The fine print about teachers.

June 5, 2015 at 06:48 PM · Yeah, the same old same old ...... do I (we) need a teacher


So, a few years down the road I thought I should try that looking in the mirror thing for bowing.

What a MESS !

This needed serious attention. ( Maybe my annoying string noise was partly due to a crooked bow? )

Well, no big deal. There have to be a dozen handy sites giving advise about bowing.

Wait a minute. As I fix my bowing I find that everything else I've been doing for years is now strange and I can hardly play anything. For instance, a slight change in posture for bowing correction has confused my left hand pinky accuracy!

Etc, etc, etc !

Guess what I'll be doing this Summer?

Replies (47)

June 5, 2015 at 10:35 PM · Please give serious consideration to getting a teacher. You will be amazed at the difference in your progress.

June 5, 2015 at 10:52 PM · "For instance, a slight change in posture for bowing correction has confused my left hand pinky accuracy!"

Normal! I think we must re-learn something or other every time we take take up our violin. It may or may not need retuning: our fingers likewise.

For example, the morning after an orchestral session I have to relearn intonation and tone production, thanks to having played three hours without fully hearing what I'm doing; never mind reading sideways and avoiding my neighbour's bow..

June 5, 2015 at 11:50 PM · Even as this thread was just starting out, I had a remarkable idea.

I simply compared my violin with the mirror image of my 15" viola and the viola was much better. I'm talking about the "correct" postures for bow and violin, that being basically the 90 degree criteria. The viola appeared more like pictures seen in tutorials.

To make a long story short, I think I am playing the wrong size instrument ( violin ). My shoulder to fist reach is 28" which puts me in 16" viola territory.

I still believe that a teacher offers an important advantage as an observer/critic but my mirror trials left no doubt in my mind. The violin is probably a poor choice for me.

( Now what? )

June 6, 2015 at 03:46 AM · Get a teacher. One teacher. Do what they say. And never, ever, in a lesson say anything like, "I was looking around on the internet and so-and-so says..." or, "My last teacher...", or even, or especially, "I was in the other day and someone there said...".

There are many famous autodidacts throughout the history of the violin, but they were different.

Get a teacher. Listen to them. Be amazed at your progress by the end of the summer.

June 6, 2015 at 05:59 AM · Darlene - it sounds as if you should take up wrestling! (wink)

Seriously though, I find the violin much more comfortable and no effort needed whereas the viola was often ten rounds between it and me. And I'm a normal sized 5 foot 9 inch bloke. (Or at least I was the last time I looked in the mirror).

Talking of mirrors I think one can overdo the watching in the mirror thing. It's useful at times but mostly we should hear what we are doing and refine our listening.

If you want some (possibly useless!) advice, at least from me, post a video on of yourself playing. (Can just be a link to a server).

June 6, 2015 at 12:52 PM ·

And, the violin is much lighter .... but ..... the viola size feels right somehow (?) (particularly for accented upstrokes)

Before I looked in a mirror I was doing OK but I certainly was not doing some of the more complicated moves (off the string?)

Decisions, decisions!

( I suspect that the violin size was established when people were smaller.)

I understand that there is some slack in the mirror exercise. There has to be for the range of human physique.

June 6, 2015 at 01:40 PM · There are people out there who are large, AND have huge hands with fingers like bananas, for example Perlman. He seems to have managed pretty well and played to a high level, unless I've got it all wrong!

June 6, 2015 at 02:27 PM · I have not noticed unusually long arms? Fat hands don't count?

June 6, 2015 at 05:12 PM · I have long arms and fingers. Many fine violinists do. Many fine violists have shorter arms. The violin and the viola are two different instruments, not one instrument sized for different humans.

Please, please, please, get a teacher. Duane has it exactly right.

June 6, 2015 at 09:27 PM · After several hours practice I find that I can do the text book bowing version but not very fast. Needs work.. But already better able to hold soundings points.

