What if a music teacher doesn't like you?

January 3, 2015 at 05:11 AM ·

Replies (45)

January 3, 2015 at 05:18 AM · OK, I know nothing about this, but you may want to look at this differently.

Don't think " he doesn't like me".

He is being critical, that's part of what he's there for

January 3, 2015 at 06:29 AM · An important question: Did he actually *tell* you that you're talentless, or did he just say, you are out of tune, your rhythm is horrible, and this piece is too hard for you? The first is a put-down. The second is very specific and possibly very reasonable criticism.

Did you find his teaching helpful? Is he correct that you did not improve while he was teaching you? If you did not improve (or did not improve much), was it because you had difficulty learning from him, or because you did not practice the way that he told you to practice, or because you did not have enough time to improve?

When you say that you tried to work harder, what do you mean? Does that mean practicing for a greater length of time? Practicing with more care? Practicing more methodically?

You say, "This year, I want to re-audition and to try my best to learn everything in tune, and with care." Between the camp in the summer, and the present, have you tried to learn things in tune, and with care? Or have you pretty much gone back to the way you were practicing before, and you're just trying to do things differently in hopes of getting into camp and doing better there?

There's also the important question of why your teacher at home is letting you get away with playing out of tune, out of rhythm, and not evidencing careful practice.

Also: How old are you, and what's your current playing level?

The point of these questions: Figuring out whether you and this teacher were just a poor match personality-wise, or if there's other issues that should make you reconsider not just what you're doing at camp but what you're doing the rest of the year too.

January 3, 2015 at 07:57 AM · You don't mention how you work on your violin between summer camps: alone, or with a teacher?

And teachers vary a lot in what shortcomings they temporarily allow, and how they deal with them.

And the musical world is full of indifferent, arrogant, bitter musicians who should never teach! Teaching should be constructive..

Please tell us more..

January 3, 2015 at 08:10 AM · Well, if it were me, I probably wouldn't reaudition, because I'm an over-anxious person, and even getting accepted would have me worrying away about what the experience was going to be like.

Luckily, you are not as wimpish as I am, so I'd say if you *want* to go the camp again, then re-audition, and don't worry about teachers swapping notes. If you don't get in, you'll be among lots of others and won't stand out to be gossiped about, even supposing they were so unprofessional.

He doesn't sound like a very motivating teacher. Obviously you should take his criticism on board and work hard at intonation and rhythm. But you need to find someone who gives you confidence and can break your difficulties down into bite-sized chunks. But it was his job to help you improve, and if he really couldn't find anything to praise or to tell you that you had improved on, then I don't think he was doing his job all that well. I'm a retired English teacher, and I know I could always find *something* to praise even with students who had problems.

You say the other teachers are 'better and stricter' than him, but that doesn't mean they would be harder on you. They might be much better at explaining things and helping you to progress.

On balance, I think you should audition and give it your best shot, and then try and accept the result philosophically. If you're not accepted - well, that's cut the grief out of your summer and you could maybe find something to work on at home with or for your existing teacher and build up your confidence and improve your technique. If you are accepted - that shows you have potential. If you don't get him again - fab, now you have a chance to try out a new teacher and see how you get on. If you do get him again, he'll probably be quite pleased to see someone he knows, and if you start off friendly but honest and say you've been working on things but you're really hoping he can give you some more help, then why should he resist your charm? :-)

Good luck with it all. I know as a teacher, sometimes there are just personality clashes. It's painful when that occurs. But you've been working on your issues and I can't believe that you wouldn't be a lot better this year. At the end of the day, you fulfilled your part of the bargain, and you have nothing to reproach yourself with. So do what *you* want to do.

January 3, 2015 at 09:05 AM · Me again..

If your intonation and rythm are poor, and you hadn't realised, and you haven't been actively helped, I wonder if you spend enough time listening to fine playing. Our talent needs "nourishing".

January 3, 2015 at 10:00 AM · Also try recording yourself.

