What are the reasons teachers have reject adult learners?

July 11, 2016 at 11:45 PM · What are the reasons some teachers have to reject adult beginners? (Please edit the title, I can't).

This is a matter that has been seen repeatedly here in different ways. When it comes to look for a teacher, it has been pointed out multiple times that some teachers don't teach adult beginners, and some of them simply don't teach adults at all.

It has been mentioned enough to make me think about the possible reasons a teacher can have to decide not to teach adults, but what are them exactly? Do adult learners learn more slowly than children? are they often unable to met their teacher expectations? maybe are children more dedicated?

It has been mentioned multiple times, but never heard the reasons of teachers themselves that decide to teach only children of a certain age.

Replies (79)

July 12, 2016 at 12:34 AM · The way you are putting this on the table is a little strange for me. If you are asking why some teachers reject (some) adult beginners that's a different matter and they should answer themselves...

It's difficult for me to see a pattern in this.And I can see various pros and cons when you are an adult learner or even a beginner. However adults need a different approach than a 5 year old kid apparently, and that would be the main "excuse" I can think of. But as I said, an excuse..

I can understand if a teacher wants to specialize in senior students, in masterclasses or just in beginners...but refusing to accept adults?

July 12, 2016 at 12:43 AM · Worse case scenario: uninformed bias-it's not as if young students are guaranteed to do better, however.

Fair case scenario: it's all they know, and realizing that adults learn differently, perhaps they are honest in finding themselves not ideally suited to the task.

It's important for adult learners to find a teacher who doesn't take them just for their money while doubting their potential or ability to advance due to any sort of bias.

July 12, 2016 at 01:09 AM · I have come across this myself many times where I live (Australia). I don't think the violin teacher education system really caters for adult learners. I could be wrong but the assumption seems to be that all beginners are children.

July 12, 2016 at 01:28 AM · There could be many reasons.

Let's say you've got a studio with 25-30 children. You might not want to deal with trying to help one or two adult beginners to be comfortable in situations where a 7-year-old can play the same piece much better, for example in the typical group classes, studio recitals, or even being overheard at the beginning or end of one's lesson by the child student waiting in the anteroom.

Or maybe you've taken adult students in the past and they've turned out to be head cases, wanting to unload on you about their personal problems, or maybe they never practiced and dealing with that week after week was a drag, or whatever.

Or maybe their approach to teaching child beginners involves a lot of situations where they have to touch the child (holding their arms in the right position, adjusting their posture, or whatever), and maybe they're not comfortable doing that with an adult.

Or maybe they're trying to maximize their chances of producing the next conservatory-bound student, and an adult just takes up a slot that could otherwise be offered to a promising youngster.

I'm not saying that in my opinion any of these reasons is particularly compelling, but a teacher doesn't really have to have ANY reason, does (s)he?

July 12, 2016 at 03:12 AM · I was told by one lifelong piano teacher the she and other teachers she knew didn't want adult students because they all too often found a reason or excuse for not showing up. Then the teachers lost that hour's income. Whereas children are always brought to lessons by their dedicated, committed and ambitious parents. Simple economics, though others could have their own different reasons.

July 12, 2016 at 06:37 AM · I don't reject adult beginners. But they seldom last very long. Maybe a few months, often less.

I think they tend to be surprised by how difficult it turns out to be.

July 12, 2016 at 07:21 AM · Teaching adults is simply not the same as teaching children. In my experience (as a child beginner, and later advanced adult on a different instrument, parent, and adult beginner on the violin) children tend to have a year contract with weekly lessons (and 12 weeks of school holidays). Adults prefer lessons twice per month or when they have time ;) One of my teachers mainly has advanced adults as students and as a consequence does not have a weekly schedule nor a constant income. The other teacher who teaches mainly children has a fixed schedules and typically a full program from 15-19u on schooldays.

@Scott: what a pity they stop because it is so difficult. In many ways being an adult beginner is an adventure. One of the challenges is indeed not to be overly focused on 'how it sounds'. But frankly, after sitting out several recitals with children beginners. I am not convinced that they advance quicker than adults. Perhaps there are a few really talented kids. But the rest is like the adult beginners: mere mortals...

July 12, 2016 at 07:33 AM · I don't reject adult beginners but it's been my experience that they are surprised by how slow the learning curve is at first. And then life gets in the way, and they don't have time to practice, and they start canceling lessons...It's a rare adult beginner indeed who lasts more than six months. I will only schedule their lessons during times that most younger students can't be there (i.e. during school hours).

July 12, 2016 at 10:07 AM · Mary, that is an excellent solution. At least now we have a good answer : adults are more likely to cancel. I had not considered that at all.

July 12, 2016 at 12:34 PM · AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!!!! I was almost at the end of a long post, then apparently hit some odd key, and it all disappeared into another dimension, probably bumping into mis-filed music and lost cat toys! I'm not going to try to re-type it.If anyone wants my 2-cents, feel free to reach me at 732.272.1027

July 12, 2016 at 02:17 PM · I taught children (from age 5) and adults (up to age 60) for many years. The main difference, I recall, is that children come as a "blank canvas," adults all have prior musical experience, even if just from listening to it, so they come with preconceived notions and to teach them you have to be sensitive to the paths they want to follow as well as the ones they must follow. Kids are more malleable.

Some of the adults I taught started out wanting to just learn a particular piece of music (fortunately none of these was going to be difficult to learn- "Amazing Grace," "Ashoken Farewell"). Getting them to become regular students involved weaving those pieces into the fabric of what they would have to learn.

Children came because they or their parents wanted them to learn to play a particular instrument. Teaching the kids was a sort of "cookie cutter" operation until their unique qualities found expression.

After 1980, I based my teaching on the Suzuki books started at the beginning and working toward the end (of book 10) although I used different editions of the major works and interspersed appropriate etudes. I never had kids so talented that I passed them off to other teachers. In the middle of my teaching "career" I was given some teenage students from the city's Suzuki School who were in the HS orchestra and were rebelling from Suzuki - and had notions of what major concerto they wanted to learn - at least that was challenging for a while.

