Adult instructor/student dynamic?

February 29, 2016 at 05:42 PM · Hello all!

I am a new violin player, an adult who, at 35 had now been playing for a year. I joined a community orchestra an had my first concert this past weekend . The entire experience has been tons of fun and, in a way, takes me back to grade school when I played the violin for a few years (3rd to 6th grade).

Well, my interest in your thoughts begins with my interest in adult learning and adult teachers and teaching. I have an idea that this has been discussed, possibly ad nauseum, but the angle I am curious about I have not found except maybe in passing.

My questions are as follows...

1) what makes a good teacher for adults?

2) what different learning strategies should be taken for adults?

3) what should an adult student be aware of, good and bad, in a teacher?

4) What kind of communication should pass between adult student and instructor?

5) At what point should an adult student know that their instructor is not right for them?

I feel like those questions should start this conversation down the road I am interested in exploring. I guess what I am looking for is how to optimize my student teacher relationship from my end as an adult learner and what I should expect in reciprocity from my instructor as an adult teacher.

I hope you all have a great day and thank you for your input!


Replies (44)

February 29, 2016 at 06:27 PM · 1) what makes a good teacher for adults?

The same things that make a good teacher for a teenager except the teacher needs to be mindful and respectful that an adult learner may have different goals and expectations, and may not respond as well to childish stuff like managing repetitions using colored beads on a stick. Adults can still be bribed with candy, though.

2) what different learning strategies should be taken for adults?

Adults tend to ask "why" more often and want to be aware of the mechanisms for improvement and the underpinning pedagogy. A teacher for adult students should be prepared for that but also willing to say "this is the way I teach it, and it works" and expect that to be good enough sometimes.

3) what should an adult student be aware of, good and bad, in a teacher?

My feeling is that this portion of your question points to an issue that sometimes attaches to adult students, which is they tend to overthink stuff. Instead of being ultra-aware of what your teacher is doing right or wrong, latch on to the good things that your teacher is doing apply them to your playing. Small defects can be overcome or even ignored.

4) What kind of communication should pass between adult student and instructor?

It's definitely helpful to have a clear list of goals and assignments coming away from your lesson. Sometimes teachers assume that an adult student will be aware enough to glean those himself or herself, but it's not always true. "What should I be focusing on this week" is a reasonable question to start the conversation.

5) At what point should an adult student know that their instructor is not right for them?

Very hard to say, that's quite individual. But probably when you start to feel like you're making no progress and getting really frustrated and you've had a few conversations about that, but they haven't helped.

February 29, 2016 at 06:46 PM · Paul, good answers and thanks for the response!

I think I like your last response best. However, I think there is also an issue with a student who continues to progress in spite of the teacher, weather because of diligent practice, innate ability, youtube we videos or some other reason.

This individual might not know enough to know that their teacher is either no good, or not developing the adult student to their fullest potential.

How would you recommend such an individual be aware of this occuring?

Fwiw, I believe I currently have a good violin instructor, though, I do think it will take some effort on my part to get her fully on the same page as me. In the past however, I spent 3 years with a guitar instructor that was not right for me. And possibly I was not right for him either! :-)

This could also lead to a discussion on changing violin instructors, and why and how. Ideally, you would be able to "shop" for an instructor by trying one, then another in a progression. However, in practice, there is a development of loyalty, and appreciation for instructions given that probably often prevent this.

Also, I have no idea as to the etiquette in the violin/classical world in regard to this particular facet.


February 29, 2016 at 08:20 PM ·

February 29, 2016 at 09:49 PM · 1) what makes a good teacher for adults?

It depends on the student's goals, available time, and current level.

A teacher for an adult should be just as competent, from the standpoint of teaching technique and interpretation, as a teacher for a child at the same level, This is most difficult at the high end (adult amateurs playing professional-level repertoire) and at the beginning stages. It takes specialized skills to teach beginners, but most strategies for teaching beginners are centered on children (often young children), and flexible children's bodies, so a teacher needs experience and know-how in how to get an adult started.

2) what different learning strategies should be taken for adults?

Adults can likely tolerate a much higher level of boredom if it pays off in more efficient learning. They can focus and concentrate for longer periods of time. A teacher can assign a lot more mechanical drill to an adult, and probably should.

