Could I be a violin teacher?

July 3, 2014 at 01:16 AM · I am looking for opinions on teaching beginning violin. For my own daughter's cello lessons, I would only consider a teacher with a Bachelor's Degree in Music Education, and she is also Suzuki Certified. Thankfully, I can easily afford the private lessons, since my daughter's school does not currently offer orchestra. However, my daughter's best friend desperately wants to learn the violin, and while I passed on the teacher information to her mother, I know they have very little money and won't be able to afford the lessons. So here is my question: I have played violin for almost 25 years. I play every day for at least an hour (not including the few years that I hardly played while my kids were newborns). While I am not playing in an orchestra currently, I am by no means a beginner. I am very interested in teaching and really love to play violin. I have also closely watched my daughter's teacher's technique in teaching. However, I have no degree and no experience. It breaks my heart to see a kid eager to learn with no opportunity to do so. I would happily teach this girl for free. But would attempting to do so be a mistake? Would I end up doing more harm than good? Or would I be giving a kid the opportunity to learn violin that would not otherwise happen?

Replies (29)

July 3, 2014 at 02:49 AM · I would say TEACH HER! I personally started from a free music program at my public school and the first teacher I learnt from was definitely NOT at the level you must be (judging from your 25 years of experience). I say teach her the basics and if she really loves the violin and wants to continue, things will work out. For me, a different teacher spotted me playing my best but with very awful mistakes. She decided to give me one hour lessons for free the day she spotted me. She eventually became my long time teacher and made my lessons very cheap. I was then spotted again by a conductor of an orchestra she was a member of, and he gave me lessons not for free- he said "Give me onigiri (rice balls) and instant miso soup packages and I'll teach you". Without these amazing teachers, I would not be where I am today.

Trust me; give a chance to someone who wants to learn. The worst thing is to stop a young child's dreams because of financial reasons. :)

July 3, 2014 at 03:32 AM · Did Shinichi Suzuki get Suzuki certified?

July 3, 2014 at 05:06 AM · Of course not. There is no such thing as "Suzuki Certified" in the first place. If you must criticize it, at least try and get the basic details correct?

There are many resources for starting teachers out there, and a number of ways to learn the required skills for differentiating instruction to students at different cognitive stages of learning. Since you already have many years of playing experience, I'd suggest reading up on some of the popular approaches to beginner instruction like the Suzuki Method, Adventures in Violinland, the Sassmanshaus Method (Barenreiter), etc. and even some of the classroom instruction stuff like Essential Elements 2000 and New Directions and see what their approaches are to the different skills. From there, the Galamian book and Simon Fischer's Basics book are also extremely valuable. The goal is to build up a repertoire of solutions to the commonly encountered technical challenges.

Regardless of the kind of approach taken, good teachers have the ability to recognize what a student can and cannot do. That insight which comes from both perception and experience is for me the most critical skill to develop as a teacher.

July 3, 2014 at 07:43 AM · All the "enlightened" methods are based on what is possible at a given moment. In any lesson, at any level, we can try 1/3 consolidation, 1/3 improvement in quality, and 1/3 challenge and progress, not necessarily in that order.

The success of the last third depends on the first two thirds.

Also, it is profitable spend time on U-toob watching top violinists: their differences are more instructive to us than their similarities!

Lastly one should avoid like the plague any standardised advice. Hands - and minds - are as different as faces!

July 3, 2014 at 08:20 AM · If you are still friends with people you used to play with, you don't have to be her only teacher, so your own blind spots could be compensated that way.

July 3, 2014 at 08:47 AM · You don't have to be qualified to be a good teacher. I know many qualified teachers who are worse than useless.

You need an understanding of how the mind works, how is the best way to avoid technical faults, have a good ear, and impart all of this to the pupil. No gimmicks - just good ear training and for the pupil the best use of both hands and arms.

Violin playing is in the head, the ear, and the brain.

July 3, 2014 at 01:46 PM · I think go for it - its going to be much better than nothing for sure and will get the girl into music and to the time when you can pass her on.

