Lesson with a virtuoso - how should I approach it?

December 22, 2011 at 10:07 PM · I have an opportunity for an hour lesson with one of the top violinists/teachers in Canada. I would love suggestions as to a)

What to play?

What to focus on?

Replies (100)

December 22, 2011 at 10:12 PM · play something you think you play well.... thats all

December 22, 2011 at 11:03 PM · A piece you know really well.

An etude you know really well.

A scale.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. My goal would be to make it as easy as possible for the teacher to figure out what I need to do to progress.

The piece you know really well would be a way to plumb the depths of your interpretive understanding. Hopefully you have a solid way of defending your interpretation, so that if the teacher has something to say about it, you have a response.

The etude would hopefully show the teacher something about how you approach technique.

The scales would lay your technique out so that the teacher knows your true level.

I'd be curious to hear what others have to say, since I also have been thinking about taking a lesson with someone (I don't know who yet) really good.

December 22, 2011 at 11:33 PM · I think thats a good strategy - though it occurred to me that he might give ME something to play. Oh, help!

If that happens I assume its best to play it as slowly as is required to get it as close to passable as possible!

December 22, 2011 at 11:42 PM · If you have the opportunity, ask the teacher in advance!

I did that, and was told it didn't matter; she could hear what she 'needed' no matter what notes I brought to the table...and oh, man, she did! Most enlightening, en-heartening experience I've had in years.

I hope your encounter is as productive and positive.

Each teacher is different, and yours might have specific requirements. Asking, when feasible, never hurts.

December 22, 2011 at 11:50 PM · I had a similar opportunity recently. I played something I had learned before, put to rest and then worked back up. To be honest I was feeling a little burnt out on it, but I think it was a good choice. I didn't get ripped apart, but by the end it felt like a new piece. I came away from the lesson with a lot more ideas on how to make it better, which was good for me because it renewed my interest in playing it.

December 23, 2011 at 12:42 AM · I'd pick something familiar and comfortable so as to focus on getting some good insight into how to kick it up a few notches.

December 23, 2011 at 01:14 AM · One hour goes by very quickly if the lesson is intense, and I assume it will be. I would focus on one movement of a piece that you have been working on for the last a little while to the point that you are ready or almost ready for performance. In other words, you should feel well-prepared but the same time the meaty issues (technically and musically) contained in the piece have been given quite a bit of recent attention but are still current.

Good luck!


December 23, 2011 at 01:42 AM · Hi,

I don't know who the Canadian virtuoso you refer to is (although I might know that person...), but when playing for someone, play something you know. He/she will know what to focus on with you. There is a misconception of trying to impress good musicians, and although there is the exceptional jerk, most are only interested in using/sharing their knowledge to help you play better.

Hopefully, this will make you more at ease...


December 23, 2011 at 05:34 AM · hi,

perhaps you can play a piece that is not too long - of course you're really familiar with- and has different techniques involved and musically is quite contrasting so that the teacher can give focus on different elements of your playing within that small span of time. an alternative, a piece that have played and feel you have not given it its due. in my case, that applies to all pieces :o) best of luck, please tell us what happens.

December 23, 2011 at 02:18 PM · I think you should also consider what you want to get out of the lesson, as you might approach it differently.

Do you want musical insights, technical help, performance tips (with piano perhaps?)? If you think about those things, it might make the choice a lot easier!

When I've played for big names, I was a little worried at first, and didn't have an idea for the direction in which I wanted to go. Then I started thinking about it a little more, and it gets easier when you really work out the issues, and also try to gear your lesson towards what the teacher 1)enjoys working on, and 2) is most helpful/insightful with.

December 23, 2011 at 02:53 PM · Congratulations. Enjoy.

December 23, 2011 at 03:15 PM · I don't have the answers to your two questions - not a clue in fact. However, your point is a good one to identify what I need the most. But what I need the most is an opinion on my status and potential. Thats probably too much to ask but I think I am going to get a good idea - lets hope its not on of those 'reality checks'....

Excited though....

December 23, 2011 at 03:54 PM · Then just play a piece that is challenging, but that you know well, and try to enjoy the experience and learn from it as much as possible. I'm sure there will be many interesting things that get brought up!

I've recorded some lessons (always asking if it was ok first), and that might help you get as much out of it as possible as well!

December 23, 2011 at 03:57 PM · And don't worry too much about somebody giving you an opinion on your potential with one lesson. "Reality checks" can be motivation . . . they certainly have been for me in the past!

Break a leg, I"m sure it will be fantastic!

December 23, 2011 at 05:09 PM · I had my first lesson in five years in October with a very good player who I shouldn't have been scared of...but I was!! So my first bit of advice is try not to be terrified, and try not to puke. If this is a one-time deal, as mine was and yours will be, I think there's a real pressure to play in a way that reflects your current abilities, and that can be terrifying. Does that make sense? So try your very best to be present and to banish all negative self-talk. The best teachers will see through nerves.

I had a lovely productive lesson with the Bach g-minor adagio, and we just barely got through the whole thing in about an hour and fifteen minutes - we didn't even get to scales or etudes or anything like that. I couldn't have; my brain was too fried (in a good way)! We capped it off with a simple Mozart duet, which was the perfect way to unwind, and one of my favorite few minutes of being a violinist ever. So if you have time...it might be awfully fun to ask if you could do something similar.

