What are the important (but less mentioned) qualities of a good violin teacher?

January 25, 2011 at 04:19 AM ·

I'd like to hear what those of you who teach young beginners and adults (meaning a pretty wide range) feel is important in keeping a student interested and motivated?  Of course, there are many things that can only be addressed at the individual student level.

But think of the great pedagogues and your mentors.  What made him or her stand out in your memory as being exceptional?

I have further questions of a more personal nature on this topic so I'd appreciate engaging any of you who might be interested in emailing me, bleaton@mc.net

Thanks so much.

Replies (32)

January 25, 2011 at 05:18 AM ·

 I honestly think the most important thing is that you, as the teacher, are enjoying yourself.  The attitude you take into the teaching environment affects everything.

January 25, 2011 at 06:38 AM ·

From an adult perspective:

#1 - Humor first and foremost.

#2 - Being treated like you are going to be the next Hillary Hahn, even though you both know that probably won't happen at the age of 40.  Then you refer back to #1.

#3 - Going along for the ride, even if that means playing Bach one day and Xiannias the next.  Then refer back to #1.

January 25, 2011 at 07:58 AM ·

The most important thing is for the teacher to know what is good and what is bad technically.

So many teachers have too little knowledge concerning important things about how to play the violin properly. Sound production, bowing, left hand, general posture, relaxation etc. The list goes on.

January 25, 2011 at 08:17 AM ·

Knowledge and technique is certainly important, but if you're going to be a successful teacher it's not the MOST important.  

Consider two hypothetical teachers: 

One has a vast knowledge of advanced technique.  Teacher A is harsh, critical and rude to students.  Most of teacher A's students decide to quit violin in frustration.

The other only knows how to teach one beginner piece.  Teacher B is supportive, encouraging and teaches the one piece effectively.  Most of teacher B's students are inspired to continue studying violin.

Which is the more successful teacher?

January 25, 2011 at 08:22 AM ·

So the ignorant but nice teacher sends kids into the world with bad technical problems? Very helpful I'm sure.

No wonder so many young people have serious problems in later life.

January 25, 2011 at 09:24 AM ·

 No.  I said teacher B can teach one beginner piece extremely well.  But that's it.  So the students get good beginner technique, good set-up... everything that goes into playing that one piece well.

January 25, 2011 at 09:27 AM ·

 Besides, even if teacher B did not teach good technique, he was able to inspire the student to keep playing.  That's half the battle right there.  What good is a violinist who hates playing?

January 25, 2011 at 09:51 AM ·

Which brings us to the question - which is more important, the chicken or the egg?

IMO a teacher is not a teacher unless they have a good grasp of fundamental violin technique AND they have learned how to engage the student.  To me they are essential to call someone a 'teacher' - which should have more dignity than just a person in a position to impart instruction, regardless of its quality.

I think the above A and B are red herrings.

A mentor has an understanding of her/his student's abilities and needs AND has a vision for the students future and what is necessary to get there.  Thats is, to my mind, what differentiates a mentor from a teacher.  The relationship between a true mentor and student transcends teaching - it is lifelong.  As the student achieves independence and masters what the mentor can teach the relationship evolves into an adivsory one and eventually a confidant one.

I've never really had a true mentor, according to my own definition, in any area of my life but I have tried to be one...

January 25, 2011 at 10:21 AM ·

 In my view a good teacher must be able to do the following:

1 Inspire the student to want to pay better and stretch their capabilities

2 Motivate the student to achieve their potential

3 Impart technical knowledge and technique through both advice and demonstration

4 Guide the student to widen their musical horizons

5 Listen to what the student wants - not just impose what the teacher is most comfortable with

6 Know when it is time to stop - and encourage the student to go to a teacher that better fits their needs at that time

Teachers that do these things well will tend to have a studio that is oversubscribed, where the students think they are getting good value, and where both the teacher and the students have fun exploring music.     




January 25, 2011 at 10:42 AM ·

Elise and James

Good to see you both talking good sense and knowing what good teaching should be.

Unfortunately good teachers and people who understand goog teaching are almost as rare as hen's teeth!!


January 25, 2011 at 05:39 PM ·

A mentor has an understanding of her/his student's abilities and needs AND has a vision for the students future and what is necessary to get there.  Thats is, to my mind, what differentiates a mentor from a teacher.  The relationship between a true mentor and student transcends teaching - it is lifelong.  As the student achieves independence and masters what the mentor can teach the relationship evolves into an adivsory one and eventually a confidant one.

Elise, that's true...