My fastest learners were young adults, particularly one boyfriend/girlfriend pair in their mid-20s who took their lessons together from me for 10 months during which time he progressed into Suzuki violin nook 4 and she into cello book 7 - then they moved across the country. Both had prior musical experience on wind instruments - she had more, as well as much vocal experience. Other adults with some musical experience had a leg up in learning to trasfer their reading ability ot playing violin or cello.

Some adults could not get the concept of reading music from a staff, even though they could learn the mechanics of playing. Teaching an adult who is having trouble can get embarrassing for both student and teacher.

I can certainly understand a teacher not wanting to teach adults or not wanting to teach children!

My grandson started classical piano lessons with his teacher 18 years ago, and it was not long before his dad (my son-in-law) started with the same teacher - and he is still with the same teacher. My grandson went other ways after a while and is now a professional singer, guitarist, and song writer (not classical). Their piano teacher also took cello lessons from me for 5 years - and being a lefty gave him some real problems. Also, having a studio of 60 -70 piano students every week plus separate monthly "recital" sessions for groups of the kids and the adults really ate up his time.

July 12, 2016 at 02:41 PM · Looking at this from a different perspective, as a mature adult I had seven years of learning the violin (successfully) from a teacher who, at the time, had only adult students at various stages of ability, although I understand that children are now being taught.

Regarding the situation of an adult student missing a lesson and thereby depriving the teacher of an hour's income, the solution seems to be fairly simple. In my case, the student enters into a contract with the teacher to receive, let us say, a set of 6 fortnightly lessons, the full amount being payable at the beginning. In return, if the student is going to miss, or misses, a lesson - and an adult student can miss a lesson for any number of perfectly legitimate reasons - then the teacher organizes that lesson in another time slot agreeable to both parties, perhaps swapping the time slot with another pupil. This arrangement also applies if the teacher is unexpectedly unable to be present at a lesson. The system works well for both teacher and student.

My teacher kept a few empty time slots available, not only for missed lessons, but for the occasional one-off or exploratory lesson for someone not on the regular list.

July 12, 2016 at 04:25 PM · A teacher with a studio of advanced adults shouldn't be having issues with unpredictability. Advanced adults serious enough to take lessons should generally be pretty reliable students within the parameters set. There is a difference between students looking for occasional coaching and students looking for weekly or biweekly lessons, though. (Biweekly shouldn't be a big issue if there are lots of biweekly students, thereby allowing staggered scheduling that reliably fills a time slot.) Trevor's post reflects my experience with past teachers.

There are really two types of teachers out there, though -- selective and non-selective studios. Selective teachers don't have many openings and can therefore afford to be choosy about what students they take into their studio. Non-selective teachers have more teaching time available than they have students and are happy to just have more income even if it's not 100% guaranteed or they think a student is only going to last a few months (or is seasonal, as I've seen locally, with some kids who do public-school music taking private lessons only during the summer). Non-selective teachers are much more likely to be willing to take on adult beginners as long as they feel comfortable teaching an adult.

Some selective studios are highly competitive, and/or the teacher wants to create synergy between the students and so tends to take students who all match a certain kind of profile, whatever that is. Adult learners in general aren't likely to fit.

July 12, 2016 at 05:50 PM · Why don't they take adult students?

Likely because the adults are too childish....

(P.S- Im glad my teacher took adult students. I've been studying for 4 years now)

July 12, 2016 at 06:15 PM · I am an adult beginner. (Well, I have been playing now for almost two years.) I am on my 4th teacher. All four teach children primarily, but all four took me on quite happily. But teaching adults is very different than teaching children, and when it wasn't working I quit and tried someone else - my current teacher may or not be "better" than the others, but his approach works well for me. I think it is true that adults are quicker to quit than children - it is hard for adults to feel so incompetent at something, week after week! This attrition rate can be frustrating for teachers. I would like to see more of an effort by music schools to get newer adult students together, working through some simple chamber music. It helps to keep the motivation up.

July 12, 2016 at 06:55 PM · Any teacher who wants more students but has run out of "after-school" time slots should seek out home-schooling families.

I'm a returner, so I was not a blank slate, but rather I did have some problems that needed fixing. I take lessons every two-three weeks, and I move my schedule around so that I can be the first lesson of the day, which is often at 1:30 or 2:00 in the afternoon on a weekday. That way my teacher never has a hole in his schedule because of me. Sometimes I have to cancel or reschedule, and sometimes my teacher does too. We're both busy professionals, and we understand that about one another.

I'm never in a situation where I cannot make progress until my next lesson, so it works out fine. In my teacher's studio, all lessons are pre-paid a semester (or summer) at a time. I had the advantage of watching my teacher give my daughter lessons for several months before starting up again myself, so I was able to be fully acclimated to his teaching style.

There is one thing that I have noticed my teacher do, repeatedly, that is very clever. Let's say I'm getting frustrated with a certain passage, the notes are not coming out the way I would like. Of course I could just work on that later, but I think adult students, much more so than children, fall prey to the old "this sounded so much better at home" routine. What he will do is make some comment about some musical aspect of the passage, such as "build a crescendo through there" or "the notes should be more tenuto at the top" and sure enough, as soon as I am focusing on that musical thing, voila, the technical impasse melts away. I have not seen him do this with children, but it seems to work on me.

July 12, 2016 at 07:24 PM · Having recently moved for a new job, I really miss my weekly lessons. If I was not able to make it, I always paid for the lesson. I don't waste people's time, they should not expect the same from me. Good adult students also bring better presents to their teachers. Mine got fresh salmon and garden veggies during the summer and Honey and maple syrup in the spring.

Sometimes you gotta treat people well.....

July 12, 2016 at 10:10 PM · Why don't teacher's take adult students? They are ageist and make sweeping generalizations about large groups of people, plain and simple.

