How to quit on my violin teacher without being hurtful

December 25, 2016 at 01:23 AM · I've had four lessons so far with my violin teacher, a young adult like myself, a very talented player, and the sweetest person. But I'm thinking to try out a different teacher and see how it goes.

Any tips on how to politely quit lessons?

Teachers out there - how would you feel if your adult student told you they wanted to stop lessons with you?

Replies (26)

December 25, 2016 at 05:43 AM · What is your current teacher failing to give you that you think you could get from someone else? Have you been clear with your teacher about your expectations and goals? Teachers aren't mind readers.

Not every teacher is a fit for every student, and sometimes it's best to move on. But it's frustrating when a student moves on and then I hear through the grapevine that they changed teachers because they wanted to be pushed more technically...when the reason I wasn't pushing them technically was because they were very clearly not practicing very much. That could have been a productive conversation.

Also make sure your expectations are reasonable. If you're disappointed because after four lessons you're not using vibrato (this is just a hypothetical example), then it would be an unreasonable expectation on your end, not a failure on the part of your teacher.

Changing teachers after four lessons is kind of a nuclear option so you had best have your plans in place before doing anything. Many teachers won't take a student back after the student has left for someone else.

As for what I would think if an adult student left after just a few lessons? If we really weren't clicking, I'd be aware of that already. If there was no obvious reason, I would think it was their loss, and that would probably be the last I thought of it at all.

December 25, 2016 at 08:37 AM · Why do you want to quit if he is talented and sweet. Is he charging you more than other teachers? Or does he not give special attention and has a lot of students. Remember that a teacher is there only to guide you. He could show you techniques like colle, sautille, martele, detache, staccato, intonation, dynamics, harmonics etc. You have to implement them in your playing. Your playing won't improve if you don't put the necessary effort. Apart from going to classes, it would be great if you could see all the free masterclass/tutorial videos that YouTube offers. The internet is a powerful tool. I hope that helps.

December 25, 2016 at 06:22 PM · The right thing to do is have a really authentic conversation with your teacher and explain the reason(s) for wanting to change to another teacher. As long as you do it in a respectful way with the intention of contributing to his/her growth and yours, then you can move on without regrets.

The alternative is tell a lie and leave your teacher wondering what went wrong. That might be an easier route for now, but it often leads to misunderstandings and problems down the road. When in doubt, honesty is the best policy.

December 25, 2016 at 09:53 PM · The main reason I want to stop is because I don't feel I'm gaining enough and being challenged, for the money that I'm spending (which could be a whole other discussion of lesson costs).

We discussed my goals together beforehand; but I feel like we're learning very little information/techniques to practice in each lesson. I guess I sort of expected to have 'homework'- an idea of exactly what I need to work on until the next lesson.

Of course the best thing to do would be to discuss it together, like you all point out. The question is how much needs to be said.

While I found another teacher that charges less, I feel I'll only gain - in advancing my skills, in spending less money, and hopefully, in both - by trying out someone new.

December 25, 2016 at 10:07 PM · I think that's a really understandable complaint. My old teacher before I went to college was like that, he was very demanding and not afraid to point out what you're doing wrong but wouldn't really...teach. He'd give me stuff to work on and then during the lesson would just point out which notes were wrong and that's it. Then I got my current teacher in college who is the opposite, he'll write in a notebook exactly what I'm working on and what I should remember/think about while I'm practicing. He actually teaches techniques/solving problems without me even needing to ask. So I recommend talking to your current teacher or maybe just looking for a new teacher with a specific teaching style in mind.

December 25, 2016 at 10:29 PM · Miles, my (one and only) violin teacher for 7 years was just like your current teacher. Those very enjoyable and productive 7 years were in effect an apprenticeship (traditionally it takes 7 years to learn a craft), and at the end I knew I was in a position to proceed on my own. I could see that my teacher had, in effect, taught me how to analyze and think about my own playing, how to listen to it, and how to solve problems arising in the future.

I did not go to another teacher, but that does not exclude the possibility of the occasional one-off lesson to help solve a difficult problem or to get a second opinion.

My orchestral playing had also got to the stage where it would have been difficult for me to fit in regular lessons and the necessary practice hours arising.

December 25, 2016 at 11:52 PM · Students fire teachers and teachers dismiss students all the time. Though such incidents are part of the business, they can mostly be avoided if at the outset and teacher and the student agree to a trial period and see if the fit is there at the end of the trial. BTW, some teachers renew student "contracts" year to year. In such cases, only switching teacher in the middle of the year becomes awkward.

December 26, 2016 at 11:48 AM · A responsible teacher will not "push ahead" if the acquired and required skills are not truly assimilated.

Maybe one can ask for a written "checklist" for the week's practice. To save lesson time, the student can write this list soon after the lesson.

December 26, 2016 at 04:15 PM · Adrian said what I was thinking. Many times I have had students who were chomping at the bit to learn pieces or techniques that were beyond them at the time and that would not have been in their best interest to attempt. A few of them did quit but most of them trusted me, hung in there, and thanked me later.

