Too many methods (or techniques)

Edited: October 17, 2018, 8:43 AM · Had a teacher two years ago who taught the methods of Kato Havas on ergonomics of playing the fiddle. She eventually got irritated at me that I wasn't retaining all this detailed information before I was even taught any music.

I just had a teacher in Suzuki. She taught the Russian bow hold. I moved and am not seeing that teacher now.

Saw another teacher today, and though she said she could work with the Russian bow hold, she was trying to change what I was doing (perhaps I was doing the hold wrong).

Also, my previous teacher was teaching me to keep all my fingers down below whatever top finger I was playing (top being 4 or 3 or whatever). My teacher today said that was old school and I don't need to be doing that.

I'm not particularly wanting to keep getting pulled back and forth like this. I know, find a teacher and stick with them, but, work intervened with that.

I know this is a chaotic post in itself, but any feedback on these issues?

Replies (30)

Edited: October 16, 2018, 7:31 PM · I always laughed at people who play with other artists' "methods". Glamian "method", Menuhin "method", Heifetz "method", et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Silliness! All of these virtuosos developed their own technique based on what was comfortable for them and what gave them the best sound.

A good teacher would show you (aproximately) the best hold for the music you're playing, and say "figure the rest out at home"; they'd only occasionally correct problematic habits and techniques if they interfere with the music.

Those are my two pennies.

October 16, 2018, 8:03 PM · No, a good teacher does not leave the student to figure things out at home.

Keeping all the fingers down below the finger in use is a beginner technique but such a habit will hobble the more advanced player. I agree with your current teacher.

Most people play and teach the Franco-Belgian bow hold. I would find it very difficult to work with a student who preferred the Russian bow hold.

From the very little you have said, it sounds to me like the most recent teacher may be the first one you have seen who plays and teaches in the most commonly accepted way.

Edited: October 16, 2018, 8:24 PM · The previous teacher is the first one I've had teach me the Russian bow hold. A couple of earlier teachers did not. However, the Russian bow hold did seem to have an immediate effect on my tone.

I'd already found that holding the fingers down would only work for a minority of situations.

Also, the new teacher wants to remove the tape on the fingerboard, at least the tape at the third finger position. The previous teacher put tape at both the 1 and 3 finger positions.

Edited: October 16, 2018, 8:36 PM · The previous teacher pointed me to violinmasterclass.com for the bow hold (site seems to be having problems right now). It says the "Sassmannshaus Tradition of Violin Playing".
October 16, 2018, 8:59 PM · For a teacher to go with some previous teacher's bow hold is something that works for a master class or a summer camp. David -- may I respectfully suggest that if you have managed an improvement in tone generation with the Russian hold, you could probably adapt more easily to the Franco-Belgian than you could before, because the core principles of tone generation are universal.
Edited: October 16, 2018, 9:45 PM · "I always laughed at people who play with other artists' "methods". Glamian "method""

Of all the methods, it's my opinion Galamian had the most logical approach. It's his method and ideas that have shaped violin playing in this country for at least 50 years. So to simply discard the value of his method is rather misinformed.

It's also my opinion that for finger flexibility, the Galamian bow grip (aka Franco-Belgian) is much more likely to result in a grip with supple and flexible fingers. I'm not saying the Russian grip won't work, but rather that it is more likely, especially without constant monitoring by the teacher, to lead to a rigid grip with less flexibility in the pinkie. In my experience, locked joints are the #1 problem in the right hand. I see the Russian grip as too easy to get wrong.

October 16, 2018, 9:59 PM · I agree with Cotton there are many ways to play. Teachers will teach what they've learned, and there are good teachers with different approaches. Personally I wouldn't worry so much about the particular method. I don't believe you will necessarily play better with this bow hold or that, but with a given teacher you may have to adapt to what they can teach.
October 16, 2018, 10:19 PM · I don't think that this is a violin thing. It happens also in sports, martial arts and many practices. Different ways of holding the racket, different basic stances...

If the student is the one changing teachers frequently, it should be the one with flexibility and adaptation to the new school.