3) what should an adult student be aware of, good and bad, in a teacher?

No different here than with kids, I think.

4) What kind of communication should pass between adult student and instructor?

Adults respond better to two-way dialogue and explanations of "why", and they likely have more patience, but they are also harsher on themselves than children are. Teachers should be able to articulate a plan to an adult student so that they can get a sense of where their efforts are directed.

5) At what point should an adult student know that their instructor is not right for them?

If they're not comfortable with the teacher after the introductory lesson, or they don't think they're making progress. If your teacher isn't improving at least one thing after a lesson, they're not very effective.

You can also outgrow teachers, often after a couple of years, especially if they are specialized in teaching beginners, only teach through the intermediate level, etc.

March 1, 2016 at 02:33 PM · Lydia, really interesting responses!

I wonder, I think part of what frustration I experience with adult teachers is that I know how little I know (Or, having been through an adult learning process to an expert level in a couple other areas I have an idea of how little I know as a beginner compared to the amount of information out there). In those other things, however, where I was fortunate to have good teachers, there was very often a very specific methodology and specific reasons given which made sense at least at the time even if I later came to disagree with some methodological point or some other thing.

However, in the area of private lessons in music, I wonder if this path exists or, if by the nature of music and violin playing are more nebulous in nature.

There seems to be much less of a "you learn this here because it will build to 'x' skill which will build to 'y' skill which will allow you to do 'z' which is towards what every violinist (or guitarist) should, at a minimum, strive.


March 1, 2016 at 03:25 PM · Hi Jessy, I'll be following this post closely as I've also just started playing again after many years (grade 6-12) My daughter and I are taking lessons together and so far I really like our teacher-I'm thinking we will soon be needing to split into seperate lessons though. I'm finding all these responses so far very helpful! I'm also hoping to play with our community orchestra-they've already welcomed me but I'd like to get some more experience in before I actually join! I'd love to heard how its going for you and how long you'd been playing before joining..

March 1, 2016 at 04:30 PM · Hey sheri! It is verty exciting to hear from you. It sounds like we are on very similar paths. I played in grades 3 to 6 even I was a kid, and then last year I had surgury on my elbow which left me with not being able to do much and as I had always wanted to play the violin again I ordered one off the Internet and started taking lessons. That was almost exactly a year ago now.

I joined my community orchestra in The beginning of December and was/am woefully behind in the skill needed to play the entire piece with them as they played mehndlesson, mozart flute concerto, and telleman don quixote (by far the easiest) I played probably 25% in time and in tune. My goal is next year at this time to be able to play the entire pieces.

March 1, 2016 at 04:52 PM · A couple more observations, based on having had my first lesson as an adult yesterday (first lesson in 15 years, and I'm an advanced player)

Adults are probably better able to identify and articulate personal goals. Obviously a teacher of children needs to be able to differentiate children who may have "conservatoire-track" ability and aspirations from "community orchestra-track" students but adults probably have better defined goals on the whole.

Adults are able to define their practice much better, and a lesson that raises 8 different issues in the space of an hour highlighting directions for the pupil to go off in is probably more use for a grown-up than a child.

Also, I think adults are much more self-conscious and liable to judge themselves against higher (unreasonably high?) standards.

March 1, 2016 at 06:14 PM · I am of the opinion that "community-orchestra-track" adults shouldn't be taught technique in a way that is inferior to "conservatoire-track" kids. Better technical fundamentals will help an adult sound their best in what they can play, but such fundamentals are also often vital to reducing fatigue and injury for adults, especially middle-age-and-older adults. The ergonomics of playing are more important for adults.

I don't think that the violin is exempt from methodology and a logical progression that can be articulated to the student. Indeed, I think that excellent teaching demands it.

Suzuki-trained teachers get, as part of their training, the "teaching points" of each piece in the Suzuki books, which basically explain what skills are being taught in each piece, and interlink different pieces for reinforcement and review. I believe that other methods (Sassmenhaus, O'Connor, etc.) also do something similar. Teachers who don't use a pre-done method should nevertheless have a game plan in mind.

If you feel like your current teacher doesn't have a game plan, ask. I'd probably broach that in a communication before your lesson -- an email or the like -- asking to talk about the plan. Ask a few days in advance (or bring it up at the end of a lesson on your way out) so your teacher can be prepared to discuss it come next lesson-time.