My only caution (from doing the same thing) is setup. As Adrian mentioned: every body is different and each must adjust to the violin in their own way. However, the easiest way is not necessarily the best since it may impede progress down the line. Thus, good technique oscillates between the 'best way to play' and the 'best fit to the student. Of course there is no general agreement in the former so its all a bit of an experiment - but (for example) its a lot easier to place the fingers if the thumb is gripping tightly - but curing that habit down the road may require virtually going back to the beginning.

Good luck!

July 3, 2014 at 02:08 PM · I say "Go for it!"

I got started teaching 50 years ago when some friends asked me to do it for their children. My only qualification was that I had been playing violin for about 26 years (and cello for 16). I had not had a lesson for (14 year on violin, 12 years on cello). So the question was - did I remember the process well enough.

I continued to teach as an avocation for 45 years - both violin and cello. I found the Suzuki books a very useful foundation from which to work and supplement with other studies that had helped me.

It is important to recognize the mental, emotional, and physical differences between people (i.e., students) and take account of these differences in both how you teach individuals and how you help them with physical aspects of their playing. For violinists, this includes important consideration of the type and position of the chinrest and of the shoulder rest - if use of one is helpful.

I charged $5 per lesson when I started and continued to charge that for the next 30 years - until I moved from that town after which I aligned my charges more with the local rates. A more experienced musical friend told me you should always charge, otherwise the seriousness of the endeavor will not be recognized and the lesson program is likely to fail. The one student I did not charge proved that to be true.


July 3, 2014 at 03:18 PM · Thank you for all the suggestions and encouragement! I plan to look into everything I can before taking this on. I even thought about seeing if they could afford $5 a lesson. It would hopefully at least cover some cost of materials I would need, and I agree that it stresses the importance of taking it seriously and the need for practice for the child, and the parent to encourage practicing.

July 3, 2014 at 06:33 PM · I also think you should go for it.

I volunteered as a beginning violin teacher for a couple years, also for kids who could not otherwise afford lessons. My qualifications were similar to yours - I'd played for many years, but was NOT a music major and never had any training in teaching methods.

So with just my enthusiasm and theirs, we carried forth. These were young children, and I think they needed someone with patience more than anything else. But they were excited to be playing and did progress. I looked at a few different method books before choosing one I thought suited both them and me. (And the first several lessons didn't involve books at all.) And there's so much more available online now to give you ideas.

Good luck! I hope this turns into something wonderful for both you and your daughter's friend.

July 3, 2014 at 08:44 PM · For the materials, Laura, you might check to see (if you live near one) if a college/university library might have what you need, esp. if it has a mus. ed. program. Photocopying is less costly...

July 3, 2014 at 09:59 PM · I agree it's a good idea, and I also think it's a good idea to charge something to make sure the student realizes there's value in the lessons. Teaching value and respect for other people's time and skill is also an important lesson! One of my former teachers had a student who cleaned house every week as a swap. Absent special circumstances, I'm not always sympathetic towards those who say they "can't afford" things, since it's not terribly difficult to find ways to earn something doing hard/dirty/unpleasant/menial jobs, and doing them well.

July 3, 2014 at 10:14 PM · Thank you Julie and Philip! I'm so happy to find others in the same situation! I also feel that I am a good violinist, but have never liked performing, as I do not like to be the center of attention, so I have never felt like I'm "good enough." I also live (and grew up) in an area that has an excellent community of musicians and several orchestras, in addition to a number of schools and colleges with great symphony orchestras. While that sounds wonderful, there is a bit of (dare I say!) snobbery in some of that community. For a while, I took private lessons from the woman who is concertmaster of all these local orchestras, and I was so terrified of her, I could hardly learn anything! These days, I am not playing with a group. I'm just enjoying working on pieces that I really ENJOY playing, and I have never loved my violin so much!

I am still somewhat in touch with my first teacher. She teaches beginning orchestra in most of our local schools. I should probably reach out to her for suggestions. I also love how much is available on the Internet and YouTube. There must be a blog or YouTube channel of someone attempting to do the exact same thing! Thank you all for the encouragement!

July 3, 2014 at 10:43 PM · I'd just like to add my voice to those encouraging you to go for it.