October 16, 2018, 10:28 PM · Any opinions on the Strictly Strings books? Just talked to another teacher today, and she uses this and supplements with Suzuki if someone is "clever". With no CD, I will be FORCED not to rely on playing by ear.
October 16, 2018, 10:34 PM · Isn't Strictly Strings intended for class instruction of younger students?
Edited: October 16, 2018, 11:45 PM · No idea. Here is a description from the Alfred Music website:

An easy-to-teach, straight forward string method from three renowned pedagogues. A unique letter-note style of music notation is utilized which ensures a smooth transition from rote to note reading. Students are quickly introduced to ensemble playing and play a wide variety of fun-to play melodies, keys and modes. Strictly Strings features a carefully prepared lesson sequence which develops all players' abilities equally.

Ok, page 25 of the book is Polly Wolly Doodle. Perhaps you're right.

October 16, 2018, 11:57 PM · It is in any case a good thing for a beginner to stay with the same teacher for at least a few years and avoid having to relearn stuff in the early stages.

Or as in my case: When my teacher got married and moved to Philadelphia after a year of lessons she found me someone who made the change very smooth for me (unlike my first teacher she was a bit of a drill sergeant though but that was exactly what I needed at the time).

October 17, 2018, 12:00 AM · David, where are you located?
Edited: October 17, 2018, 12:08 PM · Reasons for leaving teachers:
1) Teacher too irritable and controlling. Heard from another person who had same problem with them.
2) Teacher had no game plan, just breaking down songs and showing me visually (I call it "decoding songs"). No structured approach. Didn't catch that I needed to start at the bottom.
3) Previous injury to left arm exacerbated by the twisted left arm position and holding the violin up. Had to stop and get physical therapy. Also, teacher had no methodical approach, just just breaking down songs and showing me visually.
4) Teacher had no game plan to teach me technique and was just just breaking down songs and showing me visually. I needed someone to catch that I needed to start from scratch as I didn't know it myself.
5) Teacher getting irritable that I was not remembering a lot of ergonomics detail (I have some memory issues from car wreck). Also out of work at the time and money was an issue.
6) Moved away from teacher.
October 17, 2018, 1:32 AM · Erik,

I'm down in the Bay Area. I already considered you, but I was giving my previous teacher a little more time, and then I've moved out of your area now due to a contract ending. I'm likely 1.5 to 2 hours from you now.

October 17, 2018, 3:01 AM · Ah ok, I was trying to remember if you were the one asking about lessons near me.
October 17, 2018, 3:47 AM · I have to confess I have no idea what a method is.
I had two piano teachers who taught me good technique.
And, unfortunately, a clarinettist taught me oboe, so it was only about musical interpretation.
Is "method" a purely violin thing?
My violin teacher is a violist, although she is a qualified string teacher. As long as I develop good posture and technique, that's all I care about.
October 17, 2018, 3:52 AM · A "method" is usually a series of books which contain pieces inside that gradually increase in difficulty.

Or, it can be a set of procedural steps and ideas which have been pre-developed by someone (usually a well-known pedagogue) and can then be dispensed on the local level by a private teacher. This prevents a private teacher from having to "reinvent the wheel" in order to start teaching, since a method shows them a proven way of getting a student from a beginner to an intermediate or advanced level.

Some methods start by focusing on note-reading, and then gradually playing music. Others start with lots of open bows, and then adding fingers, and then playing music. Others start with music, and focus on note-reading later.

Each method has its own set of pros/cons, but as long as the teacher implementing the method knows the logic behind it and has good teaching skills, all methods achieve pretty similar results in similar time-frames.

Edited: October 17, 2018, 4:05 AM · So it's a doctor gradus ad parnassum. That's interesting. In the UK we have examining boards that set exams increasing in difficulty. I gather there is no such thing in the USA. Does that mean methods are mainly an American thing, in lieu of a "system" like the British one (or, if you prefer, just another name for the British system)?
(the British thing isn't even a system - it's the teacher's job to get the kid to the exam level any way the teacher wants)
October 17, 2018, 8:02 AM · David, I've been playing for 30 something years and I don't think I've had as many teachers as you. I'm also unclear about your conception of technique as being separate from repertoire and what you mean by 'decoding songs.' Most method books use songs or pieces that teach new techniques while getting progressively more difficult. The Suzuki Twinkle Variations help you learn to coordinate your left hand/right hands more quickly with each variation. You can't learn all the techniques first, then pick up a concerto. Moreover, you have to get a certain amount of fluency playing and reading notes before you can even work on more advanced technical skills.

