and should be the driving force in the student-teacher dynamic.

September 17, 2010 at 01:46 PM ·

Thanks Lena.  Its a piece that is not terribly difficult technically - but it is one that is difficult emotionally and I suspect that older players are actually better at this.  If I have any sollace its that she played it beautifully but rather without the expression that I feel (of course thats personal).

Its a theme I would like to bring up elsewhere....

September 17, 2010 at 08:38 PM ·

I admire teachers that spark the desire to be imitated.  And I love teachers that believe in a sincere student and use that to fuel the desire in that student to continue and to strive for excellence!

"Though we strive for perfection we will be content with excellence."...... Yogi Berra.

September 18, 2010 at 07:37 PM ·

Thanks for this post Raphael. I like very much your principles and ideas!

I agree about having students that work hard (if I were a teacher... : )  and that quality training deserves quality students. There is just one exception I could possibly see to one principle on which I agree btw.   Sometimes, students (college and university in non-musical fields) can work very hard in their studies and lack time to be pro-efficient and "competitive" in their violin as they were before. I imagine it can be the same with an "ex" student like this who has taken up a very demanding job for a living.  I am a bit in the college/university student situation I described and know some teachers could just think I don't care when it's not at all the case!!! (I do this just to maintain my violin slightly active to start again with all the "commitment" I had when I'll be finished my studies) Not necessarely defending those like me!   Just that life sometimes gets in the way even when you don't want! : )

Just that I suspect the line is hard to tell (maybe I'm wrong) between a lazy, non motivated student and a former very involved/interested student who just is in a rush period of his/her life. (that will end one day hopefully!)  Not much progress for both...

Usually, how do teachers deal with these students? (I know many many quit their hobby may it be music, figure skating, swimming etc when they enter in difficult stidies. To have seen others around me... Maybe this fixes a problem for the violin teachers too!) Are these busy students who choose to not quit considered lazy or scrap "ish" by teachers??? Are they seen as a burden or annoying because progress is somehow...slower?   I've always wanted to know the truth about this! (all teachers are welcome to answer this of course!)



September 18, 2010 at 09:56 PM ·

Don ; ) Unfourtunately life is a little more complex than this ; )  You can be a fiddler of heart and a piper of job. You can learn to be a piper for a while in order to sponsor your futur fiddling activities later on!   ; )  Mary the piper but love the fiddler...  (lol) I'm not telling to do a poor piper's job just because it will sponsor your fiddling!  Though you can choose to be a normal piper unstead of a super extraordinairy world knowned piper...   The problem is that while you learn to be a piper, you temporary loose all your fiddler's dignity and identity by doing slow slow progress...   

September 18, 2010 at 10:20 PM ·

 For an adult, I think it is important that the teacher meets you where you are.  I've been fortunate, I think, that all 3 of the teachers I've had as an adult haven't tried to do what Lena's did and send me back to the drawing board (where I might well deserve to go, in theory).  I also have about an hour a day to practice, and that's it.  And that hour is usually between 10:30 and 11:30 pm after the kids are in bed, although there's more on weekends (sometimes).  

I don't intend to treat my teacher like a contractor, and I don't think it comes out that way.  In some ways she is like a colleague--a more advanced, senior colleague, to be sure.  But it's interesting to me how similar our musical lives can be in some ways.  For example, she is a section leader in her pro orchestra (principal 2nd violin) and she's been concertmaster at some times in her life, and it's been extraordinarily helpful to me to talk to her about leading a section, which I do in a community orchestra.  Some of the same issues--section players who have to put in their two cents about bowings, for example--still come up.  And lately we've been talking about the ins and outs of finding people you can play chamber music with on an ongoing basis, and choosing music for chamber groups, and deciding who is 1st and 2nd violin in the quartet, and so on.  And, I've brought her several pieces that she was unfamiliar with--not because she has a limited repertoire, but because I have a taste for unusual music, I guess.  Which has made it a learning experience for both of us.  She's enough ahead of me that it is very helpful for me to see how she approaches a piece from the start.  But her style is also accessible enough to me that her approach resonates with me.  Sometimes I feel like she is the sort of player I would have been if I had more talent and experience, if that makes any sense.  It makes me feel like practicing is worthwhile, because even though I'll never be as good a player as my teacher is, I can at least see that country from here.  And it's a nice place.

Whereas I've had other teachers, especially when I was a teen, who it seemed were just playing a different instrument altogether.  (Honestly that is how I feel about Heifetz--another species).  I found that type of relationship to be really discouraging, because it felt like practicing was a waste of time.  I didn't really know where I was going and also knew I'd never get there anyway.

September 19, 2010 at 01:00 AM ·

Hi, Don totally agree! Sure I was not meaning as an "exuse".  I think this is a very valid point but different issue that what I have though initially to ask as a question.  Of course, if we don't practice (whatever the reason) we won't progress much! 

