Students Studying With Multiple Teachers

August 16, 2014 at 03:34 AM · In the last year, I've lost two students because they were secretly studying with another teacher. Very different cases, however.

In the first, it was a 10 year old who was dramatically over scheduled and her mother hired a high school student to give her extra tutoring, unknown to me. I found out in a lesson when the student let it slip that she'd gone on to other songs in her Suzuki book rather than working on polishing the pieces I was assigning. When I found out, I was angry and let the mother know why this was detrimental to the student's technique. She responded with an email defending the high schooler's competence and saying that they would not return for lessons the next semester since I so obviously had a problem with that.

Last week, my best student, a rising junior with ambitions of getting into music school, left my studio as well. She started lessons with me this past June and made her interest and commitment very clear to me. Lessons had been going great - she was focused, practicing, and improving. She asked me great questions, seemed happy, and I gave her a lot of information about the college application process. I connected her with a colleague of mine who was selling one of his old violins at a great deal, and the day after the sale was completed, I got an email from her mother confessing that they had been studying with another teacher since July because they felt she needed two lessons a week and they were deciding to switch to this other teacher. For the record, they'd never asked me about adding another lesson per week, and if they had, I would have done so gladly.

Has this happened to anyone else? How have you handled situations like this?

Replies (10)

August 16, 2014 at 09:44 AM · Twice (to my knowledge!)

Both students had highly ambitious parents, who measured progress by counting page numbers.

One boy had a double lesson with me, and a further lesson at home from a young wizz-kid, who actually dared to change my fingerings! I had to insist that she work on different pieces from me..

One girl's mother was worried because I didn't fill her daughter's bag with books of studies, and arranged lessons with my colleague without tellng me. If I had known earlier I would have returned her cheque, as our two teaching approaches are so different: Off-the Peg vs Made to Measure..

She didn't have the courtesy to ack why I don't often use studies.

The girl was so embarrassed when I found out by accident, as she really appreciated my lessons.

And this reduced her practice time even further, as well as confusing her technically and musically.

I now ask new families to communicate their doubts or queries, I insist that while it is beneficial to see another teacher in a workshop context, mixing methods will actually slow down progress.

August 16, 2014 at 10:26 AM · Adrian - can I ask you why you don't give studies to pupils? (Politely of course). I'm just interested because, rightly or wrongly, I think studies are one of the best ways to teach technique (and even musicianship). I know there are some very boring and strenuous studies out there, but also some very good ones, like Kreutzer, Rode, Dont and others.

Over the question of secret lessons from other teachers, I think this is very bad unless the parent/student discusses it first with the main teacher, and takes their advice. Sometimes one can be stuck with a bad teacher and get extra help elswhere, but I'm sure this does not apply in the cases here. In any case, if the teacher is not working well for the student it is better to say this face to face and go to someone else instead.

August 16, 2014 at 10:41 AM · As a matter of professional courtesy, I always ask a prospective student who they were studying with before and did they recommend me as a new teacher. If they say they have not communicated with the teacher about the switch, I don't accept them until I know the previous teacher's thoughts.

August 16, 2014 at 12:34 PM · Peter, I have a bee (or rather a wasp?) in my bonnet over studies.

In contrast to scales, sequential exercises, and "drills" (Flesch's Urstüdien or Simon Fischer's Basics) studies are musical compositions, and I insist on a proper harmonic basis (implied chords, cadences, modulations etc), and melodic figures that resemble those of masterworks, however repetetively. So, I can use e.g. Kayser but not Wolfhart, Kreutzer and Gaviniès but not Dont. It is our duty to form a "harmonic" ear. I thus also reject "fake" concertinos (Seitz, much of Rieding etc). It is also our duty to educate musical discrimination..

Then there are practical issues. French children have astonishingly little time to practice, and so I give them basics and scales for "pure" technique, then I make variations of tricky passages from the repertoire. I don't want them to spend hours on music they will never play to anyone: life is too short!

And I find my colleague's students read through studies several times mechanically with next to no improvement; mine are supposed(!) to repeat my short exercises with full concentration...

Sorry, Claire, all this is hors sujet!

August 16, 2014 at 12:45 PM · Thanks, Bruce - I'm definitely going to start adding that to my initial questions for a student.

It's frustrating, because I always have really good reasons for why I assign certain exercises/scales/etudes/pieces, and I wish students and parents would communicate their concerns to me rather than just leaving.

August 16, 2014 at 02:33 PM · Adrian - yes my wife gave the same reason for not giving many studies (on the piano) - because of the students lack of time.

Gone are the days when we all had time to study properly and do studies as well as scales and concert pieces and concertos.

But I think any worthwhile etude is good and they should be studied musically as well. Just like the Paganini Caprices should be. ( I don't play them yet, incidently and time is running out ...)

And if they play through them mechanically with other teachers and don't improve, then there is something wrong with student, the way they have been taught, or the teacher.

August 17, 2014 at 05:25 AM · This can be a very difficult situation. It is inevitable that students will change teachers, and it is their right to do so. But the way they handle it, and the way teachers handle it, is very important. The music world is quite small, especially when you get down to the local level, and a teacher who "poaches" students by breaking their trust with their teacher is not going to be well-liked among colleagues. Also, students/parents who are constant teacher-changers get a reputation as well. If it's truly not working out, that's one thing, but you have to give it a chance. Setting up with several teachers at once does sabotage that chance, unless those teachers are coordinating with one another. It does slow progress to have two different kinds of scales going on, two different fingerings for Bach, two different etude books, two different time frames, etc.

August 17, 2014 at 07:49 AM · I totally agree Laurie. I think the only time it's probably OK to go to several different teachers for one off lessons is when you are already post music college and maybe playing professionally. But the young student needs to have consistency of approach and guidance from a teacher for at least a year or so, and preferably a bit longer.

OK as a beginner I changed teacher after a few months as the teacher wanted me to go to someone more advanced, and when this did not work out I had another couple of teachers over a year or so. But at music college I had two teachers over 4 years (one for violin and one for viola), so it was very good stability for me.

August 17, 2014 at 07:49 AM · I have one 12yr old pupil at "my" boarding school who has lessons with her previous teacher on Saturdays, and two with me at school. It was made clear that I was the "répétiteur" for her "main" teacher.

In this case it works really well as I have an excellent contact with this teacher, and our approaches to technique are complementary rather than conflicting.

August 17, 2014 at 07:53 AM · Sometimes at a centre in London some players have an outside teacher in rare instances. This is by agreement as the outside teacher is doing good work and the young player has a good relationship. Even that does not always work out though as my wife sometimes finds the teacher can be less able than the in house teachers!

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