However, I find it much easier with the viola. The violin is too close to me for same comfort.

June 7, 2015 at 12:18 PM · Darlene - YES - you need to get a good teacher, and forget about all this wierd stuff. Just get on with it. You have had the best advice on this forum by good professional musicians. (Re Mary Ellen Goree and others).

You need to APPLY this.

June 7, 2015 at 02:12 PM · What's the worst that could happen if you got a teacher? :D don't need to sign up for an eternity of lessons. Maybe a couple of more 'workshop' type sessions would suit you better.

June 7, 2015 at 08:33 PM · Let's approach this from a different angle. What are your reasons for NOT getting a teacher?

June 9, 2015 at 08:10 AM · I am only a beginner, but I do take lessons with a teacher. If I may speak, I'd say that while working with the mirror you want to correct posture rather than playing correctly.

I realized about two weeks ago that my wrist is not straight but bent towards the scroll, therefore my fingers came too far from above and were too far from the strings in general. It's still not there yet and I still have to keep thinking "straight wrist boy !". I also got aware of the whole left elbow moving and therefore I do slow practice 2 octave scales in front of the mirror to correct these two points of my left hand. The idea is to have the straightest wrist possible and the least movement with my left hand. As a result my intonation went bad for the first few days and now it starts to become better again. But in the long run I believe that a correct left hand position will help better my intonation than trying my way around a bad posture.

Now this is something my teacher didn't spot obviously. But obviously you need a different kind of teacher for different levels. For beginners they should be more motivating and less on the technical side, even though it can become dangerous if they leave big technical mistakes settle. And there are teachers and teachers. A good teacher should spot the things you do wrong or should improve and tell you how to practice these, so you know what to work on during your practice sessions. A teacher should have the expertise to allow him to spot these mistakes you do a lot better than you do, you can ask questions when unsure about something and get to directly see how it is done when your teachers shows you.

June 9, 2015 at 02:31 PM · Darlene,

Obviously violin (and viola) playing is important to you.

Why the resistance to getting a teacher?

You have said many times about how you have discovered something months/years later that you had previously been doing incorrectly.

Sure, it's expensive. But time is money. You have spent ALOT of time trying to figure things out on your own. If you had spent the money on lessons, instead of the time trying to figure it out, imagine where you may be?

Learning to play is difficult enough even with a quality teacher. Treat yourself to some lessons.

Personally, I really cherish the special relationship I have with my teacher and look forward to my weekly lessons.

June 11, 2015 at 12:59 PM · I recently had some thoughts on online learning vs face-to-face lessons with teacher (more on:

IMO, having a teacher is still the most effective way to learn violin. A teacher can tell you your mistakes right away and give you advice on how to improve your technique, posture, musical expression, etc. A teacher can also tailor your learning journal to develop your full potential.

If it's not possible to have face-to-face lessons with a teacher, I'd suggest to try to play in groups (e.g. local ensembles/orchestras) and use online resources wisely.

Enjoy learning the violin :-)

June 12, 2015 at 03:58 PM · This thread was not started to debate the value of teachers but I simply have to explain my attitude.

Having a teacher is without a doubt the best and quickest way to learning the violin including all the important details.

When my Grand Daughter took up violin in school, I was the first one looking up private teachers for her.

That scene I'm sure is typical in many households with a few students eventually reaching higher skills/performance levels with high hopes for the future.

How about those with no particular ambitions for the future? There are many who just want some "recreational" violin activity.

Whether my bow is straight or crooked isn't that big a deal. My ability to bring the music alive for a listener using phrasing, volume, tempo, etc. is my first priority.

My point is that not everyone who is active with a violin wants or needs a formal approach. There is no right or wrong in that, only a matter of expectation.

June 12, 2015 at 05:26 PM · Darlene, I can understand that approach. I see a lot of it in folk fiddle playing (at the amateur level, anyway), and generally the players are happy with it. If they want any technical help they'll ask a more experienced player in a session, and that help is usually quickly forthcoming.

