How to learn the violin as an adult
I am 27, I started playing violin at 21. I wanted to make the violin my life's work as I am a composer as well and I want to compose music for the violin (which I have done extensively in a short amount of time). However, I began to teach myself, and then I went to a local teacher who obviously didn't have a clue what he was talking about and it was obvious even to me. I then was recommended a former orchestra musician who taught me for the last 5 years but apparently she was incompetent as well because it became increasingly obvious to me as the repertoire we studied became more advanced that she was wrong on many things and ignored many aspects of my technique that were critically important. I even posted a video of myself playing here awhile ago and the responses indicated that there were many issues with my playing that would certainly prevent me from auditioning at a university successfully. I auditioned at a music school, not a university but a community college with a good music program that prepares students for university auditions on wednesday.
The music department there told me that I would audition with their violin professor, who is also a violinist in the state orchestra here (I won't name names because of what I am about to describe). If I was up to the level required for the school I could start as a music major right away, if I was not ready yet then I could take "enrichment" classes which are violin lessons as credited classes to bring me up to the level of skill required.
At my audition, the professor stopped me before I even played my first note and it quickly turned into a lesson that I then owed him money for. Apparently my bow grip was completely wrong (despite asking my previous teacher countless times if I was holding the bow correctly and she said I was doing it right). I'm playing Kayser etude 36 which my previous teacher told me should have spiccato bowing at the FROG not near the middle of the bow as I myself see professionals doing spiccato, and he confirmed that my teacher was wrong and the bowing for this piece should not be at the frog. When I decided to play detache he stopped me again because my detache was closer to the middle or tip of the bow where he said it should be closer to the frog, which admittedly sounds much better but I had never been taught that way. When I played the Bach Partita in D Minor he tried to explain the issues I was having with rhythm by having me play the dotted eighth notes as three sixteenth notes, but he doesn't speak english very well and I couldn't understand what he was saying and he shouted at me and told me to leave and that he'd never teach me. I stood there in disbelief not understanding what was happening and finally he wrote down on a blank staff how he wanted me to play it and I did. I could go on, but long story short the professor openly mocked me and couldn't believe I've been playing this instrument for 6 years, was incredibly rude and loud and needlessly cruel, and ultimately conned me into paying him 60 dollars for a lesson I never asked for. He then suggested to me I take private lessons with him rather than at the school. Clearly this man is manipulating me into paying him outside of the college so he can make more money off of me, but he is an incredibly good violinist, the best I have heard in person and definitely the best teacher. As far as I can tell my only recourse is to try and find another teacher who is as skilled but less unethical and cruel and try to learn from this man who has treated me without a shred of respect or dignity in the meantime. Telling the school about his breach of policy would likely get me nowhere and only make things worse for myself.
So here I am. I've invested tens of thousands of dollars in lessons over the past six years and apparently learned almost nothing. The only person qualified to teach me I've found so far is an absolute villain, and I've searched hard for a good teacher from the state orchestra here and this man is all I've been able to find. I can certainly tell he is more skilled than my previous teacher and certainly can teach me what I need to succeed, but his very obvious attempt at deception as well as his unprofessional and arrogant demeanor has me concerned that I am setting myself up to be conned by another teacher who doesn't care if I fail or succeed as long as I hand him my money.
Is this normal? Is it common to be treated so badly when learning classical music? I'm not a child, I'm a 27 year old man and I want to play the violin well more than anything but I absolutely will not tolerate being mistreated or conned by anyone regardless of how skilled they may be at the instrument.
Does anyone have any advice on how I can actually learn to play this instrument without being duped into paying unending sums of money to immoral or incompetent people?
> he doesn't speak English very well
I failed to mention, as far as professional settings go, it wasn't one. I clearly asked him to audition with him for the school and he gave me his home address. He made it sound like it was a misunderstanding but I don't see that as a coincidence that he had me come to his home rather than his office and then proceeded to berate me and hard selling private lessons after the fact.
My apologies, I don't mean "professional" as in a corporate, business, or institutional setting. I mean *professional* as in operating in the quality and supportive manner that one expects from experts in the field who represent themselves as teachers first and foremost. On very rare occasions, there are situations when it is actually useful to yell at a student...this isn't one of them.
I'm also an adult learner and have had a few teachers the past few years, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. I've noticed that the best teachers I had weren't necessarily the best violinists (in terms of reputation/orchestra position).
Unless you’ve recently moved, I think there must be good violin teachers around you.
I looked back at the other thread and watched your video.