Best of luck. May you have as wonderful and enlightening a time as I did!

December 23, 2011 at 05:15 PM · "So try your very best to be present and to banish all negative self-talk. The best teachers will see through nerves."

thanks for that too - that really helps since I am a chronic worry-wart. Once I am in command of a piece I seem to flip to a confident state but means being at a point where there are no technical issues that I have to think of while playing - something that happens rarely.

I think its natural to underestimate the teaching skills of a teacher, in perticular a veteran such as this one who must, as you say be able to see through the nervousness and spot the real defects :D

December 23, 2011 at 05:50 PM · You might know what this player sounds like at a distance, or from recordings. This is your opportunity to refresh your memory as to what a well-played fiddle should sound like in real-life, close to.

Whatever you do, try not to let the distinguished pedagogue get away with verbal advice and criticism. You want to get him/her to play some of whatever piece you bring along back to you and on the player's own fiddle. Plead if necessary !

Caution:- if the lesson degenerates into the player simply showing off interminably, don't book another session !

It's unlikely that this teacher will not have personal experience of nervousness; he/she should know how to show sympathy and to put you at your ease, so don't worry too much on that score !

December 23, 2011 at 06:14 PM · "But what I need the most is an opinion on my status and potential."

Elise, I hope you won't be mad at me for saying that I question the wisdom of having this kind of mindset in general and for this kind of one-time lesson in particular.

First, to evaluate one’s potential is a heavy burden that you are putting on the teacher and I’m not sure you’d be given a straight answer. Status and potential are relative in terms of individual goals and they are vague enough to be subject to all sorts of interpretations. Suppose you get the impression from the teacher that you are an advanced student with great potential, what does exactly this mean? How would this impression help you to move forward to be a better player other than making you feel good? Would this impression indicate the truth or some kind of wishful thinking or even self-deception? Worse, if you get an opposite impression, again regardless what the teacher actually said or did not say, would it be helpful to your playing?

Most of all, I’m concerned that you’ll be stressed out simply by this wait-for-the-judgment kind of thinking. And it’s going to be stressful enough to have a lesson with some topnotch player whom you’ve never met. You need every bit of help to reduce this stress so that you can maximizing learning.

So how about try a different strategy: focusing on technical and musical details of the WORK that you want the teacher to help you with as opposed to focusing on you as a player? Work on your piece really hard, prepare a few questions that you’d like to explore with the teacher, but be flexible about it because the teacher may have different idea what to focus on. It also can be very helpful to play for someone else first before going to the lesson.

Have fun and remember, it is your lesson so make it work for you!


December 23, 2011 at 07:15 PM · Elise - an accomplished player may or may not be an accomplished teacher!

Pinchus Zuckerman gave a class I attended, grabbed this kid's violin and said "go like this" and played. The power and force of his playing was such that our hair was flying and we had to hold onto our seats lest we be blown over. Powerful, Cool - but he couldn't describe how he did it!

As everyone else said here: pick something you know well to play & mentally enter with a blank slate.

Please report back the results of your lessons! Let us know how you felt you played, how you were mentally, and what you gained from the experience!

Smiles! Diane

December 23, 2011 at 07:33 PM · Go Elise!

December 23, 2011 at 11:55 PM · I think we would all agree with Emily that "try not to puke" is an excellent first goal!

Why have you set up a lesson with this particular person? Does he play the most sublime Bach ever? Does she have the most enviable bow arm you've ever seen? Vibrato and phrasing that could make a stone weep? If you can identify this, choose something to lead towards engaging with the teacher on it.

A one hour lesson may not be the right forum for an assesment of your long-term potential. The teacher will have no way of knowing if you have been polishing the piece for four years or two weeks. He or she will find it hard to judge what your capacity for work is, how fast a learner you are, and just how hungry you are to learn. These things are measured over time.

There's also a risk that you will not have a good context for the teacher's comments- whether they are being kind or brown-nosing a bit because of what you are paying them, or if the person perhaps sounds awfully severe even when thrilled with what you are doing.

Do you know anyone who has studied with this person? That might be a source of tips on how to get the most out of your hour and what to expect. In any case, have a wonderful time, and don't puke!

December 24, 2011 at 12:06 AM · Don't puke. Don't puke. really DON'T puke. REALLY! REALLY! DON'T PUKE.

Now I know I'm gonna puke....

OK, long as I do good vibrato maybe I can pull it off puking or not puking...

December 24, 2011 at 01:19 AM · I agree with Diane Allen's comments about the fact that an accomplished player may or may not be an accomplished teacher! (Pinchus Zuckerman)

Two more cases in point.

Maxim Vengerov, one of my favourite violinists

can be seen in several masterclass Youtube videos.

Unfortunately he has a very hard time teaching/describing what his students should do to improve their playing.

He uses all kinds of metaphors and exotic descriptors of what he'd like the student to do, but in the end the students are completely perplexed and confused. :)

My second case involves my first private teacher who is assistant concertmaster of the orchestra that Zuckerman now conducts.