In my opinion though, our society doesn't do anything to allow people to have mentors.  I think that was very much in place with the apprentice/master system they had before.  One wants to learn to make violins (per example), he follows a violin master for many years and learns the task at the same time.  Now, society want huge groups to learn their jobs or hobbies.  I call this "MASS PRODUCTION" and it's hard to have a mentor in these conditions.  In my opinion, one should pass more than 30 min, 1 or 2 hours a week with someone to call it a "mentor".  A mentor is someone who will show you the art or craft in every details.  That's not a uni weekly thing!

The closest of a mentor I can see nowadays would be situations as:

if a violin student has a professionnal violinist neighbour / friend / or relative semi-retired with much time who would be more than happy than the student stops by and play violin for him/her (many hours a week...)


if you are the daughter/son of a pro violinist who is able to be your parent, teacher and mentor at the same time as he/she manages his/her musician carrer.  

Otherwise with either 30 min, 1 or 2 hour per week lesson formula, you also have to be your "own" or "self" mentor...  if you do not have any musicians around you. 

Just my two cents...

January 25, 2011 at 05:50 PM ·

As a teacher myself, I like what James Temple said above for his first point, about helping students to "want to pay better" - if they would agree, I would agree!  (Smile)

January 25, 2011 at 06:11 PM ·

imo,  to keep students interested, young or adult beginners, the most important thing for the teachers to do is to convey and convince the students that the teachers have a strong belief in them, that "never in my life have i met someone who believes in me this much."

very often, we read here about adult beginners complaining that they are not sure if the teachers take them seriously.

with younger kids, when the teachers truly believe in them, it shows in everything the teachers do and the kids can pick up those signals easily.  they feel loved and the feeling will be reciprocally returned in the form of better focus and attention.  in that environment,  time stops and energy level is high.  nothing is too difficult to try and learn because the students will naturally develop higher self esteem and high self expectation.   they want to do well to make everyone proud.  doing well and feeling proud feel good!  they enjoy taking on more responsibilities and assuming bigger roles.  the students believe they are big deals.  all these marvelous developments can come naturally and easily with the teacher saying: i believe in you and your ability to learn well with me as a team.  

tech emphases are really secondary unless the teacher is totally lost.  the driving force is the students' hearts, not even minds, certainly not fingers.

the other thing is whether the match fits.  2 teachers can be equally tech proficient, but one may be better at introducing kids to music and the other may be better at helping advanced students for placements.  

January 25, 2011 at 08:17 PM ·

 I have been extremely lucky with finding my current teacher, Alex DePue. I have had numerous teachers over the years while playing the trumpet, baritone and now the violin and I can honestly say that Alex is an incredible teacher! Since Alex lives in Mexico and is constantly traveling for gigs, using Skype to teach, just makes sense. I was a little nervous that he would not be able to see and hear everything that he needed to, but I am 8 months into this adventure and it is working great! Alex is able to get his ideas and techniques across and he gets to know each of his students on a personal level. He is always there to answer emails and is very patient. 

January 25, 2011 at 09:09 PM ·

According to Ricci in his book "Left-Hand Violin Technique" the most important quality of an instructor is to tell the student he/she doesn't need an instructor in the first place:

"This book began--and concludes--by stressing the importance of developing good intonation.  You must listen to yourself critically.  Learn to use your own ear.  Do not become dependent on your teacher, but constantly check yourself by utilizing drones and common pitches.  Think in terms of chords.  With this approach you can build solid intonation"

And all the hoopla about technique is demanding adherence to factory methods in order to speed up the process of developing a huge repotroire.  Lets see, I'm 40 years old.  So much for that idea.  And whats the point anyways?  Aren't we supposed to artists, not robots beating a dead horse?  ex from the book "Technical Fundamentals of the Soviet Masters":

"These are violinists whose intonation is usually considered exemplary for all of us, yet each one used a distinctly individual approach aimed at an individual artistic goal, which in turn made up each one's artistic personality."

To answer the question, what matters most is the instructor demanding knowledge of music theory from the student.  For example, the difference between perfect and tempered tuning.  How many instructors give a hoot when a middle-age beginner shows up for lessons?

January 25, 2011 at 09:32 PM ·

 A good teacher needs to be able to effectively listen and communicate.  It helps if the student is able to effectively communicate as well. 

This is also the secret to healthy marriages.

January 25, 2011 at 10:04 PM ·

"I have been extremely lucky with finding my current teacher, Alex DePue."

Is this your teacher?


If so, it would be cool to learn how to play that.

January 25, 2011 at 10:16 PM ·

 Yes, that is a video of my teacher. Alex is very talented and a very humble person.

January 25, 2011 at 10:48 PM ·

Elise brings up the difference between a teacher and a mentor, and there are important differences.  First off, there's usually not the financial relationship with a mentor that exists with a student.  To me, at least, a mentor includes being a role model and a guide, where a teacher's role is more to impart a specific set of skills.  There can, of course, be considerable overlap.