July 12, 2016 at 10:19 PM · I have been with one teacher for four and a half years and he also teaches other adults as well as children.

I had two previous teachers but parted company with them because they were not easy to talk to and seemed to treat my questions as challenges. They were not treating me as an equal as far as needing explanations and needing to talk over problems were concerned but instead handed down instructions from 'on high'. I stuck with them for quite a while after I became disenchanted but in the end I got fed up of being treated like a child. I haven't known any teachers who don't take adults but those who are used to teaching children sometimes don't find it easy to adapt to teaching adults.

Even with my current teacher, it doesn't always run smoothly, but over the years we have established a rapport; there has never been any question of cancelling lessons and I know I can count on him to honour his commitments. I have made great progress with him as he is an inspiring person who is a baroque performer and accompanies me either on the violin or the piano.

This link says it all for me as far as the difference between teaching adults and children is concerned:


July 12, 2016 at 10:43 PM · Teachers simply need to assess what they have in front of them, and age definitely isn't the whole story. Teachers are likely to run into different personality types, levels of intelligence, motivations, and cultural backgrounds, which make many of these tips useless, if they are just applied on basis of age. I imagine, for instance, that a highly gifted extroverted child would find the tips for children quite frustrating and insulting. An introverted, obedient adult might be okay with fewer explanations. Using the guide linked to is, quite frankly in my opinion, one-size-fits-all, or more like it: two-sizes-fit-all.

July 12, 2016 at 11:04 PM · "Why don't teacher's take adult students? They are ageist and make sweeping generalizations about large groups of people, plain and simple."

You might be right. But I have a feeling it's just garden-variety everyday experience. Personally, I've not found adults to be any more or less reliable about showing up on a week-to-week basis than kids.

But I'll tell you what are worse than adults: non-major college students. They are absolutely the worst. They want a couple of easy credits. They buy a cheap purple unplayable ebay violin. They might get the book you told them to get--a month into the semester. Then forget it every time thereafter.

They absolutely never, ever practice. They have every excuse in the book. They cancel an hour after the lesson they already missed. Then to top it off, you give them a B just to be nice, and they come back a year later, having bitched to the dean, asking for an A.

So called me "ageist" or something for that group,, but it just comes down to experience and annoyance.

July 13, 2016 at 01:07 AM · That is an interesting insight into one aspect of the American college system. This question and the subsequent answers have been most informative.

July 13, 2016 at 02:27 AM · Non-major beginners, maybe. Advanced non-majors are a different story -- they're the ones who still cared enough to continue on with music after the point it's necessary to pad a college application with extracurriculars.

July 13, 2016 at 04:42 AM · A college student who fails to show up to lessons and never practices is going to get a lot less than a B from me.

July 13, 2016 at 04:44 AM · As to Lydia's point, the OP's question was specifically about adult *beginners,* which is an entirely different situation from the returning adult who had previously achieved proficiency. The latter, I will take with no hesitation. The former, well, having been burned more than once does not mean that I am an ageist but it does mean that I am loath to get back into that situation.

July 13, 2016 at 09:33 AM · 'Teachers simply need to assess what they have in front of them, and age definitely isn't the whole story. Teachers are likely to run into different personality types, levels of intelligence, motivations, and cultural backgrounds, which make many of these tips useless, if they are just applied on basis of age...'

Lieschen, I agree entirely. But realising that there is a basic difference between teaching a child and teaching an adult will be a start. And after all, this whole thread is about these basic differences.

Sorry that you didn't like the link - obviously their space was limited, but it was a godsend to me as it showed my teacher that I was not the only one who was saying these things. By the way, if anyone else can provide material on the subject, I'd appreciate that.

In my link, I particularly liked the concept that the music teacher of an adult might be a mentor rather than an instructor.

Another good point was that a teacher of adults doesn't need to worry that the committed adult learner will be bored and keep shifting the repertoire.

These points proved useful in my lessons with my current teacher, who is inclined to go out of his way to entertain his child pupils & with adults to be constantly upping the ante. But I am learning folk fiddle & at this stage I need consolidation and fine-tuning of the basic skills rather than being presented every week with amazing tunes that are solo pieces for skilled folk performers.

I provide my own challenges, as the link says! My teacher has the difficulty not only that I'm an adult but that I'm a retired teacher with my own views on pedagogy. :--)

I am a returner to the violin but I had never reached any high level in my schooldays. However, prior experience certainly helped and I can well see that adults who take up the violin as absolute beginners may not realise that the instrument is so challenging and may be more prone to drop out.

Is it possible for teachers to try out such absolute beginners on a trial basis so that the adult needs to prove that s/he has what it takes?

July 13, 2016 at 12:34 PM · Scott, when I was in college, I had a little music scholarship ($500 or something), and in return I was meant to play the piano in the jazz ensemble, which I did. I even performed as the pianist in a jazz recital given by one of the professors who was an outstanding trumpeter, and I worked as a staff accompanist in the music department, getting paid about twice minimum wage to play for lessons, master classes, and recitals. One of the piano teachers heard me and said I should take lessons. I said no no no, I don't have time to practice (I was double-majoring in chemistry and biology and thinking about medical school at the time, and my practice time all went toward my accompaniment music), but she basically cajoled me into taking lessons, saying it would be fun, it would be okay, etc. She was a very good piano teacher. But then I got a B+ one term (because guess what, I didn't have time to practice), and by coincidence I had opted out of participating in the "optional" scales contest that she created for her studio. I didn't take any more lessons after that.

July 13, 2016 at 01:36 PM · I don't know if you can compare adult students to amateur musicians, and I may be wrong about this, but as far as amateur players go they are far more difficult to work with than professional players. This is because, in my somewhat limed experience, they seem to have fixed ideas and opinions and they generally behave as if they know it all and are the experts. (Even if they can hardly play).

So I won't work with this group of people, and as I don't really teach anymore now, I have no recent experience of adults, as beginners or even more advanced players.