I've been to a number of Irish and English folk music workshops in my time where the emphasis is almost entirely on learning and playing the music, and rarely is any technical instruction given except at the raw beginner level or if someone asks a tutor at the personal level, and then instruction is given (the tutor may very well have had a classical violin education somewhere along the line).

I suppose it's generally not practicable at most of these workshops to spend a lot of time teaching technique to a large class of people of varied ability when they're all there to learn the music and tunes - although there has been the occasional useful and illuminating exception.

June 12, 2015 at 06:53 PM · Darlene,

A straight bow is absolutely critical to good sound production! If you're trying to bring the music to life, that should be your first priority.

Personally, I learned to do this mostly with videos and written resources. The best resource for me was Galamian's book, where he described the mechanics of the bow stroke.

June 12, 2015 at 08:47 PM · I don't see why 'recreation' should be less carefully 'practiced' than work.

My brother is a recreational golfer, who plays only for fun, but he practices swings, technique etc. with the local park pro because it's more fun for him when he's better at the game. If you want to share your musical vision with others, you want the best 'game' possible, no?

June 12, 2015 at 09:28 PM · Greetings,

>Whether my bow is straight or crooked isn't that big a deal. My ability to bring the music alive for a listener using phrasing, volume, tempo, etc. is my first priority.

Just my opinion, but this seems to highlight the crux of the issue. If you establish a clear goal then the next logical step is to establish the means to achieve that goal. In this case it is actually `to use the skill set (or technique) of violin playing to phrase, play dynamics, and be able to play at an appropriate speed for the work in question.`

Thus technique and music become inseparable. Without the ability to play with a straight bow one cannot stay on a specific sound point in order to create phrasing or dynamics. Without the ability to move the bow from one sound point to another while varying weight and speed, phrasing and dynamics are not possible.

It does seem to me you are depriving yourself of the pleasure of effieceint progress on the instrument and not really moving towards the goal you have so clearly outlined : giving the maximum amount of pleasure to your listener.



June 13, 2015 at 01:46 AM · All those things are your grandkid's priorities' as well, it's just that she is actually learning the skills to be able to do them. Making music that people want to hear isn't magic - It's a series of carefully chosen steps, ingrained and built on each other over time.

There is an idea that I recognize, that maybe ties into the American Spirit concept, that with grit and imagination, we can all figure our way to the top. I don't mean this as an attack on you - Even the most naturally talented, intelligent people need help - The violin is not an intuitive instrument, and the pedagogy wasn't just figured out by one really smart person.

But, really, you already do have a teacher - It's just that your teacher is an internet forum that can't hear or see you. You are trying to substitute a teacher that can hear and possibly judge and correct you with a bunch of people on the internet.

Even the best teachers on here are not as good teachers as someone in real life that can see you play and tell you exactly what needs work and how to do it in the span of 30 minutes.

I do enjoy a good Rube Goldberg machine, though. I mean, they're more fun on video than in text, but I'm not choosy.

June 13, 2015 at 01:52 AM · “My point is that not everyone who is active with a violin wants or needs a formal approach. There is no right or wrong in that, only a matter of expectation.” – Darlene

From the perspective of those who, like me, started music as older adults, and thus will never exceed the mediocre amateur level, there are still a myriad of goals that could involve the violin. Some are social and participatory, some are more about musical quality, music preservation, benevolence, and on and on. And then there are cost, logistic and time constraints to factor in. Logically, one should not invest much if the outcome is known to be less than mediocre. I hope for my sake that logic does not apply.

“I've been to a number of … workshops in my time where the emphasis is almost entirely on learning and playing the music, and rarely is any technical instruction given except at the raw beginner level or if someone asks a tutor at the personal level, and then instruction is given (the tutor may very well have had a classical violin education somewhere along the line).” - Trevor

These workshops can be led by very talented performers/educators. You often get a little technique and a little repertoire that you can develop on your own in a social setting.

May your musical journey be long and not too difficult.

Wait a minute Quixote that’s my windmill.


June 13, 2015 at 01:15 PM · Compromise.

"good" technique to me is that level which will allow me to perform all the challenging music now cluttering my music stand. That is by no means virtuoso class and NEVER will be but there is still a lot of worthwhile music available at various skill levels.

Technique-wise, I would call my efforts "a work in progress".

I do pay attention to technique even knowing that I will never be satisfied but never defeated either.

June 13, 2015 at 01:16 PM ·

June 14, 2015 at 09:28 PM · The point of having a teacher, even for an adult amateur with modest goals, is the same as having a map (or I suppose GPS) when trying to find a landmark in an unfamiliar city.

Yes, you could drive randomly around a major city with a vague idea that what you are looking for is near downtown, and use the skyline as a rough guide. But you are likely to be driving for hours, never find your destination, and waste a lot of time and money while doing so.

Getting a teacher allows you to take the shortest route to your goal rather than burning up tank after tank of gas while driving in circles, with the occasional stop at a gas station ( to ask a stranger for directions.

June 15, 2015 at 03:25 AM · Basically I agree about "shortest distance" with a teacher but I doubt that a teacher would accelerate my development of necessary motor skills except in the role of observer/critic. I think there are some things we partially teach ourselves(?)

Incidentally, the value of Vcom for me is not as a substitute teacher. By the time I reach Vcom I will genherally have done hours of research and trials but it is rare that there is one and only answer to a violin topic. Sometimes I would even hope for qualified consesus and that's where Vcom is most valuable.

( lack of consensus has its value too ) : )

June 15, 2015 at 03:40 AM · "but I doubt that a teacher would accelerate my development of necessary motor skills except in the role of observer/critic."

I have to disagree with you here. Accelerating the development of *correct* motor skills is EXACTLY what a teacher does, by observing, critiquing, and making suggestions and/or demonstrating correct technique.

Edited to add that in fact there has been quite a bit of consensus on your threads...that you would benefit enormously from a teacher.

June 15, 2015 at 02:50 PM · I agree completely with Mary Ellen. Coaching by an expert is enormously valuable across a broad variety of fields; this has been scientifically studied, including with violinists. Learning from a master teacher is particularly critical in accelerating and maximizing success. This is true even for people who are already highly accomplished.

June 15, 2015 at 04:25 PM · Just by chance I surfed on "self taught" (lesson #1) in the Vcom archives. May 20, 2010. Very interesting posts AND range of opinions!

June 16, 2015 at 12:39 AM · I third what's already been said here.

You clearly are not satisfied with the results of teaching yourself, so I'm actually curious why you are so resistant to investing in a teacher.

June 16, 2015 at 01:06 AM · Darlene, I'm not currently studying with a teacher. However, having studied with teachers before, I'm going to agree with everyone else - the fact that having a good teacher makes things 100x easier.

I doubt you even need a super expensive teacher at this stage, especially if you're really new to playing this instrument. Playing the violin isn't really something like riding a bike, where all you need to know is how to balance yourself. It just helps a lot to have someone who is both competent and observant to watch over you.

June 17, 2015 at 12:42 PM · As I read this thread I see it has become a defense of teachers but there was never an attack to begin with. The basic conflict among us amateurs may be motives. ( should I have a teacher? )

My motives are very simple. I have none. The violin has provided me with so much fun and rewards that I could give it all up right now with no regrets.

So, why then, would I have started a thread about bows? Because my bowing is crooked ( mental error, not physical ).

By the way, what is someone supposed to do who lives far from a teacher?

June 17, 2015 at 01:25 PM · "By the way, what is someone supposed to do who lives far from a teacher?"

Many teachers give lessons via Skype. It's not the same as being right there, but is pretty effective for some things.

June 17, 2015 at 02:10 PM · This has not been a defense of teachers. This has been an apparently fruitless attempt to explain to you how much you would benefit from one.

June 17, 2015 at 03:58 PM · From the original post:

" I (we) need a teacher


also from the original post:

"What a MESS !

This needed serious attention.


As I fix my bowing I find that everything else I've been doing for years is now strange and I can hardly play anything."

You don't need the forum, you answered your own question in your initial posting.

By posting to the forum, you are asking for feedback. The feedback is overwhelmingly telling you that getting a teacher is a more than worthwhile investment.

It seems to me that this thread is not a defense of teachers, but rather your defense of choosing not to have one.

And that is certainly a choice you are free to make.

Personally, I know I only have so many laps around the sun on this planet Earth, and I wouldn't mind attaining some competency in playing the violin/viola before my race is run. Thus, I invest in lessons.

There is no "fine print" about teachers, it is written in large capital letters, and shouted from the rooftops:


June 18, 2015 at 02:31 PM · There is a very interesting thread nearby about "bowing technique" which features comments by Simon Fischer!

June 18, 2015 at 02:31 PM ·

June 18, 2015 at 04:07 PM · "There is a very interesting thread nearby about "bowing technique" which features comments by Simon Fischer!"

...and numerous responses along the lines of "Get A Teacher." :-)

June 18, 2015 at 04:21 PM · What exactly is the reasoning for not getting a teacher already after countless responses in various places saying to just do so, Darlene Roth? You have run quite the gamut from wanting to quit Violin for Piano to Violin for Viola to dodging every possible reasoning. I and probably most just do not understand, so please explain for us to better understand your reasonings.

June 18, 2015 at 05:37 PM · Violin for viola!!!

*oh my!*


June 18, 2015 at 08:56 PM · John A

First, let's agree that all young violin students should have a regular teacher. No "home schooling" if at all possible.

Adults can later decide if continued formal training makes sense for their goals.

I have been able to work out my major problems with a lot of study and trial and error. For instance, after about 2 weeks I've figured out how to bow straight ( but slow ! ). Not the very best I'm sure but soon to be better.


Piano. Few hours a week. ( with real notes! )

Viola. Still favor the increased ( bowing ) room.

June 19, 2015 at 01:00 PM · We can agree to disagree. No matter the age, a teacher is priceless. Just because you're no longer a young person (3-18) does not mean it's easier or somehow better to be self-taught. In your case, needing a teacher willing to go through basics step by step would be very immensely valuable, as well as less stressed as a whole.

Self taught Violinists who are not plagued with a myriad of technique issues and much bad habits are pretty rare. I've actually only met one who was not burdened with technique issues. Not to say it shouldn't be done. But if you have the accessibility and also the funds, then treat yourself and you'll be amazed what you learn.

June 20, 2015 at 03:39 PM · Y'all can have your reasons for taking violin lessons. One of the reasons -- and perhaps it's even a main reason -- that I take violin lessons is because the lesson itself is challenging, inspiring, stimulating, and just downright fun!! I mean, you stand in an air-conditioned room with a professional violinist for an hour, and you play your violin, and the pro plays his/her violin (very well), and when you are not playing, you are talking about the violin (with someone who knows a hell of a lot more about violin playing than you do). There are not all that many ways to spend an hour's time that are more fun than that, especially when you are gleaning a few choice pointers that you can carry away and work on for a week (two weeks in my case) and thereby improve, all the while working on a couple of repertoire pieces and maybe even getting those ready to perform.

June 20, 2015 at 04:51 PM · Paul, I so agree! Someone good to play *for* - someone good to play *with* - someone good who knows just the music for you - someone to encourage you, or correct you, or just have a fine time with.

June 20, 2015 at 06:28 PM · Paul Deck: you nailed it.

June 20, 2015 at 09:42 PM · Yup

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