March 1, 2016 at 06:19 PM · Jessy I kind of sensed from your original post that the immediate issue for you is whether you should be changing teachers (your question No. 5) and that the other four questions were designed to help you determine how to find a better one next time.

I like everything that Lydia wrote. Lydia wrote that your teacher should be improving something at each lesson, and I agree with that conceptually but I think it's healthy to have a nuanced definition of improvement. There are many times I've come away from my lesson without any additional technical tools but feeling like I really gained in terms of my musical understanding, to the extent that I felt inspired to go home and tear into that concerto movement or whatever an interpret the hell out of it. Those often were lessons where I showed up tired from working until 2 am or unprepared, etc., and my teacher was able to recognize that and find a way to teach me something in spite of myself.

March 1, 2016 at 06:25 PM · I think, for the "community-orchestra-track" adult returnee who is likely to sit in the 2nd violin section, the following goals probably make sense:

LEFT HAND: Be able to play comfortably and in tune in the first five positions, in all keys. Initial focus should be on the first three positions, including comfortable half-position and 2nd position. Intonation and accuracy matter a lot.

RIGHT HAND: Have good control over basic bow strokes, including a light and heavy brush stroke, and spiccato, with clean precision. Understand how to do a pizzicato and quickly switch back and forth between bowed and pizz. Be able to do the common orchestral tremolos without overt tension, including an "airy" fast tremolo (for piano, impressionistic passages) and a wall-of-sound tremolo (for fortissimo "produce a lot of noise" passages).

I don't think that the skills for basic community orchestral playing are necessarily the same sequence of skills that are taught otherwise, and for adult returnees who want to be playing in orchestra, it probably makes sense to pursue a different technical emphasis and sequence.

March 1, 2016 at 07:48 PM · Lydia, In looking at the music I've been sent from my community orchestra, Violin 1 looks easier to that usually the case? There are even some passages in Violin 2 that play 4 notes together-I know they usually put newbies in the violin 2 section but in looking at the music, I am puzzled as to why. I can read music (As I've played piano for many years) and the Violin 2 part just looks more difficult to play. I am hoping to be placed at the very very back of the Violin 1 section :)

March 1, 2016 at 08:49 PM · Wow, there are a lot of things to respond to in the few hours of travel. I'm in new York to see the NY philharmonic tonight. I'm very excited!

Chris, I agree with your observations. As an advanced player what are you looking for in taking lessons?

Paul, I am not really looking for a new teacher, I am happy with who I have right now as it seems that as new as I am she is very good at correcting my blunders technically (i.e. a bow thumb not bent correctly, a pinkie floating off the back of the bow poor posture, a sagging violin a thumb that lags behind the shift etc.

My music at this point does not need interpretation as I am learning very easy etudes, scales, and I am going to ask about arpeggios next lesson. The community orchestra pieces of course would need help with interpretation...if I could play them competently, which I cannot yet. So the focus from her right now is getting my technical ability up to par which very often means slowing me down, working on bow strokes, rhythms, etc.

Honestly, Paul, my question stemmed from my guitar teacher who I felt more or less was not helping me improve, yet, I never could put my finger on why exactly. And so, I have thought a lot over the years on why that was and naturally it is often on my mind as I take lessons with the violin. I want to ensure that I maximize my lessons and don't repeat my mistakes with the guitar.

Lydia, those are excellent goals and I have a LONG way to go to meet them. :-) However, I wonder now what sequence might be different between community orchestra groups and those others to which you refer?

How would this effect ones lessons regarding directionality?


March 1, 2016 at 09:07 PM · Violin 1 parts are usually technically more difficult, and are far more likely to go into the upper positions. Most community orchestras tend to put their most technically adept players in Violin 1. It is rare to seat adult returnees in Violin 1 unless they've retained a fair degree of their chops.

The four-part chords that you see in the part might or might not be easy to play. For instance, a G major chord -- first position with open G, open D, B on A string, G on E string -- is very straightforward. Such chords are often played as-is. However, extended sequences of chords are often marked "divisi" in orchestra parts, which means to divide the notes between the players -- usually into two parts, inside/outside.

