Flexible lesson schedules for adult students

August 25, 2014 at 03:21 AM · I am an adult violin student with a few months experience, although I come from a background of accordion-playing for a long time - at a fairly amateur level. So I have a good feel for rhythm and tone and know my chords. With the violin I need to work on technique. I have just recently gotten pretty comfortable with my posture and left and right hand position (for a beginner) and so now can concentrate on string fingering, bowing and intonation.

I was reading a thread here from 5 years ago about teachers being frustrated with their students lack of preparation for their lessons. Speaking now only about adult students, let me throw out a question. What do you think of the idea of having a flexible lesson schedule such that the adult student determines if he/she has made some progress on the teacher's suggestions from the last lesson, and, if so, he goes for a lesson (perhaps at a one week interval), but if not then they postpone the lesson until the student feels that he is ready to make further progress? I say this because adults sometimes do have other commitments and just don't practice enough during some weeks. But any adult should be able to judge when this is happening.

The teacher says "do THIS or do THAT", but to make any progress the student must "DO this or DO that". I can't see any value in having the lesson if there is not going to be ongoing progress.

Personally, I am not taking lessons as such but work with a mentor through the internet, and with the use of videos, that seems to be working. I also meet up with local bluegrass jams to get a chance to talk to players directly.

Replies (35)

August 25, 2014 at 03:37 AM · It really boils down to how much irregularity your teacher can accommodate in his/her schedule. I take lessons every other week, when I take them at all, but then I have to take either the first or last lesson of the day. I think you will lose continuity if you go much longer than a month between. Its a bit like tennis lessons, they're part lesson, part coaching, and part workout.

August 25, 2014 at 05:34 AM · Paul has made a good point.

But the first thing that came to my mind is that, for beginning and intermediate, students determining the time between lessons is just asking for incorrect practicing to become hard to break habits. Students at that level don't know when a fundamental technique is starting to go awry and by the time they come back for another lesson they may now have a bad habit to break. And that alone could lead to more frustration than if they had just found the time for regular lessons. But I could see the random schedule working for a very advanced student who has developed a solid foundation.

My other thought was that regular lessons develop discipline and sometimes it's healthy to for a student to feel pushed to reach certain goals before their next lesson. The intermittent way could lead to an apathetic approach to learning the violin.

August 25, 2014 at 05:59 AM · As a fellow adult beginner, I feel the constant correction at a weekly lesson has been imperative to making useful headway.

Without the weekly "don't do that, do THIS", you likely aren't going to know yourself what's right or wrong.

August 25, 2014 at 12:31 PM · As a teacher, I'd have a hard time accommodating someone who only wanted a lesson every other week or the flexibility to cancel without warning. I'd rather have a regular student who came (and paid) weekly. It doesn't make good business sense - remember that violin teachers are trying to make a living, too!

From a student perspective, I've had some of my best violin lessons when I wasn't quite prepared for them and still managed to learn a lot. This can be a great time to ask your teacher about practice strategies or to even have them watch you practice for a few minutes and then offer suggestions to improve the quality of your work.

So, if it's in your budget and your schedule, and you have a teacher you enjoy working with, I'd recommend weekly lessons if possible.

August 25, 2014 at 02:07 PM · There are so many things one can work on in a lesson, that if a particular technique isn't ready for the next step, something else surely will be.

The very rhythym of regular lessons itself is part of the learning process...whatever that rhythym is between you and your teacher.

And the point about coaching/lesson/workout is VERY well made, imo.

August 25, 2014 at 04:06 PM · Although I do understand the business reasons for teachers and the discipline argument for other students, I think Elmer's points are being missed.

The questions are about the violin experience for an adult beginner (who is likely to want to play for fun), and whether adult students can decide for themselves that they have made enough progress to have another lesson.

In my case (I'm an adult student myself) I think that most of the time I am *not* able to tell how much progress is "enough", even though I have a good musical background from playing other instruments. There are two reasons for this, I think.

One is that the progress between individual practice sessions is usually so small that one forgets the progress with respect to the last time the teacher was there. The teacher, on the other hand, provides an objective, outside point of view, and good teachers keep mental notes (ideally written notes) about your current progress, so they can compare with previous lessons.

The second is that even if I *could* distinguish small progress between practices, I still wouldn't know *how much* is enough for a next lesson, or whether I have mastered whatever I'm practicing so I'm ready to move on to the next exercise or technique. Actually, this is why we need a teacher in the first place, somebody who has already gone through this both as a student and as a teacher, following their students' progress.

Regarding the "violin learning experience", I'd say that's a really personal interpretation, too vague for objective measurement. Currently, I'm having a blast even with slow repetitive exercises for which the progress is not seen until several different sessions, and I take it to mean my violin learning experience is positive. However, this might not be true for all students, especially people who can't handle frustration well.

