Back to teaching myself?

November 30, 2011 at 11:12 PM · I was an autodidact till September, having started at the very end of 2008 (last weekend of).

Now I have a teacher. I respect him very much, so, please don't misunderstand what I'll write next.

He gives me new pieces once a week and I learn them at home. When there is new technique involved, he may even show it, but quickly, not like teaching me. I come to the internet to try to learn it on my own. A week later, I make a poor performance for him (I get very nervous at lessons) even though at home it was OK. I talk about my nerves in another thread.

I'd expect him to work the problem areas and tell me to stick to that piece till it was presentable. But he gives me two or three new pieces for next week.

It's been like this since we started.

I'm very, very frustrated. I've told him I'd rather play an open string note that is beautifully played than just butcher pieces, like I think I'm doing. I've told him I don't need to learn new pieces to be happy, but that I'd be happy if I could play happy birthday beautifully. He gives me lots of compliments and sends me home with the new pieces.

I'm really frustrated. I decided to go back to teaching myself. I'll keep going to the lessons, but I don't think I'm learning anything.

I respect him too much to complain more than my hints. I've told him I'm doing études, for instance, and asked guidance. I told I was doing Sevcik and Schradieck and he told me to stop, that I don't need it.

He told me I'll be playing duos with two different people. One of them is going to be a...

Paganini piece for guitar and violin. Who am I to be playing Paganini???? I told him I don't feel I'm ready and he told me I am, that he knows. I told him about my nerves and he said that the other people are nice...

What can I do? I can't offend a teacher. It's against my upbringing. I think the only solution is humoring him with the things he thinks I can do and teach myself the things I know I can't do. To have the time, I'd have to stall, learning only one piece of every 3 he gives me. Would that be discourteous?

Replies (26)

November 30, 2011 at 11:34 PM · Caroline, it's your money and both of your time involved. Feeling like you have to "humor" him isn't good. If you don't feel like you can talk with him about what you want to learn and what he thinks is the best way to learn it, he might not be the right teacher for you.

I think most teachers would die for a student who WANTS to spend time practicing etudes and truly learning rather than just hammering through a repertoire.

November 30, 2011 at 11:55 PM · But there is a school of thought that believes you can learn an instrument through repertoire. Perhaps this teacher is of that mind? By throwing pieces at you he may be trying to challenge you to explore all the different technical issues.

I write this because I do see a bit (only a bit) of a similarity to my current teacher. We work almost exclusively on rep. Her main function is to help me identify first where I need help (when you work by yourself you only have yourself as an expert, which is obviously not good enough) and second to teach me how to master the challenge. I then take it home and research the technique on my own - which leads to a fascinating discussion the next time.

Before giving up on this you might want to do two things: first ask your teacher what his teaching strategy is; WHY you don't need etudes and how he sees you improving with all the technique that you are lacking. If he can't answer either of those questions I would look for someone else. One thing a teacher owes the (paying) student is answers to the method of teaching so that you can make your own mind up if thats the way you want to proceed.

December 1, 2011 at 12:00 AM · A "Show and Tell" lesson is a poor way of teaching. The likelihood of you learning poor technique is high. Stay with him if you want , but don't expect to learn much.

December 1, 2011 at 01:09 AM · I don't say that he is the wrong teacher - I want to point out the following: I myself learn only by doing exercises with my teacher. You might do it wrong, start all over again, include any advices you get and all of this happens within the lessons. At home you recapitulate what you learned.

There might be another strategy better suited for you but I believe that learning at home and presenting in the lessons is not really the best way. I also believe that the teacher makes all the difference when it comes to progress and how much fun it can make.

So if you do not really, really love the lessons with your teacher, you just have not found the right one. You should really get excited about an upcoming lesson a few hours before, you should be happy about it. If you get this feeling, learning and playing will be great fun.

December 1, 2011 at 08:12 AM · I now get a mix of new pieces and 'ones to work on'. Initially it was pretty much all new pieces. My teacher was throwing stuff at me to find out what I could and couldn't do, and, as he puts it, 'what my habits are'. This gives him a better idea of what I need to work on. I was also self-taught at first. Perhaps your teacher has the same approach?

Like you, I have a strong idea of the sound I'd like to be making, but of course I'm not there yet. Left to my own devices I can (and do) practice one bar of one piece for hours at a time if I feel it's bringing the whole thing down. My teacher realises this and tries to balance me out by moving me on, otherwise, what? The auditorium lights dim... the audience fall silent... someone coughs... I raise my bow... and play that one bar I'd been looking at over and over.