January 3, 2015 at 01:18 PM · Violin lessons are a very intimate environment and its easy to take things personally. Its quite possible that your camp teacher was expressing some frustration with your regular teacher for allowing you to bring a piece that wasn't fully prepared.

I think its very important for young students to prepare pieces for summer camps that they can play very well. In addition to helping you with your specific piece, the camp teachers should be giving you a fresh look on your overall setup and general technique and that does not work well if you've brought a "stretch goal" type piece.

January 3, 2015 at 01:19 PM · He may not be such a good teacher. If teachers are too negative, the pupils will be disheartened. You need praise and critical suggestions. I made that mistake of telling pupils they were out of tune all the time.

A good teacher must have many approaches and good judgement as to how the pupil will take criticism. Some pupils are tough, others less so and very sensitive.

If a pupil is out of tune all the time, there is a need to find out why, not just tell 'em how bad their intonation is. It could be ear training, a poor left hand, or a combination of reasons.

January 3, 2015 at 02:50 PM · You have already gotten some very good comments, so I just want to make one suggestion with regard to improving your intonation and rhythm. If you are not already in the habit of recording yourself playing and then listening to the playback with the music in front of you, may I strongly suggest that you start doing so. There is no better way to start cleaning up intonation and rhythm issues than to listen to yourself from the outside.

I'm also curious to know if you shared your previous summer experiences with your regular teacher when you returned last year and if so, what was his/her response?

January 3, 2015 at 02:50 PM · Inadvertent double post deleted; my apologies.

January 3, 2015 at 04:10 PM · To the original question "what do I do":

A. do the best audition you can

B. If you get in, go. If you don't, go somewhere else.

There are many styles of teaching out there; some call the teacher in question "old school." In the US, and especially on the west coast, students are used to effusive praise. The "everyone gets a trophy" thing.

The Stephen Clapps far outnumber the Sylvia Rosenbergs. And yet there are those who thrive under the latter. The question is to ask yourself is whether, regardless of the personality, the information given will help you. If someone is gratuitously nasty--simply says your intonation is terrible without giving you constructive advice ("your half-steps are consistently too wide")

is a waste of time. In that case, don't waste another summer with the same teacher.

And that would be the same even if the person was the nicest teacher in the world! His/her words, in the end, HAVE TO HELP YOU. Look past the delivery to the content.

People almost ALWAYS show consistency in their problems, especially in late teen years. They always rush in certain rhythms and drag in others, always show certain intonation issues, bow distribution issues, etc. If the teacher is not recognizing your particular problems, move on.

January 3, 2015 at 04:28 PM · Ah, Stephen Clapp, my beloved teacher at Oberlin who took a marginal admission and turned me into an employable violinist--I had good teachers after him, of course, but he was the turning point. I would have crumbled under a Sylvia Rosenberg, that is, assuming she would have even wasted her time with me as I was at 17 (doubtful).

And yet, Mr. Clapp did not pull any punches about pointing out technical or musical problems. He used to record me in a lesson and then play it back at halfspeed, which magnified every problem until listening to myself was nearly intolerable.

There are differences in style among good teachers, from the gentle (SC) to the, er, not-gentle (SR), but any good teacher is going to be opening your eyes to your deficiencies and then explaining/demonstrating/guiding you to fixing them. If your previous teacher did the first part but not the second, then I'm not sure why you'd want to go back. If your current teacher is falling down on either side, then perhaps you would do better with another teacher.

January 3, 2015 at 04:34 PM · I agree with Peter. Read his post again and give it some thought.

I may just add that a good teacher ought to be a good psychologist and knows when is the best time to say and, even more important, when is the best time not to say something.

Summer camps and master classes are sometimes counter-productive. James Ehnes, whose great master class I attended, spoke about this wisely and I will try to paraphrase.... it is irresponsible to point out weaknesses in student's playing and then disappear from their life, leaving them to ponder about the experience. In other words, do not start something as a teacher you can not be there to come back and address again.