August 25, 2014 at 06:17 PM · Understanding the need for teachers to make a living, I think it is perfectly reasonable to have flexible lessons provided the student has a flexible schedule. I have weekly lessons at 9-10 AM on weekdays. This is a time that my teacher generally does not have other commitments, so she is happy to accommodate. When I have a busy week and have not practiced, I will cancel the lesson that week and have one the following week. If a teacher did not offer this flexibility, I don't think I would study with them.

August 25, 2014 at 06:51 PM · I can appreciate this issue in regards to adult students. I've just recently given up on weekly lessons, because too much of the time, recently, has felt like I'm just trying to keep up, have just barely enough to present for the lesson, and it had begun to really wear on me. I took lessons for 9 years. For the first 5 years, it was good to be [gently] pushed to have something to present, however small. But if I ever came in and said "no time this week to put in practicing beyond scales," she'd say "no problem, let's work on something different, or talk about fingering, or sight read an easy fiddle tune," etc. She was happy to accommodate my energy that day, or my progress (or lack thereof) to date.

My teacher did not want a student who couldn't commit to a weekly lesson. As others have mentioned, this was her career/business, and she couldn't afford to have a student ring up and say "sorry, not this week," unless that student was willing to tack that time onto the next lesson, or reschedule for later in the week. She has, now, offered to let me call up and ask "will you have a time slot free in the next few weeks for me to come in?" But that's b/c I am a former regular student, and it can be worked into her schedule, and I'll have to go when she says, not when it's most convenient for me. So, once every month or two, that's what I'll do. And, I have to say, I'm so grateful for the flexibility now, after years of making it there every week.

My longwinded way of saying there's a time and place for both situations, and if one really, really doesn't seem to be working, well, you have to heed that voice.

August 25, 2014 at 08:28 PM · From a viewpoint of motivation, I think having a weekly lesson is really important. If a student has the "out" of saying "oh, well, I'll just cancel my lesson this week" then there is less motivation to practice. This isn't to say that there aren't weeks where you just can't make it - everyone has those, and that's why there are makeup policies. But, on a regular basis, I think adult students will make the most progress with weekly lessons. Often a teacher can be a source of inspiration and encouragement, and they can see little bits of progress that a student might not be able to at home. I completely understand when my adult student who has two small children comes in and tells me she hasn't managed to practice much that week. We do what she's prepared in lessons, and then we work on each thing as a guided practice session.

August 25, 2014 at 08:29 PM · Also, *especially* as a beginner, guidance from your teacher at regular intervals is essential!

August 26, 2014 at 06:17 AM · My advice is to not lose sight of the forest for the trees. You are looking at a weekly snapshot, but disregarding overall progress. In a year's time, you we will be far further along with weekly lessons than otherwise. As an adult beginner myself, I sympathize.

One thing that may have been mentioned briefly, but is very important is the objectivity of the teacher. Not only is your teacher a better judge of your progress and coaching needs (in most matters, anyway), there is one other consideration I'd like to mention: How is your teacher supposed to remember much about you if you only do monthly or sporadic lessons? If you want to your teacher to succeed, more often is far more beneficial than less often. In all fairness, a student-teacher relationship requires commitment from both parties.

One other thing may be worth mentioning. I think you have to find the right teacher. I'm lucky enough to have found a teacher that is fun, funny, and a very good teacher. If you look forward to your lessons because of your teacher as well as the subject, you will be a lot further along, even if the teacher doesn't quite have the pedigree you might want for your child. (After all, how many of us adult starters will exceed our teachers?) As adult beginners, we can afford to be really picky in a lot of categories, especially with Skype technology. Loads of instructors are literally at your fingertips.

August 27, 2014 at 12:11 AM · My thanks to all who responded. Your thoughtful replies have convinced me that for most adult beginners regular coaching by a teacher is extremely valuable.

August 27, 2014 at 01:23 AM ·

August 27, 2014 at 11:20 AM · This is interesting to me because I parted company last night with one of my teachers, who first prepared me for a grade exam in which I did well, but in the last months had been pushing me through a repertoire book to improve my skills. The principle was good, but it didn't work for me, alas.

I am retired so I practise faithfully every day, and attended lessons every week. But I did feel that I needed more than a week to get my head round a piece that was challenging for me (he didn't realise how challenging!), before having to play it in front of him - badly & with fits & starts as my nerves increased - and then have my bowing and dynamics criticised and bars & drills repeated, when I felt that actually I'd done well & worked hard to get the notes & shifts more or less right. The next week, when I'd had a chance to improve the expression & dynamics, he usually didn't even ask to hear it.

I am upset that things are at an end because I liked my teacher and I felt that he was ambitious for me and had taught me well when I was taking the exam. But in some ways, it's a relief.

I am happy that I have another teacher who is more flexible.

