Lessons for the underprivileged

March 8, 2017 at 05:41 AM · Does anyone here have any experience with music programs that offer violin lessons (or orchestra, chamber music, or music-related mentoring) to underprivileged children for free or reduced prices, and which rely on volunteer teachers/coaches/mentors?

If you've been a student in such a program, do you think it was useful? Did you value the experience? What did you like and what could have been improved?

If you've been a teacher/mentor/coach in such a program, what was the experience like?


March 8, 2017 at 11:15 AM · Here in San Rafael, CA we have the ELM (Enriching Lives Through Music: http://www.elmprogram.org ) program. I think it is incredible.

Several of us from a volunteer self-directed (pay-to-play) community chamber orchestra participated in some of their activities and concerts a couple of years ago, but rather than tell you about that experience - just look at their website. (I have played with the cello and viola sections for 3 concerts, other adults have played violin, French Horn, flute, clarinet and trumpet.)

From conversations with the administrative director I understand that she receives no remuneration and the coach/instructors are paid what they can from donations received. I do not know what private instruction is related to the group activities.

March 8, 2017 at 02:40 PM · There was such a program here in San Antonio quite a few years ago--it lasted several years but was eventually sunk due to administrative costs and problems. I know of at least one professional violinist who got his start in the program.

On an individual level, I am almost always teaching a couple of students for a very low cost. Typically they are recommended to me by the neighborhood middle school orchestra director, who knows their circumstances well--I don't involve myself in questioning people's finances but he knows who is on free lunch and who lives with a single mother who cannot even afford a beater car. The expectation is that in exchange for their scholarshipped lessons, they will work hard, which they do.

March 8, 2017 at 03:22 PM · My college classmates have been working since NCE graduation 20 years ago for Education Through Music (www.etmonline.org)

A childhood friend launched an El Sistema-like program in Portland, OR called Bravo Orchestras. I don't think either program uses volunteers but both are attempting to provide high quality classical music education for lower income kids.

March 8, 2017 at 03:28 PM · A couple people in my youth symphony orchestra get hired by the symphony to teach underprivileged children the violin for free. I know that MYA and CYSO (the program I'm in) does this as well. I actually started out in the MYA Program taking lessons for free because of my families financials. It was extremely helpful as a beginner.

March 8, 2017 at 04:04 PM · I taught a private beginning student, as well as group classes through the Para los Ninos partnership with the Colburn Music Academy ( pre-college division ). Each Colburn pre-college student was paired with a Para los Ninos student. I would say that the program was set up to fail from the beginning. I almost think the whole thing was some sort of philanthropic beard meant to make Colburn look more prestigious.

First of all, there were incredibly low expectations of the students from the administration. The coordinator advising the string instructors expected that all of the students would stay at a very beginner level, even after several years in the program. This is exactly where they stayed for several reasons. Firstly, any repair, no matter how small took several months. My student had broken a string, couldn't afford a replacement, and went a whole summer waiting for an E string, and didn't practice. Since the instruments were all VSOs of the worst kind, a lot needed to be repaired quite often, and the instruments couldn't even be tuned most of the time.

My student couldn't even get the right size instrument, even after I told the coordinator that he was in pain trying to hold it, and could barely reach 1st position. They said that there was not enough in the budget to get him a smaller instrument. We all had to teach from the same book, Essential Elements, no matter what the student needed.

Any Colburn pre-college student over about 14 or 15 who played violin, viola, or cello was assigned a student to teach for outreach, no questions asked, so there were also a lot of language barriers involved. When my student told me that he didn't have practice space at home, and I tried to inquire about a space for him to use at school during breaks, or after school, no one seemed to care. When I inquired about giving him lessons during the summer, I was told that I couldn't due to "liability issues". During group classes, I was asked to help beginning cello students with their set up, even though I had no cello experience whatsoever. When I refused, I was told, "They'll never be professionals anyway." Who can even make that assessment after a month anyway? I have also volunteered for programs where concerts and short presentations are given in schools. The administrators for these programs act as if this is enough to get more people into classical music. Programs like this, and I suspect they are not in the minority, are the reason classical music is considered a rich kid's sport.

March 8, 2017 at 04:24 PM · Oh! Almost forgot--for a time when I was in grad school, I volunteered with a student group that gave coaching to beginning middle school string students in Redwood City. What I remember thinking at the time was that I didn't have the proper training to be very effective. This was a volunteer program organized by students and I'm not really sure how focused they were on effectiveness or outcomes.

