How do you leave an old teacher for a new one?

March 21, 2011 at 12:06 AM ·

My daughter has been with a wonderful teacher ever since she started playing.  She has taken her a long way and now my daughter is a pretty good violinist.  The problem is that her progress now seems to be slowing.   She had one lesson with another teacher who was able to bring the music out of her in 15 minutes!  I have never heard my daughter play like that - I was amazed and so was she.  I often suggest things for my daughter's present teacher and she tries it with her and she plays much better, but I think the teacher should see these things before I do!  We have a lot of affection for this teacher, but we need to move on - my daughter wants a change too.  I just don't know how to do it.  

Replies (40)

March 21, 2011 at 01:48 AM ·

 A lot depends on the teacher. We went through this numerous times with several kids; in some cases the teachers were completely professional and understanding, and even helped the transition along. Other times it was painful.Teachers are humans, and they get attached to kids, understandably. It's hard to let go, but a rational teacher should be able to realize that after many years a change is usually healthy and desirable. If the teacher is the type to react badly to idea of change after many years, then it will probably end badly eventually anyway. So, for your daughter's benefit, better to do it now. (I speak from experience, having done the opposite of what I advise-- in the end, no one benefitted from my hesitance.)


March 21, 2011 at 02:12 AM ·

IMO as with all breakups they are best if clean and clear - no ambiguity and no wavering.  I would give a long standing, effective teacher a present but would not ask her/him to help find a new one.  If they offer, well and good but again, as with any long-standing effective relationships thats really rubbing salt in. 

March 21, 2011 at 02:18 AM ·

Another way of looking at it is, if the pupil and teacher are parting company for all the right reasons after a few productive (and, one hopes, enjoyable) learning years, then room is being made for a new pupil to go through the same productive process with that teacher.

March 21, 2011 at 02:25 AM ·

It's not easy...  When I was a teen, I had to leave a very kind and friendly teacher I had at my smaller town school because I wanted to go in a real conservatory in the big city.  At that time, I wanted to become a professionnal violinist and I knew that the pros all had conservatory lessons under the belt as we say... 

At that age, it's wonderful that your mother can still help you... We both told together that I was  going to change schools.  But if I would have been alone to tell it, it would have been very difficult for me. 

I must say the teacher took it really well and he knew it wasn't because of him but because I wanted to try a real conservatory setup thing (for opportunities it can bring).

What is hard is when your new teacher tells you what you have been taugh is all wrong or that you have been "scraped" there.  Of course, the previous teacher did the best they could and it's not their fault if they didn't have the same experience as the new teacher.   At first, you don't really know who to beleive.  Who is the good and bad one?  Does it have to be seen as the bead teacher vs the good?  I don't think so!!!  But as a teen, such things are pretty impressing and you're kind of confused for a while before understanding that no one has the "truth".  Every teacher brings something good and bad.  Some have more experience than others, some explain better than others.  Some will express themselves with restraint while other will go very straigh to the point in a more directive way.  But still, every input is always helpful!  

I agree though that it's hard to break that teacher/student bound and you often feel bad about how to tell that you will change teachers.

Good luck!


March 21, 2011 at 02:45 AM ·

I agree with everything that's been written so far, and would only add a couple of things.  Try not to leave a message, but have the courage to talk to the teacher in person, if possible.  I can't stand it when a student calls a half hour before their lesson (when they know I am teaching and cannot answer the phone), leaving a message to say that they won't be coming anymore.  Think of how this makes a teacher feel to be able to hear the message being left in the middle of a lesson.  (This happens way more often than you'd believe!)  Straight forwardness really eases any hurt feelings I might have otherwise had.

If you have any preexisting contracts with your teacher, honor them, and make sure you give advanced notice.  I teach by the semester and do so because it can be very difficult to fill empty spots in the middle of the school year.  I like being able to plan ahead, so as to keep my studio full. 