She's a great player but couldn't spot a fundamental fault with my bow grip after *two years* of private lessons! :(

December 24, 2011 at 01:30 AM · I think there are two levels to teaching - rather like in medicine : #1 is to spot whats at fault (an art in itself - the diagnostician in medicine) and #2 to figure out how to fix it. Interestingly teachers can be good at one or other or both but rarely are they good at neither (they don't survive!!!).

I think the student expects both (not unreasonably) but sometimes #1 can be amazing - and you can take that information to a good #2 to fix it. I suppose thats my lowest-level expectation.

December 24, 2011 at 02:19 AM · Mark

So I guess you lived in Ottawa long ago. I personally think Zukerman is a very good violin teacher. I saw his masterclass with a mediocre student, and he helps the student big time! The thing he said and demonstrate on the violin also helps me big time. But sometimes something is hard to describe verbally. So what he can do is to demonstrate and hope student can understand by watching carefully. I remember I was blown away by his powerful way of playing within a couple feet, just like what Diane described. It sounds very scratchy and not considered a good sound that close but I know it sounds great in a concert hall. I went back home to practice of what he did, and it really helped me. I will very love to have Zukerman to be my teacher if I ever have the chance.

As for your experiences with assistant concertmaster (Joan?) I'm not too sure about it then. I personally think bow grip is very personal, and if it works for her it may not work for you... Just like I can never get Galamian hold...

December 24, 2011 at 08:13 PM · Hi Shen-Han Lin. Thanks for your reply!

Yes I did live in Ottawa a long time ago.

I went to university there for 7 of the 10 years I lived there.

I remember one time, I was sitting at a University of Ottawa concert hall and Zuckerman was guest conducting/teaching the student orchestra.

This was many many years before he became conductor of the NAC Orchestra. He was in town to perform at the NAC and just stopped by the university to help out the students.

At one point he stopped the orchestra, picked up the violin of one of the violinists, and played just few notes of a passage. WOW! It was all there in those few notes. The Zuckerman tone, projection, brilliance etc. It shows that the equipment is not all that important. :)

>As for your experiences with assistant concertmaster (Joan?)

Yes Joan was my teacher for two years.

How do you know her?

> I'm not too sure about it then. I personally think bow grip is very personal, and if it works for her it may not work for you... Just like I can never get Galamian hold.

It wasn't simply a matter of personal preference for a bow grip, ie. Russian grip, Franco-Belgium, German etc. or the many variations on those themes.

It was a much more fundamental fault that she completely missed with my bow grip.

She never turned my bow around to look at where/how I was placing my thumb!

No violinist (even the greatest virtuosos) could play the violin properly the way I was holding my bow. It would be physically impossible.

It felt awkward from day one and I was never comfortable with it. I'm ashamed to say the number of years I struggled with it before I finally realized what I was doing wrong.

And this was after working with three (3) teachers!

December 24, 2011 at 09:01 PM · @Mark: Maxim Vengerov was Zakhar Bron’s student, remember? Personally, metaphors and exotic descriptors work for me. I don’t think one needs to understand every word the teacher says immediately to get the intended result; thinking hard along the line often gets you there eventually. I think we take in more than we think we do. And a lot of time, to achieve certain sound or expression, how you think about the approach is just as important if not more so than learning how to physically do it right note by note.

December 25, 2011 at 02:42 AM · Hi Yixi Zhang!

> Maxim Vengerov was Zakhar Bron’s student, remember?

I don't really know much about Maxim's former teachers.

>Personally, metaphors and exotic descriptors work for me... And a lot of time, to achieve certain sound or expression, how you think about the approach is just as important if not more so than learning how to physically do it right note by note.

I agree. It's just that for other students, they have a hard time understanding suggestions that aren't technical in nature.

Everyone is different and assimilates new information in different ways.

December 25, 2011 at 03:28 AM · Mark, I agree. A good teacher should be able to adapt his teaching to each student's particular ways of learning. I mentioned Vegerov's teacher Bron because I see the close resemblance of their teaching including highly metaphorical and complicated verbal expressions. I'm not sure if I should generalize this but I see this approach is often adopted by European trained teachers.

December 25, 2011 at 03:51 AM · Maybe it's because of my technique isn't there yet, but I can NEVER imagine teaching with metaphorical or expression. (Yes, I saw those masterclass videos) If I want to adopt your metaphor, or the way you play, I'd just go listen to your recording... The reason why I get a teacher is to know if I have major flaw in technique where I can fix so I can imagine my own stuff.

December 25, 2011 at 05:57 AM · I know exactly what you mean Shen-Han Lin!

That's the way I like to be taught too.

But I do have the ability to understand the metaphoric approach as well.

>The reason why I get a teacher is to know if I have major flaw in technique where I can fix so I can imagine my own stuff.

The problem though is when you combine a star pupil who doesn't understand metaphors well and a teacher (Vengerov) who likes to use them all the time.

The students Vengerov was teaching didn't really have any technical flaws. Vengerov simply wasn't getting the interpretation of the piece from them that he heard in his head.