At the same time, he is critical when I play- always wanting to move it up another level. This works for me as I am hungry to learn! No matter how well I think I've played compared to the previous lesson, I get to know how I can make it better. Perhaps ask your teacher to be more critical- that you're a grown-up and you can handle it! Maybe he doesn't know you well enough yet.

Finally, playing with other musicians is a GREAT idea. Always. Music as a whole is more than just converting the dots on the page into a noise. Ensemble playing teaches you to listen and to weave your part into the piece as a whole, to count, REALLY count, to pick yourself back up again if you get lost, and much, much more. Plus it's SO much fun. Take every chance you get to do this- all of these skills are vital if you ever want to play anywhere other than on your own in your house.

December 1, 2011 at 08:18 AM · Oh, and a quick postscript: there was a Paganini piece on the ABRSM Grade 3 list a few years back. As far as I know, composers don't write the music with 'you may not attempt this piece if you're still a bit dreadful' at the top of the page. And even if they did, who cares? They're dead now... :-)

(For info: ABRSM is a UK music exam board, and it goes up to Grade 8. Grade 3 is relatively junior with some tentative 3rd position in some pieces about as complex as it gets)

December 1, 2011 at 01:10 PM · Your teacher may still be assessing what you know & what you don't, but that really shouldn't go on more for more than a few weeks or a couple of months. Since you were self-taught, your advancement could be uneven; very good in sharp keys or major, let's say, but not flats or minor. That sort of thing. I'm curious as to what "respect him" means to you. Barring the sort of proviso above, it doesn't sound as though he's doing a lot of teaching. When I assign pieces, I tell my students what the piece is directed at, explain technique I think is new to them, invent or locate etudes & exercises to help. It is rare for me to let a piece go after a student has had it assigned just one week. Sue

December 1, 2011 at 11:21 PM · Been there, done that. I changed teachers a couple of months ago for the same reason. I was building repertoire, but felt I was no longer advancing technically and was unhappy with my tone. On a trial lesson with another teacher, she stopped me before I played a single note and made two corrections to my bow hold. I decided to switch, and am now working through Suzuki book 3 and the Wohlfahrt etudes and trying to clean up my fingering and other technical skills (including, hopefully soon, figuring out the mechanics of producing a vibrato).

As for that Paganini violin/guitar piece, don't panic. I've seen the sheet music; it's not loaded with the pyrotechnics that we expect from Paganini, but is a slow, pretty piece.

December 1, 2011 at 11:26 PM · Greetings,

depends which ones you mean, but actually the violin/guitar works of Paginini, although easy in comparison to his otehr works need to be played with great aplomb, and accuracy. Then their is the problem of blending and contrasting with the guitar, not to mention the use of dynamics is somewhat differnet to those with a piano. All in all, why bother doing demanding works when ther eare hundred of beautiful and rarely played duets for two violins.



December 2, 2011 at 06:34 AM · I respect him too much to complain more than my hints

I don't see any conflict between respecting your teacher and taking control of your learning - after all, like Lisa said, it's your money and both of your time involved. When he just talks or shows you a new technique quickly, you can tell him that you are not sure you get it (insert self-depreciation if it helps), and ask him to show it again slowly, and/or ask him to watch you do it and make sure you are doing it right. Also, go to lessons with questions and point out things you have difficulties with (if he doesn't notice) - it's his job to help you. If your teacher is offended by this, then you should find another teacher - there is no point in wasting more time and money if you feel like you are not learning from him.

December 2, 2011 at 08:08 AM · Thank you all for your contributions.

The Paganini piece doesn't look like the most difficult, indeed, but I don't wanna play it. I know I should be better at everything I do before trying on a piece like that. If for nothing else, out of respect for an eventual audience, Paganini, the guitarrist and my teacher. I play some classical guitar (I started teaching myself the guitar one year before the violin, to see if I could do it at all), and at my present stage, I'd perform better the guitar part than the violin one.

Anyway, that's only one detail.

When I say I respect him, it is because I don't know the first thing about the violin (besides knowing how much I love it) and he's been doing it for 30 years (or so). He must have his reasons and it is just that I'm too ignorant to understand.

But it isn't working for me. When I was teaching myself, I'd strive for perfection (and never reach it, but I'd keep trying). Now, I don't know what I am doing, besides butchering repertoire and becoming a nervous (anxiety) wreck.