July 13, 2016 at 03:12 PM · Aren't most children amateurs? I guess I don't see what you're driving at there Peter. I don't know why I would take lessons at all except to learn something I didn't already know. Some lessons I learn a little, and some lessons I learn some mind-warping new thing.

When amateurs respond to questions on these forums, what they mean is "This is what I was taught" or "This has worked for me in the past" or "This is what I read in a book on violin playing" even if that is not stated. It is true that sometimes amateurs misinterpret what they were taught or what they read, and what works for them might be an unsustainable short cut. Correcting such an error gently is a better approach than cutting off its progenitor at the knees.

Where I think amateur violinists can become perhaps most frustrating to teachers is when they are the *parent* of the student. That's my situation too, so I try to be very careful about that. I want to be the Suzuki Dad who makes the teacher's job easier, not harder. I think I'm usually successful. :)

July 13, 2016 at 04:01 PM · I'll bet the experienced teachers among us will admit that EVERY age group comes with its special challenges. For example, I've generally found that when boys hit about 11-12, they often experience...something. Girls start to zoom ahead, while the boys... I'm not sure how to characterize it. It could be sports, or girls. Perhaps music has become too much of a girl thing, like gymnastics or horses. I'd say that group tends not to last too long either, rivaling adults.

Anyway, there maybe a reason adults eventually give up lessons: they can't get over their nerves, even just for lessons. Kids might have some anxiety about playing for the teacher, but they seem to get over it and just play. Adults, on the other hand, seem to hold on to their fears of being judged. Kids will happily show up without having practiced, but adults can really be fearful of being seen as not prepared or inadequate. And kids don't pay for their lessons--money doesn't mean much to them. Maybe it's worse if the teacher is younger than they are. So one missed lesson turns into two and they say screw it I'll never be any good. I think they get worn down by it. In graduate school I was confident going into violin lessons, but as a piano beginner taking required lessons from a grad students, I always felt that, no matter how much I practiced, I couldn't play a single note in front of the instructor. And now, even though I practice piano daily, I really don't want to play in front of a pianist, even if I know they're just trying to help me.

July 13, 2016 at 04:51 PM · I think that Peter makes an excellent point. I know one person for sure that would be a nightmare to teach. This individual is a TERRIBLE musician in every conceivable way but is convinced that they are amazing. I have witnessed this person argue with experienced, good musicians about why they do something and why they will not do it another way. They continue to be terrible.

I can see teachers avoiding this at all costs and I can see that this might be seen as more of an adult thing.

Adults who are dedicated are great learners quite often. I would argue that after nearly 15 months playing (and taking lessons weekly) that I am better than an equivalent child who practiced an equal amount simply because I understand HOW to learn.

To be fair I am an outlier, but I think that each person should be accepted and rejected on their merits after a trial period. With no greater reason than age a teacher who refuses an adult student is being quite shortsighted.


July 13, 2016 at 06:09 PM · I think teachers tend to know what age group they are effective with and enjoy teaching.

Some teachers can deal with 4- or even 3-year-olds. Not me. My lower limit is about 6.

Just like kindergarten teachers vs. middle school vs. high school. How many professors would want to teach preschoolers? They shouldn't be criticized for not wanting to.

Just because you don't feel like teaching a particular age group doesn't make you "ageist" or "shortsighted." It seems better for all involved to send that person, young or old, to someone who is comfortable with them before you even get started. And again, I do take all ages and don't consider it to be a money issue. If someone comes and takes six lessons then for me that's better than no lessons at all.If you want a guaranteed income stream, then teaching is not it. There is always attrition, illness, vacations, etc. It's part of the gig.

And besides, many of us are self-employed freelancers because we want to make our own decisions. What's wrong with that? Those who teach in schools have NO choice about the students in their classes. And even college-level violin instructors are so desperate for students they have little choice, especially if they want tenure.

July 13, 2016 at 07:37 PM · I agree with Jessy's idea of having a trial period with a student. Wouldn't a teacher do that anyway? Someone who as a private instructor decides on a certain comfort age group is not seeing the students as individuals at that point. They assume, by setting age limits: once I have met one person aged "x", I have met all people aged "x". If that is not considered ageism, quite frankly, I have no idea what is.

July 13, 2016 at 08:27 PM · "Someone who as a private instructor decides on a certain comfort age group is not seeing the students as individuals at that point. "

So what? So are you saying that if a doctor would rather be a pediatrician than a gerontologist that they are "ageist?" Do they have some ethical responsibility to suddenly start seeing seniors? What about gymnastics coaches or ballet instructors? Are they obligated to take every 50-year-old beginner, or should they be able to only start kids up to 14? Are they obligated to interview every older person that comes along just in case they're an "individual?"

And I wonder how many years you've been teaching. I doubt many experienced teachers begin to reject certain age groups from meeting one individual. It's more likely years of seeing the same patterns again and again.


July 13, 2016 at 09:00 PM · I totally agree with what you are saying, Scott.

Some have commented that they stopped taking adult students based on their own anecdotal negative experiences with a few adult students. Perhaps that's their professional prerogative, but I'd have to say that's an area where one needs to be sensitive. What if a teacher discovers that the only pupils that go from their studio to conservatory are girls? Accept only girls from there forward?

July 13, 2016 at 09:10 PM · Paul, you bring up a subject worth of discussion: Is rejecting a student due to age any different than rejecting one for race, sex, or religion? We've heard about bakeries refusing to make wedding cakes for gay couples--if you believe that's wrong as I do, does that mean that age discrimination is any different? Let's say you found most of the students from a certain ethnic community to be spoiled by their parents, exhibited poor lesson behavior, and never practiced. If you then refused to teach any, that would probably be discriminatory without treating them as individuals as Lieschen says. So is there a difference between gender ID, race, religion, or age? Or is age inherently different? What about a flight instructor?

Should they be able to reject those over 85 simply because most in that age group would never make safe pilots? The FAA says a student must be 16--is the instructor obligated to train them? Or can the instructor refuse to train those under 18?