I think for most of those students he would have been better off simply demonstrating what he wanted them to do, on his violin, rather than saying "Think of throwing a basketball...etc.."

or "It's the Queen, she's coming into the room..." :)

December 25, 2011 at 10:35 AM · I don't have your experience but I'm not sure I entirely agree. As I understand it its the difference between learning to play the violin (technique, expression methods, harmonies, tone etc) and learning to play music. Sounds like he was working on the latter, trying to coax the student into dipping into their emotional experiences to translate that into their violinistic ones.

Does that make sense?

December 25, 2011 at 02:39 PM · Just tell him/her that you are the illigitimate son of Jasha Heifetz ...

December 25, 2011 at 02:56 PM · Sorry, in your case Elise "illigitimate daughter!!" How could I have made such a bloomer!!!

December 25, 2011 at 04:04 PM · Be aware though...that just because an individual has achieved a certain level of expertise, they might not necessarily be a good teacher...

So if the session doesn't go as well as you'd like, that might be part of the issue.

December 25, 2011 at 05:15 PM · Peter: perhaps I should take that as a compliment from a mysogenist?

N.A. - thanks for the 'out'! I don't know if he is a great teacher but I do know he does a lot of teaching and conducts a small (and excellent) community string orchestra. Thats how I first met him - the fantasy was to join that group but reality set in :D

December 25, 2011 at 05:27 PM · Elise

How could you have got that so wrong? I am a lover of women. The only thing I might very occasionally love more is the fiddle, but mostly if I had the choice I would find the female lure irrestistable. (On the other hand women have been the reason for my undoing on more occasions than I would like to admit).

December 25, 2011 at 07:06 PM · My advice would be: try to learn whatever they offer you, in whatever form they offer it. If they give technical advice on what to do with your thumb, take that information; if they give exotic analogies on how to interpret music, then take that. Each teacher has a style of teaching that they are best at, and not all teachers are able (or willing) to change that style to fit a student's needs -- often they would rather send that student to another teacher whose style is a better fit. I remember reading an article once about violinists and teachers -- this was back in the 1970's I think. Perlman said he found Galamian to be too much a layer-down of the law, but he liked studying with Delay because of her openness to new ideas; Zukerman said he liked studying with Galamian because he was a layer-down of the law. (At least that's how I remember it now.) Obviously it doesn't mean that Galamian was a bad teacher or that Perlman was a bad student, just that the chemistry was better with someone else.

Have some specific questions ready though: sometimes a teacher's approach is to let you finish playing and then ask "what do you want to work on with this piece?"

Don't be afraid to ask an exotic-analogy person a technical question about thumb position or fingering, or a technically-oriented person a question about inspiration or beauty. You might learn something unexpected. (I once asked my teacher -- a vague, artistic type -- how I could get a certain passage up to tempo. She said "well, of course the fingers have to be relaxed or you'll never be able to move them," and then she moved on to the next thing, whatever that was. Her remark got me thinking, though, and I ended up spending much of that year releasing tension in my fingers, then my hands, then wrists, arms, shoulders, back, neck... all from a quick question that she clearly forgot about the moment she'd responded to it.)

December 25, 2011 at 07:20 PM · In going all the way back to my original post, I think it's important to make sure that the teacher you are going to play for is going to take you seriously. Not all adult violin students are that serious about making progress. I've had lessons with teachers who simply said "you sound great!" and thank you very much for the $50 US (this was awhile ago when prices were a bit less).

If you have a chance to ask them beforehand about what they want to hear, and to volunteer to them to play a piece, an etude and a scale, they know you're not there to play around. Despite all the pleadings you might make that you are a serious student, there's nothing like showing you really are a serious student by being willing to present to them something truly serious.

You may still get the little pat on the head and the obligatory compliment - oh, and by the way, thanks for the $250 Canadian - but at least it gives you a fighting chance. You at the very least are doing "your" part to get the best, most instructive lesson possible.

December 25, 2011 at 07:42 PM · Elise, I agree theoretically we can separate issues between technical and musical and being able to pin-point different issues separately with surgical precision is to me a sign of a good clinician. But at some point even with technical issues such as to achieve a particular sound for a particular note, analysis may reach its limit and metaphor has to kick in. In other words, I think the line between technicality and music should be taken seriously only if it can be ignored when necessary.

December 25, 2011 at 07:56 PM · Elise, would there be any chance of getting more than one lesson, say two, from your iconic violinist, giving you a chance to put their advice into practice, and getting feedback on that? The benefit would be more than twice that of one lesson, I believe.

December 25, 2011 at 08:14 PM · A lot of teaching is very hit and miss even with some very good and experienced teachers. They might say something like, "there's something wrong with your bow arm" for example, but then not be able to tell you what is wrong or to figure out what will correct it.

I think the people that gain the most from good teachers are the ones that have specific problems that can be addressed. But then some students don't want to know if you tell them that their intonation is bad, and that to put it right they have to change the way they use their left hand and at the same time improve their ears by good ear training.

Quite often a student will in the course of a lesson start producing a better sound because you have got them to play nearer the bridge with better bow contact. But a week later they are back to square one because they don't like the better sound and prefer to skate the bow and play near the fingerbaord. If it sounds OK under the ear they think that's fine, and they just play for themselves, as David B pointed out. They often don't like teachers telling them the truth, it hurts. They won't come back if they think they are good and then the teacher tells them their intonation and sound are bad.