I'm in a bit of a similar situation, but haven't taken the leap, except that I taught my own daughter for a few years, a few years back. Now she's a teenager and doesn't really want to listen to mom. At this point, I need to get out of the way and let her teacher do her job.

However, I've still had a handful of people ask me if I did teach, or would teach, violin, or say, "you know, you play well and you should teach violin" and I've been thinking about it and wondering if it's a good idea. I do teach subjects that I'm trained to teach and have advanced degrees in (biology and neuroscience) and I think I'm a good teacher in those subjects. In some ways I think that being someone who doesn't know everything and who is closer to the struggle can make one a more empathetic teacher.

Since it wasn't easy for you either, you can help your students with those challenges that some teachers are very far removed from. That's something I appreciate about my own teacher. While she's a very accomplished musician, she's also "been there" with many of the struggles I face. I think that makes her more effective with me than someone for whom everything came very easily, years ago.

July 3, 2014 at 10:53 PM · It sounds as though you're very concerned about "technical" qualifications, but the qualities I've most appreciated in my teachers have been patience, positive attitude, and encouragement to keep trying over and over. I don't know how the good teachers do it so well, because violin is so challenging and can be so hopeless! haha You sound very patient and concerned, so you'd probably do well with it!

July 4, 2014 at 10:26 AM · "Violin playing is in the head, the ear, and the brain"

Peter, I find that music is in the head, the ear (and the heart?!) but violin playing is very much in the limbs & fingers. I find the connections quite tricky! And not so easy to convey..

July 4, 2014 at 11:21 AM · Adrian

I can only agree up to a point, because, as Milstein said "Practise, practise, that's all they do, when they should be thinking about the music and studying it away from the instrument." (Or words to that effect).

Yes, it is how you use the fingers and arms (best use) but its all in the ears and the mind. That's how kreisler gave the first performance of the Elgar? concerto without ever having played it. Just from the score. We can't all do that, but we can get better results by being away from the instrument and look at the music, without practising in bad habits.

Playing in tune is not about where to put the fingers but where the ear wants the fingers to go.

July 4, 2014 at 01:50 PM · Milstein said somewhere that he had all the necessary technique by the age of 11. Perhaps Peter is one of these lucky ones too. Many of us have to create, maintain (and teach) the links from mind to matter. (Especially the late starters like me.)

Certainly, a teacher has to help develop the "inner" ear, but also the links to the outside world, which are easily perturbed by fatigue, diet, weather (the British substitute for climate), and of course, lack of fully conscious practice.

Who ever suggested "practicing in bad habits"? Worse than nowt! We should only practice good ones. Often. Then we shan't need the 4 hours suggested in another recent thread.

July 4, 2014 at 02:13 PM · Please don't photocopy stuff out of the local university's music library. That's copyright infringement. Instead, buy the first couple of Suzuki books and loan them to your economically disadvantaged student, and don't let her show up to our studio with photocopies either. You'll feel better about doing the right thing.

July 4, 2014 at 02:19 PM · "Milstein said somewhere that he had all the necessary technique by the age of 11. Perhaps Peter is one of these lucky ones too. Many of us have to create, maintain (and teach) the links from mind to matter. (Especially the late starters like me.)

Certainly, a teacher has to help develop the "inner" ear, but also the links to the outside world, which are easily perturbed by fatigue, diet, weather (the British substitute for climate), and of course, lack of fully conscious practice."

Interesting discussion Adrian. Another who was fully formed by about 8 years old was Ricci. I wish, I wish I was one of the lucky ones, but here I am deep in old age still trying to find my way.

But I am convinced it is mental (like great tennis) and you have to have the right mind-set Then anything is possible. I'm convinced we have to get away from training the fingers to training the mind.

"Who ever suggested "practicing in bad habits"? Worse than nowt! We should only practice good ones. Often. Then we shan't need the 4 hours suggested in another recent thread."

We don't need the four hours, and practicing in bad habits is the norm, I'm afraid. Add to that bad teaching (which often is the norm) then we have a recipe for disaster.