Also, don't try to hide your intentions, but be truthful, since your intentions are good.  I really hate catching people lying; it has this way of burning deep into my core,  and it will leave you branded for good.  If I was your teacher and you were to tell me that your child would like to pursue a different direction with their studies, and if you gave me a chance to adjust, I would probably be very interested in helping you find your next teacher.  Often times, violin teachers know each other and their individual teaching methods.  I might have a good idea for a compatible teacher on the next level.

I think you are a kind person to be concerned for your teacher and for considering the best way to approach the situation.  Take a deep breath and do your best, and be responsible, and pray that your teacher respects and understands.  But if he/she doesn't, shake it off and remember you can't control how other people choose to behave.

March 21, 2011 at 02:48 AM ·

 From the teacher's perspective, I'd say that it's best to keep it positive. You probably need to say why you are leaving, but stick to a basic, general reason, like "We've had a wonderful five years, and it's just time for Susie to have a change..." It also helps to part with a feeling of gratitude. Think about thanking the teacher for the positive things that came of the relationship.  It's not necessary to give a long list that describes your rationale for leaving:  "I felt that Susie needed a teacher that was more ____, with better _____, and more expertise in _____, and a better ability to_____..." 

I'm always sad when a student leaves, it's just unavoidable, especially if you have seen someone grow up and developed a relationship over a long period of time. But every student has to leave their teacher at some point! 

March 21, 2011 at 02:55 AM ·

Good advice, Laurie. 

March 21, 2011 at 03:35 AM · Good comments all. Gracious straightforwardness is appreciated. I know I can't take a student all the way up and don't mind acknowledging when the point comes to move on, even being the one to let the parent know it may be time for a change! But I have had parents change teachers on me without even telling me, I found out from the kid after the fact (they started with a new teacher over the vacation). That still rankles a bit.

March 21, 2011 at 02:44 PM ·

I agree completely with what the teachers have written above. Of course, keep it positive and honor the financial contract. But a long time teacher of a serious student is a different case than a short-term teacher of a casual student. Best case scenario is that everyone can remain friends and that the teacher, who has been a major presence in your child's life for so many years, will remain part of her life for years to come.

Music teachers are a special kind of relationship, a paradigm you don't see in other educational institutions unless your child happens to have long term one-one-one tutors in other subjects-- I suppose a chess tutor or elite skating coach would be a similar example. A longtime teacher has seen your child develop and grow in a way that a school teacher does not. 

If you drive your child to lessons and are present at the lesson, you probably spend more time in the teacher's studio (often in the teacher's home) than you do with any of your friends or most relatives. You are part of the dynamic, which is why termination can be so tortured. It's a business relationship, yes, but it's more than that. Which is why the "we're pursuing a new direction for Suzie" may feel glib in some cases. The teacher will reasonably feel that s/he deserves a more detailed explanation. Parents may be so anxious about The Conversation that they resort to avoidant methods such as phone calls or letters. I know one mom, a caring and sensitive person, who was so terrified of the thought of talking to her child's private music teacher (not a violin teacher) that she waited until the teacher was on vacation and slipped a letter under her door. This was not out of disrespect for the teacher, but quite the opposite, but of course you can imagine the teacher's reaction. A difficult situation all around. I'm not exaggerating when I say that parents have told me that they moved to across the country and (in another case) to Europe mainly to change violin teachers. 



March 21, 2011 at 03:09 PM ·

There is one thing that has been missed here so far, although Laurie got very close to it.

Every good teacher should be encouraging their pupils to be self reliant, and they should get the message that there are other teachers and influences out there that they must experience, otherwise they will never be fully developed and to their potential.

So a really good teacher will be saying things like, "when you go on and leave me in a couple of years or so, you will find out lots of new and interesting ideas out there, and meet and study with lots of exciting new people. They might be no better than me as a teacher, but they will have new angles and will be different!"