My point is that teachers don't always allow adult learners sufficient input. Yes, we can't judge our own progress from week to week, but it destroys confidence to have one's suggestions routinely turned down and not considered.

I think weekly lessons are a good idea, but that lessons for adults have to be more flexible both time-wise and content-wise.

August 30, 2014 at 03:51 AM · I had lessons every two weeks but content was an important factor. I usually needed the time to show good progress and I think the teacher expected more than from a youngster .

December 3, 2014 at 08:05 PM · I have had adult students cancel due to not practicing (although rarely), and I always wonder if they would allow their child to do that. (My guess is no!) Children these days have just as many commitments as adults, without the benefit of life experience to learn time management, and we still expect them to practice, or at least come to lesson even if they haven't.

If an adult has not practiced, I don't lecture them as I would a child, but I do still think they should come to lesson and face the music, literally! Wimping out because you didn't practice doesn't inspire more discipline in the future. It also doesn't do anything to improve your playing.

December 3, 2014 at 10:42 PM · It's been my experience with adult violin students that they start out with enthusiasm, but after maybe a couple of months, life--work, family, other obligations--gets in the way and they start coming to lessons unprepared. After maybe another few months, they drop out. That is with a regular weekly lesson scheduled. Of course there are exceptions, and the adults with childhood violin experience tend to be more reliable than adult beginners.

I would think that starting out with the idea that the student would contact the teacher for the next lesson when the student was ready would result mainly in very few lessons being taken at all. At least a weekly scheduled lesson encourages a routine.

December 3, 2014 at 10:54 PM · When I started lessons after retirement (which does not imply I would therefore have a lot of spare time!) I was aware of potential problems that could arise out of weekly lessons, and I wasn't a raw beginner anyway, so we scheduled fortnightly lessons. This worked successfully for the seven years I had lessons.

December 3, 2014 at 11:32 PM · I agree with lots of the points that have been made thus far -- a teacher's need for predictability and a regular income, and the lesson schedule providing a practice motivator, especially.

But I will also note that you learn *most* when directly being coached. That means that even if you come to your lesson totally unprepared, you will still benefit from practicing whatever it was that you were trying to learn, with your teacher's correction. The external third-party objective correction is an almost optimal form of deliberate practice, in my opinion. You are not *performing* for the teacher. You are *working through the problems* with your teacher.

My teacher knows that the other demands of my life require that I have some flexibility in scheduling (I travel frequently for business, although I normally pay for every week, including those lessons I miss), and that the amount I practice will vary -- but I will always put in the time to be prepared if it's possible.

December 4, 2014 at 05:16 AM · I bring my violin with me when I travel on business.

December 4, 2014 at 11:42 AM · When i was studying privately with a top teacher in London when I was about 19, I had lessons every two or three weeks. I would have liked one every week, which I think is the best way, but I couldn't afford them at that time. When under the same teacher at the RAM I had one every week, but of course there were long gaps in the summer and at other holiday times. You just have to live with it.

December 4, 2014 at 01:21 PM · Before I changed my studio policy to charging monthly, I had an adult student who was highly intelligent and self-motivated who wanted to come irregularly and piece together what he could from me, YouTube videos and other sources. While I respected his drive and autodidactic sensibilities, it didn't work for me. As someone said, the student-teacher relationship requires commitment on both sides. I'm highly committed to my students, and I really need the same for it to be worthwhile. I knew that he was busy, but so am I, and every time I give a slot to a "sometimes" student, I'm taking it away from a student who is willing to be more committed. That's part of why I don't do it anymore.

An invested, intelligent adult student can really be a joy. Those are the ones I tend to attract now, and they are a lot of fun. I firmly believe that adults are teachable and worth teaching, so I never plan to stop working with them, but I require the same level of investment that I do with any student. Otherwise, it's not worth my time.

December 4, 2014 at 03:59 PM · One thing that hasn't been mentioned is that I find that remaining dedicated to weekly lessons has been beneficial in that my teacher responded to my commitment by increasing his efforts on my behalf. I get more performance opportunities, more detailed coaching, and sometimes even extra time in my lessons. That might not be your goal, but it was exactly what I needed. If that kind of focus isn't what you're after, a more relaxed approach might work for you if both you and the teacher have the ability to be flexible. I'm just lucky in that I can commit to a weekly schedule; and if I can't practice as much as I want, there's always something to work on in a lesson.

December 4, 2014 at 04:15 PM · I don't dare take my violin with me when I'm traveling. I've seen what the TSA and airlines do to instruments, and with as much as I fly (100k+ miles a year domestically), it's a major, non-worthwhile risk. It would also mean that I'd have to check one of my carry-ons -- I fly with a lightweight laptop backpack (which I can tote around to meetings and whatnot) and a duffel for clothing and whatnot.