March 8, 2017 at 04:41 PM · Dallas Symphony has a program called Young Strings. This program supplies free or subsidized lessons to minority students. The program is quite successful and has been around for 20 years. I have taught several of their graduates at the college level. One of them will be graduating in Dec. with a music education degree from Baylor University. This is a student with little or no financial support from her parents and having no health insurance until the Affordable Care Act.

March 8, 2017 at 05:26 PM · I am not sure I understand your concept.

Where I come from, we have public music schools, which anyone can enroll at no cost. Preference is given to kids.

If these count as centers for the "underprivileged", then I can say that my experience learning an instrument at these places was really valuable.

Legend has it (or science has it) that it helped me with other things as well, as apparently the same part of the brain that process musicality is also responsble for exact sciences.

March 8, 2017 at 05:45 PM · As new immigrants, i don't know if we were "underprivileged," but we were poor!

As a teenager, I mowed lawns every summer and shoved snow every winter for my teacher in exchange for lessons for which I remain grateful to this day.

March 8, 2017 at 05:51 PM · I agree with David. It's easier to consider someone with certain financial situation and assist accordingly rather than labeling them as privileged/underprivileged. The latter is often a subjective term. Many 1st generation immigrants such as David and I may be dirt poor with little social support to start with, but we could still feel quite privileged to be at where we are.

In any way of financial assistance, there should be a certain level of privacy protection so that those who get the benefit won't be looked upon by others as though they are different. In Canada, many programs have bursary system to help with people with financial needs. Many concerts are at a lower cost or free to students and children.

March 8, 2017 at 08:51 PM · I believe that every violin teacher should do "pro bono" when possible, but am at the same time unsure about student's motivation. In other words, if lessons are free, are they still appreciated?

In some Eastern traditions, one never goes to a guru empty-handed, no matter how poor are they. An apple, or just any type of small offering is assumed. It is not about the value of the offering, but a symbolic gesture.

Strangely enough, I had a free music education. Apart from my instrument and administrative fee for exams, it was free. But in that case, everyone was treated equally and respect for teacher was taken for granted.

March 8, 2017 at 09:15 PM · In our local conservatory, there's an open house at the beginning of each term, during which a few teachers would give 15 min lesson as demon. I don't find this to be the most effective way of using teacher's precious time, nor a good way for a student to learn. Like Rocky pointed out, free lessons may not be fully appreciated. I think it's a good thing for students to earn their lessons. Although my parents paid my lessons when I was young and I really appreciated it because, in the 70s, everyone had little money and qualified violin teachers were really hard to find in Shanghai. But more importantly, lessons have to be sustainable over a length of time to be really effective. Pro bono lessons are not sustainable in this sense. Pro bono masterclasses might be more suitable.

March 8, 2017 at 09:15 PM · Rocky, that's why I charge my scholarship students a nominal fee...because when you're paying for something, it feels more important, more substantial, than when you're getting it for free. Currently scholarship students are paying me $15 a lesson, a fraction of my fee, but to them it's significant.

March 8, 2017 at 10:16 PM · I live in a poor neighborhood and have given a lot of kids free lessons for a long time. A lot of the kids had no money for new strings or to buy basic method books so they would get my old strings and I would photocopy material I thought would be most beneficial to them. A lot of kids were not really interested at all in really learning and putting forth the effort to practice. A lot of times to save my own free time I would have two or three kids at a time in one lesson, which was certainly different and a high energy session.

March 9, 2017 at 12:11 AM · I have offered lessons for little money for students that were very interested but didn't have the financial means. I have given new strings to students that I didn't think could afford them. For a few students that needed a better violin, I have provided lessons at zero cost with the understanding that they save the lesson fee toward the new instrument.

This has always worked out well. The student and family appreciate it and work harder for the opportunity.

March 9, 2017 at 12:17 AM · Since it takes years of practice for an average person to get a decent sound out of the violin, a student of the instrument will learn, if nothing else, that it takes hard work to create something beautiful and worthwhile. Violin lessons, thus, are of tremendous value to all children.

March 9, 2017 at 04:41 AM · David, I hope you don't mean to imply that a low-income family is a family where the dignity of work is not valued. My poorest (in financial terms) student, the one whose single mother cannot even afford a car? Her mother works extremely hard every day with double shifts over the weekends. Low-paid work is sometimes the very hardest work of all.

That student is one for whom I have provided all sheet music, and I was originally charging her just $5 a lesson. It was her mother who insisted on paying me $15. How she manages that and her daughter's instrument rental, I have no idea, but she works extremely hard and she has pride which I must respect.

March 9, 2017 at 07:17 AM · Mary Ellen, I don't. My family was poor (as in we had no money) when I was growing up, we valued and appreciated the dignity of work.

I can see how that sentence did not come out right and it was edited out.

March 9, 2017 at 01:18 PM · I've thought about starting a music program for stings in my community through the community center because there aren't any string programs at the public school (as well as surrounding areas). The per capita income of the county I live in is 22,347. Any program developed would have to be heavily discounted. People in this area cannot afford extra curricular activites outside the school system.

There isn't an issue with space to use. Its a matter of funding and teachers and enough interest and motivation from the community to make it work. Everything would have to be done through scholorships and grants.

My community has a really great theater group, as well as various dance programs. In fact, clogging is extremely popular here. This is a perfect example of how to get kids interested in chamber music by playing the dances for thier friends doing the dances. Throughout the year the theater puts on a variey of plays/musicals as well as an annual summer opera. It really bothers me that there is such an obvious way to help connect people with classical music and nothing is being done.

I want to make inquires and start 'something', but I am unsure of where to start looking, or who to talk to.

March 9, 2017 at 01:40 PM · "Soweto Strings" documentary is worth watching. It was mentioned here 8 years ago:


March 10, 2017 at 06:02 AM · Since it's public, here's an annual report from a local school with this mission. http://rpmusic.org/bmd/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/RPSM_AnnualReport2016_v7_Rvsd_Spread_FOR-WEB.pdf

$1.2M CAD raised to teach 1,400 students. So it's something for the wealthy.. to donate their time and money to. Notably, they don't use terms like 'poor' or 'underprivileged' on their site, although they do use 'high-priority neighbourhood', and have a family income limit for students.

March 10, 2017 at 05:47 PM · Are all these euphemisms and political correctness necessary in our discussion of children in need? Do "poor", "underprivileged", and "high-priority" mean the same thing?

March 10, 2017 at 05:53 PM · "Poor" has a specific definition; in the U.S., it is defined as a four-person household making under about $25,000 a year, with income limits that go up or down depending on a greater or lesser number of people in the household.

Obviously a family can be making well above the poverty limit and still not be able to afford private music lessons for their children, so in that sense the children may well be "underprivileged" without actually being poor. With the median household income in the U.S. being about $50,000, I think there are a lot of children for whom many, many privileges are financially out of reach.

"High-priority" can mean whatever someone wants it to mean, but I would assume that it is intended to describe children in certain economic or demographic groups that are underrepresented in classical music.

March 10, 2017 at 06:11 PM · In Toronto "priority" refers to neighbourhoods which are considered "at-risk." RPSM serves such neighbourhoods.


And yes, in Canada language still matters.

http://thehammerband.com/ is another one in Toronto.

March 11, 2017 at 12:03 PM · Language matters everywhere, and it is probably better if we can avoid stigmatizing kids whose lives may well turn out well by not labeling them 'poor' or 'underprivileged' (as has already been objected to by some who might have had that label in this thread), while not being insensitive to what they lack.

I remember working as a student in a high school which had rented out it auditorium to a religious group, where a little girl asked one of us 'are you poor?'. Maybe in comparison to her, but we didn't appreciate the question even if it was innocent.

And yes, I had access to a free music program in the form of high school music classes when my family couldn't have afforded private music lessons, and it changed my life in terms of appreciation of music.

I'd like to add however that there were two aspects which made that experience better for me -- that being a public school it wasn't limited to people of limited means and had a broader spectrum of wealth and experience, and that it was music-making as a group instead of as an isolated individual.

March 11, 2017 at 01:56 PM · Thanks to all of you who work with people who can barely afford lessons, sheet music, or their own strings. The violin art shouldn't be deemed as one for the lucky few who can afford the "best" (usually very expensive) training, but also to any who loves their instrument and wishes to work hard on it. There are many who wouldn't be able to play a note without your assistance, and your work is most valuable, whether it produces a so-called "top" violinist or not.

Nominal fees do seem like a good idea-the teacher does deserve respect foe their time and expertise, and it adds intrinsic "value" to the lesson.

March 11, 2017 at 06:32 PM · I don't like the "underprivileged" label, but for some time I was working with a public school music teacher who was trying to introduce strings to children in her school. Since the violin wasn't her primary instrument I assisted in some lessons and when we found a child who really wanted to learn but the family could not afford lessons I stepped in and gave them pro-bono lessons. I have one student left. Unfortunately the school hired a new music teacher who is also the director of the High School Band. She openly stated that she "hates strings" and will only teach band instruments. Now strings are "banned" instruments in our local school. And, no, she isn't happy that I have one of "her" students learning violin and playing with a youth orchestra where I also volunteer. I'm not even allowed to recruit potential string players in the school as my permission to even be in the schools has been withdrawn.

March 11, 2017 at 06:52 PM · George, that is completely messed up. What does the principal think?

March 11, 2017 at 08:00 PM · I would bet that support for the middle-school band, which feeds the high-school band, which in turn is support for high school sports games, is likely to be far stronger than support for strings, even in well-intentioned school systems.

If the director says, "I need all potential instrumentalists to play band instruments so we can have the best future high school band possible for our football team," is the school administration going to say no? My guess would be not.

March 11, 2017 at 09:20 PM · What does the principal think? He was the one who voided my permission to volunteer at the school, at the behest of the music teacher/band director. Lydia actually hit the nail on the head - the band draws parents and performs at sports events, for the school board, town council, town parades, et cetera.

The string program never managed to create an orchestra that had a draw. Limited resources, lack of dedication, and a band director with a mission.

March 11, 2017 at 11:40 PM · Hi Lydia,

Why the question? Are you going to start such a program?

March 12, 2017 at 12:13 AM · My community orchestra has some ongoing outreach to kids, mostly up-county, and I've been involved in recent discussions about what the future shape of that looks like. (For the non-locals: We live in a big county with a huge spread in income. Most of the community orchestras in the area are clustered in the wealthiest part of the county. Up-county, the demographics look very different.)

I had a particular context in mind that prompted the question, but I thought it would be an interesting discussion topic more generally.

March 12, 2017 at 12:17 AM · She's just curious, I guess. It's odd that in the community where I live, there's a band program but no strings, and some high school band directors let violinists into their bands and have them play flute and oboe parts. Cellists would fit as well, as they could play trombone, euphonium or bassoon parts. Double bassists take on the role of the bass guitar. Too bad for violists; there's no other instrument in the concert band that uses alto clef.

March 12, 2017 at 01:33 AM · There may be no instrument that uses alto clef, but violists use treble clef quite frequently, so any of those instruments would work.

March 12, 2017 at 01:45 AM · A slight digression on the topic of demographics:

In the wealthier parts of the metropolitan capital area (DC and its MD and VA 'burbs), the level of violinistic accomplishment in kids is astonishingly high, and it's not unusual to see the serious teenagers own exceptionally expensive instruments (we're talking $100k+ violins). In the less-wealthy parts, where most of the kids get started late in public schools, and play on barely-functioning school instruments, the level of playing is marginal at best, and even the kids who eventually get private lessons are entering high school at Suzuki book 4 level if they've worked hard. I doubt this has anything to do with natural talent, and it's an illustration of just how much of a leg up kids from wealthier families get.

DC has a great program that gets kids started regardless of income level (DCYOP), that apparently does produce great players, but this doesn't touch the further-out suburbs. And I suspect that still requires parents who have the free time to devote to shuttling their kids to classes and whatnot -- which doesn't happen in the part of the area where parents are frequently working multiple low-wage jobs.

March 12, 2017 at 02:22 AM · Lieschen, I'm not quite so sure. Yes, violists use treble clef, but wind parts don't work. Flute and oboe parts rarely need a G string, let alone a C. Clarinet, saxophone, horn and trumpet are transposing instruments.

March 12, 2017 at 02:23 AM · I grew up in Lydia's county, though not in the wealthiest part. I remember, or at least I think I remember, that more than 50% of the All-State orchestra every year was composed of students from my youth orchestra, which at the time was limited to county residents. I certainly didn't have a fancy instrument but I knew kids who did.

March 12, 2017 at 04:08 AM · My high school music teacher was a violinist, and maintained a successful music program with mostly beginners with no private instruction, but not with string instruments. Teaching and learning string instruments is hard -- hard enough to learn well with private instruction, let alone without. In this area, string music programs aren't common in schools, but do exist -- mostly in wealthier parts where they are supplemented and supported by private instruction. Inspired teachers may be able to sustain a mix of beginning string players with no private instruction and others, but doing that with mostly beginners with no private instruction is much more difficult than with band instruments. I don't know if the benefits of learning a much more difficult instrument pay off significantly more than learning to play on easier ones, but they certainly don't if the additional difficulties are never surmounted, as they often aren't in struggling string programs. My son said without bragging that he played better than the string teacher in his last school (which is not in an 'at risk' neighborhood) to give you an idea of how bad the teaching can be -- and without players like him, privately taught, that school probably wouldn't even have tried to have a string program.

Auer wrote that poor people flocked to violins because they were cheaper. I think we know better now.

March 12, 2017 at 04:18 AM · Give wind players credit, especially double reed and brass players. Reeds are finicky, and it takes a lot of precision to play brass instruments well. Give flutists the credit that they spent several weeks trying to get a proper sound. We string players could at least make our instruments sound from the very beginning.

March 12, 2017 at 04:59 AM · I think it is a mistake to think any one instrument is easier than another. Some may provide more instant gratification earlier on, but will ultimately take a similar amount of work to master. I believe that a successful outreach program would have to provide private lessons. This is non-negotiable. Otherwise, the students get stuck in the beginner stages. The instruments don't have to be strads, but they have to be tunable, and not sound so bad as to discourage the beginner. I would like to see an outreach program that can provide a path a student who's only obstacle is money to be competitive for at least second-tier music school admissions. I have watched a handful of truly dedicated students be stifled because a program without lessons was all they had.

As for transcribing wind parts, a good arranger can make it work. It isn't about just literal cut and paste. Transposing instruments would of course be re-written "in C" for the violists. Notation software can transpose in less than a heartbeat. Some parts would come down an octave, some parts would be re-written to be more idiomatic for the instrument, and sometimes, the violists would be able to just provide sustained inner-voice harmony. Also, perhaps playing a little higher would help the violists develop better familiarity with the upper half of the finger board, which seems to often be lacking for those who never play violin.

March 12, 2017 at 11:44 AM · I think it's a bigger mistake to not acknowledge that some instruments are more difficult than others, and the instruments of our choice which we love and are comfortable with, might not be for everyone. My own experiences and bias includes wind instruments, and so far I've also neglected the most natural, inexpensive, and expressive instrument -- voice. Vocal music should be the starting point, even for violinists.

With the exception of trombone, all the band instruments roughly hit a note with the correct fingering (and perhaps an action to hit the right register). The additional challenge is in the breath, the mouth (including tongue) and learning all the fingerings over time, but in all it's much easier than managing the awkward positioning of the violin, the shaping and positioning of the left hand and fingers to hit the correct pitch, and managing bowing with the other hand on top of that, where every slight difference is audible.

Anyone can make a sound the first day on an instrument or at least the starting instrument in its family. Some more difficult instruments, like oboe, can be omitted or left to a few who do have the means. A middle school can have a viable band playing interesting music in less than two years with raw beginners and no private lessons. I don't think that happens with violinists.

Few outreach programs and their member families can afford private lessons. Imposing that requirement makes it happen less often and establishes a barrier to entry. All it takes in many public schools is one inspired and capable music teacher, as was mine, together with sufficient funding for the instruments and space. While there's no harm in providing additional support in terms of subsidized private lessons and additional group opportunities, it's more critical in some cases than others.

March 12, 2017 at 02:38 PM · I think we need to ask ourselves what these programs are for. To give students something to do for fun? To make them work at something? To give them a solid skill set? I honestly think in some cases, that it is to make the providers of the program look good, and has nothing to do with the students.

I feel like the ideal goal, in terms of funding and administration, should be to give the poorest who are the most dedicated, the same shot at conservatory admission as the child of two doctors who started out in an expensive Suzuki program. The others, who are not as serious, should at least have a working knowledge of intermediate solo repertoire. It won't be easy, but this is the only way to truly increase diversity in professional classical music and in concert attendance. It truly starts at the beginner level, and no number of newspaper articles lamenting about all of the rich white people in classical music is going to change things. Unfortunately, most outreach administrators and donors don't even remotely think in these terms, and are more than thrilled once little Johnny can tell a bass clef from his elbow.

Again, some instruments will not be as frustrating in the beginning, but don't we see professionals on each instrument working just as hard as one on the next? Try telling a singer with the Metropolitans Opera that what they are doing is much easier than what the principal oboist is doing. I don't think that would go over well.

Of course different people gravitate to different instruments, and different physical characteristics are more suited to certain instruments, but if we say, "Hey play this, it will be easier.", the students are in for a rude awakening down the line. That's not to mention, that we are already lowering expectations for "underprivileged" students in the first place, by trying not to give them "hard" instruments only "privileged" students should be capable of. Why are we doing this? Do we think poor students aren't as intelligent?

March 12, 2017 at 04:55 PM · These are great points, guys. It's true that every instrument has its challenges. Rearranging is a qssibility, but I guess band teachers are too lazy to do so. The music is on paper, and they'd have to scan and edit and do all sorts of crazy things. Plus, there's very few string players in our community, but a fair handful of wind players. You'll run into some violinists, the one in the odd cellist, next to no violists and double bassists, but a handful of bass guitar players.

March 12, 2017 at 05:11 PM · I'm of a different opinion on the goals of a program, regardless of the income level. I think that the goal of childhood classical music should be to equip a child to have an understanding and appreciation of music, and to be able to pursue music as a hobby. That means finishing with sufficient technical ability to be able to play in a community orchestra, play chamber music, play in church and similar settings, and have a foundation from which to branch into non-classical styles. I agree that this means reaching an intermediate level.

Very few kids, regardless of upbringing, have the wherewithal to pursue violin performance as a profession, and we've already pretty much established that it's a profession that you shouldn't go into unless you truly cannot see yourself being happy doing something else. It's also not the profession to pursue if you're your family's best shot at pulling out of poverty with the next generation.

March 12, 2017 at 05:11 PM · [duplicate]

March 12, 2017 at 06:18 PM · " I think that the goal of childhood classical music should be to equip a child to have an understanding and appreciation of music, and to be able to pursue music as a hobby."

"That means finishing with sufficient technical ability to be able to play in a community orchestra, play chamber music, play in church and similar settings, and have a foundation from which to branch into non-classical styles."

I think that your goals are laudable, reasonable and valid ones to have for programs you support, but they're not necessarily the only valid ones. The second is not a necessary goal on several fronts. First, musical education need not get that far to have demonstrable academic, personal, and social benefits. Second, hobby music can come in all forms, including singing in the shower as an extreme, but more commonly just enjoying listening to and attending (if this alone improved, the classical music industry would likely be much happier). Third, the types of music that one is drawn to need not be (western) classical, and the instrumentation need not be limited to what was used in the 17th-19th centuries. Finally, what one does as a musical pursuit after they've completed their childhood and adult education need not be limited to exactly where they left off.

You don't entirely forget how to read music, and if your music education was any good, you have developed enough of a love and understanding of some of that language to be able learn more and apply it in a different context and on a different instrument. If you've been able to get through the more challenging stages of education and job seeking and independence while also continuing the same hobby and instrument, bravo, but you might have been better off putting down that tuba for a few years to focus elsewhere and pick up whatever you yourself want to play later instead of being limited to whatever was once deemed suitable for you, available, and perhaps needed by the particular group at earlier times.

March 12, 2017 at 06:29 PM · This may be related to a broader question, which is: What's the purpose of arts in the public schools at all? (whether music, theater, dance, visual arts, etc.)

March 12, 2017 at 07:30 PM · Lydia's question: "What's the purpose of arts in the public schools at all?" is the larger issue. Why not simply take a lesson from "Brave New World" and determine the future before birth and only provide the needed skills?

Art and Music are part of what it means to be human. Art and music are the languages of emotion and to dismiss that is to make one less than human.

Yes, here in the USA we ration all kinds of things based on the ability to pay, education among the rest. However there are those who break through given any kind of opportunity. Exposure is the key. Graphic arts are nice but I never developed the requisite skills to actually make my own art. I got enraptured with the Violin in Jr. High but finances said no. It wasn't till I was an adult with a career and a spouse along with a Mother-in-Law who had her grandfather's violin in the attic that it re-kindled and led me to where I am today in my retirement years doing pro-bono violin lessons and assisting with a youth orchestra. I've laid a good foundation in a number of students who have gone on to get more lessons from professional teachers. None of them are professional musicians but all still play with amateur groups and some managed some scholarship dollars for college playing with the college orchestra.

To be sure, music education is mis-used by a lot of parents because they have been told that music lessons are "good for their children's future." Some actually like music, other do it because the parents push them.

Education is about making complete humans and that requires exposure to arts and music. All children, not just the children of the wealthy.

March 12, 2017 at 07:38 PM · "I think that the goal of childhood classical music should be to equip a child to have an understanding and appreciation of music, and to be able to pursue music as a hobby. That means finishing with sufficient technical ability to be able to play in a community orchestra, play chamber music, play in church and similar settings, and have a foundation from which to branch into non-classical styles. I agree that this means reaching an intermediate level."

These are more or less my goals with my private students.

March 12, 2017 at 08:55 PM · When it comes to deciding education for an entire nation, one can expect that quite a few required subjects will be quite arbitrarily chosen by the powers at be, according to tradition, especially beyond the primary level. Most subjects are great and interesting to study. It depends on the person, which should be studied, especially once basic literacy and numeracy skills are learned. There is something to exposing students to something totally unfamiliar, and outside of their comfort zone. I think the arts should certainly be among the choices for students though, and students should decide which level they will be involved. This would naturally mean something far below conservatory level for most, which is just fine. Those who are strong shouldn't be denied moving forward though. It would be great if schools generally gave students more leeway in what to study, with very flexible breadth requirements.

March 12, 2017 at 09:02 PM · Regarding goals, I haven’t heard the mentioning that, no matter what we end up doing when grow up, the skills we learned in playing an instrument is valuable in that they are applicable to almost any area of pursuit: patience, hard work, focus, perseverance, creativity, analytical ability and the ability to handle failures, etc. Most of all, we learn that we can change ourselves for the better, no matter where we start, where we end up with and how old we get. I suppose these skills can be learned in sports training, only that music education also teaches one to appreciate artistic excellence and gentleness of the heart, something unique in music education, IMHO.

March 13, 2017 at 09:09 PM · I wish standards and goals like 'reaching an intermediate level' were higher. That was what my first teacher had me doing, and as a result, I feel behind on technique and repertoire. I think at least trying to reach your full potential should be the goal. That way, if you later decide to go into music professionally, you won't be stunted because of low standards as a student. Even if music is just going to be a hobby when I'm an adult, I want to be as good as I think I can be at it.

March 13, 2017 at 09:09 PM · duplicate

March 13, 2017 at 09:49 PM · Amanda, I totally agree. Because I believe playing a musical instrument teaches children important life skills, this is likely the #1 reason why there are music classes in the public schools. I forgot to mention that there seems to be a local music school offering free music education, and there's lots of volunteer tutors there. I don't know many details about it, so I can't say more.

March 13, 2017 at 11:50 PM · The problem with setting the bar high for goals is that serious pre-professional training isn't necessarily much fun for the kid who doesn't to be a pro, and can in fact be crushing to the love for music for someone (child or adult). Many people just want to play well enough to make music for the joy of it, which is a significantly lower bar. They do not necessarily want to do the grinding, painstaking work that the pursuit of perfection requires. They may not want to constantly be told that what they are doing falls short of the expected standard.

Now, this does not mean that students should be taught sloppily, but the teacher has to balance the student's enthusiasm and enjoyment of the process (and thus their willingness to practice) and musical goals, along with their available practice time and other time to devote to music, against appropriate expectations.

March 14, 2017 at 12:47 AM · Lydia, you are right on the ball. I'm sure that when we say "full potential," this means that the program is capable of training students to the pre-professional level, but that doesn't mean everyone has to reach that level.

March 14, 2017 at 01:03 AM · Lydia, I think that people enjoy music a lot more when they sound good. I didn't mean it has to be super intense pre-pro training, but very good training, and as long as you practice and have a good teacher, you won't have anyone telling you over and over again about how you fall short of the standard, because you don't have to be perfect to be good. I had such a lax teacher for the first 8 years of instruction that when I switched teachers and then a little later finally decided to work hard on the whole violin thing, I had to - and still, have to - push myself extremely hard in order to actually improve. It's just that low standards make bad habits, and bad habits don't help anybody enjoy music anymore. I do think it is good to have lowER standards for students who decided definitely not to be professional, but they should still be high enough to where you become a well-rounded player, pro in later life or not, and so that there seems always to be room for improvement.

March 14, 2017 at 01:03 AM · Besides, who says pre-profesh training isn't fun if you really do love music?

March 14, 2017 at 01:49 AM · Some students will embrace the hard work, but my point is that the students who don't have that kind of ambition or passion are much less likely to find the rigor to be attractive.

I do believe there's a happy medium between allowing a student to be sloppy, and demanding growing levels of perfection. It should be noted that not that many teachers are capable of training teenagers at the true pre-conservatory level (call it "Tchaikovsky for auditions" not "Bruch for auditions").

March 14, 2017 at 01:06 PM · I totally get how some kids hate practicing. Lydia's totally right, but lessons for the finnancially-stretched should be just (or almost at the very least) as good as a program for regular kids.

March 14, 2017 at 03:23 PM · I have a question to lydia: You mentioned that in the countryside you might have trouble raising violin players to orchestras due to finnancial conditions.

The interest on the instrument (and hence the will to learn and to some extent the hability to draw the notes) is greatly influenced by the parents.

I am not an US american, but I know plenty of them. And many of my acquaitances enjoy playing the fiddle (or the bass, or the guitar, etc) on their free-time in a wheel of friends, or during a bbq, for example. Most of them got the skill at home, and never took part in lessons.

Mind, these are fiddlers and they don't really play classical music.

Which brings me to my question: Are the violin teaching programs you mention in this post - for those who can't afford - intended to form professional classical musicians or just to teach the kid an instrument? If it is the latter, why bother about forming orchestras away from proper funding?

March 14, 2017 at 03:26 PM · Programs have a broad variety of purposes, from helping poorer kids be able to afford a pre-conservatory track training, to providing enrichment that might hopefully keep some kids off the streets and out of trouble.

March 14, 2017 at 04:04 PM · As a 52-yo kid who is teaching myself to play by trying almost everyday, sometimes for hours, AND who is financially desperate, I wish I could just get a cheap seasonal lesson. I had 4 lessons last fall, a few weeks apart, and truth is each lesson gave me so much to work on I know what I have to do and don't need a lesson every week. Even every 3 months would seem about right to me. I suppose I can afford his cheap $50 4x a year....

March 14, 2017 at 07:10 PM · Amanda, the thing is, a lot of the best teachers don't teach raw beginners and a lot of parents of beginners don't know enough about learning the instrument to appreciate the difference. Or want to pay the cost of a more advanced teacher. This is not to say that most beginner teachers are less than good--just that it's more common for a kid to be initially introduced through a group music setting at school (where teaching great technique is particularly challenging) or with a teacher who is great at inspiring kids to play and focuses on fostering enjoyment more than perfect position. You might be the rare kid who would have eaten up Sevcik at age six but most kids don't and absent obvious prodigious talent, it's hard to know so early what their true potential is. I've watched this scenario with my son's friend. He started violin in school at age 5. He loved it so his parents found him a local teacher. They were looking for someone fun and kind and inspiring and not overly expensive and accessible. They found a woman who basically lets the kids play whatever they want to. This seemed to work well for a few years. But he's starting to learn concertos now and after watching a really sloppy performance of the Haydn G major, I emailed his mom and gently nudged her toward finding a next-level teacher. It will be an adjustment for him but he's now 10 and should be able to focus better on the details of good practice. I think this is a common phenomenon. It's frustrating to have to go backwards to move forward but all progress isn't perfectly linear.

March 14, 2017 at 08:15 PM · Add to Katie's spot on comments the fact that many parents don't want to harass their kids to practice, and/or don't want to invest the time to make sure that their kids practice well. This is why Suzuki isn't viable for many families, for instance -- it demands some adult commitment. And many kids are dreadfully overscheduled already, even at a very young age, and/or their parents work a schedule in which they simply can't spend a lot of time with their kids.

For the first couple of years that I played violin in a Suzuki program -- up until I was 9 or so -- my parents pretty much had to dedicate at least an hour a night to getting me to practice for 30 minutes. (The remaining 30 minutes would be filled with excuses, "I need a glass of water", insistence on 'rests', and tantrums, pretty much.) I wanted to play the violin (for values of "play" that pretty much equated to "do better than those other kids there") and I can tell you it was still really not fun doing scales, Schradieck, Sevcik, etc.

I'm kind of curious how well El Sistema-type approaches have worked outside of the original program, though.

March 15, 2017 at 12:03 AM · I personally feel that you should enjoy playing but at the same time learn good technique. Although I understand how difficult it is to get some kids to practice and how overloaded families can be, I believe that pushing kids to practice to a degree teaches them discipline. Lots of kids just play video games or watch TV all day, and that is no good.

March 15, 2017 at 12:41 AM · I agree with Ella, teachers play a huge part in a kid's development, especially with things like responsibility and discipline.

March 15, 2017 at 12:41 AM ·

March 15, 2017 at 04:17 PM · Well, Amanda, I agree with you to a degree. I feel that the child's parents play the biggest role in their personal development, though other relatives and acquaintances contribute to an extent as well. A violin teacher plays a big role in a violinist's playing style.

March 15, 2017 at 04:23 PM · But of course parents come first. Just that (at least personally,) I would be a very different person without my teachers.

March 15, 2017 at 04:23 PM · Duplicate

March 15, 2017 at 04:24 PM · anyone know how to fix the duplicate problem?

March 15, 2017 at 11:54 PM · Lydia, if you haven't already found it, check out the Sitar Center in DC (Adams Morgan http://www.sitarartscenter.org) They offer low cost, after school arts and music education to children in the neighborhood, with a specific focus on those who can't afford typical lessons and classes. I volunteered as a teacher some years ago and found it a very worthwhile experience. The children were engaged and generally thrilled to be there. Teaching art and music was only part of the point of the center. Their website explains their goals and programs far better than I could, and I'm sure someone there would be happy to talk to you about lessons learned.

March 16, 2017 at 12:18 AM · Thanks. I'm aware of Sitar but they're outside of the sphere of geography where I know people. :-)

I'm curious, though, what the volunteer teachers are like there -- mostly people who normally don't teach professionally, or career teachers who are donating their time?

March 16, 2017 at 09:26 PM · At the time I was there, more than ten years ago, the one on one lessons were generally given by amateurs like me. Group lessons, particularly art, were generally given by professionals, often with considerable experience and training in teaching. At least that's how I remember it.

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