I agree with Lydia that you should report that unethical professor. Also his fee is too high, especially since you weren't asking for a lesson.
I agree with everything Lydia said.
Yeah, but he wasn't even asking for a lesson. It was suppose to be an audition. I wouldn't have paid. The first hint that there was something wrong is that the OP had to go the professor's house instead of the community college for the "audition".
A lot of things here, and I don't feel like writing my usual essay in response to this, but I'm just gonna throw in my 2 cents:
Of course the professor's behavior was outrageous and the OP was under no obligation to pay at all. Any $ amount requested in that scenario would have been inappropriate (and therefore too much). I just wanted to clarify that in the world of violin lessons in the US, a $60 fee for a lesson with a qualified teacher is not too high.
One of the rare qualities in a teacher, is to be able to explain the function and reason behind everything he/she teaches.
"You do not need a college prof to teach you -- in fact, a violin professor may be entirely the wrong sort of teacher for you"
"I would stay away from teachers who *completely* refused to teach children."
I am an adult student learning to play „for the love of it“.
Scott, I don't disagree with you, but I think you misunderstood what I was trying to convey. At the moment, he doesn't need someone who plays the violin at the highest level of artistry and can shape conservatory-level students. He needs someone who can teach him the fundamentals. Some people who teach at that highest level are also good at teaching the basics. But there are way more people who are great through, say, intermediate level, and they are less expensive and much more abundant. In a big metro area like Tampa, there should be lots of teachers to choose from who can do that.
Maybe as Scott said there was a misunderstanding; this might explain his odd reaction and why he suggested you study at home with him instead of at college (possibly because you werent ready) . You also say that he has a strong accent, so he's from another culture: are you sure you didnt misinterperate his reaction? I dont wish to sound condescending to either party but sometimes there is that possibility to figure out.
Eric (OP) lives in a city with a professional orchestra. There also seems to be a lot of other violin teachers who are not in the orchestra. I think Lydia is trying to get Eric to see that he got himself mentally trapped in a false dichotomy.
It's worth noting that different students respond to different communications styles and conceptual communication and teaching styles. For instance, a teacher could describe the right approach in terms of a feeling ("imagine using a large brush to paint these notes"), or a verbal technical description ("sink the bow into the string in its middle, but release the weight at the ends"), or a demonstration, or a "come feel my muscles while I demonstrate and try making your muscles do the same thing".
I've not much to add to this vibrant discussion except to say that just because one is not progressing after having worked at the violin for five years does not mean that all one's teachers have been incompetent. It's very hard to take seriously the criticisms that I read in Eric's post when he claims to be preparing college auditions but is clearly not anywhere near that level. (n.b. I'm not either.) If your teacher has been assiging pieces out of the Suzuki books and Wohlfahrt studies, but then you go home and spend your practice time on Mozart 3 and the Bach D Minor Allemande, that would easily explain why your technical progress has been slow.
The OP appears to be someone who is committed and eager to learn. It is perfectly reasonable to be able to work on Mozart 3 and some solo Bach after 6 or 7 years.
Paul, Eric was preparing those pieces with his teacher for his college audition.
Playing violin at a high level is one of the hardest things a human can attempt.
Kiki, having seen Eric's video, I can't imagine how a competent teacher would send him to an audition with his Bach in that state. His rhythm in the opening is off and the tempo is unsteady. Even if someone isn't good at teaching technique, they should at least be fixing that kind of basic error. (Conversely, the professor should have had an array of ways to help fix those sorts of rhythm issues.) But it also indicates carelessness in practice -- those issues would have been instantly visible with a metronome.
I'm probably too light on my teachers. It almost seems the teacher here is demonized. I agree with much of what was said, however just because someone rubs you wrong the first time, this is no reason to discount them. Some people are like onions in that they have layers you need to get under. Once you get underneath you might discover he is a really great guy and he might go the extra mile to help you out.
On this site we typically give teachers the benefit of the doubt. And for good reason. But every situation has two sides, and teachers are human too. In this situation *some* fault likely rests with the teacher. If you've got a student that you've had for five years, and you
Lydia, I don't think OP gave enough reason to think that he ignored his teacher's instructions in favour of online sources or violin instruction literature.
I would give Eric, the OP, the benefits of the doubt. He has been paying thousands of $ and spending 7 best years of his life learning to play an instrument he loves.
Let me count the reasons.
Mary Ellen Goree - Yeah, I totally agree with you. Violinists that went far to actually win auditions into professional orchestras and won competitions deserve to charge a much higher teaching fee than those that couldn't make it. I was just distressed for the OP. Sorry I got carried away!
