Teaching technique question

March 2, 2018, 12:10 PM · A question for you violin instructors, please?

I am an adult amateur, playing and taking regular lessons for 5 years, the last 4 with this same teacher. She is classically trained at a very reputable college.
I have learned a lot, and she is very nice. My issue is that she plays with me always. Scales, etudes and pieces. Unless I specifically ask, she plays with me.
I personally do not think this is in my best interest, as it provides a crutch or a cop-out for me. Small errors in tone or intonation, etc. are masked a bit by her playing, etc.
My question - is this a legitimate technique? She is not crazy about me asking her not to play with me. I play 2-3 hours /day-have worked through books Suzuki Book 6-7, among many other pieces-so we are not playing Twinkle.

Am I wrong to be thinking this is a disservice to her students?
It's not easy to find another qualified instructor, willing to teach adults.

Thoughts please?

Replies (18)

March 2, 2018, 12:16 PM · You are correct and she should not be playing with you all the time.
Edited: March 2, 2018, 1:56 PM · I agree that it's a bit overkill. Does she explain to you what's wrong with your playing?
March 2, 2018, 1:56 PM · I did do that when I started teaching but never with adults - and I stopped fairly early.
March 2, 2018, 2:42 PM · My teacher often plays along for repertoire (usually reading a line from the piano part, supplying key solo lines from orchestra instruments in concerto accompaniments, etc.), but as far as I can tell, he has absolutely no problem noticing even tiny errors while doing so. My previous teacher was a very good pianist and frequently played the piano part with me; again, as far as I could tell, no difficulties noticing stuff anyway.

But etudes, exercises, etc. I play alone. That's weird if she's playing along when it's not accompaniment, on a routine basis. (Some teachers will, for specific reasons, ask a student to play with them, which can be helpful, of course.)

Does she effectively notice errors that you're making, despite the fact she's playing along with you?

March 2, 2018, 2:51 PM · Since she apparently likes to play along, suggest to play violin duets!
March 2, 2018, 3:00 PM · I'll state this like I have many times before: having a teacher that's properly classically trained doesn't make them an effective teacher.

In fact, I just recently received a young student who spent a year before with a very accomplished player as a teacher, and his technique and stiffness are atrocious. She had him spending half of his practice time reading theory books, despite still being in the first half of Suzuki book 1. That, and a lot of double stops and a lot of "supplemental" pieces that are of approximately a Suzuki book 3 or 4 level (which he is ~not~ prepared for).

The worst part is, he's actually a very creative and smart young kid who enjoys playing. But if they hadn't switched over, it's very possible that her awful attitude would have turned him off to playing permanently. Now he smiles when he shows up and smiles when he leaves, and the improvement in his playing is apparent.

Anyways, now that my rant is over: A teacher playing with you all of the time is a huge problem. Not a little problem; a HUGE problem. You need to be able to hear your own tonality in order to improve. It's time to find a new teacher. Of course, some will probably suggest telling her to simply change the way she teaches, but I'll tell you right now: the student should NOT have to be teaching the teacher. When that happens, it's a lost cause and it's time to move on. Perhaps you've gained a lot from her since you begin, and that's great. But I highly recommend searching out new teachers until you find one that fits. Use your intuition when picking.

March 2, 2018, 3:27 PM · This sentence really stood out for me: "She is not crazy about me asking her not to play with me." So, you've mentioned it (mildly, maybe) and she reacted negatively. That alone would make me want to look for someone new.

I think at this point it might be worth having a serious conversation, in which you mention that this troubles you (just as you told us) and may be holding you back. Give her a chance to explain why she does this, but ultimately, be prepared to walk.

(That said, you're making good progress for an adult amateur, albeit one who practices a ton. How solid do you feel on the pieces you've played?)

Might be worth playing for someone different just to get their feedback.