My issue was rather that I wondered what teachers think about students who once practiced very hard and progressed very much and then entered in higher levels at school in non musical programs in college or university and had to give up much of their practice time and progress. (I mean much slower progress than  before) If they don't want to quit violin even if they lack time for it, do teachers put them in the same category as lazy students who often do on purpose to not practice much, do they figure they have no longer interest in learning the violin and see them as a burden to teach too? Passion is still there even if results are not as much...

I could also say it more roughly: if you were a good teacher that wants good proefficient students, would you kick out your universitary or college (non-musical demanding fields) students out of your studio when they wouldn't have time to be as good as before?  Even if they intend to start again seriously after their studies and still love violin?  

I am really lucky to not have this problem... I have a very understanding teacher that would usually be very unhappy with students who don't practice much. Perhaps because she saw how hard her own children worked when they went to University in non-musical fields.    I was just asking the question out of curiosity...


September 19, 2010 at 10:41 PM ·

Hi Anne-Marie. I'd almost forgotten about this thread, then decided to look at it a bit again, and noticed that you'd asked me a question. I understand that Heifetz liked to say about his students "I know my customers". Yes, teachers have to know their customers! Everybody goes through periods of greater and lesser productivity, and as Galamian suggests, a teacher should take advantage of the more productive phases. He also suggests that some students thrive more and produce better results with a gentle approach, with a lot of praise and encouragement. Others actually thrive on a much sterner approach. And sometimes the same student at different times will produce better with one or another approach, or something in-between.

I think that teachers should also recognize that everyone can go through personal or work problems that can put their violin studies on the back burners. And as I mentioned earlier, I will ask the student what's going on, and see what we can work out. But how long a non-productive period should a teacher tolerate? I think that's a judgement call in each case.

Here's an actual case study: There was a girl, I'll call her "M", that I worked with from about age 11 to 17 or 18. I watched her grow up and grew very fond of her - as a young person, that is. As a violin student, she left much to be desired. But she was very bright, not without some talent, and usually I enjoyed working with her. She was a relative of one of the most famous American musicians, but as far as instrumental talent, the apple had rolled rather far from the tree. What interested her the most outside of school, where she was a compulsive over-achiever, was the musical theatre - and I won't be terribly surprised to see her name in lights on a Broadway marquee one day. But it miffed me that when the going got tough, the violin was the first and main activity to suffer. However both she and her mother made her priorities clear to me from the start. She also made it clear that she didn't want to give up the violin; it was very much her choice. She was the type on whom I applied both the carrot and the stick at different times. She was also one of those students I'd alluded to before who needed to tell me about her life and problems, even in front of her parents, one of whom would drive her to me until her senior year in highschool. When she started coming herself, the floodgates would really open sometimes. It was in her junior year that she got increasingly flaky about her practicing. I'm very generous with my time - if a student is reasonably prepared. My lessons average an hour and a half. I don't charge more for a longer lesson, or less for a shorter one. One day she came so unprepared with anything that I sent her and her father home after about 20 minutes. I was really angry that she was wasting my time, and was trying to fake her way through it. Later her mother called me and asked me " What happened? My husband won't talk about it and M won't stop crying." I told her, and she didn't blame me. At that particular time M needed a swift kick in the pants, and it worked. For a while...

In her senior year, M became even more flaky, and cancelled a lot of lessons. At one point she called me and asked if I were free at a certain date and time for a lesson. I said that I was - but wasn't at all sure if I wanted to continue working with her - and I meant it. She said "...I...still think I'm getting something out of it" I said "What am I getting out of it?" I could almost hear a gasp from her. It never occured to her that I might need to get something out of it besides my fee. I told her I was giving her one more chance. Things did get and remain somewhat better after that. She went out of town to college, and at our last lesson we had a tearful goodbye. Today I wouldn't tolerate that much inconsistantcy. But I don't regret how I handled that student at that time.

So, things are never  - at least with me - completely cut and dried.

PS Lena - I'm sure that there are great teachers in Sweden, but I'm very flattered, even if the question/suggestion  was in jest!

September 20, 2010 at 02:51 PM ·

Raphael, thanks for the answer!  I think you have a wonderful approach towards such situations and I know that many teachers wouldn't have been such patient... 

I agree that to fake you practiced much is even worst than telling the truth... It's "arrogant" in a way... 

I also feel bad to say that I recognized myself in having to sometimes cancel lessons and not always beeing able to be regular. Although, I discussed this issue with my teacher who is not working full time and she also does the same with me if she has unexpected activities!  So we equally change plans... Though, I also made sure she knew violin was my only hobby and not one in many.  I liked your point about getting more than the money for a teacher.  I think it's a two way thing too! I know I'll never play like a dream student but I do my best on holidays and summer to practice more. (at least the progress i make in these holidays shows that it's really just school that is getting in the way...)  I always share my violin related discoveries that she might like (and make the taxi when possible): masterclasses, violin maker, CD or DVD etc

Thanks for sharing this instructive story!  It reminds about both roles! 