March 1, 2016 at 09:15 PM · I think for an adult amateur whose primary goal is to play 2nd violin competently in a community orchestra, their goal should be "sound good within the section", which means playing the notes in rhythm, in tune, with the right articulation and dynamic level. The notes will be primarily in the lower positions, but they can be in highly unviolinistic keys.

Most progressive violin studies are based on the idea that you're trying to play more and more advanced repertoire written specifically for the violin, where the violin is the star attraction (solo violin, violin and piano, or violin accompanied by orchestra). Many teachers allow their students to slop through pieces, without really accurate intonation, rhythm, articulation, and attention paid to the dynamics. These things are crimes when playing in an orchestra, but you can often get away with them as a student in a solo context.

As an adult returnee, drill is your friend. Drill will rebuild the muscles. It will help your brain dredge up old memories of how you used to be able to play the violin. And it will build consistent mechanical skills. As an adult, you can tolerate drill in a way that would drive a child batty.

Professional orchestra playing demands a somewhat different set of skills than community orchestra playing. That's probably a thread unto itself. :-)

March 2, 2016 at 12:55 AM · It is also worth adding that many of these things that may different in the teacher-student relationship for adults also apply to children who could be labeled as "intellectually gifted". This especially goes for the burning desire to know "why" and perfectionism. Also, introverted adults who identify with more despotic and hierarchical cultural values may be afraid to question their teachers. Too often teachers have rigid conceptualizations in their minds of how each age group behaves and fail to consider the individual in front of them.

March 2, 2016 at 02:42 AM · As I age I find that learning skills to KEEP me in playing condition have become more important: reducing tension, stretches, form, posture, etc... In recent years some limits to what I can do physically have raised their ugly heads (thank you arthritis and impinged nerves!), and my teacher and I decided to accept them and work on reducing their impact to my musical future.

These are conversations that adult students tend to have with their teachers more so than children and younger adults, and should.

March 2, 2016 at 06:47 PM ·

March 2, 2016 at 07:21 PM · I like what Ultra-Man said.

March 6, 2016 at 12:52 AM ·

March 6, 2016 at 11:51 AM · Ok...I'll bite. Who is ultra-man and why is he hijacking my thread? :-D

March 6, 2016 at 12:35 PM · Sorry, I will take down my comments.

March 6, 2016 at 01:54 PM · Lololololol no don't do that! I enjoyed your comments. I just literally have no idea who ultra man is. I'm beams new to this forum. I hope I didn't offend you!

March 6, 2016 at 02:42 PM · Ultraman was a Japanese live-action superhero TV show from the 60s. The photo next to my name is Ultraman. I am not Ultraman, just an adult string student like you. My teacher has a very low opinion of adult students (how they should be taught and what they are capable of learning), and he's not shy about voicing his opinion. This makes our student/teacher relationship difficult. I really liked Lydia's comments above; to hear that from someone with her background really means a lot.

March 6, 2016 at 03:39 PM · Why are you studying with someone who has no basic respect for you as a student?

March 6, 2016 at 03:44 PM ·  "Why are you studying with someone who has no basic respect for you as a student?"

Excellent question. And now it makes sense! I apologize again. I was attempting to make a joke about my ignorance and it backfired.

I did not realize your avatar was ultraman!


March 6, 2016 at 03:46 PM · Also, what kind of background in music or violin does your teacher possess to have such definite opinions on adult education?

March 6, 2016 at 07:46 PM · Lydia: to echo Jessy, that's an excellent question, one I have no good answer for. I thought maybe if I worked hard enough, I might shed the "adult student" label and just be like everyone else who studies with him. Hasn't happened yet, though. That's why this thread is so interesting to me - very interesting (and heartening) to know that there are other approaches to teaching adults.

Jessy: he's a musician who's played in our local professional orchestra for many years. He's also taught privately, coached, directed amateur string orchestras, etc for quite a while. Even so, it doesn't take any special experience or training to have an opinion. On anything :-)

March 6, 2016 at 08:03 PM · I would think twice about giving my money to someone who doesn't have any respect for me. I would think twice-squared about someone who takes my money while being open about not having any respect for me. That's some expensive contempt right there.

