Is a teacher necessary?

August 10, 2013 at 05:12 PM · I'm attempting to gain mastery of the violin.

I've heard it said many times that you need a teacher, and in fact it seems to be assumed that anybody serious about learning violin has a teacher.

Consequently, sometimes I get to thinking that I should have a teacher, and that perhaps I am slowing down what is already a tremendously slow process by not having one.

However, I never seem to have a lack of things to work on. I am constantly improving, and doing my best to practice often, with concentration and a critical ear. In fact, useful practicing is one thing that I seem to be getting constantly better at.

Furthermore, I seem to have a wealth of resources: books (Fischer's Basics and Galamian's book are my favorites), teachers/violinists on youtube (such as Professor V and a couple others), this website, and articles written by violinists.

So it becomes hard to see what I would gain. Wouldn't I just be replacing one problem that I would choose to work on with a problem that my teacher would have me work on?


August 10, 2013 at 06:47 PM · You need a teacher hands down if you want to master violin. It's someone who knows more than you about the violin (hopefully) that can listen to you and give you feedback that you wouldn't think of. You can read all of the books you want but you need someone who has a high level of mastery in the art to listen to what you can hear and fix what you can't see as well as someone who can work specifically with your problems that may not be the same as others. Even Mozart had a teacher.

Wish you luck on your endeavors!!


August 10, 2013 at 07:11 PM · Pick any comparison you want - e.g., how many sport professionals did not have a coach, how many well known modern day artists did not go to art school for some period, how many lawyers did not go to law school?

Playing the violin at the level expected by today's audiences is no less challenging. Also, consider that orchestra musicians have practiced at least 4 hours a day for a decade to win that job, and top soloists have practiced more. They all had coaches.

Is it possible that all these professionals and performers know something that you don't?

August 10, 2013 at 08:29 PM · Greetings,

while it is true there are so many superb resources out ther enow one can do a lot better these days as an autodidact, there is one issue that cannot be overcome without the help of a teacher.

Homeostasis. In essence, we all do what is habitual and most comfortable irrespective of how much we know and think we are doing things correctly. At times a teacher may make you feel uncomfortable because what they are asking is different from the acquired bad habit. But a good teacher can minimize this discomfort and faciltate change to what actually works for you. Self awareness is very over rated in the early stages of learning a skill.

A good teacher watches like a hawk and should know enough about mechanics and physiology to immediately jump on things that may not even be obvious in books. A lot of the problems I deal with when even an advance dplayer comes to me are simple and basic ones that should have been dealt with years ago. tension in the toes, no relaxed but stable body structure, putting the violin up in such a way the upper vertabrea are distorted and so on.

What is the correct order for building an edifice? books and videos cannot tell you what needs to be done now, when to step back back, when to move on. This is what good teachers sense.

there`s much more but I havent had enough prunes yet today,



August 10, 2013 at 10:26 PM · Of course you don't need a teacher.

August 10, 2013 at 10:27 PM · If you're brilliant, that is..

August 10, 2013 at 10:28 PM · Of course, you don't REALLY need a dentist, or a lawyer in court, or .... (fill in here)

August 11, 2013 at 12:28 AM · "Wouldn't I just be replacing one problem that I would choose to work on with a problem that my teacher would have me work on?" Chances are you would. Chances are you might not know what you don't know if you haven't had a good teacher to start on the right track, so the problems you choose to work on might not be the real issues you need to address at this point. Just like people trying to be their own lawyer or doctor without proper training in either field, they tend to conused the issues and mislead themselves so ended up wasting time and efforts, losing their case or worse. So yes, a qualified teacher can be the best thing you can get to help achieving your goal of mastering the violin.

August 11, 2013 at 11:14 AM · I'll second what Buri said, from a different perspective. I'm in a similar situation to you, in that I am mostly self taught, but am interested in playing at a very high level, although mostly outside the classical genre. Out of the three years I've played, I've taken lessons for 3 periods of 3 or 4 months each (Different teachers, either because we didn't click sylewise, or in the last case because I moved cross country). The rest of the time, I've used books and videos.

It's hard to say exactly how a teacher will affect your progress. For my part, I've only taken lessons when I'm willing and able to put in several hours of practice a week, in order to make the money spent worthwhile. When I'm not putting as much time in, I make less progress, but when I put the time in without a teacher, I still improve quickly. The teachers have all been surprised at how few bad habits I have. It is definitely possible to play very well without a teacher. And yes, people hearing me usually assume I've got a teacher.