I think it may be. In the case of the bakery, I would not say they have the right to chose their customers based on sexual orientation. Perhaps there's a difference between a storefront, or a government office (Kentucky marriage clerk, anyone?) or an in-home private studio situation.

Maybe I should have gone to law school...

July 13, 2016 at 11:21 PM · Somewhat of an aside...Scott mentioned upthread:

"Anyway, there maybe a reason adults eventually give up lessons: they can't get over their nerves, even just for lessons. Kids might have some anxiety about playing for the teacher, but they seem to get over it and just play. Adults, on the other hand, seem to hold on to their fears of being judged. Kids will happily show up without having practiced, but adults can really be fearful of being seen as not prepared or inadequate. "

As an adult who has been studying for about 7 years, who does have anxiety playing for the teacher sometimes, but has no intention of quitting lessons, the statement above got me wondering...would it be more pleasing to teachers if adults blithely let the screeches and squawks happen until they didn't happen anymore (like kids)? I have heard some say that beginner mistakes are tolerable in children because it's cute, but it's not so cute when adults do it. What would you make of an adult who had absolutely no qualms about playing poorly?

July 13, 2016 at 11:40 PM · I witnessed someone playing with extreme joy and enthusiasm in a massed fiddle concert. Heavy chrome practice mute on, clearly no connection with either hand as to what was being played. Big joyous smile, but how long would you take this persons money?

July 14, 2016 at 02:28 AM · OK, I won't try reiterate my entire long post that disappeared into the ether a couple of days ago. But I do want to make a couple of points that support in my own way some very recent posts:

I'm currently accepting students of all levels and ages. With enough experience one CAN make some meaningful generalizations while keeping in mind that individuals will vary and have their respective unique qualities. I've worked with adults that I have enjoyed and those that I haven't enjoyed. In my experience, adult students are often nervous even after innumerable lessons and are often very self-judgmental. I can deal with that though I'd prefer not having to, and have had some success at alleviating such aspects.

But the kind of adult that drives me bonkers - and this is certainly not every adult - is the 'know-it-all' that has been mentioned - although I've had this with some teens, too. There is the type of adult who is disrespectful and has the kind of attitude that all but says "I'm hiring you, so I'm running the show. I'll practice as much or as little as I want if at all and take up only what I want. Hiring you as a teacher is no different from my hiring a contractor to build me kitchen cabinets."

Now a teacher does need to realize that an amateur adult has different needs than a youngster and that respect is a two-way street. But that said, I hold to the quaint, old-fashioned notion that more - not all or only - respect should flow to the teacher. There's the type who will say "I just want to learn vibrato, or a particular piece and don't tell me if I'm out of tune or if my bow is skating all over the fingerboard because I don't care." Again, an adult will have different needs and goals. And there ought to be good communication that is encouraged by the teacher and that concerns should be voiced by the students. But they need to accept that in any case there is such a thing as playing the violin properly or improperly and there are many interlocking aspects that go into proper playing. I think that if I go to the dentist I have a right to express concern about too many x-rays. But imagine if I said "just examine one tooth because that's the one that hurts." That just won't work. If they are the type that know best, why even go to a teacher? Teach yourself and see how far you get.

July 14, 2016 at 02:51 AM · Adult amateurs who played as children probably carry forth their childhood attitudes towards teachers as they continue to take (or resume taking) lessons in adulthood. Adult beginners may never have had similar experiences before and have to learn to deal with a teacher, which is not necessarily as easy as it seems to those of us who've been in lessons in childhood. This is true in other fields as well, including professional one-on-one coaching in business skills such as giving presentations.

Personally, I've always liked to understand the "why" behind what I'm doing, since one of the objectives for all students is to get better at self-learning. That means that I need to understand the teacher's analytical process and what they're trying to get at by giving a particular instruction. I was like this as a kid, too. My question of, "Why?" is never a disrespectful one; I just have the engineer's desire to understand the mechanics.

I actually haven't found a dearth of teachers willing to take on adult beginners, even if it's not as large a number as teach child beginners. There are enough people out there who need an income that they're willing to try adults, even when they know that many adults give up pretty quickly.

Getting advanced adult instruction if you're a nonprofessional is another matter entirely. The number of teachers who can teach this level of technique and repertoire, and who do so routinely, is relatively small, and most of them have studios full of exceptionally gifted youngsters and no openings.

July 14, 2016 at 07:26 AM · I think Raphael's post co-incides with my own views. But as I don't really teach these days (unless an advanced player turns up) I have to leave the last word to the current teachers on the forum.

July 14, 2016 at 10:51 AM · I agree it's not ageism if a teacher after numerous disappointments selects their students very carefully.

As an adult student myself (7+ years) this discussion has been very informative for me. It also shows that "we" adult students are, not surprisingly, a highly diverse group of people and personalities. I for example don't want or need a mentor, as has been mentioned, I simply want a teacher. By taking violin lessons I fully accept my "role" as the inexperienced, because in violin playing I am. I might sometimes have questions about a certain instruction, but these are questions for better understanding and certainly not doubts or second-guessing. My teacher is a good explainer, anyway, therefore I see no need for lengthy discussions. If he sets an etude for a second or even third time, the issues I have to improve have been addressed, and that is that. He runs the lesson and I know that he knows what he's doing, otherwise I wouldn't be there. I like what Raphael wrote about respect being a two-way-street. My teacher respects me by teaching me with the same care, commitment, to the same standtards and to the best of his ability as he would teach any other student. I try my best to show my respect by practising, following his instructions and being reliable. Works out fine.

But I have seen a few other adult students of his, and on occasion I got a glimpse of the types that have been mentioned here: a clever-clogs, demanding, very full of himself, a death-metal guy with a black VSO who didn't last very long and the "O sorry, am I late" and "I didn't have time to practice" lady. I'm ever so glad that my teacher still isn't put off by adult learners in general.