There are absolutely some musicians who have that attitude. They have zero respect for adult amateurs, even highly accomplished ones. And they tend to have nothing but contempt for adult beginners, and no belief that they can learn or that teaching them (or even adept adult amateurs) accomplishes anything worthwhile.

Stay far away from those people. A teacher who doesn't believe in their student isn't going to put in their best effort to teach them. When the student struggles, the teacher is going to ensure that failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Is there anyone else you could possibly study with?

By the way, Karen, please don't delete anything that you post in the future. If you've been offensive (and none of your previous posts came anywhere close to being offensive), the moderator will let you know you've crossed a line. Other than that, things can stand. Even if someone disagrees and/or is offended, other people likely have found value in what you wrote, and I regret that you deleted your previous contributions to this thread.

March 6, 2016 at 09:16 PM · Hi Karen, I am also an adult learner with a goal of playing in the community orchestra with the technical proficiancy as Lydia has described above.

I'm not sure how long it will take me to feel confident enough to play with ex-pros and trained musicians, but my teacher fully supports my effort and genuinely is excited to teach me.

I'm sorry to hear of your teacher's attitude. Is there no one else to get lessons from ?

March 6, 2016 at 10:18 PM · Karen

Im sorry to see ypu have such an awful teacher. I echo Lydia's advice Bout paying momey to someone who isnt, at the end of the day, going to give you his best efforts.

In the meantime I suggest you call him Nobita behind his back...

Best wishes,


Not much of an ultraman fan. Ghibli has a lot to offer.

March 6, 2016 at 11:29 PM · I really do appreciate the comments, but I think it would be helpful to get back to Jessy's questions in the original post.

March 7, 2016 at 01:47 AM · I don't see the harm in having a bit of fun especially after a thread has waned for a while. I have a special attachment to Ultra-Man because my lab-mate back in graduate school was an amazing Japanese postdoc with a heart of gold, a keen sense of humor, and a great mind for organic chemistry. On the fume hood there was a big red indicator light for the exhaust fan. Figuring this Japanese guy would know who Ultra-Man is, I drew a big human outline around the red light with a Sharpie pen. I showed it to him, and I used the fan switch to make the light blink. He looked at me strangely, and I said, "Ultra-Man." He just about died laughing.

Coming back to the original post, including some of the other remarks, again I would say that I think adults have a tendency to overthink things and that includes changing violin teachers. Well, when you've got someone you've worked with closely for a while, you develop friendships. That's only natural. But if you had a medical doctor that wasn't taking you seriously, wouldn't you look for another? Don't forget what you're paying for week after week: Professional consultation.

March 7, 2016 at 03:20 AM · Going back on-topic to answer Jessy's question from earlier in this thread that nobody has addressed, "As an advanced player what are you looking for in taking lessons?"

As an advanced adult amateur, I want my teacher to accelerate the learning process, and to teach me new skills. I also take weekly lessons in order to give myself motivation to practice; as the days tick down across the week, I know that if I want to be prepared for my next lesson (and therefore make the nontrivial sum of money I pay for lessons worthwhile), I have to pick up the violin and play regardless of how much I don't feel like it at the moment.

Note that I'm at a level where I could simply enjoy playing -- there's plenty of repertoire that I could learn on my own -- but for me, I'm not really ever happy with anything that I'm doing unless I'm improving steadily. Due to the two decade-long periods that I took away from the violin, I'm very much still in technical-recovery mode, but I'm also learning new skills to go along with the old ones.

Here are the things that I wanted out of a teacher.

1. Experience. I wanted a teacher who, even if they didn't teach many adults, had solid experience teaching the advanced repertoire. That meant either someone who teaches conservatory-bound high school kids (or kids trying to win competitions and concertmaster spots in order to burnish their Harvard applications), and/or someone teaching at the college level.

In general, it's useful for a teacher, at whatever level, to have plenty of experiences teaching other students at that level. They'll know what tends to work and not work, and have an existing bag of tricks and insights. They should also be very familiar with the repertoire at that level. It's useful for them to be able to competently demonstrate, too.

There are a fair number of teachers who can teach the early professional repertoire and technique -- Bruch, Mendelssohn, Dont op. 35, and so forth -- and do so on a reasonably routine basis. There are many fewer teachers (at least available to adult amateurs) that can teach the top end of the concerto repertoire (Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Beethoven etc.) and virtuosic technique (Paganini Caprices etc.).

