violinists teaching cello & viola

October 16, 2005 at 04:02 AM · Hi -

I might be teaching Suzuki cello & viola (private lessons) soon. I'm a violin I need some ideas on where I can get information to teach cello and viola? (Just very basic cello & viola).

Anyone have any ideas/book suggestions on where I can look?


Replies (23)

October 16, 2005 at 06:36 AM · Probably the best thing you can do is rent/borrow a cello and viola and work through some beginning method book such as "Essential Elements 2000" to get the basic underlying idea on how to play (the viola is so close to violin you may not need to do this for viola) to which you can then adapt the Suzuki methods from violin.

Also, there are pedagogical books on cello you can read for ideas on how to position the thumb or shape the bow hand in a wording that works with little kids...perhaps seek out a local cello teacher or professor for specific recomendations of books. But overall, if you yourself can play it and model an example, lessons will go better. It would be best if you could teach their lessons with a cello/viola in hand so they can see their own instrument in action.

October 16, 2005 at 08:43 PM · With all due respect, and without knowing much about your circumstances, I would suggest that if you can't play the instrument you shouldn't teach it. You don't have to be a virtuoso but I think you should have experienced all the subtleties and nuances of actually doing what you expect to teach.

October 16, 2005 at 09:48 PM · Well I don't want to teach viola and cello. But I want the job, and the job is teaching mainly violin, but also cello and viola. I agree in only teaching one instrument. It annoys me when I hear about a teacher offering private lessons in violin, piano, voice, clarinet and flute. You can't possibly teach all of them exceptionally well, and I want to teach one very well.

But, that's what the job wants...

What would you say to the boss? "I'd love to, but sorry, I only teach violin?"

What if, in the future, I'm called upon to rehearse a string orchestra and I can't help the cellos with their part? I feel very silly teaching an instrument I can't play, but I don't know what to say to the boss. I'm a little confused as to how to proceed...

October 16, 2005 at 10:10 PM · Hi, Catherine: I'm not a professional violinist, just an amateur. I'm also not a violin teacher. But I am a psychologist, and I do understand your dilemma. It seems to me you've gotten some good advice here, on both sides of the question. What you need to do (in my opinion), is to make a list in these categories: What you CAN do, what you CAN'T do, what you WANT to do, what you HAVE to do, and what you HAVE BEEN OFFERED to do. What do you need to do to achieve each? Maybe these aren't your exact questions, but I think that if you think this out on paper, point by point, your brain (the best computer of all) will come up with a solution (in the form of a gut reaction) that you can live with. Then make a decision and do it -- do the best you can, no worse but also no better -- and don't look back.

Cordially, Sandy Marcus

October 16, 2005 at 10:52 PM · I would personally suggest that you find someone to study the cello from. I know that conducting majors (or my conductors, anyway) are required to take various instrumental classes: Strings, Winds and Brass, Keyboard, and Percussion. I'm not sure if there are others...but there probably are.

In particular cello has those weird fingerings and bizarre things like thumb position ^_^

October 17, 2005 at 04:43 AM · With all due respect Catherine, how would you feel as a student if you found out your teacher couldn't even play the instrument they're teaching you?

I think you should tell your boss the truth. If they insist they need someone who teaches all 3 instruments then maybe that particular position isn't for you.


October 17, 2005 at 05:55 AM · It is possible to do this if you want to, but you will need to at the absolute least get a cello and play in front of a mirror...asking cello aquaintances for tips on the bow. The kid is just beginning so a lot of what you know will overlap at first anyways...the basics of instrument care, music theory, tone production'd be surprised how much transfers. Dr. Robert Gillespie of OSU has published a great book that has all these tidbits of pedagogical wisdom you may need to teach cello...stuff on how to teach sitting posture and bow games (not really Suzuki, but if you are creative enough you could incorperate it). It is a book called "Strategies for Teaching Strings" and it is just fantastic for situations such as this. I cannot recommend this book enough....just have a look and you will see what I mean.

October 17, 2005 at 01:11 PM · I think I know enough to coach strings like in orchetsra/chamber, but not private lessons on cello. Maybe viola. I can't even demonstrate on cello, though.