July 14, 2016 at 12:45 PM · What Lydia said about returners rings true to me. When you're a kid, the expectation is that you'll have the same violin teacher for years at a stretch. I had the same teacher my whole childhood. (In hindsight he wasn't all that good of a teacher, but I really had no way of knowing that at the time, even though the evidence was there.) Now -- what kind of adults does a child interact closely with for years at a stretch? The answer would include their relatives (especially their own parents), maybe a school principal. And the violin teacher. These are people that I was taught to show the kind of respect that borders on worship. And because the violin teacher is with you one-on-one, that person becomes kind of a guru. If he asked you to shine his shoes because he was running late for a concert, you'd do it without blinking.

I'm going to try an experiment. Next time I go to my lesson, I will ask my teacher what he would say to me if this were my first lesson with him as a 16-year-old That'll be interesting. Unfortunately I don't think it will be this week so I may have to report back later. Maybe the other adult students watching this thread can try the same thing, and after my lesson I can start a new thread to discuss.

July 14, 2016 at 01:13 PM · I had three violin teachers as a child - I didn't have private lessons but took what I was given in school by the local Education Authority - and I respected those teachers as I respected everyone who taught me.

I then had a teacher for a few months for folk fiddle when I was thirty. He was a friend and I invited him round for meals but still in the lesson I deferred to him, although he didn't know as much about folk music as me.

My current teacher is also a friend, now. When I started with him I was greatly in awe but gradually I have acclimatised and am now much less nervous playing in front of him. I have always respected his views on classical music or violin-playing, as I also respected the view of the two teachers that I parted company with. However, they did not respect me & spoke sharply to me, and our split in one case was occasioned by the teacher losing his temper with me out of the blue. This wouldn't actually be acceptable even for a child pupil.

The reason I now think of my current teacher as a mentor rather than a teacher is because I have given up learning baroque and taking exams and now want him to be someone who can supervise my exploration of folk music. Obviously he does also teach me specific points, but there is much less of that now after four and a half years. I see him as a guide and travelling companion on a joyful journey. He knows much much more about music than I do, but I in my turn have added to his knowledge of Scottish traditional music.

I've never come across adults who thought they knew it all when it came to violin playing. If there are a lot of them 'out there', I'm not surprised that violin teachers don't feel like taking them on.

Adult learners should defer to their teachers, definitely. But I need to feel that I can talk to my teacher about problems, or ask him questions - politely, but as an 'equal person'.

It's the same situation as adults consulting lawyers & doctors or attending evening classes. Yes, the professional is an expert and you might be paying for his/her advice - but that doesn't mean that you are a person of lower ranking who is not allowed to have a point of view on something that concerns you.

When I was an English teacher, I was ready to learn from my pupils, whether child or adult, and I often did. I am bemused by the idea that violin teachers or any other professional should be regarded as gods.

July 14, 2016 at 01:41 PM · I think teachers are at liberty to take the pupils that they wish to. If they don't want to take adults, it doesn't mean that they're showing prejudice - it just means they're specialising in teaching children. They may not wish to take adults because they have had bad experiences with them. Or they may not wish to take adults because for various reasons they feel that they cannot give the adult their best shot.

July 14, 2016 at 02:00 PM · seems like I am not typical. I started violin at age 42, and have 14 years of lessons and still going. Most of what is said above makes sense. What teacher of any subject enjoys teaching someone who for whatever reason doesn't want or have time ( the latter is often an excuse for the former) to learn. My experience with teacher shopping, and violin teachers in general is that I felt most were more than willing to teach adults. Additionally during lessons, it was obvious based on the conversations, the teacher enjoys some adult non parent interaction. I can imagine that can be a draining experience. for the teacher. For me......my violin teacher experiences have been very good. I stll keep in touch with a couple former teachers.

July 14, 2016 at 03:54 PM · "There is the type of adult who is disrespectful and has the kind of attitude that all but says "I'm hiring you, so I'm running the show. I'll practice as much or as little as I want if at all and take up only what I want. Hiring you as a teacher is no different from my hiring a contractor to build me kitchen cabinets."

Interesting. I've never gotten this attitude from an adult.

If this were to happen, I would just treat them the way I deal with conductors: crush their spirit. Break them like a cowboy does a wild horse.

You're welcome.

July 14, 2016 at 03:56 PM · Arnie, I have a couple of questions since you have walked the path I am on and intend to keep on. I hope I can look back at 14 years of lessons!

1) what kind of repertoire do you work. You must be pretty amazing!

2) it seems to me that the teachers which reject adult learners are the ones who teach elite students...i.e. Ones who are entering competitions and headed for pro orchestras or the like. Have you had occasion to get lessons from someone at that level? Have you tried? That is something I would like to do one day. But it seems unlikely.


July 14, 2016 at 04:14 PM · I'd like to think there are teachers of the elite child pupils who would accept a one-off lesson arrangement with a serious adult student. It's all about how much time they have for that kind of freelance work. And if the teacher is beholden to a larger music school then they likely can't do that without putting you through whatever bureaucracy the school requires, even for a single lesson.

I can imagine such a teacher refusing, though, because they really might not want to do that kind of one-off lesson work, and because they don't want you begging them to take you on as a permanent student should it go swimmingly.

My suggestion to Jessy is, make sure you have a good reason for doing that, and see if you can get your current teacher's blessing or even recommendation for who you would approach. Otherwise the negatives can indeed outweigh the positives. The hourly rate for the one-off lesson might be significantly higher also.

July 14, 2016 at 05:21 PM · I had an interesting experience about 15 years ago, where my teacher went off to the UK for the summer, and I was preparing for a concerto performance with orchestra. So she called a number of elite teachers on my behalf, and every single one of them said yes to a lesson. I couldn't make the schedule work with all of them, but the ones I did take a lesson with offered me the chance to study with them weekly (one of them went so far as to call my teacher to try to work out an arrangement). So there are definitely "ins" for adult amateurs to study with elite teachers -- it's just hard to arrange.