Before choosing him as my teacher, I've "tried" others. He seemed to be the most demanding and I had the impression he would take me to the starting point. That's what I wanted. The other teachers I've "tried" were too happy with me, praising my talent, etc (and I know I've got no talent for music at all). My teacher teaches at an important music school here and it contributed to my initial impression he would be very demanding, a perfectionist.

I've paid for the whole year, and there is no refund. At the time I was desperate to have a teacher. People here don't like adult students.

December 2, 2011 at 12:04 PM · Caroline

If you've already paid, it looks as if you will have to make the best of it.

It sounds as though your teacher has no strategy for teaching intelligent adult beginners. My guess is that his pupils at the conservatory already have strong technique and most of his focus is on developing their repertoire.

So you are going to have to gently and diplomatically train him up!

As Joyce says, before your lesson clarify the technical issues where you feel you need help. When you reach them in your lesson, ask him to check, advise and demonstrate. Request that he sets you corrective exercises. In the next lesson, ask to play him your exercises so he can check them. If he sets too much repertoire, point out that you need some time to work on your backlog of exercises...

Just a suggestion. Do you think this might work?

December 2, 2011 at 07:19 PM · Fritz Kreisler admitted in an interview that he had no formal violin lessons after the age of 10.

I studied for YEARS with several instructors, some of them quite accomplished. I feel I made the most progress when studying on my own after I gave up on lessons. I switched to Baroque violin on my own, performing a wide range of styles as a local musician. I can credit Beth Welty for her brilliant insight and extraordinary teaching ability (thanks, Beth!) but I now think if you can practice carefully and intelligently, self-teaching can go a long way for the right person.

December 4, 2011 at 04:45 AM · Evan, Kreisler was already an accomplished violinist by 10, and my guess is that you already had years of good instructions and solid foundation when you started studying on your own. For someone who is still at an early stage of learning the instrument and wishes to become a polished player some day, self-teaching is most likely not a good idea.

December 4, 2011 at 09:23 AM · Caroline,

There is a level of maturity in "self teaching" yourself in a sense of constantly analyzing your technique when you play. But let a teacher guide you!

I don't know how far along you are, but in most cases I would consider it cause for concern if your teacher is not having you do any etudes at all. BUT some teachers start off with pieces and do etudes once the student gets going with basics. You might ask him if this is what he is doing. If he never intends to do etudes... find another teacher :-)

While needing to judge it in the right light, it's not too good to dwell on the same piece to perfection if you are a beginner/intermediate student. Every next piece that is more difficult for you will make the piece you just played more polished by reason of introducing new techniques and the necessity to improve. The art of teaching violin is one of teaching/portraying/implying many, many subtleties in a short amount of time and knowing how to accomplish this with each individual student.

Lastly, your teacher may fear you forming bad habits by practicing etudes the wrong way. I say stick with him for a while, and see what he does!

December 4, 2011 at 09:26 AM · Oh, one more thing Carolina, don't begrudge him having you perform all the time. It's the only way anyone ever gets better at performing, ESPECIALLY late starters :-)

December 6, 2011 at 02:38 PM · Given where I am now...I wish I had been more open to...AND that someone had made me practice scales and etudes earlier on...

I'd be so much further ahead now... the same time, I'd love it if someone grounded me and sent me to my room for a weekend...(or longer)...

With no other responsibilities to deal with...I'd happily spend my lock-up practicing said scales and etudes... ;)

December 6, 2011 at 10:36 PM · One idea- why not go to your next lesson armed with a list (not too long) of things you have identified you need to work on? An actual, physical list. If he's dead set on giving you new pieces, at least they will then be tailored to your needs. Then when you go to your next lesson, refer back to the piece of paper: 'I wanted to learn x, you gave me Piece 1, can you tell me if x has improved at all, and/or what I can do about it from here?'. It's very difficult to give an evasive answer to a direct question. Especially when there's documents involved.

Three possible outcomes:

1) He gives you pieces that enable you to develop your weaker areas

2) He doesn't agree with your identified improvement points, but then at least you get a full and frank discussion about why not, and what you should be focusing on instead

3) He hates the whole turn of events, agrees it's not working out and sorts you a refund...

Either way you win.

Oh, I wish you could have my teacher, I really do. I love going to lessons so much, and I'm desperately sorry that not everyone has this experience. We're not terribly far from Paris, you know... and actually nearer France than London. Just a small matter of La Manche to cross.

December 8, 2011 at 09:03 PM · Hi kind violinists who are trying to help me,

I can give you an update, because I've had another lesson.