On the other hand, I have been to an amateur music camp (different kettle of fish), where 99% of the coaches would sugar-coat their remarks and never, ever say anything useful as a feedback.

Audition again. Fail better this time. There is no perfection.

January 3, 2015 at 04:47 PM · Rocky, that is an unfortunate phenomenon that I have also encountered. I dislike the attitude that amateurs deserve no better. Of course, sometimes the student himself has the same attitude, which is an even bigger problem.

To the OP: you've gotten excellent advice. Constructive criticism is a mark of respect. Nothing that you mention coming from the teacher sounds out of line in its own right, but the critical point is whether he offered solutions for the problems that he mentioned. If he didn't, he isn't a very good teacher. If he did, then the choice is yours as to whether that teaching style works for you. Some students thrive under a more nurturing teacher. I personally preferred a "tough love" kind of a teacher.

January 3, 2015 at 05:53 PM · I agree with Sarah. I'd also be really worried if the tutor praised my playing to the heavens when I knew damn well that I was struggling and terrible (been there - got the tee-shirt, but that was at a folk music workshop).

My experience of workshops, which have almost all been in the Irish or English folk music genre, is that the good things that are supposed to come out of the workshop (and for which you've doubtlessly payed good money) aren't necessarily immediately apparent during the time period of the workshop, but do rise to the surface a week or so later. I think this is because you're being so busy and intense for those few days that the new knowledge, both mental and physical, hasn't had time to sink in, and for this you need a few days of quiet away from the intensity. I've noticed this many times, both with my classical violin lessons and with folk music tune workshops, and in every case there has been a movement upwards a little while later from the plateau I was previously on.

January 3, 2015 at 06:00 PM · My frustration with folk workshops in the past (my apologies to the OP for the brief derail) has been that even the "advanced" classes seem to focus on just teaching a tune to the crowd one note at a time. While that is a useful exercise for learning to play by ear, by this point I can easily do that myself via a recording. I always wished we'd spend more time talking about bowing patterns, which is really the rub of those tunes.

January 3, 2015 at 10:01 PM · Thank you everybody for your insightful and helpful comments. I would like a teacher who is "tough" as someone mentioned, and not someone who would sugarcoat everything (I know when I am not playing well, suffice to say). I think one of the problems was that I brought a completely new piece to summer camp and started off with that, instead of using the camp as a way to improve and add insight on my older pieces. I will audition again this year, and if I do not get in, then so be it. If I do get in, and with the same teacher, I will see if there is any more things I can learn from him. However, one of the problems were that he had many other students that were much better than I was, and I think that I was one of his worse students (I mentioned before, he wouldn't allow me to play in masterclasses, or to play in concerts). Another question I have would be if I do make it in again, is how do I stay concentrated when practicing? Everybody practices at the same time, and it is quite difficult to concentrate, someone playing Mendelssohn in the room beside me, someone else playing Bach... and I find that I drift off and do not get any useful practice in. And because of WiFi, I find I would much rather go on the computer or watch TV instead of practicing (which I resist the urge to everytime, thank goodness), but it still is there and I feel I do not get useful practice time in. I have heard that Yo-Yo Ma could practice 2 hours a day and learn a piece in 2 weeks, whereas I would practice 5 hours a day and it would take me 3-4 months. How do I achieve this kind of concentration and effective practicing? Especially in camps, which are full of distractions.

January 3, 2015 at 10:03 PM · And also, to everybody that asked, I found he fixed some things (ex, posture, and sound) but when it came to intonation, he didn't do anything to help me or fix it, he just said, "It's out of tune, next time bring it fixed.". Which didn't really help me at all.

January 3, 2015 at 11:57 PM · Greetings,

a very quick response to your question about concentration.

It's mostly to do with setting goals for every practice session.

Don't just jump in and start practicing. Talk to yourself What do I hope to archive in this session? How will I achieve it? Stop after ten minutes and go through the process again? Is this working? Do I need to chane my goal Or approach? and so on.