In a recent article in The New Yorker David Brooks (not someone I usually agree with!) states " . . . the truth is that people learn from the people they love."  He's right. The teacher/student relationship has to include trust, faith in one another, and appreciation of what each has to offer.  By some definition, love.  Even a tough, gruff teacher can be one you love, if not in a hearts-and-flowers way.  It's the ones who are abusive or disinterested and just putting in their time from whom it's impossible to learn.  A teacher who approaches a student from love, with the student's best interests at heart, will deliver what the student needs, even if it's telling them it's time to move to another teacher or reading them the riot act about practicing.

January 25, 2011 at 10:59 PM ·

As a past teacher (but not a music teacher), I'd say that an important part of being a good one is being a good judge of each student's best learning styles.  There is not one way to teach anything, and each person needs to hear different words to get the same idea into their heads.  Most teachers are best with one particular style; I know I am.  And as a student, I'm best with teachers who also use that style.  I trained in the hard sciences, and my current teacher is also a techie, so we share a common vocabulary and approach when it comes to problem-solving.

The best teacher will at least appreciate one or more of the following:

1) Students are all different, and what works with one may not work with the next.

2) I have the ability to learn how to approach these different students.

3) If I don't have or care to develop that ability (if I'd rather stay with the types of students with whom I click naturally, for example), then I will recognize the issue and recommend a teacher who is a better fit.

4) If I can't reach a student, that doesn't necessarily mean the student isn't reachable.

I keep thinking of the 3-octave scale my current teacher showed me as an example.  I banged my head against that third-octave shift for a week without any progress,  because it was so far over my head that it could have been in low-Earth orbit.  (And it hasn't gotten any closer.)  Student A might have found that disheartening and frustrating, and so would have benefited from being told, "Don't try this, you aren't ready for it."  Student B (me) would have found being told "don't even try it" a lot more frustrating than just to try it without success for a week.

A teacher who approached both students the same would have left one very unhappy.  A good teacher will recognize the differences between these students and say different things to each.  This is ungodly difficult, which is why good teachers are rare.

January 26, 2011 at 03:50 AM ·

In my very own experience, I discover one very important thing that many teachers (including me!) are lacking, is to be able to deliver the message with *fluent* talking.

As a teacher with young teaching experiences, I myself find it's so hard to express what I wanted to teach the student and being able to fluently voice it out, despite I know what I wanted to say and the point is correct.

You can see so many masterclasses become boring because the teacher isn't able to deliver the talking fluently, and the points are scattering around despite great points nonetheless. It's not that the teacher doesn't know his/her stuffs, but even me as an audience sometimes I find it's hard to focus. When the student used up too much brain juice to comprehen, he/she'll eventually lose focus on the lesson to effeciently applying the things learned on the instrument.

This is something I feel I really need to learn from teachers who teach young childrens, especially in groups. I teach in Yamaha school and they have classes teaching very young kids in groups. I have great respect to them because they can deliver their talking so clearly and straight to the point that everybody (including parents!) get the message immediately, and no time wasted, thus a very efficient lesson.

January 26, 2011 at 11:18 AM ·

I find in my case ,my personality and attitude  is a refection of  the students personality and attitude.I find after a few months of lessons the atmosphere in the lessons, good or bad , doesn't change very much.


For example. If the student and I are getting along and work well together after the first 2 months, I usually find that this relationship is still great after a year or two.


January 26, 2011 at 03:31 PM ·

One thing that is valuable in a teacher (in my opinion) is they should be willing to tell you when something is wrong, even if it might hurt your feelings. I don't mean the teacher should be a morale destroyer, but true technical and musical growth is more important than feelings. Feelings come and go.

Also, I'm not sure why some people assume that there has to be this dichotomy... Either the teacher is nice but doesn't know their technique, or they are technically brilliant but can't teach. Why? Are these two qualities mutually exclusive in real life? If so, we are in trouble...

January 26, 2011 at 06:16 PM ·

I agree with Manuel...

I had many experiences (as a student).  Before starting the violin, I followed a few months of flute and guitar.  I also did ear training, harmony and theory for a few years.

 That makes 7 different private teachers

I had teachers of every personality and age.  (from dictator / tirant  to extremely sweet)

But what was best for me was those who told the truth no matter how hard it was to hear...

I had some who were too kind to tell me my mistakes and some others that didn't take me seriously when I told them I had a problem with "x' thing or can't do "y" thing.  Some others were very very optimist "don't worry daddy or mommy is here everything will go find"

Sometimes, it's about really serious issues like if you have a chance or not to make it in music as a carrer, how good or not you really sound, if you need a new instrument, if you should have longer lessons to prepare that audition etc.  