I don't want to sound harsh, but at 27 and considering OP is far from taking a college audition, OP might want to reconsider going to college to study violin performance.
Oh also about detaché, if it's a sort stroke, it happens somewhere between the middle and 2/3 way up. I've had two teachers confirm this to me. Another teacher wanted me to do the short strokes between the middle and 1/3. Reading the literature, Rolland, Galamian, etc
Lydia's got it right.
I believe you guys! Just trying not to bruise any egos is all.
My ego is fine and my fees are high. :-) But I have the credentials and the long history of successful students to justify the fees. I do agree that winning a symphony job does not necessarily guarantee good teaching ability, but the two are not mutually exclusive either.
if our healthy children, after spending six years in elementary schools,are still reading at first grade level, we would have serious problems with the *teacher*.
You wouldn't blame YOUR children, alright. ;-)
Teaching kids are more than just teaching the instrument. Getting their attention, and interests, is a VERY challenging mission.
Reading and playing the violin are not analogous activities.
When I wrote that I didn't want to bruise any egos, I meant both sides: those who were successful to become professional performance musicians and those who weren't. I acknowledge that there are many great teachers in both situations - which is a good thing!
It doesn't matter how mystical a particular "system" is, if it does't work and has not worked for 5 or more years, then it is useless to the student. The teacher in that situation should at least have the decency to refer the student to someone else with a different "system" or a different implementation/delivery of the same or similar "system".
The analogy is fine. If an adult were trying to learn to read in English and had paid for lessons for 5 years and still could not read much more than comic books, yeah, I'd probably wonder about the teacher. But if I then learned that the student intended to demonstrate his grasp of Faulkner and Joyce for college admission, then I'd wonder less about the teacher.
I was referring to the "PBS Kids" remark. My point is: Has the OP tried to do exactly as instructed, or tended to wander in their own direction?
Since Eric hasn't been back to this thread in some days I suspect this will just have to be one of the great unsolved v.com mysteries.
"started at age 21" Sorry, but it is completely unrealistic to consider either a college violin performance major or a professional career. Not impossible but; you will always be competing with players that started at 7 y.o., literally grew up with their instrument, and are playing difficult concertos at 21. If, however, your primary interest in music is some other specialty, like composing, than definitely continue the violin lessons. Players really appreciate it when the composer demonstrates a technical knowledge of their instrument. Keep looking for a teacher; there are lots of them. The teacher is technically an employee, that can be fired at will. After reading this, and other horror stories, I feel a little better about my own teaching, and my fees.
The lack of accountability is a very serious issue in violin studio teaching. The ABRSM and other Grading Systems (which is not popular in the US) would at least motivate teachers and students/parents to evaluate what was (and wasn't) achieved in the past year(s) and explore better alternatives.
Eric, see if you can look up the youth music competitions in the area (provided they exist) and try to see if there are listings of the teachers of those students that are winning competitions. If you see a teacher's name more than once, that would be a good place to start. Teachers like motivated students that listen, although you may need a lot of remediation. Put in some hard work for a few years and see where you are regarding the music school thing.
The problem with seeking out teachers of competition winners is that sometimes those teachers will only take on students who are already at competition level. The OP needs someone who can teach beginning to intermediate technique in a systematic way to an intelligent adult. This may or may not be the same person whose best students are winning competitions, and it may or may not be the same person who excels at teaching such technique to children.
That's true Mary Ellen. I don't know how common it is, but my teacher takes students from their first ever violin lesson up to conservatory level, and while I had some experience before I started with her, I have found her to be excellent for me as an adult learner. I can't think of a better heuristic off the top of my head, but that might not reflect others' experience and other markets, not that Denver is a hotbed of violinism compared to other big cities.
Thank you! That was a fun performance! Wish you'd introduced yourself. :-)
I will have to do that next season. I'm really glad that Oundjian got selected as the music director - He's the most consistently good conductor I've seen.
Joel, you should never feel bad about your teaching fees (unless you suck as as teacher, which I severely doubt). With very few exceptions, I have found that the lower my prices were, the less students tried to succeed (this being the case with both wealthier and poorer families). With this being the case, I actually feel worse about ever undercharging, since it meant that people were much more likely to fail as a result of not trying hard enough.
To clarify, Peter Oundjian is currently the acting artistic advisor. We are still in a music director search. I do agree that he is excellent and I would love to see him on the podium more often.
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