Advice on changing my teacher

August 16, 2014 at 05:27 PM · (Sorry for the length, but I want to explain this properly.)

This is a mixed Technique/Practicing and Teaching/Pedagogy question, somewhat related to Claire's Students studying with multiple teachers, but from a student's point of view.

I have a full time job and started studying violin 15 months ago, all this time with the same teacher who uses the Suzuki method. Although it's been enjoyable, a few months ago I asked my teacher to give me some method with scales and other "boring" exercises to improve my technique, knowing from my studies of other instruments that this would be beneficial.

When my teacher came back with a book of duets for violin and cello saying that this would be a good complement to the Suzuki method, I didn't say anything, but I started thinking that either he didn't understand me at all or he just doesn't have more advanced material. We get along very well, always drinking a cup of tea and talking about life at the beginning of lessons, and for what he's told me, most of his students are kids, and when they finish book 4/5 in Suzuki, they usually leave him because they apply to the conservatory.

Recently I recorded myself in a video when rehearsing with a group of friends, and I noticed my right wrist was very stiff. Even my untrained eyes noticed it, but my teacher has never mentioned it in lessons, or suggested any exercise for improved flexibility. So I looked online for another teacher in the area to ask for a single lesson to evaluate my overall level and technique, and went to her a few days ago.

She made me play a single song from the 2nd Suzuki book (with my current teacher I just finished the 3rd), and found many little details that haven't been corrected and perhaps should have, before they become a permanent bad habit. She gave me very specific exercises for posture, bow arm, left elbow, left thumb, vibrato, intonation, plus a few bowings and some scales. Also, we dedicated some time to review my knowledge of harmony, which I've also asked my teacher but the answer has always been "yeah, we could do that" (but we never do).

All in all, I noticed her observations were very detailed, and the exercises were all properly justified. There are other things as well, including her violin (from a German luthier, bought in Canada) and the way she takes care of it. My teacher plays a VSO on the grounds that he moves around a lot to give lessons, so it's too risky to carry his "old german violin" (which I've never seen), but even so, the whole area near the bridge is actually a white area with weeks of rosin accumulated, which makes me wonder how often he cleans the violin. Also, he uses a $20 bow that's always too tight, which in turn makes me wonder whether he can actually play relatively advanced bowings that require a more balanced and springy object.

Anyway, you can notice why I want to switch permanently to this new teacher, but I don't know exactly how to approach this.

As students, how did you approach your teacher changes in the past? As teachers, do you ask for any feedback when a student leaves you? Should I express some of these concerns to my teacher? I appreciate your orientation with this.


Replies (28)

August 16, 2014 at 06:07 PM · It sounds like you've found a new teacher who is a great fit for you!

My advice would be to spend your next lesson with your current teacher talking to them about your concerns. Let them know that you feel you've been asking for a certain type of training for awhile and it doesn't feel like you two are a good fit anymore, and be open and honest about your feelings. Please do pay your teacher in full for any remaining lessons contracted between you two, regardless of whether or not you end up taking them.

It's totally okay to switch teachers - just be open about it with all parties involved.

August 16, 2014 at 10:41 PM · Claire's advice pretty much says it all, IMO.

August 16, 2014 at 11:12 PM · Thanks Claire. I think the words "great fit" describe the situation precisely. She immediately connected with me and understood my goals. Also, since she has studies of music theory and composition, she can help me with that too.

What bothers me a bit is realizing that I've been kind of wasting time and money, and the thought that I could have improved more in this time if I had a better approach to exercises and practice from the beginning.

August 17, 2014 at 04:48 AM · I've changed teachers many, many times. Realize first and foremost that its your journey and your money. You are not obliged to anyone and if a teacher makes you feel bad because you decide to move on then they are the one with the problem.

The fact is that each teacher has something to give you but, depending on their ability and your needs, that may a lot or a little. Of course it is also true that one can change teachers for very wrong reasons - like getting frustrated with working on something that you really have to change or delusions that you are much better than you really are. For me the most important sign of needing to change is when you feel that you don't want to go to the lesson, in particular because the teacher has lost faith in you.

In your case it seems you are being very smart. You have had lessons from a caring teacher that you suspect has reached a limit - perhaps they are not very familiar with teaching older students - and you've found one that is attentive and wants to work on your specific needs.

