Teacher said to me it's not worth it

May 29, 2018, 8:13 AM · I used to have a teacher when I started violin at the age of 18 (I'm 20 now). There were two things that confused me while I was his student and still confuse now.

The first thing was him repeating my mistakes but in a more grotesque way. He acted like he wanted to break the violin with his movements. But I think pointing out mistakes is something a teacher must do, so I can accept that. He seemed like a bully but I believe it's just me who was a sensitive soul. Also, when I was asking him how to do a certain thing on the violin he was replying, "with your hands."

The second thing is when I said I didn't feel like I'm ready for learning, instead of motivating me, he said directly, "Maybe violin is not worth it? Maybe you can just be a grateful listener?" He tried to 'help' me by listing careers I could apply to instead of violin career and he said it was too late for me to become a professional musician.

This is running in my mind to this day. What do you think?

Replies (26)

May 29, 2018, 8:20 AM · Maybe you two are not on the same page?

What exactly are your goals? Are you hoping to understand violin well enough to teach it eventually, or are you truly hoping to be able to play professional;ly at some point?

Does your teacher know exactly what you want?

May 29, 2018, 8:54 AM · We don't need teachers like that one.
In my youth i had a similar one for 2 years.

They need Life to teach them something........

May 29, 2018, 10:22 AM · The teacher's not worth it.

It is although, kinda hard to become a professional musician if you started at 18, but that doesn't mean you can't try.

May 29, 2018, 10:40 AM · Well, since you no longer study with the guy, I would stop obsessing about what he said.
Edited: May 29, 2018, 3:47 PM · I think that person just sounds salty that they never made it to the big stage and wants to dash everyone else’s dreams just like his and it’s best you’re no longer associated with him.
May 29, 2018, 12:29 PM · There are two different issues here:
1. Learning to play the violin
2. Reaching a professional level

At your age, I would also be skeptical about your chances of becoming a professional, but that has nothing to do with whether you can learn to play well enough to bring enjoyment to yourself and others.

Any teacher should treat you with respect, whatever your playing level and age.

May 29, 2018, 3:21 PM · This "person" should probably not teach.
And an 18 yo beginner can be at least as vulnerable as a child..
Edited: May 29, 2018, 4:54 PM · This is water under the bridge, though I don’t understand, you imply that you were taking lessons with becoming a professional violinist in mind, yet didn’t feel like you were ready for learning at 18? No wonder your teacher tried to steer you in another direction, he didn’t want to waste your or his time not to mention (I am guessing) your parent’s money. I think you need to clarify your goals and expectations.
May 30, 2018, 4:35 PM · "This is running in my mind to this day. What do you think?"

I think you should let it go. If you can't stop thinking about it, try to argue against your current negative interpretations of his words and behaviours to see if you can find different interpretations in the most positive ways that you can come up with. In so doing, you might discover something about yourself that you didn't know. Try it.

Edited: May 30, 2018, 5:57 PM · Two things come to mind. (1) That he's not a very good teacher, but that's "ok", many teachers aren't great either and fall into it out of necessity and as a consequence of the playing profession being overcrowded compared to the time and money the audiences are willing to put into it. (2) He's right about it not being worth it for the same reason, and given that he's not a great teacher and unlikely to be able to make a professional out of someone who hasn't already had a great start - which at age 18, might have been 14 or 15 years of development; probably a minimum of around 10.
May 31, 2018, 5:51 AM · Sounds like someone who shouldn't be teaching-- or bounced off your personality in a bad way.

That said, it is really hard to be a pro when you start at 5, much less 18. Which doesn't mean that you can't end up being pretty good. Wayne Booth, the famous literary theorist, wrote a book on being an amateur cellist "For the Love of It." He started after college (IIRC), and when I met him, he sight-read a Shostakovich quartet very well. Of course, his tone wasn't especially glamorous, even after about 50 years of practice. But there can be life in music even if you don't join a salaried orchestra or get your own recording contract.