By the way, none of them accepted payment for the first lesson, much to my surprise, since they considered it a trial lesson (and their normal lesson fees were high, as much as $250/hour).

Teachers of highly-competitive high schoolers are probably not school-affiliated in any way. They tend to have busy private studios and value the flexibility and direct income of controlling their lives. Teachers at conservatories often also maintain private studios, so there's not really an issue of them giving lessons to outside adults if they want to.

My guess is that there are a number of triggering circumstances that may cause a teacher like that to say yes to at least one lesson. My guess is that there are probably three significant circumstances: preparation for a significant performance, preparation for a pro orchestra audition (amateurs sometimes audition for per-service local pro groups), and preparation for a major competition for amateurs. You will have better luck if your teacher calls whoever it is you want to study with, unless you have some other way of making that person's acquaintance; a recommendation on your behalf, plus an explanation of why your teacher thinks you can benefit from this additional coaching, is very useful.

My current teacher has a mixed studio -- he has teens who are heavily into the competition scene and may be headed for music careers, along with pros trying to polish their skills, and adult amateurs like me, but he'll also teach 5-year-olds and adult beginners, and everything in between. You could make an argument that a really great teacher can do excellent work with pupils at nearly every level, or at least pupils with varying levels of innate ability and practice time. Elite teachers often have the advantage of getting students who are all already very good and extremely hardworking, leading to results which are probably consistently pretty good. YMMV might vary if you don't fit the profile of such students.

July 14, 2016 at 07:18 PM · The other possibility is to join a summer camp or such where they accept adult students.

July 14, 2016 at 08:38 PM · Most such camps don't make elite teachers available to adult amateurs, though. And a lot of camps aren't open to adult amateurs period (and often have an age cap on professionals too).

July 14, 2016 at 09:29 PM · Isn't that "campism?"

July 15, 2016 at 02:54 AM · Scott - lol! The kind of students I referred to didn't last long with me.

Paul - what would I say to a 16 year old just starting with me? The same thing I feel like saying when I'm in a traffic jam on a highway and I see cars continue to enter the entrance ramp: "Keep away! It's a trap!" Or maybe "welcome to the hotel California". OK it's late. Good night.

July 15, 2016 at 03:55 AM · I have a question for teachers and advanced players here, do you have a teacher yourself/take lessons?

What do you think of not having a teacher and work by yourself? Im thinking now of adult players that have started playing with a teacher as kids and have had teachers during education.

July 15, 2016 at 04:47 AM · "Interesting. I've never gotten this attitude from an adult.

If this were to happen, I would just treat them the way I deal with conductors: crush their spirit. Break them like a cowboy does a wild horse. "

Scott, you just made my evening.

July 15, 2016 at 07:12 AM · I have a question for teachers and advanced players here, do you have a teacher yourself/take lessons?

To answer that question: Yes, I did take a very occasional consultation with a top player, and sometimes to find out for myself if they were as good as their reputation generally or as told me by another player.

But in recent years (say the last twenty or so, no ) - because I feel I have to stand on my own feet and in any case I'm sort of retired now. But since college days and professional work in orchestras most of the coaching I experienced was in quartets and the like i.e. chamber music coaching.

But a lot of advanced players who in some cases are concertmasters (leaders) I know of have gone back to a previous teacher for consultation and advice.

July 15, 2016 at 11:45 AM · Even top soloists take lessons: it's beneficial to have an "external" eye and ear appreciate what one does. Rather like a sports coach, or physiotherapist.

July 15, 2016 at 01:27 PM · If I just wanted to work on repertoire, there's plenty of stuff that I could just learn on my own, but it would be very difficult for me to learn truly new techniques without the guidance of a teacher. I imagine this is why people tend to roughly plateau at whatever point they were at when they last took regular lessons.

July 15, 2016 at 03:20 PM · If I just wanted to work on repertoire, there's plenty of stuff that I could just learn on my own, but it would be very difficult for me to learn truly new techniques without the guidance of a teacher. I imagine this is why people tend to roughly plateau at whatever point they were at when they last took regular lessons.

I'm afraid I totally disagree. There is a huge amount you can learn without a teacher when you are an advanced player. Observation of other players, looking at masterclasses given by top soloists, and just working on your own playing by experimentation and trial and error. Just by concentrating on refining your listening ability - not only of your own playing - but from live recitals and recordings of outstanding players, can make a huge difference.

And do not forget that some teachers at advanced level as well as at lower levels can do more harm than good. I've heard so many professional players say that they are going to such and such a teacher, as if by magic they will improve 100% - and their expectations are dashed simply because they have not thought it through and been able to use any advice they may be given.

July 15, 2016 at 03:31 PM · Peter, very true. After seven years of lessons I realised that my teacher had in effect over that period taught me how to teach myself.

July 15, 2016 at 04:18 PM · I agree to some extent, Peter. But a good teacher is a far more efficient and structured way to learn. I use video, books, et.al. to supplement, so to speak -- it's part of what I look at when I'm working on something.

July 15, 2016 at 05:45 PM · Raphael, when I wrote "I'm going to try an experiment. Next time I go to my lesson, I will ask my teacher what he would say to me if this were my first lesson with him as a 16-year-old," I didn't mean to imply 16-year-old beginner. Hopefully I will sound better than that! I meant a 16-year-old with my present level of skill (such as it is) who is switching from another teacher. What would he ask me to play? How would he structure the way forward for me?

July 15, 2016 at 06:38 PM · I was just kidding around. It was late and I was getting spacy.

July 16, 2016 at 04:20 AM · "I've heard so many professional players say that they are going to such and such a teacher, as if by magic they will improve 100% - and their expectations are dashed simply because they have not thought it through and been able to use any advice they may be given."

I find this rather odd. People who get to a professional level in the first place are unlikely to have unrealistic expectations like that. Only an amateur would expect "100% improvement" by "magic." Professionals know that improvement is incremental and hard-won, regardless of the teacher. If you go take a lesson as a professional, certain things should be in order: no one should be telling you you're out of tune, or obviously rushing or dragging or not playing the dynamics or articulations or playing wrong notes. The coaching should focus on the last 5%, not the obvious stuff.