Like I've told you I would, I've stalled. In place of working on the multitude of new pieces, I've only worked on one, and I did not even finish this one.

I've used the "free" time to teach myself about phrasing and to improve my right hand accuracy (I'm working on a piece with lots of double stops and chords, tons of it). In time, this will improve.

It was very good. I'm back at teaching myself and I'm happy because now I know what I'm doing, I can set goals again, work towards them.

I've tried to talk to him about where we are going and I've got the impression we aren't really heading anywhere. It was awkward and I let it go, because I don't wanna make him feel bad. So, again, it is a good thing I at least know where I'm heading on my own.

I'm thinking he thinks I'm not worth of being given work to do (études, etc), because he doesn't believe I'd get anywhere. I find it unfair.

I know I'm not worth of any teacher's time, because I've started so late in life, but I know what I want. I wanna play beautifully. And I know what I really, really don't want: butcher pieces. And I also don't wanna spend my time with the violin aimlessly.

Could anyone give me references of books explaining études? For instance, I have étude books, but I don't know what I should pay attention to when I'm doing them. Are there books that teach how to use the Sevciks, for instances?

I like Basics (Fischer's), because I know what I'm supposed to try to accomplish with an exercise (the exercises in the book itself), but I'd love to be able to use other books, traditional études books.

Thank you again for all the replies.

December 9, 2011 at 03:18 PM · Maybe, with your need to set specfic goals.

For example, I've been playing for years now without set goals (other than 'improve') and while I've definatley been improving I have no idea of how much - and sometimes it seems so small it's demotivating.

So...I've now set the goal of working through the RCM Grade material. I'll catch up with technique and scale-work that I'm missing, and then take it from least this way I have obtainable goals and can tangibly measure my improvement.

Your goals might be different. You might be past all the basic learning, but then you can to focus on performance...but those are still very tangible goals.

You might need a different teacher, but I don't think you can get ahead without one - the teacher can see things you can't issues with your bow grip...or other little improvments you need to make.

The other thing we tend to do when left to our own to practice what we do well, and ignore what we find difficult. Having a teacher 'makes' you work on what you find difficult - and hence you improve.

Just stuff to think about...

December 9, 2011 at 07:30 PM · N.A. Mohr,

I have no saying on the pieces I'm supposed to play for him. He chooses them. He thinks most of what I do is perfect (how could this possibly be?). So, once I've played the piece once, he moves me on to a few new ones.

I am exigent with myself. I have to find what to work on. If I only do what he wants, I'll just be learning the notes of new pieces, about three/week.

Since he has a lot of experience, I'll keep doing what he wants, but stalling on the pieces (max one/week), without saying so, in order not to be defiant, nor disrespectful. Let me hope he's taking me somewhere and I only don't know it because he won't tell me and because I'm ignorant about the violin. I've already asked, of course, but I didn't get an answer.

I've paid for the whole year, so, I don't have many options.

Thank you for helping.

December 9, 2011 at 08:06 PM · Ask again.

While you need to respect your teacher, you are also paying for a service. As part of that service you need to know what he's thinking as far his approach with you goes.

December 9, 2011 at 08:26 PM · Hi Caroline,

Your teacher could be like my wonderful teacher. She has me play lots of stuff I find pretty difficult, and the best of all: I'm forbidden to practice! I always thought that teachers were there to prevent that kind of thing ;) .

I have been with her for a little more than two years, and I feel I've improved. So I'll go on trusting her: she has done me much good.

I hope this eases your predicament somewhat.


Edit. I found an inspiring quote from Anner Bylsma, the great Dutch cellist: "In school I learned to practice as much as possible. The knack is to practice as little as possible."

December 10, 2011 at 05:24 AM · Maybe you should post a short vid of yourself playing so V.comies can let you know if you are on the right track and you are to hard on yourself , or that basic techniques are being ignored and your teachers are not really helping.

December 11, 2011 at 08:41 AM · Yeah, that's what I was thinking.

December 11, 2011 at 10:31 AM · The thing is adult students are sometimes harder on themselves, and expect perfection when learning something new. I will say "that's excellent your doing great!!!" and there saying " I sound awful". I am happy for them because they are on the right track for learning the technique and they sometimes don't get this. It takes time to learn a new technique and it starts with the basic movement, if students are able to learn the basic movement quickly , than teachers are happy. Young children struggle with basic movements ,but rarely complain, yet adults learn much quicker but are more impatient.

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