Try to find my very old blog on warming up. I think that might have some ideas for you, too.



January 4, 2015 at 12:04 AM · Emily, if you brought a brand new piece to camp, it's really small wonder your teacher didn't want you playing it in a masterclass, not to mention a performance. That was a mistake on your part, one that your regular teacher should have prevented, but fortunately it's the kind of mistake you just move on from, not the kind you agonize over.

To be honest with you it sounds like you just don't like this particular camp. If it's a drag, and the teacher is grumpy, and it's not a source of inspiration or motivation to you, and you're not learning anything, then go somewhere else! Life is too short and money to scarce to waste either on an unproductive, unrewarding experience. There's lots of camps. Even camps that are not "audition-competitive" sometimes have really good teachers who will be able to help you, especially if you are at the level where you feel intimidated by someone in the next practice room playing Mendelssohn.

About that intimidation, something to keep in mind is that unless you're God's gift to the violin and surely bound for a solo or orchestral career, then you should be glad there are other kids your age or even much younger that can play circles around you because otherwise classical music will have no future. You can enjoy the violin on your own terms. Just because someone else plays better than you doesn't mean you'd want to trade your life for theirs.

January 4, 2015 at 12:33 AM ·

January 4, 2015 at 02:12 AM · Yeah, I can see where that could get old.

January 4, 2015 at 03:22 AM · It can indeed be really hard to focus if you can hear everyone else around you, especially if the din makes it hard to hear yourself. You might want to try bringing earplugs. Put one in your right ear. It will significantly attenuate the outside sound. Your left ear is right over the violin, so you will hear yourself just fine.

On your intonation: Why are you out of tune? If the teacher assumes you're simply being careless, he might just send you off with the admonition to fix it. If you're out of tune because you're having difficulty with the passage, then helping you break it down is necessary. My guess is that most teachers interpret "habitually out of tune" as different from "generally in tune but these particular notes here and there are problems".

January 4, 2015 at 09:07 AM · You have to get used to playing when eveyone else is bashing stuff out, brass, woodwind, strings - you name it! (Even out of tune singers ...)

This is what happens in orchestras prior to a rehearsal, or in the break. People try out their parts, and concertos too. You need to learn how to blank them out. It comes with practise and experience. Come to think of it, in some orchestral passages you will be swamped with dubious sounds, and that's in the performance ...

It's a tough and unforgiving world out there ...

January 4, 2015 at 03:14 PM · Lord, do people ever "try out their concertos." One of my pet peeves. Do you really need to blaze through Brahms on stage while everyone is trying to warm up? Tone it down there, diva. Lol

January 4, 2015 at 03:21 PM · Anyhow, I agree that it's necessary to develop a skin of steel about other people's playing. It's difficult, but necessary. There will always be someone in front of you and someone behind you. Just do you. And get one earplug, like Lydia suggested. :)

As far as your teacher telling you to fix your intonation, did you ask him for help doing so? Sometimes as a teacher, it makes sense to try saying less first so as not to potentially confuse what might be a simple fix for a student. But it's perfectly fine to let him know you had trouble with a particular task and ask for help with practicing. His response to that will say a lot about him as a teacher.

January 4, 2015 at 06:01 PM · Sarah

Bandrooms and rehearsal halls are full of people trying out their concertos and other things. It's a fact of life. One has to live with it and tune it out, or blank it out. It's like that other thing I shouldn't mention - trying to ignore a conductor who is a bit lost and flaying around, not sure what beat he's on ... (wink)

January 4, 2015 at 09:50 PM · I figure that the blazing-through-repertoire (concertos, fancy showpieces, etc.) is often a deliberate intimidation technique, especially in audition settings.

I do remember that in youth symphony, when students traveling afar often arrived very early for rehearsals (on account of having to leave themselves extra time for traffic and thus arriving too early when they were in luck and traffic was light) would spend the time practicing, but you'd then hear them deconstructing whatever it was they were working on rather than blazing through.