A viola player in a quartet recently was told that it was necessary to play near the bridge to get a big sound (her viola has great potential) but she prefers to make a pretty sound and not stick out too much, so she probably won't change.

It's a two way thing, and as Scott has said, people only improve when they decide they need to, and when they get on with it.

Also, don't forget that a virtuoso is not necessarily going to be a good teacher. Some are, some are not!

December 25, 2011 at 09:10 PM · Bart: at this point I don't know. It will depend in part on the lesson (at least from my perspective) but far more on his interest and availability (from his). But you are right - a second lesson would not only give me feed back on progress but also would indicate my seriousness as a student (and hence also a big factor promising 'potential'). Of course he might just shrug his shoulders and yell 'NEXT'!

December 29, 2011 at 05:49 AM · Elise, when you have had your lesson, please tell us about it. Did your expectations come true, or was it even better?

December 29, 2011 at 09:56 AM · Will do Bart. Not too long....

December 30, 2011 at 10:08 PM · OK , so as advised I wrote a preemptive letter to the teacher (who I have alread learned is a man of few words). I told him I would bring along a piece (Haydn concerto in G) to play and asked if there was anything else I should bring or prepare. I got one word back for my efforts:


OK so now I'm getting a liiittle nervous.

'Scuse me gotta go....

December 30, 2011 at 10:22 PM · LOL...are you going to practice, or to the bathroom? ;)

December 30, 2011 at 10:31 PM · alternate.. :-\

December 30, 2011 at 11:14 PM · Aww, Elise! Try your best to stay present in the moment and not to start over-analyzing what might happen or make projections of what will happen. There will be lots of time to analyze afterward. Remember that your best is your best, and you should never be ashamed of that. Everyone (even this virtuoso) has weaknesses. And if you're paying him and he agreed to hear you without an audition (I'm guessing this is the case?), neither of you has the right to think that you're not worth his time. (Forgive me if I'm projecting my own pessimistic perfectionistic thoughts onto you, but that's what I'd be thinking right now if I was in your shoes...there'd be a fear of rejection or condescension, etc., shame that I'm not good enough, embarrassment I'm not better, etc., etc.) Those feelings are only useful to the point where they motivate you to practice...beyond that, realize their practical limitations.

I'd definitely at this point try your very best to subdue the desire to get an opinion on what your potential as a player is. It's not a particularly realistic goal to start with (one lesson is just not time enough to get a full picture of a pupil's abilities, especially if s/he is nervous), and if you pin all your hopes on the opinion of someone you're intimidated by or afraid of...who you're not even sure yet is a particularly good teacher and/or communicator for you...well, that can be utterly devastating.

December 30, 2011 at 11:35 PM · Elise,

Check out this youtube video of Carol Hodgins playing scales for Heifitz. It's really tough to play a perfect scale. Yes, she plays great, but her scale isn't totally perfect. So if yours isn't either, you have good company.


Hope you have a great lesson!

Best regards,


December 31, 2011 at 12:08 AM · My first lesson with my current (rather well known) teacher was over an hour and a half of nothing but scales and open strings. Our second lesson was pretty much the same, with Kreutzer's second etude instead of open strings.

December 31, 2011 at 12:30 AM · Emily - my expectations have had a 'reconsideration'. At this point its more about survival.... Well maybe a bit more than that ;)

Terry: I remember looking at that and feeling there was more building between those two than a violin scale ...

Brian: second lesson? Second??? I hadn't thought about that possibility! On the bright side, I played through K2 without stopping or pausing for I think the first time ever this week. :)

December 31, 2011 at 02:12 AM · I would play something you can already play. i.e. bach cello suite prelude, violin concerto etc. They might be able to offer insight on what you could improve on to make the piece sound better.

December 31, 2011 at 02:24 AM · Maybe I'm crazy but I kind of like the idea of watching the Heifetz masterclasses before a terrifying lesson... I'd think that would help put things in perspective.

Actually someone should make an edited video with just Heifetz's skeptical cutaway reaction shots, no audio. Press play and practice your repertoire in front of your laptop. Voila!

December 31, 2011 at 06:33 AM · Like I said earlier, focusing on technical and musical details of the workd you are prepared to play for him. Do not focus on you yourself as a player. This kind of concentration will allow you to stay calm and be in the moment and maximize learning. And have fun. It's only one violin lesson among many prior and subsequent to it.

December 31, 2011 at 07:43 AM · I agree with Yixi. Focus on the music. Have fun! You're lucky to have the opportunity - I wish it were me!

December 31, 2011 at 11:17 AM · Emily - thats not a bad idea! Maybe someone could go further and make a video of the mean lesson with gaps that you have to perform in. Then the teacher could look at you blankly as if he heard brakes squeal...

December 31, 2011 at 11:21 AM · Yixi: thats great advice - and addresses my own weakness - the tendency to internalize and take it personally rather than treat it all as music.

One of the problems of the returner and late learners is actually learning what a lesson is, in addition to what you are being taught. I've had sessions that left me depressed because the teacher treats me as if I have been studying all my life and am internally confident whereas in reality my violin life is about age 15 (more on that elsewhere) and I only started taking private lessons about 3 yrs ago.