Just be honest. Thank the current one for the lessons thus far and point out the ways you've benefitted. Thats all you owe them (other than any financial obligations of course). However, do NOT mention the name of the new one - you don't want any possibility that they may talk about you independently or that you could be the reason for resentment.

Good luck!

August 17, 2014 at 11:37 AM · I have had students who say "why didn't my previous teacher show me that?"


- it didn't seem important to that teacher;

- it seemed too obvious to mention;

- he/she assumed one was just not gifted;

- he/she assumed things would sort themselves out in due course;

- advice had indeed been given, but it took a change of style to make it stick!

When I try to discuss teaching strategies with my present colleague, she just shrugs her shoulders and says "they have to practice more".....This is distressingly common.

I have also had stuents accepting advice during a summer workshop that I have been giving for years!

A word on the Suzuki Method: in the training programme I follwed (European Suzuki Association) ther was no neglect of technique: the pieces have a well defined progression, and the technical challenges are prepared wuth great rigour. I's not just the attractive pieces, but also their detailed preaparation and improvement.

August 17, 2014 at 12:47 PM · The worst thing is to practice more - it just makes the problems worse.

But the original poster should definitely get the new teacher, the present one sounds dire. No decent player would use a $20 bow, maybe a $250 one.

How does he play when he demonstates? (Or perhaps he avoids that!)

There is a lot of bad teaching around and we have probably all been victims, except the lucky few.

August 17, 2014 at 03:50 PM · ...I don't know that guessing the price of a bow that an instructor uses is much to go

August 17, 2014 at 04:06 PM · @Elise: thanks! I'll definitely thank him for the progress we have made so far, and I really hope I'm not changing my teacher for the wrong reasons :)

@Adrian: I've had the same answer that you mention ("they have to practice more") from my teacher a few times, usually along with the explanation that "things would come naturally with time". Unfortunately, time has not shown that my grip bow is less stiff than before, and the same is true with other aspects of my technique, which I'm sure does not improve naturally unless properly supervised and exercised.

Looking back at the Suzuki Method songs with careful attention, I realize now that there are several things that are technically quite challenging, but I never stopped to play them correctly (again, because I took my teacher's point of view that things would develop naturally). For example, a few bowings in book one are already nontrivial, and things like using the 4th finger instead of the next open string seemed kind of optional to me but now I'm paying the price of not having practiced it enough.

It is clear to me that the Suzuki method is mature enough and the community around it is very active and concerned about pedagogy, so if some things are not working out, it's probably just lack of guidance.

@Peter: he sounds well enough when he plays, good intonation, natural vibrato, etc., and I have no reason not to believe him when he tells his stories of a few years in an orchestra. However, I have noticed that he usually plays "the beginning of" songs but just that. The first few bars of Bruch's concerto, the first few notes of Meditation from Thais, and so on, which tells me that even if he was a full-time player (meaning practicing every day for a few hours), he's not that anymore and has consequently forgotten much of the repertoire.

This is consistent with my belief that he only teaches beginners, because under some crooked logic you don't need to be an expert to teach a beginner. I know some of you will jump to argue against this, so let me tell you that I also disagree with that opinion, but I have definitely seen many private teachers in music and other areas that teach under that premise, and I don't think it's uncommon.

Lastly, about his violin and bow, I have asked him to bring his old German violin some time, but he's never done it. In contrast, the new teacher showed me her violin (also German, about 4 years old, I forgot the name of the luthier) and her carbon-fiber bow, she let me play it and also played for me the song she's studying for her upcoming exam, which was clearly work in progress but at least she played it from beginning to end.

August 17, 2014 at 04:29 PM · Personally I'm not a great fan of the Sazuki Method, but I know that will ruffle few feathers. (Look out, the injuns are coming).

August 18, 2014 at 12:22 AM · Personally I'm a great fan of spell-check and explaining an opinion because everyone can then understand the reasoning behind...

August 18, 2014 at 03:19 AM · Let's not hijack the OP's concerns. Ya wanna fight it out about Suzuki, make a new(old) thread!

August 18, 2014 at 05:12 AM · it's always not easy to change teachers. thought he might be used to it. just say you will stop violin lessons for a while due to time constraints,, schedule

it's better than saying, I found a teacher that suits me better..

August 18, 2014 at 06:40 AM · I'm OK now, the arrows have been removed. And the holes in my shirt are being repaired with a good thread.