That is true of life too. The greatest teachers will be getting a pupil in a rut if they stay too long. The pupils can always go back if they think they haven't found anyone as good. If they leave on good terms.

A teacher is not for life, only dogs are for life, and they have comparitively short ones.

March 21, 2011 at 03:50 PM ·

I have a somewhat different experience with The Conversation. 

When my daughter left her teacher after 6 years, I wanted, and needed, to stay on very good terms with her teacher as my son still takes lessons with this violin teacher.   I decided to send an e-mail and then follow-up in person.  This may sound like the cowardly approach, but that wasn't why I did it.  The teacher was not a native English speaker, and after giving it some thought I really felt that it would be unfair to ambush her with the news in person.  This way she had a few days to digest the news before we saw each other.  I was, and am, very grateful for all of the years that she spent teaching my daughter, and I think very highly of her as a teacher.  I tried to convey this in my message.  

At any rate, we have stayed on very good terms, and my daughter has occasionally helped out and played with her old teacher's ensemble at school functions.




March 21, 2011 at 04:26 PM ·

 AJ, how smart  and considerate of you, giving her time to digest and think about the news before talking. The key element, also, is that you explained why you were telling her by email, so she understood that your motive was to give her space to prepare, rather than your desire to avoid The Conversation. I had a recent email from a neighbor (about cutting down some trees, not violin lessons) in which he said, "I'm emailing you in advance so you have time to think about it before we talk, rather than springing the idea on you in person." I appreciated his clarification. 

One problem we've encountered in the past teachers who don't have email (yes, these people still exist and a lot of them seem to be musicians!) 



March 21, 2011 at 04:51 PM ·

 well, i think all teachers believe that they have a program for the kid and that it takes time to develop and implement the program. at some point,  the parents may think one way and the teachers have a different perspective.  

unless the teacher himself/herself truly has a limited level of training or what to offer, not many anticipate to say: well, that is all i have, you'd better find another teacher.  as much as we would like to think of it as a service industry, it is still business in its bottom line.  you simply don't give away your customers, generally speaking.  in fact, i know many teachers who do not think highly of other teachers, not in a bad way, but just believe they themselves are more competent.  it is a healthy competitive spirit.  they are certainly not conditioned to let others tell them that their students will be better off elsewhere.  this point should be understood easily if we look at what we do.  how do you feel if you are bumped off on a whim?    it is incredible, isn't it?

teachers have to make a living, too.  they are not in the business of making quick referrals.  they are in the business of trying out their own craft to see if they can be helpful.  it is heartbreaking when the teachers give their best but it is considered not good enough, or not good enough anymore.   those who think otherwise are naive and inconsiderate.   

essentially all switching of teachers comes as shockers to teachers, unless the kids are nuisance anyway or have not paid for 3 month!:).  i think it goes beyond the economics of missing one student's income.  it is a blow psychologically.  it should be sad as a loss.   the proof of that rationale is that breaking the news is awkward and that is why we are talking about it and trying desperately to find ways to deal with the unease.  but the scar will remain despite the ointment or ornament:)  it is what it is; it is ok to be uncomfortable about it.   to say a great teacher will be cool about it is just bla:)

sure, if i am perlman and you decide not to show up as a student anymore, i probably can care less.


March 21, 2011 at 05:07 PM ·

A teacher should just be for x amount of time? 

A few of the great masters only had one teacher (two maximum).  Repin and Oistrakh are some examples of that. 

I beleive there is no problem to stay with your teacher for a very long time if you are old ennough and mature ennough to find opportunities and challenges by your own too. 

  I regularly bring up some of my own ideas to add variety and challenge to my lessons. (ex: a new peice I would like to try, a chamber work, a summer "challenge" to change my mind from the exam program etc)  Of course, I ask her if she agrees with that or not.  But so far, my teacher usually welcomes my originality and ideas.  I guess, as students, we also know what we need and what keeps us "motivated" or on the "drive" to learn. 