December 31, 2011 at 12:26 PM · Elise,

the virtuosi that I played for in lessons were always kind, generous, and supportive. No, I did not play well in those lessons, especially at first!

Your virtuoso teacher knows what to expect: someone who is passionate about music, but has not had the opportunity to practice all her life. He is there to help you along your path in music.

There's nothing to be afraid of.

Good luck!


edit: I knew all this, and I was nervous too.

December 31, 2011 at 12:40 PM · Heifetz/Carol Hodgins

Yes, he obviously liked tall shy pretty girls ... don't we all?

Was there something - looks like it ...

Her scales were not that brilliant - I'm surprised he didn't talk about her shifts down. But maybe he was concentrating on other things? (Ahem ...)

December 31, 2011 at 03:05 PM · Elise

Looks like you might have to have G flat and G# major and minor scales up your sleeve, and maybe in octaves too ... Not too bad really ...

And don't let him flirt with you - stick to the notes ...

December 31, 2011 at 03:54 PM · Peter, are you trying to freak me out?

If thats whats necessarya mascara may be my only resort..

December 31, 2011 at 04:58 PM · Elise,

This sounds like a great opportunity! I know it's only an hour but I still think there is a little time for you to introduce yourself to him as a person in more general terms, outside the specifics of yourself as a violinist.

I say this in part because I know you are a neuroscientist, and in my experience, violin teachers are really interested in neuroscience. They are interested in hearing about how the brain learns, and how you in particular learn. Sometimes just saying something simple and related to the popular understanding of neuroscience like "it's not true that we only use 10% of our brains" if the opportunity arises has led to an interesting conversation.

I used to be very leery of talking much at all during lessons because it can backfire and you don't want to talk too much. But for me it has been really necessary in getting the most out of a lesson (or in some cases getting anything at all useful out of a lesson) that the teacher understand that I'm extremely analytical and have an experimental approach to problem solving, even on the violin. It's important to me to know the whys and hows behind a suggestion or technique, and general metaphorical language--at least when applied to improving my playing--really doesn't do much for me.

You may be different, obviously, but whatever your particular needs are, I still think a good teacher should be able to take those into account and adjust accordingly. As long as he has some sense of what they are.

December 31, 2011 at 05:49 PM · Karen allready done that! As part of the process to get this opportunity I wrote a rather lengthy bio and my work is hinted at in it (it was mostly about violin of course). So he knows.

Its rather an interesting issue for us adult violin students - to what extent should your 'other' life be a factor with your instructors? Obviously, when it comes down to playing you are only as good as your technical and musical scills. Surely accomplishments in other spheres really are a part of what we are as musicians? I'd love to hear input on that from seasoned teachers here!

January 1, 2012 at 03:02 AM · I'm not a seasoned teacher (but I'm told I might be worth my salt ...) so I might be unrepresentative (if there is such a word).

But I would always be interested in what other things people do as it could have a bearing on how they work on playing the fiddle.

I did once have a pupil who was also training to be an accountant and working in the City in the investment area. He wanted to get a job in an orchestra here in London, and after many weeks of lessons I was just about to tell him to forget the idea of making it in the orchestral profession when he decided to stick to his day job and give up the viola. Anyway, viola players are a funny lot ... (wink)

I don't know if that's relevent? But as I have said, I'm an unseasoned teacher. Pass the pepper please.

January 5, 2012 at 08:25 AM · Well, I finally did it! He lives in a very charming house full of art objects and warmth. When I got there the note on the door just said come in and make yourself comfortable. There was a woman sitting on the floor waiting for her son who was eminating very complex and scratchy note sequences from upstairs.

Soon enough I was ushered into the studio and nervously took out my violin. I started wth a three octave G scale, played as simply as I could - and it came out much better than expected, considering the nerves. Then, to my surprise, he asked me to play my piece. We worked on that for about half an hour, focusing on a difficult passage - he redid almost all the bowing, softening the piece and all the time giving me hints as to how to make it both flow and be easy on the body. This emphasis on economy was rather new to me - and no doubt springs from his many years as the concertmaster for a top international orchestra. I listened avidly since even the smallest correction contained glimmer of a general principal.

It all went pretty well and I learned a tremendous amount - about him, my playing of course, and also about expectations. He critiqued the piece - and the main thing that came out was that I need to go back to scales and studies (no surprise eh?) to improve my technical background. But more important he told me how do go about that - something I will dedicate the next few months to at least.

This coach is of the school that you should not attempt a piece until you have mastered its technical requirememts (I've seen this here before). Thus, he encouraged me to move to a much simpler piece and to more complex etudes. [There appears to be diametrically opposite school that uses pieces to stretch you to learn technique. My feeling is I need both but thats another story.]

Perhaps the most surprising thing was his expectation that you should make everything as musical as you can - including scales and arps. Indeed, even tuning. He pointed out that once you pick up your instrument you are already performing. I loved that! I was under the delusion that the object of scales was accuracy but no, he wanted musicality. Once I knew what he expected I could then let rip (and I think that helped melt the inital tension).