May 31, 2018, 5:55 AM · Yup. According to the book, he took up playing cello at age 31.

I reckon for most adult beginners on classical violin, that teaching ought to be geared towards the skills to play chamber music.

May 31, 2018, 12:28 PM · I stronly agree with Lydia's point about chamber music should be the ultimate goal for adults learners, provided that they also learn a few concerti with a teacher so as to build good intonation, tone produton, various techniques, musicality, etc. Unfortunately, this is often overlooked by many amateur chamber players.
Edited: May 31, 2018, 1:41 PM · Arguably anything taught by a concerto (prior to the professional repertoire, i.e. Bruch and beyond) could be taught through appropriate selection of other repertoire, including chamber music. It's just that pedagogically we tend to focus on concertos.
Edited: May 31, 2018, 3:21 PM · This teacher does sound like a jerk, but I do think sometimes what we hear isn't exactly what the teacher said.

Gently discouraging someone from trying to be a professional musician is actually a really important and valuable thing that a teacher can do.

So many hearts have been broken, so many pocketbooks emptied in the quest to make a living at music -- and unfortunately too many teachers and conservatories are willing to encourage the dreams as long as they can cash the checks.

I had a teacher many years ago who had been a child prodigy, a Curtis graduate who had studied with Mr. Brodsky, had a wonderful finished technique, had worked hard their entire life -- and yet this person's career was kind of stalled, not a lot of solo gigs, lived in a drab apartment paying the rent by teaching lessons for $25 an hour. It wouldn't have been appropriate to discuss it, but I didn't get the impression this person was very happy with how things had worked out.

Anyway this teacher told me once people should only try to be professional musicians if they feel they have no choice -- there is literally nothing else that they can do to make a living.

I was grateful at the time for the honesty, and I took it to heart, and I have never ever for a moment regretted not pursuing music as a profession -- I had other things I wanted to study.

And I am super happy with my musical life -- I don't need money from music, so I play only the gigs that I want to do, and otherwise I play music that I love and very little that I don't love.

May 31, 2018, 4:11 PM · Thomas, well-said!

"...people should only try to be professional musicians if they feel they have no choice -- there is literally nothing else that they can do to make a living."

This is a very good advice, but some of us would realize that something we once thought to be the only choice at a younger age was simply not the case at a later time. I for instance spent big chunk of my younger years pursuing philosophy, in thinking that was my only choice, but after I got my graduate degree, I felt that philosophy wasn't enough for me so I switched to law, and then something else.

To any young person who wants to pursue his/her passion, I'll say go for it! It is always worth it because, whether you ended up reaching your dream or not and wherever you ended up doing for living, nothing you've learned with great passion is going to be wasted, especially with music education. The skills, work ethics and character you've built by such passionate pursuit will be transferrable and become assets to your future career success.

May 31, 2018, 5:01 PM · "From what I've seen of Society, the number of people who tell you what you can't accomplish in life is limitless"

Neil deGrasse Tyson

May 31, 2018, 9:32 PM · There's an opportunity cost to pursuing passion. That looks very different to someone who has a nice safety net provided by financially stable parents, for instance, than to someone who is incurring a lot of student debt and needs to be able to make enough money to pay it off.
June 1, 2018, 12:59 AM · It did take me 10 years to pay off my student debts. In my case, it was worth every penny but in Canada, student loans are much more manageable than ones in the U.S. so far as I know. I should take back what I said about pursuit one's passion. This is a meaner world in some places...
June 1, 2018, 1:28 AM · That's why I wondered in another thread about professional musicians encouraging or not to their children to try that path or not.

I think that the ubiquitous encouragement "follow your dreams" neglects to make clear what is the cost of those dreams. And then, too many say that they are willing to pay that price when actually even willing, they can't.

Lifelong commitments and investments should be done with a notebook and a ballpen and have lots of numbers written.