Sarah, thanks for the book idea. I'll check it out, regardless of the fact I will just teach violin.

I guess I'll email her and tell her I'd be happy to teach violin and some viola...but maybe she can send her cello students elsewhere.

October 17, 2005 at 02:24 PM · As a parent who shells out big $$$ for lessons, I am reading this with amazement and a considerable dollop of consternation. This is one of those "nightmares" that parents of talented students have to avoid. Why should I, or any other parent, pay out $$$ for a teacher to teach herself how to teach my child?

Most music schools do not vary the rate charged relative to the experience of the teacher--which of course means that a large number of students get the short shrift.

Once upon a time, there was a concept called "integrity". It has gone out of fashion, with the "I can do anything if I just try hard enough" paradigm, and the "everyone's opinion is equally valid" attitude, so that there is no longer anything to "stand" for.

We all want to be successful. We all feel a tremendous urge to take on more than we can chew. But to have scruples--to be able to look yourself (and your god if you have one) in the eye and say "yes, I am doing right by you" is more important than the short term gains of cashflow. If you have talent as a teacher, there is no reason for you to compromise it by doing work that you are not qualified for.

Should I teach french literature? After all, my cousins are French, and I had 8 years of french class as a kid/college student?

How about if I open a violin studio? Everybody is doing it---why not me?

Catherine, I am not belittling you here--I am merely using my best "devil's advocate" skills to elucidate the ethical problem.

Oh, and btw, if the parent ever found out, and she were anything like my wife, you would find yourself fired, and the money refunded.

Best of luck,


October 17, 2005 at 03:33 PM · I understand what you're saying, Bill. Even though I'm not a parent I would definately make sure my kids teachers have enough experience and knowledge to teach their instrument.

There are a lot of teachers out there who don't know what they're doing, or don't know how much damage they're doing because they don't know the instrument they're teaching.

Public schools are much different, of course. There, you can't blame the teacher because it's required the teacher be able to teach everything! But in private lessons...this is something I feel strongly about, the teacher should only be teaching the instrument they play.

October 18, 2005 at 04:18 AM · I know that my school only offered violin in the beginning string levels. The same teacher taught all the woodwinds and brass, however. I shudder to think, a flute player teaching french horn O_O

Hmmm, let's see...can you play a scale in tune on the cello with the bow straight? I know I can't...though I didn't have the opportunity to try very long. Wouldn't it be terrible if you had a student in your class who had taken private lessons on the cello before, and she/he was better at the cello that you are?? I know an elementary school kid who's in the same youth orchestra as I am...average age is probably about 16, we have had a few people go directly from our orchestra to places like the New England conservatory. He's also in the elementary strings program...what would happen if he was in your class?

I don't mean to be sarcastic...but it's probably true that he'd be more competant in the cello than you are. That would NOT help you teach the class.

October 18, 2005 at 01:18 PM · Hah that's ok. I can maybe play a scale, after readjusting each finger. :P

October 19, 2005 at 01:05 AM · I feel your pain, Catherine...

After almost a decade in college, I'm finally about to graduate with a degree in Music Ed.! hee hee :) Anyway, during these years, I've been preasured on all sides to go into public school teaching. Now, I do sincerely appreciate the schools struggling to get strings back into their programs (Lord knows, in my area, there is nothing but band and choir...) And, for the longest time, I thought that's what I was going to do.

But, I've since come to realize that the idea of teaching band and choir (although I do coach choir sectionals in school, but that's a bit different IMO), just to try to wedge a string program into the system eventually, just isn't for me. I personally cannot stand the thought of teaching another instrument that I know nothing about, not after seven years of teaching the violin! Teaching any string instrument (and I'm sure other instruments as well) takes so much care as far as setting the students position, laying the ground work. I can't do that for an instrument I don't know extremely well. I need to be able to anticipate normal difficulties, and have solutions for them, etc.

Sarah was right, I believe, in noting the things in music that overlap; that's how you can coach, and instruct in the way of musicianship, etc. But the ideal, I think would be to have this supplement careful instrument technique... Perhaps I'm just comfortable in my system...