The problem is that staying with an unsuitable teacher is the worst scenario, but at the same time it can be hard to find a good teacher. BUT, pupils should never be shy about saying that they need someone else. Some teachers are uncommitted and easy going, some are tough, and some are very understanding, but you need to find the teacher that suits you and helps you make good progress. It's a two way thing.

August 18, 2014 at 05:45 PM · Beware of lessons that turn into mini social meetings with too much chat and not enough teaching. If the teacher doesn't put a stop to the chat, or worse still, initiates it, that is a sure sign that the teacher is not quite up to it any more. Look for another teacher, preferably one who is, or has been, up the sharp end as an active performer.

Never forget that you, the student, are paying out good money for skilled professional instruction on a difficult activity for a specific period of time. Any non-relevant conversation should be left until after the lesson.

August 18, 2014 at 06:48 PM · Yes, could not have put it better myself. The student is the one that counts (unless he's a conductor ... oops!)

August 18, 2014 at 06:50 PM · Irene, I do not agree. Nobody should lie to their teacher about such a thing. That would be a disservice to both the teacher and the student. And it is completely unnecessary.

I'm not sure why it would be hard to say, "I've decided to pursue lessons with a different teacher so that I can become a more well-rounded player." You're not burning any bridges behind you, and you're being honest. If he insists on more details, it's fairly easy to say, "let's not go into details" or something to that effect. Frankly, if the teacher gets his feelings hurt, that is his problem. A good teacher should want his student to move on to become a better player, and if that means a different teacher, then more power to him. The paying student is the boss, not the other way around. I understand the original poster's conundrum, but it sounds like time to bite the bullet and go with the new teacher.

August 18, 2014 at 07:13 PM · Yes, that is extremely well put. I agree totally, the student must be the one to consider.

August 18, 2014 at 07:15 PM · I'm with Aaron in this one. I definitely want to express that I want my teacher to be an active violinist, but I don't want to go into details as to particular things that have bothered me during the lessons. If he does ask, I will say that's part of my decision and, as Aaron recommends, explicitly say that I wont' go into details.

August 18, 2014 at 07:38 PM · This sounds to me very clear. Your current teacher might be a nice guy, but maybe he is not so much into violin playing (any more). But he might also be a good teacher for a different character.

Regarding the violins: since when are old german violins precious objects? :D I admit they can sound well, but for teaching... i personally use my regular violin, wich is italian, wich might be more expensive than old germans generally. I just take care.

Changing the teacher is always something, wich comes when it is necessary. If you are not satisfied with your current one and you find a better one for you, then you just change. Tell him friendly, that you want to change and tell him politely the truth if he asks "why". Maybe he will not ask, because he is glad you go. Just kidding.

Never a student of mine went away from me, but some quit violin. I am always very selfcritical when this happens and I ask my students why they want to quit. Usually its because they have time issues and other interests or they dont like to practice, both is ok for me. Once a student wanted to find another teacher as che made a triel lesson with me, because I told her to stand while playing and she wanted to sit. I heard she had the same procedure with 2 teachers before. I just hoped she will find a teacher who let her be a little lazy in that regard, because she was very musical, but how should I know, that this will be a reason to quit. Sometimes you see really obscure things when teaching.

I personally had 5 teachers who I studied with more than just a master class. It was always a good decision to switch. Because it was always, that I felt the need for a different form of teaching. Things can change a lot over the years and I am glad I had different views on music and practicing. I will also continue to look after good teachers, because getting better is lots of fun! Good luck to you!

August 18, 2014 at 08:28 PM · As a teacher, I would much rather know the reason a student is leaving my studio. That inspires me to look over our lessons, to examine how I worked with them, and to reflect on whether or not this was a bad personality fit or if there is something truly lacking in my own teaching.

Be honest and open. The music world is very small. You never know - your old teacher and new teacher could be friends, and while one teacher tells the story of the student who mysteriously leaves, the other teacher realizes that their new student is that student who left.

August 18, 2014 at 10:51 PM · There must be 50 ways to leave your teacher:

Just start playing flat, Jack

Knock over the music stand, Stan

Start playing Suzuki book three, Leeee...

And set yourself free...

August 18, 2014 at 11:06 PM · > As a teacher, I would much rather know the reason a student is leaving my studio. That inspires me to look over our lessons, to examine how I worked with them, and to reflect on whether or not this was a bad personality fit or if there is something truly lacking in my own teaching.

Hi Claire. The fact that you can actually review your approach to teaching by requesting feedback shows that you are genuinely concerned about your method and your students' objectives, which I think might not be the case with my teacher.