But more to the point it's not just the practice time. I am often simply out of town, which means that I'm not always available for my scheduled lesson time and so it needs to be rescheduled or cancelled. (My teacher knows these things in advance.)

December 4, 2014 at 04:23 PM · All of this just depends on the teacher. Claire said she'd like students who are weekly, and if she can fill her studio with paying customers despite that restriction, that's her call. My teacher allows me to take a lesson every couple of weeks. Sometimes I need to postpone, and sometimes he does too. We're both very busy professionals and we respect that about one another.

The other thing that has not been mentioned is that if the student can afford it, (s)he can always offer to pay a premium (say, and extra 25%) for the privilege of taking a lesson biweekly. "Everything is negotiable."

December 4, 2014 at 04:28 PM · My lesson schedule is the second and fourth Wednesday of the month. There is a music club that my teacher is part of that has events on the first and third.

With kids and health issues she is very cognizant of issues that might effect my ability to keep my lessons. She also has events that change when we can meet.

We try very hard to be consistent, and I never miss except for unavoidable conflicts.

Near the end of March will mark my fourth year with my teacher. We often communicate through emails and we follow each other on Facebook. We share articles, magazines and CDs. She is very kind and tells people she learns a lot about violin from me. Yes very kind.

The main thing is that we have a very close teacher student relationship, built especially on a high respect I have for her experience and perceptiveness. Yes, I learn things on the web, in books, etc. I then present them to her and she always is able to see problems and progress.

Flexible, but in a disciplined manner.

December 4, 2014 at 05:37 PM · I don't mind rescheduling lessons as long as it's not a constant thing, but then I'll do that for the kids, too. And I certainly don't mind the use of outside materials--I encourage it, in fact! But I have found that for my own studio, weekly lessons are really the best thing for everyone.

December 4, 2014 at 06:43 PM · I'm afraid I can't agree with some of this! There are some GREAT teachers out there who will accomodate pupils whether they be adults or young kids trying to learn the basics.

This all smells a bit. I try not to be so elitist, even if I fail.

December 4, 2014 at 06:53 PM · It's not elitist, but there does need to be some sort of expectation for both parties involved. If a student isn't much willing to do any work, why should the teacher? The teacher would be better off with a stable, motivated student and the student would be better off trying something different, which will most likely happen anyways. It would be the same exact reasoning for a young student.

December 5, 2014 at 01:55 AM · A friend of mine did this. After talking about it over the course of several months, it turned out to be a matter of point of stress to her (going to lessons). She felt that she had to master every lesson before going on to the next. When I suggested that she look at lessons more of a coached practice session, her world changed. She's back to lessons every week without the stress of having to "perform" literally.

December 5, 2014 at 02:52 AM · Peter, you really seem to have a thing about "elitism." What part of what was said here is elitist?

Most teachers have bills to pay. Some can afford to take students who can only come intermittently, but many cannot. That's just business. It's no more "elitist" than when the cable company charges you a monthly fee rather than only charging you for the days you turn the TV on.

December 5, 2014 at 03:26 AM · I kind of resent the implication that someone with a full professional career and a family who also wants to study the violin is somehow lazy and lacking motivation. Whether a biweekly lesson arrangement is "stable" isn't for anyone else to decide but my teacher and me.

December 5, 2014 at 03:55 AM · Paul, I don't know If you were referring to me, but I wasn't trying to imply that biweekly students are automatically lazy. For some teachers, that arrangement works fine, and there's nothing wrong with that. It worked okay for me too in my 20s. Now I'm a little older, I too have a family and bills to pay, and I have to think more strategically. I spend a lot of time outside of lessons selecting music for students, answering emails, juggling scheduling, doing billing, advising about instruments and so forth. Once you have a certain number of students, that all starts to add up. I need to be spending the time on weekly students, whether they are children or adults. I don't allow children to come biweekly either, and some have asked because they're involved in eight million activities.

There are adults with careers and families who make it work to come weekly. This past year I realized I was getting too busy and I needed to either prioritize performing or prioritize teaching. Although I still regularly perform, I chose to prioritize teaching in my schedule, so it's a two-way street. It may not work for everyone and that's fine. For many it does. There are enough teachers out there that everyone can find a situation that works for himself.

Canceling for not practicing, though, I can't get behind that one. If that makes me elitist, I can live with that!

December 5, 2014 at 05:06 AM · I remember when I was taking classical guitar lessons almost two decades ago. At one point I had to pull one of those 100 hour plus weeks at work.

I felt it wrong to cancel my lesson so I apologized, at the lesson, for not practicing.

Her response, "Then you will practice now."

December 5, 2014 at 12:54 PM · Sarah, no, it wasn't you. Someone else wrote, "If a student isn't much willing to do any work, why should the teacher?", etc. The teacher should work as long as (s)he is being paid. If teaching a particular student is a waste of your time, dismiss them from your studio and stop taking their money.

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