Appropriate teaching approach for very young children

June 2, 2019, 7:11 AM · I've recently started to have some apprehension towards the way my 5 year old daughter's (DD) violin teacher is teaching her, and I'm hoping to find some useful advice here as I don't know of any friends whose children are learning violin at this age.

DD started learning the violin in a group class when she was 3.5 years old. She enjoyed learning with others in the same age group. The teacher has always been strict, verging on impatience at times. Despite that, DD managed to develop a passion for the instrument. I practice together with her daily, she loves reading notes out loud for me from the music score, and even tries to play new songs on her own.

Lately, I find the teacher's impatience to be amplified, maybe due to the increased attention now on just 2 students left in the class (1 switched to learning the piano and 1 switched to individual lessons). A few things that I'm starting to get uncomfortable with:

1. She corrects DD's bow hold/finger placement etc with sudden pulling of wrists/pressing on her tiny fingers while playing.

2. She's unhappy with DD's habit of playing new songs on her own without being taught first, saying that she should just keep practicing the current song until she has perfected her bow hold/finger placement. While I understand why perfecting the position is important, I thought that letting my daughter play new songs on her own can also be good practice for note reading, and at the same time cultivating her passion.

3. There's nearly zero praise for efforts made. My daughter won a gold medal for violin in a music event recently but she received no praise or encouragement from her teacher. I felt so bad for her.

Is my gut feeling that this teacher is no longer suitable for my daughter right? She's supposedly very experienced, but I feel that gentler approach will be better for a 5 year old? What kind of teacher should I be looking for?

Replies (15)

June 2, 2019, 8:15 AM · Trust your gut.
June 2, 2019, 8:38 AM · I agree with Mary Ellen. The first thing I noticed when my daughter started taking lessons (at the age of 7, she is 17 now) was that her teacher was extremely gentle, calm, patient, and encouraging, during individual lessons and group classes. If he needs to manually adjust a bow hold or an aspect of posture, he asks the child first, "Let me show you?" Yet he seems somehow to command respect and manage discipline just fine.
June 2, 2019, 9:09 AM · The second point in your catalog of "sins" reminds me of those first grade teachers who complain when one of the kids starting school can read already.
June 2, 2019, 9:16 AM · Thank you both for the affirmations. Paul, your daughter's teacher certainly sounds like the ideal teacher for young children. Now I know that they do exist! I learnt the piano when I was 8, my teacher was very strict as well. I was older than my daughter is now, and even then I have cried on many occasions during and after lessons. I'm unsure if this is just the way of most music teachers. I'm amazed that my daughter has been resilient thus far but I will definitely look for a new teacher before she loses her passion!
June 2, 2019, 9:17 AM · I taught for 40 years. I always thought it was important to ask permission before touching a student and in this "modern" era, I always asked the parent of child students for that permission before the first lesson.

Very few students are going to play early songs "perfectly." I think it is too much to expect them to do that before moving on to additional music. The nature of humanity must be considered.

Edited: June 3, 2019, 12:27 PM · So for your list

1. I would be quite happy with the teacher touching the childs hands and correcting movements, I do this all the time when practising and this is really what is needed in my view. Children this young cannot correct there positions by themselves and the correction has to happen when it is needed and not after saying something. This is something that the child may not like, but it makes better players more quickly.

2. My daughters teacher is also very unhappy, if we would start any song without her and I can see the point very well, because the positions and other learned things really cling hard. However if I think she need extra material, I ask for it and the teacher has always given it.

3. This is crucial point. Children need encouragement and the feeling that they are doing something right and have learned something. During these 4 years I have met some other teachers that are too hard and impatient and I would not like them teaching my girl.

So points 1 and 2 are completely ok, but point 3 is not. It may be that points 1 and 2 seem too hard because they are coming from a teacher that is not encouraging.

Edited: June 2, 2019, 9:41 AM · Maria, yes I will definitely agree that an encouraging teacher would have made points 1 & 2 easier to bear.

I also agree that a child this young needs the teacher to physically correct their holds and postures. But surely, in a calmer and more patient way than what my daughter's teacher is doing.

June 2, 2019, 10:38 AM · Your child is also learning behaviour from the teacher, which might be more important in the long run. Unfortunately, we sometimes learn that lesson by being mistreated.

Many people give up an instrument and music because of how their teacher treated them, and conversely some continue and thrive because of love for their teacher. Age doesn't have much to do with it per se, though it's more likely that an older child will rebel.

I've always been impressed by how positive and gentle my son's teachers have been - they're exemplary for me in that regard, and for them, the lessons really start once the notes have been learned, so going to a lesson having learned the notes would be encouraged, as would much in terms of initiative from the student.

June 2, 2019, 11:16 AM · I must add that I have always encouraged my daughter to play her own pieces after practise with minimal position controlling. Its a fun way to play with violin without pieces unsanctiones by the teacher.
June 2, 2019, 11:17 AM · I agree -- trust your gut and find a new teacher. At her age, it is probably time to switch to 1:1 lessons anyway (with the group as the "fun" supplement). That may be a good way to smooth the transition without burning bridges with the current teacher.
June 3, 2019, 2:05 AM · The poor thing is only 5... teaching styles is a controversial topic, but I've always thought at this age the most important thing is to foster a love of music and keep them enjoying it (while making steady progress at a pace they can manage). It sounds like the teacher may have good intentions but possibly isn't as experienced with such young children. This is the sort of approach you'd expect for kids who are several years older.
June 3, 2019, 11:55 AM · I do think that children should not move on to new pieces without their teacher, because this can set bad habits that will be difficult to fix. If supplementation is desired, use literature that won't be used pedagogically. Get a book of Disney tunes or something.

But I agree: Trust your gut.

Edited: June 3, 2019, 1:17 PM · It sounds like you are wondering if on one hand, you are witnessing something unhealthy for your child and unnecessarily strict and harsh, and on the other hand, you aren't sure if you have enough information about how things are done, and that you wonder if the strictness is a necessary component.

For myself, I don't personally know much about or really understand the concept of group lessons, and 5 is awfully young to start learning violin. These are my biases.

The thing that you left out is how your child reacts to this. Does your daughter get upset or feel discouraged at having her finger placement or bow-hold corrected? Does she say it hurts or anything like that? Do you notice her withdrawing with the teacher or engaging? Different people have different attitudes toward praise, and while I could see the gold medal thing being strange, it might be that the teacher supports your daughter in other ways, and that shame or downplaying real accomplishments is not occurring.

While I wouldn't have doubts about the act of correcting finger-placements and bow holds constantly, as the child is 5, and learning these fundamentals correctly is fundamental, and I wouldn't have doubts about asking a very beginner child to not practice except in front of the teacher, in order to make sure they don't ingrain their own bad habits, I don't really understand how this is supposed to work in the context of a group class (my doubt being whether in the class setting itself, the child can get the constant attention), but you are in a better place to judge.

Basically I wrote a lot but concur with the gut thing. The connection between student and teacher is really important, and some kids thrive under "strict" teachers while some kids wilt.

Edited: June 3, 2019, 8:08 PM · Thank you all for your insightful feedback. DD had a trial lesson with a new teacher who's younger and has less years of experience under her belt, but was gentle and patient. DD liked her a lot so I'm going to take the leap and switch her over.
June 3, 2019, 10:24 PM · That's nice to hear!

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