When we think of it, older students (unlike typical young students) have many teachers, their violin teacher, their instrument, recordings/websites/videos and... themselves! 

If one sees the student/teacher relation as the teacher who decides everything and the students who just follows passivly, it will get pretty boring and there are more chances that such a student will need to often change teacher to take him out of that passive mode and remain an active and engaged learner. 


March 21, 2011 at 05:18 PM ·

I had one student that I'd been teaching since the age of four, and they'd decided to move on, and of course after many, many years it was hard to say goodbye. They called me up to let me know about their decision (which had happened over the summer during a hiatus in lessons), but they said, "We have a little gift for you and would like to come bring it to you," and so they came over, brought me a little gift, and we got to say a proper goodbye. There were still tears on both sides, but I felt we parted on good terms.

March 21, 2011 at 05:21 PM ·

There are outstanding players and they might just have one outstanding teacher but that is not the norm.

Although some pupils may stay 6 or 7 years with a good teacher, often teachers have given all the help they can after 3 or 4 years.

And yes, I had just that, a first teacher that moved me on to someone much more advanced after only 6 months, and other teachers did this too, after a year or two.

I think the longest I stayed with a teacher was for 3 years. Most were two years. (And this was at music college).

March 21, 2011 at 05:29 PM ·

 "Although some pupils may stay 6 or 7 years with a good teacher, often teachers have given all the help they can after 3 or 4 years."

pete, assuming you had 4 teachers in your student life and 3 years with each.

what if you had started violin with your last teacher? would you have stayed all 12 years or would you have switched? :)

March 21, 2011 at 05:39 PM ·

My last two teachers probably would not have taken beginners or even moderately advanced players as they were top level conservatory teachers.

One only tends to get to these teachers once you have reached a fairly high level way beyond our Grade 8 exam level. Up till then you are usually still deciding how good you are and what the chances are of making a career out of music.

March 21, 2011 at 06:38 PM ·

Well, it's not as bad as being a doctor.  When their customers leave, they go to the afterlife.  It's good bye forever.  Hasta la vista baby.

Jokes aside, this is a great thread.  I don't need it now, but I'm sure I will one day.  I'm saving this to my bookmarks.

March 21, 2011 at 11:23 PM ·

"Well, it's not as bad as being a doctor.  When their customers leave, they go to the afterlife. "

Can you provide proof of this please.

March 21, 2011 at 11:34 PM ·

Kathryn Woodby brings up a good point; there's a chance the teacher may also be thinking that it's time for the student to move on.  I've known more than one excellent teacher who will pass students along when they get to a certain stage.

Laurie, I love the story of the family who told you on the phone but then came over for gifts and hugs.  If even if the kid is excited about the new teacher, there's still great fondness for the old one, and undoubtedly some ambivalence about leaving.

Remember, in these situations, no one has done anything wrong, no one is mad.  It's part of growing up.  Plenty of lessons here for the kids in the art of a graceful exit.

March 21, 2011 at 11:43 PM ·

Peter, he did say "afterlife" and not heaven.  Still speculative, though.

Smiley- I'm actually on the verge of "firing" a doctor, and am wrestling with whether to send a letter explaining why, or just cancel the upcoming appointment and be done with it.  I do, however, plan to leave his practice through means other than death!

March 22, 2011 at 12:57 AM ·


the other sideof the coin I suppose is that a teacher should be very clear about the extent they may or may not be benifiting a student after a certain point and help them to move on.



March 22, 2011 at 01:14 AM ·

 but buri, that is like expecting an objective self evaluation:)

March 22, 2011 at 08:52 AM ·

"Can you provide proof of this please."
@Peter, you'll just have to take my word for it.  
"I do, however, plan to leave his practice through means other than death!"
@LVS, others have shared your viewpoint, but have not been so fortunate
" but buri, that is like expecting an objective self evaluation:)"
@Al, agreed.  Perhaps the earthquake has affected sensei Buri.  It's not like him to miss something so self evident -- radioactive prunes perhaps?