The outcome? He was least happy with my bowing -basically, as I understand it I am not sufficiently precise to capture the rhythms. He was, however, complimentary about my intonation and he seemed also reasonably happy with my tone (he loved the sound of my violin so that has to say something :) ). But I got my tasks: scales and Sevcik.

And most important - there will be more lessons. Not on a weekly basis but for review each few months.

All in all, I was emotionally drained but somehow also sated. Clearly, there was some reality check: my playing does not measure up to my imagination's view of it. But I did get a very good idea of my current standing (my original goal) and an even better idea of where I must next focus. Perhaps best of all, I survived a lesson with a virtuoso and came out informed and inspired - and with the golden opportunity to show him my improvements next time round.

Phew! And most of all - I did it!!

January 5, 2012 at 12:53 PM · That's wonderful Elise! I'm both happy for you and inspired to do something similar.

January 5, 2012 at 01:47 PM · Elise, what a lovely outcome to all your concerns! And, since no (responsible) teacher/coach will take on someone for whose musicianship they have no innate sympathy/respect, way to go!

January 5, 2012 at 03:13 PM · I just went over some of the stuff, Transformative would be a good word...

January 5, 2012 at 04:09 PM · Good for you!! Yay! Sounds like a great time. Isn't the sense of direction and purpose thrilling?

January 5, 2012 at 04:38 PM · Congrats Elise.

There is truth to the saying that what you survive only makes you stronger! :D

January 5, 2012 at 05:29 PM · Sounds like a winner. Who is the Pedagogue?

January 5, 2012 at 05:50 PM · Congratulations, Elise! I'm not a bit surprised of the result -- you are a good student and he'd like see more of your progress and he sounds every bit a good violin teacher I'd expect to see. I especially like the musicality and performance comments. Very profound. One of the biggest challenges for us adult violin students is to fight the performance nerve. Practice performance needs to be built in during every practice session or one will rarely be the same player in one's studio and in front of others.

Again, good job, Elise!

January 5, 2012 at 06:12 PM · Well done, Elise.

Now tell us his methods and his secrets so we can have a free lesson!!

January 5, 2012 at 06:21 PM · I'm glad this was a positive experience. No barfing? Hope this turns into a long-term positive experience.

January 5, 2012 at 07:10 PM · One thing he showed me just in passing (must have taken 20 seconds of the lesson) - something I brought up on V.com but didn't muster much response - was what continuous vibrato means. He did not use the term as such but its obvious thats what it was - and how this can be used to make shifting and bow changes almost invisible.

Have you guys been holding out on us :) :)

Then he rewrote Haydn. Not kidding. I was dilligently working off an urtext - he not only fingered it and added slurs that made it sound totally delicious (and easier to play in the process) but even changed some of the notes, 'muttering that this one is a mistake' as he did! Funnily, the changes reverted to the way I had played it by instinct and then spend hours forcing myself to follow the music.

But I think the biggest impact of all was simply being close to someone playing with that lucis ability. Its hard to describe but when I watch a video or even a live performance I don't truly comprehend the playing ability. Perhaps its watching as he zeroed in on different issues and seeing him adapt his playing to the question. I now have the sound, the hands/instrument AND alsso the person burned into my brain as a guide. I hope that makes sense...


(More To Follow :) )

January 5, 2012 at 07:58 PM · Elise

I'm also always suspicious of urtext. I'm a strong believer in putting in one's own bowing, phrasing, note lengths etc.

In Haydn's Emperor Quartet (OP 76 No 3) in the urtext editions the upbeat quaver into the first bar in Mvt 1 has no marking. However, most of us play it with a dot, not too short but short enough.

The more you tell us the more I'm liking the sound of this teacher.

The vibrato thing is well known, and I would have mentioned it if you had asked ...

January 5, 2012 at 08:10 PM · Blush...

I did once - and I thought noone responded - and in the process completely forgot the wonderful reply that Marc V wrote:


January 5, 2012 at 09:08 PM · Maybe one of the biggest outcomes is the urge to impress him with my progress next time round. I just bought Sevcik Op.3..

January 5, 2012 at 09:32 PM · Elise

Regarding vibrato, Ruggerio Ricci talks in his book "Glissando" about practising a fast passage slowly with vibrato, and a slow passage without vibrato.

He also berates some players for srarting notes without vibrato and then adding it. A certain very well known British cellist did that quite a lot and it was noticeable.

January 5, 2012 at 11:28 PM · Oops. Thats exactly what I was doing - I thought it was clever ... Perhaps I was confusing it with trills which often do that.

January 20, 2012 at 04:14 AM · Well, if he's cute ask him for dinner and a movie later! Kidding!!! Have a good time, relax and try to use his knowledge to benefit yourself! Play what you love!

January 20, 2012 at 04:16 AM · Well, if he's cute ask him for dinner and a movie later! Kidding!!! Have a good time, relax and try to use his knowledge to benefit yourself! Play what you love!

January 20, 2012 at 07:36 AM · Hi Noel - the lesson happened a bit of a while ago and went very well (you can read the aftermath a bit above). The nice thing is that he'll give me another one in due course.

January 20, 2012 at 08:08 PM · "The nice thing is that he'll give me another one in due course?"

