New teacher - anxiety

May 1, 2015 at 09:37 PM · After a long hiatus (well, it was me and the violin, but no teacher), I am about to restart lessons with a new teacher. I am super excited, since this is something I have wished for a long time, to take lessons again.

But I am also quite anxious. I am the "but I was able to play this correctly at home"-type. I think I "want" too much. Of course my new teacher will have to assess my playing, and this makes me nervous. I don't want to embarrass myself, I want to show that I am not a complete noob, that I practice very regularly and diligently. "What if my nerves ruin it?" "What if he thinks I'm lazy when I am yet again not able to to show that I have practiced every day?" "What if he thinks I shouldn't play the violin at all and teaching me is a waste of time?" We Germans have a neat expression for these what-if-movies that play in my head, we call it rather literally "Kopfkino" - "mind cinema", and in my case I'm afraid it's a horror movie.

I feel rather silly about this and think maybe it is an adult-learner thing. But how am I to deal with my nerves, how am I to overcome this anxiety of failure -which makes me tense in the first place? How to break this vicious circle? Or rather, how can I manage to get over this wish to "prove" myself rather than relax and just play?

Replies (23)

May 1, 2015 at 09:51 PM · Utilize your anxiety to fuel your determination to ACTUALLY practice every day.

May 1, 2015 at 10:24 PM · Perhaps you should tell the teacher about your anxiety at the beginning of your first lesson.

May 1, 2015 at 11:36 PM · why don't you video yourself playing and take it. obviously not as good as just playing well - but then maybe you'll be more relaxed and play well and not need the video - as you'll have the backup. But if you do mess up you can explain your nerves affecting your playing and show the video to give a better idea of your baseline.

to be honest though everyone plays worse under stress and i suspect your new teacher, assuming they are human, will get that

May 1, 2015 at 11:45 PM · I think you'll find that most teachers will not have as low an opinion of your playing as you do.

May 2, 2015 at 01:06 AM · Johanna, I think this is fairly normal. I was so nervous before my first lesson after a long hiatus that I went to the wrong building. Remember if you were such a perfect player you would not need lessons in the first place. I hope your teacher is as understanding as mine is and will put you at ease. But for me, it took a long time to feel comfortable in my lessons, as much as I was eager to continue.

May 2, 2015 at 07:23 PM · I am exactly the same. I have a teacher that I've been with for almost the whole three years since I returned to the violin, but it took me over six months before I became at all easy. At first my bow would shake and I'd make the silliest mistakes. I also have to visit a toilet on the way, and if I didn't, I'd have to ask the teacher if I could use his. That's how bad I am!

I think you have to tell your teacher about your nerves, and also plan to play something that you are very very used to in the first lesson, a piece that you know by heart and love, and which therefore is unlikely to go wrong.

But if it does, just pull a wry face and carry on playing. Then when you finish, say that you know you went wrong at such-and-such a place, but you'd like to know if there's a way that you can improve the bowing, or the dynamics - some genuine inquiry.

You could also start by playing scales, explaining that it will calm you down and get you used to things. Or ask your teacher to play along with you on something, so you have the experience of having to support another player.

They say that eating bananas helps to calm you, but I can't say it ever did me much good. But I do like to use rose water as a scent, as it makes me feel calmer. And wear something that makes you feel good. Every little helps!

If you're a nervous person, like me, there aren't really any shortcuts, but what I hope for you is that you like your new teacher and are able to joke a little, or chat a little, so that you feel from the word go that they are on your side.

Or ask their advice about something, as teachers like to help. Anything to speed up the getting to know you process.

Hope it goes well! xx

May 2, 2015 at 08:13 PM · Thank you all very much for your kind and really helpful remarks and suggestions.

@Seraphim Protos: I am proud to say that I have practiced daily (1 to 2 hours, no exceptions) for the last 1 1/2 years - bowing, scales, etudes, pieces. The prospect of having this practice routine professionally guided is something I'm really excited about.

@BruceBerg I am thinking about telling my teacher about being very nervous but I reckon he'll notice that anyway and I don't want to be a nuisance in pointing out the obvious - I think most teachers have experienced super-nervous students before. The rational part of me also thinks that as an experienced teacher he likely can tell if someone just can't play or makes mistakes and has a shaky bow because of nerves.

@Bradley Knight: Recording myself in advance is a very interesting idea, I will think about that! Sure enough though, whenever I record myself, just the knowledge of a tape recording deteriorates may playing. But, if all should fail, very good advice, thank you.