March 22, 2011 at 09:40 AM ·

I have the added benefit of being The One and Only.  If a student wants to bump it up a notch in the world of teachers, they will have to gear up for a hefty 300-mile commute to Anchorage. ( I did that once for a semester of lessons.  It was tough once the seasons changed and I had to make it through the pass in the snow and ice.  Lessons began in a harrowed fashion, to say the least.) 

I usually lose students when they graduate and go off to music schools or universities.  In that case, I always feel like I didn't have enough time to prepare them for what was ahead, but I guess all parents feel that way--I mean, teachers.

March 22, 2011 at 10:51 AM ·

 "I have the added benefit of being The One and Only.",,,luv it,,,statement of the year by a teacher! :)


"I usually lose students" to the bears,,, 


March 22, 2011 at 02:54 PM ·

You'll know that you're doing a good job when students from Anchorage start making the 300 mile trek to learn from you :-)

March 22, 2011 at 03:14 PM ·

""I usually lose students" to the bears,,, "

I refuse to teach bare sudents ...

March 22, 2011 at 03:21 PM ·

 rumor is that  alaska chocolate moose is no sweetie or teddy...

"I refuse to teach bare sudents ..."  oh come on, after 2-3 years another teacher will take them off your hands! :)


March 22, 2011 at 04:11 PM ·

It's better to teach bare students than to teach students bare.  In nudie colonies, they teach bare students bare. :-)

March 22, 2011 at 07:43 PM ·

I'm sure I'd barely be able to cope ...

This is getting silly now!!

March 22, 2011 at 07:59 PM ·

Smiley, I'm sure you would rather do the violin lesson in the "nude camp" than to go bear-ry picking as they usually do!! 

Guys/girls violin or rasberries? 

March 22, 2011 at 09:53 PM ·

Anne Marie,

You need to stop hijacking these threads and taking them down the toilet.  Now, what were we talking about?  Oh yes, I would never dream of playing the violin bare.  I use a Cadd Pad.  Clothing however, is optional.

March 22, 2011 at 09:55 PM ·

BTW, I only learned to count up to 20.  But when I'm naked, I can count up to 21.

March 22, 2011 at 10:29 PM ·

Smiley, you all started!    I just follow up when there is something funny. 

I said berry picking what's bad with that : )  Except to get all scratched up.  Berries are healthy you should like them!

March 23, 2011 at 12:16 AM ·

Oh my...  I haven't lost any students to bears  just yet!  We'll see how the summer fares, though; the bears are particularly hungry in May.

March 24, 2011 at 09:58 AM ·

"BTW, I only learned to count up to 20.  But when I'm naked, I can count up to 21."


21!! That could mean you may have something missing, if that's what you are counting ...

April 1, 2011 at 05:39 PM ·

Four months ago, I started playing the violin again for the first time in decades and joined an orchestra.  When asked whether I planned to take lessons, I replied not.  In my experience, violin teachers tend to be somewhat like plumbers insofar as they may start off by rubbishing the work of the last person to do the job.  This happened to me three times, in childhood and  adolescence.  Fortunately, my last teacher was a top-flight violinist who had the advantage of being simultaneously a superb teacher.  His standard of teaching was so high that I have been able to remember a great deal of what he said.  All this information has enabled me to get my playing back on track.  Thank heavens, no teacher ever fired me.  I wouldn't have liked it if they had.

April 4, 2011 at 12:19 AM ·

Time to put in my 2 cents...

I think that the teacher should care about the progression of the student. People like Ms. Delay @ the Juilliard School, taught many famous violinists, who everyone knows, but the teacher is only know to a few circles. Talk to the teacher, and explain your feelings about how you think your child should progress. Then tell them that in your opinion, you think it would be best to find a new teacher, and ask if they know anybody. But be sure the teacher cares about the student and not just themselves.

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