September 20, 2010 at 04:35 PM ·

Thank you!

September 20, 2010 at 04:53 PM ·

i admire your approach raphael, you sound like a great teacher.very true... a teacher who enjoys working with students gives his students more than only dry cut information and feedback per $ and students who enjoy learning elevate the lesson from tedium of routine.

September 20, 2010 at 07:40 PM ·

it is interesting to read Ivan Galamian's book on Principles of Violin.....he says to 'undestand the personality of the student.''   but more to the point, he chose to teach rather than perform.  and everyone enjoys the applause and ego-stroking of the successful public performance, i think, but while teaching may not be as  'sexy' it is possible that one reaches more people and perhaps for many teachers, it is more satisfying to teach than to perform.  as a teacher of history, i run into students quite often who thank me and tell me how i helped them.....that is rewarding.    but i think that many of the 'great' ones might prefer never to teach.......what do you think?

September 20, 2010 at 10:40 PM ·

di allen, help me out with this one.

"as a teacher of history,..."

so we have violin teachers and violin performers.  then we have history teachers, and then history,,,,what?  

history makers? :)

September 20, 2010 at 11:38 PM ·

I have no experience with teaching or professiona performance in  violin (or indeed, any of the arts) but I do have both in science (the equivalents are teaching and research).  For us one of the biggest goals and best achievements in research is getting a 'paper' published in a 'high profile' journal such as 'Nature' or 'Science'.  I have been fortunate enough (as much luck and timing as discovery) to have achieved this several times - but I have also trained one or two outstanding students through their graduate or post-doctoral periods.

This has led me to the realization that a high-profile paper is very thrilling but the satisfaction lasts no more than a year or so.  However, training a scientist, one that really makes an impact, gives you a satisfaction that lasts a lifetime - you become a part of each and every achievement.  Thus, I truly understand Galamain and I am in his tent...

September 21, 2010 at 01:02 PM ·

Actually, I'd be hard-put to name even a small handful of great violin performers who haven't  taught at least part-time and/or in master classes. Only Kreisler is coming to mind as an exception. Obviously performers at the height of their busy careers, globe-trotting, living out of suitcases,and giving 100 concerts year or more, simply don't have time to teach. But even they ususally like to give master classes when they can. I think it is a common human feeling to want to pass on some of what you know.

I think that performing and teaching are different callings, but are by no means mutually exclusive. And I don't think that either one necessarily entails more or less ego than the other. I'm very gratified by all the positive feedback re my approach to teaching. But I actually consider myself to be a performer first. But this gives me an added perspective to my teaching. I'm the kind of teacher who can take one quick look at a printed bowing in a student's music and say "that will never work on stage, trying to project beyond the footlights, and being heard above an orchestra or grand piano, etc. Here, try this..."

OK - I need to take a little break for a while. Do you see the Hilary Hahn CD give-away contest? I'll be coming out with my own 2nd CD soon, and launching my own give-away contest here!

Bye for now.

September 21, 2010 at 04:01 PM ·

Al, I meant that I had a career as a college history instructor.  This involved classroom teaching which is somewhat different from the individualized study that we seem to be talking about.  It is of necessity more impersonal, as you're dealing with a group of students....... I would also add here that just because a musician is a fine performer, she is not necesarily a good teacher.  In fact, as a veteran of many writing workshops, i have found really good teachers are not always the best writers......I think being a good teacher involves a special kind of commitment, which is not the same as a performer experiences.....dont ya think?    and true, one is teaching an audience, to a degree, while performing....

September 21, 2010 at 06:15 PM ·

di, i was just playing with the words there, so forgive me:)

i agree that great teachers are a very precious and rare lot.    it is almost a chance event where one has to be lucky to find that special teacher or special student.  bumping into them in one's lifetime is like hitting the lottery.  on some level, great teachers may exert more influence on a person than a person's parents and that influence can last a lifetime.  or more than a lifetime if we consider that the teaching and influence can go on for generations.

there are many famous teachers out there, but the problem is that they may not be a great match for everyone.  darn!

September 21, 2010 at 07:26 PM ·

The trouble is that once they get 'great' the ordinary of us can (with exceptions due to geography mostly of course) no longer get access.  My solution is to try to find them when they are young and have not yet established a name for themselves.  Its an ongoing project :)

September 22, 2010 at 12:27 AM ·

I always admired teachers who could size up the material that they would be working with (Clay= Moldable. Marble= Can chisel & sculpt. Metal= Can hammer & forge.). What a talent!

September 22, 2010 at 06:56 PM ·

"I always admired teachers who could size up the material that they would be working with (Clay= Moldable. Marble= Can chisel & sculpt. Metal= Can hammer & forge.). What a talent!"

Student = ???  = you'll know it in a few years!  : )

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