@Karen, Alice and Mollie: Thank you for sharing your own experience and the reassurance that both of you have overcome your anxiety in the end. Rationally Karen, I agree with you. I am rather self-conscious and indeed do have a low opinion of my playing. Judging from my brief phone conversation with my new teacher, when we set a date for the first lesson, he seems a nice, friendly fellow and my gut feeling strongly tells me that this will work. As you suggested, Mollie, I have chosen a piece I feel very comfortable with and I am determined to play through it, no matter how many silly mistakes i may make. After all, I am taking violin lessons, not auditioning for a the Berlin Philharmonics.

Another week to go till the first lesson but I'm happy to let you know how it went.

May 2, 2015 at 09:02 PM · Any good teacher will easily look past nervousness and see where you are in your techniques. Unless you keep dropping your bow and violin at which point may want to talk to your dr.

May 2, 2015 at 11:12 PM · Just play something you can play well, and bring along something you are "working on" and let the rest just happen. Its like a book, you have to give it a chance. Nervousness is common, but if this teacher is experienced they've probably seen far worse. Focus on the enjoyment of learning.

May 2, 2015 at 11:57 PM · By the way, I really love that phrase you mentioned, "Kopfkino".

May 3, 2015 at 06:11 PM · Being nervous with a new teacher is good 'practice' for dealing with performance nerves, so you could use this as a guide to what you might expect under other circumstances.

I agree with the person who suggested mentioning your nerves to your teacher b/c, unless you manifest as nervous in appearance, it may not be apparent to the teacher the way it is to you, and (although I agree, a good teacher can recognize the problem) saying something might save time.

Bottom line, if you are going to work with this teacher he (I think you said 'he') will see you happy, sad, scared, depressed, enthusiastic, dejected, frustrated---you name it...may as well get started.

Good success to you.

May 3, 2015 at 07:27 PM · My experience with violin teachers is that there is a 50% chance, roughly speaking, that when you say you are nervous, their response will be, "Why?" And then you have to explain. So if you are planning to have this little up-front discussion of your nervousness, I suggest you prepare an answer to the "Why" question such as "Because I am having a violin lesson". My suggestion is that your up-front discussion should focus on something else like your personal goals for your violin study, the kinds of pieces you'd like to play eventually, etc. This will give your teacher a chance to put you (and him/herself) at ease, and maybe the nervousness, which can be mutual, will at least partially melt away.

Please let us know how it goes!

May 4, 2015 at 04:43 AM ·

Practice changing your mind.

Anxiety isn't a good word and isn't healthy. We want to loose it, but in doing so we need to practice suppressing the memory(s) that controls it. Do this by recalling the stress memories and replacing them quickly with good memories.

Practice good thoughts when playing.


" mistakes are ok"

" I am here to learn, not to be judge"

" I'm here to enjoy myself"

" look at me, I'm doing well"


be creative, because the more creative and personal the new memory is, the higher the chance the anxiety memory will be replaced.

May 7, 2015 at 02:52 PM · I guess it will be the same here with me. You'll get over it!! It's not a exam mistakes are allowed.( grin)

May 7, 2015 at 03:29 PM · One thing you do not have to worry about is impressing your new teacher. You never have to worry about that when you play for someone who plays better than you do.

My last lesson was my final cello lesson when I was 17, some 63 years ago (I never was nervous about lessons). Since then I've been in a few master class situations and was never nervous because of my attitude, described in the first paragraph. Other than that, I was always a shaky solo violin performer after my first stage fright experience at age 17 (until I discovered Inderal 20 years later).


May 7, 2015 at 03:48 PM · "My experience with violin teachers is that there is a 50% chance, roughly speaking, that when you say you are nervous, their response will be, "Why?"

I'd be in the other 50%, because I know why: playing in front of people, especially when being critically evaluated, naturally results in nerves. Unless you are a freak or alien droid or something.

I will say, however, that I'd like students to know that I'm not put off by non-perfect playing. After all, if they played perfectly, we'd be out of work. They should also know that we understand the struggles, and that we all struggle with the same issues (such as intonation) on a daily basis.

What we as teachers want is preparation. People SHOULD be nervous before a lesson with me if they don't mark in fingerings or bowings, don't see articulation markings, didn't figure out the rhythms, don't know what key the piece is in, or didn't take the time to find their piece on youtube, or totally ignore what I wrote in their music last week, or simply practiced the same etude again because they didn't notice that I marked a new one to look at on the next page. Or forget all their music.

So don't get nervous about playing. Get nervous about not being prepared in the most basic ways.