2. Communication style-match. Every teacher has a different way of conveying information. I generally think of them in two categories, verbal and physical. I much prefer the verbal.

Verbally-oriented teachers tend to use spoken explanations, often with heavy use of analogies or imagery in order to convey to the student what something ought to feel like. This works very well for my more intuitive style of learning.

Physically-oriented teachers rely heavily upon demonstrations of the "feel my muscles and make your muscles do the same thing". I have almost no ability to learn this way, but it works great for many people.

3. Analytical approach. A teacher should be able to explain how and why things work. This includes teaching you to teach yourself -- learning to dissect why you're wrong and devise strategies to fix those things. One of the most useful things a teacher can do is to offer that insight that helps you nigh-instantly fix something, or the quick-fix practice method that shortcuts hours of tedium.

4. A plan. A teacher should be able to see what a student needs and come up with a coherent way to address those needs. I like to feel like I'm making progress and that the things that I'm doing make sense. Also, because I generally only have time to play 30-60 minutes a day, with 20-40 probably more realistic in terms of what I'm actually achieving, that plan has to work on limited practice time. Yet I want a teacher to be as demanding as they can be, given the limitations of that time, so I'm forced to live up to those expectations whenever possible.

5. Flexibility. As an adult with a very busy work schedule, frequent business travel, and (since Christmas-ish) a baby, I need a teacher's understanding of the periodic need to change lesson times or miss lessons, and that how much I practice in any given week will be variable and sometimes unpredictable. That includes being able to do something useful with lesson-time even if I'm not adequately prepared that week. It also means adapting around the demands of the musical things I want to do (especially performance opportunities that might require particular repertoire), even if that means various digressions around the original plan.

I also intensely dislike teachers that dictate interpretation. A teacher, especially of advanced students, should be helping them bring out their own personal musical sensibility, not imposing their own. Offering interpretive ideas is great; dictating, "you must play it exactly how I play it" is bad. If you hear multiple students of a good teacher, they should all still sound like themselves.


Other things to consider:

Studio opportunities. A sense of community in a studio is really nice, and it's great to have other adult amateurs at a similar level studying with the same teacher or closely-knit group of teachers. Recitals, master-class opportunities, and the like are all valuable.

Connections. It can be very useful to have a teacher that is plugged into the community, that knows about the events that are going on, and can hook you up with opportunities. For adults, this can be a valuable way to get hooked up with freelance gigs, orchestra, people looking for chamber music, etc.

March 7, 2016 at 04:28 AM · I've only taught a handful of adult learners in my time, but as others have said, I don't think the needs are that different between an adult learner and a teen aged or young adult learner. But I've seen students of all ages: kids, teens, those in college, with a wide range of focus, endurance, and learning skills. So I don't think there's much difference in that regard either (I've seen 9 year olds go for 3 hours straight of intense work; I used to teach for an average of 1.5 to 2 hours with students of all ages.)

I think adults have one main advantage and one disadvantage.

There's a popular learning style theory out there which outlines 4 categories:

"Why" learners want to know why they should do what they're asked to do, why it's important, why they should do it now.

"What" learners need an outline, or contents. They need the facts without seemingly irrelevant details. They're primarily interested in what they need to know to do x or y.

"How" learners need to know the context, how what they're learning fits into the larger picture, how what they already know connects to what they're learning.

"What if" learners need to have the options laid out. They need to know that what they're working on is the best way to proceed. They want to know how such a process was achieved, and how it was decided upon.

I don't know how much evidence there is for such a theory, but it seems to ring true. I think most teachers have no clue what kind of learning style they have, and consequently how they dispense information (indeed I find it difficult adjusting my style of communication even when I know.)

But with such knowledge and understanding of communication styles, and the student-teacher dynamic, I think the adult student can figure out how to get the most out of any given teacher, whereas kids are basically stuck with whatever situation they're given. (Students should never leave the studio without fully understanding everything that was taught and what they are expected to do with that information by next lesson.) In a similar vein, adults can survey their options, shop around and get the teacher they need, whereas it's much more difficult for kids to do the same.