If I'm really early for rehearsal, I'll still often end up practicing during that time. (And my teacher encourages warming up on a Mozart concerto, played slowly and without vibrato.)

January 5, 2015 at 11:31 AM · I agree, Lydia. I have little tolerance for posturing. And I'm not even thinking of auditions; just warming up on stage before orchestra rehearsal. It only seems to be a string thing, too. Why can't we just play civilized scales and arpeggios like the winds and brass?

Using the time to practice after arriving early is also totally different, and I can immediately discern the difference.

January 5, 2015 at 01:21 PM · You are all splitting hairs that have already been split. Get real. Musicians play their passages in the bandroom and in the rehearsal hall, and the only reason is to get more familiar with the notes.

Have you played in professional orchestras over a long period? In real life things are different, although never perfect.

I would suggest ever so politely that there is sometimes more posturing on forums than you would ever find in orchestras. As soon as people posturise in orchestras they get a certain reputation and find life a bit more problematic. Same with conductors (and singers) who posturise. They become the butt of the joke and have to hide their shame. They find it hard to live down their unfortunate reputation.

But what do I know, I was only a ditch digging labourer in a few rubbish orchestras...

Sorry if this sounds a little extreme, but in the real world of orchestral playing things are not as simple as sometimes people think they are. On the other hand, maybe they are more simple than people think they are ...

January 5, 2015 at 01:56 PM · I was just going to say that blazing through concertos onstage or before rehearsal is one of those things that is simply not done. The one colleague I have who does stuff like that is not respected, and even he has toned it way down over the years, I suppose from peer pressure.

Youth orchestra, yeah. But not in a professional orchestra. Not Done.

January 5, 2015 at 02:03 PM · What I'm saying is that players play through the passages that they need to remind themselves of - they do not usually play concertos, although with an upcoming solo date, maybe some may do on occasion. I'm rarely aware of anyone who overdoes this. In any case they rarely "blaze through." Quite often players will put a mute on to do this.

I do think there is an unrealstic understanding by certain people about how life really is in an orchestra. But then maybe I'm wrong and talking total rubbish, which would not be the first time.

January 5, 2015 at 02:22 PM · Yes, Peter, I do play in multiple regional orchestras. In fairness, the offenders are usually college students. But I never hear even a student trumpet player blast out a concerto on his horn while warming up for rehearsal. I don't know why it seems to be exclusively a string player offense.

January 5, 2015 at 03:04 PM · In that case, it would be a kindness to the college students to let them know the etiquette of a professional orchestra. Warming up, yes. Going over passages in the works about to be rehearsed at a volume that does not impinge on one's colleagues' ability to do the same, yes. Blazing through concertos, especially at full volume, extremely rude.

The last time I coached a youth orchestra, several players were doing just that (playing their concertos very loudly) before we started, so the first thing I did was address the issue. I did this not by scolding, but by asking a series of questions: What do people need to be doing before a rehearsal starts? Is this true for everyone? If someone next to you is playing very loudly, will you be able to warm up effectively? and so on.

January 5, 2015 at 03:16 PM · Not a bad idea! Most of them are coming from the nearby top-flight conservatory, so I'm always surprised they don't already know not to do that. They may still be in "if it's not the New York Phil, I don't need it take seriously" mode, I guess.

January 5, 2015 at 04:33 PM · "I agree, Lydia. I have little tolerance for posturing. And I'm not even thinking of auditions; just warming up on stage before orchestra rehearsal."

Ok, everyone--let's not get too infuriated at people who warm up on their repertoire. I think young people especially get fired up over their repertoire, and that's how it should be. What else makes us work so hard? Who can really get excited about this or that orchestral lick? So yes, it can be annoying, but I ignore it.

But anyway, It may be a worse thing when we get so jaded we can't think of anything we want to play as a warmup besides scales...