May 7, 2015 at 10:22 PM · Greetings,

exactly as above. Actually being nervous is , in of itself , a good or bad thing depending on how you use it. The ide at hat we somehow need to stop being nervous is actually ridiculous most of the time. We can either let it rule what we are doing or we can prepare in such a way that the nervous energy can be used to enhance the performance. Heifetz suffered a great deal from nerves personally but had such an amazing degre eof control it didn't seem to be the case.

One aspect of preparation that does seem to be under explored is our expectation about the lesson itslef. That is, we are constantly saying to ourselves (and our teachers) it was better in th epractice room when actually it wasn't. Just becaus enou perform a work successfully one time does not mean that is going to happen in the lesson. In fact it has only happened once and the rest of the time has been less happy! So one should actually practice this performing without any prior attention to the work in question at around the time you are going to have the lesson, perhaps in the same clothes and see how many times out of four or five run throughs you really get a satisfactory performance. If it's only once then it isn't going to happen in the lesson so you née dot revise your expectations, refocus your practice strategies and then redo the procedure the next day or whatever.



May 10, 2015 at 02:56 PM · If Johanna has been practicing her material regularly and knows it well, that will show in her lesson, so she can relax on that point. I understand Johanna's nervousness of having a new teacher though, because in Germany, high expectations are normal. Approaches to teaching can be more strict and less patient than in some other areas of the globe. Having the right teacher is so important to ensure learning will continue. Several years ago, when I first started back with the violin after a long long rest, I chanced upon a German violin teacher, who, it turned out had very exacting standards. No matter how well I practiced her pieces, how carefully I read and followed her bowings and notes, and even how many good comments I had from other violinists, she always used to stop me within a few bars of the start, and only occasionally did I make it halfway through the piece. I never felt I had been able to achieve much or do well enough to please her, and often it took months and months to see new music. It had to be perfect, or not at all. However I found her often contradicting herself, not remembering some things she told me in the past and if I sought to clarify, would become annoyed. Needless to say I left after a year. I was a nervous wreck before each lesson with my next teacher until I learned to relax again. And I was an adult. Imagine how much worse it would have been for young students? I do believe teachers have a responsibility to create an environment where there is a comfortable feeling and a healthy exchange, so knowledge can flow. They should also make an effort to remain consistent with their comments and not to strive for impossible standards of greatness simply to appease parents or schools they are associated with in their quest for 'maintaining a high end reputation'. We need to remember that the student bears the emotional cost.

May 10, 2015 at 05:56 PM · Millie, sounds like you just had a bad teacher. Perhaps it was mere coincidence the individual was German?

May 10, 2015 at 08:11 PM · Greetings,

that wa awful. Butchery rather than teavhing.

Carl Flesch taught by listening go a whole work (or most if it) and taking a few notes to go over.



May 11, 2015 at 04:39 PM · I suspect there are a few non-German teachers like that too ;-)

May 11, 2015 at 04:53 PM · Once again thank you everyone for your helpful and kind comments. This may sound odd, but just to read how others have dealt with the same problem and that I don't have to worry about impressing my teacher in the first place has been a tremendous relief, as has been the advice about "reprogramming" my brain: This is something I'm going to look into.

@Scott Cole and @Buri: Your remarks and advice about the right preparation have been most helpful. I may in fact have deceived myself in the past regarding the thoroughness of my preparation - not things like rhythm or key, but details that prevented me from being in control of a piece and my playing, regardless of my nerves. In that respect you seem to have hit the mark and I am certainly going to work on that.

@Millie: Your experience sounds awful, but I agree that this isn't down to her being German. A bad teacher is a bad teacher, regardless the nationality. My first two teachers were German and were very nice and surely not intimidating - nor is my new teacher who by the way isn't German but Russian.

I am glad I asked for advice in this great community. I entered my first lesson admittedly very nervous, but not as nervous as I could have been, and way better prepared! My teacher, who is indeed very experienced, didn't seem to mind my mistakes but instead had his attention on details of my overall playing with which he wasn't at all displeased (bearing in mind my few years of violin lessons and the even more years without). We then went on to address the first things which needed working on. End of first lesson! Now I am just so glad and happy to be learning again and will try to work on my nervousness as well as my violin playing.

Thank you and cheers :-)

May 12, 2015 at 09:26 AM · No I agree, being German does not make someone a bad teacher, and my teacher had flaws anyone can have. But as for the exacting standards, I have several cousins learning many instruments with different teachers, in Germany and I'm told it's a bit of a general trait. Perhaps not to the level my teacher took it but nevertheless they all experience some nerves when they feel they have not achieved what their teachers set them to do in the short term. As if it is expected a student will learn something quickly, rather than hoping they might catch on. Still, I'm glad Johanna's new teacher has turned out well.

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