January 27, 2011 at 05:01 AM ·

I've had 4 teachers in my 6 years of playing as an adult. The first was extremely talented, but did not respect me as a student. She had absolutely no interest in teaching me, was not motivating, and worst of all, got fried eggplant on my violin.

My second teacher was not very talented. I did not like her vibrato, so I left.

My third teacher, played well, was very kind and expected me to practice, so I did, and progressed... but very slowly. She spent A LOT of time talking to me about her fanily, while I stood, in the middle of a scale. She hardly ever made sure I understood the lesson or made me get it right before I left. Really, too much time chatting.

My current teacher is the best. Sticks to the lesson, makes me play, plays with me, focuses on technique and musicality, encourages, corrects, has a sense of humour, but not too much. I don't go there to socialize!

January 27, 2011 at 08:51 AM ·

It's good to see that there are people out there that respect teachers who have the ability and tact to correct someone effectively.Sadly,  I find there are more teachers out there that don't have this trait ,then teacher with.

@Pierre .I  try to teach this concept also "learn to teach themselves". I feel that a teacher can only bring someone 60% of the way ,they have to do the rest themselves.Over correcting,over-schooled and words like "don't do it like that ,do it like this" or 'thats not the way Mozart played it' may have a detrimental effect on that persons creativity.One of my sayings "It's OK to learn a piece just like the recording ,you need to learn from others ,but it is also important to make pieces your own".The entrepreneurial spirit need to be in music also.

January 27, 2011 at 11:03 AM ·

One thing a teacher must have that I don't think has been mentioned above - and that is humility.  With a new student the teacher knows more virtually 100% of the time but as the student progresses the teacher should also be prepared to learn from the student - anyone that spends 20 or more hours a week on a task may discvoer something novel - at least to the teacher's experience.  Eventually the top student may start to outperform the teacher and the latter must  be able to value that advance and encourage it.

Its one of the hardest things for any teacher to do - especially if teaching was a default option to a performance career.  You have to face your own limitations - you have to have grace. 

This may come up on other contexts too.  Some teachers can not admit to making a mistake or of teaching something that is not quite correct.  Students are not fools, some of them are simply less knowledgeable or experienced - they pick up insincerity very rapidly and it that is a recurring event it underminds the trust in the teacher-student relationship.

January 27, 2011 at 11:22 AM ·

Yes, we should learn from our students (not that I teach anymore) - and I learnt that from teachers at music college in London many years ago.

When trying to suggest a fingering for the 2nd fiddle in a quartet we are doing, I had my own suggestions but I also enquired with professional friends who had also discussed it with top players and so there is more than one option available.

No teacher should think they have all the answers but by acknowledging that other players might have brilliant ideas then there own range is broadened and this beneifits the student AND the teacher.

January 27, 2011 at 03:11 PM ·

Elise, that's true!  I once heard a teacher saying the following (I don't remember what he was teaching?  Science or music?)

However, he told that many teachers were kind of jealous if the students does outperform them or become better in a few aspects.  But he said, on the contrary, a teacher should welcome this and should take that as a personnal honnor as in "I must be quite good if I brought that student at that level" + humankind always want to evolve and become better so anyone who are lucky ennough to have such students should feel proud to contribute to the art's advancment! 

However for most of us, we won't outperform anyone ; )  (except maybe other students who don't work that hard...) 

January 27, 2011 at 05:35 PM ·

Peter, you're so right about fingering- there's more than one way to skin the proverbial cat.  Everyone's hand mechanics are a little different, and what works brilliantly for one person may not for the next.  Assuming, of course, that said player has good technique, good mastery of all positions, etc.

Pierre, same with bowings.  A good teacher or conductor will at least listen to the proposed alternative before insisting on their version.

January 28, 2011 at 01:35 PM ·

Please visit my website, http://rkviolin.com

In my "writings" section, I have a whole article on this subject.

January 29, 2011 at 09:20 PM ·



Provided the teacher has the proper technical training and can teach and demonstrate proper technique, has artistic sensibilities,  is organized in his/her time use during the lesson, and is reliable, the single characteristic that seems to make the difference between the good and the great teachers is energy.

A student interprets the engagement and excitement of the teacher as an indication of their own potential as an artist and will respond with engagement and excitement in their practice and playing.  It seems like the great teachers have enormous personalities, even if they have quiet voices.  By the sheer force of personality, they bring out brilliance in their students.

It is a feedback loop where an observant, perceptive teacher sees the great artist in the bud and thus becomes excited, and this excitement leads to great things. 

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