The more I think about it, it becomes clear that most lessons for me have been "play song number N", then "that's good!" (even when it wasn't), and then "study number N+1 for next week".

Since we never (seriously) did any exercise specific to a particular aspect of the technique, I can't give feedback on the "method" because there wasn't one, and that's what I find complex to communicate because it seems harsh and also because it might not be entirely true (one can always say that what we were doing was helping me improve little by little). On the other hand, it's me paying for violin lessons and me concluding that the "lessons" part has been missing, and I don't think there's much more you can add to that.

August 19, 2014 at 12:14 AM · Claire, why wait until someone leaves to be inspired to look over things? Smart businesspeople do this on a continual basis- when you look at how much effort it takes to recruit a new customer or new employee, it makes more sense to "recruit" your existing ones on a routine basis. Makes sense to stay inspired all the time, communicate regularly about goals & methods, and make sure everyone's on the same page.

August 19, 2014 at 02:23 PM · Lasma,

Please edit your message to avoid the SPAM and stick to the discussion. I understand your need for financial aid, but you can use a separate post for that.

August 23, 2014 at 08:08 PM · @Tom,

I do continually review my methods and after every lesson I reflect on what seems to be working for the student and what isn't. Sometimes, with the more outgoing students, it's very easy - they will ask me for more challenging repertoire, ask me when they will learn how to shift, or ask about a certain problem they're having. Sometimes, however, I have to guess with the shyer students or the ones who have trouble expressing what they want.

I reserve time at the end of every lesson to ask students if they have any questions or concerns. If I suspect something isn't going so well, I make sure the student knows it is okay to express negative feelings about something to me and stress that me knowing their honest opinion is going to be the best way to handle this.

That's why, when a student hasn't expressed any concerns to me previously, I'm so blindsided when someone suddenly announces they're leaving.

An update on the situation with the high school student I had initially posted about: her mother emailed me and let me know that before they even found me for lessons back in June, they had been placed on another teacher's wait list, a teacher they knew through very close friend connections. When a spot opened in the studio, they chose to take it, but at the same time finish out the contracted number of lessons with me. I wish they'd been honest with me from the beginning, but that's how that goes...

August 23, 2014 at 08:13 PM · That being said, it does sound like the teacher in question is set in his ways and isn't the right fit for you anymore, Alejandro. Saying that you've met someone who seems like a good fit for you and who you want to study with now is probably enough - and you don't need to go into more detail unless he asks you specifically.

And always, those of us on don't know the people personally involved in these situations or all the particulars. There will always be circumstances in which you may need to just leave a teacher without warning or explanation. Hopefully you have a teacher with whom you feel safe and with whom you can be honest, but that's not always the case.

August 23, 2014 at 09:42 PM · I said "goodbye" and "thank you" to my teacher a few weeks ago, at the end of the final lesson of the Summer term.

This certainly wasn't in order to seek another teacher, so I explained the decision that I had thought over for a couple of weeks. Over the last few months everything I had been taught over the years had come together and I was aware that I was now able to listen to and monitor my playing in real time, analyze mistakes and work out for myself how to correct them. I realized my 7-year "apprenticeship" with my teacher had reached its natural end and it was now time for me to leave the nest.

Under her guidance I have reached a level of orchestral violin playing such that I am even more relaxed and fluent than I ever had been in many years as an orchestral cellist.

My teacher and I parted on the best of terms. We have arranged that I shall occasionally have a one-off lesson to check that no undetected bad habits (!) have crept in, and perhaps to work out new ideas and further areas of progress.

Seven years of lessons with a very good teacher, who took me, not long retired, from scratch to a level of violin playing I am happy with (for a while!). Yes, I believe that can be fairly likened to the traditional seven-year craft apprenticeship at the end of which the student is enabled to make their own way in the world, acquire further experience, learn from it and continue to improve.

An important part of my lessons was that every now and then my teacher would ask me in advance to prepare a short piece to perform in front of her exactly as if I were on stage in front of an audience. She would then analyze my performance, pointing out areas that needed improvement, as well as those that worked. She herself is a professional performer on stage, in broadcasting, and in recording studios. These performance lessons, although a bit traumatic in the early stages, were extremely useful in the long run.

The main message that ran through all her lessons was quality of tone. Get that and all else follows. If you don't have good tone then the audience won't really be interested.

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