At least, in making this stance against going into the public school plan, I'm hoping to instead realize the real dream I've been putting off for a while...


October 19, 2005 at 06:56 AM · My job was teaching string orchestra....period. I was very well trained in college from Dr. Gillespie (author of Essential Elements 2000 among other things) and even took lessons on viola, cello, and bass. It is possible to play one instrument professionally (or semi-pro as it is all I have time for obviously with my teaching) and still know enough about the other string instruments to lead a successful program. I do not teach private lessons to instruments other than violin after about book 2 Suzuki level because yes there are instrument-specific details I would just feel better handing off to someone well versed in that instrument. But teaching- good basic teaching skills- are transferable. If you are upbeat, a good leader, encouraging, and know your stuff and kids like learning from can create the foundations with no problem. Some people get so uptight about music but to a kid, there has to be meaning and it has to be fun. I can guarantee you no little 5 year old or even 4th grader is showing up to your class with a 19-year plan to become the next Pearlman. THey just want to have fun and make music. A good teacher can do this AND set up solid foundations.

It is possible for the much ragged-on public school music teacher to do this. If you haven't met haven't been around enough.

October 19, 2005 at 12:23 PM · Thanks for the input, Sarah.

Maybe one day if I become a public school teacher I'll just be strings. Do you travel a lot to different schools, since you don't teach band as well?

October 20, 2005 at 03:34 AM · If you have some compentancy with the instruments - then beginner's lessons would be OK. The viola would be a fairly easy transition if you know how to read alto clef. Not too many techniques that are different.

I took viola & cello lessons from a lady who was a violist but understood enough of how to play the other two and was very effective in teaching me. I was very new on cello, but quite advanced on viola.

October 20, 2005 at 06:29 AM · My first violin teacher had majored in viola and she was fantastic.

Catherine...I`m kinda curious, how much knowledge DO you have in the cello?

October 20, 2005 at 06:52 AM · Teach what you know.

As a violinist, studying viola is very valuable. They instruments are not so dissimilar as to discourage simultaneous study, and most good violinists make good violists. I know a number of Suzuki instructors who teach both, and take the teacher training for them.

Cello is a much different beast, and I would absolutely not recommend *teaching* it unless you have some significant proficiency with the instrument.

October 20, 2005 at 02:20 PM · I took cello lessons for 2 years in 4 & 5th grade. I've been around cellists a lot, and I have no problem reading bass clef, thanks to year of piano lessons.

But, obviously, 4th grade was a long time ago and I haven't touched a cello pretty much since.

I can probably play a scale.

October 21, 2005 at 11:10 AM · Catherine, to answer your earlier question, I was fortunate to be in a school district where the orchestra program dominated everything else. There were 8 buildings in the district and I did 7 of them....all 5 elementaries plus the 5/6 grade building (shared duties with the other string teacher) and I assisted at the High School as well. So any one day I would be in at least 4 places, but it really wasn't so bad. Between classes I get to drive around and have a break. OTher teachers went from class to class back to back so I apprecite the planning time in the car.

THere are schools out there with strong music programs where you don't have to teach everything...usually they are near large universities that teach string teaching. Texas, Las Vegas, Georgia, and Ohio to my knowledge have strong string programs state or city-wide. Just choose your teaching situation carefully. Browse through ASTA and MENC websites for jobs. It is a very worthwhile career and we need good string teachers out there....there is a severe shortage of string teachers and that is why you see the band teacher limping through string classes. Best of luck.

October 21, 2005 at 12:50 PM · Wow, the orchesra program dominates? That doesnt' happen much. Usually, it's marching band, as was the case at my HS.

October 23, 2005 at 09:19 PM · The violin and the cello are very, very different in the basic positions of both hands. A student who starts playing the cello using violin positions may be handicapped to the extent they will never become advanced. Please take a few lessons from a quality cello teacher before starting cello students.

Bill Swackhamer

November 26, 2005 at 04:20 PM · I sympathize very much with those who bristle at the idea of violinists teaching cello nor to mention even more distant instruments. Years ago I saw a cello teacher trying to teach viola to his students and not ONCE did I ever seen him play the viola. I can't understand why parents pay money for this sort of thing

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