June 1, 2018, 4:18 AM · Alexey, it sounds to me like you have been bullied, and from your last sentence, it sounds like this is still affecting you.

Don't underestimate the psychological effects of this on you. It sometimes isn't possible just to move on from these things, especially at such a young age.

My advice - talk to as many people about it as you can - parents, friends, teachers. Don't bottle it up. You will be able to get it out of your head, but talking is key.

June 1, 2018, 4:18 AM · Alexey, it sounds to me like you have been bullied, and from your last sentence, it sounds like this is still affecting you.

Don't underestimate the psychological effects of this on you. It sometimes isn't possible just to move on from these things, especially at such a young age.

My advice - talk to as many people about it as you can - parents, friends, teachers. Don't bottle it up. You will be able to get it out of your head, but talking is key.

June 1, 2018, 8:40 AM · My goal is to play together with a pianist I know, and play decently. Sometimes I dream of playing in an orchestra, this seems reachable when I'm like 30.

I didn't expect for so many people to answer. Thanks to everybody, and I agree with the most of you, I should forget and forgive that jerk.

Edited: June 16, 2018, 10:19 PM · If you have the time to practice just as a young child does, then put everything aside and practice everyday. The thing is that you have to enjoy playing for hours and push yourself everyday to become faster, more accurate and intense. You have to detach yourself from this world and not care about anything or “anyone” else, no relationships at all. Do this for ten to twelve years. If any of what I just said feels like a sacrifice then you are in trouble. So, the world is yours for the taking, is waiting, but tic toc, the clock never stops...
June 16, 2018, 11:16 PM · What do you mean by play in an orchestra? There's a whole range, from professional orchestras all the way down to orchestras open to beginners. If you just want to play in any orchestra, you can start playing in one right now.

I don't believe you even have to sacrifice much at all to eventually play in a high-level, auditioned amateur orchestra. I was doing that about 11 years after starting at 16, averaging about an hour of practice a day, with no teacher. Professional orchestras are a giant step up from there, though. I'm still hoping to be competitive in professional auditions by age 45, but not expecting to get into an orchestra at that level.

June 17, 2018, 6:43 AM · That's a knot of issues, your post.

Upthread's right. You probably don't have the time to become professional, but if you want to be "professional" and teach privately, teach in public schools, play with a band or even quartet at weddings, sure. "Professional" doesn't mean Perlman or Kennedy, it doesn't mean being concert master with the Los Angeles Symphony.

Where I teach school, I'm a member of a team of 5 other teachers teaching the same course. One of them drips sarcasm. His sarcasm does a bunch of different things for him. It keeps him from becoming too attached. It keeps kids from asking the same thing over and over. It fends off questions he doesn't want to answer. Sometimes it lightens the mood. Or dampens it. And since it's always there, when he does mock some kid it's not obvious. Some kids are fine with it; some find it hilarious; some are truly upset by it and have tried to get him fired. Doesn't matter what the use is he has in mind. He is what he is. He doesn't wish anybody ill; but he doesn't suffer fools lightly.

When I was dutifully working out of Suzuki book 4 at age 23 my teacher started taking lessons again. Eastman grad, she wanted to improve. She played her "student" piece and I tried copying her sautille. It didn't work, obviously, and I asked if I could learn it. She made a comment that could be rude, but which was simply honest: It's a waste of time for you right now. "But how do you get the bow to bounce?" was met with "it just does, leave it alone." She wasn't saying anything bad--I'd been playing violin for a year at that point. It just wasn't the right time. In other words, "how do you do that?", "with your hands." We'll leave aside whether the bow I had could have bounced appropriately.
My kid's violin teacher is kind and sympathetic. And when she mimics his contortions and errors, she could easily be mocking him. The difference is intent. It makes clear what's going on. My teacher in the '80s had a large mirror, and she'd position us side by side so I could see exactly what she was doing and compare it with my technique. My kid's teacher has no such mirror, so she has to find another way.

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