January 20, 2012 at 10:28 PM · Lesson Peter. Lesson. The fact that he didn't suggest I go back to my Suzuki teacher or equiv I take as a very positive sign. I mean, its not as if he is short of students ::o


January 20, 2012 at 10:40 PM · Excellent, great news

January 20, 2012 at 11:06 PM · I had no idea you had a Suzuki teacher. Poor thing. Still, with a decent teacher you will be OK.

January 21, 2012 at 12:45 AM · No I never did, and if I had s/he would be a basket case by now. I was hypothesizing what HE might have said.

And thanks Hannah :) Don't mind Charles: he's probably sore because it looks as if the monarchy line will skip him....

January 21, 2012 at 01:35 AM · I don't mean to hijack, but this topic made me think about our own teachers. When you think about it, they all have either master's or doctorate's degree in violin performance. All in all, I think it is fair to say that most of us have taken lessons with a virtuoso at least at one point in our lives. Having a lesson with a well known virtuoso is another story.

January 21, 2012 at 07:10 AM · My blood is naturally blue so I have no ptoblem.


Are teachers all graduates? I have known and there probably still are outstanding teachers who have never been near any of those established systems.

In many respects good teachers and players are born, not made.

January 21, 2012 at 07:47 AM · Indeed Joshua. I'm sure many of the very best players did not make it for reasons quite remote from their ability. And, as mentioned above, success in a field is certainly no guarantee that someone can teach it. Some might even argue the opposite.

For some reasons I think of golf in such analogies. You can learn a lot from the local golf pro on how to play but they can probably not give you the perspective on what is really important to actually compete 'in the market place' compared to, say, Tiger Woods.

The difference obviously is in experience. A teacher that has 'walked the walk' results in an approach that is different from one that has had other emphases - different but not necessarily better. Still, its pretty special to have a lesson from a seasoned performer simply because thats something thats harder to get.

January 21, 2012 at 06:30 PM · Peter, a little extra oxygen will do wonders to get your blood back to a good, healthy red. Try loosening the tiara- it may be affecting your circulation!

In the two fields I'm most familiar with, music and visual arts, one's ability to play or paint AND teach have no direct correlation. Elise, if you have found someone who can do both well, congratulations.

January 21, 2012 at 06:48 PM · @Joshua, I'm not sure there's any natural relationship between having a DMA and being a virtuoso. After all, most of the 'great' performers don't have advanced degrees in music (some do have bachelors, I guess, not sure). Some great teachers do, some not.

January 21, 2012 at 06:52 PM · Lisa wrote: "In the two fields I'm most familiar with, music and visual arts, one's ability to play or paint AND teach have no direct correlation. Elise, if you have found someone who can do both well, congratulations."

See, I actually don't agree. The reason is that I think each person can teach you something. With some its very broad - these are the mentors in your life - and with others you have to really look for it but its very, very rare that there is nothing to learn - even if thats just who to avoid!!

I think its important to avoid the natural urge to dump someone just because there is something about them that you don't like - you really throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Currently I have a spectacular example in a dance coach. This guy has put off just about every potential student because he can not help himself with sexual references - and frankly, sometimes wiht even wandering hands. Yes, the instinct is to run a mile. However, I know my dance and what I discovered is that he is one of the most knowledgeable teacher for fundamental dance techique in north america because he both has a natural talent for analysis and made the effort to learn from the guys that invented ballroom in England. For me its like finding (dance) eldorado - though to benefit from it I have to put up with pagan rituals!

PS The guy is harmless, more like he never left his teenage years..

So IMO, you should be a good shopper with teachers. Identify what they are good at and drink from that particular glass.

January 21, 2012 at 07:47 PM · Elise, with the groper, or others equally annoying, it comes down to "Am I willing to put up with this to get what this guy has to offer?" A cost/benefit analaysis says sometimes yes, sometimes no. There are others, though, who are completely unable to articulate what they want you to do, or, worse yet, who seem to be afraid they are going to give away the one thing they actually know. There is sometimes a bit to be gained by watching this type perform, and they may be incredible at it, but I wouldn't use my time or money on lessons with them. Then there's another category, defined by the old quote, "Even a stopped clock is right twice a day."

January 21, 2012 at 08:39 PM · But even seasoned stars such as Nicola Benedetti have earned an honorary doctorate. You do have a point in saying that playing with a seasoned player is indeed a rare privilege.

January 21, 2012 at 08:44 PM · Lisa "Peter, a little extra oxygen will do wonders to get your blood back to a good, healthy red. Try loosening the tiara- it may be affecting your circulation!"

I love your sense of humour! And I have loosened it a bit, along with my bra and underpants, amd I feel a lot better!

January 21, 2012 at 08:47 PM · "But even seasoned stars such as Nicola Benedetti have earned an honorary doctorate."

I have to disagree just a bit here - Joshua. These honorary doctorates are a real con, and I personally can't see her as a seasoned star. More a flash in the pan. (Which needs emptying as soon a possible).

January 21, 2012 at 11:48 PM · I guess this is the end of my lesson! I learned a lot from the virtuoso (and hope to learn more) but maybe I learend even more from this topic.

thanks everyone :)


This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Violinist.com Business Directory
Violinist.com Business Directory

Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning
Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases



Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins


Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine