When to introduce Repertoire ?

November 2, 2015 at 02:44 AM · Hello everyone ,

A few days ago i was on a violin forum cant remember which one. I read a comment where someone said that unless your playing big repertoire for example lets say the Bruch violin concerto by age 14, then you stand no chance at a professional career . This relay alarmed me since i myself am 17 and have yet to start any repertoire at all . I am currently practicing hours everyday on my etudes for example The Han Sitt studies in double stops and in all the positions and other similar books also tellemen . i know of many other violinists with intentions of a performance based degree who are in the same boat . just to give you an idea of my level ,|I should sit for my abrsm grade 8 in a year or a year and a half. (started playing at 14)

I am aware that yes i started late but i cant see myself doing anything else but music . Do you think i still Stand a chance at a professional career ?

also do you agree with what i read on the forum ?

and at what grade standard for those of you that know Abrsm would you start introducing some repertoire ?

oh forget to mention that i study privately with one of the best violin teachers in the country . (weekly 1 hour sessions)

Replies (38)

November 2, 2015 at 03:40 AM · What does your teacher say about this? I would think he/she knows your abilities better than we do....

I cannot speak for the classical world, but I can tell you about the non-classical scene in my area: One can always make a living if he/she is a good teacher. Some cities have a vibrant music scene for niche players. Jazz, folk, etc. My area has lots of these acts playing in bars and small shows/festivals etc.

November 2, 2015 at 04:43 AM · The ABRSM repertoire list - http://www.abrsm.org/fileadmin/user_upload/diplomas/performance/performanceInstruments.pdf - lists the Bruch at the LRSM level (1st movement) and FRSM level (3rd movement).

It looks like you live in Malta. Given that it's in the EU, I would guess that the standards to play professionally there are as high as anywhere else in the EU. (A glance at the youth orchestra indicates a minimum of ABRSM grade 7 to audition, suggesting that the local level of youth playing is probably reasonably comparable to other EU countries.)

November 2, 2015 at 07:01 AM · As Aaron said, you can always teach. Still, there's nothing wrong with setting your sights high.

November 2, 2015 at 01:01 PM · No repertoire at all??? Then how will you develop musicality? An understanding of different styles and ages? At what point will you learn how Bach or Mozart - or Part for that matter should sound?

Seems like the 'best teacher in the country' wants to produce robots not musicians. Can you really get into music school with etudes?

November 2, 2015 at 03:59 PM · It's hard to make assumptions. If his playing has major problems, such as a faulty bow grip or poor whatever, then the teacher may be justified in giving remedial work instead of repertoire. We all get these kinds of students, and giving them repertoire can be very counterproductive in the long term. We'd have to see a video.

It's not uncommon, even in major conservatories, for a student to be kept out of the orchestra and kept on a remedial diet for a year.

November 2, 2015 at 09:10 PM · Greetings,

`you can always teach but there is nothing wrong with setting your sights high.`

You`ve got to be kidding me!

In many ways this just about sums up one of worst aspects of the music profession and how it can mess up young lives.

First of all the teaching profession is not a second rate option compared to playing in an orchestra or being a soloist. period.

It is a massively complex task that involves having the chops first, and then a deep understanding of how people tick, a wide knowledge of teaching techniques both related and nonre lated to the instrument.... well I could carry on with this list. I think its quite long.

Second, the assumption that not really making it through music college or any other standard means of achieving real excellence on the instrument doesn't mean you aren`t good enough to teach is false. With apologies to all those people who have nt spend hug numbers of years polishing and refining their technique learning the nature of the instrument through the repertoire and are now teaching , its just not good enough.

Using Laurie as an example, coz Im lazy, her eis a top clas splayer who for whatever reasons (family etc) doesnt really push too much to get into a major orchestra but devotes a great deal of time and energy to teaching young children, which I assume is her true bent??????

Sure , she stands in front of kids and plays twinkle like everyone else. But ther eis a fundamental difference between the way she does it and some rather poor player who has drfifted into the profession for misguided reasons like the one stated above. When she demonstrates detache, or martele or vibrato or whatever, she does it at a high level which is the result of hard professional training. And donT the Suzuki books contain Bach and Mozart concertos? I don`t think we should ruin those for kids by scraping away at them in an apologetic fashion and no, they aren`t easy to play well, even for professionals...

Ther e is a fundamental difference here, and the shoddy players just dont know enough to even begin comprehending the difference. Knowing the true value of etudes and when and how to givd them also requires knowledge and experience of the instrument at a high level.

Sorry for the rant, but it is this kind oif attitude toward s teaching and the profession which creates kids who waste their young lives getting a slipshod technique from a second rate teacher and then go an making excuses and become teachers so they can screw up more kids.

It`s just not on.



November 2, 2015 at 10:26 PM · Buri, I <3 you.

This is why I cannot get enthusiastic about young people barely out of high school hanging out their shingle as "Suzuki" teachers.

November 2, 2015 at 10:54 PM · Well, I'm a little bit past 14 and can't play the Bruch concerto. And - I've never been asked to (or ever likely to BE asked to). I can, though, play that awkward 1st violin bit in the tutti and fit it with the rest of the section.

November 2, 2015 at 11:09 PM · I can't get enthusiastic about anyone hanging out a shingle and calling themselves a Suzuki teacher...

November 2, 2015 at 11:10 PM · Dear Malcolm,

please play the Bruch for me at my funeral.

Best wishes,


PS If you are too busy then just the orchestral part is fine. I kinda like the drummy bits as well.

November 2, 2015 at 11:12 PM · Incidentally, I dont hang out anywher if I have shingles. Its catching.

November 3, 2015 at 03:00 PM · I double <3 you, Buri.

"Those who can't do, teach" will remain one of my least favorite absurdities of all time. No. Those who can't do should do something else, not teach still more people to not do.

November 3, 2015 at 08:59 PM · Note that the OP isn't saying he isn't being given pieces to play. He seems to be a non-native English speaker using "repertoire" to refer to "major repertoire" (i.e., professional-level repertoire, Bruch and beyond).

November 3, 2015 at 10:17 PM · I started at 14. It means missing many of the usual career deadlines, but also means that I haven't forgotten beginners' problems. As a player, the kind word is "freelancing", but I call myself "semi-pro" (even in "semi-retirement"..)

I continue to hone my teaching skills, partly thanks to you lot! I was going to write The Method To End All Methods, but Simon Fischer has pinched all my best ideas, and added a whole lot more.

November 3, 2015 at 10:51 PM · True, the conventional "wisdom" is that one starts violin about the same time one starts reading books (a lot of good that did me!!!)

But I participated in a masterclass some 43 years ago and some of the participants were regulars in the Heifetz masterclass at USC (all fantastic virtuoso players). One was a little "girl." 18 years old who had started violin at age 13. I say "little," because she was small and her hands were about 1/2 the width of mine. She went through a routine of multi-octave scales, scales in octaves, fingered octaves, and tenths - and then played the entire Bruch concerto.

So one can start as a teen and become fantastic. More than that, I couldn't know about - where she went and what she is doing now-??


November 3, 2015 at 10:52 PM · So only professional performers should be allowed to teach? That'll leave a lot of students waiting around!

November 4, 2015 at 01:44 AM · "So only professional performers should be allowed to teach? That'll leave a lot of students waiting around!"

C'mon, Bud! All these average violinists need top-tier teachers. An average teacher just is not good enough for average people.

November 4, 2015 at 03:35 AM · actually only people competemt to teach should teach. If you want to be sarcastic about it fine. As a response it doesn't have a great deal of value since there are , year in year out, students messed up by incompetent teachers. If it means less access to teachers that is sad but note I am talking about students who simply may not be able to get into the profession anyway. There isnt much room left. Fortunately on line resources are giving pele a better idea of what is good and bad and those still in the profession because they werent warned about the standard required , usually by a second rate teacher will , in the long run, almost certainoy be happier as well as a mor eproductive member of society.

November 4, 2015 at 04:08 AM · No, it's not that everyone needs a truly top-tier teacher, as in one that trains international soloists. That is neither necessary nor realistic. Everyone deserves a competent teacher, however, and it's hardly "aiming low" to aim to be a competent teacher.

November 4, 2015 at 04:43 AM · I completely understand. I'm not talking about incompetent teachers, I'm talking about teachers who aren't top-tier performers. There is a big range of abilities between incompetence and Heifetz. I don't see where either Bud or myself said incompetent teachers were acceptable.*

Several opinions in this thread are idealistic. Mine (as well as Bud's) is realistic. Certainly an average teacher is capable of teaching an average player, and then passing them on when they need a different teacher.

*Some people seem to be lumping playing ability and teaching ability together. I have heard of many good players who are bad teachers. Haven't we all?

November 4, 2015 at 06:47 AM · There is a dearth of good teachers to be sure, but is that a function of performance ability? motivation? drill? I doubt it. Speaking as a good teacher myself (not specifically violin) I'd say no - teachers are born not made and there's the rub. What's with this modern obsession with the stage anyway? It's about the music dummy!


November 4, 2015 at 01:30 PM · I remember as a freshmen in college one of my dorm-mates was making flyers advertising violin lessons in the community for income. "I didn't know you played violin too!" I said. "I don't yet," she replied "but I'm going to teach myself and as long as I can stay a lesson ahead of my students, I should be fine."

November 4, 2015 at 03:17 PM · Bud,

I politely disagree that “teachers are born not made.” Teachers continuously learn to teach better. They do this by teaching more students, teaching varied levels, communicating with other teachers about approach, attending teaching workshops, etc.

In my many years of teaching privately, I learn new things every day about teaching. I teach my students the violin, and my students teach me to be a better teacher. The teaching studio is a laboratory to see what works and what doesn’t for each student. There is no “one size fits all” approach to teaching, which is why the agile teacher must be quick on their toes, ready to change an approach at any moment.


Without hearing you play, it’s hard to make an assessment as to why you aren’t being assigned repertoire. Consider the possibility that the “best teacher in the country” isn’t necessarily the best teacher for you. Also consider that you possibly have some major setup or intonation issues that this teacher is trying to work out.

Also, you never really specified what you meant by “professional career.”

November 4, 2015 at 03:33 PM · I think it was the implication that one can either "aim high" or fall back on teaching that was problematic for some people. Certainly an excellent player is not necessarily an excellent teacher. And there are teachers who have trained soloists who were never soloists themselves. So playing ability doesn't correlate directly to teaching ability. But teaching shouldn't be seen as something you do only because you couldn't hack it as a performer. It is its own profession.

November 4, 2015 at 03:38 PM · But teaching shouldn't be seen as something you do only because you couldn't hack it as a performer

I know how cynical this sounds but - have you any better ideas?

November 4, 2015 at 04:19 PM · I'm sorry I'm continuing the derailment of this thread.

Teaching is really a calling, and too many don't understand that. It's really ingrained in our culture, and it's part of why we in the US don't respect teachers. We think that anyone can do it, and with the low expectations that that thought entails, we then see it as some fallback career, or like some obvious thing that any halfway smart person can just pick up, which is part of why so many under-qualified people get into teaching. Even top soloists aren't necessarily good teachers, since they often got just the right advice or lesson at just the right time, and so didn't have to struggle with certain elements of their technique.

With that said, I would not take lessons from a teacher whose playing I did not love, and I would not send my kid to a teacher who couldn't play beautifully. I guess I feel that violin is difficult enough to learn that if I choose to put that time in, then I should learn from the absolute best I can.

People who see teaching as nothing more than a fallback should do all their future students a favor and pick a different career.

I have been listening to Heinrich Neuhaus recently, who taught Richter, Gilels and Radu Lupu, among others. I love Gilels' playing (Richter I've never been so big on), but imagine the genius of a man that could turn out players like that and play with this poetry himself.

November 4, 2015 at 05:03 PM · How come this is all so black and white?

November 4, 2015 at 05:23 PM · One of my most influential teachers, who was an absolute genius at fixing technical issues, could not play at all (he had had some medical issues that cut his performing career short about twenty years before I met him).

November 5, 2015 at 01:30 AM · I don't see any spot in this thread where somebody said or implied that a prospective teacher should slack or that it was okay to be a poor player.....

there are plenty of players who can get through college(one would think a college musician major would have pretty good aptitude) but never make it as a paid professional musician, yes? What are they supposed to do in between auditions? Panhandle? Rob banks? McDonalds? Let's temper the blame game with a little practicality please.

November 5, 2015 at 02:35 AM · The best violin teachers that I've encountered are all ridiculously highly-trained violinists who also have performing careers, even if only part-time or freelance. One had his performing career attenuated by an injury.

Regarding practicality, there's something to that, Aaron. I believe it's not only quite common but also perfectly reasonable for young students to think of teaching and performing as essentially coincident pathways through college.

Teaching is a wonderful career and plenty challenging but it's not some kind of magical thing where you're born with it or something. I learned how to teach, and mostly on the job, by paying attention to what my students were learning and what they weren't, and inviting criticism and advice from colleagues with more experience.

November 5, 2015 at 04:26 AM · I don't know much about the education side. Are there not teaching degrees available, and would not someone like the OP benefit from going that route, or at least consider it?

November 5, 2015 at 07:16 AM · When I did my performance diploma (piano) with ABRSM the teaching diploma was less technically demanding. And, though only IMHO, I still contend teachers are born - it's a way of being in the world.

November 5, 2015 at 08:30 AM · Stellar players will have lessons with teachers who don't play at their level, but are great trouble-shooters. A bit like an athlete consulting a physiotherapist?

Suzuki teacher-training in Europe involves showing the student what they are doing, showing them what could be done, and then showing them how to get there. This requires perspicacity, empathy, and multiple skills..

November 5, 2015 at 08:28 PM · I've found that stellar violinists make some of the worst beginner teachers - the reason is that most learned how to play before they could remember how. I had one yell at me just to 'do it' - because for him it was second nature.

OTOH the tables reverse as you get to higher levels - I'm only a fraction of my way there but its already evident that great players learn the subtleties of playing well, great.

November 6, 2015 at 11:54 AM · back to the OP. If you want to become a great cook, do you start with vitamin pills and bran? Such teaching is cynical.

November 6, 2015 at 02:17 PM · I don't believe it's possible to do the ABRSM examinations without playing pieces. Don't they require you to choose from a repertoire list for each grade exam?

November 6, 2015 at 04:17 PM · The Instrumental/Vocal Teaching diplomas are designed for candidates who are intending to take up, or have already embarked upon, the teaching of an instrument or instruments....Consequently, you are required to demonstrate your own performance competence (although the expected level is not as high as that required of candidates taking the diplomas in Music Performance).



November 6, 2015 at 10:13 PM · Hieveryone thanks for all the great replies !

It was very intresting to hear all your opinions on what makes a good teacher aswell . :)

Some of you mentioned that i may be given so many etudes etc due to me having bad intonation . I personally think that my intonation is not bad however of course it is not perfect and these etudes realy do help one get comfortable in all the positions and of course a new study a week can be very beneficial . Practice however can get a little dull when your not actually playing "music" . Altho lately i was asked to buy the tellemen fantasys so things are looking up :) . Also one of you mentioned the youth orchestra here i can gladly say that im a member . I suppose when i actually do start playing some repertoire it wont be as daunting having built a solid foundation. When i do acatully get to play some music ,exam pieces for example , i dont feel i lak musically. Thankfully The examiner always says that i capture the character of the piece well and periode stlye etc .

Thanks for all your great responses

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