But every time I've gone to a teacher, they have been able to immediately point things out, both stylistic and technical, that jump my playing up a notch. A lot of this I'd probably get on my own eventually. Some of it I probably wouldn't. It was all things that I hadn't heard or noticed in my own playing, or recordings of myself playing. Or things I had noticed didn't seem right, but couldn't figure out exactly what was wrong and how to fix it.

A good teacher definitely makes fast progress easier. After all, they've taught hundreds of students, and have played for decades. That's a lot of experience to draw on. You've only taught yourself, so you are learning everything as you go, and you will inevitably make mistakes, both as a teacher and a student.

Having used both the self taught and the outside teacher route, I'd say the teacher adds real value. I'm not convinced that year round weekly lessons are the way to go, but I definitely find my more irregular ones to be valuable. Essential? Hard to say. But definitely useful.

August 11, 2013 at 01:12 PM · I think you need to define what you mean by 'master'.

August 11, 2013 at 04:23 PM · Yeah! You can learn proper technique from just reading You all didn't know that?!!

August 11, 2013 at 05:25 PM · Having a teacher is a wonderful privilege and gives your studies an excellent advantage, and I don't even understand why, if you have access to such a great opportunity, you would cheat yourself of such an enrichment. I would go to great lengths to secure a good teacher.

August 12, 2013 at 01:03 AM · I am passionate about the topic of self teaching, because this is mostly what I did.

Regarding your question: It depends on your current level, your talent, and what kind of learner you are. Those details are not clear from your message. Also it is not clear exactly what level you want to achieve. For the sake of fun I will pretend you are talking about a real professional level, maybe even "Artist" level.

I can tell you some things from my personal experience that I think would be helpful to answer your question, and an interesting topic of discussion in general.

For me, these are the conditions under which someone can stop playing for teachers and still continue to grow and fulfill whatever potential they have to be a great artists.

1. You have to KNOW WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW.

If you don't have in depth knowledge about violin playing, always assessing where you lack, and what you need to accomplish your goals, there is no chance.

2. You should have a fairly strong technical foundation already.

aka you can play at least some paganini caprices on a good level, or you sight read a random Kreutzer-like etude and play it quite well, musically, and with ease.

3. You have at least several years in professional environment where you come in contact with/are influenced by high level people (a good conservatory, masterclasses etc).

4. Obsessive love and thirst for music/violin

5. An artistic vision

6. Lots of talent

7. Maybe the most important skill/talent: You can copy and understand most things you see virtually any violinist doing.

If those points aren't all fulfilled, you most likely need a teacher or mentor to get to a professional level, let alone "artist" level.

This is all assuming you are not an absolute genius that has never needed anyone past teenage years, like Glenn Gould ;)

There is nothing that can replace a true mentor who takes you under his/her wing and nourishes you with their deep understanding. But in reality even many of the professional and very capable violinists out there have never had that. There are not many teachers like that afterall. So many people are left with lessons where honestly 95% of it could have been done through Skype. Some of these players go on to be professionals, and soloists. Some of them are never able to achieve their goals. These are all people from the same studio. This is because some had the talent and skills necessary to teach themselves, solve their own problems, achieve their own goals.

That is a credit to all those instructional videos, sometimes featuring really good advice, and a credit to Zukerman's skype lessons :) Many don't realize how much of the teaching that goes on in conservatories could be done just as well through Skype and videos!!

I think we will see much more of this market being filled in a professional way in the future. For example, Nathan Cole started a good website where he plays and analyzes orchestra excerpts, and accepts videos of people's playing, responding with a video himself.

To sum up, I think there is a far BIGGER problem with violinists having unhealthy teacher-dependency that violinists saying they don't need a teacher. So if you are skilled, smart, talented, and believe in yourself - go for it, you will learn A LOT. The most I ever learned and most progress I ever made was the year I took off after my Bachelors, and the time following my masters.

Besides, you can always get a teacher later.... ;)

August 27, 2013 at 04:54 AM · I suppose that I should clarify that my attitude isn't "I don't need no teacher." I'm only trying to find out if/when I need one.

By mastery I mean I want to be able to have a great artistic vision, and have the technical skills to realize that vision.

It makes sense that a teacher could notice things that I wouldn't be able to think of. But right now there are a lot of things that I notice myself and can approach.

As far not being able to overcome the inclination to do what's comfortable without aid, it doesn't seem to be true. I regularly do things that are uncomfortable and different and unfamiliar to me. In fact, when I'm playing comfortably I don't really consider myself to be practicing.

There being a correct order to building a technical foundation is an interesting idea. It seems to me that perhaps you'd know there's something else you need to tackle first though because you aren't improving? Perhaps you'd hit walls more frequently though and introduce inefficiency there.