January 5, 2015 at 04:33 PM · I have never been to a music summer camp, but remember that you are there for yourself. Part of these things is getting outside of your comfort zone, and you have to put your educational needs first, which means speaking up for yourself when you need something explained in a different way. Are you close with any of the other kids? These sorts of places could seem really competitive, but you can also learn a lot from your peers. If there are other players there that you really like, you can ask them to listen to you, or you can get practice tips from them. The closer you get to them, the less the pressure to compete with them might be. Nathan Milstein, who studied with Leopold Auer, said Auer's students learned more from each other than from him.

I think that there is a right self-esteem for learning demanding tasks like violin: You should be humble enough to be able to learn from everybody around you, but sure enough of yourself to not take someone playing really well as a sign that there is something wrong with you, because if so many people tell you how great you are, you might decide you don't need to work so hard, and on the other hand, if you think that you are destined to be a bad musician, then you might not see a reason to work hard.

January 5, 2015 at 05:29 PM · I didn't mean people should literally only play scales to warm up. But there's a time and place to be a soloist, and warming up on stage in an orchestra section ain't it. It's annoying and distracting and not why we're all there. It's the same reason why it's not courteous to tune at full volume. Plus, I'm not really convinced that concertos played at stage-level projection even serve the purpose of warming up for orchestral playing.

January 5, 2015 at 06:08 PM · Hi Emily,

my advice is to simply ask yourself what do you want to get out of a music camp, or similar experience, and is this particular camp helping you to meet those goals.

I assume the camp is not for free.

If you are not getting anything of value in return for your time and money, then I would suggest you give your time and money to someone that will ensure you get something in return. Students are the customer. Unfortunately our education mindset, at least in the US, doesn't seem to stress this.

January 5, 2015 at 08:41 PM · I dunno about brass players in general, but somehow an orchestral warm-up doesn't seem complete until the tuba player blasts out the Jabba the Hutt solo. ;-)

January 6, 2015 at 04:20 PM · Students are not exactly the "customer." Of course it's important for students to feel they're getting their money's worth, but you can't look at the teacher-student relationship in the same way you do your waiter or your hairdresser. The teacher is there to challenge the student and ensure his or her growth, not guarantee his or her comfort and short-term satisfaction.

January 7, 2015 at 01:03 AM · Sarah I agree, moreover in most cases the "client" is not the student but the parent.

January 9, 2015 at 06:24 PM · We may be in symantics here....Since the student, or parent is paying for a service, or result, they are by default the customer. The teachers job is of course to get the student to play as well as possible. Essentially get results thru the person/student. The methods deployed may be constant from one student to the next, or it may vary depending on personalities, habits, etc of the teacher/student. I agree the student may or may not like the teacher or other aspects.....ideally the student asks....am I learning, am I progressing? I suspect many form opinions on a teacher based on how nice, strict, etc they are, which isn't necessarily the best criteria. I am a student, I expect my teacher to provide guidance that assuming I practice ( which i do) , that results in improvement in my ability. I expect to be treated with civility, but I could care less if he is nice, mean, etc....as long as a i get what i pay for.....improved playing. I think many people use the wrong criteria in assessing a teacher, physician. i agree not as straightforward as a hairdresser, or waiter/waitress.

January 11, 2015 at 12:47 AM · There's one solution you could consider: Find a different camp. There are literally hundreds of music camps around the world that you could participate in.

In regards to hearing other people around you play, as someone who has been through two music schools and various camps, it is something you need to get used to. It's a bonus when the practice rooms are soundproofed, but that's a very rare luxury. If it really, REALLY bothers you to the point where you don't feel you'll have any type of productive practice if you can hear other people playing, make sure you contact the programs you apply to and ask what the practicing conditions are like, and how soundproof the rooms are.

January 11, 2015 at 01:34 AM · What happens if your music teachers doesn't like you?

Well, what if You love her but she loves him

And he loves somebody else you just can't win

And so it goes till the day you die

This thing they call love it's gonna make you cry....

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