July 4, 2014 at 07:02 PM · How is anyone supposed to know if you should be teaching unless we see you teach?

Someone can play for 25 years and be a great teacher or a lousy teacher. Many people (even professionals) get by their whole life, and even have large studios, with poor posture, poor knowledge of theory, and a limited repertoire.

So it all depends.

July 4, 2014 at 07:04 PM · So?

July 4, 2014 at 10:28 PM · Well, exactly Scott, but my question was more general and not specific. I promise I won't hold you responsible if I turn out to be a terrible teacher.

July 5, 2014 at 01:22 AM · Well, it doesn't sound like the kids' family can afford to private lessons so there couldn't be any harm, least to start out. In fact, a lot of kids have the drive/potential talent yet no means to achieve said goals. I actually support my niece's private lessons due to my sister going through a nasty divorce and trying to make ends meet now as a single mother of two. A little goes a long ways. :)

July 7, 2014 at 07:40 AM · To pick up on Peter's practising wrong things - one of my teachers pointed out that we so often play a passage maybe 10 times until we get it right - then stop. So, you've played it wrong 10 times and right once. Which is likely to stick?

And as for teaching qualifications - I've seen some with all the relevant diplomas who couldn't play and had such an awful technique I'd hate to think of them passing it on.

One of our local music colleges had a number of teachers listed (most of them full-time professional PLAYERS) and one of the best was plain "Mr. xxx xxx". He also led the BBC orchestra.

July 7, 2014 at 08:46 AM · Good points Malcolm. especially about playing it wrongly the first so many times, and only once correctly. It comes down to mental analysis before playing and then getting it corrected from the first time.

Also, I too know of a very good institution with some wonderful teachers, but even there I know of at least two string teachers who I can only describe as dire. The majority are of course excellent and very fine teachers with a wealth of playing and teaching experience.

July 8, 2014 at 04:00 AM · coming in late to the discussion...

Yes, teach, and charge a little bit. I agree with the thought that having the student (or parent) invest in the lessons emphasizes the point that they are of value.

The best, number one most important thing for a beginner is proper position. The Galamian book is an excellent resource for this if you are unsure of the perfection of your own position. And don't forget to look under the student's bow hand to check thumb position.

As far as degrees in music education and Suzuki certification....pffffft. I have neither (my degrees are in performance); and neither did the teachers (all colleagues) that I sought out for my kids. That isn't to say that someone with a degree in music education can't be a good private teacher, but rather that the skills necessary to be a good private teacher aren't necessarily contained in a music education program. For myself I sought teachers who were excellent performers, had private teaching experience with a successful track record, and who related well with kids, specifically my kids.

There is a lot of value in the Suzuki certification program but simply completing the courses means nothing. I once had the opportunity to audit a Suzuki Book 1A class for a couple of days. Of the dozen or so violinists in the class, I would describe only one other in addition to myself as proficient on the violin; perhaps another five or six as "competent," and the remaining participants were so bad themselves on the violin that the thought of any of them teaching children gave me the shivers.

July 8, 2014 at 07:45 AM · The teacher training offerings for Suzuki have changed significantly since the Violin Foundation 1A/1B days. The Unit 1 training incorporates much more lesson observation and skill development than the original courses did. Like any other kind of professional development, the material has evolved over time to improve on its content, delivery, and assessment. SAA also added audition requirements which prevent the astonishingly incompetent players you ran into from even being able to register to take teacher training until they reach a minimum technical/musical level. ;)

I have two recent graduates who took teacher training this past year, and it improved their performance as teachers and coaches in my youth orchestra program dramatically, especially in their interactions with our students in the age 5-8 age group. The inclusion of teaching strategies for really young children has really broadened the application of Suzuki teacher training in general.

July 9, 2014 at 01:38 AM · Thank you! I have ordered the Galamian book and plan to start in Essential Elements. I started in that one myself many years ago, and my daughter is currently going through that one, so I am most familiar with it.

I spoke with the girl's mom and asked if she has thought more about violin lessons, and she said there's just no way they can afford it. When I offered to give the lessons, she was thrilled! I'm excited too! :)

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