Emily, I'm not sure if you're asking why I don't have a teacher now or why I wouldn't get one in the future. I did have one long ago, but I was a terrible student that didn't practice or believe I could improve. More recently I started working on it again more seriously because it's the most interesting skill that I see fit to donating many years to mastering. But I wanted to fix some long standing problems a bit before I started taking lessons that I could barely afford anyways. And after overcoming some major problems (to my amazement), now I can still barely afford them and it seems that I haven't stopped overcoming problems. And then find a good teacher which itself sounds daunting and expensive. So I need to be convinced that it is such an enrichment.

August 27, 2013 at 09:55 AM · If part of your concern about having a teacher is the cost, would you consider having periodic "one off" lessons as a gut check to make sure you stay on track? It is possible that you might find someone willing to have a lesson once a quarter or so. They could help you direct your self learning in a logical way, and correct any unseen errors that may negatively impact your playing long term. That way you could still largely self-teach, but would have the opportunity for guided corrections as needed.

August 27, 2013 at 10:01 AM ·

When to start taking lessons again or when to get a knew teacher. I would say when you notice that you are not advancing, and when practice is more frustrating than a challenge. I also find that someone is better off on their own, than to stay with the wrong teacher.

August 27, 2013 at 10:03 AM · Hi

I'm someone who is forced to teach themselves for financial and geographical reasons. My experience squares with the other advice here - if you use the best pedagogic materials with an enquiring and self-critical mind you can make decent progress. But it often takes me a long time to figure out things that a good teacher would have spotted immediately. I'm sure I would be making faster progress with the right teacher. And while my technical level is pretty decent for playing traditional music, I've no illusions that I could reach the highest levels of Classical virtuosity this way.

So provided you have the resources, how to make best use of teaching?

For someone like yourself who appears to be a confident self-learner on a tight budget, I suspect you'd get that the best bang for your buck with occasional lessons. They would make the largest incremental difference. There would still be benefits from more frequent lessons, but I'm guessing that they would be smaller.

But all this raises the thorniest question - finding a good teacher who would take on a relative beginner on an accasional basis...

From what I've seen both on the web and through personal contact, most teachers simply aren't very good. Much of the teaching on the web is simply cringe-worthy. They pass on the same dogmas they were taught without fully understanding them or knowing how to adapt them to different pupils. Or, as another thread discussed recently, they teach musical interpretation without helping much with technique. If you think I'm being over negative, Galamian says much the same thing in his writings.

The really good teachers (and there are many on this forum) tend to be working with more advanced students, restricting your choice. And if your main interest lies outside Classical music, there are even fewer who are open-minded enough to take you on.

So I would say take on a teacher if you can find someone you trust to help you solve your issues and accelerate your progress. But keep working on your own if you suspect that you'll end up battling against the dogmas of a less able teacher...

August 27, 2013 at 10:12 AM · I'm getting in late to this discussion but would like to give a strong second to what D. Kurganov said about not knowing what you don't know. In my experience this especially applies to using the bow. A good teacher will save you a lot of struggle and frustration in learning how to bow correctly and effectively. Unlearning bad bowing habits is very difficult.

August 27, 2013 at 10:32 AM · An afterthought.

There is a Vcommer, Nathan Cole, who very much falls into the good teacher category. He's helped me out a couple of times on the forum and it's clear that he is someone with great insight.

He offers online lessons through the ArtistWorks teaching platform:

If you can't find a suitable live teacher, this might be your least-bad option. If you dropped him a line, perhaps you could work something out?

August 27, 2013 at 03:08 PM · Sorry if I'm repeating myself, but it's a point well worth making:

A good bow arm is a gift given by teacher to student.

In fact, only a small percentage of teachers have this gift to give.

It's virtually impossible to acquire on one's own, and bad habits are almost a given.

August 29, 2013 at 05:36 PM · A lot has been said already, but I'm going to throw in my two cents. It is more than likely that without a teacher you are doing something incorrectly. Left unchecked, that error becomes habit, and is nigh impossible to fix later. Why practice incorrectly if you don't have to?

August 29, 2013 at 07:11 PM · No habit is impossible or even hard to fix if the habit-maker is willing to change, and knows why and how the change should be made.

August 29, 2013 at 08:32 PM · I'll agree that habits aren't impossible to correct, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's not hard to change them. Sure, it's easy as long as you're thinking about it - but the moment your attention goes somewhere else, the old habit will re-assert itself. (That's what makes it a habit, after all.) It takes constant attention, incessant repetition, and total concentration, until the new desired behaviour becomes a habit which displaces the old one.

It's easier to just get it right the first time. And that is why (to digress slightly) I'm skeptical of teaching a student simplified methods that have to be unlearned later in order to learn how to do something the right way.

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