July 16, 2016 at 07:00 AM · Only an amateur would expect "100% improvement" by "magic." Professionals know that improvement is incremental and hard-won, regardless of the teacher. If you go take a lesson as a professional, certain things should be in order: no one should be telling you you're out of tune, or obviously rushing or dragging or not playing the dynamics or articulations or playing wrong notes. The coaching should focus on the last 5%, not the obvious stuff.

I agree somewhat. It may have been that some of the "professional" players who hoped a certain teacher would make a huge (maybe not 100%) improvement - although holding down an orchestral job, were really not worthy of that position, and knowing this, had high expectations that they could consolidate their positions and indeed, maybe get promotion. It is possible that such players have been weeded out in the last 15 years or so - but there are a lot of pro orchestras in Britain and as far a string players go, not enough good ones to fill the positions. Certainly this was the case, but with the influx of many players from Europe and Russia in particular over the last ten years or so, things may have changed.

July 16, 2016 at 09:57 AM · One almost constant reason I have heard from teachers who prefer not to, or outright refuse to teach adults is simply that adults have far too much tension. Kids are flexible, malleable, and relaxed. Adults normally aren't, because of so many things already expressed by others in this thread. Kids are a blank canvas, with no baggage. Adults usually aren't. So it's a lot more work.

July 16, 2016 at 03:45 PM · Fox, yes, I have attended adults-only recitals and watched other beginner-level adult violinists unable to draw any tone because their hands are shaking so badly. If they're doing that in their lessons, I can see that would be frightful for the teacher.

July 16, 2016 at 03:45 PM · Fox, yes, I have attended adults-only recitals and watched other beginner-level adult violinists unable to draw any tone because their hands are shaking so badly. If they're doing that in their lessons, I can see that would be frightful for the teacher.

July 16, 2016 at 06:53 PM · "Kids are flexible, malleable, and relaxed."

Some are and some aren't.

July 16, 2016 at 11:19 PM · This is an excellent thread. As an adult beginner, I know now exactly what not to do, haha. (Though, I've been taking lessons for about 5 months and don't plan on stopping any time soon!)

July 16, 2016 at 11:30 PM · I've taught plenty of tense kids. Naturally I work with them to reduce tension, but the idea that kids are malleable and relaxed does not align with my experience.

Way back when I was still taking auditions, before I had children, I would drive several hours to the nearest city with a major orchestra to take lessons from the concertmaster. In my case it wasn't so much to improve my technique (although he did help my bow arm a lot) as it was to fine tune my orchestral excerpts. Taking a professional audition is an art in itself and I would urge anyone on the audition circuit to get coaching from an experienced professional, preferably someone on their own orchestra's audition committee, before heading into an audition. So many times I hear candidates audition for my orchestra who are clearly good players but who don't know how to play the excerpts.

July 17, 2016 at 03:39 AM · To echo what Mary just mentioned about her preparation for auditions: a colleague of mine spent an entire year after graduate school taking lessons as frequently as possible with the principal player in one of the big five orchestras. He literally moved to the city where the orchestra was, and did nothing else except take lessons and practice 'round the clock for the entire year. The focus was not on anything technical on the instrument, as he was a superb player, but to cover the breadth and depth of an exceedingly challenging orchestral repertory for auditions. The following year, he won two major auditions and secured the job that he still holds to this day, over ten years now.

July 17, 2016 at 04:31 PM · Yes, that's how it's done. And keep in mind that for every one of those people, there are hundreds (or thousands) that do the same thing and never win a full-time audition.

July 17, 2016 at 05:49 PM · Poor adult beginners. They can't even have a tread about their difficulties without the thread diverging into competition and professionals, leaving them behind again. Boo hoo, so sad. Let's all play violin for them.

What I actually wanted to say however was that this thread started out with a negative premise that adult students are unwanted. The opposite is also true. Kids can be delightful and an easy source of income based mostly on their parents' hopes, but there should also be some enjoyment of teaching someone who wants to do it not for some others' wants but are self-motivated trying to develop themselves for the sake of enjoyment of music, the love of the instrument, and who can be communicated with as an adult.

It may be a greater challenge to teach someone more aware of themselves and the very high standards of aspiration, having limited time due to other personal and professional responsibilities, but if a teacher cannot significantly improve the playing of such a motivated adult student over time, I think the question becomes more about the suitability and ability of the teacher.

July 18, 2016 at 08:03 AM · I agree Jayray, the clumsiest amateur is worthy of the best we can give.

July 18, 2016 at 08:37 PM · Any competent teacher can significantly improve the playing of a dedicated adult student. The issue I have run into (and evidently many others as well) is that the truly dedicated adult student is a rarity. More often adults come in with good intentions, and then life gets in the way, and the violin drops way down on their priority list. I'm not even going to say that I think that's a bad thing. It just is what it is. I would expect an adult student to prioritize family and professional obligations over violin lessons. But don't blame the teacher in that case.

July 18, 2016 at 08:46 PM · The trick is that when you have a performance coming up, say, in a month's time, choose a piece that you've already got totally prepared. Then you can spend the month working on fine musical aspects, all the while keeping on with practicing whatever you're working on so that you might one day add that to the list of available repertoire. That month will slip quickly by for an adult. Just getting together with your accompanist a couple of times will be tricky enough. It's when you try to perform your "working piece" that things go awry. That's true for both adults and kids.

July 19, 2016 at 12:05 AM · Very good point, Paul. On a folk fiddle forum I am a member of there are regularly desperate pleas from fiddlers who want suggestions for pieces to play in important competitions in a couple of months time. There is regularly an massive response advising the fiddler to play something he learnt well and put to bed a couple of years ago, and never, never to play a new piece in a competition.

The same advice of course applies to any performance, whether or not competitive, in any of the performing arts.

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