Maybe with your next teacher, you should have a discussion very early on about what you think you need to learn. I've had adult students who have specific goals for their playing but no understanding of the process of how to get there. An example: one wanted to learn vibrato the first month he'd been playing. He decided since I wasn't going to teach him, he would teach himself. Not only was he not working on the things he needed to do to get to the point where he could learn vibrato, but he was actively screwing up his hand position.

Edited: October 17, 2018, 8:10 AM · I used the term "method" loosely, though different methods were in the mix here. I also used "method" to talk about different bow holds, different approaches to ergonomics, etc. Technique was probably the proper term for most of what I was talking about. In a non-violin discussion, the terms would be more interchangeable.
October 17, 2018, 8:33 AM · I have to admit I'm waiting for a copy of Galamian's Principles to arrive in the post.
Edited: October 17, 2018, 9:10 AM · @Julie,

What I mean by "decoding songs" was simply breaking down a song for me, showing me how it was played. The genre I was in (Cajun) is very "by ear", very little sheet music out there, with the exception of a couple of repertoire books out there (done by people who were not solid musicians of the genre, so the tended to sound cheesy). The songs themselves could vary on many levels based on the performer on the different recordings.

The reason for teachers not having game plans:

I was/am involved in a certain fiddling genre, almost exclusively. I was self taught. I went in for lessons, and most everyone assumed I had more ability than I did, or they had no organized approach for the genre, so they concentrated on teaching me songs in that genre. In Cajun, the keys are limited. Primarily A and D. Sometimes G. It wasn't working as I had no ramping up in ability to achieve what was required in certain songs. Too many leaps with no connecting exercises or whatever. I gradually realized I was not getting what I needed this way.

The frustration at each encounter with this would put me off playing as I had no idea what I needed from the next teacher, no idea how to interview a teacher to get what I needed, no guarantee I would not go down the same rabbit hole again with another teacher, and no one was giving me any input. (I have another main instrument I play in my bands, so I would just return to concentrating on that). So, either everyone was being nice and not telling me I had to start over (possible), or my choice of music to play kept steering the process away from organized pedagogical material, or my first several teachers did not have an organized approach.

Was just revisiting the possibility of returning to another previous teacher, and I read on their website that they do not use "books". This was my experience with them, that instead we just sat and decoded songs (he would listen to a recording and show me how to play it and I would videotape them. Same with other teachers), and he would address certain technique issues.

Finally, on my own, I realized that I needed to start at the bottom, not focus on a certain genre of music, and build up from there.

Suzuki was the only organized approach that I knew of, and for years thought of going that route, but life intervened, and work has been spotty since 2003 with the dot com meltdown, the resulting influx of offshore competition, and then the 2008 crash (I do database work).

So, I concentrated on playing music with my main instrument, not knowing for sure what was going to work for me, no idea how to gauge the effectiveness of a new teacher. Suzuki was just an "idea", and I had no frame of reference to gauge how effective such an approach would be. I finally took the leap, and realized I was on the right track. Now I tell prospective teachers I need a methodical approach, and ask them questions accordingly.

October 17, 2018, 10:35 AM ·


It's good that you are able to see the problem being the teachers and not yourself, most blame themselves. I've had many new students come to me who had played for years and said they weren't talented, had no sense of rhythm and were tone death; they always blamed themselves. But I was able to work with them and after 6 months to a year and a half, the vast majority of them played with okay to good technique, okay to good intonation, had good timing. They weren't playing poorly anymore, and there is a huge difference between someone who plays poorly and will never advance because of poor teaching, compared to the student who plays okay to good and sees improvement every month.
Pretty much everyone in here says the teacher is very important. It's not practiced practice practice ,but teacher teacher teacher, from my experience.
The concept for a teacher to spend more time on them controlling how you play a piece, instead of them spending more time on how you control your instrument seems backwards to me.