But figuring out what one needs is no easy task, for anybody at any age, and there's the rub, the flip-side of the same coin. The young student has little choice but to do the teacher's bidding. If a kid walks into a new studio having suddenly decided to audition for a performance program in 2 years (talking from experience here) invariably they need to be remediated. And it's 'my way or the highway' so they do the difficult, often tedious work of rebuilding what they need to in the shortest time possible, so they can get on with preparing repertoire as soon as possible. They're forced to take the shortest, often brutal path to technical competency. I think given such an ultimatum, most adults would take the highway and keep shoppin' around.

I get it. Most adults are learning the instrument, or coming back to it, mostly for the pleasure of making music, whether solo or with others. I would never force an adult learner to go remedial (even though I've tried to manipulate the direction that way ;) as I would with a kid who wants to get into college. But making music, playing in an ensemble, learning a favourite piece can be the very thing that takes attention away from what the student needs to pay attention to. Fundamental change comes from observing internally, whether it's a mental process, e.g. how and what to pay attention to, or a physical process, e.g. how a motion feels, or how the fiddle feels when holding this way AND also how the hand/arm feels when holding the fiddle that same way.

Often, doing what we want, working on a goal, forces attention on external factors, even while internal factors are preventing us from achieving those very goals. It's a difficulty students of all ages face. But adults are less compelled to face it, while at the same time they have more power to effect rapid change. It's a quandary.

March 7, 2016 at 03:41 PM · Lydia and jeewan both excellent posts. I really agree with just about everything you both said. In particular, I am most definitely a "why" learner. As a general rule if someone cannot adequately explain why a technique or a concept is used then it is most likely useless. Or they are a very poor teacher. I feel fairly strongly about this. And the knowing "why" you are song something is both motivation and a way to mark progress. If I know I should be able to achieve a thing through a particular concept or technique then I can both test myself to see if I am progressing abs I can watch for that technique in those who are technically superior to myself.

March 7, 2016 at 06:47 PM · Interestingly I think I ask all four of those questions. :-)

March 7, 2016 at 09:19 PM · Lydia, I ask all four of those questions too. I don't insist on having the answers (sometimes there aren't any), but I am interested.

March 8, 2016 at 03:32 PM · Lydia and Karen, you must be excellent communicators! If I remember correctly, the theory goes that if you have a strong affinity to one way of processing information, your brain doesn't start to process information until you're told what you need to hear.

So if you're a why learner and the teacher starts laying out the outline of what's to be covered in the next three months, or all the possibilities learning this etude or practicing that exercise will open for the future, etc., you won't tune in until you hear why you need to x and y. The suggestion is that to communicate effectively it's a good idea to just communicate the same information in 3 or 4 different ways all the time. I get quite repetitive when I teach, but I find it difficult to keep track of the ways in which I've packaged the information :( So I just keep repeating myself even more.

I think for the adult learner whose style is different from the teacher's it might be useful to know that difference, and rephrase whatever the teacher says in various ways to fill in the missing information. A distinct advantage for the adult learner.

August 9, 2016 at 12:11 AM · This thread has been inactive for a bit and I have a related question. Do the schools provide courses on how to teach strings? If so is there any content on how to practice strings? Many adults become discouraged because they are not happy with or can't perceive their progress and don't connect with not seeing the plan.

August 9, 2016 at 12:52 AM · David I think that's one reason why you have to be a great violinist first and foremost before becoming a violin teacher. Someone who has reached an essentially pro level on the violin will have been taking lessons for many years, and as that person matured, they changed, and they encountered new problems and sometimes new teachers, and so they were taught many different ways. I presume they also studied together with other violin students at conservatory and likely had innumerable discussions about how they were being taught and how they were learning and practicing. All that adds up to a lot of knowledge and insight. Even if it's still not the same as actual teaching experience, it's a foundation.

August 9, 2016 at 01:00 AM · Anecdotally, it seems many adult violin starters experience frustration and dismay somewhere between 3 months and 2 years and many quit. Could not being taught how to practice be a factor?

August 9, 2016 at 01:21 AM · Finding time to practice may be a bigger issue. Job, kids, spouse....not easy to find time to squeeze in practice (I do it at lunch hour)

August 9, 2016 at 01:54 AM · I think adults are often shocked and dismayed by how hard it is to reach an even listenable level, and give up.

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