This is not to say that is the case with the OP and his teacher. I have no idea what is going on there, but since we are only getting one side of the story, I am not ready to criticize a teacher for insufficiently pushing a student. It's just as possible from my perspective that the OP's expectations are unrealistic.

December 27, 2016 at 08:26 AM · On a related topic...I've gotten good at spotting the teacher hoppers...students who aren't ready to commit to anything in the long term and are only interested in having someone cater to their short-term demands.

I recently had two related students who were in awful technical shape...very limited fundamentals, spent a couple years in private instruction only playing pieces beyond their ability level with no work on tone, posture, or anything resembling interpretation. Over a nine month period I drilled them on the basics, got their equipment in reasonable working order, and helped them make huge strides to close the gap between their grade level and expected playing level, despite their somewhat limited practice time. Unfortunately, they were so hell-bent on throwing themselves into school ensemble chair placement and youth ensemble auditions (against my recommendations), as soon as things didn't go their way, they quit.

At some point, the real world is going to smack them upside the head, and they will come to realize that there is no substitute for commitment, hard work, and discipline--virtues that are becoming increasingly rare among students thanks to our ridiculous entitlement culture. My only regret with these two is that I could have invested that time in other kids...

December 27, 2016 at 10:07 PM · "A couple years in private instruction only playing pieces beyond their ability level with no work on tone, posture, or anything resembling interpretation" doesn't sound like good teaching. It's difficult to blame kids alone for that, and if that's their experience, it would also be hard to undo the harm done. Playing violin is more than "commitment, hard work and discipline" -- if that's added to bad teaching, then all that will be established will be bad technique and habits. And as technique, bodies, and lives vary, what worked for the teacher might not work for the student, so a teacher's sense of entitlement to a long-term commitment from a student for whom the lessons are not really working would be misplaced.

To be clear, I'm not at all saying that I think Gene's teaching was wrong -- I appreciate work on the basics, and can understand the frustration of the teacher if the teaching was making progress yet the student didn't want to study in a way which was working in hopes of some easier and quicker path. My point is that that's not the only sort of problem the student encounters, and good teaching might not be as common or simple as implied by the emphasis on the student's effort -- students may well be mismatched and that effort misplaced in some if not many cases.

December 27, 2016 at 11:01 PM · Gene, I wouldn't say those nine months spent with those two students was a waste! It was obviously meant to be, and hopefully the effort that you put in will come to fruition in the future.

Anyway, is it the norm to have violin lessons for a couple years? I honestly can't see that happening, practically speaking. A few months is realistic.

Thank G-d, my teacher was very understanding of my desire to see what else I can find in terms of learning from other sources. We are still on good terms :)

December 28, 2016 at 12:12 AM · G.A., are you a beginner? What type of teacher are you taking lessons from?

A teacher should certainly be making it clear to you what you should be practicing and how. You shouldn't be afraid to take a single lesson from different teachers until you find one that you feel is the right match.

December 28, 2016 at 02:43 AM · By realistic, I mean that I can see that actually happening. Why do you ask, Fideli?

Yes I'm a four-month old player :)

If I can play songs that I'm in the mood of and feel good about how I sound, that'll make me happy. Not to say I'd stop there of course.

December 28, 2016 at 05:12 AM · "Anyway, is it the norm to have violin lessons for a couple years? I honestly can't see that happening, practically speaking. A few months is realistic."

Your expectations are far, far, far from reality.

Playing the violin is an extremely complex activity, made up of countless discrete skills all of which need to be done at a high level of precision in order to make an acceptable sound. "A few months" will not take you past the beginner stage. "A couple of years," with consistent focused practicing could take you well into the intermediate level.

December 28, 2016 at 05:12 AM · double post

December 28, 2016 at 05:58 AM · This thread reminds me of the saying "It takes 10 years to play Twinkle Twinkle beautifully." I thought Itzhak Perlman was kidding when I first heard him many years ago.

I really wish a few months of violin lessons were all it takes to be a competent violinist; it would have saved a bundle for my daughter's lesson :)

December 28, 2016 at 07:45 AM · Note that GA has only had 4 lessons with his/her teacher from another thread and has only learned violin for 3 1/2 months

December 28, 2016 at 08:39 AM · More and more, we run into students (and families) whose only goal in music is to achieve a certain chair, get into a certain ensemble, or be better than their next door neighbor. Combine that with teachers who care more about collecting their paycheck while assigning the next concerto minus any technical or musical development, and you've got kids who will never get to truly play the instrument, and are the victims of a massive con. In over twenty years of teaching private students, many of whom continue to play today regardless of their chosen career path, it is extremely frustrating to see adults and children duped into believing in a product that will never exist, because they have never developed the skills to have a process of growth and development.

> It's difficult to blame kids alone for that

No, the blame can be shared by parents who care more about "winning" at music than whether their children actually learn anything about art and life, and by unscrupulous "music schools" who underpay a legion of inexperienced teachers with a high turnover rate providing lessons that are more like a visit to a fast food joint than a real commitment. The saddest part is that upon realizing that they have been scammed in this whole process, the kids believe they will never catch up and they end up quitting. *That* is the real tragedy here. In 20+ years of private teaching, I have hundreds of former students who continue to play, regardless of their career paths. To connect with them over the years over chamber music in social settings is one of the the things I am incredibly grateful for, and if they spend 6, 10, 12 years of their lives practicing and taking lessons, there's no reason why it can't continue to be a source of joy and fulfillment for the rest of of it!

> Playing violin is more than "commitment, hard work and discipline"

Not a single person here has made the statement that playing violin (or any instrument) is only about commitment, hard work, and discipline. But since talent alone is not enough, those three are a good place to start.

J. Ray, I don't teach the exact same way for every student. There is no set "method," and every student is a different challenge. And for the record, the two students I discuss here do not play the violin but studied a different instrument with me...while discussing the challenges of teaching, I find it necessary to protect the identity of the minors who may be involved...as you mention, major flaws in their trajectory in the study of music is at many times not their fault.

December 28, 2016 at 01:52 PM · Fideli, in response to your curiosity: Ever heard of the saying, "Man plans and G-D laughs"?

Thanks to all who gave mea larger perspective on violin playing; I'm not discouraged even though I didn't necessarily realize what it takes at the beginning! Just more set on mastering the beautiful instrument.

December 28, 2016 at 03:45 PM · My parents pretty much cared only about my "winning" at music -- specifically, playing the violin that would get me the "resume" (chairs, competition wins, etc.) needed to bolster an Ivy League college application. They had zero interest in fostering a love of art, music, or anything else, and in fact actively did not want me to love music because they did not want me to have the desire to play professionally. (Even now, when I tell my mother that my son will eventually have music lessons, she asks, "Aren't you afraid he'll love it?") I did not get to listen to non-Suzuki recordings or go to professional concerts (although I imagine if a teacher had told my parents this was necessary to make me play more competitively, my parents would have done things differently).

The phenomenon of music-as-resume-item isn't new. It's just more common than it was 20 years ago.

December 28, 2016 at 06:18 PM · Lydia, it must have been hard to learn violin in that way, with no feeling for it! Do you enjoy it now?

I can't imagine being "forced" to master an instrument that I don't want to.

December 28, 2016 at 10:55 PM · G.A., et al.,

Interpersonal dynamics are very difficult. That is why we evolved forms of communication. You aren't satisfied with your current teacher but you don't say why.

The question becomes: Have you communicated your goals to the teacher and have you discussed them? To be sure you might not be on the same page and unable to work together. Or, you could misunderstand the process to develop the skills necessary to accomplish your goals. Simply stating that I want to do "this" doesn't mean that you will immediately be doing "this" as there is a lot of prep work before you are ready to tackle "this" no matter how simple you think "this" may be.

By all means try other teachers but don't be surprised if they all want you to learn the basics before you start in on achieving your stated goals.

December 29, 2016 at 01:28 AM · G.A., I greatly enjoy playing now, but I never think of myself as having the passion that some people exhibit for music. (If I had that passion, I probably would have become a professional, though.)

I was a competition-driven kid, so "winning" was extremely motivating for me. As an adult, I've always wanted to become better (I take lessons, etc.), and concrete goals remain important to me, even though the hierarchical ranking that's so integral to children's music structures are no longer relevant in adulthood.

My childhood teachers, for the most part, did a good job of balancing the constant drive for "winning", with giving me an extremely solid foundation as a player. Among other things, I was not pushed into repertoire before I was ready for it -- indeed, arguably I ended up doing quite a bit of repertoire long after I was ready for it. But at the same time, everything that was not competition-oriented tended to be de-emphasized -- for instance, we did very little slow music, save for the requisite works necessary to have "two contrasting works" for competitions etc.

December 29, 2016 at 06:41 PM · I too am wary of the word "fun".

Eating a Haagen Daas ice-ceam isn't fun, it's delicious!

Playing the violin well isn't fun, it's beautiful!

Then, those whom I call Ardent Amateurs are pleased to be the best, but it is not a priority.

December 29, 2016 at 09:55 PM · Adrian, et al.,

I guess I'm one of those "Ardent Amateurs." I was happy to have played in a multi-generational community orchestra for decades (until it changed into a youth-only orchestra that is driven by Tiger-Moms). The other community orchestras in my area have late rehearsals with pretty daunting performance schedules (and the formal dress requirement) so I don't play with them - just not my style.

Now I have a few students and am one of the adult assistants with a different Youth Orchestra that doesn't (yet) have a board composed of Tiger Moms. I tune instruments, adjust bridges, tighten chin and shoulder rests,replace broken strings, woke on posture and paying attention,and lead sectionals.

Finally, I play music that I enjoy just for myself, my wife and the cats. This is my "guilty pleasure music" I don't have to be great, or the best, just good and committed to helping the next generation of string players in my area of the planet.

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