October 17, 2018, 11:03 AM · When I add it up I realize that my violin lessons lasted only about 7 years, from ages 4.5 to 7.5. In that time I only studied 1st and 3rd position. So I actually learned the remaining 80% (or so) of the fingerboard on my own under the necessity of a lifetime of orchestral and chamber music playing. I had 27 months of cello lessons as a teen that carried me over the entire fingerboard and a couple of concertos. So I never thought of myself as self-taught even though I was given my last lesson 67 years ago. I was under the watchful eye and ear of professional conductors and coaches for most of the next 60 years.

I taught violin lessons for about 40 years, first because I was asked to. I found it important to observe the muscles under the students' skin and base my instruction regarding physical aspects of their playing on reducing the observable and obvious tension I could see and hear. The importance of each individual's physique (jaw/chin shape, neck length, arm length, hand size and finger lengths, etc. are so important to playing "style" that any specific approach must be tailored to the individual.

I started teaching using the "method" that I remembered from my own childhood studies and the music books I had kept all those years. However about 10 years in, in the 1970s, I was "gifted" some teen "dropouts" from the local Suzuki program/"school" and bought some of the Suzuki books to see what that was about. Those kids were beyond the Suzuki music by then, but I began starting my new students on the pieces in the Suzuki books supplemented by appropriate "etudes" (or "exercises," as they were called when I had taken lessons).

The really good "Suzuki dropouts" actually were sent to teachers in LA, 160 miles southwest of our town. I got to see, hear and play with them in our community orchestra before they left for college -- another reason I decided to use the Suzuki books as a basis for my teaching. After all, since that Suzuki school had been good enough to get Anne Akiko Meyers started on her path to violin stardom it obviously had a lot going for it.

Edited: October 17, 2018, 4:27 PM · @Charles,

I'm not claiming the total fault is of the teachers. Some was the teacher, sometimes, and to some degree (but, maybe their teaching style works for others in the fiddling world who already have a solid grounding from elsewhere), and I think some was me in some ways, maybe a lot me. I'm certainly the common denominator. I know definitely I was not making the right decisions regarding a broader playing ability. And I can sometimes be easily frustrated, particularly at my own playing ability. And I have something like ADD, so, I look back and see that I didn't make long term plans well by only focusing on the immediate goal. Takes me a while to learn sometimes.

I did know that I had the opportunities to be playing with other people in the Cajun music and dance scene around me. So, that colored my decisions. While at the same time thinking I'd never be good enough for anything else.

October 17, 2018, 12:42 PM · Good luck David in finding the right solution.

It can be frustrating attempting to pinpoint the exact things that need to be done in order to move forward. Further trying to decide the best approach and teacher. As a relatively recent player myself I can relate to some of this.

My teacher teaches to songs I play, so I see an advantage in both learning the material and in learning technique along the way. Why can't we have both? While playing a song she might say, " you need to move your thumb down lower on the neck". Or, " you need to move your wrist and hand in this way". I recently learned that you can "favor" a string.

All of these little tidbits come about while also learning the music. I guess we all have different learning styles. For me this is easier than applying myself all the time to something like Wolfart. Granted I play some of that too...or try to.

Some of the things classical musicians need to do, many folk musicians will never need to do. This doesn't mean learning the technique will not be helpful. In contrast, there are a few thing classical musicians seldom do that folk musicians embrace. If you are pursuing a folk genre, there could probably be nothing better than finding a teacher who mainly plays it.

I see the benefit to learning as much as possible, but keeping focus on the main goals, especially if you're an older player. Obviously the basics are a necessity no matter what. Beyond this, I believe you can tailor your education to your goals.


October 17, 2018, 2:57 PM · I think once I get through a few Suzuki books, or O'Connor, or whatever, I can start branching out.
October 18, 2018, 2:37 AM · Curiously, precisely yesterday the Telegraph online published a new piece discussing O'Connor's hatred of Suzuki and belief that he was a fraud who lied about his past. But I didn't mention it here, as I'm aware it's old news.
October 18, 2018, 9:04 AM · The only reason I can think of for the Telegraph to resurrect O'Connor's old canard is that yesterday was the 120th anniversary of Suzuki's birth. How disrespectful.

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