March 2, 2018, 3:29 PM · PS: I've never had a teacher do this but I *did* have a teacher for a semester in college who insisted on sight-reading piano parts, badly, whenever I played. And unlike Claudia (my/Lydia's former teacher who is a highly skilled pianist), she didn't seem to be able to hear me over her own banging around. I found it hugely distracting, and was then super frustrated with her inability to give me constructive feedback. Some people don't seem to actually want to teach...
March 2, 2018, 4:02 PM · When my daughter was little I played along with her just to help her learn the tunes faster. I don't think any harm was done thereby, but obviously she grew out of that pretty fast too.
March 2, 2018, 5:34 PM · Thank you everyone, for taking the time to respond. Yes, I agree, it is time to move on. If only that were so easy.
And to clarify, she plays along with all of her students, young and old. Initially, it was helpful, now, it has become a crutch, preventing me, I believe, from standing on my own, and learning to be comfortable playing on my own.
I will step up my search for a new instructor.
March 3, 2018, 2:56 AM · My old teacher when I was young also played along a lot, and in retrospect I am pretty sure he did it on purpose so as to blanket my own playing, avoid having to stop me all the time and correct problems, i.e., he did it to avoid actually teaching me! Probably he was a bit fed up with teaching (can't blame him :-). He was actually a really good violinist, concertmaster of the Antwerp opera. Still remember the day when he was beautifully playing the Swan Lake "Pas de deux" solo in the classroom between two lessons, I arrived in the hallway and stayed behind the door listening!
March 3, 2018, 6:28 AM · Good story, Jean!
After more reflection, I believe there are 2 reasons why my teacher does this.

1) she does think that it takes some pressure off of us, so as we don’t sound quite as bad.
2) I think it relieves some of the boredom and tedium, of having to sit back and listen through an hours lesson.
I can certainly understand how difficult it would be to listen. And it is indeed easier on the student to have her play along. But at my stage now, that is not to my benefit.

March 3, 2018, 7:07 AM · I've been teaching chemistry for 22 years, at all levels. Working on my grade spreadsheet is tedious. Revising the page numbers in my reading list because the publisher came out with a new edition of the textbook is boring. But being in the classroom with students -- even "general chemistry for non-majors" is never boring or tedious. Anyone who finds it that way needs to get out. You make it interesting by constantly trying to do it better. Clearer explanations, more compelling examples, better delivery.
March 3, 2018, 8:52 AM · Playing along isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you struggle with intonation and/or rythm, this gives you a solid basis for you to follow in order to acquire a sense of either. Sometime my teacher will provide the base tone as I play scales to help me become aware of when I am slightly off and I find that helpful also. My teacher certainly can tell when I have the wrong intonation, phrasing, use the wrong bowing or rhythm even as he plays along. We then stop, work on and correct what I am doing wrong, and then continue. I generally find it helpful.
March 3, 2018, 8:56 AM · Yes, you are so right, Paul. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m going to venture a guess that you are the exception. I would pay a lot to have an instructor as you describe. But I’m a realist.
I will be thrilled with a significant improvement over my current situation.
I will let you know if I have any success. I’ve put lots of quiet feelers out, to no avail, yet!
March 3, 2018, 10:19 AM · Thank you for your comment, Roger. I agree, it can be very helpful, particularly with rhythm issues.
But, for me to have virtually no experience playing alone, in a lesson, I find myself behind in dynamics, as well as confidence. I play in a large amateur orchestra, and still find myself very dependent on group for
rhythm, etc. having little practice to develop that fully under observation of my teacher, as I can always piggyback her timing, etc.
I suppose everyone's needs are so different!
Edited: March 3, 2018, 10:52 AM · “But being in the classroom with students ... is never boring or tedious. Anyone who finds it that way needs to get out.”

Not so easy if that is your main or only source of income. So many violinists are teaching because they couldn’t support themselves performing. The fact that a lot of them really don’t want to spend their days listening to beginners is not surprising.

The OP needs to move on and perhaps name the individual so others would not waste time. It is an unregulated industry and the market is the only checking mechanism.

March 3, 2018, 11:05 AM · Haha, indeed- moving on!!

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